Rob Hardy writes for Amazon: “Bill Ellis is a folklorist, and an academic specializing in English and American studies. His book, [i]Raising the Devil: Satanism, New Religions, and the Media[/i] (University Press of Kentucky) attempts a sympathetic understanding of how the Devil made one of his cyclic emergences and how folklore can affect society and politics. Scares about Satan and witchcraft have been present for centuries, and seem to give a safety valve for social aggression, scapegoating deviant individuals. At the individual level of, say, someone who thinks he is possessed by a demon and someone who thinks he can cast that demon out, there is a social agreement on a folkloric belief that may be beneficial for both concerned (if not for the demon). But Ellis’s theme is that social groups can take over a folkloric belief to push a religious or governmental agenda, with disastrous consequences. He shows how demon possession and speaking in tongues are two sides of the same coin, and how belief in demons was ballooned into the belief that there was a huge underground satanic network ruining our country. Those who promulgated such conspiracy beliefs also bought into conspiracies involving Jews, vampires, the Illuminati, and cattle mutilations.
Raising the Devil is an academic work, well documented and organized. Ellis tries to illuminate the role of the folklorist in examining these sorts of belief, and realizes that he and his fellows have the difficult road to follow of accepting folklore (even if it is patently untrue) as a force between small numbers of individuals, while they also have to confront institutions that would harness folklore for political or religious change. His academic prose is leavened by the strange subject matter. For instance, the Governor of Colorado is quoted as saying that cattle mutilations were “one of the greatest outrages in the
history of the western cattle industry,” and a leader of a coven in England warned about bogus cult groups, as he had heard about one in which members “started getting in prostitutes dressed in rubber gear and there was wife swapping, too. It
gives Satanism a bad name.”