By Vexen Crabtree 2002
So, about the etymological history of "sin", its history and usage throughout the religions of the past. I show the history to be related and based around the materialism of social justice, crime and punishment. Satanism utilizes the word "sin" in the writings of Anton LaVey, and the cardinal sin of Satanism is Stupidity.
I discuss some of these sins throughout my pages:
Sin in English:
NOUN: 1. A transgression of a religious or moral law, especially when deliberate. 2. Theology a. Deliberate disobedience to the known will of God. b. A condition of estrangement from God resulting from such disobedience. 3. Something regarded as being shameful, deplorable, or utterly wrong.
ETYMOLOGY: Middle English sinne, from Old English synn1.
Middle English: sinne
from Old English: synn
akin to Old High German sunta sin;
and probably to Latin: sont-, sons guilty, est is -- more at IS 2.
'For a word with such an interesting meaning, sin has quite a pedestrian history. In Middle English (1125) it was sinne and before that (prior to 830), the Old English word was synn. It is related to the Old High German sunta and possibly also to Latin sons, "guilty".'3
Lewis and Short give the definition as "guilty, criminal" and give its Latin derivation as being from sanskrit4.
“[The Satanist] does not pray for forgiveness for his wrong doings. [...] When a Satanist commits a wrong, he realizes that it is natural to make a mistake - and if he is truly sorry about what he has done, he will learn from it and take care not to do the same thing again. If he is not honestly sorry about what he has done, and knows he will do the same thing over and over, he has no business confessing and asking forgiveness in the first place.”
For many Satanists it seems silly, superfluous, as any Satanist knows naturally to look after themselves. Anton LaVey states, after compiling the Satanic sins in 1987, "For years, people have asked Church of Satan representatives "[...]do you have any sins like other religions?" Our answer has always been "No". But the time has come to amend that response. [...] We consider a number of things "sinful" that people could avoid if they worked a little."
LaVey felt the sins were important to stress, things that Satanists should look out for. It is clear LaVey was not using the term "sin" in the cosmic sense that the monotheistic religions use it.
The secular usage of the term
The word "sin" and its meaning differs from religion to religion. The three Abrahamic religions (Christianity, Islam and Judaism) use the term in a very similar way. However even within these religions some people use the word "sin" to include "the homosexual lifestyle"5. The term sin can easily be seen to change meaning even within religions, from person to person, let alone inter-religion! I think it's useful for religions to state what their understanding of these common terms is.
Webster's dictionary gives an example of: "an offence.... as, sin against good manners". The word "sin" when it comes to "good manners" is vastly different to what a "sin" is when it comes to religion. Satanism uses the term more closely to the secular meaning of a "sin against something" than the usage of the word by the Abrahamic religions. Sin in Satanism mostly means something that is bad for the individual (stupidity is the cardinal sin). This is in accordance with monotheistic usage of the word as "deviance from God's law" [dictionary] because such deviance is not good for the self. The other sins included in The Nine Satanic Sins include other self-harming items such as "empty posturing" and "self-deceit".
As the word "sin" in the West is associated primarily with the white light monotheistic religions, guilt and self denial (of animal instincts) then from this point of view Satan can be said to represent the sins of Christianity. However this picture would be incomplete if we didn't note that some of the no-no's of Satanism match with some of those of Christianity. The most notable point of agreement is Anton LaVey's statement that "Counterproductive Pride" is a Sin6. Christianity claims that all forms of pride are sin, so it would seem that there is at least one type of pride that Satanism and Christianity both consider bad. Anton LaVey's playful and provocative attitude towards Christianity leads us to statements such as "Satan represents all of the so-called sins"7. But it has deeper meaning: Satan doesn't represent mankind as a pure, idealistic or particularly moral species, and therefore Satan represents all of our negative traits as well as our positive ones. Satan, in representing mankind, representing not only all of our virtues, but all of our failings too.
“The Satanist [...] should have the ability to decide what is just.”
Satanism is individualistic, not legalistic, especially when it comes to morals and rules, which is a feature of left-hand-path religion in general. Outsiders to Satanism sometimes approach the rules and laws too legalistically: they assume that like religions they are familiar with that there is a taboo involved in breaking the laws of Satanism. There is no taboo. It is not compulsory for Satanists to follow "rules". It is not expected. Satanists never engage in debates over whether someone has broken these. A Satanist who absconded another and said "hey, aren't you forgetting this particular Satanic Rule of the Earth..." would be laughed at and generally considered a legalistic sheep. Unless of course that the Satanist in question cannot defend himself, in which case, he's fair game. A left-hand-path religion is where the individual mostly learns for hirself what is right or wrong. According to one's personal beliefs "right" and "wrong" can differ greatly. There are very few absolutes or universals in Satanism.”
The brief etymology arrived at a definition that arises either from High German or "possibly Latin".
Latin: Guilt, or Criminal
If our usage of the word derives from ancient High German language9, not Latin, it would have been from the Northern tribes. In either case, the usage of the word for "guilty" and "criminal" would have been influenced by both languages10. Both the Northern Tribes and the Romans had a sense of justice (guilt) and criminality which are embedded, originally, in animism, tribalism and the law of the talon named by the Romans: Lex Talionis. This is that you pay the consequences of your own actions. Fight against others, and they will fight against you. The strongest and cleverest emerge victorious. Sin, social guilt or criminal behavior, was a failure of the individual to fully take into account the results of hir own actions.
As the concepts of criminality and guilt are social not religious in nature I won't follow this line any more other than to say that social cause and effect as one basis of this term is important when understanding the nature of sin in general.
The Abrahamic Religions
Islam and Christianity view sin as a transgression against God's will. Their lists of sins are well known and I won't go into detail. Going against God is seen as being bad for the self. Guilt became guilt before the judgement of God and criminal behavior in society was criminal before the court of God: As all goodness was associated with God, so was all social order attributed to the patriarchal goodness of God.
Zoroastrianism has no concept of repentance from sin
Delavega states in "Concept of [Christian] sin does not exist Zoroastrianism" that "Mazda has already set up the Principle of Consequences, which establishes that you will receive the consequences of your choices in kind and automatically"11 which agrees more strongly with Satanism's view of the nature of sin. I think there are some general agreements between religions about their terminology, but the specifics of what is sinful and how you avoid sin differs from religion to religion.
Tribal gods and local spirits were literally everywhere in the days before organized religion. With no centralized religions the forces we invented in order to describe the confusing natural world were many and varied. Superstitious and primitive, spiritual guides would try their honest best to control these forces. I theorize that "sin", in ancient animism, would have been a failure to concede to the guidelines of the local spiritual guide (given various titles at various times in history like Shaman, Priest, Doctor), which were in turn attempts to control the material world. Sin was failure to do whatever was required to get the crops to grow and the sun to shine. This cause and effect, the same as the Principle Of Consequences, is the basis of the very notion that we can interact positively or negatively with spirits in the first place, so is the basis of "sin".
The circle of life in Buddhism is the effect of Karma on our future lives due to current actions. Buddhism also does not contain a concept of sin, although in comparison it could be said that sin is that which results in a negative karma or prevents a person from attaining Buddhahood. A search on www.buddhanet.net for sin resulted in very few hits, however one text explained the usage of the word 'sin' in chapter 7 of the Samyuktagama with the words: "Sin means defilement and obstacles. As long as we constantly become attached to various things as real, we will not see the truth[...]"12, a usage of the word to mean behavior which has negative outcomes for the self, which seems to be the usage that all religions adopt. The Five Precepts of Buddhism can also be considered "sins"13. This is of particular importance because Buddhism, atheistic, asserts that our actions determine our own fate without the need for the intervention of gods.
Principle Of Consequences and Repentance
The Principle Of Consequences is the basis of sin: Erroneous choices lead to results that are bad for the self and/or the local community. In some religions you do not need to directly seek forgiveness for sins. The same in Satanism. Instead the simple logical doctrine is that (in Delavega's words): "When you err, you do not go to Mazda Ahura crying for forgiveness. You change your mind about your choice! Interestingly, the word used in the New Testament for this is repentance, which in the original means metanoia: that is meta=change and noia=mind"11. In Satanism where stupidity is the primary sin, once you have learned the effects of your own stupidity all you need to is change your actions. No grovelling before Satan is necessary, unless Satan is the name you give to your Dominatrix and the sin was intentional. But that's another story altogether.
“When a Satanist commits a wrong, he realizes that it is natural to make a mistake - and if he is truly sorry about what he has done, he will learn from it and take care not to do the same thing again. If he is not honestly sorry about what he has done, and knows he will do the same thing over and over, he has no business confessing and asking forgiveness in the first place.”
Sin was seen as a guiding light, a good god, whereas the Sun was seen as 'pitiless, burning things and drying them up.'14
Satanism's concept of sin can be said to derive from self-preservation and the laws of retribution, mixed with the obvious influence within Satanism of Odinism from the Northern Tribes. Anton LaVey, the secular world, Buddhists, the Romans, Zoroastrians and the Northern tribes would have use the word in a way that defines a sin as being something that is bad for the self. The failure of the individual to see the consequences of their own actions is stupidity, the Cardinal Sin of Satanism. The result of this stupidity is self-harming. Repentance, literally meaning "changing your mind" is sought only from the self in the form of learning from your mistakes. Stupidity is the cause of all mistakes and this includes failing to learn from your own mistakes.
Current edition: 2002 Nov 02
Parent page: Laws, Sins and Rules of Satanism: A Lack of Legalism
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(1994) The Wordsworth Dictionary of Mythology. Paperback book. Published by Wordsworth Editions Ltd.