Cinema of the Occult: New Age, Satanism, Wicca, and Spiritualism in Film

Cinema of the Occult: New Age, Satanism, Wicca, and Spiritualism in Film

Cinema of the Occult: New Age, Satanism, Wicca, and Spiritualism in Film

Cinema of the Occult: New Age, Satanism, Wicca, and Spiritualism in Film


Cinema of the Occult studies filmmakers' adaptation of exiting occult religious approaches, such as New Age, Satanism, Wicca, and Spiritualism, with brief looks at paths less traveled. The occult is of special interest now when religion is so much a part of our national dialogue. While a majority of Americans report themselves to be religious or spiritual, many have deserted traditional Judeo/Christian orthodoxy in favor of new religious movements. Though actual followers are a small percentage of our population, they have a powerful influence on mainstream religious paths and culture. Many of these new religions are rooted in the occult, which Robert Ellwood defines as “those whose adherents believe they are custodians of significant truth about the reality—truth unknown to most people either because it has been deliberately concealed of because it is by its very nature unknowable without special training or initiation.”

New religious movements have been a flash point in the culture wars of our time, perhaps none more so than those that are the topic of this book. Evangelist Pat Robertson asserts that the “New Age is another term for the Occult” and it bears “the immutable brand of Satan.” But despite the condemnation by conservative Christians, the growth of occult religions offers a powerful testimony to the spiritual groping of a time when then findings of science have led many to find comfort outside the orthodox Judeo/Christian fold.

Since their earliest days, filmmakers have made occult paths grist for the scriptwriting mill because of the inherent sensationalism of the topic. Film is a reflection of the hopes, fears, and aspirations of the audience that views them as well as entertainment, and we can learn much about our culture by studying those films with stories of enduring appeal. New Age films such as Star Wars, Jacob’s Ladder, and Dogma resonate with many because of the search for the numinous from within. Satanic films reflect our fear of the Other, the outsider who threatens the purity of our group; films such as the Omen sequels apply this fear to the threat of a New World Order. Wiccan films such as Practical Magic and Suspiria offer insights into the debate over feminine empowerment, while films that adapt Spiritualism reflect our hopes for life after death.

Cinema of the Occult provides useful information on the occult religions of its title and applies this discussion to selected films. Readers will find excellent background on these paths as well as perceptive commentary on film adaptations of them and their relevance to understanding our culture.


Few topics for any society are more polarized and POLARIZing than religion. Surely it is a tribute to our multicultural nation that we have been able to disagree peacefully, if not always pleasantly or even politely, on matters of faith or the lack thereof. Today we see a wide range of spiritual paths in the Western World, many well outside the Judeo/Christian tradition. Until the mid-nineteenth century, Christianity in its various incarnations with a minority of Judaism dominated the spiritual life of the West, though interpretations of Jesus’ words could differ greatly and Jews were frequently the objects of persecution by Christians.

Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species (1859), however, changed everything. If Darwin’s theory of evolution is correct, scientists of the day insisted, humanity was not the handiwork of God but just one more species that evolved through the accidental patterns of whimsical nature with survival of the fittest and natural selection being the true creative force. the divine seemed to have no place in this scheme of things, and Origin caused a case of spiritual indigestion for many. Darwin and his enthusiastic followers sparked an often acrimonious debate that is still with us 150 years after the publication of Origin.

Christianity rejected Darwin’s theory throughout the nineteenth and much of the twentieth centuries, and evangelical Christians continue to do so today. the Southern Baptist Convention Web site, for instance, affirms that “all scripture is totally true and trustworthy”; and Southern Baptists, along with other conservative Christian denominations, affirm the Genesis version of creation, placing the age of the earth at about 6,000 years. At the other extreme in discussions of faith, best-selling writers such as Sam Harris label all religion pernicious and proclaim The End of Faith (his title), while post-Darwinian Richard Dawkins, whom we might call a quite evangelistic atheist, writes, “any creative intelligence, of sufficient complexity to design anything, comes into existence only as the end product of an extended . . .

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