In Memoriam: Doktor Anton Szandor LaVey

“Only if your life isn’t full of miracles can you recognize the real miracle …
Nothing happens without a reason.”

— Anton Szandor LaVey


by Adrian de Marca // 31 October 1997

Doktor Anton Szandor LaVey (1930—1997), the Founder and High Priest of the Church of Satan, was one of the twentieth century’s foremost philosophers and iconoclasts. Referred to affectionately by his students and admirers as “Doktor,” he inspired countless individuals with his uncompromising honesty and incisive critiques of the hypocrisy of conventional society. He championed the right of the individual to live according to his true nature, and had the strength of will to stand firmly behind his principles and never back down when confronted with adversity.There were many who hated and maligned him, but for all the futile efforts of his detractors, there were many more who loved and respected him, so much so that to this day his star has far outlasted and outshined most others who have since faded away into obscurity and nothingness. The fruits of his myriad efforts and the enduring legacy of his accomplishments speak for themselves.

Like so many others, I was first introduced to the work of Anton Szandor LaVey in my early adolescence, and from that moment on, my life changed forever. Here, for the very first time in my hitherto brief existence, was a brutally raw and honest statement of the way things are and have always been, and it literally heralded the first moment in my life when I truly began to realize that I was not alone in feeling so radically different from the majority of the world’s denizens. The only other time I experienced such a feeling of awakening was when I had first read Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra, which I had read prior to the The Satanic Bible. But where Nietzsche had provided the philosophical torch, it was LaVey who brought it all together in a practical reality, demonstrating the way to carry that torch in life.

The more I read about the man, the more I found I had in common with him. The love of film noir, the anachronistic romanticism for bygone eras when “men were men, and women were women,” for music that touched the very heart of what it means to be more human than human. I myself grew up with the films of the 1940s rather than the banal and hollow entertainments of the 1980s. One of the most positive contributions my parents made to my upbringing, as unusual as this might seem to some, was their passion for the films of Humphrey Bogart and Edward G. Robinson. That was an era when magic and mystery still haunted the streets of the cities of America, when the threat of danger and the forbidden lurked in the shadows of foggy, restless nights, and the passion of lovers was raw and unrestrained.

I never met Dr. LaVey, but I felt like he was a kindred spirit, and when I wrote to him in those early years of my adolescence, he took the time to write me back, and his effusive wit and charm only furthered my admiration for him. When my parents discovered that I had written him, as well as finding that dog-eared copy of the Bible on my bookshelf, they grounded me for a week, throwing away both the book and the letter, and forbid me from ever writing him again. But what they could not take away was what he had shared with me, that to be a Satanist meant to recognize the supremacy of the individual over the mediocrity of the collective masses, and to live life freely and true to one’s own nature without guilt or shame. In short, to simply be human and to be alive.

There have been those who attempt to limit Dr. LaVey’s brand of Satanism to heavy metal music and the absurdity of devil worship (which itself was a lurid fantasy of the Christian Church), such as the principal of my junior high school who once criticized me and complained to my parents for having dared to write a book report on The Satanic Bible, but such attitudes never cease to amaze me. Nothing could be further from the truth. LaVey’s writings are so bluntly clear that there is no room for misunderstanding or misinterpretation in this regard. Speaking only for myself, I detested heavy metal, preferring the classical music of Mozart and Wagner, as well as the electronic orchestrations of artists such as Jean-Michel Jarre and Vangelis.

Even in university I was to discover that having an interest in the work of Dr. LaVey could be considered academically dangerous. In a course on the philosophy of religion, where one studies both apologetics who argue for the existence of God, and those rationalists who argue against such beliefs, I wrote a paper based around the concept of the “death of God” in our media-saturated era, citing such thinkers as Nietzsche, Dawkins, Baudrillard, Derrida, and yes, LaVey. I received high marks for my effort, but was admonished by my professor, a self-proclaimed “secular Christian” (an oxymoron if ever there was one) for having even brought up the topic of LaVey and Satanism. As I was to learn, LaVey apparently was not considered academically “correct.” Atheism and even Marxism were acceptable, but mention that dreaded spectre called “Satanism” and one would even witness the most zealous atheist and agnostic become as enraged as the most fanatical Bible-thumping Christian. It was incredible, but as I was to learn as I transitioned into professional life, all too predictable. Even inevitable.

Perhaps it was because they considered LaVey too misanthropic, his view of humanity too bleak and cynical. I couldn’t have disagreed more. Where they found in LaVey a misanthrope, I found a man who harbored a sincere desire to see humanity better itself, for people to rise above all their petty and irrational concerns, and to free themselves of the bondage that they had been subjected to by Church and State (and ultimately themselves) for thousands upon thousands of years. In LaVey, I did not find negativity. Cynicism, yes, but behind that cynicism was an optimistic idealism that the world could be a better place if only people could accept themselves for who they are and accept the differences in each other. His philosophy was as down-to-earth and as common sense as could be had in this world where religions and ideologies conflict and rage against each other, all in the name of beating down the individual and making him conform against his will.

It was LaVey, speaking to a group of friends in the documentary Satanis, who stated, before it became so fashionable to say so, that humans needed to accept those who are different; not to simply tolerate them, but to accept them for who they are. One of his favorite films, along with such Hollywood classics as Nightmare Alley, was Tod Browning’s 1932 film Freaks, a celebration of those who were born different, and where the real “freaks” were those considered to be “normal.” LaVey sincerely appreciated the differences in people and encouraged people to cultivate their individuality, without regard to what others might think of them. Was this the attitude of a mere misanthrope, a cynic? No. Above and beyond all else, LaVey was far ahead of his time, and he made no apologies for it.

Dr. LaVey passed away on October 29th, 1997 in San Francisco, California, a city that he had long enriched and made all the more interesting. Of all the characters who added to the mystique of that hedonistic metropolis throughout its turbulent history, LaVey without a doubt was the most legendary and colorful. He lived a life fuller than most, and never had there been a moment in all the sixty-seven years of his existence that one could have accused him of not having lived his life to the fullest extent possible.

The institution that he had established on April 30th, 1966 continues to thrive today. The Satanic Bible that he authored in 1969 has sold hundreds of thousands of copies since then and has never been out-of-print, and continues to help awaken and strengthen the lives of those who have always known from birth that they are different from the herd. His other writings, The Satanic Rituals, The Satanic Witch (originally published as The Compleat Witch), The Devil’s Notebook, and Satan Speaks! are all widely available and resonate as strongly today as they did when they were first written.

The influence of Dr. LaVey’s work has since expanded well beyond the boundaries of the Western world, the impact of which is being felt in countries as far afield as Russia and the former East Bloc nations, which for decades languished under the tyranny of collectivism, have since witnessed the fiery resurgence of the Promethean spirit against all odds. In Communist China, where the rights of the individual are still severely restricted, The Satanic Bible has become an underground favorite of university students. In Iran, which suffers under the stifling rule of Islamic theocracy, bootleg copies of The Satanic Bible (as well as the similarly iconoclastic works of Ayn Rand) are passed around and widely sought after by a new generation of youth who risk imprisonment and death for even possessing such blasphemous works. In Israel, where the Jewish religious orthodoxy continually attempt to undermine that nation’s precious secularism and where laws forbidding witchcraft still exist (a remnant from the days of British rule), The Satanic Bible has become a forbidden but unrelenting voice of sanity in the desert.

The reach and force of Dr. LaVey’s work is not to be underestimated. To the weak and insecure, to those who remain slaves to superstition and ignorance, he remains a figure to be hated and reviled, a scapegoat to cast their fears upon. But like Satan, the Adversary and Accuser who holds up a mirror to humanity, reflecting their own hypocrisy and guilt back at them, LaVey always just said it like it was, without nonsense nor pretension.

As LaVey himself once stated in an interview to The Washington Post, “Only if your life isn’t full of miracles can you recognize the real miracle.” To those whose lives have been touched by Dr. LaVey, whether they knew him in life or simply through his words, he will be forever remembered.

Anton LaVey, may the fires of your earthly wisdom burn eternally bright,
as bright and as brilliant as a billion rays of light …

A Eulogy to the Doktor by Adrian de Marca © 1997


“If a person has been vital throughout his life and has fought to the end for his earthly existence, it is this ego which will refuse to die, even after the expiration of the flesh which housed it.”
— Anton Szandor LaVey, The Satanic Bible

 

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