On the Role of Ritual in the Life of a Satanist
I believe formal Satanic ritual can play an important part in the evolution of your identity as a Satanist. The first time you light a black candle and raise your eyes to the image of Satan in the form of the Sigil of Baphomet, you are defying thousands of years of superstition and fear; it’s a powerful moment in your psychology. And I’m convinced that the role of ritual changes along with your personal journey. Every Satanist should take ritual magic out for a spin; I’ve witnessed some interesting reactions in the most staunch of skeptics. That’s why Anton LaVey thought enough of it to include it in his books; he saw the way religious ritual works on our reptile brains. Don’t knock it—or exclude it—until you’ve tried it.
Like Dr. LaVey, who did his most powerful workings in the wee hours at his bank of keyboards, I do less with cape and candles lately but I do more magic every day. I refer to these as workings rather than rituals, but they are nonetheless Greater Magic. There is a crucial difference between Greater and Lesser Magic. Lesser Magic is about changing the thoughts and feelings of others through direct manipulation so they’ll work your Will. Greater Magic is concerned with changing your own thoughts and feelings by sharpening your concentration on specific goals. My personal spaces have many altars. I use focus and intention in a very conscious way; I chant, dance, and sing. And things happen around me; I’ve stopped being surprised but I’m sometimes still a tad startled, and always amused.
Dr. LaVey observed that in Western culture, most religions had regular rituals which had become ineffective because those attending were simply not involved. These were boring performances testing the endurance of the congregants. As the Occult Revolution boomed around him, he saw that other newly-minted religions had taken stale ritual back from ordained priesthoods, using it once again as a tool to arouse the emotions of the participants, raising their energies and sending them off into the ethers to effect change in the real world. He played calliope at carnival shows and watched as lust and avarice filled the gritty air—but he also played hymns for tent evangelists and observed that they could put on a good show, too. It was all about evincing emotion.
In founding Satanism as an alternative religion, LaVey carefully presented the tools of both Lesser and Greater Magic in The Compleat Witch and The Satanic Rituals, showing how these could work for you to change your life. He geared the rituals, the language, the accoutrements, toward his own aesthetics. His experiments with his Magic Circle showed him that other people were excited by his combination of film noir and gothic spookiness.
But it is important to note that he offered them as options, not as requirements. He never meant to force rote behavior on his adherents, which was only one of the mistakes made by so many of the dominant religions. Nobody could say Anton Szandor LaVey was not one of the most evolved of Satanists, but I know from experience and direct conversations with him that towards the end of his life he very rarely used that ritual chamber on California Street for himself alone or for groups. He preferred solitary workings at his bank of synthesizers in that chilly kitchen, and his latter day “group rituals” would involve having a select few spend time with him in the Den of Iniquity, listening to forgotten tunes while conversation about arcane topics provided the litanies of Satan.
Large Satanic group rituals can be an amazing and hair-raising experience. I don’t think anyone who attended 666 could deny the power of over a hundred voices shouting “Hail, Satan!” (Scared the crap out of one journalist, for sure.) But I went to weekly group rituals as a child; it was called Mass and it taught me that the trappings of ritual do not guarantee the essential personal involvement that makes magic work.
Magic, Greater and Lesser, works because of YOU. And if you understand and utilize that, then you’ll ultimately evolve your most effective strategies for the use of magic and enrich your life. I’ll meet you in Rome, where all roads lead.