Church of Satan
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Church of Satan
Anton Szandor LaVey brought in the dawn of the Age of Satan with the creation of the First Church of Satan in San Francisco, April 30, 1966.
On April 30, 1966 (Walpurgisnacht, a night legendarily favored by the disciples of darkness), Anton Szandor LaVey (1930–1997) shaved his head, donned black clerical clothing, complete with white collar, and proclaimed himself Satan’s high priest. This was the dawn of the Age of Satan, LaVey boldly announced. It was the morning of magic and undefiled wisdom, and he thereby established the First Church of Satan in San Francisco.
There was nothing new about a belief in magical powers or in worshipping Satan. What was new was LaVey’s use of the term church as part of his organization’s title. In addition to ceremonies and rituals devoted to the Prince of Darkness, there were weddings, funerals, and children baptized in the name of Satan.
When LaVey, high priest of the Satanic Church of America, united the socialite Judith Case and the freelance writer John Raymond in the bonds of matrimony, he performed the rites over the naked body of a woman who served as the living altar. Later, when LaVey explained the ritual significance of the living altar to reporters, he remarked that an altar shouldn’t be a cold, unyielding slab of sterile stone or wood. It should be a symbol of unrestrained lust and indulgence.
It was quite a wedding for the first public marriage ceremony ever held in the United States by a satanic cult. The bride shunned the traditional white gown to appear in a bright red dress. The groom wore a black turtleneck sweater and complementary coat. The high priest stole the show, however, in a black cape lined with scarlet silk and a close-fitting blood-red hood from which two white horns protruded.
In 1969 LaVey published The Satanic Bible, affirming the teachings of the Church of Satan and proclaiming Satanism as being “dedicated to the dark, hidden force in nature responsible for the workings of earthly affairs for which science and religion had no explanation.” He explained that he was moved to establish the Church of Satan when he saw the need for a church that would “recapture man’s body and carnal desires as objects of celebration.” The First Church of Satan does not recognize the existence of Satan as an actual being, but as a symbol representing materialism. The church emphasizes that the figure of Satan stands for an inner attitude and is never to be regarded as an object onto which human powers are projected in order to worship what is only human in an externalized form.
The Satanic Bible is divided into four sections, or books, each corresponding to one of the four hermetic elements: fire, air, earth, and water. The first section, the “Book of Satan,” advises the reader that the “ponderous rule books of hypocrisy are no longer needed” and that it is time to relearn the Law of the Jungle. The second section, the “Book of Lucifer,” explains how the Roman god Lucifer, the light bearer, the spirit of enlightenment, was made synonymous with evil through Christian teachings. The “Book of Belial” is a basic text on ritual and ceremonial magic expressed in Satanist terms. The fourth section, the “Book of Leviathan,” stresses the importance of the spoken word in successful magic.
Satanist doctrine celebrates man the animal. It exalts sexual lust above spiritual love, claiming that the latter is but a sham. Satanism declares that violence must be met with violence and that to love one’s neighbor is a utopian unreality. Satanists condemn prayer and confession as vain, futile gestures, believing that the way to achieve what one wants is through magic and aggressive effort—and that the best method of ridding oneself of guilt is not to assume it in the first place. If Satanists make a mistake, they recognize sincerely that to err is human; and instead of involving themselves in efforts to cleanse themselves, they examine the situation in order to determine exactly what went wrong and how to prevent its happening again. They believe that the way to greater levels of personal perfection and an exploration of the deeper mysteries of life is through study and the performance of rituals emphasizing the sensual nature of humankind and directing this power toward the release of psychic or emotional energy.
Because Christian churches, especially the Roman Catholic, are considered anathema to the Prince of Darkness, Satanists parody Christian rituals and symbols in their ceremonies. For example, the cross is used, but it is displayed with the long beam pointing downward. Satanists may on occasion use the pentagram or five-pointed star, traditionally favored by the practitioners of Wicca or witchcraft, but as with the cross, it is inverted, resting upon a single point, rather than two. Satanists insist that their parodying and inversion of other religions’ rites and symbols are not done strictly for purposes of blasphemy; rather, such use appropriates the power inherent in the rite or symbol and inverts it for Satan’s purposes.
The Satanic Bible lists nine criteria that define Satanism for a new age. Satan represents:
- indulgence, instead of abstinence;
- vital existence, instead of spiritual pipe dreams;
- undefiled wisdom, instead of hypocritical self-deceit;
- kindness to those who deserve it, instead of love wasted on ingrates;
- vengeance, instead of turning the other cheek;
- responsibility to the responsible, instead of concern for psychic vampires;
- man as just another animal more often worse than those that walk on all fours, who because of his divine spiritual and intellectual development, has become the most vicious animal of all;
- all of the so-called sins, as they lead to physical, mental, or emotional gratification;
- the best friend the Church has ever had, as he has kept it in business all these years.
LaVey became immediately popular in the media, often allowing reporters to attend certain rituals that he conducted over the living altar of a woman’s naked body in his church, the famous “Black House,” said originally to have been a brothel. In a sudden rush came attention from movie stars, work as a technical adviser on such motion pictures as Rosemary’s Baby—and the enmity of millions of devout Christians, who saw in LaVey a kind of antichrist. After a few years, the death threats and harassment had become oppressive, and LaVey went underground, ceased all public ceremonies, and recast his church as a secret society.
In 1991 LaVey lost ownership of the “Black House” when a judge ordered him to sell it, along with such mementos as a shrunken head and a stuffed wolf, and split the proceeds with his estranged wife, Diane Hagerty.
LaVey died on October 30, the day before Halloween, 1997, and soon after his death, what remained of his estate became the object of a legal struggle between his oldest daughter, Karla, and Blanche Barton, his longtime consort and the mother of his son Xerxes. (LaVey’s younger daughter, Zeena, renounced the Church of Satan in 1990 and became a priest in the Temple of Set.) The First Church of Satan continues today under the direction of High Priestess Blanche Barton and the Magister (High Priest) Peter H. Gilmore.
Recently, when Magister Gilmore was asked about the revelation of New Testament scholars that the long-feared number of the Beast of Revelation might be 616, rather than 666, he replied that Satanists will always use something that frightens Christians. It matters not if the number is 616 or 666, the Satanist will use whatever is most detested.