Tag Archives: pagan

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?

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.

Polish Catholics launch new exorcism magazine


Poland’s Father Aleksander Posacki with the debut issue of a new magazine devoted to exorcisms, called Egzorcysta.

This week, a brand-new magazine launched in Poland: Egzorcysta, a magazine all about exorcisms and spiritual warfare from a Catholic perspective. Poland is one of the most Catholic countries in Europe, with nearly 90% of the population belonging to the Catholic Church, and 50-60% observing the faith regularly.

But Poland has been a Catholic stronghold for a long time. Why the sudden increase in interest in exorcisms? Here’s what Father Aleksander Posacki, one of the magazine’s contributors, said:

“The rise in the number of exorcists from four to more than 120 over the course of 15 years in Poland is telling.

“It’s indirectly due to changes in the system: capitalism [which Poland adopted in 1989] creates more opportunities to do business in the area of occultism. Fortune telling has even been categorised as employment for taxation.”

Egzorcysta‘s chief editor, Artur Winiarczyk, added: “We are living in a time that is a veritable tornado of occultism, esotericism, divination, magic, energy healing and many other phenomena that suck people in.”

Unfortunately, what seems to be “sucking people in” is the exorcists themselves, who first convince people that their troubles (which could range from a bad string of luck to a serious mental illness) are the result of demonic possession — and then convince them that an exorcism will solve their problems.

This new magazine gives pro-exorcism Catholics an even wider platform to sell these claims — and to define the conversation around the practices of minority faiths and occult workers, whom Winiarczyk is suggesting could be causing people to become demonically possessed. For example, one article in the new issue calls New-Age practices “the spiritual vacuum cleaner.”

Of course, any religious organization has the right to publish what it likes, and promote ideas that are in line with its beliefs. That’s how they maintain a following. But when that comes at the expense of other, legitimate faiths and practices, that threatens Polish people’s right to freedom of religion.

It places a special burden on young people who might be questioning and exploring their faith — particularly those with more conservative, Catholic parents. If a teen is exploring paganism, the occult, or new-age ideas, and the parent believes they’re “possessed,” what then? And how does an exorcism resolve anything?

“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.

God loves heavy metal (so I know he must want me)


Thy Kingdom Come combines heavy metal with sermonizing in Texas.

Heavy metal and religion have always had a tight-knit (if sometimes fraught) relationship. Sure, many bands are secular, but the imagery — particularly the skulls, pentagrams, upside-down crosses — of early metal evoked a religious or anti-religious sentiment. Some genres are even more devoted to one religious idea or another. Black metal often features pagan or Satanic lyrics, while unblack metal takes a more pro-Christian stance. Folk metal is heavily influenced by pagan and mythological themes. There’s even Jewish metal and Muslim metal.

There’s also Christian metal, which makes some people think of Stryper or, more recently, P.O.D. As we’ve discussed before on Backward Messages, heavy metal music itself is akin to religion for many fans, so it makes sense to combine this intense, enveloping, thrilling music with lyrics that speak to the divine — whatever your experience of the divine may be.

In Corpus Christi, Texas, St. John’s Church, a Methodist ministry, hosts a heavy metal service. Behind the pulpit is Thy Kingdom Come, a metalcore band which sings — and screams — Jesus’ message. Since metal often appeals to misfits, putting metal into the church makes sense if you want to bring those misfits back into the fold:

“We go to a lot of Christian metal shows and we saw all these people who didn’t go to church because they were judged,” said [David] Pallotti. “That’s not what church is supposed to be.”

He said the service reaches out to the tattooed, the outcasts or those who feel they have no other place to go.

So far, it’s working, according to regular attendees:

“It’s life changing to be here,” she said. “There is something about the feeling you get. I guess that’s what they mean when they say the presence of God. It’s just so touching.”

Bringing Christian metal into the church raises some interesting questions. For example, there are people who say that all heavy metal is evil. There are others who study whether kids actually listen to the lyrics. Can heavy metal convey a Christian message if you don’t listen to the words? Is it the music or the lyrics that make heavy metal “Satanic”? Does this music belong in church?

A sequel to the “Satanic Panic?”


Kids and adults play together at the annual Summerstar pagan festival in Washington State. Photo by Dannelle Meyers Photography.

The people of New Forest, England, recently faced an unlikely scourge: an anonymous “whistleblower” going by the name of “Alice,” who claimed in several online forums that Rosicrucian and Wiccan practitioners in the area were sexually abusing children.

In one such posting, shared on ShameOnYou.mobi, she wrote:

There is the secret Wiccan group in New Forest, England. Praying to “witches” and the devil and worse torturing children for the sake of their sick “religion”. They film and make fotos, which they distribute on the net.

Their leader, a demented Nick ####, called “Your Highness” by the other cult members. He lives in Minstead, preaches in the local church and pretends to be the “good guy” next door. Privately he boasts to be “an important Mason”, “your Highness” and doing incredibly sick stuff to children in his garage. He also abducts children occasionally, in the New Forest area. He abuses the children of his friends, drugging them and scaring them to death, so the children do not confide to anybody.

Other members of that particular paedophile ring are: His entire family. These family members have been abused and introduced into the Wiccan doctrine by Nick #### himself. They now abuse their own children.

“Alice” also turned up in the comments on a GodDiscussion.com post in which theistic Satanist Diane Vera addressed the “Satanic Panic” of the 1980s and early 1990s, pointing out that allegations of child abuse by Satanic groups had been entirely debunked. In those comments, and in many other postings, “Alice” identifies specific residents of New Forest and the surrounding areas. Many of her posts have since been removed, likely because her actions could qualify as libel.

This is almost precisely how the first “Satanic Panic” began, in the late 1980s, as locals were accused of sexually abusing children during Satanic and/or Wiccan rituals in UK towns. In all, 52 children were taken from their parents and made wards of the court, while three men faced charges — but police found no evidence of the alleged “Satanic abuse.”

In America, the fires were stoked by books such as Michelle Remembers, written by psychologist Lawrence Pazder about a patient he said suffered from multiple-personality disorder as a result of her abuse experiences. (She later married him.) Those stories were eventually debunked, but not until well after the story had been picked up by the mainstream press, including Oprah, frightening millions. There don’t seem to be any good statistics on how many children were separated from their families — or from preschools they loved — during this period.

It’s true that, as a nation, we know more than we used to about Wiccans and even Satanists than we did in the 1980s. They’ve emerged as a much more everyday and benign presence in society. But fear is not behind us, and the conservative religious movement — embodied in the Evangelical Christian and to some extent the Tea Party movement, is gaining both ground and power in America.

Ultimately, the demonization and criminalization of people who practice alternative faiths, from Wicca to Satanism and everywhere in between, is not over. As long as reporters continue to draw connections between criminal activity and paganism, this can’t end. Facts must supersede fear, and paranoid individuals like “Alice” must be taken for what they are.

Readers, how were your lives affected by the “Satanic Panic” of the 1980s and 1990s? Did the stories frighten you? Were you suspected of wrongdoing because of your beliefs or interests? How could we keep it from happening again? Share your stories in the comments.