A talk with a member of the Church of Satan reveals that there is a thriving community of hundreds who profess the controversial belief right here in Egypt.
Satanism - the mention of the word alone conjures up images of shady hooded figures, occultism and child sacrifices and strikes fear into the hearts of the moral majority everywhere. Yet, the word is regularly misused in Egypt to describe anybody who questions the conventional teachings of Islam. In a country where only three religions are officially recognised, the idea of a thriving Satanist community would seemingly be unheard of.
But a conversation with one member of the Church of Satan indicates otherwise. In public, Ellen appears like a normal member of society. She could be a bank clerk, a doctor or a school teacher. But Ellen, has a secret - she is a Satanist. Ellen, a high priestess in the church - which has hundreds of members in Egypt - believes she can finally get the country switched on to Satanism.
She has been involved with the sect for over ten years after first becoming entranced by the teachings of the church's founder and infamous occultist Anton LaVey. "I first became involved with the philosophy by seeing Anton LaVey interviewed on TV. I then read his books and realised that I was a Satanist and then later joined the organisation after completing my college education."
Ellen is quick to attempt to dispel the mainstream view of the church, in which members are painted as evil sadists with a penchant for human sacrifice. "The Church of Satan does not "worship" or believe in Satan, nor does it believe in gods. Rather the Church follows the belief that one's self is one's own 'God.' The religion also does not believe in suppression of desire and human nature."
"I personally find it to be uplifting to support the organisation and make it clear to the world what our philosophy is, so that the assumptions of being devil worshipers or occultists can be cleared-up simply by pointing to the growing body of literature which Church of Satan members keep producing," she continues.
The beliefs of the church centre largely around humanity, nature and hedonism, and its members are renowned for their sceptical attitude towards conventional religion. Speaking about her own experiences as a church member, Ellen is quick to point out the differences between her reality as a practising member, and that portrayed by conservative segments of society.
"My preconceptions matched what I later confirmed to be the reality, since I went right to the source and read the material by Anton LaVey, [rather than] being mislead by people writing articles that were meant to further their own agendas."
Howecver, Ellen claims that Church members are far from evil. On the contrary she believes that followers are "well-rounded" and creative members of society on a search for spiritual answers. "Since Satanism champions individualism, there is no 'average' member. [The things that] most members hold in common are intelligence, creativity, and a drive to succeed in their life goals. They are emotionally well-balanced people who are full of joy in their very unique lives. They are atheists who are sceptics, questioning things until they can gather enough facts to make decisions. They are inspiring people as the many different ways of being creative lead to some wonderful music, art, literature, films, sculpture, comedy, crafts and so on!"
Shockingly, Ellen claims that the sect already has thousands of members globally. including scores of secret members right here in Egypt. Several groups are dedicated to the religion in Egypt, amounting to more than 100 active members. "We have many thousands of members and they are in just about every nation on the globe. We already have members there [in Egypt], and throughout the Middle East, but they keep underground as the Muslim majority would persecute them if their true philosophy were revealed publicly."
Speaking about the dangers faced by members in conservative societies such as Egypt, Ellen claims that the risks are minimal for the country's secret Satanists, of which the exact number is still unknown. "Since members are under no obligation to reveal their affiliation to anyone, family and friends are not challenges. One learns to share with those who understand, and keep things to oneself when dealing with bigots. The real challenge is finding the limits of our own capabilities and then living within the reality of what our talents can bring us when we cultivate them in a disciplined manner."
"We don’t fool ourselves into thinking we are better than we are, we prefer being realistic about our abilities as human beings."
Ellen may understand the limits of the human condition, but only Allah knows how long before Egypt is willing to understand her beliefs.