North American Satanism in the 21st Century

Orphic Pentacle
Orphic Pentacle


A brief overview

Satanism is, at its most basic and obvious, the worship of Satan. This worship is not always of a traditional, religious nature. Many people who identify as Satanists do not even believe in a literal devil or deity but instead see Satan as a symbol or philosophic principal or an impersonal, spiritual force. What all Satanists I have encountered do have in common, however, is an unequivocal rejection of a western Judeo-Christian/Muslim God and disgust with modern Christianity. So why do people turn to Satan, and what are the basic philosophical and theological principles that underlie this rebellion?

The main reason most people turn to Satanism is God. Young Christians/Muslims/Jews are taught that God is good, that God is love, that God wants everyone to live with him in Heaven. They are also taught that if they do not worship God, they will burn for eternity in a big lake of fire. Not surprisingly, this doctrine has raised a few eyebrows over the years. Some people have a hard time accepting that God would throw his “beloved” into the pits of Hell. And what about disease and war and rape and stubbed toes? What about pain? Would a loving God create or allow to fester a world of suffering?

Why Satanists reject god

Traditional Satanists view God as Creatio—the Demiurge of the Gnostics (Baigent, p. 53). God’s primary function is as creator and as such he is responsible for all that is good and all that is terrible in our existence. Satanists hold the claim that God is love as fundamentally flawed. Why? Because God—as the definition of all things—can say he is anything and his supplicants have to accept it. If God is the definition of love, then everything he does (and creates) is a manifestation of love. Since God created everything, all things are instantiations of God’s love: clouds, leeches, sin, atoms, feces, neurons, rain. Creatio, as the definition of love, renders love meaningless. Furthermore, if things like pain and sorrow are instantiations of God’s love, is it any wonder that Satanists reject it?

Of course, most people think of God’s love as the warm and fuzzy human variety. Traditional Satanists dispute this. The Torah states that “the fear of God is the beginning of knowledge,” (Prov. 1:7). In the book of Genesis, Adam and Eve partake of knowledge (Gen. 3:6) and immediately come to fear God (Gen. 3:8,10). The Satanist asks, should we really fear a loving god? If God frightens us, why follow him? Anton LaVey, founder of the Church of Satan, writes, “Pious prophets have taught us to fear Satan. But what of terms like ‘God fearing’?…If you have to fear God, why not be ‘Satan fearing’ and at least have the fun that being God fearing denies you?” (Satanic Bible, 1969, p. 61). This may seem an oversimplification, but for the hedonistic Satanist (not that all Satanists are hedonists), it is one more reason to reject a ‘white-light’ God.

Satanists reject the love of God, but what leads them to question God’s love in the first place is the problem of pain. Pain, to a large extent, defines our existence. Many view all sensations and experiences as mere gradations of pain. C.S. Lewis wrote an entire book on the problem of pain, and Christian apologists are constantly arguing the issue. Their arguments are cyclical at best and outright obfuscation at worst. Mandy Moore, the former Christian pop star, posited the most common argument when she told an interviewer that “Without pain, there would be no compassion.” Of course, without pain, there would be little need for compassion (How, p. 2).

The Torah describes the Garden of Eden as a paradise free of suffering and death (Gen. 2:8,9). Pain is only introduced once humans have disobeyed God (Gen. 3:16,17-19). Based on the doctrine of Original Sin, we can assert that, from a Judeo-Christian standpoint, pain is our punishment for disobeying God and as such is a manifestation of God’s love. Pain, in short, is God’s way of reminding us that we have strayed from him and need to seek redemption. This explanation pacifies the average Christian. Satanists and pseudo-Satanists, of course, are not so easily mollified.

From the Christian perspective, pain is the result of Original Sin. But the original sin had another consequence: death. The problem of pain leads to the problem of death which leads us to the concept of free will. Genesis 2:16-17 (NASV) states:

And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die.”

God gave humanity free will and two choices: abstain or die. Thus we are mortal because Adam and Eve were condemned to death for their sin and all of humankind through them. Yet it was God who created the choices and God who created human nature, so how can God hold humanity responsible for its sinful predilections; and why would God give a creature free will and then instill in it sinful tendencies? Is God a sadist, a malicious child smashing his toys?

The Book of Lucifer states, “Since man’s natural instincts lead him to sin, all men are sinners; and all sinners go to hell,” (Satanic Bible, p. 47). If God is the creator of all things, then surely he damned his own creation. He conceived the sin, the sinner and the punishment. This is why Satanist rejects the Demiurge.

Why Satanists embrace Satan: three forms of Satanic practice and ideology

The Question of why Satanists follow Lucifer is more difficult. There are many different forms of Satanism, each one with its own theological and philosophical precepts. To further complicate matters, Satanists are eclectic, and even ones who belong to Satanic orders tend to have highly individualized belief systems and ideologies.

There are three dominant forms of Satanism today: Traditional Satanism, Modern Satanism and Gnostic Satanism. To understand what draws a person to Satanism instead of atheism or agnosticism, we must exam the different forms of Satanism. Many Satanists move from one form of Satanism to another as their beliefs evolve, but most begin as Traditional Satanists.

Traditional Satanism

Traditional Satanists (also known as theistic Satanists, orthodox Satanists, black witches and devil worshippers) believe in a literal being of evil that they call Satan, Satana, the Devil, Lucifer, Sathanas, Natas, Lord of the Earth, Helel ben Shahar, Shaitan and Ha-Satan to name a few (Vera, 2006). They believe that Satan is the fallen angel or god Lucifer, cast into Hell where he created an empire to oppose the will of the Demiurge. They believe in a demonic pantheon and consider themselves foot soldiers for the legions of Hell. A belief in Armageddon as an immanent and violent confrontation between the forces of good and evil is characteristic (Belderis, 1996).

Most Traditional Satanists (that I’ve met) are people who grew up in fundamentalist Christian households and became interested in Satanism as teenagers. Teenaged Satanists tend to be misfits of above average intelligence who experience difficulty accepting their parents’ religion on blind faith. They perceive the flawed nature of the Christocentric traditions but are unable to fully reject the inculcated beliefs of their families. Since they are incapable of completely rejecting the Christian mythos, and because they believe reality is a dichotomy, they simply move to the other side.

Traditional Satanism is an angry religion. Its proponents see God as a self-serving bully, a petty and prurient judge and sadist who views people as play things whose only purpose is to gratify and worship him. Satan thus is the deific leader of a rebellion to usurp the throne of God. This salvific aspect of the Devil also extends to his kingdom. For the Satanic traditionalist, the fires of Hell are not punishing but purifying. If Heaven is the state of being absolutely in the presence of God, then Hell is the absolute absence of the Demiurge. Only in Hell can the Satanist escape the Eye of God and become fully evil.

While perhaps the simplest and most reactionary incarnation of the religion, Traditional Satanism has the richest history and literature. Texts like the Al Jilwah and the Grand Grimoire are centuries old and infamous the world over (Ahern, 2006). Records of Satanic and pseudo-Satanic doings can be found in the archives of most nations; and, as author I.G. Edmonds mentions in The Kings of Black Magic, the root of all religion is animism which Christians call devil worship (Edmonds, 1981, p. 4).

The foundations of Traditional Satanism are best divided into four aspects, which the Cathedral of the Black Goat’s James King (n.b. I’m not sure he associates with the COTBG anymore.) terms the Four Pillars of Traditional Satanism. These aspects are the Al-Jilwah, early Gnosticism, the black witchcraft of the dark ages, and the Bible (King, 2006). Zoroastrian dualism and ancient pagan mythology also played an important part in the establishment of Satanism, but as these only influence Satanism as reinterpreted by Christian writers they bear little mentioning here (Otter & Zell, 1995).

Traditional Satanism is the simplest and oldest form of Satanism. It bears both neo-pagan and early Christian Gnostic aspects as well as a fairly simplistic view of both spiritual and physical reality as a dichotomy. Satanists of this tradition tend to yearn for purity and are generally idealists (in the utopian, non-Platonist sense) who desire to see the destruction of the Judeo-Christian God and believe that Satan will lead the attack resulting in this end.

The simplicity of this tradition, while perhaps its defining aspect, is also its downfall in the eyes of Modern Satanists. The questionable historical validity of the Bible and the oversimplification of both fundamentalist Christians and Traditional Satanists of such concepts as good and evil, and duality in general, leaves many Satanists disillusioned and leaning towards agnosticism and nihilism. Until the late sixties, there were few examples of non-traditional Satanism for the Satanic neophyte to emulate; and then came Anton LaVey.

Modern Satanism

Anton Szandor LaVey founded the Church of Satan in1966, on the 30th of April—the pagan holiday of Walpurgisnacht (Satanic Bible, p.13). The self-proclaimed Black Pope of the Church of Satan, LaVey proceeded to shatter the centuries-old image of Satanists as simple-minded, devil-worshiping witches obsessed with blasphemy and perversion.

LaVeyan Satanism (also known as modern Satanism, spiritual Satanism, existential Satanism, philosophical Satanism and hedonistic Satanism) combines an existential philosophy of vital existence (owing much to Ayn Rand, Machiavelli and Nietzsche inter alia) with a pseudo-Satanic and quasi-religious mixture of occult tradition, symbol, right and ritual designed to empower and mystify the individual practitioner in a process that combines Lesser and Greater Magic as defined by LaVey. To understand LaVeyan Satanism, we must first examine its philosophy, as the religious and ritual aspects of Modern Satanism are largely utilitarian in that their primary purpose is as a practical application of the Satanic philosophy of vital existence as set forth by Anton LaVey in his magnum opus The Satanic Bible.

Anton LaVey earned his place in the history of Satanism when he published The Satanic Bible in 1969. A combination of Satanic philosophy and magical theory and practice, LaVey’s Bible is divided into four books: the books of Satan, of Lucifer, of Belial and of Leviathan. The first book is, as it is aptly subtitled, an infernal diatribe, railing against the Judeo-Christian God and tradition and defending the honor of the Devil. The second book (that of Lucifer) is a discourse in LaVeyan philosophy structured around LaVey’s “Nine Satanic Statements,” which preface his bible. In the Book of Belial, LaVey explains basic magical theory, principles and practice, and in the Book of Leviathan instructs the reader in how to perform some basic rituals, spells and invocations. Anton LaVey’s Satanic Bible is a do-it-yourself guide to Satanism and black magic for those wishing to initiate themselves into the dark arts.

LaVey laid out his modern Satanic philosophy in the first two books of The Satanic Bible, but his philosophic exposition lacked the cohesion and formulaic structure so prevalent in both religious dogma and popular philosophy (e.g., the Ten Commandments, the Puruṣārtha, the Eightfold Path, et cetera). LaVey understood the need for clarity when positing the philosophic foundations of Modern Satanism and, to this end, formulated the Nine Satanic Statements, the Eleven Satanic Rules of the Earth, and the Nine Satanic Sins.

The Nine Satanic Statements, the Eleven Satanic Rules of the Earth, and the Nine Satanic Sins are the basic precepts of LaVey’s philosophy. To augment his philosophy with a means of practical application, LaVey included a religious aspect to his system; and to this aspect he attached the concepts and practices of Greater and Lesser Magic. As a practical application of the concept of vital living, LaVey’s magical model is surprisingly simple.

LaVey defines magic as “The change in situations or events in accordance with one’s will, which would, using normally acceptable methods, be unchangeable,” (Satanic Bible, 1969, p. 110). The two forms this magic takes are called Lesser and Greater Magic.

Lesser Magic is non-ritual magic utilizing Machiavellian methods to bring one’s will to fruition. This is magic devoid of its esoteric trappings. One merely utilizes psychological manipulation and subtle methods of human exploitation to attain one’s desires. LaVey’s 1971 book The Compleat Witch, or What to Do When Virtue Fails, gives extensive advice on the use of lesser magic.

Greater Magic is ritual magic, utilizing what LaVey terms, in The Satanic Rituals (1972), “psychodrama” to attain “intellectual decompression” which results in a heightened and cathartic emotional and spiritual state that enables Satanists to temporarily extend their will beyond its ordinarily perceived limitations and affect real change in the external world (Satanic Rituals, p. 31; Satanic Bible, p. 120).

By placing the ultimate power of any magical working in the strength of the will of the practitioner, LaVey reinterpreted magic as a practical form of self-empowerment. In so doing, he reconciled the esoteric aspect of his teachings with its philosophic counterpart thereby justifying its legal recognition as a religion, which it attained shortly after its official inception. Modern Satanism is then, in short, a reinterpretation of Satanism as a religo-philosophical system containing a formula for the practical application of its basic principles.

Unfortunately for the Church of Satan, the practical application of its principles apparently does not necessarily lead to social harmony as the majority of its founding membership parted ways in 1975 forming their own Satanic churches (the First Church of Satan, the Temple of Set, etc.) based on the LaVeyan principles of the Church of Satan, which they now referred to as an earlier experiment or birthing pains or the flawed application of a sound concept (XEPER, 2006).

The embarrassing presence of schism in the Church of Satan as well as its half-hearted acknowledgement of religious and spiritual realities left many Left-Hand Pathers looking elsewhere for an interpretation of Satanism more intellectual than that of the traditionalists and more spiritual than that of the modernists. Many Satanists turned to the study of the occult as synthesized by groups like the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and the Ordo Templi Orientis (Sutin, 2000, p. 173). Still others turned to the study of the origins of Satanic dualism, rediscovering Satanism’s pagan and Gnostic roots. Through a gradual synthesis of these seemingly opposed traditions, certain Satanic belief systems evolved into a form barely recognizable as Satanism. In recognition of this evolution, many of these individuals prefer the term Luciferian.

Gnostic Satanism

Luciferianism is, generally, a gnostic reinterpretation of Satanism. Many Luciferian groups distance themselves from Satanism, declaring that Satan and Lucifer were never the same being and have little or nothing in common (See Orbis, 2006 & Belderis, 1996). These groups are of little interest to us here. We will only concern ourselves with those Luciferians who, while not necessarily embracing the name of Satan, do not deny him. These are the Gnostic Satanists who, as they see it, have simply returned to the roots of their tradition much as many Christians today are now embracing their own Gnostic predecessors (Vera, 2006).

Traditional Satanism is rife with Gnostic elements, but these are rarely fully realized because the emphasis of the traditionalists is not on gnosis but on the worship and carrying out of their Master’s will. Unlike the modernists, Luciferians embrace the noetic and seek mystical experience rather than the attainment of their carnal desires through the imposition of their will on their surroundings. This does not relegate Gnostic Satanists to the level of mystics and aesthetes who look to the hereafter for the ultimate fulfillment of their desires. As unreligious as Modern Satanists may claim to be, they acknowledge through the pseudo-religious aspects of their belief system a fundamental human need for mystery (Satanic Bible, p. 109). The Gnostic Satanist realizes that besides the base, corporeal desires present in all humans there is also a deep-seated yearning for the incorporeal, the mystic. Perhaps this need is simply stronger in the gnostic (pneumatic) than in the modernist (hyletic).

To the Luciferian, Lucifer—while embodying many laudable principles—is not necessarily a god to be worshipped. Lucifer is an Aeon, something of a Satanic counterpart to the Nazarite Jesus myth. Lucifer is the Light Bringer, imparting to us what knowledge of Truth we can comprehend. Unlike Jesus, however, Lucifer is not necessarily a masculine being. Satanism embraces both feminine and masculine qualities, and Lucifer is the embodiment of those aspects (Orbis, 2006). In Satanic Gnosticism, one can view Lucifer as either a literal being or as an impersonal, spiritual force. Luciferianism is here compatible with Modern Satanism in the sense that the actual form Lucifer takes is not as important as what this Aeon imparts. Luciferianism is here likewise compatible with Traditional Satanism in that the Gnostic Satan is opposed to the Demiurge by nature.

As previously stated, from a traditionalist perspective, Hell is the total absence of God. To the gnostic, God is the Demiurge—the half-maker—who ensnares our souls in a dualistic, obfuscating, corporeal reality. Humanity’s impurity is what leads to all conflict and suffering. Hell is the purging of this false reality. Thus, Hell is Pleroma–the state of pure being, of Truth–wherein the Demiurge has no place (Hoeller, 2006).

The only difference between Christian Gnosticism and Satanic Gnosticism worth mentioning here is the Christians’ total rejection of the corporeal. No self-respecting Satanist would spend his life attempting to induce gnosis and wringing his hands in apprehension of what is to come. The Satanist accepts that all she can control is the present; thus it is the present that the Satanist seeks to improve through Gnosticism, not some supposititious, unknowable future.

The Gnostic Satanist attempts to improve the present through noetic understanding and whatever possible tangible manifestation or consequences this understanding could have, but this is not achieved through a purely passive process of reception; rather, the Luciferian engages in the Great Work.

The occultist undertakes the Great Work through the utilization of High Magick, which is magick employed to fulfill the divine will rather than the will of the magician who is mutable and flawed. The Luciferian first seeks to affect change within the microcosm and then apply that change to the macrocosm. By inching oneself and one’s reality ever closer to divine reality, the occultist is able to catalyze positive change to an ever-increasing degree (Roob, 2005, p. 123). In that Lucifer aids in the reconciliation of our existence with the divine will, this Aeon can be said to take on the form of Abraxas.

Luciferianism is Gnostic Satanism and as such reinterprets gnostic myth from a non-traditional, occult perspective that includes the concept of the Great Work and the utilization of High Magick to increase the presence of the divine essence, and decrease the influence of the Demiurge and its Archons, in our reality. Gnostic Satanists see their tradition as Satanism at its purest form and other Satanic forms as incomplete systems. Regardless, studying the three primary forms of modern day Satanism, a unifying theme emerges: the desire to proactively affect change through the utilization of a mystical force or being which the Satanist calls, simply, Satan.

A couple notes to the reader:

  1. This essay is based on a presentation I did back in 2006. The Satanic scene has changed since then. People change affiliations, start their own churches and cults and evolve new beliefs pretty regularly in this scene. View this essay as a snapshot of North American Satanism as it existed at the time.
  2. Some of the below links no longer work. That is a result of the transient nature of web content. I haven’t updated the links because in some cases the content I cited no longer exists (or has moved and I can’t find it) but I want to retain the reference for the sake of giving the original writers their due.


Ahern, Darren S. “Brother Darren’s Al-Jil-Wah Sermon”. The Cathedral of the Black Goat. 29 June 2006.

Baigent, Michael, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln. Holy Blood, Holy Grail. New York: Dell, 1983.

Belderis, Ina. “Some Light on Lucifer.” Sunrise Magazine Nov. 1996.

Edmonds, I.G. The Kings of Black Magic. New York: Holt, 1981.

Hoeller, Stephan A. “The Gnostic World View: A Brief Summary of Gnosticism”. The Gnosis Archive. 28 June 2006.

“How Can I Know that God Loves Me?” Anti-track pamphlet. 2001.

King, James. “The Four Pillars of Traditional Satanism.” Online posting. 14 May 2006. Cathedral of the Black     Goat Blog. 27 June 2006.

LaVey, Anton Szandor. “The Nine Satanic Sins”. The Church of Satan. 20 June 2006.

LaVey, Anton Szandor. The Satanic Bible. New York: Avon, 1969/1976.

LaVey, Anton Szandor. The Satanic Rituals. Los Angeles: Feral House, 1998.

Orbis Lucifera. FAQ. 07 June 2006.

Otter and Morning Glory Zell. ”Satanism and Neo-Pagan Witchcraft.” Egg Magazine 21 Dec. 1995.

Roob, Alexander. The Hermetic Museum: Alchemy & Mysticism. Italy: Taschen, 2005.

Sutin, Lawrence. Do What Thou Wilt: a Life of Aleister Crowley. New York: St. Martin’s, 2000.

Vera, Diane. “Theology of the Church of Azazel”. Church of Azazel. 07 June 2006. Az/belief/theology.html.

XEPER.ORG. The Temple of Set. 26 June 2006.