Skandalon 2001: The Religious Practices of Modern Satanists
Typologies of Satanism are just as problematic as definitions, since it is a culturally relative construct that is generally defined by its adversaries. There are additional controversies concerning the very existence of some Satanic groups. As a result of these debates, it is especially difficult to present an agreed-upon typology. It is significant to note that the study of Satanism is in its infancy; basic demographic and ethnological data have yet to be compiled, and it is unclear whether accurate information is available. However, after reviewing proposed typologies from a variety of sources, I have been able to detect four general categories, although they may be referred to by different names or only for purposes of condemnation. These categories are: religious / organized Satanists, traditional / intergenerational Satanists, self-styled Satanists, and youth subculture Satanists. These classifications are broad and not mutually exclusive. In addition to the four major categories of Satanic groups, another classification is sometimes used to differentiate Satanists: Satanic groups can be characterized as either atheistic or theistic. Theistic Satanists glorify what they imagine Satan represents; they worship Satan or other deities as incarnations of an evil being. Finally, there are many other occult organizations that, although not specifically Satanic, have similar practices and rituals, such as many vampire religions, Goth, and the fetish scene. Some of these groups are described in detail in my previous Anthropoetics article, "The Sacrificial Aesthetic: Blood Rituals from Art to Murder" ( http://www.anthropoetics.ucla.edu/ap0502/blood.htm (http://www.anthropoetics.ucla.edu/ap0502/blood.htm)).
Religious Satanism consists of organized groups and churches with diverse varieties of Satanic beliefs. Religious Satanists are also known as "true believers," individuals who have seriously committed themselves to the beliefs, tenets, rituals, and ideologies of a Satanic religion. Currently, in the United States, some Satanic churches are recognized by the government as religions, and, consequently, are not only protected by the First Amendment but also receive tax-exempt status. There are many American Satanic churches and a variety of other religious organizations that openly practice Satanism, most of which have web pages on the Internet providing information on their beliefs and practices as well as membership applications. Satanism is often also referred to as the Left Hand Path, occultism, black magic, or the Dark Arts; various similar groups use the same designations.
Due to the provocative nature of this religion, the Internet has become the primary source for the substantial growth of the Satanic community. The World Wide Web provides a significant forum for recruiting new members, disseminating information, and exchanging ideas. There are hundreds of web sites for Satanic organizations, churches, support groups, occult supplies, and all things related to the Left Hand Path. In addition to individual web sites, there are libraries, chat rooms, message boards, and resource sites. Just a few of the more active resource web sites include: The Satanic Network ( http://www.satannet.com/ (http://www.satannet.com/)), The Australian Satanic Council ( http://www.satanic.org.au (http://www.satanic.org.au)), Devil Spawn ( http://www.geocities.com/satanism_au/index.html (http://www.geocities.com/satanism_au/index.html)), and The 600 Club, whose name is a deliberate parody of the Christian 700 club ( http://the600club.net/cgi-bin/community/index.pl (http://the600club.net/cgi-bin/community/index.pl)). There are so many Satanic web sites that there are several awards given to the best sites, including Lucifer's Top List and Tomb of Darkness. Some of the hosts of the Satanic awards have their own web sites listing the winners, with convenient hyperlinks. They include The Fire Within Top 100, The Best Satanic Sites on the Internet ( http://members.hostedscripts.com/top.cgi?user=TheDevil (http://members.hostedscripts.com/top.cgi?user=TheDevil)), and Blacklist Top 100, which is truly disturbing because it links to violent pornography, torture, and images of actual murders ( http://www.damnage.com/BlackList/index.shtml (http://www.damnage.com/BlackList/index.shtml)).
Finally, as unimaginable as it may seem, there is Radio Free Satan ( http://radiofreesatan.com (http://radiofreesatan.com)), available 24 hours a day, advertised as the voice of Satan on the Internet ( http://www.live365.com/cgi-bin/directory.cgi?autostart=radiofreesatan (http://www.live365.com/cgi-bin/directory.cgi?autostart=radiofreesatan)). The Church of Satan just recently announced the premiere of Satanism Today, another Internet radio station, whose stated goals are to publicize the philosophy of their church and its membership; they list the following topics: news from the satanic perspective, applications of satanic theory in daily life, and practical applications of greater and lesser magic, featuring a new guest each week and much more.
The two most established, best-known American Satanic churches are The Church of Satan [CoS] and The Temple of Set [ToS], which are described in detail in the next section. It is worth noting that Satanic religious organizations are often referred to by the first initials of their names but, significantly, these initials are not read as acronyms. Some other Satanic organizations include: First Church of Satan [FCoS] ( http://www.churchofsatan.org/main.html (http://www.churchofsatan.org/main.html)), Cult of Mastema [CoM] ( http://www.geocities.com/satanism_au/library/genintro.html (http://www.geocities.com/satanism_au/library/genintro.html)), Ordo Templi Satanis [OTS] ( http://www.satanist.net/satan/satanism/Ots/Ots.htm (http://www.satanist.net/satan/satanism/Ots/Ots.htm)), Church of Lucifer [COL] ( http://www.churchoflucifer.org/ (http://www.churchoflucifer.org/)), Ordo Sinistra Vivendi [OSV] ( http://www.geocities.com/satanism_au/library/svrc.html (http://www.geocities.com/satanism_au/library/svrc.html)). There are many orders, grottoes, pylons and covens of the main churches, and a significant number of unrelated, less well-known groups, many of which also have web pages on the Internet. Although it is difficult to establish numbers and geographical locations of members, most are located in the United States, Europe, and Australia; they can be found on every continent except Antarctica. On the African and South American continents, occult dark magic is practiced in the context of indigenous religions, which would account for the smaller membership in Western Satanic churches in those countries. In many countries, organized Satanic groups are not tolerated and must remain underground. Although the ideologies of these groups may be highly offensive to more traditional religions, it is generally thought that religious Satanists are on the whole law-abiding citizens whose known practices rarely constitute illegal activities. However, this has been questioned in statements of the many survivors and victims of occult-related crimes, who claim that these groups are simply covers for criminal acts.
Traditional Satanists are considered a highly organized international secret cult network actively engaged in a variety of criminal activities, including arson, ritual abuse, sexual abuse, incest, kidnapping, child pornography, and ritual murder involving mutilation, dismemberment, and sometimes cannibalism. Similar to religious Satanists, traditional Satanists are also known as "true believers"; they are exceptionally devoted to their beliefs, which comprise an extreme fundamentalist version of Satanic religion. They are also referred to as generational or intergenerational Satanists. Many members contend that they were raised in this belief system, going back as far as several generations. Ideologically, traditional Satanists worship Satan as the evil deity described in the New Testament; their religious practices include blood rituals, animal and human sacrifice, and a variety of sadistic sexual rites for the glorification of Satan. The previously described religious Satanists all vehemently deny engaging in these activities and consider the allegation as a form of defamation. Because of a lack of empirical evidence, many scholars, Satanic church members, mental health professionals, and a large portion of the general public consider these assertions to be urban myths, false memories, and a form of satanic panic. Although studies have not been conducted to determine the frequency with which it occurs, there is factual evidence that the practice of traditional Satanism exists.
Examples of criminal cases involving alleged traditional Satanists include the infamous McMartin preschool trial that lasted six years and was the first multi-victim multi-offender child abuse case. Beginning in March 1984, 208 counts of child abuse involving 40 children were directed against 7 adults; the two owners of the school, one owner's son, and four schoolteachers. By January 1986, a new district attorney dropped all charges against five of the adults; remaining were 52 charges against Ray Buckey and 20 counts against Peggy Buckey, with one count of conspiracy. After several years, in August 1990, another jury was hung and the prosecution gave up trying to obtain a conviction. This case spurred many similar prosecutions, which were referred to as witch hunts by people who argue that this type of abuse does not occur. This trial was also a national media event, the subject of many books, studies, and films. Other famous controversial descriptions of victims of Satanic ritual abuse and entire Satanic communities practicing traditional Satanism are found in the classic non-fiction (although some claim, fictional) books Michelle Remembers and Satan's High Priest . Both books describe in detail heinous ritual practices of traditional Satanists. The web site ReligiousTolerance.org lists 41 multi-victim multi-offender court cases with allegations of ritual abuse ( http://www.religioustolerance.org/ra_case.htm#us (http://www.religioustolerance.org/ra_case.htm#us)). Hyperlinks to more details about the cases are provided by the authors; however, the reader should take note that their viewpoint is that satanic ritual abuse does not occur. For an objective and informative description of the debates and issues concerning satanic ritual abuse, see: http://www.gospelcom.net/apologeticsindex/s05.html (http://www.gospelcom.net/apologeticsindex/s05.html) . As an example of the debates on satanic ritual abuse, an article entitled "Satanism: Skeptics Abound" can be viewed at http://www.xeper.org/pub/tos/archives/satskep.html (http://www.xeper.org/pub/tos/archives/satskep.html) .
Self-styled Satanists are either individually involved with Satanism or belong to small, loosely organized groups. Self-styled Satanists are sub-classified either as "dabblers," people who are intermittently and experientially involved in occult activities, or as "true criminals" who use the occult as an excuse to justify or rationalize their criminal behavior. The rituals and belief systems of dabblers and true criminals are either entirely self-invented, a combination of a variety of traditions, or are emulated from media/cultural images of Satanic practices. Self-styled Satanists are not viewed as true believers, since their primary interest is usually the acquisition of personal power, material gain, or gratification through criminal activity rather than spiritual Satanic worship. Religious Satanists are offended by the claims and actions of self-styled Satanists who bring bad publicity to their already controversial religion.
Some self-styled Satanists engage in criminal activities, ranging from child molestation and animal mutilation to homicide, and their crimes conform to their self-invented ideologies. It is in this category of Satanism that most ritualistic crimes are placed; Satanic ritual abuse is often mistaken for a form of sexual sadism or serial murder. A classic example of a self-styled Satanist is Richard Ramirez, dubbed "The Night Stalker," who in 1985 terrorized Los Angeles by breaking into people's homes, raping, torturing, mutilating, and murdering his victims, and, most notably, forcing them to declare their love for Satan. In the spring and summer of 1985, Ramirez committed over twenty attacks. In 1989, Ramirez was found guilty on thirteen counts of murder and, in a famous gesture during the trial, raised his hand with a pentagram on it and said, "Hail Satan." Currently awaiting execution at San Quentin prison, he continues to be completely devoted to Satan. For more details on Richard Ramirez, see: http://www.geocities.com/Area51/Shadowlands/4077/ramirez.html (http://www.geocities.com/Area51/Shadowlands/4077/ramirez.html) .
Youth subculture Satanists are similar to self-styled Satanists; however, their interest in Satanism is usually transitory and may not evolve into criminal activities. Youth subculture Satanists are sub-categorized as dabblers; they are teenagers and young adults who are usually introduced to Satanism via music, film, the Internet, and other media. Most often, these young adults turn to the occult because of a deep sense of alienation from mainstream culture and spiritual traditions. They either eventually return to more traditional beliefs or are recruited into one of the many Satanic religious organizations. Their rituals usually escalate depending upon the length of time they are involved in Satanism, beginning with simple magical incantations and sometimes evolving into animal and human sacrifice. Common crimes of youth subculture Satanists include vandalism, arson, grave desecration, animal mutilation, school violence, and sometimes murder. Depending upon their level of seriousness at the time of their involvement, they can also be considered momentary true believers.
There are numerous examples of youth subculture Satanists who commit crimes. Examples of the more serious crimes of homicide and mass murder committed include the case of sixteen-year-old Luke Woodham, who, on October 1, 1997, in Pearl, Mississippi, stabbed his mother to death, then went to school and opened fire with a rifle, killing two of his classmates and wounding seven. Luke Woodham was part of a larger group of youths who had embraced Satanism. His new peers, who were part of a group known as the Kroth, which sought to destroy its enemies and practice Satanic worship, instructed Luke that murder was a viable means of accomplishing the purposes and goals of the shared belief system ( http://www.cnn.com/US/9806/11/school.shooting.03/index.html#links (http://www.cnn.com/US/9806/11/school.shooting.03/index.html#links)). Another example occurred in Chiavenna, Italy on June 6, 2000, when three teenage girls brutally murdered a nun, Sister Mary Laura Manetti, after they had formed their own Satanic group, which, they said, was influenced by the lyrics of heavy metal musician Marilyn Manson. (See http://www.petersvoice.com/nunmurder3.htm (http://www.petersvoice.com/nunmurder3.htm) and http://www.metalhammer.co.uk/article.asp?ID=4607&type=NWS (http://www.metalhammer.co.uk/article.asp?ID=4607&type=NWS) .) Numerous murders and suicides have been attributed to the media and cultural influence of Satanism.
A typology of Satanism would be incomplete without mentioning organizations specifically established to combat Satanism and who are chiefly responsible for assigning Satanists to the preceding categories. These are variously referred to as anticult organizations, countercult organizations, and watch groups. For an in-depth look into these categories, Apologetics Index contains a vast archive of articles, newspapers, commentaries, and resources. Apologetics Index states that it "provides research resources on religious cults, sects, new religious movements, alternative religions, apologetics, anticult, and countercult organizations, doctrines, religious practices and world views. These resources reflect a variety of theological and/or sociological perspectives." (8) Although a self-proclaimed Christian countercult organization, it provides a surprisingly objective perspective on most pages ( http://www.gospelcom.net/apologeticsindex/c11.html (http://www.gospelcom.net/apologeticsindex/c11.html)).
A few of the better-known anticult groups include the Cult Awareness Network (CAN), formerly a clearinghouse for information about cults whose mission was to educate the public and to provide support to victims of cults and their families. CAN was subjected to a huge scandal when sued by the Church of Scientology, who eventually forced them to close down, obtained all their records, bought all of their logos, trademarks, and so on through bankruptcy and are currently operating their own version of CAN. The American Family Foundation, founded in 1979, is a research center and educational organization whose mission is to study psychological manipulation and cultic groups, to educate the public, and to assist those who have been adversely affected by a cult-related experience. The Watchman Fellowship is considered the foremost Christian countercult ministry; its resources include over 9,000 files and a 35,000 volume library on abusive religious groups, cults, and the occult. These are just a few of the numerous countercult and anticult organizations.
The primary goals of the previously mentioned anticult organizations are to protect their people from external violence and to preserve their way of life. As we examine the religions of modern Satanists, it will be evident that their own primary goals are identical to their rivals'. Significantly, all of the above-mentioned models of Satanism are classified not by the groups themselves but by organizations external to these groups, often acting in direct opposition to their ideologies, thus exemplifying the predicament of mimetic rivalry and the model-obstacle.