History of The Satanic Panic

Hellfire Club

Before I get into the chronology of what got us from the 1960’s counter culture to the book, toy, and music bans of the 1980’s and 1990’s. I wanted to put into context why I was so interested in this topic. After all, when most of these things were happening, I was either not born yet or a literal infant.

I spent my earliest years in Chicago and I was never sure if my Halloween experience from 1983 on was different because of the culture change from going from the suburb of a metropolitan city to the Bible Belt or was the change on a national basis?

The most difficult part of tackling this topic is how much information there actually is on it and how many aspects of pop culture it covers. Everything from music to literature, movies, toys, television shows, and even food products were all affected by the popularity of occult symbols, characters, and entities in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

Some people took the changes very seriously while for others, it was all just for fun. Personas were put on for the stage and discarded for day to day life.

Halloween has never been one of my favorite holidays because I’ve always been squeamish. Sometimes I can get through gory things, but I always feel “off” after I’ve been exposed to content with too much violence for my sensitive nature.

On the other hand, I will participate with Halloween activities on a somewhat minimal level and I won’t go out of my way to ruin anyone else’s fun. I’ve just always been more of a Thanksgiving person when it comes to the autumnal holidays.

In the 1960’s and 1970’s, pop culture was inundated with the occult. It was integrated into popular music, reading material, at the movies, on television, and even the kitchen table. 


From classic fairy tales to the myth of King Arthur, any kind of story that involved any kind of magic or supernatural beings came under fire. J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy reportedly started becoming popular on college campuses in 1966. 

Time-Magazine-1966-Is-God-Dead The Satanic Panic

* April 18, 1966 the cover of Time magazine read, “Is God Dead?” People were beginning to question the presence of a loving and merciful deity in the wake of such atrocities as the Holocaust and the assassinations of Martin Luther King, President John F. Kennedy, and Kennedy’s younger brother, Senator Bobby Kennedy. Meanwhile, Anton LaVey formed the Church of Satan in San Francisco and Parker Brothers obtained the rights to sell Ouja boards.


1967 saw the publication of Ira Levin’s novel Rosemary’s Baby. Rosemary’s Baby centered on a young couple who move to New York City. They encounter a strange neighbor couple. They seem slightly eccentric at first but as the story progressed, the neighbors are revealed to be members of a Satanic cult and have participated in impregnating Rosemary with Satan’s offspring. 

Just a little more than a year later, the film version was released starring Mia Farrow as the Rosemary of the title, John Cassavetes as her aspiring actor husband, and Ruth Gordon as one of their creepy neighbors. 

Rosemarys Baby The Satanic Panic

I had to watch Rosemary’s Baby for a film class in college that was required for my degree. Horror has never been my favorite genre because I’ve always been squeamish. I can handle some horror, but I prefer to avoid the particularly gory films. Rosemary’s Baby still disturbs me to this day and I regret not just dropping the course for that semester and taking it again with a different theme. 

Rosemary’s Baby was one of the last films we watched for the course and came up so late in the semester that I couldn’t just drop it. I also couldn’t bring myself to return to the classroom for the discussion. I’d already fainted once on that campus after a World History instructor went on a tangent about Lucretia Borgia’s proclivity for bathing in blood. I went to the student union and did some reading for some of my tamer classes instead. 

Meanwhile, the collage on the cover of the Beatles’ album, Sergeant Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band includes Aleister Crowley and later that year, the Beatles chief rivals the Rolling Stones released an album titled Their Satanic Majesties Request. The following year’s release Beggars Banquet featured a song titled “Sympathy for the Devil”. 

In 1969, Charles Manson and his “family” carried out the Tate LaBianca murders. One of the victims, Sharon Tate, was the wife of Roman Polanski, who had directed the film adaptation of Rosemary’s Baby. The movie had been disturbing enough for me and I knew I did not want to sit through a discussion that would likely have covered the grisly murder of the director’s (pregnant) wife. The irony was more than I could handle. 

In September of 1969, animated series Scooby Doo Where Are You? premiered on CBS. Scooby Doo was interesting because no one is ever actually harmed and villains were always shown to be humans in disguise as “supernatural” monsters. 

Count von Count

Also, Sesame Street debuted in 1969 and featured monster Muppet characters and Count Von Count, a vampire who taught children how to count. Even though the Count had all the trappings of the stereotypical vampire: widow’s peak, monocle, cape, and fangs, there was never any mention of the Count drinking blood or needing to drink blood. 

In December of 1969, at the infamous Rolling Stones performance at Altamont Speedway in Tracy, California people were injured and killed. One fan, Meredith Hunter, got onto the stage and held a gun on Mick Jagger. One of the Hells Angels stabbed the fan. 

In January of 1971, the Comics Code was updated to allow depictions of vampires, werewolves, witches, monsters, and other supernatural entities. 

Later that year in May saw the release of William Peter Blatty’s  novel The Exorcist. In October, just in time for Halloween, the Monster Cereals Count Chocula and Franken Berry hit the grocery store shelves. The gimmick with these characters was that they were afraid of their own shadows. 

I don’t remember ever having the monster cereals on our table while I was growing up. We tended to alternate between Frosted Flakes (which we called “Frosty Flakes”) and Rice Krispies and then have a third newer cereal. 

Monster Cereal Box

Let me put it this way, if I wanted a strawberry flavored cereal, I was always picking Strawberry Shortcake. Once Strawberry Shortcake faded into obscurity, I went for Smurfberry Crunch for my berry flavored cereal fix. 

In 2021, I finally decided to give the monster cereals a try. My local big box store, (either BJ’s or Sam’s) had a three box set: Count Chocula, Franken Berry, and Boo Berry. I bought the set and started with Franken Berry. 

Unfortunately, we have heavy humidity in my part of the country and humidity is not kind to most breakfast cereals. Frosty Flakes, Rice Krispies, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Life, and most granola type cereals did fine, but the marshmallow cereals took on the texture of styrofoam very quickly. 

What made it worse was seeing the posts from people who had the monster cereals while they were growing up saying that it doesn’t taste as good as how they remembered it. I tried a little of each of the cereals just to check it off the seasonal experience list and ended up throwing them out. I’ll just stick to my apple and pumpkin spice flavored coffee and baked goods for the season.

I did get doubles of Count Chocula when I bought three of the Funkos Mini Ad Icons blind boxes. One is in my current Halloween display and the other is in a plastic box of toys we keep for my niece to play with when she comes over. 

In November of 1972, Pope Paul VI delivered an address: “Confronting the Devil’s Power” in response to the changes in the culture, but it would take a while before the message got through and people decided enough was enough. 

In 1974, Dungeons and Dragons Role Playing Games were available for sale, but five years later, the game was blamed for the death of a young college student who got lost in an underground tunnel. 

Dungeon Master The Satanic Panic

In July of 1976, another serial killer, the “Son of Sam” took his first victim. and a little more than a year later in August of 1977 he was arrested. David Berkowitz, the “Son of Sam” killer, claimed to take his orders from his neighbor’s dog. 

In November of 1978, the news broke of Jonestown where Jim Jones led a mass suicide. If you’ve ever heard someone say they’re not “going to drink the Kool-Aid”, they are referring to this tragic and disturbing event. 

In June of 1979, the Moral Majority formed. By the time Ronald Reagan is elected in 1980, the pendulum would swing back, but that’s still a year away.

A woman named Michelle Smith, assisted by her psychiatrist Lawrence Pazder writes her memoir, Michelle Remembers. With Pazder’s “assistance”, Smith recalls that when she was a child, her mother sold her to a Satanic cult. 

Michelle Remembers The Satanic Panic

Smith reportedly describes the rituals performed in detail. Smith and Pazder were also called in to consult when accusations were  made against the McMartin and Buckey families as well as several of their employees in the infamous McMartin trials. 

In late summer of 1983, the mother of a two and a half year old enrolled in McMartin’s Preschool noticed redness on her son’s bottom. Even though the boy had also been with his father the night before, the child’s mother decided not only did the one male teacher in the school sexually molest her toddler, all of the female teachers also allegedly participated in the abuse of not only her son, but also other children in the school. 

McMartin Preschool

The McMartin trial was the most expensive case ever tried in the United States and did not result in a single conviction. The accusations against the one man and six women accused of not only sexually molesting children but also of conspiracy in a child pornography ring. Some of the children even accused them of mutilating animals to threaten the children. 

The trial was infamous and the media played up the salacious accusations against the “McMartin Seven” as the accused parties were called collectively. Daytime talk show hosts were always talking about whether or not the viewer’s kids were safe at their day care centers or not. 

Parents all over the country were convinced there was satanic ritual sex abuse actually happening at their child’s day care, even after the case concluded without a single conviction. 

Sadly, a note the two and a half month old’s mother wrote to the investigating detective never made it to the defense attorneys for the McMartin’s and Buckeys. If the defense had been granted proper disclosure of the note, in which the two year old’s mother claimed that her toddler had told her that the male teacher, Ray Buckey “flew like a bird” and that three of the female teachers were dressed as witches the prosecution would not have had a case. 

Some other discoveries that worked in favor of the defense were that the Johnson boy had told two doctors that his father had sexually molested him, NOT anyone at McMartin. Late in the case, the defense learned Judy Johnson had been diagnosed with acute paranoid schizophrenia and also chronic alcoholism. Tragically, Johnson died before she could testify in the McMartin trial. 

Even though there was no official connection to anything “satanic” in the case of the Tylenol poisonings in Chicago in 1982. The case had an effect on the fears of possibly getting a contaminated treat in the bag. Urban legends were starting to spread about Satanists putting razor blades in apples and giving them out on Halloween. 

Sadly, whenever there was a story about a child dying from being poisoned from Halloween candy, the candy was used as a smokescreen to hide that the child’s own caregivers were the ones who poisoned them. As we know now, when a child is abused, sadly it’s usually by a member of their own family. 

For the most part, the “Satanic Panic” we grew up with appears to have been a reaction to the counter cultural influences of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Essentially, it seems 1980’s and 1990’s kids had to be “punished” for the rebelling some of our parents and aunts and uncles did before we were even born. The rubber band can only be stretched so far before it snaps back and the Satanic Panic was the snap back. 

Dungeons & Dragons The Satanic Panic
About Karen Flieger 75 Articles
I was born in the late 1970’s, spent my childhood in the 1980’s, and my pre-teen and teen years in the 1990’s. I graduated from Kennesaw State University in 2001 with a B.A. in English. I collect various forms of media (books, music, movies, and television shows) as well as plush toys, dolls, and Funko figures.

1 Comment

  1. Nice article. I was born in 1970, so I was a child for the entirety of the 70s and 80s. And you are correct that many of us kids had to pay for our parents fears. I had to play D&D in secret, KISS was banned from our house, I wasn’t allowed to buy any type of toy or book that even remotely had to do with anything supernatural, and even the Smurfs had church ladies in our church clutching their pearls. The rise of serial killers started slowly chipping away at our sense of security and innocence. Ah yes, crazy times indeed.

    My parents were strangely ok however, with my fascination of monsters and Bigfoot, and I ate my weight many times over in Franken Berry. I can speak by experience that the taste is NOT the same. Totally different recipe now versus back in the day. Anyway, thanks for the great trip down memory lane. I’m in the mood to listen to some true crime podcasts on the drive to work tomorrow (we called these late night radio talk shows back in the day).

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