In 1967, the world was abuzz with something sinister going on in San Francisco, CA. A new church had arisen, a church dedicated to the Devil. Created by a former musician and magic enthusiast Howard LaVey who renamed himself Anton Szandor LaVey, it performed public rituals supposedly dedicated to the glory of Satan and the celebration of Earthly pleasures and delights.
Every Friday night, LaVey and his friends and followers conducted a black mass that was a purposeful perversion of Christian church traditions. The music was a corruption of Catholic hymns. The altars were nude women. Semen and milk were used instead of wine. And crowds of reporters looking for shocking pictures and juicy stories (especially reporters for men's magazines) snapped away at the show in front of them, writing story after story. Many Christians were aghast in fear that Revelations 13 was slowly starting to play itself out especially as the Church of Satan's membership grew by leaps and bounds.
But hidden from the cameras was an internal struggle within the Church. The whole point of the Church was to scare and shock Evangelicals and Catholics. It was a show, a performance and many members joined for the glory of being associated with the infamous church, its naked altars and sinister allure. In an interview, Tom Blackwood, a former Priest of the Church shared that when it came to its membership tally, LaVey would pad the numbers.
"If you sing a song with Satan in it, write a book or some articles about Satanism or black magic and you're in."
LaVey also realized the problem of Satanists joining the group just to scare the willies out of Christians among their family and friends. In a Newsweek interview in 1971, he addressed the problem head-on.
"Satanism is developing two circles, an elitist group which I always intended my church to be, and the faddists who are becoming Satanists because it's the thing to do."
He was growing tired and frustrated of just spooking people he didn't like very much. He wanted to practice what he called real Satanism. Combining Nietzsche, Rand and supposedly some writings of the infamous Cabalist and Hermetic Aleisteir Crowley, LaVey preached an ideology that celebrated the human being and all the inherent flaws, imperfections and pleasures the human form entailed as divinity in its own right. While Ayn Rand preached that people should only worry about themselves and their own personal interests, LaVey took the concept one step further and said that each person was a God or Goddess.
But that caused even more of a problem, especially after LaVey's death and the subsequent splintering of the Church. Each member was a supposed divinity and free to create his or her own doctrine. These individual doctrines competed with each other and leaders of small Satanic groups were constantly fighting with their flocks which often thought they created a better magic theory after a year or two of listening to the High Priest. As Blackwood puts it...
"Because LaVeyan Satanism teaches that each human is a God, everybody thinks he's Zeus or Thor. So what happens when you get Thor and Zeus in the same room? They're going to fight. Satanists today bicker endlessly about what's true Satanism and who has the best theory of it."
When LaVey stopped all public ceremonies in 1975 and worked until his death to create a real culture of celebrating the individual and Earthly pleasures, he unwittingly engineered the splintering of the Church. The infamous Black House from which the group was ran since the 1960s was demolished in 2001 after its condition declined so much, it was deemed unsafe for habitation by the city. The current leaders of the Church of Satan are now based in New York City. They advertise some events and a radio show but the original group that made headlines in the 1960s and 1970s is no more. Satan's kingdom on Earth is limited to a small number of people busily engaged in arcane arguments over the finer points of what they think is black magic.
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