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16th Century Satanism:
a non-existent religion

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16th Century Satanism - Overview:

This form of Satanism was invented by the Roman Catholic Church in the 15th century CE, just prior to the time of the Witch burnings. It was heavily promoted by both Catholic and Protestant churches through the 16the century and beyond. The belief offered the neatest solution to the dilemma of theodicy -- the theological conflict caused by the presence of evil in the universe that was created by an all-loving, moral God. The Church theorized that Satan worship existed, was widespread, and was a massive threat to the established order. These beliefs gave the legal and moral justification for the Witch burnings (sometimes called the burning times or the female holocaust).

Many Christians today (particularly from the conservative wing of Protestantism) still believe that Satanism exists. However, it is an imaginary religion that either does not exist in reality, or is extremely rarely practiced. Law enforcement organizations have been searching for some scrap of evidence of its existence since the "Satanic Panics" of the 1980s to the mid 1990s, without success.

16th century Satanism - origins:

Two Dominican priests, Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger wrote a book circa 1486 CE called: The Malleus Maleficarum (The Witches' Hammer). It became the main reference text for the genocide. They wrote that Satanists:

bullet Are mostly women because they considered gender is more impressionable, more perfidious, more carnal, more vengeful, and (intellectually) more like children than are men. God, being male, has mostly preserved men from heresy;
bullet Kill, bewitch and induce plagues in animals;
bullet Stop cows from giving milk;
bullet Cause impotence, sterility, abortions and miscarriages;
bullet Ride at night on broomsticks to meet in the forest to engage in sexual orgies;
bullet Drink the blood of unbaptized infants. Devour infants' bodies, or convert them into soup, or bake them in an oven, or convert their bones into ritual instruments;
bullet Offer their own children to demons;
bullet Kill or place curses on people by simply looking at them, saying a phrase, causing lightning to strike them, blowing in their face, pushing pins into a wax doll made in the image of the victim, etc.;
bullet Beat, break, stab or step on a crucifix whenever they can. 1

A second reference text was Francesco Maria Guazzo's Compendium Maleficarum, which was written about 1620 CE. He described how Satan worshipers:

bullet Ride through the air on the back of a goat or a staff;
bullet Anoint themselves with magical oil and fly on their own;
bullet Anoint themselves with a cream or make a certain sign, and become invisible;
bullet Appear to change shape from human to animal and back;
bullet Change people and animals from male to female and back;
bullet Swear homage and obedience to Satan
bullet Received a Satanic brand on their bodies;
bullet Rejoice, dance, eat and drink in the presence of Satan who appeared at Satanic orgies in the form of a hideous and deformed black goat;
bullet Suffocated, pierced and killed their own infants, cut off their extremities, and cooked the remains. 2

The inquisitors tortured suspects until they were willing to confess to anything in order to end the pain. This produced abundant testimony for the court records as "evidence" of the existence of Satan worshipers. However, it is essentially all worthless.

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Later developments:

Near the end of the "Burning Times", the concept of the Black Mass was added to the church's belief system about Satanists. This was allegedly a parody on the Roman Catholic Mass. Urine and dirty water were substituted for wine; moldy bread or turnips replaced for the host. The Mass was said in the local language -- opposite to the Church's use of Latin at the time. Texts were read backwards. The cross would be spat upon and broken underfoot. Infants would be sacrificed.

The last European victim of the "Burning Times" was burned at the stake in 1792 in Poland. In South America, the Church continued to exterminate heretics by burning them alive, as late as the 1830's.

Public beliefs about Satanism coalesced into an imaginary religion that was the opposite to Christianity in every detail. These elements continue to surface today in conservative Christian anti-Satanic and anti-Wiccan hate literature.

16th century Satanism - Today:

Five centuries years later, many people believe that profoundly evil Satanists remain a great threat. In the State of Utah, a newspaper poll during the 1990's showed that about 90% of adults believe in the existence of Satanic groups who abuse and kill infants. Satanists are no longer believed to fly through the air on broomsticks or instantaneously vanish. But beliefs that Satanists engage in baby killing, selling one's soul to Satan, rituals involving a goat, breaking a cross or crucifix, even shape shifting between animal and human has been described by modern Fundamentalist or other Evangelical Christian authors. Many writers and seminar speakers may be completely unaware that most of their source material can be traced back to the texts used by the Renaissance Witch hunters. Outrageous claims have been made of as many as 60,000 ritual killings a year in North America, and of baby breeding prisons where young women are kept continually pregnant so that their infants can be taken and sacrificed. The concept of Satanism as being thoroughly anti-Christian has remained intact for centuries.

No criminal investigation in the past 300 years is known to have found hard evidence of Satanic Ritual Abuse (with the possible exception of a case in Greece during 1995). However, during the 1980s and early 1990s, many Americans and Europeans believe that a highly organized, secret, internationally controlled network of Satanists exists. Tens of millions of Americans believed that it is a major social threat, even though no physical evidence of its existence was ever found. Countless law officers have searched for this form of abuse for decades without success. The public's belief in Satanic Ritual Abuse was largely supported by thousands or tens of thousands of adults who have recovered what are believed to be false memories of abuse as a result of Recovered Memory Therapy. A second support for the belief occurred in the 1980's and early 1990's when many court cases were fought over what was believed to be ritual abuse of students in day care centers, pre-schools, baby-sitting services, church Sunday schools, etc. Young children disclosed stories of horrendous physical and sexual abuse. Much of it was ritual in nature. Hundreds of adults were convicted as perpetrators of MVMO (Multi-Victim, Multi-Offender) child abuse, and given long jail sentences. Research has since shown that the children's memories were probably of events that never happened. They arose as a result of repetitive and direct questioning. Such techniques have since been shown to generate false accusations. In almost all cases, the adults convicted of ritual abuse have had their cases reviewed and have been released from prison. An exception is the Massachusetts, where obviously innocent inmates continues to rot in jail -- for crimes that never happened -- until the mid 2000s.

There are many indicators that abusive Satanism either does not exist today or is extremely rare:

bullet Most of the beliefs and practices attributed to Satanism today can be traced to Kramer and Sprenger's book, the Witches Hammer.
bullet Many recent books which are allegedly written by ex-Satanists have been shown to be frauds.
bullet No book by an abusive Satanist describing their beliefs and rites, etc. has ever been written.
bullet Baby breeding camps could not be successfully hidden for decades.
bullet Various government studies and many hundreds of police investigations have failed to come up with hard evidence of human sacrifices or other Satanic ritual crimes.
bullet In those rare instances where stories of ritual murders have emerged in the press, the root motivation of the crime has turned out to be a psychotic mental illness.

A very small number of individuals have drawn on the vast amount of anti-Satanic literature written by Christian authors. They have created their own version of Satanism that does include an inverted Christian cross symbol, black masses, reciting Christian prayers backwards, etc. However, they seem to be isolated followers without any central organization. They do not engage in infant abuse, baby killing or any other criminal activities. Theirs is a religion that was inspired by and grew out of Christian hate literature.


  1. Montague Summers, "The Malleus Maleficarum of Kramer and Sprenger," Dover Publ. (Reprinted 1988).
  2. Francesco Maria Guazzo, "Compendium Maleficarum," Dover Publ. (Reprinted 1971).

Copyright 1997 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2009-OCT-27
Author: B.A. Robinson

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