Anton Szandor LaVey is most famous for his satanic works like The Satanic Bible, but he led an interesting life before founding the Church of Satan. LaVey was born Howard Stanton Levey, on 11 April, 1930 in Chicago. He died of a pulmonary edema in San Francisco on 31, October 1997, aged sixty-seven. However, a later official investigation by the city of San Francisco discovered that his actual date of death was October 29, 1997 and that the spooky Halloween date had been accidentally (and independently of either the church or his family) written on the document.
The official story of LaVey's life paints him as an extraordinary student of the arcane arts, a master of ritual and the occult, and a man well educated in the ways of the world. LaVey claimed many exotic occupations, and as a true showman, manipulated his image to best suit his needs and those of his satanic congregation.
Details of LaVey's life before his rise to celebrity as the self proclaimed high priest of the Church of Satan - "the Black Pope" - are hard to verify, at least at first glance. The official biography, The Devil's Avenger, and the introductory piece in the Satanic Bible tell the LaVey approved version of his early life. The facts, verified after his death by his family, ex-partners and those close to him, tell a very different story.
LaVey, through his officially sanctioned biographies, tells us that he spent the first fifteen years of his life attending high school, a reading with a passion anything to do with war and the power struggles that encompass the globe. By the age of ten, he had taught himself to play the piano, and then later the organ. At the age of sixteen, he dropped out of his high school classes and quite literally ran away and joined the circus, working as a cage attendant.
Romantic as this sounds, it is unfortunately just another of the myths surrounding LaVey's murky past. The circus with which he claimed to work (the Clyde Beatty Circus), first as a cage assistant, and later as a lion tamer, have no record of either a "LaVey" or "Levey" ever working for them, in any capacity. Later in life, LaVey was given a lion cub as a gift, and proved to be hopelessly lacking in the skills required to look after a big cat. As the poor animal became larger and more unruly, LaVey frequently used a cattle prod to subdue the animal. After LaVey was arrested for the lion's unruly conduct, he donated the cat to San Francisco Zoo, where he required extensive special care due to his mistreatment.
LaVey also claimed that he was initiated into the dark arts and the myth and lore of the occult by his grandmother, a frail old Transylvanian gypsy woman who would regale him with tales of the spirits and vampire legends of her homeland. However, this is also as untrue as it sounds, a story perpetuated by LaVey to make it seem as though the occult was somehow bound to his bloodline. She was a Ukrainian named Cecile Luba Primokov-Coulton, and most certainly not a gypsy.
In between stints of taming lions and playing the organ, the young LaVey found time to travel in Germany (he stayed in suburban California, and never visited Germany), romance Marilyn Monroe (LaVey's former publicist, Edward Webber says that LaVey admitted he never knew Monroe) and to play in the (then none-existent) San Francisco Ballet Orchestra. In short, he lead a fascinating fantasy life.
What is true is that LaVey built up an extensive library of the alternative and wierd, and became very knowledgable on the occult and the dark arts, the histories of the older wiccan and pagan faiths, and the demonology of the ancient civilisations. Even though he had dropped out of high school, LaVey was no intellectual slouch. A voracious reader, he would consume books regularly, and had begun to dabble with writing his thoughts and feelings about religion and society down; sometimes even opening his house up to deliver lectures. It would be these sessions that would form the idea for the Church of Satan.
On April 30, 1966, the night of the festival of Walpurgisnacht, the most spiritually powerful night for a practising Satanist or wiccan; LaVey ritualistically shaved his head in the tradition of the Yezidi devil-worshipping tribes of Iraq and declared both the Church of Satan as an official religious body, and that "the Age of Satan has begun!"
Through giving lectures and so-called "Witches Workshops", LaVey had cultivated a reputation for being a charismatic if somewhat unsettling leader, and once he began charging a small fee to attend, publicist Edward Webber said:
"I hold him he would never make any money by lecturing on Friday nights for donations... It would be better to form some sort of church and get a charter from the State of California... I told Anton at the time that the press was going to flip out over all this and that we would get a lot of notoriety.
Ever the showman, this idea became very appealing to LaVey
, and so the church was born. The next logical step, of course, was to consolidate his ideas and thoughts into a bible of sorts - the Satanic Bible
, and then later, the Satanic Rituals
. Leaving much of the administration of the fledgling church to his then partner and satanic high priestess
locked himself away to write his two most famous works.
Pressured by his publisher, Avon Books, LaVey resorted to barely concealed plagiarism, lifting the "The Nine Satanic Statements" from passages of Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged". No-one seemed to notice, or at least complained loud enough to prompt action, and the nine statements went on to become the main pillars of the Satanic faith.
Once published, they catapulted LaVey and his church into global controversy and swelled the ranks of the church, forcing LaVey to decentralise and hand control over to satanic grottos scattered around the world.
Celebrity and a life in the limelight
It's fair to say that LaVey enjoyed a fair share of the Sixties limelight, working for low budget films as a "Satanic advisor", or travelling the States giving interviews and lectures on his newly founded church. But LaVey's thirst for notoriety and fame didn't even there. Unsatisfied with the level of fame he achieved, he took it upon himself to enrich his life with a selection of fabrications about his celebrity lifestyle. I've already mentioned his brief, non-existent fling with Marilyn Monroe, but she was not the only lady to enjoy LaVey's attention.
LaVey was obsessed by Jayne Mansfield, the Hollywood sex symbol and actress. After her tragic death in a car accident, LaVey claimed both that the accident was due to a hex he had placed on her partner, Sam Brody, and that they had shared a passionate affair. Whether or not they did cannot be confirmed either way, although Mansfield was very open about her many affairs, and never mentioned LaVey.
One of the most well-known stories of LaVey is that he served as a technical advisor and played the (uncredited) part of Satan himself in Roman Polanski's 1968 film, Rosemary's Baby. Gene Gutowski, the producer of Rosemary's Baby, however, has gone on record to say that there never was a technical advisor brought on board, and neither he nor Polanski had ever met LaVey. Further, the rubberised suit used for the devil's costume was later bought by Studio One Productions for use in the low-budget horror film, Asylum of Satan. Michael Aquino, the technical advisor for that film, examined the suit and concluded that the 200 pound, 6 foot LaVey just wouldn't fit inside.
With the fame and notoriety that he so craved, and a growing legion of Satan worshippers, you would have thought that LaVey would have been content. Many claim he was a actually a cruel and manipulative man, and, in some cases, deserving of the hatred that his position of high priest of the church of Satan brought him. His detractors say that he would regularly beat his wife, Diane, and would intimidate and berate his children, Zeena and Karla. In 1990 LaVey informed a known stalker of his daughter Zeena of a public appearance she was scheduled to make, deliberately endangering her life.
By 1991, he and his family had filed for bankruptcy. LaVey claimed under oath that he owned "nothing more than 50% of the house his parents had given jointly to him and Diane, along with the personal items he kept therein". The last years of LaVey's life were funded purely by California state aid, and the family lived in near poverty, relying on handouts from friends and family. Anton Szandor LaVey died on October 29, 1997 from a pulmonary edema, leaving behind not only a functioning and still practised church, but a fascinating self-created legend of a man with the devil's horns.
Updates from noders
- 2005.5.2 Sol Invictus says re: Anton Szandor LaVey - You mentioned something about LaVey's plagiarism of Ayn Rand in writing the Satanic Bible. I'm not sure if you're aware of this, but LaVey was, uh, "influenced" to a much greater extent by Ragnar Redbeard's "Might Is Right." Since this book was and is much more obscure than anything Rand ever wrote, it was a safer source from which to lift text and a lot of more contemporary critics of LaVey sometimes miss it entirely.