If you were a child in the 1980s you may have a deeper appreciation for the occult than most. Sure every generation has its own stories; it appeals to our curious nature and desire to touch a piece of the unknown. But every now and then some kind of mass hysteria is born out of that usually harmless fear, and we get swept up in the fight between good and evil. Suddenly the spooky characters from our books and movies step out of our nightmares and become tangible threats.

Maybe not tangible to us, specifically…..but definitely to our friend’s cousin’s friend who had that bad experience one time with the Ouija Board and needed an exorcism. What if we are next?!

I mentioned before that during my mom’s “maybe I’m a Jehovah’s Witness” phase my own Ouija Board was banished to the garage. This was a half-hearted effort, really. A small part of her must have suspected that she could change her mind. Or maybe it was a compromise since it had been a Christmas present from my parents only a few months earlier.

Yes, my parents gave me that Ouija Board for Christmas. I no doubt spent hours alone in my room trying to conjure up spirits with it, and apparently this didn’t feel right to Denise (the Jehovah’s Witness who visited my house every Thursday to convince my mom she might be one of the Elite).

But no one planned a bonfire or asked me to turn in my Beatles tapes, so I handed it over with little fanfare. Explaining to me that concentrating on spirits leaves me open to demon possession was the most religious conversation I may have ever had with my mother while growing up.

Meanwhile somewhere in Illinois my husband was at youth group listening to records being played backwards. His tape collection? Mike Warnke, the Satanist high priest turned Christian evangelist. Of course he wasn’t really ever a Satanic high priest, but they didn’t know that yet. He made a lot of money telling fantastic tales labeled as truth.

Satanists were everywhere, and Christians are nothing if not imaginative.

The trouble with mixing stories of the occult and Christian evangelism is that it fits too well. Outside of church these are just scary stories that offer inspiration for teenage boys to sneak into cemeteries at night, and something for tween girls to fantasize about before puberty hits. Occult games and stories were a staple at slumber parties before our interests turned toward boys.

Imagine going to Sunday school the next morning and being shamed for it. And in the world of gods, demons, and angels…..the idea that light as a feather stiff as a board might be dangerous to our very souls doesn’t seem so terribly absurd after all.

Next thing you know, tweens and teens everywhere are on constant guard against Satan and his quest to penetrate our very minds. We are always one ungodly thought away from waking up trapped inside our own body, desperately trying to master the fine art of willing the words “help me” to appear across our skin.

But kids are often only reacting to what the adults are feeding them. In predictable Salem Witch Trial fashion, the 1980s saw accusations of satanic abuse popping up everywhere. Suddenly adults were recalling long lost memories of black robes and infant sacrifice, and groups of children were pointing at anyone for everything from levitation to spiking their Kool-Aid with blood. And people were buying it.

You know the cannibals who carry around severed fingers (I guess in case their blood sugar drops)? I hardly ever worry about them kidnapping me anymore. But in the 1980s my parents owned one of those vans with a bed in back, and I used to imagine what horrors must have taken place on that bed before they bought it. It was pretty much the official satanic kidnapping mobile, right? Were the lingering demons responsible for my motion sickness? Is that why, even today, I am terrified of feeling nauseous?

Maybe I have repressed the memories of my parents’ cult ceremonies. That seems to be the obvious conclusion.

Religion is supposed to reduce fear by introducing us to a hero who looks after us and even defeats death. Which would be great if it were true; and if it didn’t come with all the other baggage that is at least as terrifying as anything that existed before we asked Jesus into our hearts. The fact that so many horror films have a religious theme is not coincidence.

I used to believe satanic worshipers and demons were an actual threat that only Jesus could protect me from. Now that my shield is down, what are they waiting for? The next round of religious witch hunts?

I don’t know. But I do know that I managed to listen to Twisted Sister and still graduate high school without drinking the blood of a goat even once. Is that proof of god? Maybe. It’s better than at least half the evidence I’ve heard this week alone. But there is one thing I know for certain: Those of us who survived the ’80s without a single episode of demonic possession weren’t ungodly or even unlucky.

We were clearly invincible.


4 thoughts on “Satanic Panic!

  1. I remember the satanic, demonic fear mongering of evangelicals all too well in the 80’s, unfortunately. It was their satanic, demonic fear mongering that drove my husband (who was experiencing symptoms of a traumatic brain injury) to suicide.

    1. That is truly horrible, and far from the only example of this causing devastation. It created both individual and clustered mass hysteria, increasing both paranoia and fear. Some toward others and some within themselves. I am sorry it touched your life this way.

  2. We had the same “satanic cults” going here in Sweden too but it got replaced very quickly by all kinds of New Age idiocy. You know, crystals, aura-healing, colour-healing and other things that tried hard to get their thieving hands on your wallet.

    I think the satanic cults went away because they used to destroy tombstones and/or graves and that really pissed people off.

    1. We went straight into the New Age era, too. But I think satanic cults went away when lying ex-Satanists were exposed and became a source of embarrassment for the church. At the very least, it certainly helped 🙂

Leave a Reply