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.