LANNING'S GUIDE TO ALLEGATIONS
OF CHILDHOOD RITUAL ABUSE, PART 4
The words "satanic", "occult", and "ritual" are often used interchangeably.
It is difficult to define "satanism" precisely. No attempt will be made to
do so here However, it is important to realize that, for some people, any
religious belief system other than their own is "satanic". The Ayatollah
Khomeini and Saddam Hussein referred to the United States as the "Great
Satan". In the British Parliament a Protestant leader called the Pope the
Antichrist. In a book (1) titled Prepare For War (1987), Rebecca Brown,
M.D. has a chapter entitled "Is Roman Catholicism Witchcraft?"
Dr. Brown also lists among the "doorways" to satanic power and/or demon
infestation the following: fortune tellers, horoscopes, fraternity oaths,
vegetarianism, yoga, self-hypnosis, relaxation tapes, acupuncture,
biofeedback, fantasy role-playing games, adultery, homosexuality,
pornography, judo, karate, and rock music. Dr. Brown states that
rock music "was a carefully masterminded plan by none other than Satan
himself" (p. 84). The ideas expressed in this book may seem extreme and
even humorous. This book, however, has been recommended as a serious
reference in law enforcement training material on this topic.
In books, lectures, handout material, and conversations, I have heard all
of the following referred to as satanism:
Church of Satan, Ordo Templi Orientis, Temple of Set, Demonology, Witchcraft,
Occult, Paganism, Santeria, Voodoo, Rosicrucians, Freemasonry, Knights
Templar, Stoner Gangs, Heavy Metal Music, Rock Music, KKK, Nazis, Skinheads.
Scientology, Unification Church, The Way, Hare Krishna, Rajneesh, Religious
Cults, New Age, Astrology, Channeling, Transcendental Meditation, Holistic
Medicine, Buddhism, Hinduism, Mormonism, Islam, Orthodox Church, Roman
At law enforcement training conferences, it is witchcraft, santeria,
paganism, and the occult that are most often referred to as forms of
satanism. It may be a matter of definition, but these things are not
necessarily the same as traditional satanism. The worship of lunar
goddesses and nature and the practice of fertility rituals are not satanism. Santeria is a combination of 17th century Roman Catholicism and
Occult means simply "hidden". All unreported or unsolved crimes might be
regarded as occult, but in this context the term refers to the action or
influence of supernatural powers, some secret knowledge of them, or an
interest in paranormal phenomena, and does not imply satanism, evil,
wrongdoing, or crime. Indeed, historically, the principal crimes deserving
of consideration as "occult crimes" are the frauds perpetrated by faith
healers, fortune tellers and "psychics" who for a fee claim cures, arrange
visitations with dead loved ones, and commit other financial crimes against
Many individuals define satanism from a totally Christian perspective,
using this word to describe the power of evil in the world. With this
definition, any crimes, especially those which are particularly bizarre,
repulsive, or cruel, can be viewed as satanic in nature. Yet it is just as
difficult to precisely define satanism as it is to precisely define
Christianity or any complex spiritual belief system.
a. WHAT IS RITUAL?
The biggest confusion is over the word "ritual". During training
conferences on this topic, ritual almost always comes to mean "satanic" or
at least "spiritual". "Ritual" can refer to a prescribed religious
ceremony, but in its broader meaning refers to any customarily-repeated act
or series of acts. The need to repeat these acts can be cultural, sexual,
or psychological as well as spiritual.
Cultural rituals could include such things as what a family eats on
Thanksgiving Day, or when and how presents are opened at Christmas. The
initiation ceremonies of fraternities, sororities, gangs, and other social
clubs are other examples of cultural rituals.
Since 1972 I have lectured about sexual ritual, which is nothing more than
repeatedly engaging in an act or series of acts in a certain manner because
of a *sexual* need. In order to become aroused and/or gratified, a person
must engage in the act in a certain way. This sexual ritual can include
such things as the physical characteristics, age, or gender of the victim,
the particular sequence of acts, the bringing or taking of specific
objects, and the use of certain words or phrases. This is more than the
concept of M.O. (Method of Operation) known to most police officers. M.O.
is something done by an offender because it works. Sexual ritual is
something done by an offender because of a need. Deviant acts, such as
urinating on, defecating on, or even eviscerating a victim, are far more
likely to be the result of sexual ritual than religious or "satanic"
From a criminal investigative perspective, two other forms of ritualism
must be recognized. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental
Disorders (DSM-III-R) (APA, 1987) defines "Obsessive- Compulsive Disorder"
as "repetitive, purposeful, and intentional behaviors that are performed in
response to an obsession, or according to certain rules or in a stereotyped
fashion" (p. 247). Such compulsive behavior frequently involves rituals.
Although such behavior usually involves noncriminal activity such as
excessive hand washing or checking that doors are locked, occasionally
compulsive ritualism can be part of criminal activity. Certain gamblers or
firesetters, for example, are thought by some authorities to be motivated
in part through such compulsions. Ritual can also stem from psychotic
hallucinations and delusions. A crime can be committed in a precise manner
because a voice told the offender to do it that way or because a divine
mission required it.
To make this more confusing, cultural, religious, sexual, and psychological
ritual can overlap. Some psychotic people are preoccupied with religious
delusions and hear the voice of God or Satan telling them to do things of a
religious nature. Offenders who feel little, if any, guilt over their
crimes may need little justification for their antisocial behavior. As
human beings, however, they may have fears, concerns, and anxiety over
getting away with their criminal acts. It is difficult to pray to God for
success in doing things that are against His Commandments. A negative
spiritual belief system may fulfill their human need for assistance from
and belief in a greater power or to deal with their superstitions.
Compulsive ritualism (e.g., excessive cleanliness or fear of disease) can
be introduced into sexual behavior. Even many "normal" people have a need
for order and predictability and therefore may engage in family or work
rituals. Under stress or in times of change, this need for order and ritual
Ritual crime may fulfill the cultural, spiritual, sexual, and psychological
needs of an offender. Crimes may be ritualistically motivated or may have
ritualistic elements. The ritual behavior may also fulfill basic criminal
needs to manipulate victims, get rid of rivals, send a message to enemies,
and intimidate co-conspirators. The leaders of a group may want to play
upon the beliefs and superstitions of those around them and try to convince
accomplices and enemies that they, the leaders, have special or
The important point for the criminal investigator is to realize that most
ritualistic criminal behavior is not motivated simply by satanic or any
religious ceremonies. At some conferences, presenters have attempted to
make an issue of distinguishing between "ritual", "ritualized", and
"ritualistic" abuse of children. These subtle distinctions, however, seem
to be of no significant value to the criminal investigator.
b. WHAT IS "RITUAL" CHILD ABUSE?
I cannot define "ritual child abuse" precisely and prefer not to use the
term. I am frequently forced to use it (as throughout this discussion) so
that people will have some idea what I am discussing. Use of the term,
however, is confusing, misleading, and counterproductive. The newer term
"satanic ritual abuse" (abbreviated "SRA") is even worse. Certain
observations, however, are important for investigative understanding.
Most people today use the term to refer to abuse of children that is part
of some evil spiritual belief system, which almost by definition must be
Dr. Lawrence Pazder, coauthor of Michelle Remembers, (2) defines
"ritualized abuse of children" as "repeated physical, emotional,
mental, and spiritual assaults combined with a systematic use of symbols and
secret ceremonies designed to turn a child against itself, family, society,
and God" (presentation, Richmond, Va., May 7,1987). He also states that
"the sexual assault has ritualistic meaning and is not for sexual
This definition may have value for academics, sociologists, and therapists,
but it creates potential problems for law enforcement. Certain acts engaged
in with children (i.e. kissing, touching, appearing naked, etc.) may be
criminal if performed for sexual gratification. If the ritualistic acts
were in fact performed for spiritual indoctrination, potential prosecution
can be jeopardized, particularly if the acts can be defended as
constitutionally protected religious expression. The mutilation of a baby's
genitals for sadistic sexual pleasure is a crime. The circumcision of a
baby's genitals for religious reasons is most likely not a crime. The
intent of the acts is important for criminal prosecution.
Not all spiritually motivated ritualistic activity is satanic. Santeria,
witchcraft, voodoo, and most religious cults are not satanism. In fact,
most spiritually- or religiously-based abuse of children has nothing to do
with satanism. Most child abuse that could be termed "ritualistic"
various definitions is more likely to be physical and psychological rather
than sexual in nature. If a distinction needs to be made between satanic
and nonsatanic child abuse, the indicators for that distinction must be
related to specific satanic symbols, artifacts, or doctrine rather than the
mere presence of any ritualistic element.
Not all such ritualistic activity with a child is a crime. Almost all
parents with religious beliefs indoctrinate their children into that belief
system. Is male circumcision for religious reasons child abuse? Is the
religious circumcision of females child abuse? Does having a child kneel on
a hard floor reciting the rosary constitute child abuse? Does having a
child chant a satanic prayer or attend a black mass constitute child abuse?
Does a religious belief in corporal punishment constitute child abuse? Does
group care of children in a commune or cult constitute child abuse? Does
the fact that any acts in question were performed with parental permission
affect the nature of the crime? Many ritualistic acts, whether satanic or
not, are simply not crimes. To open the Pandora's box of labeling child
abuse as "ritualistic" simply because it involves a spiritual belief system
means to apply the definition to all acts by all spiritual belief systems.
The day may come when many in the forefront of concern about ritual abuse
will regret they opened the box.
When a victim describes and investigation corroborates what sounds like
ritualistic activity. several possibilities must be considered. The
ritualistic activity may be part of the excessive religiosity of mentally
disturbed, even psychotic offenders. It may be a misunderstood part of
sexual ritual. The ritualistic activity may be incidental to any real
abuse. The offender may be involved in ritualistic activity with a child
and also may be abusing a child, but one may have little or nothing to do
with the other.
The offender may be deliberately engaging in ritualistic activity with a
child as part of child abuse and exploitation. The motivation, however, may
be not to indoctrinate the child into a belief system, but to lower the
inhibitions of, control, manipulate, and/or confuse the child. In all the
turmoil over this issue, it would be very effective strategy for any child
molester deliberately to introduce ritualistic elements into his crime in
order to confuse the child and therefore the criminal justice system. This
would, however, make the activity M.O. and not ritual.
The ritualistic activity and the child abuse may be integral parts of some
spiritual belief system. In that case the greatest risk is to the children
of the practitioners. But this is true of all cults and religions, not just
satanic cults. A high potential of abuse exists for any children raised in
a group isolated from the mainstream of society, especially if the group
has a charismatic leader whose orders are unquestioned and blindly obeyed
by the members. Sex, money, and power are often the main motivations of the
leaders of such cults.
c. WHAT MAKES A CRIME SATANIC, OCCULT, OR RITUALISTIC?
Some would answer that it is the offender's spiritual beliefs or membership
in a cult or church. If that is the criterion, why not label the crimes
committed by Protestants, Catholics, and Jews in the same way? Are the
atrocities of Jim Jones in Guyana Christian crimes?
Some would answer that it is the presence of certain symbols in the
possession or home of the perpetrator. What does it mean then to find a
crucifix, Bible, or rosary in the possession or home of a bank robber,
embezzler, child molester, or murderer? If different criminals possess the
same symbols, are they necessarily part of one big conspiracy?
Others would answer that it is the presence of certain symbols such as pentagrams, inverted crosses,
and the number 666 at the crime scene. What does it mean
then to find a cross spray painted on a wall or carved into the body of a
victim? What does it mean for a perpetrator, as in one recent case profiled
by my Unit, to leave a Bible tied to his murder victim? What about the
possibility that an offender deliberately left such symbols to make it look
like a "satanic" crime?
Some would argue that it is the bizarreness or cruelness of the crime: body
mutilation, amputation, drinking of blood, eating of flesh, use of urine or
feces. Does this mean that all individuals involved in lust murder, sadism,
vampirism, cannibalism, urophilia, and coprophilia are satanists or occult
practitioners? What does this say about the bizarre crimes of psychotic
killers such as Ed Gein or Richard Trenton Chase, both of whom mutilated
their victims as part of their psychotic delusions? Can a crime that is not
sexually deviant, bizarre, or exceptionally violent be satanic? Can white
collar crime be satanic?
A few might even answer that it is the fact that the crime was committed on
a date with satanic or occult significance (Halloween, May Eve, etc.) or
the fact that the perpetrator claims that Satan told him to commit the
crime. What does this mean for crimes committed on Thanksgiving or
Christmas? What does this say about crimes committed by perpetrators who
claim that God or Jesus told them to do it? One note of interest is the
fact that in handout and reference material I have collected, the number of
dates with satanic or occult significance ranges from 8 to 110. This is
compounded by the fact that it is sometimes stated that satanists can
celebrate these holidays on several days on either side of the official
date or that the birthdays of practitioners can also be holidays. The exact
names and exact dates of the holidays and the meaning of symbols listed may
also vary depending on who prepared the material The handout material is
often distributed without identifying the author or documenting the
original source of the information. It is then frequently photocopied by
attendees and passed on to other police officers with no one really knowing
its validity or origin.
Most, however, would probably answer that what makes a crime satanic,
occult, or ritualistic is the motivation for the crime. It is a crime that
is spiritually motivated by a religious belief system. How then do we label
the following true crimes?
-- Parents defy a court order and send their children to an unlicensed
-- Parents refuse to send their children to any school because they are
waiting for the second coming of Christ.
-- Parents beat their child to death because he or she will not follow
their Christian belief.
-- Parents violate child labor laws because they believe the Bible requires
-- Individuals bomb an abortion clinic or kidnap the doctor because their
religious belief system says abortion is murder.
-- A child molester reads the Bible to his victims in order to justify his
sex acts with them.
-- Parents refuse life-saving medical treatment for a child because of
their religious beliefs.
-- Parents starve and beat their child to death because their minister said
the child was possessed by demonic spirits.
Some people would argue that the Christians who committed the above crimes
misunderstood and distorted their religion while satanists who commit
crimes are following theirs. But who decides what constitutes a
misinterpretation of a religious belief system? The individuals who
committed the above-described crimes, however misguided, believed that they
were following their religion as they understood it. Religion was and is
used to justify such social behavior as the Crusades, the Inquisition,
Apartheid, segregation, and recent violence in Northern Ireland, India,
Lebanon and Nigeria.
Who decides exactly what "satanists" believe? In this country, we cannot
even agree on what Christians believe. At many law enforcement conferences
The Satanic Bible is used for this, and it is often contrasted or
compared with the Judeo-Christian Bible. The Satanic Bible is, in
essence, a short paperback book written by one man, Anton LaVey, in 1969.
To compare it to a book written by multiple authors over a period of
thousands of years is ridiculous, even ignoring the possibility of Divine
revelation in the Bible. What satanists believe certainly isn't limited to
other people's interpretation of a few books. More importantly it is
subject to some degree of interpretation by individual believers just as
Christianity is. Many admitted "satanists" claim they do not even believe
in God, the devil, or any supreme deity. The criminal behavior of one
person claiming belief in a religion does not necessarily imply guilt or
blame to others sharing that belief. In addition, simply claiming
membership in a religion does not necessarily make you a member.
The fact is that far more crime and child abuse has been committed by
zealots in the name of God, Jesus, Mohammed, and other mainstream religion
than has ever been committed in the name of Satan. Many people, including
myself, don't like that statement, but the truth of it is undeniable.
Although defining a crime as satanic, occult, or ritualistic would probably
involve a combination of the criteria set forth above, I have been unable
to clearly define such a crime. Each potential definition presents a
different set of problems when measured against an objective, rational, and
constitutional perspective. In a crime with multiple subjects, each
offender may have a different motivation for the same crime. Whose
motivation determines the label for the crime? It is difficult to count or
track something you cannot even define.
I have discovered, however, that the facts of so-called "satanic crimes"
are often significantly different from what is described at training
conferences or in the media. The actual involvement of satanism or the
occult in these cases usually turns out to be secondary, insignificant, or
nonexistent. Occult or ritual crime surveys done by the states of Michigan
(1990) and Virginia (1991) have only confirmed this "discovery". Some law
enforcement officers, unable to find serious "satanic" crime in their
communities, assume they are just lucky or vigilant and the serious
problems must be in other jurisdictions. The officers in the other
jurisdictions, also unable find it, assume the same.
Prepare For War and other books by Rebecca Brown have been exposed
by fellow Evangelical Christians as hoaxes. They are fictional novels -
sometimes referred to as "Christian Porn". She is no longer a medical doctor.
Her books still sell well at Evangelical Christian bookstores.
Michelle Remembers has been shown to be a hoax by three separate
investigations. The Satanic rituals in that book are based upon African
Native rituals, suitably demonized and exaggerated. It was the main trigger
that started the "Satanic Panic" circa 1980.
We have heard allegations of ritual abuse by Quakers and Jehovah Witnesses at recent seminars!
Return to the OCRT home page, or
"Not So Spiritual" page, or
"Ritual Abuse Studies" page, or
"FBI Report" page.