Books' occult aspects anger 2 parents in Columbia

October 04, 1990|By Michael J. Clark | Michael J. Clark,Howard County Bureau of The Sun

A Columbia parent who found her 10-year-old son following directions on how to cast a spell in a book he checked out at school is demanding that it be taken off the shelves of school libraries -- one of two such controversies brewing in Howard County.

Karen Trotsky, whose son Shaundemas attends Thunder Hill Elementary, believes "Curses, Hexes, & Spells" promotes the occult -- a complaint also raised against the book in Frederick County and in at least two other states.

"Anyone should have known by a glance at the cover that this book was not for children," she said.

Her cause is being supported by the school's principal, C. Anthony Yount. "I am not a book burner," he said, "but this book infuriated me, showing a picture of Satan with bare breasts and writing about ritualistic circles, hex signs, Hebrew and old Christian curses, and it also talks about suicide."

Daniel Cohen, the Port Jervis, N.Y., man who wrote "Curses, Hexes & Spells" in 1974, said he has no problem with a parent telling his or her own child not to read the book, but "when a parent says no child should read the book, it becomes an object of censorship."

A 15-member committee that includes parents, students and teachers will review the book this afternoon and make recommendations to the superintendent on whether it should be taken off the shelves.

The committee also will review a complaint about a book entitled "The Devil Did It" that was lodged by the parent of a student at Clemens Crossing Elementary in Columbia.

Lena Herlihy, the parent, complained that she believed the message of the book was that one should make friends with the devil.

"I strongly disagree with the idea that the devil is a benign or friendly force or that one should have any dealings with such a force at all," she said.

The book, published in 1975 and written by Brooklyn, N.Y., author Susan Jeschke, was described as a "comfortable and affectionate fantasy" by the School Library Journal in its review.

Mr. Cohen said "Curses, Hexes & Spells" is no stranger to controversy and has been challenged previously in such states as Tennessee and Arkansas -- "usually by a parent or couple of parents who object to it in a school library."

The Frederick County school board voted 5-2 in May to retain the 120-page book in a middle school library there after a parent complained that younger children could not handle the material.

"It is not a Satanic bible and does not support curses or spells," Mr. Cohen said. "It is a look at magical thinking and explains a primitive way of thinking. I don't think anyone will come out and practice the spells by reading this book, but if they do, they will soon learn they don't work."

Ms. Trotsky, however, said she considered "Curses, Hexes, & Spells" a "horrifying book for a child. The occult is a big thing, and it takes over a lot of people and children."

She said she found her son and another child drawing a circle and placing candles in the center -- following the book's photographic demonstration of a spell designed to get rid of unwanted attentions of another.

"He was copying what he had seen in the book," Ms. Trotsky said. "When I heard it came from the school media center, I hit the roof and called Mr. Yount, and he pulled it off the shelf."

Celeste Smalkin, the county's supervisor of media services, said "Curses, Hexes & Spells" is available in as many as 10 school libraries, while only Clemens Crossing has a copy of "The Devil Did It."

"The important thing is that we are looking at media center material, which is not imposed on children like classroom materials," Ms. Smalkin said. "It is just available for general use."

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