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The City That Was: Wrapping Up Halloween, The Genuinely Spooky Legacy of Anton LaVey

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In The City That Was, Bohemian Archivist P Segal tells a weekly story of what you all missed: the days when artists, writers, musicians, and unemployed visionaries were playing hard in the city’s streets and paying the rent working part time. 

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The Church of Satan

On the Day of the Dead, I got to thinking about this week’s story. I thought it ought to be something kind of spooky, appropriate to the season, which reminded me of the Church of Satan, and its founder, Anton Szandor LeVey. He was a visible character about town for years. That’s him, brandishing the weapon in the photo above, at the naked woman on the Satanic altar you can’t see.

Somewhere before the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, Anton LeVey was growing up in Marin under the much less interesting name of Howard Stanton Levey. He went to Tamalpais High but ran away when he was 16 to join the circus, where he played the calliope and wrestled big cats. The circus brought family entertainment to towns around the country, but its tents were also the scene of scandalous nighttime pleasures, as well as the venue for revival meetings on Sunday morning. LeVey got a very snarky attitude about religion when he saw the same hypocritical dudes showing up for the fun on Saturday night and salvation on Sunday morning.

By the mid ‘60s, when the flower children colonized the Haight, all things occult were really popular. There were stores all over town where you could get crystals, Tarot cards, and other juju items. Some, like the Mystic Eye on Broadway, had on-site astrologers who could do your chart for you at midnight on a Tuesday. LaVey had returned to San Francisco by then and was doing paranormal research and giving lectures on the occult.

Friends said his lectures set the foundations for a new religion, based on concepts like materialism, individualism, and other Ayn Rand-ish ideas. Its basic tenet was that people were fairly awful, carnal creatures, and that the Christian image of well-behaved humans was absolute bullshit. LaVey wrote several books, including The Satanic Bible, and launched his new religion on Walpurgisnacht, April 30, in 1966.

The Church of Satan was not hypocritical, and while it encouraged revenge against enemies, it also advocated treating the deserving well and never harming children, which is more than some religions can claim. But come on— the Church of Satan is less scary than corporate culture, where sociopathic CEOs get erections and bonuses for crushing competitors who never did them harm.

I never met Anton LaVey, although I did wait in line behind him at an all-night supermarket one night between 3 and 4 am. Satanists have to go grocery shopping, like everyone else. He was immediately recognizable, since he cultivated a distinctive satanic image. But in this fairly small town, we are all a degree or two of separation from everyone else. I only found my connection to this dark local legend years after he died, which is too bad. I hear he threw outrageous parties.

A few years ago, one of my old roommates introduced me to his friend from LA, Evil Wilhelm, who was the percussionist for the band Radio Werewolf. The band’s vocalist, Nikolas Shreck, is married to Zeena LaVey, Anton’s second daughter, who was the first baptism of the Church of Satan. The roommate who introduced us spends a lot of time with Zeena and Nikolas in Berlin, where he moved when we lost 1907 Golden Gate.

Evil Wilhelm is one of the most charming fellows you’d ever want to meet, in spite of the band’s National Socialist image. It’s hard to tell what’s theater, with a group like that. One weekend when Evil was in town, he wanted to go by the LaVey house in the Richmond District. It was famous for being painted entirely black, in the midst of the pastel avenues. We all drove up and down California Street looking for the house Evil had visited so many times in the past. It had apparently vanished.

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In fact, the house had been torn down and a bland and pastel-colored building put up on the lot. The surviving Church of Satan members tried to buy it after LaVey’s death in 1997, but they couldn’t raise the cash. And so another colorful piece of the city that was melded into the much less entertaining city that is. But the Church of Satan survived, if you are interested.

These photos were snatched, in a materialistic sort of way, from the Internet.

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P Segal - Bohemian Archivist

P Segal - Bohemian Archivist

P Segal is a San Francisco native, writer, therapist, and life coach. Literary agents have called her a clever niche writer, but none of them can figure out what the hell her niche is.