I met a witch my first week at Juilliard. We were both freshman and I had gotten to know her roommate. The three of us went to eat chinese food on my birthday.
It was a simple conversation about our various backgrounds. I was from a big family. She was an only child. I was a Christian. She was a witch.
"I practice Wicca," she said.
I knew about Wicca - a little. But in my mind no one would want to declare being a witch out loud. I thought it curious that she didn’t see being a witch as something fundamentally negative - let alone malevolent.
In the past few weeks the rise of the occult has been particularly plain in both pop culture and in the intelligentsia. Just look at the internet explosions of “Taylor Swift Is A Witch” and “A Witch Doctor Offers an Invocation at Davos.”
The question raised by most online commentators is whether these claims are merely sensationalist marketing ploys.
This is the wrong question.
There have always been people who worshiped and served darkness, but it was considered culturally and spiritually shameful.
Today, why is no one ashamed to attach themselves to practices and beliefs that have historically been considered evil?
Answer: The arts.
Let’s face it, if you are the Devil, you believe yourself to be the victim of a publicity disaster that began at the dawn of time and the #1 thing that would help your efforts is to not be the bad guy.
But it has been pretty hard for him to move the needle because we believe the Devil is, well, the Devil, and Evil is, well, Evil.
Until mass media came along with its incredible narrative power to change our perceptions, because the arts not only tell you what to think, they tell you what to feel.
Through the arts, the Devil has re-contextualized the darkness. Now the darkness is funny. The darkness is desirable. The darkness is powerful, and (plot twist) the darkness can be harnessed for good.
I began to notice it when I was a teenager, though it began before that time. There was a string of films and tv shows in which the the bad guy was the good guy. Generally this involved a creature or an occupation we know to be malevolent and in the story we learn a new wisdom - they are only misunderstood.
Dragons, pirates, thieves, witches, vampires, werewolves, and eventually the Devil himself have all moved from being malicious and horrifying to comedic, sensual, mysterious and cool.
Here is a line up of titles produced for ages ranging from 3 to 103, each one made to accomplish this very goal: Santiago and the Pirates, Vampirina, Sabrina - the teenage Witch, How to Train Your Dragon, The Good Witch, The Worst Witch, Little Witch Academia, Buffy theVampire Slayer, Hotel Transylvania, Twilight, Harry Potter, and Lucifer.
Folks, this list is a drop in the bucket.
Today, 3-year-old children watch toddler vampire shows like Vampirina on Disney Channel because vampires are cute and funny.
What?! You thought they were nocturnal, blood sucking murderers! Don’t you know how to take a joke?
At first this new presentation of evil was funny and innocuous. From Bewitched to Pretty Woman to Pirates of the Caribbean to Oceans 11, shows and films came along in which all kinds of thievery, licentiousness and deceit were presented to us through humor and coolness. Because being funny and sophisticated covers a multitude of sins.
Then came the dark and sensuous films like the Twilight series, in which vampires, werewolves, and all kinds of creatures of demonic and mythological descent were presented to us as attractive and enigmatic. In these we learned that the normal responses to darkness and light, evil and good were just too inflexible to handle the true complexity of life.
In the newest wave of Amazon prime releases we have offerings like Hazbin Hotel, in which the elders of Heaven want to withhold knowledge from Adam, who is the oppressor of his first wife, Lilith, who is pulled away from the Garden of Eden by the beautiful giver of freedom and knowledge, Lucifer.
Didn’t you know? Lucifer is the hero!
You can almost hear the Devil’s maniacal laugh. “The plan is working!”
Get a 3-year-old to watch shows about funny vampire girls, then a 10-year-old to play witch, then a high-schooler to laugh at Lucifer as he dabbles in the occult, condoning deviance as normal and you'll find yourself reckoning with a generation that doesn't know good from evil, truth from lies, light from darkness.
"Woe to those who call evil good and good evil."
The conclusion: the Devil is successfully using the God-given elements of beauty and creativity to re-contextualize his story so we empathize with evil.
His goal: to win our imagination and cast his shadow upon the light of our reason.
To win the imagination is to win thought, and to win thought is ultimately to win action. At the end of his plan he won’t be the “Father or Lies” or the “Devourer,” he will be the liberator, until he locks you in your jail cell in Hell.
So who will tell the “true story” from the wellspring of a “baptized” imagination?
Who will wield the power of image and music to guide the mind to a path of purity, where our natural human empathies align with what is good and true and beautiful?
When we started producing the Wonderful World of Benjamin Cello one of the core concepts, which is quoted by Benjamin Cello in every episode, comes from C.S. Lewis who referred to the “baptized imagination” and its importance in his conversion.
We are a part of God’s effort to raise up artists in His Kingdom for this purpose. It is a battle requiring skill and courage, and the truth and innocence of it shines even brighter against today's backdrop of glorified evil.
The Annie Moses Foundation is a leading an artistic renaissance through works for stage and screen.
To support our work go to anniemoses.org/give