Did Anton LaVey Believe in a Literal Devil?
Let's Take as Objective a Look as possible!
By Tani Jantsang
Those that knew LaVey very well in the past, such as Ed Webber, who got together with LaVey as close friends and thought out the idea of making a Satanic church, insist that he definitely did believe in a literal Devil, a real Satan, and that it was absolutely fundamental and basic to all communications and interactions with him, as-given, that he did believe in the Devil, literally.
Michael Aquino also affirms this and he was the second highest ranking member in LaVey's organization for a long time. However, due to Aquino's split with LaVey in 1975, the later followers of LaVey try to downplay anything he has to say or anything in writing he can show.
LaVey's later Priesthood, primarily the Gilmores, insist that Anton Lavey was always a staunch atheist and they claim that even the making of the movie "Satanis" was a big joke. Of course, they themselves are also staunch atheists! (When LaVey died he left his organization to his daughter Karla and to his son Xerxes, to be held for him by Blanche Barton until Xerxes became 18 years of age. There was a bitter court battle not long after. As of now, the Gilmores are the HPs of the organization. Karla has her own organization.)
All of what anyone else can testify to would be hearsay and second hand unless they had it in writing from LaVey himself.
So let's get on with some real evidence, then, Sherlock.
First Hand Sources: Let's first look at what Anton LaVey says himself in his earliest published material:
In the 1970 documentary film "Satanis":
"I'm in league with the Devil as much as any mortal can possibly be."
Satanic Bible pages 16-17:
"The Devil was much more than that [an anthropomorphic deity]. Satan represented a dark, hidden force in nature that was responsible for the workings of earthly affairs for which science and religion had no explanation and no control. (Note that "much more than that" does not mean it is NOT that, it's just MORE THAN that.)
Satanic Bible page 17:
"The main purpose [for making the COS)] was to gather a group of like minded individuals together for the use of their combined energies in calling up the dark force in nature that is called Satan."
(Note that you can not call up gravity, which is a force, by doing a ritual involving combined energies).
Satanic Bible example page 49:
Many things said in passing such as "Satan smiles and likes that." or "The Devil always had the best tunes."
Satanic Bible page 52:
"During white magical ceremonies, the practitioners stand within a pentagram to protect themselves from the "evil" forces which they call upon for help. To the Satanist, it seems a bit two-faced to call on these forces for help, while at the same time protecting yourself from the very powers you have asked for assistance. The Satanist realizes that only by putting himself in league with these forces can he fully and unhypocritically utilize the Powers of Darkness to his best advantage. (Note that the word "evil" is in quotes by him - but not the other words such as forces, Powers of Darkness, etc.)
Satanic Bible page 57:
"The Satanist does not furtively call upon these 'lesser' devils, but brazenly invokes those who people that infernal army of long standing outrage - the Devil's themselves!" (He goes on to name the 4 crown princes of hell.)
Satanic Bible page 62:
"He [Satan] merely represents a force of nature, the powers of darkness which have been named just that because no religion has taken these forces out of the darkness. Nor has science been able to apply technical terminology to this force. It is an up tapped reservoir that few can make use of because they lack the ability to use a tool without having to first break down and label all the parts which make it run. It is this incessant need to analyze which prohibits most people from taking advantage of this many faceted key to the unknown, which the Satanist chooses to call 'Satan.'" (This clearly indicates that the overly cerebral types that try to analyze these things, eg, with science or psychology, are not going to be able to do it or understand it.)
Satanic Bible page 110:
"The definition of magic, as used in this book [SB], is: 'The change in situations or events in accordance with one's will, which would, using normally accepted methods, be unchangeable.' This admittedly leaves a large area for personal interpretation. It will be said, by some, that these instructions and procedures are nothing more than applied psychology, or scientific fact, called by 'magical' terminology - until they arrive at a passage in the text that is 'based on no known scientific finding.'"
Satanic Bible page 115:
"One of the greatest of all fallacies about the practice of ritual magic is the notion that one must believe in the powers of magic before one can be harmed or destroyed by them. Nothing could be farther from the truth….." He similarly chides those who excuse such things as coincidence.
Satanic Bible page 144
Invocation to Satan speaks of Satan as literal being.
Church of Satan by Barton, quoting LaVey on page 109
"In speaking directly to Satan himself, you may discover what is in your subconscious that you can't quite bring to the surface. Express appreciation for the direction you have received from the Dark Lord and ask that he continue to guide you to further increase your Earthly power -- you might want to write out part of your Dedication ahead of time, to spur your thoughts once you're in the chamber. Ask that He (sic) bestow ever-increasing wisdom and perspective so that you can carry out your Dark Will on the Earth. Instruct the demons you name to manifest themselves to you by increasing your earthly pleasures."
The Church of Satan's "Grotto Master" application
requires prospective Grotto Masters, who are individuals that lead a local chapter
of COS followers to perform a self-initiation ritual:
"Before you complete this application - when you sense the time is right - perform a ritual (using the basic elements described in the SB) to petition Satan and the Dark Legions to accept you as a Grotto Master. Write down the ritual you performed and the results, if any."
The Satanic Baptism refers to a literal Satan. Zeena was publicly baptized in this ritual.
THE CLOVEN HOOF, Volume VI, Number 4m July/August IX A.S., Copyright 1974 C.E. by the Church of Satan, Post Office Box #7633; San Francisco, Calif. 94120 (reprinted here for educational purposes and for scholars that wish to document Anton Lavey's beliefs.)
Among our mail we find a significant number of comments something like this: "When I joined the Church of Satan, I thought that I was becoming a member of a religious organization dedicated to the worship of the Devil. At least the Satanic Bible left me with this impression. But, while the Cloven Hoof is all very interesting from a philosophical and materialistic standpoint, it seems to regard 'devil-worship' as little more than a convenient allegory. Is this a church? Does Satan really exist? If so, where and in what form? And why are the leaders of the Church of Satan so reluctant to discuss questions of literal demonology?"
Before we respond to this, a brief preface is in order. During the days of the original Magic Circle in San Francisco, and for the first few years of the Church itself, little effort was made to disguise the literal core of our doctrines. At that time there were no Wiccans, pseudo-Satanists, journalistic "occult authorities," or dime-a-dozen "Dark Shadows" films reducing the Prince of Darkness to soap-opera status. There was only The Church of Satan.
We are all familiar with what happened next. "Rosemary's Baby," produced with the Church of Satan's guidance, touched off an international fad greater than goldfish-swallowing, phone-booth-stuffing, hula hoops, and Zoot suits all together. Suddenly everyone was "into" the occult. If one was swashbuckling, one was a Satanist. If timid, a Wiccan. If fuddy-duddy, a theosophist or a Rosicrucian. If sexually obsessed, a sado-masochist. If altruistic, a Jesus Freak. If chicken, a reporter or observer. But always "an authority."
Satan himself became a tennis-ball. Prior to 1966 he was allegorical. Suddenly it was de rigueur that he was very, very literal - much more so than God (Do you remember that old Time cover: IS GOD DEAD?) Then someone made the profound discovery that "Satan" was a Hebrew term, and there were one or two religions on this planet besides Judaism and Christianity. Immediately Satan was passe'. The thing to do now was to revive the worship of the primeval fertility gods and goddesses that the Neanderthals grunted over. Finally some enthusiasts actually managed regress past the Neanderthal stage to Krishna-Consciousness, Scientology, and Guru Maharaj-Ji.
Is it really any wonder, then, that the Church of Satan withdrew "literal Satanism" from the public arena? In our pronouncements, publications, and press-releases the Devil became an allegory for materialism and the unchained human ego. Speaking in such terms we could continue to gain the ear of the people who really mattered - the de facto Satanists of the world. Had we continued to champion a literal Devil, media distortion would have lumped us together with nut elements, and our access to serious channels of communication would have been seriously paired.
Now we have reached the end of the boom. "The Exorcist" was the Last Gasp. A few of the occult flower-children still remain, but they have become relics, throwbacks within their own subculture. No one listens to them; they have nothing new to say. One by one, rats deserting a~ sinking ship, they quietly lay aside their capes, swords, and amulets. it's is all over. Time to find a new toy.
And so it is that Satan awakes. To his disciples who, after long years of frustration, are minded to leave Rome, he appears echoing God's admonishment to Saint Peter: Whither goest thou? Having seen so much, having partaken of my knowledge, having known me for what I truly am, abuse not my trust and confidence. Return to Rome, and together we shall begin the building of our new empire.
Indeed Satan exists. Not as just a myth, nor as a mere psychological archetype, nor as only a colorful figure of speech - but as an essential, intelligent entity.
"You knew this, Winston. Don't deceive yourself. You did know it - you have always known it." The tongue in which his name is voiced is unimportant, just as the shapes and substances of his manifestation are unimportant. "God" is an automatic, non-conscious, dispassionate cosmos - in which man, yearning to be rid of the burden of his identity, seeks to immerse himself. Satan is That which has infused man with that identity, thus endowing him with the key to turn the inertia of the cosmos to his amusement - to make of man a god. Would it surprise you to discover that the true Prince of Darkness is is not the Devil of Judaic/Christian legend? That figure is a simple caricature. Rather Satan is the true intelligence manipulating the "God" of the Bible and other "divine" personages weaning man from subservience to all gods by making their demands increasing1y intolerable.
This is the truth behind all religious institutions thoroughout history: gradual deification of man despite his most determined efforts to regress to the status of a non-thinking beast. While bowing before the Cross, man has actually been succumbing to a Diabolical Double-Cross of such ingenuity and complexity that it staggers the comprehension. Call it, if you like, The Greatest Practical Joke Ever Pulled. Or, to put it another way, humanity has been had!
Does it suddenly ring true to you, Satanist? Do you begin to see what it's really "all about"? Do the peculiarities of human evolution now fall into place? Yet, if your mental block remains fixed, it is appropriate; the shock of "awakening" may drive unprepared individuals quite mad. This "awakening" is the actual Abyss whose existence is dimly sensed by traditional occultists. Yet they have always failed to perceive its true function, and have failed miserably in their efforts to challenge it. For those who cross the Abyss, there is no return.
Second Hand Sources
At a press conference after LaVey's death, on November 8, 1997, Blanche Barton told the San Francisco Chronicle that "Anton Lavey believed in the Devil." When criticized for saying that by Ole Wolf, his main criticism being that what Barton had said was agreeing with Michael Aquino, Barton wrote to me, in a letter dated January 23, 1998, "As for saying Dr. LaVey believes in the Devil, I think it's fairly obvious from his philosophy, from the books he's written, the interviews he's given and the organization he founded. How he defines Satan and how he uses the concept of the metaphor of the Devil, is also fairly obvious, but I would be lying if, when asked the direct question, 'Did Mr. LaVey believe in the Devil?' I were to answer, 'No, he didn't.'"...."He [Ole Wolf] apparently objected to my answering such a question with a forthright "yes" when I was faced with national television cameras and speaking to an audience of American dunderheads - and I won't cop out by saying I was grieving - I was.".... "If I was a Satanist out there, weeping and despondent, I would rather hear a voice clearly saying, 'Your're damned right, he believed in the Devil, you assholes - whether you want to take the watts to understand it or not.' That's really the way he felt about that thole issue." See BARTON LETTERS. (I do believe that this statement of Barton's agrees with the Cloven Hoof article by Lavey you just saw, however, in my reading of her letter, she leaves avenues open for it to be read as if she is admitting she lied to the press and to her membership in order to spare their feelings. It can clearly be read both ways.)
"The Dark Ones guide us." letter from Lavey to Dawn LaSalle and the group here. Sept. 23, 1992.
"May the Dark Ones give you strength and clarity, and may you prosper as you so richly deserve." BB to Chris Bray, 4/30/1993, cc sent to Gilmore and me.
Zeena, in her letter to MAA took supreme issue with her father's newly found Atheism and took issue with the specific Atheists around her father at the time, namely the Gilmores and Barton. Keep in mind that she grew up with LaVeyan Satanism and was Baptized into it: "My unfather should never have carelessly tampered with the authentic forces of darkness that he now idiotically believes are his own creation." Letter from Zeena to MAA, 12/30/90 (Note she states that he NOW believes, indicating that he did not BEFORE believe.)
Burton Wolfe's account in "The Devil's Avenger," states that Lavey sensed the Powers of Darkness (that he felt compelled to formalize into a church) only vaguely as a "dark force in nature" [as stated above by LaVey himself in the SB]. Wolfe claims that LaVey thought these powers of darkness could be activated through ceremonial and personal magic to fulfill individuals' needs and desires. LaVey identified this dark force as Satan.
Ed Webber and others suggested the idea of making a Satanic church to Anton Lavey in early 1966, (contrary to the story of Anton having a blinding, flash of light, inspiration, as stated by Arthur Lyons in "Satanism in America"). This business with Webber and others is documented in meticulous detail in Michael Aquino's book, "The COS" page 27. Michael Aquino interviewed Ed Webber later on:
Aquino: Since 1975, LaVey has insisted that he never believed in the existence of an actual Devil or Satan, that "Satan" was only a symbol or metaphor. Was this true when you knew him?
Webber: Not at all. He was quite definite that he did believe in the existence of Satan. This was exactly what made the concept of a Church of Satan so fascinating.
On page 28 of Michael Aquino's "The COS" he recounts that he found out that when LaVey formed the Church of Satan in 1966, LaVey privately handwrote and signed a personal Pact with Satan (titled, "My Pact."). LaVey showed Aquino a locked metal strongbox with his personal copy of a book. The only other item in the strongbox was the Pact.
Belief in a literal Devil was axiomatic in all communications that Michael Aquino had with Anton LaVey. He was the second highest person in the Church of Satan, next to LaVey.
Michael Aquino's book can be located from here.
Let me make this clear, up front. It absolutely does not matter to me if LaVey was an atheist, a deist, a theist, a joker, a true believer, or all of the above at various times, or if he had different feelings about such things at different times. I know how things can be interpreted, misinterpreted, or just misunderstood or deliberately stretched to suit personal or emotional agendas.
Example: big fans of mine (one that even knew me personally enough to vacation where I am and hang out) that loved the Dark Doctrines tried very hard to "find science" to back up the Doctrines. These were hard line Atheists. Yet the Dark Doctrines speak of the Dark Lord of Transcendent Awareness and other principles and "defenders" in a very clear way. These fans of the Dark Doctrines also engaged in arguments against Aquino's people regarding LaVey's "beliefs" when they had absolutely no way to know one way or the other what LaVey thought or said, unless the Gilmores told them (hearsay)! Many Setians accused these Dark Doctrine fans of being mouthpieces for the Gilmores (the Setians were right). They just took sides - they took the Atheist side and used my name as their "convincer," as Barton noted one of them was doing when he chided her for saying that LaVey believed in the Devil (in a letter she wrote to me about it).
Anyone reading the Dark Doctrines carefully would have seen that they were MISusing my name as their convincer! What the Dark Doctrines have to say is pretty clear and on our own website and in monographs. Whether or not an individual perceives this Darkness as a literal Being, or perceives the "defenders" as literal Beings or not, is going to be strictly due to how his/her own brain perceives the intuitions and feelings. We have absolutely no stance for or against Atheism, Deism or Theism, because these avenues of experience are subjective; but our definition of Atheism is also very different from the popular definition of it. Therefore, what LaVey believed or did not believe really doesn't matter to me at all. I want to make that perfectly clear. Common sense even, why would such a thing matter?
Other people want to know, and recently (2005) some have asked me, and tried to dig up some facts on it other than hearsay. Well, even with first hand facts, what LaVey really believed, at at any given time, might be problematic!
Why problematic? Anton Lavey may have believed in a literal devil and then changed his mind about it - on and off or permanently changed his mind. Many people who believed in Jesus have done that, they changed their minds, or they change their conceptions of what this Jesus might be. This is quite normal, most people do this! LaVey is dead, there is no way to ask him now. All American Atheists were once believers in some kind of Deity, their beliefs taking many forms. They changed their minds. LaVey may have wavered back and forth between belief and non-belief, and he may have believed in more than one way about it and vascilatted between all of these.
However, if LaVey were to be asked about it directly, would he be truthful? Would it matter who asked him? Would it matter when he was asked (eg, after a run of great luck, or after a run of bad luck)? That is highly debateable because even before he died he indicated to some of his Magistrates that he was an Atheist, yet he also indicated to other Magistrates that Satan was a literal tutelary Demon. In writing, in a letter to me, it is also indicated that he showers praise on musicians whose music he really can't stand! In other words, he lies. (Letter dated November 17, 1995: "We get so many tapes and CDs sent to us from folks with their 'Satanic' bands - guitars screeching away, same cookie-cutter guys flailing their long, dark hair around and making gutteral sounds into a microphone. Their intentions and sympathies are often very sincere. They just don't know what real music sounds and feels like...." See Barton Letters.
So then, people say one thing to one person, and another thing to another person! Gee whiz, who didn't know that? Not everyone is brutally blunt and/or rude.
As shown in Michael Aquino's "The COS" page 29 and thereabouts, people on whom LaVey showered titles and trinkets were "too polite" to turn them down and insult him, simply because he was a nice guy; they accepted these titles and gifts and simply did not use them! When LaVey showered me with a non-member, honorary Magistra title I said "thanks" and that was about it. I never used the title on any article or monograph I ever wrote or sold - which says it all. I thought he was a sort of nice guy; I got vibes that he was a sort of lonely guy, too. He gave it to me for things that I had written, most of which elaborated on that same "dark force" he himself felt and called Satan. So, what the hey! It's only fans of Lavey that try to make something really BIG out of that title business (usually they are flaming me). Quite frankly, they are being ridiculous and lying to themselves. Likewise, it's fans (or enemies?) of LaVey that make a big deal out of the belief in the Devil business. WHO CARES?
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