What Is Satanism? A Brief History
Satanism is a group of ideological and philosophical beliefs based on Satan. Contemporary religious practice of Satanism began with the founding of the Church of Satan in 1966, although a few historical precedents exist. Prior to the public practice, Satanism existed primarily as an accusation by various Christian groups toward perceived ideological opponents, rather than a self-identity. Satanism, and the concept of Satan, has also been used by artists and entertainers for symbolic expression.
Accusations that various groups have been practicing Satanism have been made throughout much of Christian history. During the Middle Ages, the Inquisition attached to the Roman Catholic Church alleged that various heretical Christian sects and groups, such as the Knights Templar and the Cathars, performed secret Satanic rituals.
In the subsequent Early Modern period, belief in a widespread Satanic conspiracy of witches resulted in mass trials of alleged witches across Europe and the North American colonies. Accusations that Satanic conspiracies were active, and behind events such as Protestantism (and conversely, the Protestant claim that the Pope was the Antichrist) and the French Revolution continued to be made in Christendom during the eighteenth to the twentieth century.
The idea of a vast Satanic conspiracy reached new heights with the influential Taxil hoax of France in the 1890s, which claimed that Freemasonry worshiped Satan, Lucifer, and Baphomet in their rituals. In the 1980s and 1990s, the Satanic ritual abuse hysteria spread through the United States and United Kingdom, amid fears that groups of Satanists were regularly sexually abusing and murdering children in their rites. In most of these cases, there is no corroborating evidence that any of those accused of Satanism were actually practitioners of a Satanic religion or guilty of the allegations leveled at them.
Since the 19th century, various small religious groups have emerged that identify as Satanists or use Satanic iconography. Satanist groups that appeared after the 1960s are widely diverse, but two major trends are theistic Satanism and atheistic Satanism. Theistic Satanists venerate Satan as a supernatural deity, viewing him not as omnipotent but rather as a patriarch. In contrast, atheistic Satanists regard Satan as merely a symbol of certain human traits.
Contemporary religious Satanism is predominantly an American phenomenon, the ideas spreading elsewhere with the effects of globalization and the Internet. The Internet spreads awareness of other Satanists, and is also the main battleground for Satanist disputes. Satanism started to reach Central and Eastern Europe in the 1990s, in time with the fall of the Soviet Union, and most noticeably in Poland and Lithuania, predominantly Roman Catholic countries.
Theistic Satanism or spiritual Satanism is an umbrella term for religious beliefs that consider Satan as an objectively existing supernatural being or force worthy of supplication, with whom individuals may contact, convene and even praise, rather than him being just an archetype, symbol or idea as in LaVeyan Satanism. The individual belief systems under this umbrella are practiced by loosely affiliated or independent groups and cabals. Another characteristic of theistic Satanism is the use of ceremonial magic.
The history of theistic Satanism, as an existing spiritual path practiced by people, is obscured by a number of groups accused of being devil-worshippers who asserted that they were not, such as in the witch trials in Early Modern Europe. Most actual theistic Satanist religions exist in relatively new models and ideologies, many of which claim to be independent of the Abrahamic religions.
The Church of Satan - Atheistic Satanism
Anton LaVey, who has been referred to as "The Father of Satanism", synthesized his religion through the establishment of the Church of Satan in 1966 and the publication of The Satanic Bible in 1969. LaVey's teachings promoted "indulgence", "vital existence", "undefiled wisdom", "kindness to those who deserve it", "responsibility to the responsible" and an "eye for an eye" code of ethics, while shunning "abstinence" based on guilt, "spirituality", "unconditional love", "pacifism", "equality", "herd mentality" and "scapegoating". In LaVey's view, the Satanist is a carnal, physical and pragmatic being—and enjoyment of physical existence and an undiluted view of this-worldly truth are promoted as the core values of Satanism, propagating a naturalistic worldview that sees mankind as animals existing in an amoral universe.
LaVey believed that the ideal Satanist should be individualistic and non-conformist, rejecting what he called the "colorless existence" that mainstream society sought to impose on those living within it. He praised the human ego for encouraging an individual's pride, self-respect, and self-realization and accordingly believed in satisfying the ego's desires. He expressed the view that self-indulgence was a desirable trait, and that hate and aggression were not wrong or undesirable emotions but that they were necessary and advantageous for survival. Accordingly, he praised the seven deadly sins as virtues which were beneficial for the individual.
The anthropologist Jean La Fontaine highlighted an article that appeared in The Black Flame, in which one writer described "a true Satanic society" as one in which the population consists of "free-spirited, well-armed, fully-conscious, self-disciplined individuals, who will neither need nor tolerate any external entity 'protecting' them or telling them what they can and cannot do." The sociologist James R. Lewis noted that "LaVey was directly responsible for the genesis of Satanism as a serious religious (as opposed to a purely literary) movement".
Scholars agree that there is no reliably documented case of Satanic continuity prior to the founding of the Church of Satan. It was the first organized church in modern times to be devoted to the figure of Satan, and according to Faxneld and Petersen, the Church represented "the first public, highly visible, and long-lasting organization which propounded a coherent satanic discourse". LaVey's book, The Satanic Bible , has been described as the most important document to influence contemporary Satanism. The book contains the core principles of Satanism, and is considered the foundation of its philosophy and dogma. Satanists use LaVey's writings "as lenses through which they view themselves, their group, and the cosmos... With a clear-eyed appreciation of true human nature, a love of ritual and pageantry, and a flair for mockery,
LaVey's The Satanic Bible promulgated a gospel of self-indulgence that, he argued, anyone who dispassionately considered the facts would embrace." A number of religious studies scholars have described LaVey's Satanism as a form of "self-religion" or "self-spirituality",with religious studies scholar Amina Olander Lap arguing that it should be seen as being both part of the "prosperity wing" of the self-spirituality New Age movement and a form of the Human Potential Movement.
The anthropologist Jean La Fontaine described it as having "both elitist and anarchist elements", also citing one occult bookshop owner who referred to the Church's approach as "anarchistic hedonism". LaVey and the Church espoused the view that "Satanists are born, not made"; that they are outsiders by their nature, living as they see fit, who are self-realized in a religion which appeals to the would-be Satanist's nature, leading them to realize they are Satanists through finding a belief system that is in line with their own perspective and lifestyle.
Adherents to the philosophy have described Satanism as a non-spiritual religion of the flesh, or "...the world's first carnal religion".
LaVey used Christianity as a negative mirror for his new faith, with LaVeyan Satanism rejecting the basic principles and theology of Christian belief. It views Christianity – alongside other major religions, and philosophies such as humanism and liberal democracy – as a largely negative force on humanity; LaVeyan Satanists perceive Christianity as a lie which promotes idealism, self-denigration, herd behavior, and irrationality.
LaVeyans view their religion as a force for redressing this balance by encouraging materialism, egoism, stratification, carnality, atheism, and social Darwinism. LaVey's Satanism was particularly critical of what it understands as Christianity's denial of humanity's animal nature, and it instead calls for the celebration of, and indulgence in, these desires. In doing so, it places an emphasis on the carnal rather than the spiritual. Practitioners do not believe that Satan literally exists and do not worship him. Instead, Satan is viewed as a positive archetype embracing the Hebrew root of the word "Satan" as "adversary", who represents pride, carnality, and enlightenment, and of a cosmos which Satanists perceive to be motivated by a "dark evolutionary force of entropy that permeates all of nature and provides the drive for survival and propagation inherent in all living things".
The Devil is embraced as a symbol of defiance against the Abrahamic faiths which LaVey criticized for what he saw as the suppression of humanity's natural instincts. Moreover, Satan also serves as a metaphorical external projection of the individual's godhood. LaVey espoused the view that "god" is a creation of man, rather than man being a creation of "god". In his book, The Satanic Bible , the Satanist's view of god is described as the Satanist's true "self"—a projection of his or her own personality—not an external deity. Satan is used as a representation of personal liberty and individualism.
LaVey explained that the gods worshiped by other religions are also projections of man's true self. He argues that man's unwillingness to accept his own ego has caused him to externalize these gods so as to avoid the feeling of narcissism that would accompany self-worship. The current High Priest of the Church of Satan, Peter H. Gilmore, further expounds that "...Satan is a symbol of Man living as his prideful, carnal nature dictates... Satan is not a conscious entity to be worshiped, rather a reservoir of power inside each human to be tapped at will.
The Church of Satan has chosen Satan as its primary symbol because in Hebrew it means adversary, opposer, one to accuse or question. We see ourselves as being these Satans; the adversaries, opposers and accusers of all spiritual belief systems that would try to hamper enjoyment of our life as a human being." The term "Theistic Satanism" has been described as "oxymoronic" by the church and its High Priest. The Church of Satan rejects the legitimacy of any other organizations who claim to be Satanists, dubbing them reverse-Christians, pseudo-Satanists or Devil worshipers, atheistic or otherwise, and maintains a purist approach to Satanism as expounded by LaVey.
After LaVey's death in 1997, the Church of Satan was taken over by a new administration and its headquarters were moved to New York. LaVey's daughter, the High Priestess Karla LaVey, felt this to be a disservice to her father's legacy. The First Satanic Church was re-founded on October 31, 1999 by Karla LaVey to carry on the legacy of her father. She continues to run it out of San Francisco, California.
The Satanic Temple
The Satanic Temple is an American religious and political activist organization based in Salem, Massachusetts. The organization actively participates in public affairs that have manifested in several public political actions and efforts at lobbying, with a focus on the separation of church and state and using satire against Christian groups that it believes interfere with personal freedom.
According to Dyrendal, Lewis, and Petersen, the group were "rationalist, political pranksters". Their pranks are designed to highlight religious hypocrisy and advance the cause of secularism. In one of their actions, they performed a "Pink Mass" over the grave of the mother of the evangelical Christian and prominent anti-LGBT preacher Fred Phelps; the Temple claimed that the mass converted the spirit of Phelps' mother into a lesbian. The Satanic Temple does not believe in a supernatural Satan, as they believe that this encourages superstition that would keep them from being "malleable to the best current scientific understandings of the material world".
The Temple uses the literary Satan as metaphor to construct a cultural narrative which promotes pragmatic skepticism, rational reciprocity, personal autonomy, and curiosity. Satan is thus used as a symbol representing "the eternal rebel" against arbitrary authority and social norms. Luciferianism can be understood best as a belief system or intellectual creed that venerates the essential and inherent characteristics that are affixed and commonly given to Lucifer.
Luciferianism s often identified as an auxiliary creed or movement of Satanism, due to the common identification of Lucifer with Satan. Some Luciferians accept this identification and/or consider Lucifer as the "light bearer" and illuminated aspect of Satan, giving them the name of Satanists and the right to bear the title. Others reject it, giving the argument that Lucifer is a more positive and easy-going ideal than Satan. They are inspired by the ancient myths of Egypt, Rome and Greece, Gnosticism and traditional Western occultism.
The Church of Satan was the first Satanic religion to qualify for tax exempt religious status in the United States, which they later chose to reject.
In 2004 it was claimed that Satanism was allowed in the Royal Navy of the British Armed Forces, despite opposition from Christians. In 2016, under a Freedom of Information request, the Navy Command Headquarters stated that "we do not recognize satanism as a formal religion, and will not grant facilities or make specific time available for individual 'worship'."
In 2005, the Supreme Court of the United States debated in the case of Cutter v. Wilkinson over protecting minority religious rights of prison inmates after a lawsuit challenging the issue was filed to them. The court ruled that facilities that accept federal funds cannot deny prisoners accommodations that are necessary to engage in activities for the practice of their own religious beliefs. In 2019,
The Satanic Temple received tax-exempt status in the United States and became a legally recognized religion.