Satanic Panic, and a nice cup of tea

Today was a toss up, I wasn't sure what I was going to write about until I got up and started perusing the news. I try to write one day ahead, so I can get it spell checked, but I was at a loss. I kinda wanted to write about my decision to go into the Army, and I wanted to tell a funny story about one time when I was dancing, but I also thought I would talk about the State of the Union address that was on last night (Tuesday, 24 January) because the Constitutional, “From time, to time” always makes me smile. Or I thought, maybe about Representative Gabrielle Giffords officially resigning today; she was my Rep until we bought the house. So I've followed her rehab closely and bawl like a baby when I see her smiling.

So I resolved not to think about it, and go about my morning; get the kids off, get my breaky (toast with honey, yum!) take my Pill at 8, brush my teeth, and hair, you know, the usual things. To be completely frank, if I don't do the morning exactly the same way (get up, brush teeth, get clothes on, brush hair, come out to the kitchen for tea, etc.) then I will forget something important, like socks, or a shirt. Mornings and me, we just do not get on! Better to have a ritual to getting up, I say, then I won't end up with my shirt on backward, and my toothbrush in my ear-- hey now, don't laugh, you never know with me... being a night owl and having to get up and going in the morning is a difficult thing.

I didn't decide what to write about until I was reading my email. I get an email every day from Religion Dispatches;  it's a digest of the various essays, news and what not for the day (dispatches, yeah, it's very punny if you think about it). One stuck out to me, “Death of an Occult Crime Expert Reawakens Controversy”  so I knew I had to read it. I've been an avid fan, researcher, obsessive-compulsive reader about the so-called occult crimes for years now. That got me to thinking, as I read this opinion piece, evidently this guy still gave classes, and still thought that “ritual crimes” were taking place, and he could some how stop this?! I was incredulous! People still believe that!?

Then, I remembered when I was exposed to the Satanic Panic. There we go, I thought, I'll muse that. That was an odd summer.

Definitions, first: satanic ritual abuse, is a debunked conspiracy theory. From it we got multiple personality disorder, recovered memory syndrome and hundreds, possibly thousands of people incarcerated wrongly accused of raping their children and sacrificing cats and people to Satan. The Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance did an awesome write up, explanation, and exploration of SRA, so I would urge you to pop over there and check it out. Shit, check out the whole site, I can get lost there for days, I love OCRT!

Anyway, the perfect storm coalesced, basically causing a bunch of very gullible, scared Christians (parents and authorities) who wanted more than anything to protect children from the roving eyes of Satan. There was that flap about Dungeons and Dragons, and of course KISS and Alice Cooper were (whisper now) Satanists! All those “hard rock singers” had to be Satanists! Right? And Madeline Murray O'Hair having the audacity to be an Atheist-- Out Loud! Oh My God! The End is Near!

Even the televangelists published books claiming that the Rapture was at hand, any moment now, Any. Moment... Now... wait, Now. (taps watch) Now? Gotta be my watch, or something. But you just wait, this and that scripture I've twisted to say what I want it to predicts he's due any second now. Or maybe tomorrow, if we pray hard, we can ask him to wait just a little longer to give us time to save the world. Call now at 1.800.SUCKERS or 1.800.GIMMEIT and donate now. We take VISA and Master Card.

They made millions, and really started cashing in on the fright and terror of confused baby-boomers who were seeing their kids grow up in a world so different from their own, and that of their parents. We had home computers in the late 80's, Atari, cable and satellite TV, and that's not even touching in-vitro, cancer care and the growing safety of transplants.

The world was changing, but it wasn't always good. We had the USSR and USA in a pitched Cold War, posturing and threatening, fighting proxy wars in Afghanistan, and every where else we could get away with, and holy shit, those so-called disaster drills, I'll never forget them. They should have just told us “if this siren goes off, say your prayers and we'll see you in heaven”, because there's no way a text book would “protect our necks” from nuclear debris! Fuck.

That continued the Red panic, although we didn't call it that. Politically the Religious Right was gaining traction. Getting bigger and more powerful, and of course anyone who didn't agree with them had to be a communist. And Communists were Satanists and Abortionists. Utterly and totally EEEeee-Vile! This was the start of that vile group known as “Operation Rescue” and their summers of torture, after all.

Many Christians believe that Satan is an idea, an amalgam of “all that is evil ™”; sure, there is a lot of evil, people doing very bad thing, terrible famines and plagues, and all manner of horrific things-- but not a person behind it all with hooves and horns wringing his hands in maniacal celebration. These are the Christians who understand that shit happens.

However, the Satanic Panic was pushed along by Christians who believe (yes, still, even in 2012) that Satan is a Physical Person! He is like the anti-God, the evil version of the all-loving God they claim created everything (so I guess they're not monotheists, but that's for another time), and therefore he is Out To Get Them! They all want to be like the Job in their stories, and honestly believe that Satan sends his daemons to torment them, tempt them to do bad things, somehow those daemons make them sin against God. Screw free will, it's all those evil spirits. Those fiends! How dare they make Good Christians disobey God! I mean, the nerve of them!

Well, that, logically (just follow along, it's not my logic, it's born-again logic) follows that if God is on their side, and he has angels, and Satan is against them, and he has daemons, then he must also have people [gotta keep that Cosmic war shit even, after all]. Satan has that one guy, that Anton LaVey, and he's got that church down in California, so there must be more. Lots and lots more! [the idea continuous, that if Christians run the US, which they think they do, they're the majority, that Satanists must be masquerading as Christians, and so infiltrating their churches, to ruin them From the Inside!!!111one, please commence panicking loudly, and feel free to run in circles wringing your hands, thank you.]

At this point in time, my grandmother had married her second husband. He got Jesus while he was with his first wife, I guess, but they got divorced anyway (ever notice how many evangelicals are divorced and remarried to someone “more godly”?). He was also a recovering drunk, he's a dry-drunk to this day, using religion instead of alcohol. Suffice it to say, my mother loves him, even had him adopt her (as an adult, yes) and listened closely when he'd start in on the born-again stuff. Remember, I was raised until about 12 in a mainline baptist church and visiting my Dad's childhood church, the Pentecostal place down the way. It calls itself an Independent, because it's not part of the Southern Baptist Convention-- it had more in common with the Methodists across the way, and was not evangelical. We still attended that church. That born-again, creepy-crawly Satan is out to get you shit was new to us, and unfortunately my mother swallowed it completely. It fit right in with her narcissistic, martyrdom complex.

This church still sits there, outside my old home town in Michigan, still has the same pastor who was there when I was a kid, and I hope the best for him and his family. They are good people. I don't know how big the hysteria got. I only know what I saw, what I was told, and how it affected us kids.

I'll tell you the way I remember, so forgive the weird truncating. Just imagine being ten or eleven, Jesus Loves you completely-- you and him are best friends! You can tell Jesus anything, and he will be right there, holding your hand, helping you; Satan can't stand that Jesus's name is written on your heart For Ever! So you have to be careful not to make Satan want to pay attention to you. Be good. Listen to your Mum and Dad, and never ever ever do anything bad [bring the evil eye, speak of the devil, that sort of thing was serious business in my childhood].

It was Vacation Bible School-- a week of Sunday School, but usually a lot more fun that took place in early July, or sometimes August! It would have been somewhere around 1988 or '89. I can't remember exactly. I was ten or eleven, still shorter than my mother. My mother hurt her foot that summer, and was driving left-footed, but she got us up and out we went every day to VBS. She taught the little kids, my brother's class (kindergartens or so).

I remember we were sitting out having lunch, at the beginning of the week. VBS was in the morning, over about lunch time (roughly 9-Noon) and we were helping clear up, so we picnicked there by the parsonage, across the street from the church. It was us, my siblings and I, our mother, some other kids, and a handful of other VBS teachers. The pastor's wife was there, too and her youngest was playing on a blanket, so he was maybe a year old? We were under the shade of a huge old oak tree, and the morning was beautiful as only July in Michigan can be. All told there might have been twenty people having sandwiches and chips and fruit and kool-aide or coffee, and talking about lesson plans, and snacks for tomorrow. It was very banal, very vanilla 1980's Christian.

Then, some guy, an adult in the church. I never saw his face (I knew then, but now I can't remember who it was), so in my memory, I see the jeans and polo shirt, light coloured, tapping the adults, ladies and gents, and asking if they could come here please. I had better things to do than watch some grown up being all rude and interrupting our lunch!

Watch the babies,” was echoed all over as we older kids were admonished to keep an eye on each other, and keep the little kids out of the road. I wasn't the oldest, so there were kids watching me, too!

I don't think any of us thought twice about it. It was not weird at all for the grown ups to call each other and murmur animatedly at each other about Sunday School or whatever. I remember asking my friend Valerie did she think they were going to come up with any good new prizes, because the prizes they had were kinda dumb.

Suddenly the adults broke apart, splitting off into a thousand directions, scooping kids and trying to herd us back across the street. Something was wrong, but we didn't know what. They tried to act normal, but the look on my mother's face told me she was scared, and pissed off-- which always happened when she got scared1-- so the confusion was palpable amongst us children.

We went home without the adults doing their meet-up, clean-up thing. Later that night, my Dad stayed home with us, and my mother went back for the meeting. I remember my grandparents were there, too, so they must have been visiting; they went with my mother to church that night. (they lived in New Mexico.) It wasn't Wednesday, else we'd have all gone for our Awanas/prayer meeting.

I was sitting in the kitchen, colouring I think, at the table when they got home. It wasn't that late, or I would have been sent to bed. My brother was in bed, though. My mother shoo-ed me out, told me go play upstairs and sat down, lighting up her cigarette with the butt of the other one. She never did that, so it sticks out in my mind. She was so nervous she couldn't light the smoke one handed.

This can be devastating to a kid. To see the adults in their life that scared.

The next morning the Pastor spoke during the singing that opened the VBS. He told us that he wanted us to stay close to the church, and not play “on the hill”. We were told not to go up to the cemetery unless our parents took us. The cemetery was on top of “the hill”, a hill so big we kids thought if it like it was a mountain! No hide and seek, especially. “We just want you to be safe,” was what he said. “Remember, if you see someone you don't recognise, you come let us know, so we grown ups can help that adult find what they're looking for.”

Wow, being exiled off the mountain was horrible! We all loved going up there! It was wooded, and the cemetery was so old you couldn't even read all the words on the stones! It was so eerie and creepy and awesome. Just enough spots for a raucous hide and seek game, too. We were pretty crushed. Plus the “stranger danger” warning. It was weird, and made me feel sick to my stomach. (I know now that as am empath I was feeling all the emotions of the adults and the compounded confusion of the kids. At the time I had no idea, only that I was feeling ill).

That night over dinner, my mother asked me did I see the dark haired woman in black who had come through the auditorium when I was helping set out the cookies for the little kids (we “big kids” always helped with the little guys. I think it was as cheap baby sitting, but it made us all feel special).

I had to stop to think, I'd see so many people going through there. I told her no, I hadn't. Was it someone I needed to watch for? Who's mum?

No, no mum. A Witch,” she said.

A witch?” my sister and I said in an almost sitcom-chorus way. Witches, they were like Satan's nuns! They were these women who dedicated their lives to being evil and hating Jesus. “Why hadn't she burst into flames walking through our church!” I remember thinking. “Didn't the blood of Jesus make them get on fire?”-- yeah, I probably watched too much television. I was also very young.

My Dad looked at her, and then they nodded together, and my mother kept talking. “She says she called the office yesterday, and came in today to talk to us.”

Feeling very brave, I asked the most obvious question in the history of questions, “Why?!”

My mother sighed, and I remember she looked over at her father. He shrugged this weird, uncomfortable shrug (I've made him do it since-- it's his “I have no idea, because being a Christian has killed my imagination” shrug; he does it every time he's confronted with facts about another religion or philosophy he can't understand-- anything outside his narrow comfort zone).

She told us that some bad witches were kicked out of her coven,” my mother went on. The words were falling out of her mouth oddly, like she didn't know if she was saying them right. “That most of them are good witches, which the Bible says there aren't any, but-- the bad witches have decided that they're tired of us being here, at [Our Church] and so they're having rituals on the hill, at the cemetery. They're putting a curse on us every day. And Some One mentioned they feel the spirit of darkness oppressing the church.”2

She stopped for what felt like an hour. I think she was honestly revelling in being the centre of attention. Then she said, “And that woman claims that the bad witches want to sacrifice one of the kids. One of you, any one of you who goes to VBS. 'Keep them close,' she said to us all. 'Keep them close to you, because they've told us they will have your children!' She came to warn us, so we'd be careful.” She waved her fingers in our faces, emphasising how this coven was going to kidnap every one of us and eat us or something!

So, I said something else that now seems moronic, “Well, did you call the police?!” Everyone knows, to a ten or eleven year old kids, cops can do just about anything.

I guess they had made a complaint, for all the good such things would do. It was the mid to late 80's so Satanic Panic was still a real thing. The McMartin Preschool case was still being prosecuted,  , and so people still believed that Satanists were sacrificing kidnapped (or had “breeders” to carry) babies all over the place!

The adults around the church became hyper-vigilant. I did end up seeing that woman, the so-called Witch, who started this whole mess. I have a vague memory of her, standing up talking to the adults that Wednesday night. We kids were shoo-ed out, and were in the “fellowship hall” with the teen-agers to make us sing sings, so we didn't hear what she was saying. Evidently it was bad enough that she terrified the adults in our small church community. They made us go to the toilet in pairs-- as though these bad witches were going to materialise and snatch us out of the loo?! I guess bad witches can teleport, too.

One kid who was in my sister's grade and his older brother (who was a couple years older than me) did sneak up to the hill. They claimed they had no idea what this coven was supposed to be doing up there, and that there wasn't anything going on. We were confused kids, but someone volunteered that maybe they cleaned things up, so the cops wouldn't have evidence to throw them in jail? Oh, right, how'd we miss it! That made perfect sense to a dozen sheltered church kids, who barely knew what the word coven was. (The best definition we came up with, was from one of the deacon's kids: “My Dad told me it was a church for witches! They call the congregation a coven!” “Well, why can't they just call it church and congregation?” someone else asked. “Because they're Satanists, and Jesus's blood covers those words.” Oh, right! OK, Sure, now we get it. We were so gullible. It's pretty sad, looking back, actually; everything that didn't make sense was some how covered in blood for protection, or Satan did it.)

I'm glad to say that, paranoia aside, the rest of the week passed without incidence. The adults, even those without kids (and some older teens) were close to hysterical the whole time. I don't think I've ever been so closely monitored in my entire life. Prison ain't got nothing on these Christians and their terror of imaginary witches. These many years later, I'd always thought the woman was disturbed, but not anything close to a witch. Probably just mentally ill.

I think several of the leadership in the church didn't believe the woman was a witch, either. Seems to me that they sorta went along, “just in case”, but not out of belief. That fall, around Hallowe'en the pastor did a small study for a couple weeks, on recognising how Satan can deceive you in pop culture and music, books and stuff. He didn't go into the urban legends around KISS, or vampirism, or anything like that. He was pretty reasoned about it. He even shared how backward masking was debunked and the science behind a lot of so-called ghost sightings (which a lot of Christians think are daemon sightings). It was super interesting, and I enjoyed those sermons a great deal.

My mother, however, was not pleased. See, she listened to Jesus-on-steroids radio every day. She did this for years, and then after he started spouting his shit, I mean became nationally syndicated, she'd switch over to the Rush Limbaugh Show after the sermons (yeah, I survived a deluge of verbal diarrhoea every day for years. I don't know how, sorry otherwise I'd share the secrets of being The Teflon Kid).

This guy, I think Chuck Schumer, or Charles Swindoll (Sorry, I can't remember who precisely and didn't want to look up the old liars), did a long drawn out, oh my gods neurotic series of sermons about Satanism and the Occult. Nothing Pastor Dan said matched the “Satan is out to rape and impregnate your daughters, so he can sacrifice those babies to himself, and make bread out of their blood, and flying potions out of their fat” shit she heard on the radio.

Then she heard this other guy, Mike Warnke, talk about his life as a “Satanist High Priest”. And then she bought his book, The Satan Seller.3 Life as we knew it was about to change to eerie, spook-tacular Satan is orchestrating everything, there's a daemon under every doily. It was, can I say it was interesting and not sound like an asshole? Part of me was intensely interested! I mean, shit, it sounded so cool, and scary, and I loved ghost stories. Part of me was terribly cynical about it too, even as a little kid, I mean why in the world would Satan care that much about our little church! We weren't that important. The church wasn't any bigger than 250 people, 300 maybe? Surely Satan was busy trying to make the Presidents of the US and Russia nuke each other.

They'd get together, my mother and her church friends, often my grandmother on the telephone calling all the way from New Mexico or St. Louis, depending on where my grandfather was working at the moment (he worked for Douglass-Boeing before the merger). As we kids, poor home-schooled kids, you have to pity us at times like these, were doing out home work at the kitchen table, they'd listen to those messages again, and again, comparing things they thought up-- I mean, things Jesus had shown them-- memorising the signs of Satan worship, scandalising each other with rumours, reading the books again and again (in addition to The Satan Seller, they had Michelle Remembers by Pazder and Smith, and Satan's Underground by Stratford, both are fabricated books pretending to be an autobiographical, complete with rapes and murders, and conspiracy, and beatings and torture, all that abuse was by, wait for it—Satanists! If you want a lurid read, I encourage you to check them out from your library, or get them from your local used book store. They're a riot! Probably not what they intended, though. Supposed to terrify you from Satan and into the arms of Jesus.)

And you know,” my mother would always whisper, “my grandmother used to read tea leaves! Oh, pray with me, God doesn't visit that sin on these,” she'd motion to my sister and I (never my brother, though), like we were going to suddenly take up tasseography! (According to Number 14:18, God would “visit the sins of the fathers unto the third and fourth generations, so you know, it was all our fault some dickhead we never met ate babies or whatever? Yeah, I never got it, either, but it would keep people in line, wouldn't it?) So the women would pray for my sister, and I, and their kids, because they knew someone, who was related to them, on their mother's side somewhere, maybe their cousin's sister-in-law, and they were totally a witch or a warlock!

Ooooh boy. For super conservative Christians, Satanism is the Ultimate Porn! Complete and Total Titillation! A thrill a minute! Truly the pinnacle of taboo. Probably the one thing they can gossip about without having to qualify how they're going to pray for so-and-so to make it not gossip.

Every thing they can think up that fits into their idea of deviant just has to be going on. Just Constantly! Those Satanists have orgies, and oral sex, and orgasms, and smoke weed, and are all bisexual, polyamorous, and use sex toys, and drink whiskey, and walk around naked, telling each other's fortunes with tea leaves and “tarrot” cards (to rhyme with carrot, as opposed to Tarot, to rhyme with marrow), and Oh My God! It was calamity!

Is it any wonder I got curious about this “occult” thing? I mean, shit! Talk about the best parties! They must be entire weeks devoted to debauchery! It'd be the only way to fit it all in! [Hey, if you know any way I can score on invite to some of these things, drop me an email! I'd love to go!]

It wasn't until I was older that I realised that everything I was told about the occult was made up by the person telling me, or made up and repeated; made up, whole cloth out of their own insecurities and wishes. However, it made more sense, how the stories of Satanic behaviour could get bigger and bigger, exponentially larger and more horrific with each telling. That's a study in and of itself; it fucked a lot of people up. Ruined lives, destroyed people. Sick bastards, the lot of them.

Sad to say I never did find these partying Satanists I'd heard so much about.
No raped women forced to give birth for Satan, either. Nope, those poor women tend to be forced to give birth in the name of Jesus!
No sacrifices, no dead cats that weren't killed by psychotics.
No raped virgins deflowered for Satan.
No orgies, nothing.
Bah, Satanists are just as boring as everyone else, it sounds like, huh?

The thing is, as weird as it was, people still believe there's a world-wide conspiracy of Satanists who murder with impunity. Of course, there's no evidence, because the police are in on it, protecting these murdering Satanists. And any of those so-called Neo-Pagans, they're in on it, they're all witches and warlocks, and there has to be some evildoing somewhere. Right... [Warlock comes from the old Scots word that means oath breaker. It does not mean "male witch". Those are just witches. But, a lot of Christians seem to think warlocks are men and witches are female. Hence my use of that hateful word. I'm sorry.]

To end today, though, I did actually brew a pot of tea, and read my tea leaves. Here's photos, if you want to do it yourself! It's easy, and kinda funny. Plus, you can never go wrong with a nice cup of tea.

1. Gotta get a real tea cozy, I know. Everything you need for a good cup, though. The pot is full of boiling water.

 2. Perfection! Lookit that lovely cup of tea!

3. Step Three, after you drink almost all of the tea, swirl the remaining teaspoon of liquid or so, and then tip the whole thing over, letting the leaves coat the inside of the cup. 

4. Look at the shapes the leaves make. I sorta saw a T shape and a cat in the bottom. Sorta, if I turned the cup around and around. The cat shape also looks vaguely phallic. So yeah, make some shit up, and there you go, your fortune in tea leaves!

1 Yes, pissed off when she got scared. One time I fell and bruised the bone in my elbow quite badly, so bad we thought it might be broken. She got furious when they started x-rays explaining to her that if it was broken, they might have to do surgery, else I wouldn't be able to use my elbow properly-- those injuries being so bad for tendons and suck. She wasn't sky about doing the whisper-yell telling me that it had damned well better not be broken, because she did not want to wait around for me to get through surgery, and what if they had to keep me over night! Did I think of that? Well, Did I?
Right, because I totally thought about, “if I fall off this I can hurt myself muwahahahaa, and I might need surgery! Brilliant!”
Thankfully, it was bruised, not broken, but you get the idea.

2OK, this Some One was never named, but I think she was talking about herself.

My mother swore up and down she had this blessing from god, "the fruit of the spirit" known to Christians as “discernment”. That basically means that you're smart enough to look at someone and know if they're going to lie to you or rip you off... because the Holy Ghost who Jesus said lives in your head makes you that way (no, I don't get it, either). Supposedly, I have it too (she was always quite adamant about that, actually). What I think they meant is that they think they are, or really are, empathic people and have the ability to sense emotions. When a christian decides they're gifted with discernment, though, they can be come the churchs' little “evil detector”. Ever see a televangelist say something like, “There's a darkness on you, pressing you down!” and then attempts to banish that darkness? Yeah, same thing. She imagined she and the church were being persecuted, so some evil spirit was hanging out, shading the church. Then when I got a stomach ache from all the negative emotions and fear that just convinced her even more of the persecution. It's a funny thought, if you let your imagination get cartoony.

3 Cornerstone magazine did an expose on Warnke in 1992; I found out about it around 1997 and shared it with my family. My mother had bought several of his tapes, and I'll be perfectly honest, the man is funny! He's got excellent comedic timing. He's also a liar. I tried to find the Cornerstone piece online, but I couldn't. It's an excellent read, if you can stomach seeing such things. He hurt a lot of people, and told a lot of lies about Santeria, Satanism and the so-called occult (Wicca, Druidism, Neo-Paganism, Asatru and anything else he wanted to throw in there to sound ominous). My family was one that believed him, and ultimately was hurt by his lies. His lies are the reason my mother tried to get me an exorcism when I became a Neo-Pagan-- a story I'll talk about later.


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