Are Satanists Pagan?

(Either stupidly or bravely I sometimes stumble into shark infested waters and this is one of those times. I’ve tried to answer the question above with honesty, all while not being afraid to admit to my personal biases. This was not an easy question to wrestle with and I put on my best thinking horns while contemplating it, but opinons will most certainly differ.)

Periodically the question of “Are Satanists Pagan?” comes up on Pagan boards and blogs. It showed up on Raise the Horns a few months ago and since then I’ve been trying to craft a thorough answer to the question. If all Satanists simply worshipped the Christian Devil and practiced a sort of “reverse Christianity” this would be an easy question to answer, but that’s not how most Satanists operate. There’s a perception by many that “Satanist” simply means someone who worships The Devil, the one with the pitchfork and often seen as the source of all wickedness, disease, and malady, but that’s not quite right either. There are many different kinds of Satanism and many different types of Satanists.

Making this question even more difficult is that Pagans don’t even agree on what constitutes a Pagan. I have a definition of Pagan that I use for this blog and in my other writings, but it’s far from a universally accepted one. Is Paganism defined by its ritual? Religious Practice? A certain philosophy? Perhaps it’s a combination of those things? In many ways Paganism is an everything and the kitchen sink religion, which is why there are Christo-Pagans and Theistic Pagans and hardcore Polytheist Pagans. Modern Satanism is similar in that regard to Modern Paganism. There are atheist Satanists, Satanists who worship the god Set, and Satanists who utilize the writings of H.P. Lovecraft and Aleister Crowley.

I always try to say funny things right below the pictures, but I’m failing here.

When I was younger I would have argued that all Pagans follow The Wiccan Rede of “an it harm none, do what you will,” and that it was the Rede that made Pagans immediately different from Satanists. As I got wiser I began to realize that the world is too big and there are too many Pagans in it for that to be true. I know all sorts of people who don’t believe in the Rede and I still think of them as Pagans. I had a girlfriend tell me once, “I am karma” when explaining her aversion to an it harm none.

So while the Rede probably doesn’t work as a near universal expression of Modern Paganism, we do have one nearly universal characteristic that does set us apart from some Modern Satanists: our love for nature. I’m not going to say that all Pagans worship the Earth, and devotion and adoration of and to Gaia varies from Pagan to Pagan, but most of us respect the natural cycles of nature. When defining Paganism at interfaith panels I used to say that “we are a part of nature, not apart from it” (how clever, I know). I’ve always tried to live in harmony with my surroundings. I don’t put myself above the natural world.

That’s not to say that Satanists hate the planet and throw candy wrappers down in the street, but many strains of Satanism are about exerting power; power over natural forces, power over others etc. Paganism is less about controlling those outside forces, and more about trying to live in harmony with them. Yes, magick in Paganism can be sort of a cheat in that regard, a gentle nudge of natural energy to obtain a want or a need, but that want or need generally does not involve the manipulation of another’s true will. In LaVey inspired Satanism you hear the word “selfish” a lot, and while there are selfish people in the Pagan Community, it’s not generally a term we associate with Pagan Practice. Not all Satanists are selfish, but there are many Satanists who see their practice as gratification of the ego or self. That’s not generally seen as a Pagan philosophy.

Selfishness is not always a bad thing, and being selfish does not necessarily make one a bad human being. Selfishness is a survival instinct, and it’s certainly a tendency inside almost all of us. There are some people who need to be selfish from time to time. I knew a guy once who was constantly walked over by those around him, and by many that called themselves his friend. He ended up embracing Satanism as a way to stand up for himself, much to his benefit. I might disagree with a particular philosophy or practice, but I can see why it might be appealing to someone else.

Answering the question of whether or not Satanists are Pagan requires defining Satanism, which is a definition that can vary from group to group. I’ve narrowed my focus to just a few groups that are thought of as Satanists, or call themselves that. This is not an exhaustive list, just a look at a few of the larger and most influential groups. There are as many shades of Satanist as there are shades of Pagan*.

Adolescent Satanism is the most sensationalized form of Satanism, but probably the least practiced. This is the Satanism of vandalism and upside down pentagrams painted on public schools (and all of that’s pretty rare). This type of Satanism is generally devoid of any real philosophy and is often a mix of various elements including the Satan of the Christian bible, Cthulhu, and Anton LaVey’s The Satanic Bible (not that LaVey would have approved of such acts). There is usually no defined theology or thought behind people engaging in this form of “Satanism.” These folks are obviously not Pagans, and wouldn’t be claimed by most Satanists either.

Giving bats a bad name, this version of The Devil.

When you get away from the sensational and ignorant, the “Are Satanists Pagan?” question takes on added nuance. Theistic Satanism might be the most predominant form of Modern Satanism since it doesn’t require membership in any specific church or organization. According to Diane Vera* over on Theistic Satanism, a Theistic Satanist “is one who does believe in and worship (sic) Satan as a deity, or who at least is strongly inclined in that direction.” Theistic Satanism is free form Satanism, there are no churches or governing bodies, and you don’t have to be initiated to join. As a result many Theistic Satanists are also polytheists, and might worship deities like Pan and Kali as personifications or versions of Satan.

When a Theistic Satanist adopts the trappings of polytheism and performs ritual in a circle with quarters and Pagan deities, they certainly have a pretty good argument for being Pagan. Vera makes a telling point on her website, writing about how fast most Pagans instantly distance themselves from anyone using the moniker of “Satanist.” She could be describing me here. I don’t understand why anyone who thinks of themselves as Pagan would want to also call themselves a Satanist, but that’s my personal bias. If there can be Christo-Pagans, it’s hard to argue that there can’t be Satanic Pagans.

Despite my personal prejudices, there are a lot of Theistic Satanists who are nearly indistinguishable from Modern Pagans. Years ago I came across a website advocating the worship of Hecate and Kali as “dark gods.” The owners of the website described themselves as Satanists, even though the words Satan, Lucifer, and The Devil were missing from their site. If I had only been taking a cursory glance through their online pages I would have probably said they were Pagans, though a little darker than most of the Pagans I know. So if someone worships dark gods, has a religious practice that I recognize, respects the natural world, and is willing to accept my spiritual beliefs as valid then yeah, most certainly I would say that you could be a Theistic Satanist and a Pagan at the same time. Who am I to judge? In such cases the question isn’t really “are Satanists Pagans?” it’s more akin to “Can Satanists also be Pagans?” which I would answer in the affirmative. I admit that the need to use both titles confuses me, but what the hell? I actually know some Theistic Satanists who fall along these lines and like them.

Oh Anton, you rascally devil you.

The most well known Satanist of Modern Times was undoubtedly Anton LaVey. Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan was the first openly Satanic organization, and one that would be hard to categorize as Pagan. LaVey’s brand of Satanism was always more of a libertine philosophy than an actual religion, and his Satan more a symbol than a figure of worship. Since many of LaVey’s “public services” used language that implied worship of Satan as an actual deity, this fact has sometimes gotten lost. The church founded by LaVey is still in existence, though one could be a LaVeyan Satanist and not be an official member. When it comes to the Pagan Question and LaVey style Satanism I’ll let Church of Satan High Priest Peter Gilmore answer it:

Satanism begins with atheism. We begin with the universe and say, “It’s indifferent. There’s no God, there’s no Devil. No one cares!” So you then have to make a decision that places yourself at the center of your own subjective universe, because of course we can’t have any kind of objective contact with everything that exists. That’s rather arrogant and delusional, people who try to put things that way. So by making yourself the primary value in your life, you’re your own God. By being your own God, you are comfortable about making your own decisions about what to value. What’s positive to you, is good. What harms you, is evil. You extend it to things that you cherish and the people that you cherish. So it’s actually very easy to see that it’s a self-centered philosophy.

I think that sort of philosophy would be hard to define as Pagan.

Out of all the various groups labeling themselves as Satanic, I’ve always found The Temple of Set the most interesting. The Temple of Set began as a splinter group within LaVey’s Church of Satan. There were many reasons for the split, but one of the major ones was philosophical, Setians found LaVey’s Satan too symbolic. The Satan of the Temple of Set is a version of the Egyptian god Set (or Seth), though there are some within the Temple who see him more as an abstract than a traditional deity. Founded by Michael Aquino in 1975, The Temple of Set has a strong history of magickal practice to go along with its version of Satanism.

Not a huge fan of the eyebrows, but I bet Aquino would make for an interesting dinner companion.

Before starting work on this piece, if you had asked me what Satanic group shares the most in common with Modern Pagans, I probably would have said the Temple of Set. There are practices and procedures there drawn from Crowley and other ceremonial magicians that played a large part in the Pagan Revival. Of course there’s also Set himself, and when honored as a deity it’s easy to see parallels to Modern Paganism. (There are also parts of the Temple of Set I dislike, such as Aquino’s interest in the Nazi SS, but I digress.) Aquino shrugs off most comparisons to Modern Paganism, and seems to hold Pagans in just as much contempt as he does other religious practitioners:

All conventional religions, including the pagan ones, are simply a variation on the theme of reunion and submergence of the self within the natural universe. So from our point of view, it really makes no differs weather you praying to a father God or to a mother goddess-or to an entire gaggle of gods and goddesses! You are still wishing for their acceptance. You are waiting for them to put their arms around you and say: “you belong. You are part of us. You can relax. We will take care of you. We approve of you. We endorse you . . . . ” The Satanist, or black magician, does not seek that kind of submergence of the self. We do not seek too have our decisions and our morality approved or validated by any higher God or being. We take responsibility unto ourselves.

So to answer the original question, yes some Satanists might also be Pagans, but we would be wise not to generalize. Satanism is a complex movement with various groups and practitioners. There’s common ground there between some of them and many Modern Pagans, and also profound disagreements. With no accepted definition of Modern Pagan it’s hard to tell anyone they aren’t entitled to use the word. If a Satanist also thinks of themselves as a Pagan (capitol P) they very well might be.

*Vera’s website and blogs are a treasure trove of information relating to Theistic Satanism, and other forms of Satanism outside of that sphere. I recommend her definition of Satanism which can be found here. If you want to read more about Modern Satanism, you want to start with her stuff.

About Jason Mankey

Jason Mankey has been involved with Paganism for the last twenty years, and has spent the last ten of those years as a speaker, writer, and High Priest. Jason can often be found lecturing on the Pagan Festival circuit, so you might just bump into him. When not reading and researching Pagan history he likes to crank up the Led Zeppelin, do rituals in honor of Jim Morrison (of The Doors), and sing numerous praises to Pan, Dionysus, and Aphrodite. He lives in Sunnyvale CA with his wife Ari and two hyper-kinetic cats.

  • solmyrh

    Very well writen When I have been asked this question I like to say that to me a Pagan is someone who follows a faith that was around before the Christion church was formed and therefore in my oppinon before there was a Christion church there was no Satan so I do not beleave that the Satanism could be a pagan path.However after reading this I might have to amend that thought thank you for writeing this
    Blessed Be

    • meg

      But Wicca wasn’t around before the Christian church, and it is widely considered to be Pagan.

  • Anthony

    I’m of the opinion that satan/the devil is not real and yet it becomes real if one chooses to make it real. We are all God having a manifest experience.

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    Asking if Satanism is a form of Paganism is, to me, like asking if Hinduism is a form of Paganism.

    In its theistic form, Satanism is more a branch of Christianity (even the soft polytheistic version) than it is Paganism.

    In its atheistic form, it is closer to ritual magic than Paganism. I think that a lot of people try to back-claim religious magic as Paganism, even when it isn’t.

    Of course, just because a path isn’t Pagan, doesn’t mean it isn’t valid. It also doesn’t mean there will never be any kind of crossover – a polytheistic Pagan could easily have Satan as a primary god-figure, for example.

    The one thing that bugs me is the erroneous claiming of Lucifer as being cognate with Satan. To me, the best claim for Satan is Samael, whilst Lucifer is Helel.

  • Ian Corrigan

    To me the issue isn’t whether some sorts of Satanists (or LHP people, whatever) are Pagan, but rather whether their scholarship is any good.
    Paganism is infested with half-baked mythography, from the Maiden-Mother-Crone to the ‘god’ Herne to various Frazerian corn-gods. I find the notion of the ‘rebel prince’ or the ‘anti-cosmic opponent’ to be pretty much non-existant in Pagan ways. So when modern Satanists or ‘dark Pagans’ try to identify figures such as Odin or Loki or Prometheus with the 1st century ‘enemy’ or with Milton’s Lucifer I feel the same way.
    As far as I can tell there just isn’t any ‘war between dark and light’ in most historical Paganism, and thus no place for the conflict that lies at the core of a lot of LHP discussion.

    • Vision_From_Afar

      Honestly, I’d chalk up most Pagans’ aversion to any creed of Satanism as a well-rooted and un-removed vestige of Christianity.

  • John Deltuvia

    On the point of what defines Paganism, you write:”
    When I was younger I would have argued that all Pagans follow The Wiccan Rede”

    If that were true, it would be called “The Pagan Rede”. It’s not. It doesn’t even apply to all forms of Witchcraft, simply to those Witches who also identify as Wiccan. (And it’s impossible anyway due to the Butterfly Effect… :-) )

    • Jason Mankey

      I said I was young and stupid . . . . . . no need to remind me of it. ;)

      • Marc

        When I was younger I fell into the trap conflating “Shamanism” with “Native American/Amerindian/First Nations Spirituality”. We do stupid things when we’re younger.

    • MemyselfI

      An Edain McCoy book (Witta) listed it as “the Pagan Creed” since that make me cringe, I’m glad when
      that doesn’t go over as fact. For some time now I’ve seen Thelema
      excluded as a category of Pagan and labeled Satanist though its tenets
      (Do what thou Wilt is the whole of the Law) were the inspiration for the
      Rede and LaVey took some inspiration from Crowley after Crowley had passed on

  • Michelle

    Very well done, Jason! Thanks for your efforts to clarify this prickly question.

  • Nicole Chojnacki

    Why don’t the versions of Satanism that have nothing to do with Satan or worshipping him call themselves something other than Satanists? I think it’s a misnomer in those cases.

    • kenneth

      Most Satanists seem to be secular humanists who like to dress up Ayn Rand’s writings in some dark occult trappings.

      • Marc

        At least on the East Coast, that seems to be the case. In fact, it seems like it’s even worse. The New York City Satanist scene is a joke. A bunch of 35+ year olds who never got out of adolescence or that teenage angst that attract women more than half their age to them through being spooky and edgy.

        I do like reading the drama online between Satanist groups, though. Makes Pagan fights seem tame by comparison.

        • Diane Vera

          Hi. I’m not sure exactly what you are referring to as the “New York City Satanist scene.” I’m the coordinator of the only NYC Satanist group that holds regular meetings open to the general public, and your description doesn’t sound like my group. It describes maybe a few of the people who show up, but certainly not everyone. The “NYC Satanists, Luciferians, Dark Pagans, and LHP Occultists” group includes people of all ages (18+) and many different personalities.

          • Marc


            How old is your group? Just a question. My information and experiences might be dated.

          • Diane Vera

            The NYC Satanists group has existed since 2004, although it didn’t get fully off the ground until 2009.

    • guest

      That is a bit like asking why modern witches who’s practices are nothing like what the original definition of the word meant, call themselves witches. They are emotionally attached to the term, and it has become part of their identity. It is difficult to cast aside a treasured part of ones self regardless of how silly or outdated it has become in other people’s eyes. Try chucking out your first childhood toy :) I know I still have mine.

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      (Non-Abrahamic) Satanists are not the only group to appropriate a term from somewhere else and apply it to themselves.

      From Urban Pagans to modern Druids, we see plenty of people using a term outside of it’s historic context.

  • Jonathan Agathokles

    I personally think this is a non-issue. The word “paganism” is so flued and undefined that I don’t think it has any value at all. It is also not a religion, as you call it, it’s an umbrella term for a group of religions (which ones are included depends on which of a plethora of definition one uses), similar to abrahamism to describe the religions that claim descent of Abraham.

    • meg

      It might not be the most pressing discussion in the world, but examining religious and philosophical history and relationships is quite interesting!

  • Philip Posehn

    Very nicely done! I have come across a few people who worship Lucifer as a Prometheus figure who brought knowledge to Man. The seem much like Pagans in many respects, but tend to lack the reverence for nature that most of us share.

  • Marc

    I think Satanism and its higher-order philosophical cousin Luciferianism is one of those weird, muddled areas between religious faiths and, like you said, it is based on the individual and their practice in question. It’s not quite Christian because it extends to a period of earlier history, incorporates non-Christian belief structures, and sometimes does not simply deal with Satan as THE Adversary alone, or as some kind of reverse trinity.

    Although I think if people have the capacity to accept “Christian Wiccans” and not accept Satanist Pagans, then there’s something wrong.

  • Naya Aerodiode

    If one says they’re a Pagan, they are.

    • Vision_From_Afar

      But without a consensus on the system of Satanism itself, how are we to avoid risk of offense at either inclusion or exclusion?

      • Naya Aerodiode

        Let people self-include. Or not. I don’t make any assumption as to where anyone thinks they belong. If they say, “I belong here,” that’s good enough for me.

        This whole article points out the difficulty with using such a big umbrella. As soon as you say, “Pagans are like this,” you’re going to exclude anyone who might disagree with your definition – and there are inevitably going to be people who disagree with everything. On the other hand, if you throw the net too wide, you run the risk of unwittingly grouping someone with a group that they might not feel they belong in. Many groups of people often fit many people’s definition of Pagan, but don’t self-select as a part of that community. Because of these difficulties, I avoid the word, and avoid talking about and making category decisions for people of different religious paths than my own – that is to say, everyone who isn’t me.

        • Vision_From_Afar

          While I can certainly understand and respect your reasoning, it feels a bit too loose for my personal comfort. In an age where we increasingly must band together (eclectic, Heathen, Wiccan, Druid) for legal and societal recognition, simply not using an inclusive term falls short of the ideals we need to achieve if we’re ever going to be fully accepted by modern society.
          Again, I understand where you’re coming from, but I think we currently need an umbrella term of this kind, at least until we can grow out of the necessity.

          • Naya Aerodiode

            I’ve never liked being under the same umbrella as lots of people because someone says, “Oh, you do _____ practice or believe _____ idea? I thought Pagans did that.” It doesn’t suit me well. I don’t want people thinking or believing that I am something that I am not. Many pagan practices and philosophies are not compatible, or even similar to my own. However, as far as recognition from external entities go, I can see the usefulness and can worry about the details among those who understand the nuanced differences.

            If we’re going to do the umbrella thing, then everyone who wants it should get shelter under the umbrella. After all, I am just as much for the religious freedoms of Satanists, Setians, Luciferians, LHPers, and so on, as I am for my own. If their being under that umbrella helps them to not lose their job or get their children taken away, then they are welcome to their spot under this term that we use for legal/societal recognition.

  • Mark Luskin

    If you are interested in more information about the Temple of Set, or in having contact with an actual Setian I’m rather easy to find.

  • Ywen DragonEye

    I once worked with a member of the Temple of Set. I asked him a few questions as I was looking for Druids at the time and knew he was a pagan of sorts. He explained little, but did tell me a couple of things. One was that they worked magic, but were not so concerned with fallout as long as they accomplished their goal. His example was they might cast a spell against insects killing crops and did not worry about what else that might effect. The other thing he told me was that they did not worship gods so much as aspire to become gods themselves. This man, as I understand it (a bit of internet research) was a pretty big deal in the movement, and so I had no reason to doubt what he told me. As for whether Satanists are Pagan or not I suppose depends on one’s definition of Pagan. I would have to say that by my personal definition of Pagan, they likely are not. But if they identify as such, I have no right to tell them otherwise.

  • Skully

    “In LaVey inspired Satanism you hear the word ‘selfish’ a lot, and while
    there are selfish people in the Pagan Community, it’s not generally a
    term we associate with Pagan Practice. Not all Satanists are selfish,
    but there are many Satanists who see their practice as gratification of
    the ego or self. That’s not generally seen as a Pagan philosophy.”

    Hmm. I know plenty of Pagans who self identify as hedonists, and this definitely plays into their Pagan Practices. I tend to think of hedonism as being selfish, and gratification of the ego and the self. So I suppose I will have to disagree with you here. I don’t know what you would consider Pagan philosophies, but this is a common one I have come across.

  • ChristopherBlackwell

    You can certainly create a lot of emotion in getting into this subject and just about from everyone,Christians, Pagans and Satanists. Pagans spend a great deal of time trying to convince everyone that they are not Satanists, and nearly and equal number of Statanist will shudder at the idea that they are Pagans. Of course to make it even more fun you have those that try to blend it all together. Of course Christians either would rather you no talk about it at all, or would say that anything that is not their brand of Christianity is automatcially Satanism.

  • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

    Re: the caption below your first photo above–I’d have gone with “Even the Prince of Darkness likes Big League Chew!” ;)

    • Jason Mankey

      That is funny. By the time I finished this post and had gathered up the pictures I just wanted to be done with it. The brain was completely out of humor, but now I want to go back and add that line.

      • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

        I know what you mean…I’ve been sick the last few days, and I barely have any brain cells to rub together for anything…

        Feel free to add it, if you like, and feel it’s worthy of the general level of humor you tend to produce (which is quite high, and we thank you for it!)!

  • Evil Demon 501

    I am a “Traditional Theistic Satanist”. This is an interesting article, but I argue with one point. I respect nature. It is a part of my religion. Yes, I am evil to many minds (including my own) and certainly selfish and self-centered. However, I live in this world and I respect nature. It is, if you like, a part of my selfish self-interest to see that the world I live in is worth living in.

    One more point, I would not consider 80-90% of those who call themselves “Satanists” to actually be Satanists. They are just playing with Satanism (as many who call themselves Pagans are just playing with Paganism) or are, like so many xtians, just in it for the money.

  • Oberon Zell

    Use of term “Pagan”

    Since it seems I was the first person to claim the words “Pagan” and “Neo-Pagan” as self-descriptive–both for me personally and the Church I’d founded (the Church of All Worlds)–clear back in Sept.of 1967, I feel it appropriate for me to enter this conversation with my own thoughts and observations. Prior to my proclamation of myself and CAW as “Pagan,” the word was invariably used as a pejorative to refer to other people–”those damned pagans” (with a small “p”)–who needed to be “saved” by Xian missionaries.

    Here’s the basic definition of the word that I have been using for the past 44 years:

    Paganism (meaning “of the country”) is a collection of diverse spiritual paths which are rooted in or inspired by indigenous (native) and classical (ancient Egyptian, Greek, Roman, etc.) traditions worldwide. Paganism is often referred to as “The Old Religion”—meaning pre-Christian. It may also be considered “Green Religion.”

    And here are the most universal common factors among Pagans I’ve always identified:

    Pagans believe in the interconnectedness of all life, animism (everything is alive), pantheism (everything is Divine), polytheism (there are many gods and spirits), and immanent divinity (divinity is within everyone—expressed by some as “Thou art God/dess”). Pagans value diversity, good works, living lightly on the Earth, individual freedom, personal responsibility, and gender equity (equality between men and women).

  • Terry Mitchell

    There are Pagans who are Pantheistic or Naturalistic who see God and Goddess or God or Goddess as The Universe/Nature. These Pagans would look up and see a Universe that was indifferent and did not care about us in any way. Satanism viewed as a Philosophy could very well be paired with this type of Paganism in that one is devout reverence for The Goddess, usage of magic and ritual while the other is guidelines on how to treat ourselves (have pride when we accomplish something for example) and how we are to treat other people and the Natural world.