I just read The Lefthander’s Path’s recent article on the relationship between Pagans and Satanists, which is actually something I’ve been thinking about recently. I think all Pagans end up confronting this at some point, often because non-Pagans may ask them, “So do you worship the Devil?” So here’s my thoughts on this relationship.
Types of Satanism
Firstly, one has to know that “Satanism,” like “Paganism,” is an extremely broad and complex term, spanning a wide variety of beliefs. The most well-known form of Satanism is probably Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan, which is the one that has the famous “Nine Satanic Statements” and “Eleven Satanic Rules” and has such famous members as Marilyn Manson. The Church of Satan is interesting – it does have a lot of the characteristics of a religion, but the nature of “worship” is fairly obscure. In general, members see Satan as a metaphor for human nature rather than an actual deity. Many CoS members would say that the real object of worship is the self. Which in some ways is similar to Zen Buddhism. And in recent times, the Satanic Temple has gained lots of media attention for its lobbying against certain laws regarding religion and state – this organisation is more of an atheist pressure group which again uses Satan as a metaphorical rather than literal deity as a satirical tool.
I think we can say that these atheist forms of Satanism, which are probably more closely related to philosophy than religion, do not have a strong relationship to Paganism. At most, I would compare their relationship to that between Goths (i.e. those who listen to music in the “gothic” genre) and Metalheads (those who listen to heavy metal). To outsiders of these subcultures, they may appear very similar – they both dress in black, listen to music that’s considered “alternative,” and share many of the same symbols such as skulls. However, the Goths and Metalheads consider themselves to be distinctly different from one another, having different musical and other aesthetic tastes. And yet, you will still find both going to the same fashion shops, and often in the same night clubs that cater to both tastes (if you’re interested in the relationship between Goths and Metalheads, I’ve done a useful “Goth Stereotype” illustration about it here). In the same way, Pagans and Satanists may consider themselves very different from each other, but there is some overlap in the symbolism used, even if the meanings of those symbols is different according to groups (the most obvious example being the pentagram). As such, you might find Satanists hanging out at the same places and festivals as Pagans.
Then there are Satanists who are theistic, i.e. they do worship Satan as a deity of some sort (this is often referred to as Luciferianism). In this case, they usually do not see Satan as “evil” in the moral sense, but rather that his teachings are misunderstood, or misapplied, in traditional Christianity. An example of this is the apple of knowledge in the Garden of Eden; if it weren’t for the Devil tempting Adam and Eve to eat the apple, they would have forever remained ignorant and their “free will” would have no meaning. Such Satanists therefore see Satan as something of an anti-hero, a bringer of knowledge and enlightenment – indeed, Satan is often identified with the fallen angel Lucifer, whose name means “Light Bearer.” Whether or not these theistic Satanists can be classed as “Pagans” is tricky; after all, no-one’s exactly sure what the best definition of “Pagan” is. My personal definition of Paganism is that it consists of folk beliefs, cultivated largely among the common people rather than a church or state, with a particular emphasis on nature worship. Since many forms of theistic Satanism are based on the Bible, and since the veneration of nature is not necessarily a part of Satanism, it’s dubious as to whether or not you can classify these Satanists as Pagans. It probably depends much on the individual Satanist.
Related to these theistic Satanists are those who worship deities that have historically been demonised and connected with Satan – for example, Lilith, Baphomet and Pan. In these cases again, the deities are not usually regarded as evil by their worshippers, and their “evil” image is attributed to Christianity’s attempts to dissuade people from venerating the older deities rather than the “One True God.” These practitioners do not usually seem to consider themselves Satanists and their practises often have a lot in common with Pagans who worship other deities – I would say that these people probably fit into the Pagan circle more than the Satanic one. Similarly, there are also those who worship deities who perform a similar function to the Christian devil as a bringer of mischief or misfortune in their pantheon, such as Loki and Set. Again, while their followers may see their deities as “dark,” they generally do not see them as evil. In their case too, I think most would classify themselves among Pagans rather than Satanists.
Finally, there are the “Satanists” who do all the things that the media likes to associate the most with Satanism – burning churches, sacrificing small animals, blackmailing and worse. These groups of people are not religions at all. They are cults and criminal gangs using Satanic imagery to create fear and conflict. Neither Pagans nor “true” Satanists want anything to do with them and do not consider themselves related to them in any way whatsoever. Fortunately, these gangs would appear to be rare and short-lived for the most part.
Satanism and Witchcraft
Since I’ve been talking about Paganism, I think it’s also worth talking about the relationship between Satanism and witchcraft.
I define “witchcraft” in the broad, anthropological sense, i.e. the practice of magic of any kind. This means that I would classify most Wiccans, Vodouists and probably some practitioners of Kabbalah as witches.
Some forms of Satanism too also involve the practice of magic, usually in the form of “high” or “ritual” magic. I would say that the Satanists who do this could also be called witches. However, certainly not all Satanists practice magic.
So very simply, some (but not all) witches are Satanists, and some (but not all) Satanists are witches. And whether or not these same witches are also Pagans is another matter entirely.
In fact, it’s probably the use of ritual magic that has caused so much confusion between Paganism and Satanists. In the early days of Pagan revival, certain practitioners, such as Aleister Crowley, did dabble in some practises that had some distinctly Satanic overtones which the media immediately picked up on. Only in more recent years has the general population begun to make a more clear distinction between Satanic and Pagan rituals.
Finally, if you would like to read more about real-life Satanism, I suggest following the blog Devil’s Advocate – a fascinating and compelling insight into the lives of Cassie and Sophie, two practising Satanists. It’s full of wisdom and insights for everyone, including non-Satanists such as myself who find all religions interesting.