Pseudo-Satanism and Satanic baby-killers

Pseudo-Satanism and Satanic baby-killers February 27, 2013

Since this morning’s flashback post featured an excerpt from Jeffrey S. Victor’s important and helpful book, Satanic Panic: The Creation of a Contemporary Urban Legend, I thought we’d look at another passage from Victor that sheds light on another recent story in the news.

This is from Victor’s chapter on the supposed links between “Satanism and Teenage Crime,” from the sub-section discussing “Juvenile Delinquents Involved in Pseudo-Satanism”:

When people justify murder in terms of their personal Christian beliefs, we don’t attribute the cause to the Christian religion. Instead, we seek the causes of their aggression in their particular personality dispositions and group influences.

We must do the same when we learn about some vicious act of  aggression committed by a teenager who justifies what he or she has done by referring to some self-taught Satanist beliefs. It is misleading to focus too much attention on the excuse of Satanist beliefs, no matter how repulsive we may find them.

The ritual acts and group beliefs of these delinquents does not constitute a religion any more than do the ritual acts and group beliefs of teenage gang members, or than those of the Ku Klux Klan. Almost all teenagers who even profess to be Satanists lack any elaborate belief system focused upon Devil worship. Instead, they have fabricated a deviant ideology in order to: justify their underlying personality dispositions to express aggressive hostility; or justify rebellion from adult social restrictions; or obtain public notoriety. This is what I mean when I refer to teenagers as “pseudo-Satanist” delinquents rather than as “teenage Satanists.”

… The practice of Satanic black magic rituals doesn’t cause teenagers to engage in vandalism and animal mutilation. Instead, such activity is drawn from the same package of subjective meanings. Makeshift black magic rituals offer the excitement of getting away with socially tabooed, deviant behavior, assaulting the moral order of conventional society, and bonding adolescents together in a secret, forbidden activity. … If disapproving adults also take the magic rituals seriously, in either fear or anger, rather than ridicule them, those adults inadvertently reinforce the teenagers’ attraction to black magic.

… It is easy for a teenager to put together a concoction of “Satanic beliefs” from newspaper articles, from popular folklore, from horror movies, and even from what is learned in church about the Devil.

The story in the news that this relates to doesn’t involve juvenile delinquents, but rather it involves delinquent adults who preyed on juveniles — specifically the late, once-beloved BBC television personality and DJ Jimmy Savile. (Content note: That link, the article below, and the rest of this post include some upsetting discussion of the horrific allegations against Savile.)

Following Savile’s death in 2011, reports began to surface of Savile’s history of sexual abuse and the rape of children dating all the way back to 1955. More than 400 people have come forward saying they were abused by Savile.

In recent months, the tabloid press has also published a string of stories suggesting that Savile belonged to some kind of Satanic cult. This example — “Satanic Jimmy Savile Wore Devil Robes at Scarborough Sex Club” — is typical of the rest in its thin sourcing and the salacious tone suggesting that the paper hopes this is all true:

Paedophile DJ Jimmy Savile danced naked during Satanic sex rituals held in a creepy underground chamber, according to reports.

Disgraced Savile regularly visited a secret club in Whitby, Scarborough, to join in sex-based rituals around a flogging post, it was claimed.

The BBC star belonged to a convent of northern public figures, now deceased, who gathered in a venue called The Chamber — which had signs of the devil on the walls.

This is precisely the sort of thing Jeffrey Victor describes as “pseudo-Satanism” — a pose being struck in order to appear, and to feel, transgressive and rebellious. All of the stories of Savile’s purported “Satanism” describe just such a pose — the sort of stuff a lazy production designer might come up with for a “Satanic cult” film, a hodge-podge of pop-culture symbolism concocted from the news, from folklore, from the movies, and from religious instruction unwittingly based on all of the above.

It’s understandable that many people would want to believe that Savile was involved in some kind of a Satanic cult. Here was a man who was widely admired and respected, yet decades later the public learns that he was the worst sort of predator. If the allegations against Savile are true, then the evil that he did was real, vast, and enduring, but also senseless. It’s natural to want to make sense of senseless evil — to categorize it, classify it, and to come to terms with it in some way by attributing it directly to Satan and his minions.

So even though Jimmy Savile was a pseudo-Satanist and not really a member of some shadowy cult of devil-worshipers, I can understand why some people might prefer to think that he was. When we encounter inexplicable horrors, we want to be able to tell a story that can explain them.

But what I still find mystifying is why many, many people also seem attracted to stories that invent inexplicable horrors where none exist. That’s what happened in the Satanic Panic of the 1980s and in the culture-war politics it left in its wake. The British tabloid press is applying urban legends about Satanism in an attempt to come to grips with the very real evil perpetrated by a very real monster. But the Satanic Panic and its culture-war politics embrace those same legends in order to provide imaginary evils and imaginary monsters for them to engage in imaginary battles.


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  • AnonymousSam

    For the most part, the above covers what I’ve seen of Satanism — in general, “pursue that which pleasures you so long as it’s not at the expense of a person who hasn’t given consent to be treated in said manner,” with more vague aspects encapsulating the darker, less pleasant aspects of the Abrahamic religions as being detestable and therefore the opposite of how one’s spirituality ought to be. I’ve seen a few Satanists say that the serpent in the Garden was the hero of the story, bringing knowledge and awareness to creatures who were denied true sapience by a liar deity.

    I have little opinion of it, not having met enough people who were not either extremely immature or serial killers who said they worshiped Satan to know what a reasonably-minded adult goes about said worship.

    (Amusingly, though– there is a fellow out there in the world who has my name, first and last, which is kind of an accomplishment when my name is based on a Hebrew word that Jewish parents are rather unlikely to give to their child. He also claims to be a Satanist. My running joke [which, unfortunately, I have never gotten to share with him] is that he’s my evil twin.)

  • Hexep

    Ahhh… I remember finding Anton LaVey tremendously liberating when I first read his works. Are you part of his group, the Church of Satan?

  • Lliira

     The “so long as it’s not at expense of a person who hasn’t given consent to be treated in said manner” is not something I’ve ever seen in Satanism — that sounds more like Wicca, actually. Satanism is “do as thou wilt shall be the whole of the law” (Crowley),  whereas Wicca is “an it harm none, do what ye will.”

    Perhaps Satanism has changed drastically in the last hundred years. And perhaps my first boyfriend, who considered himself a Satanist philosophically, and every other Satanist I’ve ever talked to, are aberrations. Luckily, neither my first boyfriend nor anyone else I’ve talked to who is a Satanist was physically violent. However, they were all jerks (though my boyfriend was incredibly good at pretending otherwise, which is why he was my boyfriend. He was manipulative as hell and he fooled me enough that I only realized everything he did to me in the last few years.)

    I’ve never known any Satanist who actually worships the devil. Because Satanism is about not worshiping anything. Right-wing Christians are more devil-worshipy; first, in that they think Satan is an actual entity that actually physically exists; second, in that their idea of this entity is at the center of their worship.

  • Lliira

    one woman has described how, when he started to grope her, she said a loud “No!” and he immediately backed off and apologized

    That is not how it works. You do NOT grope someone who has not previously and clearly given you permission to grope her. The basic state of consent is in the OFF position, not the ON position (and it can be flipped back to off at absolutely any time, and that’s not a great metaphor anyway, because permission for groping does not mean permission for other things). That he started to grope someone without having her absolutely clear consent first shows that he is a complete and utter scumbag.
    at least
    one woman has described how, when he started to grope her, she said a
    loud “No!” and he immediately backed off and apologised – See more at:
    at least
    one woman has described how, when he started to grope her, she said a
    loud “No!” and he immediately backed off and apologised – See more at:
    at least
    one woman has described how, when he started to grope her, she said a
    loud “No!” and he immediately backed off and apologised – See more at:
    at least
    one woman has described how, when he started to grope her, she said a
    loud “No!” and he immediately backed off and apologised – See more at:</i

  • AnonymousSam

    I’ve heard variations. Most of the “I’ll do whatever I please” sort belonged to the group I am discounting as too immature to take seriously. Crowley considered himself Satan, so I’m not sure about taking him as representative of Satanism either (although the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn is interesting, and has equally interesting words to say about Samael).

  • Madhabmatics

     nah it hasn’t changed, it’s still objectivism

  • Madhabmatics

     We have a very complicated animal goodness to evilness rating depending on whether they tried to A) set Abraham on fire or B) put out the fire

    spoiler: frogs are baller as heck

  • Parhelion

    I’ve always thought that claiming Satanism (or Godless Communism, or homosexual conspiracy, or name your hated group of choice) as the explanation for deeply evil acts serves two purposes.

    First, it distances us from part of our own humanity, the awfulness some of us are capable of and the way bad choices by normal people shelters the awful acts of others.

    Second, it lets us ignore how mundane the struggle against evil usually is.  I’ve found trying to be good, even in dramatic circumstances, was much more like trying to exercise or balance my checkbook than anything out of most movies or fantasy novels.

    If fighting evil would mean battling some extraordinary group, then I’m free to feel heroic for standing still and pointing at someone else, rather than asking myself yet again what small mistake with big consequences I might be making and then having to fix that mistake.

  • Ross Thompson

    I hung out with a couple of “satanists” in my youth, and came to the conclusion that satanists are all really middle-class Catholic teenagers who want to piss of their parents.

  • Isabel C.

    Hey, welcome, and good to see you!

    As above, I’ve only really encountered LaVey’s books (and a lot of Hot Topic kids, which, whatever) and I’d be very interested in hearing about any differences in the sort you practice, or any bits of the books I interpreted wrong.

  • Isabel C.

    I can totally see that.

    I’ve had some discussion with friends about “left hand” paths and the power of transgression, which interests me, and I’ve had the Tarot devil be a not-entirely-negative figure in readings: the interpretation I take of the card generally is “bondage to fear and desire,” but it can also mean taking the darker/less approved of route, and also sometimes bonds can be useful.That sort of thing. 

  • Hexep

    I share your feeling. I have the same name as a fictional character on a television show that was very popular 10 years ago; if you Google my name, all you get is sites about the show.

  • My other thought was that it was a loud “no” that made him stop. 

    What happened to those who lacked the confidence to assert themselves like that and instead said, “please don’t do this,” or just shut down completely in terror?

  • Cathy W

    My thought when I heard the anecdote was that wow, someone popped his bubble for a second. Given that it didn’t seem to stop him for more than that moment… it’s good to know he’d take an assertive no for an answer, but that’s kind of a low bar.

  • Guest

    Eugene Peterson’s “The Message” implies that the salt-of-the-earth metaphor is exactly like the light-of-the-world metaphor.  Salt brings out the flavor in food. 

  • Oh boy.  I can see that I will *never* be able to give an adequate reply to everyone who has responded to me.  For that I apologize.  Let me just post a few basic clarifications here.  For anything else anyone may want to know, please contact me via my blog (just click on my screen name).  Please note, I’ll be without computer access until the 11th, but I’ll respond as soon as I’m able.

    First, let me say thank you to all those kind souls that extended such warm greeting to me.  Truly, I am touched.

    JustoneK, MaryKaye, Dave, Invisible Neutrino, Baby-Raptor, Hexep, and anyone else I may have missed:  Thanks for making me feel so welcome here.  And Baby-Raptor, thanks for the cookie and hug.  Mmm peanut butter, my favorite!

    I am not a member of the Church of Satan (or any other formal organization) and am not fond of their particular brand of symbolic Satanism.  I read the Satanic Bible years ago and was not overly impressed.  I was occasionally amused, but that’s about all the effect it had on me.  I’m also not fond of the tendency some  LaVeyans have of insisting that they–and only they–are real Satanists.  There’s more to Satanism than the Church of Satan whether the LaVeyans like it or not. 

    My particular form of Satanism is of the Theistic variety.  That is to say, I see Satan as a literal deity.  Probably the best intro to Theistic Satanism is Diane Vera’s website:  (Please excuse the lack of formatting.  I don’t know how to do hyperlinks in Disqus.)  I find Vera’s proposed Church of Azazel very interesting.  I am also fascinated by the Temple of Set.  I’ve found the Temple approved book “Uncle Setnakt’s Essential Guide to the Left Hand Path” very inspirational. 

    I study as much as I can about other religions, too.  During my teen years, I was involved in Wicca and Golden Dawn-style ceremonial magic.  I still have a fondness for the Pagan Gods and do rites which focus on Isis occasionally.  I spend quite a bit of time on Slacktivist in an effort to better understand Evangelical Christianity.  My only direct experience of Christianity comes from Catholicism.

    I certainly believe in standing up for myself and working to strengthen myself, but I’ll have no truck with that “might is right” crap.  My political leaning have nothing to do with Ayn Rand.  I am a Liberal and proud of it.

  •  It has. It was called “Gnosticism”.

  • The Yazidi religion being compared to Satanism is an old libel. The central figure of their religion is a wholly benevolent angel named Melek Taus.
    Best guess, something like Yazidis but far
    less syncretic, instead sticking very close to a single religion
    (Christianity) but with the shift that Satan is presented as the good
    guy. – See more at:

  • This is very true, but the reason that I say that Satanism would probably look something like that (though far less syncretic) is that Melek Taus shares a story with the Islamic equivalent of Satan, it’s just that the story is cast in a very different light.

    Instead of refusing to bow before man being defiance of God it is instead seen as an act of respect towards God (“I will bow only toward God,” instead of, “WTF?  You want me to bow to a talking monkey?”).

    If there were actual Satanism, which as far as I know there is not, I would expect it to do similar things.  Take the framework that Christianity provided, but interpret it differently.

    “If Satan is lord of Hell and God created Hell then clearly Satan is working for God and is so loyal that he was willing to give up a life of ease in Heaven to do it.”


    “If God does all of these things than clearly God is evil and the Rebellion against him, though failed, was an honorable one of freedom fighters trying to save all of us.  Our Lord may have failed the first time, but next time he’ll be ready and deliver us all from the evil that is damnation imposed by an autocratic God.”

    That is, same story, different interpretation.

    Melek Taus shares a story with a Satan figure but, by virtue of a very different interpretation of that story, is able to be the kind of benevolent figure people would actually follow.

    If Satanism were to exist as an actual religion instead of, “We do this because it’s shocking and transgressive,” I would presume a similar difference of interpretation, but unlike the Yazidi the religion in question would have to stick much closer to a single other religion (specifically Christianity).

    Dragoness Eclectic’s bringing up of Gnosticism is definitely worthy of consideration here because, while I can’t off the top of my head think of a thing that made Satan into the good guy, the Secret Gospel of John (a Gnostic text) casts the God that Jews, Christians, and now Muslims worship (amoung others) as its Satan figure.  A different name is used, but if you look at what the bad guy is doing he’s the one who breaths life into Adam, he’s the one who does the Flood, so on.  He’s the one taking on the stories generally ascribed to God.  So you get same story, different interpretation, and under the interpretation of the Secret Gospel of John all Jews, Christians, and Muslims (amoung others) alive today are basically Satanists without realizing it.

    There may be another Gnostic text which instead of making God (or at least the one everyone thought of as God) into the bad guy made Satan into the good guy.

    If you want an example of what Satanism might look like, another thing to do would be to consider my story Where Antichrists Come From in which a combination of taking Left Behind God and Jesus as accurate portrayals of the two and a bit of, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” combine to place Lucifer in a heroic role.

  • AnonymousSam

    Intriguing thought: God writes the rules. God creates Hell. God’s rules condemn innocent people to Hell for sins they cannot possibly prevent themselves from committing at least once.

    Jesus absolves all sins and severs the connection between mankind and Hell.

    In a religion in which God is an antagonist, Jesus is the hero of the story. Despite being the son of God, he subverts his father’s orders and creates a means by which humanity can avoid God’s eternal wrath.

    Kinda sounds like something that’d make its way into my story, but my plan for the Messiah is rather different.

  • I’m actually rather busy at the moment and have not had a chance to read SororAyin’s comments.  Which is why the post I’m responding to (disqus let me edit it to fix a couple of typos but now refuses to let me edit) does not take what has been said by SororAyin into account at all.

  • Please excuse the lack of formatting.  I don’t know how to do hyperlinks in Disqus.

    Disqus doesn’t do hyperlinks.  Or, to put it more accurately, “Among the things that Disqus won’t do properly are hyperlinks.”

  • SororAyin

     You may be intrigued to know that I have encountered a few Satanists who felt that Lucifer and Jesus were just two different manifestations of the same deity.

  • vsm

    I doubt he was the first person to come up with it, but that’s pretty much what Nick Cave believes.

  • AnonymousSam

    I could definitely see it. It’s the kind of thing I could have come up with if I’d kept on the same path.

    Back when I was a raging teenager who was feeling grievously hurt by Christianity, I started identifying as a Satanist. My interpretation was pretty simple though and formed in response to how I felt. God remained the only deity, but God had proven himself to be evil in my eyes. Scripture seemed to cheerfully confirm this. Therefore, I decided, the only true Satan was humanity itself. We were the populace residing beneath a tyrannical and evil overlord. It was our duty to ask questions, think for ourselves and consider no act unclean or unholy by fiat.

    Oddly enough, what shook me out of that phase was being informed by a curious friend that my name happens to coincide with one of the names associated with Satan. That hit a little too close to home and suddenly I was a lot less interested in calling myself a Satanist.

  • EllieMurasaki


  • mcc

    The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he existed

  • AnonymousSam

    … Huh. No, but googling that name gave me another one of those nasty twinges. Turns out the translation of the name (“he sees the name”) references a story wherein Satan knew the explicit name of God and spoke it to a mortal to prove he was an angel, earning God’s wrath. My twinge comes from having used “by the Name” as an oath from time to time.

    I don’t know why I was happy to call myself a Satanist but not with the implication that I was named after Satan. There’s where my Otherkin background comes in, since that same friend kept digging and uncovering little correlations between things I said or wrote and scripture relating to fallen angels who were all considered to be alternate names and mythologies related to Satan. It was never a thing I liked, but after awhile I just resigned myself to it. “Yes, fine, I could possibly be some sort of reincarnation of a fallen angel who may or may not be the basis for Satan. Pass me a ramen packet.”

    By this point, I don’t really think of it much anymore. Truth or fiction, it hasn’t had any relevance to my adult life beyond being a darkly amusing story I can tell every once and awhile.

  • Intrigued, yes.  Surprised, no.  Which is somewhat surprising in itself since earlier this very day I was saying that I didn’t think actual satanists existed in the real world.

    I actually met someone (a Jewish Mormon, the product of a mixed marriage and, apparently, the belief that those two religions fit together just fine) who explained to me that the snake in the Garden of Eden was the good guy because if humanity had never left the Garden it could never reach its true potential.  I don’t remember if he equated the snake with Jesus though.

    Personally all of the translations I’ve read (I can’t read Hebrew, biblical or otherwise) have left me with the impression that the serpent was just your ordinary standard variety talking snake.  They’ve also left me with the impression that the snake got shafted, and left me with a deep desire to know what his explanation would have been if he, like Adam and Eve before him, had been given a chance to explain himself.

    I want to know the talking snake’s motivation, damn it!  Genesis writer, you leave out all the good stuff.

  •  That’s sort of, but not really, what the Secret Gospel of John I mentioned earlier says.

    Note the qualifiers “sort of” and “but not really”, even so there is similarity there.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Wait, what? I thought it was more like ‘infamous rebellion’, paralleling ‘Azazel’, ‘rebellion against God’.

    I am writing a thing where the etymologies of those names are important. I need to have them right.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Oh, okay, that makes sense. Thanks!

  • AnonymousSam

    Apparently “he sees the name” is an epithet and “infamous rebellion” is the translation of his name.

    The name ‘Shemyaza[z]’ means ‘infamous rebellion’, the combination of ‘shem’ [meaning ‘name’ or ‘fame’ {whether positive or negative}] + ‘azaz’ [which means ‘rebellion’ or ‘arrogance’ as a negative particle]. Michael Knibb lists him as “the (or my) name has seen” or “he sees the name”.

  • I’ve long been of the opinion that the Serpent of Eden should be recognized as a positive force.  It’s what inspired an old painting of mine.

    (High-school level skill, here: )

  •  Is anyone else getting a thing where disqus occasionally shows replies as coming before the things to which they are replies?

  • AnonymousSam

    Yup, every now and then.

    Continuity: Just one more thing at which Disqus fails.

  • Nominal.E

    Just came across a video related to Beyonce’s Superbowl appearance and Satanism/demon possession through a friend of a friend posting on Facebook. Found the website with that and more related videos.

  • Nominal.e

    Not recommended just found it creepy and very off.

  • Or, more brilliantly, Disqus has discovered how to reverse cause and effect. :P

  • I am reminded of Mystery Science Theater 3000, don’t remember the episode or enough of the exact phrasing to look it up so this will be an approximate quote at best.

    Robot 1: It would appear that we have.
    Robot 2: Do you think we’ve escaped the time vortex yet?
    Robot 1: Damn it!