The Church of Satan’s official FAQ is divided into 21 subsections comprising 10,072 words, and strongly suggests that it really ought to answer all your Qs. The subsections range from FUNDAMENTAL BELIEFS (“We see the universe as being indifferent to us, and so all morals and values are subjective human constructions”) to SELLING SOULS (“There are no souls—and nobody to buy them. If you want something out of life, get off your lazy butt and work for it”). There are no meetings, either. No physical places of worship. (No worship at all, really.) No publicly available membership numbers. No free pamphlets. And definitely no demonic possessions. (“Seek help from local mental health professionals to assist you to get over these delusions.”)
They are, however, resigned to the fact that nobody reads anybody’s entire FAQ. A quick primer, then. Founded in 1966 by Chicago-born, California-roaming occultist, circus veteran, and gregarious supernatural polymath Anton LaVey—whose 1969 work The Satanic Bible is required reading for new members, alongside The Satanic Scriptures by current high priest Peter H. Gilmore—the Church of Satan does not actually worship Satan. They are not devil-worshippers, but atheists drawn to Satan as a guy who did his own thing. “Satan to us is a symbol of pride, liberty, and individualism,” reads the FAQ, “and it serves as an external metaphorical projection of our highest personal potential.” Gilmore calls this being not so much an atheist as an “I-theist.”
There is no physical church, no publicized annual convention, no overbearing core beliefs. It’s a philosophy, not a religion; in lieu of the Ten Commandments, LaVey offered the far more accommodating Nine Satanic Statements and Eleven Satanic Rules of the Earth. (“When walking in open territory, bother no one. If someone bothers you, ask him to stop. If he does not stop, destroy him.”) Its rituals are largely personalized and solitary: Make of this what you will, is the overall directive.
Misconceptions abound, but the Church is unfazed: “In recent years, we’ve wasted far too much time explaining that satanism has nothing to do with kidnapping, drug abuse, child molestation, animal or child sacrifice, or any number of other acts that idiots, hysterics, or opportunists would like to credit us with,” Lavey once wrote, and that was in 1988. These people—spread throughout the world and largely anonymous—are quite serious, but not without a certain playfulness. They don’t actually think that 666 is the “number of the beast,” for example, but they think it’s hilarious that everyone else does, and they’re not above playing into that mythology a little bit just to spook people.
For further insight into why this organization inspires such fascination and constant questioning—and why many of those questions are patently absurd, and why it’s worth watching quietly bemused satanists answer them anyway—please consult the Church of Satan Twitter account, which is just the best.
The Trump administration has inspired many unlikely resistance-minded social media heroes, from the Merriam-Webster dictionary to OKCupid to Bradd Jaffy. But no one can match the calm, firm, erudite, elegantly silly, and bizarrely soothing Twitter tones of the Church of Satan, which is not resisting, or at least not self-consciously #resisting, at all. The organization’s most common sociopolitical position is some variation on we have nothing to do with this. For example:
Please do not include us in this.
— The Church Of Satan (@ChurchofSatan) May 30, 2017
Or just last week:
Appreciate the hundreds of people alerting us to this, however we don’t have a physical church with a Lucifer statue, so… thanks? https://t.co/9eMxYeNk1f
— The Church Of Satan (@ChurchofSatan) August 18, 2017
The account has its goofier, emoji-driven moments amid its sharp darts thrown at such common adversaries as the Vatican or Hobby Lobby. But the account’s headstrong neutrality and individuality is awfully soothing, a frivolous but weirdly inspiring way of making the apolitical political.
After reading the FAQ in full as directed, I corresponded with the Church of Satan’s social media team over email, at their request, better to get the full effect. “Our Twitter account is managed by a team of individuals, a ‘legion,’ if you will,” they wrote initially. “They’re all high-ranking members of the Church of Satan, not some external PR hire, and have extensive experience in the arts, media, communications, and academia. They also closely coordinate with our high priest, Peter H. Gilmore, and share his direct insight on current events.” Sounds great. I sent them yet more questions. Here, now, are their answers.
As de facto ambassadors for the Church of Satan, what percentage of your job is “correcting misconceptions about the Church of Satan”? Is it 80 percent? Higher? Is it frustrating to be so continually misunderstood?
I wouldn’t say it’s that high at all, and you can see that by looking at our tweet history. If we attempted to address even half of the misconceptions we come across, we wouldn’t have a whole lot of time to do anything else. We’ll call certain things out when we can spin it in a way that makes a bigger point, or if we can find some amusing way to throw it back at the public.
What initially drew me to your Twitter were the myriad instances of you quoting some tweet linking Trump and Satan, and responding with some variation on “leave us out of this.” How big a problem-by-association does Trump represent for you?
It’s always been “keep us out of it” or “don’t blame Satan.” Clearly many people intentionally misinterpret our tweets to confirm their own biases. Both the political right and left try to use us as a cudgel against their political counterparts. It’s not just with Trump, we just saw it now with Hillary Clinton after we batted back the lame jokes that she’ll be some preacher for us with the obvious fact that she’s a Christian. These people aren’t a problem as much as they’re boring and predictable. Boring should be Satanic Sin no. 10.
Does the Church of Satan have an official position on Trump, and/or American politics as a whole?
No. The Church of Satan does not take official political positions. That’s not to say that our individual members aren’t politically engaged. Our members come to their own conclusions, take ownership of their positions, and express them how they see fit, and understand they should not impose those positions on other members. We support a plurality of opinions and our members who are politically inclined span the spectrum, or take what we call the Third Side and break away from dogmatic political dualism.
You’ve politely touted recently that the Church’s position on gay and transgender rights is far more progressive than most other religions (and political parties). Does it surprise you, that people are often surprised by this?
It’s not a moral argument, it’s one based on our basic acceptance of human carnality. We also champion self-expression, breaking away from cultural conformity, and developing who you are without regard to what society says you should be. We’ve been consistent on this for over 50 years, but we’re not surprised that the herd has a short memory.
The vague consensus is that Twitter is a far uglier place now, overrun with trolls and Nazis and the like—a whimsical and vaguely useful thing at first that is now intolerable and cruel and actively Bad For Everyone. Do you find that to be true?
People are mean and cruel, especially when they’re anonymous. News at 11. We don’t play into this kind of victim mentality. We use the mute function quite liberally and recommend others do the same.
Twitter arguments now tend to be so hyperbolic that both sides almost immediately revert to calling their opponents the worst things they can think of: Nazis, Communists, terrorists, and occasionally satanists. Does a lot of that sort of thing cross your path as well, and what’s the calculus for how (or if) you respond?
In a way that’s been the whole history of satanism prior to 1966, so we’re well-versed in that type of rhetoric. Before Anton LaVey’s formulation of satanism as a defined philosophy and religion, to call something “satanism” or “satanic” was an accusation, a pejorative term thrown around at those you wanted slandered or as casus belli for aggression and violence.
Yes, we see a lot of that still in terms of people calling people they don’t like “Satan” or “satanic.” We’ll read situations and see if there’s any benefit to us to address it. We also see trolls trying to bait us for a response. As with most things we ask, “Cui bono?”
How elaborate are your Twitter searches and mentions and so forth—do you have columns set up scrolling every instance of “Satan” or “the devil” and the like, or is your sense of the conversation out there more piecemeal?
Not that elaborate, to be honest. We have an enthusiastic audience who are very quick to bring most things to our attention via mentions. We also have Church of Satan members who are incognito in various verified circles who will pass things along to us for commentary. If we have the time we’ll run specific queries to see what’s going on in the Twitterverse.
Were you all individually this good at Twitter when you started using the Church of Satan account, or have you built up your skills/voice over time? It really is an uncommonly funny and sharp and distinct voice.
That’s a funny question … what does it mean to be “good at Twitter”? For us it’s just a matter of being consistent with our philosophy, not feeding the trolls, engaging with the zeitgeist, and overall just trying to have a good time. Keep in mind we’re not a “brand,” we’re not trying to sell anything or convert anyone. Should this be surprising? Satan has always been the trickster, the charmer, the one bearing knowledge and indulgence. We don’t try, we just are.
How many people are tweeting to this account? Is there an attempt at a uniform voice/tone, or would a close examination reveal distinct personalities?
We are legion. We all have our own opinions, perspectives, and interests, and that’s reflective of our greater membership. So it would reveal not so much specific personalities but the variety within satanism and the Church of Satan itself.
If a stranger encountered you at a dinner party in real life, how obvious would your “day job”–Church of Satan affiliation be to that person? How long typically does that first conversation go on before it comes up?
Well, first of all, this isn’t anyone’s day job! We all have our own primary careers, professions, and artistic pursuits. One of the larger misconceptions about satanism is that there is or should be some stereotype of what a satanist should look like. So for many of us the topic wouldn’t come up at all unless it was specifically brought up. We sit on the boards of international charity organizations, we meet with C-suite partners and clients, we’re musicians on tour and artists displaying work at galleries. The thing that should signal that we’re all satanists is that we’re out there shaping the world around us based on our own interests.
Your FAQ has a very specific section lambasting students who contact you for research purposes and need answers overnight—how frequent an occurrence is/was this?
It was very frequent, almost weekly at some points. But after we started putting people on blast and linking our FAQ more frequently it tapered down.
Was it difficult to convince the postal worker in Poughkeepsie to give you the P.O. box 666?
[Response from Magus Peter H. Gilmore:] My wife, Peggy Nadramia, and I bought a shattered historic Victorian home in Poughkeepsie eight years ago to be our next step after living for over three decades in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood. It had been a beige-toned crack house with a meth lab in the dining room, now boarded up, but we planned for it to be our dream home. A P.O. box is essential for Church of Satan postal mail, so I asked about the 666 box at the local post office—a stately building with intricate murals depicting Hudson Valley history, topped with an elegant cupola housing a deep-toned bell. I mentioned that, as a known author dealing with subjects related to that infamous number, I would appreciate having it. The clerk was a bit startled, and said it was taken, but that I could submit an application and wait and see. So I did.
One afternoon not too long afterward, I was out on errands getting construction materials and paint for the restoration of my Addams Family–looking house, I suddenly felt the need to check on the availability of that box number. I parked my black Mustang GT out front and bounded up the many steps, my “Satan senses” tingling. I knew the time was now. At the window I reminded the clerk of my request and asked her to check on it. Typing into the terminal, she said she thought it was still taken but would look. With surprise lighting her face, she noted that the previous owner had released the box just the day before, so that now it was free. I paid the fee and it became mine, though the lady seemed a bit frightened and wondered why anyone would want that feared box number. I smiled and said that it was perfectly suited to my pursuits and interests—and so it was done.
Is America, as an idea/institution, doomed?
Interesting question. Both our high priests, Anton LaVey and Peter H. Gilmore, have addressed this very idea. We’ll leave you with their words.
“When properly functioning, the American social system serves as an ongoing experiment toward attaining a societal framework permitting individuals to control their own destiny. This is achieved via a social contract offering equity under the law which, to a certain degree, promotes meritocracy while eschewing the mob rule of democracy. Viewing the past endeavors of our species, most freethinkers understand how rare is this approach to organizing our interactions—it could be but an ephemeral aberration in human history.”—Peter H. Gilmore
“America shall, indeed, have a bright future, once she has ‘weathered the storm’ of those two opposing factions who respectively hate and love her, but would see her torn asunder in order to prove their respective points. Love for one’s country must be shown in much the same way as love for another person. We must be able to see her faults and work toward changing them, without robbing her of all pride and dignity in the process. On the other hand, we must not blindly accept her faults and constantly make excuses for her, for that is not love—it is infatuation!”—Anton Szandor LaVey