New Article on Religious Satanism

I’m delighted to finally share my latest publication, an article in the peer-reviewed journal: La Rosa di Paracelso. Click on title to access the journal and download the free PDF.

Cimminnee Holt


The concept of “Total Environments” (1988) is outlined by Anton Szandor LaVey, founder of the Church of Satan (1966), in response to the question: “What do Satanists do?” The query itself prompted by religious Satanism’s seemingly lack of recognizable “religious” traits: as an atheistic religion, they reject notions of the divine, demonic, and spiritual; there is no belief in a Golden Age myth to which to return; and no evangelical mandate or desire for mass conversion. What then, do members of the Church of Satan do? The answer, in part, is for Satanists to create the conditions for their individual desires to be reflected in the sensorial and material world.

This paper centralizes the sensorial and material qualities of religious Satanism as outlined by LaVey and understood by members of the Church of Satan. First, it discusses the objects used in Greater Magic rituals to demonstrate how these idiosyncratic items function as mediations of personal desire; and secondly, how LaVey’s ideas on insular spaces outside of ritual space—his concept of Total Environments—reveals that Satanists perceive their entire lives as an ongoing extension of the will. Living “satanically” in the world is a continued magical act mediated by materiality itself. LaVey’s concepts on magic contribute to the historical discourse and study of magic, and this paper suggests that LaVey’s framework can be used to study the lives of Church of Satan members as a whole. That is, applied religious Satanism is, ideally, creating a Total Environment.


From La Rosa di Paracelso, No 2 (2017) (special issue)

Diabolus in singulis est: The Devil, Satan and Lucifer

“The most recent studies by Massimo Introvigne, Per Faxneld, Jesper Aagard Petersen and Ruben van Lujik have highlighted, under various aspects, the relief of the figure and symbolism related to the Devil. Such historical importance concerns the History of Ideas in the same way, as well as that of the Western Esotericism of the New Religious Movements. It is clear, for example, that a certain conception of the devil distinguishes the work of Anton Szandor Lavey (pseudonym of Howard Stanton Levey, 1930-1997) and his Californian Church of Satan, or the films of director Kenneth Anger (pseud by Kenneth Wilbur Anglemeyer, 1927 – still alive), or the thought of Robert de Grimston (weigher of Robert Moor, 1935 – still living) and Mary Ann Maclean (1931-2005), as well as of the group they founded The Process Church of the Final Judgment. Diaballein, of the luciferic fallen angel, as well as an androgynous being or a “spirit of the earth or of opposition” have influenced and continue to interest the most diverse historical, social and cultural dynamics concerning the groups and various currents of Satanism, past and present.

The most recent studies by Massimo Introvigne, Per Faxneld, Jesper Aagard Petersen and Ruben van Lujik have highlighted, in different manners, the prominence of the figure and the symbology of the Devil. And in the domain of the Western esotericism and in the New Religious Movements. One of them, understand, for a certain idea of ​​the Devil marks the work of Anton Szandor Lavey (pseudonym of Howard Stanton Levey, 1930-1997) and of his Californian Church of Satan, or of the films of director Kenneth Anger (pseudonym of Kenneth Wilbur Anglemeyer, b. 1927), or of the thought of Robert de Grimston (pseudonym of Robert Moor, b. 1935) and Mary Ann Maclean (1931-2009), and of the group of the Final Judgment. Diaballein, of the Luciferian fallen angel, with an idea of ​​an androgyne being of the spirit of the earth or of the ‘have impressed and continued to interest the most different mechanics from a historical, social and cultural point of view, concerning groups and various currents of Satanism, past and present.”


Academic Writing: Or, How to Avoid Being Sick Over Your Laptop

My writing process is thus:

1: Vomit words on a page.
2: Leave it for two weeks.
3: Re-write everything.

Or, as my friend Erik Östling puts it, the old “puke and revise” method.

Much of academic writing is taking two separate ideas and merging them together. A basic formula could be: here’s this one dudette’s theory on something religion-related, and here’s this religious group behaving in ways I find interesting, so my job is to see what is gained or lost by applying this theory to the practice. Does it fit well? Why or why not? What insights can we glean from the group’s practice? How could the theory be revised? Etc.

It’s simple enough. Good scholarship does this kind of thing seamlessly.

The problem, is that academics are rarely marrying just two ideas (that’s for undergrads [P.S.: I love teaching undergrads.]), but are instead trying to present a seamless disscussing on one topic by weaving in multiple theories, discourses, and ideas in a way that does not leave the reader confused, angry, and unwilling to fund, publish, and work with you.

I am obsessive. Before beginning to write I collect mass amounts of data before I get a clear idea of what it is I am actually trying to do, overwhelming the issue and confusing myself for days, before I finally streamline my thoughts. The eventual clarity is a glorious euphoria: Oh this is what my paper’s about!!!

The current problem under review: how do you write a thesis proposal on the Church of Satan, which incorporates two separate fields of study, western esotericism, and media/material culture studies? That is, how do I look at the material culture of these Satanists in a way that corresponds to similar studies on magical groups, without the study reading as disjointed?

For those unfamiliar, it is somewhat rare to study contemporary ritual/magical groups in terms of material culture. First, because modern magicians simply are not as studied, and second, because when they are, they are usually studied under the rubric of western esotericism (not material culture).

There is always overlap between fields. The issue, is that when you go cross-disciplinary, your methodology requires refining to adapt to the tug-and-pull of different disciplines, in a way that benefits the particular study best. The proposal I put together at the beginning of my doctorate is no longer completely relevant, as I’ve refined my approach. It’s now time to put it all together.

That’s where I’m at. I’m not yet certain how to do this. And I have a thesis proposal (over)due.

Lucky for me I can vomit on my blog.

Media Studies: Centralizing the Material in the Magical

For my proposed dissertation (an ethnographic study of members of the Church of Satan), I am increasingly interested in media studies, often studied under its umbrella discipline of communications. Media studies can be viewed as the study of material culture, but it is much more. It is the study of objects, technologies, music, and any other sensorial aspect of human experience that informs how humans behave and act. Materical culture has certainly been studied before under various disciplines, but when we merge them with religious studies, we begin to see a methodological divide between the material (historically denounced as lesser, base, and carnal) and the spiritual (the high culture, the philosophical, the superior). We therefore have an implied dichotomy, a fracture in our approach that places the spiritual above the material. I want to usurp that ostensible divide.

Jeremy Stolow, in his article, “Religion and/as Media,” claims that media has been credited with, “a key role in the world-historical disembedding of religion from public life, and its relocation within the private walls of bourgeois domesticity, or deeper still, the interior, silent universe of individual readers and their infinitely replicable activities of decoding texts” (2005, 122). Stolow is addressing the notion that “religion” is often considered a private, interior phenomenon, and that anything that happens externally from one’s thoughts is somehow lesser, not quite as genuine.

This type of scheme is a holdover from Protestant denouncements of Catholic rituals, now embedded in academia, which is itself an idea as old as Plato’s dualism. The same mind/body, spirit/material, divine/human (and its gendered equivalent: male/female) fracture gets played out over and over again in various forms, where the first is considered the ultimate, perfect, and pure, while the latter is considered flawed, imperfect, and corrupt. This ostensible dichotomy has only relatively recently been challenged in academia.

Stolow suggests that, while media and religion as an emerging discipline is naturally cross-disciplinary, that the most fruitful approach is to begin with the premise: “religion as media” (125). That is, that:

Throughout history, in myriad forms, communication with and about ‘the sacred’ has always been enacted through written texts, ritual gestures, images and icons, architecture, music, incense, special garments, saintly relics and other objects of veneration, markings upon flesh, wagging tongues and other body parts.

The premise, then, of media studies, is to center the technologies involved in mediating religious phenomena. Place them in the foreground, not relegated to (an implied lesser) afterthought. Much of the history of religious studies has emphasized philosophy, theology, interiority, and sincerity, and has then claimed that mediation has “compromised, diluted, or eviscerated religious belief” (Morgan 2008, 1). [1]

Stolow is instead claiming that religious studies have always been studies of media. Religion is, by nature, mediated. Given this, perhaps media studies is best understood as a methodological approach that places the communication through various media as the foundational starting point.

My next project/article is on media (the objects) used in Satanic magical rituals that have cross purposes: The Satanic Bible not only as ritual script, but as a talisman, an object of importance with aesthetic properties; writing out one’s own script is not solely for liturgical guidance, but has artistic value as the letters scrawled in cursive, written with nice pens, become word-images; music played during ritual is more than an aural experience, as your presence in the chamber alters the resonance and sound and promotes a physiological reaction. Books are smelled. Letters are touched. Sound is felt.

In Satanic ritual magic, heightened sensorial experiences are designed to stimulate a transformative and effective magical rite. The media, then, is the magic.

This next project on Satanic magic is cross-disciplinary, using studies in material culture alongside studies in magic and esotericism, approached with the intent of centralizing the material aspect. David Morgan’s introduction to religion and media studies lists the multiple and varied fields and scholars engaged with media studies, addressing similar questions in the field, stemming from different disciplines. It is fitting to end this blog post with his open-ended commentary that: “To date, participants have felt no urgency to limit the discourse or dominate it by discipline, field, or methodology. For many of us, this is a sign of robust intellectual health” (2008, 13).

[1] As an important parallel: challenging the very term “belief” as a defining factor of religion is an ongoing discourse in religious studies. I can state anecdotally that it is a hurdle introducing the concept that religion takes many (unrecognizable) forms to new students, many of which have little or nothing to do with “belief.”