Since the enlightenment, supernatural or indeed, spiritual belief has been attacked as nebulous superstitions propagated by irrationality. Philosophers of the time looked at supernatural belief as something to be discarded in favor of reason and logic. This attitude prevails even today as mainstream academia and science strive for secular supremacy in modern culture. Hufford makes this point when he states that “the conventional view assumes that there is no distinctively “spiritual” set of experiences, that there are, rather spiritual interpretations of ordinary experiences that vie with secular interpretations of the same things” (27). By this viewpoint, one person’s demonic attack is another’s undiagnosed ‘night terror’ and so on. Although this view is persuasive, if doesn’t work in reference to the occult because the occult actively seeks to be part of the folk process. Unlike a UFO abduction narrative or an Old Hag attack, the occult practitioner willfully uses his belief to shape the experience. That’s not to say that somebody who wakes up aboard an alien craft or paralyzed by a ghostly hag doesn’t draw upon belief to interpret their experiences, only that the occultists uses belief to sanction his chosen interpretation of the experience.
Another way in which occult-lore differs from other forms of supernatural narratives is in the legitimacy granted to it by consensus reality. Unlike a ghostly haunting or UFO abduction, society at large believes in the power of the occult. And always has. Whether it be the fear of diabolic ritualization or abduction of our children, the occult is accepted as a tangible or at least feasible institution. Often times, supernatural elements of the occult are set aside and the belief in brainwashing misguided or marginalized members of society becomes a catalyst for rumor panic. For those who believe in the magic and mysticism of the occult, rationalization of their belief parallels that of the church. Belief in the occult is analogous to belief in the power of prayer, holy relics, or communion. Although the occult is largely tabooed belief, it negotiates the same beliefs as any religious institution. Because of this, faith in the occult is no different in principle than faith in Pentecostal snake-handling or charismatic Christian revivals.
In fact, the snake-handling practices of southern Appalachia is so similar to supernatural experience that the two are intrinsically connected. For example, when author Dennis Covington asked a member of ‘The Church of Jesus with Signs Following’:
“What’s it like to take up a serpent?”
“It’s hard to explain,” Uncle Ully had said. “You’re in a prayerful state. You can’t have your mind on other things. The spirit tells you what to do.”
“But why do people get bit?”
He thought about it a minute. “In that situation, somebody must have misjudged the spirit.”
This misjudging of the spirit is no different in principle than the occult belief of misjudging a demonic entity. Both negotiate the supernatural and make use of folk belief to interpret the experience. Also, consensus reality accepts that there are dangers associated with both experiences. Although the snakes are a very real, physical danger to the handler, the occult ritual carries the threat of psychological manipulation or damage.
By assigning the modern occultist the designation of ‘folk’, we reaffirm the need to take into consideration the actions and ritualization of the occult as part of the academic mainstream. Occultists are held together by their similarity in narratives and in their performance. Occult-lore also makes use of traditional folkloric forms in its commercialization and dissemination. When we read of modern demonic invocations, we are implicitly reminded of ancient Egyptian, Grecian, and Roman motifs. As survivals from the past, these rituals have adapted to fit the needs of modern belief. The occult is the agent provocateur of past mythos and ritual. In it lays the secrecy and mysticism of symbols long thought dead. As a cabal of supernatural thought, the occult folklorist protects the mirth and magic of ancient mysteries only to find their symbolic and psychological correspondences in everyday experiences. It is these perceptions of belief that make the study of occult-lore viable for academia. The narratives are simultaneously informative and entertaining.