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2 intro

Burton H. Wolfe
On a winter's evening in 1967, I drove crosstown in San Fransisco to hear Anton Szandor
LaVey lecture at an open meeting of the Sexual Freedom League. I was attracted by
newspaper articles describing him as "the Black Pope" of a Satanic church in which baptism,
wedding, and funeral ceremonies were dedicated to the Devil. I was a free-lance magazine
writer, and I felt there might be a story in LaVey and his contemporary pagans; for the Devil
has always made "good copy", as they say on the city desk.
It was not the practice of the black arts itself that I considered to be the story, because that is
nothing new in the world. There were Devil-worshipping sects and voodoo cults before there
were Christians. In eighteenth-century England a Hell-Fire Club, with connections to the
American colonies through Benjamin Franklin, gained some brief notoriety. During the early
part of the twentieth century, the press publicized Aleister Crowley as the "wickedest man in
the world". And there were hints in the 1920s and '30s of a "black order" in Germany.
To this seemingly old story LaVey and his organization of contemporary Faustians offered
two strikingly new chapters. First, they blasphemously represented themselves as a "church",
a term previously confined to the branches of Christianity, instead of the traditional coven of
Satanism and witchcraft lore. Second, they practiced their black magic openly instead of
Rather than arrange a preliminary interview with LaVey for discussion of his heretical
innovations, my usual first step in research, I decided to watch and listen to him as an
unidentified member of an audience. He was described in some newspapers as a former circus
and carnival lion tamer and trickster now representing himself as the Devil's representative on
earth, and I wanted to determine first whether he was a true Satanist, a prankster, or a quack. I
had already met people in the limelight of the occult business; in fact, Jeane Dixon was my
landlady and I had a chance to write about her before Ruth Montgomery did. But I had
considered all the occultists phonies, hypocrites, or quacks, and I would never spend five
minutes writing about their various forms of hocus-pocus.
All the occultists I had met or heard of were white-lighters: alleged seers, prophesiers, and
witches wrapping their supposedly mystic powers around God-based, spiritual
communication. LaVey, seeming to laugh at them if not spit on them in contempt, emerged
from between the lines of newspaper stories as a black magician basing his work on the dark
side of nature and the carnal side of humanity. There seemed to be nothing spiritual about his
As I listened to LaVey talk that first time, I realized at once there was nothing to connect him
with the occult business. He could not even be described as metaphysical. The brutally frank
talk he delivered was pragmatic, relativistic, and above all rational. It was unorthodox, to be
sure: a blast at established religious worship, repression of humanity's carnal nature, phony
pretense at piety in the course of an existence based on dog-eat-dog material pursuits. It was
also full of sardonic satire on human folly. But most important of all, the talk was logical. It
was not quack magic that LaVey offered his audience. It was common sense philosophy based
on the realities of life.
After I became convinced of LaVey's sincerity, I had to convince him that I intended to do
some serious research instead of adding to the accumulation of hack articles dealing with the
Church of Satan as a new type of freak show. I boned up on Satanism, discussed its history
and rationale with LaVey, and attended some midnight rituals in the famous Victorian manse
once used as Church of Satan headquarters. Out of all that I produced a serious article, only to
find that was not what the publishers of "respectable" magazines wanted. They were
interested in only the freak show kind of article. Finally, it was a so-called "girlie" or "man's"
magazine, Knight of September 1968, that published the first definitive article on LaVey, the
Church of Satan, and LaVey's synthesis of the old Devil legends and black magic lore into the
modern philosophy and practice of Satanism that all followers and imitators now use as their
model, their guide, and even their Bible.
My magazine article was the beginning, not the end (as it has been with my other writing
subjects), of a long and intimate association. Out of it came my biography of LaVey, The
Devil's Avenger, published by Pryamid in 1974. After the book was published, I became a
card-carrying member and, subsequently, a priest of the Church of Satan, a title I now proudly
share with many celebrated persons. The postmidnight philosophical discussions I began with
LaVey in 1967 continue today, a decade later, supplemented sometimes these days by a nifty
witch or some of our own music, him on organ and me on drums, in a bizarre cabaret
populated by superrealistic humanoids of LaVey's creation.
All of LaVey's background seemed to prepare him for his role. He is the descendant of
Georgian, Roumanian, and Alsatian grandparents, including a gypsy grandmother who passed
on to him the legends of vampires and witches in her native Transylvania. As early as the age
of five, LaVey was reading Weird-Tales magazines and books such as Mary Shelly's
Frankenstein and Bram Stoker's Dracula. Though he was different from other children, they
appointed him as leader in marches and maneuvers in mock military orders.
In 1942, when LaVey was twelve, his fascination with toy soldiers led to concern over World
War II. He delved into military manuals and discovered arsenals for the equipment of armies
and navies could be bought like groceries in a supermarket and used to conquer nations. The
idea took shape in his head that contrary to what the Christian Bible said, the earth would not
be inhereted by the meek, but by the mighty.
In high school LaVey became something of an offbeat child prodigy. Reserving his most
serious studies for outside the school, he delved into music, metaphysics, and secrets of the
occult. At fifteen, he became second oboist in the San Fransisco Ballet Symphony Orchestra.
Bored with high school classes, LaVey dropped out in his Junior year, left home, and joined
the Clyde Beatty Circus as a cage boy, watering and feeding the lions and tigers. Animal
trainer Beatty noticed that LaVey was comfortable working with the big cats and made him an
assistant trainer.
Possessed since childhood by a passion for the arts, for culture, LaVey was not content merely
with the excitement of training jungle beasts and working with them in the ring as a fill-in for
Beatty. By age ten he had taught himself to play the piano by ear. This came in handy when
the circus calliope player became drunk before a performance and was unable to go on;
LaVey volunteered to replace him, confident he could handle the unfamiliar organ keyboard
well enough to provide the necessary background music. It turned out he knew more music
and played better than the regular calliopist, so Beatty cashiered the drunk and installed
LaVey at the instrument. He accompanied the "Human Cannonball", Hugo Zachinni, and the
Wallendas' high-wire acts, among others.
When LaVey was eighteen he left the circus and joined a carnival. There he became assistant
to a magician, learned hypnosis, and studied more about the occult. It was a curious
combination. On the one side he was working in an atmosphere of life at its rawest level - of
earthy music; the smell of wild animals and sawdust; acts in which a second of missed timing
meant accident or death; performances that demanded youth and strength, and shed those who
grew old like last year's clothes; a world of physical excitement that had magical attractions.
On the other side, he was working with magic in the dark side of the human brain. Perhaps the
strange combination influenced the way he began to view humanity as he played organ for
carnival sideshows.
"On Saturday night," LaVey recalled in one of our long talks, "I would see men lusting after
half-naked girls dancing at the carnival, and on Sunday morning when I was playing organ for
tent-show evaneglists at the other end of the carnival lot, I would see these same men sitting
in the pews with their wives and children, asking God to forgive them and purge them of
carnal desires. And the next Saturday night they'd be back at the carnival or some other place
of indulgence. I knew then that the Christian church thrives on hypocrisy, and that man's
carnal nature will out no matter how much it is purged or scourged by any white-light
Though LaVey did not realize it then, he was on his way toward formulating a religion that
would serve as the antithesis of Christianity and its Judaic heritage. It was an old religion,
older than Christianity or Judaism. But it had never been formalized, arranged into a body of
thought and ritual. That was to become LaVey's role in twentieth-century civilization.
After LaVey became a married man himself in 1951, at age twenty-one, he abandoned the
wondrous world of the carnival to settle into a career better suited for homemaking. He had
been enrolled as a criminology major at the City College of San Fransisco. That led to his first
conformist job, photographer for the San Fransisco Police Department. As it worked out, that
job had as much to do as any other with his development of Satanism as a way of life.
"I saw the bloodiest, grimiest side of human nature," LaVey recounted in a session dealing
with his past life. "People shot by nuts, knifed by their friends; little kids splattered in the
gutter by hit-and-run drivers. It was disgusting and depressing. I asked myself: 'Where is
God?' I came to detest the sanctimonious attitude of people toward violence, always saying
'it's God's will'."
So he quit in disgust after three years of being a crime photographer and returned to playing
organ, this time in nightclubs and theaters to earn a living while he continued his studies into
his life's passion: the black arts. Once a week he held classes on arcane topics: hauntings,
E.S.P., dreams, vampires, werewolves, divination, ceremonial magic, etc. They attracted
many people who were, or have since become, well known in the arts and sciences, and the
business world. Eventually a "Magic Circle" evolved from this group.
The major purpose of the Circle was to meet for the performance of magical rituals LaVey
had discovered or devised. He had accumulated a library of works that descibed the Black
Mass and other infamous ceremonies conducted by groups such as the Knights Templar in
fourteenth-century France, the Hell-Fire club and the Golden Dawn in eighteenth- and
nineteenth-century England. The intent of some of these secret orders was to blaspheme,
lampoon the Christian church, and address themselves to the Devil as an anthropomorphic
deity that represented the reverse of God. In LaVey's view, the Devil was not ...
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