March 09, 2018

Satanism and Self-Awareness

church of satan
You're so vain, you prob'ly think this essay's about you.
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I have a 9-y/o step-daughter and a 5-y/o daughter. Because little girls have a way of liking things that little girls like, we've got a lot of direct-to-DVD Barbie movies. Much to my surprise, I've learned a lot from watching these Barbie movies. One thing I've learned is that, much like people, not all Barbie movies are as entertaining as others. Some of them are the DVD-equivalent of Valentine's Day candy -- cheaply made, quickly sold, cloyingly sweet, and easily disposed -- and others clearly have a production team that wishes instead it could be doing the Tinkerbell movies with John Lasseter.

One of those less-awful Barbie movies is "Barbie and the Magic of Pegasus," in which Barbie's sister was turned into a pegasus by an evil wizard because she refused to marry him, and now Barbie has to find a way to undo the curse. Naturally, the only way to defeat the evil wizard is to go on an adventure and look for kind friends and helpful tools along the way. Early in the quest, Barbie ventures into the forbidden forest where she's caught in a hunter's net. Along comes the Ken du-jour who snarks, "What are you doing here? Only fools venture into the forbidden forest," to which Barbie replies, "And yet, you're here?"

At the risk of sounding like a paranoid conspiracy theorist, I think that's a pretty nifty piece of Satanic advice sweetly packaged in a Barbie movie: "And yet, you're here." Self-awareness... who knew? Well, my 5- and 9-y/o daughters might know it, but judging by the available evidence the Church of Satan doesn't. To illustrate my point, I submit five items for your consideration.

First, an interview between Church of Satan members Reverend Campbell and Magister Lang which the interviewer opens thus:
I have, on occasion, had the privilege of collaborating with like-minded Satanists, and through the course of those interactions I have learned that those of substance do not typically have the time to commit to an active online life. They are either too busy actually living their lives, or their contempt for the denizens of those virtual prisons holds no interest for them. One cannot hope to achieve his goals, or to manifest his desires if compulsively congratulating other social media thralls, after all.
Do you see why this is so hilarious to me? I don't know how the interview was conducted, but I can tell you how it was disseminated: via social media. Do you get it? The interviewer is saying, "People who have Internet lives are either worthless or contemptible," while ignoring both the fact that he uses the Internet to disseminate this and other media as well as the fact that he's calling the very people who are reading and sharing this interview worthless or contemptible. His hypocrisy and the disrespect for his audience astound me. How is it possible for him to lack such basic awareness of what he's saying? If you ever figure it out, let me know.

Second, an essay from Church of Satan Magistra Templi Rex Blanche Barton in which she compares mandatory public education to teaching a pig to sing:
Don’t shove kids who really do want to learn something in with the shit disturbers. Qualified teachers should teach where they’ll be appreciated, where they can communicate their enthusiasm for knowledge to children who are eager to learn. Let’s hire guards and baby sitters to minister to the needs of kids who are proud of their stupidity. Kids don’t want to be in school; parents don’t want to be involved with their children’s learning—so why force it on them?
"So why force it on them?" Here's why: because if it were up to the children, they'd be eating Kraft Dinner and cupcakes for every meal, that's why. Or, here's a better one: because the Church's of Satan membership depends on the minimal education of students served by public education. Speaking for myself, I don't know anybody anywhere who was privately schooled or home-schooled. I'm aware that these people exist, but I'm not personally acquainted with any of them. I'm not privy to the Church's of Satan member records, so what do I know -- maybe the rolls are stuffed full of prep school cadets and child geniuses? -- but I'd wager a lot of money that the vast majority of the Church's of Satan member rolls are composed of people just like me who were brought up in the system of mandatory public education which exists in many countries today.

And only because the short-sighted lack of awareness evident in this argument irritates me, let it also be said that mandatory school attendance is in place not just for the young students who'd childishly ask to spend all day watching YouTube, but also for the parents who would sacrifice their children's future education in favor of putting them to work, caring for their siblings or grandparents, or even begging on the street. Last I checked, Satanism is pretty big on not harming little children, and at least to my eyes it's pretty damn harmful to a child's development and future success to deny him or her access to peer socialization and a foundational education.

Third, an essay from Church of Satan Magus Peter H. Gilmore who wrote about the people who are unsuitable for membership in the Church of Satan:
So the spiteful brats who can’t bear to be ignored at times strike back by posting personal information about our members and representatives with whom they’re obsessed, or by stealing the sort of copyrighted material they could never create and illegally transmitting it (a real crime, folks). If that doesn’t give them away for failures, squealing for attention, then you might belong in their company.
Magus Gilmore is a man of passion and conviction, no doubt about it, and he clearly feels very strongly about the kind of people he lets through the front door, but where were his Satanic scruples when the Church of Satan under his leadership published in its official news-feed a so-called "fact sheet" about the Satanic Temple which for reasons that escape my comprehension was included the personal contact information for co-founder Lucien Greaves? At what point did Magus Gilmore so totally and completely lose sight of his deeply held convictions about what would invalidate a person for membership in the organization he leads that he would be willing to approve an official announcement that appears to serve no other purpose than to invite vigilante violence against another Satanist? In my estimation, exposing somebody's personal contact information is shamefully pathetic and inexcusable, especially considering all the years that Magus Gilmore served as a Church of Satan spokesperson during the Satanic Panic and warning against the murderous madness of theism

Fourth, an essay from the Black Pope himself, Anton LaVey, in which he condemns Satanists who want to practice Satanism but who don't want to join the Church of Satan:
It will be argued that, Satanically speaking, if anyone can assume and maintain the aforementioned position of having ones’ cake and eating it too—more power to them. My answer to that one is: “Fine, but not with my outfit, they don’t.” And if anyone in my outfit supports such chicanery, they in turn, should quit the Church of Satan and start their own thing. 
I'm gonna gloss over the implications he's making here that there's some kind of one, true Satanism, and if you practice according to his interpretation of Satanism then you must join with the Church of Satan or else you're a worthless parasite stealing from his legacy, and don't forget, people who don't feel the same way are devil worshipers, inverted Christians, opportunists, or nut-bags. Instead of dwelling on that, I'm going to focus on what he's really saying: "If you don't like what I'm doing, then go do your own thing." 

This kills me not only because Dr. LaVey's chosen intellectual successor Magus Gilmore has gone on to make a big deal of saying that one need not be a member of the Church of Satan to be a Satanist (and also emphasizing that joining isn't for everybody even if you are a Satanist), but also because this is exactly what at least one person did when founding the Satanic Temple: he didn't like what he was getting from the Church of Satan, so he left to do his own thing. 

So now, instead of respecting and abiding by the words of Dr. LaVey who specifically advised people to do their own thing if they didn't like what he was doing, the Church of Satan from the leadership top to the lowest membership down is waging an unrelenting war against the Satanic Temple for doing exactly what Dr. LaVey asked them to do. How did the Church of Satan become so massively self-unaware? How has this self-deception and willfully sustained lack of awareness and perspective flourished at what appears to be every level of the organization? 

To explain, I submit the fifth example: Myself.

One of the criticisms members of the Church of Satan use to trim ideological hedges is that Church of Satan members who spend time with pseudo-Satanists are colored by the company they keep. I'm going to ignore how much this resembles Christian attitudes about not keeping company with sinners, because I want to focus on the deeper implication: what's really being attacked with that criticism is the permission to manage one's own community. So even though the Church of Satan furiously insists that there's no such thing as Satanic community, in the words of Barbie, "And yet, you're here?"

In my experience the leadership and broader membership of the organization are mighty invested in keeping the wrong people out, and either policing or praising the behavior of people who are in. In hindsight, that's pretty awful, but at the time before I joined and after I joined, to me it surely felt like a community in terms of offering "a feeling of fellowship with others as a result of sharing common attitudes and interests."

It's true what they say: I was colored by the company I kept. The more time I spent reading the canon literature of the Church of Satan and consuming media disseminated on the officially endorsed news feed, the more my attitudes and interests tended to align with those of other Church of Satan members. There were a lot of things I liked about the Church of Satan, among them will to power and the romanticized approval of might makes right. For a prior-service Marine, this kind of hyper-masculine, look-how-big-my-dick-is culture was something that felt really familiar...

... and I don't say that as a compliment. I have a lot of fond memories of the time I spent in the Marine Corps, but for me the fact remains that I left the service before my enlistment expired because I was chronically and severely depressed, had developed a personality disorder, was exhibiting symptoms that resembled bipolar disorder, and had been confined three times for either planning or attempting suicide. I was unwell and deeply unhappy, and at the time I believed the reason for my condition to be something that was wrong with me. I tried a lot of things to fit in with the my brothers in arms, some of which I still regret today and will not share here, but what I've realized only within the last two years after left the service 14 years ago is that the problem wasn't with me, but the culture of toxic masculinity in which I was immersed.

My feelings of depression, anger, shame, frustration, mania, confusion, and inadequacy were the result of living every hour of every day for years on end in a hyper-macho environment where kindness is mistaken for weakness, women are things and not people, and everybody is constantly jockeying for position in a fuck-or-be-fucked, "better you than me" culture. This sort of culture nurtures the fallacious belief that the in-group is in every way superior to the out-group for the sole reason that the out-group was either too weak or too stupid to join the in-group. This sort of culture encourages the in-group to dehumanize and objectify the out-group and to identify or invent weaknesses in the out-group in order to justify the in-group's superiority. This sort of culture teaches the myth of personal exceptionalism, because of course the in-group is exceptional (that's why they're in and everybody else is out.) This sort of culture is what I observed while I was a member of the Church of Satan, and while I'd been out of the Marine Corps for long enough to deprogram, it was as easy to get back into as putting on an old pair of boots.

When I think about the question, "How could all these people become so self-unaware?," I need only consider my own involvement with the organization and how it provides a community to meet the needs of people who want to be all the things they hold up as essentially Satanic: strong, independent, virile, successful, intelligent, and more than anything else superior. It sounds strange that the Church of Satan uses the same self-validating test as the LDS Church, but it works when they say, "Read the Satanic Bible, and if you see yourself in those pages, then by golly you're one of us, and by the way this means that you've always been one of us, and incidentally have we told you how special that makes you because of course Satanists aren't made, they're born? Welcome home, native child, and join the ranks of the alien elite!"

I can't speak for anybody else, but at least for me that was a powerful combination that appealed to my most selfish ideals about who I really am and what I deserve in life. I felt immediate gratitude and indebtedness to the Church of Satan, and consequently developed a strong ability to self-censor the things in myself that I attacked in others. And if you have to know, in hindsight this is something I acquired before I joined the Church of Satan from reading the canon literature they recommend to prospective allegiants and I carried it with me for several months after I left the Church of Satan.

You want to know how pervasive this is? I've been reading Tarot cards for better than 15 years and at the time I discovered Satanism through the Church of Satan I had reached the point where I was ready to write my personal magnum opus and contribution to fortune-telling. There's nothing I wrote in my book The Satanic Tarot that in principle is not of my own mind, but in practice my manuscript became filled with contempt and disrespect for the people who seek my services. The narrative of the book created a dichotomy between fortune-tellers and marks, where fortune-tellers are never so weak, stupid, and impotent as to have their fortunes told, and marks are sheeple who are incapable of independent thought and serve no purpose except to line the pockets of fortune-tellers.

At the time I wrote it, my self-censorship was in full force and I lacked the self-awareness to write the book that was really within me, a book in which I embraced a skeptical, informed approach to fortune-telling and a performer's sense of humor for entertainment. Consequently, I've found myself in the position where after having published a book that I spent more than a year of my life to write I'm now pulling it from publication because I cringe to hear myself parroting the cruel, condescending attitudes that I learned from Dr. LaVey and Magus Gilmore which convinced me to see the world in terms of gods and clods, winners and losers, strong and weak, intelligent and stupid, and productive or worthless.

I meant what I said when I wrote a few months ago that I'm not going to stop calling myself a Satanist. For a lot of reasons I've already written, and for more that I've yet to write, Satanism is terrific and I'm a happier and possibly better person since I became a Satanist. There are friends who've encouraged me to leave my book in publication and to simply replace it when I'm finished revising the manuscript, but over the past month I've reached the point where I can't smile when I see my name on my own book. For this reason, I'm editing the book to reflect what I've come to believe is a healthier, more self-respecting, and above all more self-aware way of looking at Satanism.

There are members of the Church of Satan -- some of whom I know still read my blog for the reason of keeping tabs on me -- who try to diminish my complaints by calling me a jilted lover, and you know, that's a fair accusation. Maybe I'm just not a True Satanist™ and that's why I had the experience that I did, but I fell in love with the canon literature and swooned for the sweet nothings it whispered in my ear. I'm angry that my self-awareness was corrupted by the desire to belong to the intellectual community of Dr. LaVey's Infernal Empire. I'm angry that I allowed myself to be gaslighted into thinking it was my fault that I couldn't grasp the arguably inhuman rhetoric of the Church of Satan and its pseudo-scientific belief that Satanists are innately different from other people. I'm angry that my passion for the work of Dr. LaVey and Magus Gilmore resulted in what feels like a lot of wasted time. I'm angry that I allowed myself to be persuaded into ignoring both my better judgement and a raft of fallacies and contradictions among the exemplars held up as Satanic masters worthy of my figurative slavery. I'm angry that I chose to not believe critics who tried to show me these things and angry with myself that I sided with the apologists who labeled them as cranks, shit-disturbers, and lunatics.

But I can at least be thankful for the efforts of organizations like the Satanic Temple who are promoting a way to practice Satanism and be a Satanist that in both principle and in practice respects self-awareness, self-honesty, and the maturity to admit mistakes.

Hail Satan.