Courtney vs. the heathens
Another great controversy is brewing on our campus. A physics grad student by the name of Michael W. Courtney has attacked witchcraft in a series of extremely controversial posters. (He has also attacked homosexuals and just about every other group of which he isn't a part.) This has been going on all year. Courtney has naturally upset the Pagan Students Group for his consistent attacks on pagans. "Wicca is a whore," declare his posters.
So on the evening I like to call All Saints Eve, this little Catholic boy went to see a pagan ceremony on campus. It was Samhain, a major Wiccan holiday, and I wanted to observe the pagan group in anticipation of meeting Courtney and seeing him speak. It seemed like an interesting way to spend Halloween, at the very least.
Over 50 of us gathered in the MIT Chapel at 7 pm. I already knew a few of the people there. One was a person I had met during rush, who reintroduced himself to me as "Chris." I didn't remember that as being his name, and later he admitted that he had given me a false name "in case there are CIA around or something." He had simply come to see the ceremony out of curiosity. We were seated in a huge circle within the circumference of the room, and after a few moments, the priestess entered. She welcomed us, and placed some salt and water into a cup.
The cup was passed around, and each member of the circle made the sign of the pentacle on the next person's forehead. Meanwhile, a chant was being sung to "cast the circle." Near the end of the circle there were some people who were obviously not very interested in the ceremony, and they passed the cup along. "Chris" looked at me nervously as the cup was nearing us and asked, "You don't want me to do that shit to your forehead, do you?" I assured him that he didn't have to participate.
Next, the Goddess and the God (I hope my mother never reads this) were invited to join the circle. The men and women chanted separately to invite them into the circle; the men didn't know the proper words at first, so they had to catch up with the women. By the the time the men had gotten around to properly inviting the God into the circle, the Goddess was probably already kicking back in an easy chair with a book, waiting for the God to show up. I was a little upset at the unfairness of the women's head start, but I stayed on.
When it was decided that both the Goddess
and God had been invited properly, the ceremony stopped, and suddenly this dude leaped out of nowhere. He looked like a ballet dancer on acid, with tights and a floral headband, and he leaped from out of nowhere to the center of the circle. When I recovered from my Ice Capades deja vu, I tried to discern what exactly was going on. The priestess was following him around with a sheet, "hunting" him. It turns out he represented the God of the Forests and Woods, and he was "killed" by winter, which was represented by the white sheet.
Then things got interesting.
The dead ballet dancer was reborn in a rather pretty ceremony, and then the priestess went around the circle and picked us one by one to form a chain from the reborn guy and keep chanting about the "Journey to the Summerland." "I'm not going over there," said Chris, who later thought twice when he saw a girl he thought was cute chanting along with the ceremony.
The priestess came over to me and asked, "What do you fear?" I answered honestly. "I fear walking out into the center of a group of pagans." She smiled. "Embarrassment is born. It passes. It dies," she said, leading me out to the center of the circle. She placed my hands on the back of one of the people in the group and squatted me down like Johnny Bench. The girl who "Chris" thought was cute was squatted down next to me. I smiled at her in between chants, and she smiled back. "Chris" seemed jealous, but not enough to want to join the fun. For my part, I was busy contemplating just where exactly a relationship that began in a pagan circle could end.
We were then brought, symbolically, into the world of those who have passed on, where some people took a moment to say some very heartfelt things to people they had lost. We then left that world, and there was a very energetic dance which wove around the chapel. Without much further ado, the participants sat down, they said good bye to the elements which had participated, and the
circle was closed (but not broken). The ceremony was pleasant, at times a bit goofy, but certainly harmless.
So with this knowledge in hand, I went to see Courtney speak last Wednesday night. Approximately 60 people showed up in 10-250 to see him discuss, to quote his poster, "HOMOSEXUALITY," "WITCHCRAFT," "CHILD SACRIFICE," and maybe even religion. Many of the audience members were people I recognized from the pagan ceremony.
Courtney is a deceptive figure. You wouldn't know from looking at him that he is a raging prophet fighting against worldly evil. The only way to describe him is if Mattel ever comes out with a Bible-Thumping Ken doll, it will probably look a lot like Mike. He was dressed simply, in a collared shirt, a sweater and jeans. He opened with a prayer.
Courtney is spewing a version of fundamentalist, basic, nobody-else-but-me-is-right religion. He uses the Bible like a night court lawyer uses previous court decisions. He "uses" quotes to prove points and shoot down opposing views. He is insecure and has found a nicely bound security blanket to read from every night.
He began the evening by discussing "Witchcraft, Divination, and the Occult." To quote from the helpful handout he provided, "dungeons and dragons, astrology, tarot cards, esp, hypnotism, new age, meditation are all forbidden spiritual practices (sic)." The crowd immediately attacked this stance on Dungeons and Dragons. One audience member explained that it is just a game, and that the players simply pretend the roles of the characters. Courtney insisted that this is wrong. The audience member retorted, "In Hebrew school I had the part of a pagan in a play. Is that wrong?" Courtney had no answer.
Which brings me to a very obvious point about Courtney. He isn't very good. Usually you would expect someone like him to be ready with answers to defend his point of view, especially since his point of view is as radical as it is. However, Courtney simply clams up and returns to the few scripture readings he does seem to know very well.
He did, however, manage to control a crowd which was very much against him. He took a few questions after each of his scripture-laden ramblings and then moved on to the next topic with no argument allowed. When the discussion about his witchcraft position had climaxed, he simply cut it off with the classic phrase "Moving on to Child Sacrifice. . . . " It made him sound like the host of a game show in Hell.
Other topics Courtney covered included "Abortion," "Life before Birth," "Idolatry (and) Child Sacrifice," "Judgment," "Homosexuality," "Other Sins Equally Separate Us From God," "Death and Judgment," "Resurrection and Righteousness," "The Covenant of Christ's Blood," and "Boxers vs. Jockeys -- Satan's Underwear Debate." OK, OK, so I'm kidding about the Death and Judgment part.
Courtney is particularly good at insulting women. They are "spiritually inferior" to men, he claims. He also believes that "if there's a woman in spiritual authority, there's going to be sexual immorality." When asked if a woman could be president of the United States, he replied "It's not -- I don't know the answer to that question." He then went on to explain that the leader of a country holds a spiritual position and therefore couldn't be a woman.
When asked how he knew his beliefs were the only right ones, he took on the tone of a wrestling manager. "My God kicks butt over all the other ones," he said with a straight face. I can hear the announcer now. "And in the corner, Mike Courtney's God headbutts Zeus. But Zeus makes the tag, so Poseidon steps into the ring. . . ."
One audience member asked a very serious question regarding what he had learned from his rabbis. It was about homosexuality not actually being mentioned in the Bible. Courtney's response? "Man, you gotta get new rabbis, man."
I don't want to make Courtney into a martyr. God knows he's doing that enough for himself already. However, Courtney's images of pagan gods as demons is pathetic compared to his own demonic narrow-mindedness. I know, nobody forced me to listen to you, Mike, but then again, your posters were placed in front of me without my consent, and they are insulting, hurtful trash.
Courtney is going to read this and decide that I'm going to Hell. That's OK, Mike. You told the audience that Gandhi is in Hell, so I'm not going to mind the company. And if you're going to be a major figure in Heaven, well, I'll probably prefer Hell.
Associate Opinion Editor Bill Jackson '93 suggests that when you are through reading his column you turn to "Life In Hell" to get a taste of where Mike Courtney thinks you're going.
"My God kicks butt over all the other ones," he said with a straight face.
And in the corner, Mike Courtney's God headbutts Zeus.