Witchy Protests and Fake Feminists: The “Satanic Panic”-cum-“Burning Times” as Völkisch Myth and its Basis in Antiziganism

Despite the fact that The Satanic Temple has openly made a spectacle of symbolically perpetrating male sexual violence against a woman’s corpse, its leader having rubbed his genitals on a woman’s grave under the nonsensical pretense of pretending to turn her into a lesbian (7.2), the sect nevertheless attempts to portray itself as being aligned with feminism and women’s liberation movements by posturing as a group engaged in pro-choice activism and which defends the rights to abortion and access to contraception. Charity campaigns are used to foster the image of TST as a “feminist” organization. For example, in 2018 the Arizona chapter of TST initiated a campaign called “Menstruatin’ with Satan,” collecting donated products such as tampons and feminine wipes to be distributed in schools via the YWCA program “Project Period.” This campaign was then used by the Satanists as a pretext to launch attacks on the YWCA (the Young Women’s Christian Association), which, despite its name, is a secular, non-faith-based organization dedicated to fighting racism, after members of the crypto-fascist sect started an online smear campaign against the YWCA, falsely accusing the secular anti-racist and feminist organization of no longer accepting donations collected by TST, a religious organization founded by a proponent of eugenics and a critic of racial desegregation in public schools (Felix, YWCA 2, Matirko). As an aside, it’s worth pointing out here that the neo-Nazi group NSM (or National “Socialist” [sic] Movement), which has known ties to the Satanist group Joy of Satan Ministry, has also protested against the YWCA due to the latter holding anti-racism workshops (Lunning). Another example of TST attempting to pass itself off as “feminist” can be found in a Vice video report titled “Inside the Satanic Temple’s Fight to Protect Your Abortion Rights,” which uncritically regurgitates TST’s portrayal of itself as a pro-women’s rights organization, showing members of the sect counterprotesting an anti-abortion protest while dressed in BDSM garb, diapers, and “baby” masks. TST’s attachment of BDSM apparel to infancy is doubly concerning, given the sect’s known tendency to attach BDSM to Nazi symbolism, hosting private parties where the eroticization of the power imbalance between SS officers and Holocaust victims is discernible, which, as we have coincidentally seen, is ideologically linked to the sexual fetishization of parent-child incest due to the Nordicist or Eurocentric neo-pagan view that ancient “Aryan” religious imperatives, such as that of incestuous coupling (or xwēdōdah) found in Zoroastrianism, can be justifiably appropriated by white supremacists from Asian cultures in which languages of the Indo-European family are or were spoken (6.3.3).

Part of what makes it possible for cryptic neo-fascists to use the aesthetics of “Satanism” as an entryist vehicle into left-wing political causes is the fact that there is some scattered precedent for the use of quasi-“Satanic” aesthetics by the political Left, although these have generally fallen short of actually claiming to uphold “Satanism” as a religion. For example, members of the left-wing Esperanto language group “Sennacieca Asocio Tutmonda” (also known as SAT or “World Anational [i.e., without nationalism] Association” in English), which was founded in 1921, have been known to refer to themselves as “SATanoj,” an Esperanto word meaning “Satans” (Lins 172, 209). Another example is that of the so-called “Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell,” or WITCH, founded in 1968 as the “action wing” of New York Radical Women, a second wave feminist group (Purkiss 8). A number of commentators, noting that “witchy protests are on the rise,” have observed that The Satanic Temple appears to draw on the legacy of WITCH (Sinders, Wood). For this reason, it’s worth taking a closer look at WITCH in order to arrive at an answer to the question of whether and to what extent the ability of neo-fascists to successfully adopt the “witchy” model of protest as a movement-entryist tactic represents a perversion of the WITCH legacy or whether and to what extent WITCH, with its identification with a term connotative of Eurocentric neo-paganism, was already problematic to begin with, considering especially the fact that Eurocentric neo-paganism was, by the late 1960s, already associated with neo-Nazism via groups like the Church of Satan, founded in 1966, and the Odinist Fellowship, founded in 1969 (Gardell 152).

It can be observed that WITCH, in its founding “Manifesto,” drew from its inception explicitly on the white supremacist tradition of appropriating a heavily romanticized fictional version of Rromani culture while at the same time perpetuating antiziganist (i.e., anti-Gypsy) stereotypes that have a very real negative impact on Rroma. In this first public statement, the group’s founders define “WITCH” as “an awareness that witches and gypsies […] have always been […] sexually liberated” (Adler 225). This inane statement demonstrates several levels of ignorance.

Firstly, far from “hav[ing] always been […] sexually liberated,” it must be recognized that Rromani people (or “Gypsy” women and men) were continuously held in slavery from as early as the 1370s until as late 1861, being subject throughout this period to invasive regulation of, and intrusion into, their sexual lives (Achim 13, 131). Enslavement of Rromani people was most systematized in the Romanian principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia, but was also practiced in Western Europe into the 18th century. Historian Viorel Achim notes in The Roma in Romanian History that “marriages contracted [between ‘Gypsy slaves’] without the permission of their masters […] led to many disputes between [different masters], which usually resulted in the annulment of the marriages,” (31). Rromani slaves in the Romanian principalities were also forbidden from marrying non-Rromani peasants “in most situations” (Szeman 177). Even worse, slaveholding boyars (i.e., Romanian nobles) regularly subjected Rromani women and girls to “sexual abuse and exploitation,” continuing the medieval tradition of “ius prima noctis” into the 19th century (ibid., 178; Pătrașcu Zamfirache).

The conflation of Rromani culture with witchcraft, which was historically used as a justification for genocidal campaigns waged by European monarchs against Rromani people during the early modern period and which we find reinvoked in WITCH’s formulation of ““witches and gypsies” (as though practically the same thing) is also deeply problematic. Contrary to what the WITCH narrative would appear to want to imply (i.e., that “gypsies” were the victims of irrational witch-hunting hysteria), Rroma were targeted for annihilation by “enlightened” rulers seeking to “modernize” their countries and put an end to the witch-hunting “craze” precisely because their very existence (i.e., their existence as Rromani people) was blamed for perpetuating and giving rise to the kinds of popular superstitions which caused witch-hunts to occur in the first place. The coincidence of genocidal anti-Gypsy laws and edicts aiming to stop witch trials by stamping out belief in witchcraft and promoting “skepticism” and “rationalism” was no mere happenstance, but rather was, across Europe—from France to Hungary—part of a singular “Enlightenment” project in which “Gypsies” and the persistence of magical thinking were construed as “problems” requiring one and the same solution.

Rroma were seen as “exploit[ing] the superstitions of the majority population” by generating income through the performance of “healing ceremonies” and giving advice or “fortune-telling” (Matras 184). Because “their foreign appearance” was said to be the source of the majority population’s willingness to believe that the Rroma “actually possessed supernatural powers,” “enlightened” rulers seeking to eliminate belief in witchcraft seem to have concluded that if they could totally annihilate cultural and bio-physical signifiers of Rromani “foreign appearance,” they would thereby eliminate a major source of the kind of folkloric epistemology quickly coming to be seen as a hindrance to the development of a modern capitalist economy (ibid.).

For example, it can be seen that the “Enlightenment” values of “rationalism” and “skepticism” which in 1766 led Empress Maria Theresa (1717–1780) to move towards the abolition of witch-hunting in the Habsburg Empire (later known as the Austrian Empire and then the Austro-Hungarian Empire) were the same ones which also led her, during the same period (between 1758 and 1773), to implement a series of decrees aiming to eliminate Rromani people as a distinct group (Kern, rombase). Maria Theresa’s 1766 edict, which attacked “the persistent magical beliefs of the populace,” was titled “An Article on Sorcery, Witchcraft, Divination, and Similar Activities” and is said to have represented a “rationalization of the judicial processes that we [scholars and historians] have come to expect from so-called enlightened despots” (Kern 161). Among the steps taken to wipe out Rromani people living in parts of what are now Hungary and Romania in the years surrounding the 1766 decree which aimed to stamp out belief in the supernatural were the following:

  • forced sedentarization (1758),
  • prohibition of a distinct ethnonym for Rromani people, who were henceforth to be called “new peasants,” “new settlers,” or “new Hungarians” (1761),
  • withdrawal of legal recognition of Rromani community leaders (known as voivodes) and prohibition of the Rromani language, traditional clothing, and occupations (1767),
  • prohibition of “marriages between Gypsies,” implementation of strict controls on “mixed marriages,” and ordering “that all children over the age of five should be taken away from their parents and be handed over to a Hungarian farmer’s family” (1773) (Achim 71–72; rombase).

Even more conclusive is the timing of a decree by King Louis XIV of France almost a century earlier. In an edict titled “Declaration of the King of the 11th of July 1682, rendered against Bohemians and those who harbor them,” Louis called on French law enforcement officers…

“to arrest all those who call themselves Bohemians or Egyptians, their women, children, and others of their kind, to enchain the men as slaves, to be led to our galleys, and serve there in perpetuity [and] as for their women and girls […] to shave [their heads] the first time they will be found living as Bohemians […] and [if they] continue […] to live as Bohemians, to whip them and banish them from the Kingdom,” (Freminville 81–82).

Later that month, on July 31, 1682, the “Sun King” issued another edict, titled “Edict of the King for the Punishment of Different Crimes,” which ordered…

“That all persons […] calling themselves fortune-tellers [practitioners of divination] will get out of the Kingdom after the publication of our present Declaration, or face corporal punishment,” (Coynart 274–275).

The same edict contains further clauses threatening even worse punishments, enumerating offenses related to superstition, belief in and pretended practice of witchcraft, and the use of poisons:

“We [the authorities of the Kingdom of France] forbid all superstitious practices […] whether by saying or doing things that have no relation to natural causes, we want that those who will be found to have taught [superstitious practices], together with those who will have put them into use, and who have used them for whatever ends […] be exemplarily punished […]

“And if there would be found in the future people mean enough to add and join to superstition impiety and sacrilege, under the pretext of operations claimed to be magical or another similar pretext, we want that the persons convicted [of pretending to do magical works] be punished with death.

“To be similarly punished are all those who will be convicted of using vénéfices [poisoning by magic spell] and poison, whether death be the result or not, as well as those who will be convicted of making or distributing poison,” (ibid. 275).

These edicts were mainly a result of the so-called “Affair of the Poisons,” a period during the reign of Louis XIV of interest here for the reason that it is in these events of the mid-to-late 17th century, and not with the founding of the Church of Satan in 1966, that the roots of the “modern Satanism” phenomenon may be located, with many scholars concluding that “Black Mass” ceremonies, alleged to have included human sacrifice in some cases, were carried out in Paris at this time, with underground groups continuing the practice into the 18th century (Introvigne, Satanism: A Social History 42).  Indeed, the historian Massimo Introvigne concludes, after a presentation of the “Affair of the Poisons” which is somewhat skeptical in tone, that he is “inclined to believe that a [Black Mass] ritual and an embryonic organization did exist, and [that] the Paris incident was a first instance of proto-Satanism,” (Satanism: A Social History 43). Anne Somerset provides some further context in The Affair of the Poisons: Murder, Infanticide and Satanism at the Court of Louis XIV, noting that…

“The Affair of the Poisons was the name given to an extraordinary episode which took place in France during the reign of Louis XIV. In 1679 fears that poisoning had become widespread led to drastic action. What followed seemed to show that there was a serious problem, for an investigation suggested that many people were indeed using poison and black magic to rid themselves of enemies. Numerous arrests and executions resulted, with torture being widely used and suspects including distinguished individuals from the highest ranks of society,” (25).

While the architects of these early Black Masses were “renegade [Catholic] priests,” also implicated in the poisons scandal was a “magical underworld” of self-styled “soothsayers” and “sorcerers” whose clients included “high-ranking aristocrats” and which dealt in the sale of a variety of goods, including—in addition to poisons—“love potions, grimoires and other books with magical rituals for all occasions, charms intended to bring good luck in business, love, and gambling,” as well as services such as abortion and treasure-hunting (Introvigne, Satanism: A Social History 38–39; Somerset 387). Here it is a question of the “Court of Miracles,” immortalized in Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre-Dame (1831). Interestingly, the first description of the “Court of Miracles” is said to be in the 1616 work of a writer named Richard de Romany (Kraemer 264). One suspect, among many others, in the “Affair of the Poisons” was a man also named Romani, said “to have planned to poison [a woman] by disguising himself as [a] silk merchant and selling her poisoned gloves,” (Somerset 19). Given these indicators, as well as Louis XIV’s edicts calling for the enslavement and persecution of the Rromani community in France at this time, it seems likely that some Rroma were involved in the “magic” business; however, what is even more certain is that the Rroma, and the nascent urban working class in general (members of the Third Estate under the Ancien Régime), also served as a scapegoat, allowing those implicated in the actual Black Masses—the thrill-seeking superstitious aristocrats of the Second Estate, some of the earliest “slum tourists,” and the Black Mass-officiating “renegade priests” of the First Estate, with their sadism, megalomaniacal bloodlust, and sexual scheming no doubt a product of their privileged position in the feudal hierarchy (and desire to advance therein)—to escape relatively unscathed. In 1682, after Louis XIV’s then favorite mistress and mother of several of his children, the Marquise Françoise Athénaïs de Montespan (1640–1707), was implicated in Satanic rituals, the “Sun King” halted the investigation and had all the suspects who might talk about her involvement “incarcerated for life in faraway fortresses, with all contacts with outsiders forbidden” (Introvigne, Satanism: A Social History 38). In this way, by pivoting away from the aristocratic aficionados of the Black Mass and projecting deviance onto the Third Estate commoners and especially Rroma, some of whom made a living in part by generating income through the performance of “healing ceremonies” and by giving advice (deemed “superstition” and “fortune-telling” by outsiders), he avoided a major scandal that would not only have implicated his favorite mistress, but would also have threatened to reveal systemic hypocrisy and moral depravity among the First and Second Estates (i.e., clergy and nobles).

What is significant about the French edicts of July 1682 is that, as with the Habsburg edicts of 1758–1773, they demonstrate that the worst violence against the Rromani communities of the early modern era was not perpetrated by hysterical witch-hunters, but rather at the behest of “rational” despots eager to wipe out folkloric epistemology and “superstition.” We see that the “Enlightenment” era project of wiping out superstitious belief in witches (and vampires, who, unlike witches, were more often male) was intimately tied to the will of “modernizing” genocidal policy-makers to wipe out “Gypsies” from actual physical existence, whether by outlawing the Rromani language, identity, and traditional clothing, separating Rromani families, or enslaving and deporting Rromani people.

Rromani women’s rights activist Carmen Gheorghe identifies the stereotype seized upon by WITCH as that of “the passionate Gypsy woman” (although the founders of WITCH didn’t even bother to capitalize the ethnic epithet, opting instead for “gypsy”) in See Me as I Am: Words and Images of Roma Women, where she also notes that there is a tendency for “stereotypical and racist representations [of Rromani women to be] mingled with hypocritical attempts at ‘affirmative’ representations” (as with WITCH’s grasping onto the racist stereotype of the “sexually liberated gypsy witch” as an “inspirational” device). Gheorghe writes:

“Together with other stereotypical representations of Roma women in literature, art and mass culture – such as the ‘Gypsy’ as witch, florist, servant or thief – a representation which persists in public coverage is that of the ‘passionate Gypsy woman,’ the voluptuous, exotic and seductive woman who drives men insane and is thus the embodiment of ‘white’ men’s fantasies. This myth combines sexism, by presenting women as exclusively sexual beings, dangerous in their irrational seductiveness, with racism – which reduces Roma women to ‘exotic,’ mysterious creatures, closer to nature and its dangers,” (180).

Based on the fact that the mythical “sexy wandering gypsy” which the founders of WITCH invoke in their founding statement is a completely misleading and racist stereotype, we can anticipate that there is not much difference between the WITCH organization’s idea of the “gypsy” and that of the “witch” in terms of either one’s historicity. It is also quite telling to recall that Anton LaVey, the founder of the Church of Satan who attempted to justify his admiration for Nazism (and collaboration with neo-Nazis) by claiming that Nazism was a crypto-Jewish movement, also claimed to be of “Gypsy” descent. Needless to say, the image of the “Gypsy” which LaVey leeched off of was identical to that of WITCH.

WITCH has also played a significant role in propagating the so-called “Burning Times” myth; i.e., the false claim that “nine million” women were burned at the stake as witches during the early modern period in an effort to stamp out a “half-submerged pagan religion,” often portrayed as having pre-Christian, matriarchal roots (Adler 225, Purkiss 7). Before WITCH, the claim of “nine million” women killed in the “Burning TImes” was propagated in Nazi Germany by the antisemite Mathilde Ludendorff (1877–1966), a so-called “völkisch feminist,” in a 1936 pamphlet called “Christian Cruelty to German Women” (Bailey 237–238). Later scholarship has attempted to portray the “Burning Times” as an “epistemicide”—a systematic effort to “decimate forms of knowing outside the Cartesian logics” (Esmonde and Booker 121). Ironically, it is not the so-called “Burning Times” which represents an episode of epistemicide, but precisely the opposite. It is the “enlightened” move to abolish belief in the real existence of witchcraft and wipe out “superstitious” ways of knowing (e.g., ways of knowing who is a witch, or what must be done to destroy a vampire) seen as incompatible with “modernity” and capitalist development, which represents the real epistemicide, which in turn led to genocide. Indeed, we saw how the conflation of “Gypsies” with “backwardness” and “superstitious” ways of knowing (still present today in antiziganist stereotypes) undoubtedly led to the designs of “enlightened” rulers to eradicate Rromani culture and people. In terms of “half-submerged pagan religion,” it must be admitted that angelology and demonology, the quasi-polytheistic frameworks of supernatural belief which informed witch-hunting and the levelling of witchcraft accusations during the early modern era, have clear analogues in paganism, with virtually all cultures around the world having developed beliefs about spiritual entities who could be beneficent or malevolent (Evans 9). In this way, we see demonological epistemology and witch-hunting within Christianity and on the part Christians as the artifacts of a “half-submerged pagan religion.” Thus the suppression of witch-hunting, linked across Europe to genocide campaigns against Rromani people, constitutes the suppression of a “half-submerged pagan religion,” the space for sincere polytheism within Christianity.

As the emergence of modern capitalism gave way to a kind of disillusionment with the disenchanted world in which the thought of credulous belief in the existence of witchcraft, vampirism, and the like was met with scorn or ridicule, increasing numbers of Western individuals began to project “a sense of unfulfilled longings and desires” onto romanticized, false images of Rromani people, who really had, to a certain extent, kept the ways of knowing associated with the so-called “Burning Times” alive (rombase, “Stereotypes and Folklorism”). With a “nesting of Orientalisms,” European Rroma (or rather, segments of the Rromani population arbitrarily selected as the most “authentic” due to their being perceived by outsiders as the most “backward” or nomadic) became a source of “inspiration” for the despiritualized Westerner, with some so-called “Gypsologists” remarking, seemingly with some astonishment, that “[i]n Gypsy belief, the conception persists that [a married woman without children] made love to a vampire before getting married and this is the reason for her infertility,” (Mara, “Ţiganii: geneza unei structuri identitare marginale” 78). That the belief in such a conception could easily lend itself to the kind of “dangerous” accusations associated with the so-called “Burning Times” doesn’t matter to the cultural appropriators, who are more interested in projecting their “unfulfilled longings” onto the racist stereotype of “the sexually liberated gypsy witch” than in having any real understanding or authentic engagement with Rromani histories and contemporary situations.

The most emblematic episode of witch-hunting in North America is without a doubt the Salem witch trials, the mythos of which The Satanic Temple can be observed to attempt to link itself up with by having established its official headquarters in Salem, Massachusetts (despite the group’s largest chapter being in Detroit, Michigan). Given (1) TST’s efforts to frame the so-called “Satanic Panic of the 1980s and 1990s” as a “modern day witch-hunt” (see: Chapter 6) and (2) the observation that TST’s model of protest owes much to the legacy of WITCH, it is safe to say that we may consider the so-called “Satanic Panic” as a kind of “modern day Burning Times” myth. If the “Burning Times” was conceived as “a Holocaust of women,” then the “Satanic Panic” is similarly, though even more absurdly, construed along the lines of “a Holocaust of Satanists.” By examining the “Burning Times” myth and seeing that it fails to measure up to the reality of witch-hunting in the early modern era, we will see that, in a completely analogous way, the “Satanic Panic” myth fails to measure up to the reality of the “moral panic” narrative’s status as a meme for those eager to dismiss concerns about neo-fascist operations and the organized aspects of sexual abuse as “exaggerated.”

Diane Purkiss shows in her book The Witch in History how proponents of the “Burning Times” myth appropriate modes of discourse associated with Holocaust remembrance (e.g., “testimony, recollection and traumatic inarticulacy”), despite showing little interest in accurately assessing or contextualizing historical witch-hunts (7–29). Purkiss criticizes proponents of the idea that the “Burning Times” can be seen as a kind of “[Women’s] Holocaust,” noting that they habitually attempt to present the “Burning Times” as more destructive or more atrocious than the Holocaust, inflating the number of women who are said to have been burned as witches to be greater than the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust “as if a competition is afoot” and as if they were trying “to prove that women have suffered more than victims of racism or genocide (as though women have not been among the victims of racism and genocide)” (17). This can clearly be seen to mirror the discourse of Holocaust obfuscationist far-right Ukrainian nationalists who apologize for the collaboration of Ukrainian fascists with Nazi Germany by inflating the number of Ukrainians who died in the so-called “Holodomor,” often alleging that the latter was worse than the Holocaust and that Jews were disproportionately represented in the Soviet government, which they allege deliberately orchestrated famine in Eastern Europe during the 1930s. Purkiss also highlights the fact that the term “Burning Times”—an attempt to allude to the crematoria of Nazi death camps—is itself inaccurate; English “witches” (and English or Anglo-American white settler “witches”) were, for the most part, hanged, not burned at the stake (Purkiss 8, 17).

The tendency to appropriate Holocaust remembrance modes of discourse reflects a more general trend of upholding the Holocaust as the paradigmatic prism through which the concept of modern human atrocity is abstractly viewed. Purveyors of the absurd “Burning Times” legend attempt to give some semblance of validity to their myth by approximating the Holocaust remembrance mode of discourse which interrogates the relation between fantasy and trauma (pioneered in works such as Georges Perec’s W, ou le souvenir d’enfance [1975]), appropriating Jewish cultural theorist Edith Wyschogrod’s concept of “ficción,” defined as a way of presenting “the kernel of contemporary concerns read through a historical lens” (Shuck). Nevertheless, there must necessarily be a fundamental difference between presenting “contemporary concerns” through a lens of falsified history and presenting them through a lens of authentic history. By appropriating the Holocaust remembrance mode of discourse to affirm the historicity of something which is demonstrably ahistorical, exponents of the “Burning Times” myth participate in an oblique form of Holocaust denialism. This is compounded by the fact that the “enlightened” move to abolish the epistemologies of “superstition” anticipated in a very real way the actual Holocaust, as “enlightened” European rulers sought to “modernize” their countries by eradicating Rromani people and culture for their role in producing, or contributing to the persistence of, those “backward” epistemologies. In this way, proponents of the “Burning Times” myth celebrate genocide, adding insult to injury by prattling on about “sexually liberated gypsies,” sometimes even denying the Rromani ethnic connotation of that term by refusing to capitalize it.

In Purkiss’ observation that proponents of the “Burning Times” myth largely construes “racism and genocide” as separate from sexism (insofar as they regard the Holocaust, for example, as essentially “not a women’s issue”), we can begin to read a certain opposition in the myth to intersectionality and therefore also a tendency to construct “feminism” as being largely a matter of “white” women’s rights. This is indicative of the fact that the “Burning Times” myth is in large part a white supremacist myth masquerading as a “feminist” one. This, in turn, is confirmed by the fact that Nazism was the first political movement to champion the “Burning Times” myth, with so-called “völkisch feminists” arguing for “the superiority of Aryan wom[e]n over the men of degenerate races” and citing the witch-hunts of the early modern era as a “Judeo-Christian” effort to “destroy Aryan womanhood” (Bailey 237). A remarkable degree of psychological projection can be observed in the fact that, in the same time that Nazis were spreading tales of the witch-hunts having been “an attempt to exterminate all wom[e]n carrying Aryan racial features, as a means to eliminate the Aryan race entirely from Europe,” they were also carrying out the Holocaust (ibid.).

Viewing the “Burning Times” myth as a pseudo-historical device through which the contemporary concerns of the myth’s proponents in the United States from the late 1960s up to the present are expressed, it can be seen that the myth still carries a great deal of white supremacist baggage, although it is conveyed in a significantly more subtle way than it was in Nazi Germany. Although three of those accused (but not executed) in the Salem witch trials were members of the African diaspora (McMillan 104), we nevertheless find in the Salem events of 1692 and 1693 a narrative of “white victimhood” more palatable to a colonizer culture in which overt racism has, to an extent, lost favor than we do in the events that surrounded it (i.e., “King William’s War” or the “Candlemas Massacre,” in which several times more “innocent” English colonizers, including women, were killed by Wabanaki opponents of English colonialism than died in the witch-hunt). In “Black Magic: Witchcraft, Race, and Resistance in Colonial New England,” Timothy McMillan notes that the practice of levelling witchcraft accusations provided a means by which “slaves were able to express their resentment of [w]hites in a socially acceptable form and also to escape punishment,” (107). From this fact we can begin to gather that witch-hunting in the early modern era did not in any way resemble a unitary, conspiratorial campaign to wipe out “forms of knowing outside the Cartesian logics,” but rather a disparate array of episodes loosely informed by a common cultural idiom of quasi-polytheistic demonological epistemology.

One “Burning Times” myth apologist has argued that “critics of Wicca” fail to realize that “[w]hether or not Wiccan accounts of the Burning Times are historically accurate is of little concern […] What matters is that Wiccans themselves value the account of these events, a narrative that reflects rather than directs their contemporary resistance,” (Shuck). It is true that the “Burning Times” as pseudo-historical narrative merits consideration not only in terms of whether it is accurate (it isn’t), but also in terms of how the act of expressing (genuine or disingenuous) belief in the patently ahistorical “Burning Times” narrative reflects “contemporary concerns.” Earlier (6.2 and 6.2.1), we saw how the desire to dismiss contemporary concerns about sexual abuse (concerns which have found expression in recent years via the #MeToo movement) as “exaggerated” are read through the falsified historical lens of the “Satanic Panic of the 1980s and 1990s,” the term “moral panic” often being invoked to suggest that false accusations of sexual abuse are a much bigger problem than actual sexual abuse. Now, we will see how the desire to build a Eurocentric neo-pagan “religion of the blood” to serve as the racialistic ideological glue of a fascist society has historically been the basis for reading contemporary concerns through the “Burning Times” myth.

In the year 1935 in Nazi Germany, “Reichsführer-SS” Heinrich Himmler (1900–1945) established the Hexen-Sonderkommando (“Witches-Special Unit”) “as a component of the Sicherheitsdienst (SD),” the intelligence agency of the SS, in order to collect data on the persecution of witches during the early modern period (Purkiss, “English Witches and SS Academics” 5). A member of the “Witches-Special Unit” described the group’s goal as being “to identify remnants of ancient Germanic beliefs and […] utilize the information gained about the witch trials in anti-Christian propaganda, specifically directed against the Roman Catholic Church,” (Sebald 254–255). The idea that the “persecuted witches” of what would later be sensationalized as the “Burning Times” were actually “Celto-Germanic Aryans practicing superior Nature religion and suffering merciless persecution under an inferior religion, Christianity, which […] was afflicted […] by Semitic origin,” was not original to Himmler (Sebald 254). Credit for popularizing this idea, sometimes called the “witch-cult hypothesis” is often given to “Grandmother of Wicca” Margaret Murray (1863–1963), whose book The Witch Cult in Western Europe (1921) argued that the witch trials of the early modern could be seen as the struggle of a “surviving sect of pagans, persecuted by the intolerant church,” (Sebald 254; Purkiss, The Witch in History 62). However, the “witch-cult hypothesis” already had racist connotations at the time Murray’s work appeared. Guido von List (1848–1919), the godfather of the proto-Nazi “Aryan” racialist/German nationalist ideology of Ariosophy, propagated the theory before Murray, “claiming that the Armanenschaft [i.e., the ‘Aryan’ pagan priesthood] had never been destroyed, but had survived [‘the Christian epoch’] in secret conventicles,” (Goodrick-Clarke, Occult Roots of Nazism 63).

The discourse of groups espousing Wicca, Ariosophy, Satanism, and the like frequently evinces a desire to cultivate the perception that their hoaky ideologies have deep roots in occult traditions spanning thousands of years, utter lack of historical evidence for this often being explained away by claims of communication with “secret chiefs,” “secret masters,” “dark gods” and the like, who have supposedly kept these so-called “traditions” alive; Goodrick-Clarke notes that “[t]he myth of an occult elite […] in European ideology […] has been a perennial theme of post-Enlightenment occultism, which attempts to restore the certainties and security of religious orthodoxy within a sectarian context,” (Occult Roots of Nazism 65). The Nazi Hexen-Sonderkommando and Wiccans’ wanting-to-believe in the so-called “witch-cult hypothesis” of “Armanen priest-kings” or “wiccan covens” being persecuted by the Church is reflective of this. The neo-Nazi “Order of Nine Angles” similarly claims roots in a “Satanic” tradition stretching into antiquity via its supposed basis in the 1970s merger of a Wiccan group called “Camlad” or “Rounwytha” with two other sects, despite the ONA’s obvious LaVeyan derivativeness (Introvigne 357; 3.2.1.1). True-believers in the “moral panic” narrative of crypto-Communist psychiatrists using “Red Chinese brainwashing techniques” to plant “false memories” of abusive “intergenerational” Satanic cults in people’s heads to destroy families reveal their disingenuousness in ignoring the fact that deviant occultist groups often seek to fabricate false impressions of historical rootedness and longevity. Instead of treating Satanic sects’ ideological pretensions with suspicion, such “moral panic” narrative true-believers use the ahistorical claims of rape culture-permeated groups against the victims of sexual abuse, using the absurdity of the claims of occultist sects to represent “ancient traditions” to sow disbelief in the existence or extent of organized “intergenerational” sexual abuse. That is, the “SRA skeptics” who shriek on about “the Satanic Panic of the 1980s and 1990s” would sooner take the ONA’s claim to represent the continuation of an occult tradition going back to ancient Britannia at face value than acknowledge its obvious roots in “US intelligence community” operations.

If the so-called “Satanic Panic of the 1980s and 1990s” was a “modern day witch-hunt,” then the attempt of The Satanic Temple to represent Satanists as the actual victims of the “Satanic Panic” represents the “modern day Burning Times” myth: a time when innocent Satanists were persecuted by an oppressive Judeo-Christian society, bent on wiping out the benign religion of “Satanism.” Nevertheless, we can see that this is an absurdity in that, even if we do acknowledge that false accusations of sexual abuse do sometimes occur, of those who were accused of sexual abuse during the 1980s and 1990s and were actually Satanists (or “Setians” or “Magickians” or whatever they want to call themselves), such as Michael Aquino (accused in 1986/1987) and Genesis P-Orridge (accused in 1992), there is enough evidence to cast a reasonable amount of suspicion on these individuals. For example, there are the facts, as revealed in The Satanic Letters of Stephen Brown, that in the 1980s Aquino was the leader of an organization (“Temple of Set”) with at least one openly pro-pedophilia member (“James Martin”) and was in contact over a long period of time with another organization (Myatt’s “Order of Nine Angles,” whose name indicates a close relationship with Aquino due to the latter’s authorship of “The Ceremony of Nine Angles”) which condemned his organization for “having a code of ethics” when Aquino attempted to crack down on open support for criminality within his organization (Brown 29, 32). In this respect, it is also curious that a significant number of individuals held simultaneous or dual membership in both Aquino and Myatt’s sects at that time (Introvigne 364). Other relevant matters of fact are that P-Orridge authored a text on conducting a ritual which purports to “make [‘your (…) sexual fantas(ies)’] really happen” “regardless of the […] age of those who take part with you” and led a sect dedicated to “the total freeing of sex” from “standards of morality” (as described in the sect’s so-called “Psychick Bible”) whose members were supposed to do this ritual on a regular basis (48, 134). Furthermore, the emergence of new sexual abuse cases linked to Satanism, such as that of the Emery brothers of Seattle, Washington in 2017 (discussed in 3.2.1.1), demonstrate the complicity of those who dismiss all accusations of sexual abuse linked to Satanism as “Satanic Panic,” “witch-hunting,” “moral panic,” or “sex abuse hysteria” in giving cover to occultist rape culture, or “rape occulture.” This is compounded by the fact that the meme of “Satanic Panic” is often invoked to sow disbelief in disclosures of sexual abuse having zero connection to Satanism, as we have seen with the frequent comparisons made by reactionaries between “Satanic Panic” and the #MeToo movement in their efforts to paint the latter as a “moral panic” (discussed in 6.2 and 6.2.1).

A number of additional factors contribute further to the assessment that the attempt to portray the so-called “Satanic Panic of the 1980s and 1990s” as a “modern day Burning Times” is a farce:

  1. Unlike the witch-hunts of the early modern era, a perusal of reports on “Satanic ritual abuse” cases indicates that most persons accused of perpetrating sexual abuse within the context of Satanic rituals have been male.
  2. Contrary to the construction of the “Burning Times” as a völkisch “feminist” myth, the “moral panic” narrative of “the Satanic Panic of the 1980s and 1990s” never had any pretense of being a “feminist” narrative. On the contrary, the Satanic “moral panic” narrative was constructed by rabid anti-feminists such as “False Memory Syndrome Foundation” leader Ralph Underwager, who blamed feminist psychotherapists and psychiatric social workers for the alleged implanting of “false memories,” contending that “radical feminism” causes “child sexuality hysteria” because “men […] say[ing] that maleness can include the intimacy and closeness of [‘male bonding’] and [‘paedophile sex’] may make women jealous [and say,] ‘Wait a minute, we’re not going to let you do that!’” (Underwager).
  3. Given former “False Memory Syndrome Action Network” administrator Douglas Misicko’s history of recruiting actors to speak on behalf of “The Satanic Temple,” including an actress who spoke about being “an aspiring pre-school teacher” (alluding to the concept of “day-care sex abuse hysteria” expounded by rape culture apologist proponents of the “moral panic” narrative [see Van Sickler; Chapter 2; and 5.1]), we may suspect that women speaking on behalf of The Satanic Temple’s “Grey Faction” are pawns in a male-dominated, crypto-fascist organization’s efforts to promote rape culture and sexual abuse negationism. By getting spokeswomen or actresses to speak on behalf of “Grey Faction” and present anti-psychiatry talking points borrowed from the Church of Scientology about “pseudo-science” and psychiatrists preying on “highly vulnerable” women, the male masterminds of “Grey Faction” attempt to enhance the credibility of their absurd arguments and shield themselves from criticism, in this manner preparing the way for the insidious twisting of the concept of “mansplaining” so that male critics of rape culture will superficially be seen as arguing against the ideas of “feminist” women, despite the fact that (a) “Grey Faction” in reality represents the “Satanic” rebranding of the arguments of the rabid anti-feminist and woman-hater Ralph Underwager, founding member of the “False Memory Syndrome Foundation” and (b) the so-called “feminist” narrative of the “Burning Times” (i.e., witch-hunting in the early modern period), which serves as the basis for the construction of “Satanic Panic” as a “modern day witch-hunt” in which actual “Satanists” such as Michael Aquino and Genesis P-Orridge were “unjustly persecuted,” is in reality deeply rooted in the antisemitic discourses of so-called völkisch “feminists” such as Mathilde Ludendorff, whose pseudo-“feminism” consisted in the attribution of misogyny within Western culture to an alien “Semitic” or “Oriental” Jewish source. Furthermore, even in its more recent iteration through WITCH, the “Burning Times” myth is premised on the erasure of the historical reality of strict regulation of so-called “gypsy” sexuality over a period of centuries of slavery.

 

 


CONTINUE READING… 7.4 Pinkwashing: How “The Satanic Temple” Exploits LGBTQ+ Causes as a “Progressive” Fig Leaf

OR RETURN TO TABLE OF CONTENTS (Anatomy of a Crypto-Fascist Sect: The Unauthorized Guide to “The Satanic Temple”)

 

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L’exotique dans l’atavique, ou Oviri en Bikini (with translations)

Par Daniel K. Buntovnik

Cette nuit je suis sorti

pour faire des graffiti

les images

forment des paysages

dans ma tête

ce sont des femmes de Tahiti

et des hommes tiki

catastrophe nucléaire sur l’île de Pikinni

injustice pour le peuple de la Micronésie

c’est à cause de notre gouvernement

de dumbasses et conasses

qui disent qu’il n’y a pas de place

pour des gens pacifistes

dans l’océan Pacifique

c’est tellement ironique

hypocrite

pas logique

les armes atomiques

je suis comme Paul Gauguin

on trouvera mon leitmotiv toujours sanguin

il y a beaucoup de crimes de guerres

commises par nos grandpères

dans les armées de mer et de l’air.


Traducere în limbă română:

Noaptea aceasta am ieșit

pentru a face niște graffiti

imaginile

formează peisaje

în mintea mea

sunt niște femei din Tahiti

și niște bărbați tiki

catastrofă nucleară pe insula Bikini

injustiție pentru poporul Microneziei

este din cauză guvernului nostru

tâmpiților și tâmpitelor

cine spun că nu-i loc

pentru oameni pacifiști

în Oceanul Pacific

e atât de ironic

ipocrit

fără sens

armele atomice

eu sunt ca Paul Gauguin

veți găsi leitmotiv-ul meu mereu sangvin

au fost multe crime de război

săvârșite de bunici noștri

în marină și forțe aeriene.


Tolmachija ande rromani chib:

Kodeja rjat me dem avri

te kerav arta vulitsaki

le kipurja

keren panorame

ando murro shero

san vuni zhuvlja katar Tahiti

thaj vuni manusha tiki

porrajmos atomiko po izula Bikini

nekazo le manushenge katar Mikronisija

si zbog amaro guberno

dilivantenge thaj chaladenge

kaj phenen te naj than

pala manusha mirne

ande Mariya Pasifiko

si baj bi-azhukerdo

hipokrito

naj gogi

le arma atomika

me sim sar Paul Gauguin

arakhes murro leitmotiv sagda lolo sar rat

san but marimaske-zlochinurja

doshavile amare papurjasa

ande vojska marijaki thaj cheraki.


Anglo Saxon Translation:

That night I went out

to do graffiti

the images

form landscapes

in my head

there’s women from Tahiti

and tiki men

nuclear catastrophe on Bikini Island

injustice for the people of Micronesia

it’s because of our government

of dumbasses and of stupid bitches

who say there’s no space

for pacifist people

in the Pacific Ocean

it’s so ironic

hypocritical

not logical

atomic weapons

I’m like Paul Gauguin

you’ll always find my leitmotiv blood red

there are many war crimes

committed by our grandfathers

in the armies of the sea and the sky.


Cinema and Slavery in Romania

By Daniel K. Buntovnik

In Eastern Europe, a silence long held is being disrupted, by the film industry, no less!

aferimposterRecently I seized the opportunity to go and see Aferim! (2015), which is [virtually] the first film ever to depict the enslavement of Rroma (Rromani people) that occurred for some five hundred years in the present day territories of Romania.* Director Radu Jude, writing in conjunction with novelist Florin Lăzărescu, set out to develop a screenplay that would elucidate a historical period which Romanian society is for the most part reticent to acknowledge — much less critically engage with. Here these two have defied the norm and succeeded. For that we should all say Bravo! to them and their award-winning movie. In an interview with MEDIAFAX, Jude cites Țiganiada (1812) by Ioan Budai-Deleanu and Ciocoii vechi și noi (1862) by Nicolae Filimon as being among those few Romanian literary works which do make mention of this slavery, though largely only in passing. The void is not less existent in the English-speaking world, where historiographies and critical analyses of exploitation and domination have also tended to leave the matter untouched. For example, treatment of slavery in Romania (and enslavement of Rromani people elsewhere) are noticeably absent from Orlando Patterson’s landmark work Slavery and Social Death: A Comparative Study (1982), “the first full-scale comparative study of the nature of slavery”, as well as from Edward Saïd’s Orientalism (1978).  An exception includes Ian Hancock’s The Pariah Syndrome: An Account of Gypsy Slavery and Persecution (1987).

Set in the year 1835 and in Wallachia (or Țara Românească–“Romanian Country”–one of the territories which would later unite to form the modern day nation-state Romania), the main protagonists of the film are a father-son duo called Costandin and Ioniță. Costandin is a bounty hunter whose objective is to capture a runaway slave named Carfin and return him to his master, a boyar (nobleman) by the name of Iordache. Their quest takes them through the Romanian countryside with its villages, mountains, forests, plains, peasants, priests, and țigani–a Romanian language racial slur used to refer to Rroma which has no exact equivalent in English, but which is usually translated as “Gypsies”. (In fact, țigan comes from the Greek term athinganoi, the name for members of what was a religious sect in the Byzantine Empire, which means “untouchable”, while Gypsy is a diminutive form of Egyptian.) Eventually Costandin and Ioniță track Carfin to the neighboring county where they must bribe a local official in order to be directed to the home of a peasant couple who are harboring him along with another fugitive Gypsy, a young boy named Țintiric. Soon enough, Carfin reveals to his captors that the real reason for which he fled from Iordache’s estate was not because he stole some money (as had been alleged) but because Iordache’s wife, Sultana, seduced him while he was watering horses in the stable.

Regarding the significance of the film’s title, it might be interesting to partake in an exercise of pseudo-etymology. The Romanian word aferim resembles the word afară, which means “outside” or “out” and can also be used in the sense of “(get) out!” or even “kicked out/deported” (dat afară). Romanian verbs are conjugated in the first person plural (we) with a suffix ending in -m, so if afară was to be converted into a verb infinitive, you could anticipate that aferim might signify “Let’s get out!”. But aferim actually means “bravo” or “well done”. What could there possibly be to applaud in a film about slavery? Ironically, far from being a call to get out from the yoke of slavery, “Aferim!” is what Iordache tells Costandin when the latter returns his “crow” to him. Dictionaries list the word aferim as a Turkicism (one out of a number of words imprinted onto the Romanian language from the period when Wallachia and Moldavia were under the suzerainty of the Ottoman Empire).

While critics Veronica Lazăr and Andrei Gorzo have proclaimed Aferim! to be “something new in Romanian cinema”, they and others have also touted the film as a Western à la Vlach, pointing to an apparent influence from this genre observable in its frequent shots of expansive landscapes with men on horseback and wagons. Here Gypsies have even been analogized to American Indians. This is hardly groundbreaking in and of itself, since the conventions and tropes of this seemingly quintessentially American film genre were long ago appropriated (and, to an extent, subverted) by Europeans on both sides of the Iron Curtain, giving us the Spaghetti Western and the Red Western, also known as the Eastern (which in its Romanian form gave us bizarre blockbusters like The Prophet, the Gold, and the Transylvanians [1978]). Both movements had significant overlaps with the Revisionist Western: a set of films that emerged alongside the postmodernist turn that tend towards undermining the narrative stupidity of the Wild West as the rightful domain of the white settler. Inevitably, Aferim! has also drawn comparisons to more recent American movies like 12 Years a Slave and Django Unchained, but it is certainly much more than a rehash of these films. Jude never loses sight of the brutal particularities of the 19th century Wallachian context.

Besides being described as a Western, Aferim! has also been called a drama, a tragicomedy, an adventure/road film, and a historical film. While these are all valid ways to describe Aferim!, it ought be recognized as more than the sum of its parts. As cinéma engagé, Aferim! engages society with its past, present, and future.

But why does this historical episode need revisiting — and what is really being revision-ized?

Insofar as this particular historical period has until recently remained unvisited by cinema, we are not coming back to anything, but approaching something new. What we do revisit in Aferim! are actually present day social attitudes (in particular, antiziganism, misogyny, even antisemitism). By delivering a fictional narrative situated within a past reality, it reveals what are unmistakably the roots of these attitudes. The ubiquitousness of disdain for Rromani people embodied in the characters’ frequent slinging of the term cioară (“crow”), for example, bears witness to continuity between past and present. Jude contends that the choice to film Aferim! in black and white functions as a signal of its irreality, marking the rupture between the reality of Gypsy slavery and the constructedness of any revisitation to this time preceding the invention of motion pictures. However, paradoxically, this actually, in a way, adds to “the sentiment that one is seeing a live transmission from Wallachia, 1835” because black and white images have come to represent a generalized bygone era whose boundaries become more and more indeterminate as we leave it further and further behind.

The Revisionist aspect of the film also means pushing back against what little narrative does exist acknowledging the enslavement of Rromani (and Tatar) people at the hands of the Romanian Orthodox Church, nobles, and principality-states. In Romanian society, the “official” narrative is one that downplays and minimizes the reality of Rroma enslavement. Its main tactics are to highlight alleged fundamental theoretical differences between sclavie (slavery) and robie (a form of servitude which some contend has no direct translation into English) in an effort to show that no, there was no slavery in the Romanian territories: only robie. This stress of difference between sclavie and robie which denies their synonymy, is at the same time accompanied by a playing up of the similarities between robie and feudal serfdom. Aferim! demolishes these pedantic arguments by laying bare the chasm of difference in social statuses ascribed to țigani and Wallachian/Vlach peasants. In this regard, Aferim! is a “Revisionist Eastern”.

Despite its orientation towards the past, the film is clearly forward thinking. At one point, as Costandin and his son travel on horseback with their captive Gypsies, Costandin wonders out loud about what people will say about them in hundreds of years. He asks (and I paraphrase): Will future society revere us, their forefathers who have blazed the trails for them? Will they speak of us with a sense of gratitude for what we’ve done and what we’ve left them with? Will they say anything about us at all? Costandin answers his own questions: No, and if the future generations do say anything at all, it will only be to curse us. The bounty hunter’s musings here have a measure of ambiguity to them. In Costandin’s interrogatory monologue about relations between the living and the dead, the dead could be him and his son (and the larger ethno-religious community they’re a part of), but the dead could just as easily be the Gypsy slaves in their captivity. Costandin’s comments seem to reflect the research of ethnologist Patrick Williams, who presented findings about his time spent with Manush (Rromanies of Germanic [Sinti] origin in France) in the book “Nous, on n’en parle pas” (1993). For Williams, the way that the dominant French society erases and renders Rromani communities invisible was reflected in the way these Sinti Rromanies render the dead invisible by avoiding talking directly about them and by discarding their belongings whenever possible, and treating the belongings with a special level of care if it was not possible or very undesirable to discard them. Iulia Hasdeu summarizes the idea nicely, “The dead are to the Manush as the Manush are to the gadže: one doesn’t talk about them, but accords them a place in the cosmic order.” “In order to constitute their real presence,” Williams writes, “they have chosen to refer to real absence.” In other words, the silence of the living is what allows the voice of the dead to be heard, and this silence is held out of respect for the dead. Similarly, blogger Qristina Zavačková Cummings recently spoke of “Nostalgia as Forgetting”. Accordingly, Costandin is quite right to assume that any breach of this silence would be a curse. Aferim! is a Revisionist pox upon the “official” narrative of Gypsy slavery because it does much to break the silence about it. The film brings dishonor to the dead partisans of slavery in exposing them as the cruel, naïve, close-minded bigots that they were, and it may even bring shame to their descendants, those who have vicariously and transgenerationally inherited their attitudes. It was without a doubt for this very reason that King Carlos III of Spain demanded the erasure of any mention of the “Great Gypsy Round-up of 1749” (which resulted in decades of enslavement for Rroma in Spain) from the preamble to a new law on Gypsies in 1772 on the pretext that “it does little honor to the memory of my brother [Fernando VI].” [Antonio Gómez Alfaro, La Gran Redada de Gitanos, Ed. presencia gitana, Madrid, 1993. Page 9. ISBN 84-87347-09-6]

From an economic perspective, the minimizing, downplaying, and even outright denial of the reality of the 500 year period of enslavement of Rromani people is in line with the capitalist strategy of divide-and-rule, which uses race and ethnicity to drive a wedge between members of the working class. It also makes us overlook a major source of contribution to modern day wealth. Romanian slavery negationism perpetuates the invisibility of Rromani labor and the myth of the lazy Gypsy. Salome Kokoladze debunks this myth and shows in her article “Cooking in the Basement: The Invisibility of Romani Labor and the Profitable Discrimination” how social prejudice, alienating workplace conditions, and lack of legal recourse puts racial, ethnic, and sexual minorities at increased risk of hyper-exploitation, all while ensuring increased levels of good ol’ regular surplus-value-extractive exploitation for the more privileged poor (or, “middle class”) who are dimwitted enough to exalt themselves over their would-be comrades with the psychological wages afforded them by their white bourgeois heterosupremacist overlords.

(Warning: spoilers in the following paragraph)

Costandin illustrates the aforementioned middle class psychology in a lot of ways. He exalts himself over the slave Carfin, while he practically cowers in fear of the boyar Iordache. Costandin almost seems to redeem himself in a few instances. First, he shows skepticism towards the dehumanization of Rroma when he asks a priest if Gypsies are indeed human beings, and this priest says that they definitely are (but that Jews are inhuman and in Moldova they use Christians instead of horses to pull their carriages). Ioniță sympathizes with Carfin so much that he actually implores his father to release their captive, and tell Iordache that they could not find his slave, but Costandin rejects this on the basis that they won’t be paid if they do not retrieve the slave. He is not impervious to the injustice of it, but within the logical confines of this system, profit is simply higher on the priorities list. Costandin also humanizes Carfin to an extent when he assures him, after the latter begs to be set free for fear of being killed by his master, that Iordache will only give him some strikes of the whip for his misdeeds. He is putting “a human face” on slavery. When Costandin returns the slave, he even puts in a good word for him with his master, cautiously informing the boyar that the fault lies with Sultana. The woman and her infidelity are more to blame than Carfin, Costandin argues. But when Iordache gets ahold of his property, this myth of the possibility of a gentler slavery is, like Carfin, castrated. Aghast at this boyar’s perverted sense of justice, Costandin tells Ioniță that they should leave. His consolation for Ioniță: “He wasn’t your brother!” In the final scene, Costandin assures his son that his future is bright; he will join the army, fight some wars, and surely make an officer’s rank. Social atomization allows him to sacrifice others on the altar of his narrow self-interest.

Aferim! also sheds some light on what was the then crystallizing Romanian national identity. When, in a forest, Costandin and Ioniță come across a wealthy Ottoman travelling by carriage and asking for directions, Costandin revels in having sent him in the wrong direction, where he is likely to be attacked by bandits. He also dislikes Russians, and listens to a priest mock Hungarians. Director Radu Jude, in the same interview cited above, succinctly points out the hypocrisy in the fact that there is a commonly held belief in Romania, which basically amounts to a cliché, which says that many of the country’s problems are rooted in the fact that it has always been at the intersection of inter-imperialist conflicts, and yet many of the same people who express this idea are reluctant to consider that 500 years of slavery, which we are only 150 years distant from, might have left some significant traces on the present.

The film has solicited plenty of negative, defensive reactions from specimens exhibiting these petit bourgeois and nationalist psychologies. In an East that it is no longer “Red”, these mentalities are all the rage in some circles. These spectators are offended, not by the fact that the Orthodox Church was relatively recently a slave-owning institution, but by the fact that they are being reminded of it.

Film critic Elena Dulgheru derides Aferim! as, “the hipsterization of history”. Clamoring to sound the alarm bells of reverse racism, she writes:

“The movie pretends to speak about hate, discrimination, and ignorance, being itself made with hate and ignorance towards a misunderstood history, read from the screen of an iPod, scoffed at before being tackled; made with constant and sickly discriminatory incrimination of Orthodox clergy and faithful Christians as the principal causes of the so-called “Vlach backwardness”, so that you ask yourself if somehow the obsessive defamation of Orthodoxy and Romanianism, present from the first shot to the last, were [sic] not somehow the principal motivation for making the movie.”

In his review “What I understood from the film Aferim”, Gabriel Duca, in also describing this topsy-turvy world of oppressed white Christendom, quite rightly perceives the dual Red and Revisionist heritage at play in the film, though from a reactionary perspective:

“Well, how to start giving my opinion about Aferim!? Do you remember anticlerical propaganda from the 50s? While priests, monks, and nuns were thrown in Communist prisons, Party propaganda always brought forward stories about greedy priest and monk drunkards who kept the people in the darkness of unawareness and who sought only to fill their own pockets, wagering exactly on the people’s lack of culture, religion — opiate of the masses, etc.  Well, those old ideas (oldies, but goldies) that we thought long forgotten, we find them in Radu Jude’s multiple award-winning film Aferim!

What novelty does this film nevertheless yield? Yes, it’s a question of novelty. If films made by “The Party” presented the hard life of Romanians to show where we would have been left if “liberating Communism” would not have come, and films made after 1989 presented us with the sad life under Communism to show us where we would be without “democracy and European values”, Mr. Jude’s film combines these two “strategies”: clichés once presented by “The Party” are now understood through the prism of “liberty, tolerance, and European values”. Only by virtue of “tolerance” and these “values” have we arrived where we’ve arrived. Without them we would have remained primitive and boorish ignoramuses, like the characters in the film.”

In an East that has long since traded in its red flags for the blues of the EU and NATO, making a film that emphasizes the humanity of Rromani people might reasonably require receiving a grant from some occidental NGO’s. In this case, the film was sponsored in part by the Foundation for an Open Society, associated with George Soros, a business magnate and philanthropist of Hungarian and Jewish origin and a favorite boogeyman for imbeciles pushing the “Zionist Occupied Government” conspiracy theory. It is unfortunate that a genuine Left does not have the resources to fund more cultural projects like this. However, there should also not be any stake put in the myth of capitalism with a human face. Reformist progressives may from time to time help raise awareness of key issues to an extent (and reforms are certainly welcome on the path to upheaval), but Malcolm X hit the nail on the head when he said, “You can’t have capitalism without racism.” This is because capitalism–the system of rule by entities concerned with atomized financial gain–can only maintain itself if the masses are sufficiently lacking in awareness of how and why human rights are intrinsically violated by this system of rule and of the fact that they can act together to end this unjust situation. Because capitalism relies on instilling false consciousness–that is, dubious ways of perceiving one’s place and one’s relations to others in society, in the economy, on Earth–it is highly unlikely that these dubious ways of thinking can be fully extricated from the fabric of this system’s repressive and ideological state apparatuses. As Aferim! shows, promises of “gentler injustice”, especially those made by people who appear to speak with authority but who lack the actual power to make good on those promises, are likely to end in depraved perversity.

* [Updated on 11 September 2015]: Actually, the first film to depict slavery in Romania was a 1923 silent film called Gypsy Girl in the BedroomHowever, it is a lost film.


All works cited in compliance with the fair use doctrine.