(Spoilers ahead for all of “American Horror Story: Apocalypse”)
“American Horror Story” is at its best when it’s having fun, and the “Return to Murder House” episode of “Apocalypse” had one of the most fun scenes of the season when it introduced Anton LeVay (Carlo Rota) and his two Cardinals of the Church of Satan (Kathy Bates and Naomi Grossman). They came to said Murder House to perform a ritual to set Michael Langdon (Cody Fern) on the path to becoming the Antichrist.
During the ritual, they sacrifice a young woman (Emily Mest), with LaVey reaching inside her body while she’s still alive and pulling out her heart. Which Langdon then takes a big bite out of, triggering a cartoonish devil shadow behind him.
LaVey has been a minor recurring character in two other episodes, popping up again in a vision to Michael as he tried to figure out what it was he was supposed to be doing before settling on destroying the world in nuclear fire. And then he popped up again in the final scene of the season, when he and his Cardinals find the new Antichrist in the timeline in which Michael died before they found him.
It’s all really amusing for those familiar with the real-life Church of Satan and the real Anton LeVay. In the real world, Satanism exists more as a middle finger to Christianity than an actual religion of its own — this comes through when Grossman is explaining how they found the house: “We followed a dark star from the west.” A direct joke about the Three Wise Men in Bible finding baby Jesus by following a bright star from the east.
In any case, LeVay established the Church of Satan as a sort of nihilistic libertarian humanism club. And they don’t actually worship Satan or anything else. It’s basically all just for funsies. The real LaVey would likely have been amused by his portrayal on the show, however. His whole thing with Satanism was all about flouting conventions and he relished the sort of villain role he was given by those who were horrified by the concept of Satanism but had no idea what it actually was.
LaVey’s official title in the church was not actually Black Pope, but rather just Bishop of the Church of Satan. “Black Pope” was a moniker given by the media back in the 1960s shortly after the church was founded, when LaVey was drumming up publicity by performing Satanic weddings and giving his three-year-old daughter a “Satanic baptism.”
LeVay, by the way, died in 1997. The “AHS” version of addresses this by saying that “I faked my death to prepare for this day.” A fun fact about his death: he died on Oct. 29, but his family insisted that it actually happened on Halloween. And then a life sized wax figure of LeVay attended his funeral. I think that probably about sums up what Satanism was all about.
We’ve treasured our brief time with Rota’s LaVey, and while we may not be super thrilled with how the season finale turned out, we are glad we at least got to see him one last time.