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BIRTH OF TRAGEDY
Issue No. 4, November '86 - January '87
Special Anniversary Edition
The God Issue
INTERVIEW BY EUGENE ROBINSON
PHOTOS BY JAMES RAU
Anton LaVey is doing public relations for Satan. After 2000 years of possibly justifiable bad press and recently in the form of LaVey and in the tradition of the sepia-toned tough guys, snap brim Fedoras, dangling cigarettes, and dead-end swagger, the self-professed head of the Church of Satan, author of The Satanic Bible, and The Satanic Rituals, LaVey is in demand.
A one-time police crime photographer, concert pianist, and sideshow hand, LaVey has weathered associations with the likes of Jayne Mansfield, Marilyn Monroe, John Travolta, Hollywood Babylon author and film director Kenneth Anger, as well as appearances in Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby, technical advisor stints on several other films, and the administration of the Church's brisk business activities, to cruise into middle-age, a rich and satisfied man.
Corralled for the GOD Issue in the name of equal time, LaVey spoke at length on God, Christianity, and the Church of Satan. Enter Here.
BOT: I noticed you used the term "Satanic" quite a bit in the Washington Post piece. When I think of "Satanic," I think "of Satan," but I feel there is a different flavor to the way you use it.
ALV: I mean Satanic in the sense of a philosophical concept, a realm, or a state of being that would best be described as a lifestyle, an outlook, an attitude, as opposed to a Gothic stage set which is what most people consider when the word "Satanic" is mentioned. Though certainly scholars have thought other of Gothic stage sets because I've read the term "Satanic" used in the context of which we're speaking.
BOT: Now you were speaking of the third stage?
ALV: The third stage, in the sense of a gyre, or the concepts that evolved as a result of man's need or animal's need to develop beyond this instinctual stage, as you described it, are almost...well, they necessitate as they always have, but more now than ever before because we're going through this state of flux, a sort of separation. A separation in the sense that there is no bearing whatsoever on past rules, regulations, or standards that have been set either by societies or by individuals.
BOT: So that's where we are now?
ALV: That's where we are now.
BOT: The old laws don't mean anything.
ALV: They really don't. Unless, you could say, atavism would certainly surface and there's a certain degree of subjective response, emotional response to things even though we have exploded all of the rules and regulations...there's that germ, that seed, that will probably never go away anymore than basically people being sort of offshoots of different types of other creatures...there would be almost, if you go back to certain animal types - there are leopard types, there are dog types, there are bovine types of people.
BOT: That's what we see happening now. We get the sense that the old laws don't mean anything because we see people with strong instinctual desires acting them out, often in direct opposition to those of the civilized society. That's the atavistic thing, going back...but now I see people striving. There seems to be this kind of massive subconscious striving towards something.
ALV: I call it, almost, a return to a romantic attitude or an evolution if you wish. Probably more of an evolution because, unfortunately, the romantic of the past was also a dunderhead. I mean most of them were pretty, let's face it, locked-in people and that's why they were romantics because they were living in a certain insular world of their own.
And now there is a new breed or new class of people emerging...I could call them the new romantics. They have burned the books and broken all the rules of the past but want to take that which is gratifying and feel something that is not programmed or that is not an option within a strict set of brackets.
BOT: This seems to be a striving that lots of different people have gone through...Christianity seeks to deal with non-desire within society. To live in the world but not of the world. Buddhism speaks of non-desire outside of society...sequester yourself inside a temple. Now, what is your approach to your idea about desire? How does that fit into the new romantic?
ALV: Well, as far as the concept of the anchorite or the monk or the monastic concept...the best of both possible worlds, burning the candle at both ends, whatever you want to say, it would be total environments. It would be the sort of thing...one would live in the way that would be most gratifying to himself or herself while realizing that in the outside world, in the marketplace, there were certain survival needs that had to be accounted for. Namely, being able to relate to other people, other situations, and primarily mask, I call, conformity or popularity. I feel that what is probably the greatest enemy of longevity is popularity. Quite literally. If only they could, like the vampire legends, remove themselves, just sort of say as Groucho used to say, "Whatever it is, I'm against it!" If they could just take a little bit of that...not be real rebels or real aliens, but just enough so that they could run from the contagion of popularity, then they would have this breath of fresh air occasionally. That perhaps would rejuvenate or energize them.
BOT: O.K. But these are people who believed in, to use my terminology, the 2nd stage. You're saying the new romantic needs to or desires to or should be able to grasp this rebellion and use it as fuel, but still mesh?
ALV: Right! I think that if they can't do that then sooner or later they're going to find that when they mesh they're going to be uncomfortable enough so that they will be doing it less and less of the time and eventually what will evolve will be a sort of stratification...it certainly will be a stratification, but the new stratification, and this is of course what I said when I was a kid, 14 or 15 years old, should be based on no previous pedigrees of any kind but simply whether or not a person can pass the sensitivity test of being one of the new elite, one of the new class of super people. If this sounds of course fascistic, so be it. I've been accused of being everything from extreme left to extreme right. I do believe that with a certain degree of stratification, people could be a lot happier because water simply would seek its own level. As long as there were hard, steadfast rules, if there were going to be any rules imposed, that there would be no ethnic, no past pedigree restrictions whatsoever. I think of course Hitler's greatest mistake was in, not his bringing together some of the things he tried to bring together, but by of course employing the racist concepts that he did, he lost everything. I mean, who knows but he would have won the war if he kept the people around that he considered inferior or his adjutants considered inferior.
BOT: O.K., so what we're attempting to do then is forge a new law but now, pragmatically, what does that have...
ALV: I know where you're going now. It's based on the premise that people beg, they plead, they insist on being lead and there are only so many leaders and so many followers and those who are leaders are going to be leaders regardless of their birth right, regardless of their schooling, regardless of their knowledge of the world. There's just something about them that's going to be that sort of quality.
BOT: When I said pragmatically, I was narrowing it down even further to "how do I funnel my desire?" I mean I can't return to instinct and it's impossible for me to live as a civilized person...civilization is destroying us...we know that. So, O.K., we've got this stratified new law society...What do I do with my desire? Before, in an instinctual world, I would act. If I was hungry, I would eat. If I was tired, I would sleep, etc. In a civilized world, my behavior was proscribed such that I ate at certain times and slept at certain times. Now the old laws don't mean anything so we get rid of them. But in the new society, how do these "new romantics" funnel desire in light of the new laws? This is important because this is where the discontent with civilization arises, in its inability to relate to desire.
ALV: Right. That's absolutely right. They find people, places, outlets that are conducive to these desires and certainly, there is enough for everyone who would have these particular desires. There are these desires obviously on the part of people, what you're getting to, who are purely atavistic and who would feel "Now why can't I do this? If so and so does this? Just because he happens to have passed some sensitivity test or happens to be able to speak in certain tones, or verbalize in a certain way. Why shouldn't I, who cannot, be able to do the same thing?" I feel they should be able to do the same thing, but with people who would be, basically, not brought down by this. So there again we're dealing with stratification. It shouldn't be psychic vampirism...where the strong constantly pull the weak up at the cost of their own strength. And if you have worked and struggled to place yourself in a position of supremacy in any given field then you may feel, as a form of stimulation, that it's nice to give a helping hand to someone...it may give you a sense of gratification, a sense of well-being, but if it suddenly depletes or enervates you and you find that this intensifies to the point where you're just sapped of all your strength at the expense of someone who started out, perhaps as a form of gratification or stimulation...this is the essence of psychic vampirism.
BOT: The slave has become the master.
ALV: That's right. I coined the term "psychic vampire" and I see it all over the place. I realize that it is a very real phenomenon that occurs especially in our society because weakness, ineptitude, inadequacy is championed in many ways. The fine scholar is given, virtually, not nearly the opportunities that the retarded one is. (laughs) Of course this is necessary to balance things out eventually.
BOT: At the expense of your strength you should not compromise yourself to engage in what would rob you of your strength. But back to Hitler, in a Jungian sense, his ego and his self, who he was and who he thought he could be were the same. In that sense he ingested everything into his reality and in that sense there is no compromise. "This is my world and these things are mine because I want them to be." Again, desire...
ALV: That's right. Well, he didn't compromise himself nor did he really force anyone, I would imagine...I didn't know the man so I'm not rash enough to presume to speak for him...but I would imagine that his intimates were not forced into his presence at gun point.
So he said, in a sense, as I would say or anyone else in a semblance of power would say, "Welcome to my world! If you like it or you feel comfortable, if it's your bag, your thing too, then we'll enjoy ourselves." Otherwise the door swings both ways and I'm not going to keep you around if you feel that it is abrasive.
BOT: Well, this kind of gets back to the question I had on the romantic thing. That is, desire unchecked is the fountainhead of conflict. If you or I desire the same object, then desire has lead me to be in conflict with you over something. There seems to be a standard lurking there; asserting itself...
ALV: There is. The standard is, if it's appealing enough and if it encompasses or embraces enough...now we're talking about romanticism...of the ingredients, the stuff of which a person's fantasies, dreams, or inclinations happen to be made then that would be the standard for entering their world. That would be qualification, that would be reason, that would be rationalization enough for entering that world. Just simply because it met with one's sense of well-being to be close to that source, that fountainhead. I know people who often share common interests and make the mistake of solipsism. They become convinced that just because someone out there likes whatever and I like the same thing, they feel "he's just like me and I'm just like him. We really have something in common."
We all practice this to a great degree, so in the broader sense, I see where you're coming from. There are going to be a lot of people that say "This looks great" or "This sounds great, because I feel the same way. I like this therefore I belong in this grouping or that grouping," or whatever. They are not necessarily eclectic people, they're just people that find...I deal with them all the time, the "Oh, such fun!" types. I mean they want to have a flirtation with Satanism or a flirtation with one thing or another, but they want to keep their foot on the safety aisle and not put themselves on the line. That's, of course, fine, but it is solipsism. I mean they think, "I'm interested because I dressed up on Halloween as a witch," something like that, "That makes me the same." (laughs)
"Satanism could become the major religion of the 21st century."
BOT: Entering your reality through the gates of The Satanic Bible I am to understand that the lawlessness that will be necessary before entering the third stage is something serious.
BOT: It's therefore something to be resolved. Now, why within Satanism are there any standards?
ALV: In other words, why not just nihilism or chaos?
BOT: No. Not chaos, because chaos implies no sense or nonsense but as an old member of the third stage, if I desire something, it's mine already.
ALV: In other words, why a need for a structure?
BOT: Right. Laws don't guide me.
ALV: Well, I don't feel that laws should be necessary for the basically honest man. I feel laws are, obviously, made to be broken because as soon as one is passed, someone is going to find a way of circumventing it. And someone who is just, intrinsically just, not moralistically or biblically or theologically just, but I'm talking about the concept of how they would like it if such and such happened to them, and using that as the only yardstick and finding if they're going to find victims, suitable victims, because the world certainly abounds with them. I mean there are a lot of people who wish to be taken advantage of or fettered and this is the wondrously honest thing or refreshing thing about outspoken Satanism. It recognizes that the world is made up of people who do need rules, who do need fetters, who do need direction and institutionalism and we cannot dismiss that. But then that doesn't mean that these people will not be in this area or this capacity as opposed to the other capacity.
BOT: I remember from your book, you saying the things people do are from basically selfish motives. I could kind of ameliorate that and say...
ALV: Yeah, they are basically selfish.
BOT: Well, I could interpret that to mean whatever a person does, they do for ther own pleasure...that feeds into the idea of "why shouldn't I?" If everything that everybody does is ultimately pleasurable to them, then everybody is responsible and anything I should desire to do is basically with someone's else's agreement, even if it doesn't appear that way. For example, robbing someone on the street...obviously that individual wants to be robbed or he wouldn't be...
ALV: I see nothing wrong with robbing somebody on the street. I shouldn't probably say this, if there is some indication given, tacitly given, that that person is really setting himself up to be robbed. I mean this is really getting into the hardest core of the hunter and the hunted and we're getting into the strongest elements of Satanic thought. That doesn't mean that I advocate robbery. It simply that there should be, ideally, but there cannot be, a sort of arrangement...not rules, not regulations, but an arrangement whereby the hunted know they're the hunted, the hunters know they're the hunters and that's it.
A little more self-awareness on the part of the human beings, the human animals of this world would go a great deal toward affecting some advancement for mankind or some progress, I think. And that is what I deplore because man can understand his scientific demands and send space shuttles up and do all kinds of things, but he can't look into the mirror and say "Now look! I need to lose, I need to fail. Why don't I exorcise it or exercise it some way, get it out of my system. Maybe then I'll be able to function a little better with other creatures of my own species."
"I feel that what is probably the greatest enemy of longevity is popularity, and most people die of popularity."
BOT: Maybe he doesn't do that because he wants to lose, he wants to fail in that regard also.
ALV: Well, if he wants to lose, why shouldn't there be enough understanding on the part of his fellow creatures and enough understanding on his part to recognize these things? Possibly it is because we are so inculcated with guilt that we think that weakness is a sin or that it is some crime against nature to be submissive or to be receptive in a way that would be submissive. I say there is nothing wrong with that.
BOT: Your pleasure is from your delusion, and if you're honest with yourself then you're not deluding yourself. So to stay happy, you have to delude yourself.
ALV: Yeah, but I think the superior person can step out of himself and say "It's fun to fool myself." In fact this is what I go into in The Satanic Bible and The Satanic Rituals. It's sort of like entering a decompression chamber. It's like saying, "I know I'm deluding myself. I know this is fantasy. I know I'm not being honest with myself. But it's the best way for me to do it." It's like politics, sort of...if they don't want to say who they're going to vote for, at least they get behind that curtain and they know themselves and who they're going to vote for. Basically this is what they would realize, that is, "I am this way." But how many people can even recognize, much less admit it to themselves, for a fleeting instant from time to time. And if there were not these societal pressures and then again we're getting right back to the dying of popularity...societal, peer pressures inculcating essentially, "We shouldn't think these thoughts. They are dangerous and unhealthy."
BOT: They're inimical to the second stage.
ALV: That's right. If we could get away from that sort of thing it would probably be easier to step out of ourselves, see ourselves as we are and then enter the ritualistic sensations of the innocent or the truly naive. It's entering a subjective state with an objective knowledge...that need to be subjective. And that's what would separate the third stage man and, of course, Yeats would agree. I'm sure.
BOT: Because you don't want to suspend the critical mind because then you're making believe that something that is there is not there...
ALV: And then you expunge the critical mind, you destroy it, you annihilate it and without the critical mind you certainly cannot continue to be free. Because freedom begins in the mind, freedom begins up here. (points to head) It doesn't begin anywhere else. If you can't be free up here...
BOT: But then you also mention "guilt" as a negative thing. I always thought guilt was a good thing. A sink of delusion will fill and guilt is the plug, the reckoning.
ALV: I think guilt is great in that respect. I think what we're dealing with is a semantic interpretation of guilt. In the sense that you're describing, guilt is akin to responsibility and I feel that that is absolutely necessary because if a sense of guilt is akin to responsibility and if that's how one responds to or handles a particular encounter or situation by these checks and these barricades that are called "guilt," then it's a very positive and productive thing. When I say guilt, I mean unfounded guilt. I mean unreasonable guilt. I mean guilt that is nonproductive guilt - nonproductive to oneself and is imposed as a sort of collective thing.
It's sort of like being enslaved because you find a master who is worthy, a personalized selection...who is respected, who is someone you feel you can enrich your life from as opposed to being enslaved by the system, being enslaved by an impersonal set of principles, being enslaved by a set of options that you don't dare break out of. That's the worst kind of slavery, as far as I'm concerned, and we haven't even come that far, because if anything we are enslaved more as human beings now than at any time, probably, in man's history. But it is so sugarcoated, it's so slick, it's so polished.
BOT: How do you move out of that guilt? I mean, if we are born into it, if it's part and parcel of civilized living, it's insidious because it's always there. As with anything you can use it anyway you want to use it, but people currently use it to grind themselves down with what they should be doing, what they're doing, what they're not doing etc., etc.
ALV: The dilemma is how do you move away from it, from unwarranted guilt or the nonproductive guilt. I would say through a form of non-religious exorcism that would be ritualized. I've performed such exorcisms many, many times over, where once this ritual or ritualizing was taking place and it has destroyed, it has has shattered the fabric or the framework of these guilts that are nonproductive and the alternative is that it will invest these guilts with a conscious level of enjoyment so they can be applied towards stimulating further ritualization.
"We are so inculcated with guilt that we think that weakness is a sin or that it is some crime against nature to be submissive."
BOT: If the mind is the seat of freedom, the body of spiritual life, how does this doctrine of carnal exercise feed the process of freedom?
ALV: Now we're getting into Rasputin's concept that the best way to deal with temptation is to yield to it and that the highest form of spirituality is the carnal and this is the seat of all spirituality. I believe that too. I believe that in yoga, the kundalini concepts, the whole idea of the sensual or the carnal is the closest to a foundation of what in an ephemeral or abstract state would be spirituality and if it can simply be defined as bedrock or a foundation in carnality or through carnality, then it can surface in a much purer from. I'm not alone, obviously, in my beliefs but I feel this is one of the things that people have spent centuries trying to get away from, trying to run away from.
So I'm not in a sense putting down atavism because atavism is where it's at, no pun intended, when it comes to foundation of all so-called abstract or spiritual planes. And you have to start again with first things first, if you can't get in touch with yourself and satisfy yourself physically, then the second best thing is to do it through a mental or abstract thing.
BOT: But there is a distinction maintained...you are going from someplace to someplace and whether you've done an atavistic return to bedrock carnality and use that as your springboard or whether your mind frees itself of itself...you're still going somewhere. Where is that?
ALV: The journey?
BOT: Well, if we are exercising what is carnal within us in order to free our minds, exercise our souls, how does the doctrine of carnal exercise achieve that end? If you're shackled with things of the body, you use the body to lose the body, but where are you then? In Buddhism it's a non-personal state.
ALV: That would depend on the boundaries, one's abilities, capabilities, that only the individual can discover because after first things first then would come the next stage in their development. It's sort of like the Schmenge Brothers answer is pretty much it. I think they found after they got their rocks off carnally and they were looking for somewhere to go from there, maybe they found there was nowhere to go from there and that would be the sum total of their experience or their journey into spirituality. (laughs)
BOT: Where have you found yourself?
ALV: I find myself able to do a Hell of a lot more as a result of it. I find myself after my appetite is sated one way or another...saddened sometimes, energized other times, but certainly not the same. I find myself able to progress into some sort of creative work or some sort of contemplative state or if nothing else just a desire to go to sleep or a good meal or something like that.
BOT: So your journey brings you back?
ALV: Sure. It's like going to church for some people.
BOT: Nietzsche speaks of going from willing and desiring to pure contemplation, unwilling ideation and then back again. The lyrical poet creates in that moment of pain, of coming back from. Traditionally you engage in some mystical union.
ALV: Well, the entire concept is based on exteriorization. It's just exteriorize all the way down the line from the first wellsprings of religious training to the highest plains of religious thought, it's exteriorization all the way. Even to the point where they claim, "I'm at peace with myself, I have found God within my breast," and that sort of thing is a result of constant exteriorization as a sort of training ground.
And I feel the main difference between that concept and the third stage concept which you've described, or the Satanic concept, is that the total training problem from beginning to end, is based on finding more wonders within oneself or retrieving ones from past experiences that can be augmented into something much more stimulating or more enlightening. And drawing from the wellsprings that start out as one's unique experiential birthright and bearing in mind at all times that this is drawn from many, many sources, centuries past. But it is still internalized rather than externalized. And then the sum total of all this internalization and studying oneself is to be able to function as a more efficient machine in an exterior way. In other words it's just the opposite. It's to be able to move about in a more well-oiled, well functioning way.
BOT: There are extrinsic approaches to religion which have you exteriorizing, but then there's the mystical path which says the ground of being is the soul, like what Meister Eckhart talks about. If you're a virgin in the soul, if you have nothing, then you've reached the ground of being.
ALV: Well, I'll go along with that for some people. Yeah, I would say that is another of the rarities of Satanism as a lifestyle and that is it takes into account different strokes for different folks. Incorporated into this concept that is the eclecticism that is Satanism, would be the awareness of needs that would not be purely concrete but abstract or spiritual as well. It's just that the approach should always be with an awareness of that this is "my way" of doing it, of attaining or of reaching towards the goal of a more gratifying life and of course returning full circle to what you addressed earlier and that is the concept of Satanism being selfishness, rational self-interest. That says it all. Because when you become irrational there's only one person who suffers for it and that's yourself.
BOT: How do you define rational self-interest?
ALV: Being able to relate to what has to be related to in order to survive, in order to maintain or continue what your self-interest would be...it's as simple as that. In other words, when the well starts to run dry then you've become a bit irrational about it. That's the yardstick. You don't have to have a rule book. You are just cutoff from the parts, so to speak. You're not having fun anymore.
BOT: Do what you want, but don't get caught?
ALV: Do what you want as long as it's paying off for you. But once it's become a liability, then something is wrong and you better find out what it is.
ON CHARLES MANSON
BOT: I noticed in the Washington Post article you said that Manson and Ramirez (the Nightstalker) were insane and I've been under the opinion that they are not insane at all. It's very convenient for us to think they are insane so we don't have to take responsibility for understanding that they are like us. But did you have a different flavor when you...
ALV: I probably may have said they are flaky or they're sky pilots or one thing or another and they're not playing with a full deck. Obviously that doesn't mean that they're not aware. I know they're aware of what they're doing because Susan Atkins (one of the Manson family) supposedly wrote a book in which I am blamed for her whole dilemma in getting involved with Charlie and everything else because of her previous association with me, which was a fluke in the first place because she happened to be a topless dancer in a place that I was doing a witches' review.
She was a junkie, she was strung out all the time. She'd come into work and said she had a fever of 108 degrees and things like that. So she wasn't necessarily insane, but she was certainly flaky and by the time she met Charlie Manson she was probably just made to order. But when she wrote the book, she obviously wanted to get her parole in motion by saying she found God and had seen the light - and blaming the devil for everything. That was obviously not insanity, that was pragmatism on her part. If the authorities are dumb enough to buy that type of thing, lord help all of us. All you'd have to do was say, "I believe" and you'd get away with anything and there's been too damn much of that in the world already. That's why Satanism expects people to take the consequences for their actions and there again we're coming full circle to the thing about indulgence or the rational self-interest...well, when the gravy train starts to run out...
BOT: I thought you had said Manson's pursuit of self-interest was insane because it stopped paying off?
ALV: Yeah, well, I'm crazy, but I'm not stupid, hopefully. And I think we're all a bit crazy if we do anything that's deviant. I've studied a great deal on deviance and aberrant behavior. Most of the interesting people I've ever met have been deviant in one form or another, or alienated and one of the transitional tools or explanatory means towards this third stage is the glorification of alienation. I believe this accounts, magically, for a great deal of renewed or increased or new interest in such outlets as film noir and the whole noir concept of the darkside or the anti-hero. All of these things are pure Luciferian philosophy or personification and therefore the whole idea of the alienated being proud of their alienation is something that will act as a vehicle toward this third stage because there will be more characters, more nutty people who are productively nutty. More and more crazy people who are Promethean-like crazy, hopefully, or at least stimulating or interesting and not socially disruptive or destructive.
BOT: The glorification of alienation and its other symptoms were signs that things were more wrong with our time than were wrong with us. A clarion was sounded for the end of the 2nd stage, civilization...the anti-hero had become the hero.
ALV: And that's usually the way it works. The villain becomes the hero, eventually, if you wait around long enough. I've seen this so much with people I've been fortunate enough to meet or been inspired by...the alienation makes them much more heroic. I remember going to see Paul Robeson in concert, years and years ago, when this guy couldn't sing in the Opera House and people had to wait around the block of this little old church building to see, watch, and listen to him sing. I put him on the dedication page of The Satanic Bible because the guy was a Nietzschean superman. He was so multitalented and so charismatic. Also, he was a terribly dangerous, dangerous man because he could work within the system but work without the system as well, and the fact that his politics were such that he was alienated, terribly alienated, was enough to eventually destroy him but did not lessen his power or influence or magical influence on today's world. Chaplin was another guy. He was absolutely alienated from this country although there were still people who went to see his films, and then the tide turned and they said, "We are sorry for the way we've treated you. You can come back now. We'll give you an honorary award." He was castigated - unfairly, alienated, and was, in my eyes, a much greater man because of it. I can think of many people who have been alienated, who I've met in my time who subsequently, historically, have proven to be not only noteworthy and great, but household words.
BOT: We're steeped in that tradition.
ALV: Especially in America. We tend to create greatness or encourage greatness so it can be destroyed, and then rediscover it so it can be sold back.
BOT: Is it economics?
ALV: I have reason to believe that it's all economics aside from my own personal theories. I feel there is a need to reduce or destroy or declass a person who has at one time been great, so that then they can feel that their own inadequacies are less. And America, being a rather fickle nation...fads, trends, popular conceits...America is more fast paced and has a higher mortality rate than anywhere in the entire world. So it stands to reason, in a hermetic sense, that we would create and destroy our heroes just as fast. It would also make something like film noir a uniquely American phenomenon...just like the Western. This also means that villains, too, could wind up being heroes much easier than they can in other countries. That's at least a saving grace. (laughs) It's like the clock that doesn't work, it's right at least twice a day.
ON THE CHURCH OF SATAN
BOT: What about the Church of Satan?
ALV: Well, one of the reasons I started the Church of Satan is that there was nothing else around...like the Little Red Hen, I had to do it myself. I studied Crowley and met people who were involved in the OTO and other occultniks. These people are either parasitic in some ways philosophically of the Church of Satan or else they want to dance but their feet won't let them. They want to be on the darkside but they have to do something that is going to make it O.K. They can't just say, "Satan, you're my man." I think it's somewhat refreshing to be able to say "I am a Satanist."
BOT: Well, you told the reporter from the Washington Post that you didn't believe in God or Satan.
ALV: Satanism is not an anthropomorphic thing. I don't have much truck with those that want to learn the names of all the demons and stand within the pentagram, etc., etc. All of these are credibility devices to give people a feeling that they're doing something. Now, if they really want to do something why don't they go out and write something about jazz or musical theatre in America or write about optics or structural rigidity. Play the violin or something. I mean this is so damn ephemeral, it's really like hanging out one's shingle saying, "I'm an expert in the black arts. I'm an occultist." That doesn't really say anything and leaves a pretty wide open field for people who can't do anything else. If it sounds like I'm weary, I am, because I've had twenty years of it and before that, when I was ghost-hunting and doing all of these things on my own with the Magical Circle. I still listen to all this kind of thing and find, at best, that it is a dubious achievement or calling to be able to say that you're an occult magician.
"The best way to deal with temptation is to yield to it...the highest form of spirituality is the carnal."
BOT: So what does it mean when you say, "I am a Satanist"?
ALV: It means that I am able to be free up here (points to head) and say it and not worry that the lightning bolt is going to strike me. I think that that's the first step. We're coming back to the roots of our conversation now...What are the steps? What's the way from the second stage to the third stage? That's one of the ways of getting to the awareness of oneself, one's own motivations, is being able to be free in the head. That seems to me to be the easiest thing in the world to do...but it obviously isn't for a lot of people because it's such atavistic horror.
BOT: O.K. So you freed yourself from one thing but you've stepped into something else. The only religious scholar that I'm familiar with that has actually freed himself from what he freed himself to , has been Meister Eckart. These comes a point in his Commentary on John where he says you've got to loose God to gain God...you have to have nothing.
ALV: Well, that's like EST or certain elements of Scientology or some of these basic self-help things where the individual is reduced to the level of a cipher, starting from point zero and building himself up again. I don't feel the need to do that, but for some people the options are there, within Satanism. Pretentiousness is the cardinal sin of Satanism. I can't stand it in any form unless it's fun, unless it's laughable, then it's different. But pretentiousness in the sense of humorless pretension is abysmal to me. I don't feel the need to get down on the floor before I can bear to to get up and sit in a chair because I've never sat on any sort of ornately carved throne. I've never presented myself as having spoken directly to Satan or God or anyone else or being in touch with any sort of divinity or having any kind of special mandate or power or influence, even. I just feel that what I'm doing is something that I do because I must, because it's part of my nature and, critics, analysts, whatever, can interpret it as they see fit. I also feel that the man who sleeps on the floor never has to worry about falling out of bed. I slept on the floor most of my life anyway. I don't have any pretensions about my life being some sort of sacred or holy vein or message or oracular kind of meaning. If things happen as a result of my magic then so much the better. You can't fault someone for trying.
"There should be, ideally, but there cannot be, a sort of arrangement...whereby the hunted know they're the hunted..."
BOT: So when you say, "I am a Satanist," is that the same as saying "I'm free"?
ALV: Yeah. I'm free of the first repression. At least the first theological or the first societal repression or the first civilized repression, that is nonproductive civilized behavior. The ancients did not look upon their devils as necessarily evil, as you know, having studied theology. Before Christianity these divinities or tutelary symbols or forces were looked upon with a great deal of awe because they represented something. But they were not necessarily, intrinsically evil. The whole concept of Satanism is that it might be unpopular but it's not necessarily evil. Everyone at one time or another in this country was considered diabolical. The Indian was the red devil, the Chinese, the Irish - and they were the ones who in a lot of cases were the biggest bigots.
BOT: Does evil exist?
ALV: I'll go along with the Nietzschean concept that the superior man must go beyond good and evil. And evil does exist for me, it really does. And if you want my definition of evil, I'll give it to you: what doesn't feel so good, what pains you, what hurts you, what you find abrasive, what you find unpleasant. Good is what feels good and don't think anyone can get beyond that kind of subjective attitude of good and evil if they really look within themselves. They can go by yardsticks or guide books about what is supposed to be evil but at best these things are arbitrary on the part of a vested interest who wrote the books. We're getting back to economic reasons. Que bono? Who gains? What's in it for whom? Before I approach any given situation or evaluate anyone's assumedly altruistic gestures, I can't help but to cynically bring to bear that phrase, Que bono?
BOT: Backtracking, for you to say, "I am a Satanist!" is the first in a series of freedoms?
ALV: Yeah. Not for me personally, but I find it to be almost universally so for the people I've encountered, a liberating attitude.
BOT: Why is it different for you?
ALV: Because I never felt a particular freeing when I said it. I never felt the particular repression that needed to say it because of my own religious upbringing or lack of same - my own iconoclastic nature as a child. I found it very easy to say, not realizing what horrors I was invoking for others to have to subject themselves to, and then when I see the liberating process taking place because of this "Hail Satan!" - this admitting to Satanic affiliation, then I realized how stifling it must really be...and to be released with a semantic term like that. And that reinforces in my own mind how powerful the science of semantics is. I've been interested in that my whole life.
That answers the question, "Why the Church of Satan?" Because I know the power of certain words and the implications that they have in people's everyday lives and when something loses its impact, it becomes ineffectual. So again, alienation is often very powerful if you use it to your best advantage.
BOT: Would you consider yourself a symbolist? A semiotician? A metaphysician? Just a guy?
ALV: Symbolism is certainly the big part, the symbology of Satanism. I see myself as a guy just trying to live the way I want to live. As I said earlier, if somebody wants to come into my world, welcome. There's plenty of room. It's not going to get overcrowded, but if it does, knowing the propensities of Western culture, it could become the major religion of the 21st century. And if that's the case, I will still have my alienated shadow world that I will pridefully feel is avant, that is removed or apart from the herd. It's like in this state of flux, of alienated flux as a prime mover for what's out there.
BOT: Or to keep from getting absorbed...
ALV: Right. Avoiding the contagion and maintaining, if not an immortality, a little more unique level of stimulation during my lifetime.
BOT: There was a tone of resignation at the end of the Washington Post article.
ALV: Yeah, well there was...the sorrows of Satan, as Baudelaire called them...the weary dismay of the Satanic characterizations have rubbed off on me. I don't try to deny it, I do lapse into states of melancholia, but it's not because I'm an unhappy person, it's because I'm a very happy person in a compulsively unhappy world. People make problems. They encourage, they augment problems for themselves. I am dismayed by this because I feel that this rich earth that we have here...why do people insist on making life rough on themselves? Why buy into mass crisis or or public dilemmas that are really not part of them, despite what John Donne would say, "No man's an island." I don't buy that. I think that no man probably is an island, but some are a little more able to close the door behind them on popular fancies and popular worries and woes. So the third stage man will not be woefully inadequate. He might be inadequate, but not woefully inadequate. He will probably be jubilantly inadequate and there's a big difference.
BOT: I thought you were going to say he wouldn't be inadequate at all.
ALV: No. The stoops will still be stoops.
BOT: If saying, "I am a Satanist," can be liberating, what about saying, "I am a Christian!"?
ALV: That takes a lot of balls to say that. I feel like saying, "Yeah? You and who else? How many other million people?" It's so easy to be in the majority...these crusaders against evil...what are they going to find, one guy who is a little bit different? They are real brave, aren't they? It takes guts to be a rebel, to be alienated and functionally alienated.
BOT: Do you think the great majority is Christian?
ALV: I think the great majority would like to be different, but they don't dare because they're afraid of the consequences. I think most people want to be led in one way or another and will follow anybody with a new concept. That's why a black-draped Satanic chamber with just a couple of black candles and a couple of Satanic symbols is so damned dramatic and people will run to photograph it, where they can walk down the street and photograph all the gold and trappings and iconography on a Christian church and not ever pay much attention to it. There are certain symbolic acts that are hard to follow and we pretty much have the market cornered on that. BOT
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