Beast Wishes

Satanists disdain the season -- they'd rather be carnal than good for goodness' sake

Dante had his Virgil. St. Louisans who enter Satan's realm must take as their guide the Grotto Master, a pompous chap who calls himself Merlinus Ambrosius, speaks in silvery polysyllables and complains that his schedule is just "hellish." Ambrosius does not speak publicly, yet he is eager for the local Church of Satan to become "the Jesuits of the Age of Fire," teaching and spreading satanic ways. He will, therefore, arrange contact with a member of his grotto, the Legion of Loki (coupling the ancient Romans, who sought order above all else, with a Norse god of chaos and mischief).

The chosen Legionnaire -- or is he really Ambrosius? -- requests a pseudonym, lest he send his 9-to-5 coworkers into cardiac arrest. Joking about meeting after dark, he says he, "Greg Nasty," and a friend, "Selene," will "scout an appropriate location."

Days pass. Images of ritual sacrifice rise unbidden. You recharge your cell phone, stash Mace in your briefcase and wait. Finally, with something of a flourish, Nasty announces that they've found the perfect place:

Two Nice Guys, a pizzeria in quaint old Webster Groves.

At this point you decide to look for a couple in cable-knit sweaters and khakis. Instead, the tables spin again: A man and woman clad in solid black wait side by side in the last booth. Nasty, a grizzled middle-aged guy in a bandanna and leather jacket, looks like he misses his Harley, yet speaks with Old World courtesy. Selene stands 6 feet tall and jokes about her fierce outspokenness, yet she sounds more like the heroine in a Gothic romance. She's even bothered by Greg's pseudonym -- why "Nasty," when he's really so sweet? He stares down at the tiny plastic cream cup that was empty when he ripped the top off, then scans the room for the faraway waitress. "Aw, I don't know," he mutters. "I had to have a name real quick, and I was thinking about Johnny Rotten."

They both apologize for taking so long to choose a location; mainly, they wanted to find a place that wouldn't be crowded, so they could talk comfortably -- and the food here is great. Alas, they can't enjoy much of it; they're both on the Atkins diet. Satanism might emphasize the pleasure principle, but it also demands a reckoning with the consequences.

Most people don't realize that. They're convinced that all Satanists worship the devil, rather than an abstraction of the self, and that they kill, rape, defile and indulge to excess. Nasty's so used to disabusing such fears and misconceptions that he rattles off an automatic introduction: "Hi, hello, we are Satanists, we don't kill children or animals."

"Some people are seriously disappointed," chimes in Selene. "They still see Fluffy being hung from a tree." Nasty says he gets e-mails that boil down to "Where are the wild women, and how many dead cats do I need?" and the last prospective member "seemed slightly crestfallen when we told him there were no orgies."

"Orgies are fine too," Selene adds hastily, "if that's what you want. But you have to take responsibility for what can happen." Satanists worship the powers of the self (lust chief among them) and define evil as any obstacle to their desires. "It's just a total joy in being alive," remarks Selene. "Sex. Not holding back, not worrying. Saying what you think. Lying by a lake, sleeping in the sun like a dog or a cat, understanding what they feel." Far from torturing animals, one of the Church of Satan's main precepts is that humans are animals, completely carnal, without a whisper of the spiritual. Nasty talks earnestly about the importance of protecting your territory, waiting for the mating signal, running with the pack. The third Satanic Rule says, "When in another's lair, show him respect"; the fourth says, "If a guest in your lair annoys you, treat him cruelly and without mercy." Recognizing and honoring these carnal impulses can be a comfort, he adds: "You don't say, "Oh, I'm going crazy'; you say, "That's the Fido in me wanting to come up and play.' Everybody has the beast inside. Take it for walks occasionally, scratch it behind the ears -- or, when it does bust out of its cage, it's gonna eat you alive."

He remembers being a teenager, full of rage, bouncing with testosterone, convinced he'd burn in hell because he'd committed every one of the seven deadly sins. The only one he didn't feel bad about was sloth, because it kept him from repeating the others. "How do I not feel these things, besides being dead?" he asked himself. Trapped in a timid family, in a town as airless as a sealed envelope, he clawed free by reading. One day, he says, he happened across a 95-cent copy of Anton LaVey's bestseller The Satanic Bible, marched it past his Catholic parents, closed his bedroom door and turned the pages, saying, "Damn! Damn! This is just what I was thinking!' LaVey was pointing a finger at the elephant in the middle of the living room, saying the whole Judeo-Christian moral system is bankrupt; it doesn't work."

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