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.

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Black Magic by Michael A. Aquino

Michael Aquino was a Lt. Colonel in the US Army (now retired), as well as being a high-ranking member of the Church of Satan. These two facts have caused plenty of wild speculation among paranoid conspiracists about links between the government and Satanism; I will not indulge them here. Aquino left the Church of Satan in 1975, after a major disagreement with its founder Anton LaVey. He went on to form the Temple of Set, taking with him a portion of the Church’s priesthood who sympathised with his stance.

Aquino is interesting because he is what is known as a theistic Satanist (or Setian, as he would now call himself), where Satan/Set is viewed as more than a mere metaphor for rebellion. Theistic Satanists would seem to be in the minority today, but they are commonly misunderstood as being believers in the actual Satan of the Bible. In reality, they are no different from theists who see all religions as vaguely pointing to the same metaphysical reality. Words like “Set” are used to give substance to a reality that is ultimately beyond our understanding and must be intuited.

Black Magic was written in successive edits from 1975 to 2010. It was never published commercially, but reserved for new members of the Temple of Set. Due to it appearing in various forms on the internet, Aquino has now publicly released the definitive version for free download from his web site.

Early chapters of the book are mostly concerned with Temple-specific matters, such as identifying reasons why a person should or should not join, explaining the degree system of the Temple and the Egyptian connection.

Where the book really takes off for me is chapter 4, entitled “The Black Magical Theory of the Universe.” My own personal experience with psi phenomena leads me to believe that the fundamental nature of the universe is much weirder than materialistic science would give credence to, so I am always fascinated by bigger worldviews. The Temple divides the universe into two parts: the Objective Universe (OU), which is the world around you, and the Subjective Universe (SU), which is essentially the world inside your head, incorporating the OU filtered through your sense and brain, and also anything you imagine. In mundane existence, the OU affects the SU, and it doesn’t work the other way around. However, there exists what is called a Magical Link between your SU and the OU, which allows the SU to affect the OU.

Magic is divided into “Lesser Black Magic” and “Greater Black Magic.” The former is the use of obscure physical laws to affect another person’s SU; stage magic, for instance. The latter is something genuinely supra-mundane, achieved using ritual. Ritual is seen as a means of affecting one’s own SU to create the Magical Link. Ultimately, ritual is not a necessity, and is referred to as training wheels for magic. Medial Black Magic is non-ritualised magic.

The book also contains material on ethics, discussing various schools of ethics that have developed through philosophy. Of chief concern is the role of the Black Magician in the world, as an agent of productive change. The Temple of Set has completely moved away from the unfortunate stereotype that attaches itself to Satanism: the misconception by the would-be Satanist that he has found a philosophy that will allow him to justify his decadence and destructiveness. No such persons are welcome as members of the Temple of Set.

Aquino is an extremely clear and rational writer. There is no muddy water in his presentation. I’m not sure how much or how little I agree with his worldview, but I found this book to be a treasure trove of useful insights. It’s also not so intellectual that a lay reader can’t benefit.

The one piece of weak scholarship in the volume is Aquino’s conflation of the Hebrew “Satan” with the earlier Egyptian “Set-an.” This shows a complete lack of understanding of the origins of the Hebrew word, which is not even a name, but a common verb/noun, translated as “to oppose” in Numbers 22:22. It also needs to be understand that the Hebrew Satan is not the same as the later development of the Christian Satan. The original character was an angel in God’s service (see the Book of Job), not an adversary to God as he is depicted in Christianity.

Recommended reading for students of philosophy and metaphysics, as well as psychic and occult dabblers.

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.