No True Satanists (a response to the Global Order of Satan)

With violent crimes and terroristic acts attributed to the Order of Nine Angles or its influence increasingly cropping up over the last few years, the media has once again turned its attention to Satanism, and this has invited concerns among Satanists, occultists and others that another Satanic Panic is to arise. In that spirit, we see that the Global Order of Satan, an international atheistic Satanist group with essentially the same broad set of ideals and values as The Satanic Temple, issued an official response to a BBC segment about Danyal Hussein, the young man who killed two women, and his beliefs, arguing that the BBC is misrepresenting Satanism. While it is an admirable and necessary effort, I also object a central premise contained within the statement: namely, that the fascistic and violent Satanists are not real Satanists.

Let us hone on the part of the statement that I’m drawing attention to in particular:

Today the BBC released a segment on the horrific actions of a disturbed individual who murdered two women in what he claimed was a part of a “Satanic” pact. 

The man in question was shown to subscribe to extreme right wing occultist ideology as espoused by neo-nazi groups such as the Order of Nine Angles. These groups use the label of Satanism to mask their true intent of promoting fascism, antisemitism and white supremacy. They are vile organisations and we call again on the UK government to proscribe them as terrorist organisations and hate groups. 

We condemn entirely the actions of this individual as well as these organisations for their dangerous, hateful rhetoric. 

Once again however the media have used the word “Satanism” as an inaccurate sensationalist buzz word to add drama to a piece of journalism. Whilst the BBC invited on an academic to talk about Satanism, who did briefly mention that most Satanic organisations are in fact peaceful, he then went on to incorrectly identify all practitioners of the Left Hand Path as subscribing to power hungry, destructive ideology.  

The major problem with this is that it tries to establish the more extreme far-right representations of Satanism as being outside the broader family of Satanism. In a certain sense, the O9A does not exactly make things easy. I remember when O9A members would actually claim that they did not consider themselves to be Satanists, and it seemed to be easy to take that for granted. But then if you read into their writings, it’s pretty clear that they do in fact consider themselves Satanists, just that it’s not the same kind of Satanism that Anton LaVey or Michael Aquino might have advocated for – that shouldn’t be a surprise, considering that Satanism isn’t exactly the monolith that people like to think it is. So then, why would O9A members tell people that they’re not Satanists? They certainly see themselves as superior to most other Satanists, but could they see themselves as superior to even Satanism itself? To be honest, I think it’s just O9A members fucking with their adversaries and critics as usual, just like when they spread the obviously false idea that they’re just transgressive mystic anarchists who are merely slandered as Nazis. The O9A make it a point to spread misinformation about themselves in order to conceal their true beliefs and thereby their true activities from the public, or at least confuse the public in order to make it harder for anyone to understand and combat them. Muddying the waters by putting their own status as Satanists into question would be just a part of that tactic.

In describing far-right Satanists as not true Satanists, it is implicit that there is a “true” Satanism, and we can probably assume that this “true Satanism” is that which is advocated by the Global Order of Satan. What is their definition of Satanism? The group outlines this on their “What is Satanism?” page:

Satanism has been misrepresented and often misinterpreted in the past. Our Satanism is based upon self-reliance and care, responsibility and compassion.

The foundation of Satanism is built on the self and in carrying out Satan’s work with humanity. This work is done when we give voice to the voiceless; when we challenge authoritarianism and injustice; in the acts of compassion and the practice of empathy; and is done when we pursue truth and knowledge. Not just the knowledge contained within written words, but also the knowledge of one’s self. It is only through self-love and through the vigilant practice of self-care that that we find ourselves able to give freely to others; with ease and without expectation. For the virtue of compassion shall open the gates of hell and make us whole.

It’s very much like what The Satanic Temple believes. Satanism is essentially a belief system that is based on progressive activism aimed at challenging religious authority on behalf of secularism, as well as dealing with broad injustice through the practice of self-love, compassion, empathy and the pursuit of truth and knowledge (from the lens of scientific rational humanism of course). It can seem like essentially the sort of secular activism that already exists and is here simply dressed in dark fluff, although reading between the lines of the statement we can still sort of see the broad ethical emphasis of selfishness that is more characteristic of LaVeyan Satanism in particular.

The problem, though, is that this sort of Satanic Temple style Satanism can’t be positioned as some sort of exclusive “the real Satanism” because, well, it just isn’t. It’s not even a religion if we’re very honest. Anton LaVey at least considered his brand of Satanism to be religious in function, and the belief system he constructed tended to reflect that, even though in its broad contours we tend to see many ideological expressions of opposition to religion. It was like a religion that functioned as a religion but at same time hated the core concept of religion. LaVey also, to my recollection, expressed the belief that magick was actually real – in fact he even claimed to have killed people through the use of magick – while stressing that the realities of magick were not yet discovered and understood by science, but that some day, he believed, they will be. I can’t see this worldview having much harmony with an expression of Satanism that stresses what is essentially pure rationalism; concrete scientific proof is pretty much the only form of prescribed knowledge you get from reading the Six Pillars for instance. Meanwhile the Church of Satan, despite cribbing much from the Objectivist rationalism of Ayn Rand, also tended to subvert that rationalism in many ways, often rejecting rationalism on some issues in favour of other philosophical approaches, and this itself was often guided by some core tenets to its ideology that aren’t present in groups like The Satanic Temple or the Global Order of Satan. And, from what I’ve read of Stanisław Przybyszewski, I’m not convinced that he, as the kind of nihilistic romantic figure that he was, would totally sign on to the sort of modern rationalist ideas championed by the TST-style Satanists of today.

You might make the point that they all share the idea that Satan is not a literal deity to be worshipped but instead an archetype promoting secularism, but think carefully about that. LaVey certainly didn’t see Satan as solely an avatar for secular rarionality and free will. No, he saw him principally as an avatar for human carnality, and carnal willpower, as the guiding ethos of human activity, and the idea of Man as principally an animal leading a carnal life as the fundamental truth of human being. The suppression of carnality by most mainstream religions is the reason for the LaVeyan Satan’s rebellion against the creeds, moreso than its abstract offensiveness to reason and contradiction of humanistic virtues. LaVey’s predecessor, Stanisław Przybyszewski, was quite explicit in his view that Satan meant evil, but evil in a way that, for him, meant the evolutionary progress of humanity as opposed to the stasis of God and his morality. The simplification of the Satanic archetype as denoting the righteous rebellion of humanistic reason is, in view of the history of Satanism, not necessarily a modern idea in that it has clear roots in the “Romantic Satanist” movement of the 19th century and prior, but as an ideological flank of Satanism it is something that represents only part of the family of Satanism, and in fact that idea of how Satanism in broad terms is to be understand is quite probably a product of the growth of The Satanic Temple and similar movements.

And if we want to talk about fascism or authoritarianism, that’s not something you can excise from the history of Satanism as easily as saying it doesn’t capture the real content of Satanism. We shouldn’t forget that both Stanisław Przybyszewski and Anton LaVey espoused their own forms of Social Darwinist philosophy, where it was natural that the “strong” would rule over and oppress the “weak” and that societies collapse when they deviate from that order. In fact, LaVey in particular would have no right to complain about authoritarianism or totalitarianism if we consider his program of Pentagonal Revisionism. LaVey himself was friends with notorious fascist activists of his day. He personally knew James Madole, leader of the violent fascist National Renaissance Party, with whom he frequently hung out with at an occult book store in California, and James Mason, the infamous neo-Nazi and author of Siege (a book that the Church of Satan has consistently praised for years), for whom he gave a signed copy of The Satanic Bible with his own personal message praising his courage and intelligence. Indeed, despite LaVey himself being of Jewish heritage, he never seemed to express any problem having good company with such anti-semites as these, along with the many other anti-semitic fascists who became members of the Church of Satan. And that’s not getting into everything else I’ve covered in the past regarding the Church of Satan. Insofar as we’re to talk about anti-semitism, even Luciean Greaves had some very questionable things to say about Jews in the past. Are all of these people not Satanists because of these associations and views? I think that there was a time when I was much younger and might have thought this, but in my eyes it doesn’t make sense. It’s obvious to me that this is just a way of establishing one relatively new interpretation of Satanism as the sole legitimate one, either to the exclusion of much of the rest of Satanism or through the sidelining of the history of Satanism so that any aspects or lineage that does not align with the modern progressive image of Satanism is rendered invisible.

And look, I understand the effort. You don’t want Satanism to be associated principally with the politics of the far-right and the violent terrorism it breeds. That’s a laudable goal to have, and should be pursued. I don’t even have a problem with the express politicization involved. In fact, I would argue that you need said politicization in order to push back against the far-right and alienate them from your movement. Not to mention that, as much as some like to pretend otherwise, religion has always had political rammifications. Even just being an irreligious atheist can have political implications insofar as your atheistic and anti-religious stance necessarily sets you against institutions and societies that have propped up the religious thinking you oppose and thus these need to be fought through the realm of politics. I just don’t think that what the Global Order of Satan sets out to achieve can be done by declaring your own new form of Satanism as the “true” Satanism by implication. You have to acknowledge the bad eggs as problematic elements of your community that are to be confronted within it. That is the approach taken by modern Pagans. Although it can be stressed that many volkisch so-called Pagans do not actually embody Paganism in a meaningful sense, it is nonetheless true that there are bigoted Pagans, Heathens, Hellenists etc., and the response within the Pagan movement has largely been to call them out as bad elements within their own community. That is the purpose of statements like Declaration 127 and the Xenia Declaration. They establish the toxic far-right elements as elements situated within the community who, although they exist within the community, misuse their religion to justify their bigotries and fascist ambitions, and so are treated as pagans who, as the Havamal would say, commit misdeeds or, in the Hellenic context, defile the principle of xenia (hospitality) by their actions. By contrast, The Global Order of Satan does not consider reactionary Satanists as Satanists who commit misdeeds, and deny their connection to the family of Satanism altogether, which raises the obvious question of exactly what else are they going to be?

The history of Satanism is always going to be somewhat problematic for Satanists, but the solution for them need not be a difficult one. Modern progressive Satanists are perfectly capable of utilizing the literary “Romantic Satanist” movement as source of real and historical impetus for their left-wing politicized Satanism, indeed they already seem to do this in good measure, and in my opinion this is ultimately to good effect. Dislodging Anton LaVey from his status as the “founder” and “Black Pope” of Satanism is also a necessary and positive step, even if it makes the Church of Satan all pissy because it undermines their claims to the legacy of Satanism. I think that, instead of casting one set of Satanists as not really Satanists, the focus should be that they are Satanists who, against the literary heritage of Satanism, prefer a Satanism that allows them to justify bigotries and fascistic desires against others. In this sense they are Satanists who commit misdeeds in the name of their own desires. After all, what else are they going to be?