Security forces hound shadowy underground groups

Beirut, Lebanon - It’s not exactly illegal to worship the devil in Lebanon. But it is illegal to commit blasphemy or behave in a way that is considered immoral, and it was on these grounds that eight young people were arrested last week on suspicion of devil worshipping.

The five men and three women, who were also reported to be engaging in acts of self-harm and drug abuse, were referred to the military prosecutor’s office, as one of the men was a soldier in the Lebanese Army, according to a judicial source.

Despite it being a potential criminal offense, there is little known – though no shortage of rumors – about devil worship and Satanism in Lebanon, including who is, or isn’t, a devil worshipper.

In 2003, more than 50 individuals were arrested on charges similar to last week’s case and the Internal Security Forces was ordered to crack down on underground meeting places. Only a handful were ever convicted.

Around the same time, a man who was playing a guitar and using drugs at a cemetery in Beirut was referred by former State Prosecutor Judge Adnan Addoum to the judiciary for further investigation of devil worship.

Many cases of suspected devil worship are not entirely straightforward and it’s not clear on what basis security forces differentiate between a group of young people listening to unfamiliar music and Satanists or devil worshipers.

This is not to say, however, that devil worship isn’t practiced in Lebanon.

In an interview with The Daily Star, a self-described former devil worshipper, who asked that his name not be used, said that there used to be 13 underground churches throughout the country and most of them held weekly rituals.

“Around 40 people used to gather in the underground church that I attended,” he said, adding that it was in the Kesrouan town of Bouar. “There were inverted pentagrams and other satanic signs,” he added, referring to the five- pointed star encircling the face of a goat, which is said to represent carnality.

The man, who renounced the practice six years ago and is now a marketing student, said that emotional problems initially led him to the “cult.”

“Personally, I got into it after my parents divorced when I was 10 years old,” he said, adding that most of his friends in the cult were also suffering from psychological problems at the time.

“We used to sacrifice cats and some other animals in our gatherings in warehouses,” the student said.

He also said that he used to attend similar gatherings in Saudi Arabia and there were what are called “annual red mass” gatherings with different types of animal sacrifice.

“Sometimes [we listened to] gothic and classic music and at other times it was heavy metal or death metal,” the former worshipper said. “People also took drugs as they tried to boost their moods during the mass.”

According to the former worshipper, most of the people who practice devil worship in Lebanon aren’t affiliated with any broader organization or strands of thought like “Theistic Satanism” or “LaVeyan Satanism,” linking them to groups abroad.

LaVeyan Satanism was founded by the American writer and musician Anton LaVey in 1966, and argues that man’s inherent being is Satan.

LaVey published his own bible in which he described Satan as a balancing dark force in nature.

“Although some used to call us vampires, we believed that there is God and there is Devil, but we worshiped the Devil instead of God,” the former worshipper explained.

“It is a temporary phase someone passes through … many of today’s teenagers are wearing emo clothes, which has become the new phenomenon in the country,” he said, referring to a popular style of music and dress.

But it’s not a passing trend for all. A current follower of LaVeyan Satanism, who asked to be identified as Seth, told The Daily Star that becoming a member of the cult was a personal choice for him.

“I believe Satan is in all of us … He represents man’s carnal nature,” said Seth, who first heard of LaVeyan Satanism from a friend.

“For us,” he said, “there is no God or Devil.” The 25-year-old, who lives in Beirut, worships alone. “I am my own God,” he said, “and I don’t preach it to anyone.”