What the Devil ?
In an ideal society that protects religious freedom, people have the right to choose which religion is best for them, and also have the right to differ with other faiths – especially when those faiths infringe upon the rights of others. But what is the difference between a sincere argument against another religion and a smear campaign against another religion?
Many introductory text on contemporary Paganism contains some kind of a “We are not Satanists!” disclaimer. But are such disclaimers wrong? And do such disclaimers in any way scapegoat Satanists? It is, for example, valid for contemporary Pagans to point out that certain forms of Satanism have partially developed out of Christianity, and that Satan is not a part of their Pagan pantheons. But, on the other hand, to claim that Satanism is itself a form of “Christian fundamentalism” or “Christian heresy” is rather insincere. Satanists have their own non-Christian interpretations of who/what Satan (or Lucifer) is, and do not believe in the Christian god. Most forms of Satanism derive their ideas from other sources besides just Christianity or Judaism, including various ancient mythologies (especially Egyptian), Gnosticism and modern Western occultism (such as Aleister Crowley) – just as Christianity has derived its ideas from many other sources besides Judaism.
Also, saying that modern Witchcraft has no relationship with Satanism is an understatement – historically speaking that is. It is, however, accurate to say that contemporary (Pagan) Witchcraft is not Satanism. However, at times, in their attempts to dissociate themselves from Satanism, some Pagans tend to distort their own history and forget that although Wicca and Satanism are indeed very distinct religious categories the two do share some historical ties. Wicca as we now know it is derived from 19th-century occult philosophy – including literary Satanic philosophy, among others – projected onto a non-Christian goddess and god, plus some de-Christianised Golden Dawn-style ceremonial magic, plus assorted turn-of-the-century British folklore – more recently re-shaped by contemporary Pagan scholarship and by modern feminist and ecological concerns.
The prime example of literary Satanism that strongly influenced Wicca, especially feminist Wicca, is the book La Sorciere by the 19th-century French historian Jules Michelet (Citadel Press under the title Satanism and Witchcraft) – although this does not, however, in any way suggest that Michelet harboured ideals in alignment with the complex religious and social themes instituted by modern Satanism as his writing depended for the most on Church writing, and also pre-date modern organised “satanisms”. Pre-feminist classical Wicca also drew lots of inspiration indirectly from Michelet. Michelet was also a major source of inspiration to Margaret Murray, Charles Leland, Sir James Frazer, etc. Worth mentioning is that the theme of Murray’s first book was actually intended to denounce any connection between Wicca and the fictitious Satanism created by the Roman Catholic Church.
Wiccans and other contemporary Pagans are correct in saying that Pagan horned gods are not Satan. There is plenty of evidence via cave paintings and other artwork by prehistoric man that clearly depicts tribal priests/shamans wearing the raiment of a horned male deity in magic rituals, which is believed by modern historians to be the religious end result of wearing such horned disguises to get closer to game animals during the hunt, and some of these paintings clearly depict the image in a ritualistic manner. This Horned God image is very ancient, and predates the Christian “witch-hunting trials”, and organised Satanism, by many millennia. The existence of horned male nature deities in very different Pagan cultures are obviously carry-over elements from distant memories of this primal Horned God.
In pre-Christian European religion, there were goddesses associated with witchcraft, Hecate, Diana; but horned male gods were not associated with witchcraft as such but rather with the hunt and the magic behind the hunt. The final equation of the Pagan Horned God with Satan was not established until the year 1486, when the Dominicans Kramer and Sprenger published the Malleus Malificarum, or Hammer of the Witches, wherein they gave the first physical description of the Devil as he is commonly depicted today, declaring that this was the god worshipped by “witches”.
And no, the so-called Hellfire Club(s) of the 18th century (aka the Order of the Friars of St Francis of Wycombe, later also as Order of Knights of West Wycombe, The Order of the Friars of St Francis of Wycombe and even the Monks or Friars of Medmenham), are not proof of 17th or 18th century organised Satanic churches. The very first Hellfire Club was founded in London in 1719, by Philip, Duke of Wharton and a handful of other high society friends. The most infamous club associated with the name was established in England by Sir Francis Dashwood, and met irregularly from around 1749 to about 1760, and possibly up until 1766. The club motto was “Fais ce que tu voudras” (Do what thou wilt), a philosophy of life associated with François Rabelais’ fictional abbey at Thélème and later used by Aleister Crowley. Stories of Black Masses, orgies and Satan or demon worship were well circulated during the time the Club was around, however, according to Horace Walpole (4th Earl of Oxford), the members’ “practice was rigorously pagan: Bacchus and Venus were the deities to whom they almost publicly sacrificed”. Dashwood’s garden at West Wycombe contained numerous statues and shrines to different gods; Daphne, Flora, Priapus, Venus and Dionysus.
Besides Murray, Leland, and other writers on Witchcraft, another of Wicca’s (and other Pagan paths) main sources was Aleister Crowley – and in turn some of Gardner’s rituals were based on Crowley’s rituals. Crowley was not a Satanist per se, but he definitely was into “Satanic” symbolism – although some claim that Crowley was in fact a Judaeo-Christian ceremonial magician. Even Golden Dawn ceremonial magic included not only Qabalah and the medieval Christian grimoires, but also Egyptian deities, Greek deities and even yoga. Crowley emphasised the Egyptian elements, downplayed the Christian elements, and added plenty of other things to the mix, including Satanic imagery galore (such as his invocation of Satan in Liber Samekh, not to mention his constant references to himself as “the Beast 666”).
Theistic forms of Satanism have a natural tendency to give birth to new, non-Satanic religions. If you reject Christian theology, but if you nonetheless venerate Satan as a real being or force (not just a symbol as in LaVey’s Satanism), then the question inevitably arises: “Who/what is Satan?” Different forms of Satanism have different answers to this question. One of the easier answers has always seemed to be to re-interpret Satan as a pre-Christian deity, usually either Set or Pan. However, once you equate Satan with a specific ancient deity, you have, as far as I am concerned, taken the first step away from Satanism. You are no longer venerating Satan per se; you are now venerating a “Pagan deity” with made-to-fit “satanic overtones”. And then, once you develop your Paganised belief system further, the Satanic overtones will eventually seem less and less important. Such has apparently been the case with the Temple of Set, an offshoot of LaVey’s Church of Satan. (Setians disagree on whether to call themselves Satanists or not.) So, a group of theistic Satanists who equated Satan with Pan, as some Satanists do, would very likely tend to evolve in what can only be described as a neo-Wicca-like direction.
The original meaning of the word Satan is “adversary”, and his inclusion in the Christian Bible represents an attempt by later apologists of the Old Testament to justify the more negative actions of a benevolent god (such as the persecution of Job) by attributing the actual dirty work to a “testing spirit”; the original “devil’s advocate”. This entity was not considered evil until after the Persian conquest introduced the Hebrews to the Zoroastrian dualism of Ahura-Mazda (the “good” god) versus Ahriman (the “bad” god). This later manifested in Christianity as Manichean dualism. The Manichean equation was brutally simple: God=Good; Devil=Evil. But it was not until the year 447 CE that the Council of Toledo declared the legal existence of the Devil as an actual entity – though he was still not thought of as necessarily manifesting in human form. Judeo-Christian theologians placed all Pagan gods and goddesses in an adversary position to Yahweh, the god of Israel, who, as a monotheistic deity, cannot share a pantheon. And thus, all who do not worship that “true” god must be Satanists. Various “shadow gods” or divine adversaries contributed to the creation of the image of the Devil, including the Canaanite Moloch or Mot, the Egyptian Set or Suteck and even the Roman Saturn.
Satanism in the 21st century is no longer the Satanism from the late 1960’s, and it has evolved into a variety of philosophical paradigms. Satanism is, but is not limited to: Humanism, Atheism, Hedonism, Libertine Philosophy, Objectivism, Human Psychology, Sociology, Luciferianism, Setianism, Asetianism, Theism, Religious, Spiritual, Non-Spiritual, Humanistic, Materialistic, Carnal, Left-handed, Right-handed, Middle-pillar, etc. etc Many modern self-described LUCIFERIAN groups exist, such as the Church of Lucifer; a 20-year-old organisation founded by the late Robert Stills and passed on to Frederick Nagash and Satrinah Nagash.
Also, books such as Kosmology by Jeremy Christner describe a Luciferian worldview inspired heavily by Gnosticism and classical Greek philosophy. Such modern groups vary widely, with some ascribing a more Gnostic worldview, while others are largely derived from occult Satanism. The Lucifer story is a mishmash retelling of the Canaanite myth about the overthrow of Baal by Mot and the usurpation of Baal’s throne by Athar, the god of the morning star. The original Hebrew name for Lucifer was Helel Ben-Shahar meaning “son of the day star”. The name Lucifer (light bearer), a Romano-Etruscan title of the Sun God, was erroneously used when the Bible was first translated into Latin. Lucifer makes his appearance in the fourteenth chapter of the Old Testament book of Isaiah, at the twelfth verse, and nowhere else: “How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!” In Latin, “Lucifer” literally means “light-bearer” and was originally most likely a reference to the planet Venus as the morning star. Most Christians think of “Lucifer” as a name of the Devil because of the metaphorical interpretation of Isaiah 14:12, a verse about the fall of the king of Babylon. In the Hebrew text the expression used to describe the Babylonian king before his death is Helal, son of Shahar, which can best be translated as “Day star, son of the Dawn”. In the 1800’s and 1900’s, various intellectuals called themselves “Luciferian” or spoke favourably of a “Lucifer.” Their point was to declare themselves in favour of enlightenment, in defiance of what they saw as the Church’s hostility toward enlightenment.
Back in the days before separation of Church and State, the Church was often an extremely repressive and corrupt institution. Europe had just barely outgrown the savagery of burning, drowning, hanging, etc heretics. In some parts of Europe, there was still no religious freedom, so, to people who upheld the progressive ideals of the Enlightenment (religious tolerance, science, and freedom of thought), the common Christian use of “Lucifer” as a name of the Devil seemed an ironically appropriate symbol of Church and state hostility toward Enlightenment philosophy. Praising “Lucifer” was thus an ironic rebuke against the Church and against the Church-dominated state. Nearly all authors of literary satanic works were symbolic Satanists only, not worshipers. Worth mentioning here is that literary Satanism does not prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that an actual religious tendency towards Satanism existed prior to the contemporary spiritual movement which began to grow in importance in the earlier part of the 20th century.
Most prominent sources on and all the evidence on religion suggests that the “literary Satanism” mentioned continuously in print from the Dark Ages right into the present describe an entirely fictitious religious tendency created and erroneously linked to witchcraft by Christian paranoia. This has been very well documented and is in direct contradiction to the common belief still carried by many Christians and Satanists that organised Satanism is an ancient religion. There is very little evidence that an authentic organised Satanic religion ever existed prior to Anton LaVey’s creation in the late 1960’s, let alone any actual ancient historical connection to witchcraft, Witchcraft or modern Paganism – although a group called the Ophite Cultus Satanas, founded in Ohio by Herbert Arthur Sloane in 1948, may be seen as an earlier contemporary version of Satanism. Inspired by Gnosticism and Gerald Gardner’s Wicca, the Ophite Cultus Satanas, however, worshiped the Ophite serpent, which they called Satanas.
MANY SATANISMS Satanism is not actually a single religion or belief system, but an entire family of inter-related belief/spiritual/philosophical systems, most of which are vastly different from each other save for one common theme: a sympathetic reinterpretation of the force/character/entity that is recognised in modern Western culture as “Satan”. Most Satanists associate Satan with values such as pride, independence, individuality, strength, knowledge, achievement, thinking for oneself, and exploring unknown and forbidden realms. Most Satanists see themselves as rejecting Christian concepts of good and evil – as do many non-Satanists too.
The term RELIGIOUS SATANISM is used to describe “satanisms” that include some form of worship. The reason there is a need to make such a distinction is because the term “Satanism” is also used as a literary term. If you check up the word in the Oxford Dictionary you will find that one of its secondary definitions is a style of literature. Authors and poets who produced such literature were known as members of “the Satanic school”, which became notorious for writing literature that supposedly takes the Devil’s point of view. People included in the genre of “literary Satanism” were John Keats, Percy Shelley and Lord Byron among others. None of these people were religious Satanists – that is to say, none of them practiced Satanism as a religion – but they were “Satanists” in the sense that they created a literary tradition structured around several unorthodox views and techniques, including an often sympathetic portrayal of the Devil. Religious Satanism is primarily divided into three major categories: Theistic Satanists (who are sometimes called “spiritual” or “traditional Satanists”), LaVeyan Satanists, and Deistic Satanists (also known as “pantheistic Satanists” or “dark deists”). The theistic branch of Satanism is the branch in which it is believed that Satan is an actual deity or supernatural being of some sort, who is to be somehow revered and/or worshiped. The LaVeyan branch of Satanism is the branch in which it is believed that Satan is merely a force in nature or a symbol of man’s animal nature, which itself is regarded as the object worthy of worship. Typically, theistic Satanists can be understood to be Satan-worshipers (although there are exceptions), while LaVeyan and deistic Satanists are basically self-worshipers.
LAVEYANS take their name from Anton Szandor LaVey (born Howard Stanton Levey, who authored The Satanic Bible and who founded the Church of Satan in 1966). They believe that Satan is merely a symbol representing certain characteristics and traits that they find desirable. Such characteristics and traits include, but are not limited to: individuality, carnality, independence, and earthly success and power. The LaVeyan Satanist views Satan as being an imaginary character that represents the reality of the “Beast in Man”, which itself is a manifestation of something that LaVey identified in his writings as “the Dark Force in Nature”. Religious Satanism, to LaVeyans, is not about worshiping the Devil, but about worshiping oneself as the centre of one’s own universe. LaVeyans also believe in practicing what they call magic. However, magic to them is not the exercise of “mystical” power, but a form of theatrical psychodrama which is intended to help the practitioner overcome their inhibitions and become a full-fledged “personification” of Satan in the flesh. DEISTIC (or Pantheistic) Satanists are like LaVeyans, in that they do not believe that Satan is a personal being. Rather, they believe that Satan is an impersonal supreme being or force which is one with all things (pantheism). They agree with the “Dark Force in Nature” terminology that LaVeyans use, but they tend to place less emphasis on the teaching of LaVey than on what they term “the Dark Doctrines”. These Dark Doctrines are essentially based upon an etymological hypothesis that the word Satan is derived from a pair of Sanskrit terms, “Sat” (which is said to mean something like “pure existence”) and “Tan” (which is said to mean something like “stretching forth”). The Sat part is a description of what it fundamentally is, while the Tan is a description of what it does. As Sat, it is the force of being which causes all and everything to exist. As Tan, it is the force that causes evolution and metamorphosis. The THEISTIC branch of Satanism is divided into multiple subcategories. Perhaps the oldest variety of theistic Satanism is the GNOSTIC Satanists, who are descended from the Ophidian Gnostics.
The Gnostics believed that everything that existed was originally pure spirit; then the Demiurge (who was identified as the god of the Old Testament by Ophidian Gnostics and with the Devil by Gnostic Christians) trapped our souls in matter and cut us away from the Source. The Gnostic Christians believed that Jesus Christ was an incorporeal spirit that had been sent into the world by the Source, not to save the human race by dying on the cross, but to teach the way of discovering Gnosis – knowledge of the divinity within – which was believed to be the only way to escape the sinfulness of the material world. While some Gnostics, typically the Gnostic Christians, believed that it was necessary to abstain from worldly pleasures in order to transcend the material world, others (particularly the Ophidians) believed that Gnosis could be achieved by indulging in worldly pleasures and by “exhausting” their sinfulness. This is where the Gnostic Satanists came from.
The OPHIDIANS identified the One who was sent into the world by the Source to teach humans of the Gnosis with the serpent of Genesis, and not with Christ. They believed that when the serpent tempted Adam and Eve with the Knowledge of good and evil, He was really tempting them with the Gnosis and thereby freed them from the authoritarian power of the Demiurge (Jehovah). The Ophidians, unlike Christians, did not identify the serpent as Satan, but as Sophia, the Goddess of Wisdom. However, there were some Ophidian-based Gnostics who did acknowledge the serpent as Satan, and these became the Gnostic Satanists. Gnostic Satanists, therefore, worship Lucifer as the Bringer of Light, who helps us to transcend the imperfections of earthly existence by enticing us to indulgence, rather than abstinence.
Then come what is called the Christian-based DUOTHEISTS. Christian-based Duotheists are theistic Satanists who believe in a form of Satanism that is essentially more like inversified Christianity. Which is to say, they believe that Satan is not a god but a fallen angel who has rebelled against the Creator, and who is attempting to usurp the Creator’s throne? This is probably a form of Satanism that most Christians will be more familiar with, as it accepts most of what Christianity believes – including the fall of man, the crucifixion, the coming of antichrist and the Second Coming of Christ – except that Christian-based Duotheists simply choose the other side of the fence. They often believe that Satan, although a mere fallen angel, actually has a fighting chance of winning the battle against the Abrahamic god.
Next we have the SETIANS. The Setian denomination was founded by Michael A Aquino in 1975. Aquino was a priest of the Church of Satan who left over a dispute with LaVey concerning the existence of the Prince of Darkness. The Setians believe that the Prince of Darkness’ “true” name is Set – before he became known as Satan in Judeo-Christian mythology. They tend to believe that the Prince of Darkness is a god who is responsible for creating consciousness – the ability to perceive, to be aware and to take deliberate action. They believe in a mystical concept called “Xeper”, an Egyptian word pronounced “Kheffer” which means “I have Come into Being”. Xeper is what the Egyptian sun god, Ra, would proclaim each morning at dawn after his nocturnal journey through the underworld. Set was the god who protected Ra during this journey from Apep, the serpent of darkness and chaos. In protecting Ra, Set enabled the sun to Xeper each morning, and this myth is taken to be symbolic of Set’s power to enable us to become newly created beings with each self-determined action that we take in life. In this context, the term Xeper means something similar to “I think therefore I am”. The Setian holy text is The Book of Coming Forth by Night, which was it is claimed was dictated to Michael Aquino during a ritual channelling with the “Prince of Darkness” in 1975. Setians are often indecisive over whether or not they should consider themselves Satanists. Many times, Setians consider themselves to be a part of the Satanic subculture and indeed they are, since they grew out of the Church of Satan. However, often they will claim that they are a higher form of Satanism that is much too sophisticated to be ensnared in “the bastard title of a Hebrew fiend”, so they will try to pass their religion off as something completely different. However, for all their neo-Egyptian mysticism, they continue to refer to Set as “the Prince of Darkness” and they continue to use the so-called Satanic pentagram (two points up, so the star is shaped like a goat’s head) as their sacred symbol. Also, Setians, although they are theistic, count as self-worshipers instead of as Satan/Set-worshipers. They have what has been described as a “Faustian relationship” with Set – which is to say that instead of worshiping him and serving him, they work with him as an associate who helps them to increase their own power in this world.
DEMONOLATORS are not exactly Satanists per se, although they are accepted as a part of the subculture. Demonolators are people who worship demons, as opposed to just Satan. They believe that the Demons are not actually fallen angels, but really pre-Christian pagan deities who represent the “dark side of nature”. Demonolators often consider themselves to be Dark Pagans. While it is true that most theistic Satanists can probably be described as Devil worshipers or DIABOLATORS (except for the Setians – who have quite an aversion to that word worship), it will probably surprise most to learn that the vast majority of Satanists frown upon the term Devil worshiper. The term itself does not really propose any particular theological worldview, save for a belief in a Satan (or satans), and a belief in worshiping him. Other than these two points, Devil worshipers can embark upon a wide variety of theological perspectives – polytheism, pantheism, henotheism, duo-theism, etc. The major qualification for being a Devil worshiper is that you take a primarily devotional approach to the “powers of darkness”.
There is also SYMBOLIC Satanism. In this interpretation of Satanism, the Satanist does not worship Satan in the theistic sense, but is an adversary to all spiritual creeds and religions. The YAZIDI (also Yezidi or Êzidî) are a Middle Eastern a branch of Yazdânism blends elements of Mithraism, pre-Islamic Mesopotamian religious traditions, Christianity and Islam, which originated in the area known as Iraq – with additional communities in Transcaucasia, Armenia, Turkey, and more recently their members emigrating to Europe, especially to Germany. It is for the most a syncretic Kurdish religion with ancient Indo-Iranian roots and was founded by the prophet Sheikh Adi ibn Musafir in the 1100’s. The Yazidi were a band of Islamic heretics (followers of the Sufi doctrine) who believed that Shaitan, the fallen angel, was not really the Devil but the true Messiah whom the Creator had sent to rule over our terrestrial world and to eventually extinguish the fires of Hell with His tears. They were forbidden to pronounce the name “Shaitan” (and in some accounts it is said that Yazidi would even go so far as to kill themselves upon hearing the name, as it was considered an act of blasphemy just to hear it), so they called him “Melek Ta’us”, which is a Kurdish name meaning “King of the Angels” or the “Peacock Angel”. The Yezidi believe that at the end of days, the “prince of this world” and the creator god will become reconciled, and thus will the human race be saved.
It is important to point out here that in Yazidi theology, Satan is not the enemy of god, but a faithful servant of god who was appointed to be the “God of this World”, rather than a fallen angel who was cast out from heaven. Yazidi typically believe that the god of Christians is the true deceiver. The Yazidis do not accept the term Satanist because they do not accept the name Satan as a name for the prince of this world. However, they worship the very same deity that other theistic Satanists do.
Most other varieties of Satanism place emphasis on the practice of magic or the attainment of Gnosis over worship and prayer (in fact the Setians will tell you that worship and prayer are “un-Satanic”). But Devil worshipers unashamedly worship the powers of darkness as their gods, and we also unashamedly refer to them as our masters – another taboo that most other Satanists refuse to accept. Many of those who identify as Devil worshipers tend to overlap with many, perhaps all, of the other theistic categories. In this context, Devil worship is not really a theological category, but rather an attitude. The taboo on the term Devil worship originated with LaVey’s Church of Satan, who basically have the attitude that they are the only true Satanists and the rest are all Devil worshipers – whom they despise and tend to lump together with the criminal fringe. Unfortunately the criminal fringe has to be mentioned due to misguided news reporters. Historically there has only been one organised Satanist group known to have committed acts of terrorism, murder and violence. These were the members of the Norwegian Black Metal Circle, which existed in Norway during the early 1990’s. The Black Metal Circle (sometimes called “the Black Metal Mafia”) was founded by a man who called himself Euronymous. They chose to call themselves Satanists because they believed in Satan as this “Spirit of Evil” wants to spread misery and suffering throughout the world. In order to serve this spirit, Euronymous and his followers began a long campaign of church-burning and graveyard desecrations, as well as murders. They made a point to target churches that were historical monuments of architecture in Norway. The Black Metal Circle was stopped when one of their own members – one Varg Vikernes – murdered Euronymous in 1993. It would be intellectually dishonest for Satanists to deny that they have their share of criminals – as do all other religions. However, a much more prevalent problem are criminals who to justify their horrendous acts, claim to be Satanists. Also, dabblers often adopt the trappings of Satanism out of boredom, feelings of inadequacy or a desire to impress or intimidate others. They usually lack any real theology or group affiliations. Some attempt to embrace “popular” ideas about Satan worship – which include animal sacrifice, blood rituals and petty crimes – mostly influence by ill-researched books and B-grade horror movies. Their source material is also often books by LaVey, too often supplemented by ill-conceived and one-sided writings about Satanism by Evangelical or Fundamentalist Christian authors. The reality, and a very serious problem, is that criminals and dabblers tend to get more press simply because the media does not consider “friendly neighbourhood Devil worshipers” to be newsworthy.
PS: I am aware that this is a rather sensitive topic for many contemporary Pagans (myself included), and I have tried my utmost to remain as factually correct as possible. All errors and omissions contained in this article are solely mine – and I will not blame the printers’ devil 🙂
http://www.chasclifton.com/books/chap2.html; – http://mysticwicks.com/archive/index.php/t-3272.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean_le_Rond_d’Alembert; – mysticwicks.com/archive/index.php/t-154433.html
http://paganapologetics.faithweb.com/faq.html; – http://forum.minitokyo.net/t55992
The Book of Darkness, an official work of the Ordo Templi Satanis
Are Setians Satanic? Lilith Aquino (Sinclair); – Satanism and the History of Wicca by Diane Vera
The Satanic Bible by Tony “Anton Szandor” LaVey
A History of Witchcraft by Jeffrey B Russell
This article was originally published on the website of the South African Pagan Council on 06/29/2011