I was conducting one of many long interviews with Alan Alves while writing Dark Woods. This one was at his house as he worked on a project outside, and as he railed against the evils of Satan and the occult, I noticed his granddaughter’s backpack leaning against the side of the house…covered in occult symbols. I brought this up to him, and he laughed it off and continued to tell me about the dark path the youth of the country was so tempted to go down, seemingly unconcerned that his little one might be one of them.
That’s the way the occult works in our society. As I wrote in a recent article for Spooky Southcoast, “What if familiarity doesn’t breed contempt? What if instead it fosters a slow, subtle acceptance?” As I read through George Case’s “Here’s to My Sweet Satan” leading up to his interview on the show, I was struck by the patterns of indoctrination he explored and was left wondering who or what might be behind it all. While the book avoids asking some questions, I was left seeing design in some of the patterns Case explored in the book.
What is the draw to Satan. One thing Case’s book clearly shows is our appetite for the idea of the Devil and our obsessive need to be drawn in and repelled by the occult. It tracks the rebirth of Tolkien and the rise of heavy metal music while examining the occult undertones and symbols of mass murderers and serial killers at the time. It might be easy to pass off these trends as just giving the public what it wants, and moving beyond what he covers in the book, to look at the 80s through today as the reaction to those movements he covers. That would be dismissive. Whether obvious or subliminal, we live in a time that can be seen as the shadow of the Devil, and if it is impossible to say who the source of the conditioning is, we should at least be able to see the signs around us.
It might be a case of the left hand being unaware, or at least trying to make US unaware, of what the right is doing. While the devil tries to convince us that he is not real, occult and satanic imagery and ideas filter into our daily lives. There might just be groundwork being laid for our acceptance and embrace of these ideas. As people who work in the paranormal, the occult does not mean evil, not does it imply a path to the dark side, and that’s a dangerous message I don’t want to send. Witchcraft and the Hobbit are not gateway ideas to hell or hell on earth. For many, however, those lines are blurred and those might be the people the storm is looking to sweep up.
I first noticed a trend while working with juvenile criminal offenders, many of whom were having paranormal experiences in some of the state facilities across Massachusetts. A student was not allowed to wear a baseball hat for the Pittsburgh Pirates because it was their way to represent their gang. Assignments handed it had to be devoid of stars and crosses and their hair couldn’t be parted certain ways. As one member of the Vice Lords sat explaining his gang symbols to me, I couldn’t help but notice the similarities to markings at the Assonet Ledge.
Then I published an article about Freetown for the magazine Haunted Times and a reader corrected me about a picture I posted of a Blue Oyster Cult symbol on the Ledge. He explained he and his friends marked up walls all the time as kids with their favorite bands. What he failed to see was that BOC may have been part of getting these designs into our consciousness. He also ignored the fact it was upside down and contained other markings connected to cults. This is an example of the shadowy way the uncommon hides itself within the common.
For years gang culture in this country has borrowed heavily, mainly unknowingly, from Satanic imagery. The most well known biker gang in the country is the Hell’s Angels. Modern urban gangs rely heavily on five pointed stars and upside down crosses, and new members are trained to tag things from right to left, mirroring the technique used by practitioners of dark magick. Joseph Stalin talked about being able to control and train the youth through their music and literature so in several generations an idea becomes bible truth. It may be oversimplifying it, but gang life gave rise to rap and hip hop which has found its way into the suburbs and every aspect of pop culture. Who is doing the feeding and who is doing the eating? Hand gestures and greetings used in gangs are the same as those used by secret societies though to run this country.
There are other connections to be made, some of which became more obvious while reading “Here’s to My Sweet Satan.” There is a general rise in nonfiction publications about the occult once a successful movie comes out about the topic. While this is not unusual, the fact that this has been happening with this particular topic over decades means the general public blurs the lines between what is real and what is fiction. Middle school students I talk to think Paranormal Activity and Slenderman are real.
In Case’s book, he talks about how the climate gave rise to horror writer Stephen King, who has only gotten more popular in the four decades since he was first published. His works, especially the 1977 novella Rage have been sighted by several of the modern school shooters as offering inspiration, to the point King has come out and said he wish he had never published it. Add to this that the location of some of the most covered shootings occur near famous occult centers. For example, Columbine and the Dark Knight shootings happened in the shadow of Denver International Airport, well known for containing occult symbols. To further connect things, in King’s seminal work The Stand, the survivors of its apoclypse gather in that state to rebuild.
In 1999, as the new millennium approached, movies and books explored the proposed fictional link between numbers and the coming of the antichrist. From the top of rooftops people claimed everything from Nostradamus to the Book of Revelations to coded messages from World War I saw the Devil as gaining power as the calendar turned. It’s difficult for me to agree with this. Every generation has their hope or fear that they are living in the end of days, and modern times seems to have an armageddon set for every few months. There does seem to be a form of training going on that goes beyond just our desire to be scared or explore what happens when we die.
I lived in the wake of the era “Here’s to My Sweet Satan” explores. I remember seeing the Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby and the Omen on Channel 38, unedited, as a child. Amityville was based on a true story and there was no story made up while drinking glasses of wine. My grandparents and mother took me with them to see A Nightmare on Elm Street when I was 9, two years younger than my son is now, which was also around the time Gremlins and Trolls was being marketed to me. I’m from a generation who absorbed this fictional battles between good and evil as near fact, understanding I was watching a movie, but thinking they were based on real stories or at least real ideas. I watched GI Joe and every other episode involved Cobra using the occult to try to gain control of the world, the same thing those Nazis did in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
I was that kid who spend their time doodling the symbols of my favorite bands on desks and on paper book covers; designs Case and others claim are so simple that their occult meaning is lost and their lines easy to duplicate. By the time I was in my teens, the urban legends surrounding Led Zeppelin’s submergence into Satanic subculture was solid fact and KISS really did mean Knights in Satan’s Service, even if they were taking their makeup off. I did not have the filter of an adult, so they became part of what I knew to be true. As Tim Weisberg is so fond of saying, “When the legend is bigger than the truth, print the legend.”
But to what end?
Most parents would never agree to introduce their children to evil, but might not think twice about letting them watch Teen Titans Go, and show where one of the main characters is the daughter of a demon. On the first day of school I noticed the same symbols associated with acts like King Diamond and Iron Maiden hidden in designs by Hollister and Justice. The connections gets tighter when you get into the more obscure, at least for me, fashions of the urban youth.
They have been trained to see these symbols as holding no power, and it that ignorance might be giving power. When I was handed a copy of the Necronomicon, I was told to not read it out loud for fear I would raise a demon without meaning to. However silly that might seem, there was a power in those words. That same power might lie in the markings of the occult. There might be something to a cultural incantation brought on by making the paranormal normal, a sort of negative spiritual awakening sparked by tracing these designs and accepting the occult into our minds without protection or wonder. Think of the myths surrounding certain patterns of music being able to draw out Satan, the same keys and chords used heavily in heavy metal and borrowed by many of the modern bands we listen to. Who is to say all of this media doesn’t have the same end impact on our culture. We are more willing to let it in and might be actually be actively calling it out.
All of the liberal, free speech fibers of my being wants to believe this sounds like the rantings of fundamentalists who see the devil in power drinks, but I think indoctrination might have a more human cause. Either way, the occult is no longer in the hands of the officially initiated, and the effect of that is unknown.
When I was a kid I was talking to a friend about a book I was reading on serial killers. He was into the conversation and then something changed in him. This kid, who would go on to commit some horrific acts in the future, looked at me with dead eyes and said, “We should stop talking about this. It makes me want to do bad things.” The normalization of the Devil as explored by George Case might not reach that kind of dramatic conclusion. It should be clear, he is not saying reading Harry Potter will make people want to hurt their friends or listening to the Beatles will make people want to kill. But then again, Mark David Chapman did kill a Beatle…outside the Dakota…where they filmed Rosemary’s Baby…which urban legend says Anton LaVey was involved in…who once…