Tag Archives: Islam

UK pony death: Satanists? No, hungry animals.

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Photo by Flickr user treehouse1977.

Shortly after a pony was killed in Dartmoor, England in July, journalists were quick to report that a Satanic cult was involved. The pony was found dead “with its tongue and eyes cut out, and its genitals and right ear sliced off at Yennadon Down, a remote, bushy area of the Devon National Park,” the Telegraph reported. “Experts,” including the area’s animal-protection officer, said Satanists were to blame.

However, after a police investigation, a more likely culprit has come to light: wild animals took bites from the pony, causing the wounds described in the Telegraph. Here’s what they said:

Devon and Cornwall police concluded earlier this week that the pony had died of natural causes. The much-discussed “mutilation” was not, in fact, mutilation at all, but instead the normal result of wild animals eating the pony’s organs and scattering its entrails.

“Initial media reports linked the death of the pony to satanic cults and ritualistic killing,” the police said in a statement. “The police have sought the advice of experts and have come to the view that the death of this pony was through natural causes. All the injuries can be attributed to those caused by other wild animals. This incident received significant media reporting, some of which was clearly sensationalist.”

If this sounds in any way familiar to you, that may be because it’s similar to what forensic experts found in the West Memphis Three case — more than a decade after three teens went to jail for their supposedly “Satanic ritual” killing of three young boys. Originally, experts claimed that the marks on the boys’ bodies were caused by a ritual knife; that turned out not to be the case. The teens, now in their 30s, were later released under an Alford plea.

July’s pony killing is not the first time rural England has been gripped with speculation about an equine death linked to so-called “occult” practices. Last January, a shadowy (and likely made-up) group was blamed for a horse’s death, mainly because it was killed on a supposedly Satanic holiday that turned out to have been fabricated by conservative Christians. In another instance, Satanists were blamed for a horse’s beheading last May. I will grant that in the latter case, the activity of wild animals seems less likely. But Satanic activity is just as unlikely, considering most most Satanists don’t practice animal sacrifice.

The larger problem, of course, is that hardly anyone knows that. There’s so much misinformation about Satanic and other occult practices — misinformation that seems plausible enough that people actually believe it — that folks have little reason to dig deeper before they start pointing fingers. As the Livescience article says:

One problem is that most ranchers and livestock officials have no idea what occurs in a real animal ritual sacrifice, so they can hardly make a valid comparison. Though animal sacrifice has been a part of many religions (including Christianity, Judaism and Islam), these days, the practice is mostly limited to Afro-Caribbean religions such as Santería, which has very specific procedures and rituals for the sacrifice (and typically sacrifice chickens or goats, not horses). … Of course, with something as mysterious and clandestine as suspected satanists, anything could be assumed to be the result of their sinister actions.

Satanists make a convenient and exciting scapegoat for such incidents. But these kinds of allegations can result in very real consequences for practicing Satanists, who are suspected, as a whole, of brutally slaughtering animals. That isn’t accurate and it isn’t fair.

“The New Satanism” in heavy metal


Pelle Forsberg, guitarist for black-metal band Watain. Photo by Flickr user Tiffany Peters/TiffanyFoto.

Heavy metal has always had a reputation for being Satanic. That reputation came from a number of places: the stage makeup used by Arthur Brown, Alice Cooper, KISS, King Diamond, and others in the 1960s and 1970s, the moral panic sparked by folks like Bob Larson and Tipper Gore (and echoed in churches nationwide), the explicitly Satanic lyrics of bands like Slayer.

But how many heavy-metal musicians are Satanic? Fewer than you might think. Many bands play up the demonic/evil angle because it’s theatrical and emotionally resonant. But these are metaphors; it would be a mistake to assume the musicians themselves practice Satanism in any form. As in mainstream society, among metalheads there are Christians, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, atheists, pagans, Hindus, and so on — in proportions that are not widely out of sync with the culture they live in. The primary exceptions may be among those in the early Norwegian black metal scene. There, a number of musicians claim loyalty to Satanic ideals, in part to rebel against the dominance of Christianity and the takeover of old Norse and pagan traditions.

Over at Invisible Oranges this week, Joseph Schafer examines what he calls “The New Satanism” in heavy metal. As Schafer points out, metal and Satanism actually had very little to do with each other until recently:

Only a handful of pre-’00s metal musicians profess to be actual Satanists. Even fewer claim to worship the devil—most out-Satanists in metal music follow(ed) Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan, which does not believe in Satan as an actual entity.

More contemporary bands talk about satanism than ever—the Decibel tour celebrated theistic satanism as much as the magazine that sponsored it. And art fueled by genuine faith has a powerful character -— one distinct from music just about opposing the conventions of others.

And perhaps theistic satanism is the most interesting thing about these bands. Musically, Watain, The Devils Blood, and In Solitude all harken back, instead of pressing their genres forward. Performing in live animal blood is not new, neither is torches—that’s all descended from Mr. Brown. Their individual knacks for excellent songwriting is overshadowed by their collective ability to work the press in their favor while keeping up mystique.

Still, what’s behind that “mystique?” Many fans claim it’s just smoke and mirrors; that Watain, for example, probably really isn’t Satanic, they’re just trying to maintain an image. Still, many outside — let alone inside — the scene would be hard pressed to tell the difference. How do you know when all the blood and animal bodies are there for theatrics, and how do you know when they’re there as part of a genuine ritual?

In an interview with Invisible Oranges in 2010, Watain frontman Erik Danielsson had this to say:

These things have been used throughout all of mankind’s existence as a way to commune with something that is greater than life. What we’re using is, as the way I see it onstage, not a bunch of dead animals. … The important thing is that it has lived, and now it is dead. And therefore it represents a state of in-between. It represents a state of putrefaction that is very relevant in the magickal context, in the context where you actually can correspond with something that is beyond life, that is beyond reality. That is what these things are onstage for.

On the one hand, that sounds like a perfectly legitimate spiritual explanation. On the other hand, it seems like Eriksson is tipping his hand, since on the whole, Satanists do not practice animal sacrifice. Watain isn’t claiming they kill the animals (and they certainly don’t do so onstage), but the use of these animals seems to serve the same purpose. So perhaps it’s primarily theatrics, after all.

Ultimately, does it matter if heavy metal musicians are practicing Satanists? Satanism, whether it’s LaVeyan, theistic, Setian, or something else, is a legitimate and protected spiritual practice in many places (even though it is also in a minority position in those places, and is treated very poorly). Will these bands “convert” listeners to Satanism? That’s not particularly likely — listeners who were already drawn to the faith are probably also going to be drawn to music that echoes what they feel, just as Christian metal bands don’t make fans Christian; Christian fans seek out Christian metal.

We have to remember that there is no harm in listening to music, in celebrating music in the arena, in engaging in theatrics to express shared feelings about the world. For every example of “Satanism” in heavy metal, there are other examples that we revere: Greek Tragedy, Japanese Noh theater, horror movies. It is our understanding of heavy metal music, and of the use of Satanic imagery within it, that is the problem — not Satanism itself.

Iraqi youth stoned to death after leaders link emo culture to Satanism, homosexuality


In the United States, emo is a popular youth lifestyle. In Iraq, being emo can get you killed. Photo by Flickr user MarcX Photography.

If this blog is about any single thing, it’s about the demonization of youth culture, and of any influence deemed “dangerous” when kids get their hands on it. But when we talk about such demonization in the West, it’s mostly metaphorical. When kids here take up with metal or goth culture, or they explore pagan faiths, parents might become frightened and limit those activities. In some cases they become fodder for child abuse or bullying. But children here can’t be arrested or publicly executed for such interests. In Iraq, that’s what’s happening right now.

Facts on the situation have been murky, given the nature of it. But here’s my understanding of what has happened in recent weeks:

On Feb. 13, the Iraq Interior Ministry released a statement that condemned the “phenomenon of emo” as Satanic. Emo fashions — such as dark clothes, skull-print T-shirts and nose rings — are “emblems of the devil.”

On Feb. 26, Ammar AL-hakim, a powerful Shia leader, gave a speech on YouTube in which he called emo culture a “strange social phenomena” that is “spreading among youths and adolescents of both sexes.” He urged “decent” Iraqi families to “be careful of these kinds of phenomena” because they have a “devastating influence” on the culture. He did caution people not to use violence.

However, leaflets and fliers began circulating in parts of Baghdad, warning known “emo” youth that they needed to change their behavior, which some claimed was homosexual in nature. According to the New York Times:

“Your fate will be death if you don’t quit doing this,” one leaflet warns. “Punishment will be tougher and tougher, you gays. Don’t be like the people of Lot.”

Another flier circulating around the Zayouna neighborhood appears addressed to emo youths. It tells them to cut their hair, not to wear the clothing of devil worshipers, and not to listen to metal, emo or rap music. And if they refuse, “God’s punishment will be come down upon you,” the letter says.

News broke over the weekend that a number of youth had been stoned to death. The number is unclear; at least 14, and perhaps as many as 60. Reuters claims Iraqi militia are responsible for the deaths. Although many Iraq leaders deny anyone has been killed, Reuters spoke to doctors on Baghdad who had signed the death certificates of youth who’d died of blunt-force trauma to the head. Others have been wounded, apparently as “warnings.”

The Interior Ministry said:

“No murder case has been recorded with the interior ministry on so-called ‘emo’ grounds. All cases of murder recorded were for revenge, social and common criminal reasons.”

What seems to be going on is this: Iraqi leaders publicly (and falsely) connected emo culture to Satanism, and even, ridiculously, “blood-drinking.” They demonized this culture, which is essentially peaceful — it’s a youth culture that celebrates the expression of emotion, particularly through music — and another group, possibly a militia group, ran with it. They took it to an extreme place, and now young people are dead.

This is precisely why I am so adamant about fair and accurate depictions of such cultures — particularly by police and journalists. Misrepresenting goths, emos, metalheads, and pagans (among others) as criminal, as violent, or as something abhorrent encourages fear and hatred. And some people take such fear and hatred to an extreme place.

We can say such things could only happen in the Middle East, but that isn’t true. It happened to Sophie Lancaster — and nearly happened to Melody McDermott — in Britain. If we extend such beatings to situations where goth and emo culture are mixed up with homosexuality, as seems the case in Iraq, then we have plenty of examples of gays being publicly and brutally killed, chief among them Matthew Shepard.

These kids aren’t demons, and they aren’t doing anything wrong. It doesn’t matter where they live, or how they dress, or what music they listen to, or whom they love. They don’t deserve to be beaten to death in the streets. And they certainly don’t deserve to have it happen because someone in power said that these kids are evil.

I’m not sure, yet, what can be done about it. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch haven’t taken up the issue. There will be a vigil (warning: graphic images) in San Francisco Wednesday evening to express public solidarity for Iraqi youth. Please post here if you know of any others, or if you know of ways to help.

Heavy-metal fan wins disability benefits for his “addiction” to music


Swedish metal fan Roger Tullgren says his love of heavy metal is a disability. The government employment service agreed, paying part of his wages.

Forty-two-year-old Roger Tullgren is like many other heavy-metal fans his age. He discovered the genre at the tender age of 5, when his brother brought home a Black Sabbath album. He’s been hooked ever since, and continues to listen to the music daily and dress in the heavy-metal uniform: long hair, band t-shirts, silver and leather jewelry, piercings, and so on.

Unlike other fans, Tullgren says his love of heavy metal interferes with his day-to-day functioning and qualifies as a disability. He spent 10 years and visited three different psychologists before finally establishing his case. Recently, he filed paperwork with the government employment service near Hässleholm, Sweden, where he lives. They have agreed to pay a portion of his wages while he works part-time as a dishwasher in a restaurant.

Meanwhile, his boss says it’s OK for Tullgren to listen to music while he works — as long as it isn’t too loud and doesn’t interfere with customers’ enjoyment of their meals.

The ageing rocker claims to have attended almost three hundred shows last year, often skipping work in the process.

Eventually his last employer tired of his absences and Tullgren was left jobless and reliant on welfare handouts.

But his sessions with the occupational psychologists led to a solution of sorts: Tullgren signed a piece of paper on which his heavy metal lifestyle was classified as a disability, an assessment that entitles him to a wage supplement from the job centre.

“I signed a form saying: ‘Roger feels compelled to show his heavy metal style. This puts him in a difficult situation on the labour market. Therefore he needs extra financial help’. So now I can turn up at a job interview dressed in my normal clothes and just hand the interviewers this piece of paper,” he said.

“Some might say that I should grow up and learn to listen to other types of music but I can’t. Heavy metal is my lifestyle,” he said.

I’m not going to comment on whether I think Tullgren’s approach is legitimate. As far as I’m concerned, that’s between him, his therapist, the Swedish government, and his boss. But it does speak to a certain aspect of heavy-metal fandom. For many people, especially the most dedicated, this is more than a form of entertainment. It’s more, even, than a hobby. It’s a lifestyle, a tribe, even a religion.

Given those parameters, it’s easy enough to compare participation in heavy metal culture to participation in any other culture: the Amish, Hasidism, Islam. It would be discriminatory for an employer to force someone from one of these groups to change the way he or she dresses or appears while on the job. For example, Hani Khan is suing Abercrombie & Fitch after they asked her — a stockroom worker — to stop wearing her hijab. Meanwhile, the International Weightlifting Federation recently changed its dress code so Muslim women can compete. Likewise, businesses are required to provide allowances for religious practices. Would attending heavy-metal shows qualify?

So when is it a “lifestyle choice,” and when is it one’s culture and creed? That’s a fine line to draw. What isn’t clear to me is why Tullgren went after a disability clearance rather than look at it as a fight for workplace equality. What do you think Tullgren should do?