DO YOU HAVE TO READ THE SATANIC BIBLE?
Old Anton LaVey published his Satanic Bible juuuust over 50 years ago. As a Modern Satanist, is this a book that you must read?
Technically the answer is no, in that you don’t have to do anything. Satan isn’t going to make you; the book doesn’t give you the password to get past the bouncer into the cool part of Hell after you die; avenues for compulsion are minimal.
But in practical terms the answer is probably yes, because familiarity with the reference makes life easier. Almost every other Satanist has read it, it’s very likely to come up, not knowing the material will at some point make things inconvenient or awkward, etc.
Given that these are pretty simple answers, why even bring it up? Well put on your ponchos, because this is where the shit hits the fandom.
A row developed on the Satanic Temple’s Facebook forum a few days ago, with a councilmember suggesting that Modern Satanists should treat LaVey’s Bible as obligatory reading.
Most respondents agreed. A few did not. Harsh words were spoken. At one point the analogy of Star-Bellied Sneetches may have come up. The Internet is a strange place.
In his 1999 tell-all The Church of Satan, tempore LaVey protege Michael Aquino credits Avon Books editor Peter Mayer with first conceiving of the idea of a Satanic Bible, hoping to cash in on the success of 1968’s Rosemary’s Baby.
Much of the material in the 55,000-or-so word paperback is stuff old Anton previously published as “rainbow sheet” essays. He also crammed in a version of 16th century angel whisperer and key party pioneer John Dee’s “Enochian Keys” and for some reason bits of a frothing 19th century Social Darwinist tract too.
For my money–which for the record is mostly Monopoly fivers–the most interesting bit is Anton’s treatment on “magic,” despite this being a topic I usually don’t have patience for.
The Satanic Bible refers to seeming supernaturalisms and scraps of pseudoscience like the “discharge of bioelectrical energy during profound heightening of the emotions” and speculations about “the amount of energy needed to levitate a teacup (genuinely).”
And yet, the Satanic Bible’s idea of magic is atheistic, in the sense that it doesn’t rely on spirits, devils, or any other inhuman forces. There’s just the magician and the outside world, with nothing in between, making the process supernatural but also materialistic.
Which is weird, and not something a stubborn skeptic like me buys into anyway. But still interesting.
Odds are you already know this, because odds are you’ve read it. So why do some people not want to read it too?
Scriptural literacy is chronically delinquent in America. According to Pew Research, 45 percent of people say they rarely or never read their relevant holy books. That includes 52 percent of Catholics, 65 percent of Jews, 60 percent of Hindus, and 44 percent of Mainline Protestants and Orthodox Christians.
(On the other hand, 77 percent of Mormons read at least once a week, so let’s pin a gold star on somebody’s little black tie during cookie break this week.)
But of course, failing to read is not the same as refusal to. In the forum fallout, the chief reasons cited among holdouts are that the Satanic Bible is not on the Temple’s recommended reading list, that the Temple does not base its beliefs off of the book and frequently contradicts its teachings, that the Satanic Bible is associated almost exclusively with the Church of Satan (who are constant Temple antagonists), that LaVey’s writings are sexist and misogynistic, and that the work as a whole is increasingly dated and archaic.
And in fact all of those criticisms are true, and good points. But the rejoinder is generally that none of these things are necessarily a reason to avoid reading any book.
What we’re really seeing is a cultural divide. For those who have identified as Satanists for years or decades, the Satanic Bible was the unassailable norm. Even if you didn’t like it, it’s like Leviticus or the XFL–distasteful, but a part of the cultural fabric.
Whereas those more recently attracted to the Satanic Temple specifically may not feel kinship to the book, which to them feels like an artifact from another age. And not a good one, like a cursed skull or a goblet of fire; one of the bad ones, like a Confederate monument, or a regular goblet that’s just on fire.
Old guard Satanists find this attitude belligerent and lazy. But they’ve also inadvertently created the path around the text that some other people now want to follow.
Although I’ve read the Satanic Bible many times over the past 15 years, I can’t confess to ever liking it. I regard it as a shallow piece of marketing. And although I’d suggest that people read it (because life is just easier that way), I admit I also resent having to. It does not surprise me at all that some walk away from it.
But at the same time, I think about how I’m always trying to push readers into Paradise Lost–a book that I want the mortician to sew into my body cavity prior to my burial someday. And while many take it up, others don’t, which of course disappoints me.
When we say that Satanism is about the individual, we mean that each person creates their own doctrine and practice. But how to do that without self-education?
What I’ve found, though, is that while I may be able to shame people into feeling bad for not reading Milton–or conversely into thinking I’m a dick, depending on how strong I come on about it–disapproval almost never proves inspiration for the reading.
What I should want is not for people to read Paradise Lost (which is unfortunately also an archaic and misogynistic book, for the record). I should want for them to WANT to read it–sincerely, and motivated by their own intellectual curiosity.
Similarly, the best endorsement I’ve ever seen of the Satanic Bible is not the Satanic Bible itself but instead TST Seattle founder Lilith Starr’s The Happy Satanist, a book in part about how the Satanic Bible helped her kick drugs.
Knowing why it mattered to her made it matter more to me. I still don’t like it–but in a slightly more nuanced way than I had previously, I appreciated it a little.
That appreciation grew out of empathy, the tissue that holds human relationships together. Nothing is more persuasive than if people themselves want the same relationship with a text that you have. If they feel what you feel, persuasion isn’t necessary.
How to do that? I’ll admit, I don’t know. But let me ask you, have I ever told you how much I love reading Milton? If you ever feel like asking, I have answers.