Satanism is a broad term referring to a group of Western religions comprising diverse ideological and philosophical beliefs. Their shared features include symbolic association with, or admiration for the character of, Satan, or similar rebellious, promethean, and, in their view, liberating figures.
Particularly after the European Enlightenment, some works, such as Paradise Lost, were taken up by Romantics and described as presenting the biblical Satan as an allegory representing a crisis of faith, individualism, free will, wisdom and enlightenment. Those works actually featuring Satan as a heroic character are fewer in number, but do exist; George Bernard Shaw, and Mark Twain (cf. Letters from the Earth) included such characterizations in their works long before religious Satanists took up the pen. From then on, Satan and Satanism started to gain a new meaning outside of Christianity.
Although the public practice of Satanism began in 1966 with the founding of the atheistic Church of Satan, some historical precedents exist: a group called the Ophite Cultus Satanas was founded in Ohio by Herbert Arthur Sloane in 1948. Inspired by Gnosticism and Gerald Gardner’s Wicca, the coven venerated Satan as both a horned god and ophite messiah.
Satanist groups that appeared after the 1960s are widely diverse, but two major trends are Theistic Satanism and Atheistic Satanism. Theistic Satanists venerate Satan as a supernatural deity. In contrast, Atheistic Satanists consider themselves atheists, agnostics, ignostics or apatheists and regard Satan as merely symbolic of certain human traits. This categorization of Satanism (which could be categorized in other ways, for example “Traditional” versus “Modern”), is not necessarily adopted by Satanists themselves, who usually do not specify which type of Satanism they adhere to. Some Satanists believe in a god in the sense of a Prime Mover but, like Atheistic Satanists, do not worship it, due to the deist belief that a god plays no part in mortal lives.
Despite heavy criticism from other religious groups, there are signs that Satanistic beliefs have become more socially tolerated. Satanism is now allowed in the Royal Navy of the British Armed Forces, despite much opposition from Christians, and, in 2005, the Supreme Court of the United States debated over protecting the religious rights of prison inmates after a lawsuit challenging the issue was filed to them.
Contemporary Satanism is mainly an American phenomenon, the ideas spreading with the effects of globalization and the Internet. The Internet promotes awareness of other Satanists, and is also the main battleground for the definitions of Satanism today. Satanism started to reach Eastern Europe in the 1990s, in time with the fall of the Soviet Union, and most noticeably in Poland and Lithuania, predominantly Roman Catholic countries.
Satanism developed in the context of the Christian faith, as an ideological backlash to certain tenets promoted in Christianity. The character of Satan revered by Satanists, therefore, is mainly regarded as the prototypical anti-Christian figure. There have been some Satanists, however, who have shown reverence for the similar, albeit differently-characterized Islamic concept of Satan (Arabic: شيطان Shayṭān), also known as Iblis (Arabic: إبليس ʾIblīs) although this is much more uncommon as Satanist philosophy has primarily flourished in the Occident, and has likely not reached any Muslim-majority countries. As he is an antagonist in all of the major Abrahamic traditions, Satan is also mentioned in certain Jewish literature, although he is treated more as a nuisance than the primary enemy of God in Judaism.
Organizations: The Temple of Set
The Temple of Set is an initiatory occult society claiming to be the world’s leading left-hand path religious organization. It was established in 1975 by Michael A. Aquino and certain members of the priesthood of the Church of Satan, who left because of administrative and philosophical disagreements. ToS deliberately self-differentiates from CoS in several ways, most significantly in theology and sociology. The philosophy of the Temple of Set may be summed up as “enlightened individualism” — enhancement and improvement of oneself by personal education, experiment and initiation. This process is necessarily different and distinctive for each individual. The members do not all have the same view on whether Set is “real” or not, and they’re not expected to.
Setianism, in theory, is similar to theistic Satanism. The principle deity of Setianism is the ancient Egyptian god Set, or Seth, the god of adversary. Set supposedly is the Dark Lord behind the Hebrew entity Satan. Set, as the first principle of consciousness, is emulated by Setians, who symbolize the concept of individual, subjective intelligence distinct from the natural order as the “Black Flame”. (Some people who are not members of the Temple of Set find spiritual inspiration in the Egyptian god Set, and may share some beliefs with the organization. The belief system in general is referred to as Setianism.)
Members of the Temple of Set are mostly male, between the ages of twenty and fifty.
The Temple of Set is an occultist organization following the left-hand path. Setian’s practice a religious philosophy of Self Initiation that involves the progressive refinement and improvement of themselves through the theoretical study and practical application of the Black Arts. This philosophy is summarized in the Word Xeper, which is Egyptian and means “I have come into being.”
The Temple of Set was reconsecrated in 1975, by Dr. Michael A. Aquino, in a “Working of Greater Black Magic”
that resulted in what believers regard as an inspired text titled The Book of Coming Forth by Night. This Working became necessary when many Satanists, along with the majority of the Priesthood of the Church of Satan, left that organization because of administrative and philosophical disagreements with its founder. The Temple of Set was incorporated in California that same year as a nonprofit church.
The Temple of Set is an occult initiatory school in which varying degrees of expertise, experience, and apprehension of metaphysics are recognized among members.
The Temple of Set holds an annual conclave where members of the Temple can come together to meet and exchange ideas. Workshops are held in which members discuss a wide variety of topics and activities. The conclave usually lasts about a week and is held in various global locations, though it usually takes place within the USA. There are also occasional regional gatherings, organized and attended by interested Setians, at their own initiative.
In addition to the international organization, the Temple sponsors initiatory Orders and local groups called Pylons. Pylons generally explore a wide range of metaphysical topics and exercises, since their members are determined largely by the accident of residence. Order members share specific interests, and Order activities therefore focus more deeply on these selected interests.
The Temple also makes available to members a variety of informational resources for individual reference as desired. The central of these resources is the Jewelled Tablets of Set which contain information relevant to the Degrees of the Organization. The very core of their teaching can be found within the material provided to the I* of the Temple, The Crystal Tablet of Set. All further volume in the series are built upon this document’s foundation.
The Temple adheres to selective membership policies; fewer than half of all applicants are accepted for membership with the two year recognition period. The Temple’s membership does have a fairly large turnover rate; most members leave eventually for a wide variety of reasons. Only a minority of members remain with the Temple more than a decade. Members pay a membership fee. The Temple admits members on all continents except Antarctica, though it is largely a U.S.-based organization.
All officers and workers within the Temple of Set are volunteers. Some receive reimbursement for expenses incurred for the Temple; none receive a salary. All officers are selected from within the Priesthood.
The philosophy of the Temple of Set may be summed up as “enlightened individualism”: enhancement and improvement of oneself by personal education, experiment, and initiation. This process, necessarily different and distinctive for each individual, is referred to within the Temple by the Egyptian hieroglyphic term Kheper, or “Xeper” (a phonetic of _Xpr_), as the Temple of Set prefers to write it. Xeper is symbolized by the scarab beetle, significant of personal rebirth and immortality within the Temple of Set. The term is deemed central to Setian philosophy and practice, having been introduced at the founding of the Temple of Set in 1975, when Aquino made the claim that the Egyptian god Set communicated the word Xeper in the sense of “become” to him during the “North Solstice X Working” aka “The Santa Barbara Working.” The Word was re-uttered in 1996 by Don Webb in the more focused translation “I have come into being.”
Setians recognize several levels or degrees of initiation, and identify their members by their degree. These degrees are:
- Setian (First Degree)
- Adept (Second Degree)
- Priest / Priestess of Set (Third Degree)
- Magister / Magistra Templi (Fourth Degree)
- Magus / Maga (Fifth Degree)
- Ipsissimus / Ipsissima (Sixth Degree)
The Priesthood of the Temple of Set is restricted to members holding the Third Degree or higher. Full membership comes about on recognition to the second degree, which has a time frame of around two years. Recognition is performed by members of the priesthood, though it is up to the individual to find a priest to work with towards this end. However, there is no set criteria for recognition and no obligation for the priesthood to work with new initiates towards recognition.
Theistic Satanism, sometimes referred to as Traditional Satanism, or Spiritual Satanism, is a form of Satanism with the primary belief that Satan is an actual deity or force to revere or worship. Other characteristics of Theistic Satanism may include a belief in magic, which is manipulated through ritual. Unlike LaVeyan Satanism founded by Anton LaVey in the 1960s, Theistic Satanism is theistic as opposed to atheistic, believing that Satan (Hebrew: הַשָׂטָן ha-Satan, ‘the accuser’) is a real being rather than a symbol of individualism.
The history of Theistic Satanism, and assessments of its existence and prevalence in history, is obscured by it having been grounds for execution at some times in the past, and due to people having been accused of it who did not consider themselves to worship Satan, such as in the witch trials in Early Modern Europe. Most of Theistic Satanism exists in relatively new models and ideologies, and many claiming to not be involved with Christianity at all.
Darth Vader, the Dark Lord of the “Sith” represents SET (or “Seth”) the Ancient Egyptian God of Evil and Darkness.
The original ancient archetype who Satan was modeled off in Christian Mythology
– Star Wars – Episode IV: A New Hope (1977)
Possible history of Theistic Satanism
The worship of Satan was a frequent charge against those charged in the witch trials in Early Modern Europe and other witch-hunts such as the Salem witch trials. Worship of Satan was claimed to take place at the witches’ sabbat. The charge of Satan worship has also been made against groups or individuals regarded with suspicion, such as the Knights Templar, or minority religions. It is not known to what extent accusations of groups worshiping Satan in the time of the witch trials identified people who did consider themselves Satanists, rather than being the result of religious superstition or mass hysteria, or charges made against individuals suffering from mental illness. Confessions are unreliable, particularly as they were usually obtained under torture. However, noted scholar Jeffrey Burton Russell, Professor Emeritus of the University of California at Santa Barbara, has made extensive arguments in his book Witchcraft in the Middle Ages that not all witch trial records can be dismissed and that there is in fact evidence linking witchcraft to gnostic heresies. Russell comes to this conclusion after having studied the source documents themselves. Individuals involved in the poison affair were accused of Satanism and witchcraft.
Some members of Ordo Flammeus Serpens (OFS), a group that venerates demons, say that they were trained by a traditional family sect, or are generational demonolaters whose religion has been passed down through the family. Claims such as these are unproven. Tani Jantsang of Satanic Reds refers to herself as a generational Satanist, but what she means by that is that her family would have been labelled Satanic by Christianity, although they are in fact “non-Islamic Turko-Tatar”. Theistic Satanists are inspired by incidences they see as evidence of previous followers of their faith. The concept of Satan may incorporate elements from older religions than Judaism. Ha-satan is the role of one of Yahweh’s court, whose duties include testing the faith of humanity; the concept may be derived from a judicial function in Israeli court, similar to a prosecuting attorney. The Jewish Encyclopedia says that parts of the Old Testament where Satan is seen to act independently of God may have been influenced by Zoroastrianism; however, the same article states that “The Angelology of the Talmud, moreover, proves that, according to the older view (until about 200 C.E.), punishment was inflicted by angels and not by Satan. In the course of time, however, official Judaism, beginning perhaps with Johanan (d. 279), absorbed the popular concepts of Satan, which doubtless forced their way gradually from the lower classes to the most cultured.” and that according to later Talmudic tradition about Satan “He is the incarnation of all evil, and his thoughts and activities are devoted to the destruction of man; so that Satan, the impulse to evil (‘yeẓer ha-ra’), and the angel of death are one and the same personality. He descends from heaven and leads astray, then ascends and brings accusations against mankind.” Historically, Satanist was a pejorative term for those with opinions that differed from predominant religious or moral beliefs. Paul Tuitean believes the idea of acts of “reverse Christianity” was created by the Inquisition, but George Battaille believes that inversions of Christian rituals such as the Mass may have existed prior to the descriptions of them which were obtained through the witchcraft trials.
In the 18th century various kinds of popular “Satanic” literature began to be produced in France, including some well-known grimoires with instructions for making a pact with the Devil. The Marquis de Sade describes defiling crucifixes and other holy objects, and in Justine gives a fictional account of the Black Mass, although Ronald Hayman has said Sade’s need for blasphemy was an emotional reaction and rebellion from which Sade moved on, seeking to develop a more reasoned atheistic philosophy. In the 19th century, Eliphas Levi published his French books of the occult, and in 1855 produced his well-known drawing of the Baphomet which continues to be used by some Satanists today (for example the sigil of Baphomet). Finally, in 1891, Joris-Karl Huysmans published his Satanic novel, Là-Bas, which included a detailed description of a Black Mass which he may have known first-hand was being performed in Paris at the time, or the account may have been based on the masses carried out by Étienne Guibourg, rather than by Huysmans attending himself. Quotations from Huysmans’ Black Mass are also used in some Satanic rituals to this day since it is one of the few sources that purports to describe the words used in a Black Mass. The type of Satanism described in Là-Bas suggests that prayers are said to the Devil, hosts are stolen from the Catholic Church, and sexual acts are combined with Roman Catholic altar objects and rituals, to produce a variety of Satanism which exalts the Devil and degrades the God of Christianity by inverting Roman Catholic rites. George Bataille claims that Huysman’s description of the Black Mass is “indisputably authentic”. Not all Theistic Satanists today routinely perform the Black Mass, possibly because the mass is not a part of modern evangelical Christianity in Protestant countries and so not such an unintentional influence on Satanist practices in those countries.
Michael Aquino published a rare 1970 text of a Church of Satan black mass, the Missa Solemnis, in his book The Church of Satan, and Anton LaVey included a different Church of Satan black mass, the Messe Noire, in his 1972 book The Satanic Rituals. LaVey’s books on Satanism, which began in the 1960s, were for a long time the few available which advertised themselves as being Satanic, although others detailed the history of witchcraft and Satanism, such as The Black Arts by Richard Cavendish published in 1967 and the classic French work Satanism and Witchcraft, by Jules Michelet. Anton LaVey specifically denounced “devil worshippers” and the idea of praying to Satan.
Values in Theistic Satanism
Seeking knowledge is seen by some Theistic Satanists as important to Satan, due to his being equated with the Serpent in Genesis encouraging mankind to partake of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Some perceive Satan as Baphomet, a hermaphroditic bestower of knowledge (gnosis). Satanic groups, such as Luciferians, also seek to gain greater gnosis; these Satanists view Yahweh as the demiurge and Satan as the transcendent being beyond.
Self-development is important to Theistic Satanists. This is due to the Satanists’ view of Satan, who is seen to encourage individuality and freedom of thought, and the quest to raise one’s self up despite resistance, through means such as magic and initiative. They believe Satan wants a more equal relationship with his followers than the Christian God does with his. From a Theistic Satanist perspective, Christianity does not define “good” or “evil” in terms of benefit or harm to humanity, but rather on the submission to or rebellion against God. Some Satanists seek to remove any means by which they are controlled or repressed by others and follow the herd, and reject non-governmental authoritarianism.
As Satan in the Old Testament tests people, theistic Satanists may believe that Satan sends them tests in life in order to develop them as an individual. They value taking responsibility for oneself. Despite the emphasis on self-development, Theistic Satanists often feel that there is a will of Satan for the world and for their own lives. They may promise to help bring about the will of Satan, and seek to gain insight about it through prayer, study or magic. In the temptation of Christ in the desert, Satan shows Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me” (Matthew 4:8f). Satan is known in the Bible as the prince of this world, and Satanists may feel that he can help them meet their needs and desires if they pray or work magic. They would also have to do what they could in everyday life to achieve their goals, however.
Theistic Satanists may try not to project an image that reflects negatively on their religion as a whole and reinforces stereotypes, such as promoting Nazism found in a few groups, abuse or crime. However, some groups, such as the Order of Nine Angles, criticise the emphasis on promoting a good image for Satanism; the ONA described LaVeyan Satanism as “weak, deluded and American form of ‘sham-Satanic groups, the poseurs’”, and ONA member Stephen Brown claimed that “the Temple of Set seems intent only on creating a ‘good public impression’, with promoting an ‘image’”. The order emphasises that its way “is and is meant to be dangerous” and “[g]enuine Satanists are dangerous people to know; associating with them is a risk”. In particular, there is argument over animal sacrifice, with most groups seeing it as both unnecessary and putting Satanism in a bad light, and distancing themselves from the few groups that practice it.
Some groups like the Misanthropic Luciferian Order have criticized both the Church of Satan and the Temple of Set as “trying to make Setianism and the ruler of darkness, Set, into something accepted and harmless, this way attempting to become a ‘big’ religion, accepted and acknowledged by the rest of the Judaeo-Christian society”. The order rejects Christianity, Judaism and Islam as “the opposite of everything that strengthens the spirit and is only good for killing what little that is beautiful, noble and honourable in this filthy world”.
The Cross of St. Peter or Petrine Cross is an inverted Latin cross traditionally used as a Christian symbol, but in recent times also used widely as an anti-Christian symbol (a meaning which is not valid with respect to traditional conventions of Christian symbolism).
Subliminal ‘Inverted Crosses’ are encoded into the balustrades of the Merovingian’s Club Hel
– The Matrix Revolutions (2003)
Satanic and anti-Christian imagery
The Cross of St. Peter has sometimes become associated with Satanism or anti-religious imagery, as it is used to represent the opposite of Christianity by inverting its primary symbol, the Latin Cross. As a result, the symbol has become popular within anti-religion groups and among some extreme metal musicians, notably black metal groups. In films such as Rosemary’s Baby, Exorcist: The Beginning, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Ghost, The Devil Inside, Paranormal Activity, and The Omen, inverted crosses are often displayed to represent Satan.
FILMS CONTAINING THE INVERTED CROSS
First Published: Nov 21, 2012