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"Dear Ms. Morse," the e-mail began, "You are the handmaiden of Satan, a succubus from the pit of Hell."

What had I done now? Offered my children to General Motors as living crash-test dummies, or shipped them off to Mattel as choking-hazard testers?

The prosaic truth is that I get e-mails like this-dozens and dozens of them-from fellow Christians appalled that I allow my sons to read Harry Potter books. Worse, I recently explained on the website of a Christian ministry why I thought Harry and his friends were good role models for my boys, and why the books taught great moral lessons.

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Ever since, nice, church-going Christians have consigned me to the lowest, hottest regions of Hell. I am a witch, I am evil, and I must be destroyed-or at least have my children removed from my toxic presence, lest Harry lead them to Hell. My husband-unruffled at hearing that his wife is on Lucifer's payroll-only observed that technically, I am a handmatron of Satan.

My children, for their part, are rolling on the floor-not demon-possessed, but convulsed at the notion that their church-going, carpooling, Tater-Tot casserole-making, Buffy-and-Britney-banning mom is a broom-riding witch. (Their housework-phobic mother barely knows where the broom is stored.) "Mom is satanic," might come from their mouths, but mainly because I make them eat broccoli.

But when the hilarity dies down, I have to wonder: What kind of people send e-mails to total strangers, calling them nasty names and labeling them unfit mothers?

Duped people it turns out. Many e-correspondents quote from e-mails they themselves have received-e-mails that have their origins in a satirical webzine called The Onion.com. In a piece titled "Harry Potter Books Spark Rise In Satanism Among Children," The Onion parodies every Christian fear over Potter-mania.

A typical quote: "The Harry Potter books are cool, `cause they teach you all about magic and how you can use it to control people and get revenge on your enemies," said Hartland, WI, 10-year-old Craig Nowell, a recent convert to the New Satanic Order of The Black Circle. "I want to learn the Cruciatus Curse, to make my muggle science teacher suffer for giving me a D." Shocking, if Craig weren't completely made up.

The Onion piece is also the source of such "facts" as:

  • The Potter books have led to a huge jump in converts-mostly children-to Satanic churches.
  • Potter author J.K. Rowling refers to Jesus Christ as a "weak, idiotic Son of God [who is] a living hoax."
  • "Focus on Faith," a Christian advocacy group, warns that the Potter books teach "hundreds of occult invocations."
  • More Harry

    Don't Mess with the Occult

    Pagans on Potter
    From our boards

    Science vs. Magic
    By Alan Jacobs

    Harry's Star Chart

    Discussion
    Satan's Little Messenger?
    Many Christians have forwarded portions of this parody to their friends, spreading the confusion throughout Christendom. "Please FWD to every pastor, teacher and parent you know," pleaded one mass-emailer after quoting The Onion piece at length (warning readers first of "highly graphic descriptions of a pornographic nature"). Connie Neal, author of "What's a Christian to Do with Harry Potter?", says one Dallas radio station tried to find a representative from the fictional "Focus on Faith" to debate her on the air.

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