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The Contemporary Relevance of ‘Witchcraft Goes Mainstream’

Neo-paganism is a complex phenomenon — counterculture, movement, religion and lifestyle are all aspects of what Neo-paganism represents to its adherants. It is also a dynamic phenomenon — Gerald Gardner’s “wicca” began to change and evolve, almost as soon as the concept entered his mind; it continued to do so throughout his career, and Neo-paganism as a whole maintains that pattern of mutating growth today.

Witchcraft Goes Mainstream was published in 2004. Today, Neo-paganism has moved beyond the state and condition described in its pages, but the moves have occurred in expected directions. Thus, the book’s historical account has been surpassed, but its historical analysis has not been superceded. The purpose of the book was (and remains) to provide a historical, cultural and spiritual context for understanding modern witchcraft’s origins, rise and increasing popularity. None of that material has been invalidated by subsequent events, and much of it has been confirmed.

There is one omission, however, that has drawn comment from several reviewers: there is no substantial discussion of the “Harry Potter” books and movies.

When I began writing Witchcraft Goes Mainstream in 1999, “Harry’s” sensational popularity was still in its opening stages as a blip on the cultural radar; the first book in the series had been published just two years earlier. By the time I was completing the manuscript in 2003, the second of eight Potter movies had already been released, and “Pottermania” was in full swing.

From the beginning of Harry’s rise to the status of pop-culture-icon, I was of two minds about including his career in the book. On the one hand, the relevance of his popularity to the growth and increasing acceptance of Neo-paganism seemed obvious enough. On the other hand, it also seemed to me there were at least four good reasons to avoid bringing that discussion into the book I was actually writing.

One reason is that, given the sensational level of attention being paid to all things Potter, the discussion itself would give the book a new center of gravity, rhetorically speaking, and diffuse the thrust of its message by causing some people to judge the book based on their attitude toward Harry. A second is that, even by 2003, Harry’s success had been one of the most exhaustively over-anlalyzed events in publishing history, and I felt I had nothing new or original to add to that already redundant body of commentary. A third reason is that, just as its relevance to the growth of Neo-paganism was obvious, so too was its actual impact. No one needed my commentary to discern the most “relevant” fact about Pottermania — that it was spreading a positive, exciting, “fun” image of witchcraft, sorcery and occultism generally, to enormous numbers of people world-wide.

But the main reason for not including Harry Potter in the book I was writing is that he wasn’t part of the more fundamental process of cultural change I was trying to describe before he even appeared on the scene.

The main transformation of our culture’s symbolism of Good and Evil had been accomplished by the visual media during the mid-1990s, with The Craft (movie) and Buffy the Vampire Slayer (TV series) — see Chapter 4. Harry came hard on the heels of that transformation, building on it and spreading those changed attitudes to extremely large numbers of people. The Craft and Buffy carved new channels for the popular culture to create symbols and express itself, while Harry dramatically increased the volume of flow through those new channels. Harry was significant for his high visibility — the main effect of which was to spread attitudinal changes that had already been set in motion before he made his debut. I didn’t want the superficial aspects of Harry’s spectacular career to overshadow the more fundamental historical point I was trying to make. In simple terms, I didn’t include Harry because I didn’t want him to be a distraction.

Brooks Alexander

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Category: Witchcraft Goes Mainstream
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First published (or major update) on Wednesday, October 26, 2011.
Last updated on July 07, 2024.

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