Satanism: The Dark Alternative
(This article is adapted from the author’s 2018 lecture of the same name.)
I am grateful to my hosts tonight because I can assure you there are places and venues that did not want to host a talk called Satanism: The Dark Alternative. I also had people who urged me to change the title, to soften it. And my response was no, because I want to be blunt about what we’re exploring — which is historical, spiritual, and philosophical Satanism as a practical path.
I must be clear that when I use the term Satanism I’m not using it as a metaphor for the shadow or for something indirect. I’m speaking about the veneration and worship, ethically and spiritually, of the figure historically known as Satan or Lucifer. This figure appears in many myths throughout the Western and Eastern world under different names. But we in the West often use the Hebrew-derived name Satan, or adversary, or the Latin-derived term Lucifer, or light bringer. I must add that I do not make a distinction between those two entities, Satan and Lucifer. I’m aware that some people do, and I have friends in certain magical and esoteric orders to whom it’s important to use the term Lucifer, which they see as a more productive framing. I respect that entirely, but I don’t find it a philosophical necessity. I don’t think one needs to apologize for using those terms.
But one does need to be clear. I’ve offered you a definition that is plain: when I use the term Satanism I am talking about veneration of Satan — but what is Satan? That’s the key rub. That’s what causes the friction. That’s what causes controversy. The question, what is Satan?, is the crux of what we’re going to consider. Because it is my contention that that our definitions of the Satanic and of the Luciferian in the West are completely insufficient.
There is an esoteric history behind the Satanic, which I think the mainstream culture has failed to appreciate. Very often when people say that Satanism is synonymous with evil or violence or destruction or cruelty or lies, my first question is, where are those premises from? Are you drawing that from entertainment, because there are lots of movies like The Exorcist and so on which have value, but those things are entertainment. They’re not informed by any definitions that I would organize my life around as an ethical and creative being.
Another subset of people will say that their definitions come from Scripture. My response is, do your ideas of Satan really come from Scripture? Because references to the Satanic in Scripture are very brief, very fleeting, and often very ambiguous. The most famous such reference is the story of the serpent supposedly seducing Eve in Genesis 3. And this lands us into the fallen state we occupy today. We’re told that Eve eats fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and gives it to Adam, who in the text didn’t need any apparent coercing — contrary to myth, Eve didn’t seduce Adam. Their eyes were opened and God expelled humanity from paradise.
That’s one of reading of the story. There’s never any statement, in fact, that the figure of the serpent is Satan. It was only later on that some of the writers in the Hebrew tradition and the writers in the New Testament tradition, often post-Scriptural, began to use the Hebrew term Satan, or adversary, as synonymous with the serpent.
You can comb through Scripture and there’s just a handful of references to that supposed maleficent force. It appears fleetingly in Isaiah (probably referencing the king of Babylon), fleetingly in Revelation, fleetingly in Genesis, a brief mention in Job, and brief references in the Gospels. If you were to actually take all the references from Scripture that are conventionally thought of as defining the Satanic you’d come up with maybe about a hundred lines, and most of those would be clothed in ambiguity.
For example, Eve is supposed to have eaten from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. But it’s not entirely clear to Bible scholars whether the Tree of knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life, both of which are referenced in Genesis, are two distinct things or are one and the same. One of the earliest exponents of the “one tree” theory was German theologian Karl Budde (1850–1935), followed by bible scholar Claus Westermann (1909–2000), both traditional figures and highly recognized in their field.
Wouldn’t it be extraordinary if the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life were both one thing? What kind of life were Adam and Eve conscripted to in so-called paradise, what kind of life were they granted, if they had no knowledge of good and evil? In such a state, they didn’t create. They didn’t produce. It’s also true that they didn’t have friction. They ate from the tree they were expelled from Eden and they begat two sons, Cain and Abel. Differences were introduced into the world. Cain acted out in anger at his brother with whom he had deep fissures. His brother was pious and theological and favored by God. Cain was independent and a loner and a rebel, and wasn’t suited to worship. Cain loved his brother Abel yet had deep differences with him because their mother and father had eaten from this tree of good and evil. Cain did something he regretted for the rest of his life: acting in passion he slew his brother.
And yet at the same time, if knowledge of good and evil had not been introduced into the world by this adversarial force represented by the serpent, then not only would there have been no differences between Cain and Abel, but in a very distinct sense there would have been no Cain and Abel because everything and everyone would have been classified by a certain sameness. What would be the purpose of creation in the absence of distinctions of measurement, of production and counter production, and even of friction, which inevitably arises from choice.
It is possible to approach Genesis 3 from a different perspective. It’s not a Jewish book or a Christian book — those are early-modern terms — it is, like all primeval mythical works, a parable of human development. That doesn’t exclude the spiritual or the extra-physical, but all great spiritual works are the product of humanity seeking out its origin and purpose, If we approach Scripture that way, we can detect through history a slender thread of insight, from antiquity up through our own time, that reads a compellingly different perspective into our foundational Western myth.
Seen from this different perspective, the serpent was the great liberator of Eve. The serpent was the emancipator of Eve. There were many proto-feminists in the 19th century and others during the Romantic age who did, in fact, as artists, as rebels, as political agitators, view Satan as a kind of philosophical grandfather. Because they saw Satan in league with certain readings in Romantic, anarchist, and socialist literature not as the enemy of humanity but as the rough liberator of humanity. You can learn about this in my 2019 presentation God of the Outsiders.
There were Romantic poets, including Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, and, as a kind of precursor to them, William Blake, who identified with the figure of Satan as the actual creator or co-creator of humanity. Not as a biological fact but as an intellectual fact. As the bringer of the arts, of the sciences, and as the archetypal hero who rejected conformity, who rejected that which was just handed down. You can find a fascinating esoteric story line that runs through parts of Western culture, including within the traditions of gnosticism.
The Romantic poets offer a particularly powerful expression of this esoteric perspective. They understood Satan not as the seducer of Eve but as a truth-bringer. Because if you look at these few lines in Genesis 3 and 4, which have come to form the moral foundation of Western life, you will see that Satan actually told Eve the truth. Satan asked what kind of a God wants to keep you from your intellectual potential? Wants to keep you from making the same distinctions that he makes and that his angels make? What kind of God would plant a Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, a Tree of Life, the two being synonymous, in the midst of paradise only to tell you that you cannot eat from it? What kind of paradise is that, which doesn’t allow measurement, evaluation, and growth? What kind of God would tell you that if you eat from the tree you’ll die? None of these things are true, so said the serpent to Eve. And they did not die. They did gain knowledge of good and evil. The fruit apparently tasted good because, however much this trope has persisted in Western culture, Eve did not seduce Adam into eating the apple.
For millennia women have been culturally treated as sneaky, counter-truthful figures and subjected to horrific persecution during the witch craze, which persisted in Western and Eastern Europe for centuries, based on this unwarranted ur-myth that Eve seduced Adam. Eve simply offered him the fruit and he ate it and he possessed knowledge and she was no longer just some kind of physical adjunct to him created out of his rib but was a thinking, dynamic, choice-driven individual, which is why when feminism, anarchism, socialism and other causes formed into a radical body politic in the early-to-mid nineteenth century, there were many reformists, artists, political rebels, and so on, including the Romantics, who selected Satan as a kind of political forefather.
So when I say that Satanism is the veneration of Satan — and I want to be very direct that I’m not trying to hide that — it’s vital to understand what definition and perspective I’m operating from. Again, we have a definition of Satan from entertainment. And we have definitions from the standard Western storyline. But we also have an esoteric insight, which I’ve been briefly describing, and which reads a whole different story into the myth of Satan. And myths are, of course, repositories of great truth. People throughout history codified psychological insights, metaphysical insights, insights into human nature into myths. A myth may not be historically true, but it is ultimate truth.
We all know the Greek myth of Icarus, who was said to fly too close to the sun and fell to earth. We all understand that this parable contains a great verity of human nature. It warns of hubris. Our greatest truths are couched within myths. So I don’t use the term myth as a synonym for falsehood. A myth is a parable of truth. It can also contain spiritual truth. When I say spiritual I mean extra-physical. The basis of my belief system is that there is exists a facet of life that goes beyond the physical. Not everyone who claims the name of Satanist agrees with me. Many of my friends in the Church of Satan, which was founded by Anton LaVey in 1966, and of which I am not a member, consider Satan a metaphor for the highest potentials of human will; many would not agree with me that there’s an extra-physical aspect to life.
There’s another organization that was founded by a very brilliant man named Michael Aquino, who broke off from the Church of Satan in 1975 and founded an organization called the Temple of Set. Aquino’s perspective is more of an occultic Satanism. In general terms you could say that there exists a materialist Satanism, which views Satan as a kind of allegorical figure, and an occultic Satanism, which views Satan as an actual force that can be appealed to.
My sympathies are more in the direction the occultic Satanism, because I do believe in an extra-physical dimension of life. I’m going to say more about that, but I must add that I also believe that both those paths do not run perpetually parallel but converge. I think they converge because we’re always using terms in the West to describe things that we can’t see, whether psychologically or metaphysically, but which seem palpably real to us. Show me the ego. Show me consciousness. Show me awareness. Show me inner. Show me outer. Show me personality. Show me essence. These are all just terms to which we attach to experiences, and about which we generalize. We reach a cultural consensus and roughly agree on what they mean. I cannot prove to you that some kind of non-physicality exists. I could probably talk about ESP experiments and other things that point us in that direction. I could probably talk about some things in quantum physics that are very suggestive that the mind or human awareness is a palpable force, which goes beyond the local. But I’m not going to be able to demonstrate to you in immediate terms that there’s some non-material existence, although that’s my conviction.
I do believe that there’s a non-physical approach to life, which can complement the physical, and that’s important to me for the following reason. I’m interested in all kinds of metaphysical philosophies. I’m interested in New Thought or mind metaphysics. I’m interested in a very wide variety of different outlooks and all of them are oriented towards heightening the individual’s abilities through some kind of appeal to, or awareness of, agencies that go beyond motor function and cognition.
I think that we’ve all faced tremendous frictions and difficulties in life. All of us have things in our past that are cripplingly difficult. We have things within us that we seem unable to find an antecedent for. You can be in therapy all your life and talk and talk and talk, and there are still certain aspects of character that seem to elude analysis. And sometimes the individual just feels broken down. And I do believe there is some modicum of unseen help at such moments. That’s been my personal experience. That’s been the testimony and experience of countless numbers of sensitive people over millennia. We’re broken and we’re driven to our knees sometimes by psychological emotional, and physical difficulties. Circumstances batter us. But I do believe that we are not completely bereft of assistance. I don’t think we’ve been entirely set loose on an ocean of circumstance.
I was brought to a particular question about this, and I want to put that same question to you. It’s a question for you just to hold. This isn’t something that you have to disclose or talk about. It is an intimate question — and it’s just for you. It’s for you to take home and to hold over the next week or whatever period of time is meaningful to you.
I wish for you the same thing that I wish for myself, which is that this question becomes one of the most pivotal and meaningful in your life. I’m not exaggerating because I would never exaggerate to people who given me their valuable attention for this fixed period. Everything in life could seem to you as a kind of “before and after” pivoting on the axis of this question, which I’m going to put to you in just a moment.
As a short preface to what I am about to offer, let me note that William Blake produced a very beautiful work of epic verse and portfolio of paintings called The Marriage of Heaven and Hell in 1790. In The Marriage of Heaven and Hell Blake listed the “Proverbs of Hell.” And it’s very interesting and worth reading. You can find it online. It makes exciting, stimulating reading. One of the maxims that Blake uses is: “One Law for the Lion and Ox is Oppression.”
Blake was attempting, among other things, to validate the existence of polarities in our lives. This is what he called “the marriage of heaven and hell.” This is what brought me to this inquiry and to the question I was referencing— which I now put to you. I ask you to consider it carefully, regardless of whether it squares fully with your vocabulary, your perceptions, or your language. Don’t get hung up on language. Just hear the essence of what I’m putting to you. It’s very simple:
What if you’re praying to the wrong God?
What if you’re praying to the wrong God? What if there’s an extraordinary wellspring of help for you as an artist, as a person who just wants to get things done in the world — which to me is sacred — and you may be able to avail yourself of that help by turning on its head the spiritual maxim, Thy will be done, to its Satanic opposite, My will be done. And what if there is a extant force, call it Satan, call it Lucifer, call it whatever you please — we live by myths and I use those terms — that can be appealed on these grounds. The ancients deified or personified energies, and I am talking about experimenting with that same approach; about petitioning the radically individualistic energy that we have never been able to fully codify and that goes under the term Satan.
You don’t have to join anything. You don’t have to pay anybody. You don’t have to declare yourself a member of anything. I’m not a member of anything. I don’t recruit for anything or anyone. What I am describing belongs to the sanctity of your private life, with rituals, prayers, maxims, affirmations, reading, and exploration that you devise. Because I am telling you there is a counter-tradition that you can find in the form of very precious threads and fragments, which I think of as an illuminated Satanic tradition. Just threads and fragments, which you can research, look at, and use to your own ends.
And what are your ends? You have things you want to accomplish in life. I believe that’s the highest sacred expression that a human being can make. Many of you reading these words are artists. All of us are in relationships. We have financial lives. We have creative lives. We have things that we want to do. What do you want to do?
Eve didn’t want to just sit around all day barefoot in a garden, so to speak; she made a decision. She made a decision and she became an extraordinary individual. In so doing she’s the hero of Genesis. And, yes, there was pain. Something I wish for no one. Friction did enter into the world. That may be the cost of creativity and sentience. Would we be human without it?
Now some of the people encountering this material may say that if you engage in the experiment I am proposing you’re going to get “possessed.” You’re going to give yourself over to the dark side. I must tell you that I take people’s ethical objections very seriously. I’m not a glib person. I care deeply about people’s ethical lives. And if somebody comes to me with an ethical argument I want to hear it. But I have found that the key foil of human nature, the key brokenness within human nature, is this persistent drive to tell other people what to do. When people object to your spiritual or ethical or artistic or individual path, most of the time they don’t want to be heard; they want to be heeded. They want you to do what they’re telling you to. And that’s where most conflicts begin; most people couldn’t care less about truth, about ethics, so long as you’re doing what they want you to. They don’t have an ethical or religious position. They have a demand.
The central tenet of Christianity is to love your neighbor and love your enemy. So if Satan is the great enemy what would follow from a Christian perspective? But actually, and you’ve seen this on social media or elsewhere, people start out arguing from a Christian perspective and the moment they detect resistance, the moment you answer back or make a counter-argument, they’re angry. And I’m not picking on Christians at all. It’s human nature. It’s in me, it’s in them, it’s in all of us. People don’t walk around with ethical or principled positions. They walk around wanting to tell you what to do. And you do not have to listen to them.
People tell me sometimes that if you read Anton LaVey’s The Satanic Bible it will open you to possession. And I have to tell you very frankly, and I say this as a friend, I’m not the least bit frightened of that. The only thing that scares me is that my search or your search will not produce anything. What I’m scared of is that maybe there is no Bigfoot hiding in the woods, so to speak, and I have to contend with that. Maybe the materialists are correct. Maybe there is nothing other than flesh and bone, and the mind is just a localized phenomenon driven by the gray matter of the brain. And when it’s gone, we’re gone. That scares me. I want to live in a world where things go bump in the night and it’s not just my upstairs neighbor hammering a picture into the wall at 4:00 a.m.
In the past several years the Vatican has more than quadrupled the number of exorcists in America. That is, church-certified exorcists here in the United States. The number has gone from about 12 to 50. This has been more widely reported in Great Britain than it has in America. People in Britain are wondering what’s going on in America — why are so many exorcists being certified? Now, I’ve never witnessed what I consider a demonic possession. I have never personally met anyone who related such a story to me who I felt I was ready to hand my trust to. I would never deny that is a strange world and there are a lot of strange things going of which we have only the foggiest notions. So I would never present some sort of a rejectionist analysis.
But I will offer the following observation: historically speaking, in the history of religion, in the history of religious literature, and in most of the stories that people tell and pass around, including stories that you’ll happen upon online, those who claim to have experienced or witnessed some sort of demonic possession were not seeking what we call Satan. Usually they were either very religious people or they were just innocent bystanders and something tragic and chaotic happened to them. But the tradition that I’m talking involves people actively seeking Satan and the so-called dark side. Yes, the dark side. The womb is dark. The night sky is dark, which allows the human eye to see the cosmos. The dark is nurturing. If you have ever had trouble sleeping you know full well that ambient light is disruptive. We need the dark.
Those of us who go looking for the dark, looking for the Satanic, looking for the Luciferian, provide very little record of so-called possession; there are very few such individuals in history who describe any sort of possession or negative encounter.
And, yes, there are all kinds of stories that someone’s kids started listening to Ozzy Osbourne and then got possessed, and so on. First of all, Ozzy’s a Christian. Black Sabbath, a band that I love, is completely and always has been a Christian band lyrically. I don’t know why as Ozzy calls himself the Prince of Darkness, which is like saying Pee Wee Herman is the Prince of Darkness. In any case, I don’t believe those stories. I think they’re propaganda. I think they’re the lowest kind of urban legendary. Because they seek to proscribe the human search, and that to me is evil.
Some people ask, where’s the role of ethics within a Satanic or Luciferian outlook? The role of ethics for me is that the only evil and the ultimate evil is proscribing or limiting or violating another individual’s pursuit of his or her highest potential. Anything that visits a forced limit upon an individual, whether because of their community, where they come from, who they are, how they identify themselves, or just because they’re isolated and vulnerable, anything that visits limits on the development of the individual is to me is an act of violence. It could be physical violence or it could be emotional violence or it could be political violence, or what have you. I don’t believe in anything that limits the right of the individual to explore his or her highest human potential. That, to me, is the ethic of Satanism. You do nothing to proscribe or limit another’s self-development or search.
I think there are other ethics that one could speak of, including loyalty. I think loyalty is an almost lost virtue in our time. Loyalty is a word that we should be using more. Of course, whenever you invoke loyalty people object and ask, well, do you mean if you work for Hitler you should be loyal to him? I reject those kinds of kinds of framings. Because most of us, most of the time in our day-to-day lives, never confront questions of ultimate evil. Most people want to take every ethical or philosophical discussion to its extreme, where you’re two degrees separated from Hitler in whatever discussion you have in the twenty-first century. But on a daily basis, neither I nor my neighbor encounters ultimate questions of evil. To force the conversation in that direction is to evade its true imperative.
The real question is: what level of decency and value and integrity do you demonstrate to your own friends and colleagues? Do you keep your word? If you promise somebody that you’re going to help them move, well show up to help them move. And show up on time. If you cannot keep your word you have nothing to offer the world. What’s more, if someone is suffering don’t engage in gossip about that person, which I think is the most poisonous thing that we do to ourselves and to others. Individual loyalty is a primal ethic that we’ve lost sight of. And, yes, if you encounter corruption there are other ethical questions that enter; but the kinds of corruption that we encounter most of the time are usually quite petty. And corruption to my mind is usually self-generated. It’s taking pleasure or entertainment in seeing somebody else humiliated or seeing somebody in reduced circumstances or gossiping about somebody. We spend unbelievable amounts of time gossiping, and if you’ve ever gotten together with a friend and spent an hour-and-a-half or two hours gossiping I will bet that you’ve had the experience of feeling physically drained afterwards, almost like you’re suffering a hangover or like you’ve eaten too much of something bad for you, like too much sugar or too many carbs. And then you experience this come-down where you feel sluggish and slow and depressed, and you might even feel a sense of ennui or sadness. Gossip is bad for you. It’s disloyal. It’s poison. So I think there are Satanic ethics. Loyalty is one. Keeping your word is one. And the most important is doing nothing that would deny another person his or her reach for their own highest potential.
I want to recommend a few things for you to read if you feel like this journey is one that you want to take. And, again, I don’t belong to any organization. I’m not recruiting. I’m simply encouraging this as your own path of exploration.
Michael Aquino, who is the founder of the Temple of Set, is a very brilliant man, a long-time Satanist, and a retired lieutenant colonel in the US Army. Aquino made a fascinating observation, which I think holds true for everybody who resonates with these words. He said that when you go down a path like this you’re dedicating yourself to a self-development, and it gives you an artistic quality which makes you less likely to want to belong to an organization, so it’s very difficult to maintain a Satanic organization because its almost as if success mitigates against itself: as soon as people start finding things they want to leave or they want to become the leaders or they want to be put in charge. His response to that was, well, bravo — if we need to be a small organization then we’ll be a small organization, because the mark of success is that nobody can be contained by it. I say this not only in tribute to Aquino as a great intellect but to underscore the fact that this path is exquisitely your own.
I do recommend that you read the book of Genesis. Read Genesis 3 and 4 and see what you make of the creation myth of the serpent supposedly seducing Eve. John Milton (1608–1674) took those few lines and made them into his epic Paradise Lost. For a long time Western culture was uneasy with Paradise Lost. It was banned in Czarist Russia for generations because the first two or three chapters, which I think are the most alluring in the whole book, present Satan as a heroic rebel who’s vanquished, who’s defeated, but who rouses his troops from this lake of fire in Hell, arranges them into a grand council called the pandemonium, house of demons, and urges them to rise up and set themselves to a new task. He urges them to determine how they’re going to create a new world in their vanquished state and he says famously, “The mind is its own place it can make a heaven of hell or a hell of heaven.” Satan is an optimist.
Also read William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. It’s all of thirty pages. It’s very stimulating, very simple reading. Probably the most beautifully straightforward thing Blake ever wrote. Read the Proverbs of Hell if you’re looking for ethics. If you feel that what I am describing is alluring and inspiring but you are concerned about the ethical implications of walking away from conventional religious traditions, and you are wondering where the guardrails are, well you may find them in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Blake lays out a brilliant set of ethics that you can read, live, abide by.
Most especially, and I say this personally, read Lord Byron’s play Cain. You can find it free online or you can purchase a 99-cent Kindle version. It’s extraordinary. It’s the Cain and Abel story told from Cain’s perspective. Lucifer appears as a very alluring, powerful character. Lucifer speaks to Cain about how only he only he can understand the situation of the vanquished individual, of the suffering individual, of the person who lives in the dust, because he has been there and he challenges a God who preaches love but conscripts those who commit unacceptable behavior to eternal suffering.
Speaking to Cain, Lucifer disputes that he was the serpent, or that the serpent was possessed by a demon. He says rather it was Eve’s independent decision to violate an absurd order against eating from an illuminated tree placed in the midst of the garden. Lord Byron elevates Eve’s decision; he elevates rebelliousness; he has Lucifer speaking to Cain of the sanctity of nonconformity and of non-obedience. And yet Cain, of course, kills his brother. As I was saying earlier, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in our Western mythical structure introduced choice and possibility and ideology and ethics into the world. It also introduced friction. The tree was a polarity. And Cain and Abel became hung up on this polarity. Cain was the rebel, the nonconformist, the malcontent. Abel was the religionist, the moralist, the follower. He wasn’t completely innocent because he had a way of life that he wanted Cain to conform to, and Cain had a way of life that said leave me alone. Friction ensued. Cain, to his everlasting sorrow, committed fratricide.
So I ask you, and I ask myself, to put yourself in Cain’s position and consider whether there was some other possibility. Whether there was some manner of life that Cain could have adopted to defend himself without resorting to violence. It’s a question. Maybe they were just caught in this inevitable existential struggle. They had differing points of view and it erupted into violence. It’s the human tragedy. But what would be the alternative? If Eve had never eaten from the tree, the alternative would be no humanity to speak of. How would humans even be deserving of the plural case, humans, if they were really just one consensus-based, averaged-out humanity, which I don’t think we could even recognize and wouldn’t recognize ourselves within.
We’re human and some large number of us, mythically speaking, are descendants of Cain whether we like it or not. Abel had no bloodline. So, for many of you, your titular parents are Eve and Cain. What would you have done? Is possible to live a life of self-defense that doesn’t involve violence; that doesn’t involve encroaching on another person?
Another work that I recommend, and which you can also find online, is a short book by Michael Aquino called The Diabolicon. Aquino, as I mentioned earlier, is the founder of the Temple of Set. In The Diabolicon, he retells the myth that appears in the most fleeting lines in the Book of Revelation and a few other places in Scripture, which make mostly metaphorical allusions to a war in heaven leading to the expulsion of Satan and his legions. The short book re-visions and re-pictures, according Aquino’s insights, the friction between what he would describe as a passive, hypocritical force of conformity, represented by the figure of God and his legions, versus a radical, unbending individualism and wish for growth and development as represented by Satan and his forces.
You will find that it’s a very interesting book because Aquino suggests that if you wish to devise some sort of an appeal or a petition or a prayer to the Satanic, you don’t need to do so in some dramatic way or on bended knee. Rather you speak to the figure represented as Satan as a friend, as a colleague, as an equal — because this figure wishes for your development, wishes for your productivity, and he did not deceive Eve but emancipated Eve. Hence, you speak to this figure as a friend.
I mentioned briefly another organization which is so central and so important to the things I’m exploring, and that is the Church of Satan, which was founded by Anton LaVey in 1966, which he declared the Year Zero, the year of Satan. Anton lived in San Francisco and he died in 1997. He was a very media-friendly figure, instantly recognizable with his shaved head and goatee. He looked like the figure of Satan as we picture him in the popular mind. Anton was a brilliant man — and he was kind of a tricky man. He told a reporter from The Wall Street Journal in 1969 that he had played the figure of Lucifer in the movie Rosemary’s Baby, and this keeps getting repeated over and over in the press, up to this day. In fact, Anton was nowhere near the set of Rosemary’s Baby. He invented the story and the reporter accepted it, printed it, and everybody thinks, well it’s in The Wall Street Journal so it must be true. One thing I learned as a historian is that you must double-check everything.
But it’s also probably true that Anton’s aesthetic and his reframing of the Satanic as a religion of self-development influenced writers like Ira Levin and the filmmaker Roman Polanski and others who created the movie. So one could say that Anton told the truth in the form of a myth. He wasn’t part of Rosemary’s Baby, but his aesthetic and his outlook and his intellect probably informed the events and the visuals and the storytelling found within it.
I must say a special word of tribute to Anton, and to my friend Carl Abrahamsson for exposing me to the real value of his work, because Anton was probably the first person in in modern life who put forth the idea of the Satanic as an ethical and religious philosophy by which the individual could really live. The Satanic Bible, which has probably sold well over a million copies at this point, is a paean to individualism and offers a set of ethics not much different from some of the things that Blake writes about in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Some people feel that Anton’s point of view was a bastardization of Ayn Rand and Nietzsche. And perhaps there’s some truth to that — but I ask: so what? The Satanic Bible is very easy to read and most philosophy is syncretic, in any case. I think it exposed a whole generation to ideas that it might not have otherwise encountered. I think it made a difference in people’s lives.
I strongly believe that truth should be simple and I don’t believe that alluring ideas must be weighted down with excessive verbiage or introductions. I think one of the one of the bad legacies that great lines of literature like Penguin Classics have visited upon our contemporary culture is these thickly written, overly long introductions. You cannot imagine why you would want to read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein by the time you’re done with a sixty-page introduction. Just read it. She wrote it without an introduction. Is it really necessary to have that kind of introductory statement? I believe strongly in diving right into things.
Anton was very simple in the things that he said and did, for the most part. The Satanic Bible is wonderful popularization of Nietzsche, of individualistic philosophy, and it contains Anton’s own shrewd observations on human nature and the role of ritual.
Anton is often derided as a showman, a trickster, a media sensationalist — and he was all those things. It’s true that he made up his past. His real name was Howard Levey and he became Anton LaVey, and that says a lot: he was a performer, he was an entertainer, he never claimed that he wasn’t a carny, he had a trickster background . But he was also a very insightful figure and a great artist. He would provoke and he would push and he would press buttons. If you read his philosophy you’ll find that it’s a very life-affirming, very humanistic philosophy. And although I’m aware that he chose the name Church of Satan to be provocative, I deeply appreciate the straightforwardness of it, and that’s probably what inspired me to call this talk Satanism: The Dark Alternative, because I don’t want to play games with people and try to disguise what I’m getting across.
You know, Satan is supposed to be the lord of lies and the lord of deception. Well, if I was interested in deceiving anybody I would have chosen some coy or cute title. I think Anton had a way about him of combining showmanship with a great ingenuousness. For all his self-mythologizing, he really did introduce into Western culture this idea that the Satanic could be a philosophical and ethical path.
Before I conclude it’s important to briefly address the media misrepresentations of Satanism and the false notion that there’s this horrible cabal of child-sacrificing, death-worshiping, cannibalistic Satanists out there somewhere. Throughout Western history and up to the present day this has existed as a complete myth — it is historically a total and utter fantasy, and I give absolutely no quarter to it.
It’s important to point out that before Anton founded the Church of Satan in 1966 there really was no cohesive Satanic tradition in Western culture to speak of. You had individuals, rebellious figures who made counter-readings and esoteric readings of some of the foundational Western myths. Some of these very individualized rebellious readings appeared in some of the literature that we’ve been considering. There were people like the novelist JK Huysmans (1848–1907) and others who wrote about black masses and other things that were largely fanciful, though they might have picked them up from self-styled or self-described Satanic occultists in turn-of-the-century culture or in some reaches of Romantic culture. But in order for there to be an overt tradition that one can really speak of, there must be a liturgy, a family tree, a foundational literature, a congregation. None of this has been true for Satanism. Satanism is an anarchistic tradition. It’s important to understand that. With regard to things like a black mass, there’s not some tradition that you can point to that goes back 2,000 years or centuries, in the same way that you can point to traditions in Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Christianity. It’s not a tradition in those terms. It never has been.
For the most part, charges of Satanism in a negative sense were directed by the early church fathers against the remaining bastions of pagan power in late antiquity because the church wanted to define these people, who were on their way to being vanquished, as part of something evil and maleficent, against which military and judicial power could be directed. As the early church became more powerful, and as Christianity became the officially sanctioned religion of the Roman Empire, the fading pagan powers were depicted as demonic, as Satanic, They were described in terms that they had never applied to themselves. If the pagan powers had won the struggle of ideas in late antiquity they would have done the same thing to the church fathers. There’s not good guys and bad guys. There’s human nature. To some extent it is true that the victors get to write history, especially in matters of religion.
The irony for me as a historian is that I’m always defending pagan antiquity and various occult figures from charges that they’re Satanic — because they never conceived of themselves in that way. And yet I’m also describing a counter-tradition, an esoteric tradition of Satanism, which wouldn’t make any sense to the persecutors (and doesn’t today) because they misapplied that label.
We misapply labels to people because we want to tell them what to do, or to punish them for disobedience. Hence, most of the time Satanism throughout history has been a false charge, directed by victors against vanquished. That was certainly true during the hundreds of years of witch crazes that swept through Europe, where countless numbers of women were accused of being witches and were killed. This is still going on. I have a piece in the New York Times called “The Persecution of Witches, 21st Century Style.” Thousands of people around the world today, very often children and women, on all continents, are accused of some sort of Satanic witchcraft and are subjected to horrible violence. This occurs in West and Central Africa, in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, in India, and there are instances in London and in New York City where people are accused, very often women, of being agents of Satan, of practicing demonic witchcraft, and they’re killed or violence is visited upon them in the most grisly way. In that vast majority of cases there’s no spiritual content, black magic, white magic, nothing of any mystical nature going on. It’s just predators leveling a charge against somebody as a pretext for violence.
That’s mostly the history of Satanism in our Western world — not violence being done by Satanists but violence being done to people accused of being Satanists. There was a media sensation during the 1980s, a so-called “Satanic Panic.” The storyline went that healthcare workers, daycare workers, preschool teachers, and so on, were torturing kids or sacrificing them or inducting them into Satanic cults. It was complete falsehood. Not a a fragment or thread of truth to it. I can tell you for a fact that there were people, like many of you reading these words, artistic, sensitive, capable, decent people, who had these accusations leveled against them. And their lives were severely and wrongly damaged.
The overwhelming likelihood is that anybody who’s into the Satanic is like the person sitting next to you. Yes, they have a proclivity for wearing black which is a very positive sign, I am convinced. And they are of an artistic bent. Sensitive outsiders. Misfits of the best kind. I’m sure many people reading these words have had some experience at a very young age of feeling out of step, out our sorts, like a square peg — and that’s a wonderful thing. That’s what forges individuality.
So when people come to you and they talk about evil or possession or Satanic abuse scandals or black masses or any of this stuff — where is this information from? What are their premises? Why should their definitions mean anything to you? Most of the time it’s a set of hand-me-down ideas from books that they’ve never read, from articles that they’ve heard about somewhere, from rumors and stories that have been proffered in the form of gossip over social media or among friends or from entertainment, which they assume has at its back some factual truth. It’s fear. It’s propaganda. And, above all, it’s just conventional thinking, which is exactly the thing, from the earliest part of our culture, that the Satanic and the Luciferian has stood up to.
Blake said the same law for the ox and the lion is oppression. Hence my question: What if you’re praying to the wrong God? You may feel a terrific yearning for something that hasn’t been satisfied by the conventional offerings that we are told represent the only valid choices in our society. So I offer this to you as another choice. Something for you to explore entirely on your own.
My deepest wish for everyone reading these words is that you find something. That you find something extraordinary. And that something builds and asserts your will — that which is creative, that which is productive, that which is Self in you.
The 2018 lecture from which this article was adapted can be seen here (the sound is low so crank it up or use headphones):
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