Theistic Satanism: Home > To scholars > Definition of "Satanism
The definition of "Satanism"
according to new-religion scholars and other observers
by Diane Vera
Copyright © 2006 by Diane Vera. All rights reserved.
- The controversy among Satanists
- Arther Lyons, Satan Wants You, 1988
- Some historical context of Lyons's book
- J. Gordon Melton, Encyclopedia of American Religion
- The Religious Movements Homepage
- James Lewis's online papers
- Satanism and the Internet
- Dictionary definitions of "Satanism"
- The controversy among Satanists
What is Satanism? In most dictionaries, the primary definition is "the worship of Satan." But that definition is rejected by many Satanists, including the best-known Satanist group, Anton LaVey's Church of Satan.
So, how should "Satanism" be defined? A brief overview of various Satanist definitions - and the controversy surrounding thme - can be found on the Black Goat Cabal website's Who we are and how to join page:
To us, a Satanist is anyone with a favorable view of Satan. We define "Satanism" not as any one particular belief system, but as a general cetegory of belief systems all involving a favorable view of Satan. There are many different kinds of Satanism, or, one might say, many Satanisms. A theistic Satanist is one who reveres Satan as a deity. Other Satanists we refer to as symbolic Satanists. A symbolic Satanist does not believe in Satan as an actual entity, but, instead, regards Satan as a symbol of values which a given particular Satanist endorses, usually including individuality and independent thought.
The best-publicized form of Satanism is LaVeyan Satanism, a symbolic Satanism based on Anton LaVey's Satanic Bible and other writings. For many years, the Church of Satan and other dogmatic LaVeyans have battled fiercely to convince the public that the very word "Satanism" should be defined as "the philosophy of Anton LaVey." For the most part they have not succeeded. Most dictionaries, for example, do not even mention LaVey in even one of their definitions of "Satanism," let alone as the sole definition. Nor do most scholars of new religions favor such a narrow definition of "Satanism." Nevertheless, the Church of Satan has managed to convince some influential people that "Satanism" should be considered Anton LaVey's sole personal intellectual property. (It is true the the Church of Satan was the first highly public Satanist organization, and it is true that the vast majority of Satanists are influenced by LaVey to one degree or another. But there are many Satanisms not based solely or even primarily on LaVey. Yet some CoS folks will even go so far as to be offended by the term "LaVeyan Satanism" because it suggests that there might possibly be such a thing as non-LaVeyan Satanism.)
At the other extreme, Michael Aquino, founder of the Temple of Set, has defined Satanism as "the belief in the existence of Satan as a sentient being or spirit in the universe, and the worship of Satan and obedience to his perceived principles, standards, and goals." (See the Temple of Set's alt.satanism FAQ. In recent years, the Temple of Set has moved away from considering itself to be a "Satanist" organization; but it is a well-documented fact that Aquino still did consider both himself and the Temple of Set to be "Satanist" as recently as the early 1990's. See, for example, his 1991 Comments concerning: "The Enemies of our Enemies" by Isaac Bonewits and Comments concerning: Letters on Satanism by Isaac Bonewits and Tom Williams.)
The more dogmatic so-called traditional Satanists have likewise claimed to be the sole arbiters of what is "true" Satanism. One was a group of British occult writers who self-published a bunch of writings back in the 1980's and early 1990's, claiming, among other things, that their group practiced "human sacrifice" - in contrast to the vast majority of Satanists who reject violent criminal activity in the name of Satan. (It is not known whether these writers were really serious, nor is it known whether they were all just one person writing under several pen names. Their worldview appeared to be rooted in a lot of the same literary sources as the modern Pagan movement, e.g. Frazer's Golden Bough, plus the Western occult tradition, e.g. their use of a "septenary" de-Hebrew-ized variant of the Qabalistic Tree of Life. They seemed also to have been strongly influenced by the philosophers Nietzsche and Spengler, plus British fascists such as Francis Parker Yockey, and a notable LaVey-derived influence, carried to absurd extremes.)
More recently, some very different "traditional Satanist" groups have emerged, claiming that the only "true Satanism" is a more-or-less-pure inversion of contemporary evangelical Christianity, complete with belief in the Rapture (seen as a blessed occasion on which all those annoying Christians will finally go away) and awaiting the reign of the Antichrist.
At yet another extreme are those who insist that a true theistic Satanist must have a non-Christian-based theology, e.g. identifying Satan with some ancient pre-Abrahamic god. An example can be found in the answer to the question Do you worship the devil? in the FAQ of John Allee's First Church of Satan (FCoS), not to be confused with LaVey's Church of Satan (CoS). FCoS welcomes both atheistic/symbolic Satanists and at least some kinds of theistic Satanists. (Though it does propound what we regard as some dogma-based definitions of its own in its FAQ, the FCoS nevertheless deserves credit for its significant role in in promoting the idea of "Free Thought Satanism" and thereby helping to diversify the Satanist scene, which, around the year 2000 or so, was otherwise almost completely dominated by the CoS.))
Scholars of new religions are unlikely to accept any of the narrower definitions.
On this page I will present relevant statements by new-religion scholars and other relatively neutral observers of the Satanist scene.
As far as I am aware, the two best (though somewhat out of date) scholarly references on Satanism are Satanism Today by James Lewis and The Encyclopedia of American Religion by J. Gordon Melton. Unfortunately, I don't happen to have either of these two books handy at the moment. So, the final version of this page will have to wait until later. In the meantime, I'll refer to other sources that I do have currently available.
- Arther Lyons, Satan Wants You, 1988
The oldest reasonably comprehensive overview of the Satanist scene that I'm aware of is Satan Wants You by Arthur Lyons, published in 1988. Lyons is not a religion scholar, but Satan Wants You has an introduction by the late Marcello Truzzi, a sociologist at Eastern Michigan University. Earlier, Lyons had written another book on Satanism, titled The Second Coming: Satanism in America.
Below is Lyons' definition of "Satanism," on page 9 of Satan Wants You:
In this book, the term "Satanist" refers to anyone who sincerely describes himself as a worshiper of the Christian Devil, whatever he perceives that to mean. As we will see, what it does mean to the individual worshiper can vary drastically. Because many modern groups have picked up their practices from horror movies or fictional accounts of Black Masses, there is a great latitude among modern cults in both practice and belief. Only in Dennis Wheatley novels is there such a thing as a "traditional Satanist."
The book starts off with a chapter that is mostly about the Satanic Ritual Abuse scare, then devotes nearly half the book to historical precursors of modern Satanism, then devotes one chapter to "The Church of Satan" (which talks about some of the CoS splinter groups as well as the CoS itself), and then has a chapter on "The Temple of Set et al." In the latter chapter, on page 133, Lyons says:
Two Satanic cults that illustrate the wide range of Satanic beliefs, although no longer in existence, are the Lady of Endor Coven of the Ophite Cultus Satanus, and the Orthodox Satanic Church of the Nephilim Rite.
The Lady of Endor Coven was started in 1948 by a Toledo, Ohio barber turned fortune teller, Herbert A. Sloane, and ceased with his death in the 1980's. Sloane's creed, based heavily on gnosticism, taught that Satan was not evil, but the bringer of wisdom and the messenger of God. The Christian God was identified with the Demiurge, whose spirit was trapped in the material world, with Satan sent to earth to give man occult knowledge, or gnosis, so that the divine aspect within humanity could be returned to God.
The Orthodox Satanic Church, in existence from 1971 to 1974 in Chicago, which at its height claimed more than 500 members, taught a similar system of beliefs. The group's anti-LaVey philosophy taught that God the Creator created Satan, who, in turn, became the teacher of all knowledge. Through ritual, prayer, and songs, held every Saturday night at Chicago's Occult Book Shop, members were exhorted to absorb as much of Satan's wisdom as they could.
There has been some controversy over whether the Lady of Endor Coven was really founded back in 1948 and over whether Sloane's group used the label "Satanist" to describe itself before LaVey came along.
Nevertheless, it's clear that a definition of "Satanism" as referring exclusively to LaVey's belief system in particular is NOT historically justified.
- Some historical context of Lyons's book
When I first became a Satanist back in 1991, Lyons' book was perceived within the Satanist scene as a pro-CoS book. Even though it does NOT endorse the CoS party line, the CoS loved it because it did give LaVey and the CoS a starring role, to a greater extent than many Satanists at that time felt was deserved, and because it made the Temple of Set look as if it was on its last legs (which it wasn't - the ToS most certainly did survive).
At that time, the CoS was laying low due to the Satanic Ritual Abuse scare, whereas the Temple of Set (ToS) had been catapulted into the limelight by that same scare, thanks to the accusations against Michael Aquino. And, yes, at that time, Michael Aquino still did call himself a Satanist and did refer to the ToS as a "Satanic" organization.
So, at that time, nearly everyone in not only the Satanist scene but also the Pagan/occult scene thought of the ToS -- NOT the CoS -- as the leading Satanic group. The U.S. Army thought of the ToS as a leading Satnic group too; see this PDF copy of the 1992 U.S. Army Chaplain's handbook (plus an introduction by Michael Aquino). Among Satanists, occultists, and Pagans, it was commonly believed that the CoS was pretty much completely dead. Most of the other major public Satanists at that time, e.g. Kevry Bolton and John Allee ("Lord Egan"), were either members or ex-members of the Temple of Set.
So, Arthur Lyons' book was generally perceived as exaggerating the ongoing significance of the CoS. Yet even this pro-CoS book did NOT claim that "Satanism" should be defined as the teachings of Anton LaVey. The latter claim would not have seemed credible to anyone until the late 1990's. Lyons' book did not even make the CoS's beloved semantic distinction between "Satanism" and "Devil worship," instead treating those terms as synonyms. (Even atheistic symbolic Satanists can be said to "worship the Devil" in the sense of holding Satan in high regard, even if only as a symbol. Moreover, even the CoS did not dogmaticaly reject the worship of Satan in its earliest days.)
The Temple of Set's alt.satanism FAQ, written by Michael Aquino, defines "Satanism" as follows: "Satanism is the belief in the existence of Satan as a sentient being or spirit in the universe, and the worship of Satan and obedience to his perceived principles, standards, and goals." Obviously this is an overly narrow definition of "Satanism," but my point here is that a very influential Satanist leader (which Aquino was at that time) advocated a definition very different from the CoS's, and that this is one of the many facts implying that the CoS's definition of "Satanism" should NOT be seen as having any truly objective validity.
In the early-to-mid-1990's, when the SRA scare began to die down, the CoS started to come out of the woodwork. Its supporters got into endless squabbles with the ToS and its online members. Eventually the ToS got sick of all the squabbling and stopped calling itself a "Satanic" organization, leaving CoS in a position to claim a monopoly -- which wasn't really quite true even then, because, even then, there did exist some non-LaVeyan groups, such as the Demonolatry folks, for example.
Since the year 2000 C.E., thanks to the Internet, the CoS has been losing the near-monopoly it attained in the late 1990's. Unfortunately I'm not aware of any religion scholars who have been following the rather dramatic recent developments of these past several years, at least not in the English-speaking world. I've been in touch with both J. Gordon Melton and James Lewis, and they seemed glad to hear from me, but they aren't focussing on Satanism at the moment.
- J. Gordon Melton, Encyclopedia of American Religion, 1996
J. Gordon Melton is considered one of the top scholars in the field of new religions and small sects. His Institute for the Study of American Religion was contracted by the U.S. Army to help with writing the Army Chaplain's handbook.
Recently I went to a library to look up his Encyclopedia of American Religion. The library presumably had two volumes of the Fifth Edition, dated 1996. However, for now I was able to find only the first volume, which discussed general categories of religions grouped into "families," Satanism being part of the "Magick family." The second volume, which was missing, apparently goes into more detail about specific organizations.
The "Satanism" article is on page 165. In it, Satanism is referred to as "the worship of Satan." The very first sentence of the article begins, "Often confused with witchcraft is the worship of Satan." The article then goes on, for two paragraphs, to discuss the distinctions that (Neo-Pagan) witches commonly make between witchcraft and Satanism. Then the third paragraph begins with, "Apart from their allegiance to Satan and resultant dislike for the Christian church, Satanists do share in common the magical worldview of witches." Among other things, Melton then mentions how Anton LaVey used the term "witch" too.
Melton then talks about two categories of Satanists, "what are frequently termed the 'sickies'" and "the public groups which take Satanism as a religion seriously and have developed articulate theologies which do not resemble in many ways what one might expect." Melton apparently wasn't aware of the "many independent Satanists" whom James Lewis talked about, several years later, in his academic journal papers.
About the "public groups," Melton says, "Their theologies closely resemble liberal Christian theologies with the addition of a powerful cultural symbol (Satan), radically redefined." He doesn't specify the alleged similarities to liberal Christian theologies. I can only guess that he may be referring to Christian-identified atheists, deists, and pantheists who see Jesus as a "powerful cultural symbol," analogous to the Church of Satan's view of Satan.
The Temple of Set is mentioned in a paragraph which begins, "During the mid-1970's, Satanism experienced a significant decline. Several new Satanist groups did appear, the most notable being the Temple of Set, which developed a rather unique Satanic theology based on Egyptian motifs." Note that Melton does call the ToS a "Satanist group," consistent with statements by Michael A. Aquino himself in the early 1990's before he finally began to distance himself from the term "Satanism" in the mid-1990's.
The remaining paragraph and a half talks about the anti-Satanist panic of the 1980's.
Nowhere in the "Satanism" article does Melton actually spell out the beliefs of any specific Satanist leader or group, beyond a few very general hints. Rather, Melton simply assumes a definition of Satanism as "the worship of Satan," apparently with an understanding that the word "worship" can be stretched a bit, in much the same way that the most liberal Christians stretch it too.
On page 166, in the bibliography of his chapter on the "Magick family" of religions, the section on Satanism includes Arthur Lyons' book Satan Wants You as a source. Apparently Melton considers Lyons to be a reliable source.
As I said, I have not yet looked at the second volume of the Encyclopedia of American Religion. However, the first volume had an index which included pages in the second volume. There, I noticed that there were references to the following groups and people on pages in the second volume:
- Church of Satan - 1704, 1706, 1707, 1709, 1710, 1712
- Church of Satanic Brotherhood - 1705, 1708
- Herbert Sloane - 1709
- Temple of Set - 1710
- Satanic Church of the Nephilim Rite - 1711
- Thee Satanic Church - 1711
- Satanic Orthodox Church of the Nephilim Rite - 1712
In addition, the index listed more references to "Satanism" on pages 1643 and 1660 (if I'm reading my handwriting correctly; that last page might possibly have been 1666).
Whenver I have a time to go to another library to read the above pages, I'll post about them here.
The Religious Movements Homepage
An academic source which isn't the very best and is quite outdated, but which nevertheless does illustrate some very imporant points, is The Religious Movements Homepage Project, which was run by the late Jeffrey K. Hadden at the University of Virginia. Its page on Satanism was last updated in 2000 C.E.
Observe this page's definition of "Satanism." There is no mention of Anton LaVey as part of the definition. Rather it simply describes "Satanism" as consisting of two categories, atheistic ("philosophical Satanism") and theistic ("religious Satanism"). Though said to be a "minority," theistic/"religious" Satanists are presented as being every bit as entitled to the label "Satanist" as are atheistic/"philosophical" Satanists. Atheistic/"philosophical" Satanism is defined in no more detail than to say that "Modern Satanists tend to follow what they believe are the ideals of Satan, and present him as an ideal whose traits are to be emulated. Satan is often represented as a symbol of resistance to dominant religious traditions (e.g., Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu)." The Temple of Set is mis-categorized as atheistic/"philosophical," thereby inflating the "majority" of Satanists who are said to be atheistic/"philosophical." Near the bottom of the page is a collection of links to five Satanist groups, four of which hold beliefs quite different from those of LaVey's Church of Satan.
As I said, this page isn't the greatest academic source in the world. Nevertheless, it's an example of what scholars of new religions are likely to regard as an objective definition of "Satanism." In particular, note that the definitions of both atheistic/"philosophical" Satanism and theistic/"religious" Satanism both revolve around the figure of Satan, NOT around ANY specific set of beliefs or ideals that Satan is believed to represent. Thus, Satanism is not defined as being ANY specific complete religious outlook, but rather as a loose category of belief systems, not necessarily having anything more in common than a favorable view of Satan.
I would point out, furthermore, that the Religious Movements Homepage was put together at a time just past a peak of CoS dominance in the late 1990's. If there was ever a time when it could have been credibly argued that Satanism = LaVeyism, it was then. Yet, even then, it would appear that scholars of new religions refrained from defining the word "Satanism" that way.
I've mentioned elsewhere, and I'll briefly mention again here, that the proportion of theistic Satanists has grown over the past several years, as anyone can verify by looking at a large sampling of Satanist forums, e.g. on Yahoo.
In addition, there have gotten to be more and more non-LaVeyan symbolic Satanists as well. An example is the Sinagogue of Satan.
James Lewis's online papers
I haven't yet had time to go to a library that has James Lewis's books and dig up quotes from them, but, in the meantime, I've had a look at two published papers of his that are available online:
The first paper is Who Serves Satan? A Demographic and Ideological Profile in the
Marburg Journal of Religion, Volume 6, No. 2 (June 2001).
This paper does not contain an explicit definition of the term "Satanism."
It does give LaVey's Satanic Bible a central role as "the single most influential document shaping the contemporary Satanist movement." However, Lewis also wrote:
Anton LaVey was and is a controversial figure, and his organization is at present deeply embroiled in controversy with other Satanist groups. In the course of my research, I found myself unwittingly stepping into this arena of contention. Perhaps as a consequence of this conflict, some of my contacts voiced objections to the central role I assigned LaVey and his best-known work, The Satanic Bible, in the formation of modern Satanist religion. I was, furthermore, encouraged to shift my emphasis to the work of earlier literary figures ultimately responsible for fashioning the positive image of the Devil that LaVey later adopted for his Church of Satan.
Note the mention of LaVey as a "controverial" figure among Satanists. But Lewis concluded that the central role he gave LaVey's Satanic Bible was justified on the following grounds:
...The SB is a doctrinal touchstone for many--though certainly not all--participants in this movement, despite the fact that the great majority of contemporary Satanists are not formal members of Anton LaVey's Church of Satan.
Further down on the page, Lewis wrote:
...In a follow-up questionnaire, respondents were explicitly asked how they regarded the SB, and to what extent their personal philosophies aligned with the ideas expressed in its pages. Most stated that their view of the world aligned significantly with the SB. ... Most hastened to add that they did not regard it as "dogma."
He then discussed some specific LaVeyan ideas that most Satanists agree with. But he then wrote:
These LaVeyan notions do not, however, exhaust the kinds of answers respondents provided. In addition to a handful of people who asserted that there is a "real" Satan or real demons, a significant subset of respondents described Satan almost mystically as an energy, or as, "The unknown and unseen force that moves the universe." Some respondents emphasized the impersonality of this force, as a "faceless, purposeless power without direction, given name to become more limited and comprehensible to the human mind. Without form, without thought." Similarly, another respondent portrayed Satan as a force like gravity: "Satan represents the cosmic forces which act to create occurrences and which guide the life process such as the moon dominating the tides of the ocean." At times, this view of Satan as an impersonal force almost seemed to explode out of its naturalistic mold to express a genuinely mystical view of the universe.
Nowhere in this paper does Lewis imply that those who have strong disagreements with the SB aren't Satanists. Thus, his paper cannot be used to justify a definition of Satanism as "the philosophy of Anton LaVey." It can be used only to justify a claim that the vast majority of Satanists are influenced by Anton LaVey to one degree or another.
The second paper is Diabolical Authority: Anton LaVey, The Satanic Bible and the Satanist "Tradition" in the Marburg Journal of Religion, Volume 7, No. 1 (September 2002).
It starts out with a quote from the Church of Satan website: "We have a bible. We have a pro-human dogma. We have a church. We have a tradition."
But then the third paragraph begins with:
The Temple of Lylyth is part of a loose, decentralized Satanic movement that coheres as a distinct religious community largely by virtue of adherence to certain themes in the thought of Anton LaVey, founder of modern Satanism, though few movement participants outside the Church of Satan would regard themselves as "orthodox LaVeyans" (something of an oxymoron).
Note the reference to "certain themes in the thought of Anton LaVey" -- by no means the entirety of his thought. Note also the rejection of the idea of "orthodoxy" by most Satanists. Lewis writes, further:
In addition to numerous splinter groups, a decentralized, anarchistic movement emerged that was shaped by the central themes in LaVey's thought, particularly as expressed in The Satanic Bible. This book became a doctrinal touchstone of the movement, though independent Satanists felt free to selectively appropriate ideas from The Satanic Bible and to mix them with ideas and practices drawn from other sources. LaVey's book became, in a sense, a kind of quasi-scripture, which is a form of what Weber meant by traditional authority (despite the fact that it seems odd to refer to a religion less than forty years old as a "tradition"!). However, many independent Satanists also adhered to LaVey's program of the authority of rationality, feeling free to criticize and even to reject aspects of the LaVeyan tradition.
In contrast, the remnants of LaVey's church - which is still technically the largest single Satanist group in terms of formal membership - quickly solidified into a doctrinally-rigid organization focused on maintaining the purity of LaVeyan Satanism. This was partly in response to the challenge presented by non-CoS Satanists. In the ongoing argument over legitimacy, LaVey's successors have come to place excessive stress on their role as bearers of his legacy, even asserting that only CoS members are "real" Satanists and characterizing Satanists outside the fold as "pseudo" Satanists.
Further down, Lewis wrote:
The scope and significance of this dispute is reflected in the many attacks on non-CoS Satanists found on the Church of Satan website, particularly in the "Satanic Bunco Sheet," "Sycophants Unite!," "The Myth of the 'Satanic Community,'" "Pretenders to the Throne," and "Recognizing Pseudo-Satanists." Even a superficial perusal of these documents makes it clear that CoS is obsessed with shoring up its own legitimacy by attacking the heretics, especially those who criticize LaVey.
There are many presently-existing groups which derive directly or indirectly from the Church of Satan, the most important of which is the Temple of Set. The conflict (mostly on the internet) between the original Church of Satan and new Satanist groups accelerated after LaVey's death.
What this paper documents is a conflict between the Church of Satan and the "many independent Satanists" who are influenced by LaVey to one degree or another, but who derive their ideas and practices from other sources too, and who feel "free to criticize and even to reject aspects of the LaVeyan tradition."
Therefore, to define "Satanism" itself in terms of LaVey would be to take sides in this conflict, contrary to the practices of scholars in the field of new religions, who aim to take a neutral point of view. It is one thing to acknowledge that LaVey's influence is pervasive, as James Lewis has done, but quite another to accept a definition of Satanism itself in terms of LaVey. Note that Lewis himself refers to the "many independent Satanists" as "Satanists," though the Church of Satan would call a lot of them "pseudo-Satanists."
Elsewhere in the article, Lewis says that LaVey has been referred to as the "St. Paul of Satanism." Note: the St. Paul, not the Christ. Although St. Paul was indeed the single most influential early Christian writer and preacher, no one would ever even think to define the word "Christianity" itself in terms of St. Paul -- even despite the traditional Christian belief that St. Paul's writings were infallibly inspired by God, whereas the vast majority of Satanists hold no analogous belief concerning LaVey.
Near the bottom of Lewis's paper is the following disclaimer:
One comment of particular note was that the social organization (or, perhaps more appropriately, disorganization) of modern Satanism cannot accurately be characterized as a "movement," "community" or "subculture." I have nevertheless used these terms throughout for lack of more adequate terminology.
In Who Serves Satan? A Demographic and Ideological Profile, Lewis wrote that he was "surprised" by his finding that LaVey was so influential, "as I had initially assumed that contemporary Satanism had moved well beyond LaVey." Lewis had good reason to be surprised, because, by the early 1990's, the Satanist scene had in fact begun to move well beyond LaVey, thanks to the Temple of Set's relatively non-dogmatic approach. However, when the Temple of Set left the Satanist scene in the mid-1990's, this left the Church of Satan in a position of temporary near-monopoly. James Lewis did his studies at a time shortly after the peak of CoS near-monopoly, just as the Internet was only beginning to make it a lot easier for new forms of Satanism to sprout up.
Lewis's observations about the extent of LaVey's influence were true in 2000 C.E. but are now ceasing to be true, as anyone can easily discover by exploring a variety of Satanist forums. These days, the Satanist scene really is starting, truly, to move away from LaVey. (Hopefully Lewis will do a follow-up sometime in the not-too-distant future....) Most likely, LaVey will continue to be a major figure, but it is already plainly evident that Satanism is not one single religion "codified" by LaVey (or by anyone else either).
Satanism and the Internet
James Lewis, one of the leading scholars in the field of new religions, wrote the following in his academic paper Who Serves Satan? A Demographic and Ideological Profile, published in the Marburg Journal of Religion, Volume 6, No. 2 (June 2001):
... The Satanist community is an internet community. While more than half of all Satanists do not meet with their coreligionists face-to-face, Fifty-eight communicate with others in talk rooms or via e-mail on a daily basis and another thirty one communicate frequently. This finding is congruent with the scattered geographical distribution of Satanists.
The above-mentioned "fifty-eight" and "thirty one" are out of a total of 140 Satanists surveyed. Later in this article, Lewis also wrote:
... Many Satanists (or at least those who responded to the questionnaire) are primarily internet Satanists. This is at least partially because of the "scattered" geographical distribution of Satanists, although, according to my contacts, the marked individualism of modern Satanists--which mitigates against close group work--is also a factor.
To be honest, the statement that Satanism is "an Internet community" is at least a slight exaggeration. There do exist offline Satanist groups, and I've even known some Satanists who didn't have Internet access at all. Nevertheless, I would agree that Satanism these days has become primarily Internet-based. And it is significant that James Lewis, who happens to be the leading scholar in the field, has noticed that Satanism is primarily Internet-based, even if he exaggerates this fact just a bit.
This observation, in turn, should inform the policies of any reference work that is trying to present an objective view of Satanism. While I wouldn't advise listing every pipsqueak new website that comes along in an attempt to boost traffic, it would certainly be legitimate to list pages which in turn contain links to many other Satanist sites. Preference should be given to those pages that list, in some reasonably informative and well-organized fashion, sites representing a variety of different points of view within the online Satanist scene.
Also it would be reasonable to list sites that already have a high Internet profile, e.g. the relatively most comprehensive of those Satanist sites that come up on the first two or three pages of Google for the keyword "Satanism" and which are not redundant with other listed sites. I would suggest giving preference to those high-profile sites which articularely and intelligently present points of view not included in other listed high-profile sites, or which present a variety of points of view. Preference should perhaps also be given to websites of groups with a verified offline presence, but that should not be a sine qua non, since to do so would misrepresent the Satanist scene by creating a bias in favor of those groups that seek offline publicity, which is something that many Satanists do not believe in doing. If a Satanist website has a demonstrably high internet profile, that should be sufficient verification that a lot of Satanists are reading it.
In addition, if Satanism is primarily an "Internet community," it is also reasonable to include, in an objective reference work on Satanism, brief quotes or paraphrases of key ideas on some of the higher-profile Satanist websites themselves, not as definitive statements regarding Satanism as a whole, but merely as examples of some of the many varieties of Satanist belief. It would probably be best if quotes from Satanist websites were presented as up-to-date examples of statements by scholars and other third parties. Unfortunately, though, even the best scholars are quite out-of-date, given the developments of the past five years.
Dictionary definitions of "Satanism"
Dictionaries are only tertiary sources. They are presumably based on good scholarly secondary sources, but they are not, as a general rule, the best scholarly sources themselves. Yet, when considering definitions of words, it does seem to me that dictionaries should be looked at as part of the larger overall pickture. If nothing else, dictionaries do tell us the ways that words are most commonly used, although they are likely to be behind the times in keeping track of new words and new meanings of old words.
On dictionary.reference.com I found the following definitions of "Satanism":
- the worship of Satan or the powers of evil.
- a travesty of Christian rites in which Satan is worshiped.
- diabolical or satanic disposition, behavior, or activity.
The above site also displays the following definition from Wordnet:
- the worship of devils (especially Satan)
The American Heritage Dictionary (bartleby.com) has the following:
- The worship of Satan characterized by a travesty of the Christian rites.
- satanism Profound wickedness.
The above definition seems to be indicating that "Satanism" with a capital S refers to meaning #1, whereas "satanism" with a lower case S refers to meaning #2.
yourDictionary.com has a copy of the American Heritage definition.
Merriam-Webster online displays the following definitions:
- innate wickedness : DIABOLISM
- obsession with or affinity for evil; specifically : the worship of Satan marked by the travesty of Christian rites
MSN Encarta defines "Satanism" as follows:
- Satan worship: the worship of Satan, especially as a parody of Christian rites
The noteworthy point is that the Church of Satan has not succeeded in convincing the publishers of any of these dictionaries to include "the philosophy of Anton LaVey" as even one of their definitions of "Satanism," let alone as the sole definition.