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LANNING'S GUIDE TO ALLEGATIONS OF CHILDHOOD RITUAL ABUSE, PART 4

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DEFINITIONS

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 Catholicism. (3)

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 African paganism.

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 the gullible.

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" ritual.

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 may increase.

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 "supernatural" powers.

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 satanic.

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 gratification".

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" by 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.

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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 Christian school.
-- 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 such work.
-- 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.

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OCRT Notes:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. We have heard allegations of ritual abuse by Quakers and Jehovah Witnesses at recent seminars!

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Return to the OCRT home page, or 
the "Not So Spiritual" page, or 
the "Ritual Abuse Studies" page, or 
the "FBI Report" page.