TV and the Occult
by Jason Barker
Two girls sit on a park bench in the dim penumbra of a
streetlight, quietly talking about how to identify true
love. The peaceful scene is broken, however, as one girl
glances behind the other, grimaces, and says,
Buffy, theres a demon behind you. The
other girl leaps into action, dispatches the demon with
its own sword, then nonchalantly asks, Now where
Casual demon-slaying is just another ordinary
occurrence in the life of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The
popular television series on the WB network airs Tuesdays
at 7 p.m. (CST), a time slot commonly referred to as
the family hour. Set in a suburban California
high school and featuring a cast of young adults, Buffy
is a prime-time example of the growing marketing of the
occult as an entertainment and lifestyle option for young
The trend of blending the occult with mass media is
not new. The book and movie, The Exorcist, in the
early 1970s was a benchmark in horror fiction, followed
in the late 1970s and 1980s by such movie series as Halloween,
Friday the 13th (which also became a television
series), and A Nightmare on Elm Street. Many
parents in the 1980s reacted against the satanic lyrics
in some heavy metal and death
rock songs. The vampire novels by Anne Rice have
been extremely popular in the 1980s and 1990s (the first
novel, Interview with the Vampire, was made into a
movie with Tom Cruise in 1994).
A key difference between the aforementioned trends and
the newest trend is that, while many horror movies and
novels are marketed to a general audience, the latest
trend is to market occultic entertainment and practices
directly at young people. One of the foremost ways in
which this occurs is via the television.
Occult-Based TV Programs
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Buffy the Vampire Slayer, mentioned above, is
one of the most popular occult-based programs on
television. Buffy earned a 3.7 Nielsen rating for the
week of November 30-December 6, 1998, meaning that
approximately 3,677,800 households watched the program
that week.1 A search on Excite for web sites
about the program turned up 4,756 pages.
The premise of the program is simple: once each
century a single teenaged, female warrior (called a
Slayer, also called a Chosen one)
is born to combat vampires, demons and other supernatural
beings. When a Slayer dies, the next is chosen and
trained by a Watcher (the Slayers mentor in
supernatural and esoteric practices). Buffy Summers, the
series heroine, is the current Slayer; she is
trained by a somewhat bumbling British librarian and
Watcher named Rupert Giles. These two, and a small group
of friends, live in the suburban town of Sunnyvale, which
also happens to be the mouth of Hell. Each week is thus
spent with the group battling demons, vampires,
werewolves, and other creatures.
The monsters inhabiting the world of Buffy the Vampire
Slayer are a syncretistic blending of numerous religions
and mythologies. The vampires, whose presence is at the
heart of the series, are derived from four sources. The
primary source, to which the need for blood and the
distorted features of the monsters can be traced, is the
legend of the nosferatu of Eastern Europe.2 The concept of vampires
as sexual creatures is taken from the 1819 novel The
Vampyre, written by Dr. Polidori, an associate of the
poet Lord Byron.3 The
debonair vampire, best seen in the character Spike, is
heavily influenced by Bram Stokers Dracula,
just as the romantic relationship between Buffy and the
vampire ironically named Angel is influenced by the
novels of Anne Rice.4
The series initially began in a similar vein to the
movie on which it is loosely based: a stereotypical
suburban California girl fights monsters by night while
being a popular high school student by day. The early
episodes were a commentary on the social life of American
teenagers: an unpopular student who is rejected as a
cheerleader uses supernatural powers to exact her
revenge; a trip to the zoo results in the clique of
popular students being possessed by the spirits of hyenas
and eating the principal; an ignored student invisibly
takes revenge on the popular students.
In the last two seasons, however, the series has taken
a much darker twist. After a sexual encounter with Buffy,
Angel is stricken by an old curse that destroys his soul.
Despite later being freed from this curse, Buffy kills
Angel and sends him to Hell in order to save her friends.
Willow, Buffys shy friend, studies witchcraft; she
also becomes romantically involved with Oz, a werewolf.
It is also revealed that one of the recurring villains, a
vampire named Drusilla, was turned into the undead in the
Middle Ages by Angel, who killed her entire family and
attacked her on the day that she was to take her final
vows as a nun.5
The official web site
for the program is a sign of Buffys growing
popularity. A heavily-used message board allows viewers
to post their comments about the program. An online store
will soon allow viewers to purchase program-related
merchandise. Most significantly, a free interactive game,
Molochs Revenge, is available to viewers.
Individuals can manipulate Buffy and three friends to
prevent Moloch, a villain in an early episode (and the
chief deity of the Ammonites,6
to whom Solomon erected an altar on Mount Olivet, and to
whom Manasseh sacrificed his son7)
from opening the Hellmouth and escaping. The individual,
through Buffy and her friends, does battle with Moloch
until one side is defeated. A Trick Bag
containing magic spells and esoteric knowledge
temporarily enables the individual to gain an advantage
Sabrina the Teen Age Witch
Far less bleak is Sabrina, the Teenage Witch.
Part of ABCs TGIF lineup, and based on
a series of Archie comics, Sabrina is the most popular
youth-oriented program involving magic and the occult on
television. In the fall of 1997, Sabrina was viewed by
approximately 7,952,000 households each week.8
Sabrina is highly reminiscent of the program Bewitched,
in which a well-meaning domestic witch dealt with her
supernatural extended family while using her magic to
harmlessly assist her mortal husband. Sabrina is a
teenager who, on her sixteenth birthday, learns that she
(as well as her mother and live-in aunt) is a witch.
Shes welcomed into the family coven with the gift
of a black cauldron, to which she responds, A black
pot? Doesnt anyone shop at the Gap anymore?9 In addition to her
family, Sabrina is tutored in the art of witchcraft by
Salem, a warlock doing penance as a black cat.
Early episodes involved Sabrinas inability to
control her magic leading her into zany situations. She
turned a rival into a pineapple; she made her boyfriend
pregnant, turned him into a bowling pin, and also into a
frog. More recent episodes have attempted to send moral
messages to viewers by tackling such topics as gambling
(Salem begins gambling), drug abuse (Sabrina becomes
addicted to pancakes), and irresponsible behavior
(Sabrina spends time with a life of the party
Like Buffy, Sabrina is also the basis for a
video game. Unlike Molochs Revenge, however,
this CD-ROM is on sale in stores. Sabrina the Teenage
Witch: Spellbound begins with Sabrina asking Salem to
give her a spell that will make a boy her boyfriend
forever. The spell backfires, however, turning Sabrina
into a pumpkin. The player then attempts to save Sabrina
by using her Spell Book to cast spells, while
wandering Sabrinas home and interacting with
characters from the program.11
ABC is currently developing a spin-off to Sabrina.
The program will be about two self-centered, spoiled
witches who lose their supernatural powers after their
mother falls in love with a mortal plumber. The series
will be initiated with a tie-in to an episode of Sabrina
in February 1999.12
Charmed is only slightly less popular than Buffy
the Vampire Slayer. The series, which debuted this
season, attracted 3,081,400 viewers during the week
November 30-December 6, 1998.13
It follows the phenomenally popular teen-oriented drama, Dawsons
Creek, on WBs Wednesday night lineup.
The program involves three twenty-something sisters
who, after one finds a tome called The Book of Shadows
in their attic, discover and develop their supernatural
powers. The oldest, Prue, has the power to move objects.
The middle sister, Piper, has the ability to freeze time.
The youngest, Phoebe, can see into the future. The
sisters use their new-found powers in the premiere to
destroy Pipers boyfriend, who turns out to be an
evil warlock and serial killer (a dream in a later
episode raises the possibility that Piper is pregnant
with the warlocks child). Central to exercising
their power is their incantation, The power of
three will set us free.
Romantic and/or sexual involvement is central to
numerous plots in this series. In one episode Phoebe
becomes involved with a demon named Javna who maintains
his eternal life force by draining the life force from
young women. Another episode involves Piper falling in
love with a ghost, whom the sisters must help to bury his
body to keep his soul from going to hell. In still
another episode, a demon attempts to marry a man in order
to create demon offspring.
Unquestionably the most popular television program
dealing with the occult is The X-Files. The
program was seen in 9,900,000 households during the week
of November 30-December 6, 1998.14
The movie based on the program, The X-Files: Fight the
Future, grossed $83,900,000 in the U.S. alone. A
search for web sites about the program on the Internet
turned up 26,686 pages.
The mythology of the show is among the most convoluted
in television. The central theme is that two FBI agents
Fox Mulder and Dana Scully investigate UFO
and alien appearances, paranormal encounters, and
governmental conspiracies. The two slogans of the
program, The truth is out there and
trust no one, emphasize the shows
premise that the government is working to cover up the
evidence of genuine supernatural occurrences in the
In addition to its occult-based content, Mulder and
Scully frequently encounter viruses and parasitic
creatures in the series. Numerous other episodes involve
UFOs and aliens, a favorite subject for many involved
with the occult and New Age. The occult activities in
X-Files episodes include astral projection, satanic
rituals, transmigration, werewolves, a gargoyle,
channeling, and psychokinetics.
The spiritual element is crucial to the success of X-Files.
Chris Carter, creator and producer of the program,
explains that "The X-Files popularity
points to a certain sense of longing, and more openness
now about extra-scientific possibilities. The I
Want to Believe poster in Mulders office sums
up a personal longing. Im a skeptic, and I want to
be challenged. I want to believe in something.
Thats the heart of the show and what infuses the
The program thus serves as a cathartic outlet for
people who are inclined towards occultic beliefs, but are
intellectually or socially inhibited from directly
engaging such beliefs.
A difference between X-Files and the programs
mentioned above is that X-Files is not explicitly
oriented towards youth. The main actors are adults;
beyond a few episodes dealing with abductions, children
are seldom a part of the X-Files universe.
Nonetheless, a large number of the programs tie-ins
are oriented toward youth. Over 100 million X-Files
gaming cards have been sold.16
Card-maker Topps sells six different series of
collectable X-Files cards. A series of action
figures is available, including one each of Mulder and
Scully with a corpse on a gurney. A video game, in which
the player assists Mulder and Scully by sifting through
crime scenes, following clues, and interviewing witnesses
and suspects, is also available.
THE SOTERIOLOGY OF THESE
In addition to their occult-based content, these
programs share a similar soteriology (method of
salvation): properly understanding supernatural powers
gives one the ability to save oneself and others.
In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy defeats hordes of
vampires and demons purely through her prowess in the
martial arts; other monsters require spells and other
rituals taught to her (and her friends) by the Watcher,
Giles. Also in this series, characters can both send
others to Hell, and rescue them from damnation (e.g.,
Angel, who was sent to Hell by Buffy, returned to
Sunnydale after spending 100 years in torment). The
witches in Charmed use their magical powers to defeat
assorted demons; they also saved a ghost from going to
Hell by burying his body. Sabrina has yet to face a
life-or-death situation; however, she uses her magical
powers to improve social situations.
Jesus disciples were given authority over
spirits.17 This did
not mean, however, that the disciples were to exult in
this ability; instead, they were to exult in the fact
that their names are written in heaven.18
The authority given to Christians comes only because God
hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and
hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear
Furthermore, ultimate victory over Satan and his demons
will be accomplished by Christ and His angels, not
through human fighting ability or esoteric knowledge.20
This illustrates a central difference between the
soteriology in these programs and true biblical
soteriology: the Bible clearly teaches that Christians
are saved apart from any actions they perform.21
IS IT WRONG FOR CHRISTIANS TO
WATCH SUCH PROGRAMS?
Is it inherently wrong for Christian youth to watch Buffy
the Vampire Slayer? Is it impossible for a Christian
to watch The X-Files solely for the entertainment
value without somehow undermining his or her dedication
Programs such as these can be very entertaining. Buffy
and X-Files are well-written and produced; their
gripping storylines easily draw viewers to each episode.
Likewise, Sabrina is largely harmless, inoffensive
entertainment with a moral lesson for children woven into
Nonetheless, it is important to consider whom a
Christian is following when watching such programs. Dick
Rolfe, head of the Dove Foundation, When you spend
that much time watching something [the average American
family watches six hours of television per day], you have
just developed new role models and a new window on
the time a Christian spends focusing on plots concerning
subjects that are condemned by God,23
that person is tacitly following the occult rather than
God. Instead of being entertained by the occult,
Christians should follow the words of Paul: And be
not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the
renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that
good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.24
Ratings, Tampa Tribune December 9, 1998
[Online]. URL http://www.tboweb.com/feature/tvrating.htm.
[Online]. URL http://www.buffy.com/slow/library/vampires.html.
[Online]. URL http://www.buffy.com/slow/bestiary/drusilla.html.
6 Amos 5:6; Acts 7:43.
7 2 Kings 11:7; 1 Kings
8 Friday Night
Nielsen Ratings for the 1997-98 Season, [Online].
9 Picks n
Pans, People, October 7, 1996 [Online]. URL http://www.pathfinder.com/people/961007/picksnpans/tube/tube3.html.
10 Fall TV
Preview, Entertainment Weekly, September 11, 1998
[Online]. URL http://cgi.pathfinder.com/ew/features/980911/falltvpre/sabrina.html.
11 Sabrina the
Teenage Witch: Spotlight, [Online]. URL http://www.abc.com/tgif/sabrina/spotlight/archive_11-13.html.
12 Hontz, Jenny.
Sabrina Sister Act Spinoff,
Reuters, December 7, 1998 [Online]. URL http://nt.excite.com/news/r/981207/08/television-sabrina.
Ratings, Tampa Tribune December 9, 1998 [Online].
the Ultimate Episode Guide, Entertainment Weekly,
n.d., [Online]. URL http://cgi.pathfinder.com/ew/features/archives/xfiles/veneration_x/episodes/episodes.html.
16 X-Files: The
Collectible Card Game [Online]. URL http://www.x-filesccg.com.
17 Mark 6:7.
18 Luke 10:20.
19 Colossians 1:13.
20 Genesis 3:15;
Revelation 20:1-3, 10.
21 Romans 3:28.
22 Entertainment Media
Does it Lead or Follow Society? [Online]. URL http://www.christiananswers.net/q-eden/edn-f010.html.
23 Leviticus 20:6.
24 Romans 12:2.