The Cracked Guide To Satanic Rituals
Over the past several days, we’ve discussed the history of Satanism, common Satanic belief systems in contemporary times, and the misconception-fueled backlash to Satanists, and now let’s explore some of the rituals used to worship Satan. But first, a reminder…
- Satanism is composed of many organizations with differing practices. I’ll once again use The Church of Satan (CoS) and The Satanic Temple (TST) as guidelines, but please know that the world of Satanism is wide and contains many different organizations practicing many different rituals.
- Individualism is a key part of Satanic faith. Within those organizations, each Satanist picks and chooses which rituals are most significant to them.
- I am not a Satanist. I have never participated in a Satanic ritual, so I am not speaking from experience. I asked The Satanic Temple of New York City if I could attend an event for this article and was informed that all rituals are closed to the public and only open to congregants. I understand where they’re coming from; I also would not want to deal with the lunatics who would likely show up if they knew where and when a ritual was taking place.
Surprise! Anton LaVey’s Rituals Are Creepy
In The Satanic Bible, LaVey describes a few Satanic rituals. Many of them are simply excuses to cosplay as a wizard and see naked women. You’d expect that from America’s foremost caped proto-incel, but there are a few useful points to discuss regarding the place of ritual in his world.
LaVey defines magic as, “The change in situations or events in accordance with one’s will, which would, using normally accepted methods, be unchangeable.” This definition is fitting for a dude whose entire philosophy is about making your wants and needs reality through force of will. Lavey doesn’t like the words “hope” and “prayer” because they imply that an action may not occur. “The Satanist, realizing that anything he gets is of his own doing, takes command of the situation instead of praying to God for it to happen.” Non-believers – both in Satan and themselves – typically fall prey to magic because they’re not superstitious enough to protect against it and get the help of experts.
Rituals break down into three types that each correspond with a basic human emotion:
- Sex rituals are described as charm or love spells.
- Compassion rituals help others or help oneself.
- Destruction rituals command dark voices to destroy a person or object.
These types can be enacted in group or individual settings. Since – in LaVey’s estimation – will or confidence bolsters magic, having lots of people’s confidence makes magic even stronger; group worship is best for destruction rituals. Individual practice is described as best for sex and compassion since they deal with feelings.
Several ingredients figure into rituals, and none of them are physical. Desire, motivation, temptation, and emotional persuasion at the time of the ritual are quite esoteric. Timing is also important; if a recipient is asleep, they might be easier to reach. The practitioner’s energy also needs to be focused on the ritual; fretting or anxiety will affect the potency. Imagery can intensify emotion, which is critical. Having a physical blueprint of one’s desired reality helps to make it possible; the concept of Vision Boards is the only thing that could cause one to confuse The Secret with Satanism. Finally, LaVey cites “The Balance Factor” -- knowing “the proper type of individual and situation to work your magic on for the easiest and best results” -- was critical in helping one know one’s limit in terms of the types of magic that one can use.
As I said earlier (and you were no doubt unsurprised to learn), magic for the CoS is tainted by the same creepy vibes as LaVey himself. Parts of The Satanic Bible are the literary equivalent of a “No Fat Chicks” bumper sticker bespangled with pentagrams. When discussing dress for rituals, men wear hooded cloaks, but “female participants wear garments which are sexually suggestive; or all black clothing for older women.” This perviness considered alongside his frequent use of women as living altars in his rituals make it obvious that LaVey practiced Satanism more to celebrate his own glory than Satan’s. LaVey is so transparent in his pedestrian desires that it’s a wonder anyone followed him.
At Least LaVey’s Crap Gave Us Kenneth Anger’s Lucifer Rising
However, one friend of CoS and collaborator of LaVey was able to take the rituals that LaVey outlined and make great art. Underground queer filmmaker Kenneth Anger had a history of appropriating taboo imagery – particularly with Nazi symbols in his 1963 piece Scorpio Rising – when he turned his eyes toward Satanism. As an attempt to document the San Francisco counterculture of that era, Anger – a frequent guest at the Black House–featured LaVey in his 1969 film Invocation of My Demon Brother. Lucifer Rising began filming concurrently in the late 1960’s to early ‘70s but was not completed until 1980. While LaVey was not involved with the production of this film, Anger’s understanding of Lucifer and the practices used to praise him were certainly steeped in LaVeyan Satanism.
While Anger’s images make Lucifer Rising memorable, it’s most noteworthy for the story behind its soundtrack, Anger first decided to score the film with friend and roommate Bobby Beausoleil, but a falling out in which Anger accused Beausoleil of robbing him put a damper on those plans.
The filmmaker first connected with Mick Jagger proposing that the Rolling Stones frontman and noted Gram Parsons friend play Lucifer. Instead, Jagger recorded music that was used in Anger's short film Invocation of My Demon Brother. While Jagger distanced himself from Lucifer Rising after the violence at Altamont made him want to disown any connections to dark forces, folk singer Marianne Faithful – his girlfriend at the time – and Jagger’s brother Chris appear in the film.
Anger spent some time as a houseguest of Led Zepplin guitarist Jimmy Page and eventually convinced him to record music for Lucifer Rising. However, an argument between Anger and Page’s wife Charlotte put a stop to that. While Page’s music does not appear in the finished film, he released his score in 2012 as Lucifer Rising and Other Sound Tracks:
The soundtrack was ultimately composed and recorded from prison by original composer Bobby Beausoleil, who was doing time for murder. Is it appropriate to say that – when it came to coming up with a magnificent, foreboding score – Beausoleil really killed it? Not only did he kill it, he tortured it, smothered it to death, and tried to blame it on the Black Panther Party.
The film itself is full of images of birth and rebirth like volcanic eruptions and hatching baby crocodiles. Egyptian iconography – headdresses, staffs, ankhs – is scattered throughout the film. Anger even recorded footage around the pyramids and sphinx thanks to a travel grant from the UK’s National Film Finance Organization. I was kind of hoping the Egyptian scenes were some combination of green screen and a soundstage, but I guess it was super-easy to get a government agency to fund your weird art film in the ‘60s.
While occult Egyptian symbols are frequently employed in Satanism, the film also contains overt instances of Satanic iconography, with pentagrams, altars, candles, female nudity, satyrs, and even pictures of UK Satanist Aleister Crowley featured throughout the film.
The most iconic shot of the film recalls LaVey’s point about the importance of imagery in ritual. Anger wants to portray Lucifer in his persona as a rebel, so he puts the character in a satin bomber jacket that looks pretty close to something you might find in James Dean’s closet. It’s colorful and iconoclastic in the fact that it departs from Egyptian imagery. Anger ensures that his Lucifer embodies rebellion by looking like a rebel.
Nobody Does It Better: The Satanic Temple’s Approach to Ritual
TST’s approach to Satanism is generally more ethical and positive than whatever LaVey peddled. This dictum especially applies to TST’s rituals. In Lillith Starr’s book Compassionate Satanism, she – first and foremost – reminds us that rituals vary in use and value between practitioners. With that being said, she outlines a few common points regarding practice at TST, where rituals are seen as increasing “the subconscious confidence of the bearer.”
Like LaVey, Temple Satanism rejects the impact of an external force’s willpower on your life and promotes individual agency. In both cases, I appreciate that you get the full social and confidence benefits of ritual without supernatural B.S. This drives home that many religious people receive both personal and group affirmation for believing in Special Sky Daddy. The fact that ritual is not a required part of TST worship makes me even more enamored with their figurative interpretation of religion.
TST’s rituals are rife with post-modern symbolism that acknowledges the imagery associated with Satanism in other iterations and the popular imagination. Some rituals involve biting into apple slices to represent partaking in the forbidden fruit of knowledge. Goats are also key due to their historic association with Satan; think of Black Phillip in The VVitch, a film that TST actually promoted. In particular, the goatlike Baphomet is commonly found in TST imagery, notably in the likeness of the statue that they use to protest religious monuments being placed on government property. TST’s symbols are rounded out by common icons like the pentagram, the Lucifer sigil, and the inverted cross.
These symbols come together in altars that are quite different from the “naked woman with objects on her” set-up championed by LaVey. TST members are encouraged to assemble altars reflecting the path that brought them to Satanism. The altars are meant to represent the practitioner themself and are not meant to be used in worship. In Starr’s book, one practitioner discusses having an altar featuring a facsimile of Pinhead from Hellraiser, which makes me wonder if “an altar that contains a doll of me” was what Pinhead meant by having such sights to show us.
The Satanic Rites of TST
The rituals practiced by TST members encompass a wide variety of structures and purposes. A common theme of their rites is denunciation of religious and cultural programming. For instance, participants in a Black Mass mock Judeo-Christian symbols; while some find this ritual offensive, the intention isn’t to offend so much as it is to embrace the ways that transgressive acts can be freeing.
The Unbaptism ritual provides another example. Clergy reads affirmations about individualism and the rejection of god or organized religion while participants answer, “I do.” Upside down crosses are sometimes drawn on their heads in red paint, and red yarn can be held and dropped to symbolize the shattering of ties to repressive institutions. One does not need to be baptized to participate in an unbaptism as it’s symbolic in nature. For a better look at unbaptisms, check out this video of a different take on the ritual from The Satanic Temple Ottawa:
Destruction rituals offer a similar rift with the past for the sake of self-empowerment. TST members gather together to destroy an item symbolic of a failure or a bad relationship; the item can be as simple as a slip of paper with a negative thought written on it. Participants then pick an object of destruction: a hammer, a dagger, a baseball bat, a crowbar, a knife, or whatever seems most appropriate. In Starr’s text, precautions like tarps and eyewear are encouraged. As she describes the ritual, a phrase repeated by all present as they destroy the object is, “I do not belong to these things/These things belong to me!” Satan or no Satan, this still sounds like a super-cathartic process, and I would pay good money to participate.
Weddings are another event that TST members commemorate with a variety of rituals. Starr offers two ways to approach a wedding. In the first, clergy opens with an explanation of Satan as a symbolic figure and not “The Father of Lies” or “The Deceiver,” titles that are not super-healthy to associate with your marriage. The couple then faces seven witnesses, one for each of TST’s Seven Tenets. Each witness asks them to affirm “We do!” in response to whether the couple will hold up the corresponding tenet. The ceremony ends with the common-for-squares “...do you take…?” dialogue before the exchange of rings or another symbol of union.
The other ritual moves a bit further from the typical outline of a wedding ceremony. Four lantern bearers are each associated with a cardinal direction, a mythic Satanic figure, and a color: West/Tiamat/Blue, North/Lilith/Green, East/Lucifer/Yellow, and South/Satan/Red (because duh). The participants hail a figure while their corresponding lantern is lit. The spectacle inherent in this version of the wedding makes me prefer it to most weddings I’ve attended.
It’s definitely better than the time I attended my cousin’s backyard wedding in rural New Jersey and his brother refused to wear a shirt the entire time. I took him aside and begged him to prevent me from becoming a person who attended a backyard wedding in New Jersey where his cousin was shirtless for the duration, but he did not capitulate. If the choices for a wedding ceremony are “live a piney stereotype” or “light some colorful lanterns,” I’m going “lanterns” 10 times out of 10.
Like with most things TST-related, better understanding their rituals just made their ethos seem more engaging and relatable. Truly, they are the best at hailing Satan.
After examining the distant and recent past of American Satanism over the past four days, how and where is the religion relevant to our culture in contemporary times? Find out in our final installment tomorrow as we discuss (drumroll) Satanism today!
You can check out the rest of this series here:
Top image: Zhuravleva Katia/Shutterstock