Thursday, June 16, 2011

Classic literary Satanist novel gets favorable review on Religion Dispatches website

Some good news:

Today the Religion Dispatches site published a favorable commentary on one of the classic works of literary Satanism, Revolt of the Angels by Anatole France, written back in 1914: Devil’s Bookmark: Sex and Drugs and Hating God by Bernard Schweizer, June 14, 2011.

Schweizer remarks: "What is interesting to me is the fact that Anatole France’s hatred of God — what I call an absolute misotheism, because it seeks to destroy God rather than wrestle and quarrel with him — is happily wedded to benevolent Satanism. ... He can do this under the guise of satire, which fits his discourse rather like a jester’s motley outfit."

Schweizer's article about Revolt of the Angels is the latest in a series of Religion Dispatches articles by Schweizer on "misotheism" - hatred of God.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

More about Cimminnee Holt and the definition of "Satanism"

Earlier today, I posted Cimminnee Holt and the definition of "Satanism", about a religion scholar who has accepted the Church of Satan's sectarian definition of the word "Satanism." My post earlier today was my preliminary response to a news story about Cimminnee Holt, written before I found a copy of her paper itself.

Later, I read the "Methodology" section of her paper and found that she had discussed the terminology issue. I responded in a post on another blog of mine, More about Cimminnee Holt and the definition of “Satanism”. After commenting on her reasons, I concluded:
.... It is likely that Holt's acceptance of the Church of Satan's definition of "Satanism" will continue to be an anomaly among religion scholars. After all, as Per Faxneld told me during one of his visits to New York City, theistic forms of Satanism are likely to be more interesting to religion scholars than the CoS worldview.

But we theistic Satanists shouldn't take this for granted. We need to prove to the academic world that we exist in sufficiently large numbers to be worth studying. So, if you are a theistic Satanist who does not want the CoS to succeed in their attempts to monopolize the definition of "Satanism," please respond ASAP to James Lewis's current survey.

Cimminnee Holt and the definition of "Satanism"

Most new-religion scholars who have studied Satanism are aware that LaVeyan Satanism isn't the one and only form of Satanism. For some examples, see my 2006 page about The definition of "Satanism" according to new-religion scholars and other observers.

More recently, Per Faxneld, a Swedish historian of religion who is now writing a book on the history of Satanism, has told me he defines Satanism as any "system in which Satan is celebrated."

So I was a bit startled to come across the Canadian news story Satanism isn’t for devil worshippers, says Canadian researcher by Derek Abma, Montreal Gazette, June 4, 2011, about research by Cimminnee Holt, a graduate student in the department of religion at Montreal’s Concordia University. She is quoted as discussing Satanism strictly in terms of the Church of Satan's definition.

Using the word "Satanism" to mean LaVeyan Satanism is a little like using the workd "Christianity" to refer only to the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church. Admittedly, all too many Satanist leaders today are even worse than Christians in their insistance on sectarian definitions of "Satanism." But a scholar should use more neutral terminology, it seems to me.

The Montreal Gazette story mentions that Cimminnee Holt recently had a research paper called "Death and Dying in the Satanic Worldview" published in the Journal of Religion and Culture. Judging by the description, the title should have been "Death and Dying in the LaVeyan Satanic Worldview." There isn't just one "Satanic worldview." For example, some (not all) theistic Satanists do believe in an afterlife. Some believe in reincarnation.

I wonder: Is she unaware of the existence of other public forms of Satanism? Or has she herself become a CoS partisan? I would like to encourage her to expand her research -- or at least to stop using a sectarian definition of the word "Satanism."

The news story also briefly mentions Scott Robb, a Canadian Satanist who unsuccessfully ran for a seat on Edmonton’s city council last October.

The reporter also solicited a disapproving quote from a Christian: Rev. Bruce Gregersen, general council officer of mission and ministry for the United Church of Canada, who is quoted as saying, “We do not support, in any way, taking lightly the nature of evil or, therefore, of Satan.” I wonder what practical significance, if any, a belief in Satan has for The United Church of Canada, which is one of the most liberal Christian denominations. Googling, I found no evidence that they perform exorcisms, for example.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

What's happening now: Not an "apocalypse," but important battles nonetheless

Lots of people today, including some Satanists, believe we are living in the era of an imminent Apocalypse. I personally see no reason to expect a full-fledged "apocalypse" - although I do believe that we are living in a very significant era. I also do believe that we need to take our enemies (e.g. the Christian religious right wing) seriously and work to counteract them.

We live in an era of increasing religious polarization. But religious polarization has had its ups and downs over the past few centuries. What's happening now is yet another upswing.

As for war, today's wars (which typically kill tens of thousands of people) are actually not nearly as bad as many of the wars of the 1900's (which killed millions).

And Christianity is not dying. Far from it. Christianity is growing in some places, shrinking in other places. The more middle-of-the-road sectors of Christianity are shrinking, but the more fanatical forms have been growing in many countries around the world, including the U.S.A., these past several decades. Perhaps Christianity will eventually die, but if so, that's likely to take at least another few centuries.

What is new is the growth of today's new religions plus
subcultures like the goth scene. Also new is today's increasing freedom for sexual minorities (at least in some countries). We are also living in a technological Golden Age. For all these reasons, one could say that we are living in the most "Satanic" era ever. And all these trends are likely to continue, albeit with ups and downs.

In the meantime, the Christian religious right wing is a formidable foe -- although, fortunately, it also has formidable opposition.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

To all who send me friend requests on Facebook

To all who send me friend requests on Facebook:

Hi! As you may know, I'm the founder of two in-person Satanist groups that meet in New York City, and I'm the author of a well-known website on theistic Satanism.

There are other ways I prefer to get to know people via Facebook, rather than via my Friends list. I have chosen not to accumulate a huge "Friends" list of people I don't yet know. But you're welcome to interact with me on Facebook in one or more of the following other ways:

1) One of the best ways for us to begin interacting on Facebook would be for you to "Like" and then post on my public page: Diane Vera, polytheistic Satanist in NYC. To enable yourself to post on my page, you'll need to click the "Like" button at the top of the page.

2) You're also invited to join either or both of the following Facebook groups, if they interest you: (a) Watching Satan's avowed enemies (about anti-Satanist panic mongers and the Christian religious right wing) and (b) Counter-Evangelism (a place to brainstorm literature to counteract the fundamentalist mindset; and also a place to share ideas on how to cope with any evangelizing Christians - or Muslims, etc. - in our lives.)

3) If you live in or near New York City, or if you travel to NYC now and then, you are invited to join the Meetup groups and Facebook groups/pages listed on the following page of my Theistic Satanism site: Attention, New Yorkers!, and to meet me in person at a public meeting of one of these groups.

4) For other ways to contact me, off of Facebook, please see: the contact info on my Theistic Satanism site.

I prefer to limit my Friends list to people I already know. But you and I can get to know each other via your participation in one or more of the above-mentioned Facebook groups/pages, or via my blogs, if you would like. We can then become Facebook "friends" later, after some interaction via one or more of the means mentioned above.

Finally, to ensure your ability to stay in touch with me via my Facebook pages and groups, please read the following:

Have you noticed that you are seeing updates or getting comments from only the same people lately? That's because FB made a change. You see posts only from people you've interacted with recently, not from everyone on your Friends list, nor from all the pages you "Like". To change this, scroll down to the bottom of the "News Feed" on the homepage and click on 'Edit Options,' then click on 'Show Posts From' and change the setting to 'All Of Your Friends and Pages'.

Even then, your "News Feed" still will normally show updates only from your friends, NOT from the pages you've liked. To see updates from pages, go to this page instead of your normal "News Feed." Or, on your normal "News Feed" page, click "Most Recent" (next to "Top News" at the top of your "News Feed"), then click the drop-down menu to the right of "Most Recent," then select "Pages." PLEASE LET ALL YOUR FRIENDS KNOW ABOUT THESE CHANGES TO FACEBOOK.

I look forward to hearing from you by the means mentioned above.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Church of Azazel in the Supernatural Season 5 DVD set

The Church of Azazel proto-congregation has been featured in a mass-media documentary, one of the "Special Features" in the DVD release of Supernatural Season 5. I recently received -- finally! -- my complimentary copy of the DVD's, a 6-disk set.

It took me a while to figure out where to find the interview with Church of Azazel members. So, to make it easier for others to find:

On disk 6, click on "Special features." Then click "Apocalypse survival guides." Wait a bit, until eventually you are taken to an old cassette player with a taped label on it saying "Play Me." Click the red button. After a brief monologue, you'll then be taken to a room containing an old TV set and a pair of double doors. Click the double doors. The doors open to a library, giving you a choice of three places you can click: an exit corridor, a bookcase, and a desk. Click the bookcase. You are then taken to a pile of VHS videotape documentaries. Click on "Search for Lucifer," the second tape from the bottom.

One part of this documentary is an interview with three members of our local group, including myself. I'm in shadow in this one. (I'm gradually rerranging my life so that I can more safely show my face in the future.) The interview is preceded by some annoying ookey-spookiness, including a reference to our group as a "cult." Hello? We're certainly not a "cult" in the perjorative sense in which that word has been used since the 1970's, i.e. an authoritarian group which aggressively proselytizes, isolates its members, etc. On the contrary, members and prospective members of the Church of Azazel are specifically encouraged to explore a wide-variety of religions and worldviews.

The interview is interspersed with a mini-ritual, the Affirmation of our common purpose. I have to say I'm not entirely happy with our performance. We sound awfully stilted. Then again, it's the first time we ever tried to do a ritual in front of a camera. Hopefully we'll do better next time.

The interview itself was pretty good, and was edited reasonably well.

The segment on the Church of Azazel is followed by an interview with a Church of Satan member who makes the usual CoS distinction between (atheistic symbolic) "Satanism" and "theistic Devil worship," claiming that that all "theistic Devil worshipers" are what I call Christian-based duotheists. Hopefully most viewers will have noticed that the Church of Azazel is a counter-example to his claim.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

"Satanic ritual"? Or a Christian fundamentalist/Pentecostal/Charismatic/new-Apostolic attempt to drive out Satan?

According to the news story Police told fire part of satanic ritual by Jennifer Baker,, March 2, 2011: "Charmaine Ranford, 25, of Lincoln Heights, faces one count of aggravated arson. ... Ranford is accused of purposely setting a fire at the Marietta Terrace apartments at 10101 Love Court in Lincoln Heights on Monday. When police took her into custody on Tuesday, she described the act as part of a 'satanic ritual,' records show. No injuries were reported, and damage from the fire was minor, Lincoln Heights police said."

Likewise, according to the news story Woman told police she started fire to perform satanic ritual, FOX19, March 2, 2011: "CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - A Lincoln Heights woman is behind bars after police say she purposefully started an apartment fire as part of a satanic ritual. ... According to court documents, Ranford started a fire at Marietta Terrace on Monday. She admitted to starting the fire and acknowledged she was performing a satanic ritual."

But then, according to the following story: Police: Woman Claims Fire Was Attempt To Remove Satan, WLWT, March 2, 2011: "When confronted by officers, they said Ranford claimed the fire was part of a Satanic ritual. But the woman later said that the fire was to remove Satan from the items being burned, not to worship him" [Emphasis mine].

The WLWT page originally carried the "Satanic ritual" headline too, but then promptly updated it. The other sources have not yet done so.

Maybe the police and court records got Ranford's initial confession wrong? That would seem the most likely explanation. Burning objects that are believed to be inhabited by demons, or which are regarded as a source of temptation, is a very common practice among fundamentalists, Pentecostals, Charismatics, and new-Apostolics. (For some documented examples, see New Apostolic Reformation Leaders Burn Native Art by Bruce Wilson, Talk To ACtion, Tue Oct 19, 2010.) And I would suspect that not every pastor who promotes the burning of such objects is also careful to teach the congregation about fire safety.

Some Satanists, and some non-Satanist ex-Christians too, occasionally perform rites of Cathartic blasphemy that involve burning Bibles or other objects representing their past experiences with abusive authoritarian forms of Christianity. But such rituals are far less common than fundamentalists/Pentecostal/Charismatic/new-Apostolic burnings of non-Christian religious artifacts and lots of other things too, everything from pornography to Harry Potter books. Statistically, it is far more likely that Charmaine Ranford was following fundamentalists/Pentecostal/Charismatic/new-Apostolic teachings than that she was actually practicing some "Satanic ritual." Moreover, had Ranford burned a Bible or any other Christian religious artifact, or if the ritual had involved any actual Satanic symbolism, I'm sure these details would have been featured in the headlines.

I also wonder whether she really intended to confess to "arson" (an attempt to burn the entire building), or whether she just started a fire for the purpose of burning particular objects and was insufficiently mindful of fire safety. I would be interested to know how the police went about interrogating her. It is, alas, far from unheardof for cops to pressure suspects into confessing to something far worse than they are actually guilty of, if anything. It is also not uncommon for the police to make exaggerated charges against someone in anticipation of a plea bargain. Since Charmaine Ranford is also African-American, I also wonder if racism, on the part of the police, might have been a factor here.

I don't know for sure, but I strongly suspect that this woman is a victim of -- among other things -- bureaucratic ignorance about the practices of her particular form of Christianity. If so, I wonder whether her church, if any, will come to her defense, or whether they too will jump to the conclusion that she was practicing "Satanic ritual" and therefore shun her.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Gnosticism and Satanism

One of the oldest known forms of theistic Satanism is Gnostic-based Satanism. It's is not my cup of tea, but it's worth taking a look at, as one of the many varieties of theistic Satanism.

The ancient Gnostics were a religious movement, back in the days of the Roman Empire, that overlapped with Christianity. Scholars disagree on whether it originated as a Christian heresy or whether it was an older religious movement, with origins separate from Christianity, but which then both influenced and was influenced by Christianity.

One subset of the ancient Gnostics, known as the Ophites, venerated the Serpent of the Garden of Eden myth. They did NOT venerate the Biblical god Yahweh, whom they regarded as the Demiurge, the evil creator of a very imperfect universe for the purpose of trapping human souls in matter. They regarded the Serpent as the bringer of wisdom and an emissary of a deity higher than Yahweh. See the Ophite Gnostic scriptures referenced in the following article: The Genesis Factor by Stephan A. Hoeller.

The ancient Ophites weren't "Satanists," in the sense that they didn't identify their venerated Serpent with Satan. Nevertheless, many theistic Satanists do have a similarly favorable interpretation of the Serpent of the Garden of Eden myth. And some theistic Satanists have adopted other aspects of the Gnostic worldview as well.

According to the book Satan Wants You by Arthur Lyons, there was a pre-LaVeyan Satanist group, the Lady of Endor Coven, that existed from the late 1940's to the early 1970's, founded by Herbert Sloane, whose theology was based heavily on Ophite Gnosticism. The Biblical God Yahweh was identified with the Demiurge, and Satan was identified with the Serpent as the bringer of wisdom.

Earlier, Aleister Crowley, who either was or was not a "Satanist" depending on precisely how you define the term "Satanist," also had a worldview strongly influenced by Gnosticism.

I personally reject Gnostic theology, on grounds stated on the following pages: Post-Copernican natural theology and The here-and-now principle in theology. But I would not claim that Gnostic Satanists aren't or can't be "true Satanists." They are one of the many types of theistic Satanists and are, as far as I can tell, the oldest known type.

Monday, February 14, 2011

An interesting religious studies course website

Shortly ago, I happened to come across the web page for a course called Rel 361: A Social History of Satan, taught by Dr. Adam L. Porter at Illinois College in Jacksonville, IL.

The web page lists lots of interesting and worthwhile stuff. However, it leaves out what I consider to be an important bit of history: The various famous writers, in the 1800's, who spoke favorably of "Satan" or "the Devil." These included:
  • William Blake - wrote "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell."
  • Mark Twain - wrote Letters from the Earth and A Pen Warmed in Hell
  • Giosue Carducci (who is considered to have been one of Italy's greatest poets) - wrote a "Hymn to Satan"
  • Charles Baudelaire - wrote "The Litanies of Satan"
  • Matilda Gage (leading 19th century feminist) - referred to Satan as the "God of Freedom" in her book Woman, Church, and State, echoing the French historian Jules Michelet's favorable portrayal of a hypothetical Satanic ceremony by medieval peasants.
  • George Bernard Shaw - wrote The Devil's Disciple and Man and Superman
On the plus side, it appears that the course will devote some attention to the Satanic panic of the 1980's and early 1990's.

These days, ever-growing numbers of "conspiracy theorists" are working hard to revive the panic. So, it's good to see college students being taught about the historical reality. Thank you, Dr. Porter, for including it in your course.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Exorcism, Satanic panic, and a sex scandal involving a Catholic exorcist and anti-abortion activist

Given the popularity of the latest exorcism movie The Rite, and given all the talk about how the exorcism trend is scaring people back into the Catholic Church, I've written several posts about exorcism and related topics on various blogs: