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
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.
are recommended terms and descriptions of two essentially unrelated
beliefs and activities
that recognize Satan in their belief system:
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
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
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.
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
rituals that the followers can find. Frequently, writings about
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.