Recent news stories have me convinced that we’re entering yet another satanic panic…while at the same time entering yet another occult revival. It may not seem odd for these similarly-themed events to occur simultaneously, but unfortunately for those of who are actual practitioners, scholars, or open-minded cultural observers familiar with new religious movements (including neo-paganism, modern pagan witchcraft, Wicca, druidry, Asatru, etc.) the vast majority of people reading about it won’t comprehend or even care about picayunish distinctions such as, you know, what we actually believe, or do.
And when I say “we” I mean you, too, if you’re a witch, pagan, Wiccan, Druid, Heathen, goddess worshipper, tree hugger, dirt-worshipper, etc., you’re implicated in all this, because either you’re going to be associated with the kinds of people who commit these crimes, or you’re going to be suspected of being capable of committing such crimes yourself. Because people are stupid, and suspicious, and quick to accuse, and, lately, more and more willing to dispense vigilante justice.
This past month there have been a surprising number of news headlines mentioning crimes associated with Beezlebub by one of his many names. There are horses in Scotland whose manes are being chopped off, and it’s said to be connected to Satanic worship. There are people blaming their murderous rampages on Satan. There are churches being vandalized (like this one in Alabama, and this one in Arkansas), and amid the arson and destruction there are occult symbols associated with Satan worship. If that’s not enough, there are also television shows in the works that are the Hollywood equivalent of occult dabbling, and pop singers using satanic imagery to promote their music. So that’s not gonna help.
Come on, we think. Everyone knows there’s no such thing as satanic cults. The church vandalism, horrible though it is, seems to be the work of bored, destructive teenagers. Or bored, destructive adults, but clearly they’re people whose desire to destroy houses of worship overshadows their love and worship of the Dark Lord. If they were real Satanists, they’d most likely be at home chanting and holding rituals. But the widely-held stereotypes surrounding Satanists (helped along by the sensationalism of Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey) don’t help to make them seem harmless.Obviously different people have different ideas on what constitutes Satanism.
The occult revival of the late 1960s notwithstanding, there seems to exist a periodic need in this fair country to become enamored of satanism every decade and a half, give or take. In the 1980s, there were daycare centers reportedly run by devil-worshipping pedophiles, and an evil network of child-killing Satanists taking over America. In the 1990s, there were teenagers accused of worshipping Satan and getting up to no good in their otherwise extremely-dull rural communities (note to self: research the correlation between teenagers’ occult dabbling and general lack of stuff to do where they live), who sometimes ended up accused and convicted of horrific crimes. Also in the 1990s: one unassuming little movie exploited the growing popularity of Wicca and jump-started a whole generation of teenage girls who wanted to become witches. In the 2000s, a wildfire best-selling series of young adult novels about witches inspired book burnings and library censorship, lest our youth be corrupted (reading is fundamental, unless you’re a Fundamentalist, apparently).
In short, this societal obsession is nothing we haven’t seen before. The question is, why on earth does this shit keep happening? And what can we do about it?
One thought I am having: it does us no good to assume every sensational, poorly-informed news story about the occult is somehow intended to “make witches/Wiccans look bad.” There is a systemic problem in this country whereby conservative, extreme religious views (Christian ones) are pitted against any variety of religious experience that is not centered upon Jesus or the Bible. Despite a widespread increase in secularism in America, religious conservatives wish to instigate a war on any spiritual path that seems at odds with Evangelical or Pentecostal Christianity. And one of the first lines of defense in protecting our religious freedoms is to become as articulate, well-informed and educated as we can about the history of our own beliefs and traditions, and that includes the history of the modern occult revival.
Yes. I am saying we need to do our homework. And I don’t want to hear any grumbling.