There are few people who have not heard the phrase “Satanic Panic.” It’s possibly the most recent major moral panic in the US, and a growing concern for many Satanists who believe we are on the brink of another one.
The Satanic Panic was a phenomenon, similar to the mass hysteria of the Salem Witch Trials, beginning in the 1980s and ending in the ’90s. It kicked off with accusations of a phenomenon called “Satanic ritual abuse” (accusations which have been proven to be false, and any Satanist will tell you that the very idea of ritual abuse is contrary to Satanic values and is nothing more than Christian propaganda). It ended in the late 90s/early 2000s.
So, if we really are entering one, what can be done to stop the coming Satanic Panic Part 2? The first step is to recognize the signs of a moral panic. A moral panic is defined by the Oxford Research Encyclopedia as such:
…a panic or overreaction to forms of deviance or wrong doing believed to be threats to the moral order[,] usually framed by the media and led by community leaders or groups intent on changing laws or practices… Moral panics gather converts because they touch on people’s fears and because they also use specific events or problems as symbols of what many feel to represent “all that is wrong with the nation”.Oxford Research Encyclopedia
Sociologists Erich Goode and Nachman Ben-Yehuda have developed five criteria to determine whether a moral panic is happening. The first is concern. A moral panic is set off with a “heightened level of concern over the behavior of a certain group or category.” That concern is usually indicated by polls, media coverage, social media activity, and lobbying.
Coupled with concern over the “deviant” behavior you have an increased level of hostility toward those who engage in that deviant behavior. The behavior is portrayed by the leaders of the panic as harmful to general society. Deviants are branded as “folk devils” (or literal devils in the case of Satanists).
Moral panics work in part because of the third criterion, consensus. If a fairly significant portion of society is not in consensus that the targeted behavior or targeted group of people is a threat, the panic falls apart. With a panic targeting Satanists, the consensus formed among Evangelical Christians is that, according to the theology they subscribe to (but not necessarily the one that is in the Bible; Satan is mentioned specifically only a few times in the Bible, and given that the word satan is a Hebrew word which means adversary, that doesn’t mean much), Satan is evil, and that anyone assuming his name must also be evil. A counterclaim can be made to the consensus, but we’ll get to that later.
Another key aspect to a moral panic is disproportionality of concern for the threat, to the actual threat level. For example, in the last Satanic Panic, the concern was that alleged Satanists were abusing children ritualistically in day-cares. It has long since been proven that those claims were not only false, but that it is entirely possible that those memories recovered in therapy were, in actuality, implanted by the victims’ therapists. The Satanic Temple’s Grey Faction has more information about such claims and how false memories could be implanted.
And the last requirement for Goode and Ben-Yehuda’s model is volatility. Moral panics typically don’t last long, exploding an issue out of proportion before dying down as quickly as it erupted. Over time, a panic over the same issue can occur, but most panics do not last long.
While this model explains what a moral panic looks like, it does not explain much about why they occur. From my own observation, it seems to me that moral panics happen most often as a reaction to societal change. The change that brought on the first Satanic Panic was before my time, but change is an ongoing process, which never ends. As such, it stands to reason that the occurrence of moral panics are also never-ceasing.
The major change we seem to be going through in the US is a rebellion against white, cisgender, Evangelical Christian patriarchy. As such, white Evangelical Christians are lashing out. The lobbyist group Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation has developed what they call Project Blitz, which is a legislative playbook to, as they say, “protect the free exercise of traditional Judeo-Christian religious values and beliefs in the public square, and to reclaim and properly define the narrative which supports such beliefs[,]” suggesting that there is a high level of concern from Evangelical white Christians, that with the rise of alternative viewpoints such as Satanism, their way of life is somehow under threat. As such, at least in my experience, many Christians display a certain level of hostility toward Satanists.
Which brings me back to the third criterion of a moral panic: consensus. Evengelicals are in agreement that the rise of witchcraft and Satanism are threats to their way of life. Therefore, it is up to Satanist organizations to challenge the consensus (The Satanic Temple, in particular, seems to have taken up that responsibility). To my knowledge, there seem to be two main counterclaims that Satanists and other non-Christians can make to Christians who spread misinformation about us. The first is that we are not interested in violating the freedoms of others. What we are interested in is protecting and exercising our own freedom. The second is that the world does not revolve around Christians. It is true that in the US, Christianity is the dominant religion. As such, many Christians have allowed that dominance to go to their head, deluding themselves into thinking they belong to a Christian nation and that the first amendment only applies to them. (Before I start getting the “not all” comments, yes, you’re absolutely right. Not all Christians behave this way, nor do they all harbor such delusions of grandeur. However, there are many of them that do, and far too many of that percentage hold positions of political power, and have been using that power to push theocratic agendas. So please, for the love of Satan, keep that shit to yourself). Any time Christians are allowed certain privileges, those same privileges should be applied to members of other religions, because the US is not a Christian nation, and the government therefore cannot legally show favor to Christians.
So perhaps a better description for Satanic Panic is Christian Panic. Satanists aren’t the ones panicking, though it would be to our detriment to ignore the Christian panic. They may be losing much of their power over the people, but they still are the ruling demographic. They still have the power to fuck up a lot of shit for a lot of people. We mustn’t let them forget that the people they’re fucking also have power, and we will use it when necessary.