the devil’s field guide – part 5

This is the concluding part of my review of LaVey’s Satanic Bible, which I began here. I’ll mainly be focussing on LaVey’s ceremonial and drawing a few things together, though if you want the full, published run down of his rituals you’ll need to look up the book itself, and it’s companion volume “The Satanic Rituals*”.

To back track, LaVey does talk about magic in the earlier parts of TSB, for instance defining its ethics according to the goals of the individual Satanist – ie that it is neutral and pragmatic.

This is a good time to look back at LaVey’s view on devils and Satan. He  gives some assorted background to them (with varying levels of accuracy), and what they mean to modern Satanists in his view. The original meaning of “satan” he gives as “the adversary” or “the accuser”, while “devil” comes from the Indian “devi”, meaning “god”, which is I think correct, aside from devi meaning “goddess”, deva being the masculine form. I used to hear the term translated as “shining one” by a number of esotericists and neopagans.

For LaVey:

“Satan represents opposition to all religions which serve to frustrate and condemn man for his natural instincts. He has been given an evil role simply because he represents the carnal, earthly, and mundane aspects of life”

And probably you could add to the first sentence: “and which serve to frustrate and condemn the individual for their authentic, individual perspective”, in opposition to supposed universal or natural law. Satanism was one of the first magical religions to fully embrace gay men for instance, way ahead of Wicca. LaVey does tend to return to carnality repeatedly, even as he tends to harp on blasting enemies at times, but it does go deeper than that. You can see why Satanism would be an attractive option for some people. It is not for everyone, but I do think that a “satanic” approach is the best for some, and an essential part of the spiritual ecosphere, whether it is labelled “satanic” or not. “Left Hand Path” would be a broader term of reference, but however it is termed, we need a way of breaking through the political and moral garbage, the consensual conformism, and the subjugation of the individual (the actual recipient of all direct experience) that conventional spirituality almost always involves at some level, depending on who you are and who you “bank” with, at what price socially or individually.

He dismisses the idea of “circle protection” as hypocritical, as:

“To the Satanist, it seems a bit two-faced to call on these forces for help, while at the same time protecting yourself from the very powers you have asked for assistance.”

It could be noted that there are other reasons for casting circles (and protection could just be a practical issue with some energies), but circle work is indeed dispensed with in his scheme, which he considers a better way of allying yourself with the forces you are working with.

Intellectual Decompression

Throughout the book LaVey presents Satanism as a rational philosophy, made for (and by) an animal with more than rational needs. The path from the rational to the (controlled) non-rational is ritual, which he characterises as intellectual decompression. Ritual can be solitary or group, each of which have their own advantages. A group ritual gives more of a reinforcement of faith and “an instillation of power”. It renews confidence in the power of magic. Furthermore, while his philosophy is very individualistic, it isn’t intended to be solitary by him, as he considers solitary religion to be in some regard self-denying, and this self-denial brings a person closer to anti-social behaviour in his view.

“It is for this reason that the Satanist should attempt to seek out others with which to engage in these ceremonies”

This is an interesting point for people to consider, and it’s interesting to note that LaVey is critiquing being too much of a loner (specifically spiritually), and looking to avoid “anti-social behaviour”. Of course our forms of social interaction have changed considerably since 1969, and with the internet people can be solitary yet connected at the same time to others, while the field of magic, witchcraft and alternative spirituality is probably now dominated by people following solitary paths, but I think it remains a good point. Better to go your own way rather than follow the wrong path for you, but better still to find “good company” for yourself, if it is genuinely available.

LaVey thinks that things like destruction rituals are better suited to group work, as he thinks the sharing of anger to be relatively unembarrassing. Certainly expressions of group anger are socially quite acceptable in our society, whereas group grief, and (especially) group lust are more likely to be devalued or demonized. That really does say something about our society, and what it finds useful in people.

We can note again here that LaVey’s ritual is very emotional, in fact floridly and deliberately so. But for these reasons he thinks compassion and sex rituals are better suited to private ceremonies. You could probably question his view on this, and work with it, under the right circumstances though. But a person can’t be self-conscious in the ritual chamber (unless it was itself part of a sexual kink for instance).

Whether group or solitary however, standard invocations etc are used. Personalized parts can then be sandwiched between the standardized beginnings and endings. “The formalized beginning and end of the ceremony acts as a dogmatic, anti-intellectual device”, dislocating the ritual chamber from the outside world. Ritual acts as a “training school for temporary ignorance”, in order to expand the magicians will.

The Ritual

I’m not going to go into all the details of LaVey’ general purpose ritual here, as you can find it all in his book,  so I’ll just touch on some points.

The ritual forms a coherent whole, with a beginning, middle and end, the actual magical working forming the centre of it. As noted above, there is no “protective” or circle casting element, though there is what LaVey calls a “purification of the air” by the ringing of a bell.

The focus is the “symbol of Baphomet“, which is borrowed from Stanislas de Guaita in fact, and the altar which is placed in the west. This is an unusual position for an altar in most forms of magic, where it is usually in either the east or the north. In the east it is in the place of the rising Sun, and the element of air (or fire sometimes). In the north it is the direction associated with earth, darkness and mystery, as well as the Pole Star (in the Northern Hemisphere, South of the equator north is the direction of noon of course). LaVey may be doing this in order to “throw” the associations and go against orthodox form, or he may be taking the place of the setting Sun as associated with the coming of night (and thus the powers of darkness), but he doesn’t actually say. West is still associated with water in his scheme, and with the serpent Leviathan, whose name is also written around the  Baphomet symbol in Hebrew. Is he enshrining the emotional power, desire and imagination of the element of water as key to his view of magic? I really don’t know.

The “invocation to Satan” starts with commanding “the powers of darkness” in the name of Satan, who is characterized as “Ruler of the earth” and “King of the world”. At the same time it seeks to call forth the powers of Hell, as their brother or sister. It asks for the things the magician will request, and affirms a vital alliance of being and nature between the magician and the personified forces involved. It affirms the certainty of the magician’s power, and then calls forth the demons/gods seen as appropriate (LaVey gives a list of names from demonology and Pagan lore which he recommends).

It’s a bit of a mixture as an invocation, but it does more or less progress from welcoming, to supplication, to identification and union with the forces involved, to empowered affirmation, though some of it is a bit back to front in order, and it is very short.

There are elements of communal sharing of wine, and asperging, which add to the communal “religious” form of the ritual. There is also a calling forth of the “crown princes of Hell” at the four directions, similar to a calling of the quarters, as each direction is also associated with an element (consistent with common western magical tradition, eg east-air, north-earth etc), but starting with Satan at the south and progressing counter-clockwise to Leviathan at the West. This is not a banishing, so it is unusual on two counts, for the starting and end point (ending up at the west again), and the direction in what is essentially an invocation. This dislocates the ceremony from common esoteric tradition, which may be LaVey’s intention.

The heart of the ritual is the magic that brings about the fulfilment of the participants. There are separate instruction given for each of the three ritual intent categories that LaVey identifies, but they all conclude in climactic outpourings of energy (orgasm, genuine tears, rage etc), followed communally by the priest reading aloud the requests and/or burning their written forms. The requests are followed by the exclamations “Shemhamforash!” and “Hail Satan!”. “Hail Satan” seems fair enough, but “Shemhamforash” is actually a Hebrew reference to the hidden name of God (a bit like “tetragrammaton”), thoroughly monotheistic, and LaVey’s use of it is puzzling, unless he just thought it sounded impressive! It makes no good sense to me though.

Concluding the ritual, an “appropriate” Enochian call is recited “as evidence of the participants’ allegiance to the Powers of Darkness”. Enochian is a “language” originating with the Elizabethan magician John Dee and his medium Edward Kelly, who considered it an “angelic” language of non-human origin, and while magicians often claim it has a genuine syntax and vocabulary, some linguists have counter-claimed that it has elements more commonly found in glossolalia (“speaking in tongues”), and the syntax it retains is closest to English (Dee and Kelly’s own language). I think LaVey was using it for its emotional effect, and its “barbarous” qualities in inspiring the mood and consciousness of the reciter and listener, though he was taking it quite out of its original context. In a sense it is the Latin to his Mass, though he has hijacked it from Dee and Kelly. I’ll take a closer look at his use of “Enochian” below.

After this is complete, a bell is rung, and the priest says the words “SO IT IS DONE”. And with that, the ritual is over.

Assorted points

The altar in LaVey’s scheme is ideally a naked woman, of which he says:

“Satanism is a religion of the flesh, rather than of the Spirit; therefore an altar of flesh is used in Satanic ceremonies”


“A nude woman is used as the altar in Satanic rituals because woman is the natural passive receptor, and represents the earth mother”

This is the classic idea of a “Satanic altar” as propagated in 19th and 20th century art and literature, and having a naked human being as an altar has an obvious appeal and impact for a sex-positive and fleshly religion, but if for instance the congregation was largely gay male, this would really be nothing but high camp, and quite ineffective in that case. So I would think it better for the altar to be whoever suits the participants. As for being the “natural passive receptor”, well that might technically be true in terms of procreation, but not in any other sense necessarily, and LaVey’s Satanism is about indulgence, not making babies. The “earth mother” comment could have come from any Jungian influenced psychobabbler since the 1950s, and indeed here LaVey is for once sounding like a Pagan hippie. I can think of some men who would make wonderful altars, and I think it is up to the Satanists themselves as to what suits them.

On a related note, LaVey’s comments on clothing seem a little dated. The men wear black, cowled robes etc (ok), while the women wear suggestive garments that might arouse the men (unless they are older, in which case they go with black as well). Arousing sexual energy I can see as a good thing, but why only the energy of the men (though display can be arousing for the dsplayer as well of course)? But really, why not maximise everyone as a source of sexual inspiration? One thing that could be sensible though is the wearing of masks, which can help with disinhibition, and also might add to the surreal or sinister aura of the ritual.

The symbol of Baphomet is a subject that LaVey goes into a bit, with fanciful excursions to the Goat of Mendes (who was actually a ram in fact, though I will always love this term thanks to Dennis Wheatley), and the Knights Templar. He says that this symbol represents “the Powers of Darkness combined with the generative fertility of the goat”. The Hebrew characters circling the face of the goat spell out “Leviathan”, who is “the serpent of the watery abyss, and identified with Satan”. We can certainly thank LaVey for rescuing this symbol from obscurity and turning it into a definitive symbol of modern Satanism. As I stated before, its original form (with the addition of the names “Samael” and “Lilith”) can be found in La Clef de la Magie Noire by Stanislas de Guaita, published in 1897. The Church of Satan details their derivation and use of the symbol here. They certainly gave it its place in the modern world.

The Book of Leviathan

And so we come to the art of verbal invocation according to Anton LaVey.

“If the magical ceremony is to employ all sensory awareness, then the proper sounds must be invoked”

He considers emotional experience to be primary here, and he says that his invocations are here designed as “proclamations of certainty”.

We have already mentioned his invocation to Satan, and in the separate invocations he uses for the three ritual intentions the language is theatrical, melodramatic and draws in part upon a broadly sci-fi/horror sensibility which is quite delightful.

In the lust ritual it is directed towards influencing the mind of the target.

In the destruction ritual again, the object is to influence the mind and psyche of the target. Various deities are called upon in both these invocations (which really act only in part as invocations in the classic sense).

The compassion ritual seeks protection, strengthening, citing comradeship in the Left Hand Path. It seeks revivification and healing, neutralisation of adversaries, and liberation in joy and strength.

LaVey’s Enochian

LaVey says that he used Enochian as the magical language of the Satanic Bible. He claims that the “angels” of the work are in fact “angles”, and that the work forms a window to the “fourth dimension”. In should be noted that this seems quite contrary to anything Dee himself wrote¹.

LaVey gives his own translations “with an archaic but Satanically correct unvarnishing”, though I think “unvarnishing” would be a bit of a euphemism. Even a cursory glance at his keys shows his substituting the name of Satan etc for other words where it suits him, so it may be that he really considers this to be the real “essence” of the keys (correcting for Dee and Kelly’s Christianising), but just as easily could be that he found enochian a good material to flesh out his rituals with, so he adapted it to a “Satanic” form. What is in little doubt is that Dee and Kelly would have disagreed with him, and if LaVey was as much of a materialist as he claimed, you would think that they as originators of the keys would be the authority, unless he actually believes that enochian was a real, pre-existing language of supernatural origin, and Dee and Kelly just got it wrong. But LaVey clearly has a genuine interest in the magical and paranormal, so there is a good deal of “wiggle room” here. Given LaVey’s tricksterish lilt in much of the book, it could of course be that enochian had the requisite aura and form to inspire awe, complete with magical associations, and so LaVey wove it into his performance. In the intellectual decompression chamber it all becomes “real”, and his patter softens up the mind for better participation. It wouldn’t be the first time a magus has told fibs in order to facilitate an experience.

We can take a simple look at one of the shorter keys:

18th key (LaVey):

Ilasa micalazoda olapireta ialpereji beliore: das odo Busadire Oiad ouoaresa caosago: casaremeji Laiada eranu berinutasa cafafame das ivemeda aqoso Moz, od maoffasa. Bolape como belioreta pamebeta. Zodacare od Zodameranu! Odo cicale Qaa. Zodoreje, lape zodiredo Noco Mada, hoathahe Saitan!

18th key – phonetic translation as per

Ilasa micalazoda olapireta ialpereji beliore: das odo Busadire Oiad ouoaresa caosago: casaremeji Laiada ERANU berinutasa cafafame das ivemeda aqoso adoho Moz, od maoffasa. Bolape como belioreta pamebeta. Zodacare od Zodameranu! Odo cicale Qaa. Zodoreje, lape zodiredo Noco Mada, hoathahe IAIDA.

So we can see that LaVey is (mercifully) providing the phonetic versions of the keys, and these are very faithful here, apart from the substitution of “Saitan” (Satan) for “IAIDA” (discrepancies highlighted in red here).

Now we come to the English translations:

18th key (LaVey):

O thou mighty light and burning flame of comfort!, that unveilest the glory of Satan to the centre of the Earth; in whom the great secrets of truth have their abiding; that is called in thy kingdom: “strength through joy,” and is not to be measured. Be thou a window of comfort unto me. Move therefore, and appear! Open the mysteries of your creation! Be friendly unto me, for I am the same!, the true worshipper of the highest and ineffable King of Hell!

18th key – English translation as per

O you mighty Light and burning flame of comfort which opens the glory of God to the centre of the earth, in whom the Secrets of Truth 6332 have their abiding, which is called in thy kingdom Joy and not to be measured: be you a window of comfort unto me. Move and show yourselves: open the Mysteries of your Creation: be friendly unto me: for I am the servant of the same your God, the true worshipper of the Highest.

We can see that there is a lot more discrepancy here, and given that the only enochian differences in the keys are the words “IADA” (highest) and “Saitan” (Satan presumably), there is quite a bit of interpretive licence in play. “Busadire Oiad” would be translated as “glory of God” according to this enochian dictionary, but LaVey translates the same words as “glory of Satan”. So whereas he substitutes the name “Saitan” for the enochian word for “the Highest” at the end of the key, at the beginning he just takes the word for “God” to mean “Satan”. On the other hand “for I am the servant of the same your God” becomes “for I am the same!”. The word “Noco” can be translated as “the servant” or “the minister”, and “Mad” translated as “of God” or “of your God”, but while the enochian is in LaVey’s phonetic version (“Noco Mada”) it is missing from the English, giving “for I am the same”.

Looking at the twelfth key, it follows very much the same pattern of largely faithful phonetic transliteration (with key substitutions), but with a “Satanically” skewed English translation. So, without going through every key with a fine-tooth comb, I think it would be fair to say that the phonetic translations alter the originals to a minor degree (eg a single name), while the English translations stray further and give LaVey’s version, significantly removed from the consensus interpretation of the originals.

But as LaVey says:

“In Enochian the meaning of the words, combined with the quality of the words, unite to create a pattern of sound which can cause tremendous reaction in the atmosphere. The barbaric tonal qualities of this language give it a truly magical effect which cannot be described”

And in subjective terms this is very likely true, and may well work within the context of LaVey’s usage. What LaVey has done is tailor the meanings to his own sensibilities, and he feels he has purged them of an overly pious meaning, more in tune with their true essence. This would of course be anathema to any orthodox scholar of Enochian magic (strictly speaking, he is not even using the original keys in the examples I looked at), but that isn’t really his concern. It just has to work for him.

Personal Conclusions²

LaVey’s views on magic contain a good deal of common sense and worldly practicality, though as with much of his writing, it is filtered through his own sensibilities, and sometimes these seem weighted on the side of aggression, at least to me. His approaches to magic and ceremony I think do foreshadow Chaos Magic in his pragmatic relativism and iconoclasm. He is a contradictory figure in some ways: a scathing materialist with an obvious belief in magic, a seemingly alienated individualist who implicitly reveres “Nature”, a decrier of esoteric “mystery mongering” who weaves obscure Elizabethan magic into his system. But that is part of what makes him fascinating. And indeed, contradiction, apparent obfuscation and folly are all part of the archetype of the “Magus” in some ways (but for a purpose).

My own approach to magic is quite different to LaVey’s, apart from anything else being polytheistic, so I am unlikely to use his forms too directly (and I am too old a dog to be doing other than my own work). I do admire him though for what he has done, both in experimenting according to his own interests, and in essentially founding an entire modern movement, which can be seen reflected to different degrees in the whole of modern Satanism, wider aspect of the modern Left Hand Path, and even in Demonolatry.

He may sound at times like the Boney M of ceremonial magic, but that just makes me like him even more. Disco, after all, was way more revolutionary than the people who looked down on it. LaVey might not have the subtlety of Austin Osman Spare or Rosaleen Norton, but he understood the importance of the individual, the imagination and feeling, and the place of the infernal in magical inspiration. And he didn’t mind offending people.

I owe him one.

demon brother5

Anton LaVey in still (screen capture) from “Invocation of my Demon Brother” by Kenneth Anger via YouTube

* “The Satanic Rituals” hasn’t been reviewed in these post.

¹ at least as far as the “angles” versus “angels” issue [comment added 10th February 2016].

² this conclusion also takes in Part 4 [comment added 16th March 2016].


1 Comment

  1. Pingback: the devil’s field guide – part 4 | Summer Thunder

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