LaVey, Anton (1930–1997)
Founder and high priest of the Church of Satan. Howard
Anton Szandor LaVey was born in Chicago on April 11, 1930.
As a youth he became interested in magic and the occult. Shortly
after World War II, he dropped out of high school and joined
the circus, where he trained the big cats and learned stage
magic.
In the early 1960s he married his second wife, Diane Hegarty,
and they organized late-evening occult meetings, from
which the idea for the Church of Satan, and its original members,
emerged. The church was formally founded on April 30,
1966. LaVey, with years of performing behind him, brought a
flare for the dramatic to his leadership. He shaved his head and
donned black ritual garb to announce the first year of ‘‘Satan’s
era.’’ During the first year he conducted the first satanic wedding
and funeral, each with a cadre of media representatives
present, and played the part of the Devil in the movie version
of Rosemary’s Baby. In 1969 he completed The Satanic Bible,
in which the beliefs and basic rituals of the church are presented.
The book has remained in print and its ideas are expanded
on in two subsequent volumes, The Compleat Witch
(1970) and The Satanic Rituals (1972).
LaVey had a most secularized image of Satan and Satanism.
On the one hand he saw the power of the image of Satan to invoke
fear in Christians and the hold the image retained even
over those who had left their Christian beliefs behind. He saw
the value that a focus on Satan could have in freeing people
from their Christian pasts and turning them into autonomous,
modern people. Thus rituals were designed not so much as a
means of worshiping or invoking Satan, but as a way of affirming
the self and unleashing what LaVey saw as natural human
drives (such as for sex and pleasure) that had been suppressed
by a culture that branded them as evil. At the same time, the
church was particularly vocal about members being involved in
anything that suggested they were breaking the law under the
guise of following their religion.
LaVey’s support was weakened by the defection of many
members in the early 1970s who believed in a more literal existence
of Satan and were attempting to find a more traditional
Satanism. Since that time, LaVey assumed a much lower profile
and the church tended to avoid publicity. Its high level of fame,
including regular attacks from Christian ministers, supplied it
with a steady stream of prospective members. LaVey died on
October 29, 1997 of a heart attack in San Francisco, California.
Since his death, Blanche Barton has taken over LaVey’s
Church of Satan.
Sources
Barton, Blanche. The Secret Life of a Satanist The Authorized
Biography of Anton LaVey. Los Angeles Feral House, 1990.
Harrington, Will. ‘‘The Devil in Anton LaVey.’’ The Washington
Post Magazine (February 23, 1986) 6–9, 12–17.
LaVey, Anton. The Compleat Witch. New York Lancer Books,
1971.
———. The Satanic Bible. New York Avon Books, 1969.
———. The Satanic Rituals. Secaucus, N.J. University
Books, 1972.
Wolfe, Burton H. The Devil’s Avenger. New York Avon
Books, 1974.

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