Anton La Vey and snake. (Image Source)
So far in this series, I covered Jim Jones who believed himself better than God (if there was, in fact, a supreme deity); Father Divine, who claimed to be God incarnate; and Aimee Semple McPherson, who despite being a twice divorced female pastor, held to the usual standards of historic, orthodox Christianity, i.e., The Trinity, Virgin Birth, Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ, and salvation through the grace of God and faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior.
But for this entry, I’m going to step away from Christians (or those who started off that way… fun fact, Jones, Divine and McPherson all had early roots in the Methodist church), and over to the other side: Anton La Vey, who founded The Church of Satan in 1966 in California (um, another thing I noticed, is Cali’s place of prominence in this series… Jones’ Peoples Temple flourished there, and Semple’s Angelus Temple was based in L.A…. even Divine’s movement had success with satellite communities in the Golden State).
Reading up on La Vey, who died in 1997, is a challenge, because there’s so much conflicting information. The man’s actual birth name is even up for debate. A number of Christian sites add to this hodgepodge; while attempting to impress on readers the seriousness of La Vey and occultism in general, some of the articles play fast and loose with dates, quotes and the teachings of The Church of Satan. Augh… this does a great disservice to their entire message. If you can’t get major tenets of their church right, why would people take anything you have to say to be true?
Another problem with reading about La Vey is… La Vey. The dude, in building up a public persona, often exaggerated, obfuscated or just plain lied. In “Saints and Sinners: Walker Railey, Jimmy Swaggart, Madalyn Murray O’Hair, Anton LaVey, Will Campbell , Matthew Fox” by Lawrence Wright, La Vey, in a series of interviews repeatedly gives out dubious information. Wright then tries to verify said information only to find it’s incorrect. For example, La Vey claimed he had a short affair with Marilyn Monroe in 1948 when he played the organ at a burlesque show where she was a dancer. Except:
“That’s where I met Marilyn Monroe, at the Mayan,” says LaVey. “The guy who ran it was Paul Valentine.” Monroe was down on her luck as a starlet and had taken up stripping to get by.
“Her big break came right after we broke up,” LaVey continued. “She did a walk-on in a Groucho Marx movie. Then John Huston gave her a great part in Asphalt Jungle.” (As it happens, the romantic lead in that Marx Brothers movie, Love Happy, was Paul Valentine, the same man who directed the Mayan Theater. “I don’t know if Marilyn ever performed at the Mayan,” Valentine told me, “but I do know that she was never one of my dancers.” In any case, Valentine says he operated the Mayan as “a legitimate theater. It was never a burlesque, never a bump-and-grind.”
He says LaVey never worked for him, either.)
Claiming an affair with Monroe helped build buzz and made great copy, so the tale became baked into the loaf of La Vey legend. Anyway, he did have a very real connection to another troubled Hollywood blond bombshell, Jayne Mansfield. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s get started at the beginning.
Born on April 11, 1930 in Chicago, La Vey had a pretty normal, calm childhood.
He had what he calls a “subjective childhood.” His parents were “very normal,” with no interest in the dark side. “The story of my father’s life was to blend into the woodwork. My mother was the same way. They were very paranoid about the neighbors and what people thought of them. In a way it was good. I was allowed to take my own lead. In that sense, I couldn’t have chosen better parents.”
His religious upbringing was “very iconoclastic and extremely permissive. My own family were nonparticipants. I was never pushed into a religious formula. The only thing I ever heard about religion was ‘Another name for God is nature.’
Although Tony, as the boy was called, was pleased that he didn’t have to go to a priest or a minister or a rabbi (“so I never had any lies told to me”), he was guarded about his agnosticism. “To say you didn’t believe in God back then was like saying you were a communist. I would say, ‘Of course I believe in God.’ I didn’t want to get clobbered.”
Anton and his organ. (Image Source)
La Vey was really big into music.
Music has always been at the center of LaVey’s life and of his magic as well. “I play kitsch music—bombastic, schmaltzy, corny—the kind of music you hear in the background of cartoons,” he said unapologetically, as he took a seat inside his nest of synthesizers and samplers.
Music is the heart of his theory of magic. “Satanic music is not heavy metal rock and roll,” he contends. The music of supposed satanic groups such as AC/DC, Black Sabbath, and Slayer is not really occult, because millions of people hear their songs every day on records and radio and in concert. Occult is what no one ever listens to anymore, songs that once were popular but now are long forgotten, such as “Telstar” and “Yes, We Have No Bananas.” LaVey keeps a list of such lost songs. He believes that by playing them he releases their suppressed power. “Music is a magical tool, a universal language,” he says. How does that magic work? “If you wanted it to rain, for instance, you could play every song with ‘rain’ in the title. If no one else is playing those songs, there is still a certain charge in them. It might just rain.”
Yes, “Yes, We Have No Bananas”. Um… anyway I like Louis Prima’s version of the song. LOL!
La Vey had a pretty dim view of Christianity. (Shocker.)
LaVey says he received a critical insight into the nature of religion during this period, because he was often recruited by itinerant evangelists to play gospel tunes. “My exposure to grass-roots Christianity was on a real dirt-lot, tent-show level,” he recalls. “I used to have to duck the crutches and braces at the healing show. They’d really slam them down on the stage.”
While he was playing “Bringing in the Sheaves,” he would look out at the audience, which was clamoring to be saved. “I’d see the same goddamned faces that had been ogling the half-naked girls at the carnival the night before.” It was, as he has said many times before, a revelation: “I knew then that the Christian church thrives on hypocrisy, and that man’s carnal nature will out no matter how much it is purged or scourged by any white-light religion.”
La Vey’s tent show revival gig turned him off to Christianity; the underbelly of humanity, he claimed, turned him off to belief in God.
To support his young family, LaVey got a job as a police department photographer, which exposed him to the savagery of human nature. He saw children splattered by hit-and-run drivers, women cut to pieces by jealous husbands, the bloated bodies of suicides fished out of San Francisco Bay. He came to the conclusion that if this brutal carnage was God’s will, then he wanted nothing more to do with God. “There is no God,” he decided. “There is no supreme, all-powerful deity in the heavens that cares about the lives of human beings. There is nobody up there who gives a shit. Man must be taught to answer to himself and other men for his actions.”
Interestingly, when Wright checked with the San Francisco police department, they said no one with La Vey’s full name (Or Levey, most likely his true surname) worked for them in the early 50’s as he stated.
He was greatly inspired by infamous British occultist Aleister Crowley.
… important to LaVey’s future was the publication in 1952 of John Symonds’s biography of Aleister Crowley, The Great Beast. Here LaVey found a model for the antihero he would fashion himself into.
Crowley himself died a broken drug addict in 1947. But he left behind a legacy: his body of literature about “magick,” as he spelled it, and a demonic role that was waiting to be filled. Although LaVey pays Crowley less homage now than he did in the past, there are obvious debts to the Great Beast’s writing as well as to his shaved head and even to such details as the use of the pitchfork motif in his signature.
La Vey’s The Satanic Bible reads like the Bizarro Holy Bible.
Blessed are the strong, for they shall possess the earth—
Cursed are the weak, for they shall inherit the yoke!
Blessed are the powerful, for they shall be reverenced among men—
Cursed are the feeble, for they shall be blotted out!
Blessed are the bold, for they shall be masters of the world—
Cursed are the righteously humble, for they shall be trodden under cloven hoofs!
“The Infernal Diatribe” from The Satanic Bible
I don’t get the appeal of that. What’s the point of vowing to uphold those… um, principles? Do you really need a published text to tell you what amounts to:
The creepiest thing about this picture is that rug. Why? Why… was that rug? Just why? Oh, yeah, and Anton and Jayne. (Image Source)
La Vey’s circle included a number of Hollywood types.
In order to deal with the spreading popularity of the Church of Satan, LaVey had set up a formal examining process, which he used to ordain new members of the priesthood. Some of LaVey’s Hollywood friends, such as Jayne Mansfield, were awarded priesthood status without having to pass any tests, as was LaVey’s chauffeur. Sammy Davis, Jr., was made an honorary warlock in the second degree.
Among the many stars LaVey has claimed as friends over the years are Kim Novak, Christopher Lee, Laurence Harvey, and Keenan Wynn. LaVey has served as a consultant on a number of different films—notably the stylishly kitsch The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971) and Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972), in which Vincent Price plays the vengeful magician Dr. Anton Phibes, a character LaVey says was based on him. Phibes is an organist and ex-vaudevillian who builds a clockwork band of robot musicians to accompany his moody performances.
In 1968 LaVey worked with director Roman Polanski on the production of Rosemary’s Baby, which LaVey proclaimed “the best paid commercial for Satanism since the Inquisition.” It is often said that LaVey himself played the serpentine devil who rapes and impregnates Mia Farrow.
LaVey’s most notable conquest in Hollywood, however, was Jayne Mansfield.
He claims Mansfield sought him out after reading a newspaper article about him.
She wanted LaVey to put a curse on her Italian husband, with whom she was involved in a custody dispute. Soon after that, she became a priestess in the Church of Satan. She even posed for publicity photos with LaVey, kneeling at his feet as he administered a chalice of some magical liquid. When she went on a tour of Vietnam to visit the troops, says LaVey, she shocked her military escorts by asking for a satanic religious service. Satanism seemed to strike some deep chord inside her. She called it “Kahlil Gibran with balls.”
Once, Mansfield’s son Zoltan (coincidentally the same name as that of LaVey’s former pet leopard) was mauled by a lion in a private zoo, called Jungleland, north of Los Angeles. The lion was on a tether, but the child came too close, and suddenly the cat had the boy’s head in his jaws. The zookeepers pried the child loose and drove him to a hospital. He had a fractured skull and a ruptured spleen. “Jayne called several times when he was in critical condition,” LaVey recalls. She pleaded with LaVey to work some magic to save her son. “I was very sincere in those days,” says LaVey. He drove through a rainstorm across the Golden Gate Bridge to Mount Tamalpais, the highest point in the Bay Area, and performed a ritual, invoking the many names of the dark powers. “The following day Jayne called and said her son was out of danger. He did recover miraculously.”
How much of the Mansfield story actually happened is anyone’s guess, though. Later in Wright’s book, La Vey claims that he put a spell of Mansfield’s manager/boyfriend Sam Brody, and implies that their deaths in a grisly car crash occured as a result. In telling that story, he mentions Mansfield’s supposed decapitation, linking it to his cutting a newspaper photo of the actress hours before the accident. Except Mansfield was not decapitated, and it doesn’t make much sense that La Vey, who referred to Mansfield as a “kindred soul”, would cast a spell on Brody that also took her out. Unless the “Black Pope”, as his followers called him, didn’t exactly have control over his own powers.
La Vey’s Black House in San Francisco where his kids grew up. (Image Source)
La Vey’s daughters Karla and Zeena had quite the unique upbringing, much different than his own.
“Karla and Zeena grew up in such bizarre, outré circumstances,” LaVey commented. “We really were like the Addams Family,” Karla agreed. It was a colorful life, but sometimes a dangerous one. Crank phone calls and threats were a constant nuisance. Once Karla was shot at by a classmate. On another occasion Zeena came home from school to find a Jesus freak sitting on the front steps with a meat cleaver in his hands.
When Zeena was thirteen she discovered she was pregnant. “My parents were ecstatic,” she remembered. “Actually, I was a little surprised by their reaction. They were so excited they were going to be grandparents.” They all rejected the idea of abortion. “That was just an example of how my parents raised me. They were more open and honest. There was never any deceit.” They named the baby Stanton, which was Anton’s real middle name.
Also, according to Wright’s book, La Vey’s Satanism rejects animal cruelty and sacrifice, child molestation and abuse, and non-consensual sex/rape.
After reading the book, this High Society story (available at the church’s website), and a smattering of other articles from various magazines and newspapers,I still don’t really “get” The Church of Satan, at least the amorphous one started by La Vey. If I were an atheistic, I don’t think I’d be interested in sacred books, rituals and Black Masses. If I still wanted some type of spirituality, there are forms of Buddhism that could be practiced. Or maybe I’d just be an Objectivist. Maybe a Nihilist. But I’ll stick with Love, thank you.
And for those who actually do believe in Satan and choose to worship him as God… Well, God love ya.