Music for the (Satanic) Ritual Chamber: Sensorial Sound

This post belongs to a series of posts on media and religion, related to my dissertation on the Church of Satan. 


Catherine Bell, in her book, Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice, focuses on underlying concerns that are addressed in the study of religion and media; she challenges the dichotomy that separates thought and action. First, she discusses a history of how ritual has been studied, and then second, she critiques how ritual has been isolated from theory and social activity. She proposes instead, “a focus on ‘ritualization’ as a strategic way of acting” (1992, 7). That is, that ritual is a thought-action, that communicates ways of being in the world through socially constructed symbols and meanings. It is, most importantly, not separate from theory. Ritual action is thought-action, and their ostensible division is a product of western history, tracing as far back as Plato, that denounces material culture over an exalted spiritual dimension.

The bipolar division of the world has contemporary repercussions in scholarship. Allow David Morgan to elaborate on the problem within his commentary on studies in visual culture:

As the set of practices, attitudes, and ideas invested in images that structure the experience of the sacred, visual piety cancels the dualistic separation of mind and matter, thought and behavior, that plagues a great deal of work on art and religion. (Morgan 1998, 2-3)

He promotes a dissolution of the dualistic approach, and instead examines material culture in terms of how people construct ways of meaning by their interaction with images.

A similar critique to the ostensible duality of human existence can be found in the Satanic worldview. Anton Szandor LaVey (1938-1997), the founder of the Church of Satan (1966), writes in his foundational text, The Satanic Bible:

ALL religions of a spiritual nature are inventions of man. He has created an entire system of gods with nothing more than his carnal brain. Just because he has an ego, and cannot accept it, he has to externalize it into some great spiritual device which he calls “God.” (2005, 44)

LaVey claims that humans worshipping gods are instead worshipping the humans that made those gods; he advocates eliminating the “middle man” and worshipping the self directly. He writes: “Man needs ritual and dogma, but no law states that an externalized god is necessary in order to engage in ritual and ceremony” (ibid). That is, that humankind, as solely carnal beings, can engage in ritual behaviour and ceremony that fulfills an innate desire for ritualization and meaning-making. They are meant as rites of communion with the self, as magical rites of autonomy. They define magic as a manifestation of the will; Satanic magical rituals are actions that effect desired transformations.

The Satanic Bible and other literature from the Church of Satan contains suggestive, not prescriptive, scripts for magical rituals, which employ scent, sight, sound, and touch to enhance the sensorial aspects of the rites. Individual members, however, alter the scripts to enact highly particular magical performances. These customized ceremonies are designed to arouse the senses of the participants; a highly emotional and stimulating rite is considered potent and successful magic. Though members of the Church of Satan adopt a firm secular worldview, with a strong atheistic foundation, their understanding of ritual is a hybridist carnal-magical practice that boosts the senses for a heightened and cathartic bodily experience.

Bell and Morgan promote similar notions to that of Lavey (though, obviously, with different intents and audiences): that ritual, practice, and materiality are paramount to constructing meaningful individual and social lives.

Given that I currently framing my research into Satanic Magic in terms of the sensorial media used within rituals, I am prompted to think about the emotive quality of sound. Isaac Weiner claims: “Perhaps it might be more appropriate to think of sound as a property or characteristic of a discrete material object” (2011, 110). That is, Weiner states that though you could consider the objects that create sound as material culture, he is more interested in the materiality of sound itself. He writes:

[To] focus on sound merely as a secondary characteristic of discrete material objects ignores how a sound’s material properties change as it emanates from its source. It ignores how particular sounds are affected by other aspects of the physical world, including weather patterns, the built environment, and the geographic landscape. And it ignores the vibrating of air on the eardrum that makes hearing itself a physiological process. (110)

Weiner is promoting the idea that sound, simply because it cannot be seen and is transitory in nature, should not be denounced as immaterial; it is, in fact, directly affecting its environment, and altering that which it encounters.

LaVey, a lifelong musician, would likely agree with Weiner’s statement, as he discussed the evocative effects of music (both in terms of physiological sound waves and emotive qualities) and how to use them for ritual magic. He notes: “Anything which serves to intensify the emotions during a ritual will contribute to its success. Any drawing, painting, sculpture, writing, photograph, article of clothing, scent, sound, music, tableau, or contrived situation that can be incorporated into the ceremony will serve the sorcerer well” (2005, 124). The point of a Satanic ritual is to have a heightened emotional experience for cathartic ends. Music, then, plays an important role.

Essays from LaVey’s book Satan Speak’s, “UR-Song, or Why There Are No More Volume Pedals,” and “Stereo, Scam of the Century,” describe how musicians should make music that compels people to “listen, rather than merely hear” (1998, 60). LaVey emphasizes tempo and dynamism, while lambasting stereo for eliminating musical nuance. He notes that music heard from one source is still binaural, as two ears act as “range finders for sound” (56). Too much focus is on the emitter of sound, and not the receptor of sound.

For Satanic magical rituals, he lists a range of classical music that he finds particularly evocative, such as:

Puccini’s Turandot, climax of first act:

Handel’s Largo from Xerxes:

Berlioz’ Funeral and Triumphal Symphony:

As Satanic rituals are highly idiosyncratic, many Satanists also use LaVey’s own Hymn of the Satanic Empire:

(Sheet music available on the Church of Satan website.)

The succeeding and current High Priest of the Church of Satan, Peter H. Gilmore—who holds a degree in music composition from New York University—offers some of his own downloadable classical music compositions. Gilmore has written about his love of bombastic symphony music, and how it creates “grand emotional expression” (2007, 112).

Gilmore attests that Satanic rituals are “self-transformative psychodrama” (2007, 223). One of the ways in which the transformation occurs is through the sound of music, but also through the proclaimed word. Performative utterances in ritual are proclamations of fact, not simply word references. When a marriage ceremony is conducted, a judge’s statement “I now pronounce you man and wife” legally changes the civil status of that couple. Similarly, when proclaiming “So it is done” in Satanic ritual, it does not merely describe the action, it is the action. It is another form of willfully engaging in suspension of disbelief; you act as if your desire has already been fulfilled. The sounded out words shifts the understanding of reality.

There are correlations to be made between sound in Satanic ritual and how Weiner advances his discussion on sound. He states:

Studying sound should direct our attention…not to discrete physical objects, but to the space—and relationship—between them. Studying sound implies a theory of religion that is inherently communal and intersubjective. To study sounds as material culture, then, is to attend both to their physical properties and to the historically specific processes through which broadcasters and receivers invest sounds with significance. (2011, 109)

This intersubjectivity can be applied to the emotionally cathartic goal of Satanic ritual. It is meant as a sensorial manipulation of one’s own psyche.


Bell, Catherine. 1992. Ritual Theory: Ritual Practice. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Gilmore, Peter H. 2007. The Satanic Scriptures. Scapegoat Publishing.

LaVey, Anton Szandor. 2005 [1969]. The Satanic Bible. New York, NY: Avon Books.
—–. 1998. Satan Speaks. Port Townsend, WA: Feral House.

Morgan, David. 2008. Key Words in Religion, Media, and Culture. New York, NY: Routeledge.
—–. 1998. Visual Piety: A History and Theory of Popular Religious Images. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Weiner, Isaac. 2013. Religion Out Loud: Religious Sound, Public Space, and American Pluralism. New York: NYU Press.
—–. 2011. “Sound,” Material Religion: The Journal of Objects, Art & Belief 7.1: 108–15.
—–. 2009. “Sound and American Religions,” Religion Compass 3.5: 897–908.

Montreal: Police Brotherhood Building Vandalized with Severed Pig’s Head

I am being contacted by several Montreal media asking for a comment or an interview on recent events, but as I am currently in Norway doing research, I am unable to accommodate. My quote is in an article in the National Post (accurately represented), but for anyone seeking my entire comment, I have posted it here in its entirety.

Please note: I know nothing about the vandalism incident besides what is being reported. My comments below are based on my years of research into self-identified religious Satanists.

The overwhelming majority of persons or groups of religious Satanists are firmly law abiding, and openly denounce vandalism or criminal activities done in the name of Satan. Most Satanists do not actually believe in the devil (or god, for that matter), and instead view Satan as a metaphor for individualism, free-thought, and challenging the status quo. There are also Satanists that do believe in Satan, but again, would view him as an entity that represents similar ideals. Many Satanists are even pro-establishment and pro-law-enforcement, recognizing it as a necessary part of the social contract for all to live peacefully. (There are libertarian currents in satanic thought.)

Additionally, no satanic groups include dead animals in their rituals, and are firmly against animal mistreatment.

This type of incident knowingly incites fear with Satanic imagery (in a province such as Quebec, with its embedded Catholic history, satanic imagery would be especially provocative). Scholars refer to this as “youth rebellion Satanism” or “reactive Satanism.” But it is unlikely they would be practicing religious organized Satanists, as core Satanic thought explicitly forbids it.

* A good reference on how these types of vandalism can create moral panic is Jeffrey Victor’s, Satanic Panic: The Creation of a Contemporary Legend.

Dog Sledding

Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2015. Tromso, Norway

A tourist-filled bus picks me up at a downtown hotel, and drives to the Villmarkssenter base camp, about 30 minutes away. Most tourists are there for a quick tour, possibly a sled ride, some coffee, and then a return to their hotel or cruise ship. But I get ushered aside, and am introduced to three other people: a German couple and a Swiss woman. We are all booked to spend two days and one night dog sledding, and sleeping in a tent.


Our guide is Rob the Swede. He trains race huskies, owns eight of his own, is also a photographer, director, and general wilderness badass. We are taken into a room and given boots and outer clothing. As my experience in Norway so far has taught me that there is no accomodation for fat people (nothing even approaching my size is in the stores), I have dressed well enough to be able to keep my own clothes, not wanting to risk being without proper equipment. I have a wool tank camisole and long sleeved shirt, then an arctic fleece, and then a light waterproof hooded jacket. I also have a quilted down coat to throw over that if indeed it gets colder; I tend to overheat when I’m moving, and need light clothes. On the bottom, I have non-cotton underwear, thermal long Johns, light jersey trousers, then thin waterproof ski-pants. They predict -5 to 3 degrees Celsius over the next two days. As long as it doesn’t dip much below that, I will be warm enough. I do, however, take their boots. They are astronaut looking things, wide and round and warm. When I slip my wool socks into them, I am immediately cozy, even of they are awkward for walking.

They recommend to wear wool underwear, as it dries faster. If you sweat in cotton it sticks to you, and then you get chilled. Canadian winters do prepare you for this sort of thing.


The fellowship of the dog harness.

We are then shown the sleds and dogs. Rob demonstrates how to properly harness the dogs, and we get to work setting up our team and sled.


An employee bringing a dog to be harnessed.

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These three females below are the front of my sled team. The first two are the leaders, calm and patient, while the third is a little skittish, making low stress noises. No one is exhibiting threatening behaviour. I pet them all after harnessing them, hoping to ease the concerns of little miss cryer. She licks my hand and rubs against me.


These two goofballs are brothers. They play and roll around, constantly seek pets, and nip at Rob the Swede’s beard.


The preparations complete, we are finally off.
“Ok, Up!” Commands Rob. He leads the single-file caravan. I am immediately behind Rob. The dogs follow eagerly, and we do not “drive” the sled so much as control the enthusiasm of the dogs by slowing them down with dragging breaks, and squatting and swaying side to side, balancing our weight so as not to fall off. It is far more rigourous than I imagined.

But we get to see things like this (click on images for larger view):



After a few hours of climbing higher, we stop for lunch: a sandwich and hot tea, brought in a thermos by Rob.



The dogs rest while we eat, as they will be running for the next several hours.

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We head up the mountain, climbing higher ridge by ridge. On the hills we have to help the dogs by pushing the sled up. I am grateful for not over-dressing, as I am sweating and breathing heavy.


Rob occasionally parks his sled and walks ahead to check out the terrain. There are small swamps and streams he makes certain to avoid.

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It’s getting dark, but we keep sledding until almost dusk. When we park, we take care of the dogs first. We remove the harnesses, and then each team gets attached to a string of wire, tied between the sled and a tree. They are fed—a nice raw steak—and then settle down into a little pocket in the snow. They will sleep outside all night.

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With the dogs settled, we set up camp. Rob instructs up to stamp down an area for the tents. It has snowed just yesterday, and we get our hearts pumping again, stomping through three feet of fresh powder. With an area sufficiently cleared, we erect the tents. One small one for the German couple and a larger one for myself, the Swiss woman, and Rob the Swede.

The tents done, it is supper time. Again, we stomp a hole in the snow to build the fire. I retrieve the firewood from my sled, marveling at how strong the dogs are to lug this wood and my fat ass up a mountain. Rob is cook. He melts snow in a pot, then immerses sealed bags of soup into it. Once heated, he opens each bag with his knife, pours it into a tin bowl, and passes them around to everyone, along with a plastic knife/fork/spoon. It is a dish of reindeer meat in a cream sauce, with potatoes, onions, and longberries.

I have never eaten anything so good.

It is hot and meaty and creamy and delicious. We have been climbing a mountain for six hours, setting up camp for two, and beginning to feel a small chill now that we are sedentary around the fire. Hot food is the marvel of the civilized world.


I have no idea why the photos here are blurry. I blame exhaustion.

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After chatting and eating and desert—a pineapple. Rob brought a whole damn pineapple for desert—we crawl into the tent.

Well, first I ventured down the hill a bit to relieve myself. I held it until I was bursting, not wanting to have to drop my pants in the cold anymore than I have to. It is not the first time I have peed outside in the wintertime, but it is the first time I did it sober. It takes some coordination to get all my layers back up in their proper order.

Once the boots came off and I was in the tent, I tried to straighten out my sleeping bag. It is resting on an air mattress, on top of a thermal mat. I cannot seem to get my head inside the hood of it, as it has a built-in pillow and flap to pull over your face. Rob notices me struggling, and I ask for help, wondering how I have managed to screw up the basic instructions of “unclasp and unroll.”
“It’s too short.” He says finally, after examining it. It should have been adult sized, but it is not long enough.
Rob offers to swap sleeping bags, so I take his and he curls up into mine. He is not significantly shorter than I am, but he is accustomed to sleeping out in winter. He also has a companion to keep him warm.


No, not us human females, but this lovely lady that is one of Rob’s Siberian huskies. She is apparently eight or nine years old, and does not compete anymore. She also is put in the middle of the team when harnessed, and Rob tells us that she runs just fast enough to keep up, but not actually pull the sled. He laughs and kisses her. Clearly, she has a privileged position to come sleep with the humans.


Saucy minx.

Rob’s sleeping bag fits me just fine, and after removing all but my wool long underwear, I crawl in and try to settle for a comfortable position. Just before bed, I snap this with my iPhone.


I have eschewed vanity to show you all that winter camping is not glamourous.

I am warm. The sleeping bag is thermal. Once my body heat warms it, I am cozy inside, even too warm, and have to periodically open the zipper to vent a bit. I sleep deep, though I wake often from a cold nose. Finally, I drag my down coat over my face and turn my head just enough to get air but keep my face warm. A few times in the night I wake to howling wind and snowy rain that pushes at the walls of the tent, and I wonder if there are bears on this island. The dogs would certainly let us know if there was a prowler. But the cocoon is warm, the air in my lungs is cool and refreshing, and I drift back to sleep without a second-thought.

In the morning, Rob makes breakfast. First, he feeds the dogs—raw hamburger meat this time.

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Then he uses his gas stove for the humans. The meal is another pre-packaged bag of food, this time a cod and potato stew. It hits the spot. He also makes coffee. It is freeze-dried without sugar, but damned delicious.


From inside the tent.


Our camp in the morning.


The campsite, Rob making breakfast sheltered from the wind.


Always fashionable, Rob the Swede likes to coordinate his beard with the equipment.


Our snowy conditions on day two.

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It takes several hours to eat, pack up, harness the dogs, and then depart. Once we do, we are in a wet storm of sideways falling snow.


Nothing affects the mood of these two happy boys.


Rob consults with us on whether we want to keep going or return early. All systems go, Rob. We’ll take as much as we can get.

Another three or four hours (thankfully, mostly downhill), and we get to the base camp. Dogs first: they get unharnessed and chained to their respective sleds. We all give them plenty of kisses and pets.

Once changed back into our regular winter clothing, I head to the bathroom. A  real one, with a toilet, and a floor. I wash my hands and face with warm water and soap—twice—feeling a little grimy after two days exerting myself. We are then directed to a round building, to have a meal and coffee before being taken back to the town center.

The heat hits me. When I walk into the wooden structure and feel the warmth of the fire (aided by heat lamps) it’s like a sudden, powerful sedative has entered my bloodstream. We crawl into our booth, while Rob serves us some hot reindeer soup—a traditional Sami dish, we are told—and it’s perfect.

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Thoroughly exhausted, we begin talking about hot showers and beer and mattresses and blankets. Rob claims that his plans are to get drunk. Good plan, Rob. I had similar thoughts, but when I returned to my hotel room, I was so tired after bathing that I drank half a beer from the mini bar, ate some peanuts, and then fell into a deep sleep.

I’d do it again.


I turned thirty-eight on March 2nd. Birthdays do not upset me, overall, but I am now just that much closer to forty. Forty seems huge. And mature. Not sure where the years went.

Actually, that’s bullshit. It’s just something people say; I know exactly where the years went. In my early twenties I learned how to think long-term, not paycheck to paycheck. The learning curve on that one was pretty tough. The entire concept of a “future” was alien, much less planning one out, or even just beginning to aspire to one. You may have heard of “imposter syndrome,” wherein one is never fully convinced of one’s own skills. But there is also something I like to call “don’t dare to hope” syndrome. That’s where you know that in life Things Usually Don’t Work Out, and to protect yourself from disappointment you squash dreams of a better future. People assume it is laziness on your part, or a lack of drive, or—sacrilege—a lack of imagination. But they are incorrect. It is self-preservation. Do be a lofty dreamer means that you are Not Addressing Reality. And an acute understanding of harsh reality is the only advantage you have when you have nothing.

So in my twenties I learned to Dare to Hope for something besides working to pay the bills. It starts with a simple dream, a fantasy, wherein you imagine your ideal scenario without feeling like you are betraying your keen observation of human behaviour (your sharpest and most useful skill). You have seen those who walk through life living within a fantasy that has little relationship to their reality. You want nothing of that.

The trick, then, is to allow yourself to fantasize about what you want in life in a controlled way, without jeopardizing your armour. For those of you who have never faced this kind of challenge, who can dream endless possibilities without ever questioning whether or not it is possible because, by virtue of a fluke of being born into a pre-existing infrastructure of support (economically or emotionally), I envy you. Things Just Happen for you because Things Have Always Been That Way. You should thank the indifferent universe.

In my late twenties and into my early thirties, I learned to fantasize. Those scenarios (ever-shifting and sometimes fanciful) were small kernels of possibility beyond my immediate circumstances. Here is the most important thing about those fantasies: I indulged them without guilt or depression. That’s another thing others fail to understand: when your dreams never come true, when all you have ever experienced in life is that you have little to no means to achieve success (however defined), it becomes depressing to even dream. So you shut it down. I became determined to reframe fantasizing about my future as a tool to accomplish my goals.

It was slow, with many setbacks, as there was not a plan in place. It was part luck, part hard work, and part investment in psychotherapy—that wonderful Western practice of paying someone to listen to you, no strings attached. Friendships require reciprocity. Therapy requires only that you work on yourself.

By now, after fifteen years as an academic, methodically working through my degrees, one text, essay, class, and year at a time, I finally see a reward for my considerable investment of time, money, effort, and imagination.

Ever hear of the marshmallow test? It’s where they ask children to hold off on eating a marshmallow that is right in front of them with the promise of two marshmallows later on. Some gobble it up right away, some have the patience to wait it out. The test is designed to evaluate how children strategize the cost-benefit analysis: short-term pain for long-term gain. When I first heard of the test I thought with my childhood’s mind: but if I don’t eat it now someone else will come along and take it from me. A marshmallow now is way better than the mere promise of a marshmallow later, by some strange adult who I cannot trust to follow through on their promise. Prove to me that you, scientist, will follow through on your claim first, then I’ll pass your damned marshmallow test.

Poverty breeds such suspicion.

As I near forty, I feel pretty damn good about the future—a feeling that I can honestly say is wholly novel and damned wonderful. Despite dismal job prospects for PhDs and even dimmer avenues for religious studies scholars in bizarre and fringe areas of research, I am not worried. I am not worried because I have never lost my grip on Harsh Reality, and have learned to balance it with Fanciful Dreams. That balance is a tool like any other. Learn to use it.


If you want to get me a birthday present why not click the icon below to help fund my research?


I am currently back in Trondheim, but the past week in Tromso has been truly wonderful. I will post about my two-day dog-sledding expedition later on (it deserves its own stand-alone post) but in the meantime, here are some pictures that I took in and around Tromso.

Like Montreal (and Manhattan), Tromso center is an island. The city extends beyond the island to surrounding islands, in small, sparsely inhabited areas. At the top of the island is a lake surrounded by a park (also like Montreal, though Tromso is much, much smaller). I needed to get to the shopping mall on the other side of the hill to purchase some winter snow pants (I curse myself for not buying them before I came here–there are no people fat people in Norway, and I cannot find anything my size), hoping something in the Men’s section will fit. It’s about a 4.3 km hike, one way. So I don my winter gear and water bottle, and head up the hill.


This is the view behind me as I leave the Tromso city center.


And this is the view in front of me. Every Norwegian must have some wicked-tight leg muscles.


Just an idyllic house on top of a hill. The bastards.


At the top, here is the first view of the lake. I am not as brave as this man and his dog; even thick ice might break under my fat ass.


The lifeguard station.

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The dog pee makes it look like the Snowman is smiling because he just relieved himself after holding it in all day.

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As I exit the lake via a path, I walk down a hill again, but this time on the other side of Tromso, nearer the airport.

By the time I got back, I’d been walking for three and a half hours. I took a hot shower and relaxed, apologizing to my legs for not wearing my Long Johns.