When I think of the term ‘Satanism’, I immediately picture goths sacrificing goats and drinking their blood in the name of the Dark Lord, all to the sounds of Cradle of Filth’s worst song. It’s really easy to pigeonhole religions by their mascots. And given the extremity and radicalism some groups practice on the entire spectrum of spirituality, it has become increasingly difficult for people to separate people’s beliefs from their individual. I was also a culprit to this misjudgement – I didn’t “get” Satanism. What did they even believe in? Why do they like Van Dyke beards so much? Why are they still listening to Behemoth? I decided to speak to the UK’s Head of the Church of Satan and find out.
By definition, Satanism is a “broad term referring to a group of social movements with diverse ideological and philosophical beliefs”. This seems like the most vague explanation ever, and that’s because it is – Satanism isn’t easily defined. Since the birth of the Church in the 1960s by its founder, Anton LaVey, there have been countless sub-belief systems all identifying as Satanism; the two major trends are theistic believers, who actually believe Satan is a supernatural being, and those who are atheist believers, who see “Satan” as a symbol of the human condition.
No Satanist actually believes in the Christian version of Satan because they completely reject the bible. Simply put, Lucifer is the demon that personifies vanity and pride whereas Satan is the demon that personifies wrath. But even then, the Church of Satan doesn’t identify as a religious institution. In fact, it seems the term ‘church’ isn’t only offensive to them, but an incorrect one. I’m still trying to work out whether it’s an ironic label, or one to make the public take them seriously – especially since having admitted that their “dark aura” is a draw to sinister symbolism to isolate themselves from others. Still, the lines between Satanism and Atheism still remained incredibly blurred to me – even after this interview – and I’m not sure if either movement occupies the same space or not.
I learned through talking to Reverend Ashley Palmer that they are, after all, entitled to their opinions, which are also founded on reason. Even though many aspects of their ideology don’t agree with my personal views, I tried to practice the tolerance they reject so forcefully. I particularly had an issue with the form of social Darwinism they practice. In short, they assign different value to people’s lives and don’t believe in equality in any form – whether it’s intellectually, socially, philosophically or spiritually. But through the calm, polite and even charming disposition of Reverend Palmer, I began to doubt my own beliefs – why do I agree with some of these points? Why don’t I fucking hate this guy? It was weird. And then I realized that this façade of villainy was actually just an intellectual vehicle. Whilst they very clearly don’t care about the “mediocre” people around them, they’re painfully self-aware, which is more than you can say about a lot of other groups of the same ilk.
Fundamentally, believing Satanism is without dogma, fear, or superstition – but then going on to imply stupidity is a sin (dogma) and that doubting your magical power will remove it (superstition) – highlighted the hypocrisy of some parts of their scriptures. Ultimately though, through the troughs of society, it’s a lot more reasonable and logic-based than you would think because of their scaremongering name.
From this interview, there was only one truth that was reaffirmed for me: humans are their own god, and only we're able to create or destroy the world around us—not some mythical red goblin wearing an ill-fitting bed sheet.
Do you believe in social equality? I’ve read in scripture that you practice a form of ‘social Darwinism’, so to speak.
Social equality is a broad term, so I must first clarify that although I don’t believe in ‘equality’, I do agree that all people should be treated fairly and judged equally in the eyes of the law.
Satanism is rooted in scientific fact and favours meritocracy, so we therefore reject the concept of egalitarianism. This utopian myth tends to breed weakness and reward mediocrity. By embracing the Darwinian reality of nature instead, we find this stimulates and encourages strength, self-improvement and the mastery of diverse skills.
Would you ever accept blue-collar workers into your ranks? How do you define being "elite"? Is it a social or philosophical concept?
Elitism is often unfortunately synonymous with cult-like pretentious ego bolstering or an advocacy of superiority based upon wealth or ancestry. This type of ‘elite’ has nothing in common with Satanic elitism. An industrious person who makes a living in their chosen craft through dedication and development of skills, is far more ‘elite’ and Satanic than an unproductive aristocrat with inherited fortunes.
One doesn’t simply become ‘elite’ by affiliating with Satanism, nor do Satanists necessarily declare themselves to be an example of elitism or a pinnacle of human achievement (unless earned). We Satanists simply have an appreciation for human ability, acknowledging natural hierarchy and champion meritocracy.
Why are you called Church of Satan if the traditional church is exactly the institution you rebuke?
Anton LaVey chose the name of his organisation to oppose the concepts and trappings of the traditional churches of abstinence and spirituality. His was a new and exciting type of church dedicated to indulgence and vital existence.
Is the Church of Satan just secularism cloaked in dark rituals and an aura of "evil" in order to garner interest?
It’s true that Satanism is a form of secularism that employs “evil” imagery. This isn’t purely to gain attention or antagonise though, as Satanists are naturally drawn to sinister symbolism and find it stimulating on a personal level in isolation from others. “Dark rituals” aren’t a requirement of Satanism and should be an optional cathartic tool for those that gain psychological benefit from structured ceremony. I’ve personally found that regular exercise along with my daily creative pursuits as a self-employed designer are effective ritual acts which allow me to save formal Satanic ceremony for rare and special occasions.
Dr. LaVey was a particularly gifted Satanic showman, and certainly garnered much attention during the early days of the Church of Satan. It’s worth noting that Satanists successfully harnessed the power of dark aesthetics and popularised raising the horns in rebellion decades before the gothic and heavy metal subcultures emerged.
What do you think of the fact that some people deem Satanism provocative rather than an institution of education, and what are you doing to combat this?
Satanism is indeed provocative and we rather enjoy that the masses are repulsed by us, for the right reasons. We combat ignorance and misunderstanding by ensuring that information on our unique religion and worldview is made available to those interested.
Why chose a figure from a book you deem to be a fairy tale at best?
We Satanists are atheists and scientific sceptics. ‘Satan’ is traditionally translated from the original Hebrew as ‘the Adversary’, so it’s fitting that we have claimed this name. Satanism is adversarial to all faith-based belief systems and we reject the supernatural. Whether dealing with the many gods, devils or forms of afterlife, all are childish concepts that Satanists spurn as spiritual pipe dreams.
Where would the Church of Satan be without other religions?
The Church of Satan and its philosophy transcends mere reaction and identity through opposition. As was the case before the rise of Christianity, our people have always existed in a small number under many guises as freethinking ‘movers and shakers’ shining as black beacons of reason and creativity amid fetid oceans of mysticism and superstition.
On your site, you openly support LGBT+ people. How do you feel the issue is being handled in modern day? What would you do differently?
The Church of Satan has accepted gay, lesbian and bisexual members since its beginning and we recognise all legal forms of sexual expression between consenting adults. The modern day dissolution of ridiculous religious laws that previously intruded on the private lives of LGBT+ folk is celebrated as a victory for reason and liberty. I personally find it unfortunate though that today, certain egalitarian extremist groups are now appending pseudoscientific reinterpretations of biology to an initially rational and sensible cause.
How do you feel about other religious institutions’ stances on homosexuality, transgender people and gender fluidity?
Most religious institutions by their very nature have archaic and irrational positions on these matters, and I would encourage adherents of these faiths to either fully commit to their chosen religion or toss it out entirely. I find the moves by certain less potent strains of the Christian virus to accommodate homosexuals rather amusing.
You’re against drug abuse but accept that what an individual chooses to put in their body is their own problem. Most people with a generally steady moral compass would agree with this – what makes the morality of Satanists different to that of the next modern, liberal person?
I can’t speak for Satanists in general, as each is entitled to choose their own political viewpoints, but as a Satanist and ‘millennial’, I’ve noticed some stark differences. The nature of this difference seems to stem from what Nietzsche referred to as ‘master-slave morality’. I’m typically in favour of more draconian laws and place a high value upon self-reliance, strength, honour, delayed gratification and other concepts associated with ‘master morality’. Bearing in mind that we’re talking in general terms, millennials seem to exemplify ‘slave morality’ by valuing socialism/anarchy, welfare, charity, celebrity status and consumerism. This is obviously an oversimplification, but I believe this gets at the heart of the ethical difference.
Words by Rachel Grace Almeida
Interview by Djan Sauerborn