Monday, January 4, 2016

"Putting on Their Baphomets and Going to the Nearest Denny's": On Arthur Lyon's Satan Wants You: The Cult of Devil Worship in America

The main thing that struck me about Arthur Lyon's book Satan Wants You: The Cult of Devil Worship in America (Mysterious Press, 1988) is the recurrent discussion of legitimacy of the satan-yness of the people he studied in writing the book, which I could sort of appreciate. It kind of took me by surprise.

I thought this would be like watching a mental hygiene film about the dangers of cults, and parts of it were a little, well, nerdily square in exactly the way I wanted them to be; after all, I purchased and read this book purely out of kitsch value. How could I not get it? It has a preposterous cover. And I grew up in the 80s, amused by the media's obsession with tying rock, punk and metal to the evils of Satan, so it was a shoo in for my collection of mayhem books. Also, the guy who sold it to me at the spiritual goods bookstore in Pilsen, he went upstairs and pulled it for me from his own collection (he lives above the store). I don't remember how we got on the topic, but somehow it led to me needing to have this book.

Also, I should add that the guy charged or energized or charmed up (I don't even know what verb to use here) a stone I bought at the store, which is supposed to amplify the effects of my meditation (I'm supposed to have near or on me when I do it). He shifted it from hand to hand while we were talking and told me that when the energy in it got low I could bring it back and he would recharge it. How would I know it needed recharging, you ask? Your guess is as good as mine. Also, I don't even remember what kind of rock it is or why he suggested that particular one, other than the fact that he said it was being really loud when he was selecting a rock for me, which means I guess that he speaks rock, if it was being that loud and all. Since I don't speak rock I can't ask it. Maybe you know? Here is a picture:

Nevermind the CHIRP radio post-its, thank you very much

Does the rock work? I don't know. Maybe? I have no clue. I should mention I regularly meditate but I a irregular about remembering to get the damn rock when I'm doing it. And no, I don't take it with me when I go places. There's no way in hell I'm carrying a pet fucking rock around. It's heavy and pointy.

Sidenote which amuses me about the guy at the store: He sold me these items: a) the aforementioned rock that he energized or charged or whatever with chi or good mojo juju or something, b) the also aforementioned book about satanism, and c) three delicious smelling oils I wear ("Healing," ""Woodland Mist" and "Coffee Italy"). He asked me how I got into transcendental meditation, and I said, "I read David Lynch's book about it." He responded with, "That's OK. I have a friend who became a Mormon because she had a crush on Donny Osmond." I found this to be both upliftingly tolerant and utterly ridiculous at the same time.

Anyway, the book. Indeed, there was some hilarious over the top stuff, like pictures of Mötley Crüe album covers and kids devil horning at a Slayer concert. There was even some mention of Black Sabbath (but the truth is that by the time this book came out Sabbath descended out of their prime, having toured with Van Halen opening for them and showing them up every night, but that's another story, as entertainingly outlined in Van Halen Rising: How a Southern California Backyard Party Band Saved Heavy Metal). All of these things aside, I was sort of pleasantly surprised by the sociological slant of Satan Wants You.

I was amused by how if I took parts of the book out of context, they could almost be talking about any subversive subculture, where the people have been into it for a long time, the legit old schoolers, are always annoyed by the inauthentic newbie poseurs. On page 119, founder of Church of Satan Anton LaVey sounds like senior punk royalty complaining about the freshman punk newbies:

Right down to the thing about going to Denny's: "They put on their Baphomets and go to the nearest Denny's," this is so perfect. This has some personal relevance for anybody in my town because when I was in my teens Denny's was exactly the place where the punks in my high school prided on hanging out, and legitimacy in subculture is something all adolescent punks concern themselves with; this quote hits maybe a little too close to home for many, I am sure. I wish I could draw comics because this would be perfect.

Then there's the bits about people just wanting to be accepted by a subculture that makes them feel important, like on page 133:

Sure, this quote is about the Man keeping the individual down making satanism an outlet for aggression. But what I enjoyed was the use of quotes for "magic" and "adept" levels, which, when taken out of context, makes this quote almost seem like it could be talking about a gathering of D&D players, or even some stereotypical nerds getting together and feeling superior because they get picked on but are smarter than everyone else with their nerd skills. It sure makes the folks into satanism Lyons study seem pretty dorky. And that's exactly what I think he's getting at here, on page 134:

I can get behind the logic of an inferiority complex turned into a superiority complex in the belief that the rest of the world are chumps, which then leads to someone thinking they have some kind of special gift or omnipotence. I can totally see how that would be a thing. The idea of how someone with insecurities would find other people with insecurities makes sense; they could be insecure together, creating a way to make themselves feel better than the people that make them feel ostracized. That gives them feel they have a sense of control.

Anti-socialism has been a thing since the beginning of time. People who want to fit in but can't are ostracized, and occasionally they embrace it. Sometimes it leads to beauty (nerds grow up and invent cool things, for example) and sometimes it leads to ugly (to continue the metaphor, nerds grow up and become super villains). In the days of the Puritans, those outside of the mainstream may have embraced it in a way that made them construed as witch-y, and we all know what the Puritans did to witches. The outcasty nerd support-group meet-up in that era was construed as revolt (pg 72):

I love the "Rebellion is like witchcraft" business, which I just Googled that quote, and as it turns out, there's a sort of-(ish) quote from the bible that gets pulled up too: "For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft." I prefer Cotton Mather's version of the quote better.

I know the quote is about what people thought of rebellion, that it is punishable and wrong the way that witchcraft is wrong. But what would be really cool is if rebellion really was a type of witchcraft, like for real. It reminds me of one of Doctor Who Christmas specials, the one where the tenth doctor says he could take down Prime Minister Harriet Jones with six words. He says to one of the people on her staff as if to plant a seed, "Don't you think she looks tired?" This of course, because the world feels her to be an unfit leader, leads to her downfall. It feels so witchcrafty to me:

After all, Harriet Jones had, only minutes earlier in the episode gone on TV and requested The Doctor come, and to people who don't know about The Doctor, they think she's just asking for a doctor. (Props to my husband Joe for offering that ingenious additional point, which totally blew my mind.) Anyway, the idea of planting a small seed that grows into something big feels just well, you know like, summoning with intention and all that magick-y Grant Morrison-ish stuff, like what LaVey meant when he said (pg 114, but actually taken from his book The Satanic Rituals, pg 25):

The idea of not knowing the actual science of what it means to put a hex on someone sounds a little like the "you have to believe in it to work" business you hear a lot from people who believe in that sort of thing. I want to believe in that stuff but I need some proof more than just making the proverbial fairy come back proverbially brighter if you say "I believe in fairies" over and over, you know like when the guy in Practical Magic goes, "Curses only have power when you believe them" (not to get too chick-flicky on a point here). But still, I like the quote anyway.

pg 15
I love the idea of myths evolving as civilization changes. The myth continues to be what it needs to be, ways of explaining the world (or defending aspects of it) but the meaning can change or something else can take on the original meaning. What once symbolized one thing can mean something else later. But there will always be ways of explaining why outcasts form their subcultures, and there will always be the leaders of the subculture hazing the newbies, who will then feel ostracized and go form their subculture to the subculture.

And there will always be the poseurs putting on their Baphomets and going to the nearest Denny's.


  1. Love this. The "you need to believe (in magic) reminds me of the Dresden Files, and there was a "punk Dennys" in the southwest burbs, but Satan hung out at the Baker's Square.

  2. Satan totes hangs out at the Baker's Square. :)