While researching religion as I wandered down the path from ‘nonbeliever admiring faith’ to ‘militant atheist marching the world to doom’, I stumbled over Satanism. It was inevitable, I suppose, given my propensity for wearing black, my taste in music; my boundless love for Paradise Lost.
Contrary to popular opinion, Satanism does not involve murdering kittens on inverted altars beneath bloodstained crosses at midnight in an overgrown cemetery. Leastaways, not any of the Satanists I encountered followed any such belief system. If that sort of thing is out there, it would be illegal, immoral and profoundly disgusting to the Satanists I’ve encountered in my day.
‘Satanism’, like every other ‘-ism’ in the world, has a plethora of flavours. Without going into intricacies, there are two broad categories: Theistic and Non-theistic. Each are rather self-explanatory, although complications exist when you delve deeper. Of course.
Theistic Satanists the first I encountered, and revere Satan as an actual religious figure. There are supplicatory prayers, incense burning, magical ritual; that sort of thing. They also fall into two rough categories. There are those following a sort of dark Wiccan pantheist blending of ritual magic, New Age chanting and the like. It is difficult to tell these apart from other New Age movements, although the focus tends to be on selfishness as morality and opposition to the slavery of Christianity.
I was drawn to Luciferianism, the other group of theistic Satanists, mostly because of Paradise Lost. Here, Satan/Lucifer is a symbol of the desire for wisdom; the Lightbringer. It is all sorts of gnostic, incorporating aspects of various Christian heresies, meditation, philosophy, and the absence of hard rules a feature of all Satanisms. It blends around the edges into the former group, and also into non-theistic Satanism.
Non-theistic Satanists are probably better known; the Satanism founded by Anton LaVey is of this kind. After investigating theistic worship of the devil, and rejecting it as a mere inversion of Christianity -and as congruent with reality- I was drawn to LaVeyan Satanism.
The beliefs of LaVey are tempting, especially to a young man looking for direction. Focusing solely upon the individual, the adherent exercises self-control, individualism and a sort of ‘moral selfishness’ akin to the credo of Ayn Rand. In essence, LaVeyan Satanism is a magical form of Libertarianism. Except there is also magic. Satan himself does not exist except as a metaphor for rebellion against controlling agents (‘God’) and religions that deny human nature (such as Christianity’s hatred of sexuality). The combination of this is quite heady: one need not believe in gods, and certainly not worship them; one may do as one wills -vengeance to enemies, love to friends!- and also there is magic.
It was tempting, and I enjoyed looking into it and reading up about it. Eventually my natural skepticism reigned in my desire for magic to be real and I started poking the holes in the philosophy. Namely: what magic? Why use Satan as a metaphor for anything? If one is an atheist, just say so. If one is an individualist, develop one’s own individualism. Why follow what is, in essence, a cult just to demonstrate these two facts?
The whole exercise seemed increasingly foolish. I greatly enjoy Christian mythology; I love using Lucifer in my own writing or seeing him in others. I simply could not see the need to make him more than that. I sympathise with non-theistic Satanists, as the religion looks like a lot of fun, but I simply can not believe.
And so, another religion fell to the repeated blows of reason.