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Two active forms of Satanism

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Our use of the terms "Satanism" and "Satanic:"

We define a religion according to the beliefs of the actual followers.

So, for example, we define any religious organization or individual as "Christian" if the faith group or person sincerely, thoughtfully, devoutly, prayerfully considers themselves to be Christian. This includes Fundamentalists, Evangelicals, Baptists, Charismatics, Pentecostals, mainline Christians, liberal Christians, Mormons, Unificationists, United Church members, Roman Catholics, Gnostic Christians and even Jewish Christians from the 1st Century CE. We list all as Christian even though they follow very different beliefs and practices.

So too, we regard as Satanists any group or individual who sincerely and thoughtfully considers themselves to be Satanic. This includes religious Satanists -- who are typically adults, -- and Satanic "dabblers" who are often teens.

This policy is the only fair one that we have been able to develop. It accounts for much of the angry Email that we receive.

The following are recommended terms and descriptions of two essentially unrelated beliefs and activities that recognize Satan in their belief system:

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Religious Satanism:

This religion recognizes Satan, generally as a life principle. Followers are usually serious adults, although a few are mature teenagers. Of the many main traditions which exist, the Church of Satan is by far the largest. Other Satanic groups currently exist and have existed in the recent past. Many are short-lived; their web sites often come and go within a few months. According to Statistic Canada, the 1991 census found only 335 Canadians who identified themselves as Satanists. This would imply that there may be on the order of 3,500 Satanists in the U.S. The actual number is probably significantly larger. A US Department of the Army pamphlet #165-13 estimated that there were 10 to 20 thousand members of the Church of Satan in the US during the late 1970's. 1,2 Accurate data for this movement is impossible to estimate, since the largest group (the Church of Satan) does not release its membership totals.

It is important to realize that the Satan that they recognize has few if any points of similarity with the historical Muslim or Christian concept of Satan. The Satanists' concept of Satan is pre-Christian, and derived from the Pagan image of power, virility, sexuality and sensuality. To almost religious Satanists, Satan is a force of nature, not a living quasi-deity. Their Satan has nothing to do with Hell, demons, pitchforks, sadistic torture, buying people's souls, demonic possession, performing miracles, human sacrifices, cannibalism, and profoundly evil deeds.

In the past, Satanists occasionally engaged in the portrayal of a Black Mass in Latin for publicity purposes. They have ridiculed the Roman Catholic Mass. But, otherwise, their rituals have no connection to those of Christianity.

Starting in 1980, there was a growing and widespread belief that Satanists were involved in Satanic Ritual Abuse (SRA) and killing of innocent infants, children and adults. In the late 1980s, believers in SRA expanded their accusations to include a wide variety of other small religious groups as perpetrators. Belief in SRA faded during the 1990s due to a complete lack of hard evidence. It is accepted by most investigators to be a Christian urban legend, based on fear, misinformation, and false memories created during recovered memory therapy.

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Satanic Dabbling:

This is a syncretistic religion which largely lacks a consistent theology. Its followers blend elements copied from religious Satanism, ceremonial Magic, Wicca, other Neopagan traditions, Goddess worship, various Occult traditions, and any other useful source of rituals that the followers can find. Frequently, writings about Gothic Satanism by fictional, Roman Catholic, or Evangelical authors are added to the mix. It is typically practiced by rebellious teenagers or young adults -- generally for a short time. They probably number in the tens or hundreds of thousands at any one instant in North America. An exact estimate is impossible to obtain, since they are totally devoid of any central organization.

They occasionally engage in minor criminal activities such as vandalizing cemeteries and painting Satanic graffiti on walls. In very rare instances, a few have been known to sacrifice small animals. Some look upon Satanism as a method of rebelling against their parents' beliefs. It is usually a passing fad that they quickly outgrow. Satanic Dabblers have no connection with Religious Satanists. There is of course no connection between teen dabblers and other beliefs and practices which have been called "Satanism," because the latter do not exist (or are extremely rare). Every few years, the media report a ritual murder of a human by "Satanists." Further examination has so far revealed that the perpetrators have been primarily motivated by a severe mental illness, rather than by any religious beliefs that they might have. When the media report a particularly horrendous criminal act, they often initially suggest that some Satanic ritual was involved. This happened in early 2004
with a case in Fresno, CA. Eleven deaths are reported including nine children allegedly fathered by the same man. At various times, news reports announced that the victims were mutilated, that ritual killings were suspected. These reports were later found to be unfounded.

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  1. "Religious Requirements and Practices of Certain Selected Groups" Department of the Army, 1978-APR. The section on Satanism is available on line at:

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Copyright 1997 to 2002 incl. and 2004 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2004-MAR-25
Author: B.A. Robinson

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