This is about the New Religious Movement, the Left Hand Path. Anything about Satan or the question of evil as represented in history by different religions will largely be glossed over, as it is not the focus of this essay, though not unimportant. There is just too much.
For example, the term of Satan in Hebrew meant to be the accuser. The figure of Lucifer was probably conflated later. And I’ll argue Ahriman from Zoroastrianism was a huge deal, as was so much much else. All Satanists worth their salt will know world mythology and the Bible. This could be its own article.
Similarly, groups such as The Hellfire Club, Aleister Crowley’s O.T.O., and various Grimoires on black magic and occultism as referenced by Arthur E. Waite and others are not unimportant, but will be referenced sparingly, if at at all.
After all, today’s Satanism didn’t spring from a vacant abyss; however dark. I’d say the most important, would be John Dee and Edward Kelly, and Enochian, but that itself would be better in an essay on Ceremonial Magick, again, – its own article.
I will not be referencing H.P. Lovecraft’s Necronomicon (a piece of fiction), murderers like the Night Stalker, Richard Ramirez and other people who said “the devil made me do it;” kids playing with an Ouija Board or saying Bloody Mary three times; church burnings in Scandinavia in the 90’s by fans of Black Metal [though again, that’s its own article], and certainly not the Satanic Panic of the 1980s (which QAnon borrows heavily on, as it does from anti-Semitic tropes).
The Satanic Panic was that period where there were all sorts accusations of sexual ritual abuse of children and blood sacrifices. Even the West Memphis Three fell victim to its waning afterglow. It has been covered to death, but still not enough. That is a serious subject. It was a sociological mass hallucination to make Henry Miller blush. I might cover that, but I’m more interested in saying what Satanism is, than what it is not.
Nor do I care about what movies you’ve seen, as good as they are – like The Devil’s Advocate or The Ninth Gate, which are pretty entertaining – and more accurate than most – though still playing on the Devil monster trope.
By no means am I about to confuse or conflate modern Satanism with Wicca, or any form of Neo-Paganism. I have written something about Witchcraft already, Which Witch is Which? somewhere in the archives here. Even Margot Adler, in Drawing Down the Moon, made reference to Satanism (pps 366-7).
And as such, just as you should not confuse Celtic and Norse pagan revival movements such as Ásatru or Druids with White Supremacists though they use the same symbols – the Anti-Defamation League has its own database where they would tell you to use context. In the same way, you should not confuse Satanists as racist, murderers or bad human beings, either.
Wiccans and Satanists are as similar as Buddhists are to Sikhs. But do not imply that somehow Wiccans are somehow beyond reproach anymore than Christians are. I have great affection for people of all paths, but again, do not base your information on popular notions of white witches and demons, on the Wizard of Oz or Charmed – that does a disservice to even Wicca.
What I always do, is not depend on what others say about something – especially something as loaded and contentious as Satanism. And for the record, half the fun of Satan is being loaded and contentious. I don’t care what Christians say about Islam. Instead, I’ve read as many books on Islam as I have about Christianity, which I grew up with culturally as a nominal mainline Protestant, – going to church and Sunday school occasionally, and reading the Bible for myself in sixth grade. I definitely considered myself a Christian.
I’ve followed suit with dozens of books on Hinduism, and you name the religion, I’m curious. My main passion will always be Zoroastrianism and Persian mythology. As a student of religion, I treat Satanism with the same respect and discipline. I hope you can suspend your preconceived notions and trust I know what I’m talking about – that I probably know more than you. I’m not here to convert or tell you to open your mind like some two-bit palm reader. Satanists would be against all that anyway – Satanists don’t want just any trash. Rather, they’d rather not belong to any club that would have them so easily.
I do not consider myself a practicing Satanist, but I have to admit, I’ve come away agreeing with a lot of precepts, and done a spell or two. Yes, there were black candles and incense and stuff. Am I part of some worldwide plot? I only wish.
The main groups I will cover are The Church of Satan, The Temple of Set, and The Satanic Temple. I will focus mostly on The Church of Satan, as it started it all and has the most readily available literature. My knowledge of the others are limited, but I will try to treat them fairly.
THE CHURCH OF SATAN
“Entertaining as they might be, most stories and plays about Devil worship must be recognized as the obsolete absurdities they are. It has been said “the truth will set men free.” The truth alone has never set anyone free. It is only DOUBT which will bring mental emancipation.” – Anton Szandor LaVey, The Satanic Bible, introduction.
The Church of Satan was founded in San Francisco on Walpurgisnacht, April 30, 1966, by Anton Szandor Lavey. He declared this as the first year of the new age of Satan, anno satanis (A.S.). For example, I am writing this in 54 A.S = 2021 A.D.
I’ll quickly overview Anton LaVey, as he is central to the foundation of modern Satanism. He was born Howard Stanton Levey April 11, 1930, in Chicago. I have read his authorized biography by Blanche Barton, his last wife and High Priestess, The Secret Life of a Satanist. In it are claimed several spectacular claims, such as affairs with Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, being a crime scene photographer for the San Francisco Police Department off book (like Adrian Monk was a consultant? It is a jungle out there), etc. We’re not even sure he ever worked at a carnival, though he did play a mean calliope, have a pet lion, and a black house – that we know.
Nevertheless, such self-aggrandizement and connivance would fit squarely with his writings. It’s not like finding out the televangelist was lying and immoral. I mean, LaVey was the first to point out such charletans. I think it’s hilarious that anyone would believe some of his claims in the first place. Read between the lines. It’s almost meta, even if he were just a con man and self-admitted charletan. He may have been liar, he was an honest one. He would make wild claims and also tell you how to. I’m not saying he was James Randi, but kinda – just without a conscience.
If anything, LaVey was a character. I’m not sure I’d ever have wanted to meet him. But, it wouldn’t be like I was meeting a hero and disappointed when he turned out an asshole. He would not be who I would want to emulate. But, he would never ask me or you to emulate anyone but who you want to be. He was deceptive, but consistent. Even his detractors would never say he would hurt anyone (unless you believe he cursed someone, as he claimed). The worst I ever found out about him was that his first wife was 15, and he read Ayn Rand. I would never say I would agree with him politically, but to this day, under Peter H. Gilmore (not of Pink Floyd), politics are verboten.
Unlike the recent Temple of Satan, which is overtly progressive (I’ll get to them below), The Church of Satan, even back to Anton LaVey, avoided politics. A Satanist can be a Republican, a Communist, an Anarchist, most likely a Libertarian, but it’s up to them and what is best for them.
That being said, here is one critic who was there at the beginning, Isaac Bonewits, who would become an influential Druid:
“Like many other Berkeley students, I was gradually becoming a long-haired radical. This caused increasing friction between the rest of the Church and myself. My politics then were basically left wing/anarchist with a mild dash of Nietzsche. Anton’s politics, and those of most of the central members, seemed to be quite a bit more conservative. They’d quote Nietzsche or Hitler or Rand and tell me what it supposedly meant. Then I’d give them what I thought of as a more humanistic and intellectual interpretation. The overlap between our opinions became increasingly smaller and I became increasingly uneasy about my fellow Church members.”
in 1997, Anton Lavey died. As much as is murky about him, I do not for a second believe he had a deathbed confession as is claimed by some Christian groups.
Magus Peter H Gilmore took over as LaVey’s successor. in his chapter ‘The Fascism Question’, Gilmore writes,
The masses today still don’t know what the terms “Nazi” and “fascist” really mean in their original sense. These words are now used as epithets against anyone with whom they don’t agree. Most frequently they are employed by “politically correct” intellectuals in the same manner that Joe McCarthy used the word “communist” and the Christian Inquisitors used the word “witch” — to discredit the validity of the accused’s point of view and brand them a “heretic” or “thought criminal.” – Peter H. Gilmore, The Satanic Scriptures, p. 84, 2007.
The Church of Satan does not require dues to follow its philosophy, but if you wish, you may apply for official membership after sending in an application. It will cost you $225 for life as of this writing. Period. That’s it. And only if you want to. The Church of Satan opposes tax exempt status, as well – though it was recognized by the Department of Defense at one point.
There are no gatherings, and no meetings. As, Satanists may very well not get along with each other and that’s not the point. If you want community and to be a positive member of society affiliated with other organizations, that is up to you.
The Temple of Set
The Temple of Set was founded by Michael Aquino, a former high member of the Church of Satan, in 1975, as a breakaway after a falling out with Anton LaVey. Little is known of it. Michael Aquino claims to have been a Colonel and Intelligence Officer in Vietnam and to have had a Ph.D. in political science. I have no evidence for this, either way, about him.
The Temple of Set is more esoteric in the tradition of older initiatory traditions such as the Rosicrucians, Order of the Golden Dawn, and Aleister Crowley’s Thelema.
It is named after the ancient Egyptian God Set, and adherents are called Setians, or Sethians. I guess the only other interesting thing I know, is that Zeena Shreck, Anton LaVey’s daughter through Diane Hegarty, Anton LaVey’s second wife and High Priestess in the Church of Satan, was a High Priestess in the Temple of Set. Even the Satanists have rebellious preacher’s daughters! And she’s got her own thing now.
If you’re getting a Life of Brian vibe with the Judean People’s Front… well I can’t argue with any of you. I don’t want to be unfair to the Temple of Set, all I can do is direct you to their website. As far as I can discern, of the three major Satanic Groups, they come the closest to believing in some sort of actual supernatural force.
From the recent High Priestess,
“The Temple of Set is an organization with one task: to provide an environment in which individuals discover, pursue, and realize their unique purpose and destiny.” – Patty A. Hardy IV°
If somebody wants to correct me on Setianism [and there is no etymological link – it just sounds the same – clever, right?], please contact me with links. I’m not trying to be biased, it’s just hard to come by information. All I know, is they claim tax-exempt status and have a few controversies I’m not getting into. For the most part, they look more like a self-help group ready to send me crystals and essential oils – though I believe they would at least defraud me with cooler goth shit.
The Satanic Temple
The People’s Front of Judea, in the Life of Brian analogy. This is the most recent, established in 2012, and most media savvy since the Church of Satan. Its leader is Lucien Greaves, who studied neuroscience at Harvard. This claim is easier to affirm than LaVey’s or Aquino’s many claims, and I don’t have much reason to doubt it.
However; this group is more based on theater and gimmicks than even LaVey could have imagined – and he had his own. They outright say it’s at least half satirical. The Satanic Temple is overtly political. They are social justice warriors and own it, don’t see it as a pejorative. Unlike the last two organizations, I don’t see much philosophical depth beyond political activism and shock value. It’s like the Flying Spaghetti Monster grew horns.
One of their greatest stunts was installing a statue of Baphomet to challenge the Ten Commandments on several state grounds or forming after school Satan groups for kids. Jim Jefferies, the comedian, did a great bit on that.
They are also involved in protesting for Planned Parenthood, trolling Westboro Baptists, taking in Muslim refugees, supporting queer issues, you name it. They are as if NPR played The Cure and Nine Inch Nails in stead of Garrison Keillor..
I still have my reservations. If you wish to know more, you can watch their movie: Hail Satan? There are tons of videos online.
I only wish I could mix them all up a bit. And I don’t see why I can’t. There was so much I left out, because it’s easy to get derailed.
Basically all respect questioning, being an individual. Taking the sins and turning them on their head – like pride, sex, defiance. Though not just as some exercise in being a spirited teenager. To quote LaVey,
“I never was a ‘rebel’ because I was never a part of anything to rebel against. I was never accepted by groups in the first place.”
I suppose there’s something to be said that Satanism is by nature reactionary as much as fundamentalist right wing Christian dogma is. Satanism often falls into a trap of being defined by what it isn’t rather than what it is on its own, by which I mean a lot of those into Satanism had bad experiences with Abrahamic religions from a young age and are hell-bent on that.
Of course, one gets past that when you can name other tricksters and outcasts in other religions and cultures. But still, I find it limiting. I still find Satanism and its future vastly interesting, but only after redefining terms…and expanding definitions.
I will also say that there are a few theistic Satanists that actually believe in a Devil. They are usually not that bright – I know of no actual group but people saying they are Satanists with no clue. No one except the media takes them seriously. Like, they are literally waiting for a Faustian bargain on the crossroads of the social media internet, if only they could reference Goethe.
It is those that literally believe in a Devil that freak out even most Satanists. I’m not saying you can’t believe in that, but – it’s bizarre. Actual Devil worship has more to do with Christian Demonology and stuff like the Malleus Maleficarum. Before Khirad, (deriving from the Old Persian for wisdom)I took the name of Verrier. It is the demon that tempts men against the vow of obedience, according to old Catholic texts. I found that fitting.
As a final note: crosses, the Word of God, not even garlic have effect on Satanists. Maybe not pairing the right wine with a garlic dish; but after this you should know make believe and superstitions have no effect on someone in reality.
If you have questions, please ask! I have an exhaustive bibliography, and links. I was just pooped out at the end of formatting this. There are some really great sources, if you don’t want to take my word for it. For instance, Religion for Breakfast is a site run Dr. Andrew M. Henry – and he says a lot what I do here (because he’s smart).
At the very least:
*Forgive grammatical and formatting errors. If anything – if you like this, I would love to clean it up. I just think I chewed off more than I could chew in a day.