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- Satanism: An Introduction
- Definition | Modern
Satanism | History | Modern
Panics | Links | Bibliography
- Introduction to Satanism
| Church of Satan | Temple
Definition of Satanism
- Many people use
the term Satanism to refer to very different religions and practices.
In America, some evangelical and fundamentalist Christian organizations
have used the term to define as "satanic" any practice
other than their own particular versions of Christianity. A more
common cultural definition includes any religious practice that
some consider part of the occult, including Wicca, Vodun, Santeria,
and other Neopagan traditions. All of these, however, have completely
different beliefs, practices, and social structures, and none
of them are Satanic. In order to better understand the term Satanism,
one must first examine the roots of the word.
- The Oxford
English Dictionary offers three definitions of the word
- 1. A Satanic or
diabolical disposition, doctrine, spirit, or contrivance. 2.
The characteristics of the Satanic school. 3. The worship of
Satan, alleged to have been practised in France in the latter
part of the 19th century; the principles and rites of the Satanists.
- This first definition
originated from An Apologie of the Church of England written
by Thomas Harding (1565). During the 16th century, the word Satanism
referred to both Protestants and Catholics, depending on which
Christian group was using the term. The second definition refers
to any writings or teachings of authors and poets such as Lord
Byron. And, the third definition refers to the actual worship
of Satan as a god. For a more detailed look at these three definitions,
and a discussion of 19th-century Satanism, see Gareth J. Medway,
Lure of the Sinister: The Unnatural History of Satanism
- While these definitions
are useful in understanding the roots of the word Satanism, none
provide solid characteristics of what Satanism actually incorporates.
As well, none of them explain modern Satanic practices such as
those of the Church of Satan or the Temple of Set. For the purpose
of this web site, the following is offered as a working definition
of Modern Satanism.
II. Modern Satanism
- Most modern Satanists
are atheistic. They do not believe in or worship any specific
deity, Satan or otherwise. Instead, they honor what they consider
the spirit of Satan. Modern Satanists tend to follow what they
believe are the ideals of Satan, and present him as an ideal
whose traits are to be emulated. Satan is often represented as
a symbol of resistance to dominant religious traditions (e.g.,
Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu). Some examples of organizations
that follow this practice are the Church of Satan, the First
Church of Satan, and the Temple of Set. This form of Satanism
is generally referred to as philosophical Satanism.
- While they are
in the minority, some modern Satanists are theistic. They believe
in Satan as a real entity. The Order of Nine Angels, for example,
believes that Satan, as well as other dark forces, are individual
entities beyond human control. Members of this group strive to
become one with these sinister beings, and seek to create new,
more highly evolved individuals through the practice of what
they call traditional Satanism (Long 1994). This form of Satanism
is generally referred to as religious Satanism.
- As with any other
religion, there are divisions of belief within modern Satanism,
both between different groups and between members of the same
Satanism Through History
- Like many other
religious traditions, Satanism has a long and involved history.
The following is a brief outline of the history and roots of
- While some groups
claim that one of the earliest roots of modern Satanism began
with the ancient Egyptian god Set (ca. 3200-700 BCE), historian
Jeffrey Burton Russell disagrees. Russell writes that all Egyptian
gods were ambivalent (Russell 1977: 77-78), and there is no etymological
connection between Set and Satan (Russell 1986: 255). He goes
on to explain that the human concept of Satan was developed in
Mazdaism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam precisely for the
purpose of personifying radical evil (Russell 1986: 255).
- The period from
the 15th to the 17th centuries marks the richest history in the
development of what is now termed Satanism. In 1486, two Dominican
friars, Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger, wrote the Malleus
Maleficarium, or The Hammer of Witches, which purported
to detail the various activities of Satanic witchcraft. These
included such acts as flying on broomsticks, having wild sexual
orgies, eating children, and inducing plagues. According to Russell,
the idea of diabolical witchcraft originated under the influence
of Aristotelian scholasticism, [when] it was believed that natural
magic did not exist and that magic could be effective only through
the aid of Lucifer and his minions(Russell 1988: 164).
- The black arts
and various occult practices resurfaced in the late 19th century.
In France, it was believed that Freemasons were involved in Satan
worship. Satan also became a symbol for the French revolution
through writers such as Eliphas Lévi (Russell 1986: 201).
In 19th-century French culture, Satan was often depicted as a
political figure, though whose side he was on changed constantly
depending on who made the charges.
- In 1875, the Theosophical
Society was founded by Madame Helena Blavatsky, and another occult
organization, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, twelve years
later. One of the most prominent members in the later years of
the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was Aleister Crowley, a
name that has come to be synonymous with popular understandings
of Satanism in the 20th century. Although Crowley was not a technically
a Satanist, he did claim to be "the Beast 666" from
the book of Revelation, and some of his ideas and practices would
later be incorporated into modern Satanism. In 1930s Paris, a
Luciferian temple was established by Maria de Naglowska, and
it is believed that her organization is still active in France
(Medway 2001: 11-21).
- In 1966, the Church of Satan was created by Anton
LaVey, and has become arguably the most well known branch of
the Satanic movement. in 1969, LaVey published The Satanic
Bible. The Order of
Nine Angels, a group of theistic Satanists, was also created
in the 1960s. The Temple of Set broke
away from LaVeys Church of Satan, and in 1975 was granted non-profit
church status in California. In 1994, another splinter group,
the First Church of Satan, was created by John Allee, a former
member of LaVeys group.
- While some sources
claim that the number of Satanists worldwide numbers in the millions,
there are currently no accurate membership numbers available
and these estimates are almost certainly high.
Modern Satanic Panics
- The 1980s saw a wave of satanic
panics that spread through America. "Satan mongers,"
often conservative Christians, alleged that a huge underground
satanic conspiracy was responsible for any number of horrific
crimes. Some of these estimated the number of satanists nationwide
in the millions (Alexander 1990). This satanic underground, they
charge, is responsible for such crimes as torturing and mutilating
animals, child pornography and molestation, child kidnappings,
and the ritualistic murder of men, women, and children. Indeed,
some estimate that there are between fifty thousand and two million
children sacrificed to Satan every year (Alexander 1990).
- A number of different people
have sought to verify the existence of such satanic cults. In
1980, Michelle Smith published Michelle Remembers, which
told gruesome stories being abused at the hands of an organized
satanic cult (Smith and Pazdor 1980). Nearly a decade later,
Lauren Stratford gained national attention with her book, Satan's
Undergroud, in which she claimed to have been used as a "baby
breeder" to provide satanic cults with sacrificial victims
(Stratford 1988; see Rivera 1988). Through sensationalized Christian
ministries such as "Talk Back with Bob Larson," numerous
other people have testified that they are personal witnesses
to the horrors of satanism.
- This all sounds quite dreadful,
but the plain fact is that no solid evidence indicating the
presence of an organized satanic underground has ever been discovered.
How, then, has all this testimonial evidence surfaced?
- While some has obviously been
simply invented, other so-called evidence can be explained through
a process known as Recovered Memory Therapy (RMT). During the
1980s and early 1990s, many therapists used this process in an
attempt to unearth memories of abuse that their clients had suffered
as children. They assumed that most troubled patients had suffered
terrible trauma at a young age, and it was the job of the therapist
to uncover the trauma, and help them work through it. The problem
was that many therapists did not so much discover repressed memories
as help their patients co-create them. As a result of suggestive
and leading questions, hypnotism, implantation of ideas, and
coersive conversation, thousands or even tens of thousands of
confused patients "remembered" being abused as children,
sometimes by their parents, and often at the hands of satanic
cults. Many families were torn apart as a result of these accusations.
During the 1990s, more and more mental health organizations determined
that RMT often produced false memories in the minds of patients,
and warned against the further use of these techniques. Countless
patients recanted the memories supposedly gained through RMT,
and many therapists were sued for damages caused. Now such practices
are widely regarded as hopelessly flawed (Lanning 1992).
- Much of what the patients had
"remembered" had been proven to be either unlikely,
impossible, or outright false (Alxenader 1990). Patients gave
names that did not exist; they named times when they were "baby
breeders" when they were clearly not pregnant. They contradicted
themselves frequently, and they accused people of committing
crimes they could not possibly have committed.
- Yet in the 1980s, these methods
were widely accepted and panics about satanic cults flourished.
This may have been enhanced by the rise of the Religious Right
early in the decade, many of whose members actively promoted
the idea. This group tended to characterize as immoral (and thus
satanic) such things as heavy metal music, role-playing games
like Dungeons and Dragons, increasing violence on TV,
in movies, and through other types of popular culture such as
- As sociologist Jeffrey S. Victor
puts it, however, studies of "satanic panics" have
found that, put it, "the fear of 'satanic cults' is a manifestation
of social paranoia in times of uncertainty" (Victor 1989;
see also Victor 1993). Victor found that these panics occurred
most often in areas of economic hardship and turmoil, where people
were insecure about their ability to provide a regular family
life. The rumors of satanic activities, such as murdering helpless
pets or sacrificial victims, were symbolic of their feelings
of helplessness. These rumors, especially the ones that feared
satanic activities on a given Halloween or Friday the 13th, were
- Distortion of evidence, whether
willful or accidental, contributed much to these panics. Occasionally
a group of pets or livestock would be found mutilated, but most
of these cases were found to be caused by wild animals such as
wolves or coyotes. Instances would occur where a ghastly crime
was committed and accompanied by satanic symbolism; yet there
was no cause for believing these were committed by anyone more
than a deranged individual who dabbled in Satanism, but who did
not belong to any formal Satanic organization. Where there was
even the potential for support for a case of satanic cult behavior,
facts simply became blown out of proportion.
- The sheer numerical estimates
for a large satanic underground are clearly incompatible with
the almost complete lack of evidence. The claim that tens of
thousands of babies are ritually murdered each year has not been
supported in any way. No one has been proven to be a "baby
breeder" for a satanic cult. There are not enough children
kidnapped to allow for these ritual infanticides. However disturbing,
the majority of child kidnappings are simply parents fighting
over custody: the number of child kidnappings committed by strangers
has been documented at well under 100 per year. Of those, half
are recovered within 5 years (Alexander 1990).
Links to Web Sites on Satanism
- Alt Religion: Satanism
This site examines differences between unique types of satanism,
and has several links to web sites dealing with satanic traditions.
- Religious Tolerance.org
This site tells about all the different forms of witchcraft and
Satanism. It discredits popular myths and describes the philosophies
of various satanic traditions.
to the Devil
This is an interactive web site with chat options and a message
- Investigator's Guide to Allegations
of "Ritual" Child Abuse
This is a copy of an official FBI document on the myths and realities
of "ritual child abuse," written by Kenneth V. Lanning
of the Behavioral Science Unit.
- V.ii Links to
Official Web Sites of Satanist Organizations
First Church of Satan
Order of Nine Angels
- Alexander, David.
(1990). "Giving the Devil More Than His Due." The
Humanist 50 (2): 5-14.
- Bromley, David
G., and Susan G. Ainsley. (1995). "Satanism and Satanic
Churches: The Contemporary Incarnations." In America's
Alternative Religions, ed. Timothy Miller, 401-409. Albany,
NY: State University of New York Press
- Medway, Gareth
J. (2001). Lure of the Sinister: An Unnatural History of
Satanism. New York: New York University Press.
- Pagels, Elaine.
(1996). The Origin of Satan. New York: Vintage.
- Richardson, James
T., Joel Best, and David G. Bromley, eds. (1991). The Satanism
Scare. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.
- Rivera, Geraldo.
(1988). "Satanic Breeders: Babies for Sacrifice." Geraldo
(transcript #288; 24 October). New York: Journal Graphics, Inc.
- Russell, Jeffrey
Burton. (1977). The Devil: Perceptions of Evil from Antiquity
to Primitive Christianity. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University
- _____. (1981).
Satan: The Early Christian Tradition. Ithaca, NY: Cornell
- _____. (1984).
Lucifer: The Devil in the Middle Ages. Ithaca, NY: Cornell
- _____. (1986).
Mephistopheles: The Devil in the Modern World. Ithaca,
NY: Cornell University Press.
- _____. (1988).
The Prince of Darkness: Radical Evil and the Power of Good
in History. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
- Shupe, Anson. (1990).
"Pitchmen of the Satan Scare." Wall Street Journal
(9 March): A12.
- Smith, Michelle,
and Lawrence Pazder. (1980). Michelle Remembers. New
York: Congdon and Lattes Inc.
- Stratford, Lauren.
(1988). Satan's Underground. Eugene, OR: Harvest House
- Victor, Jeffrey
S. (1989). "A Rumor-Panic About a Dangerous Satanic Cult
in Western New York." New York Folklore 15 (1-2):
- _____. (1993).
Satanic Panic: The Creation of a Contemporary Legend.
Chicago: Open Court Publishing
by Joe Abrams,
for Sociology 257: New Religious Movements
University of Virginia, Fall 2000
Revised by Kelly Wyman
University of Missouri-Kansas City, Spring 2006
- Source: www.religiousmovements.lib.virginia.edu/profiles/listalpha.htm