Satanic Panic: Exhibit at the Buckland Museum takes a spooky look at pop culture

Today, most of us think of the Satanic Panic hysteria of the 1980s as a strange, almost silly blip on the country’s timeline.

For a decade, a fear of the occult via hidden Pagan influences in toys, Satanism in rock music, and games like Dungeons & Dragons caused parents to toss their kids’ He-Man toys and Parker Brothers Ouija boards in the trash en masse.

Art by Lindsay ParkerThings reached a fever pitch when innocent people were even convicted and jailed for Satanic-related crimes.

 “Satanic Panic: Dragons, Witches & Monsters in Pop Culture”—a new exhibit that opened yesterday, Wednesday, Sep. 15 at the Buckland Museum of Witchcraft & Magick in Old Brooklyn—explores this period through a combination of original art by local artists and memorabilia on loan from The Side Quest bar in Lakewood and Apple Jax Toys in Lakewood and Chagrin Falls.

While the show is a light-hearted examination of the targets of the 80s Satanic Panic as seen through a modern lens, it also asks the question: Did morality-based panic ever actually disappear?

“The show came about because of the cultural and political climate,” says Buckland Museum gallery curator, Kelly Griffith (AKA Lake Witch, who also co-owns The Side Quest and an online jewelry and witchcraft shop).  

Griffith says the exhibit fits modern day society more than ever. “It's very timely, even with Lil Nas and the ‘Montero’ video and the sneakers—people were freaking out about the sneakers,” she says. “It [is] also really timely with all the new morality policing with reproductive rights, and anti vaxxers, and all that. We've seen such a big divide again. So, this is a little bit of a commentary on that—but in a fun way.”

On display through the fall, the show is full of perfect-for-Halloween art. The show hinges on spooky skeleton imagery from Dungeons & Dragons, painted by artist Lindsay Parker, and pieces featuring mysterious creatures in creepy landscapes by digital designer Caelan Stokkermans, who is known for his design work for heavy metal albums. A handmade spirit board (a type of Ouija board) by Malcolm Bellew is also on display.

He-Man and Dungeons & Dragons toys will be on hand—some displayed inside new packaging designed by Griffith, who has a background in graphic design. Copies of Satanic Panic-era paperback books—including “Like Lambs to the Slaughter” by Johanna Michaelsen and "Turmoil in the Toy Box" by Phil Phillips, which examines hidden Satanism in 80s kids' toys and was hugely influential in fueling Satanic Panic—are available to review.

Art by L.A. CarrWhile the toys and memorabilia are from private collections, most of the art displayed in the gallery is available for purchase (with less-expensive prints also available). Due to ongoing COVID-19 restrictions, visitors to the exhibit must make a reservation online and wear masks.

The exhibit runs through Monday, Nov. 15 and tickets are $8 and include a tour of the museum—one of only a few of its kind in the world—which explores the history of witchcraft and the occult.

 “It's a little bit of history but in a tongue-in-cheek way,” says Griffith. “We're still talking about something serious, but you can also come and see Skeletor mounted on the wall.”

Read more articles by Ilona Westfall.

Ilona Westfall is a Cleveland-based freelance writer. When she's not penning articles for a variety of Ohio publications, she's roller skating with Burning River Roller Derby, rolling d20s with her D&D group, or getting muddy in the woods. Follow her on twitter @IlonaWestfall.