Unfounded stories of satanic rituals, supposedly involving sacrifices of animals and people, have led many communities to panic during the past few years. And the rumors are flying once again this fall.

A recent Associated Press story, dateline Charleston, W.Va, summed up the situation:"Teenagers with overactive imaginations are to blame for rumors that a satanic cult is searching for a blond, blue-eyed child for human sacrifice, a police official said Friday."

The article described drops in attendance at several elementary schools in the area, the result of parents having kept their children home in order to protect them from the satanists.

Evidently many Charleston-area parents and children believed the rumors about a satanic cult that was mutilating dogs and searching for a fair-haired sacrificial victim. But Capt. W.T. Markham of the Kanawha County sheriff's department, said his officers had found no evidence whatsoever of such a cult.

Two weeks earlier a rumor-scare about cult slayings in Princeton, Ky., had been reported in the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader. People there believed that a gutted black cat had been found with a threatening note attached, and that "they" would be back to capture a blond, blue-eyed student next.

Princeton Police Chief John Dunning, however, said his investigation had uncovered no sign of any abductions. Furthermore, only one dead cat had been reported in the area. And the cat "didn't have a note attached to it," he said. "It had been run over."

A year ago, the Indianapolis Star published an article about rumors that students in nearby Lakeville were sacrificing dogs and goats in satanic rites. In this instance, as in others, some parents believed that the school and police authorities were covering up facts about devil-worship in their communities.

The Halloween season seems to encourage the spreading of such legends, probably because of the emphasis on ghosts and witches at this time of year, and because films depicting cult activities and grisly rites are screened again and again on Halloween night.

But the rumors don't disappear come November. A Nov. 17, 1987, letter to the editor of the Daily Texan, the University of Texas student newspaper, claimed that "the Austin Humane Society is taking black cats out of view because people `adopt' them for sacrifices."

In my own state of Utah, as in other states, the satanism rumors sometimes appear in the spring. Some people here claim that the satanists plan their sacrifices to coincide with the Celtic May Day festival, called Beltane.

But in Utah, as well as everywhere else such stories have circulated, police say they have no evidence of any rites actually taking place. The sacrifices, they say, exist only in people's imaginations, perhaps fueled by sensational books and movies.

In Farmington, Utah, in March 1987, when actual animal carcasses were found in the mountains and then shown as "proof" of satanic rites, police identified the remains as those of muskrats, which had been trapped and dumped illegally.

No doubt there are many more such rumors circulating that I have not heard about. There may be some truth to the belief that satanism and witchcraft are enjoying a revival of interest lately.

But so far, to the best of my knowledge, nobody has found any physical evidence of these seasonal sacrificial rites.