Vol. 15, No. 6, 1998

Articles on the Occult

Youth-Oriented 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, there’s a demon behind you.” The other girl leaps into action, dispatches the demon with its own sword, then nonchalantly asks, “Now where were we?”

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 people.

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 Slayer’s 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 Stoker’s 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, Buffy’s 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 Buffy’s 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, Moloch’s 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 over Moloch.

Sabrina the Teen Age Witch

Far less bleak is Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. Part of ABC’s “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. She’s welcomed into the family coven with the gift of a black cauldron, to which she responds, “A black pot? Doesn’t 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 Sabrina’s 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” aunt).10

Like Buffy, Sabrina is also the basis for a video game. Unlike Moloch’s 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 Sabrina’s 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

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, Dawson’s Creek, on WB’s 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 Piper’s 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 warlock’s 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.

The X-Files

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 show’s premise that the government is working to cover up the evidence of genuine supernatural occurrences in the United States.

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 Mulder’s office sums up a personal longing. I’m a skeptic, and I want to be challenged. I want to believe in something. That’s the heart of the show and what infuses the characters."15

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 program’s 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 PROGRAMS

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 Son.”19  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 to Christ?

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 many episodes.

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 life.”22  During 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


1  “Nielsen Ratings,” Tampa Tribune December 9, 1998 [Online]. URL http://www.tboweb.com/feature/tvrating.htm.
2  “Vampires,” [Online]. URL http://www.buffy.com/slow/library/vampires.html.
3  Ibid.
4  Ibid.
5  “Drusilla,” [Online]. URL http://www.buffy.com/slow/bestiary/drusilla.html.
6  Amos 5:6; Acts 7:43.
7  2 Kings 11:7; 1 Kings 21:6.
8  “Friday Night Nielsen Ratings for the 1997-98 Season,” [Online]. URL http://www.obkb.com/info/mjhpages/rat9798.html.
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.
13  “Nielsen Ratings,” Tampa Tribune December 9, 1998 [Online]. URL http://www.tboweb.com/feature/tvrating.htm.
14  Ibid..
15  “Xcyclopedia: 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.


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