On the night of the 30th of April 1966, Anton Szandor LaVey, former carnie, burlesque show organist, police photographer and ‘psychic’ investigator, shaved his head in the tradition of executioners, black magicians and the Yezidi devil worshippers of Iraq, and initiated the ritual which would mark 1966 as the year One, Anno Satanas—the first year of the Age of Satan; The Church of Satan was open for business.
Within two years membership of the Church of Satan had topped 10,000 worldwide, and with it came a media storm which has never fully passed. For the newsmen living off sensationalism, in LaVey and his mysterious movement which revelled in the macabre iconography of the occult, they had the perfect bogeyman; one who was more than happy to court the attention of the local and international press corps, who descended on San Francisco to investigate the far reaching tales of sex rituals, black magic and sacrifice which had travelled the telegraph wires of the western world.
It was during the 90’s whilst researching a book on modern Satanist culture, that English author Gavin Baddeley found himself with the rare opportunity of interviewing ‘The Black Pope’ Anton LaVey, who had retreated from public life and was thought by many to have died. A connection was sparked between the two men, with LaVey making Baddeley an honorary member of the Church of Satan, and eventually ordaining him a Reverend.
Now the most senior member of the Church of Satan in Britain, we spoke to the Irreverend (as he prefers to be known) Gavin Baddeley about his role in the Church, the myth of Satanic devil worship and what it truly means to be a Satanist.
Interview by Marcus Lawry
TT: I understand your interest in the Gothic and the morbid began at an early age; how did your path develop from there to the point of your involvement with the Church of Satan?
GB: My earliest memories are of obsessing over monsters, so I guess you could say my affinity with all things dark and ghoulish is lifelong. My association with the Church of Satan began when I was writing my first book, a study of Satanism entitled Lucifer Rising, over twenty years back. While the prevalent gossip at the time was that the Church's founder Anton LaVey was dead, he was actually just sick of the limelight and people in general, and had retired into deliberate seclusion. But I pulled some favours and managed to get a contact for his secretary.
After some negotiation, he agreed to meet me, and I flew out to San Francisco where we went out to dinner several times and stayed up until the early hours at the Black House talking. He seemed to like me and I found him a very impressive individual. I've interviewed a lot of famous – and notorious – people in my career as a journalist. But nobody had the same impact on me that LaVey did somehow. The only way I can put it is he felt mythic.
Anyhow, we continued to correspond when I returned to England. Then he asked if I wanted to become an honorary member of the Church of Satan. I don't join anything as a rule, but I thought about this, concluded that the philosophy he'd defined closely mirrored my own, and accepted. Some months later, in recognition of services rendered to the Prince of Darkness, he offered me an honorary priesthood, so I'm now officially Reverend Baddeley – though I prefer Irreverend.
TT: Can you separate for us the myths and realities of the Church of Satan; what are its principles, and what does it stand against?
GB: Satanism isn't devil-worship. It's an anti-religion, and the opposite of believing in something is not believing in something else. It's doubt. So Satanism is a creed for sceptics. The Devil doesn't exist in a literal sense, but he has become a very potent symbol, and symbols have real power. We also recognise that knowledge and pleasure – suppressed and condemned by conventional religion – are admirable goals, perhaps even sacred. Certainly more important than any 'spiritual' ideals – whatever spiritual's supposed to mean.
The Church of Satan's doctrines aren't difficult to find. There are plenty of essays on the official site or pick up a copy of The Satanic Bible, which has most of what you need to know in one paperback volume. Perhaps the pithiest version is the Nine Satanic Statements:
1. Satan represents indulgence instead of abstinence!
2. Satan represents vital existence instead of spiritual pipe dreams!
3. Satan represents undefiled wisdom instead of hypocritical self-deceit!
4. Satan represents kindness to those who deserve it instead of love wasted on ingrates!
5. Satan represents vengeance instead of turning the other cheek!
6. Satan represents responsibility to the responsible instead of concern for psychic vampires!
7. Satan represents man as just another animal, sometimes better, more often worse than those that walk on all-fours, who, because of his “divine spiritual and intellectual development,” has become the most vicious animal of all!
8. Satan represents all of the so-called sins, as they all lead to physical, mental, or emotional gratification!
9. Satan has been the best friend the Church has ever had, as He has kept it in business all these years!
TT: An outsider’s perception is often that Satanism is based around macabre rituals, such as Black Mass. Although such elements are greatly blown out of proportion by the popular media and cinema, what space do rituals occupy within Satanism?
GB: You can fall into a trap of performing for people, and people do like sex and blasphemy extravaganzas like the Black Mass. At one point I was routinely fielding calls from oily tabloid journalists eager to go to a secret sexy ritual on the company credit card. As I tried to explain, if all they had to do was phone me, it wasn't very secret, and if they wanted to see naked ladies at the company's expense, they could do it on their own time.
In truth, what looks good in a high budget Hollywood horror film often doesn't work in the more intimate, still environment of the ritual chamber. Many Satanists don't conduct many formal rituals at all – I very seldom do – and when I do they're private affairs which most people might find a little disappointing. But it's not for them.
TT: The Church sees Satanists as sinners, as evil. As a Satanist, what do you consider evil, or sinful?
GB: I think religion has lost any authority to judge the behaviour of others centuries back. In fact, one of the implications of the term Satanist is adopting the mantle of whatever they oppose. Religion hasn't been twisted or abused by bad people. It was invented by bad people, and the sooner we, as a species, can get our heads round that, the likelier we are to avoid extinction. I think stupidity is sinful – though I believe intelligence comes in many flavours and forms. I believe blind conformity is an evil of sorts – though I'm sceptical of the notion of evil as some absolute, let alone an identifiable force. That seems a bit childish, a cop out.
TT: It’s been recorded that the likes of Jayne Mansfield, Sammy Davis Jr., even Liberace were members of the Church of Satan, whilst many contemporary musicians in the metal genres such as Marilyn Manson are (even expected to be) members. What type of people do you feel are attracted to Satanism? Do they share a common trait?
GB: I think the Liberace story is apocryphal, though with LaVey you never know! Obviously people in the rock business have little to lose – even something to gain – by being associated with something like Satanism, so you're more likely to hear about that. A lot of members are rather more low profile for career or family reasons. Lucifer's something of an icon of rebellion, and a lot of Satanists have that side to them. They also tend to be quite cultured – into the arts and books – and contrary.
Satanism values individualism highly, so there's a wide range of different personalities that make up the whole. It's a club for non-joiners, and that tension helps keep it fresh.
TT: Is it true that you are the head of the Church of Satan within Great Britain? What are your responsibilities in your role as a Reverend?
GB: There's no such post, though I suspect I am the highest ranking member in the UK. I'm also likely the highest profile – often first port of call when representatives of the media, such as yourself, want to talk to somebody. Part of my role is to act as an information source on such occasions, though I've also conducted Satanic weddings, and acted as a conduit for like-minded folk I feel would benefit by being introduced. But I'm reluctant to call any of these responsibilities, as being a Satanist is something that serves me, I don't serve it. So, if I don't want to do something for whatever reason, I don't do it. We're only here once, and sometimes not for very long, so you've got to have fun with it frankly.
TT: What does being a Satanist mean to you personally?
GB: The iconography – all of the devils and witches and such – I found enormously aesthetically appealing and inspiring. But beneath that... honesty, standing up to idiocy and injustice, and treating life as an adventure. Honesty, because this is what I am. It's not an act. It's not for anybody else's benefit. Standing up because I feel the cancer of conformity, which is faith in its most virulent form, has afflicted humanity long enough. Somebody needs to confront the carriers on their own turf. Life as an adventure because if nothing else, Satanism is a wonderful way of meeting fascinating people, of challenging the world, of reminding oneself that we are here to learn from and enjoy the world, not bow before some imaginary tyrant.
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