Blood libel myths:
Then and now
The Blood Libel Myth:
Fables surround us. Almost everyone has heard of zombies, but it is incredibly
difficult (perhaps impossible) to find a person who has actually seen one. It is said that
millions of people have seen UFOs. But nobody seems to have actually taken a clear,
detailed picture of one. Many people have heard of the full-size alligators living in the
New York City sewer system, but nobody seems to have come across one first-hand. Fables
also exist in the religious field. Perhaps the most common, and probably the most
long-lasting and hurtful is the "Blood Libel" myth.
Blood Libel is the accusation by "religious group A" that "religious
group B" is committing unbelievably despicable acts of ritual murder. Typically,
the story contains a number of riveting details:
||a victim is kidnapped by members of "religious group B."
||the victim is usually an innocent person. An infant, young child or a
blond blue-eyed teenage virgin girl are typical.
||the victim may be abused or tortured. They are ritually killed in order
to meet the requirements of the perpetrator's religion.
||in an act of cannibalism, the victim's body is eaten and/or the blood
||obscene sexual orgies (sometimes involving incest) are held during or after the ritual.
The contrast between the innocence of the victim and the evil nature of the ritual
killers makes a blood libel myth striking in its intensity.
Needless to say, "religious group B," the victims of the myth, are
typically a small faith group. Their persecutors are usually the dominant religion.
Sometimes the effect of one of these myths is rather amusing. Consider the teenage,
blond, virgin women who dyed their hair black on Thursday the 12th so that they would not
be kidnapped, mutilated and killed by non-existent Satanic cultists
on Friday the 13th. But other times it has led to the trial and imprisonment
of innocent people - thrown in jail for crimes that never even happened. And it has
also resulted in past mass exterminations of followers of minority religions.
This basic fable has been flourishing over the past 2 millennia. In each era and each
country where it surfaces, details are often added to or subtracted from the basic story
line. Sometimes the myth will disappear for decades and even centuries, only to reappear
later in another part of the world.
A few examples are:
||Group A (Accusers)
||Group B (Victims)
|1st century BCE
||Jews in Palestine
|2nd century CE
|12th century and later
||Followers of Judaism
|15th to 18th century
||Witches and other heretics
|19th century and later
||Christians, Nazis, Communists
||Jews, viewed as a race; Roma (Gypsies)
|1980's and later
||Fundamentalist Christians, feminists
||Wiccans, Druids &
other Neopagans and nonexistent evil, Satanic cultists,
||Bulgarian Orthodox Church
||Protestant Evangelical missionaries
|1980's & 1990's
||A small minority of Christians; mainly Fundamentalist
||Wiccans, Druids &
||A minority of Muslims
Of course, the above table does not imply that all of Group A
are or were spreading a blood libel rumor about all of Group B.
But there have been enough accusations to convince a sizable fraction of the population of
the truth of the rumor. For example, a public opinion poll in Utah revealed that 90% of
the population believed in evil Satanic cults ritually abusing children.
Similar Blood Libel Myths, Separated by 18 Centuries:
||Pagans vs. Christians during the 2nd Century CE: Here, the official religion of
the Roman Empire was Roman Paganism. The victims were the early Christians. |
Christians as an evil, underground, abusive religious group were well documented during
the early history of the Christian church. The government promoted a myth that the
Christians kidnapped babies, ritually killed them, drank their blood, ate their flesh and
engaged in degenerate sexual practices, including incest. The myth was mainly based on
inaccurate understandings of three Christian activities:
||In Roman society at the time, an infant was traditionally left exposed, outside the
home, shortly after birth. The father had the option of bringing it into the house and
accepting responsibility for its upbringing, or of abandoning it to die. Some Christians
regularly sought out abandoned infants, adopted them, and thereby saved their lives. The
myth assumed that the babies were routinely collected for the purpose of ritually
murdering them in later Christian celebrations
||The communion ritual in which Christians consumed wine and bread, with the belief that
it had been transformed into the actual blood and body of Christ. Here, the rumor implied
that real blood and body parts were used during the ritual, presumably obtained by human
||The practice of early Christians to meet socially, and share a meal. Those spreading the
rumor implied that these were sexual orgies.
||Christians vs. Jews from 1144 CE to the
early 20th century: Christians historically blamed Jews for the
judicial murder of Yeshua of Nazareth (Jesus Christ). They noted that
the "...last meal before his crucifixion had been the Passover seder..."
They created the fiction that "at every Passover the Jews re-enacted
this crucifixion with yet another innocent Christian victim. The
original victims of the accusation had become the accusers of a new
victim." 1 This myth was
responsible for the execution of many hundreds of Jews during the
Middle Ages and up into the 20th century. It formed part of the
foundation upon which Hitler was able to build his plan to exterminate
all Jews in Europe - the Nazi Holocaust.|
||Christians and others vs. Neopagans and others during the 1980's and early 1990's: Here,
the main perpetrators of the blood libel myth were some Christians, feminists and police
officers. (All of the promoters of this myth who were primarily motivated by their
religious beliefs appear to be conservative Christians. The myth appears to be an
outgrowth of belief in Satan as an evil entity. However, it is quite possible that we have
missed some mainline or liberal Christians involved in the movement.) The targeted victims
were perceived as evil followers of an international, criminal, underground cult of Satan
worshipers. Such cultists do not exist. However, conservative Christians often do not
differentiate between Satan worship, and other, unrelated religions. So, they have lots of
groups to victimize. R.V. Canning of the FBI commented in a 1992
report: "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." To this list, can be added Wicca,
Druidism, various other Neopagan faiths,
Goddess Worship, a number of 12 step self help organizations
such as Alcoholic Anonymous, and even the Society of Friends
(Quakers). This modern form of blood libel myth is called Satanic Ritual Abuse or
Sadistic Ritual Abuse (SRA).|
There were no documented cases of SRA in this century before 1980, when the first SRA
"survivor" book, Michelle Remembers, was published. It described
horrendous sexual and physical abuse allegedly suffered by the co-author, Michelle Smith.
She described perpetrators as Satanists who felt that the pain inflicted upon their
victims increased their black magical powers. The group also allegedly engaged in human
sacrifice and cannibalism. During the following decade, Recovered Memory
Therapy (RMT) became increasingly common among psychiatrists, psychologists, and other
therapists. Hundreds of thousands of adult recovered memories of severe sexual abuse
during childhood. About one in 7 of them recovered memories of SRA. Thousands of children
suffered from implanted memories of ritual abuse in day cares,
preschools, Sunday schools, etc.
Three separate investigations of Michelle Remembers have proven it to be a hoax.
Other studies by Christian ministries have shown that similar books by other authors are
also frauds. RMT is now believed by many therapists to often generate false memories of
events that never happened. The entire SRA movement is dying because almost two decades
have passed with a complete lack of hard evidence showing that anybody has ever been
abused or killed by Satanists.
The legacy of this Satanic and RMT Panic is:
||one known lynching.
||untold thousands of SRA "survivors" who have been emotionally disabled by
||hundreds of innocent people thrown in jail for crimes that never happened.
||untold tens of thousands of demolished families of origin.
||thousands of children emotionally damaged by implanted memories of ritual abuse.
||A teenage male sentenced to be executed, largely because of
the jury's belief in the blood libel myth.
As blood libel myths go, North America in the 1980's and 1990's was at
least saved the mass murders of previous occurrences. Individuals were harmed;
some committed suicide. Families of origin were damaged. But few people were
Shari Schwartz, "Editor's Preface: The Making of a Martyr," at:
Copyright 2003 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Latest update: 2003-JUN-15
Author: B.A. Robinson