How does magick “work” – and why might Satanic denominations clash over it?

How does magick “work”? I have enough background in Chaos Magick to consider this a non-urgent question – that it works is more the point. It occurs to me, though, that misunderstandings about magickal mechanisms may aggravate misconceptions Satanic denominations have about one another. Toward the end of addressing such issues, the current entry discusses the extent to which magick is “one’s own” power – i.e. how much of magick is the magician themselves “doing something,” vs. how much comes from an external entity/force/ etc.?

how does satanic magick work

Introduction: models of magick?

In theory, any of the following models of magick strikes me as potentially efficacious. That is, it’s possible for a person to think about magick working any of these ways, and still get results:

  1. The magician taps into an inner reservoir of power, directing this in order to make changes occur
  2. The magician uses some kind of subtle faculty (e.g. “will,” “mind,” etc.) to direct a power outside of themselves
  3. The magician asks an entity to manifest the desired change, and the entity uses its powers to accomplish the desire

Now, in practice, pretty much all discussion of magick I’ve heard entails both internal and external components of some kind. Nonetheless, I do think it’s possible to discern a spectrum, with more internal emphasis at one end and more external emphasis at the other.

I anticipate too that one can detect this spectrum in esoteric circles generally, not just in Satanism specifically.

Magickal models in mainline Satanism

It seems to me, though, that this spectrum may be a cause of tension between Satanic denominations in some instances. This pans out as follows:

Mainline denominations – e.g. Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan (CoS) and The Satanic Temple (TST) – do not believe in supernatural entities. Thus, if they have a magickal model at all (many of these Satanists don’t perform magick), it can’t be 3. My impression here is:

  • TST is the firmer of the two re: ritual’s effects are psychological only. That then basically has to be model 1. The “inner reservoir” is the imagination, and any “changes” are mental/emotional only. (Note, though, that this does not mean they are not still significant!)
  • With CoS, it depends which of LaVey’s works you read. The term “psychodrama” suggests ritual amounts to putting on a play for one’s own benefit, similar to TST’s understanding. (It’s long irritated me that these two denominations seem too preoccupied with sniping at each other to acknowledge this similarity.) Some parts of LaVey’s Satanic Bible do, however, make it sound like magick entails manipulating a “dark force of nature.” Such an understanding would then fall under model 2. LaVeyans insisting said force is natural-but-unknown, not supernatural, does not alter the applicability of my definition.

Misperceptions of esoteric Satanism

The issue

The issue that may then arise is mainline CoS, TST and similar Satanists, under the impression that Luciferians and other theistic Satanists are “devil worshippers,” wrongly assuming that we theists operate more consistently under model 3 than we in fact do. That is, they picture us as “reverse Christians” with rituals equivalent to Christian prayer re: begging a deity for favors. This sets up “Devil worshipper” as a strawman position that they define their own identity against – as Christians also do. And as I’ve also discussed before.

Now, I can see how a mainline Satanist would be offended by “devil worshippers” supposedly “ruining Satanism” by imitating right-hand-path (RHP) religions’ dynamics. As I’ve argued elsewhere, as a broad label, four characteristics typify Satanism:

  1. Affirmation of the earthly world
  2. Adversarial stance toward the “sacred”
  3. Encouragement of self-empowerment
  4. Rejection of feel-good metaphysical claims

(Note: This definition is meant to include what LaVeyans think Satanism is, not to replace their definition. In my opinion, said values produce something recognizable as Satanism, regardless of whether it’s theistic or atheistic. LaVeyans should therefore not take my mere acknowledgment of other interpretations of “Satanism” as somehow an attack on LaVey. I was myself LaVeyan for over 25 years and am not your enemy!)

It’s not then hard to see how CoS or TST Satanists could interpret theistic practices as contradicting these key values. Any theistic practice, they might argue, entails

  1. Turning attention in an otherworldly direction
  2. Replacing old spiritual authorities with new ones
  3. Emphasizing the agency of such entities at the expense of one’s own agency, and
  4. Imagining there’s a guy out there who “has your back” instead of just a cold, uncaring universe.

And in light of such concerns, I can hardly blame the mainliner Satanist for being unimpressed with the esotericist.

Correcting the issue

Here’s then the thing, though. Whether one believes in Dark Gods or not is one thing. Whether one adopts magick model 3, or one of the other models, is a separate thing. And whether or not one practices model 3 in a way that actually clashes with Satanic values is another separate thing.

Put these three considerations together, and it soon becomes evident that almost no theistic Satanists actually practice in the way the mainliner worries most about.

I’ll unpack this reasoning in the sections that follow, using my own current to fill in details. Obviously, not all Luciferians, theistic Satanists and etc. will agree with everything I say here. But I think they will still be able to appreciate the point I’m making, even if they practice differently themselves.

How magick works in Tenebrous Satanism

I believe the acausal element of life – a.k.a. “spirit” – originates in the Abyssal Void of Darkness. Spirit is, essentially, the part of Darkness currently engaged with material existence. The Void itself is, moreover, a well of bottomless potentiality. Darkness – the Black Flame within all – inherently strives to realize ever-greater diversity, complexity and overcoming of adversity. Flesh is the medium through which it realizes this striving.

It follows from this understanding that Darkness is the source both of life and of magick. Any being that possesses one innately possesses the capacity for the other.

Tenebrous metaphysics thus allow all three models of magick to be sometimes applicable. One might perform magick using the energies gathered and circulating within the nexion of one’s own soul – i.e. model 1. Or, one might perform it by using one’s spirit to draw forth power from spirit’s origin: the Abyssal Void – i.e. model 2. And in occasional circumstances, one might perform magick by cooperating with other beings, pooling and directing energy collectively. Cooperating with a more-powerful being can create a situation where that being is contributing the lion’s share of the energy. Such, then, is model 3.

To then delve into this in more detail:

Applicability of model 1

The best example I can think of, for a practice I believe “works” using model 1, is Chaos Magick sigilization. Many Chaos Magicians charge sigils by entering gnosis without explicit ritual trappings or evocations of external forces. However they may understand what they’re doing, I myself find it intuitive to understand this in terms of model 1. It makes sense to me, that is, to presume this kind of magick draws entirely on the Black Flame within.

For various reasons, this style of magick is not something I talk about much in Nine Keys of Abyssal Darkness. Tenebrous Satanism certainly does, however, allow for belief in its efficacy, and practice of it.

Applicability of model 2

Formal ritual magick, as is central to the Tenebrous current, operates on model 2. This is evident in how our rituals open by explicitly evoking powers that we speak of as external to the magician. This is, however, without any implication that the individual is powerless in themselves. We do it, rather, because it is psychologically efficacious to speak thus. A LaVeyan evoking Satan in the south, Lucifer in the East, etc. is not thereby submitting to the entities named. And so it is with our ritual practices also – regardless of terminological quibbling re: “natural” vs. “supernatural” dark forces.

In Nine Keys of Abyssal Darkness, I write the following regarding the mechanism of the Tenebrous ritual opening:

The matter of acausal forces — Archons, Fallen Angels, Abominations and Ancient Ones — associated with each of these directions can be taken in two ways, and it is most fruitful for the magician to entertain both levels of interpretation: i) one is forming a nexion between oneself and Darkness, through which come the raw ingredients — primal hunger, longing for connection, embrace of adversity, and aspiration toward godhood — that the magician weaves together into a successful working; ii) one is forming a nexion between oneself and like-minded acausal beings, and although one may not know them by their individual names, nonetheless they lend their power to their fellow walker of the Sinister Path.

The point, with either understanding, is that the magician is an active agent. They assert themselves over something external, to produce “change in accordance with will”. That is, in my understanding, the self-same thing a LaVeyan magician also does in the ritual chamber. I thus don’t see anything inherently “un-Satanic” about this approach to magick. “Assert Black Flame, make thing happen” is what both of us are doing.

Applicability of model 3

Tenebrous Satanism’s acknowledgment of Dark Gods does not translate into a need to involve those gods in every magick working. The Nekalah, after all, have their own wills and their own agendas. Presuming that they automatically “care” about whatever the magician is trying to do, and are always on board, is dangerous. Ours is, moreover, a current that counts self-reliance among the desirable traits for a Satanist.

It follows that whenever possible, the magician should seek to attain their desires through their own striving. This means seeking goals via earthly methods first, reserving magick for what cannot be controlled via mundane means, and reserving the summoning of the Nekalah only for business sufficiently relevant to their interests. And even when one does solicit their assistance, it’s not a matter of pleading with an authority figure for favors. It’s more like scheming with someone far older, wiser and stronger than yourself about how to achieve a goal together. In such negotiations, self-possession, introspective honesty and personal strength of will are absolute requisites. Lack those, and in the best case, the Nekalah will just laugh at you. At worst, whatever short-term assistance they offer may involve you in larger, longer-term designs that could destroy you.

What I thus want to emphasize here is:

  • Just because Tenebrous magick can work in accord with model 3 doesn’t mean it often does. Most of the time, model 2 is a far better fit for what we do.
  • Using Tenebrous magick that does fit model 3 is not always a good decision on the magician’s part.
  • Engaging with the Nekalah constructively requires personal traits that all forms of Satanism prize – e.g. self-honesty, critical thinking, etc.


With all of this unpacked, let’s now return to the concerns mainliners may have re: theistic Satanist practices.

Turning attention in an otherworldly direction

I 100% get why principled atheists may baulk at magickal practices of any kind. If that’s your reaction, though, you’d best be a principled atheist – i.e. a Satanist who doesn’t do any magick at all.

Vs. the second you do any “dark forces of nature” stuff, we’re not as different as you may think. You’re using magick for earthly gain and/or internal self-development? So am I. And herein lies the advantage of the term “acausal”: its literal meaning is “without a standard causal explanation.” You might argue that scientific principles governing the “dark force of nature” will eventually be discovered. I personally disagree. Beyond that one point of nuance, though, what we are doing isn’t fundamentally different, because our value systems aren’t fundamentally different.

It’s also interesting to note that, in my experience, Satanists who see psychological value in magick are typically capable of appreciating ritual regardless of whether those practicing it have supernatural beliefs or not. This sort of view – that religious practices of whatever kind can have meaning and value, even if they aren’t “true” – is pretty common outside of arrogant anti-theist -type circles. So unless you think Satanists are obligated to be anti-theists, it doesn’t follow that Satanic opposition to “otherworldliness” must manifest in wholesale rejection of magick.

Replacing old spiritual authorities with new ones, and/or emphasizing their agency over one’s own

I can address both of these together. The vast majority of the time, both are non-issues, because a Tenebrous Satanist wouldn’t even be evoking specific Dark Gods as part of magick.

And regarding the times that we do, I have never said that sorcerers are obligated to obey the will of the Nekalah. Rather, it is the choice of the individual to form an alliance with them, or not to. Plus, even once in that alliance, the individual is still responsible for their own path. There’s thus no issue here re: mindlessly bowing down in the way RHP religions demand submission to “the Lord.”

We here loop back once again to the issue of “if LaVeyan magick is ‘Satanic’ insofar as it is consistent with LaVeyan principles of indulgence not abstinence, vital existence not spiritual pipe dreams, undefiled wisdom not hypocritical self-deceit, etc., the same should be admitted of Tenebrous magick.” Neither of us believes “the book” needs to be followed slavishly for the rituals described therein to “work.” And both evoke Satan in the ritual chamber without this being an exercise in receiving “orders” from “the Master.”

In short, then, both elevate the individual Satanist as the ultimate authority. Magickal practice is an illustration of this personal authority, not a refutation of it.

Imagining there’s a guy out there who “has your back”

I have gone out of my way to make Tenebrous Satanism very explicit re: the “Dark” aspects of existence. Acknowledging principles of magick, and the existence of potential acausal allies for the Satanist, takes nothing away from this bleakness. Consider, too, that the kind of entities we are talking about here include this one. I think it’s safe to say on that basis that we are not looking at any kind of easy-fix New-Age-panacea -type magick around here.

Summing up

Although I acknowledge the inherently adversarial nature of Satanism, I find much of the discord between denominations irritatingly pointless. I therefore like to highlight things I feel we should be able to get along on, instead. In theory, magick is an area where this may seem difficult, given Satanism’s atheist/theist divide. In practice, though, I think the following constructive points deserve more attention:

  • If you are of an atheistic bent, and think everyone who performs magick suffers under delusion, fair. But one can still argue that many people derive psychological benefit from ritual in at least some circumstances. And as I noted above, model 1 is potentially compatible with a secular understanding of magick. I thus think atheistic denominations should be able to give theistic denominations some credit via an understanding of this kind. And in my experience, intelligent Satanists of different denominations do manage this regularly in real life (vs. Twitter being a dumpster fire of stupid bickering).
  • People who aren’t theistic Satanists need to understand that the theism and the magick parts of the religion are separable. In my case, at least, much of the magick I do entails using my own will to manipulate “dark forces”. In that regard, I resemble the LaVeyan Satanist far more than I do the RHP theist who bows and begs.
  • Even when I do draw upon the Nekalah’s power, this is always an endeavor wherein my own agency is paramount. It is a matter not of “thy will be done,” but of cooperating to advance shared objectives we agree on. This is, in my view, no more inherently “Satanically problematic” than performing magick with the help of other human magicians.
  • Practicing Tenebrous magick fundamentally requires wisdom, steadiness of will, and other such qualities valued in basically all forms of Satanism.

Concluding thoughts

Some things I’m left curious about include:

  • Magicians of any path: which of the three models of magick I mentioned best fits what you feel you do?
  • Luciferians and theistic Satanists: how does your practice compare with mine re: how much deity involvement you have?
  • LaVeyans who practice magick: I have never met any of these besides my past self, so if you have any interesting insights to share, please do?

Any of that kind of stuff, please share in the comments. Please try to keep discussion about magick specifically, though, as most arguments about denominational legitimacy in Satanism are extremely boring to me.

Revision history

As well as edits for stylistic consistency on Aug 24/23, this post also received an update to its excerpt from Nine Keys of Abyssal Darkness to reflect final revisions.

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