The Church of Satan (CoS) has as a part of its foundational ideology a belief in and the use of magic. This word ‘magic’ conjures many ideas of hokey religions that would endeavor to tap into some supernatural aspect to bring about a desired outcome. LaVey wrote extensively about various rituals and the use of ‘magic’ but it had very different meanings that evolved over time. Ritual is often an important part of our lives and can play a critical role in passing of knowledge or fostering a sense of community. My issue with the beliefs in magic are not the ritual itself or the feelings of community or exhalation that people get out of a performance. The problem is that there is an underlying hint of pseudoscience that weaves its way through LaVey and the CoS practices of ritual and ‘magic’.
My issue with CoS ideology is extensive but as a scientist one of my main pet peeves is pseudoscience, it is a constant bane of my existence throughout social media. The reason why pseudoscience is so difficult for people to deal with is because it uses science words or valid concepts but skews and distorts the lines of fact and fiction.
By pseudoscience I mean a system of theories, assumptions, and methods erroneously regarded as scientific.
I was openly critical of the CoS beliefs that are tied to their use of magic and just like when I criticize essential oils the apologetics came out of the wood work to defend their beliefs. The only thing that was missing from the conversation was for someone to call me a TST shill. The individuals I spoke to seem to think that I misconstrued the definition of magic within CoS or that my advanced degrees in science didn’t give me the skills with which to identify non-science nonsense. Enter the mental gymnastics to try to pretend that ‘magic’ was and always has been simply LaVey being a master of psychology.
Like Christian apologetics their attempts to defend this area of their religion are based on pretending that LaVey didn’t write several books and explain a lot of his philosophy on the subject. They defaulted to defenses that I was cherry picking or taking things out of context or just wasn’t as woke enough to understand. The CoS members defined their use of magic as
“Intellectual decompression chamber.” If you look at the definition of psychodrama, it states, “Psychodrama is an action method, often used as a psychotherapy, in which clients use spontaneous dramatization, role playing, and dramatic self-presentation to investigate and gain insight into their lives.” LaVey was a great showman, a carnie, and he knew how to read people. He knew how to put on a show – using words and terms to delight/ confuse/ and entertain. And that was the point, and nothing more. Basically, atheists having a good time, and acknowledging the human need for ritual and nothing more.
However, this is cherry picking and pretending that things LaVey wrote on the subject were not well known. Lavey’s point of view while probably intentionally vague sometimes expressed the idea of ‘magic’ as a part of the natural world yet thus far undiscovered by science. The CoS members called it psychotherapy or psychodrama, but the expressed underlying value of the ritual was manipulating “natural forces” using the force of their own willpower, to achieve some desired outcome. It is even called out in their 11 satanic rules ‘#7 Acknowledge the power of magic if you have employed it successfully to obtain your desires. If you deny the power of magic after having called upon it with success, you will lose all you have obtained (LaVey, 1967).
This is no different than new age ‘Law of Attraction’ nonsense. Notions of altering reality though our thoughts in some ‘as yet discovered by science’ philosophy is only missing a healthy sprinkle of ‘quantum’ in there to go full Deepak Chopra. They even went full mommy blog/9/11 truther on me claiming that I was “proof that LaVey’s ability to daze others was effective.”
Now I don’t know if CoS has updated their position on magic; I don’t follow their current philosophical mussing, but their own website said:
Satanists do have experience of the super-normal in their practice of ritual or Greater Magic. This is a technique for influencing the outcome of human events to desired ends via reaching an extreme emotional state in the context of a ritual, sending forth a vision of what you want to occur (the Is To Be), which, if your levels of adrenaline are high enough, will permeate the unconscious minds of those you wish to influence, causing them to behave as you Will when the time is right. (Gilmore, 1992)
Now straight from the horse’s mouth is a little harder to argue that this is simply psychology. Wish fulfillment in whatever form or belief that you can influence your subconscious or the world around you is pseudoscience.
This kind of ‘positive thinking’ has always had broad appeal, it gives an illusion of power and control. Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret and many other self-help, get rich quick con artists have utilized the ideas of positive thinking over time. I am not saying LaVey was a con artist or that he developed the notions of ‘magic’ to make money through the illusions of power it could give people; I am saying let’s not confuse simple ritual for fun, community and excitement with some deeper meaning or power ‘as yet discovered by science’ or psychology.
High Priestess Peggy Nadramia (2016) summed up my point well in her essay on Ritual Magic
“Psychodrama made people feel better; releasing pent-up frustrations and sexual energy was both enjoyable and cathartic…Anton LaVey had taken the practice of Satanic ritual magic from therapeutic psychodrama, developing his theories of manipulating the minds of others “through the ethers,”
The science of ‘positive thinking’ has been put to the test; three of the best studies to date cited below found that the notions of directing your thoughts towards some positive outcome in hopes that it is achieved are worthless. Now you might say ‘what harm is there in this?’ ‘why do I care?’, well like most pseudoscience it is not the well-educated well-balanced people who know this is just for fun and don’t believe there is any magic or mystical outcomes from a ritual that are the people at risk. By its very design notions of ‘magic’ or ‘positive thinking’ prey upon the weakest and most easily influenced people who are often in some dire need of assistance or need. So I say the same thing I do with all pseudoscience that while most people might see these beliefs as harmless there is inevitably some person out there who is susceptible to some quick solution to their problems, and even if it doesn’t fix their problem or yield them any results often the real issue is that it delays them from taking real action. We see this all the time in medical treatments, people will try the essential oils, quantum energy realignment, acupuncture or jamming jade eggs up their ass or orifices for a while before going to the doctor, delaying real treatment.
Everyone who is a Satanist knows the insidious immorality of the Judeo-Christian religion that offers easy answers and magic solutions to their problems. I just don’t want people to be suckered into thinking that LaVey had some deeper understanding of human psychology or that CoS beliefs are somehow rooted in science, which they are not.
Have fun, perform rituals, engage in things that make you happy with friends, enjoy the excitement of performing in front of people, let loose your inner exhibitionist, just don’t pretend that there is any as yet discovered by science influence or outcome that will happen.
Nadramia, P. (2016) Ritual Magic in the Church of Satan—a Historical Perspective. Retrieved from https://www.churchofsatan.com/ritual-magic-in-the-church-of-satan/
Coyne, J. & Tennen, H. (2010) “Positive Psychology in Cancer Care: Bad Science, Exaggerated Claims, and Unproven Medicine” Annals of Behavioral Medicine. 39(1) 16-26
Pham, L. B., & Taylor, S. E. (1999). From Thought to Action: Effects of Process-Versus Outcome-Based Mental Simulations on Performance. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 25(2), 250–260. https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167299025002010
Coyne, J. C., Tennen, H., & Ranchor, A. V. (2010). Positive psychology in cancer care: a story line resistant to evidence. Annals of behavioral medicine : a publication of the Society of Behavioral Medicine, 39(1), 35–42. doi:10.1007/s12160-010-9157-9
LaVey, A. (1967) The Eleven Satanic Rules of the Earth. Retrieved from
Gilmore, M (1992) Satanism: The Feared Religion. Retrieved from: https://www.churchofsatan.com/satanism-the-feared-religion/