Satanism and Class Conflict

David Sivier
Magonia 66, March 1999

One of the aspects of the Satanism scare that is least commented on is the part class antagonism and stereotypes seem to play in the construction of the archetypal Satanist. Although the victims of the modern Satanism scare, like their predecessors in the European witch craze, may come from any social class and part of society, the stereotypical Satanist according to rumour legends and the professionals and clergy engaged in hunting them belong to two extremes of  the social spectrum.

They are young people from working class families, drawn into the occult either through such Satanic influences as Hard and Gothic rock music, or else they are wealthy businessmen. It was in Magonia 51, that Roger Sandell (‘Still Seeking Satan’) noted that the therapists seeking out the Satanic abusers had declared that most cases of ritual abuse came from families on council estates, especially those in which children are “shouted at rather than talked to”. At the opposite social pole are wealthy businessmen, using their power and influence to corrupt society and preserve their immunity from prosecution for their crimes.

The quintessential example of this latter Satanic group is the American company, Proctor and Gamble, whose logo of the Man in the Moon surrounded by 13 stars was popularly considered to indicate the company’s Luciferian inclinations. If looked at carefully, the number of the Beast in Revelations, 666, could allegedly be found in the curls of the old man’s hair, while the 13 stars obviously represented the number of members in a black coven. Proctor and Gamble naturally vigorously deny any such allegations. Their logo evolved over a number of years and with differing numbers of stars since the company’s founding over a hundred years ago.

The 13 stars actually represent, according to their public relations staff, the 13 founding colonies of the USA. Nevertheless, they have been forced to redesign it to remove any possible Satanic symbolism, which largely meant straightening out the Old Man’s hair so that the offending numeral can no longer be seen. Despite this, the rumour is remarkably persistent amongst Christians of all denominations and geographical areas, and the company has resorted to a policy of vigorous prosecution in order to restore its tarnished image.

Beyond this are rumours of organised Satanic groups such as ‘Scorpio’, long the target of parliamentarians such as the late Geoffrey Dickens, who allegedly abduct and kill young children as part of Satanic orgies. I have even heard stories from those with connection to the Class War anarchist group that Anarchist subversives have saved several children from death by decapitation at the hands of such groups. These gangs, allegedly, killed their victims in such a way as to make demons speak through the children’s violated bodies. I have to say that beyond this rumour I have neither seen nor heard anything to corroborate the story. It seems significant, however, that this myth of Satanic covens of businessmen is believed passionately both by Conservatives such as Dickens, and anarchist radicals.

The immediate justification for such suspicion and rumours among Christian groups is rooted strongly in the Bible. A certain antipathy towards the state and the wealthy and powerful has always formed a strong component of Christianity. Christ may have admired the faith of the centurion whose servant he cured, (1) and declared “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, give to God what is God’s”, (2) and St Paul urged good Christians to obey the authorities, (3) yet the central message of the Gospels was aimed strongly at the poor and oppressed. Parables such as the story of the rich man and Lazarus (4) and Christ’s meeting with the rich young ruler (5) exalt the humble against the wealthy, a position made clear in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are you who are poor” (6) and “But woe to you who are rich”. (7) This identification of Christianity with the poor was explicit in the names and attitudes of a number of Christian sects, such as the Ebionites, who took their name from the Hebrew word meaning “poor”, and the Waldensians, who, when they emerged in the 12th century, were called the Poor Men of Lyons after their town of origin.

Such attitudes have played a large part in popular rebellions against unjust rulers from the time of the Circumcellions’ revolt against Rome in fourth-century Africa onwards. It’s also played a very large part in socialist movements since the Digger communities of the Interregnum. Against this is the identification in the Bible of Satan as the lord of this world. Thus, those who are most closely connected with worldly affairs, such as business, risk guilt by association with its master.

This populist attitude is not limited to Christianity, however. A common African proverb, often seen displayed on lorries, is “no king as God”. (8) Some Islamic sects, such as the Druze, believe that they are condemned to poverty and suffering until the wrath of God overturns the present order and makes their former oppressors their slaves, an attitude that permeates much of the millenarism in modern radical Islamic movements. More recently, some members of new religious movements such as the Wiccans have constructed a mythology of the ‘burning times’ by which they represent an indigenous folk religion oppressed by the wealthy Christian elite. The best example of this attitude is in Leland’s Aradia, The Gospel of the Witches. In this Aradia, Diana’s daughter by Lucifer, is sent by her mother to bring her rites and gospel to the escaped slaves of the rich, who are explicitly identified with the Christian nobility and clergy. This seems to borrow much from popular Albigensiansim, especially as in its later heretical forms such as Luciferianism in which the Devil was explicitly worshipped in the hope that those participating in the rites would also take part in his kingdom when he was restored to power.

Sects are primarily protest movements, and these early heresies with their stress on poverty and abstinence represented a popular protest by the poor peasantry and burgers against the worldliness of the medieval church. This aside, modern witches take great pains to dissociate themselves from Satanists, viewing themselves as survivals of a pre-Christian native religion distinct from Christianity, rather than a competing Christian heresy. Modern pagans, according to the Occult Census collected by Christopher Bray and his staff at the occult shop, Sorcerer’s Apprentice, are predominantly young, between twenty and thirty-nine years old, whose political alignments tended to be towards the Green and Liberal Democrat parties. Most were comfortably off. Only 10% were unemployed. (9) They are thus very far from the historical stereotype of the witch as a poor, lonely old woman.

It is, however, problematic as to the extent the European witch movements represented popular peasant religious traditions and how far they were creations of the witch founders’ own fantasies. Practically the only cases where the evidence is unambiguous are the case of La Voisin, who celebrated black masses for one of Louis IV’s mistresses in 1680, and the aristocratic occultism of the fin de siecle Decadence. Decadence, and the related Symbolist movement, were largely snobbish aristocratic cults, which, following the theories of Paul Bourget, saw literary genius as a type of madness. This madness was the result of the gradual enervation of the aristocracy through in-breeding as the civilisation they founded moved towards its inevitable decline.

This pessimistic view of society, taken from Montesquieu’s essay on the fall of Rome, Considerations sur les Causes de la Grandeur des Romains et de leur Decadence, encouraged those convinced of their civilisation’s decline to adopt a cynical, hedonistic lifestyle in which every fevered and forbidden pleasure was to be indulged. Decadent literature, beginning with Les Fleurs du Mal, exalted the joys of drugs, sexual perversion, luxury and artifice. Many of its members also experimented with Satanism. Baudelaire wrote his Litany to Satan, Felicien Rops produced his etchings Les Sataniques, and the great theorist of Decadence, Joris-Karel Huysmans, explored its aristocratic underworld in La Bas (The Lower Depths).

The great theorist of Decadence, Joris-Karel Huysmans,

Huysmans himself had been a follower of the Abbe Boullan, a perverted priest widely believed to be a Satanist. This Satanic strain in literature even reached pre-Revolutionary Russia, where some of its greatest exponents included the poets Zinaida Hippius and Fyodor Sologub. There it probably performed the same service that the novels of De Sade and other works of pornography had done in France on the eve of their Revolution in promoting the image of the bloated, corrupt aristocrat.

The social elevation of the Satanist from impoverished crone to wealthy aristocrat parallels the same treatment of the vampire. Before Polidori’s novel The Vampyre of 1816, the vampire was conceived generally as the corpse of a peasant called back from death to prey on his former neighbours. After Polidori, the vampire became, at least in literature, an aristocrat. This social elevation was no doubt intended to appeal to the aristocratic milieu which read and wrote such fiction. Polidori, remember, wrote the novel as his entry in the competition between himself, Byron and Mary Shelley which produced Frankenstein. Byron himself was a member of the aristocracy, and Polidori’s vampire may well have taken on the aristocratic origin of this “great, bad man”.

It has also been suggested that the vampire may also be a symbolic treatment of contemporary social conditions. As an aristocrat, he literally and metaphorically sucks the blood of his victims. Gothic literature was a favourite of the French Decadents, so its image of the supernaturally depraved aristocrat may well have influenced their own inclinations towards such pleasures. Regardless of their precise literary origins, these images are remarkably persistent. They inform such characters as the debauched Jarvis of Newman and Baddiel comedy fame, while those from a privileged background are still suspected of having indulged homosexual impulses, at least at public school. This latter is the result of descriptions of public school bullying and homosexuality in books as diverse as Tom Brown’s Schooldays and Brideshead Revisited, spiced up with scandals reported in newspapers such as the News of the World. From sexually debauched aristocrat it is only a short step to the image of a Satanically depraved aristo, especially as this century has seen a gradual decline in traditional religious observance and a resurgence of heterodox beliefs including occultism.

Although many Christians were active in the early socialist movements, socialism, at least in the early 19th century, contained a powerful secularist, anti-Christian component. Robert Owen was a spiritualist, and many of his political disciples also adopted his religious beliefs. Thomas Spence, another Utopian theorist, had moved from Christianity to deism, while the Communists, even before Marx, had a militantly atheist weltanschauung. British Socialism never achieved the status of continental Social Democracy, which between the 1890s and the 1930s formed an alternative society (10) in Germany and Austria, but did tend “to become a complete way of life, which largely superseded the churches in their social role”. (11) The political inclinations of the urban working class can, however, be overstated. Socialism was always a minority creed in the 19th century, and the long reign of Mrs Thatcher, among others, has shown that a large number, even the majority, of the working class voted Conservative.

There is a distinct social break between town and country which has informed many right-wing movements this century. The Nazis’ earliest electoral victory was in the rural area of Schleswig-Holstein where they represented the grievances of the farming community hit by the agricultural crisis of the 1920s. To them, the Nazis presented the image of upright German peasants bringing healthy village values to socialist Babylons such as Berlin. In Italy Fascism had earlier gained massive support in primarily agricultural areas such as Ferrara for similar reasons. Although it would be wrong to equate Evangelicalism and Christian Fundamentalism with Fascism, they do have certain traits in common. In the Satanism scare, both represent beleaguered social groups seeking simple, emotional solutions to complex problems, and fear and hostility towards organised labour has become a marked feature of American Evangelicalism and forms a strong component of their political beliefs.

Evangelicals are far more likely to view Satan as a concrete, tangible being, in contrast to more mainstream Christians

Any discussion of the Satanism scare has to include the American dimension. Evangelicals are far more likely to view Satan as a concrete, tangible being, in contrast to more mainstream Christians who may regard Auld Clootie as an impersonal force or a metaphor for evil acts and impulses at the personal level. Much Evangelical literature and ideology is American in origin, exported through tapes and the comics produced by the notorious Chick Publications, amongst others. Here, the class nature of much of the Evangelicals’ world view is quite clear. There’s a marked hostility to big business, especially the global financial capital as personified by the Rothschilds, while working-class movements such as trade unions, socialism, communism and anarchism are also denounced as part of Satan’s dominion.

Although these attitudes are more commonly associated with the Protestant white supremacist component in the militia movement, politically Evangelicalism is markedly conservative. The heartland of American Evangelicalism is, of course, in the Deep South, and it was primarily a creed of poor whites. Before the 1970s, 43.7% of Evangelicals lived in towns with fewer than 2,500 inhabitants, (12) and in 1978, 25.3% of them earned less than $4,000 a year. (13) This agrarian background strongly influences their political conceptions. Most still seem to see the world in essentially 17th-century terms. The ideal communities are those like their own, small towns run by paternalistic industrialists or self-reliant farmers which feel threatened by big business on the one hand and organised labour on the other. Many of the sects originally settled in America to escape persecution in Europe, and the poverty of their members would ensure that they absorbed the Biblical hostility to the wealthy and powerful without necessarily turning towards secular ideologies such as socialism. This base in America’s agrarian heartland may also contribute a deep-seated suspicion of urban politics which may, in its turn, account for the conception of Satanism as especially prevalent amongst the urban poor.

Despite the occult trappings of the Satanism scare, it is poverty, especially urban poverty, that forms the motor for the panic. Roger Sandell’s article mentioned above noted the similarity between the modern witch hunters’ attitudes to the urban poor and that of the Victorian missionaries to their slums. The continuity of such ideas reflects both concerns with urban decay and the similarity of housing policies in Britain and America, as opposed to continental Europe. The post-war response to the housing crisis in Britain and America has been to build estates of reasonably well provided suburbs while leaving the inner cities to decay. Continental countries, however, conceived the suburbs in terms of solely providing housing, concentrating amenities and industry in the centre of towns. Thus, discussions of urban poverty in Britain almost invariably centre around inner-city decline, in contrast to the Continent, where it is the banlieu which are the deprived areas.

This similarity, however superficial, between Britain and America could partially explain why the Satanism scare, although certainly not unknown on the Continent, has translated most easily into the British context. In these terms, the Satanic panic represents a confrontation between traditional, agrarian values and those of the modern, secular, urban environment.

The Satanism scare gained prominence in the early 1980s after the publication of the book Michelle Remembers and a gestation period in the 1970s when, as all good Magonians will recall, Satanists and other occult groups were held responsible for the cattle mutilations plaguing the Midwest. It is not coincidental that these panics began when the West was entering a period of economic crisis which result in political and economic retrenchment. Most of those holding traditional moral views in America come from the same background as the Evangelicals and Fundamentalists, the membership of both groups overlapping to a large extent.

They are generally people from the small towns and bluecollar areas of the big cities, frequently poorly educated, and “at greatest risk of losing their jobs due to economic dislocation”. (14) These people feel powerless against a political order dominated by the wealthy and powerful. These feelings of alienation have been growing steadily since the 1960s. In 1986, 60 per cent of Americans expressed feelings of powerlessness in contrast to only 29 per cent in 1966. (15) Periods of economic stagnation produce a powerful need among people to find a scapegoat for their problems.

Racism is a typical example of this need. It has, for example, been noted that the areas of America which have a higher incidence of racist behaviour are those where there is a great disparity of income amongst the white population. In the parts of the country where there is less difference in income, racist incidents are far less frequent. (16)

And the gap between rich and poor in America and Europe is increasing. Faced with economic and military challenges from outside, the West is once again turning in on itself seeking scapegoats for its decline. The political and economic elites against whom so much animosity is focused are especially suitable for this role as their ethical values are frequently at variance with those of the majority of the working class, especially over issues such as abortion, sexual permissiveness and homosexuality. The Financial Times noted some time ago that large sections of the American population had still not caught up with the sixties. In Britain newspapers like the Daily Mail regularly attack the “liberal establishment” for promoting, among other things, homosexuality and the decline of family values.

The result is that there is a general, widespread belief in the moral decline of society. According to Gallup polls, the percentage of Americans expressing dissatisfaction with current standards of behaviour in 1987 was 71 per cent, a massive jump from the 58 per cent who held the same views in 1963. (17) Economic hardship can produce marital strife and family breakdown, but the Evangelicals’ belief in the innate virtue of the free market and that morals are purely a matter of private responsibility divorced from social or economic influences prevents them from taking a pragmatic approach to these problems based on state intervention. A scapegoat in the form of a Satanic other becomes a necessity as they are unable to countenance any failing in free-market economics as a system.

By and large, the Evangelicals still preach a prosperity gospel which would have been familiar to the Victorian missionaries, in which economic well being follows as a result of God’s favour to His followers. If this does not occur, then it can only be that the worshipper is either being punished for his sins, an explanation some Evangelicals found for the Great Depression, or that there are Satanic enemies working against them. In the cultural sphere, this increased distrust of big business is particularly clear.

The square jawed heroes firm in body and values played by Cary Grant and James Stewart were honest businessmen. Now those days are gone, and businessmen are now frequently the villains, such as the corrupt executives of OCP in RoboCop, and the Company in Alien. In Dracula (1972) they’re explicitly Satanic. This memorable little flick from the Hammer stable had Dracula himself as the leader of a multinational corporation leading a Satanic cabal of businessmen dedicated to the extermination of humanity. If ever there was an explicit metaphor for contemporary attitudes, it was that. The rumours surrounding many big companies appeared after that little epic, however.

The rumours by and large began as a response to concrete concerns about the influence of various new religious movements which first emerged in the sixties. The rumour about Proctor and Gamble first emerged in the mid eighties, with the difference that the cult running the company was supposed to be the Unification Church (‘Moonies’), which had a more obvious logic considering the company’s logo is a Man in the Moon. This then evolved into the far more powerful and persistent version which dogs the company today. Other rumours about companies include the belief that Marlboro cigarettes are involved in the Ku Klux Klan, and that McDonalds’ supports the IRA. The IRA does indeed turn up in the deductions on their American staff’s payslips, but it’s a pension scheme called Individual Retirement Account rather than any Irish terrorist group.

These rumours are expressions of distrust of big business, but the link to secular organisations has allowed them to escape accusations of Satanism, while, of course, being part of the climate which makes such accusations plausible.

It was the 1980s which saw a number of financial scandals tarnish the reputation of American big business. These included the Savings and Loans scandals under the Reagan administration, and the deregulation of the banking system which led to many farmers in the mid-West facing bankruptcy. These events are parallelled in Britain by the numerous “fat cat” managers attacked in the press, who have awarded themselves colossal pay rises after closing down factories and sacking many of their work force.

The Satanism scare’s historical precedents in medieval anti-Semitism and 19th-century panics about Freemasonry are particularly significant. The Jews in medieval Europe formed an urban, mercantile class amongst primarily agricultural societies. Hatred of the Jews was present throughout the Middle Ages, but became particularly vehement during periods of economic and social crisis, such as the Black Death when they were accused of poisoning the wells. As the magnates’ consumption exceeded their income from taxation, many became indebted to Jewish moneylenders. In the 16th and 17th centuries the schuetzjuden, or protected Jews, were a feature of many German noble courts. The image of the Jews as a demonic force corrupting Christendom through its control of financial capital became a strong one.

This prejudice swiftly became passed to the Freemasons after the French Revolution. The first publications to point a finger at them were the Abbe Barruel’s Memoirs of the History of Jacobinism and Proofs of a Conspiracy, published at the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th respectively. Freemasonry was an obvious suspect as the secrecy of its meetings meant that it became the conduit for dangerously subversive ideas, such as democracy and freedom of conscience. The alleged subversive nature of Freemasonry was given a verisimilitude with the attempts by Adam Weishaupt’s Illuminati to infiltrate them in the late 18th century. Although this conspiracy was stamped out, suspicions of its survival continue, largely as a result of it being used as a term of abuse by some of the American Founding Fathers for their political opponents.

Nesta Webster declared that the Freemasons were the true successors to the Jewish threat as at their core were the mystic secrets of the Jewish cabbalah and the Jewish programme to destroy the Christian, aristocratic order and replace it with bourgeois, atheistic democracy.

To Nesta Webster, a novelist who contributed much to British and American Fascist ideology, the relationships between Judaism, Freemasonry and the French and Russian Revolutions were obvious. Partly drawing on information given to her by the Duc d’Orleans (despite him being dead for over a hundred years) she declared that the Freemasons were the true successors to the Jewish threat as at their core were the mystic secrets of the Jewish cabbalah and the Jewish programme to destroy the Christian, aristocratic order and replace it with bourgeois, atheistic democracy.

Although it’s easy to dismiss such fears as nonsense, they are remarkably persistent. The past decade has seen a resurgence of fears surrounding Freemasonry, beginning with the murder of Roberto Calvi and the publication of books such as Inside the Brotherhood. There have even been claims that Masons are secretly Satanists, the god they worship being allegedly YahBulOn, a mixture of the Hebrew Yahweh, the Egyptian god On, and the Semitic Baal, the origin of the Beelzebub of the Bible. Initiation into the upper levels of Freemasonry is supposed to involve the ritual inversion and breaking of a cross as in admission to a Satanist coven. Freemasonry is thus popularly perceived as a Satanic cult.

From that point on, it is only a short step to the gangs of Satanic businessmen conjured up by the Satan hunters. More justified concerns over undue influence of the Freemasons in the business community, judiciary and police force are still very much part of contemporary British politics and are the subject of parliamentary enquiry before which several prominent Freemasons have appeared. Finally, in the extreme theorising of the American Right, both financial capital and labour movements are linked in a Satanic conspiracy. Noting the Rothschilds were important backers of the United Nations, and that many big industrialists, such as Armand Hammer, have shown some sympathy for left-wing causes, it’s now argued, following Hitler, that the Rothschilds are using labour movements to create the one world state, under Satan’s direction, of course. Other permutations of this tale involve the Vatican, but the story is, lamentably, much the same.

Regardless of this, it appears that the main forces driving the Satanism scare are economic pressures as they affect an impoverished, rural mittelstand which, in the absence of an appropriate secular ideology, uses the Bible to articulate its intense discontent. This explains its hostility to both organised labour movements and suspicion of extreme wealth, the images of which are appropriated ultimately from both the French Decadence and propaganda material from the French Revolution.

This scare has become plausible owing to recent government scandals, such as Watergate, economic decline due to globalisation of capital and the clandestine activities of fringe religious organisations. Other groups have been able to seize on aspects of it as American and Western culture breaks down into a collection of competing social and ideological communities motivated by the ‘culture of complaint’. Secular feminists, for example, may reject the religious aspect of the Satanism scare, but be convinced by the tales of paedophilia and rape through the concern with male violence against women and children.

These economic and social pressures, extend far outside the milieu of American Evangelism. The rock and occult groups, by no means synonymous, have also felt them. Much of the panic revolves around youths corrupted by ‘Devil’ rock, by which is meant Black Metal and Gothic Rock, which is permeated with demonic and vampiric imagery. This is a curious parallel to their own movements, a sort of Jungian shadow of American Evangelism. It’s been noted that as a symbol of hostility to authority, “it is during the periods of greatest social flux that the vampire – especially the woman vampire – seems to thrive”. (18) The problem is to channel this discontent into more constructive ideologies.

  1. Matthew, 8:10
  2. Matthew, 22:21
  3. Romans, 13:1-8
  4. Luke, 16:19-31
  5. Matthew, 18:18-30
  6. Luke, 6:20
  7. Luke, 6:24
  8. Parrinder, G. African Mythology, Hamlyn, 1967, 35
  9. Hough, P. Witchcraft: A Strange Conflict, Lutterworth, 1991, 191
  10. McLeod, H. Religion and the Working Class in Nineteenth Century Britain, MacMillan, 1984, 56
  11. Ibid.
  12. Kepel, G. The Revenge of God, Polity Press, 1994, 123
  13. Ibid.
  14. Victor, J.S. Satanic Panic: The Creation of a Contemporary Legend, Open Court, 1993, 193
  15. Ibid.
  16. Ibid., 199
  17. Ibid., 187
  18. Serif, C. The Vampire in 19th Century Literature, Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1988, 151, cited in Smith, P. (ed.) Contemporary Legend, Vol. 3, Hisarlik Press, 1993, 151