Lucifer gets a bad press... what evil is he responsible for?
We say: "Give the devil his due." But we don't. The devil took another pasting a couple of weeks back when, at Westminster, Gregory Campbell of the DUP asked Jo Swinson, Minister for Business, Innovation and Skills, whether she had any plans to regulate the sale of ouija boards. Ms Swinson said that she did not.
Almost before she had resumed her seat, I am told, Twitter and Facebook were ablaze with opportunist jokes and ribald speculation as to what dark doings had so discommoded Gregory. What did he know about the ongoing ouija board situation which the rest of us did not? Why had we been left in the dark - which is no place to be when dead souls are drifting across the dreamscape all aflutter?
The was by no means the only sign of devilish infestation in the vicinity of Londonderry East in recent times. A DUP spokesperson explained that a constituent had asked Gregory to bring the ouija board issue to the floor of parliament, which, like a good constituency man, he'd done. Interesting. But what was it that the constituent had a feeling about that had prompted him or her to seek Gregory's help in the first place? Regulation of the sale of ouija boards doesn't strike me as the sort of matter which arises casually in conversation in Londonderry East. Common seance tells us that something must have happened to set the process in motion. What this might be remains a mystery.
We might note in passing that it was from Binevenagh Mountain, near Limavady in the same constituency of Londonderry East, that a 6ft sculpture of Manannan Mac Lir disappeared in January in the middle of a storm-lashed night. A spokesman for the PSNI said that police were investigating a possible "religious aspect" of the disappearance. Or irreligious aspect, I imagine, which, when you think on it, means much the same thing.
Manannan Mac Lir is a sea god from Irish mythology, worshipped for a thousand years by the original pagan people of Ireland, before they were browbeaten and brainwashed into acceptance of an alien creed. Can we entirely rule out a link between the disappearance of the pagan deity and the reappearance of the ouija board issue? I think not. At a subsequent council meeting, Boyd Douglas (TUV) made the acute observation: "I was never too enthusiastic about (Manannan Mac Lir)...not very Christian." No indeed, that being sort of the point.
Then we have the Rev Graeme Orr of nearby Magheramason who was concerned about the Satanic connotations of the Burning Temple installation erected by US artist David Best at Corrody Hill just outside Derry and ceremonially burned on March 21, consuming in fire mementos and messages relating to those who had died in tragic and/or violent circumstances in the vicinity, and, hopefully, wafting the grief of the bereaved away in the swirl of the ritual smoke.
This remarkable series of eerie incidents reminded me of the occasion some years ago when I was dispatched by a colourful Sunday tabloid to check out a political crisis in Co Carlow sparked when a priest in the village of Bagenalstown spoke to a local paper of his fears that local teenagers had taken to "practising devil worship". He urged churchgoers to be "permanently vigilant for signs of the occult". The paper told that Fr Dowling had informed a "hushed" congregation that he had been made aware of unidentified teenage boys "walking in the area with a ouija board". Around the same time, 100 candles stolen from St Andrew's church had turned up "scattered in the grass in the park at Fair Green". Town Commissioner Paddy Kiely (Fianna Fail) "said he had seen for himself five blue signs of a sinister nature on a wall at the railway bridge".
The trip to Carlow was not to prove a journalistic triumph. Although ace photographer Liam O'Connor and myself spent three days scouring the area for signs of Satanism, divil the devil could we find. But the experience did sow a seed in my mind which blossomed again while pondering the mysteries of Londonderry East: why does the devil get such a bad press? You never hear a good word said about him.
And yet... You don't find followers of the devil descending on villages with bayonets in their teeth shouting, "The devil is great!" as they cut throats. You never hear war-mongers geeing up the population to support bombing some country back to the Stone Age by assuring them that, "We have the devil on our side." Look around the world, not just Carlow and Londonderry East, and ask yourself: Is it in the name of the devil or in the name of god that more misery is generated in this world?
Go on. Tell the truth and don't shame the devil.