FACT-CHECK: Is Zoroastrianism a Monotheistic Religion?

To commemorate the Zoroastrian holiday of Khordad Sal, World Religions News recently resurrected a December 2015 article meant as a primer for the little- known Iranian religion, which has had a big syncretistic impact on the development of successive religious traditions in the region,[1] including Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.[2] The piece, titled, “What do you know about the world’s oldest monotheistic religion?” lists “10 Facts About Zoroastrianism,” the first being, “Zoroastrians believe in only one God, which is Ahura Mazda.”[3]

This triggered an old memory from an early World Religions class, when I was told that Zoroastrians were considered dualists—not monotheists. I recall learning that, similar to Manichaeism, Zoroastrian cosmology consists of two equally balanced deities, holding the universe together in perfect polar opposition. Or at least that’s what I think I remember.

However, in researching this claim, I discovered both understandings to be insufficient representations of the true complexity of Zoroastrianism. My quest to categorize Zoroastrian belief introduced me to the long history of this at-least two and a half millennia year old tradition[4] and its at-times frustratingly abstruse belief system. This question also led me to investigate how broader criticisms of the “World Religions Paradigm” may be represented by this particular problem.

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EXTRA: A Comprehensive List of Alex Jones’ InfoWars Mentioning Satan and the Illuminati in the Same Article

While researching the intimate connection some conspiracists perceive between Lucifer and the Illuminati, I found Alex Jones’ InfoWars to be an excellent primary source of relevant examples of this belief in action. As of writing, InfoWars.com is receiving approximately 40 million views per month,[1] and like it or not, InfoWars is creeping into the mainstream. Whether or not it is the cause or effect of these conspiracies propagating throughout the United States, InfoWars’ recent articles are in many ways the embodiment of contemporary American culture. Thus, I have compiled a list of 18 articles explicitly mentioning both Satan and the Illuminati, in order to demonstrate this unique and troubling belief’s central place in the current age.

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The Layperson’s Guide to Lucifer, the First Illuminatus

For many who believe in a global clandestine cabal as nefarious and elaborate as the Illuminati scheme to destroy religion and establish a one-world government,[1] the conspiracy’s level of malevolence naturally implies an even fouler origin: the Devil himself.

The Illuminati conspiracy theory is possibly the most well known and widely adapted of its kind. Consciously and unconsciously, centuries of Illuminati paranoia has rooted itself deep into the American psyche, producing a robust myriad of modern iterations ranging from notorious conservative conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ rants against the “globalist agenda,”[2] to CBN founder and doomsday preacher Pat Robertson’s predictions of an imminent Satanic “New World Order,”[3] as well as a never-ending list of alleged celebrity memberships—not to mention an extensive pop culture resume.[4]

George Johnson—in his still disturbingly relevant classic, Architects of Fear: Conspiracy Theories and Paranoia in American Politics—describes a pervasive Illuminati legend developed through decades of folklore, which has influenced American right-wing conspiracy theories across all political and religious factions.[5] For a certain subtype of conspiracists, this omnipotent organization has roots in the Christian tradition’s conception of pure evil; the Illuminati’s ambitions to simultaneously secularize the planet while concentrating all power in the hands of an international elite is a clear sign that only the ultimate supernatural villain could be behind the wheel, sending humanity on a collision course to straight to hell.

As is a common practice among conspiracy theorists (and arguably all human beings), the desire to uncover secret patterns that may apply a sense of order to our seemingly chaotic existence leads to leaps of logic, which in turn often blend together otherwise independent, even contradictory ideas. The Illuminati legend is the perfect example of this phenomenon; its diverse adaptations have brought together religious fundamentalists and ardent atheists under a common belief: the Illuminati threat is powerful and unmistakably evil.

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Dissident magician: An interview with Michael M. Hughes

In light of recent accusations of Satanism, black magic, and all kinds of evil intentions directed against those who participated in last Friday’s mass ritual to “bind” Donald Trump, I contacted Michael M. Hughes—the organizer of the February 24th event and de facto public face of magical resistance—and invited him to set the record straight. Hughes shared his thoughts on religious freedoms, future relations with the Christian right, the political power of witchcraft and art, Judeo-Christian roots of magic, and the benefits of “self-exorcism,” adding moral complexity to this heavily polarizing event.

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FACT-CHECK: The Evil Origins of the Witches’ Mass Ritual to #bindtrump

At the stroke of midnight (EST) on February 24, 2017, an untold myriad of self-described witches, magical folk, and ordinary malcontent Americans gathered for a global political protest event, which aimed to apply a tradition of ritualistic magic to “bind” the president “and all those who abet him”[1] until Trump is removed from the Oval Office. The organizer calls for the ritual to be repeated on all successive Waning Crescent Moon nights (including March 26th, April 24th, May 23rd, June 21st, July 21st, and August 19th).[2]

In the days and hours leading up to the Trump-binding event, the ritual gained significant media attention,[3] celebrity endorsements,[4] and exploded in popularity on social media websites like Twitter (with #bindtrump and #magicresistance trending) and Facebook (which has grown to 11,650 “likes” at time of writing).[5] Participants shared their videos and anecdotes of the midnight spellbinding, which included a varied array of expressions, from brief individual recitations to gaggles of robed witches performing elaborate ceremonies.[6]

This strategy seamed to mean something different to each participant; for some, it was simply an artistic manifestation of the anti-Trump movement, representing a creative technique for demonstrating their dissatisfaction and amassing public awareness for their cause; however for others, the ritual held actual supernatural power to affect the current political landscape. The guidelines of the ritual were first made public on February 19th by Michael Hughes, who described it as a plan that had already been brewing for some time in certain circles and which allegedly originated with a “member of a private magical order who wishes to remain anonymous.”[7] He also added,

“I make no claims about its efficacy, and several people have noted it can be viewed as more of a mass art/consciousness-raising project (similar to the 1967 exorcism and levitation of the Pentagon), than an actual magical working. But many are clearly taking it very seriously.”[8]

As expected, the event sparked considerable blowback from many within the Christian right,[9] igniting an old culture war and bringing witchcraft back into the forefront of modern American discourse.[10] Evangelical Christian supporters of President Trump reportedly gathered to pray as a way to “counteract the spell.”[11] Led by theo-conservative activist groups, Christian Nationalist Alliance (CNA)[12] and Intercessors for America (IFA),[13] the nation-wide call to prayer condemns the “magical attack on believers and servants of God” as a Satanically-inspired act of “blasphemy” against the Christian god,[14] initiated by “those who have covenants with evil.”[15]

These responses highlight an intensifying demonization of members of the anti-Trump movement and those who belong to culturally obscure religious/spiritual organizations. The religiously-charged condemnation of this event is born out of a long standing tradition of ignorance and intolerance toward the magical community and its pop-culture manifestations, but the association with the political left has added new fuel to the fire.

This post will analyze accusations of Satanism and immorality aimed against the organizers of the magical ritual to bind Trump and practitioners of magic/witchcraft in general. It will then briefly explore the multifaceted religious origins of this unique form of magical ritualism, which borrows most distinctively from the religious/spiritual traditions of Wicca, Neopaganism, and Occultism, as well as folk religions and shamanism. However the ritual also has roots in the mystical elements of more “established” religions, including Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and Hinduism, which is likely a major point of resentment for its critics within the Christian right, which overwhelmingly support Trump,[16],[17] actively advocate socially conservative positions,[18] and often follow strict Protestant fundamentalism.[19],[20]

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