July 07, 2017

Argument for Theistic Worship in Atheistic Satanism

Position statement

I am an active member of the Church of Satan. My views are my own, and I'm not a spokesperson for the Church of Satan. As it regards me personally, I follow the philosophy of Satanism as defined by Dr. LaVey in the Satanic Bible and elaborated upon by Magus Gilmore in The Satanic Scriptures: I am my own god; I alone am responsible for creating my own Heaven or Hell here on Earth; and for as much as anybody knows, death is THE END. 

I don't believe in Satan as a literal deity, nor do I believe in the existence of any gods, demons, or spirits. There are many fantasies I'm willing to indulge, but until extraordinary evidence can be presented to prove the extraordinary claim of the existence of gods, my understanding of the world is based on the best available scientific evidence.

There is no worship in Satanism.

Within the definition of Satanism that I know and practice, worship is a rare word. Satanists worship nobody and nothing except themselves, and even when we do worship ourselves it rarely requires ritual and is instead a self-evident act, process, or lifestyle which elevates the individual to a place of personal power and self respect. The word "worship" is used to describe the three kinds of ritual employed in greater magic, but given the context it should be clear that this is a word given to outsiders so that they understand the nature of the conversation. Among Satanists, I can't say that I've ever heard the word "worship" uttered with any frequency except in criticism or mockery of devotional theistic religions.

Then what is Satanic ritual?

The ritual employed in Satanism is called greater magic, and while no value judgement is made about Satanists who choose to believe that it is capable of implanting thoughts or harnessing unseen occult forces, it is accepted that greater magic is if nothing else self-transformative psycho-drama intended to purge unwanted emotions that otherwise hinder the Satanist's ability to live productively.

I don't intend to discuss the minutiae of Satanic ritual in this essay, so if you want that you'll have to find it elsewhere; instead, I'm going to talk about the broad strokes. Indeed, as explained in the Satanic Bible, the minutiae of greater magic is besides the point: the elaborate process; the ringing bells; the altar configuration; the ritual implements; and the occult chants serve only the singular purpose of aiding the Satanist in attaining a heightened state of emotional release.

Dr. LaVey hypothesized that this ecstatic state - either in the swells of fury, the rolls of lust, or the depths of grief - achieved biological changes within the Satanist which emanated outward either as mental vibrations thus far unexplained by science or as a hormonal release that could trigger a cascade of consequences among people who have physical contact with the Satanist.

Let's ignore the pseudo-science.

I don't care to investigate the hypotheses that Dr. LaVey put forth to rationalize greater magic. It's surely a discussion worth having, but it's not the one I'm having today. The important thing at this moment isn't the process, but the result: is the practice of greater magic and the process of ritualizing one's needs and desires stimulating and productive? Many Satanists - including myself - believe that it is. But many Satanists - including myself - don't follow the prescribed steps for greater magic as outlined in the Satanic Bible for the sole reason that ritual is an individual process. 

Historically speaking, Dr. LaVey had no true precedents or contemporaries. People have been talking about the mythological concept of Satan for as long as Satan has existed - Milton and Przybyszewski come to mind - but Dr. LaVey was the first to synthesize a set philosophy and collection of practices to be deliberately called Satanism and intended for widespread dissemination. So when Dr. LaVey wrote the Satanic Bible, in his way he going where nobody else had gone before. There were no other definitively Satanic voices to say what was right or wrong, or to provide perspective and definition.

You could even argue that the Satanic Bible can be called the LaVeyan Bible if only because of the circuitous nature of it: Dr. LaVey defined Satanism, and Satanism defined Dr. LaVey. This means that when you read the Satanic Bible's instructions for greater magic and Satanic ritual, what you're really getting is Dr. LaVey's personal grimoire and a collection of essays describing how he saw the world and the tools that he used to advance himself.

And one of the tools that Dr. LaVey used was ecstatic ritual, which included exactly what you can imagine: screaming and shouting; the destruction of sympathetic images; furious masturbation; crying and whimpering; and even the honest expression of fear and terror. But all these things serve only one purpose: to elevate the Satanist to a position of personal power. The only god present in the ritual is the Satanist him or herself.

I am not Dr. LaVey.

But what happens if you're such a person for whom this kind of ecstatic ritualization doesn't come naturally? Dr. LaVey wrote a lot of stuff that I agree with and which I've adopted entirely - it works for me, so I use it as-is. And then, Dr. LaVey wrote some stuff that really doesn't work for me at all - like his advocacy for ecstatic, deeply emotional ritual.

Remembering our premise: greater magic is only worthwhile if the act of ritualizing one's needs and desires proves to be stimulating and productive. If I enter my ritual chamber and follow the given steps yet during the ritual feel too self-conscious, or get to the end of the ritual and feel that it didn't address the emotional reason for its performance, then why follow the prescribed steps?

Use what's familiar.

I hypothesize that the rules for ritual developed by Dr. LaVey were influenced by his time working in the circus as well as the years he spent as a musical performer. He was accustomed to being in the spotlight and giving his emotions free rein during a performance, so greater magic performed as part of a highly ecstatic ritual is a natural extension for him.

But a lot of people - myself included - don't share that background. When I do a ritual as prescribed by Dr. LaVey and I don't feel like it's accomplished its purpose, it makes me feel like I've done something wrong. Did I do something wrong? Or did I make the mistake of using an unfamiliar tool that doesn't integrate with my life experiences?

Embrace your personal fetish.

Dr. LaVey wrote frequently about the importance of honestly recognizing and fully indulging one's personal fetishes in order to attain complete satisfaction in life. Much of his writing about personal fetishes waxed sexual and he made frequent reference to his own piss fetish. Beyond Dr. LaVey, the concept of a personal fetish has expanded in Satanic canon literature to include any of an individual's personally unique interests. 

For example: when asked about Satanic sex, Dr. LaVey said that it's all about honesty and consent. If a man honestly desires to physically dominate a beautiful woman, she consents to his domination, and the indulgence of this fetish provides the necessary release and stimulation that the man requires to be successful in life, then it's Satanic. Or, if a man honestly desires to be sexually humiliated by a beautiful woman and made to feel inadequate and unable to satisfy her, the woman consents to abuse him, and the indulgence of this fetish provides the necessary release and stimulation that the man requires to be successful in life, then it's Satanic. Or even the man who is honestly aware that he is asexual and prefers to channel his lust and passion into other areas of his life - that's Satanic, too.

So why isn't this the same for ritual?

The end goal of all Satanic ritual is personal stimulation and the achievement of worldly success and productivity. If I can accomplish those things through the ecstatic ritual, then that's Satanic. But if I can accomplish the same through devotional worship of Satan as a literal entity, then that's also Satanic.

Yes, it's oxymoronic for an atheist to conduct ritual in which he or she worships, venerates, and otherwise gives praise to a mythological deity. Yes, from the outside looking in such a ritual would appear to be incompatible with everything written in the canon literature recognized by members of the Church of Satan.

But what's wrong with temporarily indulging in self-imposed ignorance within the confines of the ritual chamber for the purpose of achieving personal release? Absolutely nothing.

If it works, use it.

Perhaps you're a Satanist who enjoys dominance and uses the ritual chamber to express your absolute power? Perhaps you're a Satanist who feels no need for ritualization and lives your life as its own form of greater magic? And then, maybe you're a Satanist who enjoys getting on your knees and offering solemn prayers to Satan?

Unlike Dr. LaVey, I haven't had formative life experiences working in a circus or playing music in front of large crowds. Like a lot of Satanists, I was raised Christian and spent a lot of years attending Christian worship services. Whether I like it or not, the kind of ritual that works best for me is the one that superficially resembles so-called "inverted" Christianity and the garden-variety blasphemy that exists in the imagination of plenty of Christians.

I said at the start of this essay that I don't believe in Satan as a literal deity, and that's the truth. I don't suffer belief in things unseen, and I don't feel compelled to do ritual every weekend. I ritualize on an as-needed basis, and because my productive time is limited I don't spend it doing things that aren't personally stimulating or productive.

Be honest with yourself.

If it's stimulating and ultimately productive for me to embrace temporary self-deception by praying to a literal deity or humiliating myself in front of a graven idol, so be it. Perhaps devotional, theistic worship isn't your fetish, but it's mine, and I'm happier and more successful when I indulge it. Honestly recognizing my personal fetish and consenting to participate in a theistic, devotional expression of ritual may be superficially oxymoronic, but as I've argued in this essay, I think that it's fundamentally consistent with the principles of Satanism as outlined in the Satanic Bible and elaborated upon in the canon literature of the Church of Satan.

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