A central theme of my personal Satanic practice is the reconciliation of opposites. In the symbol of the Baphomet, we see the marriage of binaries: angelic and demonic, male and female, light and dark, up and down. My practice is an integration of seemingly irreconcilable conflicts. I wrote an article a couple of years ago listing several primary dichotomies of my Satanism, which you can read here.
As I’ve grown in my religious Satanism, another Satanic dichotomy has emerged: indulgence vs. self-mastery.
If there is one thing that Satanism is known for, it is hedonism. As Anton Lavey declared in the first of the Nine Satanic Statements, “Satan represents indulgence, instead of abstinence!” And the father of modern occultism, Aleister Crowley, famously declared, “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.” I believe that both these statements, especially the latter, have much deeper nuances than an initial reading might suggest. Crowley’s declaration doesn’t merely have to do with pursuing one’s deepest desire to be flogged by BDSM nuns, but also a spiritual quest to discover one’s Will — a deeper, truer manifestation of one’s being and purpose.
That aside, a surface reading of both these statements — and a cursory look at the lives of both LaVey and Crowley — suggest that Satanism and adjacent practices are very much about carnal pleasure, indulgence, and intoxication.
I’ve come to see this interpretation of Satanism to be one-sided and incomplete. We are carnal creatures, endowed by evolution with nerve endings and brain structures that offer us extraordinary pleasure. This is a beautiful thing. But as I’ve matured, both as a Satanist and a human being, I’ve also had to confront the ways in which over-indulgence has hurt me. I am now inheriting the consequences of my actions in my teens and twenties. At the same time, I am discovering the profound pleasures and fulfillment of self-discipline.
People who know of my Satanism are often surprised to learn that I never drink alcohol, take THC, or do psychedelics. I’m as dry and sober as a Southern Baptist minister pretends to be. This isn’t because these practices are wrong – they aren’t! It’s because I’ve had to learn what does and does not work for my body over time. Alcohol doesn’t agree with me, and my brain is too prone to mental illness to engage in mind-altering substances. I tried to work with THC, but it’s not my medicine. We all have to learn our limits, and I know mine.
Too often, life is seen as a choice between self-abnegation or black-out indulgence. I struggled with this dichotomy for years as a Christian. Was I the party boy, or the pious son of a pastor? I felt perpetually torn between the extremes of indulgence and denial.
But this dichotomy is an illusion. I now believe in erasing the line between indulgence and self-mastery, hedonism and stoicism.
Done properly, the pursuit of pleasure, be it kink, drug use, or sex, becomes in themselves explorations of self-mastery and discipline. Knowing one’s self — one’s limits, boundaries, and expectations — becomes part and parcel with the experience of pleasure. If self-mastery is not practiced in the pursuit of pleasure, then those pleasures inevitably come to make us and others suffer in the future.
Conversely, self-mastery leads to its own sort of pleasure. I’m a runner, and the discipline it takes to run 5 days a week yields pleasures and euphorias that are hard to match. As I write this, I am practicing Deep Work – my daily ritual of focusing deeply on a single hard project for at least an hour. And just before my Deep Work practice, I did my daily meditation practice. Discipline and self-mastery are hard, but also deeply pleasurable and rewarding.
Indulgence requires mastery to be safely practiced, and self-mastery and discipline yield their own unique forms of pleasure. As always, I speak of my own Satanism because each Satanist will explore this dichotomy in their own unique way. But neither mastery nor pleasure, for me, are goals in and of themselves. They are both in the service of something larger: living a fulfilling Satanic life.
But that’s just me. What do you think? Let me know in the comments below or on my discord server. If your comment is excellent, I might feature it in a blog post. And, if you enjoy my work, please consider becoming a patron and signing up for my newsletter.
Photo by Ivana Cajina on Unsplash
4 thoughts on “The Satanic Dichotomy of Indulgence Vs. Mastery”
Absolutely love it, and my journey is similar to yours. Reminds me of the Proverbs of Hell by William Blake.
The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.
Excess vs. stagnation, and how to balance those is quite the difficult task but interesting to explore.
Thanks so much for reading, and for your kind words! Glad the post resonated. I haven’t read the Proverbs of Hell. I love Blake’s art, but haven’t read him.
Very insightful, and I congratulate you on your growth in your Satanic journey. Peter Gilmore, High Priest of the Church of Satan, described his perspective this way.
Our dictum of “Indulgence instead of abstinence” alarms those without self-control who neglect that we temper it with “Indulgence, NOT compulsion.” We are Epicureans who explore our pleasures with care, not self-destructive hedonists.
Thanks for the kind words! I hadn’t heard that quote from Gilmore. It’s helpful