Gruesome stories of satanic abuse spread by evangelical Christians and tabloid newspapers usually turn out to be reheated urban myths, says David V. Barrett Lure of the SinisterThe Unnatural History of Satanism by Gareth J. Medway, New York
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Satanists carry out two million human sacrifices a year in the United States alone, according to one supposed expert.
Hold on: two million human sacrifices a year? Has no one noticed all these people disappearing? And there must he bodies everywhere. But no, because, of course, the Satanists are so clever at hiding their activities, and police chiefs and politicians "at the highest level" are all in on the cover-up as well. Then there are all those young women who claim to have been teenage brood mothers, giving birth to baby after baby for sacrifice — while living with their families, who somehow failed to notice their pregnancies. And then there was the Kent woman who claimed her father had made her take part in Satanic rituals during which 20 men had raped her — but who, on medical examination, was found still to be a virgin.
Some of this might almost be amusing, were it not for the consequences of such allegations. In America, there are people serving consecutive multiple life sentences: fathers for satanically abusing their daughters, nursery school teachers for satanically abusing toddlers in their care. And it's not just in America that such craziness goes on.
It is only a decade since we had the moral panic of Satanic Ritual Abuse in this country: dawn raids on fami lies in Nottingham, Rochdale, the Orkneys, parents accused of abusing their own children, children taken away, interrogated. examined, poked and prodded, and not returned to their families sometimes for years. And all of it on no evidence whatsoever. Just a small group of over-zealous social workers who had uncritically accepted horror stories made up by a few fundamentalist Christians in America, who had exported their paranoia to Britain.
(For anyone who might have lingering suspicions of no smoke without fire. anthropologist Professor Jean LaFontaine's official report in 1994 comprehen
sively dealt with the myth of Satanic Ritual Abuse.)
In Lure of the Sinister, Ciareth Medway explores dozens of such stories. He examines their factual accuracy. if any, and he discusses where such stories spring from, and why. But he also goes much deeper, into stories about Satanic rituals, including black masses, tracing them back through history. And what he finds is fascinating.
Every few years another lurid story is splashed all over the tabloids, of a young woman who became involved in Satanism, took part in dark rituals, and was usually made a High Priestess straight away. Medway shows how each story is a new version of an older one — the names, dates and places changed, but everything else essentially the same. including, of course, the inverted crucifix, and also inverted candles (think about it).
And all the Satanic rituals can be traced back, step by step, to an account published in 1886 by Jean-Francois Blade in his Conies popu laires de la Gascogne, a collection of fairy tales. This is the source, embroidered with each retelling over the years, of just about every "factual" account of a black mass ever published.
What of the young women whose horrifying stories of Satanic sexual depravity are related with such glee? Strangely, most of them had completely forgotten their terrifying, degrading experiences until their memories were jogged, either by a therapist specialising in Satanic "survivors" or by an Evangelical church specialising in casting out demons.
Recovering so-called "repressed memories" is a controversial topic; suffice to say that most people who actually have been abused wish that they could forget their experiences.
And here is one more dangerous consequence of the credulity of those who invent and apparently believe such tales: they muddy the water; they risk making us doubt the genuine cases of abuse that do, sadly, occur.
They also muddy another issue, carelessly confusing witches and Satanists. Satanism is, by definition, an inversion of Christianity; witchcraft, or Wicca, is a nature religion, part of today's neo-pagan revival. It's an important distinction — particularly to Medway, who is himself a priest of the Fellowship of Isis, a pagan order based in Ireland, but who is certainly not a Satanist. But then, for some fundamentalist Evangelicals, everything that is not their own Truth is Satanic, including Freemasonry — and Catholicism. It's a doctrine of negativity, of objects of hatred.
One question Medway asks but can't really answer, about those who spread scare stories about Satanistsamongst-us, is, "Why do some people have such a powerful urge to believe that it overwhelms their reasoning powers?"
The problem is, people will believe what they want to believe — and people looking for evil will find evil, even if they have to ask little children leading questions over and over and over again. If the children say no, nothing happened, then they must be in denial; if they eventually say yes (because, as Jean LaFontaine says, "in the course of repeated interviews children learn what it is that the adults want to hear"), then we must "believe the children".
Some of the testimony on which people are now serving life sentences includes children being taken in helicopters or submarines or jets. "They would thus arrive at 'Disneyland,' 'Sesame Street,' Alice in Wonderland,' the Wizard of Oz, "Santa's North Pole,' or a 'magic castle,' where they would be abused and then returned to day care." And no one passing by the day care centre would notice all this activity.
"In cases... where children are ritually abused by outsiders," writes Medway, "they apparently have astonishingly negligent parents who, when their little offspring regularly go missing for many hours and return having been drugged, tied up, raped, sodomised, flogged with bullwhips, cut with knives, smeared with blood and excrement, and other things that should have left obvious signs, fail to notice anything amiss, until a child therapist or expert on Satanism informs them of what has been going on."
For some readers, the explicit detail in this book might be upsetting; for others, the whole subject matter will be disturbing. But far more disturbing than the fact that there are indeed a very few genuine Satanists (none of whom have been implicated in any abusive activity) is the unreasoning, medieval-style witch-hunt in which people are judged guilty simply because they have been accused.
Medway's book is a breath of fresh air and common sense in this field of murk, delusion and deception. One hopes it will soon appear in affordable paperback, because it should be compulsory reading for clergy, therapists, tabloid journalists — and for those dedicated anti-Satanists who still peddle their dark fantasies in conferences, courtrooms and churches around this supposedly civilised world, creating moral panics, and causing far more real harm than they ever expose.