Church of Satan
The Church of Satan is a religious organization dedicated to Satanism as codified in The Satanic Bible. The Church of Satan was established at the Black House in San Francisco, California, on Walpurgisnacht, April 30, 1966, by Anton Szandor LaVey, who was the Church’s High Priest until his death in 1997. In 2001, Peter H. Gilmore was appointed to the position of High Priest, and the church’s headquarters were moved to Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan, New York City.
The church does not believe in the Devil, nor a Christian or Islamic notion of Satan. Peter H. Gilmore describes its members as “skeptical atheists”, embracing the Hebrew root of the word “Satan” as “adversary”. The church views Satan as a positive archetype who represents pride, individualism, and enlightenment, and as a symbol of defiance against the Abrahamic faiths which LaVey criticized for what he saw as the suppression of humanity’s natural instincts.
The Church of Satan describes its structural basis as a cabal that is “an underground cell-system of individuals who share the basis of [our] philosophy”. Membership in the Church of Satan is available on two levels: registered membership and active membership. Registered members are those who choose to affiliate on a formal level by filling out the required information and sending a one time registration fee. Active membership is available for those who wish to take a more active role in the organization, and is subject to the completion of a more comprehensive application. The organization does not disclose official membership numbers. The church provides wedding, funeral, and baptismal services to members. Such ceremonies are performed by a member of the church’s priesthood.
The Church maintains a purist approach to Satanism as expounded by LaVey, rejecting the legitimacy of any other organizations who claim to be Satanists. Scholars agree that there is no reliably documented case of Satanic continuity prior to the founding of the Church of Satan. It was the first organized church in modern times to be devoted to the figure of Satan, and according to Faxneld and Petersen, the Church represented “the first public, highly visible, and long-lasting organization which propounded a coherent satanic discourse”.
Main article: LaVeyan Satanism
The Church does not espouse a belief in Satan as an entity who literally exists, and LaVey did not encourage the worship of Satan as a deity. In an interview with David Shankbone, High Priest Peter H. Gilmore stated “My real feeling is that anybody who believes in supernatural entities on some level is insane. Whether they believe in the Devil or God, they are abdicating reason”. Gilmore defines the word “Satan” as “a model or a mode of behavior”, noting that in Hebrew the word means “adversary” or “opposer”, which can be regarded as “one who questions”. Gilmore describes Satanism as beginning with atheism, and taking the view that the universe is indifferent: “There’s no God, there’s no Devil. No one cares!” LaVey sought to cement his belief system within the secularist world-view that derived from natural science, thus providing him with an anti-theistic basis with which to criticize Christianity and other supernaturalist beliefs. He legitimized his religion by highlighting what he claimed was its rational nature, contrasting this with what he saw as the supernaturalist irrationality of established religions.
Church members may also participate in a system of magic which LaVey defined as greater and lesser magic. Greater magic is a form of ritual practice and is meant as psychodramatic catharsis to focus one’s emotional energy for a specific purpose; lesser magic is the practice of manipulation by means of applied psychology and glamour (or “wile and guile”) to bend an individual or situation to one’s will. Although many of LaVey’s ideas are shaped around a secular and scientific world-view, others express the belief that there are various magical forces in existence; rather than characterising these as supernatural, LaVey expressed the view that they were part of the natural world yet thus far undiscovered by science. He believed that the successful use of magic involved the magician manipulating these natural forces using the force of their own willpower, a trait of the religion that has been compared with Christian Science and Scientology. Outlined in The Satanic Bible, LaVey defined magic as “the change in situations or events in accordance with one’s will, which would, using normally accepted methods, be unchangeable.”
The term “Theistic Satanism” has been described as “oxymoronic” by the church and its High Priest. The Church of Satan rejects the legitimacy of any other organizations who claim to be Satanists, atheistic or otherwise, dubbing them reverse-Christians, pseudo-Satanists or Devil worshipers. Prominent Church leader Blanche Barton described Satanism as “an alignment, a lifestyle”. LaVey and the Church espoused the view that “Satanists are born, not made”; that they are outsiders by their nature, living as they see fit, who are self-realized in a religion which appeals to the would-be Satanist’s nature, leading them to realize they are Satanists through finding a belief system that is in line with their own perspective and lifestyle. Adherents to the philosophy have described Satanism as a non-spiritual religion of the flesh, or “…the world’s first carnal religion”. The “central convictions” of the Church are formulated in the Nine Satanic Statements, Eleven Satanic Rules of the Earth, Nine Satanic Sins, and Pentagonal Revisionism, which are regularly reproduced within the Church of Satan’s written material.
In 1956, LaVey purchased a Victorian house in the Richmond District of San Francisco, which he painted black. During the late 1950s, LaVey hosted Friday night lectures on occult subjects at his house. The process of writing his lectures led him to distill his philosophy based on his earlier research into topics considered bizarre and arcane, and experiences as a psychic investigator and hypnotist, as well as work in the carnivals. He gradually gathered regular visitors who became known as the “Magic Circle”. During this time, LaVey also held “witches workshops”, classes to instruct women on the art of seduction and manipulation through glamour and feminine wiles. According to sociologist and early group affiliate, Randall Alfred, these “workshops” included “various aspects of Satanism” and were part of the Friday night lectures. Though actual numbers are unknown, it has been suggested that the group comprised around twenty people. Accounts suggest that the “circle” included authors, artists, doctors, policemen, and academics among other professions.
In the early 1960s Anton LaVey formed a group called the Order of the Trapezoid, which later became the governing body of the Church of Satan. The group included: “The Baroness” Carin de Plessen, Dr. Cecil Nixon, Kenneth Anger, City Assessor Russell Wolden, and Donald Werby. According to the Church of Satan historiography, other LaVey associates from this time include noted science fiction and horror writers Anthony Boucher, August Derleth, Robert Barbour Johnson, Reginald Bretnor, Emil Petaja, Stuart Palmer, Clark Ashton Smith, Forrest J. Ackerman, and Fritz Leiber Jr.
In the mid-60’s, prior to the publishing of The Satanic Bible, LaVey’s writings were disseminated among his circle in the form of a series of papers known as the “rainbow sheets”, an assortment of essays describing the philosophy, presented as “an introduction to Satanism”. These essays were later featured in The Book of Lucifer. In addition was a paper describing magic and containing instructions for the practice or ritual.
Formation, rituals and publicity (1966–1978)
LaVey founded the Church of Satan on Walpurgisnacht of 1966, which he proclaimed to be “the Year One”, Anno Satanas—the first year of the “Age of Satan”. LaVey began performing weekly Satanic rituals with followers at his house in San Francisco, which was known as “the Black House”. In February 1967, LaVey and the Church performed a much publicized Satanic marriage of Judith Case and journalist John Raymond. The ceremony was attended by Joe Rosenthal. LaVey performed the first publicly recorded Satanic baptism in history for his youngest daughter Zeena, which garnered worldwide publicity and was originally recorded on The Satanic Mass LP.
LaVey attracted a number of celebrities to join his Church, most notably Sammy Davis Junior and Jayne Mansfield. LaVey also established branches of the Church, known as grottos, in various parts of the United States; these included the Babylon Grotto in Detroit, the Stygian Grotto in Dayton, and the Lilith Grotto in New York City. The Church of Satan was the subject of a number of books, magazine and newspaper articles during the 1960s and 1970s. It is also the subject of a documentary, Satanis (1970). LaVey appeared in Kenneth Anger’s film Invocation of My Demon Brother, acted as technical adviser on The Devil’s Rain, which starred Ernest Borgnine, William Shatner, and introduced John Travolta.
LaVey ceased conducting group rituals and workshops in his home in 1972. In 1973, church leaders in Michigan, Ohio, and Florida split to form their own Church of Satanic Brotherhood, however this disbanded in 1974 when one of its founders publicly converted to Christianity. Subsequently, members of the Church of Satan based in Kentucky and Indiana left to found the Ordo Templi Satanis. In 1975, LaVey phased out the Church’s “Grotto” system and eliminated people he thought were using the Church as a substitute for accomplishment in the outside world. Thereafter, conventional achievement in society would be the criterion for advancement within the Church of Satan.
1980s and early 1990s and “Satanic Panic”
In the 1980s the media reported concerns of criminal conspiracies within the Church of Satan. The FBI would later issue an official report refuting the criminal conspiracy theories of this time. This phenomenon became known as the “Satanic Panic”. LaVey’s daughter Zeena was the spokesperson and High Priestess in the Church of Satan during the 1980s. During this period, she appeared on television and radio broadcasts, in part to educate about the Church, and in part to debunk the mythology surrounding the Satanic Panic—a period of time in the same era in which Satanism was blamed for the actions of Satanic ritual abuse.
From then until her renunciation of the Church of Satan in 1990, Zeena appeared in such nationally syndicated programs as The Phil Donahue Show, Nightline with Ted Koppel, Entertainment Tonight, The Late Show, Secrets & Mysteries and the Sally Jesse Raphael Show. The appearances were made at the behest of the Church of Satan as its spokesperson. She did this on behalf of her father Anton LaVey, who was no longer interested in making media appearances, as she stated while being interviewed alongside her husband by televangelist Bob Larson.
In the 1980s and 1990s remaining members of the Church of Satan became active in media appearances to refute allegations of criminal activity. The Church of Satan and its members were very active in producing movies, music, films, and magazines devoted to Satanism. Most notably Adam Parfrey’s Feral House publishing, the music of Boyd Rice, musician King Diamond, and the films of Nick Bougas (a.k.a. A. Wyatt Mann), including his documentary Speak of the Devil: The Canon of Anton LaVey. The Church of Satan and Anton LaVey were also the subject of numerous magazine and news articles during this time.
After LaVey’s death, conflict over the nature of Satanism intensified within the Satanic community. The Church of Satan became increasingly doctrinally-rigid and focused on maintaining the purity of LaVeyan Satanism. The Church’s increased emphasis on their role as the bearer of his legacy was partly a response to the growth in non-LaVeyan Satanists. Some Church members – including Gilmore – claimed that only they were the “real” Satanists and that those belonging to different Satanic traditions were “pseudo” Satanists. After examining many of these claims on the Church’s website, Lewis concluded that it was “obsessed with shoring up its own legitimacy by attacking the heretics, especially those who criticize LaVey”. Meanwhile, the Church experienced an exodus of its membership in the 2000s, with many of these individuals establishing new groups online.
In October 2004 the Royal Navy officially recognised its first registered Satanist, 24-year-old Chris Cranmer, as a technician on HMS Cumberland.
On June 6, 2006 the Church of Satan held the first public ritual Satanic Mass in 40 years at the Steve Allen Theater in the Center for Inquiry in Los Angeles to mark the Church’s fortieth birthday. The ritual, based on the rites outlined in The Satanic Bible and The Satanic Rituals, was conducted by Reverend Bryan Moore and Priestess Heather Saenz.
In December 2007 the Associated Press reported on a story concerning the Church of Satan, in which a teenager had sent an email to High Priest Gilmore stating he wanted to “kill in the name of our unholy lord Satan”. Gilmore then reported the message to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who informed local police, who arrested the teenager.
Membership to the Church is gained by paying $225 and filling out a registration statement, and thus initiates are bestowed with lifetime memberships and not charged annual fees. The church emphasizes that one does not have to join the organization to consider oneself a Satanist, and that one only needs to recognize himself in The Satanic Bible and live according to the tenets outlined therein. The Church states they do not solicit memberships nor proselytize.
As the Church does not publicly release membership information, it is not publicly known how many members belong to the Church. The 1973 US Army Chaplain’s Handbook written by Cecil D Lewis stated that once memberships reached ten thousand the figures were no longer made public. The 2000 edition of the Chaplain’s handbook edited by J. Gordon Melton, removed this observation and simply stated the Church does not publish membership information. According to the Church of Satan web page, memberships are for a lifetime and membership has “always grown as the years pass”. Despite no official published membership number, the issue of membership size continues to be debated. According to Maxwell Davies, estimates have placed membership from 300 to 20,000.Sociologist Massimo Introvigne placed membership at 1,000 in 1997, and in his 2016 book Satanism: A Social History stated that Church membership probably “never exceeded one or two thousand”. In a 1988 TV appearance, then Church of Satan spokesperson Zeena LaVey answered Geraldo Rivera’s question about membership numbers by stating “hundreds of thousands? I can’t say, thousands easily.” According to scholar of religion and ordained minister in the United Methodist Church J. Gordon Melton, Church of Satan “always counted its active membership in the hundreds” “Active membership” is an application dependent subset of the total membership.According to an interview with the Church of Satan, “interest in the Church of Satan and Satanism is growing all the time if our mailboxes, answering and fax machines, and e-mail is any indication.” While not indicative of active membership, the organization’s social media accounts have hundreds of thousands of followers.
Memberships may be terminated on written request of the member, at the discretion of the ruling body of the Church of Satan consisting of the High Priest, the High Priestess, and the Council of Nine.
Church membership operates on a system of degrees, with active membership being the first degree. One must apply and be approved for an active membership, and this is subject to one’s answers to a lengthy series of questions. Promotion to a higher degree is by invitation only, and the requirements for each degree are not open to the public. Members of the third through fifth degrees constitute the Priesthood. LaVey implemented a system of five initiatory levels that the Satanist could advance through by demonstrating knowledge of Satanic philosophy and personal accomplishments in life. These were known as Apprentice (Satanist I°), Brother/Sister of the Cauldron (Witch or Warlock II°), Priest/ Priestess of Mendes (Wizard or Enchantress III°), Magister Cavemi/Magister Templi/Magister Magnus (Magister IV°), and Magister Satanas (Magus V°).
- Registered Member (no degree)
- Active Member (first degree)
- Witch/Warlock (second degree)
- Priestess/Priest (third degree)
- Magistra/Magister (fourth degree)
- Maga/Magius (fifth degree).
Priesthood of Mendes & Council of Nine
Members of the Priesthood make up the Council of Nine, which is the ruling body of the Church of Satan, of which Magistra Templi Rex Blanche Barton is the chairmistress. Individuals who are part of the priesthood are those who act as spokespersons of the Church of Satan. The priesthood is exclusive to third, fourth, and fifth degree members. Members of the priesthood may be referred to as “reverend”. The High Priest and Priestess act as administrative chiefs and primary public representatives; each position (High Priest and High Priestess) is held by a single individual at a time. The current High Priest is Peter H. Gilmore, the current High Priestess is Peggy Nadramia.
The Grotto System
Within the Church, a Grotto (from Italian grotta, a type of cave) is a clandestine association or gathering of Satanists within geographical proximity for means of social, ritual, and special interest activities. The Black House, the founding place and headquarters of the Church of Satan from 1966 to 1997, was effectively the first grotto, and was for a time referred to as the “Central Grotto”. Grottos existed for a time in various parts of the United States; these included the Babylon Grotto in Detroit, the Stygian Grotto in Dayton, and the Lilith Grotto in New York. In 1975, LaVey disbanded all grottos, then reinstated them in the 1980s. The Church of Satan no longer formally recognizes or charters grottos.
6/6/06 High Mass
On June 6, 2006 the Church of Satan conducted a Satanic High Mass at the Center for Inquiry West’s Steve Allen Theater in Los Angeles, California. The event was by invitation only, and over one hundred members of the Church of Satan from around the world filled the theatre to capacity. The event was documented, and many members of the Church of Satan were interviewed, by the BBC with permission.The main ritual, based on the rites outlined in The Satanic Bible and The Satanic Rituals, was conducted by Reverend Bryan Moore and Priestess Heather Saenz. The music for the mass was created and performed by Lustmord and was subsequently released on his album Rising.
LaVey is thought to be directly responsible for the genesis of Satanism as a serious religious movement. Scholars agree that there is no reliably documented case of Satanic continuity prior to the founding of the Church of Satan. It was the first organized church in modern times to be devoted to the figure of Satan, and according to Faxneld and Petersen, the Church represented “the first public, highly visible, and long-lasting organization which propounded a coherent satanic discourse”.
Adapted from New World Encyclopedia