The question of wanting to become a Satanist - i.e. how does this occur to anyone as a life path to begin with? - has come up in a few recent conversations and inquiries I’ve gotten the last while. This struck me as a good, manageable topic for a blog written in the busiest part of the current semester for me, so that’s what I will be discussing below.
Possibly the question may seem like a stupid / obvious / patronizing one to a portion of this blog’s audience, who may take the very asking of it as an offensive questioning of one’s life choices. I think though that it’s important to try to help people who think differently from one another reach an understanding. Toward that end here, I see three questions to answer:
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Why even consider becoming a Satanist?
The first issue to address is this: given the extremely negative connotations that “Satanism” has by default, due to popular culture portrayals of devil worshiping cults and so forth, what is it that causes some people to even consider looking beyond these stereotypes long enough to discover what the religion is actually about?
I would answer that a critical predictor of openness to Satanism is alienation. i.e. Often, the potential-Satanist, by the time they come to Satanism, has been suffering for some time from a sense that something in their world is deeply wrong, and that all worldview options they are thus-far acquainted with are inadequate in fixing this wrongness. This inadequacy of known worldviews then becomes a factor in the willingness to consider the thus-far-unknown possibility of Satanism having something to offer.
What I am broadly terming “alienation” can in turn be broken down into four subtypes of dystopian feelings, different from one another in certain emotional dynamics, but all leading toward the same ultimate conclusion as far as “willingness to give Satanism a chance” goes:
This individual feels as though there are things about the world they do not know or understand, and that numerous features of their environment - read: over-protective parents :) - tend to frustrate their desires and attempts to explore said things. This is the least inherently “bitter” of the four types, as their issue fundamentally boils down to unsatisfied curiosity coupled with a lack of life experience; they do not set out to rebel because they hate their parents, and in fact may hold them in high regard, but inasmuch as they sense a barrier between themselves and “life,” a dim sense of dissatisfaction nonetheless leaves them feeling alienated, not in the sense of “driven out of belonging” but in the sense of “kept apart from that which is meaningful.”
This, then, is the “good kid” who, when they “stumble into” Satanism, shocks other people re: “how could they not know better - they were so well brought-up!” What people do not realize is that the “so well brought-up” is the very crux of the issue, here: so unacquainted is this person with the “dark” side of the world that their very innocence, coupled with just wanting to know what is in fact “out there,” can lead to them considering paths that others might not.
This type of person may well also experiment with drugs, subcultures, “dark” music and so forth inasmuch as all of this feeds the same impulse re: “I must know and experience more in order to discover who I really am.” Satanism then is yet one “forbidden fruit” that such an individual may experiment with and subsequently find fulfilling.
Whereas the sheltered individual seeks to fill a void with self-discovery, the stifled individual is one who already has a strong sense of their own individuality, but is in an environment in which they are prevented from expressing this to their satisfaction.
The stereotypical “rebellious young teen” archetype of potential-Satanist obviously comes under this heading. However, I think it can also apply to older individuals in midlife-crisis type situations, where maybe someone has wound up a bit strait-jacketed due to work and family factors, and it only gradually starts to bother them that they have “settled” and thereby overly compromised “who they really are.”
Whereas the sheltered type is drawn to “the forbidden” primarily because of what they are learning about themselves through participating in it, the stifled type is drawn to “the forbidden” primarily to rebel, i.e. the more the forbidden thing pisses off whoever is stifling them, the better. I think this type therefore probably poses the highest risk of Satanism turning out to be “just a phase,” i.e. they fall out of it over time if they were in it mainly for the reaction vs. it doesn’t actually strike a deep chord with them. That’s definitely not to say that this type can’t be sincere and sustained in their interest, though - it’s just that their initial impetus will be less exploratory and more reactionary than some of the other types.
Unlike the previous two types, whose angst stems from being held back from the quest for their true selves (the sheltered type held back in seeking it, the stifled type in expressing it), the excluded type is living in a manner that allows them to express “who they really are,” but then finds themselves arbitrarily punished for doing this. This experience compels this type to feel that society’s conception of good and evil is fundamentally fucked up, and it is then a very short step from that insight to “maybe actually God’s the jerk and Satan’s just a misunderstood social outcast like me.”
I figure this trajectory of conversion is how we then end up with a large number of Satanists who are goths, metalheads, punks, queers, and/or other practitioners of “alternative lifestyles.” If society writes you off for bullshit reasons, you are then in a good position to wonder whether it has written off Satan for bullshit reasons also.
I suspect too that of the three types, this is the type most likely to both stay Satanist in the long-term and not descend into extremism - contra the next type…
Whereas the previous three types’ alienation in each case stems in some sense from frustrated self-actualization, the disillusioned type’s alienation is more abstract, less dissatisfied with one’s own situation than with the human condition in general. Philosophical reflections have led this type to the conclusion that the majority human experience is strongly characterized by incompetence, self-deceit and hypocrisy, with those most ardent to present themselves as ‘righteous’ all-too-often being the worst offenders. They might well be bitter because of something specific that has happened to them, but one will at the same time get the distinct impression that said experiences only affect how mad this type is at society, whereas the sheer fact that they are angry would remain regardless, as a matter of principle: society/religion/etc. said things were a certain way, but they are in fact not that way, and that is not okay, goddamn it!
Two implications for Satanic conversion follow from this temperament: i) they are more likely to initially come across as gravitating toward “the darkness” out of outright malice toward a world that has disappointed them, and ii) if, in Satanism, they find an affirmation of their dark worldview together with constructive principles for dealing with that darkness - which is exactly what I would contend Satanism does indeed offer - then they are highly likely to stay with it for life, and be really serious about it. One had thus better hope they stumble into Satanic Temple before they stumble into Order of Nine Angles…
Interestingly, I do think reflection on LaVey’s experience re: being a carnival organist, seeing men lusting after girls one night and repenting the next day, etc. suggests that he himself is likely of this type, said observations being then a motivating force in the formulation of Satanism to begin with. On the other hand though, I suspect a number of the black-metal-terrorist types are also of this persuasion. It’s thus a sort of “Satanic visionary” archetype, with all that entails - both good and bad.
These four variants of alienation are definitely not mutually exclusive, as I personally recognize some degree of all of them in my own experience. In all cases, though, the point is that if the world is fundamentally not working for you, this is more likely to create a situation in which you are motivated to question whatever society calls “common sense.” Statements such as “anything that calls itself Satanism must obviously be a horrible religion for psychopaths, and hence something no sane person would even consider” are, then, one of the “common sense” claims that comes under reconsideration.
One then winds up buying certain books or visiting certain websites or etc... At which point one discovers that, indeed, society has basically been lying to you all along about what Satanism actually is! :)
Which then brings us to the next step of this process…
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Here I’ll distinguish between the “what makes people even pick up the book and read the back?”-type question and the “what makes people actually read the book and like it?”-type question with regard to Satanism. That is, provided one has seen fit to open one’s mind enough to learn about the religion, why do people then “pick” it over other options?
The question I’ve just stated has two dimensions to it. One is conscious, rational and ethics-oriented; the other is unconscious, nonrational and lived-experience-oriented. I’ll address the former dimension in this section and the latter dimension in the section below.
When one is a Satanist oneself - especially if one identifies to any extent with Satanic Temple - the impulse, when asked about the appeal of Satanism, may well be “well, just go read about it and isn’t it blindingly obvious?”, as Satanic Temple’s tenets in particular are very much of the “well duh, any remotely decent person would agree with those things!” -sort.
This entry is aiming to cover all forms of Satanism, though, and in my view, there are points of appeal that even the Satanic denominations furthest apart from one another beliefs-and-values-wise nonetheless share. These points of appeal can be broken down under two headings: liberated body and liberated mind.
Let’s put this frankly: pretty much every world religion in its traditional form has shitty views about women, sexuality in general and queer people specifically. It is an unending parade of micromanaging what kind of relationships you are allowed to have / not have, what you can/can’t do with your genitals, what are girl-things and what are boy-things, and a hundred other kinds of cis-heteronormative bullshit.
All forms of Satanism, by contrast, promote comparatively-liberated views that are female-positive, body-positive and open-minded about sexuality. I am not saying they are perfect re: not having the same problems as every religion has with some people abusing their power or otherwise being assholes, but doctrine and ritual-wise, it is way ahead of everything else when it comes to these sorts of issues. I find it particularly noteworthy that even while reading documents by Satanic denominations that are termed “right-wing,” I cannot help but be struck by how often I encounter both “strong female” figures and body-positive sexual rites, complete with instructions both for heterosexual and homosexual inclinations.
What I mean by “liberated body” is not just about sexuality, however. There is also, cross-denominationally, affirmation of a variety of other earthly pleasures (food, art, beauty, etc.) and a rejection of self-denial as an inherent religious “good.” Every denomination at the same time couples this open-mindedness about earthly pleasure with a recognition that “being your own god” requires responsibility and self-control - as LaVey puts it, indulgence, not compulsion. Whereas the vast majority of traditional religions seem to presume people will fuck up if not given rules to live by, Satanism essentially says “you’re an adult, so you are empowered to make your own decisions about how best to enjoy life.”
This attitude, I contend, is both appealing in itself, and in accord with how many secular Western people already live anyway. Thus, one key point of appeal with Satanism is that it promotes a way of life that will strike many people as both more enjoyable and more psychologically healthy than many other religions, via full embrace instead of denial of the carnal dimension of human existence.
Many secular people, when they see the word “religion” as having a negative connotation, will harbor this attitude because they associate “religion” with demands for blind faith and the continued following of outdated traditions just because they are “traditions.” Satanism then comes as a breath of fresh air inasmuch as it explicitly rejects blind faith and the continued following of outdated traditions. As LaVey writes in the “Book of Satan” section of the Satanic Bible:
No creed must be accepted upon authority of a “divine” nature. Religions must be put to the question. No moral dogma must be taken for granted - no standard of measurement deified. There is nothing inherently sacred about moral codes. Like the wooden idols of long ago, they are the work of human hands, and what man has made, man can destroy!
He that is slow to believe anything and everything is of great understanding, for belief in one false principle is the beginning of all unwisdom.
During the 18th-19th century, Romantics such as Blake and Shelley increasingly read Milton’s Paradise Lost as if Satan was the hero, since he encouraged Adam & Eve to eat of the fruit of knowledge, and thus appears to champion critical thinking, contra God more or less ordering them to “stay in their place.” “Satan as champion of Enlightenment values” is not necessarily a position that the whole text of Paradise Lost actually supports well, but it’s a trope highly indicative of of why I think the religion is appealing to many people: its ethos tends to be humanistic and its doctrines defended via reasoned argument, rather than appeals to authority and tradition.
The choice to identify Satan with positive values of these kinds may seem idiosyncratic to some. To the Satanist though, it is intuitive to make this connection inasmuch as the Satanist, in accord with all that I said above about alienation, has come to the conclusion that “God” is rather overrated. Satanism thus amounts to a statement to the effect of “Your idea of good sucks so much that even the Devil could do a better job!”
There is an element of intentionally-and-explicitly-rejecting-the-status-quo in this, such that I find nothing surprising about it striking a chord in the heart of anyone who has experienced alienation keenly.
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This question I kind-of implied an answer to already in the last paragraph above: if the shoe fits, why not just wear it? ;)
Nonetheless, there are two related questions that I think are still worth addressing for a comprehensive perspective on the topic of conversion-to-Satanism:
- Why be a Satanist instead of just being a humanist who holds the same ideals?
- Why do people end up drawn to the more explicitly esoteric/occult aspects of Satanism?
In response to the first of these inquiries, it’s worth saying a few words about aesthetic factors. Regarding the second, I’m inclined to evoke what I’ll call acausal factors.
I would think it’s obvious that spirituality is not an entirely rational affair. People opt into religions and spiritual practices not just because they assent to doctrines, but for many other complex reasons, e.g. fulfilling ritual components, participation in a community of like-minded individuals, and other even vaguer and harder-to-articulate senses of meaningfulness. Aesthetics are a facet of this, and in the case of Satanism specifically, they strike me as a significant facet.
Simply put, there are some individuals who have a strong affinity for what one might call the sublime. The sublime, as described by philosopher Edmund Burke, is an aesthetic category that evokes feelings of both fear and fascination. That which is powerful, resilient, unpredictable, obscure, and so forth, is, by virtue of those qualities, dangerous to us vulnerable mortals, stimulating very strong emotions on account of those emotions’ proximity to a sense of threatened survival. Just as some people like horror films and some people don’t, there are some temperaments who have low tolerance for the sublime and others who are particularly intrigued by it.
This fascination with the sublime not only factors in to people being drawn to Satanism, I would argue, but is also somewhat illuminating re: how one ends up with the stereotypical person who is a metal fan and a Satanist and also drawn to fascist imagery. Is it not the case that all three of these seem to have this peculiar affinity for the colors black and red, bombastic displays of fire and weaponry, etc.? These things, it so happens, are all things with sublime connotations, evocative of danger and doom.
Metal, with its extreme instrumentation and themes, revolves around immersion in the sublime as an experience in and of itself. Fascist imagery uses/abuses the strong emotions that the sublime evokes in order to manipulate people in accord with fascist leaders’ goals. This is NOT to say that metal is inherently fascist, but rather simply to observe that both appeal to similar aesthetic impulses.
Likewise, Satanism is NOT inherently fascist… and yet, Satanism and fascist imagery seem to come together rather more often within the very metal genre (black, of course) that seems maximally hellbent on its pursuit of the sublime. Coincidence? I do not think so.
My point then being: I figure the person who consciously feels alienated is all the more likely to be drawn toward Satanism if they also unconsciously have an affinity for the sublime. I say “unconsciously” not to suggest a lack of self-awareness, but because I think that’s how aesthetics generally work: people don’t sit down and rationally decide “I’m going to like this thing” - they just like it because they do.
Put another way, the more someone likes a lot of things that have a sublime element to them, the more likely I think it is that they may be open to Satanism as well. Not to lump all black-clad types who like horror movies, serial killers, extreme weather, extreme music, the extremes of the medieval world in general, BDSM, etc. into a single stereotype, but I do think I am capturing a pretty solid “Satanist interest cluster” when I put things this way. I hope too that putting things this way helps illustrate how a person could feel as though Satanism offers something that a more bland/generic “humanism” might not.
What I’m going to say in this section will be N/A for Satanic Temple and most LaVeyans, though I myself am an exception on the latter front. It is instead more relevant to Luciferians, Setians and other more esoteric Satanic denominations. It is also relevant to how some people may be drawn to non-Satanic occult traditions, such as Wicca, Neopaganism, Chaos Magic or etc. Depending one’s personal perspective, it is what one might term either “the awesome stuff” or “the creepy stuff.”
The bottom line here is that sometimes, you don’t choose the path - the path chooses you.
Here are a few experiences relevant to the dynamic I am talking about, all of which are at least somewhat reflective of my own experiences:
- You get just passingly interested in a specific occult tradition, and all of a sudden, that tradition’s ideas, symbols etc. are cropping up in your life everywhere; people unrelated to one another from opposite segments of your life recommend the same book to you; you come across strangely-significant objects by unlikely chance; you go on a random walk and run into someone you haven’t talked to in years and they bring up something related to the tradition; etc.
- You attempt ritual magic for the first time, and the resultant string of synchronicities-beneficial-to-you feels an awful lot like it actually did something, no matter how rational you try to be about it all being “just coincidence.”
- Immersion in the tradition causes you to become more sensitive to various “omens,” whether in intentional divination or just in daily life; taking these hunches seriously leads to good results for you, while ignoring them leads to the opposite. A single line of lyrics in a single song, noticed at the right moment, leads you to a series of realizations grounded in occult insight that ultimately transform practically everything in your life for the better over the next year’s time.
All of this kind of stuff is easily dismissed when considered from a causal perspective. Nonetheless, as I’ve said in other entries too, the acausal is very real to the person who has themselves experienced it, and should thus not be underestimated as a factor in “why people get into this stuff.”
To sketch a more extreme, hypothetical and yet nonetheless possible scenario:
Imagine someone has been religiously-dissatisfied all their life, and has experimented with any number of occult traditions without entirely fulfilling or in some cases even noteworthy results… and then, all of a sudden, they try the rituals of one of the esoteric Satanic denominations, and Some Creepy Thing actually shows up and talks to them?
What if The Creepy Thing has knowledge to impart to them that makes sense of critical things in their life that they have up-until-now struggled to make sense of?
What if The Creepy Thing expresses deep sympathy for struggles of theirs that fear of judgment had driven them to hide from everyone for years now?
What if The Creepy Thing, in fact, seems an awful lot more affectionate toward them than the whole rest of the spiritual world, what with the whole past track-record of unanswered ‘prayers’ and so forth taken into consideration?
Can the reader take this scenario seriously enough to grasp how simultaneously alarming and amazing such an experience might be? Sure, it might be mental illness, obviously. But if subsequent to such an experience, the individual’s life gets better, is it constructive to reduce such an experience to pathological categories?
At the very bare minimum, I do think that if someone is willing to grant that this kind of thing can happen with, say, Christ, then one ought not to presume that it couldn’t happen under other religious scenarios too - even perhaps of the most unlikely-seeming kind.
In fact, one might even go further, and propose to the person accepting of such phenomena in Christianity: is it not possible that maybe, sometimes, the divine powers are willing to get “gothed up” to save someone who wouldn’t otherwise be saved? Is that really so impossible to imagine for He-for-whom-all-things-are-possible? ;)
As forewarned at the start of the section, this is now way, way off-base now from anything likely to do with most Satanic conversions, given LaVeyan Satanism and Satanic Temple being the most popular denominations vs. esoteric Satanism denominations all being tiny. Nonetheless, since the fact remains that some esoteric Satanic denominations do believe the Devil actually exists - however inconvenient that may be for the “mainstream” types - I feel this sort of scenario is nonetheless appropriate to reflect upon as a possibility.
Summing up in conclusion: in the vast majority of cases, Satanic conversion will be a matter of an alienated person being drawn to liberating ideals they can believe in and a sublime aesthetic that appeals to them. When it comes to who among Satanists actually does ritual magic and such things, though, I would definitely argue that the self-reinforcing nature of acausal experience, as just described, should not be overlooked.