I’ve been a Satanist long enough now to notice some patterns in how people react to the news that I’m a Satanist.
What I find most fascinating about these reactions is how inflexible they are. They seem to be manifestations of buried beliefs that are incredibly resistant to change. With very rare exceptions, I haven’t seen any of these attitudes shift in response to new information or perspectives.
Without further ado, here is my field guide to reactions to Satanism.
Reaction #1: Satanism is a troll and I love it
There is a certain breed of online atheist who is delighted by the concept of a troll religion posing as a “real” religion to own the Christians and theocrats. These people seem to have some woefully incomplete notions about what religion is and isn’t, and can’t quite grasp that a religion can be nontheistic, politically active, and still see itself as a real religion — just as real as the Christians, Muslims, and Pagans.
When I patiently explain to them that no, I am not a troll, The Satanic Temple isn’t a troll, and there is nothing ironic about my Satanism whatsoever, they smile knowingly as if they are in on a brilliant joke. “Ah,” they say, “but that’s what you’re supposed to say when I point out that it’s a troll.”
Many of these people enthusiastically join TST, often after watching the Hail Satan? documentary or reading about one of our court cases, and are thrilled to join the Joke Army against the theocrats.
I always watch what happens next with a certain measure of sadness: they discover that we practice rituals behind closed doors for our own pleasure, catharsis, and spiritual growth. They discover long-time members like Shiva Honey selling ritual tools and teaching courses on ritual and tarot. They witness Satanic Ministry holding weekly religious services. They begin to notice that we take the figure of Satan very, very seriously and that he isn’t just a “poison pill” to give the theocrats a taste of their own medicine. They start to realize, with a mounting sense of horror, that this troll religion is acting a lot like a religion.
They usually leave in a huff and call us just as delusional and cultic as the Christians.
Reaction #2: Satanism is a troll and I hate it
This is the theistic mirror image of the internet atheist. These are the (usually) Christians who are similarly convinced that we are a troll, and they are very, very mad about it. Perhaps it’s because they believe Satan is real, and they are offended that a “farcical” religion would make light of something so serious. Maybe it’s because the notion of a nontheistic Satanic religion, troll or not, makes the foundations of their own faith somewhat soggy, and they have to avoid that terrifying epistemic territory.
I’ve given up trying to convince people who hold this response that Satanism is not a troll. The explosive anger and dogmatic dismissiveness they express demonstrate that there are some deeply held beliefs that cannot budge until they do some deeper self-examination.
Reaction #3: Satanism is cringe, adolescent stupidity and it makes me inexplicably mad
This reaction type is inherently paradoxical. One would think the way to maturely respond to cringe, adolescent stupidity is to just dismiss it, right? The adult thing to do is to shrug your shoulders and move on. Let the kids be stupid kids.
But no. Instead, the apparent adult in the room can’t let it go. The adult is enraged. The adult, in fact, is acting rather like the teenager.
I don’t care if people cringe at my religion, or at me. I think everyone is a little cringe, and I would much rather take unironic joy in something I love than genuflect to irony. I adore people who take joy in things that can be perceived as a little cringe. It’s why I love furries, LARPers, and wrestling fans. They don’t care how the world thinks of them. They just do their weird thing because they love it. I find that refreshing. I’m a Satanist because I love the Romantic Satan, the occult, and the Tenets.
If you think my religion is a little gouache or embarrassing, that’s fine. But I also don’t believe that you can engage meaningfully with my work or The Satanic Temple and continue to believe in good faith that it is all just adolescence bullshit. I’ve written about the sincerity of my religion conversion, the deep literary underpinnings of the Romantic Satan, how my Satan leads me to self transcendence, and the ways in which Satan acts as a vehicle to confront the deepest mysteries of the cosmos. I don’t believe you can exist in the presence of a sincere, adult Satanist for long and continue to believe it is adolescent, even if it remains a little cringe.
Perhaps that is where the rage comes from. People don’t like to have their assumptions shaken up.
Reaction #4: I don’t understand Satanism. I will never understand Satanism.
There’s something sad to me about this one. Friends I dearly love, after having gone through all the previous reactions, seem to just give up. “I just don’t understand”, they say. It’s a sort of helplessness, as if Satanism were advanced astrophysics or quantum mechanics. They will ask questions, read articles, and do their best. They still just sigh and give up.
There is something about Satanism that is impenetrable to this reaction type. It’s a black box, completely inaccessible. The combination of atheistic religion, ritual without the supernatural, occult without the woo, enchantment without superstition, and the valorization of a historically and culturally evil symbolic figure is just too much for them.
It is always sad to me when someone settles for ignorance. Being a Satanist, I’m passionate about knowledge and almost think of it as a sacrament. I’m fanatical about knowledge, and I wish other people were, too. But I also find this reaction type refreshing. I much prefer a shrug and admission of ignorance than a blustering attempt to dismiss.
Reaction #5: I am terrified of/disgusted by Satanism.
For this person, the ick factor and terror response to the Satanic imagery is so intense that they can’t move forward towards any meaningful understanding. They react to the symbolism similarly to a rotting corpse or a heap of feces. Their disgust/fear reaction is so intense that it simply disables them from interacting with Satanists in any meaningful way.
I confess that I have a hard time understanding this response — my disgust response is almost pathologically low — but I can try to empathize. The very best thing I can do in response to this reaction (to all reactions listed in this post) is to act with compassion and empathy.
Reaction #6: Satan is real and you have no idea what you are messing with
I call this one the Tash Response. In the final volume of C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia, residents of Narnia invoke the name of the evil deity Tash without appreciating that Tash is a real being. Tash comes to Narnia despite the disbelief of those who invoked him. Tash proceeds to Fuck Shit Up for everyone and everything.
Lewis’s message here is that deities and the supernatural have an objective reality separate from our belief in them, and that invoking the name of an evil entity (like Satan) will still summon that entity. Practicing the occult, even if one believes the occult is psychological, is still engaging with evil beings that can be dangerous.
I appreciate the consistency of this perspective. If you assert that something is real, then you must also assert that it is real despite what other people believe about it. I can appreciate how, if you believe Satan is the ultimate evil, it is internally consistent to believe that I am engaging in something incredibly dangerous by invoking his name.
This is the sort of theological conflict where the rubber meets the road in interfaith and pluralistic engagement. I don’t believe in the supernatural. I don’t believe in God or Satan as literal beings with personalities, wills, and autonomy. I believe they are symbols and inner guiding myths. You may scoff at this idea. You find it shallow, woefully modern, and lacking the depth of “true” religion that engages with genuine supernatural forces.
Fair enough. But we must still find a way to coexist in this age of religious diversity. That’s the challenge of multiculturalism and religious freedom.
Reaction #7: I understand Satanism, and I find it intriguing.
Every so often, I come across a reaction type that I find immensely refreshing: delight, intrigue, and understanding. I don’t know what allows for this reaction — what underlying alchemy in their personality or worldview aligns for someone to get it. But they do. They might not even have any interest in becoming Satanists themselves, but they support the political goals of the Satanic Temple and understand that we are a young religion with deeply held religious convictions.
This is far from an exhaustive list, but it’s a start. What reactions do you have to Satanism? Don’t worry, you won’t offend me. And what reactions have you received as a Satanist?