How Satanism Works

Member of the Melbourne Church of Satan, Drew Sinton, poses with a crucifix. Fairfax Media/Fairfax Media via Getty Images

Satanism is shrouded in secrecy, fear and superstition. Does Satan lurk in the shadows, luring people into lives of evil and degradation? Maybe he's an evil, supernatural force that enacts vile and horrific deeds. He could be a scapegoat, a remnant of an earlier religious tradition demonized to clear a path for the spread of Christianity. Or he's just a symbol of free thinking and opposition, a necessary antagonistic force to the dominant values and norms of society.

Modern Satanists venerate Satan in different ways. A surprising number of them don't even believe that Satan, as an entity, exists. They may perform Satanic rituals based on the doctrines of the Church of Satan, or they may simply endorse and follow Satanic philosophies. Others worship Satan as a deity and believe he directly affects the world with vast powers. Then there are the Satanists so consumed by alienation and nihilism that they perform heinous acts like torture, murder, rape and mutilation in the name of a dark force. Are they really influenced by Satan, or is the impetus more psychological than supernatural?

Questions and rumors about the enigmatic religion abound. Have there actually been Satan-worshipping cults throughout history, working to bring Satan to power with gory sacrificial rituals and wicked pacts? Are there Satanists in positions of power who use their influence to cover up Satanic crimes?

Viewing Satanism from a sociological perspective can help us understand where our modern ideas about Satan come from, why some people choose to worship Satan and the role Satanism plays in society. Once showmanship is separated from philosophy, and legend from reality, Satanism becomes as intriguing as it is mysterious.