Church services that include nude women lying on altars or human skulls are not everyday occurrences, but these are just two of the rituals that you can expect if you ever walk into a Church of Satan service. This group has been around for 48 years, but, as Gisesa Mangenya finds out, it made its way into the country last year, and with promises of riches, its hold on Kenyans is only growing stronger
satanic church

There are a lot of cults across theglobe, some so old that their origins are unknown. In comparison, the Church of Satan is still young, just 48 years old.

Church services that include nude women lying on altars or human skulls are not everyday occurrences, but these are just two of the rituals that you can expect if you ever walk into a Church of Satan service. This group has been around for 48 years, but, as Gisesa Mangenya finds out, it made its way into the country last year, and with promises of riches, its hold on Kenyans is only growing stronger

The room would be pitch black were it not for the two candles at both ends of the long table that bathe it in a deep red hue, the same colour as the floor length curtains. Between the candles is a round wine flask, a golden wine goblet and, next to it, a human skull, a sword and a golden bell. On the right side of the table is a 1-metre long and 2-metre high trapezoidal altar where a nude woman is reclining with her head pointing south. On the wall, above the woman, is the symbol of the Sigil of Baphomet, a goat’s head, drawn within an inverted pentagram surrounded by a circle. The letters on each point of the pentagram are Hebrew and spell ‘Leviathan’, one of the four crown princes of hell. This particular configuration is the registered trademark of the Church of Satan.

Cloaked men, led by one of their members who is carrying a candle, walk leisurely into the room, heads bowed. The man with the candle walks to the front of the room and places it on the table. He lifts the wine and pours it into the goblet, bows and leaves. Moments later the High Priest takes his place.

Unlike the rest, he is not hooded, but he’s wearing a priest’s collar that cinches his long, black robe at the neck. Closing his eyes, he raises his hands as if in prayer. When he opens them he lifts the bell with his left hand, rings it nine times as he slowly turns around the room eight times – to invoke the spirit of Satan. Placing the bell on the table, he picks the sword and, after a beat, spears the air once. “In nominee de nostre Satanas; Lucifere Excelsis! (In the name of Satan; the glorious Lucifer!).” High Mass at the Church of Satan is starting.

There are a lot of cults across theglobe, some so old that their origins are unknown. In comparison, the Church of Satan is still young, just 48 years old. This sect, whose members worship Satan, has gained traction worldwide, and finally, last year, it made its way into Kenya and began spreading its roots in the largely Christian country.

History of the Church

An SMS I received last year from an unidentified phone number requesting that I join the Church of Satan in Nairobi piqued my interest. I am usually not one to reply to texts from people not in my phonebook and even though it had been a bizarre message, I was sufficiently curious to respond. How could I benefit from joining the Satanists? Would it make me richer? Would I be required to hate

Christianity, which is my religion? What rituals would I be expected to perform? But, after a while, the unidentified individual grew tired of my nagging queries and stopped answering. That’s when I delved into my own research. I wanted to know more.

zeena

Anton LaVey, founder of the Church of Satan, performed the first satanic baptism on his daughter, Zeena.

Anton LaVey, a man with a sharp, if morbid, sense of humour began the road to Satanism at the tender age of 16 when he left school. To support himself, he joined the circus where he was a musician and cage boy in an act with big cats. LaVey would often see men lusting after half naked girls dancing at the fair on Saturday nights and, on Sunday mornings, while playing the organ for tent-show evangelists at the other end of the carnival lot, he’d see the same men sitting in the pews with their wives and children, asking God to forgive them and purge them of their carnal desires. “And the next Saturday night they’d be back at the carnival or some other place of indulgence. I knew then that the Christian Church thrives on hypocrisy, and that man’s carnal nature will out!”

It’s upon this revelation that LaVey decided to form a church that would recapture man’s body and his carnal desires as objects of celebration. A church that could offer “a temple of glorious indulgence.” On April 30, 1966, at the age of 36, LaVey shaved off his hair, a tradition carried out by executioners on prisoners, and declared that year Annos Satanas – the first year of the age of Satan. The church wasat his home in San Francisco, where he kept a Nubian lion named Togare – which shared a bed with him and his wife Carol.

With a bald head, a neatly trimmed moustache and beard that framed his mouth, LaVey was generally considered good looking and a charmer. His raspy voice and the slow manner in which he spoke were part and parcel of a man who thought out his responses before making any rejoinders. Also, LaVey always sported a huge black ring on his right hand’s middle finger that children kissed before making wishes – which he swore would come true. “You could call me the advocate of darkness, no one has ever come forth so far and spoken for the devil,” he declared in a 1967 interview. The then 37-year-old continued, “I received the calling [to become the High Priest of the Church of Satan] just like anybody else [in other denominations] receives it.” And, during his first ceremony as the High Priest, LaVey officiated a wedding between the politically radical journalist John Raymond and New York socialite Judith Case, where a naked woman lay on the altar as the couple made their nuptials.

The Chicago-born man became the world’s most renowned occultist after Aleister Crowley, founder of Thelema, a religion based on a philosophy that emphasises the ritual practice of magic. LaVey’s church garnered media attention and became the talk of major newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times and the San Francisco Chronicle. Through the late 1960s and early 70s, LaVey and his church were the subject of numerous articles in leading magazines such as Newsweek and Time, and talk shows like The Tonight Show and Donahue couldn’t get enough of him. The man gained visibility through the books he wrote, his most prized being the Satanic Bible, which has since become the word which members ofhis church live by. LaVey described Satanism as a secular philosophy of rationalism and self-preservation. His became the first organised church in modern times devoted to Satan, and LaVey was often referred to as the “The Black Pope” or the “St. Paul of Satanism.”

The first members were LaVey’s wife, his two partners after his divorce, and his three children (he performed the first satanic baptism on his daughter Zeena) but, over the years, the church has grown and has membership across the globe. And even though the church doesn’t reveal the number of members it has, individuals speak freely about being part of it and celebrities such as Marilyn Manson, the late Sammy Davis Jr. and rocker King Diamond have been associated with it. After his death on Oct. 29, 1997, due to pulmonary oedema, his third partner Blanche Barton took over as the High Priestess, but stepped down for Peter H. Gilmore, the current High Priest.

Its Impact Locally

“Hail Satan” and “Satan has been the best friend the church has ever had as he has kept it in business all these years” – the latter being one of the nine Satanic Statements which were written by LaVey in the Satanic Bible – are examples of status updates of Kenyan Satanists on social media. More and more Kenyans are also leaving their phone numbers on sites such as the church’s Facebook page asking to be contacted with information on how to become members.

satanic church followers

To get new followers the church mostly uses word of mouth. But Kenyans who are desperate to become part of the congregation leave their personal details on the church’s social media platforms asking to be contacted with information on how to join.

In April this year, before I started writing this article, I applied to join the Church of Satan. I discovered that joining an organisation that affiliates itself with Satan is about as easy as secondary school students going for a Sunday jam session in Nairobi.

Job Mutua* is an accountant in a leading Kenyan bank. He grew up in a middle class family of four siblings and was raised by Christian parents. In most households, it is expected that children follow their parents’ religion, and that is what he did – until last year. There was a void that Christianity couldn’t quite fill in Job’s life – even with a lifetime of teachings. When the head of the Church of Satan, who is a former colleague of his, approached him with the idea of becoming a member, at first he went along out of curiosity. But when he met more and more members he knew that he fit in with them. It felt right.

“That is where I knew I belonged, so I made the decision that I wanted to become a Satanist.” When he told his parents about his new church, they disowned him and haven’t spoken to him in 10 months. “It went against everything that they believed in, but Christianity wasn’t for me and I wasn’t willing to budge so we are at an impasse.”

As I came to discover, when he got in touch with me, he is also an official of the Church of Satan. He assured me that membership was an affordable option, unlike Christian churches where they “charge you a tithe that counts for 10 percent of your monthly income.” But Job explained that, just like any other denomination, the church has staff members who “expect to be compensated for their time and efforts.

Nothing is free, you know.” One thing that really seems to drive Kenyans to the church is that, according to Job, “Instead of giving tithe, [you] are assured of an allowance, a hefty one, for every meeting you attend once you become a member.”

New members are promised riches. Perhaps, to sweeten the deal, the church promises to buy vehicles and houses for its devout members. Service takes place in hotels within the central business district and in Runda and Karen, two of Nairobi’s most affluent residential areas. “A meeting held last year with a visiting priest was conducted at a four star hotel in Nairobi,” Job says, although he refuses to disclose which venue. Worship involves proclaiming Satan as the true god and one of their recitations reads, “As others, the fools and hypocrites, worship and praise the false god of the Bible, we raise our glasses of wine and proclaim, Hail Satan, the true god! How wonderful it would be if all mankind worshipped

Satan!” Job is convinced that Satan gives riches both on earth and in the afterlife, while Christ Jesus is a God of suffering. Prayers end with the proclamation, “Ave Satana Ave Satana Domi Inferni.” My mind was reeling from all of this information, but there was still more to learn. When I obtained the contact information for the head of the Church of Satan in Nairobi, I wrote to her, informing her that I was prepared to become a Satanist. She sent a text response; “You must first take an oath in our temple to assure our lord Satan your soul is his, but before that we must have received your recent photo and a commitment fee of KSH 1,666.” She also asked me to buy the

Satanic Bible by Anton LaVey. “Exactly after receiving your payment, I will personally pick you from your current location and bring you to the temple,” she continued.

When one wants to join the Satanic group in Kenya, theprocedure to be followed is similar to becoming a member at the Church’s headquarters in New York. Recruits to the international Church of Satan are requested to apply to the Church of Satan’s central administrative office, located in “As others, the fools and hypocrites, worship and praise the false god of the Bible, we raise our glasses of wine and proclaim, Hail Satan, the true god! How wonderful it would be if all mankind worshipped Satan!”

Radio City Station, New York. By the time I started digging into the Kenyan branch last year, it had 40 members. While this information was freely given, when I meet Jane Muhono* at a local fast food restaurant, she refuses to disclose how many members there are currently. Jane is dressed like any successful corporate woman in Nairobi – a dark, knee length business suit with an overcoat, carefully plucked eyebrows, plum red lipstick and black high heels.

After we are seated, she takes out documents from her bag and slides them across the table. And, as I fill the papers with my personal details, Jane, who is the Priestess of the church, takes me through the hierarchies of membership: Registered Member – akin to the entry level – (no degree), Active Member or Satanist (first degree), Witch or Warlock (second degree), Priestess or Priest (third degree), Magistra or Magister (fourth degree), Maga or Magus (fifth degree). After registration one is issued with a crimson ID card when they become a Satanist.

I complete filling out the documents but, instead of the KSH 1,666 (the figure doesn’t sit right with me) I give her KSH 1,667 as I hand over the documents. “We are currently meeting in Runda,” Jane imparts. But, I grow hesitant and decline when she asks me to accompany her to be sworn in as a member and pledge my allegiance to Satan. This annoys her and she storms out of the restaurant after shoving the documents into her bag. Jane briskly crosses the road to where she had parked her black Mercedes and, as she speeds away, I wonder whether the church bought her the sleek car. A few days later, my curiosity still hadn’t been satisfied completely so I throw caution to the wind and call Job. I was going to attend a sermon at the church.

The Service and Rituals

It being my first service, Job vouches for me as I hadn’t yet gotten my ID. On Friday night, we drive out of the CBD and past Village Market. Job gets off the main road and slows down on a long, winding street and stops at a gate at the end of the lane. The guard, after taking Job’s Church of Satan ID for verification, lets us through and we drive down a long driveway that ends in front of a sprawling mansion. The house is dark, every visible window having been covered by dark grey curtains. When we enter the house, Job excuses himself after introducing me to Brian*, a fellow Satanist, in the hallway. Brian informs me that Job has gone to take a shower before the service commences. “Cleanliness is important in our temple and everyone has to [bathe].”

cult tatoos

Followers of the church of Satan often sport jewellery of the Sigil of Baphomet – the registered trademark of the church – or tattoos of the number 666.

From a satchel he’s carrying, Brian takes out a black hooded cloak, wears it on top of his blue shirt and asks me to follow him. We enter a spacious, empty room whose only light comes from the candles placed around it. Brian takes out a cross from the satchel and when he puts it around his neck, I realise that it is facing downwards. Moments later, Job, who’s wearing the Sigil on top of his dark robe, joins us too. In half an hour the room is filled with cloaked men and women and in my jeans and chequered shirt, I look out of place.

Instead of a live naked woman lying on the altar, there’s a huge nude female’s portrait. The altar is decorated with a human skull, horns and a stuffed wolf. Finally, at 7pm, the Priestess makes her entrance.

After the first prayer, which takes about five minutes, for about 20 minutes the priestess leads us in reading from the Satanic Bible while we stand, the word of the night being Satanic sex. And, since I don’t own one, I read from Job’s bible. “Free love, in the Satanic concept, means exactly that – freedom to either be faithful to one person or to indulge your sexual desires with as many others as you feel is necessary to satisfy your particular needs.” The priestess goes ahead to explain that Satanism does not encourage orgiastic activity or extramarital affairs for those to whom they do not come naturally. “For many, it would be very unnatural and detrimental to be unfaithful to their chosen mates. To others, it would be frustrating to be bound sexually to just one person. Each person must decide for himself what form of sexual activity best suits his individual needs.”

The ceremony exalts sexual lust over spiritual love, declaring that violence must be met with violence and that to love one’s neighbour is a utopian unreality. As the service continues, members sip wine from a chalice that is passed around the room.

When the service comes to an end, the priestess beckons me to the front of the room and introduces me as the newest member to the church. “Let me take the opportunity to introduce our newest Satanist to the congregation. This is a sign that our numbers are growing so ensure you spread the word more.” I do not like the spotlight but I wave at the crowd, most of whom, other than the priestess, Job and Brian, are unrecognisable as they all have their hoods on.

The service is over and people leave at their own free will. Standing by the room’s entrance is Brian with another Satanist who smiles as I approach them. “A religion that does not judge me, I get to make and live by my own rules and get paid just for attending church,” Michael says, listing the advantages of his church after Brian introduces us. Michael, who came to the church after meeting the priestess, says he was hooked the minute she started talking about the Satanic Church’s privileges when they met in an exclusive nightclub in Karen. Word of mouth is the most effective way that Satanists in the country are luring more Kenyans into the church. And as long as they are willing to listen, Michael will preach – as he starts doing before Job, who doesn’t want to be stuck in traffic, interjects. And before I leave, Michael invites me to the next service, which will be in  a different location and more intense.

A Kenyan Reaction

Today, other than the Church of Satan, there are several satanic cults that have garnered a following in Kenya and the world over. They include the Temple of Satan, Joy of Satan Ministries, Redeemer Church of Satan, Modern Church of Satan, The 600 Club Community of Satanism and The Occult. Satanists operate in small groups and only a few have permanent places of worship. Each of these cults, like the Church of Satan, meet in hotels and residential homes located in affluent neighbourhoods in Nairobi. However, the more popular ones are the Church of Satan and the Temple of Satan – with both having been linked to magical practices. These cults have attractive monikers to woo worshippers. For instance, the slogan of the Redeemer Church reads, “Bend a knee to Satan and the world is yours.” Around the world, there have been macabre tales involving Satanists that range from the disappearance of young children to blood sacrifices. In the 1990s, a satanic wave around the country forced President Daniel Arap Moi to form a commission to investigate devil worshipping cults in Kenya. The commission, headed by Archbishop Nicodemus Kirima, was appointed in March 1995.

Traversing the country, the commission interviewed members of the public, students, teachers and heads of educational institutions, religious and political leaders. After concluding its investigations in 1996, the Committee did not reveal the report for three years – and only part of it was released in 1999. The commission reported that it had found evidence of students who were occultists. The report stated that, “The members [of Satanism] consider themselves above the law and are organised into cults.” The report contained astonishing details such as unsuspecting Kenyans being lured to join cults by members who left KSH 500 on their victims’ paths. The cult members only contacted the poverty stricken victims after they had used the money and forced them to join Satanism as they knew that they had no means of paying it back.

Former President Moi, in an official statement, revealed that the government had carefully studied the recommendations of the Commission, which had far-reaching implications. “However, owing to the sensitive nature of the information contained in the report and the legal implications of some of the findings, it is not appropriate for the government to make the findings public,” he concluded. By not making all its findings public, there was speculation that the report involved prominent individuals in the Moi government.

However, presently, the church’s hold on Kenyans seems to be growing tighter. Job, in his current workplace, has so far introduced three of his workmates to Satanism and “two of them have become Active Members. The third one is in his final stage of becoming one too.” It seems that the cult is a tight knit group as members mostly recruit people familiar to them. And disbanding the sect would prove difficult as the service venues are only known to the members and are usually not in public, or permanent, places of worship.

Dr. David Githii of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa, a reverend who was defrocked after claiming that the church was riddled with devil worship, continues to preach and still stands by his word that “there are several satanic symbols in public institutions.” In March 2007, he published a book titled Exposing and Conquering Satanic Forces Over Kenya, which revealed how satanic powers were holding the nation captive through symbols. The symbols include the Court of Arms, the Baphomet on top of the Speaker of the National Assembly’s chair, The Babylonian Lion at the Attorney General’s office, the caduceus used as emblems by major hospitals, the blazing star at the entrance to parliament and snake-like sculptures within parliament buildings. The doctor also claims that Harambee Avenue and Harambee House were altars that celebrated Ambe, a Hindu goddess praised and venerated using the phrase “Harambee”.

But what would make someone join a cult, a satanic one at that? “This is a group of followers who have been recruited deceptively and retained through the use of manipulative techniques of thought reform and mind control,” Says Dr. Apondi Ochieng, a psychologist at Jamaa Mission Hospital. Dr. Ochieng adds that the Satanists have been enticed by sexual promiscuity, that the cult’s leadership is all-powerful and that the will of the individual is subordinate to the will of the group. “The cult sets itself above society by creating its own values with little or no regard for society’s ethics or morals.”

In Kenya, and Africa in general, anyone seeking out witchdoctors will do it for prosperity and wealth. And, similarly, those joining satanic cults do so for one thing. Power. In Kenya, a suspected witch will be tracked down and burned faster than he or she can say, “I am innocent”. There are several factors that would lead one to join Satanism, says Pastor Mungiriria, of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA). The pastor, who has been preaching for the past 35 years, is aware that Satan has his own gospel and, through his emissaries, also wants to win followers. “He will use riches, drugs and such devices to lure people to him. When Jesus was tempted, in Luke, Chapter 4, ‘Bow and worship me. All this you see I will give you,’ the devil promised him. That is quite tempting, especially for someone who is poor.” The pastor also reveals that he sees a lot of Kenyan women wearing the symbol of the Sigil on necklaces and earrings, without knowledge of its meaning. “The other one is the cross, without the part where Jesus’ head would be.” But Satanists in Kenya have ensured that their circle, no matter how much it grows, remains a secret to the rest of the country. “Ours is not a church that will be well-received [by many] in this country. It is not like in the States where satanic meeting places are known by the general public before hand,” the priestess said when I enquired about the church’s secret locations.

However, the headquarters in New York has denied any association with the Nairobi branch. The spokesperson of the Church of Satan is SatanBear D’mischief, (he however said his real name was Bill M. and that he was a reverend at the church), a shadowy figure I spoke to who denied knowledge of the Nairobi Church of Satan. “I can assure you that this group in Nairobi is not part of the actual Church of Satan. We have no association with them,” he said, and confirmed that his church, however, does have members in Kenya. SatanBear advised that, “Any person in Kenya who would want to join our organisation, should do so in the same way as people fromother countries do: send in a request for membership and aone-time fee to the actual Church of Satan headquarters in the United States.” “No one man’s utterances are greater than LaVey’s teachings – whose word we follow to the T. We will continue worshiping Satan,” the priestess said when I asked about the disassociation between her church and the New York branch.

The Future of the Church

In a nation where the majority of the population practices Christianity, Satanism is a cult that goes against everything that most Kenyans believe in. In this environment, the Church of Satan, where observants worship at night in darkly lit rooms in the presence of nude women draped across altars and human skulls, is poised to become a battling point in just how open Kenyan society can be. And even if it’s by word of mouth only, the Church of Satan is slowly, but surely, growing.

*Names have changed