Satanism: A creepy "faith" in schism
Need an idea for Lenten almsgiving?
Help us spread faith on the internet. Would you consider donating just $10, so we can continue creating free, uplifting content?
With Satanic activities and promotional events so much in the news lately, I thought it might be interesting to go back to the founding father of American Satanism: Anton Szandor LaVey, a high school drop-out whose Cook County (Chicago), IL birth certificate bore a far less exotic name — Howard Stanton Levey, son of Michael and Gertrude Levey.
Although most people assume that Satanism has existed for millennia, in “Contemporary Esotericism”religious studies professors and authors Egil Asprem and Kennet Granholm confirm that LaVey founded the first “unbroken explicitly Satanic tradition, in the sense of a group of people adhering to a teaching of that type” over a period of decades or more.
What teachings did LaVey espouse? It’s proven devilishly difficult to separate fact from fiction in his life and writings because, as he noted in his 1998 book, "Satan Speaks!":
Rev. John D. Allee reports that in the 1990 edition of LaVey’s "Grotto Master’s Handbook," LaVey displayed theistic beliefs to his inner circle:
Satan is a very personal Companion. We admire Satan and wish to gain his respect, therefore we act as he would
— in defiance of anything or anyone who would demand our worship. It would be an insult to offer him unthinking worship. But this is fact: Unlike the promises of the Christians, Satan does develop an intensely intimate relationship with each of his followers. You may not perceive it until you train yourself to sense it, but since you have achieved the position of Grotto Master, you have probably already been touched by it. He will remain with you until your breath leaves your body." (Emphasis in original.)
More about LaVey below, but first, it may be helpful to describe the various currents of thought among self-identified Satanists. Both theists and atheists claim the label, although atheistic Satanists are decried as poseurs by the true believers. Their schism was explored in World Religion News on September 22, 2014.
The Church of Satan — founded by LaVey and now led by High Priest Magus Peter H. Gilmore — comes closest to being a religious organization. They have the dubious benefit of five books by LaVey: "The Satanic Bible" (1969), "The Satanic Rituals" (1972), "The Satanic Witch" (1989), "The Devil’s Notebook" (1992) and the aforementioned "Satan Speaks!."
Adherents of the Church of Satan (who probably never numbered more than 300) may have believed in a being who rebelled against God in their early years (as a member of the Manson family affirmed), but later described Satan as only a “symbol of pride, liberty and individualism.” Yet they oppose the use of “Satanic” by The Satanic Temple (TST) because they see TST members as atheists with no “hierarchical structure or beliefs.”
A third organization, the Temples of Satan, agrees that the 2-year-old Satanic Temple is using Satan’s name fraudulently. On their very spare website, littered with misspelled words, the theistic Temples of Satan explain how they differ from the Church of Satan: “We are Theistic and they are Atheist, while we believe in an actual deity, they believe in themselves elevated to a deity.”
What it boils down to is a continuum of Satanic beliefs, beginning on one extreme with theistic devil-worshipers who honor and serve the original rebel against God, sometimes identified as the fallen angel we know as Lucifer or Satan.
Other Satanists, seen in the public face of current Church of Satan adherents, view Satan as a force within each of us propelling us toward personal acts of liberation and godlike power.
A third strain are the avowed atheists/humanists who lack a creed and formal religious practices; they mainly wish to mock believers and rebel against established religion, choosing the first rebel (Satan or Lucifer), as their “mascot.” They brand themselves Satanists simply to appear more hip than, say, middle-aged depressives who lost faith in God when He failed to perform as a Divine Vending Machine — put in a prayer and get what you ask for.
Lastly, evangelical pastor Joe Schimmel alleges, in “The Truth About Satanic Cults,” that Oprah Winfrey’s TV interview with former LaVey “second in command” Michael Aquino reveals her astonishment in learning that members of the New Age movement are closely, if unknowingly, aligned to Satanism, due to their belief in godlike self-actualization wherein each individual follows his personal “moral” compass—wherever this leads him. Schimmel recounts this on-air exchange between Aquino and Oprah:
Aquino: “Yes, except that I would say we [Satanists] have a more precise grasp … We would say that we understand what’s actually happening a little better than many New Agers.”
If there is a common thread among these devotees, it would be the belief that it’s important to be “deconditioned” so as to reject all external moral norms (notably those of Christianity and the State). In other words: At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life. That belief is not spelled out in exactly those words in "Satan Speaks!". It’s found, of course, in the plurality opinion of Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), a Supreme Court decision upholding Roe v. Wade (in principle anyway), and authored by Justices O’Connor, Kennedy and Souter.
Anton LaVey’s 11 Satanic Rules of the Earth are few and fairly open to interpretation:
2. Do not tell your troubles to others unless you are sure they want to hear them.
3. When in another’s lair, show him respect or else do not go there.
4. If a guest in your lair annoys you, treat him cruelly and without mercy.
5. Do not make sexual advances unless you are given the mating signal.
6. Do not take that which does not belong to you unless it is a burden to the other person and he cries out to be relieved.
7. Acknowledge the power of magic if you have employed it successfully to obtain your desires. If you deny the power of magic after having called upon it with success, you will lose all you have obtained.
8. Do not complain about anything to which you need not subject yourself.
9. Do not harm little children.
10. Do not kill non-human animals unless you are attacked or for your food.
11. When walking in open territory, bother no one. If someone bothers you, ask him to stop. If he does not stop, destroy him. (Emphasis supplied.)
Christians could perhaps agree with several of these “rules” (1, 2, 8, 9, maybe 10) while others are ambiguous and #5 and #11 are downright terrifying.
LaVey’s 9 Sins with commentary by Catherine Beyer (a Wiccan currently teaching at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay) are as follows:
Stupid people do not get ahead in this world. Satanists strive to keep themselves informed and to not be fooled by others who seek to manipulate and use them.
Taking pride in one’s achievements is encouraged in Satanism. However, one should only take credit for one’s own accomplishments. Making empty claims about yourself is not only obnoxious but also potentially dangerous, leading to sin No. 4, self-deceit.
Satanists use this term to refer to the presumption many people make that other people think, act and have the same desires as themselves. It’s important to remember that everyone is an individual with his own individual goals and plans. To expect someone to treat you as you treat him is foolish. Instead, Satanists encourage you to treat people as they treat you. You should always deal with the reality of the situation rather than expectations.
Satanists deal with the world as it is. Convincing yourself of untruths because they are more comfortable is no less problematic than letting someone else deceive you.
5. Herd Conformity
Satanism exalts the power of the individual. Western culture encourages people to go with the flow, and to believe and do things simply because the wider community is doing such. Satanists attempt to avoid such behavior, following the herd only if it makes logical sense and suits one’s own needs.
6. Lack of Perspective
Remain aware of both the big and small pictures, never sacrificing one for the other. Remember your own important place in things, and don’t be overwhelmed with the viewpoints of the herd. On the flipside, we do live in a world larger than ourselves. Always keep an eye on the big picture and how you can fit yourself into it.
7. Forgetful of Past Orthodoxies
Society is constantly taking old ideas and repackaging them as new, original ideas. Do not be fooled by such offerings.
8. Counterproductive Pride
If it works, use it. You should never be embarrassed of your own accomplishments. However, if pride is getting in the way of getting things done with other people, you should set it aside until such time as it becomes constructive again.
9. Lack of Aesthetics
Beauty and balance are two things Satanists strive for. This is particularly true in magical practices but can be extended to the rest of one’s life as well. Avoid following that which society dictates is beautiful and learn to identify true beauty, whether or not others recognize it.
We must admit that many Americans today see themselves as superior to the herd of “stupid” Christians (Hollywood, the mainstream media, academia, the federal govenrment to name a few), and congratulate themselves as being original thinkers, devoid of self-deception, charting their own course in life on their own terms.
LaVey certainly saw himself this way. He bragged about having been a circus lion tamer in his teens, a professional oboeist with a non-existent ballet orchestra, a one-time San Francisco Police photographer, a technical adviser to “Rosemary’s Baby,” and a multi-millionaire with three homes, a fleet of luxury cars, and a yacht. But, in truth, public records show that he was none of those things. He beat his wife, pimped young women, lived in poverty and on the public dole and even mooched off his father throughout his life.
But he was much more than a pathetic, violent crank. LaVey and Church of Satan cofounder Kenneth Anger influenced the delusions of countless people, including serial killers Charles Manson and Manson family member Susan Atkins, Richard Ramirez (the Night Stalker), and the infamous Son of Sam.
The hysteria of the 1980s over the alleged ritual sexual abuse and killing of children in Satanic rituals may have been without basis, but then how does one explain an article earlier this week in which a Welsh victim of child sexual abuse claimed that she was raped approximately 1,800 times by Satanic cult members?
And Satan himself? Current Magus High Priest Gilmore explains: "Satan is not a conscious entity to be worshipped, rather a reservoir of power inside each human to be tapped at will." Rather New Age, no?
Here’s some final food for thought. According to Benjamin Cloth, "LaVeyan Satanists believe that you have but one … life with no punishments or repercussions attached afterwards. They easily answer the question, ‘What’s the purpose of life?’ with a simple response: ‘To enjoy it by getting your way!.’" (Emphasis in original.)
How many people in North America and Western Europe are living according to this same precept?
Susan E. Wills
is spirituality editor of Aleteia’s English edtion.