Smalltown Finland, mid-90’s. Evangelical Christians had imported the American Satanic Panic wholesale to the otherwise pretty secular Scandi mindscape Finns had. The idea that evil forces were in play in the hidden margins of society fit in surprisingly well with the general cultural background: while in the 90’s, the Finnish population was predominantly composed of secularized Protestants, the old ways weren’t that far into the past. Anthropologists had been able to track down wise men and women, who knew the words of creation and destruction as the last representatives of an oral tradition probably dating back to prehistoric times, up until the 1940’s. Everyone had a great-grandmother or great-great-granduncle rumoured to be a powerful witch (for photos, see here). In this folkloric tradition, nature spirits of great age and wisdom yet often malignant motives abounded, and devils of various sorts danced with outcast humans in the night, leaving changelings in the cradles of unsuspecting women, and seduced newlyweds on their wedding night like some primeval Dr. Frank’n’Furter…
Whether it was a result of the recentness of our folklore traditions or of the adamancy of the Evangelicals, otherwise nonreligious Finns found themselves fearful of tombstone-kicking Devil worshippers, and the curiosity of many a 90’s teen, myself included, was irrevocably piqued. Those in league with the Devil were described simultaneously as misinformed teens in want of better things to do, and as a fearsome force to be reckoned with. Most teens who wondered if there’s something to those rumors carried on as before. I wondered if there was something real that lie beyond the rumors spread by the Evangelicals. After all, the Evangelicals were busy tossing around exaggerated condemnations of all the other stuff I was into, from the Tarot to masturbation. I wished to research the topic, and did so with any materials even distantly related I could find at the local library, from the materials peddled by the Evangelicals (in which I hoped, in vain, to find nuggets of truth), to Nietzsche (which provided them). With great difficulty, I procured a copy of the Satanic Bible, which opened to me the vistas I had been looking for: a rational, deeply ethical approach to a quest for individual strength, indulgence, and recognition. The Satanic Bible was a big “I thought so!” moment for me: there was something real, heartfelt and profoundly rational behind all the far-fledged rumours.
Then the unthinkable happened. I guess the Evangelicals had their moment of “I thought so!” in the tragic events of 1998 when a handful of drunken teens and a 23-year-old ringleader ritually murdered their peer. None of these individuals had anything to do with any Initiatory organization (remember no reputable organization would take underage members), but by virtue of at least some of them being self-professed Satanists, they turned the small-but-steady bonfire of Scandi Satanic Panic into a wildfire running across the land.
With the extremely limited information available to an underage person in a small town, I sought to make sense of everything. Was there any connection between the philosophy I had only just begun to be exposed to and those tragic events? Could I even believe what I was reading? It seemed so surreal. It was all anyone ever talked about. Consequently, while I was trying to make sense of my own budding philosophy, the Satanic Panic became a national ethos. My mother, who’d been chucklingly condoning my Tarot hobby, now tried to forbid it. Based on my wardrobe choices, pretty much everyone I ever met asked me about whether I’d sacrificed any humans lately. It was a madhouse.
Feeling the call of something deep and dark yet persuaded by the peer pressure to fear for the integrity of my ethics (I know, the irony!), I tossed out the Satanic Bible and became a teenage Asatru for a while. Then a teenage Finnish Reconstructionist. Then a teenage Wiccan. You know the drill. I wasn’t finding what I was looking for. Whether I admitted it to myself or not, I was already in league with the Devil.
Looking back to those chaotic, tragic times now, I can see myself searching ardently for what I was too young and too poorly placed in space and time to hold on to. But, like Theseus in the middle of the labyrinth, I think I found then the end of Ariadne’s thread – a thread I followed for long, ardent years to find my way where I am now. It’s a thread that’s getting stronger, my path clearer.
The Temple of Set is not the Church of Satan. But the Church of Satan has had an important role in the Temple’s coming into being. Despite the uneven quality of LaVey’s writing, I still find The Satanic Bible a veritable treasure trove of insight. While LaVey was wrong about many things, I think he, like I, beyond his gestures of showmanship, was truly in league with the Devil, and his work has helped many of us find our way where we are now.
Neither the Church of Satan not the Temple of Set has ever condoned any blood sacrifice, human or animal. As our General Information and Admissions Letter succinctly puts it, “we have not found that any interest or activity which an enlightened, mature intellect would regard as undignified, sadistic, criminal, or depraved is desirable, much less essential to our work”. My teenage panic reaction, then, was not at all based on facts – facts were hard to come by back then. But it served to shock me into evaluating critically what I had been enthusing about prodigiously. And no Tarot reading could help me foresee that it would take me a decade of critical thought to come back full circle and remanifest that teenage spark in a matured form by joining the Temple of Set.
This story of my formative experience has three “take home lessons”. One, anyone who is even remotely interested in the Left Hand Path (or perceived as such) will have to, at some point, come to terms with the atrocious and unfounded rumours surrounding it. These rumours are intended to confuse and it is up to us to not be swayed but find the facts, however hard those are to come by. Second, while underage teens are never admitted to organisations like the Temple of Set, it is often at that time that an early spark of the Initiation we will later pursue is born: the teenage years have a quite natural affinity with the archetype of the Devil as rebel. And third, due to events such as the ones described here, Satanic Panic in Scandinavia isn’t the privilege of Evangelic Christians. As a people, we have an ambivalent relationship with the Devil. We’re both a people for whom a darker aesthetic is commonplace (as testified by the number of metal bands per capita) and a people aware of a fairly recent history where the Devil has served as an excuse for inexcusable violence. This means that those of us who genuinely pursue a Left-Hand Path Initiation have to start strong on the ethics out of necessity. Starting strong on ethics being another thing I and LaVey have in common…