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.