Satanic Ritual Abuse
Satanic ritual abuse is narrowly defined as an assault (either
psychological, physical, or sexual) that takes place on an individual
as part of a liturgy or ordered pattern incorporated into
a ceremony of worship aimed at Satan, the Christian devil. As
such, ritual abuse is one type of occult-related crime but different
from other types of occult crimes such as the adoption of
Satanic symbols and language by a serial killer or Satanic ceremonies
that include only legal and voluntary activities.
The idea of Satanic ritual abuse was brought to the fore in
the 1980s with the publication of a book, Michelle Remembers,
which recounted the reputed memoriesexperiences of Michelle
Smith (the pseudonym of Michelle Pazder, the wife of Lawrence
Pazder, a psychiatrist and author of the book). The book
recounted the story of Michelle’s teen years in which she was
forced into a Satanic cult, abused, and forced to forget her traumatic
experiences. Her memory of the experience only reemerged
20 years later when she underwent psychiatric treatment.
It would be followed later in the decade by a growing
number of reports of Satanic abuse following the pattern of and
expanding upon Michelle’s story. These reports were accompanied
by additional accounts of contemporary abuse of children
by parents in Satanic cults. Graphic accounts of Satanic ritual
abuse were supplied in books such as Lauren Stafford’s Satan’s
Underground (1988) and Rebecca Brown’s He Came to Set the
Captives Free (1993). By the end of the decade, it was apparent
that a major wave of concern focused upon the belief in widespread
Satanic abuse had emerged. Several cities established
agencies to handle the problem.
The belief in Satanic abuse was greatly aided by the McMartin
case, in which the teachers and employees of a preschool in
Manhattan Beach, California, were accused of sexually and otherwise
abusing the children left in their care. The case began
with a letter by the Manhattan Beach police chief to the parents
of children who had attended or were currently attending the
preschool seeking confirmation that Ray Buckley, who worked
at the school, had molested some children. When the letter became
public, panic followed. Literally hundreds of children
were interviewed at the Children’s Institute International, a research
facility that specialized in problems of child abuse, and
by 1984 the doctors in charge had concluded that some 360
children had been abused over the years. Their report built
upon a 1978 paper by Dr. Roland Summit who had argued that
children’s reports of sexual abuse were almost always factual.
The accounts derived from the interviews included incidents of
Satanic rituals complete with animal sacrifice and the drinking
of blood.
The McMartin case lasted for six years. It was placed in the
hands of prosecutor Marcia Clark (later to lose the equally
high-profile O. J. Simpson case). The McMartin case fell apart
when the videos of the interviews of the children revealed the
manner in which interviewers planted the story of abuse in the
minds of the children and in some of the factually unsubstantiated
statements made by the children. Most important of the
unsubstantiated claims from the interviews were the descriptions
of an extensive set of tunnels under the school building.
No such tunnels were ever found, in spite of the building being
dismantled and the lot dug up in several different searches.
The multiplying accounts of ritual abuse began to coalesce
into a very new picture of Satanism. They described an extensive
Satanic network that had been in place for many decades.
This picture contradicted all of the previous work that had basically
described Satanism at best as a very small phenomenon
on the cultural fringe. This network was seen to be responsible
for thousands of kidnappings of infants and children who were
then abused or killed. Adult members of these groups would
give up infants for sacrifice in a black mass or allow their older
children to become the object of rape by the cult. These children
would otherwise seemingly lead a normal life, their trauma
undetected by their friends and schoolmates, and later asEncyclopedia
of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Satanic Ritual Abuse
sume a normal role in society as an adult. They would only
remember the childhood trauma years later under hypnosis or
similar techniques used during psychotherapy. As the veracity
of the accounts of Satanic ritual abuse was called into question,
stories adopted more extreme elements to account for an increasing
number of inconsistencies.
In the early 1990s, the expansive hysteria over Satanism was
called into question in books by FBI agent Robert Hicks and
several sociologists such as James V. Richardson and David
Bromley, who specialized in the study of new religious movements.
Many psychologists who reviewed these reports along
with other similar cases accusing parents of sexual abuse but
without the Satanic element concluded that they had been
falsely diagnosed. According to the psychologists, the memories
were not recovered memories, but imposed memories.
These patients were not suffering from their prior abuse; they
were victims of a memory disorder called the false memory
syndrome. In 1992 many of these psychologists banded together
to form the False Memory Syndrome Foundation.
Also, beginning in 1991, a series of government reports (including
reports from England and other areas where abuse reports
had surfaced) reached the conclusion that no evidence of
the Satanic conspiracy or of widespread Satanic abuse could be
found. Controversy peaked through the early 1990s with support
for the idea coming mainly from individuals identified as
‘‘survivors’’ of ritual abuse, therapists who were specializing in
counseling such survivors, and policemen who were conducting
seminars on occult-related crimes. It was noted that much of
the support was from therapists and police who were affiliated
with conservative Christian churches.
A significant aspect of Satanic ritual abuse was the large
number of court cases that arose (as opposed to the UFO abductee
cases) in which parents were tried for abusing their children.
Convictions were handed down in early cases, but
through the 1990s those convictions tended to be reversed and
not only were accused parents found not guilty, but civil cases
were launched against therapists who testified to the truth of
recovered memories of ritual child abuse.
In the midst of the controversy, a series of exposés occurred
demonstrating that many prominent exponents of Satanic ritual
abuse were in fact lying to an extent that called their entire
story into question. These hoaxes included the books by Michelle
Smith, Lauren Stafford, Rebecca Brown, and selfconfessed
Satanic priest Mike Warnke. While these fictionalized
stories did not discredit the large number of reports by
survivors who have come to be seen as victims of the false memory
syndrome, they did much to quiet the support of the Christian
community in the widespread panic over Satanism.
The scholarly attack upon the idea of ritual abuse, the government
reports on the lack of evidence for such occurrences,
and the court cases directed against exponents of Satanic ritual
abuse combined in the late 1990s to destroy the popular wave
of interest in Satanic ritual abuse, though for many reasons, religious
and otherwise, many believers remain.
Hicks, Robert. In Pursuit of Satan The Police and the Occult.
Buffalo, N.Y. Prometheus Books, 1991.
Nathan, Debbie, and Michael Snedeker. Satan’s Silence Ritual
Abuse and the Making of a Modern American Witch Hunt. New
York Basic Books, 1995.
Richardson, James V., et al, eds. The Satanism Scare. New
York Alsdine de Gruyter, 1991.
Ross, Colin. Satanic Ritual Abuse Principles of Treatment. Toronto
University of Toronto Press, 1995.
Victor, Jeffrey. Satanic Panic The Creation of a Contemporary
Legend. Chicago Open Court, 1993.