Speak of the Devil

If Carl Raschke is right, America is going straight to Hell. And Raschke's right. Just ask him. He has no doubt that the creeping terror of Satanism is a threat to this country, and he's equally certain that critics of his research are wrong. Dead wrong. As proof, Raschke offers his latest book, Painted Black, in which he writes about a ghoulish potpourri of alleged occult rituals, alleged occult beheadings, and alleged occult dismemberments that could be happening right now in your town, in your neighborhood, maybe in your own house. Sneer at his theories if you wish, but if you're not vigilant, you could wind up naked on an altar, with an upside-down pentagram carved into your chest.

On the surface, Raschke's warnings might sound comparable to the rantings of rabid Christian fundamentalists, but they're actually worlds apart. Just ask him. He's not operating from a religious bias, says Raschke, a tenured professor of religious studies at the University of Denver, and he's uninterested in proving that an actual devil lives in the dark soul of every man, just waiting for the perfect moment to make us attack our mothers with paring knives. He's a respected academic with a lengthy background in such high-toned subjects as philosophy of religions and deconstructionism, and he feels he has written his book using the strictest standards of scholarly research. His publisher, Harper and Row, is not exactly a vanity press catering to the paranoid, and his reviews have been largely positive. Raschke's even been on Good Morning, America, and they don't let just anyone on there, do they?

That's not to say Painted Black hasn't stirred up some controversy. Raschke's bare-knuckled approach to his subject matter has more than a few people uttering fighting words. Deena Weinstein and Joseph Katarba, sociologists at DePaul University and the University of Houston, respectively, don't appreciate Raschke characterizing them as pointy-headed defenders of the brand of satanic heavy metal said to drive our youth into bloodthirsty savagery; and FBI agent Kenneth Lanning, author of a law enforcement study of ritual and satanic crime, is hardly thrilled at being called one of the "best friends" Satanist criminals have in the federal government.

Meanwhile, Raschke is taking swings at the New York Press, a free weekly newspaper that featured an article about Painted Black in its September 19 issue. Raschke says John Strausbaugh's piece was biased and unfair, and he is threatening legal action regarding statements attributed to Joel Norris, author of Serial Killers: The Growing Menace. In Strausbaugh's article, Norris implies that he co-authored Painted Black with Raschke, who then screwed him out of both the credit and the money. Raschke calls the accusations false, ridiculous, and defamatory, drops comments about Norris's "odd lifestyle," and refers disparagingly to "that New York rag."

Doubters have aimed similar comments at Painted Black, which hardly reads like an academic treatise. The dedication page sports a quote from Revelation ("And I saw a beast rising out of the sea..."), and the book's four sections are given titles that would look great on a double bill with The Evil Dead: "The Siege," "The Geneology of Darkness," "Mise En Scene," and "Apocalypse Now." Lurid but precise recountings of the 1989 Matamoros murders in Mexico and a 1987 killing in Joplin, Missouri, fill entire chapters, and capsule descriptions about other supposedly occult activities, culled from midsize newspapers from coast to coast, are sprinkled throughout. Satanic celebrities such as ®MDNM¯Michael Aquino, a military officer who headed an organization called the Temple of Set, and Anton LaVey, underworld entrepreneur and author of The Satanic Bible, also have their histories run through the Raschke wringer. (The latter account is chock-a-block with details about LaVey's obsession with Marilyn Monroe and his fear that an accident involving a photo of Jayne Mansfield resulted in her decapitation.)

Other Raschke targets include Dungeons and Dragons, Aleister Crowley, Andres Serrano, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Manuel Noriega, who reportedly wore red underwear to ward off evil spirits. The professor links godlessness with the burgeoning Masonic orders of the 1700s, and notes ominously that several signers of the Declaration of Independence were secret members. He cites Trevor Ravenscroft's suggestion that in his youth Adolf Hitler was initiated into black Tantrism, or sexual magic, by occultist Dietrich Eckhart. (World War II really was hell.) He even implies that the death of the mentally ill woman who triggered the investigation at California's McMartin Preschool may not have been entirely accidental.

Just as troubling to Raschke is the spectre of heavy metal music. He writes that "heavy metal rock videos and heavy metal magazines are often nothing more than crude but ruthless commercials for what in Nazi speech was called `the triumph of the will.'" And that's only the beginning. Raschke contends that "heavy metal music is to heavy drug use as lotteries are to compulsive gamblers." He states that "the chemically dependent adolescent adopts a lifestyle of swagger, brutality, theft and sexual excess - all of which is reinforced by the yowling and bellowing of metal groups." He cautions that "the inflammatory message of heavy metal is `religious' - in the sense that it proclaims a higher power overseeing the universe. The power, however, is not God or even fate. It is violence."

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