"Satanism" is variously used to describe various religions or philosophies which involve symbolic association with, or admiration for the character Satan. "Satanism" has been applied to both theistic religions with involve the belief of Satan as an actual deity, and atheistic organizations which proclaim that neither Satan nor God literally exist.
In atheistic Satanism, Satan is merely a symbol for the beliefs of its followers. LaVeyan Satanism refers to the philosophy of Anton Szandor LaVey, which is a type of atheistic Satanism, but separate from other forms of atheistic Satanism.
No atheistic form of Satanism is connected to theistic Satanism.
Additionally, some other religious groups and other belief systems have been falsely described as being Satanic in nature; one of the most prevalent examples of such a misrepresentation includes numerous false claims of Freemasonry being Satan worship. This is incorrect, as the Freemasons are basically a fraternity with no connection to either theistic or atheistic Satanism. None the less, despite being discredited, claims of imagined Freemasonic Satan-worship are prevalent among conspiracy theorists.
Anton Szandor LaVey founded the Church of Satan in 1966 as an atheistic, libertarian organization. LaVeyan Satanism teaches individualism, self-indulgence, and "eye for an eye" morality, as well as skepticism. Members of the Church of Satan consider themselves their own god, with their own birthdays to be considered their highest holiday.
LaVeyan Satanism has sometimes been deemed to be a philosophy rather than a religion, due to its atheistic nature. Because followers of LaVeyan Satanism do not literally believe that Satan exists, but rather use Satan to represent tenants of individualism, free will, wisdom, and enlightenment. However, LaVey termed his brand of Satanism as a religion because of the use of rituals, symbolism, etc. The argument LaVey makes in The Satanic Bible was that some people may feel the need for such activity, and thus the Church of Satan is offered as an alternative to individualistic atheists who none the less feel the need for the gratification provided by participation in some form of ritual, freely admitting that the rituals practiced by LaVeyan Satanists have only symbolic meaning and have no supernatural presence whatsoever. LaVeyan Satanism rejects the idea of prayer, offering instead that LaVeyan Satanists should accomplish something by their own means, rather than praying for a deity to do something for them.
In general, LaVeyan Satanism advocates doing whatever makes one happy, as long as it does not infringe upon the rights of other people. Satanism advocates participating in the Seven Deadly Sins, on the basis that they all lead to personal pleasure. Selfishness is also advocated by LaVeyan Satanism, which states that doing something to help another will in turn make one happy. Regarding sex, LaVeyan Satanism advocates sexual freedom, but only as far as it does not involve harming others or any activity that does not involve the consent and agreement of those who participate.
LaVeyan Satanism also advocates favorable treatment to those who treat one kindly, and poor treatment of those who treat one badly, essentially "Do unto others as they do unto you." In general, LaVeyan Satanism opposes hurting others, and suggests placing a symbolic "curse" upon those that hurt others. LaVeyan Satanism opposes killing or hurting children or animals, as they are pure carnal beings and considered to be sacred. LaVeyan Satanism opposes suicide, except in instances where one is suffering extreme physical pain, in which case death would end one's suffering.
Anton LaVey's writings were influenced by the works and philosophies of Ayn Rand, Friedrich Nietzsche, H. L. Mencken, P. T. Barnum, Mark Twain, John Milton, William Blake, and Lord Byron. There's a bit of Walt Whitman in there as well. The Satanic Bible, in particular, was admitted by LaVey to have been plagiarized from Might is Right, which was a Social Darwinist book published in 1890, as well as Dee's Enochian keys from Aleister Crowley's The Equinox, modified to replace references to Christianity with those to Satan.
Additionally, Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged inspired the philosophy advocated in LaVey's Nine Satanic Statements, with LaVey later admitting that Satanism was essentially Objectivism "with ceremony and ritual added". This statement is not entirely correct, as Rand's philosophy advocates that all activity must be born out of reason. LaVey's advocacy of hedonism is in sharp contrast with Rand's philosophy that activity which has a rational basis makes one happy. LaVey instead argues that any activity which makes one happy and does not infringe upon the rights of others is valid.
Inspired by John Milton's Paradise Lost, some proponents of Romanticism adopted Satanism due to interpreting him as representing a crisis of faith, individualism, free will, wisdom and enlightenment. Such non-theistic Satanists also take inspiration from rare fictional works which depict Satan as a heroic figure, including categorizations by George Bernard Shaw and Mark Twain. The Satanic Temple, created by Harvard Graduate Lucien Greaves, which focuses on social activism and skepticism, is an example.
Theistic Satanism is entirely separate from LaVeyan Satanism and atheistic Satanism in general, as Theistic Satanism is directly stated worship of what Theistic Satanists believe to be a literally existing Satan, in direct opposition and contrast to atheistic Satanism. Also, whereas atheist Satanists knowingly acknowledge magic as non-existent and rituals to be symbolic in nature, Theistic Satanists believe magic and rituals as having literal meaning.
Two examples of Theistic Satanic belief systems include Luciferianism, which promotes the essential and inherent characteristics that are affixed and commonly given to Lucifer, some identifying Lucifer as the "light bearer" and illuminated aspect of Satan and others identifying Lucifer as a separate, more easy-going, positive ideal than Satan. Palladists are an alleged Theistic Satanist society or member of that society.
There was also a cult called Our Lady of Endor Coven which worshiped Satanas, their name for Satan, which they defined as the Serpent in the Garden of Eden who revealed the knowledge of the true God to Eve.
Another interesting Theistic Satanic offshoot was The Process Church of The Final Judgment, a Christian/Satanic group that believed that God had reconciled with Satan, and thus simultaneously worshiped Jesus Christ and Satan, as they believed that on Judgment Day, Christ and Satan will work together to judge humanity, with Christ as judge and Satan executing judgment. The Process was originally made up of former Scientologists who were disavowed by L. Ron Hubbard and declared "suppressive persons" by Scientology. The musician George Clinton initially included quotes from Process literature in some of the early Funkadelic albums. The band didn't appear to take The Process all that seriously, and if they did, they didn't do so for long, as the influences from The Process disappeared when Funkadelic switched their sound from hard rock to overt funk and adopted overtly cartoonish space imagery.
The Temple of Set has claimed to be the world's leading left-hand path religious organization. Established by Michael A. Aquino and former members of Anton LaVey's Church of Satan, the Temple does not have an official position on whether Satan literally exists. Hence, why the atheist LaVey disavowed them. Though individualistic, the Temple of Set is often categorized as a theistic Satanic organization. Set is supposedly the Dark Lord behind the Hebrew entity Satan. "Set" is also the name of an Egyptian deity.
The public perception of Satanism is often a mischaracterization of LaVeyan or Theistic Satanism as being little more than a shadowy of cabal of evil lunatics worshiping Satan for personal gain. This image of Satanism largely emerged during what is known as the "Satanic Panic" of The '80s and The '90s. More specifically, there was widespread belief that Satanic cults operated in the United States and were responsible for the ritual abduction and sacrifice of children. Little to no evidence of this existed, but never the less a mass hysteria accumulated, particularly among Christian groups (for obvious reasons).
The main reason this hysteria occurred was due to the book Michelle Remembers, which was a collection of memoirs by psychiatrist Lawrence Pazder, who alleged that his patient Michelle had been abused in service to a Satanic ritual and later repressed the memories. Investigation showed that the book was almost entirely false, and LaVey threatened to sue Pazder for libel, as the book implicated the Church of Satan in the abuse. Despite all of this, the damage was done. Numerous allegations were leveled in the 1980's towards schools and day care centers about the Satanic abuse of children, the most famous of which being the McMartin Preschool trial. Again, most of these allegations were spurious at best, and in the case of McMartin Preschool, no convictions were ever reached.
While the Satanic Panic has largely subsided, the image of Satanism, while not immaculate to begin with, was really dragged through the mud. Even today, there is little understanding as to what Satanism actually is, and the mental image of gibbering lunatics sacrificing children over blood pentagrams is still popular, even if a little tongue-in-cheek. LaVeyan Satanism and atheistic Satanism in general have no relationship with theistic Satanism, but the two are often confused by writers of many fictional films, books, etc. which use imagery derived from the Church of Satan in conjunction with theistic Satan worship, which is not what the Church of Satan stands for. Part of this confusion probably results for the CoS heavy use of rituals, despite being atheistic.
Church of Satan officials have disassociated the CoS with theistic Satanism, and theistic Satanists have disavowed Anton LaVey for his denial of the existence of a literal Satan. Individuals who consider themselves to be "Satanists" have to specify which specific theology or philosophy they believe in to avoid being perceived as rebellious atheists, LaVey-inspired individualistic Libertarians, or goat-sacrificing Devil-worshippers instead of whatever brand of "Satanism" they follow.
Many of the musicians who use imagery from LaVey's writings and the Church of Satan, for example, are not Satanists, but merely appropriating such imagery for Shock Value, although a few celebrities have advocated either the whole of or parts of LaVey's philosophy. See also Rock Me, Asmodeus!.
It is difficult to determine if many people legitimately practice theistic Satanism, as this is often claimed as a form of rebellion or shock value, as with those who've appropriated images from LaVeyan Satanism.
There really were and are some people who claim to have committed crimes at least partly for reasons related to Satanism and a few (emphasis on "a few") branches of Satanism that adhere to certain negative stereotypes, but they should not be taken as representative of Satanists as a whole. After all, every religious movement has some less-than-stellar adherents.
Literature about Satanism
- Contemporary religious satanism: A critical anthology; Jesper Aagaard Petersen
- The Devil's party: Satanism in modernity; Per Faxneld and Jesper Aagaard Petersen
- The invention of satanism; Asbjorn Dyrendal, James R. Lewis and Jesper Aagaard Petersen
- Children of Lucifer: The origins of modern religious satanism; Ruben van Luijk
- Satanism: A social history; Massimo Introvigne
- Wikipedia entries for satanism as well as more specifically for LaVeyan and theistic forms
- More general Wikipedia -information on left-hand and right-hand paths
- Wikipedia article about the hysteria surrounding Satanic Ritual Abuse
- Church of Satan's official site
- The Satanic Temple's official site
- Encyclopedia Satanica
- Theisticsatanism.com by Diane Vera; information on differences between branches of satanism, philosophy, rituals and more
- Listverse's view; 10 forms of Satanism around the world
- Greater Church of Lucifer
- Temple of Set