Recent activity in several U.S. church communities has seemed almost unbelievable: churchgoers have gathered around bonfires and cheered as they cast Harry Potter books into the flames. They fear that the wildly popular series about a school for young wizards is spurring children and adolescents toward a life of witchcraft and onto the dangerous path toward satanism. For these congregations, J. K. Rowling's books are none other than the work of the devil herself.
To most people, the Harry Potter books and movies are merely compelling adventure stories, not a threat to children's psyches. But what has been forgotten in the heat of Pottermania is that boys and girls have been fascinated by magic and sorcery for generations. Surveys about occult practices among adolescents vary widely, but some indicate that as many as 44 percent have dabbled to some degree. Although satanically motivated violence occasionally makes headlines, research shows that less than 5 percent of young people take part in more extensive witchcraft, and very few end up in the kind of organized devil worship that can lead to such acts as ritual murder.