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Looking At Satanic Worship, Demons, and Dark Magic Through History and Films

There is always a cause for panic for some when the words “Satanic” or “Devil” worship is uttered—people have gone to jail over such accusations of satanic crimes as recently as the 1990s. The so-called “Satanic Panic” of the eighties and nineties pursued an imaginary evil, yet left so many innocent lives ruined. Unlike the cults that led the victims of Jim Jones, a cult leader who instigated the massacre of Jonestown and inspired movies like Jonestown (2013), the satanic cults that exist in popular culture simply do not exist in real life.

How Devil Worship is Depicted in Popular Culture and Mainstream Media

There’s a lot to say about Satanism versus the ever-so-popular concept of devil worship. The long and tumultuous history of the latter is one based on the religious bias of dominant religions, unfairly painted as being so evil that words “demonic,” or “satanic,” became synonymous with the worst type of evil imaginable. So, where did this image really come from?

Satanic Panic

Unfortunately, the myths that surround Satanism as imagined by Hollywood and religious fear-mongers, continue to be a problem today—these media portrayals are simultaneously entertaining and besmirching, leaving people to accept any negative aspect about topics such as Satanism as truth, without regarding the possibility that much of it could just be associated with teenage rebellion or misunderstood alternative religious beliefs.  During the eighties and early nineties, much like the red scare of the forties and early fifties, Satanists were the hidden boogie-man in everyone’s neighborhood. For many innocent men and women convicted of satanic crimes, it was a literal witch hunt, they became everyone’s favorite scapegoat.

For the people on the accusing end, it’s easy to see how fear and superstition could easily overcome their ability to process things within reason and proceed logically. This widespread panic pit people against each other, because without a designated cult leader, there was a chance anyone you knew might have been a Satanist and no one was above suspicion. The problem with this hypervigilance was that most of the accusations were of child molestation, abuse, and various other obscene activities that were done deliberately involving minors. The made the children who were really suffering, whose validity was already under question, seem like they weren’t genuine cases. Although less frequent now in the United States, especially since Satanism became a federally recognized religion.

The generic reaction to the idea of Satanism, or “devil-worship,” during the time of the Satanic Panic.

Religious Satanism

A considerably newer concept is the formation of Satanism as a recognizable religion. It’s said that modern Satanism was born from the literary movement in the later parts of the 1600s that started with John Milton’s pitiable portrayal of Lucifer, in Paradise Lost (1667). Despite his Puritanical beliefs, he started a new way of characterizing the Devil—a sympathetic one.

Atheistic Satanism

While it may seem like a foreign concept to those not, “in the know,” a larger portion of Satanists don’t actually believe Satan to actually be a god, or entity at all—in fact, he’s more of an idea, or a symbol, one that embodies what they stand for.

LaVeyan Satanism and the Church of Satan

The Sigil of Baphomet
The Sigil of Baphomet

After Anton LaVey established the Church of Satan in 1966, he became known as the “Father of Satanism,” following this, he published The Satanic Bible in 1969. The LaVeyan Satanic theology consisted of teachings that provided a base code of ethics for believers to follow. These teachings promoted undefiled wisdom, which was insistent upon gaining knowledge without bias, indulgence (not compulsion) in things that create happiness, kindness to those who deserve it, a responsibility to the responsible, and an eye for an eye mentality. Things that are shunned, or generally looked down upon are the ideas of abstinence based on guilt, spirituality, unconditional love, pacifism, equality, herd mentality, and scapegoating—which are all ideologies that, according to LaVey deny people of their natural animalistic instincts.

The Satanist, in accordance with LaVeyan theological viewpoints, is a carnal, physical and pragmatic being. Being able to physically enjoy existence with an undiluted view of the worldly truths is promoted as the core values of Satanism, which propagates the naturalistic worldview that sees mankind as animals existing in an amoral universe. After LaVey’s death in 1997, the church was moved to New York and taken over by a new administration; suffice it to say, LaVey’s daughter didn’t appreciate this change and founded the First Satanic Church in honor of her father in 1999 which she continues to run out of San Francisco.

The Satanic Temple
Sigil of the Satanic Temple

The Satanic Temple

Another atheistic institution of Satan is the Satanic Temple—it is more of a political activist organization rather than a religious movement. The focus of their fury lies solely in the waves they can make in the political and social spectrums with special regard to separation of church and removing restrictions on personal freedoms. In such ways, the Satanic Temple serves as a way for followers to rebel against arbitrary authority and social norms. They have made an effort to be a voice for the people and denounce oppressive laws and religious persecutions.

Theistic Satanism

Even though theistic Satanism is the thing that most people actually fear, theistic Satanists make up the smallest number of those who call themselves Satanists at all. Theistic Satanism is what could also be referred to as traditional Satanism, Spiritual Satanism, or “devil worship,” that so many people still fear today. Their beliefs have a Satan-centric view of religion, where Satan is a deity to revere. Most of these traditional Satanists incorporate a belief of magic into their religion, but the main thing that they all have in common is that they consider themselves devotees to Satan.

Luciferianism

Sigil of Lucifer
Sigil of Lucifer

One of the forms of traditional Satanism, is Luciferianism, a belief system that takes aspects of that are most commonly associated with Lucifer and venerate him as a higher being. Although there is little difference between the concepts of Lucifer and Satan, they are not always characterized in the same light—that is to say that Satan is the embodiment of evil in most common characterizations of him, whereas Lucifer is considered the “light-bearer,” or an angel who has fallen from grace. Within Luciferianism, there are those who venerate one concept or the other, but not both simultaneously. The tradition most typically reveres Lucifer not as the devil he’s depicted to be, but as a being who will liberate and guide his followers, replacing the Christian God, or “true god,” with Lucifer being the good guy in the story that traditional Christians adhere to.

Order of Nine Angles

Sigil of the Order of the Nine Angles
Sigil of the Order of the Nine Angles

Based in the United Kingdom, with associated organizations in other parts of the world, the Order of the Nine Angles claims to have been established in the 1960s. It wasn’t until the 1980s when the Order gained public recognition; the political activism and ideologies that it showcased to the world during this time had a huge neo-Nazi affiliation. The Order of Nine Angles describes its approach to religion as traditional Satanism, but academics have been known to associate it more with hermetic and pagan practices.

The Order established advocacy for a spiritual path in which the practitioner is required to break any and all societal taboos. They are encouraged to isolate themselves from society, commit crimes, embracing political extremism and violence, as well as carry out acts of human sacrifice. For these reasons, this branch of Satanism has been described as being the most extreme and dangerous group, under the theistic Satanism umbrella, in the world. So when people immediately jump to “devil-worship,” it is likely that they are considering the Order of Nine Angles without even realizing it; as the least popular sect of Satanism to be a part of, it is the most popular when referencing in popular culture.

Temple of Set                                                 

Inverted Pentacle
Inverted Pentacle

Established in 1975, The Temple of Set inspired a new religious movement—the practitioners of which consider themselves Sethians. Scholars and practitioners alike condemn the idea of Sethianism being likened to Satanism, as they argue it is actually a form of Gnosticism. In 1975, when the religion was first founded, Michael Aquino, a high-ranking member of the Church of Satan, was entirely unsatisfied with the direction in which LaVey was moving the Church in. According to claims from Aquino, he resigned his position with the Church of Satan and embarked upon his own religious path. While doing some soul searching, he believed that Satan revealed his true name to be that of the Ancient Egyptian deity, Set.

Sethians believe that Set is the one true God, who bestowed upon humanity the ability to gain knowledge. This is a familiar concept that is known in Christian texts when Lucifer presented himself as a serpent and tempted Eve with the apple from the Tree of Knowledge when Eve gave in to temptation, she gave humanity free will. Unlike other theistic Satanic organizations, despite being considered a god, Set is to be emulated, but not worshipped or venerated. This is one of many religions that do not condemn the idea of self-deification or worshipping the self. Another magic practicing religion, Sethians believe that through ritual black magic that the world around the practitioner can be manipulated for their own benefit.

Instead of emphasizing the negative aspects of the encounter with Lucifer in the Garden of Eden, toting it as human weakness, it promotes the encounter as “divine fullness,” stating that Eve is to be praised for tossing away blissful ignorance and stepping towards independence and freedom. The snake in the Garden of Eden is therefore considered a heroic figure in its own right, instead of the vilified proto-Satan who is the adversary of humanity. In the opinion of practicing Sethians, eating the fruit of knowledge was the first act of human salvation from the cruel and oppressive powers of the Christian god.

Dark Magic: Is it Always Satanic in Nature?

This is a fairly difficult question to answer, because the short and straight-forward answer is a definitive, “no.” That’s hardly a full answer though, but considering the complexity of dark magic, the people who use it, and the debate about whether dark magic actually exists creates an almost impossible task of alleviating the fears of this question. So, let’s start with the fact that not all practitioners of magic and witchcraft actually believe that magic can be, “dark,” because this implies that the magic itself is evil.

Ritualistic Offering
Photography by Freestocks.org

Most practitioners take a modern-day approach to the concept of magic, is that it is truly just natural energy that practitioners of magic manipulate to change the world around them. These practitioners also take into consideration the volatile nature of the human condition, this means that while magic is a neutral energy, human beings are varying levels of good or bad—this is how there can be benevolent, charitable people like Mother Teresa, as well as serial killers like Jeffrey Dahmer.

Practitioners who thrive on what people consider, “dark magic,” typically refer to what they practice as baneful magic or magic that has ill consequences for the person they may be targeting. Baneful magic is not a practice that is only embraced by Satanic occultists, it is something that is practiced by voodouisants, hoodoos, conjurers, rootworkers, chaos magicians, grey witches, and more. In fact, there is a common saying within the witchcraft community, “a witch that cannot hex, cannot heal,” which always instigates a passionate debate that typically ends with frustration or fury. The fact that baneful magic is practiced by all types of practitioners, means that demons are not just a part of the Christian or Satanist belief systems; demons exist in so many different cultures, so the practice of demonic magic, often referred to as demonology.

American Horror Story: Apocalypse
American Horror Story: Apocalypse (2011 – )

The Roles that Demons Play

When we see demonic magic in action on the big screen, it’s always regarding some terrible sacrifice that requires the blood of the innocent to be spilled, perhaps dominion over the demons that are summoned, subservience to the demons that are summoned, or world-ending scenarios. Demons are as diverse as can possibly be imagined, some can be friendly, although it’s not wise to ever consider them compassionate or generous; they’re like your local loan shark, they’ll give you what you want, for a price. Then again, if you’re desperate enough to want to offer something up to a demon for personal gain, then you might not actually be too worried about what that offering might be.

Movies and TV Shows that Stir the Satanic Panic:

While these movies and television shows are a great thrill ride, they don’t exactly portray Satanism in a realistic way; then again, that’s part of what makes it entertainment, isn’t it?

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (2018 – )

What inspires your fear about devil-worship? Do you enjoy a good demon-driven plot as much as we do? Did we miss an excellent satanic horror movie or television series that you think we should know about? Tell us your thoughts below!

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Horror Mystery and Lore

Telling the Difference Between Demonic Entities

Possession movies, even when they are highly religious in context, bring in huge crowds of fans, starting with The Exorcist (1973) and continuing on throughout the years, we never really get down to the brass tacks of demonic entities, who they are—or might be—and the people they have affected. Demon lore is complex in every religion and affiliated culture, there are elaborate organizational schemes for demons dated back from the 16th and 17th centuries and yet we still have so little understanding of them. For the many ills and misfortunes that plague the human race, there is the possibility of a demonic association that leads to exorcisms in many cultures. Specifically, in Catholicism, exorcisms deal with demonic possession, in which demons are said to battle for control of the soul of the victim they have targeted, these practices date back to 1614.

The Demons that Invade Our Lives

Christian demonologist Johann Weyer estimated that there were nearly 7.5 million demons that served as minions to 72 different princes of hell. Each of these demons belongs to a class of demons; to name a few, there are demons that attack people in their sleep, drain vitality, or possess those who are struggling with their own identity. So, let’s take a look at the different types of demonic entities that go beyond the typical Catholic exorcism expectations.

Attractive demoness
Photography by Alice Alinari

The Succubus

During the Middle Ages, authorities within the Christian religion asserted the existence of sex demons, which they furthered that to insinuating that sex with such demons was a sign of witchcraft. Although it’s a widely accepted possibility in the paranormal community, the stories and theories of such acts are described as horrific to experience. To be clear, while this may sound like an exciting ride for some lonely people out there, it’s not something that anyone in their right mind would purposefully pursue—it’s never consensual.

The Djinn

Collection of Genie Lamps--don't summon a Djinn!
Photography by Louis Hansel

Between 100 and 400 AD, the Testament of Solomon was written, which served as a list for Hebrew, Greek, Assyrian, Babylonian, Egyptian, and Persian demons. The Djinn are self-propagating, malicious, yet mortal demons. They are an invisible creature by nature but have shape-shifting abilities so they may better stalk their prey. Solomon was able to control these types of demons which he called djinn with his magical ring and he would frequently treat them as his own personal slaves by making them transport him wherever he wished upon their backs.

My Dream, My Bad Dream, Fritz Schwimbeck, 1915. Fritz Schwimbeck
My Dream, My Bad Dream, Fritz Schwimbeck, 1915.

The Nightmare

The story of this nocturnal visitor originated in the ancient world, in which a spirit or demon would come into the room of its sleeping victim, male or female, to incapacitate the individual and feed off of their vitality. In all reported cases, it is said the victim awakens to either a heavy weight on their chest or one that starts at their feet and progresses to their chest, either way, they are unable to move out from under the weight of the night hag. As they’re feeding off of the individual, the victim feels as if they’re suffocating and paralyzed, despite being fully conscious. Victims of the night hag end up reporting feeling groggy, sick, and otherwise exhausted both mentally and physically the next day.

Western-style vampire bears her fangs.
Photography by Rondell Melling

The Vampire

Now just wait, you’re probably conjuring up an image of Dracula hunched in a dark window of his castle in Transylvania, brooding and dangerous. The concept of the vampire in modern culture, especially since Stoker’s rendition, are the undead who return to kill and torture the living, but the actual origin is somewhat different. Older than the Slavic version of Dracula is a supernatural and demonic entity that did not actually take human form and it spans the world with small variations.

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Featured Horror Books Scary Movies and Series

The Necronomicon in The Evil Dead Franchise

After Lovecraft introduced The Necronomicon (1927), it traveled far and wide within horror-lore and culture. This book has now been used in horror franchises over the last forty years; in the very spirit in which it was created, it has appeared with the interest of expanding upon a universe that develops something truly ancient and terrifying. Less than a week ago we discussed the origins of The Necronomicon as well as investigated whether or not the book had any basis in reality and we were surprised to find what we did.

The History of the Necronomicon Book (1927)

Essentially an extensive chronology of the origin of the Necronomicon book, The History of the Necronomicon (1927) creates a detailed timeline of a book that floats through time with limited translations; an ancient tome that is understandably considered a forbidden text within the context of its own interesting unknown universe. It created a solid foundation for the mythology that would include the text within each story-line, as not only a prop, but a symbol of darkness, madness, and destruction.

It’s been pointed out that Lovecraft made sure to name drop the book within his stories, so that it would stay ever-present on the minds of his readers, but that it seems to be doing the same with modern culture and not just within horror culture–but we can talk about that later.

That is not dead which can eternal lie…

Abdul Alhazred

The Evil Dead Franchise

Within the Woods (1978)

A franchise that has become somewhat legendary in horror culture started with a production budget of $1,600. Within the Woods (1978) started the franchise and although it wasn’t written as a prequel, that’s what it eventually became. It was really Raimi’s proof of concept short horror film to help to build interest of potential investors, but even though he had cast his friends and operated under a severely low budget he was able to convince a local theater to screen the film with The Rocky Horror Picture Show in the normal grindhouse manner. This initial production inspired a larger budget remake that Raimi also directed, The Evil Dead (1981)

Sam Raimi started something when he developed a story based around Lovecraft’s book and regardless if it was something that Lovecraft would have approved of as far as the content of the story, it did bring a different perspective to the cosmic horror that Lovecraft was so famous for. Then again, that’s what we’re all about here at Puzzle Box Horror, we’ve found inspiration through the works of others and now we want to give other people a place to find their own source to create and be inspired.

The Evil Dead (1981)

Here I continued my research undisturbed by the myriad distractions of modern civilization and far from the groves of academe. I believe I have made a significant find in the Candarian Ruins. A volume of Ancient Sumerian burial practices and funerary incantations. It is entitled Naturom Demonto – roughly translated, ‘Book of the Dead’.

Straight out of a Lovecraft tale, The Evil Dead (1981) features a quote through a tape recording of a long-dead professor.

Within the context of The Evil Dead franchise, the Necronomicon is considered the foundation of the darkness that follows the characters throughout –at one point, The Evil Dead (1981) it even had the working title of Book of the Dead. While it didn’t exactly go with Lovecraft’s narrative that the book was something that could be lost on the shelves of some ancient library, forgotten and dusty, it still provided a much-needed foothold in modern horror culture.

In the movie, this ancient tome actually appears as a kind of abomination as a book bound in human skin, the words inked in human blood, nothing that Lovecraft would have ever dreamt up. Suffice it to say, it’s a memorable look for a book that is said to drive the reader insane–it became quite a cultural phenomenon and seems like it will continue to be one.

Evil Dead II (1987)

By this time, the franchise realized its slightly comedic take on a story about possession and evil as the result of playing a recording of a passage from the evil texts of The Necronomicon. So instead of a serious horror, they essentially parodied their original movie. Regardless of the initial popularity, Evil Dead II (1987) has acquired a quite large cult following on a global scale.

Army of Darkness (1992)

Officially considered the third installment of the Evil Dead franchise, Army of Darkness (1992) was released as another horror comedy, where our protagonist from the first two movies is trapped in the Middle Ages and it’s almost like the third Back to the Future, ridiculous but somehow still worth the watch. The book has a larger role in this film, where it serves as a means of time travel.

Evil Dead (2013)

The Necronomicon has a renewed appearance in the newest remake of Evil Dead (2013), where they stepped up the game in removing the book from its archaic and unholy origins of antiquity to being a prop filled will awful images and obscenities, but it doesn’t come across as a remake, as much as it does a soft reboot and a continuation of the original and not as a comedy, but a hard horror movie.

Ash vs. Evil Dead (2015 – 2018)

This television continuation of the original comedic horror was a three-year run that was filmed for the Starz network, where Bruce Campbell reprises his role as Ash. It’s considered a sequel, of sorts, to the original trilogy, but was canceled after the third season