Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. Matthew 7: 22-23
“Now the way I hear,” Malcolm, the preacher, went on, “people are getting sick in The Exorcist not because of the vileness in it—people are used to that nowadays—but because the devils in them are getting stirred up from hearing the name of Jesus.” I didn’t observe what my logically minded brother would later point out—that this also explains why so many people throw up in church. That wasn’t the only time I was slow with the counterpunch during two separate interviews with Malcolm, during two separate witch-hunts of my own, one of which carried me deep into the hill country near Boerne, and during several wistful hours watching and reading about The Exorcist.
It had been just a little more than a year since Malcolm first told me that Cotton Mather hadn’t been all wrong. Then Malcolm had been alone. This time there were two other church fathers in the office with us. The eldest, a dark-haired, heavy, slow-moving, bifocaled country gentleman of about 50, shrewd, stable and decided as a rock, had already warned Malcolm once about saying something he was “not sure of.” So this year, and it’s also true that times have changed, Malcolm said that the Salem witch-hunters had been mistaken, not for pursuing witches since, of course, that was right, but for physically punishing the afflicted. “The trouble is spiritual,” he said, “so you have to work on their spirit.”
I was glad to hear it. I had expected all in all a much more nervous meeting and a more urgent, strident tone, since at our first meeting thoughts of the power of witches had been very much on his mind. Nothing in the past sixteen months should have lessened that fear; sex, satanism, and witchcraft were more than ever subjects that set the national lips to wagging and kept certain books, magazines, and movies selling. Satan had become so strong, if the president’s chief advisor is to be believed, that He now has the strength and audacity even to attack tape recordings made by the highest office in the land. Yet Malcolm’s face was relaxed, much happier looking, more the way I’d seen it look one Sunday morning when he’d led the congregation in a hard-driving hymn, arms waving and his body going up and down in rhythm. Things had returned to their usual ominous normalcy.
Malcolm and I had first met as a result of my reading in the San Antonio paper that Malcolm’s church, the Castle Hills Baptist, would hold a book-burning in its parking lot Halloween night. Typically I had read the paper several days late and consequently missed the event. But I might not have attended anyway, since the story also contained the fascinating news that the church believed that same Halloween night (1972) would see a meeting in the hills near San Antonio of all the most powerful witches in the world. And this was to be no yearly read-the-minutes, old business, new business, motion for adjournment, dull-as-dirty-laundry meeting. They were going to receive the 23-year-old anti-Christ himself, whose appearance there that night had been scheduled—alarmists were using the word foretold—at the last meeting of the world’s most powerful witches twenty years earlier on the Isle of Man. The book-burning was to be a rally of spiritual vigilantes whose opposition to the witches was to be both proclaimed and aroused. The situation was critical; ill winds were blowing through San Antonio. The church had it on good authority that groups of local high school students were drinking blood in secret rites. Not human blood, they said, but still blood!
I imagined the Halloween book-burning: searing flames, twelve feet high, toward which move slow solemn lines of those once tempted but now savedÑtheir arms full of Rolling Stones records, Edgar Cayce biographies, horoscope charts, lewd novels, Marvel comics, magazines with lascivious photos of Chicago whores luring farm boys, Ouija boards, tarot packs, psychology textbooks, left-wing political pamphlets, hare krishna incense, all objects declared evil and therefore cast into the rising fire. And yet how much more eerie would the witches’ meeting be! What would they cast into the fire?
All that seemed like a good measure of fantasy to come from one newspaper article. It stayed with me long enough that in late November I drove down to see what the Castle Hills Baptist Church looked like and to see if I could find any witches who’d hung around after the big confab.
Rather to my surprise Castle Hills really did have hills. It’s a new, comfortable development just north of Loop 410 in northern San Antonio. The streets are quiet, the houses medium-sized to large, and surrounded by enough trees and grass to have absorbed any sterile newness.
The church is as new and as impressive as the community it serves. There are several buildings: a white wooden bungalow which holds a day care center, and behind it, two much larger stone edifices holding offices and chapels, a choir rehearsal hall, meeting rooms, even a gymnasium. The church complex occupies several acres at the top of a hill with grass lawns, some venerable old trees, and parking lots big enough for hundreds of cars. It would take a dedicated, practical, and far from destitute congregation to build such a church. Their concern with witches could not, at least in the local religious community, be easily ignored.
I had an appointment with Malcolm Grainger, the church’s minister of music, and was led to his study down hallways with shining linoleum floors and plaster walls painted brown, through shellacked doors with brown metal frames and oblong windows at eye level. The fluorescent lights were turned off in the hallway leading to Malcolm’s