School Watch

America’s brightest children may now gather around for a spellbinding hand of Magic: the Gathering. This card game, used to “enrich” the education of gifted public school students, guides them in fantasizing about and acting out basic features of the occult, such as the conjuring of demons, the sacrifice of victims in hideous rituals, and the casting of spells to maim and kill enemies. More than a billion Magic cards have been sold.

Parents in Bedford, New York, horrified by such “pedagogies,” recently put some of the cards on public display in a futile effort to stop the game from being played on local school premises. The cards bear such names as “demonic consultation,” “psychic venom,” “grave robbers,” and “circle of protection.” One of them, with a flaming pentagram in the background and entitled “holy strength,” has enigmatically been withdrawn from circulation by the card manufacturers.

One of the Bedford critics, Mary Ann DiBari, a lawyer raising her young grandchildren and a former nun who left the religious life because of illness, commented: “Magic: the Gathering is steeped in the hidden language, imagery, signs, and rites of at least thirty satanic cults in this country. Moreover, it is a codification of the beliefs, practices and perceptions of the new Satanists of today. There are inducements in Magic… to engage in destructive, cruel cult practices.”

DiBari and her allies also claim that the card game is one of a piece with many other recent New Age school practices in Bedford carried out without parental consent, such as directing children to make clay images of the Hindu elephant headed god Ganeshe, lecturing to eight-year-olds about crystal power and right-brain meditation, holding sessions in transcendental meditation over the intercom, and generally constructing a more bleak and forbidding curriculum.

Proponents of Magic and its counterparts defended them as merely “doing basics differently,” helpful in honing math skills, and conducive to creative thinking in the manner of chess. They spoke angrily of a “witch hunt” endangering academic freedom, and their ally, People for the American Way, viewed the opposition to the game as “a classic tale of religious-right organized work.”

The archdiocese of New York came to the defense of the Magic critics, characterizing the game as “diabolical” and emphasizing the irony of a school system that denies the very mention of God’s name while clearly advancing Satanism and the occult. It also maintained that such games, like much of mass media programming, have a deleterious effect on morals and indeed may cause violence.

Stephen Kossor, a school psychologist, warned of what in more rational, kindly times would be risible to state: grievous harm can befall children thus encouraged to fixate on sinister, brutal forces and imagine that through magic they can control and direct these forces. Reactions to such a focus by both emotionally strong and disturbed children, especially preadolescents and adolescents, can be unpredictable. The tragic case of Stephen Nalepa illustrates just how suggestible and volatile the young may be. Stephen, a smart seven-year-old with no history or symptoms of mental illness, hanged himself within a few hours after seeing a school movie about suicide that demonstrated how to hang oneself.

A fourteen-year-old’s explanation of why Magic attracts him is particularly chilling. It suggests how such exercises may foster not only narcissism but a potentially lethal lack of realism about personal power: “Because it’s about power. God gives out gifts when he thinks you deserve them. You always have to wait. Satanism says, here’s power you can use right now, when you want it.” And, provocatively, according to Kossor, the teacher who advocates a game such as Magic thus “empowering” a child, gains a very powerful influence over him.

Paul Vitz, a professor of psychology at New York University, aptly summarized the twofold madness of Magic: it represents a “pro-pagan agenda” that undermines traditional Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, and it reflects the ever-more wildly “unprofessional” character of American education.


  • Candace de Russy

    Candace de Russy is a nationally recognized scholar on education and cultural issues and an Adjunct Fellow at Hudson Institute.

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