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Dragon Rouge - A Spiritual Organisation in Opposition to the Society and the Church?

by Kennet Granholm Åbo Akademi University - A paper presented at The 2001 Conference, London, April 18-22, 2001


Dragon Rouge is a magical order with about 300 members in Sweden and about 100 members elsewhere, mostly in Germany, rest of continental Europe and South America. In spite of the organisation’s young age, as it was founded in 1990, it has spread fairly well and attracted a lot of interest, especially by the mass media. Strangely enough no scholars of religion have undertaken the assignment of investigating the organisation thoroughly before I chose to do it.

Dragon Rouge has been labelled satanic or near-satanic at almost every instance it has been mentioned, probably due to the dark symbolism it operates with. This label has been supplied by mass media and apologetic writers as well as by the few researchers in the field of comparative religion who have mentioned the group (see Arlebrand 1995:1, 137; Frisk 1998:142-147 [1]; Nilsson 1995a, 1995b; Nylund 1998:239-242). The organisation views this labelling as inappropriate, and I see it as problematic at the very least (Dragon Rouge 2000a; Granholm 2000:50). An opinion expressed by a Dragon Rouge member is that labelling the organisation as satanic would be extremely restricting, as this could severely limit the ideological spread of the organisation’s members. Some individual members may chose to call themselves Satanists, whereas most members chose not to. Furthermore the former group does not usually view its activities in Dragon Rouge as satanic. The common idea is that Satanism is a religion or a philosophy whereas Dragon Rouge mainly is a school and meeting point for magicians. (Dragon Rouge 2000a, IF 2001/1:1-6, IF mgt 2001:12-15).

I feel that when labelling an organisation the self-image of its members is a very important factor to take into consideration. It is especially important with a label such as Satanism, which has so strong negative associations in the public. As Eileen Barker says: "the consequences of one definition rather than another can be very real" (Barker 1998:13). Barker describes a somewhat different setting but I feel that her remark can be applied to this situation as well. In short: it is acceptable to call an organisation satanic when the organisation in question labels itself this way. One must always remember that labels are simply labels, not objectively existing qualities. To quote Eileen Barker again: "Definitions are more or less useful, not more or less true" (Barker 1998:13).

The researcher has a great responsibility towards the group he/she is studying. One should be aware of the fact that all descriptions are subjective in one way or another and that classifying a group in a way that does not overtly harm it does not need to make the analysis any less scientific. Simply the fact that I have included the term Satanism, along with the terms magic, religion and neo-paganism, in the title of my masters thesis which deals with Dragon Rouge, has led to my thesis being regarded as dealing with Satanism or with a satanic organisation. This shows how potent and persistent the label is.

There are scholars who feel they can name the central qualities of Satanism and thus identify organisations as satanic even when the organisations themselves do not. Erik Rodenborg has a view of satanic organisations as operating with the counterpart to Christian ethics, especially egoism, and "supernaturally" justifying this (Rodenborg 1998:52-62). I feel that this definition puts Christianity in a more central position, in regards to the group studied, than it necessarily has to be. Furthermore this definition, at least in Rodenborgs version, involves some judgmental issues that are problematic.

With some of the more scientific models for classification Dragon Rouge could be classified as a technical and multidimensional monistic movement, in Robbins’, Anthony’s and Richardson’s typology; as a world-accommodating type of movement, with a slight twist towards the world-affirming type, in Roy Wallis’ typology; or as a release-oriented movement, with most individual members being an amalgam of the client and the adept-types in their relation to the organisation, in James A. Beckford’s typology (Granholm 2000. The typologies from Beckford 1985; Robbins, Anthony & Richardson 1978; Wallis 1984).

The Opposition against Dragon Rouge…

Eileen Barker writes that new religions "tend to attack and / or cut themselves off from the rest of the society" and that society in turn "tends to attack or cut itself off from the new religions" (Barker 1998:12). In Dragon Rouge’s case society attacking the movement has had the stronger impact than the other way around, something that I would think is quite typical.

Society has not cut itself off from Dragon Rouge rather the other way around. Society, represented by mass media, has taken a very high interest, and thus involvement, in the organisation. It is from this same source the (naturally) most visible attacks against Dragon Rouge have originated. Stories about Satanism, and Dragon Rouge as a media-proclaimed representative of it, make for very entertaining reading/watching. I tend to agree with Norman Fairclough when he writes that the media language seems to "move increasingly in the direction of entertainment" (Fairclough 1995:10). Lynn Schofield Clark and Stewart M. Hoover say that there exists a "wide cultural gap of misunderstanding" between practising journalists and religious adherents (Clark & Hoover 1997:15). This is most likely another reason for the mass media attacks on Dragon Rouge. The journalists simply do not understand the organisation.

To quote Christer Hedin: "We make people of foreign cultures exotic, like puppets for entertainment, not as fellow human beings with similar problems" (Hedin 1997:170). I think that this could be extended to include people with differing religious/spiritual convictions, originating from the same cultural setting as "us". This has certainly been the case with Dragon Rouge.

Other sources for attack have been some Christian apologetics, not the Church of Sweden, and some fractions of the alternative spiritual community.

Dragon Rouge has not cut itself off from society; in fact the organisation has been quite willing to present itself to the public. On some occasions the organisation has attacked society by making critical comments towards mainstream society and Christianity, mostly in the groups internal material not meant for public distribution.

?In most of the societal attacks against Dragon Rouge the organisation is equated with Satanism and Satanism, in turn, with something extremely negative and destructive. Had Dragon Rouge been identified as witchcraft it could have been regarded differently (see Cavender & Rowe 1991). I view the picture of Dragon Rouge, and of the Satanism it is equated with, as a social construct (see Best, Bromley & Richardson 1991). Satanism, as presented by mass media, is not a real alternative for the shopper on the spiritual supermarket. The media-Satanism seems to have been created to address the public’s worst fears and it is very doubtful if something resembling it exists in reality. It has effectively become the new cult scare (Bromley 1991). Certainly Dragon Rouge is not very much like the media construction of it.

…And the Dangers with it

When the relation between a movement and the rest of society is tense the risk for violent behaviour from either side grows (SOU 1998:5-6). Most often it is representatives for the mainstream society that are responsible for the violence, which is directed towards the smaller group (Rothstein 1997:243). In most cases where a movement has been guilty of violent behaviour towards the rest of society or its own members, it has incorporated a strong dualistic worldview and millenaristic motives in its teachings (see Wulff 1999:109).

In the case of Dragon Rouge all facts point to a minimal risk for violence from the part of the organisation towards its members or rest of society. Dragon Rouge does not operate with a dualistic worldview or millenaristic motives and is quite individualistic in its character. There is really no aspiration to transform society in the organisation. Furthermore most members do not experience the relation between the organisation and society as all that strained (in fact the organisation sends Christmas cards to some of its persecutors). Representatives for the organisation say that they really haven’t noticed any violent tendencies towards their members. One lodge has had to close down due to the pestering of Christian fundamentalists and some threats, not experienced as very serious, have been made by Death Metal Satanists.

Dragon Rouge and mass media

The mass media has from the very beginning been interested in Dragon Rouge and the organisation has therefore on several occasions figured in television, radio and newspapers. On most of these occasions Satanism has been the focus of the discussion. Representatives for Dragon Rouge say that the organisation nowadays has chosen to take a more moderate profile and not to appear in so many television programs or articles, especially when Satanism is the theme of the discussion (IF 2001/1:3).

In the newspaper articles dealing with Dragon Rouge both negative and neutral voices have been heard. In 1995 the organisation received a great deal of negative publicity when a child was baptised in a Dragon Rouge ceremony. A reporter for the Swedish evening paper Aftonbladet had been invited to attend and wrote a very critical article, in which Dragon Rouge is, among other things, said to be the neo-nazism of religion (Nilsson 1995a; 1995b).

In several articles the organisation has been linked to the burning of a church in Sweden. In one article the person responsible for this act is said to know a Dragon Rouge member, in another he is said to be a member. Perhaps the most disturbing case of badgering occurred in 1997 when a person identified as the leader of a Dragon Rouge lodge was said to have committed a murder (Göteborgsposten 1997). It is important to point out that there was no truth to this accusation; the reporters had confused Dragon Rouge with another organisation. For the reporters this mix up probably wasn’t that big a deal but for Dragon Rouge and the accused lodge-leader it may have made a bigger difference.

Mikael Rothstein says that the journalistic productions involving new religious groups often result in generalisations and vulgarisations (Rothstein 1997:187. He also points out that the capability of mass media to mould the public opinion should not be underestimated. Some members of Dragon Rouge have expressed a slight uneasiness for a wrongful picture of them and the organisation being mediated by my research. I tend to believe that the sensationalistic mass media coverage has created the hotbed for these concerns.

Curiously enough Dragon Rouge does not seem to take quite as much regard to the negative publicity as one would expect. One member has on several occasions said that the organisation does not feel misunderstood by any means (IF 2001/1:3, IF mgt 2001:12-15). As Dragon Rouge does operate with a dark symbolism, in many regards identical or very similar to that of satanic groups, it is not at all difficult to understand where the linking of it to Satanism stems from. Still Dragon Rouge does not wish to be identified as a satanic organisation (Dragon Rouge 2000a).

Dragon Rouge as an oppositional organisation

Dragon Rouge can be viewed as being in opposition to mainstream society and the church, or some parts of the Christian faith. When worldviews are considered monotheism, represented by Christianity, very often seems to be the least favourite among the Dragon Rouge members I have discussed with. Monotheism is thought of to be a very conservative and close-minded worldview which can function restrictively on magical practice, and fits particularly ill with the dark magic practised by Dragon Rouge (IF 2001/1:1-5; IF mgt 2001:12-15). The reason for Christianity being the branch of monotheism mentioned is the fact that this is the monotheism Dragon Rouge members, due to their western locality, are most familiar with. Several members are also careful to point out that it is not the persons who see themselves as Christians or all Christian practice that they oppose, but the conservative, restricting and hypocritical tendencies they see in it. For example a gnostic view on Christianity is seen as preferable and some members, although not many, are said to identify themselves as Christian. (IF mgt 2001:12-15).

As the Scandinavian societies, however secular they may be, indeed can be seen as highly influenced by Christian ethics and morals (Hammer & Raudvere 2000:9) and Dragon Rouge to a certain extent oppose Christianity, it can also result in the opposition to the secular society, again only to a certain extent. For example some aspects of societal activity, seen as influenced by Christian thought, are viewed as hypocritical (Dragon Rouge 2000b). Dragon Rouge, as an organisation, does not have opposition to society, or Christianity and the church, on its agenda or as a dogma. For the most part Dragon Rouge members seem to relate quite easily to the rest of society.

In Conclusion

Dragon Rouge has received more attention from mass media than the number of members it involves would lead one to believe. There are mixed feelings towards this in the organisation. Some members feel that the mass media attention was necessary in order for the organisation to attain its present scope whereas others feel that the mass media attention has mostly been bad. None of the members I have talked to seem to place all that much import in the mass media interest of Dragon Rouge. I deem that there is virtually no risk for violence from the part of Dragon Rouge towards its members or society, and its seems like the risk for rest of society to act violently against the organisation is likewise small.

?The main reason for Dragon Rouge getting as negative a publicity it has, is due to the labelling of it as satanic. As this label has little or no analytical value, is not included in the organisations self-image, and as it has such negative connotations in the public, it would be preferable if it was not used by researchers.

Material and Literature


Dragon Rouge 2000a Copy of the Dragon Rouge official homepage. 12.5.2000. URL http://www.dragonrouge.net

2000b Draksådd. Nr. 2/2000. Journal for Dragon Rouge members.

Granholm, Kennet 2000 Dragon Rouge. Religion, Magi, Nypaganism, Satanism?

Beskrivning och klassifikation av ett alternativandligt fenomen. Åbo, Åbo Akademi. Unpublished Masters Thesis.

IF 2001/1:1-6

IF mgt 2001:12-15

Rodenborg, Erik 1998 Lagen och dess profet. Aleister Crowley, thelema och satanismen. Stockholm, Stockholm Universitet. Unpublished Licentiate Thesis.


Arlebrand, Håkan 1995 Det okända. Om ockultism och andlighet i en ny tidsålder. Örebro, Libris.

Barker, Eileen 1998 New Religions and New Religiosity. In Eileen Barker & Margit Warburg (eds) New Religions and New Religiosity:10-27. Aarhus, Aarhus University.

Beckford, James A. 1985 Cult Controversies. The Societal Response to New Religious Movements. London, Tavistock.

Best, Joel; David G. Bromley & James T. Richardson 1991 Satanism as a Social Problem. In Joel Best, David G. Bromley & James T. Richardson (eds) The Satanism Scare:3-17. New York, Aldine de Gruyter.

Bromley, David G. 1991 Satanism: The New Cult Scare. In Joel Best, David G. Bromley & James T. Richardson (eds) The Satanism Scare:49-72. New York, Aldine de Gruyter.

Cavender, Gray & Laurel Rowe 1991 Cauldrons Bubble, Satan’s Trouble, But Witches are Okay: Media Constructions of Satanism and Witchcraft. In Joel Best, David G. Bromley & James T. Richardson (eds) The Satanism Scare:263-275. New York, Aldine de Gruyter.

Fairclough, Norman 1995 Media Discourse. London, Edward Arnold.

Frisk, Liselotte 1998 Nyreligiositet i Sverige. Ett religionsvetenskapligt perspektiv.

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Göteborgsposten 1997 Mördare driver Dragon Rouge. 6.6.1997.

Hammer, Olav & Catherine Raudvere 2000 Från ragnarök till positivt tänkande.

Berättelser om ondska genom tusen år. In Olav Hammer & Catherine Raudvere (eds) Berättelser om ondskan. En historia genom tusen år:9-17. Wahlström och Widstrand.

Hedin, Christer 1997 Identity and Prejudices. In Nils G. Holm (ed) The Familiar and the Unfamiliar in the World Religions. Challenges for Religious Education Today:165-198. Religionsvetenskapliga skrifter nr 34. Åbo, Åbo Akademi.

Hoover, Stewart M. & Lynn Schofield Clarke 1997 At the Intersection of Media, Culture, and Religion: A Bibliographic Essay. In Stewart M. Hoover & Knut Lundby (eds) Rethinking Media, Religion, and Culture:15-36. London, Sage.

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Nylund, Karl-Erik 1998 Att leka med elden. Om livet på sektens villkor. Stockholm, Sellin.

Robbins, Thomas & Dick Anthony, James Richardson 1978 Theory and Research on Todays "New Religions". I Sociological Analysis. A Journal in the Sociology of Religion. Vol. 39 (2):95-122.

SOU 1998 I god tro - Samhället och nyandligheten. Betänkande av utredningen om samhällets stöd till människor som av särskilda skäl befinner sig i psykiska kristillstånd. SOU 1998:113, Stockholm.

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Wulff, Christian 1999 ‘The Last Exit’ och Heaven’s Gate: En rationell lösning på ett reellt problem. In Maria Leppäkari & Tomas Mansikka (eds) I förgården till tusenårsriket. Religionsvetenskapliga perspektiv på millenarism:101-114. Religionsvetenskapliga skrifter nr 45. Åbo, Åbo Akademi.


[1] Frisk calls the organisation dark magical, not satanic. However, she groups the dark magical and satanic organisations together, due to their similarities. Dragon Rouge exemplifies this combined group. [back]

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