Satanism is a religious or philosophical movement centered around Satan or another entity identified with Satan, or centered around the forces of nature, particularly human nature, represented by Satan as an archetype. Unlike many religions and philosophies, Satanism generally focuses upon the spiritual advancement of the self, rather than upon submission to a deity or a set of moral codes.
In an older sense, Satanism also refers to unorthodox practices within Abrahamic religions deemed by the orthodoxy to be in diametrical opposition to the Abrahamic God. For example, the earliest recorded instance of the word is in "A confutation of a booke (by Bp. Jewel) intituled An apologie of the Church of England", by Thomas Harding (1565):
- ll, ii, 42 b, "Meaning the time when Luther first brinced to Germanie the poisoned cuppe of his heresies, blasphemies, and Satanismes."
As Martin Luther himself would have denied any link between his teachings and Satan, this use of the term Satanism was primarily pejorative. Many Satanists find such use of the term offensive.
Modernly, a large number of Satanists eschew what might be considered traditional religious beliefs, attitudes and worship, in favor of more egoistic worldviews and practices such as magick.
There are various kinds of Satanists in modern society. The main trends can be (adequately but not completely) summarized into:
- Setian Satanism
- LaVeyan Satanism
- Other forms (e.g., The Imperial Satanic Order, some Gnostic sects, Order of Nine Angles, Order of Mars)
Satanism in Traditional Theology
The term "Satan" originated with Judaism and was expanded upon by Christians and Muslims. This Judeo-Christian-Islamic view of Satan can be broken up as follows:
- Jewish. Satan, in Hebrew, means an adversary, and is also the name used for the agent of God who is sent to test believers.
- Islamic. The Arabic word for Satan, "al-Shaitaan," means transgressor, or adversary, as in Judaism. It is a title which is generally attributed to a being called Iblis, who is a fallen angel.
- Christian. In many branches of Christianity, Satan, originally Lucifer (before he fell away from Grace), is a spiritual being who opposes God, to wit, the Divinity in Nature. Also called the Devil from the Greek "diabolos" meaning "to throw something across your path". That is, the Devil is he who opposes your Divine Development by putting obstacles in your way.
The Egyptian deity Set, to these Satanists, is the real Dark Lord behind the name Satan. They have their own concept of the Black Flame (see the above group, the Sat/Tan type).
This type of Satanism believes that the Hebrews ran into an adversary in Egypt who was the Pharaoh of the Seti Dynasty, when Set was the principal pharaonic Deity. After the Pharaoh expelled the Hebrews from Egypt, the Hebrew Bible scribes wrote "Exodus", demonstrating the enormity of this event to the Hebrew people. However, there are apparently no Egyptian records to back up any of the Hebrew claims except a passing mention of the Pharaoh kicking many foreigners out at that time — not just Hebrews. Even so, the impact of this expulsion was large enough to the Hebrews to warrant their calling Egypt and its Seti Pharaoh "ha stn", the adversary. Setian Satanists theorize that "Satan" is a wrong or slanderous label for a legitimate Egyptian God, the God Set.
Their practices and theology are very oriented towards cultivating selfhood. They reject the dissolving of the individual into oneness with existence, and celebrate the separation of the individual self from the rest of the universe. Some followers believe in Set as a real theistic conscious being that appears in revelations and delivers messages, while others revere Set as a more of a principle. How historically correct their picture of Set is might be considered debatable.
This type of Set-Satanism is a legally tax-exempt religion in the United States.
Main article: LaVeyan Satanism
This type of Satanism is based on the philosophy of Anton LaVey as outlined in The Satanic Bible and other works. Philosophically, it could be described as heavily influenced by the writings of Aleister Crowley, Niccolò Machiavelli, Friedrich Nietzsche, Ayn Rand, and a few others; "Satan" is appropriated as a positive symbol of this worldview, and is not considered to exist in a literal fashion. Theologically, each individual Satanist is viewed as his or her own god; its rituals are essentially magick in the original sense given by Crowley, with an eye towards furthering the Satanist's ends.
Main article: Satanic ritual abuse
The existence of large networks of organized Satanists involved in illegal activities, murder, and child abuse is occasionally claimed, often by fundamentalist religious movements. Those claims have never been substantiated and are widely believed to be false. See conspiracy theories.
In various Gnostic sects, the Serpent was praised as the giver of knowledge, sometimes also Satan with references to his name of Lucifer or "the light-bringer". Some Gnostics claimed that the being imagined as God by Christians and Jews, by the Gnostics known as the Demiurge, was in fact Satan. To some early Gnostic sects were attributed horrible acts (the Borborites and the followers of Carpocrates especially), along with instructions to commit all kind of evil acts to free themselves from the pains of this world, but such accounts are not generally credible, as they were mostly part of rhetorical attacks against these groups by such heresiological writers as Irenaeus.
The Order of Nine Angles (ONA) has labeled itself Traditional Satanism and considers Satanism to be an individual quest which goes far beyond the gratification of the pleasure-principle and involves the arduous achievement of self-mastery, self-overcoming in a Nietzschean sense, and ultimately cosmic wisdom. Their conception of Satanism is practical, with an emphasis on individual growth into realms of darkness and danger through practical acts of prowess, endurance and the risk of life. In addition, the ONA seek to change, and disrupt, society itself, and espouse human sacrifice — the culling of "opfers" — who are chosen according to strict guidelines. The use of the term "traditional" by these Satanists (ONA) is viewed by some as improper because the ONA refuses to provide any evidence of an old tradition, countering that it is the duty of each initiate to work things out for themselves. In addition, it is felt that "Traditional Satanism" as a label applies better, or at least equally well, to parts of the gnostic movement and its modern remnants.
In early 2004, John L. Westbrook, a former Oklahoma politician told a Penthouse reporter that he has formed what he described as an "occult fraternity, to finish the work that the Temple of Set has previously botched." He then displayed a platinum medallion which he had commissioned that resembled a Mars planetary sigil. He has christened this neo-satanic fraternity The Order of Mars. He said membership in his "fraternity" is restricted to those whom he knows personally and that his group does not solicit memberships. He also stated that this "Order" is named in honor of the Roman god Mars, who he claims is closely aligned with Egyptian god Set.
See also The Satanic Order
See also Process Church, Yezidis for groups that have been called Satanist but do not accept that label.
There are many groups that are commonly referred to as being Satanic, but are not recognized as such by their members or by most Theologians. In order to explain such a thing, it must be noted that there are two common definitions of a Satanic religion:
- Any religion that does not follow the Christian religion or recognize Jesus Christ as explained in Christian dogma.
- Any religion that consciously recognizes and worships "Satan," usually referring either to a "dark" deity (similar to the Christian Satan, though usually lacking the evil or unnaturalness associated with it) or a conceptual Satan, often referring to a so-called "true" nature of Mankind.
The first definition, obviously, is most commonly used by fundamentalist Christians, and is most often the source of disagreement about whether a religion is considered Satanic or not. The most common targets of these claims are against Neo-Pagan religions, such as Wicca, Ásatrú, etc. However, they are not Satanic in nature; merely misinterpreted.
However, it is also common to see Christian denominations or even Judaism and Islam referred to as Satanic based on interpretations of the first definition. Among these Christian groups are usually the less traditional ones, such as the Mormons and other smaller sects. Also, it is not unheard of for Catholics to refer to Protestants as Satanic, and vice versa, though this is more uncommon.