This is the last in Peter Rogerson's series reexamining the books which cultivated his early interest in the paranormal and the unexplained. We would like to hear from Magonia's readers of books which similarly sparked off their own interest in the topics we examine here. Of course, few of our readers are quite as old as the Editors, so there is no obligation that these titles should have been published '50 Year Ago', and numerous other little logos are available to head the article! If you would like to contribute, please contact me at email@example.com.
A. V. Sellwood and Peter Haining. Devil Worship in Britain Corgi, 1964.
When I was a teenager we didn’t have video nasties and computerised war games to allow you to venture into the dark realm, you read books like the Pan Book of Horror Stories , the Pan Book of Ghost Stories, or things like this.
Written in the style of the gutter tabloids which provided most of its 'facts' this book typified the moral panics of the post Profumo period; lumping together a range of social phenomena such as sex parties, neo-witchcraft, teenage vandalism, and fears of immigration into a single package. Any interest in the occult was seen as an opening through which you could fall into Satanism. As a metaphor for social and sexual change 'Satanism” had a powerful symbolic ring. Actual evidence as to its existence was hard to come by, not least because the thing didn’t actually exist, at least not outside some rather kinky play-acting based on the novels of Dennis Wheatley.
Some of the fears in this book look very peculiar; it will, I think, come as surprise to Messrs. Rimmer and Harney to learn that the Liverpool of the 1960s was rife with the devotes of a secret Polynesian cult, dedicated to the god Tiki. Racism was very much an undertone of this book; dark skinned immigrants were bringing in “dark rites” and so on.
Very little of what was to become the kernel of the great Satanic abuse legend - the sexual abuse and murder of children - features here, just the odd rumour (or rumour of a rumour). Dancing in the nude and smoking were wicked enough for Satanists in those days, or so it seems.
These beliefs continued for a number of years; I recall being warned as a nineteen-year-old reading the now-classic partwork Man, Myth and Magic, that this was a road to Satanism, presumably via visiting tarot card readers and attending séances. - Peter Rogerson