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Le Défi magique, volume 2

Massimo Introvigne
Jean-Baptiste Martin

La question du satanisme aujourd'hui

The satanism scare in the United States

David G. Bromley


Depuis le début des années 80 la crainte de l’activité satanique a atteint l’Europe et l’Amérique du Nord. L’explosion de celle-ci a débuté aux Etats-Unis, mais avant la fin de la décennie plusieurs épisodes sont survenus au Canada et en Angleterre (ainsi qu’en France, Allemagne, Australie et Pays-Bas, dans des épisodes moins graves). L’arrivée des cultes subversifs sataniques aux Etats-Unis est composée de plusieurs éléments séparables d’un point de vue analytique : les croyances et pratiques des églises sataniques et autres églises non traditionnelles; des légendes urbaines; des cas de mutilation d’animaux, l’engagement d’adolescents dans les jeux de fantaisie et la musique heavy-metal; des cas d’homicides et les cultes sataniques subversifs. Ce travail examine cette explosion aux Etats-Unis avec l’objectif de tracer la structure de ce qu’on appelle ici l’épisode subversif.
L’épisode subversif satanique courant a eu un impact substantiel malgré qu’il ait reçu peu de confirmations empiriques. On soutient que cette combinaison de circonstances est la plus probable dans les temps de crises structurelles. La crise structurelle entre la famille et l’économie s’identifie comme la source de l’épisode subversif satanique courant aux Etats-Unis. Tandis que l’émergence d’une crise structurelle pourrait être la condition nécessaire pour l’émergence d’un épisode subversif, celle-ci n’est pas condition suffisante. Le mal doit être donné comme forme culturelle et agencement social. Cette thèse soutien que le premier entraîne la création de la transcendance négative (qui inclut la reconstruction du temps, de l’espace, et la construction d’une structure de relations sociales subversives); le dernier entraîne la création de l’agencement subversif (qui inclut les procès étroitement reliés d’objectification, de prise de puissance et de mystification).

Texte intégral

1Since the beginning of the 1980s, fears of Satanic cult activity have both North America and Europe. The outbreak began in the United States, but major also occurred in Canada and England swept outbreaks before the decade ended (along with more limited episodes in France, Germany, the Netherlands and Australia). This paper examines the outbreak in the United Sates with the objective of identifying some integral features of subversion episodes. Subversion involves manipulating central principles of the form and logic of a structure of social relations so as to destroy the integrality and viability of that structure (e.g., using democratic elections to seize governmental power and abolish democracy). The current Satanic subversion episode is a multifaced phenomenon which has had a substantial social impact despite receiving scant empirical confirmation. It is argued that this combination of circumstances is most likely in times of structural crisis. The plausibility of subversion gains force culturally through the creation of negative transcendence and socially through the creation of subversive agency.

1. The shape of satanic cult subversion

2The satanic cult subversion episode in the United States is composed of a number of analytically separable components: beliefs and activities of satanic and other non-traditional churches, urban legends, rumor panics, animal mutilation cases, adolescent involvement in fantasy games and heavy metal rock music, homicide cases and underground satanic cults.

3There have been allegations that satanic churches, such as the Church of Satan and the Temple of Set, are sponsors of various types of satanic activity. These churches are believed to attract anti-social individuals through their perverted «theologies» that inspire, or at least rationalize, deviant conduct.

4Urban legends with an «evil corporation» motif (Fine 85) have been persistently resurfaced in recent years, and some versions have linked major corporations to satanic churches. Two of these narratives assert that the executive leadership of Proctor & Gamble Corporation and the McDonald fast food chain contributes a substantial proportion of corporate profits to the Church of Satan. The Proctor and Gamble narrative further asserts that the thirteen stars in the corporate logo reveals a 666 pattern when properly connected, the number popularly identified with satanism.

5There has been a virtual epidemic of rumor panics across the United Sates over the last decade. One of the most prevalent of these narratives warns of the imminent abduction of an adolescent in the immediate locale (most often a female, blond, blue-eyed, virgin) for sacrifice in a satanic ritual (Balch and Gilliam 1991; Ellis 1990; Long 1985; Shupe 1991; Victor 1989). In some regions these abduction narratives have appeared and reappeared a number of times, and sometimes outbreaks have persisted over a period of many months.

6During the last decade there also has been a surge in reports of suspicious and unexplained animal deaths. Either a large number or a succession of animal remains have been discovered and reported to authorities and the media. Anxious residents have been particularly disturbed by what appears to be surgically precise incisions and missing organs. This pattern mutilation has been attributed to satanists who have slaughtered animals in search of blood and organs for their ritualistic activity (Ellis n.d.).

7A variety of adolescent recreational material, particularly heavy metal rock music and fantasy games (e.g., Dungeons and Dragons), has been connected to satanism (e.g., King 1988). Both types of material allegedly predispose users toward anti-social or self-destructive behavior. Some heavy metal rock music is believed to contain deliberately implanted subliminal messages promoting satanism, and fantasy games with occult themes become «addictive» to participants, who begin to supplant reality with the fantasy worlds lived out in the game.

8In a succession of recent homicide cases perpetrators have linked their offenses to satanism. In some instances adolescent have killed either parents or peers; other cases have involved adult perpetrators who have killed non-related individuals. In such cases perpetrators have attributed their crimes to participation in a satanic cult (e.g. Henry Lee Lucas) or experimenting with heavy metal rock music or fantasy games (e.g. Pete Rowland).

9All of the preceding manifestations of satanism allegedly are coordinated by a four-tiered satanic cult network (Hicks 1990: 283; Holmes 1989: 80-98). According to this schema, at the lowest level are dabblers, primarily adolescents who experiment and play with satanic cultural material. At the next level are self-styled satanists, criminals who appropriate satanic themes in order to rationalize their deviant activities. Above the self-styled satanists are the organized satanists who belong to various public groups, like the satanic churches. At the apex of this organizational network are traditional satanists, the most diabolical, menacing component of satanism. Traditional satanists putatively are organized as an international, secret, hierarchically structured and tightly organized cult network that is actively engaged in a variety of nefarious activities. These activities include abduction of children, child abuse, commercial production of «kiddie porn» and sexual abuse and incest, but the most heinous acts are ritualistic sacrifices of young children that may involve dismemberment and even cannibalism. Although it is virtually invisible and impenetrable, this cult network is thought to be extremely large and growing. Both the number of ritual sacrifice victims in the United States, estimated at 50,000-60,000 annually, and the rapidly expanding ranks of «ritual abuse survivors» seeking treatment from therapists suggest a network of immense scale.

2. Assessing the satanic cult network claims

10Two facts stand out concerning the contemporary claims of satanic cult activity: 1) there is virtually no credible evidence corroborating the existence of the purported satanic cult network or of any connection between the various components of what is termed satanism and 2) despite the absence of such confirmation, the claims have had a substantial public impact. Consider the following:

  • 1 Michael Aquino, leader of the Temple of Set, was accused of child sexual abuse, but the charges we (...)

11There is no evidence to link satanic churches with the alleged activities of satanic cults. Sexual abuse, child molestation and human sacrifice are not part of their theologies or rituals, and there is no evidence linking Satanic churches to such practices or to the other components of satanism1. Further, the satanic churches were founded only recently and do not constitute the successor groups to a longstanding satanic tradition. Indeed, if there is a satanic theological tradition it has been created by Christians. As Melton (1986: 76) points out, «The Satanic tradition has been carried almost totally by primarily conservative Christians, who describe the practices in vivid detail in the process of denouncing them».

12The frequently rehearsed story that executive leaders of Proctor and Gamble and McDonalds are in complicity with satanic churches likewise has been disseminated primarily through conservative Christian networks. These narratives are a subset of urban legends that have irresponsible or malevolent activities by ‘evil corporations’ as their primary themes (Fine 1985, 1979). The narratives have continued to circulate in the United States despite absence of any empirical validation and vigorous corporate public relations campaigns (Kapferer 1990; Koening 1985; Rosnow 1976).

13There have been a small number of instances in which adolescents who were avid Dungeons and Dragons players committed suicide; however, there is no evidence of a causal relationship between the game and self-destructive behavior (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 1991; Fine 1983). Likewise, although there have been numerous allegations about satanic messages embedded in heavy metal rock music, there is little agreement that coherent messages even exist (Thorne and Himelstein 1984). Even if such messages could be located, research on subliminal messages finds no significant influence from such messages even if presented in normal rather than reverse order (Vokey and Read 1985).

14The spate of child abduction rumor panics are based on apprehensions similar to those contained in urban legends with a child endangerment motif (Brunvand 1981). Some urban legends are narrated as a means of conveying a sense of environmental danger, but they usually are carefully distanced so that they occur just outside the immediate environment. Rumor-panics have occurred as heightened concerns about the safety of children have translated into narratives that depict events that are imminent or have already transpired in the immediate locale. Public officials have investigated such reports across the country without discovering any case in which satanic cults were active and intent on abducting members of the community (Ellis 1990; Long 1985; Shupe 1991; Victor 1989).

15Virtually every investigation of animal mutilation cases has concluded that unexplained large-animal deaths are the product of roadkills, hunting, trapping, disease or poisoning. The «surgically precise» wounds observed on «mutilated» animal carcasses are the work of predators and scavengers (e.g., Cade 1977; Stewart 1977). There are, of course, persistent instances of individual killing animals for reason as diverse as revenge and pranks, but there has been no demonstrable connection between identified perpetrators and satanic cults.

16In several dozen homicide cases satanism has been offered as a contributing or causal factor in the commission of those crimes. It is clear that some perpetrators have confessed to involvement in satanism in the hope of diminishing legal responsibility for their acts. In other cases murderers have employed satanic themes in order to express alienation from and hostility toward conventional society. In yet other cases individuals have sought publicity by adding a satanic gloss to their crimes. However, there is no credible evidence either that any of these individuals has been a member of a satanic cult network or that their crimes were committed as an element of an organized satanic ritual calling for human sacrifice.

17If there is no basis for connecting the preceding phenomena with satanism, the evidence puts forth to demonstrate the existence of a satanic cult network is equally unconvincing. First, no organizational records of any kind (e.g., correspondence, membership list, phone logs, travel records, bank accounts, meeting places, rituals implements, pornographic films) have been recovered from a network that must be large, complex, international in scope and must have engaged in a variety of nefarious activities for an extended period of time. Second, despite intensive investigation of ritual sites identified by ritual abuse survivors, not a single sacrifice victim has been discovered whose death can be linked to a satanic ritual (Lanning 1989). Third, there is no evidence of a «theology» or set or rituals that form the basis for the current practice or satanism or of any historical tradition from which satanic belief and practices might have been drawn. Fourth, there have been no organizational schisms or defectors from the cult network who can independently attest to its existence even though membership includes a diverse array of individuals ranging from teenage dabblers to high status professionals. Fifth, the physical evidence that is presented belies the claims of a phenomenally efficient, infallible organization. While satanists are able to conduct countless ritual sacrifices and dispose of the bodies without leaving a trace, they also presumably leave the landscape littered with the remains of mutilated animals. Similarly, while satanists are able to suppress dissent ruthlessly by members and victims alike, apparently they also allow numerous ritual abuse survivors to recount their stories publicly and use crude and easily discovered intimidation tactic against them and their supporters. Sixth, it stretches credulity to believe that millions of children could have been sacrified and their bodies disposed of without a trace. Yet this must be so if there are 50,000 sacrifice victims annually and if middle-aged individuals were victimized as young children by satanists. Seventh, the proposal that missing children are a major source of sacrifice victims is incompatible with data that indicate that only a few hundred children at most are abducted by strangers annually (Finkelhor et al. 1990). Finally, while there is virtually no credible empirical evidence of either the existence of an international satanic cult network or of substantial numbers of ritual sacrifice victims, there are numerous instances of disproved claims (e.g., Lyons 1988: 143-145; Religious Freedom Alert, «Missouri Police Waste Time, Money On False Rumor of Satanic Activity», May, 1989). The most prominent case involved Lauren Stratford, author of an autobiographical book, Satan’s Underground. Investigative journalists were unable to corroborate many of the central events and claims recorded in her book, which subsequently was withdrawn from publication (Passantino et al. 1989; American Library Association 1990).

18Despite this overwhelming lack of empirical confirmation, the satanic cult narrative has had a profound social impact (Bromley 1991). Large numbers of parents in communities experiencing rumor-panics have withdrawn their children from school during these episodes. Various public opinion surveys indicate that a substantial proportion of the population is convinced of the existence and operation of a menacing satanic cult network. Media representatives have uncritically reported extreme and bizarre stories of ritual abuse without independent investigation (e.g. the Me Martin case) and also have provided forums for sometimes fantastic claims in an effort to maintain their respective viewer ratings (e.g., Geraldo and Oprah television talk shows). Law enforcement officials have conducted extensive and costly investigations in an effort to locate satanic ritual sites and the remains of ritual sacrifice victims. Well over one hundred daycare centers have been investigated across the nation during the last decade on the suspicion that these facilities had been infiltrated by satanic cultists intent on gaining access to children. A number of states have created task forces to investigate the possibility of satanic cult activity within their borders, and some states have revised criminal statutes to incorporate penalties for ritualistic crimes and to extend the statute of limitations to permit legal prosecution in case in which victim trauma prevented initiating legal action within stipulated limits. And individuals have been sentenced to extraordinary long prison terms, sometimes primarily on the uncorroborated testimony of adult «ritual abuse survivors» or of very young children.

3. The construction of subversion

  • 2 Structural crisis is defined as an historical moment when major elements of a structure of social (...)

19The preceding review of the components of reported Satanic activity, the empirical disconfirmation of these reports and the significant social impact of the reports raises fascinating sociological issues. If satanism does not in fact exist in the form explicated in the various components narratives, how do members of the society become persuaded of its reality? Elsewhere, Bromley (1991) argues that the outbreak of satanic cult reports in the United States is linked to potent tensions between family and economy that have created a structural crisis. Historically it has been structural crisis that has led to the positing of subversion and the launching of countersubversion campaigns2. Countersubversion campaigns, like the current campaign against satanism, involve the creation of cultural and social forms – a countersubversion ideology, subversive agency, and a countermovement organizational coalition – both by segments of the society impacted by the crisis and by groups that develop a stake in channeling and controlling crisis-generated needs and resources.

20This paper focuses on the first two of these issues, the nature of negative transcendence and subversive agency. It is argued that mounting a countersubversion campaign is contingent on 1) symbolically crafting the shape that subversive evil assumes, rendering subversion as central to interpreting the crisis being experienced and heightening apprehension about the impact of the subversive force and 2) creating credible evidence that subversives are indeed actively transforming the contemporary world. The former involves the construction of negative transcendence and the latter construction of subversive agency.

4. The construction of negative transcendence

21Central to the construction of the subversive is the creation of negative transcendence. Transcendence refers to «structural principles of relations of a level lying above or outside the level of structure taken as the point of reference» (Turner 1977: 69). Negative transcendence is created symbolically through three major elements: reconstruction of time, reconceptualization of space and rendering the structure of subversive social relations.

a) The Reconstruction of Time

22Countersubversion ideologies reconstruct time so that the subversive force transcends the current era, becoming an integral element in the course of history. The period defined as the ‘past’ chronicles the origins of the subversive force, its operation through historic time and the explanation for its contemporary incarnation. The «present» is demarcated and thematized by the crisis subversives have engendered. The end of the present remains imminent but indeterminate and depends on the swiftness and decisiveness of countersubversion measures. If countersubversion measures are successful, the natural order that has existed will be restored; if not, the prospect is for a perpetual dys-utopia. The effect of this recalibration of time is to mobilize apprehension about the crisisdominated present.

23In the satanic cult subversion narrative, Satanic activity is described as cyclical. Cult crime expert Kurt Jackson (Geraldo, «Satanic Cults and Children», November 19, 1987), for example, refers to 28-years cycles in each of which satanic activity may assume different forms. In the contemporary period satanists have set as their goal the infiltration of daycare centers. The specter of ultimate satanic domination is created partly through the intergenerational transmission of sexual abuse. Individuals subjected to abuse themselves become abusers, producing a geometrically expanding network of satanists. As a means of demonstrating the continuity of satanic activity through history, there also have been some efforts to reinterpret past events, such as witchcraft accusations, as actually involving satanic abuse that was simply conveyed in eraappropriate symbolic code and therefore is not recognized as linked to current satanic cult activity (Hill and Goodwin 1989).

b) The Reconceptualization of Space

24The construction of subversion involves the creation of a transcendent alternative realm that is conceived as having an existence separate from and beyond the realm of everyday life. The subversive realm operates according to qualitatively different organizational principles such as contact between the two realms is disruptive of and destructive to the realm of everyday life. Although ordinarily separate from one another, these two realms, do have points of potential connection through which contact may be established and boundary crossing accomplished. The integration and security of the everyday realm hinges on maintaining the separation of the two realms. There may be historical accounts of prior subversive incursions that along with unsettling events in the present serve as reminders that «civilization» is never completly secure against the «wilderness».

25In the satanism narrative, subversives have crossed the boundary between realms and penetrated the central institutions of the social order. Satanic ritual abuse in daycare centers and intergenerational satanic families are the leading edge of the subversive force as society is now being undermined from the inside. Satanic operations still are primarily based in «contest terrain», however; locations that are on the margin of the human community where human control is not firmly established. Thus satanists are frequently discovered conducting their sinister activities in remote wounded areas, cemeteries, basements, abandoned buildings, warehouses and tunnels.

c) The Construction of Subversive Social Structures

26Knowledge about the subversive realm necessarily is fragmentary given the separation and fundamental opposition between the subversive and everyday realms. However, the limited information that is pieced together from physical traces of satanic activity and survivors of satanic rituals substantiates the fundamental opposition of the two realms. This disparity is constructed symbolically on cognitive/objective, cathetic/subjective and moral/normative dimensions.

27On the cognitive/objective dimension, the subversive realm is the repository of esoteric knowledge that is fundamentally destructive to human cognitive functioning. In the satanic cult subversion narrative the most important knowledge possessed by satanists, which is incorporated into their sacred rituals, is of techniques for brainwashing, terrorizing and drugging target individuals. This knowledge both allows the satanists’ access to children for performance of destructive rituals and constitutes the modern means through which the individual uniqueness and autonomy are destroyed. Obviously, there could be no other purpose for the creation and preservation of such information except hostile and destructive actions against basic humanity.

28On the cathetic/subjective dimension, the subjective realm is the locus of an overpowering, destructive force that is life-energy-destroying rather than life-energy-generating. The energy of victims of subversives is appropriated and absorbed, thereby strengthening the subversive realm and its members. Subversives frequently are depicted as essentially cold and lifeless beings who are only animated and energized by the consumption of the life-essence of others (e.g., soul, selfhood). Subversive power is depicted as irresistible (contact with the subversive power renders the individual powerless), inexorable (the individual is drawn into ever greater involvment with the subversive) and irresistible (the trajectory of involvement cannot be altered).

29In the satanic cult narrative the fundamental ‘otherness’ of the subversive realm is conveyed in part by its exploitation of children, members of the society who epitomize vulnerability, purity and innocence. The rituals of satanists include such life-energy appropriation practices as drinking of victims’ blood, consumption of their vital organs and sacrificial rites whose objectives are absorption of the life-energy released at the moment of the victims’ death.

30On the moral/normative dimension, the subversive realm is organized on the basis of moral principles that stand in direct opposition to those of normal society. This opposition often is symbolized through inversions that reflect the un-human, anti-human essence of subversives (Clark 1976). Subversives thus embody quintessential evil which is integral to their essential character and purpose.

31The various components of the satanic cult narrative are replete with symbolic inversions. For example, social mobility within the cult is based on abuse rather than love, satanists abuse rather than nurture their children, messages are written and understood backward, sex with children often involves sodomy, satanists drink and eat rather than expel urine and feces, satanists consume rather than give blood, satanic rituals are characterized by an inverted eucharist in which human organs are ritualistically cannibalized to enhance personal power, satanic marriages are consummated through rape, and sexual abuse is a form of worship.

5. The Construction of Subversive Agency

32The cultural reality and transcendence of subversion are created through the recalibration of time (which focuses attention on a crisis-dominated present), a reconfiguration of space (which juxtaposes contradictory structures of social relations), and the construction of a structure of subversive social relations (which involves detailing the form and logic of the subversive realm). Together, there three features of countersubversion ideology have the objective of defining the shape of evil and heightening apprehension that its impact is imminent in what had previously been regarded as a secure domain. The social reality of subversion is created through demonstrations of subversive agency – the effecting of change in the everyday world through which the principles and structure of the social order are used to destroy it. If subversives do not have existence independent of the sociocultural construction process, then it is human actors who must create empirical referents that give material form to subversion. The creation of subversive agency involves three interrelated processes: objectification, projection and mystification.

33Objectification entails creating, assembling and thematizing individual intentionality, naturalistic and social events, and cultural materials so as to create culturally meaningful indicators of subversive activity. In some instances this involves simply accepting the symbolism individuals or groups already are employing to thematize their own behavior; in other instances more active constructionism by individuals and groups is involved. In most instances, much of what comes to be taken as evidence of subversive activity already exists in some form.

34In the satanic subversion episode some individuals and groups have appropriated satanic symbolism for their own purpose: satanic churches that construct their theologies in opposition to Christianity; countercultural activities such as grave desecration, graffiti and heavy metal rock music that expresses alienation; and homicide and suicides in which the individuals attribute their actions to satanic involvements. Child abduction and animal mutilation panics, child endangerment and evil corporation urban legends simply rethematize sources of danger that previously had been attributed to other miscreants (e.g., replacing aliens from outer space with satanists in child abduction narratives). In other cases there has been a greater degree of deliberateness and activism in the construction process: «discovering» subliminal messages in heavy metal rock music (which are then provided along with the original sources to insure appropriate deciphering of otherwise ambiguous lyrics); organized therapy groups that thematize client biographical narratives and grant those narratives the status of factuality (Mulhern 1991), and outright manufacture or fabrication of incidents (e.g., adolescent reproduction of satanic symbolism in a locale to sustain adult attention and false confessions of satanic activity in order to achieve public notoriety). The common symbolism utilized in these diverse events then becomes the basis for attributing them to a common source.

  • 3 In the contemporary satanic subversion episode the concept of realm has changed somewhat from comp (...)

35Projection is essential to the creation of subversive agency. The projection of subversion outside the everyday world to a separate realm establishes its ‘otherness’3. That subversives are unlike ordinary members of society is demonstrated by their location in a separate realm possessing a qualitatively different form and logic. That they are antithetical is demonstrated by their calculated, unremitting destructiveness. The projection of subversion outside the everyday world also establishes independent subversive power. Subversive now can be confronted as an organized force capable of aggression, resistance and evasion. The construction of external evil obviates the possibility of the social order as the source of crisis.

36In the satanic cult subversion episode, the dynamic confrontation of realms is given reality in a variety of ways. Police squads cross boundaries to raid sites of suspected satanic activity, only to discover that satanists have once more managed to evade them. When police come close to cult-sponsored activities, double agents warn cultists of impending raid. When therapists begin to restore the memories of ritual abuse victims, satanists employ terror and intimidation tactics against therapists and clients alike or attempt to reassert mind control over vulnerable clients. The most compelling evidence of satanic power is the transformation of individuals and institutions into their alien opposites. In the daycare center and intergenerational satanism cases, discoveries are made that some vital segments of mainstream institutions already have been converted to alien purpose as members of the next generation have been compromised or converted. The individual ritual abuse survivors, often with their therapists, offer personal witness in satanic power and calumny. They provide accounts of boundary crossing, of journeys into the satanic realm. Their testimony of horrific experiences and shattered personalities (memory loss, emotional trauma and participation in unspeakable evil) are the graphic evidence of the awesome transformative power satanists possess.

37If objectification defines the pattern of satanic activity and projection establishes its power and transformative capacity, mystification constitutes the mechanism whereby the construction process is insulated from the conclusion that the whole enterprise is of human design. There are segments of the social order whose interests are not served by the validation of subversive apocalypticism. Questions, concerns and skepticism will inevitably arise from these quarters. It is thus imperative to obscure as fully as possible the mundane, naturalistic origins and composition of the phenomena attributed to subversive agency. Even if a clash of accounts yields no credible explanation for disturbing events, it may remain difficult to banish the possibilty that evil in fact lurks just beyond the limits of surveillance.

38In the current satanism episode, satanic subversion proponents issue public statements to explain their failure to determine absolutely the existence and identity of satanists and to offer simultaneously indirect, tantalizing evidence to support their claims. Thus, lack of hard evidence is attributed to cultist cleverness, law enforcement agencies are unable to penetrate the cult network without becoming implicated in unspeakable crimes, and ritual abuse survivors are unable to confront satanists due to recurrent emotional trauma. At the same time, subversion proponents form tight-knit therapy groups, survivor support groups and even professional associations in which affirmations of faith, information sharing and therapeutic rituals generate the narrative congruity that engenders the compelling sense that the accounts indeed are valid. The therapeutic process is particularly effective in this regard, for whatever the source of client trauma is, the origins are likely to be effectively shrouded by extended treatment which employs satanic symbolism to thematize biographical reconstruction. Mystification is also enhanced, of course, to the extent that individuals or groups for diverse motives engage in ostension and ‘copy-cat crime’ that obfuscates any possible pattern in activities labeled satanic (Ellis, 1989).


39This paper briefly sketches the multi-faceted components of the satanic cult subversion episode in the United States. It is striking that satanic cult claims both have had a substantial social impact and minimal empirical verification. While the occurrence of a structural crisis may be a necessary condition for the emergence of a subversion episode, it is not a sufficient condition. Evil must be given cultural form and social agency. This paper has argued that the former entails the creation of negative transcendence (involving the reconstruction of time, reconceptualization of space, and the construction of a structure of subversive social relations); the latter entails the creation of subversive agency (involving the interrelated processes of objectification, empowerment and mystification). In order to understand fully the dynamics of subversion episodes, it is necessary to follow this analysis with an investigation of the formation of a countermovement organizational coalition and the development of an «economy of subversion», which together stabilize and institutionalize a countersubversion campaign.



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1 Michael Aquino, leader of the Temple of Set, was accused of child sexual abuse, but the charges were dropped.

2 Structural crisis is defined as an historical moment when major elements of a structure of social relations, which are accorded a high level of moral priority and generate institutionally central lines of action, stand in opposition to one another and therefore yield contradictory behavioral imperatives. Structural crises create pressure for structural realignment of the elements in tension with one another.

3 In the contemporary satanic subversion episode the concept of realm has changed somewhat from comparable historical cases. Because in highly individualistic society the sacred is now conceived in terms of of an inner «true self», the subversive begins to take on the form of an unbridled, unprincipled self. This dimension of the construction of subversion is not considered in this paper.


Virginia Commonwealth University.

© Presses universitaires de Lyon, 1994

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