Copyright: Prof. Dr. Philip Jenkins. Pennsylvania State University
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Since about 1980, there have been waves of panic in North America and
Western Europe about the supposed threat posed by Satanic cults and witches,
especially in the form of sexual threats to children, and in the idea of
human sacrifice. These ideas are almost entirely false, a complex modern
mythology, but they have been widely believed in the mass media. Though
Satanists do exist in both Europe and America, none of these particular
charges were true. The origins of such charges of can be traced to the
activities and publications of emerging charismatic and fundamentalist
Christian religious movements, whose practices of "spiritual warfare" and
exorcism encourage acceptance of the reality of a Satanic danger. In addition,
the identification of an actual Satanic conspiracy has become for the new
Christian movements an effective ideological tool in the contest with theological
liberalism. The Satanic affair can only be understood in the context of
the distinctive evangelical view of the approaching millennium, and the
coming of Christ.
The American Panic
During the 1980s, the American mass media presented charges about the doings of alleged Satanic groups in stories which harked back to the witch-trials of seventeenth century Europe. The modern devil-worship cults were said to be many thousands strong (some said millions), with representatives secretly placed in schools and public institutions, and their activities were monstrously depraved. In 1988, a work targeted at law-enforcement professionals linked Satanists to "the murders of unbaptized infants, child sexual abuse in day-care, rape, ritual abuse of children, drug trafficking, arson, pornography, kidnapping, vandalism, church desecration, corpse theft, sexual trafficking of children and the heinous mutilation, dismemberment and sacrifices of humans and animals... [They are] responsible for the deaths of more than 60,000 Americans each year, including missing and runaway youth." 1 Though such claims seem ludicrous in retrospect, they were very familiar in the decade after 1984, the years of what some have called the Satanic Panic.
The Satanism idea involved claims about the extreme physical and sexual maltreatment said to be inflicted upon children in cult groups. In 1980, the book Michelle Remembers drew attention to the developing idea of ritualized child abuse, and explicitly suggested that the cults involved were Satanic in nature. The pseudonymous Michelle described memories which she claimed to have recalled during therapy in the late 1970s, when she reported sexual and physical atrocities inflicted on her as a child in Vancouver in the early 1950s. This text would shape all subsequent narratives of ritual child abuse, and also legitimized the theory that traumatic events could lie dormant until resurfacing during therapy. 2
Several distinct strands of speculation - about Satanism, cult violence, and ritual abuse - merged as a result of one of the most notorious criminal cases of the decade, the mass abuse case at McMartin preschool, which was first reported in the media in 1984. Not for the first time, a cult scare erupted from southern California. According to prosecutors, hundreds of small children attending this school had been sexually abused by a ring of teachers, often in ritualistic settings involving robes, pentacles, and church altars. Though the McMartin case is now generally recognized as spurious, this affair generated fears that Satanic rings lurked behind the walls of pre-schools and day-care institutions across the country. There would be many subsequent investigations, and a number of equally unfounded criminal charges, with the most outrageous instances occurring at Bakersfield (California), Jordan (Minnesota), Edenton (North Carolina), Martensville (Canada), and Wenatchee (Washington). In each case, it was charged that organized groups of Satanists held ceremonies in which children played a major role. Children were raped and sodomized by large numbers of participants, both male and female, and some infants were mutilated or sacrificed. Sacrificial rituals might involve the drinking of a victim's blood or the eating of his flesh. Other rites involved the consumption of urine or feces. The emphasis on defiling children was said to reflect the view that the most innocent victim was the most satisfying sacrifice to the Lord of Evil. One variant of the story held that women belonging to the cults acted as "breeders" or "brood mares", who bred children specifically to be murdered.
The origins of the ritual abuse scare have been analyzed so extensively over the last few years that the affair needs only brief discussion here. 3 Essentially, the charges were based on statements which therapists derived from impressionable children, often only four or five years of age, who responded to repeated leading questions by generating answers designed to please their interrogators. Therapists and prosecutors then collaborated to transform impossible claims into specific allegations of ritualistic sex abuse. Charges that children were being abused in these circumstances won support from an improbably large and diverse coalition of interest groups, who would normally have had next to nothing in common: one study notes that the idea found adherents among "social workers, therapists, physicians, victimology researchers, police, criminal prosecutors, fundamentalist Christians, ambitious politicians, anti-pornography activists, feminists, and the media." 4 A potent figure in sp[reading the new mythology was the apostate, defector, or survivor, who claimed to expose such vital information from within the secret organization itself. The ritual abuse genre which began with Michelle Remembers received new contributions from Lauren Stratford's Satan's Underground (1988), Judith Spencer's Suffer the Child (1989), and a host of others, all by self-described survivors. 5
Often, the "survivors" were reporting memories rediscovered during therapy, and the therapists active in the recovered memory movement became a major component of the anti-satanic movement. Though therapists disdained any need to corroborate the stories coming from their patients, it was disturbing to find such elaborate stories of powerful Satanic cults dating back to the 1930s or 1940s when observers at the time had observed no such phenomenon. Though journalists of this era had enthusiastically exposed all manner of strange and perverse cults, they had turned up nothing approximating ritual abuse, even as rumor. Yet modern-day therapists continued to find such recollections in their elderly patients. A popular recovery text, The Courage to Heal, tells the story of a woman who claimed that she had as a child been the victim of a cult led by the "town leaders, business-people and church officials" of "an upper middle class town in the Midwest" in the mid- or late-1930s. The woman described being "abused in rituals that included sexual abuse, torture, murder, photography and systematic brainwashing through drugs and electric shock." By the age of twelve, she was a "breeder," bearing children for the cult to sacrifice. Another older survivor reported "near total involvement of the entire village where she grew up on the affluent North Side of Chicago, Illinois, during the 1930s. Her parents .... as well as Christian ministers, policemen, lawyers and socialites were involved" in a cult active in human sacrifice and Black Masses. 6
The recovered memory trend became so influential as literally to beggar
belief. There were two basic options: either North America had for many
years been the home of a complete alternative Satanic religion, which killed
or molested many thousands of victims each year, or there was something
radically wrong with the therapeutic techniques which were producing such
remarkable evidence. The latter explanation became ever more probable when
no evidence could be produced for the far-reaching allegations, for example
concerning ritual murder, and some specific defector accounts could be
entirely debunked. Though the more extreme Satanic theories did achieve
some respectful notice in the mass media in the late 1980s, the tide of
opinion soon changed, and by about 1993, the normal media response to a
mass abuse or recovered memory case was one of deep suspicion, and of hostility
to the therapists involved. Also in these years, the slow-grinding judicial
appeal process began overturning most of the convictions handed down during
the late 1980s, in what was already being presented as the latest American
Evangelicals and The Millennium
In understanding the appeal of the Satanic claims, we have to appreciate the role of evangelical and fundamentalist believers for whom an upsurge of contemporary Satanism would confirm their pessimistic theology about the imminence of the Last Times and the Apocalypse. Some of the most extreme claims about ritual murder, for instance, can be traced to extreme evangelicals. 7 Virtually the whole of the later mythology is already found in The Broken Cross, a 1974 comic-book published by the Californian fundamentalist group headed by Jack Chick, and allegedly based on the expert advice of a former "Druid High Priest". Broken Cross depicts a small town Satanic cult, which carries out at least eight human sacrifices each year. Victims are normally drawn from abducted hitchhikers, often young teenage girls, and the group maintains its immunity because cult-members include all the powerful local citizens: the sheriff, mayor, pastor, librarian, and so on. Normally, Chick publications have only a tiny minority appeal, but the images presented here as early as 1974 offer in remarkably well-developed form the ideas about ritual murder that would become so common during the 1980s.
Between 1984 and 1992, the danger from Satanism and ritual crime was a central theme in the writings of the evangelical Right, evidenced by the sizable "Cults" section of any Christian bookstore. Satanism provided an invaluable means of attacking practices and beliefs condemned by these religious groups, on the basis of guilt by association. Satanism and its alleged crimes provide a vehicle for attacking the occult and New Age ideas generally, together with a host of other phenomena that the fundamentalists hate - such as rock and roll music, legal abortion, fantasy games like Dungeons and Dragons, even Halloween celebrations. Books and public presentations that attack Satanic crime often spend a great deal of their energy denouncing such abuses, which superficially seem quite irrelevant to the central theme.
Also, anti-Satanic rhetoric faded into more general condemnations of
the "occult", and occult and satanic are confounded in a way that reflects
the views of the narrowest Christian fundamentalist sects, for whom all
religious experience outside mainstream evangelical Christianity is suspect;
and anything beyond Judaeo-Christian monotheism is quite literally of the
devil. For the fundamentalists of the last two decades, New Age and mystical
movements have been the Devil's Trojan Horse in the subversion of America,
a means to introduce the gullible young to anti-Christian concepts and
practices. "These New Age techniques are not new at all, however, but are
the same old sorcery under new labels".8
In ideological terms, the emphasis on the satanic danger contributed to the theological assumptions of the fundamentalist and evangelical groups who were so well represented among the cult theorists; and this may explain why ideas about cult Satanism and ritual murder developed so rapidly around 1980, at a time when the fundamentalists were approaching the zenith of their political power. Conservatism found a solid base in the evangelical Christian groups which had grown so dramatically during the 1970s, and which achieved visibility through networks of Christian publications and bookstores, and the work of television evangelists like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. The Christian Conservative movement found a structural base in the Moral Majority, which was founded in 1979, but it represented a wider social trend.
During the 1970s, there had been an increasing polarization within Protestant Christian groups, between conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists on the one hand, and more liberal mainstream churches on the other. While the liberals favored socially oriented religious work, the conservatives emphasized personal holiness and traditional doctrines like sin, redemption and the power of evil. In quantitative terms, the evangelicals were clearly winning by about 1980, and conservative groups like the Southern Baptists and Assemblies of God experienced impressive increases in membership, while liberal denominations like the Episcopalians, Methodists and United Church of Christ declined at a quite precipitous rate during the 1970s and 1980s. Evangelical growth was reflected in the emergence of networks of bookstores, radio stations and television programs, all of which gave the conservative churches a far-flung audience for their views, and a chance to disseminate opinions on issues like occult crime and ritual murder.
Central to fundamentalist rhetoric is the real power of the Devil in the world as the source of all evil, a key belief which differentiated them from liberal or secularized churches. If it was accepted that Satanic followers did indeed represent a powerful alternate religion in America, then this was yet another argument that religious liberalism had failed and the churches must come to a more basic acceptance of the reality of the force of evil. An upsurge of diabolism was believed to support the premillenarian belief in the imminence of the Second Coming of Christ, which would be preceded by the triumph of Antichrist. A mainstay of evangelical belief since the end of the nineteenth century, premillenarianism and the associated ideas of the Rapture and the Antichrist had gained strength rapidly during the 1970s through the influence of popular culture treatments like the famous film Thief in the Night, one of the most popular and most widely-seen religious films ever produced. In the anti-Satanic literature, one of the common myths involved the Wiccan Manifesto, supposedly a document seized by police in 1986, and stating a complex plan to infiltrate and subvert all major institutions in the name of Satan over the coming thirteen years, culminating in 1999 with the physical rule of Satan on earth. A belief in satanism, and of the most active and sinister hue, was thus intimately linked to the fundamentalist diagnosis of both the secular and spiritual ills of society. The religious groups did not initiate the Satanic threat idea, but they were among the greatest beneficiaries of the emerging mythology.
American events also had an enormous impact overseas, in western Europe, Australia, and South Africa. During the late 1980s, Britain experienced several scandals involving the alleged activities of ritual or satanic rings that committed acts of abuse against children 9. There were major incidents at Rochdale, Nottingham, Manchester, Liverpool and the Orkney Islands, in addition to many smaller cases. As in the United States, all ended in disaster for the advocates of a ritual abuse problem, and resulted in severe criticism of both police and social workers. There remain a hard core of believers, but the consensus is that ritual abuse was a panic wholly lacking substance.
In view of the religious roots of the American panic, it is surprising to find such a campaign succeeding in Britain, which is traditionally a far more secular society than the United States, and religious groups have played a far less significant role in debates over public morality, at least in modern times. However, matters changed substantially during the 1980s. In order to understand this, it is helpful to appreciate the quite rapid changes which have permitted the growth of militantly fundamentalist groups. These include a general secularization, and a consequent decay in the structure of mainstream churches.
The Church of England is an established state church which for centuries was supposed by law to comprise all citizens of England and Wales (a distinct Presbyterian Church is established by law in Scotland). In practice, this establishment had long been recognized as a fiction, and Anglicans have for centuries had to compete with rival religious groups, either Roman Catholic or Protestant Nonconformist. During the twentieth century, the established Church had declined steadily in membership. This dilution of strength also affected other mainstream religious bodies, especially those which, like the Anglicans, had adopted more liberal theological views.
Table 1 about here
Anglicans are not even the largest religious group, while the most dramatic growth has occurred outside Christianity altogether, among the British Muslim population. This scarcely existed in 1950, but now exceeds a million. However, the weakness of the established church is less remarkable than the pronounced secularism of British society during the late 1980s and early 1990s, the years of the Satanic crisis. Between 1975 and 1990, the total adult membership in Trinitarian churches fell by 17 percent, while the membership of such churches represented a mere 14 percent of the overall population. Even by European standards, this was a low figure, compared with a west European norm of between 20 and 30 percent. Between 1971 and 1988, the proportion of British marriages conducted according to civil ceremonies rose from 40 to 48 percent of the whole. High figures for the practice of cremation also indicate progressive secularization. In the mid-1980s, opinion polls found only 8 percent of British respondents characterizing themselves as "very religious", compared to 34 percent who were "not religious" .
In this hostile environment, religious groups have attempted a number of different responses to change. Sections of the established Church itself have sought to adapt to the modern world by abandoning a great deal of what appears old-fashioned in theology. To many observers, this has seemed a wholesale rejection of what is basic and essential to Christianity. Since the 1970s, there have been a number of highly publicized controversies about issues such as the Virgin Birth, bodily Resurrection, and divinity of Jesus Christ. Other controversies have concerned the ordination of women and practicing homosexuals, and the degree of overt liberal politicization in the Church. The ordination of the first women priests in 1994 has been widely seen as the culmination of a trend towards radicalization. 10
These controversies have weakened the church, but there have been areas of growth which are relevant to our present subject. The Church of England has for over a century been divided between evangelical and anglo-catholic wings, disrespectfully known as "low and lazy" as opposed to "high and crazy". The "low" wing has flourished in recent decades, and formed many alliances with evangelical and charismatic groups in other denominations. In 1991, a cleric sympathetic to the new evangelical trend became head of the Church of England, when George Carey became Archbishop of Canterbury. Religious life in Britain has become polarized between the liberal and evangelical movements, and the latter have flourished. Fundamentalist and Charismatic or Pentecostalist churches on the familiar American model sprang up alongside the declining mainstream groups. Churches following the new piety emphasize the work of the Holy Spirit in everyday life, and the central importance of a personal "born-again" conversion experience. They practice speaking in tongues and prayer healing, in addition to espousing a strict theology which encompasses traditional ideas like the Virgin Birth, Resurrection and Trinity, as well as Hell and a literal Devil. By 1979, the charismatic House Church Movement had some fifty thousand members drawn from various denominations, including Catholics. Between 1979 and 1989, membership of independent fundamentalist churches grew from 44,000 to 128,000 in England and Wales, and this does not count the growth in parishes of the established church.
Evangelical groups became active in the political arena, where local churches and groupings cooperated to fight pornography, "gay rights", and abortion, and such movements drew Catholic activists in large numbers. For fundamentalists, the most important national group coordinating activities remains the Evangelical Alliance, an umbrella which includes congregations both within and outside the established church. Other informal means of national organization include a network of bookstores and radio shows, of publishers like Kingsway, Monarch and Word; and occasional meetings and revivals that owe much to the American tent meeting tradition.
These religious or political movements were influenced in their formation by American models, and they have drawn heavily on transatlantic resources. They owe their origins to the Billy Graham crusades of the 1960s and afterwards, while British Christian bookstores offer literally hundreds of American book titles and albums. Publishers like Word and Kingsway reprint the titles of American counterparts like Huntington House, sometimes with a new introduction by a British religious figure like Kevin Logan. Popular American authors like Josh McDowell and Frank Peretti find a substantial market in these British fundamentalist circles, and Christian radio stations carry the syndicated shows of James Dobson and Mike Warnke. American speakers, activists and preachers are naturally sought after and well received for conferences and revival meetings.
The Satanism Issue
These groups should be seen as the vehicles for the new concern over ritual abuse, a fear that was entirely novel in Britain. Two major forces can be discerned in the identification and dissemination of the new problem. A group of American theorists and experts were instrumental in bringing the notion to Britain, but the growing perception of a serious problem was made possible by the network of evangelical and fundamentalist religious groups within Britain itself. Once the ideas were domesticated, they were increasingly adopted by social work and child protection groups anxious to assert the serious and pervasive nature of child abuse. These overseas experts included American "cult cops" and therapists, who propagated the idea of ritual abuse.
However, such stories could not have attained the power they did unless there was already in existence a domestic audience willing and eager to hear them; and this was found among the swelling ranks of fundamentalist and Charismatic Christians within Britain itself. The concept of spiritual warfare and the ministries of exorcism, spiritual healing and deliverance had existed among British evangelicals for many years, increasingly associated with glossolalia, or speaking in tongues. 11 From the mid-1960s, both exorcism and glossolalia became a source of recurrent controversy within the established Church. These ideas were practiced by inter-denominational Christian Fellowship Groups operating under a variety of names. Such base communities rapidly spread throughout the country during the 1970s, and would provide the building blocks for the revivalist movement in the following decade.
In 1975, there had been a notorious case in Barnsley (South Yorkshire) where problems had developed in such a fellowship group; and this provides insight into the beliefs and assumptions of the movement. A Methodist minister and an Anglican cleric had performed an all-night exorcism on a member named Michael Taylor, who had supposedly fallen under the influence of Satanists. Some hours later, Taylor had responded by killing and mutilating his wife, and he was diagnosed as criminally insane. The ensuing trial was extensively reported in the "qualities" no less than the tabloid press. For most readers, it was one of the first glimpses into what appeared at the time to be a curious religious fringe, with an unfashionable belief in the reality of demons and possession. In view of later developments, it is interesting that the media casually dismissed the charge of Satanic involvement, and concentrated entirely on the dangers to mental health of practices like exorcism and glossolalia. 12But groups like that in Barnsley flourished and proliferated, as did ideas of demons, exorcism and "spiritual warfare", which provided an essential background for the new emphasis on the Satanic danger. An inter-denominational Christian Exorcism Study Circle was founded in 1972, and in 1985, a leader claimed that each year the group was counseling some two hundred defectors from satanic and occult groups. The group's secretary warned "that some Satanic groups will sacrifice a human being if they possibly can: often these victims are unwanted babies or tramps taken from the streets at night . . . . Satanists can be found at the highest levels in our society, in political life and on the boards of multinational companies". 13 Satanists were said to operate behind front organizations of a theosophical or New Age nature.
The intellectual outlook of the anti-cult groups can be illustrated by the work of the Rev. Russ Parker, who had worked with the Manchester Deliverance Advisory Group before being appointed to the care of two Leicestershire parishes within the established Church. In his 1990 book, Battling the Occult, Parker asserts a belief in possession by evil spirits, and discusses exorcism; and he stresses that the battle against Satanism was an urgent necessity for contemporary Christianity. The book recites all the familiar arguments familiar from American anti-Satanism, with the same identification between the apparently harmless New Age and pernicious occult criminality. Satanism is here placed in a spectrum of activities that includes ouija boards, astrology, palmistry, meditation, Dungeons and Dragons, and films like The Omen and The Exorcist.
He even follows the American precedents in expressing concern about the practice of Halloween, a custom largely introduced into Great Britain in the last decade. This hostility to occult influences among the young was echoed by the Association of Christian Teachers, which denounced toleration of Halloween: this "does in fact encourage an interest and fascination in the occult and this invariably leads to more serious involvement and damage to the individuals concerned." 14 The group also struggled against Satanic or witchcraft imagery in school books. There is some evidence that they were successful in this, and by 1990, publishers were expressing growing sensitivity about anything which could be interpreted as occult. This represented a sudden and astonishing reversal in attitudes, as such pressures had never been felt before the 1980s.
But there was also a more immediate Satanic threat, orchestrated through powerful devil-worshipping groups or cells with direct access to demonic powers. Russ Parker notes that when he had been in Manchester in the early 1980s, "we went through a phase of ministry in which a number of people were trying hard to break free of the black magic groups to which they had belonged". These people were often characterized by "uncontrolled outbursts of verbal abuse, lying, cursing and blasphemy", which showed that they had been in the grasp of literal demonic powers. 15 These were manifested in the form of sexual perversions and various forms of addiction.
Another influential anti-cult activist was Kevin Logan, Anglican vicar of the Lancashire parish of St Johns, Great Harwood, who wrote several books published by the Eastbourne-based firms "Kingsway" or "Monarch", which also present the work of Audrey Harper, Peter Lawrence, and most of the "spiritual warfare" school. 16 Logan's works include Close Encounters with the New Age, and Paganism and the Occult, both British parallels to the numerous exposés currently appearing in American fundamentalist circles. Like Parker, Logan similarly described exorcising those who had become involved with Satanic cults; and constantly sees New Age activities like yoga, astrology and meditation as part of a common spectrum which also includes Satanism, occultism and Paganism. Naturally expecting to encounter scepticism, Logan repeatedly attempts to show the real secular harm done by the cults, and their connection with serious and violent crime. 17
From this perspective, cults and demonic phenomena might also be linked to incest and child abuse. Logan describes the abuse of one fourteen year old girl by the "high priest" of a coven. 18 One widely read book by Anglican cleric Peter Lawrence records an attempt to exorcise a "Christian lady":
When I asked the Spirit to come, horrific demons manifested, growling and snarling and throwing her to the floor. Like so many Christians we find with resident demons, she had been an incest victim. Not everyone we see who has suffered abuse as a child is demonized, but when demons manifest in mature Christians, we are not surprised to find a history of abuse, sexual or otherwise. With many such people we also find ancestral demons which have been in the family for generations due to black mass rites and passed on to the child at conception or birth. 19
Religious concerns are evident in the wave of rumors that sinister rings or cults were well-ensconced among the high-born and politically influential; a charge of the sort popularized by some of the exposés of pedophile rings. Kevin Logan offered several case-studies, for example of "a London occult group whose members are made up of high ranking civil servants, top industrialists and prominent City figures . . . each city and major town has its own small exclusive coven made up mostly of people in the professions" . 20 Belief in elite Satanism was suggested by the 1986 trial of Derry Knight, a confidence trickster who claimed to be breaking away from a Satanic cult led by the deputy Prime Minister, William Whitelaw. With other highly-placed politicians, Whitelaw was said to lead the "Sons of Lucifer", the secret overlords of British diabolism. The charges were wholly fictitious at every point, but they nevertheless found powerful believers. Knight gained entrée into a circle of determined anti-Satanists who gave him several hundred thousand pounds to fund his campaign to bring others into the light. Contributors included the enormously rich family which owns Britain's Sainsbury's supermarket chain, and other wealthy supporters of the Charismatic movement. One of the most prominent was the wife of Timothy Sainsbury, the Conservative MP and anti-pornography campaigner. She claimed to have experienced the gifts of prophecy and glossolalia "at a Bible meeting for parliamentary wives at the House of Commons". This affair suggests an entirely new degree of suspicion and hostility about cults among the social elite.
Tales about elite occultism sometimes focussed on freemasonry, which is very popular among the British upper and middle class, with a strong following among law enforcement, the legal profession, and the Church of England. The movement has also been patronized by the royal family for over a century. However, there are critics: Masonic oaths appear to include threats of "death and ghastly mutilation", while Catholics and many evangelical Protestants regard the sect's rituals as heretical or pagan. Freemasonry provided an essential context for the Derry Knight affair, and many of the initial charges concerned alleged (and spurious) connections between masons and diabolists. A new hostility to cults in general was suggested by the anti-masonic sentiments expressed by a number of Protestant churches during these years. 21
Survivors and Brood-Mares
Concern about Satanism was especially strong among the Evangelical Alliance, the umbrella federation which claims to represent up to one million adherents. In 1988, the Alliance appointed a committee to investigate the charges, several members of which would be active in disseminating claims of the prevalence of ritual crime. Members of this committee were especially important in shifting the emphasis of British interest towards the figure of the occult survivor or defector, a controversial figure from the American literature on Satanism. The Evangelical Alliance committee included two "survivors" in the form of self-described former witches, Doreen Irvine and Audrey Harper. 22 Another member was Kevin Logan, whose Lancashire house had become as a refuge for those escaping from the clutches of the occult, and one survivor case in particular would attract national attention. When one Catherine Marchant, "Hannah", committed suicide in Logan's house, she left an occult memoir that draws largely on the American exposés, and claimed that she had been inducted into a Satanic sect at the age of thirteen. Hannah also claimed to have been a "breeder", who had sacrificed her babies to Satan. The tale remains part of "the growing mythology of anti-Satanism", recounted especially among fundamentalist religious groups; though journalistic investigation has discredited every aspect of her tale.
The two remaining committee members were both active in offering facilities to cult members who wished to free themselves from bondage to the devil. 23 Diane Core was the organizer of Childwatch on Humberside; while Maureen Davies ran the national organization Reachout, which had also been in contact with "Hannah". Davies had founded Reachout in 1983, and claimed to have found her first ritual abuse case in Britain in 1985. With Logan, Davies and Core promoted startling claims about the menace of the occult. Diane Core stated that "I am convinced that Satanic abuse not only exists but is a real danger to modern family life. About four thousand babies a year are born into covens to be used for sacrifices and cannibalism. This is only the tip of the iceberg". She expanded on this in a 1988 interview with the American New Federalist, in which she provided a broad theological context for ritual abuse:
We're in the middle of the most massive spiritual warfare. The whole satanic movement has decided to initiate as many young people as it can. We are at war. At this moment, in this country, Satan is winning, he's in the lead. Awareness has been raised. We're doing everything we can, causing reactions, receiving information, letters. If we can present a united front, and if the police support us more, I think we'd win. But often the police deny it is really going on. The economic crisis creates fertile ground for recruiting kids to cults based upon despair and hedonism . . . . .. . .
Maureen Davies had other concerns:
In the temples or covens they have young girls or older women called brood mares. These girls are there to be made pregnant purely for the sacrifices. When they are five and a half months pregnant the birth is induced. At this stage, the fetus is alive and can be sacrificed. The blood of the infant is then drunk, then the body is eaten. What is not eaten is stored for the next ritual .
Logan claimed to know of no less than eight cases where girls had been impregnated so that their fetuses could be used in this way. Audrey Harper recalled several similar cases, such as that of "Rose" who "was taken into a coven by her parents, and made pregnant four times by a warlock so that the babies could be sacrificed to Satan." 24
By the end of the decade, there was a network of organizations committed to the idea of a real occult danger that threatened the lives of thousands, and this network acted as a conduit for allegations from American conspiracy theorists. In such a setting, it was perhaps inevitable that a growing number of individuals were prepared to declare themselves "survivors" or defectors from cults, though often with as little veracity as "Hannah". These supposed "survivors" helped promote and spread further tales and rumors. One activist in the cause was Sue Hutchinson, who claimed to know of fifty unrelated cases of satanic abuse in the United Kingdom, often featuring cannibalism. Audrey Harper estimated that there were 200,000 witches in Great Britain. 25 These were, moreover, the "experts" who police would draw on as their main resources in understanding what they believed to be the menace of ritual and Satanic abuse.
The ritual abuse panic should be seen as the result of an interplay of several interest groups and agencies, of which the evangelical groups were only one. However, they were critical in providing mass support for the charges, and for establishing their credibility with official agencies. For the religious groups, the scale and immediacy of the diabolical threat offered ideological confirmation of the limitations of liberal theology. Since the 1960s, the dominant factions in British churches had emphasized social and political activism with a left/liberal slant, with racism and apartheid often seen as the world's most pressing evils. For British evangelicals and charismatics, like their American counterparts, this was a lethal distraction from the crucial issues of personal holiness and spiritual warfare. During the 1980s, the point was reasserted by the new focus on black magic cults, ancestral demons and ritual abusers. As in the United States, the British panic must be understood in the context of premillenarian fears and expectations.
1. Alan H. Peterson, The American Focus on Satanic Crime, (South Orange, NJ: American Focus Publishing 1988) vol. 1, foreword. Philip Jenkins, Moral Panic (Yale University Press, 1998).
2. Michelle Smith and Lawrence Pazder, Michelle Remembers (New York: Congdon and Lattes, 1980;) Philip Jenkins and Daniel Maier-Katkin, "Occult Survivors," in James T. Richardson, Joel Best and David Bromley, eds., The Satanism Scare (Hawthorne, NY: Aldine De Gruyter, 1991,) 127-144.
3. From a large literature on the Satanism scare of the 1980s, see J. S. LaFontaine, Speak of the Devil (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1998;) Robert D. Hicks, In Pursuit of Satan (New York: Prometheus Books, 1991.)
4. Nathan and Snedeker, Satan's Silence, 5.
5.For statements of the Satanic danger in these years, see James R. Noblitt and Pamela Sue Perskin, Cult and Ritual Abuse (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1995;) Linda Blood, The New Satanists (New York: Warner, 1994;) Gail Carr Feldman, Lessons in Evil, Lessons from the Light (New York: Crown, 1993;) Judith Spencer, Suffer the Child (New York: Pocket 1989;) Lauren Stratford, Satan's Underground (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1988.)
6. Ellen Bass and Laura Davis, The Courage to Heal (New York: Harper and Row, 1988,) 417; Peterson, The American Focus on Satanic Crime, vol. 1, 28.
7. Philip Jenkins, Using Murder (Hawthorne NY: Aldine De Gruyter, 1994).
8. Passport Magazine, Feb-March 1986: 12.
9. Philip Jenkins, Intimate Enemies (Hawthorne NY: Aldine De Gruyter, 1992).
10. For religious patterns in modern Great Britain, see for example Paul A. Welsby, A History of the Church of England 1945-1980 Oxford University Press, 1984; Adrian.Hastings, A history of English Christianity, 1920-1990 3rd ed. Philadelphia : Trinity Press International, 1991.
11. Peter H. Lawrence, The Hot Line Eastbourne: Kingsway, 1990; Michael Harper,Spiritual Warfare, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1976; Tom White, The Believer's Guide to Spiritual Warfare, Eastbourne: Kingsway, 1990.
12. Welsby History of the Church of England 246-48.
13. Toyne Newton, The Demonic Connection, Poole: Blandford Press 1987: 153-4
14. Russ Parker, Battling the Occult, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press 1990: 36
15, Ibid, 80
16. Audrey Harper and Harry Pugh, Dance With The Devil, Eastbourne, Sussex: Kingsway Publications, 1990; Kevin Logan, Paganism and the Occult Eastbourne, Sussex: Kingsway Publications, 1988; Elliott Miller, A Crash Course on the New Age Movement. Eastbourne: Monarch, 1990; Roger Ellis, The Occult and Young People. Eastbourne, Sussex: Kingsway Publications, 1990; Lawrence, The Hot Line ; White, The Believer's Guide to Spiritual Warfare.17. Logan, Paganism and the Occult 21-23.
18. ibid 89-90.
19. Lawrence, The Hot Line 147
20. Logan, Paganism and the Occult 59.
21. Logan, Paganism and the Occult 146-153; Stephen Knight, The Brotherhood: the Secret World of the Freemasons. London: Granada, 1984; Martin Short, Inside the Brotherhood: Further Secrets of the Freemasons, New York: Dorset, 1989, 44-66, 88-107;
22. Doreen Irvine, From Witchcraft to Christ, Concordia Press 1973; Harper and Pugh, Dance With The Devil
23. Jenkins, Intimate Enemies.
24. Harper and Pugh Dance With The Devil, 214.
25. ibid 215
Table 1 - Religious practice in Great Britain 1975-1990
Adult members (millions) Change(percent)
Anglican 2.27 1.82 -20
Presbyterian 1.65 1.29 -22
Methodist 0.61 0.61 unchanged
Baptist 0.27 0.24 -11
Other Protestant 0.53 0.65 +23
Roman Catholic 2.53 1.95 -23
Orthodox 0.2 0.23 +15
total 8.06 6.7 -17
Mormons 0.1 0.15 +50
Jehovah's Witnesses 0.08 0.11 +38
Spiritualist 0.06 0.05 -17
Other non-Trinitarian 0.09 0.13 +44
total 0.33 0.44 +33
Muslim 0.4 1.0 +150
Sikh 0.12 0.22 +83
Hindu 0.1 0.17 +70
Jews 0.11 0.11 unchanged
Other 0.08 0.24 +200
total 0.81 1.74 +