In 1981, ageing religious icon Karol Józef Wojtyła was idly waving to some crowds in a square, much like he did every day, when he was shot by a man who hated Catholics.For the 61-year-old, who went by the stage name Pope John Paul II, this was undoubtedly grave. Four bullets pierced his body: less than 50 Cent, but more than Tupac. Assassin Mehmet Ali Agca was wrestled to the ground. Wojtyla was wrestled to a nearby ambulance. Thankfully for everyone, someone in the crowd then had the presence of mind to soak up his blood into a piece of gauze and turn it into a holy relic. Because when a pensioner is being shot, it is only natural to gather up the gooey red stuff that is pouring from his viscera onto your handkerchief, and then put it on the altar of a church, and occasionally pray at it.
Happily, the Pope went on to make a full recovery. Not only that – two bona fide miracles happened in his presence, meaning that he was well on his way to becoming a Saint after he died, if he played his cards right and didn't start working for Enron or stick his dick in the mashed potato or whatever it is that members of the Catholic Church usually get in trouble for doing.Sadly, for all the work that went into securing this modest amount of blood from Pope John Paul II, it has this week been stolen from where it had been inviting prayers, at a church in the Italian mountain village of San Pietro della Ienca. "In a sense, a person has been stolen," announced Franca Corrieri, the custodian who discovered it was missing on Sunday. Now, the Pope's blood is roaming the Italian countryside. Like one of those Rembrandts some Nazi-hoarder has hung on to, it can now only be glimpsed by the small circle who took it.Worse still, Italian police are now operating on the theory that the blood was taken by Satanists. This is the time of year, they say with an unearned knowningness, that Satanists are most inclined to nick off with Pope blood or the like, because this period of the year is important in the Satanic calendar. “It culminates in the Satanic 'new year' on February 1,” reckons Giovanni Panunzio, police co-ordinator. “This sort of sacrilege often takes place at this time of the year.”
I picture Giovanni wearily unreeling yellow tape around church altars that have been inscribed with bloody pentagrams. “Well, if it isn't our old friends,” he'd say. “Just great… One week left till retirement, and now I'm going to have to level the score with these guys…” Giovanni staking out the goat farm waiting for someone to come past with a scythe dripping blood. Giovanni switching-up the old honeytrap methods by getting one of his officers to dance naked on a hillock as bait. Giovanni knows their habits. January is sacrilege month, just as sure as red sky in the morning is shepherd's warning.Satanism would at least lend this story some kind of internal logic. The alternative hypothesis – that it has been stolen by japes-loving students – being too dismal for words. You don't like to think of it buried away in some locker, like all those human hands that medical students steal and end up getting expelled for bringing to the Halloween party. The thought of a bunch of 20-year-olds quoting Mighty Boosh zingers as they debate what to do with the encrusted plasma residue of a dead Pole is too much for anyone to bear.But then even the alternative remains a weird, passe theory. Satanists? Aren't they just irredeemably 80s? Don't they belong to an age when Twisted Sister had to testify to Congress about whether or not glam metal was channelling The Dark Side?The phenomenon hit its arguable peak all the way back in 1988, when Geraldo Rivera's Satanism special quickly became the most-watched documentary in NBC's history. Since then, not so much – for all the protests, there were no Harry Potter witch trials. The internet hasn't been good for much, has it? But it has at least sped up the transfer of information to the point where the sorts of festering urban legends that used to spawn in the dankest bits of suburbia can be quickly debunked via the search box. Twenty years ago, there was no easy way to know whether there was actually a wide number of Satanists dishing out poisoned sweets at Halloween. Now, we have the Illuminati and no one really knows what that is or what they do. Which means they're a lot easier to be scared of.
Yet apparently, Italians still genuinely believe that there are a breed of people out there who have converted to evil, as though they were switching football allegiances. “Well, actually, I worship the Dark One. It's pretty Faustian, natch, but there you go. I worship him, and then he gives me access to a range of lifestyle benefits that I couldn't readily acquire from the God Of Abraham.” The sheer pointlessness of it makes windsurfing look like a viable hobby. In 2014, saying you believe that Lucifer is king of all is on a par with plonking your dancing sunflower next to a speaker belting out Sade's Stronger Than Pride. Though, Italy does at least remain the sort of country where people still persist in believing that white denim makes them look good, so perhaps modernity has taken a lot longer to creep into its foothills.It's a sad old world for your latter-day devilry-advocate. In a sense, all this blood-stealing business resembles a cry for help. Even the most committed church-burner must be burdened by a niggling suspicion that, by defining yourself in opposition to God, you're kind of letting him dominate you. What psychologists would call a dependency trap, altogether a very teenage mad-at-your-dad cornerstone on which to found a religion. That rather than doing things to uplift Satan, they seem to spend loads of time telling God that he's shit and he knows it. Satanists have more to do with statistics than anything else. They are basically the logical proposition that anything you can think of probably has its opposite somewhere out there. That if you get several million people together, simply by the law of big numbers, a handful of them will be doing the exact opposite of what everyone else is doing.
If there were a New Satan to be carved out of an increasingly rational world, in which blood-based voodoo paradigms have less and less relevance, he'd look a lot like mindlessness itself. The unthinking tides of affairs already at the heart of the world's systems. He'd be the chilling sense that no matter how many halogen lightbulbs you panic-buy, you can't save this or any other planet; that no amount of development aid is going to un-fuck fucked societies, besides which no level of development is correlated with ceasing to watch E! TV; that Tesco towns are simply what people want; and that no single human can ever win against a well-designed call centre, and that no one who designed one has ever done anything wrong from own their point of view.It would simply be the great inevitable, an acknowledgement that the taps of human self-interest can never ever be turned off, and so trying is futile. In other words, it'd be indistinguishable from Buddhism at a philosophical level. Buddhism's still hip. That's a New Satanism we could all chant along to.Follow Gavin on Twitter: @gavhaynesCollage by Marta ParszeniewPreviously: Six Tedious Conversations No One Was Actually Having in 2013