Snapshot of Michael Aquino, Sammy Davis, Jr, and Anton LaVey circa 1973.

The Long, Strange Trip of Michael Aquino

How a heterodox intellect remade Satanism — and caught hell for it

Mitch Horowitz
17 min readAug 15, 2023

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The search — if it’s real — is not a blanket of bromides or group-sanctioned routine. Its practitioners rarely appear in familiar lanes.

In 1969, an authentically seeking and heterodox U.S. Army officer — and specialist in psychological operations or PSYOP — entered the orbit of Church of Satan (CoS) founder Anton LaVey. This was Michael Aquino, whose efforts opened a new chapter in Satanic and Left-Hand spirituality.

Aquino first briefly encountered LaVey in 1968 at the San Francisco premiere of Rosemary’s Baby, the social connector for so much in the modern Satanism LaVey defined. A recent graduate of UC Santa Barbara and commissioned officer, Aquino spent part of 1968 to 1969 at Fort Bragg with the 82nd Airborne Division and later as a PSYOP/Special Forces officer at the base’s JFK Special Warfare Center. [1] In early 1969, the second lieutenant found himself questioning life’s purpose. A study of existential philosophy had only deepened his despair and he was contemplating suicide. [2]

While on leave in March in San Francisco — where he was soon to be married — Aquino spotted an ad in the underground newspaper Berkeley Barb for a Satanic circle at Anton’s Black House. Although the evening featured its share of garish theatrics, including a robed henchman stationed at the door (in actuality a lecturer in history at the University of San Francisco) and Anton’s emergence from an Egyptian sarcophagus, the gathering itself featured ideas that spoke to the soldier-seeker. And then there was the figure of Anton himself: relaxed, self-assured, good humored, powerful but not arrogant, smiling not in a cruel fashion but “full of the purest metaphysical good humor,” Aquino wrote. It was sealed: “I reached out and took the apple.” [3]

“At that point,” Aquino later wrote a friend — the same doorman at the Black House, “Anton LaVey said, ‘Where there is no meaning, we ourselves can create it. Thus we are not creatures, but creators: we are gods.’ It took me a long time to understand the full implications of such a hypothesis, but even in its most immediate sense it was a philosophical lifeline.” Back at Fort Bragg, Aquino and his new wife (“a nominal…

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Mitch Horowitz

"Treats esoteric ideas & movements with an even-handed intellectual studiousness"-Washington Post | PEN Award-winning historian | Censored in China