In Memoriam: the Salem Witch Trials

The Salem witch trials were the rock on which theocracy shattered. – Historian George Lincoln Burr

On August 19 and September 22, 1692 dozens of innocent people accused of “witchcraft” were executed as part of the Salem Witch Trials. The Bible teaches among its many lies that the wages of sin are death. Death is as natural as birth and has nothing to do with “sin” … but it’s clear from history–from Iphigenia’s sacrifice, and the offering of children to Molok in antiquity, to the Inquisition and Crusades, to the contemporary orgy of human sacrifice carried out by Islamic terrorists–that the wages of religious superstition are often death! And that it’s often the innocent who pay …

Like the more recent Satanic Panic of the 1980-90’s–a string of hundreds of cases of accusations of “Satanic” child sacrifice and iniquity that were almost every single one of them debunked in the course of their investigation–the witch trials in the end were exposed as the unnecessary result of Christian superstition and mass hysteria, and caused the destruction of many innocent lives. The most notorious case was that of the West Memphis Three, boys who were merely targeted for being outcasts, for wearing black and looking like they were different. According to this Vox piece, there are innocent people who are still serving prison terms as a result of accusations from the time of the Satanic panic.

The Satanic Temple has a campaign called Grey Faction that specifically addresses the manipulation by hypnotists and other so-called therapists who make people recall false memories in order to advance the agenda of Christian hysteria in the absence of concrete evidence. The technique used to extract “memories” from supposed victims is similar to the one used in cases where people have claimed alien abduction, yet this passes for evidence in many Christian-influenced circles. Because the victims are often from the margins of society, not many have spoken up against the kinds of pseudo-science employed during the Satanic panic.

Furthermore, it’s become clear to me that when Christians label something or someone Satanic, this is a function of their own narrative or fear, rather than anything related to demonic forces. For centuries Catholic and Protestants called each other Satanists–as well as any other Christian or non-Christian sect that they deemed heretic, the Pope has been called the Anti-Christ and the Catholic Church has been called “the Whore of Babylon” by Protestants. Wicca, Santeria, Voodoo, Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism, and pretty much every other faith has been labeled “Satanism” at some point. Gays, lesbians, and transgender people have been called Satanists. Atheists have been called Satanists. Does a word even have meaning anymore when it’s used this broadly? And do people deserve to wield demonization of others as a weapon when they’ve historically used it in this manner? Do these people not know that the Greek word daemon originally simply meant “spirit”? Is this not an infantile game that people play to exploit the ignorance and superstitious fear of others?

The Satanic Bible is based mainly on the philosophy of Ayn Rand, the vocal atheist and author of “The Virtue of Selfishness”. Many of the politicians that have loyal Christian voting blocks behind them have called themselves followers of Ayn Rand in public. This means that conservative Christians today are actively choosing leaders whose worldview is not really different from the worldview of LaVeyan Satanists. And I don’t think many of them are duped: sure, the majority are, but many other Christians are positively and adamantly strong in their Satanic and anti-Christian convictions, even as they want to convince themselves and others that their convictions are somehow Christian. Are we so deep in the post-Christian era that the word Christian no longer has meaning?

For all these reasons, it’s important to demystify the devil himself as an evocative fictional figure, and to evaluate both the merits and demerits of Satanism as a religion, beginning with a few basic points:

  1. The overwhelming majority of Satanists do not believe in a literal devil, or in God. They are atheists who choose the romantic idea of Satan, the archetypal rebel, as a metaphor to weave their own spirituality and philosophy.
  2. There are various strands of Satanism, but the more mainstream ones are LaVeyan Satanism and The Satanic Temple.
  3. Laveyanism is epitomized by the Church of Satan, the First Church of Satan, and various other organizations. It continues the orthodoxy of its founder, Anton LaVey, who wrote the Satanic Bible. LaVey synthesized the philosophies of Nietzsche, Epicurus, and Ayn Rand, plus used some influences from occultists like Aleister Crowley and dark aesthetics, to propose a “carnal religion” of rational self-interest. LaVey was heavy on social darwinism, and hated herds and conformist thinking.
  4. TST is a liberal evolution of Satanism focused on activism against Christian religious privilege and in favor of social justice. It rejects social Darwinism and favors compassion and societal engagement. The following are the seven tenets that inform the activity of TST:
  • One should strive to act with compassion and empathy towards all creatures in accordance with reason.
  • The struggle for justice is an ongoing and necessary pursuit that should prevail over laws and institutions.
  • One’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone.
  • The freedoms of others should be respected, including the freedom to offend. To willfully and unjustly encroach upon the freedoms of another is to forgo one’s own.
  • Beliefs should conform to our best scientific understanding of the world. We should take care never to distort scientific facts to fit our beliefs.
  • People are fallible. If we make a mistake, we should do our best to rectify it and remediate any harm that may have been caused.
  • Every tenet is a guiding principle designed to inspire nobility in action and thought. The spirit of compassion, wisdom, and justice should always prevail over the written or spoken word.

Perhaps if we demystify Satanism and evaluate Satan as the secular archetype and cultural item that he is, the next time a fear-mongering pastor or hysteric devout Christian attempts to demonize someone or something, it’ll be much easier to find their fears, their repressed passions … and their hidden agendas. Consider this essay a requiem for all the victims of the Satanic panic, of Judeo-Christian and Islamic butchery, of witch trials and witch hunts throughout history.

Further Reading:

I’m currently reading The Origin of Satan: How Christians Demonized Jews, Pagans, and Heretics. It does a good job of explaining how the devil became useful in the creation of identities and shaping of narratives of early Jews and Christians, and how he is the product of historical and societal forces that are “human, all too human”.

Satanic Temple’s Baphomet Raises Hell Over Religious Freedom In Arkansas – I love how the Satanic Temple is unmasking the state’s hypocritical attempt to lie to everyone and dress up religious privilege as religious “freedom”. Jeff Sessions recently created a so-called “Religious Liberty Task Force“. The statue of Satan next to the Ten Commandments monument in Arkansas ***is what religious liberty looks like***: I wonder what actions this task force will take concerning Baphomet in Arkansas! Will Sessions stand up for the Satan statue? Or will he concede that what he’s been after all along was religious privilege for his own Christian religion?

About hiramcrespo

Hiram Crespo is the author of 'Tending the Epicurean Garden' (Humanist Press, 2014) and 'How to Live a Good Life' (Penguin Random House, 2020), and founder of He's also written for The Humanist, Eidolon, Occupy, The New Humanism, The Secular Web, Europa Laica, AteístasPR, and many other outlets.
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