Usually what we see in the news are stories about how local communities are riddled with superstitions and oppose efforts to combat popular form of it. Hence I was intrigued by this story about the opposition to a woman who wanted to teach a course on astrology in the town of Canyonville, Oregon. It turns out that there is a local ordinance dating back to 1982 that “prohibits fortunetelling, astrology, phrenology, palmistry, clairvoyance, mesmerism and spiritualism”.
Wow, I thought, there is actually a town that disallows superstitious practices? It is probably unconstitutional for legislatures to ban the propagation of ideas that they disagree with but this was novel since fortunetelling, astrology, and palm reading especially are deeply rooted in American culture and one finds horoscopes in pretty much every newspaper, however small the circulation, because readers seem to want them.
The issue touched a religious chord in the community of about 1,800 people. Members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church voiced their thoughts.
“I think if we open the door to occult arts, we’re bringing in something that could jeopardize our children,” church member Kelley Kolson said.
There is something weird about religious people opposing things that they consider ‘occult’ which after all means “relating to mysterious or supernatural powers and activities” and pretty much defines religion.
The opposition to the astrology course was itself based on irrational fears and superstition. Clearly the people were fearful that astrology was the gateway to all manner of evil practices.
Like Kolson, some said that allowing the occult arts could lead to more sinister things beyond teaching astrology. Jim Garrett, of Canyonville, compared the occult arts to opening a “house of prostitution.”
“It probably would make a lot of money, but is it uplifting to the community?” he asked the council. “Does it any way represent what the community has stood for all these years? No, and neither does the occult.”
Dale Hitt, of Canyonville, added that the occult arts could lead to satanic rituals.
“If (repealing the ordinance) brings in occult practices, it will develop into satanism, which practices the skinning of cats or whatever,” Hitt said.
Hitt added that if citizens were to practice the occult arts under religious pretense, then it would be unconstitutional to disallow them to continue.
“What about if they want to sacrifice babies, too, Dale?” Garrett asked. “That’s a religion, too.”
The Satanists have taken offence at how their beliefs are being characterized. Lucien Greaves, a spokesperson for the Satanic Temple, said:
“Satanism is actually a cure for astrology, not something caused by it,” Greaves said. “It’s troubling that the myth of Satanic cults skinning cats and engaging in ritual sacrifice still holds currency in our culture. Satanism seems to be the only religion in the world for which indignant mobs proclaim that its only true practice is violent and cruel, while the evidence is that its adherents truly respect personal sovereignty and individual dignity.”