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.
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:
- Definiteness of purpose. Choose a purpose, a grand aspiration, a big goal, and move towards it relentlessly.
- Mastery over self. Discipline equals freedom. If you’re driven by impulse all your life, you’ll go nowhere, like a drifter.
- Learning from adversity. Failures are just failures. Whether we learn from them or let them stop us is up to us.
- Controlling environmental influence. Who you hang out with matters. What your room looks like matters.
- Time. Time can make drifting and negativity permanent. But it can also make positivity and wisdom permanent.
- Harmony. In order for you to balance mental, spiritual, and physical aspects of your life, you must be the main actor.
- 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.
In search of Satan: Evil is as evil does.
by Summer Burkes, 04.28.99
Satan: formidable mythical and literary figure scapegoated for human weakness, odious to the Christian world, lionized in rebellious forms of art, and rendered as a cartoon to sell products.
Here in the culturally liberal “city of fruits and nuts,” attitudes are philosophical and/or flip about Beelzebub, but in the Bible Belt, it’s a different story altogether.
As a child I was forced to go to an Evangelical Christian church three times a week, where we listened to demonic-possession tapes, sang songs of paranoia about Satan’s habits, and were taught to watch for him in every nook and cranny and suspect his hand in every deed that brought pleasure.
In circles like that, the zealots actually believe that nature and nurture don’t have as much impact on behavioral tendencies as Lucifer’s roving, pointy-tailed cloud of malevolence. But from the Zoroastrian point of view, evil is necessary to make good look good. And as any circus performer knows, sin and danger sell tickets.
Little coincidence, then, that America’s foremost spokesperson for the Prince of Darkness was a former carny who believed in indulgence over abstinence and used button-pushing histrionics to get his point across and piss off the status quo.
Anton Szandor LaVey tamed lions and played organs in the seedy sideshow circuit of the 1950s. A dabbler in the occult and an entertainer to the core, LaVey founded the Church of Satan in San Francisco in 1966. Although the hokey, filmed rituals that circulated seem to denote a strained penchant for depravity, the satanists claim that members “have nothing to do with kidnapping, drug abuse, child molestation, animal or child sacrifice, or any number of other acts that idiots, hysterics, or opportunists would like to credit us with.”
While its tenets veer toward the fascist (the abolishment of affirmative action) or just plain creepy (the creation of a race of artificial human companions for the purpose of slavery), the Church of Satan follows the sane, Darwinist (albeit elitist) philosophy of Nietzsche almost to the letter. They don’t believe in God, so they don’t believe in Satan, either. They’re just borrowing his name.
LaVey’s house, once host to the first-ever Satanic wedding and funeral, now sits dilapidating deep in the Richmond. After LaVey’s death in 1997, financial strain led to the eviction of his longtime companion and their toddler son; his two grown daughters then ransacked and trashed the joint.
As I and a companion discover on our visit to LaVey’s (dis)possessed lair, the monarch of hell has left the building. The solid black Victorian peels to reveal more layers of black paint; the boarded-up windows aren’t telling; discarded ketchup packets and tatters of paper behind the fence fail to broadcast evil. We clutch the fence, squint, and say “Bloody Mary” three times. Nothing happens.
In between crosstown jaunts to suspected Satanic lairs, we discuss our childhood run-ins with Mattel’s tool of darkness, the Ouija board. We fail to construct a concrete theory (the power of the subconscious mind? mischievious spirits of former people no smarter than us?) as to how real words get spelled out and the electricity goes off more often than not.
One of my companion’s more fervent teenage friends purportedly took her Ouija’s advice to heart, ran away from home, and eventually went insane.
Ouija Girl probably listened to Slayer, too — after all, isn’t it true according to popular Christian lore that heavy metal causes insanity and murderous behavior just as rap causes shootings, rockabilly causes premarital sex, and gospel causes piety?
(It’s worth noting here that Nietzsche said, “I could not have stood my youth without Wagner’s music. When one wants to rid oneself of an intolerable pressure, one needs hashish. Well, I needed Wagner.”)
At the Slayer show later that night, the world’s premier thrash-metal band churns and heshes onstage in front of 24 imposing Marshall stacks as more than a thousand sweaty, shirtless, bald, tattooed jocks get out their aggressions in the moshpit and the aisles.
A Satan wanna-be in the lobby wears a gory mask, a mustache, a mullet, and acid-wash jeans. (We all know that Satan really looks like … Pat Riley of the Miami Heat.)
Not one Goth in sight. No cloven hooves anywhere. The bass is so low that my teeth threaten to fall out. I borrow a pen from an older woman who turns out to be drummer Paul Bostaph’s mom. She does not radiate evil.
I ask the people at my table about the close calls they’ve had with Satan.
A Pentecostal-bred woman tells us that her mom’s uptight friend once had the cops called on her during an after-church outing when she freaked out and thought she saw Satan in the bathroom at McDonald’s.
“My aunt was really religious,” another says. “At Great America, we could ride every ride except for the Demon, because it was called the Demon.”
“I met Anton LaVey once,” one veteran of the Bay Area rock scene says. “Nicest guy you’d ever meet. And I met a high priest of the church, although you wouldn’t know it to look at him. We went back to his house, and he had literally thousands of books. He’d read them all. Nice guy.”
His girlfriend: “I used to live with all these annoying witches. They weren’t satanists or anything, but they were really into Aleister Crowley. Before each of their rituals, they would dip themselves in a purifying herb bath in the bathtub. At one point I was sick of all their mystical black-robed shit. So I peed in it.”
Now that’s evil.
After Slayer has grunted out its last homage to the Dark Lord, we head to Lucky 13, a bad-luck-and-Lucifer-themed nightspot. Behind the undulating bar, dozens of black ceramic cats ogle the beer drinkers; posters of zombies and demons (and Iggy Pop, go figure) glow in the black light.
In the bathroom I mention the Bloody Mary thing again, and one of the lightbulbs clicks off. Coincidence? It comes back on. Hm.
Back by the pool table, we stare at a 3-D mural on the wall: it’s Satan. Hyperactive, neurotic, and looking not a little like Bill the Cat.
At the exact moment I vocalize that the day’s search for Mephistopheles is over, I kid you not, the Rolling Stones’ “Dancing with Mr. D” comes on the jukebox.
Maybe the Christians weren’t so wrong … look for something hard enough, and it’ll show up.
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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