Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Esoteric practices in Satanism, part I: Meditation

Inasmuch as I’ve gotten the impression that actual engagement in esoteric practices may be unusual among people who identify as Satanists, despite this element being present in the writings of LaVey and other authors, I thought making this aspect of the religion better understood to people who may have no familiarity with it might be an interesting challenge to take on.

Esoteric practices that I think a case can be made for in Satanism include the following:
As this list may imply, what I am here terming “esoteric practices” includes what I have elsewhere called “ritual practice,” but I’m adopting the former in this case as a better umbrella term than the latter when it comes to covering the full range of practices I want to discuss.

This is a big enough topic to constitute multiple entries, so I’ll cover only one area of practice at a time, starting with meditation:

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Aims of meditation

The term ‘meditation’ can cover a broad variety of practices, particularly in light of imprecise ways in which some individuals use the term.  Here is a typology of some major variants though, distinguished with regard to what the meditation practice is setting out to induce in the practitioner:
  • Mindfulness: the aim is to become aware of the flow of one’s thoughts and able to intervene in the torrent so as to stay focused on the present moment, rather than dwelling unproductively on the past and future – i.e. training oneself not to fret over things one has no control over at the current instant.
  • Contemplation: often compatible with mindfulness, and yet distinct from it, the aim here is to direct focus solely toward observing a single thing or phenomena that is fairly simple – e.g. specific aspects of one’s current physical state, such as the breath – for long periods of time without distraction, so as to instill mental discipline. 
  • Introspection: the aim is to direct focus solely toward analyzing a single thing or phenomena that is more complex – e.g. a passage of a sacred text, a specific personal issue, or etc – for long periods of time without distraction, so as to investigate and understand that thing or phenomena as thoroughly as possible.
  • Trance induction: the aim is to become able to enter into and sustain altered forms of consciousness in a directed fashion.  Often these are states intermediate between waking and sleeping, in which one may receive visions of spiritual significance or have other forms of intensified experience not otherwise available.  
These are not hard-and-fast distinctions.  Perhaps one might think of them as a spectrum, with an X axis with “more-sober-than-sober” (mindfulness) at one pole and “something-less-than-or-other-than-sober” (trance) at the opposite, and a Y axis with “focus on surfaces” (contemplation) at one pole and “focus on depths” (introspection) at the opposite [note: sentence rephrased for clarity, having changed my mind about what trance entails since writing this entry].  I am not dead-set on this formulation, as I am still thinking about whether it adequately covers everything I would term “meditation,” but it does seem to me that most such practices ought to be classifiable somewhere on a grid like this.

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Benefits of meditation & potential clash with Satanism

Regardless of complexities with categorization, I think it can then be said that anything meaningfully defined as meditation, no matter which of the types listed above it falls into, will tend to involve some degree of:
  1. Purposeful withdrawal from the external world so as to better focus on an internal state, typically indicated by removing oneself to a private location, adopting a certain posture, closing one’s eyes, etc. 

    (Note: while it’s possible to meditate informally while doing other day-to-day activities, I really think most people need to set aside a specific time & space + establish externally-observable habits re: “this means I am meditating now,” at least as a novice, as otherwise it may be difficult to actually distinguish between “I am meditating” and “I am just sitting on the couch thinking about meditating.” ;))

  2. Cultivation of self-control, i.e. acknowledgment that human thoughts and emotions will by default have some degree of a chaotic, self-defeating or otherwise non-optimal dimension to them, but this can be overcome or at least minimized by learning to develop self-awareness, patience, etc.

  3. Formation of positive habits of self-discipline, i.e. it is generally understood that meditation takes time to actually produce results, and this then requires making the effort to practice regularly.
These qualities just listed may strike some people as contrary to certain key values in Satanism: 1 is often religiously contextualized in terms of the need to withdraw from a flawed earthly world, 2 may sound complicit with the sort of religious negativity about human capabilities that Satanism more typically sets out to critique, and 3’s relevance to Satanism may be poorly-understood by people who know that “Indulgence, not abstinence!” is a Satanic thing but have otherwise limited knowledge of the religion.

I would argue to the contrary though that:

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Re: 1, Why Satanists might value a degree of world withdrawal

Not all withdrawal from the earthly world need be construed as entailing a wholly-negative attitude toward that world.  True, in a more traditional religious context, the purpose of meditation might well be to train oneself more and more to be able to abstain from earthly desires completely, either to as to submit to some higher power or in acknowledgment of some grandiose truth such as “existence is suffering.”  But a Satanist need not use meditation in this way. 

A Satanist may instead construe the withdrawal aspect of meditation in terms of a temporary withdrawal from the human social world – i.e. the point is not to eventually aim to separate oneself from everything worldly, but rather to affirm that oneself and one’s world is in some sense separable from others and the worlds they have constructed.  Taken in this light, meditation can help foster resistance to herd conformity.

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Re: 2 and 3, Why self-control and self-discipline are essential in Satanism

True, Satanism rejects the religious construal of human beings as “not at home” in the earthly world and as inherently broken by default.  However, its valorization of instinctual drives does not mean that it encourages human beings to act on each and every impulse without pause for reflection. 

To the contrary, if one’s goal is to embody Nietzsche’s ideal of becoming one’s own god, one needs to cultivate a certain degree of the self-control virtues such as prudence and temperance, or else the resulting attempt will fail miserably and seemingly prove the thesis of the otherworldly religions.

To put this in more concrete terms: The Satanic ideal lies in people who have enough self-control to indulge in a non-compulsive way, e.g. what are traditionally called vices, such as lust or vanity, are fine in moderation – i.e. if you want to have multiple sex partners, or do drugs now and then for fun, or spend Rouge-level quantities of money at Sephora, you are free to do so without guilt.  Moreover, being able to live one’s life in this way is positive inasmuch as it role-models to others that there is such a thing as healthy self-indulgence.

However, if you are so lacking in prudence and temperance that you make an ass of yourself through your indulgence, that is not fine – i.e. if your pursuit of sex makes you unable to uphold a commitment to monogamy that you made with your partner and/or you fail to use protection, or if you wind up addicted to drugs, or if your spending habits interfere with other parts of your life.  Moreover, falling into any of these particular pits of failure turns oneself into an example that the otherworldly haters-of-life can point at and say “see, see, I told you so: sin is bad – be afraid of life!”  If one is a Satanist oneself, one ought not to be giving ammunition to the enemy in this way.

The point re: meditation then is that a lot of dysfunctional self-indulgence ultimately has some kind of root in lack of self-control / self-discipline.  One can quibble about to what extent the intellect or the emotions are primarily at fault here, though in my personal experience it is definitely the emotions that tend to be the problem.  But either way, inasmuch as meditation fosters the development of better control over both – both in terms of actually meditating, and in terms of having the discipline to keep up regular practice – it can thereby support one’s quest for competent inner-godhood.

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Concluding thoughts

As a final thought, I think it’s worth noting how little anything I said above has anything to do with any overtly supernatural or metaphysical concepts, since meditation’s relevance to Satanism is so thoroughly tied up in the psychological side of things.  This is one reason why I like to think meditation is an easier concept to sell secular people on as having at least some value for some folks, contra to misapprehensions about “woo” that may characterize default views of any/all esoteric topics among those less familiar with them. 

I think though that similar considerations will also apply to at least some of the other practices I discuss as well, perhaps in defiance of some readers’ expectations of what “the occult” is all about.  And that’s a good thing if so, as I do think it tends to be beneficial to reassess one’s assumptions from time to time.