How Satanism Works

The Birth of Modern Satan
This Satan's characteristics, red with hooves and horns, partially evolved out of other religions' deities. DeAgostini/Getty Images

The vaguely defined Satan of the Old Testament gradually transformed during the early Christian period, Middle Ages and Renaissance into the demonic arch-fiend that rules over hell. This Satan is familiar in the modern era — a vengeful, prideful fallen angel who embraces sin and seduces mortals, destined to battle God for the fate of mortal souls. A variety of factors and writings created this mythological Satan:

  • The creation of the English-language King James Bible in 1611 transformed "Lucifer," the Latin term for "morning star," into a proper name and associated it with a Satanic figure. This helped personify Satan as an individual being.
  • When Christianity displaced existing religions, other religions' gods were often denounced as demons. As the ruler of all demons, Satan then began to take on aspects of these demonized deities. Satan assumed the cloven hooves and horns of the Greek god Pan, and the insatiable decadence of the Roman god Bacchus.
  • Writers and religious authorities in the Middle Ages and Renaissance expanded Christian mythology, creating stories that became crucial to Christian thought and identity despite not appearing in the Bible. John Milton's epic poem "Paradise Lost" and Dante Alighieri's "The Divine Comedy" are among the landmark works of this type. "Paradise Lost" in particular wove an elaborate mythology involving angelic rebellion, and the powerful imagery of Lucifer being cast out of heaven for his pride and refusal to obey God he elaborated on has had a long-lasting effect on the popular perception of Satan.

But there's one more step in the evolution of Satan. During the Enlightenment, circa the 18th century, scientific and rational thought took on a more prominent role in European society. Satan transformed from a force of pure evil into a more symbolic being who even had positive attributes. He became a flawed, proud figure unwilling to submit to tyranny and capable of free thought. This Satan is sometimes known as the literary, or philosophical, Satan.

But how did Satanism evolve out of these mythical iterations of Satan?