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A problem with religious terminology:

Within the dominant religion in North America, Christianity, there is a wide range of belief systems. Individual Christian faith groups use common English words like God, Heaven, salvation, redemption, sanctification, saved, tongues, etc. However, they often assign different meanings to these words. The result is that dialogue within a given congregation can be difficult. Discussions among representatives of different Christian faith groups are even more challenging. Inter-faith dialogue sometimes experiences major barriers and can be impossible.

The terms "Satanism" and "Satanist" two of these religious words which have multiple meanings. Many very different beliefs concerning Satanism have circulated in North America.

bullet Some refer to religious Satanists -- normally adults who follow Satanism as a religion.
bullet Others refer to teenage "dabblers," many of whom have formed an eclectic belief system derived from many sources.
bullet Still others refer to Gothic Satanism as it was believed to exist centuries ago.
bullet Many people consider religious Satanism and Wicca (a.k.a. Witchcraft) as being related or even identical. In reality, the two religions are quite different and frequently hold opposite beliefs.

Many of these beliefs do not correspond to actual religious Satanist belief and practice.

This lack of agreement about "Satanism" and "Satanists" is reflected in the media and in religious and inspirational books, sermons, articles, etc. over the past centuries. This diversity continues today on the Internet.

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Historical beliefs about Gothic Satanism:

The public's beliefs in past centuries about Satanism were largely based on religious propaganda. Both the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches in Western Europe and North America created an imaginary religion that has been called "Gothic Satanism." This belief system was originally circulated centuries ago during the "Burning Times" in order to justify the churches' extermination of what were believed to be Satan worshiping "Witches" and other heretics. The churches taught that Witches:

bullet Worship Satan.
bullet Enter into a personal contract with the Christian devil.
bullet Committed their lives to performing evil deeds, continuously.
bullet Flew through the air on broomsticks.
bullet Held secret midnight Witches Sabbats in the forest.
bullet Cursed animals and humans, causing them to sicken, have miscarriages, or die.
bullet Generated storms, hail and other weather disturbances to destroy crops.
bullet Could shape-shift -- change their physical appearance at will from human to animal and back again.
bullet Boiled babies down into a magical soup and used the victim's bones as ritual tools.
bullet Organized in covens of exactly 13 people.
bullet Were a massive danger to society, and had to be exterminated.

These ideas were widely accepted among the public, starting circa 1450 CE. Some investigators believe that these beliefs about Satan worshipers in the late Middle Ages developed from theological debates about theodicy -- the philosophical and religious discussion of how evil can exist in a universe created and controlled by an omnipotent and omnibeneficient God. Others believe that the church wanted to exterminate any residual minority belief systems still in existence, and have exclusive control of the religious live of western Europe.

The beliefs in the existence of profoundly evil Satan worshipers with magical powers had largely dissipated by 1792, when the last victim was executed in Western Europe. However, the concept of the evil Witch as a worshiper of Satan had entered into religious legends, fairy tales, children's stories, and more recently into Hollywood horror movies. A few of these beliefs were still regarded as accurate by a significant percentage of the public as late as 1995.

The text of two books from the Burning Times are still easily obtained today in:

bullet Montague Summers, "The Malleus Maleficarum of Kramer and Sprenger." 1
bullet Francesco Maria Guazzo, "Compendium Maleficarum," 2

They are fascinating to read. They tell us little about the reality of Satan worship during the Renaissance. However, they do give evidence of the sexual dysfunction of the original authors.

In reality, there is no evidence that Gothic Satanism actually existed centuries ago. It does not exist now -- except perhaps among a very few, isolated psychotic individuals who might regard themselves as Gothic Satanists.

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The Satanic Panic (circa 1980 to 1995):

A book "Michelle Remembers" was published in 1980. 3 It was presented as an account of recovered memories restored by Michelle Smith during therapy with her psychiatrist Dr. Lawrence Pazder (1936 - 2004) -- the person whom she was later to marry. It allegedly documents horrendous ritual abuse suffered by Michelle during her childhood at the hands of a Satanic cult in Canada. The book described that a main motivation for the abuse was appeasement of the Christian devil, Satan.

Although there were a few isolated, false stories of Satanic Ritual Abuse prior to Michelle being published, this book gave the "Satanic panic" in North America a major boost. 4 It was at least partly responsible for the initial formation of the belief in widespread Satanic Ritual Abuse (SRA) in the early 1980's. The book was followed by others on the same theme. Three of the most popular were:

bullet Lauren Stratford (aka Willson), "Satan's Underground." 5
bullet Mike Warnke, "The Satan Seller." 6
bullet Dr. Rebecca Brown, "He Came to Set the Captives Free." 7

Although some of these books are out of print, most are available from as inexpensive used books.

Between 1980 and the mid-1990s, there was a widespread belief among some law enforcement officers, some feminists, some Christians, and others that:

bullet Satanists and Wiccans held essentially identical beliefs and engaged in similar horrendous practices.
bullet Both Satanists and Wiccans engaged in extensive Satanic Ritual Abuse (SRA).
bullet On the order of 50,000 infants and children were sacrificed yearly. Some were eaten by Satanists.
bullet Satanism was a type of mirror image of Christianity. Its followers conducted inverted Christian rituals, like Black Masses, as a means of ridiculing and denigrating Christianity.

By 1995, fifteen years of dedicated investigation had turned up no concrete evidence of SRA. Belief in the reality of religiously-inspired ritual abuse began to dissipate. Ritual abuse does continue today, largely in the form of physical beatings during Christian exorcisms. Fortunately, it is rare. About one victim a years dies in North America during such exorcisms.

Therapists generally recognize now that adults' recovered memories of childhood SRA were false. They were unrelated to actual events early in life. The false memories were traceable to dangerous therapeutic techniques like Recovered Memory Therapy. Memories of ritual abuse were also implanted in young children's minds by the dangerous and suggestive interrogation techniques where were then accepted as state-of-the-art.

Essays on this website describe Satanic Ritual Abuse cases among adults and Multi-Victim, Multi-Offender (MVMO) panics among children in pre-schools and day care centers. Most of the adults who were falsely convicted of abuse have had their cases reviewed and have been released from jail. Gerald Amirault continues to rot in jail for a crime that never happened in Malden MA. Three young adults, the "West Memphis Three," were convicted of ritual murders of three boys in Robin Hood Hills, West Memphis, AR. They remain incarcerated, one in death row, even though there is hard evidence that they are innocent and that the actual perpetrator(s) went free.

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Recent beliefs about Satanists:

Since the mid 1990s, Christian authors have begun to base their books and articles increasingly on primary information sources -- material that was actually written by Satanists. Many writers now accept that Satanists do not engage in criminal activities, such as cannibalism, murder, and Satanic Ritual Abuse. Some accept that Satanism is an independent religion and is not a Christian heresy or a form of inverted Christianity. However, the Internet is filled with web sites that misrepresent Satanism. An essay giving more details and examples is online.

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The reality of Satanism:

The two largest Satanic groups in the U.S. are:
bullet The Church of Satan is the largest organization of religious Satanists in the U.S. They regard Satan as a pre-Christian concept, representing pleasure, virility, and strength. He is not viewed as a living entity. He is unrelated to the Christian devil. Most members are Agnostics, they neither believe nor disbelieve in the existence of God. Their prime symbol is the Sigil of Baphomet. This is a goat's head, drawn within an inverted pentagram (5-pointed star with one point downward and two up). It is surrounded by a circle. Satanists conduct rituals by themselves, and/or meet together in grottos.
bullet The Temple of Set worships Satan in the form of a pre-Christian deity -- the Egyptian god Set. Their prime symbol is a simple inverted pentagram in a circle. They meet in temples.

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Satanist behavioral codes:

A widely spread misconception is that almost all Satanists follow two behavioral codes which were written by Aleister Crowley:

bullet "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law,"
bullet "Love is the Law, love under will."

This error was probably caused by another error -- a widespread misconception that Crowley was himself a Satanist.

In reality, the two main Satanist codes are:

bullet "Responsibility to the responsible." This contradicts the first of Crowley's codes in many ways.
bullet "Do unto others as they do unto you."

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Do Satanists engage in black magic rituals?

They generally do not refer to any of their rituals as "black magic". Most Satanist consider the term "black magic" to be a racist term --one that is generally used only by Christians and Wiccans to describe types of magic different from their own.

Some Satanists do engage in "destruction rituals" which are directed against enemies with the goal of harming them.  Turning the other cheek is not their style.

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  1. Montague Summers, "The Malleus Maleficarum of Kramer and Sprenger," Dover Publ. (Reprinted 1988). Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store
  2. Francesco Maria Guazzo, "Compendium Maleficarum," Dover Publ. (Reprinted 1971). Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store
  3. "WIN Intelligence Report, Samhain 1993" published by the Wiccan Information Network.
  4. Jeffrey Victor, "Satanic Panic: The creation of a contemporary legend," Open Court Publishing, (1993). Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store
  5. Lauren Stratford, "Satan's Underground: The Extraordinary Story of One Woman's Escape," Pelican Publishing, (1988; Reissued 1991). Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store
  6. Mike Warnke, "The Satan Seller," Logos International, (1987). Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store
  7. Dr. Rebecca Brown, "He Came to Set the Captives Free," Chick Publications, (1986). Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store

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Site navigation: Home page > World religions > Satanism > here

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Copyright 2003 & 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally published: 2003-DEC-21
Latest update: 2005-MAR-01
Author: B.A. Robinson

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