The 1960s are probably the most iconic decade in American history, with the popularization of psychedelics and bell bottoms the world was preparing for a cultural shift. 1967, in particular, was when hippie culture was at its prime, with the streets of Ashbury and Haight in San Franciso becoming the beating heart of the beast that became the summer of love.
However, the glamourized hippie culture we have become so familiar with in films and TV doesn’t show those who were critical of the hippie movement. Many people during this time didn’t see hippies as peaceful as we see them as today. One of the most prominent critics of the counterculture was the Catholic church, which embodied everything the hippie movement opposed, control, power, and leadership. While this free-spirited outlook on life seems like a psychedelic, dream it wasn’t always just listening to the Beatles and going to Woodstock. With heavy drug use and a counterculture led by teenagers, 1967 saw a huge increase in crime and drug overdoses, however, this didn’t stop anyone until it affected someone famous.
Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969
-Joan Didion, The White Album 1979
While the 60s may have officially ended in 1970, many, like famous 60s author Joan Didion, believe the spirit of the 60s died with Sahron Tate. This abrupt end to the 60s is what caused the Satanic Panic of the 1980s. When notorious hippie cult The Manson Family murdered famous actress Sharon Tate in 1969, the world began to change its view on hippies. They were no longer harmless stoners, they were now devil-worshipping murderers who could kill anyone. While this is nothing more than mass panic and fear as the result of Charles Manson’s devil-fueled murders, it became the only narrative surrounding hippies. However, for those who had always despised the counter culture, like the Church, Manson offered them an easy way to turn the public on hippies. Thus began the Satanic Panic.
The Satanic Panic was the collective fear of the occult and Satan that swept the US in the 1980s and 90s. During this time anything remotely spiritual or even out of the ordinary became satanic and somehow a part of some mysterious cult. Like a modern-day witch hunt, people began accusing neighbors, parents, and teachers of being a part of secret societies and holding satanic rituals in their backyards. One of the most famous cases of Satanic Panic surrounds three teenagers who were accused of brutally murdering three eight-year-olds for an occult ritual. The three men were known as The West Memphis Three and spent 18 years in jail for a crime they didn’t commit based on evidence that was manipulated by police. This case is an example of the prejudice that Satanic Panic created against those with alternative lifestyles or like The West Memphis Three, goth lifestyles. Many of these issues surrounded young children, in the 80s there was a string of accusations against daycares that children were being sacrificed to the devil. Despite all of these accusations being false, the damage they did was immense. It victimized and criminalized people who didn’t lead strictly Christian lifestyles.
The extreme drug use and crime rates in the 60s and 70s created a fear of the unknown in many and that resulted in mass hysteria that ruined lives decades later. While the Satanic Panic certainly doesn’t have the momentum it used to, the wound it left on our society will always sting, it just looks different now. Instead of blaming everything on Satan our culture has turned to elaborate conspiracy theories and looking for Illuminati themes in Beyonce songs. Perhaps we will never stray from our witch trial days and remain suspicious of everyone around us until the end of time.