On the heels of a Pennsylvania school district allowing The Satanic Temple, a Satanist group, to host a back-to-school event, there’s likely a superabundance of questions surrounding what this particular organization believes — and about Satanism more generally.
Do adherents believe in Satan? Do they actually worship the devil? What does it all mean?
With stories like this increasingly popping up in the headlines, there’s some understandable confusion, particularly when it comes to Satanists’ core beliefs and practices.
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First and foremost, let’s start with the baseline definition of Satanism.
Merriam-Webster offers two denotative meanings. The first is “innate wickedness” and the second is the “obsession with or affinity for evil.”
Of course, these definitions don’t fully explain Satanism in the modern era, as it has become a more complex enigma — one with an atheistic and secularist flair.
Before we break down the distinctions, we must recognize a core reality: evil is real. The Bible speaks explicitly about Satan and the presence of evil, with stories of possession and healing present throughout the entirety of the biblical narrative.
That said, not everyone who calls himself or herself a “Satanist” actually believes in the devil’s existence, as strange as that might seem.
Listen to an explainer on Satanism:
Breaking Down the Headlines: Atheistic Satanism
As stated, there are a lot of contemporary headlines about Satanists creating after-school clubs among other antics. One of the groups sometimes associated with these stories is The Satanic Temple.
The organization’s website contains images one might associate with Satanism, but upon digging into The Satanic Temple’s core tenets, it becomes clear adherents are essentially atheistic.
In the organization’s FAQ section, the question: “Do you worship Satan?” is presented. Here’s the organization’s response:
No, nor do we believe in the existence of Satan or the supernatural. The Satanic Temple believes that religion can, and should, be divorced from superstition. As such, we do not promote a belief in a personal Satan. To embrace the name Satan is to embrace rational inquiry removed from supernaturalism and archaic tradition-based superstitions. Satanists should actively work to hone critical thinking and exercise reasonable agnosticism in all things. Our beliefs must be malleable to the best current scientific understandings of the material world — never the reverse.
So, The Satanic Temple doesn’t believe in Satan as a real-life being (the Bible, of course, affirms his existence and role in our world). The organization goes on to say it believes “undue suffering is bad” and sees “blasphemy” as a “legitimate expression of personal independence from counter-productive traditional norms,” among other core views.
All that aside, there are some rites members might choose to perform. These are not “required rituals,” and nothing is prescribed by the organization. Some of the associated activities include a so-called Black Mass, which celebrates “blasphemy” and an “unbaptism” ceremony. The latter is an act meant to undo baptisms that might have been conducted on individuals as children.
Additionally, some perform defiance and destruction rituals, with the first involving the destruction of items that have caused pain and the latter offering a challenge to the “status quo.” Again, not every member participates and these are at-will activities.
We could go into further detail, but to summarize: The Satanic Temple and other organizations like it fall under a category some call “rationalistic Satanism” or “atheistic Satanism.” Rather than actual worship of Satan, they might examine or aspire to his attributes but generally believe he’s not real.
This is, of course, a radical departure from those who practice another form of the religious system: theistic Satanism. We’ll discuss theistic Satanism in a bit but let’s first look at the modern roots of contemporary Satanism.
The Beginnings of Modern Satanism
Modern Satanism is generally seen as having origins in the 1960s, though Satan is obviously a historical and theological figure with roots throughout Scripture and, as Genesis tells us, the devil was even present in the Garden of Eden.
The Church of Satan, founded in 1966 by Anton S. LaVey, tends to be seen as the beginning of the modern Satanist movement. For context: The Satanic Temple didn’t emerge until decades later in 2013, despite now being the most frequently mentioned Satanist organization.
LaVey, a former carnival worker, also authored “The Satanic Bible” in 1969, which was seen as laying out beliefs and church rituals. While, like The Satanic Temple, LaVey and his followers didn’t worship Satan as a live being, they saw him as “a symbol of humanistic values,” according to Britannica.
The encyclopedia noted, though, that LaVey purportedly incorporated occultic practices and rituals into his teachings, though it seems that, if true, this was quite limited.
Splintering began to unfold as early as the 1970s, with new groups forming and different ideas branching off of LaVey’s ideology. According to Bitter Winter, there was a big split in 1975 between the rationalists and the occultists. This latter group within LaVey’s camp was “persuaded that Satan really existed as a sentient being.”
Today, these differences, among others, persist, despite the most widely known groups seeing Satan as a mere metaphor.
Despite similarities, The Satanic Temple details some of its issues with “LaVeyan” thought, including an alleged “fetishization of authoritarianism.” But beyond that, there seems to be some disagreement over the inclusion of purported supernatural elements. Here’s a bit more from The Satanic Temple’s FAQ:
While LaVeyan Satanism is atheistic in that it rejects the notion that Satan is a conscious entity, it nevertheless adheres to supernaturalism. [The Satanic Temple] does not forward supernatural theories of the universe and finds little value in LaVeyan edicts such as those that instruct one to “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.” (From the Eleven Satanic Rules of the Earth, Anton LaVey)
Other groups appear to have an amalgamation of beliefs borrowed from both rational and theistic forms of Satanism. Bitter Winter covered a man named Michael Ford who is allegedly associated with a number of organizations, including Greater Church of Lucifer, Church of Adversarial Light, and Order of Phosphorus.
“On the surface, Ford’s Satanism is a variation of LaVey’s,” Bitter winter wrote. “However his organizations … are also part of Luciferian witchcraft, a galaxy of small groups that try to keep together Wicca and Satanism claiming that the god of the witches was in fact Lucifer.”
Now that some of the atheistic and mixed Satanist elements and history have been explored, let’s look at the theistic realm, which is a bit more complicated.
What’s Theistic Satanism?
Theistic Satanists are more in line with what many Christians might traditionally know about the Satanic belief system, though there are vast differences even within this ideological tent.
Despite divergent ideals, there are some common threads: those who adhere to theistic Satanism believe the devil is real – and they revere him.
“Theistic Satanists believe Satan is one of a group of supra-personal ‘dark forces’ capable of having some control or influence over human beings, and who venerate, worship, or align with him,” the Gospel Coalition noted. “A prime example is the Order of Nine [Angles], an occult group created in the 1960s in the UK, whose members strive to become ‘one’ with Satan and other ‘dark forces’ and seek ‘to create new, more highly evolved individuals.'”
The BBC reported that the Order of Nine Angles, a group allegedly associated, to some degree, with neo-Nazis. Adherents purportedly date the calendar to Adolf Hitler’s birth and hold theologically Satanist views. Some of this information is tough to come by, though, and it’s unclear how the group is run — or how many people are members.
Members are purported to infiltrate churches and organizations to try and harm them from within, and allegedly want to push back on Judeo-Christian culture, offering “a cruel mixture of Social Darwinism, Satanism, and Fascism,” the BBC reported.
It’s a bit confounding, and the details are murky, but the focus on evil is purportedly seen as a way to open up and harness supernatural evil.
There are other groups and associated theories as well, but for the sake of time we will hold back on exploring each of those. The central premise of theological Satanism is a worship of Satan and an overt entertaining of evil.
The broader group of theistic Satanists is reportedly quite small in number globally, though it’s tough to know for certain how many people worship Satan in this way.
History.com calls today’s Satanism “largely nontheistic,” though CBN’s Faithwire has covered real-life stories of individuals who have worshipped the devil — and have later come to faith.
For instance, ex-Satanist Brian Cole explained on “The Playing With Fire Podcast” that, as a little boy, he didn’t feel like he belonged anywhere.
He ended up spending more than three decades embroiled in the occult and now shares his incredible story of leaving Satanism behind, finding freedom in Christ — and spreading the Gospel to others:
Historically, Satanic cults have existed in North America and Europe as far back as the 17th century, though it is tough to go back further than that due to a lack of documentation, Britannica noted.
Regardless of the type of Satanism one adheres to, there are some tragic realities one must understand. At its core, an embrace of Satanism is a rejection of Jesus and true faith. As GotQuestions.org noted, “The basic commonality in all the branches of Satanism is a promotion of self.”
Even without the overt belief in God and the devil, the persona and attributes of Satan are heralded and held up as a standard of sorts.
“Whether Satanists believe in him or not is irrelevant to Satan,” GotQuestions.org added. “The end result is the same — their souls are in bondage to him.”
There are certainly other schools of thought, though getting caught in the mess and mix of information isn’t the point. The Bible tells us the devil is the father of lies and that he is bent on confusing, killing, and destroying. Any dabbling in this arena is spiritually dangerous.
As John 8:44 (NIV) reads: “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”
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