Book Review - Painted Black

This article is an electronic version of an article originally published in Cultic Studies Journal, 1990, Volume 7, Number  2, pages 220-226. Please keep in mind that the pagination of this electronic reprint differs from that of the bound volume. This fact could affect how you enter bibliographic information in papers that you may write.

Book Review - Painted Black. 

Carl A. Raschke, Ph.D. Harper & Row, San Francisco, 1990, 240 pages.

Destructive cultism thrives on the public's lack of detailed knowledge about clandestine subcultures within our society. This is particularly true in regard to occultism in general, despite the fact that well-known cults such as Scientology, Church Universal and Triumphant, and numerous New Age groups are rooted in Western occult traditions. But nowhere is it more evident than in the controversy over Satanism. With his book, Painted Black, Dr. Carl Raschke, Professor of Religious Studies and Director of the Institute for the Humanities at the University of Denver, makes a unique and valuable contribution toward the understanding of this bizarre and frightening problem.

Raschke's book is not merely a survey of recent outbreaks of Satanism, but a comprehensive treatment of the phenomenon. He does not limit himself to criticizing the practices of Satanism while granting an unearned respect to the belief system that inspires them. He goes to the heart of the matter: Satanism is not a "new religion" but "a sophisticated and highly effective motivational system for the spread of violence and cultural terrorism, all the while hiding behind the cloak of the First Amendment." While Raschke deals effectively with most of the relatively familiar aspects of contemporary Satanism, such as teen dabbling, ritualized sexual abuse of children, role-playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons, and heavy metal music, his book shines in its discussion of issues that others rarely examine.

Raschke begins by examining what is possibly the most sensational example of malevolent occultism since the Manson murders: the 1989 torture-sacrifice of 15 individuals, including Texas medical student Mark Kilroy, by Adolfo constanzo and his drug gang at Matamoros, Mexico. Extensive media coverage of this incident has raised public consciousness about "satanic" crime. Skeptics protest that Constanzo was not a true satanist because he mixed santeria, palo mayombe, brujeria and Aztec rites. Raschke shows, however, that "true Satanism" is an eclectic concoction, not a coherent tradition. Nor was Constanzo a shadowy denizen of some obscure subculture. He had been a "psychic to the stars" in Mexico City and influenced celebrities and politicians. Within the drug trade his brand of black magic brutalized and intimidated opponents. Raschke explains that Constanzo and his gang believed in a supernatural aura surrounding acts of violence, and that one must kill, torture, and maim to harness that demonic power.

Another case of drugs-and-Satanism inspired murder occurred in 1987 near Joplin, Missouri, where a cult of four high-school teens sacrificed one of its own members, Steven Newberry. Pete Roland, one of the killers, is described by Raschke as a typical teen satanist "wannabe," obsessed with drugs and heavy metal music. He saw visions, and believed Satan was real. Roland was convicted of murder and is serving a life term in prison. Raschke points out that despite the difficulties of trying "satanic" cases, there have been numerous other convictions, including Clifford St. Joseph, Scott Waterhouse, Richard Ramirez, and Sean Sellers. A point he makes repeatedly and effectively is that the reporters and investigators of satanic crimes are, by and large, professionals -- social workers, therapists, lawyers, police and district attorneys -- not religious fanatics. Yet scoffers continually attack the credibility of these investigators.

Raschke links the drug culture closely to the rise of Satanism. While investigating satanist activity in Missouri in connection with the Roland case, he learned from an informant that there is extensive drug traffic linked to a cult in the Joplin area. The informant agrees with Raschke that there is no worldwide satanic conspiracy per se, but that Satanism is the preferred belief system of the drug cartels. Ironically, the real broad-based "satanic network" probably has nothing to do with religion, but may instead be the international drug network itself, for which Satanism functions as a sort of motivational training program and ideology.

Since scoffers like to dismiss concern about Satanism as "witch hunts," one of the most valuable features of Painted Black is Raschke's discussion of the historical background of this issue. In his chapter on the "occult underworld," he traces Satanism from medieval times, shedding light on some misunderstood aspects. The popular image of Satanists as hooded cultists who worship the Devil, reverse good and evil, and pervert Christian ritual during orgiastic "Black Masses" is applicable in some cases, but is much too simplistic to portray accurately the entire phenomenon. Much of satanist ideology has its roots in Manicheanism, an ancient dualistic religion based on belief in a perpetual struggle between the God of Light and the God of Darkness. This struggle is resolved only through initiation into the "higher knowledge" that both "dark" (evil) and "light" (good) are necessary for salvation. Raschke maintains that the satanic Black Mass had its origins in a rite through which one form of this heresy, Catharism, expressed its teaching that "the horrible and the glorious, the shadowy and the resplendent, must be exhibited together as the supreme revelation of `secret knowledge.'" This ecstatic union of opposites is intended to connect the celebrants with the "divine."

Raschke traces the cultural impact of "traditional" Satanism -- which he defines as an ideology of destruction and decadence -- from the radicals of eighteenth century France down to Anton LaVey and the punks and skinheads of today. Of particular value is his discussion of "conspiracy theories" about organizations such as the Knights Templar and the Freemasons. He recognizes that it is not "hidden conspiracies" that are the problem, but hidden ideas, i.e., peripheral but influential philosophical movements that remain virtually unknown to society in general. An example is "illuminism," a secular, radical eighteenth century sociopolitical movement which advocated violence, egalitarianism, and the supremacy of "instincts." Its founder, Adam Weishaupt, ran his notorious Illuminati lodge as a secret occult hierarchy until the Bavarian government disbanded it in 1785 for preaching sedition. Whether the Illuminati continued to function as an underground entity is problematical, but its ideas were diffused throughout Europe by the lodge's former members, who numbered as many as 2,500. These ideas have been incorporated into a number of occult groups operating today.

The public tends to associate Satanism not with philosophy, but with witchcraft trials, horror movies, and the antics of exhibitionist practitioners like Anton LaVey, founder of the Church of Satan. But LaVey's advocacy of the indulgence of all "natural desires" and his use of psychodrama and "symbolic" murder are not new. Satanism incorporates a fascination with brutal crime -- which the Marquis DeSade called obedience to "nature" -- and contempt for the laws of man and God. Important elements of modern Satanism have also been contributed by respectable intellectuals and artists such as Beaudelaire, Wilde, Rousseau, and Nietzsche, who were not themselves satanists. Many nineteenth century romantics, radicals, and occultists embraced and embellished the illuminist message, as did post-World-War-I intellectuals disillusioned with Western civilization.

If it contained nothing else, Painted Black would be worth reading for its chapter on "the aesthetics of terror" -- Satanism as a cultural revolt and self-conscious art form. To the best of my knowledge, this is the only detailed treatment of this subject in print. Raschke sees an affinity between occultism, anarchism, and "aesthetic terrorism," which he defines as "the notion derived from avant-garde artistic work, and applied to the occult, that power over things ultimately requires social revolution, which in turn demands a subversion of symbols." In the satanist world view, this means the reconciliation of opposites -- "beyond good and evil" as Nietzsche says. "Aesthetic terrorism" connects with this power by predicting the direction of shifting values within modern society. "The rudimentary problem in analyzing `Satan's underground,'" Raschke observes, "has always been making plausible connections among activities and misdeeds of particular groups. . .that might somehow lay bare a deeper layer of organization than the conventional wisdom would posit." But where most "conspiracy" debate focuses on bureaucratic, lockstep arrangements, Raschke shows how these individuals and groups are connected on the conceptual level as an ideological movement, through spontaneous action and communication.

Raschke also discusses in detail the major outcroppings of twentieth century Satanism: Aleister Crowley's dream of mastery of the world through drugs and Will; the Process Church, whose brand of contemporary Catharism influenced Charles Manson; and Anton LaVey, founder of the Church of Satan and author of The Satanic Bible. LaVey is usually dismissed as a buffoon and Barnumesque huckster, but, as reported in a 1975 interview in Argosy, he sincerely believes that he and and elite cadre of satanists will someday control the world. "LaVey is disgusted with the West because it clings to a vision of morality but is `hypocritical,' and because it favors science and technology over occultism," writes Raschke. LaVey's pet hate is the average American. Indeed, he fumes that most people are insignificant and might as well "never have lived at all." But he seems almost benevolent next to the Church of Satan's heirs: the Abraxas Foundation and the Werewolf Order. Styling themselves as the "forces of darkness," these groups, with their neo-Nazi overtones, arrogantly declare their intention to "rid this earth once and for all of the subhuman parasites that have too long hindered the spiritual evolution of the chosen."

For an ex-member, the litmus test of an author's grasp of a cult-related issue is perhaps how well he understands one's own cult. As a former member of Michael Aquino's Temple of Set, I found Raschke's chapter on this group to be hard-hitting and insightful. Aquino frequently elicits a reaction of bewildered respect from interviewers and commentators who do not understand the implications of his intellectualized brand of Satanism. He tends to "fall through the cracks" because, while the sophistication of his ideology requires refutation at an intellectual level, he is so bizarre that most academics won't bother with him. Fortunately, Dr. Raschke does. He notes that where crude forms of Satanism simply reverse Judaeo-Christian morality, calling whatever is good, evil, and vice versa, sophisticated forms like Aquino's replace objective standards of good and evil with the subjective "will." Ethics in this context are strictly relative -- what's "good" to you may be "evil" to me and vice versa. Consequently, Aquino's claim that Satanists work for "good" must be taken with an entire shaker of salt and the recognition that, at least in theory, a person who believes himself to be "beyond good and evil" is capable of almost anything.

Raschke casts a very jaundiced eye at the apologists for Satanism (and cults in general), likening them to "comfortably kept guard dogs trained to spring to their haunches and bark at the approach of truth." The average American intellectual, he notes, "has a difficult time accepting that there are people who could willfully do evil for the sake of doing evil." Regarding Satanism, the apologists' usual arguments are: (1) it is an established religion, (2) there is no satanic crime, (3) it is just hysteria and conspiracy theorizing by fundamentalist Christians attacking poor, misunderstood minority religionists. This is neither serious reporting nor scholarship, Raschke counters, but an appeal to "intellectual libertinism." Furthermore, as we in the cult-education arena are all too well aware, sociologists who associate with cults frequently "go native." Many are low-level academicians whom the cults shower with attention -- and occasionally with more material rewards -- that can make them feel important. They are inclined to label opposition to …any• minority religious teaching or practice as bigotry. However, Raschke notes, if the issue is religious persecution, why were there no police seminars or arrests when the Church of Satan first set up shop in 1966?

In several chapters Raschke deals with the links between Satanism, heavy metal music, fantasy-role-playing games, drugs, and destructive behavior. In aesthetic terrorism, aggression becomes "expression," and in pop culture today that translates to heavy metal. Raschke observes that while academics continue to deny that this music adversely affects teens, the health professionals who deal with the clinical effects of heavy metal on troubled youths have a less benign view of the issue. The American Academy of Pediatrics warns that long-term exposure to the "morbidity" of heavy metal, combined with other "psycho-social factors," can warp a child's world view. Heavy metal is "poison" for disturbed adolescents who can't control their urges to violence and promiscuity; add drugs and the combination can be lethal. Heavy metal's lyrics flaunt hate, power, rape, and a glorification of violence with religious overtones, a mix that fits right into the teen druggie's life of "swagger, brutality, theft, and sex." Raschke charges that its purveyors are engaging in thought reform by stripping their targets' belief systems and substituting their own.

Raschke views games like Dungeons and Dragons as dangerous because they are not healthy fantasy but psychodramas set in a world of chaos, craftiness, and black magic in which initiative is equated with aggression and crime. The games have the potential to create mini-satanists by teaching them the world is a "dungeon" where fame, power, and treasure can be achieved through black magic. Their popularity has grown out of a cultural hunger for occult fantasy which attracts bored, intelligent kids, yet players are encouraged to value cunning and magic over intellect. Morality is ambiguous; thieves are called adventurers," good and evil are "whatever works." Obsessions with the power fantasies these games model can lead to paranoia, aggression, rage, despair, and suicide -- and to criminal activities if players forget that it is "just a game." (At the time this review was being written, the Boston Globe reported that police in Jacksonville, Florida had linked a cache of stolen military weapons with "enough firepower to blow up a city block" to a racist group, called the Knights of the New Order, that used code names taken from Tolkein's Lord of the Rings. Ironically, a defense attorney protested that the whole thing was "an innocent game like Dungeons and Dragons." Unfortunately, this is only the latest of scores of violent incidents linked to role-playing games.)

Painted Black is not a concise handbook or a "quick read," but an in-depth examination of its subject. It is densely packed with information and presented in a style that is somewhat convoluted at times. But this in no way overshadows the book's immense value. The investigation of Satanism has too long suffered from the twin evils of ignorance and disinformation, and a danger that is not perceived correctly cannot be fought effectively. Painted Black is a devastating expose of the true nature of Satanism's genealogy and ambitions, and of the insidious danger of malevolent occultism within an unsuspecting society.

Linda O. Blood

Boston, Massachusetts

Cultic Studies Journal, Vol. 7, No. 2, 1990