By Jacques Breytenbach

The senseless school murder of 16-year-old Jacques Pretorius on August 18 has triggered a nationwide debate on Satanism.

Various experts on the subject disagree on whether or not the actions of former Grade 12 pupil at Nic Diederichs Technical High School in Krugersdorp, Morne Harmse, were motivated by a devotion to the Devil.

In a country like South Africa where Christianity is the overriding religion, anything Satanic is regarded as "evil".

But there are many different forms of Satanism. On the one extreme, there are those that commit murder in the name of Satan. On the other end of the spectrum, there are those who say Satanism is a religion that advocates the realisation of one's full potential in a worldly realm.

Satanism itself is not a crime, but some practices are illegal.

The current leader of the Church of Satan, Peter H Gilmore, writes in one of his essays entitled Satanism - The Feared Religion: "Satanists do not believe in the supernatural, neither in God nor in the Devil. The Satanist is his own god. Satan is a symbol of Man living as his prideful, carnal nature dictates.

"The reality behind Satan is simply the dark evolutionary force of entropy that permeates all of nature and provides the drive for survival and propagation inherent in all living things.

"Satan is not a conscious entity to be worshipped, rather a reservoir of power inside each human to be tapped at will.

"Thus any concept of sacrifice is rejected as a Christian aberration - in Satanism there's no deity to which one can sacrifice," Gilmore writes.

Dr Attie Lamprecht, senior superintendent at the SAPS detectives' head office, who specialises in harmful religious practices, said the access young people have to information in the modern world has increased in the number of people who become involved in Satanism.

"There has always been an interest in Satanism among the youth, but due to the massive influx of films, books and music, more and more youngsters find Satanism fascinating. They become so-called free stylists who start practising white magic. This does not let them cause harm to others, but in time, they turn to black magic," he said.

Lamprecht said although Satanism is not a crime, it is a belief system that leads to crime.

"There are some of the Satanic Rules that will get you in trouble sooner or later. Satan represents all of the sins, and young people apply them to their lives.

"One of these rules entails that a Satanist not complain about his or her problems to anyone. The person then holds all of this emotional hurt inside of him or herself. One day this becomes too much and the person snaps," he said.

Lamprecht said Satanism in South Africa is different to other forms in the world.

"In the United Kingdom, there are what we call Satanic Purists. This has predominantly to do with self-worship. But Satanism in South Africa is characteristically against Jesus Christ. Therefore, it is against all that is good.

"Satanism among our country's youth is multi-layered, where violent music, together with drugs and various other factors, combine, making the child prone to committing a crime," he said.

According to Lamprecht, most of the country's Satanists are between the ages of 14 and 22. He did, however, emphasise that Satanists come from both poor and rich families.

Lamprecht said the major change in modern-day Satanism is that it has become electronic.

"Satanists are making use of blogs, MXit and SMSs to send threatening and intimidating messages to their peers. The Satanism of today has taken up the form of psychological abuse.

"As a religion it also rebels against conformity. This leads youngsters to become rebellious against school rules, and ultimately, against the laws of the country.

"This gives them meaning as they see themselves rising above the system. But because of this constant confrontation against the norms of law and authority, they become emotionally drained," he said.

Dr Ado Krige, chairman of the Extreme Freedom Foundation, which acts against drug abuse and the spread of Satanism in schools, said although Satanism has many definitions, it all comes down to rejecting Jesus and God.

"Satanism is not just a cult. As soon as someone declares himself a Satanist and as a person who worships Satan, that person rejects Jesus and God," he said.

Krige said Satanism goes beyond the Harmse case.

"In my eyes Harmse is a wannabe. There are people in higher places that are busy spreading anarchy. Look at the rap artist Eminem.

"He sings about drugs and violence. Now a young person listens to all of this and starts to live it out in his or her own life.

"Both Harmse and the two teenagers responsible for the Columbine High School massacre in the United States in 1999 were all influenced by the media.

"There are a lot of Satanists the world has to deal with. They are all walking time bombs," he said.

Krige said his foundation deals with around 100 young Satanists a year. Out of this number, close to 80 percent of them are successfully rehabilitated.

According to Krige, the Satanist movement started in 1967 with the Rolling Stones and the Beatles.

Krige said the worst case he dealt with in his 25 years in the field of the occult happened in 1989.

"There was a young man we worked with who was busy with his tertiary education. After he was out partying with his friends one night, he walked back to his residence through a field.

"He stumbled on a homeless man sleeping in the field. The young man picked up a rock and started to smash the old man's head.

"He then returned to his residence to fetch a knife. He went back to the scene and cut the man's heart out and started to eat it. This was his offering to the Devil," he said.

Krige recalls a 10-year-old boy from Vryburg who was involved in four Satanic sacrifices in which victims' skulls would be cracked open so the boy could eat their brains.

Krige is planning to travel 6 000km through the country on his Harley Davidson to speak out against Satanism.