Historically, Satanism had been used as a form of accusation towards an enemy. An allegation of Satanism or witchcraft was enough to start a movement against the accused and bring him or her down. An instance of this is when Kalo Devi, a 65-year-old woman, was accused of practicing witchcraft tied with Satanism by her neighbor. Though there was no proof of this, she was chased out of her village and lost everything. Satanism was viewed as a frightful thing that must be stopped at all costs, but Satanism itself did not have a known group of followers who genuinely practiced or followed it (Dyrendal, Lewis & Petersen, 2015).
Today, the stereotypical Satanist is believed to worship Satan, complete sacrifices, abuse children or drugs, and practice witchcraft. This is a common viewpoint of Satanism, but it is often an incorrect interpretation as modern-day Satanism can be viewed as “an umbrella term for several sets of beliefs and practices of a decentralized subculture” (Reichert & Richardson, 2012). Organized Satanism, as practiced today, contains a major division between atheistic and theistic groups, which can further be divided between practices and rituals held.
One of the first discussions of Satan in a positive light came from Paradise Lost as written by John Milton in 1667. In Paradise Lost, Milton took descriptions of Satan from Christian tradition and employed them in a way such that humanized Satan. As written, Satan was believable and relatable for some. Many human behaviors were accurately portrayed, such as pride (Dyrendal et al., 2015). For example, as Milton wrote in Paradise Lost, Satan claims that it is “Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven” (263). He shows how there is a natural desire for power and to be in control of oneself. For many, this feeling is mutual, yet may seem strange as it comes from Satan’s perspective. Other authors and stories such as William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell continued to humanize Satan and give chances for one to identify and relate with Satan, indirectly giving rise to participants of Satanism.
Modern-day Satanism began to take shape in 1966 when Magus LaVey formed the Church of Satan, which is the most common form of Satanism today. The principles of this church would soon be defined in The Satanic Bible, which was also written by LaVey in 1969. The Satanic Bible contained LaVey’s critiques and interpretations of modern-day religious ideas, particularly from Christianity. LaVey writes, “All religions of a spiritual nature are inventions of man” (1969). He continues, writing, “The semantic meaning of Satan is the ‘adversary’ or ‘opposition’ or the ‘accuser’… Satan represents opposition to all religions which serve to frustrate and condemn man for his natural instincts” (1969). To LaVey and his followers, Satan is merely a symbol of so-called ‘evil’ behaviors. Satan does not exist, but rather, he is the representation of basic human desires. The idea that Satan is a deity is a mistake and was only interpreted as so beginning in the fourteenth century (LaVey, 1969). Several people were not satisfied with this interpretation. In 1975, Michael Aquino broke away from the Church of Satan and established the Temple of Set. He and his followers held the theistic belief to revere a deity named “Set,” which was the ancient Egyptian name given to Satan (Petersen, 2009). Various other sub-groups of Satanism can be found within these theistic and atheistic branches, but the most predominant form of Satanism falls under the Church of Satan.
Satanism gained a had a noticeable following, but was by no means a mainstream practice for people. Despite this, a movement of panic began to develop in the 1980’s, referred to as “Satanic Ritual Abuse” or as the “Satanism Scare.” Hysteria was seen throughout the United States of America. Parents began to fear for their children, thinking that they might hear the word of Satan and be tempted by his offerings. It was often seen that Christian preachers or Christian baby boomers would act as “claimsmakers,” asserting that they had to take stands against the practice of Satanism. Cases of graverobbings and animal sacrifices where satanic symbols were left behind seemed to further prove that cult-based Satanism was on the rise. However, cases like this often had no direct ties to a formal practice of Satanism. For an example, these “Satanic acts” could be explained though “legend trips,” in which people, typically bored teenagers, visit places that are haunted and try to speak to spirits for a thrill (McCallion, 1992).
Sociologists found several explanations surrounding this mass-hysteria. Anti-Satanist beliefs become prevalent during times of social change and anxiety. Specifically, in the 1980’s, dual career families started becoming more frequent where both parents maintain a job while raising children. Parents lost control over some interaction with their children, leaving them frustrated and frightened of unknown outside sources that might negatively influence their children. Thus, for some families, by defining an outside source, particularly Satanism, as a common issue, control and stability can be given back to the parents (McCallion, 1992). Depictions of these cults further shaped Satanism in the eyes of the media. Though many people who were active supporters of Satanism did not partake in these “Satanic behaviors,” they are and have been affiliated with one another historically.
Modern Satanism places its roots from Judeo-Christian views of the devil, though many branches of Satanism can be found worshipping other devil-like symbols or deities (Petersen, 2009). Under the Church of Satan, Satanism seems to intentionally mock the Christian bible. For example, where practicing Christians are told to avoid partaking the seven deadly sins, Satanists are told to do quite the opposite. The act of “sinning” is encouraged and normalized as “indulging in each of these ‘sins’ … leads to physical, mental, or emotional gratification” (LaVey, 1969). For example, greed means you want more than you have, and envy means you desire another person’s belongings or status. These two “sins” lead to ambition and a desire to improve one’s situation. Pride is also something expected of people. As LaVey describes, not one person is devoid of having shown something off about him or herself, such as his or her clothing. Unless the clothes somebody wears are strictly to keep oneself warm, one is engaging in pride by emulating a higher status. Another “sin” is gluttony, which takes place when someone eats more than necessary. Being gluttonous is completely fine because it is eventually resolved by being prideful. If one is gluttonous to the point of obesity, pride will take over, and one will try to resolve their gluttonous behavior for a period of time. Sloth is another “sin” defined as laziness, but it is acceptable as it offers gratification of all kinds. Yet another “sin” in Christianity is lust. Having the slightest of sexual desires could be classified as lust, yet these desires and actions give large amounts of physical gratification. Finally, anger is classified as another deadly “sin.” There is nothing wrong with being angry in a situation. If somebody has done harm to you, it is perfectly acceptable to retaliate and return the favor (LaVey, 1969). All of these seven “sins” are normal and part of basic human instinct. For Satanists, Christianity is wrong to refrain people from their natural desires and calling them sinners for doing so. If God is the creator of people, he would be asinine for designing us for failure. Essentially, we are all destined for hell, which is absurd in the eyes of a Satanist.
As seen in the Church of Satan’s opposition to the seven deadly sins, atheistic Satanism has a focus on the individual desires of humans. The most important person to a Satanist is himself or herself. Satanism can accurately be described in one phrase: “Indulgence instead of abstinence” (LaVey, 1969). A Satanist can partake in whatever they so desire, presuming basic ethical codes are followed. For example, Satanists are given freedom with sex. People are free to have sex with whomever they desire or to commit to one person. Whichever path they chose is up to them so long they stick to it. Different sexualities are encouraged too, as the aim is to please oneself. (LaVey, 1969)
As noted previously, LaVeyan Satanists follow a code of ethics. This code of ethics, defined by LaVey, explicitly contradicts many misconceptions of the typical Satanist. For example, it is forbidden to harm little children, or to kill animals other than for food or self-defense. It is also forbidden to approach someone sexually without consent (LaVey, 1967). LaVey also writes about activities deemed illegal by law. If a behavior is illegal, such as doing drugs, it is entirely prohibited by the Church of Satan. Doing drugs is particularly frowned upon however because “self-destructive, suicidal hedonism -via whatever means- is ultimately un-Satanic as it threatens the very thing a Satanist holds most dear: his own life” (The Church of Satan’s Policy on Drug Abuse, n.d.). Members of the Church of Satan are expected to abide laws and respect the sanctity of life, especially theirs. As long as these two criteria are met, a Satanist can do whatever he or she desires.
Additionally, Satanists have the choice of partaking in “Satanic Rituals,” also referred to as “Intellectual Decompression.” These rituals are completed in order to free oneself of mental or physical burdens, not as worship of higher powers. A ritual is initiated typically with one of three purposes in mind: sexual desires, compassion for a friend, or the elimination of an enemy. Often done in private, a Satanic Ritual is characterized by black clothing, the symbol of Baphomet, candles, bells, a sword, and more. Though referred to as a “ritual,” these rituals in themselves do not have to be completed on any regular basis. The main belief of Satanism is to indulge. If partaking in this ritual comes as too much of a hassle, it does not have to be completed (LaVey, 1969). LaVeyan Satanists complete tasks at their own will. Though Satanism has a variety of sects, the one most commonly practiced does not align with typical perceptions of Satanism. Instead, the pursuit of individual desires is emphasized.