Well, in case you thought the days of the Satanic Panic were over and done with, the New York Post (and other websites and publications picking up on the Post’s story, like The Gothamist) reporting a story of a 31 year old man dead from thirteen stab wounds to the stomach, whose wife said he was “into paganism” and must have been performing some sort of “ritual” on himself. Earlier news stories, such as this one from the NY Daily News, do not indicate any connection to paganism in this crime.
The facts so far: Johnathan Rennie was found dead of multiple stab wounds by his wife at 3 am Sunday morning January 31st in their Brooklyn apartment. Neighbors stated they heard a “commotion” in the apartment at around 2:15 am. His wife told police her husband was, in addition to being interested in paganism, also had habit of using LSD. No toxicology results revealing the presence of any intoxicants or drugs in the victim’s body have been mentioned yet. The website Patch.com stated that “Police could not confirm whether or not paganism was a factor in the incident.” (Well, that is not stopping online media from using that word is every headline!) However, a police spokeswoman told Patch: “Right now it’s leaning toward a suicide, but police are still determining that in an ongoing investigation.”
Interestingly, so far, none of the articles I have seen mentioning a “pagan ritual” have mentioned Imbolc or Candlemas. Many pagans celebrate this festival on the last evening of January. Stabbing oneself in the stomach is not a generally-known practice for this festival, which observes the middle point of the season between winter solstice and spring equinox, and is often dedicated to the goddess Brigid (usually associated with poetry, healing and smith craft), or observes agricultural practices such as blessing sheep or wassailing trees, or in some cases is associated with the forest god Pan (due to the holiday’s close proximity to Lupercalia).
It is rather frightening and, frankly, ridiculous to witness the rapid-fire speed with which news media attempt to sensationalize a story of a violent crime by attributing occult motivations or trappings to it. There is no question that such stories, using words like “Satan” or “occult” or “ritual” or “pagan”connected to violence or murder will tend to attract readers and, thereby, attract advertisers and potential customers. But of course, we do this in the blogosphere as well.It is true that “Satan” has not been mentioned in the news media so far. But it goes without saying that the buzzwords mentioned above are usually equated with devil worship or some malevolent variety of occult practices or beliefs. Seemingly innocuous details are often magnified to try to give them significance (we saw this repeatedly in the West Memphis Three case, for example). We also see some questionable manipulation of facts in the NY Post’s detail that said Rennie had “about 13 stab wounds.” About 13? Does that mean 12? 14? The reason the term “Satanic Panic” is appropriate here is that the same tactics used repeatedly through the 1980s and 1990s to try and equate crimes unrelated to the occult with some form of devil worship or witchcraft are being used again here; only nowadays we call devil worshippers “pagans” so as not to, you know, cause any confusion or upset anyone. (Yes, I am rolling my eyes.)
Note the photo I chose to illustrate this post, from what looks like a wonderful outdoor ritual celebration of Imbolc in the UK. To anyone uninformed about pagan ritual, this scene of costumed revelers with torches might look a bit frightening.
It is also interesting how news websites will alter their headlines after the fact every time a story is updated. For example, the NY Post‘s original headline for this article was “Wife Questioned After Man Found Stabbed to Death” but has since been changed to the most recent version: “Man found stabbed to death in possible Pagan ritual.” And note the capitalization of the word “Pagan” in that headline! Although the first line of the story does not capitalize it: “A man who was found stabbed to death in his Brooklyn home Sunday morning may have been performing a pagan ritual on himself, his wife told cops.” The Post also describes the use of a “ritualistic knife”but another website (dnainfo.com) changed that to: “Rennie may have been using a pagan knife to stab himself 13 times in his torso.” That website also used the phrase “possible pagan ritual” in its headline.
Yeah. Anything is possible. But what actually happened here? I will try to have more updates as they occur.