Popular Delusions XI: Satanic Ritual Abuse

One of the surest marks of a pseudoscience is that it stays forever the same, never altering its claims, even as the world changes around it and revolutions in our knowledge come and go. While science evolves over time, with theories becoming refined to more closely track the truth, popular delusions stay the same through the centuries, at most changing their outer robes to match the spirit of the times.

I wrote about this in a past entry in this series, in which the demonic succubi and incubi that were once imagined to haunt sleepers become, in the modern era, gray-skinned alien abductors. Today’s post concerns a different topic, and one that has likewise seen its manifestation mutate over the ages: the hysteria of alleged Satanic cults that subject children to horrific sexual abuse and violence. Some people claim to have been victims of these cults; some even claim to be ex-members. As always, Jack Chick provides a handy example of what a large number of Christians and other theists still actually believe.

But, as I said, many popular delusions update their outer trappings to match the times. This is also true of Satanic cult beliefs, which in modern times have taken on the form of secret conspiracies of pedophiles gathering to prey on children. The most infamous example is the 1980s McMartin case, in which a California family who owned a preschool were accused of hundreds of counts of sexual abuse of the children under their care. After a six-year trial and the expenditure of millions of dollars by the prosecution, the case ended without a single conviction. (This story was dramatized in the movie Indictment.)

The McMartin case in particular began with the allegations of one woman, later revealed to be mentally ill, who alleged that her son had been sexually abused by one of the teachers at the preschool. Taking her at her word, the police began a dragnet investigation that culminated with hundreds of children being interviewed by a California clinic, the Children’s Institute International. The CII therapists took the approach that abuse was certain and the only obstacle was getting the children to admit it. Under their guidance, children were peppered with leading questions; the therapists described what they thought had happened (“I know that the kids were touched”) and pressured the children to agree. When children denied those claims, they were told, “You better not play dumb”, or “I don’t want to hear any more ‘no’s”, and informed that many of their classmates had already told the truth. When they gave in, they were rewarded. Despite the bizarre nature of the allegations that emerged from this technique (sex with movie stars, sexual abuse taking place in hot-air balloons, one of the alleged abusers killing a giraffe in front of them), these videotaped “confessions” were presented as evidence at trial. It has since been discovered, and is now widely known, that leading questions and high-pressure interviews such as this can readily generate false memories and false confessions, even in adults, and much more so in suggestible children.

Most Satanic panics, including the McMartin case, share the attribute of extremely implausible allegations for which no physical evidence is presented. The scope of the imagined conspiracies is inevitably vast, with estimates ranging from 50,000 to an astonishing two million murders by Satanic cults in the U.S. each year. (As that article notes, the higher estimate would mean that the annual death rate from Satanic cults surpasses the number of U.S. deaths in World War II, Korea and Vietnam combined.) Abuse and crime on such a massive scale should be easy to demonstrate, and yet no undisputed Satanic cult has ever been broken up and prosecuted, no physical evidence of such astonishing allegations ever presented. As with other conspiracy theories, the absence of evidence is taken by true believers to simply be further confirmation of the conspiracy’s scope and power, even though the idea of such a massive cover-up being successful does violence to everything we know about human psychology.

What Satanic panics show, more than anything else, is the malleability of memory. In matters as important as this, we cannot rely solely on testimonial evidence: human beings are far too prone to tell untruths, to confabulate, and to unwittingly encourage others to do the same. The problem of sexual predators that molest children is very real, and all too common. But the idea of organized, underground cabals of devil-worshippers gathering to practice diabolical rites on innocents is a hysterical fantasy, nothing more. This kind of irrational overreaction only ensures that innocents will be unjustly swept up in dragnets of overzealous law enforcement, rather than targeting our legal resources where they are most needed to take on genuine predators.

Other posts in this series:

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    While I’m not disagreeing with your assessment of the McMartin case, it seems you’ve painted the issue as all-or-nothing when it’s likely there is middle ground. Are you arguing that zero instances of Satanic ritual abuse actually take place? While I doubt the instances and victims of SRA are as high as some fanatics claim; I also doubt they are zero, and with good reason.

    It is beyond doubt that people kill for God, Jesus, Allah, etc. It is beyond doubt that Satanism is an actual religion with an authentic following. I personally know people who at least claim to serve Satan; one guy who used to keep a horse head on a stick in his room. This doesn’t prove anything, and I don’t know what some, all or any Satanists do for their ceremonies; but since killing in the name of God is sure trendy in the other religions, I would not be surprised at all to find at least some Satanists killing in the name of their deity. It would just be concurrent with all the rest of the fanatical beliefs. Put simply, if people kill, abuse and torture in the name of God, it’s not a far leap at all that others would do it in the name of Satan.

    On a tangent note, check out Greg Little’s Grand Illusions if you haven’t. Your comments on the evolution of apparitions receive more than ample airtime by the author.

  • http://verywide.net/ Moody834

    Satanic panic is responsible for some of the worst travesties of justice. One that you could devote several entries to is that of the West Memphis Three. If you have not seen Paradise Lost, the documentary of the incarceration of three demonstrably innocent young men–Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley, and Jason Baldwin–then I highly recommend it. The documentary thoroughly illustrates just what “satanic panic” is and what its outcome means to those victimized by it.

  • Leum

    cl, have you ever heard of one substantiated case of SRA? I haven’t. What I have heard of, over and over again throughout recent and ancient history, is SRA and its variations (blood libel, witchcraft, etc) used to incite panic, persecute minorities, and focus attention away from actual problems. I’m going to stick my neck out here and say that the number of victims of SRA is zero, just as the number of babies killed by Christians to leaven bread is zero, the number of children possessed by witches is zero, and so on.

    Yes, people are killed in the name of religion, but the people are usually either killed in wars or terrorist attacks, or are members (or former members) of the religion killed by their fellow believers. The idea that religious groups take random people off the streets for their sacrifices does not square with our knowledge of the history of religion.

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    “cl, have you ever heard of one substantiated case of SRA?”

    Well, first I would have to fully understand what constitutes a “substantiated case of SRA” in your opinion.

  • Leum

    Well, first I would have to fully understand what constitutes a “substantiated case of SRA” in your opinion.

    One in which self-professed Satanist(s) were convicted of (or confessed to or some equally strong evidence) severely abusing or killing people in the name of Satan. This high standard is, I believe, necessary because of the fantastic nature of such allegations especially given that Satanists, due to their name, are going to be easy targets for such accusations and because the accusation is not just of abuse/murder but that such practices are done entirely for religious reasons (essentially, using the same standard that most religions use to excuse deaths done when they go to war).

  • Mathew Wilder

    Only tenuously, tangentially related, Satanic Panic in the Attic is an excellent album by the band of Montreal.

  • Mathew Wilder

    Oh, and I believe Leum is correct. I don’t think there have ever been any convictions for RSA in the U.S.

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    Leum, earlier you said,

    I’m going to stick my neck out here and say that the number of victims of SRA is zero.

    and you’ve defined a “substantiated case of SRA” as,

    One in which self-professed Satanist(s) were convicted of (or confessed to or some equally strong evidence) severely abusing or killing people in the name of Satan.

    This makes me think you are either biased, or simply not searching very hard for the truth. Zero victims of SRA? Try telling that to the parents of 15-year-old Elyse Pahler, killed with the stated intent of sacrificial purposes by a group of three professed Satanists who thought the act would spur the success of their heavy metal band. The boys’ perceived need to perform a “sacrifice to the devil” was cited by the defense as a motive. Ironically, the murder was solved when one of the three converted to Christianity and confessed to the crime. All three were convicted.

    Per your own definition, substantiated cases of SRA exist.

    That there are nutjobs out there working as individuals and in groups who will kill your child in the name of deity X, Y, or Z is both a legitimate concern and an undeniable fact of history both recent and ancient. You don’t have to believe in an over-arching global conspiracy where everyone in pop culture and politics wears a robe to believe that some people still kill, torture, rape, and sacrifice in the name of Satan and other deities. Now I agree with you and Ebonmuse that to exaggerate these legitimate concerns into an hysterical panic of witch-hunt proportions can only do more harm than good. However, to paint the issue as all-or-nothing equally detracts from its positive solution, and to deny ALL instances of SRA is to misinform.

  • Leum

    I stand corrected. Here’s the link for anyone else who wants info.

  • Peter N

    cl,

    A few years ago the F.B.I.’s “Crime Classification Manual” (modeled after the DSM) was published for the general public. In it, the authors discussed their attempts to document genuine occult ritual murders, and although they examined a number of cases in which ritual murder was alleged, they couldn’t find a single actual case. The authors wrote, “The primary motive in each case was found to be sex, money, or interpersonal conflicts, and not to satisfy the requirements of an occult or Satanic ritual. The actual involvement of Satanism or the occult in these cases turned out to be secondary, insignificant, or nonexistent.”

    I grant you that a mentally disturbed individual, perhaps sincerely believing himself in the service of Satan, might commit murder — but that’s a far cry from an organized group engaged in an ongoing practice of ritual human sacrifice.

    For the curious, the Elyse Pahler case that you mentioned receives an even-handed writeup in Wikipedia. The three defendants did claim that they committed the murder as “a sacrifice to the Devil”, but any defendant’s claim at trial is self-serving, and should be viewed with some skepticism.

    Where I am writing from, eastern Iowa, we had a similar case. A man abducted, raped, and murdered a 10-year-old girl. At trial he claimed he was a Satanist, and that he found the girl dead and he engaged in necrophilia because it is part of his religion. What he might have added but didn’t was that his brother was awaiting trial for sexually abusing the same girl, and that her death conveniently eliminated her as a witness against the brother. In other words, it was a “designer defense” — a story concocted by the defense attorney in an attempt to explain away the overwhelming physical and circumstantial evidence. The court didn’t buy it, and both brothers are now doing life without parole, you might like to know.

  • Alex Weaver

    Were the CII therapists ever prosecuted for this? They damn well should have been.

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    Peter N,

    Where are you alleging that we agree or disagree?

    You said,

    I grant you that a mentally disturbed individual, perhaps sincerely believing himself in the service of Satan, might commit murder — but that’s a far cry from an organized group engaged in an ongoing practice of ritual human sacrifice.

    True, and the example I gave was meant only to fit Leum’s definition, which it did.

    It is also true that organized groups have engaged in ongoing, religiously motivated, ritual human sacrifice throughout history, and since organized groups have participated in ongoing ritual human sacrifice in the past, is it not at least plausible via inductive reasoning that such practices may continue today?

  • Alex Weaver

    It is also true that organized groups have engaged in ongoing, religiously motivated, ritual human sacrifice throughout history, and since organized groups have participated in ongoing ritual human sacrifice in the past, is it not at least plausible via inductive reasoning that such practices may continue today?

    Plausibility is not sufficient to establish factuality.

  • Andrew

    Excellent post as usual. Speaking of the malleability of memory (as demonstrated through scientific research), I wonder how different the world would be if more people realized this. We need to question both what we are taught and what we remember. If we were more skeptical of our memories (and our appraisals of experience in general) we would probably be better off. Realizing the reconstructive nature of memory is crucial in debunking cases like SRA, problems with false memories in witness testimony, and psuedoscience in general. Lets spread the word!

  • Eric

    I strongly recommend Bruce Perry’s “The Boy who was Raised as a Dog” for an inside view of the last Great Satanic Panic in Gilmer TX, Gulmer concuded that the child trauma in the Gilmer case had nothing to do with Satanic cults and was much more the result of background level child abuse and what amounted to torture to provoke confessions from child “witnesses” and “participants” in the alleged SRA.

    If you get a chance to see the entire Frontline “Divided Memories” documentary from 1995, watch it. This is all I could find quickly:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zmk9PmlIpeM

    I also recommend Ian Hacking’s treatment of his concept of Transient Mental Illness. I knew of Hacking as a logician and I had read some of his papers critiquing “fine tuning” arguments. But it was this article that introduced me to another side of Ian Hacking:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200012/madness

    When Hacking delves into the weird, he goes all the way. I cannot too highly recommend _Mad Travellers_ and _Rewriting the Soul_.

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    @ Alex Weaver,

    Plausibility is not sufficient to establish factuality.

    Well, you’re quite correct, but what’s the point in stating the obvious?

  • Peter N

    cl,

    I don’t think we disagree on much, but Ebon asserted that Satanic or occult ritual abuse and murder, such as is widely portrayed in popular entertainment and is widely believed to be real, does not in fact exist.

    I think your point was that, although it might not be as widespread as many people believe, we can’t say that it doesn’t exist at all. But the only example you cite looks more like some messed-up kids whose fantasies got out of control than the observance of a religious practice.

    So despite the belief that ritualized torture and murder are widespread, no one has found any clear evidence of this — not a single case. It seems much more likely that the whole thing is a myth.

    Yes, societies in the distant past did practice human sacrifice as part of their religious practices — the Aztecs, and the “bog people” of northern Europe may be another example. They did so quite openly, over a long span of time. They did it because they sincerely believed it was in their best interest, that their gods wouldn’t be satisfied with less. But I don’t see how that supports the idea that such rituals might practiced in industrialized countries it the 21st century.

  • Nes

    Yeah, the pliability of memory definitely needs to be expressed more often.

    After a bit of googling (hard to do, given the subject matter), I think I’ve finally found the name of a show that, if I remember correctly, does a good job of demonstrating it: “Unsolved History: Roswell”. It was aired on The Discovery Channel in 2004. Here’s some Youtube uploads of it (parts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5). I’d watch them myself to be sure, but I’m on dial-up, so they take way too long to load (the first few seconds of the third part look right for the part of the show that I remember, but you’d want to start from the beginning).

    Interestingly, someone’s description of the show from back in 2004 when it aired showed that I had misremembered some aspects of it.

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    Peter N,

    Like all semantic arguments, this too seems pointless, but here we go…

    …the only example you cite looks more like some messed-up kids whose fantasies got out of control than the observance of a religious practice.

    Well that’s pretty easy to just eschew the example by attacking the mental competency of the defendants! So, the Pahler case would be a valid case of SRA if it were three upstanding, non-messed-up, taxpaying, card-carrying Satanists who committed the crime? How does the fact that these were ‘messed-up kids whose fantasies got out of control’ detract from their religious motivations which were explicitly stated?

    Again, I agree with Ebon that hysteria rules the headlines regarding SRA. Is there an underground cabal devoted to 50,000-2,000,000 annual cases of SRA? I doubt it, but the opposite extreme of this argument – that there are zero instances of SRA and zero grounds for assumption such a cult might exist – is an equally erroneous and misinforming argument. That’s all I’m asking of anyone to accept here.

    We can argue semantics and defendant’s intent all day long, but no thanks. I responded to Leum’s claims by providing an example that met all of the criteria Leum demanded. In the Pahler case, we had a group of professed Satanists convicted of and confessing to killing another human being in an effort to present a sacrifice to Satan and procure powers for themselves. There’s a reason I asked Leum to provide a definition of SRA, and that’s because it’s very easy to eschew an example by saying, “Oh, they weren’t really doing it for Satan, it was for sex or money or vendetta, so this case doesn’t count as SRA…” That seems to be your argument.

    Apparently you don’t consider Elyse Pahler’s a case of SRA; I do. Feel free to leave your particular definition of SRA, and I’ll gladly respond if any other known case files fit the bill.

  • http://www.johnnysstew.com/cool/coolwet J

    The ‘Satanism’ or ‘ritual murder’ thing seems like a red herring. The ‘ritualization’, real or purported, of a real murder legally matters only insofar as it involves premeditation (i.e. kidknapping someone for the purpose of killing them and/or planning their murder aforethought). So the reality or fakeness (I’m going to go with fakeness) of Satanism seems like a practical nonissue. Someone guilty of Murder 1 for a ‘ritual’ killing is no less nor any more guilty than someone guilty of Murder 1 for a mafia hit.

    “Proving” Satanism or ritualism is thus pretty pointless, given that we live in the 21st century. The Constitution (and state statutes) govern life here, not the Malleus Maleficarum or the demented bullshittery of Anton Szandor whatsisname. Satanism should be shelved along with the Salem Witches, the Yellow Peril, White Slavery, Reefer Madness, and the Red Scare: Things with maybe a tiny inner nugget of truthfulness, but which were hugely A.) blown out of proportion by frightened and credulous people and/or B.) co-opted by inquistor-opportunists to build themselves up.

    Of course, even if it’s legally irrelevant, I suppose ‘Satanic’ involvement in murder *does* matter in the religious sense. The problem arises because religious people are inherently ill-equipped to actually consider things like this dispassionately and to separate the truth from mere mise-en-scene (i.e. that a murder might be carried out by teenagers in black lipstick and with pentagram T-shirts and yet NOT involve any actual demons, spells, etc.).

  • Christopher

    cl,

    Try telling that to the parents of 15-year-old Elyse Pahler, killed with the stated intent of sacrificial purposes by a group of three professed Satanists who thought the act would spur the success of their heavy metal band. The boys’ perceived need to perform a “sacrifice to the devil” was cited by the defense as a motive.

    Sounds more like a bunch of stoners acting on their hallucinatory experiences than an actual group of Satanists – I’ve become aquainted with the real article and know that their rituals don’t call for literal human sacrifice (the closest they come to it is mutilation of paper or cloth dolls). In fact, most Satanists don’t even believe in the literal existence of a devil of any kind: thus sacrificing anything to it would be quite silly indeed.

    I don’t think the people were anything more than dumb kids who watched too many horror films while on LSD to ell the difference between fantasy and reality anymore…

  • J

    We can argue semantics and defendant’s intent all day long, but no thanks. I responded to Leum’s claims by providing an example that met all of the criteria Leum demanded. In the Pahler case, we had a group of professed Satanists convicted of and confessing to killing another human being in an effort to present a sacrifice to Satan and procure powers for themselves. There’s a reason I asked Leum to provide a definition of SRA, and that’s because it’s very easy to eschew an example by saying, “Oh, they weren’t really doing it for Satan, it was for sex or money or vendetta, so this case doesn’t count as SRA…” That seems to be your argument.

    I happen to believe that every act of violence committed by professed Christians or Muslims or whoever reflects back upon that faith–that religion is as it’s self-proclaimed followers do. I’ve taken a lot of flack for believing this. But apparently you agree with me, cl.

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    J,

    I basically agree with all of your first comment, but when you say,

    I happen to believe that every act of violence committed by professed Christians or Muslims or whoever reflects back upon that faith… apparently you agree with me.

    Nope, not at all. I believe people bear responsibility for their actions.

    Unless, perhaps, if by “reflects back on that faith” you meant only that religious acts of violence make their respective faiths look bad to outsiders, then sure. We see this often the time in many areas. Bad cops make policing look bad. Bad skateboarders make skateboarders look bad. All bad Republicans make the Republican party look bad, etc.

    Christopher,

    I don’t think the people were anything more than dumb kids who watched too many horror films while on LSD to ell the difference between fantasy and reality anymore…

    No offense, but who are you to deny the defendants’ expressed intent? You basically repeated Peter N’s comment, to which I replied,

    We can argue semantics and defendant’s intent all day long, but no thanks. I responded to Leum’s claims by providing an example that met all of the criteria Leum demanded. In the Pahler case, we had a group of professed Satanists convicted of and confessing to killing another human being in an effort to present a sacrifice to Satan and procure powers for themselves. There’s a reason I asked Leum to provide a definition of SRA, and that’s because it’s very easy to eschew an example by saying, “Oh, they weren’t really doing it for Satan, it was for sex or money or vendetta, so this case doesn’t count as SRA…”

    So is your argument that, in spite of expressed intent, teenagers on drugs can’t be authentic Satanists who truly believe in the ritualistic powers of their actions? Apparently you don’t consider Elyse Pahler’s a case of SRA; I do. Feel free to leave your particular definition of SRA, and I’ll gladly respond if any other known case files fit the bill.

  • Wedge

    cl,

    I don’t understand what point you’re trying to make. The article is about the widespread, silly panic over the dangers of Satanism.

    There is no Satanistic organization encouraging and carrying out murders. It is not a danger anyone has to guard against.

    Various murderers, sane and insane, have used various motifs in their killings. That is another subject entirely. I think Leum was mistaken in asking you to come up with an example; it’s entirely irrelevant to Ebonmuse’s point. The existence of a few homicides claiming Satanic inspiration or using Satanic imagery doesn’t point to a Church of Satan promoting human sacrifice, anymore than the Manson family finding inspiration in Helter Skelter means that the Beatlists are being trained to stalk pregnant women, or that John Wayne Gacy proves that clown colleges are encouraging homicide.

    So why are you anxious to point out that there are, indeed, a few sick individuals who do murder and do use Satanism as their motif? Do you believe that it justifies the panic over Satanists? Do you think Satanism is the cause of murders which wouldn’t otherwise take place? Do you think that there is justification for the dire warnings of Satanism spread by certain Christians and Christian groups–that this accomplishes anything of value? I say this especially considering its price in baseless accusations, fear, and possibly, inspiration of exactly the crimes they obsess about.

    So I’m asking: what is your point? Are you trying to say that the panic over Satanism is justified? Are you trying to say that paying attention to Satanism and fighting it is an intelligent strategy against a real threat?

    Or are you just muddying the waters and trying to make these Christians look less stupid?

  • Alex Weaver

    cl:

    The accusations you’re describing notably fail to demonstrate anything remotely approaching a conspiracy or a widespread organization, which is what “Satanic Ritual Abuse” stories invariably posit and focus on. Hence, flailing cases like the ones you’ve brought up as examples of “Satanic Ritual Abuse” is kind of like pointing to a hypothetical news story about American and British soldiers getting into a barfight while on leave somewhere and claiming it’s evidence of a secret war between the US and the UK.

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    Wedge,

    You say,

    I don’t understand what point you’re trying to make. The article is about the widespread, silly panic over the dangers of Satanism.

    I know what the article’s about. I read it three times. My original intent was only to point out that SRA is not the all-or-nothing issue it’s often painted as. That’s why to this effect I responded earlier,

    Now I agree with (Leum) and Ebonmuse that to exaggerate these legitimate concerns into an hysterical panic of witch-hunt proportions can only do more harm than good. However, to paint the issue as all-or-nothing equally detracts from its positive solution, and to deny ALL instances of SRA is to misinform.

    That’s my point, plain and simple.

    There is no Satanistic organization encouraging and carrying out murders.

    Apparently you have insider knowledge. Before I could answer this, I would need to know what exactly constitutes a “Satanistic organization” in your opinion. I myself don’t claim to know if there is such an organization or not.

    You continue,

    So why are you anxious to point out that there are, indeed, a few sick individuals who do murder and do use Satanism as their motif?

    I’m not. I wasn’t. Leum called me out in comment #3, and each subsequent comment of mine has been to somebody else who quipped up.

    As far as these,

    Do you believe that it justifies the panic over Satanists?

    No. Almost nothing justifies panic.

    Do you think Satanism is the cause of murders which wouldn’t otherwise take place?

    It very well could be a legitimate motivation in some murders, yes.

    Are you trying to say that the panic over Satanism is justified? … Do you think that there is justification for the dire warnings of Satanism spread by certain Christians and Christian groups–that this accomplishes anything of value?

    I don’t think its justified, and Christian panic of any stripe doesn’t accomplish anything of value for me, personally.

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    Weaver,

    The accusations you’re describing notably fail to demonstrate anything remotely approaching a conspiracy or a widespread organization, which is what “Satanic Ritual Abuse” stories invariably posit and focus on.

    This I know, and I made a similar concession myself. I’m quite aware of Ebonmuse’s particular understanding of SRA, as well as the context with which he was using it in the OP.

    I’m not sure that I’ve described any “accusations.” I did describe a single case that fit perfectly Leum’s definition of SRA.

    If you would like to give me your own personal definition, I will gladly peruse my case files searching for a fit.

  • MissCherryPi

    I first became interested in this topic when I saw the movie based on the McMartin case on HBO, Indictment. The next day I was in the library taking out Satan’s Silence, and Making Monsters.

  • Wedge

    cl,

    Now I agree with (Leum) and Ebonmuse that to exaggerate these legitimate concerns into an hysterical panic of witch-hunt proportions can only do more harm than good. However, to paint the issue as all-or-nothing equally detracts from its positive solution, and to deny ALL instances of SRA is to misinform.

    No. To paint individual murders as ‘instances of SRA’ is to misinform.

    You say the issue is being painted as ‘all-or-nothing.’ All or nothing what?

    The kids in the case you brought up were prosecuted. No one ignored them because they said they were Satanists. Do you think the prosecutors found evidence of a group of Satanic worshippers acting with them and egging them on and society ignored it because everyone thought, ‘hey, Satanism isn’t a real danger. So I guess we won’t bother with the Satanistic organization that taught these kids what to do.’

    What do you think is not being done? What is the ‘all or nothing’ you are referring to?

    Unless there is evidence of an organization of Satanists promoting human sacrifice, there isn’t much to do against it, is there?

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    Wedge,

    In my last comment, I said,

    …to deny ALL instances of SRA is to misinform.

    and you responded, in a thinly-veiled accusational tone,

    No. To paint individual murders as ‘instances of SRA’ is to misinform.

    Here’s the deal though – I came here and read this article. I liked it and agreed with it, a fact I stated right off the bat. My concern was that, to me, it seemed Ebonmuse was possibly taking the opposite extreme on the issue – that zero instances of SRA exist. I wanted to know if he really believed that zero people got sacrificed in rituals in this country today; that was the impression I got.

    Reread my first comment:

    While I’m not disagreeing with your assessment of the McMartin case, it seems you’ve painted the issue as all-or-nothing when it’s likely there is middle ground. Are you arguing that zero instances of Satanic ritual abuse actually take place? While I doubt the instances and victims of SRA are as high as some fanatics claim; I also doubt they are zero, and with good reason.

    When I say “all-or-nothing” I mean the unreasonably high numbers alarmists cite vs. zero, which is equally unreasonable.

    Yes, the context Ebonmuse is in refers to an “organized, underground cabal.” I’m not alleging that such a thing exists. We were always in agreement on that point. I think you’re possibly committed to a definition of SRA that requires an organized, underground cabal, whereas I’m not, and this is the source of the confusion.

    To paint individual murders as instances of the workings of an underground, organized cabal, is, of course, to misinform. Note that I’ve never once said the Pahler case represented the workings of an underground, organized cabal. Yes or no?

    I have said and still maintain that the Pahler case and many others like it are individual examples of Satanic ritual abuse. Three words. The Pahler case was “Satanic” because the defendants were professed Satanists. The Pahler case was “ritual” because the defendants admitted they wanted to perform a sacrifice to Satan in order to achieve musical prowess – a basic power or success ritual. The Pahler case was “abuse” for obvious reasons.

    This whole mess started because after I asked Ebonmuse if he thought zero SRA occurred, Leum called me out with, “Got any legit cases of SRA?” or whatever. Not being a fan of strawman argumentation, I said “Gimme a definition to go by.” Note that Leum’s definition did not include an organized, underground cabal, and note that the case I provided matched the definition Leum provided, perfectly.

    You’ve got some other questions / concerns going, too:

    The kids in the case you brought up were prosecuted.

    I know. Not only that, at least one of them confessed and all three were convicted.

    No one ignored them because they said they were Satanists.

    I know, and never alleged such.

    Do you think the prosecutors found evidence of a group of Satanic worshippers acting with them and egging them on and society ignored it because everyone thought, ‘hey, Satanism isn’t a real danger. So I guess we won’t bother with the Satanistic organization that taught these kids what to do.’

    No, and I never alleged such. Interestingly, though, the widespread acceptance of the mistruth that zero instances of SRA occur could very easily allow such an attitude to develop.

    Is there a McSRA’s responsible for 50,000,000 served? Probably not. But it would be an equal and opposite tragedy to think that since McMartin and other cases turned up zero evidence of a cabal, that nobody’s children are in danger of being sacrificed and abused by religious groups in the name Deity X, Y, or Z.

    That’s all I’m saying, and I don’t think it’s that unreasonable.

  • bbk

    I tend to agree with cl for a couple minor reasons. I just don’t feel the need to tie my reputation as an atheist to groups of attention seekers such as Satanists. I’ll defend groups that I think are worthy of defending (they’re not). Rather, I would focus on why, even if there was a recorded instance of SRA, it has nothing to with and can’t even hope to justify the mass hysteria that’s at the focus of this post. Even if there were some instances of SRA, it would be easy enough to dig up records of Christians doing even more screwed up things (exorcism, murdering your own children after hearing God’s voice, etc.).

    Also, let’s not forget that there are several varieties of Satanists. There are the theistic types which amount to just another denomination of Christianity. They’re messed up people who go back and forth between Satanism and mainline Christianity and sometimes they do things like murder 15 year old girls to win Satan’s favor for their garage bands.

    Then there are atheistic Satanists who seem to have nothing at all to do with Satan other than having had adopted his namesake for promotional purposes. Why, given the behavior of theistic Satanists, would these people choose to make such an association? For mere shock value, I suppose. So if other people end up thinking that they’re a bunch of evil bastards, it’s because they had it coming to them. I personally think that they’re doing as much as any group of atheists could do to foster misunderstanding about what atheism really is. At a time when there’s a lot of criticism to be given to anti-theistic groups like the RRS, what about the Satanists who help fuel the stereotype that atheists are devil worshipers? It seems that the rest of us have to pay the price so that some tiny group of self righteous antisocial twits can promote themselves. Not my idea of a group I want to lend my support to.

  • Wedge

    cl,

    Here’s the deal though – I came here and read this article. I liked it and agreed with it, a fact I stated right off the bat. My concern was that, to me, it seemed Ebonmuse was possibly taking the opposite extreme on the issue – that zero instances of SRA exist. I wanted to know if he really believed that zero people got sacrificed in rituals in this country today; that was the impression I got.

    Here’s the deal, though. You keep acting as though people getting ‘sacrificed in rituals’ is something relevant and important in this debate.

    Some people are insane, and do insane things. Like killing a girl ritualistically. This is terrible. But the ritual, although perhaps important to the killer and the psychiatrists, is…how can I put this? Not the point. When a killer carves crosses into his victim and claims that he killed to appease the God of Abraham, I don’t start thinking that Christian ritualistic abuse needs to be addressed. It’s a killer, with a twisted mind, using common and powerful symbols.

    To paint individual murders as instances of the workings of an underground, organized cabal, is, of course, to misinform. Note that I’ve never once said the Pahler case represented the workings of an underground, organized cabal. Yes or no?

    No. But you want to insist that just because there is no organized cabal, we can’t say there are zero instances of Satanic ritual abuse! To which I keep replying: what is your point? That killers sometimes use Satanic imagery and rationalization? They also sometimes use Christian, or political, or new age woo.

    Yes, I’m being insistent. Because I see what you are doing as inflamatory. You decry the panic and damage of the witchhunts, and then say that we do have to stay on guard. What I keep asking you is, on guard against what?

    And you avoided my question. What are we supposed to be doing, with regards to ‘Satanic’ killings, that we don’t do? What is different about them and what special attention to the Satanic part is necessary? If you don’t think there is a cabal, what’s the point of singling out these symbols, as opposed to the others that sick people use? What’s the special danger in Satanic delusions, as opposed to other types?

    But it would be an equal and opposite tragedy to think that since McMartin and other cases turned up zero evidence of a cabal, that nobody’s children are in danger of being sacrificed and abused by religious groups in the name Deity X, Y, or Z.

    That’s all I’m saying, and I don’t think it’s that unreasonable.

    Yes, it is.

    You are trying to legitimize a dangerous attitude by claiming that because some killers are Satanists, or use Satanic imagery, this presents a special danger that needs special attention (even if there isn’t actually an organization). What kind of attention, you leave carefully blank. Well, you don’t want panic, but…

    And in the light of the witchhunt atmosphere, that is irresponsible and unreasonable. Unless you have a reason why someone who chants to Satan as they kill indicates necessary action or attention on the part of society in ways that a killer who hates their mother or wears a clown suit doesn’t, you are merely trying to give credibility to an unforgivable attitude of ignorance and harm: the idea we have to stay on guard against Satanists who might be a danger to our children.

    It’s like responding to an article saying that burning witches at the stake was terrible by pointing out that there were women who believed they were witches who sometimes poisoned people or did harm, so we can’t drop the witchhunt entirely. It’s inappropriate.

    We do not need to connect ritual murder with Satanism in order to guard our children. I don’t give a damn about Satanists–they’re idiots, and I’m sure a fair number of them are seriously messed up. But I could say the same about several Christian sects. The point is not that Satanism is harmless, the point is that you have not presented any reason to single out a group of people and ominously hint that they could be a danger to our children–so watch out.

    It is that attitude that is a danger. Either come up with a reason why Satanistic killings are unique and must be labelled and our children specially protected from them, or stop enabling the witchhunt.

  • Christopher

    cl,

    No offense, but who are you to deny the defendants’ expressed intent?

    Tell me, if the defendants sacrificed the girl to the biblical Yaweh/El (there is biblical precident for this – see the story of Jephthah’s daughter) would you call it “Christian Ritual Abuse?” I strongly doubt it…

  • bbk

    Christopher, I think so, yes, at least I would. I would call it human sacrifice, which would be a form of ritual abuse if we are to be consistent with the terminology. I would call an excorcism the same thing. There are lots of Christians who suffer through what amounts to out and out torture because their fellow Christians take it upon themselves to get rid of evil spirits.

    I’d say that there is more of that in Christianity than there is in Satanism. And where it would/could occur in Satanism, I’d probably say that the SRA is CRA since theistic Satanism is typically a denomination of Christianity. And anyway, what’s the difference between Christians torturing someone because they want to get Satan out and Satanists torturing someone because they want to put Satan in? Isn’t it SRA in either case, since it somehow relates to Satan?

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    Wedge,

    I’ll return to sift through the pertinence of your last comment to my position, but the short reply is you’re putting quite a bit into my words that I’ve not said.

    bbk,

    Hat tip for the slight backup here, and when I have time I would like to add something to your last comment, which almost 100% agree with.

    Christopher,

    Since your comment is succinct and straight-forward, and does not put words in my mouth that I did not say or even imply, I’ll answer it first and quickly:

    …if the defendants sacrificed the girl to the biblical Yaweh/El (there is biblical precident for this – see the story of Jephthah’s daughter) would you call it “Christian Ritual Abuse?” I strongly doubt it…

    Yes, Christopher, I would call that Christian / clergy / church ritual abuse (CRA). 100%, no question about it. And if you really wanna tango, I think psychological and physical CRA occurs in pulpits and schools across America very often, to a FAR greater extent than all instances of SRA combined. In fact, I think Christians, atheists, the general populace and especially the IRS should be far more worried about CSA than SRA.

    Now let me ask you a potentially revealing question: Why did you doubt I would label a clergy killing as CRA?

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    Wedge,

    You said that I,

    …decry the panic and damage of the witchhunts, and then say that we do have to stay on guard. What I keep asking you is, on guard against what? And you avoided my question.

    I did and do decry the panic and damage of the witchhunts; however, please quote me directly to support your allegation I said we have to “stay on guard.” Those words are your interpretation of something else I said. Not trying to condescend here, but it would strengthen your debating style if in every instance you would respond to your opponent’s direct words rather than your interpretations of them.

    As far as “keep asking,” you asked once, and I didn’t “avoid” your question – I didn’t answer it simply because I have not suggested that anyone do anything, nor have I said we must “stay on guard.”

    And you also appear to contradict yourself. Above, you said correctly that I “decry the panic and damage of the witchhunts.” Then, referring to the panic / hysteria / witchhunt mentality, you say,

    You are trying to legitimize a dangerous attitude…

    When in fact I decried said attitude.

    You continue,

    The point is not that Satanism is harmless, the point is that you have not presented any reason to single out a group of people and ominously hint that they could be a danger to our children

    That’s because I don’t think people should ever tar a group with the stain of that group’s individual members’ iniquities. Do you?

    Moving on,

    I prefer the middle path and try to avoid extremes and false dichotomies as much as possible. Here’s my argument summarized:

    Religiously motivated individuals and groups have participated in ritual abuse and sacrifice in the name of myriad deities. Undeniable fact of history.

    As of today, that there is an underground cabal which abuses and kills people in rituals to Deity X, Y or Z appears speculative and erroroneous.

    That nobody abuses and kills people in rituals to Deity X, Y or Z is equally erroroneous.

    Since it appears there is no cabal, obsessing over SRA is unhealthy for us all. Since some religiously-motivated people still participate in abuse and sacrifice for ritualistic reasons, completely denying SRA is equally unhealthy.

    That’s my argument. No more, no less.

    I don’t give a damn about Satanists–they’re idiots, and I’m sure a fair number of them are seriously messed up.

    And you say I’m being inflammatory??

    …stop enabling the witchhunt.

    Really?

  • Curtis

    cl,

    Thank you for the information about the Pahler case. I was unaware of any Satanic murders. I was surprised that there was one but, on second thought, I should have realized that some crazies would kill for Satan.

    I think the problem in this thread is that your first few posts seemed to imply that SRA occurred in such a number that Satanists are something we should worry about. It was not stated but I (and others) assumed it from the tone. After reading your later posts, I am not sure what you think. If you clarify your views, I think the debate would be meaningful.

    Do you think Satanists are a significant issue? Roughly, how many murders do think Satanists commit in the name of their religion per year?

    Thanks,

    Curtis

  • Christopher

    Yes, Christopher, I would call that Christian / clergy / church ritual abuse (CRA). 100%, no question about it. And if you really wanna tango, I think psychological and physical CRA occurs in pulpits and schools across America very often, to a FAR greater extent than all instances of SRA combined. In fact, I think Christians, atheists, the general populace and especially the IRS should be far more worried about CSA than SRA.

    Well, I’ll admit that you’re consistant – most believers I know would dismiss the lunatic involved as not being a “True Christian” (TM) or that “the devil made him do it” or some other such defense.

    Although, to be perfectly honest with you I would make some reservations about “ritual abuse” in which any particular belief system is involved (Satanic, Christian or otherwise) for the purpose of avoiding overgeneralization – in the scenario I proposed I pulled sacrifice ritual in question right out of the scriptures used by those in Judeo-Christian faiths (you can argue all you want about the NT “redeeming you from the curse of the law” and what not all you wish – those rituals are still in your scripture and thus fair game) and thus consdier it valid Christian Ritual Abuse in light of those pre-existing doctrines, whilst such sacrifice rituals don’t exist at all in the doctrines of any major Satanic churches (theistic or otherwise) and thus the reason I don’t consider the accusations of Satanic Ritual Abuse valid.

    Now, if some one started making accusations of “Satanic Hatred Rituals” or something to that effect I would be inclined to take them somewhat more seriously – as such rituals involving the symbolic dissmemberment and burning of enemies actually do exist in their doctrines. Of course, to my knowledge no one is accusing them of promoting “hate” through their rituals…

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    Christopher,

    Although, to be perfectly honest with you I would make some reservations about “ritual abuse” in which any particular belief system is involved (Satanic, Christian or otherwise) for the purpose of avoiding overgeneralization..

    Good point. We should just roll with RRA (religious ritual abuse) and that way there’s no denomination hook or inference to isolate, offend, enrage, panic, etc.

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    Curtis,

    Hey no problem. The case is interesting and there are many, many more like it. Here’s an interesting point that further supports my arguments. Fundamentalist Christians are not the only people legitimately concerned about this, and another very solid reason we should accurately describe the problem stems from valid concerns of law enforcement agencies. Detective J.B. Chase of the Middletown Police Dept. in Fairfield Township, Ohio, has since 1994 given a presentation on “Cults, the Occult and Deviant Behavior” to various police precincts in over ten states. A similar example from his hometwon of Ohio, 1987, is when John Fryman invited Monica Lemen into his trailer which contained a Satanic alter and dismembered her body. Now granted, in this case Fryman acted alone, and was poor Monica Lemen a “random person off the street?” I don’t know and I don’t wish to argue semantics; to me, this is religious ritual abuse, to the point that a presumably secular (but in theory probably not %100 so) law enforcement agency has developed entire programs to teaching junior and senior officers how to deal with and recognize RRA and RRA-inspired crimes.

    Sorry if you feel I’ve been unclear; I’ve stated my point several times in the thread, but here it is again from a few comments back, considerably expanded and modified to reflect usage of the new, non-denominational RRA (religious ritual abuse):

    Earlier someone said,

    The idea that religious groups take random people off the streets for their sacrifices does not square with our knowledge of the history of religion.

    Discussing the history of religion, archaeologists have discovered the remains of dozens of children sacrificed to Tlaloc during the Tenochtitlan offerings, with others going to Ehécatl and the more-known Quetzalcóatl. Northern Peruvians such as the Early Chimu regularly practiced religiously motivated human sacrifice. While Livy and Polybius remain silent, Tertullian, Plutarch, Orosius and Diodorus Siculus all mention the practice of child sacrifice in Carthage, with some accounts as detailed as to describe the horrific method of roasting some poor kid on a bronze plate. Religiously motivated human sacrifice (as well as rape, murder, torture, etc.) has occurred throughout history, and not all of its victims were volunteers. Some of them were chosen at random.

    Religiously motivated individuals and groups have participated in RRA in the name of myriad deities throughout history. As of today, evidence that there is an underground cabal which abuses and kills people in rituals to Deity X, Y or Z appears speculative and erroroneous. However, that nobody abuses and kills people in rituals to Deity X, Y or Z is equally erroroneous; that zero or negligible instances of RRA occur is a dangerous misperception. Several occur annually in states across the country. Livestock, pets and property are victimized in RRA-related activities as well. Nonetheless, obsessing over RRA and persisting in witchhunt mentalities is unhealthy for us all. Since some religiously-motivated people still participate in abuse and sacrifice for ritualistic reasons, completely denying RRA is equally unhealthy and can possibly blur the efforts of legitimate law enforcement agencies.

  • LV

    I don’t label myself as a ‘survivor’ of SRA, because my past is not part of my identity. However, those of us like myself that were in therapy for a decade and now are another decade beyond that, can only feel sad to read some of these comments. We work in corporate America, we own successful businesses, we are married, we raise our children and we pay taxes just like you…but we keep our horrific past to ourselves. We don’t tell you that the whole point of SRA was to create separate identities in us that could be used for child pornography, or drug trafficking, and worse. It was a means to an end and much of what is done to the seven or eight year old child is to create an illusion of supernatural power and instill obedience. Who knows how much murder actually takes place, but it’s not really the point. It’s about organized crime – making money. We don’t tell you when you meet us that we don’t see the world like you do…because we grew up within two worlds. We know that the time is not yet come for people in our society to deal with this problem. (Kenneth Lanning is a joke – having talked to him in 1992 personally.) But time changes things: 100 years ago we would have been locked away in an institution when the memories flooded back and PTSD was in full force. I’m grateful to live in a time when recovery was possible. Nobody goes to therapy or stays in therapy to receive pain…what kind of logic is that? I don’t think you need to try so hard to maintain your position, Andrew and Alex. In time there will be no question and until then, no opinions matter.


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