Satanists Survive in Scary San Francisco

UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism/October 27, 2004
By Rebecca Ruiz

San Francisco -- Stockbrokers may be down on their luck, partisans may be biting their nails, and the unemployed may be hopeless. But at least Satanists have caught a break.

Peter Gilmore, High Priest of the Church of Satan, is celebrating a small victory. Last week, a sailor in the British Royal Navy was the first member of British armed forces to be formally recognized as a Satanist. The U.S. Armed Forces have previously recognized its Satanist members.

"It's a very good time for Satanism these days," said Peter Gilmore, head of the church since 2001. It's unclear how many U.S. or British members exist, but Gilmore estimates many live in the United States and the total number worldwide is in the thousands. He declined to be more exact.

Gilmore said that believers of Satanism are part of an "association of productive alienated people" who are terminally misunderstood. The church's policy of secrecy, intended to protect its members from discrimination, has done little to demystify the organization. A former confidante and assistant to the church's founder, Anton LeVey, Gilmore wants to clarify that Satanism may be dark, but it's ultimately about living life by a clear set of principles.

Founded in San Francisco in 1966, the Church of Satan rejects the existence of God and the Devil. Instead, Satanists believe that man is his own God and that Satan is a powerful force in each individual as opposed to an entity or deity.

While a person might agree with these tenets, the process of becoming a Satanist is long and involved. Gilmore places a premium on secrecy and refuses to connect the curious with the committed, citing personal security for members.

"You can't just meet people willy-nilly," said Gilmore, "There are a lot of nuts out there."

Instead, Gilmore suggests that for more information, people read the Satanic Bible. Those who are truly interested can write or email the church and buy a lifetime membership for $200. That includes e-bulletins and crimson membership cards, but not access to the inner circle of believers. The "active membership" application is lengthy, but if approved, is a ticket to join the network of Satanists worldwide.

Randy David, owner of the San Francisco occult shop Sword and Rose, said he tried Satanism during a period of teenage rebellion 30 years ago. David said he lit candles and called out the names of Satanic deities listed in the Satanic Bible and found that he was into "heavy dark magic."

David quickly abandoned Satanism but continued to explore other types of occult practices. Though he sees Satanism as belonging to a spectrum of spiritual beliefs, he said the emphasis on negativity was too taxing. "I would be exhausted if I had to be that dark all day long," said David.

Gilmore is cheery when he talks about Satanism. He calls it a tool in promoting an individual life and insists that true believers have respect for decent values. Two of the Eleven Satanic Rules of the Earth forbid harming children at all and killing animals in a ritualistic manner. A few rules, however, allude to a ruthless approach, including one that encourages physical violence against a person who is unrelentingly bothersome.

While Satanism advocates for indulgence, Gilmore says the church forbids criminal activities such as pedophilia and murder.

"There is a social contract and we have to be honorable to other people. That's the only way we can enjoy our lives," he said.

Gilmore acknowledges that Satanists explore their dark side. "Halloween is amateur night," said Gilmore. "People are trying to reach down and see the dark side of themselves and Satanists do that 365 days of the year."

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