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.