The Carman Generation and A Witch’s Invitation

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  June 8, 2013 — 28 Comments

The late 1980s through the mid-1990s was a commercial high-point for the genre of music known as Contemporary Christian Music (CCM). Bands like DC Talk, Jars of Clay, and Amy Grant were garnering breakthrough success outside of traditional genre boundaries, often selling millions of albums. It was during this era that the singer known as Carman was a Christian superstar. Between 1985 and 1997 six of his albums were certified Gold, and one, 1993′s “The Standard,” went Platinum. He was nominated for two Grammys, and won several Dove Awards (essentially the Christian Grammys). I think it’s important to give you this information, because when we talk about things that happened twenty, thirty, or forty years ago, it’s easy to lose context. So knowing that Carman was reaching hundreds of thousands (perhaps millions) of listeners during this period, is how you should view the single “A Witch’s Invitation” from the 1989 album “Revival In The Land.”

By today’s lights it’s pure cheese, a G-rated version of Goodfellas meets Rosemary’s Baby. But at the time it was no laughing matter. America was still deep in the “Satanic Panic” that was destroying lives, and implying that Witches and Druids worshipped Satan and cursed people with AIDS could (and did) have damaging ramifications on people’s lives. Certainly Druid leader Isaac Bonewits, who was obviously the inspiration for “Isaac Horowitz” in the song, and by all accounts felt personally slandered, was not amused. Perhaps that’s why he wrote an epic Jeremiad concerning Christian fundamentalism in 1990.

Isaac Bonewits

Isaac Bonewits

“It’s the Christian Fundamentalists, however, in whom we inspire the greatest anger, hatred, and fear. They routinely denounce Buddhism, Taoism, the New Age, and all other competing belief systems, just as they have always done, but seem to save their greatest vituperation for occultists in general and Neopagans (especially Witches) in particular. As most Neopagans know, Christian Fundamentalists are constantly publishing and broadcasting blasphemies against our deities, slanders against our members, and half-truths and outright lies about our beliefs and practices. Over and over, they strive to convince the general public, the media, and the civil governments that we are devil worshiping murderers, rapists, child abusers, and even cannibals. Their kids beat up our kids in school, their adults vandalize our stores and temples, shoot bullets through our windows, and manipulate the courts to remove our children from us. Why? What is it about Neopaganism that makes some Christian Fundamentalists so desperate that they will repeatedly violate most of their own Ten Commandments to try and stop us?”

I dig up this history for two reasons, first, Carman, who was recently diagnosed with terminal cancer, is making news for his recent comeback via a Kickstarter campaign that has raised over $300,000 dollars for a new album.

“Carman said he knows that after a dozen years away from the big stage, his new material “has to be current; it has to sound like it belongs in 2013.” At the same time, he said, his fans expect to hear timeless biblical stories and a gospel message in his music. From 1982 to 1992, Carman’s albums regularly sold more than a million copies each, and he topped the Christian singles charts with songs such as “Satan, Bite the Dust,” “Revival in the Land,” “The Champion,” and “Witches Invitation.” He was one of the first contemporary Christian artists to incorporate the kind of elaborate — and expensive—lighting, staging and entertainment that fans expected from top-level secular artists. Legions of screaming teenage fans would call him the “Italian Stallion” as Carman developed a niche for high-drama emotional ballads that featured demons, witches, spiritual warfare and always, a victorious Christ.”

Notice that his brand is still identified with “A Witch’s Invitation” and spiritual warfare against Witches. A brand that the “Carman” generation, Christian music fans now in their 40s and 50s, are willing to pay to see return. Which brings me to the second reason I’m writing about a Christian pop-star’s comeback album: the next generation of Christians and how they will see modern Pagans. In October of last year I was invited to speak at Multnomah University, a Bible college and Biblical seminary in Portland, Oregon, to talk about modern Paganism with several Christian seminary students. While everyone was very gracious and nice, there were moments where I could tell that some student’s information about Pagan religions had come through a distorted Christian media lens.

Now, I’ve been invited back to Multnomah this June to talk to a new batch of students in Paul Louis Metzger‘s class on world religions. I wonder how many of them, or their parents, were influenced by someone like Carman when they think of modern Paganism? Do some of them secretly think I’m diabolical? That I’m working malefic spells for money in league with demons? It’s easy to laugh at the notion sometimes, until you read about Christian clergy opposition to a Pagan festival in Pahokee, Florida, where some very basic interfaith outreach had to be done to avoid a protest. I think Carman and his “funny” little song about a Witch are quite indicative of how many Christians still see us. Which is why, despite the (often justifiable) distrust many Pagans feel about interactions with Christians, I appreciate Professor Metzger’s earnest efforts to more accurately understand us.

“We Christians need to be on guard in our understanding of such movements as contemporary Paganism. We tend to lump all of modern Paganism into one general and distorted category. We often fail to account for the vast complexity within the movement and articulate Paganism accurately. For all our concern about pagan idolatry, we may be guilty at times of making their idols for them. We need to develop the practice of respect for understanding their practices, rituals, and beliefs.”

Christian churches and denominations centered on evangelizing, on missions of conversion, will never stop their efforts. But I think our goals shouldn’t be to make them stop trying, it is to make them acknowledge our humanity, and to accurately understand who they are speaking to. If they start to understand us, if they see us as practicing valid religious traditions (as opposed to demonic underground cults) alongside all the other world’s religions, then the chances of a new moral panic decreases, and the ability to have real discourse grows. That discourse will be vitally important as our faiths continue to grow, and as tensions created by an increasingly post-Christian West become more pronounced.

We need to put the old slurs to rest if we are to evolve our understandings of one another, and this requires Christians to properly contextualize the books and records that have profited by slander against us. I have no wish to heap abuse on Carman as he mounts his comeback, but “A Witch’s Invitation” should be seen as the embarrassment to Christianity that it is, and our community is long overdue for an apology for the slander it perpetuated. Moving forward, all of us engaged in interfaith work need to constantly ask: where are my perceptions of this person, this religion, this tradition, coming from? Do they come from a place of knowledge and discernment, from first-hand experience, or from propaganda and distortion? I am hoping, by my presence at Multnomah, to replace fear and distortion with knowledge and experience. To ensure that we are speaking to each other instead of about each other.

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Jason Pitzl-Waters

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  • Peter Dybing

    What is interesting to me in this post is the recognition of “Basic Interfaith”. Many in the main stream interfaith movement engage with religionists who have an interest in dialogue, leading to deep exploration of theological context. In this “basic interfaith” we engage with those who engage in hate speech and spreading false information, such engagement requires not intellectual prowess but, compassion, focus and the ability to not be triggered by that statements of those we engage with.

    We are not done in providing the most basic of information about our beliefs. The challenge continues.

  • Michael Elamson

    This is an interesting topic for me.
    During Carman’s heyday, I was a pretty ardent Christian, although of
    a more liberal stripe. I was never part of Carman’s audience, never a
    fan of his and never caught up in the whole “spiritual warfare”
    craze.

    But while I thought of Carman as
    buffoonish and over-the-top. I was a fan of several other Christian
    artists and even today, when I consider myself a thorough pagan, I
    still have fondness for some of them. Rich Mullins, Randy Stonehill
    and the Lost Dogs in particular are still on my iPod and I usually
    don’t skip past them if they come up on the shuffle. They were/are
    (Mullins has passed away) people who express a rich and meaningful
    faith, and were far away from Carman’s clownish posturing. While I
    may no longer share their beliefs, I do respect them and appreciate
    them as talented artists.

    Carman, and a few others (DeGarmo &
    Key comes to mind) occupied a completely different CCM niche, one
    that I could never see as anything serious but I gather many people
    did. But how much influence did he really have? If some formed their
    views about paganism from his songs, I’m not sure that their views
    would have been any different had he never come onto the scene. That
    brand of highly xenophobic Christianity already had those views, he
    just put them to a beat.

    Unlike Teo Bishop, I’m not looking for
    a “pagan Jesus.” I would not mind finding a pagan Rich Mullins.
    We do not need a pagan Carman.

    • Debbie

      It’s good to hear you say that about Rich Mullins. I too enjoyed his music as a Christian and now, as a Pagan, I still see the rich tapestry of faith in his words along with a respect for and joy in the natural world and do not feel the condemnation that comes from the words of one like Carmen.

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    A lot of people get wary about starting a spiritual war. However, I say to these people “War is upon you whether you would risk it or not.”

    Carman is not an issue. The very fact that there is demand for this kind of thing is.

    How do we combat this? I really do not know. Because, let us all face it, we really do want to undermine their beliefs.

    How? We want something as basic as acknowledgement. We want these rabid Christians to acknowledge that what we do is not devil worship. Unfortunately, that would strongly undermine their belief that there is only one, true God and that all the pagans (wide sense of – non Abrahamic) are led to folly by Satan. It sucks, but that how it is.

    “What can we do against such reckless hate?” (Apparently, I am on a LotR binge. Sorry.) Well, we ignore it. That view is, nowadays, a minority one. We engage with the majority. We build bridges where such bridges are welcome. We isolate and marginalise those who hold such an attitude. To usher in a Post Christian world, we need to stop worrying about the remnants and start looking at the ever growing non (fundy) Christian demographics out there.

    • Franklin Evans

      After “spinning my wheels” for a few years trying to find an effective approach for educating our ignorant (and not just Christian) majority of non-Pagans, I’ve settled on storytelling. Music is one very important mode. I’ve chosen theater, mostly because I’ve found fellow travelers in the local theater community with whom to share the burden of effort.
      Except for the last two winters, I’ve produced (and plan to return to producing) the ritual performance of the book “A Winter Solstice Singing Ritual” (AWSSR) by Julie Middleton and Stasa Morgan-Appel. I have a very strong connection to it, having worked with both of them just prior to their publishing the book.
      It is a small and local thing, to be sure, and cannot be considered any more accurate than anecdotal. My experience with it and with non-Pagans in the audiences has been positive and constructive, with rare exceptions worthy of being ignored as you indicate with your citation of Tolkien.
      We have bards amongst us. Their storytelling voices can go a very long way towards promoting the acknowledgments we crave. Promoting theater with Pagan themes or just written by Pagans will be, I hope, a step in the same direction at least locally.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        I think that storytelling is a brilliant way to educating people about Pagan beliefs. Of course, there is always going to be the chance that someone finds it ludicrous that people believe in ‘fairy tales’, but that kind of response will be the minority.

        • thelettuceman

          Hopefully, at least.

          After all, we’re getting self-proclaimed Pagans who believe that their colleagues simply believe in ‘fairy tales’.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            True.

            I’ll leave that one well alone, don’t want to be called a Fundy…

  • http://www.lippsisters.com/ Deborah Lipp

    This song was protested by the Anti-Defamation League, I think the Arizona branch although memory fades. In an interview with a local paper, Carman said that “Horowitz” was not meant to be anti-Semitic, it was simply a name change to prevent Isaac Bonewits from suing him. He said that in print, but because Isaac was a public figure, he could not get a lawyer interested in taking a defamation case.

    • http://www.wildhunt.org/blog/ Jason Pitzl-Waters

      I would really like to get a copy of that local paper where he says that. Much of the controversy from when the song came out is lost down the memory hole.

    • http://www.wildhunt.org/blog/ Jason Pitzl-Waters

      Ah! I think I’ve found it!

      http://www.crossrhythms.co.uk/articles/news/Carman_Controversy/35305/p1/

      Quote: “if the usage of that particular name offended anyone because the name sounds Jewish or is a Jewish name, then I certainly do apologise. That was never the intent. After all, as a Christian and a minister, I spend my life telling people that knowing Jesus Christ, a Jewish man, is the best thing that ever happened to me. The only reason I used Horowitz is because the story was actually true, but I changed a few letters to protect the person’s identity. I can tell you as the man who wrote it and put the thing together that the subject matter has nothing to do with being Jewish or not. It has everything to do with the spirit of evil and what takes place when Christ is rejected on the day of judgement.”

    • GearoidMacConfhiaclaigh

      Ah the ADL. Sometimes they do the right thing for the wrong reason, instead of the wrong thing for wrong reasons.

      Actually, I’m curious if they’ve been involved in protecting pagans over the years? My primary interaction/understanding of them has not been in that capacity. If anyone knows I’d be glad to find out.

      • http://www.lippsisters.com/ Deborah Lipp

        The ADL has, to my knowledge, never been involved in protecting Pagans. Their mission is to protect Jews and they adhere to it. They protested in this case because Horowitz sounded anti-Semitic.

        • GearoidMacConfhiaclaigh

          I have a rather negative opinion of them because of how narrowly they view themselves (a Jewish sounding name? An outrage! Massive survelliance against people of Middle Eastern descent beyond what the law allows? Necessary!).

          But I figured I’d ask, on the off chance they had done something that might change my opinions. Unfortunately it looks like my impressions so far have been more or less valid.

          Thanks for the response.

  • PhaedraHPS

    Thanks for telling this story. I was distressed when I read about Carman’s “comeback;” I can only imagine how much it would have upset Isaac. That wretched song affected him very deeply. As you said, it’s easy to laugh now, but younger folks may not realize how much the Satanic Panic permeated the news and pop culture in those years, and how much reach characters like Carman had. I remember back in the ’90s, when I was living in North Carolina, my friend’s daughter’s school class actually had a field trip to a Carman concert, a special matinee for school children. Her mother had no idea who this character was. And her daughter didn’t want to opt out, because this was something all her friends were doing.

    I want to say something mean about Carman’s cancer, but I can’t do it. I wish it on no one. I just hope any new music he produces doesn’t hurt any more people.

  • Mark S

    By the time Carman became a CCM superstar I had left Christianity, but I knew about his music when he was starting out, and he was nothing but a Las Vegas cheesemeister from the beginning.

  • Mark S

    I’m not surprised Carman jumped on the Satanic Panic bandwagon, because most CCM artists did during the late 80s and early 90s. But even before that, Mike Warnke’s book “The Satan Seller,” began the Satanic Panic in the 1970s. His career in the charismatic and evangelical Christian circles blossomed, bolstered by his tours and albums giving his “testimony” as having been a Vietnam vet, heroin dealer, and Satanist high priest. 20/20 even used him as an authority on their show. However, Christian magazine Cornerstone outed him as a complete fraud in 1992. The writers Jon Trott and Mike Hertenstein, proved conclusively that Warnke never was involved as a Satanist or a drug dealer, and his tales of fighting in Vietnam and heroin addiction were also specious. They also revealed Warnke’s multiple infidelities and nasty divorces, with intimations of spousal abuse. Warnke’s “ministry,” which provided him with an income of over $800,000 a year at one point. collapsed. Amazingly enough, there are still people who believe Warnke’s tales. Just thought you might want to know about this “grandfather” of the Satanic Panic that claimed so many people’s lives and reputations.

    http://web.archive.org/web/20110604055451/http://www.cornerstonemag.com/features/iss098/sellingsatan.htm

  • Gaddy

    In the 90′s, as an experiment/joke, a few of my Subgenius friends and I went to a free Carman concert that was being held in a large (20K seating) arena in our area. I was both horrified and amused at this filled-to-capacity event.

    The vitriolic hatred exuded from the crowd when he performed “Witches Invitation” was very disturbing. The man had charisma, I’ll give him that much.

    It’s unfortunate that he is now stricken by an terminal illness, I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, but from the looks of it it seem as if he’s found a way to capitalize on it, so I wish him all the best…

  • Mercurial Jen

    I am in the same boat with many of you. I attended a church that was fully sold on the satanic panic of the 80′s. I enjoyed Carman and many other Christian artist and still do. Michael Card was my favorite. I respect Carman as a story teller and a dynamic performer. I am saddened to hear about his Ill health.
    The reckless hate, as Lehot called it, Is the very thing that drove me away from the church to seek a new path. This hate extends to anyone who is not male,white,straight, and Christian. That is the way it is at the church I attended. The hate is simply white supremacist nonsense and misogyny veiled as Christianity and it is an insult to real Christians.
    Witches and other pagans simply fall under the category of “Non Christians who don’t hate women and gay folks, and won’t be bullied by us.” . We would ignore these ravings under most circumstances. The underlying problem as I see it is how do we combat hate in general? The religious associations are a side line.
    The fear of living in a post 9-11 world is a breeding ground for opportunist with rotten agendas. The more fear they sow the deeper they can divide us. The end game is to destroy our peace,prosperity and sense of safety so we will be compliant to them. The need to reach out in understanding to one another is greater now than ever. People have seemed to have forgotten that diversity and tolerance are a strength. Fear and hate mongers take advantage of the need we have to protect our own.

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      You can’t combat hate in general.

      Hate is as much a part of the experience of life as love is.

      What you can combat is action and ignorance.

  • Malaz

    But Jaaaaason….(whiney voice) I’ve said over and over that we ARE devil worshipers to them. I don’t think it’s a matter of “getting them to understand.”

    It’s a primary tenant of their belief system that if you’re not worshiping Joshua of Nazareth/JhWh…you’re worshiping devils….

    and…”Really? I.Bonewits was the Witch in Witch’s Invitation?” wow….

    • Malaz

      Also, I’ll be leaving The Wild Hunt readership as of this moment.
      My appreciation to Jason for his efforts toward the betterment of our community.
      M

  • Charles Cosimano

    Well, look at a few things in context. One of the features of the Satanic Panic is that the folks who were falsely accused=everyone accused, was pretty powerless. Prosecutors are like schoolyard bullies, they won’t take on anyone who can actually fight back. I can’t imagine any prosecutor being suicidal enough now to try such a case.

    The other thing to remember is that in 1989 there was no internet and no youtube. Getting a counter-message out was a lot harder than it is now. Of course I have fond memories of that year because that was the year that a damned fool televangelist held up a copy of one my books and said, “If the author of this book is not an agent of the Antichrist I don’t know who is.” I flogged that for years as a marketing tool with the line, “Agent? Only the AGENT?? I want top billing!”

  • molyca1986

    I am reminded of a song called “The Truth Beneath The Rose” by Within Temptation. The lead singer herself admitted to it being inspired by The DaVinci Code, but it’s more than that. It’s about losing faith because that faith has caused you to hurt others. “No longer I can justify the bloodshed in His name” gets right to the point. If you haven’t heard it, listen to it on YouTube (sorry I don’t have a link, I’m on mobile), or at least look up the lyrics.

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      I find the song “Pagan” (by Cruachan) is brought to mind.

  • GearoidMacConfhiaclaigh

    Discovered something interesting today.

    I’m a bit young to remember those years (I’m actually 23 today). When I was was young my dad was a roadie (one of the tech guys, not the lift and carry guys), and was on the road for a long time. While reading this I saw the name and remembered him being on tour with someone named Carmen (I associated it with those old Carmen San Diego games). After reading this I went and asked my mom, turns out, I was wrong. It was Carman. That Carman.

    So in a bit of cosmic irony some of the money he made bashing people like us went to supporting me, and I later became a pagan.

    Also, this will surprise no one, but apparently the guy is a grade A ass and treated his crew badly.

  • Da Broad

    Maybe he was big in the church set, but until this article I’d never heard of this guy (does he have any other name or is he like Cher or Madonna?). I lived in Minnesota throughout the 80s and 90s, ground central for one of the biggest satanic panic cases in Jordan, MN. When I saw the name, I thought it was a typo for a South Park reference. Tried watching the video, it was so pathetically ridiculous I didn’t even make it half way through. Then again, I recently saw some “great” music videos from the 80s, and they were pretty crappy, too. Lousy “music”. We just need to counter dreck like this with competent, reasoned and intelligent material of our own.

    • Tim Workman

      Carman is a Charismatic Pentecostal most notably found on the Scandal ridden Trinity Broadcasting Network