Neopagans

It's only rock 'n' roll? A Los Angeles Times music critic reviews a satanic trend

It's only rock 'n' roll? A Los Angeles Times music critic reviews a satanic trend

Everyone loves cleverly written stories and August Brown’s recent story in the Los Angeles Times about the new breed of Satanists is most certainly that.

We learn the cool stuff about the edgy folks who are into this movement, but none of the inconvenient truths. In other words, there are complex religion ghosts hiding in this story. Surprise.

So yes, it is entertaining.

In November, in the candlelit basement of a house just above the Silver Lake Reservoir, Alexandra James walked over to an altar where her husband, Zachary, waited near a bleached human skull, teeth locked in eternal rictus. From the altar, she lifted a sword and drew points across his chest while a circle of onlookers watched solemnly (well, a few giggled too). An organist played eerie minor key chords and Alexandra turned to face the group.
"On this altar we consecrate swords to direct the fire of our unholy will," she said. "A human skull, symbol of death. The great mother Lilith created us all, and will destroy us all."
"Hail Satan! Hail Satan! Hail Satan!" The group chanted back.

The story describes how the attendees are mainly artists, writers and musicians who fling around words like “Satan,” “coven” and “witches” without really knowing their meanings.

But a bigger moment came a few hours later when word circulated that Charles Manson had died. Far from mourning a man whose crimes burned satanic imagery into the American mainstream, everyone cracked beers in celebration and jammed on psych rock tunes. ... It was a great night for a heterodox generation of new self-described Satanists who are upending old "Rosemary's Baby" and "Helter Skelter" stereotypes in service of radical politics, feminist aesthetics and community unity in the divisive time of Trump.

Alas, there is no mention, of the gruesome way the Satan-influenced Manson and his companions killed nine people in 1969.

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Journalism tip: How to tell when the Washington Post Style goddesses approve of someone

Journalism tip: How to tell when the Washington Post Style goddesses approve of someone

Trust me on this: If you did an afternoon talk-radio show in red zip-code land about religion news, during each and every show someone would call in and ask the same question.

Here it is, in its most blunt and simplistic form: Why do so many journalists hate religious people?

I hear it all the time, because many GetReligion readers seem convinced that your GetReligionistas think that journalists hate religion and/or religious people. That's just wrong, friends and neighbors. At the very least, it's simplistic to the point of being utter nonsense.

But since I have been answering that question for a long time, let's talk about that subject -- since that was the issue looming in the background during this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in).

First of all, many journalists are way too apathetic about all things religious to work up a hot batch of hate. You know the old saying, the opposite of love is not hate, it's apathy.

Also, in the newsrooms in which I worked, there were lots of believers of various kinds. I'm including the spiritual-but-not-religious folks, the Christmas-and-Easter people and people who grew up in one tradition (think Catholicism) and then veered over into another (think liberal Protestantism, especially the Episcopal Church). Then you had people who were ex-this or formerly-that, but now they were just "Go to church/temple with the parents when at home" cultural believers. Do some of them "hate" religion? Maybe. But that's rare.

Now, here is what is common. There are journalists who think that there are GOOD religious people and BAD religious people. The question is whether you can tell who is who when you are reading coverage produced by some of these reporters and editors.

Like what? Let's take a brief look at that Rod "The Benedict Option" Dreher profile that the Style section of The Washington Post ran the other day. Click here for my post on that.

Now, start with the headline: "Rod Dreher is the combative, oversharing blogger who speaks for today’s beleaguered Christians."

Now, as I noted in the podcast, you could talk about that headline for an hour.

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Context, context, context: Financial media outlet flunks basics in millenials flock to astrology story

Context, context, context: Financial media outlet flunks basics in millenials flock to astrology story

How does potentially good journalism go bad? Perhaps it's when reporters fail to find (and editors fail to insist upon) more than one side to a story. Let's call it a context deficit disorder.

Today's nominee is MarketWatch.com, part of the Dow Jones media group, which no longer includes The Wall Street Journal, it should be noted. (That daily is now owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.)

MarketWatch readers are promised an explanation of "Why millennials are ditching religion for witchcraft and astrology." Instead, we're treated to what essentially is a puff-piece for some firms in the metaphysical realm without much, yes, context about whether this really is a thing.

Let's start with the introductory paragraphs. This is long, but essential:

When Coco Layne, a Brooklyn-based producer, meets someone new these days, the first question that comes up in conversation isn’t “Where do you live?” or “What do you do?” but “What’s your sign?”
“So many millennials read their horoscopes every day and believe them,” Layne, who is involved in a number of nonreligious spiritual practices, said. “It is a good reference point to identify and place people in the world.”
Interest in spirituality has been booming in recent years while interest in religion plummets, especially among millennials. The majority of Americans now believe it is not necessary to believe in God to have good morals, a study from Pew Research Center released Wednesday found. The percentage of people between the ages of 18 and 29 who “never doubt existence of God” fell from 81% in 2007 to 67% in 2012.
Meanwhile, more than half of young adults in the U.S. believe astrology is a science. compared to less than 8% of the Chinese public. The psychic services industry -- which includes astrology, aura reading, mediumship, tarot-card reading and palmistry, among other metaphysical services -- grew 2% between 2011 and 2016. It is now worth $2 billion annually, according to industry analysis firm IBIS World.

Can you say non-sequitur, gentle reader?

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Sally Quinn tells RNS: 'Occultism was so much a part of my growing up and my beliefs'

Sally Quinn tells RNS: 'Occultism was so much a part of my growing up and my beliefs'

The media campaign for Washington, D.C, journalism legend Sally Quinn's "Finding Magic" book rolls on and on.

This really isn't a surprise, in light of her spectacular social connections to just about every level of Beltway society and the media powers that be -- starting, of course, with The Washington Post, where she was a Style page force to be reckoned with both as a writer and as a news maker. There was her infamous romance with the married editor Ben Bradlee, of course, followed by their equally celebrated marriage.

That Washingtonian profile -- the subject of my first post on Quinn and her book ("Sally Quinn and her ghosts") -- was just the start, describing her as the "gatekeeper of Washington society turned religion columnist and about-to-turn evangelist for mysticism, magic, and the divine."

Yes, there are all the hot political connections. Yes, there are the even hotter personal details, from sex to deadly hexes. But I am sticking by my earlier statement that the Quinn revelations in this book are important and that they should matter to GetReligion readers because:

... Quinn -- during some crucial years -- served as a major influence on religion-beat debates. My take on her approach: Why focus on hard news when everyone knows that religion is really about emotions, feelings and personal experiences?

Now, Religion News Service, has an interesting Q&A up online with Quinn, which means here are going to be lots of questions about the DC maven's "evolving faith." The word "occult" shows up in Quinn's very first answer and the crucial theological term "theodicy" should have, as well.

RNS: Your childhood is a particularly beautiful and important part of the book. What was your religious experience growing up?
Quinn: For me, it was what I call embedded religion. The occultism was so much a part of my growing up and my beliefs.

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Sally Quinn and her ghosts: A memoir about magic, sex, spirituality and the religion beat

Sally Quinn and her ghosts: A memoir about magic, sex, spirituality and the religion beat

Now this is what the DC chattering classes desperately needed right now -- something to talk about other than President Donald Trump and his wife's controversial choices in footwear.

If you have followed post-1960s life in Washington, D.C., you will not be surprised that the person in the center of this hurricane of whispers is none other than journalist and social maven Sally Quinn. Yes, we're talking about the much-talked-about lover and much-younger wife of the great Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee.

Once the most feared "New Journalism" scribe covering DC social life, Quinn later used her personal charisma and clout to create the "On Faith" blog at the Post -- opening a window into the religious beliefs of her corner of the DC establishment. Hint: Mysterious progressive faith is good, traditional forms of religion are bad, bad, bad. Meanwhile, the former atheist became -- in her public persona -- a rather visible Episcopalian.

Now she is tweaking that image with a spiritual memoir entitled "Finding Magic" in which, in the words of a must-read Washingtonian profile, the "gatekeeper of Washington society turned religion columnist and about-to-turn evangelist for mysticism, magic, and the divine."

Journalists reading this profile will marvel at the personal details. However, it's also important to keep remembering that Quinn -- during some crucial years -- served as a major influence on religion-beat debates. My take on her approach: Why focus on hard news when everyone knows that religion is really about emotions, feelings and personal experiences?

OK, back to the Washingtonian article itself, which details the degree to which Quinn has decided to let her "spiritual freak flag fly." The summary statement is:

It’s a spiritual memoir, called Finding Magic, that charts her path from “angry atheist” to -- well, Quinn’s spiritual classification is a bit hard to define, even for her. A sort of Eat Pray Love for the This Town set, the memoir offers an intimate, at times painful look inside her exceedingly public life. There’s less glamour and cutthroat ambition, more vulnerability and personal anguish. She outs herself as a believer in the occult and as an erstwhile practitioner of voodoo, and she packs the book with moments that have made anxious friends wonder: Are you sure you want to share that?

Really? #Really.

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In nitty-gritty of journalism, the difference between a 'devil worshiper' and a 'known devil worshiper'

In nitty-gritty of journalism, the difference between a 'devil worshiper' and a 'known devil worshiper'

The devil is in the details.

Pardon the cliche, but that old bit of wisdom seems appropriate for this post.

Three years ago, a Satanic "black mass" in Oklahoma City made headlines and sparked a few here at GetReligion.

Now, one of the figures at the center of that controversy is back in the news. As we sometimes — OK, often — do at this journalism-focused website, I want to go old-school Journalism 101 and ask a simple question.

In the nitty-gritty of journalism, what difference do you notice between these two headlines?

The first one:

Devil worshiper files lawsuit against Putnam City Schools

And the second one:

Metro School District Sued By Known Devil Worshiper

I see a lot of you raising your hands, especially those of you who have been reading GetReligion for a while.

The distinction is simple: The first one (from The Oklahoman) simply states a fact. The second one (from an Oklahoma City-area television station) adds a value judgment.

For a journalist seeking to be fair and impartial — yes, even to a "known devil worshiper" — the first headline is better. It's neutral. It raises no eyebrows with the use of an adjective such as "known." Right?

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Pity Uncle Sam, who struggles with an unanswerable question: What is a ‘religion’?

Pity Uncle Sam, who struggles with an unanswerable question: What is a ‘religion’?

Pity poor Uncle Sam.

The need to provide chaplains and otherwise serve  military personnel requires the government to define the indefinable -- What is a “religion”? –- and to deal with  the increasing variety of American faiths. An April 21 Kimberly Winston report for Religion News Service revealed that a Department of Defense memo to manpower directors (.pdf here), issued back on March 27, doubles recognized religious preferences, to 221.

Religion-beat writers might well pursue Winston’s scoop with local angles or see how it’s playing among military-watchers and leaders in conventional religions.

Atheists and humanists campaigned for the military’s broadened list so that chaplains will help soldiers of those persuasions to get resources and contact like-minded groups and individuals, and so that followers of new and small faiths or non-faith can be granted leave for their festival observances, travel to group   events, and such.

Among the religions that made the revised list (which, alas, is not alphabetized by DOD!): Asatru, Deism, Druid, Eckankar, Gard Wi, Magick, Sacred Well, Spiral Tree, Troth and generic “Heathen,” “New Age” and “Shaman.” But not Scientology, which long fought the IRS for recognition as a religion to gain tax exemption.

Soldiers can now be listed as “no preference, “no religion,” “none provided” or “unknown,” but no longer will be given the choice of designation as “Protestant, no denominational preference” or “Protestant, other churches.” How come?

DOD or its Armed Forces Chaplains Board flubbed the effort a bit.

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Information behind DeVos irony: NBC News discovers that liberal homeschoolers do exist

Information behind DeVos irony: NBC News discovers that liberal homeschoolers do exist

Back in the days of intense Harry Potter warfare, I wrote an "On Religion" column in which a very articulate mother explained why she was seriously considering homeschooling her child.

First of all, she said it was clear that her local public schools didn't take religion all that seriously. A kind of watered-down faith was OK, but she was sure that her family's intense religious beliefs and traditions would clash with the culture in nearby schools. She didn't want to have to compromise her family's beliefs in order to fit in.

Then there those omnipresent books about a certain young wizard. She told me: 

"The whole Harry Potter thing has just taken off and glamorized everything. It makes it seem like all of this is about spells and magic. ... It can be hard to get children to remember that what we're about is faith and spirituality. ... Many pagan parents consider Harry Potter a mixed blessing."

This mother, you see, was part of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids and the author of a book called "Pagan Parenting." And she was preparing for life as a homeschooling mom.

I thought about this anecdote when I read the NBCNews.com piece that ran with this headline: "DeVos Backlash Sees Parents Threatening to Homeschool Kids."

All kinds of people were passing this URL around online, laughing at the irony of that statement. However, it quickly became clear that reporter Jon Schuppe not only saw the irony, but understood it. Here is the overture on this surprisingly nuanced piece: 

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That strange mash-up on religious calendar: Happy Imbolc, Saint Brigid's Day, whatever...

That strange mash-up on religious calendar: Happy Imbolc, Saint Brigid's Day, whatever...

It’s tough to find breaking news items on pagan topics, much less anything that’s remotely newsworthy other than the occasional pagan holiday. Pagans are a peaceful lot and they don't tend to make a lot of news. This past week, as a break from reading about #MuslimBan, we had a wealth of articles on Imbolc, the mid-winter pagan holiday.

Now there are dueling realities to Imbolc/Ground Hog Day/Candlemas and St. Brigid’s Day because they all occur in the first two days of February. The first event is pagan; the second is secular and the last two are Christian feasts. Nevertheless, reporters end up mashing them all together, with results that are, if not funny, rather inaccurate. 

I know space is at a premium at some outlets, but do the same reporters clump Lincoln's Birthday and Valentine's Day together because they're two days apart? Don't think so. So why connect St. Brigid's Day, much less Candlemas, with Imbolc? What follows is what several media did with this time period.

The Seattle Weekly described the pagan aspect in a piece by a woman identified as the publication’s “resident witch:”

Imbolc (pronounced im-bowlk) is a Gaelic word meaning “in the belly,” and for many modern Pagans, Feb. 1 is one of four Greater Sabbats, or grand holy days, marking the seasons. Imbolc (also spelled Imbolg or Immolc) acknowledges the first stirrings of spring, the deep shift away from winter and the return of light and heat to the Northern Hemisphere.
Central to many Imbolc traditions is the Irish Great Goddess Brigid. She oversaw fertility, poetry, smithcraft, and healing, and was a part of the Tuatha Dé Danann, the deities of pre-Christian Ireland. For ancient Celts, she was the ever-changing Earth itself, coming back to life after her winter sleep. Celebrations ranged from raging bonfires and torch processions through the fields and streets of the local village to simple ceremonies, centered around the mother of the house wearing a crown of lit candles as she led her family in ritual.

Not to be outdone, the International Business Times wrote:

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