Howling Into the Wind: (The Return of) The Satanic Panic

The 1980s. My late-teens and early twenties are encompassed in the decade of decadence. The rise of New Wave music. The rise of what is termed today as “Hair Metal.” The wild parties. The generational excess of wildly spending money and extending individual credit to horrible levels. There is a lot of things that I remember about the 1980s. Senior parties in high school. The creative endeavors of so many of my friends. Discovering the wider world of Paganism and my first steps into a way of connecting and experiencing the world around me. I graduated from high school in 1984, enlisted in the United States Air Force in early 1986, and stumbled across Paganism later that year. At the end of that year, I found myself embroiled in the Satanic Panic that I had been so blissfully unaware of.

Texas was a particularly harsh environment to be in during the Satanic Panic. I had heard rumors of Social Services tearing children away from families over the flimsiest pretenses of “Satanism.” In late 1988, I had friends who experienced firsthand this action. Police departments were inundated with reports from neighbors reporting on families in their neighborhood. The military was no different. I had assumed that the military would be far more open and accepting of all beliefs. I was wrong.

I worked in the data processing facility on Carswell Air Force Base. I typically worked on the weekends and during the evenings on weekdays. My weekends were typically twelve-hour shifts, which left a lot of time to read. I was starting my initial steps of exploration into Paganism. I brought a lot of Pagan books on to the shift with me, which I would read. Some examples – “Drawing Down the Moon” by Margot Adler, “The Spiral Dance” by Starhawk, “Witchcraft From the Inside” by Raymond Buckland, and “Witchcraft Today” by Gerald Gardner – among others. My supervisor, at that time, was a staunch Catholic, did not approve and asked that I be reassigned to another shift. This resulted in my being called before my section chief, where I had to defend my own beliefs. My open defiance to a direct order to “be a Christian” resulted in me being sent to the Base Chaplain for counseling.

The Base Chaplain did his homework before I arrived. I was informed that my beliefs were in accordance to the “Religious Requirements and Practices of Certain Selected Groups: A Handbook for Chaplains“, and that my section chief would be informed to back off me. I was reassigned to another shift, where the other four members were all self-professed Evangelical preachers in their off-duty time. My time on the shift was not very easy. However, my off-duty time was about to change as well.

On an early Monday morning, I would guess it was around 4am, my dorm room door was unlocked and two Security Police officers, along with a Fort Worth police officer entered the room. I was asked to get dressed and to come with them. I did so and was led to a Fort Worth squad car at the front gate. I was asked to sit in the front passenger seat. I was then driven out to a pasture in the north part of the city limits, where a cow had been killed. Apparently its throat had been slit, and then its internal organs had been laid out neatly on a white sheet. After I had thrown up, I was asked about the significance of what I was seeing. I responded that I did not know, but I offered to do some research to help the officers determine what had happened. This started a relationship between myself and the police department that would continue until I was deployed overseas.

Most of what I dealt with was graffiti on or near churches and synagogues. Sometimes, I would be brought in to explain belief systems to lawyers investigating potential “Satanic ritual abuse.” I detested being called an “expert” (and still do). From 1988 to 1990, I got called on for a LOT of things. When I returned to the States from Europe, the entire Satanic Panic that had occurred in the 1980s had apparently died down. With Cornerstone magazine debunking the stories of Mike Warnke and Lauren Stratford – among many others – the hoppy waters I remember had seemingly been calmed.

This weekend, I was provided with a Vox article entitled “Why Satanic Panic Never Really Ended”, which details how much of the debunked theories of the Satanic Panic of the 1980s have lived on within the QAnon movement and elsewhere. Reading through the article, I was astonished to realize that I had read several of the features stories but had ignored them as a symptom from the days of the Satanic Panic. Most infamous among these is the horrifically described incidents of the so-called Pizzgate. Another story, which I had not heard, details a wide, vast Satanic pedophilia ring of Democrats, celebrities and world leaders that made its rounds within 4chan. This exact same theory was originally floated by Mike Warnke in his utterly false depictions of himself as a “major player” in Satanism, again completely debunked by the Christian magazine Cornerstone. By the way, if you are looking for the origins of QAnon, it comes from the Pizzagate story. The original poster that floated this retread rumor was only known as “Q”.

I don’t normally discuss politics openly within the blog. I believe what I believe. I understand how I want my government to work. I have no desire to change anyone’s opinion when it comes to how they believe. However, I know the slippery slope of “Satanic Panic”. I remember the beginnings. I remember the rumors that were floated about people in the community. I saw how these rumors could easily destroy families with the only the flimsiest of “evidence.” I know, firsthand, the terror one can feel that every single individual that they encounter may want to destroy their lives – simply because we believe differently from them. That is not a world I care to live in. That is a worldview that I will fight against to my dying breath.

Everyone has a right to their beliefs. Most definitely. I hold that to be a fundamental right to existing. However, when your beliefs deny that right to others, you are in the wrong. Yes, I am talking about the rights of Pagans to exist and believe as they should. However, I am also talking about the rights of Christians, Muslims, Atheists, Agnostics, and others as well. We can, and should, find a way to co-exist together. We don’t have to agree with one another. However, we should respect one another. Yes, that even goes for those on a Satanic Path. Because to be completely honest, they are nothing close to what the rumors of the Satanic Panic made them out to be.

My fear from all of this is simple. I lived through one very overt Satanic Panic. I have no desire to live through another. Nor do I want to see a Crusade made against those who disagree with me. I just want the freedom to believe as I wish, harming no others along my Path. I doubt that any of us lived through the times of the Inquisition. However, we do have history to show us the errors compounded on fervor and zeal that led to those moments. The same holds true for the so-called Crusades. The Crusades and the Inquisition were fueled by rumors, vilifying those that were supposedly against “us.” The opposition is constantly and continually portrayed as “evil”, “depraved”, “warped”, or “out of touch”. They are just as human as we are. They just believe differently.

Today, we see those who choose different ways of living being cast into the shadows of “them”. Members of LGBTQ+ communities fear for their very lives because of the zealotry of those that don’t agree with their way of living. Fuck, we did the same thing to the First Nations people here in America. We did the same thing to African Americans when they were brought here as slaves. We did the same thing to Asian Americans and individuals of Germanic heritage during World War II. Its not just the Satanic Panic that got us here. We have a history of rejecting those who are different than us. And in that rejection, we choose the most extreme measures to showcase our rejection and discomfort, without a second thought to the fact that we are doing these things to other human beings. Absolutely ridiculous, in my opinion. Quoting from Depeche Mode…

So, we’re different colours and we’re different creeds
And different people have different needs
It’s obvious you hate me though I’ve done nothing wrong
I’ve never even met you, so what could I have done?

I can’t understand
What makes a man
Hate another man
Help me understand

Depeche Mode, “People Are People”

So, yes. I am repulsed that the Satanic Panic and all its debunked theories is still alive and well, living in bliss with the QAnon crowd. But thinking on it, I cannot say that I am fully surprised either. We, humans, seem to have a major fetish for hating one another. We seem to be drawn to the idea that we must eradicate that which is different before it “infects” us. Yet, we cannot seem to understand that a wide diversity of views provides a broader, more in-depth, brighter perspective than a single, forced, monotone one would. Go figure that.

–T /|\

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Howling Into the Wind: Wiser and Older But Still Foolish

Life has certainly changed a lot for me – not just in the past few months, but also over the longer course of this river that is my life. I keep thinking back to the first few years of where I was in my Pagan Path comparing it against the Pagan and Druid I have become today. I see a lot of differences. A lot more than I had initially realized. I had honestly never thought I would be where I am at now. In fact, looking back, I am not even sure of where I thought things were going to go for me as a Pagan.

In the Beginning

Most of my Spiritual background comes from an empty slate. My parents were Protestants but sent me to Catholic schools because the education there was supposedly better than the public schools. I learned a lot about the Catholic church’s history, its rituals, and its philosophy. The problem with that…I simply didn’t believe what I was being taught by the Priests, Nuns, and other faculty members. Perhaps, part of that is the rebellious streak that I have in me. I have never taken to having something shoved down my throat. Frankly, I learn better when the material is presented to me, and I am given the opportunity to make decisions on my own.

Once I graduated high school, I moved over to the Southern Baptist realm. Again, I rebelled against having a philosophical perspective shoved down my throat. The ladies were prettier though. 😊 I didn’t really learn much about this belief system while I was there. I came to realize quickly that I was no fan of the presentation method of loud yelling and threatening “unbelievers” with a painful eternal life in Hell. I never have dealt too well with threatening perspectives. Threats only make me feel like my back is against the wall.

Eventually, I came across a Wiccan Priestess that I was interested in romantically. She was up-front about her beliefs and offered me the late-Margot Adler’s “Drawing Down the Moon” to provide me some perspective. What I read was what I had believed – right there in words. At the end of the book, I noticed a Bibliography of other books, and was compelled to ask about those. Luckily, she had a few of those in her library and provided those to me. At this time, I was in the Air Force and stationed at Carswell Air Force Base in Fort Worth, Texas.

On-Fire for Paganism

I would read these books during the shifts that I worked in the Data Processing Center, where I worked the base’s mainframe operations. Late at night, when the work was done (or during the long weekend hours), I would not only read about how Pagans and Witches had been treated over the ages according to what the authors would write – I would openly try to discuss this with the Christians that I worked with. I was never very kind about what I read and what I thought of it. Eventually, this pushed me on to a shift where the other three members were all Evangelical Preachers for their congregations. Eight-hour shifts with these guys felt like an eternity. Twelve-hour shifts were absolutely Hell. Over time, I learned to just work and keep my mouth shut.

That was a good thirty-plus years ago. I was not very accommodating of Christian beliefs and was hot-headed enough to say so. These days, my perspective has changed a lot. I see the Christian path as valid for those who seek to follow it. Those who attempt to ram it down your throat – well, they are simply doing what they feel is right. So long as they do not try to force me to believe as they do – its easy for me to ignore them and move along. This choice has certainly made my Path a lot quieter than it was before. 😊

Stick to the Rules

Reading a lot of the books, I saw how rituals were outlined, and all the setup work that went into making things “right”. Certain types of incense for certain rites. Certain color candles for this and that. If I couldn’t find the exact stuff – I just wasn’t going to be able to do the ritual. To me, at that time, these books were holy writ. No changing anything. Over time and talking with other Pagans that I have encountered along my long, flowing river – well, I have come to realize that nothing must be a certain way. Anything can be done with what you have on-hand. Its your intent that matters more. Don’t have candles? Flashlights can suffice, if needed. Don’t have drinking water available? A bottle of Dr. pepper can stand in for that if needed. Don’t have ritual clothing? No worries. That Pet Shop Boys concert t-shirt, those worn-out jeans, and your beat-up tennis will be all right. Forgot the words? Well, if you don’t have a physical copy of the ritual…wing it, if you can. There’s nothing wrong with any of that. What matters more is where your heart is at that moment. Where your mind is. Where your being is focused. The rules, the outline of the ritual, the various tools, clothing items – shit, even the date you do the ritual – is just extra and not really needed. The only thing that can’t be replaced or over-looked…is you.

To be openly honest, most of my rituals that I do on my own are impromptu. I have a basic structure that looks somewhat like OBOD’s ritual framework, but only somewhat. Outside of that, everything is stuff from the top of my head. I know that none of what I do for myself will have much impact for others. But I am a solo Druid. The only impact I am worried about in a ritual-for-one is for me. When I gather with a group of Druids or Pagans for any ritual aspect, I follow their guidelines to the letter. Their show…their rules. For me, it really is as simple as that.

Where Does It All Go?

Back when I first started down my Pagan Path, I honestly do not recall myself having any kind of direction. Even when I was part of the Wiccan groups I started with. My goals were essentially whatever they told me those should be. I had no idea where I was going or what I was doing. By the time I came to Druidry, I had a better idea of what I was trying to do – what kind of Pagan I wanted to be – even what kind of Druid I wanted to focus on being. That was around eleven years ago. A lot has changed for me since then. My focus is a little different. I have a desire to be a mentor…but I have no idea where or how to get there. Or if that Path would even be open to me at this point. I know I have a lot more to learn. My Path is only now starting to come out of one of the darkest periods in my life. There are lessons from that which I still need to learn and process. And lessons that I learned during my time in the dark that I need to work on completely removing. All of that takes time. It takes work. It takes sweat and effort. I honestly can’t say I knew that starting down this river. I really did think this was all just reading books and drinking and chanting around a campfire. Damn I was young and foolish. I’m older now. I can still be foolish…as shown by the last year. However, as I have learned over time – experience is a damn gorgeous teacher. A bit stern sometimes, a bit harsh at others, but She is awesome, nonetheless.

Through it all, I must echo what Mickey Hart said at the end of the Grateful Dead’s last show. Be kind. Not just to others, but to yourself too. You will make mistakes. You will get hurt. But if your heart is in the right place, you will heal – and continue. Just be kind about it all.

By the way, I am not the Pagan I was when I first started down this river. Thank the Gods for that. Looking back, I was not a very pleasant individual to be around. Some would say that I am still not a pleasant individual to be around now. 😉 But I would like to believe that I am a much more mellow individual than I was. Much more forgiving. Much more understanding. And yes, kinder.

–T /|\

Howling Into the Wind: Labels

Basic. Intermediate. Expert. Beginner. Level One. Baby Pagans. I have heard and read all these terms applied to magick and to practitioners of various Paths. I dislike every single one of them. Seriously.

I do understand their use though. Particularly in structured teaching environments. After all, at one point in my life, I was a collegiate professor. The concept is quite simple. It’s a concept of progression, pure and simple. Within the collegiate setting, the learning structure is setup to provide concepts that are mastered at each class level, and then built upon in the next. To use some of the vernacular that I am trying to discuss, think of it this way. You take a Wicca 101 class to understand the basics of what Wicca is, the simplest aspects of the ritual aspects, some divination techniques (maybe) and perhaps even some spell work. Once you finish with that, proving that you absorbed the information provided, you take the next steps towards more “advanced” techniques and concepts.

The same aspect holds true in…say, computer programming. You learn the basic syntactical rules of whatever language you are learning, along with how simple concepts such as loops, logical flow, and input/output. The next class builds on those concepts, while introducing more complex structures such as modular program flow or object programming. At the end of the progression of courses, if you pass, you will have gathered enough information that you can extrapolate on what you have learned to create your own techniques within the programming language. At least in theory.

Not a difficult concept to understand, eh? So why do I have a beef with all of that? I come from a collegiate background, certainly I can understand why such a systematic approach works well. Well, I do understand the approach. I will even admit that it works for me, to some degree. But I take slight umbrage at the terminology.

Underneath the veneer of these terms, an undercurrent of arrogance can occur. I am better than you because I am taking this ‘Intermediate” class within this Occult School of thought. Or to even utilize some of my own Order’s own perspective – I am better than these people in the Bardic grade because I have progressed to my Druid grade. The idea that one is better than others, simply because one has managed to progress to a certain level – well, that stuff tends to grate on my personal nerves.

Right now, I am in my Ovate grade within OBOD’s system. I have managed to get through my Bardic grade. That does not make me better than any single member of the Bardic grade. All it means, in my eyes, is that I have managed to accumulate the knowledge that I needed to within the Bardic grade. I am no better or less than any member at any level within the Order. To think otherwise, would be creating a classist state for the Order. In other words, I would be expecting to be treated as being better than those in the Bardic grade, simply because I was an Ovate. I certainly would expect to be treated differently as an Ovate than a Bard, simply because I am part of the Ovate grade. There are different expectations of members of each of the grades within OBOD, but no group is any better than the others.

So, I have a personal distaste of the perspective of classism when it comes to what one is or is not capable of within magick and Paganism, based solely on what they have learned or experienced. Sure, the concept of progression in what can be done makes sense. However, labeling it as “Basic”, “Intermediate”, and “Expert” can and does lend itself to an aspect of classism, which then lends itself to simple arrogance.

So, what do I propose that would be better? Or different? Honestly, I am not proposing that anything would be better. That is not a paradigm that I want to operate within. I am not trying to say that one technique is better than any other. What works for one individual does not work for another. For those that follow Major League Baseball, you will understand this example. Batting is a simple technique of getting your hands positioned correctly to be able to connect with a pitched ball. Every hitter develops a timing technique and a batting stance that allows them to (a) see the ball coming out of the pitcher’s hand, and (b) shrinks the strike zone to make it harder for the pitcher to throw a strike to them. Not every hitter adopts a stance that has them hunched over the plate, like Pete Rose did. However, whatever stance they adopt, is the one that they are comfortable with.

I see much of this in the same light. For some folks, this classist concept of learning magick works for them. They understand the progression. They are used to the procession of material from their mundane lives (typically within the Education system). It works for them, and that is a good thing. My preference is different. I work with material as I need to. I learn what I need to work with. Sometimes, it can be clumsy, but that awkward approach also helps me to learn.

If I am being completely open and honest, it is not the methodology and the approach that turns me off. Solely, it is the vernacular that creates my disdain. For me, the terminology is what creates a classist perspective, particularly when it has the denotation of one being better or more superior to another, simply because of what knowledge has been accumulated. But to be even more frank, I am not sure what verbiage could be utilized and applied that would not leave similar classist stains behind.

Yeah, perhaps I am howling into the wind, hoping for an echo from the canyon that is up-wind. This is not something I can find a solution for – even within my own personal thinking. Aside from remaining on guard for a potential under-current of classism or arrogance carrying me along, all I can do is hope that others do not succumb to those waters. After all, I can only control what I do, what I think, and what I feel. To do otherwise, in my eyes, would be unethical, as well as inappropriate.

–T /|\

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