On January 8th, a shooter with a long history of bizarre behavior and apparent mental problems shot Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and about 20 others at a public event in a grocery store parking lot near Tucson, Arizona. Giffords was critically wounded, having taken a bullet to the head, and six of the victims died, including a federal judge and a nine-year-old girl. The shooter, 22-year-old Jared Loughner, was tackled by a civilian and taken into custody. Then began the investigation into Loughner's motivations.
The New York Daily News has published some photos from Loughner's home, including this curiosity found behind a camouflage curtain-tent setup, which it describes as an occult shrine. The Daily News reports that "Experts on Sunday said the elements are featured in the ceremonies of a number of occult groups." USA Today, on the other hand, takes issue with that assessment, quoting Star Foster, a pagan blogger, who sees, not an altar, but a random pile of junk, "the remnants of summer forgotten in deep winter, like you might see in any backyard." Speculates Foster: "It appears to me that someone set a bowl of oranges with decorative skull here from Halloween and forgot about it, just like they set the utilitarian white candles here and potting soil and never gave them a second thought."
Except that second, third, fifth, and even tenth thoughts seem to have been given to this particular accumulation of refuse. It is true, as the USA Today columnist points out, that the experts who say this is an occult shrine are not named, and we get no further particulars on the basis for the claim. I myself am no expert on the occult: so far, no necessity has compelled me to become versed in it; meanwhile, I consider it best to avoid delving into it. But Star Foster admits that earth, air, water and fire do feature in occult ceremonies, and at least some of these elements seem to be represented here. She points to the dirty and unkempt appearance of the space in question to support her junk-heap theory; yet the stacked flower pots with the shriveled oranges and skull are clearly carefully arranged and not tossed randomly together. Finally, there is the obvious: if this were just innocent junk or a Halloween decoration, why is it hiding behind an elaborate tent set-up? No, I fear Miss Foster's proffered explanation does not ring true. Even if it could be established that this business behind the camouflage tent did not conform to the ceremonial standards of any particular organized occult group, that does not mean that it could not or did not serve as a portal for the powers of hell.
And then there are the fruits to consider, the product of a tree that may be rooted in something more than just the soil of mental illness. When, over a period of years, a man exhibits bizarre, threatening and unstable behavior that finally culminates in mass murder in a grocery store parking lot, after which he grins insanely into the camera taking his mugshot at the local jail, I can't say I'd be surprised if it turned out he had opened himself up to satanic influences.