Living Out Loud

The Great Satanic Scare


When I was in high school in the early 80s, there was a belief amongst the olds of the day that Satanism was prevalent throughout American society. Murders were blamed on it. There were supposed molestation rings systemically violating children in daycare centers. The music we listened to was certainly contaminated through and through. The name of the campy rock group KISS was meant to stand for Knights in Satan's Service. Led Zeppelin and Stairway to Heaven? Definitely Satanic. Even groups we think of today as easy listening, like the Eagles, were said to have had a Satanic priest present when they recorded Hotel California with its obscure lyrics. (WTF is a colita, anyway, and what do they smell like?) Ozzy Osborne was not yet everyone's favorite drug-addled uncle. He was still the prince of darkness who had proven his allegiance to the Dark Lord by biting the head off of a a) bat b) a rat c) a pigeon. And, don't forget what would happen if you played rock and roll records backwards...all kind of hidden Satanic message would emanate from your speakers.

The olds couldn't blame any of society's vices on Pong or PacMan, the video games of the day, so they turned to board games instead. The nerdy kids at your school with the multi-sided dice and graph paper dungeons playing Dungeons & Dragons - they were all Satanists. Yep. In my hometown, the brutal killing of an elderly rural couple by a mentally ill soldier from Ft. Bragg was supposedly carried out so he could gain points in a D&D game, so the prosecutors said. (Spoiler - it was a robbery.)

The principal of my high school called a group of us to his office so he could quiz us about Satanism. We dutifully repeated every rumor we'd heard and probably made up a few while we were at it. On television people like Oprah Winfrey and Phil Donahue had so-called experts on to play up the situation. Even conventional news organizations reported on it.

In my time working in the prison system as a correctional officer I received training on how to detect Satanism among inmates. The person doing the training was so crazy that she told us the Smurfs had Satanic symbols on their clothing. I think Teletubbies were mentioned too. She got so far out in her rantings that our boss, to his everlasting credit, had us all stand up and leave in the middle of her presentation.

It was all bullshit, of course. Everything attributed to Satanism had other more mundane explanations. Today's geriatric rockers who trace their roots back to that generation, played up the controversy to sell records and make money in the great capitalist tradition. Gene Simmons of KISS tuned out to be a Republican, not a Satanist - supposedly there is a difference.

These days it's not as much fun. The right wing has taken conspiracy theories away from us and made them racist and xenophobic. They've painted scientific facts they don't like with the same kind of labels they used to hang on Satanists. Climate change and epidemiology get ridiculed and supposed hordes of Ebola infected Al Qaeda members invading our Southern borders are presented as fact. I hate it. Give us back the Devil.