Neopagans

Goths, games and what seems to be faith: New York Times dives into vampire fantasy culture

Goths, games and what seems to be faith: New York Times dives into vampire fantasy culture

Before too much time goes by since Halloween, I wanted to spotlight an alternative religion -– no other word for it –- piece in the New York Times that talks about Goths and vampires.

I had no idea that Goths had a spirituality but freelancer Sam Kestenbaum, who has written on the occult and alternative traditions before for the Times, found a businesman-and-would-be-vampire who’s good at mining the Goth search for meaning, as it were.

It’s not a group I know anything about, so I gave it a read.

The big question, of course: Does the word “religion” apply to all of this? If the answer is “no,” then why is that?

In the dim corner of Halloween Adventure, a two-story costume store in Manhattan, a man called Father Sebastiaan sculpts vampire fangs by hand. A Ouija board hangs crooked on the wall, near a purple crystal and an uneven pile of occult books. His work stall, no larger than a broom closet, is barely visible behind pirate and cowboy masks.

A small gaggle had soon formed at the door, and Father Sebastiaan looked up. “The people who come to me are lost souls,” he said to a young assistant. “This is why I’m here. Fangs help them tap into their primal vampire nature. Fangs are magic.”

Two women squeezed in the stall to be fitted for fangs. “I’m a modern-day vampire who loves life,” said Christina Staib, a woman with leather boots and bat tattoos. Her friend Melanie Anderson had come for her first pair. “They give off an aura,” she said. “A spiritual vampire aura.”

Obviously the “Father” part of Sebastiaan’s title is faux.

Father Sebastiaan is just the man to help cultivate that aura. A 43-year-old with long hair, the fang maker once styled himself the king and spiritual guru of New York’s vibrant vampire scene in the 1990s. He hosted raucous parties, wrote books and launched product lines — jewelry, contact lenses and the fangs — with financial success. It was a good time to be a vampire in New York…

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Walking in the maze of labyrinth wars? This USA Today Network story sits out that debate

Walking in the maze of labyrinth wars? This USA Today Network story sits out that debate

Here is what I have learned about prayer labyrinths, during my decades on the religion beat.

Progressive Episcopalians love them, big time.

Evangelical Episcopalians hate them or, at the very least, worry about how they can be abused.

Progressive Catholics love them, big time.

Conservative Catholics hate them or, at the very least, worry about how they can be abused.

You may have noticed a pattern.

The arguments about labyrinths center on church history, theology, ancient myths and trends in modern “spirituality,” especially the many innovations that came to be labeled “New Age.” When writing about this topic, I have learned that it helps to focus on the doctrinal contents, and the origins, of the prayers that people are taught to recite while walking inside a labyrinth.

It’s hard to do a basic online search on this topic without hitting waves of information by those who embrace the use of labyrinths (examples here and then here) and those who reject them (examples here and then here).

This brings me to a long recent USA Today Network-Tennessee feature that ran with this headline: “Set in stone or brick, East Tennessee labyrinths are meditative walks for prayer.” This article, literally, could be used in a public-relations release about this particular labyrinth, since it contains ZERO information from critics. Here is the overture (this is long, but essential):

It's dusk on a September Tuesday as two dozen people step, silently and deliberately, around a twisting brick courtyard path at St. John's Episcopal Cathedral.

A few walk barefoot. Some carry candles or glow sticks. Most bow their heads in silent meditation or prayer as they follow the turns of St. John's brick and mortar labyrinth.

Candles and spotlights set among the garden surrounding the labyrinth cast shadows.

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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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