Tag Archives: occult

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.

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.

“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.

How a life among monsters can help you learn


RPG gamers: come out of hiding! Photo by Flickr user greenwise art.

Once upon a time, role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons were something kids and teens played in secret, for fear their parents would find out. Some parents had become convinced that these games allowed kids to flirt with the occult or even suicide and murder. Today, we mostly laugh at those ideas, and those who hide their RPG tendencies do so less out of fear of what their parents will think, and more out of fear that they’ll be branded as nerds stuck in childhood. Some stigma remains.

Which is why, when an accomplished writer like Samuel Sattin writes about his history as a role-playing gamer in Salon, it’s in somewhat hushed tones:

Now, I realize I’m risking no small amount of social capital by putting my history with Dungeons & Dragons into print. I’ve made similar confessions concerning my long time love of video games, a medium many respected cultural arbiters—Roger Ebert comes to mind—says can never be art. New forms of media, new forms of creative exploration, especially when they try to assume dignity or—shock—artistic respect, are bound to be repudiated by establishment critics who maintain genre is divorced from aesthetic permanence. There’s a reason Ursula K. LeGuin hasn’t won a Pulitzer yet, and it’s not because she isn’t amazing. It’s because there’s a war going on right now, especially in the literary world, over the definition of cultural value.

That, however, is not really the point of Sattin’s essay. Instead, the point is that his experiences playing D&D actually gave him the skills he needed to write his debut novel, League of Somebodies, which is coming out next spring. He talks about how all those hours spent creating characters and stories provided the building blocks for his imagination to craft a story and that, someday soon, we will all be able to experience. Tolkien and Lewis, Milne, George Lucas — they have all created worlds that don’t exist, but that do now because of their imagination, and to some extent they were all role-playing.

Okay, so maybe you don’t want to write stories. That’s not the only useful thing to come out of RPGs. Take, for example, 12-year-old Julian Levy, whose D&D monster manual helped his dad, psychologist Alan Kingstone, solve a conundrum about human behavior. Kingstone was studying where people look when examining a new creature; usually it’s the eyes, but what if the eyes aren’t in the expected place?

The recordings showed that when volunteers looked at drawings of humans or humanoids (monsters with more or less human shapes), their eyes moved to the centre of the screen, and then straight up. If the volunteers saw monsters with displaced eyes, they stared at the centre, and then off in various directions. The volunteers looked at eyes early and frequently, whether they were on the creatures’ faces or not.

This isn’t just an academic exercise, says Kingstone. “If people are just targeting the centre of the head, like they target the centre of most objects, and getting the eyes for free, that’s one thing. But if they are actually seeking out eyes that’s another thing altogether,” he says. It means that different parts of the brain are involved when we glean social information from our peers. It might also help to explain why people with autism often fail to make eye contact with other people, and which parts of the brain are responsible.

Kingstone’s research paper is called “Monsters Are People Too,” natch.

Satanism, Santeria, or Sensationalism?


Is a torched chicken Satanic? Photo by Flickr user adactio.

Step 1: Patrol the local cemetery at night.

Step 2: Find a patch of burned ground.

Step 3: Find a dead, burned chicken.

Step 4: Find an empty bottle of cologne nearby.

Step 5: Conclude Satanism is involved.

Wow. Do they teach this stuff in the police academy?

Honestly, I’m still trying to wrap my head around this particular bit of deductive reasoning. Maybe the fact that this incident took place near Halloween is what set the police officer’s Satan-radar off; I’m not sure. The article is much less about the actual incident in question and more about a string of supposedly Santeria-related activities involving everything from dead animals to human skulls and, er, coconuts.

Because, of course, a bunch of police guesswork is the same thing as proof of an “upswing of occult activity in Bridgeport, much of it related to voodoo or Santeria.”

Unfortunately, one thing it doesn’t include is any information from actual Santeria practitioners, or Satanists for that matter, to discuss such things as a) their actual religious/spiritual practices, b) whether those practices routinely involve harming animals, and c) how these groups feel being mistaken for each other. (Try calling a Catholic a Mormon sometime, or vice versa. After all, they both believe in Jesus, right? Just try. See what happens.)

As I’ve said here before, Satanists rarely, if ever, practice animal sacrifice. Those who do harm animals under the banner of Satanism probably aren’t dedicated practitioners, but dabblers who don’t know what they’re doing, and are following horror movies or misguided web sites or books — they aren’t the real deal.

Santeria does, at times, involve animal sacrifice — and, by the way, it’s protected under the Constitution after a 1993 Supreme Court vote. It’s part of the religion, practiced rarely and carefully, and shouldn’t be touted as ooky-spooky “occult” ritual and certainly not “Satanic.” However, it’s hard to say whether these particular incidences in Connecticut were the work of a devoted Santerian, since I’ve been told that just leaving animals lying around — or, in this case, leaving one of them alive and half-burned, isn’t considered a respectful part of their religious practice.

In other words, it’s wrong to peg such acts on a particular faith without a much deeper knowledge of the incident in question, and who perpetrated it. Right now, all they’re doing is making Satanists and Santerians look bad, and that’s not right.

Who’s training South Africa’s occult police?


Some of South Africa’s police officers will be trained as occult specialists. Photo by Flickr user ER24 EMS (Pty) Ltd.

The South African Police Service is apparently training some of its officers to become “occult specialists,” according to a leaked memo. South African pagans are nervous about this — and rightly so.

In the United States, police forces have relied upon training from outside consultants, including the late Don Rimer. Unfortunately, most of these outside consultants have been far from experts in legitimate pagan or occult practice, and instead presented police with confused and sensationalized information that could only lead to profiling and accusing people who were otherwise likely innocent.

The South African police memo says that two detectives in each of the country’s provinces must be trained to deal with occult crimes, including “muti murders, curses intended to cause harm, vampirism, spiritual intimidation including ‘astral coercion,’ rape by ‘tokoloshe spirits,’ poltergeist phenomena, voodoo, black magic and traditional healers involved in criminal activities.” Those specialists will help other detectives in cases that seem “rooted in the supernatural.” It cautions police involved in these investigations to remain unbiased.

South Africa has a strong tribal tradition, and many in the region hold to older belief systems. The friction between these groups and Christians contributes to a kind of Satanic panic. This plays out in a number of places, including in the tabloid press, which has been known to run stories about children attacked by vampires or about religious leaders blaming all violent crime on Satan. A recent crime in which a young woman was set on fire was described as a Satanic ritual, and even teen poetry is blamed on Satanic cults.

It’s tough to see how the police will be able to remain unbiased. That’s one reason the South African Pagan Rights Alliance is worried about the new police plan:

“This newly envisioned scope of investigation must be viewed with suspicion and be of concern to anyone engaged in the practice of witchcraft, traditional African religion, and other occult spiritualities, including Satanism.”

It’s especially worrisome that police have not said who will be training the new “occult detectives” on the force. Will it be South Africa’s answer to Don Rimer? Or will it be folks from SAPRA and representatives from tribal faiths, who can help police tell the difference between legitimate religious practice and outright criminal activity? We can certainly hope for the latter, but there isn’t much precedent for it.