This post is in response to my friend Aleph’s excellent piece on his place in “the Satanic zeitgeist”.
There are many kinds of Satanists, and a number of different types of Satanism discernible nowadays, not to mention a near unlimited number of individual variations (given the minimalist individualism of Satanic philosophy), but it is good for us to look at what has grown, and where we find ourselves in it, 50 odd years on from the proper genesis of modern Satanism, courtesy of Anton LaVey. I consider modern Satanism to have antecedents (notably in Crowley’s Thelema from my point of view), but the emergence of a movement consciously self-identified as “Satanist” dates back to LaVey most clearly*. I look upon this as the emergence of a spiritual stream that actually goes deeper and broader than “what it says on the tin” of LaVey’s Church or Bible.
So without further ado, I’d like to look at Aleph’s points.
Egoism versus egotism versus Altruism
The distinction between egoism and egotism will be seen as academic by many, but I get that the former is a philosophy of self-interest taken as the basis of one’s moral compass, while egotism is the more pejorative or judgemental term, coming somewhere closer to “narcissism” and self-absorption. In this respect Satanism could be seen as an explicitly egoistic philosophy, but I have dealt before with my sense of the potential place of altruism within a Satanic life. We are complex, interdependent, social animals (no matter how selective we might get), and self-interest and a sense of higher or broader fulfilment are not mutually exclusive; there just isn’t a rule on it in Satanism, and you have to come to your own conclusions as to your values. Self-actualisation includes more than food, sex, power and survival, so I would in a sense recommend an intelligent and psychologically literate egoism.
I think one of the brilliant things about Satanism is the way it collapses the authority of all external morality (which is one of the reasons why Satanism is inappropriate for children, who need such external structure). What this means in practice is that you have to make enquiry into your own personal ethics. What is pretty incontrovertible for me is that ethical coherence forms a part of our self-actualisation needs, though as a Satanist it is for you to make the judgement on what is coherent and self-actualising. Aleph asks whether there could be an objective morality of any sort, and I think there is no moral form which is objectively true, but there may be moral or ethical principles which hold true for a great divergence of circumstances, and the more this is so, the more basic the principle would be, and the more self-evident and neutral. It is a bit like the question of “rights”, which though it forms a powerful piece of “mental technology”, is in fact a fabrication in any natural terms. As an animal you have no rights, but to survive if you and your circumstances allow. That’s it. But ethics comes into the field of higher self-actualisation and value, and it is good to look into not “good and evil”, but what “the good” means to you. I think it was Aleister Crowley that said that you could look into good and evil and see that they didn’t truly exist, but to act as if they didn’t exist in practice would ultimately be degrading for the person themselves. I think it is best to say that morality is subjective and relative, but that ethics is an ongoing enquiry of enormous importance to the individual.
Self-preservation vs self-transformation
It is quite true that an unhealthy attachment to preserving one’s own status quo can form a block to growth and transformation, but on the other hand, transformation needs a stable base upon which to work, growth requires a healthy prior stage to grown from.
Self-preservation and self-transformation are actually complementary processes, though there comes a time when preservation must give way to a kind of death and rebirth to allow growth (as in the end of childhood), and where transformation must slow to bring about a stable new state; not a stagnant one, simply a vigorous and strong one. These are actually alterations in the ratios of ever present factors, for no living stability is based upon actual stasis, and no transformation is without limits and essential tendencies towards form, if it is to be meaningful.
Aleph here discusses the differences between Satanism and Luciferianism thus: “Satanism is the philosophy that places emphasis on self-preservation, while Luciferianism talks about self-transformation”. But I would replace “self-preservation” with “self-actualisation” as the more integral emphasis of Satanic philosophy, as this is implicit in it, and a better description of a lived life. This of course includes self-preservation as one of its most basic requirements.
I very much agree with the quote attributed by Aleph to Lilith Aquino:
“Glorification of the ego is not enough; it is the COMPLETE psyche, the entire Self or soul, which must be recognized, appreciated, and actualized”
Indeed, it is this sense of the complete psyche and its actualisation that is strongly represented in Thelema with its sense of the True Will, and I feel is implicit within Satanism, though some might deny it.
God and the gods
If there is one area where I have diverged markedly from LaVey’s Satanism it is in being a polytheist, though I would consider agnosticism to be the default optimal position for Satanism, as the truth is we know little, if anything, once we ask and ask and ask of ourselves what it is we mean. Don’t even get me started on how overrated I find the hip new atheism. I was an atheist when I was 14, and it was amazingly cool for me in 1973, but I’m very bored with the “does God exist?” contention.
I consider all kinds of things to exist beyond sensory testing, and if I’m wrong, well it’s been a wild trip. Whether gods and spirits do or do not exist, the universe behaves as if they do for the purposes of magic. If you wish to plug into psychological archetypes or symbols as a way of communicating with or manipulating the forces of both the mind and of Nature, you will get way further, way quicker by sincerely treating those things as real and independent. Further, I’m of the generation of occultists that found no necessary contradiction between a reality being both entity and psychological symbolic reality of force, or indeed intermediate between these perceived states. When it comes to both being and reality, we generally have but one toe dipped in that sea. You won’t swim by deliberating if wetness is real or symbolic.
Hedonism vs eudaimonism
Hedonism: “living and behaving in ways that mean you get as much pleasure out of life as possible, according to the belief that the most important thing in life is to enjoy yourself“
Eudaimonism: “a moral philosophy that defines right action as that which leads to the “well-being” of the individual, thus holding “well-being” as having essential value”
Further re hedonism:
All hedonistic theories identify pleasure and pain as the only important elements of whatever phenomena they are designed to describe.
Satanism has generally been described as hedonistic, and this may hold in appearance, though even hedonism involves more than physical gratification. Satanism also acknowledges that pleasure and pain are complex experiences that can well wear each others clothes. Satanism generally values pleasurable indulgence, but pleasure can be physical, emotional, mental, and at the level of experience of meaning (and whatever else the human spirit might discover). While Satanism tends to be quite reductive in its value system if you follow LaVey’s “Bible” rigidly, even there it attempts to trace out a limit to pleasures, based upon competing pleasures and their consequences. While this is a little two-dimensional, it is pointing to an intrinsically self-balancing experiential process which has as its implicit goal the pursuance of individual well-being.
What Satanism doesn’t do is prescribe right action, as that is up to the individual to discover and determine. An action that didn’t lead to your own well-being (ultimately) would be seen not as “wrong”, but as unsuccessful.
Where I find hedonism (in its unrefined forms) substandard is in seemingly missing the value of things like hardship and suffering, in personal development and the gaining of strengths, and what I can only term the development of individual virtues. Discrimination is required, but I see nothing un-satanic about the concept of individual virtue, so long as it is individually arrived at. This does not suggest that suffering should not be avoided, it should where it is meaningless and unworthwhile. But the experience of personally unavoidable suffering, given the complexity of our natures, and the drive for self-actualisation, is something which needs to be honestly engaged with.
Satanism seeks refinement, honesty and subtlety, as well as pleasure, but it will never be a collective morality.
“Lex talionis” (the “law of retaliation”, “an eye for an eye” etc) is bandied about quite a bit among modern Satanists, in distinction to “turning the other cheek” or trying to understand your enemies, and I think there are severe limitations to this, though it needs to be put into context.
The literal sense of punching someone for punching you, shooting someone for shooting you, stealing from someone for stealing from you, abusing someone for abusing you, is really not what this is about. What it is saying is the malice of others can expect a response (if that is worthwhile for you, and what you genuinely want) and revenge is not necessarily bad. Sometimes it is meant to hurt. There is no virtue in tolerating crap, not in itself. But it needs to be pointed out that nothing in Satanism will turn out well if it is done unintelligently, because Satanism is like life. Satanism offers no rule book, only tools for enquiry into self and life.
Again here, we have to look into the question of individual well-being. If you get into a feud that drags your life down, or adversely affects you or your loved ones, then you have acted unskilfully. Fighting back stupidly, or seeking revenge unintelligently, is not Satanic. Letting something go can be entirely more freeing sometimes, and there is nothing wrong with taking the better option for yourself and your loved ones.
Further more, something that really needs to be considered, is that if you need to seek revenge or redress more than as an aberrant occurrence, why are you putting yourself in that situation, and wouldn’t it show more mastery to choose or make a better environment, and better company? Satanists know that peace is built upon strength, so incessant battle in your life is more a sign of weakness, unless it is battle that you enjoy and find well-being in of course, in which case you need to find the right partners for your sport.
Again, one comes to the consideration of well-being and intelligence. I think revenge is overplayed in LaVey’s Satanism, which was in part acting as a stimulating antagonist to both Christianity and the hippie movement of the time. It should not be turned into more than common sense on the whole.
I view Satanism as a modern spiritual current, similar in many ways to the 93 current of Thelema. I view it as having emerged into wider self-consciousness through Anton LaVey’s work, though it is as much a proliferation of his bastard children as it is of his atheistic Church of Satan creed. There may be other elements feeding into this, indeed there are, from Thelema (especially its Typhonian recension), demonology and demonolatry, myth and folklore, the paranormal, decadent and gothic art and literature, and the ripe field of 19th century French occultism. I would add the influence of Austin Osman Spare and Rosaleen Norton for myself. In any case, what we have is a current that has emerged organically, rather than dogmatically. Or you could say it has emerged from the psyche, rather than just theory and teaching (even though it takes in its own forms of the latter).
LaVey’s work has inducted this current in its modern form, even though he seemed at pains to disguise his subtlety and contradiction in a delightful pulp style, and deny the depth of the subject at times. But I do not believe things happen on such a surface level, without currents stirring in the depths of the world of the psyche. He would laugh at that I am sure, and I would smile.
I advise people interested in Satanism to follow their instincts and intuition to find out what has attracted them to this area. Don’t get too hung up on what some will say is the doctrine of Satanism, for the philosophy is so simple, so irreducible, that it is a solvent that cannot be contained in any bottle, no matter how labelled.
* Obviously imaginatively, spiritually and in a literary and artistic sense you could trace all manner of things back into the more distant past.