In Defense of SAPRA’s position against Satanic Panic hysteria

by Francisco Fumarola (SAPRA Executive Member)

Some debate has been raised about why some South African Pagans consider Satanic Panic a non-issue, something that does not affect Pagans and that can be ignored. Naturally, I do not agree with this stance and I will defend SAPRA’s position against the points raised.

A point was raised that we have made the situation worse and that we have not been able to change anything with regards to the ORC Unit.

With regards to this I would like to see evidence that this is actually the case. A “friendly approach” towards the ORCU was also mentioned – well a friendly approach was tried previously and was the major approach for many years. What did this approach achieve? Donna Darkwolf Vos established communications with Kobus Jonker and he still made remarks about the essential Satanic/demonic nature of Paganism and all occultism as late as 2012 in an interview on Radio Pulpit. He still considered Wicca and Paganism the “devil’s white lie” as opposed to more blatant Satanic Worship. The current head of the ORC Unit Attie Lamprecht, expressed the same kind of idea that Paganism, Wicca and White Magic are but “gateway practices” to more serious and darker things. With regards to Satanism, Mr. De Jager still insists it “is the worship of Satan as god and master” – this is not true of all or most of Satanism, which is Atheistic and denies the literal existence of supernatural beings. It is clear that a friendly approach does not end the harmful polemic coming from what constitutes deeply held religious beliefs that the occult and all paganism must be evil as it denies the Biblical God, who is seen as the one true God.

Another point was raised that the police have written off some Pagan groups as “whiners” while still speaking to others.

The police have been ignoring SAPRA’s objections since 2012, since the very first reports of “new training of officers with regards to Occult Related Crime”. No response has been made to any of the objections to date. Perhaps they cannot really answer these objections? Do the police have the right to ignore organizations seeking answers to questions of public interest? There really has never been any official response.

“Our Satanic Panic Movement” is like the “Swart Gevaar” – i.e. a threat for which no real tangible evidence exists but causes panic nonetheless.

Well there is a huge difference. Satanic Panic as the “Christian Myth of Satanism” is definitely like the “Swart Gevaar”. It is a moral panic and an apparent threat to society and existing values. Yet, it is a threat that largely exists in rumours and urban myths and with little tangible evidence. White South Africa prior to 1994 feared a white genocide by a “Swart Gevaar” as much as a threat of Satanists coming to murder all the Christians – I remember rumours about these Satanists vividly because it was so terrifying – I heard they were coming to massacre all the Christians in our small town and I heard of children grabbed as they were passing through fields on their way home from school – this never really happened.

However, if the claim is that SAPRA is promoting an intangible sense of threat or foreboding, I would have to disagree. There are heaps of Christian anti-occult warfare materials. The label of “Occult Crime” or “Satanic Crime”is frequently used in the media and by the police – it does seem like there is an effort to demonize the occult. Whether this is a conscious effort or it is simply through the ignorance of journalists and the police is another matter. No one has suggested that Pagans, Occultists or Satanists are about to be gathered up and arrested simply for what they believe. Yet, there is a precedent even for such ideas, as during the days of the previous Occult Unit, innocent people were indeed harassed or identified as “satanists” for meeting some of the arbitrary “signs of identification”. On the other hand, discrimination and ostracization if beliefs are brought to light is a real possibility.

During the days of Satanic Panic in the 80’s and early 90’s in the United States several people were accused of crimes simply because they had occult interests. Damien Echols of the so-called West Memphis Three, released from prison in 2010, is one well known case. There are several cases where prosecutors tried to construct a Satanic motive to a crime simply because the accused had Occult interests.

In South Africa, prejudice with its roots mainly in the Christian religion, against all of the Occult have become ingrained and institutionalized. Many South African schools still have rules that render Occultism and Satanism as punishable offenses, apparently ignoring the Constitution Section 15 and the National Policy on Religion and Education, where it is stated that all religions must be treated on an equitable basis and participants must attend willingly. Theoretically, a teacher educated in anti-occult polemic may have a problem with a group of kids meditating during break (Eastern religions are also considered as evil and Satanic in anti-occult polemic), while other students are free to attend prayer sessions during the same time. Bring tarot cards to school or reads books on magic, Paganism or Witchcraft and you are contravening a school rule with the potential for trouble should you be spotted by someone versed in the Christian anti-occult jargon. While tarot cards and the reading of books on the occult are harmless enough practices, the Christian anti-Occult polemic depict such behaviour as anti-social and leading to trouble of a spiritual or even demonic kind. In my own school days I have even encountered teachers who took issue if they learned that learners listened to kinds of music which they did not approve of due to their own religious beliefs – Heavy Metal Music is a good example and we were warned about Satanism when someone claimed to have listened to it.

The memorandum of understanding between the Gauteng Education Department and religious leaders (mainly Christian and Muslim) further complicates the status of how the Occult should be treated in schools. Basically, a student should be able to read a book on the occult without harassment as much as other students can do Bible study – or better yet relegate religion to the private sphere and keep schools focused on education in real-world subjects.

Discrimination and stereotyping of anyone with occult interests is a real possibility. In fact it has happened with regards to custody cases and discrimination against innocent students accused of Satanism. The notion of “Harmful Religious Practices” has become deeply instilled and the Occultist is depicted as the sociopath out to harm good Christian values and ideals. If public hatred and opinion against the Occult, Satanism, Witchcraft etc. continues to build the possibility of some form of backlash does become real to some degree. Satanic Panic creates the notion that there are “strangers” with “odd rituals and beliefs” out to harm children and communities. People tend to react to what they see as dangerous to their families or way of life.

If I get to a crime scene and it took place in a Catholic Church with Catholic Rituals. How am I to report the crime without offending the Catholics? How should a Satanic Ritual be reported then with all the evidence available?

It is far harder to demonize a major religion than it is to demonize little known, misunderstood minority belief systems. Many people know and have experienced Catholic rituals and most of them take place without crimes committed. If a crime takes place and a Catholic ritual was involved we would rightly discern that it was an exception, we would rightly discern that someone misused a Catholic ritual to their own ends or used “Catholic trappings” in their crime. We would not call Catholicism a “harmful religious practice” due to the actions of a fringe member. The Catholic Church will also have an opportunity to condemn the actions of criminals and distance themselves from such actions, rightly pointing out that they do not condone it. They will also have the opportunity to condemn the wrong doers.

There is another aspect to this though as the Catholic Church itself is also frequently a hobby horse of the new Christian movements, which place so much emphasis on Satan, demons and deliverance. The Catholic Church is also frequently implicated in world-wide conspiracy theories involving Satanists. With regards to priestly abuse cases there are those who try to link certain tenets of the Catholic Church to such practices and these tenets are seen as inherently harmful – vows of abstinence come to mind. Yet, the fact remains most Catholics are normal people and many priests don’t abuse children. The Catholic Church as a major institution and part of a major world religion can weather such scandals.

The situation is quite different when it comes to Occultism, Paganism or Satanism. We only hear the voices of Christians and seldom do we hear the voices of representatives of minority religion themselves. Christians are consulted as “Occult Experts” and Christians are given the opportunity to warn against the “dangers of Satanism and the Occult”. We frequently have one sided religious views and the further spread of polemic against misunderstood belief systems. In the United States the Church of Satan does indeed issue statements to distance themselves from self-proclaimed Satanists who commit crimes. In South Africa the topic of “Satanism” mostly becomes an opportunity for Christians to spread their own beliefs, both against Satanism and also offering their own religion as the only solution.

Furthermore, the information within the South African Police Services with regards to the Occult and Satanism is very poor and derived from outdated sources, including the sources issued by Kobus Jonker and found in Servamus Drugs and Occult Related Crime. It is very easy to label a crime as “Occult” or “Satanic” due to very loosely defined concepts and arbitrary identification markers. Are black candles and razor blades enough to warrant a Satanic label? Is a crude pentacle spray painted on a wall proof of Occult vandalism? In fact, several cases labelled as “occult” in the media had nothing to do with either Satanism or the Occult. In one case the actions of a Christian right-wing group was labelled as “occult” due to the word “Lucifer” found among some papers – the context was entirely ignored along with the fact that one of the accused, Gunther Jurgens Kotze, did collect “research” on his “satanic enemies”. In another case a crime called Satanism due to “occult books found”, actually involved Christian anti-Satanism sources such as The Ultimate Evil by Maury Terry.

Both Theistic and Atheistic Satanists have spoken out against criminal elements and have condemned crimes by self-proclaimed Satanists. If a “Satanic Ritual” does not match with any actual Satanic Rituals by larger groups – is it really right to make it out as if Satanism or Occultism is in itself harmful or leads to harm due to the actions of fringe elements? Remember, Satanism as believed in by many Christians is actually a big conspiracy theory, involving world-wide and organized Satanic activities with thousands of human sacrifices every year and links to organized crime. Every time a headline states that a “Satanic ritual took place” or an “Occult group was involved”, Christians imagine a large scale and organized evil, sometimes with literal embodied evil at the head. In actual fact so-called Satanic crimes mostly involve fringe groups and individuals who have no ties to organized Satanism. It is not right to demonize whole belief or philosophical systems and at the same time reaffirm the mythic caricature called “Satanism” – that useful Christian straw man used to demonize all of the occult and everything beyond Christianity. It is a straw man used to frighten and control much as the devil has also been used.

The accused in the Kirsty Theologo case made up their own rituals from various sources, including basing it around a Biblical verse in Revelation. Their actions clearly do not match up with any actual Satanic Rituals anywhere, why is so much made of it as a “Satanic Crime”? And yet again Christians then imagine the whole mythic conspiracy theory idea of Satanism. The actions of the accused would clearly be condemned by most serious Theistic and Atheistic Satanists. Why should the media create the idea that the crime somehow involved actual Satanism and that ALL Satanism is equal to “harmful religious practices”? Why not introduce some balance at least? We mostly saw comments by Christians warning against the “dangers of Satanism and the Occult”, while the accused in the case were neither Occultists nor Satanists and knew nothing about the belief systems – instead the accused were Legend Trippers who drew on fantastical Christian notions of Satanism.

The point was raised that “minority religions that attack the media and self-righteously proclaim that none of their members are involved, would raise the suspicions of any investigator.” Yet, it is very clear that the accused in the Kirsty Theologo case made up their own rituals. They were clearly not members of the actual Church of Satan based in New York, due to age and location and the hurdle of membership fees. Their ritual simply does not match any of the rituals found in the literature of LaVeyan Satanism. Why make it sound as if Satanism as a belief system actually caused them to commit the crime? It was erroneous beliefs about Satanism that may have been involved. The media remains unfair and discriminatory in the way in which they reported this case among many others. Why should Occult or Satanic groups not be allowed the opportunity to distance themselves from such fringe elements who abuse religious/philosophical belief systems?

On Sunday the 13th of April 2014, a right-wing white supremacist, Frazier Glenn Cross or Glen Miller shot at two Jewish community centres in the Kansas City Area. A report on CNN belief blog made a link between the accused and Odinism. A minority religious group is linked to hate crimes and racist agendas in this case. While major heathen and Asatru groups did distance themselves from the actions of the accused, harm is caused by establishing and sensationalizing the link between the accused and religious beliefs – and his beliefs seemed far more fluid than they were made out to be. Is he really a Christian, an Odinist or an Atheist?

For the initial CNN report no actual Heathen or Astruans were actually consulted or given opportunity to voice their side. Most right-wing white supremacists draw on Christianity for their inspiration; most of the actions in the history of anti-Semitism were justified Biblically. Yet, Christianity does not carry the same clout as Odinism since it is easy to realize that not all Christians are right-wing white supremacist. Coming out as an Odinist would mean that you would automatically be associated with anti-Semitism and racism and you would have to defend yourself against such accusations or you may face discrimination without even having the opportunity to defend yourself. If the CNN report was done fairly and actual heathens or Asatruans were consulted it would have had quite a different effect.  

Reporting on minority beliefs and linking them to crime does far more damage than linking major religions to crime. A good journalist will seek balance and report fairly. Yet in most cases when it comes to religious minorities we only see the opinions of their detractors from major religions. Having special categories of Satanic or Occult crime and yet not crime categories for other religions is discriminatory and serves to inevitably link Satanism and Occultism to crime and harm in the minds of the public.

There are criminals who hide behind religions – all religions

While the above statement is certainly true, we still don’t have Christian crimes, Hindu thefts and Muslim hijackings due to the fact that the accused had a Bible in his house, read the Veda’s or owned a Koran. Yet, arbitrary connections frequently lead to occult/satanic crime labels. Attempts are made to depict all of Occultism or Satanism as “harmful religious practices”. The possibility of discrimination against anyone even remotely associated with occult practices remains. Crimes are labelled as Occult or Satanic even when the perpetrators of said crimes had nothing to do with either Satanism or Occultism. It is an unfair and discriminatory situation.

SAPRA is too busy digging up “trash sensational articles” to grab attention to notice that “all religions are treated equally”. We surf the net looking for articles to “construct” the problem.

I believe I have illustrated above that it is not the case that all religions are covered in the same manner or receive equal treatment at all. As for the “trash sensational articles”, I think I can agree that the quality of the mainstream media in South Africa is extremely poor and journalists generally fail to do research or present balanced views. The most frequent articles that have been shared have been from mainstream publications labelling crimes as “Occult or Satanic or Witchcraft”. That there is huge discrimination and demonization of the occult should be very apparent.

Conclusion

What most South Africans believe about Satanism is essentially a myth of Evangelical Christianity – a useful tool, a straw-man to demonize all belief systems outside of Christianity as a conspiracy by the devil himself. A version of Christianity is growing in Africa which is strongly evangelistic and strongly focused on notions such as End Times, gifts of the Spirit, miracles, supernatural powers, deliverance and demonic possession. This Christianity has infected Africa with its hysteria and notions of demons, devils and witches as causes of misfortunes.

Central to this Christianity is the notion that we are approaching the End of Times and the works and onslaught of the devil will increase. Satanism and the Occult as well as Pagan religions are particularly seen as enemies of the Christian world and as tools of Satan himself meant to deceive the masses. Occultism and magic in particular are thought to lure the youth away from true Christianity with promises of power and attempts therefore have to be made to demonize it in order to frighten the youth away. Belief systems that teach empowerment and independence have always been the particular focus of such Christian groups.

This battle can only be won by relying on the Constitution of this country and hoping that its assurance of freedom and equality for all will eventually prevail. Victory is not going to be obtained by allowing Evangelical Christians to infiltrate state institutions and use it as a platform to spread their own beliefs – this is essentially what the Occult Related Crimes Unit is – a Christian warfare ministry. Despite the efforts of individual members to engage the Pagan community, an underhanded means of bringing religion into state institutions should always be condemned.