History · Nonfiction

A Followup on Satanism

Back in November I read and reviewed the recent book Children of Lucifer: The Origins of Modern Religious Satanism by Ruben van Luijk. It was great, one of my favorite books from last year, and although I’ve always been interested in Lucifer, this book not only actually GAVE me the information I’ve wanted for years, but led me on to some other related books (and motivated me to read some I’d had on my list for ages).

I’m mostly interested in Lucifer as a literary character and in his use as a symbol for intellectualism and science and individualism and poetry, a use that can loosely be called Luciferianism, although it has obvious overlaps with the history of Satanism proper (which is interesting as an atheistic religion, but also overlaps with more theistic Left-Hand Path religions). I’m doing a lot of digging to find that kind of material, so I’ve gone through a lot of books. I don’t have the patience for many long history books anymore — or maybe I never did — so I made some not-very-difficult decisions about which books to read in depth. The best of them, Satanic Feminism by Per Faxneld, was written at the same time by a compatriot of van Luijk’s, and will get its own post. The rest generally fall under “Not super interesting, but maybe good depending on the information you’re trying to find,” so I thought I’d share in case anyone else is looking.

In order of publication:

  • The History of Hell by Alice K. Turner (1993) – A pretty good history of how hell has been envisioned, from the earliest history up to the modern day. It was talkier than I expected, with a few pages each for even rather obscure strains of Christianity, and I just skimmed a lot of it because it became rather more theological than I wanted. Lucifer/Satan is mentioned occasionally when relevant, but the book makes clear in the introduction that it’s about hell, not Satan.
  • The Origin of Satan: How Christians Demonized Jews, Pagans and Heretics by Elaine Pagels (1995) – This is the most Christian of the books here, a nonacademic book that is historical in nature but largely about explaining concepts of Satan in Biblical times. I read about half of it, and found some interesting stuff I’m glad to know, but stopped and just skimmed parts of the rest after I realized that it was never going to move beyond ancient times or a kind of unreligious Biblical exegesis.
  • The Hell-Fire Clubs: A History of Anti-Morality by Geoffrey Ashe (2000) – Too much history, no Lucifer to speak of. The Hellfire clubs came up several times in other books as potentially Satanist organizations, but from this and the book below, they A) weren’t in most operative senses, and B) were too good at keeping secrets for books about them to seem important. Ashe is boring and Lord, below, is vague.
Not this Hellfire Club.
  • Damned: An Illustrated History of the Devil by Robert Muchembled (2002) – A lot like The History of Hell only this time about images of the devil and demons.
  • Lucifer Ascending: The Occult in Folklore and Popular Culture by Bill Ellis (2003) – This one suffers a bit from false advertising — I had expected a history of pop-culture depictions of Lucifer, and that is not the case here in any way. It is instead a history of folklore practices considered to be vaguely witchcraft-y, like carrying a rabbit’s foot, visiting a cemetery at night, or playing with an Ouija board. Lucifer, and indeed pop culture, make only glancing appearances, usually as accessories for the prose. (Lots of Harry Potter references, since this was back closer to the time when Harry Potter was so controversial.) The folklore stuff can be pretty interesting though, Ellis makes some convincing points about its role — propping up existing dogma by personal experience, for instance. Calling up a demon in order to be scared of it and send it away, thus reinforcing one’s adolescent faith in Christianity. There are a lot of subheadings and some lists of takeaways, so it’s well-designed for a thorough skim, which is what I gave it.
  • Romantic Satanism: Myth and the Historical Moment in Blake, Shelley, and Byron by Peter A. Schock (2003) – Just. So. Academic. This is the topic that probably interests me most among the books listed, but I couldn’t make it.
  • The Hellfire Clubs: Sex, Satanism and Secret Societies by Evelyn Lord (2008) – The title is sensationalistic. This is a history of men’s rebellious clubs, accessibly written and probably rather interesting, but it’s really about masculinity and a kind of “boys will be boys” attitude. I find that uncompelling even as a historical explanation, because only a tiny minority of men were in these clubs. While ideas of masculinity certainly played a part, I doubt these men just needed an outlet for their masculinity, because if that were so everyone would do it. But that’s beside the point and I only skimmed the book, so I may be making too much of it. Either way, you may find some antecedents here who enjoyed making toasts to the devil, but it wasn’t relevant for my purposes, and as mentioned above, the clubs were too good at keeping secrets and the book just comes off vague.

"The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels and God, and at liberty when of Devils and Hell, is because he was a true poet and of the Devil's party without knowing it." -William Blake

  • The Devil’s Party: Satanism in Modernity edited by Per Faxneld (2012) – Books of historical essays are usually places to explore up-and-coming research. Great to skim, but sometimes very narrowly-focused, so it just depends what you want it for. I read the articles by authors I recognized, like van Luijk and Faxneld.
  • Contemporary Religious Satanism: A Critical Anthology by Jesper Aagaard Petersen (2016) –  Again, a place for up-and-coming research. It contains mostly short essays on specifically the title, often geographically-themed but ranging around the world. Could be really interesting if (semi)organized Satanism-as-religion is what interests you. I’m not so interested in that, and the only essay I fully read was “The Devil’s Down in Dixie: Studying Satanism in South Georgia” by Kathleen Lowney, because I live in Georgia, but unfortunately it was all about Lowney’s ethnographic processes and not at all about the content.

Satanic Feminism and Children of Lucifer came out in 2014 and 2016, respectively.

If you know of any more books or resources, I’m still taking recommendations! They don’t have to be works of history, (most obviously there are art/art history books in the list above), it’s just that’s what I’m most familiar with, the category where I’m most qualified to assess information and the one in which it’s easiest for me to find books and parse what they are in a metatextual sense. I’m open to more overtly religious material (although my rule about no proselytizing in the comments stands), and I’m also open to fiction in any format.

10 thoughts on “A Followup on Satanism

  1. Useful information. Fortunate me I found your website unintentionally, and I’m stunned why this coincidence did not happened in advance! I bookmarked it.|


  2. I enjoyed reading your reviews on the subject of Lucifer and share your interest. I have suggestions regarding two additional titles you may find beneficial in your ongoing research that I would like to share with you, one old and one new.
    The newer one is titled, Satanism Today: An Encyclopedia Of Religion, Folklore, And Popular Culture by James R. Lewis, which I’m currently reading and although not finished, it merits the opportunity to share.
    The older one I first read over 30 years ago, enjoying it enough to purchase a previously owned first edition dated 1900 by Open Court Publishing out of Chicago at the time titled, The History of the Devil and the Idea of Evil by Paul Carus.
    Merely my two cents on two books on a subject two readers have in common.


  3. Pity the one about Blake, Shelley and Byron was too academic; that definitely sounded most interesting to me, too.

    Given the information you’re looking for, you probably want literary (or maybe even filmic) criticism/analysis rather than history, as such. Though that may open up a lot of way too academic doors…

    Interesting coincidence: I just watched “X-Men First Class” last night, so that was totally the first place my mind went at the mention of the Hellfire Club. (I think the Avengers (not Marvel’s, the British ones, John Steed and partner) also had a run-in with a Hellfire Club or something very similar. During the Mrs. Peel era, naturally.)


    1. Thanks! I’m going to explore the media criticism angle next, after I finish up a few last leads in the history. It is a door into a very large room, though.

      Haha! That’s always the Hellfire Club I think of first. And I might have to look up that Avengers episode…

      Liked by 1 person


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