Orange you glad I didn't say "twisted shrine"?
January 10, 2011 3:39 PM   Subscribe

Do you know of a ritual that involves burning oranges, possibly as an offering? Maybe a skull is involved?

So I came across this article about the "twisted shrine" Jared Lee Loughner had in his back yard. A photo shows a toy skull surrounded by burnt oranges in a flower pot.

"Experts on Sunday said the elements are featured in the ceremonies of a number of occult groups."

Which ones? I have never heard of burning oranges before. Does anyone recognize burning oranges as part of a known ritual?
posted by ladypants to Religion & Philosophy (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Shrine? That looks like he threw some random crap from his yard together in a semi-decorative manner. He probably has an orange tree in the yard and threw a couple in the fire pit one night to see what would happen, then decided they looked cool next to the toy skull. If that arrangement constitutes evidence of occult rituals, I'd hate for one of The Daily News' unnamed "experts" to get a look at my living room.
posted by contraption at 3:46 PM on January 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Their meaning is probably more like "burnt offerings are a common sacrifice strategy for many spiritual practices" and that's probably what they actually meant, as opposed to (what I read as your your) very literal interpretation as "[burnt oranges before a skull on an altar] are featured in the ceremonies of a number of occult groups."

I might be wrong though, there may well be a spirit/god/demon/demiurge out there widely known for it's enjoyment of burnt oranges.
posted by Matt Oneiros at 3:48 PM on January 10, 2011

The oranges weren't burned. They are shriveled. This witch/Pagan notes that shrines usually are kept up better than this -- a good point, as were her last sentences: "As a Witch, as a Pagan and as an occultist, I see nothing of the occult in this. Only sadness. Mainly sadness because we are so prone to try to paint this murderer in shades of 'the other' so we don’t have to contemplate any way he might be similar to us."
posted by Houstonian at 3:55 PM on January 10, 2011 [6 favorites]

Given that this cat discarded the currency and grammar of his peers in favor of his own versions, I think it not unreasonable to suppose that this shrine represented something peculiar to his own beliefs.
posted by holterbarbour at 3:59 PM on January 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

There are some vague similarities to a Santa Muerte shrine, as worshipers sometimes burn candles and leave fruit as an offering. Santa Muerte is usually depicted as a full skeleton in a robe, not a skull, though, and I've never in my life heard of an Anglo worshiping her. It's not at all implausible that Loughner could have at least been exposed to the Santa Muerte movement somehow - it's definitely active in Tucson.

FWIW, I read the oranges as having been left there, not burned; the article describes them as "shriveled".
posted by strangely stunted trees at 4:04 PM on January 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

The Daily News caption writer got a little over-wrought. But photo #6 is creepy, with the police tape and the sign offering "Flu Shots every day".
posted by Ideefixe at 4:04 PM on January 10, 2011

Yeah, those aren't burnt oranges; they're just black. You'd be surprised how fast they can turn black (or at least I was, after moving next door to a place with a giant citrus tree).

I can also add that I've studied a lot of religious and occult-oriented stuff ranging from the fairly commonplace (snake-handling, Wicca, Tibetan and Japanese tantric Buddhism, both traditional Hebrew and modern "New Age" Qabalah) to the obscure ("Order of Nine Angles"-style Satanic nihilism, Brazilian psychedelic Christianity, and a whole range of Afro-Caribbean syncretic religions) and never come across any established rituals or practices involving burnt oranges.
posted by infinitywaltz at 4:09 PM on January 10, 2011

Response by poster: Houstonian, I agree, whatever it is, it sure is sad looking, and it doesn't actually look like a shrine or altar. It does look more like leftover Halloween decorations than any kind of intentional ritual magic. Based on his erratic ideas about currency and grammar, I thought there was a chance he'd cobbled something together as a symbol, or as his own take on an existing ritual. It made more sense when I thought the oranges had been burnt.
posted by ladypants at 4:10 PM on January 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Ahh yeah, at second glance they definitely appear just mildewed.

Also, as holterbarbour notes, just because this isn't some glamorous pagan fantasy shrine with gold chalices and an oil painting of his deity it doesn't mean it wasn't of psychological/ritual significance to this fellow -- which is precisely the only thing that counts when it comes to shrines and ritual spaces.

The proximity of the candles and the way that there are a number of bells placed around the perimeter of this area makes me think this may have been a place of significance to him.

Everyone has a different aesthetic sense; some people are disorganized psychotic slobs. Doubtless this is reflected in their ritual spaces.

Having examined what little output from this fellow is available it seems rather obvious that he had little contact with educated outsiders in regard to his psychotic engagement with the basic question of reality. It seems very likely that he was acting on his own script of what a fellow of his sort ought to do.
posted by Matt Oneiros at 4:14 PM on January 10, 2011

This is no by-the-book shrine by any paradigm I can imagine, and doubtful has any real occult intent behind it, other than looking spooky. I agree that it is probably left over from Halloween.

Those candles may be described as "ceremonial" but honestly you can buy them at any grocery store or dollar store, and many people buy them for practical use because they look cool.

If the killer did attach some sort of personal spiritual connection to these objects, as Matt Oneiros suggests, it seems to be fairly free-association.
posted by hermitosis at 4:23 PM on January 10, 2011

Response by poster: Matt, I agree he seemed to have had little contact with educated outsiders. That's one of the reasons I'm so curious about his influences. I'm not going to try to reconstruct his internal logic, and the guy was clearly disturbed, but I'm very curious about his influences, especially since he was so socially isolated.

strangely stunted trees, you may be on to something. Placing fruit around a skull sounds like it could be an improvised variation on a Santa Muerte shrine. The skull looks a lot like a plastic skull I got last year at Rite Aid, only mine is a gross mottled brown color, and has the skull's sutures drawn on in sharpie. The one in the picture looks like it has been painted white - possibly as an aesthetic decision (the brown looks cheap to say the least) or possibly as a symbolic gesture.
posted by ladypants at 4:27 PM on January 10, 2011

Response by poster: Oh, and just for clarification, I had my tongue planted in my cheek about the whole "twisted shrine" bit, as I wasn't convinced that oranges in a flowerpot constitute evidence of a coherent spiritual belief system. But I was intrigued by the oranges, especially since I thought they'd been set on fire.

The oranges in the pot make a nice arrangement - it's aesthetically satisfying, like a Wayne Thiebaud painting, or something that might be featured in the Halloween issue of Martha Stewart Living. That's part of the reason I was curious if there was a precedent.
posted by ladypants at 4:38 PM on January 10, 2011

Note that in one of the other pictures there's an orange tree in his backyard. (the pic with the ladder, left side)

I'd guess the oranges were more convenient then occult.
posted by bitdamaged at 4:38 PM on January 10, 2011

The next photo in the series shows a branch from a lemon or orange tree in the top left corner of the frame, making it seem even more likely that citrus fruit holds no special significance but is just what happened to be around.
posted by contraption at 4:39 PM on January 10, 2011

Response by poster: I actually thought the oranges may have just been a festive decoration because there were no pumpkins available, but I didn't realize there was an orange tree nearby.

Offering fruit to a skull seems about as reasonable as decorating with skulls and oranges. And both options seem more reasonable than just leaving a bunch of oranges arranged in a circle in a flowerpot to rot for no reason at all.
posted by ladypants at 4:49 PM on January 10, 2011

The one in the picture looks like it has been painted white

This is AZ, it's very likely just bleached by the sun. That used to happen to all our toys.
posted by hermitosis at 5:08 PM on January 10, 2011

If you get a chance, review the texts of his youtube videos (also, a few additional clues on motherjones). The videos just strike me as fairly ordinary paranoid nonsense blended with his unique fixation on lucid dreaming.

While no one but Loughner can say decisively what, if any, meaning this structure and it's contents have... if Loughner or anyone else says of it "this is [his/my] [shrine/attempt at a shrine/brief affair with ritual magic/etc.]" I have to say "seems to fit the public manifestations of his bizarre personality and ideology". I don't think there's any question he held some bizarre beliefs, whether this is a manifestation thereof or not.

If it's his discarded halloween decorations, it would hardly be surprising.

I see nothing common with any occultism or ritual I've known aside from the skull, possible offerings to it and the candles and the proliferation of bells/windchimes surrounding. All of which are diffuse enough to not suggest any particular system or practice.

As for influences -- if this is actually a place of significance to him -- I would guess that he is death-obsessed, self-centered person who thought himself superior to others and who may have, at one point, seen the movie "Bell, Book and Candle" or briefly skimmed an occult text or something.

The one clue which suggests this may be an important space to him is that it appears to be an ordinary garden trellis made into a more private space. The photos give no context to indicate why this might have been done -- beyond the skull/orange assembly -- though this could just as well be the framing of the material by a tabloid photo editor.
posted by Matt Oneiros at 5:42 PM on January 10, 2011

Years and years ago I knew a young woman who was schizophrenic. Most of the time she was functional, had her own business (she did beautiful batiks) and so on....but one day she went to the campus of the art school I had gone to in the city we lived in at the time and laid out objects in a very ritualistic way. Things like picture frames, and such. Laid out on tree branches and underneath in such a way that it was obvious there was MEANING in the layout. One of the weirdest and yet coolest things I have ever seen.

I suspect the "altar" with the oranges and skulls may simply have been some manifestation of this man's mental issues. (I'll go further and say in my world view he is more than likely pretty demonized as well, but whatever.)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:56 PM on January 10, 2011

Just in case anybody comes across this thread again, I did want to leave a small update that I was recently in a tienda that had a cabinet with a small selection of Santa Muerte ritual goods for sale, and they did have white plastic skulls for sale there as well as the robed skeleton figurines.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 8:25 AM on May 29, 2011

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