a project

One thing I would like to do is cover some books which I think have unique value, though maybe aren’t considered by some “serious” occultists for varying reasons. Just as some books at the Left Hand Path end of things get avoided due to preconceptions, some at the more New Age end of things get ignored, when they actually have insights to offer. I think you should take what you find value in from any source you like, and not expect anything to provide everything for you. Finding your path is definitely an individual journey.

I’d like to start with Marion Weinstein‘s “Positive Magic“, which I know a lot of American Pagans rate, and I certainly do as well, even if I differ from her on her opinions on Crowley and Satanism.

There are different approaches to Magic, some much more amenable to the beginner as a form of self-help or life improvement than others. These don’t cover all aspects or types of magic of course, but they can still offer a great deal to people.

It might take a while to prepare this, but hopefully it will be on the blog reasonably soon.

I might also take a look at her book “Earth Magic” sometime.

Maybe expect a lighter approach from Uncle Dawg this year, we’ll see.



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 enochian.info

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 enochian.info

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].

the devil’s field guide – part 4

A tailpiece featuring one of Roger Bacon's devils with a grape vine by Harold Nelson. William Thoms, editor. [Public domain, Public domain, Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I am here finishing off some work I started last year, looking at Anton LaVey’s “Satanic Bible”, in this case focussing on its magic and ritual. I’ll be looking at his ideas around spell casting and types of magic.

The Book of Belial

You get the drift of this section from the subtitle: “The Mastery of the Earth”. It’s about getting what you want.

LaVey doesn’t take long to get into iconoclastic mode with respect to esotericism.

“The greatest appeal of magic is not in its application, but in its esoteric meanderings. The element of mystery which so heavily enshrouds the practice of the black arts has been fostered, deliberately or out of ignorance, by those who often claim the highest expertise in such matter”

He then goes on to claim that the essentials of ceremonial magic have been overlooked in favour of “scholastic mysticism”, and that the would be magician is often taken in by his own performance. Nevertheless, a magician might still act according to the principles of magic and get it to work in spite of that. What LaVey intends to do here is strip magic of its mystification and present what works. In this respect he again prefigures some of the attitudes and approaches of Chaos Magic, in his pragmatism, and his dismissing of baroque authority in favour of boiled down essentials, results, and what would later be termed “sleight of mind”.

He gives a definition of magic which takes Crowley’s very universal sounding one, and restricts it to the bringing about of those changes (according to will) which would not be achievable by normally accepted methods. It’s a bit of a messy definition, as magic (even in his description) can be used to bring about things that could be brought about by ordinary means, it’s just that they are not being brought about by ordinary means by you directly, in this case. But I get what he means: magic has to have that non-rational side to its “logic” of causation, however it appears on the outside, otherwise it wouldn’t distinctly be magic.

As LaVey says, magic can never be totally scientifically explainable (otherwise it wouldn’t be magic to us), but science has always been considered “magic” at one time or other.

LaVey rejects the classification of magic as “white” or “black”, which is actually common among most magical practitioners nowadays. He considers the distinction between “altruistic” and “selfish” magic to be hypocritical, as even those seeking to be altruistic are gaining a gratification from it. He considers it to be “a matter of taste” as to how one gratifies oneself. Everyone thinks they are doing the right thing. Indeed, if you look at the convolutions that the Catholic Church quite consciously went through, to cover up child abuse, you can see that “doing good” depends on who you are in the activity, and altruism can have some questionable expressions. He’s not really addressing the question of harm here, so much as moral judgement, though the previously clearly delineated principle of sovereignty of the individual can be called to mind here to clarify what he means. The Catholic Church behaved very un-satanically towards the children that its priests abused.

Types of Magic

In LaVey’s scheme there are two types of magic: ritual/ceremonial, and non-ritual or manipulative.

The purpose of ritual is “to isolate the otherwise dissipated adrenal and other emotionally induced energy, and convert it into a dynamically transmittable force”. This is an emotional rather than an intellectual activity, and any intellectual activity needs to take place before the ceremony. He also terms this “greater magic”.

Non-ritual or manipulative magic (“lesser magic”) he characterises as:

“wile and guile obtained through various devices and contrived situations, which when utilized can create ‘change in accordance with one’s will’

He says this used to be known as “fascination”, “glamour” or the “evil eye”. This is based upon using the command to look, and the attraction and holding of attention. The three methods he lists are sex, sentiment or wonder, or a combination of them, and a person has to decide which they can pull off, according to their attributes and the situation.

It is an interesting exercise to actually ask yourself (honestly) which of these categories you fall within, but there is something for everyone, of you want to apply yourself. On the other hand, insisting on using the wrong category is going to be a frustrating exercise in misdirection. What is interesting here is that I have know any number of people who have felt considerable chagrin at their (unnamed) inability to exercise a particular power in this regard, and it is clearly a sense of powerlessness they have (even if it is expressed as jealousy of another’s power), and this confirms LaVey’s view that this is a power issue. It is not “beyond the explanation of science”, but it is operating below the conscious radar. The irony for the frustrated is that if they identified their own area of power, they could maximise it, rather than fixating on what they lack. As LaVey says:

“Good looks are unnecessary, but ‘looks’ certainly are needed”

He also notes that odour is important: natural bodily secretions for sex, appeal to memories and nostalgia for sentiment, you get the idea.

Types of Satanic Ritual

LaVey’s magic (at least as presented in this paperback) has a definite feeling basis, as ritual is here divided up according to the basic human emotions it addresses and draws upon: sex (lust, sexual desire), compassion (for self or others) and destruction (anger, enmity).

Sex – this is basically a “love spell”, to create desire in another who you want, or to summon a partner to fulfil desire. He says you need to have a specific person or type in mind, strongly enough to arouse erotic feelings that can culminate in orgasm, in order for it to work. But it is also important to understand your real motivations. Working magic to build self-esteem and address a lack in your life would come under compassion most likely, so if that is expressing itself as a desire to have a sexual partner, it is still the former that is the real object, rather than sexual desire, and you have to be able to untangle that. Using the wrong ritual could lead to complications.

There are of course questions about the ethics of manipulating another, but it is worth bearing two things in mind here. One is that people are not automatons at the beck and call of the magician (and the fear of that amounts to a kind of superstitious megalomania on the behalf of the magician), and the other is that life is full of the give and take of what amount to charmings and manipulations, attractions and susceptibilities. We might like to think it is otherwise, and there are plenty of times we would probably prefer it not to be, but it is the stuff of everyday life. And yet again, one has to remember that nothing is actually for free, everything has consequences, and it is a matter of being prepared to take responsibility for the consequences of one’s actions. A Satanist still has to abide by their own sense of ethical coherence, and acknowledge the world they are contributing to; but it is genuinely up to them as a responsible adult.

Compassion – this is for the purposes of helping others or yourself, eg for health, domestic happiness, successful study etc. This is the stuff of most mainstream spell work in neopaganism nowadays, and probably with good reason, as it is an area with broad applications, and probably less complications. From the Satanic perspective it is not better or worse however, as you should be considering what has it’s justifiable place in an appropriate context.

Destruction – as you would imagine, basically the cursing department: “used for anger, annoyance, disdain, contempt, or just plain hate. It is known as a hex, a curse, or destroying agent”. He makes this sound quite casual and cavalier, but in fact a person has to have clear ideas about what justifies such a magical response. If you engaged in destruction rituals or spells for every person that annoyed  you, or earned your contempt, you would probably spend a great deal of time in the ritual chamber, and be a pretty toxic flavour of nutcase. Magic changes people, it does things to you, which is why you need good reasons. If you have genuinely good reasons for your magic, you will be strengthened. If not, you are going to experience complications, and quite possibly end up bound to crap, rather than freeing yourself of it. If you make mistakes, you are going to learn about it. Many people will probably never have need of a full blown curse.

Just as some spells that seem like they would be love or lust spells, are actually better served by a compassion working, there are many things that on the surface might seem like a cursing candidate that are actually defensive in nature, or freeing or banishing, and these would also be better served by a compassion ritual. Think of it this way too: how much do you really want to be bound to that person by the attention you are focussing on them? Like it or not, cursing is a massive focussing of attention and energy on the object of the curse, even if it is temporary (and it had better be temporary and without remorse), and though this is not my area of expertise, I would always first resort to a more nuanced, less involved approach. It’s not a joke, and to treat it as a joke is to regard your magic as a frivolous exercise.

My personal position is that if someone has intruded maliciously on my life, my first question is “how did I let them in?”. Second, “how did I not manage to protect myself from them so far?”. Thirdly, “how do I protect myself and push them out of my life effectively?”. I basically don’t want to know about such people, and I don’t want involvement with them, and I want to learn how to avoid this in future. The psychic version of “le slap” is not a curse in my book, and neither is banishing, that is just defending my space and keeping it clear. I cannot say there is not a possible use for a curse (just as I cannot say that you should never fire a gun at a person, there are aberrant situations extreme enough to require it, everyone knows that), but I believe it is rare (otherwise you might want to ask yourself why you give yourself this kind of level of trouble?). There is a saying that “the power of a sword lies in its sheath”, ie if you’re having to use it all the time, then it’s not doing its job. You do however need your defence to have teeth, otherwise you are presenting yourself as a slap up free lunch.

Belief and efficacy

LaVey’s views on the positive or negative effects of belief upon the target vary according to the type of magic. If it is a curse, then it helps if they don’t believe in magic, as any instinctive fear will be suppressed in the subconscious, where it will aid the curse. He says that for sex and compassion workings it helps if they faith and believe, while the reverse is true for cursing. A person who doesn’t believe is not going to defend themselves as well as they might, but they will still be susceptible to unconscious influence. In fact a lot of LaVey’s magic seems to be predicated upon such an unconscious influence, albeit not transmitted through rationally causal means. The goal is to bring about results in accordance with will, whether anyone (other than the magician) believes in it or not. He does however give the following guidance on attitude:

For sex or lust – take full advantage of spells that work.

Compassion – don’t regret the help that you give, even if it acts as an obstacle to you subsequently. “Be grateful for things that came to you through the use of magic”.

Destruction – do not care about what happens to the intended victim. Celebrate success, do not feel remorse.


This seems wise, as you should respect your magic, embrace it and take responsibility for it (which is why you consider magical action before you take it). Working with your mind against your magic, by doubts, picking it apart, or tying yourself to the object of a spell in an inappropriate way is not something to do. Keep it clean and simple.

The Ingredients of Success

LaVey gives five factors that add up to successful preconditions for magic: desire, timing, imagery, direction and the “balance factor”.

Desire – strong emotion is needed for LaVey’s model of magic, and you should not be working for something that you do not truly desire. It should not be “just for show”.

Timing – following LaVey’s drift of magic being a matter of influencing others subconsciously, he says the best time is when the object of the magic is most receptive. He identifies the time of dreaming sleep as the best, as this is when a person would be most receptive in his opinion. He gives this as being after an initial 4 – 6 hour period of profound sleep, when there is a period of dreaming sleep for 2 – 3 hours, or until waking. So, 2 hours before their waking time would be ideal. I don’t know how accurate this is, but certainly dreaming in the period before waking is common for many people. As the magician needs to be at their strongest at the time of “sending”, he considers this to be a reason for witches etc to often be characterised as nocturnal. Other times of receptivity are when a person is day dreaming or bored.

Imagery – this is used to intensify the emotions in ritual. Any visual representations, in addition to writing, scent, sound, dramatic enactments or music that will arouse the appropriate emotions are fine.

“Imagery is a constant reminder, and intellect-saving device, a working substitute for the real thing”

Imagery can be manipulated according to will, “and the very blueprint that is created by imagery becomes the formula which leads to reality”. So the magician creates situations on paper, canvas, or in writing, in the most exaggerated way possible, as part of the ceremony. This will “create a lodestone which will attract the situation or thing that you wish!”.

Imagery and imagination is very important to LaVey, and you can note that “imagination” does not just relate to visual images, but to all senses (and by implication to the underlying sixth sense of feeling). If we here take desire as representing “will”, then we have the classic combination of will and imagination as the major mechanisms of magic. Intention is implicit here, though I do think it can be separated out personally, due to its subtlety and power.

Direction – this is basically referring to accumulating and then directing force towards the desired end. LaVey points out that too many rituals are defused with anxiety and expectation, which can even prevent the build up of energy during the ritual itself. Similarly, over thinking and complaining dilute the force generated.

“Once the desire has been established strongly enough to employ the forces of magic, then every attempt must be made to symbolically give vent to these wishes IN THE PERFORMANCE OF THE RITUAL – NOT  before or after!”

Keep it clean, let it go, let it be done.

Ritual should free the magician of thoughts “that would consume him, were he to dwell upon them constantly”. LaVey has a strong awareness of the amount of emotional energy that is drained by day dreaming, scheming, and mulling over things. This is all energy that can be used to achieve a result.

The Balance Factor – this applies more to lust and compassion rituals than to curses. It is very common sense actually, and would benefit a lot of people in life. “This is, simply, knowing the proper type of individual and situation to work your magic on for the easiest and best results”. Aka knowing your limits.

This also comes into the failure debriefing department. Keep on failing at your goals in magic? Ask yourself if you are being realistic. Are you deluding yourself? Ignoring your actual strengths, and what you can have, for the sake of what you can’t? The balance factor relates to matching up your talents and strengths to what can be achieved by you. Pining for someone who is not attracted to anybody of your sex (by their inherent nature) is not going to be solved through magic. Neither is the quest to be a hit singer, when you really can’t sing. Do yourself a favour, and honour what you are good at, and what you can maximise.

“To be able to adjust one’s wants to one’s capabilities is a  great talent”

“One of the magician’s greatest weapons is knowing himself”

Wise words.

Concluded here


The Bookshelf for boys and girls Little Journeys into Bookland by University Society, New York [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons



the devil’s field guide (part 3)

continued from Part 2

Life, Death and Ego

LaVey has a fair amount to say about the subject of death and our attitude to life, unsurprisingly as the relative values of “this life” and “the life to come” play such a big role in mainstream religious doctrine in America and elsewhere, while Satanism sees itself as a life affirming philosophy. What is more surprising is that he does not discount the possibility of a post-mortem existence for the individual, and has clearly thought about it. Surprising if you thought he was a materialist rationalist, not so much if you remember that he was an occultist².

LaVey often looks to animals as exemplars of spirited behaviour, and he notes that while they generally accept an inevitable death gracefully, they will fight to the end for their survival, given the possibility.

He considers the religious idea of death as an awakening or liberation to be a cop out. If you have had a truly unsatisfactory life it is understandable, but if you have lived life fully, you should have a lust for that life. Martyrdom for an impersonal cause would be a ridiculous proposition for a Satanist. Life should be a party that you have no reason to want to leave. I think this is basically correct. Different people want different kinds of party, but you should try for the kind you want, and meet the challenges that life gives you. There are different kinds of growth, and different kinds of fulfilment, but this is your shot at something, and there should be no regrets.

Dissolution of the ego makes no sense for a Satanist, and LaVey considers this mainly a means to control people in societies that offer few life opportunities. He also considers the belief in reincarnation to be mainly wish or alter ego fulfilment.

“Belief in reincarnation provides a beautiful fantasy world in which a person can find the proper avenue of ego-expression, but at the same time claim to have dissolved his ego”

Myself, I can find little time for the belief in “karma”, at least in the way that people generally cling to it. A power that, despite all appearances to the contrary, brings some kind of justice to the world. As action and reaction, cause and effect, sure. But what most people mean by karma is much the same principle that many others cling to, that they will be rewarded (and miscreants punished) in the afterlife, or eventually in this life by a universal moral agency. If this exists, it is disguising itself very well, or has conveniently removed itself to places where it cannot be observed or verified (ie afer death).

For LaVey it is better if we just go straight for ego-fulfillment, and he feels that it is only when the ego is fulfilled enough that someone can really afford to be kind to others, yet still respect themselves. He thinks we are quite wrong in our common valuation of the ego. We think a bragging bully is someone with too big an ego, but actually they are usually trying to satisfy a stunted, starved ego. So Satanism encourages people  to develop strong egos, with the self respect they need to live a good, full life.


“If a person has been vital throughout his life and has fought to the end for his earthly existence, it is this ego which will refuse to die, even after the expiration of the flesh which housed it”

He compares this to the attitude of children who are determined to stay up past bed time, and says that it is this kind of vitality “that will allow the Satanist to peek through the curtain of darkness and death and remain earthbound”. It’s a good humoured, pragmatic and bloody minded approach to going beyond death. What it does express is a strategy of approaching death and beyond which never leaves off from the fullness of life until it is, as for the graciously dying animal, an inevitability.

The Black Mass

One of the last sections of the Book of Lucifer is a lot of fun, dealing as it does with some history and a bit of literature; and indeed Satanism has a great and eclectic cultural store for the individual to draw on; far more than is touched on in The Satanic Bible. Just ask any goth or horror fan. The “black mass” is an interesting motif which LaVey looks at. In a funny way, this looking back paves the way for the future more creatively.

The black mass started as a literary invention, with repugnant descriptions that acted as Christian Church propaganda “informing the public …. of the heresies and heinous acts of the Pagans, Cathars, Bogomils, Templars and others who, because of their dualistic philosophies and sometimes Satanic logic, had to be eradicated”. The reference to “Satanic logic” is a bit vague, but you can see the same projection applied to Jews and Muslims, and in fact one theory is that the famous “Templar idol” Baphomet is actually a corruption of the name Mahomet (Muhammed, referring to the Islamic prophet). However:

“A black mass is not the magical ceremony practiced by Satanists. The Satanist would only employ the use of a black mass as a form of psychodrama”

A “black mass” is a parody, and could be loosely applied to any satire on a religious ceremony. LaVey actually considers them to be somewhat redundant, as he views established religious rituals as effective parodies of older (“Pagan”) rituals, so you would just be doing a spoof of a (unconscious) spoof. I get the joke, but I think it would all be in the context really. Everything derives elements from something older, even the original Pagan rituals would have.

What the black mass needs to do is to shock and outrage, in order to be a success. So it’s no use “blaspheming” something that is old hat, or that it is fashionable to parody. This wouldn’t provide the requisite “psychodrama”. So for instance, in 1969 he would have thought of blaspheming eastern mysticism, psychiatry, the psychedelic movement and ultra-liberalism. In contrast:

“Patriotism would be championed, drugs and their gurus defiled, acultural militants would be deified, and the decadence of ecclesiastical theologies might even be given a Satanic boost”

It’s an approach which would be appreciated by punk in the following decade, though you clearly have to be careful to not fall asleep at the wheel. Times keep changing, and the point is to wake people up and free them from a moral trance, not create a new one. LaVey says that the Satanic magus “has always been a catalyst for the dichotomy necessary in moulding popular beliefs”, but I wonder if this Machiavellian self-image is really accurate? We seek to have power over our own lives, and live unimpeded by our own lights, but has there ever been anyone really in charge, or capable of manipulating the creative train wreck of collective human life? I think we can pull off stunts occasionally that have a temporary positive effect, and we can live our lives to bring about the results we want to the best of our ability, but the idea of the magus self-consciously moulding popular belief is I think a fiction.

We then get led on a little history of the black mass, which is enjoyable:

We start in 1666 when the first commercial black mass was performed by La Voison in France, which sets the stereotype.

“Satanism-for-fun-and-games” follows in 18th century England with the Hell Fire Club and Sir Francis Dashwood. He eliminated the gore and conducted rituals of “good dirty fun”, creating colourful and harmless psychodrama for leading lights of the period.

In the 19th century LaVey considers Satanism to have been white washed by “white” magicians trying to perform “black” magic. He considers this to have been a “paradoxical” period for Satanism, with writers such as Baudelaire and Huysmans showing their apparent obsession with “evil” in their literary works.

“The Devil developed his Luciferian personality for the public to see, and gradually evolved into a sort of drawing-room gentleman”

This is the era of Eliphas Levi, and trance mediumship is in vogue. Mention is made of Crowley (who spans the late 19th to the mid 20th centuries), and LaVey notes his humour, and his “self-imposed image of the beast of revelation”. He seems sympathetic to Crowley, but not to his followers taking his esotericism too seriously. He also notes that there were sex clubs using Satanism as a rationale, and that these persisted till his own time.

Thus the black mass developed from a literary invention of the Church, “to a depraved commercial activity, to a psychodrama for dilettantes and iconoclasts, to an ace in the hole for popular media”.

So where does it fit in with real Satanism, and who was practicing Satanic magic before 1666? Who are the real Satanists?

LaVey says that a certain kind of “devil worshipper” was created through the inventions of theologians, but this “evil” character is not necessarily practicing real Satanism. He does not think the real Satanist is as easy to recognize.

Though LaVey considers it an oversimplification to say that every successful person is an unconscious Satanist, he considers that the most powerful and successful people can in a sense be considered the most Satanic, whatever their field. I’d say that brings up a lot of questions as to what “success” really is. Some people would say Paris Hilton is really successful, because she is rich and has been on TV, having been born into it. Some would say Van Gogh is successful, having been a great painter. Some would say the relatively anonymous waitress with a happy family life is successful, because she is really satisfied with her life. You can’t really judge, yet it seems that LaVey is trying to get at something here, and I’m not sure if he isn’t going for a refutation of the entire liberal, egalitarian, hippie dream ideal, just to be contrary to his time.

However, he then goes in for a bit of sly myth spinning, as to which historical figures might have “dabbled” in “the black arts”; a bit of name dropping of the famous and infamous.  I can’t help feeling that he is a bit over impressed by fame and public reputation. But these are people who LaVey claims form links and clues “of the true legacy of Satan … a legacy which transcends ideologies, ethnic, racial and economic differences”. In other words, they were individuals first. That at least I can agree with him on, in terms of what the Satanist is. But LaVey is quite determined in his assertion that Satanists have “always ruled the earth …. by whatever name”. I find this a bit overblown, but if political influence is your thing, I guess you would be interested. I am more interested in ruling my own life than in getting involved in too many collective games.

“In the secret thoughts of each man and woman, still motivated by sound and unclouded minds, resides the potential of the Satanist, as always has been”

It is most essentially the potential of the realized self.

In conclusion

Anton LaVey and the Satanic Bible have had a big influence on several generations of modern Satanists, indeed he launched modern Satanism to all intents and purposes, and the Satanic Bible remains a popular point of departure into Satanism.

You can pick up what I would take to be essentials of Satanic thought from it: the questioning of collective moral authority, the sovereignty of the individual self, the value of fulfilment and gratification as guides to living, when balanced by the needs of the whole self. The living of a full life, of conscious freedom and responsibility. The enquiry into your own values and beliefs. Facing life honestly as it is, without self-pity, self-righteousness or the exaltation of victimhood. Maturity, boundaries, self-realization.

But LaVey gives just one expression of these principles, by his own lights. It is up to you to question and find your own answers and expressions. The Satanic Bible no doubt had a big part to play in launching a movement, but as with any genuinely popular movement, the causes and catalysts are complex; they stimulate, provoke and inspire, but cannot determine.

In some respects Satanism is like a universal solvent, or a “reboot” button, on moral and spiritual belief. That is the power of the individual, and of the self; the hidden god.

continued here

Movie poster for The Exploits of Elaine episode 13, “The Devil Worshippers”, 1914 by Pathé Exchange, publisher. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

² At least at the time of writing The Satanic Bible.

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.


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”

1969 – the devil’s field guide

On Walpurgis Night of 1966, amidst the Uranus-Pluto conjunction to which astrologers in part attribute the social upheaval of the sixties, The Church of Satan was founded in San Francisco by Anton LaVey. Three years later in 1969 The Satanic Bible was published in handy paperback format, and has remained in print continuously ever since.

I must have seen this book in a lot of bookshops since the 1970s, from mainstream sellers to bargain book warehouses. It’s kinda like a lurid, popular soda. You can decry that it’s cheap and full of E numbers, but fuck does it get about. I read it many, many years ago; some parts really appealed, and others turned me off at the time.

The influence of The Church itself as an organization could be debated over the decades, but I think the influence of Anton LaVey and The Satanic Bible is undoubted. There really wasn’t any serious, verifiable modern Satanism before LaVey, and no self-conscious, self-representing Satanic movement or community to speak of, at least that I am aware of. Satanism has evolved in various directions since then, but LaVey seems to have been the source catalyst, and elements of his philosophy remain common to most forms of modern Satanism. People have departed from his foundation, or grown it along different lines, but it seems clear that it was he who laid the foundation, no doubt bringing his own influences with him.

I’m sure the internet has accelerated this process of growth and profusion, but if there is a single text that people have had recourse to, it would still be The Satanic Bible. So that’s why I wanted to review the book, while also commenting upon it as a Satanist myself.

In these first posts I am not going to deal with the book in its entirety, but with the sections covering the attitude and philosophy which LaVey transmitted, leaving those sections dealing more fully with magic and ceremony to another time. The book itself is divided into four main parts, allocated to the elements of fire, air, earth and water, and named after various demons and infernal characters. I’m going to look at the introduction, and the books of “Satan” and “Lucifer”, over a series of three posts.



Quite a a lot of trashing goes into the preface and prologue to the book. Most of esoteric “tradition”, as well as what is recognizable as the forerunner of “New Age” teaching gets this treatment. Frankly, it could do with a slap.

“Herein you will find truth – and fantasy. Each is necessary for the other to exist, but each must be recognized for what it is”

This is the first indication that LaVey is a doubter, but not a rationalist in the dogmatic, almost ideological sense. He recognizes that we need fantasy and the irrational, that human beings cannot and need not abjure these things, but that we need to know the difference between these and facts.

Religion is decried as hypocrisy, and he proclaims an “age of Satan”, and a “morning of magic, and undefiled wisdom”. “No longer shall man’s salvation be dependent on his self-denial”. This last is one of the central thrusts of his philosophy, and as Stephen Flowers has pointed out¹, indulgence as a spiritual principle is something which LaVey explores. He debunks conventional objections to the exploration of desire and gratification by taking them to their conclusions for the whole person.

The “9 Satanic Statements” crystallize LaVey’s practical philosophy, mainly in affirmed and refuted pairs, until the last one anyway, which seems to just be a tongue in cheek swipe at the Christian Church.

Indulgence, not abstinence. Vital existence, not spiritual pipe dreams. Wisdom, not self-deceit. Deserved kindness, not wasted “love”. Vengeance, not turning the other cheek. Responsibility to the responsible, not psychic vampires. Man as just another animal, not a spiritually “superior” being. Validation of those things that lead to physical, mental or emotional gratification.

Most of these things I would agree with, with some qualification. Vengeance can easily become idiocy and irrational involvement, with spiralling consequences, however much one agrees with the unturned cheek. I wouldn’t choose that term myself, as the associations are anything but smart for me. Not turning the other cheek has more choices to it than that. Intelligently interpreted (or reinterpreted) though, these are sensible guides and considerations.


The Book of Satan

The Book of Satan is allocated to the burning element of fire and is brief, polemical and aphoristic.  It lays down the emotional basis of a critical, practical philosophy.

“Death to the weaklings, wealth to the strong!”

Ooh vicar! One might actually enquire into the nature of strength and weakness here – brute force is far too easy and simplistic an interpretation, and if you’ve read of LaVey’s admiration for “circus freaks” and their resourcefulness, you’ll know his idea of weakness does not come down to whether you have legs or arms for instance. I take most of LaVey’s more harsh sounding declarations to be statements of the “bottom line” of life in general. This what you have to deal with, so find your strengths and use them. In addition though, it is worth comparing The Book of Satan to chapter three of The Book of the Law which Crowley “received” in 1904, and comparing aspects of the philosophies of Satanism and Thelema. The similarities are quite striking, and if LaVey’s Satanism was not influenced on some level by Crowley’s Thelema, I’d be inclined to eat at least one of my smaller hats. I would consider Crowley to be the clearest precedent in all honesty, though I’d be happy to have a clearer one pointed out.

“I stand forth to challenge the wisdom of the world; to interrogate the ‘laws’ of man and of ‘God'”. “I break away from all conventions that do not lead to my earthly success and happiness”. “I question all things”. “Too long right and wrong, good and evil have been inverted by false prophets”. “Religions must be put to the question. No moral dogma must be taken for granted…”. “There is nothing inherently sacred about moral codes … they are the work of human hands …”. “Popular lies have ever been the most potent enemies of personal liberty”. “Life is the great indulgence – death, the great abstinence. Therefore, make the most of life – HERE AND NOW!”. “Say unto thine own heart ‘I am mine own redeemer'”.

You get the picture. It’s a philosophy of being honest with yourself about how life is, and then playing it at its own game, with neither self-pity, nor self-righteousness. But it is also a philosophy of individual sovereignty, and recognition of the relative and fabricated (humanly crafted) nature of all collective morality. It is a philosophy of questioning, finding what is true for you, and what suits you as a life. It burns traditional, denial-based restrictions to the ground in terms of their claimed authority, and then faces you with your own questions as to your values. It doesn’t tell you what to want or believe, but it challenges you to find any better basis than fulfillment and gratification, taking the whole person into consideration (without the tribe, family, society etc looking over your shoulder). To do that it must liberate you, and to liberate you it must destroy the claims of false morality and authority over the individual self. That is one of the things that makes Satanism a potent and distinctive spiritual path.

“Devils on the orders of his master Lucifer, encourages people to lust” – by Matfre Ermengau (Breviari d’amor 1288) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


The Book of Lucifer

The Book of Lucifer is given the light element of air, and it contains the most developed philosophy or teaching in the book, not in a straightforward “here it is all laid out” sense (which LaVey avoids throughout, except in short pieces like the “principles” above), but by means of illustration, discussion and example. In a sense you have to reverse engineer the core from the entertainment and speeches on hand, though it’s clear enough when you look into it, and it’s all part of LaVey’s populist “playing to the gallery” in a sense, just as the Avon pulp paperback format is. Take something serious – slip it into a carnival costume.

As he mainly deals with subject areas, that’s what I’ll look at here.

God and religion

According to LaVey a Satanist accepts whatever definition of “God” suits them best, and he considers gods to be the creation of human beings, not the other way round. For myself, I believe in gods as independent entities, but I feel no need of a “Creator”, and I agree that we certainly imagine the forms of the gods according to our needs.

The idea of “God” that seems to have suited LaVey is “the balancing factor in nature”.

“The Satanist realizes that man, and the actions and reactions of the universe, is responsible for everything, and doesn’t mislead himself into thinking that someone cares”

He revokes fatalism, saying of the Satanist: “realizing that anything he gets is of his own doing, [he] takes command of the situation ….”. It takes both positive thinking and positive action to get results. If a Satanist does wrong by his own lights, he realizes that mistakes are natural, learns from them, and takes care to not repeat the same mistake. Responsibility requires honesty, not guilt.

LaVey considers us to have invented our religions and gods, and that most mainstream religions cannot accept the ego, so they instead project the ego onto their idea of “God”. If this is so, he wonders why we don’t just worship a god that we have created in accordance with our own needs?  If we did, it would surely be a god which represents that carnal and physical being which had the creative capacity to invent gods in the first place – ourselves.

As for religion, we may need ritual and dogma*, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be in service to an externalized god. A religion of indulgence indulges in its own practices for the inherent benefits to its participants.

LaVey uses the techniques and exultations of religion, but for the benefit and enjoyment of the individual Satanist, and within that scheme he places a poetic god for the same purpose; a conscious mirror of the Satanic self. Belief in a literal being called “Satan” is not part of his scheme though.

From this I personally take what suits me. I don’t believe in “God”, but I believe in all kinds of other critters, weird, wonderful and otherwise. Nothing scientific about it, and no need for it to be so for me, so long as I know the difference. I don’t feel the need for a religion, but I’ll use the processes and techniques of religion as I see fit. Satanism is a philosophy and a way of life for me, and “Satan” is a representation of the principle of individualized life force and consciousness for me. I know others who take Satan to be an independent entity they have a relationship with, and I respect that entirely. Maybe I’ll change my mind someday, but that’s how I see things right now.

A Satanic Age

You can tell this bit was written in the 1960s, before the advent of a resurgent religious right, and widespread, politicized Christian evangelism.

The “seven deadly sins” are presented as natural and ultimately self balancing traits: envy and greed fuel ambition, though you could say this is a matter of whether we are talking motivation or compulsion. Rephrased as admiration, aspiration and appetite, most people would see what LaVey means (we’ll see later how LaVey considers compulsion to be a fetter for the Satanist). Gluttony and pride he sees as balancing each other out – you enjoy food till the point it affects your self-esteem (though it’s clearly more complex than that). Of course there are health implications, and that is entirely up to the person. Things like fat shaming and whipping people into a concern for health are really just the old moral habits of puritanism in hip clothing. To condemn lust is to condemn reproduction. All those “aaaah, you’re having a baby, how lovely!” , moments? Sorry, if you disapprove of lust, you can view all those glowing new mothers as sterile. Virgin births – it’s just a bit of a fucked up fantasy. Of course there is more to sexual desire than that also, but enough said. Not much on sloth here, other than it being entirely natural, but it would be balanced out by the motivating factors of other “sins”. Anger is linked to self-preservation, in response to threat. We never mind someone doing the protective dirty work for us (in fact we tend to insist and scream if it’s missing), but we demonize the root response in us to danger. As someone who has always had problems expressing anger, I know we have plenty to look at and understand in this emotion.

LaVey is basically saying that in our modern society the Satanic attitude towards “sin” is more and more prevalent, and more and more supported, and I think he is basically correct. People take a more humanistic approach to human characteristics and try to understand them rationally and pragmatically. But whereas LaVey saw traditional Church attitudes starting to fall like dominos in his time, as trendy priests strummed guitars and espoused liberalism to speak to the “young people” of the American 60s, we’re a long way past that point now. There is a generalized move towards acceptance of various liberal causes (such as same-sex marriage) in a number of Churches, but there is also a deep entrenchment in fundamentalist denial of science and human nature. For all that Satanists espouse honest self-interest, they are amongst the ones calling for practical compassion. When you add to this picture the state of the majority of humanity, I think you can see that we have a long way to go before we can talk about a “Satanic Age”, though these kind of “Ages” are generally ideological fictions anyway. In practice we’ve been working on this, by other names, since The Enlightenment.

Of course LaVey’s question still holds true, as to why those who now hold views and values opposite to their traditional scriptures still cling to religions that don’t describe them; but that is their choice and their experience. He has though already answered the question that current non-theistic Satanists still get asked – why not just be a humanist? Basically, Satanism has ceremony and some of that irrational juice, for want of a better word, and that is part of what we consider ourselves to need:

“It is one thing to accept something intellectually, but to accept the same thing emotionally is an entirely different matter. The one need that psychiatry cannot fill is man’s inherent need for emotionalizing through dogma*. Man needs ceremony and ritual, fantasy and enchantment”.

So Satanism fills a void between reason and our irrational needs (but it seeks to do so consciously and responsibly).

LaVey claims that the essentials of Satanism have always existed, but what is new is “the formal organization of a religion based upon the universal traits of man”. Looking back, it seems like the founding of that modern religion catalysed a broad movement of individuals, and a range of philosophies and organizations. Whether it’s Satan’s “Age” or not, The Devil seems to have a lot of love children.

to be continued

Wood Engraving 24 from the Compendium Maleficarum by Derek Smootz (Scan from Compendium Maleficarum) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

¹ Lords of the Left Hand Path – Stephen Flowers.

* LaVey seems to use “dogma” in the sense of ceremonial, form, aesthetic structure, rather than fixed, unquestionable teaching.

remembrance of The Beast

I recently finished reading Martin Booth’s biography of Aleister Crowley, A Magick Life, which I think I first started 5 years ago but got side tracked on.

This must be the third biography of Crowley that I’ve read, starting with The Great Beast by John Symonds in my late teens, which while not considered a sympathetic or unbiased account, did manage to inspire me in parts nonetheless. My favourite had been The Magical World of Aleister Crowley by Francis King, which was more sympathetic. This latest book was really worth reading though, as it gives a fair treatment without smoothing over Crowley’s faults, and uncovers facts and follows up leads that do fill out the story, especially with respect to some of Crowley’s followers and “Scarlet Women”.

Some of the story remains boring for me (mountaineering, just not my thing), and Crowley’s British Empire attitude, combined with his apparently inflated personal self-assessments do rankle, as does his callous and careless treatment of a good few people in the story. But we know about that already, and he did anything but try to hide it. What Booth’s account does add though is that extra detail about the people who were part of AC’s life (including his children), and underneath all the exorbitant surface of a life lived so large, you eventually get a sense of the human reality underneath it all. That, and Crowley’s undoubted genuineness in his dedication to Thelema. By the end of the story I felt I had a deeper, more well rounded and related sense of this man than I have had before. His last days, tended by a former partner (Deirdre McAlpine) and their son are really moving. At the end I felt he had love and a peaceful (if still somewhat notorious) happiness, and that touched me.

In an odd way, his life seems like a “decline” into humanity. He becomes more creatively interesting to me as his money runs out (which is also when he really starts painting, so maybe that is my bias) and his imperial, pseudo-aristocratic attitudes lose their back up in America. I had always been greatly seduced (and certainly inspired) by tales of The Abbey of Thelema in my youth, but here it appears as an exotic but disastrous failure in terms of essential hygiene, practicalities and public relations. Ahead of its time as a learning experiment, but nevertheless a failure. Crowley wanted to do an Abbey 2.0 with a tighter run ship and more selectivity, but it didn’t happen. Unfortunately so much of the records of the Abbey were seized and destroyed by the authorities as “obscene” that the experiment’s researches are largely lost.

I was very interested to hear more about Leah Hirsig, one of Crowley’s most famous “Scarlet Women”, and certainly a figure in her own right. She was there with him from his painting years in America, through The Abbey at Cefalù, to some time after, in spite of being largely abandoned by Crowley. She continued with amazing strength and commitment to Thelema. She finally repudiated Crowley and her position as Scarlett Woman in 1929, but not her belief in their philosophy, though we don’t know for how long. She went on to the rest of her life, a marriage, and reportedly returned to her career as a teacher of music. Unlike some others who had played the role of Scarlet Woman, she returned as her own person, from precarious positions of poverty and drug dependency. She lived to a good age apparently, dying in 1975 according to internet searches, though Booth puts her year of death as 1951, which would have made her only 67 or 68, still not bad for a woman of the times who had lived life in extremis till her 40s. We don’t have much information about what she lived, believed, thought or might have taught after Crowley. It is one of the unfortunate biases of biography that we register colourful train wrecks better than what might be happier human realities.

I would love to know what she gained from life, and what she made of it. The part in the story where she walks away from Crowley, with considerable dignity, is one that hits a nerve with me, and has me rooting for her. If you have ever loved someone as a virtual god and had them behave accordingly, you will know the hazardous extremes to which it subjects a person, even without it being a Crowley. But in fact that very predicament can be an occupational hazard of loving (though we don’t like to admit it), and certainly of loving sexually and emotionally as an experience of the sacred. Whatever Leah went through, you never felt she was less than her own person, which is what makes her such a compelling figure for me. You can feel how essential her part of the puzzle is, and you can but salute her as both a survivor and a co-creator of a work. Thelema can appear stereotyped in its implied sex role allocations on the surface, but I for one do not believe in that metaphysical “allocation by genitals”, and I do not believe that Thelema is that shallow.

Another figure from the Cefalù period is Jane Wolf, who apparently went on to help found the Agape Lodge of the Ordo Templi Orientis in Southern California, and was its lodge master. I would have liked to read more about Jane Wolf, though of course this was not her biography.

When we get to the War years (WWII) and after, Crowley seems more at peace, in declining health but more stably looked after all in all, though his heroin addiction revived due to the unavailability of an asthma medication from Germany. I always thought that the late production of things like “The Book of Thoth” (and the brilliant tarot cards he produced with Frieda Harris) and “Magick Without Tears”, all in his supposed “twilight years”, showed an astonishingly modern mind of great lucidity, insight and humour. In old age, when Grady McMurtry referred to him as “Master”, Crowley looked over his shoulder and said that he couldn’t see any masters there. The man who had played the part of the colourful, mystical megalomaniac with such determination for so long, apparently dropped the mask of performance near the end. What persisted was his absolute belief in Thelema.

Crowley and the band of bohemian seekers who joined him remain pioneers, especially in these accounts from the 1920s. There is a tremendous amount of the (sometimes tragic) interweaving human stories that are lost, unaccounted for, unrecorded. Israel Regardie once said that had Crowley been living in the 1960s rather than the time he did, he would have been distinguished by his brilliance, but he would otherwise have been largely at home, one among many, rather than the demonized figure he was. In other words, he was too far ahead of his time. That does seem to be true, and the tale of his life does appear like an object lesson in what can happen when the future arrives in a place that isn’t ready for it. I think you can see some of the same in DH Lawrence. What a very extraordinary time it was.

Aleister Crowley with his son

Aleister Crowley with his son