Artist Richard Westall’s heroic Satan, 1794.

Satan’s Honor Roll

Don’t believe what you’ve heard — there is a powerful set of ethics on the Left Hand Path

A woman wrote me recently saying that she had dedicated herself to the veneration of Satan and the study of Satanic principles, sometimes called the Left Hand Path. Her husband was bewildered and unaccepting. How, she wondered, could she communicate to him the validity of her choice?

Satanism is the most misunderstood term not only in modern life, but in history. It has grown associated with evil, violence, and maleficence. As I’ve explored elsewhere, this longstanding judgment is a mistake — it is a historical, religious, and ethical shibboleth that grows out of a deeply conformist and habitually reinforced reading of humanity’s founding myths in the West, particularly the ambiguous and intriguing encounter between Eve and the Serpent (devil or emancipator?) in the garden.

I will not use this essay to repeat themes I’ve recently covered elsewhere — for my take on the history, aesthetics, and higher meaning of the Satanic, you can visit my pieces Good, Clean Satanism; The Devil’s Reading List; and Satanism, Seriously. The purpose of this piece, rather, is to address the conflict experienced by my friend above. Her husband suspected that she had committed to a path of evil and even cruelty. Your friends, workmates, neighbors, and relatives may falsely believe the same of you if you are “out” as a Satanist or devotee of the Left Hand Path. (The Left Hand Path doesn’t necessarily mean Satanism but a spiritual or ethical path defined by “my will be done” versus “Thy will be done.”) Other observers may cling to the destructive fictions about Satanists that emerged from the discredited “Satanic abuse” scandals of the 1980s. And you may, at times, even ask yourself: Have I chosen a path with a heart?

The answer to that question is yes. Satanism, in its varied expressions, possesses an ethical code that resonates from within its literature throughout history from Genesis to Paradise Lost to the Romantic poets’ and protofeminists’ rediscovery of the God of the Outsiders as an emancipator, nonconformist, and creative malcontent. Here are The Satanic Principles:

Loyalty

Isn’t it odd how we hear so little today about loyalty as a virtue? Yet in the primeval world, loyalty stood as one of the defining traits of life — loyalty to tribe, pack, family, friend, and community. Today the ideal is seen as quaint if not backwards. Many people on hearing the term loyalty sniff something unhealthy in it and are apt to ask rhetorically, “Should I be loyal to a bad boss? A crook? A lousy friend?” No, you shouldn’t. That would be an act of corruption. Loyalty is not groupthink or servility. Rather, it is reciprocity, reliability, and solidarity. You do not gossip about a friend (or anyone). You do not avert your eyes from a colleague in trouble. You do not gloat, however insidiously or internally, over someone’s suffering. You do not accept summary or group judgments of another. If a person dwells within your circle of friends, workmates, and community (however broadly defined), you start from a place of solidarity and protectiveness. You give succor so that person knows he or she is not abandoned when injured. You join someone’s side. You’ll need the same sooner than you think.

Sincerity

A teacher once warned me against being “stupidly sincere.” He meant proffering a subjective opinion when not asked, which could cause injury or needless harm. I once knew a senior publishing executive who took pride in cutting down people’s pretenses, or so she thought. What this really involved was directing barbed comments at eager, earnest, and younger colleagues. When I finally called her out on it, the bully emotionally collapsed. She had been indulging in “stupid sincerity.” Real sincerity means speaking the truth when asked, and doing so not at the expense of another, but of yourself. It also means speaking the truth wisely; as with my former colleague, harming another for no constructive purpose is not being sincere. Nor is withholding the truth always a lie. A lie implies malice; it means misleading someone for self-gain. Sincerity is constructive.

Steve Ditko’s ethical hero, Mr. A

Aesthetic Integrity

One of the greatest exemplars of this trait was the recently deceased comic illustrator Steve Ditko (1927–2018). The co-creator of Spider-Man and Doctor Strange, and, in my view, one of the most innovative illustrators of the past century, Steve was notoriously private, intensively focused, and wholly dedicated to the integrity of his message and graphics. He would compromise on points of clarity but never on the core of his work. Some fans and colleagues believed he went too far in this regard. But I view Steve as heroic because he bore all of the consequences for his decisions. He reportedly turned down huge paydays for the Spider-Man and Doctor Strange movies because he didn’t believe in their vision. That is the opposite of most commercially popular artists who complain all the way to the bank. I always tell people: “Don’t be a hero after you cash the check.” Decide what is and isn’t worthy of compromise. I completed the full manuscript for my latest book, The Miracle Club, before submitting it to publishers. Some publishing houses wanted me to revise it, to make it more conventionally appealing. I refused. It was a complete and noble vision, at least for me. I went with a house that had the gumption to agree to those terms. Other times, compromise is entirely worthy. If you are paid by someone, you do owe them something — and that must be taken very seriously. Compromise — and even backing down (as will explored)— can be noble and good. But you must do so as a principled and reasonable choice. That’s where aesthetic and artistic integrity reside.

Accountability

This is one of the more straightforward ethics — until you run into difficulty. Always take responsibility when things go south. When a job is undone, finish it yourself. Consider yourself above no task. Never forget how it is to clean a toilet. In fact, after a big victory, go home and clean your whole house, especially the gross parts. It keeps you grounded. I disdain seeing a boss ask an employee to do something that he wouldn’t be willing to do himself, such as confront a difficult vendor or customer. In this sense, Satan is a good manager. When defeated and cast down to Hell, and facing perilous choices and tasks as to what to do next, Satan didn’t send someone else to do his dirty work — he did it himself. Consider this heroic statement from book two of Paradise Lost, which the Dark Lord delivered to his legions — the language is arcane but live with it for a while:

Then unknown dangers and as hard escape.
 But I should ill become this Throne, O Peers, 
 And this Imperial Sov’ranty, adorn’d
 With splendor, arm’d with power, if aught propos’d
 And judg’d of public moment, in the shape
 Of difficulty or danger could deterr
 Mee from attempting. Wherefore do I assume 
 These Royalties, and not refuse to Reign,
 Refusing to accept as great a share
 Of hazard as of honour, due alike
 To him who Reigns, and so much to him due
 Of hazard more, as he above the rest 
 High honourd sits?

Reliability

Above all, this means keeping your word. I once had to move apartments quickly and a friend who committed to helping me pulled out at the last moment because his doctor told him he had bad knees. Well, okay … but such a friend could still come and help pack boxes, roll up wires, and take down the shower curtain. As a philosopher friend once put it: “The only real emergency is a medical emergency.” If you say you are going to be somewhere, do something, or meet a deadline, you must absolutely do it, barring a health emergency. If you cannot honor your word, you cannot do anything in life. New Age culture is full of people who are eager to announce themselves as the reincarnate of Cleopatra or as channels for an immortal intelligence, yet who fail the most basic tests of life: showing up on time, completing tasks wholly, and honoring commitments. You will never be powerful unless you keep your word.

Honor

This principle contains all the others — and also something more. Honor means determining which relationships, roles, and personal encounters define you. And which you must fight against. I don’t necessarily mean physically fight — though I do not discount that either — but I mean selecting those parameters of your persona that cannot be violated. This is a difficult decision to make, and more so to live by. As alluded above, there is nothing wrong with a principled decision to back down. Every argument or instance of friction must be settled if a relationship is to be maintained; when a path to intelligent compromise is not present, someone must back down. Sometimes the more powerful person selects that role. The key is that your decision must be a choice, and not a psychological or physical default. And what of physical conflict? This is a very personal decision. The ancient Chinese ethical work The Art of War counsels never to fight when you cannot win — this requires possessing a great deal of information about your foe. Other times, you may feel cornered and without a choice. I am not suggesting you start a Fight Club (though it has its place); but I am suggesting that you know your surroundings, your capacities, and your limits — and decide what parameters you will accept.

Directness

Be plain and easily understood in writing and talk. Don’t say something clever in an effort to insult or dominate another person — that’s cowardly. If you believe it, and if it needs saying at all, then say it directly, clearly, and with personal ownership. Being a smart ass is also a form of cowardice because you seek to dominate another person without really stating your position clearly. Smart-ass remarks are the common tongue of online discourse, and they have intellectually and ethically eroded our culture. When called to speak plainly, most people (including intellectuals) are befuddled or choose to remain silent. Indirectness, bureaucratic language, hackneyed expressions, quips, wiseass remarks, and airs of mystery or inscrutability — all involve hiding. What you aren’t willing to say plainly shouldn’t be said at all. And what you aren’t willing to say to someone’s face — I’m speaking to you keyboard warriors — shouldn’t be spewed on social media. It is the ultimate act of cowardice.

Trust

This trait, too, is contained in some of those above — but with something more. You must not only be reliable, but you must be capable of backing up your reliability with personal means, agency, and capacity. Don’t make a “well intentioned” promise that you cannot deliver. Pay your debts. Pay — and pay promptly — for services that you contract. I know a publisher who pays within 24 or 48 hours; it inspires tremendous loyalty. I know a prominent New Age center that makes a silent practice of breaking its commitment to pay its speakers, or at least the ones who aren’t famous; the administration presumes the speaker will “go away” and is happy enough to have spoken there as a resume builder. As soon as I detected that pattern I resolved never to work for them again. Like reliability, trust is a steppingstone to all other forms of power. If you cannot backup your intentions — which is the basis of trust — you can do nothing worthwhile. Possess the money, skills, means, and resources to allow people to invest their trust you. If you do not have these things, do not warrant their existence.

Valor

This could also be called bravery, a term, like loyalty, that is now considered quaint — if not delusional. Valor means pushing ahead toward great and necessary things, whether rescuing someone physically or emotionally; attaining an achievement against which all circumstances are stacked; training your mind and body with intense discipline; or standing up for a principle knowing full well that the consequences could cut for or against you. It means putting your name on something, and willing to be known by what you attempt or shrink from. Valor can be a small act, such as standing up to a bullying relative. It can be a large or public act of the kind you find in myth. Valor is not accidental, impulsive, self-indulgent, or thrill-oriented. It is purposeful. It is the ultimate act of agency. A single act of valor, when pursued from a place of principle and decisiveness, can change everything in your life.

Foresight

None of these ethics are valuable without foresight. Foresight means reflecting on the ultimate purpose and possible outcomes of what you’re attempting. Your sense of self-determination must encompass gathering knowledge, pursuing education, consulting with real experts, and envisioning possibilities and alternatives. Bravery and daring, properly understood, are not reactions against boredom or ennui. They are mature and valorous expressions only when they are products of thinking, steadiness, and canniness. Know what you intend — and pursue it, whether success or failure results. The good news is that foresight also breeds persistency (or what some call faith) because it gives you new paths from which to approach a goal. Foresight is the prophecy of the intellect.

***

So, there — now you don’t need to kick someone out of your summer share because she’s a Satanist. You don’t need to lock up your possessions at night because your officemate worships Belial. And you certainly do not need to change babysitters because your current one wears the horns-up pentagram. Mainstream religionists, simply by associating with a certain doctrine or faith, sometimes feel entitled to the benefit of the doubt. By contrast, those who bear the label of Satan tend to regard ethics more seriously. This is because Satanists must always struggle to defend their personhood and rightness of expression. It is indeed a struggle — and that’s the point. Struggle is the creative act.

Finally, you might wonder, why is this list of ethics associated with the Left Hand Path at all? Can’t you find them in other traditions, such as Stoicism? There is always overlap among traditions of truth. It could be no other way. But these traits in their aggregate are particular to the authentic counter-tradition of Satanism because they reinforce what is at the heart of that path: the upbuilding and honoring of individual power, agency, and artistry. That is the gospel and purpose of the Satanic, when it is truly known and understood.

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