The survey results break down like this:
Why this is wrong
- The question may be misleading. The census question is ‘What is your religion?’ and many Satanists don’t see it as a religion. It has been noted that this census question leads to unusual results compared to other surveys.
- 13,813 people in England and Wales selected religions with under 100 members. This list has not been published as far as I know. This may include Luciferians, LaVeyans, and other sub-groups of Satanism.
- Many Satanists may feel that it is safer not to self-identify as a Satanist. This may be because of a fear of other people in their households finding out, or a fear of government persecution.
- The Church of Satan doesn’t share membership numbers. They feel that if they’re seen as too big they’ll be viewed as a threat, and if they’re too small they’ll be ignored. Some Satanists may follow this principle, it’s probably a good idea, the census results for Satanists are used in sensationalist articles.
- The last census was is 2011, so the numbers are out of date anyway.
A big question has to be raised about what defines a Satanist, and there’s no clear-cut answer to this one because Satanism is a broad church. There’s a big distinction to be made between theistic Satanists (who believe that in some form or other Satan is a real being) and atheist Satanists, who see him as an ideal to aspire to.
This means that there’s a lot of Satanists who might not be recognized as such, and people who don’t call themselves Satanists who others may think are. This is true of every religion, but it’s especially true of Satanism. The current head of the Church of Satan doesn’t see Theistic Satanists as Satanists at all. Meanwhile, some theists consider everyone not in their particular religious group to be really worshiping Satan.
Even if you avoid being too exclusive or too hysterical in defining Satanism, there are Left Hand Path groups that are similar to Satanism in some ways, but might not use the term. The Temple of Set split from the Church of Satan, and use their symbols. But they call their God Set rather than Satan.
In trying to work out how many Satanists there are, we should consider that studies into Satanism in teenagers. Most big Satanic organisations don’t initiate children, but delinquent and mentally unwell young people sometimes adopt Satanist beliefs and practices. Some may want to argue that this is not valid.
If you want to guess how many Satanists there are you should consider a few things: what makes a religion a religion? How far can you diverge from the common beliefs of a religious community before you’re no longer a member? Can being young/irrational mean that a religious belief doesn’t count?
We can’t really guess how many Satanists there are in the UK, but I think that thinking about it tells us a lot about religion in general.