Moojan Momen is an adherent of the Bahá'í faith and a historian of religion. He produced a good and comprehensive book on comparative religion, The Phenomenon Of Religion: A Thematic Approach, in which he categorizes religious experience into eight overlapping pathways. They are not designed so that each religion fits one category; most religions cater for multiple types of religious experience. The more successful religions accept more types of religious experience. I will analyse the way in which each type of religious experience can, or cannot, describe Satanic theory and practice.
This approach to religion 'concentrates on correct performance of often very elaborate ritual'. The sociologist of religion Moojan Momen states that 'salvation then flows from the grace and beneficence of the Deity'1. Obviously the word 'deity' is inappropriate for Satanism, but I think Momen would be happy for us to reformulate it into a more direct chain of cause and effect. As in Buddhist and Hindu religions where karmic cycles are nothing more than chains of cause-and-effect, in Satanism cause-and-effect is the be-all and end-all of ritualism. The results derive from the manipulation of reality, not from the actions of a theorized, external, deity. As such, this category suits Satanism quite well. Ritualism in Satanism is described as being of two types, lesser and greater; or private and public. Half the Satanic Bible is about ritual, ranging from public practices to private rituals. So there is great scope for ritualism to be a major part of Satanism.
Yet in practice, most Satanic thought, theory and practice is not centered around ritual, but around productivity, creativity, only semi-ritualistic inner exploration and work. Ritualism, in short, isn't an all-pervading feature of Satanic theory or practice. It clearly isn't absent from Satanism and the specifics of Satanic ritual are an important part of the Church of Satan and role that the hierarchy plays.
Correct procedure is also quite lacking from Satanism. "The Satanic Rituals" by Anton LaVey (1972) lays out in detail the procedures to complete certain rituals, and The Satanic Bible does too, but, it is also held that rituals are to be designed ad hoc by every individual. In short, the chaos theory of ritual and magic is more important than correct performance. People who wish to be told what to do, ritually, will find little in Satanism to satisfy their needs. As such, I am only giving a 2/5 compatibility between Momen's ritualism category and Satanism.
A legalistic religion is highly proscriptive1. It holds up central texts as authoritative. These texts lay down rules, in particular in areas of morality and belief. Satanism hardly fits this category. There are authoritative Satanic texts, but they are not legalistic. The Satanic Bible hardly even mentions matters of morality, and when it does it is to point out that everyone has different morals. Likewise, the official Satanic beliefs laid down by The Satanic Bible are not very comprehensive; they number only few in number. The Eleven Satanic Rules of the Earth and other brief articles of proscription are nothing in comparison to the masses of legalistic text found in The Muslim's Qur'an or The Christian's Bible. Satanism clearly has no compatibility for those who need detailed instruction on how to live their lives: it is a religion for people who have their own strong opinions, and it is a religious framework for success in propounding those opinions and for affirmation of desires and wishes, but not a religion for telling people what those opinions, desires or wishes should actually be.
“The Satanist [...] should have the ability to decide what is just.”
Satanism is individualistic, not legalistic, especially when it comes to morals and rules, which is a feature of left-hand-path religion in general. Outsiders to Satanism sometimes approach the rules and laws too legalistically: they assume that like religions they are familiar with that there is a taboo involved in breaking the laws of Satanism. There is no taboo. It is not compulsory for Satanists to follow "rules". It is not expected. Satanists never engage in debates over whether someone has broken these. A Satanist who absconded another and said "hey, aren't you forgetting this particular Satanic Rule of the Earth..." would be laughed at and generally considered a legalistic sheep. Unless of course that the Satanist in question cannot defend himself, in which case, he's fair game. A left-hand-path religion is where the individual mostly learns for hirself what is right or wrong. According to one's personal beliefs "right" and "wrong" can differ greatly. There are very few absolutes or universals in Satanism.”
Those with an evangelical bent seek out a leader who highlights truths and relationship with the holy1. Charismatic, personable men lead congregations; and, individual revelation from up above are valued above legalism. In Satanism, the place of leaders is highly precarious. Most Satanists consider themselves leaders. None consider their superiors to be inherently more connected to truth or to have greater access to valued spiritual resources. All Satanists can reach as high as they wish; no religious interpreters or intercessors are required. Everything can be done by the individual. The Priesthood of Mendes are respected as experienced practitioners of Satanism but only partially as better people. Those who wish to be led, would do much better to seek out a more mainstream religion than Satanism.
People drawn to religion through this path feel that the best way to recreate spiritual experiences is to build an ideal community that fosters the right frame of mind, and all the others need to be transformed into seekers of the same goal. "This vision often included goals of egalitarianism and social justice"3. Sometimes these are the ones that roam the streets telling everyone they must change their lives (in accordance with the nutters' own beliefs) or suffer severe consequences 'soon'. They are also the ones who devise intellectual treaties and try to convince everyone else that their simplistic, religious formula will save the world from all of its human evil (and sometimes end natural disasters and create paradise, too). Clearly, none of these types of religious behaviours fit in with Satanism.
Or do they? The Satanic Bible4 speaks of 'evidence of a new Satanic age' and hints that a general waking-up of the population would lead to an outbreak of emotional honesty that would benefit all. Satanists do, by their actions, often engage in public education, often stepping on the toes of religionists in doing so, and often seeking to seek out other elitists to join the unspiritual elite. Such things can sometimes appear to be consistent with Satanism as a social reformation movement.
It is also important that Momen mentions 'social justice'. Satanism has a particular social goal; the re-assertion of lex talionis and the establishment of more direct, personal, harsher, quicker social justice. In "Satanic Social Ethics and Teachings on Morality in Satanism" by Vexen Crabtree (2002), I comment on some of the explicit stances that the Church of Satan takes, including ten of the Eleven Satanic Rules of the Earth and the following three of the Nine Satanic Statements:
4. Satan represents kindness to those who deserve it, instead of love wasted on ingrates!
5. Satan represents vengeance, instead of turning the other cheek!
6. Satan represents responsibility to the responsible, instead of concern for psychic vampires!
In practice, however, although Satanists are clear about their disdain for the behaviour of the masses there is no attempt to emancipate or save everyone, or even anyone. Proselytization is almost completely absent from Satanism. It is geared towards a social reformation of an internal self-development kind, and to disclaim my reference to Satanic Social Ethics, note that most of these are to do with how the individual copes with others, not to do with how we should ask the others to behave.
This category has a 2/5 match for Satanism because it is quite possible for zealous Satanists to enjoy telling everyone how to improve their lives (the elitism of Satanism certainly helps), but, in practice this is rarely the case as Satanism is self orientated and not, in theory, based around improving others. It only scores 2/5 on the two least important aspects of social reformationism. It's a 1.5, really.
“Some of those who see the world as the source of evil and corruption have considered that the best means of achieving salvation is to isolate oneself as far as possible from the world. This is often linked to disciplining the body severely, to reduce its dependence on the physical world. The world and its pressing concerns are the source of evil; it is the pressure of worldly cares and the temptations of the flesh that prevent human beings from achieving salvation.”
None of the above sounds like it can be compatible with Satanism. Momen's Asceticism category is very similar to Roy Wallis' world-renouncing category of religion. In "Satanism is a World-Affirming Religion, not a World-Renouncing One" by Vexen Crabtree (2007) I explain that Satanists are implored, and do, to accept the world as it is, to be materialistic and self-orientated within the world, and to indulge in worldly things. So far, so bad for this category!
There is some of the ascetic mentality present in Satanism's reactionary stance against the masses. Satanists are largely withdrawn emotionally from the lives of all but their most cherished friends, and do not mix well or easily with others. There is a hint of misanthropy, a hint of reclusion. Anton LaVey himself spent a decade in seclusion in the Black House. In the self-reflection and concentration on the self, there are elements of asceticism in Satanism but only to a sensible degree; therefore the match is still low. Many deluded adherents of the world's untermensch religions take asceticism to a dizzy extreme, such as Buddhists who renounce desire, and many others who think everything is "evil" except self-punishment and pointless, rote ritual. Compared to these all-too-common afflictions, Satanism is not particularly suited to the ascetic.
Monastics wish to retreat from society, and to separate themselves from the 'immoral' social world in order to concentrate their lives in living correctly1 according to some supernatural, anti-human definition of the term. It is a world-rejecting movement which is contrary to the philosophy of Satanism where the ego is accepted and encouraged. In monastic practices, the ego is subsumed to a misguided greater good; the community is more important than the individual: this, in otherwise, is deeply opposed to the individualism of Satanism and freedoms of Satanic morality.
Momen's description of this category of his 8 pathways to religion, reads:
“The principal idea of the gnostic movements is that the central religious experience is linked to a special knowledge to which only a select few have access. The knowledge usually takes the form of an inner (esoteric) understanding of either the scriptures or the rituals of the religion. This inner understanding, which can only be achieved through the path set out by the group, leads to enlightenment and hence liberation.
Most gnostic groups are not concerned with proselytism. They consider that only a small number of people are capable (or have reached the stage) of appreciating the gnostic truth. Their smallness of numbers does not, in any way, invalidate their claim for them, indeed it underlines it.
Gnosticism usually has some form of religious hierarchy in which the esoteric knowledge that leads to enlightenment is handed down through the generations from master to pupil. Only those who have been through the system and have had the knowledge handed down to them in the approved manner can appreciate it and benefit from it fully. The knowledge can, usually, only be learned on a personal master-to-pupil basis. In other words, it cannot be learned from books. Most traditions allow that some eventually become masters of their own spiritual progress. An even smaller number reach the stage of being able to teach the path to others and thus become spiritual masters in their own right.”
“Through its offputting imagery Satanism can be said to have intentional Outer Mysteries that are understood only by elite individuals who are granted intellectual understanding according to the will of Lucifer”
There are many key-words in this description that resonate with Satanic thought. Satanists do possess special knowledge; in particular The Satanic Bible states this knowledge is an emotional honesty about life, death and the purpose of religion, that others do not have. Also, because Satanism is heavy in symbolism, an element of initiation is required in order to unlock the actual teachings of Satanism, as opposed to what laymen would think Satanism would be about (Christian devil worship). The embrace of Satanic imagery and the usage of the image of Satan, is indeed a path of enlightenment.
Satanism is an elitist religion aimed at the few rather than the many, and this does underlie certain tenets of Satanism. Satanism also is not concerned with proselytisation. So far it looks like a 5/5 match, but, it is not so. Satanism does not have the teacher-student mentality that other gnostic religions have had, nor does it particularly try to measure a person's (un)spiritual progress with complex levels, titles or rites. Momen states that a small number of the highest gnostic adepts 'reach the stage of being able to teach the path'. All Satanists would proclaim themselves to be at this stage; to be able to teach, if they wish, the ultimate secrets of life, philosophy and religion. There is no sense of "progress" in the religious sense, just of being, in the materialistic one.
Momen's use of the word "gnosticism" is a little problematic, as, nearly all gnostic documents discvovered archeologically have been largely Christian affairs, having as a saviour a Christ figure who comes and reveals the necessary secret knowledge, and, being heavily centered on the ways in which the Old Testament god is defeated by the Good News. Momen's category mostly describes what are called mystery religions, rather than gnosticism. For this reason, although in 2007 when I first published this text I stated that there was a 4 out of 5 match between this category and Satanism, I am not revising that to 3 out of 5, due to the poor choice of category title by Moojan Momen. Here is a much truer definition of Gnosticism:
“Gnosticism is an ancient religion stemming from the first century (approximately), and is an alternative messiah-religion that shares many features with Christianity. An inferior angelic being created the Earth, and this being is a hindrance to spiritual development. Many Gnostic schools taught that the Hebrew Scriptures were the religious creation of this inferior god. To trick this god out of power, a saviour was sent by the true god, and the sacrifice of this innocent man undermined the power of the old god, allowing the possibility for people to become saved and align themselves with the true god. Gnosticism was heavily attacked by the first Christian anti-heresy writers. Some authors such as Freke & Gandy (1999) argue that Christianity as we know it is a shallow version of Gnosticism which has mistaken symbolic stories for real ones7, whereas many academics find that the historical and archaeological evidence is unclear: Christianity and gnosticism are related, but, and although we don't yet know which one came first, it seems that early Christianity was much more Gnostic than it is now, and perhaps the gnostic/literalist divide simply didn't exist for the first two centuries of Christian history. By the 7th century, literalist Christians had overwhelmed Gnosticism and related forms of Christianity, leaving us with modern Trinitarian Christianity.”
“The term 'mysticism' is used to describe a wide variety of religious phenomena. For lack of a more suitable word, I shall use it to refer to those groups that consider that the central religious experience can best be repeated through achieving altered states of consciousness. Such states can be reached in two different ways. The first is the path of increased psychological arousal achieved, for example, by rhythmical chanting or dancing. This culminates in mystical ecstasy.[...]. The second is the path of decreased mental activity leading to a deep state of meditation.”
Momen restricts his description 'mysticism' in such a way because his categories concentrate on the experience of religion, not on intellectual matters. Mysticism also refers to a theoretical approach to religious truths which is based on emotions-based meditative thinking, rather than rational thoughts. Mystics are an opposite to legalism, but, just because Satanism is opposed to legalism doesn't make it fit particularly well with mysticism either. Satanic thought and experience is largely materialistic, logical and rational, and highly skeptical and most these things tend to suppress mystical experiences. But there are some aspects of mysticism in Satanism. The religion accepts the symbol of Satan in a mystical, surreal way, to represent the self and reality. The kernel of Satanism is a mystical idea, that the symbol of Satan is a unifying conceptual banner under which we can move, act and understand the world. For this central element, Satanism gets 1/5 compatibility with mysticism: Those who are highly mystical and otherworldly, in their epistemology or experience, will not find much in Satanism that suits them.
Moojan Momen, a sociologist of religion, divides religious experience into eight major categories, and holds that religions provide for these mindsets to different degrees. Satanism, founded by Anton LaVey, provides some acceptable elements for those looking for: ritualism (2/5), social reformation reactions (2/5), some philosophical forms of asceticism (2/5) but most of all for those who enjoy the intellectual and counter-cultural side of gnostic forms of religion (3/5). It will be acceptable to only the few mystics (1/5) who can ignore the heavily skeptical and rational theology of Satanism. It provides nothing for those who would seek out, or attempt to justify, legalistic, evangelical or monastic religious experiences as Satanism is highly individual, socially decentralised and world-embracing.
By Vexen Crabtree 2007 Aug 16
(Last Modified: 2013 Nov 03)
Parent page: The Description, Philosophies and Justification of Satanism
(2002) "Laws, Sins and Rules of Satanism: A Lack of Legalism" (2002). Accessed 2015 Apr 09.
LaVey, Anton. (1930-1997) Founder of the Church of Satan.
(1969) The Satanic Bible. Published by Avon Books Inc, New York, USA. Anton LaVey founded the Church of Satan in 1966.
(1972) The Satanic Rituals. Published by Avon Books Inc, New York, USA.