Tag Archives: crucifix

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.

Religious leaders see monsters — in teens


Does vampire fiction make teens more likely to commit evil crimes? Some seem to think so. Photo by Flickr user drurydrama (Len Radin).

Halloween is coming soon, and people are already seeking spooks.

Specifically, adults in religious communities around the world think they’re seeing monsters — in teenagers.

In South Africa, a foster teen’s parents discovered some of her poetry and sketchbooks and are now convinced that the 14-year-old has a secret double life with a Satanic cult. Because that’s the first thing that leaps to mind, right? In one sketch, the girl drew Jesus on the cross and then wrote, “He lied/He cried/He died.” On another page, a poem reads:

Lucifer was here and now he is gone.
Maybe we should try and just carry on.
The devil is cool, he is fly.
The beast is the apple of his eye.
Satan is our king and he wears the crown.
And he ain’t letting us walk with a frown…”

(I had to check and make sure these aren’t song lyrics. As far as I can tell, they aren’t.)

When the girl’s foster mother found the diaries — apparently while the girl was away — her assumption was that the girl is part of a Satanic cult. Her response? She took them to the local newspaper, which then turned the poor girl’s diaries over to a minister for examination. It starts out well enough:

“She feels very rejected and it’s normal for young people to try and find their identity,” [Father Mike Williams] says, paging through the books.

Oh, but then he had to go on…

“Even though one can see she’s already delved deep into this whole thing, this doesn’t mean that she’s possessed.

“We must see if she has given her soul to the devil or took part in a black mass.”

… What??

It is, as Williams points out, totally natural for teens to begin questioning Christianity, if it’s the religion they were raised with. Some come back; some don’t. Since many teens are vulnerable to black-and-white thinking, they sometimes combine that questioning with an exploration of the polar opposite — in this case, Satanism. Sometimes it’s an honest exploration of faith. Sometimes it’s a way to draw concern from parents who might not be paying attention in the way a teen craves.

Foster children are especially vulnerable to post-traumatic stress disorder, abandonment issues, and depression. According to one study, 60 percent of former foster kids suffered signs of depression. To me, the drawings and poems from this South African girl sound like the product of loneliness and perhaps depression — but not “Satanic cult” activity. Her mother should consider finding her some counseling, not an exorcist.

Such suspicions are not restricted to South Africa, however. In a recent article published in several Christian newspapers, Thomas Horn (author of books such as The Gods Who Walk Among Us and Invisible Invasion) goes on at length about teen vampire and werewolf fiction. The article, penned by Eryn Sun, draws links between such fiction and a handful of crimes in which young people pretended to be vampires.

Before we get into that, let’s look at some of the bizarre things Horn has to say:

“Psychologists have long understood how women in general desire strength in men, but few could have imagined how this natural and overriding need by young ladies would be used in modern times to seduce them of their innocence using mysteriously strong yet everlastingly damned creatures depicted in popular books and films like Twilight, New Moon, and Eclipse.”

I can barely get past the sexism in this quote, but I’ll try: he’s saying that women’s need for strong men somehow makes them crave vampire fiction in which the men in question are powerful vampires. At least, I think that’s what he’s saying.

But then Sun uses these examples to illustrate Horn’s point:

Just a few months ago, a 19-year-old in Texas, claiming to have been a 500-year-old vampire needing to be fed, broke into a woman’s home, threw her against the wall, and tried to suck her blood.

Another instance in Florida involved a teenage girl who was charged along with four others for beating a 16-year-old to death. They were part of a purported vampire cult, with one teenage girl calling herself a vampire/werewolf hybrid.

Where are the girls craving powerful, vampiric men in these examples?

Oh, Horn does go on, arguing that modern horror fiction is different from that of the past, because the new monsters are “impervious to Christ’s power.” In turn, that means young readers and viewers “have exchanged yesterday’s pigtails and pop-guns for pentagrams and blood covenants aligned with forces far stronger than former generations could have imagined.” I’m not sure how many Twilight and True Blood viewers have actually made blood covenants with any “forces,” but I’d bet it’s not many (and, it’s a legitimate spiritual pursuit if they want to — after all, we are guaranteed freedom of religion by the First Amendment).

It’s true that, once in a while, a young person commits violence. Occasionally, that violence is inspired by horror tales. But that’s because violent people occasionally enjoy horror tales — not because the horror tales somehow inspire the violence.

These are, unfortunately, the kinds of messages that can make some deeply religious people question or even fear teenagers — their own, or other people’s. Such questioning and fear leads these teens, who often already feel isolated and different (and therefore unaccepted, or unacceptable), to feel far worse about themselves. That can’t lead anywhere good. Parents and pastors who truly want to help these kids need to love them, listen to them, understand them, and meet them halfway, not put the Biblical smackdown on them when they’re already vulnerable.

Do you think horror fiction is unhealthy for teen audiences? Does it inspire criminal activity, or put their souls at risk? Does the South African girl really belong to a Satanic cult?