It's only rock 'n' roll? A Los Angeles Times music critic reviews a satanic trend

Everyone loves cleverly written stories and August Brown’s recent story in the Los Angeles Times about the new breed of Satanists is most certainly that.

We learn the cool stuff about the edgy folks who are into this movement, but none of the inconvenient truths. In other words, there are complex religion ghosts hiding in this story. Surprise.

So yes, it is entertaining.

In November, in the candlelit basement of a house just above the Silver Lake Reservoir, Alexandra James walked over to an altar where her husband, Zachary, waited near a bleached human skull, teeth locked in eternal rictus. From the altar, she lifted a sword and drew points across his chest while a circle of onlookers watched solemnly (well, a few giggled too). An organist played eerie minor key chords and Alexandra turned to face the group.
"On this altar we consecrate swords to direct the fire of our unholy will," she said. "A human skull, symbol of death. The great mother Lilith created us all, and will destroy us all."
"Hail Satan! Hail Satan! Hail Satan!" The group chanted back.

The story describes how the attendees are mainly artists, writers and musicians who fling around words like “Satan,” “coven” and “witches” without really knowing their meanings.

But a bigger moment came a few hours later when word circulated that Charles Manson had died. Far from mourning a man whose crimes burned satanic imagery into the American mainstream, everyone cracked beers in celebration and jammed on psych rock tunes. ... It was a great night for a heterodox generation of new self-described Satanists who are upending old "Rosemary's Baby" and "Helter Skelter" stereotypes in service of radical politics, feminist aesthetics and community unity in the divisive time of Trump.

Alas, there is no mention, of the gruesome way the Satan-influenced Manson and his companions killed nine people in 1969. That included, of course, pregnant actress Sharon Tate -- who was two weeks away from her due date when she was stabbed 16 times and left to die.

Given the never-ending chaos in American life, when nuclear war seems to many to be just one juvenile presidential tweet away, a coterie of artists are rediscovering Satanism's imagery and rituals in a city with a long, rich and weird history of contrarian philosophies. Traditionalists might debate if any of it is properly "Satanic" at all; this new take is much more feminist than nihilist, flexibly self-aware and better versed in internet culture than orthodox theology.

After explaining that much of this current trend is displaced feminism,

If satanic rituals of old were centered on smashing Christian orthodoxy and middle American propriety -- or, more basely, taking drugs and getting laid -- this form of Satanism explicitly uses a huge range of ideas to give shape to the inchoate rage felt by so many -- especially women and other marginalized groups.

As the story reminds us, when there are crazy times when no one wants to feel helpless, enter Lucifer, the original rebel angel.

As one continues to read this piece, it’s obvious that the current variety of Satan worship aspect is more self-awareness chic served on a smörgåsbord ranging from atheism to neo-paganism. The piece mentions Seattle witch/mystic Bri Luna who starred in a 2016 Vogue magazine piece about her artsy Halloween rituals. We hear of the cleverness of the Church of Satan’s Twitter feed.

Satanism here is simply another example of resistance art. One novelist is quoted as seeing “their rituals as less of a religion and more of a structure for community and making art” for a cause du jour.

The piece wraps up at a concert.

At the witching hour, Twin Temple performed a full set, capped with a ritual during which it performed an anti-baptism of its coven-mate, the young film director Kansas Bowling. Blood-smeared and stripped down to nearly "sky-clad," as they put it, Bowling was offered up in service to the goddess Lilith as an avenging angel for crimes against women.

Twin Temple’s web site (one of their videos is atop this post) has got songs are about death and curses and bestial images a’plenty. As for Satan going from beauty to beast, they definitely got that part right, theologically.

Curiously, the vast majority of comments below this piece weren’t from angry religionists of any stripe. Instead, they were from bored readers who felt the piece was worthless clickbait and that the Times had used up valuable space covering hipster wanna-be’s.

Although the reporter made it clear the piece was more about music than theology, at least he explained the differences between the San Francisco-based Church of Satan founded by Anton LaVey and the British occultist Aleister Crowley.

Still, I don’t get the impression this is a huge movement nor that there are many adherents beyond the followers of a few bands. And if you peek beyond articles like this into the real world of Satanic worship, you get a boatload of porn and explicit sex of the sort that doesn’t get mentioned in the Times piece. Twin Temple’s Facebook page gives you a hint. 

Again, this is entertainment, but no critical distance. There's no asking the hard questions about the nasty realities beneath the minor chords, nor what Satanism means to those without the money or means to hang out at ritual magic house parties. I'm not against clever writing, but I would appreciate a reminder that after the party's over, there's always hell to pay.

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