A New History of the Lure of the Satanic

Written by Alan Cabal on . Posted in Miscellaneous, Posts.

I have many
vices, but the easiest and the cheapest to indulge is my endless appetite for
bullshit. I can get a quick cheap fix anywhere, anytime, just by picking up
a daily newspaper, but the true mother lode is to be found in the darker recesses
of UFOlogy, conspiracy research and religion.

I burned
out on the UFO nuts back in the summer of ’97, the Roswell Summer, when
I spent two solid weeks holed up in my apartment with a pile of fresh tomes
on the subject. Alien-obsessed gazoonies of every shape, size and description
were descending on Roswell that July to commemorate their cherished extraterrestrial
DUI fantasy. It was just too goddamned much, total oversaturation, and I completely
lost interest in the UFO bullshit after that.

The conspiracy
research is a marvelous source of ever-changing and ever-expanding material
that I will never lose interest in, primarily because some of these conspiracies
really do exist, and the ones that don’t tend to be outlandish enough to
provide a perpetually renewable source of merriment. The advent of the Internet
and the forum it provides for fringe types who could never get their ideas into
actual print has been a boon to this particular branch of entertainment. I suspect
we’re in for a real bull market for this stuff in light of what we’ve
all come to refer to euphemistically as "recent events." Some of it
will no doubt be true. The World Trade Center event is Dallas writ large. The
lines go everywhere and nowhere.

is endlessly fascinating. Where did the magnificent epic novel we call "the
Bible" come from? Certainly not from historical fact. How did an illiterate
shepherd happen to write the Koran? What in the hell was H.P. Blavatsky going
on about? The neat thing about religion is that all the great lines of bullshit
converge there: aliens, conspiracies, alien conspiracies, fantastic and dazzling
leaps of imagination, a real testimonial to human creativity run amok.

The E-ticket
attraction for sheer amusement value in this field of inquiry is Satanism. No
religion, including Judaism and Scientology, has ever generated more fevered
conspiracy-mongering and sheer paranoia than Satanism. It could be argued that
Satanism in fact manifested as an authentic religion directly out of the paranoid
fantasies of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic axis.

Gareth Medway,
a student of comparative religion and occasional contributor to such publications
as Fortean Studies, Magonia and Pagan News, has written
a wonderful history of the phenomenon of Satanism and the unique level of hysteria
attending its emergence in the 20th century: Lure of the Sinister: The Unnatural
History of Satanism
(NYU Press, 432 pages, $32.95). This is the first truly
authoritative book on the subject, and Medway methodically cuts through the
copious heaps of bovine fecal matter that have accumulated around the subject
over the centuries.

He begins
by giving us a quick glimpse into contemporary Satanic and quasi-Satanic groups
and adherents. He fully grasps and manages effectively to illustrate the premise
that contemporary Satanism is nothing more or less than a rough version of Ayn
Rand’s Objectivist philosophy in Goth drag. He does not fail to point out
the presence of the occasional drug casualty or certified loony on the scene,
but rightfully notes that those types are the exception rather than the rule
and tend to be, by their nature, solitary dabblers rather than affiliates of
the mainstream groups.

Where Medway
really hits his stride is in his exhaustively researched and brilliantly presented
history of the blind hysteria attending the subject. For most of its history
Christianity has been utterly fixated on the notion of a secret network of heretics
working in league with the devil to undermine the work of God. Confessions obtained
under torture served to buttress this fantasy, never mind that when someone
is crushing your shins with an iron rod you’ll tell him whatever you think
he wants to hear to get him to stop. Religious fanatics tend to be a few grams
shy of a full count when it comes to reasoning prowess, as history continually

The Satanic
ritual-abuse panic of the 1980s gets the full treatment, and Medway delivers
a scathing indictment of the crackpot "therapists" responsible for
that unfortunate wave of persecution and the despicable methods they used. He
manages to skewer crackpot journalist Maury Terry’s addle-headed notion
of a Grand Unified Satanic Conspiracy behind the Son of Sam murders in just
a few choice paragraphs.

The real
point of Medway’s book is that Satan-hunters are a much greater threat
to society than the Satanists themselves, a point that anyone with six firing
synapses who has spent any time at all among the two groups can see plainly.
Satanism is and has always been a handy straw man for demagogues looking to
build careers by stirring the pot of hatred and mistrust. In the absence of
a clear external enemy, the hunt for Satan and his minions is a convenient method
for keeping an ignorant population in a state of war fever.

Of course,
in times like these, Satan is hardly necessary for that.