Tragedy in AZ: Candles and Oranges Do Not An Occultist Make

I thought the worst news I would hear this morning would be that the power is out. Since Georgia is bogged down in Snowpocalypse 2011 I was prepared for that inconvenience. Power is humming away and phones/internet is on. I switched on my laptop and read the news. My mistake. It’s bad enough ordinary citizens are taking their speculation to the extremes but the NY Daily News has decided to jump to conclusions ahead of it’s readers.

Now there’s a lot of speculation on Jared Lee Loughner’s motives. Is he a Communist? A Socialist? A member of the Tea Party? A disgruntled liberal? A Nazi? Did he have a psychotic break? I think the only question about him that I haven’t seen debated is whether or not he wears boxers or briefs.

The NY Daily News managed to sneak into Loughner’s backyard and take a picture of an odd grouping of items. Obviously it must be a shrine because no one reading this has any odd group of items tucked away in their backyard, do they? In a shed or on a patio? I know my back deck features an antler-less moose, a wingback chair and a kiddie pool.

So the question is, does a bag of potting soil, a pot of rotten oranges, a fake skull (looks like the plastic kind they sell at Halloween) and some old candles make a shrine? According to the NY Daily News:

Experts on Sunday said the elements are featured in the ceremonies of a number of occult groups.

Well the four elements (earth, air, water and fire) are featured in occult ceremonies, but then occult ceremonies are mindful things. The nook is dirty and unkempt. The candles are shoved to one side, there’s debris and dirt clinging to items (indicating they haven’t been used or handled recently or regularly), and there are utilitarian items like plastic pots and potting soil on the “shrine”. The so-called “ceremonial” candles are plain white novenas that they sell at the dollar store and are used for both religious and utilitarian purposes. I’ve both used them on my altar and as emergency lighting in bad weather. The skull and oranges likely have mundane origins as well. It appears to me that someone set a bowl of oranges with decorative skull here from Halloween and forgot about it, just like they set the utilitarian white candles here and potting soil and never gave them a second thought. I don’t see a shrine. I see the remnants of summer forgotten in deep winter, like you might see in any backyard.

If this had actually been an occult shrine it would be cleaner, more orderly and show signs of intentional use. Which it doesn’t. The skull, described by the NY Daily News as “sinister”, looks sad and forgotten. Likely bought off the shelf of a discount store, it’s just another hunk of plastic discarded.

As a Witch, as a Pagan and as an occultist, I see nothing of the occult in this. Only sadness. Mainly sadness because we are so prone to try to paint this murderer in shades of “the other” so we don’t have to contemplate any way he might be similar to us.

About Star Foster

Polytheistic Wiccan initiated into the Ravenwood tradition, she has many opinions. Some of them are actually useful.

  • EileenDalla

    Very well said. Thank you!

  • EileenDalla

    Very well said. Thank you!

  • Kei Dallmer

    I would like to know who these “experts” are, and perhaps contact them for the sake of educating them about being so quick to conclude that an unstable person is more likely to be an occultist based on some junk in his back yard. Have they interviewed him? Gotten this information verified? And even if it was verified, is it even relevant to what he did? People of all different faiths kill people every single day — why do they identify the Pagans and the occultists?

    • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

      What confuses me is that people who practice Paganism, Santeria, Vodou and other “occult” religions have tremendous respect for the earth, for nature and for all life. So why do they point to us when something is left carelessly rotting somewhere? I really want to bury those oranges so they can decompose instead of becoming home to pestilence. That’s the only thing that bugs me.

      • Kei Dallmer

        It’s my guess that “experts” are only educated in the very ancient ways of practice (like sacrificing people, perhaps?) and don’t know a damn thing about modern day Pagans, Santerians, etc. Absolutely nothing. And further more, news groups rely on these people and the ones who listen in take their words as fact, neglecting their own responsibility to research on their own the words of others.

      • Infinity Wingspan

        The thing is that not all those who claim to follow a certain religion actually follow all of its principles. Take Muslims who take a life in the name of their religion-the Qu’ran says that they are not, in fact, Muslims. Or Christians who do evil in the name of Yehova-their Bible says that they are not really Christians. Do people sometimes take a cause or religion and adopt it to their own purposes? Absolutely. That may be what Loughner was doing here.

    • Robinsone987

      Exactly! So what? What does this have to do with his actions anyway?

  • Kei Dallmer

    I would like to know who these “experts” are, and perhaps contact them for the sake of educating them about being so quick to conclude that an unstable person is more likely to be an occultist based on some junk in his back yard. Have they interviewed him? Gotten this information verified? And even if it was verified, is it even relevant to what he did? People of all different faiths kill people every single day — why do they identify the Pagans and the occultists?

    • http://www.patheos.com Star Foster

      What confuses me is that people who practice Paganism, Santeria, Vodou and other “occult” religions have tremendous respect for the earth, for nature and for all life. So why do they point to us when something is left carelessly rotting somewhere? I really want to bury those oranges so they can decompose instead of becoming home to pestilence. That’s the only thing that bugs me.

      • Kei Dallmer

        It’s my guess that “experts” are only educated in the very ancient ways of practice (like sacrificing people, perhaps?) and don’t know a damn thing about modern day Pagans, Santerians, etc. Absolutely nothing. And further more, news groups rely on these people and the ones who listen in take their words as fact, neglecting their own responsibility to research on their own the words of others.

      • Infinity Wingspan

        The thing is that not all those who claim to follow a certain religion actually follow all of its principles. Take Muslims who take a life in the name of their religion-the Qu’ran says that they are not, in fact, Muslims. Or Christians who do evil in the name of Yehova-their Bible says that they are not really Christians. Do people sometimes take a cause or religion and adopt it to their own purposes? Absolutely. That may be what Loughner was doing here.

    • Robinsone987

      Exactly! So what? What does this have to do with his actions anyway?

  • Carollewylie

    I have always believed people should be their own advocate-that goes for knowledge as well. Knowledge is power! Unfortunately most people of our society have become more like sheep in a hand basket wondering where they are going.
    The media seems to only care who gets the breaking story out there first with his or her name attached before actually investigating the “facts” first.
    I like to refer to them as media whores.

  • Carollewylie

    I have always believed people should be their own advocate-that goes for knowledge as well. Knowledge is power! Unfortunately most people of our society have become more like sheep in a hand basket wondering where they are going.
    The media seems to only care who gets the breaking story out there first with his or her name attached before actually investigating the “facts” first.
    I like to refer to them as media whores.

  • Peg

    Great piece, Star! I’m blogging on this one, too.

  • Peg

    Great piece, Star! I’m blogging on this one, too.

  • http://mullenkamp.wordpress.com Zaratha

    I said this on the Wild Hunt, and I’ll say it again: the Daily News is a tabloid rag that trades in this kind of sensationalistic garbage on a daily basis to sell papers. The way this outfit rolls, it’s entirely probable they didn’t talk to even a Don Rimer type. That rag is barely fit to line a birdcage with. If legit media sources start in with this, then it’s time to worry, but for now I’m just chalking this up to the News being the News.

  • Anonymous

    I said this on the Wild Hunt, and I’ll say it again: the Daily News is a tabloid rag that trades in this kind of sensationalistic garbage on a daily basis to sell papers. The way this outfit rolls, it’s entirely probable they didn’t talk to even a Don Rimer type. That rag is barely fit to line a birdcage with. If legit media sources start in with this, then it’s time to worry, but for now I’m just chalking this up to the News being the News.

  • http://www.facebook.com/michele.briere Michele Briere

    I’m in Phoenix, Arizona. Watching the news just now, they interviewed an FBI behavioral specialist who said they have just posted a profile of this guy on their website. Even the FBI are confused; this guy’s profile is all over the place -leftist, rightist, no one is sure.

    The pic above tells me he may have been into his own deranged version of satanism. Most reporters don’t know the difference between someone who is a rogue Christian and someone who is a Pagan.

  • http://www.facebook.com/michele.briere Michele Briere

    I’m in Phoenix, Arizona. Watching the news just now, they interviewed an FBI behavioral specialist who said they have just posted a profile of this guy on their website. Even the FBI are confused; this guy’s profile is all over the place -leftist, rightist, no one is sure.

    The pic above tells me he may have been into his own deranged version of satanism. Most reporters don’t know the difference between someone who is a rogue Christian and someone who is a Pagan.

  • Peg

    Thanks again, Star. My blog post is here if you wanna read it: http://themediawitches.blogspot.com/2011/01/why-must-occult-be-seen-as-evil.html

  • Peg

    Thanks again, Star. My blog post is here if you wanna read it: http://themediawitches.blogspot.com/2011/01/why-must-occult-be-seen-as-evil.html

  • Wes Isley

    I have to say, however, that as soon as I saw this photo, I held my breath, afraid it would be linked to some kind of pagan connection. As uninformed as the media are about our spiritual practices, however, the truth is we don’t know anything about this guy except that he’s mentally unstable. That being the case, he might very well see himself as some sort of pagan. People with mental disorders can be just as religious as the next person. Sure, maybe he doesn’t keep his altar nice and tidy, and maybe he doesn’t know all the proper rituals, etc. I know many people who are relatively sane and call themselves Christian but don’t really know anything serious about the faith and don’t live it out in any serious way. Everyone–from the political left and right to us pagans–is distancing themselves from this guy, and naturally so, because no one wants to be remotely connected to his destruction. But regardless of whether he is pagan or not, Democrat or Republican, or whatever, he is human–damaged and destructive, but human. He is us.

  • Wes Isley

    I have to say, however, that as soon as I saw this photo, I held my breath, afraid it would be linked to some kind of pagan connection. As uninformed as the media are about our spiritual practices, however, the truth is we don’t know anything about this guy except that he’s mentally unstable. That being the case, he might very well see himself as some sort of pagan. People with mental disorders can be just as religious as the next person. Sure, maybe he doesn’t keep his altar nice and tidy, and maybe he doesn’t know all the proper rituals, etc. I know many people who are relatively sane and call themselves Christian but don’t really know anything serious about the faith and don’t live it out in any serious way. Everyone–from the political left and right to us pagans–is distancing themselves from this guy, and naturally so, because no one wants to be remotely connected to his destruction. But regardless of whether he is pagan or not, Democrat or Republican, or whatever, he is human–damaged and destructive, but human. He is us.

  • http://notnewyork.org/ Onalistus Reveler

    It’s a shame, ’cause for us up here in NYC this “reporting” is par for the Daily News course. Unfortunately, other people less familiar with the NYDN’s deal might miss that.

    I will say that you do make a lot of room for the kid’s “shrine” to not actually be shrine. Who knows what it was used for. But it certainly does look to have been used at some point. Just because the candles are pushed to the side doesn’t mean the kid just happened to be raking the leaves when he put up this little display. People who use shrines regularly and as matter-of-fact practices don’t necessarily wrap everything in silk before they put stuff away.

  • http://notnewyork.org/ Onalistus Reveler

    It’s a shame, ’cause for us up here in NYC this “reporting” is par for the Daily News course. Unfortunately, other people less familiar with the NYDN’s deal might miss that.

    I will say that you do make a lot of room for the kid’s “shrine” to not actually be shrine. Who knows what it was used for. But it certainly does look to have been used at some point. Just because the candles are pushed to the side doesn’t mean the kid just happened to be raking the leaves when he put up this little display. People who use shrines regularly and as matter-of-fact practices don’t necessarily wrap everything in silk before they put stuff away.

  • Robinsone987

    To break the story of Loughner being an Occult follower is just a way to add more stir to the facts, “facts”, and gossip among story followers. It’s just another tabloid story to catch our attention, and keep the stigma of the Craft and the Occult alive in those who know nothing of the subject. To most of the population, those who practice are “devil worshipers”, and they will come up with anything they can for media craze.

  • Robinsone987

    To break the story of Loughner being an Occult follower is just a way to add more stir to the facts, “facts”, and gossip among story followers. It’s just another tabloid story to catch our attention, and keep the stigma of the Craft and the Occult alive in those who know nothing of the subject. To most of the population, those who practice are “devil worshipers”, and they will come up with anything they can for media craze.

  • Robinsone987

    I also agree with Wes, that it has been known that many people such Loughner DO practice some sort of Craft. While anyone can understand totally dismissing this incident because of the bad publicity the Pagan community and other followers may have gravitated toward them, the mentally unstable have been known to be a Craft follower in their own way, on their own terms. So yes, this could definitely possibly be a shrine of some kind. In his unstable mind, he was praying to and following some kind of force, but who is to really say that is was, factually, a pagan/Wiccan/what have you shrine.

  • Robinsone987

    I also agree with Wes, that it has been known that many people such Loughner DO practice some sort of Craft. While anyone can understand totally dismissing this incident because of the bad publicity the Pagan community and other followers may have gravitated toward them, the mentally unstable have been known to be a Craft follower in their own way, on their own terms. So yes, this could definitely possibly be a shrine of some kind. In his unstable mind, he was praying to and following some kind of force, but who is to really say that is was, factually, a pagan/Wiccan/what have you shrine.

  • Run4DaHills

    Um, no. Loughner did not follow any particular religious beliefs. In fact, he wrote about everyone creating one of their own, and to him, Satanism, Voodoo, Christianity, Islam were all the same; null and void practices subject to mind control. I feel the media (or whorever) is trying to stir the plot with what really appears to be a pile of patio party remnants and a lone fake skull. I’ve seen many people stack stuff in silly, fun arrangements when they clean my yard or porch. If Loughner was practicing some form of ritual, it wasn’t anything in particular nor was he very serious about it.

  • Run4DaHills

    Um, no. Loughner did not follow any particular religious beliefs. In fact, he wrote about everyone creating one of their own, and to him, Satanism, Voodoo, Christianity, Islam were all the same; null and void practices subject to mind control. I feel the media (or whorever) is trying to stir the plot with what really appears to be a pile of patio party remnants and a lone fake skull. I’ve seen many people stack stuff in silly, fun arrangements when they clean my yard or porch. If Loughner was practicing some form of ritual, it wasn’t anything in particular nor was he very serious about it.


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