I had an awkward and uncomfortable experience when I was about 19 that I have never written about or spoken of to anyone. This experience taught me a lot about the behavioral lengths to which desperation pushes folks, in particular the desperate need to belong and be with other people in some capacity, whether romantically in a couple or to some larger social group. The story of what happened that I’m about to recount here is raw and painful—not to mention embarrassing!—so consider this your trigger warning.
I had recently moved to Athens, Georgia, where I was attending the University of Georgia and, for the first time in my life, had my own apartment in a small, intimate complex with just eight units total. Upstairs lived a girl I’ll call by the pseudonym Jess. I would often see Jess and one of her close girlfriends hanging out on the front steps of the building. They would say hello, and we would chat a bit, all the usual getting-to-know-you tropes ticking off in quick succession. Jess’ girlfriend had a steady fella who lived in another of the downstairs apartments in our building, so I ran into the whole gang pretty regularly. Eventually, they began inviting me to hang out at a recreational park in town where lots of wide open fields extended like an open invitation. We would lay out blankets on sunny afternoons and just sit, nap, chat, study, and whathaveyou. It was fun. I realized somewhere along the line that Jess harbored some more-than-friendly interest in me, which I didn’t share—at all, but I rested content to continue hanging out with her and her other friends all the same because I genuinely enjoyed their company, as well as the frequent invites to the park.
Then one evening, Jess invited me up to her apartment. I didn’t think much about it at the time, but you know what they say about hindsight. Naive doesn’t begin to cover what I was back then. I can’t recall if Jess had been drinking that night or not; I know I was dead sober. We were sitting on her sofa when she began acting very strangely, going on about how much she liked me and how she just wanted to be with me. Her words quickly turned to pleading, the pleading to begging, as she sounded, at various points, on the verge of tears. Jess put her hand on my thigh and started rubbing—gently at first, then more insistently—while simultaneously sort of half climbing on top of me. I remember being so freaked out by the swiftness of the change in her behavior and the way she was touching me that I just froze. I didn’t struggle with her or fight back, mainly because I was in such shock. If I was going to put up serious resistance, about the only recourse available would’ve been to simply push her off of me while simultaneously standing up, most likely resulting in her falling backwards from my lap and the sofa too, onto the floor below. I didn’t want to be violent with her; I just didn’t like what was happening. I said “No,” “Stop,” “Don’t,” and the like, but Jess just kept repeating, almost intoning as if in a chant, “I just want to touch you, I just want to be with you, I just want….” The intensity and frequency of her incessant repetitions shut me down, drowned me out.
Jess was practically masturbating herself at this point, grinding on and all but dry-humping my leg. She unbuttoned her shirt and pulled up her bra, taking my hand in hers and placing it on her exposed breast. Her thigh-stroking strayed up to my crotch, segueing in seconds to undoing my fly and taking out my limp penis. Jess got down off my lap and onto her knees in front of me, hands planted on my still immobile thighs. She took me into her mouth. I guess I wasn’t moving because, under the strain of it all, I was somehow thinking that if I didn’t respond, didn’t budge in either pleasure or pain, not giving any sign of awareness at all, Jess would just stop, get off me, and leave me alone. That didn’t happen.
The erection that came unbidden when Jess began sucking me off felt like a lightening rod for my mounting shame and angst. I had never had sex before, had never “made out” before, had only ever had a single girlfriend in my life—during my senior year of high school—and had only kissed her twice, no tongue. I was as novice to the whole physical act of love and sex thing as novice can be. Jess would eventually be my first, but not that night. That night, after she had rubbed and fellated me until I just couldn’t take it anymore and decided to physically hold her head still in my hands and restrain her from continuing, awkwardly rising from the now sweat-stained spot on the sofa where I had been planted and struggling to fasten my pants even as I made for the door, I was anything but in the mood for sex. I felt dirty and angry and ashamed and disgusted (at both her and myself).
Thinking back on that night now, I see from Jess’ words and the way she spoke them, from her pleading and the obsessive, almost compulsive way she touched me and abased herself, that she was acting out of sheer desperation: desperation and an unbridled need to finally obtain the object of her desire that was so powerful and all-consuming that it ended up leaving her well and truly damaged. Jess’ desperation wasn’t just pathetic, which is safer because it merely elicits pity and can be easily disregarded by the callous, it was positively scary: dangerous in the way it transmogrified her, turning a normally even-keeled, intelligent girl into a kind of unthinking predator. And I had let myself be her prey.
In my post about the Left Hand Path, I wrote about former Neo-Nazi extremists like Christian Piccolini and David Myatt who self-report that their drives to be a part of what are essentially racist terrorist organizations stemmed from desperate and damaged desires to belong to something larger than themselves, no matter the cost. Myatt even careened over the course of his extremist life from white supremacy all the way to radical Islamism in pursuit of what he called “a sense of belonging.” The strictly delineated “us” these damaged and desirous individuals found to subsume their own desperation gave them an equally strictly delineated “them” to demonize, denigrate, and defile and, with that, a keen sense of purpose.
One of the easiest ways to provide instant belonging for desperate and damaged souls is to perpetuate a myth of “natural” belonging, membership based on a criterion of birth, something you either come innately equipped with or you don’t. That way, the sense of belonging seems at once like a revelation and a home-coming.
“Of course I’m one of you! I’ve always been one, for as long as I can remember—probably from even before! How did I not see it?”
At the same time, the bases for exaltation of the in-group and denigration of the out-group as “not one of us” appear definitive and unassailable. Ever notice how when one person is trying to coerce another into sex or physical affection, they’ll say things like: “You know you want it, deep down inside. You’ve always wanted it, wanted me”? There’s something particularly ineluctable about that kind of rhetoric. You can’t fight against what’s truly deep down inside, against your very “nature” or birth, right?
The Church of Satan—and many others besides—has often quoted founder Anton LaVey’s statement that “Satanists are born, not made.” That narrative fits well with the traditional focus on elitism that has long characterized certain forms of Satanism (at least as far as the public perception of them is concerned) and the idea that Satanists aren’t just apart from “the herd,” they’re better than all the rest, naturally, from birth. When I finally admitted to myself and others at ripe old middle-age that I wanted “a personal walk with Satan,” I started writing a memoir of my religious development and upbringing to which I gave the working title An Incidental Satanist because I began from the similar flawed premise that I had been a Satanist all along without knowing or admitting it. I felt I had been living Satanic values for my entire life, values like sensualism; carnality; strong individualism expressed, in part, through being a life-long non-joiner and remaining forever on the outside of groups; prizing a certain amount of vengeance and retribution over forgiveness and turning the other cheek; and so forth. And yeah, in my misguided youth, I did feel that those personality traits and behavioral tendencies made me better than those I derogated with epithets like “herd” and “sheeple.’’
As a grown up, though, I now realize that I don’t hold any exclusive trademark on the label Satanist, nor did I, in fact, merit that label until I proved willing and able to claim it for myself. Considering the vast, incommensurable differences between the beliefs and opinions of the legions who now claim the moniker Satanist, about the only single thread you can identify to bind us all up into a single whole is our shared willingness to call ourselves Satanists. I can’t control who decides to self-identify in that way, nor exercise any dominion over their own personal notions of what Satanism is all about and who and how Satanists should be. Nor would I want to.
With Satanists coming out prominently in the public eye as political activists fighting the stronger-than-ever Christian theocracy in this country and abroad, there’s no denying that many new Satanists are also now being made everyday. Numerous news outlets have reported on how resistance to Trump’s America has begun to make Satanism and politically active Satanic groups go mainstream. And it’s not just national headline grabber The Satanic Temple that’s getting all of the attention in these news pieces, either, but smaller, local Satanic groups as well, groups whose main mission is simply one of “find[ing] community in blasphemous times.” Who am I to blanket question these individuals’ worthiness to call themselves Satanists as opposed to, say, Satanic poseurs? And yet, when it comes to actually meeting and interacting with some of these folks individually, I can’t escape the judgement that there are, in fact, a fair number of poseurs among them, people attracted to mistaken, media-hyped ideas about Satanism and just the general bandwagon of burgeoning interest in and public exposure of the subject.
Everyday hordes more eager would-be Satanists seek to sign up and sign on to the swelling ranks of the ever-increasing number of Satanic groups and splinter groups. People I know who manage Satanic and Satanism-related Facebook pages report constant barrages of requests from folks overseas with delusions of the illuminati and fantastical “magick” to bend others to their will and make fortunes. People pop up at social events, meeting members of long standing for the first time, and not only criticize the group’s official logo—for which a professional graphic design firm was contracted and paid—but even whip out dossiers containing mock-ups of new logos they’ve lovingly prepared on the off-chance that you will immediately let them remake the organization they’ve only just made initial contact with in their own ambitious image. Others come hatching plans to provide catering to official events or with their armchair assessments of precisely where the group is going wrong and what services they can offer for getting back on track, at least as they see it. You know the men and women whose aftershave or perfume precedes them down the corridor by a quarter football field? These folks are like that, only their cologne of choice is pure desperation.
Then, when the aggressive self-publicizing or other obsessive, desperate behavior of such individuals finally brings you to summon as much politeness as you can manage and simply tell them No, we don’t want you to hang out with us further and would ask that you please respect our choice and decision in this matter, they sometimes grow angry and defiant, threatening to show up at a social or ritual anyway and make a scene or to spread scuttlebutt around the internet and dedicate themselves to becoming trolls. What they manifest more than anything else at such times is their desperate need to belong. And the devil in that predicament is, to quote British comedian Sara Pascoe:
“[Y]ou can’t seduce anybody once you’re sexually frustrated, when you need it most. You can’t encourage someone to do it with you by crying with rage. It doesn’t change their mind.”
Meeting new people and making friends is like a seduction, or at least it ought to be, especially for a Satanist. It seems that a Satanist, most of all, should approach such matters like a connoisseur, rather than as an addict hungry for a fix. I don’t need anyone’s company or validation; I just like the different flavors of people and the experiences they bring. When I attend a mixer event, I like to sit back and sip it all in, savoring the subtleties of the interplay of personalities and the different conversational topics, but I also really, really like my solitude. I often find myself longing to return to just being alone. Μηδὲν ἄγαν (mêden agan) the ancient Temple of Pythian Apollo at Delphi bore inscribed on its walls: “nothing to excess,” all in moderation.
Before I first attended a social mixer for the Satanic group I’m currently a member of, I saw a photo posted to Facebook that featured two people prominent in the local cohort. In the image, they both looked so cool, so aloof, hard-edged with withering stares from behind inscrutable sunglasses. Never mind that one of those pairs of sunglasses had pink, heart-shaped frames. Satanic and kawaii? Now that’s a level of cool I can’t even aspire to. At the time, I was certain I would never fit in with these cats. Nonetheless, my curiosity about the group and a growing eagerness to find other, like-minded Satanists won out over my fears, and I made it out to a social, then another, then a ritual, then more socials.
Over time I realized that none of the people in the group was as forbidding or unapproachable as their public image made them out to be. Instead, they were warm, welcoming, personable—committed to Satanic ideas and actions, but also forgiving and understanding of others who maybe aren’t so committed or are just starting down the Left Hand Path. I also realized that, as Satanists, they actually shared my mild antipathy toward the very idea of “fitting in” in a Satanic context. Their group was more like a loose collection of completely unique individuals from vastly different walks and manners of life who simply found that they saw eye-to-eye on their love for Satanism, as well as certain basic Satanic principles, and also just fundamentally enjoyed one another’s company. You know: they weren’t just friendly Satanists; they were Satanic friends. And now they’ve become my friends as well.
I’ve become very involved with these friends and our burgeoning Satanic group over the past year. We meet together for various different activities several times a month, and I’ve been able, gradually over time, to play larger and larger roles in those activities. I really value our time together. It’s important to note, though, that we made it to this point by adhering to the classical adage of the first Roman emperor Augustus: σπεῦδε βραδέως (speude bradeôs), better known by the Latin form festina lente or “make haste slowly.” When I came out on the scene, I remained wary at first and for a very long time thereafter, like a skittish deer, fearful for my liberty and wary of all comers. We warmed up to each other, though, the group and I, each peeling back some new layer or unexpected truth every time we got together. We had to both be sure that what we were mutually after in each other was a sense of belonging with and not belonging to.
Maybe one day, this relationship will come to an end. Maybe I’ll say or do the wrong thing, impose too much on our fragile bonds of trust and commitment. Maybe they’ll send me an email, revoking my membership and requesting that, out of mutual respect, I desist from further contact and hold my peace. And when that happens, how will I feel? Will I grow angry, will I feel betrayed that all of the time and energy I gave our group has been valued at so little that they’re willing to sever ties definitively? Maybe. Maybe not.
What I know for sure I won’t do is cry with rage or make a scene or more or less empty threats because, in a way, nothing will have changed all that much. My Satanism has grown out of a series of life choices that I make for myself, out of my own self-regard and my way of moving with that regard among others. These aspects of my being run deep in me. They weren’t created over night or when I first scanned a news report about The Satanic Temple or other groups’ pubic activity. When I read those things, I simply thought to myself: Maybe there’s a group of other people like me.
In a poem entitled “Solitude” featuring a strong female voice instructing the woman’s would-be lovers on how she wants to be loved “for everything I’m worth and then some,” poet Warsan Shire writes:
“God, my alone feels so good…I’ll only have you if you’re sweeter than my solitude.”
The only change I’d make in those lines to render them more applicable to me and my situation as a Satanist is the obvious one: replace the word “God” with “Devil.” Everything else—the solitude, its sweetness, the resolve to maintain self-love and self-respect above all else—stays the same, whether with or without another soul.