NOTICE +quot;Santeria, witchcraft, voodoo, and most religious cults are not satanism.+quot
NOTICE: "Santeria, witchcraft, voodoo, and most religious cults are not
satanism." This article is not for the timid (due to explicit descriptions
of certain crimes). Written by Kenneth Lanning, a high ranking FBI
official, it investigates allegations linking criminal activity with the
occult, and brings sanity to the subject. Although it is targeted at law
enforcement people, it does contain much material of interest to others.
Reprinted with permission by Cassandra-News a news service of the United
Wiccan Church a 501(c)(3) California non-profit, tax-exempt religious
corporation. Cassandra-News grants License for Non-Commercial electronic
and print reproduction and distribution as long as no fee is charged for
these reproductions other than the cost of reproduction and printing. The
name and address of the United Wiccan Church, Kenneth Lanning and this
notice must be preserved on all copies.
United Wiccan Church
P. O. Box 16025
North Hollywood California, 91615-6025, U.S.A., NA.
(818) 899-3687 (3/12/2400 Baud 8N1)
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
SATANIC, OCCULT, RITUALISTIC CRIME:
A LAW ENFORCEMENT PERSPECTIVE
NOTE: This article was completed after the
killings in Matamoros, Mexico, became know
in April, 1989. There is nothing known to
the author about this case which changes the
opinions and recommendations set forth
in this article.
By: Kenneth V. Lanning
Supervisory Special Agent
Behavorial Science Instruction and Research Unit
Quantico, Virginia 22135
(SUBMITTED FOR PUBLICATION)
The belief that there is a connection between satanism and
crime is certainly not new. In fact, one of the oldest theories
of crime causation is demonology. Heightened concern about
satanic or occult activity has appeared periodically throughout
history. Concern in the late 1970s focused primarily on
"unexplained" deaths and mutilations of animals, and in recent
years has focused on child sexual abuse and the human sacrifice of
missing children. In 1999 it will probably focus on the impending
"end of the world."
Today, satanism and a wide variety of other terms are used
interchangeably in reference to certain crimes. This discussion
will analyze the nature of "satanic, occult, ritualistic" crime
and focus on appropriate LAW ENFORCEMENT responses to it.
Recently a flood of law enforcement seminars and conferences
have dealt with the occult. These training conferences have
various titles, such as "Occult in Crime," "Satanic Cults,"
"Ritualistic Crime Seminar," "Satanic Influences in Homicide,"
"Occult Crimes, Satanism and Teen Suicide," and "Ritualistic Abuse
The typical conference runs from one to three days and often
includes many of the same presenters and instructors. A wide
variety of topics are usually discussed during this training
either as individual presentations by different instructors or
grouped together by one or more instructors. Typical topics
covered include the following:
1. Historical overview of satanism, witchcraft, and paganism
from ancient to modern times.
2. Nature and influence of fantasy role-playing games, such
as Dungeons and Dragons.
3. Lyrics, symbolism, and influence of rock and roll, Heavy
Metal, and Black Metal music.
4. Teenage "stoner" gangs, their symbols, and their
5. Teenage suicide by adolescents dabbling in the occult.
6. Crimes commmitted by self-styled satanic practitioners to
include grave and church desecrations and robberies,
animal mutilations, and even murders.
7. Ritualistic abuse of children as part of bizarre
ceremonies and human sacrifices.
8. Organized, Traditional, or Multigenerational satanic
groups involved in organized conspiracies, such as taking
over day care centers, infiltrating police departments,
and trafficking in human sacrifice victims.
9. The "Big Conspiracy" theory, which implies that satanists
are responsible for such things as Adolph Hitler, World
War II, abortion, pornography, Watergate, Irangate, and
inflitration of the Department of Justice, the Pentagon
and the White House.
During the conference, these nine areas are linked together
through the liberal use of the word "satanism" and some common
symbolism (pentagrams, 666, demons, etc.). The implication often
is that all are part of one continuum of behavior, one big problem
or some common conspiracy. The information presented is a mixture
of fact, theory, opinion, fantasy, and paranoia, and because some
of it can be proven or corroborated (desecration of cemeteries,
vandalism, etc.), the implication is that it is all true and
documented. The distinctions between the different areas are
blurred even if occasionally a presenter tries to make them. This
is complicated by the fact that almost any discussion of satanism
and witchcraft plugs into the religious belief systems of those in
the audience. Faith, not logic and reason, controls the
religious beliefs of most people. As a result, some normally
skeptical law enforcement officers accept the information
disseminated at these confereences without critically evaluating
it or questioning the sources. Little said at such conferences
will change the religious beliefs of the attendees. Such
conferences illustrate the ambiquity and wide variety of terms
involved in this issue.
The words satanic, occult, and ritualistic are often used
interchangeably. It is difficult to precisely define Satanism
(with a capital S), and no attempt will be made to do so here.
However, it is important to realize how the word satanism (with a
small s) is used by many poeple. Simply put, for some poeple,
satanism is any religious belief system other than their own. The
Ayatolla Khomeini referred to the United States as the "Great
Satan." In the British Parliament, a Protestant leader called the
Pope the anti-Christ. In a book titled 'Prepare For War', the
author, Rebecca Brown, M.D., has a chapter entitled "Is Roman
Catholicism Witchcraft?" Dr. Brown also lists among the
"doorways" to satanic power and/or demon infestation the
following: fortune tellers, horroscopes, fraternity oaths,
vegetarianism, yoga, self-hypnosis, relaxation tapes, acupuncture,
biofeedback, fantasy role-playing games, adultery, homosexuality,
pornography, judo, karate, and rock music. Dr. Brown states that
the rock music "was a carefully masterminded plan by none other
than Satan himself." The ideas expressed in this book may seem
extreme and even humorous. This book, however, has been listed as
serious recommended reading in law enforcement training material
on this topic.
In books, lectures, handout material, and conversations, the
author has heard all of the following referred to as satanism:
Church of Satan Stoner Gangs New Age
Ordo Templi Orientis Heavy Metal Music Astrology
Temple of Set Rock Music Channeling
Demonology KKK Trancendental Meditation
Witchcraft Nazis Holistic Medicine
Paganism Scientology Buddhism
Santeria Unification Chruch Hinduism
Voodoo The Way Mormonism
Rosicrucians Hare Krishna Islam
Freemasonry Rajneesh Orthodox Church
Knights Templar Religious Cults Roman Catholicism
At law enforcement training conferences, witchcraft,
santeria, and paganism are frequently referred to as forms of
satanism. It may be a matter of definition, but these three
things are *not* forms of traditional Satanism. The worship of
lunar goddesses and nature and the practice of fertility rituals
is not satanism. Santeria is a combination of 17th century Roman
Catholicism and African paganism. The occult simply refers to the
action or influence of supernatural powers or some secret
knowledge of them, and it is not the same as Satanism nor is it
Many individuals define satanism from a totally Christian
perspective, using this word to describe the power of evil in the
world. With this definition, any crimes, especially those which
are particularly bizarre, repulsive, or cruel, can be viewed as
satanic in nature. Yet, it is just as difficult to precisely
define satanism as it is to precisely define Christianity or any
complex spiritual belief system.
What is Ritualistic Crime?
The biggest confusion, however, is over the word ritualistic.
During law enforcement training conferences on this topic,
ritualistic almost always comes to mean satanic or at least
spiritual. Ritual can refer to a prescribed religious ceremony,
but in its broader meaning refers to any customarily repeated act
or series of acts. The need to repeat these acts can be cultural,
sexual, or psychological as well as spiritual.
Cultural rituals could include such things as what a family
eats on Thanksgiving Day or when and how presents are opened at
Christmas. The initiation ceremonies of fraternities, sororities,
gangs, and other social clubs are other examples of cultural
Since 1972, the author has lectured about sexual ritualism,
which is nothing more than repeatedly engaging in an act or series
of acts in a certain manner because of *sexual* need. In order to
become aroused and/or gratified, a person must engage in the act
in a certain way. This sexual ritualism can include such things
as the physical characteristics, age, or gender of the victim, the
sequence of acts, the bringing or taking of specific objects, and
the use of certain words or phrases. This is more than the
concept of M.O. (Method of Operation) known to most police
officiers. M.O. is something done by an offender because of a
need. Deviant acts, such as urinating on, defecating on, or even
eviscerating a victim, are far more likely to be the result of
sexual ritualism than religious or "satanic" ritualism.
From a criminal investigative perspective, two other forms of
ritualism must be recognized. The Diagnostic and Staistical
Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III-R) defines Obsessive-
Compulsive Disorder (OCD) as "repetitive, purposeful, and
intentional behaviors that are performed in response to an
obsession, or according to certain rules or in a stereotyped
fashion." Such compulsive behavior frequently involves rituals.
Although such behavior usually involves noncriminal activity such
as excessive hand washing or checking that doors are locked, in
some cases this compulsive ritualism can be part of criminal
activity. Ritual can also stem from psychotic hallucinations and
delusions. A crime can be committed in a precise manner because a
voice told the offender to do it that way or because a divine
mission required it.
To make this more confusing, cultural, religious, sexual, and
psychological ritualism can overlap. Some psychotic people engage
in excessive religiosity and hear the voice of God or Satan
telling them to do things of a religious nature. Psychopatic
offenders who feel little, if any, guilt over their crimes may
need little justification for their antisocial behavior. As human
beings, however, they may have fears, concerns and anxiety over
getting away with their criminal acts. It is difficult to pray to
God for success in doing things that are against His Commandments.
A negative spiritual belief system may fulfill their human need
for assistance from and belief in a greater power. Compulsive
ritualism (e.g. excessive cleanlinesss or fear of disease) can be
introduced into sexual behavior. Even many "normal" people have a
need for order and predictability and therefore may engage in
family or work rituals. Under stress or in times of change, this
need for order and ritual may increase.
Ritualistic crime may fulfill the cultural, spiritual, sexual
and psychological needs of an offender. The ritual behavior may
also fulfill basic criminal needs to manipulate victims, get rid
of rivals, send a message to enemies, and intimidate co-
The important point for the criminal investigator is to
realize that most criminal ritualistic behavior is not motivated
simply by satanic or religious ceremonies. At some conferences,
presenters have attempted to make a big issue of distinguishing
between "ritual," "ritualized," and "ritualistic" abuse of
children. These subtle distinctions, however, seem to be of no
significant value to the criminal investigator.
What is Ritualistic Abuse of Children?
It is not an easy question to answer. Most people today use
the term to refer to abuse of children that is part of some evil
spiritual belief system, which almost by definition must be
Dr. Lawrence Pazder, author of 'Michelle Remembers', defines
ritualized abuse of children as "repeated physical, emotional,
mental, and spiritual assaults combined with a systematic use of
symbols and secret ceremonies designed to turn a child against
itself, family, society, and God." He also states that "the
sexual assault has ritualistic meaning and is not for sexual
This definition may have value for academics, sociologists,
and therapists, but it creates potential problems for law
enforcement. Certain acts engaged in with children (kissing,
touching, appearing naked, etc.) may be criminal if performed for
sexual gratification. If the ritualistic acts were in fact
performed for spiritual indoctrination, potential prosecution can
be jeopardized. The mutilation of a baby's genitals for sadistic
sexual pleasure is a crime. The circumcision of a baby's genitals
for religious reasons is most likely NOT a crime. The intent of
the acts is important for criminal prosecution.
The author has been unable to precisely define ritualistic
abuse and prefers not to use the term. It is confusing,
misleading, and counterproductive. Certain observations, however,
are important for investigative understanding.
Not all spiritually motivated ritualistic activity is
satanic. Santeria, witchcraft, voodoo, and most religious cults
are not satanism. In fact, most spiritually or religiously-based
abuse of children has nothing to do with satanism. Most child
abuse that could be termed ritualistic by various deffinitions is
probably physical and psychological rather than sexual in nature.
Not all such ritualistic activity with a child is a crime.
Almost all parents with religious beliefs indoctrinate their
children into that belief system. Is circumcision for religious
reasons child abuse? Does having a child kneel on a hard floor
reciting the rosary constitute child abuse? Does having a child
chant a satanic prayer or attend a black mass constitute child
abuse? Does a religious belief in corporal punishment constitute
child abuse? Does group care of children in a commune or cult
constitute child abuse? Does the fact that any acts in question
were performed with parental permission affect the nature of the
crime? Many ritualistic acts, whether satanic or not, are simply
When a victim describes and investigation corroborates what
sounds like ritualistic activity, several possibilities must be
considered. The ritualistic activity may be part of the excessive
religiosity of a mentally ill, psychotic offender. It may be a
misunderstood part of sexual ritualism. The ritualistic activity
may be incidental to any real abuse. The offender may be involved
in ritualistic activity with a child and also may be abusing a
child, but one may have little or nothing to do with the other.
The offender may be deliberately engaging in ritualistic
activity with a child as part of child abuse. The motivation,
however, may be not to indoctrinate the child into a belief
system, but to lower the inhibitions of, to control and
manipulate, and/or to confuse the child. In all the turmoil over
this issue, it would be a very effective strategy for any child
molester to deliberately introduce ritualistic elements into his
crime to confuse the child and therefore the criminal justice
The ritualistic activity and the child abuse may be integral
parts of some spiritual belief system. In that case, the greatest
risk is to the children of the practitioners. But this is true of
all cults, not just satanic cults. A high potential of abuse
exists for any children raised in a group isolated from the
mainstream of society, especially if the group has a charismatic
leader whose orders are unquestioned and blindly obeyed by the
members. Sex, money, and power are most often the main
motivations of the leaders of such cults.
What Makes a Crime Satanic, Occult, or Ritualistic?
Some would answer that it is the spiritual beliefs of, or
the membership in, a cult or "church" by the perpetrator. If that
is the criteria, why not label the crimes committed by
Protestants, Catholics, and Jews in the same way? Are the
atrocities of Jim Jones, in Guyana, Christian crimes?
Some would answer that it is the presence of certain symbols
in the possession or home of the perpetrator. What does it mean
then to find a crucifix, Bible, rosary, etc., in the home or
possession of a bank robber, embezzler, child molester, or
murderer? If different criminals possess the same symbols, are
they necessarily part of one big conspiracy?
Others would answer that it is the presence of certain
symbols such as pentagrams, inverted crosses, and 666 at the crime
scene. What does it mean then to find a cross spray painted on a
wall or carved into the body of a victim? What does it mean for
a perpetrator to leave a Bible tied to his murder victim? What
about the possibility that an offender deliberately left such
symbols to make it look like a "satanic" crime?
Some would argue that it is the bizarrenenss or cruelness of
the crime: body mutilation, amputation, drinking of blood, eating
of flesh, use of urine or feces. Does this mean that all
individuals involved in lust murder, sadism, angthropophagy,
urophilia, and coprophilia are satanists or occult practitioners?
What does this say about the bizarre crimes of psychotic killers
such as Ed Gein or Richard Trenton Case, both of whom mutilated
their victims as part of their psychotic delusions?
A few might even answer that it is the fact that the crime
was committed on a date with satanic or occult significance
(Halloween, May Eve, etc.) or the fact that the perpetrator claims
that Satan told him to commit the crime. What does this mean for
crimes committed on Thanksgiving or Christmas? What does this say
about crimes committed by perpetrators who claim that God or Jesus
told them to do it? One note of interest is the fact that in
handout and reference material collected by the author, the number
of dates with satanic or occult significance ranges from 8 to 110.
This is compounded by the fact that it is sometiems stated that
satanists can celebrate these holidays on several days on either
side of the official date or that the birthday of a practitioner
can be a holiday. The exact names and exact dates of the
holidays and the meaning of symbols listed may also vary depending
on who prepared the material. The handout material is often
distributed without indentifying the author or documenting the
original source of the information. It is then frequently
photocopied by attendees and passed on to other police officers
with no one really knowing who says it is valid or from where it
Most, however, would probably answer that what makes a crime
satanic, occult, or ritualistic is the motivation for the crime.
It is a crime that is spiritually motivated by a religious belief
system. How then do we lable the following true crimes?
a. Parents defy a court order and send their children to an
unlicensed Christian school.
b. Parents refuse to send their children to any school
because they are waiting for the second coming of Christ.
c. Parents beat their child to death because he or she won't
follow their Christian beliefs.
d. Parents volate child labor laws because they believe the
Bible requires such work.
e. Individuals bomb an abortion clinic or kidnamp the doctor
because their religious belief system says abortion is
f. A child molester reads the Bible to his victims in order
to justify his sex acts with them.
g. Parents refuse life-saving medical treatment for a child
because of their religious beliefs.
h. Parents starve and beat their child to death because
their minister said the child was possessed by demonic
Some people would argue that the Christians who committed the
above crimes misunderstood and distorted their religion while
satanists who commit crimes are following theirs. But who decides
who is misinterpreting a religious belief system? The individuals
who committed the above-described crimes believed that they were
following their religion as they understood it. Religion was and
is used to justify such things as the Crusades, the Inquisition,
Apartheid, segregation, violence in Northern Ireland, India, and
Who decides exactly what "satanists" believe? In this
country, we can't agree on what Christians believe. At many law
enforcement conferences 'The Satanic Bible' is used for this, and
it is often contrasted or compared with the Christian Bible. 'The
Satanic Bible' is, in essence, a 150-page paperback book written
by one man in 1969. To compare it to a book written by over 30
authors over a period of thousands of years is ridiculous, even
ignoring the possibility of Divine revelation in the Christian
Bible. What satanists believe certainly isn't limited to other
peoples' interpretation of a few books. More importantly, it is
subject to some degree of interpretation by individual believers
just as Christianity is.
The fact is that far more crime and child abuse has been
committed in the name of God, Jesus, and Mohammed than has ever
been committed in the name of Satan. Most people don't like that
statement, but few can argue with it.
Although defining a crime as satanic, occult, or ritualistic
would probably involve a combination of the criteria set forth
above, the author has been unable to clearly define such a crime.
Each potential definition presents a different set of problems
when measured against an objective, rational, and constitutional
perspective. Each offender in a group may have a different
motivation for the crime. The author has discovered that the
*facts* of so called "satanic crimes" are often significantly
different from what is described at law enforcement training
conferences or in the media. The actual involvement of satanism
or the occult in these cases usually turns out to be secondary,
insignificant, or nonexistent.
The Law Enforcement Perspective
The perspective with which one looks at satanic, occult,
or ritualistic crime is extremely important. Sociologists,
therapists, religious leaders, parents, and just plain citizens
each have their own valid concerns and views about this issue.
This discussion, however, will deal ONLY with the law enforcement
The law enforcement perspective must focus on crime and
clearly recognize that just because an activity is "satanic" does
not necessarily mean it is a crime or that it is not a legitimate
religious practice protected by the First Amendment. Within the
personal religious belief system of a law enforcement officer,
Christianity may be good and satanism evil. Under the
Constitution, however, both are neutral.
This is an important, but difficult, concept for many law
enforcement officers to accept. They are paid to uphold the
Constitution and enforce the penal code, not the Ten Commandments.
The apparent increasing numbers of teenagers and some adults
dabbling in satanism and the occult may be cause for concern for
parents, school officials, and society. What, however, law
enforcement can or should do about it is another matter. Police
interference with free exercise of constitutional rights
potentially creates major problems and conflicts.
What is the justification for law enforcement officers giving
presentations on satanism and the occult to citizen groups, PTA's
or school assemblies? Is it public relations, a safety program,
crime prevention? If it is crime prevention, how much crime can
be linked to satanic or occult activity? The author is not
suggesting that such presentations should never be done but only
that law enforcement agencies should carefully consider the legal
implications and the justification. Is the fact that satanism or
the occult is or can be a negative influence on some people enough
justification for such law enforcement intervention?
When you combine an emotional issue such as the sexual abuse
of children with an even more emotional issue such as people's
religious beliefs, it is difficult to maintain objectivity and
remember the law enforcement perspective. Some police officers
may even feel that all crime is caused by evil, all evil is caused
by Satan, and therefore, all crime is satanic crime. This may be
a valid religious perspective, but it is of no value in the
investigation of crime.
Many of the police officers who lecture on satanic or occult
crime do not even investigate such cases. Their presentations are
more a reflection of their personal religious beliefs than
documented investigative information. In the United States, they
are entitled to this personal perspective, but introducing
themselves as police officers and then speaking as religious
advocates causes confusion. As difficult as it might be, police
officers must separate the religious and law enforcement
perspectives when they are lecturing or investigating in their
official capacities as law enforcement officers. Many law
enforcement officers begin their presentations by stating that
they are not addressing or judging anyone's religious beliefs, and
then proceed to do exactly that.
Some police officers have resigned rather than curtail or
limit their involvement in this issue as ordered by their
departments. Maybe such officers deserve credit for recognizing
that they could no longer keep the perspectives separate.
Law enforcement officers who believe that the investigation
of satanic/occult crime puts them in conflict with supernatural
forces of evil should probably not be assigned to these cases.
If, however, such officers must be or are assigned, they will need
the power of their own spiritual belief system in order to deal
with the superstition and religious implications of these cases.
The religious beliefs of officers should provide spiritual
strength and support for them, but not affect the objectivity and
professionalism of the investigation.
The law enforcement perspective requires avoiding the
paranoia that has crept into this issue and into some of the law
enforcement training conferences. Paranoia is characterized by
the gradual development of an intricate, complex, and elaborate
system of thinking based on and often proceeding logically from
misinterpretation of an actual event. It typically involves
hyper-vigilance over the perceived threat, the belief that danger
is around every corner, and the willingness to take up the
challenge and do something about it. Another very important
aspect of this paranoia is the belief that those who do not
recognize the threat are evil and corrupt. In this extreme view,
you are either with them or against them. You are either part of
the solution or part of the problem.
Concern over satanic crime and ritualistic abuse of children
is a very polarizing issue. After one presentation on this topic,
a student wrote in a critique that the author was obviously an
"agnostic cultist." The term "clean" is sometimes used to refer
to law enforcement officers who have not been infiltrated by the
satanists. Does the fact that some police officers or military
personnel practice satanism or paganism mean that law enforcement
and the military have been infiltrated? The word "infiltrated"
is only used when talking about an unpopular spiritual belief
system. Protestants, Catholics, and Jews don't "infiltrate" the
police and military.
Overzealousness and exaggeration motivated by the religious
fervor of those involved in law enforcement training is more
acceptable than that motivated by ego and profit. Some people are
deliberately distorting and hyping this issue for personal
notoriety and profit. Satanic and occult crime has become a
growth industry. Speaking fees, books, video and audio tapes,
prevention material, television and radio appearances all bring
ego and financial rewards.
Law enforcement officers must be objective fact finders. It
is not their job to *believe* the children. It is their job to
*listen* to the children. The law enforcement perspective can't
ignore the lack of physical evidence (no bodies or even hairs,
fibers, or fluids left by violent murders); the difficulty in
successfully committing a large-scale conspiracy crime (the more
people involved in any crime conspiracy, the harder it is to get
away with it); and human nature (intra-group conflicts resulting in
individual self-serving disclosures are bound to occur in any
group involved in organized kidnapping, baby breeding and human
sacrfice). When and if members of a destructive cult commit
murders, they are bound to make mistakes, leave evidence, and
eventually make admissions in order to brag about their crimes or
to reduce their legal liability.
Bizarre crime and evil can occur without organized satanic
activity. The law enforcement perspective requires that we
distinguish between what we know and what we're not sure of.
The facts are:
a. Some individuals believe in and are involved in satanism
and the occult.
b. Some of these individuals commit crime.
c. Some groups of individuals share this belief and
involvement in satanism and the occult.
d. Some of these groups commit crime together.
The unanswered questions are:
a. What is the connection between the belief system and the
b. Is there some organized conspiracy of satanic and occult
believers responsible for inter-related serious crime
(e.g., molestation, murder)?
After all the hype and hysteria is put aside, the realization
sets in that most satanic/occult activity involves the commission
of NO crimes, and that which does, usually involves the commission
of relatively minor crimes such as trespassing, vandalism, cruelty
to animals, or petty thievery. The law enforcement problems most
often linked to satanic or occult activity are:
2. Desecration of churches and cemeteries
3. Thefts from churches and cemeteries
4. Teenage gangs
5. Animal mutilations
6. Teenage suicide
7. Child abuse
9. Murder and human sacrifice
Valid evidence shows some "connection" between satanism and
the occult and the first six problems set forth above. The
"connection" to the last three problems is far more uncertain.
Even in those areas where there seems to be a "connection,"
the nature of the connection needs to be explored. The author's
experience indicates that involvement in satanism and the occult
is a justification for crime, not a motivation for crime. A
teenager's excessive involvement in satanism and the occult is
usually a symptom of a problem and not the cause of a problem.
Blaming satanism for a teenager's vandalism, theft, suicide, or
even act of murder is oversimplifying a complex problem.
The law enforcement investigator must objectively evaluate
the legal significance of any criminal's spiritual belief system.
In most cases, including those involving satanists, it will have
little or no legal significance. If a crime is committed as part
of a spiritual belief system, it should make no difference which
belief system it is. The crime is the same whether a child is
abused or murdered as part of a Christian, Hare Krishna, Moslem,
or any other belief system. We generally don't label crimes with
the name of the perpetrator's religion. Why then are the crimes
of child molesters, rapists, sadists, and murderers who happen to
be involved in satanism and the occult labeled as satanic or
occult crimes? If criminals use a spiritual belief system to
rationalize and justify or to facilitate and enhance their
criminal activity, should the focus of law enforcement be on the
belief system or on the criminal activity?
Several documented murders have been committed by individuals
involved in one way or another in satanism or in the occult. In
some of these murders, the perpetrator has even introduced
elements of the occult (e.g., satanic symbols at crime scene).
Does that automatically make these satanic murders? It is the
author's opinion that the answer is no. Ritualistic murders
committed by serial killers or sexual sadists are not necessarily
satanic or occult murders. Ritualistic murders committed by
psychotic killers who hear the voice of satan are no more satanic
murders than murders committed by psychotic killers who hear the
voice of Jesus are Christian murders.
Rather, a satanic murder can be defined as one committed by
two or more individuals who rationally plan the crime and whose
PRIMARY motivation is to fulfill a prescribed satanic ritual
calling for the murder. By this definition, the author has been
unable to identify even one documented satanic murder in the
United States. Although such murders may have and can occur, they
appear to be few in number. In addition, the commission of such
killings would probably be the beginning of the end for such a
group. It is highly unlikely that they could continue to kill
several people, every year, year after year, and not be
A brief typology of satanic and occult practitioners is
helpful in evaluating criminal actvity. The following typology
is adapted from the investigative experience of Officer Sandi
Gallant of the San Francisco Police Department, who began to study
the criminal aspects of occult activity long before it became
popular. No typology is perfect, but the author uses this
typology because it is simple and offers investigative insights.
The typology divides satanic practitioners into three categories.
Practitioners in any of these three categories can participate in
satanic/occult activity alone or in groups.
1. Youth Subculture -- Most teenagers invovled in fantasy
role-playing games, heavy metal music, or satanism and
the occult are going through a stage of adolescent
development and commit no significant crimes. The
teenagers who have more serious problems are usually
those from dysfunctional families or those who have poor
communication within their families. These troubled
teenagers turn to satanism and the occult to overcome a
sense of alienation, to obtain power and/or to justify
their antisocial behavior. For these teenagers, it is
the symbolism, not the spirituality, that is important.
It is either the psychopathic or the oddball, loner
teenager who is the most likely to get into serious
trouble. Extreme involvement in the occult is a
symptom of a problem, not the cause. This is not to
say, however, that satanism and the occult isn't a
strong negative catalyst for a troubled teenager.
Probably the worst thing, however, that society
could do about this problem is to hysterically warn
teenagers to avoid this "mysterious, powerful and
dangerous" thing called satanism. This approach
will drive many teenagers right to it. Some
rebellious teenagers will do whatever will most
shock and outrage society in order to flaunt their
rejection of society.
2. Dabblers (Self-styled) - For these practitioners,
there is llittle or no spiritual motivation. They
mix satanism, witchcraft and paganism. Symbols mean
whatever they want them to mean. Molesters,
rapists, drug dealers and murders may dabble in
the occult and may commit their crimes in a
ceremonial or ritualistic way. This category has
the potential to be the most dangerous, and most of
the "satanic" killers fall into this category.
Again, this extreme involvmement in satanism and the
occult is a symptom of a problem and a rationalization
and justification of antisocial behavior. Satanic/occult
practices (as well as those of other spiritual belief
systems) can be used as a mechanism to facilitate
3. Traditional (Orthodox, Multigenerational) - These are
the true believers. They are usually very careful of
outsiders. Because of constitutional issues, such
groups are difficult for law enforcement to penetrate.
Although there is much we don't know about these groups,
as of now there is little or no hard evidence that they
are involved in serious, organized criminal activity.
In addition, instead of being self-perpetuating master
crime conspirators, true believers probably have a
similar problem with their teenagers rebelling against
their belief system.
Many police officers ask what to look for during the search
of the scene of suspected satanic activity. The answer is simple:
look for evidence of a crime. A pentagram is no more criminally
significant than a crucifix unless it corroborates a crime or a
criminal conspiracy. If a victim's description of the location or
the instruments of the crime includes a pentagram, then the
pentagram would be evidence. But the same would be true if the
description included a crucifix. In spite of what is sometimes
said or suggested at law enforcement training conferences, police
have no authoritiy to seize any satanic or occult paraphernailia
they might see during a search. A legally valid reason must exist
for doing so. It is not the job of law enforcement to prevent
satanists from engaging in noncriminal beliefs or rituals.
There must be a middle ground in this issue. Concern about
satanic or occult activity should not be a big joke limited to
religious fanatics. On the other hand, law enforcement is not now
locked in a life-and-death struggle against the supernatural
forces of ancient evil. Law enforcement officers need to know
something about satanism and the occult in order to properly
evaluate their possible connections to the motivations for
criminal activity. They must know when and how beliefs, symbols,
and paraphernalia can be used to corroborate criminal activity.
From a community relations perspective, they must also learn to
respect spiritual beliefs that may be different or unpopular but
that are not illegal. The focus must be on the objective
investigation of violations of criminal statutes.
Until hard evidence is obtained and corroborated, the
American people should not be frightened into believing that
babies are being bred and eaten, that 50,000 missing children are
being murdered in human sacrifices, or that satanists are taking
over America's day care centers. No one can prove with absolute
certainty that such activity has NOT occurred. The burden of
proof, however, as it would be in a criminal prosecution, is on
those who claim that it has occurred. As law enforcement agencies
evaluate and decide what they can or should do about satanic and
occult activity in their communities, they might want to also
consider how to deal with the hype and hysteria of the "anti-
satanists." The overreaction to the problem can clearly be worse
than the problem.
In general, the law enforcement perspective can best be
maintained by investigators repeatedly asking themselves what they
would do if the acts in question were part of Protestant, Catholic
or Jewish activity. If a law enforcement agency wants to evaluate
the group spiritual framework within which a crime is committed,
it is more appropriate, accurate, and objective to refer to such
crimes as cult crimes rather than as satanic, occult, or
ritualistic crimes. The "Sects, Cults and Deviant Movements"
seminar put on by The Institute of Police Technology and
Management at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville,
Florida, is a good example of this more objective, broad-based
approach. Satanic cults have no more law enforcement significance
than many other potentially destructive cults that exist in this
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