The truth behind the panic.

Sondra, a single woman in her early thirties, sought psychotherapy for depression and an eating disorder. But as her therapy progressed, she began to remember episodes of sexual abuse at the hands of her father. Upon further therapy, other memories emerged, recollections of ritualistic ceremonies involving the drinking of blood, animal and human sacrifice, cannibalistic feasting, and the worship of Satan. The memories seemed vivid and real.

Sondra’s story would be chilling even if it were rare. But it is not. Thousands of patients now claim to be survivors of sexual abuse and torture carried out by satanic cults. Amidst the sudden explosion of personal testimonies and public fear about Satanism in the eighties, hideous stories of a new kind of child abuse emerged—” satanic ritual abuse” (SRA). It refers to ritually performed physical, sexual, emotional, and spiritual abuse of children by members of satanic cults. Proponents of the reality of SRA believe that thousands of children each year are being victimized in satanic rituals involving cannibalism, sexual torture, incest, bestiality, and murder. Some report that more than 100,000 “adult survivors” have undergone therapy and uncovered previously repressed memories of these abuses.

The first case of SRA to confront the American public was that of Michelle Smith. Through therapy with her psychiatrist (and later husband), Lawrence Pazder, Smith claimed to discover previously repressed early childhood memories of debilitating physical and sexual abuse by a Satanist cult, which included some members of her family. The two described her therapeutic journey in the book Michelle Remembers (1980). According to Pazder, Smith’s therapeutic experience culminated ...

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