Lecture 1: Analyzing a Name


The Hebrew letter Shin, which corresponds to Snakes, Fires and Scorpions.

The basic intuition: Satan is a title given to many gods. So, Satan refers to many things.

The word Satan, or more properly, ShAITAN (Hebrew or Proto-Hebrew: Shin, Teth or Tau, Nun) just means “adversary.” Satan is not the same as The Devil, the evil god of the Bible, Quran and other scriptures of the Middle-Eastern religions that Satan emerges from. Nor is Satan the same as the entities such as the Snake in the Garden of Eden, or other entities that have proper names such as Leviathan (the Canaanite god, Lotan), Lucifer (Helel Ben Shahar, a Babylonian ruler and/or the planet Venus), Beliel (another Canaanite god), or Azazel, a god that was apparently worshipped against (more on the concept of worshipping-against later).

Satan is a title, like Doctor, not a proper name like Faust; If Satan had a proper name at any point, it is lost to us — but it is likely that Satan emerged as an abstract concept rather than as a discrete entity. The discrete entity, the Devil, however, did have a proper name — and that proper name is Azazel, who was worshipped against by the Israelites, forgotten by the Christians, identified as the original name of the Devil in the Quran. But this class is not about Azazel, the specific entity. This class is about Satan, a complex of ever-evolving things. The origins of the word Satan — adversary — are likely rooted in the notion that things die and rot, turning the good god’s creation into nothingness. There is nothing worse than nothing.

There will always be Satanists as long as there are religions that claim Satan is the enemy. Any time there is an enemy, they are Satanists. Satanism, however, is largely an ad hoc and totally made-up tradition. As such, I reserve the liberty to conduct the lecture in a similar vein when appropriate.

Some preliminary remarks: Satan originated as a title for a deity or deities in the Middle East, and the name Satan is likely a title given to a god of the polytheist Canaanites after they were conquered. That is to say, the situation is much more complicated than any one group worshipping a god that they themselves called Satan, until another group came along and gave it that title. But along the way there are some interesting overlaps between pantheons. By the middle-ages, there will be a glut of entities called demonic, satanic, devilish and so on, that it will be unsurprising that no unified theology will be plausible. There are some neo-nazi groups that try to attract misguided teenagers by claiming Satan is a Sanskrit, Indo-European or “Aryan” word meaning “eternal truth” or something. But I cannot find this anywhere in my massive Sanskrit dictionary and none of my Hindu or Buddhist colleagues know what I am talking about when I ask them (I don’t actually ask them — the notion is idiotic).

Rather, some people who worshipped a god had their civilization ended, and some of the entities of their pantheon were labeled Satan by the conquering party. As the Middle-east was polytheistic way back then, there were other gods and goddesses whose likeness had to be explained away. These became the “demons” of the Bible and Grimoires (such as Ars Goetia). Being Middle-eastern, these entities are technically *not* demons but are Djinn (genies).

Modern “Satanism” as a formal and coherent belief system originates from the writings of a carnival performer, Anton LaVey (to be frank, a carnival performer is one of the few career choices that qualifies anyone to found a religion). Many naively think that Satanism was about rejecting Christianity by reclaiming one of its moralizing figures (The Devil). However, it is more useful to understand LaVey’s atheistic Satanism as a reactionary platform directed against the love-and-light compassion cults that were prominent when he wrote The Satanic Bible. In this sense, LaVeyan Satanism is counter-counter culture, not anti-establishment. As Satanism has only grown, and hippies are a relic of the past, my bold claim stands without needing further support. But if more is needed, only look at the will-eroding, ego-flattening missals of the newage movements of the past, and compare them to the much more market-friendly, put-yourself-first messages that Satanism, which now also comes in variant flavours such as “Luciferianism” (an emphasis on self-development) and “The Left-Hand Path” (an emphasis on self-devotion). As these terms are primarily marketing terms, it is common to see them thrown around interchangeably and with loss of meaning.

It would be wholly naive to say, well, that’s that.
Satanism has no central authority or dogma: the Satanic Bible and the Church of Satan only speak for a subset of atheists and satanists — neither the SB or the COS carries the authority that the Bible or even the Catholic Church hold. But this lack of dogma and authority prove ripe for a massively rich folk tradition.

Medieval Satanism was definitely a thing, but, unlike most of the occult, which was historically a rich man’s game, this form of Satanism was predicated on poverty. A farmer would see the ruling elite, the king and the priests, and say “fuck you, fuck all the things you have, and fuck your god especially” — and turn to a self-invented system of spirituality in order to privately express their revulsion (being unable to unify and thus rebel). This form of Satanism is lost to history largely due to the inability of the poor, working class to read and write until recent times. It is not to be confused with the many who were prosecuted and put to death for practicing witchcraft, many of whom definitely practiced traditional and indigenous beliefs, but nothing remotely resembling modern day neo-paganism (almost all of which is reconstructed and historical revisionism). A great deal of scholarship supports the notion that this was primarily violence against women, not against a creed or belief system, and that the charges of witchcraft were just as often, if not more often, directed against women by other people who wished to strip them of property and power.

Of course, some will tell you things such as:
Well, the Satanists cause all the world’s problems, they are the illuminati, the socialists, the world banks, and all of the rich people are in on it, too. They have sex orgies and fuck little kids and use the blood of Christians to cook with. These kinds of statements are how people that do not understand capitalism talk about the ruling class. You can replace “The Satanists” with “The Jews” or “The Masons” without any loss of generality. Yet, despite this, people actively seek out power and as such hear these idiotic rumors and say, “FUCK YEAH I WANT THAT!!!”

Then there are those who are savvy to the notion of “The Devil” as a blanket term for all of the gods that existed (historically) prior to modern, monolithic deities of the world’s major religions. To these people, those who worship Satan simply worship a lesser god, while they personally worship a better model. This view throws out the notion that Satan is a unique entity in that Lord Satan is the adversary (the word Satan meaning such), yet ironically instigates verbal and actual warfare against those who do not indulge in their hegemonic beliefs.

These are the recent backdrops that Satanism has evolved since coming out of its quiet period in the Middle Ages — it, along with heavy metal music, has rapidly become another commodified consumer-product competing on the market for mind-space within the first world. Satanism has never gone longing for actual members nor has ever needed to spend a dime in advertising. Yet, despite the trappings of modernity, Satan has always innovated in the third world (being a sympathetic figure for the oppressed).