Modern Ideas Of Satanism

Two strands can be idendfied in twentieth-century Chnsnan concepts of Satan and satamsm, neither of which is of recent ongin. The first, which denves from the earlier ideas that have just been outlined, is a belief in a secret organisation dedicated to the worship of its head and master, Satan and to working for the overthrow of the Christian Church and Christian civilization. Its rituals of worship are believed to be characterized by all that is most evil and depraved; they include human sacrifice, cannibalism and depraved sexual orgies where all the rules of incest and social custom are ignored. Versions of this belief are held by many twentieth-century Christians all over the world, more particularly m the Protestant denominations, and most of all in the fundamentalist and charismatic sects. Some people who do not see themselves as Christian at all may also hold variants of this belief.

Many of these ideas are paralleled in the second source of satanic images, various folk beliefs concerning witches. The most widespread of these popular notions links witchcraft and magic with satamsm, so closely that the two may be believed to be the same. Witches are thought to form covens that are sometimes said to consist of 13 witches, the unlucky or evil number. They hold meetings at night to worship the devil; these are referred to, with persisting anti-semitism, as the Witches' Sabbath and Satan himself may appear at them. These ideas were probably inculcated in the population by the witch-hunts m the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries because they do not seem to have existed prior to the early modern period. There are other subsidiary beliefs, in ghosts or vampires for example, that are also sometimes incorporated into the modern idea of satamsm. In addition, the notion of the Black Mass, a diabolical nte that is a parody or an inversion of the Christian Mass and is believed to have been celebrated by worshippers of the devil, may also be incorporated. Some accounts confuse it with the ritual of the Witches Sabbath.2 Since notions of what constitutes the greatest evil do change over time, modern ideas of satan-worship also incorporate the notions of supreme evil that are widespread in contemporary society, acts such as abortion and the sexual abuse of children.

All these beliefs are ideas held by outsiders about satamsts, whether the holders are Christians or non-believing members of societies with fundamentally Christian cultures; they are not the beliefs of any recorded members of such cults. In fact, as later sections will show, sataruc abuse mythology has grown up, m exacdy the way the information about the Witches Sabbath grew up, from the questioning of individuals, adults and children, about their experiences. However, m the twentieth century it is the victims who are questioned, not the alleged satamsts.

The generalization just made about beliefs m satamsts may appear not to hold any longer in the twentieth century, when the existence of individuals and groups of self-styled satamsts is fully substantiated. They form part of the occult revival of the second half of the century, although a few individuals from an earlier period, such as the notorious Aleister

Crowiey, may be accorded the status of satamst retrospectively. Satanism can be said to be parasitic on Christianity, in that satamsts consciously define themselves in opposition to Christians and characterize their practices by contrasting them with Christian practices. There also appears to be an element of conscious pleasure in shocking Christians by creating at least the appearance of what Christians fear. However, their mam purpose is the study and practice of magic, not worship of any deity, although even their involvement with magic still makes them suspect in the eyes of some Christians for reasons which, as has already been noted, reach back into the past.

As Ronald Hutton has shown elsewhere m this volume, other occult groups have reacted against Christianity by attempting to recreate pagan religions that were believed to have existed before Europe's conversion to Christianity. They do not believe m Satan or devils, pointing out that these are elements in Christian cosmology not in theirs. Any or all of these occult groups may be labelled satamsts by Christians but, as the next section will show, actual satamsts are rather few m number and can easily be distinguished from the satamsts of Christian mythology or folk-lore. In order to prevent confusion between the two types of satamsts I shall distinguish them where necessary by referring to self-styled (the occultists) and alleged (the mythical) satamsts. Finally, it is worth noting that some far-right political groups have adopted symbols and clothing that resemble those of satamsts, just as the political ideas of some occult groups tend towards neo-Nazism, making it difficult to decide how, on the fringes, the religious and the political can be distinguished.

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