CESNUR - center for studies on new religions

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The 2002 CESNUR International Conference

Minority Religions, Social Change, and Freedom of Conscience

Salt Lake City and Provo (Utah), June 20-23, 2002

The Satanic Bible: Quasi-Scripture / Counter-Scripture1

James R. Lewis (Department of Philosophy - University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point)


[Interviewer]: Do you have any regrets about how The Satanic Bible came out-would you write it any differently today?

Anton LaVey: If you’d have asked me that two or three years ago, I’d have told you it had too many exclamation marks-it was too loud. Since then, I’ve changed my mind. The Satanic Bible won’t strain people’s intellects too far and will get them thinking and doubting. ... I think The Satanic Bible is now timelier than ever. (Baddeley 1999, p. 75)

Unlike traditional religions, and even unlike early Satanist bodies such as the Church of Satan, contemporary Satanism is, for the most part, a decentralized movement. In the past, this movement has been propagated through the medium of certain popular books, especially Anton LaVey's Satanic Bible. In more recent years, the internet has come to play a significant role in reaching potential "converts," particularly among disaffected young people.2

Although religious Satanism is interesting, academics have largely ignored it. (The relevant academic literature consists of a handful of articles-e.g., Alfred 1976; Harvey 1995-and passing mentions in studies of the ritual abuse scare.) The principal reason for the lack of attention appears to be that Satanism is perceived as a trivial phenomenon rather than as a serious religion. The tendency seems to be to regard Satanists as mostly immature adolescents who have adopted a diabolical veneer as a way of acting out their rebellion against parents and society. Does the phenomenon of adolescent rebellion, however, exhaust the significance of religious Satanism? Are most Satanists, in other words, just angry teenagers who adopt diabolical trappings to express their alienation, only to renounce the Prince of Darkness as soon as they mature into adults? While many youthful Satanists undoubtedly fit this profile, I came to feel that this was, at best, only a partial picture. Instead, I reasoned, there must be a core of committed Satanists who-for whatever reasons they initially become involved-had come to appropriate Satanism as something more than adolescent rebellion.

In order to test this hypothesis-and also because so little had been written on contemporary Satanism-I decided to collect some basic demographic data. To this end, I constructed a simple questionnaire that could be answered in 5 or 10 minutes. I began sending out questionnaires in early August 2000. By the end of February 2001, I had received 140 responses,3 which I felt was adequate to use as the basis for constructing a preliminary profile.

Early in my internet research, I found that Anton LaVey was a controversial figure among contemporary Satanists, and that his organization was deeply embroiled in controversy with other Satanist groups. I also quickly discovered that I had unwittingly stepped into this arena of contention. As a consequence of this conflict, some of my contacts voiced objections to the central role I assigned LaVey and his best-known work, The Satanic Bible, in the formation of modern Satanist religion. I was, furthermore, encouraged to shift my emphasis to the work of earlier literary figures ultimately responsible for fashioning the positive image of the Devil that LaVey later adopted for his Church of Satan.

My survey findings, however, consistently indicated the centrality of LaVey to modern Satanism. This finding was a surprise, as I had initially assumed that contemporary Satanism had moved well beyond LaVey. I was thus led to conclude that-despite his dependence on prior thinkers-LaVey was directly responsible for the genesis of Satanism as a serious religious (as opposed to a purely literary) movement. Furthermore, however one might criticize and depreciate it, The Satanic Bible is still the single most influential document shaping the contemporary Satanist movement. As one of my informants noted in his commentary on an earlier draft of the present paper, "I do not think Satanists can get away from LaVey, although some seem to take a real issue with him or try to downplay his importance. He wrote the book that codified Satanism into a religion, and for that he should be considered the central figure of the religion."

Part of the reason for the attractiveness of The Satanic Bible is LaVeyan Satanism's ability to hold together a number of diverse meanings found in the ambivalent symbol of Satan. In the Western cultural tradition, the Devil represents much more than absolute evil. By default, the Prince of Darkness has come to embody some very attractive attributes. For example, because traditional Christianity has been so anti-sensual, Satan became associated with sex. The Christian tradition has also condemned pride, vengefulness and avarice, and, when allied with the status quo, has promoted conformity and obedience. The three former traits and the antithesis of the latter two traits thus became diabolical characteristics. LaVeyan Satanism celebrates such "vices" as virtues, and identifies them as the core of what Satanism is really all about. Also, LaVey was able to suggest the reality of mysterious, "occult" forces while simultaneously appealing to an atheistic viewpoint that, he asserted, was supported by modern science.

I do not intend to review my survey findings here (they are the subject of another paper-see Lewis 2001), but I do want to note that I was startled to find that the average respondent had been a Satanist for eight years. I also found that over two-thirds of the sample had been involved in at least one other religion beyond the tradition in which they were raised-usually Neopaganism or some other magical group. Both of these statistics indicate a level of seriousness I had not anticipated.

Because most respondents had become involved during their teens, I inferred that many had initially become Satanists as an expression of teenage rebelliousness. It was clear, however, that their involvement did not end after they left home. Rather, they went on to appropriate Satanism as a serious religious option. The fact that the great majority of Satanists have looked into other religions shows that this was not an unconsidered choice, undertaken solely as a reaction against established religions. Also, though a reaction against Christianity may well have been a factor for some, too many respondents indicated that their religious upbringing was superficial, nominal or non-existent for this factor to explain why most people become Satanists.

Before I began collecting questionnaire data, I had received the impression from perusing the internet that contemporary Satanism had developed in different directions from the specific formulation developed by Anton LaVey in the 1960's. In particular, at the time it appeared to me that many contemporary Satanists had moved to a position of regarding Satan as a conscious being. I was thus surprised to discover that LaVey's humanistic approach-which rejects the real existence of personal spiritual beings, diabolical or otherwise-was the dominant form of Satanism professed by respondents.

At least part of the reason for this state of affairs appears to be the pervasive influence of Anton LaVey's Satanic Bible. A full 20% of respondents explicitly noted The Satanic Bible as the single most important factor attracting them to Satanism. For instance, in response to a questionnaire item asking how they became involved, a number of people simply wrote, "I read the Satanic Bible." It is also likely that this book played a major role in the "conversion" of other Satanists in my sample.

One respondent elaborated by noting that she had been a Satanist in her "heart first, but I couldn't put a name to it; then I found the The Satanic Bible."

One of the more interesting of these responses was another individual who wrote, "My step-father used to be a Christian preacher. After being told my choices in clothing, music, art, poetry, etc. were Satanic, I decided to buy The Satanic Bible to see if it was a bad as he made it out to be." This respondent subsequently became a Satanist.

Similar stories attributing their infernal "conversions" to The Satanic Bible can be found in other sources. The popular book Lucifer Rising, for instance, recounts the story of how Martin Lamers, founder of the CoS-affiliated Kerk van Satan (Holland), was initially inspired by his discovery of LaVey’s volume. (Baddeley 1999, p. 104) However, not everyone who is converted to Satanism via The Satanic Bible feels prompted to join the Church of Satan. The author of Lucifer Rising also notes that "the Church of Satanic Liberation was established in January 1986 after its founder, Paul Douglas Valentine, was inspired by reading The Satanic Bible." (p. 153) Other stories of conversions directly inspired by The Satanic Bible can be found in Michael Aquino’s The Church of Satan (e.g., the conversion of Robert DeCecco, who would later become a Master of the Temple, p. 69; and Lilith Sinclair, who would eventually become a Priestess and Aquino’s wife, p. 82).

To return to the survey, LaVey's influential publication was also referred to a number of times in response to other questionnaire items. For example, one person noted that, "because I agree with and practice the majority of the beliefs set forth in The Satanic Bible and other works of Dr. LaVey, I VERY MUCH consider myself just as valid a Satanist as any 'official' priest."

Another respondent wrote, "Satan is merely a word, a representative concept that encompasses all that the Satanic Bible teaches." And yet another individual stated: "To me, Satan is the personification of mankind's carnal nature. More information can be found in The Satanic Bible by Anton Szandor LaVey."

My strong impression was that The Satanic Bible was a doctrinal touchstone for most participants in this movement, despite the fact that the great majority of my sample were not formal members of Anton LaVey's Church of Satan. (One respondent, noting that he was not a member of any organization, wrote, "[It's] just me and my Satanic Bible.") And whatever LaVey had in mind when he (or his publisher) entitled this publication, in certain ways The Satanic Bible has come to play the role of a "bible" for many members of this decentralized, anti-authoritarian subculture.

In a follow-up questionnaire, respondents were explicitly asked how they regarded the Satanic Bible, and to what extent their personal philosophies aligned with the ideas expressed in its pages. Most stated that their view of the world aligned significantly with the Satanic Bible. One Satanist said that the Satanic Bible was about the realities of human nature, so that there was "nothing [in the Satanic Bible] that I didn’t already know or believe myself prior to reading it." Only one respondent completely rejected the LaVeyan tradition. Two respondents asserted that they regarded the Satanic Bible as just another "self-help book." Some respondents diminished (without disparaging) the Satanic Bible as an "introductory text" or "primer" of Satanism. (An assessment LaVey himself would have agreed with; see LaVey interviews in Moynihan and Soderlind 1998, p. 234, and in Baddeley 1999, p.79.) Most hastened to add that they did not regard it as "dogma."

Although Satanists certainly do not look at The Satanic Bible in the same way more traditional religionists regard their sacred texts, I found that The Satanic Bible is regarded as an authoritative document which effectively functions as scripture within the Satanist community. The status of this book as a kind of a quasi-scripture was brought to my attention during my very first face-to-face visit with Satanists in the Spring of 2000. Via the internet, I had found a small Satanist group in Portage, Wisconsin, which is about an hour south of where I reside. This group, the Temple of Lylyth, distinguished itself from the LaVeyan tradition chiefly by its emphasis on feminine nature of the Dark Power. I arranged to meet with them in Portage on a Friday evening.

Over the course of our conversation, the founder and then leader of the group mentioned that on Friday evenings he was usually downtown where a small group of fervent Christians regularly set up what might be called a "preaching station" to spread the Gospel. This young fellow (he was 19 at the time) would confront them as a practicing Satanist. He always carried a copy of The Satanic Bible with him, not just so he could quote some of accusations LaVey leveled against Christianity, but also so he could correct anything these evangelists might say about Satanism by citing an authoritative source. I’m sure this is something of a caricature, but I was left with an impression of dueling religionists, Christians hurling Bible verses at my informant as he matched blow for blow with quotes from The Satanic Bible. This experience led me to pay attention whenever other Satanists mentioned The Satanic Bible.

One can acquire a sense of how The Satanic Bible is regarded as a doctrinal touchstone by perusing the official website of the Church of Satan (http://www.churchofsatan.com). For example, the "Satanism FAQ" section of the "Church of Satan Information Pack" states that "critically reading The Satanic Bible by Anton Szandor LaVey is tantamount to understanding at least the basics of Satanism." Similarly, the Church’s "Church of Satan Youth Communique" asserts that "Dr. LaVey wrote The Satanic Bible so that people could pick up a copy, read it, and know everything they need to know about Satanism and how to put it to work in their own lives."

In addition to these general assertions, one can find other essays on the Church of Satan (CoS) website in which authoritative tenets are cited from The Satanic Bible, as when the "Satanic Bunco Sheet" notes that "The Satanic Bible advises to ‘question all things’...." Finally, I found it interesting that one of the accusations leveled against non-CoS Satanists in the "Recognizing Pseudo-Satanism" essay was that in such groups, "The words of The Satanic Bible become twisted and distorted until they no longer have useful meaning!" Both of these passages-the first quoting The Satanic Bible to make a point and the second accusing heretical breakaways of warping The Satanic Bible’s meaning-exemplify familiar patterns found in theological conflicts within traditional religions.

Quoting The Satanic Bible to legitimate a point of argument is not confined to representatives of the Church of Satan. The so called "Xloptuny Curse" is an interesting example of how some of the "heretics" have turned the message of LaVey’s writings to their own purposes. A short essay on "The Xloptuny Curse," written by Joe Necchi, was posted on the official website of the First Church of Satan in the summer of 2000. (The First Church of Satan-FCoS-is a newer Satanist organization founded by a former member of CoS whose brand of Satanism is very close to The Satanic Bible.) The text discusses the circumstances of a seemingly effective suicide curse that was leveled by Lord Egan, founder/leader of the FCoS, against Xloptuny (John C. Davis), an internet pugilist and member of the CoS. (We should be quick to note that Davis’s internet crusade was undertaken at his own initiative, and not as an official representative of CoS.) Less than a year before Davis blew his brains out, Egan had cursed Davis, specifying in a public, online communication that he would die by shooting himself.

The passage I would like to focus on for my present purposes is where Necchi remarks,

What is interesting, however, is the way in which some have predictably tried to rationalize Xloptuny's suicide as a Yukio Mishima-inspired act of heroism. Ironically, those trying so hard to canonize Mr. Davis thusly now have decided to conveniently ignore the book they are always waving about like a black flag at most other times: The Satanic Bible. In this sense, we see that many Satanists really behave exactly like Christians: they follow the precepts of their religion when it's easy to do so, when it suits them, but are quick to abandon them when it really counts.

Page 94 of The Satanic Bible specifically states: "Self-sacrifice is not encouraged by the Satanic religion. Therefore, unless death comes as an indulgence because of extreme circumstances which make the termination of life a welcome relief from an unendurable earthly existence, suicide is frowned upon by the Satanic religion." There is little ambiguity in this passage. As there is no reason to believe that Xloptuny was in "extreme circumstances which make the termination of life a welcome relief"; he died as a traitor to the Church whose cause he so often trumpeted, the defense of which he used as a rationale for his often black and bilious attacks on his enemies. Apparently "the great Dr. Anton LaVey's" words meant little or nothing to John C. Davis when he arrived at the moment of truth.

Here again we see The Satanic Bible being quoted as an authoritative document in a manner similar to the way sacred texts are quoted in comparable conflicts within other religious traditions. In other words, "The Xloptuny Curse" is yet another example of how The Satanic Bible functions as a quasi-scripture within the Satanist community.

Almost all Satanists-particularly CoS Satanists-would deny that The Satanic Bible is an "inspired" document in anything like the sense in which the Christian Bible is regarded as an inspired book. Interestingly, however, there are a few individuals-most notably Michael Aquino, a former CoS leader and founder of the Temple of Set-who would regard this book as inspired. For example, in the relevant chapter in his history of the Church of Satan, Aquino asserts that:

The Satanic Bible [clothes] itself in the supernatural authority of the Prince of Darkness and his demons. Less this element, the Satanic Bible would be merely a social tract by Anton LaVey-not High Priest of Satan, but just one more 1960s’-counterculture-cynic atop a soap-box.

The substance of the Satanic Bible therefore turns upon Anton LaVey’s sincerity in believing himself to be the vehicle through which the entity known as Satan explains the mysteries of mankind’s existential predicament. To the extent that he did, the Satanic Bible deserves the dignity of its title. ...

Despite the haphazard nature of its assembly, ... we may therefore consider the Satanic Bible in its totality not as argumentative, but as inspired writing. Thus it assumes an importance by its very existence, not just by its content. (Aquino 1999, 53)

Although Aquino’s position on the inspired nature of The Satanic Bible would be rejected by most other professing Satanists, something approaching this position seems to be unconsciously informing their attitude toward this text.

Genesis of The Satanic Bible

What Aquino means by "the haphazard nature of it assembly" is that the circumstances of The Satanic Bible’s genesis and the patchwork quality of its contents seem far from having been supernaturally inspired. To begin with, the idea for this volume came not from LaVey, but from an Avon Books editor named Peter Mayer. As a direct result of the success of Rosemary’s Baby and the subsequent increase of popular interest in Satanism and the occult, Mayer decided that "the time was right for a ‘Satanic bible’" and he approached LaVey about authoring it. (Aquino 1999, p. 52)

LaVey and his wife took the material they had on hand, wove it together and expanded on it to form what became the core of The Satanic Bible. This pre-existing material consisted of:

* A short, mimeographed paper that they had been distributing as an "introduction to Satanism."

* The so-called "rainbow sheets," which were "an assortment of polemical essays" the LaVeys had been mimeographing on colored paper. (Ibid., p. 52)

* A handout describing and containing instructions for the conduct of ritual magic.

The LaVeys then ran into a problem, which was that, even after expanding upon all of their available material, they were still substantially short of having a manuscript of sufficient length to satisfy their publisher. So, either because the deadline was coming up quickly or because LaVey just didn’t want to write anything else at the time (Aquino describes their situation in terms of the former), LaVey tacked materials written by other authors onto the beginning and end of his manuscript.

Without acknowledging his sources, he took sections of "an obscure, turn-of-the-century political tract," Might is Right by New Zealander Arthur Desmond (writing under the pseudonym Ragnar Redbeard), added in a few sentences of his own, and incorporated it as a prologue. He also added "a series of Elizabethan magical incantations known...as the Enochian Keys." He took the Keys as they had been modified by Aleister Crowley, and "further altered them by replacing their Heavenly references with diabolical ones." Traditional occultists immediately recognized LaVey’s source for the Keys, but it was not until 1987 that the source of LaVey’s prologue was discovered. (Ibid., p. 65)

I should finally mention that, in circles critical of CoS, one often hears the accusation that LaVey’s "Nine Satanic Statements," one of the Church’s central doctrinal statements, is an unacknowledged "paraphrase...of passages from Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged" (Schreck and Schreck 1998), specifically from the character John Galt’s lengthy speech in the latter part of Rand’s novel. However, when one actually examines these parallels (which are conveniently laid out in Appendix 11 of Aquino’s The Church of Satan), one finds that this is a caricature of LaVey’s indebtedness to Rand. For example, the first Satanic Statement is:

Satan represents indulgence, instead of abstinence!

The Rand passage presented as the source of this statement is:

A doctrine that gives you, as an ideal, the role of a sacrificial animal seeking slaughter on the altars of others, is giving you death as your standard. By the grace of reality and the nature of life, man-every man-is an end in himself. He exists for his own sake, and the achievement of his own happiness is his highest moral purpose.

Rather more lengthy than LaVey’s "paraphrase." The second Satanic Statement is a brief as the first Statement:

?Satan represents vital existence, instead of spiritual pipe dreams!

And the Rand passage said to correspond with this Statement, though shorter than the first, is similarly distant in style and content from LaVey:

My morality, the morality of reason, is contained in a single axiom: existence exists-and in a single choice: to live. The rest proceeds from these.

And there is a similar disparity in the other "parallels" between the Satanic Statements and Rand. Thus, even if it is true that LaVey was looking at Atlas Shrugged when he composed the Nine Satanic Statements, it would be more proper to say something like he was "inspired" by Rand rather than to assert that he "paraphrased" her work.

I should finally note in this regard that the title of the appendix (which originally appeared as an article by George C. Smith in 1987) in which the LaVey/Rand connection is delineated, "The Hidden Source of the Satanic Philosophy," similarly implies that Rand’s philosophy was the unacknowledged core of LaVey’s thought. This is, however, incorrect, as LaVey himself explicitly acknowledged that his religion was "just Ayn Rand’s philosophy with ceremony and ritual added" (cited in Ellis, p. 180). (Refer also to the "Satanism and Objectivism" essay on the Church of Satan website where this connection is explicitly acknowledged.)

Despite the book’s diverse source material and piecemeal assembly, it nevertheless coheres as a succinct-and, apparently, quite attractive-statement of Satanic thought and practice. As Aquino observes, "the Satanic Bible was somehow ‘more than the sum of its parts.’ Its argument was an argument of common sense, assembled in part from pre-existing concepts, but the excellence of the book lay in its integration of these into a code of life meaningful to the average individual-not just to occultists and/or academic-level philosophers." (Aquino 1999, p. 52)

One measure of The Satanic Bible’s appeal is that it has continuously been in print since it first appeared in 1970, and has been translated into a number of other languages. I have been unable to obtain recent figures, but in his 1991 book, In Pursuit of Satan, Robert Hicks mentions a sales figure of 618,000 copies (p. 351). There were also a number of illegal foreign language editions. These include a Spanish translation published in Mexico in the 70s, a Danish translation in the 80s, and a Russian translation in the late 90s. Legal editions include Czech and Swedish translations in the mid 90s and a 1999 German edition. The French translation has been completed but not yet printed. Also, the rights for a Greek translation were purchased, but the book does not seem to have appeared.4


The Satanic Ritual Abuse Scare

In addition to escaping institutional bounds and taking on a life of its own as the principal source document for a loose, anarchistic Satanist "movement," The Satanic Bible came to play a role in the Satanic Ritual Abuse scare of the 1980s and 1990s. The chief problem confronting Ritual Abuse activists was that the vast conspiracy of Satanic cults torturing innocent victims had no correlation with the world outside their paranoid fantasies. Because of this, "Cult cops [were forced to] grasp firmly the only tangible evil they can find for public vilification at cult-crime seminars: published, easily available books." (Hicks 1991, p. 54). Consequently, symbols and artifacts associated with the Church of Satan-often viewed as an "above ground" front group for "underground" Satanism-were scrutinized for clues to the hidden world of ritual abusers. Thus The Satanic Bible was frequently examined in forums for disseminating the ritual abuse gospel, such as at occult crime law enforcement conferences (Lanning 1992, p. 118), in which the social dangers of its philosophy of personal indulgence were emphasized.

Despite the fact that LaVey explicitly rejected unlawful activity-especially blood sacrifice-in The Satanic Bible, the discovery of a copy of this widely-available book at a crime scene was often sufficient evidence for investigators to label the crime Satanic. (We might note that the similar presence of a Christian Bible at a crime scene has never led police to label the crime Christian.) Perhaps the most significant case of this kind was Stanley Dean Baker. Arrested in 1970 after a traffic violation, he confessed, "I have a problem. I’m a cannibal." Police found a human finger in one of Baker’s pockets and a copy of The Satanic Bible in the other. Baker subsequently regaled authorities and fellow prisoners with tales of his participation in a blood-drinking cult in Wyoming. He later blamed his criminal activities on the influence of drugs, not the Devil.

The other outstanding case of this type was Richard Ramirez, better known as the Night Stalker. A burglar, rapist and sadistic serial murderer who terrorized the Los Angeles area in the mid-eighties, he was captured by civilians on August 31, 1985. A self-identified Satanist, Ramirez had actually read The Satanic Bible. His "calling card" was the inverted pentagram traditionally associated with Satanism, which he left drawn on a wall, or, in one case, carved into the body of a victim. In 1983, he even made a special trip to San Francisco to meet LaVey personally. LaVey was later reported as commenting that, "I thought Richard was very nice-very shy. I liked him."

His trial was a media circus. Ramirez would engage in such antics as flashing a pentagram he had drawn in the palm of his hand, shouting "Hail Satan!" and holding up his fingers alongside his head in imitation of devil’s horns. Parts of the statement he made during his sentencing even seemed to echo some of the themes of The Satanic Bible:

I am beyond good and evil.... Lucifer dwells in all of us.... I don’t believe in the hypocritical, moralistic dogma of this so-called civilized society. I need not look beyond this courtroom to see all the liars, the haters, the killers, the crooks, the paranoid cowards.... Hypocrites one and all. We are all expendable for a cause. No one knows that better than those who kill for policy, clandestinely or openly, as do the governments of the world which kill in the name of God and country.... (Cited in Carlo 1996, p. 395)

Thus, unlike other cases of so-called occult crime in which the link to the diabolical is tenuous, the Night Stalker forces one to directly confront the assumption that Satanism somehow causes individuals to commit crimes. It takes very little reflection, however, to realize that, as with the charges often leveled at Heavy Metal Music and Role-playing Games like Dungeons & Dragons, Satanic ideology is not an independent motivating factor that somehow transforms otherwise nice people into criminals.5 Rather, as reflected in the remarks Ramirez made at his sentencing, such individuals are criminals who adopt selected aspects of Satanic ideology as a way of justifying anti-social acts.

References to The Satanic Bible in police seminars in combination with the apparent evidence of a connection between The Satanic Bible and crime in a few cases like Baker and Ramirez contributed to a number of unfortunate miscarriages of justice, such as the conviction of a young man in the Robin Hood Hills murders. On May 5, 1993, near West Memphis, Arkansas, three eight-year-old boys were tied up, abused, murdered and mutilated.

One of the aspects of this case that makes it stand out is that it took place in 1993. By that time, police departments across the country had become increasingly skeptical of the notion of a covert, international network of Satanic cults that routinely abduct, abuse, and murder children in their diabolical rituals. In the face of a lack of hard evidence, most law enforcement agencies had concluded that Satanic ritual abuse was a non-existent hoax. Belief in ritual abuse nevertheless persisted among certain segments of the conservative Christian subculture, including among some policemen.

A juvenile probation officer at the Robin Hood Hills crime scene hypothesized that the boys had been murdered in a Satanic ritual. He believed that the one person in the area who might be capable of the crime was a young man whose case he had followed for years, Damien Echols. From that point onwards, police focused on proving that Echols was the high priest of a Satanic cult. If this could be demonstrated to the satisfaction of a jury, it would be easy to convict Echols of the crimes, despite the lack of hard evidence.

In sharp contrast to other members of the local, highly conservative community, Echols was a fan of heavy metal music bands. People also associated his first name, Damien, with the anti-Christ character in The Omen movies. During the trial, testimony was presented regarding items found in Echols’ room, such as a funeral register on which upside-down crosses, spells, and a pentagram had been inscribed. They also found a book on witchcraft and, of special note, The Satanic Bible. These items solidified the connection between Echols and the murders in the jury’s mind, and he was convicted.

It is clear that the a priori judgments of believers in ritual abuse have caused them to impute their own assumptions about Satanism into The Satanic Bible, whether they are supported by LaVey’s text or not. For instance, in a 1989 case mentioned by Hicks in his In Pursuit of Satan, an inmate was denied access to "The Satanic Bible and other related literature because possession of such material constituted a security threat." The inmate then sued. At the trial,

The prison warden testified that The Satanic Bible taught people to "murder, rape, or rob at will without regard for the moral or legal consequences." The court accepted the warden’s pronouncements on Satanism without further inquiry or analysis. (Hicks 1991, p. 370)

One of the wilder examples of this pattern of imputing practices from popular culture stereotypes to LaVey’s book is mentioned in Ellis’s Raising the Devil:

Near Dixon, Missouri,...police investigation into a series of cattle deaths led to a panic when local police issued warnings that a cult was present. On October 19, 1978, the county’s deputy sheriff told the local paper that the mutilations matched descriptions found in Anton LaVey’s Satanic Bible and that he expected that the cult would soon abduct and sacrifice a thirteen-year-old unbaptized girl on Halloween. (Ellis 2000, p. 269)

Finally, in addition to misattributing certain ideas and practices to The Satanic Bible, some ritual abuse believers have gone further to attribute diabolical powers to LaVey’s book. For instance, Hicks mentions a detective who "reports that body-snatching demons arise from the printed page." (Hicks 1991, p. 55) Similarly, at a 1988 "satanic-crime seminar," a priest recounted how a young man, claiming he had just seen the Devil, "slammed down The Satanic Bible on my desk, which I’m very afraid of; I won’t touch it" (Ibid., p. 56), as if merely touching the book might somehow ensnare him in Satan’s web.



Modern Satanism is a loose, decentralized movement that coheres as a distinct religious community largely by virtue of participants’ adherence to the thought of Anton LaVey, especially as expressed in The Satanic Bible. Following the dissolution of the Church of Satan’s grotto system in 1975 and before the explosion of the internet in the mid-nineties, the Satanist movement was propagated almost entirely by The Satanic Bible, which has continuously been in print as a widely-available, mass market paperback. 6 Despite this volume’s patchwork quality and haphazard genesis, it has come to play an authoritative, quasi-scriptural role within the Satanist movement. It has also, by default, come to be regarded as a Satanically-inspired scripture by certain groups of outsiders. In particular, ritual abuse and occult crime advocates have attributed to LaVey’s work characteristics drawn from popular stereotypes of Satanism-stereotypes that are, for the most part, completely alien to the thought world of The Satanic Bible.



1. Originally presented at the International CESNUR Conference, "Minority Religions, Social Change, and Freedom of Conscience." Salt Lake City and Provo, June 20-23, 2002. The first part of this paper has been adapted from sections of my earlier paper, "Who Serves Satan?" Certain sections of my discussion of Satanic crime have been adapted from my popular reference book, Satanism Today. [back]

A special word of thanks to Satanists who provided me with thoughtful feedback on earlier drafts of this paper. One observation of particular note was that the social organization (or, perhaps more appropriately, disorganization) of modern Satanism could not accurately be characterized as a "movement," "community" or "subculture." I have nevertheless used these throughout the paper for lack of more adequate terminology. Another observation was that "conversion" was not appropriate in the context of Satanism. Again, however, I left this term in the paper for lack of a better word.

2. Jesper Petersen, a graduate student at the University of Copenhagen, recently wrote a short paper on internet Satanism. He relates that Alta Vista supplied him with more than a million hits with the word "Satan." And that even a more focused search with the word "Satanism" gave him over 50,000 hits. Petersen observes that, "The sheer volume of information and almost frightening diversity combined with the dynamic development or evolution of the Internet itself, force any user to select promising paths and trust a few stable homepages.... these homepages provide everything from factual information for journalists, platforms for Satanic communities, printable articles and links to online bookshops, to gothic sex kittens, etc." (Petersen, unpublished) [back]

3. 110 (almost 80%) of my respondents were North American. Because European Satanism is a somewhat different phenomenon, one should be therefore be cautious about making inferences to European Satanism based on my survey findings. [back]

4. Information on foreign language editions courtesy Peter H. Gilmore, High Priest of the Church of Satan. [back]

5. Remarks like "We couldn’t come up with any other motive for the killing except devil worship"-cited in Michael Newton’s Raising Hell (1993, p. 158)-are simply emotional reactions to crimes that always have more mundane explanations. Newton’s sensationalistic book on "Satanic crime" contains at least a dozen cases of crimes in which The Satanic Bible supposedly played a role. Newton also takes "liberal" academics to task who criticize the notion of occult crime, referring to them as "cult apologists"-as if they were somehow on the payroll of the Church of Satan or, perhaps more plausibly, as if their souls had been purchased by the Prince of Darkness himself. [back]

6. For many years Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi was, in a roughly comparable way, almost solely responsible for bringing new recruits into the Self-Realization Fellowship. [back]



Aquino, Michael A. The Church of Satan. 4th ed. Self-published, 1999.

Baddeley, Gavin. Lucifer Rising: Sin, Devil Worship and Rock’n’Roll. London: Plexus, 1999.

Bainbridge, William Sims. Satan's Power. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978.

Barton, Blanche. The Secret Life of a Satanist: The Authorized Biography of Anton LaVey. Los Angeles, CA: Feral House, 1990.

Ellis, Bill. Raising the Devil: Satanism, New Religions, and the Media. Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky, 2000.

Carlo, Philip. The Night Stalker: The True Story of America’s Most Feared Serial Killer. NY: Kensington Books, 1996.

Church of Satan official website. Selected essays linked to the "Theory and Practice" page. http://www.churchofsatan.com

Lanning, Kenneth V. "A Law Enforcement Perspective on Allegations of Ritual Abuse." In Daivd K. Sakheim & Susan E. Devine, eds. Out of Darkness: Exploring Satanism and Ritual Abuse. New York: Lexington Books, 1992.

LaVey, Anton Szandor. The Satanic Bible. New York: Avon, 1969

?Lewis, James R. "Who Serves Satan? A Demographic and Ideological Profile." Marburg Journal of Religious Studies 6:2. 2001.

____________. Satanism Today: An Encyclopedia of Religion, Folklore, and Popular Culture. Santa Barbara: ABC-Clio, 2001.

Moriarty, Anthony. The Psychology of Adolescent Satanism: A Guide for Parents, Counselors, Clergy, and Teachers. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1992.

Moody, Edward J."Magical Therapy: An Anthropological Investigation of Contemporary Satanism." In Irving I. Zaretsky and Mark P. Leone, eds. Religious Movements in Contemporary America. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1974.

Moynihan, Michael and Didrik Soderlind. Lords of Chaos: The Bloody Rise of the Satanic Metal Underground. Venice, CA: Feral House, 1998.

Necchi, Joe. "The Xloptuny Curse." http://www.churchof satan.org/xloptuny.html.

Nemo. "Satanism and Objectivism." http://www.churchofsatan.com/Pages/SatObj.html.

Newton, Michael. Raising Hell: An Encyclopedia of Devil Worship and Satanic Crime. New York: Avon Books, 1993.

Petersen, Jesper Aagard. "Binary Satanism: Being Dark and Secretive in a Prismatic Digital World." Unpublished paper.

Rand, Ayn. Atlas Shrugged. New York: Random House, 1957.

Redbeard, Ragnar. Might is Right; or, The Survival of the Fittest. London: W.J. Robbins, 5th ed.1910. [Rpt. of 1896]

Richardson, James, Joel Best and David G. Bromley. The Satanism Scare. NY: Aldine de Gruyter, 1991.

Russell, Jeffrey Burton. Mephistopheles: The Devil in the Modern World. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1986.

Schreck, Zeena, and Nikolas Schreck. "Anton LaVey: Legend and Reality." 1998. http://www.churchofsatan.org/aslv.html

Smith, George C. "The Hidden Source of the Satanic Philosophy." Originally published in The Scroll of Set, June 1987. Reprinted as Appendix 11 in Aquino 1999.

Victor, Jeffrey. Satanic Panic: The Creation of a Contemporary Legend. Chicago: Open Court, 1993.

Wright, Lawrence. "Sympathy for the Devil." Rolling Stone September 5, 1991.

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