The Church of Satan was forged from a group of individuals known as the “Order of the Trapezoid” and established on April 30, 1966 by Anton LeVey. The church was created in opposition to what LeVey called “the stagnation of Christianity”. According to Blanche Barton’s “The Church of Satan- A Brief History”, “LaVey saw there must be a new representative of justice, someone who understood the torments of being human, who shared our passions and foibles yet was somehow wiser and stronger”. Blanche goes on to say of LaVey “He began to realize that most of our progress in science and philosophy had been achieved by those who rebelled against “God” and the Church, or the dictates of conventional society. We needed a representative for that revolutionary, creative, irrepressible spirit within us. The single figure who fit the bill was clear to LaVey from an early point in his life; a deity whose rebellious, passionate nature had been described, either in awe or fear or both, from the dark beginnings of time”.
The Church of Satan has received much press throughout the years for things such as public Satanic Baptisms (which was first performed in 1967 on LaVey’s daughter Zeena), Satanic Funerals & nude female alters. Even the film “Rosemary’s Baby” (which was a loose depiction of The Church of Satan and featured LaVey as the devil) received much public backlash and had churchgoers passing out small buttons which read “Pray for Anton LaVey” in response to the films promotional buttons which read “Pray for Rosemary’s Baby”.
Anton LaVey died on Oct 29th, 1997 leaving the church to be run by High Priestess Blanche Barton, LaVey’s biographer, lover & mother of his only son Satan Xerxes Carnacki LaVey. In 2001 Magistra Barton appointed long-time administrator & LaVey associate Peter H. Gilmore as High Priest and in 2002 appointed Peggy Nadramia, wife to Gilmore, to succeed her as High Priestess. Magistra Barton remains chair of the Council of Nine, editor of The Cloven Hoof, and mother of LaVey’s son.
The following is an interview conducted with the head of The Church of Satan, Peter H. Gilmore, via email. The church does very limited interviews, so I’m grateful to Peter that he took the time for mine. I urge the reader to keep an open mind while reading the following. As I told Peter in our email correspondence, I may not see eye to eye with him on all of their views, but I’m grateful for the opportunity to keep the lines of communication open in a forum such as this.
An Interview With Magus Peter H. Gilmore, High Priest of The Church of Satan.
TIS: I’d like to start off by addressing the many misperceptions the public has of the Church of Satan. For example, you don’t worship the devil or sacrifice babies or animals. In fact, you’ve been quoted as saying “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”. Would you please elaborate further on this and any other misperceptions you hear frequently about the church?
PHG: Since we Satanists are atheists who use reason as our means for understanding the universe around us, we consider any who believe themselves to be directly in touch with entities beyond nature to be irrational and untrustworthy. We do not believe in Satan or Hell and our ritual practices are meant as a cathartic means for releasing any pent-up emotions – they are not services of adoration for historical demons. Thus sacrifice has no place in Satanism whatsoever. There is nothing to which to make sacrifices!
Satan to us, as he was to so many creative intellectuals beforehand, is a symbol of pride, liberty and individualism. Satan represents the refusal to kneel to entrenched authority without questioning its validity. So Satan is an externalized projection of the best within us, an inspirational symbol, not an avatar of evil.
Some spiritual people will perceive us to be ‘evil’ since we reject their cherished fictions, but we Satanists extol justice and are ethical, wielding reason as a means for judging the people whom we encounter based on a personally crafted hierarchy of values. Since these values come from seriously considered personal evaluations of the world around us, we are far more firmly committed to these principles than people who simply obey texts found in an ancient book and espoused by some hierarchical clergy without explanation other than such is the will of the deity claimed as author of these regulations.
TIS: The Church of Satan adheres to carnal not spiritual belief. Can you please explain this?
PHG: Carnal means fleshly, of the earth and so we reject the notion that there is any spiritual dimension to existence. Heaven, Hell, any sort of non-corporeal afterlife, all are concepts that Satanists repudiate as nave pipe dreams. We see that these often function to comfort people who cannot apply themselves towards the achievement of both personal goals and any desired social interaction in this, the one and only life we have. For us there is no rebooting via reincarnation, no eternal reward or damnation. Our perspective is that life is in our own hands, to succeed or fail is upon our shoulders. No blaming of others, no guilt. Just total personal responsibility.
Satanists consider the human species divided into two types: The Spiritual, who believe in supernatural realms and feel the need to be accepted by some form of deity whom they serve in hopes of being loved and thus given value, and the Carnal, people who do not believe in anything supernatural whose value is self-generated and who function as independent individuals with no need for being embraced by fictional entities. Carnal folk cherish their freedom and make their own values based on judging the world around them. Spiritual folk look to texts crafted by someone else to be their guide – they generally don’t feel happy until they are part of some group and submitting to some form of authority, be it religious or political. Loners versus herd-folk.
TIS: Can you explain the guidelines Satanists adhere to?
PHG: Rather than repeating them here, I urge your readers to visit The Church Of Satan Website to read my essay “Satanism: The Feared Religion” which includes links to our Nine Satanic Statements, Eleven Rules of the Earth, and Nine Satanic Sins, all of which were drafted by our founder, Anton Szandor LaVey. In general, our rules are meant as suggestions for existing within the social contract while maintaining individual sovereignty, and not submitting to the dictates of the state or other authority that could lead to unwilling self-sacrifice. Once you explore these guidelines, you’ll see that there is a broad latitude for individual application of them, expected to based on the society in which one lives.
Satanists are free to advance whatever political ends serve their individual needs based on their nation of residence, hence there is no umbrella political agenda of Satanists around the globe. Ultimately most Satanists seek to enhance their personal liberty, but it is up to each to decide how that may be done.
TIS: In order to reach higher status within the church, you evaluate members by their socio/economic status instead of their involvement and knowledge of the church. Could you explain this approach?
PHG: Both knowledge and application of our philosophy are what is evaluated for elevation in our hierarchy. Theory not put into practice is considered pointless to Satanists. We are pragmatic materialists, after all. Involvement with the organization is not required, and people who are very high achievers in their professions, who show an exquisite practical grasp of Satanism, can attain advanced ranking without in any way publicly acknowledging their allegiance to our Church and philosophy. We do have trained spokespersons who have talent at communicating our philosophy, but they too are expected to have attained some form of success in the real world of personal endeavor completely outside the organization before they are eligible for advanced elevation.
TIS: Numbers 4 & 11 of your Eleven Satanic Rules of the Earth state: (4) If a guest in your lair annoys you, treat them cruelly and without mercy & (11) When walking in open territory, bother no one. If someone bothers you, ask them to stop. If they don’t stop, destroy them. Can you elaborate on these two specifically and any others you’d like?
PHG: it is important that these dictums are applied within a deeper Satanic concept: “Punishment must be dealt in kind and degree to the committed crime.” So, if someone behaves badly in your home (lair) you may feel free to eject him without having broken the social contract. They committed that breach by being a creep in your home. You need not tolerate such boorish behavior and can return it without guilt. “Destroy” above must always be judged contextually. If someone insults you without provocation, you may feel free to destroy him with your superior verbal skills by skewering them with better-crafted barbs. The only time physical destruction would be justified would be in the case that someone is trying to do you grievous physical injury or attempting to kill you. You are then properly able to respond with like or greater force to end such aggression. However, we must be aware that there may be ramifications that will be dealt with by local legal systems. In such a situation we’d agree with that truism from the Old West: “Better to be judged by twelve than carried by six.”
TIS:It seems that many of the important activities within the church are held on Walpurgisnacht (a traditional Spring Fesitval on 30 April or 1 May in large parts of Central and Northern Europe associated with dancing and with bonfires), including the official establishment of the church by Anton LaVey in 1966, as well as Blanche Barton appointing you as High Priest (2001) & Peggy Nadramia to succeed her as High Priestess (2002). What is the importance and significance of Walpurgisnacht to the church?
PHG: Since it is our founding anniversary it is a day we mark as an opportunity to continue with landmark happenings. Originally it was perceived as a sort of “witches Sabbath,” a night when the forces of darkness held sway, and so Anton LaVey felt it a proper time to embrace for his positive portrayal of Satanism. A holiday made in Hell, as it were. It must be stressed, though, that since Satanism is an individualist philosophy, that the primary holiday of the year for each Satanist is his or her own birth anniversary. We are each our own gods, afterall.
TIS: It seems like The Church of Satan has matured since it’s beginning days of nude female alters, mock wafers & whiskey. What are the future plans for the church, both immediate and long term?
PHG: To quote Number 2 in the original series “The Prisoner” – “That would be telling.” However, I can say that essentially the purpose of the organization is to transmit with clarity our philosophy worldwide in as many languages as is possible so that like-minded people can discover that there exists a label and guidelines to enhance the sort of carnal people they are from birth. We no longer require sensationalism to get attention these days. Our ideas are taken seriously by intelligent journalists and scholarly individuals as well as academic publications wanting to explore the coherent stance behind the more theatrical trappings we have always displayed. The concept of atheists with a sense of drama who are complete misanthropes can be grasped and the false idea that we are Christian heretics who worship their devil falls only to the ignorant or bigoted.
And we do believe that Satanism is a philosophy only for people who are born with a carnal, not a spiritual nature. We do not think that a naturally spiritual person can convert. Hence we do not proselytize. Carnal people are a smaller percentage of the current populace, but passing time may see a change. For now, those who “believe” and thus have a need to subsume themselves into some fictional super-parental figure, whether it be a deity or a political leader, are in the majority. Those who are skeptical, earthy people who can stand on their own, determine their own values, and – as Nietzsche put it – make their own horizons are a minority, but a creative one which is needed in this time of blind belief again showing its dangerousness towards civilized existence.
TIS: Any last thoughts or comments you’d like to leave my readers with?
PHG: It is time that childish things like belief and faith in non-existing beings be put to rest so that our species can enjoy a globally healthy environment for cultural and technological development. A time of enrichment and growth could become viable, once the threat of wholesale murder by those who are trying to fulfill dictatorial doctrines cribbed from books written by lunatic prophets has ended.
Spiritual religions can give some people satisfaction wherein they consider themselves valued by mythical saviors. If that idea is used to comfort and keep people in line, that is fine to Satanists, but it does short-circuit rational thinking and always leaves the door open for drastically destructive irrational behavior. Can we afford to not seal that portal?