Illustration by Freya Morgan
I know it's not the done thing to say, but Christmas is great isn't it? Even if you're not into the whole nativity story with those three wise men, the Star of Bethlehem, and the inexplicable whiteness of all the protagonists – even then, you're still probably enjoy indulging in an occasional festive latte, or momentarily feeling the weight of your heart lift the first time Mariah belts out over Target's in-store radio. Religious or not, Christian or nay, Christmas spreads a message of peace and love and family that even Scrooge and the Grinch and my entire extended Jewish family seem to have worked their way behind.
Except what about the Satanists? How do we always forget about the Satanists? I mean religions get forgotten all the time. Zoroastrianism, that's a much-neglected religion; Rastafarianism, similarly, never really recovered from Rastamouse. But Satanists – Satanists worship the devil. That's not one of the religions to go forgetting in a hurry. When humanity falls by the wayside and Lucifer stands cackling over our bodies, we'll remember the Satanists then, that's for sure. "Why didn't we ask the Satanists what they're doing for Christmas", we'll ask from our shallow charnel-pit, and John Wait, ordained pastor and regional manager of the UK-based Church of Rational Satanism will look down at us and say "You did, in that VICE article, the one no one read about what Satanists do for Christmas". And we'll cry, oh how we'll cry, as the waves crash in and the locusts swarm.
VICE: Hi John, so you're a member of the Church of Rational Satanism. Can you explain a bit about what that means, for the uninitiated among us?
Well Satanism as a broad church is an atheistic view, with a little bit of a jokey nod towards the Abrahamic religions through the rituals and everything like that. The Church of Rational Satanism or CORS, which I am a part of, just prefers a less ritualistic and antagonistic version of the same Satanic philosophy – self-betterment and a more self-aware version of life. We have a few particular beliefs like the 90 percent - 10 percent thinking, but apart from that we're pretty similar to other Satanists.
OK. I'm going to assume Christmas – the celebration of the birth of the son of God – probably isn't one of your favourite festivals right?
Well I can't speak for everyone in the Church, but speaking personally and from the people I know and have talked to, none of us actually have a problem with Christmas; we recognise it's not a Satanist festival but we don't have anything against it.
So the celebration of the birth of Christ, that's fine with you?
Well realistically Christmas is about as Christian as my big toe. Even though it's ostensibly about the birth of Jesus, most of the traditions are actually nicked from pagan festivals far predating the birth of Jesus. So, unless you're going to Church or going carolling, I don't think there's much very Christian about it. Like, even the Christmas tree is a pagan thing, if you actually look in the Bible it says you're not allowed to decorate a christmas tree, so it's not very Christian at all.
So will you be celebrating Christmas this year?
Yeah, I mean it's not a Satanist festival, but I recognise it as an important time to be together with the family and we do it because it's nice for the kids.
What exactly does a Satanist do at Christmas?
Well, we'll probably open our presents in the morning, then have Christmas lunch. My dad's not very well at the moment so maybe we'll go and see him in the afternoon if not on Boxing Day. After lunch we'll probably watch a few films and then go for a walk before tea – if it's really nice we'll go to the beach and have tea on the beach... Not very frightening is it?
No not very frightening at all. Where are all the skulls and devil horns?
[Laughs] The dark aesthetic is important to some people but not everyone does it. I don't do the dressing up or the ritual – I get what it's for and I appreciate the benefits – but I'm at a time in my life where I don't think it's necessary.
What are the benefits of dressing up then?
Basically the ritual chamber and all that dressing up stuff is a psychodrama, it's a way of expressing and removing frustration and anger from yourself as well as just having fun. Some people like to dress up and light candles and bang gongs. For me a ride on my bike does exactly the same thing. It clears your head, gives you time to think and puts all the bad shit away.
So it's not about freaking people out?
Of course it's meant to be provocative otherwise we'd call ourselves atheists. In the Bible, Satan was another word for adversary and that's an idea we play with. The problem we get is people take adversarial to mean you have to argue with everything anyone says. That's not what it really means, it's about looking at the bigger picture and thinking about what's really going on and behaving in a way that is responsible without kowtowing.
OK so would it be accurate to say you're not anti-Christian, you're anti-God?
We're not anti-anything – like an atheist isn't anti-God, he just doesn't believe in a god. That's what a lot of people don't get about Satanism, we're basically atheists, we don't worship anything.
Yeah because I think people assume from 'Satanism' that you worship the devil?
No, that's just the antagonistic bit of it. Calling ourselves Satanists is about exploding this simple duality between good and evil, God and Satan. It's simplistic and deterministic. I believe I am my own god, and that's so often taken out of context but what I mean by that is I'm in charge of my own destiny and I'm responsible for my own actions and those of people around me. I don't have to wait on any external deity.
Isn't the point of an omnibenevolent god kind of aspirational though? To make people strive for something bigger and better than themselves?
Well yes but I think it's also quite defeatist. My daughter's school did an alternative nativity play this year based on the story of the matchgirl. My daughter played the lead role and basically the story is this girl was trying to sell matches on the street and life was miserable and cold and then she died. And we're supposed to rejoice... What the fuck is that all about?
I've never heard of that story.
I'm not going to stop my kids participating because of my religion and what they do is entirely up to them, but it seems like a bloody weird thing to be teaching our kids: if life is miserable being dead is better. I have a problem with people that don't live the life that they've got because they think there's a better one waiting.
Are you scared of death?
No and I don't think you need to believe in life after death for that. I had surgery in June which resulted in four aneurysms. Was I scared? I was scared of not seeing my kids. But was I scared of dying? Not really – you don't know anything do you. I live my life while I'm alive, I won't worry about what happens when I'm dead, and I think if more people lived in that sort of way there would be a lot less pain and violence in the world.
So recognizing you are your own god brings you freedom from this sort of externalised worship?
Yeah. People assume as a Satanist I'm a party animal and a maniac but actually the freedom allows me to have time doing what I want to do, and what I want to do is spend time with my family, go to the beach, ride my motorcycle, do normal things that normal people do. We just take responsibility for it.
OK so you say you don't worship anything, but (curveball here) what if I were to say Christmas wasn't the worship of a Christian god, it was the worship of another god: the god of capitalism?
Very good. Maybe you're right, and to be honest if we didn't have kids maybe we wouldn't do Christmas for that reason. But the way we do Christmas is about family and spending time together. Some of the other churches will tell you that Satanism is about indulgence but we don't particularly subscribe to that. I would say we do everything in moderation because from a pragmatic point of view there's no point in indulging in things that would ultimately cause harm to you or others. Christmas to us is about enjoyment, moderate indulgence and sharing time with the family.
Thanks John, Merry Christmas!
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