SATAN CHANGES. SO DOES MODERN SATANISM. AND CHANGE IS GOOD
On Black Mass Appeal we always say the podcast is about “Modern Satanism,” but we never define that.
Partly this is just a phrase we use to distinguish ourselves from certain other Satanists, mainly those who prefer illiberal politics. Plus, it establishes a brand identity distinct from people’s assumptions. Because you know the sorts of things people assume…
Lately, I’ve decided that maybe strict definition isn’t something Satanism (or Modern Satanism) should fret much about anyway. Because Satan, as we conceive the myth, is always changing.
And while that can be fraught, it’s also liberating.
A few weeks ago I found myself in a quandary on this blog. Writing about the Women’s March, I felt it was important to note that a majority of Americans favor certain policies.
Most Americans across almost all religious groups prefer relatively open access to abortion, for example. This includes a plurality of Catholics. (It bears repeating: even the fucking Catholics.)
But this was tricky, because an argument from popularity is a fallacy, and particularly bad form for Satanists. Abortion access doesn’t matter because it’s popular; it matters because judicial reasoning consistently tells us that existing law demands it and sound scientific research says it benefits us.
And yet, it IS popular even so. And I can’t kick the feeling that if most people consistently want something that this should matter at least a bit when it comes to policy. Crazy that.
The solution to this conundrum is…nothing, that’s just the way things are. Politics are complicated, big fucking news. So is religion, and personal philosophy, and even just words like “freedom.” Nuance means having to resolve conflicts with yourself now and then.
Often I find myself arguing in favor of something on the grounds that it’s “natural.” For example, sex-negative policies strike me as futile because, despite centuries of discouragement, people are still having sex.
A 2017 paper in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that promoting abstinence “showed no impact on sexual initiation, frequency, or number of partners.” This shocks no one who has ever had sex and most people who haven’t. Might be time for the government to give up the War On Dongs.
But war is also natural, if we judge from nature itself. A University of Granada study on animal behavior found that humans are “six times more violent than the average mammal, but about as violent as expected for a primate.”
So sometimes what’s natural is healthy, sometimes it’s a problem. Shitting is natural, but shitting on the floor is a bad idea. Oh the quirky complications of being human.
Shades of gray are normal, but they make us feel insecure. They undermine our sense of authority. And this trips me up when I try to speak with authority about Modern Satanism.
Then again, Satan has never been consistent. In his 1977 book Devil, historian Jeffrey Burton Russell notes that dreaded pagan gods who contributed to the devil myth are often very inconsistent.
In the religion of ancient Babylon, “water is the life-giving stuff from which the universe is made,” but it’s also the substance of the monstrous goddess Tiamat, “the chaos that must be overcome.” And in Egyptian myth, the often sinister god Set was sometimes the same person as the savior figure Horus.
Russell even writes that “in some places Set and Horus were worshiped as one god” with two heads. Maybe fundies in America should try that; couldn’t be more confusing than their current set-up.
And of course, the modern devil is in large part the creation of ancient Jewish sects. But it only took a few centuries for Christian thinkers to begin treating Jews as Satan, and vice verse.
“Their kinship with Satan would reveal the ultimate spring of medieval Jew hatred, if we had the stomach to pursue the subject,” Jewish historian Marvin Lowenthal wrote in 1936. Little did he know where that was headed.
In Malachi 3, god decrees, “I am the Lord, I change not.” But the devil is always changing faces. Because people are always changing.
However else you define it, Modern Satanism is unafraid of change, and even occasional contradiction. It has to be, because before anything else Modern Satanism is human. And people are always going to need a little extra nuance.