While Satanism has been thrust into the limelight, experts are calling for careful analysis and reaction.

From Geraldo to James Dobson, Satan worship has captured far-reaching public attention. But how real and how widespread is Satanism in America?

Sensational reports continue to garner headlines, and rumors of satanic cult activities have alarmed whole towns and prompted officials to call communitywide meetings to lay fears to rest. But some experts continue to dismiss many of them as exaggeration and rumor. J. Gordon Melton, director of the Institute for the Study of Religion, said last spring that of the hundreds of cases sent to his institute during the past four years, only 20 have been substantiated as satanic activity.

“The numbers are really small and have always been small,” he said. “As far as is known there are only three organized groups in the country that publicly worship Satan,” though there may be many small local groups led by troubled individuals, he said. Other cult/occult researchers have also called into question the veracity of testimonies by several well-publicized figures claiming to be ex-Satanists.

Nevertheless, a growing list of law-enforcement officials, mental-health professionals, and Christian leaders now takes seriously bizarre stories of ritual abuse, animal sacrifice, sexual perversions, cannibalism, and even murder—all in the name of Satan.

Reliable figures are impossible to find, according to cult/occult watchers, due to the secrecy, individuality, and eclectic practices of Satanists. Most experts, however, believe the number of those involved in Satanism is indeed rising. At the same time, they attribute much of the recent media exposure to increased recognition by authorities of the signs ...

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