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 1
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 2 . 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 3 . More controversial connections such as Marilyn Manson as well as a killer in the Charles Manson family also have been members 4 . 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" 5 .
There are 9 satanic statements 6 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 7 . The Church of Satan, which had been very visible shortly after its inception in 1966, has since declined in prominence 8 . 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" 9 . 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.
Remembrance of a Satanic Hero: Anton Szandor LaVey (1930-1997)
This web page would not be complete without a short obituary on the man who created and popularized the Church of Satan. Note that much of his life is a enigma, since there have been many inconsistencies in the stories LaVey told of his own life, and many details have either been disputed or found to be impossible to verify. With that disclaimer, here is the legend of the life of the Black Pope. Anton Szandor LaVey was born on April 11, 1930 as Howard Stanton LaVey (exactly when he changed his name is unclear). He ran away from home at age 16 and joined the Clyde Beatty Circus, where he worked with lions. There, his ease with animals led him to quickly become an assistant lion trainer. Two years later, LaVey joined a carnival where he served as a hypnotist and organ player. When the carnival closed for the winter in 1948, LaVey started to play the organ for burlesque houses in Southern California. He claims to have met a young Marilyn Monroe in the Mayan, one of these burlesque houses, and had a two week affair with her. A momento of this romance still exists: an autographed calendar featuring a nude Marilyn Monroe, signed, "Dear Tony, how many times have you seen this! Love, Marilyn."
In 1951 LaVey married fifteen year old Carole Lansing, then started studying criminology at the San Francisco City College in order to avoid being drafted. LaVey and Lansing had a daughter, Karla, in 1952, and LaVey took a job as photographer for the San Francisco police. There LaVey saw the grislier side of human nature: murder and rape victims, as well as those mangled and destroyed in various accidents. LaVey claims that it was this period that led him to disavow God.
LaVey lived in a large black and purple house in San Francisco that became known simply as "the Black House." He claims the house used to be a brothel run by infamous madam Mammy Pleasant. His eccentricities were showcased in this infamous mansion, which contained such pets as a pet tarantula, a boa constrictor, a black leopard, and a nubian lion named Tolgare.
It was in the Black House that he began holding weekly meetings dealing with occultic and dark topics such as vampires, werewolves, torturing, and insanity. These meetings drew much attention, and LaVey started charging $2.50 for admission to what he termed the Magic Circle. The Magic Circle once apparently engaged in an act of cannnibalism, sampling a human thigh taken from a hospital.
After LaVey founded the Church of Satan in 1966, he became a local celebrity and also garnered national fame. But the church began to lose popularity in the 1970s, and after the fissure with the Temple of Set in 1975, LaVey went into reclusion from the public. He resurfaced somewhat in the 1990s, making several albums based on his organ and keyboard music, including Satan Takes a Holiday (1995). He was working on his latest book, Satan Speaks , at the time of his death. This was published post humously in 1998 with an introduction from Church of Satan priest Marilyn Manson.
Much of LaVey's later life was marred by controversies and legal battles. In 1990, his younger daughter Zeena Schreck publicly disowned her father, and became a priestess in the rival Temple of Set. Adding insult to injury, Schreck called her father a liar and discredited many of the legends surrounding Anton LaVey's life. In 1991, an article published by Lawrence Wright in Rolling Stone also found much of Anton LaVey's life to be a fabrication. That same year LaVey, after losing court battles with his second wife - Diane Hagerty - was forced to sell the Black House, which may soon be torn down.
Wright found many of the details written here to be factually inconsistent 10 . He finds no documentation of LaVey ever working with the Clyde Beatty Circus. The owner of the Mayan claimed that it never was a burlesque house, and that he never employed LaVey. There are no records of LaVey in the archives of the San Francisco City College or the San Francisco Police Department. Zeena Screck wrote about Secret Life of a Satanist, Blanche Barton's biography of LaVey, as being an "absurb catalogue of lies" full of "self-serving bullshit." 11 John Raymond, the groom in the infamous 1967 Satanic wedding, has claimed that the wedding, along with the satanic funeral and satanic baptism, were no more than publicity stunts. Raymond wrote, "There were, in fact, two Anton LaVeys: first was the black-robed founder of the Church of Satan; the other, in private, a joke-cracking publicity hound who had found a gig that privately amused him and gave the press the kind of copy it craves." 12
What did LaVey have to say about these charges? "I don't want the legend to disappear," he said. "There is a danger you will disenchant a lot of young people who use me as a role model... I'd rather have my background shrouded in mystery." 13
Anton LaVey is survived by Blanche Barton, his daughters Karla LaVey and Zeena Schreck, his son Xerxes (born to Barton in 1993), and his grandson Stanton (born to Zeena and Nikolas Schreck).