History and branches of Satanism

Since the start of Christianity, the Christian church has accused various groups and individuals of worshipping the ultimate evil. During the Middle Ages there were full-blown witch-hunts and those interrogated where often forced to admit associations with the Devil under horrific torture.

But the image of a powerful, anti-god within a dualistic world-view is older than Christianity. Judaism and Christianity merely incorporated the idea of an evil being from the Persian religion of Zoroastrianism. While the early form of the Christian devil was vague at best, it has become fully fleshed out by folklore and art throughout the years.

It is hard to determine when self-reported Satanism actually started to become a phenomenon due to the fact that Satanism was a label thrown at the perceived adversaries of the Christian clergy. Researchers and religious historians have found little to no evidence supporting the idea of the modern self-appointed Satanist before the 20th century.

Modern Satanism

Researchers Dyrendal, Lewis and Pedersen write extensively about the development of religious Satanism in their book The Invention of Satanism and they have found that Satanists can be separated into three different groups within their milieu:  reactionary Satanists, rationalist Satanists and esoteric Satanists.

Reactionary Satanists are part of a popularized, inverted Christianity – conforming to society’s idea of evil while at the same time trying to being anti-social and non-conformist. It is usually adhered to by adolescents in a rebellious fashion.

Rationalist Satanists are those who are atheistic, sceptical and materialistic in their worldview.

Esoteric Satanists are theistic Satanists and are organized around thoughts based on modern Paganism, Western esotericism, Buddhism and Hinduism.

Church of Satan

The most famous rationalist Satanist organization is Church of Satan, founded by Anton LaVey in 1966 – basically this is the starting point for modern-day Satanism. Church of Satan and LaVey promotes a religion based on non-dualistic autodeism – the worship of one unified self and glorification of the ego. Some of the key ideas are presented in the book The Satanic Bible from 1969.

The Satanic Bible consists of four books:

  • The Book of Satan, which focuses on social Darwinism and elitism. The book also states oppositions to the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule.
  • The Book of Lucifer, which focuses on the philosophy behind Satanism. Satan is viewed as a metaphor or a symbol and not to be worshipped.
  • The Book of Belial, which describes rituals and magick.
  • The Book of Leviathan, which highlight the importance of the spoken word and the intent/emotion to create effective magickal rituals.

Even though LaVeyan Satanists believe the tenants of The Satanic Bible to be of importance, it is not regarded as a holy scripture in the way the Christian Bible or a moral compass the way the Wiccan Rede is.

Theistic Satanism

This branch is also known as Spiritual Satanism. It is an umbrella term encompassing several religious beliefs unified by the belief of Satan as a real entity. While Theistic Satanists believe in an actual being, this being is far from the image of the Christian Devil. Theistic Satanism does not promote evil actions such as murder or rape but rather view Satan as a god of things like freedom, strength, sexuality and success. Theistic Satanists idea of Satan is a deity connected to hedonism.

Theistic Satanism has no central organization like LaVeyan Satanists have but rather loose organizations, each on their own. Some groups refer to their deity as Satan; others use different names for him. Some of the groups include The Church of Azazel, The First Church of Satan (not LaVey’s Church of Satan!) and Joy of Satan Ministries.

These organizations as well as practising individuals may base their religious beliefs and traditions upon various sources such as dark paganism, occult traditions and other left hand paths.

Temple of Set

This organisation was founded by Michael Aquino in 1975 after disagreements with LaVey on the direction for Church of Satan. According to Aquino, he received a sacred text through Satan where Satan revealed his true name to be Set. Setians follow a religion knows as Setianism and they believe that Set is the one real god, although Set is not worshipped like a deity. Like earlier Satanic traditions Setians hold self-deification as the highest philosophy. Setians also believe in magic as a force to be manipulated through ritual.


Luciferians think of themselves as a separate religion, apart from Satanism – but seeing as they use the same imagery and philosophical approach as most Satanists, they deserve a mention here as well.

Luciferians believe in Lucifer, not as a fallen angel but as a liberator – the bringer of light. For Luciferians, who also practice self-deification, Lucifer can be a symbol or a literal deity.  More on Luciferianism can be read here.


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