Devil Take the Foremost: My 50 Years Advocating Satanism

Self-Portrait by Peter H. Gilmore

Devil Take the Foremost: My 50 Years Advocating Satanism

Magus Peter H. Gilmore

From 1974 to 2024—it has been a long road.

I never bought into the concept of any God, or gods, existing—not for one millisecond. From my earliest years, I had access to books on science, astronomy, and “Lost Civilizations.” From the first two categories I learned facts and theories about our universe. From the third, I learned that deities were commonplace to human thought. These books displayed various fantastic images and statuary of superhuman beings, along with the temples devoted to them—whose architecture intrigued me. I also noted that they were transitory, as the sacred entities of former triumphant cultures had not survived, having failed to maintain functional belief systems with contemporary adherents, and were now deemed to be mythological. There were no present-day temples to the pantheons of Ancient Egypt, Rome, and Sumer. I saw no local shrines to Pashupati, nor to the supramundane figures of the Norse cultures.

Since Christianity abounded in my environs, I was exposed to the simplistic triune fantasy offered by its sects, as well as to the hideous tortured figure of a Hebrew rebel whom they displayed, and found that imagery rather revolting. The “Old Gods” at least were more colorful and fantastic—vivid, at times lurid, gods and monsters. I was a budding visual artist, so I drew the ancient deities, heroes, and their adversaries, and even invented some of my own. I enjoyed their portrayal in the films of Ray Harryhausen—who was inspired by many past myth systems, and in depictions of Heracles—and the entertaining Italian-made “Sons of Hercules” films, and as well as the fantastic films conjuring the legendary sunken continents of Atlantis and Mu. It was clear to me, since those had all passed from humankind’s reverence, that the sacred myths of today would also follow suit, as our civilization surely must fall and be replaced over the course of time. The films Things To Come, with its depiction of plague-induced collapse, decades-long wars, and eventual renewal, as well as The Time Machine’s tart social critique, were potent revelations to my inquisitive mind regarding societal ephemerality. To my thinking, all revered and reviled ultra-beings from both the past and present were obviously fictional, and thus mythological. I also supposed that what any culture might place on a pedestal, or consign to damnation, would be a clue as to the tone of what was practiced in such societies. It certainly was this way in the culture in which I lived.

I never bought into the concept of any God, or gods, existing—not for one millisecond.”

In 1966, aged 8 years, I was thus a consciously self-declared atheist, based on my powers of reasoning, research, and observation. However, I noted that ritual and ceremony were commonplace activities, both secular as well as religious. Having experienced civic ceremonies, birthday and wedding customs, as well as formal worship services in churches, might it be possible to evolve a practice that dealt with verifiable aspects of existence, rather than apocryphal entities? I had thought that the veneration of fire could perhaps be useful as a form of meditation, since its transformative function—consuming what was burning but offering heat and light, domesticated, yet capable of great destruction—was an essential factor in the way humans evolved technology. The use of fire was then considered to be a definitive aspect of the dawn of humanity, following a path to conscious advancement. I found that sitting on the warm hearth, contemplating the flames as they worked their magic on the blazing logs, was entrancing. When we burned the leaves we’d raked in Autumn, or had bonfires during scouting gatherings, I was often transfixed by the power of fire. I had read references to fire worshippers, but when I delved deeper into Zoroastrianism, it was just a predecessor of current dualist myth systems with a Father God and his Adversary, and thus of no interest to me. I wondered if some sort of future civilizations might revere other forms of energy, either nuclear or some as yet undiscovered primal source of motivating, cosmos-permeating natural power. But, despite my essential materialism, the possible purpose of ritual, meditation, and religion fascinated me, even though the vaunted manmade gods and their opponents were obviously just ideas, not existing entities.

Discovering a carnal religion that posited oneself as the Godhead, and Satan as a symbolic figure whose rebelliousness one might find as inspirational, was an unexpected turning point.”

When I went on to read The Satanic Bible in 1971, I realized that “Satanist” was a far more accurate self-designation. Discovering a carnal religion that posited oneself as the Godhead, and Satan as a symbolic figure whose rebelliousness one might find as inspirational, was an unexpected turning point. And Satanism offered symbolism of The Adversary from all prior known cultures, as well as useful and stimulating ritual practices. Well, this earthy and insightful construct conceived by Anton Szandor LaVey was an approach that I found delightful, and gratifying. His book embraced a truth I had learned by myself from observation of both history and the present: “Man has always created his gods, rather than his gods creating him.” Imagine finding a carnal, atheist, materialist belief system calling itself a religion? It seemed that its founder had articulated many thoughts which we shared, and packaged them in an elegant, darkly evocative manner, touching on fundamental truths about the human species. While I met no other Satanists near me, I immediately felt I was a de facto adherent of the Church of Satan, and expected to one day join officially.

During my high school years—a public school—I often wore an inverted pentagram medallion that I made for myself, having inscribed a two-points-up pentagram on a black clay disk. In those pre-Internet days, one had to find things in stores, or via mail order. There were no Sigil of Baphomet medallions available to me, no catalogs of occult paraphernalia. My self-portrait, completed in the tenth grade, included a Luciferian figure whose face was modeled after Anton LaVey. Visitors to our Black House can view it displayed in our dining room. I exhibited that painting in the school and was henceforth known as “That guy into The Devil.” It also served as a powerful catalyst, as my wife Peggy has written about how she saw it, and that stimulated her interest in meeting me. It was the Seventies, and our teachers were, for the most part, ex-hippies who idealistically thought they could change the world by instilling in younger minds the approach of understanding the past and questioning authority. My homeroom teacher was known as a Wiccan, and nobody had any issues with this. She—in retrospect, amusingly—thought my Satanism might be just a passing phase, but she didn’t see it as anything dangerous, as she had read The Satanic Bible. My grades were consistently excellent and I was ultimately designated as the valedictorian of my graduating class of 1976.

Self-Portrait by Peter H. Gilmore
Self-Portrait by Peter H. Gilmore, copyright 1974, 2024.

Our tenth grade Social Studies class was rather progressive. Along with a classmate who is still a good friend, I had designed role-playing games to help students learn about the French and Russian revolutions. I enjoyed dressing up as Rasputin for the class, in what could be viewed as an early version of “cosplay.” During the week before Easter Sunday in 1974, several students who were born-again Christians were permitted to read from their scriptures about the passion of their Christ figure. Several shared the reading, and were actually tearful as they presented the passages which described the torture and death of their supposed savior. I found it to be a bit intrusive, but it did show me how that sort of Christian was more involved in their beliefs than so many of the other ones around me who went to church only occasionally. I thought I could offer an alternative, and immediately approached the teacher (who is the figure in the green toga from my portrait) and asked if I could present a dramatic reading from the texts of my religion. He agreed and I did this the following week.

From my bedroom Satanic altar, I brought a black taper candle in a brass holder, a book of matches, and a black cloth to cover a small table available in the classroom, along with a small, octagonal brass bell. I was experienced with presenting slide shows (a common form of expression at the time) and always used a portable cassette player for those, so I had recorded Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring from an LP I owned and used the first section of that as background music. I began with a brief explanation about Satanism and the Church of Satan in order to provide some context. I had the shades drawn (it was mid-afternoon) and lit the candle, then asked the teacher to extinguish the lights. He did so, and it wasn’t that dark, but the atmosphere was enhanced without the overhead fluorescent’s glare. I pushed the clunky button and let the opening of that primal piece of music set an ominous mood. I rang the bell nine times and opened my copy of The Satanic Bible and forcefully intoned the “Invocation to Satan.” Once finished with that, I observed that there were a number of uncomfortable students. I smiled, and as the orchestra raged through the small speaker of the player, I read the “Invocation to Destruction.” That seemed to confuse a number of my observers, as the sulfurous poetic imagery was not something they may have encountered previously. To end, I declaimed the “Tenth Enochian Key” in its English translation, concluding with a hearty “Shemhamforash! Hail Satan!” I rang the bell nine times, and, as I blew out the candle flame, I whispered intensely, “So it is done!” Then I stopped the music. My teacher knew this was his cue to turn the lights back on, and by then class time was pretty much over. He asked if there were any questions for me, but it seemed that a sense of shock and awe held sway, so when the school bell rang, everyone left and I packed up my gear to head off to the next class.

...the Church of Satan was a real thing, whose belief system was rational and people might not understand that point.”

Now, because of my reputation, my presentation was not that big of a surprise, and we’d had demonstrations in social studies classes from other religious perspectives…a Hindu had explained his beliefs and brought in a small statue of Ganesha for us to see, and we listened to recordings of muezzins chanting when we studied the origins of Islam. We had learned of the Shinto creation myth with the gods Izanami and Izanagi, and even discussed Ancient Greek mythology, with the Titans and their successors, the Olympian Gods. So, having Satanism given a moment wasn’t really that wild of a thing. However, it seems that a number of the students told their parents about my theatrical event, and they called the principal in high dudgeon. He taught only one class: philosophy. His liberal Jewish perspective was not constrained by any sort of reactionary conservatism. We were all fortunate back then to have a prevailing advocacy of freedom of expression.

The subsequent week I was asked to “take a walk with the principal,” and as we strolled outside the school building, he explained that there had been complaints about Satanism being presented. I said that it seemed a proper thing to do, as the Church of Satan was a real thing, even though only 8 years in existence, whose belief system was rational and that people might not understand that point. Allowing for it to be seen through me—one of the class’s most exemplary students—was, I offered, entirely fair. And, he agreed with me! But, he said that he’d prefer, if I ever did something similar, to provide a heads-up in advance, so that students who might find it offensive could decide not to participate. I countered that I was not given such a choice when the Jesus Freak folks did their presentation, but would respect his request.

I did, however, have additional chances to have some diabolical fun. I was a member of the National Honor Society due to my high grades, and I then took it upon myself to rewrite the initiation ritual so that is was more of a proudly Satanic proceeding, with hints of Ayn Rand’s individualism worked into the oath, which previously had been of a rather subservient and humble bent. No complaints followed that induction rite, performed with ceremonially lit red candles. Editing the bicentennial yearbook, and, with my valedictory address during the graduation ceremonies, I lobbed more secularist/individualist “free thought bombs” into the minds of those in the Monroe Woodbury Senior High—I was never the quiet type.

That schoolroom event of 1974 was the unofficial beginning of my representation of the Church of Satan, and I had found it satisfying. In 1973, at age 15, I had found a contact address for the Church of Satan in a San Francisco phone book’s “yellow pages” which I perused in Rockefeller Center during a trip to New York City. I wrote with high anticipation, though it took some time for a reply as my letter was referred from California to Priestess Lilith Sinclair, who then ran a Grotto in Spotswood, New Jersey, which was one of the closest operating Grottos to my home in the Hudson Valley. Lilith responded cordially and pointed out that I was too young to join, but she sent me some hand outs and said that I would receive reading lists for study and, as I got older, might eventually be allowed to meet with her and participate in some Grotto rituals on a limited basis. I took that as somewhat of an endorsement, so I felt confident in standing strong for Satanism. I later wrote back, but her PO Box had been closed, and so had the one for the Church of Satan, as follow-up letters were returned with a “BOX CLOSED” red stamp. It took years before I learned about the Michael Aquino departure to form the theistic Temple of Set, which had included Lilith amongst its small cadre of believers, thus explaining the mysterious cessation of those contact channels. It also took many years before I discovered that Dr. LaVey had melded my original letter with some other correspondence he had received to address some issues in his then currently published advice column, “Letters from the Devil.”

I later discovered Herman Slater’s shop, The Magickal Childe, and would eagerly visit it when I journeyed into, and later relocated to, Manhattan. There, I first found a Sigil of Baphomet medallion; though rather crude, it was such a joy to have and wear. Eventually, somebody posted a notice on the store’s bulletin board, saying he was a Satanist and hoping to correspond. I took down his address, and wrote to him. Although he lived a couple of states away and we did not meet, he did have a current mailing address for the Church of Satan…huzzah! I could finally re-establish contact.

My wife, Peggy Nadramia, and I joined the Church of Satan in 1982, and met Dr. LaVey in person by invitation soon afterward.”

My wife, Peggy Nadramia, and I joined the Church of Satan in 1982, and met Dr. LaVey in person by invitation soon afterward. We had waited until our successful college studies demonstrated our capabilities—that we had something worthy to offer the organization via our learning and talents. He told me during that first meeting that I was authorized to represent the organization—which was quite an energizing recognition. I began doing so via correspondence and with published articles. In 1988, Anton LaVey had endorsed me to do an episode of the Sally Jessy Raphael talk show, which was nationally broadcast on August 11th. Dr. LaVey was confident that I could handle this wide exposure, and he coached me to look “normal” but formal…to wear a gray suit, white shirt, and gray tie, but with the addition of a Sigil of Baphomet medallion. I finally had an official one, which was gleaming chrome! I was driven up to Connecticut in an oxblood colored limo for the taping. It was a silly show about “Hexes, Vexes, and Magic Spells” which included Dr. LaVey’s friend Art Lyons as “the skeptic.” There was a male Wiccan RN, and an older gentleman with a toupée who owned an occult shop where he sold potions and elixirs. It was primarily a bunch of hokum, but I did have the opportunity to speak about the Church of Satan and its ritual practices to a fairly vast audience. And it was a pleasure to spend some time chatting with Art, after the taping. He was an intelligent and articulate individual.

I bought a copy of the broadcast on VHS from the production company, and sent it along to Dr. LaVey, who was pleased. I was now on the road to many opportunities to speak on behalf of his philosophy and Church. Peggy and I were both ordained to the Priesthood of Mendes during a visit with Dr. LaVey in 1990, and in 1993 we were both given the fourth degree and told that we were a part of the Council of Nine. He made it clear that our representation, as well as our assistance with the administration, was on-target and fully supported.

When speaking to the media for interviews, there was often a great deal of hostility—only later would we call this time “The Satanic Panic”—and I had my work cut out, to remain cool and rational while wild accusations were leveled at me. I did numerous television and radio shows that were broadcast around the globe, with some brief appearances on radio being done two or three times a day during the height of that hysteria. While many of these were not preserved, I have recently looked amongst our archived materials and unearthed some taped appearances and interviews, on audio cassette and VHS, that I’m in the process of digitizing. These, or at least clips, will be posted on our website. Additionally, our intrepid Satanic Skeptic, J.D. Sword, has uncovered online a number of my printed interviews which he’s transcribed, so these are now posted in our “Interviews” section at Those were some wild times, regularly being treated like a pariah by journalists who bought into the sorts of anti-Satanist propaganda and negative stereotypes that Geraldo Rivera, Jerry Springer, and Morton Downey Jr., amongst many others, were then spewing.

2024 marks 50 years of me standing before the public and advocating for the Church of Satan and the philosophy of Satanism as codified by Anton Szandor LaVey.”

Upon reflection, this Eastertide of 2024 marks 50 years of me standing before the public and advocating for the Church of Satan and the philosophy of Satanism as codified by Anton Szandor LaVey. It has been a fascinating, and often exhausting, journey, with quite a few contentious encounters and, at times, positive international platforms to communicate “our thing” with accuracy, as well as, I hope, some grace and wit. I learned by doing it—trial by fire, most definitely! While other career paths had been open to me in the realms of art, music, technology, writing, and business management, it seemed to me that I was uniquely situated to be the one who would eventually become Dr. LaVey’s successor, and to keep his ideas alive and thriving. They had served me well, and I knew they’d serve others, too, to achieve their best selves in pursuits that were deeply fulfilling. I told him that I was committed to this task, and The Doktor appreciated that dedication and acknowledged my understanding of what he had wrought to be equal to his own. And he shared that estimation of Peggy as well, who made the same commitment, as she boldly pioneered our presence in the emerging Internet forums. We’ve made a potent team over the years. Being given full command of the Church of Satan by Blanche Barton—myself as High Priest in 2001, Peggy as High Priestess in 2002—was the realization of a potential Dr. LaVey had recognized when we first affiliated and then met two decades before. The organization has survived his passing, just before Halloween of 1997, and continued to flourish, a fountainhead of accurate information, and with landmark gatherings across the United States and abroad under our direction.

Author autographed hardcover copy of THE COMPLEAT WITCH from the collection of Magus Peter H. Gilmore. FYI—prospectus: a statement that forecasts the course or nature of something or someone.
Author autographed hardcover copy of THE COMPLEAT WITCH from the collection of Magus Peter H. Gilmore. FYI—prospectus: a statement that forecasts the course or nature of something or someone.

Soon Peggy and I will be attending a Spring concert given by a virtuoso local orchestra of graduate students at Bard College which will be performing Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 as well as that very Stravinsky work I used to support my presentation of Satanism five decades ago—Le Sacre du Printemps. And, as Magus and Maga, we persevere with bringing Satanism to our worldwide audience, of members and fellow seekers, offering an alternative to the stifling spiritual belief systems which seem to be having a toxic resurgence.

January of 2024 saw the debut of Scott Cummings’ film REALM OF SATAN—in which I am prominently featured, both seriously and humorously—at the Sundance Film Festival, a project that took nine years to be fully completed. Next, opening MoMA’s Doc Fortnight 2024, this cutting-edge form of collaborative documentary was highly lauded and will propagate over the course of this and coming years to additional festivals, streaming services, and physical media. This singular portrait of the Church of Satan, capturing its creative members displaying their pursuits, both mundane and magical, exists as an effective means for the world to contemplate contemporary Satanism. Communicating visually, rather than through didactic spoken words, our efforts found a visionary artist to assist in that task we embarked upon so long ago.

Through diverse avenues, our work is ongoing. With close to 70 years of holding true to our founder’s intentions, the Church of Satan’s carnal philosophy still touches like minds, fueling vital individuals towards self-realization of the highest order. And, Peggy and I vigorously cultivate our accomplished, brilliant members, exemplars of Anton Szandor LaVey’s philosophy, who will in time succeed us in keeping that Black Flame ablaze, in the minds and hearts of Satanists—from wherever they might originate.

Here’s to what has been done, and what shall be done…flesh without sin, Satanism without end!



Magus Peter H. Gilmore, High Priest of the Church of Satan

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LaVey Sigil