Tag Archives: paganism

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.

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.

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?

Are Cornwall schools teaching kids paganism?


Schools in Cornwall, home to some of the most beloved stone circles in Britain, may soon start teaching students about paganism. Or will they? Photo by Flickr user iknow-uk.

The ever-sensationalistic Daily Mail ran a story this week claiming that teachers in Cornwall will now be required to teach paganism in religious education classes.

They write:

Paganism has been included in an official school religious education syllabus for the first time.

Cornwall Council has told its schools that pagan beliefs, which include witchcraft, druidism and the worship of ancient gods such as Thor, should be taught alongside Christianity, Islam and Judaism.

The requirements are spelled out in an agreed syllabus drawn up by Cornwall’s religious-education advisory group.

They add that the council’s advice has made Cornish Christians unhappy that the school system would give attention to what they call “a fringe eccentricity.”

Jason Pitzl-Waters already vetted this story over on his blog, The Wild Hunt, and brought some of the Mail’s claims into alignment with reality:

1. This isn’t a mandate; the recommendations of the religious-education advisory council are non-binding.

2. The syllabus maintains that 60% of religious education should be devoted to Christianity. The other 40% would be devoted to all other religions — Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, paganism, etc. Pitzl-Waters wrote, “I would be surprised if this lead to even a full day in any British school on modern Paganism.”

The only other item the new syllabus recommends is some coverage of Cornwall’s pre-Christian sites, such as stone circles and their importance for modern-day pagans. I certainly hope that’s being taught, since Cornwall is home to dozens of stone circles, such as the Merry Maidens and the Hurlers, which are certainly important to Cornwall’s tourism industry even if their importance to the pagan community is sometimes left in the dust.

Cornwall is also home to the Museum of Witchcraft, which documents the long history of pagan and folk practices in the region.

One has to wonder whether the ubiquitousness of these ancient circles has made the Cornish people blind to the pagans living in their midst, not to mention their peaceful practices. After all, when a beloved horse was slaughtered, some locals were quick to blame local pagans and/or Satanists. Better religious education could nip such horrible rumors in the bud before they make it to the BBC. Today, there are similar rumors in Edinburgh, Scotland after horses’ manes and tails were cut off.

It would be wishful thinking to believe that Cornwall will begin to teach local schoolchildren about paganism in a way that is fair, respectful, and accurate. It’s certainly nice to see such teaching recommended, but will it happen? Time will tell.

Iraqi youth stoned to death after leaders link emo culture to Satanism, homosexuality


In the United States, emo is a popular youth lifestyle. In Iraq, being emo can get you killed. Photo by Flickr user MarcX Photography.

If this blog is about any single thing, it’s about the demonization of youth culture, and of any influence deemed “dangerous” when kids get their hands on it. But when we talk about such demonization in the West, it’s mostly metaphorical. When kids here take up with metal or goth culture, or they explore pagan faiths, parents might become frightened and limit those activities. In some cases they become fodder for child abuse or bullying. But children here can’t be arrested or publicly executed for such interests. In Iraq, that’s what’s happening right now.

Facts on the situation have been murky, given the nature of it. But here’s my understanding of what has happened in recent weeks:

On Feb. 13, the Iraq Interior Ministry released a statement that condemned the “phenomenon of emo” as Satanic. Emo fashions — such as dark clothes, skull-print T-shirts and nose rings — are “emblems of the devil.”

On Feb. 26, Ammar AL-hakim, a powerful Shia leader, gave a speech on YouTube in which he called emo culture a “strange social phenomena” that is “spreading among youths and adolescents of both sexes.” He urged “decent” Iraqi families to “be careful of these kinds of phenomena” because they have a “devastating influence” on the culture. He did caution people not to use violence.

However, leaflets and fliers began circulating in parts of Baghdad, warning known “emo” youth that they needed to change their behavior, which some claimed was homosexual in nature. According to the New York Times:

“Your fate will be death if you don’t quit doing this,” one leaflet warns. “Punishment will be tougher and tougher, you gays. Don’t be like the people of Lot.”

Another flier circulating around the Zayouna neighborhood appears addressed to emo youths. It tells them to cut their hair, not to wear the clothing of devil worshipers, and not to listen to metal, emo or rap music. And if they refuse, “God’s punishment will be come down upon you,” the letter says.

News broke over the weekend that a number of youth had been stoned to death. The number is unclear; at least 14, and perhaps as many as 60. Reuters claims Iraqi militia are responsible for the deaths. Although many Iraq leaders deny anyone has been killed, Reuters spoke to doctors on Baghdad who had signed the death certificates of youth who’d died of blunt-force trauma to the head. Others have been wounded, apparently as “warnings.”

The Interior Ministry said:

“No murder case has been recorded with the interior ministry on so-called ’emo’ grounds. All cases of murder recorded were for revenge, social and common criminal reasons.”

What seems to be going on is this: Iraqi leaders publicly (and falsely) connected emo culture to Satanism, and even, ridiculously, “blood-drinking.” They demonized this culture, which is essentially peaceful — it’s a youth culture that celebrates the expression of emotion, particularly through music — and another group, possibly a militia group, ran with it. They took it to an extreme place, and now young people are dead.

This is precisely why I am so adamant about fair and accurate depictions of such cultures — particularly by police and journalists. Misrepresenting goths, emos, metalheads, and pagans (among others) as criminal, as violent, or as something abhorrent encourages fear and hatred. And some people take such fear and hatred to an extreme place.

We can say such things could only happen in the Middle East, but that isn’t true. It happened to Sophie Lancaster — and nearly happened to Melody McDermott — in Britain. If we extend such beatings to situations where goth and emo culture are mixed up with homosexuality, as seems the case in Iraq, then we have plenty of examples of gays being publicly and brutally killed, chief among them Matthew Shepard.

These kids aren’t demons, and they aren’t doing anything wrong. It doesn’t matter where they live, or how they dress, or what music they listen to, or whom they love. They don’t deserve to be beaten to death in the streets. And they certainly don’t deserve to have it happen because someone in power said that these kids are evil.

I’m not sure, yet, what can be done about it. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch haven’t taken up the issue. There will be a vigil (warning: graphic images) in San Francisco Wednesday evening to express public solidarity for Iraqi youth. Please post here if you know of any others, or if you know of ways to help.

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?

Televangelist Hagee says humanists, pagans fill “mental hospitals and singles bars”


Cornerstone Church pastor John Hagee. Photo by Flickr user Old Shoe Woman.

John Hagee, televangelist and senior pastor at the evangelical megachurch known as the Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, TX, apparently has it in for pagans, witches, Harry Potter, secular humanists, and lesbian parents. In one of his latest semons, he rails against these evils and the problems he says they cause:

Secular humanism is a pagan god and America is bowing at the shrine. It has filled our drug rehab centers. It has filled the divorce courts. It has filled the shelter for battered wives. It has filled the rape crisis centers. It has filled the mental hospitals and singles bars. It has filled the penitentiaries and the [guest rosters] for the brain-dead television shows from New York. Think about that. We’re in a moral free-fall. When your children can be taught witchcraft by Harry Potter, that Heather has two mommies, you can substitute Christmas for a midwinter holiday. Call it anything you want to, but don’t call it Christmas. Kick God out of the Christmas event…

It goes on from there.

Now, I know such remarks are not meant to be based in facts or logic, and to expect otherwise is to be both foolish and disappointed. These are comments directed to a specific group of people whose values center on faith and the teachings of the Bible, and Hagee’s words are right in line with both.

And yet, here we are, almost in 2012. Our understanding of both pagan faiths and non-religious belief systems, such as secular humanism, is better than ever. But to folks like Hagee, and the people who follow his work, these beliefs all fall into the same junkpile, the one with the big neon sign labeled “evil.” Or at least labeled “morally corrupt.” It’s all a big slippery slope that starts with rejecting religious dogma and ends with jailtime. (What are the beliefs among prisoners in Hagee’s home state? According to one census, 30% are baptist and 18% are Catholic. Hmmm. Ooops, there I go, injecting pesky “facts” into the discussion again.)

Still, it bothers me (and, I suspect, many pagans) that folks on the fence would hear Hagee’s very compelling sermon and come to believe that secular humanism is bad. Or that secular humanism is paganism, since Hagee seems to conflate the two. Or that paganism is bad. Or that Harry Potter teaches witchcraft to kids. (Memo to Hagee: Catholics don’t believe that anymore.) Or that kids learning witchcraft is bad.

Or, you know, that Christians were the inventors of the winter holiday.

Then again, this man claimed that New Orleans was struck by Hurricane Katrina because God wanted to prevent a planned gay-rights rally from taking place.

Fortunately, Hagee has some highly placed critics, such as Bill Moyers, who challenged the name of one of Hagee’s organizations: “Someone who didn’t know better could imagine from the very name Christians United For Israel — CUFI — that pastor John Hagee speaks for all Christians. Well, he doesn’t.”

Are there people who take pastors like John Hagee seriously? Why do they do so? And what’s the best way of injecting reason into the debate?