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December 26, 2008

When people hear the word “Satanism,” feelings of fear immediately come to mind. Blood rituals, evil spirits, and even animal sacrifices may be associated with this religious group. Are these images true, or are they stereotyped? Although most names of religions (like Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, etc.) have well defined meanings, “Satanism” is an exception. In most people’s minds, Satanism is easily defined and recognized. There are certain symbols, music, and clothing to look for. In reality, Satanists are about as varied as people in society. Even their “beliefs” may not be believed by all. Their ultimate dogma is that there is no ultimate dogma. An official statement by the Church of Satan says, “If you have come here [their website] searching for a new set of rules to contradict your parent religion, we suggest you look elsewhere. Why? Because Satanists boast of Luciferian pride; the ability to contradict authority… ANY authority.” Is there anything that Satanists believe? What is the basis of their religion? Is this a new or old religion? What can legitimately be ascribed to their movement, and what have been some misunderstandings about them?
The history of Satanism is rather old and new. This is where it gets hard to define a “Satanist”. For some, its roots go back to primitive religions. The reason is that some do not believe in the Satan of the Bible. In fact, some do not believe in any kind of personal entity, whether God, gods, or a devil. Most place the “major emphasis on the power and authority of the individual Satanist, rather than on a god or goddess.”  If Satanists do believe in a god or entity, it is usually the Egyptian god Set. Even with belief in Set, they do not worship or pray to this life-principle concept. For most, the ultimate reality is the self and self-knowledge. Satanists claim to be freethinkers in the most absolute sense. Satanism is old because many people and groups throughout history have shucked off traditional religious morale in order to pursue their own enlightened path.
Satanism is also new. The twentieth century saw the developments of the official Church of Satan and many similar subgroups. Religious Satanism began in the 1950’s, both in the U.S. and the U.K. In 1966, Anton LeVay had established the first Church of Satan. Local groups often meet in grottos, pylons, or temples. Satanism is new only by being a recent official development within society, not in regards to practice or beliefs.
Two important leaders within the movement have been Aleister Crowely and Anton LeVay. Crowley was raised in a Plymouth Brethren setting but developed an early dislike for organized Christianity. Soon after college, he joined the Ordo Templi Orientis, a group that had many mystical practices. Although he did not consider himself a Satanist, many Satanists have incorporated elements from his writings into their own rituals. His greatest contribution to Satanists was his Law of Theleme: “Do what you will shall be the whole of the Law.” Self-fulfillment and self-indulgence was the highest goal of existence. Anton LeVay, often called a disciple of Crowely, used to be a traveling carnival worker. Later, he “began to entertain individuals in his home who were fellow nonconformists.” These meetings were later formalized into the Church of Satan.
Satanism, due to its scary name, has had many false misconceptions attributed to it. LeVay did not start the Church of Satan as a rival church or religion against Christianity. He developed it to overturn sacred rules of a culture in order to promote individual human freedom. Satanic music, often with backward messages, has been blamed for brainwashing young people’s minds. This accusation is simply unfounded. Satanic lyrics do not cause Satanists; rather, Satanists enjoy satanic lyrics.
Another misconception of Satanism is the link between Satanists and criminal activity. Satanic Ritual Abuse has been the majority of the false accusations leveled against Satanists. The evidence simply does not support the sensational claims that there is much S.R.A. In truth, “there are no known public Satanist organizations that advocate criminal activity.”
Satanism has often been mistakenly identified with witchcraft. “The basic distinction between witchcraft and Satanism lies in their relationship to Christianity.” Witchcraft stands as an isolated, independent religion while Satanism is a reverse sect of Christianity.
Satanists do have certain beliefs. They reject almost all, if not all, of the Christian tenets. They reject Scripture, and even the Satanic Bible, as authoritative. Since God does not exist, Jesus’ death was not a sacrifice to atone for sins against a holy God. Many do not even believe that Jesus existed. Those that do believe he existed feel that he was a religious failure. Satan may or may not exist. If he does, most do not believe he is like the Bible portrays him. They do not believe that there is sin or a need for salvation. The ultimate goal is self-fulfillment through self-efforts.
Rituals and symbolism play a major role in Satanism. The Black Mass is probably the most well known event by the public. It is mockery of the Catholic Mass often involving desecration of the Lord’s Supper and reading the Lord’s Prayer backwards. When they perform rituals, they do them to benefit themselves and their friends and sometimes to bring harm to their enemies. They believe in using both white and black magic. The idea that they sacrifice humans is simply an urban legend. Even reports about animal sacrifices are extremely rare.
The most familiar symbol is the baphomet. It is an inverted pentagram with a goat’s head. LeVay adopted this symbol from the Knight’s Templar group. More often than not, it is used as graffiti by young teenagers. Most who draw it have no idea what Satanism is about nor do they belong to such a group.
The number of active Satanists is hard to tell due in part that the Church of Satan does not keep records of members. Some claim there are over 10,000 active practitioners in America, but again there is no way of knowing for sure. The sixties and mid-eighties seemed to be the height of the movement.
? Some critics answer that “Satanism provides a way for people who experience a great deal of powerlessness in their lives to claim some power.” LeVay also stated that he was organizing a group of non-conformist. Maybe people join because they feel disenfranchised from society, burned by hypocritical religion, and desire to fulfill the “lusts” (which Satanism encourages) of the flesh.

FcoS F.A.Q.
Kyle, Richard. The Religious Fringe. Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1993.
Mercer, Joyce. Behind the Mask of Adolescent Satanism. Minneapolis: Deaconess Press, 1991.
Passantino, Bob and Gretchen. Satanism. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 19, 2009 4:50 PM

    Thanks for posting this. In a world of frequent hysteria about religious issues, it’s good to see a reasoned and thoughtful post on the topic of Satanism.

    Like many neopagans, Satanists like to claim their beliefs are far older than they often are. But just as with Paganism, Satanism does draw on some much older beliefs and practices. But insisting on “a tradition I received from my ancestors who practiced since before Egypt thought of the pyramids” doesn’t do anybody much good, except to inflate the insistent one with false pride and superiority.

    As a theistic Satanist I enjoy well-crafted and balanced posts on any subject, since they’re so rare. Keep up the good work.


  2. Shayne permalink
    February 18, 2009 11:20 PM

    This was very insightful, and succeeded in changing my view of Satanism. I have become very fond of the blog, I expect nothing less of your sermons and papers especially after having heard you at Surrender. Thank you for being a workman for God.

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