A sequel to the “Satanic Panic?”

Kids and adults play together at the annual Summerstar pagan festival in Washington State. Photo by Dannelle Meyers Photography.

The people of New Forest, England, recently faced an unlikely scourge: an anonymous “whistleblower” going by the name of “Alice,” who claimed in several online forums that Rosicrucian and Wiccan practitioners in the area were sexually abusing children.

In one such posting, shared on ShameOnYou.mobi, she wrote:

There is the secret Wiccan group in New Forest, England. Praying to “witches” and the devil and worse torturing children for the sake of their sick “religion”. They film and make fotos, which they distribute on the net.

Their leader, a demented Nick ####, called “Your Highness” by the other cult members. He lives in Minstead, preaches in the local church and pretends to be the “good guy” next door. Privately he boasts to be “an important Mason”, “your Highness” and doing incredibly sick stuff to children in his garage. He also abducts children occasionally, in the New Forest area. He abuses the children of his friends, drugging them and scaring them to death, so the children do not confide to anybody.

Other members of that particular paedophile ring are: His entire family. These family members have been abused and introduced into the Wiccan doctrine by Nick #### himself. They now abuse their own children.

“Alice” also turned up in the comments on a GodDiscussion.com post in which theistic Satanist Diane Vera addressed the “Satanic Panic” of the 1980s and early 1990s, pointing out that allegations of child abuse by Satanic groups had been entirely debunked. In those comments, and in many other postings, “Alice” identifies specific residents of New Forest and the surrounding areas. Many of her posts have since been removed, likely because her actions could qualify as libel.

This is almost precisely how the first “Satanic Panic” began, in the late 1980s, as locals were accused of sexually abusing children during Satanic and/or Wiccan rituals in UK towns. In all, 52 children were taken from their parents and made wards of the court, while three men faced charges — but police found no evidence of the alleged “Satanic abuse.”

In America, the fires were stoked by books such as Michelle Remembers, written by psychologist Lawrence Pazder about a patient he said suffered from multiple-personality disorder as a result of her abuse experiences. (She later married him.) Those stories were eventually debunked, but not until well after the story had been picked up by the mainstream press, including Oprah, frightening millions. There don’t seem to be any good statistics on how many children were separated from their families — or from preschools they loved — during this period.

It’s true that, as a nation, we know more than we used to about Wiccans and even Satanists than we did in the 1980s. They’ve emerged as a much more everyday and benign presence in society. But fear is not behind us, and the conservative religious movement — embodied in the Evangelical Christian and to some extent the Tea Party movement, is gaining both ground and power in America.

Ultimately, the demonization and criminalization of people who practice alternative faiths, from Wicca to Satanism and everywhere in between, is not over. As long as reporters continue to draw connections between criminal activity and paganism, this can’t end. Facts must supersede fear, and paranoid individuals like “Alice” must be taken for what they are.

Readers, how were your lives affected by the “Satanic Panic” of the 1980s and 1990s? Did the stories frighten you? Were you suspected of wrongdoing because of your beliefs or interests? How could we keep it from happening again? Share your stories in the comments.


3 responses to “A sequel to the “Satanic Panic?”

  1. This is one of the things that scares me about the current popularity of the willfully ignorant right-wing politicians. The environment they create – where anyone practicing any religion not identical to theirs is automatically suspect – naturally leads to things like this.

  2. Pingback: New Yorker cartoon: the pagan version of blackface | Backward Messages

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