Those Dark Satanic Mills: The Moral Panic That Won’t Die

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  August 4, 2012 — 127 Comments

On Thursday, Religion Dispatches featured a guest editorial from Joseph Laycock, religion scholar and author of “Vampires Today: The Truth about Modern Vampirism.” Laycock examined the most recent crackpot theory from crackpot conspiracy theory king David Icke, he of the “reptoid hypothesis.” In short, the opening ceremony of the London Olympics were part of a brainwashing Satanic conspiracy, and in turn a rallying cry to the spiritual warriors, the “experts in evil” skilled in rooting out these hidden conspiracies. While Icke is largely a figure of fun, a comical nut who sees evil vortexes and reptoid hybrids under his couch, Laycock reminds us that this is no laughing matter.

“While the theories can be entertaining, when too much momentum forms behind them they have historically resulted in moral panic and the persecution of innocent people. The Satanic Panic that peaked in the 1980s and 1990s is constantly threatening to return.

“Constantly threatening to return.” Is this true? Could the madness that were the Satanic Panics really manifest itself again, in an almost identical fashion? It’s hard to believe, until you start looking for the signs.

[Judy] Byington is an authority on Satanists, and as a clinical social worker she spent years helping others heal from wounds so deep most would shrink from the task. With the permission of her clients, she has written about one woman’s experience of growing up within a coven and surviving. The book is called “Twenty-Two Faces.” “This is a huge breaking story validating the existence of human sacrifices of children in our society,” Byington said. […] They have secret combinations. They live in duplicity. They torture and sacrifice the innocent. They give birth in secret so the babies they sacrifice have no birth certificate record. They take the time to learn speaking Latin backwards from what is called the Black Bible.”

That’s not an archive story from the mid-1980s, that’s from a paper in Utah, dated July 28th of this year. Those of us old enough to remember the moral “Satanic” panic of the 1980s and 90s will find the narrative put forth in “Twenty-Two Faces” eerily familiar.

“As the only known survivor-intended-victim of a human sacrificial ceremony, Jenny Hill is living proof that ritual abuse is, in fact, a reality. With great courage and in open defiance of her sadistic abusers, Jenny wishes her story told. The ending will shock you.Referring to journals written throughout childhood, Jenny Hill and her multiple personalities document how as a five year-old, she overcomes trauma by turning to prayer while utilizing her alter states to compartmentalize abuse at the hands of a master mind-control programmer from Nazi Germany. After suffering deaths of a high school sweetheart, plus her only girlfriend, she somehow completes Army medic training, receives a nursing degree, prepares for a church mission and becomes a mother. Simultaneously led by sex-addict Head Alter J.J., intrepid alters assume frequent control, engaging in larceny and prostitution. With her children, her lifeline, the increasingly desperate nurse escapes a drugged-out pimping husband, blacks out in a job interview, comes to nine days later as an inpatient headed for the Utah State Psychiatric Hospital and only then learns what her life has really been.”

It really is as if someone took the 1980 book phenomenon “Michelle Remembers” and used it as a guide.

“The book documents Smith’s memory of events recovered during therapy, documenting the many satanic rituals she believed that she was forced to attend (Pazder stated that Smith was abused by “the Church of Satan,” which he states is a worldwide organization predating the Christian church). The first alleged ritual attended by Smith took place in 1954 when she was five years old, and the final one documented in the book was an 81-day ritual in 1955 that summoned the devil himself and involved the intervention of Jesus, the Virgin Mary and Michael the Archangel, who removed the scars received by Smith throughout the year of abuse and removed memories of the events “until the time was right”. During the rites, Smith was allegedly tortured, locked in cages, sexually assaulted, forced to take part in various rituals, witnessed several murders and was rubbed with the blood and body parts of various murdered babies and adults.”

Unlike Icke, this is no joke. This is the very tinder that ruined the lives of thousands of innocent people as they were accused of being a part of underground Satanic abuse organizations. We often forget how pervasive anti-Satanic propaganda was back then, with many journalists and talk-show hosts (even Oprah) diving right into the hysteria. The West Memphis 3, released almost a year ago, were probably the most well-known victims of this panic. Jessie Misskelley’s former defense attorney Dan Stidham, in an interview with John Morehead, painted a picture of the Satanic hysteria that surrounded the trial.

“…you really have to put this case into historical perspective. In 1993, the Satanic Bandwagon Folks like Dr. Griffis were mainstream and largely supported by both the media and established religion. We now know better, just like we now know that there are such things as “coerced confessions.” In 1993, virtually everybody believed that the phenomena of Satanic Ritualistic Homicide was very real, and perhaps even more regrettably, that no one, not even a mentally handicapped person, or a child, would confess to a crime that they did not commit. Thankfully, due in large part to pioneers with real credentials like Dr. Gisli Gudjohnson, Dr. Richard Ofshe, and Dr. Richard Leo, we now understand the dynamics of false confessions. By the way, not many people remember that Dr. Ofshe won a Pulitzer Prize for his work studying religious “cults.” He had a dual expertise.”

We are still dealing with the fallout of this era, with a dedicated core of true believers keeping the fires burning, all that has to happen is for the right/wrong set of circumstances to line up, and it all erupts again. Indeed, this time it could be worse, since it’s far easier to do “research” and even the usually reserved Catholic church is ramping up the rhetoric about demon possessions, exorcisms, and even underground Satanic cults.

Peg Aloi: Do you believe there are a lot of satanic cults out there?

Father Gary Thomas: There are probably more than we think. In fact, I pray over a woman right now who is a satanic cult survivor.

PA: I need to ask this. Speaking as someone who has done extensive research on the Satanic Ritual Abuse scare in the 1990s: Do you think it’s possible your parishioner’s experiences are false, or that she may be lying, or delusional? Because despite many, many horrific accusations of abuse and murder and various other atrocities by satanic cults over the years, most of them by alleged “survivors” who claim to be former cult members, the FBI, after years of investigation, never found a single shred of evidence to suggest there is or ever has been an underground network of satanic cults in the United States. 

FGT: I don’t believe that she’s lying. She had been seeing a priest in our diocese for a while and her memories stated to surface, and that’s how we learned of her involvement in the cult. But if even half of what she’s saying is true, and I have not found any reason to doubt it, in her system, if anyone exposes the group, they’ll be killed. There is a whole culture in terms of what these people tell their members.

It’s a tinder box, all it needs is a match. Will they target Witches and Pagans? Adherents of Santeria or Palo? Those who venerate Santa Muerte? It’s impossible to say, as it will depend on how the panic manifests, but any group that gets confused with “Satanists” are fair game in such a scenario. It is for this reason that more Pagans need to engage in serious ecumenical, intrafaith, and interfaith work,  and move into more proactive advocacy and anti-defamation initiatives. This advocacy shouldn’t be from small start-ups on Facebook, but from the dominant organizations within our movement, the groups that have built networks and connections over the span of 20 or 30 years. We need to be ready in case an incident that none of us could foresee sparks an ugly backlash against us or our allies. We need to be ready in case our society panics.

Jason Pitzl-Waters

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