As I’ve developed my personal Satanic Philosophy over the past few years, I’ve received a number of questions from the non-infernal. Questions like: how can you be religious if you don’t believe in God? How do you reconcile Satanic individualism with our human need for community? What’s the point of ritual if you don’t believe in the supernatural? I’ve used these perceived contradictions and questions as a way of establishing a sort of meta-structure for my Satanic practice.
A central symbol of modern Satanism is Baphomet, which contains within their being a multitude of paradoxes. They contain angelic and demonic, male and female, up and down. At their naval rises the Caduceus, an ancient symbol for the reconciliation of opposites. I’ve taken Baphomet as a representation of my Satanic practice itself, holding within itself a multitude of perceived contradictions. What many people interpret as irreconcilable contradictions, I see as dynamic tensions central to my Satanic practice.
I’ve come up with seven primary dichotomies for my own Satanic practice. These dichotomies at first seem like mutually exclusive categories, but upon further examination, they are not. I personally see these dichotomies as complementary to The Seven Tenets of the Satanic Temple. If they resonate with you, you are welcome to adopt or modify them for yourself.
Religion Vs. Nontheism
The first and most obvious dichotomy is the nontheistic nature of my Satanic practice. I don’t believe in God, gods, or the supernatural. That doesn’t mean they don’t exist — rather, I don’t think I’ve seen sufficient evidence for their existence. The common assumption is that religion entails some sort of deity or supernatural belief, but I see this as woefully Protestant and American-centric. There are plenty of non-religious people who hold some sort of supernatural belief (we’ve all met spiritual-but-not-religious types who believe in ghosts, God, New Age energies, and astrology) and there are also plenty of self-identified religious people who don’t believe in a literal God. Some Jews, Buddhists, Quakers, Episcopalians, Confucians, and Hindus all claim some variety of nontheism.
As the FAQ of the Satanic Temple succinctly puts it:
The idea that religion belongs to supernaturalists is ignorant, backward, and offensive. The metaphorical Satanic construct is no more arbitrary to us than are the deeply held beliefs that we actively advocate. Are we supposed to believe that those who pledge submission to an ethereal supernatural deity hold to their values more deeply than we? Are we supposed to concede that only the superstitious are rightful recipients of religious exemption and privilege? Satanism provides all that a religion should be without a compulsory attachment to untenable items of faith-based belief. It provides a narrative structure by which we contextualize our lives and works. It also provides a body of symbolism and religious practice — a sense of identity, culture, community, and shared values.
Mysticism Vs. Non-supernaturalism
I consider myself a deeply mystical person, and this chafes both at atheists, who have no time for mysticism, and at supernaturalists, who don’t understand how a nontheist can experience mystical ecstasy. Myriam-Webster defines “mysticism” thus: “the experience of mystical union or direct communion with ultimate reality reported by mystics.”
Mysticism and altered states of consciousness are a natural part of human experience. Transcendence has been experienced in every culture, in every time, and in every religion. I believe that the ecstasy of altered states of consciousness and religious experience are some of the highest forms of pleasure a human can experience, and it is a shame to forego those experiences simply because I don’t believe in God.
We can experience mystical union with the cosmos, even as skeptics and nontheists, in a myriad of ways. Meditation, yoga, ritual, music, sex, reading, dreams, and psychedelics all lend themselves to the joy of healthy altered states of consciousness. The important word here is “experience.” I’ve experienced cosmic union, I’ve had tactile hallucinations as a yogi, and I’ve had thunderous, life-changing narrative visions. I don’t have any reason to believe that these experiences represent some external, objective reality. But they still alter me in profound ways, have changed my perception of myself and others, and have given me great joy. I don’t need to believe in literal spirits to enjoy the benefits of mystical experience. Mysticism is like orgasm: a wonderful human experience and there is no good reason to forego it. In this way, I am a Satanic, hedonistic, recreational mystic.
Satanic mysticism is a topic I want to explore further in my writing, but for now it is enough to say that I don’t think nontheistic Satanism and religious mysticism are a contradiction.
Reason vs. Enchantment
Moving from specific mystical experiences into life as a whole, many people are baffled by how Satanists can pride themselves as being rooted in nontheism and rationality while also being in love with a mythical figure that doesn’t exist. How can we celebrate both rationality and fantasy? How can we exist in the world of rigorous reason and science, while also being equally informed by the enchanted myth of Satan?
To be human is to think in story and symbol, and the enchantment of these shared imaginary worlds (what Joseph Laycock calls paracosms) can give our lives a profound joy and richness. To be human is to inhabit a multitude of imagined worlds, be it games, films, novels, fandoms, or religions. My Satanism is a self-conscious imagined world, a paracosm, which gives my world a sheen of enchantment. It makes me happy and informs my everyday choices.
In no way does my imagined narrative conflict with my commitment to skepticism, science, and reason. They are complimentary aspects of my human nature, and I feel no need to sacrifice one for the sake of the other.
Humor vs. Sincerity
“Humor and satire have no place in religion,” an Orthodox woman once said to me, “it is either religion, or it is humor. It is never both.”
Except that, for some of us Satanists, Satan is something of a trickster god – a Pan or Loki-like figure that has a devilish sense of humor. Following in his footsteps does not make our religion satire, but a sincere expression of our religious life. It’s easy for some people who are only used to the dour solemnity of certain religious traditions to look at TST’s public campaigns and see the humor inherent within them as negating our religious identity.
I think the BDSM baby demonstration, the Abortion Raffle, and the Pink Mass are wonderful because I see them as honest, humorous, authentic expressions of our religion. Christians follow in the footsteps of Christ. I follow in the footsteps of Satan, the ultimate trickster god. Having a sense of humor is part and parcel with my religious expression.
Individualism Vs. Collectivism
A source of angst for some observers of Satanism is the extreme individualism, usually evident in the works of Anton LaVey. I frequently get asked, “how do you reconcile the radical selfish individualism of Satanism with our human need for community and collectivism?”
I see this as another false binary. Yes, Satanism encourages individualism and critical thought, but in no way is that opposed to our collective human nature. We are social and individual. In his book Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now, Jaron Lanier discusses the lone wolf and the pack as two different states that we can flow between. I personally think these two states are helpful in some situations, not so helpful in others. Sometimes we need to be the lone wolf, sometimes the pack. Individualism and collectivism are not a static binary.
I reject LaVey’s radical Randian selfishness. I instead see my own Satanism as an admonition to mindfulness. I must always be mindful of my cognitive glitches that bias me to groupthink and mob-mentality. Satanic individualism, for me, means retaining a critical part of my consciousness that can have the courage to stand against the crowd, tyrant, or orthodoxy when it is morally imperative to do so. In no way does that contradict collective work towards social change, or healthy community.
Blasphemy vs. Ecumenism
Satanism frequently engages in blasphemy as an act of empowerment. As Lucien Greaves (co-founder of TST) writes in the introduction to the Devil’s Tome by Shiva Honey,
The Black Mass, as it is enacted today has no need for supernaturalism, and it is not performed with the infantile expectation that it should conjure Satan or demonic spirits. In fact, it is our assertion that the Black Mass can be enacted with no ill-will toward the world at large, but as an expression of personal independence against the stifling strictures of supernatural religion that were instilled in some of us as frightened and unwitting children. The Black Mass, at its best, should have a cathartic and liberating effect for its participants and observers. In this spirit, Satanism in general embraces the blasphemous, as we reject divine fiats and the notion of symbolic crimes.
Later in the book, Shiva provides scripts for some Black Masses performed at TST headquarters, some of which involve nudity, urine, and heaps of blasphemy. And yet, Lucien Greaves also had this to say in a recent interview on my podcast Sacred Tension:
I think what people find when they come to nontheistic religion from militant atheism is that this — at least for me — actually helps to reconcile myself more to that idea of religion and helps to kind of mitigate that feeling of animosity, because I know what they are getting. I know to a certain degree what their religion is — or at least I feel like I know what religion can be for people when they don’t have designs for authoritarian power, which was all I could see of it before when my viewpoint was more militantly atheistic. Now I’m not willing to just entirely disregard the progressive factions of these belief systems, but I am willing to work as an ally with them when they understand what I believe, who I am, and they don’t ask me do otherwise […] And I feel like when we really make some inroads in the fight against theocracy, we are going to make those inroads by alliances with progressive Christian groups, progressive Jewish groups, progressive Muslim groups, and other established religious organizations.
This seems like a contradiction to some people, but for us, blasphemy is not an act of terrorism on other religious communities. It is for us, because many of us were abused by these symbols. They are our symbols, given to us through trauma, and we can do what we want with them. When I blaspheme the symbol of Christ, I’m blaspheming the Christ of ex-gay therapy, the Christ of colonial mission work, the Christ of clerical rapists and molesters.
I also keep an icon of Christ on my Satanic altar, to honor the Christ who stood against injustice, cruelty, and tyranny. That isn’t a contradiction to me, because symbols are subjective. I despise the Christ of child sex abuse and colonialism and Qanon. I love the Christ of Martin Luther King Jr., Doris Day, and Thomas Merton. I love and hate the symbol of Christ, depending on context.
Blasphemy and ecumenism – the deliberate effort to work with other religious groups for understanding the greater good – is therefore not a contradiction for me. I still interview a huge number of progressive Christians for my podcast, I collaborate with Christians, and I even worked at a church as a yoga teacher up until the pandemic.
These dichotomies make my religious life exciting, more compassionate, and challenging. I hope you find as much delight in these paradoxes as I have.
P.S. – In my haste to publish this article, I failed to notice that I only listed 6 Satanic dichotomies, not 7. I might change the title, but I wanted to offer my audience the opportunity to suggest a 7th Satanic Dichotomy. If you come up with one, I might feature it in this article.
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9 thoughts on “Seven Satanic Dichotomies”
Excellent! Thank you for sharing this, Stephen!
Thanks so much, Aria ❤
LikeLiked by 1 person
I. Love. This.
I tried to put my similar thoughts into words when explaining Satanism to someone else. This post so eloquently explains so much of what I was trying to convey, I’m going to share it with them.
I’m so glad!