I Spent Halloween in a Satanist's Crypt
Sitting among the cow skulls in his spooky bungalow, Phil Mawson told me about his conversion from the evil "cult" of Jehovah's Witnesses to the humane world of Satanism.
This post originally appeared in VICE UK
I don't like Halloween. I never really have. So at the end of last month—with October 31 and its accompanying monotony of drunk, bleeding faces fast approaching—I figured I should try to coax some enjoyment out of the experience for the first time in my life. The best way to do that, I decided, was to spend the evening with a Satanist.
While media coverage of Satanism tends to err on the horse-mutilation side of things, my Satanist friend Phil Mawson—who, granted, does work at a butcher shop—actually prefers devoting his time to revising the work of Anton LaVey, author of the Satanic Bible and founder of the Church of Satan. Still, I couldn't help treading a little nervously as I approached the door of his crypt, a bungalow in Cornwall, England.
Inside, I immediately realized that I had no need to fret. Instead of trying to carve a pentagram into my shin, Phil kicked off our night together by explaining that he denies the existence of both God and the Devil. This is the LaVeyan brand of Satanism, where—in layman's terms—followers are atheists using Satan as a symbol for the self. If you're looking for full-blown Devil worshippers, you'd be better off visiting the website for the Order of Nine Angles, or hanging out in a graveyard in Whitby .
I remarked that Phil has lots of spooky stuff in his single bedroom, and asked him exactly how much Satanic memorabilia he's collected over the years. "I wouldn't have a clue; it's beyond counting. Let's just count it as infinite," he said. "And it grows all the time—people say that I haven't got room for anything else in my place, but I tell them, 'Well, you make room.'"
Next to the seven-foot farm scythe in the corner of Phil's bedroom was a large sound system. It turns out that Anton LaVey not only wrote the Satanic Bible, but also released a studio album titled Satan Takes a Holiday. This—a collection of melodic organ jams—was disc number one on our party playlist. After lighting some candles to round off the chamber vibes, Phil started to introduce me to his "familiars."
These were the seven real animal skulls dotted around his room, including those of a badger, a goat, a rabbit, and a fox. He directed my gaze towards the largest—a cow's head hung on the wall, tattooed with the Star of David and dressed up in Satanic jewelery. "This one is a cow's head I found on Dartmoor," Phil explained. "I brought that home and cleaned it up, decorated it and, if you'll excuse the pun, gave it a new lease of life."
He went on to detail how he's only been living as a Satanist for just over ten years, spending most of his life studying theology and a small portion as a Jehovah's Witness.
"The Jehovah's Witnesses had a big influence on our family for several years—that was 30-odd years ago," he told me. "I managed to get all of my family out of that brainwashing cult. Then some Evangelicals approached us with a different message. I took a big interest in that, and I did theology for two years. When I saw how it was all put together—the man-made dogmas and the shocking history of Christianity—I became disillusioned with that. I would've had to commit intellectual suicide to go along with it."
Interested by his negative opinion of the "cult," I asked what exactly it is—in Phil's mind—that sets Jehovah's Witnesses apart from other common faiths in the UK.
"Jehovah's Witnesses are classed as heretics by the Church because they deny the trinity. Not only that, but they have quasi-religious beliefs," he said. "The blood-transfusion issue—they have killed more people than David Koresh or Jim Jones. Jones caused around 930 people to die in the jungles of Guyana; Koresh, 80-odd people. Jehovah's Witnesses kill thousands upon thousands each year through their doctrine of non-blood transfusion, so they're a killer cult. They tried to turn my family against me, but fortunately they saw the light and abandoned the movement as well."
Phil went on to describe his discovery of Satanism as like walking out of a mist.
"When I first read the Satanic Bible, it was like looking in a mirror—it tells us what we are inside: don't be a hypocrite, don't deny ourselves like religion tells us to deny ourselves with all the 'Thou shall nots...'" he said. "The Satanic Bible says celebrate your life, because this is not a dress rehearsal for something else. You must make this life count because you're not going to get another one. That is the freedom you get with the philosophy of Satanism.
"The Bible says, 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.' I think that's Matthew 7. Now, that leaves yourself open to being used or abused by people. The Satanic Bible, on the other hand, says, 'Do good to those who deserve it and do not waste it on ingrates.' The Bible says, 'Whoever slaps you on the left cheek, turn your right also onto him.' The Satanic Bible says, 'Whoever slaps you on the left cheek, you smash them on the right.'"
Besides the skull hoarding, Satanism actually seems like a pretty decent way to live life. I wasn't quite ready to convert by the end of our evening, but I had learned a couple of things I didn't know before and—quietly, among it all—enjoyed Halloween for the first time ever. So there's the lesson: Next year, when someone like me starts boring you with his Halloween complaints, send him to a Satanist.
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