Anton LaVey – America’s Satanic Master of Devils, Magic, Music and Madness


Anton LaVey - America's Satanic Master of Devils, Magic, Music and Madness

by Walt Harrington, The washington Post Magazine, February 23, 1986


His Church of Satan has attracted thousands, including the late actress Jayne Mansfield. His Satanic Bible is widely read. He worships evil, all that is base, carnal, exotic and erotic in man, yet there is one central point in his world view that must be remembered: There is no God, there is no Satan: There is only Anton LaVey.

Is he kidding? He gets mad and we get the Mexico earthquake? The McDonald's massacre?

"Oh, we've spared no pains and we've spared no dough;
And we've dug at the secrets of long ago;
And we've risen to heaven and plunged Below,
For we wanted to make it one Hell of a show."

From The Circus of Dr. Lao One of Anton LaVey's favorite "Satanic" novels

IMAGINE SATAN AS A SENTIMENTAL, middle-aged guy running a seedy bar in San Francisco. The lighting in his tiny place is dim and dreamlike, as if you were walking through a thin, refractory mist where depth and focus are out of synch. Reach out to touch Gwen's knee and you miss, and must reach again, a few inches more this time.

She sags against the bar, nearly passed out, her legs splayed, her garters exposed, a puddle of urine on the floor beneath her. She's tired and wrinkled, sad to see. But Steve, the smiling sailor with her, is on a short shore leave from the war, World War II, and he's not tired at all. Across the room, Bonita, hard and cynical and confident in her fox wrap, tight sweater and peg skirt, glowers at his intentions. She's with Fritz, the cabbie.

Welcome to the Den of Iniquity, where proprietor and American High Priest of Satanism Anton Szandor LaVey is playing "Lover Man" on his old Hammond organ, its iridescent blue, red and green keys illuminating his bald head, goatee, quirky smile and missing teeth. As always, he wears black.

"I've known people who come in here and actually get nauseated," LaVey chortles.

The Den of Iniquity is not real - at least not real enough that you can walk in off a foggy street and buy a shot of Ten High. No, Gwen, and Steve, Bonita and fritz are LaVey's creations - polyurethane manikins molded with his own hands on his own kitchen floor. Down to the clothing, the jewelry, the posters and the Rock-ola jukebox, the Den of Iniquity is LaVey's magical warp in time, circa 1944. His basement tavern, he says, is more Satanic than a black mass.

This night, the Den of Iniquity also includes two real-life LaVey creations - Terry, 26, and Blanche, 24. Their hair is blond and styled in the way of the '40s. They wear tight dresses, seamed stockings, garters, spiked heels. They are Satanists, and the 55-year-old LaVey is their fashion adviser. He plays to them for hours: "Down on the Farm," "My Man," "It Had to Be You."

"I love old songs," says Terry, a shy woman who has never made friends easily. "They make me dream and escape. They don't play this kind of music anymore."

"Oh, they will!" assures LaVey. "They will!"

LaVey, a magus, or master of magic, is seeing to that - tonight and most every night he sits at his organ or his music synthesizers and imbues the atmosphere with magical vibratory frequencies. He believes they are changing the psyche of the world and creating a New Romantic, yet Satanic, revolution. You thought Linda Ronstadt's Nelson Riddle album made you don a tuxedo and go ballroom dancing, that Madonna made your daughter turn to black lace, that Pia Zadora made you rediscover Gershwin? No, the spirit of the devil did it - with a little help from LaVey, who deftly segues into "Ragtime Cowboy Joe."

"I can see the girl on the stage, twirling the lasso," sighs Terry. "Doctor, it makes me dream!"

And then the magic happens. In the infinite reflection of the mirrored walls it is, for an instant, impossible to tell which LaVey creations are human and which are humanoid: the hair, the stockings, the musk, the air of sordid romance, the clink of ice in a whiskey glass.

"I wish I was one of those dolls!" Terry says, lost. "It's like walking into the past. I wish I was one."

"It was a strong Satanic ritual," LaVey says of the bizarre evening as he heads to the Jack-in-the-Box for breakfast. "We had the right people and right moment. We were immersed, swept into another time, another place, another era. Time stood still. At the eye of madness and mystery."

IT'S BEEN 20 YEARS since Anton LaVey shaved his head and declared himself high priest of the Church of Satan. His was a pop diabolism, a Machiavellian atheism with cloven hoof.

"Satan is a symbol, nothing more," LaVey says. "Satan signifies our love of the worldly and our rejection of the pallid, ineffectual image of Christ on the cross."

LaVey believes in neither God nor Satan, and his Satanic "religion" is a parody of Christianity - with a heavy dose of magic, as in "Sorcerer's Apprentice" magic. But LaVey doesn't worship Satan. The devil is a symbol of man's carnal nature - his lust, greed, vengeance, but most of all, his ego, all drives LaVey says Christianity has unfairly labeled "evil."

But LaVey's Satanism also lashes out at the rubes who take the Ten Commandments seriously. Satanism, he says, is already the ad hoc reality: The strong, not the meek, inherit the world! LaVey, like anyone, loves his friends, wife and children. But there is a venom in his Satanism that goes beyond parody. Among his teachings: "Death to the weakling, wealth to the strong."

Two decades of Satanism have been good to LaVey. He collects classic cars and has several luxurious homes and a 185-foot yacht at his disposal. A follower pays his medical insurance. He's parlayed Satanism into a business consulting Hollywood horror-film makers on authentic Satanic ritual. He charges $100 a session for Satanic counseling and there are the royalties from his several books.

LaVey's religion of the darker side, however, does have a darker side. "What I have done is open a Pandora's box," he says. Since he founded his church, Satanism has come a long way: The devil has become rock music's nihilistic symbol and there have been the Satan-tinged murders - from Charles Manson to the Night Stalker.

"These people are not Satanists," says LaVey, eyes closed, voice a whisper. "They are deranged. But no matter how many they do, they'll never catch up with the Christians. We have centuries of psychopathic killing in the name of God."

LaVey, it turns out, is a law-and-order man. He hates rock music - with or without Satanic lyrics. And he insists he's misunderstood. "The Catholics were once thought of as devils by Protestants. The Protestants were devils to the Catholics. The Jews were considered devils by both. The white man was considered a devil by the Chinese. The American Indian was considered a devil by the white man. Now who really is evil? Who is to say who is evil?"

Anton LaVey is not a cartoon Satan. He's far less frightening than you might imagine, because he is admittedly a carnival hustler. Yet he is still terrifying, because he touches, if not the mystical darkness, then the psychological darkness - the hate and fear - in us all. And because he, sadly, knows a haunting truth: Everybody wants to feel better than somebody.

LaVey is a junkyard intellectual, a philosopher of the sordid, a savant, an ingratiating and funny man. He's a man who could find no faith, until he discovered magic. But Anton LaVey worships only Anton LaVey. His religion is egotism - and his church, his Den of Iniquity, his dolls, his women are shadows of that ego. And that, as LaVey would say, is truly Satanic.

Saturday nights the young LaVey played the organ to a male crowd at the carnival sex shows; Sunday morning he played the same organ for the same men - now with their wives and kids - at the evangelist's tent.

IT'S A HARD WINTER in San Francisco and LaVey's house, with shades always drawn, is dark and cold - cold as, well, cold as a tomb. But sit down in Rasputin's sled chair and relax, thumb through LaVey's collection of girlie calendars: "A uniquely American artform," he says. Look closely at the Jivaros shrunken head from Ecuador or examine the Aztec knife that once cut hearts from human victims or study the torture hook from the Inquisition. "All done in the name of religion," he laughs.

LaVey wears a black ascot with his black shirt and slacks and relaxes in the eerie glow of the purple siting room, where he explains the magical power of being different, for difference's sake.

"The word 'occult' simply means hidden or secret," he says. "Go to the record store, to the corner where no one else is, where everything is dusty and nobody ever goes. Mussorgsky's 'Night on Bald mountain' is mystical music, dramatic, Gothic, satanically programmed music. But it's not occult music. 'Yes, We Have No Bananas' would be an occult tune.

"It's occult because when you put that record on the turntable, it's a lead-pipe cinch that there is not another person in the entire world who is listening to that record at that time. If there's anything, any frequency, any power that exists anywhere in this cosmos, in this universe, you're gonna stand out like a beacon! It truly makes you elite."

LaVey's house must beam like a zillion watts. It's a museum of the weird. On the Victrola is the "The Love Nest Medley Fox Trot." His collection of such odd melodies runs into the thousands. He loves Irving Berlin's "Stay Dow here Where You Belong," in which the devil proclaims: "You'll find more hell up there than there is down below." And don't forget the classics: Liszt's "Mephisto-Waltz" and Saint-Saens' "Danse macabre."

Are freaks your interest? LaVey has hundreds of production stills from the 1932 film "Freaks." It did poorly, but he likes it because the freaks eventually overpower their "normal" prison keepers.

All of this is a long way from the day 17-year-old Anton LaVey ran away from home to work as a cage boy for circus lion tamer Clyde Beatty. LaVey later became a carnival mentalist and hypnotist, then a bump-and-grind organ player for a stripper named Marilyn Monroe. His friends in those days were hustlers , con men, and carny freaks. He recalls once going to the store with three-eyed Bill Durks, who wore a cap to hide the eye in the middle of his forehead. Said the man at the checkout: "What's a matter, buddy, ya embarrassed to take off your hat?" So Durks did - the man got sick and had to be helped away. "He had it coming!" laughs LaVey.

It was a world turned upside down: Saturday nights the young LaVey played the organ to a male crowd at the carnival sex shows; Sunday morning he played the same organ for the same men - now with their wives and kids - at the evangelist's tent.

In the '50s, LaVey left one seedy world for another, becoming a San Francisco PD crime scene photographer. Yet his growing obsession with magic also led to the "Magic Circle" gatherings at his home, and the flamboyant showman LaVey became a gossip column staple.

The Church of Satan seemed like more carny biz: Nude women sprawled atop a Satanic altar, black masses, scarlet robes, horned caps, the blasphemous cries of "Hail Satan!" - much of it available for film at 11. It was a freak show. But then, in 1967, LaVey performed a public Satanic wedding: Fifty reporters attended and the Los Angeles Times ran a front-page photo.

Presto, Satan had his first mass media minister - a minister who didn't even believe in Satan! But the Christian view of the devil as pure evil was, ironically, a media magnet: Life, Look, Time, McCall's, and hundreds more told the story. Jayne Mansfield joined the church. LaVey played the devil in Roman Polanski's movie "Rosemary's Baby" - and presto, became a Satanic consultant to Hollywood. He published The Satanic Bible, now with more than 500,000 copies in print. He did Johnny Carson. As a favor to Mansfield, he put a curse on her lawyer - who soon was dead in a car accident. Unfortunately, Mansfield died with him. The tragedy only spread LaVey's legend.

But the weirdness also began. The church was popular with Hell's Angels, Nazis and sex-starved men. There were death threats against LaVey, and his daughter was harassed at school. Suddenly, the Satanic circus was no fun anymore. So in the '70s, LaVey went underground, stopped all public ceremonies, recast his church as a secret society - and pushed deeper into his private world of "madness and mystery."

Today, the man is seriously arcane. He collects not only old records, but Horatio Alger books, Satanic artifacts and "Satanic" movies that portray man's darker side as tragically heroic. "The most Satanic film character ever?" asks LaVey. Perhaps Edward G. Robinson in "The Sea Wolf," which opens at a page from John Milton's Paradise Lost: "Better to reign in hell, than serve in heav'n." Or Walter Huston as the cynical prospector who keeps his decency in "The Treasure of Sierra Madre" while that of naive Humphrey Bogart disintegrates in greed. Or the benignly deluded Peter O'Toole in "The Ruling Class," in which he believes he is Christ until his aristocratic family convinces him it's more respectable to be Jack the Ripper.

"My all-time favorite quote is novelist Somerset Maugham: 'If only the good were a little less heavy-footed,' " says LaVey, who is forever reaching for this or that quote, turning to just the right page and reading it aloud. He reaches fro a Maugham biography and quotes him again: " ' I had Rev. Davidson rut in bed with Sadie Thompson in "Rain" ... Some said I had set back missionary endeavors around the world a hundred years...Actually, Rev. Davidson was closer to spirituality in bed wildly fornicating with Sadie Thompson than at any time in his life.' "

That, in a nutshell, is the philosophy of Anton LaVey.

THE PURPLE ROOM IS SO COLD tonight that everyone wears overcoats. It's 3 or 4 in the morning, but a few Satanists have dropped by - Terry, Blanche and Gene, a close LaVey friend and the owner of an auto repair garage. Like the Den of Iniquity, the tiny, freezing room is oddly disconnected from any mooring outside itself.

The evening's topic is the abundance of fools in the world, and LaVey goes to the shelf for his collection of photo essay books on Middle Americans - books that seem to tell more about the people in the purple room than they do the people in the pictures. LaVey sits in his recliner, in black shirt and lavender tie, gold loop earring in his left lobe. He leans over the coffee table, his books and his guests spread before him.

"It's really depressing," he says in his raspy whisper. In the dim, reddish light LaVey resembles Christopher Lloyd as the whacked-out genius in "Back to the Future." "The paper tablecloth. The Tide box. The metal folding chairs. Wonderful! The good life!"

His friends pick up the theme and begin to poke fun at the pictures of people in their Military Order of the Louse fraternal uniforms, the people sitting in their tacky living rooms, the people smiling gawkishly from every imaginable vacation boardwalk.

LaVey thumbs the pages of Michael Lesy's Time frames, a heartfelt social biography of average American families, although LaVey doesn't see it that way. "Who would read a whole book about these people's lives?" he asks. "Yes, it's very Satanic. You know why? Because the average person thinks that his life means something, that people will give a crap about it. This guy has taken real nonentities, people who nobody would give a crap if they ever lived or died. It's satanic because it comes full circle. It's not just dignifying them. It's like putting the microphone in front of the drunk. It's really being sadistic."

"It's like The Circus of Dr. Lao," Blanche says.

"It really is," says LaVey, and he goes to the shelf for a passage from the obscure 1935 novel by Charles G. Finney, a scene in which the widow Mrs. Howard T. Cassan visits Dr. Lao's mystical circus and insists on hearing her future from Apollonius, a fortune teller who must forever speak the truth: "And for all the good or evil, creation or destruction, that your living might have accomplished," Apollonius tells her, "you might just as well never have lived at all."

"The pretentiousness of these people!" LaVey says angrily. "Thinking that their little, petty, insignificant lives really have some effect in the scheme of human existence. I mean they're lumps. They're cyphers."

The other day LaVey talked about a man at the Jack-in-the-Box, a man who walked in, pounded on the counter and then looked around with a goofy smile on his face. What would the world miss if he were dead? LaVey asked. If someone put a gun to his head and blew him away, who would care?

"They're not even zombies!" Blanche says. "Because they never had a life in the first place. They're just zeros! It's frightening."

At 4 in the morning, in a freezing purple room with a bald Satanist in a lavender tie and two Adele Jergens look-alikes, this bolstering of egos at the expense of everyone else seems suddenly far more sad and frightening than fat people in their Military Order of the Louse uniforms. It even seems evil.

"Satan is important as the accuser, the prideful angel," Gene says. "He was kicked out for thinking he could run things as well as the big guy. He is a symbol of the ego. And that's why these books are Satanic. They point the finger, act as a the mirror to humanity and say, 'Look, look at what you are! You are no better than this. And this is nothing.' "

LaVey whispers: "Behold your glorious handiwork, Brahma, Buddha, Christ. These are the people you have exalted."

Sociologists who have studied LaVey's church say its members often had serious childhood problems, like alcoholic parents or broken homes, or that they were often traumatized by guilt-ridden fundamentalist upbringings, turning to LaVey's Satanism as a dramatic way to purge their debilitating guilt. But another trait also seems to repeat: Satanists profess to believe that, except for themselves, the world is full of idiots and fools and chumps.

THE FILE CABINETS are overflowing with church applications ($100 for a lifetime membership) and Blanche works full-time keeping up with them - plus the mail, the updating of LaVey's books, the selling of Church of Satan medallions ($50), the typing and mailing of his 2,000 circulation newsletter, The Cloven Hoof. The Macintosh computer helps.

Blanche pulls out stacks of church membership applications, which include questions on everything from sexual preference to favorite jokes to political philosophy. Among the applicants:

A 49-year-old former Catholic nun from the South. She is a lesbian who enjoys Rod McKuen and Maurice Ravel, Abbott and Costello, Bruno Bettelheim and Sherlock Holmes. She is a substitute schoolteacher. Of LaVey's Bible, she says: "It speaks to me and touches me like few written pieces. I want my anger expressed. I want to finally be real with myself."

The applicants seem so normal, so mundane - like the neighbors in "Rosemary's Baby": the office manager from Beverly Hills, the musician from Chicago, the plumber from Indiana, the retired Army sergeant from the South, the farmer from Nebraska: a photo shows him sitting on the couch with his wife and two children! These and a half-dozen Satanists who come and go through LaVey's home all say there is no anthropomorphic Satan with red suit, pitchfork and horns: He is a Christian myth to scare people into the pews.

But there are those who confuse myth and reality: The nice middle-aged woman who sat a few feet away on the couch the other night and said the devil - with horns and cloven hoofs - makes love to her in her dreams, sometimes gently and sometimes violently. She said she'd do anything for Satan, even kill.

Sociologists who have studied LaVey's church say its members often had serious childhood problems, like alcoholic parents or broken homes, or that they were often traumatized by guilt-ridden fundamentalist upbringings, turning to LaVey's Satanism as a dramatic way to purge their debilitating guilt. But another trait also seems to repeat: Satanists profess to believe that, except for themselves, the world is full of idiots and fools and chumps.

"They want to be different," says LaVey of his followers. "They feel different. They are different."

IT'S ANOTHER desperately cold night, but the whiskey helps. LaVey's vitriolic anger of the other evening has receded, and he's in a good mood, cracking jokes as he flicks switches on his bank of seven music synthesizers. They are set against a wall mural of the devil enveloping a city as its inhabitants sleep. Magic, LaVey explains, is always best performed while people sleep, because they are then most susceptible. So from his kitchen-cum-magical laboratory, LaVey has for five years, night after night, tried to change the world.

"My goal was to use music as a magical weapon to change the face of society - to provide new options through the New Romanticism." The rock revolution, he says, has meant the dominance of hostile, pounding music - the beat, beat, beat. "It's been the end of romance," he says. So LaVey decided music must return to an earlier, melodic time, to tunes that made people introspective , imaginative and nostalgic - the tunes, it just so happens, that were popular when Anton LaVey grew up. Magic, he says, simply taps the unrecognized energy of human emotion: love or hate, fear or joy - emotion is emotion. People able to unconsciously feel the emotional power in LaVey's nostalgic tunes are magical people. And they are his new elite.

Let the hard-rock fans with their Satanic lyrics live like the losers in "Escape From New York!" he says. With LaVey pouring magic into the ether nightly, he expects a younger generation of his superior romantic beings - people far less infected with Christian guilt than their parents - to flock to his Satanism.

"I don't believe in 'supernatural' magic," he says. "I believe in 'supernormal' magic, meaning that when certain frequencies are sent out into the ether they affect the human subconscious in much the same way that certain circus tunes make elephants march." LaVey then runs through a medley of "rain songs" - "Singin' in the Rain," "Let a Smile Be Your Umbrella," a dozen more.

"Putting this leitmotif together is magical because I'm the only one who knows it. It sets up a Jungian gestalt. It's called magical superimposition. It's like five characters waiting for a play: I provide the play." LaVey then heightens and sharpens secret magical tonal patterns that he has discovered through years of trial and error. "You get a lot of rain songs together, and imagine all the creative energy, amalgamated creative energy, that went into those songs. Combine that with the emotional energy I produce in playing it. If the audience is right, like the other night in the bar, I can do something very magical because of ego-circuitry."

Proof that magic works? LaVey knew Hatfield the Rainmaker! He saw it work! What is magic today will be science tomorrow, he says, when the effect of biochemical energy is finally understood. He sees proof of magic everywhere. Not just in the return to romantic tunes and nostalgic fashion, but in parking spaces conjured up on the street and good tables appearing suddenly at restaurants, not to mention the San Diego McDonald's massacre and the Mexican earthquake that resulted accidentally after LaVey vented some anger on the keys. He is like a faith healer who has seen too many miracles to doubt. "It's truly frightening," he says.

There is a long silence. What would you have said? Your cause-effect relationships are spurious? Your assumptions are pre-scientific? You've been under the sun lamp too long? You say he's crazy. Crazier than the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi who says Transcendental Meditation sends out frequencies that can shape world decisions? Crazier than Shirley MacLaines's reincarnation? Crazier than people who pray to God? Or people who pray to saints?

"I started out like Edward G. Robinson in 'Night Has a Thousand Eyes,' " LaVey says. "A carny mental act, a fraud. I believed everything was fixed, gaffed. Then, like Robinson, you start to get real flashes. Only if your life isn't full of miracles can you recognize the real miracle.

"Why are you here?" LaVey asks. "Why you, who liked the obscure Satanic movie, 'The Ruling Class?' What part in this little Jungian fugue do you have!?" And with that, LaVey has come a long way from 20 years ago when he set out to parody Christianity. Religious providence has been replaced with magical providence. He says: "Nothing happens without a reason."

Says LaVey's friend, Eastern University sociologist Marcello Truzzi: "If you wear a mask long enough, it starts to stick to your face. Then it becomes your face."

The Satanic rock lyrics, the Satanic movies, even the Satanic murders, he says, all grew from the Church of Satan.

IT'S OPERA NIGHT and downtown San Francisco is packed. LaVey says he will conjure up a parking spot and, yes, we park a single car away from the front door to a crowded Max's Opera Cafe, where, yes, a table opens up a few feet from the piano where they are singing "Hello, Bluebird" and "Time After Time." Magical songs.

"Sometimes I get so tired," says LaVey, perhaps made introspective by the music. "Like old man river."

For two decades LaVey has thumbed his nose at all things sacred and respectable. But getting older, he now craves begrudging respect from those he has flaunted. "Let's give credit where credit is due," he says. The Satanic rock lyrics, the Satanic movies, even the Satanic murders, he says, all grew from the Church of Satan. "Let's give me a little credit for having moved society - up or down - but for at least having moved it."

The passage LaVey read the other night from The Circus of Dr. Lao comes to mind: "And for all the good or evil, creation or destruction, that your living might have accomplished, you might just as well never have lived at all." It is this egotist's nightmare that haunts LaVey: Did I matter, did I call the tune, was I the ringmaster?

So LaVey created a mirrored reality, a Den of Iniquity in the mind, an upside down carnival reality where all freaks are heroic and all good burghers are nitwits, a reality that from every vantage reflected only his own ego, a true Satanic feat. LaVey smiles: "You are really beginning to understand me." But what about Blanche and Terry in their mawkish clothes and makeup? Aren't they props for your selfishness? LaVey laughs and quotes Dracula: "If you will fall down and worship me - consider, practice, allow yourself to be a reflection of my needs, decide to chose me as your master - it will literally free you to go out into the world and be free yourself."

And your glorification of hatred for people you don't even know, two-dimensional images in a book? "You can't blame me," LaVey says. "How can you respect people who will throw away a week's pay to win a plastic doll? What do I care what people think? I despise them!"

Don't you ever wonder about evil, though, about the old saying that the devil's best allies are those who don't believe in him? LaVey is quiet for a moment.

"Oh, yes, deep down I have my speculation that maybe there is a force I've tapped into, that I can extract. Oh, yes, I have doubts. But I hate to talk about these things. I mean, Jayne Mansfield's death was a strange thing! It was like 'Night Has a Thousand Eyes.' It was a hell of a coincidence! Time and space all coming together to merge like color transparencies. What ingredients contributed to this? These things are too much for coincidence. But still, I want to believe they are coincidences. I'm basically just a good, decent guy.

"When you ask me what if I came to believe there was some malevolent force, would I want to do it differently? The answer is no. It's too late. I wouldn't give them the satisfaction. Not when I see what they have done in the world. There'll be no deathbed confession." Not from Anton LaVey, not from the prideful angel. He is beyond redemption.


"America's Satanic Master of Devils, Magic, Music and Madness"
by Walt Harrington
February 23, 1986

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