THERE IS NO “NEW SATANIC PANIC”
As recently as four or five years ago I’d have said that the Satanic Panic is ancient history and Modern Satanists should move on from it. In my mind, it all seemed tangential to America’s current religious affairs.
Well, everybody sure showed me. I was so far from the pulse of the nation on that one that the discourse may well have died on my watch. And then presumably become a zeitgeist.
Possibly more critical scrutiny is paid to the Satanism scare today than when it was current. And the more that modern critics, historians, journalists, and every other Vice writer prod the old topic, the more people ask: Is there now a new Satanic Panic?
The good news is the answer is no. The bad news is that the good news may not actually be all that good. Hey, if you want non-nuanced answers, become a fucking a Baptist.
This question boiled over again in response to the nontroversy about Lil Nas X’s latest single, music video, and shoe endorsement. (For which I understand he’s sold many soles.)
Robby Starbuck, director of Nothing You’ve Ever Heard Of, called the video an attempt to “destroy any semblance of Judeo-Christian values,” which is an interesting play from a guy who once worked for Slayer.
Candace Owens accused LNX of “destroying our youth,” although as an InfoWars contributor she defaults to assuming all destroyed youths were crisis actors.
And America’s collective creepy uncle Rudy Giuliani said…sorry I phased out for a second upon realizing that Rudy Giuliani is apparently still a person somewhere. Who knew?
This is all posturing, though. Sure, the use of blatant Satanic imagery is a handy blind for casual bigotry, but had he never challenged those boundaries, would fundies of America really have said to Lil Nas X, “Yes, you are a young, openly gay black man with an international platform, and we rejoice.” There’d be so few straight faces in that crowd they’d all be sent to a conversion camp.
That isn’t a Satanic Panic, it’s just the regular kind. Well all right then (says the fake reply guy who lives in my head and who is REALLY game for this argument for some reason), what about #Qanon, America’s most high-profile anti-semitic media presence now that Mel Gibson’s latest comeback attempt bombed?
In a recent Patreon blog, Satanic Temple cofounder Lucien Greaves called #Qanon “a continuation of Satanic Panic,” while Satanist travel and fashion writer La Carmina warned Unilad that “social media creates maximum engagement echo chambers that fan these flames” in ways that weren’t possible 40 years ago.
Indeed, way back in 2017 (a simpler time, when only a handful of normal people had even heard of #Qanon and an ice cream cone cost just a nickel–or so I imagine, I’ve suppressed most memories before March of 2020), I called #Qanon “Satanic Panic for the Matrix generation.”
Here’s the thing though: I would not call this a “new” Satanic Panic. Rather, it’s just the same one.
“The Satanic Panic of the 80s and 90s never really ended,” La Carmina notes, but rather “these baseless accusations of worldwide Satanic cult conspiracies simply take on different forms.”
And she’s absolutely right, except that she probably doesn’t go far enough. The panic has not been going on since the 80s, but since the beginning of civilization–or so close to it that we can hardly tell the difference.
Anthropologist Sherrill Mulhern called this “the myth of the blood cult conspiracy” and “one of mankind’s oldest legends.” That was back in 1991 in D Magazine, but I well imagine she’d say the same thing today. (The world’s oldest legends don’t tend to stop being old over a 20-year period…)
Last year I wrote on Patheos about the primeval motivations behind Anti-Satanist conspiracizing. “There’s always a moral panic about protecting the children of the in-group,” exvangelical writer Chrissy Stroop said.
Sometimes the ornamental details change. People may tone down the degree of delirium about “cults” so that they can obsess over “gangs,” immigrants, “terrorists,” or some other made-up concern for a while. It’s a true zero-sum game–one in which zero is not only the only sum, but the only figure at all.
If illegal immigration (or legal immigration, for that matter) stopped like a watch tomorrow, the amount of anti-immigrant frothing from non-border states wouldn’t decline by a degree. In fact, it might well go up. Just like there never were any witches in Essex County in 1692, but evidently the trials managed to go on fine without them.
Similarly, if Satanists did not exist, a Satanic Panic would invent us. As indeed it already has, since the Satanist conspiracies of Ron Watkins’ fever dreams are a lot like my abs: So far removed from realization as to lie almost (but not quite) entirely beyond imagining.
A quote I did not include in that Patheos story but perhaps should have comes by way of American folklorist Bill Ellis, who told me, “The belief in Satan is a very old conspiracy theory.” Not quite the oldest, but maybe the oldest’s immediate offspring.
And this of course is why even the Satanic Panic of the 80s was not really new: For at least a generation previously, people had been chasing after invisible cultists, cattle mutilators, London vampires, “black witches,” and even less articulable fears.
There is never a new Satanic Panic.
The panic was old when religion was young.