In early fall of 1989 my friends Craig, Mick, and I tried to summon a demon—Astaroth, the crowned prince of Hell, if I’m remembering right—to the driveway of Craig’s suburban home. Months earlier I’d found a book on summoning spells hidden in a box in my attic, underneath a bunch of Lovecraft anthologies and old Hanukkah decorations.
We’d planned the evening a few days before: once Craig’s parents left for dinner at the country club, I’d draw a magic circle beneath the basketball pole, Mick was on candle duty, and Craig would read, in Latin, the requisite incantations. The translated Latin was a series of threats and commands, invoking Jesus Christ and various angels, along with reminders that the magic circle was impenetrable, that as long as we were within its boundaries Astaroth held no sway. That we were all good Jewish boys didn’t seem to matter—we held Jesus in high regard, the way Pistons fans must have felt about Michael Jordan; even though he wasn’t one of ours, you still had to respect the guy’s game.
I drew the circle, Mick lit some candles, Craig started reading. The three of us stood, huddled in the center, waiting for whatever. I held a kitchen knife, one of those big chef’s knives, because the book said we needed a ceremonial sword. We waited. Normal events—the moon slipping behind some clouds, leaves scuttling across the street—took on significance. Our candles guttered in the wind, then blew out. We waited some more. A black cat slipped from the hedges and sauntered down the driveway, tail high. “Holy shit,” Craig said. Or maybe I said it.
So I did what any young skeptic would do: I stepped out of the circle and approached the cat. It did that cat thing, rubbing its face against my leg, ears twitching. I asked Craig if his neighbors had a black cat.
“No,” he said. “I’ve never seen that cat before.”
“Maybe you should get back in the circle,” Mick said. He sounded terrified.
I realized I was still holding the knife. I looked down at the cat. I remember thinking: This is how bad things happen. Three scared teenage boys, some unfortunate timing, and a sharp knife at the ready. Years later, I’d discover Goya’s much more poetic version: the sleep of reason brings forth monsters.
I stood, cocked back my arm, and threw that knife as far as I could, into the dark pond behind Craig’s house.
Satanism is many things—contrary, ironic, sophomoric—but it is not serious. At least not as serious as it should be, given its beliefs: we’re talking about a fallen angel who decided he’d had enough of heaven’s righteousness, and descended—literally, metaphorically—into eternal darkness, determined to wage war against the pesky Nazarene. The deck is stacked, of course. Satan knows he can’t win, but he fights on. Pathetically, tragically, he fights on, with the support of his earthly followers, the type of guys still angry at being picked last in gym class. Their silly goatees, cheap amulets, and tiny dark glasses prove that not all dorks are Satanists, but all Satanists are dorks.
And yet, just when Satanism seems relegated to the candles-and-robes milieu associated with midseventies orgies, bad people bring it back. The sixties saw Charlie Manson and his gang of credulous morons allegedly dabbling in a form of Satanism. Satan had nothing to do with the Tate-LaBianca murders, but he was good for ratings. Which might explain, in part, the creation of Tuesday’s Child, a Los Angeles–based underground newspaper launched on November 11, 1969, three months after the murders and one month after Manson, not yet a suspect, was arrested for stealing dune buggies. Deemed an “ecumenical, educational newspaper for the Los Angeles occult & underground,” Tuesday’s Child is the sort of paper I’d have been really into as a teenager. Part horror novel, part Anarchist’s Cookbook, and part Mother Jones—with a sprinkling of SCREW Magazine–style Op-Eds—the debut issue sold for twenty-five cents. A magic circle adorned the cover, coupled with the Latin palindrome SATOR AREPO TENET OPERA ROTAS, and the headline: IS BAPAK REALLY HITLER WITH A NOSE JOB? NOT REALLY.
How do we translate this? The Latin is the Sator Square, a phrase of dubious origin and uncertain meaning, first discovered among the ashes of Pompeii, a cryptogram that, like most ancient unsolved puzzles, proves irresistible to occultists. Bapak refers to the Indonesian Sufi leader Muhammad Subuh Sumohadiwidjojo, a charlatan who made his global rounds at the height of the American counterculture movement. And the magic circle is … well, we already know. It’s a good start for any Hollywood rag: a blend of satire and earnestness, spiced with metaphysical nonsense. And it gets better.
Extant copies of Tuesday’s Child are exceedingly rare. I managed to find a few in the University of Wisconsin Memorial Library, courtesy of a young librarian named Julie Arensdorf who seemed to share my excitement, and spent the next week scanning and e-mailing each page. You can imagine the aesthetic: R. Crumb–style lettering, psychedelic cartoons, asymmetrical typesetting, a surfeit of exclamation points and typos. Someone had written “Subscribe only $6 a year” in the masthead of the first issue. Page three offers the Pater Noster in reverse and a takedown of television fuddy-duddy Art Linkletter, who’d been blaming LSD for the suicide of his daughter Diane. The next section, titled “The Universe As an Electric Train,” features a photo of a sheep (pagan? Druidic? Agrarian?) and a primer on magic, wherein the universe is presented as a model and magic is one of the many “tracks” running through it and—you get the idea.
Next we get a piece on demonology, a report on prison-system injustice, an essay by Eldridge Cleaver, a quick how-to on “Candle Magic for Beginners,” a compilation of Aleister Crowley’s nonsensical philosophies, a “The No Bullshit of Tarot Reading,” and an exegesis on numerology wherein the author, Antonia Lamb, citing Kabbalistic evidence, postulates that God may have created the “known and unknown worlds merely by uttering the name Paul McCartney” or Jim Morrison, or, less likely, Ginger Baker.
Then this happens, in a section titled “Briefs” by Ronald Robot:
MEN ARE OUT OF TOUCH WITH THE EARTH
Excluded from life in a forced devotion of energy to survival. We have plunged into a luxury of impoverishment … The state imposes the elements of survival frozen foods. Each element appears to be a liberation and turns to servitude …
The managers of social peace call for coexistence forever.
Now is the end of abstract temporality.
Now is the end of the reified time of our acts.
Now is the end of the alienation pole.
Death has eaten like a cancer into the heart of life.
We demand a miracle. Get rid of suicide and the desire to be dead rather than death itself ….
Stop surviving start living. Congress has just broken through to the precipice of eternity.
And then this happens, in an essay titled “Sympathy for the Devil” by Melanie Black:
It is time, and more than time, that an article in defense of Satan was written, and I am proud to be one to have been selected to write it. For it is an open secret that Melanie Black is an adherent of the Left Hand Path, in other words, a Satanist, a Devil Worshipper …
And this also happens, in “The Numerology of Sex” by the aforementioned Antonia Lamb:
Yes, Virginia, there is a numerology of sex … The only time we purely express our individual sex number is during masturbation, which renders it more or less useless for practical purposes. You already have a pretty good idea of what kind of masturbator you are, unless, of course, you’re an eight.
The Micah who’d drawn a magic circle under a driveway basketball pole, and later played Nintendo in Craig’s basement while devouring a box of Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pies: that Micah would have really been into Tuesday’s Child.
But I’ve gotten too old for the occult stuff. Its contrarianism seems juvenile, its practitioners too self-serious—a reaction rather than a prescription, a push rather than a pull. The mysteries are dead. The oracles are silent. The numinous is merely the cinematic. I already agree with many of the policies embraced by those self-proclaimed Satanists: free love, feminism, legalized drugs, a rejection of arch-conservatism. I just don’t need the Devil’s permission to do so.
I’m more interested in Tuesday’s Child’s ads and classifieds, little time capsules that seem oddly contemporary:
timeless occult shop
COMPLETE OCCULT SUPPLIES
BELLBOTTOMS $4.95 & UP
BUMBER [sic] STICKERS
AMERICA Change It Or Lose It
U.S. ARMY Love It Or Leave It
FIGHT CRIME Legalize Pot
LOWER TAXES Legalize Pot
POWER TO THE PEOPLE
Any 3 for $1
Used Books ½ Price
Largest stock of metaphysical & occult books in Los Angeles
Friendly and Informative Service
Beautiful Cats to Beguile You
Recommended by Tuesday’s Child
CAN I JOIN YOUR FAMILY? I’m living with one now—37 people, 9 cats, 5 dogs. Sagittarius chick. Leave word at 1616 N. Argyle.
GIRL WANTED to become photographer’s model. Call Angelo.
There is, of course, a strong current of humor running through Tuesday’s Child. The editors seem in on the joke even when its contributors do not. The paper is meant to frighten the easily frightened and outrage the perpetually outraged. This might explain their later treatment of Charlie Manson, who appeared on two 1970 covers: the first, a photograph with the banner “Man of the Year,” and the second an image of Manson nailed to a cross, with the suggestion that he was some sort of revolutionary martyr. If we choose to view occultism as the proto-provocateur, then it demonstrates the crucial flaw of contrarianism: sometimes you align with the bad guys.
Surprisingly—to me, at least—our attempts to summon Astaroth to the suburbs resulted in the end of my friendship with Craig and Mick. Craig’s parents returned home, saw the magic circle and half-melted candles, rifled through my bags while I slept, and found the book of demon conjuring. Breakfast was a tense affair.
The next day, my mom said she’d received a phone call from Craig’s mom. I was no longer welcome in their home, and I owed them a kitchen knife.
“It was just a game,” I said. “Nobody really believed any of it.”
“Know your audience,” she said.
Micah Nathan is a best-selling novelist and frequent contributor to Vanity Fair.