Thursday, April 05, 2012

Just your average Satanists next door

Satanists have an image problem, no doubt of that. The name "Satan" to most people means sheer evil. An organization calling itself Church of Satan sounds like a mockery of Christian churches with names like Church of Christ. Well, of course it does, and that's a carefully groomed image.

When Anton Szandor LaVey (1930-1997) founded the Church of Satan in 1966 he was all out for publicity, and as far as the public was concerned he was evil incarnate. He advised Roman Polanski for Rosemary's Baby. That movie set the image for Satanists right up until the Manson family. After that it was the heavy metal rock era, when Satanists looked more costumed, like someone's idea of a Satanist rather than the genteel devil worshipers of Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse's building.

I never knew much about Satanists, just a vague notion gained from years of being peripherally exposed via media. I never got very upset about them, thinking them small in number and over-publicized. If I thought about Satanists vs Christians it was more broadly stereotyped, that if you confront a Satanist you have a warning. He wears what he is on the outside, but a religious Christian can be well camouflaged. You're never quite sure what is going on inside his mind.

I'm bringing this up because of an article I found about the Church of Satan in the March, 1970 issue of McCall's magazine. It was the Age of Aquarius; the occult was popular. Reporter Judith Rascoe, who went to LaVey's Victorian house in San Francisco and interviewed him for the magazine, came up with a look at the church, which had some of the trappings of the popular image, but was also, like most businesses, mundane in its day-to-day existence.


LaVey was an ex-carnival, ex-circus person, a musician and a hypnotist. He had the look. He was tall, he shaved his head when other men were growing their hair long. He had a carefully trimmed goatee. He wore all black. He looked like, you know, the devil.

When Rascoe went to visit she met LaVey's wife at the time, Diane, and his then seven year old daughter, Zeena. (Zeena, with her half-sister Karla, went on talk shows years later to quell notions popular at the time of the hysteria about Satanism, that Satanists bore babies just to sacrifice them, or kidnapped children for ritual abuse and sacrifice.) Zeena, talking to Rascoe, was backdropped by a glass case holding a human skeleton, on which sat a glass jar with something floating in a red liquid. Zeena talked about her lost baby tooth. (And it made me wonder, would the tooth fairy want to go in that house?)

"Doctor" Anton LaVey was forthcoming about his beliefs, but dispelled some notions about the people who comprised his Satan worshiping congregation. From the article:

Talking about his weekly column ["Letters From the Devil" in The National Insider] . . . he said, ‘I get confessions from people who feel that I'll pat them on the back or give them praise because of all the sinning they've done, so naturally ex-cons and people in prison write and say they're going to be out in three weeks, they want to join the church. They feel . . . that this is a clearinghouse for perverts, sex creeps, really losers, people that have been rejected by society. And it isn't. Because the true image of the Satanist, from the beginning of what by one name or another would be considered Satanism, is that of the Master, the Leader, the controller of societies, the image makers. All these people that have been winners have practiced intrinsically a Satanic concept of life.' As he puts it in [his book] The Satanic Bible: 'Positive thinking and positive action add up to results.’
Gee, Norman Vincent Peale channeled by Anton Szandor LaVey! Who would'a ever thunk it? But LaVey also mentioned that "magic works," because he practiced it all the time. Curses on your enemies are high on the list of things you can accomplish with Satanic magic. You've just got to have that positive mental attitude!

Over four decades after the McCall's article, there have been some murderers linked to Satanism (Richard Ramirez, the "Night Stalker," for example), the aforementioned Satanic ritual abuse hysteria during the eighties, and hundreds of movies, both bad and good, about Satanists, the devil, and evil.

The Satanic Mass was covered by Rascoe in her article. LaVey presided in full Satanic regalia, a naked girl was the altar, which in 1970 was considered hot stuff.


 But after the mass the church members mingled for a snack of coffee and devil's food cake (of course). Were those fingers with cake icing on them the same fingers that could, in some midnight demonic ritual at an altar in the dark woods, strangle or stab newborn babies? I don't know, but giving them the benefit of the doubt, I think even Satanists probably like babies, love their own children, have dogs and cats for pets, and hold down everyday jobs.

But as I said at the top, Satanists definitely have an image problem.

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2 comments:

Kirk said...

I've known a few people who believe "The Satanic Bible" comes straight from the Devil itself, even if LeVay meant "Satanic" in a more metaphorical than literal sense. A friend once told me, "You either choose God's Bible, or the Satanic Bible, and I know which one I'm choosing! [he chose the former.]" I asked him, "God's Bible was written 2000 years ago. Why did Satan wait so long [until 1969] to write a rebuttel?" My friend just stared at me, uncomprehending. He actually thought both bibles were written at the same time!

Postino said...

It doesn't particularly surprise me about your friend's ignorance. I've had people argue the same sorts of things with me, and I just shrug them off. Except for your friend, who could be shown that the Satanic Bible wasn't written at the same time as the Bible, it's hard to argue with strongly held beliefs, because they don't have to depend on facts but on faith.