Retired police occult investigator Don Thompson doesn't think parents should burn their children's Halloween costumes. But the former Baltimore County policeman, who is speaking at a Glen Burnie church today, does think parents should be aware that the holiday has a dangerous side.
"It's fun for little kids to dress up, but people should remember that this is one of the satanic holy days. It calls for specific rites and rituals to be done on this day," said Mr. Thompson, 45. He recently retired after 22 years, 14 of them investigating criminal satanic activity in Maryland.
"Satanism is a high-crime area," he said. "There's a lot of teen-age occult activity in all the counties in Maryland -- destruction of properties, animal sacrifices. I've also seen some abuse by parents of children, and adults who have been abused and held in different rites and rituals [in Maryland]. But not a lot."
Mr. Thompson, co-author of a book about cults and the occult, is presenting the "Occult, Cults and Satanism" seminar at the Glen Burnie Evangelical Presbyterian Church, 800 Aquahart Road in Glen Burnie.
"I'm not a panic-monger. Not everybody who listens to heavmetal music or plays a role-playing game is into the occult," he said. "Likewise, activities people assume are harmless may not be. I want people to be aware that danger does exist in satanic involvement."
At the 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. seminars, Mr. Thompson will discuss groups involved in cults and the occult, how the groups recruit members and how to get help if someone you know is involved. The event, sponsored by the Lutheran Mission Society of Maryland, is free with a can of food for Baltimore's hungry.
Other county churches are responding to perceived evils of the holiday by holding de-witched Halloween parties. For example, the Chesapeake Christian Center Church of God in Pasadena has planned a big splash for its congregation and the community, offering hayrides, pony rides, games, contests and free food and candy. Guests are invited to come in costumes other than witches and devils.
Said the pastor, the Rev. Glen H. Morris, "Halloween's emphasis is unhealthy and unwholesome. However, Jesus Christ didn't come with a list of don'ts; he offered an alternative in life. So we think it's appropriate not to terminate the holiday but to hold a good party."
Mr. Thompson says satanic activity is not a major problem in Maryland. "There is no organized satanic cult group here. You don't find the severity of problems that you find in more rural states," he said.
What should be of concern to parents is that nobody knows which of the youngsters who dabble in Satanism will be sucked into serious criminal or life-destroying activities, Mr. Thompson said.
"A lot of times it's a phase," he explained. "But sometimes it has a drawing effect. Years ago, kids first wanted to learn about the black Mass. Now they start with animal sacrifice."
Halloween, with its occult origins in the ancient Druid festivals, has left a legacy in which small crimes are "commonplace and accepted behavior," Mr. Thompson added. "Defacing churches and knocking over tombstones isn't innocent and cute. In Chicago they've had Hell Night, when they burn down houses the night before Halloween.
"The most important thing is to make sure people know what is occurring across the United States. Moderation should dictate a healthy response."