In early April, the Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council received an anonymous letter warning it of satanic activity in the city. “Please remove the Satanic Cult Church from Eagle Rock California,” it reads. Several months later, a similar anonymous letter turned up on the other side of the country. That letter, written to Mayor Carl Hokanson, implores, “Please remove the Satanic Cult Church from Roselle Park, New Jersey.”In both cases, the handwritten letters were sent from someone living in Wisconsin. The first was mailed from Milwaukee, and the second from Green Bay. Both call for the removal of a cult, warning of animal sacrifice and people “rebelling against authority.” The letters then go on to call the practice of, what it terms, “satanism” disgusting and illegal. The Roselle Park letter ends at that point, but the Eagle Rock letter includes a post script with some suggestions for solving the water shortage problem.
While the letters don’t specifically call out the so-called cult by name, it appears that writer has been reading the old Criminal Intelligence Report. Published in 1988, the report lists a large number of U.S. and Canadian groups that were considered potentially dangerous. It was accompanied by an article titled “Satanism and Crime.” The article begins:
There is increasing evidence that the United States and Canada are facing a rapidly expanding area of criminal activity that some experts claim could be the most difficult to detect of any that law enforcement agencies have ever had to deal with. The computer files of Criminal Intelligence Report (CIR) magazine contain the names and addresses of three thousand Occult groups located in the United States and Canada. Within this listing are those who have a general involvement with and / or interest in witchcraft or pagan religious lore, history or practices
The list and article were part of the infamous Satanic Panic of the 1980s. This was also the period of time in which Pagan organizations fought the Helms Amendment, which proposed to remove tax-exempt status from Wiccan churches. Lady Liberty League was born out of that struggle.
In 1992, one of the leading FBI agents, Kenneth V. Lanning, published a report on Ritual Satanic Abuse. Lanning calls for education, research and calm in the wake of these on-going investigations. In the article, he remarks on the dangerous level of panic that had already occurred and attempts to dissect of the cultural meaning of the term “satanic.” In talking about an educational conference for law enforcement, Lanning wrote:
All of this is complicated by the fact that almost any discussion of satanism and the occult is interpreted in the light of the religious beliefs of those in the audience. Faith, not logic and reason, governs the religious beliefs of most people. As a result, some normally skeptical law enforcement officers accept the information disseminated at these conferences without critically evaluating it or questioning the sources.
As Lanning points out, there were few distinctions made between actual belief, religious practice, pop culture, and more. Anything that was not mainstream or was feared, to a degree, could have been and was labeled “satanic.”
The two recent letters were both addressed to cities that were on that 1988 Criminal Intelligence Report cult list. Both cities were once home to legitimate Pagan religious organizations. Eagle Rock was the original location of Feraferia, founded by Fred Adams and his partner Lady Svetlana in 1967. The organization was incorporated in California as a non-profit on Aug. 2 of that year. As noted by biographer and filmmaker Jo Carson, “Feraferia was designed to be a religion based on the bliss between lovers, with both the Goddess and the God.” The practice inspired Carson’s film, Dancing with Gaia (2009), and now has adherents around the world. However, it is no longer based in Eagle Rock.
The second letter, addressed to Roselle Park, was reportedly the home of a Wiccan-based organization called The Order of Osiris. A Circle Sanctuary guide from 1987 lists the group with this description:
Ancient religion and ethics revealed through World Teacher first manifested in Egypt, guiding humanity to peace through the Primal Creator. Members prepare for religious service and ordination. Women and men welcome.
The Order of Osiris also reportedly published a newsletter called, New Horizons, and may have had a sister group in Cranford, New Jersey. Ten years later, the organization was no longer listed in the Circle guides; nor does it appear to be active today.
As for the letters, investigators believe that they were written by the same person. The LAist, a California-based media outlet, first reported that the writer was a child. And, the Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council didn’t take the warning very seriously. On its Facebook page, the council posted an image of the letter, saying, “We enjoy reading your letters and emails, like this one that came all the way from Milwaukee.” With few exceptions, most of the local responses laughed off the post as a joke.
Roselle Park took its letter a bit more seriously, turning it over to local police. A New Jersey handwriting expert confirmed that it was not a child. He told the local news, “Who ever is doing this is writing in such a way as to disguise their own writing. This is a very deliberate way of writing … This looks like a fabricated writing. I don’t think it’s a kid.”
While the identity of the writer is still not yet known, it does appear that the acts are linked to those old lists and hearken back to those old fears. Unfortunately, the 1988 Criminal Intelligence list is publicly available online and, therefore, accessible to any person wanting to “warn people of occult activity.” And, there are still a number of fundamentalist groups that openly report “watching” occult organizations. This includes organizations such as C.A.R.I.S., which happens to be based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and The Watchman Fellowship, which is based in Arlington, Texas. The latter organization maintains its own public internet-based occult index, which includes Feraferia but not the Order of Osiris.
At this point, only two letters have been made public. We are in contact with the Roselle Park police and we will update the story as needed.
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Correction: The article originally read that the Watchman Fellowship was based in Columbus, Georgia. It is actually now based in Arlington, Texas.