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Book Forum: Religion and Ethics   |    
Satanism: Psychiatric and Legal Views
MARVIN W. ACKLIN, PH.D.
Am J Psychiatry 2001;158:981-981. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.158.6.981
View Author and Article Information

By George B. Palermo, M.D., and Michele C. Del Re, J.D. Springfield, Ill., Charles C Thomas, 1999, 205 pp., $42.95; $29.95 (paper).

In an age of irremediable secularization (1), the mythical roots of the religious and psychopathological imagination are nowhere more obvious than in the phenomenon of satanism. Despite widespread skepticism about the continuing truth value of Christian mythology, the role and influence of the devil continues to be felt throughout contemporary society. A substantial psychopathological literature focused on satanism exists. The 1980s saw the proliferation of beliefs about satanic practices, including satanic ritual abuse. The reality of satanism and satanic ritual abuse has been vigorously debated. Some have described a moral crusade (or panic) against satanism. The attraction of Satan, in association with Gothic and other nihilistic beliefs, exercises a peculiarly powerful influence on alienated and rebellious adolescent males (2).

Reflecting the pervasive influence of the occult and associated New Age philosophies, the general public continues to be mesmerized by satanism, ritual abuse (including satanic day-care centers, sexual debauchery, sacrificial murder, cannibalism, and infanticide), satanic influences in rock and roll music, and alien abduction. Some fully accept the authenticity of cult abuse. For example, one psychiatrist (3) noted that the methods employed by "pedophiles and sexual abusers" in ritual occult abuse produce "people with programmable multiple personalities." Others point to the role of Fundamentalist religion, mass hysteria, use of hypnotically based memory recovery techniques, the role of the mass media (4), and repressed collective rage and fear in the social construction of satanic cult crime (5, 6). An extremely interesting document published by a special agent at the Federal Bureau of Investigation Behavioral Science Unit (7) reported that in more than 12,000 investigated cases involving allegations of satanic ritual abuse, no evidence to support the accusations has ever been found.

Satanism: Psychiatric and Legal Views, written by a psychiatrist and a legal scholar, provides a concise overview of myths, cults, and beliefs about the devil, placing the issues into cultural, historical, and psychopathological contexts. Chapter titles include: "Myths, Cults, and Culture," "The Birth of the Devil," "God Versus Satan," "Children in Satanic Rituals," "Juvenile Satanism," "Satanism and Criminal Law," "The Satanist as Criminal," and "Psychiatric Views of Satanism." The book is fascinating reading for those interested in the twisted recesses of the pathological and religious imagination. The authors maintain a middle-of-the-road, balanced perspective, elucidating the phenomena and their power but commenting on the psychiatric and legal aspects. The religious and psychopathological literature on satanism is reasonably well covered. The book should be of interest to those mental health professionals who remain interested in the sources and contents of deviant thought and belief. For those truly interested, however, the book is no substitute for, and should be supplemented by, works by academic researchers, ethnographers, and religious historians (812).

Phillips A: Darwin’s Worms. New York, Basic Books, 2000
 
Lowney KS: Teenage satanism as oppositional youth subculture. J Contemporary Ethnography  1995; 23:453–484
[CrossRef]
 
Rockwell RB: One psychiatrist’s view of satanic ritual abuse. J Psychohistory  1994; 21:443–460
 
Connor JW: The projected image: the unconscious and the mass media. J Psychoanal Anthropology  1980; 3:349–376
 
Victor JS: Ritual abuse and the moral crusade against satanism. J Psychol and Theology 1992; 20(2):48–53
 
Victor JS: Fundamentalist religion and the moral crusade against satanism: the social construction of deviant behavior. Deviant Behavior  1994; 15:304–334
 
Lanning K: Child Sex Rings: A Behavioral Analysis for Criminal Justice Professionals Handling Cases of Child Sexual Exploitation. Arlington, Va, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, 1992
 
Paegels E: The Origins of Satan. New York, Vintage Books, 1996
 
Russell JB: The Devil: Perceptions of Evil From Antiquity to Primitive Christianity. Ithaca, NY, Cornell University Press, 1977
 
Russell JB: Satan: The Early Christian Tradition. Ithaca, NY, Cornell University Press, 1981
 
Russell JB: Lucifer: The Devil in the Middle Ages. Ithaca, NY, Cornell University Press, 1984
 
Russell JB: Mephistopheles: The Devil in the Modern World. Ithaca, NY, Cornell University Press, 1986
 
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References

Phillips A: Darwin’s Worms. New York, Basic Books, 2000
 
Lowney KS: Teenage satanism as oppositional youth subculture. J Contemporary Ethnography  1995; 23:453–484
[CrossRef]
 
Rockwell RB: One psychiatrist’s view of satanic ritual abuse. J Psychohistory  1994; 21:443–460
 
Connor JW: The projected image: the unconscious and the mass media. J Psychoanal Anthropology  1980; 3:349–376
 
Victor JS: Ritual abuse and the moral crusade against satanism. J Psychol and Theology 1992; 20(2):48–53
 
Victor JS: Fundamentalist religion and the moral crusade against satanism: the social construction of deviant behavior. Deviant Behavior  1994; 15:304–334
 
Lanning K: Child Sex Rings: A Behavioral Analysis for Criminal Justice Professionals Handling Cases of Child Sexual Exploitation. Arlington, Va, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, 1992
 
Paegels E: The Origins of Satan. New York, Vintage Books, 1996
 
Russell JB: The Devil: Perceptions of Evil From Antiquity to Primitive Christianity. Ithaca, NY, Cornell University Press, 1977
 
Russell JB: Satan: The Early Christian Tradition. Ithaca, NY, Cornell University Press, 1981
 
Russell JB: Lucifer: The Devil in the Middle Ages. Ithaca, NY, Cornell University Press, 1984
 
Russell JB: Mephistopheles: The Devil in the Modern World. Ithaca, NY, Cornell University Press, 1986
 
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