September 14th, 2009 By Penthouse Magazine
A look inside the real Church of Satan—where sin is a sacrament and all manner of sexual activity is sanctified.
By Bob Johnson
Illustration by Coop
Naked nuns, a feast of wine and meats, and a giant, cockshaped water dispenser set the stage as black-clad celebrants begin a litany canonizing rogues, debauchers, whore mongers, and straight-up libertines. This is how the world’s most notorious religion parties. Deep within the cold, damp caves of West Wycombe, England, the Church of Satan gathered on April 30, 2008 (Walpurgisnacht, a pagan holiday) in an invitation only conclave to honor the church’s inspirational forebearers—members of the seventeenth-century Hellfire Club, a secret society devoted to the goddess Venus, the pleasures of the flesh, and, some say, Satan himself.
Decked out in finery from top hats to flowing gowns, the church members appeared to be dressed up for the opera rather than a Satanic ritual designed to evoke the spirits of Sir
Francis Dashwood, the Hellfire Club’s founder, and his brotherhood of black-hearted devils, which included the fourth Earl of Sandwich and, allegedly, Benjamin Franklin. But once inside the actual caves of the original Hellfire orgies, a ritual and lavish feast virtually stopped time as the guests were transported back to a place where the sins of the flesh were embraced as sacraments.
Religious gatherings that are steeped in history and elaborate prep aration, with handmade ritual accessories and music designed to stimulate the congregants, may conjure thoughts of the Catholic Church’s High Masses more than Satanists. But misconceptions abound about the Church of Satan, founded by Anton Szandor LaVey in 1966. More than 40 years later, today’s real Church of Satan is alive and well across the entire world. After LaVey’s death in 1997, his longtime companion Magistra Blanche Barton, High Priest ess and mother of his only son, Satan Xerxes Carnacki LaVey, led the church until 2001, when the church’s current leader, High Priest and Magus Peter H. Gilmore, was appointed.
He lives in a cozy Manhat tan railroad apartment, void of any outside light as the only win dows are blocked by a ceremonial Satanic altar. It’s a bit eerie, hung with some original Gilmore artwork and full of rare books, ritual items, state-of-the-art computer gear, and archival Church of Satan materials, but not as foreboding as one would expect. It’s also heavily stocked with Godzilla collectibles and features an ever-present big, black Chow dog named Bella.
The setting fits the dashing, avuncular devil, who is extremely articulate and to the point when it comes to preaching the gospel of Satan and the history of his church. But let’s get one thing straight: Members of founder LaVey’s Church of Satan do not believe in or worship an anthropomorphic devil or evil demons. In fact, they don’t embrace anything spiritual at all. The religion is based on earthly pleasure and Darwinian survival of the fittest. Gilmore makes it clear that the criticism of the church, especially the ideas most people have about modern Satanism —which may have come from notorious criminal cases of murder or sexual abuse—are totally unfounded, insulting, and often contrary to the truth. Even numerous FBI reports debunk rumors of criminal Satanic activity. Gilmore says the “S” word automatically petrifies people who, in most cases, are ignorant about Satanism. The truth is, members of the church span the world and are successful artists, musicians, entrepreneurs, sculptors, writers, law enforcement professionals, and even PTA members.
But many Satanists aren’t that squeaky clean. In The Satanic Scriptures (Scapegoat Publishing), a long-awaited follow-up book to LaVey’s The Satanic Bible, Gilmore lays out the marching orders for Satanism in the twenty-first century. Along with its core doctrines of social stratification, survival of the fittest, and exercising the power of one’s will (with magic), sex and all of its temptations play a major role in the church, to the delight of its members and prospective initiates. But Gilmore refutes that most people become members because of sexual freedom, viewing their religion’s stance on sex simply as a natural part of their makeup. He maintains that Satanists take “sex in stride” as naturally as eating or being creative. Of course, voluptuous nude women acting as altars during ceremonies is a benefit not found in any other organized religion.
“Satanism is based on human nature, affirming the inborn character of the carnal types of humans,” Gilmore says. “Prior to the founding of the Church of Satan, there was no form of religion that ad dressed this portion of our species. Carnal people have no need to seek acceptance from some higher power, whether it be a deity or a dictator. We aren’t spiritual at all, and see all mysticism as childish superstition. We who embrace our fleshly nature revel in the joys of the body and the mind. Fine food, exemplary sex, excellent literature, exciting music—we are gourmets in the buffet that is life. We don’t deny ourselves pleasures, but we also don’t overdo them. The primary point is to indulge in what pleases us, but not to allow such pursuits to become compulsions that control us. Satanists are not addicts, are not sex maniacs, are not gluttons—we find balance in healthful pursuit of all that we enjoy. It is all about getting the most out of our lives. Carnal people don’t just pursue happiness—they have it.”
It appears that a good deal of this Satanic happiness stems from a conscious denial of feeling guilt about pleasure, and a sense of worldly confidence. Members of the church identify themselves as “the alien elite,” a congregation with no physical church and virtually no binding rules except to please yourself and not harm anyone else (unless they harm you). It has survived the past four decades because of this belief and exemplary actions of its leaders, who are, frankly, smart. They aren’t “occultniks,” but rather achievers in the world. To become a member, a person must at the very least show that he or she grasps the philosophy and is sane. And no one gets promoted in the hierarchy of the church (the ascending ranks are warlock/witch, priest/priestess, magister/magistra, and maga/magus) unless they prove that they’ve accomplished something worthwhile in their chosen field. Being an artist is okay, being able to sell your work is better, and being a household name should be the goal. There’s no room for an egalitarian “everyone’s equal” mental i ty in this church. Some people are just okay, while others are superior, Satanists believe. It’s tough but real, and the members like it that way.
This no-bullshit, no-poseur posture is what sets real Satanists apart from myriad other occult groups and individuals who follow the “left-hand path.” Their magic and rituals are often selfdesigned to strengthen their will and are practical means to becoming superior human beings. By embracing the “S” word, they frighten most people, but when you dig deep, they walk the walk and aren’t that scary at all. The church may be made up primarily of upstanding citizens, but what often initially seduces prospective members is that it’s the only church on the planet that recognizes and celebrates man’s carnal nature and indulgence as the true reason for existence, openly defying what’s seen as the hypocrisy of other organized faiths.
A high-ranking Satanic couple, Magister Robert Lang and Magistra Dee, embrace this carnality. They live in a large house in rural Canada that’s topped with a witch weather vane and features a below-ground ritual chamber whose flagstone floor is soon to be fitted with a giant four foot Germanic rune, a power symbol that stimulates Lang’s penchant for the BDSM fetishes he enjoys. He’s the de facto Church of Satan Beau Brummell, often dres sed to the nines 1940s style, a re fined look that’s popular with many members. He had his first ECI—Erotic Crystallization Inertia, an epiphany during which one first discovers a fetish —from erotic bondage photos in, yes, Penthouse magazine.
The couple is open and guilt-free regarding sexuality, and it’s obvious that they think about it a lot. “Where [German sexologist] Dr. Iwan Bloch defined sexology from a literary, medical, and scholarly aspect, the Church of Satan brought those thoughts to life,” says Magistra Dee. “We not only deem it okay to have sexual fetishes, but see them as a natural part of the human animal. We understand that suppressing these aspects of ourselves can be more damaging than accepting them and putting them into play in a safe, healthy environment.”
High Priest Gilmore’s take on fetishes is that they help to elevate lovemaking beyond just simple “vanilla” encounters. He says, “Common are shoe and foot fetishes, but other forms of clothing can be the focal point, as can bodily or other smells, foods, certain erotic toys, or really just about anything that one could make a part of sex play. Naturally, Satanism embraces the discovery of our fetishes and their use toward enhancing eroticism. They are what make us unique individuals, and our philoso phy is always based on individual individualist thinking, whether it be in the kitchen, ritual chamber, or bedroom.”
When asked if ritual plays into their sexual habits, Dee explains that ritual brings a practical awareness to a need or problem: “Let’s say Robert has not been as sexually attentive as I would prefer. I set aside time to perform a sexual-need ritual involving meditation on the situation, masturbation…and a set conclusion of how I want the problem resolved. When the ritual is over, I have made myself intently aware, thought of solutions, and created a positive outlook instead of drudging around bitching about it. Needless to say, the nights will get hotter than expected—even in the dead of winter!”
Sex, fetishes, and Satanism have commingled since the church’s founding. Lang points out that while most people and movements in the sixties and seventies were simply knocking on the doors for the free love of heterosexuals, the Church of Satan was kicking down the doors and breaking new boundaries in sexual acceptance and religious toler ance on all levels. “We were the first organizational church to accept homo sexual men and women into our priesthood,” Lang says. “We were per forming gay marriages long before the hoopla of today. We were congratulating folks for their fetishes internationally and in public view rather than condemning these people. We broke down the barriers for a whole host of alternative religions to crawl out from under the thumbscrews of Christianity. We opened the flood gates to a new era where people could shake off those shackles of Puritanism.”
And any Puritan would surely be turning over in his grave if he knew of this Satanic couple nestled in a tastefully done Addams Family–like mansion in a traditional rural English village with thatched cottages, apple orchards, and church bells. Priest Steven and Priestess Fifi Roberts label themselves “happy, fearless sinners with healthy sexual appetites, with a preference for dark aesthetics and a deep interest in magic.” Naturally, Satanism was their only choice when it came to religion. “Before we met, we were both nonspiritual pragmatists who just hadn’t dis covered that the title ‘Satanist’ de fined our viewpoint perfectly,” says Steven. “We certainly couldn’t relate to any of the mainstream religions that say, ‘Be ignorant, penniless, celibate, and guilty, and you’ll be rewarded when you are dead.’ The so-called New Age alternatives are similarly dreadful: superstitious balderdash that both hypnotizes ugly, hairy, mediocre women into believing that they are ‘goddesses’ and further emasculates the type of ineffectual, unemployable, feeble-minded men who couldn’t get laid in the first place.”
The lusty couple (he is a professional movie-music composer and she is a talented artist, both drop dead gorgeous) met at a full moon party—a Witch’s Sabbath. During the feasting and drinking, Steven gave Fifi an “innocent” foot massage that led to a night of passion. Eight months later they were married. “I am convinced that feet are a woman’s most important erogenous zone. All the women I know love having their feet massaged,” Steven says. Fifi agrees and says with a wink that the couple is happily monogamous.
Bryan Moore and Heather Saenz, a San Diego couple with careers in toy design and the medical field, are staunchly family-oriented and active in the local PTA. They would be the central characters in an “American Satanist” movie, were it ever created. The stunning brunette and her dapper man, typically dressed in a 1940s-style bespoke suit and wide brimmed fedora, don’t broadcast their guiltless lifestyle. While they don’t normally invite fellow Satanists into their sex lives out of respect for individual relationships, they are open to third members—young women impressed with their Satanic standing and intrigued by its dark, fetishistic world. And any would-be initiate would not be disappointed. Moore says they both perform rituals and use scenarios and fetishes that range from the sensual to downright rough, “enjoying their sexual potential to the fullest.”
Moore says, “While we both feel that our personal sexuality is not defined by Satanism, Satanism can indeed enhance it. And we happily oblige those young women whenever possible. Very rarely do we maintain relationships with them afterward, as emotions can become volatile, and they have a habit of falling in love with one of us.”
Coupled or not, sex and Satanism still share the same bed. Stephanie Crabe, a Manhattan designer and photographer, would be pegged as more of a sexy retro chick on the streets of New York than a hard-core Satanic witch. Disarming as this Satanic priestess’s vintage appearance may be, her diabolic wiles can’t be underestimated.
Crabe is articulate about pragmatic Satanic sexual philosophy, noting that it’s the only dogma that doesn’t espouse “a bunch of higher-power nonsense and fairy-tale concepts about God.” As she puts it, “More and more people understand that most of what is depicted about Satanism by the media and other religious groups is BS. People are seeing that the very obvious trappings of the philosophy are for fun and that underneath it is something extremely powerful that holds water and totally makes sense.” This New Yorker openly uses her “magical powers” of seduction to get what she wants: “If I’m perfumed and appealing, I can expect some doors to be held open, some packages carried out to my car, and some bar tabs paid in full! It makes me sad to think of how so many women screwed up some of the good things about being a woman during the sixties and seventies.”
In October 2007, Crabe published her first book of photographs, Motel Bizarre! (Scapegoat Publishing), a series depicting sexy and unusual situations that take place in anonymous motel rooms. “I see these motel rooms as very Satanic little ritual chambers where people go just to enact whatever (often sloppy) instincts or desires they have. I cele brate the sleazy, sexy, and weird in my book; it’s full of odd characters, humor, and thrills!” Crabe explains.
Having an affinity for a particular time and place, no matter how odd or out of date, and creating this environment is also a Satanic basic that can disturb secular civilians. Crabe accomplishes this “time travel” through her photography and appearance, as does her man, Magister Christopher Mealie. To see the couple together, you’d think you stepped into a Raymond Chandler private-eye novel. Mealie, also an author, created a retro-pinup-photography book entitled SexCats (Goliath Books), chock-full of stark, amateurish nudes. He says he finds the cross between glamour, sensuality, and tragedy in his pictures a reflection of an integral part of Satanism.
Crabe and Mealie aren’t the only church members to use Satanic sexual energy to achieve more than personal pleasure. Because members are so aligned with the power of sex, they have no qualms about using it to build their careers, consciously wielding it as the catalyst for success in the business world. This fits their emphasis on real-world achievement. And taking the devil’s name provides a rock-star marketing hook that allows a number of its members to earn a damn(ed) good living.
One of the flock’s better-known professionals, a fine artist, illustrator, and photographer known simply as “Coop,” is famous for his signature devil-girl illustrations and paintings. Coop is a prime example of one of the church’s elite who has successfully taken the LaVey ethos to the max, marrying carnality to his creations. His volup tuous, iconic devil girl (who some believe was inspired by his beautiful, business-savvy wife, Ruth) graces numerous products, from T-shirts to hot-rod paraphernalia, and is the cornerstone of a highly successful cottage industry (CoopStuff.com). “Ruth fits the bill. I think I conjured her up with the art instead of the other way around,” Coop says.
Coop grew up in Oklahoma in the shadow of Oral Roberts University, and doesn’t flaunt the fact that he’s a Satanist. Nor does he deny it. He says that he feels he never consciously chose Satanism, but that Satanism chose him after he visited LaVey at his infamous San Francisco Black House, which has been leveled and replaced since LaVey’s death. He says LaVey helped him crystallize his thoughts, especially his creativity.
The church philosophy has also helped him understand the power of ritual. Although some members perform formal rituals—the kind with altars, candles, gongs, and sometimes nude celebrants—Coop’s idea of ritual, although in line with Satanic thought, runs counter to what most think of as magic. “All of my creative acts have become ritualized over the years—magic is all about the creation of something from nothing, and that is a pretty good description of making art, too,” Coop says. “I have a dedicated ritual space: my studio. I have many specific steps and routines that I use to create, and at the end of the process, I have conjured up a piece of art from mundane materials like canvas and paint.”
Nowadays, Coop is conjuring up art from far less mundane objects—fleshand-blood women, including local porn-star pals Kimberly Kane, Ashley Blue, and plus-size star April Flores. “Most of my models are friends of mine. The fact that they work in porn is just another part of their lives. I do find that I feel more comfortable working with models who do porn. They are usually much more professional and easier to deal with than ‘regular’ models, and rarely object to whatever strange thing I might ask them to do in a photograph. After all, I’m pretty tame, compared to their day jobs.”
In true Satanic fashion, Ruth accepts Coop’s fascination with naked women. A self-professed shoe diva with a fetish for expensive high heels, she also indulges in rubber clothing and some bondage gear. She says that expressing oneself sexually is just one more facet of freedom: “Everyone considers Satanists to be sex maniacs, because we’re all about indulging fantasies and living lives where we answer only to ourselves, but the truth is, we only do what everyone should. If it’s interesting to me, I’m going to try it at least once.”
Sex in business also sells for Lex Frost, a Texas-based church magister and one of the organization’s first Internet entrepreneurs. A member of the church since he was 16, he’s run his businesses—including an online store for Satanic products, Satanic social-networking sites, and a candle company— for nearly ten years.
Frost agrees that the mix of Satanism and sex makes a powerful selling tool, saying, “I like to sponsor goth and burlesque shows and BDSM extravaganzas in which semi-nude performers act out horror-movie antics with a decidedly sexy twist.” Frost also took advantage of the bucks in blasphemy by shooting the “Zombie Lovers Last Supper,” in which he portrayed the Satanic equivalent of Da Vinci’s famous painting. According to Frost, the taboo shoot inspired some of the models to leave together and play after hours.
Satanic capitalism also thrives in, of all places, Fort Wayne, Indiana, commonly referred to as the country’s “City of Churches.” The city is home to Warlock Eric Vernor, aka Corvis Nocturnum, who could be considered a true Satanic renaissance man. The author of Embracing the Darkness: Understanding Dark Subcultures is also an artist, occult-shop proprietor, website owner, and publisher. He was guest speaker at a Purdue University Fort Wayne seminar on world religions. After a front-page article in the Living section of the Journal Gazette newspaper “outed” him and his pagan/activist wife Starr, they became local celebrities, often questioned about Satanism and asked to sign books on the streets.
They consider themselves polyamorous, having had other sexual partners in the underground community, and are active in the BDSM scene. But because they embrace the Satanic elitist attitude, they say they are very picky about who joins them. Like San Diego couple Moore and Saenz, Vernor says that it would be excellent to add to their family another female who is a sub missive and a Satanist, but admits, “It’s hard to get all of that in one person.”
Hard to find, yes, but it’s likely Vernor will find another female, as Satanism has attracted people for 40 years and will continue to attract the sexually curious. As Magister Mealie points out, “Satanists see the world as a carnival, with all of the glitz, showmanship, cons, lust, and earthy tawdriness found on the lot. Up front, there may be a tantalizing beauty mesmerizing the rubes, but in back there’s a geek committing the lowest acts just for a cheap bottle.” And that lust and earthy tawdriness, along with ritual, nude altars, and sex ual permissiveness, will always be a powerful temptation, just as the devil intended. It’s what makes the Church of Satan the most carnal religion on earth.