Today’s holidays: Monday of the Ninth Week of Ordinary Time (Roman Catholicism), Feast Day of St. Werner Klemperer (Church of the SubGenius).
The Three-Ring Circus of Satan: a review of eight books about LaVeyan Satanism
by Aaron Solomon Adelman
I know the title sounds a bit like mockery, but the relevance will be revealed later on.
The books examined in this review are:
1) The Satanic Bible by Anton Szandor LaVey (LaVey The Satanic Bible), describing the philosophy and basic rituals of LaVeyan Satanism (what LaVey claims as his lifelong belief system) and the Church of Satanism (founded April 30, 1966 by LaVey).
2) The Satanic Rituals by Anton Szandor LaVey (LaVey The Satanic Rituals), which expands on LaVeyan Satanic rituals.
3) The Satanic Witch by Anton Szandor LaVey (LaVey The Satanic Witch), an extending discourse on magic.
4, 5) The Devil’s Notebook by Anton Szandor LaVey (LaVey The Devil’s Notebook) and Satan Speaks! by Anton Szando LaVey (LaVey Satan Speaks!), books of essays on various topics on LaVeyan Satanism and whatever else LaVey felt like writing about.
6) The Secret Life of a Satanist by Blanche Barton (Barton), a biography of LaVey by his last wife.
7) The Satanic Scriptures by Peter H. Gilmore (Gilmore), a book of essays by the current high priest of the Church of Satan.
8) Satan Wants You by Arthur Lyons (Lyons), a history of various things called Satanism.
As LaVey is the founder of LaVeyan Satanism, with Barton and Gilmore merely following in his footsteps, this review will focus heavily on LaVey’s work.
Theology and moral philosophy: Before actually discussing these books, it is imperative to note what these books are not. The classical idea of Satanism is a paranoid Christian fantasy of the worship of Satan. LaVeyan Satanism is not Satanism in the original sense. Much like Ayn Rand (Rand The Virtue of Selfishness, a New Concept of Egoism. With Additional Articles by Nathaniel Branden; Rand Atlas Shrugged; Adelman "Faking Reality: A Moral Review of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged"), Anton Szandor LaVey is rebelling against Christianity—or rather his vision of Christianity—and taking a 180-degree turn. The result, LaVeyan Satanism, is unconventional so far as traditional religion is concerned and strongly resembles Rand’s Objectivism on many points.
1) Like the theology of Objectivism, the theology of LaVeyan Satanism is atheistic without the least bit of proof. While rejecting God in the Christian sense of the term (LaVey The Satanic Bible 40-43), he embraces another “god”: himself (LaVey The Satanic Bible 44-45, 96). LaVey believes that all people should treat themselves as their own deity, the exact religious equivalent of Objectivist selfishness. This axiom forms the core of his personal morality. LaVey has worked out a system of how to be selfish, not in an idiotically short-sighted fashion, but in an organized manner to bring one the most benefit and indulgence possible (LaVey The Satanic Bible 25). This includes being compassionate and loving to those one considers worthy of compassion and love (LaVey The Satanic Bible 64), and there is also a variant on the golden rule: “Do unto others as they do unto you” (LaVey The Satanic Bible 51).
2) LaVey sees those who annoy him as worthy of destruction. He views religious people in general and Christians in particular as possessing even trait he despises; he sees them as a bunch of stupid, hypocritical doormats who hate life and pleasure, that are unjust, and that never create anything new or improve this world (LaVey The Satanic Bible 23, 25, 29-43, 46-52, 54-57, 61-65, 76-77, 82-86, 92-95, 110-11, 20, 35, 38-39; LaVey The Satanic Rituals 14, 17, 26-27, 31-35; LaVey The Devil’s Notebook 56, 84-88, 93-94). Rand has essentially the same views about non-Objectivists.
3) LaVey does not preach to convert others to his moral system; rather he reaches out to those who already believe as he does. The style of his writing is so insulting to those who do not agree with him that those who disagree are likely to quickly stop reading Likewise, Rand insults those who do not agree with her and preaches to the choir in Atlas Shrugged.
4) Both LaVey and Rand are interested in recreating the world around them to their own liking. Rand dreams of destroying the world to let the “superior” Objectivists taking over, while LaVey dreams of a stratified society with “superior” Satanists lording it over their “inferior” opponents. LaVey also promotes the creation and usage of “artificial human companions”.
5) Both LaVey and Rand ground their moral systems in the naturalistic fallacy (LaVey The Satanic Bible 51). Both contrast their systems repeatedly with other moral systems and religions—or rather their visions thereof. Though while Rand cannot be bothered to name her opponents’ moral systems, LaVey harps frequently on Christianity.
Now, if this were all there were to LaVeyan Satanism, anyone reading this should be yawning. A clone of Rand’s Objectivism naturally has all the problems of Objectivism, compounded with the fact that the clone is plagiarized. However, what else there is to LaVeyan Satanism is anything but yawn-worthy.
Salesmanship: Despite the logic behind it, being selfish, no matter under what name it goes, is not an honestly marketable philosophy. Those who are not selfish usually have no interest in becoming selfish (or are unlikely to admit it), because people usually hate those who are selfish, and those who already are selfish have no need for someone to tell them how to be selfish and are unlikely to pay anyone for the privilege. To make such a moral philosophy more salable, LaVey has wrapped up being selfish with other ideas that are easier to sell. When people try to sell an ugly philosophy, they wrap it up in whatever righteousness and talent in their background they can. Thus Ann Coulter, a lawyer, plays the lawyer to push extreme conservative paranoia (Adelman "Review of Godless: The Church of Liberalism by Ann Coulter"; Coulter); Richard Dawkins, a scientist, makes his claims of atheism in the name of science (Adelman "Delusional Victory: A Review of Richard Dawkins’s the God Delusion"; Dawkins); Bill Maher, a comedian, pushes atheism by dredging up everything he finds ridiculous in religion (Adelman "Appeal to Ridicule: A Review of Bill Maher’s Religulous"; Charles); and Ben Stein, who wrote speeches for Richard Nixon, plays politics to defend creationism (Adelman "No Honesty Allowed: A Review of Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed"; Frankowski). LaVey has a different background; he learned the art of showmanship in the circus and the carnival (Barton 29-43). And so to the idea of selfishness LaVey adds the prestige of religion, controversy, and magic, and the result is the Church of Satan.
The prestige of religion: While Rand dresses her moral system in the trappings of formal philosophy, LaVey dresses his in the trappings of religion. Formal philosophy has never been popular. It is an intellectual pursuit, one for which few people ever receive training. Unlike science, formal philosophy has few, if any, people doing public relations to tell everyone that it a great and wonderful field. In fact, even scientists, who are smart enough to understand philosophy, usually pay little attention to what philosophers have to say. Religion, on the other hand, has a massive following, with the majority of humanity following a religion. As a philosophy, Objectivism is something that elitist snobs follow. As a religion, LaVeyan Satanism is something that more ordinary people can practice. Furthermore, religion has the advantage that most countries at least pay lip service to freedom of religion. An Objectivist cannot claim “freedom of philosophy” to act antisocially and get away with it. But a LaVeyan Satanist can justify unusual behavior on the grounds of “freedom of religion” and get accommodation in the West, especially the United States.
Controversy: Controversy is a great way to attract attention, and the more controversial, the better it works. As such LaVey has created something deliberately controversial, and it is clear that the controversy is meant for attention and not the quest for actual knowledge, because LaVey has no interest in associating with anyone who will contradict him (LaVey Satan Speaks! 37-38)—something dangerous for anyone interested in knowledge above being right. In all of the reviewed books, footnotes or specific references of any sort are rare. A few verses from the Christian Bible are noted, and Arthur Lyons is especially nice in citing his sources when he quotes someone. (Most of the LaVeyan Satanist literature seems to be propaganda. Lyons seems to be thinking more academically.) But for the most part, the books reviewed are littered with offense-inducing nontrivial claims. For example:
- “All religions of a spiritual nature are inventions of man” (LaVey The Satanic Bible 44). (As noted before, no proof of invention of religions—or that atheism is correct, for that matter—is ever given.)
- “Sexual activity certainly is condoned and encouraged by Satanism, but obviously the fact that it is the only religion which honestly takes this stand, is the reason it has been traditionally given so much literary space” (LaVey The Satanic Bible 85). (No proof is given that Satanism is the only pro-sex religion. Therefore any conclusion based on the unproven premise is premature.)
- “Satanism does not sacrifice its god, as do other religions” (LaVey The Satanic Bible 138). (Your reviewer is not aware of any religion sacrificing its god. In many, if not most, religions, this is outright impossible, and it is difficult to imagine that if such an action were possible that it would be looked upon with favor except by a truly masochistic god. The nearest your author is aware of is the crucifixion of Jesus, but this is a forced interpretation.)
- “There is not a person on this earth who is completely devoid of ornamentation.” (LaVey The Satanic Bible 46) (LaVey ignores the existence of nudists.)
- “There has never been a great ‘love’ movement in the history of the world that hasn’t wound up killing countless numbers of people, we must assume, to prove how much they loved them! Every hypocrite who ever walked the earth has had pockets buldging [sic] with love!” (LaVey The Satanic Bible 64). (Sarcasm about the Nazis, Stalinists, and Maoists being full of love would be appropriate here. Sarcasm about Flower Children massacring millions would also be appropriate.)
- Attempts to link Jews and Zionists with Nazism (LaVey Satan Speaks! 20-22, 69-72; Barton 56-57), especially claims of cooperation between Zionists and Nazis during World War II (LaVey Satan Speaks! 70-71; Barton 57). (Anyone who does not understand why this is a priori unbelievable and requires solid proof to be worthy of being taken seriously is incompetent with regard to logic and reason and has no business making arguments of any kind.)
Given the utility of controversy, The Satanic Bible is not merely an exposition on LaVey’s moral philosophy; it is also a rhetorical attack on religion in general and Christianity in particular. (He claims, in contrast, that Satanism is an “un-religion” (LaVey The Satanic Bible 14).) As noted above, he makes charges frequently of religion uniformly supporting a caricature of Christianity: opposing pleasure in all forms, denying humanity’s animal nature and needs, and turning people into sheep—charges he never gives sources for. LaVey also plays the antiquity card by claiming that Satanism existed before him (LaVey The Satanic Bible 171) and makes insinuations about people tried for witchcraft (LaVey The Satanic Bible 111), various evil historical figures (LaVey The Satanic Bible 104-05), Galileo Galilei and Leonardo da Vinci (LaVey The Satanic Rituals 32), the Illuminati (LaVey The Satanic Rituals 78), the Knights Templar (LaVey The Satanic Rituals 54-55), the Yezidis (LaVey The Satanic Rituals 54-55, 51-155), post-Christianization Russians (LaVey The Satanic Rituals 131-36), H. P. Lovecraft (LaVey The Satanic Rituals 175-79), the Jews (LaVey Satan Speaks! 20-22, 69-72), and practically any writer or artist he likes (LaVey Satan Speaks! 61, 64-65). Given the sparse sourcing in LaVeyan Satanic literature and the fact that many of the alleged facts which LaVey presents are not blatantly obvious, any sensible reader should be (metaphorically) hearing alarm bells indicating that LaVey either does not care if anyone believes his version of history or not, so long as he gets the attention he needs to sell his books, or he is deliberately targeting the uncritical antireligious.
Note: For the record, were LaVey still alive, he would be chewed out for his mischaracterization of religion by the unconventional Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, author of Kosher Sex (Boteach), who is unquestionably sex-positive.
Evil: LaVey is not content to stir up controversy in claims about history and other people’s religions; how he frames his own religion is also deliberately controversial—and in a way which is a serious break with Rand. Throughout LaVeyan Satanism books, “evil” is the term used for what LaVeyan Satanism stands for; in essence, to a LaVeyan Satanist, “evil” is the new “good”. Strictly speaking, this is a huge terminological blunder. “Good” is the term conventionally used for morally correct behavior, regardless of the moral system involved, and “evil” is used for morally incorrect behavior. To use “evil” to denote what is morally correct is to sow confusion and controversy—exactly what LaVey wants. LaVey also misidentifies his ideology with evil as defined in Christianity (or probably any other religion with a moral code), when in reality his “evil” is not identical with the Christian notion of evil (or the notion of evil propagated by probably any other religion with a moral code). The Satanic Bible does not advocate murder, rape, theft (for the most part), child abuse, abortion, slavery, bestiality, senseless or counterproductive cruelty, or breaking the law. Such dishonesty is apparently not sufficiently effective, as in the later Satan Speaks! he makes the blatantly outrageous claim of finding nothing wrong with the plan for world conquest laid out in the infamous forgery The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion (LaVey Satan Speaks! 71).
Symbolism: Another publicity tactic in LaVeyan Satanism is the use of Satan as a symbol. Now, it is perfectly possible to use an entity one does not truly believe in as a symbol. E.g., in the 1939 MGM film The Wizard of Oz, the Tin Woodman sings, “I’d be friends with the sparrows / and the boy who shoots the arrows / if I only had a heart”, and no one seriously thinks that he is truly seeking a closer relationship with the Roman god Cupid or even believes that Cupid exists (Fleming). But LaVey pushes symbolism to a new level. Despite his claims of quasi-atheism, on practically every page of The Satanic Bible LaVey talks about Satan as if he were a real entity instead of merely a symbol of everything LaVey finds praiseworthy. He also frequently makes use of God as a symbol for everything he finds detestable. Taken out of context, much of the book could easily be interpreted as promoting the actual worship of the Christian Satan. LaVey also has no qualms about using the alleged evil deities and quasi-deities of all religions in the same manner as and as virtual synonyms for his version of Satan (LaVey The Satanic Bible 56, 58-60, 145-46). Such confusing and counter-conventional symbolism can only help to sow confusion and controversy.
Magic: Anyone can be selfish or misuse words and symbols for free. In order to get people to pay attention and buy his books, LaVey offers something no one else—not even Rand—can provide: magic, not the tongue-in-cheek kind, but the kind that magicians only pretend that they do. (It may be safely assumed that LaVey never was able to truly work magic, as he poorly rationalizes not using magic for the sorts of “minor” feats that would be expected in proper testing of magical efficacy (LaVey The Satanic Bible 121-22).) Ritual in LaVeyan Satanism is not for worship, but rather is a method of creating the right emotional state so that the participants can use it to accomplish something in the real world (LaVey The Satanic Bible 111). At the very least, LaVeyan ritual is supposed to provide an emotional release, but it also has magical aims, such as love spells and curses to cause the downfall of enemies. The descriptions of how to perform magic are extensive and nontrivial—especially The Satanic Witch, which details how women may use magic to manipulate others for their own benefit—thus providing motivation for the selfish to buy LaVey’s books.
Recycling and plagiarism: LaVey considers all rituals fantasy (LaVey The Satanic Rituals 15). Since one fantasy is as good as another, logically one may use whatever fantasy one feels will accomplish the chosen task—any fantasy. E.g., he cites the case of a wizard who quoted a poem of Rudyard Kipling for a spell (LaVey The Satanic Bible 143). The Satanic Bible and The Satanic Rituals thus freely borrow (in reality or LaVey’s fantasy) from the Enochian Keys of the mystic John Dee (LaVey The Satanic Bible 153-272), the Black Mass (LaVey The Satanic Bible 99-105; LaVey The Satanic Rituals 31-53), The City of Dreadful Night by James Thomson (LaVey The Satanic Rituals 54-75; Thomson), pre-Christian Russian paganism (LaVey The Satanic Rituals 131-50), the Yezidi religion (LaVey The Satanic Rituals 151-72), The Island of Dr. Moreau by Jules Verne (LaVey The Satanic Rituals 76-105; Wells, chapter 12), bad science-fiction movies (LaVey The Satanic Rituals 106-30), and the Cthulhu Mythos of H. P. Lovecraft (LaVey The Satanic Rituals 171-202; Lovecraft). Recycling rituals serves to create an illusion of a Satanic history that never really existed, thus creating prestige among the uncritical, not to mention saving LaVey a lot of effort in composing rituals. However, LaVey’s dishonesty is deeper than that. The ritual borrowed from The Island of Dr. Moreau is done so without correct attribution; he claims the ritual was borrowed by Wells from the Illuminati (LaVey The Satanic Rituals 78). Plagiarism is also not limited to rituals. John Smulo also correctly notes that in The Satanic Bible, LaVey clearly plagiarized the (possibly parodical) radical tract Might is Right (Redbeard; Smulo 28).
Ignorance of Hebrew and the Hebrew Bible: LaVey uses the “magic” word “Shemhamforash” as an exclamation in his rituals (LaVey The Satanic Bible 130, 34, 48, 50, 52; LaVey The Satanic Rituals 43, 45). This is a Hebrew term, hashShem hamMeforash, which refers to the Divine name YHWH. Considering LaVey’s unapologetic hatred for the God of Israel, invoking YHWH should be the last thing he wants to do. Likewise problematic is his use of the Hebrew term Liwyathan (Leviathan) in the LaVeyan Satanic Baphomet symbol (LaVey The Satanic Bible 136), found on the covers of The Satanic Bible, The Satanic Rituals, The Satanic Witch, The Devil’s Notebook, and The Satanic Scriptures. The most positive reference to Liwyathan in the Hebrew Bible is as YHWH’s pet sea monster (Psalms 104:26); other references depict Liwyathan as being destroyed by YHWH (Isaiah 27:1; Psalms 74:14). The symbol therefore backfires, giving the impression of something less powerful than YHWH and not a real threat, perhaps even something amusing. One could even make such an argument about the use of Satan as a symbol. In the Hebrew Bible and New Testament, the Adversary (hasSaṭan) is never depicted as anything anywhere on par with YHWH or the Trinity; one cannot really expect anyone to have any hope when fighting against an immortal, transcendent creator deity. Given LaVey’s emblematic use of a symbol which signifies something vastly inferior to what his archenemies believe in, he might as be wearing an “I AM A LOSER” T-shirt.
Also: LaVey believes that saṭan (“Satan”) means “opposite” (LaVey The Satanic Rituals 13), whereas it only means “adversary”. Furthermore, LaVey claims that beliyya‘al (“Belial”) means “without a master” (LaVey The Satanic Bible 109), an interpretation without any etymological sense. The actual meaning is probably closer to “useless”, which is an accurate description of the utility of LaVey’s work for understanding Hebrew.
Was LaVey crazy?: Probably not. LaVey makes no secret that he does not care to be around people in general (LaVey The Devil’s Notebook 139-42). However, unless they are willing to live in isolated places away from all the comforts of civilization, even the worst misanthropes have to deal with other human beings. What LaVey seems to have done is use LaVeyan Satanism as a way of dealing with other human beings on his own terms. With the aura of selfishness and evil he created around himself, people would naturally tend to avoid him. Those who did go near him, whether willingly or out of necessity, would naturally feel the need to treat him with deference, fearing what he might do. (Angering someone with real magic powers would be a bad idea.) Even his followers fit into this scheme. They would have to honor him and do his bidding to learn from him or advance in the Church of Satan. E.g., he expects those around him to agree with him, and there are incidents of LaVey taking bribes for people to advance in the Church of Satan. The Satanic Witch especially reflects this. Women learning from him how to be “witches” would have to look and act the way he wanted; despite it all allegedly being for their own benefit, he would get to be around women dressed according to his tastes—like whores—and being liable to “accidental” wardrobe malfunctions. How much LaVey believes of what he claims is unclear, but he seems to have arranged everything for his own benefit.
Setting a bad example: Barton follows LaVey’s example closely in The Secret Life of a Satanist. Though the style of a biography is naturally different from a philosophical tract or a book of rituals, she nevertheless faithfully reflects the bad attitude that LaVey and all who agree with him are great and that everyone else is not. Gilmore’s The Satanic Scriptures reads like a lower-quality version of LaVey’s books of essays. He falls in line with LaVey in practically everything and even rationalizes away predictions of LaVey that turned out to be wrong; this book is not worth delving into except by those who wish to become scholars of LaVeyan Satanism.
Much of the bad example set by LaVey (and Rand) is echoed more recently by the likes of Ann Coulter, Richard Dawkins, Ben Stein, and Bill Maher. The reader may remember that all of these people rated an F on the Adelman theological rating system. There is not necessarily any direct connection between LaVey and Rand on one hand and Coulter, Dawkins, Stein, and Maher on the other. However, everyone using unjustifiable rhetoric makes it easier for others to get used to it and come to consider it acceptable. This does not make for a more harmonious society.
Conclusion: LaVeyan Satanism appears designed for publicity and selling literature. There is a consistent pattern of deliberately controversial claims in all books examined other that Lyons’, with little to back up said claims and much disregard for truth. LaVey also used other people’s material without proper (or any) attribution. These books are highly recommended for anyone with a strong stomach who wants to know how not to write religious tracts.
Overall classification: Religious/philosophical literature meant to attract the selfish and scare off everyone else. On the bright side, at least LaVeyan Satanic literature, once one gets past the bluster and aura of evil, can be amusing. (Except for Gilmore’s The Satanic Scriptures, which is not as fun as LaVey’s work.)
Theological rating: F, prefiguring other Fs. The entire Church of Satan is hereby banned from theology for life and afterlife. LaVey may make for amusing reading, but amusing bad is only good when it comes to fiction.
Barton, Blanche. The Secret Life of a Satanist: The Authorized Biography of Anton Lavey. Los Angeles, CA: Feral House, 1990. Print.
Boteach, Shmuel. Kosher Sex: A Recipe for Passion and Intimacy. 1st ed. New York: Doubleday, 1999. Print.
Religulous. 2008. DVD. West, Palmer, et al., 2008-10-03.
Coulter, Ann. Godless: The Church of Liberalism. New York: Crown Forum, 2006. Print.
Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 2006. Print.
The Wizard of Oz. 1939. DVD. LeRoy, Mervin and Arthur Freed, 1939-08-25.
Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. 2008. DVD. Craft, Logan, et al., 2008-04-10.
Gilmore, Peter H. The Satanic Scriptures. 1st ed. Baltimore, MD: Scapegoat Publishing, 2007. Print.
LaVey, Anton Szandor. The Devil’s Notebook. Portland, OR: Feral House, 1992. Print.
---. Satan Speaks! Venice, CA: Feral House, 1998. Print.
---. The Satanic Bible. New York: Avon Books, 1969. Print.
---. The Satanic Rituals. New York: Avon, 1972. Print.
---. The Satanic Witch. Venice, CA: Feral House, 1989. Print.
Lyons, Arthur. Satan Wants You: The Cult of Devil Worship in America. New York: Mysterious Press, 1988. Print.
Rand, Ayn. Atlas Shrugged. New York: Random House, 1957. New York: Signet, 1957. Print.
---. The Virtue of Selfishness, a New Concept of Egoism. With Additional Articles by Nathaniel Branden. A Signet Book, P2602. New York: New American Library, 1964. Print.
Smulo, John. "Christ’s Advocate: An Incarnational Apologetic to Satanism". 2001. PDF file. 2008-06-06.
Thomson, James. "The City of Dreadful Night". 1880. Project Gutenberg Release #1238 (March 1998). 2008-07-06.
Wells, H. G. "The Island of Doctor Moreau". 2004. Project Gutenberg EText #159. (2004-10-14): Project Gutenberg.