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Magic has stepped out of the movies, morphed from the pages of fairy tales, and is more present in America today than you might expect. Soccer moms get voodoo head washings in their backyards, young American soldiers send chants toward pagan gods of war, and a seemingly normal family determines that they are in fact elves. National bestselling author and award-winning religion reporter Christine Wicker leaves no talisman unturned in her hunt to find what's authentic and what's not in America's burgeoning magical ...
Magic has stepped out of the movies, morphed from the pages of fairy tales, and is more present in America today than you might expect. Soccer moms get voodoo head washings in their backyards, young American soldiers send chants toward pagan gods of war, and a seemingly normal family determines that they are in fact elves. National bestselling author and award-winning religion reporter Christine Wicker leaves no talisman unturned in her hunt to find what's authentic and what's not in America's burgeoning magical reality. From the voodoo temples of New Orleans to the witches' covens of Salem to a graveyard in north Florida, Wicker probes the secrets of an underground society and teaches lessons she never dreamed could be taught. What she learns repels her, challenges her, and changes her in ways she never could have imagined. And if you let it, it might change you, too.
The Waitress Wears a Pentacle
Two brawny men with tattoos had just allowed me to enter the Vampire and Victims Ball when young Nichole, a divorced mother of two who makes her living as a hairdresser, greeted me with a moan. I'd met the newbie witch some months ago during a gathering of her Salem coven. This night she was looking lovely in a nun's habit. On her forehead, as though branded there, was the blackened image of a crucifix. From her pallor, I gathered that she was supposed to be a dead nun.
Mock-swooning against me, she asked in a whisper, "Is this really me in here?"
A weighty question, particularly when asked by a witch posing as a Bride of Christ. I had hardly an instant to ponder before a redhaired woman in a backless evening gown interrupted.
"Are you beating people?" she asked.
"Yes. I think I am," Nichole answered. Crucifixes were popular that evening. A large wooden one had been set up in the back room so that partyers could be tied to it and lashed.
"Do you know how?" the red-haired woman asked.
Nichole shook her wimpled head.
"Come with me."
The room was dark and the music sounded like African drumming. A witch named Christian Day wandered by to flick his tongue and roll his eyes in what seemed to be a parody of a silent-movie vamp. A totally bald vampire with Spock ears was appropriately stern. A handsome young swain in a frock coat and a high-collared satin shirt looked beautifully sulky. A pasty-faced vamp with a top hat, long white hair, anddark glasses was thin-lipped as he took his blond bride in his arms. On her bosom were two fake puncture marks and a dribble of blood, also fake.
Real vampires, as opposed to those who only dress up as vamps, come in two main types: those who drink blood, called sanguine, and those who feast on other people's energy, called psi, or psychic. For psi vampires, parties raise energy, which makes them good places to feed. For blood vamps, a drop or two was certain to be spilled before the sun rose.
I had come to this costume party looking for magic, not the tricks of conjurers but the real stuff, the kind of magic that bends reality to a wizard's will. I'd been warned that it is dangerous to fool with people who believe they can do magical things—people such as wizards and vampires, Satanists and voodoo priestesses, high magicians and conjurers of the black arts. I had no trouble finding such people. They exist in considerable numbers, and not just in California. They're in Cleveland and Rochester, Milwaukee and Dallas, Orlando and Chapel Hill. They're all over the South. And in New York City, of course. Everything is in New York City. I wasn't warned by magical people themselves, who were often as eager to protest their goodness as fresh-dunked Baptists. It was the mundanes who issued dire predictions. Mundanes are how ordinary people are often described by those in the magical community. Sometimes, borrowing from the Harry Potter books, they're called muggles.
They're power-hungry, the mundanes said of the magical people.They're immoral, people said, and they're scary. Playing with the dark arts could plunge me into evil. I'd be pulled toward depravity, they said. Blasphemy would begin to seem like truth, bad like good, God like Satan. It had happened to people through the centuries, they said. And they were right. All that did happen.
Others greeted my enterprise with derision. You'll be on a journey, they said, but don't expect to arrive at the heart of darkness. The epicenter of silly will be more like it. And they were right too. All the warnings proved true, and yet as Hamlet put it, "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy." I was soon to find that magic is not only of ancient and illustrious pedigree, not merely an astonishingly alive and widespread way of thinking, but also a valuable, even irreplaceable, part of human experience.
Across the ballroom I saw a dapper gent in shiny white-and-black shoes wearing sharply creased black pants, a sport coat, and a yellow-and-navy tie. His hair was closely cropped and swept back from a pale forehead. He stood stiffly without smiling as though feeling timid.
"Are you a vampire or a victim?" I asked, making small talk. I couldn't have known at such an early moment, almost at the very beginning of my investigation, but I had asked the only question that truly matters. I should have listened more closely as he answered, pressed him further. Instead, I took him for a flake, which he was, of course, and yet also the envoy of truth, as I would find to be the case again and again.
"Do I look like a victim?" he asked, smiling in a way that didn't show his teeth. This was not a good sign.
"Well . . . ," I said, stalling.
"Are you a victim?" he asked too calmly.
Still his smile showed no teeth.
"I don't want to say."
"You have to choose."
Tied to the physical, deaf to the eternal, riveted by my own shortcomings, I was thinking only of what a bad choice I'd made when choosing a partner for chat. This guy was faking timidity to lure someone over. If I said victim, he was likely to start gnawing my neck. If I said vampire, he would demand proof. I hadn't fangs enough to back that pretension. Spotting an angel across the room and eager to shift Dapper Gent's attention, I said, "That takes some nerve in this crowd."
"Why do you say that?" he asked. "An angel and a devil are only a breath away."Not In Kansas Anymore
Posted May 14, 2012
Posted July 7, 2011
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