Posts I enjoyed this week.
We also visited Merrion Square (Oscar Wilde lived at number 1 and WB Yeats lived at number 52 and 82), and wandered about in the Temple Bar area, and central Dublin. I was very excited to see the Post Office with the Cuchulainn statue commemorating the Easter Rising 1916, as I’ve wanted to see it for a very long time.
There are currently three amazing exhibitions on at the Art Gallery of Guelph (until 16 December): epistemologies of the moon, 1745, and Critical Mass. It is hard to say which of these exhibitions I was the most excited about, as they all address things I care about.
Many people are expressing shock and dismay that a fascist government has taken over the USA, and at the rising tide of xenophobia in Broken Brexit Britain. However, if you are at all familiar with the rise of the Third Reich and the operation of oppressive systems such as the British Empire, the signs have been writ large for some time. If you need a crash course in recognising the oppressive atmosphere for what it is, then here’s a crash course. Why have I chosen mostly novels? Because novels try to describe how it feel to be in the situation, and to provoke empathy. And empathy for the persecuted is what we need more of right now.
A guest post by Lucya Starza
of A Bad Witch’s Blog
“So, which are you – a journalist or a witch?”
That was a question I was asked twice when I attended the conference on the UK Satanic Abuse Scare: 25 Years On at the London School of Economics on Tuesday. I was wearing both a press badge and a silver pentacle, so I can understand the confusion.
As a pagan who has also worked in the press for the past 30-odd years, it isn’t the first time I’ve come across fellow witches not believing I can be both. Journalists have been among the biggest enemies of modern pagan witches since the mid 20th century – and during the late 1980s to early 1990s we fanned the flames of the Satanic Panic with lurid stories such as those in the clippings at the top of this post.
When I say “we”, I don’t mean me personally. Being a pagan, I would never have written such stories, but most journalists were not so knowledgeable at the time and sensationalist headlines sell. The journalists weren’t making stuff up themselves either, I should add, they were being given inaccurate information by seemingly reliable sources, including children’s charity the NSPCC.
However, one investigative journalist bucked the trend. Dr Rosie Waterhouse, now director of the MA in investigative journalism at City University London, was a freelance reporter at the time. She investigated what was being called Satanic Ritual Abuse (SRA) and found that evidence to back up the claims simply didn’t exist. Her research and debunking of the myth of Satanic Ritual Abuse went on to form the basis of her PhD, awarded in 2014. I was keen to hear Rosie talk at the conference.
But what was the Satanic Ritual Abuse Scare?
It started with a small group of claim-makers, mostly fundamental Christians, who had read material circulating in America stating that an international network of Satanists were sexually abusing children as part of their rituals – raping young girls, then aborting foetuses and sacrificing them. They portrayed pagans and other occultists as being part of that. These claims were taken seriously by social workers, therapists and police, leading to high profile cases in Rochdale, Nottingham and the Orkneys. Children were taken into care because it was believed their parents were members of this ring of Satanic abusers. Newspapers loved it.
At the conference, Rosie Waterhouse talked about how the media covered SRA – and her 25-year investigation into it.
Between 1987 and 1993 there were 84 investigated cases of SRA, the main ones being in Nottingham, Rochdale, and the Orkneys. Respected children’s charity the NSPCC, at a press conference for its 1990 annual report, told journalists it took these claims seriously. What followed was a media frenzy with headlines such as “Children forced into evil sex rites” from the Press Association and “Kids Forced into Satan Orgies” in the Daily Mirror. Satanic Ritual Abuse was national front page news.
Rosie had joined the Independent on Sunday and did investigative work. She was tasked with finding evidence for SRA, but back in the days before Google, finding evidence was hard and research was long-winded. Rosie searched for criminal cases and family court cases, with an archive of newspapers as her main resource. There she found criminal cases with anecdotal evidence. Getting in touch with the family courts, she discovered that 41 children had been taken into care. That looked like evidence, but Rosie realised anecdotal evidence is not firm evidence.
She worked back to find out the original source of information. The NSPCC put her in touch with fundamentalist Christian group the Evangelical Alliance, who put her in touch with Reverend Kevin Logan. He claimed teenage girls were used as brood mares in Satanic rituals, then the foetuses aborted and sacrificed. Asked how many women had told him they had been used as brood mares, Rev Kevin Logan said eight.
Rosie said that seemed to her like a great piece of investigative journalism, but she then got a letter in the post from the Pagan Federation and other letters from Sorcerer’s Apprentice bookshop, pointing out that hard evidence was missing.
Visiting Sorcerer’s Apprentice, she looked at the shop’s archive of letters from pagans and other occultists pointing out where the stories being reported in the press were broken. She said she had never met an occultist before and was nervous, but the upshot was a fantastic archive. The following week the Independent on Sunday‘s Sunday Review editor Richard Williams asked her to look into it further.
Through the material she received, she concluded there was no forensic evidence at all – no blood, no bones or any other physical proof. These would have been present if the killing of babies and foetuses had been taking place.
Eventually, this was recognised by the police both in the UK and America and cases against the accused were dropped. The FBI in the US has stated that until hard evidence is found, Americans should not be worried that babies are being sacrificed in Satanic rituals. The scare grew because of impatient cops, poorly trained therapists and social workers, and fantasists who believed things had happened to them that were actually only in their dreams or imagination.
However, SRA accusations are still being made and although the scare of the 1980s and 90s is over, we should not be complacent. A current trend for police to follow a “believe the victim” mantra – rather than “listen to the victim and then investigate the allegations” – could lead to police being taken in by fantasists again.
Rosie summed up by saying that the method journalists should use to tell the difference between true and false allegations is to test the evidence.
And back to that question about whether I can be a witch and a journalist. Well, yes, of course I can, even though I understand why many of my fellow witches are still suspicious of me because of my job outside writing a pagan-friendly blog. Journalists can be the enemies of pagans – but, as Rosie has shown, they can also be our greatest allies, especially if they do their investigations well and test the evidence of what they are being told.
The UK Satanic Abuse Scare: 25 Years On conference was organised by information charity Inform and the renowned pagan bookshop Treadwell’s. Other speakers at the event included Prof. Jean LaFontaine, author of a report that effectively ended the scare; Prudence Jones, former president of the Pagan Federation and active senior member during the scare; Phil Hine, co-founder and co-editor of Pagan News in the early 1990s; and Amanda van Eck of Inform. I will be blogging about their views on SRA over the next week or so.
You can find Rosie’s dissertation, Satanic Abuse, False Memories, Weird Beliefs and Moral Panics, at Openaccess.city.ac.uk/11871
Every so often, some ill-informed person opines that we don’t need Black History Month, or International Women’s Day, or LGBT History Month, or the BET Awards. Sure, we wouldn’t need any of them if white privilege, male privilege, and straight privilege didn’t exist. But they do exist.
People who argue that Black history has been “relegated” to Black History Month are missing the point. Prior to the creation of a special month, Black History was completely ignored, except as a footnote to white history. The month is an attempt to get a foot in the door – a door that was previously slammed in the face of Black history.
If “mainstream” history didn’t focus almost exclusively on straight white men, then we wouldn’t need days or months that focused on the people who are usually left out of the history books. But only recently, a British student launched a petition to persuade an exam board in the UK to feature female composers on the GCSE music syllabus. The petition was successful, but she shouldn’t have needed to create a petition: it should have been obvious that female composers should be included.
A great deal of art, music, and literature has been produced by women, Black people, and LGBT people, yet school, college, and university syllabuses frequently focus exclusively on art, music, and literature produced by straight white men. It is not that the artistic productions of straight white men are superior to those produced by Black people, women, and LGBT people – it is because the straight white male view of the world is deemed normal and normative, and anything that doesn’t fit within it is deemed niche or uninteresting.
It is time for the marginalised to be restored to the historical account. Black people have been denied a history, and erased from history. David Olusoga writes:
No other people see history in quite the same way because no other people have had their history so comprehensively denied and disavowed. Among the many justifications for slavery, and later for the colonisation of Africa, was the assertion that Africans were a people without a history. The German philosopher Hegel, writing in the 1830s, claimed that: “Africa … is no historical part of the world.” Other peoples have seen their cultures dismissed as backward or barbarous, but the antiquity of those cultures has rarely been so repudiated.
The erasure of African history and culture is similar to the erasure of the stories of the pagan cultures of antiquity. Only cultures that built in stone and used writing were deemed worthy of the lofty title of ‘civilisation’. Only cultures that were Christian were deemed civilised – everyone else was just barbarian hordes.
So, until the educational syllabuses are reformed root and branch, there will continue to be a vicious cycle of the straight white male view being presented as normative, and the situation will be perpetuated from generation to generation. Ideally, so-called minority history should be integrated throughout the syllabus and presented in context, but until that happens, we still need a special focus. As Andrea Stuart writes (in response to David Cameron claiming the British abolition of slavery as a triumph, despite the fact that Britain started the Transatlantic slave trade),
Black History Month can only be declared a success once it’s redundant:
So why does this ignorance persist, 25 years after Black History Month was launched in Britain? This month we’ve seen events that range from the sublime, such as the award-winning American musical The Scottsboro Boys, to the tokenistic. At my children’s school, many heart-warming pictures of Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu and Doreen Lawrence have been produced, as well as innumerable portraits of black sportsmen from Usain Bolt to Theo Walcott. At a friend’s school, the pupils have been encouraged to turn up dressed as a black pop star. Most of our children have become familiar with the travails of Mary Seacole. But these stories of individual triumph, however uplifting, don’t do nearly enough to fill the knowledge gap. We need to integrate black history across the educational curriculum, and among adults, so that people like our prime minister will also comprehend it.
It also perpetuates the lie that Black people, women, and LGBT people didn’t do anything much in history. And it promotes the idea that change happens when those in power graciously decide to give rights to the oppressed. Whereas the truth is that every single right we possess was wrested out of the hands of the powerful as a result of a protracted struggle by the oppressed. Black History tends to focus on safe and sanitised Black heroes, rather than the lives of ordinary people, or of revolutionaries like Toussaint L’Ouverture. These heroes are presented out of context, writes David Olusoga:
There’s no doubt that black British history, as celebrated during Black History Month, has helped thousands of black children understand their place within the British story. Each year it provides journalists and broadcasters with a topical hook on which to hang stories about black people and black history that might otherwise go untold. And the stories of remarkable men and women – from Britain and around the world – become counterweights against the tsunami of negative stereotypes that wash over black children growing up in this country. But the problem is that biography, especially heroic biography, can at times displace and obscure history rather than explain or deepen it. This is because the life stories of the men and women who make up the pantheon of black heroes are not wide enough, even when viewed together, to encompass the global scale and variety of black history.
The promotion of history as the story of straight white men erases and denies the oppression suffered by Black people, LGBT people, and women, and erases and denies their struggles to overcome that oppression.
That is why I support Black History Month, and especially Crystal Blanton’s Thirty Day Real Black History Challenge. It is why I support LGBT History Month and International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month.
Black History Month is in November in the UK, and in February in the USA and Canada.
LGBT History Month is in February in the UK, and in October in the USA.
All you need is love, all together now
All you need is love, everybody
All you need is love, love
Love is all you need – The Beatles – All You Need Is Love
I am immensely heartened by the legalisation of same-sex marriage across the United States of America by the Supreme Court ruling, and by popular referendum in Ireland. Even the Pitcairn Islands have legalised it, despite not having any gay couples living there. This makes the US the 23rd country to legalise it. Given the large number of people in same-sex relationships who want to get married, it seems like a very good idea, especially when it grants access to all kinds of other benefits (the ability to visit your spouse while they are dying in hospital, the ability to be named as their spouse on a death certificate, and so on). And we should celebrate our victories along the way. However, it does not mean that the struggle for equality is over.
- In the US, there are still 28 states where employers are permitted to fire people for being LGBTQIA. (In the UK, employment discrimination on the grounds of sexuality or religion was outlawed in 2003.)
- The freedom to marry may quickly become the coercion to marry, both from outside and within the community
- Trans* people, especially trans* people of colour, are at much higher risk of murder and suicide than other groups.
- Disabled LGBTQIA (and straight, presumably) people stand to lose a considerable portion of their disability benefit if they get married (because then their spouse is expected to support them).
- LGBTQ asylum seekers (in the US, the UK, and other countries) are treated badly, incarcerated with people who are homophobic and transphobic, and routinely disbelieved about their sexual orientations, and deported back to countries which will persecute them.
- Homophobia is still rife in schools, and the LGBT teen suicide rate is still much higher than that of straight teens.
- Intersex people are still routinely given surgery at birth to make their bodies “fit” the gender they have been assigned. Quite often, it is not the gender they would have chosen for themselves.
- People in polyamorous relationships still won’t enjoy legal protection.
All of the above is why I would urge you to support the LGBTQ Bill of Rights.
I really the enjoyed the fact that my Facebook feed was full of rainbow profile pictures, as loads of friends, both straight and LGBTQIA, rainbowed up their profile pictures. Because they were celebrating with the LGBTQIA community, and they didn’t care if anyone else thought they might be gay. Could you have imagined that, twenty years ago? Ten years ago?
Same sex marriage has been a stunning success in so many places because it is not particularly complicated, and it is easy to get behind it. BECAUSE LOVE. Everyone can get behind it, everyone can understand it. Two people in love – awww, right? Obviously it is a bit more complicated than that, because marriage is all tangled up with property and legal status and all that kind of stuff – and until relatively recently, marriage was a massively patriarchal thing designed to ensure that a father (who owned the property) could be sure that his biological offspring would inherit his property, because he knew his wife had not had sex with anyone else.
However, it was the concept of romantic love that changed heterosexual marriage for the better. Before the rediscovery of romantic love, and the invention of chivalry, women were mere chattels who could be exchanged as part of a contract. That is why so many of Molière‘s plays champion marrying for love against marrying for the furtherance of parental property deals.
Chivalry, and the accompanying tradition of courtly love, schooled the uncouth knights of Europe in the art of behaving like somebody who actually read books and knew one end of a lute from the other. Prior to this, they had been too busy indiscriminately raping, pillaging, and looting their way across Europe and the Middle East, all in the name of Christendom, in an activity usually referred to as the Crusades.
In fact, it may have been contact with the Muslim world that started the tradition of courtly love, according to Wikipedia:
The notions of “love for love’s sake” and “exaltation of the beloved lady” have been traced back to Arabic literature of the 9th and 10th centuries. The notion of the “ennobling power” of love was developed in the early 11th century by the Persian psychologist andphilosopher, Ibn Sina (known as “Avicenna” in Europe), in his treatise Risala fi’l-Ishq (“Treatise on Love”).
It took a good few centuries, and the subsequent introduction of the concept of companionate marriage, followed by the impact of feminism, but eventually heterosexual marriage started to be more equal. But it was the concepts of courtly and romantic love that started the process.
The other day someone commented on Facebook that same-sex marriage is important because, “for some straight people, it is the only thing that makes them realise that queer people are human too”. I would argue that the concept of love (courtly and romantic) achieved the same thing for women.
Contrasted with the slow progress of equality in heterosexual marriage, the rise of same-sex marriage has been meteoric, and that in itself is quite an achievement – in England and Wales, homosexual activity between consenting adults over the age of 21 was legalised in 1967. It was not legal in Scotland until 1981, and in Northern Ireland, not until 1982. I was gobsmacked recently by an article by Colm Tóibin, in which he commented that some otherwise liberal people were unaware that same-sex relationships involve love:
I met a prominent Irish feminist, someone had been at the forefront of the women’s movement, and she too expressed surprise at the intensity of the relationship between the two men in the book. “They sound like straight people,” she said. I told her that that was because they were like straight people, that they wanted intimacy and love, they wanted each other, they wanted ease in their domestic and family lives. They also wanted their relationship to be publicly recognised. They wanted to move out of the shadows and into the light.
I am unsure of how anyone could be unaware of this, as it seems kind of obvious to me – but then I recall how, when I published a piece celebrating the legalisation of same-sex marriage in the UK in a magazine of which I was the editor, someone commented that “you already had one article about sex in that issue, did you really need another one?” I was appalled by the assumption that same-sex marriage is only about sex, and not about love and equal rights.
Progress is incremental
So, you think same-sex marriage is not enough? That we need polyamorous marriage, marriage that is not entangled with property rights, and an understanding that not everyone wants to get married? Well, yes, but let’s celebrate this milestone on the road to equality, because it’s all about love, and that is worth celebrating. Recently, it was the anniversary of Loving vs Virginia (1967), the Supreme Court case in which laws against people of different colours marrying were struck down. Someday, the idea that two people of the same sex were not allowed to marry will seem as bizarre as the idea that two people of different colours couldn’t marry. It was particularly apt that the couple bringing the case were called Mr and Mrs Loving.
Today we celebrate, tomorrow the struggle goes on.