Find out what makes Satanism a Religion or Philosophy
Satanism is the belief in Satan as a deity, or the use of Satan as a symbol. But, the question is often asked: “Is Satanism a Religion or Philosophy?” In order to understand the answer, you have to see how Satanism was developed in society since it’s inception in 1969.
First, you have to understand the origins of Satanism to really be able to understand this question. There is little, if any, evidence to show that Satanism existed prior to 1969 as an established religion. The numerous books published on Satanism and social panics that occurred throughout the centuries all have one thing in common – they were used to control society and to slander anyone who was not considered to be Christian.
This is what is referred to as “subversion”, a social tool that is used to slander and demean anyone who is not part of that religion. So, most of your history about Satanism came from Christian sources and were used to demonize those who did not belong to Christianity. Essentially, the stories of Satanic societies pre-1969 are worthless to the history of Satanism overall, besides being point of contention in modern times when this fact is misunderstood.
Those who promote Satanism as an ‘ancient religion’ or a pre-Christian movement have not studied the history of Christian subversion and moral panics that gave way to the myth of practicing Satanists prior to our modern era. Claiming that a religion was established prior to Christianity is deceptive and aims to give a religion legitimacy. This legitimacy is unfounded, however, upon inspection.
Because Christianity was the ruling class for most of our western history, and it had been intrinsically linked with government. A Satanic society could not have developed at any point in time during this era, flourishing and surviving into modern times.
Establishing Satanism as a Legitimate Religion
So, the question is now asked, what makes a religion legitimate? In order to establish a religion, there has to be a few qualifying things happening in order to deem it as a religion, from sociological standards.
Legitimate Satanism only came into existence because it had finally found the right time and place to appear. In America where it was founded we were granted freedom of religion. this enabled many new religious movements to appear during the occult revival of the late 60’s. In addition to this the witchcraft laws of Britain had been repealed by the 1950s allowing for the movement to take hold worldwide.
The Church of Satan was established by Anton LaVey, which meant that it had an actual location; it contained a record of who worked as it’s priesthood. It continued now into it’s third generation, it provided us with actual books on their philosophy, records of their rituals, all of which allowed us to have the Satanism that we know of today. This is what established Satanism in society as an acceptable religion. Despite whether you agree with their aims or not, their recorded historical social movement is what made Satanism legitimate.
The History of Satanism as A Religion
One only has to look at the history of the Church of Satan to see how, in the beginning, Satanism was represented as a religion, in opposition to Catholic Christianity. There are rites and rituals in the book that aim to invoke demons for specific purposes, and a black mass is provided for the actual worship of Satan.
LaVey had similar beliefs and experiences when he allied with the Prince of Darkness on a symbolic level in the Satanic Bible. However, some have debated that LaVey was a Deist, instead of a (religious) theist. Deism, which is a form of Theism, is described as :”.. a philosophical belief in the existence of a God on the basis of reason, and observation of the natural world alone.” 1
A quote from his Satanic Bible shows his interest in Satan as a spiritual force:
“Satan is the spirit of progress,the inspirer of all great movements that contribute to the development of civilization and the advancement of man kind. He is the spirit of revolt that leads to freedom. The embodiment of all heresies that liberate.” LaVey proclaimed that Satan represented our natural desires, and the natural world, but was seen as a spiritual force. In the introduction by Burton H Wolfe we find: “To LaVey, Satan was a dark hidden force in nature responsible for the workings of human affairs, a force for which neither science nor religion had any explanation.“2
Satanism Shifts to Philosophy
Some time later, other members of the Church decided that the Satanism provided by LaVey’s church wasn’t enough. there had to be a spiritual side to it all, as well. A split formed the Temple of Set where members could express their theistic views on Satanism freely. Their publication, the Church of Satan, written by the head of the Temple of Set, Michael Aquino, details this.
This divide between theism and atheism became even more apparent during the Satanic Panic of the 1980’s. In numerous interviews on television talk shows, it was proclaimed by their priesthood that the church of Satan was purely symbolic and philosophical. This allowed them to escape from the accusations of Satanic ritual abuse that later on turned out to be a money-making scheme organized by therapists, judges and the religious right.
So while LaVey at some points proclaimed that Satan [is] god of this earth as represented by our natural desires, he denied the formality of worship and religion. In it’s place he offered philosophy, ethics and a method of rationality, over the uncertainty of religious faith.
Satanism Today is a mix of Religion and Philosophy
Since the end of the Satanic Panic in the early 90’s various groups and churches had formed, basing their ideas on religious beliefs. Today’s Satanism is a landscape of atheist, religious, and spiritual groups and individuals all practicing what they feel best represents Satanism for them.
Satanism today is an “umbrella term”, where one is free to choose to practice Satanism as a religion, as a way of spirituality or as a symbolic philosophy. One only has to look at the larger picture of what is available to us today to understand that we, as Satanists, finally have a choice in the matter.
For an in-depth exploration of Satanism as a philosophy you can read the essay, Are All Satanists Atheist? If you would like to know more about Satanism as a form of spirituality and religion, read the next essay in this series: What is Spiritual Satanism?
- Gilles Nullens, 8.8. “Deism” https://nullens.org/charles-darwin/part-2-religious-theories, [accessed 4/1/17]
- 2. Satanic Bible, Avon; 1st edition (December 1, 1969) Read a review of the Satanic Bible at the Left Hand Path Books Blog