My Occult Identity Crisis
Last month, Emily Temple of Flavorwire published An Essential Occult Reading List:
“People have been obsessed with the occult for centuries, and it never seems to lose any of its charm. After all, the word comes from the Latin word for secret, and I’ve never met anyone who isn’t interested in secrets.”
I’ve been compiling my own occult reading list for exactly those reasons: My family has a secret, and I’m interested. (Rumor has it that my great-grandmother belonged to a satanic cult.) But each new book brings new pangs of apprehension.
Will someone mistake me for a devil worshiper? What will the librarian think when she checks out my pentagram-covered interlibrary loans along with my kid’s Lego City Readers?
Is my occult research courting spiritual danger?
Ralph Sarchie, who co-wrote Deliver Us From Evil with Lisa Collier Cool, might say yes. A New York City cop who doubles as a demonologist, he stresses that associating with occult objects can encourage demonic possession.
Sounds scary. But do I believe in demonic possession? I don’t know. The whole phenomenon is so rooted in Catholic dogma that I don’t know what to make of it. Is the only cure for demonic possession really a bunch of priests, holy water and relics of the true cross? Doesn’t that presume that Catholicism is the only true religion?
Catholics might think so, but I’m not Catholic.
I found clarity in Alex Mar’s Witches of America. Her book about the occult takes a much broader view that includes Wicca and Paganism.
“[Mar] uses the word ‘embarrassed’ often as a disclaimer and to reality-check her presence at, for example, a Gnostic mass,” writes Merritt Tierce in The New York Times Sunday Book Review:
“But that shrewdly articulated hesitation is precisely what makes her a compelling Virgil. She anticipates our skepticism because she herself is skeptical, though she directs that skepticism inward.”
This hesitation has a tendency to piss off believers. For proof, just look to the dozens of angry book reviews left by Wiccans who felt belittled or betrayed by Witches of America.
That hesitation is also why I like Mar’s book so much. I identify with her embarrassment and her questioning. They make the occult’s shrouded nature seem a little more accessible, a little less secret.
What does that mean for my own writing?
I’m not sure. I can’t claim to be nearly as eloquent or as well-researched as Mar. Yet I will probably still piss people off. I’m going to keep reading, anyway. Keep researching. And keep trying not to blush when the librarian hands me those interlibrary loans.
What does that mean for my soul? I haven’t the foggiest. But if you hear me speaking Latin, you should probably run the other way.