When Rosemary’s Baby was about to be released in 1968, LaVey, besides playing the part of the Devil, attended advanced screenings set up by the studio’s publicity department to elicit his observations as various religious groups previewed the film. It was, after all, a metaphorical as well as a very real offshoot of LaVey and the Church of Satan. (LaVey has said Rosemary’s Baby “did for the Church of Satan what The Birth of a Nation did for the Ku Klux Klan, complete with recruiting posters in the lobby.”) Taking advantage of the High Priest’s high visibility, small black buttons were passed out at the screenings which said, “Pray for Anton LaVey,” a variant on the “Pray for Rosemary’s Baby” buttons also being handed out as a promotional item. LaVey remembered the audience’s reaction to the ending of the film, when it clearly showed the Satanists had no intention of hurting the child, as everyone expected, but glorified it as the son of Satan. “People got very angry—stomping their feet and showing general disapproval. Sometimes the reality of Satanism is a lot more terrifying to people than their safe fantasies of what it’s supposed to be. For the first time, they’ve been confronted with a Devil that talks back.”
All a publicity stunt.
The Church of Satan is an international organization dedicated to the religion of LaVeyan Satanism as codified in The Satanic Bible. The Church of Satan was established at the Black House in San Francisco, California, on Walpurgisnacht, April 30, 1966, by Anton Szandor LaVey, who was the church’s High Priest until his death in 1997. In 2001, Peter H. Gilmore was appointed to the position of high priest, and the church’s headquarters were moved to Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan, New York City.
The church does not believe in or worship the Devil or a Christian notion of Satan. High Priest Peter Gilmore describes its members as “skeptical atheists“, embracing the Hebrew root of the word “Satan” as “adversary”. The church views Satan as a positive archetype who represents pride, individualism, and enlightenment, and as a symbol of defiance against the Abrahamic faiths which LaVey criticized for what he saw as the suppression of humanity’s natural instincts.
The Church of Satan describes its structural basis as a cabal that is “an underground cell system of individuals who share the basis of [our] philosophy”. Membership in the Church of Satan is available on two levels: registered membership and active membership. Registered members are those who choose to affiliate on a formal level by filling out the required information and sending a one-time registration fee. Active membership is available for those who wish to take a more active role in the organization and is subject to the completion of a more comprehensive application. The church provides wedding, funeral, and baptismal services to members. Such ceremonies are performed by a member of the church’s priesthood.
The Church maintains a purist approach to Satanism as expounded by LaVey, rejecting the legitimacy of any other organizations who claim to be Satanists. Scholars agree that there is no reliably documented case of Satanic continuity prior to the founding of the Church of Satan. It was the first organized church in modern times to be devoted to the figure of Satan, and according to Faxneld and Petersen, the Church represented “the first public, highly visible, and long-lasting organization which propounded a coherent satanic discourse”.
In 1956, LaVey purchased a Victorian house in the Richmond District of San Francisco, which he painted black.During the late 1950s, LaVey hosted Friday night lectures on occult subjects at his house. The process of writing his lectures lead him to distill his philosophy based on his earlier research into topics considered bizarre and arcane, and experiences as a psychic investigator and hypnotist, as well as work in the carnivals. He gradually gathered regular visitors who became known as the “Magic Circle”. During this time, LaVey also held “witches workshops”, classes to instruct women on the art of seduction and manipulation through glamour and feminine wiles. According to sociologist and early group affiliate, Randall Alfred, these “workshops” included “various aspects of Satanism” and were part of the Friday night lectures. Though actual numbers are unknown, it has been suggested that the group comprised around twenty people. Accounts suggest that the “circle” included authors, artists, doctors, policemen, and academics among other professions.
In the early 1960s Anton LaVey formed a group called the Order of the Trapezoid, which later became the governing body of the Church of Satan. The group included: “The Baroness” Carin de Plessen, Dr. Cecil Nixon, Kenneth Anger, City Assessor Russell Wolden, and Donald Werby. According to the Church of Satan historiography, other LaVey associates from this time include noted science fiction and horror writers Anthony Boucher, August Derleth, Robert Barbour Johnson, Reginald Bretnor, Emil Petaja, Stuart Palmer, Clark Ashton Smith, Forrest J. Ackerman, and Fritz Leiber Jr.
In the mid-60’s, prior to the publishing of The Satanic Bible, LaVey’s writings were disseminated among his circle in the form of a series of papers known as the “rainbow sheets”, an assortment of essays describing the philosophy, presented as “an introduction to Satanism”. These essays were later featured in The Book of Lucifer. In addition was a paper describing magic and containing instructions for the practice or ritual.