Volume 6, No. 2 (June 2001)
10 Pages (10.151 words)


Who Serves Satan?
A Demographic and Ideological Profile

James R. Lewis
Dept. of Philosophy and Religious Studies
University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point, USA

Abstract: In order to test conventional wisdom about modern Satanists, an online questionnaire was used to gather data from 140 respondents. Based on this data, a demographic and ideological profile was constructed which indicated that the statistically-average Satanist is an unmarried, white male in his mid-twenties with a few years of college. He became involved in Satanism through something he read in high school, and has been a self-identified Satanist for more than seven years. Raised Christian, he explored one non-Satanist religious group beyond the one in which he was raised before settling into Satanism. His view of Satan is some variety of non-theistic humanism and he practices magic. The length of average involvement and the often reflective responses to open-ended questions indicates that, far from being confined to adolescent rebels, many Satanists are reflective individuals who--despite the fact that youthful rebellion was usually a factor in the beginning--have come to appropriate Satanism as a mature religious option.


            In Mephistopheles, the final volume in his magisterial study of the history of the Devil, Jeffrey Burton Russell contemptuously dismisses modern, religious Satanism as represented by Anton Szandor LaVey, the Church of Satan, and the Temple of Set. Obviously irritated by what he characterizes as "Satan chic," Russell asserts that "Satan is by definition evil." Hence contemporary Satanism's effort to recover the positive Satan of the Romantic poets is "inherently meaningless" because it "contradicts itself."

            The problem with this kind of analysis is that Western society is long past the stage in its cultural history where Satan and Satanism can unambiguously be equated with evil. The difficulties inherent in Russell's assertion become evident as soon as one entertains its corollary, namely that Christ and Christianity are by definition good. However positively we might regard Christianity, few of us would be willing to characterize the influence of the Christian tradition as an unalloyed good. Although we might wish we could make such simple, straightforward associations, the fact of the matter is that the cultural images of Satanism and Christianity we have inherited are complex and often ambiguous. We do not have to look any further than everyday speech to perceive how thoroughly Satan's sinister associations have been diluted: We live in a world where, without a second thought, we consume Deviled ham and Devil's food, "play Devil's advocate," describe certain locations as "hellholes," go out and have a "Devil of a good time," wake up "feeling like hell," and so forth.

            In short, Satan has come to represent much more than the ultimate bad guy. Though Satan and his minions sometimes still play their timeworn roles as representatives of pure evil, our culture has also invested the Devil with many positive, attractive traits. A prime example of this is sex: Because of the Christian Church's traditional negative attitude toward sexuality, the diabolical has come to be associated with sex and sensuality. Satan has also been portrayed as a proud, clever, creative non-conformist willing to question the status quo. In the modern world, all of these characteristics are regarded as positive traits (at least theoretically). It is difficult to understand modern religious Satanism without taking into account of this reevaluation of the Prince of Darkness.

            Beginning in the late 1960s, organized Satanism emerged out of the occult subculture with the formation of the Church of Satan. It was not long, however, before Satanism had expanded well beyond the Church of Satan. The decentralization of the Satanist movement was considerably accelerated when LaVey disbanded the grotto system in the mid-Seventies. At present, religious Satanism exists primarily a decentralized subculture, not unlike the Neopagan subculture.

            Perhaps surprisingly, no serious academic books have been written on this movement. What exists are a number of good scholarly volumes on the ritual abuse scare, such as Jeffrey Victor's Satanic Panic and James T. Richardson et al.'s The Satanism Scare. Beyond a couple of older articles on the Church of Satan (e.g., Alfred 1976) and a relatively recent paper on Satanism in the UK (Harvey 1995), the only extended, academic treatment of organized Satanism is William Bainbridge's now-dated Satan's Power (1978). However, even this book focuses on a single group, the Process Church, which has long since distanced itself from Satanism.

            The principal reason for this lack of attention appears to be that academics consciously or unconsciously perceive Satanism as a trivial phenomenon rather than as a serious religious movement. 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. This view has been explicitly expressed in a number of professional publications, including Anthony Moriarty's The Psychology of Adolescent Satanism: A Guide for Parents, Counselors, Clergy, and Teachers (1992). Moriarty begins by asserting that Satanism negatively impacts, "the individual's psychological development, religious training, personal experience, and the culture in which the person lives." As a way of illustrating the full depth of this "problem," he recounts his first professional encounter with a young Satanist:

            The first time an adolescent revealed his Satanic beliefs to me, I was in for a revelation I was totally unprepared to address. My therapeutic relationship with this young man, and subsequently others, revealed a convoluted system of occult beliefs that powerfully affected all aspects of his personal identity. The transformation of his identity was nowhere more evident than in the feeling of power he exuded. This was a complete reversal of the way he appeared to act before his Satanic involvement. He fully believed that he was now a person of great power who held the fate of others in his hands. The embeddedness of these beliefs and their pervasive impact were most striking to me. Whether this was true or not was insignificant. The fact that this perception of power obtained for him this sense of conviction, poise, and persuasion among his peers made all the difference in the world to him. He was totally immune to self-doubt, fear, or guilt.


Moriarty further relates that he was completely taken aback by this encounter. The young man's "conversion" to Satanism had "changed all the rules":

            The common underlying emotions of fear, guilt, and anxiety that drive so many human problems were no longer valid guides for understanding. My traditional modes of thinking about adolescents no longer made sense.  [I had] expected to meet a frustrated, impulsive, and angry young man, of whom I have seen many in fifteen years as a clinical psychologist. Adolescents often are alike in their feelings of alienation, low self-esteem, and anger toward the world. This pattern of troubles is almost always rooted in an intense feeling of helplessness that is denied. Not so with this young Satanist.

These passages are revealing. What if, instead of the "Satanic beliefs" and "Satanic involvement" of this "young Satanist," Moriarty had encountered the "Christian beliefs" and "Christian involvement" of a "young Christian" presenting similar "symptoms"? Would the author have become alarmed about the Christian "problem," and perhaps gone on to write a book about  The Psychology of Adolescent Christianity? One suspects not. Alternately, had he discovered a drug with effects similar to those he reports observing in his client, it would likely have been heralded as the successor to Prozac. It thus appears that the author's concerns arose more from his own felt sense of helplessness in the face of this young Satanist's buoyant self-confidence than from anything else.

            It is interesting to note in this regard that Moriarty fails to mention Edward J. Moody's seminal paper, "Magical Therapy: An Anthropological Investigation of Contemporary Satanism." This piece is not even cited in his bibliography, despite the fact that it was published almost two decades prior to The Psychology of Adolescent Satanism in a widely-available volume on contemporary religious movements. Although Moody's focus was adult converts, his observations on the therapeutic dimension of Satanism in many ways parallel Moriarty's. For example, toward the end of the penultimate section of his paper, Moody observes:

The benefits of Satanism and Black Magic to the witch or magician are obvious: he need be less anxious or fearful, he is more able socially, and he is actually more successful in many spheres of activity due to his enhanced ability to interact with others.

Perhaps had he taken Moody's work more seriously, Moriarty's own study would have been more balanced and less dismissive of modern Satanism.

            Despite the weakness of his analysis, the basic phenomenon Moriarty is pointing to--namely, adolescents adopting Satanism as a strategy for dealing with the crisis of maturation--is real enough. One of the aspects of modern Satanism's appeal, especially to teenagers, is its ready accessibility, even to isolated individuals. Unlike traditional religions, and even unlike the early Satanist bodies such as the Church of Satan and the Temple of Set, 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.

            Does this phenomenon, 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 a mature religious option.

            In order to test this hypothesis, I decided to collect basic demographic data on contemporary Satanists. To this end, I constructed a simple, 20-item questionnaire that could be answered in 5 or 10 minutes. I also included a few open-ended items which allowed respondents to expound their thoughts at greater length, if they felt so inclined. Through e-mail addresses posted on Satanist websites, I began sending out questionnaires in early August 2000. Also, several of the people I contacted for information on their organizations agreed to post the questionnaire on their respective websites. By the end of February 2001, I had received 140 responses, which I felt was adequate to use as the basis for constructing a preliminary profile. I also sent out a more ambitious, follow-up questionnaire to respondents who had expressed interest in participating in further research. I received several dozen thoughtful responses to the second mailing.

            It should finally be noted that I sent earlier versions of the present report to some of my Satanist contacts. A number of these individuals provided me with useful feedback and critical commentary. The most frequent criticism I received was that I may have missed a significant subgroup of Satanists who do not surf the web, and who therefore would not have an opportunity to respond to the questionnaire. Although this criticism has merit, it is difficult to address adequately, given that there exists no national directory of Satanists to utilize as a basis for mailing questionnaires to individuals not online. Hence the questionnaire's respondents constitute as good of a sample as one might reasonably hope to obtain, given the problems inherent in the task of contacting members of a decentralized subculture.

            Another, related issue is the problem of where to draw the line between religious Satanists and Satanic "dabblers." This distinction was stressed to me by the webmaster of the Satanic Media Watch in a series of e-mail communications. She noted, for instance, that,

For every serious Satanist you can find online I would guess you could find at least two teens who are into Heavy Metal music, who never read anything on Satanism, and who have problems in their personal lives. Heavy Metal teens who are into vandalism form local groups and do not go online. It would also be very hard to make them take part in any survey. As you know there are many kinds of Satanists. A lot of teens fit stereotypes rather well. If you do not take this into account and show the public a false picture of Satanism, you will make the public accuse serious Satanists for the actions of teens. I think you need to explain the difference between at least these two groups, and that your survey does not cover both groups.

Though I question the two-to-one ratio, I would agree that there are some adolescents who "dabble" in Satanism and who have no interest in Satanism as a religion. Also, anyone who familiar with The Satanic Bible--easily the most widely-read ideological document of modern Satanism--knows that Anton LaVey explicitly and strongly rejects unlawful activity, which places senseless vandalism beyond the pale of religious Satanism. At the same time, it should also be noted that some serious Satanists start out as "Satanic dabblers," which means there are some hazy areas in the line dividing Satanists from those who merely adopt Satanic trappings.


            One final criticism I encountered focused on the status of the founder of modern Satanism. Anton LaVey was and is a controversial figure, and his organization is at present deeply embroiled in controversy with other Satanist groups. In the course of my research, I found myself unwittingly stepping into this arena of contention. Perhaps 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 pointed to the centrality of LaVey's influence on modern Satanism. This finding was a surprise, as I had initially assumed contemporary Satanism had moved well beyond LaVey. Thus, after reflecting on these objections, I concluded that--despite his heavy 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. Whether Anton LaVey was a religious virtuoso or a misanthropic huckster, and whether The Satanic Bible was an inspired document or a poorly edited plagiarism, the influence of LaVey and his "bible" was and is pervasive.

            In the present report, I will first discuss the survey's statistical findings and what these numbers indicate about the demography of the Satanist movement. In the second part of the report, I will examine select responses from open-ended questionnaire items, and what these responses say about the ideology of contemporary Satanism

Statistical Findings

The average Satanist is 26 years old (ranging from 14 to 56) who has been a Satanist for eight years (ranging from less than a year to 44 years for an individual who claimed to have been raised in a Satanist household). This means that the average Satanist became involved at age 18. The youthfulness of this average is not surprising, but the length of involvement is. Even when the respondents who claimed to have been Satanists all their lives are excluded, the average age only drops to 25 and the length of involvement to seven years. This means the average age at which someone becomes involved is still 18.

            Most Satanists are male. One hundred and one survey respondents were male, thirty six were female, and two marked the item "not applicable." The heavy predominance of males sets Satanism apart from the active memberships of most other religious bodies, old or new.

            Most Satanists are Single. Ninety-six respondents--a full two-thirds of the sample--were single (though a few noted they were in long term relationships and a few others that they were engaged), thirty two were married; and twelve divorced or separated. Thirty one had children (eleven with one child, twelve with two children, seven with three children, and one with four children). This is not an unsurprising pattern, given the relative youth of Satanists.

Table 1 - Marital Status













[*Because percentages are rounded off throughout this report, they will sometimes total more, and sometimes less, than 100%.]

Most Satanists are Caucasian. Two respondents were Asian-American, three Black, nine Hispanic, and Eleven noted that at least one of their ancestors was Native American. Two other respondents indicated that they were "multi-racial," one was Turkish, and one was Indian (South Asian). Everyone else was "pure" Caucasian. This is also not surprising. Demographic studies of other alternative religions have found the predominance of participants to be White.

            Thirty-nine respondents (28%) lived outside of the United States. Nine were Canadian. Six lived in the United Kingdom, five in Australia, five in the Netherlands, and three in Denmark. U.S. respondents were spread across the country. The top "Satanist states" were: California (13), Texas (9), Wisconsin (7), Virginia (7), Colorado (6), New York (6), Massachusetts (5), and North Carolina (5). While one might have expected to find more Satanists in California, thirteen respondents represents only 9% of the total, making this predominance less marked than anticipated.

Table 2 - Geographical Distribution







United Kingdom












Other Countries*





















New York






North Carolina









Other U.S. States



[*One respondent each from Germany, South Africa, Poland, Czech Republic, Sweden, New Zealand, India, Estonia, Russia, and the Philippines. One respondent also indicated South America without specifying a country.]


The average Satanist has between one and a half and two years of college. Among respondents, twenty five were college graduates and nine of these held advanced degrees. Forty respondents indicated they were currently in school. As the questionnaire did not explicitly ask about student status, more than these forty were likely students.

Table 3 - Education

Years/Highest Degree



No College or non-response



1 year of college                



2 years               



3 years                  









Satanists are employed in diverse occupations. Eighteen respondents were involved with computers and/or the internet. Forty were students. And eleven were writers or artists (fourteen if web writers are included). Otherwise, they ran the gamut from stripper to clinical psychologist, and from salesman to engineer.

Table 4 - Employment













Sales/Retail Clerk



Restaurant Worker






Most of these



With respect to the Writer/Artist category, one of my contacts, the webmaster of the Satanic Media Watch, offered the criticism that,

"Satanic writers and artists" only do work on webpages or in satanic magazines. In Satanism many people view the artist as an ideal and that makes a lot of Satanists want to view themselves as writers and artist. But the truth is, that most of them do not earn any money from there art.

Although this observation is accurate with respect to some respondents, at least six--and maybe more--of these eleven respondents actually do make their living as graphic artists and professional writers.

            Satanists are politically diverse. Fourteen respondents were Democrats, nine Republicans, sixty three non-political, and forty one Independent or Third Party. The significant number of Independent/Third Party respondents markedly sets Satanists apart from the larger population. This finding is congruent with what one might anticipate from people following an individualistic philosophy.

Table 5 - Political Affiliation































The traditions in which Satanists are raised reflect the general pattern of the larger society. Two respondents were raised as secular Jews, twenty eight were raised Catholic, seventy seven raised Protestant (sixteen explicitly mentioned Baptist and nine Lutheran), and twenty three nothing or no response. Many respondents indicated that their Christian upbringing was nominal, though several were the children of ministers. The only unusual responses were two respondents who were raised Neopagan and two raised as Satanists. 

Table 6 - Religious Heritage



















None or N/R



People become involved in Satanism in diverse ways, though more often through reading and personal study: Sixty four said they became involved through personal study/books (thirty explicitly mentioned the Satanic Bible), twenty four through other people, seventeen through the internet, and two through music (one specifically mentioned Marilyn Manson). Other responses were harder to classify: One respondent, for instance, said he became interested in Satanism as the result of a Geraldo Rivera program; another, that he became interested as a result of taking a religious studies class. If the seventeen internet responses are added to the sixty-four personal study/book responses, we can assert that the majority of Satanists become involved through reading.

Table 7 - Introduction to Satanism







Satanic Bible
















Most Satanists have been involved in other religions, usually Neopaganism or some other magical group: Forty-five respondents (slightly less than a third of the sample) indicated that, beyond the religion in which they were raised, they had not been involved in any other form of spirituality before coming to Satanism. Forty eight mentioned Neopaganism, twenty two some other “left-hand path” (LHP--e.g., Thelemic Magic; Chaos Magic), twenty one an Eastern religion (fifteen Buddhism), and fourteen some form of Christianity (not counting the religion in which they were raised). These add up to more than the total number of respondents because twenty-two people had been involved in more than one other religion.

Table 8 - Other Religions



















There is no typical pattern to involvement in Satanist groups. Sixty-seven respondents had never been involved in such a group, thirty five are or have been involved in only one group, and thirty eight have been or are involved in more than one group.

Table 9 - Satanist group involvement

Number of groups















More than Five



Most Satanists are humanistic (atheistic/agnostic) Satanists, reflecting the dominant influence of Anton LaVey's thought. Sixty percent of respondents (84) said that Satan was a symbol, an archetype, myself, nature, or some other anti-theistic understanding of Satan. Twenty five indicated that Satan was an impersonal force. (Though not regarded as “supernatural,” this force is something not adequately understood by current science.) Nineteen were theistic Satanists, although even most of these respondents did not have what one would call a traditional view of Satan/god/demons. Twelve respondents did not answer this item.

        Satanists believe in the efficacy of magic. Only fourteen respondents stated that they did not believe in magic. Fifteen others did not respond to this item. The balance did answer this question, though they often noted that magic was not “supernatural.” This again reflects the influence of LaVey on this issue.

        Eight-five respondents never meet with other co-religionists for religious/ritual purposes, thirty one rarely, and everyone else ran the gamut from one or two times a year to every week. In other words, more than eighty percent of all respondents rarely or never meet with co-religionists for religious/ritual purposes.

        Finally, the Satanist community is an internet community. While more than half of all Satanists do not meet with their coreligionists face-to-face, Fifty-eight communicate with others in talk rooms or via e-mail on a daily basis and another thirty one communicate frequently. This finding is congruent with the scattered geographical distribution of Satanists.

Satanist Profile

With a limited sample such as this, it is difficult to draw hard-and-fast conclusions. The representativeness of the sample partially depends on the size of the population from which the sample is drawn. Some of my Satanist contacts "guestimated" the total number of practicing, self-identified Satanists in North America to be no more than 700-800. If this is the case, then the number of respondents represents a good sample. On the other hand, the editor of The Black Flame, a Satanist magazine, commented on this estimate by noting that:

Each issue of The Black Flame sells between 7 and 8 thousand copies. If even only half of the readers were folks who consider themselves to be Satanists, this would up the estimate given above for practicing Satanists by a good deal. I submit a good deal more than half of those who buy this magazine see themselves as Satanists, and the bulk of our sales are in North America, with the UK and the Scandinavian countries following in amount of copies sold.

It would thus be reasonable to argue that there are thousands of self-identified Satanists in North America and Europe. In either case, I will proceed to discuss the data as if it represents a reasonably accurate picture of the Satanist community as a whole.

            To construct a statistical caricature, we could say that the "average" Satanist is an unmarried, white male in his mid-twenties with a few years of college. He became involved in Satanism through something he read in high school, and has been a self-identified Satanist for seven or eight years. Raised Christian, he explored one non-Satanist religious group beyond the one in which he was raised before settling into Satanism. His view of Satan is some variety of non-theistic humanism and he practices magic.

            Although this profile is statistically accurate with respect to the sample, there are obvious problems with regarding it as a static datum. Specifically, the relative youth of Satanists indicates that, if a similar questionnaire was to be sent to this same set of respondents five or ten years from now, a significantly higher percentage would be married college graduates with children. The occupational aspect of the profile would also likely be somewhat different. In other words, the survey's finding that a majority of questionnaire respondents are single and have not finished college does not mean that one can therefore conclude that most Satanists are socially-challenged dropouts.


            One of the more remarkable findings was the extended length of time the average Satanist has been involved in the movement. The statistic that the typical participant has been a Satanist for seven to eight years indicates a level of seriousness I had not anticipated. It also demonstrates that their relative youth cannot be taken as indicating that Satanists are simply going through a youthful, rebellious "phase."

            At the same time, the statistic that most became involved during their teens indicates that many initially became Satanists as a form of teenage rebelliousness. Their involvement did not, however, end after they left home. Rather, they went on to appropriate Satanism as a serious religious option. The fact that a 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 the majority of people become Satanists.

            The follow-up questionnaire contained a number of open-ended items that asked respondents what role they felt rebelliousness played in the "recruitment" of new Satanists, why individuals left Satanism, and how they regarded other religions. Many of the responses to these items were intelligent and thoughtful, often reflecting a maturity and insightfulness that exceeded my expectations.

            To begin with the "rebellion factor," a few respondents diminished the role of rebelliousness, while others disparaged rebellious young Satanists, asserting, for example, that they should "GO HOME and solve problems with their parents." Most were less negative, noting that this factor indeed played a significant part in creating new Satanists. One respondent went so far as to observe:

    I think rebellion is the ONLY reason people initially come to Satanism. They want something more. A sense of self. A sense of power over their lives. A sense of self-importance to some degree. They are tired of conforming and pretending to be something they’re not. Or they’re tired of being just like everyone else. Most people convert as teens.

The general tendency was to acknowledge the important role of this factor, but to indicate that, while many such adolescents eventually dropped out of the movement, some went on to transform their participation into something more serious:

There are many who are initially attracted to us because they think we are "bad" or "evil" or offer easy sex or drugs. These people very quickly weed themselves out and find somewhere else to be. The rare exception to this rule is those who find more than they had dared to hope for, and thereby become some of our strongest supporters.

One respondent made a distinction between two forms of rebelliousness, indicating that adolescent rebelliousness could mature into something "higher":

    There is more than one kind of rebelliousness in the world, and I think it takes a certain kind of mature rebelliousness to become involved in Satanism. It takes a willingness to step beyond the safety boundaries of society, to become involved in the dark "underbelly" of our culture. I have seen two kinds of rebelliousness in Satanists: the kind that I speak of; a quiet and mature rebelliousness that drives the person to seek out their own path, apart from the norm - and the kind that I have a great distaste for; the adolescent urge to shock. Admittedly, the adolescent urge to shock will always be a part of Satanism, but I regard it as merely a gateway to the "higher" kind of rebelliousness.

Finally, another respondent expressed the opinion that Satanists needed to get beyond regarding rebellion as an end in itself: "It is always easier to destroy than to create, and to attack than to defend. If Satanism is to be more than a reaction, rebellion must be perceived as a tool and not as a goal."

When asked why people leave Satanism, respondents again provided a wide range of answers. Most observed that individuals often came to Satanism during a certain "phase" of their personal unfoldment, only to drop out after they completed that particular developmental stage. Nevertheless, many of these people "carry the same beliefs with them" after they leave (meaning that their personal philosophies continued to resonate with many Satanic ideals). One respondent noted that many participants dropped out of the movement after discovering that it failed to live up to Hollywood stereotypes:

    I feel that some people stumble into Satanism thinking they will be able to do as they wish from powers given to them by the Devil (Satan) and when they realize that there is actually thought and intelligence within, they feel bored. Most want to be able to curse and kill or hate for no reason. Those who stay are sound in mind and spirit, and have a very strong will for life, or anything they do in life.

And finally, one respondent articulated the idea that the people who did not drop out of the movement were "born Satanists":

    There is a saying that Satanists are born not made. Many people come to Satanism because of their rebellious nature…however, not all are true Satanists. Some are just looking for attention from their parents, some are just there to shock people, but the true Satanists are there because [they find] a belief system [they already] believed in [and had] lived their entire lives.

Another questionnaire item that indirectly addressed the issue of the "rebellion factor" asked respondents what they thought of other religions. As one would anticipate, many Satanists denounced theistic religion outright as a "hoax" and a "folly." More than a few, however, begrudgingly acknowledged other religions' right to exist; e.g.: "I accept people who really believe in something (even if it is damn Christianity)." In this same vein, other respondents noted:

    I don’t have as much of a problem with some Christians as I do with Christianity. To me, Christianity is a money-making business, nothing more.

    Christianity is a good faith. Works wonders for a lot of people. Occupies their life, makes them feel better about their pathetic lives. I have nothing against it, really.

The majority of respondents, however, were less negative, although their views exhibited a wide range of opinion. This spectrum can best be illustrated by examining a set of short citations from a series of different questionnaire responses:

I am ambivalent… Needless to say, I disagree with many tenets of Christianity. But I see that as secondary to our interaction as mature human beings

All religions are fine. It's certain PEOPLE IN those religions or LEADERS…that cause the problems.

Other religions are composed of mostly good people who are simply trying to find their own way in the world.

I'm glad there are many religions out there because religion is not a one size fits all thing.

If we make the (admittedly problematic) inference that this pattern of responses is representative of the larger Satanist community, it radically undercuts the common stereotype that all or even the majority of Satanists hate Christians and Christianity. It also flies in the face of the casual assumption that all or most people become Satanists in reaction to the Christian tradition.

            It should further be noted that, as reflected in the thoughtfulness of many of the above responses, Satanists tend to be more intellectual than average. The finding that most became involved as a result of reading, for instance, indicates that they read more than the typical citizen (e.g., most adult Americans read an average of one book per year or less). They are also freethinkers, who, if involved in the political process (and the majority are), tend to be independent voters or supporters of third parties.

            Religiously,whether or not they are formal members of the Church of Satan, Anton LaVey's particular formulation is a central if not the central component in most Satanist thinking. This is especially true with respect to conceptions of Satan and magic.

            Finally, many Satanists (or at least those who responded to the questionnaire) are primarily internet Satanists. This is at least partially because of the "scattered" geographical distribution of Satanists, although, according to my contacts, the marked individualism of modern Satanists--which mitigates against close group work--is also a factor.


The Enduring Influence of Anton LaVey

Before I began collecting questionnaire data, I had formed the impression from perusing relevant websites that contemporary Satanism had developed in different directions from the specific formulation developed by Anton LaVey in the 1960's. In particular, 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 (SB). A full 20% of respondents explicitly noted the SB as the single most important factor attracting them to Satanism. It is also likely that this book played a major role in the "conversion" of other Satanists in my sample. In response to a questionnaire item asking how they became involved, a number of people simply wrote, "I read the Satanic Bible." 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 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.

            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."

            It thus appears that the SB is a doctrinal touchstone for many--though certainly not all--participants in this movement, despite the fact that the great majority of contemporary Satanists are 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 SB plays the role of a "bible" for many members of this decentralized, anti-authoritarian subculture.

            This is not to say, however, that Satanists regard the SB in the same way Christians regard the Christian Bible. Many are aware, for example, that LaVey drew heavily on the thinking of others when he composed his "bible." Many have also become aware in recent years that LaVey fabricated a semi-legendary biography for himself (Wright, 1991). However, neither of these facts undercut the legitimacy of the SB because the Satan Bible is not a "sacred text." Rather, the SB is significant because of the philosophy of life it advocates, not because of any divine--or diabolical--authority.

            In a follow-up questionnaire, respondents were explicitly asked how they regarded the SB, 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 SB. One Satanist said that the SB 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 traditional Satanists asserted that they regarded the SB as just another "self-help book." Some respondents diminished (without disparaging) the SB 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 LaVey has sometimes been dismissed as having done little more than throw together disparate ideas and practices into an artificial syncretism and dress it up in sensational trappings, it appears that his creation is highly attractive to a certain segment of the population. Part of the reason for this attractiveness 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, as discussed in the introductory section to the present paper, 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 represents 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 associated with the Devil. (As one respondent wrote, "Satan stands for all that Christians deem wrong in the world.") LaVeyan Satanism celebrates such "vices" as virtues, and identifies them as the core of what Satanism is really all about. Finally, LaVey was able to suggest the reality of mysterious, "occult" forces while simultaneously appealing to an atheist viewpoint that, he asserted, was supported by modern science.

            The pervasive influence of LaVey's vision was reflected in numerous responses to a questionnaire item about the nature of Satan. One respondent wrote that "Satan is not physical or even spiritual..., but instead is a mythological character whose saving quality is his pride and refusal to obey just for the sake of obeying." Echoing LaVey's focus on individualistic atheism, another respondent observed, "To the majority of [Satanists], there is no higher spiritual ruler. We take on the role of god/goddess as we are the ones who control our destinies, and do for ourselves all that a supposed 'god' is said to be doing for us." Satan also represents "absolute indulgence and pleasure."

            Satan is often referred to as an "archetype." One respondent noted that the Devil is a symbol or "archetype of indulgence, ambition, animality, the life force." Another said that Satan was the archetype of "The one who was not afraid to question even the divine. The symbolism represents our need to question and evaluate the accepted philosophies and not accept any 'truth' at face value." And yet another respondent wrote: "The Satan/Prometheus archetype represents dynamic individualism within a stagnant cultural context, in all spheres of human behavior." And finally, "'Satan' is the archetype of our will. It is our intellect and identity. We are an animal that identifies itself as a higher species because of our strong will. That identification is manifest through the archetype of Satan."

            These LaVeyan notions do not, however, exhaust the kinds of answers respondents provided. In addition to a handful of people who asserted that there is a "real" Satan or real demons, a significant subset of respondents described Satan almost mystically as an energy, or as, "The unknown and unseen force that moves the universe." Some respondents emphasized the impersonality of this force, as a "faceless, purposeless power without direction, given name to become more limited and comprehensible to the human mind. Without form, without thought." Similarly, another respondent portrayed Satan as a force like gravity: "Satan represents the cosmic forces which act to create occurrences and which guide the life process such as the moon dominating the tides of the ocean." At times, this view of Satan as an impersonal force almost seemed to explode out of its naturalistic mold to express a genuinely mystical view of the universe:

            [Satan is] that which is felt but not seen--the part of you that truly moves and motivates us as humans at our deepest levels. It is where we touch upon that which is eternal. It is divine in ways that a Christian will never know exists because it can only be spoken of within a book, but never DEFINED within a book. It is just as terrifying as it is exalting, and is usually encountered during times of great stress during which we must "evolve or die." When we touch upon the primal, it is just as horrifying as it is beautiful.


Given this impersonal view of Satan, one might well ask why one should even use the self-designation "Satanist." Among other reasons (e.g., refer to Barton, p. 64), LaVey asserted that it was useful to call oneself a Satanist because it shocked other people into thinking. As one respondent wrote, "There is no Satan. The word [is] used...only for shock value because the Christians believe there is a 'Satan.'"

            Descriptions of Satan as an impersonal force tended to overlap respondents' descriptions of how magic works. Though many described magic as operating in a purely psychological way, most indicated that magic could also involve actual forces--forces that, while physical, had not yet been grasped by science. The former, psychological view is well represented in the following:

            Magick is causing change in conformity to Will, therefore everyone practices magick, whether they call it magick or not. If we want something, we perform the work to get it. If we want to make more money, chanting over a candle does nothing, but getting an education works. Chanting over a candle may help the magician to focus, or even believe a higher power is helping him/her through school, but in itself does nothing.

Most respondents, however, indicated that magic did something more than this to aid them in "rewriting the script of life." Implying the existence of an unknown but nevertheless non-occult power, one respondent defined magic as "the name for anything that cannot be completely explained scientifically, but still exists. All technology was once magic...." and another as, "the manipulation of the subtle forces of nature that are not currently detectable to science." One example of these forces is the ability of dogs "to predict natural catastrophes. Dogs have essentially evolved to utilize what Satanists call 'Satan.'" One respondent identified the forces manipulated in magic with "the biochemical energies your body gives off during the ritual." In whatever way they conceptualize it, most modern Satanists would agree that it is "The mind set of the magician [that sets the] stage for successful magic or failure," rather than the specific elements of magical rituals.

Other Issues

In a follow-up questionnaire, I examined other aspects of what might be called the "Satanist stereotype," such as the extent of Satanist participation in role-playing games (RPGs) like Dungeons & Dragons, and the Satanic appreciation for heavy metal music. (No questions were asked about "ritual abuse," as all serious scholars have dismissed the empirical reality of this pseudo-phenomenon.) What little data I have gathered on these issues thus far indicates some interest in mainstream heavy metal, but minimal interest in more extreme forms (such as so-called "Satanic" metal music). Respondents expressed variable interest in RPGs.

            I also attempted to gage awareness of a handful of specific thinkers associated with modern Satanism for one reason or the other—Aleister Crowley, Ayn Rand, Frederick Nietzsche, Charles Baudelaire, and Ragnar Redbeard. More respondents were familiar with the writings of Crowley and Nietzsche than the others, and many had read Crowley. Despite the fact that LaVey described his religion as "just Ayn Rand's philosophy with ceremony and ritual added" (cited in Ellis, p. 180), only a handful of respondents were more than passingly familiar with Rand.

            When respondents were asked about their movement's reputation for hedonism, most respondents were only too happy to embrace this aspect of Satanism's cultural image. Many also noted, however, that most people (including Christians) were also hedonistic, but were either hypocritical or guilt-ridden about it. As one respondent asserted, "The only difference between the Satanist and the ordinary person is that the Satanist indulges knowingly and on purpose. The ordinary person pretends they aren't doing it, or goes to confession after doing it."

            In contrast to their general agreement about hedonism, Satanists were split in their response to the question on animal sacrifice. None of the respondents claimed they had actually participated in such rites, and most had no direct contact with people who did. Many respondents were extremely critical of the practice, asserting, for example, that "if you ever hear of a satanic sacrifice, it's either bulls**t, or the 'Satanist' deserves a good beating." At the other end of the spectrum were certain traditional Satanists who, like Santeria practitioners, "sacrifice chickens during certain rites. The dead chickens are consumed at a feast afterward."

            In recent years, the most controversial self-identified Satanists have been certain neo-Nazi, northern European Satanists who burn down Christian churches (see Moynihan and Soderlind 1998). Most other Satanists, particularly outside of continental Europe, regard these individuals negatively, although Satanists are not uniform on this point. Some respondents expressed a degree of ambivalence, as reflected in the following remarks:

If they see the churches they burn down as symbols of evil and oppression, and see their burning as a symbolic liberation of the human spirit, as well as a very real damage to the resources of their enemy, then so be it. [But] Nazism is part of a sick sadomasochistic fetish that confuses sexuality with games of power and domination.

Burning churches is a difficult topic. I don't know if they were serious Satanists, but in my opinion it is very silly because it is just a building after all and it isn't worth being imprisoned for that.

The rage they feel is legitimate, however you don't solve problems by attacking the innocent. There is no honor in it as a warrior, which is how many of these people see themselves. Nazism is largely based on ancient Nordic warrior traditions that knew the value of honor among your enemies; these idiots don't. They are not part of "us" as modern Satanists, especially as it is practiced here in the U.S.


Most respondents were strongly critical, dismissing church-burners as "violent, unbalanced people with serious mental problems and an unhealthy fascination with fascism." Or, to cite another Satanist: "Nazism is not Satanism… No one has the right to destroy anything [belonging to] someone else. Those who do deserve a very hefty punishment." And finally:

Everyone has the right to believe in what she or he deems fit for their lives. I know that I wouldn't want anyone to burn my house down because that is where I practice my religion…. As for Nazis, well, I have a special disdain for them.  Having been married to a crazy KKK member for three years, I think that they all have a bunch of screws loose and they give a bad name to Satanism everywhere.

            Perhaps the most problematic aspect of mainstream Satanism from the perspective of an outside observer is the practice of cursing. Although all but one respondent agreed that cursing worked--and that it worked independently of whether or not the targeted person was aware of being cursed--most asserted that they rarely engaged in the practice. There was clearly some reluctance about discussing this aspect of Satanism. Thus, for example, in response to an open-end item requesting respondents to describe their experience of casting an effective curse, more than one person wrote, "Would prefer not to comment," or something similar. Others left the item blank or responded with "non-applicable." One Satanist even wrote, "I consider this to be about as personal a question as asking my wife if she has met my mistress."

            Three respondents provided extended accounts of effective curses that put this practice in perspective:

    A co-worker of mine had given me a lot of problems for an extended period of time, to the point I was ready to kick the crap out of him but didn't want to get fired for it. So I worked a curse on him in which I saw myself as "sucking" the life force out of his face. The following day I noticed he wasn't at work, nor for a couple of days after this. When I inquired about him via his girlfriend, I was told he had awakened in the night vomiting blood and had to be taken to the hospital. The doctors never found anything wrong with him, and he was able to return to work a few days later. It did, however, seem to give him a serious attitude adjustment by looking his own mortality in the eye. It is also worth noting that the imagery involved here actually surprised me, as I didn't [anticipate] the graphic nature of it [to work itself out so concretely] as far as "sucking" from his face goes. It was way too intimate a gesture with another man, and one whom I despised at that. Just goes to show, magick will often take very unexpected twists on you without much warning.

    It’s very exhausting to put a curse on someone. It will weaken you, that is why its not done very often. However, the end result [of a particular cursing ritual] was the person that the curse was for ended up getting stomach cancer not long afterwards. It took him three years to die. Understand that this man that we (my coven and I) had cursed was a chronic rapist.  He got what he deserved.

    I have cursed several people in my lifetime. The bulk of the time the curses were simply meant to show these people the error of their ways by having something happen to them to show them what they are doing to others is wrong. These curses tend to be very effective and are harmless. However, more specifically, I have cursed people to death - twice. I cursed the man who raped me - within one week he died from congestive heart failure. I cursed the boyfriend of a friend because he beat her while she was pregnant, kicked her in the abdomen, and she lost the baby. Within one week, he died in a car crash - he was hit head on by a drunk driver.  Needless to say - I don't use curses unless I feel it is absolutely necessary. It's not something to be taken lightly.

In fact, none of the respondents to the follow-up questionnaire appeared to take the matter of cursing lightly. One Satanist group has even articulated a set of rules for applying curses. In the words of one respondent:

    [W]e have rules for this 1. Wait three days before doing anything. 2. Assess how you feel about the situation and see if there is another way to resolve the issue. 3. Determine what you want the curse to do - ALWAYS have a clear goal. 4. Do not regret what you are doing or you will bring that negative energy back on yourself in guilt.

Satanists apparently feel that it is as justifiable to curse a truly "bad" person as it is to punish a law-breaker, particularly in a society that often neglects to rein in abusers. Thus while there are undoubtedly more than a few immature Satanists who unthinkingly curse anyone who irritates them, for most, cursing is a kind of vigilantee justice, undertaken only as a last resort.

            Even if a ritual curse does not "work," however, it can be a valuable practice, if only to vent one's anger: "The positive effect of cursing is that it can be mentally healing for the magician by allowing her to dispel pent up negative energy toward a person." This venting can be effective self-therapy even if it has no observable external impact: "My cursings have always had the secret motivation of being more effective on me, to get that nice avenged feeling without ever really knowing if the curse worked."

            It should be noted in passing that my interest in negative public images of Satanists caused me to focus one-sidedly on destructive (cursing) magic. With the benefit of hindsight, I should also have asked about lust (love) and compassion (healing) magic. (In this regard, see part four of LaVey 1969.) In other words, Satanic ritual magic has a much brighter side that my questionnaire did not address.

            Respondents themselves expressed concern about Satanism and the way it is perceived. Several people were concerned about the tendency of society to apply traditional stereotypes to modern Satanism: "Satanists DO NOT sacrifice virgins and drink blood and so on, and I hope Satanism will be taken seriously as a religion."  Perhaps the single greatest concern expressed was the alarming tendency of many Satanists to try to make Satanism into another clique:

            Conformity as a movement can be a useful tool, given the need to mobilize ourselves for a task, but a lack of individuality and personal meaning is detrimental to the very essence of Satanism. Then the movement is not of Satanists but rather one of angry sheep looking to reclaim their wool.

A rhetorical strategy often employed when Satanists criticize other Satanists is to accuse them of being crypto-Christians. Thus another respondent expressed concern over conformity within the movement in the following way:

            I hate to see people praising the name of Satan when to them it's nothing more than some Picasso Christianity. Satanism is in the individual, and to really be able to proclaim oneself a Satanist (the ANTITHESIS of Christian follow-the-leader tactics) they should be able to say "F**k Satan" quicker than they get down on all fours and start singing Christian hymns backwards.

This concern spills over into the concern about the phenomenon of adolescent Satanism (discussed earlier), which tends to create the impression that the movement is not a serious religion.

Many tend to view Satanic practitioners as troubled adolescents with poor education and family backgrounds. This is not necessarily the case…. Of course, the view of Satan as a rebel is a draw to most teens that dabble in Satanism or "Reverse Christianity" (the latter is most often the case), but these types tend to outgrown the fascination when they reach their twenties.

At its best, according respondents, mature Satanism is an attractive religion which, like all religions, provides a structure of meaning and enhances one's life:

            Religion is an integral part of the human experience. There are people who can live without it, but I find the life of an Atheist rather sterile. Satanism gives me a connection to things greater than myself and opens a door of new sights, sounds, smells, ritual, art, music, and a connection with a tribal underculture. [Finally], Satanism provides me with a moral view of the Universe in which I live.



As we noted earlier, the author of The Psychology of Adolescent Satanism unwittingly praises Satanism for its empowering influence in the lives of confused young people. In fact, many of Moriarty's observations about the first Satanist he encountered in his professional practice dovetail nicely with the findings of the present study, and it is perhaps fitting to bring our discussion to a close with one final citation from The Psychology of Adolescent Satanism:

            [The young Satanist] presented himself with a sense of power and control that was eerie. He controlled the venting of his anger with the accuracy of a marksman. His targets were those in authority, most notably his parents. He knew exactly what he was doing. He also praised Satan for giving him this new lease on life. He reveled in this power. He practiced rituals that he thought gave him more power. His authority was The Satanic Bible. This kid was really different.

Ironically, Moriarty has spelled out not only some of the factors that initially draw individuals to Satanism, but also some of the important reasons for why they stay.

            One becomes a Satanist for much the same reasons one joins any religion--to achieve a sense of meaning, a supportive community, personal empowerment, and so forth. Sometimes these choices are impulsive or ill-considered, and many converts disaffiliate soon after joining. The majority who remain, however, eventually integrate their new religion into their personal identities as they mature in their "faith" (if I may be permitted to use this traditional term in the present context). Satanism, it turns out, is no exception to this general rule. Far from being confined to adolescent rebels, the data examined in the present study indicates that many Satanists are reflective individuals who--despite the fact that youthful rebellion was often a factor in the beginning--have come to appropriate Satanism as a mature religious option.

link sectionAppendix: Websites


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 Church of Satan: A History of the World's Most Notorious Religion. NY: Hell's Kitchen, 1990.

---------------. 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.

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

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.

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.

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

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

Copyright © James R. Lewis 2001

First published in Marburg Journal of Religion