CESNUR - center for studies on new religions


organized by CESNUR, Center for Religious Studies and Research at Vilnius University, and New Religions Research and Information Center
Vilnius, Lithuania, April 9-12 2003  

Polish Cyber Satanism: a group in statu nascendi

by Rafał Smoczyński, (Graduated School for Social Research at Institute of Philosophy and Sociology of Polish Academy of Sciences)
A paper presented at the CESNUR 2003 Conference, Vilnius, Lithuania. Preliminary version. Do not reproduce or quote without the consent of the author.

Phenomenon of Polish Satanism is relatively new and directly connected to expansion of Internet in Poland. First signs of satanic ideology showed up on web in mid 90. Similarly like in other places in the world Polish Satanic community is an Internet community.[1] Polish Satanic activities are almost entirely presented in a digital world.

Having said this we must realize that before 1997 when The Dark Cave of the Jaryla (this is the title of pioneer Polish satanic web site) emerged and Polish Virtual Public Square was exposed to La Veyan ideology and to other types of contemporary satanic concepts there was a different type of experience of Satanism among Poles. Vandal or criminal acts of adolescent Satanists horrified the public opinion from time to time beginning from the 80.

Some misdeeds (mutilating animals, destructions of graves etc) inspired by gothic literature and horror movies created strong stereotypic pattern, which affects collective imagination up to nowadays.[2] However such nasty accidents didn’t happen too many times, nevertheless we cannot neglect this factor-describing reception of Satanism in Poland, where a kind of soft Satanic Panic took place in media in 80. and 90.

Let me first define the legal status of Satanism in contemporary Poland. According to Constitution every Polish citizen is free to practice any religion or belief one wants.[3] There was no any bill passed in Polish parliament that delegalizes satanic activity. Polish law states that to be labeled, as illegal movement its members must be engaged in totalitarian activity. Generally speaking it applies to nazi or communist organizations, which put to their programs racist ideology or declare violent means to gain power in the state. Any of these remarks has nothing to do with satanic ideology (based on La Veyan or on occult principles) so theoretically we could assume that there shouldn’t be any obstacle to found a legal satanic organization in Poland. Nobody however has exercised this right so far. There is neither registered native Polish satanic Church nor Polish division of big satanic organizations like Church of Satan or Temple of Set.

As a matter of fact the only empirical sign of existence of Polish Satanism can be track down on web sites. Since 1997 several dozen homepages related to broad satanic beliefs have appeared on the surface. They provide the whole ideological or doctrinal diversity of modern Satanism and plenty of individual sorts of satanic concepts fabricated to match personal vision of this belief. We face discursive approaches of the Satanism focused on philosophical discussion but the same often we can find “wild manifestations" of black metal music fans or bizarre mixture of neo-nazi and satanic views.[4] In the most of the cases those sites disappear as quickly as they come out.

At the time of this speech we could point out at least six satanic homepages that presented relative longevity and stability: www.satan.pl, www.homodeus.pl, www.szemhazaj.republika.pl, www.occult.prv.pl, www.lectus.prv.pl, www.midgard.topnet.pl. Since then, only three remain. They consist of articles, essays, interviews, virtual – art exhibitions, chat-rooms, forums dedicated for debating on line, etc. Usually newcomers willing to take part in active conversation are asked to fill up a registration form. There hasn’t been done any scientific research, which would have tried to establish any number of active Satanists in Poland online or offline. The only data we have is information about frequency of people visiting homepages. Chief –Webmaster of the biggest Polish Satanic site www.satan.pl claims to have from 500 to 600 visitors every day. They have more then 2600 registered members; half of them declare themselves as Satanists, rest of the registered members use designation as “still searching for religious identity".[5] Other web sites like Midgard’s portal have collected for 5 recent years 150.000 hits, since 2001 Lectus’ site has been visited more then 8000 times, Kain’s portal, which was recently shut down amassed more or less 50.000 virtual guests.[6]

It seems that traditional sociology of religion determined with church-oriented practices, sacerdotal hierarchy, rituals, sacred books and rigid dogmatic formulas doesn’t play important role in our study of Polish Satanism. As Thomas Luckmann stated scientific research, which identifies religiosity with formal attendances to churches, doesn’t give satisfactory results nowadays and we cannot consider this traditional church-oriented sociology as valid tool to examine phenomenon of modern Satanism.[7] Present religiosity defines itself pretty often in opposition to institutional churches and their interpretative schemes of universe. Apparently it happens also in most instances of modern Satanists who create their own frameworks of religious meaning with selective usage of doctrinal content of institutional satanic organizations.[8] This specific secularization reveals decline of belonging to formal institutions and rise of the satanic community in a digital world.

Much more accurate to understand contemporary digital communities including satanic groups seems to be concept of Marshall McLuhan who recognized that medium is a message.[9]

Internet has generated alternative sphere of expressing and functioning human communities. [10] Many Satanists don’t find it necessary to launch new organizations offline or engage in already existing churches in real life because these social interactions they experience online justify their needs. Above all cyberspace may supply them distinctive features like anonymity or disembodiment, which encourages them to be committed in Satanism what in offline space might cause some difficulties.[11] In contrast to logical linear constructions that represent repressive Gutenberg Galaxy, World Wide Web Galaxy introduces McLuhan’s mosaic structure with its indulgence to dissimilarity, incoherencies, and heterodoxy.[12] Eventually all this perfectly fits the unique form of contemporary Satanism which is a decentralized movement.[13]

For many Polish Satanists J encountered cyberspace is just a sphere where opinions are exchanged and discussion is held. One of the most prominent Polish Satanists Lektus claims: “J don’t need any religious association nor rituals. Web site is perfectly OK with me."[14] Acceptance of cyberspace as ultimate form of activity is likely to be drawn from specific atheistic and anty-metaphisical character of Polish Satanism, which belittles sense of religious bonds [15] However we can find pretty much opposite opinions on that subject among Satanists, like Nadah’s statement from www.homodeus.pl: “Satanism online is a misconception for me. Web is a wonderful tool but this is just a tool. It can serve as a great map but even a great map cannot replace the soil".[16] Nadah insists that Satanism requires rituals and space where carnal people are able to get together. He is a cofounder of grotto “Ex Homini Lux".[17] This group serves as a place where occult practices take place and colleagues reinforce each other in pursuing the Left Hand Path. “Ex Homini Lux" is not a strictly satanic organization, its identity is built on elements of Alistair Crowley’s magic principles, and selective fragments picked up from broad satanic beliefs. Due to Nadah there are several dozens such informal, isolated grottos in Poland.[18]

This problem to some extent is highlighted by survey recently conducted in www.satan.pl.[19] Web master asked visitors of this satanic portal: “what kind of practicing Satanism you are pleased with?" 349 people responded – individual pursuing this philosophy on my own, 103 people were in favor of founding regular satanic church, 124 people preferred occasionally getting together with friends to conduct rituals, 77 people are pleased with discussions on philosophical subjects, just 44 Satanists declared that Internet is the sufficient space to express themselves. Kvik, Webmaster of the site, concluded this poll saying that Polish Satanists are individualistic oriented and desire for religious institution seems to be premature.[20]

There are other reasons pointed out by some leading Satanists to abstain from efforts of establishing Polish Church of Satan. First to mention is Catholic environment in Poland, which is partly responsible for strong stereotype of bloody Satanists. It’s hard to imagine if this stereotype is likely to be overcame in the nearest future. Inescapable official visible satanic church would be blamed for any crime committed by adolescent Satanist. On the other hand majority of Polish Satanists is not willing to challenge any kind of martyrdom.[21] They prefer soft form of commitment especially when we consider the fact that average age of Polish Satanist is 20 years old.[22] At this age ordinary Polish youngster is fully dependent on his parents’ help and most of his or her time spends doing school or university duties. No wonder that also in this regard Internet is the only possible way of expressing beliefs. We can also add one universal factor related to peculiarity of the modern man – profound cultural subjectivism which react repulsively towards well established organizations, defined doctrinal slogans, hierarchical orders.

There is no black pope or any institution, which would enjoy ultimate respect among Polish Satanists. We can’t point out such authority. Church of Satan, Temple of Set don’t represent that position. It is legitimate to say that Polish Satanism has complex and even contradictive background of inspirations. Despite the books by Anton Szandor La Vey and other classical works of modern Satanism nonetheless important in the founding process was experience of magic of chaos and discordian ideas. Ideological picture was blurred additionally by strong presence of Buddhist ideas often displayed in satan.pl web site.[23] Generally Polish Satanists attach more importance to philosophical discussion then to religious commitment.

This mixture of different traditions composed specific approach. To characterize it we should emphasize three crucial words: relativism, criticism; irony. Inspired by magic of chaos and principia discordia Satanists used to view all ideological constructions with suspicious attitude. Nothing was taken for granted even most reverend rules of Western Satanism. They refused to identify with any closed ideological project; they refused to subscribe to any finality.

Another aspect of this approach imposes relativization of all sorts of institutional titles, social positions, then we face problem of ironical view upon anything what is official. While having such ironic distrust towards strong ideological entities is almost impossible to form solid organization with stable rituals and hierarchy. That’s why Internet Satanism in Poland should be characterized by fluidity, dispersion, and incoherency. Satanists are free to move from one group to another, they justify their needs almost at the same time in many different organizations and different web sites (neo-pagan, occult, new age, Buddhist). Nothing seems to be stable.

While looking for any term to describe this phenomenon we have on mind Max Weber’s definition of emotional community. German scholar depicted such community as ephemeral, with ill-defined nature, weak organized. What binds such group together is collective sensibility, warmth, companionship, and local flavor.[24] Probably even better fits Polish Satanism category of neo-tribalism brought by Michel Maffesoli.[25] French sociologist asserts that while neo-tribal groups have weak powers of discipline, they have strong powers of inclusion and solidarity. Maffesoli states: “These powers are displayed in a group. As the highest social good, the members of tribe are marked by it wearing particular types of dress, exhibiting groups –specific styles of adornment and espousing the shared values and ideals of community". This creates a unique aura that serves as glue within an urban or even better said digital tribalism. Aesthetics is a way of feeling in a common while the strong ideological position is view as not so much important.[26]

Making interviews with Polish Satanists J have often heard that what really matters for them is a being together, keeping the sense of companionship; everything else is treated as a matter of secondary importance.[27]

Michel Maffesoli spots another important feature of neo-tribal community: “The person plays roles within the various tribes the person participate. The costume changes, as the person according to personal tastes (sexual, cultural, religious, friendship) takes his or her place every day in the various games of the theatrum mundi".[28] This notion brings us to question about authenticity of Satanism in Internet space. Probably for majority it is genuine experience, which represents stability of philosophical and religious identity. Although we cannot deny the fact of existence of people for whom cyber-Satanism is a kind of show, opportunity to raise an additional identity displayed only in cyber dimension. Such adoption of imaginative identity and playing with multiple identities took place also among some Polish Satanist for whom satanic ideology served as sort of shocking performance. [29]

Conclusion. It’s not easy to give one complete definition of Polish Satanism, which is a sort of phenomenon in statu nascendi. J would like to conclude with the opinion of Bast (she was the founder of the first Polish satanic web site). Her opinion – according to me – at least helps to understand some aspects of contemporary Polish Satanism that is displayed in Internet: “Satanism as it is depicted by media gives glamour, symbols, subculture community and doesn’t demand any sectarian practices, doesn’t require acceptance of any rules which wouldn’t have been accepted before. Today almost everybody recognizes the right of individual to follow one’s desires or denial the fact of existence of absolute truth. Satanism in cyberspace is not a religion. You can’t call it either philosophy. This is an offer of tribal affiliation for those who are not willing to belong to any organization but at the same time they want to get strong identity. They want to distinguish themselves from masses. So Satanism is not about religion, belief or ideology but about searching identity."[30]

[1] Lewis, James R. 2001. A Who Serves Satan? A Demographic and Ideological Profile. Marburg Journal of Religion Vol. 6/2 (www.unimarburg.de/religionswissenschaft/journal/mjr/lewis3.html)

[2] "Wprost" weekly, Olejnik, Krzysztof, Filozof na przynęte, (921, 23 –07-2000)

[3] Pietrzak, M.; "Prawo wyznaniowe", Warszawa 1999

[4] Tuchowski, Marek, “Satanizm tradycyjny wobec nowych ruchów satanistycznych", paper presented at conference "Satanism, Esoteric an Occult" held in Cracow November, 2002

[5] Smoczyński R. and Kvik, (25.03.2003), E-mailed commentary with Kvik from www.satan.pl

[6] Smoczyński R. and Lektus (12.02.2003). E-mailed commentary with Lektus from www.lektus.prv.pl

[7] Luckmann Thomas, "Invisible Religion. The Problem of Religion in Modern Society", New York, 1967

[8] Acheront, "Do antysekciarzy", eseje, www.satan.pl

[9] McLuhan, Marshall, Understanding Media, New York, 1965

[10] Dawson, Lorne, L.; “Cyberspace and Religious Life: Conceptualizing the Concerns and Consequences, a paper presented at the 2001 CESNUR Conference in London

[11] Witmer, Diane, "Practicing Safe Computing", Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1998

[12] McLuhan, Marshal, "Gutenberg Galaxy", Montreal, 1967

[13] Petersen, Aagaard Jesper, "Binary Satanism: The Construction of Community in a Digital World", paper held at the conference Religious Encounters in Digital Networks: Religion and Computer-Mediated Communication, November 1-st-3-rd 2001, University of Copenhagen.

[14] Smoczynski, R. with Lectus, E-mailed commentaries on Satanism, 2003,03.02

[15] Lectus, "Satanistyczna duma", www.lectus.prv.pl

[16] Smoczynski, R. with Nadah, E-mailed commentaries on Satanism, 2003,02.23

[17] ibid

[18] ibid

[19] Kvik, Kościół Szatana w Polsce (2002 –06 –03), eseje, www.satan.pl, 2002,06,03.

[20] Ibid

[21] Kvik, Polska Rzeczpospolita Lucyferiańska, eseje, www.satan.pl

[22] Ibidem

[23] Vincent, Jestesmy inni, www.satan.pl

[24] Weber, Max, Economy and Society, Berkeley, 1978

[25] Maffesoli, Michel, The Time of The Tribes, The Decline of Individualism in Mass Society, London, 1996

[26] Ibid

[27] Conversation with Kvik, Haal, LeWhoo, Ruda, Februrary – March 2003.

[28] Ibid

[29] Smoczynski R. with Bast, E-mailed commentary 2003-03-01,

[30] Smoczynski R. with Bast. E-mailed commentary on Monday 2003-03-03

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