Letters from the Devil by Anton Szandor LaVey

laveyas-lettersfromthedevilAnton LaVey, the founder of the Church of Satan, wrote five books over the course of his life, expounding his philosophy of essentially atheistic Satanism – where the mythical character Satan is used as a potent and meaningful symbol for individualism and rebellion against common religion. I’ve read and reviewed all of LaVey’s works on this blog, and I found parts of his philosophy very useful for my own life. I consider him something of a visionary, having a penetrating insight on what it means to be human. Sadly, he died in 1997, and I had to content myself with the knowledge that Satan Speaks! (an essay collection published posthumously, not long after his death) would be the last words of Anton LaVey.

Not quite! In the very early days of the Church of Satan (the late 1960s and early 1970s), LaVey wrote a weekly column for the newspaper The National Insider and later The Exploiter. It was called Letters from the Devil. The public was invited to write letters to the infamous Black Pope. The most interesting ones were published, accompanied by LaVey’s responses.

Despite the dubious reputations of these tabloid publications, it appears that LaVey took his job seriously. His responses have all the insight and wit of his books. Some of the letters are hilarious, often assuming LaVey to be a devil worshipper, or treating him like a genie in a bottle, able to dispense wishes. LaVey’s responses were equally funny, as he exposes the letter writers’ shortcomings to them. There are also more serious letters, genuinely asking for advice with a difficult life situation. LaVey gives respect where it is due and provides his unique perspective.

When the book arrived in the mail, I was surprised to see that it was roughly A4 in size. This is because the editor has chosen to reproduce scanned images of the original newspaper pages, rather than reformat the text to suit a typical paperback book. I like the authenticity of this approach. The only drawback is that A4 is smaller than the original newspapers, and the originals have had to be shrunk to fit. The text is extremely small. It didn’t irritate me too much, because I wasn’t intending to read for extended periods (I wanted to draw out the experience of having new Anton LaVey material), but I think some readers might find it annoying.

There are just under 70 articles in the volume. They are chronologically organised, but sadly there are gaps. Since most people throw newspapers out, I imagine this small collection took a lot of time and effort to compile. It’s nice to think that some more gems from the mind of Anton LaVey might still be waiting out there, stored away in someone’s attic. One small gripe: most of the pages in the volume feature the name and date of the newspaper, but some do not. This makes life slightly difficult for anyone wishing to track down missing issues on eBay.

My thanks to Kevin Slaughter (and Chris X, who collected the issues) for putting this volume together. It was a most welcome surprise.

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 Satanic Witch by Anton Szandor LaVey

The Satanic Witch! An attention-grabbing title, if ever there was one. That said, occultniks and sensation-seekers may be disappointed to learn that the focus of this volume is not spell-casting in the supernatural sense, but in the entirely mundane manner of bewitchment by psychological manipulation – the effective use of feminine wiles, in other words.

LaVey appears to have undertaken a painstaking amount of personal research into typing human beings, the results of which he has condensed into what he calls the LaVey Personality Synthesizer. This is a clock diagram which places various body-types at points on the clock, then assigns various personality traits to each. In summary:

Twelve o’clock (the most male core) represents wide shoulders; long torso; narrow hips; short legs; hard, firm flesh; pioneer; domineering; aggressive; impulsive; always onstage; selfish; authoritarian.

Six o’clock (the most female core) represents narrow shoulders; short torso; long legs; wide hips; marshmallow flesh; fluidic movements; carries things out; consistent; dedicated; receptive; dependable; generous; steady.

Three o’clock (intellectual) represents narrow, stick build; sinewy; no wasist; translucent; social critic; technical; abstract; least social; dour; hair-splitter; clinical; thinker, not doer.

Nine o’clock (emotional) represents thick sausage build; resilient; rubbery flesh; social; sense of humour; agreeable; concrete; doer, not thinker; practical; resourceful.

The idea is to locate your own position on the clock. This then reveals your perfect partner of the opposite sex, who should be directly opposite you on the clock. That’s the theory, anyway. I see myself at somewhere between one and two on the clock, so my perfect partner should be between seven and eight, having a feminine core, with emotional and practical traits. There’s something to be said for that, actually. Being a single man, I am well aware of my own lack of domestic practicality, which would be compensated for by a partner who had those natural nesting instincts. Without reference to the synthesizer, I fancy the idea of a partner who shares my intellectual pursuits, but in reality this could mean that my home would end up as twice as messy as it is at present! (I am also dangerously close to be being pegged as a male chauvanist.)

The LaVey Synthesizer Clock is something unique to LaVey. It’s not in common usage in modern psychology, and testing the subtleties of categorisation in your own personal experience might require almost as much time as it took LaVey to synthesize them. As such, this element of the book was of limited value. Broadly speaking, it is valid to say that maleness and femaleness are different; they are different for reasons of compatibility; these differences are differences of body and temperament, both of which are interlinked; and that degrees of maleness and femaleness are present to varying degrees in males and females, extreme examples being the female tomboy and the effeminate male.

The primary strength of this book is its frankness. Sexuality is the main focus and nothing is considered taboo. Most interesting of all was LaVey’s discussion of what he terms the Law of the Forbidden. How a mere glimpse of something that’s not meant to be seen will be far more stimulating to a man than a full-frontal nude; the flesh of a woman’s thigh coming into view above the hem-line of her tights as she crosses her legs – this can be more exciting than a woman dancing on a stage with no clothes on.

The main disappointment of the book is that its view of sex and romance is entirely manipulative. “How to bewitch a man” is true to the book’s title and theme, but I think it’s tragic that male-female relationships are painted entirely in this hollow light. There’s even something a little hypocritical to the Satanic principle of “Responsibility to the responsible” (see The Satanic Bible) when LaVey includes advice on how a woman who wishes to seduce a married man should go about it.

While the main focus of the book is “lesser magic” (psychological ploys), there is a chapter towards the end on “greater magic,” which reveals many fascinating additions to the information already presented in The Satanic Bible.

LaVey has been known to be dishonest about the details of his past (see The Secret Life of a Satanist by Blanche Barton). The Satanic Witch provides some insight on why he has indulged in myth-making about himself. In a section called “How and When to Lie” from the chapter “Bitchcraft,” LaVey states:

There is nothing wrong with saying you sang at Carnegie Hall and you could have stood in the doorway at midnight and hummed a few measures, but if you open your mouth to sing at the next party and it sounds rotten, you have, as they say, blown it. If, however, you have sung the lead in your local civic light opera production of Naughty Marietta and were acclaimed as an exceptionally talented singer, and you happen to be at an affair where your quarry will be suitably impressed and possibly arrange for you to go on tour with an important new show, a Type II lie is in order. Tell him you have sung wherever you’d like – before crowned heads, etc., because when he asks you to sing, if you can back your contrived pedigree up with action, those very lies you told will not be questioned and will pay off. If you hadn’t told him, he might never have asked to listen to you.

A fascinating book from which a measure of insight about human nature can be drawn, whether the reader is a woman or man. As always, one to read with a critical eye.

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.

The Satanic Rituals by Anton Szandor LaVey

I advise readers to consult my review of The Satanic Bible before reading this one, first to familiarise yourself with what Satanism actually is (in direct contradiction to Christian propaganda) and also so that my personal motivations in researching this subject are not misunderstood by people who would take great delight in condemning me.

Briefly, LaVeyan Satanism is a philosophy of individualism, recognising no higher authority than the self. To the Satanist, there is no God and no devil; no one to worship but yourself. Satanists choose Satan as their symbol because the name means “accuser” or “adversary,” and Satanists see themselves as the enemies of all the spiritual religions. In wearing the badge of the very enemy those religions typify, you declare your freedom from any necessity of being seen as righteous in the eyes of others. Satanism celebrates carnality and sees man as just another animal. It can be viewed as atheism minus humanism. The Satanic Bible was chiefly concerned with expounding a philosophical viewpoint, a Satanic morality. Satanists are not amoral, nor are they in favour of loving everyone indiscriminately. Satanic morality is rational, pragmatic and at times brutal. Satanism recognises that all of nature is adversarial (Satanic), and so it develops a moral stance in line with that principle.

Then we come to a strange little thing called Satanic ritual. This topic was given a brief treatment towards the end of The Satanic Bible and is more fully expounded here. Satanists view ritual as “self-transformative psychodrama.” The main reason for ritual is to affect the self. For instance, a Black Mass is not a form of devil worship (for there is no devil, Satanists would agree), it is a mockery of Christianity designed to disintregate any lingering psychological attachment to it that is holding you back.

There is another, more occult, side to ritual that is acknowledged by the Satanist. There are three general types of ritual: a compassion ritual (where good is wished upon another), a destruction ritual (where harm is wished upon another), and a lust ritual (where you attempt to bring a sexual partner into your life). The ritual chamber can be thought of as a cooking pot for desire and emotion, where the rational self is left at the door for a time. Satanism acknowledges that our desires can sometimes permeate beyond ourselves and affect the world. This is the essential understanding of a magical ritual. LaVey doesn’t pretend to know how and why this works, he only asserts that it does, that there are forces beyond our understanding that can be called to our aid. These forces are not acknowledged to be personal in any way, and most magical lore is thrown in the trash. LaVey places no importance on the drawing of protective circles, pentagrams and hexagrams. He views the spilling of blood as completely unnecessary and the real science of it is the power inherent in the discharge of the adrenal and bio-electrical energy of the sacrifice. Hence, the Satanist recognises he can draw such energy from within himself through ritual, without the need for killing animals (or human babies!). I have to say, I found all of this to be a fascinating re-evaluation of magical lore. But it strikes me that LaVey could be closer to a scientific understanding of magic than his occult predecessors.

One thing still baffles me, and it’s the question I really wanted answered after reading The Satanic Bible: if we are dealing with impersonal forces, why the constant reliance on the Enochian Keys? Many rituals are included in this book, and the one thing you learn is there are no actual Satanic rituals. They are all borrowed from other non-Satanic sources and sometimes modified; there’s even a bit of H.P. Lovecraft thrown in. And yet all of these rituals begin with the reading of specific Enochian Keys. It’s as if the content of the ritual itself isn’t terribly important, but the Enochian Keys are vital to success. I asked this question in my review of The Satanic Bible, and I have to ask it again here: who or what is listening when you speak the Enochian Keys? Surely something more personal than a force of nature.

Now, it could be that John Dee’s Enochian language is pure gibberish and LaVey is yanking our chain. Call me superstitious, but I’m not inclined to put that to the test. My understanding of “magical” forces comes from a psionics perspective. I have enough experience (specifically through experiments with telekinesis) to know that there’s a reality to this. I am far too cautious to dabble in Satanic ritual, although I am endlessly fascinated by the workings of it, because I think there is ultimately a scientific framework for everything in reality, as long as you don’t take the word “science” to mean classical physics alone.

The Satanic Bible by Anton Szandor LaVey

I’ve been so reluctant to review this book, for no other reason than the fear of what some of my Christian friends will think of me. “Oh, Darryl, we knew this would happen. You rejected your faith in Christ; you’ve been busy learning how to move objects with your mind; it was only a matter of time before this happened.” Now just HOLD ON A MINUTE. Let’s make a few things clear. Firstly, The Satanic Bible is not some ancient occult text, as might be feared by uninformed Christians; it is merely a book written in the 1960s by one Anton LaVey who founded his own particular branch of Satanism called the Church of Satan. Secondly, it strikes me that if we want to be critical of something, we ought to first know something about what we’re criticising, by reading what it’s all about from the source itself, rather than blindly accepting the second-hand criticisms of our church leaders. Thirdly, my motivation in reading this book was not an interest in joining Satanism, but in helping myself to learn about whether Satanism really takes place at high levels of society and government, as the conspiracy theorists tell us.

The Satanic Bible was a surprising read, to say the least. Initially, the book is concerned with replacing the moral guidelines of conventional religion with alternative ones. Religion, says LaVey, has traditionally been based on abstinence, whereas Satanism is a religion of indulgence. He tells the story of how, as an organ player at a carnival in his youth, he would see men coming to the stripshows, then on Sunday morning at the church, these same men would get themselves right with God, only to return to the stripshow the following week, in a never-ending cycle of hypocrisy. According to Satanism, “man’s carnal nature will out,” therefore LaVey sought to invent a religion based on man’s carnal needs, rather than in futile opposition to them. Satanic morality presents some recognisable Christian principles, with slight modifications, such as “Do unto others as they do unto you”; “Kindness to those who deserve it, rather than love wasted on ingrates.” Some of the principles made a kind of sense to me; others I felt very uncomfortable with, such as “Death to the weakling, wealth to the strong.” At times, LaVey has a way with words – an ability to state his case succinctly, smashing through false, pretentious counter-arguments with amazing brevity – and often with a dash of humour. For instance, consider the importance the Christian Church places on confession of sin. Here’s what LaVey had to say:

When a Satanist commits a wrong, he realizes that it is natural to make a mistake – and if he is truly sorry about what he has done, he will learn from it and take care not to do the same thing again. If he is not honestly sorry about what he has done, and knows he will do the same thing over and over, he has no business confessing and asking forgiveness in the first place. But this is exactly what happens. People confess their sins so that they can clear their consciences and be free to go out and sin again, usually the same sin.

Perhaps the most surprising finding in The Satanic Bible is the assertion that LaVeyan Satanists do not worship Satan. To them, Satan is no more real as a being than the tooth fairy. Instead, the word Satan is used to personify what LaVey vaguely calls a dark force of nature. Satanic ritual is largely a form of “psychodrama” – another vague term not strictly defined, but which I understand refers to the use of ritual to stimulate emotion. And emotion is where the real power lies. This is where my ears really perked up, because this is by no means the first time I’ve heard the idea that emotion is the “fuel” in a magical working; I came across the same idea in my research of telekinesis. Others who talk about “the power of intention” are acknowledging the very same, for what is intention but fervent (i.e. emotionally charged) desire.

It is stated that, contrary to popular belief, Satanists do not sacrifice babies, other humans, or even animals; children and animals are viewed as the highest form of life. The “magic” behind such ritual sacrifices is not in the blood itself but in the harvesting of the adrenal and bio-electrical energy expended in the death throes of the sacrifice. This certainly sheds new light on the prevalence of sacrifice in the religions of the ancient world – Judaism (from which our Christianity emerged) no exception. Perhaps all those ancient cultures were not as dim-witted and primitive as we commonly believe. The Satanist, however, shuns sacrifice, knowing that there are easier ways to generate the necessary emotional energy, from oneself.

Learning a thing or two about the “science” of magic was fascinating to me, especially in relation to my ongoing interest in telekinesis. I learned telekinesis without any guidebook, purely by attempting it again and again, taking careful note of what worked and what didn’t. I came to the understanding that successful telekinesis depended on first creating a strong mental image of what I wanted to occur and pouring strong desire into that image; then clearing the mind of all thought and letting it happen. Imagine my alarm when I read the five principles of Satanic magic: (a) desire, (b) timing, (c) imagery, (d) direction, (e) the balancing factor. We can forget (b) and (e), because they relate only to magic performed on a person, e.g. what time are they are most susceptible to influence, and the necessity of being realistic in your expectations. But (a), (c) and (d) correspond nicely to my own telekinesis technique. Telekinesis works because you employ desire with (mental) imagery, then direction, which is the letting go. Perhaps those elements are rather obvious, but it strikes me that the same underlying “science” is behind both telekinesis and magical ritual. After all, visualing a “psi wheel” spinning and causing it to spin for real is not so different from sticking pins in a doll with someone’s photo attached to it and manifesting an actual curse in their life.

Does all of this make me want to quit my telekinesis experiments? No. Because after all, we use our imaginations and our desires all the time in life. It’s just that few of us ever realise that we are constantly attracting experiences to ourselves through those very desires. In fact, having this understanding only makes me aware that we might well be psychically attacking others without realising it, merely by brooding over unresolved hurts. In this sense, we are all magicians, whether we realise it or not. And what is magic? The most memorable statement in the book for me was (paraphrased) “Everything that is now considered science was once considered magic.”

Satanic magic, however, takes one giant step further, into even more mysterious territory, and this is where the original claim about Satan being merely a “dark force of nature,” rather than an actual entity, starts to fall apart for me. If Satanic ritual is merely psychodrama designed to stimulate emotion, why does The Satanic Bible state strict guidelines, such as the placing of the image of Baphomet (a goat-headed entity representing Satan) on a particular wall. Why the strict regulations about candles? The list goes on. Most telling of all are the “Enochian Keys.” These are strange passages were allegedly supernaturally communicated to Elizabethan occultist John Dee, written in a language called Enochian. Each Key serves a different purpose, and it is said to be dangerous to recite these things recklessly. It strikes me that if I am required to make certain sounds with my lips, then something is there to hear and interpret those sounds as words, certainly something more personal than a force of nature. And it is this, more than anything else, that urges me to be especially cautious about Satanism. For I would ask, “At what cost do I invoke help from beyond?”

I think this may be a dangerous book, particularly in the hands of the young and naive. It is capable of seducing you with a moral viewpoint that is more realistic, and at times more attractive, than that of traditional religion. My personal morality comes not from organised religion, but from my intuitive understanding that we are all one. So, the furtherance of my own ego (which Satanism champions) is tempered with the understanding that I am everyone, and whatever I do to another, I do to myself. If I did not have this understanding, Satanic morality may well have had more impact on me than it did: “If a man smite thee on one cheek, smash him on the other” is not a principle that resonates with me, although I can see why it might to some ears. Another danger I perceived: the view that there is no actual Satan could give one a false sense of security about ploughing ahead recklessly into Satanic magic. An impersonal force of nature doesn’t hold the same sense of threat as an mysterious unknown entity. The latter scenario seems far more likely to me than the former.

Finally, what of my original motivation for reading this book? Did it shed any light on whether Satanism (or a similar occult philosophy) takes place at high levels of government? Well, there was a brief anecdote about Benjamin Franklin’s involvement in the Hellfire Club secret society, and an assertion that all truly successful people are adherents of Satanic philosophy to one extent or another, whether knowingly or not. A poignant question occured to me: if true magical power exists on earth, where would it be – in the hands of a few obscure people, or in the hands of the rulers? Since magic is what would enable one to gain power, surely then it’s the magicians who would be the ones in power. It’s notable that the section of The Satanic Bible on magic is subtitled “Mastery of the Earth.” The Third Enochian Key is prefaced thus:

“The Third Enochian Key establishes the leadership of the earth upon the hands of those great Satanic magicians who throughout the successive ages have held dominion over the peoples of the world.”

Of course, to many readers, all of the above is purely theoretical, because believing in magic is like believing in Santa Claus, right? Well, to someone like me, who learned how to genuinely move matter with his mind, I’m afraid it’s drastically more believable. Who knows.