This Is How Satanism Was Invented In The 1960s

Culture | August 21, 2019

Left: Anton LaVey on the cover of Look magazine, August 24, 1971. Right: Jayne Mansfield and LaVey from the cover of 'California Infernal,' a book about their relationship. Sources: beatchapter.com; Walter Fischer

Who founded the Satanic Church, and how old is Satanism? Well, Satan is an old idea -- an Old Testament villain -- but Satanism only goes back to 1966. That's when Anton LaVey founded the Church of Satan, a theatrical, contrarian, religious movement that attracted attention from Jayne Mansfield and others. 

Oh, and they don't actually believe in or worship Satan.

When Satanism comes to mind people tend to think of a group of spooky people clad in black robes standing over a virgin sacrifice and chanting ancient incantations, but the reality is far less cinematic. It’s confused with paganism, the pre-Christian folkloric religion where we get most of our holidays, but in truth, Satanism wasn’t a thing until the mid-1960s.

Sprung from the mind of Anton LaVey, the Church of Satan created all of the signifiers that people identify with Satanism -- the inverted crosses, wearing black, and the rituals. LaVey’s teachings feel ancient, but they’re no older than Star Trek or early Herb Alpert records.

The Church Or Satan Was Founded In San Francisco, Or Maybe It Was LA

source: pinterest

Various histories about the Church of Satan provide different answers, some say, San Francisco, others say Los Angeles, but it’s clear that wherever LaVey was he carried the spirit of Satanism with him. A bald-headed and goateed musician and carny, LaVey played the calliope and organ in carnivals and burlesques throughout the late ‘50s and early ‘60s while giving lectures on the paranormal and the occult.

During LaVey’s run as an ad hoc occult lecturer, he formulated the idea behind the Church of Satan. Some histories of the church claim that it began in San Francisco, but the Church’s website claims that it began in earnest after he purchased a Victorian house in Los Angeles and painted the entire thing black to give it that perfect Satanic look.

The Church’s main goal is to preach self-reliance, materialism, and individualism. LaVey was aware that he wasn’t the first person to conceptualize a philosophy based on putting yourself first and when speaking about the Church’s formation he said that if he didn’t do it himself then “someone else, perhaps less qualified, would have.”

There’s No Satan In The Church Of Satan

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The most important takeaway from LaVey’s beliefs is that there’s no Satan in the Church of Satan; no Devil, demons, or deities, simply the belief in oneself as a higher power. For LaVey and his followers, there’s no literal entity named Satan, but rather a symbol of radical non-conformity. For LaVey, Satan, the angel who stood up to God, was the perfect figure to represent pushing back against the herd mentality.

For LaVey, Satan didn’t represent a spooky guy with a pitchfork who tempted people away from Eden. Instead, he was a free-thinking rebel who went about life on his own and accomplished goals on his own terms. 

'The Satanic Bible' Is Lavey's Lasting Statement To The World

Anton LaVey with his friend Jayne Mansfield. Source: Pinterest

It’s all well and good for LaVey to spread his gospel by word of mouth, but in order to get his teachings out to the people, he released The Satanic Bible, a collection of philosophy and teachings by LaVey that underscored his way of life while explaining step by step how someone becomes a satanist. With The Satanic Bible, LaVey answered every question someone can have about the Church relating to love, magic, and the existence of the Devil.

The Satanic Bible puts forth LaVey’s objectivist theories in a collection of books titled The Book of Satan, The Book of Lucifer, The Book of Belial and The Book of Leviathan. The philosophic is a mixture of Randian philosophies with bits of H.P. Lovecraft thrown in for good measure. The book is still sold today, and even if you’re not a Satanist it makes for a great conversation piece when you’ve got friends and relatives visiting. 

'Do What Thou Wilt' Is The Main Tenet Of The Church Of Satan

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While it might seem that the Church of Satan is the kind of place where anything goes, that couldn’t further from the truth. In The Satanic Bible LaVey rights a series of rules for people who want to get to the core of what a Satanist is. He essentially writes that people shouldn’t be able to tell you what to do, whether it’s with your mind or your body, and you should be able to enjoy your life, whether that means indulging in food, the flesh, or something else as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone.

It Was Possible To Sin In The Church Of Satan

Anton LaVey in costume in 1967. Source: Bettmann / Contributor / Gettyimages

There are sins that Satanists can commit, although they’re not as based on morality as in Christian ideology. LaVey writes that stupidity, pretentiousness, solipsism, self-deceit, herd conformity, lack of perspective, forgetfulness of past orthodoxies, counterproductive pride and lack of aesthetics are the worst things that a Satanist can commit.

LaVey’s philosophy revolves around allowing yourself to be yourself without having to apologize for liking what you like. At the same time, he stresses the importance of allowing other people that same freedom.  

The Church Was A Magnet For Famous People

A photo taken at the Witches' Sabbath, held at Club Gigi (a strip club) on Saturday nights in the late '60s. Source: churchofsatan.com

LaVey was a showman first and a religious leader second. His spooky, theatrical act attracted people from all walks of life, especially celebrities who wanted to see what he was about. The Church of Satan says that LaVey attracted people from all walks of life who were alienated from typical religion, but it was just as much a freak show as anything else.

While the modern Church of Satan is far less theatrical, LaVey made sure that his services were closer to parties than traditional religious ceremonies. LaVey famously presided over the "Witches' Sabbath" (or "Topless Witches' Sabbath") on Saturday nights at Club Gigi, a San Francisco strip club, in the late 1960s. As the Church was gaining notoriety, it also attracted celebrities like Jayne Mansfield and Sammy Davis Jr. to the flock -- too bad he couldn’t bring in the rest of the rat pack. 

The Church Is Still Thriving

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Unlike 8-tracks and moon shoes, the Church of Satan has refused to become a relic of the era. It still operates today, even if its services aren’t as scandalous as those of yesteryear. When LaVey passed away in 1997 his fellow members picked up the pentagram and continued working in Satan’s service. The modern church still follows the tenets of Satanism that LaVey created in the late ‘60s, and maintains a presence online and in social media.

There are no more official services, although it’s still possible to join up on the group’s website. With just a couple hundred dollars you to can be a card-carrying member of the Church of Satan. It should be noted that a person doesn’t have to be indoctrinated into the church to follow the dark path. 

Tags: A Brief History Of... | Anton LaVey | Cults | Rare Facts And Stories About History | Religion | Satanism | The Church Of Satan

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Jacob Shelton


Jacob Shelton is a Los Angeles based writer. For some reason this was the most difficult thing he’s written all day, and here’s the kicker – his girlfriend wrote the funny part of that last sentence. As for the rest of the bio? That’s pure Jacob, baby. He’s obsessed with the ways in which singular, transgressive acts have shaped the broader strokes of history, and he believes in alternate dimensions, which means that he’s great at a dinner party. When he’s not writing about culture, pop or otherwise, he’s adding to his found photograph collection and eavesdropping on strangers in public.