How Satanism Works

The Satanic Temple and Other Satanist Practices
Satanic Temple spokesperson Lucien Greaves stands in front of a statue of Baphomet. The church is known for its outspokenness on social and political issues. The Washington Post/Getty Images

The Satanic Temple is a loosely organized group of Satanists similar to the Church of Satan, but that does not endorse a rigid version of Satanism. The Temple is also home to atheistic, philosophical Satanists. However, it rejects the social Darwinism and libertarian views of the Church of Satan. The beliefs of Satanic Temple adherents are like those of secular humanists, who value critical, scientific reasoning and individualism.

The Temple is politically and socially progressive and uses its notoriety to pursue progressive causes. To the Satanic Temple, the shock value of Satanic imagery is useful as a media and political tool, and the organization regularly uses it to balance what it sees as religious intrusions into public life. For instance, the Temple requested that a statue of Baphomet be placed next to a monument of the Ten Commandments on Oklahoma State Capitol grounds in 2015.

Alse Young, a San Francisco Satanist and member of the Satanic Temple (although not an official representative), described his interest in the Temple as a conscious rejection of LaVeyan Satanism. "I learned about the Satanic Temple through the public flap about the Baphomet monument in Oklahoma, like most people, and I found their example refreshing," Young said via email. "Instead of a dead man and a 50-year-old book they were invested in current events, people's real lives, and things that affect the average person."

There are a few lesser-known Satanic groups. The First Satanic Church, founded by Anton LaVey's daughter Karla LaVey, is an offshoot of the Church of Satan. The Order of the Serpent is another group that follows "the left-hand path" — one of free thought, self-power and moral relativism — of Satanism. Modern esoteric and occult groups, like the Temple of Set, are sometimes confused with Satanic organizations. A handful of Satanic groups primarily in Europe, like the Order of Nine Angles, are associated with far-right nationalist ideologies.

Finally, there are the theistic Satanists, or those who worship Satan as a deity rather than symbolically. Theistic Satanists don't have widespread organizations, and some atheistic Satanists disapprove of their Satanist label. Of the few self-identifying theistic Satanists we spoke with, none of them worship a literal, supernatural Satan as a god the way Satanists do in movies. Some of them worship Satan as a pagan deity, but not as the epitome of evil. Vinicius Turkmenow, a Satanist from São Paulo, Brazil, considers Satan a deity but describes beliefs very similar to philosophical Satanism. "I think about Satan more as an impersonal force than anything; it's also a creative force, because it acts as a point to get different views about our society and its relationship with religions and faith, overall speaking," he said via email. "It's not about hate, but being on the other side of the fence, trying to understand how the rest works."

So far, Satanists don't seem to be the demonic, blood sacrificing monsters they've often been portrayed as. Do these so-called "evil" Satanists exist?