Dinner with the Devil: An evening with Anton Szandor LaVey, the High Priest of the Church of Satan
Anton Szandor LaVey scares the hell out of a lot of people. In fact, the sheer blasphemy of his ideas scared me so much the first time I picked up his infamous book, The Satanic Bible, in the late ’60s, I would literally hide it in my bookcase and peek at it in the same way I spied the pictures of naked women in men’s magazines when I was a kid. Of course I always had a rather prurient interest in many things, especially in the occult and “dark side” of man’s nature, and I was naturally drawn to anything “spooky” or “bizarre,” but to actually possess and read an unholy book of religion was too much—this was taboo.
Sure I read books on black magic, like the Necronomicon and Aleister Crowley’s Magick in Theory and Practice, but they weren’t real, they weren’t “religious” texts designed to affect the soul. This Satanic Bible was a book my mother said was evil and shouldn’t be touched, no less brought into the house. This was not a sacred text about virtue and sacrifice but a bible that worshipped a healthy ego and a lusty life filled with carnal pleasures—all of the things young people really want to do. It even gave instructions in ritual magic and sex!
Despite the “you’re going to go to hell” warnings from friends and family and my own natural cynicism about any new pop religion hucksterism, I was compelled to read the book. I became fascinated with its blend of “Lex Talonis” (Law of the Talon)„survival of the fittest—attitude as well as the mystical and supernatural. I became so enamored with the book that I’ve read it many times, cover-to-cover over the last quarter of a century, and I still marvel at how it continues to draw new readers and remains on the shelves of most major book chains.
According to Avon Books (HarperCollins), the publisher of The Satanic Bible, at year-end 1993 the book completed its 34th printing with sales reaching nearly 750,000. LaVey’s companion book, The Satanic Rituals, is in its 16th printing and has sold over 200,000 copies. All one needs to do is check out the occult section of any book store and you’ll invariably see someone leafing through its pages or sneaking it off to the cash register. You can’t get much more taboo than that.
But for all of The Satanic Bible’s forbidden popularity, and the fact that Anton LaVey has befriended Hollywood stars and heads of state, the world’s fear of “The Black Pope” continues, and not just by clergy members, “law abiding” citizens, or the PTAs. The populace at large (LaVey refers to them as “the herd”) continues to wonder and worry about who this man is, how he had the nerve to write such a diabolical tome and even more astounding, how he could have founded a church dedicated to the Devil? The Church of Satan is in fact an official religion recognized in the U.S. Army’s Chaplain’s Manual with a section based on the teachings of The Satanic Bible.
And what really bothers people is that although The Church of Satan does not proselytize, it continues to flourish with a constant influx of new members; some you’d expect, like heavy metal rockers, and many you wouldn’t, like doctors, lawyers, and those who on the surface appear to be average everyday citizens.
It’s been asked for years, each time by a new wave of Satan seekers, “Is LaVey the Devil himself finally going mainstream media?” And more importantly, if the interest, fascination and fear continues, just what in Hell is modern Satanism all about?
As my own curiosity grew, due largely to the realization that when I discussed the actual tenets of The Satanic Bible with peers they agreed that there was something to this book, it started to become clear why the fascination with the High Priest of The Church of Satan and his books has continued for nearly 30 years. To date, besides The Satanic Bible and The Satanic Rituals, LaVey has also written The Devil’s Notebook, a compilation of his essays and ideas, and The Satanic Witch, a handbook for female Satanists.
I also discovered that it’s not solely because of his blasphemous writings, his dark interests and demeanor, nor the “antichrist” label attached to him by the evangelistic throngs that causes the distress. The real reason people fear Anton LaVey is because his writings force most of those who are familiar with his work to come to terms with the fact that they may think a lot like he does. This is frightening to people who believe themselves to be “good” and God fearing. What’s more, the idea that they may often agree with many of his philosophies is mind-boggling. And what literally makes them go running to the confessionals is that they like what they feel.
The fear increases when people have a sense that they are becoming “closet Satanists,” which is almost understandable considering the years of hysteria that have linked Satanism with everything normally considered vile and disgusting. But LaVey’s brand of Satanism is not what you’d expect. In fact, when exploring modern Satanism you should forget everything you’ve ever heard, read, or conceived in your mind from the general media. All of the sensationalist Geraldo claptrap hyping baby breeding, blood rituals, and other heinous acts of “black magic” simply don’t apply to what’s become the most organized and publicized Satanic movement since the notorious 18th century Hell Fire Club in Europe.
LaVey’s organization vehemently opposes harming children and states on page 89 of The Satanic Bible:
“Under NO circumstances would a Satanist sacrifice any animal or baby! For centuries, propagandists of the right hand path have been prattling over the supposed sacrifices of small children and voluptuous maidens at the hands of diabolists.” It continues, “There are sound and logical reasons why the Satanist could not perform such sacrifices. Man, the animal, is the godhead to the Satanist. The purest form of carnal existence reposes in the bodies of animals and human children who have not grown old enough to deny themselves their natural desires. They can perceive things that the average adult human can never hope to. Therefore, the Satanist holds these beings in a sacred regard, knowing he can learn much from these natural magicians of the world.”
This stand is reaffirmed in the religion’s “Eleven Satanic Rules of the Earth” which puts forth that it does not advocate killing any non-human animal unless attacked or in need of them for food. Sounds a lot more like the kind of common sense that’s been going on for thousands of years than some maniacal message doesn’t it?
So after years of fascination with the man and his work, and reading numerous articles about him—some which made him out to be a madman and others which labeled him a master carnival huckster, meeting Anton LaVey in person was a personal and journalistic goal which would finally satisfy my interests concerning this 20th century antihero, tell a story that’s a little different from what has already been written, and hopefully set the record straight for what I believe to be thousands, perhaps millions of people who in their deepest and darkest moment read The Satanic Bible and, when no one else is looking, nod their heads yes.
The Black House
In the cab ride over to the Richmond Section of San Francisco to meet Anton LaVey and his biographer, confidant, and chief administrator, Blanche Barton, I wondered if the meeting was to be held at the infamous “Black House,” a mysterious Victorian abode laden with secret passages, once a bordello catering to pirates. Or at the very least, I hoped the meeting would be at another of his clandestine “places,” and not just in some sterile restaurant or night club unbefitting his unique persona.
My interest in the Black House was piqued many years ago when I read that it was in this house where LaVey originally hosted his Friday evening “Magic Circle” meetings and lectures before the actual forming of the Church of Satan on Walpurgisnacht, the night of April 30th—May 1st (the highest demonic day of celebration of the year) in 1966. The house was also the place of most of the early Church rituals and probably the intellectual abyss where LaVey devised his philosophy and Satanic Master Plan. So naturally, I wanted to visit the man in his “lair.”
When I arrived at the designated block, it wasn’t difficult to spot the LaVey sanctum. Among the typically pastel-painted San Franciscan townhouses, the black Victorian stood out like an ominous and disturbing throwback to a different era. Even in the dark of the evening, the house summoned me with a beacon of mystery through the damp November air. I knew of LaVey’s attraction to odd mathematical angles, and their magical, disturbing, “fear inducing” properties—in particular, the trapezoid, in which LaVey fashioned The Law of the Trapezoid that was detailed in The Devil’s Notebook. I wondered if my first impression of the house, that it indeed was situated and recessed and at an odd angle to the street, was merely a self-imposed suggestion, or was the house indeed very different?
The cabby asked if this was the spot and he gave me a “are you sure you want to get out here” look as I paid my fare. But my excitement at realizing that this was in fact the notorious Black House caused me to ignore his question, and I jumped out anxious for the impending experience. I was also just happy at the prospect of spending an evening with people whom for months previously I communicated with professionally and found to be genuinely pleasant, intelligent, and whom I knew would be anything but boring.
As I approached the house I imagined what it would be like inside. I knew of certain particulars, like its “Den of Iniquity” where LaVey’s collection of “artificial humans” live, the well publicized hidden stone ritual chamber, and LaVey’s massive organ (musical instrument, that is). To read about these diabolical chambers or see video clips (check out an excellent video, Speak of the Devil, the Canon of Anton LaVey by Wavelength Video) was always intriguing, but to experience it first hand was another deal entirely.
Despite my preparedness, the mystique of LaVey and his Church haunted me even as I stood outside of the house waiting for someone to come out and let me in. I waited for a minute or two and even though I was previously informed that the bell on the surrounding fence didn’t work, I tried it anyway, just to hasten my wait„to do something and not be totally helpless.
No sooner did I attempt to ring the bell, when a middle-aged, rather everyday-looking man who turned out to be LaVey’s driver and Domo, appeared and asked my name. After being satisfied as to who I was, he let me in the gate and motioned me up the short flight of stairs to the front door which was ajar. The house was indeed black, or so it appeared, and it had purple trim. But this house was not just black in color, but so black it emitted an air as though no one lived inside. Not a bit of light could be seen inside the house from where I was standing, and although I expected to see some glimmer of light as I got closer, the darkness of the hallway permeated, befitting, I thought to myself, the inner sanctum of Satan himself.
Even before I entered the room at the end of the hall, I noticed the music playing. I couldn't put my finger on what the tune was, or even its time period, but I did know it was of the fo-di-o-do type, megaphone variety, and, much to my surprise, it was a pleasant entrée into a small, well-lit library and sitting room which had a yellow glow from standing lamps. The room reminded me a lot of my grandmother’s spare room, where I spent many afternoons as a child, reading tales of mystery, horror, suspense, and the unknown. This room had that same feeling, that it was suspended in time.
The sentiment ended there. After LaVey’s driver instructed me to have a seat and that someone would be out to meet me, I began to notice the details and distinct differences of LaVey’s library that illustrated his demonic attitude. Was the antique gynecological examining table, headstone coffee table, stuffed rat, and cobwebs hanging from the ceiling real Satanic furnishings or kitsch to unnerve and even poke fun at those who were out to “expose” LaVey or perhaps just out for a cheap thrill? The Satanic High Priest prides himself on having a healthy sense of humor and one of his methods for dealing with pests is to play up the stereotypical Satanic image by using Halloween-type decorations for effect to the point where the quarry feels foolish.
As he states in his “Let Me Entertain You” essay in The Devil’s Notebook, “An effective way to deal with ‘entertain me’ types is the put-on." Some of LaVey’s favorite gags are from an old catalog of tricks—the likes of snapping gum and stink bombs. I wondered if he was peering through a painting in another room to gauge my reactions.
However, many of the items in the room were far from everyday novelties. Included were some interesting statues of demons and Pan-like gods. In the bookcases was an esoteric collection of volumes which included manuals on sex, and books about the minds of murderers, and even guides for funeral procedures. My reaction was mixed as to whether this truly was an “ordinary” part of the Black House, or a way to set the mood for the curious.
After a sufficient amount of time passed allowing me to absorb the atmosphere of “sinister sight and sound,” Blanche Barton emerged from a gray door in the room marked “LABORATORY,” and immediately dispelled my feelings of doubt. A young, voluptuous blonde, attractive in a 1940’s fashion, Barton greeted me warmly and professionally. I was happy to see that she was dressed in a somewhat revealing manner, holding true to the teachings of LaVey’s The Satanic Witch which preaches that women hold awesome sexual power over men and that “appearance is everything.” I’m sure Barton noticed me peeking at her cleavage at least once, which no doubt again proved to her the power of a Satanic Witch.
Barton and I exchanged pleasantries, and even though I had spoken to her many times on the telephone, I couldn’nt help but wonder how this young, bright woman (she graduated Phi Beta Kappa) had so completely immersed herself in the world’s most notorious religion. She had told me of her fascination with the darker forces and that she had read The Satanic Bible when she was just 14, but when we met I was still surprised by her cordiality. This thought actually reinforced my idea that these people are on to something much more than a cult formed for black magic “crazies.” The Church of Satan includes articulate, intelligent, and dedicated officials who, although very cautious, are extremely ingratiating.
Shortly after Barton and I chatted, she said that “the Doctor” would be in shortly (LaVey’s friends and close acquaintances call him “Doctor” out of respect, similar to the term “professor” given to musicians). No sooner did she mention his name„almost like a magical conjuring„ Anton Szandor LaVey entered the library. He approached me smiling in a quick gait that belied his 60 plus years. I wasn’t so much taken with his well-known devilish appearance of goatee and shaven head, which I had seen hundreds of times, as I was his youthful appearance. I wondered if he tapped the Dorian Gray thing in his attic in addition to all of his other magical workings.
We shook hands and I immediately knew that I genuinely liked Anton LaVey. If this was the evilest man in the world, then plenty of “nice guys” that I know who would stab their mother in the back should take some lessons. LaVey mentioned to me that Barton had told him that I was pretty well keyed-in on what his Church and philosophy were all about and that I was persistent in us meeting. He appreciated the fact that I wasn’t simply armed with a few quotes from his books and that I wasn’t going to try to bullshit him in an effort to get a real “juicy” Satanism story.
We began talking about music and magic and eventually discussed LaVey’s philosophy. I told him how I felt that his ideas made a lot of sense to me and a lot of other people I know. “That’s the one thing we hear time and time again„that Satanism makes sense. And it’s heartening to know we are reaching the right people with our ideas,” LaVey told me.
Our conversation naturally evolved away from the hackneyed common ritual abuse talk and more into what Satanismisn’t. LaVey maintains that Satanism doesn’t worship an anthropomorphic deity as such, but that Satan, or the Devil, is a representative archetype that champions the rebel in man and all of his carnal desires. And although it is a religion, a closer examination of Satanism reveals that it is more a bedrock philosophy built on everyday principles that appeal to not only hard-core nonconformists but to anyone who has ever felt apart from the herd of the common man. In fact, Satanism’s main focus of worship is on oneself and its highest holy day is one’s birthday. LaVey explained, “My brand of Satanism is the ultimate conscious alternative to herd mentality and institutionalized thought. It is a studied, contrived set of principles and exercises designed to prevent and liberate from the contagion of mindlessness which destroys innovation.”
Pretty heady stuff for Devil worshippers and rebels, but LaVey wants to make it clear that Satanists are an elite of society. Although he encourages his followers to perform rituals, dress up and employ nude women as altars, he is dead serious about the foundations of his religion and particularly its magical appeal. “It [Satanism] starts as a secular philosophy of rationalism and self-preservation (natural law, social Darwinism, animal state) and wraps these basically sound ideas in religious trappings to add to its appeal. A Satanist enters the supernatural realm by choice, with eyes open and heart clear, rather than taking a supernatural belief as a starting point, like jungle primitives trying to explain lightning.”
Of course this doesn’t mean black magic isn’t a practical part of Satanism. However, LaVey makes no distinction between white and black magic, claiming that white Wiccan witches and “new agers” have been freely calling upon the dark forces and suiting them to their own hypocritical purposes. He stated, “All magic is the realm of the Devil, no matter how righteously you dress it up. The claims that ‘black’ magic is only for destruction and ‘white’ for healing is bunk. Satanic magic is used to invoke powers of justice, and can be used to help yourself or one you care about, just as easily as it would be used to curse someone.”
In The Satanic Bible, magic is broken down into Lesser and Greater magic, Lesser being the everyday magic of applied psychology and Greater magic being LaVey’s term for ceremonial magic which includes ritual and the necessary accouterments. With the proper mental attitude and understanding of the inherent power of aligning one’s self with Satanism, Lesser magic is called upon to influence the immediate environment. Call this “positive thinking” or self-fulfilling prophecy, whatever the label, LaVey’s long overdue blast at the differences between white and black magic blew the dust off of all of the musty old grimoires and was seen as a breath of fresh air to the occult community as witnessed by the popularity of his books and a host of tawdry imitators.
While many newcomers to the Church of Satan are drawn to it because of the power they might receive through their new alignment, the practicality of LaVey’s teachings are even more appealing once the “glamour” wears off. Greater Magic employs three distinct Satanic rituals conducted to gain one’s desires: sex, compassion, and destruction—all requiring ceremony but, more importantly, imagery! Although the Satanist can employ robes, incense and gongs in a special ritual chamber, the key to the new Satanist’s magic is totally believing it will work and to build a mental “canvas.”
For example, if sex is desired, The Satanic Bible recommends that the magician create the situation on paper or canvas, by written word or any way in which the desired result is “overstated.” “Imagery is a constant reminder, an intellect-saving device, a working substitute for the real thing. Imagery can be manipulated, set up, modified, and created, all according to the will of the magician, and the very blueprint that is created by imagery becomes the formula which leads to reality,” LaVey says with passion.
Magic certainly is a sexy part of the appeal of Satanism, but what is far more fascinating is the cabal of underground members of the Church which LaVey sees as its backbone and the driving force which will bring it into the next millennium. Real Satanists today are for the most part, not running around in robes and dangling Baphomets (the official inverted pentagram and goat symbol trademarked by The Church of Satan) around their necks. After years of attention and distribution of LaVey’s philosophy, The Church of Satan has attracted legions of members, spawned some imitators and has garnered much public notoriety. Although membership is held in strict confidence, many writers, artists, performers—as well as malcontents and rebels—have thrown in with LaVey. Although some have officially joined the Church, many simply are de-facto Satanists who align themselves with the Church’s precepts. LaVey describes official card carrying members as a truly secret society of magicians who are successful in their chosen fields and who are influencing the outside world.
Dinner With The Devil
What seemed like only minutes became the better part of a few hours of discussing LaVey’s philosophies, The Church, and music. Our group decided to head for dinner. We drove off to a local restaurant where LaVey felt he wouldn’t be distracted by friends, but he couldn’t shake his local legendary fame, often being noticed.
I was pleased to see him joking with the restaurant hostess making up a fictitious name that she couldn’t pronounce. Right on cue when our table was ready LaVey’s prank kicked in and the hostess blurted out some aborted pronunciation of the name LaVey gave her much to his delight. I thought to myself, “is this is what the Devil does, plays tricks on waitresses?” Then it hit me„it’s exactly what the Devil does only we have forgotten that he„and LaVey„have a sense of humor.
In his book Saints and Sinners, Lawrence Wright interviewed Anton LaVey along with other religious notables, and had written that LaVey and Barton disapproved when he ordered a salad dressing that didn’t fit with their idea of what was deemed masculine taste, according to what’s prescribed in The Satanic Witch. Having read Wright’s book before meeting LaVey I was prepared for some dinner scrutiny to prove my worthiness. It never happened! In fact, LaVey asked me what kind of wine I preferred, red or white, and never once glanced at Barton or made me feel the least bit uncomfortable. Our dinner was chock full of interesting, fun conversation about celebrities LaVey knows or had worked with including Keenan Wynn, William Shatner, and Linda Lovelace, as well as his past lovers Jayne Mansfield and Marilyn Monroe, to name a few. Needless to say, I walked away from that dinner thinking much of Wright’s interview stemmed from his attempt to write another “LaVey is a weirdo” story. I also discovered that, contrary to what has been said, I’m not a sociopath, nut, occultnik, or criminal, and yet I think I had made a friend of LaVey.
Our time together ran late and I never did see the remainder of the Black House, but LaVey left an open invitation for me to visit with him again. They called a car for me, and as I rode back to my hotel, I thought about all of the preconceived ideas I had about the Church and LaVey. Although much of his world is indeed dark, mysterious, and, at times, a dichotomy, I left with a feeling that something important, lasting, and possibly frightening was going to come from what he started in 1966. Considering that the Supreme Court recently ruled that banning animal sacrifice in the practice of Santeria, an Afro-Cuban religion, violated religious freedom, Satanism’s commonsense dogma and grassroots appeal without the heinous activity commonly accorded to it, is poised for expansion.
Anyone who looks seriously into the world of Satanism today and is not affected by the religious right’s claptrap will see exactly what LaVey describes as a loose-knit cabal of rebellious white middle-class youth, heavy metal rockers, neo-fascist sympathizers, occultists, and “normal” professional people rallying around the cry of “Hail Satan,” either as a religious calling or as a backlash at being fed-up with hypocrisy and self-denying spiritual movements.
Anti-Christian? Yes. Anti-Jew? Yes. Anti-all organized religion? Absolutely. And this disdain is exactly what makes Satanism appealing to the many disheartened by their spiritual options.
Although the Church is less centralized today than it was in its beginning, LaVey maintains that his people have a loyalty and allegiance to the same end. “They [the Satanic cabal] have their contacts, they’ll know in their respective positions what to do when the time comes ïround. They’ll know which file goes in the ‘yes’ basket and which in the ‘no’ basket. Many Satanists are coming forth in their various professions now, stepping forward to declare their affiliations and dedication to Satan, to each other and to the world. All it takes is a handful of people in the right places. Oh, we do have goals. We all know what they are. I believe in all forms of stealth, cunning and guile to achieve our ends,” LaVey states.
And for the scoffers who say that it’s only a handful of crazies who will follow LaVey, he answers by saying that people who are aligning themselves with Satanism feel that they were born Satanists and that no conscious decision was involved. He says Satanism is actually more like a new evolving ethnic than a religion. Over the past 25 years, it’s become an attitude, an aesthetic imperative, a cultural orientation that envelopes mainstream society. And as he warned me in the quiet of his beautiful sitting room, half squinting because of his photophobic condition, “Satanism is a Pandora’s box. Once the demons are out, you can’t stuff them back inside. Once your eyes are opened to reality, they can’t be closed.”
This article first appeared in the August 1994 issue of High Society magazine. This is the revised and definitive text by the author and is reproduced with his permission. The text is copyright © by Bob Johnson, and may not be reproduced without his permission. Photographs provided by the Church of Satan archive, and our thanks go to Nick Bougas, Jay Blakesberg, and Cathy Fitzhugh.