“What’s the use of being a Satanist if you can’t be fashionably late?” I’ve apologized for my tardiness to my friend Bridget who had agreed to pick me up at the BART station. She doesn’t find my apology necessary. It’s hard to get to Oakland on a Sunday, but eventually I make it. Bridget drives me to a rental house we all pooled our money for. It’s a nice Victorian, painted red and black outside, normally used as a BDSM dungeon. Technically nobody’s getting flogged tonight, but the dildo-laden shelves that line the walls are never completely out of sight.
I find a simple black wooden box to sit on in one corner of the room. To my right is a canopy bed mostly black and draped with red rope lights, and a black leather swing hanging from chains at its foot. To my right is a black wooden chair with a hole cut in the bottom and a Hitachi magic wand attached, like a fetishized prop from Casino Royale. At about 11 o’clock from me, three people are standing in a little circle, each wearing similar black lace-up boots, drinking and catching up. One of them has on a black hoodie over a short black dress, another a 50’s classic black floral with a poofy crinoline, the third a plain black dress with a menagerie of tattoos peeking out. Beyond them, the room extends into a festive buzz, with all kinds of people milling about, snacking and mingling.
The lights go out suddenly. I can hear apologies, but I can’t see who they are coming from. It’s clear the lights have gone out by accident, but no one really minds.
“It’s time to get weird!” comes a voice, drifting out of the crowd.
Daniel speaks up to welcome everyone and lay down some ground rules. It’s important to note that Satanists are not so much a rule-oriented people, so we don’t do much of this, but for the sake of practicality there are some requirements that need to be taken into account.
I notice that the lights still haven’t been turned on after this announcement. As a social scientist I wonder about this, but as a Satanist I’m not worried.
Sam volunteers to lead in the recitation of the Dark Lord’s Prayer. Despite his youth he has a long beard and walks with a cane. He and his cane and beard call out the lines one at a time, with the rest of the group repeating each line back. It is essentially an inverted version of the Lord’s Prayer, think “Our father who art in Hell…”
As we recite the lines together, I look around the now dimly-lit room seeking insight about who we are as a community at this ritual. Satanists wear a lot of black in general, but we are also here to celebrate, and in particular this event is focused on the celebration of animals and our animal nature. Two different people are wearing wolf heads, two others are wearing stylized dog masks, and one is wearing deer antlers on their head. My friend Becky is wearing a cape decorated in a pattern of peacock feathers and a headband in a sort of a flapper style, yet more peacock feathers decorating her head like a crown. As for myself I came wearing a T-shirt designed by another Satanist, Tabitha, featuring a kitty with its little cat butt exposed. I looked through my supplies for a showier animal item, but… they were all too Halloweeny. A T-shirt with a kitty had to be good enough to celebrate my animal nature this time.
Daniel speaks up again after the Dark Lord’s Prayer concludes. “Any questions?” He asks. “Any comments? Any thoughts? Any threats?”
He introduces Simone, who is met with massive cheers by the crowd. I assume this is due to her minor celebrity status in the Satanic community as the leader of Black Mass Appeal, a twice-monthly podcast featuring news about the Satanic movement, focused on the Bay Area but reaching all over the world. Daniel mentions the communion ritual that is coming. As usual we have a supply of literal pigs’ blood bought from a local butcher, although it’s important to note there is also a vegan option, in the form of red wine. Normally, someone would use their fingers to mark each attendee with an inverted cross shape on their forehead or wrist, but this time we’ve decided to use an Athame, a ritual dagger which has been dulled down for safety. Simone assures everyone that she has a steady hand.
One more volunteer is chosen, to take on the task of ringing the bell at certain intervals during the ceremony.
At this point Becky takes over. I mentioned her earlier, she’s the one dressed in the peacock themed priestess outfit. Her first act is to hand out small squares of paper and little golf pencils, with instructions that we should write down messages for our pets, something we wish we could just tell them and have them understand. She explains that instead of chanting “Hail Satan” we are about to start punctuating our ceremony by emulating various animal beings as we invoke them one by one.
Fenrir the wolf is described first, alluding to the power of the pack. We acknowledge that a pack may have stronger accomplishments than an individual, then we all howl, joined together in our own pack.
Bastet comes next, in the spirit of all predators who control the rodent populations; perpetuating the natural cycle of life. We all meow together like cats.
Black Phillip is our beloved Satanic Goat symbol, not just a giver of fancy cheese but a being who implores us to live deliciously, while rebelling stubbornly. We all make the “baa” noise together, to venerate the goat.
Finally Becky names Taz the peacock, who could also be called George, and we all squawk like birds, to venerate the birds.
Each of us comes forward to place our handwritten pet messages on the altar. Becky represents her own beloved puppy dog, Hector, with a husky plushie handmade by her friend Rebecca. Despite the theme of the night, pets are not allowed at this venue. “Hail Hector!” we all shout together, then we all go back to howling like wolves.
A brief moment of liminal space occurs next, as Daniel and Tabitha get ready for their own contribution to the ceremony. Somebody lets out a non-sequitur “Hail Satan” during a quiet moment and everyone else responds in kind, impromptu “Hail Satans” popping up from all around the room. Somebody talks Daniel into putting on some goat horns. He mentions that Lupercalia was actually yesterday, then he transitions into a more formal tone to discuss the holiday’s meaning. Does Lupercalia honor Pan? Can a wolf-god allude to a goat-god?
It’s easiest for me to comprehend the great god Pan, and relate him to myself and my friends here in this animalistic celebration. Lupercalia refers to the she-wolf who suckles the Roman founders Romulus and Remus, and therefore represents the animalistic foundation of human civilization. Pan is similar to the Devil in myriad ways. Picture witches celebrating a sabbath, dancing in the forest with a mystical goat-boy. Is it a mysterious, menacing goat-boy? Or a lovable, life-affirming silly goat boy? Are they mutually exclusive? We know that sheep go to heaven and goats go to hell, and we’ve freely chosen to embrace our goat-selves.
Tabitha mentions Dante’s notion of a bottomless hunger, and I find myself relating. She mentions were-wolves. She mentions the image of false prophets, dressed in sheeps clothing, and I find myself considering the overarching pains and joys of my own life. I consider the hunger of living, the dissatisfaction of being trapped in one particular body, in one particular culture, surrounded by the expectations and beliefs of one particular time and place.
Daniel and Tabitha proceed to presenting a dialog between a wolf and a goat. This part of the ceremony is beautiful and uplifting, grounded and modern in comparison with the earlier explorations of animism and ancient history. This is an expansive ceremony. Who can I rely on? You can rely on yourself! When will I be happy? Today you are happy! Who tells the truth? I tell the truth! Who here knows Satan? I feel like I’ve been traveling, starting at a party, climbing through the underworld, and re-emerging into some sort of enlightened cabal.
After this it’s finally time for Simone to perform communion. I ask if I am in the right line, but an orderly line never forms. It seems more like a polite but disorganized group is surrounding the altar, and Simone has started marking attendees in whatever manner they prefer, in no particular order. It’s less of a line, Tabitha explains, and more of a goo. Everyone chats in a friendly way with each other while waiting to receive our marks. The mark of the beast isn’t like in Christian mythology where the beast is some powerful other. We are the beasts. One by one we receive our own mark, and after we do, each of us wanders into the kitchen for more drinks and snacks. I bow down a bit before Simone and her blood-drenched dagger. She gives me a diagonal slash-mark on my forehead, and I feel edgy and empowered. I feel bound to the community; as I am, as the community is a part of me.
As Satanists, we are used to answering the question “Why Satan?” but I’ve become bored of this. Many of us came here from some other religious traditions, but others (like me) came from a strong background of skepticism, or from the type of spiritual life that rejects organized religion. From this position I prefer to argue the question, not “Why Satan?” but “Why religion?” entirely. The vast majority of us are atheists, or agnostic-to-almost-atheists. I myself have become committed, over the past decade or so, to a strong non-theist belief: I don’t think there’s a god. I don’t think there’s an afterlife. I don’t think there’s any supernatural aspect to my life, or the lives of others. I didn’t come to these conclusions lightly, and I didn’t come to Satanism lightly either.
Most of my fellow Satanists on this night explained religion as a way for them to build community; with like-minded people, with people who feel similarly to themselves, and with friends who can give comfort during times of stress, loneliness, and loss. Religion helps people construct systems of meaning-making, both symbolic and literal. We can feel grounded by certain routines. Through the symbol of Satan, we come together as a community of rebels, in opposition to arbitrary authority, empowered through mythological parallels.
We acknowledge the vulnerability of relying on community to support us, and we recognize the danger of a community being a source of power and control.
Other Satanists have criticized groups like ours for our political involvement, invoking what I see as a sort of fanatical separation of church and state, but to us our religion is intrinsic to the physical world and therefore our material conditions. We are not some political task force, united around a particular political goal. We are a highly diverse group of people first and foremost dedicated to building a loving humanistic community that empowers each individual to taste all the sweetest pleasures life has to offer, and we find ourselves necessarily supporting political movements in support of those aims.
Our movement is growing and growing fast. We easily integrate the aims of any social or political movement that is grounded in liberation and reason. If you decide to start exploring Satanism as an aspect of your own life, there are a lot of options available. You can find us on any social media platform and if there isn’t an active group in your immediate community you have the option of starting your own. I don’t promise you answers to your particular questions, but I can promise you a loving, open, intelligent community to explore those questions and answers with.
Thank you and Hail Satan.