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September 27, 2019 in History

By History.com Editors

Satanism is a modern, largely non-theistic religion based on literary, artistic and philosophical interpretations of the central figure of evil. It wasn’t until the 1960s that an official Satanic church was formed by Anton LaVey.

Prior to the 20th Century, Satanism did not exist as a real organized religion but was commonly claimed as real by Christian churches. These claims surfaced particularly when persecuting other religious groups during events like the Inquisition, various witch hysterias in Europe and Colonial America and the Satanic Panic of the 1980s.

Who Is Satan?

The Christian figure of Satan is viewed as a horned, red, demonic human figure with a pointy tail and sometimes hooves. To Christians, sinners are sent to his domain—hell—after death. Hell is described as an underground world dominated by fire and Sadistic demons under Satan’s command.

Satan’s first appearance wasn’t in Christianity. He began as the Zoroastrian Devil figure of Angra Mainyu or Ahriman, which opposed the Zoroastrian creator god and tempted humans. Satan is later portrayed in Jewish Kabbalism, which presents him as a demon who lives in a demonic realm.

The name “Satan” first appeared in the Book of Numbers in the Bible, used as a term describing defiance. The character of Satan is featured in the Book of Job as an accusing angel. In the apocryphal Book of Enoch, written in the first century B.C., Satan is a member of the Watchers, a group of fallen angels.

Later established as a nemesis of Jesus Christ in the New Testament, the final book of the Bible, Revelations, depicts him as the ultimate evil. It’s the Christian figure of Satan that Satanism directly references.

Satan as Anti-Hero

In his 14th-century poem “Inferno,” Dante captured centuries of Christian belief by portraying Satan as an evil monster. But the Romantics of the 17th century recast him as an admirable and magnetic rebel, an anti-hero defying God’s authoritarianism. John Milton’s epic 1667 poem “Paradise Lost” is the pivotal text for establishing this interpretation in creative works. William Godwin’s 1793 treatise “An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice” later gave Milton’s depiction political legitimacy.

The most enduring Satanic symbol was created by occult author Éliphas Lévi. Lévi describes him as the horned goat deity Baphomet, in his 1854 book Dogme et Rituel, which linked Baphomet with Satan.

Probably a French misinterpretation of “Muhammed,” Baphomet was the deity the Knights Templar were …read more


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