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On the Popular Interpretation and Misconceptions of Satanism
The poster above is a recruiting poster for the American branch of the Church of Satan. Upon viewing it, one cannot fail to pick up its humor along with its comedic manner and intentional use of devil archetypes. The used-car-salesman jacket and absolutely wretched tie on the devil in the front, the scantily-clad she-devil in the background, the grinning face of Anton LaVey on the wall: why would any religion, especially one as feared as the Church of Satan portray themselves as such an unserious bunch when they are clearly one of the most reviled groups in history?
In traditional American culture, elements of Christianity and the archetypes supported by it are very pronounced. We have a democratically elected (sort of) president that continually speaks of evildoers and that God is on the side of America. The percentage of Americans that consider themselves Christian is an astonishing 77% (1). Since Christianity has held such a dominant sway in the masses (which extends to the formation of the country), it’s supposed counterpart, Satanism and it’s respective church, have had much false information and propaganda said against them.
First let us deal with a popular myth about joining the Church of Satan (hitherto referred to as CoS): You must sell your soul to the devil. A common question to CoS members is “How do I join your dark ranks? How do I sell my very essence to the Lord of the Pit for power?” The ritual begins in a room that has not seen sunlight for 30 days. You must also secure a blank sheet of papyrus that has not seen sunlight for another 30 days. Etch a trapezoid in glass in the middle of the room with a crystal shard, and stand in the middle of it. Goat’s blood will be needed (never sheep’s blood!). Drip the goat’s blood around the trapezoid while making sure not to get any of it on your feet. Next, carefully recite…
Blah blah blah blah blah blah bull. The previous paragraph was the sort of answer a b-movie science fiction fanatic would enjoy, but in reality this ‘ritual’ would be laughed at by any real Satanist..
When posed the “How do I sell my soul?” question, any CoS members would probably respond along the lines of “Stop harassing us until you’ve grown some brain cells... etc” More efficient than my little hypothetical answers, you could quote from The Satanic Bible, "To become a Satanist, it is unnecessary to sell your soul to the Devil or make a pact with Satan. This threat was devised by Christianity to terrorize people so they would not stray from the fold."(1) Neither the CoS nor any Satanist actually affirms even so much as the existence of Satan or any other sort of metaphysics. When you remove the hype and lies, you can see this philosophy for what it truly is. Oh, but we have much more to clear up...
Let us continue with the name: Satanism. Dictionary.com defines Satanism as “The worship of Satan characterized by a travesty of the Christian rites”. This is the most popular lie concerning this religion today; that its members are evil, black-hearted, goat-worshipping fiends; this is simply untrue. The fact of the matter is that there is no actual worship that goes on with Church of Satan members, and there are no deities involved. Reverend Matt G. Paradise, a High Priest in the Church of Satan writes “In Satanism, Satan is an archetype, a representation of certain qualities that the Satanist embodies including rational self-interest, avoidance of oppressive mentalities, the questioning of all, and perseverance towards success and human potential.”(2) Why, even The Satanic Bible, written in the 1960’s by Anton LaVey, is not so much a religious document, rather than it is LaVey’s personal philosophy put to paper. In truth, Satanism is a philosophy, branded with the name of the Christian Adversary due to it’s irreverent ideas.
Before any further unraveling, permit me to relate a story from my personal experience. As a child, I lived in a house that backed up to quite a bit of brushwood and forest with various winding dirt roads and large lakes if you went far enough. All of the paths were neatly kept and wide as a stone’s throw. In recollection, it was actually quite a great place to go hiking and exploring, and yet I never even ventured one step in that direction for a single reason: I was afraid of the evil Satan-worshipping cult that I was told inhabited it. In the 80’s, there was a sort of modern witch-hunt that was labeled the Satanic Panic. There was a popular book by Lawrence Pazdor entitled Michelle Remembers; its contents were records of a patient’s memory which he had ‘dug up’ via hypnotherapy. In these magical revelations, Michelle suddenly recalls her knowledge of an evil world-spanning Satanic cult that is bent on domination of the earth and ritual child sacrifice, not to mention drug cartels, “snuff” films, and child pornography. Needless to say, these are absolutely absurd allegations, but the talk show hosts found the whole fiasco to be quite the effective ratings-boost. My own personal memory brings back images of Christian evangelists jumping on the bandwagon; “therapists” uncovering “memories” of similar cults live on Oprah and Geraldo. In time, representatives of the CoS were dispatched to carefully dispel all of these hysterical myths, but not before causing the most expensive trial in U.S. history, in which several innocent individuals from a day school were prosecuted. Now, courts are reversing many of the decisions that were made, and of course this witch hunt has been debunked, but at the time and for several years afterwards I was scared to death of anyone associated with anything as so much as a pitchfork. Of course I know better now, but this is just an example of a scare tactic employed to steer people away from the CoS.
Aside from these myths, there remain a slew of other propagandas, many-too-many to deal with here. There are allegations that Satanists are Nazi’s, that they are homophobic, that they are racist, sexist, and every negative connotation that can come to mind. As far as the Nazi allegations go, CoS members are free to have whatever political affiliations they see fit for themselves. I have known Satanists that are Democratic, Republican, members of the green party, Libertarian, Leninist, Stalinist, fascists, pacifists, anarchists, Zionists, communists, socialists and quite a bit more. On whether or not Satanists are racist/sexist, I will take a quote directly from Magister Peter H. Gilmore, “We don’t care from whence a person comes or what genitals adorn their bodies. We judge people for what they are individually and how they behave, ascribing nothing to them based on their lineage.” To answer whether or not Satanists are homophobic, I would like to point out that it is the first organized western religion to accept both gay and lesbian members.
It is true that we have spent a great deal of time pointing out what Satanism is not, with very little of what Satanism is. I do not believe I could sum up such a philosophy here, and I would recommend to anyone that is curious to go pick up a copy of The Satanic Bible by Anton Szandor LaVey, but I shall give a quick summary of the most key points. Satanism is, above all else, a very natural and life-loving philosophy. Most of its mores are based around free will and strength of the individual. Every Satanist is free to decide what he believes, why they believe it, what morals they hold, and all else that is traditionally decided for one in a religion. There are very few points that Satanists agree upon, but they are the cornerstone of the entire religion, titled “The Nine Satanic Statements”, taken from The Satanic Bible. Some you may not understand, but know that they are all based around a central philosophy: The love of life and the importance of the strong over the weak.
The Nine Satanic Statements
1. Satan represents indulgence instead of abstinence!
2. Satan represents vital existence instead of spiritual pipe dreams!
3. Satan represents undefiled wisdom instead of hypocritical self-deceit!
4. Satan represents kindness to those who deserve it instead of love wasted on ingrates!
5. Satan represents vengeance instead of turning the other cheek!
6. Satan represents responsibility to the responsible instead of concern for psychic vampires!
7. Satan represents man as just another animal, sometimes better, more often worse than those that walk on all-fours, who, because of his “divine spiritual and intellectual development,” has become the most vicious animal of all!
8. Satan represents all of the so-called sins, as they all lead to physical, mental, or emotional gratification!
9. Satan has been the best friend the Church has ever had, as He has kept it in business all these years!
No one is qualified to tell you what Satanism represents beyond it’s most basic tenets, for that is the crux of the whole religion; Fierce independence, love of life, deference to none.
LaVey, Anton. The Satanic Bible. New York, New York: Avon Books, 1969
Lunneberg, Allen D. “More Than Words.”
St. Mark’s West Bloomfield 2 June 2002.
St. Mark’s West Bloomfield Church. 13 Oct. 2003.