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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

Vilified Voodoo Dolls: Can They Really Cause Harm?

The Origin of Voodoo Dolls

Voodoo Market in Bohicon, Benin
Photography by Jean-Baptiste Dodane

While the exact origins of the Voodoo doll aren’t known, it can be tracked down from the Fon people of the region that now Benin. When slavery brought the voodoo religious practice to the Southern United States—specifically Louisiana—it brought along with it the practice of imbuing dolls with magical intent. Many sources say that voodoo dolls are not actually a practice associated with legitimate voodoo, but actual practitioners would disagree. Doll magic is a part of many magical spiritual paths, including European based folk magic, wherein people would create poppets much for the same reasons that are seen in the modern voodoo practice.

Although slaves were forbidden by slave owners to practice voodoo, it was still an extremely common practice. These dolls were frequently used in secret as a means of self-defense, it’s been speculated that this history of trauma is where the dolls originally obtained their reputation for being instruments of revenge. These days it’s not uncommon to see voodoo dolls being marketed specifically for harmful intentions, which contributes to their already dark reputation. It’s unfortunate, as many people are unaware of the common belief that the practice of darker magic ultimately brings around its own darker consequences for the user—depression, conflicts, bad luck, and overall negativity are things that using such methods can bring back. Glossing over details like this are reasons why dark and devious magic practices are often still the source of fright and horror. It wouldn’t look as good to have the main villain of a story worrying about their own comeuppance for using magic that might harm another individual.

During the reign of Marie Laveau, the Queen of Voodoo, the use of Voodoo dolls rose exponentially. Veering from the original practice of carved wooden figures, used to house spirits of those who have passed, the modern-day voodoo doll is typically a small, soft fabric doll used to represent a person who has not passed. Physically, voodoo dolls vary in the extremes, from the type of fabric, color, and pattern, the basic idea is that a hand-constructed doll is a representation of the intended target.

The Importance of Color

Voodoo dolls in the Voodoo Museum
Photography by Claudia Brooke

Color carries incredible meanings that differ from culture to culture, where love, anger, sadness, infidelity, and more can be expressed merely by the color of an object. Even the culture of flower arrangements had a huge impact on western culture, in which it combined the shades of flowers along with the type of flower being added to the bouquet. Departing from everyday meanings of color, it’s widely believed in many different metaphysical communities that different colors represent different aspects of life and the voodoo community is no exception.

Fabric and Pin Color

When it comes to the actual intention of the Voodoo Doll, one of the most important aspects is the color of the material the doll is made out of, as well as the clothing that the doll is dressed in. The colors with which the doll has been crafted directly correlate to what the doll is meant to be used for. As an example, a doll made of, or clothed in yellow fabric represents things like success, confidence, and attractiveness. Using black fabric for the doll would represent dispelling negative habits, grief, poverty, and bad luck—keeping in mind that a doll made from and fully clothed in black fabric would be used in what is considered “black” magic, which would result in the kind of magic that is often over-represented in television, movies, and books. So what about the pins that you stick in the doll? Well, unbeknownst to many, the color of the pins also holds significance, and the meaning of pin color actually varies more than you might suspect.

How Are They Used?

The concept of these dolls isn’t lost on most people, but the intention of them is frequently confused with how they are portrayed in movies and popular culture—diverse as this spiritual practice is in reality, Hollywood loves to vilify practices that are outside of what is deemed the normal scope of religious practices. This isn’t necessarily meant to be an affront to such practices, the practice of painting it with such broad evil strokes is because of how deeply submerged the actual spiritual practices are in mystery. Modern media portrays voodoo dolls being used by witch doctors, black magic practitioners, and pins that cause pain when placed, but the truth is far more interesting. When exploring this practice in-depth, we see that these dolls are meant to convey the intention of the user, for a full spectrum of uses—not just the dark aspects.

Voodoo doll resting against a book
Artwork by Mary Farnstrom

When the user is attempting to manifest their intent, they can use various personal objects for the target. Handwriting samples, locks of hair, a picture or piece of clothing, and even bodily fluids can be pinned to, or stuffed into the doll in an effort to pinpoint the target person—whether that person is alive or dead. To further manifest the doll as a representation of the target, the user may focus upon the intended person during meditation or spells, either by placing it upon their altar or while holding it. Additionally, specific herbs are often stuffed into the dolls and oils are also used to anoint the doll before use.

What is done with voodoo dolls once they have been used for their purpose? The final step when using a voodoo doll is as much of a variable as what the doll is made of. There are a few methods for finalizing, some elect to toss it into a river, or lake if available to them, others bury them in the ground, where still others may burn them. Each of these avenues is a symbolic reference to ending a particular spell—to give the doll up to a rushing river would be helpful in sweeping everything the doll represents away with the moving water; whereas burying would imply wanting a solid result, allowing the doll to disintegrate slowly and over time in the earth that surrounds it. Burning a doll has be the most profoundly symbolic way of disposing of the doll, where it is literally turned to ash and the manifestation is carried away into the air through smoke.

It’s not difficult to understand the illustrious dark connotations that voodoo dolls carry outside of the spiritual practice, as it’s steeped in mystery and misunderstood history.

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Horror Mystery and Lore Lifestyle

Voodoo on the Bayou

Spiritual Speaker in the streets of New Orleans, Louisiana
Photography by Nico Bhlr

Anyone can practice voodoo in New Orleans—embraced by people no matter their race, creed, or origin—there are no standard worship practices, in this flexible and inclusive spiritual and religious practice. A religion so immersed in mystery, voodoo is often mistaken for something much more sinister. First introduced to the United States through the repugnant practice of slavery, it originated from the Fon people of West Africa and was then intermixed with European cultural influences, as well as Native American herbalism and spiritual practices.

In Denise Alvarado’s The Voodoo Hoodoo Spellbook, it’s explained that voodoo and hoodoo are not the same, despite the how often they are confused for one another. Incredibly complementary in nature, voodoo and hoodoo in New Orleans are melded together in a practice endearingly referred to as voodoo hoodoo, something that is distinct to the region—elsewhere, voodoo is strictly a religion and hoodoo is strictly a folk magic practice. New Orleans is a mixing pot—multiple cultures converging together, the influences of voodoo are so incredibly diverse that it’s no wonder why those who aren’t involved in the religion would be confused about the whole thing.

The Voodoo Hoodoo Spellbook

Well, here is where the confusion clears—like it was mentioned before, voodoo is a religion, while hoodoo is a practice. Voodoo practitioners believe in a single supreme creator, known as Bondye, which in French Creole stands for “good god.” There is no mention of only good or only evil beings in the religion—instead it is a practice that embraces the good and bad in all situations, where spirits known as the loa act as messengers for Bondye. Despite there being a single god, the loa, also known as lwa, are the ones that practitioners communicate with. Frequently likened to the saints in Catholicism, there is a loa to contact in regards to nearly every aspect of normal life.

Popular media insists that New Orleans voodoo is an ominous, evil tradition—this is based on the demonization of the unique practices within the religion. During the reign of the infamous Voodoo Queen of New Orleans, Marie Laveau, the use of voodoo dolls came into common use, like gris gris (gree-gree), as a form of talismanic magic. There is an odd tradition of depicting voodoo dolls are objects of revenge—ways for malevolent practitioners to send destruction and pain into the lives of their targets. The majority of Voodoo practitioners have been actively working against this negative media presence, showing that most voodoo dolls are centered on healing, finding true love, and obtaining spiritual guidance. Just like Marie Laveau, it seeks to help those in need—to feed the hungry, help the poor, and curing ailments such as anxiety, addictions, depression, and loneliness are mainstays of this religion.

Skulls deteriorating in the jungle
Photography by Christian Grecu

All in all, it seems that those who are a part of the voodoo religion actually prefer to keep their beliefs and practices to themselves, you won’t find any legitimate practitioners displaying their rituals in public, as this would be considered disrespectful to the spirits. This is fair, considering the amount of public bile that spills over into their culture whenever it is brought to light anywhere else in the United States. Privacy is often more pleasant than negativity when it comes to personal beliefs.