Satanic cults constitute a world in which evil reigns, so keeping them clandestine is essential. But one young German woman has dared to speak openly about growing up in such a cult.
Experts say cult members are abused and kept from speaking of their experiences
It's the stuff of insipid Hollywood films: cults in which Satan worshippers drink the blood of animals and make human sacrifices during special ceremonies.
But for Laura, who was born into such a world in the Muenster region in western Germany, it's a bit closer to reality. She's managed to escape the cult, but it was a long, painful process.
"My father was well respected in the sect and he started training me at a young age to do what the circle wanted," she explained. "That I allow everything to be done with me, that I wouldn't cry or scream or respond to the pain, and that I would not say anything to anyone outside the group. We were supposed to do what the higher power wanted."
Prostitution in the name of Satan
Satanic cult victims' reports eerily echo the film plot of "Rosemary's Baby"
For Laura, the higher power used to be Satan, and she said she was forced to accept pain, torture and rape in his name. But it also meant that she had to lead to parallel life. To the outside world, she presented herself as a normal schoolgirl; in the other, secret world, she was a servant at black masses and Satanic rituals.
"I was expected to be completely obedient to men," she said. "When I was supposed to prostitute myself, then I was told that the higher power wanted the circle to have money."
The money went straight into the group's coffers, and it was the group who chose the clients.
Marburg-based religion expert Adelheid Herrmann-Pfandt said Laura's parents exposed her to a Satanic cult that is particularly worrying - one that celebrates an especially brutal form of Satanism and keeps itself out of the public's eye.
"Those who conduct these really extreme practices are not recognizable in society," Herrmann-Pfandt said. "They don't go running around with upside-down crucifixes in their hands. They want to stay under the radar their entire lives."
Babies are said to disappear
Brigitte Hahn, the sect commissioner for the Catholic Diocese of Muenster, agreed. She said 30 victims of such Satanic cults have sought help from her office. Some of the women described black masses, which also included ritualistic abortions and even murder.
Women said they were abused as children by cult members
"The women say they are impregnated during special ceremonies," Hahn said. "Then there are rituals for delivering the babies and sacrificing them. The pregnancies are kept secret, the babies are born but disappear."
In 2008, Hahn sent around a survey to 2,000 doctors and therapists in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, of which Muenster is a part. Some 120 responded saying they had female patients who had suffered violence in Satanic groups.
Alfons Strodt, capitular in the Catholic Diocese of Osnabrueck, has helped former members of Satanic cults for years. He has collected drawings they have created of the rituals - images of children lying on an altar, or bound on a cross.
"In the beginning, I had to process all of this alone," he said, adding that it took a long time until others in the Church started believing him. "People would tell me to stop making up such stories.
"I'm grateful that our bishop and the vicar-general now believe me and realize that it is an issue that can no longer be kept under wraps," he said. "Now, the victims can get some of the help they need."
Constant state of fear
Church officials in Muenster have begun offering help to former cult members
However, because many of the victims are traumatized and mentally ill, it is hard to determine whether their accounts truly reflect reality. Offering support to the victims is also challenging, Strodt said.
"There were threats that our churches would be blown up with bombs, or set on fire," Strodt said. "I was under surveillance. That takes its toll - the feeling that they are always nearby is scary."
But people cannot remain silent about the phenomenon of Satanism, said religion expert Herrmann-Pfandt, who investigates what occurs such groups.
"It's really about transcendental experiences - and blood often plays a major role," she said. "Some people say it intensifies the experience, and it seems to put them in a state of arousal. And the cults play on that."
Laura said the turning point came when she was supposed to have a child for her parents' Satanic circle. She escaped the cult then and now lives in a high-security shelter for traumatized women. Though she has not pressed charges against her parents, she has left records of her experiences with a lawyer.
"In the event of my death, even if it appears to be an accident or suicide, all of the data will be sent to the district attorney's office," she said. "It's my form of life insurance - so they don't feel they can try to do something to me or try to kill me."
Author: Heike Zafar (als)
Editor: Sean Sinico