Rites and Wrongs

Colin A. Ross. Satanic Ritual Abuse: Principles of Treatment. University of Toronto Press, 1995.

While Colin Ross has achieved a certain notoriety for alleged claims that the False Memory Foundation was a front for CIA ritual abuse brainwashers, this book presents a surface of sweet reasonableness, and at least a rhetorical willingness to concede that up to 90% of SRA memories are false.

Despite this, there are clear indications of residual paranoia and unreconstructed belief systems bubbling beneath the surface. Thus we get an odd statement about the Assassins still being active in India in 1866 (presumably this is an error for the Thugee), the Illuminati being found in Afghanistan, and the idea that the influence of the Illuminati on the French Revolution 'could have been significant' - an idea which derives from the French republican writer Augustin de Barruel, and the American Federalist propagandist John Robison, writing at the end of the 18th century.

The sources of Ross's 'information' are, needless to say, popular sensationalist books such as Darouls' History of Secret Societies or Howard's The Occult Conspiracy. There are also wild claims about the Inquisition and the usual Nazi-occult nonsense taken from Dusty Sklar's anti-cult book The Nazis and the Occult and Trevor Ravenscroft's The Spear of Destiny. In their turn these ideas derive from Pauwel and Bergier's Dawn of Magic, which must be evaluated in the light of Pauwel's own racist and para-fascist world view.

Nor does Ross help his case by using sources such as Jules Michelet's Satanism and Witchcraft (and dating it at 1939 and 1975, and not hinting at its original publication date of 1862) which promoted the idea that witchcraft really existed as a protest movement against feudal authority and the Church - not an idea which is taken seriously by historians.

Despite his disclaimers, Ross still tries to argue for the real existence of Satanic sacrificial cults, by means of false analogies: as systematic human sacrifice has been practiced throughout history, there must be human sacrifice cults in North America. A ridiculous argument; the genocides by the Nazis and others are not examples of ritual human sacrifice, such as displayed by the Aztecs, but of racial violence and the projection of unacceptable aspects of one's own personality onto others, who are thus dehumanised and destroyed. Indeed, low intensity ethnic cleansing does go on in North America and Europe in the form of racist violence or vigilante actions against various outgroups of 'deviates" 'undesirables', etc. Groups which engage in systematic violence against the 'in-group' and their own children would be very unusual indeed.

Ross also makes the mistake of assuming that guilty verdicts in law courts invariably mean that people were guilty. This cannot be taken for granted in times of social or moral panic. For example Debbie Nathan and Michael Snedeker's Satan's Silence and Mark Pendergrast's Victims of Memory (reviewed by Roger Sandell in Magonia 53) cast grave doubts on many trial verdicts, such as the conviction of Frank Fuster, whose conviction Ross believes establishes the reality of many of the non-cannibalistic claims.

I have concentrated on a small aspect of the book, one which is open to fairly straightforward verification. Much of the rest strikes me as typical psychobabble. I suppose I should note Ross's invocation of multiple personalities and alters, some of which claim to be demons. This would be expected if the origins of modem multiple personality belief systems can be traced back to Christian psychologists with at least a half-belief in demonic possession. He also seems to be maintaining that 'recovered memories' are valid, or in any case not the therapists fault. -- Peter Rogerson, from Magonia 56, June 1996.

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