Tuesday, August 27, 2013


Obligatory Southpark Satan Photo.
"Nothing that happens in the circle can be told outside the circle.  There is no way out because there is no end in it.  

"Your parents have given you to us. They know what is  happening."
--Don't Make Me Go Back, Mommy: A child's book about satanic ritual abuse

There is a wide range of claims about dangerous Satanism and criminal Satanic cults being circulated in American society.  In brief, these claims assert that there exists a secret organization, or network, of criminals who worship Satan and who are engaged in the pornography business, forced prostitution, and drug dealing.  These criminals also engage in the sexual abuse and torture of children in an effort to brainwash children into becoming life-long Devil worshipers.  In their Devil worshiping rituals, these criminals kill and sacrifice infants, and sometimes adults, and commit cannibalism with the body parts.
--Satanic Panic: The Creation of a Contemporary Legend

There are many silences to be broken here.  Perhaps the biggest one emanates from thoughtful women's advocates and child protectionists who doubt the logic of ritual-abuse claims but hesitate to speak out because they lack an analysis with which to articulate their skepticism . . . if there is anything that can be called satanic about ritual abuse, it is the cacophony of media and scholarly prurience that has silenced thoughtful exploration of its roots and meanings.
--Satan's Silence: Ritual Abuse and the Making of a Modern American Witch Hunt

In the 1980s and early 90s, Satan was around every corner.  Starting with the publication of Michelle Remembers, parents, policy-makers, and law enforcement fell under the spell of a hysteria driven by fears of ritualistic child abuse in day cares.  The hysteria quickly rose to prominence, being featured by Geraldo Rivera and 20/20; the hysteria caused Proctor & Gamble to change their logo.  Unfortunately, the hysteria did not stop at mere speculation: it fueled a series of highly publicized and celebrated trials and convictions of day care workers, all who vehemently declared their innocence.  In the most famous, the McMartin trial, the California spent seven years and $15 million dollars prosecuting day care operators.  Unlike many of the cases, the McMartin defendants were ultimately acquitted.

This is exactly the sort of thing you should be showing your children.
Don't Make Me Go Back, Mommy represents the hysteria.  The book is for child victims of Satanic abuse rituals.  It starts, "A book about . . . hurting and healing, suffering and surviving."  It ends with a list of suggestions to parents of the child-victims, with gems like, "Don't interrogate the child about what happened.  The child will talk about it in her own way when she is able.  Be patient."

Ironically, this missive prohibiting interrogation went ignored by the law enforcement community.  

By the mid-90s, the interest in supporting allegations of Satanic Abuse Rituals had shifted; in its place came an academic interest in showing how wrong the Satanic hysteria was about everything.  Instead of a vast Satanic conspiracy of rape, sacrifice, and blackmail, scholars uncovered a vast mechanism to badger children into false accusations and a criminal justice system eager to convict innocent defendants of crimes.  Coupled with sensationalistic journalism, those accused of these crimes stood defenseless.

P&G's Old Logo.  Very Satanic.
Satanic Panic chronicles the cult scare as a sociological/anthropological phenomenon.  It describes how rumors spread and, tracking newspaper articles and community meetings, how rumors transformed into belief in Satan and Satanic crimes: as rumors, which tapped into pre-existing fears about changes in social values, spread from person to person, they gradually were picked up by people posing as experts.  These experts, in turn, re-affirmed the Satanic cult legend, further spreading it.  Missing in this circle of information-spreading, is any foundation in truth.  

Satan's Silence, focuses more on the role of politics and law in the Satanic hysteria.  The authors place Satanic crimes as creating an alliance between conservatives (who could use the Satanic crimes as a moral target) and a branch of liberals (who used the child-victimization as an extension of feminist efforts to combat rape-culture).  The result was the creation of the perfect victim (innocent children) and the perfect enemy (evil, Satan-worshiping child molesters).  The authors include in-depth analyses of the science behind the accusers and how/why people bought into such patently absurd junk science.

The books, taken together, document an interesting (and I think mostly forgotten) witch hunt that consumed U.S. society for roughly ten years.  Although Satanism is not so much a pressing concern now, the problem posed by witch hunts and the circular logic they bring is a problem that seems to elude permanent resolution.  


R.M. Fiedler said...

For anyone interested: Satan's Silence is by far the best of the three and the only one I would recommend to someone generally interested. It is the right combination of intelligent and readable (i.e., not too scholarly). It is also the broadest in terms of analyzing what came together to create the Satanic hysteria.

billy said...

turns out the Gillian Flynn novel I just started reading has some satanic elements to it, too

Brent Waggoner said...

I am super-interested in this toic. Satanic hysteria was everywhere when I was growing up.

R.M. Fiedler said...

Other than reading Satan's Silence, an easy way to learn about the topic is to watch Indictment: The McMartin Trial (yeah, HBO movie) or Paradise Lost (which is really a trilogy, I've only watched the first one).

Also, the Geraldo Rivera special is pretty excellent...but mostly by accident.

Brent Waggoner said...

I read this book based on your rec. Great book, but I don't think I'm going to be getting within 50 yards of anyone else's kids for a while.