The Invention of Satanism is a scholarly analysis of the cultural history and threads that motivate the creation and various permutations of Satanism. Recently its authors wrote an article called Old Nick on The Net; On Satanic Politics. What they stumbled upon in the comment thread that inspired their article is a debate that outsiders to Satanic discussions aren’t familiar with. It’s just under the radar of what people with only a cursory interest in Satanism (or little at all) tend to notice.
To folks who have little experience with Satanic culture it is surprising to learn that there is a diversity in it at all, let alone that we often engage in heated words with each other. We are a culture of people that embrace and utilize our otherness, so it can be excused when an observer looks and sees a great black mass instead of shades of ebony, sable, and jet. Even many within Satanic organizations are having a conspicuously hard time grasping the nuance of what each organization tends to attract culturally when they want to also be included but dont share much interest in that organizations goals or common concerns outside of being Satanic.
Satanism is a religion (or philosophy to those who can’t shake their aversion to the colloquial usage of the term religion) of individualism. There are some very broad common cultural strokes to be noted, but being based on a long running compelling character who has been adapted and used so frequently and with such versatility does still lend itself to a great bit of personal interpretation. It is a correct observation that the strife between Church of Satan members and The Satanic Temple members does often come from their approach to politics, but that singular explanation to many of us seems to feel more like the symptom than the cause. This post delves into The Satanic Temple’s lineage from more literary sources than mystical or occult ones, which is in contrast to Church of Satan.
Everything not explicitly perceived as Christian in origin or practice has been labelled as Satanic by one religious group or another. This aggressive othering of things or people outside of Abrahamic tolerance is an important component of the creation of Satanism, like a negative integer that pulls the sum to the left instead of driving it to the right. Add to this individuals who feel or are different and have felt or observed the harmful effects of othering and challenge its practice and you get Satanism. This is much like being Queer in contrast to LGBT in that it is not an identity one is born or indoctrinated into, but is chosen by the individual.
There are many examples of similar reclamation in minority groups and identities. Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a former Muslim atheist activist who proudly identifies as an Infidel, a pejorative that is nearly as riddled with irrational hatred as Satan in Islamic culture.
This means one could argue that in many cases the kinds of people most concerned and alarmed about the existence of self-identified Satanists are the same ones assisting in driving enthusiasm for the Satanic and more Satanists.
From all of their communities we hail, and from all of them our individual personalities and affinities have been shaped and influenced. Results vary based on ability, motivation, experience, and interest, but the desire towards unrepentant individuality and self sovereignty remain consistent. We call it Satan because we aren’t concerned if you can’t suspend your conditioning or superstition and in many circumstances we count on it and use it to expose that same conditioning and superstition.
This brings us to the rift we were discussing in the first place. People group together based on their viewpoints and approaches to life. There would not have been a need to form The Satanic Temple if an existing Satanic group consisted of more members who had interests outside of Satan and sub-popular subversive culture. A metaphorical construct of a fictional character is not enough to make any claim that we “all have the same goals” and should try harder to “work together” instead of “bicker”.
( Note here that I’ll take Satanic bickering about a fictional character over any other religious argument about who is in danger of going to hell and should be killed any day. The No True Scotsman fallacy is just laughable in Satanic arguments, but often deadly in dogmatic ones.)
Most Satanic groups other than TST are social in nature, with members often expressing an aversion to politics or that have beliefs or that don’t mesh with core tenets of The Satanic Temple, such as beliefs that don’t fit “our best scientific understanding of the world”. It is from these people that I most often hear the mewling about Satanic groups needing to work together because they have the same goals and it is to these folks that I say; No, we don’t.
Satanism isn’t the totality of the conversation or culture The Satanic Temple has. While many Satanists are still convinced that spookiness is an inherent power they weild, and complaints surface that The Satanic Temple is “defanging” Satan, those complaints expose the fear that the only Satanic power they’ve ever imagined they master is being stripped away. But, nobody interesting thinks Satanism is scary anymore. The only people that do aren’t informed enough (and will never allow themselves) to ever draw any distinction between Richard Ramirez or Peter Gilmore anyway. Sorry bout it. Smart people who don’t know much about Satanists more often imagine us as LARPers than demons or “the alien elite”.
The flip side to that is that very few, if any, Satanic Temple members signed up to be associated with Men’s Rights Activists, or secular pro-lifers, or “Satan is my cosmic daddy force” types. Few of us want to hang out with the kids who can’t aim their rebellion effectively or thoughtfully and pour blood on Virgin Mary statues then call the press cause FTW that’s metal LOOK AT ME. Satanists are very interested in art and individual expression, but again results will vary depending on ability…
So, while the authors did a balanced job of identifying politics and the approach to them and pointing out a few misrepresentations and ad hominem manipulations, there is an underlying set of differences beneath which drive those different approaches to begin with. All of the Satanic groups exist because they attract different people with different cognitions, values, and agendas. Most of us find ourselves where we belong in that spectrum.