HISTORY OF SATANIC RITUAL ABUSE AND OTHER "URBAN FOLK TALES"
What is an urban folk tale?
These are a type of rumor that:
||involves unknown people (typically a friend of a friend)
||has been heard by almost everyone
||spreads very quickly
||is quite believable
||is of an event that never happened
Examples of urban folk tales
Some older examples of urban folk tales were:
||During the 17th and 18th century, stories circulated about large numbers of young white
women having been kidnapped by natives and badly abused.
||During the late 19th century, a series of small, anti-Roman Catholic books were written.
They described allegedly true accounts of events in convents, including the killing of
infants. Perhaps the most famous of the books was "The Adventures of Maria
Monk". This piece of hate literature was still being circulated in the
mid 1950's, at
least in Northern Ontario, Canada.
||During the early 20th century, books and pamphlets were circulated, describing how evil
foreigners were kidnapping young innocent girls who had left their farm to live in the
city. The stories involved allegedly true accounts of some of the thousands of girls who
were believed to have been lured into a life of prostitution.
Some typical modern urban folk tales are:
||Alligators in the New York city sewer system
||The couple that fell in love with a cute dog while on vacation, smuggled it back into
the US, and later found it to be a Mexican sewer rat
||Children cooking live cats in a microwave
||Evil people putting pins and razor blades in Halloween apples
||A terminally ill boy who wants to get into the Guinness Book of Records by collecting
the largest number of business cards in history.
Occasionally, some group will research one of these folk tales and show that it is a
This essay deals with religiously-motivated urban folk tales.
The Satanic cult legend
One of the most tenacious hoax involves imaginary evil religious groups who engage in
the ritual murder of children. This story describes an evil religious cult which is
engaging in degenerate sexual orgies, kidnapping babies, conducting human sacrifices,
drinking blood and eating the flesh of their victims. It has many points of similarities
to Urban Folk Tales: many people believe it to be true, even though it is not. This
tale differs somewhat from most urban folk tales, because:
||it has lasted for almost two millennia;
||the group blamed for the abuse changed continually through the centuries (from
Christians in the late first century CE to Satanists today);
||it surfaces from time to time, typically in rural areas, and can trigger a Satanic
panic - a mass hysteria in which a many adults fear that their children are in
History of the legend
This belief is directly traceable back to the first few centuries CE when the early
Christians were in conflict with the Roman authorities. The government created false
rumors in order to facilitate persecution of the Church:
||They twisted elements of the Eucharist and said that the wine and wafer were really the
blood and flesh of ritually killed babies.
||They noted that Christians often picked up newborns who had been abandoned to die of
exposure. The Christians then placed the babies in loving families to be raised. The rumor
implied that they were really collecting babies for human sacrifice..
||They implied that the Agape (Love) Feasts were not group meals, but were really excuses
to engage in sexual orgies, incest, sexual abuse of children etc. [There appears to be
archaeological evidence that Gnostic Christians did engage in ritual sex; they regarded
semen as a sacred fluid and consecrated their status with it. However, their rituals
only involved adults, not children.]
Minicus Felix, a first century Christian writer, wrote a dialogue "Octavious,"
between a Pagan and a Christian. He had the Pagan repeat unfounded rumors
spread about Christians. One lie involved their behaviors at religious services. The
stories allege infant sacrifice, cannibalism and incestuous group sex:
"Now the story about the initiation of young novices is as much to be
detested as it is well known. An infant covered over with meal, that it may
deceive the unwary, is placed before him who is to be stained with their
rites: this infant is slain by the young pupil, who has been urged on as if
to harmless blows on the surface of the meal, with dark and secret wounds."
"Thirstily--O horror!--they lick up its blood; eagerly they divide its
limbs. By this victim they are pledged together; with this consciousness of
wickedness they are covenanted to mutual silence. Such sacred rites as these
are more foul than any sacrileges. And of their banqueting it is well known
all men speak of it everywhere; even the speech of our Cirtensian testifies
to it. On a solemn day they assemble at the feast, with all their children,
sisters, mothers, people of every sex and of every age. There, after much
feasting, when the fellowship has grown warm, and the fervor of incestuous
lust has grown hot with drunkenness, a dog that has been tied to the
chandelier is provoked, by throwing a small piece of offal beyond the length
of a line by which he is bound, to rush and spring; and thus the conscious
light being overturned and extinguished in the shameless darkness, the
connections of abominable lust involve them in the uncertainty of fate.
Although not all in fact, yet in consciousness all are alike incestuous,
since by the desire of all of them everything is sought for which can happen
in the act of each individual."
Later in the dialogue, Felix rejects these stories as unfounded.
The legend remained inactive for many centuries only to surface again shortly after the
end of the first millennium. Many people had expected the end of the world would occur in
1000 CE and that Jesus would return in triumph. They were bitterly disillusioned when life
continued as normal. Their anger was directed against the church, which retaliated by
dusting off the Roman rumor. This time, it was directed against heretics and other
dissenters, who were burned at the stake.
Between 1022 and 1792, the same lie was repeatedly applied against lepers, Jews,
heretics, Cathars, Knights Templar, and Witches. The
persecution of the Witches was particularly awful. It was directed at followers of the Old
Religion, the Wiccan religion of the ancient Celts. The killings lasted over three hundred
years and resulted in the torture and execution of hundreds of thousands of innocent
people; most were women; most died by burning at the stake (in Roman Catholic lands) or by
hanging (in Protestant countries). There were suggestions of the same rumor during the
French Revolution, when the aristocracy was accused of kidnapping, killing and drinking
the blood of poor children.
The legend remained relatively inactive during the 19th century, only to re-emerge in
the 1930's when it was used by Nazi Germany against the Jews and Gypsies. The story
remained unaltered; only the victimized group was changed. The lie was subsequently used
by the USSR against the Jews.
It emerged in 1980 in North America with the publishing of the book Michelle
Remembers, the first of the fraudulent Satanic Ritual Abuse (SRA)
survivor stories. (This book was later investigated by three separate groups and found to
be a hoax.) In 1994 the rumor was directed by the Bulgarian Orthodox Church
against Evangelical Christian missionaries who were accused of eating babies for
Future of the legend
The long-running belief in SRA is believed to be more related to our fascination with
evil, demonic activity rather than to any reality. Numerous government studies have
concluded that no Satanic conspiracy exists. Hard evidence has never been found.
However, belief in the legend continues. It is supported by:
||A widespread and increasing belief in the existence of the devil. The
General Social Survey (GSS) of the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) found
in 1991 that 65.4% of adult Americans believed that the Devil either probably or
definitely exists. This is the highest percentage of any
industrialized country other than Ireland. A Barna Research study in 2001 found
only 27% of the adult population strongly
disagrees that Satan is just a symbol of evil.
||Past discussion of SRA on TV talk shows
||Plenty of soft evidence, the memories of SRA survivors recovered during therapy
(one author conservatively estimates 1 million Americans per year enter therapy and
recover memories of childhood sexual abuse during the 1980s and 1990s; this implies about 200,000 per year recover
memories of SRA)
||Horror movies which often have a Satanic theme.
||Projection of parents' guilt onto a scapegoated group.
||Promotion of SRA during seminars and in books by "survivors" and conservative
Christians, now in rapid decline.
||The need to have a new enemy to fear, after the fall of Communism.
||General public anxiety over the imminent end of the world.
There is evidence that the legend's target is shifting. During the 1980's, Satanists were almost exclusively blamed for the abuse. SRA
promoters now realize that there are very few Satanists in North America - certainly not
enough to create all the abuse that is supposed to occur. Seminar leaders and authors are
now pointing at benign religious groups (New Agers, Quakers, small Christian and Jewish groups,
Wiccans, etc.), at
criminal gangs, at men's fraternal organizations, and at self-help/mutual support groups.
We hope that the legend will eventually fade from view - perhaps by the year 2010.
Several factors will contribute to this:
||Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christian authors and seminar leaders who are promoting
the SRA belief system are being increasingly exposed as frauds by fellow Christian and by
||30 years will have passed without any hard evidence of SRA. Eventually, people will
realize that it does not exist;
||A consensus will be reached within the mental health community about recovered
memories of SRA. We expect that memories revealed during therapy (involving guided
imagery, hypnotism, age regression, etc.) will be found to be false memories. These
are recollections which feel real, which are believed in by both therapist and client, but
which are of events that never happened.
Since the above essay was written in 1995, there is further evidence that the
"SRA" craze is diminishing. There appears to have been a major reduction in
accusations of childhood sexual abuse based on recovered memory therapy. With this
reduction has been a parallel reduction in accusations of SRA.
Authors and lecturers are
still making a good living today raising public hysteria about secret groups abusing
children. However, they are now accusing men's fraternal organizations, criminal gangs,
self-help groups and others, rather than focusing exclusively on Satanists.
The hoax still surfaces from time to time. The most recent case was in
Lewis Island, off the coast of Scotland. In 1993-OCT, several adults were
accused of conducting abusive Satanic rituals, and arrested. The charges
were without merit. More details.
Jan H Brunvand, "Curses! Broiled Again!: The Hottest Urbal Legends Going,"
W.W. Norton, (1990). Read a review
and/or order this book from Amazon.com
Jan H Brunvand, "The Choking Doberman and other 'New' Urban Legends",
W.W. Norton, (1986). Review and/or
Jan H Brunvand, "The Baby Train and Other Lusty Urban Legends", W.W.
Norton, (1994). Review and/or
Jan H Brunvand, "The Vanishing Hitchhiker: American Urban Legends and their
Meanings", W.W. Norton, (1989). Review and/or
Copyright 1995 to 2004 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Latest update: 2006-DEC-18
Author: B.A. Robinson