What is Satanism?
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Massimo Introvigne, author of the monumental Satanism: A Social History (Brill 2016), defines it as the organized veneration of Satan through ritual practices. As such, it is a modern phenomenon, who started with the first Black Masses at the court of the French King Louis XIV in the 17th century. The lecture explores three different phenomena. The first is the proto-Satanism that started with the French Black Mass, in turn influential on 18th-century incidents in England (with the so called Hell-Fire Clubs), Italy, and Russia. The second is the classic Satanism of 19th and early 20th century, on whose origins we have only the dubious information of journalist Jules Bois and novelist Joris-Karl Huysmans. Some real groups, howeve,r surfaced in the early 20th century in Denmark, Poland, and France. In the U.S., a barber in Toledo, Ohio, Herbert Arthur Sloane, operated an early Satanist group, although when he exactly started it is unclear. British magus Aleister Crowley was not technically a Satanist, but some of his followers, including the early German Fraternitas Saturni, practiced forms of Satan worship. And an American disciple of Crowley, Californian rocket scientist Jack Parsons, promoted a cult of the Antichrist that anticipated modern Satanism. One of Parsons' associates was L. Ron Hubbard, who later founded Scientology. Parsons' activities are a prelude to the third phenomenon, modern Satanism, inaugurated with the foundation in San Francisco of the Church of Satan by Anton Szandor LaVey in 1966. LaVey's church is still very much alive, and represents a rationalist Satanism where Satan is a metaphor of the human potential and social Darwinism. Those believing that Satan is a real sentient being separated from LaVey in 1975 and followed Michael Aquino into the schismatic Temple of Set. A parallel, idiosyncratic group was The Process Church, which had some contacts with Charles Manson, but only after he had been arrested. The distinction between rationalist and occult Satanism is still a useful tool today to explore the Satanist scene. Rationalist groups include the Order of the Left Hand Path in New Zealand and in the U.S. the well-publicized Greater Church of Lucifer, established by Michael Ford, and The Satanic Temple, led by Lucien Greaves. Occult Satanist movements include the secretive Order of the Nine Angles, which advocates violence and terrorism, and a host of small groups, some of them headquartered in New York (Satanic Reds, Church of Azazel). While most Satanists venerate Satan as a "good" humanistic liberator of humankind, a fringe "anti-cosmic" Satanism worships him as the god of hate and violence. In this milieu, serious crimes have been committed, the worst of them involving an Italian group known as the Beasts of Satan. The lecture also explores the dimension and significance of contemporary Satanism, and why scholars maintain a keen interest on it.
Massimo Introvigne is a professor of Sociology in Torino, Italy and managing director of the Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR). In 2011, he served as Representative for Combating Racism, Xenophobia, and Intolerance and Discrimination against Christians and members of other religions of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), of which the U.S. are also a member. He is the author of some sixty books about religious pluralism and esotericism, including the monumental Satanism: A Social History (Brill 2016), and of more than one hundred articles in academic publications.