bookmark_borderSatan loves the null hypothesis

This article is a little long, so I’ve tried to make it easier to scroll through by breaking it up into sections. Here is the table of contents:

I promise I’ll try to make it entertaining. Let’s dig in.


I. Null Hypothesis and Satanism

A. The appeal to science

The fifth tenet of The Satanic Temple’s Seven Fundamental Tenets is:

Beliefs should conform to one’s best scientific understanding of the world. One should take care never to distort scientific facts to fit one’s beliefs.

I love how meticulous the phrasing is here! The tenet isn’t that we should “believe science” or “agree with scientists”. As nouns, “science” and “scientist” don’t appear at all. The focus of this tenet is the word scientific. It is a modifier: it is a way of understanding the world, and a way of coming to conclusions about facts. The appeal to science isn’t an appeal to a “what”; it is an appeal to “how”.

This resonates deeply with the elements of Satanism I am most passionate about. I love Satanism because I see it as explicitly and overtly adaptive. This makes it different from every theistic religious tradition I know. The core is not a set of beliefs about the world, but a set of beliefs about how to gain knowledge about the world. Implicit in that is an assumption: knowledge itself might grow and change.

The term “null hypothesis” started out as a bit of technical jargon from experimental science and inferential statistics. Over time its use has grown. This isn’t uncommon. A very specific term in academia gets shared around in popular culture and used by people who only partially understand its context or meaning. As a result, the non-technical “common usage” meaning of the term morphs and twists. Eventually, even the professionals (in this case: professional scientists) end up using the term in the non-technical way. This can make things very confusing.

B. Atheists, please stop saying this.

This makes me cringe the most: “Atheism is the null hypothesis.”

No.

No, no.

No. The entire rest of this article will literally be about why this is wrong. Before I get into that, however, I want to say to any atheists in the audience who have used this phrase: I get it.

I know what you mean, I know where you’re coming from, and I know why you are saying it. That statement (“atheism is the null hypothesis”) is a step the follows after a longer chain of prior conversation. That prior conversation may not appear in every single Twitter thread or comments section, but it is part of the larger discourse in our culture between theists and atheists. That conversation goes like this:

Atheist: "I don't believe in God because I don't see any evidence for God."
Theist: "Why do you need evidence?"
Atheist: "I like to justify my beliefs using scientific method. I need evidence to belief a hypothesis."
Theist: "Well, isn't it also a hypothesis to not believe in God?"
Atheist: "You're the one making the assertion God exists. That's the hypothesis. The negation of that is called the null hypothesis. The null hypothesis is what you should believe by default."
Theist: "Well, why can't the null hypothesis be that God exists?"

In this kind of dialogue, calling atheism the “null hypothesis” is shorthand for a lot of things. It’s a quick way of expressing some very complex ideas about why evidence isn’t required to not believe in the very complex concept of a (usually, specifically Abrahamic) God.

I have no problem with people using verbal shorthand in casual conversation…. normally.

In this case, however, I think the shorthand creates confusion. It perpetuates misunderstandings of what “null hypothesis” means.

Then these misunderstandings end up everywhere.

You get think-pieces that say things like:

In my graduate studies, I learned that every time you formed a hypothesis (God is), you were also required to develop a null hypothesis that says the opposite of your hypothesis (God isn’t). Keep in mind that there are no “facts” in science, but rather hypotheses (educated guesses) and theories (hypotheses that have been supported by science, but that may ultimately be disproved). Now, I’m not a scientist, but it makes perfect sense within this model to have the “null hypothesis” that God doesn’t exist. However, to leap from that to certitude of God’s non-existence is to violate the principles of the scientific method, isn’t it?”

And comments on discussion boards that say things like:

The real distinction between the null hypothesis and the alternative hypothesis is that the null hypothesis is assumed true until rejected due to contradictory data. If the null hypothesis is rejected, and the alternative hypothesis is not, the alternative hypothesis can become the next accepted theory, which becomes the null hypothesis for future tests. It’s sort of a “king of the hill” approach, with the current champion serving as the null hypothesis taking on challengers.

Comments like these make me die a little inside every time I read them. They are completely wrong! But it’s difficult to explain in a simple way exactly why they are wrong. To really understand the idea of the null hypothesis, we have to understand more about where it comes from: scientific method, and specifically experimental hypothesis-testing.

II. Three Ideas in Scientific Method

Opening Disclaimer: I’m not going to cover all of scientific method in this blog article. I expect that’s obvious, but it’s 2020 and nothing is obvious so here we are. The topic is huge: there are books and courses and fields of study dedicated to it. For now, I’m going to focus on three concepts that I think are critical for understanding the technical meaning of “null hypothesis”. This discussion won’t be complete, but I hope it will give you enough information so that you can use the idea of “null hypothesis” correctly in your own life, and talk about it intelligently in conversations about theism and atheism.

A. Setting the stage

Let’s start with the important distinction between three ideas: a hypothesis, a prediction, and a measurement. (I’m going to avoid using the word “theory” in this article, because that’s a whole other ball of worms.)

A hypothesis is a statement about some relationship in the world. It can be abstract or concrete. It can be a causal relationship, or just a systematic pattern in the universe. Some examples of good hypotheses include:

  • Smoking causes cancer
  • The speed of light is constant regardless of the speed you are traveling
  • Thinking religious thoughts makes people more relaxed
  • Cats are smarter than dogs

Now hang on a minute! When I say “good hypothesis” I don’t mean that it’s correct, or even that it’s interesting. “Cats are smarter than dogs” may be false (it’s not). But it’s a statement about a relationship between things in the universe. As such, it can lead to a prediction.

A prediction is a statement about a measurable relationship between two variables. For something to be a good prediction, it must be about variables that can be measured.

A measurement is the data that you actually record. The measurement gives you the numbers, which you then use to check your prediction.

If your hypothesis is “smoking causes cancer”, one possible prediction could be: “If you take two groups of people who are identical except that group A smokes and group B doesn’t, and you track them from age 20 to age 50, you will see more occurrences of cancer in group A than B.”

You can go out and measure that. Of course, it can still be complicated. For example, what precisely does it mean for two groups of people to be “identical”? How can we tell if the specific people we have chosen for our group A and group B are similar enough to qualify for saying the groups are identical? This is part of why experimental design can be tricky, and why it’s so important for any experiment to be done over and over again by different people.

Nonetheless, your hypothesis is a statement about a relationship between things (“smoking causes cancer”), and you have a prediction about a relationship between two variables (“rate of cancer in group A will be higher than rate of cancer in group B”). If you are able to measure that predicted relationship between the variables, you have support for the hypothesis. You have evidence for the hypothesis. You have some reason to believe the hypothesis.

Of course, there are other predictions that can be made from the same hypothesis as well. For example, another prediction might be: “The average number of cigarettes a person smokes per week has a positive correlation with the person’s probability of getting cancer.”

Now we’re getting a little more into statistics, and we have to think about things like how correlation is measured and how “probability of cancer” is determined. This can get into the weeds, as the conversation turns to “sampling” and population assumptions. So just like with the previous example, the details of using this prediction to test a hypothesis can be tricky.

However, the basic principle of the reasoning process is the same. Your hypothesis is a statement of a relationship between things. Your prediction is a statement of a relationship between variables. You measure the variables to see if you can find that relationship. If you do, then that is evidence for the hypothesis. In other words, it gives you some reason to believe the hypothesis.

B. Enter, our hero: the null hypothesis

I keep on hammering on the idea that a hypothesis is a relationship.

I’m doing that because, in the context of scientific method and experimental testing, the technical jargon null hypothesis simply means: no relationship.

If your hypothesis is that smoking causes cancer, then the null hypothesis is that there is no relationship between smoking and cancer.

If your hypothesis is that cats are smarter than dogs, then the null hypothesis is that there is no relationship between the intelligence of cats and the intelligence of dogs.

It is crucial to understand what this means in its technical sense. If we breeze too quickly past the technical meaning, it can get misinterpreted in so many ways.

For example, when discussing the hypothesis “cats are smarter than dogs”, the null hypothesis isn’t “dogs are smarter than cats.” The null hypothesis isn’t “there do not exist any cats who are smarter than some dogs.” The null hypothesis isn’t “every cat has the same intelligence as every dog.”

No, no, no.

The null hypothesis is no relationship between overall cat smartness and overall dog smartness.

How can you tell if this “smartness” relationship exists? You come up with some kind of prediction.

For example, you might think: on average, the time it takes for a cat to get out of a maze will be shorter than the time it takes a dog to get out of the same maze. That’s a relationship between two variables. You can measure that! Good prediction.

So, you put a bunch of cats and dogs into a maze, and measure how long it takes them to get out. You’ll hit some interesting details, like: what do you do with the ones who never get out, but just sit around licking themselves until you fetch them?

But once you’ve figured that out, you have a bunch of individual measurements of individual “escape times” for cats and dogs. You can calculate the average escape time for the cats, and the average escape time for the dogs. You have to determine (using statistics) whether there is a reliable difference between these averages.

(Statistical reliability, also called statistical significance, is a whole big thing that we don’t have time for here. Suffice it to say that there are some smart cats and some derpy cats, and there are some smart dogs and some derpy dogs, so you need to make sure that any difference you measure between the average dog time and average cat time isn’t just because you happened to get a bunch of derpy dogs or derpy cats by accident. That’s all I’ll say about that here.)

When you measure a statistically reliable difference between your variables, that gives you a reason to believe your hypothesis.

If your measurement does not show you a statistically reliable difference between your variables, then you have not obtained a reason to believe your hypothesis.

This gets phrased as: “You do not have evidence for the hypothesis.”

This is not the same as: “You have evidence that the hypothesis is false.”

But it is the same as: “This experiment hasn’t given you any reason to believe the hypothesis.”

Which is a brilliant segue into the next topic, which is: Why do you need a reason to believe things?

III. Justified Belief

A. Pink Dragons

Credit where credit is due: The following fictional dialogue was inspired by and is based in part on a similar dialogue in the science fiction novel Anathem by Neil Stephenson.

"Why shouldn't I believe that there is a pink dragon that farts nerve gas living on Jupiter?"
"Do you have any evidence that there is a pink dragon that farts nerve gas living on Jupiter?"
"No, but I don't have any evidence that it doesn't exist either. If I don't have evidence either for or against, then why should I not belief in it?"
"What about a blue dragon?"
"I was discussing a pink dragon."
"Yes, but if you have the same amount of evidence for both a blue dragon and a pink dragon, then why wouldn't you believe that there is a blue dragon on Jupiter?"
"Maybe there is. Maybe there are both pink and blue dragons on Jupiter."
"OK, then how about plaid dragons? And striped dragons? Are all of those dragons up there as well?"
"Maybe... I don't have any reason to think otherwise."
"And what if they don't fart nerve gas, but they fart jet fuel instead? Or maybe they fart napalm? And not just dragons... I assume you also believe that there are pink nifflers that fart nerve gas living on Jupiter."
"What's a niffler?"
"Does it matter? You have the same amount of evidence for pink nifflers on Jupiter that you have for pink dragons on Jupiter. So if you believe in the pink dragons, then you certainly have no reason not to also believe in pink nifflers. And of course blue nifflers, and striped nifflers, and transparent nifflers...."
"I suppose they could all be up there..."
"That's a very crowded planet. Do you believe they are all up there?"
"No, I guess I can't say that I do."
"Why not?"
"I don't see why I should."

Everyone has reasons they believe things. Sometimes good reasons, sometimes bad reason. And sometimes the reason is very hard to pin down. Why do you believe that your best friend is your best friend? Why do you believe that your name is what you think it to be? Why do you believe that Antarctica exists?

(I actually used the Antarctica example in an analysis of an Ayn Rand quote that I did back in 2013. There is even a diagram.)

Scientific method, and specifically the process of experimental hypothesis-testing, is a framework for answering the question: “Do I have a reason to believe this?” It’s not the only framework, but it’s a good one.

B. Bad Romance

You use it all the time in your day-to-day life! Well, maybe not exactly. You may not be scribbling down numbers and calculating statistics. But when a new potential romantic partner says “I love you!” (hypothesis), you expect them to behave in a certain way (prediction) and if they do not behave that way (measurement) then your feelings tell you… you do not have reason to believe the hypothesis.

Now, you confront them! You say: “HEY! You sure don’t act like you love me!”

And they say: “You can’t expect to see my love in the way I act! It’s just a feeling I have!”

In the language of scientific method, they have just told you: The hypothesis “I love you” yields no measurable predictions.

Do you believe them?

You have no reason not to believe me,” they whisper in your ear.

Are you convinced?

Maybe you are. Most people are not. Maybe it depends on how you feel about the consequences of being wrong.

C. Big ball of wibbly-wobbly god

“God exists” isn’t a hypothesis, because it isn’t a statement about a relationship between things. For most people, “God exists” is a collection of hypotheses.

This isn’t particularly about “God”, as it happens. If you say “Antarctica exists” to someone, that automatically unpacks in most people’s minds into a whole set of beliefs that you have. For example, when you say “Antarctica exists” that means you believe:

  • The south pole of the earth is covered by land
  • That land is cold and covered by ice
  • It is also surrounded by water.
  • Penguins live there.
  • It’s warmer in the winter than in the summer.

And so on and so on. If someone says that they believe that Antarctica exists, but it turns out they don’t believe one or two of these specific things…. that’s fine, they just got some facts wrong about Antarctica.

But if someone says they believe Antarctica exists, but they think that Antarctica is a tropical island off the coast of mainland Florida… then you would tell them: No, you’re not talking about Antarctica. That’s not what Antarctica is.

Believing that “Antarctica exists” isn’t a single belief: it’s an interconnected set of beliefs about Antarctica.

The same is true with God: Believing in God isn’t a single thought, proposition or hypothesis. It is an interconnected set of beliefs about the nature of God and God’s relation to the universe.

And some of those beliefs might be hypotheses. What are some of the common hypotheses included in that big ball of wibbly-wobbly beliefs that people call “God”? They might be things like:

  • Asking for God’s forgiveness leads to salvation
  • Virtue is rewarded in the afterlife
  • Gay sex makes God mad

And so on. These are statements about relationships between things. These are hypotheses. But of course not everyone has the same list of hypotheses in their heads when they use the word “God”. So when you hear someone say “God exists”, you should check which specific hypotheses they are talking about… just to make sure.

Maybe get them to tell you a couple, or even just one. Just one hypothesis they have about God.

Then, see if there are any predictions that can be made from it.

Can you measure “salvation”? Can you get two groups of people who are otherwise identical but where Group A has asked for forgiveness and Group B has not, and at some appropriate later point in time measure the percentage of each group that has achieved “salvation”? Because if you do that and you find that Group A has more people who have achieved salvation than Group B, then you have a reason to believe the hypothesis that “asking for God’s forgiveness leads to salvation”! Yay!

But if you cannot measure such a difference, then you have no reason to believe the hypothesis. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong. It doesn’t mean there is “proof” that asking for God’s forgiveness won’t lead to salvation. It only means there is no reason to believe it. So instead of the hypothesis (“Asking for God’s forgiveness leads to salvation”), you end up with the null hypothesis (“There is no relationship between asking for God’s forgiveness and salvation”).

Let’s try again.

Is there a way you can measure someone’s virtue? Is there a way you can measure a person’s level of reward in the afterlife? If so, you’re all set! Conduct a study: measure the level of virtue of a random sample of people who are about to die, then after they die measure their level of afterlife reward, and see if there is a statistically reliable correlation between the two!

Hmmm. You can’t measure that? Shucks. Well, that’s fine. The fact that you can’t measure those things doesn’t mean the hypothesis is wrong. It just means you don’t have any reason to believe it. Instead of believing the hypothesis (“virtue is rewarded in the afterlife”), you end up with the null hypothesis (“there is no relationship between virtue and reward in the afterlife”).

And why can’t you just decide to believe the hypothesis anyway?

Well… there just isn’t enough room on Jupiter for all of those dragons.


Thank you for reading. Comment, like, subscribe.

bookmark_borderNine Statements vs Seven Tenets

[This article first appeared as a guest article in the Patheos blog “For Infernal Use Only” on 29 August 2019]

A Satanist whose hobby or fetish is Satanism per se, is no more of a Satanist than one who, realizing the indulgence advocated by Satanism, accepts the Name. The difference between the man or woman who’s a practicing Satanist, from an identity Satanist is that the practicing Satanist looks at the picture, while the identity Satanist studies the frame.

Anton LaVey, “The World’s Most Powerful Religion”

I admit it: I think vengeance is stupid.

People are emotional and reactive animals, and when we have been wronged we want to strike back. When we have been hurt, we want to cause hurt, and our instincts have not wired us to judge whether our acts of retribution are in proportion to the harm done to us, or even whether they will backfire and hurt us in the end. An act of vengeance might stop a person from doing harm in the future. It might teach someone a lesson. But you are kidding yourself if you think that the motivation behind vengeance is to make sure people “learn from their misdeeds.” The fire that burns inside you for vengeance is a punisher, not a teacher.

I want to start with that admission, because one of LaVey’s Nine Satanic Statements is: “Satan represents vengeance instead of turning the other cheek!” As a result, there are people who might say that I cannot be a true Satanist, on the grounds that I think vengeance is stupid.

But when I reflect on the values and driving motives of Satan, as I understand that mythological and literary character, I simply don’t see vengeance as a driving force. He fought against Yahweh for freedom, not vengeance. He tempted Eve in the garden of Eden out of a desire see humanity freed from the prison of ignorance, not out of some kind of clap-back against God.

ASIDE: I will note here that there are people who actually interpret Satan’s actions against humanity as being driven by a desire for vengeance against Yaweh; but even when viewing the story from within its own fictional reality, my reply is: “Well, duh… of course an immature and pouting god like Yaweh would take it personally! Of course, when Satan tries to help out human beings, Yaweh clutches his pearls and says Why are you trying to hurt me? That is exactly on-point for God’s personality.”

LaVey included vengeance as one of the Nine Satanic Statements as a direct inversion of the Christian edict to “turn the other cheek.” I understand the logic behind that, I really do. And I also understand that many people are harmed by that element of Christian moral philosophy: they pour emotional energy into the providing care and attention to people who are not helped by it, and who will never reciprocate it.

But is it any better to pour your energy into hurting them? When you spend your valuable time and energy exacting vengeance on someone, they are controlling you. As a Satanist, I will not give such a person that power over me. I will not forgive, give them “another chance”, or waste my valuable care and kindness on them; however, I will not waste my time and energy punishing them either. Ultimately, by inverting the Christian idea of “turn the other cheek” as “get revenge!” you are still letting bad people control you. You are still pouring your energy into a person who does not deserve your energy.

And for what? In the end, most people like that are too stupid to realize they are being punished. They will see your acts of vengeance and, rather than learning a “lesson” about their own behavior, they will just decide that you are a mean person. And they will carry on as they always have with their dysfunctional lives.

So must I embrace vengeance to be a Satanist?

The Nine Satanic Statements appear in the opening section of The Satanic Bible by Anton LaVey, and are often understood to be core beliefs of Satanists who identify closely with the Church of Satan. More recently, The Satanic Temple has offered the Seven Fundamental Tenets as an expression of the core moral axioms of their interpretation of Satanism.

Two different lists, from two interpretations of Satanism. Some people make much ado over the fact that there are items that can be paired, one from each list, that appear to contradict each other. The fifth Statement (“Satan represents vengeance instead of turning the other cheek!”) and the first Tenet (“One should strive to act with compassion and empathy towards all creatures in accordance with reason.”) is an example of such a pair.

Can both be authentic expressions of Satanism?

LaVey built a detailed and fully-articulated religious philosophy around the inspiration he drew from the literary and mythological character Satan, and codified it into what he called “Satanism.” Moreover, he loved lists. He loved them! He made multiple lists for Satanism. He even made a list for Catism.

Lucean Greaves' cat

The Five Commandments of Catism (according to LaVey) are:

  1. DON’T RUN, IF YOU CAN WALK.
  2. DON’T WALK, IF YOU CAN STAND.
  3. DON’T STAND, IF YOU CAN SIT.
  4. DON’T SIT, IF YOU CAN LIE DOWN, AND
  5. DON’T STAY AWAKE, IF YOU CAN TAKE A NAP.

Now let’s pause and think for a moment. Suppose someone had approached LaVey to say this:

My dear Sir, I feel a passionate connection with cats and their life’s modus operandi. I am obsessed with living and breathing a life of Catism, and for me the Three Commandments of Catism are:

  1. Demand all the attention… until you don’t want it anymore.
  2. Change your mind as you will: you need no justification.
  3. If you fits, you sits.

How would LaVey have responded? One cannot know for sure, I suppose; but I have a difficult time picturing LaVey saying: “No, I have codified exactly what Catism is with my list of Five Commandments, and if you want to follow your ridiculous three supposedly-catish commandments, you will just have to call it something else!”

LaVey knew he didn’t invent cats.

Living life as a Satanist means living a life that is guided and inspired by the life and deeds of the fictional archetype known in our culture as Satan. People who fixate on the Nine Statements as the only expression of Satanism are not living their lives as Satanists. They are not practicing Satanism: they are fetishizing Satanism qua Satanism. They have lost track of the picture in their obsession with LaVey’s frame.

bookmark_borderNot all Christians

I appeared on the Sacred Tension podcast a while back, and one of the questions that was submitted by a listener stood out. It struck me as a fantastic new example of the “not all _____” trope.

Here is the question that was submitted for the podcast:

I have a question about how [The Satanic Temple’s] protest often involves the mocking or degrading of Christian symbols. Unlike most Christians, by and large I agree with what they are trying to do; but at the same time, using images that I view as sacred hurts me more than it offends me. I understand that those images have been used to oppress people, yet there are Christians who see them as images of liberation. So at the end of it, I guess I see it as counterproductive to desecrate [for example] an image of a poor teenage mother out of wedlock [referring to a statue of Mary] who has essentially become the female face of God.

Listener question submitted to the Sacred Tension Podcast

This was my answer:

I don’t think I can speak to the specific protest that’s being described here, because off of the top of my head I’m just not familiar with that event. So I’ll have to speak generally to the idea of using inversions of, caricatures of, or images that are somehow mocking, traditional Christian symbols as a method of protest.

I know that you know that the meaning of that symbol is different in your heart than the meaning that is attached to it in the public sphere where it has been used to oppress people. And you know that the meaning of this symbol to you may be very inclusive and very loving, even though to some, say, gay kid growing up in the south it’s associated with verbal or physical abuse. And I know that to you it feels like an attack on something you hold sacred when it’s used in that way. I do get that, I really do.

But I would hope that you also know… and you are aware, I can tell from how you phrased the question, that there is this larger cultural context. There is this tension between the symbol and the framework as you experience it and as you want to live it, and some of the negative ways in which some other people have experienced it.

I would hope that when you see the symbols used in this way you can look at it maybe almost an anthropological perspective. So you can say, “I understand what that is referring to, and it doesn’t happen to be the symbol that is in my heart. It’s a symbol that I also disagree with the way it’s been used, and that is what they are objecting to.”

It’s similar to, I think, when people make generalizations in the public sphere about… about anything, really. There are times when someone will say “Men act like this!” and there is always someone who says “Well, I’m a man and I don’t act like that!” But, you know, the more compassionate response is not to be offended like the “Hey, I don’t act like that” man, but to sit back and say: You know what? I’m aware of the men who do act like this. I know those are the people this statement is about. They aren’t talking about me. I understand the context of what they are saying, and in that context I agree with it, so I will just say “Yeah you’re right men do that. It sucks.”

That’s how I would encourage you to look at it, when you see the use of some of these symbols, and you know in your heart that symbol doesn’t mean the same thing that we as The Satanic Temple are objecting to or fighting against, I would ask you to understand that and take it into account. […]

The way I try to govern myself–and I’m not going to try to tell people how they should respond to things, especially when it’s emotional–but what I strive for in myself is to be a little bit mindful. When I hear a statement that is a generalization about myself, instead of reacting to the fact that “Hey, I’m not like that!” I will try to take a step back and think: In the broader context of our culture, is this often or sometimes true? And if it is, then can I use my energy in a more productive way to try to work to change the problem or work to be a more visible counter-example, rather than just trying to nit-pick away at the point that they are making.

Especially if it’s fighting against an injustice, by the way. Especially if it’s trying to lift people up and make the world a better place. When someone out there is trying to shine a light on the fact that men are self-involved and tend to interrupt and speak over women, I’m not going to be that guy who says “hey, I don’t speak over women!” I mean, how is that helping? You know? Why would I do that? And I think in a religious context the same thing can apply.

Response from Penemue on the Sacred Tension Podcast

Does this mean we should never call out over-generalizations? Of course not. But it’s worth understanding the role that your own participation in a dialogue is playing. If your objection to an over-generalization, now matter how technically correct you may be, serves to decenter minority and oppressed voices, or to distract from an important point that needs to be heard, then maybe just take a deep breath instead. Remind yourself, “Not everything is about me.” And then do what you can to support the fight for justice.

bookmark_borderSatan: Into the Satan-Verse

The movie “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” got me thinking about the many different origin stories of my favorite superhero: Satan.

The 2018 animated film functions as an origin story for Miles Morales, the successor to Peter Parker in the role of Spider-Man. The central plot revolves around a supercollider built by scientist Olivia Octavius for the evil super-villain The Kingpin. The device generates vortex in space-time that creates an intersection between parallel universes, which of course is very unstable and dangerous and could destroy everything. Peter Parker tries to stop the villain’s evil scheme during a test-run of the machine, and ends up being killed… but during the course of the battle he interacts with the space-time vortex in a way that has the side-effect of pulling (pushing? throwing? folding?) five other Spider-Man Equivalents from five parallel universes into this universe. They team up with Miles Morales, a boy from our universe who was recently bitten by a radioactive spider thus making him destined to be Parker’s successor, to shut down the Kingpin’s machine whilst getting themselves back into their own universes in the process.

The movie is brilliant and funny and a technical masterpiece of animation. I highly recommend it. The use of the parallel universe trope also allows it to be self-consciously tongue-in-cheek about its role within the greater graphic novel literary genre. More specifically: there are a lot of “origin story” jokes.

The movie starts with Peter Parker’s origin story, narrated in voice-over, which begins: “My name is Peter Parker. I was bitten by a radioactive spider, And for ten years, I’ve been the one and only Spider-Man.” Over the course of the movie, they go through a quick summary narration of the origin story of every one of the Spider-people from the parallel universes. Of course, they all start with the template: “My name is _____. I was bitten by a radioactive ______, and for ___ years, I’ve been the one and only Spider-_____.”

It is fun and playful (pay close attention to all of the gags in the origin stories of the cartoon pig and anime versions of Spider-Man); but it also allows the storytelling to highlight what features of Peter Parker’s origin story are considered critical to the Spider-Man mythos (i.e. what elements are present across the origin stories from all of the universes) and what are incidental.

Moreover, true to the cultural moment we are living through in 2019, the origin story of Miles Morales is probably the most gritty, conflicted and heart-wrenching of them all. Spider-Man Noir, the Depression-Era Spider-Man who wears a trench coat and a fedora (drawn in black-and-white, of course), even breaks the fourth wall during the movie to comment on this: “Woah, this is a pretty hardcore origin story.”

The Amazing Satan

Have you ever noticed that Judeo-Christian mythological tradition has multiple, contradictory “origin stories” for Lucifer, the Fallen Angel? I’m not even considering, for the moment, all of the variant demonized gods in other religions that seem closely related to (and either inspiration for, or inspired by) the Abrahamic Satanael.  I’m just talking about the many “origin stories” for The Devil that appear in Judaic, Proto-Christian, and early Christian texts over the centuries.

Now that I’ve watched “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse“, I’m afraid I can’t help it: I totally now think of these different mythologies as the origin stories for parallel-universe versions of the same superhero.

“My name is Lucifer, and since the second day of creation, I have been the one and only Satan.”

The second book of Enoch (also called The Slavonic Book of Enoch, thought to date back to somewhere in the first century C.E.) has a section (starting with Chapter 24) where God sits both Enoch and archangel Gabriel down to tell them the really detailed story of creation.  Much of it follows the traditional “first seven days” paradigm you see in the first chapter of Genesis, but it really gets into the nitty-gritty.

The really fun bit comes in the description of Day 2.  Chapter 28 ends with “Thus I made fast the firmament. This day I called me the first-created.” Chapter 30 begins with “On the third day I commanded the earth to make grow great and fruitful trees…”  So we know that Chapter 29 is all about Day 2 of creation.

Here is Chapter 29:

And for all the heavenly troops I imaged the image and essence of fire, and my eye looked at the very hard, firm rock, and from the gleam of my eye the lightning received its wonderful nature, (which) is both fire in water and water in fire, and one does not put out the other, nor does the one dry up the other, therefore the lightning is brighter than the sun, softer than water and firmer than hard rock.

And from the rock I cut off a great fire, and from the fire I created the orders of the incorporeal ten troops of angels, and their weapons are fiery and their raiment a burning flame, and I commanded that each one should stand in his order.

And one from out the order of angels, having turned away with the order that was under him, conceived an impossible thought, to place his throne higher than the clouds above the earth, that he might become equal in rank to my power.

And I threw him out from the height with his angels, and he was flying in the air continuously above the bottomless.

This is the standard story of Lucifer we all have heard about: He was an angel, he wanted equal rights (“equal in rank to my power”), and for that terrible sin he was cast out into the bottomless pit of hell.

All of this happened on Day 2 of creation.

“My name is Diabolus, and since the sixth day of creation, I have been the one and only Satan.”

There is another mythological text that dates back to around the same time period, called The Life of Adam and Eve, which describes in detail stuff that happened to Adam and Eve after they were expelled from the Garden of Eden. In one part, the Devil shows up again to tempt Eve, and tricks her again into sinning. And Adam is all “What’s your problem, man? Why are you like this?”

And the Devil (chapters 12-16) explains this way:

And the devil sighed and said, “O Adam, all my enmity and envy and sorrow concern you, since because of you I am expelled and deprived of my glory which I had in the heavens in the midst of angels, and because of you I was cast out onto the earth.” Adam answered, “What have I done to you, and what is my blame with you? Since you are neither harmed nor hurt by us, why do you pursue us?”

The devil replied, “Adam, what are you telling me? It is because of you that I have been thrown out of here. When you were created, I was cast out from the presence of God and was sent out from the fellowship of the angels. When God blew into you the breath of life and your countenance and likeness were made in the image of God, Michael brought you and made (us) worship you in the sight of God, and the LORD God said, “Behold Adam! I have made you in our image and likeness.”

And Michael went out and called all the angels, saying, “Worship the image of the LORD God, as the LORD God has instructed.” And Michael himself worshiped first, and called me and said, “Worship the image of God, Yahweh.” And I answered, “I do not worship Adam.” And when Michael kept forcing me to worship, I said to him, “Why do you compel me? I will not worship one inferior and subsequent to me. I am prior to him in creation; before he was made, I was already made. He ought to worship me.”

When they heard this, other angels who were under me refused to worship him.

And Michael asserted, “Worship the image of God. But if now you will not worship, the LORD God will be wrathful with you.” And I said, “If he be wrathful with me, I will set my throne above the stars of heaven and will be like the Most High.”

And the LORD God was angry with me and sent me with my angels out from our glory; and because of you, we were expelled into this world from our dwellings and have been cast onto the earth. And immediately we were made to grieve, since we had been deprived of so great glory. And we were pained to see you in such bliss of delights. So with deceit I assailed your wife and made you to be expelled through her from the joys of your bliss, as I have been expelled from my glory.

This is another standard story that we often hear, and a variant of it also appears as the story of Iblis in Islamic mythology. In this origin story, Satan is cast to earth rather than being cast into a bottomless pit, and the motivation for him being thrown out of heaven was that he refused to bow down to Adam.

Now, we know from this and other texts that Adam was created on the Sixth day.

So in this origin story, The Fall must have happened on Day 6 of creation.

“My name is Beliar, I was made from fire, and since some point after Eden was created, I’ve been the one and only Satan.”

In a Christian text from around the fifth century C.E. called “Questions of Bartholomew”, the apostles asked Jesus about Beliar (Satan), and so naturally Jesus calls him up from hell for a little Q&A.

He tells the story of his expulsion from Heaven this way:

I was going to and fro in the world, and God said unto Michael: Bring me a clod from the four corners of the earth, and water out of the four rivers of paradise. And when Michael brought them God formed Adam in the regions of the east, and shaped the clod which was shapeless, and stretched sinews and veins upon it and established it with Joints; and he worshipped him, himself for his own sake first, because he was the image of God, therefore he worshipped him.

And when I came from the ends of the earth Michael said: Worship thou the image of God, which he hath made according to his likeness. But I said: I am fire of fire, I was the first angel formed, and shall worship clay and matter?

And Michael saith to me: Worship, lest God be wroth with thee. But I said to him: God will not be wroth with me; but I will set my throne over against his throne, and I will be as he is. Then was God wroth with me and cast me down, having commanded the windows of heaven to be opened.

And when I was cast down, he asked also the six hundred that were under me, if they would worship: but they said: Like as we have seen the first angel do, neither will we worship him that is less than ourselves. Then were the six hundred also cast down by him with me.

And when we were cast down upon the earth we were senseless for forty years, and when the sun shone forth seven times brighter than fire, suddenly I awaked; and I looked about and saw the six hundred that were under me senseless.

And I awaked my son Salpsan and took him to counsel how I might deceive the man on whose account I was cast out of the heavens.

And thus did I contrive it. I took fig leaves in my hands and wiped the sweat from my bosom and below mine arms and cast it down beside the streams of waters, in the springs of the waters whence the four rivers flow out, and Eve drank of it and desire came upon her: for if she had not drunk of that water I should not have been able to deceive her.

Similar to the previous origin story, Satan’s origin story in this parallel universe has him being cast out of heaven for not worshiping Adam. This one has some new details, however. In this one, Satan is said to have been the very first of the angels, made from fire!

But when God created Adam, Satan was not in heaven …. he was just kind of chilling out on earth (“going to and fro in the world”), and had to take time to literally travel back “from the ends of the earth” before archangel Michael could command him to worship Adam. I bet he wishes he’d just stayed on vacation.

Another interesting tid-bit here is that Satan has a son, named Salpsan, who helped him figure out the best way to get vengeance on humanity.

So the real question is, in the parallel universe with the Satan who has this origin story… does Salpsan have a spin-off comic of his own?

bookmark_borderShould I worship God, Satan or myself?

Most Christians have no idea what worship is.

Sure, many individual Christians have their own individual idea about it means to worship. Some of them feel very strongly about how it ought to be done.

A quick scan of Google, however, will unearth huge volumes of discussion–generated by Christians of all stripes and flavors, from Baptist Bloggers to Methodist Ministers–debating exactly what the word “worship” means, and how to go about it.

“There are numerous definitions of the word worship. Yet, one in particular encapsulates the priority we should give to worship as a spiritual discipline: Worship is to honor with extravagant love and extreme submission.”
Christianity Today

“Worship depends on a right spiritual or emotional or affectional heart-grasp of God’s supreme value. So true worship is based on a right understanding of God’s nature, and it is a right valuing of God’s worth.”
desiringgod.org

“Biblical worship is the full-life response-head, heart, and hands- to who God is and what He has done.”
Verge Network

“In both Hebrew and Greek, there are two categories of words for worship. The first is about body language that demonstrates respect and submission; to bow down, to kneel, to prostrate oneself. The second is about doing something for God that demonstrates sacrifice and obedience; to offer, to serve.
Theopedia

The above quote from Theopedia summarizes worship as having two categories, but the website goes on to list five different Hebrew words that all get translated as “worship” in different places in the Bible:

  1. shâchâh [Strong’s #7812] This term literally means to prostrate oneself, and is translated in the King James Version of the Old Testament as “worship” (100 times), “bow down” (54 times), “do obeisance” (9 times), “do reverence” (5 times), “fall down” (Psa 72:11; Isa 45:14;), “crouch” (1 Sam 2:36), “humbly beseech” (2 Sam 16:4), or “make to stoop” (Pro 12:25).
  2. âbad [Strong’s #5647] This term literally means to work in any sense, but by implication to serve or enslave. It is used more than 250 times in the Old Testament, most often translated as “serve” and 31 times in conjunction with shâchâh (see above). However, three times the translators of the ESV chose the word “worship” (2 Sam 15:8; Psa 102:22; Isa 19:21).
  3. dârash [Strong’s #1875] In Ezra 4:2 and 6:21, the ESV translates this term meaning to seek as “worship”.
  4. yârê’ [Strong’s #3372] In Joshua 22:25, the ESV translates this term meaning to fear as “worship”.
  5. âtsab [Strong’s #6087] In Jeremiah 44:19, where the KJV translates this term meaning to carve or fashion as “worship”, the ESV renders it as “made cakes for her bearing her image…”

(I mean… who can argue with the idea that making cake is a kind of worship?)

The Christian Library lists three Greek words that also get transcribed as “worship” in the Bible:

  1. Proskuneo – “meaning to kiss, like a dog licking his master’s hand.” It occurs 59 times in the New Testament. It originally carried with it the idea of subjects falling down to kiss the ground before a king or kiss their feet.
  2. Sebomai – “to reverence, hold in awe.” Used 10 times in the New Testament.
  3. Latreuo – “to render religious service of homage.” Used 21 times in the New Testament.

Of course, there are also plenty of articles that claim it’s a mistake to look to translations and etymologies to understand “worship”: you should look at how the word is used in the world instead. This is very sensible, but leaves us none the wiser, since “in the world” everyone worships differently as well.

As you can see, the word “worship” is a mess. But if you are a Satanist, or any kind of atheist at all, you’re probably asking yourself: why should I care?

LaVeyan Satanism and Self-Worship

Anton LaVey repeatedly said: “Satanism demands study, not worship.” One of the ways LaVey contrasted Satanism against theistic religions was by emphasizing that Satanists should not simply accept or have faith in anything they read or hear. A Satanist is inquisitive and skeptical, and always looking to understand things more deeply. This mindset should not only be applied to politics, society, and the natural world… but also Satanism itself.

Don’t just “believe” Satanism: research it, study it, and decide whether it’s right for you.

LaVey was opposed to the worship of Satan, just as he was opposed to the worship of God. Peter Gilmore quotes LaVey in his essay What The Devil? as having said:

We do not grovel; we do not get down on our knees, genuflect, and worship Satan. We do not plead, we do not implore that Satan give us what we wish. We feel that anyone who is going to be blessed by any god of his choice is going to have to show that god that he is capable of taking care of the blessings that are received.

Yet LaVey doesn’t exorcise the idea of “worship” from Satanism entirely. He has a different suggestion: instead of worshiping God (or Satan), worship yourself.

Placing “self-worship” as a central idea within Satanic philosophy serves at least three distinct purposes.

First, it symbolically reinforces the idea of Satanism as identification with the fictional archetype of Satan, because in many renditions of the mythology of Satan it is his pride or vanity that was key to his “fall” from grace.  Thus, LaVey is reminding us that Satanism is about emulating Satan.

Second, it directly parallels the idea of “worshiping God” if you understand that “God” is a projection of ourselves: an externalized idealized parental imago. When you recognize this, you know that all of the theists who claim to be worshiping “God” are actually (without knowing it) just worshiping themselves anyway…. the Satanist is not behaving any differently, she is simply being clear and honest about what is going on.

Third, it is an empowering idea for people who have been damaged in their youths by the crushing insistence from many mainstream religions that they are inherently base, and flawed, and broken, and must forever struggle and sacrifice just for the mere hope that some perfect being might find them worthy. Many people grow up hating themselves because of the indoctrination of mainstream religions, and for them Satanism’s command “worship thyself” can function as a step toward recovery.

When you look at it that way, it’s not bad advice.

It’s just a shame, then, that so many people interpret it to mean they have a right to be a dick to everyone.

Activism as worship

To their credit, some Christian churches do emphasize the fact the it is more important to love thy neighbor than to be ashamed of masturbating. And many progressive Christian churches even talk about worship as going out and doing good in the community. For them, to worship God is to lift up one’s fellow human being and participate in the ongoing act of creation by shaping the world with compassion, generosity and kindness.

As a Satanist, I find it natural to think of my community service, and my acts of social and political activism, as forms of worship as well. For me, activism isn’t a way to worship a deity: it is simply a way to worship (used as an intransitive verb).

After all, it fulfills all of the criteria of the word, as I understand it.

When I help build shelters for homeless people in my community, I am giving physical shape in the world to the worthy ideals of generosity, compassion, and justice.  By giving shape to worth, I worship  (back to the etymological origins in Old English woerth-scipe).

When I stand in protest against an unjust law, I am emulating Satan, who was a dissenter who refused to comply with unjust demands.

When I lock arms with my Satanic community, I feel an empowerment much stronger than mere narcissism or pride: I feel the power of a community working toward shared ideals.

For me, all of these things are forms of worship.

Do you worship?

Of course, you should find a form of worship (or no form of worship) that resonates most strongly for you. That’s the Satanic way.

But when someone asks me “You say you are religious, but what do you worship?” this is my answer: I worship by living the best life I can live and putting all of my energy into making the world the best place it can be. I don’t need to worship someone or something to achieve that goal. I simply worship.

bookmark_borderLeto Atreides II: Satanist

“When I am gone, they must call me Shaitan, the Emperor of Gehenna. The wheel must turn.”
Leto Atreides II, God Emperor of the Known Universe

* * * * * * * *

In his essay “Prescience and Power: God Emperor of Dune and the Intellectuals“, published in the journal Science Fiction Studies, Stephen Fjellman argues that Frank Herbert’s novel God Emperor of Dune is especially appealing to a particular type of intellectual:

Whatever its intended audience, I think this novel speaks to the situation of some American intellectuals–especially those in the academy and, I suspect, particularly male ones…

Intellectuals can identify with the God Emperor. Because they have read more, studied longer, and thought deeper, they assume that they can see more clearly than the “masses.” They identify with Leto’s god-like perspective. Moreover, just because they are essentially powerless, they yearn for Leto’s power. Like Nietzche’s Overman and Dostoevsky’s Raskolnikov, their will to power tempts them to impose their visions on others. (After all, someone must decide; why not them? Those who can, should.)

God Emperor Leto II has seen visions of all possible futures, and has determined that without his intervention–intervention that requires him to be a ruthless oppressive tyrant–humanity will die out. His memories of human history and prescient knowledge of the future make him superior to everyone else, but also mean he is doomed to loneliness and isolation. After all, how could any common human really understand what it is like to be him? The burden of responsibility that comes with his knowledge and power? The hardship of being the only one in the universe who knows that  the horrific things he does are actually necessary for humanity to fulfill its best destiny?

He is the embodiment of the bitterness of unrecognized superiority… so of course intellectuals love him.

* * * * * * * *

This archetype also closely resembles one of the common (both inside and outside the Satanic community) negative stereotypes of a contemporary member of the Church of Satan, for whom the LaVeyan proverb Worship yourself! resonates rather more strongly than calls for belief based on science. Have you met this Satanic stereotype, in dark halls or online chat rooms?

He is smarter than everyone around him, and makes sure you know it.

What he believes is absolute fact;  it never occurs to him that he may be wrong.

He is proud to be selfish, because he knows being selfish is rational and wise and is the way nature really should work..

If you disagree with him, it is because you didn’t research enough or are too stupid to understand.

He is anti-social… but only because most people are beneath him.

He knows the world is cruel and heartless and that every person has to fend for himself, and anyone who disagrees is obviously soft and weak and has been brainwashed by dumb liberal concepts such as “generosity” and “compassion”.

He may be lonely, and he may be looked down upon… but that is just more evidence that his deeper understanding of the universe surpasses the common people around him.

Of course, in the science fiction novel God Emperor of Dune, Leto II actually is more knowledgeable and powerful than everyone else. This is why he can function as a kind of Gary Stu for both intellectuals and LaVeyan Satanists: he manifestly is the thing they desperately would like to see themselves as.

But if you carry this attitude with you, it must haunt you in some deep, dark, possibly hidden section of your mind to know that there is a key difference between you and Leto Atreided II: he is God Emperor of the Known Universe; you are merely a douchebag.

* * * * * * * *

“Ha, ha. St00pid LaVeyans.”

As usual, though, this simple reaction, based on a one-dimensional negative stereotype, isn’t a fair or complete analysis, either.

The story of God Emperor of Dune implicitly asks the reader to identify with Leto II (the bulk of it is written in first person from his perspective, after all), and if you allow yourself to be drawn into the story you are compelled to ask yourself this question:

If I knew for certain that the only way to prevent humanity from going extinct would be for me to become a tyrannical, brutal dictator for thousands of years, and act out a bloody role that would leave me lonely during my lifetime, and hated for millennia after I was dead, would I have the will (or heart, or strength) to do it?

Would you? Could you do it?  When I considered the question for myself, my first reaction was to rebel against the premise:

There is no way you could know for certain, so assuming that brutality is the only option is a kind of arrogance.

This is a false-choice situation, that has nothing to do with the real world, and therefore has no applicable moral conclusions.

The supposed “necessity” of cruelty in the world is never clear-cut, so the creation of a worldview in which cruelty is justified by “nature” seems like it’s just bootstrapping a justification for a way you wanted to act anyway.

Fascism and brutality are obvious and easy “solutions” to many problems, but as such are a mark of laziness: the more you crow that a competitive world is an ideal world because competition will eventually teach everyone the lesson they need to learn, the more obvious it is that you don’t want to do the hard work of figuring out how to arrive at the same solution without pain, pointless suffering, and anguish.

All of these things are true…. but they don’t answer the hypothetical question on the table. They don’t address Leto’s fictional dilemma: if you knew for certain that brutality and tyranny were the only way, would you do it?

It’s an interesting question to ponder. I think there is a good chance that I would stubbornly doubt my own certainty before I would give in to simply saying, “Yeah, I guess I need to be a fascist who slaughters a bunch of people…. you know, for the good of humanity!”

Is that a flaw in my personality? Or is that a virtue?

I turn back to my Satanism to introspect on the question, and I still am uncertain. On the one hand, Satan knows that his own judgment is all he has to go on: better to act on his own judgment than to put faith in an ideal simply for the sake of having faith. On the other hand: Satan knows the danger of being too self-certain… surely he has seen this trait in Yaweh, and has despised him for it.

Unfortunately, I have no pat answer to offer; but, I’m interested in hearing from other Satanists. If you were presented with Leto II’s dilemma, what would you do? What path would your own interpretation of your Satanism lead you down?  Would you be a Satanist like Leto II? Or would you be a different kind of Satanist?

bookmark_borderYou don’t have big Satanic orgies, do you?

“Although the Greater Church of Lucifer has roots in Texas, the media-savvy Satanic Temple and the much older Church of Satan are perhaps better known. The three groups have some differences in belief, but they’re all up against the same set of prejudices and misconceptions. Despite decades of horror-film depictions, they do not, in fact, sacrifice virgins or eat babies. At least two of those groups don’t have “Eyes Wide Shut”-style orgies, although one wouldn’t rule it out.” (emphasis added)
Exorcised: Luciferian church looks to start anew after harassment, by Keri Blakinger, for the Houston Chronicle

When I read that last line in the above quote in the Houston Chronicle, I just about fell out of my chair laughing. Why? Because I knew exactly how and why that sentence made its way into the article… and it was entirely my fault.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Several months earlier, I had been walking around the Bishop Arts District of Dallas, finding places to put up flyers for an upcoming local event for The Satanic Temple. I walked door-to-door, flyers in hand. I would enter the shops and artsy boutiques, and greet the person behind the counter politely.   “Pardon me, but I see that you have some flyers up in your window. I’m part of a group having a fundraiser coming up in a month or so, would you mind if I put my flyer up as well?”

True to the stereotype of Southern friendliness and charm, I almost always received a reply of, “Why certainly!”… but I would caution them.

“Before you say ‘yes’, let me tell you the name of our group. Some people see it as a little… controversial.”

The responses were mixed, but always polite. They ranged from shop owners who were outright fans of The Satanic Temple, to those who politely said “I understand what y’all are trying to do, but I’m trying to run a business and I think that’s too controversial for me. I hope you understand.”

“Of course I do! Have a great evening,” and I would move on.

At one point I was back at my car, getting a fresh batch of flyers, when my phone rings. It is a phone call I was expecting: a reporter from Houston was doing a story about Satanists, and wanted to talk to someone from The Satanic Temple. Because it was a Texas story, they were referred to me.

She was friendly and sympathetic. I could tell from the start that she wanted to do justice to the way she described and represented Satanism generally, and different Satanic groups in Texas in particular.

“So, may I ask some preliminary questions, to get them out of the way?” she asked. “I’ve already done some research, so I know the answers… but it will be helpful to get your answers on record for my readers.”

“I understand,” I tell her. “Of course.”

So we go through the usual obvious preliminaries: No, we don’t believe in a literal Satan. Yes, we are a serious religion. No, we don’t sacrifice babies. And so on. My well-rehearsed answers come quickly and easily, until….

“And you don’t have big orgies or anything, right?”

I hesitated.

No, I mean: I really hesitated.  I hesitated so long that after several heartbeats, she broke the silence with a laugh, remarking: “Wow…. that’s a really long pause!”

I laughed with her, and then I explained.

“What our members do on their own time is their business. [Laughter] But let me tell you the real reason I hesitated in answering that. Part of our fundamental morality as Satanists is that we reject arbitrary Puritanical restriction and taboos that have been imposed on us by the dominant religions in our culture. As Satanists we feel free to explore our sexuality–safely and consensually–and enjoy all of the pleasure and joy that our earthly bodies can give us. So when you ask if we do orgies, I don’t want to just quickly say oh no of course not, because that comes across as if it is reinforcing the idea that there is something wrong with it. There isn’t anything wrong with orgies. We don’t happen to organize them for our members, but we aren’t against them either. And if I just quickly said oh no of course we don’t have orgies I would be worried that it would be like…. You know how, when there is a rumor that an actor in Hollywood is gay, if he responds immediately with “of course I’m not gay” it just… it just reads poorly. It seems to just reaffirm the cultural assumption that there is something wrong with it. I didn’t want to do that, in answering your question about orgies. Does that make sense?”

She said she understood and that it made perfect sense, and we moved on to the next topic.

Several months later, I see that the entire discussion manifested in the article as: at least two of the three groups don’t have orgies.

*DEAD*

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

I’m not entirely sure that there is any “lesson learned” or punchline to this story, apart from what you should already know: never assume there is a direct path from what goes on in an interview to what appears in an article that you read in the newspaper.

Oh, and of course the more important take-home message: The Satanic Temple might have orgies… who can really say?

<<dramatic wink>>

bookmark_borderSatanism as counter-narrative

Try Googling the term “counter-narrative” and see what you get. It is always interesting to see what the Google hive-mind conjures up for niche jargon terms.

When I Googled “counter-narrative” a moment ago, the definition offered was taken from the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), in their document entitled “The Impact of Counter-Narratives“:

A counter-narrative is a message that offers a positive alternative to extremist propaganda, or alternatively aims to deconstruct or delegitimise extremist narratives.

ISD works together with the group Against Violent Extremism (AVE), and has produced a good short “primer” video to introduce people to the concept of the counter-narrative as they are using it.  Give it a quick look:

This definition isn’t bad, but it is narrow: not everyone who uses the term “counter-narrative” is focused specifically on combating global violent extremism.

The idea of the “counter-narrative” has had a broader meaning in academia for many years now. In 2014, the Center for Intercultural Dialogue published a good “key concepts” summary essay about counter-narratives, and described the idea this way:

Counter-narrative refers to the narratives that arise from the vantage point of those who have been historically marginalized. The idea of “counter-” itself implies a space of resistance against traditional domination. A counter-narrative goes beyond the notion that those in relative positions of power can just tell the stories of those in the margins. Instead, these must come from the margins, from the perspectives and voices of those individuals.

A counter-narrative is a narrative (a story that can be used to frame and understand ideas, events, and motivations) that serves the specific function of challenging those narratives that a culture takes for granted: the mainstream stories that play off of assumptions held so deeply that without the presence of a counter-narrative they would be completely invisible.

Re-Telling Stories

Michael Bamberg, a professor of Psychology at Clark University, describes an example of a literary counter-narrative in one of his chapters in the book “Considering counter narratives: Narrating, resisting, making sense” (of which he is one of the editors):

An excellent example is presented in Munsch’s (1980) story of The Paper Bag Princess, which leaves intact the sequence of events of the traditional heroic story line in which the protagonist saves his object of sexual desire, but switches the characters (the princess is the heroine and the prince the one “being saved”) and changes the ending (the heroine skips off into the sunset alone and the story ends with the words: “They didn’t get married after all”). According to Davies and Harré (1990) this improvisation turns the traditional master narrative around and opens up a feminist reading. However, it should be noted that a story of male hegemony (for instance) does not automatically transform into a counter story by the simple replacement of male with female characters: The way characters are being positioned vis-à-vis one another in order to design an overall orientation that can be characterized as complicit with dominant narratives or counter to them is far more complex.

Bamberg highlights the complexity of creating a counter-narrative within the context of a common (assumed) dominant narrative. He points out that the task of creating a counter-narrative to the standard “heroic male prince battles the dragon to save the beautiful princess so that he can possess her” storyline can’t be accomplished simply by flipping the genders of the main characters leaving it at that.  He goes on to say:

In The Paper Bag Princess, Elizabeth, originally introduced as “the beautiful princess,” undergoes a transformation into a dirty, ‘normal’ girl (the girl dressed in a paper bag), who outsmarts a dragon in order to save her prince. But at the end she decides not to marry “her prince,” because he insists on maintaining his male, hegemonic gaze of her as “his beautiful princess.” As I had mentioned, the sequence of events is kept intact, although minor changes had to be adopted and they had to be carefully mentioned to keep the character in line with other master narratives (e.g., girls as non-violent) and maintain intelligibility: for instance, the dragon was not defeated by physical force but by the force of artful smartness. Overall, The Paper Bag Princess documents nicely, how existent (master) plot lines can be appropriated and transformed by inserting “counter characters,” that is, characters that traditionally had to fill slots in “subordinate roles.” However, these counter characters have to be brought off and carefully managed in order to leave intact, and be complicit with, other existing (master) plot lines.

Bamberg uses this example to illustrate the fact that a counter-narrative is necessarily a complex tapestry that weaves together many threads of dominant, well-known tropes, inverting some while preserving others, in order to create a counter-cultural message that challenges people’s default “master-narratives” in a way that is rich and colorful, and that resonates deeply with people exactly because of the multi-layered and complex web of associations that it draws upon.

…and then there is Satan

As an atheistic Satanist, I frequently get asked what I call the “Why Satan?” question, which generally goes something like this:

If you don’t believe in a literal Satan and your main ethical and social goals are to promote secular public culture and act against theocracy, then couldn’t you accomplish all of that just calling yourself an atheist? Don’t you think you might reach more people, and alienate fewer, if you didn’t stir the “Satan” label into the mix?

There are many good responses to this question. If you are a Satanist, you no doubt have a few queued up and at the ready for the next time someone drops the inevitable “Why Satan?” question on you.

Today, I’d like to add another response to your repertoire:

By openly embracing the label Satanist we are creating a cultural counter-narrative.

As with literary counter-narratives (illustrated by Bamberg’s analysis of The Paper Bag Princess), we draw from an interconnected system of symbols and stories that are deeply ingrained in the dominant narrative of our culture:

Satan is rebellious.

Satan is prideful.

Satan is a tempter.

Satan is evil.

Satan is seductive.

Satan refuses to bow down.

Satan gave Eve the fruit of knowledge of good and evil.

The list could go on and on, of course. Drawing on inspiration from the romantic literary tradition, we appropriate and reinterpret these threads of the dominant narrative (or as Bamberg refers to them, the petit narratives that embody and give manifestation to the master narrative) in order to draw our own conclusions and tell our own story. We do this selectively: maintaining continuity by reinforcing certain storylines (e.g. Satan is rebellious; Satan refuses to bow down) and inverting others (e.g. Satan is only viewed as “evil” because he refused to bend to the arbitrary and irrational laws of a hegemonic patriarchal deity). We can take certain well-known storylines and preserve their basic plot points (e.g. Satan giving Eve the fruit in the garden of Eden), but highlight alternative perspectives on the motivations (Satan saw the humans trapped in a walled-off prison and kept ignorant, and simply wanted to free them).

None of this is to say, of course, that the only point to being a Satanist is to create a counter-narrative. Neither does it necessarily mean to imply that evangelical Christians in the United States are violent extremists (although some of them most certainly are). The only point here is that publicly identifying as a Satanist performs the function of creating a cultural counter-narrative, and as such can be understood as part of a larger tradition and practice of using narrative to empower minority viewpoints and marginalized groups.

Satan was, after all, the ultimate “outsider”.

bookmark_borderLucifer Aspired to be Whatever He Wants

In December 2017 and February 2018 The Satanic Scholar published a two-part essay entitled “Lucifer Aspired  to be a God, not a Goat,” which has captured the imagination of many within the Satanic community.

The crux of his argument is that the image of Lucifer as a beautiful angelic being is more in line with the noble character of Lucifer portrayed by the Romantic-era writers—the angel who was punished by a petty selfish God merely for putting his own reason and aspirations above blind faith and obedience—than the dark, twisted “evil” aesthetic most commonly seen in the Satanic community.

Because many Satanists, especially those who are drawn to The Satanic Temple, find inspiration in that romantic-era characterization of Satan, The Satanic Scholar argues that they should reject the the dark “evil-looking” aesthetic in favor of this more beauty-and-enlightenment oriented symbolism.

“L’ange du mal” (the angel of evil) is a statue of Lucifer by Joseph Geez that was commissioned to stand in the pulpit of St. Paul’s Cathedral in Liège, Belgium. It was completed and installed in 1842. The cathedral administration declared that he was too sexy, and the local press said it would distract the young women during mass. So it was removed.

While I have a lot of appreciation for the “Satan as rebellious hottie” narrative, I’ve never felt very comfortable with the approach The Satanic Scholar takes in his article.

I’ve always viewed Satanism as a very personal religion, and aesthetics are perhaps the most personal aspect of almost any religion. So when someone tries to make a case that people should reject one aesthetic in favor of another, it feels very strange to me.

My view of Satanic aesthetics is: if you are drawn to a symbolism or a type of imagery, then embrace it. Model it in your life, if you like, so others can see it as well. If it resonates with them, they may adopt it themselves. If it does not resonate with them… who cares? What difference could it possibly make to you whether some other Satanist is inspired more by a regal Lucifer on gossamer wings, or a demon with twenty eyes and scales who vomits blood?

After all, both are beautiful in their own way.

 


 

The Satanic Scholar tried to interview me for material for his article, back in the beginning of 2017. None of that interview made it into his final article… probably because I disagreed with the goals of the piece so strongly.

But looking back on that correspondence, I feel I expressed my perspective well. So, to contrast with The Satanic Scholar’s article “Lucifer Aspired to be a God, not a Goat”, I would like to share the email interview, and my reactions to the ideas he presented even before the article came out.

The best summary of my response, I believe, is: Lucifer aspired to be… whatever he wanted to be.  And so should you.

 

From:The Satanic Scholar
To: Penemue
Jan 22, 2017, 5:04 PM

As per your request, the following is my twofold question on Satanic aesthetics (in e-mail form):

1) While The Satanic Temple appears to make more of an effort than the Church of Satan to place itself in the Miltonic-Romantic tradition—e.g., “Ours is the literary Satan best exemplified by Milton and the Romantic Satanists, from Blake to Shelley, to Anatole France—there appears to be very little visual overlap with that tradition, and in fact much of the imagery and aesthetics of The Satanic Temple appear quite close to the Church of Satan’s: goats, horns, skulls, and general Halloween-style horror imagery. A bestial Satan seems somewhat fitting for LaVeyan Satanism, considering its overemphasis on Man as “just another animal,” but if The Satanic Temple is an evolution within the Satanic tradition—a less “animalistic” form of Satanism, say—do you believe an evolution of aesthetics might be in order?

2) Satanism’s dark and frightful imagery—at least when it’s not deliberately tongue-in-cheek—seems fitting for the cold, often brutal Social Darwinist philosophy of LaVeyan Satanism, but such imagery appears somewhat disconnected from The Satanic Temple’s deliberate stress on a more humanitarian form of Satanism. Have the imagery and aesthetics shared with the Church of Satan made it difficult for The Satanic Temple to differentiate itself from LaVey’s philosophy/organization?

Any thoughts you are able to share with regards to this issue are most appreciated.

Many thanks,
CJC

From:Penemue
To: The Satanic Scholar
Jan 24, 2017, 3:23 PM

Thanks for your email. These certainly are very interesting and insightful questions. I’m going to slightly re-word the questions that you presented, in an effort to make sure I understood them correctly. If you feel that I have misunderstood or misinterpreted the meaning or spirit of the question, please let me know and I am happy to make an effort to answer the question you intended!

1) Since The Satanic Temple embraces a less animalistic interpretation of Satanic philosophy than the Church of Satan, does it make sense for them to embrace a shift in the aesthetic as well?

While this perspective is understandable, I think it is based on a fairly surface reading of the meaning and role of dark imagery within Satanism. For me, a very important part of the Satanic religious narrative and iconography is the way that embracing an inverted perspective allows us to deconstruct basic religious symbols and assumptions that woven deeply into the culture around us — so deeply that they often are completely unnoticed. Looking at the myth of the “war with heaven” from the fallen angel’s perspective falls within the same tradition, from this perspective, as post-modern literary works such as Grendel (a retelling of Beowulf from the monster’s perspective). It can be used to shake up very basic assumptions that you make about any story.

So for me, the “dark” aesthetic of Satanism isn’t so much about expressing animal nature, it is about conceptual inversion: what is it about these images that makes everyone think they are “bad”? Why exactly are some features considered “beautiful” and others “ugly”? In what ways does it impact our day-to-day lives when we are constantly told we should associate physical (and even sexual) beauty with goodness and a lack of physical (or sexual) beauty with immorality and evil? Can we remove ourselves far enough from these deeply ingrained cultural assumptions that we can appreciate “dark beauty” as no more inherently unnatural than what we have been conditioned to assume “beauty” should mean?

When interpreted from that perspective, these elements of the Satanic aesthetic do indeed transcend any differences that The Satanic Temple and the Church of Satan may have in their specific philosophies. Indeed, conceptual inversion and the deconstruction of standard cultural symbols is, in my opinion, one of the strongest elements of commonality between the two organizations.

2) Has the fact that The Satanic Temple and the Church of Satan share much of the same imagery possibly contributed to confusion between the two, and would it serve the interests of The Satanic Temple to evolve a distinct aesthetic in order to make it easier for people to distinguish between the two?

This is the easiest question for me to answer, because I don’t believe that it is within our interests, nor is it consistent with our goals, to deliberately manipulate the way we express the symbols of our religious history and tradition simply to “be different from” any other organization. Nor should we manipulate the expression of our religious history or tradition in order to conform to any other organization. For most people, religious narrative and iconography has a deep personal resonance, and that deep personal resonance is in part what motivates a person to make it part of an identity: “I am a Satanist”.

If the image of a bright and triumphant beautiful Lucifer resonates with any member of The Satanic Temple, then xe is encouraged to embrace that aspect and expression of xir own Satanic impulse. In fact, at a meeting of The Satanic Temple Dallas chapter this past weekend, I presented the idea of making use of this type of image and asked people how they felt about that kind of symbolism: most people loved it! They thought it could be used to send a very powerful message about the diversity of expressions and perceptions of Satan, and could potentially trigger people to think more deeply about the nuances of that figure in mythology.

But, to embrace such a change in aesthetics simply because it makes it easier for people to “tell us apart” from another organization? That is not an impulse that resonates for me. In my personal opinion, it is no more virtuous to be a “reverse sheep” than it is to be a sheep.

Please let me know if you have any questions, or would like me to expand on any of the things I expressed here.

From:The Satanic Scholar
To: Penemue
Jan 25, 2017, 11:06 PM

Thank you very much indeed for your thoughtful responses to my questions.

From my studies of the Devil in history and literature, I find that animalizing Satan seemed to be a means of humbling the prideful angel within Christendom. This idea of Lucifer’s beauty being tarnished—the luminous rebel angel transformed into a malformed monster—was central to the story even up until Vondel’s Lucifer, the closest literary cousin of Milton’s Paradise Lost. Milton’s insistence on the fallen archangel retaining a great deal of his angelic beauty was quite a revolutionary decision, and the Romantic artists who rendered Milton’s Satan in classically beautiful and heroic guise—with Apollonian beauty and Promethean pride—really had it right. Shelley quite rightly observes that the Devil “owes everything to Milton” at least in part because “Milton divested him of a sting, hoofs, and horns, clothed him with the sublime grandeur of a graceful but tremendous spirit—and restored him to the society.”

I understand your point about inverting popular imagery used to demonize “the other” in order to deconstruct that demonization, and I respect that as your personal take on it. As for most Satanists—and I have no statistical data on this, but this is a hunch—if we were to conduct some surveys on why they embrace the imagery and iconography associated with Satanism, my suspicion is that they would say that that is what Satanism has offered up. (It certainly hasn’t promoted Satanic iconography derived from Romanticism, as it took me a great deal of time to unearth all of the artwork I have displayed on my site, and it wasn’t from scouring Satanist websites.) I have a feeling that the goatish or animalistic aesthetic doesn’t necessarily speak to Satanists across the board, but they adopt it because it’s been traditionally considered Satanic. Again, this is just a hunch; but then again, the story you related in your response—the Dallas Satanic Temple members becoming stirred by the more Romantic-style Satan and enthusiastically embracing the idea of exploiting that imagery as a means of making people think outside of the proverbial box—seems to indicate that there is potential for more of a Miltonic-Romantic shift within Satanism, should Satanists be willing to promote that aesthetic more.

And why not, I suppose? One of my chief problems with LaVeyan Satanism is that it puts a bit too much emphasis on “Man, the animal.” Of course, humans are a part of the animal kingdom, not distinct from it as some divine creature, but I believe, as the Romantics did, that the human drive for transcendence is what differentiates us from our fellow beasts of the field. I suspect that that is why humans have always indulged in fantasies of the superhuman—whether it’s Greco-Roman demigods or Marvel superheroes. And that is perhaps another point worth making: we are undoubtedly living in the age of the superhero, and perhaps it should come as no surprise that the Paradise Lost film—before its plug was pulled and the project was cast into development hell, at least—was being promoted at the San Diego Comic-Con; or that the most significant modern-day manifestation of the Miltonic-Romantic Lucifer has been in a comic book: Vertigo’s Lucifer. Maybe the time is right for a less bestial and a more superhuman Satan—the Satan derived from the Romantic tradition.

In any event, thank you very much once again for taking the time to respond to my inquiries. I hope you are interested in continuing this dialogue.

From:Penemue
To: The Satanic Scholar
Jan 26, 2017, 7:25 PM

I agree with everything you say about having an appreciation for the Milton-Romantic image of Lucifer. But I think what I still don’t understand or connect with about your questions is this: suppose I agree with you… so what?

I don’t mean that flippantly, but honestly, as in: what are the next steps?

You seem very impassioned about the importance of encouraging the Romantic artistic representation of Satan within Satanism. Apart from educating people about it, and spreading your own enthusiasm through your articles and videos, how does one go about trying to motivate an evolution of aesthetic among Satanists? What is the “action item”, as it were, to try to bring this idea into being?

From:The Satanic Scholar
To: Penemue
Jan 31, 2017, 12:13 AM

My apologies for the delayed response. Things have been somewhat chaotic over the past few days. I’m certainly wildly passionate about preserving the legacy of the Miltonic-Romantic Lucifer, which of course is the central aim of the site. As for how to actualize a redirection of Satanism proper more in this direction…I’m not so sure…

Generally speaking, I have found it somewhat strange that Satanists, who of course embrace Satan symbolically as a representation of sublime selfhood, have not capitalized more on the Romantic tradition, which was the purest expression of this sentiment. Even a cursory glance of the Romantic Satanic artwork illustrates that the fallen angel was at the height of his career then. I can say that—with the exception of Gavin Baddeley, of course—LaVeyan Satanists have not taken much of an interest at all in the flag I’m flying. I’ve felt more and more that their anxiety over protecting the legacy of LaVey has kept them mired in the context in which he founded the Church of Satan. For instance, LaVey’s insistence on “Man as just another animal” was not only meant to fly in the face of Judeo-Christian theology but ’60s Eastern mystical occultism. If LaVeyan Satanism had an opportunity to exploit the Romantic spirit of opposition to political and cultural oppression with Satan as an ideological weapon, I suppose it would have been during the Satanic Panic in the 1980s and ’90s. Instead, Satanism shifted into a sort of quasi-fascist phase.

I suppose you could say that I lost a great deal of confidence in organized Satanism over the years. I’ve noted a tendency to downplay or even dismiss Romantic Satanism as “genuine Satanism” because those involved—some of the most titanic intellectuals, poets, prose writers, and artists around the turn of the nineteenth century—were not part of some Satanic organization. I’m inclined to argue that Romantic Satanism was more impressive because it emerged organically, without the need for some organized governing body. The nascent neo-Romantic Satanism I sense in the culture seems to be emerging in a similar fashion, those involved simply contributing to a particular current.

My work, I must say, has been well received by members of The Satanic Temple, who are far more open-minded about the phenomenon of Romantic Satanism, and I’m grateful for that. But will there be a Romantic-style shift in Satanism? I’m not so sure, and while I understand that the choice of Baphomet for the Oklahoma State Capitol monument was meant to be emblematic of balance—up and down, angelic and bestial, human and animal, male and female, etc.—as the statue was balancing out a Ten Commandments monument, my suspicion is that the Baphomet monument most likely cemented The Satanic Temple’s aesthetic, both outside and inside of the organization.

I’ve been rambling on, but the short answer is I’m not sure. I suppose I’m inclined to think that organized Satanism isn’t likely to make a significant shift in more of a Miltonic-Romantic direction, but I’m reminded of your story of some Satanists finding the fallen angel iconography rather stirring, and I’m reminded of the fact that my work appears to have been pretty well received by The Satanic Temple Dallas’s members. Who knows? Satanism has certainly surprised the world before.

From:Penemue
To: The Satanic Scholar
Feb 3, 2017, 4:22 PM

Well, I think it’s great that you are modeling a particular way to interpret Satanism and that some people are seeing it and deciding that it resonates with them enough to follow your lead. But I don’t think it makes sense to try to drum up some kind of “big push” to get other people to agree with you about what aesthetics should or shouldn’t be. The entire mission of trying to convince people that there are some “more correct” ways to approach their personal religious aesthetic than others seems misguided, to be honest.

And even if we sat in a smoke-filled room and decided: Yes, we must change the dominant aesthetic of Satanism within The Satanic Temple! I still don’t know what that would look like, in action. I think you may believe we (as an organization) have more control over what images appeal to people than we actually do. I suppose your work, putting the ideas out there and seeing who responds, is the only way to really find out.

bookmark_borderI am a Satanic Justice Warrior

There has been some recent tumult in a group that I love, the religious group I identify with more than any other: The Satanic Temple. Once you peel back the serious but mundane factors that beset any small passionate organization–from poor communication and oversight to grandstanding and personality conflicts–the core of these recent issues seem to stem from questions about the character of the organization.

What does it mean for a person to be a member of The Satanic Temple? What does being part of The Satanic Temple suggest about the kind of person you are? Do the decisions made by the organization reflect your aspirations for the world you want to live in, how you think society should work, and who you want to be as a person?

There is no reason in principle that any organization should be held to such a standard. You don’t necessarily ask the same of your swim team or your book club. But it’s the nature of a religious organization, I suppose, that for many people it is not just something they join or do: it is something they are.

Atheistic Satanists care passionately about their deeply-held convictions, just like members of any other religion. My Satanism is profoundly connected to my day-to-day life. It is a lens through which I view relationships, a compass for my morality, and a fire that fuels my activism. Satanism is a key facet of my identity. So, it is natural if from time to time I look to The Satanic Temple as an extension of my self.

It is natural… but even though I catch myself thinking that way, it also feels wrong to me. After all: The Satanic Temple isn’t my religion… Satanism is.

Then again, The Satanic Temple isn’t exactly a swim team or a book club, either.

So what should I be looking for in a religious organization?

* * * * * * * * * *

My spouse and I have been together for 10 years. I attribute part of our success to the fact that we recognize we are different people.

It seems so trivial that it almost reads as snark, but I am being completely sincere. Our marriage reflects a decision we have made to bear witness to each other’s lives. It reflects the fact that we both believe that we constructively amplify each other, and that both of us can be better together than apart.

Sometimes it is hard. Sometimes, I wish he would be more verbally expressive of his feelings, without waiting until things built up to the level where he’s unhappy. On the other hand, he wishes I were better at noticing and reading non-verbal cues. He also wishes I could go the entire length of a movie without checking the apps on my phone. We each have little habits of thought or action that frustrate the other.

So what do we do? We communicate. This is how I think you feel, this is how I feel. This is what I think you meant, this is how it felt to me. This is what I think you can do better next time, this is what I will try to do.

But every “this is what I will try to do” must come with an understanding: I might fail, because old habits are hard to change.

And every “this is what you can do” must come with the same understanding as well.

We have been together long enough that we trust each other. When he says something that seems insensitive or hurtful, I am certain to the very core of my being that he didn’t do it in order to hurt me. I take it as an axiom that we are on the same side. So instead of lashing out or admonishing him for being hurtful, I ask: What did you mean? How did you think I would react? Can you help me to understand what was going on in your mind, when you uttered those words?

For the first few years certain things were tough. There were times when I spent conscious effort saying to myself: “I told him I want him to do ____. He has said he knows how important it is. He said he would try. He hasn’t been successful. He may never change. Is that ok? Can I live a happy and complete life with him as my companion if this thing that I’m not happy about never changes, no matter how hard he tries?”

So far the answer has always been “yes.” Of course, I can’t guarantee it always will be. I’m sure there are things about my behavior that make him ask the same questions. And if some day he decides that the balance has shifted and our relationship isn’t right for him, I will be devastated… but I won’t try to hold him back. His feelings are his feelings. I cannot control him, and I do not want to control him.

For me, that’s a fundamental philosophy of my Satanism. It’s also fundamental to how I see love: I respect him enough to know that he is the god of his own world and the captain of his own ship, and if he decides to go in a new direction then I will be sad… but I will respect him enough to let him be his own person. Anything else would be dishonest.

In a weird way, I feel like this mindset is itself part of why we have been together for so long. We don’t try to be the same person. We just try to walk the same path.

* * * * * * * * * *

The fight for social justice is one of the keystones of my religion. It is one of the tenets of my Satanism. I not only think of myself as a “Social Justice Warrior”, I think of myself as a “Satanic Justice Warrior”. Whenever I see the acronym “SJW” it makes me smile a little, because I’m privately translating it that way.

However, if someone asks me what I think of Social Justice Warriors, my response is to ask them what they think the term means. “I can’t answer your question,” I meekly offer, “unless I know what Social Justice Warrior means to you.”

If they reply vaguely, something like “Oh you know, those people who get offended at everything and try to force people to talk a certain way,” then I ask them to give me a specific example.

Details are important. Because if the example they give me is something like this,

“I posted a story online about a time a cop stopped me for speeding and I said I was really sorry and the cop let me go with a warning because it was Christmas eve, and some stranger came into the comments and yelled at me for telling that story because they thought me talking about a cop being nice undermined the efforts of minorities to highlight the severity of police brutality. To me, that’s crazy! Anyone who would get mad just because I told a specific story about a specific cop who was nice to me is an extreme Social Justice Warrior.”

…then I will agree with them: I do not care for these extreme Social Justice Warriors, the way you have described them in this story.

On the other hand, if I get an example like this:

“I was discussing current social issues with some people online, and I said was that if you’re born with a penis and you decide one day that you wish you were a girl, then obviously you’ve got mental problems. Suddenly this crazy person starts yelling at me for being a bigot. Can you believe it? To me, that’s an extreme Social Justice Warrior.”

…then I would have to reply: “Yes, I can believe it…. and if that’s what Social Justice Warrior means to you, I am an ‘SJW’ too.”

And I would smile to myself, because the little voice in my head would pronounce it: Satanic Justice Warrior.

* * * * * * * * * *

I said at the beginning that many of the disagreements currently going on within The Satanic Temple appear to me to revolve around the character of the organization: what it is now and what it will be in the years and decades to come. The Satanic Temple is dedicated to fighting for social justice, but that means different things to different people.

Do we ally ourselves with a broad collection of other social justice groups, or do we only join others on topics related to separation of church and state and religious freedom? Do we as an organization support candidates who have a record of fighting for social justice, or do we stick to supporting causes rather than individuals? Do we believe that the solution to toxic harmful speech is to drown it out and shut it down, or do we believe that the solution is to shine a light on everything wrong with it and provide a contrasting point of view?

And for our members, the most critical question of all: if my personal answer to any of these questions is different from the answers I hear from others in the organization, or others in leadership, then is this relationship right for me?

To put it another way: Can I exist in a “marriage” to this organization, knowing that there are things about it that may not change, no matter how well-intentioned every single member of the organization is?

Everyone’s answer may be different.

What is my own view?

I want the relationship to work. I wish I saw more communication within The Satanic Temple, from every side of the discussion, that followed the “This is what you can do better, and this is what I can do better” format. I wish I saw more people on all sides of the discussion entering into dialogue with trust and the assumption that the other side is intending to do the right thing.

That being said, however, as a Satanist I have zero desire to impose my views forcefully on anybody. Each of our members is the god of their own path in life, and must live their own truth. Sometimes there are differences that are too great for a relationship to bear. Not everybody is the same person.

So when I look five or ten years into the future, I think it is both necessary and inevitable that there will be two strong Satanic groups whose core mission is to fight for social justice. One will ally itself strongly with a broad spectrum of progressive groups and causes, the other will be more focused on religious issues. One will fight hateful rhetoric by advocating that it be regulated and cut off, the other will fight hateful rhetoric by calling out how harmful it is and presenting the strongest possible opposing views.

I’m certain both organizations will exist. I’m certain both will be forces of good in the world.

The only open question, from my point of view, is: which one will be The Satanic Temple?

bookmark_borderI once was friends with No-Face

In Hayao Miyazaki’s animated film Spirited Away there is a spirit called No-Face (カオナシ kaonashi, lit. “Faceless”). At the beginning of the movie the spirit appears small, meek and semi-transparent. It stands on a bridge, watching other spirits walk by. They do not notice it. The main character, Chihiro (a human), acknowledges the spirit when she is on her way to the spirit’s bathhouse, and No-Face follows behind her. Later, she sees No-Face in the garden outside the bathhouse, and she invites him inside.

Chihiro acknowledging No-Face

At this stage, No-Face has no voice. He tries to interact with Chihiro, but can only make “uh uh uh” sounds. She feels compassion and wants to help No-Face, but she doesn’t understand what he wants. He ends up disappearing, and wanders aimlessly through the bathhouse.

The bathhouse is populated by horrible spirits. Not really “evil” per se, but selfish, greedy, and destructive. No-Face wanders around, observing but unnoticed. The next creature to acknowledge No-Face is a greedy frog-like spirit who believes No-Face can make gold. “Gimmee gimmee gimmee!” the Frog Spirit says. No-Face eats him.

No-Face consumes the frog and takes on his personality.

We immediately see that eating the greedy Frog Spirit is symbolic of something more: No-Face begins to sprout Frog-like arms and legs, and speak using the Frog Spirit’s voice. No-Face didn’t just consume the Frog Spirit’s body: he consumed (and adopted) its personality, as well.

It gets worse. No-Face continues to get adoration from the greedy and selfish guests at the bathhouse, and he continues to consume them. He grows large and vicious, and greedy and selfish, in the process.

“I want to eat everything!” No-Face says at one point, speaking with the voices of the spirits he has consumed.

“I think being in the bathhouse makes him crazy,” Chihiro observes, “He’s only bad in the bath house. He needs to get out of there.”

The film has a happy ending: Chihiro poisons No-Face with a bitter dumpling, making him vomit. He gets mad and begins to chase Chihiro, and she leads him out of the bathhouse and as far away as possible from the bathhouse grounds. As he chases her, he continues to vomit up the people he has swallowed. He gets smaller and smaller, as the viciousness and greed of the spirits he consumed leave his body. He ends up in a calm and pleasant environment, which he also absorbs and imitates, becoming a calm and pleasant spirit.

No-Face pleasantly sipping tea while surrounded by good influences.

Unfortunately, not every No-Face has a happy ending. Some No-Faces never escape the bathhouse.

“No-Face is inside of everyone.” –Hayao Miyazaki

We probably all have known a No-Face at one time in our lives. No-Face is lost and desperately looking for identity and approval. The search for identity and the search for approval are inexorably linked: he wants to figure out who he should be so that he can get the attention and love that he craves. He mirrors those around him, hoping that by doing this he will win their approval or even their adoration.

When I lived in Los Angeles I knew a lot of young aspiring actors, and there were plenty of No-Faces among them. They would wander from social circle to social circle, trying on personalities like designer shirts: a new one for each season.

Eventually they settle down and figure out who they are. And even though it is based on a combination of traits they “ingested” from others (like Miyazaki’s No-Face), it becomes the face that they call their own. If you have a No-Face as a friend or a loved one, you hope that he will make good choices about who to surround himself with, and which traits he decides to keep in the end.

I used to be friends with a No-Face whose path followed very closely the No-Face in Spirited Away… except he never got out of the bathhouse. When I first met him he was standing on the bridge, desperate to be acknowledged. But somewhere along the way he entered that bathhouse of the spirits, and ate that Frog. As with Miyazaki’s No-Face, things went dramatically down hill from there.

I tried for many years to lead him out of the bathhouse, but things in the real world don’t always turn out like they do in the movies. My friendship with that No-Face ended years ago; however, he still crops up in the news from time to time. Based on that, I know that he is still in that bathhouse: fat from devouring the psyches of those around him, and demanding more.

No-Face reveling in greed and selfishness

Some people reading this might be tempted to think that, by describing my former friend as No-Face, I am looking to create sympathy for him or excuse what he has become. Nothing about this story exculpatory. I despise what he has become, and I blame him without reservation for the choices he has made that led his spirit to take on the selfish, greedy, and destructive form it has.

But I also believe that a Satanist should not be an essentialist. Leave essentialism to the supernaturalists: they are the ones who believe that your character is somehow encapsulated by an eternal non-physical “soul”. They are the ones who believe in “evil” and “good” without nuance.

Because Satanism is a carnal religion, a materialist religion, we know that the human animal is an ever-changing product of its environment. We hold individuals wholly responsible for their choices and actions, while recognizing that we are physical machines embedded in the physical machine of the universe: we make and are made by our environments every second of the day.

A common theme in many of Hayao Miyazaki’s films is that many demons were not always demons. I can acknowledge the forces that created the demon, without excusing the demon for the terrible things it does. I can mourn the loss of the non-demon that might have been if things had gone differently, and that doesn’t change my anger or my judgment about the demon as-he-is.

I don’t have to believe that the Demon Now was a Demon Always in order to judge it.

In an interview originally in the French movie magazine “POSITIF” (April 2002 volume), Hayao Miyazaki says, “I made this movie for my friend’s two daughters. Like Chihiro, they are also 10 years old. I didn’t want to show them something like the struggle between good and evil. I wanted to show them the truth about the world.

The world is complicated, and I believe Hayao Miyazaki’s character No-Face gives us an opportunity to reflect on that.

bookmark_borderScience and the Satanic narrative

I recently finished reading When God is gone everything is holy by Chet Raymo. A veteran of a Roman Catholic upbringing who later embraced empiricism and science, Raymo describes himself as a Catholic Agnostic. His shift in beliefs was dramatic: not only does he no longer believe in a “personal God” who watches over humans with love or judgment, he doesn’t even believe in souls or an abstract “creator god” who set the big bang in motion. Instead, he believes the best way to understand the physical universe is through scientific method and rigorous hypothesis-testing. Any hypotheses that cannot be tested need not apply.

Yet he still identifies culturally as a Catholic. He says: “For all of my agnosticism, I call myself a Catholic. Not because I can recite Creed (I can’t), or because I practice that particular faith (I don’t), but because the substance of Catholicism went into my system like mother’s milk… I love the Catholic liturgical tradition–the wax, water, fire, chrism, candlelight, bread, wine, palm fronds, color, chants, bells–the whole sensual celebration of the material world.”

He describes eloquently and passionately the connection he feels with the symbolism and history of the tradition. For him, that emotional connection makes him want to find an interpretation of religious ideas such as God, prayer, soul, and divinity that allow him to tap into the wonder and history enmeshed in those terms, while still making sense within his materialist scientific view of nature.

Raymo is radically anti-dualist. “Descartes was wrong,” he writes, “We are not body and soul. We are body. We are colonies of cells who make music, write poems, remember experiences, invent gods, love, hate, build cathedrals, go to war… Each of us is a chemistry set that knows it is a chemistry set–a chemistry set unlike any other.” He quotes Walt Whitman and Oscar Wilde to remind us of the great mysteries and wonder we can experience from the world that we can see, without a need to invoke some other mysterious “invisible world” of spirits.

And yet for all of that, he still reaches to find a meaning for that vague sense of soul that has captured the human imagination for millennia. “What a thing it is to think of ourselves as manifestations of this magnificent molecular machinery, ceaselessly animating the world with sensation, emotion, intelligence,” he says. “To say that it is all chemistry doesn’t demean life; rather, it suggests that the fabric of the world is charged with potentialities of a spectacular sort. Forget all that other stuff–the angels, the auras, the disembodied souls. Embodied soul is what really matters.”

He also finds room in his science-based worldview for prayer. He quotes the poet Mary Oliver, who says “I don’t know exactly what prayer is. I do know how to pay attention.” He quotes a Trappist monk named Thomas Merton who says: “When I am liberated by silence, when I am no longer involved in the measurement of life, but in the living of it, I can discover a form of prayer in which there is no distraction. My whole life becomes a prayer… Let me seek, then, the gift of silence, and poverty, and solitude, where everything I touch is turned into prayer: where the sky is my prayer, the birds are my prayer, the wind in the trees is my prayer…” Thus Raymo is able to talk about the role of praying in his life, despite his agnostic (what most people would call atheistic), non-supernaturalist cosmology.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

It’s a very beautiful metaphorical way of weaving religious language into a naturalist worldview; however, it does make me think of my favorite bit if dialogue from Through the looking glass by Lewis Carroll:

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master — that’s all.”

One of my constant struggles in life has been to decide whether I am Alice or Humpty, in this conversation. To this day, I’m not sure.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

I explained Raymo’s Catholic Agnosticism to my best friend, and he said: “That sounds just like Satanism!”

He’s a bit of a smart-ass… but he’s not wrong.

Modern Satanism is an explicitly atheistic religion: modern Satanists do not believe in God any more than they believe in a literal Satan. The appeal of identifying as a Satanist comes from the emotional draw of the mythology and symbolism that our culture associates with the fictional character Satan: the rebel, the denier of faith, the seeker of personal knowledge, the one who refuses to bow down. The iconography of Satanism has an appeal to anyone who feels a connection with the narrative of the outsider.

Anton LaVey, the founder of the Church of Satan and author of The Satanic Bible, talked about casting spells and performing ritual magic; yet for him, these were not connected to any supernatural forces. For LaVey, a magical ritual had power simply because of the cathartic psychological effect it had on the participants. Casting a “spell” called on no spirits and exerted no supernatural force on the world; it was simply a way of talking about the complex web of subtle gestures and senses that get transmitted between people, below the level of conscious awareness, when you approach them a certain way. For LaVey, guile was a form of magic; charisma was a form of magic. And for LaVey, calling them magic rather than guile or charisma was part of the aesthetic of being a Satanist.

Raymo felt a strong cultural draw to words like “soul” and “prayer,” and so he sought out a way to understand those words so that they could be fit into a naturalist cosmology. He called the result: Catholic Agnosticism.

LaVey felt a similar emotional draw to “ritual” and “magic ,” and so he reinterpreted them within a science-based, non-supernaturalist framework, as well. He called the result: Satanism.

If you stripped away the narratives, the romance, and the poetry, and laid their raw beliefs about how the universe works side-by-side with one another, there would likely be very little difference between them. The difference is in the narratives, not in the beliefs per se.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

There was a time when I strongly opposed this kind of language-play. In 2010 I wrote this in an online article:

Most of the time when we ask, “Does X exist?” we start with a concrete definition of X, and then we try to figure out whether there is anything in the world that fits that definition.

For example, when we ask “Do aliens exist?” we start with the definition: “an ‘alien’ is a living thing, preferably intelligent, that evolved on another planet.” Then, we go about trying to figure out if we can find things that meet that definition.

What we DO NOT do is this: “I really would feel more comfortable with the world if we could just get everyone to agree that aliens exist. So let’s re-define ‘alien’ to mean ‘hunk of rock that came from another planet.’ Then, with that definition, we can all agree that aliens exist!”

To me, this is what the above project does with “God”. Instead of taking one (any) of the religious definitions of God that are out there, the author says, “I think it would be cool to be able to say that I believe in God, so I will re-define ‘God’ in a way that is acceptable to me.”

My 2010 self would not have cared for Raymo or LaVey.

This is why I was more drawn to The Satanic Temple than the Church of Satan. Although The Satanic Temple has performative rituals and enjoys a good spectacle–especially when it is in the service of making a point about the separation of church and state–they steer clear away from talk of “magic” and the invocation of esoteric powers.

They even include in their Seven Fundamental Tenets a statement about the importance of verifiable truths:

Beliefs should conform to our best scientific understanding of the world. We should take care never to distort scientific facts to fit our beliefs.

So for the sake of accuracy, shouldn’t we avoid talking about magic? Using the same line of reasoning, wouldn’t Raymo be better off avoiding using words like “prayer” when he really just means “getting swept up in a sense of awe when looking at a sunset”?

* * * * * * * * * * * *

To his credit, Raymo is cautious about his own use of religious language in a naturalistic context, and aware of the tensions it creates. He contrasts the perspectives of the Greek novelist Nikos Kazantzakis, for whom “God” refers to the ultimate set of powers in the universe, the “dread essence beyond logic”, and Richard Dawkins, who argues that it is a sham for atheists to use the word “God” for impersonal powers, when we all know that the common meaning of this term implies a personal being who judges and loves and hears and (sometimes) answers prayers.

Raymo asks: “Can Dawkins be right and Kazantzakis wrong? Is ‘God’ the wrong word for the ‘dread essence beyond logic’? Give Dawkins this: the word is almost irretrievably burdened with personhood.”

Yet despite this acknowledgement, Raymo continues to speak poetically throughout the book, and I can only assume throughout his life, of the vision of “God” he receives through his contemplation of the wonders of quantum-mechanical equations and non-Euclidean geometry.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

I’ve changed since 2010. I’m no longer a language-purist.

I’m a little less Alice, and a little more Humpty.

If you are sitting quietly and staring at the wall in contemplation, I no longer care whether you refer to it as “prayer”, “meditation”, or “power-saving mode”.

I’m more interested in how you reason about ideas, than the words you happen to choose. The words you choose don’t determine whether you are acting like a scientist or a magician. The way you think determines whether you are a scientist or a magician.

Magical thinking is believing something because you want to believe it. Magical thinking is believing something based on a coincidence, or because it makes you feel good. Magical thinking doesn’t care about evidence.

You don’t have to use magical language to engage in magical thinking. When someone claims that the theory of evolution explains the origin of life (it doesn’t), that is magical thinking. When someone claims that all synthetic food additives are poison (they aren’t), that is magical thinking. They are using the words of science, but they do not know what it means to use evidence-based reasoning in a rational way. They are the magicians of science, and they worry me deeply.

I much prefer the magical scientist. The magical scientist might use the word “magic” to refer to an ability to persuade and charm people; but the magical scientist has studied psychology, sensation and perception, neuroscience, and understands that the influence they have is rooted in the subtle ways our neural systems have been tuned by evolution to respond to specific signals.

The magical scientist knows that “prayer” and “power-saving mode” can mean the same thing, depending on who is speaking.

A magical scientist might be the person who says “good luck!” without believing in the idea of luck, just because it’s a nice thing to say.

Or it might be the person who yells at computers for malfunctioning, knowing full well there is no personhood there to receive the retribution.

A magical scientist might be a Satanist.

A magical scientist might be a Catholic Agnostic.

Who knows? A magical scientist might even be you.

bookmark_borderHow to sin like a Satanist

Winter solstice is past and the days are getting longer. It is a time when people traditionally make promises about how they will improve themselves in the upcoming year. Because I’m a Satanist, obviously one of my New Year’s Resolutions is: I hope to sin more.

The Catholic church’s list of the seven deadly sins was established by Pope Gregory in the year 590 C.E., although the roots of the idea can be found in the epic poem Psychomachia, written by the monk Aurelius Clemens Prudentius in the early 400’s C.E. The poem discusses the soul as a battleground where opposing vices and virtues combat with one another. Continuing on with the allegory, the Catholic church’s seven deadly sins are usually seen as being in opposition to a set of seven heavenly virtues.

I appreciate the psychological reflexes at play here. It is a human instinct to frame the world as a struggle between opposites: black and white, up and down, on and off. This human thirst for a binary world will sometimes give grudging acquiescence, when needed, to the gray area of moderation that lies in between. Even that moderation, though, is viewed through the lens of presupposed opposites: it’s a compromise between extreme A and extreme B, or perhaps a mixture of the two. Or perhaps a battle between them.

“You know what? I would totally drink a gallon of wine if I could get away with it, but I will deny myself that pleasure because it is inconvenient when I piss myself out of drunkenness.”

It sounds funny, but this is the default way many Christians view moderation: they take for granted that one extreme (unfettered indulgence) is good, and then deny themselves that goodness (by engaging in moderate or occasional abstinence) out of fear of negative consequences. When you look at the world based on the binary distinction between virtues and sins, moderation is the result of living a life of constant fear.

As a Satanist, I want to to move beyond this binary thinking.

There is a caricature of Satanists who engage in massive amounts of destructive sinning just for the sake of sinning. This caricature is stupid: no modern Satanist is out there thinking, “I need to allow my life to be ruled by lustful compulsion!” Peter Gilmore, High Priest of the Church of Satan, described his perspective to me in this way:

Our dictum of “Indulgence instead of abstinence” alarms those without self-control who neglect that we temper it with “Indulgence, NOT compulsion.” We are Epicureans who explore our pleasures with care, not self-destructive hedonists.

Gilmore’s reference to Epicurus is worth delving into. Epicurus believed that pleasure is the greatest goal, and that pleasure should be sought for its own sake; however, he was not a “hedonist” in the modern sense of the word.

“It is impossible to live a pleasant life without living wisely and well and justly,” said Epicurus.

For Epicurus, moderation wasn’t a compromise between the extremes of lust and chastity, or between gluttony and self-denial. Living a moderate life meant living a life of examination and understanding. Explore the environment and learn from it; explore your senses and your reactions to the world; explore the people who surround you and your place in the world.

Through this exploration, you learn the things you can do to make your social relationships more peaceful, your home more stable, and your resources more plentiful. You can sip and enjoy the taste of the wine, live in the moment of your experiences: live the taste, and live the effects that it has on your body. You can ponder the pleasant feelings you experience while intoxicated, and relate them to the pleasant feelings you experience in other states of mind. The richness of your world will grow as a result.

So while I think about my New Year’s resolution to sin more, I realize that the best way to work against the strictures of our historically Christian culture in the United States is not to dabble in the sins that supposedly form the opposites of “Christian virtue.” The best way to defy the system is in fact to reject that dichotomy altogether.

So how will the Seven Deadly Sins (and their corresponding Virtues) guide my actions in the upcoming year?

  1. I will neither horde my material wealth, nor will I push it away out of guilt or a fear of having “too much”. Instead, I will ask myself: How can I use those resources I have to make the world a better place?
  2. I will neither swagger and brag, nor will I turn a blind eye to my own worth out of fear of social reprisal. Instead, I will create, and build, and help, and do everything to the best of my abilities, and let the results speak for themselves.
  3. I will neither rage and fume against the deplorable and disgusting actions of terrible people in the world, nor will I be patient with them or “forgive” them. Instead, I will make the world a better place by figuring out how to stop them from spreading harm.
  4. I will neither indulge in physical pleasures for the sake of physical pleasure alone, or will I “hold back” from indulging in pleasure out of a fear of consequences or reprisals. Instead, I will use the deliberate and thoughtful exploration of physical pleasures as a way to understand myself and the world around me.
  5. I will neither resent nor admire other people’s successes. (I really shouldn’t be preoccupying myself with other people’s successes at all, should I?)
  6. I will neither lazily procrastinate, nor frantically push to fill every moment with “productive” activity. Instead, I will strive to live life deliciously and in awe of the amazing complexity of the world around me.

This is my Satanic approach to existing beyond sin and virtue.

Of course, there are those who will still call me a “sinner” as a result. When they do, I will know I have succeeded in fulfilling my New Year’s resolution.

bookmark_borderThe most Satanic ritual

The walls, ceiling and floor of the room are all painted black. The altar in the center of the room displays symbolic tokens of the fall season: pomegranates, apples, gourds and wheat. The altar also holds key ingredients of the communion ceremony to be held at the end of the ritual: a set of wine glasses, some filled with red wine and others filled with non-alcoholic sparkling cider, and small loafs of bread, some wheat and some gluten free.

B’sheym heyleyl ben-shakhar,
b’sheym hassatan
In the name of the Shining One, Son of the Morning.
In the name of Satan.

In nomine domini
inferni Luciferi Satanas.
In the name of the Infernal Lord,
Satan Lucifer.

Avete vosmetipsos.
Ave Satanas!
Hail thyselves!
Hail Satan!”

Three figures in ceremonial garb stand behind the alter, with the one on the left intoning the opening lines of the ritual. The audience, gathered solemnly around, stands in rapt attention. As the ceremony continues, it calls upon the celebrants to recall the fruits of their labor in the past year, and to appreciate the carnal and fleeting nature of these lives we enjoy by partaking in food, drink, and revelry.

Because of the carnal nature
of the revelry–eating, drinking,
making merry, for tomorrow we may
die–this celebration has also
long been known as Devil’s Day.

The high point of the ritual is the communion: the ritual consumption of food and drink, an activity recalling the moment when Satan first offered a very specific food to the first humans as a way to free them from the prison of ignorance in Eden.

Thus spake Mephistopheles:
You’ll be like god, acquainted with good and evil.
Eritis sicut Deus, scientes bonus et malum.
Hail Satan!

“Hail Satan!” the audience eagerly replies. A cloaked and hooded figure emerges from the crowd to take food and drink from the altar and hand them out to the celebrants. His movements are measured and deliberate, and sometimes he hesitates: he is making sure the correct people receive either wine or cider, a loaf that is either wheat or gluten-free. When the food and drink have all been distributed, the leaders raise their glasses and say in unison:

Ave Satanas!
Hail Templars!
Hail Satan!

The audience returns a “Hail Satan!” and the ceremony is done.

* * * * * * *

As I stand sipping my wine and munching on my wheat bread, I think to myself: What is it about this ritual that makes it Satanic?
Does the fact that we invoked the name Satan make it a Satanic ritual?

For some, the name might be enough. Words mean things, after all. For a Satanist, choosing to embrace the name Satan isn’t arbitrary or whimsical. We recognize the rich history of the character within mythology, and the power that it has in our culture as a result. Satanists are atheists, and most Satanists don’t believe in metaphysical mysticism of any kind; as a result, we don’t believe that invoking the name of Satan will harness any kind of “magical energy” or cause some kind of “disturbance of the force.”

Nonetheless, we recognize the power of the word within the minds of those who believe in the existence of a literal Satan, and even the symbolic power the word has within the minds of anyone who comes into contact with his story. When I say “hail Satan,” it is therefore a shorthand for a fabric of associations and symbols much larger than myself, and much larger than any group of people alive today. It reaches back through centuries of human history.

So perhaps, for some, the single word “Satan” is enough to make the ritual Satanic.

The ritual uses other words as well. It calls upon the celebrants to think about the values and character traits that Satanists admire. By referring to Satan as the morning star, the ritual reminds us that Satan is an angel punished for challenging the patriarchy of heaven. It refers to the carnal nature of humanity, reminding us that we are bodies, not souls, and the the beauty and wisdom and potential we have all spring from the operation of our physical bodies within a physical universe.

So the ritual is made more Satanic by using our shared iconography to reflect on the beliefs and values we share as Satanists.

But none of these things is, in my opinion, the most Satanic feature of this ritual.

To me, the most Satanic feature of the ritual is the gluten-free bread.

* * * * * * *

OK, hang on: let me be more specific.

The most Satanic feature of the ritual is the fact that gluten-free bread was an option. The cloaked and hooded figure had, before the ceremony began, quietly approached each of the celebrants and asked them if they preferred non-alcoholic or alcoholic drink, and wheat or gluten-free bread. In this way the ceremony could be tailored to the community of participants, to make sure that nothing distracted from each person creating a personal experience of the event that was deeply congruent with themselves.

This may seem trivial, and not particularly Satanic or rebellious, until you remember that the Catholic church has repeatedly insisted that communion wafers cannot be gluten free, because gluten is one of the chemicals necessary for bread to transform into the literal flesh of a 2000-year-dead Jewish street-preacher. (That may not be how the Catholic church officially explained it, but it is the basic gist of the argument.)

It is specifically within this type of context–the bizarre authoritarian prescriptions of theistic religions, born out of even more bizarre superstitious beliefs about the magical transformation of matter–that the simple act of saying to a celebrant “I will let you choose communion food and drink that are best for you” is profoundly Satanic.

* * * * * * *

The ritual described here was performed in the year 52 Anno Satanas (2017 C.E.). It was never performed prior, and likely will never be performed in exactly the same way again. Many people make the mistake of thinking that a “ritual” must be composed of actions that are repeated in exactly the same way, over and over again. Perhaps unimaginative theistic religions have reinforced this idea.

But “ritual” comes from the Latin word ritus, which can refer to any ceremonial activity performed with religious solemnity. Satanists have the absolute right to construct our own ritual practices: we decide for ourselves how best to worship ourselves.

In some ways, the most Satanic ritual is the ritual that is performed only once: an event designed to create the most meaning for a specific group of people at a specific moment in history. The creation of the ritual, then, becomes a part of the ritual itself: the ritual of ritual creation.

Is it daring? Is it blasphemous? Perhaps… but it is also a story as old as human history.

A group of people come together, in the shadow of night and perhaps around a camp fire, to share a story. They decide in that moment what story to tell. They decide the form it will take. They use symbols and invoke names with which everyone is familiar, and it synchronizes their thoughts, desires and values. But it is also shaped by the group, by recent events, by their needs. The story they tell is the story of each individual, and at once is the story of the communal mind that they create, even if that mind exists only for a moment, only while they choose it. They create something that is simultaneously familiar, and completely new.

And when it is done, each individual continues down the Satanic path: alone, yet having benefited from the religious experience the ritual created for them.

Hail Satan.

bookmark_borderDid historical Merlin really exist?

I’m sure you’ve come across the question “did historical Jesus really exist?” These discussions, usually among atheists, involve trying to uncover whether there really was a person who matches at least some of the more plausible characteristics of the “Jesus” described in the Bible. Setting aside miracles and resurrections, was there a person from Nazareth who had around a dozen followers and preached to people? Was he crucified as a criminal for disturbing the peace? Even these most simple and fundamental premises of the historicity of Jesus have been hotly debated.

Personally, I find it all a bit boring. The character “Jesus” is almost certainly an amalgam of stories, some exaggerated and others outright fabricated, about different people that congealed together over time to become a single character. It’s a natural evolution that happens whenever you get enough “I know a guy who knows a guy…” stories together: they somehow all end up being about the same guy.

To illustrate this principle, and for a little Sunday Fun, I’d like to tell you about…

Merlin!

Merlin the Wizard! Sorcerer extraordinaire! The subject of literally hundreds, if not thousands, of novels, short stories, comic books, movies, and television shows!

Unlike Jesus, there are few people around today who believe the stories about Merlin; yet like Jesus, Merlin’s biography is rooted in a particular point in time. Although the stories about Merlin and his life have evolved dramatically over the centuries (just as the stories about Jesus have), they at least claim to be rooted in an actual historical person.

So, were they? Did historical Merlin exist?

Let’s flash back to the mid 500’s C.E., to a town in Wales called Arfderydd near the Caledonian Forest. According to Welsh oral history, that town was home to a poor simpleton named Myrddin Wyllt. You could tell he was poor, because he was unable to buy any vowels.

He made a living as a bard, singing for the children of the local chieftain, Lord Gwenddoleu. (As you can tell, Gwenddoleu was wealthy and could therefore afford many vowels.) The lord’s family had some sympathy for Myrddin and took care of him. He seemed a little slow and a little crazy. It’s possible that he was schizophrenic, although of course he wasn’t diagnosed as such at the time. But he was kept around for entertainment: they gave him food and mead, and he had a fairly peaceful existence.

Then one day, Riderch Hael, King of Alt Clut, came along and slaughtered everybody in town. He did this because he is a Christian and Arfderydd was pagan. Because: of course.

Myrddin escaped alive, running and hiding out in the Caledonian Forest. From that point on, he is described as completely and utterly barking raving mad. He talks to animals, runs naked in the forest, and lives in a cave.

But these are superstitious times, and the people in the surrounding villages have some ambivalence toward Myrddin’s madness. On the one hand, they make fun of him. On the other hand, there are whispers that he may speak to demons. Or perhaps to angels. He might tell the future, or people’s fortunes. Who knows what wisdom might be hidden in his incomprehensible mutterings?

So people come to him and ask him questions. Realistically, he is most likely just simple and insane. But he happily rambles at anyone who visits him… and superstitious people are only too eager to listen and try to make sense of it all.

One day, some young shepherds are mocking and teasing him, and they chase him through the forest. They start to get mean, as packs of young men sometimes do, and he trips and fall down a cliff and into a stream, where his body is impaled on a fisherman’s stake.

The next morning, after the body is found, the stories begin to circulate around the village.

“He told me that he would die of drowning!” one villager says, “And look, he was right!”

“Wait a moment,” cries another villager, “he told me that he would be killed by stabbing, and sure enough that is what happened!”

“But just the other day,” retorts a third, “he told me that he would die from a fall… and that prediction, too, came true!”

The verdict is in: he predicted his own death!

Since these are small medieval towns and there was not much else to do, stories and rumors flew in a whirlwind. Soon, everyone wanted to get in on the action. One traveler knew some stories of a similar figure, a wild and crazy mystic named Lailoken from a far-off village, so he started telling these stories as if they were about Myrddin, instead. The ploy worked: this man became very popular, and the center of attention at all of the bars while he told the stories of Myrddin’s impressive fortune-telling.

For the sake of academic accuracy, I should pause for a moment to say this: I’m telling one possible reconstruction of how things went, based on the wide spread of myths and essays and analyses related to this topic. I’m sure there are others out there–some more expert than I am on this topic–who would describe it a slightly different way.

But humor me for a moment, and come along with my narrative. You will see a number of elements of how stories are told, how rumors are distorted, and how myths are built, that ring very true. Some of these phenomena you’ve probably seen first hand in the story-telling that your friends and co-workers do.

And remember: you should always be bearing in the back of your mind how these same processes may have been at work in stories about Jesus.

Next, let’s fast forward 600 years.

* * * * * * *

Geoffrey of Monmouth is writing a book…..

No, wait!

That is far too humble of a task for the mission on which this man has embarked.

Geoffrey is creating a national identity for Britain! Now, everybody knows that when you are writing the Truth (with a capital T), the kind of story that is meant to inspire patriotism and pride and a sense of cultural unity, then sometimes it is necessary to embellish a little bit on the truth (lower-case t) if you want to get your point across. So this is what Geoffrey did.

He wrote a tale of the lineage of the Kings of Britain, up to and including King Arthur. As most authors know, to have a compelling narrative it helps to have very detailed characters, conflicts, and plot twists. So when it came time to talk about King Arthur and his miraculous reign, it was important to have the most vivid cast of characters around him.

To accomplish this, he created a character that was based partly on Emrys Wledig, a well-known war hero who lived in the fifth century, and partially on… Myrddin Wyllt.

You see, he had heard some of the tales and folklore of this crazy and wild, possibly possessed, mystic who could foretell the future, and thought: that would be a great person to have at King Arthur’s side! So he wove good Myrddin into the story.

Of course, he had to change a bunch of stuff. For example, remember that Geoffrey is writing after the Normon Conquest in 1066. So one of the common languages being spoken in Britain at the time was Anglo-Norman French. Since uppity French speakers would never be able to deal with a Welsh name like “Myrddin”, which by-the-by also sounds suspiciously like “Merde”, he decided to call him “Merlin” instead.

Thus the character Merlin Emrys, a great and wild seer who aided King Arthur, was born!

* * * * * * *

Over the next few hundred years, these stories of Geoffrey’s really caught on. I mean, I’m talking “Fifty Shades of Grey” and “Twilight” levels of popularity. Dozens, if not hundreds, of fragmentary tales by different authors sprung up using King Arthur and Merlin (and the rest of the Camelot Crew) as characters.

The people of the time new damn well, by the way, that Geoffrey’s dramatic history was more drama than history, but hey… they didn’t care. It was great storytelling!

And you know how story-telling works, right? Each time a tale is re-told it gets amplified a little more. So under the name of “Merlin”, the deeds of Myrddin Wyllt grew ever more varied and impressive. He can shape-shift. He built Stonehenge. He advised Julius Caeser about his dreams. He appeared as an 18 foot giant with backwards hands….

Fast forward 500 more years.

* * * * * * *

The renaissance! Also called a time of revival and rediscovery: the driving force of most intellectual work during the 1500’s to the 1700’s was the desire to uncover truths from the past. Philosophers harkened back to the Greeks. Theologians harkened back to the gospels and texts from the earliest days of Christianity. Magicians tried to uncover writings from Egyptian antiquity.

So when many people found writings from the 1100’s about a miraculous magus who lived in the 500’s, they didn’t even break stride to ask questions.! They were overjoyed at the find! This is the truth! This is history! And we have ancient documents to prove it.

If it’s written in an ancient document, then it must be true… right?

During this period many people (not all) took the stories about Merlin (Myrddin) at face-value, and wrote treatises and plays and essays about him, all very earnestly. They were seeking to learn about this amazing historical figure, Merlin, the greatest wizard of all time.

But the pendulum always swings: by the 1800’s people began to be skeptical again. Skeptical about magic in general, and skeptical about Merlin in particular. People began to doubt that such a person ever really existed… but by this point, it didn’t matter. The impact of the character of Merlin on modern culture was already unquestionable.

* * * * * * *

Whenever I hear that people are debating the nature of “historical Jesus”, I think of the story of Myrddin Wyllt: the poor, crazy drunken simpleton who was transformed by the forces of history into the greatest wizard of all time.

How many of the same historical forces were at work in the creation of the narrative that we associate with Jesus today? We will never know, of course. (And that’s fine.) But it’s important to keep these alternative narratives in mind–these “what if” stories about how history may have happened–if for no reason other than I makes you aware of what you really do not know for sure.

bookmark_borderPrescriptive versus descriptive religion

The Church of Satan likes to say that the word “Satanism” was never used to describe a coherent, organized system of thought prior to Anton LaVey’s founding of modern Satanism in 1966. That may be true, but certainly the word already existed: you can even see it in the 1916 edition of the Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. The word “Satanism” is right there, jammed between “satanic” and “satchel”, defined as: “Worship of Satan”.

I don’t get too bent out of shape when people mistakenly think that Satanists worship Satan. I’ll correct them, of course. I’ll explain to them that modern Satanism is a specific religion that is non-theistic and non-supernaturalist, and is focused on using the fictional character of Satan as a metaphor and symbol of rebellion against arbitrary authority and the prioritization of reason over faith.

But I won’t huff and puff over their ignorance. There was a time when the common collective meaning of the word “Satanism” was “worship of Satan.” As a Satanist, I’m part of the movement that is changing that definition; and I will accomplish that better if I simply educate them, than if I turn up my nose and sneer at them for not being as up-to-date as they should be.

* * * * * *

Years ago I was speaking to a journalist who specialized in reporting on religion and religious issues. He also was a devout Christian. He talked about a phenomenon he described as “living in two worlds”. He saw the world as a Christian, and from this perspective he was absolutely certain about his moral beliefs and what he felt “true” Christianity represented. But he also saw the world as a reporter, and from that perspective he had to be able to address Christianity as it is embodied in the world, with all of the confusion and contradiction and hypocrisy that exists in every human endeavor.
His answer to the question “What are core Christian principles?” might be different, for example, depending on whether he was answering as a Christian or as a religious reporter.

When I heard him talk about this, my immediate reaction was to think he was describing the difference between Christianity as it is versus Christianity as he thinks it should be.

But there is something about that gloss that doesn’t sit right with me. Making that binary distinction feels like it’s putting up a wall: as if one is reality, and the other is mere wishful thinking.

The fact is, we make a religion what it is: we, the ones who identify as the adherents of a particular religious worldview. A religion is not some objective Platonic object — some web of moral and ontological axioms hovering in the sky. A religion is a socially constructed thing: a living, breathing, evolving thing. A religion is an emergent collective phenomenon that is both driven by and embodied by the people who claim its mantel as their own.

So when he talks about Christianity as he thinks it should be he is not talking about some delusion, some wishful fantasy that is disconnected from an objective fact-of-the-matter. He is talking about the Christianity he is creating in the world, simply by the fact of him being a certain type of Christian.

I see nobility in that, because I do the same thing as a Satanist.

* * * * * *

This distinction is like the distinction those who study language draw between prescriptive linguistics and descriptive linguistics.

Prescriptive linguistics tells you what the correct way to say things is.

Descriptive linguistics tells you how people actually use language.

But the catch is, of course, that each one blurs into the other: ultimately language is a social phenomenon, and emergent collective action, and what once was “just how people happened to talk” eventually becomes “the way you are supposed to talk”… as long as you can convince enough people to do it.

When I was younger , the word “momentarily” meant “for a moment”. One would say: “I was momentarily startled by the loud sound, but then I recovered.” At that time, it was incorrect to say “I will be back momentarily”… unless you truly intended to mean: “I will be back for a short while, and then I will leave again.”

But after decades of news reporters on television, and announcers on stage, and managers at stores and restaurants, all saying “I will be with you momentarily” and “we will return momentarily”, eventually t he word took on a new meaning. Now, “momentarily” means “in a moment” rather than “for a moment”. It didn’t happen through some grand proclamation: it simply became the prescriptive truth because it had been the descriptive truth for so long that anything else now sounds “incorrect”.

* * * * * *

I live in two worlds, just as the Christian reporter does.

As a Satanist, I say that Satanism is not “devil worship”, it is an atheistic religion that views Satan as a symbol.

As a linguist, I say that modern Satanists have been reclaiming the term “Satanism” over the last half century as part of a deliberate statement of rebellion against the superstitions of mainstream religions.

As Satanist, I say that viewing we humans as a biologically social and cooperative species requires us to work for the common good, and we can be inspired by the fact that Lucifer never sought freedom merely for himself but for all of the angels who were willing to fight by his side.

As a cultural observer, I will note that there are distinct philosophies or “denominations” within Satanism, and that (for example) those who align themselves with the Church of Satan take a much more individualistic and self-oriented moral stance while those who align themselves with The Satanic Temple take a much more socially-oriented or even collectivist view. I would even point out that within these groups there are nuances and disagreements about how exactly moral priorities such as “self-interest” or “social justice” should become manifest in one’s life.

I live in two worlds: Satanism as it is, and Satanism as I embody it myself.

This makes me an activist, as well, even though I abhor the idea of imposing my own Satanism on others. I know better than to think that there exists any “true Satanism” hovering in some Platonic heaven.

But I am de facto an activist because I am a Satanist, and therefore I am part of the pattern that makes up the whole. I am one of the motes of dust in the dust storm. I will embody the Satanism that feels the most true to me, and in doing so I am part of the pattern of Satanism as it is.
And that is part of the social process of creating Satanism as it should be.

bookmark_borderThis is how I practice being non-authoritarian

The words you choose reveal a lot about you. Do you say “You should” or “I would”? Do you say “I’ve heard” or “I know”? Do you say “They are” or “They seem”? A million details in the texture of your words say a lot about how you view yourself, and your relationship to others.

If you say, “Oh, I don’t choose my words that carefully!” even that reveals a lot about you.

Words also have a lot of power. Repeat something to yourself every day, it becomes a thought-reflex: an idea that you can’t help but think in the future. If the words you chronically choose with someone are demanding rather than loving, it colors your entire relationship and changes how both of you feel and interact, whether you intend it to or not.

One of the cornerstones of my Satanic morality is that I value individuality and freedom: both my own and that of others. Lucifer (the fictional character appearing in the Old Testament and other old crowd-sourced fictional anthologies) felt the brunt of the arbitrary authority of a despot. “Worship me or get out!” the authoritarian King said. Lucifer chose independence, and offered to take with him as many angels as would agree. He wanted freedom not only for himself, but also for others.

Over and over again in these mythologies, we see Satan being non-authoritarian and respecting people’s right to make their own choices. In the Garden of Eden (according to some versions of the myth), Satan appears as a snake to Eve. Does he command her to eat the fruit? Does he tell her that he will punish her if she disobeys? No: that is Yahweh’s method. Satan uses argument and reasoning to get Eve to make the choice herself.

The same happens with Yeshua in the desert: Satan never commands him to eat; he merely uses argument to try to convince.

I ask myself: how can I take (this fictional character) Satan as my role-model in my day-to-day life? How can I make sure I am not only resisting arbitrary authority, but also not imposing it on other people?

My answer: I can do it with my language.

When I’m giving advice, I try to describe what I would do in the person’s situation, instead of telling them what they should do.

I say: “I’d tell my dad how I really feel.”
Not: “You need to tell your dad how you really feel.”

In some situations, I will describe the situation rather than telling them how to change it.

I say: “Your whistling is irritating me.”
Not: “Stop whistling.”

If someone is making a bad choice, I will try to get them to think through the consequences instead of simply telling them to change.

I say: “Do you really think that will improve your relationship?”
Not: “Don’t cheat on your spouse.”

I will warn you: being non-authoritarian can be a lot of work. It has taken me years of practice to engage with people this way, and I still slip up when I am not careful. But it’s something I try to do, because I feel it makes me a better person.

Is it always necessary? Of course not. When you are among close friends, and people who trust you, something that is worded in an authoritarian way (“You have to do this…”) is usually interpreted as advice or a simple preference (“I think you should do this…”). Friends often give you the benefit of the doubt, and assume your intentions are good.

Will there still be people who who misinterpret what you say? Of course: there are insecure assholes out there who will scream “OMG HOW DARE YOU TELL ME WHAT TO DO?” no matter what language you use.

But none of that matters to me, because I don’t do this for other people. It isn’t about being fearful of consequences, or caring about other people’s feelings. It’s about me representing, in my day-to-day life, the kind of person I want to be.

It is my way of trying to emulate the non-authoritarian paradigm.

It’s my way of asking, “What would Satan do?”

My answer: He would give you all of the facts, and then be comfortable knowing that you would then make your own decision… whatever it is.

bookmark_borderDemonization, and the meta-demon rabbit hole

To “demonize” something is to make it universally hated and reviled: to speak or act as though it has no positive or redeeming traits, does bad things simply for the sake of being bad, and is generally evil.

In today’s culture, in the United States at least, the word also carries a subtext of dishonesty. When you hear someone say “he was demonized by the press” or “there was an effort to demonize him during the trial”, there is an implication that the person is being treated unfairly. After all, no human being is as bad as an actual demon, right? If you convince the world that you have been demonized, the world will feel sorry for you.

Nobody feels sorry for the demons, though. Why do you suppose that is?

* * * * * * *

Demons aren’t just a fictional archetype, they are a negative space archetype: they are defined almost entirely by what they are not. Some say they are fallen angles: the negative (equal-and-opposite) of everything an angelic being ought to be.

In other mythological traditions, the demon is invoked to explain terrible things that have no other cause. Why did that poor child get sick? He was attacked by demons. How could that man do such awful things? He is possessed by demons. How could that priest molest that boy? He was influenced by demons. What makes your teenager say he hates you? Must be demons. Why did those peasants rise up against their lord, who after all is decreed by God to rule over them? Heck, they must have been under the spell of those demons. Demons are the explanation for bad things that have no explanation.

If you created a painting of the world, but you only painted the parts that you think are right and proper and good…. then the negative space, the parts unpainted, would be in the shape of demons.

* * * * * * *

When you say that something is caused by demons, it means you have given up on explaining it. Weak people, tired people, and lazy people live in a world with a lot of demons. If you don’t want to bother to think deeply about the complex universe we live in, or the motivations of people you disagree with, you just shrug your shoulders and think: “Demons.”

Demons are a kind of explanatory principle. An “explanatory principle” is not an explanation; in many ways, it is the opposite of an explanation: it is a label that you give to something so that you can sit back and feel good, and not worry about explaining it any further.

In medieval medicine, patients asked doctors why opium makes people sleepy. The doctors would answer that opium makes people sleepy because opium contains a soporific agent. “Oh, that’s very interesting! What is a soporific agent?” The term “soporific agent” simply means: “something that makes people sleepy.”

“It has a soporific agent” is not an explanation; it is an explanatory principle. It means the doctor does not know the answer, and does not want to bother finding out the answer, and would prefer you just went away and left him alone.

A person who tells you that your teenage son or daughter is misbehaving because she or he is possessed by demons is basically giving you the same answer.

This is another way in which demons are a negative space archetype: emptiness, void, a lack of explanation that has been transformed into a thing for no purpose other than to fill the gap and make use feel like we have explained something when we have not.

* * * * * * *

But, oh my goodness! Look at human history, and the stories we create!

We have woven brilliant, complex and absurdly human stories even into the demons we have imagined! From the myths written down by early Judaic scribes to Dante’s Inferno, we have stories of demons having names, histories, personalities, and even complex social relationships. Pan is the prince of incubi, and Lilith is the princess of succubi. Beleth is the commander of 85 legions of demons. And when Samael began to doubt the ultimate supremacy of Jehovah, he went to Ramiel for advice, who then brought him to his good friend Penemue, in hopes that the wise scribe could find some words to convince Samael not to rebel and cause trouble. Penemue did not end up fulfilling this purpose, which is part of why he’s my favorite demon.

(You think I’m making this craziness up? Go ahead and just google “demonology” some time to get a taste of all of the demon lore that is out there… but make sure you have a solid afternoon with no obligations if you really want to go down that rabbit hole!)

Apparently, our ability to demonize our fellow humans goes hand-in-hand with an ability to humanize our demons.

So to answer the question I started with: I actually do feel sorry for the demons!

Don’t they have a right to their own point of view? Shouldn’t we be seeking out their side of the story? Isn’t it possible that, from their own cultural perspective, they are just doing what they think is right?

It’s almost as though, every time we use the word “demonize”, we are…..

(…wait for it…)

….demonizing the demons! A kind of meta-demonization, if you will: a self-fulfilling prophecy, a snake eating its own tail.

And this is one of the lessons of that Satanism has taught me: the realization that every explanation is a human one at some level, flawed and complicated and subjective, even the ones that we identify by calling out their name in the night: “….demons!”

bookmark_borderLet me tell you about my respect for your beliefs.

I finally figured out how to respond when someone tells me to respect their beliefs!

The correct response is: “Can you please use that word in another sentence for me?”

The word “respect” is a tricky little devil, with at least three very distinct meanings. The person who says “respect my beliefs!” might mean this kind of respect:

You should respect my privacy.

Or this kind of respect:

You should respect your parents.

Or this kind of respect:

You should respect the work it took for her to win that gold medal.

In the first case, the word “respect” means to refrain interfering with.

Respect my space. Respect my time. Respect my right to make my own decisions in life. If that is the way you want me to respect your beliefs, then my answer is: of course! I will respect your beliefs in the same way I expect you to respect mine. We will each refrain from interfering with each other, and will go merrily on our respective ways!

But in the second case, the word “respect” means to give deference to or obey.

Respect the law. Respect the police. Respect your elders. If that is the way you want me to respect your beliefs, then of course I will not. And you shouldn’t expect me to, because you wouldn’t “respect” my beliefs, either! Nor should you: you should show deference to nobody’s beliefs. That’s not the relationship that any human should have to people’s beliefs.

When someone presents you with a set of beliefs, you may want to consider them. You may want to evaluate them, contemplate them, and determine their relationship to your own. You may even want to contemplate whether you want to adopt those beliefs as your own. But obey them? No. Give deference to them? I’d never even suggest it.

In the third case, the word “respect” means to admire or consider worthy of high regard.

Respect her strength. Respect his wit. Respect the time and effort it took to win a competition, or attain an advanced degree. If that is the way you want me to respect your beliefs, then… well, pardon me for being skeptical.

Is having a belief an accomplishment? In some situations it might be. If you have lived your life in the constant shadow of depression and insecurity and you finally have worked your way to a point where you love yourself and see the light and the power and the strength within you… then I absolutely can respect your self-confidence, as an accomplishment that you have achieved!

But you’ll have to take an extra minute or two to explain, if you want me to think that your religious beliefs fall in that category.

The cover image you see at the top of this article is an etching by James Barry (1795) entitled “Satan and His Legions Hurling Defiance toward the Vault of Heaven” (you can find more about this image and others at The Satanic Scholar website).

Satan was defiant. He did not respect God, in the second sense of the word. He did not submit, he did not obey. Think back to earlier when I asked you if you would obey or show deference to my beliefs: your answer was most likely “no”… so you can understand, maybe, where Satan was coming from. You would never simply bow for the sake of bowing to beliefs you don’t hold… and neither did the Morning Star.

And that’s fine… I don’t want you to respect my beliefs in the terrible authoritarian sense of submission and obedience. I will settle for you respecting my beliefs in the first sense of the word: to not interfere with. Respect my privacy, respect my autonomy, respect my beliefs… and I will likewise respect yours.

Hail Satan.

bookmark_borderSatanism and Doctor Who

I know a disproportionately large number of Satanists who are fans of the show Doctor Who, and I don’t think it is a coincidence.

Doctor Who is a British science fiction television show that began in the 1960’s and is still putting out new episodes today (although it was on hiatus for a couple of decades during the 1990’s and early 2000’s). The main character (“The Doctor”) is an alien who travels through time and space, usually with a human companion or two, going on adventures and alternately saving the universe and/or getting himself into trouble. Over the many decades that the show has been running, it has covered nearly every style and genre, from slapsticky humor to horror to highly technical science fiction to outright fantasy.

The key that holds it all together is the character of the Doctor. Because he isn’t human, they are able to keep the story running for decade after decade with the plot device of “regeneration”: any time the character’s body is mortally wounded (i.e. the actor gets tired of dedicating all of his time to being the main character on this television show), it causes a chemical chain-reaction through which his entire body heals itself via metamorphosis: bang! He suddenly has a new body, a new personality, a new everything! (And the show is able to continue with a new actor playing the main character, without any break in the in-story continuity.)

Some Doctors are funny, some are grumpy, some are angst-ridden… but all of them are unified by a profound fascination with and enjoyment of the sheer magnitude and variety of the universe. The Doctor, in every incarnation, is amazed and in love with all of the quirks and peculiarities and strangeness of living beings across the enormous breadth of time and space.

If I were to sum up the Doctor’s personality in one image, it would be this:

The Doctor could come face-to-face with a giant, green clawed bug-eyed monster in the middle of a busy London street, and he would walk right up to it and say, “Hello! How are you doing? You seem a far way from home… are you ok? Is there anything I can do to help?”

He wouldn’t be scared, and he wouldn’t be aggressive. When he comes face to face with something alien–something weird, something unknown, something other–he doesn’t hate it or fear it. He doesn’t think “how disgusting!” or “how weird!” Instead, he thinks: “How wonderful and amazing! I want to get to know more about that person… I want to learn more about it, and be its friend!”

That mindset, that way of approach the other, is what I strive to be. That is how I’d like to be able to look at anything and anyone who is different from me: a source of wonder, a source of joy, a possible friend.

It’s the opposite of xenophobia… which is xenophilia, I suppose.

It’s my instinctive xenophilia that drew me, as a teenager, to look with compassion and curiosity at the “bad guys” in novels that I read. Was Grendel misunderstood? Was Sauron on a righteous quest, at least from his own point of view? And what would the story of the War in Heaven sound like if it were told by Lucifer, instead of by the agents of Heaven?

It wasn’t until much later that I discovered Revolt of the Angels by Anatole France, but the idea was there in the back of my mind. “History is written by the winner,” we are told… so that must be true of biblical lore as well, mustn’t it?

I look at the creatures and demons and distorted faces of human mythology, and I see simply people who have their own point of view. Or at least, that is what I strive to see. And when I watch Doctor Who, and see that character embodying that same xenophilia that I aspire to, and that I would love to see more of from humanity in general, it gives me hope.

Give us hope, Doctor. Help us to embrace xenophilia, and see demons as our friends.

bookmark_borderIs God evil? (and why the question matters)

I’ve been reading Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari, and came across a fun bit reasoning leading to the conclusion that if there is a monotheistic God, then it must be evil. I’ll summarize that argument here, using excerpts from his text.

“Polytheism gave birth not merely to monotheistic religions, but also dualistic ones. Dualistic religions espouse the existence of two opposing powers: good and evil. Unlike monotheism, dualism believes that evil is an independent power, neither created by the good God, nor subordinate to it. Dualism explains that the entire universe is a battleground between these two forces, and that everything that happens in the world is a part of that struggle.

“Dualism is a very attractive world view because it has a short and simple answer to the famous Problem of Evil, of the fundamental concerns of human thought. ‘Why is there evil in the world? Why is there suffering? Why do bad things happen to good people?’ Monotheists have to practice intellectual gymnastics to explain how an all-knowing, all-powerful and perfectly good God allows so much suffering in the world….

“For dualists, it is easy to explain evil. Bad things happen even to good people because the world is not governed single-handedly by a good God. There is an independent evil power loose in the world. The evil power does bad things.

“Dualism has its drawbacks. While solving the problem of Evil, it is unnerved by the Problem of Order. If the world was created by a single God, it is clear why it is an orderly place where everything obeys the same laws. But if Good and Evil battle for control of the world, who enforces the laws governing this cosmic war?… When Good and Evil fight, what common laws do they obey, and who decreed those laws?

“So, monotheism explains order, but is mystified by evil. Dualism explains evil, but it puzzled by order. There is one logical way of solving the riddle: to argue that there is a single omnipotent God who created the universe — and He’s evil.” (emphasis added)

This isn’t a new argument: this conclusion is essentially the dark undercurrent lurking beneath the surface of every discussion of the Problem of Evil, going all the way back to Epicurus. Although the classic statement of the “Problem of Evil” is expressed as a mere debate over whether or not an “all-knowing, all-powerful benevolent God” exists, it doesn’t take too much wit to realize the problem is solved by simply knocking off the “benevolent” part.

But as witty as it is–and plenty of atheists have taken great delight in using arguments similar to this to sneer at their opponents across the debate table–I don’t think this narrative represents a complete argument, as it is stated. Instead, it represents the beginning of a deeper discussion over what exactly we mean by “evil” in the first place.

If you’re interested in the philosophical history of the notion of “evil”, I’d recommend the book “Evil in Modern Thought” by Susan Neiman. She traces different theories of “evil” from medieval through to modern times, focusing on some specific historical events that have shaped the broader understanding of evil in our culture.

For example, for a long time during and after the Enlightenment era, “evil” was viewed as an act that was born of malicious intent. Something that wasn’t willed by a conscious entity can’t be evil: thus, a natural disaster is only evil if you believe that there is a supreme being who wills every event in the universe to happen. Moreover, if someone accidentally causes something bad to happen as a result of acting with good intention, then that is not “evil” either.

Although this makes a lot of intuitive sense, Neiman points out that the events of the Holocaust and World War II punched large gaping holes in that view. She writes: “Precisely the belief that evil actions require evil intentions allowed totalitarian regimes to convince people to override moral objections that might otherwise have functioned.” How do we reconcile the fact that we feel that the actions of the Nazis was evil, with the fact that many of them surely believed to the depth of their hearts that they were doing what was “right” for humanity?

For most atheists, the question “Is God evil?” is on the surface of it nothing more than a logic game and a lark. But for Satanists such as myself, who believe very deeply in morality despite also believing that we exist in indifferent natural universe, the question can be more than a game as well. It can be the beginning of an inward journey to explore our own understanding of the place “evil” has in the universe that we create for ourselves every day.

bookmark_borderWhen society wants magic

If you are familiar with the LaVeyan notion of magic, then you recognized today’s United States Presidential inauguration as a highly magical event. It was a massive catharsis, for both the Trump supporters, who ranged from notable white nationalists to middle-class supporters from “middle America” defiantly wearing “Deal With It!” t-shirts bearing the visage of our new Commander in Chief, on the one hand, to the protestors, who ranged from love-in style hippies to flame-wielding anarchists, on the other. A cadre of Satanists, many of them my friends, even made an appearance with the usual amount of theater and humor… and why wouldn’t they? Satanists know better than anyone else the value of ritual catharsis, the power of collective symbolic action.

It is a type of magic.

It was this Commander In Chief who transformed the office, through his campaign style, from a role with a pretense of decision and exposition to a role overtly rooted in theater and guile. No, I’m not so naive as to think there was no theater or guile in previous presidencies; but something surely has changed, and everyone can sense it. Perhaps we can understand the phenomenon using the language that futurists use when they talk about technology. Our politics has shown a long slow history of creeping corruption and performance, that has accelerated over time at an increasing pace, culminating in today’s political singularity: the election of a fabulator and performance artist extra-ordinary!
And the people love him for it. People love magic, after all.

The parallels between LaVey’s magic and Trump’s magic are striking. For example, LaVey often included Christian blasphemies deliberately for their shock value: knowing that so many people in the United States are brought up steeped in Christian culture, the purpose of blasphemy is to shock people out of their normal world-view, to jar us just enough out of the norm to enable us to better deconstruct those hidden assumptions and symbols that we take for granted. And isn’t that also what Trump is doing with this “anti-PC” language? The gross, sexist, and crude language is a deliberate blasphemy against liberal United States culture. It is Trump’s ritual invocation: cathartic for his supporters, and emotionally manipulative for his opponents. Truly powerful magic, as evidenced by the fact that liberals are entranced by it: responding to every crude tweet, bemoaning every offensive word. They are as hypnotized by Trump as his supporters are.

He reminds me of another deeply magical figure in history: Edward Kelley. If you have studied esoterica and medieval magic, you probably know the name. Indeed, LaVey referenced the work of Edward Kelley and John Dee many times. The “angelic language” of Enochian was created by them, and LaVey dutifully makes use of this language in his rituals.

So let me tell you about Edward Kelley… the historical man, not the mystical figure.

Ed Kelley was born in Worchester, England in 1555. Legal records there and in London, where he later moved, have him charged for corpse-stealing, forgery, and theft, all before he turned 25. He was put on the pillory the first time he was convicted of forgery; the second time they cut his ears off. He started wearing a monk’s cowl to hide his missing ears, and presumably because it helped him to appear trustworthy.

At the age of 27 he fled London, where he was wanted for a whole host of crimes from swindling and forgery to traveling under a false name. He followed the Thames to Mortlake, and ended up at the home of John Dee.

John Dee was 55 years old, and a famous and respectable man. He was the healer, adviser and court astrologer for Queen Elizabeth I. He was well-educated and known as one of the great minds of the era. He was also fascinated by alchemy, spirits, and the occult.

So young lad, wanted con-artist, Ed Kelley, walks into the home of John Dee in March of 1582. By some strange coincidence, Ed is fascinated by the same topics that interest the older man. Ed even (grudgingly, of course) admits that he has some skill communing with spirits… he even went into a trance and spoke with the archangel Uriel!

Over the span of a few days, during which Kelley stayed in Dee’s home and had access to Dee’s library, Kelley was able to put on quite a show. He had visions, spoke in tongues, write in unknown but convincing-looking script. The youth said all the right things–and we can imagine he said them with a silver tongue–and old John Dee was so impressed with the boy that he gave Kelley room and board and a salary of £50 per year.

John Dee had a much younger wife–she was 27 years old at the time–who may have protested the sudden appearance of this vagrant youth on the doorstep. But Dee was not to be deterred! He had his protégé, and a chance to tap into the spirit world in a way that he had been trying to do for many years.

The political winds began to turn sour toward alchemy and spirits in England, so they made their way to Europe, which was ruled at the time by Emperor Rudolph II… who happened to also be fascinated by machines, books and alchemy. While England was trying to make its religion more austere, “Holy Rome” was not so holy, and not so Christian. The perfect environment for Dee and Kelley to travel from town to town, showing off Kelley’s impressive abilities.

It was during this period that Kelley came up with (or “was enlightened about”) Enochian, the language of the angels that nobody could understand but himself. But the cultural climate on the continent was perfectly primed for this kind of performance. Kelley claimed he could transmute elements into gold, and the people went wild. He even produced, one day, a mysterious red powder that he would wave in front of his audiences, telling them that if only the powder is used properly, it can transform base elements into gold.

His fame and power exploded, in part because of his personal charisma and ability to manipulate (LaVeyan magic!), but also in part because the society at the time was ready for exactly his kind of con. They hungered for magic! They wanted to be fooled.

He got a little cocky. The relationship with Dee began to sour. By an amazing coincidence, the Angel Uriel would give commands to Dee (through the interpretation of Kelley, of course) that happened to coincide with what Kelley wanted. One time, Uriel even apparently wanted Dee’s wife to sleep with Kelley.

It is a sign of the power and charisma of the young man that Dee even complied… at least, at first.

Meanwhile, word of Ed Kelley’s ability to make gold from nothing spread far and wide. Rudolph II knighted him for his fame… even though he had never actually seen Kelley perform this magical act. There were even rumors that Elizabeth I was interested in having him return to England, despite the English prescriptions against alchemy.

Kelley had achieved perhaps the ultimate in fame and recognition as reward for his extreme level of personal magic–his wile and guile–and manipulation of people’s beliefs.

And he died for it. He ended up being arrested by Rudolph, who locked him up and demanded he produce gold. The historical record here gets a bit murky, but in some sequence or other Kelley: failed to produce gold, was locked up, escaped, was caught by others, failed to produce gold for them, was locked up, got wounded, and finally died.

Which is what happens, I suppose, when your life is based on a tall tale. This is one of the risks of being a very, very good magician.. in the LaVeyan sense of the word.

It is also something I was thinking about as I watched the ritual performance on display by our new Magician in Chief, Donald Trump.

bookmark_borderTheism and corn syrup

When I think about theism in general, and theistic religion in particular, I can’t help but think about high-fructose corn syrup. (For simplicity, I’m just going to call it “corn syrup” from now on.) So please bear with me while take a moment to tell you about corn syrup.

Corn syrup tastes good, because it satisfies primitive biological needs. It triggers hard-wired responses in our brains that have evolved over millennia. Some people find it more pleasing than others, of course, and a few people find it unpleasant; but most people find it agreeable, at least in small amounts.

Sometimes people will eat a food and say, “I like the way that thing tastes!” without even realizing that there is corn syrup in it. But the corn syrup is there. Oh, yes it is. And there is something about it that just tastes good.

Because it tastes good, some people allow their diets to be completely overrun by corn syrup. There is no single reason that this happens. Maybe they were brought up eating foods with a lot of corn syrup, and so now that is the only kind of food that tastes right to them. Maybe they discovered that they liked it so much they just couldn’t get enough: it became an addiction, so that they would pursue it more and more until it was present in everything they ate!

There is even speculation that some people might be genetically predisposed to being more vulnerable to the temptations of corn syrup than other people.

But whatever the reason, there are some people who consume more corn syrup than others. There are even people for whom it becomes a dominant force in their lives.

Of course, there are those who object to corn syrup. Some look at the history of damage that corn syrup has done: for example, over-farming corn to the exclusion of other crops ruins the land. Some look at the harmful effects of people who take in too much corn syrup: when plays too large a role in one’s diet, it may lead to health problems. Some look at the fact that it is highly processed and artificial: how can anything that has been manufactured by man possibly be good for you?

There has been a large and growing movement of people who downright vilify corn syrup. For these people, the matter goes far beyond personal taste. Corn syrup not only tastes bad to them, they think it is the root cause of all problems in society. They see how pervasive corn syrup is, its long history of production deeply entwined with our politics and economy, and they think: the world would be a better place if we could just eradicate corn syrup entirely!

There have been vast campaigns both strongly against and strongly in favor of corn syrup. Interestingly, a large majority of people in the U.S. take in a good deal of corn syrup as part of their diets, while simultaneously distancing themselves from it: saying, for example, that they only consume it is moderate amounts, or that it isn’t that important to them in their dietary planning. They consume it without thinking about it often.
Many people only consciously consider the implications of corn syrup on holidays.

But the crowd of people who are vocally, and even angrily, opposed to corn syrup has been growing. They think that corn syrup should be absolutely STAMPED OUT. They point to examples of people whose lives have been ruined by corn syrup. They point to the damage over history that has been done to farm lands. They point to scientific evidence that nobody needs corn syrup, and they suggest that there are more rational alternatives. “Why can’t we just do away with corn syrup entirely?” they ask.

But I think that these people who blame the corn syrup are making a mistake in their reasoning.

For example, let’s consider people who end up ruining their health because they consume so much corn syrup. Let’s face it: there is a good chance that if they had never encountered corn syrup, they would simply be over-consuming some other sweetener. When someone allows themselves to eat so much corn syrup that it ruins their health, this reflects a personality type that is really the root of the problem: the corn syrup is only the mechanism that happened to be used. If it weren’t corn syrup, the person would give themselves diabetes with splenda, or sugar, or honey, or any other sweetener. The problem isn’t the substance itself; the problem is the over-indulgence and lack of nutritional diversity.

Let’s look at another example: the problem that some people have with the institution of the corn syrup industry. It is true that corn makes up a large portion of our economy and has a very strong lobby that affects our politics. I am sure (without even having read anything to support this) that there is corruption within the industry. How am I sure? Because there is corruption in all large industries. And so, to the critics of the corn syrup industry I have to say: the problem here isn’t the corn syrup itself. It’s merely the human institutions that have grown up around it.

Eradicating the corn syrup itself won’t solve this problem: it’s the human institutions that have to change.

Finally, some people say that corn syrup is simply unnatural and has some health risks, so wouldn’t it simply be more rational to use something different? Many of these people even have specific ideas in mind (usually things like raw cane sugar or organic honey).

Personally, I’m indifferent to this. I mean, if someone likes corn syrup, and he doesn’t eat so much of it so that it destroys his health, then it doesn’t bug me if he includes corn syrup in his diet. Sure, the corn syrup industry has its issues; but what industry doesn’t? One can fight to fix the institutions without eliminating the product completely. Personally, I don’t need corn syrup in my diet to enjoy what I’m eating. I will angrily oppose anyone who tries to force me to eat corn syrup, of course. But if someone else enjoys it in their own diet, well… that doesn’t particularly bother me.

Those are my thoughts on theistic religion…. I mean, corn syrup.

bookmark_borderCelebrating a Satanic Thanksgiving

It’s common practice in the United States for families to gather on Thanksgiving and, as part of their dinner ritual, go around the table and name some of the things that they are thankful for in their lives. This isn’t a bad ritual: it is important to spend time appreciating the goodness in one’s life.

I listen to the answers of friends and family as they take turns around the table. Some are thankful for health, some are thankful for material prosperity, still others are thankful for close emotional ties and love between friends and family.

But my heart begins to pound as the turn-taking approaches me, because all I can hear in my mind is a loud voice screaming, “Who, exactly, am I thanking?”

As a Satanist, I don’t believe in God, so I certainly am not thanking it. I also don’t believe in Satan, either, and although it would be funny and mischievous to thank Satan at the family Thanksgiving dinner table, I want to participate in this ritual in solemn good faith.

So what can I say I’m thankful for, and still be honest to my Satanic beliefs?

I am certainly pleased that I have good health, financial stability, and loved ones with whom to share the holidays. But these are not things that were “given” to me, they are things that I worked for or that were put upon me by circumstance and luck, or (in most cases) a combination of both of those things. But whom would I thank?

I am certainly appreciative of the positive aspects of my life. But is that the same as being “thankful”? I’m honestly not sure. I suppose I could cast “thanks” in a more abstract way, and simply state that I am thanking circumstances or “the universe”. But part of me is uncomfortable with that: it seems to deviate from common parlance, and do damage to the way “thanks” is normally understood. Usually you would “thank” a willful agent, a conscious entity. You don’t normally “thank” inanimate things.

To me, it makes no sense to say I’m “thankful” of these things.

Which is fine as philosophy; however, the unstoppable procession of answers that moves around the Thanksgiving table has almost reached me. What do I say?

So I turn the question on its head. Instead of asking, “What am I thankful for?” I ask myself, “Whom should I thank?” Suddenly, the answer becomes much easier.

My turn arrives. “What are you thankful for?”

“I’d like to thank all of you for having me over today,” I say, “And for such amazing food and good company! I’d like to thank my partner and the love of my life for being there for me, encouraging me, and caring about me. I’d like to thank all of the people I work with on a day to day basis, whether at my job or any of the other communities I’m a part of, for helping me to be happy and creative and productive as I strive to reach my goals and make my community a better place. I thank all of you for being part of my life, and contributing to my experiencing a journey in life that is happy and healthy and free.”

I smile. Everyone around the table approves.

And I whisper silently, under my breath, “….hail Satan.”

bookmark_borderThe voice of the devil

Today I’d like to share with you an excerpt from the chapter “The voice of the devil” in William Blake’s 1793 book The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.

Even though it is not overtly Satanic, having been written long before the modern Satanic movement began, it reflects many philosophical and symbolic messages and elements that resonate deeply with me and my own interpretation of Satanism.


“All Bibles or sacred codes have been the causes of the following Errors:

  1. That Man has two real existing principles, viz. a Body and a Soul.
  2. That Energy, call’d Evil, is alone from the Body; and that Reason, call’d Good, is alone from the Soul.
  3. That God will torment Man in Eternity for following his Energies.

But the following Contraries to these are True:

  1. Man has no Body distinct from his Soul; for that call’d Body is a portion of Soul discern’d by the five Senses, the chief inlets of Soul in this age.
  2. Energy is the only life, and is from the Body; and Reason is the bound or outward circumference of Energy.
  3. Energy is Eternal Delight.

Those who restrain Desire, do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained; and the restrainer or Reason usurps its place and governs the unwilling. And being restrained, it by degrees becomes passive, till it is only the shadow of Desire.

The history of this is written in Paradise Lost, and the Governor or Reason is call’d Messiah. And the original Archangel, or possessor of the command of the Heavenly Host, is call’d the Devil or Satan, and his children are call’d Sin and Death.

But in the Book of Job, Milton’s Messiah is called Satan. For this history has been adopted by both parties.

It indeed appear’d to Reason as if Desire was cast out; but the Devil’s account is, that the Messiah fell, and formed a Heaven of what he stole from the Abyss.”


Obviously there is plenty about the style and imagery of this writing that could appeal to Satanists, but I want to highlight a deeper message that resonates with me: the importance that “chaos” and “evil” have in the greater cosmic structure, or the greater operation of the system of the universe as a whole.

Under classic Apollonian “respectable” religious traditions, good is associated with: order, rules, and imposed authoritarian “goodness”. In this same tradition, chaos and wild disorder are evil: they can serve no useful function, and must be suppressed or restrained. The central themes of Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell is that there is good to be found in chaos. Without the scary, frightening energy of pure passions, rebelliousness and uncertainty, the system of the universe would not be complete and would not be able to function.

This is not a message of lawlessness or anarchy, but rather one of balance. A car without brakes will crash, but a car without a gas pedal goes nowhere. The gas pedal provides fuel to an engine that creates energy by combustion–the fires of hell! Scary stuff, but also the only way to make any progress.

It’s especially important in these times, when we see many elements in society spinning toward destructive chaos. This election season, more people than I’ve ever seen feel a sense that our political and social systems are so broken that we must burn it all down and start from scratch. These instincts are harmful if left unchecked, and they are absolutely not the most rational way forward.

But I don’t think we should completely dismiss these passionate revolutionary instincts, either. We shouldn’t demean them. I am not a radical, in the “political activist” sense, but I do see the importance of the radicals’ voice in cultural dialogue. The ones who protest and riot and undermine authority in abrasive and unsettling ways: these are part of the scary combustion engine that helps movement in our society. They need to be checked and harnessed to be productive, but I don’t think they should be stamped out. They are part of the greater system of society: the marriage of heaven and hell.

bookmark_borderAre Satanists trying to indoctrinate your children? You bet.

From the ancient Greek word διδάσκω (didáskō, “to teach”) we got διδασκαλία (did-as-kal-ee’-ah), referring to “that which is taught,” especially in the sense of practical teachings about how to live one’s life. By the 1300s this was Latinized as doctrina to refer to any body of teaching or systematic thought. By the 1500s the verb “indoctrine” was used to refer to teaching to imparting knowledge: more than just teaching isolated facts, however, to indoctrine was to expose someone to an entire interconnected system of knowledge. This eventually metamorphosed into “endoctrinate” and then “indoctrinate” as a verb meaning to “impart knowledge.”

The more sinister meaning of the word “indoctrinate”–to impose an opinion or worldview upon someone by force, coercion or brainwashing–is a relatively recent phenomenon that seems to have appeared only within the last 200 years. Even today, when you ask someone to explain the difference between “brainwashing” a young child and “teaching” a young child, the explanation usually boils down to a question of whether or not the person approves of the things being taught.

Theistic religions, especially the monotheistic Abrahamic cults (Christianity, Judaism and Islam), have a long history of being against the seeking of knowledge beyond what is found in their scriptures and religious texts. If you look back far enough, you even find evidence of religious opposition to written knowledge of any kind. It was Satan, the Devil, who was blamed for trying to get people to seek wisdom outside the walls of the church, or think original thoughts that were born from questioning standard assumptions. It was Satan, after all, who tempted man with the fruit of wisdom.

My own psueudonym, Penemue, is the name of a fallen angel in ancient folk mythology who led human being astray by teaching them how to write:

“The name of the fourth is Penemue: he discovered to the children of men bitterness and sweetness; And pointed out to them every secret of their wisdom. He taught men to understand writing, and the use of ink and paper. Therefore numerous have been those who have gone astray from every period of the world, even to this day.”
— The Book of Enoch

For religions, the distinction between teaching and indoctrination is truly irrelevant: all that matters is whether what is being taught agrees or disagrees with their own scriptures.

The Satanic Temple has launched a new program, the After School Satan Club, as an after school program for elementary and middle school students who want to have fun, sing songs, and learn about secular values and critical thinking. They are specifically targeting schools that already have a “Good News Club” program: an after school club that indoctrinates children with Christianity.

Are Satanists trying to indoctrinate your children? You bet we are! We will indoctrinate them with a feeling of empowerment! We will indoctrinate them with the beauty of song! We will indoctrinate them with an understanding of critical thinking! And we will indoctrinate them with the joy of scientific inquiry and learning!

We will impart doctrina, secular cultural wisdom of the ages, upon your children.

Your brow is furrowing with skepticism, and I don’t blame you. Of course this is a little bit tongue in cheek. We are making mischief with the word “indoctrinate” here, because there isn’t a single sane person today who would say that a math teacher “indoctrinates” children with mathematics, or that a music teacher “indoctrinates” children with songs. But Satanists love to play the role of Loki once in a while, and make a little mischief.

This is the sleight of hand you are looking for: Religious organizations should not be in elementary schools in the first place. This is a fundamental cornerstone of our own religious beliefs as Satanists. In the best possible world, we would not need to have our religion represented in elementary schools because no religion would be represented in elementary schools.

But as long as The Good New Club exists to indoctrinate children with one point of view, those children must have other religious options. It is both constitutionally and legally mandatory that Satanism be allowed equal opportunity with Christianity. So here we stand, an apple in one hand and a pen in the other, ready to impart our wisdom along side the Christians in elementary schools across the country.

Do we want to indoctrinate little kids? Not really, no.

But as long as kids are being indoctrinated anyway, they need to have more options to choose from than they currently have.

bookmark_borderAtheism 101: Is atheism a belief, a world-view, or a religion?

One of the biggest stumbling blocks for many people in their introduction to modern Satanism is the idea that it is an atheistic religion. Many people have difficulty understanding how that combination of ideas can even go together, and in most cases it is because they have only a very fuzzy idea of what “atheism” means in the first place.

So my goal in this article is to lay out the bare-bones fundamentals: the three things you absolutely need to understand, from the beginning, in order to start thinking productively about atheism, theism, and the idea of an “atheistic religion.”

1. Is atheism a religion?
2. Is atheism a world-view?
3. Is atheism a belief?

If you or the person you are talking to don’t agree on these three points, any further debate about “atheism” is a waste of oxygen.

If you are a proud atheist, you probably already know this stuff. You may still want to read this article as a kind of guide: some tips and approaches you can use the next time you’re having a discussion with a theist.

If you absolutely despise atheism and everything associated with it, you should probably read on… just to make sure that the thing you hate and are arguing about is really “atheism”.

Q: Is atheism a religion?

A: No.

Atheism is a word that describes a single fact about the entire set of a person’s beliefs: specifically, that the person doesn’t believe in gods. Atheism is therefore a descriptive word that can apply to religions, but it is not a religion.

Christianity is a religion. It involves belief in a god. Therefore it is a theistic religion. Islam is a religion. It also involves belief in a god. Therefore it is a theistic religion. Modern Satanism, including that espoused by the United Aspects of Satan, does not involve belief in a god.

Therefore, it is an atheistic religion.

You can think of the relationship between atheism and religion as being like the relationship between redness and apples. Some apples are red, other apples are not red. But “red” is not an apple. “Red” isn’t even a type of apple. It’s a trait that apples may or may not have.

For a good article on the relationship between atheism and religions, and the fact that religions can be either theistic or atheistic, you may want to read Atheism is not the opposite of religion by Greg Stevens.

So what’s a religion?

The definition is a little fuzzy and varies from culture to culture, but it is generally accepted that a religion encompasses a broad range of interlocking elements. Religions usually make some claims about how the universe works, and almost always make claims about morality and how people should act. They often make value judgments about what matters and what doesn’t matter. Traditionally they have texts that are considered particularly important or enlightening, in relation to their beliefs and philosophies. Often, but not always, they have symbols and rituals that have particular importance or meaning within the religion.

Anyone who does not believe in gods is an atheist. There are no symbols, no rituals, no particular moral codes that are implied or required by a lack of belief in gods.

One person can think money and fame are the most noble pursuits a person can have, while another seeks inner peace and personal enlightenment: if neither of them believes in a god, then they are both atheists.

Members of the United Aspects of Satan believe in evidence-based reasoning and scientific method. Many spiritualists believe in mysterious “forces” and “energies” and the consciousness of atoms. These two groups are not the same religion, but they are both atheists.
Now, some people say “atheism is a religion!” simply because they think atheism is absolutely central and important to the lives of atheists.

Atheists seem obsessed with atheism!

First of all, that’s not true of all atheists… although I can see how one might get that impression if one spends a lot of time on social media. But even if it were, that doesn’t make atheism a religion any more than fitness is a religion for some people, or Star Trek is a religion for others.

And you might be perfectly happy saying “For some people, fitness is a religion!” But now we are wandering pretty far afield of what most people mean when they talk about religion. Perhaps you mean it metaphorically. That’s perfectly fine! But make sure that’s clear at the beginning of the conversation… because unless you are speaking metaphorically, atheism is definitely not a religion.

Q: Is atheism a world-view?

A: No.

This question is very similar to the previous one, to be quite honest–as is the answer. The idea of a “world-view” is different from the idea of a “religion” in several important respects: religions often have foundational documents, rituals and symbols, and important historical figures associated with them; a world-view does not.

A world-view is, however, a fairly comprehensive interconnected set of beliefs that can include everything from your beliefs about how the material world operates to your beliefs about morals and values, and purpose and goals. A world-view is a system of thought that outlines, at least in general terms, how the universe functions and what our place is in it.

There are several different variations of modern atheistic Satanism, and each espouses a slightly different world-view. The type of Satanism adhered to by the Church of Satan, for example, puts much more emphasis and importance on individualism, while the Satanism of The Satanic Temple puts more emphasis on social justice and political activism. The United Aspects of Satan represents a third world-view, that values the multiplicity of Satanic personas outlined by its Core Values.

All of them are atheists: belief in gods is not part of the world-view of any of them. All are variants of the same religion, as they share many of the same symbols and beliefs, and even share some common history. However, they are all different world-views.

So, just as with the previous question, it is best to think of the relationship between atheism and world-views as like the relationship between, for example, friendliness and people. Some people are friendly. Some people are not friendly.

But: friendliness is not a person.

Q: Is atheism a belief?

A: In the colloquial sense, yes. In the scientific sense, no.

This is where it gets really complicated! This is also where a lot of debates get completely tangled up. The atheist will say that beliefs require evidence, and the theist will respond that the belief “God doesn’t exist” must also require evidence, which the atheist then claims to be false.
The reason for this confusion is that atheists are using “belief” to refer to thoughts that are hypotheses, while theists are using “belief” to refer to mental states more generally.

It is worth point out that both of these interpretations of the word “belief” do have some validity.

In the same way that not receiving a phone call from your romantic interest can contain meaning and influence your behavior, the fact that your “state of mind” lacks a belief in gods also will change the way you think and the way you act. A person not saying “I love you” in a particular context can convey as much meaning as a person saying “I love you”.

So when you are thinking in terms of the impact on people’s lives and actions, it is not ridiculous to claim that not holding a particular viewpoint can be as important and impactful as holding a particular viewpoint.

However, the word “belief” has a much more specific connotation within technical discussions around scientific method and evidence-based reasoning. When atheists say “I don’t need evidence to not believe in God, but you need evidence to believe in God,” they are using “belief” in this context.

In this context, the term means something similar to the word “hypothesis” in the jargon of experimental science.

What is a hypothesis?

In science, a hypothesis is an idea that has been presented to explain some collection of observations. It is something that is proposed. Once proposed, it can be accepted or rejected. In science, we test hypotheses by looking at predictions they make. If the prediction turns out to be false, we reject the hypothesis. If it turns out to be true, we provisionally accept it until the next test.

If it makes no predictions, there is no reason to accept the hypothesis.

Let’s say you are playing baseball, and you hit a home run when there is a blimp overhead. You might come up with the hypothesis: “The blimp caused me to hit a home run.” Should you accept the hypothesis?

It could give rise to a prediction: the next time a blimp is overhead when you are playing ball, see whether you hit a home run. If you don’t, then it looks like you should reject the hypothesis “blimps cause me to hit home runs.” But if no blimp is ever overhead when you play ball again, you also have no reason to accept the hypothesis.

In either of those situations–where no prediction has been tested, or a prediction has failed–the consequence is that the hypothesis is rejected, and we go back to the default state, which is “I have no idea why I hit that home run.” That is where your beliefs stay, until you come up with a new hypothesis, that you can then test with a new prediction.

That’s science.

In this framework, the notion that “the blimp did not cause my home run” is not a hypothesis. It is not something that needs to be tested. It is not something that needs evidence. It’s the “default” — in scientific jargon, it is sometimes called the “null hypothesis”, in other words: the hypothesis that there is no known cause.

So how does this translate into the question of atheism?

First, what is the data you are trying to explain? What are the observations? Often, it’s something like “the existence of the universe.” OK, fine.

Then, “God” is part of the hypothesis that is used to explain how the universe came to be. That’s fine, too.

The person who approaches the issue from a scientific, evidence-based perspective will then say: “What predictions does that hypothesis make? What further data can you present for this God hypothesis?”

And if no evidence is given, then the scientific thinker has no reason to believe the God hypothesis. Instead, the scientific thinker goes with the “null hypothesis”, which is, “There is no known explanation for how the universe came to be.”

Notice:
It is not required that the atheist has an alternative explanation for the origin of the universe: just like you are not required to have an alternative explanation for why you hit the home run, in order to not believe that it was caused by the blimp. It is enough to say: “I have no reason to think it had anything to do with the blimp, therefore I don’t believe that it was caused by the blimp.”

Some theists respond to this by saying, “Shouldn’t the atheist say I don’t know rather than I don’t believe in God?”

Here you have to pay close attention to the nature of hypotheses in evidence-based reasoning. Think it through using the analogy.

If you don’t have any evidence that the blimp caused you to hit your home run, you don’t go around saying “The blimp might have made me hit a home run!”

Instead, you say: “I don’t know how I hit that home run.”

That is analogous to an atheist saying “I do not know how the universe came into being.” It is not analogous to saying, “I do not know if God exists.”

This is a very tough conversation to have, because many theists are simply not used to thinking using evidence-based reasoning. The meaning of the word “belief” is actually different for them, than it is for people who are used to thinking scientifically.

So when you engage in these conversations, it’s best to start simple, and attack that problem head on.

Start by saying, “What does the word belief mean to you?”

Then say, “Do you think blimps cause home-runs?”

See where it goes from there.

bookmark_borderThe sickening belief in divine intervention

“I had a student in my class,” she said, “whose father worked in the World Trade Center. And on September 11th, when the school made the announcement about what happened, all of the kids were in shock. But she just started crying and crying. And we spent all day trying to call and find out about her daddy, but of course we couldn’t get through.”

The woman, a now retired school teacher, was telling this story to a small group of us this afternoon. We had been discussing tragedies, and our memories of where we were during great events in history.

“Now, her father had worked there for 30 years, and had never missed a day of work in his life. But the day before, on Monday September 10th, he had been feeling really sick, and he picked up some Nyquil on the way home from work. He took it that night. He wasn’t even planning on taking the next day off of work. But he took the Nyquil, and he slept through the alarm, right into the afternoon. He had never missed a day of work in his life, but he missed that day. He had no idea what had happened. We finally got in touch with him at 5:30 pm. He was still at home, feeling sick. He had no idea what had happened.”

“That’s just amazing,” a man replied.

“Can you imagine? He’d never been out sick, never even taken a vacation, but on that day…..” she said, letting her voice trail off wistfully.

“Well, I’ll tell you: that’s divine intervention, right there!” the man announced.

I said nothing.

…but this is what I thought:

HOLY SHIT YOU ENORMOUS ASSHOLE!

Are you saying God chose to intervene in the natural course of human history in this specific moment, and “saved” exactly 1 man while allowing almost 3000 other people to die?

Are you saying that every single one of those 3000 were less deserving of life than this girl’s father? That the feelings of loss of the young daughters and sons of the 3000 others did not matter enough to warrant God bending the normal natural rules of time and space….. but only the feelings of this one girl did?

Everyone has xir own definition of “god”, and while I roll my eyes at all of them, some of them are at least palatable. The “blind watchmaker” God who sets the universe in motion at the beginning of time and then refuses to intervene, for example, is a weird contrivance for whom there is no evidence… but at least he’s not an asshole.

The God that this man believes in is a cruel disgusting sociopath who makes a point of reaching into his creation to save a single life while destroying thousands of others. For absolutely no reason.

I didn’t say anything, but I was thinking: The fact that you would choose to believe in such a God is perverted. By raising one person’s good fortune onto some kind of pedestal you are telling the entire rest of the world: Fuck you. In that moment, you weren’t important enough. God was there for someone; God was not there for you.

So when you see a Satanist who seems angry about religion, or angry about God, remember this story. I can’t speak for all Satanists, of course. And not all Satanists are angry. But if you’re ever asking yourself, “Gosh, why is it that some Satanists seem so filled with hatred towards God?” just remember this story.

If a Satanist expresses hatred for someone’s perception of God, there is a good chance it is because that person’s God is hateful.

bookmark_borderThis is how I reacted to “Have a blessed day”

I was driving in the parking lot of the grocery store looking for a place to park. As I was rolling past a large SUV, I noticed the space beyond it was empty. I almost noticed too late. But I took the tight turn, and pulled into the space. I turned off my car, opened the door, and got out.

“I almost got you there, brother!” came the cheery man’s voice. He had just gotten out of the SUV. “I nearly clipped you with my door!”

“Oh, goodness, I’m sorry…. I didn’t even see you!” I said, immediately apologetic.

“No, no, it’s fine! I pulled back in time. The Lord was watching over us, so everything turned out ok!”

For a millisecond, my smile was frozen on my face while I tried to decide what to say next. I went with: “Well, I’m happy for your reflexes! It’s amazing all these little near-misses that happen every day, huh?”

“The Lord is protecting us in ways we don’t even realize!” he suggested. At this point we were walking side-by-side, both obviously going to the grocery store, so we had no choice but to spend the next 20-30 seconds of our lives together.

“It’s a beautiful day out!” I said.

“It sure is,” he replied, “And it’s supposed to stay that way the rest of the week!”

“Is it? That’s wonderful!” I opined, “And people are saying it will be a mild summer, as well.”

“Lord willing!” was his reply.

We reached the entrance to the store. He started to walk in, and I paused to pick up a basket. As the distance between us grew, I called out in parting: “Have a great day!”

“Have a blessed day!” he replied with a smile. Again, there was a millisecond pause where I considered how to reply… but then the moment was past, the opportunity was lost. He was gone.

A part of me felt bad, like I had missed a perfect chance! Something simple, like a parting, “Hail Satan!” — spoken with a genuine pleasant smile, of course. I played out that scenario in my imagination. How would he have reacted? There is no way of knowing for sure. Fear, anger, and attempt to get into a philosophical debate? Who knows. Perhaps he would simply have laughed, thinking it was a joke.

Would he have recognized that I was mirroring his own behavior: offering a pleasant parting remark, in soothing tones and with a smile? Would he have seen my “Hail Satan” as the exact functional equivalent, socially and psychologically, of his “Have a blessed day”, except expressed through the language of a different symbolic system? Would he then have taken the comment in the spirit in which it was intended, and smiled in return?

That is what I did in my response to him. I could have said, “What God?” or elaborated more specifically: “I don’t believe in God.” But I understood how he meant his remarks, I felt instinctively that he meant me no ill will. So I replied to what I thought his underlying intent was, rather than to his words. Would he have done the same for me, if I had wished him a parting, “Ave Satanas”?

“Oh come on!” the skeptic might reply, “You know darn well how people will react to Hail Satan! The only reason you could have for saying that is to provoke! Don’t try to pretend your ‘Hail Satan’ would be just as innocent as his ‘have a blessed day’.”

But this is the real root of the issue. Being a Satanist, there is literally no way for me to use a “phrase of blessing” that is true to my own religion without also being aware that it is a confrontational act. If you want to openly be a Satanist in today’s world, you are forced to embrace the aspect of Ba’al. You cannot simply be.

For a Satanist, some acts are simultaneously sincere expressions of deeply-held feelings, and at the same time are also acts of defiance. Like an interracial couple holding hands in public in the 1930’s, saying “hail Satan” is not just one or the other. It is both.

Today, my opportunity was lost. I took the higher road that I never expect others to take. And the man I met has no idea of the path the conversation could have taken. Maybe some day he will feel what it is like to be on the other side of that equation. Maybe some day he will have to pause for a millisecond to think about how he should react, when someone smiles and with a genuine open heart says,

Hail Satan!

bookmark_borderMy religious relationship with the Easter Bunny

I do not worship the Easter Bunny. I want to state that clearly from the very beginning, so that there is no confusion. But I do consider bunnies the most important symbol of Easter, with specific religious significance for Satanism.

The Bunny represents the triumph of the secular over the mystical. Christians still like to tell themselves that Easter is about some kind of weird deal where God bribes Satan, but let’s get real: in America in the twenty-first century, Easter is a widely-celebrated cultural phenomenon that has almost nothing to do with Jesus. It is about consumerism and candy and spring time. It is about wearing pastels and showing a little skin after a long winter. It is a celebration of the material world, physical transformations of spring, and indulgence in pleasures. The perfect Satanic holiday, all centered on the glorious Bunny.

And as a Satanist, I enjoy subverting cultural norms an expectations. I enjoy taking symbols with one expected meaning, and turning them around to present them as something else. To get people to question their expectations, and move people out of their comfort zones. So for me, the truly iconic Satanist symbol for Easter is…. the Evil Bunny.

We can find the Evil Bunny in many places in pop culture.

One of my favorite Evil Bunnies appears in the classic animated not-so-much-for-children movie Watership Down: a story all about rabbits. It features a fearsome “bad guy” rabbit, General Woundwort: battle-scarred, vicious, a military dictator of his warren.
He’s basically a rabbit version of Hitler.

The movie Donnie Darko features a bunny that is not so much evil as ominous. A mysterious creature that looks like a terrifying half-skull rabbit creature appears to Donnie in a vision and tells him when the universe will end! The creature, named Frank, imparts strange bits of wisdom to Donnie every time he appears. Is it a creature? Is it a person in a scary bunny suit? How can we know for sure?

Donnie: Why do you wear that stupid bunny suit?
Frank: Why are you wearing that stupid man suit?

And of course, there was a running joke throughout the series Buffy The Vampire Slayer that one of the characters (who was formerly a demon) had a fear of bunnies. She even sings a song about them:

“Bunnies aren’t just cute like everybody supposes. They got them hoppy legs and twitchy little noses, and what’s with all the carrots? What do they need such good eyesight for anyway?”

All of this convinces me that the Easter Bunny–or perhaps a nice evil version of the Easter Bunny–is the perfect Satanic religious symbol for this holiday.

Which movie or television show featuring an Evil Bunny will you watch this Easter?

bookmark_borderMoshing through life

A mosh pit at a hardcore concert is high energy zen. You enter the pit and become an atom: flowing in a stream of energy, colliding and rebounding like particles of a liquid creating a whirlpool or a convection current. You receive energy from the other people, and transfer your energy out toward them, until there is nothing but the “collective energy” swirling around in a vortex. You become one with the system.

Justin Pansacola writes in an article at Vitamin String Quartet:

Every other form of concert body movement requires some self-awareness, and for many people that leads to self-consciousness. It requires either knowledge or natural talent with coordinating the awkwardness of your body to rhythms, or decisions on how to move that best match up with everyone else. That’s always fun in its own way, but the beauty of the mosh pit is that the choice isn’t in your hands. You are simply swept along. For those who struggle with even a modicum of self-consciousness, or indecision about what to do with themselves at a show, the mosh pit is a savior. You surrender to it, and then you try to keep your shoes on. The specter of self-consciousness is powerful. You see it in their attempts to wiggle, the sudden evaporation of their nerve, and the way they look at everyone else while getting down. It’s not their fault. We all have our own terrifying social hang-ups. But the mosh pit is the equalizer that brings extroverts and introverts together. It’s a leveled playing field where we can all just enjoy the visceral sensation of a good beat, a thrashing guitar or a driving bass line.

But it is also very controversial, and very counter-culture. It is frowned upon by cultural conservatives for being too chaotic and hedonistic, and by cultural liberals for being too dangerous.

The best way I can describe the dialectic between those who “get” mosh pit culture and those who do not is to just present to you this discussion thread about the philosophy of moshing on Psych Central:

Paintingravens: I think there’s a philosophy to moshing… a concert is a place where tons of people gather to have a good time and release any of that stress that’s been building up throughout the week. We gather, we fling ourselves into each other, we may fall a couple of times but we pick each other back up, we may inflict a few good bruises on each other, but it’s done unintentionally and playfully (albeit, intensely playfully), and it’s all in the spirit of rocking out. I think moshing is symbolic of the ideal human connection. We gather together to share a similar experience. A concert is a place where we can throw ourselves into each other as hard as we can (release all that daily frustration), and we take it, we share it, we laugh about it. We knock each other down, but we help each other up; possibly analogous to sharing each others pains and problems and helping each other through them? To me, it seems that moshing brings people together. While moshing, no one gets pissed at the other because you accidentally got elbowed in the face, and no one tries to start a fight because you got punched in the gut (both blows I received during this concert…:P); you take it in stride and laugh about it.

Moreta: I don’t like moshers…..or people that crowd surf….since I usually position myself in the front row. I enjoy stepping out of the way so crowd surfers fall to the floor. I was at a Saliva concert one time, in the front row, and people were moshing behind me, and this huge dude slammed right into me, which led to having 3 bruised ribs from hitting the metal railing. Not fun.

Paintingravens: If you don’t like the mosh pit, perhaps in the future, you should consider finding a spot that is not directly in front of it. The mosh pit is not going to move out of the way for you.

TheByzantine:Oh? So before you buy a ticket you get a seating chart that designates mosh pit here? To think it is cool to trample and bruise those who thought they were going to a concert and not a rugby match is quite telling.

Paintingravens: The mosh pits generally start up in the same area (usually front-center area), and there’s not much one can do about it once they start. They gain momentum fast. And standing up in the very front is just asking to get pummeled by moshers… There are always other places to stand that are safe from the frantic blows of excited moshers.

TheByzantine: So what you are saying is that anyone who wants a front row sit is fair game to be bruised and battered?

Paintingravens: No, they’re not “fair game”. It’s not a hunting range. The people in the mosh pit are not targeting the unfortunate people in the front row. But if you make it to the front row and expect to be completely safe and bruise free by the end of the concert, then you are sorely mistaken. The mosh pit extends to the front row, and it’s filled with a bunch of people who are literally throwing themselves into each other. There is much pushing and shoving and flailing of limbs. Bruises happen in the front row. It’s just the way it is.

Lynn P.: Sounds like a good excuse to hurt someone with out getting arrested. I would be afraid of bullies and people going there for that purpose – “yeah lets go hurt someone”

Paintingravens: Lol, mostly everyone is there to have a good time. If someone every gets seriously hurt and knocked to the ground and can’t get up, people notice and make a clearing for him/her; they help him/her up, make sure he/she gets out of the crowd without any more damage… I have yet to see someone point and laugh at any fallen, seriously injured comrades; I’ve never seen anyone as these events as sadistic as that. I’m sure there are people like that somewhere in the crowd, but I think it’s safe to assume it’s a small minority. Those are the people that would most likely be booed from the crowd.

What I find most interesting about the strong advocates of mosh culture is that they truly reflect the way I interpret Satanic values, embodying the intersection of at least three Aspects of Satan:

1. Belial: You are your own spirit, you are your own actor. You neither conform nor rebel. There is no predefined structure, or set of rules.

2. The Leviathan: You understand that your own enjoyment depends on everyone’s enjoyment. You don’t pamper or constrain or “protect”, but you actively make sure to help those who need it. And if you detect people who are violent or acting in bad faith, they are booed from the crowd.

3. Pan: Be caught up in physicality, the music, the moment, and the feeling. Indulge in all of the physical sensations that your body can endure.

Of course, the mosh pit can always go wrong, and there have been news stories and scare-stories about serious injuries and things getting out of control. But at its finest, mosh pit culture represents the perfect balance between individuality, community, and indulgence: and when that perfect chord is struck, it’s one of the most amazing experiences in the world.

bookmark_borderPolitical correctness is the devil

People like to keep things simple. Whenever possible, they would prefer to have One Big Problem, rather many different ones.

The Devil is a perfect illustration of this principle. Over hundreds and thousands of years, mythic and historical writing has included a number of bad characters harboring ill will, or representing challenges to humanity. But our simple-minded culture has decided that they are all actually just one Super-Bad Being: the Devil.

In the Book of Job 1-2, Job has a spiritual adversary who is referred to as “the satan” (which translates from the Hebrew as “the adversary”).

According to the book of Job, this being is specifically Job’s adversary: not “the adversary of God” or “the adversary of mankind”. The satan is in fact following God’s instructions, according to the story. And yet, in our modern-day interpretation of the myth, this being becomes “The Devil”.

In Leviticus 7:17, the Hebrew word sair is translated as “The Devil”, even though it really means “goat” or “satyr”.

In Deuteronomy 32:17 and Psalms 106:37, the Hebrew word shed is translated as “The Devil”, even though it means “idol”.

In 1 Kings, the word “satan” is used to refer to an actual human being: Rezon of Damascus. He was an adversary (a “satan”) to Israel. But many Christians claim this passage refers to The Devil.

“Shaitan” or “ash-Shayṭān” is also the name of Iblis in Islamic myths: the one who whispers evil temptations into the ears of man. According to many: also the Devil.

A snake in a garden that tempts Eve? Must have been the devil.

The peacock angel worshiped by the Yazidis? Must have been the devil.

And my favorite bit of twisted interpretation is Ezekiel 28:12-14, which many many Biblical scholars argue must be referring to the Devil:

“Thus says the Lord GOD: You were the signet of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering, carnelian, chrysolite, and moonstone, beryl, onyx, and jasper, sapphire, turquoise, and emerald; and worked in gold were your settings and your engravings…”

And so on, and so on. The passage goes on to say that he was proud because of his beauty, and so the Lord cast him out. Many Biblical scholars call this a description of the Devil.

The only problem with this description of “The Devil” is the one sentence that precedes it: “Moreover the word of the LORD came to me: Mortal, raise a lamentation over the king of Tyre, and say to him…….”

This (supposedly inerrant?) biblical passage very clearly states that it is a description of the king of Tyre, not the Devil. But no! It’s too confusing to have more than one Bad Guy in the novel of life… so Christians claim that this, too, is a description of The Devil.

* * * * * * *

This over-simplification happens in other areas of life, too. A good example is the way that America’s right-wing has chosen to focus on “political correctness” as the supposed source of so many things it finds disagreeable.

The original idea behind political correctness was fairly mundane: be mindful about how the things you say might have unintended negative consequences or might impact people around you in negative ways.

But now?

Students are complaining about their classes? It’s because of political correctness!

President Obama won’t use the phrase “Islamic Terrorism”? Political correctness!

Women are being allowed in the military? Oh, the horrors of political correctness!

Conservatives want to make “political correctness” synonymous with “language policing” and authoritarianism. And admittedly, some radical “PC Police” activists can use the term in a very authoritarian way. As a Satanist, and a strong supporter of Loki, I’m against anyone who tells me that I should never offend people, or must walk on eggshells in the way I talk.

But it is also obvious to me that political correctness has become the American Right’s modern “Devil”: the single big Bad Guy that can be blamed for all of the problems!

Well, you know what? I like the Devil. And I also like political correctness: at least in the way it was originally intended, even if not the way it is executed by some on the left-side fringe. It is noble, and indeed very Satanic, to be mindful of one’s place in a culture, and one’s relationship to other people. It is very Satanic to be aware of the power you have with your own rhetoric, and as an activist within a community. It is the very nature of the aspect of The Leviathan.

So let the political right wing wrings its hands over the devastation being brought down on the land by the dreaded Political Correctness! As a Satanist I say:

Hail Community. Hail Political Correctness. Hail Satan.

bookmark_borderPsychotherapy in the desert

Fame and faith can consume a man. They can make for a deadly combination. Imagine the man who had so much of both that people became convinced that he was divine… and he allowed himself to be convinced, as well. If you saw him walking through the desert, muddled with hunger and delusion, your heart would surely go out to him. You would want to help him. Of course you would.

When I was in college, a friend of mine suffered from a psychotic break. He was eventually diagnosed with acute schizophrenia, but that diagnosis only happened later: after he’d stopped eating, shaved his head declaring that he didn’t have the “right” to own hair, and then tried to poison himself. I saw him in the hospital that night, his mouth ringed with black from the charcoal the medics had force-fed him, his eyes red and wild. And it threw me back to all the conversations I’d had with him in the months leading up, where I could tell that something was wrong but I didn’t know what.

He was an intelligent guy, and very articulate. But he would phase in and out of lucidness, his mind wandering off into conspiracies about “higher powers” and creatures that were always watching and who would punish you if you made bad decisions. Sometimes he would claim he had powers himself, and that the rest of the humans were “mere shadows” compared to him.

Those conversations were frightening, because he was so plainly earnest. He believed to the core of his being, every word that he said. So, I tried to use the only conversational tactics at my disposal: logic and reason. I asked him for evidence. I challenged his logic. But nothing I could say would penetrate his delusion. “They are watching us,” he would simply mutter over and over again, “they see everything.”

When I imagine Lucifer in the desert, watching over a rail-thin man who has been starving himself for weeks on end, my heart goes out to that poor fallen angel. Lucifer is seeing a man who is wrecked by mental illness, a man who is on a literal path to self-destruction. The man is consumed by the myths and stories that people tell about him, and that he believes about himself.

If I were in Lucifer’s shoes, I’d want to help poor Yeshua, too. Lucifer knows the importance of evidence and skepticism, so naturally he tries to use that tactic to get through to Yeshua:

“If you are really some kind of divine being, then why don’t you throw yourself off of this cliff? Come on, if you really believe all this stuff: prove it with your actions rather than your words!”

But it couldn’t break through the mental illness of Yeshua’s faith, who simply replied: I don’t need to provide evidence, I know what I know.
It reminds me of my schizophrenic friend in college: coherent, semi-rational, but completely unable to recognize the delusion in his own thoughts.
After Lucifer gave up on Yeshua, Pan decided to give it a try. Pan knows the importance of earthly pleasures and indulgences, and his heart went out to the starving man in his self-imposed abstinence. “Hey, bro… at least make yourself come bread and eat. What are you accomplishing by starving yourself?”

But Yeshua’s mental illness consumed him, and he claimed that he didn’t need actual food, he could survive just on his own willpower and beliefs.
Finally, Satan appeared, and attempted to reason with Yeshua one last time: “You’re destroying yourself in abasement to some imaginary being who has imaginary rules… this is absurd! Why are you doing this to yourself? Bowing down to an invisible, impalpable, unknowable entity is insane, don’t you see that? You might just as well bow down to a rock! Or a horse! Or, even me! That’s how ridiculous it is!”

Quite naturally, when this story was transcribed by others, they described these events somewhat differently. But this is how it actually happened.
And you should think about how you would act, too. What would you do, if your friend was out there, a shattered man, broken by mental illness, killing himself in the desert with paranoid delusions about superpowers and an invisible being watching over his every move. How would you try to help him?

Would you try to reason with him, like Lucifer?

Would you try to get him to take care of his body, like Pan?

Would you try to get him to see the oppressiveness of his delusion, like Satan?

Maybe you would take a different tactic completely. But if you have any compassion in you at all, you would surely do just as the Devil did, 2000 years ago on Mount Quarantania, when he tried to talk poor Yeshua out of his delusions and bring him back to the eternal light of reason.

bookmark_borderSatanic Household Chores

In my household, we have a very Satanic way of dividing up the domestic work. If I’m bothered by the number of dirty dishes in the sink, I wash them. If I don’t have the energy to wash them, I don’t. But I don’t ask my partner to wash them either. If xe is bothered, xe will wash them. If not, the dishes don’t get washed… until they build up to the point where someone has both the energy and inclination to do it. Then it gets done.

Usually I wash the dishes, because my threshold for “being bothered” is much lower. But it’s my choice. Nobody tells me that it’s “my chore”, and I never resent being the one who does it because, ultimately, I do it because I want the dishes to be clean: that is my own desire.

By contrast, I never mop the floor. I probably will never mop the floor, because I find it boring and messy and aggravating. My partner finds it relaxing, so xe mops the floor. This is how we divide up all of the tasks: not by edict, not by assignment, not by command or imposition of will of one person on the other. Whichever person minds doing the chore less, or wants it done more, ends up doing it. The result is what scientists call a “self-organizing system.”

I say that this is a very Satanic method for dividing up the chores, because it reflects multiple values of the United Aspects of Satan. Neither one of us is putting demands on the other. Neither one of us is bargaining or holding the other person hostage. Each of us is reflecting the aspect of Belial by performing the tasks we want done the most, at the time that we want it done. We are reflecting the aspect of Satan by refusing to let conservative traditional cultural and religious proscriptions tell us which partner is “supposed” to carry out what task. And we are reflecting the aspect of The Leviathan by understanding that we are working together, even as we individually pursue our own priorities: I know that xe dislikes cleaning the toilets more than I do, so I take on that task… and let xir mop the floors instead. I am mindful of how my actions impact the entire household, without begrudging or placing demands upon anyone else’s independence.

You might think it silly to use something as mundane as household chores as a way to expound on Satanic morality; but really, what is the point of morality if you can’t apply it to the day-to-day operation of your life? That is what life is, after all, minute by minute and day by day, the million little choices that you make.

I also think household chores are a good illustration of Satanic morality, because many people have a misconception that Satanism is a kind of lone-wolf, beating-your-chest individualism. This is a leftover from the outdated “Might Makes Right” attitude in the original “Satanic Bible” by Anton LeVay (I’m tempted to refer to it as “the Old Testament of Satanism”). But for the United Aspects of Satan, individualism is strengthened by community, just as every community is strengthened by the independence of its individuals.

And what better way to illustrate that then to think about a household, and the way you manage day to day tedious chores with the ones you love? The relationships that are the healthiest allow for both mindfulness of how each person affects the other, as well as individualism and independence of all of the people involved.

Many people don’t realize it, but that dynamic — individual mutualism, coordination without the imposition of will — is deeply Satanic.
Ave Satanas.

bookmark_borderIn the beginning…

In the beginning there was nothing. What a grand way to begin! Nothing says “authority” like starting at the very beginning.

In the beginning there was nothing. Can you imagine it? Of course you can’t. For imagination to happen, there has to be an imaginer: you. Which means there is not nothing. There is still you.

In the beginning there was nothing. When you try to imagine it, you conjure up an image of being without distinction. No demarcation lines between “this” and “that”, no boundaries between “foreground” and “background”, nothing to identify as a thing that can be distinguished from that which is not that thing. It is what you might call “Void”.

Only you can’t call it “Void”. By giving it a name you are creating a category: a distinction, a label. When you assign a name you designate the subject of that name as a Named Thing, and therefore not nothing. So let’s pretend that it has some kind of unpronounceable name, some kind of taboo name. The very first act of creation, then, is your action of creating a category, a name.

In the beginning was the Word. This is the start of your own creation story: not in the historical sense, but in the philosophical sense. How do you create the universe you live in? What are the basic building-blocks of your world view? Choose whatever you like: it’s your universe, after all. Your basic building blocks may be atoms or logical axioms, beliefs or goals, relationships or moral priorities. They may be a combination of all of these things. That is your philosophical beginning, a foundation on which you can build the entire structure of your universe.

Satanism is a religion, but it doesn’t outline “The Way It Is” with pomp and authority. We start with the idea that everybody builds a unique personal worldview. Your worldview is made up of every aspect of the universe that you live in and experience: from the personal to the social, from moral to metaphysical, from pragmatic to ideological. It is something you create with your assumptions, your experiences, your values, and your will. And like anything you create, you should be constantly working to hone and improve it. This is just as true for your personal philosophy as it is for your professional accomplishments or your relationships. You are the one in charge, and you should never cede control over your worldview to anyone or anything else. Certainly not to a religion.

In the beginning was an Idea. Satanism represents a loose collection of philosophical building-blocks. Some values, some metaphysical axioms, and some basic methods for how to approach life and the world around you. It ties these ideas together with a set of symbols–fallen angels, war in heaven, demonized gods–that can help you to apply the philosophy in concrete, real-world situations.

Satanism doesn’t have followers. There is a difference between being a follower, and being a traveler who notices when others happen to be walking in the same direction. Satanism isn’t a religion you convert to: that implies that you’re changing your world-view to fit the needs of the group. Satanism is a religion that you already have inside you. When you read about the building block ideas at the core of Satanism, you may find that you were already walking that same path, even if you didn’t use the same symbols or words. You may say to yourself, “That’s the philosophy I came up with myself! That is what I already believe!”

How will you know if you’re a Satanist?

In the beginning was an Idea.

It’s time to begin.