Remember the Satanic Panic

On my long Thanksgiving drive, I listened to a Stuff You Should Know podcast episode about the Satanic Panic of the 1980s.

Growing up in the 80s, I recalled how this ridiculous moral panic unfolded in rural East Tennessee. Earnest young youth pastors gathered their flocks in church basements, straining to find devilish messages in backward-turning records (backmasking). Mothers warned their blue eyed children to be careful because Satan worshipers preferred blue eyed kids for sacrifice.

In every town, there was always a (false) tale of how this or that house or wooded area was ripe with satanic cult rituals – dead babies, dogs, etc. “A cousin of my cousin’s friend’s sister saw it with her own eyes!

This review in Vox encapsulates it well.

Most people, if they know of the Satanic Panic, know of it due to satanic ritual abuse, a rash of false allegations made against daycare centers in the ’80s. But there are lots of threads that contribute to Satanic Panic, and they can be seen running through a handful of recent social and cultural events: the wave of clown scares throughout the country; the new TV series based on The Exorcist;the weekend release of Ouija 2: Origin of Evil; and the October 23 death of fire-and-brimstone evangelical tract writer Jack Chick. All of these events feel lifted straight from this darker era of American culture, when fear of demons and strangers practicing dark occult things seemed to lurk in the heart of every neighborhood.

At its core, satanic ritual abuse claims relied on overzealous law enforcement, unsubstantiated statements from children, and above all, coercive and suggestive interrogation by therapists and prosecutors. Some of the defendants are still serving life sentences for crimes they probably didn’t commit—and most likely didn’t even happen in the first place.


  1. How many of you remember the Satanic Panic?
  2. How did your family, friends, community, church react to the Panic?
  3. How can this kind of ludicrous panic happen in a supposedly rational society?
  4. Do you think demons exist? Possessions? If so, what evidence do you offer?


Socrates the Cat

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