Book Review PAINTED BLACK, by Carl A. Raschke. Harper + Row, 1990. Hardcover, 276 pages, $
Book Review PAINTED BLACK, by Carl A. Raschke. Harper & Row, 1990.
Hardcover, 276 pages, $16.95. by Shawn Carlson, PhD
For the last ten years, communities throughout America have suffered
at the hands of profiteers of the irrational who see the Devil under
every quilt and cornerstone. Churches have been burned, minority
religions harassed, and millions of tax dollars wasted in efforts to
expunge a non-existent "satanic conspiracy" from our lives. And
just when it seemed that the fires of anti-satanic hysteria couldn't
burn any hotter, along comes another tanker of kerosene in the guise
of Carl Raschke's new book, "Painted Black". In it, Raschke lands a
firm clout on the jaw of reason by hailing Satanism as the force
behind child abuse, teen suicide, and drug addiction.
Despite Raschke's position as a professor of religious studies at
the University of Denver, the text is bursting with sloppy research
and fuzzy thinking. Howling errors and half truths leap off every
page. Raschke messes up even the simplest facts. He refers to the
"Ordo Templi Orientis", an extremely well known occult group, as the
"Ordo Templi Orentalis" (p. 92 and index). Practitioners of the
"Palo Mayombe" religion call themselves "Paleros," but Raschke
invents the awkward "Palomayombists" (p. 11) and misrepresents their
During an interview on KGO Radio in San Francisco, he even
mispronounced the name of the most infamous figure in twentieth
century occultism -- Aleister Crowley -- and then dismissed a
caller's correction, saying, "you must be a follower of [Crowley] if
you know how to pronounce [his name]." Not true, Carl -- people
with only a passing knowledge of the occult get it right.
Raschke's retort to the caller illustrates his tactics; he prefers
intellectual bullying to persuasive reason. "Painted Black" bullies
with a clever trick -- it barrages the reader with many unbroken
sequences of one paragraph summaries of newspaper stories with
recount reported satanic horrors. The word "item" leading each such
paragraph produces a dramatic impact -- looking over these pages the
reader sees "Item ... Item ... Item ... Item ... Item ..." for
page after page giving the impression that satanism is running wild.
But Raschke doesn't help his readers think critically. In the
chapter, "Bad Moon Rising," for example, Raschke presents 41
separate "Items" without a single citation and neglects to mention
that some of the stories are over ten years old. An appendix does
contain a list of "sources" used in each chapter, but Raschke covers
his tracks by listing these alphabetically (sometimes by title,
sometimes by author) with no way of telling which, if any, relate to
a given "item." Worse, Raschke apparently didn't follow up any of
these reports, as though he just believed them to be complete and
accurate. In fact, newspaper accounts are rarely such. I've found
that most newspaper stories of "satanic crime" are more often due to
the reporter's ignorance of minority religions and cultures than to
Raschke puts nothing in context. He talks of the rising satanic
tide but doesn't mention that of the 100,000 murders committed in
the U.S. over the last five years, fewer than 100 involved occult or
satanic overtones and most of these were committed by mentally
disturbed adolescents who were doing violence years before they took
up the occult.
Raschke makes much of the tragedy in Matamoros, Mexico in which the
leader of a drug running cult ritually sacrificed fifteen people in
order to obtain Magickal [sic] control over the police. But Raschke
doesn't report that to find another example of ritual human
sacrifice one has to go to Cuba over eighty years ago. In fact,
according to the FBI, there hasn't been a single documented case of
a stranger being abducted and ritually murdered in the United States
in U.S. history.
So where does Raschke get his information? In his preface he thanks
one Dale Griffis "for his mentoring and Avuncular oversight" (p.
X). He borrows heavily from "Dr." Griffis' materials throughout
the book, lauds him as a "leading expert in the investigation of
occult crime" (p. 76) and even uses his endorsement on the book's
back cover. But Raschke omits the fact that "Dr." Griffis is a one
man anti-satanic crusade whose degree is from an unaccredited
diploma mill and whose work has never been considered reliable by
Raschke's material on Jayne Mansfield comes from May Mann, who wrote
"Jayne Mansfield: A Biography" after Jayne's ghost supposedly
returned from the grave demanding that Mann complete the biography.
How much of this work was dictated by the ghost is unclear. Raschke
acknowledges the ethereal connection (p. 199), then uses the book as
the definitive source on Mansfield's involvement with the Church of
Satan. Many of Raschke's other sources are equally dubious.
It's not that good information isn't available. Many skilled
researchers have investigated satanic crime. Yet Raschke dismisses
or ignores the Justice Department, the FBI, The National Child
Safety Council, and numerous scholars and police officers as "cult
apologists." When he singles out a detractor by name, Raschke can
be extremely vicious, even petty, in his attacks. For instance,
referring to FBI special agent Ken Lanning, Raschke writes "...
satanist criminals have had one of their best friends ... at the
highest level of national law enforcement" and opines that Lanning's
paper, "Satanic, Occult, Ritualistic Crime: A Law Enforcement
Perspective", is "written with the literacy, the research
sophistication, and the rhetorical finesse of a high school
sophomore" (p. 75).
According to Raschke, Lanning's paper consists of "volley after
volley of emotional diatribe, innuendo, non sequitur, glittering and
unsupported generality, and bogus appeal to his own authority [as an
FBI agent]" (p. 75). In fact, Lanning's report, with its solid
reasoning and clear command of the facts, earned him the respect of
his colleagues and cemented his position as a premier authority on
Satanic crime. After Raschke finishes his sophomoric tirades, he
goes on to systematically misrepresent Lanning's ideas.
In short, "Painted Black" is a masterpiece of the new "satanic"
McCarthyism. Horribly researched and hysterically reasoned, it sets
new standards in panic mongering. Although its unclear how many
people will be hurt by the social scares it is sure to generate, one
thing is certain -- "Painted Black "is the EXXON VALDEZ of rational
journalism. Some American communities will be years in recovering
from Harper & Row's decision to publish it.
[Physicist Shawn Carlson works at Lawrence Berkeley Labs, is the
science columnist for the national "Humanist" magazine and is on the
Board of Directors of Bay Area Skeptics]
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank