Going To Hell? Don’t Fret, Satan Is Your Friend!
If someone tells you to go to hell, you could do worse than follow their advice.
Satanism is a bona fide religion with followers across the globe. Satanists see the figure of Lucifer as something to be celebrated as both a symbol of rebellion as well as the perfect role model on how to live one’s life.
But how did Satan go from the embodiment of evil, wickedness, cruelty and pain, consumer of souls and consigner of all in his clutches to the fiery pits of eternal damnation -- to a pretty stand-up guy, fighting for equality, rationalism and social justice?
The road to this ‘modern hell’ has been a winding one, paved with a whole gamut of intentions.
Let’s take a look of the evolution of Satan.
The First Church (Of Satan)
Contemporary Satanists owe much of their underlying philosophy and ethos to the 19th century philosopher and philologist Friedrich Nietzsche, who infamously declared the ‘death of God’.
According to Nietzsche, our modern scientific understanding of the world has revealed man to be a mere animal, thrust into the muck of existence without a benevolent power at the wheel. Our goal in this new epoch is to find a way to overcome nihilism and create a new set of values to help navigate this blunt, dismal existence.
In the 1960s, members of the hippie movement attempted to overcome nihilism by “finding themselves” in neopagan or Eastern religions. For the founder of the Church of Satan, Anton Szandor LaVey, the solution already existed in the Prince of Darkness.
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Founded in 1966 in San Francisco, the Church of Satan began as a cabal of atheists and occultists attracted to the writings of LaVey. In the Church’s central religious text, The Satanic Bible, LaVey outlines the principles which underlie the religion:
“Satan represents indulgence instead of abstinence!” reads one of the Church’s nine satanic statements.
“Satan represents man as just another animal, sometimes better, more often worse…” reads another.
Many of the Church’s early activities scandalised Christian America. LaVey would perform rituals in a black cloak or devil costume, beneath a giant inverted pentagram ironically invoking the devil-like Gods of Moloch, Azazel and the great beast himself.
The Church still exists today, albeit with lower membership, inspiring converts who are attracted to the religion’s unique mix of atheism, individualism and occult aesthetic.
LaVey’s popularity in the late 1960s inspired a number of offshoots as well as a rustling a few “true Satanists” out of the woodwork.
The Temple of Set was established by former Church of Satan member (and political scientist) Michael Aquino in 1975. Aquino established the Temple following an attempt to invoke Satan, in which a deity appeared to him revealing its true name to be Set, the ancient Egyptian god of chaos. The Temple retains the individualism of the Church of Satan but is more overtly esoteric, encouraging members to practice “black magic” as a means of self-deification.
Another occult offshoot is the Order of the Nine Angles, which emerged in the 1970s claiming to be the more authentic Satanic religion. The group values intentional transgression of social values, encouraging human sacrifice, violence and whole host of illegal activity.
A final occult offshoot of the Church of Satan is the Temple of the Black Light, which venerates the chaos inherent in the cosmos and promotes an affirmative nihilistic belief system.
The Temple is most well-known for its connection to the Swedish black metal scene, in particular members of the band Dissection. Jon Nödtveidt, lead vocalist of Dissection and Temple member, was convicted of being an accessory to murder in 1997, and died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 2006 with a Satanic grimoire by his side.
More recently, a political brand of Satanism has been gaining prominence in North America. The Satanic Temple, founded in 2013, uses Satanic imagery to promote social justice as well as the separation of church and state.
A recently released documentary, Hail Satan?, has profiled the group’s grassroots activism including the use of their religious status to point out hypocrisies in laws that privilege religion.
The Temple has argued for Satanic prayers to be allowed in schools, provided counter-protests at pro-life rallies and held orgy-like ‘Pink Masses’ over the graves of members of the Westboro Baptist Church.
Current Temple spokesperson, Lucien Greaves, has described the religion as invoking “the eternal rebel” Satan to argue against authority and patriarchal social norms.
Whether as inspiration for a post-Nietzschean philosophy or as symbol for progressive politics, Satan is alive and well in the 21st century.