While I’m waiting for email responses from the Pagan Federation UK (a possible interview candidate), and Chick Publications (regarding usage rights on select portions of “The Nervous Witch,” a Chick Tract), I thought that a good use of this post would be to analyze Caryl Matrisciana’s Witchcraft Repackaged, the 2001 documentary on the Occult which supposedly inspired many of Mallory’s radical sentiments. While the documentary is still sold by various fundamentalist Christian outlets, the entirety of the film has been released on YouTube.
The most notable aspect of the film in relation to the Mallory case is the extent to which it actually engages with Rowling’s books. Where Mallory’s observations were often entirely and intentionally devoid of context, at the very least, Matrisciana’s script verges on misinterpretation; she attempts to justify most of her allegations using the text. For instance, around seventeen minutes into the documentary, in order to support the claim that “there are the concepts of Mother Goddess,” a supposed inversion of the Biblical trinity in Wicca communities based on fertility and motherhood, “being taught,” Matrisciana cites the “sacrificial death” of Harry’s mother as a symbolic representation of this tenant, and a means of communicating it to the audience. Shortly after this, Matrisciana explores the idea of “shape-changing” by noting that Harry’s father “appears as a stag, the horned god.” This complicates the notion that by not actually reading the books, Mallory had no exposure to Rowling’s content. Rather, Mallory would have at least had a cursory understanding of the material, albeit a targeted understanding specifically intended to provoke Christian fundamentalists.
Another significant aspect of the film is that it seems to concern young audiences exclusively. The documentary is not intended for a general audience; it is clear that the film is directed at the parents of young children. The introductory section during the first seven minutes explores occult imagery in media targeting young audiences, namely teen magazines like Bliss, and shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The narrator repeatedly uses words and phrases which imply deception and the threat of corruption, constructing an image of religious esotericists as antagonistic predators practicing “mind altering techniques of self-hypnosis” in “dimly lit parlors or new age fairs,” but also increasingly in “bookstores, on the internet, in public schools and libraries, and throughout the media.” Beginning nine minutes in, the film also presents an MSNBC interview with fundamentalist parent Steve Mounce, for whom the issue of Harry Potter was both a moral issue and an issue of personal autonomy. Mounce stated, “I think the merit in what [J.K. Rowling] said is that they are evil books, I think parents can make a decision on whether they want their children to read these books.” The decision to reproduce the full interview, an uninterrupted five minute clip with no additional commentary provided, hints at the importance of Mounce’s position in the framing of the film as a concerned parent.
Lastly, the film repeatedly stresses that Witchcraft, Paganism, and particularly Wicca are real religious practices in a cultural and legal sense, comparable to any mainstream religion. The point that Wiccans have historically obtained tax-exempt status in lower courts throughout the United States as well as the observation that military bases have occasionally staffed Wicca chaplains are each addressed several times over the course of the film. Moreover, while it is difficult to determine the extent to which evangelical figures chosen to appear in the film actually believed in the possibility of real magic, and the extent to which they were instead discussing that possibility in a metaphorical sense, several distinguished between Rowling’s “latin words,” and “legitimate rituals and spells” taught by professionals. Speaking on the dangers of Witchcraft, one male figure shown in the film stated, “Many youth, including Christian youth, do not see the danger in Witchcraft … they do not know that they are opening doors in their life to spirits, which will come in and create very compulsive behaviors.”