‘The Little Book Of Satanism’ Author La Carmina Talks Debunking The Satanic Panic

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Journalist, blogger and TV host La Carmina has been documenting alternative culture for years, and her new book, The Little Book of Satanism: A Guide to Satanic History, Culture, and Wisdom, aims to shine a light on a widely misunderstood phenomenon.

The book explores the different depictions and perceptions of Satan throughout history, leading to the Satanic Panic of the eighties and even today, contrasting with the outspoken progressive activism of the Satanic Temple.

La Carmina spoke to me about her research process, and intentions when writing the book.

Tell us about yourself, and your blog.

I started my La Carmina blog in 2007. I mainly wrote about Japanese fashion, pop culture and subculture. Growing up in Vancouver, Canada, I was very much into the gothic and alternative scene.

I also investigated the Satanism scene in Japan – it’s very unique there, it has a different expression that I found fascinating. That was my first foray into Satanism. That’s all grown over the years, leading to the TV stuff, and The Little Book of Satanism.

How does Satanism manifest in Japan?

In the West, you hear more about how Satanism is a reaction to fundamentalist Christianity. Many people consider the Satanic symbols to be blasphemous; there’s quite a negative knee-jerk reaction to the idea.

In Japan, only around 1% of people are Christian, so it takes on quite a different cultural context; if you walk around with shirts with inverted crosses, or 666, then people don’t bat an eye. They think you’re just into alternative fashion. So you don’t have the same pushback against a Christian narrative imposed upon you that people might have in the West.

But the metaphor of Satan is still very meaningful for Japanese Satanists. In a society that’s very conservative and conformist, it is meaningful to self-identity with Satan, the questioner of authority who dares defy the rules.

What motivated you to write the book?

I was really intrigued by the Japanese Satanic scene for well over a decade. I would get to know the Satanists there, write about their parties, their shops. The Satanic Temple was founded in 2013 and that ushered in a new movement of socially and politically engaged Satanism that was quite new, and also really interesting to me.

I was fascinated in how they use their standing as a religion to push back against theocratic encroachments that threaten the separation of church and state, or laws that are against LGBTQ, minorities, or reproductive rights. I thought it was so cool that Satanists are taking up this banner and standing up for the underdog, in the tradition of Satan being the rebel, cast out of heaven.

I was writing more and more about this for different publications, as well as my site, and that led to the book deal with Simon & Schuster, for The Little Book of Satanism. There’s been so much in the news about Satanism and the Satanic Panic; people are quite interested, but there’s also a lot of misinformation out there. People don’t really know what it means, they think Satanists maybe believe in a real Satan, or are devil-worshipers, and that’s just not the case at all.

So, we both thought doing a little book to explain the history, the roots of Satan, could help people understand what Satanists really do stand for.

What was your research process like?

The research process involved getting a number of dense academic sources, including books published about Satanism by the Oxford University Press. To distill all that into an accessible format for the general public was the biggest challenge.

I wanted to make sure I covered all the basics for someone who might not know anything about Satanists. I wanted to make sure I covered where the devil’s story came from, and what the names and symbols mean.

But I really dove deep into more niche topics too, like Hellfire Clubs and witch trials. The different historical moments I mention – the Knights Templar, the Affair of the Poisons, the rise of Satan in pop culture. There’s so many different aspects to cover.

But the devil is in the details; I hope this book encourages people to check out the great sources listed in the bibliography if they want more.

What defines Satanism as a religion?

Some people define religion through belief in the supernatural, but if we take a deeper look, that’s not necessarily the case. Even with historically well-established religions like Buddhism or Jainism, there are many communities within that that are non-theistic, where there’s no teachings that go outside of science, that have nothing to do with a deity or worshiping the supernatural.

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And yet, you would consider them as legitimate religions, they have communities, they have a shared philosophy. They have values that are meaningful to the people within it.

I think you see that too, not just in non-theistic Satanism, but in other new religious movements that maybe other people haven’t heard about.

Did anything surprise you when you were doing your research?

The same theme kept cropping up, and it really hit home for me that throughout all the centuries, so many people were marginalized and even put to death with accusations of Satanism.

Most of these people were minorities, considered the wrong religion, maybe Muslim or pagans. Women were targeted in the witch hunts, and men also, but it seems a lot of women bore the brunt of these accusations. Lots of women on the fringes, people that were different, who did not fit into society.

You see that all the way through, in the Satanic Panic of the eighties and nineties, where metalheads were accused of committing Satanic crimes. Even today, it’s still ongoing.

For me, going through and writing the history, it really hit home how Satanism is meaningful for people today because they stand up for centuries of injustices, for those who are not favored in society.

Why do you think a fear of Satan seemed to manifest in pop culture around the sixties and seventies?

I think a lot of different factors; the sixties were such an interesting time of cultural change and social flux. So when movies like Rosemary’s Baby or The Exorcist came out, or songs about the devil, they made a big impact on popular consciousness, and it just kept on growing through the eighties with Satanic Panic.

It’s many different social factors, but also I would point to the greater spread of media, through TV and movies. Now, social media and the internet disseminates these ideas worldwide. It’s good and bad; it allows people to spread ideas and organize, but also spread misinformation.

You still see a lot of Satanic Panic tropes in modern horror movies. What do you make of that?

That’s another thing I found interesting when writing the book. You grow up with these ideas of signing away your soul, making a pact with the devil, but people don’t really consider where it all came from. I was laying out in the chapter about Faust, that it’s really medieval stories that kept growing and leading to works of literature, which led to these movie tropes. It’s very much embedded in our culture and public consciousness at this point.

We could even go back to before the devil was invented, people told stories of evil spirits because they wanted to understand the world around them. I think it’s human nature to create stories, we’re drawn to dark things, we’re intrigued and excited by them and that’s why people have always loved horror-type narratives in moves. I can see why it’s still popular today.

I didn’t know that the Satanic Temple was associated with so much progressive activism. How do you think they can communicate their message better?

That’s always an uphill battle. I think actions speak loudly, the good works they do on big and small scale. I know they get in the news a lot for the bigger projects, like the Baphomet statue. But small community organizing works, if you hear that your local Satanists are organizing a clothing drive or something, that helps.

In Vancouver and Ottawa they have chapters, or congregations, as they’re called these days. And they do organize community events and charity drives. And just having sources out there like the documentary Hail Satan?, and hopefully my book, to help people have another perspective on Satanism.

Were you surprised to see a lot of these old Satanic Panic tropes return, in the form of QAnon and other conspiracy theories?

No! I don’t have much high hopes for humanity improving critical thinking. I think the threads are always there. These conspiracy theories have long been sewn into public consciousness. It helps certain people increase their power; you see that back during the days of the Knights Templar, where the king hunted them down and accused them of being Satanists in order to get their land and money.

There’s a lot of power in this narrative of anti-Satanism. Because it helps groups consolidate their own power by demonizing others, unfortunately I think that’s going to continue, no matter what.

One of the tenets of the Satanic Temple is that people are fallible, and should be willing to change their opinions based on evidence. That’s a real skill, a difficult and challenging one that people don’t talk about so much.

I think we should allow room for dialogue and to allow people to change if they’re making a genuine effort.

What is your favorite pop culture depiction of Satan?

I love Japanese cute culture, so I would say the Kawaii versions of Satan. The Hello Kitty brand Sanrio, they even have a devil-like character, Kuromi. Not exactly Satan, but a cute, devilish character.

What do you hope readers would gain from reading your book?

I hope they approach it with an open mind and are curious about finding out more. I like to approach this from a non-fiction historical perspective, so I’m not at all encouraging anyone to even agree with the religion, or practice it, by any means.

I just hope that it can help bring a better understanding of what Satanists really are.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity

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