Followers of the Horned God must practise their beliefs in private, says the South African Satanic Church (SASC).
Believed to be the first registered church of its kind in South Africa, the church said earlier this week that it believed it was safer for its members to stay home at present.
The new stage three lockdown rules allow for limited gatherings by faith-based organisations.
The SASC’s advice to believers is contrary to its founding ethos of wanting to come out of the shadows and change what it claims is a misrepresentation of its beliefs.
“The church council decided that we will not have gatherings or rituals, or Bible study meetings until there is a drastic decrease in the number of people being infected with Covid-19 in South Africa,” said the church’s co-founder, Riaan Swiegelaar.
“As Satanists, we first and foremost hold science and rational thought to be the indicating factor in determining the safety of our congregation. Online platforms have been implemented and put in place,” he added.
Swiegelaar said the church has been streaming services and meetings via its online social media channels while offering one-on-one counselling at its church offices under strict regulations and precautions.
The church was registered as a non-profit company in February after deliberating and planning for more than four years.
Swiegelaar said it would not disclose how many members it has at present. Its Facebook profile indicates it has about 500 online members.
“Unfortunately, no satanic organisation, including ourselves, discloses its exact membership numbers. This is to prevent hysteria among our fellow citizens. Our numbers are also increasing daily.”
Co-founder Adri Norton said the church’s mission was to challenge the general public’s understanding of their beliefs.
Satanism has been used as a scapegoat for too long, Norton said. In particular, he wants to correct the misconceptions arising from the “satanic panic” of the 1990s.
“I realised satanism was being used as an excuse to blame criminal behaviour on satanists and their beliefs. There’s no organisation that represents satanism in a positive way and the media portrays it in a negative light. That started to bother me.”
The SASC said it is not an offshoot of the American Church of Satan founded by Anton LaVey in 1966.
But the organisation adheres to LaVey’s Nine Satanic Statements, which form the introduction of the Satanic Bible. Among them is the precept that Satan represents indulgence and not abstinence, that he represents wisdom, and that satanism has been the best friend of the Christian church, as it has “kept it in business for all these years”.
LaVey’s church was founded in San Francisco, and is considered a new religious movement by theologians.
The South African church also emphasises it does not believe in devil worship, but rather in individualism and the equal promotion of all religious and faith movements.
Swiegelaar, who is also a psychic medium, said he had been a Christian youth pastor before becoming disenchanted with Christianity. That started a journey of questioning mainstream religion and discovering himself.
“I grew up in the 1980s, at the beginning of the ‘satanic panic’ era, in a very Afrikaans, Christian house. I was then a pastor in a Christian church. When I read the satanic Bible, I recognised myself and I started questioning.”
Swiegelaar said the response to the church has been positive so far, with even members of his Christian family coming to terms with his beliefs.
“You’ll never find a satanist disrespecting another belief. We believe all religions have their place. We are here to promote religious plurality in South Africa,” he said.
Norton and Swiegelaar said they do not worship the devil and are not the enemies of other religious belief systems.
The church also had community outreach projects which donated time and resources to social and animal welfare organisations, which had been well received.