Sympathy for the Devil

This Halloween Modern Satanists are just asking for a little understanding

Syn Holliday is a family man with three young children, a loving wife and a suburban home next door to a devout Mormon family his children regularly play with. He’s also a Satanist.

Holliday leads one of the largest satanic covens in the Los Angeles area, the Syndicate of the Five Points. Donning dark clothing and an inverted pentagram around his neck, Holliday explains in his comfortable tract-home living room, not too far from his satanic altar, that a lot of the religious parents in his conservative community even allow their children to spend the night with his children in his home. “We respect their beliefs, and they respect ours,” says Holliday. (Like most of the Modern Satanists interviewed for this article, Syn Holliday uses an adopted name to avoid potential prejudice.)

Estimated to be less than 10,000 in North America, Satanists are a small, eclectic and not very well-understood group. Today the Syndicate boasts close to 35 members and meets on an informal basis once a month and at least twice a year for rituals.

Lilith, a member of the Syndicate, says what she likes about Satanism is the belief “that we are in control of ourselves without the need to have a higher power guiding us.” Raised an Orthodox Jew, Lilith now says, “deities of any sort are simply archetypes people use to make sense of that which we do not understand.”

In fact, Syn says, Modern Satanists don’t believe in any external deities, including Satan. A constant refrain heard among Satanist is, “Hail Satan,” which really means, “Hail Ourselves,” says Holliday.

There is a branch of Satanists—often referred to as Traditional Satanists—who do believe in and pray to a form of Satan similar to the Judeo-Christian version. (Traditional Satanism will be explored in a future article.)

Finding Satan

Holliday, who attended a Christian military academy in his elementary years, says that it wasn’t until he began reading the Bible in college that he came to the conclusion that Christianity really didn’t make much sense. Holliday soon sought out other spiritualities. His journey eventually led him to Anton LaVey’s Satanic Bible, the cornerstone of Modern Satanic philosophy.

Thinking the Satanic Bible to be something taboo and sensationalist, Holliday soon found something more in the book. “Something that mirrored my own beliefs,” says Holliday. And one of those beliefs was that if all religions are indeed the invention of man, then why not just worship man himself.

“How can anyone disagree with Anton LaVey?” asks Shannon Holliday, wife of Syn. “He’s just about common sense.” Despite agreeing with most of what LaVey teaches, Shannon doesn’t feel comfortable tagging herself a Satanist. “On principal, I don’t commit to any religion. I don’t like to be labeled.”

Love Thy Neighbor

“Syn is great,” says, Susan Thayn, Syn’s religious neighbor, whose young family gets along wonderfully with the Hollidays’. Thayn adds that as a Jehovah Witness she gets judged daily and doesn’t want that to happen to the Hollidays’.

Thayn recalls one of the nicest things she ever heard Syn say was that if his three-year-old son was to one day marry a Jehovah Witness that it would be okay with him. “That was pretty cool to hear,” says Thayn.

Darwin, Rand, Nietzsche

Articulating a form of Social Darwinism with nods to both Ayn Rand and Nietzsche, Modern Satanists claim to be accepting of man’s true carnal nature while Christianity (along with other religions) is in denial and even suppression of it.

“The bottom line,” says Holliday, “is that…Modern Satanists are not trying to get a lot of people to join up. We don’t play the numbers game—we’re just looking for a few good Satanists.”

Apheon, a member of the Syndicate, says that there is nothing in Satanism that condemns any form of sexuality—including beastuality. (It should be noted that Modern Satanists don’t condone sexual relations with minors or any sex that isn’t consensual.)

Apheon says that Modern Satanism is not about sexual promiscuity, though. It’s about being who you really want to be and if being sexually experimental is what you want, then you should explore that path and see what it has for you. “Perhaps, you’ll like it,” Apheon says, “or perhaps you’ll want something different, but you won’t know until you go there.”

But not everybody agrees. Greg Triplett, director of Campus Crusade for Christ at the University of Southern California, says: “We know from experience that what is fun or pleasurable in the moment may ultimately bring emptiness, pain, numbness and dissatisfaction. Jesus was about something more, satisfaction that would last, even if it would cost temporary pain, [such as] His death on the cross.”

Apheon agrees that sense gratification has its limits but argues that is why Satanists believe that it should always be guided by reason, logic and the law. “If we allow ourselves to be fully human, we then rely on both our instincts and our intellect to have the best life we can.”

History of Satanism

Modern Satanism was born out of the ideas and writings of Anton Szandor LaVey (1930-1997). A lifetime student of human behavior and classic dark literature, LaVey meet with a special group of like-minded individuals in the basement of his San Francisco home in the 1960s. He dubbed his group the “Magic Circle.”

Peter H. Gilmore, High Priest of the Church of Satan and longtime friend of LaVey’s, writes that the Magic Circle consisted of people “who shared [LaVey’s] interest in the bizarre, the hidden side of what moves the world.”

With inspiration from the Magic Circle, LaVey created a new religion based on his iconoclastic ideas. The Church of Satan was officially founded in 1966, and in 1969, LaVey published his landmark book, the Satanic Bible, which has sold over 800,000 copies in America.

“We are a worldwide organization with members in just about every nation on the face of the globe,” says Magistra Peggy Nadramia, High Priestess of the official Church of Satan. Nadramia adds that the Satanic Bible has also been translated into at least eight languages, including Spanish, Swedish, Russian and soon Japanese.

LaVey adopted satanic imagery and incorporated references to Satan into his new religion as a way to not only differentiate it from Christianity but also oppose it. In short, LaVey claimed that the devil had gotten a bad rap by Christians and that part of his mission was to show how Satan had it right all along.

LaVey writes in the Satanic Bible: “Satan represents all of the so-called sins, as they all lead to physical, mental, or emotional gratification!”

But why do Modern Satanists embrace satanic imagery—like the inverted pentagram and pictures of Satan—which many find offensive? Modern Satanists believe that it acts as a filter to weed out those who are closed-minded and afraid of shadows. “The bottom line,” says Holliday, “is that those are not the people we want. Modern Satanists are not trying to get a lot of people to join up. We don’t play the numbers game—we’re just looking for a few good Satanists.”