The Satanic Panic: Beyond Dungeons & Dragons

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Stranger Things touched on the Satanic Panic that took hold in the 1980s. It was about more than D&D – here’s the real history.

When Satanic Panic comes up in gaming circles, it’s usually a joke about the overreaction to D&D in the 1980s. People picture ridiculous Chick Tracts and movies like Monsters and Mazes. The most recent season of Stranger Things dipped its toe into the insanity and how dangerous it was. But the hysteria went beyond tabletop gaming. And what happened to some of the people swept up in it? That is genuinely terrifying.

Satanic Panic came to a pinnacle in the ’80s. To understand why things got so out of control, you have to dig back twenty years earlier. Let’s take a look at the emergence of the anti-establishment counter-culture in the 1960s. There were significant challenges to the way sexuality, authority, spirituality, drug use, and other societal ideals changed.

The decade also brought a new kind of violence to the forefront of society’s consciousness. JFK’s assassination, the Manson Family murders, and Edmund Kemper all made headlines and the national evening news.

These events set the stage for Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan, which emerged in 1966 in San Francisco. LaVey published The Satanic Bible in 1969. The church’s beliefs align more with Ragnar Redbeard’s Might is Right than the devil-worshipping cults you see in horror movies, though. LaVey made a big show of hosting rituals in his home from the mid-’60s through the early-’70s. It made the church infamous worldwide.

He invited journalists to attend black masses and Satanic baptisms. These events included nude women on alters, hooded robes, and swords. In its heyday, the church counted Sammy Davis Jr. and Jane Mansfield as members. Its existence as a formal church that flaunted itself out in the open impacted popular culture. One that would reveal itself in the coming years.

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