Has the Church of Satan Gone to Hell?

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

"This guy's greatest curse was that Anton LaVey completely ignored him," Church maintains. "And he couldn't stand that. Even to this day."

While declaring the Church of Satan extinct, Aquino has kept an abnormally keen interest in the life of Anton LaVey. His own biographical history of LaVey and the Church, which he mails out to interested parties, runs to more than 800 pages.

"My estrangement from Anton LaVey caused me intense personal pain," writes Aquino. "For six years I had regarded him as a friend, mentor, and ultimately 'Devil-father' -- a bond of affection and respect clearly as profound and meaningful to him as to me. That an impasse of principles should have brought about the destruction of this bond, replacing it with an almost pathological hatred on his part and an impatient exasperation on mine, seemed the harshest of ironies."

He has gone out of his way to make public court documents that reflect negatively on LaVey's personal life, including restraining orders, divorce proceedings, and LaVey's bankruptcy filing.

(In response, ex-Set members and LaVey supporters post unflattering documents to the Internet about Aquino's own courtroom appearances, related to a 1987 child molestation scandal at the Presidio. Aquino was investigated twice but never charged.)

Peter Gilmore, the Church of Satan's highest-ranking priest and editor of its Black Flame magazine, says that the Temple of Set is in no way pertinent to the future of Satanism. As Gilmore remembers the situation, LaVey kept Aquino at a distance, uninterested in providing him such a father figure, but Aquino was obsessed.

"The behavior of Aquino over the years," Gilmore says, "has been the classic 'woman spurned' kind of behavior, this weird, bitchy, obsessive attacking of [LaVey]."

Anton LaVey's youngest daughter, Zeena, is sultry and erudite, and like her father, stubborn as a mule. She is also his cruelest critic.

The platinum blonde had an unusual childhood, to say the least. She was baptized in a satanic ceremony, and had given birth to a son before she was old enough to drive. In the mid-1980s, when she was in her early 20s, she began acting as high priestess and spokesperson for the Church, appearing on many talk shows and contributing a new introduction for a reprint of her father's book The Satanic Witch. She considered a career in Hollywood. It seemed she might succeed her father as leader of the religion, but in 1990 she renounced all association with the Church of Satan and LaVey.

"While I have no regrets in my battle with the forces of ignorance, and my own unswerving dedication of my religion has only grown," she wrote in a letter to Michael Aquino, "I could no longer defend such an ungrateful and unworthy individual as the so-called Black Pope. ... The cosmic cards are stacked against him."

After her father's death, Zeena and her husband, Nikolas Schreck, now both priests in the Temple of Set, prepared a volatile document called "Anton LaVey: Legend and Reality." The document is most persuasive when it refers to the research of Lawrence Wright, a veteran reporter for Texas Monthly and The New Yorker who investigated LaVey's life in 1991.

Wright specialized in writing about American religions. On assignment for Rolling Stone to profile LaVey, Wright discovered a host of inconsistencies in the legend LaVey had woven around himself.

Wright was unable to confirm, among other claims, Anton LaVey's rendezvous with Marilyn Monroe, his Clyde Beatty circus affiliation, his job as an SFPD photographer, or the existence of any ballet symphony that LaVey might have played for. Wright did document that LaVey was born Howard Stanton Levey. His parents were Mike and Gertrude, who moved from Chicago to the Bay Area, where his father worked as a liquor distributor. And he was definitely not wealthy. According to 1962 divorce paperwork, Anton LaVey's sole income at that time was the $29.91 a week he earned playing organ at the Lost Weekend club in the Sunset District.

Speaking from his home in Texas, Wright says he found LaVey very intriguing, but was stunned at the blatant embellishments.

"Being such a conspicuous and widely hated figure as he was, it surprised the hell out of me that nobody'd ever checked up on him," Wright says. "He had gotten very careless. When I met him, he had been essentially gulling journalists for years, without any consequences."

Wright recalls that the Church of Satan appeared to be largely finished as an organization even by 1991. "Whatever it had been in the past, it certainly wasn't when I went to meet him," Wright says. "I think he was very glad to meet my expense account."

LaVey's daughter Zeena combines Wright's conclusions with Aquino's findings and her own investigations to list some blistering allegations about her father.

For instance, she says, the black house on California Street -- the infamous headquarters of the Church of Satan -- was not a former Mammy Pleasant brothel at all, but merely the home of LaVey's parents, who transferred ownership to him and his wife Diane in 1971.

According to "Anton LaVey: Legend and Reality," the founding of the Church was not a flash of satanic destiny, but a business and publicity vehicle designed by LaVey and a publicist friend.

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