Lucifer Ascending: The Occult in Folklore and Popular Culture

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Despite their centuries-old history and traditions, witchcraft and magic are still very much a part of modern Anglo-American culture. In Lucifer Ascending, Bill Ellis looks at modern practices that are universally defined as "occult," from commonplace habits such as carrying a rabbit's foot for good luck or using a Ouija board, to more esoteric traditions, such as the use of spell books. In particular, Ellis shows how the occult has been a common element in youth culture for hundreds of years.

Using materials from little known publications and archives, Lucifer Ascending details the true social function of individuals' dabbling with the occult. In his survey of what Ellis terms "vernacular occultism," the author is poised on a middle ground between a skeptical point of view that defines belief in witchcraft and Satan as irrational and an interpretation of witchcraft as an underground religion opposing Christianity. Lucifer Ascending examines the occult not as an alternative to religion but rather as a means for ordinary people to participate directly in the mythic realm.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A welcome counterbalance to alarmist tales of occult influence." — Books & Culture

"At the core of Mr. Ellis's work is the relationship between knowledge and power." — Chronicle of Higher Education

"Examines occult phenomena from the viewpoint of the people who actually practice them. This solidly written and serious study, which uses little known primary resources, is recommended for academic and public libraries alike." — Library Journal

"Examines superstition in folklore and popular culture and connects it to the concentration today on the oppressed classes (women, children, the uneducated) and the need for myth and a more personal spirituality." — Bibliotheque d'Humanisme et Renaissance

"Ellis's overarching thesis is that these kinds of folk practices, perhaps especially when they invoke the presence or power of Satan, are not so much antireligious as they are alternatively religious.... Recommended." — Choice

"As a Christian and a scholar of the occult, Ellis brings an important perspective to the subject that should dispel for believers the supernatural silliness of Satan. There is, in fact, no such thing as the supernatural and the paranormal. There is just the natural and the normal and mysteries we cannot explain. In Lucifer Ascending Ellis has sensitively and brilliantly illuminated much darkness enveloping many mysteries associated with the occult. Believers and non-believers, scholars and general readers, will be entertained and educated by Ellis's compelling narrative on all matters Satanic. This is first class myth busting." — Dr. Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic magazine, monthly columnist for Sci

"Building on the success of Bill Ellis's very important Raising the Devil, this new book continues his exploration of dark — and satanic — themes in American culture. A very rewarding study." — Philip Jenkins, Penn State University, author of Moral Panic: Changing Concepts

"Shows how the occult has been a common element in youth culture for hundreds of years. Using materials from little known publications and archives, Lucifer Ascending details the true social function of individuals' dabbling with the occult." — Planet Utica

"Ellis builds a sober and persuasive argument that the recent hysteria over the influence of Satan in America, much of it emanating from the Christian right, reflects a misunderstanding of a cyclical or dialectic process that has repeated itself for centuries." —

"A lively examination of the occult, including Satanism and superstitions of all types, in light of Christian mythos." — What's New

"This is a good book that is likely to be of significant use to scholars and of interest to many general readers. It takes a complex, nuanced, and balanced look at topics that are currently highly loaded in our culture and draws some interesting conclusions." — Anne Lafferty, Ethnologies

"[Ellis's] desire to position folkloristics as a mediating tool in the discussions about Satan and satanic influences, so that 'the result is not strife but harmony,' is an intriguing application." — Journal of American Folklore

Library Journal
Witches, chain letters, lucky rabbit's feet, reverse table settings, Ouija boards: are these and similar occult phenomena deadly and satanic, to be feared and condemned, as some argue? In this follow-up to his Raising the Devil, Ellis (English & American studies, Pennsylvania State Univ., Hazleton) examines occult phenomena from the viewpoint of the people who actually practice them. He points out that the occult is more common than some would like to believe and argues that such practices are not about Satan worship or belief. Far from being in opposition to mainstream religion, such practices are a way for the marginalized or disenfranchised (e.g., adolescents, women, the lower classes) to empower themselves and participate directly in the religious or mythic realm. Rather than fear and condemn the occult, Ellis argues, we should see it in dialog with mainstream religion. This solidly written and serious study, which uses little known primary resources, is recommended for academic and public libraries alike as part of religion and sociology collections.-John Moryl, Yeshiva Univ. Lib., New York Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813122892
  • Publisher: University Press of Kentucky
  • Publication date: 1/28/2004
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Bill Ellis, associate professor of English and American studies at Penn State Hazelton, is the author of Raising the Devil: Satanism, New Religions, and the Media. He has served as president of the International Society for Contemporary Legend Research and of the American Folklore Society's Folk Narrative Section and is an active member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

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Table of Contents

1 Wizards vs. Muggles: A Long-Standing Debate 1
2 What Were Witches Really Like? 16
3 Black Books and Chain Letters 46
4 Satanic Bibles 69
5 Why Is a Lucky Rabbit's Foot Lucky? 91
6 Visits to Forbidden Graveyards 112
7 Table-Setting and Mirror-Gazing 142
8 The [actual symbol not reproducible] Ouija Board 174
9 The Welsh Revival: Evangelical Christianity Meets the Occult 197
10 Learning from Lucifer 223
Notes 231
Sources Cited 239
Index 259
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