June 01, 2018

June 2018: Happy Birthday to Me

via GoHowi.com
On the 6th of June 2018 at precisely 3:10pm (give or take a few minutes) I will be 35 years old. In the Satanic tradition, my own birthday should be the highest holiday of my year, but I find it difficult to get excited about birthdays the way I could when I was much younger. When I was in grade-school, the accumulating pressure of anticipation for the ecstasy of promised presents, cake, and friends was something that would send me into a spiral for weeks in advance, but over the years has been replaced by a quiet appreciation for the people closest to me. I still enjoy a good cake, and am of course grateful for any presents that are given (though I no longer request or expect gifts), but the atmosphere of party cannons, unquestioned smiles, and go-along-to-get-along has long faded.

In the final calculation, this year has been one in which I've been asking myself, "Does the river shape the rock, or does the rock shape the river?" This summary of my past year is something that I've been trying to put into words for several months, and while I've finally managed to put it into words, I still have doubts that I'm properly expressing myself. If you get to the end of this letter and feel like something's missing, you'll have to let me know what it is because I can't figure it out to save my life.

At any rate... there are long-winded ruminations I could make on the nuance between the rock's and the river's perspective, but obviously the answer is that both shape each other. This process of mutual redirection and erosion has been a persistent theme for me this past year, especially as I process the last remaining traces of my association with the Church of Satan. Regular followers of this blog will have noticed a gradual transition over the past 8-12 months away from the goat-heavy themes of the Church of Satan and more toward the enlightenment themes of the so-called Illuminati. Just to get this out of the way, I don't believe that the Illuminati exists in the popular, conspiratorial sense, but just like the myth of Satan I find the myth of the Illuminati to be personally stimulating and a productive way of expressing and differentiating myself.

Seeing as the Church of Satan was my first exposure to Satanism, my understanding of the definition of Satanism will be forever colored by the work of Dr. LaVey and Magus Gilmore. Now, don't get me wrong: this isn't a complaint, and in terms of initial influences I could have done a whole lot worse. What I'm saying is that my foundational understanding of the concept of Satanism will probably be forever biased in favor of an atheistic, indulgent, and rationalist worldview which favors individual will-to-power, deliberate antagonism of deserving victims, self-deification, and the use of greater magic.

As before, once again: I'm not complaining. This understanding of Satanism -- and my application of it to my career as a Tarot card reader, in particular -- has contributed to vast improvements in my personal and professional happiness. Whatever differences of opinion I have about what the Church of Satan has become, I'll always be grateful to Dr. LaVey and Magus Gilmore for their intellectual contributions to my life. In this example, I suppose you could say that they were the rock that reshaped my river...

... or was I the rock shaped by their river? I sometimes wonder if this isn't the case, because even as I work to redefine my understanding of Satanism in line with the principles which became my core, I find that the rock which I believed to be myself is no longer the same as it used to be. Bruce Lee once famously said that self-improvement isn't a matter of daily increase, but decrease -- hack away the unessential! But what happens when -- cut after cut -- very little remains? Does the whole of the rock fracture into separate halves? Will the lesser half be carried away by the river? Or will both halves sink into the silt at the bottom of the river, never to regain their definition?

Since parting ways with the Church of Satan, I've chosen to join the Satanic Temple for the same reason that I joined the Church of Satan: I appreciate the work they're doing and want them to know that for however much or little I'm worth they have my support intellectually and from time to time financially. I've gained an appreciation for their decentralized approach to the study and understanding of Satanism, and am grateful that they've pierced the echo chamber of the Church of Satan.

In terms of religious expression and the reason and method of ritual, I think that the Satanic Temple is not one step out of line with the Church of Satan. The Satanic Temple also shares a few other pillars of thought with the Church of Satan, the core pillar being perhaps the improvement of the individual and those things of concern to the individual; however, the two organizations build upon this pillar differently. Whereas the Church of Satan generally favors the greater jihad of improving the individual him or herself exclusively, the Satanic Temple generally favors the lesser jihad of improving the world in which the individual lives.

But one of the reasons that the Satanic Temple shares what at times feels like quite a bit with the Church of Satan is because the Satanic Temple was founded in part by at least one person who was a long-time member of the Church of Satan. In the river of Satanism, the rock that is the Church of Satan split (and not for the first time) into separate pieces. In this case, neither piece sank to the bottom of the river, and both have instead taken up prominent positions to shape the river. I can already hear members of the Satanic Temple groaning on the other side of the interwebs, but I think that the difference between the Satanic Temple and the Church of Satan isn't one of substance, but expression, and I also think that this is a strength and a testament to the growth and development of Satanism as a modern religion (versus the sole property of a jealous priesthood).

There are others who've criticized the Satanic Temple for not going far enough to differentiate itself from the Church of Satan, but I don't agree with this criticism, and I may yet discuss my reasons why when I can neatly articulate them, but in terms of rocks and rivers -- What did anybody expect? Why does anybody expect the Satanic Temple to be shaped by neither the river nor the rock from which it came? If interested critics are going to require the Satanic Temple to clear a bar of complete originality and total individuation, then this same bar applies to the Church of Satan whose foundational book cribs liberally and overtly from other established authors and bodies of thought.

And finally, to bring this all back to me, I sometimes wonder if I shouldn't redirect the river of my self away from the Satanic Temple? I appreciate the work the national organization is doing, and I've enjoyed a lot of the content coming from and conversation with other TST members, but I have neither the time nor the energy to organize TST-friendly Satanists in my city, and even if I did then I think that I could do it only as a rock smoothed by the river of the Church of Satan. It's not my goal to apply my own CoS-influenced understanding of Satanism in support of an organization that's working pretty damn hard to not duplicate the culture of the Church of Satan. In these moments, I wonder that I would contribute more through my absence than my presence? Who knows...

But then, even by talking about these things I'm contributing (perhaps only a trickle?) to a larger river of change that is shaping, smoothing, and eroding the broader rock of Satanism within the even larger river of culture. I suppose my only birthday wish for the next year is that my own rock remains above others' rivers, and my own river is not dammed by others' rocks. 

Happy birthday to me. 


Freedom of Expression =/= Freedom from Consequences