Serpent

What, The Devil?

by Magus Peter H. Gilmore

Satanism is not Devil worship. That comes as a shock to many who haven’t explored our philosophy and it is the prime misconception outsiders have regarding the Church of Satan. Our founder Anton Szandor LaVey asserted this stance from the beginning. Over the years, individuals with the need to feel embraced by a deity have claimed that Dr. LaVey somehow came to believe in a literal Satan. If we examine his work, it is clear that he never changed his mind about this, nor was belief in the Devil ever some secret “inner circle” practice of the Church of Satan.

We Satanists understand that both truth and fantasy are needed by the human animal. It is a step towards wisdom when one knows with certainty which is which. Man relies on symbolism and metaphor when building a personal conceptual framework for understanding the universe in which he lives. He has always invented his own gods using his carnal brain. From The Satanic Bible: “Man has always created his gods, rather than his gods creating him.” However, this act of creation is usually denied. History shows that the founders of religions claimed personal contact with the deity fabricated through their imaginations, and legions of followers bolstered that fiction. There is nothing wrong with fantasy, so long as an individual knows he is using this controlled self-delusion as a tool for dealing with existence. For we skeptical, pragmatic Satanists, it is wielded in the ritual chamber. Reliance on fantastic constructs becomes dangerous when the believers in spiritual religions dogmatically insist that their personal or collective fantasies are real in the world at large, that they are the only absolute truth, and then wait for the myth to guide them or try to force others to share this delusion. That has been the source for countless wars, as any student of history can see.

Dr. LaVey’s seminal book, The Satanic Bible published in 1969 lays out some basic principles:

The Satanist realizes that man, and the action and reaction of the universe, is responsible for everything, and doesn’t mislead himself into thinking that someone cares.

Is it not more sensible to worship a god that he, himself, has created, in accordance with his own emotional needs—one that best represents the very carnal and physical being that has the idea-power to invent a god in the first place?

From a 1986 interview with Walter Harrington of The Washington Post:

“Satan is a symbol, nothing more,” LaVey says. “Satan signifies our love of the worldly and our rejection of the pallid, ineffectual image of Christ on the cross.”

Accepting the axiomatic premise that no gods exist as independent supernatural entities means that Satanists are de facto atheists. We know that the objective universe is indifferent to us. Since our philosophy is self-centered, each Satanist sees himself as the most important person in his life. Each individual thus generates his own hierarchy of values and judges everything based on his own standards. Therefore, we Satanists appoint ourselves as the “Gods” in our subjective universes. That doesn’t mean we think we have the powers of a mythological deity, but it does mean that we revere the creative capacity in our species. So to distinguish ourselves from the atheists who simply reject God as non-existent, we call ourselves “I-theists,” with our own healthy ego as the center of our perspective. This is truly a blasphemous concept that flies in the face of just about every other religion, and it is why Satan serves us well as a symbol. He was described as the prideful one, refusing to bow to Jehovah. He is the one who questions authority, seeking liberty beyond the stultifying realm of Heaven. He is the figure championed by the likes of Mark Twain, Milton, and Byron as the independent critic who heroically stands on his own.

Dr. LaVey made his most detailed presentation of his concept for how Satan functions in his philosophy in the following monologue that appeared in Jack Fritscher’s book Popular Witchcraft, published in 1973.

I don’t feel that raising the devil in an anthropomorphic sense is quite as feasible as theologians or metaphysicians would like to think. I have felt His presence but only as an exteriorized extension of my own potential, as an alter-ego or evolved concept that I have been able to exteriorize. With a full awareness, I can communicate with this semblance, this creature, this demon, this personification that I see in the eyes of the symbol of Satan—the goat of Mendes—as I commune with it before the altar. None of these is anything more than a mirror image of that potential I perceive in myself.

I have this awareness that the objectification is in accord with my own ego. I’m not deluding myself that I’m calling something that is disassociated or exteriorized from myself the godhead. This Force is not a controlling factor that I have no control over. The Satanic principle is that man willfully controls his destiny; if he doesn’t, some other man—a lot smarter than he is—will. Satan is, therefore, an extension of one’s psyche or volitional essence, so that that extension can sometimes converse and give directives through the self in a way that thinking of the self as a single unit cannot. In this way it does help to depict in an externalized way the Devil per se. The purpose is to have something of an idolatrous, objective nature to commune with. However, man has connection, contact, control. This notion of an exteriorized God-Satan is not new.

The approach outlined here, of consciously creating an exteriorization of the self with which one communes solely in ritual, is a revolutionary religious concept of LaVey’s Satanism, and it is a “third side” approach which proves elusive to many to whom it does not come naturally. It is a psychological sleight-of-mind, not a form of faith. It establishes that to the Satanist in ritual, he is Satan.

To be fair, people attending workings of LaVey’s bombastic and theatrical rites might not be able to separate the shouting of “Hail Satan!” while in the ritual chamber with the disbelief in any external gods outside of the chamber. But then, Satanism isn’t meant for everybody. When asked if there is an upcoming volume Satanism for Dummies, we reply: “Satanism is NOT intended for dummies.” As he said in The Satanic Bible and often in interviews: “Satanism demands study—NOT worship.” The capacity to think is expected of Satanists. So LaVey expected those who embraced his philosophy to understand where to draw the line between the fantastic and the real. He proclaimed that he was a showman, and felt that his Satanists would not be rubes, mistaking the mummery for reality. As a carnie, he knew how to entertain, to draw attention so that he could then present more serious ideas. Some might sneer at his methodology, dismissing his deeper cogitations because of the circus-like elements. However, I believe a case can be made that all religions are in the “show business,” but the Church of Satan is the only one honest enough to admit it.

In an interview released on an LP called The Occult Explosion from 1973, Dr. LaVey explained how the Church of Satan deals with different concepts of Satan:

“Satan” is, to us, a symbol rather than an anthropomorphic being, although many members of the Church of Satan who are mystically inclined would prefer to think of Satan in a very real, anthropomorphic way. Of course, we do not discourage this, because we realize that to many individuals a picture, a well-wrought picture of their mentor or their tutelary divinity is very important for them to conceptualize ritualistically. However, Satan symbolically is the teacher: the informer of the whys and the wherefores of the world. And in answer to those who would label us “Devil worshippers” or be very quick to assume us to be Satan worshippers, I must say that Satan demands study, not worship, in its truest symbology.

We do not grovel; we do not get down on our knees, genuflect, and worship Satan. We do not plead, we do not implore that Satan give us what we wish. We feel that anyone who is going to be blessed by any god of his choice is going to have to show that god that he is capable of taking care of the blessings that are received.

Thus he advocates creating a god-symbol based on one’s own needs and aesthetic choices. Creative fantasy is employed for emotional fulfillment, experienced in the context of the ritual chamber. Satanists see Satan as their proper symbol to fulfill those needs, a magnification of the best within each of us.

Additionally, LaVey speculated on the idea that when attempting Greater Magic, it may be that the operator is tapping into a force that is part of nature to magnify his “Will.” This force is hidden, unknown, and thus “dark.” But LaVey did not view the force as a supernatural entity. In The Satanic Bible he originally explained “the Satanist simply accepts the definition (of God) which suits him best.” He closely follows that with the definition he uses:

To the Satanist “God”—by what-ever name he is called, or by 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.

LaVey clearly posits a disinterested, remote force—not a personality or entity—that balances the universe. He sees it as indifferent to life forms, much as any other force such as gravity would be. It is a mechanism, not a personage. It does not merit obeisance, appeasement, or worship. It can be named or not. It operates without awareness of conscious beings. He spoke of this to Burton Wolfe who wrote in the introduction to The Satanic Bible:

Of course LaVey pointed out to anyone who would listen that the Devil to him and his followers was not the stereotyped fellow cloaked in red garb, with horns, tail and pitchfork, but rather the dark forces in nature that human beings are just beginning to fathom. How did LaVey square that explanation with his own appearance at times in black cowl with horns? He replied: “People need ritual, with symbols such as those you find in baseball games or church services or wars, as vehicles for expending emotions they can’t release or even understand on their own.”

So LaVey accepted that there may be currently unexplained elements of the universe that are part of its fabric, but these are not supernatural. He suggests that Man’s inquiring mind may eventually come to understand how they function. The implications of these ideas offer great freedom. Since there is no actual deity watching over or mandating the behavior of our species, men are free to imagine whatever sort of God they choose to satisfy their own needs, however they should not forget that such fantasies are only that—nothing more.

In that same passage, he also addressed the prime reason for engaging in ritual, which he defined as Greater Magic: it serves as a means for releasing pent-up emotions that people may not even fully understand. Hence ritual has a psychological purpose; it is clearly not meant as a means for worship of some supernatural entity. Ritual is demonstrably part of human culture. LaVey knew that it served a value for people over the millennia, even if it was done for reasons that didn’t square with reality. It made people feel better than they did beforehand. So, as he continued in The Satanic Bible when addressing the search for a proper religion: “If he accepts himself, but recognizes that ritual and ceremony are the important devices that his invented religions have utilized to sustain his faith in a lie, then it is the SAME FORM OF RITUAL that will sustain his faith in the truth—the primitive pageantry that will give his awareness of his own majestic being added substance.” Thus the device of ritual, which he explained as “controlled self delusion,” can be of practical use for the well being of one’s state of mind. The truth referred to above is that all gods are an invention of the creative beast called Man.

To summarize a typical individual’s journey from observing reality to declaring himself a Satanist, let us list several assertions:

  • Nature encompasses all that exists. There is nothing supernatural in Nature.
  • The spiritual is an illusion. I am utterly carnal.
  • Reason is my tool for cognition making faith anathema. I question all things. I am a skeptic.
  • I do not accept false dichotomies, finding instead the “third side” which brings me closest to understanding the mysteries of existence.
  • The universe is neither benevolent nor malevolent; it is indifferent.
  • There are no Gods. I am an atheist.
  • There is no intrinsic purpose to life beyond biological imperatives. I thus determine my own life’s meaning.
  • I decide what is of value. I am my own highest value therefore I am my own God. I am an I-theist.
  • Good is that which benefits me and promotes that which I hold in esteem.
  • Evil is that which harms me and hinders that which I cherish.
  • I live to maximize the Good for myself and those I value. At all times I remain in control of my pursuit of pleasure. I am an Epicurean.
  • Merit determines my criteria for the judgment of myself and others. I judge and am prepared to be judged.
  • I seek a just outcome in my exchanges with those around me. I thus will do unto others as I would prefer they do unto me. However, if they treat me poorly, I shall return that behavior in like degree.
  • I grasp the human need for symbols as a means for distillation of complex thought structures.
  • The symbol that best exemplifies my nature as an aware beast is Satan, the avatar of carnality, justice, and self-determination.
  • I see myself reflected in the philosophy created by Anton Szandor LaVey.
  • I am proud to call myself a Satanist.

These ideas fundamental to Satanists serve as an earthy foundation that we find deeply liberating and a welcome acceptance of ourselves as human animals. For the type of person who feels the need for an external supernatural parental figure, the responsibility for self-determination explicit in this path would be terrifying. For the Satanist, belief in any actual God or Devil to which one would be beholden is repugnant and stultifying. We “agree to disagree” with those who are spiritually oriented concerning our different approaches to living, hence our advocacy of pluralism in society. We Satanists know that our way is not for everyone. We simply ask that others follow their own path and allow us to be as we are.

But please, all of you believers, understand that we are not simply your “flip side.” We are not Devil-worshippers. We are simply carnal self-worshippers looking to enjoy our lives to the fullest. May you find bliss in your serving of your chosen deity. We certainly will!

Copyright © 2007, First published in The Satanic Scriptures