Photo: Gustave Dore / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Explaining The Different Satanist Sects

What does it mean to be a Satanist?

Throughout history, the devil has known many names: Satan, Lucifer, Beelzebub, Our Old Friend. The early days of Christianity established Satan as an important figure, and non-canonical biblical texts solidified his status as the antagonist of heaven. By the 13th century, Satan's role in biblical storytelling was set, and in the 17th century, his literary magnitude was immeasurably enhanced by his unforgettable turn in John Milton's epic Christian poem Paradise Lost. In the 1960s, coinciding with a reformed interest in the occult brought on by the counterculture, individuals and groups claiming to worship and abide by Satan's ethos cropped up all over the United States and Europe. The iconography seeped into popular culture via heavy metal music and fantasy role-playing games, leading to a vilification by the media that culminated in the "Satanic panic" of the 1980s.

The truth about Satanism is complex, and practitioners of Satanism are as varied in their beliefs as other religious groups. Most, however, praise nonconformity, believe in the value of psychodrama (or theatrical customs and rituals), and disavow Western concepts of morality. Satanists tend to refer to their choices as following the lefthand path, meaning they believe in the power of the self to navigate life.

The majority of Satanic beliefs can be divided into three loose categories: reactive/inverted, or those who worship Satan as an evil Christian force; rationalistic, or those who are secularly guided by Satanic ideas; and theistic, or those whose beliefs incorporate any number of deities or supernatural entities, including Satan. This list investigates the history of the Satanic sects that have developed in the past four or five decades and maintain followings to this day.

Photo: Gustave Dore / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

  • Church of Satan

    According to the official Church of Satan website, "The Church of Satan was created by our late High Priest, Magus Anton Szandor LaVey on Walpurgisnacht [a Christian feast day] 1966 c.e. (common era)." LaVey rose to prominence in San Francisco, and his ideas were published in the "holy book" of the Church of Satan, 1969's The Satanic Bible.

    Adherents are atheistic, but they rely on ceremonial worship, black masses, and ritualistic occultist magic to unlock their potential. There are no gods in the Church of Satan; instead, followers worship themselves, praise indulgence, and embrace activities viewed as sinful. It's not all about self-satisfaction, though. Church of Satan members also actively practice mutual respect, anti-violence (unless someone is being attacked), and accountability in romantic relationships.

  • Temple of Set
    Photo: Temple of Set / Facebook / Fair Use

    Temple of Set

    Temple of Set practitioners harness spiritual, theistic beliefs based on the existence of different gods. Michael Aquino and Lilith Sinclair broke away from the Church of Satan to establish this sect in 1974. While it's considered a branch of Satanism, Setian philosophy includes multiple deities, some analogous to Satan and others based on the Egyptian god Set.

    The High Priestess of Set explains the sect's purpose on their website, writing, "The Temple of Set is an organization with one task: to provide an environment in which individuals discover, pursue, and realize their unique purpose and destiny." The organization is made up of orders, pylons, conclaves, and gilds.

    Setians believe in pursuing the spiritual quality of inner consciousness, a quality "slandered and suppressed by conventional religions that claim its powers for themselves, dismissed by others as unreal, and feared by those who would flee the personal responsibility implied."

  • The Satanic Temple
    Photo: RaphaelQS / Wikipedia / Fair Use

    The Satanic Temple

    The Satanic Temple is a non-devotional, secular organization established in 2013 to fight for equal religious representation and challenge authoritarian politics. Cofounder Lucien Greaves describes it as "a non-theistic movement aligned with Liberty, Equality, and Rationalism." This New York-based group has become well known for using the First Amendment to push for the erection of Satanic statues in public places, most notably Illinois, Michigan, and Arkansas. 

    While it took this theatrical approach to public engagement from the Church of Satan, the Satanic Temple has worked hard to set itself aside from Anton LaVey's group. The Satanic Temple has no interest in pursuing supernatural beliefs or esoteric magic. They are invested in political activism and social mobilization. As Greaves writes on the Satanic Temple's website, "Beliefs should conform to one’s best scientific understanding of the world. One should take care never to distort scientific facts to fit one’s beliefs."

  • Luciferians
    Photo: Luciferians / Facebook / Fair Use


    Luciferians look to the Hebrew Bible's interpretations of Lucifer as the "light-bearer" for inspiration. Less a sect of Satanism than its own unique offshoot, Luciferianism adheres to the pursuit of knowledge, freedom of choice, and connecting to one's inner power in a more spiritual sense. Grounded in psychology, yet also attached to the esoteric nature of human beings, Luciferians look to their namesake not as a god, but as a spirit guide toward enlightenment.

    Luciferian ideas predate Christianity, but the most modern iteration of this belief system is seen in the Greater Church of Lucifer, established by Michael W. Ford in 2007. Based in Texas, the church is supported by an extensive website called Luciferian Apotheca. In addition to being a place to purchase occult wares, the website also summarizes the group's take on Luciferianism. As Ford writes, "Luciferians find the symbolism of demonic gods, or ‘deific masks’ as representations of either a power or phenomena in nature and within the mind. It is the ‘bridge’ between both, the initiation, which unlocks the wisdom of darkness."

    Essentially, Luciferians are against deification or dogmatic religious beliefs, but instead believe that deities like Lucifer are metaphors for what's stored within each person and for what has potential to be tapped into by following the lefthand path.

  • Anti-Cosmic Satanism
    Photo: Current 218 / Facebook / Fair Use

    Anti-Cosmic Satanism

    While they refer to themselves as Satanists, those who follow Anti-Cosmic Satanism actually participate in a form of occultism based on diverse ancient traditions, Gnosticism, and dark magic practices. In 1995, the Misanthropic Luciferian Order was established in Sweden. One of its earliest members was John Nödtveidt of the metal band Dissection. He told an interviewer, "Our goal is to create a synthesis between the dark traditions of all aeons, this way creating the occult keys that shall open the gates to the forthcoming endless dark aeon."

    Anti-Cosmic Satanists believe that the cosmic world created by "God" is false, and they strive through their rituals and beliefs to unleash the true world, the anti-cosmic world, which is one of absolute chaos. "Satan/Lucifer is the external and eternal aspect of the anti-cosmic and sinister impulses, which constitute the deepest essence of our inner black flames," Nödtveidt told another interviewer. To adherents, Satan is just one of many names attributed to the pantheon of forces guiding them.

    The Misanthropic Luciferian Order was eventually renamed the Temple of the Black Light, which has an active following around the world. One of the more nihilistic takes on Satanism, Anti-Cosmic Satanism lays out its beliefs in the Liber Azerate, which contains detailed descriptions of the anti-cosmic world, referred to by followers as the "Chaosophy."

  • Transcendental Satanism
    Photo: Lord Zane / Facebook / Fair Use

    Transcendental Satanism

    Adult film director Matt Zane formed Transcendental Satanism after an LSD trip. During that fateful experience, Zane says he saw God banish Satan from heaven, watching the fallen angel's descent and transformation into the ruler of hell. Giving himself the nickname "The Lord," Zane decided to put his vision and the beliefs spawned from it into writing, publishing Transcendental Satanism: Doctrines of the Infernal Process in 2011.

    What makes this form of Satanism transcendental is that it focuses on the concept of spiritual transformation. By discovering one's inner Satanic aspect, the deeply embedded quality that has drifted away from consciousness, people can evolve and choose their own autonomous path.

    In his book, Zane condenses Transcendental Satanism into a list of statements, including "respect and follow desire," "develop conscious discipline," and "live life through action."