In The Desert Of Seth

By G. B. Marian

The Sutter Cane Effect

By now, you’ve probably heard about the two 12-year-old Wisconsin girls who’ve been accused of stabbing another girl their age to appease a fictional Internet monster called “the Slender Man.” (The two girls seem to have already confessed to committing this crime, and they’re currently being tried as adults, which means their names are all over the Web. But despite all that, I would still feel weird stating their names here; so I choose not to out of respect for their families, even if it won’t make a lick of difference in the long run.) Thankfully, the victim didn’t die but was hospitalized and now seems to be making a recovery. But this hasn’t changed the fact that people are scared. Ever since this crime was committed, people have been screaming their heads off about how the Internet is “evil,” how the creators of the “Slender Man” character are being “irresponsible,” or even how this is all part of Satan’s latest scheme against humanity. In other words, it’s the same old bullshit we saw when Judas Priest were accused of driving kids to suicide with their music or when The Matrix (1999) was blamed for the Columbine High School Massacre.

An anonymous drawing of the Slender Man

I feel terrible for the victim and her family, but I also feel terrible for the parents of the perpetrators. At least one of the two fathers appears to love death metal, horror films and Halloween, which has inspired the press to blame him for his daughter’s crazed misdeed. I have no idea how much the parents are actually responsible for this tragic event, but my heart goes out to them anyway. I know just what it’s like to have others blame the movies you watch or the music you listen to (or even the God you pray to) for all the bad things that happen in your life. I’m also a bit confused as to why these girls are being tried as adults. Wisconsin state law apparently requires that perpetrators over the age of 10 be tried as adults, and while I agree that premeditated murder is especially heinous, something about that set-up just sticks in my craw.

So what is it about this particular case that has the American media whipping our populace into such a frenzy? Personally, I think it’s because this case hits two psychological pressure points rather than just one. The most obvious of the two is the idea of children committing murder, but the second one has to do with the nature of reality and meta-horror. The Slender Man is a completely fictional character; we even know that he was invented by a fellow named Eric Knudsen (a.k.a. “Victor Surge”) in 2008. But part of the character’s gimmick is that he appears in stories that are the literary equivalent of “found footage” horror films (e.g., The Blair Witch Project). These stories are often written in the first person and resemble reports of UFO or monster sightings. This – along with the power of the Internet to fool people into believing anything – has made the Slender Man seem so authentic that there are now people who think he’s actually real.

Yes, you read me correctly, and I’m not exaggerating. I was listening to a paranormal talk show called Expanded Perspectives the other day – it was specifically an episode called “Slender Man” from March 16 of this year – and the hosts were actually talking about Slender Man as if he were real. They even interviewed a guy who argued that different versions of the character show up in world folklore all the way back to ancient times. (This tendency to “reverse-connect” the Slender Man story to earlier folktales is part of how the Internet meme works.) They also told a story about a guy who woke up to find he had shot his wife, and who then “remembered” (under hypnotherapy, of course) that the Slender Man had “possessed” him to do it. (I’m having a lot of trouble finding any facts about this report, so I doubt it’s real; it’s likely just another fiction.) Many fans of the Slender Man ethos are quick to clarify that none of this stuff is real, but the hosts of this show included no disclaimers to that effect. It’s difficult for me to be absolutely certain, but it seems like they honestly believe all of this bullshit without question – and that’s scary.

On the opposite side of the fence, we have Christian ministers like Israel Steinmetz claiming that, “Yes, the Slender Man may be fictional, but he’s really a tool Satan uses to possess people, and reading stories or watching films about him can turn you into a deranged serial killer.” (That’s not a direct quote, mind you, but an evangelical-to-plain-English translation.) Sweet Seth Almighty; here it is, 2014, and we’re still following the 1980s fad of shifting the blame for terrible crimes on fictional things like Dungeons & Dragons. With trusted adult authority figures spewing off such nonsense, it’s a goddamn miracle there aren’t more kids stabbing people to please or ward off the Slender Man. If I were a kid who was scared the Slender Man might be real and I had some preacher telling me that just reading about the bastard could turn me into a killer (or get me killed by someone else), I’m pretty sure I’d need a lot of therapy at the very least. Stuff like this isn’t helpful at all; it just makes the situation even worse than it was before. In fact, it’s people like this who were responsible for stirring up rumor panics like the Salem Witch Trials.

The real bitch of this situation is that it’s so nuanced. Yes, people like Steinmetz are absolutely ridiculous for trying to blame horror fiction for real life crimes. And the people who are trying to get all the Slender Man websites taken down are complete idiots. And yet…people like Steinmetz are partially justified in their fears. My own experiences have led me to accept that there are such things as evil spirits, and I’ve personally met people who interact with these entities for any number of reasons. Some of these people even try to take fictional horror characters and make them “real” (and some of these people open themselves to qliphothic influences in the process). This is best exemplified in John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness (1995), in which a horror novelist named Sutter Cane somehow becomes God and makes his fictional monsters real (while turning the human race into a bedtime story for their gooey offspring). There’s probably a better term for this phenomenon out there somewhere, but I prefer to call it “the Sutter Cane Effect.”

The best example of the Sutter Cane Effect is what many people call “Lovecraftian occultism.” Based on the horror fiction of H.P. Lovecraft (who was himself a staunch atheist), this bizarre trend was started by Kenneth Grant, a protégé of Aleister Crowley who theorized that Lovecraft had astrally traveled to qliphothic realms in his dreams. Grant further postulated that Lovecraft’s fictional monsters were actually real qliphoth that are trying to cross over into our reality, and that they ostensibly chose Lovecraft for their “prophet.” This has led some people to invoke Cthulhu and other monsters from Lovecraft’s Necronomicon mythos in real life. Grant himself developed an entire system of ceremonial magic that’s based on these ideas in the 1950s (and he ironically called it “the Typhonian Tradition,” even though it has very little to do with Seth-Typhon in any devotional sense). If we are to believe Grant’s accounts of these rituals in his books (e.g., The Magickal Revival, Nightside of Eden, etc.), many of the women who participated in his rites were raped by tentacled ghoulies from beyond the stars (and liked it). Is this fact or fiction? I have no bloody idea, but Lovecraftian occultism really took off in 1977 when a guy called “Simon” published a supposedly “real” (and mass-marketed) Necronomicon through Avon Books.

The Simon Necronomicon

The so-called Simon Necronomicon tries to pass itself off as an authentic medieval adaptation of ancient Sumerian ceremonial magic. (“Simon” even claims that Lovecraft “borrowed” his ideas from this manuscript, which is complete and utter horseshit.) In reality, this notorious grimoire has almost nothing to do with real Sumerian polytheism, but is more like a confused mishmash of Hermetic Qabalah and Erich von Däniken’s Chariots of the Gods (but with random Sumerian gibberish thrown in to make it sound more exotic than it really is). I think it’s also designed to drive its users insane, especially since it instructs them to (1) attempt astral travel without taking any of the normal precautions (e.g., banishings), (2) invoke a murderous demon (i.e., “the Watcher”) to “watch over” their bodies while they do so, and (3) recite Sumerian “incantations” that actually translate into execrations of the Gods. (I highly recommend reading Daniel Harms’ and John Wisdom Gonce III’s The Necronomicon Files: The Truth Behind the Legend for a more in-depth analysis of this book and its shortcomings.) Perhaps it isn’t surprising that the Simon Necronomicon – which calls for no less than 11 human sacrifices in just one of its spells – has also been linked to some truly nasty occult-related crimes (e.g., those perpetrated by Roderick Ferrell and Glen Mason).

As a polytheist, I treat all Deities from all religions as being potentially real in some way, including the monotheistic Deities. I don’t agree that these entities are always what Their worshipers believe They are, but I still accept Them as real and I act respectfully toward Them. With that in mind, I’m willing to concede that some Lovecraftian occultists, at least, are really contacting paranormal entities of some kind. I don’t believe for one second that fictional monsters like Cthulhu are real, but I’m open to the possibility that if you invoke “Cthulhu” in a ritual, some God or demon might choose to answer you by that name. However, I think this is dangerous; there’s no telling what might answer you. A name like “Seth-Typhon” has already been used for centuries, so we can be fairly confident that when we use it in an invocation, we’re going to get the real Seth-Typhon. But a name like “Cthulhu” is still too new for it to consistently “belong” to any particular entity; hence why some Lovecraftian occultists are actually working with Mesopotamian Deities (and will probably grow out of this stuff to become Pagans) while others are really interacting with monsters like the aqrabuamelu or “scorpion men” (and will eventually need psychiatric help).

(Personally, I think “Simon” is an irresponsible idiot, and I think his Necronomicon is a very dangerous book to be playing around with. I have a bit more respect for Kenneth Grant, who really only intended for his ideas to be used by adept ceremonial magicians; you’d have to be King Solomon himself just to be able to afford any of Grant’s books, which are both rare and incredibly expensive. But the Simon Necronomicon is a mass-marketed paperback that’s available at most any book store for less than $10; most of the people who use it are teenage “dabblers,” and they don’t have any idea what they’re doing. It also doesn’t help that every person I’ve ever met who’s been devoted to the Simon Necronomicon has been crackers, to say the least.)

Now to return to my earlier point about people like Israel Steinmetz. Yes, there are evil spirits out there that can intrude upon our lives and that can impersonate fictional monsters like Cthulhu or the Slender Man…but the thing is, that door has to be opened from the human side first. A person must actually reach out to said entities and deliberately let them into his or her life. Simply reading horror stories or watching horror films isn’t enough. Even mistakenly thinking that a fictional monster might be real isn’t enough. Were the two 12-year-old girls in Wisconsin possessed by a real demon pretending to be the Slender Man? Unless there’s any evidence that they were practicing magical ceremonies like those we might find in the Simon Necronomicon or the books of Kenneth Grant, I strongly doubt it. (And since the media hasn’t made a big deal about them being into “witchcraft” or the occult, I strongly doubt they ever engaged in such practices.) Even though they’re frightening, qliphoth aren’t powerful enough to manipulate people without being called up from the abyss in the first place. They aren’t Gods, and we aren’t at their mercy.

I really have no idea why those girls in Wisconsin did what they did, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re sociopaths (or if one of them is a sociopath and the other is her highly impressionable sycophant). Sometimes kids just go nuts and do evil things, like holding magnifying glasses over anthills or beating the shit out of other kids at the playground. They don’t have to like the Slender Man to be sociopaths, and they don’t have to be sociopaths to like the Slender Man either. So while I will kindly refrain from offering any parenting advice (since I’m not a parent myself yet), I urge parents to remember that enjoying Slender Man-related media is not a good indicator that anything is wrong with their children. I’m just glad the victim is alive and getting better, and while I think the girls who stabbed her definitely must be punished, I pray they will receive a sentence that’s suitably rehabilitative. (Go ahead and call me a “bleeding heart liberal.”)

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