the satanic ritual abuse hoax lives on

Remember the Satanic Panic of the 1990s and the various cranks promoting it? It turns out they never quite moved on to something else...

cultist with sword

In my household, the 1990s are a big deal. We had Nicktoons, parachute pants, Koosh balls, some great things I’m sure I missed while living in the imploding USSR, and Satanic ritual abuse. Wait a minute, one of these is not like the other, one of these things was a witch hunt created by a therapist convinced that he could retrieve repressed memories through hypnosis from a troubled woman before finally marrying her. His “work” was used as the basis of a conspiracy theory involving the CIA and sex slaves. Thanks to this duo, parents everywhere were convinced that secret cults were molesting their children before ritually sacrificing them to Satan in midnight orgies, and real people were arrested and stood trial while supposed experts in ritual abuse testified about repressed memories and hypnosis.

Thankfully, judges and juries quickly realized that these so-called experts were more full of shit than a composting manure pile and set the innocent people caught up in this hysteria free. Even writers for Christian magazines were exposing frauds who made a fortune by claiming to be secret occultists for a globe-spanning Satanic conspiracy, rebooting Leo Taxil’s greatest hits for a more modern audience. It seems that when reminded that we live in a time when we have scientific tools to assess the reliability of witnesses and don’t have Inquisitions that burn heretics at the stake at the slightest hint of spiritual impropriety brought forward by scared serfs or opportunistic nobles looking to get rid of a rival, we quickly dropped the whole Satanic abuse thing and now pretend it never happened. Satanists who? They probably don’t even exist, just a myth by those in need of therapy.

But Satanists are very real. In fact, I’ve met a number of them back in the day and can attest to them being flesh and blood humans. Some of them study occult ideas heavily borrowed from Aleister Crowley, the famous occultist immortalized in a Black Sabbath song. Others are secularists who use the cloak of Satanism to challenge overreach by religious zealots who believe that if they quote a verse from their holy books enough times, laws do not apply to them and they can harass and discriminate against those who aren’t part of their faith. The latter group founded The Satanic Temple which had considerable success fighting violations of the Establishment Clause and runs the Grey Faction, which is a skeptical group that documents religiously themed pseudoscience.

It’s that skeptical group which sent observers to a ritual abuse conference in Oakland, CA this June to see what happened to the idea of demonic cults abusing the innocent for their malevolent purposes and sadistic pleasures in the decade plus since the height of the Satanic Panic. And what they found is downright horrific; certified mental health professionals actively telling a fairly susceptible audience of attendees that someone is very much out to get them and they could trust no one, not even their loved ones lest they turn out to be Satanic agents, placed into the lives to ensure their compliance with the conspiratorial plan. Even worse, they specifically rejected the idea that what truly happened to their patients mattered, and “that therapy was not a quest for truth” and reality was “irrelevant.”

If someone were to write a manual on inducing paranoid schizophrenia, the therapists’ approach to ritual abuse as the root of every personal aliment is bound to be featured right after locking a victim in a sensory deprivation chamber for a few days. The almost criminally shoddy pseudoscience used by Lawrence Pazder to extract gruesome tales of sex and cloaked cultists from Michelle Smith, creating the fodder for The Satanic Panic, is alive and well, and being used to hawk literal tinfoil hats, metal socks, and therapy sessions in which a therapist with a fairly loose grip on reality tries to very intently convince you that you’ve been either raped and tortured by a cult, or were brainwashed into raping and torturing for one.

I know, I know, relying on Satanists to report about those who claim to be survivors seems absurd. After all, they’re the ones being accused of meting out the horrors in question. But again, keep in mind that they’re not actual Luciferian occultists. They’re skeptics, atheists, and agnostics who went on a fact finding mission and found that in the shadows, Satanic Ritual Abuse kept right on going, switching from books, speaking tours, and television appearances, to shady conferences used to manufacture patients and sell them useless anti-mind control gear and harmful therapy sessions to make sure they’re convinced that whatever problem they have boils down to the evil deeds of hooded figures who talk to the Devil.

It seems that while Satanic ritual abuse doesn’t exist, it created a cottage industry of psychiatric abuse by conspiracy theorists. Luckily, we do have real experts to testify on the behalf of the victims and the profession does not look kindly on this sort of thing. So if you ever hear someone tell you that a therapist tried to convince them that there were victims of Satanists and committed horrible things under mind control, or victimized to such a degree they repressed the memories of abuse, file an ethics complaint with the American Psychological Association or your state mental health board right away. Their patients will thank you.

# oddities // abuse / psychology / satanic panic / satanism


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