It is time to make amends. I have long been a denier, contradicting anyone claiming there’s a Daphne cult. But it was staring at me in the face all along: the icon of veneration, the formulaic creed, the litanies recited in rising emotional tones, the ecstasy and the frenzy, the bond of solidarity between worshippers.
To be fair, my eyes were peeled for the cult of a saint – and it’s true there’s nothing there. But you can also have a cult of the devil. An object of fear and hate can be as sacred as an object of love.
The evidence of a Daphne fetish is overwhelming. How could I have missed it? It was in her lifetime that Caruana Galizia began to be hailed as the Great Satan responsible for the evils of our little world.
No evil is too great or too small, too domestic or too international. She has “broken up families” and was the catalyst of nothing less than an international conspiracy of envy against Malta (cunningly disguised as outrage over the impunity of the Panama Gang).
Satan is the Prince of Lies. For the cult, Caruana Galizia is the Queen of Deceit. From beyond the grave, she has mesmerised hardboiled prize-winning journalists from around the world, even though they are professional sceptics and trained lie detectors.
The worshippers have a litany of her sublime vices: hate blogging, bile spewing, lie spreading… Add to that a list of motives straight out of the witch-burner’s diagnostic manual: envy, frustration, sterility (well, menopause, given that her three sons are an inconvenient fact).
The cult has its things to be ritually avoided. Like the biblical God and the Madonna, it is preferable to refer to her by titles rather than a proper name: the Witch of Bidnija, the Queen of Bile and, lately, “she who once was referred to as a two-bit blogger”.
Like all religious cults it is impervious to disproof. Was Caruana Galizia right about the Panama Papers and 17 Black? Those are only allegations by infidels. Besides, so what if she got lucky once?
In the news and social media, her image has been conventionalised. It’s an unsmiling woman with frowning arched eyebrows. Her face has been turned into an icon with the power to instill instant rage.
Satanic cults descecrate the sacred and turn it upside down and back to front. The cult of Daphne-as-devil features a daily ritual reversal – clearing away the flowers left at the Valletta memorial, instead of leaving some. There’s also been desecration of Caruana Galizia’s grave, apart from the covering up of the memorial and the insults left there.
Some of the focus of worship has been offered by websites. One – called Taste Your Own Medicine – was shortlived and specialised in obscene obsessions. Another, Glenn Bedingfield’s blog (which, he interestingly said, aimed to give Caruana Galizia a ‘taste of her own medicine’), lasted a lot longer.
Both websites featured stories purported to be from her life but which, like all cults, transmuted any fact into myth. Readers came with their own votive offerings. They speculated about the emotional source of her special energy and powers, her inner demons.
They spoke of her as others might of a remote vengeful goddess. Sightings of her were recorded, and photos shared and pored over.
Ideally, the awe of a chance meeting was best concelebrated by chasing her down a narrow street, singing refrains and dancing like a born-again pixie. If she took refuge behind a closed door, then you banged on that door like Halloween came early.
None of this can be dismissed as mere folk religion surviving only in isolated pockets here and there. The cult has behind it the priests and high priests of modern Malta.
The cult’s personnel include former mayors and prime ministerial aides. It is the State’s personnel that carry away the flowers. It was on leading news bulletins that Daphne was discussed. Today, almost two years after her assassination, it is on prime time shows that Daphne is still accused of being the cause of electoral defeats and source of national division.
That leaves one question. Why? What’s the purpose of the cult of a devil that the worshippers despise?
The devil is needed to give a sense of mission. A great enemy builds solidarity that otherwise would not be there. Iran’s rapacious governing clergy need America as the Great Satan. Donald Trump still rails against Hillary Clinton (“lock her up!”).
If Daphne is the Great Satan, then her anger-whipping enemies are the Satanists. They need her still to mobilise energy and common purpose. It might otherwise dissipate in jaded disillusion.
As time passes, though, it might still not be enough. Bedingfield’s blog just faded after the assassination.
So perhaps that’s why the cult is evolving. It’s beginning to admit new devils, like Caroline Muscat and Caruana Galizia’s son, Matthew.