The Seeds of Magic in Contemporary Satanism

Jesper Aagaard Petersen
Jesper Aagaard Petersen

Make it work for you rather than against you. Perhaps this is where the image of Satanic inversion holds true. An accomplished Satanist takes what is considered “evil” by mainstream Judeo-Christian society, turns it upside down in unexpected ways and gives it back in spades.

In the imagination of the west, the subject of Satanism has always been associated with black magic, demonology and dark occultism. Alternatively, perhaps it is the other way around; magic and esoteric arts have a curious idea of being coupled with the “Prince of Darkness” and his multitude of cohorts. Historically, Satan and Satanists work as umbrella terms and almost metonymic figures when classifying the bewildering variety of secrecies, grimoires and cabals found in the parallel world of esotericism and the occult, a strategy firmly linked to biblical and medieval conceptions of witchcraft, sorcery and dubious practices outside the purview of monotheistic faith.

On the other hand, Satanism as something others do is very different from Satanism as a self-designation. What others do, or discourse on the Satanic is a rhetorical construction making claims about monsters out there as well as the virtuous in here. In this sense, what we are is what they are not — righteous, chosen, just and so on. What they are is the inversion of us: Evil incarnate, eating babies, doing (black) magic, cavorting with demons. Telling stories about “them” reinforce our own sense of purpose and builds our identity and community. As such, Satan and associated practices are absolutely evil whether understood in a Christian or secular framework. Moreover, Satanism can be anything “not us.”

Satanism as a self-designation is also about identity but in a different way. In Satanic discourse, the scrapheap of meaning-making of others is appropriated and used as a positive descriptor alongside other material in an eclectic fashion. Thus the self-designation is ambiguous, lying somewhere between the horrors of “the others” and the radically different; what is described as negative in discourses on the Satanic is indeed inverted into “good,” but it is also sanitised and made usable in constructing positive identities. This work can be more or less sophisticated and more or less self-contained, but it is seldom nihilistic and never dismissible, even when an obvious joke or rhetorical gloss. In any case, the Satanic discourses of modern Satanism are perspectives on evil, making Satanism “what I (or we) do.”

Moreover, what they do is, among other things, black magic, demonology and dark occultism. It is also highly context-dependent, almost down to each individual Satanist. There is a tendency, though, for worldviews based on a mix of creative expression, “self-centrism” and measured antinomianism to be more or less unequivocally Satanic. The Prince of Darkness is the Lord of matter, and he is a rebellious individualist. Also, the use of magic and ritual, however, understood, is frequently embraced or at least acknowledged, as Satanism has its contemporary roots in the occult revival of the 1960s.

Nevertheless, the use of Satan and the esoteric material is heavily detraditionalised and influenced by secular concerns of disenchantment and psychologisation as well as an active re-enchantment of psyche and self through the recycling of texts, practices and imagery. Broadly speaking, there is thus a wide variety of interpretations of what Satanism and being a Satanist entails, although all can be placed within the orbit of the cultic milieu or occulture of the west. As such, modern Satanism is a species of what Wouter Jacobus Hanegraaff has dubbed “secularized esotericism,” also found in New Age groups, ceremonial magic(k) circles, “Left-Hand Path” associations and the various neo-pagan revivals.

There is a description of the multifaceted interface between aesthetics, esotericism and self-realisation in modern satanic magic. in parallel with the broader esoteric milieu and alternative religiosity of late modernity, magic is understood both as a utilitarian tool and an expression of self, which again is seen through both esoteric and secular frames. secondly, embodied and enacted as creative practices bridging the ritual chamber, artistic expression and everyday life, satanic magic could be seen as a conscious life design of authentic artificiality in debt to romanticism and western esotericism, but also refracted through the lens of secular modernity.

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