Satan's High Priest: A True Story

Judith Spencer, Author Pocket Books $23 (320p) ISBN 978-0-671-72800-7
In her first book, Suffer the Child, Spencer, a pediatric nurse and expert on the psychological effects of ritual abuse, recounted the true story of one child's cult experiences and the resulting treatment for Multiple Personality Disorder. Here, Spencer skillfully portrays the true-life rise and fall of a man she calls Joseph Warren, high priest of a small-town Satanic cult founded by his father. Predictably, descriptions of brainwashing and ritual child torture abound. Spencer, though, takes a surprising turn; she recounts Warren's childhood and his own ritual abuse at the hands of his father, but she does not minimize the element of Warren's own choice. ""Clearly [Joe] was victimized... But he was not unique, and he was not always a victim. Something more of choice than circumstance set Joe on his duplicitous course."" Warren also faces the same kinds of difficulties any leader might face: how to maintain control, how to ""balance between routine and experimentation"", finding someone to run the ""instruction of the children."" Warren comes across as a paranoid, abusive, driven, hateful man--but a man nonetheless. The main problem with Spencer's work, however, is her sources. She notes that the bulk of her research came from talking to Warren's daughter (who suffered from repressed memories), his widow (who denied the cult's existence), and other cult survivors. But she quotes no one directly, and the book ends just as Warren's daughter begins to unearth her memories. The fact that many mental health professionals do not believe that ritual abuse occurs on this scale, and that Spencer's anecdotal research lacks the independent physical proof, makes this work less than compelling. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 09/01/1997
Release date: 09/01/1997
Mass Market Paperbound - 320 pages - 978-0-671-00790-4
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