Was convincing the world he was all about the groups. Those who have feared Satanism have traditionally focused on the imagined threat of Satanic groups: Satanic covens, gangs, networks with ruthless discipline and tight, authoritarian control, out to do their collective worst. This is the stuff of Illuminati conspiracies and the Satanic Panic of the 1980s and ‘90s.
With dozens of modern Satanic groups of all different stripes competing in what passes for the public square of our little demimonde, people continue to keep their eyes on the groups. Given media coverage of the most politically active among them, scores more now want to join these Satanic groups. Every Satanism-related FB page I’ve heard of gets at least a few missives from far-flung parts of the world bearing the eager message: “Plz I want to join Satanism.”
Being a current member of several different Satanic organizations and following somewhat closely the group dynamics of these and similar associations, I can tell prospective joiners one thing with surety. If you “join Satanism” via membership in one or more of these groups, you will quickly discover the super-secret, über-occult, mega-arcane truth that lies at each and every one of their benighted cores: they’re just collections of people. And if, like me, your attraction to Satanism comes at least in part as a result of a reluctance and a hesitancy about “people”—whether you really want them or need them or even care all that much for them in the aggregate rather than the particular few, despite being one yourself and feeling pretty ok about that fact in and of yourself—then there’s one more secret truth you’ll soon uncover: groups comprised of people more often simply magnify the people problem than actually managing to remediate it.
When people come together to form groups, what comes most to the fore are the egoic contests, struggles for direction and dominance, the constant concern for branding and respectability politics, even the really petty shit about who made whom feel how uncomfortable and who disagrees with whom about how they choose to conduct their business. And on and on. Ideas become institutions, and institutions obscure the original inspiration of ideas, while attempting to enforce conformity to this obscurantism. Nothing forgets the inherent worth of individual people and their sovereign ideas so thoroughly or quickly as people organized in groups do.
I’ve also been concentrating, perhaps unwarrantedly, on Satanic groups, both in my own preoccupied thoughts and my writing, the latter culminating in this piece which tries to find a model for Satanic community in a certain kind of band of pirates. In the meantime, I’ve seen good friends, previously devoted to various Satanic groups, back away in some frustration from their involvement with them. I’ve seen others, in similar frustration, simply driven out over issues major and minor, usually without much in the way of face-to-face explanation. And I find myself increasingly echoing the anguish these individuals express over the matter.
At a crossroads in his Satanic life, my good friend over at Left Hand Tarot is looking back on this past year and his own comings and goings from Satanic groups, wondering about rocks and rivers and whether he can stand firm amid the fury of all this flow or will he be forever changed by it—or even manage to shape it himself, without being shattered in the process. Satanists really are both rivers and rocks, impressive for ability both to change rapidly and to resist change foisted from without. The trick, I reckon, is finding the right balance between flow and obstruction, between obduracy and fluidity.
Me? I’ll both flow on past the upsets of organization I’m witnessing within Satanic groups and weather on my stubborn lonesome the tempests and turmoil overhead. I may lose some bits of myself along the way: my naïveté about the beneficence of people and the potential of groups, my dreams of Satanic community that lasts beyond personal squabbles, my hopes to find others who really are like me in the ways that count. But I’ll keep flowing, keep weathering, keep keeping.
I am not an institution, and my Satanism isn’t institutional. It lives and breathes and grows with the person that I am and will become. I may not, on my own, be able to effect the large societal change that whole bodies of Satanists might, the kind of thing that grabs headlines and draws ire and awe alike from all quarters. But I can keep being the open Satanist that I am, talking openly with other parents in my children’s schoolyard, sharing my path through my writing for the world to read. Perhaps in these small ways I too can change the culture, at least a little.