Satanism: The Allure of the Dark Side - Part I
Satanism is a topic most people would rather ignore, despite the reality that it is a philosophy, even a distinguishing manner of living, and most certainly is a religion. Furthermore, many of the activities that can be attributed to some Satanists (and satanic cults) are so incredibly violent and troubling that many people refuse to believe such atrocities occur. Sadly, within this sadistic context, it is valuable to recognize that the religious behaviors of many ancient societies involved what can only be regarded as abnormal and horrific (some of which are still practiced, and not only by primitive societies).
Anton Szandor LaVey shocked many with the formation of his Church of Satan in the 1960s, and also his dark and foreboding The Satanic Bible. LaVey is most responsible for the emergence of Satanism as a formal religious movement. LaVeyan Satanism was at its height in the 1980s and early 1990s, yet lost its prevalence subsequent to LaVey’s death in 1997, which resulted in conflicts with regard to the nature of Satanism among the satanic community. While described as a progressive and reorganized version of LaVeyan Satanism, the political activism of The Satanic Temple is perhaps most responsible for current development and renewed discussion of Satanism. What compels individuals to embrace Satanism? The best answer to that question is to consider its history.
The Ancient Origins of Satanism
Several polls indicate a near unanimous belief among religious people that angels exist. Belief in angels is fairly prevalent even among the less spiritual. A majority of non-Christians believe angels exist, as do more than 40% of those who never attend worship services.1 Nevertheless, surveys also indicate that most people do not believe that Satan is a living being, affirming instead that he is merely a symbol of evil.2 Renowned psychiatrist and bestselling author of many books, M. Scott Peck admitted, “In common with 99 percent of psychiatrists and the majority of clergy, I did not think the devil existed.”3 Perceptions are changing, however. Many scientifically minded people, such as Peck, have become more attentive toward Christianity through their wrestling with the essence of human evil.
Conceptions of a supreme personification of evil, who is known as Satan, the devil, have developed throughout the ages. Scripture contains so many references to the devil that it is impossible to affirm the Christian faith without asserting the reality of Satan as a literal being. The goat-like appearance of Satan may have derived from the scapegoat that was taken into the wilderness for the Day of Atonement (Lev 16:20-22), and probably also reflects depictions of the “Goat of Mendes” in ancient Egypt; in addition to Pan, the Greek god of the wild, who was represented as being half human, with the horns and legs of a goat, similar to a faun (his Roman counterpart was Faunus). The familiar portrayal of Satan as the black or red devil reflects usage of colors associated with evil in many ancient traditions. Satan’s horns and wings are common symbols of power, and the Greek god Poseidon’s trident would later become Satan’s pitchfork, which was likely a mockery of the triune God with its three upturned prongs. His grotesque and menacing features are characteristic of the Greek god Hades (the lord of the underworld), or even Charon (the ferryman who, in his skiff, carried souls across the rivers to Hades).
Not all religions explain the existence of evil in the same manner. Among the dualistic religions, good and evil are regarded as two eternal and rival principles,4 or there is one, ambivalent god who is responsible for both. Monotheistic religions affirm that evil has a personal identity. Christianity, in particular, affirms belief in one God, who is omnibenevolent, while recognizing the reality of other supernatural and paranormal powers (such as angels and demons). It confesses that those influences are controlled ultimately by the authority of He who alone is supreme. Satan was one of the most honored of angels (Ezek 28:14)—originally called Lucifer (Isa 14:12)—yet rebelled against God. In becoming the Lord’s adversary, the devil is the cause of all evil and wickedness in the world. The biblical revelation of Satan is the one most generally accepted by people, although certain Satanists define the devil somewhat differently.
The reasons why Satanism allures individuals are complex. Some devotees of Eastern religions may decide to worship specific gods for their destructive aspects, thereby convinced that such manifestations are indicative of the supreme deity. Kali is the Hindu goddess of death, doomsday, and time, and is often associated with sexuality and violence. Thuggees were a notorious cult (portrayed in the Indiana Jones film, The Temple of Doom) devoted to Kali in her role as goddess of death and violence, believing the blood-thirsty goddess required human offerings to appease her wrath. Devotees of Palo Mayombe (originating from the African Congo), regarded as the world’s most feared and powerful form of black magic (in this regard, one could also consider the darker aspects of folk religions, such as the Macumba of Brazil, the Santeria of the Afro-Caribbean, and the Voudon of Haiti), seek to control or placate demonic beings in the attempt to compel or persuade those entities to accomplish their biddings. Those who have chosen to oppose the God of Scripture and to labor for the triumph of his adversary (as true Satanists)—believing the devil provides blessings and favors in return—likely will always be relatively few in number.
One reason why Satanism is alluring to some people is based upon the truth that the “earth is the LORD’s, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it” (Ps 24:1); whereas Satan is regarded as “the god of this world” (2 Cor 4:4),5 in that he is believed to provide certain gross material pleasures (e.g. sexual conquests, unearned wealth, and unrestrained power). Satanism is appealing because individuals believe the devil will allow them to indulge in whatever their passions crave, thus resulting in emotional, mental, and physical gratification. Others explain their devotion to Satan through a more complex reasoning process, which is founded in ancient occult beliefs and philosophies.
Ancient religious traditions continued to be practiced by diverse cultures, even when the Roman Empire legalized Christianity in the fourth century (AD 312). Religious traditions that persisted included fertility rites, occult practices, and even some forms of blood sacrifice. The Roman Catholic Church sought to suppress pagan communities, yet punishment for such wayward activities typically involved only engaging in penance (although those accused of sorcery or witchcraft could be fined severely or ultimately executed). Eventually, opposition from the Catholic Church throughout the centuries forced ancient pagan religions to become secretive. By the time of the early medieval period (6th – 10th centuries), opponents who were thought to be operating as emissaries of Satan were becoming a resolute challenge to the authority of the Catholic Church. Heretical sects emerged with more prevalence, with the majority of aberrant practices and teachings based upon Gnostic teachings.
Gnosticism was a heresy that was becoming more developed when the New Testament was written; therefore, the Bible either refutes the incipient Gnostic teachings, or addresses the teachings that resulted in the Gnosticism that was persuasive in the second century. Gnosticism is derived from the Greek term gnosis, meaning “knowledge.” There were two primary Gnostic teachings: (1) salvation was found in a mystical, spiritual knowledge; and, (2) spirit and flesh was regarded as separate entities.
Frequently in his dialogue Timaeus, Plato referred to the demiurge, who he understood as a benevolent entity who “fashioned and shaped” the material world. According to Gnostic theology, the demiurge was subordinate to God, and sometimes was thought to be the author of evil. Valentinus, an early Gnostic theologian who was influenced by Plato, used the Greek term demiurgos (meaning “creator”) to suggest that God “is a lesser divine being who serves as the instrument of the higher powers.”6 Gnosticism was readily considered heretical, and the apologists of the early church defended and explained Christianity against these attacks, which halted its flourishing to the first and second centuries. Nevertheless, some remnants of Gnosticism remained, which influenced later groups that embraced the notion that two eternal and rival principles were effective in the world. For instance, by the twelfth century, Catharism emerged as a Gnostic revival movement that thrived in certain areas of southern Europe (particularly northern Italy and southern France).
Cathars taught the existence of two gods or principles, one of which was good and the other evil. The benevolent god was the God of the New Testament, who created the spiritual world. The god of the Old Testament was Satan, and as the evil deity, he created the physical world over which he was lord. While it is unknown whether the Cathars actually worshiped Satan, they did repudiate the Catholic Mass—with its material sacraments—as the creation of the devil. The notorious satanic Black Mass, as a parody of the Catholic Mass, was certainly derived to some extent (though not entirely) from the secret practices of those heretics who sought to give an inverse meaning to the original, which could insult the God whom it intended to worship. None of the orderly remnants of the ancient pagan religions endured into the Middle Ages, yet many of their beliefs, customs, and myths did remain. Those dynamics will be considered in Part II of this series.
1 The Associated Press, “Poll: Nearly 8 in 10 Americans Believe in Angels” [article online] (CBS News, 23 December 2011, accessed 2 February 2017).
2 Gustav Niebuhr, “Is Satan Real? Most People Think Not” [article online] (NY Times, 10 May 1997, accessed 2 February 2017) available from http://www.nytimes.com/1997/05/10/us/is-satan-real-most-people-think-not.html.
3 M. Scott Peck, People of the Lie, 2nd ed. (1985; New York: Touchstone, 1998) 182.
4 Dualism fails to communicate how two infinites would not limit each other as respective “unlimiteds.” Moreover, dualism does not explain the origin of two finite ultimates. If both persons (or principles) were ultimate, it would be impossible to determine which is good and which is evil (i.e. there is no basis for approving or rejecting values in that context).
5 Second Corinthians 4:4 is better understood as referring to God, not Satan. For instance, when examining the verse in its immediate and overall contexts, it is evident that the true God is meant, not Satan. The one true God blinds the minds of unbelievers—leaving them dead in their sins and trespasses (cf. Eph 2:1)—as a just consequence for their obstinate rebellion.
6 Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels (New York: Random House, 1979) 62.
Midnight Call - 04/2017