AHS: Apocalypse and Anton LaVey

I had ceased watching American Horror Story after its third season since experiencing its incoherent plotting and inconsistent writing I found a waste of my time. Granted, there are some striking visuals and the acting of people like Jessica Lange, Frances Conroy and Sarah Paulson is exemplary (others, not so much). However, in this eighth season, a mashup of earlier seasons now spinning a yarn about the aftermath of a nuclear war caused by the Anti-Christ, I had to sit through an episode as it mentioned the organization I’ve been running for over 17 years, and its founder, Anton Szandor LaVey, whom I considered a friend and who named me a colleague.

As I expected, the dialogue is smirky and belabored, and the contents, both musical and visual, seemed desperate to touch as many bases from prior devil-themed films as possible. These include moments from films such as THE CHANGELING, ROSEMARY’S BABY, and THE OMEN, amongst others. Other pop culture references are there both musical and in the dialogue (FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH gets a nod during a bit of fapping). And of course lines from REVELATION are spoken, as is typical in such productions. On the soundtrack we get a whiff of Marc Almond’s “Tainted Love” and I expect the show’s producers knew that at one time his initiation rite into the Church of Satan was, in his own words “a theatrical joke that got a bit out of hand.” Orff’s “Oh Fortuna” from his popular choral piece Carmina Burana supplies the background to the ritual, imitating choral soundtracks for filmed diabolical rites which are typically influenced by Goldsmith’s Oscar-winning score for THE OMEN.

Anton LaVey had recounted to me that he was approached by the producers of the second OMEN film as they wanted to have just a brief shot of young Damien in the ritual chamber of the Black House in San Francisco. They said it would be easy, that they’d bring a cardboard cut-out image of the child actor in costume and all that LaVey would need to do is pose with him in front of the altar, making a gesture of Infernal blessing. LaVey refused both the money and the publicity that would come from this as he did not want to confuse the public with imagery making him seem to accept the Christian mythology of there being an Anti-Christ, and that he would in any way support, bless or otherwise pay homage to such a fictional character or theist religion.

Of course, now that he’s been dead for over 20 years, there was little to stop the grab-bag approach of the people working on AHS, so we are treated to an actor portraying LaVey accompanied by two supposed “Cardinals” to pay respect to and awaken Michael to his “true nature”—a parody of the Christian Three Kings tale. This new “Devil Son” having some sort of otherworldly conception is a riff on the Jesus myth that Christians might find blasphemous. We in the Church of Satan have a defined hierarchy that one can readily find online and that doesn’t include “Cardinals” (nor Bishops as an article on The Wrap erroneously claims). And we are atheists who do not believe in any spiritual doctrines or fairy tales. Here “LaVey” and his acolytes perform a “Black Mass” which apes Meso-American sacrificial practices of heart removal. The victim speaks a line adapted from the first OMEN film, of course. Then LaVey and crew bow to the sociopathic Michael as a cheesy devil shadow appears on the wall behind him.

Since Magus LaVey quite adamantly rejected the linking of himself and his organization to Devil worship and both murderous and sacrificial acts, I’m confident that he’d not be pleased with the portrayal of himself and the organization that was his life’s work in this AHS episode. He designed Satanism as an atheist philosophy of individualism, rational self-interest and personal fulfillment and he did not want that confused with Devil-worshipping, reverse Christianity. Our organization’s spokespersons have long been dispelling that misapprehension, particularly during the years of “The Satanic Panic” when talk shows were promoting urban legend and Christian-fostered hysteria as fact.

It seems we’ve come to a time when people can’t be bothered to read, but do enjoy glancing at an image and might watch a few minutes of video now and again. So, images from the early years in the press coverage of the Church of Satan meant as attention-getters—which LaVey himself called the “stuffed rat and tombstone” period—seem to be all that the current generation of those encountering Anton Szandor LaVey peruse as material for fueling their fantasies about him being a Devil-worshipping boogeyman. Some curious and intelligent individuals could be prompted to take the plunge and visit www.churchofsatan.com to read our brief biography of Anton Szandor LaVey and articles about the organization and philosophy he created. But most will just assume he’s fictional, or a fool who believed in The Devil, and would grovel to a sociopathic murderer. And that to me is both a disservice and an insult to the memory of a true iconoclast who had a fine sense of humor, but who also was deeply serious about offering an alternative to the world’s spiritual doctrines, particularly those bent on enslaving people to authoritarians claiming sovereignty from supernatural entities.

—Magus Peter H. Gilmore