Of all the challenging aspects of Satanism, blasphemy is perhaps at the top. I have known people to literally weep with horror when they first encounter the concept of the Black Mass, and others to simply shut down and say, “I can’t do this,” when they are confronted with the full breadth of Satanic blasphemy.
Blasphemy can be an important part of Satanism. But there are many different types of blasphemy, and I believe that understanding them might help outsiders better engage in inter-religious dialogue with the Satanic community. (It’s also important to note that there are many Satanists who don’t connect deeply with the notion of blasphemy at all.)
I have separated blasphemy into three primary categories: Reactionary, Transcendent, and Natural. It’s important to note that these are not discreet categories. They can merge. Reactionary Blasphemy can morph into Transcendent Blasphemy and vice versa, and Natural Blasphemy can inspire both. Rather than thinking of these as discreet units, you can think of them as a color spectrum that bleed into one another.
When I say that I’m a Satanist, this is the type of blasphemy I’m usually accused of. This is blasphemy designed to deliberately wound, shock, and offend. It’s a sort of symbolic vengeance. This was the sort of elementary blasphemy I engaged in when I was at a Christian high school and I would scrape off the school logo on my uniform and replace it with a Swastika. I did it to get a rise out of my teachers and fellow Christians. I was making a statement about how gross and authoritarian the school seemed, but it was also callous and stupid, and I was completely unaware of just how horrible it was to use the Swastika as part of my juvenile performance art.
Reactionary blasphemy is often crude and dependent on an audience. It doesn’t work — it isn’t as fun — if there isn’t an onlooker there to gasp in all the right places.
I don’t relate to reactionary blasphemy anymore. It never occurs to me to go out of my way to offend someone else. I don’t ever wear an inverted pentacle or call myself a Satanist to elicit a strong reaction. When I converted to Satanism as an adult, I did so quietly and intended to keep it a private religious experience.
Despite how much I don’t relate to Reactionary Blasphemy and sometimes find it counter-productive, I’m also not willing to dismiss it. It is a crude, natural, and entirely human response to religious abuse. It is also completely nonviolent. Theists may disagree, but burning a picture of Jesus is the very definition of a victimless crime. As I recently discussed with Lucien Greaves, as long as it doesn’t descend into slander, libel, or threats of violence, we need to be deeply suspicious of any claims that such speech constitutes violence. Words can be hurtful. They can elicit grief, pain, and despair. They can be disruptive, damaging, and counter-productive. They might even be immoral. That does not make them violent.
Transcendent Blasphemy is an act of ritual desecration or symbolic transgression that allows an individual Satanist to overcome religious abuse, experience self-empowerment, or achieve an altered state of consciousness. It is Reactionary Blasphemy harnessed and alchemized into something sublime and transformative. It is no longer merely about offending others but instead using symbolic blasphemy to free ourselves. To quote my friend Ida Carolina, “it’s blasphemy, not blaspheyou.” In many cases, the shocked audience fades away completely and is no longer necessary for the act of Transcendent Blasphemy.
My friend Shiva Honey has compiled a set of Satanic rituals in her book The Devil’s Tome, some of which are Black Masses (a Black Mass is an inversion of the Catholic Mass.) What stands out to me about these rituals is that they are performed behind closed doors. They are private events, and people have to very deliberately opt-in to experience them. They aren’t performed on street corners or in front of churches. They are acts of personal catharsis.
As Lucien Greaves wrote in the introduction to Shiva Honey’s The Devil’s Tome:
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. The Black Mass as been described as elementary level Satanism, as it’s appeal is strongest for those just finding the light of reason and turning away from the their timid superstitions, realizing that they can speak names in vain, eat the ‘wrong’ kinds of meat of forbidden days, or throw a blessed cracker away with the trash without so much as a bolt of light to answer in wrath.
Transcendent blasphemy even has precedent within Christianity and Judaism. As my Christian friend John Morehead has pointed out, the Biblical prophets often engaged in acts of extreme blasphemy and provocative theater to provoke the Israelites to action or higher awareness. And commenting on his infamous photograph “Piss Christ,” artist Andres Serrano said, “What it symbolizes is the way Christ died: the blood came out of him but so did the piss and the shit. Maybe if Piss Christ upsets you, it’s because it gives some sense of what the crucifixion actually was like…I was born and raised a Catholic and I’ve been a Christian all my life.”
Throughout religious history, we find meditations on the shocking, the grotesque, the morbid, and the extreme as a form of personal and societal transformation. When Satanic blasphemy reaches transcendent heights, I don’t see it acting in opposition to the grand traditions of religion, but rather in surprising concert with them.
I’m at a stage in my life where neither Reactionary Blasphemy nor Transcendent Blasphemy have much resonance for me. I don’t feel a need anymore to invert the cross in an act of defiance, defile a wafer, or howl “Fuck your God.” While the Black Mass is important to me as a piece of Satanic history and tradition, I don’t feel a need to take part in one. I’m mostly at peace with my Christian past, even the ugliest and most abusive parts of that story. This doesn’t make me better, smarter, or more mature than others. It’s just where I am. My Satanism has moved on to that reflected in Revolt of the Angels by Anatole France: to the Satan who implores us not to conquer the heavens, but to conquer god (the tyrant) within our own hearts.
And yet, one final type of blasphemy remains to me. Across the United States and the world, there are untold numbers of people who think my very existence is a defilement. I am gay, and I live with another man. I am somewhat naturally effeminate in my expression, and as much as I tried to rid myself of these affectations when I was a Christian, they have remained. I am also an atheist (or non-theist, if you prefer). I believe that atheism is where my guiding principles and natural temperament have led me.
This is Natural Blasphemy: a state you cannot escape because it is who you are.
People have told me that they hate my atheism – they find it revolting. One Christian family member who was very dear to me told me that they think my homosexuality is “disgusting” and that they don’t ever want to think about it, or talk about it, or know about it. A Christian friend shouted at me once because I made an “ungodly” feminine gesture with my hand. Homosexuality was described in all manner of colorful ways in my Christian community: as a form of spiritual cannibalism, a deliberate turning away from God and towards idols of one’s own making, an eroticized wound inflicted by abusive parents or an unremembered rape, the uncreation of God’s design, and a lifestyle that ultimately brings nothing but emptiness. It’s impossible to put into words the impact this had on my development.
This is a blasphemy I can’t ever get away from. It doesn’t matter what I intend. I’m just living my life and yet I am still a horror to so many.
I take comfort in the symbol of Satan because, according to the mythology, he was the ultimate outsider, the ultimate defilement, and yet I (along with the Romantic poets who valorized him) have come to see him as a champion of justice and compassion. My Satanism teaches me that deep feelings of disgust, revulsion, and hatred are not barometers of truth. Disgust lies. As a young person in the Christian south, that was my experience too, and it continues to be my experience in a United States where theocracy is on the rise.
Every generation will have its pieties and therefore its natural blasphemies, and I believe it is the calling of the Satanist rise above them. I believe this is one reason why Satanism has such a dark, aggressive, and dangerous aesthetic. The outsider is never comfortable for society, and Satanism is the religion of the outsider.
It’s important here to not conflate “outsider” with “moral” or “hero.” Many outsiders might be immoral, or they may not be. We don’t need to valorize every outsider we come across. Nor is my Satanism an attempt to keep the outsider in a state of perpetual outsider status.
Instead, my Satanism is about humanization. It is my job to rise above disgust and understand the outsider anyway. This is all I ever wanted as a Natural Blasphemy myself. The symbol of Satan inspires me, in the words of the Invocation of The Satanic Temple, to “demand that individuals be judged for their concrete actions, not their fealty to arbitrary societal norms and illusory categorizations.”