Earlier today, on another blog of mine, I posted Cimminnee Holt and the definition of “Satanism”. Cimminnee Holt, a grad student at Concordia University in Montreal, has written a paper titled Death and Dying in the Satanic Worldview, recently published in the Journal of Religion and Culture, “a peer-reviewed journal published by the graduate students of the Department of Religion at Concordia University.”
She uses the word “Satanism” in the Church of Satan’s sectarian sense, to refer specifically to the Church of Satan’s ideology, rather than as a general term encompassing many other Satanism as well. Why?
In the “Methodology” section of her paper, beginning on page 39, she writes:
There are scarce academic sources for reference on the CoS, and the few existing scholarly works are surface studies based on Satanic Literature, Internet research, and pan-Satanism sources (Lewis 2001, Petersen in Lewis and Petersen 2005). The Church of Satan website, commenting on James R. Lewis’ efforts at Internet research for a “Census of Satanism”, states that, “we think it worthwhile that true Satanists should steer clear” as Lewis involves other groups that self-identity as Satanists that are unrecognized by the Church of Satan (Church of Satan, Pages/News 44, 2010).
Holt doesn’t come right out and say this, but it seems to me that one of her reasons for adopting the Church of Satan’s sectarian terminology is simply that she has no choice but to submit to the Church of Satan’s arm-twisting on this issue, so that she can continue her research on the CoS.
It will be interesting to see if, when she is done researching the CoS, she eventually moves on to studying other forms of Satanism. Hopefully she’ll change her terminology, at that point, to be more in line with the terminology of other new-religion scholars who have studied Satanism.
Anyhow, she then writes:
There are a number of these disparate groups that self-identity as Satanists. The great majority of these factions are theistic Satanists, that is, they believe in the existence of a spiritual Satanic entity. As such, they are diametrically opposed to the atheistic stance of the Church of Satan, which views Satan as a symbol and as a metaphor for how they see themselves. As far as my research has ascertained, theistic Satanists are primarily (although not exclusively) active on the Internet, as opposed to physical assembly, have several unorganized divisions with multiple nuances of how the entity of Satan is perceived and understood, and have ephemeral philosophies that are influenced by the writings of Anton Szandor LaVey and other occult authors (Lewis 2001, xiv).
The above is quite out-of-date.
First, some forms of theistic Satanism have been around — and publicly visible — long enough that their philosophies should no longer be considered “ephemeral.” One of the oldest of these is Demonolatry, which as been on the web on-and-off since the late 1990’s and also includes groups that hold in-person meetings. For links to information about Demonolatry and some other forms of theistic Satanism that have been around for a while, see The varieties of theistic (“traditional”) Satanism and Other theistic or theistic-friendly Satanism/”LHP” websites.
As for theistic Satanists being “primarily (although not exclusively) active on the Internet, as opposed to physical assembly,” the Church of Satan does not hold in-person meetings very often either. They periodically disband, then revive, then disband again, a system of local “grottos.” Even during their most active phases, they almost never hold any meetings open to the general public — unlike my own group New York City Satanists, Luciferians, Dark Pagans, and LHP Occultists, which has held regular almost-monthly meetings welcoming Satanists, etc., of all law-abiding kinds, since 2004.
Cimminnee Holt also writes:
Scholars of New Religions Movements (such as James R. Lewis), as well as theistic Satanists, have tended to refer to the Church of Satan as LaVeyan Satanism to distinguish it from theistic Satanism (2001, xiii-xiv).
Note, here, that she does acknowledge that most new-religions scholars who have studied Satanism use the word “Satanism” in a more general sense than she is using it.
It is, however, significant to note that members of the Church of Satan do not self-identify as LaVeyan Satanists but simply as Satanists. Since the Church of Satan was the first organized Satanic religion, founded and based on the book The Satanic Bible by Anton Szandor LaVey (first published in 1969), the members of the Church deride the need to use labels applied by external social scientific categories or their theistic Satanic detractors (Gilmore in Shankbone 2007).
Current High Priest of the Church of Satan, Peter H. Gilmore, explains, “We don’t think [theistic Satanists] are Satanists. They are devil worshippers, as far as I’m concerned” (Quoted in Shankbone 2007). Perhaps more delicately phrased, the Church of Satan concludes that since they were first to codify Satanism as a religion, they hold the rights to the moniker of Satanist and the strong symbolism and responsibilities attached to the label.
The fact remains that Anton LaVey and the CoS did not coin the word “Satanism,” which was in dictionaries long before the CoS came along. Thus, using the word “Satanism” to refer exclusively to the CoS worldview makes even less sense than using the word “Christianity” to refer exclusively to the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, excluding Protestants.
Later in the “Methodology” section, Holt talks about the long process she had to go through in order to gain the trust of some high-ranking CoS members.
There’s also a news story about her research on the Concordia University website, Sympathy for the devil? by Beth Lewi, May 30, 2011. Holt is paraphrased as saying:
When some people learn the subject of her research, says Holt, “there’s this immediate, quickly hidden alarm on their faces. I find that fascinating: that even in our secular society, where we tend to say we don’t believe in the devil, even the mention of the word creates tension.”
This alarm arises from the public’s confusion between members of the Church of Satan and those theistic Satanists who do worship the devil.
That last sentence is a vast oversimplification, albeit congruent with the way the Church of Satan folks typically scapegoat “Devil worshipers.”
For people who don’t believe in a Devil, the alarm arises primarily from Satanism’s criminal fringe, plus the long-debunked urban legends of the “Satanic Ritual Abuse” scare of 1980-1995, still kept alive by conspiracy theorists.
As far as I can tell, most theistic Satanists are not violent criminals. Conversely, most criminals-in-the-name-of-Satan, e.g. the kids who deface churches, are not serious worshipers of Satan. As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, the church-defacers often don’t even know enough about Satanism to know that a Satanic pentagram points down, not up.
Yet, as just one more of their many ways of being exceeding sectarian, the Church of Satan folks typically encourage the conflation of “Devil worship” with Satanism’s criminal fringe. Even some theistic Satanists go along with this, semantically distinguishing themselves from “Devil worshipers” too. (See my page titled Devil worshipers: Satanism’s scapegoats?.) But the Church of Satan classifies all theistic Satanists as “Devil worshipers,” and their leaders seem all too happy to scapegoat us all as alleged criminals and crazies.
Be that as it may, it is likely that Holt’s acceptance of the Church of Satan’s definition of “Satanism” will continue to be an anomaly among religion scholars. After all, as Per Faxneld told me during one of his visits to New York City, theistic forms of Satanism are likely to be more interesting to religion scholars than the CoS worldview.
But we theistic Satanists shouldn’t take this for granted. We need to prove to the academic world that we exist in sufficiently large numbers to be worth studying. So, if you are a theistic Satanist who does not want the CoS to succeed in their attempts to monopolize the definition of “Satanism,” please respond ASAP to James Lewis’s current survey.