issues in Satanism

Why Not? by C. D. Batchelor 1919 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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.

Morality/ethics

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

Cambridge dictionary

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”

The Basics of Philosophy

Further re hedonism:

All hedonistic theories identify pleasure and pain as the only important elements of whatever phenomena they are designed to describe. 

The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

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.

Revenge

“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.

Conclusion

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.

a dream for midsummer

Scene from A Midsummer Night's Dream. Titania and Bottom - Edwin Henry Landseer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Evolving a path is I think a fascinating and rewarding thing. Construction (or reconstruction) is so mundane, compared to the emergence of something from the pages of books, snatches of poetry, film, dreams, deep desires, and the fount of the subconscious.

We have been trialing our own “black mass” – not the iconoclasm and parody of either Christianity or fashionable beliefs that often characterise a modern black mass, but a more direct communion with Satan, the god of the witches, and the buried treasures of blackened and forgotten deities and demons. It is a lovely experience.

Aside from Walpurgis Night and Halloween, we haven’t paid too much attention to festivals (apart from our birthdays, and enjoying the seasons naturally), but I had a thought. The place of the midwinter solstice is well established for both Christians and neopagans (and to our ancestors according to solar alignments at New Grange and Stone Henge), and has entered our consciousness as the time of the “rebirth” of the Sun, the turning point of darkness to the return of light, the mythical birth of Christ etc. What then of midsummer? It also occurs in alignments of ancient monuments, but the emphasis commonly seems to have been upon winter solstice, although in our modern, hedonistic age Summer Solstice has taken over at Stone Henge as an attractive festival.

If midwinter is the birth of light, midsummer is the yearly genesis of darkness. The very force that matures the year, bringing both fruitfulness and decay, the high heat of late Summer, the glorious and fragrant shedding of Autumn, and on to the barren clarity of Winter, and the rebirth of light. It is a trippy time, silly season, a touch of the fool, milky nights gone almost as soon as they have fully fallen, upon us before we know it, stretching out like a road trip, a vanishing point.

“Birth” would be the wrong term to apply to the dark, for the dark is more mystical than that. Like a walk backwards through time, through Nature, the shuddering calm after orgasm, the lock clicking shut, the expiration of release, the bestial, verdant fuck of the world.

Midsummer, at twilight and midnight, the promise of the Prince of Darkness, the Devil himself, a breeze cool and scented across fields, through woods, and open windows.

 

update

I’ve had a year of transformation and crisis, turmoil and growth, which has been both traumatic and magical, appalling and unmissable. This isn’t one of those things where you can say “there, it’s over” (that isn’t how deep processes work), but I am coming through and feeling the joy of life return, and a much deeper sense of self-worth and original selfhood. I really have to thank my amazing husband for being with me through all this. He is an amazing man. Moreover I’m coming through as a Satanist, which I would consider a test of the fitness of my path.

We did a ritual at the weekend, with the first altar we have really set up as a Satanic altar, complete with a sigil of Baphomet wall hanging which I had painted.

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The altar was oriented to the western wall of the living room. Black cloth, black candles in brass holders, silver (plated) chalice with wine, votive statue of the Set animal, athame standing in for a sword, and ritual “phallus” (in fact a dildo!). A picture of a naked man offering himself (blurred in the picture below) was added to affirm the earthy and carnal nature of the Satanic altar. A naked woman is the traditional Satanic altar, but for gay men that doesn’t really connect erotically, so a naked man offering himself was more appropriate for us.

It was a very simple ritual, but significant.

One of the things that has come out of the last year is my personal identification on an inner level with the Thelemic goddess Babalon (an identification of primal nature and sacred function). In fact Thelema continues to come out as having a personal compatibility and elucidating applicability for my own path. Babalon and The Beast are good by me.

So on we go, for life, liberty and selfhood.

6 a

Satanism, Paganism and Nature

Two years ago I left Paganism, and by May 1st of that year I had declared myself a Satanist.

It was good to make the break with Paganism, and I have no regrets about that, or becoming a Satanist. After two years of rest from the online tangle of neopaganism, and all the community roleplaying, I feel like I can look at things a little more neutrally though, and recognise a great deal of common ground between Satanism and Paganism. Having remained a polytheist with a deep interest in the occult has probably helped there admittedly.

When people used to ask me about modern Paganism, I used to point to two things which didn’t define it, but which one way or another described modern Paganism as far as I could see. I used to say that modern Paganism tended to be polytheistic and/or Nature centred as a spirituality. You could find Pagan paths that were one, the other or both, but really rather few that were neither.

There is of course a major part of modern Satanism which is atheistic, but there are whole sections of neopganism which are at the least non-theistic in essence. Then again, there are other parts of Satanism which are polytheistic or henotheistic. I maintain that the most natural default for Satanism is agnostic, as this leaves all options open for the individual to determine themselves. Personal experience is the royal road of Satanism, and actually this seems to be what a lot of neopagans are looking for in Paganism too.

The reverence for Nature, while not universal within Paganism, is quite prominent. Within Satanism Nature is pretty much the bottom line, and is one of the things reflected in the acceptance of carnality and fulfilment of the whole person. Satanists in general have a love of Nature, and of our own deepest nature. On the other hand, Satanists recognise our capacity to negate and seemingly go against Nature, as part of our creative, individuating essence. But this level of sophistication is part of Nature itself, when seen in a wider perspective.

So I see a good deal of commonality between the phenomena of modern Satanism and Paganism, and what people are looking for in both. That is something I celebrate and enjoy.

Here is a clip of the front man of the black metal band Inquisition taking about Satanism, which my friend Aleph turned me on to. I really liked it.

I liked the way he talks about love, showing that it is important for him, but not making a defining badge out of the concept. I put love very central in my own spirituality, but I leave it to others to discover their own terms and understandings. I like the way he brings everything down to the individual, without prior conditions in essence, to the open minded enquiry into Nature. I can see that we are experiencing some of the same thing here.

What I can also say now, after two years, and a reconciliation with Paganism, is that I feel an increasing sense of the “personage” of Satan, alongside the concept or symbol, particularly transitional, subtle, metaphorical, open, free, fearless, clear. As with everything for me, it is the direct experience that counts, rather than the formal sense or definition, for this is where we find the reality of things. This is good.

Meanwhile I feel a renewed sense of connection with deities and Nature.

Bon voyage, and Hail Satan.

Witch

The witches Sabbath by Luis Ricardo Falero [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

16th February 2017: 9th paragraph edited.

Satanic causes?

Lady Chatterley's Lover Penguin by Twospoonfuls (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

We see a certain amount of activism in the Satanic community (most publicly with The Satanic Temple), so I just thought I’d give my own view on the sort of things I’d find relevant to Satanic philosophy for myself.

First, let me say there is no obligation to support any cause as a Satanist, and no expectation – Satanism is just too individualistic for that. However, here are a few things I can see as compatible with Satanism.

Satanism is very concerned with the individual and with individual sovereignty, so anything that adds to individual freedom and responsibility would go well. Censorship would be anathema to most Satanists where it affects them. Similarly, attempts to infringe upon the bodily autonomy of the individual could easily be opposed from a Satanic point of view. Free speech would be a natural thing for a lot of Satanists to support.

Satanism holds carnality and carnal fulfilment high in its estimation, so the moralistic restriction of sexual and other physical forms of gratification would generally be opposed, as would prying into the private lives of others. The exceptions would be where the will and consent of an individual is directly violated by another, so consensuality comes into play, as this reflects the issue of individual sovereignty. Needless to say, children cannot give adult consent so are not in the equation here.

Satanism holds a particular appreciation of the qualities of children and animals, who to an extent have the properties of natural Satanists (being closer to Nature and instinct), though they can’t themselves be Satanists, as Satanism requires human maturity. So the prevention of abuse of animals and children would be a natural concern for many Satanists.

Nature is also held in high regard by Satanists, who see us as animals most essentially, and part of Nature, so preventing the destruction of natural environments could be a cause that appeals to a Satanist.

As Satanism is a natural opponent of the imposition of religion upon individuals, secularism and religious freedom would be supported by many Satanists, though it needs to be pointed out that “religious freedom” means the freedom to practice any religion you choose, so long as you do not infringe upon the rights of others. It doesn’t mean freedom to infringe upon the rights of others in the name of religious belief. Related to this would be resistance to things like blasphemy laws, and prosecution for obscenity or nakedness.

As Satanism is so concerned with individuality and individual freedom, it makes a natural opponent to collectivising philosophies that seek to define and impose laws upon people according to what they are, rather than who they are, as an agent exhibiting their own behaviours.

And not least, Satanists are natural opponents of the hysterical demonization of people, whether it is the “Satanic Ritual Abuse” craze, or other kinds of scapegoating witch hunts. Satanists might well work to counter these kind of destructive and deranged mob mentalities.

But in everything, a Satanist makes their own ethical and rational enquiries into what they may or may not support or oppose, and takes responsibility for their choices. What should be noted though, is that making others feel like they should take part in supporting any kind of cause through moralism, shame or guilt can well be seen as a unskillful act that elevates emotional manipulation over reason or insight. Similarly, jumping on political or social band wagons can be fraught with the problems of participating in herd mentalities of dubious quality.

Mindful and Satanic

It’s been a good few days, quite a few, of stability and contentment, which is a lovely thing.

Over the last year I’ve drawn a lot on my polytheism, and links with my Heathen deities especially. I’ve needed them, they’ve been there. Others have been there too, such as my Egyptian “daemonic father”. “Gratitude” is too prosaic a word to describe what you feel for the presence of deities within your life, too commonplace a word for the bond, but the feeling is deep and free.

I’ve come to really value mindfulness, a mental practice and state that I first came upon decades ago in connection with Theravada Buddhism, though it also forms part of Reiki practice and training, and pretty much all Asian derived meditation techniques. The capacity to maintain mental balance, and not be overwhelmed by powerful emotions, thoughts and energies is a good skill for anyone, but it is essential for a magician or someone going through powerful experiences of personal growth, as powerful emotions and energies can be guaranteed in these situations at some point, and you have to be able to maintain your composure as you choose, in order to be able to function properly.

I am not a Buddhist, and do not subscribe to the wider Buddhist philosophy, but the traditional image of the Buddha is a good symbol of mindfulness for me, and I do use it.

In addition to this, the figure of Satan emerges as a fine focus of self-actualisation, pulling together my independent worth and stance, which is very good for someone as inclined to relationship and surrender as I am. No regrets there, not at all, as love is so important to me. But Satan for me matches both the irreducible clarity of selfhood, and clarity of mind that can cope with all of our nature.

Surrender blissfully as you wish, you will not lose that jewel-like self.

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Satanic altruism

I’ve never been one for conforming to type. As a Pagan I didn’t really fit the whole “green grow the merry o” rural image. As an effective homosexual I cannot embrace the term “gay”, or the whole mainstream sexual identity demarcation project (just put me down as human please). As a Satanist, aside from my tattoos and the odd pentagram, I don’t fit the common image of a Satanist. I’d put love and decency very high on my list of valued things, contrary to the idea of Satanism as somewhat social Darwinist and overwhelmingly self-centred. But for me this is entirely natural, as Satanism is about determining your own values and ethics (without imposing them on others judgmentally), rather than having them determined by Satanism or anything else.

The “burn it all down” aspect of Satanism is important as a tool to free you from false moral restriction, but it is no replacement for determining your authentic values. This is why Satanism is inherently individualistic: in practice it doesn’t come ready made. You have to do your own work.

While I have reservations about some of The Satanic Temple’s identity politics style activism, I appreciate their pointing out the place of things like empathy and compassion in human life, as things with a purpose beyond moral superstition. This is how life actually is. It shouldn’t be dogma. It should be intelligent and reflective. But empathy and compassion are powerful components of human life. Love that entails enduring suffering or personal sacrifice for a loved one is deeply meaningful to people when it is genuine (rather than  manipulated or expected). Similarly, something like faith has a bad rap due to the associations with behaviour manipulation and repression in various Churches. But faith is an inescapable, and at times crucial part of human relationship. When we have to go beyond what we have previously experienced, sometimes against what we have previously experienced, on the basis of intuition, love and positive intention, then we need faith, even if we don’t call it that. Needless to say, a person should be open to learning, attentive and responsive, but these things are givens in life, and are compatible with faith. It is not a life style, it is a deeply important human capacity.

Similarly again, when we talk about the well-being of society. If it is where we live, and it affects us, there are sound Satanic reasons for wanting to encourage the kind of society you want to live in. Be discriminating. Don’t waste your time, attention, work or money. Don’t give up your independence beyond what is reasonable for you. But it is entirely reasonable to care about something you can influence positively in some small way, without illusions or grand missions. Be honest and practical with yourself.

And lastly, while Satanism focuses on the carnal, and that is a very fine thing, we are animals with complex needs that extend into many areas of our experience and relationship. Areas that people term “spiritual” are part of our life too. And I am with the Buddhists on the subject of attachment having its own complications. I don’t view attachment as bad, but as needing a wise approach if it becomes intense or overly fixed. We want pleasure after all, and to alleviate unnecessary suffering in our lives. Wisdom comes from experience and learning. We all try to live according to the wisdom that we gather.

When something is Satanic, we often in practice mean that it is individual, free and authentic. That is my kind of altruism.

Gay Couple from back hand holding on CSD 2006 Berlin – Make Love Not War by Till Krech (extranoise on flickr.com) (www.flickr.com) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons