What exactly do we actually mean when we throw around labels like “Satanist”, “Luciferian”, and related terms? What follows is a meditation on what “counts” as “Satanism,” issues I have with the theist / non-theist distinction, and other such label-related thoughts. There’s also an interesting tidbit or two re: what I was up to occult-wise before Tenebrous Satanism came along…
Despite having been a Satanist for most of my life, I have long avoided online Satanic communities. Part of this is because of having been a dedicated solitary practitioner prior to “becoming Othaos.” Another part is my observation of irritating dynamics on forums generally, and Left-Hand Path ones in particular. (Specifically, they have often struck me as too dominated by “curse wars” and other drama I don’t care about.)
As I work on starting to promote the book, though, I find myself interacting more in online Satanic spaces. And this has led me to thinking about labels by which people like me identify themselves, and my relationship to those labels. The following entry is thus a meander through my thoughts about some of these terms. What I want to talk about here are not Satanic denominations per se, but more high-level “types.” My views on this are sure to continue to evolve over time. What follows is therefore just a record of where I’m at currently re: my understanding of these terms.
“Satanist” vs. “Left-Hand Path”
Foremost on my mind re: “Satan” is the notion of The Adversary. I understand “Satanism” as basically any form of adversarial spirituality. “Adversarial” may mean taking a critical stance against political and religious status quos. Or, it may mean seeking divinity via self-evolution, in place of outward-turning ways of becoming “closer to God.” Or, it may mean associating oneself with “dark” spiritual beings, supporting their cause contra factions of “light” spiritual beings. In Tenebrous Satanism’s case, it means all of these things. But if a Satanic denomination emphasizes one of these, downplaying the others, that in no way invalidates its “Satanism.”
I myself am thus prone to use “Satanism” and “Left-Hand Path” somewhat interchangeably. Some dark spiritual types are likely to reject the label “Satanism” as “too negative,” “just defining yourself against Christianity,” etc. Others may argue it’s only appropriate for Western manifestations of the LHP, not those of Eastern or other cultural extraction. For such reasons, I don’t identify others as “Satanic” if they seem resistant to that label themselves. In my own parlance, however, what most fundamentally makes a “Satanist” is the embrace of spiritually-transgressive ideas.
By this definition, the LaVeyan Church of Satan (CoS), The Satanic Temple (TST), Luciferianism, Order of Nine Angles (ONA/O9A) etc. are all equally “Satanism.” I accordingly have no use for any one Satanic denomination going around talking as if others are “not real Satanism.” I “get” it as far as everyone striving in accord with self-interest to advance their own “brand.” But I strongly dislike how eagerness to bash other denominations makes it harder to approach people for constructive conversations online.
“Atheistic” vs. “non-theistic”
These sorts of qualifiers seem to be most consistently used by TST, and in my experience, a majority of CoS also. I get the impression that people use them this way:
- “Atheistic”: Doesn’t believe in anything “spiritual” whatsoever
- “Non-Theistic”: Believes in something “spiritual,” but not that Satan is an actually-existing entity
Thus, “atheistic” winds up meaning “I am strictly into Satanism because I agree with its earthly philosophy.” “Non-theistic” winds up meaning “in addition to Satanic philosophy, I believe/practice something spiritual, but the literal existence and worship of Satan is not it.”
I’m not saying everyone in fact uses these terms this way. But if they have any meaningful difference from one another, this is what I take that difference as being.
Application to me
Now, for most of my life as a Satanist – up until 2019 – I qualified as a non-theistic LaVeyan. Really though, “agnostic” would have been a better term for me personally.
I say that because my past habit was to explain ritual differently depending on audience receptivity, whilst suspending my own judgment on the matter. So I might tell one person that the dark gods I evoked in ritual (e.g. Lucifer) were “just” manifestations of the unconscious (as per Jungian psychology). I might tell another person that they were manifestations of some kind of dark spiritual force. But in neither case did I perceive them as external, objective entities.
Hence, at that time, I was not any kind of theist. I thought there was probably something more than material reality, but remained skeptical. “Non-theist” therefore would have worked. But “agnostic” would have been more fully accurate.
Application to others
I’ve noticed that “atheist Satanist” (as distinct from “non-theist”) also sometimes means “abrasively hates religion.” As in, “equally a Satanist and a proud member of the Dawkins/Hitchens/etc. fan-club.” a.k.a. “antitheist”
I have a long history of not getting along with people like that. The reason is that being broadly educated about religion as I am, I find such peoples’ view of the subject often painfully simplistic. Someone only educated about the worst parts of religion goes around opining snidely about it as if they know everything. In the process, they display ignorance of historical and psychological complexities, are dismissive of liberal religious people (I have many friends in this category), etc.
I unfortunately ran into a side of TST back around 2015 or so that came across this way. This caused me to rage-quit the denomination despite having donated a bunch of cash to it shortly before. I do still to this day support many of the political-social initiatives of TST. But at that time, the atheist-bro-asshole segment left me convinced, “this really isn’t a religion – it is just using Satan’s name for political trolling.”
I must emphasize that this is not my position about TST now. Writers such as Shiva Honey have done a lot to convince me that TST’s religiosity is genuine. Nonetheless, I have to admit a few not-great past experiences with TST contribute to my being wary of “atheist” Satanists. Yeah, technically that’s a valid manifestation of the adversarial current. But it’s not one I personally enjoy or find it constructive to spend much time around.
Now, I just mentioned that I did formerly invoke Lucifer in ritual, among other dark gods. Why, then, did I never gravitate toward the label “Luciferian”?
I have long had a strange relationship with Luciferianism. I think many who were to observe what I actually do in the ritual chamber would swear that label applies – both in my LaVeyan past, and my Tenebrous now. And yet, I have long felt almost an aversion to calling myself that: nothing at all wrong with it for others, but just “not for me.” The factors driving this are somewhat diverse.
For one thing, I long harbored several preconceptions about Luciferianism that prevented my embracing the label. These included:
- Having been LaVeyan longest, I absorbed that denomination’s negative view of the label “Luciferian.” The LaVeyan view is that “Satanist” = openly adversarial and carnal in orientation, vs. “Luciferian” = whitewashing via reference to a more “positive” version of the Devil. For me, the path was always defined first and foremost in adversarial terms. Thus, Satan (accuser/adversary) simply suited me more than Lucifer (lightbringer).
- My past interpretation of LaVeyan indulgence always already included the spiritual as well as the material side of life anyway. I thus felt no need for a different label to announce something like “I’m just as interested in spiritual knowledge as I am in earthly indulgence.” (I’ve seen many Luciferian writers evoke this sort of idea of balance as a rationale for adopting the label.) To my mind, Lucifer represented only part of what the path was oriented toward, vs. the name of Satan better fit the path itself.
- I’d formerly gotten the impression that Luciferians believed in the objective existence of “dark” entities. I’ve since learned that while some do, many writers talk about dark gods in terms not dissimilar to what I said above re: archetypes, personifications of an inward spiritual force, etc. Had I encountered this side of Luciferianism earlier, perhaps I would have felt more drawn to it. But as is, I saw Luciferianism as equivalent to “theistic Satanism” (see below) at a time when I myself was not theistic.
My current understanding has moved beyond these limited perceptions. I now think what I was doing before probably could be called Luciferian, at least in a very broad sense. There was, however, an additional issue…
The Chaote complication
The other reason I was never “Luciferian” is because elements of the ritual praxis just never “worked” for me.
In my late teens, I became interested in Thelema and Qabalah. Subsequently, throughout my 20’s, I was strongly influenced by Chaos Magick generally, and by works of Kenneth Grant specifically. This confluence led to me “making up” my own Qabalah-runes-tarot crossover system, in accord with what I imagined a “Satanic” version of such a system should consist in. (I had no inkling at the time of who else had tried to do such a thing with their “Tree of Wyrd”… but that is a tangent for another time…)
Only once I already had my system fully formulated to my liking did I encounter Luciferian takes on Qabalistic matters. (This was mainly Michael Ford’s work, but also others.) The symbolism of these proved different enough to be counterintuitive to me, to an extent I found alienating. I then felt like I either had to change everything I was already doing that worked, or just admit that I wasn’t cut out to be Luciferian. The latter seemed like by far the more natural course.
A similar issue has also arisen with the ritual praxis I’ve seen in Luciferian books. I find with such works that I always want to be “into” what they’re doing. I wind up feeling, however, like “this ritual involves way too much chanting of random nonsense words,” “this entity just does not feel ‘real’ to me personally,” and/or “this ritual’s whole structure just feels really ‘off’ to me.”
One can thus see that there are two separate sets of factors that drove me away from Luciferianism. One revolved around not liking what I took as the implications of the label. The other revolved around the content not speaking to me.
Vs. “Dark Pagan” and “Demonolater”
My current conception of what people mean by “Luciferian” is “like Neo-Paganism, but directed toward demons instead of pagan gods.” Thus, if someone says they are Luciferian, I now tend to assume the following:
- They venerate spiritual entities. They might see such entities as psychological archetypes, personifications of inner forces or external beings. Regardless though, they have some sort of ritual praxis directed toward said entities.
- Said spiritual entities are somehow “dark,” but may or may not actually include Lucifer. I kind of assume that anyone using the term is going to work with him specifically at least some of the time. But given the broad mythological knowledge displayed by many Luciferian authors, I don’t get the impression it’s as implicit as the word alone might imply.
- Aside from the issue of believing in spiritual entities, they are not that different ethos-wise from other Satanists. I’ve found that the average Luciferian seems to put a bit more emphasis on discipline vs. less on indulgence than the average LaVeyan. I’m more struck by similarities than differences though, in such areas as valuing individualism, being critical of traditional religion, etc.
Now, by this definition, it seems reasonable to call Tenebrous Satanism a form of “Luciferianism.” One could equally call it a form of “Demonolatry” or “Dark Paganism.” Personally though, I prefer “Dark Pagan” over “Luciferian” or “Demonolater.” This is because although the above definition works for all, “Luciferian” and “Demonolater” seem to come with more assumptions re: which specific entities one venerates. I personally do not venerate the entities that many Luciferians or Demonolaters venerate, e.g. Qliphotic or Goetic entities. “Dark Pagan” thus seems more apt – at least until I acquire enough clout to separate terms like “Noctulian” from their current association… 😉
The term “theistic Satanist” suggests that one “believes in Satan” in a way that CoS and TST members do not. I am not clear on exactly where the line is drawn for what counts as “theistic,” however. It seems to me that there are three main possibilities:
- Basically the same thing as Luciferian, Demonolater and Dark Pagan, as per above.
- Only those Luciferian / Demonolater / Dark Pagans who believe in objectively-existing supernatural beings. (i.e. not those who see the dark gods as “archetypes” or etc.)
- Belief that Satan, specifically, is an objectively-existing supernatural being whom one venerates.
It seems to me that when theistic Satanists talk among themselves, they may mean any of these things. However, people outside of that community (including atheistic / non-theistic Satanists) most often construe it as simply meaning 3.
This leads to why I myself have tended to avoid the term. “Satan himself objectively exists” is at best a clumsy way of articulating my position. At worst, it’s a downright inaccurate one when applied to my beliefs. All the more so if interpreted as something like “Satan is equivalent to God for me.”
Now, I do believe the specific Dark Gods I now venerate as a Tenebrous Satanist have an existence external to me. It also so happens that one of these does go openly by the title of “Satan.” However, I do not understand that specific entity to be “ultimate” in the pantheon. He is also not the specific Dark God that I personally am closest to / engage with most / etc.
Such considerations already steer me away from the “theistic Satanist” descriptor. But on top of them, there’s the issue of what “theistic Satanist” is misperceived to connote… namely…
I am under the impression that in fact, actual devil worship is extremely rare. i.e. even the vast majority of those who identify as theistic Satanists do not actually worship the Devil. Rather, regardless of whether it’s Satan specifically, or some other dark entity, the idea is that you are allies. The relationship is one of respect and reverence, but as of someone older, wiser and more powerful than yourself. It is not a matter of being, as Mayhem’s Euronymous so charmingly put it, “Satan’s slaves.”
Nonetheless, it seems to me that a huge percentage of outsiders to theistic Satanism assume theistic Satanists worship the Devil. I get the impression, moreover, that this assumption is no less common among atheistic & non-theistic Satanists than others. With “devil worship,” in turn, comes every bad Hollywood stereotype about Satanism. “Devil worshipers” are “those idiots actually killing animals and raping children,” “black metal blowhard who’s trying too hard,” etc. They are, consequently, “just mentally ill,” “ignorant about what real Satanism is,” and/or otherwise not seen as valid Satanists.
This leads me back to what I complained-of above re: Satanists slagging other Satanists to advance their own “brand.” CoS and TST Satanists all too often display a hubristic presumption and lack of intellectual curiosity toward theistic Satanism. Meaning, they don’t seem to even want to learn what it’s really about before bashing it as “devil worship.”
Isn’t that a bit ironic, though, given that Christians and assorted “normies” write off all Satanists along similar lines?
On one hand, then, I don’t consider “theistic Satanist” very appropriate for what I actually believe and practice. On the other hand, though, I also dislike it being used as a synonym for “devil worshiper” – regardless of whether directed at me or others.
“Mainline” vs. “Esoteric”
These are, in my opinion, better terms for what is really the fundamental divide re: Satanism vs. Luciferianism / Demonolatry / etc. It works this way:
- “Mainline”: Beliefs central to the religion can be explained rationally to secular people
- “Esoteric”: Beliefs central to the religion cannot be explained rationally to secular people
“Mainline,” then, is both the atheistic Satanists, and the non-theists who justify ritual praxis in causal terms (“it’s psychologically healthy” etc.). “Esoteric,” by contrast, is everyone who evokes acausal forces – regardless of whether it’s “Satan,” Lucifer, other dark gods, or just “spellcasting is a thing” generally.
I am happy to say, without hesitation, that I’m an esoteric Satanist – both in my previous heterodox-LaVeyan incarnation, and now.
A few key takeaways from the above include:
- As per what I say here about Satan being a title more than a name for an entity, I define Satanism in terms of an adversarial ideal. It follows that to my mind, many anti-status-quo philosophies and religions “count” as “Satanic,” regardless of whether their proponents would agree with this label or not.
- I have no problem with calling Tenebrous Satanism “Luciferian,” but just don’t gravitate toward the term myself as an individual, for personal reasons. Likewise “Demonolater.”
- I do not find the “non-theist vs. theist” distinction useful. It makes the issue all about whether one believes in supernatural entities. To me, the actual issue is whether or not one expects acausal results from ritual praxis. In which instance, “mainline vs. esoteric” speaks more to the heart of the issue.
- All self-respecting Satanists, whether mainline or esoteric, believe in self-empowerment and self-evolution. Therefore, devil worship is not “a thing,” and one should not equate theistic Satanism with “devil worship” amid laziness to learn what any given theistic Satanist actually believes and practices. If you don’t get it, just call them an esoteric Satanist and stop talking.
Thoughts on your impressions on these terms, how people use them, and to what extent they are useful? Let me know in the comments.
This entry received a new title image and some minor edits to wording on Aug 13/23.