Fine, Let’s Play the Dictionary Game

By Magister Bill M.
February, LIII A.S.

As the Church of Satan has been explaining for over half a century, Satanism is not devil worship, but rather a non-theistic religion which utilizes the mythological Satan as an apt metaphor for its carnal philosophy. This can come as surprising news to people whose only prior exposure to supposed “Satanists” consisted of seeing crazed devil worshipers on sensationalist talk shows, the “Satanic” cults depicted in horror movies, stories from Christian propaganda tracts, and perhaps that one rebellious kid from back in middle school who embraced whatever devilish aesthetics his favorite rock bands were using.

Some people, to their credit, will accept the corrections to these misconceptions they may have had. They will read or hear the Satanism 101 explanation, and say, “OK. I get it now. You don’t actually do that sort of crazy stuff.” Others unfortunately wish to remain willfully ignorant. They’ll still cling to their incorrect views on what Satanists believe and do, even after they’ve been corrected.

…[The] willfully ignorant… cling to their incorrect views on what Satanists believe and do, even after they’ve been corrected.”

One of the most tiresome forms of this argument is the dictionary game. This is when somebody tries to argue, “I just looked up ‘satanism’ in the dictionary. And it defines it as ‘innate wickedness’ or “obsession with or affinity for evil; specifically: worship of Satan marked by the travesty of Christian rites.’ So, you’re wrong about what Satanism is!”

Before explaining why this argument is a fallacious one, it’s worth noting that Satanists aren’t the only people who would find a disagreeable description of themselves in the dictionary. Consider the following:

  • Entries for the word pagan include “an irreligious or hedonistic person” or even “an uncivilized or unenlightened person.” I doubt many self-described practicing Pagans of today would call that an accurate description of themselves.
  • Some dictionaries describe atheism as “the doctrine or belief that there is no God.” Atheists themselves however overwhelmingly describe atheism as simply the absence of any belief in deities (“a” + “theos” + “ism” = “without” “deity” “belief”). In other words, if you’re not a person who decidedly believes in God or some other deity, you are an atheist. Thus, the positive assertion that deities don’t exist is not a strict requirement for atheism. And no, “agnosticism” is not some sort of halfway point or third choice between theism and atheism.
  • Wiccans would not be happy to see dictionaries sometimes describe witchcraft as “communication with the devil or with a familiar.” Nor would they take too kindly to witch being described as a woman practicing “black witchcraft” or as “an ugly old woman; hag.”
  • Even the word Christian can have entries which certain Christians may reject as inaccurate. For example, “a member of any of certain Protestant churches.”  I’m sure that Christians of the non-Protestant varieties, such as those in the Catholic and Orthodox denominations, would have objections to that exclusionary description.

What’s going on here? Are all of these people just basing their religious identity on incorrect meanings to words? Or on the other extreme, are dictionaries meaningless and, to paraphrase a Lewis Carol fable, are we free to make any words mean anything we want them to mean? Of course not.

What many don’t stop to realize is that dictionaries give usages, not definitions. Dictionaries are reference books, not absolute authorities on objective truth. Much like encyclopedias, they are handy, but not meant to tell you everything you’d ever need to know about a particular topic. In formal terms of logical fallacies, this is an example of the classic “argument from authority,” the authority in this case being the dictionary. One line from Webster’s doesn’t erase the fact that a thoroughly-established, non-theistic religion called Satanism has existed since 1966. If a page in your book describes people one way, and reality shows them behaving otherwise, sorry: reality wins.

dictionaries give usages, not definitions. Dictionaries are reference books, not absolute authorities on objective truth.”

Furthermore, a closer look at these dictionary entries for “Satanism” show that they include old usages of the term “Satanism,” with a lowercase “s.”  The word “satanism” itself existed before the Church of Satan, but was used as a loose term for “general wickedness,” or in even more archaic uses some particular sin (e.g., “homosexuality is a satanism”). In these antiquated uses of the word, the “ism” suffix does not imply a belief system as it does in words like “Buddhism” or “Marxism,” but rather a specific sort of act as it does in words like “colloquialism” or “baptism.”

But as long as we have our dictionaries out, let’s see if there are any words commonly associated with “Satanism” which, upon deeper examination, have secondary usages which do in fact seem to fit Satanism as we know it:

  • As you’ve probably heard elsewhere by now, dictionaries note that the etymology of Satan comes from Hebrew, and the word means “adversary.” 
  • Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary describes devil as, among other things, “a person of notable energy” and “dashing spirit,” or “one who is mischievous.” Also a word for a fellow in some circumstances (“What a lucky devil!”), or “something very trying or provoking” (“I’m having a devil of a time trying to fix this car”), or “the difficult, deceptive, or problematic part of something.” Similarly, devilish can be described as “mischievous” or “roguish”, as in “She has a devilish grin.”
  • Some dictionaries point out that the word sinful is sometimes used colloquially to mean something quite indulgent, as in “This chocolate cake is sinfully delicious!” I recall a brand of cookies in the 1990s called Sinful Selects. Speaking of food, there is of course “devil’s food” cake, along with the American brand dessert cakes known as “Devil Dogs,” or the sharp and spicy taste of “deviled eggs” and “deviled ham.”
  • Entries for witchcraft include not just mentions of sorcery and supernatural powers, but “an irresistible influence or fascination.” This usage is nothing new. Almost a decade before the Church of Satan was founded, Frank Sinatra sang his classic song “Witchcraft,” which was not about the occult but an alluring woman. The record, by the way, received four Grammy nominations.
  • Magic can mean “the art of producing illusions as entertainment by the use of sleight of hand, deceptive devices, etc.” usually known as “stage magic.”  But the word is also used to refer to things that are “mysteriously enchanting,” as in “This night was simply magical!” When we hear people use this term, we know they’re not necessarily implying a belief in supernatural forces, but rather something too emotionally-moving to really put into words.

As Satanists, we are adversaries to the spiritual and the status quo. We are not devil worshipers, but devils ourselves of the modern world, enjoying not only the piety-destroying nature of mischief, but putting norms to the challenge, the power of doubt over faith, and self-serving Machiavellian tactics. We are sinful by indulging in the life-enriching indulgences which only became branded as “sins” by the sanctimonious. Our witchcraft is lesser magic, a practice detailed in our book The Satanic Witch, which is based not on faith in supernatural forces but the psychological and supernormal art of seduction with “irresistible influence or fascination.” Similarly, our greater magic in the ritual chamber utilizes a state of mind for “illusions as entertainment” not unlike stage magic, but for the purpose of ultimately commemorating or creating our own “mysteriously enchanting” events in life.

Words can be slippery at times, but we know who we are. We are Satanists. We’ve chosen that name because, at the end of the day, it’s the most apt and stimulating one, and it has served us well. But as the saying goes, “the Devil is in the details!”

Meme courtesy of Dr. Vincent Schitz (