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9 Ridiculous Satanism Panics
If you’ve ever read the Bible, you know Satan was one bad dude. So it stands to reason people acting in his name wouldn’t exactly be upstanding citizens, right? Not exactly. Over the centuries, we’ve proved ourselves kinda adept at spotting Satanism where there’s nothing to be seen. Sometimes—as with the Salem witch trials—this leads to grand tragedy. At others, it only leads to farcical idiocy. Guess which this article is about.
We in the 21st century aren’t exactly unused to stupid, time-wasting lawsuits. But at least our judges have a tendency to slap them down with enough regularity to stop us losing all faith in the system. The same can’t be said for their medieval counterparts. In 1474, a Swiss rooster was discovered to have laid an egg—something roosters typically lack the, uh, equipment to do. Rather than dismiss it as an obvious case of mistaken identity, the townsfolk had the rooster arrested and put on trial for demonic possession.
Yeah: a real trial, in a real court, with real judges. People at the time believed a possessed rooster could give birth to a Basilisk—a monster so evil it got a whole Harry Potter book devoted to it. Faced with this imminent danger, the judges sentenced the rooster to be burnt at the stake—a feat so uniquely stupid they felt compelled to repeat it 300 years later.
For most of us, ‘Satanism’ conjures images of black mass and blood sacrifice and so on. Not for Patricia Pulling. As far as she and her organization B.A.D.D were concerned, there was only one face to modern Satanism—and that face involved 12-sided die and skinny adolescents pretending to be Thunder Gods.
In 1982, Pulling found herself on the wrong side of a shitty tragedy when her teenage son committed suicide. That would be enough to screw anyone up, and Pulling was not just ‘anyone’. Learning that her son had played D&D shortly before his death, she put two and two together and sued the game’s creators, along with the principle she believed had put a D&D ‘curse’ on him. It took two years for the case to be thrown out of court, but by then the damage was done—and a whole generation of hysterical parents had something they could fear until rap music was invented.
Like the Deep South, rural England has its fair share of rednecks just itching to form a mob. Only, instead of child molesters and Peter Fonda, their vigilante groups have their sights set on something a little bigger.
In the winter of 1855, the population of Devon woke up to discover hoof-prints covering 100 miles of the county in a perfectly straight line. And I mean perfectly: when they met a wall they carried on over it. When they reached a house, they continued across the roof. Since nothing says ‘Satan’ like unexplained footprints, the local men armed themselves up and set out to kill the devil. Luckily, no dapper, goateed men happened to be strolling around the country at the time and the mob eventually wore itself out. In a ridiculous twist, it later emerged that a kangaroo had recently escaped from a nearby zoo—meaning Skippy’s brother was probably this close to being lynched by angry villagers.
Martin Luther is a pretty important guy in the history of protestantism. He triggered a major schism, helped spread protestant doctrine and even founded his own branch of Christianity. Not bad for a guy who thought the pope was literally the antichrist.
Yes, the pope. God’s representative on Earth and so on. Obviously a fan of the ‘it’s always the person you least suspect’ school of thought, Luther condemned the papal office as being in league with Satan—sparking a vast conspiracy theory that survives to this day. Islam, Communism, Nazism, Freemasonry, the assassination of Lincoln . . . everything bad that’s ever happened is said to be the fault of ‘Satan’s pope’, who no doubt teaches piety as a cunning way of condemning people to the flames. It doesn’t make any sense, but hey, that’s insanity for you.
The Loudon Possession is probably one of the stupidest witchcraft cases on record. Basically, a bunch of repressed French nuns began to suffer vivid, erotic dreams and blamed the Devil. Since this was the early 17th century, the target of their lust—a local priest called Grandier—was arrested for causing demonic possession. Then things got really dumb. Exorcists were called in and found the nuns showed absolutely no signs of supernatural visitation. They couldn’t levitate, read minds, see the future, speak in previously unknown languages or do anything a half-assed con artist couldn’t. All they could do was scream about sex a lot, something most of us can accomplish with nothing more demonic than a pair of vocal cords. The exorcists dismissed the claims, so Grandier was released without charge and given a full apology.
Whoops, I mean the exorcists were told to zip it and Grandier put on trial for witchcraft. There, the judge ruled that anyone speaking in Grandier’s defense would be fined and tortured, while the prosecution was allowed to submit evidence like this ‘contract’ between Grandier and Satan, that just happened to be written in the handwriting of one of the nuns. After a fair and balanced trial that was anything but, Grandier was tortured horrifically and burnt alive at the stake. Meanwhile the ‘possessions’ continued—with the convent eventually charging tourists entry to watch the exorcisms.
But Loudon wasn’t even the largest case of mass-insanity to rock seventeenth century France. That dubious honor would go to the Affair of the Poisons, an outbreak of Satanist hysteria so widespread it would even affect the King. Around 1679, Louis XIV discovered that some of the noblemen and women of his court were resorting to charms, curses and potions to get ahead. And by ‘some’, I mean ‘all of them’—the subsequent investigation uncovered over 300 alleged poisoners. Quite a scandal, huh? Well, sort of. Unfortunately, most of those arrested were third rate alchemists, conjurers and quacks hawking folk ‘poisons’ about as deadly as a case of Mountain Dew. And, faced with torture and a certain death, they started indicting anyone they could think of—and when they ran out of people, they started inventing lurid details. Infanticide, black mass, blood sacrifice, magic curses . . . the French police believed every single word of it. Panic gripped the court, hundreds of people were thrown in prison and dozens executed in a five year purging—proving it’s not just America that can do ‘blind panic’.
Sometimes, the line between tragedy and comedy is so blurred as to become not just invisible, but completely non-existent. The McMartin Pre-School Trial is one of those times.
The panic started in 1983, when an alcoholic, paranoid schizophrenic named Judy Johnson accused her estranged husband Ray of sodomizing her son. Now, there’s nothing amusing or unusual about that sentence in itself, but Johnson’s accusations didn’t stop there. She also claimed her Ex had sex with animals, held satanic orgies with the other teachers at the preschool he worked in and could fly. Usually, when a mentally ill woman starts claiming her former-boyfriend has magic superpowers, the authorities make sure she gets the treatment she clearly needs. Not this time.
Ray was arrested and over 300 pre-schoolers questioned in the most absurdly-leading way possible. Being, y’know, toddlers, they did what the adults obviously wanted them to do and started making up stories about witches, and secret tunnels hidden inside toilets. Because the ’80s were insane, the case went to trial—resulting in one of the most-expensive, protracted legal battles in history. It wasn’t until 1990 that someone finally realized we’d all gone collectively mad and Ray was acquitted—seven years after his crazy ex-wife first decided he was Superman’s pervy brother.
In a list of ‘biggest overreactions’, James VI’s response to bad weather on his wedding day would come at #1. On the way from Denmark, his bride’s boat ran into rough seas. When James went out to lend a hand, a storm sprang up, nearly drowning the future King and Queen of England. Rather than being grateful for his near-escape, James decided he’d been the victim of a witches plot and promptly had dozens of people arrested and tortured. In what’s probably a familiar pattern to you by now, many of those tortured indicted other people to save themselves—triggering a wave of witch trials across Scotland that resulted in as many as 4,000 people being executed. All thanks to a bit of bad weather.
There’s a reason rock is called ‘the devil’s music’—and that reason is ‘it sells albums’. No ordinary person believes Alice Cooper really holds black mass, or Ozzy Osbourne is anything but a befuddled reality TV star. But the ’80s were not ordinary times—and otherwise normal people were convinced rock music contained subliminal satanic messages that could only be heard played backwards.
Just to be absolutely clear, there is no evidence whatsoever that playing something backwards is a shortcut to mass mind-control. But that didn’t stop the State of Nevada putting Judas Priest on trial after two guys attempted suicide after listening to their music. The case was eventually thrown out for being less-scientific than just blaming magic, but not before roughly a trillion bored parents leapt onboard the panicwagon. And that wagon kept on rolling long after backmasking was forgotten, leading to ridiculous assertions like Marilyn Manson being responsible for a massacre his music had literally no involvement in.
But I guess that’s just human nature—we’d rather blame the Devil than our own failings, even if that means pretending rock stars can control our minds and our neighbors are flying monsters.