Do you remember that song from the 80s titled “Church of the Poison Mind”, by Culture Club? Yep, it sort of reminds me of that. Though the topic in the song is taken with a much lighter heart, the sentiment remains the same. Because of rumor and miscalculated trust spiraling around the small town, West Memphis was under a fog of demonic phobia.
Note that this sort of irrational fear hits very close to home. I choose to closet my ideology from most, because people have an innate ability to fear what they do not understand. Those who are close to me know that I am Wiccan (and I guess the reader now knows too), but I have had too many ignorant questions thrown at me by both family and stranger who do not understand (and unfortunately do not even take the time to realize the truth of their incorrect assumptions) what I hold so close to my heart. Knowing this, I will not try to explain it here. I will only say a few necessary words: (1) I have been involved in the Wicca faith for well over 20 years, but only after years of soul-searching, (2) I do teach both of my children my traditions but also allow them exposure to different belief systems, sincerely wanting them to choose their own paths, and (3) perhaps most importantly, no I do not worship the devil; Wiccans actually do not even believe in this Christian concept.
An outsider could claim that Damien is perhaps on the same path that I was at when I was soul-searching. He does indeed adhere to many different doctrines and never seems to want to settle on just one particular ideology, taking bits and pieces from different perspectives that fit into his own life. Personally, I admire him for this. However, many others do not, especially since these doctrines that he is pulling bits and pieces from do not exactly fit the mold of what general society deems as popular. He is a magickal man, to be sure.
Now, some supporters could say that this had nothing to do with occult belief and that Jerry Driver only had it in for Damien Echols. Could this be true? Absolutely. However, I do not feel that only one man, no matter how tightly he held the balls of the WMPD (which I do not believe that he actually did, since I only feel that he was a wannabe), could effect the community in this way. The community as a whole had to have something tangible to hold on to, which they did: their demonic phobia.
Hold on, wait a second, you are thinking, you are getting ahead of yourself: Who is this Jerry Driver? In a few words, he was Damien’s parole officer. Yes, Damien had psychological issues, more along the lines of bipolar disorder, which I happen to suffer from myself; but believe me, Jerry Driver had a few issues of his own. (Catch up with the next entry of the blog, which will discuss the history of the police force covering the case.) Let me get back to Damien’s own personal “demons”.
While it is true that he was a patient of several different hospitals, normally he would walk out of each of them with the same diagnosis: depression, with the tendency to be suicidal. He also was diagnosed as disoriented with unreal thought processes. In his forever-infamous journals, or in letters written to those looking over his case while he was in jail, he often discussed the existence of spirits around him and one even within him. Possibly due out of anger and/or frustration, in one letter he showed signs of grandiosity with discussions of how he was similar to Jesus. He admits now, and he admitted back then, that these were all just methods of him trying to keep the world “away from him”; in other words, he wanted to seem like a freak so that everybody would leave him alone, a sort of protection device. (Though I have never compared myself to the Christian Jesus, for reasons that will not be discussed here but can certainly be guessed at, I understand the need to be different. I understand those devices of trying to keep the world separate from yourself.) It wasn’t long before he was put on the antidepressants of both imipramine and then Tofranil.
“I know I am going to influence the world. People will remember me.” Yes, these are words that came from Damien’s mouth. Was he able to see into the future, or was he reacting to the case of being recorded while his innocence was being put to the test? Ultimately, was he wrong? Sadly, the humongous box that contains all of the papers concerning Exhibit 500, papers which concern Damien Echols’ psychological profile, does very little to help one see him neutrally. While there are a few positive notes about his character in this box as well, if one was only taking in the contents of Exhibit 500, it could be considered an open-and-close case, with Damien being clearly guilty.
But, oh!, there is so much more going on here. Let’s get back to the church of the poison mind, which certainly helped the police and the court make the community of West Memphis cling fastly to their telling of events. Enter Satan.
Some claim that the devil’s return to popularity can be contributed to the 1967 publication of the cult classic “Rosemary’s Baby” which, of course, was soon later adapted into a film by the same name. The director of the film, Roman Polanski, used self-proclaimed Satanist Anton Lavey as a consultant for the film. Quite ironically, and tragically, Polanski’s wife was murdered only a few short years afterward by a well-renown cult (see notes from the first blog entry). Still, the devil continued to trek through film, which only continued to feed in the mind of paranoia of the uneducated public.
to be continued