Satanism and Me
Long after Diane Vera had written the text presented here, she has then moved on towards promoting some form of "theistic Satanism" - devil worship, in other words which can accept animal sacrifice and such. Her religious views are not those of the Church of Satan. The essays chosen here reflect a historical analysis of Satanism in general as compared to Wicca and are as such presented to the interested reader.
Note: The following article should NOT be taken as implying that
Wicca is a form of Satanism. Although this article focusses on
similarities and historical connections between Wicca and 19th
century literary Satanism, there are plenty of differences too,
and even more differences between Wicca and modern (post-LaVey)
Satanism. Wicca is an eclectic modern religion which has drawn
inspiration from many sources, both ancient and modern. Literary
Satanism is just one of those many sources.
See also an important update to this article.
Satanism and Me
Copyright © 1996 by Diane Vera. All rights reserved.
Here's my response to questions people may have about my beliefs. This essay is far from complete, but it is the most comprehensive summary of my beliefs that I've been able to write so far. My beliefs are still evolving, and they are based partly on experiences that are very difficult to put into words. If you have further questions after reading this article, feel free to ask.
What is Satanism?
Before discussing my own particular form of Satanism, I'll talk a little bit about Satanism in general. It's probably necessary to start with some disclaimers:
- Most Satanists do not think of themselves as worshipping "Evil." "Satan" is usually associated with various traits (pride, sensuality, thinking for oneself, etc.) which Christianity has traditionally considered "Evil", but which a non-Christian wouldn't necessarily consider evil, as aptly satirized by the Church Lady. The vast majority of Satanists do NOT believe in Christian-style "Good-vs.-Evil" dualism. To the extent that Satanists do describe themselves as "evil", they usually do so in an ironic sense.
- Most rumors of "Satanic crime" are unfounded. Although there are a handful of nutcases who commit crimes in the name of Satan, such people are no more characteristic of Satanists in general than the Inquisition is characteristic of Christians in general. (Well, I mean modern Christians; there have been times when the Inquisition was characteristic of Christians in general, but be that as it may ...) Most Satanists are NOT into sacrificing babies, sexually abusing children, or other horrific activities described in sensationalistic media and fundamentalist propaganda. Most forms of Satanism emphasize the individual's self-interest, and most Satanists deem it not to be in their interests to commit crimes, especially crimes that serve no rational purpose.
For documentation regarding "Satanic crime" scares, see the following books: (a) Satan Wants You by Arthur Lyons (Mysterious Press, 1988). (b) In Pursuit of Satan: The Police and the Occult by Robert D. Hicks (Prometheus Books, 1991). (c) The Satanism Scare edited by James T. Richardson, Joel Best, and David Bromley (Aldine de Gruyter, 1991). (d) Out of Darkness edited by Sakheim and Devine (Lexington Books/ MacMillan, 1992). (e) Satanic Panic by Jeffrey S. Victor (Open Court Press, 1993).
- Most modern Satanists neither perform nor approve of animal sacrifice.
I'm aware of at least one "traditional" group back in the 1960's that sacrificed goats and ate the meat the next day. Animal sacrifice (of farm animals, not pets) is a natural part of almost any rural-based religion which originates among people who kill their own animals for food (as is the case with Voudoun and Santeria, not to mention ancient Judaism); it is thus a natural part of some older, more rural forms of Satanism. In this context, I see little basis for objecting to animal sacrifice unless one objects to all killing of animals, even for food. My personal view of animal sacrifice is that it's natural for someone who has been initiated into a rural-based traditional religion of this sort; but I would question the motives of anyone else who did it, since, for us city-dwellers, killing animals is not a normal part of our lives; it is something we would have to go out of our way to do.
Killing animals is not a natural part of the more modern forms of Satanism which originated among city-dwellers. Doubtless there are some sicko disturbed teenagers who kill cats or other animals just for kicks and call it Satanism; but, in general, most serious occultists who identify as Satanists do not kill animals. There are some definite reasons why killing animals would be contrary to the essence of most modern forms of Satanism; some of these reasons are spelled out in Anton LaVey's Satanic Bible.
- Satanism is not one single religion. There are about as many different kinds of Satanism as there are Satanists. (And some of these do not regard their Satanism as a "religion" at all.)
- Hardly any of these many forms of Satanism are just simple-minded mirror-images of Christianity. In none of the Satanic periodicals I've seen do the writers believe in Christian theology, except that they happen to side with the other guy. Nearly all Satanist writers and publicly-known groups have a non-Christian interpretation of who/what "Satan" is. Most Satanists do not believe in the Christian "God."
The many different interpretations of "Satan" include, among others: (1) "Satan" is an impersonal "Dark Force in Nature." (2) "Satan" is not a real entity at all but merely a symbol of human individuality, a symbol with psychological value to some people. (3) "Satan" IS a real entity and is the Christian-era manifestation of some ancient deity, usually either Set or Pan. (4) "Satan"/"Lucifer" is the bringer of wisdom in a form of Gnosticism with the Christian "God" cast as the Demiurge. This idea is based on a form of Gnosticism that actually existed in the early centuries C.E., which venerated the serpent of the Garden of Eden myth. (5) Satan is not an actual discarnate, sentient being, but is more than just a symbol. Satan is, at the very least, today's most powerful magic(k)al egregore, since we happen to live in a Christian society which has fed that particular energy current for centuries. "Satan" is present-day society's number-one magic(k)al Name of Power, so we might as well make use of it. (6) Satan is one of many gods, all of whom are in some sense real. There is no one all-powerful "God" like the Christian idea of "God". There are many gods who are powerful, but not all-powerful.
LaVey Satanism, the best-known form of modern Satanism, involves a combination of interpretations #1 and #2 above.
A major theme of 19th-century literary Satanism was the idea of Satan as Muse -- an idea which is also, albeit grudgingly, a part of the traditional Christian view of Satan. Historically, nearly every new form of music, art, or science has been attributed to "the Devil." To this day, those forms of Christianity that are most obsessed with fighting against "the Devil" are fighting primarily against new ideas, and very often against creativity itself. For example, today's fundamentalist crusaders hate games like "Dungeons and Dragons" because they stimulate the imagination. (An excellent book on the history of Christian ideas about "the Devil" is The Devil in Legend and Literature by Maximilian Rudwin (published 1931 by the Open Court Publishing Company in Chicago). See especially chapters 19 and 20 on "The Devil, the World, and the Flesh" for a detailed discussion of the Christian view of Satan as the originator of art, music, dance, drama, scientific discoveries, reason, and scholarship.)
Satanism tends to be very individualistic. And the beliefs of Satanists are often highly individual and subjective. Satanism is not one single religion, but a category of belief systems all involving sympathetic interpretations of the figure of "Satan."
Now for my own beliefs. I am what the alt.satanism FAQ calls a "Dark Gnostic" -- which I consider to be an inaccurate term, since this variety of Satanism really has little if anything in common with Gnosticism. A better term would be "Dark Deism." That is to say, I revere an impersonal deity, the "Dark Force in Nature." (There are some other forms of Satanism, referred to in the alt.satanism FAQ as Luciferian/Promethean Gnosticism, which actually do have a lot in common with some forms of Gnosticism which existed in the early centuries C.E. For example, there have been some latter-day revivals of Ophidian Gnosticism, which venerated the Serpent in the Garden of Eden myth as the giver of knowledge and freedom.)
I believe that most religions, including my own belief system, are based on genuine though very incomplete perceptions of subtle realities. To decipher the possible underlying truth of a given "spiritual" belief, I tend to focus on what it says about the "spiritual" here-and-now -- ignoring a religion's claims about the prehistoric past, the future, and the afterlife, all of which I tend to dismiss as pie-in-the-sky. A religion's claims about the here-and-now are far more likely to be based on people's actual experiences.
With this idea in mind, let's look at what the dominant religion of Western society, Pauline Christianity, has to say about the "spiritual" here-and-now, ignoring the alleged larger picture. Christians are supposed to be "in the world, but not of the world." In other words, Christians are supposed to be an alienated enclave in what is basically Satan's domain. Satan is "God of this World" (yes -- "God"! -- see 2 Corinthians 4:4) and "Prince of the Power of the Air." Christians traditionally lump together "the world, the flesh, and the Devil." Satan is a de facto immanent deity whose promptings are indistinguishable from one's own "fallen nature" and/or "worldliness."
Christians traditionally believe that Satan was granted his power temporarily by his enemy, the Christian "God," who is believed to be more powerful, and against whom Satan is believed to be an ego-driven rebel. However, Christianity's belief in the greater power of its "God" is part of the alleged larger picture that I am inclined to ignore. In my opinion, a look at the workings of Nature (survival of the fittest, etc.) suffices to show that if here is a cosmic God, then that God has far more in common with the Christian idea of "Satan" than with the Christian idea of "God."
IF there is any reality at all to the Christian "God," I don't believe that the Christian "God" is the cosmic God. I believe that IF there is a cosmic God, then it's extremely unlikely that the cosmic God would pay much attention to us individual humans the way Christians believe he does, just as we don't pay much attention to our individual skin cells. This planet is but a tiny speck of dust in the universe as a whole. Though I'm not a LaVeyan per se, I'll note that Anton LaVey makes a very similar statement in The Satanic Bible (p.40):
To the Satanist "God" -- by whatever name he is called, or no
name at all -- is seen as the balancing factor in nature, and
not as being concerned with suffering. This powerful force
which permeates and balances the universe is far too
impersonal to care about the happiness or misery of flesh-and-
blood creatures on this ball of dirt upon which we live.
Therefore, anything we humans experience as a "God" with humanlike emotions, whether loving/compassionate or wrathful, probably exists on a much smaller-than-cosmic scale, if it exists at all. It seems especially unlikely, to me, that the cosmic God would be concerned about human morality.
Note that when I speak of "Christianity," I primarily mean traditional, conservative Christianity. Liberal and moderate Christians tend to be less worried about "Satan," and some do not believe in "Satan" at all. It should also be noted that Christianity stressed the power of "Satan" to a greater degree in the early centuries C.E. -- i.e., during the time of Christianity's greatest voluntary growth -- than it did later. (A substantial reduction in Christianity's view of Satan's power was brought about by the medieval theologian Anselm.) Even today, those forms of Christianity which continue to win the most converts tend to be those which attribute more power to "Satan" than liberal/mainstream Christians do. Or, as Anton LaVey put it, "Satan has been the best friend the Church has ever had, as he has kept it in business all these years!"
Hence it seems that Christianity's primary appeal, other than to people who were raised Christian, is to people who feel that the "Prince of this World," the ruler of their very own flesh, is somehow out to get them, and who hence feel a need to be "saved." (Note: my point here is not necessarily that this is the primary reason for Christianity's appeal, but only that this seems to be the primary category of people likely to convert to Christianity; hence the perceptions of such people should be given serious consideration in any attempt to figure out the underlying truth of Christianity.) Thus, from the deliberately limited "spiritual here-and-now" perspective I outlined earlier, the traditional Christian view of "Satan" is based on a paranoid or otherwise hostile perception of the true "God of this World."
In my opinion, the belief that "Satan" is out to get you says more about the people who are drawn to Christianity, and who feel a need to be "saved" from whatever ails them, than it says about "Satan." Insofar as such people may dimly perceive a deity immanent in their own flesh, it is logical that they would perceive that deity as evil, given that they regard their own flesh as "fallen." Nevertheless, there may be a core of truth in their perception of the "Lord of this World," if one puts aside the value judgments and the paranoia. In any case, since Christianity is the dominant religion of Western culture, one can argue that the "Satan" concept is in fact Western culture's most prominent, albeit hostile and distorted, perception of an immanent God.
Anyhow, it just so happens that I too perceive a "Dark Force" which has many of the characteristics Christianity traditionally ascribes to Satan: it literally feels dark, "down there", and sort of serpentlike. I feel its presence in many aspects of life, including both sensuality and certain kinds of intellectual (e.g. scientific/mathematical) and creative endeavors. And it somehow feels right to think of this "Force" as "the Lord of this World" -- though I tend to regard "Satan" as an impersonal "Force" rather than an anthropomorphic being.
However, I have a very different attitude toward this Dark Force than most spiritually-inclined people in Western culture do. I do not regard it as being out to get me, but merely impersonal and indifferent. And grand, and awesome. "Satan" is "out to get you" only in the sense that reality itself is "out to get you" when you are out of touch with it. I perceive this entity as both creative and destructive. (As previously noted, the creative aspects are grudgingly acknowledged even by hard-core Christians.)
I believe that different people have natural (possibly innate) affinities for different deities. Quite a few spiritually-inclined people also have what could be called "spiritual allergies" to certain deities and/or "energies." In the Western world, apparently, quite a few people have a "spiritual allergy" to the entity/Force that Christianity calls Satan. I, on the other hand, LIKE my experience of that Dark Force.
One key difference between my form of Satanism and some others: I stress the theme of Satan as "Lord of this World," whereas others are more into the theme of Satan as rebel. (Others, such as LaVey Satanism, make use of both themes. By the way, LaVey's primary emphasis is on "Lord of this World," at least in his rituals -- including even LaVey's version of the Black Mass, in which one of the most powerful lines inmy opinion is: "Thy will is done ...")
Another key difference: Some forms of Satanism, such as the opinion of some people within the Temple of Set, try to get at the underlying truth of the Christian "Satan" myth by seeing it as a distortion of the Jewish "Satan" myth, which in turn is seen as a distortion of the Osirian Set, which in turn is seen as a distortion of the pre-Osirian Set -- who was not demonized, and who hence is seen as a more accurate representation of the Prince of Darkness. (Others within the ToS don't necessarily subscribe to the above historical linkage, but nonetheless see both Set and the Miltonian Satan as two of the many representations of the same Prince of Darkness. And there are other views within the ToS as well.) On the other hand, my own here-and-now interpretation of "Satan" deliberately ignores not only Satan's history according to Christian myth (the alleged rebellion and fall), but also the history of the Satan myth itself before it was adopted by Christianity.
The earliest Christians (followers of Paul, not Jesus) were, for the most part, not Jews. The early Christians borrowed Hebrew mythical themes to describe things that they themselves felt -- which, as any Jew can tell you, are quite different from what those same themes meant in the original Jewish context. The Christian "Satan" actually has more in common with the Zoroastrian Ahriman than the Jewish "Satan." My own view of "Satan" is a reinterpretation of what Christians have perceived as "Satan," which need not have any organic connection at all with the original Jewish Satan myth, let alone with any historical precursors of that myth. My interpretation of the Christian "Satan" myth is based on what hard-core Christians themselves seem actually to experience, not on the earlier history of the myth they borrowed to formulate their own experiences.
An important clarification: I've spoken of the "true" God of this World. However, I do not necessarily deny the existence of other deities. I'm a henotheist, not a monotheist. (I used to call myself a "polytheist," but have come to realize that this is misleading, since I actually venerate only one deity.)
Another clarification: I've said that I regard Satan as an impersonal force. I don't rule out the possibility of Satan as a sentient being. owever, if such a sentient entity exists, He acts, for most practical purposes, like an impersonal force, without humanlike emotions such as jealousy. If indeed a sentient Satan is "Lord of this World," then He, unlike the Christian "God," clearly doesn't care in the slightest about such petty matters as what the majority of humans think of Him.
Satanism and Neo-Paganism
Neo-Pagan readers are probably wondering: If I reject Christianity, then why does the Christian mythos figure into my worldview at all? Why do I concern myself with what Christians perceive and experience? Why don't I just leave the whole Christian realm behind, and get into something completely different, like the worship of some pre-Christian deity?
The answer, as usual for me, is that the Christian mythos is here-and-now. To me, it seems both intellectually sounder and emotionally more powerful to base my worldview primarily on what's happening NOW than to base it primarily on what might have happened in the distant past, especially in cultures other than our own.
After all, I know more about the present. I, who am not even an academic theology student, know far more about Christianity -- the prevailing religion of our culture -- than even the most erudite archeologist can possibly ever hope to know about the religion of a particular epoch in ancient Egypt. I feel myself to be on much more solid ground reinterpreting Christian ideas about "Satan" than basing my beliefs on what little I know about pre-Christian deities. My idea of "Satan" may be a radical reinterpretation, but at least it's an informed reinterpretation, whereas it is so very easy for even a scholar to misunderstand another culture -- including the culture of one's own remote ancestors, who, in my own case (northern European) didn't even leave much in the way of written records.
My point here is not to invalidate Neo-Paganism. I'm aware that it's possible to have a meaningful "spiritual" experience even though one's perception of one's deity may be historically inaccurate. If you've had a meaningful encounter with an entity you call "Artemis," then it is quite irrelevant whether this "Artemis" is in fact the same entity that the ancient Greeks called Artemis. Likewise if you've had a meaningful encounter with an entity you call "Set." I regard the various forms of Neo-Paganism as valid religions in their own right, not as either valid or invalid continuations of an "Old Religion." My point in the above two paragraphs is simply to respond to the notion, common among Neo-Pagans, that there is something intrinsically wrong with using ideas or imagery from a religion one rejects, and that there is something intrinsically superior about worshipping a pre-Christian deity.
My own most meaningful "spiritual" (for lack of a better word) experiences have not been in the context of attempts to invoke pre-Christian deities. I have felt, on a few occasions, deeply moved by a Neo-Pagan ritual. Yet the name "Satan" strikes closer to home. For me, it is much more powerful, emotionally, to use imagery that is part of the world I grew up in -- imagery which for me inspires a sense of awe and wonder but is not "exotic." And, due to the impossibility of attaining more than a superficial understanding of distant cultures, I hesitate to equate the entity I've experienced as "Satan" with any anciently-worshipped deity that I know of.
While on the topic of Christianity, and the question of whether one can or should try to leave it completely behind, I should also mention that, from the viewpoint of most Satanists, a lot of Neo-Pagans are "Christianlike" in various ways. It simply isn't possible to escape one's own culture completely, however much some of us may imagine we are doing so. Our failures in this regard may not be obvious to ourselves, but they are obvious to other people who are likewise trying to escape mainstream Western culture, but who do so in different ways. Thus, Satanists and Neo-Pagans both have often denounced each other as "Christianlike," And, indeed, both are "Christianlike," but in different ways, though they both reject Christian theology. This is to be expected. We were all born and raised in Western culture. This is who and what we are, and there's no point in worrying about it or dumping on each other for it.
Likewise, it wasn't possible for the earliest (Pauline) Christians to completely escape Paganism and become "the new Israel," much though they imagined they had done so. Christianity incorporates a lot of Pagan ideas which would have horrified Jews, such as: the dying and rising God, eating the body of the God, etc. Indeed, Christianity itself (especially Catholicism) is arguably more "Pagan," in some ways, than the beliefs and practices of some Neo-Pagans.
This doesn't mean we can't learn anything from ancient or foreign cultures. It is desirable to learn what one can from other cultures, to broaden one's perspective. However, broadening one's perspective is different from escaping one's own culture or entering emotionally into a distant culture, which is impossible.
August 5, 1996
See also my update to this article.
Back to Herbert's Dark Corner