Category Archives: occult

The Slender Man, Fakelore, and Moral Panic

I recently wrote a guest post for the Wild Hunt, looking at the reporting on a horrific teen crime in Wisconsin and its supposed connections to a fictional Internet figure known as Slender Man. Click in through to see the whole thing, but here’s a taste:

Such approaches to the attack suggest that the Internet in general, and the Slender Man story in particular, are to blame. Put another way, they imply that without Creepypasta’s wiki, the girls never would have stabbed their classmate. Even the mainstream press has done everything it can to connect the Milwaukee stabbing with the Slender Man story in readers’ minds: most are referring to it as the “Slenderman stabbing” now. In other places, headlines have made clear what they want readers to think: “Fantasy ‘Slender Man’ Meme Inspires Horrific Wisconsin Stabbing,” “Demonic Creature ‘Slender Man’ Motive For Waukesha Teen Stabbing?” “Could a fictional Internet character drive kids to kill?”

Satan Behind Bars in Russia and Libya

Behemoth-TheSatanist

Last week, Polish metal band Behemoth was scheduled to play a show in Yekaterinburg, Russia, when they were detained and told they had the wrong visas. After being held by law enforcement overnight, a judge ordered them deported. Although Russian officials haven’t said anything along these lines, many have wondered whether the band’s — and particular frontman Adam “Nergal” Darski’s — affiliations with Satanism could have played a role. After all, Russia adopted blasphemy laws in 2013. And the band, Darski in particular, has run afoul of similar laws in their native country.

After Behemoth returned to Poland, Darski spoke with the Guardian about the experience, as well as his recovery from leukemia and his perspective on Satanic faith. The result is a remarkably warm and moving interview, which can be read in full here.

He said:

“For me personally, I’ve always related to antiheroes,” he says. “In most cases they were scapegoats, martyrs and negative archetypes, tools that were used in order to make other people into slaves. To me, Satan stands for everything that is dear to me. I’ve always been very fond of independence and autonomy and freethinking and freedom and intelligence. Satan has always been a very strong symbol of all those values, so for me it’s very natural to take his side.”

Many things happen under the threat of Satanism and “black magic.” Earlier this month, Ahmed Ghanem, a United Nations official who was acting as an observer at the trial of two of Muammar Gaddafi’s sons, in Tripoli, Libya, was imprisoned for the latter. His captors only explained vaguely:

A source at the prison said Ghanem, an Egyptian, was detained upon arrival to monitor the case on Sunday after written material was found indicating possible “sorcery” or improper communications, and was later released by judicial police. It is unclear if such an offence is recognised under Libyan law.

In many places, holding someone on suspicion of Satanism is often an excuse and a ruse — a way to mess with them for some totally other reason. It’s also a way to make law-enforcement or political officials look like they’re keeping the moral code in order, keeping the people safe from evildoers in the most basic sense. In Behemoth’s case, the situation could have easily turned into Pussy Riot II. Nothing has been reported of Ghanem since his detention, which is worrisome.

As long as Satanism, “black magic,” the occult and other paths remain in relative darkness — and largely misunderstood — some places will continue to be able to get away with these kind of phony detentions. But even in this country, where religious freedom is coded into our Constitution, backlash against Satanism remains a problem. Conversations like Darski’s with the Guardian are happening more often, and will help, but we have a very, very long way to go.

Church of Satan: ‘Craigslist Killer Not One of Us’

Church of Satan high priest Peter Gilmore has issued a statement to the press regarding Miranda Barbour’s claims that she belonged to a Satanic cult, making it clear that she has no affiliation with the church founded by Anton LaVey.

“According to our records, we have never had any contact from this woman, nor her accomplice … It seems to me that she is calling herself a member of a ‘satanic cult,’ not a legally incorporated above-ground form of satanism.”

“Thorough investigation will likely demonstrate that this cult story is fiction,” Gilmore added.

And Lucien Greaves, a spokesman for the New York-based Satanic Temple, expressed similar sentiments in statements this weekend:

“Barbour seems bent on displaying herself as prolific murderer and absolute monster, and her ‘Satanism’ seems nothing more than another transparent effort to aid in this campaign of reverse,” public relations, Greaves said.

“It must be remembered that ‘the Devil made me do it’ excuse far predates any written doctrine of Satanism, and I feel certain that Barbour’s own relationship with any organized Satanism will turn out to be vague or non-existent,” he added.

What’s even more remarkable than these public statements is that multiple mainstream news sites have published them — without irony or mockery. That rarely happens, and it’s a major step forward in recognizing Satanism as a legitimate and law-abiding faith that is unfairly linked to crimes like Barbour’s far too often. For example, check out this comment from CNN’s Belief blog co-editor, Daniel Burke:

Barbour’s alleged satanic ties may resurrect painful memories for Satanists, who found themselves at the center of controversy during the “satanic panic” of the 1980s. During that time, several American communities reported that Satanists had abused children during horrifying rituals. The accusations were later debunked, but only after what Satanists like Gilmore describe as a “witch hunt.”

Satanism still has a long way to go before it’s seen as an equal faith, but this isn’t a bad place to start.

About That “Satanic” “Teen” “Craigslist Killer” …

Screen Shot 2014-02-16 at 10.46.12 PM

Pretend, for a moment, that you were programming a website that auto-generated sensationalistic headlines. What kinds of words would you plug into it? “Teen?” “Satanic?” “Serial killer?” The name of some kind of tech company? (Trust me on this one; headlines that include the word “Google,” “Apple,” or “Facebook” get tons of hits). On Sunday, nobody needed a fake headline generator to come up with a story that included all these phrases. After all, Miranda Barbour basically handed the story to them.

I won’t recount the details, not only because they’ve been splashed across news sites around the world already, but because right now there’s no evidence for almost anything she claims, except for the murder of one man she allegedly killed after luring him with a Craigslist ad in which she may have offered to exchange sex for money.

Instead, I want to look more closely at what she says, and how she says it:

“I remember everything … It is like watching a movie.”

Whether or not this girl is a legitimate killer, she’s indicating a sense of being disconnected from her actions. Is she delusional? Or possibly sociopathic?

Barbour claimed she began killing when she was 13 and involved in a satanic cult.

Invariably, young women who claim they belonged to “Satanic cults” were actually brainwashed into believing this by psychotherapists. They enter therapy for a variety of reasons, including childhood abuse.

At one point, she planned to let LaFerrara out of her Honda CRV. “He said the wrong things,” she said. “And then things got out of control.”

… She said she felt no remorse for her victims and said she killed only “bad people.”

Was her alleged victim a “bad person” for “saying the wrong things,” or was it more complicated than that? It’s hard to tell, taken through the filter of a news article. But if this is truly how she feels about the situation, it’s worrisome to consider what constitutes a “bad person” in her mind.

She said she was sexually molested at age 4.

Aha, now we’re getting somewhere.

“By no means is this a way to glorify it or get attention. I’m telling you because it is time for me to be honest and I feel I need to be honest.”

The way to not publicize and glorify your actions is to avoid talking to the press. You talk to the police. You cooperate with an investigation of your claims. You don’t talk to reporters.

What I’m saying, I don’t think this adds up. I’ll be interested, in the weeks and months to come, to see how much of her story holds up.

Satanists Unveil Oklahoma Monument

Satanist Monument

So, for those of who who haven’t been following this story, a Satanic Temple based in New York has applied for a permit to erect a monument at the Oklahoma state capitol building, arguing that if the state can install a monument to the 10 Commandments, then it’s basically open season for other faiths to erect statues of their own. It’s not like they are the only ones — a Hindu group and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster have also gotten in on it.

Anyhow, the temple unveiled the design for its monument this week, depicted above. The temple’s spokesman, Lucien Graves, explained that the monument “will also have a functional purpose as a chair where people of all ages may sit on the lap of Satan for inspiration and contemplation.”

Which, you know, fair enough. I’m not sure the statue of a seated Baphomet is any different from any other deity, when you get right down to it. Some people see God (especially Old Testament God) as a pretty scary dude, and others see Satan as a positive force — or at least one much less negative than he’s made out to be in Christian theology. It’s a matter of perspective. And in this instance, what the temple is trying to do — aside from make a point — is suggest that the Christian perspective isn’t the only valid one, especially not on taxpayer-funded property.

What do you think? Should the monuments — all of them — be built? Why or why not?

The use and misuse of the word ‘occult’

crucifix
Image by Flickr user Photodeus.

Last week, several news outlets latched into the story of a Colorado house where cleaners preparing the house for sale found something a little unusual: animal bones. But several reports said they also found “occult items.” So, what exactly were the occult items?

chains
candles
bottles
a machete
a crucifix

… Really? These are not occult items. They’re household items, particularly if it’s a Catholic household. It’s easy to dismiss the use of the word “occult” here, because it doesn’t connect to anything.

But even stalwart publications like the New York Times aren’t immune to throwing this word around when it suits them. The article describes South Korean CEOs who rely on “the occult” — in this case, fortune-telling — when making business decisions. Although this may be unfamiliar to Westerners (at least those who don’t remember that First Lady Nancy Reagan had an astrologer), according to the piece, many South Koreans believe in physiognomy or speak with fortune-tellers, so it may not be so taboo there. But here, the word “occult” — which doesn’t clearly apply to what’s going on in Korean — serves to stigmatize something that may be common practice there, and alienate readers from this Asian culture at a time when Korean exports from Samsung and other companies are booming. We need to be finding common ground with counterparts in other cultures, not demeaning their beliefs.

New book, “The Columbine Effect,” Dec. 1

I have big news! My new book, “The Columbine Effect: How five teen pastimes got caught in the crossfire and why teens are taking them back,” will be released Dec. 1. Those pastimes — violent video games, heavy metal, paganism and the occult, goth culture and RPGs — are also the foundation of this blog, and the book is a partner to what I’ve been writing here. I’ve been working on this project for a long time and I’m excited to finally be able to share it. Please watch the trailer above, and check out a more detailed summary, as well as the first chapter, on my website. Enjoy.