How did you meet Dr. LaVey, and what were your impressions?
Both my wife, Peggy Nadramia, and I were invited to visit Dr. LaVey when we were granted active Church of Satan membership in 1984, so we made our first journey to San Francisco in 1986, our plane landing in the midst of a roaring thunderstorm. That night we met Anton LaVey at Izzy’s Steak House on Steiner Street enjoying a delightful dinner and conversation, after which he drove us back to his Black House in the Richmond District, showing us some sights along the way which we observed from the back seat of his Jaguar. Our exchange of ideas lasted until dawn and he invited us to come back the next night, beginning a relationship that lasted until his death of being friends and colleagues in administering the Church of Satan.
What impressed us both was that LaVey in person was the same witty, wise and humorous man whom we’d found embodied in his writings. Like a worldly and wicked uncle, he was endearing and we were simpatico on a vast range of topics, from music to animals, history and human behavior. He was an excellent raconteur and had vivid tales to tell about his life and how it shaped Satanism. From his readings of authors such as Nietzsche, Redbeard, Twain and his experiences in the carnival and circus circuits as well as his freelance police photography gigs and his playing music in venues from carnivals to nightclubs, he could conjure concepts readily to illustrate a point or flesh out his reasoning. We looked forward to our yearly visits, and staying upstairs at his California Street Black House was always exciting, particularly as we’d be handed a set of keys upon arrival and told to consider it our San Francisco home. We now offer similar hospitality to current vital members in our own Black House in the Hudson Valley.
Dr. LaVey became a cultural bogeyman in the late '60s, but there was a sense of humour about what he did and wrote. How important is humour to appreciating his work?
LaVey considered humour essential for a Satanist in particular but also for any savvy person, for life abounds with absurdities and has no meaning beyond what one assigns to it. He felt that one must see the humor and irony in the panoply of one’s experiences, and certainly his essays abound in wry observations on the world about him. THE DEVIL’S NOTEBOOK and SATAN SPEAKS are both personal collections of his thinking and capture much of the man.
Satanism, being a realist, materialist philosophy, champions humour as a means for dealing with the triumphs and tragedies one might experience. LaVey often writes with a nod and a wink, but that doesn’t mean that his essential concepts were not meant to be taken seriously — he fully intended Satanism to be established as a philosophical perspective meant for a rare type of individual, one who was atheist and skeptical and who could stand apart from the surrounding herd to set his own goals and horizons. We know that is a challenge for most people who tend far too readily to follow influential figures, political and religious, without critical examination of their ideas and their consequences.
Before the Internet The Satanic Bible was the primary way ideas about Satanism were distributed. Now the Internet is the main forum for people to discuss Satanism. How important do you feel The Satanic Bible remains as the primary document for codifying the ideas of Satanism?
The Satanic Bible remains the cornerstone of Satanic philosophy and my own book, The Satanic Scriptures, has over the past decade become its companion in explaining both the philosophy and organization. Our web site, churchofsatan.com, which was launched soon after Dr. LaVey’s passing, is now the primary Internet source for information about Satanism and how it can be applied.
But it is worth noting that before the Internet, Peggy and I created the word’s first magazine about Satanism called THE BLACK FLAME, which was distributed globally and often served as many people’s experience of Satanism beyond what they encountered in The Satanic Bible, The Satanic Witch and The Satanic Rituals. It stimulated people to consider Satanism as a practical contemporary philosophy embodied by a thriving Church of Satan. And during “The Satanic Panic” in the 90s I was frequently interviewed in the worldwide media and so was bringing the truth of Satanism to people as an antidote to the rampant nonsense on talk shows spread by evangelical Christians who were promoting the idea that a conspiracy of devil worshippers was undermining society.
Dr. LaVey’s writings are our bedrock—and he stated that Satanism demands study, not worship—but these days younger people seem to read books far less than we did in our youth, so the many podcasts and videos produced by our members and promoted on our web site are often people’s first encounter with the ideas of the Church of Satan. These lead back to the essays and other information on the web site which always point back to the books. Those truly interested in Satanism take the time to read and study its literature, which has grown over the years through other members contributing their efforts to Anton LaVey’s literary legacy.
Critics called the Church of Satan a cult of personality, but of course the Church has thrived since the death of Dr. LaVey. What have been the challenges of continuing the church's work in the wake of his passing?
I have found, since Satanism is an eminently practical philosophy, that applying it to areas beyond what Anton LaVey covered has been my primary approach. Both Peggy and I were told by LaVey that he considered us to share his grasp of the philosophy and that he trusted us to represent it to the world, so we are confident that we are up to the task. People outside of the Church of Satan tend at times to want it to be made into something new and different as years pass, but both Peggy and I wouldn’t have thrown our lot in with Dr. LaVey if we felt that his perspective was lacking in long term viability. LaVey based Satanism on his broad studies of the human animal, the history, psychology and sociology of our species. It was not a limited reaction to the social climate of the 1960s, but instead was conceived as a timeless means intended for the use of individuals who see themselves reflected in its tenets and principles. It offers ever-evolving flexibility to the circumstances of the world around us so we transmit his ideas without adulteration. Trendy concepts are ephemeral, but LaVey’s Satanism is useful and adaptable regardless of the vicissitudes of one’s surroundings.
Anton LaVey was a showman who came from a carnival background so his flamboyant style was unique. As the second High Priest, I’ve developed my own more scholarly and professorial approach which was cultivated initially as a representative under LaVey’s guidance. Like Dr. LaVey before me, I have refined my techniques over the course of decades of being in the spotlight and have made my own mark.
The Church celebrated its 50th anniversary last year. How do you see the future of the Church?
I envision the Church of Satan remaining the pre-eminent exponent of Satanism for any who are curious, as well as to the cultures around the world in which our adherents are more frequently being open about their affiliation. Over five decades we’ve presented a rational, skeptical, materialist philosophy that is not a form of occultism or devil worship. Communicating that Satanists are not furtive cultists, but instead are people who endorse the social contract and are thus law abiding citizens and often creative participants in their cultures has been an important and ongoing mission. Our members, myself included, apply Satanism to our creative projects and these are often promoted via the news feeds of churchofsatan.com. My curation of a series of books and exhibitions under the title THE DEVILS REIGN continues to attract contributors from many different backgrounds.
That we support individual responsibility and controlled self-indulgence, not mysticism or rampant hedonism, has been a primary message that has allowed our successful members to feel comfortable in revealing their affiliation to others, especially if their notable achievements are in fields not associated with the arts, wherein revealing Satanism is an easy attention-getter. Our members in the military, law enforcement, business, service industries, software development, virtual reality development, education and a myriad of careers can unashamedly point back to our representation to explain what motivates them to people with whom they live who might be frightened or misinformed. As our numbers continually increase, this task will proudly be our ongoing responsibility.
The idea of 'occulture' - where occult ideas have been absorbed into the mainstream - has gained popularity in recent years. Certainly, we see occult images in music and fashion. To what extent do you feel Dr. LaVey's work paved the way for a more mainstream acceptance of Satanic ideas?
LaVey himself did not see Satanism as a form of occultism and he’d be disturbed to find his ideas lumped-in with forms of esotericism and mysticism. Recall that his opinion of Crowley was that he was a fine Swinburnesque poet and accomplished mountain climber, but that his pursuit of spiritually-inclined evocations was emphatically not to his tastes. LaVey felt that the basics for Satanism were in plain sight, since it embodies what he called “undefiled wisdom,” meaning an honest evaluation of the available data about what it means to be a human being. For himself, he enjoyed arcane things such as forgotten popular tunes that vividly captured emotions. His fascination with the performer Le Pétomane, a French “flatulist” who forced air through his anal sphincter for musical performances, was his idea of occultism—a pursuit of something hidden or forgotten both earthy and fascinating, showing the quirky nature of the human animal.
Certainly from the very founding of the Church of Satan, the imagery he employed had an immediate impact since he was in the media frequently. His use of the graphic which he dubbed the Sigil of Baphomet as the primary ensign of Satanism has had lasting cultural impact, and thus variants of it have been used to signify Satanism ever since. Society has embraced the trappings LaVey used and identifies them with Satanism, but few actually grasp the philosophy behind them. LaVey himself early on decided not to do interviews with photos that employed capes and horned headgear, which he referred to as “deviled ham.” In fact, he instead commissioned images of himself and his members dressed in elegant finery, sipping from champagne saucers while standing in the ritual chamber at 6114 California Street. He wanted the public to understand that he was offering a challenging tool for self-actualization, not some form of initiatory occultism.
However, truly Satanic ideas are permeating the culture when we can experience films that deal with the justice of vengeance, like THE REVENANT, or in musical expressions by performers such as Nathan Gray, who embodies the Satanic principle of self-deification—consciously deciding to live life to the fullest before death rings down the curtain, without mentioning Satan or Satanism. Truly Satanic ideas are diffused through the culture, but often divorced from the symbology pioneered by LaVey, which can make them more effective in reaching people who might otherwise be surprised at their origin. Our members are out there, promoting Satanic ideas in many fields, but more often without tipping their hand.
On that note, what do you feel has been Anton LaVey's influence on culture at large?
LaVey defined Satanism for our times and I suspect it will remain the standard going forward. Here are his words from a deposition towards a lawsuit he brought against the publishers and authors of Michelle Remembers, one of the volumes which launched “The Satanic Panic”:
“Basically, we believe in RATIONAL self-interest, by ritual which glorifies the human spirit and directs the psyche toward constructive end. Prior to 1966 there was no religion which fulfilled the particular needs served by the Church of Satan, there was NO Church of Satan, de facto or actual. Historical references to Satanism have little bearing on contemporary Satanism of the Church of Satan, as they were invented and perpetuated by traditional religionists of the period for self-serving ends.
"I created the name Church of Satan for its appropriateness and admittedly, its dramatic effect. Semantically, Satan is the "opposite, adverse." We are opposed to what we regard as outdated, oppressive mores. We live for the present instead of the hereafter; we encourage individual expression and fulfillment, providing it does not infringe upon the rights of others.”
Thus, his forming of the world’s first carnal religion—a pragmatic atheist foundation embracing the need for ritual, metaphor and symbolism as useful tools to the conceptual consciousness of mankind—will remain a benchmark in the history of religion and philosophy.
What story or piece of advice from Dr. LaVey do you most treasure that you would be willing to share?
He said to Peggy and I on our first meeting was that there was no “noblesse oblige” in the Church of Satan. He knew that talented people were attracted to his organization, but there were also people who were “lesser lights” who could become pests to those of greater ability, demanding assistance in reaching goals for which their own abilities were lacking. He knew that we were both making strides in our own creative endeavors, but also that some other members were trying to inveigle us into assisting them in their own half-baked plans, since we belonged to the same organization. Thus he noted that we were free to help anyone whom we felt was deserving, but that we should also feel quite confident in rejecting those who were parasitical.
The Church of Satan is emphatically a meritocracy. We are each our own gods, living via the standards we determine for ourselves, but we are not presumptuous enough to think we should be everyone else’s deity. We have never turned away from being realistic judges of our own work as well as that of others, offering assistance to those whom we deem are worthy of cultivation.
What tenets of the Church do you feel are most relevant in today's social, economic, and political climate?
Our fundamental championing of individualism and personal responsibility is crucial in this period wherein we see an ever-greater swell of people becoming collectively xenophobic and intolerant towards those who are different from themselves. The current resurgence of spiritual doctrines—whose self-righteousness fuels persecution, terrorism and tyranny under the guise of “religious freedom”—finds Satanism standing as a rational and effective secularist counter to the bigotry and fear they promulgate. Satanism is an adversary to all who want to force a retreat into the bigotry of parochial tribalism.
Satanists are active individuals who endeavor to mold the world around themselves to support their own ends. Our members often strive to move society away from current repressive trends. They do so through their arts, as well as by being involved in politics, and also through founding corporations and services bringing uncensored information to people who want unvarnished truth, not “alternative facts.” Being willing to face reality and then shape it in positive directions towards celebrating liberty in an increasingly just and equitable society is fundamental to the pursuits of many Satanists. As we move closer to that “Is To Be,” the climate will be one in which Satanists can be more open about who they are without fear of incomprehension or terrified reprisals, and such a society will be one that encourages individuality for all manner of people as they live to fulfill their self-determined unique destinies, but not at the expense of others.