Thirteen Days to the Suicide Woods: Day 9 — Sympathy for the Devil

I’m sorry. It seems we got going and I skipped a few of the exits. But here we are, and I’d like to talk a little about religion. I know. They say you shouldn’t ever talk about religion, politics, or child rearing among polite company. But this far down the road, we’re starting to get pretty friendly. Aren’t we? So, let me tell you about the Devil.

I’ve always been a little in love with stories about the Devil, and as a result I’ve written more than a handful of them. I’ve long wanted to publish a chapbook titled, A Little Red Book of Satanic Stories, though that might not ever happen. Instead, I included a few in THIRTEEN VIEWS OF THE SUICIDE WOODS.

But first, let me explain my history with the Devil.

I was a teenager in the ‘80s during the height of the “the Satanic Panic,” and it shaped a lot of the way I view the character of the Devil. I was a tabletop gamer and a metalhead which put me right in the crosshairs of every religious square1 who thought I was an emissary of Lucifer himself.  The thing was, I didn’t understand where it all came from. Me and my friends were playing Dungeons & Dragons and listening to heavy metal and punk and it was all benign to us. In the D&D modules we played, we were the good guys, trying to rescue towns and treasure from the forces of evil. It was fantasy, but it we were fantasizing about being heroes, not villains. The music was about having fun and sometimes about trying to make sense of our place in the world. Yes, there was Satanic metal out there, and we enjoyed it, but we could all see it was putting on a role. It was like going to see The Omen. No one really thought that little kid in the movie was the Antichrist. And no one really thought anyone in Venom or Slayer was going out in the woods to sacrifice stray cats and little babies. (Maybe some did, but they also got confused counting to ten with their hands in their pockets.) Not everyone had that same perspective of our pastimes as we did.

A cottage industry sprung up in the ‘80s, producing dozens of books and home videos on VHS giving parents the tools to identify and combat the evil in their own homes that was threatening to destroy the moral fabric of the whole world. Those of us who were constantly getting the game manuals knocked out of our hands in the hallway were left wondering when exactly we’d become so powerful. But the way the crusaders for our souls seemed so naïve and out of touch was still kind of funny. Geraldo Rivera did an hour-long special on the global “Satanic Underground” out to get your kids that, in terms of making him a household joke, hit somewhere in between getting his nose broken in a brawl during his special about neo-Nazis and finding Al Capone’s vault empty. I recorded it and had friends over to watch and laugh at both the absurdity of Geraldo’s credulity and Michael Aquino‘s stupid Mr. Spock haircut.

Still, there were people who were really afraid.

After a while, I loved the social cache of it. It was like that moment in The Wild One where the woman asks Marlon Brando, “Hey Johnny, what are you rebelling against?” and he replies “Whadda you got?”

Except, in my case, she said, “Hey Bracken, do you worship the Devil,” and I’d say, “No, but I listen to his records.”

I loved seeing people outside of a concert arena carrying signs with scriptures on them and dragging literal crosses around. It was like an extra part of the show. I’d give them a hard time for being weak asses and having wheels at the bottom of their crosses (I imagine those things are heavy, but still), and stick my first and pinky fingers up at them. I’d make the gesture and a kind of ripple went through their numbers, because while it was a joke to us, they seemed utterly convinced that we were a force of evil waging war for their kids’ souls. What we were waging war for was our own culture and freedom from an externally imposed morality. Very devilish indeed.

But, the Panic was not limited to just the comical, absurdist public performance of clowns like Geraldo and people who drag crosses around outside Ozzy Osbourne concerts. Real people got hurt in the moral panic, and by the end of the decade, the Satanic Panic led to the destruction of real people’s lives. As it was coming to a close, it became less funny and much more sinister. Except, it wasn’t the Devil who scared me.


In my freshman year at college, a classmate of mine asked if I’d be willing to help out with the haunted house her church was putting on and play the Devil in the final room. I thought she asked me because I was a theater major and they wanted someone who could act. It turned out that no one in her church was willing to play the Devil, and she thought that since I was an out atheist, I wouldn’t mind. I didn’t mind. I love Halloween, and I thought it’d be fun to be a part of a haunted house. I put on my best King Diamond style makeup and worked hard to scare the hell out of the people who came through that tent. This was before the phenomenon of Hell Houses as we know them now, and I didn’t realize until late in the permance schedule that I was being used to scare people into being “saved.” I have no idea how many people I helped drive into the arms of Jesus, but I did my best to give them a good Halloween scare. When the church asked me back the next year, I declined.

The story, Mine, Not Yours was inspired in part by my experience helping to put on that Hell House style haunted house. It was too provocative a setting not to use in a story.

There are two other devilish stories in 13 VIEWS. One is a sympathy for the Devil story about a man seeking a cure for cancer that also dials in my interest in a bit of chicanery I saw James Randi debunk on late night television in the ‘80s: psychic surgery.

The other is a not at all sympathetic shot at theistic Satanists who think they’re going to find some kind of personal reward by embracing selfishness and worshiping a literal supernatural figure. I don’t believe in the Devil or devils any more than I believe in gods, unicorns or orcs.

What all of these stories do is draw a bright line between my sympathies for the literary depictions of the devil as a symbol of personal autonomy and freedom, and my contempt for people who take advantage of others for their own pleasure or profit. I hope you like them.

The Woods Have Been Waiting

NEXT STOP: The City of Children

1 That is an old person word meaning not “hep” or “with it.” You’re welcome.


~ by poǝןɔɐɯ uǝʞɔɐɹq on 09/03/2017.

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