CESNUR - center for studies on new religions


June 17-20, 2004 - Baylor University, Waco, Texas

Satanists in Estonia

by Ringo Ringvee
A paper presented at CESNUR 2004 international conference, Baylor University, Waco (Texas), June 18-20, 2004 - Preliminary version - Do not reproduce or quote without the consent of the author

The following is not about the philosophical background of Satanism neither is it about its intellectual impact to the Western cultural heritage. This short overview is on Satanism in Estonia during the end of the 20th and beginning of the 21st century.

Some Background to the Religion in Estonia

Estonia is one of the post-Soviet societies with the experience of the Soviet Marxist-atheist ideology. The forceful atheist propaganda with rapid urbanization affected seriously traditional religious affiliation trends. This could be observed if we look to the census data before the Soviet occupation and to the census data after the Soviet period. According to the census data from 1934, which is the data from the pre-Soviet era, 77,6% of the population identified themselves as Lutherans. The Orthodox made 18,8% of the population. 0,6% of the population declared to have no religious affiliation.[1]

In the census from the year 2000 the question concerning the religious preferences was asked from 1121582 persons who were over the age of 15.[2] According to this data 34% of the population declared to be indifferent on religious matters, 14,5% did not know what to answer, 13,5% identified themselves as Lutherans, 12% as Orthodox, 6,1% declared themselves as Atheists, 0,5% Baptists. The largest adherence among non-Christian religions has Islam - 0,12% of the population older that 15 years of age. 7,99% refused to answer to the question concerning the religious preferences.[3] The attendance of religious services in contemporary Estonia is low. According to a survey from the year 2000 only 4% of the sample of 1092 respondents said to attend religious services on weekly basis.[4] According to the survey from 2003 5% of the respondents considered religion as “very important” in their lives.[5]

In the context of this paper, it should be mentioned that according to the census from the year 2000 there were 43 persons, who declared themselves as Satanists, i.e. 0,0038% of the population answered to the question concerning religious preferences.[6] According to the census data the average Satanist in Estonia is Estonian male under 24 years of age living in an urban area.[7]

The international standards for freedom of religion and belief form the basis for religious legislation. The principles of freedom of religion, belief and conscience are stipulated in the Estonian Constitution from 1992. The legal framework for religious associations as legal entities is given by the Churches and Congregations Act.[8]

Satanism in Estonia

When taking a look to the Estonian religious and intellectual history it could be said that Satanism has never gained much following there. The pop-cultural or sub-cultural Satanist scene has been present in Estonia since the late 1980’s early 1990s. The Satanist symbols have been part of the local Heavy Metal scene, however, without any serious religious connotations.

The wider Estonian audience became aware of the Satanist scene through graveyard vandalism in the early 1990s. Most of these so-called Satanists were teenagers in their search for thrill, and in most cases under the influence of alcohol. Although it should be mentioned that some crimes were committed by persons who claimed to be Satanists.

In June 1999 a group of Satanists announced their wish for State recognition as religious association. This announcement immediately created media interest.[9] The leader of this group, man in his early twenties, known as Jason pointed that, “Satanism is not grave robbing, burning of churches, human sacrifices and other such horrible stuff.”[10]

The issue of registration became on the focus of the media again in 2001. During the 2001, the Satanists were probably the most popular religious news issue in the local media. When looking to the reactions to the news by some political parties and Christian churches it could be easily assumed that there existed a real danger to the Estonian society in general by the Satanists.

Youth Satanism

The period from the late 1980’s and early 1990’s was the time when young Metal scene was rearranged - the rise of such international Black and Death Metal bands as the Venom, Slayer and others had their influence also to the Estonian scene.[11] During this period, there were several acts of vandalism in graveyards and against church buildings, which were connected to Satanism as the Satanist symbols were used in these incidences.

Although the majority of these cases where the Satanist symbols were used turned out later as committed by youth with little knowledge on Satanism, there were also some more serious crimes committed. The best known case, which brought the Satanism to the limelight of local media in 1990s, was the stabbing of respected Estonian poet Hando Runnel in January 25th 1994.[12] Besides the more traditional graveyard vandalism, this group of four young males between the age of 17 and 20, were also involved with the case of sexual abuse of a dead woman. One of these persons explained his act as “the baptism by Satan”.[13]

By generalizing the police investigators statements, it could be said that the average youth who committed acts of graveyard vandalism had problems in school, little knowledge on Satanism, and was under the influence of alcohol or inhaled toxicants while committing the crime.[14] At the same time in 1994, the police announced that according to their knowledge the Satanists in Estonia were mostly intelligent and better off people.[15] At the same time General Director of the Security Police said,

“Of course the Satanists and their activities should be taken seriously but they should not be overestimated. […] The more there are writings about them the more important they feel themselves. There is no need that they would look for each other. But we know how many of them there are and where they are.”[16]

One police official commented the arrest of two youngsters in the year 2000 accused committing graveyard vandalism, “One of them bears a upside-down cross and said that he’s interested on Satanism, but he had very little knowledge on the ideological side of it. It’s more like copying.”[17]

It could be said that both the general public and governmental institutions have been generally cautious in relating all the vandalism in the graveyards to the Satanists. Commenting graveyard vandalism, a columnist from one of the major daily newspapers noted,

“The teenage schoolboys who demolished around hundred graves were not raging Satanists, rarely were these also their age mates, who acted with similar fervor in the Jewish cemetery in Tartu. There is even less reasons to suspect the steel stealers on Satanism, however, these are the people who are suspected by the police for committing most of the 27 acts of vandalism in Tartu graveyards this year.”[18]

However, the Satanist related vandalism has not limited itself only to graveyards. There have been also acts of vandalism toward the Church buildings. In May 13 1994, there was an attempt to set a fire a Lutheran church in small town of Võru in South Estonia. On August 23rd same year, the goat’s head was nailed to the door of this same church building.[19] In 1999, a Pentecostal church in a small town of Rakvere was set on fire. Before setting the fire the two youth - one of the age of 19 and the other of the age 18 - painted to the church wall “666” and the word “Satan”. After they were arrested, they said that they had interested on Satanism.[20]

Organized Satanism

Despite rumors[21], there was no evidence of organized Satanism in Estonia until 1999. In June 1999, a group of Satanist turned to the Ministry of Internal Affairs for information how to get recognition by the State as a religious association. This was the first case of organized Satanism in Estonia. The group, which called itself at that time the Estonian Church of Satan, claimed to follow the Laveyan branch of Satanism.[22]

Although the group expressed their interest to become recognized as a religious association, the next step was taken two years later. In April 2001 the news agencies published news that the Satanist want to become registered in the Estonian register of Churches and Congregations.[23] They consulted with the officials in the Ministry of Interiors about the registration requirements, and their Statute. The Department of Religious Affairs of the Ministry pointed that for the application for a recognition the name Estonian Church of Satan must be changed, as according to the 1993 Law term “church” could be used officially only by Christian communities with episcopate.[24] These consultations were unofficial, and the formal application for registration was not made. However, from there on there local news had paid attention to this Satanist group, calling now itself Estonian Satanist Congregation “Order of the Black Venus”. The news, published by the media, concentrated to the speculations of possible application for registration and to the possible reactions from the governmental officials.

The group calling itself Estonian Satanist Congregation “Order of the Black Venus” is relatively small. The leader of the group, Jason, became interested in Satanism in 1997. The idea to become organized and recognized religious organization derives back to the year 1999; he contacted people who had visited his Church of Satan’s web-site and formed a group of ten to fifteen people.[25] Both Jason’s statements and the web-site have been stressing that Satanism is not a synonym to graveyard vandalism and other criminal activities. He said that his aim was to unite the people who take Satanism as a life philosophy.[26] To the question why they want to become officially a religious association Jason said, “So people could see that we do not have neither tails nor horns.”[27] In 2002, they published an Estonian translation of A.S.LaVey’s “Satanic Bible”, and two years later LaVey’s “Satan speaks!”.

In March the Estonian Satanist Congregation “Order of Black Venus” made an official application to become recognized as a religious association. On March 28, 2002, the Department of Religious Affairs returned the application due to technical inadequacies.[28] However, at the same time the head of the Department of Religious Affairs pointed that this was not a denial from registration, and when all legal requirements are completed, the group may apply again.[29] Until to the present day the group has not made a second attempt to get the legal entity status.

Reaction from Churches and Political Parties

The Christian churches have reacted to the local Satanist scene. In fact, they have been in the vanguard of the fight against Satanism. Already in 1992 Jaan J. Leppik, then a deacon of the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church, warned about the threat of Satanists, and claimed that allegedly there were 3 Satanist congregations in Estonia.[30] These claims, however, were not proved.

In January 1995, the Estonian Council of Churches announced in their press release that all destructive organizations, including Satanism, should be banned in Estonia.[31] At the same year, the former Estonian Prime Minister Mart Laar noted in his interview to the Word of Life’s newspaper that, “If there are emerging the Satanist sects - I could not call it religion - I would draw a clear line. They cannot be registered. Enough is enough.” These words were picked up October 2001 when the leader of the ESC “Order of Black Venus” Jason asked from then Prime Minister Mart Laar has he changed his opinion.[32] The question did not get any answer.

The real Satanist scare took off in 2001 when the news that a Satanist group wants to be recognized as a religious association by the state hit the media. The Head of the Department of Religious Affairs Ilmo Au answered to the question for possible registration that, “The organizations should be rather legal than illegal.”[33]

As the printed and electronic media published interviews and news on local Satanists some political parties as well as Christian churches started to publish their anti-Satanist sentiments. So for example, the dean of Tallinn deanery of the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church announced that, “Church tries to influence the governmental officials not to register them [Satanists]. To give them the official state recognition would be against our principles of faith, against Christianity.”[34] The church officials from the Lutheran Church compared the Satanists also with drug dealers and booze smugglers, and noticed that state should not tolerate them.[35] However, only the Union of Baptist Churches in Estonia, and one independent Baptist congregation gave official statements, which condemned any possible registration of Satanist congregation in the Estonia Register of Churches and Congregations.[36]

At the same time also three Russian political parties in Estonia condemned the Satanism, and any possible registration of any Satanist organizations.[37] Also a small Estonian Christian People’s Party protested against any recognition of Satanists, and started to collect names for appellation against the registration of Satanist congregation despite of the fact that no official application by the Satanists was made.[38]

It should be mentioned here, that during the autumn 2001 there was going on a discussion in the Estonian Parliament concerning the new Churches and Congregations Act. Due to the Satanist issue some political parties as well as some individual politicians wanted the new Act to prohibit Satanism in Estonia and/or the “destructive cults” should be banned.[39]


Both the analytical term Satanism, as well as the phenomenon known as Satanism are quite complex. Traditionally in the popular mind Satanism is connected to certain outlook, behavior and beliefs considered deviant by the mainstream of the society. It may also be difficult to define who is Satanist in the religious sense or who is just follower of certain sub-cultural trends.[40] The stereotypical negative image of and attitude to Satanism by some segments of society was reflected in Estonia after the news about possible application to get official recognition by a Satanist organization reached the news. With this reaction we come to the field of freedom of religion and belief. Should the new religious groups with beliefs and practices that are considered deviant or dangerous by other religious communities be recognized by the State? If we look to the situation from the perspective of Christian churches, then definitely no. While looking to the issue from the side of political parties - it seems to be an easy way to become noticed and to gain popularity among possible voters.

However, if we look to this question from the viewpoint of a secular state - and Estonia is definitely a secular state - then the whole question becomes a different one. According to Estonian legislation all religious communities have the right to become recognized by the State as religious associations if they apply for it and fulfill the requirements for such recognition. However, the requirements say nothing about the religious beliefs and practices of the community. Although the Article 9(2) of the European Convention on Human Rights set the limits to the freedom to manifest one’s religion these limitations should not be used to discriminate religious communities on the basis of their beliefs, neither on the basis of their practices without any factual proof that they expose a danger to public safety, public order, health or morals, or to the rights and freedom of others. These possibilities for restrictions are stipulated also in the Constitution of the Republic of Estonia. And here we come to a more difficult question how to define these vague terms.

I would give the last words to a member of the Estonian Satanist Congregation “Order of Black Venus”. In documentary published in March 2002 he said,

“It seems like the outside world would push all this stuff - they look, a-ha they wear black, made an up-side down cross in school’s workshop, it’s clear - a Satanist. Basically, they said who we are. […] If all had been gone quiet, maybe I would not never declared to be a Satanist.”[41]

[1] The census data of 1934 cited from B.Ederberg “Lahkusud Eestis” (Rakvere: np) 1934, 114.

[2] The age of 15 was selected due to the Estonian legal system, which allows persons from the age of 15 choose her or his religious affiliation.

[3] http://gatekeeper.stat.ee:8000/px-web.2001/Database/Rahvaloendus/Rahvaloendus.asp visited on May 7th, 2004. (the link is no longer active)

[4] Sotsioloogilise küsitluse Elust, usust ja usuelust II tulemused (%). Ed. Hans Hansen. Tallinn: Eesti Kirikute Nõukogu, Eesti Piibliselts, Eesti Evangelisatsiooni Allianss, 2000, 6.

[5] Religioonisotsiloogilise küsitluse “Eestimaalaste moraal ja väärtushinnagud” pressikonverentsi abimaterjal. Eesti Kirikute Nõukogu, 2003, Table 1.

[6] http://gatekeeper.stat.ee:8000/px-web.2001/Database/Rahvaloendus/Rahvaloendus.asp visited on May 7th, 2004 (the link is no longer active).

[7] 30 of 43 Satanists were under the age of 24, 38 were Estonians, and 5 Russians. 36 were men and 7 women, 28 lived in urban areas.

http://gatekeeper.stat.ee:8000/px-web.2001/Database/Rahvaloendus/17Usk/17Usk.asp visited on May 13th, 2004.

[8] On Estonian legal system concerning religious organizations see Merilin Kiviorg “State and Church in Estonia” in Ringolds Balodis (ed) State and Church in the Baltic States: 2001 (Riga: Latvian Association for Freedom of Religion), Ringo Ringvee “Religious Freedom and Legislation in Post-Soviet Estonia”, Brigham Young University Law Review, Vol. 2001 No 2, pp631-642.

[9] Satanistid tahavad seaduslikult luua oma koguduse. BNS NEWS June 22, 1999. <http://hp.bns.ee/ppwse/rgw?arp=as_arch_body_url&mtmpl=arch_body_loc&bid=1060> visited Sept. 10, 2001 (the link is no longer active).

[10] Ibid.(Note 7)

[11] The Metal scene in Estonia has changed by now - instead of Satanism, the Paganism or Neo-Paganism is the vague term by which many of Metal bands have identified themselves.

[12] Peeter Rehema, Allan Teras “Kuriteod saatana nimel”, Eesti Ekspress Oct 28, 1994, A4.

[13] Tiiu Ritari, Raimu Hanson “Uinunud mõistus sünnitab koletisi ehk Meie igapäevane satanism. Postimees Nov. 30, 1994.

[14] Tiiu Ritari, Raimu Hanson “Uinunud mõistus sünnitab koletisi ehk Meie igapäevane satanism. Postimees Dec 1, 1994. Järvamaa politsei tabas surnuaedades vandaalitsenud noored. ETA News Agency Dec 12, 1994. Satanism ei õigusta kui oled lihtsalt pätt. Nelli Teataja. <http:www.nelli.ee/990/eelu.html> (visited Sept 10, 2001). Satanistidest hauaüüstajad mõisteti süüdi. Eesti Päevaleht Jan 30, 1996 <http://leht.epl.ee/artikkel.php?id=5438> (visited Sept 10, 2001, the link is no longer active). In the latter news article could be found kind of a standard approach to the Satanist related news. While the article has a headline “Satanist graveyard vandals found guilty”, in the article itself the crime committed youth gang has been labeled as “Satanist interested youth”, and not Satanists.

[15] Tiiu Ritari, Raimu Hanson “Uinunud mõistus sünnitab koletisi ehk Meie igapäevane satanism. Postimees Nov. 30, 1994.

[16] Peeter Rehema, Allan Teras “Kuriteod saatana nimel”, Eesti Ekspress Oct 28, 1994, A4.

[17] Sadat hauda rüüstasid teismelised koolipoisid. Postimees Sept 11, 2000. <www.postimees.ee/index.html?number=297&op=lugu&id=3337> Visited Sept 10, 2001. See also similar opinion from the Commissioner of the Defence police in Mihkel Kärmas “Musta Missa kiriku koidik” Eesti Ekspress July 22, 1999. <www.ekspress.ee/arhiiv/1999/29/aosa/tempo.html> visited Sept 10, 2001.

[18] Pille Liimal “Mis peatab hauarüüstajad” Eesti Päevaleht Nov 10, 2000. <http://leht.epl.ee/artikkel.php?id=85920> visited Sept 10, 2001 (the link is no longer active).

[19] Tiiu Ritari, Raimu Hanson “Uinunud mõistus sünnitab koletisi ehk Meie igapäevane satanism.” Postimees Dec. 1, 1994.

[20] Politseiuudised. Eesti Päevaleht Dec 31, 1999 <http://leht.epl.ee/artikkel.php?id=72262> visited Sept 10, 2001 (the link is no longer active). Lääne-Viru maakohus karistas sataniste tingimisi. ETA News Agency on August 17, 2000. <www.eta.ee/cgi-bin/eta/one?20000817=0260> Visited Jan 29, 2002

[21] Jaan Leppik “Uususundid Eestis” Vikerkaar 6, 1992.

[22] The group launched also their web-site. Their current website could be found at http://mvo.saadanas.org

[23] Satanistid tahavad end legaliseerida. ETA News April 23, 2001. <http://www.eta.ee/cgi-bin/eta/one?20010423=0089> visited January 29, 2002.

[24] Churches and Congregations Act 1993, Art 2(1)

[25] Mihkel Kärmas “Musta missa kiriku koidik” Eesti Ekspress July 22, 1999. <www.ekspress.ee/arhiiv/1999/29/aosa/tempo.html> visited Sept 10, 2001.

[26] Satanistid tahavad seaduslikult luua oma koguduse. BNS NEWS June 22, 1999. <http://hp.bns.ee/ppwse/rgw?arp=as_arch_body_url&mtmpl=arch_body_loc&bid=1060> visited Sept. 10, 2001 (the link is no longer active).

[27] Valner Valme “Saatana sigidikud.” (interview with Jason) Postimees/Arter, Sept 8, 2001. <http://arhiiv.postimees.ee/leht/01/09/08/lugu5.htm> visited Oct 9, 2001.

[28] Siseministeerium lükkas satanistide dokumendid tagasi. ETA News Agency, March 28, 2002. <http://www.eta.ee/cgi-bin/eta/one?20020328=0141> visited April 12, 2002.

[29] Siseminiteerium lükkas satanistide dokumendid tagasi. ETA News Agency, March 28, 2002. <http://www.eta.ee/cgi-bin/eta/one?20020328=0141> visited March 28, 2002.

[30] Jaan Leppik “Uususundid Eestis.” Vikerkaar 6, 1992. The articles on Satanism which were published by Leppik became the main source for getting information on the subject.

[31] Eesti Kirikute Nõukogu presidendiks valiti piiskop Einar Soone. ETA News Agency, Jan 28, 1995. <http://www.eta.ee/cgi-bin/eta/one?19950128=007> visited Jan 29, 2002.

[32] Laar ignoreerib sataniste. ETA New Agency Oct 26, 2001. <http://www.eta.ee/cgi-bin/eta/one?20011026=0122> visited January 29, 2002 (the link is no longer active).

[33] Satanistid tahavad end legaliseerida. ETA News Agency, April 23, 2001. <http://www.eta.ee/cgi-bin/eta/one?20010423=0089> visited January 29, 2002.

[34] Eesti võib saada ametliku satanistide koguduse. BNS News, Sept 3, 2001. <http://hp.bns.ee/ppwse/rgw?arp=as_arch_body_url&mtmpl=arch_body_loc&bid=1121> visited Sept. 10, 2001.

[35] Villu Jürjo “Keda tuleks karta.” Postimees Sept 20, 2001. <http://www.postimees.ee/index.html?op=lugu&id=33066&number=306&rubriik=6> visited Sept 21, 2002.

[36] Baptistid protestivad satanistide registreerimise vastu. ETA News Agency Sept 20, 2001. <http://www.eta.ee/cgi-bin/eta/one?20010920=0175> visited Feb 23, 2002

[37] Vene erakonnad hülgavad satanismi. ETA News Agency Sept 4, 2001. <www.eta.ee/cgi-bin/eta/one?20010904=0279> visited January 29, 2002.

[38] Kristlik Rahvaparteid on satanistide registreerimise vastu. BNS News, May 16, 2001. <http://www.bns.ee/archiveNewsBody.jsp?articleId=417501&UID=UID1018963086676&beginDate=01.01.2000&endDate=02.04.2002> visited April 15, 2002 (the link is no longer active).

[39] Vene erakonnad hülgavad satanismi. ETA News Agency, Sept 4, 2001. <www.eta.ee/cgi-bin/eta/one?20010904=0279> visited January 29, 2002.

[40] In this respect the situation resembles much the situation with Rastafari where the distinction between religious, cultural, and political Rastas may be difficult. It holds especially true among white Rasta youth who have been associated with the Rastafari through reggae sub-culture which has been from the 1970s the main gateway to Rastafari for non-Jamaicans. In similar way the Heavy Metal subculture has been the hotbed for Satanists.

[41] “Viirastused” (Delusions) Braindrop Creations 2002.

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