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Satanism and Satanic Ritual Abuse

A Basic Introduction

Robert M. Bowman, Jr.




I.  Satanism

A.Roots of Satanism

1.    WesternEuropean paganism and occultism, with roots in pre-Christian culture

2.    Anti-religious,hedonistic movements of the Enlightenment, most notoriously the Hell-FireClubs, which held mock rituals (e.g., a “Black Mass”)

B.Originators of Satanism

1.    AleisterCrowley (1875-1947) — combined occult magic, drug use, and sexual aberrationsinto a system with one rule, “Do whatever you want”

2.    AntonLaVey (1930- ) — published The SatanicBible (1969) and started the Church of Satan; LaVey and his followers aresecular humanists for whom Satan is a symbol of the power of the self and theirrejection of Christianity

C.Types of Satanists[1]

1.    MaterialisticSatanists — the majority; those like LaVey, for whom Satan is not real and allrituals are simply for fun

2.    MysticalSatanists — those who think an impersonal spiritual power can be tapped fortheir personal benefit; sometimes these Satanists believe in two powers, onepositive and one negative, and they seek the negative power.

3.    MadSatanists — those who believe in God and Satan, profess to follow Satan despitethe eternal consequences, and who are often mentally unstable; such Satanistsare generally isolated individuals, not part of a larger Satanic group


II.Satanism and Crime

A.Satanic Beliefs and Criminal Behavior

1.    MostSatanists would agree with LaVey’s maxim, “Do whatever you want.”  Such an ethic obviously allows individuals to commit crime if they choose, but it does not prescribe crime.

2.    Mostcrime committed in the name of Satan are acts of mad Satanists acting on theirown.

3.    Theextent of Satanist crime is unknown, but it is neither insignificant norpervasive in society.

B.Typical Satanism-Related Crimes

1.    Druguse and drug trafficking

2.    Suicide(especially teenagers)

3.    Murder(fairly rare, and essentially by loners)

C.Satanism Conspiracy Theories

1.    SinceSatanists are individualists, the idea of a national or even global conspiracyof Satanists is inherently contradictory.

2.    “Thereare no known public satanist organizations that advocate criminal activity.”[2]

3.    Thenumber of Satanists in America is almost certainly in the low thousands, not inthe tens of thousands or in the millions.

4.    Satan no doubt is at work throughSatanists and many other diverse cults and movements, and he may even have anoverall plan or agenda, but there is no monolithic human movement of Satanists.

5.    Sataniststend to value their privacy and even be secretive, but mostly because of theirimmoral sex-and-drugs lifestyle, not because they are plotting crime.


III.Satanic Ritual Abuse

A.The Satanic Ritual Abuse (SRA) Theory

1.    Largenumbers of Americans (some estimate 100,000 or more) have supposedly beenabused as part of Satanic rituals.

2.    Theseabuses include incest and a wide variety of gross sex acts, mutilation,abduction of children, forcing women to have babies that are then sacrificed toSatan, and murder.

3.    Theabusers are thought to be part of a nationwide or even worldwide conspiracy,involving families over several generations.

4.    Theexperience of SRA is thought to result commonly in suppression of memories andfrequently in multiple personality disorder (MPD), a psychological aberrationsimilar to schizophrenia but typically involving several personalities insteadof just two.[3]  These psychological effects explain why mostvictims do not recall the abuse except in therapy (often involving hyposis orother radical measures).

5.    Thepower of the Satanic conspiracy is such that all hard evidence for the allegedcrimes is destroyed.  This explains, forexample, why none of the thousands of corpses has ever been found.




B.Select Famous Cases of Alleged SRA

1.    MichelleSmith (1981) — wrote Michelle Remembers,first account of a suppressed memory of SRA

2.    McMartinpreschool (1983) — a Southern California day care center where large numbers ofchildren alleged sexual abuse by the preschool workers

3.    LaurenStratford (1988) — Christian horror story of SRA, popularized and defended byHal Lindsey despite being discredited by investigators

C.Critique of Arguments for Affirming theReality of SRA

1.    Thousandsof adults can’t all be wrong

a.   Most of the adults who believe they now remember suffering SRAhad psychological or psychiatric problems

b.   Many of not most of these adults were guided by therapists whosuggested they try to remember such abuse

c.   These adults all have several other adults in their lives,especially relatives, who claim the allegations are false.  Could these thousands of adults all belying?

2.    Thousandsof children can’t all be lying

a.   In most if not all of these cases, the children have beencoaxed into coming up with the stories — sometimes even rewarded for coming upwith stories[4]

b.   Whereas most adults with SRA stories remember being abused byloved ones, most children claim to have been abused by someone other than aloved one — a day-care worker, an estranged parent

3.    Thevictims describe things that they normally could not have

a.   Professed victims often do describe occult rituals orparaphernalia, but not in details that go beyond what a person can pick up frombrowsing in a bookstore or watching occult-theme movies

b.   Alternative explanations for the descriptions are oftenreadily available, as in the case of a boy who described someone’s stomachbeing cut open and their guts spilling out (his mother recognized the storyfrom The Empire Strikes Back!)[5]

4.    SRAexplains the thousands of children who disappear each year

a.   The number of children who become missing has often beenexaggerated

b.   Most missing children are found within one year

c.   Most missing children are either taken by an estranged parent(especially young children) or are runaways (especially teenagers)

5.    Questioningthe SRA phenomenon shows a lack of support for the victims

a.   Endorsing a delusion is no way to show compassion or supportfor a person

b.   SRA “victims” may be genuine victims, but of another evil —manipulation by “experts” to support their agenda

c.   Innocent relatives accused of Satanic crimes are also victims

6.    SRAmay be real, even if exaggerated by some

a.   Isolated crimes of abuse and murder by professed Satanists dooccur, but this is not what is usually meant by SRA

b.   Until hard evidence of SRA is found, there is no reason tobelieve in it

D.Reasons for Denying the Reality of SRA

1.    Thereis no hard evidence

a.   Those who affirm SRA as a widespread phenomenon must, and do,view Satanism as a nearly omnipotent conspiratorial network capable ofdestroying all evidence, planting false evidence, infiltrating the criminaljustice system, etc.

b.   The SRA conspiracy theory therefore has the same status asother nonfalsifiable conspiracy theories, e.g., that the US government knowsthat UFOs have visited earth and is covering it up

c.   The conspiracy mindset encourages many who affirm SRA to viewskeptics, even Christians, as secret Satanists (just as many extremeanti-Catholics view moderate Protestants as secret agents of the Jesuits)

2.    SRAis contrary to the reality of actual Satanism

a.   Satanism is a highly individualistic philosophy, incompatiblewith a massive conspiratorial organization

b.   Satanism is relatively new (originating in this century), afact incompatible with the notion of Satanism as a secret intergenerationalmovement

c.   Satanism is more interested in sex and drugs than in murderand mayhem

3.    TheSRA theory assumes questionable psychological theories and practices

a.   SRA “victims” nearly always have to have their memories coaxedthrough long sessions, repeated questions and suggestions, hypnosis

b.   SRA diagnosis easily confuses MPD (itself often overdiagnosed)with SRA

E.Dangers of the SRA Theory

1.    Innocentpeople are falsely accused of committing abuse; SRA theorists often wantalleged abusers to be convicted of criminal abuse on the basis of suppressedmemories alone

2.    Peoplemistakenly led to believe they suffered SRA may have real psychologicalproblems go untreated

3.    Peoplewho have no real psychiatric illness are erroneously diagnosed with MPD andinstitutionalized, sometimes (ironically) with horrific abuse[6]

4.    BecauseChristians are especially prone to believe that SRA is real, the SRA scare isbecoming the 1990s equivalent of the Salem witch trials — and may cause lastingdamage to the credibility of the Christian faith

F.Lessons from the SRA Controversy

1.    Satan’smethods of destroying people’s lives are usually quite subtle (Gen. 3:4-5; John8:44; 2 Cor. 11:3)

2.    Christiansneed to be critical and discerning — and this means not always believing theworst (1 Cor. 13:7)







A.General Works on Satanism and the Occult


Dickason, C. Fred. Demon Possession and the Christian.  Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1987.  Defends the view that Christians can bedemonized.

Hawkins, Craig.  Goddess Worship, Witchcraft, and OtherNeo-Pagan Movements.  ZondervanGuide to Cults and Religious Movements. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998.

Martin, Malachi.  Hostage to the Devil.  New York: Bantam Books, 1976.  Roman Catholic.

Passantino, Bob and Gretchen.  Satanism.  Zondervan Guide to Cults and ReligiousMovements.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan,1995.  Excellent short overview; much ofthe information presented in this outline comes from this book.

_______.  When the Devil Dares Your Kids: ProtectingYour Children from Satanism, Witchcraft, and the Occult.  Ann Arbor, MI: Servant, 1991.

Trott, Jon, and Mike Hertenstein.  SellingSatan.  Chicago: Cornerstone Press,1993.  Expose of Mike Warnke, arguingthat his claim to be a former Satanist is false.

Warnke, Mike, with Dave Balsiger and Les Jones.  TheSatan Seller.  Plainfield, NJ: LogosInternational, 1972.  Account of aprofessed former Satanist high priest; see Trott and Hertenstein above.


B.Satanic Ritual Abuse: General


Lloyd, David W. “Ritual Child Abuse: Understanding the Controversies.” Cultic Studies Journal 8 (1991) 122-33.  The Director of the National Center on ChildAbuse and Neglect explains why little definite knowledge about such abuse hasbeen gained.

“Satanic Ritual Abuse.”  Special issue.  Journal of Psychology and Theology 20, 2(1992).  Numerous articles pro and conon SRA and related matters.


C.Satanic Ritual Abuse: Affirmations


Friesen, James G. Uncovering the Mystery of MPD.  San Bernardino, CA: Here’s Life Publishers,1991.  Sees MPD as very widespread anddemonic, often linked to SRA.

McCulley, Dale. “Satanic Ritual Abuse: A Question of Memory.” Journal of Psychology and Theology 22 (1994) 167-72.  Disagrees with the critics in the special1992 issue.

Report of theRitual Abuse Task Force.  LosAngeles: Los Angeles County Commission for Women, 1989.  Commonly-cited report that fueled the SRAcontroversy.

Sakheim, David K., and Susan E. Devine, eds.  Out ofDarkness: Exploring Satanism and Ritual Abuse.  New York: Lexington Books, 1992. Sophisticated, mostly affirmative essays.

Smith, M., and L. Pazder.  Michelle Remembers.  New York: Pocket Books, 1981.  One of the earliest SRA survival stories.

Stratford, Lauren. Satan’s Underground.  Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1988; Gretna,La.: Pelican Publishing, 1991.  Classicfirst-person account of SRA survival (critiqued by the Passantinos and Trott,see below).  Followed by the lurid Stripped Naked (Pelican, 1993).



D.Satanic Ritual Abuse: Denials


Hicks, Robert D.  In Pursuit of Satan: The Police and theOccult.  Buffalo: Prometheus Books,1991.  Former police officer takesskeptical look at SRA claims.

Passantino, Bob and Gretchen.  “The Hard Facts about Satanic Ritual Abuse.” Christian Research Journal (Winter 1992) 21-34.

_______.  “SatanicRitual Abuse in Popular Christian Literature.” Journal of Psychology and Theology 20 (1992) 299-305.  Christian apologists argue that SRA fearsare largely unfounded.

Passantino, Gretchen, Bob Passantino, and Jon Trott.  “Satan’s Sideshow: The True Lauren StratfordStory.” Cornerstone 18 (1990) 24-28.  Award-winning article questioningStratford’s SRA-survival story (see above).

Victor, Jeffrey S. Rumors of Evil: The Satanic CultScare and the Creation of Imaginary Deviance.  Peru, IL: Open Court, 1993. Sociologist critically reviews SRA and other occult rumors (e.g., theProctor & Gamble rumor).

Watters, Ethan. “The Devil in Mr. Ingram.” MotherJones 16, 4 (1991) 30-33, 65-68. About a Christian man, accused by his daughter of sexual SRA, whoconfessed to it and later realized it never happened.


E.Multiple Personality Disorder


Freeland, A., et. al. “Four Cases of Supposed Multiple Personality Disorder: Evidence ofUnjustified Diagnoses.” Canadian Journalof Psychiatry 38 (1993) 245-47. Title tells all.

Rosick, Christopher H. “The Misdiagnosis of Multiple Personality Disorder by ChristianCounselors: Vulnerabilities and Safeguards.” Journal of Psychology and Theology 23 (1995) 75-88.  Affirms reality of MPD and explains how toavoid overdiagnosis.


F.Child Abuse


Ammerman, Robert T., and Michael Hersen, eds.  Childrenat Risk: An Evaluation of Factors Contributing to Child Abuse and Neglect.  New York: Plenum Press, 1990.

de Koster, Katie, ed. Child Abuse: Opposing Viewpoints.  San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1994.  Excellent collection of short essays andbook excerpts.

Somers, Suzanne.  Wednesday’s Children: Adult Survivors ofAbuse Speak Out.  New York: G. P.Putnam/HealingVision Publishing, 1992. Frank, first-person accounts of emotional, physical, or sexual abuse,told mostly by celebrities (e.g., Angie Dickinson, B. J. Thomas) and relativesof celebrities (e.g., Bing Crosby’s son Gary, Lana Turner’s daughter).


[1]Thelabels used here are mine; most Satanists would not use or accept thesedesignations.

[2]Boband Gretchen Passantino, Satanism, ZondervanGuide to Cults and Religious Movements (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 51.

[3]Thisis, it should be noted, a very simplistic description.

[4]Seethe PBS Frontline report, “The Searchfor Satan,” for an egregious example.



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