Dilettante 43: Satan hunt

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Spray tan laughing spreads his wings.

In comparison to America’s political leadership in the Bush and Tunt years, and the overwhelming Nazification of the youth, Actual Satan seems like a benevolent father figure these days.

Evangelicals of my childhood would be horrified at popular modern television shows, with Lucifer and magic and witches and dirt-worshipping heathens being portrayed in a somewhat positive light.

But then again in the late 1940s Bible-thumpers would’ve been horrified to know that the future spokesperson for Beelzebub — Anton LaVey, founder of the Church of Satan — was playing whimsical calliope melodies for their children at circus carnivals or San Francisco’s legendary Playland by the Sea amusement park.

Sadly, when we visited LaVey’s house in the Sunset district of San Francisco in 1999, it was still painted all black, looming behind chain-link fences, but somehow underwhelmingly not-very-evil. All the Satanists we talked to for the piece were traditionally Gen-X noncommittal in their articulation of service to the light-bearing fallen angel (though steadfast in their Satanic fashion choices).

But it was Slayer tickets we truly sought for this “Dilettante” post 20 years ago, so we crafted a theme around the column’s entry and ran with it for the week.

Anton LaVey: herald of the Devil, calliope and Wurlitzer player

Bible thumpers had no chance to read the 1938 book Outwitting the Devil in the last century, as it wasn’t published until 2011 because the author’s wife got scared about a Satanic panic ensuing. In the book, Napoleon Hill (who wrote the best-selling self-help book of all time, Think and Grow Rich) claims to have used wizardry to ensnare the Dark Lord into a forced-honesty Q&A of some sort.

During the outwitting / interview, Old Man Lucifer supposedly says that God’s realm is nature and the Earth, while his realm is the dark, idle corners of the human mind. Three things that feed this unfocused state and thus Satan are: Cigarettes, alcohol, and over-sharing your opinions about trivial issues of the day. (Please note that social media wouldn’t be invented for almost another century.)

And the best ways to be holy and keep the Devil out of your brain, says Hill? Never let yourself drift into a hypnotic rhythm. Control your thoughts, have faith and purpose, eradicate fear and doubt, and don’t talk shit, basically. From the notes:

  1. Definiteness of purpose. Choose a purpose, a grand aspiration, a big goal, and move towards it relentlessly.
  2. Mastery over self. Discipline equals freedom. If you’re driven by impulse all your life, you’ll go nowhere, like a drifter.
  3. Learning from adversity. Failures are just failures. Whether we learn from them or let them stop us is up to us.
  4. Controlling environmental influence. Who you hang out with matters. What your room looks like matters.
  5. Time. Time can make drifting and negativity permanent. But it can also make positivity and wisdom permanent.
  6. Harmony. In order for you to balance mental, spiritual, and physical aspects of your life, you must be the main actor.
  7. Caution. Always act. But always think before you act.

That doesn’t sound like evil advice. Sounds a lot like what other deities have advised humans to do over time, with similar credibility issues themselves.

Well at least the Devil still has the best music.

could it beeeee… (say it with me)

Click through to read “In search of Satan,” originally published in the SF Bay Guardian on April 28, 1999.

This is the 43rd entry in my “twenty years ago this week” project from when I was a nightlife columnist at the Bay Guardian, once the country’s largest family-owned weekly newspaper. These “Dilettante” clips, compiled on my portfolio page, create a serial portrait of San Francisco culture at the turn of the century (1997-2001).

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