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="http://abcnews.go.com/US/therapist-accused-implanting-satanic-memories/comments?type=story&id=15043529#.Tt0S0HNWFRQthe comments, some do.