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 /|\

Photo by Lucas Pezeta on Pexels.com

“Be Ready,” He Said…

“Be ready.” Our Vice President has now warned graduates at a Christian-based University that they will be targets of the “left” after their graduation because of their faith. To quote the USA today article:

Pence… …warned graduates that they have to stay strong against the challenges they’ll get from Hollywood, the media and the secular left. “Some of the loudest voices for tolerance today have little tolerance for traditional Christian beliefs,” Pence said. “Be ready.”

That’s a rather odd statement to make, since people of faiths that are not Christian are also having to fear quite a lot from the Christian “right” and its a lot more than just being challenged over their beliefs.

When I first started on my Path within Paganism in 1986, it was the height of the Satanic Panic. So-called Christians such as comedian/preacher Mike Warnke, and author Lauren Stratford, both of whom (among many others) had claims of a highly structured underground Satanic conspiracy within the United States. These claims were later debunked by investigations (separate in the cases of Warnke and Stratford) by Christian magazine Cornerstone. Those investigations took place in 1992. But the damage from Warnke’s and Stratford’s “testimonies” had already been done, particularly to the Pagan community.

I recall several Pagan families in the DFW area behind pulled apart by Child Protective Services (CPS) over allegations of Satanic Ritual Abuse. In one particular case, the children caught wind of CPS coming to the house to take them out of the house. The children stole money from their mother’s purse, and as a group ran away from home to stay out of the system. I’m more than positive that similar scenarios took place in other parts of Texas, all fueled by allegations of the parents being a part of this so-called Satanic conspiracy that was alleged by “credible” sources such as Warnke and Stratford.

A portion of a “Peace Wall” in Belfast, Ireland. An example of what happens when we partition by religious belief.

One early morning run to a base Post Office to pick up my mail, after my late-night shift in the command post had ended, found me being confronted by a pair of individuals who had seen my picture in the Stars and Stripes. It was centerfold article entitled “Practicing Pagans” and detailed the efforts of several Pagan groups in the European theater trying to establish themselves as a religious group that needed assistance from the Chaplain Services. I was slammed face-first into the metal post office boxes and told that I was going to Hell. Luckily, someone entered at the other side of the Post Office before anything more could be done.

I have talked with several individuals who have lost their jobs because employers stated that their co-workers were afraid that these Pagans would curse them. I have also talked with several folks who have endured physical beatings at the hands of others, simply because they are overtly Pagans. I have openly been a Pagan for approximately thirty-three years now. During that time, from 1986 to today, I have known Pagans that have had to hide who they are and what they believe to protect families, and jobs.

Vice President Pence says that Christians have something to fear for being Christian? Well, the sarcastic part of me says – welcome to the club, bitches. But the more rational side (is there one?) of me laments the fact that anyone, anywhere has to be “ready” to defend who they are and what they believe. And yes, that includes Vice President Pence and his anti-LGBTQ version of Christianity. I do believe they have a right to hate, dislike, shun, whatever – other lifestyles, SO LONG AS THEY DO NOT INTENTIONALLY HARM others. Now, before I get sidetracked down that road, let’s take a small step to the side of the road and let the traffic pass.

Vice President Pence is talking about the intolerance of the tolerance crowd. Essentially, his point is that people are tolerant of other perspectives so long as those perspectives jibe with theirs. Well, I hate to call the Vice President a fucking hypocrite, but I will. He’s a fucking hypocrite. His belief teach intolerance of those who do not conform to their extremely narrow view of Christianity. In their version of Christianity, Jesus ben Joseph would greet homosexuals (among others) with a flying drop-kick while wearing a pair of brass knuckles on each hand. Essentially, condemning the individual along with the perceived sin, rather than following the biblical standard of loving and accepting the sinner while rejecting the sin. In other words, showing love to the sinner while hating the sin. Unless, their version of Christianity is a rather wicked version of BDSM. Then we have a whole other perspective we might need to take.

The sad perspective of this, is that anyone has to fear for their lives or livelihood over what they believe in Spiritually. Yet, here we are. We know the Pagan side of this story all too well. Over the last thirty years, many of us have lived this daily. And while it can seem comical that Vice President Pence is preaching a victimization of his brand of Christian faith before these students leave the shelter of their university lives, it does draw a particular cloak of darkness over the way personal Spirituality. How it has been moved from something that comforts us on an emotional and intellectual level to being weaponized as a way to differentiate between “us” and “them”. I can only hope and pray that we can all, collective as the peoples of this planet, find a way to locate common ground and peace on a topic that has literally ravaged our planet in wide-ranging wars in the past.

“Task Force” Has Such a “Gestapo” Feel To It

I normally pay very little attention to the news these days. My usual routine is to pick up the headlines from Google’s news feeds and pop over to the BBC website on a Saturday or Sunday for an hour or two. That usually is enough to sate my weak appetite for all things Trump, as well as catch up on whatever big might have happened outside of his orbit, elsewhere in the world. Back in the 1990s and into the early 2000s, I was a veritable news junkie. I had the local 24×7 news channel dialed in on my car radio. I listened to and from work, at work, and even at home. I rarely ever agreed with what Mark Davis, Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity were saying, but it was “interesting” to hear their perspectives. And then one day, my desire to listen to this type of stuff just seemingly turned off. Just like a water spigot.

Much of my distaste for what was happening in the news was the saturation of the 2000 election cycle between Bush and Gore. Adding further was the non-stop kvetching that took place after the election – by both Republicans and Democrats. Since that moment, the constant barrage has been non-stop. Our news cycle has morphed into a 365x24x7 concept, and the news is constantly about what one political side of the fence thinks about this issue or that. So, to keep my own personal brand of sanity, I took to limiting the amount of news that I take in. So far, its worked to one degree or another. I might be a touch behind one some pieces of the news cycle, but at least I am no longer stressing day and night over things.

This weekend is the last stretch of 4×10 work days – what is known as the “Summer Schedule” at work. During this period of work time, I have three days off in a row – Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. So, my usual methodology has been to continue picking up the news on Saturday or Sunday. Until this week. Since I had a handful of chores and spiritual obligations to handle on Saturday and Sunday, I decided to grab some of the news on Friday morning. I ran into two headlines that immediately grabbed my attention.

Jeff Sessions announces a religious liberty task force to combat “dangerous” secularism

New ‘Religious Liberty Task Force’ Highlights Sessions, DOJ Priorities

A “Religious Liberties Task Force” eh? That terminology has a draconian feel for me. Furthermore, taking into consideration that DJT had been consuming most of the headlines with his inane tweets and off-the-wall commentary on other aspects of the news, I quickly realized that the lead for this had been quite effectively buried. So off into reading and information gathering mode, I started to head.

All of this stems from a 2017 memo from Attorney general Jeff Sessions to the members of the Department of Justice, where he provided the broadest interpretation of “religious liberties” be applied in the application to federal laws. For instance, a pastor could not preach politics from the pulpit or canvas a congregation to provide funds to a political campaign. However, in applying the concept of legal protections under the guise of “religious liberties”, issues where this may have occurred, are given a wide berth by the DoJ, according to this particular memo. This new task force takes things a slight step further. I say “slight step” but its a rather large one.

The task force itself only has a written mandate to uphold the 2017 memo from AG Sessions. However, in a speech, AG Sessions took things a touch further, invoking an unspoken war between Christianity and “Secularism” that has overtones quite similar to the days of the Catholic church’s misguided time of the Inquisition.

“We have gotten to the point,” he said, “where courts have held that morality cannot be a basis for law, where ministers are fearful to affirm, as they understand it, holy writ from the pulpit, and where one group can actively target religious groups by labeling them a ‘hate group’ on the basis of their sincerely held religious beliefs.”

As is pointed out in the Vox article, AG Sessions is apparently targeting groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center, perhaps even the American Civil Liberties Union, where far-right Christian groups have been branded with the descriptive of being a hate group. And I will add my own personal note here, rightfully so. Furthermore, I question the constitutionality of such a group, particularly when the individual in charge of it – AG Sessions – seemingly has such a narrow perspective of what the group is to enforce, namely the “correctness” of far-right Christianity. According to our founding fathers for this country, we are to establish no laws favoring one belief system over another. I would posit that this “task force” is just that, as well as a necessary step towards fascism within this country.

A step too far, perhaps? I would invite you to take a long hard look at the John Birch Society in American history, as well as our current modern dominionists that have managed to wiggle their way into positions of power and influence here in our government. The John Birch Society and the positions espoused by it are pillars of the modern-day dominionists. Their goal? Well, they do not hide it and are quite open about it. A Christian America, following their principles of Christianity. Their desire is to legislate their beliefs into law, subjecting all to their beliefs. After all, biblical principles state that the “good” Christian preaches the good word to all and converts the flock to what is right. They believe the world is dominated by a single concept of “war” that continues to this day: their Christianity versus the rest of the world. The rest of the world is effectively blinded by Satan, and in most cases is unknowingly participants in this battle.

I have seen this before in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Historically, we ‘affectionately’ call this the “Satanic Panic.” This movement spawned a ton of Christian books, many of which I have read (during this particular time frame as well). Christian comedian Mike Warnke made claims of being a High Priest of Satan before (and during the first years) of his service in the US Navy. In 1991, Christian magazine Cornerstone debunked his story. His original claim was that he had 15,000 members of his coven. in the years following the Cornerstone investigation and story, he claimed there were only thirteen members of his coven, and laid the majority of the blame of inaccuracies in the story at the feet of his ex-wife. Warnke continues regaling his tale of being a High Priest of Satan, but that’s a full conversation for another time.

We have been through these times before. Lies upon lies upon lies are constantly heaped upon the Pagan community – Nine Hells, ANY community that does not line up with these dominionists. Their followers eat all of this up because they are programmed to believe the worst in everyone else. Their perspective is to see all of us as wanting to destroy everything that they have. When in reality, we are really just trying to make it through each day with our humanity still intact.

A lot of those folks will toss out the notation that Pagans HATE who they are. That Pagans want to destroy them and wipe them from the face of the earth. From my own perspective, nothing could be further from the truth. I am quite sure that in the small town where I live, that there are more than a few of those dominionists. I am more than sure that there are quite a few within my work environment. I have no desire to destroy them or even discredit who they are. If that happens, they will have done it themselves. All I really want is to live my life in the way I wish to and be free to worship the Gods that I follow, and have the freedom to love the people that I love – and for others to have the same choice. That’s not secularism folks, that’s called choice. People like AG Sessions are out to fight a war with Gestapo-style tactics like this, not because others want to destroy what is their (AG Sessions and his ilk) choice. They are utilizing these tactics to scare people into making their (AG Sessions and his ilk) choice because folks are choosing something else instead. “Task Force”, indeed.

Si vis pacem, para bellum

Over the past several months, many of the bloggers I read have talked about the darkening storm clouds. Those Pagans that I know converse with the Gods and Goddesses have heard the same thing – there’s a storm gathering. It only takes a few minutes of reading the headlines in the news to understand that as well. I hear the whispers from among my Dream Crows.

When I attended Pantheacon this year, you could feel the perspective that “change” was in the air. It was an undertone throughout the entire gathering. Not spoken often, but felt. And the meanings behind it could be construed in many ways.

For me, there’s a strong perspective of change going on in my Spiritual life right now. My feet are being hardened to the Path that I am on. There’s a strong push towards my needing to move along in my studies. There’s changes happening within my Mundane life as well. My skill sets are being pushed to the limits, training is being provided to expand my knowledge and abilities. What is being asked of me is literally pushing beyond what my job description denotes. But there’s always the tone of the coming storm.

I felt this type of palpable energy at one other time – the late 1980s. It was time of the Satanic Panic. Anything not Christian or some other mainstream belief was denounced as “devil worship.” I watched friends battle with the state government to not lose control of their children – all simply because they were of a faith that was not mainstream. Accusations were leveled against some of my friends that they practiced animal (and sometimes human was hinted at) sacrifice. That children were made to participate in these rites, so that their souls could be delivered to Satan. Lying idiots seeking publicity and fame, such as Mike Warnke and Lauren Stratford, wrote books and provided public testimony of an underground Satanic society that lived within the suburbs of the United States. Those lies and accusations leveled against Pagans wound up having families torn apart by State agencies.

During the Satanic Panic of the late 1980s, I was openly Pagan. But I was in a somewhat protected environment – the United States military. I still suffered through threats and taunts – and the occasional physical confrontation. But a lot of that was nothing compared to what happened to my friends in the civilian world. It literally was a war, between the Christians and any non-mainstream adherents. I remember very well how everything looked and felt during that time. And I see much the same starting to happen again.

But there’s a difference this time. We, the Pagan community as a whole, have worked very hard to reconnect with the Gods and Goddesses in a greater fashion. We have also learned that together, we can be a force for change. We continue to attempt to reach across the stream to Christians and other faiths – to show that we are no different than they are. We have made great strides towards interfaith relations. The problem is that most of the interfaith relationships we have cultivated have been quiet, calm currents. Within the Christian community, there are plenty of other voices that advocate punishment for those that do not follow their twisted examples of Christianity. At times, I wonder if I will start hearing the shouts for “baptism and a new shirt or death!” But then, we are only talking of one faith that is at issue here. There’s also those that twist the teachings of their Muslim faith for political and social control and power.

Let’s be a little realistic here. The Muslims that are forcing their beliefs on others through violence, bloodshed, and such – they are not in this for their faith. Those that do feel that way, have essentially been brainwashed into that manner of thinking. The true aspect behind it is social and political control of regions of the world. Its not about religion, faith or following the underlying philosophies of their beliefs. They want to be the ones holding the reigns. The same holds true for the extreme aspects of Christianity. Its not about following the teachings of Jesus ben Joseph. Its about twisting scriptures in a manner to justify what is most certainly un-Christ-like actions. Its about controlling others.

Make no mistake about it folks, the storm clouds are gathering. Our skies are darkening. And we must prepare ourselves for the possibilities of defending ourselves against fanatical perspectives. That means voting. That means looking long and hard at the candidates and their parties, and what they really believe. That also means being ready for the worst things that might be part of this. Defending yourself against physical attacks.

609 Comm Sq
My squadron patch from the United States Air Force.

The latin phrase that is the title of this blog post translates loosely to: “if you want peace, prepare for war.” I am a peace-loving hippy-type. I don’t like to argue with people over stuff. I certainly don’t like to get physical with other people. I have a walking staff. As I have pointed out previously on this blog, that staff is for walking, but it can certainly be repurposed to defending myself and those that I love. I know where my nearest family is…my extended family. My blood family, for the most part, would not defend me over something like this. I’m very well aware of that, so I know those safety nets are not available. But I do know where my extended family are at. And I know I would be welcome there if it was necessary. Just as anyone of them would be welcome here in my home, at any time.

I see the clouds gathering. I see the storm front approaching. I know its not going to be an easy time. And I am preparing every day for that inevitable moment when it starts. Perhaps it won’t be nearly as bad as I think. If so, then I am thankful that it wasn’t as bad as I thought. But I am prepared. I remember the Satanic Panic of the late 1980s. I remember how things felt, that palpable energy that was in the air. How my friends suffered. How we weren’t really ready for some of what happened. How many went underground when it all went down. I’m not going underground. I’m ready to defend my family, my tribe, and my beliefs.