Halloween: Satan’s Holiday?
Words by: Savas Abadsidis
If you ask Joe Netherworld, this year has seen a proliferation of imagery and nods to the Church of Satan, in which he is a high priest. Madonna’s halftime show at the Super Bowl included a costume Netherworld suspects is satanic, and he’s a big fan of a Jackie Beat parody that suggested the pop star drinks blood to stay youthful. Netherworld too sees something else at work in a frightening performance by Nicki Minaj at the Grammys. And Netherworld was rooting for queen of the macabre Sharon Needles, who yelled “All hail Satan” after winning season 4 of RuPaul’s Drag Race. If you accept Netherworld’s view of the world, his church probably hasn’t had this high a profile since Marvel Comics’ Son of Satan series of the 1970s.
On the eve of the church’s biggest holiday, All Hallows Eve, Netherworld, a magister in the Church of Satan, spoke about why this church has captured the imagination of some gay people. Netherworld himself is a homosexual, though he eschews the label gayas too limiting and too mundane. Note: No animals were sacrificed during this interview.
Gay.net: What are the origins of the Church of Satan?
Joe Netherworld: We were established in 1966 C.E. by Anton Szandor LaVey, our high priest, who declared that entire year to be the Year One, thus opening the floodgates to a revolution designed to smash the hypocrisy and irrationality that has reigned for the past 2,000 years. We stand as the most formidable threat to those who would halt progress in the name of spirituality. We are explorers on the untrodden paths of science, human motivation, and mystery — all that is most truly occult. Those who proudly carry our cards identifying themselves as members have the strength and dedication to implement the tools of Satan, the imagination to confound and confuse, the wisdom to recognize the unseen in our society, and the passions of a classical romantic soul. In modern parlance, the Church of Satan may be called a user-driven organization. Members are involved and advanced exactly as their own desires, abilities, and accomplishments dictate.
How many members does the Church of Satan have?
Our founder established as policy that we should never give out a precise count of our members, as that would allow people to quantify us. He always said that the Church of Satan should be like a custard, which can’t be nailed to the wall. He felt that if our numbers were judged to be too large, people might find us threatening. If too small, that might be used as a reason to dismiss our philosophy. All that we will say is that we have members in just about every nation on the planet, and the membership has always grown as the years pass.
What attracted you to it and how did you become involved?
I joined the COS in 1992, though I was a practicing satanist and witch — warlock. if you like — since 1976. I can’t say that something attracted me to it, but at its core it was as if my own philosophy, my very thoughts were contained in the pages of the Book. It was and is a handbook for the outsider and guide to philosophy for freethinkers and a cleansing fire toward herd mentality. I have always been a wolf in wolves’ clothing, and with my interest in the dark side of things, the carnal side of things, and knowing my sexuality was considered at best an aberration and by most an abomination, I never found the thought of enduring my enemies as something I would embrace. Satanism expressed what I was living, and I found myself extremely happy within it. As Lady Gaga and others have co-opted as a battle cry, we Satanists tend to believe “you are born this way,” a thinking rational human in touch with their carnality but without guilt or remorse for being human.
What in particular do you think is attractive to gay men about the Church of Satan?
I think what is most attractive to gay men about our philosophy is that it accepts you as who you are, but not in that false simpering Christian way of “love the sinner/hate the sin” bullshit, but we accept the individual acting on their own impulses and decisions. One of our main tenets is responsibility to the responsible. Simply put, if you can handle it and take responsibility for it, then do it. Be who you are, but don’t look beyond yourself for approval. People are no different today as they were 100 years ago. Behind closed doors we are all still a bunch of cocksuckers to them, and it’s true, but that doesn’t mean we have to care or attempt to retract our claws or cover our fangs. Unlike every other religion, we don’t preach and we don’t seek to convert. We actually turn down people’s memberships and remove troublemakers who wish to attempt to change who we are, something gay men should do more often.
The Christian and faith-based religions at best tolerate gays. Satanism embraces and celebrates the individual and encourages rebellion. I find that most gays take on a “it’s bad enough I’m gay, I don’t want to be a weirdo as well” attitude. This year was declared This year was declared the Year of the Witch, and look what it has brought forth, from Sharon Needles getting thousands of young gay men to shout “Hail Satan” at her sold-out shows, to Madonna using satanic imagery in the Super Bowl. The hierarchy of the COS has many gay members, and the church has been an outspoken supporter of gay rights as they are the rights of the individual. There is an overwhelming rise of satanic imagery and philosophy at numerous club events, and the youth are embracing the power of the rebel. These same kids would be overlooked or laughed at by most typical gay men. They are not gym-built nor tan nor coiffed. They are not the image of gay culture that is force-fed to them. They have decided to turn their backs on those who turn their noses up on them. And the devil always has the best parties anyway.
What kind of events do you hold?
We are unique amongst religions in that we have no actual physical churches or official events. We have had many events by and for satanists, but we do not hold services. We maintain that living your life in a carnal and indulgent manner while maintaining responsibility for one’s owns actions is in itself a grand living ritual event. Many of our members are famous or infamous entertainers and artists who have held amazing events across the globe, from the Ritual in the Hellfire Caves in England to the Grand Gathering for 6/6/06 in Los Angeles to the many intimate events in galleries and nightclubs. The seven deadly sins of most Christian religions become a guidepost for our indulgences.
What is the importance of Halloween in the Church of Satan?
Halloween and its calendar opposite, Walpurgisnacht [April 30], are two major holidays for us. Halloween has always been a pre-Christian pagan holiday in which we honor the dead, dress in strange garb, and indulge in whatever pleasures we choose. We satanists refer to it as amateur night, as regular folk take this one night to become someone else, to revel in the dark side, and to indulge their fantasies. This is something we do every day, akin to the way the Fourth of July represents the anniversary of our freedom and independence that we enjoy every day as Americans, Halloween represents the anniversary of us.
Does your church inherently have an anarchic quality, or is it very structured?
Satanism celebrates the individual living in a reality in which he or she is their own god. With that said, the actual Church of Satan has a very structured quality. We are a regimented organization with a working hierarchy of active members, witches and warlocks, priests and magisters. We are the only religion that the government has attempted to outlaw in the 20th century. With that fact in mind, a highly structured format allows us to function in a hostile world, but as a philosophy it is highly individualistic.