Tuesday, July 13, 2021

This is Where it Comes From!

I've posted and posted here on Augoeides about fundamentalist Christian ideas about what "witches" and "Satanists" do, and how it has hardly any bearing on how real witches, magicians, and even Satanists practice. I've argued that making magick less mysterious and increasing magical literacy among the general population would help people see the ridiculousness of those ideas. The supposed "black magic" of fundamentalist imagination is mostly fiction, and doesn't even consist of workable or effective magical methods.

Fundamentalists have been insisting for decades that this fake magic is out there and very real. It was one of the big motivators behind the "Satanic Panic" that sent hundreds of innocent people to prison in the 1980s and early 1990s. At the dawn of the Internet, primers on that same fake magic were circulated first on UseNet news groups and later on Christian websites. Even today, it has managed to fold itself into the QAnon network of conspiracies. The latest crop of Satanists is described the same way as the last one - evil people doing evil things for no other reason than to be evil.

The sheer perniciousness of this particular urban myth has always made me wonder where it came from. Some of the ideas, like "blood libel" sacrifices, are very old accusations commonly made to persecute marginalized groups. But some of the others seem bizarre even from an occult standpoint. "Being evil" isn't something that gives you magical power. It might make you more willing to engage in unethical applications of the power you have, but that's it. Really, it gives you no more advantage than a garden variety psychopath, so the idea that it serves some magical purpose is laughable.

But I'm burying the lede a bit here. What I wanted to bring to your attention is that I think I found the origin of at least some of these silly ideas about witches and Satanists. They come from porn. I suppose it makes sense - most porn these days that has plot or structure is a parody of some sort. If that's the origin, it's entirely reasonable to consider "fundie Satanism" a parody of real magick. That fits nicely, and explains why when you look into these alleged practices it's clear that most of them would never work.

There was an explosion of interest in the occult during the 1960s and 1970s, fuelled by cultural changes that made the once-forbidden now a subject of fascination. The legalisation of witchcraft in the UK and the founding of the Church of Satan in America – not to mention the loosening of censorship restraints that allowed once-banned subjects like black magic and Satanism to be explored more openly – brought the occult out into the open. As more and more people began to dabble in paganism, witchcraft and other old religions during the Age of Aquarius, so magazines, books and movies began to explore the subject.

Not all of these were especially interested in the finer details of the occult. For many, the interest in witchcraft, Satanism and other dark arts began and ended with the fact that the rituals seemed to involve a lot of naked girls. Naked men too, but I suspect that it was the idea of attending wild ceremonies with attractive naked women that drew a lot of men – especially of a certain age – into the occult world. Of course, much like naturism, the reality of witchcraft involved rather more homely people of both sexes than the movies and magazines suggested, and was probably a lot less erotic than everyone hoped. I suspect that a lot of would-be occultists found the reality to be a lot less exciting than they had hoped.

But the fascination with sexy occultism gave birth to numerous magazines – some more serious than others. We have to remember that in the 1970s, photos of naked women appeared everywhere, and so we can’t dismiss some of the more serious occult magazines just because they featured nubile models pretending to be witches in artfully-posed cover shots. If that was what pulled in the readers, then why not? And even the most genuine occult magazines – at least those you would find on the shelves of your local newsagents – were still very much cashing in on a trend, destined for cancellation as soon as the public tastes changed.

The linked article goes into a lot more detail on the subject, and includes scans magazine covers with images straight out of a Jack Chick tract - that is, if those tracts included nudity. Furthermore, you can easily see where those images would feed the "fundie Satanism" myth. On those magazine covers you see many of the elements that fundies incorporate into their Satanic conspiracy theories - Aleister Crowley, witches, vampires, sacrifices. It's all there! That being the case, I think this is probably the origin. There were also films during the period that fed into the same milieau, like Rosemary's Baby, The Exorcist, and The Omen, which likely contributed along similar lines.

It makes sense too, given the limited fundie concept of evil. In their world, "evilness" seems to behave like a substance. You get enough of it, and it gives you paranormal powers that come from The Devil. The whole point of sacrifices and the like seems to be that you want to do as much evil as you can to get those powers faster... or something. The whole thing is so incoherent and inconsistent with real magick that it's hard to form it into much of a system or derive general principles from it. You just do evil stuff and get rewarded for it. And for all I know, the reward is just supposed to be a bunch of naked girls.

The thing about pornography is that in the fundie world, porn is evil just like the blasphemy of Satanism. What the two have in common is evilness. In fact, if the "gathering evilness" model worked, one would expect that you could gain paranormal powers pretty quickly by watching a ton of porn - and as far as I can tell, the widespread availability of porn on the Internet and the lack of people running around all over the place with crazy paranormal powers pretty much flat-out disprove the entire model. Porn is everywhere, and "evil as a substance" doesn't hold up - even if you don't consider the paranormal angle.

Evil for the sake of evil also doesn't line up well with human behavior. People almost always seek the good. The reason bad things happen is that some people seek out things that are good for themselves without giving any consideration to how bad those things might be to anyone or even everyone else. From the perspective of game theory, exploitation can be great for the person doing the exploiting, it just harms whoever is being exploited at the same time. For this reason villians who are evil just to be evil are not very realistic. There may be a few profoundly disturbed examples throughout human history, but they are few and far between.

The erotic occult boom even crept into less specialist sex magazines and scandal sheets, where a dash of Satanism and the lure of naked witchcraft rituals helped spice things up for their readers. Most adult and tabloid magazines of the era probably ran pieces on occultism, but some went all the way and featured the sordid activities on the front cover – all the better to attract readers who would pore over the images and possibly even read the articles, lips pursed with disapproval even as they loosened their trousers. Most of these magazines would source their images from the publicity-hungry Anton LaVey and Alex Sanders, both of whom were always keen to put together photogenic rituals involving attractive and naked young women.

Like its paperback rival (which we’ll come back to another time), the sexy occult magazine had a definite lifespan – most, if not all of these were gone by the late 1970s. Today, there are several witchcraft magazines in print, but all seem to take themselves and their craft very seriously, and I very much doubt that most of the Witches of Instagram would be very amused by the cheerfully exploitative nature of these ancient publications. But I might be wrong – perhaps there is a gap in the market waiting to be filled. If so, then we are happy to step up and revive this gloriously tacky, cheesy and outrageous world of sex, sin and Satanism.

What makes this all the more interesting is the timeline. Satanic porn declined by the late 1970's, and then 1980 saw the publication of Michelle Remembers, the book that kick-started the Satanic Panic. It put forth the basic pattern of "recovered memories" obtained over the course of years detailing abuse at the hands of a Satanic cult that would be repeated over and over again throughout the 1980s. We now know that memories recovered under hypnosis are not accurate and can combine all sorts of material into a narrative that never happened, and crucially, the cult details match a lot of what was showing up in porn magazines around the same time as the memories were allegedly being recovered.

Maybe magical literacy won't fix this after all, at least as long as fundies are determined to muddy the waters with this nonsense. It certainly is true that there are nowhere near enough occultists to even be a viable enemy for these Christians, who seem to have a deep-seated desire to remain the oppressed minority that Christians were in ancient Rome - despite being the majority religion in the United States by far. But I figure every little bit helps.

If somebody ever comes up to you and starts spewing "fundie Satanism" conspiracy nonsense, you can now calmly look them in the eye and tell them the truth. "You know that comes from porn, right?"

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