I was in high school when I first read Rosemary's Baby, the story of a beautiful woman carrying the spawn of Satan in a gothic New York apartment. I was a bit lovestruck by the dopey romance of 1960s cosmopolitan America; the dinner parties in musty wallpapered rooms; rainy streets, fever dreams, evil shit, and the nightmare-inducing way author Ira Levin wrote the meddling, sinister couple next door.
After reading it, I was a little more into my school's hulking Catholicism—suddenly mesmerised by Tuesday morning mass, its hymns and myrrh and all that. But just as I was getting into the idea of organised religion for myself, a Religious Studies teacher drew a diagram on the whiteboard explaining the "layers of sin" that came with being literally anything but an abstaining, midriff-covering, God-fearing Christian. So the door of opportunity quickly shut.
In the 15 years since, I've thought about religion only occasionally. Naturally, when I was about 19 and listening to a lot of Animal Collective, I thought it might suit me to look into Buddhism. But I like things too much. Things and complaining. When the Census went around and we were all trying to get Jedi acknowledged as a thing, I went in a bit hard—my brother and I campaigned to friends and family members. And, of course, I worshipped Bert McCracken of The Used like a god for some time. I suppose that's a belief in its own way.
But look. None of that really stuck. And now I'm 28 with no "real" belief system to speak of, apart from "just be nice and live well and then at some point die." And here's the thing: that's all well and good, but I'm bored. I want to know what I'm missing, and what is Out There For Me.
I looked into a few religious schools of thought and found myself very attracted to Satanism, again. And then I found out it's not even a religion. Contrary to its reputation (and name), it is not about hailing the deity called Satan. Its teachings and values actually float somewhere between hedonism and atheism, with a healthy dose of death metal aesthetic thrown in. And you know what? That really speaks to me.
So, is Satanism for me? Possibly. Let's find out together.
First things first: What is Satanism? According to thechurchofsatan.com, Satanism is about being "self-centered, with [you] being the most important person (the "God") of [your] subjective universe." In the Satanic Bible—written by Church of Satan founder Anton Lavey—self-serving behaviour is the game.
Standard religion and law are meaningless. Lies are toxic. And Satan is not a physical being or a metaphysical force, but a metaphor: the world's villainising of "Satan" is about an inherent need to qualify things as good and evil—to have sins and virtues. According to the Satanic Bible, good and evil don't exist.
Good start. Nothing means anything and everything I do, as long as I enjoy it, is right.
I read on the internet (heard of it?) that a man who owns a bookshop in my city is considered a leading voice in the Satanist community. I decide to visit him. It doesn't go "well." Inside the bookshop—down a lane, through a curtain, up a crooked staircase—there's an alluring smell in the air and a Gremlins vibe. I want to buy something illegal, something deeply immoral, but when I approach the desk and talk to the man I've been reading about, he just stares back at me.
"Do you have any advice for someone wanting to look into Satanism?" I ask. Nothing. Just unbreaking eye contact. "Do you sell Satanist texts?" He points behind my head. I turn and see the "Satanism" section of the shop. I shuffle over and try one more time, sort of shouting so he can hear me. "Any recommendations?" He literally ignores me. And now I am more interested than ever. If Satanism means I can be so self-serving that I don't even feel compelled to talk to other people, I'm in.
Mere centimetres from the spot where I'm lurking ashamedly is a long maroon doorway guarded by a velvet curtain. It says "Do Not Enter." There's an animal skull hanging above it. This could well be the stockroom, but I've read enough on the internet about the secret, spooky, cool, and sexy Satanic meetings this guy holds in this bookshop and I am fucking convinced they go on in there. I am nowhere near brave enough to peek in, though.
So I leave the bookshop with Anton Lavey's The Satanic Rituals—the companion the Bible, wherein Lavey details the many traditional practices of Satanists. Right down to like:
Arise, invoke the blasphemous Name
The Lord of Sodom, The God of Cain
Joy to the Flesh forever!
SUSTAIN US, DARK LORD!
I'm walking down the street reading this thing and a small gap in the cloud cover opens and the sun shines—I am not fucking around I swear to, um, God— right on me and the page I'm reading. Just us two, me and the page. I smile to myself and think "Hail Satan" but then I remember that's not really the vibe of this thing. Still, I feel a bit chosen.
The internet won't tell you how many Satanists there are—thechurchofsatan.com says counting themselves would allow others to quantify them. If you officially join the Church you're asked to pitch your own intentions for your Satanic journey, and the Church'll tell you whether or not they think you're suited.
So far, so good. But what I really want to know is whether anyone is sacrificing anything in Satanism. When my imagination runs wild, the back room of the bookshop is Eyes Wide Shut but instead of being horny they're cutting up animals and writing on the walls in warm blood.
Turns out—according to basically everyone who knows—sacrifice is not a Satanic ritual. Which is actually, of course, quite a relief.
The rituals in general are quite lax: personal days of celebration are held in high esteem (birthdays and anniversaries) and there are (deeply optional) celebrations of Halloween and seasonal equinoxes and solstices. Some Satanists practise three kinds of "magic ritual" which are detailed in the bible: "Lust rituals" AKA "worship of the self," which is probably no different to sex or masturbation except that you'd probably want some Satanic aesthetics in tow, and I can get into that. "Compassion rituals" AKA being good to yourself and other people—which could probably include sex and masturbation and therefore be a two-in-one. And "Destruction rituals"… This is where it gets interesting. This is basically black magic. Voodoo dolls and spells and invoking spirits and shit. It's spooky but it has a saving grace: If a person isn't deserving of a destruction ritual, the ritual won't work. Very convenient.
I want to use this little plastic character that sits on my desk to do some "destruction" and curse somebody I hate but I can't bring myself to do it. I know nothing will happen but I don't know know, you know? This stuff's optional anyway so I opt out.
Some more good news: the Church of Satan is pro-choice, and often pickets for women's reproductive rights.
Now, Anton Lavey doesn't say shit about listening to black metal as a Satanic thing but I figure he didn't say anything about all of these websites having to be stylised in black and red every fucking time either but I'm seeing a lot of that so… Each to their own? I spend an entire day alternating between Mayhem and Nattefrost and then every now and then listening to this song called "The Devil" for good measure. Mayhem and Nattefrost make me miss Selena Gomez but "The Devil" gets me feeling like I'm ready to be my best, and most Satanist, self. Do what works for you, I reckon. And by you, I mean me.
A website tells me that "men" in the Church of Satan often wear "long black robes" feat hoods, and that reeks a little of neckbeards to me but whatever. Then I read that "women" wear "sexually suggestive" garments and now I feel like I'm sitting at my computer wearing a kind of allegorical fedora just from reading it. I check a few other websites (the official one) and see nothing more of the sort so I think we're in the clear. I decide to start wearing this big furry black jumper—instead of anything sexually suggestive or cape-y—because it feels like bed and even though I look a bit mad, this school of thought is all about indulgence, baby. And therein lies the appeal of this whole thing: doing whatever you want and blaming the "church." Ah, religion, innit.
Now that I've read The Bible and I've perused the Rituals, I've tried the voodoo (nope) and investigated joining the church (maybe when my paycheck hits). I take a cigarette break at work and try to explain "Satanism" to a colleague. "It's actually quite cool, Ashley, you see, because it's very hedonistic and adaptable and you really can tailor it to your own ideologies… It's nothing like you think…" I talk for a few minutes until I trail off and she goes back inside. And then I'm stood there on the footpath staring at the asphalt, and I immediately feel like a door-knocking, pyramid-scheming weirdo.
And I realise I will never be able to say, "Hey, I'm Issy and I'm a Satanist" with a straight face to anyone ever. And so it's over. Sort of…
I will keep reading. And I will go back and make friends with that bookshop owner. And I will get into that back room. What I will also do is prop up the little Rituals book on my desk in front of my monitor, so that when my superiors come to my desk to hassle me about a deadline, they'll now know that I'm their superior. Thanks to Satanism.
Follow Issy on Twitter