A Mass of Contradictions

time-person-of-the-year-cover-pope-francisDuring his short primacy, the new pope, Francis has been enjoying something of a honeymoon with the world’s press. Even liberal commentators, largely previously hostile to the Vatican, have been lavishing praise on this new, Argentinian Bishop of Rome. In particular, his condemnation of predatory capitalism has played well with many previously sceptical observers, spiritual and secular alike. (Though a few US right-wingers have been dismissing the pontiff as a Marxist.) This Satanic cynic remains resolutely sceptical, however. Has it really taken the Vatican over 1500 years to reach that part of the Bible about camels and eyes of needles?…

In fairness, economics is hardly my strong suit, and I’d be willing to let this ride and see what Francis does next. But now he’s trespassed on my home territory, and I’m not happy about it…

Our story begins as, doubtless buoyed by his current widespread popularity, Pope Francis has decided to grasp the nastiest nettle currently facing the Catholic Church. I refer of course to its current status as the international HQ for institutionalised paedophilia. Not before time. Last February, the UN, no less, condemned the Vatican for sheltering paedophile clergymen. Yet, it’s difficult to disagree with anyone who’s proposing to take a tough line on child abuse, even if he heads an organisation with such a heinous record in that department, and the Pontiff has promised a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to the problem. “Sexual abuse is such an ugly crime… because a priest who does this betrays the body of the Lord,” he explained. “It is like a Satanic Mass…”

Whoa – hold on just a minute there Frank!

lavey massSexual abuse is an ugly crime for many reasons. Betraying the body of the Lord – whatever the fuck that means in modern English – is not one of them. And, priests raping children is ‘like a Satanic Mass’? This is bullshit, pure and simple, and it’s pretty toxic bullshit to boot. I know a fair bit about Satanic Masses in their various manifestations one way and another. While there isn’t the space to go into any detail here, suffice it to say, that in none of the variety of popular variants to be found in history, modern occultism or pop culture, does child abuse figure. Sexuality – for sure – but adult sexuality, celebrating the ‘wickedness’ of eroticism devoid of Christian guilt, reveling in sex for pleasure rather than procreation while parodying the tyranny of superstition.

The whole ritualised paedophilia scenario is your bag, Pop Francis, and you can’t just offload it onto imaginary Satanic cults or demonic forces at a whim. It won’t wash.

Check out the eroticised infants to be found in Catholic iconography – from the endless succession of naked young messiahs in religious art, to the flocks of nude cherubs nesting in church buildings – combine it with strange ideas about celibacy and carnal sin, and you clearly have the basic recipe for the endemic child abuse found in your faith. The Satanic Ritual Abuse myth concocted by Christians in the 1970s and 80s is surely one of the clearest examples of projection to be found in modern social history. Satanism has nothing to do with it, and the more you try to scapegoat an imaginary other for the iniquities of your own organisation, the clearer it becomes that you have no real interest in confronting the cancer at Catholicism’s core.

rops anthonyThe Pope has announced that he plans to meet victims of Catholic sexual abuse for a Mass at the Vatican next month. That sounds, erm, sort of crazy. A little like if the BBC suggested that the victims of the crimes being investigated by Operation Yew Tree convene to attend a relaunch of Top of the Pops. The things is, Your Holiness, that anyone raped by a priest is likely to harbour doubts about your organisation’s claims to represent divine virtue on earth. Particularly when said organisation compounded said crimes by responding to accusations by reflexively attempting to silence the victim and cradle the perpetrator.

Let’s get this one thing straight. Your job description – your sole raison d’être – is as direct human conduits for ultimate goodness. You need to be explaining how this fits with raping children. Yes, there are other paedophiles, but none of them draw a wage from an outfit whose only reason for existence is that they’re impossibly good people.

pope-francis-kisses babyPope Francis promises that his investigation will be thorough, and commentators are wondering whether it will extend beyond those clergy guilty of sex crimes to the bishops who helped cover them up. But why stop there? What about the cardinals who appointed such corrupt primates, aware one assumes, of their moral shortcomings? What, indeed, about the Vatican itself behind these cardinals? Just where does our root-and-branch reform end? How about the God that they insist is directly behind the elevation of the pontiffs who have presided over the suffering of so many young innocents?

Might Jehovah Himself have questions to answer? All those centuries back, did He ever ask the consent of Mary? How old was she when she was impregnated – sources suggest perhaps twelve or thirteen! Was Christ born of a divine sexual assault?
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Asking awkward questions like that is what Satanism’s about, Francis, not the kind of squalid horrors hidden in the Vatican…

Banger Present Extreme Metal ‘Lost’ Episode to Fans Free

I first became involved with Canadian anthropologist and metal fiend Sam Dunn when he interviewed me for the acclaimed landmark 2005 documentary Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey. Its success led to an eleven-part series by the same production company, Banger Films, entitled Metal Evolution, which finally aired 2011, and I was lucky enough to feature in a couple of episodes of this project, which dissected metal into subgenres. Despite being the best-informed, most comprehensive treatment of heavy metal ever attempted, the series still felt a little like an unfinished project.
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It was. The networks that funded the ambitious series weren’t interested in the final, twelfth episode, focusing on the extreme metal that represents the genre’s creative cutting-edge, feeling it was too potentially controversial. Yet Sam and Metal Evolution’s growing legion of fans felt this was a glaring omission, and set up a crowdsourcing campaign to fund what was now known as the ‘lost’ extreme episode. That campaign’s finally borne fruit, and the episode is now available – for further info and to check it out, click on this page here, where the show is available ABSOLUTELY FREE, as a thank you to the metal fans of the world.

I’m proud to say that I feature in this excellent production too, but don’t let that put you off as I’m in some highly distinguished company. In just under an hour, Sam crams in a comprehensive history of one of music’s most diverse and divisive realms with just enough personal perspective. It’ll undoubtedly trigger controversy and debate – as it should – this is the most turbulent and obsessive extreme of a passionate movement. Taken together with previous parts of Metal Evolution, most notably the thrash episode, the Lost episode presents the definitive look at music’s most disreputable subgenres.

Stupid Shit Singers Say…

I’ve been to my share of rock gigs over the years – enough to consider myself something of a grizzled old veteran – more than enough to get seriously sick of some of the clichéd old crap that too many vocalists bark, mutter and prattle into the microphone to fill the empty spots between songs. Sure, a talented frontman can make a concert with his magnetic charisma and witty repartee. But not every decent vocalist is an accomplished raconteur, and for every natural star whose gilded words transform a gig into a transcendent experience, there are numerous windy gobshites who really should just get on with it…

So, as something of a vainglorious gobshite myself, I’ll treat the world to a brief rundown of the most irritatingly predictable and inanely pointless banter that echoes with depressing regularity through the music venues of the world…
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Hello Worksop/Warsaw/Washington/Wherever we happen to be playing…

As a generous sort, I’ll let them have this one. It does at least prove that they’ve made the effort to find out where they are that evening, and that they’ve got the basic cognitive function and motor skills to recall and repeat the information, which bodes well for finishing the gig before sinking into an intoxicated heap. It can also be useful for the more inebriated members of the audience, who can occasionally use a few pointers as to where in Hell they are now.

I want you all to put your hands in the air…

Why? Seriously, what the fuck for? I have a horrible suspicion that it’s a preamble to trying to get the audience to clap along and ruin some fucking song I used to quite like. Clapping’s for the end of the song, recognition that at least you’ve made it to the finish of another number. Clapping halfway through betrays a lack of confidence. Plus, it makes everyone look sort of desperate and retarded.
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I want to see if everyone on the left side of the audience can sing louder than everyone on the right side of the audience…

Again, why? Is this some sort of OCD thing? Are you so bored you made a bet on the matter with your drummer? Whatever the reason, you can satisfy your curiosity on your own fucking time. I paid to hear you sing, not the teeming mass of unwashed drunks in the audience, let alone be guilt-tripped into singing myself. I sing, I want a slice of the door take.
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Are you having a good time?…

It’s sweet of you to ask… Actually, no. No it’s not. File this one under futile. Call me a cynic, but when I try to respond I don’t think you’re really listening. As it happens, I ate from the fast food van outside the venue, so my guts are churning like a burlesque dancer’s titty tassels. But you don’t seem to care. Don’t stop the gig to fetch me a bottle of Gaviscon. Callous bastard with your empty sentiment.
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Everybody drink!…

I’ve never understood the idea that people need advice on how to get drunk. They don’t have instructions on booze bottles directing the purchaser on how to achieve inebriation, and there are reasons for that. So why do so many singers feel the compulsion to continually urge the crowd to keep drinking as if otherwise they might forget? How about reminding folk to eat healthily or exercise regularly? Teach everyone some basic conversational Spanish or some shit maybe? You might even get some kind of EU grant.

Goodnight Wakefield/Wichita/Wellington/Wherever we were just playing…

This is fine if you mean it. If, however, you plan on returning after five minutes backstage, waiting expectantly for the boozy mob to chant your band name, then fuck off. That moment when the magic of a pitch perfect gig means everyone wills the musicians to return for just one more song is the stuff of legends. The inevitable, rehearsed obligatory encore, where the band troop out for a second bite of the cherry, is a waste of everybody’s time. Why not do everyone a favour, and sod off prompt and pronto leaving everyone wanting more?

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Raising Hell in Bath

Félicien_Rops_-_Le_bibliothécaireThe good people of the Omphalos Group in Bath have invited me to give a talk at their monthly meeting this coming Sunday (March 9th). I shall be holding forth on my specialist subject, the Devil, focusing in particular on how Old Scratch has adapted and evolved to serve our collective needs, dreads and desires over the years. While I can’t guarantee anything quite as exciting or scandalous as the manifestation being enjoyed by the lucky librarian in the delicious illustration by the eminent Monsieur Rops above, I will be unveiling some of the original research behind my imminent new book, while suggesting that the modern witch needs the Devil more than ever!…

For further details, click here.

Summer is a Coming In (in a Manner of Speaking…)

the-wicker-man-poster

black swanAny fans of horror cinema who find themselves in the ancient city of York this coming weekend, may be interested to learn that there is to be a screening of the classic cult chiller The Wicker Man at the historic Black Swan inn. Screening at 8pm on Saturday 22nd of February as part of the BFI’s Gothic season, I’ll be delivering a short introduction to the film, opening this rare opportunity to see one of the greatest British films ever made in a peerlessly atmospheric environment washed down by some fine local ale.

Cupid’s Dart (Seriously Off Course in the Seventies…)

Okay, I know this is a little late for Valentine’s Day, but I got a bit distracted one way and another. It’s also another post to file under ‘Hell – it’s my blog – I write what I want’ I’m afraid. It’s mad rubbish – so sue me. So, on with our story…

The book I’m currently working on involves a lot of transcription. It also involves going through a lot of the 70s pulp occult paperbacks I collect (at least part of the justification for this post is an excuse to post the wonderful cover below). Anyhow, while trawling a junk shop a few years back I found The Magicians, one of the apparently limitless number of similar volumes edited by the indefatigable Peter Haining.
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It was only when I got it home that I noticed that the original owner had written on the inside cover of the book. Usually people who write anything in books inspire me to venomous rage, but on this occasion, the poignant – and evidently pissed – nature of the outpourings detailed therein appealed somehow. I thought they were kind of appropriate for Valentine’s, so decided, somewhat randomly, to share.

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As the pencil writing’s rather faded over the past forty-plus years, here’s a transcription…

I wrote this when sitting outside of the Crown waiting for Aileen to finish being a barmaid, I believe it’s hopeless but I will have drank at least four pints by 10.30, and I want her cause I guess I am in love, 3rd July 72. What a shit I am.

And, on the inside back cover our saga continues, though now the writing’s slightly wobblier…

Oh dear this is a dead loss she just [illegible] (10.45) its stupid me waiting around and think there is a bus in a minute. But I can’t go and I don’t know why. I’m [illegible] while listening to the glasses rattle, and a man collects the glasses and I fear she may have a lift home and leave me – but I don’t care – I have to stay and I can’t go _ God why do I hope for what I know is logically impossible. Why I don’t know. But it’s so and I can’t get rid of the idea of her, it’s obviously desperate and I know the man the more incidents happen that it’s more and more [illegible] but I just can’t help it. Please help me –

And there, our story ends. Whatever happened to our hero – he must now be of pensionable age – or indeed the lovely Aileen? Was his love forever in vain? Did his interest in occult paperbacks and habit of writing in them with a pencil up the pub put her off? Will I do anything to avoid doing actual work? Answers scribbled on the inside of a ratty old horror book and then donated to a junk shop please…

Holy Homophobia! or Why David Silvester was (Sorta) Right About Gay Marriage…

A young Christmas shopper gazes at a flooded city centre in YorkLike many of my compatriots, I enjoyed the recent news story concerning an English councillor named David Silvester, and his somewhat strident views on recent meteorological activity, and the resultant flooding that plagued much of England late last year. For the benefit of those unfamiliar with this savoury slice of local Brit politics, the essence and background to the story are as follows… (Apologies, incidentally, to those already familiar with the episode – feel free to skip the next few paragraphs – but some of the details are just too toothsome to resist repetition.)

David Silvester, the hero of our story, used to be a member of the Conservative Party, until he defected to Ukip in 2013 outraged by a decision by Britain’s Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron to propose a law legalising gay marriage. Ukip are newcomers to the Brit political scene, founded as a single-issue party dedicated to opposing Britain’s membership of the European Union. However recent successes encouraged them to consider trying to challenge the Conservatives as the UK’s foremost centre-right party.
David Silvester

The Conservative leader David Cameron memorably dismissed Ukip as mostly composed of ‘fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists’. An opinion a communication he received from a former fellow Conservative, David Silvester, might have appeared to support. According to David Silvester himself, prior to his defection to Ukip, he warned the Prime Minister that legalising gay marriage would lead to ‘disasters’. But all to no avail. Hence, observed Silvester, the British PM having sown the wind with his impious bill, come the winter of 2013 the whole UK was reaping the whirlwind.

‘Since the passage of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act, the nation has been beset by serious storms and floods’, the councillor explained in a letter to his local paper, the Henley Standard. ‘One recent one caused the worst flooding for 60 years. The Christmas floods were the worst in 127 years. Is this just “global warming” or is there something more serious at work? The scriptures make it abundantly clear that a Christian nation that abandons its faith and acts contrary to the Gospel (and in naked breach of a coronation oath) will be beset by natural disasters such as storms, disease, pestilence and war.’

The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah The Golden Haggadah, c. 1320

In the face of his dire warnings of the consequences of passing such unholy legislation, continued our pious councillor, the Prime Minister ‘went ahead despite a 600,000-signature petition by concerned Christians and more than half of his own parliamentary party saying that he should not do so. Now, even as Cameron sheds crocodile tears on behalf of destitute flooded homeowners, playing at advocate against the very local councils he has made cash-strapped, it is his fault that large swathes of the nation have been afflicted by storms and floods.

‘He has arrogantly acted against the Gospel that once made Britain “great” and the lesson surely to be learned is that no man or men, however powerful, can mess with Almighty God with impunity and get away with it for everything a nation does is weighed on the scales of divine approval or disapproval’, our Mr Silvester concluded with appropriate Biblical solemnity. Only that wasn’t an end to it. Far from it. The Ukip councillor’s letter to his local paper quickly went national, as the party’s many opponents swooped upon it, Conservatives and leftwingers alike seizing upon the eccentric declaration with glee as evidence that Ukip was a nest of nasty extremists.
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Silvester was warned by his Ukip bosses to keep his head low, but he wouldn’t be silenced. After conducting a radio interview in which he described homosexuality as a ‘spiritual disease’ that could be cured, Silvester was summarily drummed out of the party. For many commentators outside of Ukip central office, the episode was one to be smugly savoured even celebrated. Silvester’s views were so absurdly medieval that it offered a golden opportunity to preach piously against the evils of homophobia, all and sundry feeling safe that they’d look broadminded, modern and compassionate by comparison. I would, however, add a caveat here. For Mr Silvester is to be commended on one thing – unlike the vast majority of his colleagues in politics – at least he stands up for what he believes in. And what he believes in happens to be the Bible.

While suggesting that tolerance towards homosexuality can lead to violent divine retribution may sound a bit crazy – Hell it almost certainly is – it’s exactly the kind of thing you’ll find in the Bible. The fate of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah in the Book of Genesis is well known. While some a few theologians have quibbled over exactly what sins these cities tolerated among their denizens which provoked the wrath of God, tradition makes it pretty clear. While ‘sodomy laws’ (a term derived of course from Sodom) can theoretically cover a range of ‘unnatural acts’, in practice such legislation is almost exclusively targeted at homosexuals, known in vulgar parlance as ‘sodomites’. Compared to Sodom and Gomorrah, obliterated in a rain of sulphur, you might argue that the UK got off lightly with a few soggy Xmas presents and some overwatered Christmas trees.
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Because, make no mistake, punishing people with lethal natural (and unnatural) disasters is very much Jehovah’s M.O. in the Bible. The sacred text is stuffed to capacity with examples of God cutting loose on his creation to devastating effect. Author Steve Wells has even attempted to calculate his death total, publishing the results of his research in the book Drunk with Blood. Jehovah accounts for some 25 million (substantially more than his rival Satan, whose batting average is a miserable ten – just ten, not ten million – and most of those with God as his accomplice). Most famously, of course, God drowned the whole world, save Noah and his family, underlining His readiness to use torrential rain to make his displeasure plain.
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Even if we accept the theological hair-splitters who say that the punishment meted out to Sodom and Gomorrah was a consequence, not of holy homophobia but divine wrath aimed at rape or maybe bad hospitality, there can be little denying the anti-gay agenda in the Bible. Leviticus doesn’t mince words in describing it as ‘an abomination’, and those responsible ‘shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them’. In other words, to return to our beleaguered Ukip councillor for a second, making his odd meteorological observations he’s simply following good Christian logic: God opposes homosexuality, and expressed his disapproval with natural disasters. David Silvester might be talking bigoted garbage, but it’s good Christian bigoted garbage.

The next line of defence in this argument that Christianity isn’t inherently homophobic, savage and somewhat insane, is to insist that we should focus on the New Testament, and that Jesus never expressed any antipathy to homosexuals. Only that won’t wash either. For one thing, to discount the Old Testament is to render JC meaningless – if he’s not the Son of God, then he’s just an obscure 1st Century rabbi of dubious mental stability. And who might dad be? It’s clearly Jehovah of the Old Testament – Jesus even makes admiring references to his old man’s obliteration of Sodom and Gomorrah in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. Why would Christ feel the need to make his feelings on homosexuality known when they are already so plainly laid out in established Judaic law? (‘Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil’: Matthew.) Back to the issue we began with – gay marriage – while JC had nothing to say on homosexuality, he had plenty to say on the subject of marriage…
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‘They which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage,’ explained Christ according to the Gospel of Luke. In other words, gay or not, you’re not getting into Heaven if you’ve got a ring on your finger. Seem a little extreme? How about family values Jesus style? ‘If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.’ (Luke) Or, if you want to make doubly sure of your place in Heaven, why not cut your balls off? ‘There are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother’s womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.’ (Matthew)

So, when we get down to it, the main problem with what David Silvester said was that it was a bit on the wishy washy side. If anything, he was being a bit of a piker by suggesting that God might respond to news of a proposal to sanctify gay marriage with a mere spate of localised flooding. It goes without saying that I don’t respect or agree with David Silvester or his views on homosexuality. But before you’re too quick to dismiss him and have a good laugh, maybe pause to wonder what you should be dismissing and laughing at? All the evidence is that he’s a man of sincere faith upholding what he believes to be right. Perhaps it’s time to start challenging and mocking faith and religion, rather than taking the easy option and joining the fashionable tendency to pillory obvious scapegoats as lunatics while conveniently ignoring the source of the lunacy…

To Be Continued…

Have Yourself a Supernatural Christmas!

Supernatural
I put my guest reviewer’s hat on again for a brief sojourn at Brutal as Hell, taking in the recent DVD release of the BBC’s 1977 series Supernatural as part of the BFI’s excellent Gothic season. Contemplating the series also inspires me to meditate on the oft-overlooked relationship between the films and programmes we enjoy and the time that we first encounter them. To learn more, just click here dear reader…