What to Do If Kids Are Dabbling in Magic

Massimo Introvigne on a Challenge that Parents May Face

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TURIN, Italy, APRIL 26, 2002 (Zenit.org).- Massimo Introvigne´s 1995 book «The Magic Challenge» is currently a best seller in Italy. Here, the director of the European Center of Studies on New Religions talks about the phenomenon of magic, and how to address it.

ZENIT: Why did you decide to write a book on magic?

Introvigne: My book is a little guide on the three problems of esoteric culture, of magic movements and of popular magic used by the Catholic public, which has had amazing success, and continues to be reprinted after seven years. It points out three phenomena.

In the first place, Western esoteric culture, namely, a tradition of thought that has had decisive influence on philosophy, art and European literature, and which today is the object of university studies. At the time I wrote it there was a dearth of persuasive Catholic works of serious confrontation with this culture; today I single out — although they have a historical assessment that I do not share entirely — the interesting philosophical-theological critical studies of Father Joseph Marie Verlinde, who was secretary of the founder of Transcendental Meditation and member of several esoteric groups before becoming a Catholic priest.

The second phenomenon that I address is the new magic movements, which are all together very similar to new religious movements, but whose doctrinal characteristics derive from esotericism.

The third phenomenon is «popular» magic — «popular» in terms of its low cultural level, not in terms of its clientele, which is often of the higher middle class — in other words, the world of paid magicians, diviners, fortunetellers, etc.

It is very important not to confuse the three levels: Jacob Boehme [1575-1624], who plays a decisive role in the origins of modern Western esoteric culture, and whose influence on the philosophy of German idealism — Fichte, Hegel and Schelling — is decisive, cannot be confused with the clever magicians of the occult who amuse people on our televisions.

I emphasize that for a Catholic it is more difficult and necessary to do a rigorous, critical study of Jacob Boehme´s thought than of the ridiculous pantomimes of TV magicians, which is much easier.

Q: Is magic as widespread a phenomenon as believed?

Introvigne: According to the most trustworthy data, close to one-fifth of the population, both in Western Europe as well as the United States, goes at least once a year to a magician or other paid «professional of the occult.»

The data demonstrate that it is not a question of a marginal sector urged by poverty: The rich go to a magician more than the poor, among them are diplomats and bachelors. An English research study done a few years ago revealed a high percentage of computer technicians and doctors, among those who take recourse to magic. With these data I refer to the third level, the lowest, that of popular «magic.»

The actual followers of magic movements are far less: In Italy, my center has counted 13,500 people, less than 0.1% of the population. Those who are seriously interested in esoteric culture are even less than the followers of magic movements, but it often involves influential persons in the academic and cultural realm, whose importance should not be underestimated.

Q: Who are the people at risk of being manipulated by the world of magic?

Introvigne: I have the impression that the expression «people at risk» is focused only on the demand, while it is necessary to keep the offer in mind, which to a certain degree creates the demand. If the offer is not very attractive, the number of «people at risk» diminishes; however, if the magic offer is well formulated and presented, almost all of us are susceptible to entering this world.

Our research shows that in Catholic parishes also, the number of people who take recourse to magic is, in terms of percentage, more or less the same as those who are not practicing Catholics.

Q: What advice would you give to parents with a child who is interested in these topics?

Introvigne: A distinction must be made between «playful» and serious interest.

An absolute majority percentage of contemporary movies, novels, comic strips and music contain allusions to the preternatural, the occult and magic, which in the majority of cases are presented as purely imaginary and are not meant to be taken seriously, not even by their authors. Let us think of the case of Bram Stoker, author of «Dracula,» who not only did not believe in vampires but has also left us his «Famous Impostors,» one of the harshest criticisms of superstition and popular credulity.

This «playful» magic is part of contemporary culture. To isolate the young from it, as a certain fundamentalism desires, seems to me counterproductive, because it can cause the opposite reaction.

It is a very different matter when young people´s interest is not «playful» but, as they see it, «serious,» as when they are actively dedicated to spiritualism, to organizing homemade Satanic rites, perhaps in cemeteries. In this case, it is right to be concerned and to intervene, although this intervention must seek to understand the unease that leads young people to behave in this way, and its causes.

Q: What can be done in such cases?

Introvigne: Parents´ intervention must be delicate. They should first ask themselves what is not going well in general in the young person´s life, what is lacking.

If spiritualist sessions are taking place — seriously, not once as a joke, although even in such a case it must be made clear that it is not right — or rudimentary Black Masses, there is always something that is not going well. It is important not to show oneself too scandalized, because often the purpose of these kids is, precisely, to scandalize their parents.

What must be shown is the miserable character of these practices, to make the young understand that youthful spiritualism or Satanism is the «loser´s» choice, that of the defeated, that Satanists are not powerful princes of darkness but — it must be said — poor devils.

Above all, however, one must propose something. These problems are resolved when kids find, perhaps in the company of their parents or in the realm of Christian faith, more significant and attractive experiences as opposed to the little foolishness of youthful spiritualism and Satanism.

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