A Satanic Once-Over

What is Satanism? Ask ten Satanists; get eleven answers.

Satan means different things to different people, and this should come as no surprise, seeing as how the identity of Satan does not track perfectly across the Abrahamic religions with which this figure is associated. And this is before considering the likely pre-Judaic origins of Satan in ancient Persian and Mesopotamian religions. If Satanism generally ascribes virtue to the characteristics of Satan, then different interpretations of Satan are material to how a person’s Satanism is expressed, because one Satanist’s virtue may be another’s vice. With that being said, there are some core characteristics that remain the same, regardless.

The first, most obvious, generalization that can be made of Satanists is that they have elected to identify with Satan. This, itself, makes a clear statement. It displays a willingness to embrace the profane and, in doing so, calls into question the validity of classifying something as profane. It extends this question to whether the duality of sacred and profane has any legitimacy at all, opening supposedly sacrosanct ideals to criticism. The various forms this criticism takes, and the conclusions drawn from these disparate critiques, result in a wide array of Satanic expression, complete with myriad Satanic sects that do not share the same sets of beliefs. One universal about this criticism, independent of the form it takes, is that it cements the role of Satan as the adversary, because challenging doctrinal beliefs attributed to divinity is adversarial to a heritage of submission that reaches back centuries. This adversity to cultural beliefs not shared, despite being part of a shared culture with believers, creates space for counter-narratives to the alleged testimony of ancient people of what was revealed to them by an omniscient, omnipotent deity; it opens the door to alternative ways of obtaining knowledge.

The willingness to embrace the profane and question the divine speaks to a second generality that can be found among Satanists, which is the compulsion to resist conforming to a mainstream religious culture perceived by them to be irrational or repressive. This does not mean Satanists are non-conformist, or even that they are rational and anti-repressive, only that the Satanist cannot be made to conform to a set of beliefs simply because it is proclaimed as righteous, divine, or sacred by one or more mainstream religions. Other arguments for conformity, irrationality, and repression can persuade Satanists, and in their rejection of mainstream religion, many find community in the shared belief structure of a Satanic organization. Some of these are as dogmatic as Evangelical Christianity; others are more relaxed.

All of these organizations can claim legitimacy, and each is free to call any or all of the other organizations illegitimate. Members of some groups may find kinship with Satanists outside their own group; others may not. This is all in keeping with a long tradition of religions not getting along, and there is no sign that the 21st century offers any respite from this, even among secular religions. Religions remain divisive, and Satanists must own this even if they don’t accept it. I personally view a great many Satanic organizations as ridiculous or depraved, but what does my opinion matter? Not much, especially to a recalcitrant Satanist. Like Jesus, Satan can be shoehorned into wildly divergent belief structures, many of which end up at odds with each other. This is because religion is politics, and how someone elects to interpret Satan and express Satanism says far more about the individual in question than about Satanism in general.

At least, that’s what this Satanist would have you believe.