GERRY O'SULLIVAN
                      University of Pennsylvania
      Copyright (c) 1991 by Gerry O'Sullivan, all rights reserved
             _Postmodern Culture_ v.1 n.2 (January, 1991)
[1]       The satanism scare has spawned its share of rumor
     panics over the last several years.  This past Halloween,
     fundamentalist and evangelical pastors across the country
     fed faxes to one another about an international convocation
     of satanists allegedly held in Washington, D.C. in
     September.  The gathering--or so self-described experts
     claimed--was intended to allow devil-worshippers from around
     the world to meet in order to further the downfall of
     Christendom, intensify the war on family values, and to
     continue consolidation of their stranglehold on government.
[2]       Based upon the dubious assertions of one self-styled
     former satanist, Hezekiah ben Aaron, the rumor achieved
     widespread currency.  Pat Robertson made mention of the
     meeting on his "700 Club," USA Today reported both on the
     tale and the Christian countermeasures, and one California-
     based ministry used it in a fundraising letter.
[3]       While the infernal ingathering never occurred, it did
     produce a flurry of counterfeit documents.  Detailed day-to-
     day schedules of events were photocopied and circulated
     among church leaders, complete with reports of satanic
     weddings and baptisms.  Christians across the country
     convened to wage a prayerful campaign of "spiritual warfare"
     against the perceived evildoers.  And the complete lack of
     evidence regarding the convention was received as still
     further proof of the cunning of the conspirators, always
     able to successfully cover their hoofprints.
[4]       Several such "panics"--usually far more localized--have
     had tragic results.  Several churches with largely black
     congregations have been vandalized or set ablaze when word
     spread that parishioners were, in actuality, practicing
     satanic rites behind closed doors.  Preschools have been
     emptied of children by parents fearful that teachers were
     "ritually abusing" their charges.  Timothy Hughes of Altus,
     Oklahoma murdered his wife after watching the now notorious
     1988 Geraldo special on satanism, convinced that she was a
     devil-worshipper.  And armed mobs in upstate New York
     threatened to assault punks who had gathered at a warehouse
     for a hardcore concert, fearing that they were "really"
     assembling to sacrifice a blonde-haired, blue-eyed child to
[5]       A handful of folklorists have tracked such regional
     rumor panics, finding startlingly similar patterns from case
     to case.  One constantly recurring theme concerns the racial
     identity of the satanists' "intended victim."  The ideal
     offering, at least according to popular mythology, is a
     young and virginal child--always white, always fair-haired,
     always blue-eyed.  Jeffrey Victor, a sociologist at
     Jamestown Community College (Jamestown was the location of
     the New York warehouse scare cited above), has collected
     hundreds of such stories from across the country, all with
     this theme at its center.  And in each case, the racial
     component is key.  The unseen and vaguely identified
     satanist is therefore defined as desiring his or her other--
     the pure and virginal as opposed to the dark and
     contaminated.  The binarism is assumed, and the selfhood of
     the devil-worshipper is automatically constituted, through
     its ritualized desire, by inversion.
[6]       For instance, in the wake of the Matamoros affair, when
     the bodies of a University of Texas student and the murdered
     rivals of a drug-running gang were found buried on a Mexican
     ranch, daycare centers along the Tex-Mex border were rife
     with rumors that "Mexican satanists" were planning to storm
     south Texas towns in retaliation for arrests in the case--an
     occult twist on the myth of the brown invading horde.  And
     said devil-worshippers were again in search of blue-eyed,
     fair-haired children from surrounding communities.
[7]       Central to the satanism scare is a specific social
     (and, as we've seen, racial) fantasy of the family.
     Mythical satanists allegedly prey upon infants, young
     children, and pets--threshold figures and "weak links" in
     the household.  Once abducted, the child, cat or dog is
     offered as a sacrifice during some sexually-charged, moonlit
     rite.  But the victim is never simply slaughtered.  In the
     lore of pop satanism, its body must be cannibalized and its
     blood consumed by the "coven" of devil-worshippers in order
     to allow for a transfer of power.
[8]       But the family is threatened from within as well as
     from without.  While both children and pets are seen as
     satanic quarry, adolescents are depicted as ideal candidates
     for membership in such cults.  Teenagers are cast as
     potential and unwitting dupes of cult leaders, properly
     socialized for the requisite ritual violence by the icons of
     their culture --heavy metal, hardcore and neo-gothic music,
     "occult" jewelry, black clothing, and Saturday morning
     cartoons which--as some pastors and Christian activists
     allege--are covertly training children in satanically-
     inspired, "new age" thinking.
[9]       In all of this, the teenager is never described as an
     agent, possessed of volition.  Rather, feeling disempowered,
     the adolescent is said to seek out power "from below" (but
     through necromancy rather than, say, insurgency).  His or
     her choice is never, however, seen as a simple act of
     willful defiance or resistance.  It is conditioned by a kind
     of devious social programming which, in its way, parodies
     both consumerism and marketing.
[10]      The typical teenager, or so the professional lore of
     the satanologist has it, goes to his or her local music
     store to buy the latest Judas Priest, Dio, or King Diamond
     release.  Little does he or she know, however, that certain
     tracks have been "backmasked" with demonic messages which
     are intended to engender devil-worship, mayhem, suicide and
     murder (usually of parents).  There's a kind of truth-in-
     advertising problem here--kids aren't getting what they pay
     for.  And once so hooked, they move on to ritual
     cannibalism, itself a fantasy of consumption gone wild.
[11]      Hundreds of professional training manuals on satanism
     and "occult-related crime" have appeared over the past
     several years, aimed at police officers, pastors, school
     administrators and psychologists.  And in most cases,
     adolescent behavior of the most typical varieties is
     described as satanic or "pre-occultic."  Kids who question
     traditional religion or refuse to attend church, act
     rebelliously, meditate, or dress in black are, according to
     several checklists, automatically suspect.  Adolescence is
     itself demonized as something wild, dark and uncontrollable.
[12]      Based upon incorrect information in such training
     manuals, schools in Kentucky, Florida and California--among
     others--have banned the wearing of peace symbols on t-shirts
     or in jewelry because it is, in reality, the satanic "cross
     of Nero"--a broken and inverted cross used by the "pagan"
     Romans (and later the nazis) to mock Christianity.  This is
     an old right-wing canard originally promulgated by Louis
     Pauwels and Jacques Bergier in _The Morning of the
     Magicians_, later picked up and circulated by "former
     satanic high priest," Mike Warnke, in a wildly popular
     little anti-occult book called _The Satan Seller_.
     Unfortunately, this piece of folklore has appeared and
     reappeared in police guides over the years.
[13]      Likewise, one high school principal in Annapolis,
     Maryland sent letters home to the parents of black-clad
     teens, warning that their sons and daughters might very well
     be involved in devil-worship and advising them to search
     rooms and bookbags for other tell-tale signs of occult
     dabbling.  Anyone wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the name
     of a metal band was also picked out of the cafeteria line-up
     by the vigilant principal, to be later reported to parents.
     Unfortunately, some families have taken the satanic panic
     one step further, sending their children off to "de-
     metalizing" and "de-satanizing" camps for "treatment" at the
     hands of fundamentalist pastors.  Centers with names like
     "Back in Control" and "Motivations Unlimited" have been
     established to forcibly deprogram the would-be teen
[14]      The satanism scare is "about" several things, among
     them: the demonization of adolescent behavior through
     folkloric and often lurid accounts of bloodletting,
     cannibalism and sex; a struggle over the constitution of
     knowledge elites (the satanologist--usually a self-described
     cult cop or pastor--versus "professional" educators and
     psychologists who may be skeptical of their claims: it's no
     coincidence that most so-called cult cops are professing
     Christians and members of groups like Cops for Christ); and
     the ideological reinstitution of the family as racially
     pure, intact, and continually threatened from without by
     dark and hooded people emerging from the shadows to steal
     "our" tow-headed children.  Combined with forged documents
     modelled upon The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, fears of
     bloodthirsty invaders from the south, and tales which simply
     reiterate the medieval blood libel, the fear of satanism
     seems to point in several different, and very dangerous,
[15]      The satanic panic combines the worst of several scares
     peculiar to the eighties--terrorism, secular humanism, drugs
     and child-kidnapping--to frame a largely Christian, populist
     critique of mass cultural forms.  But its analyses remain
     mired in conspiracy thinking, racism, eschatological
     anticipation, and the displacement of what are primarily
     familial ills (child abuse and incest) onto highly secretive
     and hooded outsiders.

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