As part of a multi-part series on claims of Satanic Ritual Abuse within Mormonism (including a spotlight on unethical “recovered memory” techniques within the field of psychotherapy, Utah therapist Barbara Snow, and Spiritual Guru Teal Swan) — today we are interviewing Dr. David Frankfurter – author of “Evil Incarnate: Rumors of Demonic Conspiracy and Satanic Abuse in History.”  
Dr. Frankfurter holds a B.A. in Religion from Wesleyan University, an M.T.S. from Harvard Divinity School, and an M.A./Ph.D. from Princeton University. He is a professor at Boston University, and a scholar of ancient Mediterranean religions with specialties in Jewish and Christian apocalyptic literature, magical texts, popular religion, and Egypt in the Roman and late antique periods, Frankfurter’s particular interests revolve around theoretical issues like the place of magic in religion, the relationship of religion and violence, the nature of Christianization, and the representation of evil in culture.


Part 1: The Historical Origins of Rumors of Demonic Conspiracy and Satanic Abuse

Part 2: Modern Claims of Satanic Ritual Abuse

IMPORTANT: A list of essential resources to understand the history of SRA claims in Utah and in North America:

  • A brief history of the Utah/SRA Social Panic entitled: “A Rumor of Devils: Allegations of Satanic Child Abuse and Mormonism, 1985-1994?”
  • The Pace Memorandum, which was a 1990  memorandum written by Glenn L. Pace, a general authority in Mormon church, describing to a church committee the complaints of sixty church members who claimed they had been subjected to satanic ritual abuse (SRA) by family and other church members. 
  • Ritual Crime in the State of Utah – a 1995 report commissioned by the Utah State Legislature.
  • Statements from the American Psychiatric Association, the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, etc. on childhood memories of sexual abuse, Repressed/Recovered memory, etc.
  • Repressed memory Accusations: Devastated Families and Devastated Patients” – A research study which outlines the damage caused by Repressed/Recovered Memory Therapy to patients and their families, appearing in Applied Cognitive Psychology.
  • An overview of ethical concerns raised regarding Utah Repressed Memory Therapist Barbara Snow.  To date, Barbara Snow has not publicly renounced Repressed/Recovered Memory techniques, and has not publicly acknowledged the damage caused by her support and usage of these techniques.
  • Uncover: Satanic Panic: A super-important and relevant podcast episode by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation on an outbreak of SRA claims in a small Canadian town.
  • The Gateway: Teal Swan.  A national podcast by Gizmodo, covering in 6 episodes the rise of Utahn Teal Swan, who was a client of Barbara Snow, and who now employs Repressed/Recovered Memory techniques with her 700,000+ followers.  Teal has also been dubbed “The Suicide Catalyst,” as she openly encourages her retreat clients to envision their own deaths by suicide, and downplays death by suicide as “hitting the reset button” into a future reincarnated life.
  • Must-Listen Podcasts on the Satanic Ritual Abuse panic in the 80s and 90s:
    • Uncover: Satanic Panic: A super-important and relevant podcast episode by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation on an outbreak of SRA claims in a small Canadian town.
    • The Gateway: Teal Swan.  A national podcast by Gizmodo, covering in 6 episodes the rise of Utahn Teal Swan, who was a client of Barbara Snow, and who now employs Repressed/Recovered Memory techniques with her 700,000+ followers.  Teal has also been dubbed “The Suicide Catalyst,” as she openly encourages her retreat clients to envision their own deaths by suicide, and downplays death by suicide as “hitting the reset button” into a future reincarnated life.
  • Must-Read Books on the Satanic Ritual Abuse panic in the 80s and 90s:


  • If you or anyone you know have had experiences with Utah therapist Barbara Snow, recovered memory techniques, and/or personal stories around claims of Satanic Ritual Abuse within Mormonism, please share with me via email.
  • I continue to search for at least ONE credible story of Satanic Ritual Abuse in Utah and/or Mormonism. The criteria I am using to ensure the story is credible is as follows:
    • The abuse must involve evidence, and/or some sort of police investigation.
    • The case can NOT involve any sort of hypnosis or recovered memory techniques on the part of any therapist(s). As an example, Utah therapist Barbara Snow can not have been involved in the case as a therapist to the victim.
    • I would prefer to interview someone who has read Lawrence Wright’s book “Remembering Satan.” In other words, I would prefer to interview an SRA victim who is aware of all the historical, social, and psychological pitfalls surrounding the SRA panic of the 80s and 90s, so that they can tell their story in a way that has maximum credibility for the listeners.
  • I want to make it super clear that I (Dr. John Dehlin) FULLY acknowledge that both the state of Utah and the LDS Church have a HUGE sexual abuse problem – including a long, disturbing history of protecting perpetrators of abuse at the expense of abuse victims.  I stand WITH victims of abuse, and against perpetrators of abuse (be it emotional, physical, or sexual).  A sampling of the many episodes wherein I have covered and condemned abuse can be found here.
  • I believe it to be essential that we simultaneously do everything we can to both prevent abuse and prosecute abusers, AND end harmful therapeutic practices like Recovered Memory.  Recovered memory is dangerous for several reasons, including: a) it has no credible scientific backing, b) it has been condemned by all major mental health associations, c) it has often led to false accusations, which ultimately risks to undermine the mountain of credible abuse claims that exist, and d) recovered memory has been shown to actually harm clients who participate in it.  For an in-depth discussion of this topic, listen to this podcast series on Teal Swan, recovered memory, and claims of Satanic Ritual Abuse (and most important Episode 5). and/or read the books Remembering Satan, The Demon Haunted World, and Mistakes Were Made, But Not By Me.

A HUGE thank you to Rick Phillips for making this episode possible.

Part 1: The Historical Origins of Rumors of Demonic Conspiracy and Satanic Abuse

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Part 2: Modern Claims of Satanic Ritual Abuse

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  1. Debbie May 15, 2020 at 8:53 pm - Reply

    John, I’m a bit surprised by your attitude regarding those who claim to have been a victim of ritual abuse. I think I heard you say one time that Spotlight is one of your favorite movies. What if Spotlight had dismissed the claims of the Catholic Priest victims? Dr Frankfurter seems to be saying, if I’m understanding correctly, that the claims are just too aweful and far fetched for him to believe, too pornographic, it involves canabalism, or whatever. Look at Warren Jeffs. I’m sure he’s not the only person to do strange sexual rituals on little girls. When you say that people come to you with Mormon claims of sexual ritual abuse, they all are alike. You seem to be dismissing them because they all sound the same. Perhaps you should consider the possibility that they could be true because they are so similar. Is that too far fetched? I don’t know if these things are true, but I’ve gotten to the point, that I can believe that terrible things happen to people in religious contexts, and that leaders can look great on the outside, but be very evil behind closed doors. Please do a follow up episode, with a little compassion shown toward those who make these claims. I’d hate for them to see your comments as a rejection and then they go back into their silence.

    • Shira June 17, 2020 at 10:29 am - Reply

      I completely agree with you! I am a survivor of satanic ritual abuse from the Temple of Set in San Francisco (a satanic cult). However, they knew exactly what they were doing and had someone dressed up as Jesus come and torture me. I was also abused in the Oakland Temple. Was there a police investigation? No! Would I have been so stupid, as a kid, to tell someone what had happened to me when they made it VERY clear that if I told I’d be electroshocked by their cattle prods and tortured like I’d seen of other people? My evidence is they pulled my hip out of my socket to inflict pain (the more pain they inflict on little girls, the more the little girls dissociate and the less likely they’ll be able to remember and are more easy to control) and then have a burn mark (like cigarette butt) on the outside of that hip. I’ve also found houses that they brought me to, knowing just the streets that are headquarters for a sister satanic group. And I can describe the abuse that happened to me in the Oakland temple and in my own ward building. I spoke to a survivor of SRA who was ten years older than me but also from the Bay Area, she told me she was abused at Fort Ord military base and I looked it up and *finally* identified where I was tied up with chains and gang raped in front of a camera on a mattress on the floor with several other kids. They also brought me, in a basket, in the trunk of a car, up some steps on the side of a church. I found the same church with cement stairs leading up to a side door like I’d remembered. The most therapy I’ve done is EMDR. I’ve met other ritual abuse survivors who do have very similar stories. I spoke with a therapist in Sugar House (SLC) who said he currently had 4 survivors (and his practice doesn’t specialize in that). And trust me, ALL of us know how crazy this sounds and the whole “satanic panic” scare of the 80s/early 90s. That’s why none of us are speaking up. I emailed you, John. I have evidence, but no police report. You know FULL WELL as a therapist how ridiculous it is to tell your sexual assault survivor clients “I’ll only believe you if you have evidence or there’s been a police investigation!”

      John, I have a question–do you think evil has boundaries?

      My old church teacher was a prosecuting attorney of child sex offenders in the Bay area in the 80s and 90s. When I started remembering this stuff, I told her, terrified that she wouldn’t believe me. In fact, I cut therapy short one day because I felt like everything I was remembering was so crazy, there’s no way those things could happen. Period.

      Here’s what she said, “I did encounter a pedophile ring a couple of times. I also have a good friend in Salt Lake whose two sons were victims of a pedophile ring/SRA when they were young…none of this sounds crazy to me at all. These men in pedophile rings know exactly how to “use” children and how to make them so afraid through horrible threats and methods that no one would really believe another human being is capable of using, that it does sound incredulous to an average person. These people are so evil and so depraved it becomes unbelievable even to the victims themselves–especially if it is years later that they (like you) being to have “snippets” of remembering. When the pedophile ring in SLC was caught, my friend’s sons were still being victimized and they couldn’t recall things exactly as they occurred because what is happening doesn’t make sense in a child’s world and they don’t know what to do with it. And you’re right, these pedophiles know exactly what works to make certain these children never tell and that they remain in a state of constant fear. It’s horrendous. No, none of this sounds crazy to me…these pedophile rings can actuallyb e pretty sophisticated operations and are often run through a nationwide network. In general, if they get “busted” its because a parent or several parents get suspicious of what’s going on with their child, but it can take years before the police may be able to gather enough evidence to make arrests. That’s usually because the abused kids aren’t clear about what happened to them. And the pedophiles make sure it’s confusing. They may transport the kids to different locations (sometimes putting hoods over their heads and making them crouch on the floor in back seats of car). They rarely repeat a place, a transport car, etc. so the children weren’t clear about where they were, etc. And the rings shift from state to state, sometimes.”

      You’ll notice she doesn’t differentiate between SRA and pedophile rings because they mix with each other and SRA is sometimes used in pedophile rings. And in people’s stories about SRA, it’s kids being abused by multiple people. Often it’s recorded. Traded for other porn. Another form of a pedophile ring.

  2. PHRED May 16, 2020 at 9:26 am - Reply

    I respect John for his wiliness to tackle a very polarizing subject. If you think navigating a mixed faith relationship is difficult, this is much harder. From a distance, John seems to have an ability to see both sides of a mixed faith relationship and provides needed help and understanding for both, respecting individuality and humanity.

    Sexual abuse is devastating and is much harder to navigate because it really happens more than we think, and there are times it doesn’t happen with many cases of recovered memories. Both are true and happen. Depending on a victim’s personal experience, they don’t know and feel the abuse is real regardless. And if outsiders don’t trust their recovered memories, the outsiders are not only dismissed from the conversation, but are often branded as abusers themselves, I know, I’m one of those. But I believe and empathize and want to help victims of real abuse.

    I see John stepping onto a tightrope, trying to walk a very wobbly, professionally and personally perilous line, across a deep emotional chasm. I applaud his efforts. This is not easy. But if he can bring his sensibilities and experience of helping mixed faith relationships to this devastating issue of understanding real sexual abuse from recovered memories, then I have hope. His help is really needed especially in the Mormon communities. As an example, I was concerned to hear that a professor in Logan has advocated recovering memories in recent times.

    We need John’s help to start the conversation. It will be polarizing.

  3. Peter May 18, 2020 at 9:29 am - Reply

    I had no idea what to expect from this series…it’s so much more interesting than I would have ever imagined. It’s so nice to distinguish between conspiracy and problematic psychology practices and actually addressing real abuse.

    In the second half of this interview, there was discussion about a dramatic rise of real abuse during the second half of the 20th century, I’m curious if John has any insight why this rise occurred. Is it somehow related to the sexual revolution which may have opened things up and resulted in some people falling into/getting involved with some really nasty stuff? Not sure what I exactly mean by this, but I wonder if a sense that “anything goes” made some people feel like they had permission to explore increasingly damaging behavior. Or, maybe these current rates of abuse are the same as always but that they’re just reported better now.

  4. Skeptic May 19, 2020 at 5:14 am - Reply

    Thought for you, John:

    If a predator knows how to abuse a child in a manner that ensures the child won’t remember the abuse, does that mean the abuse didn’t happen?

    • John Dehlin May 19, 2020 at 6:43 am - Reply

      If a child is abused, the child is abused. It’s worse than horrific.

      And if and when anyone knows about that abuse, and if and when the victim feels safe and decides to press charges, the perpetrators should be charged and prosecuted. And the victims should get the support they need to heal.

      The fact that so many children and adults feel unsafe to charge and prosecute rapists is a huge problem that we need to address as a society of course. It’s sickening that 99% of rape cases go uncharged and unprosecuted.

      My point here isn’t to say in any instance when abuse did or didn’t happen. Nor is it to protect any perpetrator. Anyone who follows me knows that I do what I can to stand strongly against abuse. See the disclaimers in the post. I hate abuse, and have covered and condemned abuse repeatedly on this podcast and elsewhere.

      But if and when a therapist (Barbara Snow) or Guru (Teal Swan) implants or helps to generate in the minds of their clients fabricated or false memories of infant or early child abuse that didn’t happen, then no. That fabricated abuse did not happen.

      Abuse is awful and real. Recovered memory is bad. Both can be true.

      And it is also harmful to the clients to engage in Recovery Memory techniques, which have no scientific backing, are roundly condemned by the mental health community, and considered deeply unethical for therapists to us.

      That is what this series is about.

      • Skeptic May 19, 2020 at 4:46 pm - Reply

        Another thought:

        How can a victim who doesn’t immediately remember abuse report it on time for evidence to be gathered?

        • John Dehlin May 19, 2020 at 7:08 pm - Reply

          The scientific literature says that it’s quite rare for victims to have absolutely no memory of abuse, and then to remember it years or decades later. Do you acknowledge that?

          Also, Recovered Memory has been summarily condemned as an unethical and harmful practice.

          Do you value the consensus of the mental health community?

          All of this said, I do not consider it my business to ever question an individual’s report of abuse.

          What I am comfortable doing is condemning harmful practices or unethical providers, based on scientific or professional consensus.

  5. Skeptic May 20, 2020 at 1:38 am - Reply

    What research are you referring to, specifically, when you say, “The scientific literature says it’s quite rare for victims to have no memory of abuse, and then to remember it years or decades later” ?

    Could you please provide some links to the abstracts of the studies you’re thinking about when you make that statement?

    Based on the research you’re familiar with, could you say a few words about how scientists have determined that it is rare?

    Have you searched for studies that make a counter claim? What do their abstracts say?

    • John Dehlin May 20, 2020 at 6:02 am - Reply

      From the American Psychological Association:

      “ First, it’s important to state that there is a consensus among memory researchers and clinicians that most people who were sexually abused as children remember all or part of what happened to them although they may not fully understand or disclose it. Concerning the issue of a recovered versus a pseudomemory, like many questions in science, the final answer is yet to be known. But most leaders in the field agree that although it is a rare occurrence, a memory of early childhood abuse that has been forgotten can be remembered later. However, these leaders also agree that it is possible to construct convincing pseudomemories for events that never occurred.”

      “ A competent psychotherapist will attempt to stick to the facts as you report them. He or she will be careful to let the information evolve as your memory does and not to steer you toward a particular conclusion or interpretation.

      A competent psychotherapist is likely to acknowledge that current knowledge does not allow the definite conclusion that a memory is real or false without other corroborating evidence.”

  6. Em May 20, 2020 at 10:03 am - Reply

    This series is absolutely fascinating. I thought you might find this interesting:
    It’s a video posted on May 12, 2020 by Dr. Neil T. Anderson (on the channel “Freedom in Christ”), who claims that Santanic ritual abuse is real and that he can spot it. Anderson seems like a textbook case of the phony therapists described by Dr. Frankfurter. Crazy. I look forward to the rest of your episodes on this topic.

    • PHRED May 22, 2020 at 10:54 am - Reply

      I just looked at the youtube posting of Dr. Neil T. Anderson on the “Freedom in Christ” channel. This melding of Christian theology with physiotherapy is difficult to parse out what is healthy. Obvious question is what if you are not Christian?

      • PHRED May 22, 2020 at 11:32 am - Reply

        hmmmm… oops… sorry, the obvious question is a literal belief in satin. Really?

  7. Timmy Tim May 24, 2020 at 8:58 pm - Reply

    John, you are probably aware of this, but the tunnels beneath the SLC temple, church office building, etc. really do exist. I have a close family member who’s been in them. But alas, and gratefully, no evidence of satanic abuse was reported.

    • John Dehlin May 24, 2020 at 9:47 pm - Reply

      Do you mean like the underground walkways in the underground parking garage?

  8. Mormon X May 26, 2020 at 5:11 pm - Reply

    Church leaders love to use their fascination with Satan to control the membership. Anyone remember a famous fireside speaker named Don (or Dan) Black. He was equivalent to a hellfire-and-brimstone kind of preacher. He wasn’t even a general authority, but spoke as if he was relevant. My parents bought his tapes for us. In one of the tapes, Black says how demonic possession occurs during a drunken stupor or while high on drugs. He told of a girl’s experience of how she saw a demon in her house while she was stoned. It scared me enough not to drink or take drugs in my youth.

    Also in my youth (during the 80’s) we were taught not to participate in ouija boards, palm readings, fortune telling (reading horoscopes), and watch horror movies. We were also told never to talk about demonic possession because all this would attract them and Satan would basically have all this influence in our lives. So I dared not to do that Bloody Mary ritual in front of a bathroom mirror. Of course, just trying a joint, a sip of beer, a puff from a cigarette, looking at naughty magazines, watching rated-R (or worse)movies, were all going to cause some kind of demonic influence on us. Interesting how my church didn’t brainwash but other cults and churches had their members brainwashed.

    Then there was the urban church legend about not being allowed to wear masks at a ward Halloween…er…uh…I mean Fall Festivals. I asked my YM’s leader or a Sunday school teacher why and he said that the devil could hide behind a mask. Funny how we could wear a mask at any other party or for trick-or-treating.

    The during our mission prep that basically starts for Deacon-age boys. We were constantly reminded, and even as a 19-year old missionary, that Satan rules the waters and that is why missionaries are not allowed to go swimming. Wonder why Satan doesn’t wipe out a group of teenagers at a ward youth pool party!

    During my mission, the sister missionaries said their landlord did seances on a certain night and they could feel the evil spirits. One sister was crying one time when we went to their flat with the power of the priesthood to help rid of these spirits. Interesting we never were taught in the MTC how to cast evil spirits or when and how to put our arm to the square. I think we were supposed to tell the local bishop so he could cast them out.

    I was told my a British woman on her doorstep that there were tunnels from the UK to Salt Lake. I didn’t even try to deny because what was the use? She wasn’t going to take a Book of Mormon or listen to the first discussion. I also heard from Christians that temples were used everything that was discussed in this podcast. It was the first time I heard of these types of rumors about the church.

  9. Pat May 31, 2020 at 2:32 pm - Reply
    A BBC radio play (1992) that discusses ritual abuse and child abuse.
    And so touches on much of the current MS episodes.

  10. Pat May 31, 2020 at 2:48 pm - Reply

    My comment just put ‘above’ was wrong – it’s an audiobook – Peter Robinson – Wednesday’s Child (1992) Banks #6. Read by Stephen Thorne.
    But interesting in light of the current MS series.

  11. Glenn Nelson June 12, 2020 at 6:09 pm - Reply

    If brainwashing is a myth how can a therapists put a suggestions in a person’s head and have them believe an alternate reality, isn’t that brainwashing? They have had people falsely accuse leaders parents daycare workers and they accuser believes it. What is the difference? Would like clarification.
    Also do you know if Hugh Nibley’s daughter went to one of these therapist? I’m sure the family would like that black cloud dispersed if not true.

    • Shira June 17, 2020 at 10:38 am - Reply

      I read Hugh Nibley’s family’s rebuttal to his daughter’s claims. They said she’d been abused by some teenage neighbor boys as a kid but she neglected to mention that in her books (I read both of them). They are thinking that she’s confusing memories and if she was telling the truth, why wouldn’t she tell the whole truth (about the neighbor boy sexually abusing her) instead of leaving out that glaring fact.

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