The birth of the Age of Fire

Reverend Ray shares the history of the often misunderstood Church of Satan, and how its founder went

Anton Szandor LaVey founded The Church Of Satan on April 30th (Walpurgisnacht) 1966. He had neither planned or even expected to be the founder of a new religion but he had, since the beginning of the 1950s, been an iconoclastic explorer of the left-hand path and having worked (amongst other things) as a police scenes of crime photographer, circus lion tamer and paranormal investigator LaVey became somewhat of a character on the San Francisco social scene. He began holding “Witches Workshops” at his infamous Black House on California Street. These soirées became events that attracted a number of notables of the time, including Baroness Carin de Plessen, Dr. Cecil Nixon and underground filmmaker Kenneth Anger. These gatherings threw together business tycoons, writers, artists and even the grandson of a U.S President and formed what became known as The Magic Circle. Symbolising the Circle’s investigations into the psychological effects of demonic geometry, the group evolved into what became known as The Order Of The Trapezoid, which endures to this day as the governing body within The Church Of Satan.

It may come as a surprise for most to discover that prior to the founding of The Church Of Satan in 1966, Satanism as a codified and established religion did not exist. In the middle ages there had indeed been Christian heretics who, rebelling against the powerful authoritarianism wielded by the churches of the time, held black masses as a means of denouncing their faith. But outside of Hollywood studios and the active imaginations of horror genre writers we, The Church Of Satan, are the first above ground organisation openly dedicated to the acceptance of man’s true nature – that of a carnal beast living in a world that offers a plenitude of delights for those of us who denounce the hogwash of spiritual, faith based religions that have made it their avowed aim to permeate civilisation with repressive morals and ethics, serving only to thwart and denigrate the fountainhead of creativity that flows naturally and purely within the human animal.

In Blanche Barton's book The Church Of Satan, Anton LaVey espouses how he saw that there needed to be a new representative of justice. Not some ethereal, mystic, white bearded deity shrouded in divinity but a true human advocate who would stand as a proud archetype symbolising the God-hood of man. In 1969 LaVey solidified and presented the fundamental bedrock of Satanism in The Satanic Bible - still widely available today, it remains the cornerstone and primary text of Satanism. Additionally, LaVey authored a companion to his bible entitled The Satanic Rituals, two books of essays - The Devil's Notebook and Satan Speaks - and his notorious The Satanic Witch.

Anton LaVey died on 29th October 1997, leaving The Church Of Satan under the auspices of his long time partner and then High Priestess, Blanche Barton and the many individuals appointed to the Priesthood Of Mendes. On Walpurgisnacht 2001 Blanche Barton appointed a new High Priest – a long time member of the priesthood and personal comrade of Anton LaVey, Peter H. Gilmore. The following year Blanche appointed Peter Gilmore’s wife, Peggy Nadramia as High Priestess so that she herself could remain in an administrative capacity within the church but also devote more time to raising her son (by Anton LaVey) Satan Xerxes Carnacki LaVey.

Now in our 42nd year and with our epicurean members all around the world, we continue to forward the tenets and philosophies established by Anton LaVey. Having said that, you will neither see nor hear any pulpit harangues from any of us. We do not preach. Rather, we lead by example through the examples we set. The chances are you have already run into our members and not even known it! The Church Of Satan is indeed a threat to the established (and often pious) mores that govern society. But the threat does not come in the shape or form they expect. The iconoclastic individuals who make up our ranks include members of the police force, those serving in the military, professional sportsmen and even government officials. In addition, a great number of Satanists work in the arts as writers, film directors, painters and musicians and over the course of our history some people of note who are, or who have at some point, been affiliated with us include the Hollywood actress Jayne Mansfield, Sammy Davis Jnr, Marilyn Manson and Marc Almond.

True to our maxim that “you can’t nail custard to a wall”, we remain a loosely knit cabal of individuals often staying out of sight and pulling the strings from the shadows.

Umberto Ray is predominantly known as a poet and his work has appeared in magazines and anthologies around the world. His first book, The Blood In My Veins, was published in 2005. He has been a CoS member for several years and was ordained into its priesthood on Walpurgisnacht, 2007.
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Andy Burnham and Sadiq Khan are both slippery self-mythologisers – so why do we rate one more than the other?

Their obsessions with their childhoods have both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

Andy Burnham is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s widely seen as an unprincipled flip-flopper.

Sadiq Khan is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s the hugely popular mayor of London, the voice of those who’d be proud to think of themselves as the metropolitan liberal elite, and is even talked of as a possible future leader of the Labour party.

Oh, and also they were both born in 1970. So that’s a thing they have in common, too.

Why it is this approach to politics should have worked so much better for the mayor of London than the would-be mayor of Manchester is something I’ve been trying to work out for a while. There are definite parallels between Burnham’s attempts to present himself as a normal northern bloke who likes normal things like football, and Sadiq’s endless reminders that he’s a sarf London geezer whose dad drove a bus. They’ve both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

And yes, Burnham apparent tendency to switch sides, on everything from NHS privatisation to the 2015 welfare vote to the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, has given him a reputation for slipperiness. But Sadiq’s core campaign pledge was to freeze London transport fares; everyone said it was nonsense, and true to form it was, and you’d be hard pressed to find an observer who thought this an atypical lapse on the mayor’s part. (Khan, too, has switched sides on the matter of Jeremy Corbyn.)

 And yet, he seems to get away with this, in a way that Burnham doesn’t. His low-level duplicity is factored in, and it’s hard to judge him for it because, well, it’s just what he’s like, isn’t it? For a long time, the Tory leadership’s line on London’s last mayor was “Boris is Boris”, meaning, look, we don’t trust him either, but what you gonna do? Well: Sadiq is Sadiq.

Even the names we refer to them by suggest that one of these two guys is viewed very differently from the other. I’ve instinctively slipped into referring to the mayor of London by his first name: he’s always Sadiq, not Khan, just as his predecessors were Boris and Ken. But, despite Eoin Clarke’s brief attempt to promote his 2015 leadership campaign with a twitter feed called “Labour Andy”, Burnham is still Burnham: formal, not familiar. 

I’ve a few theories to explain all this, though I’ve no idea which is correct. For a while I’ve assumed it’s about sincerity. When Sadiq Khan mentions his dad’s bus for the 257th time in a day, he does it with a wink to the audience, making a crack about the fact he won’t stop going on about it. That way, the message gets through to the punters at home who are only half listening, but the bored lobby hacks who’ve heard this routine two dozen times before feel they’re in the joke.

Burnham, it seems to me, lacks this lightness of touch: when he won’t stop banging on about the fact he grew up in the north, it feels uncomfortably like he means it. And to take yourself seriously in politics is sometimes to invite others to make jokes at your expense.

Then again, perhaps the problem is that Burnham isn’t quite sincere enough. Sadiq Khan genuinely is the son of a bus-driving immigrant: he may keep going on about it, but it is at least true. Burnham’s “just a northern lad” narrative is true, too, but excludes some crucial facts: that he went to Cambridge, and was working in Parliament aged 24. Perhaps that shouldn’t change how we interpret his story; but I fear, nonetheless, it does.

Maybe that’s not it, though: maybe I’m just another London media snob. Because Burnham did grow up at the disadvantaged end of the country, a region where, for too many people, chasing opportunities means leaving. The idea London is a city where the son of a bus driver can become mayor flatters our metropolitan self-image; the idea that a northerner who wants to build a career in politics has to head south at the earliest opportunity does the opposite. 

So if we roll our eyes when Burnham talks about the north, perhaps that reflects badly on us, not him: the opposite of northern chippiness is southern snobbery.

There’s one last possibility for why we may rate Sadiq Khan more highly than Andy Burnham: Sadiq Khan won. We can titter a little at the jokes and the fibs but he is, nonetheless, mayor of London. Andy Burnham is just the bloke who lost two Labour leadership campaigns.

At least – for now. In six weeks time, he’s highly likely to the first mayor of Greater Manchester. Slipperiness is not the worst quality in a mayor; and so much of the job will be about banging the drum for the city, and the region, that Burnham’s tendency to wear his northernness on his sleeve will be a positive boon.

Sadiq Khan’s stature has grown because the fact he became London’s mayor seems to say something, about the kind of city London is and the kind we want it to be. Perhaps, after May, Andy Burnham can do the same for the north – and the north can do the same for Andy Burnham.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.