Satanism and satanic ritual abuse
A couple of weeks ago I was asked to review a document on Satanism and Satanic Ritual Abuse (SRA) in South Africa. I looked at the document, asked the opinions of some academic researchers who were more familiar with the topic than I was, and then sent my comments to the authors. I don’t want to say any more about the document and my comments on it here — it’s up to the authors to decide what they do with them.
But the document did set me thinking about the topic generally, though not for the first time.
A few years ago, prompted by reports of satanic ritual abuse in the media, I wrote an article Will the real satanists please stand up? Until a few weeks ago that was the article that had got the highest number of readers of this blog in a single day, so the topic must have been of some interest.
One of the things that the review has persuaded me to do is to distinguish between Satanism as a religion (with a capital S) and satanism as a Christian deviation (with a small s). Satanism as a religion dates back to the 1960s, when Anton LaVey wrote The Satanic Bible and founded the Church of Satan. But, as far as I have been able to discover, most cases of satanic ritual abuse have nothing to do with LaVeyan Satanism or members of the Church of Satan. They all seem to be linked to satanism with a small s, which is a Christian deviation, a Christian heresy.
I have raised this in an Internet forum that deals with the literature of the Inklings in particular, and Christian horror/fantasy literature in general. Charles Williams (one of the Inkings) refers to “satanism” in one of his novels, War in heaven, which was published in 1930, the year Anton LaVey was born, which indicates to me that LaVey cannot have copyright on the term; nor should he be regarded as the sole arbiter of its meaning. War in heaven also contains an incident which could be described as “satanic ritual abuse”. It is, of course, fictional, but it can serve to illustrate the usage of the terms.
In this extract from the novel, Gregory Persimmons, a publisher and a satanist, has invited his employee, Lionel Rackstraw, and his family to spend some time at his home, and has this conversation with Lionel:
Gregory turned his head to see better the young face from which this summary of life issued. He felt perplexed and uncertain; he had expected a door and found an iron barrier.
“But,” he said doubtfully, “had Judas himself no delight? There is an old story that there is rapture in the worship of treachery and malice and cruelty and sin.”
“Pooh,” Lionel said contemptuously; “it is the ordinary religion disguised; it is the church-going clerk’s religion. Satanism is the clerk at the brothel. Audacious little middleclass cock-sparrow!”
“You are talking wildly,” Gregory said a little angrily. “I have met people who have made me sure that there is a rapture of iniquity.”
“There is a rapture of anything, if you come to that,” Lionel answered; “drink or gambling or poetry or love or (I suppose) satanism. But the one certainty is that the traitor is always and everywhere present in evil and good alike, and all is horrible in the end.”
“There is a way to delight in horror,” Gregory said.
In a more recent case of satanic ritual abuse that came before the courts, the murder of Kirsty Theologo, the participants used the Christian Bible to justify their actions, not LaVey’s Satanic Bible. In most of the cases that I have read about, in the newspapers, the satanists were not even “the clerk at the brothel”; they were schoolchildren.
As far as I can see, in cases of satanic ritual abuse in South Africa:
- most of the victims are white
- most of the perpetrators are white
- the perpetrators are usually teenagers or “young adults”
- the perpetrators do not practise Satanism *as a religion*
- the perpetrators practise satanism as a Christian deviation
This may not be statistically accurate, as it applies only to cases that have come to my notice through press reports, which may not be all that accurate.
There have also been ritual murders that have involved black people. For example: a few years ago a child was murdered near Pretoria and the body built into a hairdressers shop under construction. The aim, it emerged in court, was to increase the prosperity of the business. Now this was, by any standards, “ritual abuse”, though it probably wasn’t “satanic”. But such ritual abuse was found in pre-Christian societies in Europe too, as archaeologists have discovered, so it is not peculiarly African, and nor is it “colonial”.
In South Africa, most cases of satanic ritual murder have involved white teenagers.
How could this be, and what could be the cause of it?
Here is the germ of a hypothesis:
I recall that in the 1970s there were a number of books published by Evangelical publishers in the USA, warning of the dangers of “the occult”. I looked at several of them on the shelves of bookshops, and may even have one or two on my own shelves. As I recall, they were not very accurate, and most of them described, or at least hinted at, satanic conspiracies.
My inchoate hypothesis is that some people in South Africa read some of these books, and took them seriously, and that among those who did so were some policemen who, regarding themselves as experts as a result of what they had read, proposed and staffed the “occult crimes unit” of the South African Police.
They then, being not only experts, but policemen and thus authority figures, went round to schools to warn the youth about the dangers of meddling in “the occult”. Among the other disinformation they peddled were allegations that the peace symbol was satanic, and represented “the witch’s claw” and other such nonsense.
They were welcomed most enthusiastically in white Afrikaans-medium schools which tended to be the most authoritarian, and the most assiduous in pursuing the government’s indoctrination policy, known as “Christian National Education” (which was neither Christian, nor national, nor education).
In doing this, they provided the pupils at the schools with a marvellous tool for rebelling against the authoritarian education system, and some of them, in doing so, called themselves “satanists” and adopted the very symbols that they had been warned against in the lectures, based on the Evangelical books published in the USA, which warned of the dangers of “the
So my hypothesis is that if you are looking for the roots of satanic ritual abuse in South Africa, they are probably to be found in certain American Evangelical publications of the 1970s.
This is not fact; it is a half-baked hypothesis.
But I think it would be interesting if some academic researchers picked it up and baked it.