Magonia 46, June 1993
Since Magonia last looked at the Satanism panic, there have been no new cases of the Rochdale or Nottingham type in Britain. However, the official report on the Orkney allegations has appeared. Unfortunately this throws little light on the Satanism allegations, while accusing the social workers involved of failing to follow official guidelines, an approach which is not very enlightening.
The allegations made in US and British Satanism cases – of mass murder of children by large organisations – are so unprecedented and extraordinary that if they were true it would scarcely be surprising if those dealing with them found current official guidelines unhelpful. Consequently, to ignore such matters as the reality of the accusations, as the Orkney report did is, as Richard Ingrams perceptively pointed out in his Observer column, like issuing a report on claims that the fire brigade broke into a house and seized the occupants without investigating if the house was on fire or not.
A more enlightening approach might be to identify the persons who have been responsible for introducing the concept of Satanic abuse and challenging them to produce their evidence. A recent unofficial study of the Orkney case (1) devotes one chapter to this issue. It alleges that one of the social workers involved was a member of the Orkney Christian Fellowship, an evangelical group obsessed with anti-Satanism, who had themselves earlier attracted the suspicion of parents when teenagers had returned from one of the Fellowship’s summer camps in a disturbed state after allegedly speaking in tongues. One also wonders if the origins of the case might not owe something to the 1970s British film The Wicker Man which depicts a Scottish island whose inhabitants are members of a pagan cult. For the most part this unofficial study concentrates simply on the personal experiences of those involved. Perhaps the official Home Office study announced at the time of the Rochdale case, and due out this October (1993) may have more to say on this aspect.
An interesting sideline on recent US anti-Satanism is provided by Alex Cockburn in the New Statesman, who reports that President Clinton’s Attorney General Janet Reno was the prosecuting DA in the Fuester case. This was a highly dubious trial from several years ago, in which a woman accused of child abuse received a light sentence in exchange for denouncing her husband as a Satanist. Cockburn also refers to recent claims by the San Francisco police’s Ritual Abuse Task Force that Satanists have been introducing chemicals into the air-conditioning system of their offices to make them tired and listless. Hysterical contagious illnesses leading to claims of mystery poisoners, such as the Phantom Gasser of Mattoon panic in 1944, are a well-established tradition, and their appearance here emphasises the similarity of the anti-Satanist panic to other forms of mass irrationality.
This similarity is also underlined by recent revelations of the highly dubious practices of some child abuse survivor counsellors that have recently been discussed in Britain in the right-wing, morally conservative Sunday Telegraph (26 January 1993) and in the US in the leftist, feminist monthly Mother Jones (January 1993). It is important to clarify the points at issue. It is undeniable that many victims of child abuse only feel able to discuss it openly many years later. However, this is not the point at issue here. Both the cases narrated in these articles involve people who consulted therapists for psychological problems, and were then induced to recall previously unknown memories of sexual abuse involving Satanic rites dating from the first few months of their lives.
The Mother Jones article quotes the sceptical opinions of a number of psychologists, some of whom, interestingly, are now explicitly comparing such cases to reincarnation and UFO abduction memories . One psychologist points out that the implied rationale of such tales – that totally accurate memories of all our experiences are hidden in the brain awaiting discovery – is very dubious.
It is worth discussing in this context the recent wave of celebrity child abuse stories familiar from tabloid papers and US television talk shows. It should be noted that not all these claims fall into the same category. LaToyah Jackson, the pop-singing sister of Michael Jackson, tells a comparatively mundane story (and her brother’s much publicised eccentricities seem consistent with a traumatised childhood). By contrast, former Beach Boy Brian Wilson tells a story, denied by other family members, that only emerged after counselling by a dubious therapist; and Roseanne Arnold, star of the Roseanne TV series, claims to have suddenly recalled her childhood of abuse only a few months after writing an autobiography paying tribute to her parents. Interestingly, both Arnold’s and Wilson’s stories feature bizarre scatological practices, a detail frequently occurring in Satanism stories.
According to Mother Jones some of those who have undergone survivor therapy have now repudiated their alleged memories, and no doubt we shall at some time hear of a court case against a therapist. With the American UFO abduction field collapsing into recriminations and increasingly weird claims, ufologists would be well advised to abandon hypnotism and regression for their own safety as well as the health of their subjects.
 Black, Robert. Orkney: A Place of Safety, Cannongate Press, Edinburgh, 1992.