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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16 thoughts on “Guest Post: Denominating Satan”
This is absolutely something I have been grappling with for years now. I consider myself to be a Luciferian Satanist. This is itself is a problematic descriptor as it has been co-opted by a group of theistic Satanists. While I am a member and adherent of TST, there are certain aspects of LaVeyanism that I find useful.
I feel like whenever someone earnestly asks me about my beliefs I have to roll out a small somewhat pre-practiced dissertation where every point has footnotes. It seems impossible to avoid sounding like a complete lunatic.
This post has inspired me. I will not continue down this route of additive and subtractive reasoning. To anyone who asks, the reasoning behind the boundaries I set are inconsequential. To the next person who asks, I shall describe myself as a card carrying Satanist, and leave it at that.
I have been using “Modern Romantic Satanist” for myself. I know that Lilith Starr uses the phrase “Compassionate Satanism”. Pope Wonka calls himself an Epicurian Satanist.
I definitely want a way to differentiate between the religion and the organization, even though I am a proud member of TST. TST is not my religion.
This is a trap, don’t tell him your label: he is going to register domains for your label before you can and then sell them to you for double the price.
Just kidding – he has enough domains already.
“Modern Romantic Satanist” has always worked for me, as the original Romantic Satanism was such a formative influence; however, I do think we’re missing an opportunity to dub ourselves *New* Romantic Satanists and become fabulously glam
I like the ring of New Romantic Satanism a lot.
That’s an absolutely wonderful morsel of a post. I hadn’t really thought about it, but in thinking back, this is a problem I’ve always had when explaining my religion. Back then my solution was to simply conflate the organization and the religion, but now I’m more perceptive and realize that’s quite erroneous. “Modern Romantic Satanist” does appeal to me quite a bit, but it still doesn’t have that ring that “LaVeyan” has. Perhaps “Enlightened Satanism”?
“Enlightened Satanism” sounds way too pretentious.
I mean at least it would be an accurate portrayal of me as a Satanist. 😂
I like “Temple Satanism”. Temple Satanism vs. Church Satanism.
I often think of TST and tenet associated Satanists as “Social Justice Satanism,” because I see so many people focusing on the social justice work of TST, that seems to be what TST focuses on, and it’s what attracts so many people to the temple. However, that may not be the most accurate way to denominate the group you are trying to describe. I also like “Tenet Satanism” and “Temple Satanism.”
I’ve been mainly using Modern Romantic Satanist to describe my denomination, partially because I’ve been a Satanist pre-TST that was heavily influenced by Revolt of Angels and Paradise Lost so that label fits the closest to what I’ve been doing for the last 11 or 12 years. It’s also fairly easy for most non-Satanists to understand, because the perspective on Satan roughly follows stories they’re usually somewhat familiar with, rather than having to explain philosophical terms for them.
TST is my Temple, but it’s within that wider denomination, which is a categorization that has parallels in other religions (like individual covens beneath the specific Gardnerian denomination of Wicca for example)
Greg is fucking telepathic.
I initially joined the Temple because its premises and campaigns resonated with me, but after a while some aspects of its organizational structure started to bother me. The main one being a lack of transparency.
That is also what got me unjoined. I started wondering how one unjoins TST after a (Pagan) friend had told me that she unwittingly became a member through purchasing gifts from the website. Since I couldn’t find any information on how to correct this in the FAQ, I decided to send an e-mail asking how one would go about unsubscribing oneself from the Temple.
This was interpreted as me asking to be removed, which was promptly executed. When I didn’t feel the impulse to reply saying that there had been a misunderstanding, I figured it was probably for the best.
But my identity as a Satanist is firmly rooted in the Seven Tenets and selected works from TST’s canon (more so than the Satanic Bible, though the latter also has its moments). I’m still a big fan of the Temple, its activities, and a number of individuals in it. I’m grateful that they exist and do what they do – I owe them a lot and continue to support them in other ways.
That being said, I also like Temple Satanism, in contrast with the Church Satanism of the Church of Satan (which to me reeks of boomers cos-playing inverted Christianity), it envokes thoughts of the Pagan temples of yore. It’s also less culturally specific than the concept of a church, which makes it potentially more welcoming to people from a non-Christian background.
As a new-ish Satanist and TST member, the question of naming the “denomination” is something I’ve wondered about too. The CoS disagrees that there are denominations, since they think they are the One True Satanism, but I suppose that’s no different than how Christian denominations feel. For that reason, sometimes I think using the name “Protestant Satanism” might be appropriate. 🙂
Along the lines of “Protestant Satanism,” I like to think of TST as “reformed Satanism.” All religion evolves, and TST is the next evolution of Satanism. That isn’t disparagement of LaVey – it’s just an acknowledgment that all religion shifts.