May 17, 2016

Regarding Community, and Satanists vs. Pagans

I follow a lot of blogs, and most of them don't have a thing to do with Satanism. Partly I do this because so many of these folks share a common interest - such as Tarot - but partly also because I appreciate the value and scarcity of perspective. It's too easy to fall into my own personal echo chamber, and because of the overlap that Satanism has historically had with Paganism, there are a few Pagan bloggers I follow because I appreciate the insight they provide. One of those bloggers is Thorn Mooney who writes the blog Oath Bound at Patheos. Ms. Mooney's latest blog entry caught my eye because it highlighted one of the stark differences between Satanists and Pagans. In a blog entry titled "Five Things I Wish I'd Known as a Beginner," Ms. Mooney writes:

You can click through to read the entire list and the rest of her second observation, but did you notice the difference? "They all seem to think they're alone." If you read this passage in context, it's part of a larger discussion of community and togetherness. For the Pagan movement, community is almost an article of faith. Cooperation, inclusivity, and group identity are frequently (but not always) considered integral goals in the myriad strands of Paganism. 

But for Satanists, community is almost a sin. Well, if you count herd conformity and the need for group validation, then yes - it is a so-called Satanic sin. Satanists don't prioritize group validation and don't base their identities on group membership. Satanists are themselves, united only by their shared belief in the pre-eminence of self and the power of iron will. It's examples like this discussion that remind me of Terry Pratchett who wrote in Witches Abroad,
“Your average witch is not, by nature, a social animal as far as other witches are concerned. There's a conflict of dominant personalities. There's a group of ringleaders without a ring. There's the basic unwritten rule of witchcraft, which is 'Don't do what you will, do what I say.' The natural size of a coven is one. Witches only get together when they can't avoid it.” 
I don't know that Mr. Pratchett knew any Satanists or that he was even thinking of them when he wrote the above mentioned excerpt, but to me it illuminates a great truth about Satanism, and also my own lived experience. As usual, I don't speak for any Satanists but myself and convey nothing but my own interpretation and application of Satanism, but for the most part I don't enjoy the company of other Satanists. So it's been said by others before me, Satanists tend to have very strong opinions. Even when those Satanists are very similar to each other, a conflict of dominant personalities is bound to emerge. I've found this to be true in my own interactions, not the least of all because of my own strong opinions and typical reluctance to compromise on what I believe to be important.

So while it's kind of a big deal to Pagans that they associate with other Pagans so that they can claim a tribe and have the validation and support of the group, Satanists care more for following their own passions even if those passions take the Satanist away from other Satanists. Although there are myriad occult and spiritualist traditions who predate him, Gerald Gardner - the father of Wicca - is frequently cited as a key figure in the development and growth of (neo)Paganism in the west. Looking at the earliest rituals, Wicca is a group religion intended to be practiced by a coven composed equally of men and women. In Wicca, group ritual is the norm and solitary ritual is the exception.

But look at the founder of Satanism, Anton LaVey - a contemporary of Gardner and possibly also an acquaintance (I've not seen any evidence to prove this is so) - and you'll see in his rituals that solitary ritual is the norm and group ritual is the exception. This isn't a matter of adapting rituals for the solitary Satanist, but a matter of the fundamental nature of greater magic and the instruction that all participants in a ritual must have a great deal of mental and emotional conviction to succeed. In that sense, group ritual is a liability for the success of the intended outcome.

So, what's to be gained from a community of like minds? Perhaps you see community and friendship, but I see too many masters and too few slaves. Is it worthwhile to have associations with other Satanists? So long as I find it be fulfilling and something they do outside of Satanism enriches my life, then yes. But if the only reason for community is "because," then it's not for me. I have no concern for surrounding myself with Satanists, but every concern with surrounding myself with worthwhile associates, friends, and family. Whether this expands my Satanic network is irrelevant. I only care if it expands me.