Salem’s Lot

Leslie Wilson on Satanic Child Abuse

On 28 November 1988, Paul Ingram, a police officer, was arrested by colleagues in his office in Olympia, Washington State. His daughters, Ericka and Julie, had accused him of sexual molestation. Ingram made no attempt to deny the charges. He couldn’t remember doing anything, but he said: ‘My girls know me. They wouldn’t lie about something like this.’ He then started to build up the case against himself. Being a deeply religious man, he prayed feverishly for God’s guidance. He’d read in a magazine that there was a way of sending yourself into a trance. You had to imagine yourself entering a warm white fog. He tried this out, and the images came to him.

‘I would’ve removed her underpants or bottoms to the nightgown ... I would’ve told her to be quiet and uh, not say anything to anybody and threatened to her ... to say that I would kill her if she told anybody about this.’

His colleagues thought the repeated conditionals were only a way of dodging the issue:

‘Do you mean would’ve, or did you?’ they asked.

‘I did,’ said Ingram, quite calmly.

A psychologist, Richard Peterson, was brought in to help interrogate Ingram: his role was vital because he gave Ingram an explanation of what was happening to him. When Ingram asked why he had no memory of what he’d done, Peterson told him that it was ‘not uncommon for sexual offenders to bury the memory of their crimes because they were simply too horrible to consider’. Ingram accepted this; so did the detectives. They told his sons and his wife that they had repressed their memories of what had happened and must try to recover them. The family’s pastor became involved, trotting backwards and forwards from the police station to the family house with Paul’s latest confessions. As the investigation progressed, the Ingrams produced ever more elaborate accounts; they said there’d been buggery and gang rape. Julie Ingram said two of Paul’s colleagues had joined in when they came over to play poker. The colleagues claimed not to be able to remember anything of the kind. The accounts weren’t consistent. The family members even contradicted themselves.

Shortly after the arrest Peterson asked Ingram if he’d ever been involved in any kind of black magic. Ingram admitted that he used to look at his horoscope in the paper, but didn’t seem to understand what Peterson was driving at. One of the police officers explained what Peterson meant: ‘The Satan cult kind of thing.’

The Ingrams belonged to a fundamentalist Pentecostal sect, the Church of the Living Water. They would have been familiar with prayer in tongues, with divination, with apparently miraculous healings, and with public confessions of guilt and testimonies to their redemption. They would also have had a fervent, lively belief in Satan. It was natural, therefore, that Ingram should fear he might be possessed by evil spirits and ask his pastor to exorcise him. Pastor Bratun obliged, and expelled several evil spirits, including those of sexual immorality and gluttony. It was after this that Ingram’s ‘memories’ changed. In the trance state, he saw people in robes kneeling around a fire, then a corpse. He saw a person in a red robe who was wearing a helmet of cloth: he thought this might be the Devil. People were wailing. He remembered standing on a platform and having to sacrifice a black cat.

The Ingram girls heard about these revelations from the pastor. At first Ericka said her father was talking too much, saying things she didn’t want to remember. However, at the end of December she came up with a similar story. She said that from the time she was five years old to the time she was 12, her father regularly took her from her bed in the middle of the night and carried her out to his barn. There would be many men there, and some women; they all wore gowns and hats ‘resembling a Viking hat with horns’. There would be blood every-where, and pitchforks in the ground. A baby would be placed on a table and all the people there – including her mother and father – would circle the table and stab the baby with knives until it died. The corpse was then buried in a pit: Ericka said all the babies were about six to eight months old, though sometimes the cult used aborted babies. They would threaten Ericka, telling her they would kill her in the same way. Then they would chant, ‘you will not remember this’ over and over again. Between them, Ingram and his daughter had produced an account of satanic ritual abuse.

The month before Paul’s arrest the whole family had sat down to watch a documentary called Devil Worship: Exposing Satan’s Underground, which described rituals in the course of which children were not only abused themselves but made to take part in the sort of ritual murders that Ericka had described. Belief in satanic ritual abuse was on the increase in the United States: Peterson had recently sent a questionnaire about it to therapists in Seattle and Tacoma and found that a quarter of his respondents had treated people who claimed to have been abused in this way in childhood.

The first survivor story, by Michelle Smith, a Canadian, had been published in 1980. It gave an account of memories she had recovered when she was having therapy after a miscarriage. Most of these memories had been accessed in a hypnotic trance. She said her mother had taken her to the satanic cult’s ceremonies, where she had been tortured and raped and had witnessed infant sacrifice. After that, there were several allegations of large-scale satanic abuse of toddlers at day-care centres in California and Washington State, and an explosion of stories from alleged survivors. These stories are now being told in Britain, too. Ericka Ingram’s story is very similar to an anonymous account published in summer 1994 in the British teenage girl’s magazine Mizz. The narrator describes a network of cults whose members sexually abuse children and practise infant sacrifice. The infants are the children of the cult’s adolescent girls, who are used as ‘brood mares’.

The police dug all over the Ingrams’ small-holding to search for bones, but the only one that surfaced was an elk bone. The doctor who examined the Ingram girls could find no evidence of physical abuse. In fact, there was no evidence apart from the depositions of the Ingram family, and these were contradictory and confused. Paul Ingram never managed to remember anything straightforwardly. At one stage, the detectives thought he might have been brainwashed by his fellow-satanists, so they brought in Richard Ofshe, a social psychologist who was an expert on cults. Deeply suspicious of the family’s recovered memories, Ofshe tried an experiment of his own. He told Ingram that one of his sons and one of his daughters had accused him – they hadn’t – of making them have sex with each other in front of him. When Ofshe asked the children if they remembered anything like this, they said they didn’t. Ingram went into his white-foggy trance state and, duly beaming, produced a complete, pornographically-detailed scenario.

According to Lawrence Wright, the author of Remembering Satan: Recovered Memory and the Shattering of a Family,[1] Ingram had always been given to extremes. A disciplinarian to his children, fanatically thrifty, absorbed in his Church; over-zealous in his work, he handed out more tickets for minor traffic offences than any of his colleagues. Even so, he was harsher with himself than he had ever been to anyone else. He was not charged with any exotic offences connected with satanic abuse, but only with third-degree rape, to which he insisted on pleading guilty. After that he decided that all his confessions had been false, but it was too late. His daughter Ericka appeared in court and demanded the maximum sentence. Other men convicted of the same offence would have got six months with the option of treatment. Since Ingram was now denying his guilt, the judge decided treatment wouldn’t be helpful. He was sent down for 20 years.

In 1613, a young German girl, Maria Ostertag of Ellwangen, came to the authorities, confessed that she was a witch and implicated 34 other people. She had copulated with Satan in horrific secret rituals – his penis, she said, was hard, cold and hurtful. She also claimed she had desecrated the sacrament by mixing it with dung and using it in magical potions. It is impossible to know what exactly brought her to confess, but her aunt had been burned, and witches’ families were highly suspect. Her reward was to be executed with the sword rather than burned alive. She was luckier than some. A nine-year-old German boy, Johannes Bernhardt, was supposed to have been initiated into witchcraft at school. He said he had signed himself over to the Devil with his own blood, then flown to the diabolic sabbat, where Satan had intercourse with him: this had recurred on many occasions. He also said that the Devil was ‘hard as horn’. Young Bernhardt was treated as a full-fledged heretic and burned with four others. Had the Ingram case come up at this time, the entire family might have been executed.

The Romans accused the Christians of practising orgies and child sacrifice. The Christians, once established in power, made similar accusations against the Jews and many sects they deemed heretical. Michael Constantine Psellos, the Byzantine philosopher, wrote about the Bogomils:

In the evening, when the candles are lit, at the time when we celebrate the redemptive Passion of Our Lord, they bring together, in a house appointed for the purpose, young girls whom they have initiated into their rites. Then they extinguish the candles, so that the light shall not be witness to their abominable deeds, and throw themselves lasciviously on the girls; each one on whomever first falls into his hands, no matter whether she be his sister, his daughter, or his mother ... When this rite has been completed, each goes home; and after waiting nine months, until the time has come for the unnatural children of such unnatural seed to be born, they come together again at the same place. Then, on the third day after the birth, they tear the miserable babies from their mothers’ arms. They cut their tender flesh all over with sharp knives and catch the stream of blood in basins. They throw the babies, still breathing and gasping, onto the fire, to be burned to ashes. After which, they mix the ashes with the blood in the basins, and so make an abominable drink, with which they secretly pollute their food and drink: like those who mix poison with hippocras or other sweet drinks.

Psellos had heard about these rites from a Thracian – he had no first-hand knowledge of them. Believing that the Bogomils worshipped Satan, he saw their rites as deliberate attempts to spread the kingdom of Antichrist on earth. Heretics and Jews were regularly accused of infanticide, unnatural sexual practices and devil-worship in the Middle Ages, but in the 15th century, the pattern changed: instead of accusing existing dissident groups, the Inquisitors asserted that there was a new heretical group operating covertly within the population. These were the witches.

Before the Great Witchhunt, witches were not thought to be part of any organised group or conspiracy. The local witch, who was usually but not invariably a woman, was supposed to possess maleficium, an evil power that enabled her to raise storms and thereby wreck ships and crops; to destroy cattle, spoil butter and beer; and to bring about sudden and inexplicable illness and death, especially among young children and babies. Her victims sometimes turned to the village cunning person or witchdoctor for help; the tougher course of action was to take the witch to the religious or civil authorities and have her tried. (After prosecutions for witchcraft came to a halt in the late 17th century, communities sometimes lynched their witches themselves.) But from the 15th century onwards, a woman who was accused of witchcraft by her neighbours would find that the judges had a new agenda: they wanted to ascertain, not whether she had harmed her neighbours, but whether she had dedicated herself to Satan.

They would press her to admit that she belonged to an organisation of devil-worshippers, that she had sealed her allegiance by having intercourse with Satan and with her fellow witches (even her own sons or father). She was also likely to be accused of sacrificing infants to her Master. If she denied these allegations, she would be questioned under torture. The panic spread across the country. As soon as a witch confessed that she had been present at such an occasion the inquisitor would want to know who else had been there. The witch might then name women in other towns – women she knew from marketing, or with whom she wanted to settle scores. No doubt she often simply guessed at names to stop the torture.

The best-known episode, and one of the last, occurred at Salem in Massachusetts Bay Colony – it was the subject of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. It began when the minister’s nine-year-old daughter, Betty Parris, and her cousin, Abigail Williams, complained that they were being tormented by invisible beings. Three local women, convicted of bewitching them, named other witches; then more girls – as well as adults of both sexes – accused their neighbours of conspiring with the Devil to afflict them. The witch-hunt spread out into the colony when the accusers were taken to other towns to identify witches. Nineteen people were hanged at Salem, and, because the judges decided to spare the lives of ‘confessours’, many more were imprisoned for life. The concept of the sabbat was crucial to the panic: Abigail Williams asserted that ‘the Witches had a Sacrament ... at a house in the Village, and that they had Red Bread and Red Drink.’ Another accuser, Mercy Lewis, said: ‘they did eat Red Bread like Mans Flesh, and would have her eat some: but she would not.’ Like Psellos, the Salem authorities believed that they had stumbled on a diabolic conspiracy: ‘These witches, whereof above a score have now confessed,’ Cotton Mather wrote in Wonders of the Invisible World, ‘have met in hellish rendezvous, wherein the confessours do say they have had their diabolical sacraments, imitating the baptism and the supper of our Lord. In these hellish meetings these monsters have associated themselves to do no less a thing than to destroy the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ in these parts of the world.’

By the 18th century the ruling classes had become sceptical about witchcraft and the laws against witches were revoked or allowed to lapse. The sabbat became a historical curiosity. In this century, witches have become feminist and New Age icons, revered as victims of a Christian patriarchy’s persecution and misrepresentation. ‘Wiccan’ cults of nature-worship have sprung up, as have a small number of Satanist cults. Now the belief in the satanic sabbat seems to have returned.

Belief in ‘ritual’ abuse and satanic ritual is many-layered, however. At the extreme end are American fundamentalists, who believe that

an international network of secretive ‘hard-core’ satanic cults are linked together to infiltrate the higher levels of societal power structures in all societies, enabling the destruction of that society by undermining its moral standards by making snuff movies and trading in narcotics. They gain their members by a hierarchical structure of recruitment, first catching teens through their dabblings in rock music and games, and selecting the best for initiation into witchcraft cults, from which the ‘hard-core’ are chosen. The ultimate aim is to induce world chaos which will encourage the populace to accept Satan – in personified form – as the earth’s ruler.

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[1] Serpent’s Tail, 205 pp., £9.99, 25 August 1994,1 85242 385 4.

[2] Routledge, 332pp., £37.50 and £14.99, 24 February 1994, 0 415 10542 0.

[3] HMSO, 36pp.,£3.50, 1994, 0 11 321797 8.

[4] Canongate, 192 pp., £7.95, October 1992,0 86241 350 8.