November 07, 2017

Broadening my horizons

This llama staring at the horizon beyond Machu Picchu
has nothing to do with the content of this essay.
Last month I decided to let go my membership with the Church of Satan and probably the most interesting thing that I've observed since then is that my commitment to the definition of Satanism as codified by Anton LaVey and promoted by the CoS has fragmented. I'm not saying that I've moved "beyond" the CoS into a "higher understanding" of Satanism, nor am I saying that I've achieved a "new level" of "personal power" as a "truly liberated" Satanist. 

What I'm saying is that even though I believed myself to be an independent thinker who came by my understanding of Satanism without outside interference and chose to adopt a world paradigm for the sole reason that such paradigm was worthwhile all on its own, instead I've found that as my concern for the CoS (and what one day might have been my place within it) diminishes, so too does my commitment to Satanism as codified by Anton LaVey.

This is a weird experience because me being who I am, I didn't think that my opinions were being influenced this way. And not in the sense of Satanic-mind-control, but in the sense that my own desires, priorities, interests, and self-awareness were shaped by the CoS-endorsed literature which I myself fed it. I don't know that this is true for anybody else, but it's surely true for me that I'm in a place now where I've got really deep roots sunk into the black soil of Satanism as defined by the CoS, but I'm also at a place where that soil isn't feeding me anymore.

How much of my understanding of Satanism is truly derived from the CoS-endorsed canon literature, and how much of it is my own individual worldview with a splash of black paint? I've heard people argue that Satanism as codified by Anton LaVey is an aberration compared to the long legacy of Satanism which was birthed by Milton, Blake, Byron, and Shelley (among others), and I suppose I can see their point, but for me very nearly all arguments in favor of the "one true Satanism" are a non-starter. I don't bring this up to pussyfoot around a No True Scotsman argument, only to say that I accept that there are many possible ways to interpret the concept of Satanism.

I also bring it up to say that although my choice to identify as a Satanist is as certain today as it's ever been, my perspective is not. For me, a large part of following Satanism as championed by the CoS is that there was very little that was uncertain. There were succinct lists of the 9 Satanic statements, the 11 rules of the earth, the 9 Satanic sins, and pentagonal revisionism, all of which together provided a clear way to say, "This is who I am as a Satanist, and this is what Satanism means." There were the answers that I could use as a measuring stick both against others but especially against myself. If I didn't match the given measurement, then I needed only stretch or shrink myself to fit.

There was also the Satanic Bible whose brevity made for heady reading and which provided a simple litmus test: If you agree with everything in the Satanic Bible, then you're a Satanist. And you know, I didn't find anything that I thought was out of place, but was that because the Satanic Bible was the source of infernal wisdom it claimed to be, or was it because I wanted it to be the source of infernal wisdom that it claimed to be? In hindsight, this litmus test is remarkably similar to the same question posed to investigators by missionaries of the LDS Church who ask them to pray to know if the Book of Mormon is the one true word of God. Granted, there's no praying involved when it comes to the Satanic Bible, but having been one of those investigators I can say at this point that the self-validation in both experiences feels remarkably similar. I don't know that this is the same for anybody else, but this is what it was like for me.

I also wonder how much of my stated views in the past were really my own deeply held beliefs and individually conceived opinions, and how many of them were manifestations of what turned out to be a largely unrecognized commitment to toe the line marked by the CoS for what it means to be a right-thinking Satanist. For example, I wrote an essay some time ago about infanticide in relation to eugenics and massively retarded newborns. An earlier part of me still sees something in that view, but a later part of me thinks it's way out there. Did I write that essay because I think there's a good reason to euthanize the massively retarded who will never, ever live without full-time assistance? Or did I write it only because I thought it would appeal to other CoS members and would help establish my Satanic bonafides? At this moment, I don't know anymore what the original motivation was and I'm struggling to understand if I still believe the same today.

One thing that I've definitely taken away from this experience is a reluctance to join an organization, which is kind of a shame because I like a lot of the work that the Satanic Temple is doing. And not that I've got deep pockets or anything--because I don't--but I threw some money in their hat for the veteran's monument because I think it's a terrific idea. I served in the Marine Corps and I'm really keen on the idea that my grandchildren could make a kind of road-trip to the nearest Satanic monument for veterans and leave a flower or a letter. I also think that the Satanic Temple's campaign to fight corporal punishment in public schools is worthwhile. But every time I think about sending in an application to join, I come against a brick wall that's painted with big, black letters, "REMEMBER WHAT HAPPENED LAST TIME."

I've yet to see anything that would give me reason to not join the Satanic Temple, but then, I didn't see anything that gave me reason to not join the CoS. This experience has left me feeling like I can't trust what I see and that it's better to not put myself in a position where I sink roots only to realize later that I need to rip them out again. Once burnt, twice shy? At any rate, letting go my membership with the CoS has been a really stimulating experience. I'm not disowning what I learned from the CoS-approved canon literature--for better or for worse, a fundamental part of my understanding of Satanism has been formed by the time I spent in that body of thought and I'm skeptical it can be changed--but I am reexamining the role it plays in my understanding of Satanism. In the past, I was in an either/or paradigm, but these days it feels more like an if/and. If this fits, and it serves me, then I'll make a place for it in my practice. If it doesn't fit, and it hurts me, then I'll remember why that's so and discard it.

2 comments:

  1. I’ve thrown TST some money as well, but have been reluctant to get involved in any meaningful way. I think part of that reluctance stems from the line TST straddles being both a political and a religious organization. While I agree with some of their activism I’m not on board with all of it, and it is unclear to me whether they prioritize the political or religious side of the coin (though I suspect it’s the former). If I were to join it would largely be for reasons of religious/philosophical identity, and it seems to me that if I’m going to claim an organization as being part of who I am then I damn well better be in agreement with a large part of what that group does and stands for.

    I think you’re on the right track with keeping what you find useful and discarding what’s not regardless of whether it fits into this or that paradigm, but I also understand we’re social creatures who feel a need to belong, and that the independent satanist is likely always at risk of feeling spiritually disconnected and adrift. I’ve looked for an alternative somewhere in the middle of TST and COS, but have yet to find anything viable. I like some of what’s come out of Damien Ba’al, but I get the feeling his United Aspects is mainly some literature and a website and not much else. And I delved deeply enough in Golden Dawn-style madness in my time to know that The Sect of the Horned God’s initiatory structure is probably not what I’m looking for.

    I guess all that is to say, you’re not alone (or maybe I'm just reminding myself that).

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    Replies
    1. If there are any TST members reading this, then maybe they can address your criticisms about the organization's primary focus. I'm not a member and only know what I do about TST through what I see in the news and through some podcasts and blogs, so at best I've got 2nd and 3rd hand knowledge and am not really in a position to say much about that.

      I appreciate your point about the human need for belonging and community. Regarding the CoS, one of the things they talk about a lot is that Satanists (in their eyes) are somehow not-human and therefore have no need for social validation or that most taboo word, "community." This is particularly amusing to me because right after making that argument, they'll turn around and say that humans are no different from animals yet completely ignore all the research which shows that community and social interaction are a vital need for humans, without which humans suffer very real mental and physical problems.

      I'm not interested in initiatory traditions--I think that particular desire got burned out of me when I left the LDS Church so many years ago--but I am hoping to connect with like minds. At the moment it feels like such a community is in short supply given the CoS's insularity and exclusivity versus what feels like TST's focus on action over words. But then, I'm not a TST member, so I'm not really sure if that's a good comparison.

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