Satanism may signify an organized belief system or religion such as the Church of Satan. It may be seen just as a vague and dramatized concept of extreme insurgence against Western norms and conventions such as the so-called “Satanism” exhibited by some rock musicians. It may be a mythological sign of medieval religious thinking that still lingers in contemporary times.
It may also be a deviant practice used to daunt and control others through ritual abuse (Francis King, 1989b). If Satanism is linked with ritual abuse, one can also say with assurance that not all ritual abuse is Satanic.
Many of these abusive occurrences have been present in societies or under conditions where Satan is not a renowned spiritual or demonic entity. In earlier times, it was not uncommon for Western scholars and travelers to sometimes attribute the influence of Satan to primitive religious practices, which to them appeared to be idolatrous or violent. Even now, one occasionally hears the concept that if something is not Christian, it is the effect of Satan’s power or seductiveness. The predecessors of Satanism can be found in ancient religions in which gods were worshipped, not because of their intrinsic goodness, but as of their perceived power.
For example, the ancient Greek and Roman gods were such an amoral grouping of deities. Few showed many venerable character traits. These gods were often represented with all the foibles and veniality of mere mortals. Many of the cults dedicated to such gods and goddesses allegedly involved traumatizing rituals (e. g. , the mystery cults). On the other hand, some religions particularly worshipped and supplicated obviously evil deities. In other cases, what appears to be the adoration of an “evil deity” may simply symbolize the worship of a spiritual entity that no longer enjoys privileged status?
There are examples in history in which a culture’s demons were in fact past divinities, no longer revered, and sometimes given new and less striking roles. Such revolutions amongst the gods sometimes resulted from conquests, whereupon the new gods of the conquerors take the place formerly held by the gods of the conquered. In other instances, evil can be revered or worshipped outright. In cultures in which Christianity is established one might presume that the worship of evil would involve some devotion to Lucifer or Satan, the primary names given to the Euro-American spiritual depiction of evil.
To many traditional Christians, Satan and Lucifer are equal but different names for the same demon. However, numerous theologians make the peculiarity that Lucifer is the name of Satan before his fall. The origins of Satanism are positively as obscure as any other occult belief system. One can never be specifically certain when such practices started. Yet, some of the historical accounts of Satanism in Europe may explain some of the evolution of thinking about Satanism. The history of Satanism can be traced to a variety of possible sources: (1) European witchcraft, sorcery, and shamanism, (2) Gnostic-derived religions (e. . , the Cathari) which viewed the established Church as an tyrannical adversary, (3) the general traditions of Western occultism (which are often seen as encircling a “dark” or “left-handed path”) and (4) what Francis King calls “the bad divinity of a minority of Roman Catholic priests” (Francis King , 1989b, p. 219 ). Though, when Satan was invented, he was found everywhere. For instance, Satan was attached to Adam and Eve as a sibling rivalry between Satan and the younger creatures of God.
This combination of human and celestial opponents of God lastly culminated in the formative stages of the Antichrist legend, which speaks of the human embodiment of Satan (McGinn 1994: 10, 22-25; Pagels 1995: 43, 49; Russell 1977: 188-89). While the orthodox text shared some ideas of the dualistic conflict, particularly in Ezra’s formulations, Satan obtained a key role in the conventional worldview only gradually, as an influence of the popular apocalyptic eschatology and a means in struggles for power (political or religious) between human beings ( McGinn 1994: 26).
According to Elaine Pagels, Satan never shows in the Hebrew Bible as the leader of an evil empire, as a leader of antagonistic spirits who make war on God and humankind. As he first appears, Satan is not essentially evil. In the Book of Numbers and in Job he is one of God’s obedient servants, a messenger or angel. The Satan describes an adversarial role, not a particular character. The Satan was any one of the angels sent by God for the explicit purpose of blocking or obstructing human activity; the root Satan means “one who opposes, obstructs, or acts as adversary”; the Greek term diabolos means “one who throws somewhat across one’s path. So if the path is bad, an obstruction is good: Satan may simply have been sent by the Lord to protect a person from worse harm (Pagels 1995: 39-40, based, e. g. , on Numbers 22: 23-25). Job’s Satan takes a more adversarial role; Satan’s special role in the blissful court is that of a kind of roving intelligence agent, like those whom numerous Jews of the time would have known and disliked from the king of Persia’s complex system of secret police and intelligence officers. These agents roamed the realm looking for signs of infidelity amongst the people.
God boasts to Satan concerning one of his most loyal subjects; Satan then challenges the Lord to put Job to the test. Job withstands the tests, and the Lord restores the affluences of Job giving him twice as much as he had before (Pagels 1995: 41, based on Job 2: 3, 42: 10). Around the time Job was written c. 550 B. C. E. , other biblical writers invoked Satan to account for sharing out within Israel. One court historian slips Satan into an account regarding the origin of census taking, which King David introduced into Israel c. 1000 B. C. E. or the point of instituting taxation, which aroused fervent and immediate opposition. Aim on condemning David’s action without condemning the king openly, the author of 1 Chronicles suggests that a supernatural adversary within the divine court had managed to penetrate the royal house and led the king himself into sin: “Satan stood up against Israel and incited David to number the people” ( Pagels 1995: 42-43, based on 1 Chron. 21:1). Most societies have a variety of demons, spirits, or gods, which are morally ambivalent that is to say, the gods can be kind or unkind to humankind.
One might argue that this amoral or dimoral polytheism fits the human experience of the universe well: we see things happening mysteriously, without reason, for good or ill, and call it fate, chance, or an “act of God. ” Few religions have one figure particularly symbolizing evil, although Buddha’s tempter Mara comes close. No religion has a single individual personifying evil except those of the Jewish-Christian-Muslim (and “Zoroastrian”) tradition, which have Satan or the Devil. The problem of evil faces every worldview, but none so expressively as great monotheistic religions.
Theologically the problem is just stated. God is all-powerful and all-good. But an all-powerful, all-good God would not permit evil in the cosmos he creates. Therefore evil cannot exist. But we view that evil exists. We are therefore forced to refuse the existence of God (at least as great monotheistic religions define it) or meet the criteria of our definition. If we choose the latter, we can save God’s pure goodness by restraining his omnipotence, or else save his power by qualifying his goodness. This is a sharp theological choice; few theologians choose to face it that overtly.
To avoid this choice, a variety of strategies have been working over the millennia. One solution, however unacceptable philosophically, is to resort to the notion of a spiritual power aggressive to God, such as Satan. The Old Testament has comparatively few references to Satan as a personality. Most Hebrew thought before the second century B. C. E. established destruction and suffering as originating in God’s inscrutable will. But some Old Testament passages lent themselves to an interpretation that unexplained spiritual powers, subordinate to a God, often did disparaging things.
In some passages — most radically in the Book of Job — this power is portrayed as having a self-governing, malevolent existence. The idea of the Devil, very fuzzy in the Old Testament, becomes clear and pointed in the era from the second century B. C. E. to the second century C. E. One reason is the power of Iranian dualism. The ancient Iranian religion of Mazdaism (sometimes called Zoroastrianism) had its origins in the teachings of Zarathushtra, a prophet whose dates are unknown.
It is a dualist religion, elucidating evil by positing a frequent cosmic warfare between the God of Light and the God of Darkness. Mazdaism had some influence in Babylonia, where Hebrew in Exile was liberated by Iranian Shah Cyrus. A propensity toward dualism seems also to have grown indigenously amongst Jews, as they developed a darker view of the world throughout the times they were invaded, enslaved, and persecuted by a diversity of conquerors — Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, and finally Romans.
The Jews reacted to this anguish partly by blaming it on their own sins (a stance of the great prophets), but partially by blaming exterior forces. The Devil or his deputies were the influential spirits backing evil Gentiles against the Chosen People. Some Jewish sects, such as the Essenes, conceived (like the Mazdaists) of a vast extraterrestrial warfare between the Lord of Light and the Prince of Darkness, a warfare in which each nation and each person was called to stand on one side or the other.
For Jewish apocalyptic, the cosmic struggle was coming to its end; there would be one last, vast war between sons of dusk and sons of light, and then the good God would triumph everlastingly. In the context of this profoundly dualistic Jewish thought, Christianity came into being. Ideas similar to those of apocalyptic writers emerge in the Christian Gospels, notably the Gospel of John, with its images of light against darkness, in miracle stories of Jesus’ capability to cast out and defeat demons and their leader the Devil, and in the Book of Revelation (The Apocalypse).
However, after the obliteration of Jerusalem by Romans in 70 C. E. , and the diaspora of the Jews, Pharisees were left as the surviving leading Jewish group. Their custom downplayed Satan’s power so much that he infrequently appears in works of the rabbis, though he does retain a presence in Jewish folklore. Although Judaism downplayed Satan’s power, Messianic trends that faded in Judaism after 70 C. E. remained strong in Christianity. For Christianity, Jesus was the Messiah. In Christian thought, God is good. Opposed by the Devil, he sends Jesus his Messiah to obliterate the Devil’s power.
Unlike many Jewish sects, such as the Zealots, Christians supposed that the Messiah was not a military victory over Satan and gentile nations, but to a certain extent the Suffering Servant, who took upon himself all sins of the people and, in dying for them, broke Satan’s power. Almost all early Christian writers granted Satan great power all through the cosmos and also in the life of each human. Christ and Satan vie for each soul, and each person should choose between them. Like Judaism, Christianity is a monotheistic religion.
But by using the Devil to explicate the existence of evil, some early Christian groups, such as Gnostic sects of the first two centuries C. E. , pulled powerfully in the way of dualism. For them, Satan was an anti-God of enormous power. This power was to be fought, banished, and struggled against. But as it was so vast, Satan’s power could also be influenced, harnessed to one’s own will, even, in extreme cases, worshipped. There was no planned Satanism in early Christianity, but some Gnostic sects seem to have verged on it by working orgiastic rites.
In the l5th-century, French baron and onetime marshal of France, Gilles de Rais, was found to have affianced in numerous mortal and sadistic acts, some of which were alleged to be associated with strange rituals in which he was assisted by Francesco Prelatti, a Florentine priest and occultist. Gilles de Rais was noted to be a man whose temperament and personality seemed to be extremely erratic at different times. Sometimes noted for his kindness, he was notable for his bravery in his military assistance of Joan of Arc.
However, there was a great deal of dependable testimony provided by witnesses as well as material substantiation pointing to his guilt. According to Francis King, Satanism was adequately prevalent in 16th- and l7th-century France that its presence was noted by the police: It is difficult to know how widespread such Satanist activities were among the nonmonastic clergy of the middle Ages, but they seem to have become common in the 16th and17th centuries. Exactly how common, no one knows, but if the rest of Catholic Europe was anything like the ecclesiastical underworld of Paris at that time, then they were very common indeed.
For in France Satanism had attained the status of big business, its practitioners forming a kind of occult Mafia, a noisome octopus with tentacles which reached into almost every segment of Parisian society and which was uncovered by Nicolas de la Reynie, the Police Commissioner of Paris. (Francis King, 1989b, pp. 219 – 220) The books of Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey (1969) were actually strongly influenced by this “occult tradition. ” (LaVey also popularized the “satanic pentagram,” the five-pointed star with one point downward and the head of a goat overlaid.
There is a temptation to dismiss antisatanists’ claims as illusive; as sociologist Marcello Truzzi says, “Satanists are better scapegoats than Jews, because they don’t exist (in Lyons, 1988:179). Though the vast conspiracy criticized by the antisatanist campaign may be exaggerated, Satanists do exist; there are members of controlled Satanist churches in our society. These Satanist groups are significant to the antisatanist movement: they provide a “kernel of truth” that antisatanists can expose.
Groups such as Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan “prove” that the satanic threat exists. The Church of Satan is not large; estimates range from 2000 to 5000 active members (Melton 1986:77; Lyons 1988:115). Still, the publicity showered on LaVey since he established his San Francisco church in 1966 has made him and his group a part of American popular culture. Almost everyone knows about LaVey’s church, even though it is quite small. What the Church lacks in size it has made up for in attention paid to it as well as its activities.
Anton LaVey, a bright character with a flair for the dramatic, gained substantial publicity by performing satanic weddings of famous people, satanic baptisms of children, and satanic last rights for a sailor member who died — all intentionally staged as media events. LaVey sought celebrities as members, and for a time claimed such stars as Sammy Davis, Jr. and Jayne Mansfield as dynamic participants, gaining national attention as a result (Lyons 1988). There is substantial debate about what the Church of Satan stands for, and what its members believe.
Some analysts treat the Church as a spoof, intentionally designed to upset Christians. Others take it more critically, and look to LaVey’s writings, such as his The Satanic Bible (LaVey 1969), to understand his philosophy. The church actively rejects spirituality and mysticism of any sort; it espouses an exclusive, materialist, and essentially atheistic philosophy. “Satan constitutes a worship of one’s own ego…. In its major features, the Church of Satan takes a position of Extreme Machiavellianism and cynical-realism on the way to the nature of man….
Its major feature… is its emphasis upon the significance of myth and magic and upon their collision in a world of people who can still be influenced through such beliefs and emotions. This Satanist then is the ultimate pragmatist”. (Truzzi 1974:220) Moody ( 1974) discusses the Church of Satan’s redefinition of Christianity’s seven fatal sins — greed, pride, envy, anger, greed, lust, and sloth — as virtues within satanic religion. Melton (1988:145) describes satanic churches’ relationship to Christianity:
Satanism is rationally subsequent to Christianity and draws on it in representing an overthrow of the Christian deity approving of his adversary. It stands in polemical relation to Christianity and… Uses Christian elements, which are changed and given new meaning. Although LaVey’s Church of Satan is the most observable satanic church, others exist. The Temple of Set, a small off-shoot group planned by Michael Aquino, a former disciple of LaVey, has attracted attention (Melton 1989:805; Lyons 1988:125). The small size of these organized satanic groups is less significant than the cultural meaning attached to them.
As a radical rejection of Christian culture, they are representatively significant. Their very presence has put in to the concern about Satanism in America. Satan stories were connected to practical and political issues. As Russell (1977: 222) properly maintains, the figure of Satan in the New Testament is understandable only while it is seen as the counterpart or counter principle of Christ; accordingly, Russell adds, “the New Testament teaches that the Kingdom of God is at war with the Kingdom of the Devil”.
Furthermore, Pagels documents, the vision of enormous struggle were developed by sectarian groups like the Essenes as they struggled against the forces they saw ranged against them. The dualistic cosmology was traited as split society, where sons of light, allied with the angels, and sons of darkness, in league with the control of evil, were in violent conflict. Pagels further retains that followers of Jesus adopted the same prototype in their campaigns.
According to Pagels, Mark tells the story of Jesus as the disagreement between God’s spirit and the power of Satan. Mark underlines that Jesus encountered this opposition not simply from evil spirit but from evil people as well. Mark’s Satan is not an antagonistic power assailing Israel from outside the community but the source and symbol of conflict within the community (Pagels 1995: 12, 17, 34, 38; based on Mark 3: 23-27, 16: 5-7). Satan is described as the embodiment of pure evil.
Such a Satanic theology would feature goodness to the Judeo-Christian God, but Satanists worship Satan as perceived to be more powerful or because the cultist might view himself or herself as being past redemption by a benign deity. In this system of thinking, goodness itself is typified as a weak, ineffective, and futile goal. Spence describes a similar dichotomy in views of Satanism and Luciferianism although he defines his terms slightly differently: Concerning the cults of Lucifer, much discrimination is required in dealing with this aspect, the bulk of the literature on the subject being manifestly imaginative and often willfully misleading. The members of the church of Lucifer are of two groups, those who regard the deity they adore as the evil principle, thus approximating to the standpoint of the Satanists, and those who look upon him as the true god in opposition to Adonai or Jehovah, whom they regard as an evil deity who has, with fiendish ingenuity, miscreated the world of man to the detriment of humanity. . (http://www. satanservice. org/propaganda/acad. 80sa. txt ) Though, in contemporary world, satanic symbols and themes are observable and popular features of music, literature, and movies. Increasing numbers of reported survivors are coming forward to assert they are victims of such cults. Are these reports just rumors or fantasies, or are people being harmed by ritual abuse? Unless we seriously consider these reports, we will never know for certain.