This post is going to be a bit different from my usual and is likely to surprise some people and not be all that surprising at all to others. Let's just get straight to the point since it's a waste of time to beat around the bush.
I am a Satanist and have been a proud member of the Church of Satan for just over a decade. I recently decided to get more involved and active, applying for active status in the Church and buying some shiny new copies of the classic literature:
I already owned The Satanic Bible (2 copies in fact), the Satanic Rituals, and The Satanic Scriptures, but the others pictured above are new. My old copies were looking a bit messy, and some of my other books I couldn't find after moving house, so not pictured are LaVey's other works (which are coming in the post): The Satanic Witch, Satan Speaks and The Devil's Notebook.
Not that it really needs to be said every single time whenever the subject of my religion comes up, but I don't believe in a literal deity or worship the christian devil - these things are superstitions, not Satanism. I also don't engage in ritual sacrifice of any form, drink blood or whatever other nonsense is commonly believed about Satanists - I would hope that's just common sense and obvious to anyone who has done even the slightest bit of research, and especially anyone who knows me.
Satan is a symbol, a role model. People commonly ask why the religion is called Satanism if we don't believe in a being named Satan, or ask why we see Satan as a good role model, and to answer that question with some wonderful wit i'd like to refer you to this wonderful humorous essay from my fellow Satanist (and guy with a great sense of humour in my experience, though sadly he also codes in Perl) Magister Bill M:
It ends on this point:
… And THAT, folks, is what it feels like when I’m asked “Why do you call yourself a Satanist when you don’t believe in Satan?”
Note to self: get a darth vader t-shirt and wait until someone asks me if i'm a Sith lord.
This article will cover a bit more about Satanism the religion, and the Church of Satan (the organisation), though with regards to the latter nothing I say can be taken as "official" as i'm not authorised to speak on behalf of the church. Some members are (we call them "agents", because they formally represent the church), and the church requires other members to make it clear they are not representing the church when discussing it.
For anyone who wants to be 100% certain of the official view, go to the CoS website, in particular go here if you're a member of the press:
Please also check the official FAQ:
If you have a question, check the FAQ first before asking myself in comments on this post please. Especially if you contact the CoS officially, they won't respond at all to questions already addressed there usually - and if they do, they'll often just send you that link.
The not so obvious (but lack of knowledge is understandable)
It is not immediately obvious to anyone when the religion of Satanism first started, or the history behind it, and that's understandable if you've never looked into it further.
First, the history: Satanism as an actual organised religion started in 1966 when Anton LaVey founded the Church of Satan and wrote the Satanic bible. Thus, within the church 1966 is referred to as "year one", or 1AS (Anno Satanas). The Satanic bible speaks of a new age of Satan - which is nothing supernatural or mystical, but rather the gradual loosening of the grip religion has over mankind, the greater acceptance of science and reason as opposed to blind faith.
LaVey's style is best summarised by his description of the prophesied "topless dancing nuns" - a description that is comedic, blasphemous and descriptive of this coming age all the same time. The christian church is turning more and more towards Satanic ideas to try and keep hold of people, embracing ideas that are completely hypocritical for christianity all the time.
My favourite example is how many christian churches are trying to avoid the homophobia seen in the christian bible and accepting gay and lesbian followers while re-interpreting their sacred texts.
Before 1966 there's no evidence of an organise religion by the name of Satanism, though plenty of examples exist of the term being used as an insult.
Anton LaVey is to Satanism what Ayn Rand is to objectivism, what Karl Marx is to communism, what L Ron Hubbard is to Scientology, what Bill Gates is to Microsoft - he invented the religion.
It should therefore be surprising that many claim to be Satanists while disagreeing with everything LaVey ever wrote, sadly this is the case and we call these groups "pseudosatanists": often they exist only online, the vast majority setup by edgy goths wanting to be the center of attention, they're mostly harmless but every now and then you get actual devil worshippers who do disgusting things "in the name of Satan".
One pseudosatanist group that is gaining attention right now is "The Satanic Temple". They are not Satanists, they are not the Church of Satan (but we often get blame for their actions), and they are causing potential serious harm.
Let's look at the issues with them.
"The satanic temple"
First, it should be clear that any group that proudly states they disagree with the Satanic bible is not a group that supports Satanism. This is not a matter of "denominations" as often portrayed in the media, the simple fact is that they are not now, nor were they ever Satanists in the first place.
Before claiming to be a real religion, this group started off as a more honest parody, using Satanic aesthetics and parody for their political activism and PR stunts/pranks - and they are welcome to do so. I myself actually found a lot of their pranks at least mildly amusing. The "pink mass" for example was amusing.
Of course, even the "pink mass" (wherein they baptised the founder of westboro baptist church as gay in the afterlife) is only amusing at first until you look further into what really happened.
For example, putting your penis onto someone's grave will quite correctly lead to a public indecency charge:
The link is NSFW and shows "Lucien Greaves", or at least whoever currently uses that name, placing his genitals on a gravestone.
I say "whoever currently uses that name" as it seems more than one person has played the "character":
Then came the now infamous baphomet statue which they requested be put up alongside a 10 commandments monument outside of the Oklahoma state capitol building. It's obvious that this was not really a religious activity for them, but a political stunt intended to draw support to first amendment violations.
Now, pretty much all Satanists would agree with the separation of church and state and support the first amendment strongly, and Church of Satan as an organisation lists taxation of churches and removal of religious privilege in the official goals (pentagonal revisionism, points 2 and 3):
If churches were taxed for all their income and property, they’d crumble overnight of their own obsolescence, and the National Debt would be wiped out as quickly
No tolerance for religious beliefs secularized and incorporated into law and order issues
Notably, this statement of goals was released in 1988 - years before the satanic temple claimed to be the first to use Satanism in opposing religious privilege.
The problem is, "the satanic temple" didn't actually help with their stunt, and furthermore they never correct the media when the media routinely blames their stunts on the Church of Satan.
If you look at all of TST's stunts you'll find a recurring theme of "let's show how religious privilege is bad by asking for it ourselves", essentially a form of trolling as political activism. If they succeed in their lawsuits to push the matter, they will actually strengthen religious privilege, not weaken it.
At least they started off being a bit honest about being a parody.
Starting off honest - how TST began
Allegedly (I could not confirm this, due to it no longer being listed in archives on "actors's access") the group put out the following ad looking to cast extras for a mockumentary:
“We are seeking people from all walks of life, goths, grandparents, soccer moms, etc to be the followers of a charismatic yet down to earth Satanic cult leader. The shoot will be on January 25th in downtown Tallahassee. Actors will be required to wear tasteful Satanic garb.”
In the name of intellectual honesty I won't state this as an outright fact since I couldn't confirm it with the primary source, that said we find the response from Lucian Greeve's to the CoS fact sheet containing the following:
The first public appearance TST ever made was in a rally in support of Florida Governor Rick Scott as he signed a bill allowing for prayer in school. The cheering evangelists, we knew, would think twice if Satanists applauded their increased “liberty.” This, of course, was when we wanted to inspire Satanists to take on causes that would help preserve and expand their personal liberties, but we had no membership. While there was a casting call to try and populate the rally, the “fact sheet” flatly lies when it states that ads were ran “for a mockumentary about a fake religion.” Satanism was never treated as or regarded to be a “fake religion” by TST.
Here, he claims that yes there was a casting call, but that the group still intended to be treated as a real religious group. Honestly, that strikes me as quite deceptive in itself, but if true the "mockumentary" story is incorrect.
For a group claiming to be a real religion, this would be even more deceptive, but for a parody group doing political activism it makes perfect sense - I believe the retroactive depiction of the group as having intended to be serious from the start is the problem here - at the time it was far more obvious they were just political activists and their official website from that time is still available on archive.org.
Their "beliefs" at this time stated the following, which is either a parody or devil worship:
The Satanic Temple believes that God is supernatural and thus outside of the sphere of the physical. God’s perfection means that he cannot interact with the imperfect corporeal realm. Because God cannot intervene in the material world, He created Satan to preside over the universe as His proxy. Satan has the compassion and wisdom of an angel. Although Satan is subordinate to God, he is mankind’s only conduit to the dominion beyond the physical. In addition, only Satan can hear our prayers and only Satan can respond. While God is beyond human comprehension, Satan desires to be known and knowable. Only in this way can there be justice and can life have meaning.
Since the rest of the website is very clearly parody (look at their online store from back then for example and read the item descriptions - they are dripping in sarcasm and very tongue in cheek), i'm leaning towards the theory that at the time they were simply not familiar with real Satanism until they did more research and found that real Satanists are not devil worshippers.
They later updated the above page to say it was just a metaphor, as part of their slow process of rebranding themselves as a serious and real religion, adding this "disclaimer" and describing the clearly theistic nonsense as a simple metaphor:
The Satanic Temple seeks to separate Religion from Superstition by acknowledging religious belief as a metaphorical framework with which we construct a narrative context for our goals and works. Satan stands as the ultimate icon for the selfless revolt against tyranny, free & rational inquiry, and the responsible pursuit of happiness.
After updating this, we see the "tenets" page emerge, listing 9 "fundamental tenets", it is no coincidence that there are 9 of them and i'm reminded of LaVey's 9 Satanic statements:
- People should be guided by compassion and wisdom and follow the golden rule of “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
- The Circle of Compassion should extend to all species, not just humans.
- People are fallible, and although we should all try to do our best, poor judgment is inevitable. If we make a mistake, we should do our best to rectify it, and resolve any harm that may have been caused by our misdeeds.
- The Satanist should ever be self-reflective.
- All life is precious in the eyes of Satan.
- The freedoms of others should be respected, even the freedom to offend, but great care should be exercised to avoid wrongly encroaching on the freedoms of others.
- There are things we don’t understand, and it is appropriate to acknowledge that. It is not appropriate, however, to be proud of ignorance.
- While proselytizing might have noble intent, it is not acceptable to coerce or push your beliefs on others. It is always best to lead by example.
- Every tenet is a guiding principle to designed to inspire nobility in action and thought. The spirit of compassion and wisdom should always prevail over the written or spoken word.
Taken on their own, these "tenets" are probably agreeable to most reasonable people (though as I will point out, they are hypocritical with point 8).
More proof that this started off as a parody attempting to rebrand as real can be found in the fact that even these "fundamental tenets" have changed:
- One should strive to act with compassion and empathy towards all creatures in accordance with reason.
- The struggle for justice is an ongoing and necessary pursuit that should prevail over laws and institutions.
- One’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone.
- The freedoms of others should be respected, including the freedom to offend. To willfully and unjustly encroach upon the freedoms of another is to forgo your own.
- Beliefs should conform to our best scientific understanding of the world. We should take care never to distort scientific facts to fit our beliefs.
- People are fallible. If we make a mistake, we should do our best to rectify it and resolve any harm that may have been caused.
- Every tenet is a guiding principle designed to inspire nobility in action and thought. The spirit of compassion, wisdom, and justice should always prevail over the written or spoken word.
Aside from the fact that changing your fundamental beliefs and tenets in only the space of a couple of years while claiming to be a serious religion is questionable at best, these new tenets are obviously aimed much more towards encouraging social and political causes.
Most worrying is the stuff in point 2 about laws and institutions, and this will become clear soon.
Let's look at their current "campaigns"
Current campaigns - and why they are not Satanic, and potentially dangerous
Currently, TST is running the following campaigns according to their web site:
- "The Satanic Temple Veterans’ Monument" - honestly, the initial removal of the 10 commandments statue had nothing at all to do with TST, that was the "freedom from religion foundation". TST didn't have any part in this issue other than to put their own monument up when the city opened up to more religious displays, which goes against the alleged secular cause they claim to support.
The FFRF and similar groups like the ACLU do good work in this area, the ACLU in particular are legendary for defending freedom of speech. TST just promotes themselves and pulls PR stunts aiming to offend christians.
- The "protect children project" - this one is to me plain disgusting - suffice to say, they are not fighting to protect children from physical abuse, and they are not fighting to protect children from religious indoctrination.
What they ARE doing is using a legal theory they themselves admit is untested, claiming that if a child joins TST they can then state that it is against their religious beliefs to be beaten in school. This will not work in court, it is a lesser form of arguing that it is against one's religious beliefs to be locked up in jail.
Don't take my word for it though, go and look at the PDF they provide for kids:
Notably, the very last question which gives the strong impression to vulnerable children that if they join TST their teachers will not be able to beat them legally.
I would also be highly concerned for the safety of children impressionable enough to fall for this and who are desperate enough from ongoing abuse to have TST send in their letter. Doing so could easily cause a lot of problems for those kids, especially in schools run by fundamentalist christian types who believe in "spare the rod", and this is not addressed at all.
Yes, everyone should be free to express whatever beliefs they want, but realistically it is unwise to do so in today's society and most children are not mature enough to understand this.
I know from personal experience that even parents who appear to be sensible and rational can hold some strange beliefs about Satanism - which TST will only reinforce due to specifically telling people to stay away from real Satanism. My own parents for example (both atheists), when I naively "came out" in my teens, even giving them a copy of the Satanic bible to read, believed Satanism is about "raising the devil to earth" and thought I was getting involved in a cult.
Aside from all the above, even if TST take this to court and it passes, they are again simply reinforcing religious privilege AND pushing kids to join them, which is simply a lesser form of child abuse.
Real Satanists who wish to protect children simply do so, and protect children regardless of what religion the parents are (young children can not truly be said to belong to any religion any more than they can really have political views beyond highly simplistic ones - teenagers might, but even teens have the right not to be abused without having to join a group claiming to be religious).
I am aware of several fellow Satanists who have worked with charities to actually protect children, you'll never know about it though because bringing their religion into it helps nobody. A Satanist who wants to help a cause simply helps that cause. Bringing religion into it, and especially a controversial religion like Satanism, often causes more harm than good.
A correct way to fight child abuse is to fight it for all children, not just those willing to join your organisation and express belief in a controversial religion.
Compare this to what the Church of Satan says to young Satanists or potential Satanists:
For myself as a dad, just like other Satanists, I would never push my religion upon my son, or upon any other child - I am open about my own beliefs, but have stressed that he needs to follow his own path.
- "After school Satan" - this is again a response to what christianity is doing, and yet again is reinforcing religious privilege and pushing religion on kids.
The official website also links to the "project children project" outright stating that they "offer exemptions" to corporal punishment in schools, when they can do no such thing.
Notably also, the "permission slip" states that volunteers are screened for criminal history and professionalism, but it does not reference formal background checks - likely because TST supporters hold strong beliefs against "narcing" to law enforcement (see point 2 in their current "tenets"). The anti-police views held by many supporters are not official, but TST does not speak out against them either.
In my view it is only a matter of time until someone uses TST to gain access to kids: devil worshippers and other nutters or simple old-fashioned child molesters. TST doesn't appear to have any policy in support of reporting dangerous people to the police, the Church of Satan on the other hand has a history of doing so.
- "grey faction" - claiming to fight against future "satanic panics", started last year.
Honestly, they've not done much beyond a single protest, so I can't judge either way other than to say TST's other activities could easily lead to the very thing they claim they're trying to prevent.
- "Religious Literature For Schools" - honestly, this is just another one in a pattern, it's clear that handing out their literature to schools is going to upset a lot of christian types and this seems to be their intended goal, or so they state it is, upsetting them until they withdraw all religious literature from schools.
The same goal of course could be achieved by a rational lawsuit of the type the ACLU and FFRF have done for years, directly challenging religious privilege.
Doing so actually helps fight religious privilege while not pushing more crap on kids, but it's not as dramatic or exciting.
- Various other monuments - there's little point in covering each individual case, as they all depend upon the same basic facts - this is all an attention-grabbing PR stunt, while it would be more efficient to fight religious privilege directly without the media circus.
If you see a government body promoting christianity, i'd suggest you call the ACLU or FFRF for help fighting it in court. That is far more productive.
- Harvard black mass - honestly this is embarrassing and i'm going to show just how by pointing to the reddit post about it, where even the regulars on /r/satanism (itself full of pseudos) call them out on their crap:
This was not in fact the largest satanic gathering in history - that took place on 6/6/6 back in 2006 in LA and consisted of actual Satanists there to celebrate real Satanism.
- The abortion stuff - i'm done giving any sort of respect here, just read about it:
The satanic temple are not Satanists, they are political activists pulling PR stunts. There are still no true Satanic organisations outside of the Church of Satan (honestly, what would be the point?), plenty of Satanists are not CoS members however.
If you think a group is practicing Satanism ask them 1 simple question:
What do you think of Anton LaVey?
If they answer indicating they've never even read his work, or they disagree with it, they are no more Satanists than you could be an objectivist while disagreeing with everything Ayn Rand ever wrote.
Often they can't even spell his name right and call him "LeVay" or "levey".
TST try to make themselves look like they're the "new face" of Satanism, and their supporters keep trying to make out that they are some sort of new denomination of Satanism - they are not.
They also hilariously have accused the Church of Satan of just about everything, including homophobia and racism, claiming that the many diverse members the organisation has are simply "tokens" and that we're all secretly nazis and all sorts of other bizarre nonsense.
If you want to understand why this is so hilariously wrong, read the actual Satanic bible and the rest of Anton LaVey's writing - pay attention in particular to the concepts of stratification and "the good guy badge".
Look also into the history of pseudosatanic groups: then you'll get the joke when I say I call Lucian Greeves a "discount Lord Egan". At least previous pseudos did actually believe their own crap.
Thank you for reading, and please feel free to comment on this post asking questions, i'll do my best to answer if they aren't already addressed in the official FAQ.
If you want to claim Satanism existed prior to 1966 though, be prepared to point to an actual religion using the name "Satanism" that existed prior to LaVey's work.
If you want to know what Satanism is about, read the Satanic bible - that is not me telling you, like a christian would, "read my religious texts because they're all true" - that's me telling you, whether you agree or not, that what is in the Satanic bible is what Satanists actually believe.
Satanism is not for everyone, the experience of reading the Satanic bible for the first time for many people seems pretty binary: for me and many others it was like LaVey had somehow read my mind and I found that my existing beliefs all had a name already, for others who read it, they might agree with some points but it never fully "clicks".
If you read LaVey's work and disagree, that is completely fine and expected.
If you want to use Satanic aesthetics or symbolism for some purpose, feel free to do so - but it's inaccurate and dishonest to call yourself a Satanist unless you actually believe in Satanism.