Satanism
The worship of Satan, the Christian devil. The idea that
such a parody of Christian worship could and did exist
emerged in several stages. Central to Satanism was the idea of
magic and that extraordinary miracles, if not performed by
God in answer to the prayer of one of his servants (i.e., a Christian),
had to be accomplished by the devil in cooperation with
someone who had made a pact with the devil. Once the idea of
the pact became commonplace, it was but a short step to the notion
of an organized community of devil-worshippers. Some
substance was provided by the small pockets of paganism that
had not succumbed to the church’s evangelical efforts.
Before the fifteenth century, the magic practices (i.e, witchcraft)
associated with paganism had been defined as unreal and
pagan belief as disbelief. However, for several centuries the
Roman Catholic Church had been engaged in a struggle to
eliminate heresy, especially in southern France. That successful
effort had left it with a large and efficient organization, the Inquisition,
essentially bereft of a job. Thus the redefinition of
witchcraft as Satanism served the purpose of providing work
for those conducting the Inquisition. It transferred witchcraft
from the realm of doubt to that of heresy and apostasy, and
thus the concern of the Inquisition. Satanism implies the acceptance
of Christianity and the subsequent transfer of allegiance
to the Christian anti-God.
Immediately after the papal bull Summis desiderantes affectibus,
issued in 1484, which unleashed the Inquisition, two German
Dominicans, Jakob Sprenger and Heinrich Kramer,
wrote a massive text, Malleus Maleficarum (The Witches Hammer),
which became the textbook for witch-hunters in understanding
the evil of witchcraft and in locating and identifying
witches. Witches were accused of sacrificing infants and of having
sexual intercourse with the devil (most witches were
women). Since the Bible affirmed the existence of witchcraft, to
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believe it did not exist was to be considered in itself a heresy,
according to the inquisitors.
Thus was initiated the era of the great witch-hunts. In spite
of the Reformation, which split the church and commanded so
much attention in the sixteenth century, the crusade against
witches continued and was pursued by Protestants and Catholics
alike. Confessions were obtained by torture and tended to
conform to the image expected by the inquisitors after having
read the Malleus Maleficarum.
There is no real evidence that a devil cult existed. Its description
in the Malleus Maleficarum was the result of the imaginings
of a group of people who had never seen what they described.
The confessions were extracted from people informed
as to the nature and content of what the inquisitor sought. Such
has remained the case to the present. Even though some
groups of Satanists emerged, they were always adult converts
and created the organization de novo each generation. There
was no Satanic organization to carry the tradition from generation
to generation. Thus the imagination of Christian clergymen
was necessary to inform each new group of Satanists as to
the beliefs and activities of Satanism. Without the writings of
Christian anti-Satanists, Satanism could not exist.
The anti-Satanist literature defined the practices proper to
any self-respecting Satanist, including the Black Mass (a parody
of the Roman Catholic Mass), the saying of the Lord’s Prayer
backwards, the destructionprofanation of sacred objects, the
sacrifice of an infant, and the invocation of Satan for the purpose
of working malevolent magic (sorcery). It was not until
the late seventeenth century that something similar to the Satanism
described in the Malleus Maleficarum came into being.
The Affair La Voisin
In the year 1679, King Louis XIV set up a secret court to
deal with several cases of poisoning of the French nobility. The
investigations and findings of the court centered around the activities
of Catherine Deshayes, better known as La Voisin. La
Voisin operated as an adviser and fortune-teller to ladies at the
court. She supplied them with love potions, charms, and occasionally,
poison. However, things turned in a more sinister direction
in 1667.
In that year La Voisin was consulted by the Marquise de
Montespan, Françoise-Athenais, who was ambitious in the extreme.
She wanted to become the queen of France. Her goal
was, through magic, to alienate Louis from both the queen and
his current mistress. Reportedly, following a mass during which
two doves were killed, she became Louis’s mistress. Further
masses were said to secure her position. Then in 1673, with the
Abbé Guibourg officiating, a mass was said over Montespan’s
nude body, during which an infant was sacrificed and the blood
used to create a host that was then added to the king’s food.
These later masses seemed to have no effect, and Louis was
perceived to be changing his affections to another. Finally, in
1879, she had a mass for the dead said for Louis, followed by
an attempt to poison him. The plot was discovered. La Voisin
was arrested and Montespan distanced from the king (though
for the sake of appearances she was never publicly accused).
The affair, as the extent of La Voisin’s activities became known,
threatened to bring down the monarchy if made public. It was
handled with the utmost discretion. La Voisin was executed,
but most of the people involved were merely banished.
Since the era of the affair, sporadic incidents of Satanism
and ephemeral Satanic magic groups have appeared. Among
the more renowned were those described in a fictionalized account
in J. K. Huysman’s novel La Bas in 1891. The groups that
appeared were largely made of young people using Satanism
as an expression of their youthful rebellion. They came and
went with little sign of their existence except a desecrated
graveyard or church. A few were discovered during a ceremony
or soon afterward. The number of such groups seemed to rise
in the years after World War II, though that may have been a
result of better reporting and the correlation of the scattered
accounts facilitated by improved communications. However, a
new thrust developed in the 1960s.
The Church of Satan
A new era began on Walpurgis Night (May Eve), 1966.
Anton LaVey announced the first day of the year of Satan
(anno Satanas) marked by the founding of the Church of
Satan. The very affront of such an organization in an ostensibly
Christian nation was newsworthy, but LaVey, an old carnival
performer, was able to make good use of publicity events—the
first Satanic wedding and the first funeral—to have his picture
on the front page of newspapers across the United States.
To some, the very appearance of the Church of Satan was
all they needed to project it as a symbol of all that was wrong
with contemporary society and to associate the new organization
with every occult-related crime that was uncovered. The
reality was more mundane. The Church of Satan was, in fact,
a fairly small group (never more than a few thousand members),
which affirmed some of the values that LaVey saw as
dominant in secular society but counter to traditional values.
People were trapped in a value system that affirmed mutually
contradictory goals. He advocated indulgence of the senses, individual
responsibility, selfishness, life in the present, and ego
strength and assertion. He specifically denounced love for ingrates,
turning the other cheek, and obscurantism.
The main holiday in the church was an individual’s birthday.
The primary ritual was the Black Mass, which served as a
psychodrama for people, allowing them to overcome inhibitions
and move ahead with their lives. He specifically eschewed
any illegal activities and told members to pursue their goals,
but to do so without harming others.
The Church of Satan gave Satanism a new respectability. Its
scripture, The Satanic Bible, became a steady seller at newsstands,
and LaVey attracted some celebrities to his organization.
During the early 1970s, however, the church went
through a period of turmoil and a number of splinter groups
emerged. The most substantive of these (and the only one to
survive the decade) was the Temple of Set. Founded by Michael
Aquino and Lilith Sinclair, two prominent leaders in the
Church of Satan, the temple became the home of a sophisticated
Satanic theology developed from Egyptian thought.
Satanism in the 1980s
Satanism had plainly declined by the end of the 1970s; however,
in the mid 1980s reports that it had merely gone underground
began to surface. Claims of the existence of a massive
Satanic underground emerged around a set of reports concerning
ritual child abuse. Amid the heightened concern for child
abuse generated during the era, children began to tell horrendous
stories of having been abused as part of forced participation
in Satanic rituals, both in homes and in day care centers.
These stories were soon joined by an increasing number of stories
of women, and a few men, mostly in their thirties, who told
stories of having been abused as children and youth, and then
having suppressed the memories until they were recalled twenty
years later in sessions with counselors.
These two types of reports generated much attention in the
press, a heated debate among psychological professionals, and
a variety of court cases. In the end, little substance concerning
Satanic activity emerged, though a core of childhood trauma
was discovered at the heart of many of the reports. Some cases
were discovered to be lies told to reclaim custody of children
lost in a divorce settlement, and many were generated by psychological
counselors using unprofessional techniques and
practices. As the cases were investigated and no supporting evidence
was discovered, the stories became increasingly conspiracy
oriented. By the 1990s little support remained for the veracity
of the accounts of widespread Satanism.
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Sources
Kelly, Henry Ansgar. The Devil, Demonology, and Witchcraft.
Garden City, N.Y. Doubleday, 1974.
LaVey, Anton. The Satanic Bible. New York Avon, 1969.
Lyons, Arthur. Satan Wants You. London Rupert HartDavies,
1970.
Richardson, James T., Joel Best, and David G. Bromley. The
Satanism Scare. New York Aldine de Gruyter, 1991.
Robbins, Rossell Hope. The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology.
New York Crown Publishers, 1959.