Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Moral Panic, Anyone?

The case of the West Memphis Three may have happened nineteen years ago, but as this latest bizarre story shows the the media is still going completely crazy over any crime that appears to involve occultism. According to initial reports, two young women got together with a man they met over the Internet, then tortured and stabbed him to death in a Satanic sexual ritual. No, wait, actually there was no murder, the supposed "ritual" involved no occult or Satanic components, the stabbing was apparently consensual cutting that got out of hand, and the man is not pressing charges. Wow. That went from "batshit insane" to "poorly executed BDSM scene without safewords" in about two seconds. But of course the news media outlets prefer the former fabricated account.

While at the apartment building, police were approached by Rebecca Chandler, 22, who stated, “I think you are here looking for me.” Chandler told cops that she had engaged in sexual relations with the Arizona man “and that the cutting was consensual but that it got quickly out of hand.”

Chandler claimed that her roommate--whom she identified only as “Scarlett”--was “the one who did the majority of the cutting” during the incident. Chandler, police reported, “also made reference to ‘Scarlett’ possibly being involved in satanic or occult activities.”

Chandler was placed in custody at the scene. During a subsequent search of the apartment, investigators seized copies of "The Necromantic Ritual Book” and "The Werewolf’s Guide to Life,” a humor book. The former book promises to enable a reader to “share consiousness with the Angel of Death.” Paperwork seized from the home was described by police as the “7 Pentacles” of planets. Additionally, a black folder was described as an “Intro to Sigilborne Spirtits,” an apparent reference to “The Sigil-Born,” metaphysical entities that are “occultic practitioners” of necromancy, the purported ability to contact the dead.

As an aside, in the Thoth Tarot the Seven of Disks is titled "Failure," which in this case seems about right.

It's clear to me that Chandler's roommate is no occultist. For those of you who were practicing magick in your twenties, think about it - how many occult books did you own? If it was less than a dozen I would be surprised, since by the time I was in my mid-twenties I probably owned hundreds. In my experience this holds true even for many practitioners who aren't well-off, since there are plenty of places you can find heavily discounted books on magick. But what did the police find when they searched the apartment? One Leilah Wendell book on necromancy, a humor book about werewolves, a folder with some spirit sigils, and paperwork referencing the aforementioned "Failure" Tarot trump. That's it. This young woman may have had an interest in necromancy, but from these limited materials "an interest" looks to be as far as it went.

Salon also has an article up by the auther of the aforementioned werewolf book discussing his feelings about being drawn into this case. I read it as a cautionary tale, because I know that if I sell enough of my own books on magick the day is going to come when somebody involved in a crime will own a copy and police will seize it as evidence. Then I'm sure the media will do the same thing as they did here and try to link my books on "evil Enochian magick" with devil worship or who knows what else, completely ignoring that Mastering the Mystical Heptarchy is about conjuring angels and the prayers of John Dee included as part of that process would not sound even remotely out of place at a Christian revival.

When I posted on the release of the West Memphis Three back in August I wrapped up that article by expressing my hope that it would represent the last gasp of the "Satanic panic" of the early 1990's. From the reaction to this case, though, I now realize that was a vain hope on my part. Sensationalism sells, so the media is going to keep blowing this stuff out of proportion as long as they can get away with it. I'm glad to see that the real facts surrounding this case came out fairly quickly, but at the same time I'm sure that the original made-up story is going to be set in a lot of peoples' minds for some time to come. It's not the sort of thing one easily forgets.

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Rufus Opus said...

Have you seen this one about the occultist who killed and dismembered her victim? I figured you'd get to it sooner or later, and I think you do a better job talking about this kind of thing than I do.

It's interesting these things are coming out at the same time, and I'm curious about any correspondence to the timeframe of events. I think the one I linked to happened a lot earlier though.

Ananael Qaa said...

No, I missed that one. It sounds worth addressing, though, especially with regard to the interaction of magick and mental illness. For all the mostly nonsensical talk in our occult communities warning that failed magicians can wind up in mental institutions, here's a case where it's a realistic possibility - though it sounds like the mental illness was there all along. Thanks for passing it along.

As far as the timeline goes,from the article It sounds like the trial is over and the killing itself happened back in April, so it's probably just coincidental that they're both being discussed in the media now. These African cases happen all the time, so you're usually going to be able to find one if that's what you're looking for. Albino murders are still going on, unpopular people are still being lynched as witches, and that whole cycle that makes me happy I live in America continues.

Between Africa and parts of Asia there are usually enough awful stories out there to support daily postings even if I covered nothing else. Lately there haven't been as many funny ones either, though I did put up a post awhile back on the prostitute who transformed into a donkey.

Rufus Opus said...

Virginia South Africa! Ohhhhhh!

I thought it was the US State Virginia. I was wondering why I hadn't heard more about it, living in Baltimore.

Hypnovatos said...

what i want to know is... did they find a bible and a crucifix and any bread or wine in the apartment...

Pallas Renatus said...

BDSM in the Midwest? No wonder it was mistaken for Satanism, lol!

Seriously, though, moral panic indeed.

Rob said...

This is the age of Internet piracy. She could have had so few occult books because she downloaded hundreds onto her computer.

I've never had very many occult books. I've read a lot though, but many were borrowed, and I've given away a lot of my books when I didn't need them anymore.

I have the most books I've ever had right now, and I still don't think I could break 100. That's including major spiritual texts and various books on folklore and mythology that I have.

I'm pretty sure there's less than a dozen books I actually still use for magic, discounting the Encyclopedia of Tarot. I honestly don't even need the books at all. So I don't see anything wrong with having an unimpressive personal library.

I was actually intrigued by Wendell's book. Her works are interesting, and she's semi-obscure, even in magical circles. She could just have happened upon it in a book store and thought the name was cool, but a book like that is usually a sign that a person is a real practitioner of something.

Ananael Qaa said...

@RO: I can only imagine the media firestorm that would have erupted had that case happened in the US, complete with pundits arguing that clearly anyone with mental illness needs to be locked up to protect the safety of us all.

@Pallas: In the age of the Internet, you have the whole world to search for whatever you're into. If your ultimate fantasy is to be restrained with duct tape and cut on by werewolf chicks you can find somebody willing to act it out. Of course, as this case shows that's not without risks.

@Rob: Wendell's not that obscure, at least here in the Twin Cities. Every occultist I've met has heard of her, though opinions on her work vary widely. I'll grant that there might be more material on this woman's computer, but she still only had one short book on real magick, total. As I see it, that's not an "unimpressive library" - it's walking into a bookstore and buying the only thing you can find with "Necromantic" in the title because it sounds spooky. I'll grant that there could be more here than meets the eye, I'm just saying that I personally doubt it. Anyway, Wendell's rituals in the book bear no resemblance to what actually went on in this case.