In the spirit of this last week of October, specifically for Halloween, so many articles have popped up presenting creepy places, hotels to get the "heebie-jeebies," superstitions, not to mention a list of scary movies to watch in the dark. So I'll join the screaming, with a report on something I found worthy of a blog post. Before we begin however I feel it necessary that all my research here-in is based on website translations; I'll do my best to make sense of it all (for us both). Alas I don't speak nor read Italian.
But first, let me bring up a case from 2000: The murder of Sister Mainetti in Brescia. Sr Mainetti was murdered in Chiavenna by three underage girls in, rumors say, the course of a Satanic ritual. She was apparently hit by a stone on the back of her head, attempted to defend herself and was murdered by knife. One article explains that the Sister was praying for her killers and forgave them.
I first read about La Squadra Anti Sette (SAS), also known as Anti Team Seven, in the book The Rite. They
tried to make made a movie based on this book with Anthony Hopkins about the Vatican's project to train more exorcists under the same title. The non-fiction book is written from the point of view of a priest going through this program where he shares a small bit of information with us on Rome's efforts to respond to behaviors claimed to be done under a "religious" cause. The author, Matt Baglio, points out that there was an appointed team assigned to investigate cults, devil encounters and other dealings with the occult, then his story moves on. YOU CAN'T JUST DROP THAT ON ME AND LEAVE!
While I have no personal knowledge of Italy it's workings or an intimate connection with the culture, I understand the "religious" is taken differently than my experiences here, Baglio's book goes into this as well. My research brought be to an "anti-cult" toll-free number started in 2002. The website says it received roughly ten calls a day with the great majority of them about "desperate people looking for children and young people and adults lured and persecuted by the world of the occult and sects." As well as taking information, the number looked to raise awareness, educate, and "[train] about the multifarious phenomena of the occult."
To me this says there was a significant enough of a concern from the people for a response. It reads a lot like providing an educated voice to call for advice - informing the misinformed if you will.
This sounds like a decent enough idea. Who would know more about whether my problem is actually a crime than law enforcement?
Since 2006, the site explains, that the number has worked with the State Police and the SAS. [Insert "who to call" joke here.] While the number takes a sort of triage to the calls, the more serious are sent to the SAS team for further investigation. One blog contacted a Adnkronos don Aldo Buonaiuto who is quoted with:
"The 60% ??of those [calls] are reported by the alleged victims...belongs to the band occultist,...28% to black magic,...18% to Satanists,...8% to witchcraft...6% to spiritualism.''
These might not be all calls reporting a crime, what percentage is? Even one should be enough.
My research says there are 15 members of the SAS consisting of various experts from different fields: analysts, investigators, psychologists, etc. One site explains that news of this team came via a circular stating: "In recent years...the exponential spread of the phenomenon of esoteric sects, religious or pseudo those combinations of groups dedicated to practices of magic, the occult and Satanism, has hired around the country size and connotations draw attention also in terms of security. The phenomenon...is more prevalent than you might think and relies heavily on the fragility, loss inner and ignorance of the people, especially among the younger generation, nurturing a culture of hatred and death."
The team SAS, it seems, was created under the "Direzione centrale anticrimine" in 2006. (While Google translates this to "Service Central Operations of the Central Anti-Crime Directorate" I've found another site calling it "Central Directorate for Anti-Crime - Central Operational Service," the later seems to make more sense to me.) In short, they investigate crimes which have any group "dedicated to practices of magic, occultism and Satanism" a.k.a any sect.
Apparently the word sect was more appropriate than "cult," it being more vague to avoid discrimination.
I found a site that illustrates a type of wanted ad for what they called an "anti-cult agent" back in 2005. The site tells of the call appearing in a dossier under the heading "Hunting the devil" for a religious culture journal. (Note the lowercase d.) The blog I mentioned earlier postulates that this SAS team was created in response to the murder of Sister Mainetti.
The SAS may or may not exist today, I cannot be sure, but that's not the point. It's the fact that the team DID exist. And my guess is the cases they had to investigate were more frightening than what we get from late night B-horror movies, main-stream Hollywood or independent films can produce. These were real crimes done by real people, done for a cause they strongly believed.
And that puts chills up my spine.
Happy Halloween everyone.