Membership in the Church of Satan expanded steadily. LaVey tried to include visits with his constituents around the globe wherever he traveled, blessing them with papal visits to their grottos, where he was greeted with an excess of pomp and black capes. “It became rather embarrassing after awhile. I’d step off the plane and there they’d be, all huddled together to meet me in their black velvet robes with huge Baphomets around their necks. Many of our grass-roots people didn’t know much about subtlety then, or decorum. I was trying to present a cultured, mannered image and their idea of protest or shock was to wear their ‘lodge regalia’ into the nearest Denny’s.”
In the beginning of the church’s activities, LaVey freely printed his address and phone number on posters, fake folded money (to be left lying on the street as a promotional gimmick), and allowed reporters to print his address as they wished. “I don’t like to think I was naive during that period of my life. I just wanted the Church of Satan to be honest, open and above-board. I also had a dream of being able to work out of my own home, as most of my friends did who were writers or performers. I envisioned the pleasure of rolling out of bed and having your work right there waiting for you without having to get in your car and drive to an office or another location. I didn’t think that was unreasonable. But I didn’t understand then how treacherous people could be.” Afterwards, LaVey, like most celebrities, established living quarters around the world to which he retreated so that he’d no longer trapped by his own popularity.
After a few years, LaVey began cutting back on the administrative demands on his time, concentrating his energies on his own projects more than on public relations and personally ministering to his ever-increasing flock. Following LaVey’s plan, it was time to “stop performing Satanism and start practicing it.” The Church of Satan was having its desired impact on the outside world and LaVey wanted to encourage new directions among the members rather than siphoning off the best energy for compulsory performance of rituals. The period of actual above-ground activity confined to LaVey’s Victorian digs was relatively brief, but long enough to do irreparable damage to established religion. “After that original blast,” LaVey remembered, “there was no need for the ongoing public spectacle and outrage of an inverted Catholic Mass anymore. Christianity was becoming weaker every day. That was just beating a dead horse. There were plenty of other sacred cows to attack, and that’s what keeps Satanism vital and thriving.”
In 1970, rituals and lectures conducted by LaVey and open to the public ceased. All weekly public ceremonies in the Black House stopped in 1972. Responsibility for Satanic activities was shifted to the dozens of Church of Satan Grottos established around the world, with Central Grotto (as LaVey’s original Black House was designated) serving only to screen, approve and direct potential members in the Church of Satan.
By 1975, a re-organization had taken place and those few who were counterproductive to LaVey’s Satanic ideals, who were more interested in what Anton called “Phase One Satanism” (i.e., group rituals, blaspheming Christianity in a rigidly-structured, limited way) were phased out. With his intensely elitist attitude, Anton was incensed to see his creation degenerating into a “Satan Fan Club,” where the weakest, least innovative members were buoyed up with time and attention at the expense of the most productive, most Satanic members. At a time when other leaders might have turned over command to someone else in disgust, taking advantage of the more tempting doors then opening to him—acting, directing, more writing—LaVey was bound by the loyalty he felt for the organization he’d started. Consequently, LaVey devised a diabolical way to “clean house,” which eventually eliminated much of the dross and administrivia that LaVey felt was obscuring the organization’s true destiny. The Grotto System was loosely maintained but no longer strictly managed through Central Grotto. LaVey wanted his Church of Satan to evolve into a truly cabalistic underground rather than degenerating into a long-running public pageant or a “Satan pen pal club.”
Putting the brakes on the “lodge hall” activities, LaVey emphasized that a person’s status within the Church of Satan should reflect his status outside the organization. Highest ranking people in the outside world should hold a commensurate position within the group, since LaVey considered their material, creative or social success as the truest measure of magical prowess. Anton also shifted the organizational focus to those who could benefit the church in a substantial way through who and what they were, not just feeling compelled to spend large chunks of time with nonproductive “psychic vampires,” no matter how dedicated.
“There always has to be a fair exchange,” LaVey said. “I could see that many people were joining our ranks simply because it was a guarantee of friends, or because they wanted the glory of passing tests to earn degrees, much like the ‘Grand Poobahs’ who take off their robes and vestments and become another local nobody again outside their lodge. They were getting more ‘spook appeal’ out of being members of the Church of Satan than we were getting esteem from having them among our membership. As an organization grows, group activities only cause contention, drain vital energy that could be better applied elsewhere, and eventually become counterproductive. Teaching people that they’re all right and society is all wrong, that the only ones who really understand them and that they can relate to are within the group, is damaging in the long run. It only reinforces their own inability to deal with the larger world.
“I wanted to create a forum, a loosely-structured cabal for the productive aliens, not misfits who need to depend on a group. After the re-organization, I was free to be more selective. I would much rather attract and lend support to those individuals who use their alienation—just as most leaders are usually different or distinctive in some way. Groups encourage dependence on beliefs and delusions to reinforce their omnipotence. Instead of fostering self-sufficiency and honest skepticism, I saw my group lapsing into blind belief and unhealthy anthropomorphism. That’s not what I intended and I had to make moves to get the Church of Satan back on track.”
Of course, there were those who wanted to continue group activities. Rather than seeing LaVey’s change as moving the Church of Satan beyond the realm of a “cult”—where all activity is strictly dictated by a central figure—some members felt betrayed by LaVey for discontinuing their avenue for meeting others of like-mind. Of course, there were also those who simply felt “sour grapes” toward LaVey from 1966 on; who felt they could do the same thing only better. An ever-shifting spectacle of alternative groups formed and disbanded. Most of them took on a Laurel and Hardy-like “Sons of the Desert” quality and never seemed able to stick together for more than a few years, with infighting and jealousies insuring constant upheaval. Some have written disparaging remarks over the years which LaVey passed off as “absurdly self-righteous,” and many have assumedly thrown their share of “sour-grapes” curses in LaVey’s direction. To these “wannabes, shoulda-beens and parasites” LaVey considers himself “just an old spoilsport.” Sadly, even his own beloved daughter Zeena later joined such ranks.
At the same time, LaVey became more selective about granting interviews, since his doors were no longer open to anyone off the street who wished to drop by for his lectures. Because of this rather abrupt cessation of activity, rumors spread of the end of the Church of Satan and even of LaVey’s death.
by Blanche Barton ©2003
(condensed from The Church of Satan and with supplemental material by Peter H. Gilmore)
Church of Satan
Founded by Anton Szandor LaVey
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