Thursday, December 18, 2014

"Satanic" Murder Trial Underway

The case sounds like something out of a horror movie. Two high school students murdered a young woman they both knew so that one of the perpetrators could "sell his soul to the devil." Or at least that's the scenario Houston prosecutors are pushing in the killing of 15-year-old Corriann Cervantes. Opening arguments in the trial of Jose Reyes began last week for the crime, which took place last February. Victor Alas, who also is alleged to have taken part in the slaying, will face trial at a later date.

Reyes is accused of kidnapping, sexually assaulting and killing 15-year-old Corriann Cervantes earlier this year with another teenage boy in a bid to sell their souls to the devil.

"Whether or not the devil was involved, what happened in that apartment was sadistic and inhumane," Assistant Harris County District Attorney John Jordan told jurors. "He said he had no regrets."

Jordan told jurors Cervantes and two other teens went to a vacant apartment to have sex after a late night of alcohol and marijuana at a friend's apartment.

In horrific and grisly detail, Jordan said the scene descended from consensual sex to a brutal beating with the heavy porcelain lid of a toilet tank.

From the crime scene reports there's plenty of evidence that Reyes and Alas killed Cervantes, so it's pretty clear to me that Reyes is guilty and should be convicted. What gives me pause about the report is that the occult angle is coming from the prosecution, and seems based on pretty flimsy evidence. For whatever reason, prosecutors love to bring up anything involving "Satanism" and will go so far as to coerce such details from suspects during interrogations.

The prosecutor's chief piece of occult evidence seems to be an upside-down cross carved into Cervantes' body. But that sounds more like something from an album cover than rather than from a real ritual. In fact, there is no occult technique for "selling your soul to the devil," at least none I've ever come across. Some of the techniques from the Solomonic grimoires involve pacts with spirits, but the details of such pacts differ substantially from this particular urban legend.

The legend assumes (1) that the Christian pantheon is the one true metaphysical schema, where souls reside in Heaven or Hell after death, (2) that the Devil, as God's adversary, seeks to obtain mortal souls, and (3) that it's even possible for a person to sell his or her soul. As a Thelemite, I have various objections to all those points, and so do most real occultists.

Furthermore, the alleged "Satanism" in this case just sounds like an excuse. Let's say that Reyes is just a psychopath who wanted to kill someone and needed help. So he tells Alas, "Hey, I sold my soul to the devil. It's awesome. You can do it too, but you have to commit a murder with me." It doesn't speak well of Alas that he was gullible enough and willing enough to go through with it, but I highly doubt that either he or Reyes knew much about real occultism.

Here's why it matters. Whether or not occultism was involved, Cervantes is still dead and her killers are still guilty. Nothing there changes either way. But given the consequences of the last great "Satanic panic" in the United States, I think it's important to be clear that there's no causal relationship between occultism, even "Satanism," and horrific crimes like this one.

Reyes and Alas aren't individuals who would have remained law-abiding citizens if only they had never heard of occultism. In all likelihood they would have still killed and just used some other excuse.

UPDATE: A small correction: I have been informed that The Grand Grimoire, a grimoire from the sixteenth century, does include a technique for selling your soul to Lucifer. It apparently also includes instructions on how to make the deal and then back out of it, screwing the devil in the process. So such a technique does appear in an actual occult source. However, it bears little resemblance to the facts of this case, and for the reasons I outlined above I'm rather dubious that it would work as advertised. Most likely what you would wind up with is a pact with a spirit similar to those found in some of the other Solomonic grimoires.

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