Satanism: religion involving either the worship of Satan or the Prince of Darkness under other name(s), or the directing of one's life based on inspirations gained from study of Satan or the Prince of Darkness.
There appear to be four general classifications of Satanists in modern society:
- Rebellious Christians, who view Satanism as the opposite of Christianity, who find themselves missing something within Christianity, and who seek that something in what they think is Satanism.
- Rebellious Adolescents, who rebel against modern society for a variety of reasons, who also adopt the Christian ideas concerning Satanism, and who cloak their social rebellion in the mystique of Satanism.
- Philosophical Satanists, who do not believe in the existence of any Satan or demon or devil, but instead who find inspiration in the study of various "dark" gods and spirits and myths.
- Religious Satanists, who do believe in some Prince of Darkness (a more generic name than Satan), and who worship or otherwise work to fashion their lives based on their ideas concerning the Prince of Darkness.
Most who study Satanism in modern society disregard the first two groups above as relatively unimportant, and focus their study on the latter two.
The largest or most visible organized group of Philosophical Satanists appears to be the Church of Satan, founded by Anton Szandor LaVey. Following LaVey's death, the group has gone through some turmoil and reorganization. Note that while members of the Curch of Satan would consider themselves philosophical, and many of them are atheists, many outsiders (i.e. religion researchers) classify them as religious satanists (even though many of them are aware that members of the Church don't believe in a literal Satan or any other deity). The practice of magick classifies them as religious, at least according to some definitions of religion.
The largest or most visible organized group of Religious Satanists appears to be the Temple of Set, organized by Michael Aquino from members of the Church of Satan who left that Church in 1975. The Temple of Set claims to believe in the existence of Set, the ancient Egyptian god, as the primal Prince of Darkness.
Sometimes religious Satanism is called "traditional Satanism", and philosophical Satanism is called "modern Satanism". This terminology presumes that religious Satanism is much older than philosophical Satanism, a claim many do not accept.
The philosophical and religious Satanists claim to be adamantly law-abiding, for reasons which vary by group. However, the people who are "rebellious" Satanists frequently adopt the Christian dogma that Satan and Satanists are inherently evil, and therefore illegal activities within those groups are common.
These latter can often be found carrying or owning books by LaVey, but more often than not they are only slightly familiar with the philosophical contents of the books. They are more swayed by writings and legends of literary Satanism, or by writings decrying the hypothetical worst of Satanism written by Evangelical or Fundamentalist Christian authors. These are the Satanists that occasionally appear in police reports and in newspapers from time to time. Their statements (when any are reported) always make it clear that their concept of Satan is definitely Christian, rather than that of the latter two groups above. These rebellious Satanists sometimes gather in small groups (almost always fewer than a dozen), and are sometimes solitary (not part of any group).
It is important to note that the theories of large networks of organized Satanists involved in illegal activities, murder, and child abuse which were floated during the SRA scare of the late 1900's has been thoroughly disproven, and such theories continue to be held only by the most extreme evangelists and fundamentalists, by those whose careers and finances benefit from maintaining such theories, and by those who believe excessively in conspiracy theories.
In various Gnostic sects, Satan was praised as the giver of knowledge, sometimes with references to his name of Lucifer or "the light-bringer". Some claimed that the being imagined as God by Christians and Jews was in fact Satan, as a world as imperfect as ours could not have been created by a perfect God.