People are always talking about Satanists sacrificing infants to the devil. What the hell does that guy want with babies? He’s the Lord of Darkness! The Prince of Lies! All those babies crawling around might make it a little bit difficult to maintain his street cred. Is he running a nursery down there or something? I mean, come on, man.

Really, the Satanists should be sacrificing some real bad-asses. Then they could hang out with the devil and form some kind of posse and wear leather with spikes on it.

Pop culture today (particularly crime related movies and television shows) sometimes likes to bring up Satanism and Satanic cults to give whatever fiction is being created that extra edginess you can’t really get with normal gangs and thugs. When a biker gang just isn’t enough: think Devil worship! Thanks to two thousand years of Christian mythology packed into western culture, there’s a fairly immediate response to the mere mention of Satanism, but what are the modern implications of Satanic practice in pop culture and where did they come from?

Nowadays when demonic rituals are mentioned, a few major activities are usually on the schedule: blood rituals, pentagrams and demonic symbolism scrawled on surfaces, and that most nefarious action, ritual killing, particularly of infants and children. Why these activities? Aside from the simple answer that they’re clearly amoral and awful things to do and that the devil tends to be associated with everything amoral and awful, it comes down to history and superstition.

Around the year 1000, Christianity began to develop the idea of the modern devil, his imagery and purpose continued to evolve and by the time the 1200’s rolled around, he’d become a central figure in Christian mythology. In the 1500’s, the idea of witchcraft shifted from being a practice of pagans or innocent people deceived by the Devil’s tricks into something else entirely. The new witch of the 15th century was a conscious and willing follower of Satan with a seriously evil outlook. Through the 16th and 17th centuries, in Europe, the charge of Satanic worship and witchcraft was leveled against thousands of people resulting in a whole lot of folks being burnt to a crisp. Surprisingly, many of the charges against these supposed Satanists are close to the sort of things we see in pop culture today 300 years later: forming a demonic pact, blasphemy against God, participation in dark rituals or Sabbaths, practicing harmful magic, and the killing of children (both those already born and those still in the womb).

All of this stuff probably should have died out with the end of the witch trials, but it has somehow made a lasting impression on western culture and saw a recent revival in that armpit of the last fifty years: the 1980’s. During the 80’s, a phenomenon known as SRA or Satanic Ritual Abuse began to cause a serious panic in the United States. SRA constituted a wide array of events and definitions but was mostly defined by the idea of Satanic cults skulking about, performing dark rituals and abusing children sexually or outright murdering them as an offering to the Devil. It seems strange now, but the level of anxiety caused by the pretty unsubstantiated rumors associated with SRA was significant. At the time, people would undergo hypnotherapy or regression therapy, uncovering traumatic memories that they’d supposedly locked away of being children involved in these horrific cults. Needless to say, no evidence of these supposedly widespread cults or the ridiculous conspiracy theories relating them to some kind of secret society that rules the world were ever found. Claims made by people about childhood abuses were largely found to be either outright lies or to be child abuse without the Satanic connections.

It was this panic in the 1980’s and the early 90’s that has given us the gift of Satanic cults we see in pop culture today. While there are Satanists and Satanic cults out there, they’re mostly benign and misunderstood, if a little ridiculous. There are surely some crackpots and weirdos out there that subscribe to the more awful iteration of Satanism but they’re very few and far between.

As for infant sacrifice, it’s been a pretty overinflated part of history for a long time, though it did happen. Many cultures never got into serious ritual killing and of the ones that did, infant sacrifice was pretty rare.

Besides, what kind of god or demon even wants babies as sacrifices? Changing diapers for eternity? No thanks!