Points of Light on a Dark Passage
by Jake Block
One of the interesting things that one will notice about those who travel earnestly along the Left Hand Path is that they seem to share a rather dark aesthetic. This extends to almost every facet of their lives, from literature to art, to music, to clothing, and living accoutrements. Most times, Anton LaVey’s living conditions resembled a “Holodeck” simulation of a film noir genre movie from an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. By this, I mean that he immersed himself in the trappings and ambiance of the era to which he felt most comfortable, being that of the 1930s and 1940s, recreated in his 1966 to 1997 world.
Outside of his home on California Street in San Francisco, things were buzzing and humming to the world as it was, and the static of life was palpable from the bumping and pumping of rock and roll, to the sound of jets in the distance launching from SFO, to the mournful sound of foghorns on the San Francisco Bay. One would be surprised to see this anachronism of the past on California Street against the backdrop of a modern, vital city, except that this was, after all, San Francisco. Dichotomies and anachronisms were pretty much a normal thing here where Chinatown butted up against the bump and grind strip clubs on Broadway, and the Haight-Ashbury district’s counter-culture butted up against the serenity of Golden Gate Park.
Such dichotomies were to be expected here… but not so much in the lair of the city’s resident devil . Those who only visited what was known as The Black House were restricted to two rooms of the residence where LaVey might entertain such guests and give perfunctory interviews to journalists. The Purple room with its old books, LaVey’s paintings, the infamous tombstone “coffee table,” fireplace “secret passages,” etc, were backdrops for public consumption. Those who were invited to The Black House saw a bit more, perhaps the Main Ritual Chamber, and Den of Iniquity in the basement, where LaVey’s hand made creations shared his world in a bizarrely beautiful personal “corner bar.” Interesting and memorable to be sure, but there were places that the few were privileged to go that might surprise those who stood on the sidewalk and gawked.
While it’s true that LaVey was a big fan of the dark aesthetic, it doesn’t mean that he was a total Luddite, resisting technologies and modern conveniences when they were useful and personally beneficial. If you knew where to look, and had access to the rooms, you would find a two racks of synthesizers that he used to create his music, a Macintosh computer, an IBM Selectric typewriter, state of the art amp and turntable, video cameras, cameras from a Leica to a Canon AE-1 Program, color TV and more. Bits of out of place modernity to be sure, but LaVey was wise enough to incorporate the technologies that could ease his life, without becoming dependent upon them, or allowing them to become intrusive of his overall vision for his place of alternative reality.
The “dark aesthetic.” It’s a bit like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said about pornography (Jacobellis vs Ohio ), “I know it when I see it.” Even amongst Satanists, there’s no concrete definition, or standards that must be met to qualify, but it seem to be a moving target that many try to hit. I’ve met some pretty “dark” Satanists over the years, very gothic and stark, and a lot of “Halloween Satanists,” as LaVey called them, who fill their house year round with kit and kitsch, who buy out the black shirts in every store they see. It becomes almost a uniform for the nonconformist, with little room for self-expression.
The dark aesthetic is, I think, intrinsic to the practice and philosophies of many Left Hand Path “currents,” however, I also think that many use it not as an enhancement to their personal leitmotif, but something less empowering. It loses its power when we treat it as a decorative backdrop, or a stage setting before which we can be on display and “scare the rubes.” At these times, the aesthetic becomes more of a crutch to support our fragile egos than any enhancement. Take it away, and we become the naked emperor, deluding ourselves in to thinking that the glory and grandeur we envision ourselves to be covered in actually exists, when the reality is, people see right through it… and us.
When it’s simply part of the costume and does not serve to bolster reality, it loses its power and instead of helping us appear to me Muhammad Ali, with his face contorted in rage as he stands over his unconscious adversary, we appear more like the cartoon boxer, comically pumping his fist before he throws is “knockout punch” against an equally ludicrous enemy. Any adversary worth his salt can see the telegraphed punch coming from a mile away and simply bob and weave, rendering it as impotent as the clown who threw it.
While I have indeed met dark and brooding people on the Left Hand Path, I’ve also found that even though many enjoy that dark aesthetic in their lives, they also find time to enjoy the rest of their world and the brightness and joy of life wherever they find it. It belies the myth of the necessity for the Satanist to be some dark and dour agent of Satan, and casts the shadow of doubt onto those who are perpetually so. One would always do well to remember that Satanism, at least in the LaVeyan mode, is a study in contrasts and the dichotomous nature of the universe and life as we know it!
Now, most of you know me as a long term surviving traveler along the Left Hand Path, and with over half a century of experiences and personal insights, I know that it’s sometimes a dark passage, to be sure. But I have also had ample opportunity to enjoy the bright spots that exist on the route of passage as well. Even during the darkest of times in my life, there have been flashes of brightness and joy. In Vietnam, for example, there was a night that we all spent on our stomachs, as low to the ground as we could physically be, expecting that at any moment, a mortar shell or an enemy rocket would land and we would blink out of existence. Still, we managed to spend our time joking through the night until we saw the sky brighten and we could begin a new day, still alive… and still joking.
Along my travels, I’ve found that some of the best and brightest of Satanists I have met were not those who cloaked themselves in the fashionableness of saturnian darkness, but those who let their personal joy shine through and still maintained their diabolical edge. They too enjoyed and respected the dark aesthetic, but knew that it was just one facet of themselves as Satanists, certainly, but in the greater sense of self, just a tool to be used and not a defining aspect or who they ultimately were as individual adherents to a philosophy that stressed individuality and shunned herd conformity, no matter what that herd’s philosophy and aesthetic might be.
Here within The Sect of the Horned God, we get some serious work done in “thought processing,” and self improvement, all the while maintaining our often far left views along the path. Yes, I am a hard-core Satanist, and unflinchingly look at this world as my second biggest challenge of change, the first being my self, “Adversary One.” I demand constant improvement in myself and expect to see it in those who would stand by me as well in the area of self development and the gaining of greater and greater autonomy in the face of local and national governments, hell bent on suppression of individual thought and freedom. It can be, and often is, serious work that requires steely-eyed determination and an iron will.
You’ll find that Thomas and Lisa, Dark Fool, Dimitri, Anton Wolf, Rhonda and Larry Favero and many others are equally focused in the work we need to get done both on ourselves and The Sect. We all appreciate the dark aesthetic as well, but learned that it is a tool, and not a rule that we can use to our advantage, but also that over dependence on its allure could typecast us and become a millstone of expectation around our necks. Those of us who deal with the public, its motivations and reactions can tell you that, clearly, people respond more the a centrist stance that gives them more latitude in their dealings with others the regarding radical fringes of religion, politics of philosophy.
To be blunt, I am sometimes disheartened that after the half century from when LaVey introduced the Church of Satan’s philosophy to the world that so many in the world have still not figured out that the dark aesthetic is simply the flip side of life’s coin. Being somewhat of an anachronism myself, I am still a bit perplexed when I see people so thrown back into that subsets of left hand philosophies that they attempt to hard-split the sliding scale of black and white, with all of its gradients an textures to embrace one and not the other. Take it for what it’s worth, but I have found that the ultra-right or altruism and the ultra-black of nihilism cancel one another out in the minds of the rational who know that absolutes demand exception, and are subject to the whims of chaotic dissension.
I’ve often said that life is like an epicurean banquet with a myriad of tastes and textures to try and enjoy, so with all of the flavors of life that one could sample from simple meats to prime rib and beyond, I am at a loss as to why anyone would forsake the savory blends of spices and infused flavors in favor of predictable, pedestrian and often pretentious “baloney.” Still, there are indeed Satanists who avidly embrace only the dark aesthetic of the Left Hand Path and feel they have nothing to gain by embracing the bright spots that they might encounter along the way. Fair enough. Their lives, their rules.
I’ve found that the words from The Satanic Bible hold a message for me that has worked in my life. They might provide some of you with a bit of inspiration, as well.
“The eternal flame of power through joy dwelleth within the flesh of the Satanist!”
— The Book of Satan V:13 (The Satanic Bible)