Satanism seems all the rage these days, or so one would think from the articles online bandying that term about and attaching it to criminals, political opportunists, and devil-worshippers of many sorts—as well as the occasional actual Satanist. When Anton LaVey founded the Church of Satan in 1966, he thought that using the “S-word” would serve as a barrier and filter, keeping out people of less intelligence as well as those desperately needing the support of others. He succeeded in attracting creative iconoclasts who could stand on their own, bold women and men who found inspiration in an infernal symbol of pride and individualism. He was also approached by folks who had found Jesus to be passé, and others who sought an alternative self-label that suited their need to appear trendy but that offered the same sort of “churchy” experience to which they’d become accustomed. People of that sort are typically window-shoppers of various religions and Satanism can be a way-station for them. And there are others who want to hold onto the excitement of our dark imagery, yet are not up to the challenges offered by LaVey’s disciplined perspective.
One must always be aware of the Satanic concept that human society is highly stratified. This concept is represented by the graphic of a pyramid with the highest quality of thought and creation limited to a small capstone while the supporting trapezoidal frustum below is of lesser quality and content, degrading as one descends. We’ve reached a point in the history of Satanism, a movement begun and exemplified by the Church of Satan, where there is growth of the lower strata beneath our apex.
In the 1960s, most who rejected the ubiquitous Christian sects were either dabbling in various Eastern religions, or adulterated versions thereof made more palatable to Western sensibilities, while others wanted something “occult.” Wicca, which emerged in the 1950s, experienced an influx of many who could easily swap the Judeo-Christian symbols for multiple deities minted in various past, largely-extinct cultures from around the world. This exoticism was attractive and the values of their new faiths weren’t far from their original beliefs. Documentaries from the 60s and 70s are full of people enacting rites devoted to deities as diverse as Isis, Osiris, Diana, Aphrodite, Zeus, Brigid, Thor, and Cernunnos. These were sometimes approached as conjectural recreations of past belief systems but were more often a fanciful amalgam that made no historical or cultural sense, serving as an exotic blend that excited practitioners. Aleister Crowley’s writings were sufficiently abstruse and so tended to primarily attract intellectuals, a few wanting to justify their preferences for “sex, drugs, and rock & roll” via his Thelema, used to excuse an “anything goes” attitude. Gerald Gardner—under the influence of Crowley as well as Leland’s Aradia and other aspects of Western occultism—was aided by Doreen Valiente to create a religion which pretended to have been received from current practitioners of a hidden surviving ancient doctrine. Read Aidan A. Kelly’s Inventing Witchcraft for the details. Their primary religious text, The Book of Shadows, was one which was personally copied by each convert, not being published publicly for many years. This person-to-person method for spreading beliefs led to many different branches emerging almost immediately, often generated by personality conflicts as hived-off covens went in different directions. There was no central, definitive literature available to a mass audience; this led to swift fragmentation and many competing approaches. Now neo-paganism is utterly decentralized and thus Wicca has become an ambiguous term, requiring redefinition with almost every practitioner, and it stands amongst many other faiths which are devoted to non-Abrahamic deities.
LaVey felt that by defining Satanism in a coherent, comprehensive and comprehensible manner—which he delineated in books published as mass market paperbacks—he could present a carnal perspective that would be maintained as he defined it. This was crucial since the very essence of his philosophy is individualism and thus allows for many unique personal applications of its fundamental principles. Of those who came forward to embrace his ideas, the best truly understood their implications, but others were drawn in solely by the sinister trappings, more in search of devil worship as an excuse for social (and sexual) intercourse. The Grotto System, intended as a means for teaching the philosophy in various locales to interested parties, became partially infested with people who had a need to replace their former religious experiences with ones that substituted diabolical for spiritual imagery, but did not essentially change the concept of functioning as a support group for people who were often disgruntled with their current lives. Grotto leaders could often be ego-impoverished types who wanted a ready-made supply of followers, enjoying lording over them instead of functioning to galvanically inspire like-minded fellows. The Grotto System was therefore dropped. LaVey’s revised thinking was that in isolation, without Church of Satan provided social activities, the needy types would depart and only the kind of independent people he felt truly embodied his paradigms would affiliate.
That succeeded, but while he was alive there were others who created flash-in-the-pan devil groups, usually poorly imitating LaVey’s early theatrics. Frequently these were begun because the founders wanted to be seen as being like LaVey, who had achieved a worldwide notoriety, but they did not craft any new philosophical concepts and instead mimicked the Church of Satan’s trappings by offering crappy rituals and silly titles, without providing literature towards a differing kind of Satanism. That has been a pattern over the existence of our organization, wherein members depart who wanted to have exalted titles and to be lionized publicly but have not had their distinctly limited talents given more recognition than they deserved. They leave and either find other paths or attempt revisionist versions which lack the depth and breadth of LaVey’s well-wrought conceptual structure. Those very few who have lasted are the ones who developed their own core concepts and symbols which are distinguished as separate from LaVey’s work, named differently so there would be no confusion, which are then elaborated by thoughtful adherents into a unique and coherent body of thought.
Our literature was begun with the wide issuance of LaVey’s The Satanic Bible in 1969, followed by his subsequent books and others by his consort Blanche Barton and myself, as well as writings by articulate members of our hierarchy who have accurately applied Satanism to many circumstances. Yet, continuously, some people are attracted by the style rather than the substance presented by the Church of Satan. And this is abetted by the evolution of acceptance of anti-heroes and villains as being seductive and worthy as role models by a broader segment of the public. Popular music assisted in this change as it gave youth, who naturally want to rebel against their parents as part of their development, an easy way to annoy their elders through whatever bands they followed. Hence Heavy Metal adopted hellish and at times anti-Christian lyrics. Later would come Goth with its vampire-chic postures that become a sub-culture. Some purveyors of these forms identified as Satanists, but most did not, as that was often too extreme and hindered record sales or wider acceptance, though not always. Marilyn Manson burst on the scene and became the primary icon for rebellious youth for a time, and his public acknowledgment of his affiliation with the Church of Satan directed quite a number of disaffected youth in our direction. However, few of them wanted anything more than a temporary “bad guy badge” and thus never read our literature to learn that being a Satanist was far more than just dressing in an outré manner and shouting “Hail Satan!” now and again. A precious few did the research and found themselves reflected in our principles, becoming vital participants.
The trend begun in popular music, reviving the romantic embracing of anti-heroes, has continued into our current game-playing, superhero-besotted culture and since the “bad guys” are typically played by charismatic actors, there has been another surge of regard for Satanism. Sadly, many young people have lost the drive to read and are instead looking for a quick-fix for their desire to have a context for their valuation of darker characters. LaVey’s philosophy, as elaborated by myself and others, is one that requires, as our founder stated, “study, not worship.” Hence there is a barrier to many—which we find to be appropriate as that has been a built-in bulwark since our inception. But, that leaves a contemporary market for “Satanism-lite” wherein a few paragraphs of ideas coupled with public gestures can be attractive for those with limited attention spans and lesser intelligence who are within easy reach via the Internet.
Current social media has made visibility, and swarming, easy for those who no longer find Jesus to be “cool,” yet who want the same sort of mindless huddling and ready-made self-definition provided by Christianity—so long as it requires no commitment or any actual cogitation. When those folks find Satanism for its rejection of The Nazarene, they skim our site and learn our perspective requires total self-responsibility, often challenging one to rise to the top of their game. They quickly look for alternatives that don’t require that they do any in-depth reading or personal reflection, preferring a substitute that might have a similar goat head logo and black wardrobe offering the sort of jiffy, unearned acceptance traditionally extended by the Jesus junkies, especially if tepid liberal truisms are proffered.
We regularly get hundreds of emailed questions from such people who go to our website, hitting the contact tab before even glancing at the rest of the site—especially the adjacent FAQ tab. From their jottings we’ve discovered that many of these people are too lazy to create a personalized home ritual space as is done by Satanists who enjoy ritual. Instead, they hope that somebody nearby has a well-appointed “devil church” they can drop in on for thrills as they do like to feel “naughty” on occasion. These folks can’t be bothered to read the website, let alone the books delineating our philosophy, and request personal teachers to spoon-feed them our ideas. They expect free education since they erroneously think we’re eager for converts. They ignore the point that we have much literature so that people can educate themselves, as is appropriate for a philosophy of self-determination. But their real motivation is that they are looking for contact, attention and a social setting that they are incapable of achieving on their own, and expect us to provide, simply because they’ve shown an interest in Satanism by sending one brief email.
We’ve had folks come our way who’ve never written a paragraph but who want to “assist” us by offering dumbed-down explanations of Satanism so that the masses will come our way. These people miss the point that Satanism is not intended for multitudes and that our literature intentionally serves as a filter to bar dim-bulbs from our presence. Satanism has worked for them to some extent, so they now want to evangelize. They’ve failed to grasp that if they are successful individuals, then that is what will demonstrate to their cherished masses the value of a philosophy that they can then approach on their own—if they so choose. We’ve even had others asking us for access to grant money to establish their own local churches. They’d like to pose as authorities and have some sort of social scene wherein they’d be automatically admired by others—all without having to have any real world personal accomplishments worthy of note, whatsoever. Established Christian denominations school their priests and ministers, and we test and develop those who speak for us. But there are many fanciers of that guy-on-the-cross who set up their own ramshackle ministries as there are always sheep looking for a nearby shepherd. Real Satanists are not in need of such ministering, but these nouveau devil fans would quite happily jump on board that trend, looking to be entertained until they lose interest. They don’t want a guiding life philosophy; they just want to be amused. And there will be those who will supply them with paltry creep show presentations until their congregants become bored and look for the next thrill.
The Church of Satan was not meant to be an organization that exchanged Jesus for Satan, keeping the usual church buildings whose mortgages are paid for by bake sales, car washes, and other forms of begging while competing elbow-to-elbow to pose before the public with tacky displays of faith. As I had said in “The Myth of the ‘Satanic Community’ and other Virtual Delusions”:
To attempt to make this very loose and shadowy assemblage into something resembling other existing communities would mean disregarding the core principles of Satanism as a philosophy. Satanism as a movement would then become just another typical social device for human herding. Anton LaVey expressed his contempt for people who demonstrated the “huddling” instinct, explaining that it is a certain indication that they weren’t Satanists at all, just “sheep” who want to pretend to be “goats.”
He was right. And we are constantly treated to displays of Satanic wannabes parading around with websites and “organizations,” using our symbols and literature as a means for attempting to gain attention for themselves, while ostensibly claiming to want to be helping Satanism as a movement. Well, we say “Thanks, but no thanks.” We don’t need amateur help, particularly when this “help” demonstrates that the amateurs don’t grasp these very basic principles.
LaVey called his organization a church as a means of outrage but with a different application of that term. He envisioned a loosely-knit cabal of people who deal with one another not just because they share Satanism, but because they have other common interests. I stand by what I said roughly nine years ago in my essay “I Am The Light and The Way,” regarding emerging trends in our Internet-dominated society:
The rise of the virtual existence also has a bearing on the Church of Satan itself. We spawned a movement, filled with actual people, called Satanism. But now the Church itself stands above and apart from that movement, as many people are currently attracted to parts of our philosophy and symbolism, yet do not grasp the integrated totality of our core ideas. …They no longer even have the attention span to read The Satanic Bible in its entirety, pithy as that volume is.
And my words have proven to be correct. More than ever, these “neo-satanists” (the lower case “s” is intentional to differentiate this from our Satanism) look to sites with sketchy descriptions of “satanism,” loosely cribbed from our pioneering work. Their “authors” hope that the literature the Church of Satan has produced will somehow be seen as a validating context whenever they might need substantiation. We’ve done the work—they take the credit and often don’t even mention Anton LaVey or the Church of Satan. We’ve also seen print-on-demand books plagiarizing our works as well as simply spewing illiterate advocacy of devil worship. They’ll find their audiences and intercept the type of adherents in whom we’ve no interest.
What happened to some extent in Wicca is now occurring in Satanism—it is being watered-down for consumption by dilettantes who can’t be troubled with a perspective that has actual depth. Over the years we have won respect from some academics and scholars for our coherent ideas, going far beyond the initial label of being a “cult” to now more frequently being viewed as a viable philosophy worthy of analysis amongst long-existing world religions.
We will continue to make it clear that we do not endorse nor consider ourselves akin to any of these self-proclaimed “neo-satanists.” The Church of Satan has an elitist, atheist philosophy and so we will not endorse demonolatry nor participate in the current egalitarian “satanism for dummies” craze. The attention that is generated by such publicity seekers eventually leads anyone with an intellect to our literature, since these pop-up devil fans have nothing of any value for individuals with well-tuned minds. They serve a purpose in bringing people our way and anyone with intelligence, taste and discrimination will find what we’ve produced to be worthy of their consideration. The rest can move on. Like seeks and finds like—stratification in action.
At this point in our history, with our 50th anniversary celebrations about to begin, we now have members of the highest caliber who are achievers, creative professionals, corporate heads, museum directors and world movers who fight for individualism as well as freedom of information and behavior on a global scale. There are also many members with less “exalted” occupations who are steadfast in their performances and have earned the esteem of their peers. All of these people would not associate with tombstone tea-baggers and dime-store devil worshippers nor would they want to be linked to them by their friends, family and associates. The public knowledge of such inferior infernalists using the term “satanism” makes it so that our members who have won respect in their fields of endeavor hesitate to reveal their affiliation to the world, since they’d have their credibility diminished via association with such riffraff.
My vision for the Church of Satan is that it remain as the pyramidal pinnacle of the Satanic movement, regardless of the size of the frustum beneath—which will inflate and deflate depending upon the trends that ebb and flow over the centuries to come. Our literature, with its bedrock hewn by LaVey and built upon by myself and others, will remain the standard for Satanism. We dare to be judged by any who approach—particularly those who are by nature Satanists, the perceptively curious public, and the astute amongst scholars and philosophers. Those who stand out from the herd and join our ranks will be the exemplars for Satanism, who will pave the way for it being respected and admired by people of intelligence and creativity regardless of their culture of origin. The sheep-in-black may remain or they may disperse, as their shepherds come and go. Regardless of them, as the acme of Satanism, we carry the Promethean flame into the future to inspire our kindred, for as long as the paradigm of inviolate individualism will reign.