Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Out with the Old, In with the Moldy: a New (of sorts) Fiction Release from Kenaz Filan

To ring out 2013, I dug up (ba-dump CHING) some old fiction I wrote between 2002 and 2005 and put together my first Kindle Direct Publication.  Covering the period between 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, It's a Wonderful Afterlife describes the continuing misadventures of Afterlife Orientation Guide Charley DelCruccio and his metabolically challenged friends on the other side.

Others may promise you the secrets of the dead. It's a Wonderful Afterlife delivers... and at a reasonable cost!   You get six big stories for $1.99: that's at least a dozen trips to the toilet with your new Christmas iPad. If you've got Amazon Prime you can even borrow it for free.  So you can drop a deuce with Charley, Dr. Ira, St. Gerard Majella and even Jesus Christ himself -- and it won't cost you a dime.  (Sorry, toilet paper not included in this deal: it's electrons all the way down).

Act now. Or don't. It ain't like the dead are going anywhere.

That out of the way: Happy New Year to one and all.  May New Year's Eve 2014 leave us all happier, healthier and more prosperous than we are today.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Heaven of Animals: for Ursula Roma and Ruth Waytz

Recently two friends lost their longtime animal companions.  As often happens I find myself silent in the face of grief and love.  All I can offer is these words from poet James Dickey.

Rest in peace, Maggie Roma: may your memory be blessed, Lefty Waytz. 

The Heaven of Animals

Here they are. The soft eyes open.   
If they have lived in a wood
It is a wood.
If they have lived on plains
It is grass rolling
Under their feet forever.

Having no souls, they have come,   
Anyway, beyond their knowing.   
Their instincts wholly bloom   
And they rise.
The soft eyes open.

To match them, the landscape flowers,   
Outdoing, desperately
Outdoing what is required:
The richest wood,
The deepest field.

For some of these,
It could not be the place
It is, without blood.
These hunt, as they have done,
But with claws and teeth grown perfect,

More deadly than they can believe.   
They stalk more silently,
And crouch on the limbs of trees,   
And their descent
Upon the bright backs of their prey

May take years
In a sovereign floating of joy.   
And those that are hunted   
Know this as their life,
Their reward: to walk

Under such trees in full knowledge   
Of what is in glory above them,   
And to feel no fear,
But acceptance, compliance.   
Fulfilling themselves without pain

At the cycle’s center,
They tremble, they walk   
Under the tree,
They fall, they are torn,   
They rise, they walk again.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Die Kehre: Anton LaVey after 1975

1966-1975 (Anno Satanas I - IX, if you prefer) is often considered the Church of Satan's Golden Age. Three weeks before Walpurgisnacht 1966 Time magazine asked "Is God Dead?" But while the faithful kept vigil at a heavenly hospice, Satan was alive, well and playing to an ever-growing crowd. Grottos were springing up all around the world; celebrities like Sammy Davis Jr. and Jayne Mansfield proudly proclaimed themselves Satanists; major newspapers and magazines featured LaVey's scowling visage and provided a sympathetic platform for his ideas. 

Then Anton LaVey tore down the edifice he had built. After years of publicity-seeking ranging from pet lions to topless Witches' Sabbaths, he turned away from the spotlight: he dissolved the Grottos and reduced the Church of Satan to a membership card and an irregularly-produced newsletter. When he finally re-emerged, the one-time Black Pope had reinvented himself as a "junkyard philosopher" whose carnal religion was now a mere "aesthetic ideal."   His post-1975 work drew from sources ranging from totalitarian art to film noir but showed little interest in the occult trappings of the early Church.  And while The Satanic Bible was an affectionately sarcastic message to the benighted, LaVey's later  writings feature a bleak misanthropy reminiscent of Dostoyevsky's Notes from Underground

This material is generally ignored by LaVey's most ardent imitators, while The Satanic Bible gets extensively plagiarized, misquoted and misunderstood. The visual cliches of Satanism -- Baphomets, black robes, shaved heads and goatees, etc. -- are displayed in a style which can best be described as the bastard spawn of Hammer Films and Hot Topic.  Then there are the inevitable Jackass-level stunts to "raise public awareness" and "make Satanism relevant again." Instead of looking back to the days of Nehru jackets and love beads, they might consider why LaVey rejected what they find valuable. 

Much as he thought he could keep a lion in a San Francisco Victorian, LaVey thought he could tame and control the human religious urge. In 1970 he commented that he gave people “Ayn Rand’s philosophy with ceremony and ritual added.” An early Church handout, reproduced in The Satanic Bible as "The God You Save May Be Yourself," makes his intentions clear.
Man needs ritual and dogma, but no law states that an externalized god is necessary in order to engage in ritual and ceremony performed in a god's name! Could it be that when he closes the gap between himself and his "God" he sees the demon of pride creeping forth - that very embodiment of Lucifer appearing in his midst? He no longer can view himself in two parts, the carnal and the spiritual, but sees them merge as one, and then to his abysmal horror, discovers that they are only the carnal - AND ALWAYS WERE! Then he either hates himself to death, day by day - or rejoices that he is what he is! 
If he hates himself, he searches out new and more complex spiritual paths of "enlightenment" in hopes that he may split himself up again in his quest for stronger and more externalized "gods" to scourge his poor miserable shell. If he accepts himself, but recognizes that ritual and ceremony are the important devices that his invented religions have utilized to sustain his faith in a lie, then it is the SAME FORM OF RITUAL that will sustain his faith in the truth - the primitive pageantry that will give his awareness of his own majestic being added substance.
LaVey envisioned ritual as a celebration and a release valve. You rid yourself of unnecessary guilt and "white light" conditioning; you express anger or desire; you discharge unnecessary tension. After the ritual ends you do something worthwhile and enjoyable with your life.  Ceremonies were tools and Satan was a useful symbol: both were a means to an end, not an end in themselves.  But for many of his followers the map became the territory. LaVey told them there were no gurus and they made him their guru. He said no god gave a shit about them and they swore eternal allegiance to their Lord and Master Satan. They turned tools into holy symbols and psychodrama into worship: the cure became yet another form of the disease.

Though the Church of Satan grew dramatically during that period, LaVey learned that bigger is not always better. Bigger means more warm bodies seeking entertainment. Bigger means more broken people looking for a healer. Bigger means delegating responsibility to subordinates -- something that never came easy to Anton LaVey -- and being blamed when they pull stunts ranging from embarrassing to criminal. As LaVey told Blanche Barton in Secret Life of a Satanist.
It became rather embarrassing after a while. I’d step off the plane and there they’d be, all huddled together to meet me in their black velvet robes and capes with huge Baphomets around their necks. Many of our grass-roots people didn’t know how much about subtlety then, or decorum. I was trying to present a cultured, mannered imager and their idea of protest or shock was to wear their ‘lodge regalia’ into the nearest Denny’s.
What arose in place of the Grotto System was closer to the Magic Circle from whence the Church of Satan had sprung. Rather than reaching out to the masses LaVey focused on those who understood his message and were acting on it.  These people had worked out their anger against Big Daddy Jesus long ago and were ready to move on to the next step.  In those heady early days LaVey might have dreamed that Satanism would become a world movement. By 1975 he was more interested in a festival of friends where like-minded people could put his ideas into practice.  And "occultniks" were not welcome at the party.

Alas, Anton LaVey had called up that which he could not put down. Now that Ol' Splitfoot had a bible and a church, it became clear to many that he wanted to be worshipped. Understanding that bible, or even reading it, was optional. Satanic Metal took devil worship and turned it up to eleven, giving new meaning to the words "infernal noise." Later the Internet spawned a plethora of "Satanic" websites chock full of spinning skulls, inverted crosses, and spelling errors.  

Much of this material is easy enough to ignore or to mock. A sociologist might note that it functions much as the Church of Satan's early public rituals did.  A metal show or a debate on the Infernul Order of Leviuthun's forum entertains the participants: it introduces them, in a garbled fashion, to Satanism and Anton LaVey. Most will go on to other distractions. Others will miss the point entirely while some will understand. Of those a few may even become valuable and productive CoS members.  But all are internalizing elements of Anton LaVey's philosophy and disseminating them to a wider audience.  

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Of Poppies, Philosophy and Mystical Woo: for Daniel S. Hummel II

In his 2-star Amazon review of The Power of the Poppy, Daniel S. Hummel II complained that "it's loaded with way too much mystical woo and pseudo-science for [his] tastes." He further advised that I should have done more research and "better acquainted [myself] with reality before writing a book." (I'm not sure how this would have helped, since he also believes "writing and thinking are probably not [my] best qualities.")

To be or not to be?
I can't blame Mr. Hummel for being disappointed. Looking at some of his other reviews, he appears to be a diehard atheist who finds mysticism useless. A book which treats plants as sentient beings with their own agendas is likely to leave him cold.  He gave me credit for including "a few morsels of good info" so his critique was fair if harsh.  (I'm glad he didn't find Power of the Poppy a complete waste of time and wish him luck in finding a book more suited to his needs).  And while he obviously missed my point, it's my job to make my ideas clear. Perhaps I can do so by reference to one of the 20th century's most opaque thinkers, Martin Heidegger.

Heidegger is often dismissed (or celebrated) as a Luddite. As Hubert Dreyfus points out, his views on technology and science are considerably more nuanced.  In his 1954 essay "The Question Concerning Technology" Heidegger described technology as a "mode of revealing," a way of understanding and interacting with our world. He illuminates this in a famous passage:
The hydroelectric plant is set into the current of the Rhine. It sets the Rhine to supplying its hydraulic pressure, which then sets the turbines turning. This turning sets those machines in motion whose thrust sets going the electric current for which the long-distance power station and its network of cables are set up to dispatch electricity. In the context of the interlocking processes pertaining to the orderly disposition of electrical energy, even the Rhine itself appears as something at our command. The hydroelectric plant is not built into the Rhine River as was the old wooden bridge that joined bank with bank for hundreds of years. Rather the river is dammed up into the power plant. What the river is now, namely, a water power supplier, derives from out of the essence of the power station. In order that we may even remotely consider the monstrousness that reigns here, let us ponder for a moment the contrast that speaks out of the two titles, “The Rhine” as dammed up into the power works, and “The Rhine” as uttered out of the art work, in Hölderlin’s hymn by that name. But, it will be replied, the Rhine is still a river in the landscape, is it not? Perhaps. But how? In no other way than as an object on call for inspection by a tour group ordered there by the vacation industry.  
I called Papaver somniferum an ally. I could instead have discussed its relationship with Homo sapiens in terms of symbiosis.  Because it generates morphine, a plant which originated on a small strip of the Mediterranean coast now grows on six of seven continents. And while contentious at times, the relationship has by and large been mutually beneficial: most contemporary analgesics are derived directly or indirectly from opium poppies.

There's nothing mystical or pseudoscientific about symbiosis. Many flowering plants depend on pollen-carrying insects for propagation.  Others use sweet fruits to attract animals who will later scatter seeds (no pun intended) in their dung.  P. somniferum appears to use morphine as a tool to attract human attention and cultivation. This claim does not require recourse to supernatural explanations.  Nobody points to durian seeds in civet shit as proof of Intelligent Design. Neither does anybody dispute that humans can cause rapid evolutionary changes.

"Symbiosis" would be a perfectly acceptable word, one which correctly described poppy/human interaction. But it would not tell the whole story. In Heidegger's words, it would "[set] nature up to exhibit itself as a coherence of forces calculable in advance [and order] its experiments precisely for the purpose of asking whether and how nature reports itself when set up in this way." It would leave intact what Galina Krasskova calls "the Monotheism filter:" it would reaffirm the comfortable notion that H. sapiens is set apart from every other living being on the planet, endowed by the Creator evolution with an immortal soul free will and the capacity for reason.

Throughout Power of the Poppy I suggest that poppy has agency and sentience.  You can take that as a metaphor if you like.  Read Michael Pollan's Botany of Desire: consider the ways in which we have improved the lives of rats and cockroaches.  From there you might reconsider humanity's place in the ecosystem.  Instead of reveling in our ability to manipulate our environment, you might realize how much our environment manipulates us.  Power of the Poppy could become not a teaching tool but a catalyst for "letting-learn," an experience which changes the way you relate to yourself and your surroundings.

Do I believe that poppies literally have sentience?  I'm not entirely convinced that humans are sentient.  The jury is still out on free will: evidence suggests reason is more often used to win arguments than to discover Truth.  Crows have complex societies. are capable of co-ordinated efforts, and pass knowledge down through generations.   Gerhard Roth and Ursula Dicke note that intelligence has appeared independently among different classes of vertebrates (birds and mammals) and among different orders of the same class (i.e. dolphins and chimpanzees).  Even cabbages may be able to remember and respond to information.   I think it exceedingly unlikely that poppies have developed anything which resembles human intelligence. The concerns of plants are not the concerns of toolmaking primates: their experience of space differs vastly from that of creatures endowed with mobility.  Hummel and I share a distaste for anthropomorphism. Where our thinking diverges is on anthrocentrism.

Hummel takes it as a given that humans can only interact with nonhumans in what Heidegger disciple Martin Buber would call an "I-it" relationship. Yet for much of human history we have felt it possible and even desirable to have an "I-thou" relationship with nonhumans, to treat them as beings rather than objects.  This does not, of course, mean that those beliefs are correct simply because of tradition (the argumetum ad antiquitatem fallacy).  But it suggests, to me at least, that the misunderstanding may be on our end rather than theirs. We view their experience through our own prejudices: we assume their conception of "gods," "spirits" and suchlike are identical to our own.  This conflation lets us dismiss traditional beliefs as superstitious nonsense. But it also leads us to think we are debunking delusions when we are merely burning straw men.

Friday, June 7, 2013

The Transylvania Twist: on Anton LaVey's Grandmother

In the 1968 first edition of The Satanic Bible LaVey speaks of his "Georgian, Roumanian, and Alsatian grandparents, including a gypsy grandma who passed on to him the legends of vampires and witches in her native Transylvania." In 1991's Secret Life of a Satanist he mentions "his maternal grandmother, Luba Kolton (born Lupescu-Primakov, from a Gypsy father and a Jewish mother), who regaled Tony with the mysteries of her Transylvanian homeland."

Yet many of LaVey's stories about his "Transylvanian grandmother" and "Roumanian heritage" appear inconsistent with known facts. US census records consistently show Luba Coulton's June 1868 birthplace as Russia. Her first child Fanny was born in the Russian Empire in December 1889.  In 1868 - and 1889 - Transylvania was part of the Kingdom of Hungary, not Romania. LaVey's bear-taming "great-uncle Laszlo," Luba's brother, had a Hungarian name: his chosen monicker, "Anton Szandor," is far more Budapest than Bucharest. He consistently identified with romanticized "Gyspy" stereotypes but showed no insider knowledge of Rom culture.

We could dismiss this all as harmless exaggeration.  But Luba Coulton had an enormous influence on her seven year-old grandson.  Throughout LaVey's career we see what the Portuguese call saudade, a longing for an unattainable, romanticized past.  In an American culture which valued conformity and progress, Grandma Coulton was his first tangible link to a strange and wonderful never-was.  He took her tales and added his own research -- research that included a good bit of fiction and dubious scholarship -- to tie himself to that magic and root himself in that history. And yes, he embellished and edited for dramatic effect.

The available evidence suggests Luba Coulton was born in the Russian Empire, not Transylvania or any other part of Romania.  An equal body of evidence (albeit with variant spellings like "Primakoff," "Premacov," or "Promerkoff") suggests her maiden name was indeed Primakov (Примаков). So there appear to be at least some reality amidst the legends. Finding it, alas, will be a challenging task. Perhaps all we can do is to compare these tales to history and the few available data points, then create our own stories with their own truths and inaccuracies.

And your mother too... 
Ukraine was traditionally home of the Zaporozhian Cossacks, a motley crew of escaped Rusyn (Ukrainian) serfs combined with mercenaries of various creeds and ethnicities.  The Zaporozhian Host provided many of the images and regalia that the modern world associates with Cossacks: they were also responsible for the infamous "Letter of the Zaparozhian Cossacks to the Sultan." And while Jews, Roman Catholics and Muslims were prohibited from their ranks, Roma who professed the Orthodox faith were welcome. Listed among the Zaporozhian Army's registries are names like Vasko Tsigan and Stepan Tsiganchuk (from the Russian/Ukrainian "Tsigan," or Gypsy).  There most practiced their ancestral tradition of metal work as smiths and armorers: others found work as horse traders or entertainers.

After the Zaparozhian Cossacks were disbanded in 1775, many Rom stayed in the area. Some kept up a nomadic or semi-nomadic style while others settled into the local villages. While some Roma kept to themselves, others became fully integrated members of their community. Indeed, today many Ukrainian Roma are unfamiliar with the Romany language and speak Ukrainian as their mother tongue. A young Jewish girl working in the marketplace might well be swept off her feet by a handsome young horse trader or blacksmith. 19th century Russians were enamored with Tsigani song and dance, praising them for their nomadic freedom and swarthy beauty.

If Luba Coulton's father abandoned her mother, it would be an enormous disgrace to her family. If he stayed around it would be even worse. As Bernard Wasserman describes it in On the Eve: The Jews of Europe Before the Second World War (p. 158).
An unmarried Jewish mother who could not persuade the Jewish father of her child to marry her before the birth could hardly remain in the shtetl and would be compelled to leave for the sheltering anonymity of a city or for America. Before departure, she might hand over the illegitimate child to nearby peasants (who might see the gift as an extra pair of laboring hands) or place the infant in an orphanage, if one were available. Under a false name, perhaps claiming to be an aunt, she might send money periodically to cover expenses for the child's upkeep.
If, however, the father were not Jewish and she married him (illegitimate children being the most common catalyst of such, still relatively infrequent, outmarriages in the shtetl) she would disgrace her family twice over: exogamy, after all, was hardly less of a disgrace then illegitimacy. 
Luba Coulton's mother was faced with a dilemma.  There were no civil marriages in the Russian Empire and marriages between Christians and non-Christians were illegal.  Marrying her Gypsy lover would mean losing her family and frie. Keeping the child as a single mother would mean an outcast's life for her and her baby, a life of clucking tongues and sneers and condemnation for a child whose only crime was being born.

Maybe Luba's father abandoned her pregnant mother.  Perhaps they relocated and set up housekeeping without a wedding. (The pious might sniff, but cohabitation was not uncommon among peasants unable to afford religious ceremonies and marriage licenses). Or perhaps they decided to make their wedding legal and their child legitimate: they decided the opportunities they would gain outweighed the community they had already lost.

The answer to that question will likely remain an eternal mystery. But two unusual data points give me pause. On the 1922 marriage license between Leslie Lowell Vaughn and Carolyn Coulton (formerly Katie Coulton), Carolyn spells her mother's maiden name as "Josephine Premacov."  And in the 1946/7 San Francisco City Directory Luba Coulton gives her middle initial as "J." I wonder if "Josephine" isn't the name which appears on her baptismal certificate.

If so, she, like her grandson, decided a change was in order.  57 years before Anton LaVey began his coming of age stint with the circus, the Coultons left Russia with their baby daughter and headed for one of the earliest Jewish settlements in what was then Ottoman Palestine.  And from the time they left Palestine a year later and headed for America she never again used "Josephine." Instead she went by the name her mother had always called her, the odd name that census takers and canvassers frequently rendered as Libbie or Liba, the Ukrainian Yiddish Люба (Lyuba), "Beloved."

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A piece of gay history: Dr. Leo Louis Martello interviews Lige Clarke

In the course of my research for Project LaVey, I stumbled across an online copy of Dr. Leo Louis Martello's Weird Ways of Witchcraft.  Martello spoke favorably of Anton LaVey in his Black Magic, Satanism and Voodoo, and in 1994 private conversations with yrs. truly.  Martello never claimed to be a Satanist, although he was certainly embittered and cynical enough for the job when I met him.  (This happens to most starry-eyed romantics who survive long enough... and from his earliest days as a gay rights and pagan activist, Leo was certainly that).

Leo Martello wrote about Anton LaVey (and Herbert Sloane of the Ophitic Cultus Satanhas, whom I hope to talk about soon) and distinguished Witchcraft from Satanism while recognizing Satanism as a valid and meaningful spiritual path.  He also reminds us of one reason why there were a disproportionate number of gay men in the Church of Satan. From the beginning the Church of Satan has welcomed gay and lesbian members. Martello was one of the first "out" gay Witches: during the early days of American and British Witchcraft, most covens were all about "polarity" and shunned homosexuals as deviants who had no place in a fertility religion.  (American Pagans are almost universally queer-tolerant today, you protest? You can thank Leo Martello for that).  

Lige Clarke on cover of Gay #1
from Gay & Lesbian Review
Intrigued by his interview with a Kentucky folk witch named "Elijah Hadynn" I did a bit of Googling and discovered that Elijah Hadynn Clarke was better known as Lige Clarke, one of the editors of Gay, America's first weekly gay and lesbian newspaper.  (And a paper which featured Dr. Martello's column, "The Gay Witch").  So far as I can tell from some cursory searching, this interview has never been recognized as part of Lige Clarke's considerable and impressive body of work.  It is an important piece of gay and Pagan history, a meeting of two of the major figures of pre-Stonewall gay America.

* * * * *

I was warmly greeted by Elijah Hadynn, at his apartment on East 10th Street, in New York's East Village, when I visited him on the rainy night of April 18, 1969. The interview was arranged by John R. Nichols, editor of STRANGE / UNKNOWN MAGAZINE, and a writer on witchcraft himself. He had previously interviewed and written about Mr. Hadynn. I was ushered into a living room which had cushions and pillows arranged alongside the four walls, on the floor, "Moroccan style, like my villa in Tangier" I told him. Some of his own paintings hung on the walls. "I don't believe in lots of furniture" he said. We sat on the floor cushions. I told him "I had planned to bring you a broom." Laughingly he
replied "I could have used one."

Elijah Hadynn is a quiet, introspective young man, who looks more like a college student than a warlock (male witch). A glance at his handwriting told me that he was organized, systematic, ruled by his head rather than his heart, creative and constructive, and had the capacity to remain impersonal and detached from most situations; a far cry from the emotional hysteria characteristic of Middle Age witches. Backhand, precise, with clear well-executed letter formations, Mr. Hadynn was in full possession of his faculties, knew what he was and what he was doing at all times; the type of person who prefers to observe rather than participate. 

"I usually prefer to be alone" he said. "Parties as a rule bore me." This was confirmed by his handwriting which revealed that he would be more interested in ideas rather than just people per se, unless they were intellectually stimulating. Far from being an impulsive, impressionable, easily swayed person his handwriting indicated self-possession, control and discipline .... he would be master of his witchcraft rather than having it master him ... he would use it positively rather than being used by it negatively ... and unlike so many who become involved with the occult because of emotional impulses and drives, his mind would always be the controlling and decisive factor in any undertaking.

LLM: How did you first become aware that you were a witch?

EH: I always knew that I was different. I can remember the moment that I was born. It was on Cave Branch, in a little wooden house. I can vividly remember my first breath of air. I used to sleep with my hands outstretched with my thumb in between my two fingers. Years later I read that that was supposedly a sign of the witch. I often went on astral journeys. I'm ambidextrous, though I lean towards lefthandedness. I've had thirty six moles removed from my body ... another sign of the witch.  My mother was born the day before Christmas. My great grandfather was a Cherokee medicine man. There were two gypsies present at my birth, and one of them had said earlier 'A great man will be born in that house.'"

Elijah Hadynn was born in the hills of south-eastern Kentucky. Here is a fragment of a poem written about his birth:

In old Kentucky's snow white hills, 
Where tales of superstition grow, 
A warlock was born this day, 
Whose destiny the gypsies know.
His hair was white, it matched the snow 
That fell from cold and darkening skies. 
And as he grew, the magic gleam 
Flashed deep within his soulful eyes.

LLM: Do you belong to a coven in New York? 

EH: No. I'm basically a loner. If I do join one I intend to make absolutely sure that it's genuine.

LM: How many-other witches do you personally know here?

EH: I personally know only two others. One is a burlesque queen. The other a male witch. Of course I know of many many others.

LLM: What do you consider the best book on Witchcraft for the budding witch?

EH: One of the best is the Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology by Rossell Hope Robbins. It's full of facts and fascinating pictures of witches, especially during the time of the Dark Ages.

LLM: Do you know Sybil Leek?

EH: Yes. When we first met she was intrigued by my name, repeating it several times, saying "How lovely are the old names." She's a marvelous woman with a great sense of humor.

LLM: Do you believe in Reincarnation?

EH: Yes I do. I know that I have lived in the past and will exist again in another form in the future. This is what the Old Religion teaches. It's not something that I simply believe but something that I have always known. Sybil Leek and I both accept reincarnation as well as Astrology. Sybil Leek's 
grandmother used to bake cookies that had the signs of the zodiac on them.

LLM: Psychiatrists claim that the only reason why witchcraft works is because one believes in it. No belief ... no power. What's your viewpoint on this?

EH: The same could be said for psychiatry. Patients have spent fortunes going from one psychiatrist to another because they weren't being helped. It's what psychoanalysis calls "negative transference." It simply means that the patient isn't getting better, and the psychiatrist can't reach him. "Positive transference" simply means that the patient "believes' in him. So he's helped. Regardless of the techniques used it all boils down to the same thing: Faith and trust. Furthermore, psychiatry it-self isn't an exact science and when you stop to consider the many opposing schools of thought ... Freud, Jung, Adler, so many others ... the kettle can't call the pot black!

LLM: One psychologist has said, "Witches, sorcerers and the like are still trying to magically wish away the terrors of their own childhood. Instead of being afraid of bogeymen at night they resolve this by becoming bogeymen themselves." Is this true? (We both broke-up laughing at this question!)

EH: No, it's not true in the cases I know. That doesn't mean that it doesn't apply in all cases. But the question here is why do people become ministers, rabbis, priests, psychiatrists and psychologists? Aren't the former trying to align themselves on the side of God as appeasement for their own unresolved fears? And aren't the latter doing the same thing without religion? And their answer would be, "No, not true in all cases, but ..." In any event that's what they say but how do we know?

LLM: What do you think of organized religion?

EH: I don't believe in organized religion. They have caused mankind great unhappiness, burdened people with guilt, created conflicts, so that most people can't live a full life on earth, can't really enjoy themselves without looking over their shoulder in fear that the "Hand of God" would punish them. The most unhappy people I know are very religious. What has witchcraft ever done in this world to compare with the bloodshed and tyranny caused by organized religion? When I think of this, if I wasn't a witch, then I'd have to become one.

LLM: Anton LaVey, high priest of the Satanist Church in San Francisco, has called white witches neopagan Christians, skulking around under a burden of guilt, afraid to be called evil, tea shoppe witches,  plump little women sitting around threatening to turn each other into toads." Any comment?

EH: I don't accept that. I'm not interested in black magic or black witches, so-called. I call what I do white witchcraft because it's for good, to help others and myself. White witches have minds of their own and the Christian Church plays no part in our basic views. Just look into history and you'll find that white witches have always overpowered the black practitioners. White witchcraft has existed long before there ever was a Christian religion, as any historian can prove.

LLM: Isn't the devil or Satan as we have come to know him the creation of Christian theologians rather than that of the pre-Biblical Old Religion?

EH: Yes, definitely. The devil or the host of other names given to him, has never been given so much attention as it has in the Catholic Church. No other God of Darkness has been so deified in other religions as it has been in Christianity. One could ask: Is the Satan one worships a Christian black God or that of the Old Religion?

LLM: Could you elucidate more on White Magic?

EH: Yes, let me quote you from my article in the May-June 1969 PERSONAL HOROSCOPE 
MAGAZINE, entitled "What Is White Magie?"
Lige Clarke.
photo by Eric Stephen Jacobs
A true witch knows that it is wise to take no notice of opposites or extremes. To divide the world into black and white, good and bad, beautiful and ugly, is to fail to look at it with real scrutiny. Magic is a power, in much the same way that nuclear energy or electricity is a power. Like these forces magic exists throughout the whole of creation, waiting for practitioners to cast its spells in unusual and unexpected ways. But it lies dormant and has no real character of its own until used. It is the character of the person who employs, magic that determines what kind of label it may claim. In the hands of the unscrupulous and malevolent person, magic is, according to the way most people think, black. But if a knowledgeable individual who is generally kind and thoughtful of others, uses magic, it becomes a wonderful tool, a potent and amazingly beneficial tool for mankind. Such a person is a miracle worker who heals, cures, and fixes things that are broken. Because he sees more clearly than most, he is able to guide ordinary people into paths of good fortune. In its pure state, magic is neither good nor bad. It is simply magic.

LLM: Do you engage in any witchcraft rituals, and if so what objects do you use?

EH: No, I don't engage in the usual rituals, with the exception of candles and of course herbs. Mine is more of a mental ritual rather than a physical one.

LLM: How do you earn your living?

EH: I'm both a practitioner and a teacher of Yoga. I have private students and classes. Yoga has helped me greatly as I've always had a health problem. The self-control over the body obtained by Hatha Yoga is now scientifically accepted, yet it is a natural method, one long known to witches, yogis, fakirs and mystics before science discovered that it works. I also write articles for various magazines such as STRANGE I UNKNOWN and YOUR PERSONAL HOROSCOPE.

Mr. Hadynn then gave me copies of these magazines which had articles both by and about him. I noted that on the inside back cover of the first there was an advertisement for books including two of mine, IT'S IN THE CARDS and IT'S IN THE STARS. 

In an article "The White Witches of England" by John R. Nichols in the Jan.-Feb. issue of Personal Horoscope the author tells about a personal experience he had with Elijah Hadynn:

Of course, witches do practice incantations, and rely on the powers of magic to accomplish their ends. On one occasion, to show me how such tricks work, Elijah put a broomstick in the corner of a room to get rid of an unwanted guest. 

He explained that the guest would stay no more than a half-hour after the broomstick had been placed. For a few minutes I doubted the efficacy of this procedure. The guest seemed intrigued by the sound of his own voice, and he talked on and on at an increasingly rapid rate. Suddenly, after only fifteen minutes had passed, he stood up and said, 'I must be going.' Without further ado, he wished us farewell and was gone.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

About William Daixel or, a prelude to Lili St. Cyr, Marilyn Monroe, Anton LaVey and an LA Porn Palace

From Secret Life of A Satanist:
Every couple of weeks the theme changed at the Mayan Burlesque Theater. This performance centered on Paris, so the organist played a bootlegged, handwritten arrangement of “Hymn a L’Amour,” just composed by Edith Piaf’s accompanist, not yet released in this country. The dancer? – Marilyn Monroe...

LaVey and Marilyn shared a cultural hunger as well. Paul Valentine (aka “Val Valentino”) was an exceptionally fine dancer and choreographer at the Mayan. He was at that time married to legendary stripper Lili St. Cyr, whose act Anton had played for at Zucca’s. “Paul Valentine thought I was a weird kid. Marilyn and I used to go up to the balcony together when they were running arty filler movies like Amok and Omoo, Omoo, the Shark God. One time I heard Valentine say to the straight man, ‘I think they actually watch the movies up there.’ We did. We were hungry. We wanted to learn – listen to the Bizet score or examine the sets.”
Valya Valentinoff
When 14 year-old William Daixel joined the Ballets Russe in 1933, director Léonide Massine renamed him "Vladimir Valentinoff." In September 1937 "Valia Valentinoff" danced in the premiere of Arthur Schwartz's Virginia. As "Valya Valentinoff" he played New York's Riobamba Room in 1943 alongside a young crooner named Dean Martin.  But when he headed West to try his luck in Hollywood Daixel/Valentinoff settled upon a final name: Paul Valentine. He appeared as Paul Valentine in the 1947 noir classic Out of the Past.  He is listed as Paul Valentine on the 2006 Social Security Death Index. And in August 1946, when burlesque star Lili St. Cyr tied the knot with her trainer and choreographer, he signed the Tijuana marriage license as Paul Valentine.

The couple were together in Los Angeles in late November 1947, when St. Cyr began an engagement at the Follies.  In March 1948 St. Cyr and Valentine played together at Florentine Gardens in Hollywood. By the end of June St. Cyr was back at Montreal's Gayety Theatre (where she had been a headliner since 1944), and headed north yet again in September 1948. Around the same time Paul Valentine was working in Los Angeles at the Mayan with burlesque producer (and later 3-D pioneer) Sidney Pink. According to Uno (Charles Feldheim), Variety's burlesque columnist, their show was called "French Postcards revue."

Mayan Theater, 1927
Given all this, we must wonder why Paul Valentine told Lawrence Wright in 1990 that he operated the Mayan as "legitimate theater - it was never a burlesque, never a bump and grind."  Perhaps he was still bitter about his failed marriage to St. Cyr. In 1949 he filed for divorce and was famously quoted as saying "Everybody in the country could see more of her than I did."  (His 1952 marriage to heiress Flaveen Sultana Ali Khan appears to have been more successful: they had a son in 1956 and I can find no record of their divorce).   Or perhaps we should consider his statement in the proper context.

Under Valentine's tutelage St. Cyr incorporated elements of classical ballet and modern dance into her routines. Instead of playing to the audience she presented erotic mini-dramas from behind the fourth wall. Recreating Cleopatra and Salome, playing a suicidal spurned lover, re-enacting The Portrait of Dorian Grey  -- these and other dances owed more to Martha Graham than Busty Morgan.  St. Cyr and Valentine dreamed of making burlesque an art form, of winning the kind of respect Josephine Baker received in Paris.  Her act, and his choreography, went far beyond the standard "bumping and grinding" of an average girlie show.

It is also possible that Valentine worked as a dancer or choreographer at the Mayan in earlier, less bawdy productions. Burton H. Wolfe discovered a March 8, 1948 Los Angeles Times review entitled "Mayan Offers Burlesque" which noted that "the producers have toned down luridness somewhat since the last show." The Mayan does not appear in Uno's Billboard column until April 10, 1948, when he talks about an ongoing show.  All Billboard mentions of the Mayan before that date describe big bands, operettas, musicals and theatrical productions.  It appears that burlesque was a final failed effort to bring in crowds and one which only lasted a few months. At the end of December the Mayan was sold to Frank Fouce, who in 1949 turned it into a Spanish language theater and cinema.

But Mr. Fouce was not the Mayan's last owner.  By 1990, when Valentine was interviewed, the Mayan  had been an adult theater for twenty years.  The "daring" and "torrid!!" naughtiness of postwar burlesque had long since been replaced by live sex shows and lap dances: the neo-Burlesque movement was barely a twinkle on somebody's pasties. Valentine was over 70, still healthy and vigorous but definitely at an age when one considers his legacy.  In most ways his was a typical Los Angeles life.  He was a dreamer who came west, better looking than many and more talented than most, a guy who never got to be Hamlet but who played his share of attendant lords.  Perhaps we can forgive him for downplaying the two months he spent directing a strip show at a notorious porn palace.

Which brings us back to Anton LaVey.  Not long before Valentine was interviewed, LaVey told Blanche Barton that he had, in October 1948, played the organ at the Mayan Theater for a Paris-themed burlesque show directed by Paul Valentine.  And, if Billboard is to be believed, there was indeed a "French Postcards Revue" directed by Paul Valentine playing the Mayan Theater at that time.  This says nothing about whether or not LaVey -- never mind Marilyn Monroe -- worked at that show. But it certainly does suggest a certain familiarity with the inner workings of the Los Angeles burlesque scene. Because I very strongly doubt that most of the men who just attended that show remembered who the choreographer was fifteen minutes after they left, never mind forty years later. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Polk-Ing Around San Francisco: Anton LaVey in the City Directories

According to Blanche Barton's The Secret Life of a Satanist, after his September 4, 1951 marriage to Carole Lansing
Anton... combined his education in Criminology with his talents in photography in a job with the San Francisco Police Department as a police photographer. Once again, he was faced with the worst side of human nature on a daily basis. On call 24 hours a day, he would race across town to photograph a murder site, suicide, auto accident, explosion – anything that required an investigation because of the gravity of the situation.
This claim (like many others) has been disputed. Lawrence Wright found:
According to the San Francisco Police Department, no one named Howard or Anton LaVey or Levey ever worked for the force, nor does City College have a record of his enrollment. Frank Moser, a retired police officer who worked in the photo department during that time, says that LaVey was never in that department under any name.
Though I have not yet contacted the SFPD or San Francisco City College, I have examined some contemporary San Francisco city directories.  (The SFPL has kindly made a near-complete collection of directories from 1850 to 1982 available online).  Here are two listings for Anton S  LaVey: I've emphasized his stated career for each year.

While the 1952 directory is unavailable, I found this listing on page 719 of the 1953 directory.
Anton S (Carole) photographer h729 47th Ave  
And though there's no listing for Anton S or Carole LaVey in 1954,  page 750 of the 1955-6 city directory has:
Anton S (Carole) legal photographer h729 47th Ave 
So why were there no SFPD employee records for an Anton LaVey, Tony Levey, Howard Levey, etc.? One possible answer can be found in The Black Pope, Burton Wolfe's second edition of 1974's Devil's Avenger.  In the account LaVey gave Wolfe, after his marriage to Carole and the birth of his daughter Karla in 1952
Anton survived financially through part-time jobs playing organ and piano, and by shooting photos of damage caused in traffic accidents, fires, and street brawls... 
As Anton traveled around San Francisco looking for opportunities to sell photographs to insurance companies and the police, he sometimes came upon the results of humanity at its worst: homicides, suicides, damage from arson-caused fires, wrecked vehicles with injured or dead drivers or passengers immersed in blood, bodies hauled out of the San Francisco Bay where they had been tossed after murders or where they had wound up in a submerged automobile, the bodies of women maimed or killed by jealous lovers, men stabbed or shot by their “best friends,” children whose bodies were splattered on the sidewalk or street after being blasted by hit-run drivers. What sickened Anton almost as much as the disgusting scenes were the usual hordes of gawkers sucking sadistic pleasure out of the tragedies: sometimes after they had the opportunity to help prevent the outcome, but did nothing.  
While many police departments did and still do use freelance photographers, I do not know if the San Francisco Police Department ever did.  Even if they worked with freelancers I could not tell you how many pictures, if any, the SFPD purchased from a young Anton LaVey. And the directory publishers stated that they "cannot and do not guarantee the correctness of all information furnished to them." But what I do know is this: from 1953 to 1956 Anton LaVey listed himself as a "photographer" and then a "legal photographer" in the San Francisco City Directory. And I wonder why, more than fifteen years before The Satanic Bible saw print, he would lie about such a thing repeatedly.  Especially since there's abundant evidence that he was telling the truth when he later listed himself as an "organist" and then "organist at the Lost Week-End."

Were he not deceased, I'd talk to retired SFPD Inspector Jack Webb.  Inspector Webb told Lawrence Wright he "knew LaVey in the late forties or early fifties." It is a pity Wright didn't ask him about LaVey's early photography career or about his criminology courses. (If Webb's obituary was any indication, he would have been taking classes around the same time as LaVey). I wonder what that conversation might have revealed.

Monday, February 18, 2013

LaVey and Reich: More for Chas Clifton

In a response to my earlier post on Existentialism, Archetypes and Anton LaVey, Chas Clifton said:
I would say that Pagans of the 1960-1970s were all over the map,from the vaguely pantheistic Reformed Druids of North America to the new Witches, some of whom felt that their gods were two among many, while others clung to Dion Fortune's statement that "All the gods are one god, and all the goddesses are one goddess."  
And there were a few reconstructionists about too, though not a lot.
What you're describing is a range from polytheism to duotheism with some reconstructionism and pantheism thrown in. LaVey's practices were avowedly atheistic. He didn't see the gods and goddesses as symbols of a higher Being/s but as tools to be used for personal betterment and gratification. In that, for better or for worse, he was several decades ahead of the Pagan curve.  

Confusion about LaVey's atheism is understandable.  He talked about curses decades after he stopped doing Black Masses and suggested that many seemingly unconnected events were more than "coincidence."  LaVey certainly wasn't a hard atheist whose worldview was free of supernatural and mystical elements like the Brights.  But he repeatedly rejects the idea of Satan as a personal being and consistently shoows contempt for "wooly-headed mysticism" and "occultniks."

Many of these seeming contradictions can be resolved by studying an important but oft-neglected influence on Satanism.  In the first edition of The Satanic Bible we find a dedication to, among others, "Wilhelm Reich, who knew more than cabinet‐making." In 1990's Secret Life of a Satanist we find:
An interesting sidelight to LaVey’s humanoid creations is that many human replicas of his "people" have suddenly appeared, Pygmalion-like, some time after LaVey already constructed his creation. Instead of modeling the humanoid after a person, the person seems to have been modeled after the humanoid. Anton doesn’t try to explain these "conjurings" beyond referring to a method he uses in magical rituals which he terms "cosmic superimposition," a phrase borrowed from Wilhelm Reich.
According to The Wilhelm Reich Infant Trust, in Cosmic Superimposition (1951), Reich "steps out of our current framework of mechanistic-mystical thinking and comes to a radically different understanding of how man is rooted in nature. " Compare LaVey's efforts to remove Christian conditioning via the Black Mass to Reich's work on "character armor." Reich sought to bridge the mind/body duality, while LaVey commented in The Satanic Bible that man:
... no longer can view himself in two parts, the carnal and the spiritual, but sees them merge as one, and then to his abysmal horror, discovers that they are only the carnal—AND ALWAYS WERE! Then he either hates himself to death, day by day—or rejoices that he is what he is!
And of course the "dark force in nature" bears more than a passing resemblance to orgone.  This is especially important when considering LaVey's theology.  Whether you find Reich's ideas  to be genius, quackery or some combination thereof is unimportant. What matters is that orgone is impersonal. Orgone does not hold conversations or deliver cosmic mandates: it is more like light, magnetism or electricity than any kind of spiritual entity.

Reich would certainly have been trendy enough in the 50s and 60s: orgone accumulators were used by (among others) Norman Mailer, J.D. Salinger, Saul Bellow, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William S Burroughs. His work combined psychotherapy and bodywork to help patients achieve full emotional expression and rid themselves of sexual repression, or, in sixties-speak, "hang-ups."  LaVey thought liberation from self-loathing and socially induced guilt was a worthy cause: his rituals used occult imagery toward that end for psychodramatic effect.  (Note that he moved away from and ultimately dumped the ceremonial magic trappings altogether when too many people started taking them literally).

But LaVey was far less impressed with Reich as a prophet of sexual liberation and "free love." He rather enjoyed a little bit of shame, saying in 1969:
I would rather be “hung-up.” It’s a lot more fun. This is why the Satanist revels in what are considered to be sins. We Satanists consider “hang-ups” to be “hang-ONS”—the very foundations of what makes our personality, our likes and dislikes what they are. We like our fetishes and resent any attempt to remove them. 
Like the carnival, LaVey's rituals exist on the edge of the orderly world.  They are a Dionysian celebration of the flesh, a multi-sensory experience designed to touch the participant on deep levels. But when the carnival moves on and the ritual chamber closes, everyone goes home empowered, or hopefully at least entertained.  Where Reich and his devotees sought an aeon-changing sexual revolution, LaVey never dreamed we would fuck ourselves into utopia.  He understood the Church was Satan's best friend too: he knew everything was nicer with a little sin sprinkled on top.  And his innate distrust of utopian philosophies only became stronger as he grew increasingly bitter.

Monday, February 11, 2013

More LaVey: The Mystery of the Second Oboe

Throughout his career as Black Pope Anton LaVey swore that he had played second oboe for the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra.  Yet in 1991 Lawrence Wright found:
By the time he was fifteen, [LaVey] said, he was sufficiently accomplished to play second oboe with the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra.  (According to the San Francisco Performing Arts Library, there was no such orchestra in 1945. The ballet employed the local symphony for its performances, and none of the three oboists was named LaVey or Levey).
In the introduction to the first edition of The Satanic Bible (which appeared from 1969-1972) Burton H. Wolfe stated "At sixteen [LaVey] became second oboist in the San Francisco Ballet Symphony Orchestra." He repeated that in his 1974 book The Devil's Avenger (which he edited and re-released in 2008 as The Black Pope).  Only later did LaVey change that number to fifteen.

Is this proof he was lying? Or is it proof he was born on April 11, 1930.

I wonder what the local symphony's employment records might reveal for the first half of 1946.  I also wonder how many ballet companies were active in San Francisco at the time.  And given that LaVey was living in Mill Valley in 1945-1946, I'd like to see if contemporary local papers mention a young "Howard Levey" playing oboe in San Francisco.

The oboe's tone is frequently associated with Orientalism and the exotic, so it would appeal to a teen steeped in 1940s pulp fiction. And given his resume there's no reason to think he wouldn't be up to playing a double reed instrument.  By 1969 Anton LaVey had spent over a decade as a professional musician. Why make up a story about "playing second oboe at 15" when he could point to several years manning the Civic Auditorium's pipe organ or the Lost Weekend's Wurlitzer?  And why keep talking about that particular instrument and that particular position for decades?

This night, I believe, was a pivotal experience in LaVey's life.  It was so important that he went back and corrected a misunderstanding ("Yes, I said 1946 but I was fifteen, damn it, fifteen.").  For a suburban kid San Francisco was the big leagues.  It was that glorious first gig that sealed his fate, that moment when "musician" became a real career possibility.  And even when he put his oboe aside and took up the organ, he never forgot it.  So no, I don't think he made the second oboe story up or embellished it in any significant way. If anything, I'd bet it was honesty that got the Black Pope in trouble.

Can I prove that with documentation? No. (Anybody with access to 1940s Marin County newspapers might want to give it a shot).  But given how often LaVey repeated this story, and how tenuous the case against him is, I'm reasonably certain he was telling the unvarnished truth here.

The Satanic Bible's first edition also contained a very interesting dedication. But that's for another post.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

More for Chas Clifton: Existentialism, Archetypes and Anton LaVey

On G+ Chas Clifton said in response to my previous post:
I would comment on your blog if you just had the name/URL option. Or if WordPress ID worked, the failure of which is not your fault.
I've allowed anonymous quoting, which should allow you to quote with name/url. Let me know if that works. 
I would definitely appreciate hearing your thoughts on this subject, especially on the 60s-70s Pagan and "white light/occultnik" religions. I am curious as to how many Pagans in the 1960s had a similar pantheistic-atheistic-archetypistic worldview. At present I think a fair number of Neopagans, maybe even a majority, would have no problem saying that "the God and the Goddess represent the forces of nature and are symbolic rather than actual anthropomorphized entities." But I'm not sure if that was the standard view in the 1960s or if most of the community believed they were contacting the actual Old Gods and Goddesses. Was LaVey ahead of the curve in 1966 with this worldview, or was he was following a contemporary trend? I honestly don't know.

(Although I suspect that if I show a LaVeyan influence on contemporary Neopagan thought Isaac Bonewits will spin in his grave so fast that he breaks the sound barrier ;) ).

One thing I'm finding is that LaVey was a lot smarter than people think. They forget that before he was Anton Szandor LaVey he was a kid named Howard who spent his days reading everything he could get his hands on and remained a lifelong voracious bibliophile. I definitely see a Reichean influence in LaVey's conception of a "dark force in nature," for example. (Considering LaVey dedicated the first edition of The Satanic Bible to Reich among others, I think that's a pretty safe assumption). A lot of times I think what his enemies call "plagiarism" is him using ideas and phrases which caught his attention and which he internalized. Keep in mind he was an autodidact with no college education: it's not surprising that his attributions sometimes didn't measure up to academic standards.

I'd like to bone up on contemporary Existentialist texts to see if there's any influence there. While I don't think Sartre or Camus would necessarily disagree with many of his thoughts on the human condition or his proposed solutions therefor, I would like to make sure first that LaVey actually had some interest in Existentialism.  It wouldn't be implausible: plenty of intellectuals in the 1950s were reading Sartre, or at least leaving his books lying around on their coffee table. But I'd like to get something more to solidify any linkage.  And I'd also note that for somebody who hated "occultniks" so much, he had at least a passing familiarity with most of the material available to a mid-20th century scholar of the occult. I've come to suspect the Doc hated occultniks so much not because they were interested in magic but because their magic was ineffective.  

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Will the real Papa Levey Please Stand Up?

My new publicist
After extensive research and frank, candid conversations with people who knew and loved Anton LaVey I have stumbled upon a most interesting fact.  What I found seemed impossible and earth-shattering. I spent days trying to disprove it, combing over documents from various sources and checking and cross-checking everything.  All this work only corroborated my discovery.  And so I was forced to acknowledge that the man commonly believed to be Howard Stanton Levey's father is not in fact his biological parent.

What happened, you may ask? Did Gertrude find out about Michael Levy's second family in Nebraska and decide turnabout was fair play? Is there more to that oft-repeated claim of "Gypsy blood" than meets the eye? Was the cantankerous old bastard really a cantankerous old bastard after all? What Freudian dramas lie behind the philosophy we know today as Satanism?

The answers to these and many other questions are to be found in my upcoming book. By the time you're done with the first chapter you will know the real, never-before-told story of Anton Szandor LaVey's parentage.  Hell keeps many secrets but I've managed to pry this one loose. And soon it will be available worldwide to those with the courage (and the funds) to purchase Satanism: the Story of a Reluctant Antichrist and the Hell he Raised. 

Coming soon, friends. Coming soon. In the meantime, read carefully and trust no one. 

Friday, February 1, 2013

For Chas Clifton: Questions for the Devil

While I puzzle out some conundrums in the Lineage of Hell, I thought I'd reply to this comment from Chas Clifton regarding my new book project.
Love the Saturday Night Live fantasy. 
Oh, I think it would have been the coolest thing ever. And the huffy complaints about how he was cheapening his contract with the Prince of Darkness would have made it even cooler.  Now imagine a skit where Dennis Spade does his "And you are...?" to Anton LaVey, who pushed ahead of Jesus in line.  Jesus, of course, would say "Get thee behind me, Satan" to which Anton could quote something suitably bitchy. LaVey had a natural sense of humor and could have easily played the cowl and horns for laughs. He could have become Uncle Anton, your Host for Satan's Monster Mania. But he didn't do that.  He was happy to tell a joke but he never let himself become the joke.

I think Tony Levey (his preferred monicker among friends) had a complex relationship with Anton Szandor LaVey. ASL brought Tony fame and attention while simultaneously providing a shield against too much intimacy.  Like many entertainers ASL was at heart a very private man. And yet ultimately his shield became his prison. He couldn't go back to being Tony tickling the ivories down at the local watering hole.  Because people wouldn't be going to see Tony anymore, to put tips in his jar and maybe engage in some idle chit-chat before heading home for the night.

No, they'd be coming to see the Black Pope. And they wouldn't care that he was an excellent keyboard player -- an assessment made by friends and enemies alike, btw -- and they wouldn't listen to the music. All they would hear is Anton Szandor LaVey. Then they would all come up to talk, to shake his hand and call him the Antichrist or sneer at him and call him a fraud. And so he grew increasingly reclusive and increasingly misanthropic: I'd imagine a few years of dealing with dumbshits in black will do that to a person.
I never had any dealings with LaVey, although I knew people who did. It would be hard to assign percentages to "con man" and "prophet," but perhaps he was one more visionary who tried something, saw that it impressed the rubes, chuckled to himself, and then wondered, "Maybe there really is something to this."  
We need to clarify two terms here.  First, when I said "prophet" I did not mean to imply that Anton LaVey had any kind of direct contact with an entity answering to "Satan."  In fact, he repeatedly stated that he did not and that he had synthesized these ideas on his own.  But he believed in those ideas and he lived those ideas and he introduced those ideas into the mainstream. And so he, as sure as Karl Marx, wound up a prophet.  Both tapped into "dark forces" in the zeitgeist of their times and set stuff in motion without any claim of divine inspiration.

I've also heard Anton LaVey called a "con man" a lot. They generally point to Lawrence Wright's article and burning questions about LaVey's oboe skill and whether or not his Tab A ever went into Marilyn Monroe's Slot B.  A few others point to Zeena's FAQ, which adds allegations of animal abuse and domestic violence in an effort to prove Anton LaVey is a bad, bad, bad person.  But amidst all these allegations I've never seen anyone say that Anton LaVey bilked a nice little old lady out of her life savings.  Or that he took tens of thousands from a bored San Francisco socialite to teach her "the Darkest of Dark Arts." Or that he extorted money from his flock. Or that he ever did any of the things you'd expect a con man to do.

I think LaVey was a true skeptic and willing to admit he had seen and experienced things which he could not explain.  For all his contempt of occultniks, he read an awful lot of obscure and esoteric occult texts.  It's also telling that he gave his son the middle name "Carnaki."  William Hope Hodgson's Carnaki more often than not finds a rational answer for strange findings, but those where he actually encounters the Outside are among the most chilling tales in 19th century horror.  (Try "The Whistling Room" right before you go to sleep.  Preferably facing a brick fireplace).  Please note that "things he could not explain" does not mean "things that spoke to him and declared him Satan's Emissary on Earth."  What it means is acknowledging and accepting that the world is a weird place and sometimes weird things happen.
It took Aquino, of course, to make it more of a self-conscious religion, instead of a . . . entertaining self-help movement, shall we call it?
Making LaVey's movement a "self-conscious religion" is rather like improving the Mona Lisa by splashing it with house paint until it resembles a Jackson Pollack. The absolute LAST thing Anton LaVey ever wanted was a self-conscious religion: "Say unto myself I am my own redeemer" and all that.  And you say "entertaining self-help movement" like it's a bad thing.   That's exactly what LaVey was aiming for: he even called it "spooky psychodrama."

(Question: how many of the Pagan writers of the mid-60s and early-70s were talking about the God and Goddess as archetypes, symbols or something other than actual deities? I am honestly not sure: I've noticed that among most modern Pagans I encounter nowadays, his ideas on "the nonanthropomorphic dark force in nature" and "ritual as psychodrama" are pretty much the norm).

My take on LaVey and his work is like my take on New Orleans Voodoo.  I'm well aware that a good bit of New Orleans Voodoo started out as a publicity stunt to bilk tourists.  But people are still finding meaning in New Orleans Voodoo and getting something out of practices they call New Orleans Voodoo.  And I'd say the same thing about Satanism, only LaVey's influence is arguably a whole lot bigger.  New Orleans Voodoo has a central area and is presently becoming more popular in America: there are death metal fests throughout the world with kids wearing baphomets and screaming "Hail Satan!" You may not like the music but once again a lot of people are getting something out of it.

I don't see a comparable influence with Setianism.  I see a few intelligent people within the ToS who have written thought-provoking books (i.e.  Don Webb and Edred Thorsson). But I don't see where the Aeon of Xeper is Remanifesting on this poor material plane.  Never mind black metal: I don't see a Setian artist whose images are as widely recognizable as Coopgirls nor do I see any indication that a New and Better Human has Come Into Being within or without the Temple of Set.

I'm not saying that Setianism isn't a perfectly fine spiritual path for those who wish to follow it.  But at this point it bears far more resemblance to Thelema or other initiatory occult orders than the philosophy expounded by LaVey. Covering Setianism in a book on Satanism would be like covering Haitian Evangelical Christianity when writing a book on Vodou: it is important only insofar as it interacts with the primary subject.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Secret Life of a Satanist's Grandparents: Leon Levy

I begin with the Anton LaVey genealogy prepared by noted amateur genealogist William Addams Reitwiesner.  Reitweisner cautions that this material "should not be considered either exhaustive or authoritative, but rather as a first draft." Accordingly, I've done as much checking and cross-checking as possible.  Genealogy generally involves a whole lot of speculating, a good bit of informed guessing, and occasional wild leaps of faith.   This is especially true when dealing with Anton LaVey. Dates can be off by a decade or more: we frequently run into spelling variants and multiple addresses which may be residences or offices.  So like Reitweisner I must consider these efforts a work in progress: I welcome any corrections or additions by knowledgeable people.

On October 7, 1888 the Omaha Daily Bee informs us "Miss Emma R.H. Goldsmith is to be married to Leon Levy on Tuesday, October 23." The October 28, 1888 edition contains this wedding announcement:
Leon Levy, of Bennett, and Miss Emma R.N. Goldsmith were married at the synagogue on Tuesday evening. The reception and supper were given at the Esmond hotel, and dancing continued until 2 a.m.
Bennett was approximately 50 miles (80km) west of Omaha, and is presently a suburb of Lincoln. Was Leon just passing through on his way to visit relatives when he met the pretty young girl from Louisville, Kentucky?  (There are Levys, Levis and Leveys located throughout the region, many from the sizable Jewish community in Metz, France).   Did the sophisticated man with the adorable French accent sweep the young girl off her feet?  We can imagine all sorts of romantic scenarios but the exact story of their meeting will likely remain one of those mysteries Leon's grandson so treasured.

Instead of moving on, Leon and his new bride stayed in Omaha. The city had seen a dramatic boom as settlers flooded Nebraska. Leopold Goldsmith, Emma's father, had been a junk dealer back in Kentucky before moving to Nebraska at some point in the 1880s.  There the Goldsmiths had thrived. The 1914 Omaha city directory lists his sons Louis and Samuel (d/b/a Goldsmith Brothers) as partners in several business ventures, including dry goods and real estate.  There were fortunes to be made on the prairie and so Leon and Emma Levy settled down to the business of making theirs.

Based on the census evidence, they did quite well.  In 1900 the U.S. census lists Leon Levy as a "cigar merchant" (and lists an eight-year old student named Michael, better known today as Anton LaVey's father).  The 1910 census lists him as a "Retail Merchant/Grocery Store:" his son Michael is listed as a clerk in a real estate office while his older son Ike (a graduate of the Creighton University School of Pharmacy) is listed as a "druggist."

But perhaps Leon's most profitable sideline was as a liquor merchant.  And here he ran headlong into a midwestern phenomenon which was big and only getting bigger -- the Temperance Movement.  When crusaders against the evils of drink couldn't ban Demon Rum outright, they set out to harass tavern keepers, pharmacists and other Agents of Drunkenness with taxes, regulations and measures designed to drive them out of business.   In Nebraska the Anti-Saloon League lobbied for Sunday closure of taverns throughout the Commonwealth.  On November 25, 1908 we find this article in the Omaha Daily Bee:
That Number of Indictments Returned on Twenty-Third Day of Month by Grand Jury 
Twenty-three indictments on the twenty-third day of the month against saloon-keepers, druggists and keepers of houses of ill fame for alleged illegal sales of liquor, were returned by the county grand jury yesterday. The saloon keepers were all charged with selling liquor on Sunday: the druggists with failing to keep a register for the recording of liquor sales, and the keepers of houses of ill fame, for selling without a license... 
George McArdle, William Silk, Leon Levy, William Hartman, William C. Paulsen, William Burke, Mrs. L. Burke, Max Grim, Charles Palmtag and Frank Bauer are in the list of saloon keepers.
Leon Levi Gets Ninety Days When He Fails to Pay Fine for Lid Lifting 
Upon his faiure to pay a $200 fine which was imposed by Judge Crawford, Leon Levi, who conducts a cigar store at 709 North Sixteenth Street, was sentenced to ninety days in jail Tuesday on the charge of selling liquor without a license.  Levi was arrested Friday night, when the police raided his place of business and confiscated a quantity of liquor.
Things weren't going so well for Leon at home either.  In a May 1911 divorce hearing Emma Levy testified loudly "I would rather go to the pen for twenty years than stay with my husband one day!" The divorce decree was finally signed in late May. Leon left to spend some time in Salt Lake City, where his brother Adolph owned the Vienna Bakery.  Perhaps he was hoping to make a new start: perhaps he wanted to take some time to recoup from what had obviously been a rough year.  Whatever his plans, they were cut suddenly short.  On July 5, 1911, at the age of 54 years, Leon Levy died suddenly of an unexplained disease.

Because Leon died before the sixty-day period in which the decree was to be finalized, Emma Levy's attorneys were able to get a decree abating the divorce. This put her in line to inherit Leon Levy's property, which consisted primarily of some real estate and a $2,000 life insurance policy from the fraternal order Woodmen of the World. (Both Levy and his wife were members of WoW: Emma Levy belonged to the auxiliary "Woodmen Circle").  But for whatever reason Emma did not live long to enjoy her inheritance: by April of 1912 she was also dead and at 21 years old, Michael Levy found himself an orphan.

1914 finds Michael Levy still in Nebraska, working as a travel agent in Grand Island.  Sometime after that he moves to Chicago, where he meets a news stand owner's daughter named Gertrude.  But that is a story for another time.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Satanism: The Story of a Reluctant Antichrist and the Hell he Raised

My most recent post on Anton LaVey spawned a fair bit of conversation on Facebook.  There was particular interest when I floated the idea of a book on Satanism as an American cultural movement ala New Orleans Voodoo. Hence my latest project, tentatively titled Satanism: the Story of a Reluctant Antichrist and the Hell he Raised.  

On one hand the research is easier than The New Orleans Voodoo Handbook.  New Orleans Voodoo has a 250+ year history spanning multiple continents. Satanism as we know it today can be traced to one time (the mid-1960s), one place (San Francisco) and one man (Howard Stanton "Tony" Levey, better known by his preferred monicker of Anton Szandor LaVey). On the other hand, things are a lot more complicated.

At the time of his death LaVey was embroiled in a number of personal controversies. He had also acquired a number of competitors who wanted to discredit him.  This meant that a cottage industry arose in material which painted LaVey in the worst possible light.  Accordingly, people close to Anton LaVey tend to be instinctively wary when questioned: people who hated him are only too happy to share their grievances.

I have no desire to write a salacious tell-all, especially since LaVey's life doesn't appear to have been all that salacious.  (He's certainly got nothing on transvestite meth-head priests).  I won't hide unflattering information if it is important to his work, if it sheds light on his philosophy or influence. But I'm primarily concerned with his failings insofar as they shed light on his accomplishments.  Tragic flaws interest me: petty ones not so much.

When I started this project I had LaVey pegged as an entertainer, a comedian whose tongue was always firmly in cheek.  I still think there's a great deal of truth to that: many of his followers and detractors alike take him WAY too seriously.  Anton LaVey as an artist, writer and performer is comparable to people like William S. Burroughs and Andy Kaufman.  As a religious leader he all too often gets judged in the light of clowns like Grand Magister Malodorous and High Priest Gorgoroth of the Temple of Eternel (sic) Evil.

Then I saw a throwaway line where LaVey told Lawrence Wright that he hadn't done a Black Mass in over twenty years.  And I realized that here's a guy who could have made a tidy living working the lecture circuit.  Hell, I'm imagining LaVey with robe and hood, holding up a sword and proclaiming  "In this arid wilderness of steel and stone I raise up my voice that you may hear. To the East and to the West I beckon. To the North and to the South I show a sign proclaiming: LIVE FROM NEW YORK, IT'S SATURDAY NIGHT!!!"

But he didn't do that.  Instead he watched like Sauron from Barad-Dur as others ran with his ideas (and more often than not got them spectacularly wrong). For a good part of Satanism's story Anton LaVey is conspicuous by his absence. Those aren't the actions of someone who was doing this as a performance, someone who was just looking for a quick buck.  There are many religions founded by conmen pretending to be prophets.  Anton LaVey was a prophet pretending to be a conman. He may have played a little fast and loose with the facts, but he believed everything he said.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Anton LaVey, Lawrence Wright and the Semi-Reliable Narrator

My favorite LaVey/Barton picture
In a 1991 Rolling Stone article entitled "Sympathy for the Devil: It’s not easy being evil in a world that’s gone to hell," Lawrence Wright found several of Anton LaVey's autobiographical claims to be partially or wholly untrue. Since that time his findings have been reproduced in various documents intended to "debunk" LaVey: estranged daughter Zeena's "Anton LaVey: Legend and Reality" is probably the most notorious and widely distributed. Most of these pages are obvious hatchet jobs which are best ignored. But for those who wish to study LaVey and his cultural impact Wright's research is not so easily dismissed. Like Burroughs and Warhol, LaVey's persona is a major part of his oeuvre. How do we determine where facts end and fiction begins -- and when does it matter?

LaVey long claimed experience as a lion tamer and calliope player in the 1947 Clyde Beatty Circus and later work with an unnamed carnival through 1948. Contacting the Circus World Museum, Wright finds no evidence placing him with Beatty at that time, but notes that several of the acts LaVey allegedly played for actually worked with Ringling Brothers. Let's put aside for a moment the possibility that LaVey traveled with a smaller show -- there were many traveling the California coast in 1947 and 1948 -- and assume LaVey made the whole thing up. Why? What did he hope to gain from presenting himself as a carny and, indeed, from making it a central part of the Anton Szandor LaVey persona?

The carny is charming, fascinating and not to be trusted: exaggeration and hyperbole are all part of his game. Like any barker, we can hardly expect LaVey to let the facts get in the way of a good spiel. This is an easy enough way to dismiss the whole problem -- and LaVey. But it is more useful as a clue in how one should read LaVey's work. He may use colorful language or fanciful stories, but it is all in good fun. The boasts will typically be benign, impressive-sounding but empty upon close reflection. Much of LaVey's so-called fraud is mere puffery. Consider this example from Wright:
[LaVey] said he was the official organist of the city of San Francisco until 1966, playing “the largest pipe organ west of Chicago" in the Civic Auditorium, where so many conventions were held. "I played official banquets, political functions, basketball games.” (There actually was no position as city organist in San Francisco, according to Julie Burford at the Civic Auditorium. Carole LaVey's divorce pleadings state that her husband's sole income was $29.91 per week, derived from playing the Wurlitzer organ at the Lost Weekend nightclub and "various infrequent affairs at the Civic Auditorium.")
LaVey may have granted himself an imaginary title, but those divorce papers show that he did in fact play the largest pipe organ west of Chicago on multiple occasions. And while others have questioned the nature of his relationship with Jayne Mansfield, consider this comment from a retired San Francisco police inspector (and yes, that's his real name):
"I remember Jayne, all right," says Jack Webb. In the early days of the church, Webb used to drop by for some of the rituals, along with several other San Francisco cops. "One night she was lying naked on Tony's grand piano. I'll never forget that sight."
While we still have no clue as to what Mansfield and LaVey did or did not do in bed, that unofficial police report suggests their relationship may well have been more than friendly. I've found a similar trend in cases where records are available -- and keep in mind some of these incidents happened 70 years ago: more often than not the data supports LaVey's claims .

Sometimes names are changed to protect the innocent: he called his parents "Joe and Augusta" rather than "Michael and Gertrude" because he wanted them kept out of the spotlight. (Seeing as how Lawrence Wright contacted LaVey's 87 year-old father in the course of this interview, we can understand his concern). And, unsurprisingly, the man who wanted "total controlled environments" also wanted total control over his personal image. Even more than the typical man of his era, LaVey hated showing weakness. Yet for all that he was surprisingly honest and self-effacing as often as boastful.

Wright is a decent writer and a competent journalist. I can't fault his research skills or his turn of phrase. And there is one transcendent moment where he almost Gets It, the point when he realizes "'Anton LaVey' was itself his supreme creation, his ultimate satanic object, a sort of android composed of all the elements his mysterious creator had chosen from the universe of dark possibilities." But he never takes the next step, never realizes "Hey! Lawrence Wright can be MY supreme creation." Instead, because he can't figure out LaVey's theology or grasp some Great Truth, he concludes "LaVey is like so many other self-created American legends; the whole point of his existence is to be understood immediately."