Urban legends are a common part of American culture especially when it comes to supernatural occurrences. For many years, the adolescent legend trips have built their foundation on various urban legends that have allowed them to thrive. Teenagers all over the country started taking part in various rituals that mimic or try to invoke the events of these urban legends. These rituals are somehow similar to those of Satanism. Unfortunately, somewhere along the line, the difference between the two practices became blurry. As a result, there has been a growing trend of associating the famous adolescent legend trips and Satanism. The belief has gained traction as local authorities along some scholars have joined the bandwagon and fueled the obsession and Satanic panic. Ellis (1992) examines the misconceptions using the legend-trips that have been reported in the American Mid-West and Northern Pennsylvania. The author differentiates legend trips from Satanism by questioning their religious credibility, categorizing their activities as ostensive and a special focus on the Toledo dig as an example.
Legend trips are forms of entertainment, and the groups that involve themselves in these activities do not fit into the category of cults. Through that statement, the author makes the overall argument that legend trips are not part of Satanism. According to Ellis (1992), the activities conducted in legend trips don't qualify as religious rites. The believers of Satanic cults have supported their claims using graffiti, desecrations in churches and cemeteries and animal mutilations. There are also cases of strange stone arrangements in fields and decorations in rooms of abandoned houses that point towards being used as altars of Satanism (Ellis, 1992). But while these activities may seem to represent the practice of devil worship, they are a good reflection of legend tripping adolescent behavior. It is worth noting that the belief in a natural or supernatural power is less critical in legend trips. The participants of legend trips try and condition their mental status to reveal a vision that they want to see. Traditional legends, on the other hand, have a supernatural event occur unexpectedly. The various urban legends that feature supernatural eventsnormally have an unexpected supernatural event. The activities of legend trips are different because the participants try to invoke the supernatural event. The activities in legend tripping occur in three stages that fit into the already available urban legends. There is the initiation stage where the subjects are initiated into the story. Then participants proceed to engage in activities that cause the fulfillment of the legend before finally holding talks or discussions of what they believed may have happened in their operations. The association between legend trips and satanism is a product of adults inability to understand the teenage mind.
Legend trips qualify as more of an ostension rather than a cult. The prevailing notion is that teenagers are recruited into these cults by adult members. The idea assumes that a teenage mind is helpless to adult authority and can easily be swayed. However, Ellis (1992) indicates that adults are not welcome in legend trips and even those members who are eighteen years are usually treated as outsiders. The author makes these arguments using first-hand information from former participants of legend trips and secondary sources from other scholars who have delved in the topic. The author uses qualitative data that describes the attributes and characteristics of urban legends, legend trips, and Satanic cults. These aspects work towards supporting the author's arguments. Myths work to test the credibility of specific beliefs rather than expressing opinions. Therefore, legend trips have changed legend telling into group rite. That essentially means that legend trips are acts of ostensions rather than cult rituals. According to Ellis (1992), an activity qualifies as an act of ostension when the person uses legend as a guideline for performing the exercise. Two types of interdependent ostensions are in existence. Teenagers may take part in legend trips to scare adults and their peers. In such cases, the teenagers take legend trips as a form of rebellion or as a way to earn respect among their peers. In such cases, then their action is a pseudo-ostension. The teenagers impersonate the Satanists rituals to falsify the cult rituals. Alternatively, teenagers may take part in legend trips as a way to entertain themselves. In such cases, the teenagers have no intention to emulate occult practices nor do they intend to create such a notion. However, the authorities and the rest of the public perceive their activities as part of Satanic rituals. In both cases, adults have failed to understand the teenager's mentality. To support his arguments the author uses specific examples such as the Toledo digging where the authorities along with members of the public failed to understand adolescent folklore. There is also graffiti in a derelict hunting lodge in the northern section of Hazleton. The residents mistook the place for a cult altar because of the graffiti of pentangles and the number 666 on its walls. As it turns out, some sites may feature a Satanic atmosphere to heighten the atmosphere of the place rather than invite Satanic practices. The groups that perform these actions are considered as occult-oriented folk groups because of their emulation of occult practices.
The argument supports claims made by other authors such as Degh (as cited in Ellis, 1992). The author paraphrased an undergraduate term paper on a haunted bridge near Avon, Indiana. Degh argument was that the visitors on the bridge condition their mental status to view these supernatural occurrences. Ellis justifies that claim by using the work of Thigpen (as cited in Ellis, 1992). Thigpen proposes that teens perform actions that cause the fulfillment of a legend in the second stage of the three-part rituals of legend tripping. That means that just like the participants of legend trips, the people at the bridge saw what they wanted to see.
There are two concepts in the argument made by Ellis (1992) that I find very convincing. The first one is that such groups of adolescents that engage in legend runs should be called a folk group rather than a cult. My understanding of a folk group is that it is a group of people that share common ideologies. In the case discussed above, the teenagers taking part in legend trips essentially share friendly face to face contacts and share knowledge about other aspects of the supernatural (Ellis, 1992). The second convincing argument is that the way authorities and members of the public have reacted to these urban legends has played into the hands of legend trippers. In some cases, the police have shown reluctance in arresting members of these groups even though some may have been participating in illegal activities such as teenage drinking. In such cases, the teenagers are encouraged to emulate occult activities so that they can get away with such practices.
The only problem that I was able to identify with the reading is that it spends so much effort on legend tripping and almost wholly ignores Satanism. All mentions of Satanism describe how legend trips are different from Satanism, but it does not define the features that makeup Satanism. In general terms, it says what legend tripping is not, but it doesn't say what Satanism is not. As a result, the reader has little information on what makes up Satanism. It makes complete sense to differentiate legend trips from Satanism. To do that the author had to outline the characteristics of legend tripping. On the other hand, he was also supposed to describe the features of Satanism, which he has been unable to accomplish. At the end of the reading, the readers have all the information about legend tripping but little information about Satanism. However, I think the article makes some significant contributions to the field of psychology and theology.
This article gives a psychological of the discussion on legend tripping and Satanism. One can notice that the people taking part in legend tripping are more interested in playing mind games. They want to portray the image of rebellion to the rest of society. The article uses some in-depth analysis from other scholars to paint that picture. At the end of the reading, I learned that legend trips have nothing to do with supernatural events. I also understood that the public view of legend trips misconstrued. The people who view legend trips as an occult have fallen into the trap of the legend trips because that is how they want to be perceived. Therefore, any effort that the police or the members of the general public try to make to curb Satanism merely is flawed because they most often than not target the wrong groups.
The article has established the Satanic panics reported in the American midwest were a product of an adolescent practice of legend tripping. Legend trippers perform a series of designated acts in a bid to prompt the ghosts to appear. These are different from urban legends where the supernatural events are unexpected. Additionally, a group of teenagers in a legend tripping venture qualifies as a folk group rather than a cult because they share common information and knowledge. Those groups that are cult oriented are an occult-oriented folk group. On the other hand, the activities of a folk group constitute an ostension rather than a ritual. A group may take part in these acts as part of showing rebellion or as a form of entertainment. All these contribute to the various types of ostensions witnessed in multiple parts of the country such as Ohio and Indiana.
Ellis, B. (1992). Satanic Ritual Abuse and legend ostension. Journal of Psychology and Theology, 20(3), 94-111.
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