Satanism is not actually a single religion or belief system, but an entire family of inter-related belief systems, most of which are vastly different from each other save for one common theme: a sympathetic reinterpretation of the force/character/entity that is most well known and recognized in modern Western culture as "Satan."
The term "Religious Satanism" is used to describe Satanisms which are religious in nature. The reason there is a need to make such a distinction is because the term "Satanism" is also used as a literary term. If you check up the word "Satanism" in the Oxford Dictionary, you will find that one of its secondary definitions is a style of literature. Authors and poets who produced such literature were known as members of "the Satanic school," which became notorious for writing literature that supposedly takes the Devil's point of view. People included in the genre of "literary Satanism" were John Keats, Percy Shelley, and Lord Byron among others. None of these people were religious Satanists - that is to say, none of them practiced Satanism as a religion - but they were "Satanists" in the sense that they created a literary tradition structured around several unorthodox views and techniques, including an often sympathetic portrayal of the Devil.
Religious Satanism is primarily divided into three major categories: Theistic Satanists (who are sometimes called "Spiritual" or "Traditional Satanists"), LaVeyan Satanists, and Deistic Satanists (also known as "Pantheistic Satanists" or "Dark Deists"). The theistic branch of Satanism is the branch in which it is believed that Satan is an actual deity or supernatural being of some sort, who is to be somehow revered and/or worshiped. The LaVeyan branch of Satanism is the branch in which it is believed that Satan is merely a force in nature or a symbol of man's animal nature, which itself is regarded as the object of worship. Typically, theistic Satanists can be understood to be Satan-worshipers (although there are exceptions), while LaVeyan and Deistic Satanists can be understood to be Self-worshipers.
First I will cover the LaVeyan Satanists. LaVeyans take their name from Anton Szandor LaVey, who authored The Satanic Bible and who founded the Church of Satan in 1966. They believe that Satan is merely a symbol representing certain characteristics and traits that they find desirable. Such characteristics and traits include, but are not limited to: individuality, carnality, independence, and earthly success and power. The LaVeyan Satanist views Satan as being an imaginary character who represents the reality of the "Beast in Man," which itself is a manifestation of something that LaVey identified in his writings as "the Dark Force in Nature." Religious Satanism, to LaVeyans, is not about worshiping the Devil, but about worshiping oneself as the center of one's own universe. Naturally this will tempt some of my readers to describe LaVeyan Satanists as being "selfish," and indeed such Satanists will not shy away from that adjective.
LaVeyans also believe in practicing what they call magic. However, "magic" to them is not the exercise of supernatural power, but a form of theatrical psychodrama which is intended to help the practitioner overcome their inhibitions and become a full-fledged "personification" of Satan - the Dark Force - in the flesh.
Next I will speak of the Deistic (or Pantheistic) Satanists. Deistic Satanists are like LaVeyans, in that they do not believe that Satan is a personal being. Rather, they believe that Satan is an impersonal supreme being or force which is one with all things (i.e., pantheism). They agree with the "Dark Force in Nature" terminology that LaVeyans use, but they tend to place less emphasis on the teaching of LaVey than on what they term "the Dark Doctrines." The Dark Doctrines are essentially based upon an etymological hypothesis that the Hebrew word "Satan" is derived from a pair of Sanskrit terms, "Sat" (which is said to mean something like "pure existence") and "Tan" (which is said to mean something like "stretching forth"). The Sat part is a description of what it fundamentally is, while the Tan is a description of what it does. As Sat, it is the force of being which causes all and everything to exist. As Tan, it is the force that causes evolution and metamorphosis. The primary two churches which teach Deistic Satanism are the First Church of Satan in Salem, Massachussetts, and the Satanic Reds (who are also, interestingly enough, a Communist group).
The theistic branch of Satanism is divided into multiple subcategories. Perhaps the oldest variety of theistic Satanism of which I know are the Gnostic Satanists, who are descended from the Ophidian Gnostics. The Gnostics believed that everything that existed was originally pure spirit; then the Demiurge (who was identified as the god of the Old Testament by Ophidian Gnostics, and with the Devil by Gnostic Christians) trapped our souls in matter and cut us away from the Source. The Gnostic Christians believed that Jesus Christ was an incorporeal spirit that had been sent into the world by the Source, not to save the human race by dying on the cross, but to teach the way of discovering Gnosis - i.e., knowledge of the divinity within - which was believed to be the only way to escape the sinfulness of the material world. While some Gnostics, typically the Gnostic Christians, believed that it was necessary to abstain from worldly pleasures in order to transcend the material world, others (particularly the Ophidians) believed that Gnosis could be achieved by indulging in worldly pleasures and by "exhausting" their sinfulness. This is where the Gnostic Satanists came from.
The Ophidians identified the One who was sent into the world by the Source to teach humans of the Gnosis with the serpent of Genesis, and not with Christ. They believed that when the serpent tempted Adam and Eve with the Knowledge of Good and Evil, He was really tempting them with the Gnosis and thereby freed them from the authoritarian power of the Demiurge (Jehovah). The Ophidians, unlike Christians, did not identify the serpent as Satan, but as Sophia, the goddess of wisdom. However, there were some Ophidian-based Gnostics who did acknowledge the serpent as Satan, and these became the Gnostic Satanists. Gnostic Satanists, therefore, worship Lucifer as the Bringer of Light, who helps us to transcend the imperfections of earthly existence by enticing us to indulgence, rather than abstinence. There is currently no major Gnostic Satanist organization in existence of which I am aware, though there have been groups such as Church Lucifer (also known as the Children of the Black Rose). It has been speculated that the Gnostic Satanists had a bit of influence over the Freemasons. Whether this is actually true or not is anyone's guess.
Later came the Yezidi, who are a Middle Eastern sect that originated in the area which is currently known as Iraq. Founded by the prophet Sheik Adi in the 1100's, the Yezidi were a band of Islamic heretics who believed that Shaitan, the fallen angel, was not really the Devil but the true Messiah whom the Creator had sent to rule over our terrestrial world and to eventually extinguish the fires of Hell with His tears. They were forbidden to pronounce the name "Shaitan" (and in some accounts it is said that Yezidi would even go so far as to kill themselves upon hearing the name, as it was considered an act of blasphemy just to hear it), so they called Him "Melek Ta'us," which is a Kurdish name meaning "King of the Angels."
As Melek Ta'us, the Prince of this World was often depicted in the form of a peacock. This is taken from an earlier Persian myth in which Ahura Mazda, the god of light, asked Ahriman, the god of darkness, why He only created "evil" things. Ahriman then promptly took an ugly bird, dismembered it, brought the pieces of its corpse back together again and resurrected it, and it came back to life as the beautiful peacock. Ahriman then said to Mazda, "See? Not all of my works are evil." The Yezidi believe that at the end of days, the Prince of this World and the Creator god will become reconciled, and thus will the human race be saved. It is important to point out here that in Yezidi theology, Satan is not the enemy of God, but a faithful servant of God who was appointed to be the God of this World, rather than a fallen angel who was "cast out" from heaven. Yezidi typically believe that the god of Christians is the true deceiver.
The Yezidi still exist today, and were among the Kurds who were most persecuted by Saddam Hussein in modern Iraq. Some still live in Iraq, where they are currently establishing representation for themselves in the new government. Others have moved to parts of Europe, including both Russia and Germany. The Yezidis do not accept the term "Satanist" because they do not accept the name "Satan" as a name for the Prince of this World. However, it is a fact that they worship the very same deity that other theistic Satanists do. The Yezidi holy text is known as the Mishaf Resh, which outlines their view of creation. Copies of this text can now be found online.
Then come what is called the Christian-based Duotheists. Christian-based Duotheists are theistic Satanists who believe in a form of Satanism that is essentially more like inversified Christianity. Which is to say, they believe that Satan is not a god but a fallen angel who has rebelled against the Creator, and who is attempting to usurp the Creator's throne. This is probably a form of Satanism that most Christians will be more familiar with, as it accepts most of what Christianity believes - including the Fall of Man, the Crucifixion, the coming of Antichrist and the Second Coming of Christ - except that Christian-based Duotheists simply choose the other side of the fence. They often believe that Satan, although a mere fallen angel, actually has a fighting chance of winning the battle against God. Christian-based Duotheists are commonly laughed at and ridiculed by the majority of Satanists as being the Satanic equivalent to "Holy Rollers."
Next we have the Setians. The Setian denomination was founded by Dr. Michael A. Aquino in 1975. Aquino was a priest of the Church of Satan who left over a dispute with LaVey concerning the existence of the Prince of Darkness. Aquino then started his own church called the Temple of Set. The Setians believe that the Prince of Darkness' "true" name is Set, and that before He became known as "Satan" in Judeo-Christian mythology, He was known as Set in ancient Egyptian religion. Setians believe that the Prince of Darkness is a god who is responsible for creating consciousness - the ability to perceive, to be aware and to take deliberate action. They believe in a mystical concept called "Xeper," an Egyptian word pronounced "Kheffer" which means "I have Come into Being." Xeper is what the Egyptian sun god, Ra, would proclaim each morning at dawn after his nocturnal journey through the underworld. Set was the god who protected Ra during this journey from Apep, the serpent of darkness and chaos. In protecting Ra, Set enabled the sun to "Xeper" each morning, and this myth is taken to be symbolic of Set's power to enable us to become newly created beings with each self-determined action that we take in life. In this context, the term "Xeper" means something similar to "I think therefore I am," though it could be said to take an additional meaning: "The MORE I think, the MORE I am."
The Setian holy text is The Book of Coming Forth by Night, which was supposedly dictated to Michael Aquino during a ritual channeling with the Prince of Darkness in 1975. Setians are often indecisive over whether or not they should consider themselves Satanists. Many times, Setians consider themselves to be a part of the Satanic subculture and indeed they are, since they grew out of the Church of Satan (strangely enough). However, often they will claim that they are a "higher" form of Satanism that is much too sophisticated to be ensared in "the bastard title of a Hebrew fiend," so they will try to pass their religion off as something completely different. However, for all their neo-Egyptian mysticism, they continue to refer to Set as "the Prince of Darkness" and they continue to use the Satanic pentagram (i.e., two points up, so the star is shaped like a goat's head) as their sacred symbol. Therefore, most Satanists continue to consider the Setians to be a denomination of Satanism. Also, Setians, although they are theistic, count as Self-worshipers instead of as Satan/Set-worshipers. They have what I like to call a "Faustian" relationship with the Prince of Darkness, which is to say that instead of worshiping Him and serving Him, they work with Him as an associate who helps them to increase their own power in this world. Sort of like a strictly academic or business relationship, rather than a "god-follower" relationship.
Joy of Satan-style theistic Satanists (JoSers for short) are rather weird. Satanists such as these believe, like Christian-based Duo-theists, that there is a cosmic struggle going on between Satan and Jehovah. However, the JoSers (having read too much Zechariah Sitchin) believe that Satan and Jehovah are not actually supernatural beings, but mortal aliens living on a distant planet across the universe, who communicate telepathically with human beings and who are engaged in a psychic mind-war over our allegiance. JoSers tend to believe that all of the gods worshiped by human beings throughout history are really extra-terrestrials. They also believe that Satan was originally the pre-Christian Sumerian deity Enki, before He became corrupted into the fallen angel concept. Some of them have actually taken to calling themselves Enkians. Although JoSers are commonly laughed at and ridiculed by other Satanists as being sort of like the Satanic equivalent to Scientologists, they nonetheless have a large following in theistic Satanism.
Demonolators are not exactly Satanists per se, although they are accepted as a part of our subculture. Demonolators are people who worship Demons, as opposed to just Satan Himself. They believe that the Demons are not actually fallen angels, but really pre-Christian pagan deities who represent the "dark side of Nature." Demonolators consider themselves to be Dark Pagans (i.e., worshipers of Nature who are tuned to the dark side). They do not really have much of a public presence at this time, though they have in the past. It is known that they are organized, but they choose to remain underground due in part to various troubles that they have had with outsiders in the past. Some of them used to maintain public websites through which they attempted to reach out to outsiders, but it is reported that one of these outsiders stirred up some major political trouble within one or more of the priesthoods. Therefore, as a way of avoiding further trouble, the Demonolator community opted to go underground. However, it would appear that at least one of the traditional Demonolator covens has decided to re-instate an online presence. Please visit the OFS Demonolatry website for more extensive information.
Lastly, I will speak of the Devil worshipers (also called Diabolators). This is where I fit in. While it is true that most theistic Satanists can probably be described as Devil worshipers (except for the Setians - who have quite an aversion to that word "worship"), it will probably surprise most of my readers to learn that the vast majority of Satanists frown upon the term "Devil worshiper," in much the same way that many gays frown upon the word "queer" and many African Americans from upon the dreaded "N" word. Satanists who embrace the term "Devil worshiper" and actually use it as a term of self-reference are, surprisingly enough, a minority within a minority.
The term itself does not really propose any particular theological worldview, save for a belief in a Satan (or satans), and a belief in worshiping Him. Other than these two points, Devil worshipers can embark upon a wide variety of theological perspectives - polytheism, pantheism, henotheism, duo-theism, etc. The major qualification for being a Devil worshiper is that you take a primarily devotional approach to the Powers of Darkness. Most other varieties of Satanism place emphasis on the practice of magic or the attainment of Gnosis over worship and prayer (in fact the Setians will tell you that worship and prayer are "un-Satanic"). But Devil worshipers unashamedly worship the Powers of Darkness as their gods, and we also unashamedly refer to them as our Masters - another "taboo" that most other Satanists refuse to accept. Perhaps the only three organizations dedicated to honest-to-Satan Devil worship are the Church of Azazel, the Order of Eternal Darkness and the Temple of Diabolic Youth. However, the Church of Azazel is still just starting out, and is only beginning to gain acceptance among some of the other denominations.
Those of us who identify as Devil worshipers tend to overlap with many, perhaps all, of the other theistic categories I have mentioned above. In this context, Devil worship is not really a theological category, but rather an attitude. The taboo on the term "Devil worship" originated with LaVey's Church of Satan, who basically have the attitude that they are the only true Satanists and the rest of us are all "Devil worshipers" whom they despise and tend to lump together with the criminal fringe.
Unfortunately, I am afraid that no discussion of the varieties of religious Satanism would be complete without mentioning our criminal fringe. Historically there has only been one organized Satanist group that committed acts of terrorism, murder and violence. These were the members of the Norwegian Black Metal Circle, which existed in Norway during the early 1990's.
The Black Metal Circle (sometimes called "the Black Metal Mafia") was founded by a man who called himself Euronymous (after a Greek deity of death and the underworld). Euronymous and his followers were musicians who played black metal music. They chose to call themselves Satanists because they believed in Satan as this "Spirit of Evil" who only wants to spread misery and suffering throughout the world. In order to "serve" Him, Euronymous and his followers began a long campaign of church-burning and graveyard desecrations, as well as murders. They made a point to target churches that were historical monuments of architecture in Norway, and I believe that in at least one case, they burned one of these churches down while people were actually inside.
Euronymous explained in interviews that the reason he and his followers did this was because they believed that, by performing acts of terrorism cloaked in Satanic imagery, they would cause Christian fanaticism to grow in Northern Europe. Northern Europe is actually known for having a predominatly liberal Christian climate these days, but Euronymous wanted to initate a surge in Christian fanaticism by creating terror in people with these church burnings and murders. Euronymous was completely insane and was working to initiate a man-made apocalypse. However, as crazy as he was, he was not stupid. The Black Metal Circle was well organized and they managed to get away with what they were doing for a couple of years. In fact, the Black Metal Circle was not stopped until one of their own members - one Varg Vikernes, who had converted to Odinism - murdered Euronymous in 1993.
It would be intellectually dishonest of Satanists to deny that we have our fair share of psychopathic monsters, as do all other religions. But as with other religions, the number of psychopathic monsters in our religion is actually quite small when compared to the number of sane people. The problem is that the criminal Satanists tend to get more press than the sane Satanists do, simply because the media does not consider "friendly neighborhood Devil worshipers" like myself to be very newsworthy.
So these are the varieties of religious Satanism as I have come to understand them over the past decade of my life. I hope that this article has been helpful in clearing some of the misconceptions that many people have about our religious subculture.