Black Goat Cabal > Essays > Hope for the Satanist scene?

The opinions expressed below are those of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by the Black Goat Cabal.

Don't give up!

Some reasons to hope that the Satanist scene will improve

by Diane Vera

Copyright © 2006 Diane Vera. All rights reserved.

  1. The sad state of today's Satanist scene
  2. The underground sleaze phase - a historical perpsective
  3. Ways that the Satanist scene has already begun to improve
  4. What still needs to be done

  1. The sad state of today's Satanist scene
  2. The present state of the Satanist scene can be very discouraging. Too often it seems to be dominated by bratty teenagers, thoroughly obnoxious dogmatists, drama queens, would-be cult leaders, and worse - too many of whom, even more ridiculously, proclaim themselves to be some sort of "elite."

    It's bad enough to give almost any intelligent Satanist a severe identity crisis now and then. Who wants to be in the same religious category with so many idiots and assholes?

    Many Satanists try to improve their own image by saying that the idiots are "not true Satanists," "not real Satanists" or even just "not Satanists." But this doesn't solve the problem. Competing bunches of people all yelling at each other "You're not real Satanists!" just makes the Satanist scene look even sillier. And it certainly doesn't make the idiots go away. It is far more likely to convince any truly "elite" Satanists that organized Satanism, of any kind, is just a waste of time.

    As a result, some of Satanism's most intelligent and articulate spokespeople have left. For those who nevertheless feel deeply drawn to Satan and have had positive spiritual experiences involving Satan, one common escape route is to conclude that Satan's "real name" is something else (e.g. Set) and to re-name one's own spirituality accordingly (e.g. "Setian").

    But, to me personally, disowning the name "Satan" just doesn't feel right. "Satan" is the name under which I first experienced our God reaching out to me back in 1991, and I have no intention of denying or distancing myself from that aspect of my experience.

    I would likewise urge other theistic Satanists to make decisions based primarily on their own inner spiritual orientation, rather than based primarily on what does or does not give them a comfortable sense of group identity. This may or may not mean sticking with "Satanism," depending on the nature of one's feelings and experiences.

    I myself did drop out of the Satanist scene for a while from approximately 1997 or so until 2002. But I'm back for good now. Things are starting to get a lot better now than they were in the late 1990's, despite the Satanist scene's ongoing problems.

    For those who do leave Satanism, their doing so isn't necessarily a bad thing. We all need to find our own path. And, to the extent that some intelligent and articulate ex-Satanists may manage to launch popular new religions, thriving new alternatives to the Abrahamic would-be monopoly, they may be doing Satan's work better than they could as Satanists.

    But, for the sake of those of us who do continue to identify as Satanists, we need to find ways to put a stop to Satanism's brain-drain. We need to find ways to raise the intellectual level of the Satanist scene, so that thinkers can feel more at home in it.

  3. The underground sleaze phase - a historical perpsective
  4. Is the Satanist scene forever doomed to be dominated by silly dogmatists and would-be cult leaders? I don't think so. Other subcultures have gone through a similar phase and outgrown it.

    For example, back in the 1960's and 1970's, the neo-Pagan Witchcraft scene had quite a few groups that expected all their members to have ritual sex with the high priest or high priestess. (Note: I have nothing against ritual sex per se. My only beef is with making it compulsory, especially in a group which happens to be the only game in town within its general religious category.) And the Pagan scene was once full of bitter, dogmatic infighting. Back in the 1970's, there was a Pagan newspaper called Earth Religion News which was as nasty as any flamey Satanist online forum today. The Pagan scene still has its share of "witch wars" and the occasional group whose main purpose seems to be for the high priest to get laid; but, as far as I can tell, both these problems are no longer anywhere nearly as salient a feature of the Pagan scene as they once were.

    For some even more dramatic examples, let's look at some subcultures other than religions.

    Back in the 1950's, the gay community consisted of a bunch of sleazy Mafia-run bars and was crawling with blackmailers. The gay community has come a very long way since then. But, back in the bad old days, being gay was popularly thought of as being, if anything, even worse than being a Satanist. There were a lot of other parallels between the gay scene and the Satanist scene too. For example, back then the gay scene was popularly associated with violent criminality. It was popularly assumed that all or most gay men and lesbians were rapists and/or child molesters. Even in the 1970's, when I was in high school, I remember hearing that some girls were afraid I was going to rape them. And there was the occasional "homosexual murder" (whereas the far more numerous similar murders by heterosexuals were never called "heterosexual murders").

    And don't get me started about the feminist movement of the 1970's. There are a lot of parallels between Satanism and feminism, the most notable being that, just as the Satanist scene attracts a lot of people who use Satanism as an excuse to be total assholes, so too the feminist movement attracts quite a few women who use feminism as an excuse to be total bitches. On a more positive note, Satanism and feminism both encourage questioning of traditional norms, usually (though not always) in favor of greater individual freedom. And there are some spiritually-minded feminists who venerate Lilith, whose medieval Jewish myth parallels the Islamic Satan/Iblis myth. (Both refused to bow down to Adam.) Anyhow, back in the 1970's, the feminist movement was overwhelmed with incredibly bitter infighting. (See Trashing: The Dark Side of Sisterhood by Jo Freeman (originally writing as "Joreen" in 1976), and The Tyranny of Structurelessness, also by Jo Freeman, in Classic Feminist Writings on the website of the Chicago Women's Liberation Union Herstory Project.) And the movement even had its criminal fringe, e.g. the S.C.U.M. (Society for Cutting Up Men), which, like the ONA, apparently wasn't a real organization, but the S.C.U.M. Manifesto (another copy here) attracted quite a few fans. Its author, Valerie Solanas, attempted to kill Andy Warhol. (For more about Valerie Solanas and the history of the S.C.U.M. Manifesto, see Cutting Remarks by Claire Dederer.) Despite all this, the feminist movement somehow managed to accomplish a lot. It has dramatically transformed Western culture, or at least the better-educated sectors thereof.

    For more parallels between the Satanist scene and the feminist movement, see also Why are Satanists so obnoxious? on my Theistic Satanism site.

    In the case of both the gay community and the Pagan community, a big problem back in the bad old days was simply a shortage of resources. Seekers had very few places to go and hence were easy prey for unscrupulous gurus and assorted highly exploitative business ventures. As these subcultures grew bigger, seekers had more of a choice, and the resulting free market led to a lot less ass-kissing and made it easier to hold leaders to a higher standard of accountability.

    In the case of the Pagan scene, traditionalists bemoaned the emergence of dumbed-down popularized forms of Wicca. But at least the seakers now had something to do, which meant that they no longer had any reason to feel desperate to join a traditionalist coven. If they happened to run into a traditionalist coven, seekers would now be interested in joining it only if they were given good reason to believe that the traditionalist coven was actually an improvement over what they were already doing. So, traditionalist leaders could no longer get away so easily with being complete jerks.

    This history suggests that the Satanist scene, too, could be greatly improved simply by growing bigger, more public, and more diverse.

    When an unpopular subculture still consists mainly of seekers with hardly anywhere to go, who are thus easy pickings for would-be cult leaders and other exploiters, I say that the subculture is in its underground sleaze phase.

    Ironically, LaVeyan Satanism may have helped the Pagan scene break out of its underground sleaze phase. As far as I am aware, Anton LaVey's Satanic Bible was the first well-known book containing complete instructions in a system of do-it-yourself magic(k). It was followed by a flood of similar do-it-yourself Pagan/Wiccan books, which gave birth to the eclectic do-it-yourself wing of Pagan Witchcraft. Previously you had to be initiated into a traditional coven to become a Pagan Witch. The do-it-yourself books are what enabled the Pagan scene to grow like wildfire and to outgrow its underground sleaze phase.

    But the Satanist scene itself is still in its underground sleaze phase. We probably won't fully break out of it until there are at least several different public Satanist groups in every major city, representing a variety of different Satanisms. We're nowhere near that point yet.

  5. Ways that the Satanist scene has already begun to improve
  6. We're better off now than we were in the late 1990's. At least we now have the Internet  -  and a much wider choice of places to go on the Internet than we had back in the 1990's, even if most Satanists still don't have anywhere to go in real life to hang out with fellow Satanists.

    As the online Satanist scene continues to grow, more and more of us will have places to go in real life too, as there get to be enough of us in any given locale. Eventually more and more of us will find ways to do some offline outreach as well. It's only a matter of time.

    The Satanist scene has certainly diversified. We have definitely broken out of the LaVeyan near-monopoly that existed when James Lewis wrote his academic papers (Who Serves Satan? A Demographic and Ideological Profile and Diabolical Authority: Anton LaVey, The Satanic Bible and the Satanist "Tradition") around the year 2000 C.E. Non-LaVeyan forms of theistic Satanism have grown enormously, as also has at least one non-LaVeyan form of symbolic Satanism. (For more about the recent history of Satanism, see Public Satanism today and The definition of "Satanism" according to new-religion scholars and other observers on my Theistic Satanism site.)

    We still have a long way to go. The theistic sector of the Satanist scene is now dominated, to a much greater extent than I would like, by competing authoritarian would-be cults, the largest of which is also notorious for its Nazi sympathies. These groups attract mainly teenagers, most of whom will probably go back to Christianity, but some of whom end up leaving these groups to delve into other forms of Satanism. Others go on to become Pagans, occultists, etc.

    For some advice for new Satanists on how to recognize and avoid the more cultish groups, see my article on Avoiding harmful religious groups in the Satanist scene.

    The word "cult" has had many meanings. Originally it referred to the veneration of any deity or other revered figure within any religion. In this context a "cult" could be perfectly respectable, e.g. the "cult of Mary" within Roman Catholicism. More recently, Christians have used the word "cult" as a putdown of nonmainstream religious groups, including both non-Christian groups and those Christian groups that were deemed heretical, e.g. the Jehovah's Witnesses. Still more recently, starting in the 1970's, a secular "anti-cult" movement emerged, objecting to various groups  -  not just religious groups but also psychotherapeutic and political groups  -  which were alleged to have "brainwashed" or otherwise manipulated their own members and prospective members in harmful ways. It is in that last sense that I am using the word "cult."

    But the good news is that, as far as I can tell, none of the Satanist scene's would-be shepherds are very good at holding on to their flocks. Most Satanists naturally want to explore a variety of different kinds of Satanism, although all too many still long for a leader who has all the answers. Moreover, among those Satanists who do cling to the dogma that they originally taught, there is a strong tendency to form splinter groups.

    Hopefully some stable and sanely-run new major public Satanist groups will eventually emerge from the chaos. Hopefully also there will always be plenty of independent Satanists too  -  and a greater public recognition, by religion scholars and others, of the existence of law-abiding independent Satanists, especially non-LaVeyans.

  7. What still needs to be done
  8. As I've explained, the Satanist scene has lots of parallels to earlier phases of the Pagan, feminist, and gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender communities. But the Satanist scene also has some unique problems of its own that cannot be solved just by growing, although sheer growth would certainly help.

    What the Satanist scene needs is not just an influx of people in general, but also, more specifically, an influx of thinkers  -  or at least people who are motivated to become thinkers if they weren't thinkers already. (See Why it's important for Satanists to think about our beliefs on my Theistic Satanism site.) Attracting thinkers  -  and encouraging already-existing Satanists to think more  -  will require a sustained effort by some of us to raise the intellectual level of the Satanist scene

    How do we raise the intellectual level of the Satanist scene? Not by denouncing or trying to purge the idiots. All that does is add to the noise. Raising the intellectual level of the Satanist scene can be accomplished only via constructive efforts, such as putting up a bunch of good, thought-provoking, interesting and informative websites  -  and keeping them up, not taking them down when the going gets rough.

    Only by being visibly intelligent can we attract intelligent people. We should critique the idiots just enough to set ourselves apart from them, but we should not dwell on them, and we certainly should not descend to their level. Our main focus, instead, should be sharing our own knowledge and thoughts about Satan, about our own religious practices, and about the world in which we live.

    The Satanist scene desperately needs more good websites and more good printed literature. To help you develop both, I would recommend participating in Internet forums  -  especially my own Theistic Satanism forums (Yahoo groups), where you're more likely to get intelligent feedback than in many other forums. (Undate: My Theistic Satanism Yahoo groups were disbanded in 2007. You can now participate in the Theistic Satanism Blog Network instead, and/or my Facebook group Satanism (more precisely, Satanisms) in New York City instead.)

    Longevity and continuity are also of vital importance. If you no longer have time to maintain your website, don't just take it down. See if anyone else is interested in preserving it on your behalf.

    Of course, we need to build credible offline groups as well. I would suggest building social and discussion groups first, since these can easily meet in public places such as restaurants in the more liberal neighborhoods of major cities, and then only later build groups of people who do rituals together, since these are likely to need to meet in private homes, at least at first, unless you can find a friendly occult bookstore or goth club or something. (See my article on Using the Meetup site to organize a local Satanist social group or discussion group.)

    Above all, the relatively intelligent and nondogmatic Satanists need to form an alliance to help advance our public visibility. That is the main aim of the Black Goat Cabal.

Back to: