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Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Michelle Remembers (Autobiography) (Psychology)

by Michelle Smith and Dr. Lawrence Pazder

Publisher: St Martins Press (September 1980)

Hardcover, 330 pages

    “Dr. Pazder would often look back upon this day- he would think of it as the day the war began. It was a cosmic battle Michelle was describing, lasting many weeks, with the Devil and his followers on the earthen floor of the round room, attempting to proceed with their dreadful and apparently crucial ritual, and, somehow in the air above, other forces bearing down, disrupting the ritual with an interference that was not physical but spiritual. In that battle, Satan would attempt to use the child Michelle as his pawn….”
    The above snippet is a good example of the sort of torturous prose one can expect in this book. Michelle Remembers is the text which set off the “repressed memory” craze among the mentally ill in the 1980s. This fad added to the already simmering Satanic Ritual Abuse Panic, allowing mentally ill people to “recover” memories of satanic abuse as children (that is recover, not falsify) to gain attention and acceptance in the society they were ostracized from. Not to sound too cynical, but this entire book has been thoroughly debunked so many times, the only reason to read it now is for ironic purposes or to see how such a massive deception is achieved. Remember this text was taken very seriously at the time of its publication and propelled the career of the doctor involved. For the next decade, he toured around giving lectures and being a consultant for police on ritual abuse cases. 
     Obstensively this book revolves around a woman who, with the help of her psychoanalyst, begins to relive a series of abusive events at the hands of a group of people. Much of the memories are foggy, up to near the end where the memories become very specific. Each memory apparently is emerging exactly 22 years after they first occurred. According to Michelle, she was sold by her mother to a group of Satanists. This group abused her for various fuzzy reasons, most of which involved some sort of sensory deprivation, anal wand dowsing for prophetic purposes, the mutilation of baby corpses, possessed women drooling insanely, and the actual murder of a teenager. She is witness to a murder, which is made to look like an accident. Then, after an 81 day ceremony in a graveyard in Victoria, British Columbia, the group succeeded in summoning up the Devil. She only survives through the intervention of the Virgin Mary and goes back to live with her mother. 
Michelle recounting her "memories" under hypnosis
    This is all recovered by the use of  hypnosis at the hands of her therapist, Dr. Lawrence Pazder, who up until this book seems to have a stellar record in the field of psychotherapy. The problem with “recovered” memories, especially with the use of hypnosis, is that they are prone to false memory syndrome. This is a condition in which a person's identity and relationships are affected by memories that are factually incorrect but that they strongly believe, and can be triggered and often accidentally implanted by the person doing the hypnosis. Here the author, a deeply Catholic man, begins to make connections between his subject’s babblings which she might not have. Michelle, a chronically depressed woman who had been seeing Pazder for four years previously, might indeed believe her story. But her belief in the ridiculous ramblings does not make them at all true. 
     The depiction of Satan in the text is odd. He is alternately shown to be beastial, a constant shape-shifter, who roars in a blood chilling manner and plays with the bones of a freshly slaughtered teenager, but then he speaks only in rhymes (bad ones at that, which might be in character). These make him seem like a mischievous leprechaun more than the Lord of Evil. The text claims there are numerous examples throughout history and in religious texts of the Devil speaking in rhymes, but this is news to me. They certainly aren’t Biblical examples, as the red devil only appears in it a handful of times and none of the translations rhyme.  I wonder if they’re confusing Faust or Dr. Faustus as historical documents?
Obsessive Compulsive Rhyming Disorder is an actual thing however. It is characterized by distressing, intrusive thoughts that may leave one’s stomach tied up in knots. Sufferers neutralize these obsessions by creating lyrical successions that, at least in part, resemble a rhyme. I only mention this because it seems to fit in with the mental illness the protagonist suffers from. There are pages and pages of rhymes from “the Devil” listed here. I just find it unlikely that a person could remember all of them in such detail after 22 years, especially when they are in a state of terror, hunger, and malnutrition as the authors claim Michelle was. 
The authors, patient and doctor. Later to be husband and wife.
What is just as interesting in this text is the material left out. Namely was that, Michelle had two other siblings living with her at the time of her “abuse”, an older and younger sister. Both of them have refuted any of the supposed blood orgies described (Michelle claims several of them happened at the family home) or Michelle’s supposed 81 day absence. Her father, still alive even though the Mother was conveniently dead, states that his former wife would not indulge in any such activities.
Most damning of all, these two ended up divorcing their spouses and married. Doctor and patient, now man and wife. The subtext of their mutual attraction is rampant all throughout the book. It is written in the third person, but the protagonists described in the book did write it. Little hints here and there, suggest their intensive psychotherapy sessions spilled over into inappropriate lust. This is further foreshadowed in the descriptions of their old spouses. Neither of whom seemed to understand the importance of this 14 month “investigation”. It seems likely that this all started by a young girl wanting to be closer to a man she admired and began making stuff up to get his attention. When it succeeded, she kept on adding to it until, like the proverbial big fish story, it grew to ridiculous proportions.

           For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

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