Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Giving The Devil His Due: of Suave Satanists and Pagan Paupers

I recently had the pleasure of attending the Church of Satan's 50th Anniversary celebration: I mingled with old friends, made new ones, and received much invaluable input on the LaVey biography.  But while I plugged my project I also spent time admiring the work of other Satanists.  Famous attendees included  model and "real doll" creator Marilyn Mansfield; Blood Axis co-founder Michael Moynihan; BoySetsFire lead Nathan Gray (with Jimmy Psycho as his opening act); wrestling legend James Mitchell; and sexologist and Old Nick publisher Dr. Robert Johnson.  And for each big (or medium-sized) name there were many soon-to-be-famous performers and skilled artisans.  I was particularly impressed by Hydra Morningstar's woodburning art, Aden Ardennes'  militant eroticism and John H. Shaw's metalwork but many attendees make a living doing what they love.

With its ties to Heavy Metal, Satanism attracts a fair number of blue-collar types: Neopaganism has always skewed more college-educated and professional-class. Yet as I was surrounded by Satanic success I could not help but contemplate Neopaganism's downward mobility. Every day my Facebook feed is graced with Gofundme solicitations to pay Lord Breakswind's rent, cover HP Sparklefart's medical expenses, or feed Lady Twitchbottom's cats.  Unemployment, garnishment, eviction ... your average Neopagan blog has more financial misfortune than a country music CD.

There are other factors at work here.  Satanism holds a dim view of whining: Anton LaVey cautioned Satanists "Do not tell your troubles to others unless you are sure they want to hear them" and "Do not complain about anything to which you need not subject yourself."  There are certainly business-savvy Pagans and financially incompetent Satanists (Anton LaVey being the most famous example of the latter).  But in the end it is hard to avoid the conclusion that Satanism is a financially salutary philosophy whilst Neopaganism is financially corrosive.

Both Satanism and Neopaganism are atheistic religions.  They speak of archetypes and symbols rather than Gods; they ground the Divine in the human experience rather than grounding the human experience in the Divine; they see ritual as psychodrama rather than worship.  Both have a keen interest in magic and the paranormal, and both draw symbolism from Freemasonry and the works of Eliphas Levi.  But once we get past these surface similarities we will see some important philosophical differences -- differences which may play out in their adherents' personal and professional lives.

One of American Neopaganism's central creation myths involves the "Burning Times" -- Church persecution against followers of Ye Olde Religione.  This myth slaps together images from various religious persecutions -- the Roman Catholic Inquisition, the Puritan Court of Oyer and Terminer, contemporary "witch killings" in Africa and India -- and throws them atop a narrative based on their (mis)understanding of the Civil Rights movement.  According to that version of history, Black Americans were eternal victims who were shot, lynched, whipped, abused and kept in the direst poverty until White Americans took pity on them. By establishing themselves as victims in the public eye and displaying their various injuries like a beggar showing his sores, Neopagans hope to be recognized as equals and take their place alongside the Huxtables in Respectable American Society. 

This conception is unfathomably condescending and patronizing: it is also incorrect. Hence, any game plan built upon it is doomed to failure from the start. Pity may get you spare change, but it won't get you respect.  To make matters worse, Neopaganism has retained its 60s countercultural distaste for wealth.  Poverty and persecution become emblems of virtue, not misfortunes to be avoided: financial success is a sign of moral turpitude.  If you think money a thing to be avoided, you can hardly be surprised when money avoids you. If you fear power's corrupting influence you need never fear being tainted by its presence. 

By contrast, Satanism sees the finer things in life as Indulgences -- and the Satanic Word of the Aeon is "Indulgence." Power and wealth aren't dangerous snares which distract you from what's really important in life: they are tools you can use to make your lives happier, healthier and more productive.  (Satanists also realize "money can't buy happiness" is another way of saying "those grapes were sour anyway").  LaVey saw Satanists as an "Alien Elite" surviving and thriving amidst an indifferent and sometimes hostile world. Some -- OK, many -- used this as an excuse to puff themselves up in spectacularly silly fashion. Those with greater discernment found a powerful model for deportment and a role toward which they could strive. 

American Neopaganism is doggedly egalitarian and the Neopagan community is rife with geek social fallacies. Satanists are far more comfortable with stratification: they see no shame in being successful, or in expecting friends and acquaintances to be successful. This means less charity wasted on ingrates and less time spent cleaning up other peoples' messes.  When you surround yourself with strivers and achievers, you invariably find yourself following their lead: the converse holds true as well.  Satanists are encouraged to give walking papers to "psychic vampires" -- a metaphor which LaVey used for those who take more than they give and who use your feelings of guilt and obligation to their advantage. And of course nobody can play at top form when they are hosting parasites. 

Both Satanism and Neopaganism are magical religions. They are open to the possibility that one can see positive benefit from magical rituals and work, and many of their adherents use magical rituals.  But Neopagans generally have multiple taboos connected to their use of magic. They are not to use their magic to do harm or control the will of another, lest their attacks be returned to them threefold. Using magic in your own self-interest is looked upon with suspicion, as is taking money for magic.  No such taboos exist for Satanists: they can cast Lust and Destruction spells with nary a moment's worry about losing favor with their coreligionists.

But that surface similarity masks a profound and very important difference.  Neopaganism still accepts the distinction between body and spirit: Satanism is a carnal religion which believes there is nothing spiritual.  Neopagan magicians spend a great deal of time engaging in "astral travel," "creative visualization" and other practices which look to Muggles very much like daydreaming.  Their visions of magic are often drawn from fantasy fiction and movies: their "magical clothes" evoke a Renfaire never-was.  Satanism roots magic in a "dark force in nature" and is concerned with it only insofar as it can better the magician's standing in the here-and-now.  As CoS High Priest Peter H. Gilmore says in his essay "The Magic of Mastery:"
There is true magic in the mastering of skills. Most members of the herd will look with awe upon a talented and accomplished practitioner.  To them, the producing of quality results with the effortless-seaming ease of mastery will appear to be pure wizardry... 
So, to be a master of magic , toss out those musty grimoires, unless they're printed by Chilton. Pick some field and become an advanced practitioner. Be a writer, pastry chef, seamstress, flower arranger, plumber, sculptor, carpenter, photographer, upholsterer, elecctrician, pilot, beautician, steelworker, medic, whatever you have an affinity for. You'll amaze those around you, gain their respect and envy, achieve material success and you won't even have to say "Shemhamforash" in public.