The Satanic Panic refers to a moral panic spanning from the 1980s with effects lasting all the way through the present day. This moral panic centered around the alleged rise of Satanism in the United States, though it also spread to other countries later on in the panic's lifespan. The panic largely involved a widespread though unfounded fear in Satanic cults, fear of various media acting as corrupting influences on children such as metal music or Dungeons and Dragons, and the concern over Satanic Ritual Abuse.
THE SATANIC PANIC
PLEASE NOTE: This page will contain discussion about potentially upsetting subjects, including but not limited to: Racism, Antisemitism, Religious Abuse, Sexual Abuse, Child Abuse, Suicide, Murder, and other subjects. Reader discretion is advised. Please note that content hosted on this page not directly created by me does not reflect my personal views in any way and is instead used for historical purposes.
Accusations of blood sacrifice and ritual abuse have been used by Christianity for centuries against various groups, such as the concept of 'blood libel' which is an antisemitic myth revolving around the ritual abuse of Christian boys. Most of the Satanic Panic of the 1980s can be tied back to one particular book - Michelle Remembers. In the book - which is stated to be nonfiction though this is not the case - a woman and her psychiatrist explore her repressed memories of childhood trauma that centers around her family being involved in a Satanic cult. Michelle Remembers would spark major discussion around the concept of Satanic cults as well as the idea of memory repression which would play heavily into the Satanic Panic. This fire would be accelerated by the rising political power of Christian Conservatism, with Televangelism taking hold of the United States in the 1980s and playing a massive part in mobilizing Christians politically.
Satanic Ritual Abuse or SRA refers to alleged sexual abuse happening within places such as preschools and day cares. These allegations would usually involve children being sexually abused, physically harmed, or even killed in the name of Satanic rituals. Certain trials, such as the McMartin Preschool Trial would gain notoriety during the 1980s for these allegations. Many of these allegations would later be proven false, though not without ill effect - some accused of Satanic Ritual Abuse would take their lives due to the pressure of a false accusation. Many lives were ruined due to the media and legal circus surrounding these cases. SRA is a term that comes up a lot in media of the time.
This term still comes up to this day. While there may be some cases of Satanic belief systems being used for cult abuse, I would take anyone using this term with an entire salt shaker full of salt. The term is a joke and very rarely used in good faith, and those who use it in good faith are still grossly miseducated on the history of the term.
One of the most enduring pop-cultural parts of the Satanic Panic is the belief that Dungeons and Dragons had occult elements and played a part in various violent crime during the 80s. One of the most famous cases of this was James Dallas Egbert III, a college student who disappeared and attempted suicide from Michigan State University. News media at the time latched onto Egbert's interest in Dungeons and Dragons, despite it playing no part in the suicide attempt. Egbert would later successfully commit suicide a year later. There are reports of other cases, though the connection to Dungeons and Dragons is always tangential to the crime.
Metal music also received similar attention to Dungeons and Dragons, with bands like Judas Priest, Slayer, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, and others receiving criticism for lyrics relating to occult or violent subjects. One famous case involving this belief was that of the West Memphis Three - in which 3 teenagers were accused of murdering a child in a satanic ritual. One of the boys arrested, Damien Nichols, was known for listening to heavy metal music which is believed to have led to the police of his conservative town putting more pressure on him than other suspects. The three teenagers would be sentenced and stayed in prison from 1993 until 2007, in which they were released after taking a plea deal.
Not at all. Much of the political moral panic in America today has roots back in the Satanic Panic. You may hear of conspiracy theorists talking about Satanic cabals (largely targeting Jewish political or business figures) or discussing Satanic symbolism in media. QAnon has many similarities with the Satanic Panic, accusing various Liberal public figures of being involved in Satanic cultures or rituals. The Pizzagate scandal centered around the concept of Satanic Ritual Abuse taking place within the pizzeria involved. We can also see this in regards to the language used towards LGBT+ people - the language of 'groomer' and accusations of brainwashing or otherwise 'turning kids gay' was similarly used during the Satanic Panic. Though much of the language has changed, the roots remain the same.
Short answer? No.
Long answer, still no. Unfortunately, the fact of the matter is that powerful people are not Satanists - they're just rich and can get away with heinous crimes. There is no cabal. You can probably count the number of real Satanic Cults on one hand.
Most cases of Satanic Ritual Abuse are 'mundane' cases of abuse that people have interpreted as Satanic for one reason or another
One critique I often hear of people who are very critical of the Satanic Panic is that real abuse took place and as such we should not brush off the Satanic Panic. There are two fundamental issues with this, though:
Many of the abuse allegations during the Satanic Panic came from people under duress. As in, children that were being interrogated by police for hours on end until they finally broke and started making things up.
The next issue is that belief in things like SRA and Satanic Cults only serves to protect abusive people. During the time of the Satanic Panic was also the time that the Catholic Church started to become embroiled in their many pedophilia scandals.
The point is this: The Satanic Panic was based on nothing but political and ideological gain. Any actual abuse that took place was not Satanic in nature and it is cruel to the victims to apply this false narrative to their trauma. I do not support anyone who believes in Satanic Ritual Abuse. You should view these people with extreme skepticism.
THE VHS AGE
The following is a selection of some media created during the time of the Satanic Panic, largely created by Christian groups who had monetary or political reasons to further the panic. These videos are on this page not because I agree with them, but because I think they serve as an interesting cultural window into the Satanic Panic. Also, to be honest, a lot of them are really funny when they're not really infuriating. Basically, just because I host it doesn't mean I agree with it.
I would like to give a particular shout-out to /r/ObscureMedia who led me to a lot of these videos and in general is a fun place to look if you like watching weird old VHS tapes.
BOOKS ON THE SUBJECT
It sucks ass. Read it only if you're really interested in this topic.
- ISBN: 9780671694333
- Date Published: January 1, 1980
- ISBN: 0520284925
- Date Published: February 12, 2015
- ISBN: 9780992146313
- Date Published: August 5, 2015
- ISBN: 9781892016751
- Date Published: January 25, 1986