SATANIC SEMANTICS: WHAT DOES SATANISM MEAN?
Over on our wildly popular Black Mass Appeal Discord server, we’ve got a channel called “Satanic Semantics,” where listeners discuss the specifics of Satanic beliefs and practices. But it’s the channel name itself that’s stood out in my mind lately.
At the heart of that word “semantics” we find a question–the same question that Modern Satanists’ exasperated relations often level at us, as a matter of fact: Why do we do all of this?
Well, in many cases it’s because we’re drunk. But sticking a pitchfork in that for a second, discussing Satanic semantics means thinking about, well, what Satanism means.
Not in an abstract, self-important, navel-gazing way–there are, ah, other Satanism blogs for that sort of thing.
I mean in real terms: Why do you, the Satanist, do what you’re doing? If the devil doesn’t make you did it, then just what in the hell does?
Per the University of Sheffield’s School of English site, “Meaning in Semantics is defined as the thing in the world that the word/phrase refers to, plus intention, i.e., the concepts/mental images that the word/phrase evokes.”
If this sounds like a simple idea…oh my duckling, maybe we’d better just skip the rest before the unyielding nature of real living smashes your crystalline naivety like a bowl in a china shop.
(When I was a kid I thought that was the expression, I’ve since been corrected but, well, change is hard…)
Like an underachieving mongoose, meanings are slippery and unreliable. Words are symbols, and symbols are also symbols, and both of these things may elude you like a–damn it, I already used the mongoose joke at the beginning of this ‘graph and now I’ve got nowhere to land.
Case in point, at last year’s Hell-O-Ween show at PianoFight, we brought a few audience members onstage to receive the Mark of the Beast at the finale of the Black Mass. Usually everybody gets marked during the Black Mass, but that theater seats 100 people and the show ran long as it is, so cut us some slack.
To keep movement on and offstage to a minimum, I proposed that the audience volunteers kneel by the altar for the remainder of the ritual. There was only a minute or two left after that part, so that wouldn’t be too demanding.
But Tabitha objected: Satanists, she said, shouldn’t kneel. Volunteers should stand by the altar, just like we did. Nobody should look like they were put in a place beneath us; that would (almost literally) undermine the entire ceremony.
Well, she wasn’t wrong. I was making what I thought was a practical decision–kneeling got the volunteers out of the way quickly and efficiently–but Tabitha made a semantic distinction by thinking harder about what the visual language of the ritual would mean. And in the end we did things her way.
Sometimes these decisions get complicated. For example, we almost always open our Black Masses with the Dark Lord’s Prayer. Truth be known, I don’t much like that name.
The word “dark” is vague and pretentious. “Lord” is another word that implies submission (for this same reason I cringe when some Satanists refer to Satan as “master” or themselves as “Satan’s servants”). And “prayer” smacks of supernaturalism.
Worse, we conduct the prayer call-and-response style, which is really off-brand: Having everyone repeat what they’re told is about as inverse to the spirit of the occasion as we could possibly get.
In fact, the big reason the Dark Lord’s Prayer is so different from the rest of the ritual is because…we didn’t write it.
This bit we grifted from old Anton’s LaVey’s 1972 book The Satanic Rituals. And by “we” I mean someone else, since it’s been part of our Black Mass since before I had any real say in these things.
Given all that, you might wonder why we keep doing it. The answer being, well, despite everything I just said, it’s a solid opener. First, it’s simple to deliver, meaning that it’s a low-pressure way to engage a volunteer.
Second, the call-and-response mechanic involves everyone in the room. In fact, if you look at our usual Black Mass script, you’ll notice that almost every part of it involves the whole room. This is not an accident, it’s (yes) another semantic decision. So the prayer inhibits some of our goals…but it also boosts others.
And to be honest, the prayer is just fun. Having conducted it with crowds of up to 100 people, it get raucous, and it feels like a real power moment for everybody. And it only takes 30 seconds or so, so what the hell.
This might all sound like hairsplitting, but I think interrogating these decisions matters. Probably no two Satanists in the entire world have exactly the same practice; I dare say that’s very close to the whole damn point.
That being the case, why we do things might be more important than the practices themselves. In Modern Satanism, semantics arguably ARE practice.
After all, Satan is never going to come tell you how to do it. As we discussed last week, it’s all on you. So if you don’t have an explanation for why you do what you do, who does?
The World Christian Encyclopedia holds that there are 33,000 different Christian denominations around the globe. Often, people will cite this statistic with a shake of the head, wondering how it could happen and suggesting for some reason that these religious divisions are a terrible thing.
But why should everyone all agree? Why should they do things just one way? What would they gain? I guess critics think that if everyone was united in one practice that it would stop them from arguing. Which, honestly love, have you MET people?
Well, World Christian Encyclopedia users presumably have a different standard: They think god wants everyone to do it a particular way. Which god apparently cannot communicate effectively to everyone, quite a predicament that.
But we don’t have that problem. Inherent in Modern Satanism is the appeal of unorthodoxy; the word “heresy” even means “choice.”
Which means that semantics, ultimately, are personal. Asking what Satanic practice means is not a rhetorical question; you really are the one in charge. We all are.