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!!. IIIGIILAN AVENUE BAPTIST CHURCH I 60D’S WORD SAYS PAGAN WORSHIP IS SIN 4, CONDEMNS IT DON”T BE DECEIVED .x. ,notp.o gpn .0 0:1 $*0 arm ital# 4 1001111%1 tOt.011* PH. 833 -4347 Beelzebub in Beaumont BY MICHAEL ERARD Spindletop Unitarian Church, a small congregation in an unassuming building on the south When pagans were “discovered” at Spindletop last May, it was also a gusherSatanism, the preacher’s black gold. Ilp rom the beginning, the story has a connect-thedots familiarity. It began one Sunday afternoon in May, when ten children encountered some Unitarwooded property which screens the grounds from the neighboring Little League baseball field. The Unitarians, members of Spindletop’s “pagan group,” had just finished working on the grounds; the Little Leaguers’ parents were attending a league board meeting. The pagans say that the encounter was mostly playful. But as the story migrated to Reverend Dennis Rozell and the Highland Avenue Baptist Church, via the parents of two boys in the congregation, it had been magically transmuted: the pagans had threatened the children, calling themselves “witches,” sprinkled them with art glitter, calling it “fairy dust,” and claimed they could turn into animals and trees. The children said they felt threatened when a pagan told the kids that to cross a line drawn in the dirt would kill them. The pagans say they did draw a line, but said nothing about death, and as for the other embellishments, they say they erred on the side of friendliness. In response to the children’s story, Reverend Rozell contacted Spindletop’s minister, Reverend Michael Thompson. Thompson says he explained to Rozell Unitarianism’s tolerant and individualistic religious tenets, and played for him a tape of a National Public Radio piece from April, 1996, about the swelling numbers of pagans searching for acceptance and legitimacy within liberal Unitarian churches. He also showed Rozell the sacred circlefully visible from Thompson’s officewhere the Spindletop pagans worship on full and new moons. “I wanted to show him that we don’t do anything illegal, immoral, or harmful here,” Thompson says. The sacred circle, about twenty feet in diameter, is about as dark and fantastic as a lawn where the seed won’t take. A large white Celtic cross is propped at the entrance; a bird bath sits in the middle of the circle, and around the perimeter are statues of Pan and a Chinese dragon and other figures. But over the next two months, this mundane site and certain objectsa chicken feather, an animal horn, and a pentagram painted on a piece of plywoodwould be conjured as malevolent, criminal, dangerous. “If it’s nature worship, why a chicken feather?” Rozell asked. “I’m not well-versed in the occultbut a pentagram, a chicken feather, I know that’s occult.” Thompson dismisses Rozell’s interpretation. “Native Americans used antlers and feathers and nobody gets upset about it,” he said. “You could probably not find a single person in this whole church who believes in the devil.” “He said he’s attended their rituals before, and there was no Satan Theology in Beaumont Michael Erard worship,” Rozell said. “He said they would cast spells but he said it was like white magic or black magic. I told him I still had a problem with it. If you get a group of adults who sincerely believe they can change shapes into animals and they have this occult type of worship, I was not comfortable with that at all.” Rozell also feared that more wayward baseball players and trespassing thrill-seeking teens would find the sacred circle too. A fence would not be enough. He wanted the pagans to stop their worship. few weeks after the encounter in the woods, a flyer stuffed in area mailboxes and an advertisement in the daily Beaumont Enterprise announced a “SEMINAR on the OCCULT” at Rozell’s church for July 19th. In a letter to Baptist leaders of the area, Rozell wrote that what he had found at Spindletop “really opened our eyes to the emergence and acceptance of the Occult in the Golden Triangle.” The meeting would be open to the public, and free of charge. Speakers would include Rozell himself, another Baptist minister, and two local law enforcement “experts” on occult-related crimes. One of these experts was sheriff’s deputy Tom McCauleya member of Rozell’s congregation and the father of two boys who had met the pagans in the woods. As Debbie Nathan and Michael Snedeker point out in their 1995 book on the ritual abuse myth, Satan’s Silence, children, particularly in an excitable millennial atmosphere, are often a catalyst for Christian demon-frenzies. In recent years, the commercial potential 14 THE TEXAS OBSERVER SEPTEMBER 27, 1996