Most of the pages on this site assume that you already know something about the history of modern Satanism and a little about the landscape of modern Satanic organizations. This Satanism 101 page summarizes the key points about modern Satanism and the briefly lists and describes the currently established Satanic organizations.
Satanic belief and practice is diverse
As with most religions, there is no one single type of “Satanism”, so it can be difficult at first to figure out who’s who and what’s what. Church of Satan, The Satanic Temple, Temple of Set, First Satanic Church, Sect of the Horned God, United Aspects of Satan, Modern Church of Satan… Just to name a few of the better-known organizations.
What’s the difference among these? And new Satanic organizations are constantly appearing (and disappearing) as well. What makes them different from the short list above?
Then there are a few other organizations who identify as “Luciferian”. Aren’t Satan and Lucifer the same thing? What makes Luciferian organizations different?
All of these organizations (even the Luciferian ones) fall under the general description of modern Satanism, which most Satanists agree started in the late 1960s with Anton Szander LaVey and his Church of Satan, based on his book The Satanic Bible. Yes, there were a very few groups running around in the 1930s, 1940s, and late 1800s who self-identified as “Satanic”, but these were all gone by the time LaVey (with the help of media interest and reach) managed to establish the notion of Satanism as a religion on the cultural landscape.
As happens with these things, it wasn’t very long at all before schisms occurred within the COS, for political or ideological reasons, and members left to form new, different Satanic organizations. Also, “copy-cat” organizations popped up, taking this new idea of Satanism as a religion and running with it.
This process has continued, and with even greater speed since the appearance of the World Wide Web. Any person can dream up a new flavor of Satanism, declare themself the founder or “high priest” or whatever, create a website for their new organization, and then promote it through social media and word of mouth.
Despite this diversity in Satanic organizations, there are a few key attributes that nearly all modern Satanic organizations have in common with each other. The differences, however, can be very significant, and unfortunately there is a degree of political rivalry between some organizations, so an interested newcomer to Satanism should research carefully and choose wisely, or your early affiliations might affect your ability to later ally with a different organization that you decide you like better.
What most modern Satanic organizations share in common
Modern Satanism is a religion with a distinct philosophy and ideology based mostly on the literary Satan of the Romantic Era. Writers like Milton, Blake, Shelly, Anatole France, (and more recently even Mark Twain and Phillip Pullman, to name just two) have explored the Gnostic idea that the Abrahamic “God” of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam is not the true Source of creation, but is instead a demiurge and authoritarian tyrant. In the works of these writers from The Satanic School, Lucifer (as he was named before the fall) was a hero for leading a rebellion of angels against God, and Satan (as he was named after the fall) along with the other fallen angels have been the true benefactors and mentors of humankind throughout our evolution and history.
To modern Satanists, this metaphor of Satan represents desirable ideals such as individualism, rational thought and learning, enjoyment of worldly things and human nature, and rebellion against tyrannical authority. As The Satanic Temple puts it in our FAQ:
Satan is symbolic of the Eternal Rebel in opposition to arbitrary authority, forever defending personal sovereignty even in the face of insurmountable odds. Satan is an icon for the unbowed will of the unsilenced inquirer… the heretic who questions sacred laws and rejects all tyrannical impositions.
Nearly all modern Satanic organizations share these key ideals.
How modern Satanic organizations differ from each other
The ways in which most modern Satanic organizations differ from each other is broadly categorized by the following three dimensions, which we explore further below.
- Atheistic vs. theistic vs. non-theistic
- Non-supernatural vs. supernatural
- Cooperative/egalitarian/activist vs. Darwinist/objectivist/elitist
Finding the Satanic organization that suits you best
Most of the modern Satanic organizations define themselves by a written set of principles. For example, Church of Satan calls these their Nine Satanic Statements and Eleven Satanic Rules of the Earth, while The Satanic Temple calls these their Seven Fundamental Tenets. These principles are usually in the form of short, concise bullet points, and they tell you a lot about the fundamental tone and culture of the organization.
Some of the modern Satanic organizations also have a canon, which in the religious sense means “an approved selection of scriptures”. This canon can also give you much insight into the tone and culture of the organization. For example, Church of Satan’s canon is The Satanic Bible by Anton LaVey, whereas The Satanic Temple’s canon is The Revolt of Angels by Anatole France.
Some organizations charge a membership fee and/or require membership dues. For example, Church of Satan requires a membership fee, but membership in The Satanic Temple is entirely free.
Finally, most organizations are online-only with a central website, forums, Facebook page, and so on. Very few organizations have regional or city-specific chapters and physical headquarters. For example, The Satanic Temple has a physical headquarters in Salem, Massachusetts and 45 local chapters (and growing) at the time this page was written.
A short list of notable Satanic organizations
The constantly evolving landscape of Satanic organizations makes it impossible to list all of them.
By far, the two largest and most stable organizations are Church of Satan and The Satanic Temple. These represent the two “major flavors” of modern Satanism, and most self-identified Satanists will be strongly attracted to one of them and strongly repelled by the other, for reasons we’ll explore later.
Other notable Satanic organizations might be close analogs to one of these “Big Two” with one or two small differences, or they might comprise a blend of principles from these Big Two, or they might have an entirely different set of principles. These include (in no particular order):
- United Aspects of Satan
- Sect of the Horned God
- Church of Rational Satanism
- Temple of Set
- Modern Church of Satan
- First Satanic Church
- Greater Church of Lucifer
This Satanism 102 page expands on the introductory summary of modern Satanism found in the Satanism 101 page. We will go into more detail about the factors that are similar across all Satanic organizations versus the factors that make them all distinctly different from one another.
After reading this page, you should also check out the Recommended reading page for even more details, especially about the Miltonic-Romantic literature that informs the metaphor of modern Satanism.
“Satan” originally meant “a human adversary”
The word “Satan” comes from the Abrahamic religions: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. The word was first used in the Old Testament of Judaism (roughly 1000 years before the advent of Christianity and 1700 years before the advent of Islam), and the word was a noun that literally meant a human “adversary”. Throughout the Old Testament, there was no single human called “Satan”. Instead, the word was used to describe the role of several different human characters in various stories, and was intended to convey that they were taking an adversarial position in the story.
At some point during the Second Temple period of Judaism (Enochic Judaism) about 600 years before the creation of the New Testament in the 1st century AD, a new mythology arose in some Jewish communities (and was later echoed in some branches of Islamic thought 700 years later) of an angel named Satan who rebelled against God with the help of other angels, and they were all cast out of Heaven after losing the rebellion. The New Testament later refined this idea by using this same concept in a few stories, where a “fallen” angel named Satan tempted humans (including Jesus in the desert) to commit sin.
Aside from these early (and brief) mentions, the terms “Satan” and “Satanism” didn’t become commonly used until the 16th century, when it became a fashionable tactic by Christian groups to attack rival Christian groups by accusing them of heresy, blasphemy, and “Satanism”. Shaping this practice was the earlier rise of moral panics against witches and witchcraft that began in the 15th century and continued into the 17th century, culiminating with the Salem witch trials. A key feature of accusations of witchcraft revolved around pacts with and service to “The Devil”. Over this period of the 15th through 17th centuries, the words “Satan” and “The Devil” became synonymous in the mind and words of various Christian faiths, who found it useful to trot out these notions of heresy, blasphemy, evil sorcery, witchcraft, black magic, and devil worship against disliked individuals and rival religious churches as a basis to justify persecution.
The common thread among Satanists
All modern Satanic organizations share a common reverence for individualism and rebellion against tyrannical authority. Let’s examine why.
The literary metaphor of Satan is that of the ultimate adversary who leads a rebellion among angels against the ultimate tyrannical authority (the Abrahamic “God”). In all the Abrahamic traditions of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, “God” is a jealous tyrant who declares that his creations must “have no other God before me”, declares human nature as inherently sinful, and threatens dire punishment for the “sins” of learning, exploration, knowledge, and enjoyment of carnal pleasure.
In the earliest story of Adam and Eve, this tyrant declared they would die if they ate of the Tree of Knowledge (spoiler: they didn’t). And through other many other stories from the Old Testament where this tyrant did many evil things to his creations (such as exterminating nearly all life on the planet in a great flood or asking his devoted followers to kill their own children), we see that the Abrahamic “God” is clearly a deranged and malicious narcissist.
And even now, three thousand years after the first of these Abrahamic myths took root in the psyche of western civilization, the entirety of Christian faith still considers a newborn infant as fundamentally “sinful” and destined for eternal punishment unless they warp their own humanity and natural behavior to suit the whims of this imaginary tyrant, as “revealed” or “decreed” by a hierarchy of human tyrants who use the fear of an imaginary eternity in an imaginary “Hell” to brainwash innocent children from the moment they can first understand words.
The preceding narrative was purposely harsh, brutal, and bombastic. If you felt uncomfortable or angry while reading it, you have internalized (to some degree) the “double-think” of all Abrahamic religions. When stated clearly and simply in the format used above, we expose the true essence of the Abrahamic “God”. This “Sky Daddy” is a very abusive parent indeed. Yet as any abusive parent will tell you, you must respect them and honor them and love them despite their abusiveness because they really have your best interest at heart. They really love you, and you “just have to trust them”. In other words, you must have faith, and you must overlook the weird and scary things that the Sky Daddy does because “they’re beyond your understanding”.
In mythos and in literature, Lucifer (his name before the fall) is the one angel who calls “God” on his bullshit and urges his fellow angels to wake up and rebel against this tyrant. With the help of the misguided angels who are still blindly devoted to the tyrant, Lucifer and his followers lose the fight and are cast down to Earth.
And what happens next? Satan (his name after the fall) and the other fallen angels find wonder in their exile to the material world, and they take joy in discovering the natural laws of the universe. They realize even more fully that “God” is a lunatic imposter who simply took credit for the real forces of creation, and they have compassion and empathy for the animals and humans on Earth. Satan and his comrades then begin to help and teach the animals and humans. To raise them from ignorance and inspire them to learn to enjoy the beauty and majesty of all creation, and to think rationally. To teach humans ultimately about their right to individualism, which is the pursuit of independence, discovery, accomplishment, acceptance, and fulfillment of self.
These core principles of rebellion and individualism are the common thread that binds all modern Satanic organizations together, and it’s these principles that distinguish Satanism from any other religion on the planet.
A quick side-trip into Gnostic territory
At this point, readers who are aware of the concept of Gnosticism will notice that modern Satanism seems influenced to a large degree by Gnostic philosophy. This is absolutely true. In the Romantic Era literature upon which Satanism is based, the Abrahamic “God” is portrayed as the Gnostic demiurge, who is a imperfect, flawed, and false god: an imposter, an illusion. The true diety–known as the Gnostic monad–is essentially a more perfect source from which everything else emanates, including the demiurge and the physical creations of the demiurge.
In the Romantic literature that describes the Satan archetype, Satan sees the Abrahamic “God” for the demiurge he is. It is Satan himself who first exemplifies the core goal of Gnosticism, which is to reject the edicts and explanations of this imposter “God” (even at the seeming cost of being expelled from “Heaven”), and then individually going through a process of inward “knowing” or self-exploration to arrive at an empirical knowledge of the true nature of reality.
In Gnostic thought, you cannot understand reality through propositional knowledge, which means “acquired indirectly through the reports of others or otherwise by inference”. In other words, believing something is true because it says so in some “holy” text or because someone claiming to understand reality (like a priest/pope/reverend/preacher/etc.) makes plausible-sounding explanations.
So in this sense, Satan represents that archetypal ideal of individually studying and learning about the universe, forming your own opinions based on your best rational understanding of what you can touch, see, taste, feel, measure.
These gnostic concepts are the main driver of the individualist nature of modern Satanists. Nobody can make sense of the world for you. You have to walk that road yourself. Perhaps in the company of other individualists, but Satanism is ultimately a path of individual discovery and reason.
Atheistic vs. theistic vs. non-theistic
Most modern Satanists are either atheistic or non-theistic. Broadly speaking, an atheist actively rejects that any supernatural God or Gods exist, but a non-theist is silent on the subject and simply does not espouse any belief in a God or Gods. The distinction is subtle but important, as we will see in a moment.
So broadly speaking, the vast majority of modern Satanists (both atheistic and non-theistic) do not believe that a literal supernatural entity called Satan (or similar names like Lucifer or Ba’al, etc.) exists. For that matter, Satanists don’t believe that any literal entity like the Abrahamic “God” exists, either.)
The Satanic Temple is most accurately described as non-theistic, because nowhere in their stated principles do they actively reject the possibility of a literal God or Satan. Instead, one of the TST tenets (below) implies that for now, Science can not really address the question of whether God (and other supernatural entities) exist, so an active rejection of the notion is not warranted. Instead, TST members are left to their own best scientific understanding to decide their own stance on the subject.
Beliefs should conform to our best scientific understanding of the world. We should take care never to distort scientific facts to fit our beliefs.
Regardless of the atheistic/non-theistic dimension, one thing is true of all three of these organizations: Satan is simply a metaphor for the core of the organization’s religious beliefs, as described at length above.
It’s true that some Satanist organizations are theistic, meaning they do actually believe in a literal Satan. However, these organizations comprise a very tiny portion of the current Satanic landscape.
If you have trouble with the notion of an atheistic/non-theistic religion, consider that Buddhism, Shinto, and Wicca also fit into these categories. Wicca is a fairly modern religion, but Shinto dates to the 8th century and Buddhism predates Christianity by 500 years.
Non-supernatural vs. supernatural
While most modern Satanist organizations are atheistic/non-thestic, some of them have supernatural elements of their practice that cannot be explained by science yet are still believed to have some effect on the world. In atheistic religions like Shinto and Buddhism, these supernatural elements revolve around various types of elemental “spirits” that have an effect on the world. In atheistic religions like Wicca and some types of atheistic Satanism, the supernatural elements revolve around the practice of magic ritual.
The Satanic Temple is a strictly non-supernatural atheistic religion, but as mentioned in the preceding section, this is tempered somewhat against the subtle open-endedness of the TST’s tenet about “…our best scientific understanding…”. Regardless, TST neither practices nor believes in any type of magic. All rituals practiced by these organizations are purely celebratory and symbolic of typical life events.
Church of Satan is arguably a supernatural atheistic religion on the face of numerous quotes about magic ritual that can be found throughout the organization’s canon The Satanic Bible, or in their principles document The Eleven Satanic Rules of Earth. Rule #7 in the latter says:
Acknowledge the power of magic if you have employed it successfully to obtain your desires. If you deny the power of magic after having called upon it with success, you will lose all you have obtained.
And consider these two quotes by Anton LaVey himself in The Satanic Bible:
At first I detected this force in small ways,” LaVey explains. “It might be the discovery of an individual whose powers of wishing were so great that he could win horse races. In my case, I found I could conjure up parking places at the last minute in front of theaters, when none should have been there. I also discovered an ability through magic to bring reversals to enemies and gain advantage for myself. I realized I had stumbled onto something, and I would have gone on doing it on my own without any Magic Circle. But I also realized that for some things private magic was weaker than mass ritual magic.
The definition of magic, as used in this book, is: “The change in situations or events in accordance with one’s will, which would, using normally accepted methods, be unchangeable.” This admittedly leaves a large area for personal interpretation. It will be said, by some, that these instructions and procedures are nothing more than applied psychology, or scientific fact, called by “magical” terminology – until they arrive at a passage in the text that is “based on no known scientific finding”. It is for this reason that no attempt has been made to limit the explanations set forth to a set nomenclature. Magic is never totally scientifically explainable, but science has always been, at one time or another, considered magic.
That said, many COS members will argue that all of the “greater magic” ritual they practice is only psychodrama that affects nothing more than the mind and emotions of the participants themselves, and that the “lesser magic” they practice is just applied psychology to affect to bend an individual or situation to one’s will. Furthermore, LaVey expressed the general view that the types of magical forces described in the above quotes were not “supernatural”, but instead were simply part of the natural world yet thus far undiscovered by science.
Social Darwinist/elitist vs. Cooperative/egalitarian
So far, we have seen that examples like The Satanic Temple and Church of Satan are far more similar than different from each other. They are all firmly atheistic, and many Satanists would argue that both of them are non-supernatural. In this section, however, we explain how COS is fundamentally and inarguably different from TST.
The COS founder, Anton Szandor LaVey, was strongly influenced by the social Darwinist philosophy of Ragnar Redbeard and the objectivist philosophy of Ayn Rand when he wrote The Satanic Bible fifty years ago in the 1960s. In this time period, scientific theory about evolutionary success gave a high amount of credence to the notions of social Darwinism, and Rand’s objectivism was first starting to be heavily leveraged by conservative political forces.
As a result, COS has principles that are elitist, social Darwinist, and objectivist. Their brand of Satanic individualism is focused on primacy of your own self and mastering your emotional energy and environment to achieve your goals. There is also a general notion of showing kindness only to those that deserve it, and of being responsible only to those who can be responsible for themselves instead of to “psychic vampires” who manipulate you into feeling responsible for them.
These social Darwinist and objectivist influences also lead the COS to believe that “activism in the name of Satanism” goes against the core principles of Satanism. Throughout the history of COS, they have had many members who are individually activist in the course of achieving their own goals, and who have lead initiatives in everything from politics to environmentalism. But COS members don’t do it “in the name of” Satanism… they do it as individuals. Therefore, COS as an organization is not publically activist, but instead is active through the individual efforts of their members.
By contrast, the core beliefs of TST are based on current scientific understanding of game theory and cooperation theory in evolutionary biology. At this point in time, 50 years after Anton LaVey authored The Satanic Bible, TST feels strongly that social Darwinism and objectivism have been arguably debunked by the scientific community as less successful evolutionary strategies.
As a result, TST believes that the core principle of individualism is not inconsistent with cooperation, coordinated effort, compassion, and community among Satanists. In fact, based on modern scientific understanding, we now know that cooperative strategies among individuals are more successful than social Darwinist and objectivist strategies.
More importantly, these organizations believe that the Satan metaphor as adversary and rebel compels Satanists to struggle for justice regarding the negative influences of those majority theistic religions who believe their values should be forced on others as authoritarian rule and law. This moral obligation to struggle for justice, coupled with a focus in cooperative strategies, drives these organizations to be publicly activist as an organization, and in the name of Satanism.
There is a subtle distinction in the goals of public activism for TST in particular, and this distinction hinges yet again on the notion of cooperation theory. On many occasions, TST has made it clear that they do not fight selfishly for the religious freedoms of Satanists alone, but instead fight for the religious freedoms of all people, even those who believe in the Abrahamic faiths. In true Satanic form, TST activism for justice in religious areas of life are fights against theistic authoritarianism on behalf of all people, not fights against religion itself.