The Occult Revival: A Substitute Faith

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It is Saturday night. A young Army officer and his wife welcome a small group of people to their comfortable split-level home, which stands amid the tidy landscaping of a housing development in Louisville. The guests — most of them dressed neatly in sports clothes — include a computer programmer, a store clerk, a dog trainer and a psychology major from the nearby University of Louisville. They all troop downstairs to a vinyl-floored recreation room.

Is this a bridge party? A committee meeting for a charity drive? Hardly. The hour is midnight. On the front door of the house is an orange emblem showing black pitchforks. Downstairs, the party is gathered solemnly before a black -draped altar. Facing them, on the wall, is a chartreuse goat-image superimposed on a purple pentagram. "To night there is one among us elected to the priesthood of Mendes," intones one of the men. "Satan, thou hast seen fit to charge Warlock Shai with thy priesthood on earth ... the deification of the human race." Reciting an ordination rite first in Latin and then in English, the speaker taps a second man on each shoulder with a sword. Someone pours flash powder on the sterno altar flame and whoosh! Fire leaps toward the ceiling.

This recent scene — and many a similarly bizarre one — is being re-enacted all across the U.S. nowadays. In Oakland, Calif., when the moon is full, a group of college-educated people gather in a house in a middle-class neighborhood, remove their clothes, and whirl through the double spiral of a witches' dance. In southern New Jersey, a 30-year-old receptionist winds thread around a voodoo doll and sticks steel pins into it in a determined effort to harass a rival at the office into resigning. In Chicago, from 75 to 100 otherwise ordinary people — mostly professionals, such as office managers, nurses, social workers and chemists — meet weekly in The Temple of the Pagan Way to take instruction in ancient witchcraft and ceremonial magic from a high priest and priestess.

Crystal Balls. A wave of fascination with the occult is noticeable throughout the country. It first became apparent a few years ago in the astrology boom, which continues. But today it also extends all the way from Satanism and witchcraft to the edges of science, as in Astronaut Edgar Mitchell's experiment in extrasensory perception from aboard Apollo 14. In this area, serious researchers in the field of parapsychology are increasingly interacting with devotees of such claimed occult gifts as prophecy and telepathy to probe the powers of the human mind. Indeed, the very word occult—denoting hidden knowledge, secret arts or unexplainable phenomena—is no longer fully appropriate. While some practitioners still jealously guard their secrets, much of what once seemed occult has long since emerged from underground.

A good deal of the activity focuses around occult bookshops, which often offer subsidiary courses and services as well. One of the busiest is the Metaphysical Center in San Francisco. Its book department sells out 65% of its $25,000 stock every month. The center also presents tarot-card readings, daylong crash courses in palmistry (at $25 each), reincarnation workshops, and classes in astral projections, numerology and the esoteric Hebrew mystical system, the cabala. There is even a gift shop that sells

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