Hey, readers in their 30s or above, remember the 80s? And the Satanic Daycare Scare?
It all started with a bunch of bad therapy, The Exorcist, and rumors of West African secret societies. (And probably drugs.) It ended with thousands of people being accused of ritually abusing, murdering, and eating children–50,000 a year–as part of a million-member multi-generational secret Satanic cult. Many of the accused went to prison; some are still in prison.
I think most of us would like to pretend that never happened, but it did.
The worst of it is not that gullible housewives of the out-party gobbled up this blather from Geraldo Rivera, Oprah, or evangelical preachers. Ignorant people have always believed ignorant things. The worst of it is that Janet Reno–and many other supposedly intelligent people in positions of actual authority–believed this bullshit, and yet is still allowed to have a job making decisions that affect the lives of other people.
(And we expect people not to fall for bullshit that sounds halfway decent?)
People believed a lot of dubious things in the 70s and 80s. They believed in “pyramid power,” UFOs, and telekinesis. Enough LSD, and you can probably believe all sorts of things.
Unfortunately, they didn’t have the internet or Wikipedia or even Snopes, so it was a lot harder to figure out when someone was putting one over you. If you’re living in Oklahoma in 1980, chances are you’re not exactly sure what’s going on over in California, but you’re pretty sure it has something to do with godless heathens and demons, because for goodness’s sakes, it’s California, they had that Manson guy. And when someone starts repeating rumors about ritually sacrificed chickens in Toronto or human sacrifice cults in Uganda, or actual Satanists* practicing openly in California (again with the California!) then it’s time to freak out because the agents of Satan are clearly on the march.
*While there exists an actual “Church of Satan” founded by Anton LaVey in 1966, none of the members of the CoS were ever charged with ritual Satanic abuse or murder, and according to Wikipedia, they don’t even worship Satan, they just call themselves that to stick up a middle finger to society. But the mere fact that these people existed was enough to send a good number of respectable housewives into pearl-clutching tizzies.
If we want to be especially thorough, the widespread conviction that witches and devils were conspiring together long predates the 1980s; James R. Lewis’s “The Oxford Handbook of New Religious Movements” has an excellent chapter (#10) that traces the development of the Christian witchcraft myth through the occultism of the late 1800s, feminist propaganda, the emergence of the Neopagan movement, H. P. Lovecraft, etc. But for the sake of time, we’re starting with the recovered memory movement.
Back in the 70s, when feminists weren’t busy proclaiming that the Christian Patriarchy had murdered millions of Medieval witches in order to stamp out a once-universal Matriarchal religion and therefore all women should abandon Christianity and become Neopagans, (not only is this factually untrue, but I was actually assigned readings on the subject in my totally respectable university course on Feminism 101,) they were promoting the idea that America was a seething hotbed of violence–rape and abuse–directed primarily at women and children.
Of course, unlike Medieval witches, rape and abuse are real, but often difficult to prove sufficiently in a court of law to get a conviction–once two people are behind closed doors, what happened next often becomes a matter of he-said-she-said, and you are not actually supposed to convict based on “story sounded convincing” in the absence of any actual evidence a crime took place.
And for good reason–otherwise, anyone could put their personal enemies or rivals in prison for life simply by make up a story.
The feminists’ response to this was a push for all claims of rape and abuse to be accepted without question. To question even the most outrageous story was treated as an act of violence against already victimized women.
At about the same time, psychiatrists discovered that you can get people to say all manner of crazy things while under hypnosis, and promptly used their new-found powers to convince mentally ill women in their care that they had been victims of ritual Satanic abuse.
You can use hypnosis to convince people that the number “3” does not exist, then watch them attempt to count their fingers–“One, two, four, five, six.” You can convince them that they are warm enough to shed their jackets while sitting in an ice hotel. You can get them to act like a chicken.
The fact that people will do and think absurd things while under hypnosis is why people find it entertaining. (And a little frightening.) That’s also why it’s commonly part of magic shows–but normally, people don’t believe that there are actually a bunch of rabbits in that hat.
That memories are unreliable has been extensively documented by police (and psychiatry) departments, which have to deal with conflicting and changing witness testimony all the time. Yu’ve probably also experienced this if you’ve ever gotten into a fight with your parents or spouse over something you supposedly did several years before.
It is quite easy to change people’s memories under normal conditions. EG:
Studies by Elizabeth Loftus and others have concluded that it is possible to produce false memories of childhood incidents. The experiments involved manipulating subjects into believing that they had some fictitious experience in childhood, such as being lost in a shopping mall at age 6. This involved using a suggestive technique called “familial informant false narrative procedure,” in which the experimenter claims the validity of the false event is supported by a family member of the subject. (source)
So just saying to someone, “Oh yeah, I was talking to your Aunt Susie yesterday, and we were laughing about that time you got lost at the mall when you were six and we found you hiding under a table in the furniture department,” can make them “remember” this.
(Please only use your new-found powers for good.)
To convince someone they were the victim of ritual Satanic abuse:
- Get a patient, preferably suffering some mental illness like schizophrenia or depression, but insomnia or headaches will suffice.
- Put them under hypnosis and suggest that their troubles are due to “repressed” memories of childhood trauma.
- Helpfully suggest various Satanic rituals they may have endured
- Encourage them to imagine a scenario in which they were abused.
- Un-hypnotize them and celebrate having “uncovered” their repressed memory of infant cannibalism.
If you’re really lucky, you can even get the patient to believe they have uncovered alternative personalities that they switch to under hypnosis (much like a stage magician getting a hypnotized volunteer to cluck like a chicken.)
- Call the police and accuse their parents of cannibalism, rape, torture, kidnapping, etc.
- Get taken seriously by the police!
- Make lots of money treating the patient for the trauma incurred by “remembering” being abused and treating their ever-expanding suite of personalities.
- Make even more money consulting with police across the country about Ritual Satanic Abuse, now that you’re an “expert” on the subject.
Yes, this is terribly unethical.
In 1980, a Canadian Psychiatrist named Lawrence Pazder published Michelle Remembers, a “biography” purporting to document the childhood Satanic abuse his patient endured in the 50s:
Interestingly, Pazder lived and worked in Nigeria in the 60s, a part of the world that actually does have legit, child-sacrificing cults. As recently as 2001, the ritually-dismembered, headless torso of “Adam,” a Nigerian child about 5 or 6 years old, was found floating in the Thames. An autopsy revealed, via stomach contents and pollen found in his lungs, that he’d only been in Britain for a few days and had drunk a potion used in West African ritual magic. (There are approximately 180,000 Nigerians living in the UK.)
Nigerian Joyce Osiagede, the only person to be arrested in Britain as part of the inquiry, has claimed that the victim’s real name is Ikpomwosa. In an interview with ITV’s London Tonight, Mrs Osiagede said she looked after the boy in Germany for a year before travelling to Britain without him in 2001. She claimed she handed the boy over to a man known as Bawa who later told her that he was dead and threatened to kill her unless she kept silent. ..
Asked who killed him, she said a ‘group of people’. She added: “They used him for a ritual in the water.” Claiming the boy was six years old, she said: ‘He was a lively boy. A very nice boy, he was also intelligent.’ Detailed analysis of a substance in the boy’s stomach was identified as a ‘black magic’ potion. It included tiny clay pellets containing small particles of pure gold, an indication that Adam was the victim of a Muti ritual killing in which it is believed that the body parts of children are sacred. Bodies are often disposed of in flowing water. (source)
These cases more normally happen in Africa, but then we tend to lack official police investigations, autopsies, and BBC articles, but there’s plenty of documentation if you look:
Members would dress in leopard skins, waylaying travelers with sharp claw-like weapons in the form of leopards’ claws and teeth. The victims’ flesh would be cut from their bodies and distributed to members of the secret society. According to their beliefs, the ritual cannibalism would strengthen both members of the secret society as well as their entire tribe. (source)
According to various sources, ritual killings in Nigeria are performed to obtain human body parts for use in rituals, potions, and charms. The Lagos-based newspaper This Day explains that “ritualists, also known as headhunters, go in search of human parts at the request of herbalists, who require them for sacrifices or for the preparation of various magical potions”. …
According to This Day, ritual murders are “a common practice” in Nigeria. … Similarly, a 2012 Daily Independent article states that “in recent times, the number of brutal murders, mostly for ritual purposes and other circumstances, involving couples and their partners has been on a steady progression.” …
This Day reported that a confidential memo from the Nigerian police to registered security service providers indicated that ritual killings were particularly prevalent in the states of Lagos, Ogun, Kaduna, Abia, Kwara, Abuja, Rivers, and Kogi. … In 2010, one newspaper reported that dead bodies with missing organs were being discovered on a daily basis on a road close to Lagos State University that was described as a “hot spot for ritual killers.” A second newspaper reported in February 2011 that, in the same area, ten people had been killed in suspected ritual murders in the preceding two months. A 2009 article published by Agence France-Presse reported that, according to a state government official, the kidnapping of children for ritual murder was on the rise in Kano.
(I have removed the in-line citations because they make the article unreadable; check the original if you want their sources.)
Native Nigerian religion is basically Voodoo, aka Vodun, aka Santeria and whatever else you want to call it to confuse your audience. These are not “organized” religions, but a widespread set of common beliefs about magic and the supernatural, including, of course, the idea that ritually sacrificed bits of humans or animals have magic powers.
In other words, if you thought Boko Haram was Nigeria’s worst problem, I’m sorry.
Also, if you used to live in Nigeria, you may be forgiven for believing that ritual sacrifice and child murder are happening all over the place (though the fact that Canada doesn’t have a lot of fetish markets where you can buy animal parts for your ritual magic ought to be a tip-off that it’s a lot less common outside of Africa.)
In 1973, Pazder was back in Canada and treating Michelle, who apparently became depressed following a miscarriage. Pazder decided this must actually be a sign of repressed memories of childhood abuse (an idea that comes straight out of Freud, even though Freud himself later repudiated this train of thought and all Freudianism had been discredited and generally abandoned by the psychiatric community by the 70s, due to being psuedo-scientific nonsense.)
Uninterested in the recommended best practices in his industry, psychiatric developments of the previous 50 years, or general ethics, Pazder spent over 600 hours (over 14 months) encouraging Michelle, under hypnosis, to “remember” being ritually abused by her mother, a member of the world-wide, pre-Christian “Church of Satan” based in Victoria, Canada. According to Wikipedia,
The first alleged ritual attended by [Michelle] Smith took place in 1954 when she was five years old, and the final one documented in the book was an 81-day ritual in 1955 that summoned the devil himself and involved the intervention of Jesus, the Virgin Mary and Michael the Archangel, who removed the scars received by Smith throughout the year of abuse and removed memories of the events “until the time was right”. During the rites, Smith was allegedly tortured, locked in cages, sexually assaulted, forced to take part in various rituals, witnessed several murders and was rubbed with the blood and body parts of various murdered babies and adults. …
Former neighbors, teachers and friends were interviewed and yearbooks from Smith’s elementary school were reviewed and found no indication of Smith being absent from school or missing for lengthy periods of time, including the alleged 81-day non-stop ceremony. Ultimately the book’s authors were unable to find anyone who knew Smith in the 1950s who could corroborate any of the details in her allegations.
… Among other things, Cuhulain noted that it seemed unlikely that a sophisticated cult that had secretly existed for generations could be outwitted by a five-year-old; that the cult could hold rituals in the Ross Bay Cemetery unnoticed given that Smith claimed she was screaming and given that the Ross Bay Cemetery is surrounded on three sides by residential neighborhoods; that an 81-day non-stop ceremony involving hundreds of participants and a massive round room could have gone on in Victoria unnoticed; and that none of Smith’s tormentors (other than her mother) have ever been identified, especially given that some of them had cut off one of their middle fingers at the Black Mass. He also notes that during the alleged 81-day ritual, Michelle was confirmed to be attending school, with no remarkable absences and no apparent signs that she was being abused. Like other authors, Cuhulain also noted that many of Smith’s recovered memories appear to have reflected elements in popular culture at the time (e.g.: the movie The Exorcist)
In 1979, Michelle and Pazder (both supposedly Catholics) divorced their own spouses (Pazder already had 4 children,) to marry each other. Having romantic (or just sexual) relationships with your patients is a major no-no in psychiatry because it is generally considered super-unethical to take advantage of mentally ill people in your care.
Pazder became so concerned that he went to the Vatican to inform the Pope that he’d uncovered a massive, ancient, organized, Satanic cult operating in secret throughout Canada, the US, and Europe, that incredibly, no one had ever noticed before!
The Catholic Church quietly distanced itself from Pazder.
Despite this, “Michelle Remembers” earned Pazder and Michelle $342,000, plus royalties. Pazder became a kind of celebrity expert on Satanic Ritual Abuse, appearing on TV, taking part in police seminars on ritual abuse, and eventually being consulted in over 1,000 cases of alleged Satanic Abuse. (source)
All of this played into another horrible trend in psychiatry at the time (also involving hypnosis!) Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD).
Back in 1973, just as Michelle was beginning treatment, Sybil: The True Story of a Woman Possessed by 18 Personalities was published. Sybill was originally being treated for anxiety and memory loss, but after copious quantities of drugs and hypnosis (it was the 70s, after all,) she went really crazy and began “manifesting” 18 different personalities, including two men and a French girl (despite Sybil herself having been raised in Minnesota.
Long story short, the book was nonsense and Sybil was merely an unfortunate, mentally unwell woman (possibly due to anemia,) taken advantage of by an unscrupulous psychiatrist and writer, whose book sold over 400,000 copies, launched a small industry of Sybil-related merchandise, and was made into two movies. (Michelle Remembers never got made into a movie because everyone involved would have gotten their pants sued off for libel.) He also, of course, got paid for years of psychotherapy.
Now, you might think that people would be cautious about accepting absurd claims coming from actually diagnosed, mentally-ill people receiving psychiatric treatment, but personal experience suggests that they don’t. Combine this with the feminist claim that you must always believe and support the victim and never question their claims, and you have the ingredients for thousands of destroyed lives.
But that is a story we will have to continue tomorrow.