The Church Of Satan

The Church of Satan was founded m California in 1966 by Anton Szandor LaVey, a colourful figure of considerable personal magnetism, with a varied and unusual life already behind him. He had earned his living from music as a teenager, then worked in a circus as a lion tamer, calliope player, fortuneteller and hypnotist, was once employed as photographer m a police crime-laboratory and in an insurance company, and had been an organist and a clinical hypnotist. He was widely read in magic and the occult, on which he gave public lectures. His published rituals are in a variety of languages including Hnochian. This is a magical language attributed to the magician John Dee, translated by the Order of the Golden Dawn and believed to be older than Sanskrit and possibly to denve from Ancient Egypt. LaVey's taste m music, at least as far as his choice of music for ritual is i concerned, seems to be very different from the heavy-metal rock music associated in the popular imagination with satamsts. His status as a celebrity has been enhanced by the publicity attendant on his conducting a satamc funeral for an American serviceman and a wedding for the daughter of a prominent New York lawyer. Added to this, his dramatic appearance, with shaven head, slanting eyes and the black circle of his moustache and beard enhancing his devilish looks, attracted wide publicity at the foundation of his Church. They must have helped to earn him his part in the horror film Rosemary's Baby; he had been appointed consultant to the director for his knowledge of magic and satanic symbolism. LaVey wrote several books expounding the Church of Satan's philosophy and describing its rituals. The best-known are The Satanic Bible (1969) and The Satanic Rituals (1972), both of which have an influence far beyond the membership of the Church of Satan.

The Church of Satan's philosophy is close to that of Aleister Crowley and contains both elitist and anarchist elements. One well-known owner of an occult bookshop, who is not a satamst himself, has described it as 'anarchistic hedonism'. First of all it is a rebellion against the authority of the Christian Church and a denial of its principles and theology, in particular what is seen as its rejection of the animal side of human beings. The Church of Satan proclaims that the physical nature of human beings is not something to deny but to indulge and celebrate. In labelling it 'evil' and 'dirty' the Christian Church has denied human beings part of their identity. The Satanic Bible contains an impassioned attack on the hypocrisy of Christianity and the wrongs done in the name of this religion. Using the figure of Satan is a symbol of this revolt against authority as it was in the romantic tradition, but LaVey denied that the organization worshipped Satan. On the contrary all that there is to worship is deemed to be within the individual. The rebel stance relates to all authority. LaVey wrote that 'He who saith "thou shalt" to me is my mortal foe' (1969: 30, 1:5), and according to one writer in the magazine The Black Ftame who quotes this same dictum, 'A true Satanic society means a population of free-spirited, well-armed, fully-conscious, self-disciplined individuals, who will neither need nor tolerate any external entity "protecting" them or telling them what they can and cannot do\ On the other hand, LaVey was a firm believer m order and observing the rale of law, which appears somewhat inconsistent with rebellion against authority.

Like that of other satamst groups the Church of Satan's philosophy is also social Darwinist. In the article just quoted there is also a reference to 'human garbage' and to survival of the fittest as a natural law with which governments should not interfere. It is only the elite who are envisaged as free and disciplined only by themselves. In the preface to his book The Satanic Rituals LaVey envisages a time when 'it is the higher man's role to produce the children of the future1 (1972:12). The former workers will produce fewer children because their work will be done by machines: 'One chenshed child who can create will be more important than ten who can produce — or fifty who can believe' (LaVey, 1972; italics m original).

The rituals described in Tlte Satanic Rituals are dramatic performances, in which the clothing worn by the participants, the actions and music (all light classical pieces whose tides or 'spookiness' link them to satamsm) are all specified. The language to be used m the ntuai is laid down, though translations are also provided where this is not English. However, LaVey specifies that only one language should be actually used m a ritual; if the prescribed language is not understood by participants, then they must study the translations beforehand to ensure they understand everything that will be said. The attention to detail of the provisions is entirely intentional, for the performance is created to engage the participants' feelings and aesthetic senses and to be appreciated at several levels, like a theatrical performance. In some rituals a naked woman acts as the altar (her body constitutes the altar and does not merely lie on it), but there is no place for sexual orgies, even xn the ritual that is entided 'Das Tierdrama' (the Beast Play). Alfred, who witnessed 52 rituals, writes that they included on occasion, 'stunning visual and vocal effects' and were appreciated as 'powerful psychodrama' (Alfred, 1976:188). There is no sacrifice., either animal or human, and the only ritual m which a child may be present is the Satanic Baptism for children. In this ritual, care is taken to express everything simply and ensure that the child understands; the parallel baptism for adults uses archaic and complex language.

In The Satanic Bible LaVey described three types of satamc ntuai: sex ntuai by which he meant love magic, the magic to attract the desired partner; compassionate ntuai, which is magic to help people, including oneself; and finally, destructive magic which is motivated by negative emotions. LaVey described the last as a curse or hex, but hex also has the sense of black magic or witchcraft, so the Christian idea of a connection between witchcraft and satanism survives in this anti-Chnstian religion, if only minimally.

The equipment required is set out in detail. Black hooded robes should be worn by the male participants; younger women should dress attractively but older women wear black. Black is symbolic of the Powers of Darkness and the sexually suggestive clothing of the young women will stimulate feeling in the men. All participants should wear amulets of either the pentagram or the Baphomet. The latter is the god whom the Templars were accused of worshipping; the nineteenth-century French magician Eliphas Levi identified it with the Devil from the pack of Tarot cards, as did Aleister Crowley. The head of a goat can also be fitted into the reversed five-point star, the pentagram, which is the symbol of magicians, and this is how the Church of Satan represents it. The symbol of Baphomet is also placed behind the altar. The objects required are: candles, all black except for one white one, which is associated with destructive magic and is placed to the nght of the altar to represent nght-hand path magicians; a bell, which is rung mne times to mark the beginning and end of the ntuai; a chalice, which may be of any matenal except gold; an alcoholic dnnk, to represent the Elixir of Life that will be drunk from the chalice (LaVey was reputed to use whisky); a sword, representing aggressive force; a model phallus, to be used as a spnnkler for water asperged in benediction; a gong !with a full nch tone'; and parchment (or failing that, paper), on which requests to Satan are wntten before being burnt m the flame of a candle. In pnvate ntuals not all the paraphernalia is necessary.

LaVey emphasized that the ntuals are not acts of worship but serve particular purposes or celebrate particular occasions. The Satanic ntuals are magical acts and 'are not designed to hold the celebrant in thrall, but rather to serve his goals', that is to enhance his magickal powers. Because they aim to provide an occasion for entertaining unspoken ideas and impulses, and of invoking the opposite, inversions and blasphemies may be used for effect. They also have a liberating effect. Observers' accounts stress the theatncality of the performances they witnessed and this is deliberate. Pageantry is considered a necessary means for enhancing will and supporting participants in their desires. This enhancement of the Will enables satanists to improve their magical techmques. In fact, much of the riïiÉ

Church's ntual is expected to be performed by a satamst on his/her own. This is because concentration is essential and the larger the group the more likely it is that one or other person is not fully engaged m the ritual and thereby prevents it attaining its object.

The Satanic Rituals contains scripts for the more complex and public rituals using the equipment described in The Satanic Bible. The spoken word predominates and while there is music and drama there are no sacrifices or sexual orgies. A further gloss was put on LaVey's instructions 20 years later by Blanche Barton, who is described as an administrator of the Church of Satan and LaVey's authorized biographer.7 In it LaVey is quoted at length. Her book about the Church of Satan attempts to correct public misapprehensions about the rituals. The chapter on 'How to perform Satanic Rituals' also stresses the aims of the rituals, of which the first and most important is to suspend the kind of thought used cnucally m everyday life, m favour of emotion, which is important in magick. Emotion is enhanced by rituals that are described as "Intellectual Decompression Chambers' and which strengthen the power of the satamst. It is emphasized that the expenence of magickal ntual is as important as knowledge about it, a view which is consistent with the general importance placed on feeling.

Organization

At first, the Church was centralized and hierarchical m structure and the local groups or 'Grottoes' were subordinate to the Central Grotto headed by LaVey. There was a hierarchical system of degrees, with tests and required tasks to be performed before passing from one to the next. Medallions with different coloured backgrounds indicated the different degrees. Public ntuals were performed and group activities organized. In 1975 a different, more decentralized system was introduced, dissolving the formal hierarchy and giving independence to local groups. Public ntuals ceased as did the orgamzed activities and members were advised to demonstrate their independence by ceasing to rely on any structure for their satamsm. Senionty m the organization was to be demonstrated by as much withdrawal from 'the common herd' as possible, into self-employment in the creative fields or similar forms of employment. Satamsm is described by Barton as 'intended to be an alignment, a lifestyle' (1990:125) rather than an organization mirroring the Christian Church.

The Church of Satan was, from the outset, law-abiding; LaVey was firmly against acts that broke state laws, enacted for the communal good, and his attitude to law and order was said to be conservative (Alfred, 1976). To begin with, he and his disciples flaunted their .disregard of 'respectability', displaying their hedomsm in public and showing their commitment to the idea chat man [sic] is just another animal, that the acts denoted 'sins' by the Christian are to be valued as sources of gratification and should be indulged m. However, drugs were excluded from this because they were illegal and because they reduced one's active control over the environment; for the same reason, while alcohol was used to enhance the imagination and reduce inhibitions, drunkenness was considered foolish and 'unmagical' (Alfred, 1976:186). Alfred alleges that this public display was subsequently toned down and the emphasis on dramatic display replaced by a stress on the hard work needed to amass magical knowledge.

According to Alfred, who studied the Church of Satan during its early years, 1968 to 1973, and was a member during the first of these five years, it did not appeal to young people: most members were over 30 (LaVey himself was in his middle thirties when he founded the Church) and many of those who were younger were m their late twenties. A recruitment campaign in Berkeley during: 1968 met with little success (Alfred, 1976: 193). Alfred explained this as the result of the Church of Satan's hostility to drug-taking, but it should be remembered that this was the time of direct political action by Berkeley students, to whom the indirect rebellion offered by satamsm might have seemed ineffectual. He also commented that while the Church at that time claimed 7,000 members (Gordon Melton refers to the claim as 70,000), there were only 400 or 500 active members receiving the newsletter, The Cloven Hoof. During the period in which he participated m them, the rituals were attended by about 20 to 30 members from a wider 'pool' numbering about 50 to 60. These were Jmosdy middle-class white people in their forties, thirties and late twenties, including many professionals' (Alfred, 1976:194). Like LaVey himself and many neo-pagans (see Hutton in this volume} many of these were autodidacts who pursued their study of magic with great seriousness.

It is likely that the easy availability of LaVey's writings and the freedom to create independent groups rather than join the central organization of the Church of Satan made for a proliferation of small groups with different names, instead of the addition of branches to the Church of Satan itself. There appears to have been only one defection from the Church: it became Michael Aquino's Temple of Set, which, although much smaller, is the Church of Satan's main rival and is never mentioned by name. 77ie Black Flame does refer to other affiliated organizations, mosdy in the USA and Canada, although the establishment of two groups in New Zealand was noted 'in one issue. There is, for example, no branch m Britain, but two of the smaller independent satamst groups seem to resemble the Church of Satan quite closely and there may be individual members of the Church in Britain. As time went by, the Church of Satan was also concerned to distinguish itself from imitative groups or those that used the label of satamst as a pretext for other activities. Barton lists the character istics of pseudo-Satanic groups in order to warn readers; the list reveals the Church of Satan's views by showing what they are against. Groups which offer the intending member sex, the killing of animals, or drugs, who claim direct revelations from Satan or talk of secrets accessible only to the initiate and of ''ethical' satanism, are to be avoided. The attitude of individuals and groups to LaVey's works, which appear to have become a sacred canon despite the insistence on members writing their own rituals and using their own experience, is a definitive test. Particular types of groups to be generally avoided are: feminist Wiccans, who are said to 'practice more male-bashing than magic' (Barton, 1990: 127); New Age groups 'draped m satanic trappings', 'jargon-laden Christians masquerading as Satarusts' (these are believed to be undercover missionaries); and what are described as "pen-pals and lonely hearts social groups"., presumably those who advertise for members, which the Church of Satan does not. However, Barton also writes approvingly of affiliated groups that share the same goals, even if they emphasize one type of imagery over another. On the other hand, if they wish to use the name of the Church of Satan or speak as its representative, they must join the organization and pay the subscnption. Decentralization did not result in a decrease of LaVey's authonty either; until his death he was said to be keeping !a tight rein' on the Church and planning its future development.

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