The Little Book of Satanism

La Carmina offers a fresh, brisk, accessible introductory overview of Satanism, past and present

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Imagine you’re going to throw a huge party, no limits. You can invite as many people as you want. The setting is totally up to you: perhaps a mansion atop a hill? Or maybe an open meadow surrounded by deep woods. Or a beachfront yacht club. As for catering—whatever you like. Any food is possible and whatever manner of beverages you prefer is no problem. Live music? DJ? Both? Your call.

Now don’t worry—this is all being funded by someone else. You won’t pay a dime. We’re talking endless resources.

There’s just one little catch: you have to invite either God or Satan to your party.

Who would you rather have at this amazing shindig? Which supernatural superstar would you prefer as your guest of honor?

If you’re like most people, the answer is obvious and immediate: Satan.

Nobody wants God at their fucking party. Please.

If God is there, it is going to be one polite, stiff, drab, stale, boring, mild, slightly anxious party where people will engage in quiet, dull conversation and mind their manners and squirm under the tightness of their neckties and furtively check the time fairly often and then get the hell outta there as soon as possible to go home and watch Netflix and fart.

But if Satan is there? This will no doubt be the party of the century. You know it’s true.

And that’s why, if you have a pulse, you like Satan more than God.

And that’s also why I was more than happy when asked to review La Carmina’s recent publication, The Little Book of Satanism: A Guide to Satanic History, Culture, and Wisdom, published by Ulysses Press, with a sharply-inviting forward by one of the founders of The Satanic Temple, Lucien Greaves.

A graduate of Columbia and Yale Law School, La Carmina is an award-winning journalist, blogger, and TV host. And she’s written here a nimble, accessible little book on Satanism. This is not an extensive, in-depth, scholarly tome. Rather, in the tradition of Oxford University Press’s Very Short Introduction series, it is a brisk read that is thoughtful, thorough, and admirably easy to digest. Writing cogently and concisely can actually be much harder and more challenging that droning on and on, so La Carmina’s deftness in writing a “little book” on Satanism is most laudable.

La Carmina hits all the important notes, including:

  • the earliest sources where a Satan-like being was first constructed (Babylonia and Canaanite myths, Zoroastrianism, the Bible, etc.)
  • European developments (Knights Templar, Dante’s Inferno, Marlowe, Goethe, Milton, etc.)
  • Witch hunts in Massachusetts
  • Hellfire clubs
  • Anton LeVay and the Church of Satan (membership starts at $225)
  • moral panics and the whole Satanic ritual abuse bullshit
  • and The Satanic Temple.

My personal favorite tidbits were the sections on The Taxil Hoax and The Satanic Temple. As for the Taxil Hoax: in the 1890s, a savvy writer who went by the name of Léo Taxil published a series of purportedly real accounts/memoirs of Satanic rituals taking place throughout Paris. They were, of course, all fake. But the many Catholics who believed them to be true were stunned and horrified by the debauchery depicted in these books—and, of course, bought them like hotcakes.

As for The Satanic Temple, we learn of its recent success: Founded only in 2013, it has since gained notable media attention and political prominence, on many fronts: fighting for LGBTQ+ causes, fighting for women’s bodily autonomy and reproductive rights, gaining IRS tax-exempt status as a legitimate religion, and all the while, promulgating secular humanist values of compassion, empathy, justice, freedom, reason, scientific understanding, and wisdom.

I’m actually a member of the Satanic Temple. I joined because, in addition to loving horned deities, I dig the way they are screwing with and actively exposing the ridiculousness of the increasing governmental support of Christianity in the name of “religious freedom.” When our Christian-dominated courts say it is okay for Christians to have student clubs in public schools, then The Satanic Temple starts Satan school clubs for kids; when the courts say it is OK to put up Christian statues in front of city halls, then the Satanic Temple puts up a massive Baphomet; when courts say it is OK to open a public council meeting with a prayer to Jesus, the Satanic Temple requests to offer one of their own. This is devilishly savvy activism that exposes the problems of violating the establishment clause of the first amendment, and the blatant hypocrisy of the theo-fascists who are making careers destroying Jefferson’s wall of separation between church and state.

But in the end, I don’t really understand why the Satanic Temple is a real religion. After all, the core element that makes religion a distinct phenomenon is collective supernatural beliefs. Without such supernatural beliefs—either in gods or spirits or karma or whatnot—then it ain’t religion. And from what I can tell, according to the Satanic Temple’s venerable, humanistic Seven Tenets, there are no supernatural beliefs. Quite the opposite. So, I’m not really sure why they are a religion. La Carmina claims that it is because they hold “sincerely held beliefs.” So do Marxists, Ayn Randians, and vegetarians, of course—but they aren’t religions. La Carmina further says that members of the Satanic Temple “consider Satan a metaphor for rebelling against arbitrary authority and defending individual freedom.” I love that. But do metaphors make for religion? That’s kind of a stretch, no?

La Carmina does not tackle this ontological conundrum—but that’s not the goal of her book. The goal is to provide a sweet little introduction to Satanism, and on that front, she certainly succeeds.
           

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Phil Zuckerman is the author of several books, including What It Means to be Moral (Counterpoint, 2019) The Nonreligious (Oxford, 2016), Living the Secular Life (Penguin, 2014), Faith No More (Oxford,...