Troublemakers? Or Just Misunderstood?

In the recent glut of Halloween/Samhain stories, two, though separated by thousands of miles of geography, stood out as sharing a similar theme. They both involved groups of alleged Pagan troublemakers, who may just be misunderstood instead of wicked. The first takes place in Australia, where a yearly Beltane/Halloween festival* in Victoria has gone private after having trouble with “trolls” the year before.

“…in 28 years there had never been a punch-up at the Mount Franklin Beltane gathering of witches – an event that has drawn up to 700 spell-casting Victorians … last year, a small group known as “the trolls” caused an upset by hanging headless dolls from trees and otherwise carrying on in a dark-hearted fashion. ‘There was a nasty element we’d never seen before, and it ended in a violent altercation, and has essentially ruined what was once a beautiful event,’ a high-profile witch, speaking anonymously, told The Sunday Age. ‘I mean, you’re meant to embrace the darkness in witchcraft, but you’re also meant to keep it in balance with the light. These guys were all about the darkness. It’s not like there were a lot of them but they’ve done a lot of damage.'”

There are so many things wrong, journalistically speaking, with this article. Including the reliance on a “high-profile” anonymous source, and failing to get the “trolls” side of the story. On the whole, it could very well be that some imperious white-lighter Witch “lord” got up the nose of some goth kids and picked the “violent altercation” alluded to anonymously. Sadly, the article doesn’t give us enough information to make a judgment either way. One of the more reasonable assessments of local tensions that the article provides comes from a Satanic store-owner.

“I grew up with witchcraft in the ’70s, when witchcraft and Satanism were one and the same. This was a time when the black arts were truly forbidden. Now it’s all about white light,” he said forlornly. “The practitioners of today almost go out of their way to remove the mystery and darker aspects of their craft.”

So were the “trolls” nasty violent brutes, or simply misunderstood kids raising the hackles of people who had a fixed idea of what their celebration should be? The article doesn’t really answer that question (though congrats to fellow Pagan blogger Caroline Tully on getting interviewed).

Meanwhile, back in America, a group of teenage hoodlums is Washington are giving a local Christian after-school program the vapors.

“Rainier Chapel’s youth group, ELIFE, is struggling to keep its participants. ELIFE leader Tom Warner said the problem lies with a disruptive group of teens who hang out in the park adjacent to the church during ELIFE activities. Warner said parents don’t want to bring their children to ELIFE because of those teens … Some of the teens outside chant Wicca spells, do drugs and drink alcohol, Warner alleges. “I feel like I’ve enabled a drug ring,” Warner said.”

Teen Witch drug addicts! Oh cripes! There is just one problem with Warner’s assertions, the cops haven’t found any evidence of it yet.

“Police Chief Joe Vukich said while his officers will keep an eye out for any illegal activity, his main goal is for his officers to befriend members of the group. If officers talk to them, maybe they can learn why they are loitering outside the church. “I told (my officer) he needs to hang out there and make friends with the kids and the pastor,” Vukich said. If there is indeed drugs or underage drinking, the police will act accordingly, Vukich said … “It’s possible we have a terrible drug problem out there. We do have a substance abuse problem in Rainier, Tenino and Bucoda,” Vukich said. ‘It’s also possible there isn’t a problem. Nevertheless, we’re trying to take a community approach. We don’t really know what the situation is.‘”

Is Warner concerned about drug-abusing Wiccans, or is he concerned with having competition? He is currently dispersing flyers claiming “the cops will be after you” if ELIFE attendees go outside and run around. Sounds more like a turf war, than concern over underage substance abuse. Perhaps these “Wiccan-chanting” teens are simply having some fun at ELIFE’s expense? If so, raising the stakes by calling the cops in will only make it more exciting for them. To bad the journalist didn’t try to interview any of these teens to get their side of the story, and find out what their real motivations are.

In each of these stories it is entirely possible that the antagonists are everything their opponents say they are: dark, drug-abusing, violent, hooligans. But we aren’t provided the resources to make an informed decision in either case presented here. This is a failure of basic journalism. Each article went for a more sensationalist story about outside forces of chaos intervening in something “good” (whether it was a Pagan gathering or a Christian after-school program), instead of giving us a more traditional assessment of each side’s take. Casualties of Halloween-season reportage, or lazy reporting?

* Australia is in the Southern Hemisphere, so the seasonal holidays are normally reversed. Hence Beltane instead of Samhain.