Remember when the Satanic Panic ended? Apparently, it’s not over for everyone.

In the 1980s and 1990s, a panic swept the nation. People became convinced that both adults and children had been conned into joining Satanic cults, where they were forced to do all manner of horrific things — and then repressed those memories because they were so traumatic. In other words, they forgot.

Do you buy that? A lot of other people didn’t, either.

The phenomenon, now thoroughly debunked, was known at the time as Satanic ritual abuse. Psychologists no longer believe in it. Well, most of them don’t.

Lisa Nasser, 41, is suing her former therapist, Mark Schwartz, and the Castlewood Treatment Center in St. Louis, Missouri. She was a patient at Castlewood for 15 months, undergoing treatment for anorexia.

In her lawsuit, Nasser alleges that Schwartz hypnotized her while she was under the influence of psychotropic medications used to treat depression. During those sessions, she says he brainwashed her into believing that she’d been part of a Satanic cult. Among the implanted memories were that:

she was involved in or perpetrated various criminal and horrific acts of abuse. One of those acts included participating “in a ritualistic eating of babies,” according to [Nasseff’s lawyer Kenneth] Vuylsteke.

She’s apparently not the only patient of Schwartz’s to go through this, though none have officially come forward.

Let’s step away from Nasseff for a moment and look at Schwartz. Anyone old enough to be a practicing therapist at this point is likely to have a) lived through the “Satanic panic” brought on by the SRA/false memory phenomenon, or b) learned about it in the course of their psychological training. If indeed he did what Nasseff claims, you have to wonder a couple of things. One, why would he introduce these kinds of ideas, knowing they’d been debunked before? And two — the part I want to explore — what do these kinds of “memories” say about our cultural perceptions of Satanism?

Despite assurances, people still seem to believe widely that Satanists practice different forms of sacrifice, from animals to people. Apparently, some even believe they eat babies. All of this comes from longstanding public-relations problems, and popular fiction certainly hasn’t helped.

Nor has the media, which plays up the “Satanic” angle whenever it can. Satan’s the biggest bogeyman in the Western world, and he apparently sells a lot of newspapers and television airtime, because reporters love to use the term to describe just about anything people don’t like. It’s also a very imprecise term, as Satanism expert Diane Vera points out:

Newspapers too are more likely to refer to our criminal fringe as “Satanists” rather than “Devil worshipers,” if only because the word “Satanist” is shorter and can fit more easily into a headline. And there isn’t much that anyone can do to change this, because no one has a copyright or trademark on the word “Satanism.” The word “Satanism” was in dictionaries long before any of today’s public Satanists were born.

Fortunately, casses like Nasser’s are few and far between — unlike 20 years ago. But as long as they arise, they speak volumes about our cultural fears. Fears which wind up getting directed at people who legitimately practice Satanism peacefully.

Hopefully, nobody who reads about Nasser’s case will think her “memories” could be true. Unfortunately, to judge by <a href=" comments, some do.


7 responses to “Remember when the Satanic Panic ended? Apparently, it’s not over for everyone.

  1. Pingback: This Week in Conspiracy (11 December 2011) « Skeptical Humanities

  2. The Satanic Panic was an extension out of the subversion ideologies of Christians and to a lesser extent, Muslims which has been fomented and purported at large for CENTURIES. This caused several moral panics (see Cohen’s “Folk Devils and Moral Panics: The Creation of the Mods and Rockers” for a helpful example, or the study in New York Folklore as by Jeffrey S. Victor, author of “The Satanic Panic” in NEW YORK FOLKLORE
    Vol. 15, Nos. 1-2, 1989) during the 20th century. For more sociology and backdrop on the Satanism Scare particularly and how it relates to the rest, see “The Satanism Scare” edited by Best, Bromley and Richardson. For more on the way that this raft of folkloric demonization has been used to slam, displace, and kill *Jews*, see Trachtenburg’s “The Devil and the Jews: The Medieval Conception of the Jew and Its Relation to Modern Anti-Semitism” or Dundes’ “The Blood Libel Legend: A Casebook in Anti-Semitic Folklore”. There is a longstanding motive in religious competition and displacement for authority.

    There is a sociological REPLY to this propagandistic dynamic: religious witchcraft, religious satanism, and more recently religious demonolatry. It’s a fascinating subject. The culprit for the victims like you are describing here is probably most plainly the psychological *establishment* for failing to uphold its general standards against the contentions of Lawrence Pazder, whose “Michelle Remembers” (about his patient who would become his *wife*, Michelle Smith) was not only unsubstantiated, but took hold on the American imagination as a legitimate foundation to “Recovered Memory Syndrome” (now recharacterized as “False Memory Syndrome” because it was so heinously abused). This is a weakness which persists in the field of psychology and still rumbles and collapses, as in the aftermath of Shirley Mason (Sybil) and her Dr. Connie Wilson (see NPR’s coverage as well as may others) possibly hoaxing a foundation for ‘Multiple Personality Disorder’ (MPD).

  3. This sounds remarkably similar to my daughter’s situation, which has been a nightmare for our family and that is ongoing. My daughter went to the CA branch of Mercy Ministries, a free residential Christian-based treatment program in CA, back in March of 2010 and was there for one year before “graduating”. After seeing a therapist there, the therapist/counselor called to tell my wife and I not to worry, that this didn’t involve any of my family, but that my daughter had “recovered memories” of being sexually abused by some schoolmates. We were shocked and dismayed, but after reading up on “recovered memory therapy” we were skeptical that this really happened. A couple of months later, my daughter changed therapists and suddenly stopped/refused all contact with us. We came to find out that at her “graduation ceremony” from Mercy Ministries, she said that her dad sexually abused her since she was 4, and that she was the caregiver for her youngest sister since she was 8(both utterly false and without basis). Mercy Ministries has chosen a “new family” for her which she is living with now, and we have since been in contact with several girls from Mercy who say they cut ties to their family because of their repressed memories through the therapy they received…both girls (and some others) now realize that one of it was true and they are now in therapy at a reputable therapist to try to undo the damage from the therapy they received at Mercy Ministries. This kind of therapy destroys families, and I would advise anyone who sends their daughter to a treatment center for eating disorders (or any other kind of therapist for that matter) to make sure before they go what kind of therapy they will undergo. My daughter will be welcomed back with open arms when she does eventually realize that she is a victim of bad therapy. I hope noone else has to go through this, and I want to get the word out about how at least this place (Mercy Ministries) operates.

    • Russ, I’m so sorry that happened to you. I hope your family finds a positive resolution.

      • Beth, thank you for your kind words. After doing alot of research and talking with some people who have been in a similar situation, there is hope for eventually restoring the relationship with my daughter and our family that has been destroyed by the bad therapy techniques practices at Mercy MInistries. These girls/women are at such a vulnerable time in their lives, they are looking for an explanation for the problems that they have and unfortunately this kind of therapy gives them the answer they think they’ve been searching for. This is the cruelest kind of therapy, especially when you consider eating disorders can be deadly if not treated correctly. If their treatment is based on something that is untrue, what happens to these girls/women when they come to the realization that none of it is true?

  4. Pingback: Second woman claims false memories of Satanic Ritual Abuse came from treatment center | Backward Messages

  5. so have you heard of a person who still promotes satanic panic named Greg Reid?

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