IN NOVEMBER 2012, a stone monument inscribed with the Ten Commandments was placed on the grounds of Oklahoma’s state capitol. Seven years earlier, in a case called Van Orden v Perry, the United States Supreme Court had ruled that a Ten Commandments monument placed on the Texas state capitol grounds did not violate the First Amendment’s clause forbidding government from making any law “respecting the establishment of religion”. But if that ruling allows Christian monuments, it ought to allow others, too. Accordingly, in December 2013 the Satanic Temple launched a campaign to place a monument of its own next to the Ten Commandments, reasoning that it would give Oklahomans “the opportunity to show that they espouse the basic freedoms spelled out in the Constitution”. The Satanists duly unveiled their monument’s proposed design: a winged creature with the torso of a man, the head of a goat and horns sits on a throne beneath a Pentagram, two fingers sagely raised as two children look on in wonder. America’s Satanists, it seems, have a sense of humour. But what do they actually believe?
That turns out to be a difficult question to answer. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Satanists are a rather fractious bunch, with many different organisations, beliefs and rituals. Many of these organisations are wholly or partly occult, with much hidden from non-adherents. Some are spiritualists: they worship Satan as a deity. Adherents of the Joy of Satan Ministries, for instance, “know Satan/Lucifer as a real being”, and believe he is “the True Father and Creator God of humanity”. Others—notably the Church of Satan, founded by Anton LaVey, the most renowned occultist since Aleister Crowley; and the Satanic Temple—are materialist, and reject belief in supernatural beings. Lucien Greaves, a spokesman for the Satanic Temple, describes himself as “an atheist when it comes to supernatural beliefs”, and says that for him Satanism stands for “individual sovereignty in the face of tyranny, and the pursuit of knowledge even when that knowledge is dangerous”. LaVey’s “Satanic Bible” proclaims “Life is the great indulgence—death the great abstinence! Therefore make the most of the HERE AND NOW! … Choose ye this day, this hour, for no redeemer liveth!”