Wednesday, September 5, 2012

This Week's Book: The Satanic Bible

A friend told me he'd rather read a review of the book than the book itself. Wish granted.

September 2-8: The Satanic Bible by Anton Szandor LaVey

Philosophy (1969 - 146 pp.) 

My copy of The Satanic Bible, dubbed "The Underground Edition", contains the original text plus all four introductions that have been used for it over the years and some concluding essays. It was made available as an ebook, proving that Satanism indeed keeps up with technological trends in its efforts to reach the masses. My introduction to this text comes from wanting to read substantially different material over the course of this year (and if this is not different, what is?) and from reading about the Satanism of David Vincent, bassist/vocalist of Morbid Angel. I thought Vincent's lyrics had great atmosphere, especially in "Fall from Grace", so naturally, I read the book. 

The Satanic Bible is predicated upon the Left Hand Path. Whereas the Right Hand Path contains principles like self-sacrifice for greater good, emphasis on light, and denial of temptation, the Left Hand Path is the exact opposite. Almost all major world religions belong to the Right Hand Path, as do Druids and practitioners of White Magic. Satanism, as one of the major branches of the Left Hand Path, defines itself in opposition to all of these. As a follower of the Right Hand Path (i.e. a Christian), I am inherently opposed to the broad conclusions LaVey draws. I can appreciate a compelling argument regardless of perspective, though. 

One of The Satanic Bible's charms is just how meticulously detailed it is. Truly everything about being a Satanist is explained clearly, whether it is how to embrace each of the Seven Deadly Sins or how to properly set up a room for a Satanic ritual. The book is divided very nicely into four parts - Satan (Fire), Lucifer (Air), Belial (Earth), and Leviathan (Water). Each draws on a different aspect of the Satanic faith while reiterating the initial theme of godlessness, that man is supreme yet animal. The occult bits LaVey includes throughout are educational in the sense that it is an entire body of literature he embraced more than I ever have or likely will. The field guide presentation of the last two parts makes the book seem more interactive, even to those of us who have no intention of actually carrying out any of the rituals. 

My problems with The Satanic Bible beyond my ideological opposition to Satanism more generally lie in the substantive details. LaVey is not one to cite his sources. The way in which he portrays Christian beliefs, for example his mention that gluttony is eating more than is absolutely needed for survival, is unconvincing. In light of his pillory of how Christians supposedly describe black masses, a little more understanding from LaVey would be welcome in displaying what he hates so much. The lackadaisical way in which he describes some aspects of rituals, like the desirability of a silver chalice but the admission that a wooden or ceramic (just not golden) one will serve fine in the absence of a silver one, contrasts sharply with the detail of the ceremonial setup. Then much of the book consists of blind acceptance of various occult sources, alleged plagiarism of works like Arthur Desmond's "Might Is Right", and tangential rants. The encouragement to make drawings, or to write stories or plays, directed at a desired or hated one feels like it could too easily lead to some art that LaVey even admits will not be of the highest calibre. 

The premise is incredible. That Satan has endured centuries of slander from Right Hand Path adherents yet has held his tongue makes him the benevolent one to LaVey. That Satan finally decides to speak back, and to rather unsurprisingly preach the Left Hand Path, is a concept that can perk up a reader's eyebrows if nothing else. The execution of The Satanic Bible is mixed. I was not expecting I would be convinced by its message but I needed something that presented more coherence. Besides, for all LaVey says about Satan keeping the church in business, so much of LaVeyan Satanism is derived directly from defiance of Christian practice that Satanism is likely the more indebted system of beliefs. 

Ease of Reading: 7 
Educational Content: 4

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