October 14, 2019
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The Church of Satan is a religious organization dedicated to the philosophy of LaVeyan Satanism. The Church of Satan was established at the Black House in San Francisco, California, on Walpurgisnacht, April 30, 1966, by Anton Szandor LaVey, who was the church’s High Priest until his death in 1997.[1] In 2001, Peter H. Gilmore became the high priest, and the church’s headquarters were moved to Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan.

Early years

In the 1960s Anton LaVey formed a group called the Order of the Trapezoid, which later became the governing body of the Church of Satan. The group included: “The Baroness” Carin de Plessen, Dr. Cecil Nixon, Kenneth Anger, City Assessor Russell Wolden, Donald Werby,[2][3] and Michael Harner. According to the Church of Satan historiography, other LaVey associates from this time include noted Science Fiction and Horror writers Anthony Boucher, August Derleth, Robert Barbour Johnson, Reginald Bretnor, Emil Petaja, Stuart Palmer, Clark Ashton Smith, Forrest J. Ackerman, and Fritz Leiber Jr.[4]

In the first year of its foundation, Anton LaVey and the Church of Satan publicly performed a Satanic marriage of Judith Case and journalist John Raymond. The ceremony was attended by Joe Rosenthal. LaVey performed the first publicly recorded Satanic baptism in history for his youngest daughter Zeena, which garnered world-wide publicity and was originally recorded on The Satanic Mass LP.[5][6][7][8] A Satanic funeral for naval machinist-repairman, third-class Edward Olsen, was performed at the request of his wife, complete with a chrome-helmeted honor guard).

The Church of Satan was the subject of a number of books, magazine and newspaper articles during the 1960s and 1970s. It is also the subject of a documentary, Satanis (1970). LaVey appeared in Kenneth Anger‘s film Invocation of my Demon Brother, acted as technical adviser on The Devil’s Rain, which starred Ernest Borgnine, William Shatner, and introduced John Travolta. The Church of Satan was also featured in a segment of Luigi Scattini’s film Angeli Bianchi, Angeli Neri, released in the United States as Witchcraft ’70.[citation needed]

In 1975 LaVey phased out the Church’s “Grotto” system and eliminated people he thought were using the Church as a substitute for accomplishment in the outside world. Thereafter, conventional achievement in society would be the criterion for advancement within the Church of Satan. At the same time, LaVey became more selective in granting interviews. This shift to “closed door” activities resulted in some rumors of the Church’s demise, and even rumors of LaVey’s death.

1980s and early 1990s and “Satanic Panic”

In the 1980s the media reported concerns of criminal conspiracies within the Church of Satan. The FBI would later issue an official report refuting the criminal conspiracy theories of this time. This phenomenon became known as the “Satanic Panic“. LaVey’s daughter Zeena was the spokesperson and High Priestess within the Church of Satan during the 1980s.[9] During this period, she appeared on television and radio broadcasts, in part to educate about the Church, and in part to debunk the mythology surrounding the Satanic Panic — a period of time in the same era in which Satanism was blamed for the actions of Satanic ritual abuse.[10]

Some of Zeena’s groundbreaking work combating media hysteria about Satanism included taking a pro-active stance against the allegations in the media by working with government sectors and law enforcement agencies to educate about the reality of Satanism. In the 1980s Zeena was in regular contact with law enforcement agencies and personnel, including Detective Patrick Metoyer of the LAPD[11] and Robert D. Hicks, law-enforcement specialist with the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services and author of several precedent setting treatises[12] including In Pursuit of Satan: The Police and The Occult,[13] In Pursuit of Satan began the wave of authoritative reports debunking the Satanic Panic. Much of what Hicks gleaned from Zeena’s dialogs with him was included in this treatise. Prior to Zeena’s dialogs and meetings with government agencies, Police and Law Enforcement didn’t know, from the Satanist’s point of view, what Satanism truly was.

Zeena’s regular appearances on national broadcasts defending the Church of Satan began with a specific event. In a September 2011 interview Zeena states, “In 1985, a US news show called 20/20 accused The Satanic Bible of being responsible for child daycare Satanic ritual abuse, allegations which were new then. […] I called my father and asked him what his media strategy would be to deal with this catastrophe. Nothing. He didn’t care. As far as he was concerned it didn’t concern him. It wasn’t anything he needed to worry about. He certainly wasn’t going out in public to do anything about it. He admitted that many media sources had already contacted him and he was just going to ignore it until it went away. I tried to convince him that this would only get worse if he didn’t respond and that he really needed to get someone to answer calls quickly or it would be taken as an admission of guilt or suspicion. Finally he admitted he had no one to deal with interviews or media. I offered to help temporarily until he found someone. This was not what I’d intended to do with my life, I had other plans.”[14]

From then until her renunciation of the Church of Satan in 1990, Zeena appeared in such nationally syndicated programs as The Phil Donahue Show, Nightline with Ted Koppel, Entertainment Tonight, The Late Show, Secrets & Mysteries and the Sally Jesse Raphael Show. The appearances were made at the behest of the Church of Satan as its spokesperson. She did this on behalf of her father Anton LaVey, who was no longer interested in making media appearances, as she stated while being interviewed alongside her husband by televangelist Bob Larson.[15] Zeena became internationally known within the mass media in the 1980s through her active role publicly defending her father’s organization against allegations of Satanic ritual abuse and was interviewed in the legendary broadcast of “Devil Worship: Exposing Satan’s Underground” released by Geraldo Rivera in 1988.[16] Zeena sat alongside Michael A. Aquino (Temple of Set founder/High Priest), and repeatedly denied the rumors circulating at the time that the Church of Satan was in any way involved with Satanic ritual abuse. She also called the testimony of claimants involved into question, asking them rhetorically why, if people were being forced to give birth to babies for sacrificial rituals, no remains had ever been found.

Toward the end of her time as High Priestess, Zeena LaVey also appeared with Nikolas Schreck (not a member of the COS) in an interview with televangelist Bob Larson, during which they both refuted any Satanic criminal ties, and pressed Bob Larson on his own ideals, stating that it was hypocritical of him to endorse such claims by Christians, pointing out the Christian background of many criminals, and violent acts within Christian history, such as the crusades.[15] In 1990, only a few months after this now famous interview, Zeena resigned from the Church of Satan and renounced LaVeyan Satanism.[17] Zeena’s Interview on KJTV with Tony Valdez, 1990, was the last interview she granted as public representative and High Priestess of the Church of Satan before resigning.[18][19]

In a March 2013 interview televised by Network Awesome, Zeena spoke for the first time on camera about her experiences with media during the Satanic Panic years.[20]

Zeena’s official website explains her reasons for abdicating her role as public spokesperson, “In the process of defending the Church of Satan from these unfounded claims in the U.S. mass media, Zeena’s media appearances attracted a new upsurge of membership to the formerly moribund organization even as she began to question and ultimately reject the self-centered atheist philosophy she promoted. As she toured the United States on behalf of the Church of Satan, Zeena’s crisis of faith reached its highpoint when she learned that most of her father’s self-created legend was based on lies and that many of his works were plagiarized. When jealousy and spite motivated Anton LaVey and his administrator Densley-Barton to actually endanger Zeena’s life, she could no longer continue to cover up her progenitor’s true character in good conscience. This behind the scenes tension should be kept in mind when viewing or hearing Zeena’s interviews from that time.”[21]

Prior to Zeena’s role defending her father’s organization during the most heated period of U.S. Christian fundamentalist led Satanic Witch-hunt, there was no voice of opposition and no way for government agencies, the public and law enforement to know what Satanists believed, from their own point of view. By Zeena being forthcoming with all these sectors, she paved the way for many to follow in her footsteps.

According to Zeena’s official homepage, after her resignation in 1990, remaining members of the Church of Satan and her estranged family “reacted to her resignation by indulging in a typical cult-like character assassination campaign against her.”[22] Particularly active in the hostility against Zeena were Blanche Barton,[23] Peter H. Gilmore,[24] Peggy Nadramia, Boyd Rice,[25] Lisa Crystal Carver,[26] Daniel Ignace Kapelovitz,[27] Larry Wessel,[28] Stanton and Szandora LaVey,[29] The homepage also states, “Drawing on her own triumph over these and other dysfunctional family experiences, Zeena, a professional bereavement counsellor, founded The Sethian Liberation Movement‘s public outreach program PHOENIX to help others in similar situations.”[22]

In the 1980s and 1990s remaining members of the Church of Satan became active in media appearances to refute allegations of criminal activity. The Church of Satan and its members were very active in producing movies, music, films, and magazines devoted to Satanism. Most notably Adam Parfrey‘s Feral House publishing, the music of Boyd Rice, musician King Diamond, and the films of Nick Bougas, including his documentary Speak of the Devil: The Canon of Anton LaVey.[citation needed] The Church of Satan and Anton LaVey were also the subject of numerous magazine and news articles during this time.[citation needed]

After LaVey

After Anton Szandor LaVey’s death on October 29, 1997, the role of High Priest was empty for some time. On November 7, 1997[30] Karla LaVey made a press release about continuing the church with fellow high priestess with Blanche Barton. Barton eventually received ownership of the organization, which she held for 4 years. Karla LaVey ultimately left the Church of Satan and founded First Satanic Church.

In 2001, Blanche ceded her position to long-time members Peter H. Gilmore and Peggy Nadramia, the current High Priest and High Priestess and publishers of The Black Flame, the official magazine of The Church of Satan. The Central Office of the Church of Satan has also moved from San Francisco to New York City‘s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood, where the couple resides. The Church of Satan does not recognize any other organizations as holding legitimate claim to Satanism and its practice, though it does recognize that one need not be a member of the Church of Satan to be a Satanist.

As the Church of Satan does not publicly release membership information, it is not known how many members belong to the Church. However, according to an interview with the Church of Satan, “interest in the Church of Satan and Satanism is growing all the time if our mailboxes, answering and fax machines, and e-mail is any indication.”[31]

In October 2004 the Royal Navy officially recognised its first registered Satanist, 24-year-old Chris Cranmer, as a technician on the HMS Cumberland.[32]

On June 6, 2006 the Church of Satan held the first public ritual Satanic Mass in 40 years at the Steve Allen Theater in the Center for Inquiry in Los Angeles. The ritual, based on the rites outlined in The Satanic Bible and The Satanic Rituals, was conducted by Reverend Bryan Moore and Priestess Heather Saenz.[33]

In December 2007 the Associated Press reported on a story concerning the Church of Satan, in which a teenager had sent an e-mail to High Priest Gilmore stating he wanted to “kill in the name of our unholy lord Satan“. Gilmore then reported the message to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who informed local police who arrested the teenager.[34]

Membership and organization

The Church of Satan has two types of members: Registered Members and Active Members. Registered Members are simply people who have been inducted as members of the Church, and there are no requirements to achieve this position. To be deemed an Active Member, a person has to be involved with the Church and local members. Active Membership is divided into five Degrees:

Active Members begin at the First Degree. One must apply and be approved for an Active Membership, and this is subject to one’s answers to a lengthy series of questions. One cannot apply for higher Degrees, and the requirements for each degree are not open to the public. Promotion to a higher degree is by invitation only. Members of the Third through Fifth degrees constitute the Priesthood and may be addressed as “Reverend” (although the titles of “Magister/Magistra” and “Magus/Maga” are more often used when referring to members of the Fourth and Fifth degrees, respectively). Members of the Fifth degree may also be known as “Doctor”, although “The Doctor” usually refers to LaVey.

Individuals seeking membership must be legally defined as adults in their nation of residence. The only exception made is for children of members who demonstrate an understanding of the Church philosophy and practices who wish to join. Their participation is limited until they reach legal adulthood.

The Church of Satan does not solicit membership. Those who wish to affiliate can become a Registered Member for a one-time registration fee of two hundred dollars ($200) in United States currency. Affiliates receive a red card declaring them as a member of the Church of Satan to other members.[35]

Memberships may be terminated at the discretion of the ruling body of the Church of Satan consisting of the High Priest, the High Priestess and the Council of Nine. Upon termination, the issuing of a refund is ultimately left up to the High Priest’s ruling, though generally 50% is returned to the cast-out member (the other 50% used to cover ruling expenditures).

The Church of Satan authorizes some Active Members as Agents, qualified to represent the Church of Satan and to explain the philosophy of Satanism to the media and other interested parties

Members of the Priesthood act as spokespersons for the philosophy of the Church of Satan, which include the titles of “Priest”/”Priestess” and “Magus”/”Magistra.” Members of the Priesthood make up the Council of Nine, which is the ruling body of the Church of Satan. The Order of the Trapezoid consists of the individuals who assist in the administration of the Church of Satan. The High Priest and Priestess acting as administrative chiefs and primary public representatives; each position (High Priest and High Priestess) is held by a single individual at a time. The current High Priest is Peter H. Gilmore, the current High Priestess Peggy Nadramia.

The Church of Satan evaluates active members for the Priesthood by their accomplishment in society—mastered skills and peer recognition within a profession—rather than by mastery of irrelevant occult trivia. While expected to be experts in communicating the Satanic philosophy, members of the Priesthood are not required to speak on behalf of the Church of Satan, and may even choose to keep their affiliation and rank secret in order to better serve their personal goals, as well as those of the organization. Membership in the Priesthood is by invitation only.

Past & present Church of Satan High Priesthood

Grottos

A Grotto is an association of Satanists in geographical proximity. The Church of Satan has decided that it no longer needs to formally recognize Grottoes for members to socialize or organize rituals, since most members use online forums for these purposes. However, should a group of Church of Satan members form a “magic circle” for purposes beyond basic social and ritual interaction, and should that circle remain healthy and active for a year and a day, the leader may apply to have it formalized as a Grotto and be chartered as Grotto Master. The Grotto is expected to remain clandestine, an underground cell that only the privileged may eventually come to know. Grotto Masters are not spokespersons for the Church of Satan, nor are Grottoes local representations of the Church of Satan. A Grotto’s charter can be revoked for inactivity.[39]

Beliefs

The Church of Satan does not “worship” or believe in Satan, nor do they believe in gods. LaVeyan Satanism follows the belief that one’s self is their own “God”. They do not believe in suppression of desire and human nature. In an interview with David Shankbone, High Priest Peter Gilmore stated “My real feeling is that anybody who believes in supernatural entities on some level is insane. Whether they believe in the Devil or God, they are abdicating reason”.[40] Gilmore defines the word “Satan”: “Satan is a model or a mode of behavior. Satan in Hebrew means ‘adversary’ or ‘opposer’; one who questions.”[40]

Gilmore went on to add “Satanism begins with atheism. We begin with the universe and say, ‘It’s indifferent. There’s no God, there’s no Devil. No one cares!'”[40]

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