LOCK HAVEN, PAAshley Daniels is as close as you can get to your typical 9-year-old American girl. A third-grader at Lock Haven Elementary School, she loves rollerblading, her pet hamsters Benny and Oreo, Britney Spears, and, of course, Harry Potter. Having breezed through the most recent Potter opus in just four days, Ashley is among the millions of children who have made Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire the fastest-selling book in publishing history.
And, like many of her school friends, Ashley was captivated enough by the strange occult doings at the Hogwarts School Of Witchcraft And Wizardry to pursue the Left-Hand Path, determined to become as adept at the black arts as Harry and his pals.
"I used to believe in what they taught us at Sunday School," said Ashley, conjuring up an ancient spell to summon Cerebus, the three-headed hound of hell. "But the Harry Potter books showed me that magic is real, something I can learn and use right now, and that the Bible is nothing but boring lies."
Ashley is hardly the only child rejecting God these days. Weeks after the release of Goblet, the fourth book in J.K. Rowling's blockbuster kid-lit series, interest in witchcraft continues to skyrocket among children. Across America, Satanic temples are filling to the rafters with youngsters clamoring for instruction in summoning and conjuring.
Over protests from Christian Right leaders, who oppose the books for containing magicand, by extension, Satanic religious beliefsmillions of children are willing their bodies and souls to Lucifer in unholy blood covenants. In 1995, it was estimated that some 100,000 Americans, mostly adults, were involved in devil-worship groups. Today, more than 14 million children alone belong to the Church of Satan, thanks largely to the unassuming boy wizard from 4 Privet Drive.
"The Harry Potter books are cool, 'cause they teach you all about magic and how you can use it to control people and get revenge on your enemies," said Hartland, WI, 10-year-old Craig Nowell, a recent convert to the New Satanic Order Of The Black Circle. "I want to learn the Cruciatus Curse, to make my muggle science teacher suffer for giving me a D."
"Hermione is my favorite, because she's smart and has a kitty," said 6-year-old Jessica Lehman of Easley, SC. "Jesus died because He was weak and stupid."
But as wild as children are about Harry, no one is happier about the phenomenon than old-school Satanists, who were struggling to recruit new members prior to the publication of the first Potter book in 1997.
"Harry is an absolute godsend to our cause," said High Priest Egan of the First Church Of Satan in Salem, MA. "An organization like ours thrives on new bloodno pun intendedand we've had more applicants than we can handle lately. And, of course, practically all of them are virgins, which is gravy."
With membership in Satanic temples reaching critical mass in some areas, many children have been forced to start their own organizations to worship the Lord Of Lies. Houston 11-year-old Bradley Winters, who purchased Goblet Of Fire with his own allowance money at the stroke of midnight on July 8, organized his own club, Potterites To Destroy Jesus, with his neighborhood pals. An admission fee of $6.66 grants membership to any applicant willing to curse the name of God and have a lightning bolt carved into his or her forehead with an iron dagger.
"The Harry Potter books are awesome!" Winters said. "When I grow up, I'm going to learn Necromancy and summon greater demons to Earth."
It's more than just the kiddie set and Satanists, however, who are rejoicing over Harry's success. Educators nationwide are praising the books for getting children excited about reading.
"It's almost impossible to find a book that can compete with those PlayStation games, but Harry Potter has done it," said Gulfport (MS) Middle School principal Frank Grieg. "I have this one student in the fifth grade who'd never read a book before in his life. Now he's read Sorcerer's Stone, Prisoner Of Azkaban, Chamber Of Secrets, Goblet Of Fire, The Seven Scrolls Of The Black Rose, The Necronomicon, The Satanic Bible, The Origin Of Speciesyou name it."
Less pleased are Christian leaders, who see Pottermania as a serious threat to their way of life.
"Children are very impressionable," said Dr. Andrea Collins of Focus On Faith, a Denver-based Christian think-tank and advocacy group. "These books do not merely depict one or two uses of magic spells or crystal balls. We're talking about hundreds of occult invocations. The natural, intuitive leap from reading a Harry Potter book to turning against God and worshipping Satan is very easy for a child to make, as the numbers have shown."
"These books are truly magical," Collins added, "and therefore dangerous."
But such protests are falling on largely deaf ears, especially in the case of Harry's creator.
"I think it's absolute rubbish to protest children's books on the grounds that they are luring children to Satan," Rowling told a London Times reporter in a July 17 interview. "People should be praising them for that! These books guide children to an understanding that the weak, idiotic Son Of God is a living hoax who will be humiliated when the rain of fire comes, and will suck the greasy cock of the Dark Lord while we, his faithful servants, laugh and cavort in victory."