Satan Goes to Hollywood
As 6/6/06 draws near, so does the first-ever international convergence of Satanists, the brainchild of Satanic priests/PTA parents Bryan Moore and Heather Saenz.
by Evan George, photos Thomas Hargis
There’s a young boy standing in the pulpit of the Kingdom Hall, wearing his best three-piece suit and giving all the old ladies of the Church the time of their life.
Day in and day out, the Jehovah’s Witness congregation walks the surrounding neighborhoods spreading their gospel and their warnings, their prophecies and the wisdom of past lives.
“Adam and Eve passed original sin to every man, woman and child on Earth. Satan and his minions tempt good people every day into betraying their faith. God hates birthdays.”
This kid’s just glad to be saved from going door-to-door, so he relishes the feeling of the microphone in his hand and the sound of laughter echoing through the hall. He slips a joke in where he can; they’re in the palm of his hand.
It seems an unlikely place, but there in the pulpit, preaching to a hall full of Jehovah’s Witnesses, is where Bryan Moore first became a Satanist.
Obviously, Satanists are born, not made; and reading The Satanic Bible, or discovering other LaVeyan texts, is a realization.
Thirty years later, along a dusty stretch of suburbia called Sun Valley, Moore is showing off his toy workshop where he keeps his Satanic altar. Dressed in black cargo shorts that have been washed so many times the pocket flaps won’t stay shut, scuffed skater shoes, and a pair of tightly pulled, bright white Champion brand sports socks, Bryan Moore is clean-shaven, with gracefully graying hair of boyish length slicked back with a massive amount of gel. He has a firm handshake and uses the word “neat.” He is perhaps the happiest Satanist this side of Styx.
Understandable. Satanism is a life-loving philosophy which champions Strength Through Joy.
“Can I get you a cup of coffee?” he asks. “I’m happy to put on another pot.” He has also purchased one dozen donuts in a pink pastry box.
In My experience, the ones that come in the pink box are the best! In any case, the reporter should be delighted that he is being treated so cordially, and that a Satanist actually likes/tolerates him - after all, "If a guest in your Lair annoys you, treat him cruelly and without mercy."
Moore leads the way through a dark atrium with withered encyclopedias of the occult on display. To the left there’s a small office, and down the short hallway is a large room with a long rack of bizarre costumes, a drawn curtain that frames an empty altar, and a workbench with half-made toy models waiting for their master’s attention. These model figures aren’t exactly intended for children, though some are commissioned by lare corporations like Mattel.
“Right now I’m working on an Aleister Crowley figure,” he says, “so I’ve fashioned it right down to the old man neck rolls, which are really important.”
The infamous British occultist stands 6 inches tall, glaring, with his hands locked in a fiendish plot, half-man, half-unsculpted putty the color of flesh. A dry-erase board above the workbench has doodles and a list of other historical figures yet to be made: Edgar Allen Poe, Sammy Davis Jr., and of course Anton Szandor LaVey, the founder of the Church of Satan.
Moore is a Priest in the Church of Satan, and along with his wife-and Priestess-Heather Saenz, he will be throwing the Satanic party of the century on June 6, 2006.
“Celebrating on 6/6/06, is it to mock Christianity? Absolutely. We know it’s just a number,” Moore says.
What is more than just a number, though, is the fact that this year marks the 40th anniversary of the Church’s founding. And in celebration Moore and Saenz have planned the first public, Satanic ritual in nearly a decade-or at least it was supposed to be public until a Church of Satan chat room broke the news. Members of the Church from all over the U.S. and as far as Spain, Germany and France will be converging at Hollywood’s Steve Allen Theater for a sold-out Satanic High Mass.
“What Heather and I brought to the table is, we wrote a ritual, and structured it in a three-act play form that is absolutely authentic.”
The event comes at a strange time for the Church. No stranger to controversy, the Church of Satan has been conspicuously absent from mainstream condemnation for years, nearly invisible since the death of LaVey in 1997. While next week’s event is one of celebration, it may ultimately foretell the group’s future as an organized religion.
The Church of Satan would exist and thrive regardless. Dr. LaVey intended that the organization would survive him. Being that Satanism is an ethnic, a type of superior human species, it is inevitable.
Some Satanists say that today’s consumer worship of mass-produced culture, brainwashing political jargon and American Idol-atry couldn’t be a more perfect time for Satanism to reach a new audience, but you won’t see them on the street corner proselytizing. Those still committed to LaVey’s teachings have become insular practitioners unaccustomed to a sense of community. Many of them, like Moore and Saenz, are professionals with a career to consider, parents, even PTA members.
Have yesterday’s Satanists, once accused of using ritual baby’s blood, become baby boomers themselves?
If these acts allegedly occurred beyond the urban mythology, these were not Satanists, but christian heretics.Have they lost their edge?
No. Real Satanists are inherently stimulating individuals.Or is the world ready for a growing, inclusive communion with the dark side?
Even the commoners can benefit from Satanism, albeit on a first-degree levelWhat would Satan do?
Hypothetically, be Himself.
On April 30, 1966 Anton LaVey called together his usual gathering of self-styled witches and warlocks, the Magic Circle, for the night’s celebration of Walpurgisnacht (traditionally considered the most bewitching night of the year in European folklore), shaved his pale head, and proclaimed himself the “High Priest” of his new church with a doctrine bent on mocking all that was holy in Christianity and extolling the individual and the “sinful” to an erotic degree. He began penning the religion’s main text, The Satanic Bible, which outlined the tenants of a hard-lined philosophy fused from elements of everything from Social Darwinism to witchcraft to Nietzsche, to name a few.
By 1967, the small group that started in the basement of his San Francisco Victorian house (known as the “Black House”) had become a raging media obsession. That year when LaVey performed the first Satanic wedding, it made the front page of the Los Angeles Times. After he baptized his three-year old daughter Zeena in a Satanic ritual, the hate mail came in waves. In 1968 he appeared on the big screen in a puff of green smoke as the devil himself in Roman Polanksi’s Rosemary’s Baby. It seemed LaVey-who saw himself as much a philosopher as a magician-was even more adept at publicizing his own celebrity. But the spell broke about the same time that the Hippie Generation’s acid trip turned sinister. Charles Manson’s crew murdered Polanski’s pregnant wife in their Beverly Hills mansion spouting devil worship drivel and the Hell’s Angeles rip-roared into the coveted number one spot of the media’s most loathed list. The evil of Satanism, it turned out, had a shelf life.
A distinction should be made between fictional cinematic devil-worship and Satanism. "Devil-worship" changes with the times and according to urban legend, influenced by movies, novels, and misguided juveniles. Whereas Satanism is a constant.
LaVey’s Church hardly disappeared; in fact it thrived in numbers. (Although when the Church of Satan hit 7,000 members they began withholding the official membership numbers from the public.) Jayne Mansfield joined notoriously, only to ask LaVey to cast a death-spell on a feuding manager of hers.
Sam Brody was a rotten, disrespectful, abusive lout who deserved what he got. Read the full story in Magistra Blanche Barton's book The Secret Life of A Satanist pubished by Feral HouseSure enough, the manager perished the very next year in a fiery car crash. Unfortunately for Mansfield she was in the car with him
Only because she unfortunately did not heed LaVey's advice to remain distant. Brody was on ground zero.
The fervency of hardcore evangelicals and crazed Christian activists in the 1980s kept the Church of Satan in the limelight here and there, but only as fodder for freaks with protests signs outside heavy metal concerts (despite LaVey’s personal distaste for rock music).
Throughout the 80's LaVey remained productive and continued to preside as High Priest, as well as being the Editor-In-Chief for The Cloven Hoof newsletter, and conducted several interviews.
LaVey has identified some select individuals in rock/heavy metal groups as Satanists. In My opinion, it is unfortunate that most of what is out there either just lacks talent, and/or express loser themes where mediocrity is held as some sort of ersatz 'virtue', promoting drug abuse and illegal activity. Many do not see these as fictional, but literally act upon some of the descriptions.
The Church gained some buzz again with the help of the Moral Majority in the ’90s. It didn’t hurt matters when teen demon and shock rocker Marilyn Manson joined the Church a few years later. But despite the brief waves of media interest and pulpit popularity, the Church of Satan never really thrived in public the way it seemed to during the so-called “satanic panic” of the late ’60s
Correction: the so-called "satanic panic" was a product of the 80's and early 90's, as far as the degree of christian paranoia and cultural obsession. The 60's bore a trend towards white-light newage and Indian spirituality with a small sprinkling of faddist devil-worship groups.
LaVey strayed from the earlier publicity stunts for which the church had become known, shunning the cartoon image of the devil, favoring that of a discriminating recluse. He slept during the day, administered the Church at night. And played his organ into the wee hours of the morning.
Such a splendid nocturnal existence - to quote Dr. LaVey: "Take a tip from Dracula. Live by night, shun the light. Listen to beautiful music."
Before passing away in 1997, LaVey groomed three chief administrators to succeed him: his biographer and companion Blanche Barton (the mother to his only son Xerxes), longtime confidant Peter H. Gilmore, and Gilmore’s wife Peggy Nadramia. When LaVey died, the Black House was bulldozed (Satanists, not famous for fundraising, couldn’t pull the funds together to save it), and condominiums took its place.
At last report, the lot remains vacant, but more importantly, the legendary Black House has evolved into the realm of infamy.
Barton assumed official command of the organization, his legacy and properties but soon passed the leadership torch to Gilmore-an unlikely looking Satanist, a bear of a man with a crew cut and a beard-who currently sits as High Priest of the Church of Satan. Magus Gilmore and his wife dutifully process applications for the Prince of Darkness (”an application that screens out idiots,” says Moore). It costs $200. Membership is for life.
Keep in mind that other religions ask for funds on a weekly basis, and even garnish 10% of perishioners' wages, which quickly adds up into the thousands - much more for lifetime followers.
The Church of Satan’s website and related chat rooms are in fact one of the only venues for Satanists to commune with one another. Unlike nearly every religion in the world, the Church has no formal place of worship, no essential edifice or sacred ground.
The "essential sacred ground" is within one's own home, as we practice an Orwellian cell structure. Philosophically, it can even be stated that the very ground we walk upon is "sacred ground".
You don’t run across gaggles of Satanists for the same reasons the Libertarian Party doesn’t pack convention centers: they fancy themselves individuals unaffected by the pack mentality. Their core beliefs are self-worship, indulgence in the id and the importance of individuality, which makes conferences a little tricky. But some in the Church wonder if this go-it-alone ethos hasn’t hurt the religion
I don't see how, there is no reason why Satanists may not choose to gather for a common goal and/or to celebrate a significant holiday.LaVey had something to say on the matter in an earlier chapter of The Satanic Bible:
"A group ritual is certainly much more of a reinforcement of faith, and an instillation of power, than is a private ceremony. The massing together of persons who are dedicated to a common philosopher is bound to insure a renewal of confidence in the power of magic. The pageantry of religion is what has sustained it. When religion consistently becomes a solitary situation it reaches into the realm of self-denial which runs concurrent with anti-social behavior. It is for this reason that the Satanist should attempt to seek out others with whom to engage in these ceremonies." - The Satanic Bible, page 119, "The Ritual, or "Intellectual Decompression Chamber".
Moore insists for the third time that I take a peanut-sprinkled, chocolate frosted donut and swipes a maple curl for himself. “I shouldn’t eat another one, but I’m going to!” he says, followed by a little dance and a recited line from Homer Simpson. He has had too much coffee. To be honest, this isn’t the indulgence I expected.
“Traditionally, we have our altar set up right here in the studio,” he says, pointing to the blood colored curtain that keeps the Sun Valley sunshine out of his workspace. “We don’t have ours set up at home because we have three kids, and it’s just not something we feel is appropriate to have out. The kids are aware of it in terms of books on a shelf, and they know that mom and dad are involved in it, but that’s where we end it.”
“Heather and I are both public about with what we do with the media, but then again we’re both members of the PTA.”
Their oldest is a teen princess as good at pissing off her parents as any, he says. “She listens to Britney Spears,” he says, shaking his head in disapproval. Their youngest, LeStadt, on the other hand, is a little devil’s advocate in his own right.
“He doesn’t tell people, ‘My parents are Satanists,’ because that’s really hard if they start quizzing him,” says Saenz. “We live in a mostly Hispanic community so they’re all very religious-but he doesn’t put up with them telling him he has to believe in Jesus.”
“When the kids are 18, if they want to attend a ritual that we do together, they’re welcome to,” says Moore. “I think they might be disappointed that we don’t invoke this demon that appears out of a puff of smoke.”
If Moore seems more private than most parents in terms of sharing his religion with his kids, he is. But it’s not just because his religion happens to involve lust rituals and occult magic. Moore knows too well the scars forced religion can cause. Many Satanists do. Sociologists across the board who’ve looked at the religion have found that a high percentage of Church members grew up in rigid religious backgrounds.
It should be noted that there are plenty of members who emerged from Atheistic backgrounds, as well as a plethora of others, where upon discovering oneself as a Satanist was a natural transition.
When Bryan was 12 his parents split, in more ways then one. His atheist father moved out. His mother became a Jehovah’s Witness. Moore and his sister spent their adolescence with their mother, canvassing neighborhoods and praying at her Kingdom Hall-what Jehovah’s Witness adherents call their church.
“I put on a suit, knocking on doors, giving out the ‘Watchtower.’ Once a month I was in the pulpit. The funny thing was I didn’t really question it at the time, until I got into my teenage years, but I found I really liked being in the pulpit because often I would use jokes in my biblical sermons, and people would laugh and it got a response. It taught me about public speaking and how you really can manipulate a crowd to see things your way. I found that I kind of liked being on stage, as it were.”
From there, Moore says, he met Satan where many others before him have, including Heather: at a bookstore.
Not at all surprising! Satanists tend to love books!
“I had picked up a book of Anton LaVey’s essays-they’re very short, kind of like Andy Rooney’s two minutes on 60 Minutes-and I found myself laughing out loud at these very cleverly written observations on human behavior and found myself agreeing with every one of them, thinking ‘this is how I’ve always felt about other human beings, just the way the world is.’”
The way of the world, according to Anton Szander LaVey, is not a rainbow sprinkled jelly donut with sugar on top.
“Satanists are misanthropes and have a dim view of the masses based on an unflinching study of history, psychology, and anthropology,” says Gilmore, the current High Priest. “We accept ourselves for the animals that we are and we do our best to get the most out of the one brief life we have.”
Everything about the human condition, Gilmore says, paints humans as animals with enormous potential that most of the species has managed to squander on oppressive religion, restrictive social rules, and the pipe dreams of an afterlife. It’s a dark worldview of incredible cynicism to be sure, where all Christians are boobs, politically correct liberals (and the hippies LaVey despised in his own days around Haight-Ashbury) are pipsqueaks, and generally anyone who doesn’t commune with the proverbial devil is a tool.
“Satanists are born, not made,” says Gilmore, “so the amount of people who are our kindred is already determined by nature and it is a small portion of the population. Those who are willing to accept full responsibility for their successes and failures and who can determine their own horizons will always be few.”
Of course, if you strip the ideas from The Satanic Bible of their venom, you basically have an extreme form of secular humanism.
Satanism has also been described as a 'militant atheism'.
Satanists do not worship the devil; they worship humans. Put another way, with a little sprinkling of Moore’s uncharacteristic optimism: “Satanism is really about being self-reliant.”
But then again, there’s nothing shocking about secular humanism (unless you’re Pat Robertson) and most Satanists, Moore included, will tell you that theirs is very much a religion, not just a club. Satanism cannot be divorced of its dark rituals, otherwise it becomes meaningless.
According to Rex Diabolus Church, a Satanist since the ’60s-who just happens to have horn implants, a metal pitchfork in his forehead and a plan for stainless steel fangs-the Ritual of Destruction he’ll be performing for the 6/6/06 event is a way of venting hate and vengeance upon a deserving enemy. “Satanism does not affect my daily life. I as a Satanist affect life,” Church says.
Enter magic, stage right.
“Anton LaVey was a showman. This religion is based on theater, it is based on spectacle, it is based on the taboo,” says Amit Itelman, Artistic Director of the Steve Allen Theater, where the 6/6/06 High Mass will be held. “Members of the Church of Satan are not carrying on traditions that are thousands of years old where they are actually worshiping the devil. The whole thing, in a sense, is a con.”
In effect, Itelman has invited hundreds of Satanists from all over the globe to meet at “his place,” so this rationalization may seem a bit like the wishful thinking before a kegger. While not a Satanist himself, Itelman says he bows at the temple of LaVey in his own way.
“For me, my interests were, and are, theatrical in nature. As a director, it seemed like a very interesting challenge to take a religious ceremony and present it in a theater. I think the gray line between a theatrical presentation and a religious ceremony is very vague. If you look at the religions that last, they have a very clear sense of theater.”
Satanism first crossed Itelman’s path in the form of Moore-an old acquaintance who frequented the theater. “I noticed at one show that he was wearing a pentagram on his lapel. One night he was with a handful of guys and they were all wearing pitch black…they were clearly his little coven of Satanists he brought to the show. I asked him about it and he didn’t answer me actually. And that was when I thought, ‘Well, is Bryan a Satanist?’”
Earlier this year, when Moore and Saenz began fantasizing about performing a public High Mass, the Steve Allen Theater seemed the obvious choice: the size, the location and the link with its darkness-dabbling director. Since then, both sides say it’s been a bit of a battle over what is Satanic orthodoxy and what is just good theater.
“There is a part of me that wants to do more over the top things,” says Itelman. “For instance there are some things that are done in a Black Mass, not a High Mass, that I think are visually really interesting and stimulating and extreme. But they’re like, “No, no, no. That is a Black Mass. This is a High Mass. We can’t do that. ”
It is easy to understand how the Black Mass rituals would seduce the director’s eye; they are perhaps the most perverse in any Western religion, many of them not originally designed by LaVey, but adopted from earlier witchcraft practices. One consists of inserting a church wafer-to some Christians the body of Christ-into the exposed vagina of a menstruating woman and then placing it in another participant’s mouth. In another, participants in the ritual take turns urinating in a chalice, which is then rubbed on people. A Satanic Black Mass is largely intended to purge followers of any poisonous feelings that may be leftover from a religious upbringing, not unlike Moore’s childhood.
“It’s so fucking extreme,” says Itelman, “and I’m thinking ‘I’ve got to do this!’”
“Amit had an idea of what he thought Satanism was, but we took him to school real fast, because he thought…there was going to be blood-letting and virginal sacrifices,” says Moore. “I’ve never performed a Satanic Mass, nor have I been involved in one because I don’t feel the need to purge religious baggage that much. I don’t want bodily fluids smeared on me…however, there are some people out there who really do find that necessary and that’s what that ritual is for.
“The ritual that we’re presenting at the Steve Allen Theater is a combination of three basic rituals: The Compassion Ritual, in which you declare things that you want-a good job, money, harmony in your family, those things; there’s the Lust Ritual-which is all sexual in nature; and then there’s the Destruction Ritual, which, if you hate someone that much, you symbolically destroy that person-you describe all the things you want to happen to them in the most grisly fashion.”
Although Moore has hired armed guards for the event, he doesn’t anticipate any problems, or disappointments for that matter. He knows they’ll be preaching to the choir. As for obsessions with the 6/6/2006 apocalypse, the only people counting down to fire and brimstone, ironically enough, will be overzealous Jesus freaks. However, the night will find Satanists at a different sort of crossroads.
Perhaps no other American religious tradition is as young as Satanism, save Scientology, which knows a thing or two about publicity woes itself. After nearly 10 years since the death of its founder, the Church of Satan-as a community at least-is as gangly as a pre-teen and twice as socially awkward.
Then again, if ever God was turning people off, it’s now. Between Islamic fundamentalism and the Christian response, black magic never looked so good. What’s more, you’d be hard pressed not to see the work of the devil’s hand in today’s increasingly self-centered culture, from everything to the catchword of most commercials: “indulge,” to the popular aesthetics of film noir, Weimar-period fashion, hell, even the Ed Wood camp that LaVey and other Satanists were the first to hail. And when it comes to consumption, America has all but shrugged off its early Puritan mores. Could the days of wine and roses return for the Church of Satan?
Well, if that means the attention-grabbing PR stunts of LaVey during the “satanic panic,” then no, probably not. The 6/6/06 event will most likely go off unnoticed behind closed doors, causing less of a ruckus than those pesky “You have been warned” billboards for the new Omen movie.
What Satanists-from Moore, our happy host with the most, to Magus Peter H. Gilmore who takes his role as LaVey’s gatekeeper deathly serious-are hoping for is a renaissance of a small, vibrant Satanic community that is, if not publicly active, at least in touch with itself. “It is up to the public to decide whether we are in its consciousness or not,” says Gilmore.
“As Anton LaVey said, ‘The first 99 years are always the toughest.’ We’re almost halfway there and more formidable than ever before. He would be very proud.” LAA
After re-reading the article, I found it necessary to make some corrections and clear up certain points that were obviously added by reporters after the interviews, which ended up resembling a more or less "hack'job" with typical subtle criticisms and underhanded attempted defamation. I also corrected some surprising spelling errors as well.