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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Liber HVHI by Michael W. Ford

Michael W. Ford calls himself a “Luciferian.” What this means, and how it differs from “Satanist,” is not easy to nail down. Equally difficult to answer definitively is the question: “What is Luciferianism?” Briefly, I think it is fair to say that a Luciferian is someone who finds greater relevance in the meaning of Lucifer (light-bearer) than Satan (adversary). There is certainly no evidence of a belief system of any significant scale called “Luciferianism” (despite what conspiracy theorists would assert). Furthermore, Ford’s own “Luciferian Magickal Order,” the Order of Phosphorous, is not the only contender; there is also the Ordo Luciferis, Ordo Luciferi, Temple of the Dark Sun, Neo-Luciferian Church.

The title of the book under review is an inversion (of sorts) of the Hebrew name of God in the Old Testament, rendered either as JHVH or YHWH. Y and J are the same in Hebrew, as are V and W. The language contains no vowels, so there is often some guessing required as to the correct pronunciation of words; hence we have Jehovah and Yahweh. Written backwards we get HVHJ. Where Ford comes up with HVHI is not explained, nor is any clue given as to how to pronounce this “name.”

Liber HVHI is a modern grimoire, drawing upon the myths of various past cultures, with a particular emphasis on Ahriman of Zoroastrianism. Also central to the book is the Qlippoth, a variation of the Tree of Life glyph from the Hebrew Cabala. Much of the historial material was so unfamiliar to me, and communicated with such brevity, that it was impossible to digest coherently. I also failed to grasp the reason for the importance Ford’s approach to magic. I understand myths as approximations to truth, which is why myths are always evolving over time, or outliving their usefulness. Ford’s insistence on the use of ancient myth strikes me as backward. It’s like learning astronomy, but refusing to let go of Ptolemy’s geocentric universe. In reading Liber HVHI, I was reminded of Anton LaVey’s opening statement in the preface to The Satanic Bible:

This book was written because, with very few exceptions, every tract and paper, every “secret” grimoire, all the “great works” on the subject of magic, are nothing more than sanctimonious fraud – guilt-ridden ramblings and esoteric gibberish by chroniclers of magical lore unable or unwilling to present an objective view on the subject.

And yet occasionally Liber HVHI struck a note of brilliance, as Ford communicated a rare insight, one hard to grasp by those unfamiliar to the Left-Hand Path. These flashes are what kept me reading, but they were few and far between. The material of worth in this volume would have filled a pamphlet. The book makes occasional references to a previous work of Ford’s, Luciferian Witchcraft. Perhaps I would have gained a little more out of Liber HVHI if I had started with the other one, but somehow I doubt it. There is a clarity to modern occult writers like Anton LaVey and Michael Aquino that is sadly lacking here.

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.