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Today's postmodern culture has a particular fascination with supernatural, occultic, and New Age beliefs and practices. These influences are particularly troubling because of their continued and prevalent intrusion into the youth arena. As pointed out in a recent issue of the Watchman Expositor, "The increased exposure of witchcraft and other occult practices is increasing the acceptance of these practices by youth as exciting, exotic alternatives to mainstream religion (particularly Christianity)."
Unfortunately, one of the entry points of such beliefs into the youth culture is through the educational system. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, knowingly or unknowingly, educators continue to introduce occultism into the school curriculum. A current example of this is the use by some educators of the book The Egypt Game.
First published in 1967, The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatly Snyder was honored with the Nrwbury Award. Educators and librarians commonly and understandably assume that this prestigious award is a guarantee that a book is of high quality and suitable for children of the advertised age range. The Egypt Game has a target audience of nine- to twelve-year-olds. It is the story of two sixth-grade girls, April and Melanie, who with Melanie's four-year-old brother, Marshall, discover a vacant lot and begin playing an imagination game in which they pretend to live in ancient Egypt. Also wrapped into the story line are a murder and the impact it has on the community.
This certainly seems innocent enough and it might be asked, "What is wrong with children using their imagination?" Nothing. Children should be encouraged to develop and use their imagination. However, there must be boundaries where imagination and improper or questionable practices from reality do not become blurred. In The Egypt Game the author crosses these boundaries and places these children, through their imagination, and the reader, through their experience, into the realm of the occult.
Before they ever begin to play the game, we learn that April believes she was once a high priestess, as she puts it, "in an earlier reincarnation." When she asks a gentleman known as the Professor if he thinks that is possible, he simply replies, "Many things are possible." When she asks another adult character this question he replies, "I don't know about those other reincarnations, kiddo, but in this one you're a nut" (p. 28). In each case the adult characters, rather than denying the reality of reincarnation, seem to affirm her belief and thus the validity or possibility of reincarnation to the reader.
As the children begin to play their imaginary games the reader is quickly drawn into a world laced with the worship of both good and evil gods and with priests and priestesses practicing rituals, ceremonies, and sacrifices to these gods. Early in the game the young girls determine they will be priestesses of the evil god Set. An altar and idol are erected to Set and they bow before him in worship.
The origination of Set into the game is described:
"So, that was the way Set started-Set the god of evil and black magic. At first he was just supposed to be a character in that particular game, and that first day he was represented by a picture of a man with an animal's head that Melanie drew on a piece of cardboard and tacked to the wall. But once he got started, he seemed to grow and develop almost on his own, and all out of control; until he was more than evil, and at times a lot more than Egyptian" (pp. 47-48).
"All out of control" is putting it mildly as the ritualistic worship of Set develops. As time passed, the idol Set brooded "over all kinds of mystic ceremonies, weird rites and wicked plots" (p. 54). April and Melanie got terribly involved in composing and practicing rites and ceremonies for the god. The rituals were very complicated and the correct order of processions, chants, prostrations, sprinklings with holy water and sacrificial offerings had to be written down so that they wouldn't be forgotten.
It is bad enough that the twelve-year-old heroines are drawn into this world of occult practices, but how much more so when four-year-old Marshall is made a participant. Concerning him, the girls "let him start being a sort of junior high priest. At the next ceremony, which was to be a presentation of a dead lizard as a sacrificial offering to Set, Marshall marched at the head of the procession and sprinkled holy water from a tuna can" (p. 57).
Soon a ten-year-old friend, Elizabeth, is added to the group. However, shortly after her indoctrination a neighborhood child is murdered and the children are not allowed to play outside for a period of time. On Halloween night they sneak away from their adult guardians and return to worship Set. Upon arriving at the lot they determine that the gods are angry with them for having been gone so long. In order to be forgiven by the gods April states, "The gods demand that we make a horrible and bloody sacrifice" (p. 99).
The problem, what sacrifice will appease the gods? The solution is simple: ask Set. Each child will touch the Crocodile Stone on Set's altar and wait for a message from Set. Clearly this game has gone far beyond imagination as these children actually open themselves to supernatural influence as they pray to a false god.
The message each says they received from Set is shocking.
Elizabeth: "Set's message was that they should stick their fingers with a needle and write him a letter in their own blood."
April: "I heard the voice of the Crocodile god. He said the object to be sacrificed must be something very dear to us. It must be something we hate to part with. Otherwise it won't count. The Crocodile god has told me that we must sacrifice-she pointed dramatically-'Security'" (Marshall's stuffed animal).
Marshall: "Let's sacrifice April."
Melanie: "I read about some people who cut off their fingers as sacrifices."
At that point even April looked shocked, and Elizabeth almost fainted.
But Melanie only laughed: "I didn't mean we should do that,' she said. 'It just gave me an idea. We could pull out some hairs-and maybe cut off some fingernails" (pp. 100-102).
Melanie's idea was accepted and the children move from praying to idols to a sacrificial ceremony.
While the game is rooted in the imagination, it has moved into the realm of reality with actual religious practice taking place. "A few minutes later a small fire of twisted paper was burning in the mixing bowl fire-pit, and the high priestesses (and junior high priest) of Egypt were parading in a circle before the altar. . . . Now and then one or the other would approach the altar, bow and drop a scrap of humanity on the flames: a hair or two or a shred of fingernail" (pp. 102-103).
Shortly after this two sixth-grade boys, Ken and Toby, stumble upon the Egypt Game and are added to the group in order to insure their silence. The boys add many props to the altar of Set and also bring a stuffed owl that is quickly deemed another God to be worshipped: "Thoth, the bird-headed god of wisdom and writing" (p. 124).
This game of imagination becomes the means of dealing with real life problems as evidenced by the death of Elizabeth's pet parakeet. She is grieved over the loss. The solution: perform a ceremony for the dead, complete with putting the parakeet through the mummification process. So it is that the children take this dead bird and, through several days of elaborate "pretend" ritual, actually mummify the body.
Having stepped further and further out of the world of make-believe, these young children eventually add soothsaying to the game by looking to Thoth to discern their future. When Thoth unexpectedly answers their life-questions the children become fearful and the game takes on a new dimension. (Unbeknownst to them, it was actually Toby who was answering for Thoth.) Toby's reaction to their fear at Thoth responding provides insight into the author's true portrayal. "What I want to know is, if you don't like a little excitement, why'd you start fooling around with stuff like Egyptian gods and ancient magic in the first place?" (p. 164).
A good question. Based upon our findings it should also, perhaps, be asked of some educators and curriculum developers.
We have found five Teacher's Guides that were developed for using this book in the classroom setting. Three are on the Internet and two are offered by Story House Books, a large mail order company specializing in books for educational use. In searching the reviews of this book on Amazon.com we have determined it has been used as part of the curriculum in schools in New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, California, and New Jersey.
The Internet Teacher's Guides attempt to use the book as a springboard to study ancient Egypt through using the Internet. They include studying the gods and ceremonies such as the mummification process (making a mummy) and burial masks. There is certainly nothing wrong with studying Egypt, including its mythological gods and supernatural practices, from an academic standpoint. It is quite another thing when, as in The Egypt Game, the student is asked to cross over into actual participation or hands-on involvement in the ceremonies or practices of the Egyptian culture.
For example, the Teacher's Guide by Story House contains the following exercises:
"Make a small figure out of clay that personifies something evil. Give it a name. It will be the god of something. God of what?" (p. 19)
"Find a name of a god or goddess that matches your character most closely or somehow represents your beliefs or interests. What symbol is associated with that god or goddess? If none can be found make up your own" (p. 23).
Erica Byrne, who prepared the Story House guide, does ask an important series of questions that must be answered.
"Could experimentation with ceremonies, rituals, omens and such be dangerous for the players? Why or why not? Could the play get out of control and lead to other things" (p. 22, emphasis added).
The answer to these questions will determine whether one believes it is or is not acceptable to have such material as The Egypt Game introduced into our educational system. We believe that such "experimentation" is dangerous and exposes children to occultic influence.
The study of countries, nations, civilizations, cultures, and people groups is certainly an integral part of educating our children properly. However, when such academic study involves participation in or promoting the religious beliefs and practices of those being studied, the line has been crossed. At that point parents must become involved and interact with educators to express their concern and take the necessary steps to see that such curriculum is removed from the system.
Rev. Bob Waldrep, MRE, serves as State Director—Alabama at Watchman Fellowship’s Birmingham, AL office. Bob is also an ordained Southern Baptist Minister and serves as Lay Pastor for the Church at Brook Hills. You can email Bob by clicking here.