The Ghost in the Machine.
Roger Sandell

Originally published in MUFOB New Series 3, Summer 1976

During the UFO waves of the 1950′s and 1960′s one of the strongest pieces of evidence for those who believed that UFOs seemed to be mechanical devices, was reports of vehicles allegedly mysteriously stopping in the presence of UFOs. A classic case of this nature is the Loch Raven Dam sighting of 1958, in which two men reported seeing a 100ft, egg-shaped object about one hundred feet above them, and stated that their car and its lights went dead as they attempted to approach it. (1) The Condon Investigation described such cases as “one of the more puzzling aspects of UFO reports”. However, examination by the investigators of a car involved in such a case showed that it had not been exposed to magnetism, as ufologists has suggested.

What neither sceptics nor believers realised at that time was that the stories of strange vehicles stoppages were much older, not only that UFOs, but than the internal combustion engine itself. Stories of this nature were told during the witch mania of the sixteenth century. One such tale tells of a carter whose vehicle became immobilised. After whipping his horses, to no avail, the cart moved when he flicked his whip against one of the wheels. Shortly after, a local witch was seen to have whiplash scars across her face. (2)

Such beliefs persisted until surprisingly recently. Eric Maples’s The Dark World of Witches describes the traditions of the Canewden area of Essex:

“Until well after the First World War the tradition persisted that it was unlucky to take a wheeled vehicle into Canewdon, as it would break down. Boys believed that to cycle through Canewdon was to invite a puncture.”

In the same book Maple describes how in the same area, in the first decade of this century, an elderly villager, believed to be a wizard, was credited with the ability to stop farm machines merely by looking at them.

With the decline of witch beliefs similar stories attached themselves to ghosts. One tale, of the ‘Screaming Skull’, a relic of Bettiscombs Manor in Dorset, allegedly associated with ghostly events, states that one tenant of the manor put the skull on a cart to send it elsewhere, but that the cart would not move until the skull was removed. The ‘Boggarts’, ghostly beings of Lancashire folklore, were said to sit on the backs of carts and increase their weights until the cart became immovable.

One of the most interesting ghost stories of this type concerns the ‘Bell Witch’ poltergeist that haunted a farm in Tennessee in 1817-1821.

“General Andrew Jackson was one of those attracted to the Bell homestead during the period of the haunting. As Jackson’s horse-drawn wagon approached the area the wheels suddenly seemed to freeze and the straining horses were unable to budge it. Jackson dismounted and examined the wheels and axles end was unable to find any reason for this sudden problem. As he stood there scratching his head in bewilderment a voice suddenly rang out from behind the bushes: “All right, General” the voice announced, “Let the wagon move” … To everyone’s amazement the wheels began to turn again.” (3)

Similar tales first began to appear in a modern context during World War II. In Britain in the early years of the war there were various ‘secret weapon’ rumours current, one of which would tell of a motorist driving on a remote road who found his oar mysteriously halted. As he puzzled over this, a soldier (or policeman) would appear and order him to start the car, which would then work perfectly. (4)

With tales such as this, the character of the myth has changed radically. Although at a time of national emergency there was a need for rumours of miraculous deliverance, the mental climate of the period did not allow these to be explicitly supernatural, but had to imply that there was a scientific explanation. In 1914 there had been tales of angels over the Western Front, but in 1940 the rumour had to climax with the appearance of the reassuring everyday figure of the policeman.

As the fear of nuclear war grew in the 1950′s and flying saucer stories began to circulate, the vehicle stoppage myth took on a new charateristic and became symbolic of a force more powerful than the technology threatening mass destruction, a force that would save humanity from itself. In the 1952 film The Day The Earth Stood Still an alien arrives in a flying saucer with a message of peace, and demonstrates his power by stopping all the world’s
machines. Strikingly, this film was made before there were any factual cases of UFO vehicle stoppages.

What form will the myth take next? With the
failure of the space probes to discover any evidence of intelligent life elsewhere, and the revival of interest in occultism perhaps we will see the return of explicitly supernatural vehicle stoppage stories. Already one of the more bizarre Uri Geller tales has him stopping the engine of an ocean liner by his powers, and in Carlos Castenda’s A Separate Reality we find the following allegedly factual account of one of his meetings with Don Juan, the Indian sorcerer:

“What is sorcery, Don Juan?”  “Sorcery is to apply one’s will to a key joint”, he said. “In your car it’s the spark-plug. I can apply my will to it and your oar won’t work.” Don Juan got into my oar and sat down. His laughter became higher. I felt some kind of enveloping force around me. “Turn on your oar now,” Don Juan said. I turned on the starter and stepped on the gas pedal. The starter began to grind without igniting the engine. I spent perhaps ten minutes grinding the starter. After a while Don Juan said he had released the car. It started!


  1. VALLEE, J. Challenge to Science. For a sceptical analysis of this case see Alan Sharp ‘UFO Evidence in an American reservoir?, MUFOB 6;1
  2. MAPLE; ERIC. The Dark World of Witches
  3. KEEL, JOHN. In the EM Effect a Myth?’; FSR, Nov-Dec 1968
  4. TURNER, S S. The Phoney War on the Home Front



Victims of Memory.
Roger Sandell and John Rimmer

From Magonia 53, August 1995 

Like many other parents in Britain and the USA in the past decade Mark Pendergrast has been accused of child abuse on the basis of recovered memories. However he is a professional non-fiction writer, and instead of writing a ‘personal testament’ or confronting his accusers on a TV talk-show, he has written a wide-ranging survey of the whole phenomenon. [1]

Recently a number of sceptical books have appeared in the USA on the subject of recovered memories, some academic, some popular in approach. Pendergrast’s however scores over all the others by the breadth of his social and historical perspective. Seeking the origins of, and analogies for, recovered memory stories he touches on many topics of interest to Magonia readers, including UFO abductions, reincarnation claims, Satanic cults, urban legends, hypnotism, ‘bedroom visitor’ stories and the witch mania.

Many matters dealt with in this book were new to me. There is a section on ‘facilitated communication, a technique alleged to assist autistic children to communicate by holding their hands over a keyboard and picking out characters. The technique has obvious analogies with Ouija boards and the experiments conducted earlier in the twentieth century in which animals were alleged to be capable of producing messages by picking out letter cards. When a high proportion of ‘facilitated communications’ turn out to be allegations of abuse, further experiments produced clear evidence of subconscious cueing by the facilitators.

Even more bizarre are the claims of multiple-personality disorder (MPD). According to MPD specialists victims of abuse become so traumatised that they distance themselves by splitting into separate personalities, which lie dormant and can be recovered by therapists. Some patients turn out to have a hundred or more personalities, who like American TV wrestlers seem to each have one stereotyped characteristic, and answer to names such as ‘The Zombie’ and ‘Mean Joe Green’. Some therapists think the Satanists deliberately induce MPD so that their victims will carry out activities which they will not remember afterwards, such as murder, gun-running or prostitution. Others think it is the CIA, Mafia or Ku Klux Klan that are responsible. Pendergrast notes the similarity of all this to older demonic possession traditions, but does not note its closest parallel with another contemporary American fad, channelling or claiming to be the voice of some dead figure dispensing cryptic wisdom.

To the best of my knowledge MPD has not, at least so far, been a feature of British recovered memory or Satanic abuse cases, a pretty clear indication of its status as a purely cultural artifact. Its origins probably lie in images from film versions oof Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde and similar stories. One wonders if the popular misuse of the term ‘schizophrenia’ has contributed. This word, literally meaning ‘split mind’ is often misunderstood to mean having two minds rather than simply meaning ‘shattered mind’ (it is slightly regrettable that Pendergrast himself uses the term in the incorrect colloquial sense).

These beliefs are not confined to an occultist influenced fringe, but are signs that psychiatry in the U.S.A. is widely affected by what may be a terminal climate of irrationality

Pendergrast makes it clear that such beliefs as recovered memory are part of a wider climate of irrational therapy. Some therapist believe that their patients have been traumatised by sex abuse in past lives (a development that Peter Rogerson predicted in an earlier Magonia). Others believe that traumas can be traced to memories of experiences while in the womb (a belief that formed the basis of L Ran Hubbard’s pseudo-science of Dianetics in the 1950s).

These beliefs arc not confined to an occultist influenced fringe, but are signs that psychiatry in the U.S.A. is widely affected by what may be a terminal climate of irrationality. One study suggests that about a quarter of qualified therapists accept the validity of past-life regression tales. Other qualified psychiatrists have written books endorsing belief in demonic possession and exorcism, and containing accounts of ‘recovered’ memories of early embryonic stages of development.

After this over-all survey, Pendergrast devotes a major section of his book to interviews with therapists, accused and accusers. This is a grim section, but comic relief comes in an interview with a therapist who not only deals with abuse memories, past lives and UFO abductions, but pregresses her patients into their future lives. Pendergrast may of course be accused of deliberately seeking those who can be held up to ridicule, but my own reading elsewhere supports his claim that, if he had wished to do so, he could have found far more bizarre therapists than those he actually quotes.

Particularly interesting are the interviews with ‘retractors’, the increasingly large group who have repudiated earlier allegations and now, like the accusers, seem to be forming a quasi-religious group with its own networks, counsellors and personal testimonies. One wonders perhaps whether some of the retractors may be over-keen to emphasis the part played by their therapists in the emergence of their stories, and to minimise their own responsibility. As with the stories of the accused and accusers it seems best to suspend judgement on a number of aspects of these cases where more detailed information is not available.

One quoted retractor, in particular, makes serious accusations against a therapist and the most that can be said is that some recent cases Pendergrast relates of scandals involving therapists mean that this story is not necessarily implausible. (When, one wonders, are the first retractor UFO abductees going to appear?)

Pendergrast then looks at the history of psychology, seeking the background to these allegations. He finds many historical parallels 18th and 19th century beliefs in imaginary mental ailments and bizarre treatments. Sigmund Freud emerges from this section as one very much influenced by some of these ideas, and his heritage has meant that their influence has lasted to the present day.

Pendergrast’s examination of the social roots of the child abuse panic highlight the part played by specific factors such as the interactions between private medicine and the U.S. insurance companies that provide a major source of income for therapists, and wider issues such as current obsessions with victim status and the drive to pathologise an increasingly wide range of human behaviour under terms such as ‘co-dependency’, ‘emotional incest’ or ‘sex addiction’.

Of particular interest is the section of ‘survivorship as religion’, which sees many forms of therapy as amounting to a quasi-religious movement based on the worship of self, an analysis which certainly explains the apparent contradictory alliance of mental health professionals, New Agers and Christian evangelicals in the Recovery movement.

The increasing breakdown of any overall consensus on sexual morality suggests another line of analysis, in which child-abuse provides a rare example of practices that different sides in cultural wars can unite to condemn. As a historical parallel, the mediaeval persecution of the Bogomils, the first Christian heretics to be accused of worshiping the devil and participating in orgies, not only came after a similar breakdown, the rift between Greek and Roman Christianity, but occurred right in the contested territories. The 16th century disruption of Christendom preceded the witch mania which provided an issue uniting Protestants and Catholics.

One can extend the socio-political analysis of the child abuse panic in other directions. The role played by some sections of the women’s movement in fuelling the panic is reminiscent of earlier social reform movements in the USA which, in the 19th and early 20th century moved from support for slave emancipation, workers’ rights and universal suffrage, to supporting authoritarian measures such as Prohibition and the taking of the children of the poor into state care (an activity that was frequently attacked by early film-makers, not merely in melodramas such as D. W. Griffiths’ Intolerance, but in comedies such as Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid and Laurel and Hardy’s Pack Up Your Troubles).

Peter Rogerson has suggested that now American youth culture has become too de-politicised and commercially dominated to express any revolt against established values, child abuse allegations have emerged as purely individual anti-parental gestures.

Pendergrast ends with a section of advice and recommendations both for individuals caught up in recovered memory cases and for legislative action. Sensible and helpful as this section is, it is hard to believe that calls for licensing of therapists will achieve much since those with genuine academic qualifications have played as dubious a part in the controversy as those with none.

My final verdict is that it is hard to recommend this book too highly. It is essential reading not merely for anyone concerned with this particular controversy but concerned about contemporary culture and society as a whole.


The Father’s Tale: 

Apart from whatever insight it gives into the phenomenon of false memory, and the illumination it throws on the medical, social and historical context of the contemporary controversy, this book is also an intensely moving account of a personal tragedy. It recounts in harrowing terms the estrangement of first one, then both, of Pendergrast’s daughters as a result of ‘memories’ recovered through therapy. However his account is not, as perhaps one would expect, a bitter condemnation of the therapists involved, nor an unqualified protestation of his own innocence. Instead he reexamines with almost painful honesty his relationships with his daughters and his ex-wife, and seeks out those aspects of his behaviour and attitudes which may have led to his current plight, to the extent that many readers might think that he is over self-critical. The account he provides of the childhood and adolescence of his daughters may perhaps reinforce the suggestion that some abuse accusations ore an aspect of a repressed, late developing revolt against parental authority. Certainly Pendergrast’s children, like some of the other children described in the individual accounts, seem to have had remarkably rebellion-free adolescence. More than most other books on the topic this book reveals the personal tragedies behind the sociological and legalistic descriptions. — John Rimmer.


[1] Mark Pendergrast. Victims of Memory: Incest Accusations and Shattered Lives. HarperCollins (rev. edition), 1997.

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Desperately Seeking Satan.
Roger Sandell

From Magonia 42, March 1992 




In November 1991 the Old Bailey’s first Satanic human sacrifice trial took place. Two girls, ten and fourteen, accused their parents and two other people of having forced them to take part in ceremonies in Epping Forest, on the eastern fringes of London, at which babies were killed and buried. In spite of the sensational headlines that greeted the opening of the case it was clear from the start that it had very curious aspects. Despite the unambiguous claims made against them, not one of the accused faced a murder charge but were instead charged with child abuse. The prosecution admitted that digging by the police had produced no buried babies and there was no evidence of any accompanying epidemic of missing babies. After four days the case collapsed when one of the girls stated that she was unsure whether the events described had really happened or were nightmares, and that her grandmother, with whom she was living, has stopped punishing her when she told her about them.

A few weeks before this case took place, the nazi activist Lady Birdwood had been found guilty at the Old Bailey of inciting racial hatred by distributing material accusing Jews of ritual murder, a coincidence which highlighted the way this trial seemed to exploit similar images of Gipsies as child stealers and wizards. The Satanist ceremonies were said to have taken place at a memorial to Gipsy Smith, the Romany evangelist of the 1930′s and 40′s, and the defendants included Gipsy Smith’s grandson George Gibbard, an Evangelical Christian and South Eastern representative on the National Gipsy Council. [1]

Meanwhile hearings into the official handling of the Orkney Satanism case continue. A parent has been cross-examined to explain why she bought a child a video of The Witches (for non-cinemagoers, the recent film of the Roald Dahl children’s story).

Meanwhile in the USA, bizarre trials continue. In North Carolina a day-care centre owner stands accused of sexual abuse and Satanic ceremonies. The evidence includes testimony from children describing the presence of lions and elephants at these ceremonies. In Chicago a judge has dismissed a case against a man accused by a five-year-old girl of murdering five identical girls in a human sacrifice. The defence centred on allegations that the child had been coached by Barbara Klein, a counsellor who apparently gave advice to the prosecutors in the recent Old Bailey case. [2]

The Satanism scare has now been with us long enough to have produced several books. Patricia Pulling’s The Devils Web [3] a US publication sold in Britain in evangelical bookshops, gives a good idea of the different components of the scare. ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ and similar occult-type games are controlling teenagers minds to the point where they murder each other or commit suicide (the book opens with an account of the allegedly D & D related suicide of Patricia Pulling’s teenage son). Records by heavy-metal rock bands not only contain pro-Satanist lyrics, but also subliminal Satanic messages only audible when played backwards. Many unsolved murders are the work of Satanists.

When examined in detail the evidence for most of these claims evaporates pretty rapidly. The alleged backwards messages in heavy metal records seem to be contemporary versions of tales dating back to the ‘sixties of great secrets hidden in rock records or their sleeves. Nothing that is known about record production or the psychology of perception makes them plausible (if it was possible to influence people in this way, why are there no messages like “Buy our next album”?) The whole argument has been reduced to total absurdity by claims of Satanic messages in such places as ‘The Mr Ed Song (the theme from the TV series about a talking horse, not the UFO witness).

Stories of groups of Satanists committing random murders appear to have originated with the US wave of alleged cattle mutilations in the 1970′s when the mutilations gave rise to rumours of cults carrying out sacrifices. Patricia Pulling’s evidence relies on two cases of the last few years. the first is Henry Lee Lucas, a Texas murderer who in 1983 confessed to murdering 360 people as part of the rites of a cult called ‘The Hand of Death’. Although Lucas’s confessions were widely publicised and were seized upon by police forces anxious to improve their clear-up rate, the only supporting evidence linked Lucas to just one murder, that of his mother, and his claims are now generally discounted by law-enforcement authorities.

The second case is rather more substantial: the Matamoros (Mexico) slayings of 1989 in which at least twelve people were murdered by a drug smuggling gang led by Adolfo Constanzo, a practitioner of the sort of supernatural beliefs held by many poor but otherwise respectable Mexicans. At least one of these murders, that of an American tourist named Mark Gilroy, does seem to have been seen as a sacrifice to confer magical powers (the gang was exposed after a member drove through a police check, believing himself to be invisible) but it is not clear where religious beliefs began and the general casual violence of drug gangs towards rivals and informers stopped.

The evidence for the alleged ill-effects for Dungeons and Dragons seems similarly inconclusive. Although some press stories have featured allegations of teenage murders and suicides by the game’s devotees, further investigation has revealed violent homes or other factors that seem at least as relevant than the fact that those involved had played a game with a US following of several million other players.

Patricia Pulling’s account of her son’s suicide after a curse was placed on him in a D & D game is certainly a sad tale, but according to local press accounts he was also depressed by his failure in a school election (and one can only be astonished by the fact that his mother had left a pistol freely available while he was alone in the house). The only other evidence for the Satanic effect of D & D games seems to be some cases of adult D & D players being convicted of sexual offences against younger players, but these fall into a long established pattern of paedophiles cultivating activities and interests liable to bring them into contact with children.

Reading Pulling’s book suggests that one reason for the current US anti-Satanist scare is the fact that it has connected a wide variety of current American fears. Serial killers, the increasing rate of suicide among young people,, the violent messages of some types of popular music, drug gangs, and the increasing presence in the US of immigrants from the Caribbean and Latin America, some of whom maintain traditional non-Christian religious practices, all are linked together in the same way that a few years ago Armageddon theology managed to link a variety of late ’70s and early ’80s concerns about the US and its place in the world.

The fact that most of these scares are specific to the USA probably accounts for the failure of the scare to achieve such resonance in Britain. However Children for the Devil by Tim Tate, researcher for the highly unconvincing Cook Report TV programme on Satanism, attempts to make out a case for the reality of Satanism in Britain and the US. [4]

Tate attempts to distance himself from Evangelical Christian anti-Satanism. He rejects such manifestations of the scare as campaigns against Halloween celebrations, and heavy metals bands, and accepts modern neo-Paganism as a valid religious belief. Indeed he give some interesting information on the background to US anti-Satanism that I was not previously aware of.

Especially striking is the fact that one organisation involved in spreading the anti-Satanist scare is the so-called US Labor Party led by the now-jailed political cultist Lyndon Larouche (Diane Core of ‘Childwatch’ the charity backed by Geoffrey Dickens MP that has publicised anti-Satanist tales, has also spoken at Larouchist meetings). What is significant about this is that this organisation was spreading similar tales in other contexts long before its present anti-Satanist campaign. In 1974 it claimed to have uncovered a CIA-KGB assassination plot against Larouche. Dissident members of the group were subjected to ‘debriefing’ sessions, which later resulted in charges of kidnapping against their accusers. As a result the victims told tales, promoted by the Larouche organisation, of CIA brainwashing that involved details identical to those made later in tales of Satanic child abuse. These involved sex with animals, exposure to pornography and scatological humiliations. One detail especially reminiscent of US day-care centre Satanism tales is the claim made in the confession of one victim who had been living in London that these events took place in an Islington school when it was closed over the weekend. (Incidentally Larouche has been accused of sexual abuse by female former disciples).

While Tim Tate rejects many feature of US anti-Satanism, he nonetheless devotes most of his book to defending the validity of charges of Satanic child abuse (SCA). he begins his argument by claiming that; “Ritual crime. abuse and murder have been reported, investigated, proven and recorded for nearly five hundred years”.

To prove this he devotes nearly fifty pages to a resume of the history of Satanism and witchcraft. It is difficult to speak of this section of the book with restraint. Tate gets just about every historical fact wrong and clearly has not the faintest idea of what he is writing about. He shows no sign of having read any serious books on European witchcraft such as Norman Cohn’s Europe’s Inner Demons, Keith Thomas’s Religion and the Decline of Magic, or Hugh Trevor Roper’s the European Witch Craze of the 16th and 17th Century. Instead the only historical sources cited are Dr Margaret Murray’s discredited writings, H. T. F. Rhodes equally unreliable The Satanic Mass, and a Peter Haining pot-boiler (Were these the only books on the subject in his local library perhaps?)

He begins by distinguishing Satanism from witchcraft, and follows Margaret Murray in seeing witchcraft as a primitive nature religion involving the worship of a horned god and moon goddess. He states that: “By the time of Christ this rural pantheistic religion was well established throughout Europe.” Oh yes? Where exactly? Such a cult bears no relation to classical or Nordic Paganism, or Celtic Druidism, the main religious systems of immediately pre-Christian Europe.

From this unpromising beginning Tim Tate jumps a millennium to give us his bizarre version of the witch trial era, arguing that tales of human sacrifice and sex orgies confirm similar modern tales. He does at one point concede that tales told under torture should be treated sceptically, but promptly disregards his own proviso by treating the trials of the Knights Templar, Gilles de Rais and Father Grandier of Loudon without mentioning that torture was employed in all these cases, neither does he point out that all these people had made powerful enemies beforehand. He accepts clearly absurd details such as the eight hundred or so child victims ascribed to de Rais – enough under medieval demographic conditions to depopulate quite a large area. He quotes the alleged Satanic pact given in evidence at the trial of father Grandier without mentioning that it was supposedly countersigned by a devil.

He totally fails to mention many important areas of the witch-mania that are highly relevant to the Satanism scare. He is totally unaware that British witch-trials were very different from those on the continent. The systematic use of torture and centralised inquisitional bodies were not a feature of British trials. As a result the tales of mass sacrifice and huge witches Sabbaths are found almost entirely on the continent. The British cases involve fewer defendants and much less spectacular organisations.

There is no discussion of the role played in the witch mania by child accusers who testified to manifest impossibilities, and in some cases resorted to conjuring tricks to create the impression of being bewitched, a subject highly relevant to contemporary SCA cases. [5] Neither does he discuss the identical accusations of ritual child murder that were commonly made against Jews. If modern SCA claims are vindicated by similar claims made hundreds of years ago, are modern neo-nazi claims vindicated by similar medieval claims?

Not content with relying on discredited ideas from other writers Tate makes some insupportable claims of his own. He sees modern witchcraft as being largely a Cathar creation and supports this by quoting the confessions of two Cathar witches who confessed to worshipping Satan in fourteenth century trials. The only problem with this is that neither of the witches quoted ever existed. Their confessions are both nineteenth century forgeries, as Tate would have know had he troubled to read Norman Cohn. [6]

Like many dubious writers on witchcraft he seems especially fascinated by the Black Mass, and devotes several pages to the 1680′s ‘Affair of the Poisons’ and allegations of Black Masses at the court of Louis XIV. Although, as usual, most of the more bizarre allegations in this case come from confessions made under torture, the affair seems to have some factual basis. However the Black Mass of the period bore little resemblance to later fantasies. In an age when the Mass was seen as an almost magical ceremony and masses might be said for good harvest and success in war it did not seem a very big step to secretly hold masses for purposes not approved by the Church, such as sexual success or the death of an enemy. Such practices were seen more a testimony to faith in Church rituals than as a blasphemy.

Of course no book of this nature is complete without a lurid account of Alastair Crowley, a figure who in fact, when his more bizarre claims are dismissed, seems simply a not untypical member of the avant-garde of the period exaggerating his own wickedness to outrage convention in a manner similar to Gabriel D’Annunzio and the young Salvador Dali.

A further measure of Tim Tate’s historical ignorance is that he seems to know nothing of Gerald B. Gardner, who in the 1940′s and 40′s originated the ‘Wicca’ cult which Tate seems to think is genuinely ancient and whose rituals involving nakedness and flagellation are a perfectly genuine example of so-called ‘witchcraft’ being used as a cover for bizarre sexual practices.

After this lamentable ‘historical’ section we arrive at the present day. We are presented with a list of modern self-proclaimed ‘Satanists’ who have appeared in court charged with a variety of offences, chiefly sexual. The list presented is far from exhaustive, Mr Tate’s cases do not include Norman Pasnail, the 1970′s Jersey (Channel Islands) sex killer who was obsessed with Gilles de Rais, or Vic Morris, the neo-nazi Satanist and convicted child molester who various investigative journalists have linked with the search for the killers of Hilda Morrell. [7]

While these cases should serve as a warning that not all cases where allegations are made are baseless, they take us no nearer to the allegations of large scale undercover Satanist cults and human sacrifice. Most of them involve a single person and the only alleged ‘human sacrifice’ Tate can find is a case of two Birmingham fans of the pseudo-Satanist band Iron Maiden, one of whom stabbed the other after a party. Although the police officers in charge of the case talked of human sacrifice this failed to impress the Appeal Court who reduced the murder conviction to manslaughter on self-defence grounds. The cases quoted no more validate the more bizarre allegations than the recent case of a rabbinical student from London’s Hassidic community convicted of child abuse validates tales of Jewish ritual murder.

Nor does Tate consider these stories in a wider context. As has previously been pointed out in Magonia, any form of cultist organisation grouped round a leader seems to be a fertile field for sexual exploitation, whatever its alleged belief. For example the regime of Frank Beck, the Leicester children’s home manager recently convicted of sexual assaults on inmates, seems to have had many cult-like features. Beck appeared to have total domination of his staff and inmates, and justified his sexual abuse as therapeutic. [8]

Tate takes the SCA cases of the last few years back to the book Michelle Remembers. To persuade us to take this book seriously he summarises it in a highly misleading way, omitting to tell us any of the details that make it impossible to take this story at face value. He carefully ignores all the many supernatural claims made in the book, such as the appearance of the Virgin Mary to the abused child Michelle, and the presence at the Satanist ceremonies of Satan himself, speaking in what sounds like fourth-rate heavy-metal lyrics; “Look at my eyes and you can see/ the fire burning inside of me./ Look at the children in them too/ The fire that burns, what is new?”. He ignores the prophecies of an Armageddon brought about by a Soviet/Iranian alliance in the early 1980′s. Nor does he mention the fact that Michelle has two sisters who strongly deny her story. He gives the impression that her account has been endorsed by the Vatican, whereas the quote from a Canadian archbishop given in the book seems carefully non-committal: ‘I do not question that for Michelle this experience was real. In time we will know how much of it can be validated. It will require prolonged and careful study. In such mysterious matters hasty conclusions could prove unwise.”

Other cases cited by Tim Tate are the US day care cases, and some British ones that he has personally investigated. He is convinced of the accuracy of the children’s testimony. Consider these quotes:

“Like many who remain sceptics I tried to write off these children’s disclosures as fantasies or the product of watching too many videos. But neither theory works. Tried and tested psychological research has proved that children cannot fantasize the details … to recall it so vividly they have had to have experienced it in some way … More telling still is the way in which the children disclose these incidents. It causes them real visible pain to talk about their experiences. How do I know? Because I have sat with these children – by their request not mine – as they struggled to share the poisoned memories inside them”

“Of all the reports I’ve received the most personally depressing for me are those dealing with very young children … No matter how familiar researchers become with the details, the knowledge cannot alleviate the horror and confusion of such events – particularly in the lives of the youngest and most vulnerable among us. Yet those provided by three or four-year old children furnish the investigator with valuable evidence concerning the reality of this phenomenon. Since such small children cannot read there is no chance of contamination from written sources. Few TV programmes during early viewing hours have ever offered specific details of this experience… Consequently the details that children relate can be regarded as purer thanthose in adult accounts … But so far our knowledge outpaces our skill in helping people deal with these previously unimaginable experiences. New coping techniques must be introduced, new therapeutic skills must be developed. Much work is to be done if very young lives are not to suffer permanent psychological scarring.”

The first quote is from Tim Tate; the second is from Budd Hopkins, describing his interviews with very young children recounting abduction experiences. [9] In view of the similarity of their arguments we must conclude that either Satanists are holding hideous ceremonies in our midst and aliens are descending to abduct large numbers of people, or that the question of assessing testimony from children (or adults) is rather more complicated than either of these writers allow.

Certain features of the stories Tate looks at underline the similarity between SCA claims and abduction stories. He concedes at one point that some stories contain clearly impossible features and mentions claims of ‘operations’ that are contradicted by medical evidence, and even a case of a child who claimed to have been abused in a spaceship. ‘Natalie’, a teenager returned to her mother after living with her grandmother for ten years, tells of being taken into a big house where children were kept in cages and murdered. But the house also had a more curious inhabitant named ‘Lucifer’:

“He was a sort of friend, at least he seemed to be then … When I was locked up in my room at nan’s he used to be there … I had no friends except him … Now I know he was a spirit or something”

Tim Tate seems to have no very clear idea what to make of such stories. However he insists on the literal truth of all the details of them that are not manifestly impossible in spite of all contrary evidence. He tabulates allegations made in 28 US cases. Practically all of them involve claims of babies being slaughtered and acts of child abuse being videoed, but no corpse has ever turned up, no video been recovered. Satanist never get caught by the sort of mischance that commonly happens to non-Satanic criminals. The serial killer Dennis Neilson was caught when neighbours complained about the smell from his house, the Yorkshire Ripper when stopped for a traffic violation. Serial killers usually work alone and the examples of pairs are rare enough to be notorious for years afterwards (e.g. Loeb and Leopard, Brady and Hindley). However we are asked to believe in large groups of people committing murder and torture of a viciousness surpassing the worst of individual serial killers.

Tate seems impressed by Sandy Gallant, a San Francisco police officer widely credited as an expert on Satanic crime. Some of her notes of advice to police forces are printed in an appendix to The Devil’s Web and they include a quite remarkable list of problems involved in the prosecution of SCA:

“No evidence is found at alleged crime scenes to substantiate statements made by victims. Though homicides are reported no bodies are found. Though children say they saw other children who were kidnapped no record of these children can be found with the National Center for Missing/Exploited Children.”

Is any comment necessary?

The British cases described in detail are Nottingham, and others derived from Tate’s own interviews. Unfortunately his handling of the historical material already examined means there are problems here. When his assertions can be checked Tate can be shown to have ignored the use of duress in producing confessions and ignored parts of stories which are clearly impossible. Since these are also items of controversy in the modern confessions how can we be sure the same process has not gone on in the summaries of his own interviews?

His section on Nottingham gives some further details about the extended family on whom the allegations centred. These seem to have been a horrifying collection of urban hillbillies living on the fringes of society in a nexus of poverty, crime, incest and subnormality reminiscent of the legendary Sawney Beane family. However the idea of such a family being the high priests of some secret cult seems to owe more to H. P. Lovecraft than reality.

This highlights another problem. Tate rejects the idea propounded by evangelical anti-Satanists that all Satanists are part of a world-wide cult hundreds of years old. He believes rather that modern Satanists are simply following information on historical Satanist practices. At one point he remarks the resemblance between one modern Satanist claim, and the case of Gilles de Rais, and demands that sceptics explain how the person making these claims could know such obscure facts. Apart from the fact that de Rais has long been a favourite for ‘World’s Wickedest Men’-type paperbacks, this question is quite meaningless unless one accepts the ancient cult idea that he explicitly rejects. In any case, the Nottingham family do not appear to be the sort of people one can easily imagine researching historic Satanism.

In spite of this, a Nottingham social worker declares herself convinced of the SCA charges when a three-year old produces “a historic Satanist chant”. Ignoring the lack of understanding of anyone who thinks there is such a thing, the claim is, as Peter Rogerson points out, identical with the evidence frequently offered in reincarnation claims.

The villains of Tate’s account of the Nottingham affair are the police, who he depicts as being blind to SCA evidence and refusing to investigate. He does not mention, much less reply to, the police contention that they searched the houses for supporting evidence and found none. Nor does he point out that we are asked to believe in mass chanting, murders and the sacrifice of a live sheep (curiously described by the child as being brought in a plastic bag and killed by someone sticking their fingernails into it) in a terraced house, unnoticed by the neighbours. Does Tim Tate not realise that if such dubious material was introduced into court a defence counsel would have a field day, and the real acts of child abuse that did occur in Nottingham might well have gone unpunished? It may be that the adversarial court system of Britain and the USA is not the best means of sorting out the truth of these cases, but at present it is the one the police have to operate within.

A less tendentious account of the Nottingham case is contained in Peter Hough’s Witchcraft: A Strange affair, a journalistic survey of the development of the anti-Satanic scare in Britain. [10] It includes some dubious anecdotes and is more sympathetic to the idea of the pre-Christian antiquity of witchcraft than the evidence warrants, but is a useful and fair-minded account. It includes interviews with people on both sides of the controversy and gives a much more rounded picture of the subcultures of Satanism and amateur occultism. Hough describes the activities of the anti-Satanist con-man Derry Mainwaring-Knight, providing an insight into the credulity of some Evangelicals to any anti-Satanist claims, however ridiculous. He also gives examples of how the activities of some Evangelical anti-Satanists have caused some disturbed people they have come into contact with to become even more disturbed. He looks at the parallels of SCA claims and UFO stories, but only devotes about a page to this. I would have been interested to see this discussed in more detail, something that Peter Hough’s involvement in UFO fieldwork investigations makes him well qualified to do.

A different sceptical perspective come from In Pursuit of Satan, [11] Written by Jim Hicks, a former US policeman and analyst for the Virginia Department of Justice, he looks at the response of US police departments and the psychiatric and welfare agencies to the SCA scene. The story he tells is alarming. The SCA gospel is spread to local police departments by seminars often organised by Christian fundamentalists. Like sixteenth century witch-finders they seem to define ‘supporting evidence’ so widely as to make in practically impossible for anyone to defend themselves. (Sandy Gallant advises police seeking evidence of Satanism to search houses for objects including I-Ching books, gongs or bells, and chalices, goblets or cruets) They advocate authoritarian measures such as examining library records to see who is borrowing books on the occult, and spread tales of mass Satanic political conspiracies. Their influence on law enforcement seems a scandal reminiscent of the influence of the Ku Klux Klan on some 1950′s police departments.

The promoters of such seminars try to present themselves at ‘anti-cultist’, apparently defining cults as any non Christian-fundamentalist fringe religious belief. Thus concerns about the rise of superstition and irrationality are seized upon to reinforce political and religious authoritarianism, just as the SCA panic seizes upon increased awareness of the reality of child abuse to promote a similar agenda.

The response of the US psychiatric profession seems to have been, from James Hicks account, equally dubious. Psychiatrists are shown to have accepted obviously apocryphal stories and dubious historical accounts in discussions of SCA in professional journals. Elaborate discussions around the day-care cases have sought to explain why the accused corresponded to no known profile of child molesters or why inspectors or visiting parents never found supporting evidence. (From a British viewpoint it would also be pertinent to ask why these day-care cases seem to be a purely American phenomenon with no parallels in the British cases.)

Looking at the conduct of the day-care cases, Hicks depicts investigators leading child witnesses in a manner which seems to approach child abuse itself. His account of the most notorious of these cases, the McMartin affair, bears very little resemblance to Tim Tate’s and the story calls for a complete book of its own (a TV mini-series is not surprisingly planned, but will no doubt simply endorse the view of the affair held by whichever of the protagonists has the most expensive lawyer).

What future developments in this story will be is hard to predict. So far, what it has told us about the continuing ability of irrational panics to exercise wide influence in modern societies in not reassuring.




  1. As is the usual custom in such cases, Mr Gibbard’s name was not given in the press. It is given here because he has chosen to make it public as part of his campaign for compensation for wrongful imprisonment. See New Statesman, November 29, 1991
  2. Economist, August 31, 1991, also Fortean Times, nos. 60 and 61
  3. Also worth considering in this context are the ‘Little Uri Gellers’ of the 1970s, who, following Geller’s TV appearances, fooled parapsychologists with simple tricks.
  4. Norman Cohn, Europe’s Inner Demons  University Press/Heinemann educational, Paladin, 1995. See chapter 4. Pimlico, 2nd revised ediiton 1998.
  5. Searchlight Anti-Fascist Monthly, September 1985. Incidentally local rumours have linked the Morrell case with witchcraft. She was killed on the spring solstice and the wood where her body was found had previously figured in local ‘witches’ sabbaths’ tales.
  6. To be precise, some sort of ‘regression therapy’
  7. UFO Brigantia, November 1991
  8. Peter Hough, Witchcraft: A Strange Conflict  Press, 1991.
  9. James Hicks. In Pursuit of Satan: The Police and the Occult  Prometheus Press, 1991

    Click on the links in the references above to order the book from Amazon 


Still Seeking Satan, Part 1. Roger Sandell

First published in Magonia 51, February 1995.

Part One

Among several recent books on the subject of Satanism, Lawrence Wright’s Remembering Satan fills a notable gap by giving a detailed account of one particular Satanism case, the Olympia, Washington State, case of 1988-89.

Even by the standards of such cases the story he has to tell is bizarre and grotesque. The two teenage daughters of Sheriff Paul Ingram, an evangelical Christian, attend a church summer-camp where a speaker ‘prophecies’ that someone in the audience has been a victim of child sex abuse. the daughters respond by having flash-back memories of abuse by their father. When arrested, Ingram has his own flashbacks where he sees himself sexually abusing his children, and immediately confesses.

The charges escalate until Ingram is no longer merely a sexual pervert but the leader of a gang of Satanists carrying out human sacrifices. Two other police officers are arrested as cult members, but protest their innocence.

Throughout all of this Ingram continues to supply flashback memories of any suggestion put to him, including deliberately false ones put by a sceptical psychologist to test the validity of his confessions. the bottomless credulity of the investigating officers survives this revelation, as it does a claim by one of his daughters to have been raped by police dogs and the discovery that she has forged a letter to herself purporting to be a threat from Satanists. Finally Ingram, now repudiating his confessions, is sentenced to life imprisonment while his co-accused are acquitted. [1]

Lawrence Wright tells this story with the help of transcripts of police interviews which reveal a series of abuses that make it extremely surprising that they were ever accepted as evidence. Leading questions are asked; Ingram is told that if he does not make a full confession his daughters may kill themselves, and a potential witness is told he will be able to take out a profitable claim for compensation.

Interestingly there are hints at some points of tales that might have been interpreted in a completely different way. Ingram’s son when first interviewed by police remembers no abuse, but when pressed further to recall odd happenings in his childhood tells of a dream of little men floating through his bedroom window and standing round his bed. This story, which would have immediately been seized on by UFO abduction believers,is interpreted by police as a cover memory disguising child abuse.

The problems of ‘flashback memories’, ‘cover memories’ and ‘false memories’, which Wright also explores, have in the last few months been the subject of a number of reports in the British press and television. The False Memory Society, a US group of parents who claim to be the victims of false memories of abuse planted in adult offspring by dubious therapists, now has a British branch. Although none of the British cases have yet ended up in court, some of them also involve tales of Satanism and human sacrifices. Another British group recently founded is Accuracy About Abuse, which champions the validity of work done by therapists to recover memories of abuse. However, Marjorie Orr, the founder of this organisation is scarcely likely to dispel doubts about therapists since, although described as one, she is better known as the writer of the Daily Express’s horoscope column and the voice on a recorded message fortune-telling by phone service – activities which some evangelical. Christian promoters of the Satanism scare would regard as ‘Satanic’ themselves.

Wright shows that both sides in the memory controversy can point to evidence in their favour. Loftus and Ganaway, two sceptical psychologists, have conducted experiments claiming to show that children will endorse and elaborate on totally imaginary events which they are told happened to them in the past. A survey conducted at an American school where a deranged gunman had fired on children showed that several months after children who were absent on that day gave accounts of allegedly seeing the gunman. [2]

On the other hand a recent survey of adults who were child victims of sex offenders allegedly showed that up to 38% had no memory of the incident. However, this survey has come under attack for including former victims who were very young at the time of the assault. One wonders also whether in some cases `don’t remember’ actually means ‘don’t want to discuss with a complete stranger after twenty years’. And did the survey make any distinction between former victims of systematic, long-term abuse and those where the abuse had been a single incident? The distinction is a vital one since there is a very big difference between repressing the memory of a brief trauma – which is known to happen after involvement in accidents or disasters – and the alleged repression of memories of long passages of one’s life.

There are wider questions, too, than can easily be settled by surveys and experiments. Is the model of the human memory propounded by the therapists who gradually uncover memories of Satanism one that is simply based on the not uncommon film plot device in which the audience is initially shown a brief unexplained flashback to a character’s memory which is gradually expanded on as the narrative progresses? (A well-known example is Dennis Potter’s The Singing Detective, shown on BBC-TV) [3]

Another aspect of the controversy which deserves more sceptical scrutiny than it has received is the use by both sides of the term ‘brainwashing’, which is variously depicted as a means whereby evil Satanists force victims to forget their abuse or commit crimes, or as a means whereby evil therapists force sinister memories on unsuspecting patients.

In each case the model for explanation is a dubious one. The term first appeared during the Korean War, when it was used to explain why large numbers of US prisoners of the Chinese and North Koreans were prepared to collaborate and publicly denounce US policy. According to the brainwashing model of explanation they had been the victims of a combination of advanced and sinister mind-control techniques devised by Soviet psychologists, and fiendish Oriental tortures. This belief was partly responsible for setting off a mind-control arms race between Soviet and US intelligence services in which innocent people suffered as unknowing guinea-pigs, and – like the rather similar ESP race – exaggerated reports of each side’s capabilities led the other to make frantic attempts to catch up. The film The Manchurian Candidate depicted some of the alleged capabilities of brainwashing to plant memories of imaginary events, and transform people into robot assassins, to be activated at a given signal. [4]


Frank Sinatra and Laurence Harvey in The ‘Manchurian Candidate’, the film that helped to establish the popular conception if brainwashing. Harvey (right) who is being programmed as an assassin, is shown shooting a fellow PoW.

Little of this stands up to scrutiny. The mysterious and sinister techniques allegedly used somehow failed to re-surface in Vietnam. The lower rate of collaboration amongst British POWs in Korea and its total absence among the Turks (the next largest UN contingent) suggests that low US army morale and motivation had more of an influence on the behaviour of American troops in captivity. However the belief in the existence of sinister techniques to control directly the human mind has been an enduring one.

Equally suspect is the idea implied by some sceptics that it might be possible to isolate some kind of ‘False Memory Syndrome’ as a specific medical condition that might explain claimed memories of bizarre and highly improbable events. This would indeed be convenient portmanteau explanation but it is probably more accurate to see these tales emerging as part of a wider interaction involving both social and psychological factors as well as group dynamics, and no more have one single explanation than all false confessions to the police or all false claims to be the victims of crimes. Individual Satanist cases probably have a variety of roots, including family tensions (which can be glimpsed in Wright’s account of the Ingram case), the very existence of ‘survivor’ groups that foster a climate of self-reinforcing fantasy, and the subconscious desire of those who have paid large amounts of money to therapists to come up with recovered memories sensational enough to justify the expense.

The fact remains, however, that the ranks of American therapists include many bizarre and sinister practitioners. Just how bizarre can be seen by reading Daniel Ryder’s Breaking the Circle of Satanic Abuse, a book so eccentric that one might dismiss it as a product of the lunatic fringe were it not for the fact that its author is a licensed social worker, and the cover contains endorsements from police officers, psychologists and child welfare groups. It appears to be a product of the so-called ‘Christian Counselling’ movement, a synthesis that makes clear the similarities between evangelical Christianity and ‘recovery therapy’. Notably their common emphasis on confession and rebirth, and emphasis on individual evil rather than social factors as an explanation for people’s problems. Thus Ryder’s accounts of work with alleged ritual abuse victims alternate between exhortations to remember that Jesus has been victorious over Satan, and passages of psychobabble that defy parody:

Tim, who’s a 37 year old computer programmer guesses that his inner child is six. Tim’s next task was to do some activities appropriate for a six year old. He got some coloring books for his inner child. He was also doing daily affirmations holding a teddy-bear and talking into a mirror. Bianca, a 40 year old manager was doing some experimental inner-child work. She was skeptical until she found herself too late for a corporate conference because she had found herself engrossed with a dolls house she was playing with.

If these methods fail to produce memories of Satanic abuse, apparently the therapist should go on a fishing expedition through any memories that are the slightest bit out of the ordinary:

If the client is ready there are other ways to jog memories. One is to go back to the neighbourhood one grew up in. Walk around if possible, remembering the adults, remember-ing the children. What were their personalities like? Did anything ever seem odd? Do you remember any adults who seemed especially sadistic or overtly sexual? What’s happened to some of the children who lived in the neighbourhood? Did some develop psychiatric disorders?

Ryder’s therapy produces Satanic cult tales that one might think would test the credulity of the most gullible believers (but to judge by the book’s endorsements have not done so). His Satanists have paranormal powers and, it seems, that they may use these to make evidence vanish. Thus neatly explaining why no-one ever finds any. Demons and non-human monsters are present at ceremonies, according to Ryder.

Tales like this underline another problem that the Satanic cult memories share with memories of alien abductions and past lives. Not only do different therapists not only keep on finding lots of whichever of the above is their speciality but never anything else, but also each finds a particular sub-type of their speciality unique to themselves. Thus Budd Hopkins’ alien abductors are rather different from John Mack’s, and reincarnation researchers tell tales about the process which completely contradict each other. Similarly, Ryder’s cult stories are very different from those found by more secular investigators. But Ryder also reports a new type of abuse which he claims to find emerging:

A certified therapist who requested anonymity for safety reasons said that some clients had memories of being abused in laboratory type settings. This laboratory abuse is seen as experimental. This therapist said survivors have remembered being hooked on to electrodes. [Another therapist] said survivors report having memories of surgical procedures. [She] also reported more than one of these survivors claim they remember being programmed to assassinate powerful people if cued.

Such stories seem to be becoming more common, and Ryder’s version of them is not the most bizarre. Cary Hammond is the producer of a video on Satanic abuse used by various American police departments, who, according to Lawrence Wright, claims:

Such cults were developed by Satanic Nazi scientists who were captured by the CIA after the war and brought to the US. The main figure was a Hasidic Jew, Dr. Greenbaum who saved himself from the gas chambers by assisting his Nazi captors and instructing them in the secrets of the Cabala.

Dr Hammond is quoted as saying:

People say what’s the purpose of it? My best guess is they want an army of Manchurian Candidates, tens of thousands of mental robots who will smuggle drugs, engage in arms smuggling, very lucrative things, and eventually, the megalomaniacs at the top believe, create a Satanic order that will rule the world.

For writers like Bill Cooper and John Lear, UFO retrieval tales have linked with themes such as drug barons and ‘treason in high places’, now the Satanic cult stories are linking up with abductee-type medical experiments, political assassinations, Nazis-in-America conspiracy theories and Jewish ritual murder tales.


1. A historical equivalent of Sheriff Ingram might be major weir, the former Cromwellian officer, who in 1670 made an unprompted confession to a lifetime of witchcraft and bizarre sex crimes.

2. A recent case involving demonstrably false memories is that of Roald Dahl who claimed in his autobiography to have been beaten by Dr. Geoffrey Fisher, the future Archbishop of Canterbury whilst attending Repton school. In fact Dr. Fisher was not a Repton master at the time Dahl was there. [See also The Strange Case of Mr Esther Rantzen and the Demon Headmaster]

3. Similarly, the current image of ghosts as transparent figures seems to rest not on witness accounts, but early cinema trick photography.

4. Tim Tate, the leading British journalistic proponent of the Satanic abuse scare also scripted the 1994 Channel 4 documentary claiming that Sirhan Sirhan had been brainwashed by the CIA 

For Part Two, and bibliographical notes continue HERE


Still Seeking Satan, Part 2. Roger Sandell

Still Seeking Satan, by Roger Sandell. From Magonia 51, 1995

Part Two

Two new collections of essays on Satanist abuse, mostly by health professionals, are Out of Darkness from the USA, and Treating Survivors of Satanic Abuse from Britain. Since their formats are similar, it is easiest to deal with the together, using their initials to locate individual essays. Most of the contributors to both books work in the public sector and so avoid some of the more extreme claims that come from therapists in private practice. However each book contains one essay indicating clearly that impressive qualifications and prestige jobs are no guarantee against writing total absurdities.

Catherine Gould of the Los Angeles Ritual Abuse Task Force writes on `Diagnosis and Treatment of Ritually Abused Children’ (OOD), a large part of which consists of a quite ludicrous checklist of symptoms of Satanic abuse which includes items such as ‘child refuses to worship God’, ‘child resists authority’ and ‘child is extremely controlling with other children, constantly playing chase games’.

A notable feature of this catalogue is that it includes a large number of contradictory items, which cause practically any type of behaviour to become evidence of Satanic abuse, including both ‘child is afraid to separate from parents, cannot be alone and clings’, as well as ‘child seems distant from parents avoiding close physical contact’.

‘Satanic Cult Practices’ (TSSA) by Dr Joan Coleman, a psychiatrist, relates uncritically the most extreme claims. Satanists include ‘police, politicians, ambassadors and aristocrats’. They carry out human sacrifices, burying bodies on the country estates of wealthy cultists. Their leaders hold regular meetings at a national level to plan activities such as gun-running and drug dealing. They are divided into local groups of eighty or so members which are run by a group of officials whose titles include Scribe, High Priestess and Thane. (In fact the word thane has no connection with any form of magic or supernatural belief but was simply the title of a village headman in Anglo-Saxon England. Has Dr Coleman become confused by Macbeth which has both thanes and witches?)

One authority which she cites for all of this is Satan’s Underground by ‘Laurel Stratford’, a US `survivor’ story which has been proved to be a hoax. Apart from this she cites alleged testimonies from her own patients. The first patient to describe apparent Satanic abuse told of witnessing the sacrifice of three Vietnamese children around 1976 “brought to Southampton from the USA, among the first Boat People”. Readers may remember that Boat People were initially housed in centres such as disused army camps and were closely supervised by the social services. That the disappearance of three such children could have gone un-noticed by the authorities seems very unlikely. Did the parents report it, or were they Satanists too?

Dr Coleman is impressed, like many abduction researchers with the apparent unanimity of the witnesses. One example is that apparently witnesses agree that the altar used in ceremonies will have a sword, a skull, a chalice or a book on it. Given that one would expect a Satanist altar to have something sinister and suitably archaic on it one would hardly expect claims that the altar was decorated with a mobile phone or a pop-up toaster!

Equally credulous is a piece by a member of the team responsible for the 1992 Channel 4 programme, Blasphemous Rumours (TSSA). This programme featured irrelevant, manipulative images such as shots of an empty children’s playground filmed in polarised light and accompanied by discordant music. It gave credence to manifestly absurd claims such as one interviewee who recounted being present at a ceremony in a specially constructed underground chamber where hundreds of people were present. The documentary makers made no attempt to check out matters which could have been investigated, such as a claim to have been in a Satanic temple that was a windowless building in London’s Docklands.

It is enlightening to compare this programme with one broadcast on Channel 4 in 1994 in which a woman claimed that she and her children had been sexually abused while members of the Children of Godgroup. While flawed in some respects – notably its use of the dubious ‘brainwashing cult’ model of explanation – it centred on witnesses who told their stories directly to camera, showed photographs of themselves with other cult members, and produced old letters and internal documentation: the kinds of details which are conspicuously absent from the Satanism cases.

The producers of the Satanism documentary seemed impressed by the nearly two hundred calls Channel 4′s switchboard received after transmission, telling tales of Satanist abuse. One wonders what they would have made of the several hundred calls received after the recent British radio appearance of UFO abduction writer John Mack.

Both books attempt to take some kind of historical perspective. Brett Kahr, a psychotherapy lecturer, contributes an essay ‘The Historical Foundation of Ritual Abuse’ (TSSA) which argues that modem Satanism cases are a continuation of child sacrifice which he contends was widespread in ancient times. He can point to the Tophet cult in the ancient middle east as a genuine example of such practices. Beyond this he shows how little historical understanding he has. He cites the Biblical story of Abraham and Isaac, and the Greek legend of Medea as evidence for widespread child sacrifices. In each case the story was set about a thousand years before it was written down, at an era which even the original audience would consider remote and barbarous. Moreover, the tone of each tale is evidence, not for the popularity of human sacrifice, but for the universal abhorrence it inspired.

Kahr’s ignorance is also clearly indicated by the fact that he seems impressed by the ridiculous and misleading ‘historical survey’ in Tim Tate’s Children for the Devil which I analysed in detail in an earlier review.

Martin Katchen’s ‘History of Satanic Religions’ (OOD) is no better. Most of his historical ‘evidence’ relates to tales told about medieval heretics by their enemies, and allegations made by the clerical anti-Masonic movement in the nineteenth century. Both these essays share certain characteristics with most historical writings on Satanism by believers: there is no reference to works on witchcraft by mainstream historians such as Hugh Trevor-Roper, Keith Thomas and most particularly Norman Cohn. Cohn has discussed in detail how medieval heretics became associated with tales of orgies and human sacrifice. There is no attempt to analyse the main legend of human sacrifice, that even the writers here would presumably agree to be baseless, that of Jewish ritual murder (the US book devotes on throw-away sentence to this point in its introduction, while the British one’s silence is surprising since its editor, Valerie Sinason, is Jewish).


Moreover, one wonders exactly what point these essays are supposed to be making? By exactly what process were grim ancient rituals transmitted to proprietors of Californian day-care centres and semi-literate families on British council estates? Did they exist underground for centuries unsuspected by contemporary social commentators or later historians? Ryder claims that “various forms of occult practices, including Satanism”, were brought to America from “European countries, Africa and Australia” (Australia??) but beyond this there is no explanation.

A second essay by Katchen, ‘Satanic Belief and Practices’ (OOD) attempts to make sense of Satanic cults in terms of sociology, anthropology and comparative religion. He sees the brutalities allegedly inflicted by such groups as analogous to US Marine Corps training in which abuse and harshness is used to form group loyalties. This attempt is unconvincing. there are certainly cultures, both amongst tribal peoples and in advanced societies in which initiation into the group is a brutal process, but in all of these the brutality leads up to a final initiation – like a coming-of-age or a passing out ceremony – when it stops and the newcomer is recognised as a member of the group. At what point does this happen with the Satanists? No survivor tale gives us any clue. Once again, there are many cultures and sub cultures that practice and reward extreme brutality against outsiders. What is inexplicable about the Satanic cult stories is the way cults that are alleged to be trans-generational supposedly practice, on those who are to be the carriers of the tradition, grotesque and meaningless brutalities that could hardly be endured without total traumatisation that would make normal functioning, even within the cult, very difficult.

Any attempt to apply any sociological analysis to these groups also breaks down in the total failure of those telling the stories to give any account of their day to day functioning – something which might be comprehensible in the case of children but not with adults. Do different groups choose their own leaders, or are the imposed from Satanist National Headquarters? Are there ever any internal disagreements of schisms? What impact has AIDS had on Satanism? Have the cults been devastated as one would expect from groups whose rituals involve sex orgies and drinking blood? Have they changed any rituals as a result? On all of these points there is silence, and in fact on any description of the minutae of day to day life there is silence. Lawrence Wright’s book illustrates this very well. At one point Sheriff Ingrain is providing his interrogators with a detailed description of a horrific Satanist rite. However a sceptical; psychiatrists intervenes to ask what sort of things the cultists talked about when the ritual was over. This reduces Ingram to incoherence, totally unable to provide a reply to this sort of mundane query.

The contents of the two books under consideration are not wholly credulous. There is a contribution by Kenneth Lanning, an FBI specialist in child abuse cases (OOD) that makes an impressive and informed sceptical case, not denying the possibility of satanic abuse, but pointing out the many problems involved in the evidence so far presented (18th-century magistrates’ manuals recommended a similar strategy, saying that magistrates faced with accusations of witchcraft should not deny the existence of witches, but point out the problems involved in proving an allegation). Lanning points out the complete discontinuity of Satanism cases with other cases of child sex rings, where features such as the involvement of women and allegations of the victimisation of adults as well as children, are practically unknown.

An interesting comparison which Lanning does not explore is with the other wave of child sex allegations currently rife in the US – those against Roman Catholic priests, some of which, like the day-care cases, involve allegations of whole institutions incorporating cultures of child sex abuse. However the similarity stops here. The cases involving priests have resulted in many guilty pleas and supporting evidence in the form of long histories of allegations against individuals before action was taken. There are no tales of the involvement of women (in spite of many institutions where nuns look after children) or of murder, or of paraphernalia that is never found in searches. Recovered memories rarely form the basis for such allegations and there are certainly no ‘experts’ alleging these cases validate anti-Catholic tales of past centuries. [5]

Another writer, George B. Greaves, a forensic psychologist, contributes an essay ‘Alternative Hypotheses Regarding Claims of Satanic Cult Activity’ (OOD). While faulting believers for their methodology, he ultimately argues for the reality of Satanic cults, rejecting folklore-bases explanations on grounds very similar to those advanced by Eddie Bullard for rejecting folklore explanations of UFO abduction tales. He argues that Satanic cult stories are not like urban legends – structured narratives leading to a climax in the same manner as jokes.

This is however to take an over-restrictive view of the nature of urban legends. To illustrate urban legends to his readers he gives the example of a cat killed by being placed in a microwave cooker. In fact, just such tales of babies being killed in microwaves have appeared in Satanism allegations!

Valerie Sinason, the editor of the British book, seems to take a rather ambiguous position. In spite of accepting the reality of Satanist abuse she contributes an introduction to the Lawrence Wright book, accepting, somewhat grudgingly, that a miscarriage of justice occurred. Her introduction thanks for her suggestions, Dr Sherrill Mulhearn, the anthropologist and leading Satanism sceptic, although any input by Dr Mulhearn into the book is not evident.

Her own essay, ‘Internal and External Evidence’ at least has the merit of being frank about the fantastic content of some survivor stories:

Malcolm, aged 27, a lawyer, could clearly describe the expensive furnishings in the place where he was ritually abused. However, whilst in a trance state he spoke about being in a huge palace where everyone, including some famous people, could fly.

However, she concludes that the Satanist may use drugs to implant false memories in their victims, and, bizarrely, that these stories are the fault of investigators who do not believe everything they are told. [6]

Where patients correctly experience another’s response as irrational disbelief they can then unconsciously fabricate to a point where everything is disbelieved: this makes them angrily in control of further rejection. By the same action they have also protected their allegiance to the cult.

The one first-hand survivor account she includes in her book is hard to assess. the author claims to have been abused in a residential centre, a setting which is easily exploited for sexual abuse. He claims to have been the victim of a child sex ring whose members were Freemasons, who chose his as their boy god, and made him the centre of their rituals: a procedure which bears no relation to other survivor tales. There is a reference to human sacrifice, but the claimant states that his abusers gave him drugs, and as a result he is uncertain about what was and was not real. A puzzling and inconclusive story made even more so by the absence of any information about whether any attempt has been made to report it to the police or other authorities.

It is a relief to turn from these books to the official report The Extent and Nature of Ritual Abuse, by Professor Jean La Fontaine. The version currently available is merely a 35-page summary of main findings, with a more detailed report to follow. Even so its summing up of some eighty British allegations, few of which were reported in the press, is full of interest. First of all the claim made by many believers that there are a large number of separate cases with similar details supporting each other is shown to be false; many allegations are unique to individual cases. Even basic features of the image of ritual abuse, such as the use of robes or costumes only feature in about a third of the allegations.

A particularly significant section of the report is ‘The Class Context of Allegations of Ritual Abuse’, which looks at the people who face these charges.

There were 203 adults (111 men and 92 women) reported. Of the men only 35 were reported as being in work. Six had casual labouring jobs, eight had more skilled manual jobs, and three had middle-class jobs. The work of the other 18 employed men was not specified in the files but there were indications that they were low paid. Few women were working, all but one in manual work. In 12 out of 38 cases the poverty of the children’s parents was referred to. Only one man owned the house he lived in. Run-down urban estates were mentioned in twelve cases.

A similar picture is given in an essay in the Sinason book; ‘A Systematic Approach’, by Aaron Ben-tovim and Marianne Tranter, which gives the case history of a family accused of taking their children to a ‘Satanic Church’ to be abused by figures:

The details of the case reports indicated the children had always been subject to poor standards of hygiene and the results of poor financial management. Clothing was poor and inappropriate to prevailing climatic conditions. Diet was adequate but of poor quality… It was extremely difficult for the social worker to describe the chaos within the household. Children as they grew older became more unruly, left to fend for themselves beyond the mother’s control. the mother yelled rather than talked, school attendance became poorer, social isolation became marked… Dental and personal hygiene was non-existent. The children were left unsupervised on the estate and there was regular concern and complaints from other families… acts of vandalism, bullying, stoning elderly people begging and burglary, although always unproven, [Note the way the writers solemnly record allegations of vandalism as unproven while accepting allegations of Satanic abuse.]


In Britain allegations of Satanic abuse have become part of a wider social issue, where housing estates inhabited by Rab C. Nesbitt ‘underclass’ figures are now seen as a ‘Dark Continent’ awash with idolatry and witchcraft

Here we are clearly a world away from Joan Coleman’s fantasies of wealthy Satanists burying their victims on private estates, or from the US cases featuring expensive therapists or middle-class day care centres. What seems to be happening in Britain is that allegations of Satanism have become part of a wider social image, that of the ‘underclass’. As employment has collapsed in many communities there are arguments amongst policy-makers as to whether or not the poor are a violent, threatening rabble, responding only to authoritarian measures. Images of the underclass move from such discussions to mass audience images including TV characters such as the Jackson family on EastEnders, Rab C. Nesbitt, and Harry Enfield’s Wayne Slob. Now it seems housing estates are seen as a 1990′s equivalent of a ‘Dark Continent’ awash with idolatry and witchcraft.

Writers such as Tim Tate have attacked the Fontaine Report for allegedly making light of the eight or so cases of ritual abuse that have resulted in convictions. Fontaine argues that these have all involved either an individual or a group of at the most four, and that they have not involved any of the bizarre features such as human sacrifice. However it seems to me that she is on less secure ground in arguing that the rituals were only incidental to the abuse, as a means to intimidate the children.

Motives are not always easy to assess, and to see how the cases she mentions fit in it is useful to adopt the typology of the believers in satanic abuse. Several of them divide types of Satanists as follows:

    • 1- Public Satanists. These are followers of groups such as Anton LeVey’s Church of Satan, who, as even the anti-Satanist concede, are rarely involved in criminal offences.
    • 2- Teenage Dabblers. Young people with an interest in the occult derived from such sources as heavy-metal music and horror films. In Britain few of these have been involved in any crimes more serious than minor church vandalism, but in the US, anti-Satanists can point to dabblers involved in more serious crimes including murder. However when these cases are examined drugs and the wide availability of firearms seem to be more significant causes than occultism. Ironically some of those involved in such cases have been from evangelical Christian households, and have adopted Satanist symbols as a sign of rebellion. [7]
    • 3- Psycbopathic Satanists. Unbalanced individuals obsessed with the idea of Satan either acting alone or with a small number of accomplices. Here again there is a well-authenticated history of such cases with the most famous being the Manson gang.
    • 4- Transgenerational Satanist – Satanic Cults. This is the category on which the controversy centres: the existence of large, highly organised and well-equipped groups, including groups carrying out elaborate ceremonies involving crimes such as murder, and involved in a variety of criminal conspiracies to support their activities.

When these categories are adopted it becomes clear that all of the authenticated cases discussed by Fontaine fall into the third category. By contrast, Valerie Sinason, who has also responded critically to the Fontaine Report, cites as examples of Satanism, cases that have little to do with any of the categories. Thus her book includes a case of a girl sexually abused by an elder brother who claimed to be possessed by spirits, and a case where an abused child states “Daddy eats poo”, a very different matter from allegations that children are being forced to eat excrement as part of ceremonies where they are tortured.

It may well be wise to bear this typology in mind while considering both recent press coverage of Satanism allegations, and possible coverage in the near future. When these allegations first surfaced in Britain in 1989-1990 they were for a time treated uncritically by the press, a position which soon moved to general disbelief, unaccompanied by detailed investigations (except in the cases of the Independent on Sunday and Mail on Sunday) and this attitude was reflected in coverage of the Fontaine report. However some tabloid coverage of the extraordinary Gloucestershire ‘House of Horror’ mass murder case currently awaiting trial has hinted at some occult motivation, and if this claim is vindicated by the trial it will no doubt be taken as vindicating the Satanic cult tales, in spite of fitting, on the worst interpretation, into the category of psychopathic Satanist. [The Fred and Rosemary West trial referred to here concluded with guilty verdicts, and no suggestion of Satanic activity was introduced into the evidence - JR]

In spite of the increasing number of studies into the Satanism panic, credulous and sceptical, there still seems to be no single overall historical account of its growth. I was therefore interested to see Michael Newton’s Raising Hell, The A-Z of Satanic Crime. Unfortunately the book is flawed in many ways, including its authors credulousness, and its use of an alphabetical case-by-case format which makes it hard to refer to unless one is already familiar with the cases. The accounts of the British cases, and the history of witchcraft, are extremely inaccurate, making it hard to rely on the book’s accounts of other cases I am not familiar with. However it does cover a wide range of US cases and so provides some overall perspectives. Apart from summarising a number of the most prominent day-care centre and Teenage Dabbler cases, it gives some indication of other components of the myth. It looks at some of the magical practices that are current among some Latin and Caribbean migrants to the USA which, although they have perhaps contributed to the wider fear of Satanism, have little overlap with any of the major anti-Satanist allegations, in which an interesting but little remarked feature is the almost complete absence of black people as either accused or accusers.

It also looks at various occult groups which formed part of the ‘sixties underground, such as the Process Church of the Final Judgement. Such groups were certainly involved in some nasty activities, as sections of the underground declined into a drug-laced morass of squalor, irrationality, violence and sexual exploitation, just as fringe political groups such as the Symbionese Liberation Army did. However the claim that they gave birth to Satanist cults now stalking America is unconvincing.

What this book does suggest is that rumours and urban legends concerning sinister occultists were a part of the underground culture and later spread to the wider American scare. Another example of the same process is the way ‘sixties tales about great secrets hidden in the music or designs of Beatles albums have been transmuted into tales of sinister Satanic messages in rock songs.

One interesting feature of Newton’s book is that it makes clear the origins of the anti-Satanist panic in the cattle mutilation scare of the early ‘seventies. Sixties films such as Rosemary’s Baby and The Devil Rides Out had established the image of Satanism. As a result of the US release of the latter film, the original novel appeared as a US paperback, the first Dennis Wheatley title ever to be published in America, giving the image further visibility. Consequently Satanism was seen as one frame of reference for the cattle mutilation reports. Tales were told, similar to UFO occupant stories, of mysterious hooded figures seen by night-time motorists in the South Western states (like aliens, Satanists, with a whole desert to choose from, seem always to stand where they will be seen). Kenneth Bankston, a Kansas convict, told a widely reported hoax tale of his membership of a cult of Satanic cattle mutilators.

The film Race With the Devil demonstrates that the main components of the Satanism scare were already in place in 1975. In this film the heroes, played by Peter Fonda and Warren Oates, stumble on robed figures carrying out open-air nocturnal rituals. As the cultists pursue them, apparently respectable individuals turn out to be secret Satanists. Thus a piece of fiction anticipated many of the details that were to reappear in subsequent, allegedly factual, stories, just as many elements from UFO abduction accounts appear in earlier fictions. [8]

The cattle mutilation panic did not merely provide the origins of the Satanism myth; attempts to link the mutilations with UFOs were a major factor in the dominance of US ufology by abduction and conspiracy theories. A process which has now gone so far that actual unidentified flying objects seem hardly to figure in most American UFO publications at all. The mutilation panic also coincided with the Watergate scandal and a new interest in the JFK assassination on its tenth anniversary. This coincidence influenced theories of the mutilations as being the result of sinister government experiments, setting the pattern for many subsequent government conspiracy tales.

Seen in isolation the Satanism panic is one of the most extraordinary events in late twentieth century US social history. In a wider context it forms part of a more prevalent and alarming abandonment of rationality.



5. One exception is the allegations of child abuse against Cardinal Bernadine of Chicago, a cleric who has been active in ending the cover-up on these matters. These allegations were made by a complainant undergoing regression therapy and who later withdrew them. The therapist involved had no qualifications except one awarded by ‘John-Roger’, the New Age guru who has been accused by the American press if influencing Arianna Stassinopolus-Huffington, wife of Michael Huffington, the right-wing Republican candidate in recent US elections.

6. Although administration of drugs as part of sex abuse is not improbable, mystery drinks feature both in Satanic abuse and UFO abduction stories. Peter Rogerson has reminded me that in some reincarnation accounts the claimants state that between lives they were given a ‘drink of forgetting by a supernatural figure but somehow avoided taking it.

7. The use of Satanic imagery by heavy-metal bands seems to have increased following the evangelical anti-heavy-metal campaign. A new development has been the appearance in Scandinavia of ‘Death Metal’, a sub-genre linked with a skinhead-style racism. Britain’s first death Metal fanzine has recently appeared – Harsh reality, an ugly publication combining music reviews with occultism and Holocaust revisionism.

8. Logically one should consider the possibility that by now a real cult might have merged deliberately aping the stereotype that has become established, just as groups like Anton LaVey’s ‘Church of Satan’ were influenced by films like Rosemary’s Baby and The Devil Rides Out. However this would explain little, since many of the survivor storys relate to Satanic activities allegedly occurring in the 1960s, 1950s and even 1940s


LaFontaine, Jean. The Extent and Nature of Ritual Abuse: Research Findings. HMSO, 1994
Newton, Michael. Raising Hell: the A-Z of Satanic Crime. Warner, 1994.
Sakheim, David and Susan Devine (eds.). Out of Darkness: Exploring Satanism and Ritual Abuse. Lexington Books, 1992.
Sinason, Valerie. Treating Survivors of Satanic Abuse. Routledge, 1994
Wright, Lawrence. Remembering Satan. Serpents Tail, 1994


The Nazi’s Occult Mentors. Roger Sandell

Originally published in Magonia 22, May 1986

Jacques Bergier and Louis Pawels’ The Dawn of Magic, first published in 1960, originated many themes that have continued to recur in popular works on occultism and pseudo-science. Not the least influential section of this book was one that reinterpreted the history of Nazi Germany and proclaimed that occult beliefs, ritual magic and contacts with secret societies were central to the thinking of Hitler and his entourage.

Other writers eagerly took up this theme, to produce a body of books that Nicholas Goodrich-Clarke describes in terms that will be familiar to students of ancient astronauts or Bermuda Triangle literature:

“A complete ignorance of the primary literature was common to most authors and wild claims and inaccuracies were repeated by each newcomer to the genre until an abundant literature existed based on wholly spurious `facts’”

Undeterred by this, Mr Goodrich-Clarke has attempted to discover the factual basis behind these claims. In doing so he traces and documents in detail the story of the Ariosophist groups in Germany and Austria from the 1890′s to the early 1930′s. This movement involved three main bases: Guido von List’s Armanenschaft, Lanz von Liebenfels’ New Templars, and Rudolf von Sebottendorf’s Thule Society.

The beliefs of these bodies were similar. The ancient Germanic people had possessed knowledge of occult secrets and ritual magic. The Roman Conquerors and the Church had attempted to suppress this knowledge, but it had never been totally forgotten; during the Christian era its secrets had been hidden in such forms as the symbolism in the coats of arms of the Mediaeval German aristocracy, and the rituals of the Knights Templar. However the nineteenth-century unification of Germany and its emergence as a world power was the beginning of a process of renewal in which the old secrets would be rediscovered.

List, Liebenfels and Sebottendorf all backed up their ideas by eccentric scholarship which possesses quite extraordinary similarities with some more recent fringe beliefs. Von List drew huge patterns on maps to prove that mediaeval churches, and natural features were remains of vast prehistoric sites, in a manner similar to those of present-day earth mysteries researchers. His belief that mediaeval witchcraft concealed pre-Christian mysteries forced underground by a rapacious Church is held today by mystically inclined feminists. Von Liebenfels’ contention that the Old Testament contained cryptic references to a sinister ancient orgiastic cult that promoted sex between superior and inferior races recalls John M. Allegro’s attempts to find evidence in the Bible for another mysterious orgiastic ancient cult, this time based on hallucinogenic drugs.


Van List’s belief that mediaeval witchcraft concealed pre-Christian mysteries forced underground by a rapacious Church is held today by mystically inclined feminists

The similarities between many of the ideas of the Ariosophists and Nazism are clear. As well as believing in German racial superiority, the Ariosophists were also antisemitic and in 1905 von Liebenfels was already advocating genocide. However, there were also many points of difference. The Ariosophists believed that the new era would be ushered in by the work of a small, secret elite, whereas the Nazis advocated mass political action. Nazism made a demagogic appeal to the working class, while many of the Ariosophists had, like other nineteenth century racists, believed that not only non-Europeans but their own working classes were racially inferior. The Nazis surpassed Freemasonry, whereas the Ariosophists believed that its rituals preserved the ancient Germanic mysteries. (In 1935 the remaining Ariosophists, like the Masons, fell victim to the Nazi proscription of secret societies).

Is it possible to trace direct connections between the Ariosophists and the Nazis, as has been claimed? To some extent it is. Himmler took many Ariosophist ideas seriously and maintained a research bureau on such matters, presided over by K. M. Wiligut, a self proclaimed psychic archeologist, whom he promoted to general rank in the SS; but Himmler’s interest in these matters was widely regarded as eccentric even by the rest of the Nazi hierarchy. However it does seem likely that Hitler met von Liebenfels on one occasion in pre-1914 Vienna. He may have been familiar with the writings of von List, and there is no doubt that the swastika was first used as an emblem by Ariosophists. However, all of this does certainly not serve, as is sometime alleged, to establish occultism, still less Satanism, as is sometimes sensationally claimed, as the real force behind the Nazi Party, any more than one might make a similar claim for the British Labour Party, on the basis of the involvement of the Theosophist Annie Besant in the Fabian Society, or the Spiritualist beliefs of Kier Hardie and the Swedenborgian ones of Ramsey Macdonald.

The ideas the Ariosophists shared with the Nazis, such as antisemitism and a belief in racial superiority were common ones in the nineteenth century. The main distinctive strand in Nazi beliefs that may be regarded as having been transmitted by the Ariosophists was its apocalyptic overview. Von List had based part of his ideas on mediaeval German beliefs of the coming Emperor (often identified with a resurrected Frederick Barbarossa) who would slaughter the Jews and other enemies of God, and institute a Messianic kingdom. (These ideas and their influence on peasant revolts in the Middle Ages are described in detail in Norman Cohn’s Pursuit of the Millennium.) It is scarcely fanciful to see ideas of the ‘thousand year Reich’ and the ‘final solution’ as twentieth century apocalyptic ideas; but apocalyptic beliefs are part of a Christian tradition rather than an occult one, and today are being maintained in the US by those who proclaim themselves foes of occultism and Satanism.

Nicholas Goodrich-Clarke’s study concentrates very specifically on occult beliefs, and has little to say about alleged Nazi interest in pseudo-scientific ideas such as eccentric cosmology, another subject in which many undocumented claims have been made and where genuine research might prove interesting. Ellic Howe’s study of astrology in the Third Reich provides a look at part of this territory. Tales of Hitler consulting astrologers seem to be without foundation. There certainly was a strong German astrological movement in the early ‘thirties which saw a battle between traditionalists and those who wanted to create an explicitly Nazi astrological movement, but this situation was no different from what happened in the arts, the churches and universities.

One one occasion Hitler did send a message to a national astrological conference, but this seems to have consisted of the sort of generalities that a totalitarian head of state might send to any national gathering, and did not stop official suppression of much astrological literature.When World War II began, German intelligence did enlist the services of astrologers, but this seems largely to provide technical assistance for the production of bogus almanacs and editions of Nostradamus circulated in occupied Europe purporting to foretell German victory. Individual Nazi chiefs had an interest in astrology, but it is not clear that these were any more significant than the astrological beliefs of Mackenzie King, the Canadian wartime P.M., or the Spiritualist beliefs of RAF chief Lord Dowding.

It does seem to be true that experiments were made to discover if British ships at sea might be located by map dowsing, but ironically this seems to have been provoked by inaccurate reports that British intelligence used such methods – a situation rather similar to what appears to be the reality behind the so-called ‘psychic arms race’ between Russia and America.

In addition to his study of astrology under the Nazis, Howe’s book also gives a very interesting account of the nineteenth century background to contemporary astrology. For reasons that are not really clear, astrology seems to have survived in Britain throughout the nineteenth century in the world of popular publishing, largely aimed at the working class, with some overlap with the fields of working class self-education and popular science. By contrast, on the continent astrology died out entirely in mid-century, to be revived as a preoccupation of wealthy occultist intellectuals with the emergence of theosophy. (Interestingly, Howe also shows that the idea of the tarot pack having occult significance seems, far from being ‘traditional lore’, to have originated in the same circles at the same time.)

Both these books show that the study of occult-type ideas and their influence are interesting and significant parts of contemporary history. (Indeed, the influence of Theosophy on twentieth century ideas seems to be a subject of more importance than is generally realised.) Perhaps with what appears to be a slackening off of worthless paperbacks on this field, this branch of study may attract more serious work.


The Airship and Other Panics. Roger Sandell

Originally published in Magonia New series 12, autumn 1978

The study of pre-1947 UFO waves has been hampered by its isolation from a general study of the historical and social background to these events. For the most part the general historians have ignored such matters; and ufologists who have chronicled them have paid little attention to the context in which they took place. However there has recently come to light a book entitled Six Panics, by F W Hirst, published in London in 1913, which not only offers a contemporary account of the British ‘mystery airship’ wave of that year, but contains some interesting observations on the background to the wave.

Mr Hirst, a contributor to The Economist, sees the 1913 wave as the last of a series of panics concerning the alleged threat of foreign invasion. He looks at similar invasion scares in1847-48, 1851-53, 1859-61 and 1881, when these fears centred on France, and 1909 when they centred on Germany; and he shows how the 1913 airship became a political issue, leading to calls for increased military expenditure.

Surprisingly he does not seem to be aware that the invasion panic of 1909 was also accompanied by a wave of mystery airship reports, which recent research by Nigel Watson has shown was connected with foreign spy rumours. (Check article HERE)

This interpretation of the 1913 wave suggests a parallel with the great US wave of 1897, which coincided with the US-Spanish crisis over Cuba which was to lead to war the following year. (In fact some of the airship ‘pilots’ in 1897 are reported as saying they are going to Cuba to fight the Spanish) Another interesting parallel is suggested when Mr Hirst accuses the newspapers of Lord Northcliffe, Britain’s first modern press tycoon, of being particularly influential in whipping up the panic around the 1913 airships. In America in 1897 the mass press was likewise just emerging, and to judge by the number of cases that appear to be newspaper hoaxes, it played an important part in the creation of the wave.

A possible line of approach that Mr Hirst does not pursue would be to link his invasion panics with internal social conflict. 1847-48, the year of his first panic coincided with the height of the Chartist movement (not to mention an interesting aerial phenomenon described in MUFOB new series 8) and the panics of 1909 and 1913 with several simultaneous social crises including mass strikes, the suffragette movement and the Irish Home Rule crises. These correlations have been noticed by the historian George Dangerfield whose book The Strange Death of Liberal England has an account of the 1913 airship wave. He sees it as a symptom of the social hysteria of the period. Again, we have an interesting link with 1897, when American society faced economic depression and the rise of the Populist movement.

Another similarity between invasion panics and UFO waves is the way both seem to be generated by technological development. Just as the first UFO waves followed the appearance of nuclear weapons, so each new development in naval warfare precipitated invasion scares. The mid-nineteenth century waves were touched off by fears of the potentialities of the steamship, while the ironclads played a similar role in 1884, the dreadnought in 1909 and the Zeppelin in 1913.

Just as in modern times we find SF and allegedly factual UFO stories dealing in the same ideas and images so the social fears and tensions behind the airship waves also found expression in the fiction of the period. The late nineteenth and early twentieth century saw a whole literature of novels depicting the complacency of British society of the period being shattered by invasions from France, Russia or Germany (This whole genre is examined in I. F. Clarke’s Voices Prophesying War and examples are reprinted in Michael Moorcock’s two anthologies of early SF, Before Armageddon and England Invaded.

The study of pre-1947 waves is a valuable field of research. However it is becoming clear that the ufologist who hunts in old newspapers for reports of aerial phenomena is getting less that the full picture unless he is prepared to look at what else these papers are reporting at the same time.

Postscript: Since writing the above I have read a fascinating paper entitled “Analogies of the Propagation of the Great Fear in France 1789 and the Airship Flap in Ohio in 1897″ by Andrew Rothovius, printed in Pursuit. The Great Fear dealt with in this essay is the mysterious mass panic that gripped rural France three weeks after the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1798. Apparently from nowhere rumours arose throughout France that armies of bandits or foreign mercenaries were at large pillaging all in their path. Lights were seen in the sky and interpreted as the glow from burning towns. As Mr Rothovious points out, the similarities between these events and the airship waves (and for that matter modern UFO waves) are most interesting and certainly reinforce the possibility that these events are all responses to social crisis.

Andrew Rothovius also points out that although the panic of 1789 was baseless, all the events that were rumoured to have happened massacre, foreign invasion, armies of bandits in the countryside – were to become reality in revolutionary France, and suggests that the Fear could be seen as an outbreak of mass precognition Similarly, within two years of the 1913 panic, real German airships were to be dropping bombs over England, an event which must have come as a surprise to F W Hirst, who concludes his look at the events of 1913 with the comforting thought that it was out of the question that Zeppelins would be of military value!


Apocalypse When? Roger Sandell

From Magonia 18, January 1985

It might be thought that after the noticeable non-appearance of the end of the world and the ‘Great King of Terror’ in 1999, Nostradamus’s stock would be at an all-time low as the new millennium took off fairly uneventfully. Not so. Already various prophesies have been manipulated and invented to show that Nostradamus ‘prophesied’ the World Trade Center attacks in September 2001. This article/review from 1985, in which Roger Sandell looks at the way Nostradamus’s words have been used by many writers for many different purposes, now seems to be more relevant than ever!

nostradamusThe sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were the heyday of prophecy. Popular chapbooks told of the amazing abilities of figures like Mother Shipton, and quoted after the event verses which appeared to foretell events such as the Spanish Armada and the Civil War. Real historical figures like Roger Bacon might be invoked, and prophecies allegedly discovered hundreds of years after their death would turn out to be relevant to the news of the day.

The writings of Nostradamus are the only survivors of this literature that continue to be republished and evoke a response in public consciousness. To some extent it is easy to see why. Alone among the alleged authors of the prophecies of his era, Nostradamus was a real person rather than a legendary figure, who published the prophecies himself. However, the reputation of Nostradamus remains a semi-underground one, with many who have never read a single book on the subject vaguely believing “there must be something in it”, or aware that Nostradamus is credited with seeing World War II or future nuclear devastation.

The reception of Jean Charles de Fontbrune’s book Nostradamus [1] has been the most remarkable recent manifestation of belief in Nostradamus. Its first appearance in France in 1980 was the subject of major news stories in the popular press of several European countries, and even inspired cover stories in journals such as Der Spiegel and Die Ziet. An opinion poll in France shortly after its publication revealed astonishingly that 75% of the French population were aware of this book, and 25% believed its forecasts of the future.

To a large extent this book has now discredited itself. It is now 1985 and there is no sign of the Soviet-Arab invasion of Europe, which should already have taken place, according to de Fontbrume’s readings. And while sudden surprises do occur in the political world, there seems little reason to expect the restoration of the French monarchy by 1986, his final date for these events. These facts however did not prevent Hutchinsons bringing out the British edition in 1983, when some predictions had already been falsified, and Corgi from reprinting it last year. An eloquent testimony to the scant regard publishers have for their own books on occultism and their low opinion of the intelligence of potential readers. However, since this is unlikely to be the last Nostradamus book, it is worth examining de Fontbrune’s methods in some detail.

To vindicate the prophet’s previous record, the author translates Nostradamus’s sixteenth century verses into modern English (or French, in the books original edition) and compares them with later events from the sixteenth century to the present. A wide variety of events are claimed as fulfilling Nostradamus’s predictions, including the careers of Louis XIV and Napoleon, the Russian revolution and the World Wars. To a casual reader the results may seem impressive. However it does not take very detailed examination to arouse great doubts, not only about Nostradamus, but also about de Fontbrune. First there are some cases in which the prophecy manifestly bears no relation to the event de Fontbrune claims fulfilled it. Take for example the prophecy

L’anne Royal sur coursier voligeant
Picquer viendra si rudiment courir,
Gueule lipée pied dans l’estrein pleignant
Traine tire, horriblement mourir.

The king’s eldest son, on a runaway horse, will suddenly fall headfirst in its rush, the horse’s mouth being injured in the lip, with the rider’s foot caught, groaning, dragged and pulled, he will die horribly.” [All translations are de Fontbrune's]

This specifically describes a riding accident in which a rider falls with his foot rapped in the stirrup and is dragged by the horse. De Fontbrune is obviously unable to find any royal heir who has died in this manner, so he claims this relates to the death in 1842 of the eldest son of Louis Phillipe of France who died, as the book itself makes clear, by being thrown out of a coach pulled by a bolting horse. A very different matter.

Other prophecies bear more relation to their alleged fulfillment, but are too vague to be taken seriously. For example, de Fontbrune solemnly claims the failure of East-West disarmament talks is indicated by the prophecy:

Plusieurs viendrant et parleront de paix
Entre monarques et seigneurs bien puissant
Mais ne sera accordé de si pres
Que ne se rendent plus qu’autres obeissant

There will be talk of peace between powerful heads of state but peace will not be agreed for the heads of state will be no wiser than any other.

Surely it would be tedious to list the number of failed peace conferences since the sixteenth century that could be claimed to fulfill this prophecy.

The game of finding alternative interpretations of Nostradamus can be carried on indefinitely. Thus de Fontbrune claims that the Jewish settlement of Palestine is foretold by:

Nouveax venus lieu basty sans défence
Occuper la place par lors inhabitable
Prez, maison, champs, villes, prendre a plaisance
Faim, peste, guerre, arpen long labourable

Newcomers will build town without defence and occupy hitherto uninhabitable places. They will take with pleasure fields, houses lands and towns. Then famine sickness and war shall be on the land tilled for a long time.

In fact these words could equally apply to the opening of the American west, followed by the civil War and the Indian Wars, or to the British settlement of the Falkland Islands and the war with Argentina.

Even when specific placenames are given, plenty of ambiguity remains. De Fontbrune relates the lines:

Par vie et mort changé regne d’Ongrie
La loy sera plus aspre que service …

Power will be changed by life and death in Hungary. The law will be more pitiless than customs.

to the Hungarian uprising of 1956 but they fit equally the Communist revolt of 1919 or the nationalist rising of 1848. Indeed, it would be hard to think of a country that, since the time of Nostradamus, has not had some kind of revolution to which these words apply.

There are other serious objections to Fontbrune. The most serious is that like most modern commentators, he makes no attempt to put Nostradamus in the context of his own time, and analyze what his language and references meant to his original audience. As anyone who has ever read any commentaries to Shakespeare will know, this is a job which, as with any writer of the past, calles for a great deal of knowledge. With someone like Nostradamus, who deliberately cloaked his words in obscurity, it is doubly difficult.

De Fontbrune refers to this problem in his introduction, and at times makes great play of deciphering Nostradamus’s obscure classical references. However at other times he chooses to ignore the plain meaning that the prophecies would have conveyed to their original audiences. Thus he takes references to les rouges as meaning ‘Reds’ in the modern sense, whereas in the sixteenth century it would have been understood as referring to Roman Catholic cardinals. One particular blatant example is his interpretation of the verse that states:

Du Lac leman les sermons fascheront
Des jours seront reduits par les semaines
Puis mois, puis an puis tous défailleront
Les magistrats damneront lers lois vaines

The speeches at the Lake of Geneva will cause ferment; days will be followed by weeks then months, then years, then everything will collapse an legislators will curse their vain laws.

This is taken to refer to Geneva’s modern role as a centre for international conferences, and the neglect of the Geneva Convention in modern warfare. But it would have been obvious to any reader of Nostradamus’s time that this was simply a prediction of the fall of Calvinist Geneva, which was known throughout Europe for its long sermons and harsh laws.

When one attempts to look at Nostradamus in this light, many apparently impressive hits start to fade away. Like many writers, de Fontbrune is impressed by one verse that contains the names of two twentieth-century Spanish leaders: Rivera and Franco (in ‘Castelfranco’). However, Rivera and Castelfranco are both towns in northern Italy, where many wars were fought in the sixteenth century. There is a similar explanation for the repeated claim (not however to be found in de Fontbrune’s book) that Nostradamus’s mentions of ‘Hister’ are prophecies of the life of Hitler. Although this is perhaps the best known of Nostradamus’s ‘hits’ in fact Hister is simply the Latin name for the Danube, and it is clear from the contexts in which this name appears that that he is writing of a river, not a person.

Worse is to come. There are places where de Fontbrune’s translations into modern language are gravely misleading. For some reason he seems to be determined to conceal from his readers that astrology is central to the prophet’s writings. In one instance he translates the line Satur au boef, Iove en l’eau, Mars an fleiche, as “When the time comes for violence and revolution, wars will spread”. It clearly means nothing of the kind, and is an astrological reference to Saturn in Taurus, Jupiter in Aquarius and Mars in Sagittarius. On other occasions he misrepresents the original to make it appear that a prophecy has been fulfilled. When we are told that Nostradamus wrote:

The leader who will have lead the immortal people far from its own sky will end his life in the middle of the sea on a rocky island with a population of five thousand whose language and customs are different.

It seems a convincing of Napoleon’s exile on St Helena, but on turning to the original one finds:

Le chef qu’aura conduict people infiny
Loing de son cil, de meurs et langue estrange
Cinq mil en Crete et tessalie finy.

Crete and Thessaly have become “a rocky island”. There are many similar examples. Le sainct empire viendra en Germanie becomes “The Russians will come into Afghanistan”. We are told that Russia is le sainct empire because of its traditional name of Holy Russia, but there is little explanation of how Germanie has become ‘Afghanistan’.

Can misrepresentation go further? Indeed it can. The whole context of the prophecies is misrepresented. The majority of them come from the Centuries, Nostradamus’s main collection of prophetic verses, but some of them are reprinted from another of his works, the Presages. However, the reader is not informed that the Presages were a sort of almanac with predictions attached, very unsuccessfully, to specific months in the near future. De Fontbrune ignores this and links verses from the Presages to events centuries after Nostradamus.

nostradamus bookHe also suppresses the introduction Nostradamus wrote to his original Centuries in which he gives a prose outline of his predictions for the future of Europe, which bear no resemblance to anything that has really happened. For example, he predicts a revival of the venetian Empire so that by the end of the eighteenth century it would be as powerful as Rome. The compiler quotes merely half a sentence from this introduction, and does it in a way that makes his deliberate misrepresentation clear. Nostradamus foretells that the eighteenth century will see a major persecution of the Church which will last to 1792. De Fontbrune takes only the second half of this sentence and quotes it as “It [the French monarchy] will last until 1792″.

From the past, de Fontbrune moves on to depict an immediate future (when the book was written) in which Europe is invaded by Soviet and Arab armies, liberated by Anglo-American forces. A restored French monarch, King Henry, completes the rout of the invaders. Apart from the presence of Russians and Americans, all these themes do in fact correspond to important elements in the prophecies of Nostradamus, but her again they must be taken within the context of their times.

Most of the prophecies relate to what Nostradamus expected for his near-future. He states in his introduction that he cloaks his prophecies in obscure language to protect himself from the authorities, a procedure that would be pointless if he really thought they related to events centuries hence which would be meaningless to his contemporaries.. There are certainly many verses that indicate he expected a major war between Christendom and Islam in the future, but this would hardly be surprising in an era when the Turks still threatened Vienna and Arab pirates raided all over the Mediterranean.

Similarly, the lines de Fontbrune interprets as referring to an Anglo-American landing in France against the invaders do indicate that Nostradamus expected to see another era when the English occupied much of France as they did in the Middle Ages. Once again, with the English expelled from Calais only in 1555, the year he published his Centuries, and English kings still formally claiming the French throne, this would not have seemed surprising to his contemporaries. As for the all-conquoring Henry, all the evidence is that Nostradamus expected his contemporary, King Henry II of France to fulfill this role, in accordance with the conventions of the prophetic literature of the period. This frequently proclaimed that some contemporary ruler would prove to be a messianic figure who would unite Europe, reconcile the churches and regain Jerusalem. Oliver Cromwell, Edward VI of England and Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden were all candidates in different writings. [2]

Much interesting background to Nostradamus is to be found in the book by David Pitt Francis [3], who unlike de Fontbrune, makes a serious attempt to present Nostradamus in the context of his times and as a result comes to largely sceptical conclusions. However in the process he does resort to some dubious arguments. His attempt to compile a statistical analysis of Nostradamus does not seem convincing to me, in view of the difficulty of properly quantifying much of the data. Neither does there seem to be much real evidence for his suggestion that some later rulers may have deliberately undertaken certain acts to make it look as if Nostradamus predicted their actions.

It is not clear until the final section that the author is an evangelical Christian who believes that some of Nostradamus’s successes may have come from his knowledge of the prophetic books of the Bible. I find this suggestion neither necessary nor convincing, although like most other authors of the prophetic literature of the period, Nostradamus was probably influenced by the apocalyptic sections of the Bible.

The revival of interest in Nostradamus at the present time is an interesting phenomenon. De Fontbrune was probably fortunate in that his book, which touched much of the interest off, first appeared in 1980 at a time when international tension was growing and fears of a nuclear war were reaching public consciousness. Although there is no real reason to believe that Nostradamus foresaw any of this, the revival of interest in centuries-old apocalyptic works is a very real sign of the times.

1. Jean-Charles de Fontbrune. Nostradamus; Countdown to Apocalypse. Hutchinson, 1983; Corgi, 1984.
2. Keith Thomas. Religion and the decline of Magic, Weidenfeld, 1971.
3. David Pitt Francis. Nostradamus; prophecies of present times? Aquarian Press, 1984


The Monster as Metaphor. Roger Sandell

From MUFOB, new series 5, Winter 1976/7

Many of those interested in UFOs are also interested in other branches of fringe knowledge, so it is not very surprising that there have been so many theories, such as those about the Bermuda Triangle and Ancient Astronauts, that link UFOs with other mysterious phenomena. For some years ideas of this nature have been circulating regarding UFOs and ‘mystery animals’. At first these ideas were propounded by those who believed UFOs were interplanetary probes, and took the form of suggestions such as that the Bigfoot of the North American forests was a robot released from a UFO, or that the mysterious puma-like animals reported from various parts of England in recent years were part of a biological experiment by aliens. In the case of Bigfoot these ideas seem to have entered the American popular consciousness sufficiently for them to have formed the basis for one episode of the TV series Six Million Dollar Man. The latest development in this field, according to a press report, is a claim that the Loch Ness monster in an underwater extraterrestrial probe – an idea which was also featured in BBC TV’s Dr Who a year or so back.

Naively mechanistic as such ideas may be, there is no denying the existence of an overlap between the UFO and the mystery animals; the most obvious similarity is the sociological one. The ‘Nottinghamshire Lion’ reports of last summer [1976] followed a progress identical to many UFO waves. A sighting of a lion by two milk roundsmen, seen at close quarters in an open field, was considered sufficiently impressive for press and TV to give it wide coverage, and for the police to be issued with firearms, even though no lion was reported missing. This original report was followed by more dubious claims, including suggestions that patches of flattened vegetation – which in other circumstances would be claimed as UFO landing traces – were places where the lion had rested. Finally, when an alleged rearview sighting of the lion turned out to be a piece of sacking caught on a branch, the whole affair was discredited, even though the original sighting remains mysterious.

The sociological side of one mystery animal is examined in The Meaning of the Loch Ness Monster, by Roger Grimshaw and Paul Lester, a pamphlet published by the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, a group of radical sociologists. [1] The role of the scientist and the independent researcher are analyzed in terms equally applicable to the UFO field. The increasing interest in such fringe beliefs by scientists is seen as a result of increasing controversy about the political role of science, brought about by the ecological movement and protests against the involvement of scientists in war research. In this climate, when science becomes a matter of political controversy and general discussion, many scientists no longer maintain an Olympian detachment from the man in the street. They do not look down on phenomena largely reported by non-scientists, and often reported by the more sensational press, but consider them reasonable subjects for investigation. The independent researchers, or ‘monster entrepreneurs’ as the authors describe them, are seen as often strongly individualistic people seeking a field of study in which knowledge is not the possession of an anonymous bureaucracy can be extended by the efforts of the individual. (It should be made clear that the use of the term ‘entrepreneur’ refers solely to their individuality, and is not intended to imply that researchers are ‘in it for the money’.)

One matter that is not explored by the authors is the equivocal relationship between fringe entrepreneur and the established scientist. The entrepreneur is often uncertain whether he hopes to solve the mysteries of his chosen field himself, or act as a semi-political pressure group to persuade scientists to investigate the matter in question themselves In the UFO field this has led to suggestions that some researchers have censored some of their ‘high strangeness’ data to make reports acceptable to the scientists they wish to impress.

Finally, the pamphlet examines the mechanisms of belief and scepticism. Their conclusions will not be new to [Magonia] readers:

We see in the phenomena of Loch Ness a focussing of a belief in some mysterious force just beyond human control, teasing human comprehension, subject to casual and unpredictable sighting. Just as flying saucers are a space-conquering product of a higher technology, always flying beyond man’s reach, so the creature is felt to be a time-conquering of prehistory, swimming for the most part beneath man’s threshold of vision. An image of magical power presented by the creature as it eludes the grasp of man, the dominant animal on the planet, but so powerless here. Its simple and harmonious relationship with its environment renders it invulnerable and secure … As long as it is a mystery it will symbolise freedom and security for all that is natural and will cast doubt on the omnipotence of an artificial civilization.

However, the belief that the monster is a ‘tourist stunt’ or a ‘silly-season story’ is equally sustained by irrational considerations:

Indulgent contemplation of the phenomenon is countered by hardheaded scepticism – a particular element of an attitude of mind of an urban working-class … resistant to claims of the supernatural or supernormal that would contradict [their] realistic, commonsensical understanding of the world and [their] own urban survival mechanism … Popular superstition on one hand and scepticism on the other are by no means mutually exclusive attitudes.. They often uneasily inhabit the same people, since the urban dweller, no matter how certain he is of commonsense realities that surround him, is still aware however dimly and obliquely, that there are forces inside, and for that matter outside society that lie beyond his control or comprehension … Fantasy and scepticism about the monster sustain one another in the double bond of dependence and incomprehension.

Although the authors confine their analysis to the Loch Ness Monster their observations apply if anything more strongly to the reports and rumours of abominable-snowman type creatures in the USA. An extra dimension is given to these reports by the semi-human appearance of the creatures. Taken as symbols they can be seen as a myth appropriate to modern ecological consciousness; a dream of humanity freed from the constraints of civilization, once again living by instinct in a natural environment. In this they recall other mythic inhabitants of the forest, such as the Greek god Pan whose worship was attended by orgiastic rites; Robin Hood, representative of an older, pre-feudal England who emerges from his forest to strike terror into the hearts of the leaders of organised society; and Puck, who in A Midsummer Night’s Dream submits those who wander into the woods to a night in which their sexuality becomes uncontrolled and focussed on what they would normally despise.

Another recent publication, Bigfoot, by Anne Slate and Allan Berry [2], contains data that supports this analysis by strongly suggesting that rather more is involved than a simple hunt for an unknown animal. Some items included will be familiar to anyone with knowledge of UFO contactee stories. Witnesses encounter Bigfoot after being drawn into the forest by impulses they are unable to explain. One witness submitted to hypnosis to elicit details of his experience, and claimed while in a trance to be in telepathic contact with Bigfoot, and delivered a warning that “we are ruining the planet”. Another witness, when interviewed by researchers uttered animal-like noise and delivered an incoherent prophecy of the doom of America before the Bicentennial.

Weirder still, there are cases in this book which if accurately reported suggest that Bigfoot sightings, unlike most Loch Ness Monster reports, have an apparition-like air to them. There are cases where a particular individual or family seems to have been singled out for attention over a long period. There are other cases where a creature seem to have vanished after the sighting in circumstances where it was hard to imagine any large animal disappearing. In one case a witness after his sighting is visited by a mysterious Man-in-Black figure who asks for money for a telephone call. When passing over the money the witness is unable to feel his visitor’s hand.

Most striking of all are the cases where the Bigfoot witnesses state that even before the creature was encountered the whole forest landscape seemed somehow wrong and unsettling, and without the normal forest sounds. This detail is similar to the experiences of witnesses in apparition cases and has led to the suggestion that in these cases the witness is hallucinating not merely the apparition, but his whole field of vision. [4]
As always, one is faced with the problem of how seriously or literally to take these reports. In the authors’ forward it must be said that they themselves seem for the most part puzzled by the odd and inconvenient nature of many of their cases. In any event, the fact that such stories are circulating is eloquent testimony that for some people the Bigfoot mystery has taken on overtones very far removed from the mere hunt for a mystery animal. When we read of people propelled by strange impulses to a weird, silent part of the forest to meet a monster, we are surely not in the realms of natural history but in the magic forest of a fairytale inhabited by supernatural beings, such as in Keats’ Belle Dame Sans Merci:

Oh, what can ail the knights at arms
So pale and loitering?
The sedge hath withered from the seeds
And no birds sing.

If some at least of the Bigfoot sightings belong to the realm of apparition, such a phenomenon would not be unprecedented. The ghostlore of Britain has many examples of apparitions such as Demon Dogs and the giant, shadowy ‘Big Grey Man of Ben MacDhui’ in Scotland, descriptions of which are strikingly similar to some Bigfoot reports.

In the 1950s when reports of the Himalayan Abominable Snowman were appearing in the press, the dramatist Nigel Kneale (creator of Quatermass) wrote a play about an expedition to hunt down the animal. When a hunter closes in on the creature it turns to look at him, and its face is seen to be identical to his own. In their very different ways the two books reviewed here show that however they may be explained, mystery animal reports tell us much about the way we perceive reality, react to it, and transmit it to others.


1. Roger Grimshaw and Paul Lester. The Meaning of the Loch Ness Monster. Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, University of Birmingham, 1976.
2. Anne Slate and Allen Berry, Bigfoot. Bantam, 1976.
3. This case is detailed in ‘Bersek’, by Dr. Berthold Schwarz. FSR.
4. Celia Green and Charles McCreery. Apparitions, Hamish Hamilton, 1975.