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?
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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?
- The Day of the Beast (1995)
- The Omen (2006)
- Devil (2010)
- The Witch (2015)
- The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016)
- The Babysitter (2017)
- American Horror Story (2011 – )
- 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!
North Carolina-based author and artist, Mary has been a horror aficionado since the mid-2000s. Originally a hobby artist and writer, she found her niche in the horror industry in late 2019 and hasn’t looked back since. Mary’s evolution into a horror expert allowed her to express herself truly for the first time in her life. Now, she prides herself on indulging in the stuff of nightmares.
Mary also moonlights as a content creator across multiple social media platforms—breaking down horror tropes on YouTube, as well as playing horror games and broadcasting live digital art sessions on Twitch.