Tag Archives: witchcraft

VA Lt. Gov. candidate on “Satanic rock music”

Remember when this scared people? Photo by Flickr user scarlatti2004.

It’s hard to say whether anyone takes E.W. Jackson, a GOP candidate to become the state’s next Lieutenant Governor, seriously. I mean, he’s the one who said yoga is a “gateway to Satan” and more seriously derogatory things about gay rights. Now apparently he’s also railing against the evils of rock and roll music, either unaware that it’s already been done to death or perhaps trying to give that old dead horse one more beating.

Actually, the material was unearthed by Mother Jones from Jackson’s 2008 book, Ten Commandments to an Extraordinary Life, in which he says:

This is why we need not waste time arguing with the media about whether a steady diet of gangster rap, satanic rock music, profane, violent and pornographic films have an impact on people’s behavior. This is not a statistical question; it is a spiritual one. There may never be a satisfactory statistical answer because the period of incubation before manifestation makes it difficult to establish the causal connection with scientific certainty. It is not that some teen will listen to violent rap music tonight and go out to commit mass murder tomorrow. Nonetheless, if that youngster continues to “meditate” those violent, hate filled images and ideas, he or she will manifest those ideas into their lives in one way or another.

In the same book, he also disses witchcraft, Buddhism, and, er, Whitney Houston.

Unsurprisingly, he’s a religious leader and founder of the “Exodus Faith Ministries, a nondenominational Christian church in Chesapeake, Virginia,” according to his campaign website. (I’m not saying that all religious leaders have backwards ideas about modern music, just saying that someone who feels that way is more likely than not to be deeply religious.) He’s also a veteran, and was a lawyer and law professor.

Alas, the site doesn’t say what kind of music he does like. It will be interesting to see how seriously he’s taken in the months leading up to the election.

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.

What’s behind our “teen witch” obsession?

Why do we fear the occult — and the teenage girls who dabble in it? Sady Doyle has some clues. Photo by Flickr user alicetiara.

In my research for Backward Messages, I came across more than one story about groups of teen girls who became temporarily obsessed with the film The Craft. This was before Harry Potter. Indeed, it was before Charmed, the show which brought young, attractive, savvy witches to television screens everywhere. Having a teenager suddenly enthralled by witches definitely worried some parents — but most admitted it was a phase, and it passed.

Still, truths are hidden in our scary movies (even if The Craft doesn’t really fall into that category). Sady Doyle, who writes at the blog Rookie, tackles this topic personally and gracefully in one of her latest posts, “The Season of the Witch.” In it, she writes about her own teen obsession with witchy films — as well as the cultural anxieties that are often behind horror films and our fears of them.

Before there was The Craft, there were the Salem witch trials, which started because the young girls of the town were engaging in unearthly, demonic behavior—such as “screaming” and “throwing things.” You know. The sort of thing you’d never do as a 12-year-old, especially not if you were stuck in a freezing-cold Puritan settlement where the funnest activity was churning butter.

Doyle smartly addresses the stories of cultural figures like Annelise Michel, a teenage girl who died in Germany in 1976 of neglect and starvation because her staunchly Catholic parents insisted that her adolescent behavior (and epilepsy) was the work of demons possessing her. In a more fictional account, there’s The Exorcist, which Doyle views thusly:

Once you realize that The Exorcist is, essentially, the story of a 12-year-old who starts cussing, masturbating, and disobeying her mother — in other words, going through puberty — it becomes apparent to the feminist-minded viewer why two adult men are called in to slap her around for much of the third act. People are convinced that something spooky is going on with girls; that, once they reach a certain age, they lose their adorable innocence and start tapping into something powerful and forbidden.

In our society, women’s sexuality and the occult remain two subjects many people understand less well than they should — and we fear what we don’t understand. It makes sense that these two should be combined, or serve as metaphors for one another, in our films and fiction.

The question remains: why do we fear teenage girls so much? I’ve seen this asked many times, but haven’t found a comprehensive answer. Certainly, it is a topic we revisit in horror films. What’s interesting is, some films are obviously there to allow people to explore these fears in a safe, fictional way. And other films — such as The Craft — help teenage girls come to grips with fears about how their bodies and minds are changing as they enter adolescence and, eventually, adulthood. Although it would be great to leave these fears behind, we haven’t — and this is how we’re dealing with it, for now.

Do these films contribute to actual girl-hatred and girl-fear in our culture? Or do they simply reflect and (hopefully) exorcise the fear that already exists? I suspect it’s more the latter. What do you think?

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?

After animal beheadings, police and reporters conjure “ritual” claims

A goat, baby chickens, two roosters, and a dove were recently found beheaded outside Falkenburg Road Jail in Florida. Photo by Flickr user wuperruper.

Hardly a week goes by where I don’t see a story about someone discovering a gruesome animal beheading. And, for some reason, investigators always claim that occult activity is involved. Is it because these kinds of stories are always reported with a Satanic or ritualistic slant? Is it because police are listening to the advice of so-called “occult experts?”

Earlier this month, someone left a menagerie of beheaded animals outside the Falkenburg Road Jail in Hillsborough County, Florida. The box of slain animals included “a goat, some baby chickens, two roosters, and a dove.”

Detective Larry McKinnon of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office said, “It was a disturbing discovery, and we feel like its some sort of ritualistic killing. Someone was clearly sending a message to someone inside the jail.”

“We feel like?” I’m not sure that police investigations are supposed to be based on what the police feel like. I get that some of it’s intuitive, but … really, unless there’s evidence of ritual, all you have is animal abuse. But the article doesn’t stop there:

Religious studies expert Dr. Mozella Mitchell agrees the killings were committed to send a message, but if it was ritualistic she believes it wasn’t of a religious nature, but something much darker.

“Witchcraft, yes witchcraft, I think it would be something related to that, it’s the act of some crazed mind, a person who’s out of their head,” Mitchell added.

I find it difficult to believe that someone who is a religious studies major doesn’t recognize witchcraft as a religion. Furthermore, she’s connecting “witchcraft” with “a person who’s out of their head.” Fortunately, several commenters have made it plain that folks who practice witchcraft a) are generally sane and b) don’t harm animals. But these statements fall squarely in the category of irresponsible journalism — at least if this news outlet intends to inform the public.

The article also discusses a prior incident in which a cow’s tongue studded with “about 100 nails” (someone counted?) was found in a box outside the Tampa courthouse. Police said they don’t think the incidents were linked, but “it’s the work of someone who dabbles in voodoo or witchcraft, someone calling on dark, supernatural powers to hurt an individual.” When in doubt, it’s important to describe such incidents in as vague and spooky terms as possible.

Meanwhile, in Arizona, someone beheaded another goat — this one a beloved pet, named Billy, who was the unofficial mascot of A-1 Tractor and Equipment Rentals. Rather than suspecting the work of a disgruntled customer, guess what police think is behind the attack?

Hinman said the responding officer told her the beheading might be related to some sort of a satanic cult because the animal was drained of its blood.

And, as if to back this theory up, the report adds:

In 2008, the Bullhead City Police Department reported finding a goat’s head as the centerpiece of an altar used in a ritual by drug dealers.

… when there’s no evidence that the crimes had anything to do with each other, or were committed by the same person. (There’s also the matter of suggesting that there’s a connection between animal heads, rituals, and drug dealing/crimes). Once again, the readers and commenters on this story are skeptical about the “ritual” claims. I wonder why news outlets continue to go with this angle if readers aren’t buying it. It’s not like news of animal abuse wouldn’t sell papers on its own — after all, animal-related stories, pictures, and so on are one of the most popular items online.

I’ve said this many times, but killing animals is, first and foremost, a sign of mental imbalance. It’s one of the classic signs of sociopathy. Even if the person committing the crimes is also participating in occult activity, the occult activity is not what motivates the attacks. A sane, healthy person is not — in general — capable of harming animals. That’s the way to contextualize these deaths. Discussing rituals, the occult, and Satanism is nothing more than a dangerous distraction.