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Evil Incarnate Rumors of Demonic Conspiracy and Satanic Abuse in History
by David Frankfurter
Princeton University Press, $29.95, ISBN 0-691-11350-5
In the 1980s, American TV ‘revealed’ a nationwide network of Satanists committing atrocities, particularly against children in day-care. The panic generated by media coverage and professionals who should have known better soon spread to the UK. Frankfurter’s book is a scholarly, readable and sometimes disturbing history of Satanic Ritual Abuse (SRA) allegations, that looks at why they happen in insecure times and shows that they are not safely confined to history or to ‘less enlightened’ parts of the world.
From earliest times, religious institutions extended their power by presenting evil as a real and potent threat that only they could combat. From an attempt to control a ‘chaotic world of misfortunes’, demonology soon became a ‘weapon of institutions’. Centralization of Church power, professionalizing of witch-hunts and the spread of printing led to widespread witchmania in the 16th and 17th centuries and to a new phenomenon: Satanic witchcraft, with its child sacrifice, transgressive rituals, conspiracy theories – and a dose of voyeuristic eroticism. Heretics, Jews and native peoples were demonized as dangerous sub-human Others, along with established community members – the threat from within.
In the last century, ideas of demonic possession revived by Deliverance Ministeries merged with concerns about child abuse to create the SRA panic. Externalizing the cause as something demonic was preferable to accepting child abuse as something wholly human. It also obscured the real issues of familial child abuse and extreme violence done to children during Christian exorcisms.
There has always been a strong theatrical element to the selfappointed ‘experts’, the perpetrators and the victims. They give the audience what they want, either willingly (exorcists and witch-hunters) or under coercion – tortured ‘witches’ or children providing over-eager therapists, social workers and congregations with appropriately lurid details, often in return for status or special attention.
Frankfurter concludes that no evidence, forensic or archeological, exists for SRA and that “historically verifiable atrocities take place not in the ceremonies of some evil realm but rather in the course of purging evil and its alleged devotees from the world”.