The Devil Made Me Do It and Other Modern Day Fallacies

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by Saffron van Helsdingen Brink

Very few subjects will stir up a room as much as the topic of Satanism, with fear and outrage comprising the majority of the reactions. It is very easy to run with the sensationalist tales of various Christian leaders and tabloid magazines when one hears allegations of dogs being sacrificed or the doings of morbid teenagers dressed in black burning down their local high school. The devil is a profitable scapegoat, and even ex-cricket captains can conveniently blame their downfall on his existence. Bear in mind the fact that an added dash of brimstone to a news report will always catch people’s attention. When media hysteria strikes, often facts that are blatantly untrue can enter the realm of urban legend as the story is told and retold with great relish, and often with damaging results. A good example of this would be the 1980’s rumour that US company, Proctor and Gamble, “claimed” to give a percentage of the company’s earnings to the Church of Satan. Misinformation and rumour is a reason why this fearsome subject is rarely handled properly. Add to the equation all the popular movies and television programmes that feed common myths, and one creates a veritable stew pot of occult melodrama.

However, the frightening truth is that our police force does encounter crime that can be connected in some way with Satanism and the occult. According to the SAPS special community edition of Servamus, a policing magazine, 33 occult-related murders were committed from 1989 to 1997. From 1998 to 1999, alone, there were 24 murders, including infamous muti murders that are associated with traditional African medicine. Reports of murder, human sacrifice, mutilation, blood drinking, cruelty to animals, and bestiality abound within police reports, their efforts to curb occult-related crime often bedevilled by the fact that so-called victims give directions to crime scenes where no evidence can be found to support the lurid tales of what supposedly took place.

Many so-called ex-Satanist survivors, who deal with the police, often make allegations of a well-organised syndicate that maintains the highest levels of secrecy, and after many years of trying, the police seem no nearer to cracking down on the alleged ringleaders. Most recently, in Pretoria during 2004, a 16-year old boy brutally stabbed his mother 11 times. The crime was linked to Satanism only by the police’s discovery of Satanic and occult paraphernalia within the house. No evidence was found linking the boy to involvement with a Satanic cult.

By its very nature, Satanism goes against everything that is upheld by Christianity, the dominant religion in South Africa. However, it must not be forgotten that our liberal constitution makes allowances for freedom of religion so long as no law is broken. There is no denying that some Satanists commit crimes in the name of their god, but then the same could be said about other religions that have been making the news lately.

One must also realise that Western civilisation is nominally a Christian civilisation. According to most Christian doctrine, following any other god is deemed unacceptable, and in some circles “of the devil”. Even mild-mannered Harry Potter still causes a storm in a teacup, and it is easy to see how a subject such as Satanism can really push Joe Public’s buttons. Despite the disapproval, there will always be those within the race of man who seek to follow a path that runs contrary to the mainstream.

Manie Eagar (49), executive director of the Apeiron Institute, a Johannesburg-based social anthropology of consciousness research organisation, writes: “The implication from a Christian perspective is that those who do not obey the doctrines of Christianity, live outside their laws (or dogma). Thought through to its conclusion, these ‘antimonies’ are just two sides to the same coin – the concepts of Satanism and Christianity spawn each other and are interlinked. This is disingenuous, because the same argument could be applied the other way round. Which is why you have the astonishing situation where both sides call down their gods upon their opposition as did the Nazis and the Allies during the second world war, or George Bush and Osama Bin Laden in our modern-day ‘The War on Terror’.”

But then what about parents who worry that their children may be acting abnormally and seem to be involved in the occult? Professor Willie Pienaar, clinical head of Stikland Psychiatric Hospital, Cape Town, had this to say: “What is ‘normal’? We humans have a wide range of emotional responses: very happy, very sad, angry, anxious etc. Adolescence can be quite uneventful, at times stormy and sometimes very difficult. The search of our children for individuality in music, fashion, friends and interests should not be seen as ‘Satanic’. Not all young adults wearing black clothes and piercings are Satanists. Man’s greatest need in life is to ‘belong’. Would the adolescent experience no ‘belonging’ at home or within the community they might become vulnerable to these cults.”

What must be remembered is that Satanism in itself, is not a criminal act but a valid minority religion. Going directly to one of the sources, Lillee Allee (44), of the First Church of Satan, an international organisation based in the United States, paints a very different picture of what Satanism is about: “Satanism can be a philosophy, a religion, an anti-religion and it can be a lifestyle. Satanism is a philosophy of sovereignty and self-esteem. The Satanist sees himself as a deity. This is hard for some to understand. Satanists’ ethics can be incorporated into a variety of beliefs and practices and some of its basics are also seen in psychology, especially works by Jung. This is not to be confused with a falsely inflated ego (I am better than you are) or narcissism (look at me, I am the best) but with simple acceptance and love of Self (I am in control of my life and make good decisions). The Satanist does not wait for a reward in heaven, but looks for reward in the here and now. It is not up to a priest or minister to assist him or her in the quest, but up to the individual to take responsibility to achieve one’s goals here on earth.”

Frater Moloch*, a Capetonian involved in the occult, claims that “In the world of Satanism there is more than one form. The most widely known today is Self-styled Satanism, meaning: that the participants whether alone or in group format do not follow the traditional conduct according to Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan. In my research I found that Self-styled Satanism is where instances such Satanic Ritual Abuse can take form and be an eminent practice. These individuals normally have a very low self esteem and need the illusion of dark power to enable them to follow through with these outrageous acts as means of expressing the fact that they want to belong.”

Some people initiated within a so-called Satanic movement even seek to distance themselves from the term, as Ameleth* (44), a Johannesburg-based engineer states “In terms of pure Christian and Islamic views I would be a Satanist, but without fundamentalist viewpoints in the world I am just a human being living according to natural laws.”

Then one has to ask, what about the dabblers, those who break the law. Ameleth states “Kids will always be mixed up in their teen years as they flex and find themselves. No serious occult group would allow members younger than 18 years of age.”

Questions still remain as to the actual purported dangers of the occult and involvement with cults. Stefan Johanson* (30), a Cape Town-based college lecturer by profession, and practitioner of the old Scandinavian religion, Asatru, states that “As with anything else in life, danger is a relative term. Involvement with Christianity can be dangerous if you are a member of an American Southern Baptist Snake-handler church. Any religion taken to extremes can be dangerous.”

Then why are there people turning to Satanism in this day and age when there is so much negativity surrounding the religion? Stefan Johanson says further “Everyone has a dark side and if you suppress it and deny it, you are suppressing a side of yourself. You need to acknowledge all that is within in you and work with it to better yourself. Just because someone else views something of yourself as being dark doesn’t mean it’s necessarily bad for you. You must not live your life according to the opinions of others.”

Much of the media hysteria pointed at a sinister plan to be exercised by one worldwide conspiracy of devil worshippers who control the politicians, police and the media, and a lot of Satanists would love to believe that this is true, but unfortunately it is not. The truth is far less dramatic than that. All in all, modern Satanism really began with Anton Szandor LaVey, who founded the Church of Satan in 1966, an organisation dedicated to psychodrama, carnal indulgence and self-elevation, attracting the support of celebrities such as Jayne Mansfield and Kenneth Anger in its heyday during the 1960’s. The Church of Satan reveres Satan as a symbol rather than a deity. The Satanic Bible, LaVey’s infamous book, was published in 1969, and is still in print. In 1975 many members segued-off to form the Temple of Set. The Temple of Set, founded by Dr. Michael Aquino, and led by successive high priests and priestesses, is a very secretive society devoted to the Egyptian god Set, who is perceived as the true predecessor to Satan and not just a symbol for mankind’s inherent carnality. This institution tends to take a more intellectual viewpoint on Satanic values. Neither organisation advocates violence, bloodshed or ritual murder, but concentrates on the development and the glorification of the self.

Of late there has also been a rise of traditional or theistic Satanism, in which individuals have replaced the worship of a Christian god with devotion to various Satanic entities, including Lucifer. Although methods of worship vary, the general consensus of these groups is that a Satanist is free to worship in whichever manner he or she wants to do so, as long as no national laws are broken. Much dispelling of myths has been done by John and Lillee Allee of the First Church of Satan, and by Diane Vera, who runs an informative website and Internet-based communities.

What then of the crimes that occur? How should the police react? When visiting the South African Police Service’s website, it is no secret that the SAPS officially take a very Christian viewpoint on the matter of Satanism and the occult. It must be remembered that Christianity is only one of many religions in our country. Under our new constitution everyone is also legally entitled to practice whatever religion they please. Satanism is not the only religion in South Africa that has a link to the occult. We are quick to overlook the fact that African traditional religions have similar elements, including communication with spirits, divination and they even practice animal sacrifice. Belief in magic is widespread in Africa, which is seen and practiced also within the burgeoning of paganism and Wicca among previously Christian communities. It is therefore vital that our police are able to stand back and take a broader worldview.

It is very easy for us to lose sight of our constitutional right to freedom of religion and to quantify all religions and practices that go against Christian values to be by default Satanic. As how one should go about handling the situation, it is imperitive that in a country such as ours, where there are so many widespread beliefs, that we look to that which is shared in common. So many cultures are standing cheek-by-jowl in our country that we need to arm ourselves with knowledge so as to be able to distinguish between that which is fact, and that which is a hysterical supposition. No religion should be considered a crime, and being a Satanist is not a crime. From a Christian point-of-view, nobody has to accept Satanism as valid, however constitutionally one has to. Any person, regardless of creed or culture, could commit atrocities that they justify according to their beliefs. Such crimes should be judged for what they are, regardless of the religion. In closing, Captain Percy Morokane, Media Relations of the South African Police Service had this to say: “Satanism, occult and witchcraft are not included in our penal code as criminal offences. However, it must be explicitly stated that any crime (be it murder, assault, etc) committed as a result of the belief in the above, will be investigated.”

* names have been changed, as individuals wished for privacy.

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