Tag Archives: religion

Researchers study people who like heavy metal, discover they’re not so bad after all!

Windhand onstage. Photo by Flickr user Metal Chris.

A new study led by University of Westminster psychologist Viren Swami puts metalheads under the microscope again — and finds, refreshingly, some surprising results. I’m reluctant to analyze it much because the full study is paywalled, but the jist is that they took more than 400 Brits and had them listen to “clips of 10 tracks of contemporary heavy metal,” asked them what they thought of the music, and then gave them a questionnaire meant to test them for the “Big Five” personality traits: Extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism and openness to new experiences.

There are a few additional details in this (unnecessarily sexist) writeup from Pacific Standard, including the fact that the study included 219 women and 195 men. Here’s their quick-and-dirty explanation of the findings:

Matching music preference to the Big Five personality traits, Swami was not surprised to find “openness to experience” was associated with enjoyment of heavy metal. People who embrace the new and different tend to be “drawn to forms of music that are intense, engaging and challenging,” he notes, “of which heavy metal is but one example.”

Those with a strong preference for metal “were also more likely to have lower self-esteem,” the researchers write. They speculate this style of music “allows for a purge of negative feelings,” producing a catharsis that may “help boost self-worth.”

Appreciation for metal was also associated with a higher-than-average need for uniqueness, and lower-than-average levels of religiosity. “It is possible that this association is driven by underlying attitudes towards authority, which may include religious authorities,” they write.

Trying to draw correlations between personality traits and musical preferences — particularly when studying people who are outside of that musical culture — is tricky business. I would loosely agree with the suggestion that people who are more open to new experiences would be into extreme music, but it could also be said that people who prefer things to be very structured and regimented would like metal, because the genre — prog and “math metal” in particular — offer that kind of structure. Likewise, it’s a safe guess to say that folks with lower self-esteem might be drawn to metal because its lyrics often offer messages of catharsis and empowerment. But the culture, as well as the music, offers a support network for misfits, and that can’t be ignored.

Lastly, the topic of metal and religiosity is a sticky one (and one I touch on briefly in The Columbine Effect; does it have to do with attitudes toward authority, as the researcher suggests? Others have theorized that people who belong to one of the dominant faiths are less likely to be tolerant of metal because of how the culture and iconography toys with religious criticism, pagan and Satanic themes, and blasphemy. But then again, there’s the argument that metal is a kind of religion.

It’s tough to say what the value of studies like this are. To overcome the stigma and biases against heavy metal and its fans? Others — such as filmmaker Sam Dunn — are arguably more effective. I’d rather see a deep, longitudinal study of longtime metal fans, starting when they picked up their first Black Sabbath or Metallica CD and following them until they’re in nursing homes. I’m happy that studies show not all metalheads are delinquents, but you don’t need a study for that. Just talk to fans.

Pat Robertson: Killing people in video games is the same as killing someone in real life


Minister and television personality Pat Robertson and his television show, the 700 Club has been around since I was a kid; I remember him railing against the supposed evils of Tarot cards sometime in the 1980s.

Well, he’s still at it. Recently, he responded to a viewer who wrote in to ask Robertson what he thought of violent video games. Although he’s never played a video game, violent or not, he decided to respond, bringing all the wisdom of his religious beliefs with him:

“If you’re murdering somebody in cyberspace, in a sense you’re performing the act, you like it or not.” Robertson exclaimed on The 700 Club, comparing playing a violent game to other acts of “virtual sin” like lusting after a woman.

Instead of commenting on his thoughts, I want to ask you guys: do you agree or disagree? Why?

It’s official: heavy metal is a religion in the UK

At least 6,000 people in the UK feel this way. Photo by Flickr user Iain Purdie.

Some of you may recall that last year, amid the 2011 UK census, there was a campaign to get heavy metal listed as a religion. Well, the results are in, and heavy metal definitely made its mark.

According to the Guardian, 6,242 people listed heavy metal as their religion (65 of them were in Norwich, giving it the highest per-capita concentration in the country). That’s more than said they were Satanists (1,893), New Age (650), Baha’i (5,021), Druids (4,189), or Scientologists (2,418) — and only slightly fewer than the number who said they were Rastafarians (7,906). Jedis still have metalheads beat, with some 176,632 adherents (though that number fell significantly from 300,000 in 2001).

Honestly, I’m surprised the number for heavy metal isn’t higher — certainly there are many more fans than that in the UK — but these, presumably, are either those who take the music and culture seriously enough to consider it a faith, or who liked the amusement value of the idea and went with it.

However, if you’re wondering why your teen, or your friend, is so wrapped up in heavy metal — here’s your answer. It’s potent stuff, and it, like any intense music, can make you feel pretty special when you listen to it.

“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.

ACLU sues library for filtering “occult” Web sites

Netsweeper, used in schools and libraries, filters out Web content related to Wicca or Native American faiths.

Anaka Hunter, a resident of Salem, Missouri, went to her local public library and attempted to do some Internet research about Native American spiritualities. She was astounded when she found that Web sites with that kind of content were blocked by the Internet-filtering software used by the library, Netsweeper.

When Hunter complained to the head librarian, she was told that the library had no control over what ideas were blocked by Netsweeper. She complained to the library’s board of directors, but they blew her off. So she took it to the American Civil Liberties Union, which is now suing the city of Salem, the city’s library system, and the library board.

All three are being charged with “unconstitutionally blocking access to websites discussing minority religions by improperly classifying them as ‘occult’ or ‘criminal,'” according to the ACLU.

As I’ve mentioned before, net-filtering software is notorious for trying to make minority faiths of all kinds invisible. Earlier this year, Gainesville students complained when they discovered they couldn’t look up information on Falun Dafa/Falun Gong. I figured it wouldn’t be long before the ACLU got involved.

Interestingly, Jason Pitzl-Waters at The Wild Hunt points out that ‘net-filtering software can trace its origins to the Christian market. This selfsame software was then sold to schools, libraries, and other publicly funded agencies — where such discrimination is much more of a sticky wicket.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. In the meantime, readers, how would you feel if your religious beliefs were blacked out by Internet-filtering software used in schools, libraries, etc.? Are there any such religions you think should be made invisible to the kids and adults using public terminals?

How fundamentalists control the story

Dawn Jewell’s horse, Erik, was slaughtered in Cornwall last weekend. Probably not by Satanists.

Satanic fervor has overtaken both British newspapers and Internet forums following the death of a 2-year-old stallion last weekend. Details of the death have been scarce, stoking public imagination. Because he died either late Sunday night, Jan. 8, or early Jan. 9, on the full moon (Jan. 9) and close to the supposed Satanic holiday of “St Winebald Day” (Jan. 7), speculators believe the horse’s death must somehow be related to Satanists or the occult.

BBC’s first article played up the “St Winebald” idea. Other, more predictable British papers, took it even further. “Eric the horse mutilated on ‘Satan sacrifice day’,” screeched the Sun, which also shared a few gruesome details. Their piece also contains this potentially libelous gem:

Rumours are rife among locals that the butchery in Stithians, near Falmouth, Cornwall, was part of an evil occult ceremony.

The Daily Mail, meanwhile, has attempted to connect Erik’s fate to a second horse’s death nearly 300 miles away, in Wales.

However, in a followup story, the BBC has toned down the Satanism:

Some internet forums have contained speculation that the most recent killing coincided with St Winebald Day on 7 January, which is said to have been included on Satanic calendars as a date for blood rituals.

A spokesman for Devon and Cornwall police said: “We’re keeping an open mind with many lines of inquiry as to what happened. There is nothing specific to suggest that this is the case, there are no facts, it’s speculation.

“It was a savage attack on or near a date, but there is nothing to suggest that it is things like a Satanic worship attack.”

Worrisomely, if you look up “St. Winebald’s Day” on Google, the first link you come to is one from The Forbidden Knowledge, which presents a “Satanic” calendar without sources or explanation. Click through to the front page of this site and you’ll see an above-the-fold warning that, “Your government is poised to inject you with a tracking chip manufactured by Applied Digital Solutions called, ‘Veri Chip.’ Don’t believe me? Click below, I’ll prove it to you.” Reporters who visit this site should be backing away, as quickly as they can, from any information it contains.

However, the second link with information about this “holiday” is a piece by pagan leader and former cop Kerr Cuhulain debunking the aforementioned calendar. He believes the source is the Calvary Chapel, a fundamentalist Christian organization, based in West Covina, California. In other words, not exactly experts on occult and Satanism — in fact, they have a vested interest in making such faiths look bad.

Cuhulain explains:

This calendar claims that Satanic groups perform between 4 and 8 human sacrifices (“blood” or “Da Muer” rituals) per year. It also claims that every year these groups must engage in 10 sexual orgies with males and females between the ages of 1 and 25 as well as with animals. Let’s look at this awful calendar in detail:

“DATE: Jan. 7, CELEBRATION: St. Winebald Day, TYPE: Blood, USAGE: Animal or Human Sacrifice, AGE: 15-33.”(5)

NOTE: January 7 is Sekhmet, the ancient Egyptian New Year’s Day. It is not a Satanic holiday. Winebald was the brother of Saint Walburga, also known as Walpurgis.

Reporters, or even Internet speculators, don’t seem to have gotten as far as link #2. Or even questioning link #1.

Regular readers of this blog already know that Most Satanists do not practice animal sacrifice. That’s not to say that people playing at “devil worship” won’t hurt animals. It just means it likely has nothing to do with established faiths or the people who follow them.

In short, a calendar cooked up by evangelicals is being used by some police, locals, and even British newspapers to explain a horse’s death — one even going so far as to finger a butcher shop and accuse workers both of horse slaughter and occult activity. Meanwhile, Satanists and occultists who actually follow their faith and their laws are quietly implicated.

Next, people will be believing that the government wants to put a chip in their brain.

Top 5 Backward Messages of 2011

I started Backward Messages a year ago, and since then we’ve seen plenty of lively news and discussion. Here are the stories that got the most clicks in our first year of debunking:

1. “Demonic drawing,” Slipknot album linked to grandparents’ murder: Kyle Smith, 17, was arrested in April for allegedly killing his grandparents and then setting their house on fire to cover it up. Police mentioned a “demonic drawing” found in Smith’s bedroom, along with what was most likely a Slipknot CD, as if those had anything to do with the crime. A few months later, Smith pleaded guilty and admitted he was being treated for mental illness.

2. Investigative reporters uncover sex-crazed werewolf roommates in Milwaukee … or not: People couldn’t get enough of the story of two young Milwaukee women, Rebecca Chandler and Raven “Scarlett” Larrabee, who invited an Arizona man to their apartment for some kind of consensual event. All parties involved admitted it “got out of hand.” The man was cut more than 300 times, escaped, then called the police, who made like a trio of books found in the girls’ apartment might be related: “The Werewolf’s Guide to Life,” “The Necromantic Ritual Book,” and a black folder called “Intro to Sigilborne Spirits.” Comments on that post from folks who knew the girls suggest that they had much deeper issues, unrelated to their reading habits.

3. Heavy-metal fan wins disability benefits for his “addiction” to music: Roger Tullgren managed to convince the Swedish government that his love of heavy metal interferes with his day-to-day functioning and qualifies as a disability. Not many of you agreed with this one, but I still think it says a lot about how extremely passionate some folks are about metal — and that’s worth taking seriously.

4. If you dress goth, are you asking for trouble? After Melody McDermott and a friend were beaten on a tram outside Manchester, many recalled the death of fellow goth Sophie Lancaster under similar circumstances. Goths are frequently the targets of harassment and violence; is it up to them to change it?

5. Do video games change kids’ behavior? In the spring, Empowering Parents published a poll in which they asked parents whether games “affect their child’s behavior.” Sixty-two percent said yes, despite ample evidence — which we’ve looked at throughout 2011 — that games themselves aren’t the real problem. If the group does another poll in 2012, following the Supreme Court’s decision not to ban the sale of M-rated games to minors, I wonder if the results would be much different.

If you’re curious what search terms brought people to this blog, here are some of the top queries:

* intro to sigilborne spirits
* satanism
* larping
* history of violent video games
* wicca
* daniel ruda
* jacob leblanc oklahoma
* phil chalmers

Happy New Year! I’ll have plenty more Backward Messages for you in 2012.