Has the Church of Satan Gone to Hell?

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

The myth-busting continues: The Satanic Bible was conceived by Avon Books to cash in on the occult faddism of the 1960s, and LaVey paraphrased much of it from books by Aleister Crowley and Ayn Rand and an obscure writing from 1896. According to an interview with the original producer of the film Rosemary's Baby, LaVey was not technical adviser, as he claimed, and not a single member of the cast or crew has ever mentioned LaVey's involvement. The Church's boast of having hundreds of thousands of members was wildly exaggerated; membership was never more than 300. According to family members, LaVey was not a millionaire possessing many homes and cars, but had relied on the generosity of friends and relatives since the mid-1970s. LaVey's supposed affair with Jayne Mansfield was a stunt arranged by publicists.

When it comes to debunking her father, Zeena spares not a single grisly detail. She insists that he forced many of his female disciples into prostitution. She even attempts to discredit his reputation as an animal lover, describing one night from her childhood when she woke to discover LaVey beating the bloodied face of her German shepherd puppy with a board.

And as a final anti-tribute to her father, the day after his death, Zeena Schreck appeared on Bob Larson's radio program, a daily religious broadcast syndicated nationwide from Denver, Colo.

The red-haired Larson figures into the Church of Satan in an odd way. For years, he has boosted his ratings by inviting Church members onto his programs. In 1995, he even hosted a "satanic Summit," flying several priests to Denver for a series of one-on-one television interviews. Larson's debates with Satanists have served both to scare his Christian audience and to promote the Church of Satan, which tapes the same programs and distributes copies for its own use.

Zeena had been a frequent guest on Larson's show. On the day after her father died, she took to the air once again, this time giving Larson's listeners a startling bit of information: She had performed a ritual and put a death curse on her father, and it had finally killed him.

Despite the legal wrangling over the LaVey estate and the almost ritualistic attacks of detractors, the Church of Satan's governing Council of Nine remains supremely confident of the organization's future. They are also supremely dismissive of his daughter Zeena.

"She's an ass," declares Jeff Nagy, a Stockton businessman and Church of Satan priest. Like many in the church, Nagy believes Zeena turned on LaVey in hopes of making herself famous. "He was definitely saddened by it, don't let anybody kid you. That's flesh and blood."

Peter Gilmore says Zeena and Schreck were Church spokespeople at one time, and anticipated taking over its reins, but when LaVey decided not to hand it over to them, "They left in a huff."

According to Church members, it will take more than negative publicity and the death of the founder to derail the 32-year momentum of Anton LaVey. "We are just as focused now as we have ever been on reaching the goals of the Church of Satan as put forth," says Rex Church. "We're also realists. It's the idea that we are left behind for other men to pick up and use as tools for forging the future. That all sounds probably fascist and magnanimous, but that's what we really feel."

Los Angeles rock poster artist Chris "Coop" Cooper, himself a priest, insists that as long as LaVey's books are still in print, the religion will never die.

"All that 'Who's gonna take over?' Honestly, who cares? I really don't think that's important. It's a portable feast, man. All you have to do is to go to B. Dalton's and buy The Satanic Bible. It's all there. If that loser Jesus could keep a church going for 2,000 years, I think Doctor can certainly fucking compete with that!"

Gilmore insists the Church has been vigorously working on improving its hierarchy and recruiting quality people for the priesthood. The absence of the founding leader will not create a problem, he says.

"Everyone has renewed their commitment to an even stronger degree than when Anton LaVey was here, because they now know that they can't turn to him for the final thing. That it's on all of our shoulders. I'm so proud of everybody for this, that they're willing to pick up the burden and take it even further. That to me is just beautiful."

But simple realities -- financial and otherwise -- suggest the Church of Satan may be headed south, so to speak.

"There's no future for that church," journalist Lawrence Wright says. "Unless some other person comes along who can spin out the same kind of charisma that LaVey was able to do."

That someone, many church officials hope, will be LaVey's companion and biographer, Blanche Barton.

The black Victorian stands out as if it were the Addams Family mansion, a rude interruption in the rows of pastel-colored homes that are its Outer Richmond neighbors. An 8-foot-tall chain-link fence topped with barbed wire, intended to discourage vandals, seals the house from the sidewalk. The windows are completely shuttered.

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