June 4th, 2011
01:00 AM ET

Study: How Satanists see death

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

(CNN) - You probably won't hear "Amazing Grace" at a Satanist's funeral, but you just might hear "My Way" by Frank Sinatra. A researcher from Concordia University recently published a journal article with some rare access to high level Satanists exploring what they think about death and dying.

Members in the Church of Satan are traced back to Anton LeVey who in 1966 founded the church in San Fransisco. He is also the author of the canon of sorts for the group, The Satanic Bible first published in 1969. Today, the church is based in New York and membership numbers are hard to come by.

One of the main tenets of the faith is atheism. Not just a disbelief in God but also in the devil or Satan. Satanists believe God is an invention of man and instead deify themselves.

According to the official website of the Church of Satan: "We Satanists are thus our own 'Gods,' and as beneficent 'deities' we can offer love to those who deserve it and deliver our wrath (within reasonable limits) upon those who seek to cause us—or that which we cherish—harm."

Cimminnee Holt, the author of the journal article explains further:

"Members of the Church of Satan, that is Satanists, assert that they are a life-affirming religion, yet reject the notion of an external mystical dimension and a spiritual afterlife (yet retain a particular understanding of a “worldly” afterlife), while also actively engaging in ritual practices infused with death imagery."

Holt writes that even though the Church of Satan does not believe in a physical afterlife (neither heaven nor hell), their doctrine speaks to a practitioner living on in this world through the life they led.

"By building on their own charismatic display of autonomy and exhibiting mastery in their respective fields, individuals increase the likelihood of more people remembering them after death. Satanists are, literally, creating their own afterlife in the memories of those they have

After a long back and forth between Holt and two high level clergy in the Church of Satan, the two Satanists agreed to speak as official representatives of the church.

The Satanists gave the researcher unique insights into how they saw death and their own funerals. Holt writes:

Warlock JPL states that a secular ceremony containing no religious elements would be acceptable, but outward signs of his religious affiliation are unnecessary. He would like to be remembered fondly by loved ones and for his life to be celebrated. Similarly, Reverend JR agrees that those whom he knew and loved should attend his funereal. The funerary details are to be decided by family. However, as a “strictly endogamous man”, the Reverend maintains that his funeral would “naturally” be “Satanic in nature if not in strict ritual.”


"The memory of the Reverend JR’s father is an example of Satanic afterlife; it was the father’s life that is important, not his death, and the imprint of that life on his loved ones creates a posthumous legacy. The Reverend informs me that his father requested Frank Sinatra’s 'My Way' to play at his funeral. Reverend JR expresses that he felt his father had lived up to the sentiment of the song, a sentiment the Reverend shares in his own life (pers. comm. Oct. 26, 2007)."

The communications between Holt and the Satanists stretched over four years. Holt said she deliberately left out identifying details, like occupation and geographic location, about the two Satanists. The wall of privacy seems to have helped the Satanists to open up about their thoughts on death.

Holt's article appeared in The Journal of Religion and Culture, which is produced by graduate students from the Department of Religion at Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Belief • Death • Satanism

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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.