Has the Church of Satan Gone to Hell?

Jack Boulware meditates on the devilish infighting over Anton LaVey's legacy

In 1969, The Satanic Bible, LaVey's collection of Nietzschean common-sense philosophies, was published; it has gone on to sell nearly a million copies. (Sales remain steady, with a noticeable rise every Halloween, according to an Avon Books publicist.) The Satanic Rituals appeared the next year, followed by The Compleat Witch, both of which also remain in print. (A copy of The Satanic Bible is exhibited under glass in Moscow's Russian Museum of Atheism.)

Celebrities -- from Sammy Davis Jr. to Lawrence Harvey and Jayne Mansfield -- joined the fun. LaVey consulted on Hollywood horror films. Supposedly, he owned a fleet of automobiles, luxurious estates in Italy, Bavaria, and Switzerland, and three oceangoing salvage ships.

The Church eventually expanded into a network of grottoes across the United States, but LaVey -- feeling that members were treating the organization as a meeting lodge, rather than living their lives according to satanic principles -- shut the entire system down. Several followers left to form the rival Temple of Set, and LaVey went into seclusion for many years.

He resurfaced in the 1990s, granting media interviews, and hosting young cognoscenti at his home for late-night discussions. To them he was known simply as "Doctor." This next generation of the curious would gobble up the new releases of his books and albums, on which he plays organ.

After years of heart problems, LaVey died on Oct. 30, leaving unfinished projects ranging from a collection of essays to a novel and another album of organ music. His obituary was carried in newspapers worldwide.

Three months and a day after Anton LaVey died, his daughter Karla filed a petition for probate, seeking to administer his estate, such as it was. Despite all the talk of mansions and ships, at his death the total value of Anton LaVey's holdings -- the legacy of the Black Pope, the most evil and materialistic man in the world -- came to $60,000, adjusted for annual book royalties. Several years of divorce proceedings and an ensuing bankruptcy had cleaned him out.

Less than two weeks later, LaVey's longtime lover, Blanche Barton, his biographer and mother of his young child, filed an objection to Karla's petition, providing the court with a copy of a hand-written will signed with LaVey's distinctive forked-tail signature. Dated 1995, the one-paragraph document appointed Barton as executor of the estate, and designated their toddler son, Xerxes, as sole beneficiary.

Karla LaVey filed an objection to Barton's objection. Karla claimed, essentially, that the alleged will was a fraud. Karla's filing noted that the will was dated a few days after Anton LaVey left UC Medical Center, where he had lain in a coma for three days. She suggested Barton had falsely informed LaVey that his daughter had abandoned him. Karla's filing also alleged that Barton had exerted undue pressure on LaVey to make the will, which, she asserted, contradicted her father's long-stated opposition to the very notion of wills.

Barton denied all of Karla's allegations. The case is pending. So is the furor over the future of the Church of Satan.

Anton LaVey's church has long been besieged by bickering former adherents who insist that he was a fraud and that his institution does not worship the devil properly. With LaVey's passing, these quarrels have become a playground shoving match that could be seen as a fight over the future direction of Satanism. A key element of the ongoing spat seems to involve the complete discrediting of Anton LaVey.

The people who seek to debunk LaVey have their own reasons for doing so, but all agree with these basic conclusions:

1) The Church had its heyday in the late '60s and early '70s, and has been going downhill ever since;

2) Anton LaVey fabricated much of his supposedly colorful past;
3) The Church of Satan has been in financial straits for years; and
4) The future of the Church is very much in question.

Michael Aquino began corresponding with LaVey while a psychological operative for the U.S. Army, stationed in the jungles of Vietnam. Aquino returned to the United States and was soon a high-ranking priest and editor of the Church's Cloven Hoof newsletter. His distinctive appearance -- he had a prominent widow's peak and darkly accented eyebrows -- was further enhanced by a small "666" tattooed on his scalp.

As the years passed, Aquino grew more and more frustrated by LaVey's administrative policies. In Aquino's eyes, LaVey had always refused to believe in Satan as an actual supernatural being. Now, the high priest was selling priesthoods in the Church for cold cash. This undermined the true purpose of Satanism, Aquino thought, and reinforced the ongoing reputation of the Church as a farcical sideshow.

In 1975, Aquino left with many church members and priests (some say 28, he claims 100) to form the Temple of Set, a tightly organized religion that revolved around an Egyptian deity on whom the Hebraic Satan supposedly was based.

Church of Satan members snort at Aquino's accusations, and describe the detail-oriented Aquino as emblematic of the type of person Anton LaVey was more than happy to get rid of.

Oregon painter and sculptor Rex Church is one of the oldest and highest-ranking officials in the Church of Satan. To him, Aquino is inconsequential.

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