The Conscious Universe by Dean Radin

radind-consciousuniverseThis is the first book written by the senior scientist at the Institute of Noetic Sciences. It was first published in the USA in 1997, but did not have a UK publication until 2009, where it bore the title The Noetic Universe (some UK readers, having already sourced Radin’s earlier work, mistook this for a new book). Both the US and UK editions, stylistically, contain huge marketing blunders. The US edition features an illustration of a levitating spoon, which, let’s face it, is not the sort of image that conveys legitimate psychic research. Meanwhile, the UK edition has a bewildering title and is styled like a Dan Brown novel – because psychic dabblers and Dan Brown fans constitute the same audience, apparently.

But that is where the criticisms end, because, quite frankly, this book is phenomenal. It is a painstakingly detailed critique of psychic research across the twentieth century. It’s a little harder to read than the book’s follow-up, Entangled Minds, but that’s only because the sheer attention to detail in the facts and figures makes the reading experience a little dry at times. Perseverance is well worth it.

The usual attitude of the armchair sceptic is that there is no evidence for psychic phenomena. Unfortunately, the person who says this has, more often than not, never looked for evidence. This is exactly the sort of book that is essential reading for a genuinely objective sceptic who wishes to become better informed. No serious sceptic could maintain a scornful attitude towards parapsychology, after digesting this volume.

The reality is that psychic phenomena are real, but subtle and hard to replicate. Radin’s main argument is through the technique of meta-analysis – by combining the results of all available psychic experiments, the failures and the victories (as well as taking into account the problem of selective reporting), to achieve an overall odds-against-chance figure.

After making a credible case for the existence of “psi,” Radin concludes the book with some philosophical discussion about the nature of reality. What do experiences of extrasensory perception and psychokinesis teach us about how the universe works? This section, for me, was the most rewarding. My own past interest in doing personal psi experiments stemmed from a philosophical conviction that the universe is non-dual – which is exactly the sort of model that Radin identifies as necessary for explaining how psi phenomena can be real.

Radin seems to care passionately about influencing his peers in the scientific community. I applaud him for daring to stand alone, in a poorly funded field that is often ridiculed. I feel that this is an extremely important book, ahead of its time. If you read one volume on psychic phenomena ever, make it this one.

Psyber Magick by Peter J. Carroll

carrollpj-psybermagickThis modern grimoire is written as a series of single-page chapters, each with an accompanying commentary page. Some chapters are so short that they consist of one paragraph and an illustration. There are only about 150 pages in total. But don’t be put off by the book’s brevity; it is more than made up for by a complete absence of hand-holding. The author goes straight to the point, without apology to any newcomers in magical thinking – and Chaos Magic in particular. In other words, this is not the book to read if it’s your first foray into the occult. You will likely be confused and disappointed. As for me, I was happy to be able to sink my intellectual teeth into something of substance without wading through reams of introductory material.

The author is skilled at communicating deep insights in a highly confined space, often with humour. The illustrations are not simply meaningless additions to the text; often a striking image can imprint an idea on the mind for more effectively than words. Sometimes Carroll would communicate something that I would instantly understand, while I could also see that it was something many others would find irrational. But while I often felt like an “insider”, it’s equally true that parts of this book baffled me. Maybe that means aspects of Carroll’s philosophy are weak, or maybe it means there’s something I’m not seeing yet. Hard to tell.

Carroll makes some striking cosmological claims, which he attempts to back up with equations pertaining to his own theory of three-dimensional time, i.e. time has three dimensions, just like space. I can’t quite wrap my head around what 3D time “looks” like. He comes very close to claiming that this theoretical framework gives him a theory of everything – the holy grail of science. Carroll does not believe that the universe originated with a singularity, nor will it end with one. The universe has always existed; it is finite but unbounded. In other words, it has no edge, in a similar sense to how one can travel around the world without ever reaching the “edge” of the world. Of course, the world has no edge, and we realised that once we transcended the flat-earth model. Similarly, our notions about an edge of the universe will be dispelled once we transcend the current view of the universe. Fascinating, mind-bending, unothodox stuff. True? Well, given my personal interest parapsychology, I’m not the sort of person who sides with a prevailing scientific orthodoxy on strength of numbers, but I do detect what appears to be a serious flaw in Carroll’s model. If the universe has no edge, but doubles back upon itself, why do we see blackness in space? Wouldn’t the light of all the stars reflect infinitely, causing us to see a fully lit night sky with no gaps. Imagine yourself standing in a dark featureless room that is mirrored on all sides, including the floor and ceiling, then you light a candle. All the darkness would be banished. Similarly, space would not be black if the universe has no edge. Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s how it appears to me. Stephen Hawking, in A Brief History of Time used a similar argument against the view that the universe extends infinitely in all directions.

The most memorable idea in the book, for me personally, was the notion of multiple selfs – not in the sense of everything being one consciousness, but the view that our personality is just role we play, an accumulation of habits that now come naturally. Given that personality is fluid and changeable, why settle for just one? Why not play many roles? To an extent, we all do this already. For example, there are probably some people you are willing to say cusswords in the presence of, and others you won’t. We tailor our personalities to suit our audiences. So why go for half measures? Why not really exploit this ability and create multiple selfs – a sort of consciously governed Dissociative Identity Disorder? Carroll has the quirk of constantly referring to himself as “ourselfs” throughout the book.

The beauty of Carroll’s writings is that they give the reader theoretical ideas to play with. They allow you to examine the universe (and oneself) in ways not often noticed. Unfortunately though, in comparison to Carroll’s first work, Liber Null & Psychonaut, I would not consider Psyber Magick essential reading. I’ve now read four Chaos Magic works, and the ground is definitely thinning at this point. I fear I may have mined Chaoist philosophy to the point where it has little more of substance to offer. Still, worth a look.

Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

palahniukc-fightclubThe protagonist of this story, who remains unnamed throughout, is a white-collar worker who is totally dissatisfied with his life – not just his job, but his whole way of life, which is also our way of life. Having your own appartment, owning lots of meaningless stuff, being a worker drone in a soulless system. This is apparently “success.” Something is seriously wrong, and he feels it. He is desperately unhappy. As a way of making life more tolerable, he attends various group therapy meetings: testicular cancer, alcoholism, etc. Even though he has nothing wrong with him, these meetings centre him emotionally somehow.

Then our hero comes across a man called Tyler Durden, and his life is changed forever. In a parking lot, Tyler bizarrely asks him to hit him, then Tyler hits him back. This moment flowers into a painful initiation. Together they form Fight Club, a secret gathering where men come to fight each other in pairs. And it’s not even about fighting to win. It’s about release – unleashing all of the repressed garbage that “normal” life forces on you, and finally feeling alive again. Everybody benefits, winners and loser. And Fight Club’s popularity begins to soar, with clubs sprouting up in towns and cities all over America.

The problem starts when Fight Club evolves into something else: something Tyler calls Project Mayhem. The agenda becomes, not so much personal catharsis, but planning to destroy the system that stole your soul in the first place.

This novel definitely touches something deep in the psyche. I could never imagine something like Fight Club taking off in real life, but I know the feeling of being a worker drone, of experiencing life as drained of all vitality, of feeling that I’m bound and shackled in an allegedly normal existence that is actually sick. I’ve known what it’s like to repress myself, and to unleash myself. But there are safer ways than Fight Club; I couldn’t ever imagine myself going for that.

As for Project Mayhem, I think the reader is expected to ask himself whether he wishes to see civilisation as we know it destroyed and reborn. My own viewpoint is that there is actually nothing wrong with life as it is – even if it is screwed up. It’s the responsibilty of every individual to struggle against an essentially predatory world – just like it is in the animal kingdom. We have no basic human right of utopia, and no right to expect it. Adapt and survive.

The tragedy in the story is that a bunch of men who step outside of the system end up becoming what the protagonist calls “space-monkeys” – blind followers of a messianic leader, Tyler Durden.

Readers will no doubt be familiar with the excellent movie based on this novel. I last watched it about a year ago, and from what I can remember it’s a very faithful adaptation, so much so that reading the book almost felt like watching the movie. The book’s ending, however, differs somewhat, and is, in my opinion, superior.

It’s great to read a book that is sharp and gritty, but with a philosophical thread woven through its pages. It also contains some highly quotable lines:

“It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.”

“The things you used to own, now they own you.”

“You are not special. You’re not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You’re the same decaying organic matter as everything else. We’re all part of the same compost heap. We’re all singing, all dancing crap of the world.”

“We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.”

Highly recommended.

Liber Kaos by Peter J. Carroll

carrollpj-liberkaosAnd so, my quest to understand magical theory continues with another volume on Chaos Magic. I gained a great deal of insight and clarity from Carroll’s prior book, Liber Null & Psychonaut. The present work under review, published five years later, has turned out to be not so valuable.

We begin with heady material on quantum theory from a magical perspective. The majority of this was beyond me, but what I could understand struck me as far too theoretical to place any real confidence in – the idea that magic, which has its roots in the transcendent, can be reduced to a few equations. I don’t buy it. Carroll also makes the startling claim that there was no singularity at the beginning of the universe. He states that no matter when you exist in time, the universe always gives the appearance of being fifteen billion years old. This claim is in stark opposition to what we appear to observe about the motions of galaxies, and what we know of gravitation. The problem, Carroll maintains, is that we are approaching the issue from a classical perspective. There may be something to what Carroll is saying, but I confess I am not up to the task of debating the ins and outs of quantum theory.

Next we have some material on aeonics. Carroll claims that all philosophical worldviews fit one of three basic paradigms: materialistic, magical, and transcendental. The ebb and flow of these paradigms throughout history is reduced to a line graph that shows a definite cyclic pattern, as the world moves through aeons called shamanic, religious, rationalist and pandemon – the latter being the one that is allegedly emerging. It’s all very interesting, but unconvincing. There was plenty of rationality going round in the days of the ancient Greek philosophers, and there has been plenty of religion in the two and a half millennia since. There’s no doubt that Carroll has done a lot of homework, but his “psychohistory model” of aeonics appears fanciful at best. The decline and growth of our various worldviews is a product of consciousness, and consciousness will not be turned into a deterministic line graph that we have no control over. We are not automatic machines.

When Carroll turns to practical magic, that’s when the book takes a shift in a much more positive direction. He introduces a delightful phrase, “sleight of mind,” and explains it at length – as the key to effective magic. In my own experience with psionics, I can affirm that success requires a mind that is distracted from the task you wish to perform. You have to play a little mental trick with yourself to, for instance, accomplish a successful act of psychokinesis.

Terms like “psychic censor” and “sleight of mind” are useful in understanding the inner workings of magic, but a good portion of the book is also concerned with building new a system of magic, full of pointless new terms – as if the world needs yet another. Magic is divided into eight categories (seemingly for no other reason than the Chaos symbol has eight arrows). These are: octarine (pure magic), black (death magic), blue (wealth magic), green (love magic), yellow (ego magic), purple or silver (sex magic), orange (thinking magic), red (war magic). My question is: why? All these categories are arbitrary and artificial. It’s fine to break magic down like this for the purpose of talking about particular applications of magic in the practical sphere. But there is no benefit whatsoever to memorising this jargon as some kind of fundamentally meaningful system. Magic comes from that fuzzy non-dual transcendence from which everything springs. It isn’t truly eightfold in any sense outside of the author’s personal subjective preferences.

Evocation, divination, enchantment, invocation, illumination, sorcery, shamanic magic, ritual magic, astral magic, high magic. In my opinion, there’s a lot of pointless vocabulary being held up as important. And if that’s not enough, we have to contend with “sorcery invocation,” “shamanic enchantment,” “ritual evocation,” and a plethora of other allegedly meaningful combinations.

The book closes with some appendices that are mostly concerned with the administration of the organisation, the Illuminates of Thanateros (also known as The Pact). The material was of no value to me other than to reinforce the pointlessness of such semi-secretive groups.

I had high hopes for this book. Sadly, I have to report that I was able to extract only a few morsels of usable insight.

Condensed Chaos by Phil Hine

hinep-condensedchaosEver since I achieved some success in experimenting with psychokinesis a few years ago, I’ve been faced with the reaity of what may be called “magic,” and I’ve been highly motivated to learn what I can about it. This ongoing quest has been both mind-expanding and frustrating, as magical theories tend to be littered with all kinds of unprovable abstractions.

The Chaos Magic approach is somewhat unique in that it supports using beliefs as methods rather than relying upon them as objective truths. For instance, when attempting particular magical endeavours, it may be suitable to view the universe as having an astral plane populated by actual entities that can be compelled to do your bidding. This may not be true, but it could be a useful method of producing a desired effect. Another belief is that all minds are interconnected as a single Mind, allowing subtle communication and influence to occur between individuals. The truth behind appearances is a very slippery thing to get hold of. “Nothing is true, everything is permitted” is the slogan of Chaoist. This is mirrored in our conventional science, too. The dualistic Newtonian view of the universe worked fine until, in the early 20th century, our experiments forced us to to develop a quantum theory that blew our assumptions about the nature of reality to bits. Nevertheless, the Newtonian perspective can still be employed successfully as a usable model of reality for the vast majority of our everyday experiences.

Hine has done a great deal more dabbling into ritual magic than I have, so I can’t really comment on the effectiveness of his approaches. I found the material on the creation of sigils fascinating. The book’s brevity is deceiving, as it is crammed with information, and requires slow, careful reading to digest. Something of a treasure trove. Much of the magical theory concerns the transformation of the self, and the information is often given with a dose of humour. I like Hine’s presentation of magic a lot. He comes across as a genuine person, rather than someone who projects himself as a grand poo-bah of the occult.

This is one of those weird books that is hard to review, because I’m not sure what I got out of it, but I know I got something important. It’s hard to crystallise that benefit as one single thing, because the structure of the book is diverse; I got a bit of this and bit of that. In particular, I gained a deeper rational appreciation that the world is magical, as opposed to viewing magic as something completely otherworldly. When I read a magical text, I’m not looking for a whole new belief system to swallow. I’m ploughing through information that is unusual and cryptic, looking for insights that will make me go “Ah-ha!” adding greater depth and rationality to my own personal take on magic. Condensed Chaos provided that. A worthy addition to any occultist’s library.

The Holographic Universe by Michael Talbot

talbotm-holographicuniverseThere is good reason to believe that the universe is, in some sense, holographic. Put another way: solidity isn’t quite so solid. Science has a lot to say in defence of this counter-intuitive idea. Atoms are mostly empty space, which is what allows vast portions of the electromagnetic spectrum, such as X rays and radio waves, to pass right through solid matter, including our bodies. Inside the atom, electrons are bouncing all over the universe with no regard for the speed of light restriction. There is a universe of localised objects which is held together by a deeper and more fundamental universe that is non-local. We may say the universe is “holographic” as a means of useful analogy. A holographic photograph has no actual three-dimensional solidity, but it gives the appearance that it does – as does the universe.

Talbot’s book begins by reiterating some deep and complicated scientific ideas by Karl Pribram and David Bohm. He suggests that the term “holographic” is more than mere analogy. Holograms have the curious property that if you cut them in half, you don’t end up with half the picture in each segment; you get two copies of the whole picture. The universe, it is claimed, is also like this. Each part contains the whole. Personally, I find more value in the simpler model that the universe is a non-dual unity; each part appears to contain the whole because there aren’t any parts. I rather like Bohm’s terms for the two sides of reality: the implicate and explicate order.

Once Talbot establishes his theoretical model of the universe, his interest is in showing how it can provide a rational basis for explaining paranormal phenomena. This is the very same insight that struck me some years ago, when I got to grips with non-dualism. I proceeded to experiment with psychokinesis, and managed to get some small but mind-blowing reults. PK was, however, something very slippery and hard to replicate on demand – which strikes me as the key reason why paranormal phenomena have never yet been integrated into science.

In the last two thirds of the book, Talbot tackles dreams, healing, stigmata, psychokinesis, the aura, clairvoyance, precognition, reincarnation, out of body experiences, near death experiences, etc. This is where the book started to fall apart for me. Although I have had direct experience of a psychic “ability,” there is no doubt that charlatans abound. Talbot provides a catalogue of paranormal experiences, some of which beggar belief. To his credit, he is conscientious about quoting his sources, but some of those sources seem more than a little dubious to me.

For instance, it is claimed that some stigmatics have nail-like growths protruding from their hands, mimicking the wounds of Christ. In Talbot’s view, this is due to the mind’s ability to change the body through intention. The Christian’s powerful identification with Christ through a lifetime of meditation eventually manifests in his own body. The problem is: if such stigmata are real, why isn’t the medical world standing back in awe? Why hasn’t it revolutionised our ideas about mind and body? This isn’t some highly subjective piece of evidence for PK or ESP. The stigmata is present and observable; it won’t wanish like a ghost when you shine a light on it. Since the phenomenon hasnt been subjected to scientific scrutiny, I have to question the reliability of the source. Talbot, however, doesn’t.

Similarly, he talks about Sathya Sai Baba in a positive light. Sai Baba was a very popular Indian guru, surrounded by countless devotees. He claimed to be able to manifest objects out of thin air. I have a hard time taking such claims seriously. The warning signs of fakery are all there: a love for public adoration, the projection of a larger-than-life image, and a refusal to subject your “powers” to scientific enquiry. It beggars belief how Talbot can simply accept this man’s claims without question. Talbot himself claims to have had profound experiences of his own in childhood: poltergeist manifestations and objects materialising out of thin air. All I can say about that is: I wish I had experienced it, because I’m unable to believe it otherwise.

I really wanted to like this book a lot more than I did. But when Sai Baba and the stigmatics came up, I lost all confidence in Talbot’s ability to separate truth from nonsense in the arena of the paranormal. If all the things that Talbot catalogues are true, then there is no good reason why James Randi’s Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge has remained without a winner for decades. For a far more rational and level-headed examination of paranormal phenomena, read the works of Dean Radin.

The Church of Satan by Blanche Barton

bartonb-churchofsatanThis book is quite hard to find, not for any particularly esoteric reason. I imagine there simply weren’t that many copies printed and no one has yet produced an ebook of the text. The publisher is Hell’s Kitchen Productions, which might be the Church of Satan’s own self-publishing imprint. I was lucky to find a second-hand copy on eBay for £20, but the lowest price among the current ten copies listed on Amazon’s used books is £60. Owning this book now completes my collection of official Church of Satan literature. The other works are five books written by Anton LaVey, a biography on LaVey by Blanche Barton, and one book by Peter H. Gilmore (LaVey’s successor).

Blanche Barton, the author of the work under review, was Anton LaVey’s live-in partner for the latter part of his life, and the mother of one of his children. LaVey was, of course, the founder of the Church of Satan. This slim volume of 170 pages provides a brief history of the Church, beginning with some short biographical notes on LaVey’s carnival and occult background, leading to his reasons for forming a new religion based on man’s carnal nature. The growth of the church is catalogued, from its beginnings as a Friday night get-together at LaVey’s home, where he would lecture on the occult, to the eventual implementation of a nationwide “grotto” system. One of the most unfortunate aspects of LaVey’s earlier life is some of the claims are provably legendary. I personally find it a bit insulting that Barton reiterates these legends for her readers, especially when her intended readership seems to be Church of Satan members, rather than the general public. Michael Aquino’s Temple of Set gets a few jibes, as Aquino was responsible for splitting the Church of Satan in 1975. LaVey and Aquino spin that event in different ways, and its hard to tell who is entirely honest about what went down. Aquino’s claim that the Church of Satan ended in 1975 would seem to be a tad pretentious.

There is much material in the book that I have encountered before, but also some interesting new material, such as clarifications on the practice of ritual magic. The timing of the book’s publication puts it right in the middle of the Satanic Panic, a period of unprecedendent public hysteric about occult crimes against children. The phenomenon is rationally and effectively debunked.

The real strength of the book is the huge amount of direct quotes from LaVey himself. These are not from other printed works and public interviews, but presumably from Barton’s own conversations with the man himself. The quotes are so voluminous that LaVey could really be considered a co-author.

If you’re already familiar with Satanism, this book will serve as a refresher on the fundamentals, with perhaps a few new insights. For those who are not familiar with the philosophy, this is definitely one of the better books to read initially. Shame it’s so obscure.

The Demon-Haunted World by Carl Sagan

saganc-demonhauntedworldThe subtitle of this book is “Science as a Candle in the Dark,” which captures the theme beautifully. The book seeks to teach the importance of the scientific method in determining truth from error. It’s careful not to assert that the scientific method is the only method, but is clearly the most effective, as given by its success. The value of critical and sceptical thinking is discussed, with many examples. One of the best chapters is the one where the author discusses what he calls the “baloney detection kit,” covering the various logical fallacies, such as ad hominem abuse, appeal to authority, causation mistaken for correlation, etc.

I confess I wasn’t prepared for how fun this book was going to be to read – and that’s chiefly down to the type of subject matter that Sagan handles, such as his lengthy comparison of the UFO abduction phenomenon to the old stories of religious visions. He also spends some time going into psychic phenomena, and even Satanic ritual abuse.

If there is one weakness in the book it’s that it doesn’t quite do justice to those occasional areas of human enquiry where the scientific method lets us down. I’m something of an occult dabbler, and I’ve made successful experiments in psychokinesis. I was curious to see if my convictions about my own work could stand up against Sagan’s assertions. He is a little overly dismissive of psychic phenomena, and while discussing this subject he seems to forget for a moment that the scientific method is just a method, not our only means of determining truth. The reason the scientific method has thus far failed to give us proof of psychic phenomena is because the phenomena are extremely slippery and hard to replicate. A genuine experience of ESP might be a sudden feeling of dread that something terrible has happened to a friend, then later finding out that he’s been in a car wreck. Such an experience cannot be replicated in a lab, because the experiencer has no idea what he did to prompt it.

The arena of religion understandably comes under fire for anti-scientific dogmatism, but Sagan handles the topic respectfully, while not pulling his punches.

Overall, this is an excellent book. The first step in truth-seeking is not to determine what to believe, but to learn how to think. The Demon-Haunted World provides an excellent guide to that initial enterprise. Sagan is masterful at making science understandable for the lay reader.

The Philosophies of Asia by Alan Watts

Here in the West, we’ve all grown up under the influence of Christianity, where God is viewed as a divine monarch. Little do we realise that we only picture God in this way because we’re unconsciously projecting an entirely human political structure onto him/it. Watts’s book challenges this, by describing the very different concept of God that has arisen in the East, specifically Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism. To the Hindus, the Universe is viewed as God play-acting, or dreaming each of us. God is inside everything rather than above everything. It’s like a game of hide and seek; each one of us is God-in-disguise without realising it. In Taoism the Universe is viewed as a single organism (indistinguishable from God). Watts helps us to look upon the Universe in a very different way, not as a collection of separate things which exist independently of one another, but as a series of interconnected relationships. These Eastern approaches differ greatly from the likes of Christianity, Judaism and Islam, because they are not concerned with divine revelation, or obedience to a monarch. In this sense, they are not really religions at all, in terms of what we understand religion to be. The focus of the East is a transformation of consciousness. Learning to look upon the Universe in a different way that dramatically affects one’s life.

This volume consists of various verbal lectures given by Alan Watts, transcribed by his son Mark in the 1990s, from earlier recordings. The lecture “The Mythology of Hinduism” examines the religious side of Hinduism, where the godhead is said to be dreaming each of us. “Eco-Zen” delves into how the individual is one with the world, showing how the line between organism and environment is blurry and insubstantial when we get past the idea of “things.” “Swallowing a Ball of Hot Iron” examines the relationship of student and master in Zen Buddhism. “Intellectual Yoga” looks at the mind as a path to enlightenment. The volume finishes with “Introduction to Buddhism” and “The Taoist Way of Karma.” This is not a lecture series, as such. Mark Watts draws together material that spans his father’s career into single book of related topics.

Since this is the fourth book by Watts that I have read, I’m starting to notice a lot of overlap, but that’s unavoidable, and actually serves as a reminder of important insights. I continue to be impressed with this philosopher, and I have a better undersatnding of the Universe as a result of his work. This book provides a short and often humourous brief on Eastern philosophy. It’s certainly not detailed enough for the serious student, but as an introduction, it makes perfect reading.

The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell

My guess is that only one in every hundred Christians takes the time to look into the foundation of their religion in any detail. Josh McDowell’s book, The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict, is written for such conscientious students, who wish to be able to hold a rational case for their faith when under fire from sceptics. The book also serves as a great information source for anyone, whether sceptic or believer, who wishes to become more informed about Christianity. It is a titanic work of around seven hundred pages. Even that figure is deceptive, because if not for the dual-columns and tiny typeface, this book would be more like a thousand pages. The “New” of the title relates to the the book’s prior publication as a smaller edition, with a later sequel. Both volumes are now brought together as one, with revisions.

I approached this work as a sceptic, but as an open-minded sceptic who is willing to be changed by what he reads, not as one who is simply aiming to reinforce his scepticism. Although I was confident in my stance, I still had many gaps in my knowledge about Christianity. I’m happy to say that I now know a great deal more, and I’ve had some of my opinions changed, as a result of reading. Beforehand, I tended to view the person of Jesus as someone who had no historical substance, but now I’m quite confident that there was an influential first-century figure who had followers and who was executed for his religious troublemaking.

As I was reading, I was trying to ascertain where the real crux of the case for Christ lay. It’s essentially this: what should we do when we come across the presence of the supernatural in a historical text? The sceptic may say, “This is contrary to experience, therefore unhistorical,” whereas Josh McDowell maintains (and I paraphrase), “We must treat all historical texts on equal terms, without judging the value of a text based on an anti-supernatural bias.” I maintain that both approaches are extremes. If the supernatural really had invaded human experience in the distant past, the sceptic’s view is so restrictive that nothing could ever prove this to him. Meanwhile, McDowell relies on an overly simplistic stance on what is essentially historical probability, not fact. A more reasonable attitude would be that when we encounter the supernatural in ancient history, it is a legitimate warning bell that we may be reading something legendary, and so the standard for evidence naturally rises beyond what we would ordinarily demand. Good evidence for something as extreme as the resurrection of Jesus would be corroboration from multiple secular sources of the same time period. But we do not have this; we only have the Gospel accounts of the Christians.

One source for the historicity of Jesus, the Roman historian Tacitus, takes a sceptical stance to Christianity, calling it a “mischievous superstition.” McDowell never draws attention to this pertinent fact, only attempts to use Tacitus’s mention of Jesus as a proof for his life in general. This shows the one-sided bias in his approach.

The size of this book is a bit daunting, but in retrospect there’s a lot less in here than one might assume. Fifty percent or more of the volume is taken up by quotes. This makes it quite repetitive at times, as McDowell often cites lengthy sections by three or four Christian apologists, who are all covering the same ground. Worse still, some of the material is repeated in different chapters. There is also a massive reliance on rhetoric to back up evidence that is fairly flimsy, rather than a straightforward presentation of facts with the onus put on the reader to draw his own conclusions.

While the focus of the book is an attempt to establish the validity of the Bible as both a historical document and the “word of God,” there is a large part at the tail end tackling postmodernism and Eastern mysticism. These are included because the author sees them as contemporary threats to Christianity, but I think a far more important subject to tackle would have been the theory of evolution. It’s certainly far more influential in the West than Zen Buddhism! Evolution renders man’s “sinful nature” as null and void, because it sees all our behaviours as part of our evolutionary heritage, tracing our nastier base instincts to the reptilian brain. And if there is no sinful nature, then there is no need for redemption. So, evolution is one of the greatest threats to the survival of Christianity in the modern world. Yet the book contains nothing more than one passing mention of the topic in the introduction.

Amid the book’s rhetoric, there are occasional moments of very telling admission:

I took the evidence that I could gather and placed it on the scales. The scales tipped in favor of Christ as the Son of God, resurrected from the dead … Be careful. I am not saying that I proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus is the Son of God. What I did was to investigate the evidence and weigh the pros and cons. The results showed that Christ must be who He claimed to be … I was not looking for absolute truth but “historical probability.”

After a discussion on the Bible’s continuity, scope of circulation and translation, survival through time in the face of persecution and criticism, the quality of its teachings and prophecies, the scope of its influence on literature and civilisation, McDowell admits: “The evidence presented above does not prove that the Bible is the word of God. But …”

Here is a featured quote by Dr. A.C. Ivy, president of the American Physiological Society from 1939-49:

I cannot prove this belief as I can prove certain scientific facts in my library which one hundred years ago were almost as mysterious as the resurrection of Jesus Christ. On the basis of the historical evidence of existing biological knowledge, the scientist who is true to the philosophy of science can doubt the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, but he cannot deny it. Because to do so means that he can prove that it did not occur.”

In other words: “I can’t prove Jesus rose from the dead, but hey, you can’t disprove it either!” The fact that McDowell saw fit to quote something so logically fallacious demonstrates the weakness of his own thinking. Any rational thinker knows that one does not have to disprove something. The burden of proof lies upon the one making the astounding claim.

Norman Geisler is quoted, making the following observation on atheists – which he states without qualification or evidence:

Atheists who consistently try to live without God tend to commit suicide or go insane.

I advise anyone interested in Christianity to read this volume, in an open-minded but critical spirit, watching out for those weak arguments that sound good until properly examined. I remain confident that Christianity is a false religion, moreso after reading The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict.

When all is said and done, the choice of whether to believe in Christianity boils down to how much you want or need to believe and how easily you accept the supernatural in the absence of direct experience or concrete evidence.

When I am dead, If I am confronted by a God who asks me why I rejected his offer of salvation, my only reply can be, “Why did you make it so difficult to see you? Why did you put me in a position where I would have had to betray my own mind in order to accept it?”

For me, reading this book puts the final nail in the coffin of Christianity. Case closed.

The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene

The name of this volume would lead you to believe it might be one of those pretentious self-help manuals. It’s nothing of the kind. In fact, it’s quite an unfriendly book that flies in the face of conventional ethics. I suspect some people would put the volume aside in disgust. As for me, I prefer to read on with a critical eagle-eye. And in the end I’m able to synthesise something realistic and useful without losing my soul in the process. Let me put it this way: if you followed all 48 laws to the letter, you would be a dangerous sociopath.

Power is the ultimate goal here, and it’s right there that I question the wisdom of the book’s premise. Power to what end? As an end in itself? Do I want power? Of course. I won’t deny it. But to me, power is merely an aid to survival. Too little of it and I may end up homeless, scrounging for food. But too much, and I create other hazards for myself, such as maintaining my empire against the plots of my enemies. The book presupposes that power is what we’re after. Power, power, power, and there’s never enough of it to be satisfied. And everything about your humanity should be sacrificed in the quest for it. Any principles you cling to are worthless and should be discarded at every opportunity for the accumulation of more power. No one should be trusted. Relationships should always be viewed with suspicion, and no one allowed to get too close. In fact, your friends are mere pawns to be manipulated at will to do your bidding. I pride myself on seeing through much of the nonsense that masquerades as ethics in the world, but it’s hard to see how you could embrace a philosophy like this and not end up feeling very alone and empty.

Don’t get me wrong. This was an immensely useful read. It gave me a sense of awareness about how some morally vacuous individuals might attempt to manipulate me. It also provided great insight into the arena of politics. Admittedly, there were also many genuinely useful insights in the book – principles a sensible person could use to improve his life. Some of the useful laws could be summarised as “act, don’t react.” Control of the emotions is paramount, as is focusing on long-term goals rather than hot-headed short-term satisfaction; diplomacy, acting always with full awareness of how your actions will be interpreted by the parties concerned.

Each law is presented with detailed historical examples of its usage. This helps makes the laws memorable, but it should also be noted that a few incidental examples don’t necessarily make these principles concrete, as they could just as easily be flukes. The first ten laws are:

  • Never outshine the master.
  • Never put too much trust in friends; learn how to use enemies.
  • Conceal your intentions.
  • Always say less than necessary.
  • So much depends on reputation. Guard it with your life.
  • Court attention at all costs.
  • Get others to do the work for you, but always take the credit.
  • Make other people come to you; use bait if necessary.
  • Win through your actions, never through argument.
  • Infection: avoid the unhappy and unlucky.

In light of my own personal “following” on YouTube, and my book on spirituality, Reality Check, I was highly amused by law 27: “Play on people’s need to believe to create a cultlike following.” Doing such a thing is utterly abhorrent to me. Greene is essentially justifying the turning of oneself into a cult leader. Of course, in his view, speaking the truth is not considered important at all. He emphasises the value of spouting vague flowery nonsense that makes your audience feel good.

Ultimately, there is a fundamental hypocrisy in this book. If the author truly believes in the 48 laws of power, why on earth would he share them with us? Isn’t that giving your power away? Staying at the top of your game involves being the smartest, not giving your opponents the tools to outwit you.

The 48 Laws of Power is a very useful book, but one to be read with a large pinch of salt.

The Devil’s Notebook by Anton Szandor LaVey

Anton LaVey, founder of the Church of Satan, wrote five books over the course of his life (including one published posthumously). The Devil’s Notebook is his fourth, and represents a return to publishing after a very long hiatus. Actually, not quite. Having now read all of LaVey’s books, I perceive that they can be separated into two clear categories: the early trio and the later duo. In 1969, just three years after the formation of the Church of Satan, LaVey published The Satanic Bible. In quick success after that came The Compleat Witch (1970, later rebranded The Satanic Witch), followed by The Satanic Rituals (1972). Nothing further was published by LaVey in book form, until the 1990s, although he published frequent essays in the church’s newletter The Cloven Hoof. In fact, the two books The Devil’s Notebook (1992) and Satan Speaks! (1998) consist mostly, if not wholely, of reprints of those very essays.

The first three books, from the first decade of the Church of Satan, are groundbreaking works, and when reading them you feel a very positive forward-looking vibe. The latter two works are markedly different in tone, more egotistical, angst-laden, and reflective of the past instead of the future (particularly Satan Speaks!). There is perhaps a sense of a man who is getting more and more misanthropic as he gets older. The gradual decline may be down to the lack of success enjoyed by the church, particularly since 1975 when a disagreement with his second in command, Michael Aquino, led to Aquino leaving the church and taking a substantial part of the priesthood with him, then forming the Temple of Set. Much later the Church of Satan also suffered bankruptcy. It continued to function, as it does today, but seems to have lost much of the mojo of its first decade.

Regardless of these criticism, The Devil’s Notebook contains many thought-provoking essays. Two in particular stood out for me. “Erotic Crystallization Inertia,” in which LaVey speculates about the persistence of the standards of beauty that we form in our youth. Then “Law of the Trapezoid,” in which LaVey speculates about the emotional effects of angles – particularly in relation to supposedly haunted houses or “cursed” rooms, where bad things happen. My background in art makes me familiar with the emotional effects of colours, and it would seem that shapes can likewise evoke feelings. LaVey claims that cursed rooms are due to a slightly off wall, where the conscious mind doesn’t spot the nasty angle, but the subconscious feels the effect of something being askew. This is how rooms can provoke angry confrontations or perhaps even multiple suicides over time. It’s got nothing to do with haunting spirits, as such; merely haunting angles. I’m not sure how much of what LaVey claims is true, but there is certainly something to the notion. I kept thinking about two characters from the Disney film The Black Hole: V.I.N.CENT, the grey-coloured, dome-headed, square-eyed robot, and Maximillian, the red-coloured cyborg with the single glowing red strip for an eye and the trapezoidal head. Ask anyone who has never seen the movie to guess which character is good and which evil, and I imagine everyone would score top marks. And not just because of the colours. It’s in the angles, too. It’s something you perceive intuitively.

Towards the close of the volume are a couple of essays on LaVey’s bizarre fascination with constructing what he calls “artificial human companions.” LaVey spent quite a bit of time modifying mannequins. He had the basement of his house decked out as a seedy bar-room, complete with flashing neon that filtered in through a fake window. In here he placed his companions and spent time with them. He predicted there would be a future industry of android companions – something that doesn’t show any sign of materialising. From a magical perspective, I understand the idea of the using proxies, but in mundane existence, a preference for artificial companionship over real companionship escapes me; it’s like having the choice between a real sexual relationship with a woman, or masturbating to porn – and choosing the latter. Perhaps LaVey’s fascination with artificiality simply reveals the extent of his misanthropia towards the human race.

The Devil’s Notebook is well worth reading, as are all of LaVey’s books. The real legacy of Anton LaVey is not the failed Church of Satan, or the Temple of Set. His legacy is the burning torch of individualism within so many people, that might never have been ignited without discovering his writings.

The Lucifer Principle by Howard Bloom

The Lucifer Principle is a term invented by the author of this volume for a complex theory that pulls together a wealth of information from anthropology, biology, psychology, history, and other fields of study. In summary, it is the idea that what we often call “evil” is actually nature in competition with itself, as a means toward greater complexity and betterment. In the theory of evolution, it is understood that organisms which are better adapted to survive will survive, and part of this survival incorporates conflict with other organisms. Evolution weeds out that which loses the battle. So, conflict (or evil) is the driving force of betterment.

This principle applies not only to such tiny elements as genes, but also, Bloom believes, to memes (or ideas). As genes replicate, so do memes. Take the Islamic or Christian belief systems, for instance. They spread in the minds of the populace by each follower serving the meme and propagating it to others. Bloom takes a long look at the intricaties of the mind, carefully examining what makes us tick, and he comes up with the idea that each person can be thought of as a single cell in a giant invisible organism: the social superorganism. Wars are more than just men versus men; they are superorganisms in conflict. And the outcome of such conflicts? The better meme lives on while the poorer dies (or at least retreats to insignificance).

The concept of the superorganism is the cornerstone of the book, which is unfortunate because I personally don’t see it as anything more than a fanciful metaphor. Bloom gives the impression that superorganisms are real in a very physical sense, just as concrete as biological life. Maybe I’m picking the author up wrong, but if a human being is a cell in a larger organism, it doesn’t make sense to say I’m a cell in a metaphor. Humans have always had a tendency to compose myths for what they struggle to understand, such as ancient pagans inventing Thor to account for lightning. Perhaps Bloom is doing the same with his superorganism theory, but I think “organism” is a poor choice of word for a relevant myth because in all other contexts organism refers to something that is actually alive.

Even though I’m not really on board with the backbone of this book, this is still an engrossing and informative read. The Lucifer Principle is a treasure-trove of anecdotes from the natural world and from history. Even if you disagree with the entirety of Bloom’s theory, it is possible to gain a great deal by simply reading these examples and pitting their implicatations against your own beliefs. For instance, I’ve often heard it argued in religious circles that man is different from the rest of the animal kingdom by virtue of his inhumanity to his own species, hence he needs “saved from sin.” The fallacy of this argument is glaringly shown in The Lucifer Principle with numerous examples of how one animal species goes to war against its own kind, from rats to chimpanzees. And mankind’s own brutality is painted in vivid colours, with numerous examples from history. Bloom is courageous enough to simply describe us as we are, without censorship or apology, and he doesn’t suggest any pretentious answers as to how we might overcome the appalling things about own natures that we strive to transcend.

The Lucifer Principle was written over a period of some twelve years. It’s about 450 pages long, and uniquely the final quarter of the volume is taken up by chapter notes, with the book itself truly ending on page 331. Recommended reading for anyone who wishes to rattle their illusions about life. Not for those who wish to cling to religious pipedreams (or should I say failing memes?).

The Secret Life of a Satanist by Blanche Barton

This is the authorised biography of Anton LaVey, the founder of the Church of Satan (1966) and author of The Satanic Bible (1969). It is written by Blanche Barton, LaVey’s long-term lover and a high-ranking member of the organisation, so high-ranking that administration of it passed to her upon LaVey’s death in 1997. Certainly, no one is more qualified to write a biography. The book was first published in 1992, which serves to give us a fairly comprehensive look at LaVey’s life.

Unfortunately, some of the claims in the book can be sourced elsewhere as outright lies. For instance, LaVey’s real name is Howard Stanton Levey, whereas the biography claims that Anton LaVey was his name by birth and that he was called “Tony” in his early years. He also gives false names for his parents.

According to the book, Anton LaVey was something of a misfit from his early years, a fact which led him to leave home early in life and join the Clyde Beatty circus – and later the carnival. After that he worked as a crime photographer. The insights he gained from leading his unusual life were instrumental in shaping the man he was to become. For instance, working in the circus as a lion tamer gave him an affinity for animals, so much so that later in life he would keep a lion as a house pet! In the carnival, he would play the organ for the strip shows, then play for the church services, where he would see the very same men who had attended the strip show attending church the next day, only to return to the strip show the following week, in a neverending cycle of hypocrisy. LaVey learned that “Man’s carnal nature will out.” He saw man as an animal, no different in nature from any other animal. In his work as a crime photographer, he saw the very worst in mankind. All of this shaped his views of man, God, and the nature of human existence. LaVey could be described as one whose views were shaped by living outside of the typical boundaries of the common herd of humanity.

Contrary to the above claims, the Beatty archives show no record of a “Levey” or “LaVey” as lion tamer or musician (source: Beatty 1947 Route Books, Circus World Museum, Baraboo, Wisconsin). That said, the biography does feature a photograph of a young LaVey posing with a clown and dwarf; the words “Lou Jacobs” are prominantly visible. San Francisco Police Department past employment records include no “Howard Levey” nor “Anton LaVey”. Frank Moser, who was a SFPD photographer in the early 1950s, said that LaVey never worked for the Department (source: SFPD records, Frank Moser).

LaVey developed an interst in the occult and held regular meetings with other interested friends at his home, the Black House (6114 California Street). The book alleges that LaVey purchased this house after learning that it was a former brothel of Barbary Coast madam Mammy Pleasant. It was honeycombed with trapdoors and secret passageways, built by Pleasant to elude police raids. LaVey’s home meetings eventually evolved into the Church of Satan, the first above-ground organisation to embrace the term Satanism in public.

In reality 6114 California Street was originally LaVey’s parents’ home. It was never a brothel. LaVey’s parents allowed Anton and his first wife Carole to live in the house, then transferred ownership of it to LaVey and his second wife Diane in 1971. The secret passages and hidden rooms that exist were constructed by Anton LaVey (source: San Francisco property records; Michael & Gertrude Levey [parents], Joint Tenancy Grant Deed, July 9, 1971).

LaVey codified modern Satanism as an atheistic religion/philosophy which utilised Satan as a symbol for an adversarial stance towards spirituality, and the triumph of the flesh. Satanism sees man as an animal, who is perfect just as he is, and not in need of any redemption, spiritual growth, or hypthetical reward hereafter. Satanism is not a religion of hedonism or violence, but of indulgence in our own nature, taking into the account the consequences of our actions. The occult side of Satanism was in the incorporation of magic as a reality – as something which is not fully understood, but which can be used to benefit the practitioner. Although Satanism is atheistic (denial of deity), it is acknowledged that there is a “dark force of nature” – not a God, not a being, not a consciousness; something beyond all of this, which can be tapped through ritualistic means. Some claim that LaVeyan Satanism is not true Satanism (because there is no actual Satan), but what expression of Satanism deserves the name more than the very one that has the brass to publicly call itself by that name?

LaVey’s biography alleges two romances of particular note. The first occurred in LaVey’s pre-Satanism days; he courted Marilyn Monroe when she was working in strip clubs before she became famous. Later, post 1966, he was involved with actress Jayne Mansfield, who became a priestess in the Church of Satan. Mansfield died tragically in a car accident with her “public” lover, Sam Brody. It was a complex relationship, with Mansfield trapped in a relationship she didn’t want with Brody, while besotted with LaVey. Brody’s jealously caused a great deal of trouble for LaVey, who eventually cast a curse upon Brody and warned Jayne to stay away from him. In one of Hollywood’s famous curses, Jayne died with Sam Brody in a car wreck.

According to Marilyn Monroe’s 1948 agent Harry Lipton, she never knew LaVey, and the particular claims in LaVey’s biography that the Mayan Theatre (where Monroe allegedly danced) was a burlesque theatre are false, as are the claims that LaVey and Monroe worked there. Diane LaVey has admitted to forging Monroe’s inscription on LaVey’s copy of her calendar (sources: Diane LaVey, Harry Lipton [Aquino-Lipton conversation 12/1/82], Robert Slatzer [letter to Michael Aquino 11/27/82], Edward Webber [interview by Aquino 6/2/91]).

Regarding the Jayne Mansfield affair, publicity agent Tony Kent arranged a meeting between Jayne Mansfield and LaVey as a publicity stunt. LaVey was smitten with her. Mansfield, who made no secret of her many affairs, denied knowing LaVey intimately, and no associate of hers has ever confirmed any supposed romance with LaVey. In a 1967 interview she said, “He had fallen in love with me and wanted to join my life with his. It was a laugh.” According to LaVey’s publicist Edward Webber, Mansfield would ridicule her Satanic suitor by calling from her Los Angeles home and seductively teasing him while her friends listened in on the conversation. LaVey’s public claims that he had an affair with Mansfield began only after her death, likewise the claim that Brody’s death was the result of a curse (source: Edward Webber [interview by Aquino 6/2/91]; interview with Mansfield quoted in Jayne Mansfield by May Mann, Pocket Books, 1974). In defence of LaVey’s own claims, the biography features LaVey posing in a familiar and friendly manner with Jayne Mansfied and her four children plus a handwritten letter that reads “To my Satanic friend, high in the eyes of orthodox religion. My probing for truth may be satisfied by my High Priest. Jayne.”

On the one hand, LaVey was a man with a deep insight on life, allowing us to sweep a great deal of pretentious nonsense out of ourselves, to our own benefit. On the other, he sometimes seemed to break his own Satanic principle, “Responsibility to the responsible,” paying back others far more than their crimes deserved. For instance, Togare, LaVey’s “big cat” eventually had to be removed from his home and housed in a zoo, due to neighbours’ complaints. Some time later, the zoo-keeper had Togare sent to Africa, without even notifying LaVey and giving him a chance to say goodbye. LaVey cursed the man, resulting in his death. Of course, it now appears that such claims are probably nothing more than exercises in myth-making by a man who wished to appear larger than life.

LaVey’s life was less eventful than I had anticipated. Aside from the alleged curses, there are no great Satanic crimes to speak of, or anything of a world-shattering nature. But that’s fine, and in fact, it paints Satanism to be much tamer than Christian hysterics would have you believe. For the most part, LaVey was a man who wished to quietly pursue his own interests, to communicate genuine insight, while falsely portraying himself as a powerful and dangerous man to the public. I have to ask, to what end? For it strikes me that there is something tragically pathetic about a man who once penned a work of deep insight (The Satanic Bible) now reduced to peddling lies about himself. What kind of insecurity drives this? Even worse to tell these lies to a universal readership, regardless of whether the reader is a Satanist or outsider.

I have one last criticism of the biography: there’s way too much hero-worship woven through the pages. From Barton’s perspective, LaVey can seemingly do no wrong. I think perhaps an autobiography might have been better in this regard, as speaking well of oneself comes less naturally than praising others. I originally read this book without knowing how deceptive it was. I took it at face value and liked it a great deal. But now that the myth has been exposed, this volume mainly just irritating. Its only lasting value is as example of how to manufacture a legend.

In fairness, it should be asked, are the counter-claims in the sources quoted any more valid than LaVey’s own claims? We may never be sure of all, but it’s clear that in some cases the evidence against LaVey is indisputable. For a full list of inconsistencies, see the sources at the bottom of the following Rolling Stone interview with LaVey. Also consult Michael Aquino’s massively detailed history of the Church of Satan, downloadable from the Temple of Set web site.

Satan Speaks! by Anton Szandor LaVey

This collection of essays is Anton LaVey’s fifth and final book, completed just days before he died in 1997. The title may strike fear into the hearts of some, but the true spirit of the book’s content is captured more by the subtle background image on the cover: the mischievously grinning bearded gentleman with the horns. For most of these essays are laced with humour and a sense of lightheartedness – albeit from the perspective of a misanthropic man who saw the world somewhat differently from the majority. Anton LaVey was the founder of the Church of Satan in 1966, starting the first above-ground Satanic organisation. The LaVeyan brand of Satanism was a religion/philosophy which promoted the reign of the flesh rather than the spirit – in other words, vital existence here and now instead of spiritual pipedreams. The character Satan was used in the symbolic sense as “adversary to the spiritual religions,” rather than as a deity to be worshipped. Consult my review of The Satanic Bible (1969) for more detail.

Unafraid to blaspheme the non-existant, LaVey begins this volume with an essay entitled “The God of the Assholes”:

Of course, God is a very Jungian construct. He was created by small men to serve their needs, according to their needs. Then, after the limited minds of millions of stupidos acknowledged Him, the goddamn dummies pretended it was the other way around. They insisted that God created man. They admitted that God created man His own image, but could never extend the similarity beyond that.

The diversity of subject matter in this volume makes it impossible to classify it with a particular theme, other than misanthropic opinions on modern life. There’s everything in here from magic, to materialism, to bathing (why he doesn’t), to volume pedals on keyboards, to women who piss their panties for sexual thrills.

Sometimes I could follow LaVey’s logic; sometimes I couldn’t. Satan Speaks! is hardly one of the more important books I’ve read in the study of Satanism and the occult, but I confess that I did have a lot of fun delving into the mind of one dubbed “the most misunderstood man in America.” If I learned anything about LaVey from this book it’s that he didn’t take life too seriously, which isn’t a bad note to go out on. That said, there was a disturbingly insular and backward-looking trend in LaVey’s general attitude to life. He possesses a distinct preference for his own company, a general disdain for others as lesser, and a desire to be left alone among his personal possessions in an environment of his own making, disconnected as much as possible from the world and focused entirely upon the past. What happened to the blazing personality who wrote The Satanic Bible, who championed vital existence, who sought to effect change in the world?

Knowing Blanche Barton’s propensity for invention and myth-making (see The Secret Life of a Satanist), it wouldn’t surprise me if LaVey had no intention of making this book. Rather than seeing providential significance in the finishing of the volume just days before LaVey’s death, I think it’s more likely that Barton compiled this assortment of essays herself after his death. In any case, it was worth reading. Entertaining, occasionally insightful, humourous and a touch tragic.