Just the term "satanism" is controversial. But what's actually going on with this counter-culture religion that values individualism and nonconformity?
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Hey and welcome to BrainStuff. I'm Josh Clark and you're you, and this is the BrainStuff where I explain to you... Satanism!
Sure, if you like heavy metal and you have a comb sticking out of your back pocket, you're probably cool with somebody calling you a Satanist. But more often than not, if you're called a Satanist, it's because someone is shouting after that, "Burn him!" It's not a good thing. And traditionally it's been used to discredit people.
Probably the most famous early use of accusations of Satanism was leveled against the Knights Templar, the very wealthy, religious army that invaded the Middle East during the Crusades around the turn of the last millennium. The Templars were accused of worshipping Baphomet, a form of Satan that turned into this guy by the 19th Century. The thing is, modern historians believe it's possible that Baphomet is a mangled translation of Muhammad, and that the Knights Templar were actually secretly Muslim, and had converted during the Crusades.
Even more famously were the witch hunts in Europe and the Americas that were carried out from the 14th Century onward. All of those people who were accused of witchcraft were also accused of worshipping the Devil and being in league with him.
And even more recently than that, in the 1980s and 90s in the United States and Britain, there was something called a Satanic Panic. Which was a moral panic that saw everybody from burnouts to daycare workers accused of worshipping Satan, and murdering people, and molesting children. All in the name of the dark lord.
The thing is, this was a super nutso time, and people actually went to prison for decades for crimes that they (and actually no one) ever committed. The whole thing was totally fictitious.
Despite the moral panics and instances where people have murdered in the name of Satan, there's no evidence that there actually ever has been a widespread and organized worship of Satan. Despite the fear by some that it actually exists.
Instead, Satanism is a wholly made up philosophy that focuses on the sanctity and the freedom of the individual. To Satanists, Satan is a symbol of mankind's freewill. They don't really believe in the Christian version of Satan. And they certainly don't believe in the red devil running around with the pointy tail and the horns. Although they did appropriate the beard.
The actual Church of Satan was founded in 1966. It's pretty recent. And it was founded by a guy named Anton LaVey. LaVey believed that Christian churches were quite hypocritical. So he packaged his brand of individualism which a dramatic mockery of Christian rites. It attracted likeminded people, and actually, 50 years on, the church is still around.
It spawned some offshoots, like the Temple of Set in 1975. And more recently, the Satanic Temple in 2013. The Satanic Temple's activities mostly include shining a spotlight on the lack of separation between church and state in the United States. So, for example, they paid for a 9 foot bronze statue of Baphomet surrounded by adoring children, that they planned to install at the Oklahoma state capitol building, after the Ten Commandments went up there. They also distributed a kids coloring book at a school where Christians were handing out pamphlets.
They're also known as being the trolls who trolled uber-trolls Westboro Baptist Church, by holding a gay Satanic wedding on the grave of Fred Phelps' mother. Fred Phelps is the founder of Westboro Baptist Church. That's some trolling.
Anderson, D. (2016). Satanism. Salem Press Encyclopedia,
The Invention of Satanism By Asbjorn Dyrendal, James R. Lewis, Jesper Aa. Petersen