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The Satanic Bible by Anton Szandor LaVey

The Satanic Bible (1969)

by Anton Szandor LaVey

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A surprisingly tame and coherent book on the tenets of Satanism, LaVey successfully debunks many of the popular myths about the creed. Expecting a crude, half-baked scrawl about the Antichrist and demons, laden with pentagrams and other occult paraphernalia, I instead got a thoughtful and surprisingly eloquent defence of rationalism and individualism. LaVey actually debunks a lot of myths about Satanism, not in a defensive way but simply by explaining coherently what it is actually about. It's just a shame about the high-school level occultism which ends up garnishing the ideas.

The first part of the book is all about the hypocrisy of established religions, mainly Christianity, and this is where LaVey's best content is to be found. Religious hypocrisy might be a low-hanging target, but it is still one that needs to be shot at. He correctly identifies these religions as ones of abstinence, which is self-defeating as no one can abstain from common human emotions. He juxtaposes this with Satanism, which is all about indulgence of earthly desires. By looking after oneself first, the argument goes, one is therefore possessing more self-respect than the shaming in Abrahamic religions, and happier and able to spread that happiness to others more effectively. And – this is important – the indulgence of earthly desires is not about blood sacrifices or massive orgies (myths which LaVey comprehensively debunks), but simply about taking responsibility for one's own actions and emotions, being true to yourself, and not dumping all your problems like a child on the great father in the sky. To get to this stage, LaVey advocates individuality and doubt. You wouldn't find the Bible or the Koran, with their herd mentality and their explicit kill-all-unbelievers suppression of dissent, saying this. Satanism is rather a more harmless and humane doctrine than I anticipated.

Indeed, LaVey even freely admits that there is no 'Satan' in the horns-and-pitchfork sense, nor is there a 'God'. The philosophy is quite atheistic; it draws on Biblical mythology the way a fiction writer might draw on Greek mythology. 'Satan' is a concept, a feat of imagination. It is derived from Lucifer the fallen angel, literally the 'light-bringer' or 'morning-star'. It is not Satan as demon but as Lucifer, who brought enlightenment to humankind, casting a black mirror on religious shallowness and God's imperfect administration of our species. Worshipping 'Satan' is almost a literary conceit, with LaVey utilising the figure and the attendant mythology to channel and codify our daily philosophical frustrations. Satan is the indulgence to counter the abstinence pushed by other religions: he is not real but the other half of the human ego – the denied half. It is certainly more theologically consistent than other religions.

But then – and this is where The Satanic Bible falters – comes the second part of the book. This is all about ritual – the pentagrams, black masses, and so on. This is where it all gets a little silly. All the occult stuff comes to the fore and not only is it really sad and cheesy – when I hear Enochian or lines about how "Leviathan, the great Dragon from the Watery Abyss, roars forth" (pg. 143), I can't but hear the voice of Ron Burgundy reciting it – but it undermines a lot of the rational philosophy that came before it. LaVey makes a sometimes convincing argument about mankind's need for ritual – to feel something emotionally and not just intellectually – but it screams 'cult' rather than 'philosophy'. Ritual just indoctrinates someone into a certain line of thinking; it doesn't encourage them to think for themselves as LaVey encourages in the first half of the book. On page 48, he argues that speaking words in a ritualized language – Enochian – is better than in English if one wants to obtain an emotional reaction. I disagree: for a creed advocating individuality, I want ideas and concepts communicated clearly, not by sleight-of-hand. If you're manipulating people you're not really freeing them. LaVey with his occultism falls into the same trap as the religions he despises. It is dogma and conformity and all the ritualistic appendages that bankrupt religion as a moral force. Thomas Jefferson once re-wrote the New Testament as a secular version without any of the miracles, titled The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. Unlike LaVey, he understood that the core ideas had strength on their own and didn't need supplementary supernatural artifice – baggage which would only weaken it and provide material for chancers and demagogues.

For, most certainly, there are some dangerous ideas in this book more in keeping with the conventional stereotype of Satanism. If I had to choose a religion to follow, with a gun to my head, I would consider this one even if I ending up choosing another. It is at least freethinking. Ironically, it is more harmless than established religions, but some things still make me uneasy. The ideas often touch on moral relativism and sometimes on anarchism and social Darwinism. And although he debunks myths about harming others sexually or harming animals, he does advocate violence in a dangerously vague way. "When a person, by his reprehensible behaviour," LaVey writes on pages 89-90, "practically cries out to be destroyed, it is truly your moral obligation to indulge them their wish." Such content could be easily manipulated by the bloodthirsty power-players who are often drawn to religion, and it is surprising that LaVey, so clear-eyed about the failings of other dogma, fails to see all the loopholes he has provided for abuse of his own philosophy. "As environments change, no human ideal standeth sure," he writes on page 31; a gaping loophole for any successor to the Satanic priesthood to distort LaVey's ideas however they like. Devoted, well-meaning disciples could, if they take the book to heart, easily be turned onto another, less savoury, path.

And, despite its merits, this is why I cannot advocate Satanism. It claims for itself the moral superiority that it denies to other religions. It is disparaging of the abuse of other religious creeds by their disciples but ignorant or cavalier about the potential of the same toward its own. It encourages individuality and thinking for yourself whilst at the same time emphasising the importance of group ritual and following the tenets set down by this man. Like myself, many individualists will be intellectually confident enough to embrace the principles yet shun the unnecessary cultish rituals. It is not the answer for inquisitive people, but it is decent material to help inform views. It allows one to vent and nod your head but that doesn't mean any of its hocus-pocus is any less silly than that of other religions. Secular free-thinking, rather than creed-thinking, has to be the way.

But The Satanic Bible offers an unusual, and therefore interesting, perspective. It is rather well-written, with some darkly poetic touches, and in his brevity (less than 300 pages) LaVey is more welcome than the lengthy and "ponderous rulebooks of hypocrisy" that bolster other religions (pg. 29). It is surprisingly rational and tame; the Introduction (by LaVey's successor as High Priest of the Church of Satan, a man with the hilariously serious name of Magus Peter H. Gilmore) describes it as a "common sense, rational, materialist philosophy, along with theatrical ritual techniques" (pg. 9). It's an accurate summary, and one many people might find themselves identifying with – at least to some extent – if they gave it a honest chance. It is reactionary and some of LaVey's ideas might not stand up to robust philosophical scrutiny, but as a response, a counterpoint, to established religious and societal dogma it is welcome. Secular free-thinking is the only way to attain anything approaching truth or logic in philosophy, but to break the stranglehold of narrow religious thinking Satanism might prove a useful halfway house.

And perhaps this is enough. For Satan is the light-bringer; his role and fate is to shine a light on religious hypocrisy, not to court disciples of his own. It is a thankless task and, as LaVey concedes, he has always "remained the gentleman" (pg. 29) and, aptly enough, prefers to stay in the shadows. If Satanism has a value it is that it is the only religious creed that encourages individuality and indulgence, not shame and groupthink. And LaVey reminds us that these concepts – indulgence, earthly delight, doubt, curiosity, rationality, freedom – are only considered the 'powers of darkness' because "no religion has taken these forces out of the darkness" (pg. 62). If individuality, liberty and rationalism can be promoted then, even if he receives no explicit disciples, the Devil has served his purpose. ( )
2 vote MikeFutcher | Aug 25, 2016 |
Much better than Christian dogma. This is well written, and makes sense. ( )
  ethanlu121 | May 2, 2016 |
I had read this book years ago. Although I can not presume to know the author's true motives for writing such a book, I do know that it is very easily mis-understood. I do agree with many of the observations he has against the church. To a certain degree, some of what the author has described has come true (a.k.a. the church sex scandals that are going on today).

What I do not agree with is the authors needs to create rituals. Why did he do this? Is it that he knew it would be controversial and sell many copies of the book? Did he really want to start a cult following?

I would recommend this book be read by everyone, just as I recommend the Bible be read by everyone. It is good to get the other perspective. ( )
  DVerdecia | Jan 29, 2016 |
I have always been curious about the occult/witchcraft so that is the only reason I want to read this book. I am not a satanist and I am not religious but I do have spiritual beliefs.
  EvilCreature | Jan 2, 2016 |
I read a few chapters. I didn't get to finish it.
  AshleyDioses | Aug 1, 2015 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Anton Szandor LaVeyprimary authorall editionscalculated
Wolfe, Burton H.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0380015390, Mass Market Paperback)

One might expect The Satanic Bible at least to offer a few prancing demons or a virgin sacrifice, but if you hopped this train expecting a tour of the house of horrors, you're on the wrong ride. Far from a manual for conquering the realms of earth, air, fire, and water, The Satanic Bible is Anton LaVey's manifesto of a new religion separate from the "traditional" Judeo-Christian definitions of Satanism. While LaVey rails against the deceit of the Christian church and white magicians, he busily weaves his own deceptions.

The Satanic Bible claims the heritage of a horde of evil deities--Bile', Dagon, Moloch, and Yao Tzin to name a few--but these ancient gods have no coherent connection between each other or to Satanism, except that all have been categorized by Christianity as "evil." Calling on these ancient names like a magician shouting, "Abracadabra," LaVey attempts to shatter the classical depiction of Satanism as a cult of black mass and child sacrifice. As the smoke clears, he leads us through a surprisingly logical argument in favor of a life focused on self-indulgence. The Satanic Bible is less bible and more philosophy (with a few rituals thrown in to keep us entertained), but this philosophy is the backbone of a religion that, until LaVey entered the scene, was merely a myth of the Christian church. It took LaVey, and The Satanic Bible, to turn this myth into a legitimate public religion. --Brian Patterson

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:44 -0400)

Called "The Black Pope" by many of his followers, Anton La Vey began the road to High Priesthood of the Church of Satan when he was only 16 years old and an organ player in a carnival: "On Saturday night I would see men lusting after halfnaked girls dancing at the carnival, and on Sunday morning when I was playing the organ for tent-show evangelists at the other end of the carnival lot, I would see these same men sitting in the pews with their wives and children, asking God to forgive them and purge them of carnal desires. And the next Saturday night they'd be back at the carnival or some other place of indulgence. I knew then that the Christian Church thrives on hypocrisy, and that man's carnal nature will out!" From that time early in his life his path was clear. Finally, on the last night of April, 1966 - Walpurgisnacht, the most important festival of the believers in witchcraft - LaVey shaved his head in the tradition of Ancient executioners and announced the formation of The Church Of Satan. He had seen the need for a church that would recapture man's body and his carnal desires as objects of celebration. "Since worship of fleshly things produces pleasure," he said, "there would then be a temple of glorious indulgence".… (more)

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