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The Devil Advocates

Wolf Hook
Robert Scheer

Rings of Fire: The Church of Satan's Reverend Michael Boe (left), Silvia Medeiros and Brynn Cobb discuss the couple's upcoming nuptials. In the foreground is the "Wolf Hook," which is used by the organization on its stationery, publications and plaques. It represents the balance point between good and evil.

For the Reverend Michael Boe and other members of the Leviathan Grotto, running with Satan isn't just weekend sport--it's a way of life

By Traci Hukill

A TABLE OF GIGGLING TEENAGE GIRLS falls silent as the Reverend Michael Boe strides past them on his way through a local restaurant. Who could blame them? He looks like Lucifer himself, from sleek black hair and goatee to his black overcoat and shoes. Be the clothes what they may, however, they're not what make the man.

It's the attitude, and Boe wears his arrogance like a leopard wears its spots. He doesn't even condescend to glance at the hushed teenagers. Instead he stalks past, takes a seat in a booth far from anyone else and begins to talk about the Church of Satan.

Satanism: The very word conjures up scenes of mutilated animals and child sacrifice, bonfires and orgies and pacts with Mephistopheles. Some authorities blame Satanists for a puzzling rash of castrated and mutilated livestock found near Monterey in the past year. Satanism was implicated in the stabbing murder and subsequent post-mortem rape of 15-year-old Elyse Pahler in a small town south of San Luis Obispo two years ago: The three teenage metalheads responsible figured sacrificing a virgin would make the Devil so happy he'd grant them stardom.

Sorry, says Boe. Those aren't true Satanists. The real Church of Satan, the one founded by Anton Szandor LaVey, expressly forbids harming children or animals. There are no pacts with the Devil, no orgies, no demonic Halloween revelry, not even real Satan worship, because Satanists--real Satanists, mind you--are atheists.

So why bother? What do Satanists get out of Satanism?

The answer can be summed up in a single word: elitism. Satanists are incorrigible snobs. Their superior intelligence--which they're happy to point out--combined with their hauteur sets them above the "meeklings," as they call the rest of us.

"We consider the masses sheep," opines Boe in a pleasant voice over dinner. "They're slaves--to corporate interests, commercials, fast food, modern psychology. They're born to spend, and that's all they're good for. In fact, dying and decomposing--contributing to the soil--may be the most productive thing they ever do."

Hex, Drugs and Rock & Roll

STOCKY, ODDLY LIKABLE and handsome in a heavy, sensual way, the 28-year-old Boe presides over the Leviathan Grotto, the local arm of the Church of Satan. He's been a card-carrying member of the church for 12 years, ever since he discovered a copy of LaVey's The Satanic Bible in the occult section of Bookshop Santa Cruz and felt the book's precepts resonated with his own beliefs.

Satanists, they say, are born, not made, and Boe says he's always been this way, even as a young lad in Catholic school. Not surprisingly, he holds some pretty strident opinions.

Regarding drug use, for example: "I don't associate with people who do drugs. Anyone who does drugs is obviously into self-destruction, which is the antithesis of what Satanism is all about."

About atrocities committed in the name of Satan: "It's just hype. Kids on drugs watch talk shows and think, 'So this is what Satanists do.' Then they go out and do what they see on TV."

On stupidity: "Our prejudice is based on intelligence. We don't like stupid people, we don't tolerate stupid people."

And on social services: "I don't see why I am forced to support welfare wenches who spit out a baby every year to get their check."

For all his scathing diatribes, Boe's manners are impeccable, his clothes pressed, his speech precise. Where are the excesses recommended in the mission statement, "Satan represents indulgence, instead of abstinence"? Where are the flagrant trespasses against the Seven Deadly Sins?

Satanists, I'm beginning to think, really aren't much fun at all.

Basically, Satanists are a tightly disciplined lot who disdain anything resembling loss of control. They value intelligence and individuality above all else. They hold fast to a belief in social Darwinism, a philosophy that has resulted in their name's association with neo-Nazism. Theirs is a restrained hedonism that manifests itself sexually and, I decide, watching the Reverend Michael Boe cutting daintily into a gelatinous slab of rare porterhouse steak, nutritionally. Blood and grease swirl across the plate into a limpid pile of rice pilaf, and the vegetables sit by untouched next to two oily slices of half-eaten Texas toast. To this wreck of carnage and oil the Right Reverend applies himself with the utmost care, pinky fingers raised, crisp napkin at the ready.

Yes, the potential for trespass against at least one Deadly Sin exists, for these, I muse, are the habits of a gourmand under a tight rein.

Opposites Attract

JENNIFER RYCENGA, professor of Comparative Religious Studies at San Jose State University, views Satanism as a, well, necessary evil that completes the Christian cosmology. "Christianity bases itself on a metaphysical dualism," she points out, "and once you've postulated that the entire world is constructed that way, people will arise to fill those theoretical positions.

"The external evil associated with Satanism," she continues, "tends to be more about transgressions than about the absolute evil that Christianity wants to make it out to be."

Such a casual dismissal of Satanism's uniqueness sits ill with the Satanists themselves. "That's a Christian perspective," sniffs Magister Jeffrey Nagy of the Church of Satan in Stockton. "We would still be existing and doing what we do without the name of Satanism. Satan is the opposition, the accuser, and always has been. As far as I'm concerned, we can't coexist with Christianity at all."

Christianity has been no more tolerant of Satanism than Satanists are of Christians. Until Anton Szandor LaVey started the Church of Satan in San Francisco in 1966, Satanism was confined to the underground for obvious reasons. LaVey's philosophy of extreme rationalism coupled with blatant self-interest thrived in the experimental climate of the Bay Area in the '60s and gradually grew from an oddball cult meeting in LaVey's living room to a viable group boasting a few big names.

Bombshell Jayne Mansfield was a member of the Church of Satan, as was Sammy Davis Jr. A whole slew of musicians have claimed links with Satanism, from Jimmy Page and the theatrical Ozzy Ozbourne to gothic waif Marilyn Manson. Many more have cashed in on Satanism's undeniable value as a marketing tool, to the complete disgust of Satanists everywhere.

Once a Merry Prankster of established religion, LaVey has avoided the spotlight in recent years. Glimpses and snippets of Hell's Head Honcho are all we meeklings get. A friend said she saw him flying down the freeway in San Francisco in a black Jaguar with the license plate "Szandor" not too long ago. A rumor--unsubstantiated--has the man performing in a lounge act. It's unsubstantiated because LaVey doesn't talk to the press. In fact, it seems that no one at Central Grotto does anymore. The officially listed phone number, while not yet disconnected, yields neither Devil nor lesser demon--not even an answering machine.

No matter. LaVey's legacy lives on in books like The Satanic Witch, a riveting treatise on how to get and keep a man. Opposites attract, the book says, but the real problem is that they don't make women like they used to. Today's feminists underestimate the power of garters and stockings, a mistake would-be vixens should avoid. Failing those, Dr. LaVey recommends an amulet crafted from a bit of used--yes, used--sanitary napkin or tampon wrapped in a piece of cloth and worn on a string around the neck. According to LaVey, no man alive can resist the perfume wafting from that little package.

The Naked Altar

SAMANTHA, A FORMER Leviathan Grotto witch now living in Orange County, finds LaVey's teachings on enchantment quite reliable. "Dr. LaVey just completely says it like it is," she raves.

"It's very true that the demon self is attracted to the physical opposite of the self. I do not fit the typical skinny mold of beauty, but I have always had a wonderful attitude about my body and I've never, ever had a shortage of men."

Actually, Samantha, a hair designer in her early 30s, is quite a cupcake, a bubbly, animated sort you'd sooner picture cavorting on the beach than throwing hexes. When the talk turns to the matter of cursing, which she's done with some success, she declines to discuss details. She does explain a few cardinal rules about hexing, though.

"You have to have the emotions there," Samantha says. "You can't hex somebody if you don't have the emotion. But you have to be very specific about what you want. If you have remorse for any consequences, you're fucked, because if for one second you disbelieve yourself, you lose your magical powers."

Although Boe makes it clear that guests are unwelcome at Grotto ceremonies or rituals, he lets slip several juicy details. For example, for some rituals they use a naked woman for an altar, both because she symbolizes Mother Earth and because she helps to incite sexual energy--"the best energy," he adds.

It's a potent image, to say the least, and one that splashed across the pages of newspapers early in the Church of Satan's life cycle when a photo of a nude woman half-covered by a leopard skin and serving as an altar in a ritual leaked to the press. It called up visions of orgies and sacrifice.

Nothing, according to Boe, could be further from the truth.

In fact, lust rituals, which are meant to harness sexual energy, are usually conducted in private because they involve masturbation. That's understandable, but again it's surprising. Satanists are reserved, almost prudish, when compared with their reputations.

As I learn more about Satanism I'm reminded of an old Aquarian Tarot deck I once bought at a garage sale. The 15th Major Arcanum, usually called The Devil, depicts the usual image of a demon with a hapless man and woman in thrall as a symbol of bondage to the material. In this deck, though, the card is called The Thinker. Perhaps Satanism is truly a religion of the mind and not one of depraved yearnings, as most people believe.

Of course, where that path leads is a matter of speculation on which nearly everyone has an opinion.

Robert Scheer

Declaration of Indie Pendants: Reverend Michael Boe displays a Baphomet, a registered trademark of the Church of Satan. The two upward points are thrust in defiance of heaven, and the three lower points are trinity denied. The goat head represents the carnal nature of man, while the Hebrew lettering at each point spells Leviathan.

Hacking Horse Heads

ERIC PRYOR of the Jubilee Christian Center in San Jose has been down that dark path, and he most certainly has an opinion on where it leads. A former Satanic cult leader who converted to Christianity seven years ago, Pryor headed a group of the torture-and-mutilation variety.

As he explains it, when a group peripherally associated with his own got busted by New York cops for nailing cats to trees, he was annoyed by their stupidity. They shouldn't have been caught, and he denied knowing them.

"But what did I care? I was busy hacking horses' heads off," he says with an ironic edge to his voice. That enterprise, engineered to deliver the beast's strength to Pryor, took seven hours.

Pryor identifies several different types of Satanist. His group were classical Satanists--a sect he says was born in France in the 1600s and which he identifies as the most dangerous sort. "We would beat people," he recalls, "people we'd invited to meetings. We'd take them out and get them high, take them back and feed on their pain. We just about beat a few people half to death."

LaVey's Church of Satan is the least malevolent Satanic group, according to Pryor. For lack of a better term, he calls them pop Satanists.

"I don't see them as harmful in a physical sense, but harmful in a moral sense absolutely, because they take any kind of charity or benevolence as a sign of weakness as opposed to a sign of strong moral character," he observes.

Dance of Intolerance

SURE ENOUGH, charity, social services and Santa Cruz's legendary tolerance were fodder for a few blistering issues of The Raging Sea, the Leviathan Grotto's member newsletter. The first issue featured a bilious rant against the homeless ominously titled "The Final Solution," in which the author implies gassing as a fix to the homeless problem.

Intended only for members of the Grotto, a copy fell into an outsider's hands and caused an uproar among the homeless community. Eventually, the editor received a photocopy of the newsletter in the mail smeared with feces.

Boe appears chagrined about the whole affair. "People took the article literally. It was meant to be ironic, a humorous piece," he says. "We are not, I repeat, not neo-Nazis."

That statement is hard to reconcile with Boe's collection of Third Reich memorabilia, which he says reflects a personal interest, and the Grotto's collective infatuation with the '30s and '40s.

"Things have gotten so rotten that kids are looking for a time when you could tell male from female," Boe laments. "There was sex, there was sweat. Things are so homogenized now."

Grotto members' views compound the confusion. Says Brynn Cobb, a 20-year-old member, "If the homeless are not fit to survive, then they shouldn't survive. They're dirtying the streets, making it unpleasant for us to walk around."

Harsh words, but I'm inclined to believe Boe is telling the truth about not being a neo-Nazi. The difference between Satanists and neo-Nazis, after all, is that Satanists--these Satanists, anyway--talk and neo-Nazis do. And although Satanists talk exquisitely, it would be beneath them to dirty their hands with action.

Back in the restaurant, Boe throws a few curve balls as dinner winds down. One is to whip out a picture of his 5-year-old daughter, a cute little gal who goes to home school--the better to avoid mingling with the sheep.

Boe is especially proud of two things: that his young daughter shows no interest in TV, and that she prefers dresses to pants because "pants are for boys."

The other surprise is that the reason Boe needs to get on home is that his Dachshund puppy needs walking.

Boe's face goes silly when he talks about the dog. She's been inside all day long, he explains as he stands up and throws a dollar and change on the table for tip.

So home goes the Satanist to his healthy daughter and puppy, despite allegations that he and his kind sacrifice their young and mutilate small animals.

I can't say I agree with his views, but I'd rather sit next to him on an airplane than a lot of people.

And if I wind up in Hell, at least now I'll know someone interesting there.

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From the April 17-23, 1997 issue of Metro Santa Cruz

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