For those of you who are acquainted with my coven SATANHAUS, you probably know that we define ourselves as esoteric Satanists. As a result, one of the most common questions I get is simply “What is esoteric Satanism?” I’m going to give a brief introduction to my own understanding of what this means, specifically in contrast to the three other most common strains of Satanic thought: LaVeyan Satanism, humanist Satanism, and theistic Satanism. My thoughts on this are not meant to be conclusive, and I encourage you to explore this concept for yourself, to subject it to your own powers of critical reasoning, and perhaps to ask other esoteric Satanists their opinions on this topic (SATANHAUS’s own Hierophant Thomas Elliott and Magister Templi Doc Azathoth also have excellent thoughts about this, so I recommend reaching out to them if you’re particularly curious). Read on for a little background on esotericism as well as a working definition of esoteric Satanism.
Something to Note
To begin, I’ve argued elsewhere that I believe that there are, overall, two general types of Satanic thought in the Satanic milieu: rationalist and non-rationalist. Since Satanism by nature lacks any central canon, we cannot definitively answer the basic question ‘what do Satanists believe?’ with reference to any particular writings. As an example, someone could completely reject The Satanic Bible and everything else LaVey has written but still very much be a Satanist; we could also reject Milton’s Paradise Lost, and The Satanic Temple’s ‘Seven Tenets’, and we would still be Satanists. Rather, as Rueben van Luijk wrote in his excellent Children of Lucifer, Satanists are defined by their “intentional, religiously-motivated veneration of Satan”. Whatever Satan is, however someone decides to cash out this concept, this is the crux of Satanism itself. Satanism is quite simply the religious worship of Satan.
How people decide to understand Satan is very important. If we ask the question “is Satan real?” what are we really asking? We’re asking if Satan can be understood logically, if we can comprehend Satan with our minds, if Satan exits in the world in a way that is understandable to us. To the humanist Satanists in The Satanic Temple and the LaVeyan Satanists at the Church of Satan, Satan is a metaphor specifically crafted by humans to help us understand certain phenomena in the world and to convey certain political values like equity, justice, and rebellion. In other words, Satan can be understood rationally. To others, like the esotericists and theists, Satan cannot be completely understood rationally; there is a necessary element of mystery or intellectual separation between us and Satan that we cannot fully logically grasp. These kinds of Satanists are non-rationalist– not irrationalist, which would imply that it cannot be understood at all, but simply non-rationalist, which is an umbrella term encapsulating all belief that is not exclusively rationalist. I like using the formula X/not-X for categories rather than having a bunch of disjointed, separate categories, since if you do that someone will inevitably be left out or not fit in to one category cleanly. Since X and not-X are mutually exclusive, everyone is accounted for and nobody is left out. You either have a purely rationalist view of the world or you do not. This keeps it simple and inclusive.
A Little Background
Esoteric Satanists are part of the non-rationalist variety of Satanists. According to Brian Morris in Religion and Anthropology: A Critical Introduction, the word esoteric refers to the religious mystery traditions in the Western world. A mystery tradition is a non-traditional religion that is distinct from the common religious thought of the West, such as that in the Orthodox Abrahamic religions and rationalist Enlightenment philosophies. Many esoteric groups historically have limited outsider intrusion via initiatory processes (that is, one cannot begin to learn the mysteries unless they have been formally initiated into the coven/school/group). Thelema, Aleister Crowley’s composite polytheistic religion, is a well-known example of esoteric philosophy; Madam Blavatsky’s Theosophy is another prolific esoteric religion; even neo-pagan religions like Wicca have emerged from esotericism. It’s important to note that esotericism is very diverse and does not refer to one single strain of thought. Rather, as history has progressed, it has influenced and been influenced by many developing religions and philosophies; as the scientific and technological ages have come full-force into being, contemporary esotericism has moved away substantially from Christianity and has openly embraced scientific progress rather than rejecting it. Most recently, esotericism, in the form of its philosophical child occultism, has focused increasingly on the individual in what some have referred to as “the spiritual realization of the individual”; that is, using spiritual practices to attain self-satisfaction, knowledge, and fulfillment on a personal scale. Satanism, having been developed in the second half of the 20th century when all these major components were already in play, draws largely from these concepts (among others). Religions that specifically emphasize individuation from divinity rather than unification with divinity are called left-handed religions. Many esoteric religions, like esoteric Satanism, are explicitly left-handed, but not all of them are.
In short, esoteric religions are the mystery religions of their culture. When a religion is part of an esoteric tradition it means that it a) diverges substantially from orthodox religious or philosophical thought, often by incorporating magickal practices; and b) emphasizes mystery, secrecy, and/or the unknown in the form of inaccessible content or in the literal exclusion of outsiders.
When we refer to ourselves as esoteric Satanists, what we are saying is that the kind of Satanism we practice differs substantially in style and content from not just the major Western religions like Christianity, but from ‘orthodox’ Satanism as well. Most Satanists are strictly rationalist. The Satanic Temple’s humanist Satanism, for instance, rejects anything that could be considered “superstitious”, this includes divinatory (or ‘fortune-telling’) practices like tarot, astrology, palm-reading, scrying, or pendulum-reading, as well as any sort of magickal practice whatsoever. Furthermore, they also reject any interpretation of Satan that isn’t strictly rhetorical, including not just a traditionally theistic Satan, but also any metaphysical Satan such as Satan-as-Void, Satan-as-Dao, or Satan-as-Spiritual-Self. As esotericists, most of us practice some kind of divination and almost all of us practice magick. I would argue that in this way esoteric Satanism is necessarily non-rational. Furthermore, most esoteric Satanists do not have a strictly rhetorical understanding of Satan. We believe that Satan is ‘out there’ in reality.
Furthermore, we are substantially different from theistic Satanists in that we do not believe that Satan is a deity, like a bat flying around in the ether. Rather, in most (but not all) cases, Satan is a metaphysical principle equated more closely with darkness, void, magick, or something that mediates between being and nothingness. However the individual esotericist or coven of esotericists decides to cash this out, it will not involve conceptualizing Satan as a literal entity even if we concede that Satan does in fact exist on some level.
Finally, esoteric Satanism necessitates an emphasize on mystery, the unknown, and secrecy. SATANHAUS, unlike the Church of Satan or The Satanic Temple, cannot be joined simply by filling in a form and sending payment. Outer order membership is by application only and is reviewed by the highest order of initiates for approval; Inner Order membership, that is actually being allowed into the coven itself to contribute to the group directly, is by invitation only. This is a personal choice on our part, it’s probably possible to have an esoteric coven (or be an esoteric individual) that doesn’t work this way per se, but frankly it’s hard for me to imagine developing and performing occult Satanic magick and not having a barrier between yourself and others especially considering how zealous Christians can be about infiltrating Satanic organizations. Even non-Christians who are critical of Satanism for whatever reason seem to feel no problem disrupting Satanic events, a behavior that in my experience only intensifies with the more unorthodox the practice is. I can’t imagine operating an esoteric coven without some kind of secrecy and protection. The risk is simply too great.
Even if this was not the case and there was no danger to openly being a Satanist, the subject matter is necessarily going to turn off the majority of people. In a way, esoteric Satanism is somewhat self-protecting. If the reader isn’t down with prayers and tarot and blood-letting (or whatever), they’re just going to dismiss it as nonsense and move on to something else. For this reason, esoteric Satanism is probably the smallest, most select variety of Satanism because it just isn’t accessible to or desired by most people.
In short, I think it’s safe to say that, for the most part, esoteric Satanism is the mystic sect of Satanism. Esoteric Satanists practice magick, emphasize mystery and secrecy, and do not believe in Satan as a literal deity.
I hope this has been clarifying for everyone who is curious about what esoteric Satanism means and what esoteric Satanists do.
This essay was originally posted on the SATANHAUS website.
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 In the past I had categorized this in terms of atheist and non-atheist but I think ‘rationalist’ actually covers this better.
 Basically every part of the world has mystery traditions, but scholars of religion typically use the word esoteric to refer to the strains of thought in the Western world specifically.
 There are mystery schools embedded in all the Abrahamic religions such as Kabbalah, Hermeticism, Gnosticism, and Sufism, but these are often suppressed by Orthodox religious power and are much more rarely (and secretly) practiced.
 Scholars have emphasized the difference between esotericism and occultism, which I agree with, but I don’t want to get sidetracked and go too much into detail about it here. Rather the takeaway should be that contemporary esoteric philosophy, like that found in Satanism, has been so influenced by the development of occultism that occultism’s influence can be found even in traditions that don’t explicitly refer to themselves as occultist.
 See: Stephen Flowers’ Lords of the Left-Hand Path.
 Technically all Satanism is left-handed.
 This does not mean that members of The Satanic Temple do not actually practice these things (I can assure you that many of them do), but formally their organization rejects these practices entirely.