Old Teen Essays
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Article ID: 4890
Age Group: Adult
Posted: November 16th. 2002
Heaven's Gate 3
by Peg Aloi
It is a famous quote: "The road to Hell is paved with good intentions." It is generally interpreted as a commentary on Murphy's Law: "Anything that can go wrong, will." In other words, no matter what we may do to avoid a particular outcome, whether through effort or faith or denial, there seems always to be something outside ourselves that intervenes.
Some people call it God. Or The Goddess.
Others (Fritz's great-grand-uncle among them) call it the Collective Unconscious.
Others call this intervening force The Universe. Still others refer to it as Nature.
The members of the Heaven's Gate group referred to it as Hale-Bopp.
It is very typical of humans to believe in hidden, powerful forces that affect our lives. While these powers are often seen as beneficent (as when people survive illness or accidents), they are just as often seen as frightening or evil (the gunman in Dunblane, or the Holocaust), or simply inexplicable (AIDS, or Jonestown).
Although Pagans tend to see every event in our lives as having some lesson or significance, there are many people in the world who struggle to understand why "bad" things happen. They live in fear, distrust, and depression; trying to deny and repress heartfelt anger and joy, because such extremes of emotion upset the status quo of their safe, ordered existence.
In this abyss devoid of sympathy or compassion, the average person feels lost and alone. Little wonder that they would be susceptible to the easy answers and Pablum-coated information spewed forth by what passes for the "news" media these days. If the road to hell is indeed paved with good intentions, the road too often taken these days by the major news media is paved with misinformation, sensationalism, shoddy workmanship, barely-concealed pandering, righteous moralizing, shameless propagandizing and competitive grandstanding.
My goodness, but we are hearing an awful lot about "cults" these days. .You know, cults? Those groups led by charismatic spokespeople, who recruit young, unsophisticated men and women with promises of self-fulfillment? Who encourage complete submission to authority, subduing individual opinions and desires to the greater common cause? Who require their followers to dress and groom themselves similarly? Who, after indoctrinating their followers into their carefully-constructed, pathological mindset demand utter servitude, to the point of requiring followers to die for the cause?
Correct me if I'm wrong; does this sound like the military?
More to the point, isn't this sort of sheepfold mentality characteristic of the average American? Why else would so many sit captive night after night while women and men with overstyled hair and vacuous expressions tell us what is happening in the world around us? I say "us" because I, too watch the television news, hoping to gain some information, insight or answers, some explanation of the bewildering cruelty and stupidity we witness every day on Planet Earth.
But I must say that I think the visual and print media that seek to explain and order our unexplainable, disordered world, to serve it to us on a plate garnished with a few soundbytes and a colorful logo, are themselves cruel and stupid much of the time. Journalism used to be about truth, inquiry, education, integrity, and questioning authority. These days, it is concerned with entertainment, titillation, proselytizing and manipulation of public opinion. The tools of knowledge have become the trappings of propaganda. Each network and station tries to outdo the other with an "exclusive" gotten through intimidation or, worse, fabrication or, worst, sheer ignorance and prejudice.
These are the thoughts running through my head as I hear Gina Smith of "Good Morning America" feigning indignation as she comments on the huge number of websites related to "Paganism" to be found on the InterNet, and implies that this proliferation of information on a peaceful, nature-honoring spiritual path is somehow on the same level as cult-based, mind-control activities.
Had Ms. Smith (or the show's producers) bothered to do the research germane to such a "news story" she'd have found that Paganism and Witchcraft, in addition to being alive and well on the InterNet, are in fact living religions; and the right of American citizens to practice these religions is guaranteed by the Constitution, and by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Ms. Smith also, if she had spent even a minute studying InterNet websites related to Paganism, would have learned that Pagans do not indoctrinate, recruit, proselytize or preach; they do not, in other words, engage in cult mind-control activities. There are a vast number of "minority" religions practiced in this country (that is, a religion that is not defined as Christian, Jewish or Muslim); all are legal and legitimate forms of expression, provided there is no harm done to anyone.
It is interesting to note that the three examples of so-called "deadly" cult activity most pervasive in the news arena these days are the Rancho Santa Fe suicides, the massacre in Jonestown, and the tragedy at the Branch Davidian compound, are all based in Christian beliefs; not Pagan ones. And it is downright ridiculous to compare the latter two events to the most recent one, simply because so many of those who died in Guyana and Waco were murdered, forced to commit suicide at gunpoint, or killed "accidentally" in a botched rescue attempt by the government.
This is all obvious after one thinks for a moment. But the news doesn't want us to think; they want us to tune in, get incensed or aroused, and come back the next day for more trashy invective and sexy conjecture. They need to use buzzwords and sound bytes to keep us hooked, addicted, zombified, like babies guzzling sugarwater: "cult" or "sacrifice" or "occult" or "pornography" or "national security" or "national hero." Lately, we have regretfully added words like "cyberspace" and "technopagan" to this list of mishandled terms. To single out the InterNet as a "dangerous" source of information simply because one unfortunate group of people utilized that source of information in their work, is to also indict ANY information source: the Oxford English Dictionary, the Bible, or The White Album. This is not a public service; nor is it civic duty; this is censorship.
As the media seeks to exalt one person, group or event, while simultaneously demonizing another, seemingly without discretion or even logic, the question begs to be asked: Who do they think they're talking to? And: Do they really think I'm that stupid?
And isn't this sort of expectation an arrogant one, that anyone in listening range would be taken in and duly influenced by sensationalized information, an expectation such as a charismatic leader of, say, a cult, might have? Are the media promulgating the very phenomenon they are so desperately trying to warn us about? Should we be more afraid of the cult of the media than of any "fringe" religious group?
Back to the recent mass suicide in Rancho Santa Fe. The media, having leaped instantaneously on any and all potentially-horrific information (identifying the dead as males in their late teens and early twenties, for example), have now begun to realize that the truth behind this event is so bizarre that they have no need to wallow in the sordid details. People are fascinated by this event as much as they are horrified; they want to know more, out of curiosity that is no longer merely morbid but now intellectual. After several days of hot-headed, misinformed jambalaya, the press has seemed to comfortably settle on a non-threatening, bland, yet insidious bisque: quietly and methodically, they are slowly turning the focus of the Rancho Santa Fe story to the dangers of the InterNet, and the pervasiveness of religious "cults."
And although the news reports are now seeming slightly more balanced and restrained, as we learn that these deaths were straightforward and intentional, it is also true that the scapegoating instinct dies hard in this country, and in our bewilderment we are still looking to the all-powerful media for answers, and in some cases what we may want them to tell us is "We know who is responsible and now you will, too." And they will somehow be part of a great purging of pain and angst, having led us on a witchhunt to the door of the demon or demons who are to blame.
But guess what? When they knock on the door, they won't find anything. Or anyone.
See, I think I am in the minority. I don't think that what happened in Rancho Santa Fe was a tragedy, necessarily. Odd, yes; unnecessary, certainly; and confusing on many levels. Sad for the families of those now dead, of course. But what can be tragic about a group of individuals who sought death as a gateway to something better, to a more important level of being? Is not that one of the great mysteries of human existence, our fascination with death? Why are we so afraid of confronting those who confront it?
The Heaven's Gate group, with precision and forethought, planned their demise to coincide with a significant astronomical event; they believed they were chosen and destined to do this. They were intelligent, well-spoken, productive members of society. They were not inexperienced, unsophisticated teenagers. They were not poorly-socialized, nor did they suffer from low self-esteem. They were adults who became intrigued by an idea, and they followed that idea to its logical conclusion. They clearly acted of their own free will. Where is the tragedy?
We fear what we do not understand, what is unknown. We seek to control it, to tame it. And while we can never know every thought in the hearts and minds of those who died this week in Rancho Santa Fe, neither should we assume those thoughts were not conceived in perfect understanding, in love, in trust. We are all on the journey together.
Media Liaison - The Witches Voice
(c) March 30th, 1997
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