Cur Allii, Prae Aliis?
(Why Some, And Not Others?)

Ralph Underwager and Hollida Wakefield*

ABSTRACT: Why do some professionals believe in widespread satanic, ritual abuse of children while others do not? Both believers and nonbelievers agree that there have been no findings of physical evidence corroborating the claims of satanic cults, human sacrifice, orgies, or a widespread conspiracy. Both agree on the basic perception of social, historical, and anthropological facts, although there may be differences in interpretation. The answer to the question, "Why do some professionals believe and not others?" is likely to be found in the personality characteristics of the believers and nonbelievers.

This question is known as the crux theologorum for Christian theologians.  It is observable fact that some persons are converted and others are not.  Why?  What causes this difference?  The various answers posed to solve this conundrum define the major theological differences that have markedly affected the history of western civilization. The three big answers have been (1) external variables (predestination); (2) internal variables (synergism); and (3) mystery (unanswerable open question). All historical theological differences setting various denominations and cults apart can be organized around these three possibilities.

The same observable fact is part of the contemporary satanic, ritual child abuse movement.  Some persons are converted while others are not.  There are some who believe there is a world-wide conspiracy of satan worshipers who brutalize and savage untold numbers of children in the most horrible, unspeakable fashion (Cozolino, 1989a).  There are others who openly look upon belief in a world-wide satanic conspiracy as grade AA, extra-large, garbage driven by heedless ambition and monumental greed (Gonzales, 1990).  Some try to stay impartial, balanced, and objective but that is difficult to accomplish when such primitive and atavistic emotions are attached to an issue (Crewdson, 1988).  The commitment shows through whichever direction it is in.

The network of believers in a satanic conspiracy and ritualistic abuse, described as thousands strong, includes mental health professionals, attorneys, law enforcement officers, and parents (Gelernter, 1989).  Their position has sharply polarized the various professionals involved.  "It's become a litmus test.  If you believe, you're for kids; if you're not, your motivation is wanting," said Jon Conte, University of Chicago professor and president of the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children.  He pled with the members of his group not to insist that professionals take sides (Gelernter, 1989, p. J1).  Those professionals who are skeptical see these claims as unsupported, similar to the UFO sightings, and an example of urban legends that may be firmly believed but are false (Balch & Gilliam, 1991; Best, 1991; Ellis, 1991; Nathan, 1991; Victor, 1990).  The nonbelievers also include mental health professionals, attorneys, law enforcement officers, and parents.

Why?  What causes this difference?  Why are some believers and others are not?

External Variables

Both sides look to the current state of the society and culture for explanatory concepts to make a rational case for their position (Raschke, 1990).  Mayer (1991) locates the cause of the current satanic revival in the cultural and political upheaval of the 1960s.  He thinks a generation alienated by Vietnam and technology found a legitimizing avenue to hedonistic excesses in worship of satan.  The attraction of satanism in a society in flux is the promise of power, total control over life circumstances, material gain, an opportunity for increased status and authority, and access to sanctioned deviant sexual acts (Mendez, 1986).  Cozolino (1989b) claims there is an increase in satanic activities and relates it to issues of personal identity, powerlessness, and the absence of a positive family environment.  While not claiming an increase in adult satanic activities, Mullins (1989) asserts that there is a marked increase in satanic activity among adolescents caused by rebellion against social pressure to conform.  Thus the oppression of traditional ideology and patriarchal structures contribute to the development of abuse and sexual maltreatment of children (Horton & Williamson, 1988).  These are some of the external variables that have been suggested as ways to account for the increase in satanism, ritual abuse, and the existence of the conspiracy.  While no one says it openly, there is an implicit presentation of the satanist as a victim of a society that has lost its way.  With such oppression and tyranny, seeking empowerment through a Faustian bargain with the old evil foe is at least understandable, even if reprehensible.

The nonbelievers look to the same phenomena, a society in change and undergoing stress, as an explanation for the development of the purported myths and unfounded dogmas of the believers.  A sociological perspective sees times of deep social and political tensions as requiring the development of scapegoats to label and blame for the ambiguity and anxiety (Ben-Yehuda, 1990).  Victor states:

Satanic cult stories arise as a response to widespread socioeconomic stresses, particularly those affecting parenting and family relationships.  These social stresses are products of the rapid social change and social disorganization that began during the 1960s, and that caused a deep cultural crisis of values and authority.  The satanic cult legend says, in symbolic form, that our moral values are threatened by evil forces beyond our control, and that we have lost faith in our authorities to deal with the threat (Victor, l991a, p.221).

In America, this present era has been described as the first time a maturing generation cannot expect to have a better life than its parents.  Stevens (1989, 1991) notes that historical and anthropological studies demonstrate that such beliefs and myths develop invariably during during periods of intense and prolonged social anxiety.  In another article (Stevens, 1990), he adds the heuristic that legends such as the current satanic conspiracy theory are used to provide explanatory concepts in situations of societal ambivalence.  Rabinowitz (1990) claims that America goes through some such conspiracy theory about every fifty years.  This reduction of the observed phenomenon of belief in a satanic cult to a sociological or anthropological concept is forcefully expressed by Victor (1991b):

As far as this author can determine, the label "satanic cult" empirically refers only to a body of preconceptions, based only upon ideological propaganda, distorted perceptions of real incidents, false testimonies, misinformation, and a culturally inherited legend (p. 3).

Believers and nonbelievers fundamentally agree that the society is in state of flux, change, and stress.

The social contract, that unspoken, unwritten understanding of what is proper, accepted, and expected behavior, that nobody has to talk about because it is simply understood, has been shattered.  When that happens, we seek meaning and turn most readily to monocausal explanations that identify individuals as causal agents rather than social forces (Stallings, 1990).  Jerome Bruner is reported to have described how reality gets reconstituted by its observers and the aspects of culture taken for granted are crucial to understand how people assign meaning to their lives (Fisher, 1989).  We are more likely to find meaning by pointing at other people as the cause of stress rather than ourselves or impersonal entities (Aronson, 1988).

The difference between believers and nonbelievers does not lie in external variables of social stresses, however, since both agree on the basic perception of social, historical, and anthropological facts.  They differ in the interpretation, the social perception given to the same factors.  This means it is a matter of some complexity to sort out which interpretation is right.  After examining the theories and research concerning social perceptions and the accuracy of human judgments, Kruglanski (1989) concludes that major questions about human accuracy have not been resolved and are likely unresolvable.  The basic problem is that the criterion to establish accuracy of human judgments is, in itself, a human judgment.  Nevertheless, Kruglanski recommends a situation-specific approach with the criterion set as the true state of affairs while acknowledging social perceptions are relative rather than an absolute.

The issue between believers and nonbelievers then becomes a matter of the data.  What facts are there which can be pointed at, seen, and, at least, have agreement as to the intersubjective confirmability of the observations?  Here, while again there are differences of interpretation, there does not seem to be basic disagreement between believers and nonbelievers.  There are no findings of physical evidence corroborating the claims of satanic cults, human sacrifice, orgies, or a widespread conspiracy.  There are some isolated violent events that involve individuals with varying degrees of disturbance who may make claims about occult practices.  Both sides acknowledge these facts.

Greaves (1991) says he is an apologist for the claims and is on the believers' side but acknowledges there is no smoking gun in spite of strenuous efforts to find corroborating evidence. Kahaner (1988) quotes Det. S. Gallant saying about occult crime "You find bits and pieces, evidence that goes nowhere, testimony that is always suspect ..."  Gallant is one of the more visible and vocal law enforcement believers in satanic, ritualistic abuse.  Lloyd (1990) describes the controversy as an unsolvable philosophic argument about how to determine truth but acknowledges there have been no convictions for ritual abuse.  While stating ritual abuse and satanism are real and increasing, Cozolino (1989b) concludes that the choice to believe in these claims rests upon "an understanding of and concern for the child and adult victims whose voice society has yet to acknowledge as reality" (p.6), and not on factual evidence.  Crewdson (1988), who believes 38 million American men and women have been sexually abused, writes "Whenever authorities in this country have followed up rumors of satanic child abuse, they have come up empty handed" (p.123).

Nonbelievers continually point to the lack of evidence to corroborate the claims of satanic ritualistic abuse.  Victor states:

In conclusion, ritual abuse is a social creation of a late 20th century witch hunt.  There is no verifiable evidence for the satanic cult ritual abuse conspiracy theory.  However, there is abundant evidence that more and more professionals are creating a form of deviant behavior, which exists only in their preconceptions to see what they expect to see (Victor, 1991c, p. 141).

Others who do not see any evidence to support the claims are Hicks (1990, 1991), Richardson, Best and Bromley (1991), Russell (1991), Lanning (1989, 1991), Martin & Fine (1991), Jenkins and Maier-Katkin (1991), Mulhern (1991a), Putnam (1991), Jones (1991), Charlier and Downing (1988), Voelpel (1989), and Noll (1989).  In addition, Noll (1989) asserts that historians do not find any evidence that satanic cults practicing a black mass, cannibalism, ritual murder, worship of satan, and the sacrifice of children have ever existed.  Some of the historians who have examined the issue and maintain there is no evidence to support the claim that in history there have been satanic cults engaging in conspiracy and bizarre worship are Cohn (1975), Ankarloo and Henningsen (1990), Moore (1987), and Kittredge (1929).  Eliade (1975) goes a step further and says the witchcraft trials and torture elicited confessions that were required by the believing inquisitors but were not true confessions and did not describe actual events.

Lanning (1989, 1991) makes the observation that it is impossible for a conspiracy as complex, including as many people, and engaging in such extreme acts to continue without someone talking about it.  Conspiracies that are real and that do engage in rituals and violent acts are very soon known about in spite of pledges of secrecy and penalties of death.  The Ku Klux Klan is a conspiracy.  It uses strange costumes, secret rituals, pledges secrecy, and does violent acts, including murder.  It included large numbers of people for considerable periods of time.  Almost as soon as it started in Tennessee in 1866, it was known.  When flaming crosses appeared, bodies were found, and when a nighttime posse rode the land, people knew who was in it and who was doing the violence (Trelease, 1971).  The mafia is a conspiracy, commits violence, has rituals, and pledges and enforces secrecy.  It has significant resources.  It is known.  The mafia leaves tracks (Gonzales, 1990).

When the question of evidence is examined, believers and nonbelievers agree there is no physical evidence that can be seen, pointed at, and accepted as fact to support the claims of satanic, ritualistic abuse, human sacrifice, ritual murder, cannibalism, and a nationwide or worldwide conspiracy.  The difference between believers and nonbelievers cannot be found here.  What is left are two sources of information.  They are the statements of adults who claim to have been abused as children and the statements of children who describe current experiences of abuse.  Statements made by adults include large numbers of persons who maintain they had no memory of their childhood abuse until adulthood but then recovered a memory, often while in therapy.  Descriptions by children most often occur in a day care, multi-perpetrator, multi-victim situation, but some children, in the divorce/custody battle of parents, also produce descriptions of abuse said to be satanic and ritualistic.  We have also been involved in cases in which neighbors were accused of abuse that was represented as satanic, ritualistic abuse and in cases where both parents were accused of ritual abuse with their own children.

Excursus on Theological History

In my training during the early 1950s as a theologian and historian, I never saw any evidence that there were such satanic cults at any time in history.  I was taught at a conservative Lutheran seminary that the books and sources often cited to suggest the historic nature of such evil activities, Malleus Maleficiarum, Maria Monk, and Protocols of Zion, while they may have been believed by many and had a major impact on society, were, in fact, fraudulent propaganda pieces that had no veracity.  I was taught to understand the reality that large numbers of people believed the fallacious accounts in these books as evidence for the readiness of our human nature to believe the worst about others and to act foolishly and precipitately.

In an orthodox, conservative seminary it was understood that satan was vanquished and there was nothing to fear.  There was very little discussion of satan, satanism, or demons.  Such concepts were not significant.  In the pastoral theology textbook, published in 1945, in discussing demonic possession the advice was to be extremely cautious in making any such diagnosis, to avoid any esoteric ministrations but rather rely upon prayer of the church, the administration of the Sacraments, and to seek competent medical treatment for the individual Fritz, 1945).  Theologically I was taught that the only aim and capacity of the devil was to create terror and sadness among people, thus killing them emotionally and spiritually, and the antidote was the beauty and goodness of the world and the optimism and hope coming from the grace of God (Elert, 1962).  The only arena in which to resist evil was the political reality since the demonization of humanity took place and was empowered in oppression of the state (Elert, 1957).  The main problem we were supposed to be concerned with was not some dark cosmic force but rather the simple, plain stupidity of humanity that somehow could not see or believe that grace and goodness were both real and triumphant.

Internal Variables, Adults

The difference can begin to be seen.  Believers give credence to the statements by adults and the descriptions of children.  Nonbelievers refuse to accept the statements but instead debunk the claims or reduce them to something other than truthful accounts.  External variables do not account for this difference.  Leaving it a mystery is not very satisfying.  We are left with the internal variables.  Are there theories, concepts, and valid scientific facts about internal factors in individuals that can explain why some believe and other do not?  Yes, there are.

The publication of Michelle Remembers (Smith & Pazder, 1980) appears to be the beginning of the contemporary concept of a satanic ritualistic abuse conspiracy (Summit, 1990).  However, the first documented statement by a mental health professional suggesting there is a powerful, widespread conspiracy of child abusers is in testimony on ritual abuse before a congressional subcommittee in 1984 by Kee MacFarlane, the social worker who had interviewed children in the McMartin Preschool case in Manhattan Beach, California:

I believe we are dealing with an organized operation of child predators designed to prevent detection.  The preschool, in such a case, serves as a ruse for a larger, unthinkable network of crimes against children.  If such an operation involves child pornography or selling of children, as is frequently alleged, it may have greater financial, legal, and community resources at its disposal that those attempting to expose it (New York Times. 18 September 1984) Bromley, 1991, p.53).

Within two weeks, the second documented professional claim of a satanic ritual abuse network appeared. October 1-4, 1984, at the National Symposium on Child Molestation convened by the U. S. Department of Justice, Roland Summit, M.D., was on a panel and during the course of discussion made the following statement:

All children who are sexually abused anywhere need to have their credibility recognized and to have advocates working for them ...  So when you hear stories or hints of extremely sadistic, humiliating practices that don't fit an affectionate attention model, when children are brainwashed into ideologies that are alien to the mainstream, where good becomes bad, evil becomes a virtue, where children are forced to eat feces and drink blood and participate in blood sacrifices and in sexual ceremonies with robed figures and people in costume, where those are the outcroppings, don't assume that that's just a child's nightmare ... when you get ten, fifteen, a hundred children independently describing the same thing, don't hop to the assumption that you're dealing with something that can't be true. (Summit, 1984, p.241-242).

MacFarlane and Summit had been deeply enmeshed and had frequent interactions in the Los Angeles area group of professionals who began developing a system and a methodology for interviewing children where there was an allegation or suspicion of abuse (Fischer, 1989; Summit, 1986).  In March, 1989, speaking during the Fifth National Symposium on Child Sexual Abuse, Summit identified the McMartin case and the allegations in Jordan, Minnesota, as the beginning of the stereotypic cases of ritual abuse (Lloyd, 1989).  Therefore, the McMartin and Jordan cases are crucial to trace how the belief in satanic, ritual abuse developed.

Jordan, Minnesota

We were expert consultants and witnesses for the defense in the trial of Jordan defendants, Robert and Lois Bentz, in August and September of 1984.  They were acquitted.  We remained involved with them and other families throughout the period of getting the families reunited and getting children back to their parents.  The last family we were associated with got their daughter returned to her parents in 1989.  During that entire period, with access to documents, videotapes. and in contact with attorneys for the parents, the parents, and often the children, there was never any claim about the existence of a satanic ritual abuse network.  There were allegations of murder, strange dances and costumes, children being drugged, and torture and killing of animals.  The prosecutor at one time claimed there was a connection with the Mafia but that soon dropped out.  After a five month investigation by the Minnesota Attorney Generals office, the FBI, and the Minnesota BCI, and a subsequent investigation by a special commission appointed by the governor, the conclusion was that none of these bizarre allegations could be corroborated (Humphrey, 1985).  The children who made them, with one exception, all later said they lied under the pressure of the interrogations.  The one exception, a 9-year-old girl, did not admit to fabrication but in the same interview with FBI agents gave so many conflicting stories it was clear she was not making reliable claims (Humphrey, 1985).


With MacFarlane and Summit being the first professionals to advance claims about a satanic, ritualistic abuse conspiracy, the McMartin case and their involvement are crucial.  The investigation of the McMartin preschool began with the first complaint to the Manhattan Beach police department on August 12, 1983. Raymond Buckey was arrested on September 7, 1983 and released on $15,000 bail.  On October 12, the Buckey family filed a $4.5 million law suit against the police department and the city of Manhattan Beach (Cody, 1990).  The investigating officer, Jane Hoag, was searching for more allegations (Fischer, 1989).  She realized she could not make a case against Ray Buckey with only the allegations from the first mother, who later turned out to be seriously disturbed, a fact which was hidden by the prosecution from the defense until June of 1986 (Cody, 1987).

In early September, 1983, Robert Philobosian, newly appointed district attorney for Los Angeles County, commissioned a public opinion poll as part of his beginning political campaign for the 1984 election.  One of the results was that child abuse was rated the number one concern of the public.  Within six weeks of the poll, in October, 1983, Philobosian's office was in control of the McMartin case. Jean Matusinka, head of the district attorney's sexual abuse prosecution unit, first heard about the allegations early in October, 1983, after parents who were dissatisfied with Hoag's methods went to UCLA for help and a UCLA social worker informed Matusinka about the commotion in Manhattan Beach.  The investigation was getting nowhere and the case was about to disappear.  Matusinka hoped Children's Institute International (CII) would be the key to the McMartin case (Fischer, 1989).

What is not commonly known or understood is that all the former preschoolers whose accusations were included in the trial denied being molested at the school until after they were interviewed at Children's Institute International by MacFarlane and other staff members.  The case was made at CII.

MacFarlane was asked by her longtime friend, Jean Matusinka, to be involved in interviewing children from the McMartin preschool on October 17, 1983 (Cody, 1990).  MacFarlane had the first videotaped interview of a child who had been at the McMartin preschool on November 1, 1983.  On February 2, 1984, reporter Wayne Satz broke the news of the McMartin preschool accusations to the public on TV station KABC.  Satz had gone to Children's Institute International to begin filming the story around November 15, 1983 (Fischer, 1989).  During the trial MacFarlane testified under oath and admitted that she had a romantic relationship with Satz but insisted the affair did not start until after the grand jury convened, March 6-22, 1983 (Earl, 1991).  She also stated in an FBI document that earlier she had told KABC it would have an exclusive on the story in February, a period that coincided with the important ratings-sweeps week.

By June, 1984, CII had interviewed nearly 400 children who had been at the McMartin preschool.  MacFarlane and other social workers at CII filed reports claiming that 369 had been molested.  By this time Satz was reporting the sensational bizarre and horrifying accusations, including describing the alleged mutilation of rabbits while live bunnies were used as an on-camera backdrop, and helping to stir up what one reporter described as mob psychology and another as hysteria (Fischer, 1989).  This is the chronological progression and the climate from which came the first known professional suggestions of a satanic, ritualistic abuse network in September and October, 1984.

A Growing Network

Since the initial assertion of the claims by MacFarlane and Summit, intense interactions in conferences, networking, and training seminars has generated an active and growing body of believers (Gonzales, 1989).  An example was a two-day conference, September, 1990, held in Minneapolis, Minnesota, sponsored by the Minnesota Awareness of Ritualistic Abuse Network and the Sexual Violence Center of Hennepin County.  The principal presentation was titled McMartin Preschool and Scott County: What Worked? and had on the panel some of the mental health professionals who were involved in the prosecution of these cases.

The impact of satanic and ritual abuse three-day training sessions held by Americans, claiming to be experts, in several English cities is described by Christy and Walton (1990).  The Americans included Robert Simandl, policeman, and Pamela Klein, self-styled therapist, both from Chicago (Pope, 1991).  Christy and Walton write that the seminars set off a witch hunt in England that resulted in the widely publicized cases in Rochdale and the Orkney island of Ronaldsay.  In both cases, after several children had been removed from their families, magistrates concluded there was no evidence of any abuse, no evidence of satanic, ritualistic abuse, and that the social work services had reacted most inappropriately.  The children were returned to their parents.

Mulhern (1991b), as a participant observer, systematically analyzed 14 satanic cult/ritual abuse training seminars.  All were professionally accredited and offered to mental health professionals.  All were held between 1987 and 1990 and all offered training in the identification and treatment of satanic ritual abuse victims.  In addition, 23 other presentations and papers on satanic ritual abuse presented at other conferences were included.  The analysis showed that all followed a two-stage procedure.  The first stage is to construct a belief filter with listeners exhorted and admonished to believe.  The second stage is built on the first and assumes all claims are real.  Therapists are then given suggestions for treatment using techniques with unknown validity and reliability.  Mulhern concludes:

Conversion to belief provides individuals with the intimate conviction that they can suddenly see and understand realities which they have never seen before.  However, when uncritical belief becomes the linchpin of all understanding, anything which would cause the believer to doubt, must be systematically eliminated.  To put it succinctly, the ear educated exclusively by belief is also a deaf ear (1990b, p.4).

Individual Differences

Whether or not a person accepts new information and develops cognitive beliefs that are then used to give individualized meaning to the world is affected by individual processes.  Cognitions are selectively organized.  Personality factors may both lower the threshold for accepting some beliefs and distort cognitions of relevant information (Krech, Crutchfield, & Ballachey, 1962; Sherman, Judd, & Park, 1989).  When there is a period of ambiguity, stress, and social uncertainty, individuals without a strong, internalized sense of self, that is, persons lacking an adequate, well functioning ego, may react to the ambivalence by seeking anything which will provide self-justification and permit a covering up of the weakness of the self-concept (Aronson, 1988; Kelley & Michela, 1980).  Believing in a conspiracy theory, setting aside a specified group that can be characterized as the evil enemy, as reprehensible, and embodying all that is most despicable permits a self-justification of nobility, courage, and amazing virtuosity.  The self-concept is enhanced by the contrast and by the claim to be in opposition to wickedness.

Cognitive Dissonance

A well developed and often replicated psychological concept is cognitive dissonance reduction.  It is a personality and motivational construct.  Among the many ramifications of cognitive dissonance research is the finding that people do not like to see or hear things that conflict with their deeply held wishes or beliefs.  Interest in supporting information appears to be greater when there is a lower sense of certainty about the correctness of a belief (Mills, 1968).  The early statement by Summit (1984) illustrates the commitment of some mental health professionals to the proposition that children are to be believed at all costs.  If a person has chosen that belief but then is confronted with a child saying things that are patently false or highly improbable, a state of dissonance is generated.  That means the person will reduce the dissonance.  Most often this is done by demeaning or ignoring any disconfirming evidence and attending only to that which affirms the belief.  This is the process which White (1971) describes and documents from the Pentagon papers.  Our leaders did exactly this, reduce dissonance by ignoring disconfirming evidence, in the Vietnam war.  The consequence was thousands of Americans and Vietnamese killed.

Dissonance theory and research would predict that people who have a belief that children must be believed will likely continue to believe, in fact, become more aggressive and strident in their beliefs, when there is contrary information (Aronson, 1988; Kelley & Michela, 1980; Sherman, et al., 1989).  In a famous participant-observer study, Festinger, Riecken, and Schachter (1956) report on the behaviors of a group of people who believed the claims of a psychic who was in contact with beings in outer space that a flood would destroy the western coast from Chile to Seattle on a specific day, December 21.  Some gave up their jobs, gave away all their possessions and gathered for the cataclysm.  When it did not take place, the group did not disband but rather began a vigorous proselytizing effort.  Their explanation was that their little group had spread so much light that God had called off the destruction of the world.  Those who had believed but were not with the group that night and were isolated from each other accepted the disconfirming evidence and abandoned their beliefs.


This causal possibility, that beliefs may be determined by personality factors, may also be understood as part of the scapegoat theory of prejudice.  Aggression is caused, in part, by frustration or other unpleasant internal states such as anxiety or boredom.  However, if the cause of the frustration or negative internal state is either too strong and powerful or too vague and amorphous for direct retaliation, the aggression may be displaced on some other target.  If a person is an unemployed worker, the economic system that is the target of his frustration cannot be attacked.  It is too big and too vague.  The president may be a person who can be located but he is too powerful.  However, what can be done is to lynch a black, kill Jews, or immolate untouchables.  The scapegoat is a safe target and takes the blame for the frustration instead of the real cause (Aronson, 1988).  What better and safer scapegoat than the devil and those who are believed to serve him?  For those conversant enough with contemporary attitudes to know that antisemitism, racism, sexual identity prejudices, and any discrimination is unacceptable, the devil and satanic devotees are an acceptable, indeed, praiseworthy locus for aggression and hatred.  It is proper and politically correct to hate the devil.  Extremism in the battle against evil is noble.

Evil works by dehumanizing the Other.  A perverse, efficient logic: identifying others as evil justifies all further evil against them.  A man may kill a snake without compunction.  The snake is an evil thing, has evil designs, is a different order of being.  Thus: an "Aryan" could kill a Jew, could make an elaborate bureaucratic program of killing Jews.  Thus: white men could come in the middle of the night in Mississippi and drag a black man out and hang him (Morrow, 1991, p. 50-51).

Laboratory studies (Miller & Bugelski, 1948; Rogers & Prentice-Dunn, 1981; Weatherly, 1961) suggest some of the variables that may also play a part.  Insecure individuals in a stressful environment displace aggression onto groups that are disliked, evident, and powerless.  The practice of scapegoating may be characteristic of human beings but not all people do it to the same level.

Authoritarian Personality

There are some people who are predisposed to hate.  The personality structure is such that it requires hatred and hated individuals.  There has been a significant and well replicated body of research on the authoritarian personality (Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswick, Levin son, & Sanford, 1950).  The picture of the authoritarian personality that emerges from several decades of research is that of an individual whose beliefs are held rigidly and appear highly resistant to change.  They conform to expected values and may appear conventional to others.  They are respectful and submissive to authority and they are highly punitive.  They are suspicious and likely to have negative and pejorative views of all minority groups.

The research on the authoritarian personality also suggests that such persons are likely to have had early childhood experiences in which their parents were harsh and threatening.  Parents of persons high on the measures of authoritarianism use love and its withdrawal as their principal method of discipline.  As children the authoritarian personalities were dependent on their parents, feared them, and felt anger and hostility toward them but could not express that openly.  As adults they then show high levels of anger, fear, and insecurity which takes the form of displaced aggression while the person maintains an outward respect for authority (Aronson, 1988: Krech, et al. 1962).

Intolerance of Ambiguity

Another personality variable that is associated with a readiness to come to premature closure on the basis of incomplete or inadequate information is the concept of intolerance of ambiguity (Berelson & Steiner, 1964).  Some people find it difficult to cope with inconsistencies, ambiguities, and unexpected events.  Their world needs to be black and white, all good or all bad (Krech, et al., 1962).  This need for closure extends into the perception of stimuli and is more characteristic of persons who are neurotic.  It extends into the premature closure of incomplete figures and may account for the ease with which some people quickly perceive a black man. when presented ambiguous pictures (Vernon, 1970).  Readiness to receive and believe rumors and misperceive stimuli are also associated with these personality characteristics (Berelson & Steiner, 1964).  Errors in perception may also be related to the defense mechanisms an individual habitually uses (Vernon, 1970).

People who are intolerant of ambiguity are relatively "closed" to new information which would increase the multiplexity of a cognitive system.  Their cognitive palette contains only blacks and whites.  Simplified good-evil solutions to complex social political, and economic issues — "devil theories" — will be sought by those who cannot tolerate ambiguity (Krech et al., 1962, p.46).

An allied concept, again supported by significant research, is Rokeach's (1960) work on "closed mindedness."  The closed minded personalities show a readiness to quickly reject anything opposed to their beliefs.  They have a low level of interconnectedness in their belief system, that is, they easily compartmentalize their beliefs.  The more closed minded, the more a person depends upon irrelevant personal wants to form cognitions rather than a logical understanding of information (Krech, et al., 1962).  It does not appear that we are motivated to be accurate or correct but rather to satisfy many competing motivations with some sort of compromise (Higgins & Bargh, 1987).

These personality factors have also been shown to be related to beliefs and values concerning sexuality and to sexual practices (Adorno, et al. 1950).  Higher levels of anxiety about sexuality, greater rigidity, and a higher level of association of aggression and sexuality have been suggested.  In a cross cultural study Whiting (1959) finds an openness to concepts of sorcery associated with defense against sexuality.  The strongest correlation is with projection of aggression.  Thus Whiting concludes Freud's derivation of paranoia is supported.  The relationship of cognitive structures to emotional well-being and emotional distress continues to be supported by the research and to appear more powerful (Singer & Kolligian, 1987).


Another possibility in personality variables that may be involved in a readiness to believe in satanic, ritualistic abuse is pathology.  Being a mental health professional is no guarantee of mental health.  A recent survey conducted by the Minnesota Psychological Association Task Force on Distressed/Impaired Psychologists produced a surprisingly high proportion of psychologists acknowledging personal problems and saying they know other psychologists with psychological problems.  The pathology seen in psychologists included depression (84% other, 47% self), relationship problems (78% other, 49% self), stress/anxiety disorder (67% other, 44% self), personality disorder (54% other, 1% self), being abusive/aggressive to clients (36% other, 0% self), and psychosis (13% other, 1% self) (Brodie & Robinson, 1991).  There is no reason to suppose that psychiatrists and social workers are any less likely to be emotionally disturbed than psychologists nor that psychologists are likely to be healthier than the others.

Personality dispositions are related to health, both physical and mental (Carson, 1989).  The personality factors described above as ways to understand how mental health professionals may come to believe in the existence of satanic ritualistic abuse are also shown to be associated with pathology (Adorno et al., 1950; Krech et al., 1962; Rokeach, 1960). Whiting states:

On the psychological side one of the features that is most striking in a society that has a strong belief in witchcraft is the suspicion and distrust of others that it engenders.  If one were to describe clinically the personality of a strong believer in witchcraft, he would be judged as paranoid.  Not only does he grant magic and exaggerated powers to others to do harm, but he also feels that he too may have access to such powers ...  Both of these traits are, clinically speaking, characteristic of the paranoid, and our search for a psychological hypothesis to account for the origins of the belief in sorcery leads us to a consideration of those child-training mechanisms which might produce paranoia (Whiting, 1959, p.177).

Whether or not the believers in satanic ritual abuse believe that satan is real and has power, they ascribe to the worldwide satanic conspiracy an incredible ability to inflict harm upon thousands of children and to do so while never being caught.  The behaviors alleged to be carried out by the satanists are so bizarre, so frequent, and so well organized so as to avoid anyone ever defecting, that it staggers the mind.  Such prowess can only be so far beyond the ability of ordinary humans that it has to be magic or some form of supernatural ability.  Believing in the organized satanic conspiracy then is belief in a magical, supernatural capacity.

Summit (1990), in a conference plenary address titled "Reaching the Unreachable," discusses the phenomena of children's reports of ritualistic, satanic abuse committed by the organized group of child molesters.  He describes the new discoveries since 1980 of people who have no conscious memory of being abused but need the help of the specialized group of therapists who have special knowledge.  He tells the 1200 professionals in the conference that they must not stop asking the child about having been abused if the child denies it.  They are to continue asking because they have the specialized capacity to discover the reality.  He states that the courts and the judicial system are the wrong place to advance the interests of abused children.  He instead claims that the special people with the special knowledge to discover abuse when the child is not consciously aware of having been abused should be the determiners of fact and truth.  His final words are as follows:

Those more recent discoveries that have been made since 1980 are the outrageous ones that are leading to a great deal of punishment.  You will pay a certain price.  Unless we stick together and unless we assert our right to responsibly probe beneath conscious denial, we will never reach the understanding we need to continue creative work for the discovery of sexual abuse (Summit, 1990).

The believers in the satanic conspiracy who agree with Summit and see themselves as having the special power to discern abuse and reach into children and adults who deny being abused to discover the truth are, in fact, claiming a special, magical power and knowledge not available to the rest of us.  The claim to esoteric knowledge not available to ordinary folk has been the hallmark of magical claims and cultic righteousness since the days of the Greek mystery religions and the early Christian heresy of Gnosticism.  Although somewhat less blatant, Greaves (1991) also claims a specialized clinical knowledge that can be advanced and relied upon as a source of authentication and validation of the otherwise unbelievable allegations of satanic, ritualistic abuse.

These are the two traits Whiting's (1959) cross cultural study of sorcery identified — the granting of exaggerated powers to others to do harm, and one's own access to such powers.  These are also the two traits that are said by Whiting to be characteristic of the paranoid.

In addition to these traits, Summit (1988) in a radio program, Ideas, on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, debating issues surrounding satanic abuse allegations with Ralph Underwager, began his presentation by describing what he claims is the historic cycle of professionals discovering the reality of sexual abuse of children but then being crushed, forced to abandon their discovery, and having their ideas trashed by the massive resistance of those who choose to ignore sexual abuse.  He asserts that the society does not want to face the awful reality of sexual abuse but wants to hide it.  "The people who have done best at putting it away are the ones who have emerged with the power and the respectability."  He presents the professionals who have discovered this unmentionable reality as a small, powerless group.  "The people who say this is real and we have to do something about it have traditionally been trivialized into positions of being not credible, or falsely motivated, or even maliciously motivated, and certainly not scientific and not authoritative."

Summit (1990) repeated this concept in the Wisconsin address:

The history of child abuse awareness is a rather surprising one of ignorance in the face of prevalence, and then sporadic sensational discovery and after this a discovery that is short lived or discredited so that we go back into ignorance and indifference again ... pain of discovery, pain and humiliation and embarrassment of trying to expose sexual abuse to a complacent authoritative comfortable world is, for most people, too crippling to sustain.  Even when newcomers come along and endorse our earlier observations, we may resent the efforts of the newcomers because we are still too filled with pain from the rejection of our own earlier discoveries.  There are a lot of us right now who have experienced pain for the discovery of multi-victim cases, the concern for dissociative elements in reaction to abuse, the concern for cults and possible organized dangerous people who exploit children in group situations.

Contrary to Summit's assertion, the society has, in fact, given credence to this group. The media have inundated the society with stories, TV programs, and news broadcasts reflecting their beliefs that child abuse is epidemic.  Recently the lead news item on Minnesota news was the arrest of a man for abducting a child for the purpose of a satanic child sacrifice.  The child was found in her apartment complex, confused and frightened.  The man arrested was said to have a satanic calendar in his apartment.

State legislatures have enacted child abuse and child witness laws in every state based upon an uncritical acceptance of this group's claims about sexual abuse.  These new laws all work together to make it easier to prosecute those accused of child sexual abuse.  Child protection departments have grown enormously and in many states are the largest single budget item.  The federal government has distributed millions of dollars in grants for research but not a single project that may give a different view has been funded.  The justice system has been empowered to treat persons accused of child sexual abuse differently than any other group of people charged with any other crime.  Maintaining a collective posture and self-presentation of a rejected, punished, and beleaguered group of child advocates in the face of the reality is a persecutory delusion and an idea of reference.  Such unrealistic, delusional thinking is another characteristic of the paranoid.  The believers who agree with Summit and accept his view of reality may be demonstrating a paranoid mentation and ideation reflecting an individual personality pathology.

Subjectivity of the Thought Reader

Freud and Fliess met for the last time in the summer of 1900 at Achensee. They parted on bad terms when Fliess attacked Freud as a "thought reader," meaning that Freud read his own thoughts into the minds of his patients.  This was a deadly attack and Freud knew it to be crucial.  He wrote, "you take sides against me and tell me that 'the thought-reader merely reads his own thoughts into other people,' which deprives my work of all its value [italics added].  If I am such a one throw my every-day life [the parapraxis book] unread into the waste basket ... the thought-reader perceives nothing in others but merely projects his own thoughts into them ... and you must regard the whole technique as just as worthless as the others do" [italics added] (cited in Meehl, 1983, p.349-350).  The believers who rely upon statements by children and putative survivors as the data supporting their acceptance of the reality of satanic ritual abuse face the same basic problem.  Epistemologically there is no way to satisfactorily answer Fliess's charge. The subjectivity of the inferences of a therapist cannot be avoided. Meehl (1983) describes four main sources of theory-determined error through which a therapist may mind read one's own thoughts into the patient's mind:

First, content implantation, in which memories, thoughts, impulses, and even defenses are explicitly "taught" to the patient via interpretation, construction, and leading questions.  Second, selective intervention, in which the analyst's moment-to-moment technical decisions to speak or remain silent, to reflect, to ask for clarifications, to call attention to a repetition, similarity, or allusion, to request further associations, to go back to an earlier item, etc., can operate either as differential reinforcement of verbal behavior classes (a more subtle, inexplicit form of implantation!) or as a biased evidence-sifter. By this latter I mean that even if the patient's subsequent verbalizations were uninfluenced by such interventions, what the analyst has thus collected as his data surely has been.  Third, on the "input" side, there is the purely perceptual-cognitive aspect of subjectivity in discerning the "red thread"  ...  Fourth, supposing the theme-tracing to be correct, we make a causal inference and what entitles us to infer the continued existence and operation of an unconscious background mental process (p. 359).

Meehl (1983) makes some suggestions about how to estimate how much of a therapist's inferences are thought reading but concludes there is no good answer to this serious epistemological question.  The same question applies to the believers who use the verbal productions of clients as their main or only source of data to assert their claims.  How can they demonstrate anything other than projecting their own biases and prior assumptions unto the patient?

On the other band, there is demonstration that in some instances children are taught to believe they have been satanic ritual abuse victims.  Mr. John Fittanto was charged in criminal court in Cook County, IL with sexual abuse of two children.  In May, 1991, the motion of the defense counsel to dismiss the indictment against Mr. Fittanto was heard and that motion was granted.  The judge heard several days of testimony including 10 straight days of testimony by a 7-year-old girl alleging ail manner of bizarre abuse by Mr. Fittanto and others.  The testimony included detailed descriptions of ritual abuse involving groups of people, robed, singing, chanting, drugging children, forcing children to drink blood, eat excrement and drink urine, human child sacrifice, secret places, cannibalism, torture, and every conceivable sexual act.

 This court does find that the testimony of K. is extraordinary, it is bizarre and it is incredible ... and the court is satisfied and finds that K. is unable to distinguish between reality and fantasy.  It is clear that K. has memorized her testimony in its entirety ...  It is very clear to the Court that K. has been coached over and over and over again (Hamilton, 1991, 142-144).

The child had been seen repeatedly by Ms. Pamela Klein, self-styled expert in satanic ritual abuse.  Ms. Klein had been in England for four years where she set herself up as a "psychologist specializing in child sexual abuse cases" (Pope, 1991).  But after she claimed 4000 British children were being sacrificed to satan every year and participated in the Rochdale satanic ritualistic abuse allegations, she was investigated.  The report included the finding that her credentials were false and misleading and that a judge in Illinois had ruled she was not a legitimate therapist and was not licensed to practice (Pope, 1991).  Nevertheless she returned to Chicago and became involved in this case at the request of the social workers who believed there was a satanic ritualistic conspiracy.  The initial interrogations with the child did not produce any statements so Ms. Klein was called in.  The outcome was the finding by the court of a fabricated false allegation.

In a recent case in which we were involved a father and mother were accused of satanic ritualistic abuse of their children.  The children were taken away and parental rights were finally terminated months later.  The accusations arose with an initial report of two brothers engaging in sexual play with each other.  The children were placed in foster care, interviewed repeatedly, and seen in therapy regularly.  The stories grew and grew until they began to include allegations that the parents attended a satanic church (this was in a small midwestern city) and forced the children into satanic worship, sexual abuse, and the full panoply of allegations.  A year and half after this all began, the therapist's notes include this:

S. disclosed that his parents are/were involved in ceremonies that indicate devil worship.  I drew a sign (emphasis added) and S. stated that his father had one just like this on his arm.

In the same therapist's notes for two months later, this entry is found:

S. told about being afraid of the devil. Talked about God and the devil.  S. said that his mom and dad went to a church that worshiped the devil.  He described a devil worshiping sign.

The father had no sign on his arm.  There is no evidence of a satanic church in this small community where everyone knows everyone else.  When the child's knowledge of a sign supposedly signifying satanic worship was offered as one basis for termination of parental rights, nobody said anything about the first notice of any sign being the drawing of one by the therapist.  The most reasonable cause of the child's production of a sign is the model presented by the therapist two months before.

When MacFarlane testified before a congressional committee in 1984, she was pressed for evidence to support her claim of a conspiracy.  She mentioned that she heard about a child in another state giving the same parody of a nursery rhyme and describing the naked movie star game that she said she heard from children in the McMartin case.  She was referring to the Montessori school case in Reno, Nevada (Crewdson, 1988).  What she did not tell the committee was that early on in their case the Reno investigators had telephone conversations and had gone to Los Angeles and spent several days with the investigators in the McMartin case.

Analysis of videotapes of the interrogations of children in the Reno case demonstrated that the mental health professionals were checking out with the children what the police investigators had told them to ask about.  The leading questions, coercion, and pursuit of confirmation of the expectations of the police investigators is clear (Underwager & Wakefield, 1985)The chronology suggests the communication between the investigators is the most likely cause of the appearance of similarities between the elicited accounts.  Once again the problem for believers is to demonstrate anything other than the thought reading suggested by Fliess.

The Reno case never went to trial but through a serious of legal actions reached the Nevada Supreme Court.  The district court had a panel of experts review the videotapes of the interrogations of the children by the mental health professionals.  The court dismissed the indictments against the defendants citing the extremely leading and suggestive questioning of the children by the mental health professionals, highly questionable conduct by the prosecutor's office, and the activities of civil attorneys who sought out parents to bring civil suits and paid for part of the prosecution.  The state supreme court upheld the district court.

Internal Variables, Child

A number of researchers have examined the factors of memory development, cognitive and moral development of children, and suggestibility of children to adult social influence (Garbarino & Stott, 1989; Lepore, 1991; Wakefield & Underwager, 1988; Underwager & Wakefield, 1990).  There is no doubt that children can be led to produce accounts of events that did not happen.  This does not mean that children lie, but rather they are victimized by adult biases and expectations (Wakefield &Underwager, 1988).  Some professionals knowingly set out to produce false accounts (Wakefield & Underwager, 1989).

Individual differences in adults interact with individual differences that may appear in children who produce accounts said to be satanic ritualistic abuse.  In addition to children's suggestibility, memory capacity, and developmental factors in their cognitive development, there are some factors not often mentioned that may bear on the production of the bizarre and incredible accounts purported to be satanic and ritualistic abuse.

Building upon their study of hypnotic susceptibility Wilson & Barber, 1981) and the earlier studies, Wilson and Barber (1983) describe a fantasy prone personality (FPP).  Otherwise normal, healthy, and functional people have vivid, intense, and involved fantasies.  They have trouble telling the difference between fantasy and reality.  They keep their fantasy worlds secret. Most (92%) of their fantasy prone subjects said they spent half or more of their working day fantasizing compared to 0% in the control group.  Their fantasies are so real they actually hear, smell, and feel what is being described.  Most FPPs (65%) reported their fantasies were "as real as real" (hallucinatory) in all sense modalities.  They also describe their experience as involuntary.  As children the FPPs spent much time in fantasy, living in a make believe world most of the time.  The FPPs (80%) reported their dolls and toy animals were living and had real personalities and unique feelings.  None of the control group reported any similar confusion about make believe with dolls and toy animals.  The vividness and intensity of the fantasies did not diminish with age but continued into adulthood.

When they were children, almost all the fantasizers believed in fairies, leprechauns, elves, guardian angels, and other such beings  . . .  The strength of the fantasy prone subjects' beliefs in such beings probably originates in their conviction that they have seen, heard, or even played with them . . .  With few exceptions, their belief in elves, leprechauns, fairies, guardian angels, tree spirits, and other such creatures did not terminate during childhood: as adults they either still believe in them or are not absolutely sure that they really do not exist (Wilson & Barber, 1983, p. 346).

Rhue and Lynn (1987) replicated the fantasy prone personality study and report strong support for the construct validity and confirmation of the developmental antecedents of extensive adult fantasy involvement.  While they found a significant relationship with the reported experience of harsh physical punishments in childhood, and propose that fantasy may serve an adaptive function for people who have had frustration, deprivation, and adverse environments, there were no reports of childhood sexual abuse experiences, as Wilson and Barber (1983) also report.  FPPs also showed more projection of hostility and produced MMPI profiles suggesting conflict, alienation, and unusual experiences.

Bartholomew, Basterfield, and Howard (1991) report that out of 152 subjects who reported abductions or contacts with UFOs, while none show a history of mental illness, 132 of them show one or more of the major characteristics of the fantasy prone personality.  They suggest that with individuals who report contact with UFOs but show no sign of pathology, clinicians should assess the possibility of an FPP experience.

Children's Fantasies

After over 20 years of interviewing over 15,000 children Art Linkletter made this observation:

"... 'Cause they have big crocodiles down there and if people don't listen to me I can sic the crocodiles on them."

This bloodthirsty theme runs through the mind of many a mild-mannered darling. It would frighten you to know how often the curly blond locks of a little princess cover a head filled with mayhem (Linkletter, 1957, p. 25).

After 25 years of treating children Bloch described the fantasies of children this way:

It abounded in beasts of terrifying mien, in cruel witches and monsters who pursued their victims with unrelenting savagery.  In those preserves the air continually vibrated to the rat-a-tat-tat of machine guns, corpses hung from trees, and streams ran red with blood.  "Do you want to help me run? The monster is after us," was the way three-and-one-half-year-old Ellie introduced a fantasy that lasted more than a year.  ... I was instructed by a five-year-old in the slaughter of multitudes by a carefully worked out routine that inevitably ended with our dumping the imaginary corpses over the roof and then brushing "the blood and dirt off our hands."  I have spent many a session being shot to death and then revived only so that I might be shot again (Bloch, 1978, p. 2).

Spontaneous stories told by 270 children 2 through 5 years were analyzed to find out what themes or topics chiefly concern the preschool child, what kinds of characters he likes to discuss, and how he views his parents (Ames, 1966).  The summary table shows "the outstanding theme at every age, for both sexes, is some theme of violence" (p.342).  The majority of children at every age tell stories with themes of violence.  Themes of violence hold steady at 75% from age 3 to 5.  Ages 2 and 5 are slightly less.  Boys are more violent in their expression than girls.  These stories are also compared with a similar analysis of 240 stories gathered earlier (Pitcher & Prelinger, 1963).  The findings of the two studies agree to a marked extent.

Our own impression, substantiated by present findings, is that young children in our culture, in their stories and their play, apparently by nature are extremely violent, If it should be that they absorb this violence from the culture, then such absorption must be considered a rather universal phenomenon expressing itself as early as 2 years of age (Ames, 1966, p. 390).

Opie and Opie (1959) studied the superstitions of 5000 school children throughout England.  Superstitions seem particularly understandable in young children between 2 and 6.  The child's cognition is typified by magical thinking with no sense of probabilities.  Most superstitions deal with good or bad luck objects, reluctance to anticipate fortunate events, and safeguards from harm.  Leonard, Goldberger, Rapoport, Cheslow, and Swedo (1990) report on superstitions and rituals of a sample of over 100 American children diagnosed with Obsessive-compulsive Disorder and a control group of normal children.  OCD and normal children did not differ in superstitions but OCDs did show greater ritualistic behavior.

A final point in trying to understand what role children's fantasies may play in the development of accounts said to be satanic ritualistic abuse is the demonstration by Foley and Johnson (1985) that 6- and 9-year-old children had trouble distinguishing what they did from what they imagined doing.  They were as good as adults at distinguishing what they did from what they saw someone else do.  In fantasies children imagine themselves as actors doing things as well as objects of others actions.

Wakefield and Underwager (1988) observe:

In instances where children are subjected to intense and frequent questioning and further detail are sought across a period of time the progression of the story goes from an initial "touching" to fondling, to oral, genital, and anal penetration, to some form of drug use, to pictures being taken, to monsters, or witches, or people dressed in strange ways behaving in a bizarre fashion (i.e., twirling rainbow colored snakes about the children, keeping bears, training deer to urinate and defecate in children's mouths...) to ritual killing of animals, ranging from gerbils, birds, and squirrels to bears, deer, lions, and elephants.  The final step is some form of violence to children. including torture, mutilation, and murder.

This common progression, noted in cases from Alaska to Florida and Maine to California, suggests that repeated interviews tap into an ever deeper layer of the kind of fantasies children are known to have ...  Some professionals claim that these stories may be true and support this claim by pointing out the similarity of the stories across the country ...  But we are convinced that this very similarity results from the questions professionals, who are familiar with the well publicized cases, ask the children (p.300).

The content of children's most frequent fantasies include violence, monsters, bizarre acts, and much anxiety material.  When adults who believe they know a child has been abused respond to the child's denial of abuse by continued questioning, the child learns the denial is not accepted.  Children do not know what they do not know and they answer questions they do not understand and about which they have no information (Hughes & Grieve, 1983; Linkletter, 1957).  Their fantasies may supply their answers.  Scripts they have acquired by learning may be generalized and provide the source of answers that have no basis in reality (Furman & Walden, 1990).  Given the development of a story across time and known adult behavior to place pressure on a child, the most reasonable and most parsimonious explanation of the story is that the adult caused it, not that it reflects an actual historical prior event.

What It Does to Children

The believers in the satanic ritualistic abuse conspiracy have never asked the question about what they do to children if they make a mistake.  If a child who has not been abused is treated by adults who believe, however they arrive at the belief, that the child has been the victim of satanic ritualistic abuse, it is not a benign, innocuous, nor even neutral experience.  It is devastating to a child.  Seven years after the Scott County cases Robson (1991) interviewed some of the families whose children were taken away and the parents were accused of abuse that is now included by the believers in the category of satanic ritualistic abuse.

The events that collectively came to be known as "the Scott County case" make up one of the most bizarre, disturbing and emotional chapters in Minnesota history.  Children as young as 18 months old were taken from their parents on the basis of fabricated stories coaxed from adolescents who themselves had been isolated for months and repeatedly questioned by zealous investigators.  More than seven years later, the legacy of Scott County has been one of children crying for their parents in the middle of the night; of divorce and dysfunction among nearly all of the families involved; of perhaps permanent emotional damage to the accused and the accusers alike (Robson, 1991, p.50).

Many of the children continue to demonstrate problems that can be traced to their experience.  These include school problems, behavioral difficulties, sexual confusion and difficulty, while some of the children who are now in adolescence are having problems with drugs and alcohol.  Emotionally some of them see problems they don't think will ever disappear (Robson, 1991).

In England the children taken from the Orkney island of Ronaldsay talked about their five week ordeal before they were returned to their families.  A 9-year-old said "They were asking me about all sorts of things I didn't know about."  An 8-year-old girl said "It was horrid. I am glad to be back."  A boy, 15, told of being placed in a home for young criminals where he learned how to steal cars and get hashish.  "They were more intelligent than the social workers who kept asking me if I was involved in sex with other families.  I kept telling them it wasn't true but they wouldn't believe me" (Nelson, 1991).

To treat a child as if satanic abuse were real is to teach that child that the world is filled with evil, that powerful forces can hurt us and destroy us and we cannot stop it.  It is to train a child to distrust others, to believe in the most macabre, disgusting, and horrifying events.  It is to train a child to live in an irrational world in an irrational manner and to steal from the child the ability to live a life of reason and logical coping skills.  It is to reify a child's most terrifying fantasies and force a child to grow into an adult whose world remains at the level of a constant night terror.  It is to run the risk of training a child to be psychotic, not able to distinguish between reality and unreality.  It is to irrevocably and likely irretrievably damage a child and induce a lifelong experience of emotional distress.


The answer to the question why do some professionals believe and not others is in the internal variables of the personalities of the believers.  It ranges from factors that may make a person difficult to relate to but remaining functional to serious psychopathology.  When the belief is acted upon and those believed to be victims of satanic ritualistic abuse are treated accordingly, serious damage is caused.  People who were not victims are taught to believe they are victims.  Indeed, they are.  They are not victims of satanic, ritualistic abuse.  They are victims of common garden variety human stupidity, the cause of the vast majority of human misery.


* Ralph Underwager and Hollida Wakefield are psychologists at the Institute for Psychological Therapies, 5263 130th Street East, Northfield, MN 55057-4880.  [Back]


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