Satanism, or devil worship, refers to two distinct phenomena
(1) the worship of Satan or Lucifer, the Christian antideity,
and (2) the worship by non-Christian peoples of deities that to
Christian observers have a devil-like character. The worship of
Satan has never been a widespread activity, and most reports
of Satanism seem to originate in the imagination of Christian
The idea of devil worship emerged in the fifteenth century
when for various reasons the powers of the Inquisition were
turned upon witchcraft. The task of the inquisitors was to
ferret out heretics, Christians who held unorthodox opinions,
and apostates, former Christians who had renounced the faith.
Outside the mandate of the Inquisition were those believers in
other religions who had never been Christians. Before the year
1484, witchcraft had been defined as paganism, the worship of
the old pre-Christian deities. Pagans had never been Christians
and were thus immune to the mandate of the Inquisition.
However, in 1484 Pope Innocent VIII issued an encyclical
that redefined witchcraft as devil worship, hence apostasy. The
encyclical was followed two years later by publication of the
Malleus Maleficarum (The Witchs Hammer), a volume that defined
devil worship as an elaborate parody of Christian worship.
Malleus Maleficarum became the sourcebook for the massive
action against people identified as witchesSatanists.
Substance was added to the perspective by the numerous confessions
extracted under duress from the accused. Although
Malleus Maleficarum was published only a generation before the
Reformation, Protestants accepted its perspective and were as
active as Roman Catholics in the persecution of people believed
to be worshiping the devil and practicing malevolent
As devil worship came to be understood, it included gatherings
of people, often in groups of 13 (a parody of Christ and
the 12 apostles), and the performance of a black mass that
might include the repetition of the Lords Prayer backward, the
profanation of a eucharistic host, the sacrifice of a baby, or sexual
debauchery. While many were accused of participation in
devil worship, the first solid evidence of the existence of a devilworshiping
group came in the court of French king Louis XIV
(16381715). With the assistance of a defrocked priest, Catherine
Deshayes, better known as La Voisin, constructed black
masses to help members of the courtincluding one of the
Kings mistressesretain their positions in the royal society. La
Voisin was also a purveyor of poisons and assisted women in
aborting unwanted babies. The situation came to light at the
end of the 1670s but created little impact because of the relatively
quiet manner in which the investigation and judicial proceedings
were carried out. A star chamber was established that
considered evidence and issued verdicts in secret in order to
keep the scandal from destroying the government.
In the years since the La Voisin affair, the worship of Satan
or diabolism has emerged periodically, only to quickly pass
from the scene. In the twentieth century, it became the subject
of some successful novels, especially those of Dennis Wheatley,
who wrote a series of stories based on the existence of a worldwide
satanic conspiratorial organization. There is no evidence
that such an organization exists (or ever existed) outside of
A new era for devil worship began in 1966 with the organization
of the Church of Satan. The church redefined Satanism
as the epitome of American values of individualism and promoted
a philosophy built around hedonism, pragmatism, and
ego development. The traditional Black Mass was celebrated,
but it too had been transformed into a psychodrama aimed at
teaching participants to release inhibitions that kept them from
reaching personal fulfillment. Anton LaVey, the churchs
founder, also operated openly and demanded that church
members do nothing to violate the law.
The Church of Satan enjoyed a period of growth and publicity
through the early 1970s, but soon fell victim to a series of
schisms that cost it many members and led to its adopting a low
profile. Among the several divisions, the most substantial and
the only one to survive into the 1990s is the Temple of Set.
Temple founder Michael Aquino rejected the neo-Satanism of
LaVey and developed a more traditional approach built upon
identifying the Christian Satan as the Egyptian deity Set (or
Seth). Aquino has constructed the most sophisticated form of
modern Satanism and has attracted to the temple a small but
faithful following. Like the Church of Satan, the Temple of Set
and Aquino (an officer in the U.S. Army) renounce all actions
that break the law.
Public interest in the Church of Satan had largely died by
the end of the 1970s, although a new wave of concern about Satanism
emerged. Through the 1980s a number of individuals,
primarily women, came forward with stories of, as children and
teenagers, having participated in satanic rites at the insistence
of their parents. The abuse they received had been forgotten,
but several decades later was being remembered. At the same
time, a number of accusations were made that various people
with control over childrenday care workers, divorced
spouses, grandparentswere practicing satanic rituals on
By the mid-1980s rumors and accusations of satanic ritual
abuse emerged in every part of the United States and by the
end of the decade had been transplanted to Europe. They led
to several trials, the most important being the lengthy trial of
the owners and workers of the McMartin Day School in Manhattan
Beach, California. All defendants in the McMartin case
were acquitted, and further research on the growing number
of accusations found no basis for the widespread allegations of
Satanism. The issue was seemingly laid to rest in 1994 when two
researchersPhillip Shaver, a psychologist at the University of
California-Davis, and Pamela Freyd of the False Memory Syndrome
Foundationreported after their investigation of more
than twelve thousand accusations that no evidence of any satanic
cults had been uncovered.
Modern Satanism is largely the product of Christian theology,
as Satan is primarily an inhabitant of the Christian religious
worldview. For the most part, the documents on Satanism
descriptions of its reported beliefs and practiceswere written
by professing Christians who never met a Satanist or attended
a satanic gathering. Their descriptions of Satanism were an admixture
of material drawing from older Christian texts and
their own imaginations.
A Satanic Hoax
Much of the literature of diabolism is written from the point
of view of the Roman Catholic church, and in fact much satanic
practice, especially the so-called Black Mass, parodies Catholic
worship. Belief in the existence of Satanists and devil worship
as a possibly powerful force opposing the church set the church
up for an elaborate hoax in France at the end of the nineteenth
century. Through the nineteenth century, the church had
made an issue of its opposition to Freemasonry, a movement
that had aligned itself against the monarchial governments of
In the years before the hoax, the church had witnessed several
Satanist-related scandals. In 1894, for example, 100 consecrated
hosts (eucharistic bread) were stolen from Nôtre Dame
by an old woman under circumstances that clearly proved that
the vessels containing them were not the objects of the theft. An
extraordinary number of such larcenies occurred in all parts of
France around the end of the nineteenth century, with no less
than 13 churches in the Diocese of Orleans being thus despoiled.
In the Diocese of Lyons, measures were taken to transform
the tabernacles into strongboxes, and in 11 of the dioceses
similar acts were recorded. In Italy, Rome, Liguria, and
Devil Worship Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology 5th Ed.
Solerus there were similar desecrations, and even on the island
of Mauritius an outrage of peculiar atrocity occurred in 1895.
Meanwhile, it had been asserted by many writers, including
Archbishop Meurin and Dr. Bataille, that Freemasonry was
merely a mask for Satanism, that is, that an organization had
developed of which the ordinary Mason was ignorant and that
had diabolism as its special object. Members of this organization,
it was asserted, were recruited from the higher branches
of Masonry, although it also initiated women. Needless to say,
the charge was indignantly denied by Masons.
Bataille and Margiotta claimed that the order of the
Palladium, or Sovereign Council of Wisdom, had been constituted
in France in 1737, and this, they inferred, was one and
the same as the legendary Palladium of the Templars, better
known by the name of Baphomet. In 1801 Isaac Long, a Jew,
was said to have carried the original image of Baphomet to
Charleston, South Carolina, in the United States, and it was alleged
that the lodge he founded then became the chief in the
Ancient and Accepted Scotch Rite. He was succeeded in due
course by Albert Pike, who, it was alleged, extended the Scotch
Rite and shared the anti-Catholic Masonic chieftainship with
the Italian patriot Giuseppe Mazzini. This new directory was established,
it was asserted, as the new Reformed Palladium Rite,
or Reformed Palladium. Assisted by Gallatin Mackey and others,
Pike built the new rite into an occult fraternity with worldwide
powers and practiced the occult arts so well that the head
lodge at Charleston was supposed to be in constant communication
These revelations by Dr. Bataille in the wholly ludicrous
work Le Diable au XIX Siècle (1896) included the claim that in
March 1881 his hero, Dr. Hacks, in whom his own personality
is but thinly disguised, visited Charleston, where he met Pike,
Mackey, and other Satanists. Mackey was supposed to have
shown him his Arcula Mystica, in appearance like a liqueur
stand, but in reality a diabolical telephone, operated like the
Urim and Thummim. These revelations were supported by
Miss Diana Vaughan, once a Palladist, grand mistress of the
temple and grand inspectress of the Palladium, who later converted
to Roman Catholicism. In Memoirs of an ex-Palladist
(1895) she gives a colorful and exhaustive account of her dealings
with the Satanists of Charleston. She claimed to be descended
from the alchemist Thomas Vaughan, and recounted
her adventures with Lucifer.
It was later disclosed that all the revelations of Dr. Bataille
were an elaborate invention of the French journalist Gabriel
Jogand-Pàges. Jogand-Pàges also embroidered his inventions
by writing under the pseudonym Léo Taxil and also wrote the
detailed confessions of the fictional Diana Vaughan.
This elaborate and mischievous hoax both deceived the
Roman Catholic church and embarrassed the Freemasons. It
also confused the issue so far as nineteenth- and earlytwentieth-century
devil worship revivals were concerned. As
with other hoaxes of a literary nature, this one came back to life
as people in the late twentieth century rediscovered JogandPàgess
books and, in their ignorance of the hoax, used them
to weave new theories of contemporary diabolism.
Bois, Jules. Le Petites Religions de Paris. Paris, 1894.
. Le Satanisme et la Magie. Paris, 1895.
Gerber, H. Léo Taxils Palladismus-Roman. Oder Die Enthüllungen
Dr. Battailles, Margiottas and Miss Vaughans Über
Freimaureri kritisch beleuchtet. Berlin, 1897.
Huysmans, J. K. Là-Bas. 1891. Translated as Down There A
Study in Satanism. New Hyde Park, N.Y. University Books,
LaVey, Anton Szander. The Satanic Bible. New York Avon,
Lea, H. C. Léo Taxil and Diana Vaughan. Paris, 1901.
Margiotta, D. Souvenirs dun Trente-Troisieme. Adriano Lemmi,
chef supreme des francsmaçons. Paris, 1896.
Papus [G. Encausse]. Le Diable et loccultisme. Paris, 1895.
Rhodes, H. T. F. The Satanic Mass. London, 1954.
Vaughan, Diana [Gabriel Jogand-Pages]. Mémoire dune ExPalladiste.
Waite, Arthur E. Devil Worship in France. London, 1896.