CHURCH OF SATAN VS. TEMPLE OF SET
by: Diane Vera
I appreciate the high praise given to me by _Abrasax_’s editor, James Martin, in last issue’s “Publisher’s Page”. However, it’s a bit of an exaggeration to say that I’m “without sectarian bias or prejudice”. It’s more accurate to say that I have mixed feelings about the various Satanic groups. In terms of basic occult philosophy, I am in much closer agreement with Anton LaVey than with Michael Aquino. And I person-ally don’t feel drawn to the god-form of Set, or to any Egyptian god-form. But in other ways, I’m far more inclined to sympathize with the Temple of Set than with the Church of Satan. For those who don’t know the background of this occult soap opera: the Church of Satan, the first above-ground, legally recognized Satanic religious organization, was founded by Anton LaVey and Diane Hegarty in 1966 C.E. (Many Satanists date their calendar from this year, e.g. 1992 C.E. = XXVII Anno Satanas.) The CoS thrived for nine years, after which LaVey burned out on running the CoS as it was then structured, with active “Grottoes” (chapters) all around the country. In 1975 C.E. (X A.S.) there was a schism caused by the disbanding of the Grotto system. The largest and longest-lived of the resulting splinter groups was the Temple of Set, headed by Michael Aquino. The Temple of Set’s philosophy differs from the Church of Satan’s in many ways. Most notably, ToS equates “the Prince of Darkness” with the ancient Egyptian god Set, whom it regards as a literal, sentient being who was invoked in a magical Working and gave Dr. Aquino a “Mandate” to found the ToS. The Church of Satan has tended to see “Satan” _not_ as a literal entity but as a symbol for the dark forces in Nature and/or a symbol for our own individuality. Dr. Aquino claims that LaVey was not always consistent about this; that before the schism, LaVey did at times seem to believe in Satan as a literal entity of some sort. (A debate about the schism can be found in the now-defunct Satanic zine _Brimstone_, Vol.II, no.2, October XXV A.S., which printed a letter from a CoS member titled “Pretenders to the Throne” and a rebuttal by Dr. Aquino. Back issues of _Brimstone_ can still be obtained from P.O. Box 660, Marstons Mills, MA 02648. See also the book _Satan_Wants_You_ by Arthur Lyons, and see also the ToS “General Information and Admissions Policies” document.) . Dr. Aquino says that ever since the 1975 schism, the Church of Satan has consisted of just Anton LaVey and a handful of cronies and has not functioned as an organization at all, but is merely a vehicle for LaVey’s “personal expression and financial income”. CoS denies this. CoS claims to be a vastly though subtly influential cabal of elite people who are doing all sorts of wondrous things behind the scenes. (See, for example, Blanche Barton’s book _The_Church_of_Satan_, pp.29-30, 45, 68, 89, 105, and 123-124.) Dr. Aquino says this is just a lot of bluff and bluster, a part of Anton LaVey’s “Oz the Great and Terrible” act. Of course, the rest of us have no way of knowing what is or is not happening behind the scenes ….
This past year, I’ve gotten to know some Setians via computer network on the BASE OF SET echo. Though I have many disagreements with their philosophy, I’ve come to like and respect a lot of them as people. Also, I highly recommend the Temple of Set’s reading list, available on some occult-oriented computer bulletin boards. It lists many fascinating books on a wide range of subjects, with brief comments by Dr. Aquino and others. I disagree with the Temple of Set’s philosophy regarding “NatureWorshipping Religions” vs. “Psyche-Worshipping Religions”, with Christianity somehow classified as a “Nature-Worshipping Religion”. I’m disinclined to accept the identification of Satan with Set; and I’m disinclined to believe in either of them as literal entities who talk to people and give “Infernal Mandates”. Fortunately for most new ToS members, ToS does not require rank-andfile members to share these beliefs. (Only the Priesthood and higher degrees are required to believe in Set’s literal existence.) ToS’s emphasis is on the study of magic(k)al techniques, to which members are expected to take a highly individual approach. Despite ToS’s emphasis on individuality, Dr. Aquino is also Lt. Col. Aquino, a military intelligence officer; and, in the Temple of Set’s style of interaction, his military background definitely shows. A common complaint about ToS by ex-members is that it is too “hierarchical” and “authoritarian”. I don’t condemn this, but it’s not for me. Most of the Setians I’ve corresponded with do find ToS membership very rewarding, despite its structure and protocol. And I doubt it’s possible for a large magic(k)al organization, especially a Satanic one, _not_ to be as hierarchical as ToS, or nearly so— especially if the group’s aim is to transmit a specific magic(k)al energy current, not just be a gathering of people with a common interest. At least the ToS does interact with its members. The Church of Satan, in contrast, has very little to offer its rank-and-file members and doesn’t even introduce them to other CoS members. _Black_Flame_ editor Peter Gilmore says in the most recent issue (Fall/Winter XXVI A.S.), “We have made it a policy not to place our members in communication.” Frankly, I don’t see any benefit to be gained by paying $100 to join the Church of Satan as it is now functioning, unless you’re what the CoS calls a “productive” person, e.g. a professional writer, publisher, or recording artist who is actively promulgating Anton LaVey’s philosophy—which, alas, increasingly seems to mean promulgating LaVey’s political views. The CoS publication _The_Black_Flame_ contains a review section which is an excellent source of information, but you don’t have to be a member to subscribe. What I dislike most about the CoS is LaVey’s involvement in extreme right-wing politics and, worse yet, the repeated insinuations in recent CoS literature that you have to agree with his political views to be a true Satanist. It seems CoS’s main function these days is to be a soapbox for right-wing political views, judging by the latest issue of _Black_Flame_ (Fall/Winter XXVI), which contained more articles about politics than about magic. One of the several explicitly neo-Nazi/neo-fascist groups that advertise in _Black_Flame_, the Abrasax Foundation a.k.a. Storm Productions (no relation to _Abrasax_ the occult zine), is mentioned in Blanche Barton’s book as one of several groups “directly allied with LaVey, considering themselves arms of the Church of Satan” and as taking a “constructive, active part in the Satanic hierarchy” (_The_Church_of_Satan_, p.49). Dr. Aquino has a far saner attitude toward politics. The ToS “Order of the Trapezoid” does study Nazi occultism, but makes it clear that this does not imply political sympathy. Dr. Aquino is politically active, but in a very sensible cause: civil rights for minority religions.