Somewhere a Child is Crying

Peter Rogerson
Magonia 38, January 1991.

It is twenty years since I began my association with MUFOB/Magonia. Looking back at some of my comments in my very first article Apocalyptophilia written as 1970 turned into 1971, I get a vague sense of deja-vu… or was it precognition? In it I wrote: “It seems like the rational universe described by 19th century positivism … is fading. Horrors long buried in the recesses of the mind surge out, obliterating all reasonable critical faculties.

There has been an unprecedented rise in superstition, nightmares known only from obscure Latin tomes translated by Monatgue Summers emerge to inspire terror across the land … It seems that society is almost ready for the reappearance of Matthew Hopkins, the Witchfinder general.”

He and she have come. It doesn’t matter really whether we are listening to Budd Hopkins or Beatrix Campbell or Janet Dawson, or dozens of other voices. The message is the same. If people say it happened to them you’ve got to believe or you are a heartless monster who is prolonging their pain. How can you be blind and deaf to this distress and agony. Thus was Rebecca Nurse, an innocent woman of Salem, condemned. After the jury, using their last gasp of common sense had acquitted her, the accusers went into another fit: How can you be blind and deaf to the pain? So they changed their verdict and hanged her.

The child satanic abuse fear and the abduction fear are the most visible but not, I suspect, the only manifestations of the 'great fear' of our times: that of the Secret Victim. 'Michelle' remembers being abused by a satanic cult, 'Cathie' remembers being abused by the greys. Candy Jones remembers being abused by the CIA. In other times people remember being abused by Gipsies, Jews, monks and nuns, Mormons, fairies, demons and, yes, Christians.

Testimony can so easily be shaped. Foster parents in Nottingham interpret childrens’ tales in terms of “what happened to them before we got them”. Childrens’ real parents can interpret these tales in quite different fashions; one being reincarnation. The childrens’ stories recounted in Peter and Mary Harrison’s The Children That Time Forgot recount the same motifs as the Nottingham children: detailed knowledge of places they should not know about, descriptions of traumatic events, unexplained phobias. One particular piece of evidence identical to the satanic abuse testimony is that of J.T. of Dagenham. Barely two years old, J.T. compulsively draws witches saying “that’s me when I was a witch”, and “when I lived before I used to drink blackbird’s blood”. She “remembers” the sacrificing of a sheep, draws a group of people around a fire in the centre of which is a naked baby. How long today before that little girl got taken into care?

C.E. claims he was a German pilot and walks around goose-stepping; his mother comments on his strange eyes. A.D. of Rochester 'remembers' being a corpse in a grave, and being a ghost haunting the churchyard – this is revealed as his mother walks him past the churchyard. Other childrens’ fantasies are seen as evidence of ante mortem existence.

We can see that, for example, past lives, possession, haunting and abuse can all provide reasons for forbidden knowledge, for a failure to act like a “real child should”. Indeed, the past-life motif may well be a modern version of the changeling motif.

The stories of the phantom social workers, the strangers who know everything, who appear out of nowhere and disappear after acting in a strange irrational manner, more than echo the motif of the Men in Black. None are caught, no car number plates are recorded. Another MIB-like motif occurred on the Points North regional TV programme when 'Sarah', an alleged satanic abuse victim, told her psychiatrist that 'they' were visiting her house. So he goes out on to the moors to investigate, but before 'they' arrive he is called away by his bleeper. When he gets to his office it is Sarah on the line: they have called her and told her to “get that interfering bugger off the moor”.
“She could not have known I was there”, says the psychiatrist. “”They” can read my mind, anticipate my every action”, says Sarah. Her actions are similar to those of crash-retrieval witnesses, who give anonymous testimony, even though their identity would be obvious to their supposed oppressors. In both cases, going completely public with the maximum publicity would seem to be the safest thing to do.

The motif of the Secret Victim is timely because it represents the rationalisation of why “things fall apart, the centre cannot hold”. It is not because of any great failing in society or ourselves, but is the result of 'them'. It is in many ways comforting to believe that people’s lives are ruined because of events that happened in some unchangeable history, that the victim is being punished for their past lives’ misdeeds, or that abuse is perpetrated by inhuman, soulless greys, or by those so anti-human and different from ourselves that they eat their own babies.
It helps us forget that most child abusers are not monsters but everyday boring people like ourselves. It helps us forget that sexual abuse is just one of the innumerable abuses of both children and adults going on in the world. helps us forget the children starving to death because the gangsters and drug-pushers the superpowers imposed on them make them grow cash crops rather than food for their own subsistence; forget the kids stolen by the juntas; forget the kids shot down by the police in the name of tidiness for the decent and respectable; forget the kids dragged up in squalid bedsits; forget the kids roaming the motorways at midnight; forget the kids victims of their scrap-heap parents’ terminal despair; or that Joseph Mengele was a 'decent and upright man'. Forget that for children born in years before this one, the threat of annihilation abused their lives.

While it is not very likely that flesh and chlorophyll aliens are taking people from the farms of Kentucky, or sheep being slaughtered in the council houses of Nottingham, we cannot hide from the existential terrors which have been moulded into these nightmares, by which people struggle to express 'the worst thing there is'. Beneath the surface of the green fields and regimented terraces, there may indeed be a bottomless darkness and wounds no social worker or therapist can, or should, seek to bind.

This article introduced a special issue of Magonia, devoted to the rising 'Satanic Abuse' panic. The other articles in this issue are From Evidence of Abuse to Abuse of Evidence, by Roger Sandell, and The Lessons of Folklore, by Michael Goss.