When Anton Szandor LaVey decided to start a religion in San Francisco in 1966, he figured he’d better shave his noggin. Medieval executioners, carnival strongmen, and black magicians shaved their heads, he thought, so he shaved his.
LaVey’s pale, naked pate combined with his jet-black goatee and all-black wardrobe to create the perfect Mephistophelian image for presiding over the devilish ritual that launched The Church of Satan.
The Church of Satan
In the unconventional city by the bay, LaVey, 37, was already a well-known eccentric. He played the organ at the Lost Weekend nightclub. He drove a hearse and walked a pet leopard. He painted his house on California Street black and delivered midnight lectures there, at $2.50 a head, on occult subjects vampires, werewolves, love potions.
The night he discoursed on cannibalism his wife served listeners roasted chunks of a human thigh that a doctor pal had swiped from an autopsy. And now he’d founded a devil-worshipping church. The media couldn’t resist, especially when LaVey staged stunts worthy of P.T. Barnum. He started with a “satanic wedding” in the parlor of what he called “Black House.” The groom was a former Christian Science Monitor reporter; atop the altar lay a beautiful redheaded woman, stark naked. So many photographers and cameramen covered the event that LaVey had to repeat the ceremony five times to accommodate them all.
The Satanic Bible
A few months later, in May 1967, LaVey summoned the media to Black House for the “satanic baptism” of his daughter, Zeena. The three-year-old sat on the altar—featuring, of course, a naked woman—while Zeena’s dad, draped in black robes and sporting a horned cowl, invoked the new faith’s old lord: “In the name of Satan, welcome a new mistress, Zeena, creature of ecstatic magic light…We dedicate your life to love, to passion, to indulgence and to Satan, and the way of darkness.
Hail Zeena! Hail Satan!” LaVey’s genius for flackery quickly made him famous, the subject of articles in Life, Time, Newsweek, and Cosmopolitan. He made the cover of Look holding a human skull. He bantered with radio interviewers and performed a satanic good-luck ritual on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show.
In countless interviews, LaVey told his story: At 16, he dropped out of school to play oboe in the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra.
He worked as a lion tamer for the Clyde Beatty Circus, and as a carnival fortune-teller. He played the organ in burlesque shows at the Mayan Theater in Los Angeles, where, he claimed, he had had a fling in 1948 with a stripper named Marilyn Monroe. Later, he became a crime scene photographer and “psychic investigator” for the San Francisco police department.
Life at society’s margins convinced LaVey that God didn’t exist and that traditional churches were hypocritical. So he founded a religion that embraced the pleasures of the flesh. “The highest form of spirituality,” he said, “is the carnal.” In his 1969 book, The Satanic Bible, LaVey elaborated on his philosophy, an amalgam of Nietzsche, Machiavelli, Ayn Rand, and, of course, Beelzebub: “Satan represents indulgence instead of abstinence!...
Satan represents vengeance instead of turning the other cheek!...
Satan represents all of the so-called sins, as they all lead to physical, mental or emotional gratification!” The Satanic Bible sold nearly a million copies and spawned sequels The Satanic Rituals, The Satanic Witch, and Satan Speaks! LaVey hosted “witches’ workshops” and weekly “black masses.”
Within five years, LaVey’s Church of Satan was claiming to have enrolled 10,000 members in “grottos” around the world.