Why retread that ground yet again? Because i) I find it useful to re-articulate this stuff to myself once in awhile; ii) it seems all the more worth unpacking given references to it in my previous entry (i.e. if you came here looking for the crazy "black metal convinced me to NOT kill myself" story, that's the link you're looking for); and iii) my understanding of the religion actually has changed in some details over the last few years.
Anyway, though: I was first exposed to LaVeyan Satanism when I was sixteen, i.e. like, a quarter-of-a-century ago now, which is kind of insane to think about.
I would not say Satanism was something I hugely focused on during my early twenties, but from about 2003 onward (that being when I went to grad school at a university that had a pagan/occult student society), I began exploring that side of things much more explicitly and purposefully. This has intensified further in recent years until the point where, from about 2013 onward, I was fairly “out” about it even at my workplace, inasmuch as I was by then teaching classes in which the subject was coming up.
Now, while these days I’d still say I am strongly influenced by LaVeyan Satanism, what I actually believe and practice has increasingly deviated from that denomination, enough that I gravitate toward the term “heterodox Satanist,” as I am not in wholesale agreement with any of the other denominations either. This is hairsplitting though, vs. as a starting point, here’s what I see as a common core shared by pretty much everything that credibly calls itself “Satanism”:
- A critical, adversarial stance toward authorities and institutions that dominate society, especially inasmuch as said authorities and institutions make appeals to dogmas that the Satanist, by light of their own reason, reflection and experience, does not find intellectually convincing, emotionally satisfying and/or conducive to their own flourishing.
- A dedication to the pursuit of knowledge via the exercise of one’s own intellect and, in connection with this, a life of constant introspection, resulting in a high level of self-awareness regarding what one really wants, why, to what extent one is succeeding at attaining it, etc. – as per Socrates, “the unexamined life is not worth living.”
- Appreciation for the carnal world in the form of sensual and aesthetic experiences, embrace of these experiences as an important part of the human condition, and awareness of how otherworldly religiosity tends to reject such experiences, thereby promoting a diminished quality of life in which human beings are alienated from themselves – hence the Satanist being the enemy of that kind of religiosity.
- Strong emphasis on such concepts as liberty, sovereignty and the strong will of the individual; it is not that one is never willing to ‘play ball’ with other people or with society (though some Satanists are like that) but rather that one ultimately puts oneself first and is thus resolutely unwilling to act against one’s own interests for the sake of others that one feels no adequately-justified obligations toward. Most Satanists additionally understand that a natural consequence of this stance is that you are going to be labeled the “bad guy” at some point, and that from the perspective of those doing the labeling, you are the “bad guy."
- A recognition that, inasmuch as living a successful life as a Satanist requires intelligence, self-awareness, discipline, autonomy, etc., it is just a fact of life that not everyone is cut out to be one, at least not by default. Differences in how they see the implications of this are what I see as a key distinguisher of Satanic denominations: there are optimists who think people can be educated and political moves made to create a more ‘Satanic’ society, there are pessimists who think society will always be ‘a herd’ and hence seek only to carve out a life for themselves that is as separate from stifling social mores as possible, and there are nihilists who actively strive toward the destruction of society. In all cases though, some degree of alienation from society is a typical ingredient of Satanism, as a big part of the point of adopting the label is that you are basically saying to society “your idea of good sucks so much that I’d rather side with the Devil.”
- Rejection of “feel good” metaphysical claims – e.g. a benevolent personal God, “the universe is fundamentally made of love,” etc. – on the basis that such notions are not in accord with the harsh realities of life. Satanists may run the whole range from atheistic materialists at one extreme to “dark” pagan polytheists at the other, but the implication then of that spectrum as a whole is “maybe there is nothing beyond the physical, or maybe there is a dark spiritual something that should not be assumed be in a caring relationship with humanity, but there is definitely NOT some lovey-dovey, anthropocentrically-conceived, inherently-good-thing that ensures justice in the universe and magically ‘makes it all okay in the end.’”
OK, so with all that said, the question that typically arises is “but why call that Satanism instead of just calling it humanism?”
The short answer is “because the mythology of Satan vividly illustrates all of these themes.”
The longer answer is:
- Satan rebelled against God, and thereby models the criticism and rejection of irrational, tyrannical authorities who harbor attitudes such as “the way I’m running things is the best way and you are not allowed to question that” (as per the Devil’s rebellion in Christianity) or “this thing I made is awesome simply because I made it and you are not allowed to think otherwise” (as per Iblees’ rebellion in Islam).
- Satan encouraged Adam & Eve to eat the fruit of knowledge, and though that led to punishment by God, one cannot help observing that it seems like a bit of a waste of potential for human beings to have been expected to just remain innocent children in a garden forever.
- Satan is associated with temptation, whether that means fulfillment of primary earthly needs (“turn these stones into bread”), attainment of social power and influence (“all the kingdoms of the world if you bow down to me”) or self-aggrandizement via special talents (“throw yourself off this roof and angels will catch you – everyone will be very impressed!”). One could argue that these things can be good at least in moderation, vs. absolute ascetic rejection of these things means a life of dissatisfaction, disempowerment and “hiding one’s own light” – that’s all fine if you’re a totally God-oriented person such as Christ, but is it realistic for anyone else?
- In Paradise Lost, some of Satan’s most famous quotes include “The mind is its own place, can in itself make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven” and “Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven.” i.e. defeat is not a cause for despair, but rather an opportunity to make one’s own way and thereby rise to even greater eminence. There are also lines elsewhere in the poem indicating that this character knows he is “the bad guy” (e.g. “Evil, be thou my good”), yet many readers of the poem nowadays nonetheless find something compelling about his steadfast dedication to his chosen cause, even if it is “evil.”
- Medieval folklore about the Devil portrays him as being served by witches, i.e. a pariah group who could be construed variously as using magic to make life better for their communities, as simply outcasts rejected by the society around them, or as involved in an organized conspiracy to promote evil. Note, then, that the Neopagan interpretation of this history conceptualizes witches optimistically, the secular interpretation is more pessimistic, and the traditional Christian view of witches portrays them as having nihilistic intentions.
- By questioning God about whether Job was truly good or not, Satan created a situation in which God wound up coming across as a giant asshole who destroys his own follower’s life and puts him through hell for no really good reason. The story’s ending can be read as God himself admitting that he’s not wholly good while asserting that humans don’t get to complain about it. Satan’s actions thus initiate a series of events by which a rather dark spiritual reality is revealed.
Obviously countless exegetical and historical objections can be raised against all of this – it self-evidently a very selective interpretation. But the point is that in these narratives, the Satanist sees elements that speak to them, and in what might itself be said to be a Satanic gesture, dares then to appropriate whatever they find useful here in creating a meaningful and vivid worldview for themselves. (And yes, I will definitely return to the can-of-worms that this specific phrasing opens up in a later entry…)
As this predictably got long quickly, I’ll finish for now with a few summary-thoughts about where I’m at with the spiritual side of things these days:
- As far as the values and ethos associated with Satanism, I don’t think I have changed that much over time – rather, I’ve just gotten better at more thoroughly articulating the implications and consequences of what I see as the fundamental principles.
- LaVey’s Satanic Bible describes ritual practices, but I’m under the impression that most LaVeyans don’t bother, and the other most-visible denomination (Satanic Temple) does not appear to have much of an esoteric component at all (at least as per how its official tenets are phrased); I am thus something of an outlier inasmuch as for me, the “magical” or “religious” component was key from the start, and has always remained such.
- When it comes to the beliefs and practices that differentiate me from other Satanists, I figure the two decisive drivers are: i) my broad knowledge of mythology, world religions, esoteric practices and etc. via my educational background; and ii) my having in recent years gotten obsessed with certain aspects of black metal. Combine these factors with the sensibility of chaos magic (click here for brief explanation if you don’t know what this is), and the result is a “personal mythology” and “magic system” with some significant differences from that typically associated with LaVeyan Satanism.
- Despite my religious idiosyncrasies, and my growing impression that they likely make me closer to what is technically known as Luciferianism than Satanism, I have long stuck with the latter terminology because inasmuch as “Satan” means “accuser/adversary,” this to me is the most appropriate general term for the religious stance that is against what basically every other religion says. Vs. I tend to use other diabolic names in invocation of specific sub-parts of the religion, e.g. in the case of Lucifer, the pursuit of knowledge in particular.
I’m not 100% sure yet how explicit I will ultimately want to get on here about my, as Ihsahn in Emperor once put it, pretentious secrets. ;) But “articulating the implications and consequences of what I see as the fundamental principles” – with regard to a few political matters on my mind, but also with regard to other topics – is most definitely something I will be getting into more in future entries as far as Satanism goes.