It is impossible to define or describe satanism in a satisfactory and unambiguous way. There are many books focused on that topic and they’re still not grasping the entire idea of what satanism is.
I am not attempting to present it perfectly only to closer the topic from my perspective, because personal perspective in satanism is very important.
Let’s start with some various dictionary definitions:
- the worship of Satan as a god.
- profound wickedness.
- the worship of Satan characterized by a travesty of the Christian rites
- the worship of Satan
- the evil and malicious disposition of Satan; a diabolical spirit.
- the worship of Satan or the powers of evil.
- diabolical or satanic disposition, behavior, or activity.
The most common and widespread understanding satanism is the worship of Satan (or any devil).
In the modern world, nothing is so simple and such definitions are only good for a very superficial glance at the topic. There are many types of satanism. Distinction and terminology is not officially established and many people have different ideas about it. I would like to present an insiders view of theistic satanism and also point out to (alas very sparse) reliable, scholarly sources.
As you may predict, satanism and Satan, being a scapegoat of Christianity and Islam, is in western culture rarely talked objectively and knowledgeably. Christian influences, not only as religion beliefs but also as basics of behavior in western culture are imprinted strongly, no matter of philosophical, religious affiliation. Satanists are not resistant to that either so you can across stereotypic, biased opinions as well from Christians and many Satanists, what makes topic even more confusing.
To make it easier, it is the best to think about satanism not as a single phenomenon but rather as an umbrella term, encompassing different, sometimes incompatible views often strongly differentiating in capacity, from extreme general to very narrow ones.
1) First and most general usage of satanism is describing all other beliefs aside of my own as satanism. This is merely an abrahamic slander and clearly unhelpful, ridiculous, as well paranoid approach, alas some Christians or Muslims tend to see it that way. Most people however understand it more specifically then that.
2) Satanism as being fond of Satan (after Diane Vera’s general definition – satanist is every person with favorable view of Satan) – here gets confusing, because there is a dictionary worship of Satan (theistic/religious/esoteric satanism) and symbolical inspiration, mostly in atheistic form (laveyan/symbolical satanism) and mix of that in every possible form.
Contemporary satanism – is a most general proper (opposite to satanism understood as stated above) term used by scholars to describe all real (in opposite to delusional creations of Christianity propaganda), present day movements which are bound by the idea of Satan in one way or another. Contemporary satanism started in 1969 after publishing “Satanic Bible” and founding Church of Satan. Prior to that, there is no direct evidences of existing any satanic organizations, beside myths, gossips, accusations.
For more sources on this topic, please read the above articles:
and the book:
Historical satanism – is a term used mostly by some theologists to describe all non Christian beliefs, usually focused on darker aspects of the world and having reminiscences to Satan or anything what is considered to be evil and opposite to abrahamic* point of view. It is important to understand that contrary to contemporary satanism, historical satanism is only subjective and variable term, having no importance in contemporary satanism. Some satanists as well like to look roots of satanism in the past so they go back on various historic and mostly incomplete, unreliable sources, claiming satanism to be thousands years old. This kind of link is rather too far stretched or too unspecific.
Example of a historical approach:
Laveyan/symbolical satanism – is the biggest and most popular branch of contemporary satanism, taking Satan as merely a symbol, not any actual being (laveyan satanists are mostly atheists who don’t believe in any supernatural, metaphysical presence, so they often say “Satan doesn’t exists” to distance themselves from theistic views) and was created by Anton Lavey by publishing his “Satanic Bible” and establishing organization called Church of Satan (CoS). Since there is abundance of materials on that kind of satanism, I limit myself only to mentioning official CoS site. Rest is easy to find by googling. Most of satanist in the world and met online belong to that group or is more or less inspired by Lavey works. However this type of satanism is not matching to any of official dictionary definitions, nor to common understanding of that term, yet laveyan satanists often like to stress that they are the only one true satanists or tell their form of satanism is the only true one. Unfortunately to them, term existed long before Lavey and there are people corresponding to it properly. However mismatching laveyan satanism can be, it can’t be excluded from our considerations, because it takes very important role in history of contemporary satanism and Lavey influence on satanism in general is not to be overlooked. Besides, laveyans having favorable view of Satan (no matter that his merely a symbol) match Diane Vera’s general definition (one that is often repeated but still raising controversies because of its generality, yet it can’t be denied its usefulness by discussing different kinds of satanism).
Theistic satanism – is most commonly used term by theistic satanists, describing actual worship of Satan (matching common understanding of satanism) but not all theistic satanists identify with this description. Some theists prefer to use traditional satanism or religious satanism, spiritual satanism instead. Outside satanic community (as well as by scholars) it could be called as esoteric satanism (which in my opinion pretty accurately encompasses the variety and focus of this type of satanism). In many cases those terms could be seen as synonymous but not always. There are those who draw fine lines and try to identify them with certain more narrow types of theistic satanism. For example traditional satanism is often used as a satanism strongly inspired by Christianity beliefs. but it is not always so. You can meet all possible variations here. Also not all types of non atheistic (non laveyan) types could be counted here so easily. Because other terms have no established stable definitions, theistic satanism seems to be among most accepted and wide spread term for this type of approach.
My definition of satanism in its simplest form is: Satan+combination of ideals that are linked to Satan. Meaning, there has to be Satan in some way (symbol, deity, inspiration, positive attitude toward him or his traits) and strong sense, admiration of ideals that are featured in Satan.
On this site I wanted to focus more on theistic form of satanism, with which I identify myself. For purpose of convenience, when I further use term “satanist” or “satanism”, I mostly mean “theistic satanist” and “theistic satanism” (although sometimes it could refer to laveyans as well, because there are many common denominators, although the base could be very different).
Now we are done with most basic terminology, so let’s look closer on theistic satanism itself.
Ironically it’s another umbrella term. Opposite to laveyan satanism, theistic form is extremely differentiated. There is no single inspiration, collection of tenets that could be brought here. Theistic satanists explore variety of beliefs and philosophies (often having nothing in common with Christianity beside Satan) creating their own, unique understanding of satanism and no wonder – theistic satanism stress individuality as one of the core values. Despite this variety, there are still many common denominators. Particular beliefs and cosmology may be different but values and inspirations are very much coherent. Alas it is not possible to state all of them and ascribe them to all theistic satanist. They are rather guiding points or major values then strict characterizing features. What are they?
Individuality. Probably most of other values could be derived from this one. A satanist should be able to think for him or herself as opposite to herd mentality. We all yield from time to time to bias and shallow views, especially on topics we have no knowledge of, but satanist (in perfect case) approaches it as an independent researcher, not a slave of common opinions. Satanist have no fear of having different mind. There is no higher authority then you! In other words, satanist trust in his/her own judgment rather then relying on others or adjusting to society. Putting own individuality on pedestal also implies that for satanism own good is most important and overrides all other interests. “Do what you like” attitude is common here. No restrictions, no limits. Of course many reserve it with secondary conditions (especially visible in American culture), so it’s rarely pure statement, but those all are personal preferences having nothing to do with satanism.
Personal freedom. Satanism in contrary to many other spiritual ideologies, doesn’t state “the right path”. There is no dogmas, no forbidden actions. It’s all up to individual. Personal freedom above all. Since satanism is selfish centered philosophy, it doesn’t care about equity. “My right, my will, my desire is most important and overrides all others”.
Note: satanism itself puts no limitations, but personal borders as to what he/she should do or not do is completely different. In practice satanists do have many personal borders as to how far they go and what is right or isn’t. That should however not to be mistaken with satanism itself!
Wisdom and personal development. Satan thanks to myth of paradise and tree of knowledge became a symbol of wisdom, evolution of own spirituality, knowledge. Equating Lucifer (bringer of light) with Satan (done by some) only strengthens it, so in result satanist is on constant path to better him or herself. It requires engagement. Studding satanism and aiming toward personal perfection is life long task.
Self deification. Most satanist believes that they are either gods or are able to become gods. We are divine beings by nature and we have divine power of creation of our life.
Personal power. It strongly links and overlaps with above values. Divine power and perfection (note that word perfection here doesn’t imply finished, static perfect perfection but ideal state of being, which still allows for errors, unknowns which are essential for constant progress), full control over one’s life is a way of happiness and satisfaction.
Satan is an ambiguous figure so all above values have as well ambiguous properties. Satanists don’t shun from negative aspects of Satan. Satan as destroyer, source of chaos, violence is also highly welcomed, because perfect balance and acceptance of all facets of life is for us the key to freedom and satisfaction in life. Polarization may be an important concept here. All aspects as well positive and negative are part of Satan. Positive aspects have negative sides, negative aspects have positive sides. All is rather in shades of gray then in white and black. And here we have another important pillar of satanism.
Amorality (not to mistake with anti-morality). Satanist commonly doesn’t believe in good and evil, treating them merely as subjective values. Everyone has own personal morality but it’s usually different from the one forced by the culture. Inside inspiration has here the leading role, not external, crippled and often harmful rigid rules, that are so commonly accepted by society.
Adversalialism. Satan is an archetype of the great adversary, the cosmic opponent. A first anti- hero placing own mind over highest authorities, forcing his own will. Given that, adversalialism is usually strongly visible in satanism. It very often takes shape in strong individualism, adversarial attitude toward society, culture, majority, trends, beliefs, opinions. In immature form it may be expressed in rebellious actions (often in teenage form of satanism) but usually adult satanists are characterized by more subtle forms of adversalialism. It could vary as strongly as individuals themselves. There is no formula to that. Everyone is unique.
Beliefs in theistic satanism range from pantheistic/panethistic (often hermetic) in its form very close to dark paganism and witchcraft, over own anti-cosmologies, to anti-chrstianity. Assuming that satanism is simple derivative of Christianity is blatantly wrong and shows lack of orientation on that field.
I hope that this very general although unique article brought you a bit closer to understanding what satanism is. There are still countless aspects, issues that are begging to appear here, but that would make the text more confusing and blurry. There is certainly much more to satanism then described above, but as I stated, satanism is a constant study and it’s not my intention to hand it all on a silver plate, even if it would be possible (which is not). It is too wide and open topic. The rest is a domain of personal engagement, research and experience.
*abrahamic – general term encompassing Christianity, Islam and Judaism spreading from common root