Satanism, or devil worship, refers to two distinct phenomena: (1) the worship of Satan or Lucifer, the Christian antideity, and (2) the worship by non-Christian peoples of deities that to Christian observers have a devil-like character. The worship of Satan has never been a widespread activity, and most reports of Satanism seem to originate in the imagination of Christian believers.
The idea of devil worship emerged in the fifteenth century when for various reasons the powers of the Inquisition were turned upon "witchcraft. " The task of the inquisitors was to ferret out heretics, Christians who held unorthodox opinions, and apostates, former Christians who had renounced the faith. Outside the mandate of the Inquisition were those believers in other religions who had never been Christians. Before the year 1484, witchcraft had been defined as paganism, the worship of the old pre-Christian deities. Pagans had never been Christians and were thus immune to the mandate of the Inquisition.
However, in 1484 Pope Innocent VIII issued an encyclical that redefined witchcraft as devil worship, hence apostasy. The encyclical was followed two years later by publication of the Malleus Maleficarum (The Witch's Hammer), a volume that defined devil worship as an elaborate parody of Christian worship. Malleus Maleficarum became the sourcebook for the massive action against people identified as witches/Satanists. Substance was added to the perspective by the numerous confessions extracted under duress from the accused. Although Malleus Maleficarum was published only a generation before the Reformation, Protestants accepted its perspective and were as active as Roman Catholics in the persecution of people believed to be worshiping the devil and practicing malevolent magic.
As devil worship came to be understood, it included gatherings of people, often in groups of 13 (a parody of Christ and the 12 apostles), and the performance of a "black mass" that might include the repetition of the Lord's Prayer backward, the profanation of a eucharistic host, the sacrifice of a baby, or sexual debauchery. While many were accused of participation in devil worship, the first solid evidence of the existence of a devil-worshiping group came in the court of French king Louis XIV (1638-1715). With the assistance of a defrocked priest, Catherine Deshayes, better known as "La Voisin," constructed black masses to help members of the court—including one of the King's mistresses—retain their positions in the royal society. La Voisin was also a purveyor of poisons and assisted women in aborting unwanted babies. The situation came to light at the end of the 1670s but created little impact because of the relatively quiet manner in which the investigation and judicial proceedings were carried out. A star chamber was established that considered evidence and issued verdicts in secret in order to keep the scandal from destroying the government.
In the years since the La Voisin affair, the worship of Satan or diabolism has emerged periodically, only to quickly pass from the scene. In the twentieth century, it became the subject of some successful novels, especially those of Dennis Wheatley, who wrote a series of stories based on the existence of a worldwide satanic conspiratorial organization. There is no evidence that such an organization exists (or ever existed) outside of Wheatley's imagination.
A new era for devil worship began in 1966 with the organization of the Church of Satan. The church redefined Satanism as the epitome of American values of individualism and promoted a philosophy built around hedonism, pragmatism, and ego development. The traditional Black Mass was celebrated, but it too had been transformed into a psychodrama aimed at teaching participants to release inhibitions that kept them from reaching personal fulfillment. Anton LaVey, the church's founder, also operated openly and demanded that church members do nothing to violate the law.
The Church of Satan enjoyed a period of growth and publicity through the early 1970s, but soon fell victim to a series of schisms that cost it many members and led to its adopting a low profile. Among the several divisions, the most substantial and the only one to survive into the 1990s is the Temple of Set. Temple founder Michael Aquino rejected the neo-Satanism of LaVey and developed a more traditional approach built upon identifying the Christian Satan as the Egyptian deity Set (or Seth). Aquino has constructed the most sophisticated form of modern Satanism and has attracted to the temple a small but faithful following. Like the Church of Satan, the Temple of Set and Aquino (an officer in the U.S. Army) renounce all actions that break the law.
Public interest in the Church of Satan had largely died by the end of the 1970s, although a new wave of concern about Satanism emerged. Through the 1980s a number of individuals, primarily women, came forward with stories of, as children and teenagers, having participated in satanic rites at the insistence of their parents. The abuse they received had been forgotten, but several decades later was being remembered. At the same time, a number of accusations were made that various people with control over children—day care workers, divorced spouses, grandparents—were practicing satanic rituals on young children.
By the mid-1980s rumors and accusations of satanic ritual abuse emerged in every part of the United States and by the end of the decade had been transplanted to Europe. They led to several trials, the most important being the lengthy trial of the owners and workers of the McMartin Day School in Manhattan Beach, California. All defendants in the McMartin case were acquitted, and further research on the growing number of accusations found no basis for the widespread allegations of Satanism. The issue was seemingly laid to rest in 1994 when two researchers—Phillip Shaver, a psychologist at the University of California-Davis, and Pamela Freyd of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation—reported after their investigation of more than twelve thousand accusations that no evidence of any satanic cults had been uncovered.
Modern Satanism is largely the product of Christian theology, as Satan is primarily an inhabitant of the Christian religious worldview. For the most part, the documents on Satanism— descriptions of its reported beliefs and practices—were written by professing Christians who never met a Satanist or attended a satanic gathering. Their descriptions of Satanism were an admixture of material drawing from older Christian texts and their own imaginations.
A Satanic Hoax
Much of the literature of diabolism is written from the point of view of the Roman Catholic church, and in fact much satanic practice, especially the so-called Black Mass, parodies Catholic worship. Belief in the existence of Satanists and devil worship as a possibly powerful force opposing the church set the church up for an elaborate hoax in France at the end of the nineteenth century. Through the nineteenth century, the church had made an issue of its opposition to Freemasonry, a movement that had aligned itself against the monarchial governments of western Europe.
In the years before the hoax, the church had witnessed several Satanist-related scandals. In 1894, for example, 100 consecrated hosts (eucharistic bread) were stolen from Nôtre Dame by an old woman under circumstances that clearly proved that the vessels containing them were not the objects of the theft. An extraordinary number of such larcenies occurred in all parts of France around the end of the nineteenth century, with no less than 13 churches in the Diocese of Orleans being thus despoiled. In the Diocese of Lyons, measures were taken to transform the tabernacles into strongboxes, and in 11 of the dioceses similar acts were recorded. In Italy, Rome, Liguria, and Solerus there were similar desecrations, and even on the island of Mauritius an outrage of peculiar atrocity occurred in 1895.
Meanwhile, it had been asserted by many writers, including Archbishop Meurin and "Dr. Bataille," that Freemasonry was merely a mask for Satanism, that is, that an organization had developed of which the ordinary Mason was ignorant and that had diabolism as its special object. Members of this organization, it was asserted, were recruited from the higher branches of Masonry, although it also initiated women. Needless to say, the charge was indignantly denied by Masons.
"Bataille" and "Margiotta" claimed that the order of the Palladium, or Sovereign Council of Wisdom, had been constituted in France in 1737, and this, they inferred, was one and the same as the legendary Palladium of the Templars, better known by the name of Baphomet. In 1801 Isaac Long, a Jew, was said to have carried the "original image" of Baphomet to Charleston, South Carolina, in the United States, and it was alleged that the lodge he founded then became the chief in the Ancient and Accepted Scotch Rite. He was succeeded in due course by Albert Pike, who, it was alleged, extended the Scotch Rite and shared the anti-Catholic Masonic chieftainship with the Italian patriot Giuseppe Mazzini. This new directory was established, it was asserted, as the new Reformed Palladium Rite, or Reformed Palladium. Assisted by Gallatin Mackey and others, Pike built the new rite into an occult fraternity with worldwide powers and practiced the occult arts so well that the head lodge at Charleston was supposed to be in constant communication with Lucifer.
These revelations by "Dr. Bataille" in the wholly ludicrous work Le Diable au XIX Siècle (1896) included the claim that in March 1881 his hero, "Dr. Hacks," in whom his own personality is but thinly disguised, visited Charleston, where he met Pike, Mackey, and other Satanists. Mackey was supposed to have shown him his Arcula Mystica, in appearance like a liqueur stand, but in reality a diabolical telephone, operated like the Urim and Thummim. These revelations were supported by "Miss Diana Vaughan, " once a Palladist, grand mistress of the temple and grand inspectress of the Palladium, who later converted to Roman Catholicism. In Memoirs of an ex-Palladist (1895) she gives a colorful and exhaustive account of her dealings with the "Satanists of Charleston." She claimed to be descended from the alchemist Thomas Vaughan, and recounted her adventures with Lucifer.
It was later disclosed that all the revelations of "Dr. Bataille" were an elaborate invention of the French journalist Gabriel Jogand-Pàges. Jogand-Pàges also embroidered his inventions by writing under the pseudonym Léo Taxil and also wrote the detailed "confessions" of the fictional "Diana Vaughan."
This elaborate and mischievous hoax both deceived the Roman Catholic church and embarrassed the Freemasons. It also confused the issue so far as nineteenth-and early-twentieth-century devil worship revivals were concerned. As with other hoaxes of a literary nature, this one came back to life as people in the late twentieth century rediscovered Jogand-Pàges's books and, in their ignorance of the hoax, used them to weave new theories of contemporary diabolism.
Bois, Jules. Le Petites Religions de Paris. Paris, 1894.
——. Le Satanisme et la Magie. Paris, 1895.
Gerber, H. Léo Taxil's Palladismus-Roman. Oder Die "Enthüllungen" Dr. Battaille's, Margiotta's and "Miss Vaughan's" Über Freimaureri kritisch beleuchtet. Berlin, 1897.
Huysmans, J. K. Là-Bas. 1891. Translated as Down There: A Study in Satanism. New Hyde Park, N.Y.: University Books, 1958.
LaVey, Anton Szander. The Satanic Bible. New York: Avon, 1964.
Lea, H. C. Léo Taxil and Diana Vaughan. Paris, 1901.
Margiotta, D. Souvenirs d'un Trente-Troisieme. Adriano Lemmi, chef supreme des francsmaçons. Paris, 1896.
Papus [G. Encausse]. Le Diable et l'occultisme. Paris, 1895.
Rhodes, H. T. F. The Satanic Mass. London, 1954.
Vaughan, Diana [Gabriel Jogand-Pages]. Mémoire d'une Ex-Palladiste. Paris, 1895.
Waite, Arthur E. Devil Worship in France. London, 1896.