This is a guest post by Penemue, long time leader in The Satanic Temple and current director of Satanic Ministry. You can find Penemue on twitter. If you are interested in writing a guest post for my blog, please send me an email.
The Naming of Satanists is a difficult matter,
It isn’t just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a Satanist has THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.
(adapted from T.S. Eliot, The Naming of Cats)
Every Satanist reveres a slightly different Satan. With reverence for individualism and autonomy, we encourage everyone to find and create the interpretation of Satan that resonates with them. Through that creative interpretive act Satanists create their own personal Satanism and by living together in an interconnected community we all create the personal-but-shared religious identity called Satanism. Each of our Satans is a little bit different, because each of our Satans is a representation of ourselves. We build altars and perform rituals to our Satan, as a symbolic way of giving reverence to our own values and ideals.
This is true of every religion’s god or gods, of course: no two Christians, for example, understand Jesus in exactly the same way. What sets Satanists apart is that we admit that we create these characters ourselves, and we encourage that creative process. In Satanism, the fact that our religion is overflowing with a multiplicity of Satans is a “feature” rather than a “bug.”
In some ways, Satanism functions like a polytheistic religion. When a religious tradition has a broad pantheon of gods, it’s rare to find a town or household that holds reverence for every god equally. One god or another might be centered and given greater attention for various reasons: perhaps for the attributes they personify, or the gifts they are thought to give. The same is true with Satanism: some Satanists are most inspired by Lucifer the light-bringer, others by Satan the adversary. Some feel a connection with Loki the trickster, others with the strength and independence of Lilith. Satan themself is a pantheon, empowering you to find the right Satan for you.
Of course, Satanism is not a theistic religion. Maybe polyatheistic is a better description of Satanism.
There is a third way to classify my religious beliefs. It is an interstitial class on the continuum of specificity: laying between the broad label “Satanism,” on one side, and that unique and private religion that is my own personal Satanism, on the other. I belong to the subset of Satanists inspired by the Seven Tenets and drawn to the philosophy and iconography of Romantic Era depictions of Satan by writers such as Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, William Blake, and Charles Baudelaire.
The Satanic Temple is the organization that crafted the Seven Tenets, and is responsible for the rise in visibility and awareness of this kind of Satanism. You could even say that it is responsible for creating a particular version of Satanism: not in the sense that it “made it up,” cut from whole cloth, but rather that it defined a new way of thinking about Satanism by contextualizing existing interpretations of the mythos and connecting them to a concrete moral philosophy in a new way.
Over the past seven years the Satanic Temple has grown as an organization, and an increasing number of Satanists align themselves with the Seven Tenets and The Satanic Temple’s approach to Satanism. With this growth has come an increasing need to figure out what to call this new religious category.
The first and most obvious approach was to identify with the organization itself. This is how most people did it early on, saying things like, “I’m a Satanist, and I belong to The Satanic Temple, not the Church of Satan” or “I’m a Satanist, but I’m a TST Satanist not a LaVeyan Satanist.”
The phrase “TST Satanist” became popular as a nice, concise way to specify this particular kind of Satanism, and draw a contrast against the philosophy LaVey put forth in The Satanic Bible and the style of Satanism espoused by the Church of Satan.
Even that phrase, however, has some ambiguity: if you call yourself a “TST Satanist,” are you talking about your beliefs or your membership in an organization? As a result, variations of this phrase have appeared: “I am a TST-style Satanist” and “I am a TST-flavored Satanist” are two that I have seen used repeatedly on social media.
But as the community continued to grow and evolve, another natural trend emerged: individuals and groups who broadly aligned with the Seven Tenets and The Satanic Temple’s approach to Satanism, but who did not feel connected to The Satanic Temple as an organization. Some disagreed with certain actions or positions held by The Satanic Temple. Others believed The Satanic Temple, as an organization, didn’t live into its own ideals well enough. Still others held The Satanic Temple in high esteem, but felt that such a large organization couldn’t serve the needs of their own local Satanic community.
This created demand for a way to express a connection with The Satanic Temple’s overall religious vision, that does not necessarily declare allegiance to The Satanic Temple as an organization.
As one Chapter Leader said to me: “We need a way to talk about The Satanic Temple as a religious denomination rather than an organization.”
The word “denomination” appeals to me. It is a great label for that third religious classification I described at the beginning: the interstitial category that is more specific than “Satanism” but more broad than the private unnamed personal Satanism that you create for yourself. But the word itself also highlights the problem: for something to be a denomination, it must have a name.
“LaVeyan Satanism is a denomination of Satanism,
and you don’t have to be a member of the Church of Satan to be a LaVeyan.”
In that sentence, what is the word parallel to “LaVeyan” when you change “Church of Satan” to “The Satanic Temple”?
The naming process has already begun organically, of course. I see social media profiles and online discussions that refer to Temple Satanists or Tenet Satanists. But I also still see some groups and individuals struggle, having to resort to long cumbersome explanations: “Our group is made up of members of TST, and we agree with their beliefs, but we are not associated with TST…”
It will be interesting to see how this evolves. I am excited to find out what the collective social organism eventually lands on as the name for the type of Satanist I am. It cannot be decided by fiat or by committee, only by the use of language over time.
But I’m curious about your own opinion: what label do you use to describe the denomination associated with TST but not necessarily tied to the organization itself? How do you deal with it when you want to convey to someone what type of Satanist you are? I would love to hear your approach in the comments.
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