How Satanism Works

The Philosophy of the Church of Satan
An inverted pentagram with the head of a goat inside, encircled by the word "Leviathan" in Hebrew (similar to this image), is the official logo of the Church of Satan. itskatjas/iStock/Thinkstock

The Church of Satan's philosophy is outlined in lists of rules, tenets and other writings, but they boil down to:

  • No one should be able to tell you what to do, especially with your own body.
  • Indulge in the things you desire, give in to temptation and enjoy the things other religions consider sins.
  • You don't owe anyone anything, and you can do what you want to other people if you judge that they deserve it.

There are nine Satanic Sins: stupidity, pretentiousness, solipsism, self-deceit, herd conformity, lack of perspective, forgetfulness of past orthodoxies, counterproductive pride and lack of aesthetics.

LaVeyan Satanism is staunchly atheistic and anti-Christian, due to what it considers the Church's authoritarianism and repression of humans' animal nature. To LaVeyan Satanists, Satan is a pre-Christian symbol of self-interest and rejection of control, not an entity. It's dark force of nature that represents the mundane and earthly, while the Satanists themselves are their own "God." The church emphasizes indulgence, vengeance, autonomy, self-responsibility and exalting life.

The occult rituals LaVey described in "The Satanic Bible" were intended to be psychodramas that lead to self-awareness, embrace of carnality or psychological manipulation of the ritual's "target," although the text leaves open the possibility that there are forces beyond human explanation. LaVey expressly rejected the idea that blood sacrifice should be used in any ritual, and the church rejects harming animals and children. But it has faced criticism for its advocacy of social Darwinism and elitism.

The church remained active after LaVey's death in 1997, and members have released new texts on the philosophy of Satanism. The current high priest (the top administrative title, along with high priestess) of the Church of Satan, Peter H. Gilmore, wrote the 2007 book "The Satanic Scriptures," a collection of essays and rituals that the church considers an important text. As of April 2017, Peggy Nadramia is the high priestess of the Church of Satan.

The church doesn't host any official services or gatherings — today, most Satanists stay in touch online. You can register with the Church of Satan by sending $200 to a P.O. box, but this requires no responsibilities and confers no benefits other than a membership card. The church emphasizes that registration isn't required for someone to practice Satanism or follow LaVey's teachings, although there is a hierarchy that advances from a registered member (with no degree) to a maga or magus (of the fifth degree).

Despite the Church of Satan's focus on liberty and individualism rather than devil worship, the stigma of Satanists as evil remains. Of the many self-identifying Satanists interviewed, even those who practice Satanism openly are selective about the people with whom they share their beliefs. "I am not fully able to express myself in public for fear of retaliation by people in the part of the world that I live in," one Satanist, who wished to remain anonymous, said via email. "The effect the stigma has had on me has been a loss of friends who did not wish to understand my atheistic, individualist point of view compared to their theistic one."

The Church of Satan claims it has members worldwide and is continuously growing, but it isn't the only active modern Satanist movement [source: Church of Satan].