Name: The Church of Satan
Founder: Anton Szandor Lavey
Date of Birth and Death: April 11, 1930 – Oct. 29 1997
Birth Place: Chicago, IL
Year Founded: 1966
Sacred or Revered Texts: The Satanic Bible (1969), The Satanic Witch (1970), The Satanic Rituals (1972), all written by LaVey
Cult or Sect: Negative sentiments are typically implied when the concepts “cult” and “sect” are employed in popular discourse. Since the Religious Movements Homepage seeks to promote religious tolerance and appreciation of the positive benefits of pluralism and religious diversity in human cultures, we encourage the use of alternative concepts that do not carry implicit negative stereotypes. For a more detailed discussion of both scholarly and popular usage of the concepts “cult” and “sect,” please visit our Conceptualizing “Cult” and “Sect” page, where you will find additional links to related issues.
Size of Group: according to the Church, over 10,000 members.
Anton LaVey, the founder of the Church of Satan, displayed an interest in experimentation long before the Church of Satan was created. He alleges having worked at various unusual jobs including lion tamer for a circus, carnival hypnotist, organ player at a burlesque club, and photographer for the San Francisco police. While in San Francisco in the 1950’s LaVey started a group known as the Magic Circle, an occultist club which began to attract much attention. Lavey used this opportunity to make money by selling tickets to their meetings.
According to LaVey, the Church of Satan was founded on April 30, 1966 – the last day of April being Walpurgisnacht , a sacred night in European witchcraft. LaVey shaved his head, declared himself the High Priest of the Church and the “Black Pope,” and announced that a new era had arisen. He criticized many religions, especially Christianity and Eastern mystic traditions, for forcing unnatural laws upon humans and causing unnecessary guilt and remorse. Thus LaVey emphasized the need for a religion which worshipped the individual as a carnal beast with desires that needed to be fulfilled.
The Church of Satan received attention nationwide when LaVey presided over the first Satanic wedding in 1967. LaVey bested himself by staging a Satanic funeral for a Church member and a Satanic baptism on his three year old daughter Zeena later that year. The suddenly popular LaVey wrote several books, including the Satanic Bible (1969), which sold over a million copies combined. He also was an actor and consultant in several Hollywood films, including playing the role of the devil in Rosemary’s Baby (1968).
Many celebrities have been alleged to have connections with the Church, including Sammy Davis Jr., Jayne Mansfield, and Kim Novak. More controversial connections such as Marilyn Manson as well as a killer in the Charles Manson family also have been members. Since the inception of the San Francisco group, other local chapters, or grottoes, have been founded across the nation.
The Church of Satan can best be described as a religion that mixes a hedonistic philosophy with the rituals of black magic. The Church of Satan does not promote the belief of Satan as a supernatural being; rather, it uses Satan as a symbol of defiance and rebellion against a conformist, God-fearing society.
However, LaVey felt that it was necessary to build a church in the religious sense because he believed that humans still needed rituals and symbolic worship to reach a deeper level of meaning.
In his own words, “People need ritual, with symbols that they may find in baseball games or church services or wars, as vehicles for expending emotions they can’t release or even understand on their own”.
There are 9 Satanic statements which convey the beliefs of the Church of Satan:
- Satan represents indulgence, instead of abstinence!
- Satan represents vital existence, instead of spiritual pipe dreams!
- Satan represents undefiled wisdom, instead of hypocritical self-deceit!
- Satan represents kindness to those that deserve it, instead of love wasted on ingrates!
- Satan represents vengeance, instead of turning the other cheek!
- Satan represents responsibility to the responsible, instead of concern for psychic vampires!
- Satan represents man as just another animal, sometimes better, often worse than those that walk on all fours, who, because of his “divine spiritual and intellectual development,” has become the most vicious animal of all!
- Satan represents all of the so-called sins, as they all lead to physical, mental, or emotional gratification!
- Satan has been the best friend the church has ever had, as he has kept it in business all these years!
The Church of Satan proposes that emotions such as greed, lust, and hatred are natural instincts and the denial of these feelings is utterly incorrect. They point out the hypocrisy that stems from people worshipping laws that they can’t possibly follow, then feeling better again once they have confessed their sins and repented. Members would descibe themselves not as beings full of hatred and sin, but normal people who have come to grips with the carnal nature of humanity.
Yet the Church of Satan also uses much spiritual ritual and symbolism in their meetings. There are three main types of magic ritual employed: sexual rituals to aid in attaining physical ecstasy, compassionate rituals to help loved ones, and destructive rituals to release anger and hatred. Some ceremonies include the use of symbolic elements such as music (organs, gongs, vocalizing), costume (hooded robes, masks), candles, pentograms, and female nudity. A much used symbol is the Sigil of Baphomet, which is an point-down pentogram in a circle, with a goat’s head inside the pentogram. The Sigil of Baphomet and closely related symbols have long been used in Satanic tradition.
The Church makes a point of keeping a clean public image and steering away from unlawful activities. Following the Church’s formula of “nine parts respectability to one part outrageousness,” the Church of Satan has discouraged illegal activites, and has even banished grottoes associated with unethical or illegal behavior. LaVey also strongly discouraged the use of illegal drugs, not only for legal issues, but because they cause people to lose control over their lives. Church membership consists largely of respectible citizens in their middle ages, as opposed to the wayward teens that are often characterized as Satanists in the media.
The most important recent event for the Church of Satan has been the death of Anton LaVey in 1997, which some say spell the final gasp for the struggling group. The Church of Satan, which had been very visible shortly after its inception in 1966, has since declined in prominence.
The Church had been in financial disrepair in recent years: Anton LaVey, chased by debts, had to sell his infamous home, the so-called Black House, in 1991. He sold it to a friend who let LaVey stay in the house for his dying years, but now it seems likely that the Black House will be demolished to make room for condominiums. An attempt to raise money to buy back the house fell well short. The problem of succession has also dogged the Church of Satan.
The top leadership position in the Church is currently maintained by High Priestess Blanche Barton, who was LaVey’s most recent lover and partner until his death. After LaVey’s death, Barton took over the Church along with Karla LaVey (Anton’s daughter from a previous marriage), but since then the two have had their differences. Barton, the legal heir to Anton LaVey’s possessions, including the Church of Satan, has accused Karla LaVey of “falsely claiming the title of High Priestess of the Church of Satan for herself”.
The last few years have seen extensive legal struggles as well as constant bickering with their rival Satanist group, the offshoot Temple of Set.
Without their charismatic leader, the future of this once infamous church is uncertain.
Last updated: February 21, 2016 at 21:49 pm
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