Burton H. Wolfe
On a winter's evening in 1967, I drove crosstown in San Franсisco to hear Anton Szandor LaVey lecture at an open meeting of the Sexual Freedom League. I was attracted by newspaper articles describing him as "the Black Pope" of a Satanic church in which baptism, wedding, and funeral ceremonies were dedicated to the Devil. I was a free-lance magazine writer, and I felt there might be a story in LaVey and his contemporary pagans; for the Devil has always made "good copy", as they say on the city desk.
It was not the practice of the black arts itself that I considered to be the story, because that is nothing new in the world. There were Devil-worshipping sects and voodoo cults before there were Christians. In eighteenth-century England a Hell-Fire Club, with connections to the American colonies through Benjamin Franklin, gained some brief notoriety. During the early part of the twentieth century, the press publicized Aleister Crowley as the "wickedest man in the world". And there were hints in the 1920s and '30s of a "black order" in Germany. To this seemingly old story LaVey and his organization of contemporary Faustians offered two strikingly new chapters. First, they blasphemously represented themselves as a "church", a term previously confined to the branches of Christianity, instead of the traditional coven of Satanism and witchcraft lore. Second, they practiced their black magic openly instead of underground.
Rather than arrange a preliminary interview with LaVey for discussion of his heretical innovations, my usual first step in research, I decided to watch and listen to him as an unidentified member of an audience. He was described in some newspapers as a former circus and carnival lion tamer and trickster now representing himself as the Devil's representative on earth, and I wanted to determine first whether he was a true Satanist, a prankster, or a quack. I had already met people in the limelight of the occult business; in fact, Jeane Dixon was my landlady and I had a chance to write about her before Ruth Montgomery did. But I had considered all the occultists phonies, hypocrites, or quacks, and I would never spend five minutes writing about their various forms of hocus-pocus.
All the occultists I had met or heard of were white-lighters: alleged seers, prophesiers, and witches wrapping their supposedly mystic powers around God-based, spiritual communication. LaVey, seeming to laugh at them if not spit on them in contempt, emerged from between the lines of newspaper stories as a black magician basing his work on the dark side of nature and the carnal side of humanity. There seemed to be nothing spiritual about his "church".
As I listened to LaVey talk that first time, I realized at once there was nothing to connect him with the occult business. He could not even be described