Category Archives: occult

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.

VA Lt. Gov. candidate on “Satanic rock music”


Remember when this scared people? Photo by Flickr user scarlatti2004.

It’s hard to say whether anyone takes E.W. Jackson, a GOP candidate to become the state’s next Lieutenant Governor, seriously. I mean, he’s the one who said yoga is a “gateway to Satan” and more seriously derogatory things about gay rights. Now apparently he’s also railing against the evils of rock and roll music, either unaware that it’s already been done to death or perhaps trying to give that old dead horse one more beating.

Actually, the material was unearthed by Mother Jones from Jackson’s 2008 book, Ten Commandments to an Extraordinary Life, in which he says:

This is why we need not waste time arguing with the media about whether a steady diet of gangster rap, satanic rock music, profane, violent and pornographic films have an impact on people’s behavior. This is not a statistical question; it is a spiritual one. There may never be a satisfactory statistical answer because the period of incubation before manifestation makes it difficult to establish the causal connection with scientific certainty. It is not that some teen will listen to violent rap music tonight and go out to commit mass murder tomorrow. Nonetheless, if that youngster continues to “meditate” those violent, hate filled images and ideas, he or she will manifest those ideas into their lives in one way or another.

In the same book, he also disses witchcraft, Buddhism, and, er, Whitney Houston.

Unsurprisingly, he’s a religious leader and founder of the “Exodus Faith Ministries, a nondenominational Christian church in Chesapeake, Virginia,” according to his campaign website. (I’m not saying that all religious leaders have backwards ideas about modern music, just saying that someone who feels that way is more likely than not to be deeply religious.) He’s also a veteran, and was a lawyer and law professor.

Alas, the site doesn’t say what kind of music he does like. It will be interesting to see how seriously he’s taken in the months leading up to the election.

“Law Enforcement Guide to Satanic Cults” Clip

I could comment, but the comments in the video pretty much speak for themselves. I sincerely hope no police officers watching this video actually took it as a form of education — or as a basis for action against actual occultists or Satanists.

Setting the record straight: pagans and the press

Last weekend, I was lucky enough to moderate a great panel at Pantheacon with Jason Pitzl-Waters of The Wild Hunt, Satanist Nagasiva Yronwode, Palo Mayombe priest Eric Colon and crime reporter Mike Aldax. It was a chance to discuss how the press has gotten it wrong — and how pagans and reporters can work together to get it right. We should have video soon, but for now, check out the full audio from the panel. Many thanks to Jason for making it available.

Backward Messages is going on hiatus

After more than two years going nonstop, Backward Messages is going on hiatus for a while. I’m working on a major project, and will need the spare hours I normally spend blogging for this other work. If something major happens, I’ll put something up; otherwise, things will be quiet for a while. Thanks to everyone who reads and supports the site. I hope I’ll be back soon!

Top 10 backward messages of 2012


James Holmes: Six months later, do we know why he did it?

We’re coming to the end of Backward Messages’ second year, and what a year it was. We had some immense tragedies, including mass shootings in Aurora, Colorado; Madison, Wisconsin; and Newtown, Connecticut. Goths around the world also took a major hit, with attacks in Iraq and Britain, but a goth singer in the United States surprised everyone. The word “Satan” was tossed around, as it always is, describing everything from Lady Gaga to the Hunger Games.

Last year we looked back at the blog’s top 5 posts, but I wanted to go a little broader. Here’s what drew people most in 2012:

1. Let’s play “imagine the Aurora killer’s motivations!” After James Holmes killed a dozen people in a movie theater, the press had a field day trying to answer one deceptively small question: why?

2. Young opera singer proves goth culture can nurture: Although he didn’t last long on “America’s Got Talent,” Andrew De Leon surprised his audience by (gasp!) not sounding like a monster. Go figure.

3. New Yorker cartoon: the pagan version of blackface: Why are Wiccans still depicted like ugly old hags?

4. Are “The Hunger Games” sacrifices Satanic? I can’t believe I even had to ask that question.

5. Goth, metalhead beaten in separate UK attacks: In the UK, being different remains an unfortunate liability.

6. It’s time to listen to the moms of violent young men: After Newtown, how long will it be before we help young men struggling with violent thoughts — and support their families?

7. Bloody bath lands Lady Gaga in hot water: This wasn’t the first or last time Gaga was called “Satanic” this year, but it was one of the more creative. She was also banned from several countries, on the grounds that her stage show is Satanic.

8. “The New Satanism” in heavy metal: Speaking of Satanic, heavy metal persists in not being as Satanic as its reputation makes it out to be, but there are a handful of musicians keeping the faith.

9. Ohio shooting: What’s “goth” got to do with it? After Columbine, the press has found ways to link almost every youth-committed mass shooting with goth culture. And every time, reporters have been wrong.

10. Iraqi youth stoned to death after leaders link emo culture to Satanism, homosexuality: One of the most heartbreaking stories of the year.

Happy new year, everyone. See you in 2013!

Is “Twilight” turning teens into wannabe vampires?


According to one father, “Twilight” inspires kids to dabble in sex, the occult, and home-style vampirism.

Just in time for the final Twilight movie to hit the theaters, we have a worried dad (and pastor) attempting to connect the films with a subculture that, frankly, has been around a lot longer than Bella Swan and Edward Cullen. He somehow stumbled across the various “vampire” communities on the Internet, began (as many parents do) casting his 15-year-old daughter in that scene, and got scared.

He writes:

There, girls the same age of my 15-year-old daughter are talking about “awakening,” which is their word for converting to paganism (like the Christian word “born again”). In a perverted twist on Communion, their sacraments include the giving of your own blood by becoming a “donor.” This is entirely pagan. These storylines offer eternality without God and salvation; in the place of Jesus’ shed blood, girls and boys shed their own blood to be awakened to their own salvation of a new spiritual way of life filled with sex and occult behavior.

We heard a lot of similar chatter around the Harry Potter books and films: that they would turn young children into occult-obsessed heathens, that their souls would be lost. Even the Vatican changed its mind about that theory once it became clear that millions of kids hadn’t taken up the wizarding life.

Here’s the thing about teens, paganism, sex, and “vampires.” When I grew up, teens were reading Anne Rice’s books and playing Vampire: The Masquerade. They played at being vampires, dressing in dark clothing and wearing faux fangs. Few, almost none, drank anyone’s blood. It was a game, a role play like any other. A chance to try on a different identity, one that’s more mysterious and powerful than, let’s face it, just about any drab-feeling 15-year-old.

What I’m saying is this: teens (and adults) have been playing with this trope for a while now; it didn’t start with Twilight. The fact that Twilight took off suggests that there’s something in the cultural zeitgeist right now that makes it a good fit. What we need to do is analyze what that is — actually talk to kids about why they love the books and why they may be imagining themselves in some of the roles — and go from there. It isn’t about the Devil or the Internet/Mormon authors luring them to their doom. It’s about something that’s part and parcel of adolescence — coupled with the way the world is right now, and has been for the past 30 or so years since Lestat emerged from Rice’s imagination and hit the pages of a book — that’s driving people’s interest.

Fortunately, the author of this piece more or less does the right thing with his own daughter:

I do not shelter my children from these sorts of things. Pop culture is too pervasive to hide from (on a recent trip to a Barnes & Noble with my daughter we noticed an entire section of books dedicated to “Teenage Vampire Romance”). My wife and I talk to my daughter about these things so that she can be discerning, informed, and safe.

I don’t agree with him that media is “a potential threat to her well-being,” and would encourage him to let his daughter use her own discernment to seek out what she needs, and keep the lines of communication open so they can talk when she’s pursuing something that gives him pause.

I don’t think he’s wrong to worry. That’s what parents do. They want their kids to grow up safe, healthy, and happy. And, because he’s a pastor, he enters that role with a pretty specific worldview, and maybe even an obligation to keep his kids on the straight and narrow. But it isn’t Twilight tempting them — or anyone’s kids — to role-play as vampires.

So what is it, then?

Why not ask them, instead of judging them?