What is a Satanist?

Most names of religions (like Christianity, Hinduism, Islam) have well defined meanings. One exception is Satanism: Such definitions create great confusion. The following are recommended terms and descriptions for four essentially unrelated religions that have been called Satanism:
  1. Religious Satanism: This faith includes the recognition of Satan, either as a deity or as a principle. Three main denominations exist: the Church of Satan, the Temple of Set and the Church of Satanic Liberation. Other short lived Satanic groups currently exist and have existed in the recent past. According to Statistic Canada, the 1991 census found 335 Canadians who identified themselves as Satanists. The actual number is probably significantly larger. A US Department of the Army pamphlet #165-13 "RELIGIOUS REQUIREMENTS AND PRACTICES OF CERTAIN SELECTED GROUPS - A HANDBOOK FOR CHAPLAINS" (1978-April) estimated that there were 10 to 20 thousand members of the Church of Satan in the US. Accurate data is impossible to estimate, since the largest group (the Church of Satan) does not release its membership totals.

    It is important to realize that the Satan that they recognize has few if any points of similarity with the Christian concept of Satan. The Satanists' concept of Satan is pre-Christian, and derived from the Pagan image of power, virility, sexuality and sensuality. To most Satanists, Satan is a force of nature, not a living quasi-deity. Their Satan has nothing to do with Hell, demons, pitchforks and profound evil.

  2. Gothic Satanism: It is an imaginary, profoundly evil religion that was invented during the late Middle Ages. Concepts included ritual killing of children, selling their soul to the devil, breaking crucifixes, conducting black masses, etc. It has never existed in the past, and does not exist today, except in the imagination of the public.
  3. Teen Satanism: A syncretistic religion which blend of elements taken from Religious Satanism, Gothic Satanism, ceremonial magick, and any other useful sources of ritual that they can find. It is practiced by rebellious teenagers or young adults- typically for a short interval. They probably number in the tens or hundreds of thousands at any one time in North America. An exact estimate is impossible to obtain, since they are totally devoid of any central organization. They occasionally engage in minor criminal activities such as vandalizing cemeteries and graffiti involving Satanic symbols. In rare instances, a few have been known to sacrifice animals.
  4. Other types of Satanism: Occasionally, serial murderers will claim to be Satanists in order to justify their horrendous activities. Police investigation reveals that they know little about the religion. A small percentage of child molesters will abuse children in a Satanic setting as a means of controlling the victims. The molesters are not actual Satanists; they are simply using the facade of Satanism to further their criminal acts. Some heavy metal rock bands pretend to be associated with Satanism. Their main reason is to gain notoriety in order to sell more records. These three quasi-Satanic groups will not be dealt with further in this information sheet.

Religious Satanism - Brief Description

Religious Satanism (or Satanism) involves:

Religious Satanism - Its Supposed Origin

Modern Satanism is generally (though mistakenly) regarded as a creation of Aleister Crowley (1875-1947). Aleister was in fact a very prominent ceremonial magician who based his rituals partly upon Judeo-Christian principles. He was raised in a Plymouth Brethren family, but developed an early dislike of organized Christianity. After university, he joined the Order of the Golden Dawn, which practiced ceremonial magic based on: He resigned from the Golden Dawn and later was appointed chief of the British section of the Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO), which blended ceremonial magic, sex magick and Freemasonry. He later left the OTO and formed a schismatic branch of the order, based on the Law of Thelema. Crowley's story was picked up by two tabloid newspaper, who called him the Wickedest Man in the World and the Great Beast 666 of Revelation. It is from these "yellow presses" that opponents of Crowley have assembled his present-day reputation. He is alleged to have committed at least one animal sacrifice, experimented with many illegal drugs and engaged in some sexual orgies It is not known how much of this actually happened, and how much is imaginary and created to satisfy his insatiable desire for publicity. Nor is it known how much of the time he was serious, and when he was behaving with tongue in cheek. Crowley has been accused of many criminal activities; however, he was never arrested, charged, tried or convicted of any crime. His prime aim was to contact his Holy Guardian Angel Aiwaz . The religion The Law of Thelema is largely derived from his work. He is known to have practiced a great deal of consentual sex magic with a single partner in private. His goal was to recapture the ancient pagan and Gnostic Christian mysteries of the Middle and Near East, who incorporated sexual activity as part of their religious rituals. He was a prolific writer on magick, a term that he created. Although he did not consider himself a Satanist, many Satanists have incorporated portions of his books into their own rituals. Many authors and TV personalities have stated that Crowley was the first Satanist, even though evidence points to the contrary. He passed through a Satanic phase, and did identify his guardian angel with Satan. But a number of literary greats such as Baudelaire, Byron, Shelley, etc. should more properly be regarded as the first Satanists, at the end of the 19th century.

Religious Satanism - Its Real Origin and Organizations:

Modern Satanism really begins with Anton Szandor LaVey (b. 1930). On Walpurgisnacht, April 30, 1966, (I Anno Satanas) he created the Church of Satan. Anton drew on his previous experience as a lion tamer and side show barker, and on his readings into psychology, magick etc, and wrote the Satanic Bible in 1969. This was followed by The Compleat Witch (1970) (later republished as The Satanic Witch) and The Satanic Rituals (1972). These are essentially the only available books which accurately describe Satanism. There have been enormous numbers of books about Satanism written by Fundamentalist or other Evangelical Christians. However, they are usually filled with misinformation derived from the Witch burning times in Europe (circa 1450-1792 CE) rather than from any present or past reality.

In 1975, one of LaVey's followers, Michael Aquino left the Church after a disagreement, and organized the Temple of Set. This form of religious Satanism is recognizes a pre-Satanic deity, the Egyptian God Set as an entity which stands separate and apart from the forces of the natural universe. He was typically portrayed as a man with the head of an animal (perhaps a hyena). Set was copied by the Chaldeans who called him Had or Hadit; this later became Shaitan, and still later the Satan of Christianity.

Religious Satanism - Its Beliefs and Practices:

At the core of the Church of Satan are the nine Satanic Statements, written by Anton LaVey. In abridged form, they state that Satan represents:
  1. indulgence, not abstinence
  2. vital existence, not spiritual pipe dreams,
  3. undefiled wisdom, not hypocritical self-deceit
  4. kindness to those deserving of it, not love wasted on ingrates
  5. vengeance, not turning the other cheek
  6. responsibility to the responsible, instead of concern for psychic vampires
  7. man as just another animal - the most vicious of all
  8. gratification of all ones desires
  9. the best friend that the Christian Church has had as he has kept it in business for centuries

LaVey's theology contain the following concepts:

LaVey's rituals and ceremonies contain the following concepts:

The Church of Satan's rules of behavior include:

Local groups of Satanists are usually called grottos or temples, They correspond to Christian congregations and Wiccan covens. Satanists feel that Wiccans are hypocrites. because the latter restrict their work to positive, healing activities. Satanists use magick and other rituals to benefit themselves and their friends, but also use these same rituals to harm their enemies. They have incorporated some anti-Wiccan elements in their rituals.

Satanists have been described as being violently anti-Christian in their beliefs and practices. Many authors, almost all conservative Christians, have described alleged Satanic rituals in which they recite the Lord's Prayer backwards, or desecrate and use the host and wine that they have stolen from a cathedral. This is pure fiction, that can be traced back to books written during the late Middle Ages and Renaissance periods. Satanists' attitude towards Christianity and other world religions seems to be more of amusement and ridicule; their attitude towards Christians and other believers appears to be primarily pity.

Gothic Satanism - Its Origins

Gothic Satanism was an invention of the Christian Church at the time of the Witch burnings. Christians believe that it existed then and was a great threat to the established order. Many Christians (particularly conservative ones) still believe this today. However, it is an imaginary religion that does not exist in reality.

Throughout the 15th Century, there was a rising hysteria within the Christian Church about the perceived presence of Satan worshipers, who were seen as a destabilizing influence. The Witch burnings (sometimes called the burning times or the female holocaust) began.

Two Dominican priests, Kramer and Sprenger wrote a book circa 1486 The Malleus Maleficarum (The Witches Hammer) which became the main reference text for the genocide. They wrote that these Gothic Satanists:

A second reference text was Guazzo's Compendium Maleficarum, which was written about 1620. He described how Satan worshipers:

The inquisitors tortured suspects until they were willing to confess to anything in order to end the pain. So, of course, there is abundant testimony available in the court records as evidence.

The last European victim of the "Burning Times" was burned at the stake in 1792, although the Church continued to exterminate heretics by burning in South America into the 1830's.

Near the end of the "Burning Times", the concept of the Black Mass was added to the public's beliefs about Satanists. This was allegedly a parody on the Roman Catholic Mass. Urine or dirty water were substituted for wine; moldy bread or turnips were substituted for the host. The Mass was said in the local language (opposite to the Church's use of Latin). Texts were read backwards. The cross would be spat upon and broken. Infants would be sacrificed. Public beliefs about Gothic Satanism coalesced into a religion which was anti-Christian in every detail.

Gothic Satanism - Today

500 years later, many people believe that Gothic Satanists remain a great threat. In the State of Utah, about 90% of adults believe in the existence of Satanic groups who abuse and kill infants. Satanists are no longer believed to fly through the air on broomsticks or instantaneously vanish. But the baby killing, selling ones soul to Satan, rituals involving a goat, breaking a cross or crucifix, even shape shifting between animal and human has been described by modern Fundamentalist or other Evangelical Christian authors. Many writers and seminar speakers may be completely unaware that most of their source material can be traced back to the texts used by the Renaissance Witch hunters. Outrageous claims have been made of 60,000 ritual killings a year in North America, and of baby breeding prisons where young women are kept continually pregnant so that their infants can be taken and sacrificed. The concept of Gothic Satanism as being thoroughly anti-Christian has remained intact for centuries.

No criminal investigation in the past 300 years is known to have found hard evidence of Satanic Ritual Abuse (with the possible exception of a case in Greece during 1995). However, the belief that Gothic Satanism exists as a major social threat continues, even without any evidence.

There are many indicators that Gothic Satanism does not exist:


Teen Satanism

There are tens or hundreds of thousands of rebellious teenagers in North America who briefly dabble in a form of Satanism. Their source material is often the books by LaVey, perhaps supplemented by writings about Gothic Satanism by Evangelical or Fundamentalist Christian authors. Sometimes, teens will also include elements from books on ceremonial magick, Wicca or other Neo-pagan religions in their practices.

These teens are responsible for Satanic graffiti, and (rarely) animal sacrifices. Some look upon Satanism as a method of rebelling against their parents' beliefs. Fortunately, it is usually a passing fad that teens quickly outgrow. Teen Satanists have no connection with Religious Satanists. There is of course no connection between the teens and Gothic Satanists, because the latter do not exist.

Return to the OCRT home page; the Descriptions of Religions and Ethical Systems page.


  1. A site offering many links to Satanic home pages is at:
  2. An non-official and quite attractive home page by a member of the Church of Satan is:
  3. Hell: the online guide to Satanism is a quite extensive Web site. It is at:
  4. The Yahoo search engine has a listing of Satanic groups at:

Return to the OCRT home page; the Descriptions of Religions and Ethical Systems page.
Related sites of interest:
The Gospel of Satan: the story of Jesus and the angels, from the perspective of the God of this World
Satanism Bibliography: composite booklist of relevant sources on Satanity and devildom, by category
Satanic Blood Pact: explanation of how, why, and when to make a blood pact with the Devil
      Adversarial AEon Begins: the particular and specific incident of a Satanic Blood Pact described
Manifesto Satanika: a generalized Satanic sociopolitical manifesto, with a helpful elaboration
nocTifer: a tender-hearted Satanian (nagasiva yronwode) in all avenues of expression
      Bookmarks in compilation from the Magus of the AEon of the Adversary

Hoodoo in Theory and Practice by cat yronwode: an introduction to African-American rootwork
      Southern Spirits: 19th and 20th century hoodoo accounts, with ex-slave narratives & interviews
      Association of Independent Readers and Rootworkers: readings and hoodoo services
      Hoodoo Library facilitating an education on conjure, and help procuring modern sources
Herb Magic: illustrated descriptions of magic herbs with free spells, and a way to obtain them
Free Spells from eclectic witches, Coven Kyklos, in their Book of Shadows, called "Spiritual Spells"
Lucky Mojo Spell Archives: love spells, money spells, luck spells, protection spells, and more
Mystic Tea Room: tea leaf reading, teacup divination, and a museum of antique fortune telling cups
Tarosymbolismatrix Tetraktypisciseferoticus: the symbolic foundation of a novel Tarot deck
Change Oracle: rudiments of Yijing (I Ching) and several means of using it for readings
Lucky W Amulet Archive by cat yronwode: an online museum of worldwide talismans and charms
Usenet FAQ Archive: arcane and spiritual FAQs and REFs, brought to you by Lucky Mojo
YIPPIE: the Yronwode Institution, bearing the standard of indigenous ethnomagicology

Arcane Archive: thousands of archived usenet posts on religion, magic, mysticism, and spirituality
Missionary Independent Spiritual Church: inter-faith; candle services; Smallest Church in the World
Sacred Sex: essays and articles on neo-tantra, karezza, sex magic, and sex worship
Aleister Crowley Text Archive: a multitude of texts by an early 20th century occultist