the devil’s field guide (part 2)

continued from “1969 – the devil’s field guide

Love, real love, and the alternatives

LaVey points out what should be obvious regarding self-interest. Satanism may be a “controlled form of selfishness”, but that doesn’t mean that you never help or assist others. If you care for another, their happiness will give you gratification. The Satanist is just honest about who and what they care for, and what their limits are. Put another way, Satanists have clear boundaries, and know that real love is not actually selfless, however much it is directed towards another. It is no less genuine for acknowledging a self is involved, and also key to the whole phenomenon.

For LaVey “loving everyone” means losing selectivity and discriminating awareness:

“the Satanist believes you should love strongly and completely those who deserve your love, but never turn the other cheek to your enemy”

Of course many people believe in positive regard for all people on some level, as a healthy psychological habit, but that doesn’t mean that they actually treat these people the same, and most people wouldn’t call this “love”. But LaVey considers repressed hatred to be the cause of many ailments, physical and otherwise, and his solution is very pragmatic:

“By learning to release your hatred towards those who deserve it, you cleanse yourself of these malignant emotions and need not take your pent-up hatred out on your loved ones”

Now I have some questions here: I know that some emotions, exercised over a period of time, can become toxic and ingrained, and hatred is one such emotion. But is this because of a lack of clean, harmless release, or is it just toxic anyway you look at it? Is hatred actually an impotent and frustrated response to perceived threat, which would otherwise be cathartic anger released as energy, if you weren’t so conflicted? This is not about getting a knife and stabbing someone, it’s about what you feel, usually in a situation where you do not have power of legitimized recourse (otherwise you’d be using that). In any case, being loaded with such feelings is clearly to be avoided. After all, why waste attention and energy going through the process of releasing something you can avoid acquiring in the first place?

LaVey notes that Satanism is often thought of as cruel and brutal, but this is because people prefer not to face human nature.

“Just because the Satanist admits he is capable of both love and hate, he is considered hateful. On the contrary because he is able to give vent to his hatred through ritualized expression, he is far more capable of love – the deepest kind of love”

By honestly admitting to both, the Satanist has no confusion between the two, and is more capable of deep love, with fewer hang ups. That’s the theory anyway. We’ll touch on more of this below, with his views on cursing.

 Sex

The Satanic view of sex is probably the part of the book which looks the most strikingly contemporary and ahead of its time. At a time when male homosexual acts were still illegal in Britain, and much of Wicca was hung over with homophobic esoteric “teachings”, The Church of Satan was perfectly clear on its support for consensual, adult sexual diversity. It’s this kind of clarity and courage (though few Satanists would see it as “courage” probably) which continues to impress me about Satanism.

The Satanic Bible was published at the end of the 1960s, during the supposed “sexual revolution”, before the dawning of the Age of Aquarius turned out to be a painted theatre prop. LaVey agreed with the sexual cause, but he wasn’t sure if people were really getting it. He points out that Satanism does indeed want sexual freedom, but it needs to be real, individual freedom. If you want to be monogamous or asexual, that should be your right. If you need many partners, or sadomasochism, likewise. It has to come naturally. But:

“Many of those who are constantly preoccupied with demonstrating their emancipation from sexual guilt are, in reality held in even greater sexual bondage than those who simply accept sexual activity as a natural part of life …”

An interesting observation of his time is that most “free-sex” groups are united in discouraging fetishistic or “deviant” activity. Kinda desperate to be free, but desperate to be “normal” at the same time. As he says, unless sexual activity is individually expressed, what’s the point?

Satanism condones any type of sexual activity which satisfies individual desires, and any fetish to enhance your sex life “so long as it involves no one who does not wish to be involved”, and further “so long as it hurts no one else“, but this doesn’t include the unintentional hurt felt by those who might not agree with your views on sex, due to their anxieties and morality, and nor does it include masochism. “Being offended” is not the kind of butt hurt that needs to be considered.

Imposing sexual desires on others who do not welcome your advances is an infringement of their sexual freedom, as it would be if done to you.

“Satanism does not advocate rape, child molestation, sexual defilement of animals” or any activity that violates consent, or takes advantage of the innocence or naivety of someone or something. This really illustrates that the Satanist’s sense of individual sovereignty does imply recognition of individual sovereignty in general, extended to other individuals, taking into account agency, responsibility and acknowledged boundaries.

“If all parties involved are mature adults who willingly take full responsibility for their actions and voluntarily engage in a given form of sexual expression – even if it is generally considered taboo – then there is no reason for them to repress their sexual inclinations”

Sexual standards, frequency of activity, number of partners etc, are an individual matter, and no society or person has a right to set limits on these things (the above considerations of consent and agency being taken into account). “Proper sexual conduct can only be judged within the context of each individual situation”. Seems like LaVey is still ahead of his time here.

LaVey also goes into some practicalities of relationship which are really very mature and sensible. He notes that there is a distinction between sexual love and spiritual love, and that ideally both are present in a relationship, but that it is relatively uncommon (I take that to mean having the optimum of both). This can leave needs unmet, and sometimes outside sexual activity or masturbation is healthy. The point is that couples can give each other sexual freedom out of genuine love for each other. This is also getting on to the areas we call polyamory nowadays. I think you could also extend this now to say that the spiritual aspects may be extended by love of someone outside the couple, not just the sexual, and this is not a sign of the failure of the primary relationship, if they truly love each other and have the emotional intelligence and honesty to embrace that, and it suits all involved. The number of times you hear of marriages coming apart because someone “strayed”, and their partner then took revenge on them, having demonized them, is saddening. But if you are not interested in knowing the real needs of your partner, and you have the kind of relationship where those needs can’t be discussed or validated, just how much “love” is there? There are more than a few righteous divorcers who could actually do with looking in the mirror, but religion all too often seals that deal with puritan malice and self-delusion.

LaVey felt that we needed to free ourselves from the sexual standards of our present society, including the “sexual revolution” of the time, otherwise we would be condemned to neurosis, to which I would add, and the suffering inflicted by a judgemental, vindictive, and still too common world view.

He defines Satanism as a “sensible and humanistic new morality” which can evolve our society, so that children can grow up healthy, “without the devastating moral encumbrances of our existing sick society”.

You gotta hope.

New Orleans “Lust is Life”. Shop sign in the tourist district of Bourbon Street by Flickr photographer siliconchaos / Robert Wallace (Flickr photo) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The opposite of compulsion

LaVey’s philosophy, as he would be the first to proclaim, is one of indulgence. Of course this is an adult philosophy (though it has regard for the individuality and rights of children, and Satanists are parents too), looking to a mature owning of responsibility, and is not suggesting that children should be spoilt for instance, but neither irrationally denied, and certainly not tortured with life denying religious doctrine. Essentially though, it seems to me that Satanism can only really be adopted consciously by adults, as achieving responsible maturity is part of the whole point of Left Hand Path philosophies, and children are by definition incapable of this.

So when we talk about indulgence, we are talking about adult enjoyment. But as LaVey makes clear, we have to distinguish indulgence from compulsion. One implies choice, whereas the other indicates a lack of choice. So addiction would not be indulgence in the Satanic sense.

The release of indulgence leads to a more creative and constructive life, though LaVey recognizes that some people need sublimation to achieve their full capacity, and a kind of resistance to work against. I think it is clear this isn’t the same as the overcoming of hardships which strengthens many people; life after all has an aspect of struggle and resistance to it, and that just has to be dealt with. But in terms of satisfaction of desires, people should be able to have that very fully if they wish, and have the opportunity, and have a balanced approach according to their own lights and experience.

This he views as leading to a healthier life, with fewer emotional hang ups.

Sacrifice, sovereignty and cursing

LaVey goes into some detail on the subject of “sacrifices”. As with a lot of conventional esoteric ideas, he doesn’t have much patience for them.

The traditional idea which he quotes (which I have indeed heard in the past) is that a blood sacrifice pushes the energy of the spilt blood into the atmosphere of the magical working. This isn’t a Satanic thing, it is a quite broad occult theory (though out of fashion as a practice), and outside of occultism blood sacrifice is certainly nothing new to mainstream religions (just think of Abraham and Isaac).

“combine this rationale with the fact that a dying creature is expending an overabundance of adrenal and other biochemical energies, and you have what appears to be an unbeatable combination”

But LaVey is scathing about this theory. He considers that if a magician is any good he will be “uninhibited enough to release the necessary force from his own body, instead of from an unwilling and undeserved victim!”. The magical force doesn’t lie in the blood for LaVey, but in the death struggle of the poor creature. Further he avers that this discharge of energy occurs with any profound release of emotion, eg orgasm, blind anger, terror, grief etc. The easiest to access are orgasm and anger, and he feels that the taboos on these has led to “white magicians” of the past resorting to sacrificing animals, which he find hypocritical and abhorrent.

On the subject of “human sacrifice”, he says that for a Satanist it is not for appeasing the gods, but is a symbolic destruction through cursing or hexing, which would lead to a form of physical, mental or emotional destruction. I part company with LaVey in considering this a “sacrifice”, I think it is just a curse, but then our perspectives are not identical. But note here again, LaVey believes in his magic, otherwise none of this would make any sense. He is never an unalloyed rationalist.

He considers this “sacrifice” to serve two purposes: releasing the magician’s anger, and getting rid of a deserving individual. So we are back to his moral themes of anger being a natural instinct for self-preservation, and the (selective) non-desirability of tolerance. Now I find this messy, for if the magic simply never works, then the former goal might be perfectly served, while if it is taken to work, then it confuses the two (which are not the same). I think you should have clear reasons for magic that make complete ethical sense to you (whatever that may be), and actually I think LaVey does too, but I find this muddy here.

He also takes the opportunity to restate his exoneration of animals and children, as he believes these are innocent and natural Satanists. “The purest form of carnal existence reposes in the bodies of animals and human children who have not grown old enough to deny themselves and their natural desires”, thus they are held sacred by LaVey. Further, he links the Satanist’s self-love and self-respect to never willfully harming an animal or a child. Again we see the sovereignty of the individual extended to a recognition of mutuality. It’s quite clear here that we have not just self, but self-in-others also (otherwise this would make no sense). The same principle is evident in attitudes towards sexual consent.

So my question is: ok, so we have sovereign selfhood, which we celebrate, defend and take responsibility for. But the destruction of a person involves a definitive violation of that sovereignty. A hefty psychic version of le slap is another matter. But saying of a curse: “it might trouble them, it might make them stop, it might make them think twice, it might really fuck them up, or it might kill them” is bizarrely indiscriminate and vague. It’s like saying “I have a weapon! might be a gun, might be poison, might be a pea shooter, might be a tank, might be a stiffly worded letter!”. If you don’t know what you are doing, how do you know it is appropriate or effective? How do you own it?

But let’s say this is just a very unpredictable area. In life there are times when a person probably would be prepared to kill to defend themselves or their loved ones (eg emergency self-defense under extreme and immediate threat), though no one wants to ever be in those situations. You’d think it needs to be really extreme, right? You wouldn’t think it is an area to be fuzzy about. Well LaVey, with all his vagueness about exactly what we are doing here, does have criteria as to who can reasonably be cursed in this way:

“Anyone who has unjustly wronged you – one who has ‘gone out of his way’ to hurt you – to deliberately cause trouble and hardship for you or those dear to you. In short, a person asking to be cursed by their actions”

He further goes on to say that people who pick on others are often misdirected masochists who want their own destruction. An insight he does have is that someone who is particularly vicious in striking out at you is often either afraid of what you represent, or resents your happiness. They are weak, insecure and vulnerable (to cursing). In short, they are a bully. LaVey advises us not to try and understand and excuse them, but instead bear in mind the damage they do, and curtail it. In that I do see his point.

“Therefore, you have every right to (symbolically) destroy them, and if your curse provokes their actual annihilation, rejoice … in ridding the world, of a pest!”

In LaVey’s view, it is bringing the consequences of their deliberate, interfering and abusive actions home to roost.

This is overall one of the less satisfactory parts of the book for me, due to the apparent lack of clarity. There are actual psychological implications for homicide (just ask the military), and I find LaVey’s dallying with this all a bit cheap. It hides behind the screen of “it’s hexing! maybe it’s real, maybe it isn’t, who knows if it’ll work?”. Well you should if you’re the bloody magician! Otherwise how can you take responsibility for your acts?

There are however issues here that can be teased out. If you actually went through the process of determining if someone was “deserving” of cursing, and worth the expenditure of energy involved, it would probably put a few things in perspective for you. You’d have to really think about your criteria, and you would actually let go of a lot, knowing that you had consciously evaluated your position of strength, and looked clearly at the supposed culprit. Some of the most damaging people in life are actually the “walking wounded” who are completely unaware of their capacity to hurt, and assume the worst of all in their self victimization. This is the opposite of that. Those who do deserve your defensive attention are not the kind of people you need in your life. But then who let them in to begin with? It’s all very well cleaning the cow dung off the living room carpet, but why do you arrange your life this way? Who has power here, and responsibility?

Satanists are not going to lay down moral laws for each other, because we are meant to be grown ups, and we all engage in our own ethical enquiry. But mental clarity and self-responsibility are adult life skills.

There is a lot of bluster in LaVey’s pronouncements at times, and sometimes an amount of ambiguity (eg the incidental possibility of this magic working). My view is that you have to make up your own mind as to how you balance your and other people’s individual sovereignty when challenged, not with sentimental or traditional morality, but with clarity and whatever original insight you might have gained.

to be continued

one of the best Hammer movies ever, but not a Satanic sacrifice

one of the best Hammer movies ever, but not a Satanic sacrifice – screen capture from YouTube clip of “The Devil Rides Out”

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8 Comments

  1. Pingback: 1969 – the devil’s field guide | Summer Thunder

  2. Pingback: the devil’s field guide (part 3) | Summer Thunder

  3. Hey. Finally getting to read your Devils Field Guide posts (was waiting for you to finish them).
    I’ll just want to add that I think the reason LaVey took a rather vague/muddy approach to the effectiveness of magical vengeance is because he didn’t want the burden of a debate on taking “divine justice” on ourselves. By the way he words it he implies( I think) that ideally, anyone should be able to morally and ethically judge someone worthy of being destroyed.

      • it’s not something I can claim to have experience in Sean, so my comments are somewhat limited here 😉 The defensive-offensive on the other hand gets a “hell yes!” from me, as I do not want my space or my loved ones interfered with. There are a mixture of issues here, but a major one is entangled involvement with the object of the curse (definitely don’t want that), and the related issue of “lust of results” interfering, and causing a kind of neurotic entanglement with the process. But whatever, LaVey is quite right I think to say you absolutely *must not* have any feelings of remorse if you’re going to do this (and better to not even try if you do). The moral questions have to be decided clearly by the individual for themselves, and they then take responsibility for that decision. That’s an important thing, not for any ideas of “divine justice”, “karma” etc, but because one’s own *self-defined* ethical coherence is important for your self-respect in my view (and no one can dictate that to you).

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