Satanic Panic

when I was a kid in the 80s, I was certain cults were out to get me

Andrew Patrie, illustrated by Michelle Chrzanowski

     I am a big fan of the diabolic made manifest in art. The first album to seduce my senses was Iron Maiden’s The Number of the Beast. Films like Häxan, Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, and the recent retro and recusant flick, House of the Devil, have burned their imagery behind my eyelids, like some Hieronymus Bosch panoply of the perverse. Noting this, it should come as no surprise to learn that, before I reached the age of reason, I thought the devil something very real, like a home mortgage or cancer.

     A Catholic childhood spent in the 80s, a decade which spawned the phrase “Satanic Panic,” is largely to blame. The Christian Right, its so-called Moral Majority, had substantial political power. The Parents Music Resource Center, stewarded by Tipper Gore, warned of the appeal to the occult that certain records possessed. There were apocryphal stories of Satanic abductions and ritual abuses, an uncomfortable fascination with serial killers like Richard Ramirez, and a slew of sensationalist media stories, of which Geraldo Rivera was the worst offender, waiting to further gorge a public already glutted on fear.

     By 1988, I was convinced Satanic cults were prowling the neighborhood. My eyes scoured the skeletal trees dotting the wooded embankment behind my house for the pumpkin glow of circle fires unfurling into the night. Never mind the actual surface area my parents owned was a grand total of 125-by-130 feet: I was 13 and credulous.

     One late October evening my parents left for a dinner out, my sister was away at a friend’s house down the street, and I was home alone. I recall Robert Stack’s voice grimly intoning another Unsolved Mystery on the television, as I lay supine surrounded on three sides by windows, which I had quickly curtained upon my parents’ departure. I felt secure enough to doze.

     WHAM!

     My eyes opened and I tried to reconcile the sound as a fragment of a dream or something of the material world.

     WHAM!

     I hadn’t imagined that noise reverberating like black waves from the bay window in front of me.

     WHAM!

Press and hold the up/down arrows to scroll.