Satanism The worship of Satan, or the Devil, the god of evil in Christianity. During the witch hunts, witches, along with heretics, were accused of worshiping the Devil. many confessed to it, probably coerced by torture. In popular lore, witches are still believed to worship the Devil. In contemporary Paganism and Witchcraft, or WICCA, there is no belief in nor worship of the Devil.
Satanism has been far less common throughout history than many would believe. The inquisitors and witchhunters of earlier centuries tried to persuade the populace that Devil-worshipers were everywhere and posed a serious threat to their well-being. For about 250 years, from the mid-15th century to the early 18th century, the height of the witchhunts, that argument worked. It is possible that some Devil-worship may have actually existed in those times, as an act of defiance among those who opposed the authority of the Christian Church.
Satanism as an organized activity did not exist much before the 17th century. As early as the seventh century, however, the Catholic Church was condemning priests who subverted the magical powers of the Holy mass for evil purposes. The Grimoire of Honorious, a magical textbook first printed in the 17th century, gave instructions for saying masses to conjure Demons. In the 17th century, satanic activities were conducted by Christians who indulged in the magical/sexual rites of the BlACk mAss, presided over by defrocked or unscrupulous priests. The most notorious of these escapades took place in France during the reign of Louis xIV, engineered by the king’s mistress, madame de montespan, and led by an occultist named La Voisin and a 67-year-old libertine priest, the Abbé Guiborg.
There is no reliable evidence of satanic activity in the 18th century. In England, the Hellfire Club, a society founded by Sir Francis Dashwood (1708–1781), has often been described as satanic, but in actuality it was little more than a club for adolescent-like men to indulge in drinking, sexual play with women called “nuns” and outrageous behavior. The Hellfire Club, or the “medmenham monks,” as they called themselves, met regularly between 1750 and 1762 in Dashwood’s home, medmenham Abbey. The members were said to conduct Black masses, but it is doubtful that these were serious satanic activities. Similar groups were the Brimstone Boys and Blue Blazers of Ireland.
Perhaps the most famous satanist of the 19th century was the Abbé Boullan of France, who became the head of an offshoot of the Church of Carmel and allegedly practiced black magic and infant sACrIFICe. The Church of Carmel was formed by Eugene Vintras, the foreman of a cardboard box factory in Tillysur-Seulles. In 1839 Vintras said he received a letter from the archangel Michael, followed by visions of the archangel, the Holy Ghost, St. Joseph and the Virgin Mary. He was informed that he was the reincarnated Prophet Elijah, and he was to found a new religious order and proclaim the coming of the Age of the Holy Ghost. The true king of France, he was told, was one Charles Naundorf.
Vintras went about the countryside preaching this news and acquiring followers, including priests. masses were celebrated that included visions of chalices filled with blood, and blood stains on the Eucharist. By 1848 the Church of Carmel, as the movement was known, was condemned by the Pope. In 1851 Vintras was accused by a former disciple of conducting Black masses in the nude, homosexuality and masturbating while praying at the altar.
Shortly before his death in 1875, Vintras befriended Boullan, who formed a splinter group of the Church of Carmel upon Vintras’ death. He ran the group for 18 years, until his death, outwardly maintaining pious practices but secretly conducting satanic rituals.
Boullan seems to have been obsessed with Satanism and evil since age 29, when he took a nun named Adele Chevalier as his mistress. Chevalier left her convent, bore two bastard children and founded with Boullan the Society for the reparation of Souls. Boullan specialized in exorcising Demons by unconventional means, such as feeding possessed victims a mixture of human excrement and the Eucharist (see Exorcism). He also performed Black masses. On January 8, 1860, he and Chevalier reportedly conducted a Black mass in which they sacrificed one of their children.
By the time Boullan met Vintras, Boullan was claiming to be the reincarnated St. John the Baptist. He taught his followers sexual techniques and said the original sin of Adam and Eve could be redeemed by sex with incubi and succubi. He and his followers also were said to copulate with the spirits of the dead, including Anthony the Great.
Boullan’s group was infiltrated by two rosicrucians, Oswald Wirth and Stanislas de Guaita, who wrote an exposé, The Temple of Satan. Boullan and de Guaita supposedly engaged in magical warfare. Boullan and his friend, the novelist J. k. Huysmans, claimed to be attacked by Demons. When Boullan collapsed and died of a heart attack on January 3, 1893, Huysmans believed it was due to an evil spell cast by de Guaita, and said so in print. De Guaita challenged him to a duel, but Huysmans declined and apologized.
In his novel, La-bas, Huysmans included a Black mass, which he said was based on his observations of one conducted by a satanic group in Paris, operating in the late 19th century. He said the mass was recited backwards, the crucifix was upside down, the Eucharist was defiled and the rite ended in a sexual orgy.
In the early 20th century, Aleister Crowley was linked to Satanism. Although he called himself “the Beast,” used the words “life,” “love” and “light” to describe Satan and once baptized and crucified a toad as Jesus, he was not a satanist but a magician and occultist.
The largest movement of modern Satanism began in the 1960s in the United States, led by Anton Szandor LaVey (born Howard Stanton Levey), a shrewd man with a charismatic persona and an imposing appearance. LaVey founded the Church of Satan in San Francisco in 1966, the activities of which became the object of great media attention.
LaVey devised or re-created rituals from historical sources on the knIghts templAr, the Hellfire Club, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and Aleister Crowley. LaVey apparently enjoyed the theatrics of the rituals; he dressed in a scarlet-lined cape and kept skulls and other odd objects about. He viewed the Devil as a dark force hidden in nature, ruling earthly affairs. man’s true nature, he claimed, is one of lust, pride, hedonism and willfulness, attributes that enable the advancement of civilization. Flesh should not be denied but celebrated. Individuals who stand in the way of achieving what one wants should be cursed.
On WAlpurgIsnACht (April 30) in 1966, LaVey shaved his head and announced the founding of the Church of Satan. He recognized the shock value of using the term church for worshiping the Devil and recognized people’s innate need for ritual, ceremony and pageantry. He performed satanic baptisms, weddings and funerals, all of which received widespread media coverage. He used a semi-nude woman (partially covered by a leopard skin) as an altar.
LaVey preached antiestablishmentarianism, self-indulgence and all forms of gratification and vengeance. Enemies were to be hated and smashed. Sex was exalted. He opposed the use of drugs, saying they were escapist and unnecessary to achieving natural highs. He also deplored the use of black magic in criminal activity. He did not include a Black mass in his rituals, because he believed the Black mass to be out of date.
The Church of Satan organized into grottoes. A reversed pentacle containing a goat’s head, called the Baphomet, was chosen as the symbol. LaVey used Enochian as the magical language for rituals and espoused the Enochian keys used by Crowley.
LaVey authored The Satanic Bible (1969) and The Satanic Rituals (1972). A third book, The Compleat Witch, was published in Europe.
In 1975 the church suffered a serious loss of members, who left to form a new organization, the Temple of Set. In the mid-1970s the Church of Satan reorganized as a secret society and dissolved its grottoes. The headquarters remain in San Francisco. LaVey became inactive and then went into seclusion. He reappeared in the media in the 1990s, and in 1992 authored a new book, The Devil’s Notebook. LaVey suffered from heart problems for years. He died on October 30, 1997, at the age of 67.
Claims have been made about the numbers of persons involved in Satanism, and their various activities, including alleged human sacrifice. Some of these claims are based on “recovered memories.” many such claims have been discredited. Satanic groups exist—they appeal to alienated youths—but there is no proof of ritual human sacrifice (the Church of Satan and Temple of Set say they do not practice or condone blood sacrifice).
Contemporary Witches and Pagans often are wrongly blamed for satanic activities. Various organizations carry on public relations and education programs for the media and members of the law-enforcement community to counteract such accusations.
- Boulware, Jack. “Has the Church of Satan Gone to Hell?” Gnosis, no. 50, Winter 1999, pp. 25–33.
- LaVey, Anton Szandor. The Satanic Bible. New York: Avon Books, 1969.
- Russell, Jeffrey Burton. The Prince of Darkness. London: Thames and Hudson, 1989.
- Terry, Maury. The Ultimate Evil. New York: Doubleday, 1987.