Podcasts/Sacred Tension-LeviST

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LeviST SUMMARY KEYWORDS satanism, people, satanists, religion, buddhism, idea, religious, satanist, theology, buddhist, forms, point, satan, knowledge, tst, tradition, imagery, called, christianity, tsd SPEAKERS Levi Walbert, Stephen Bradford Long

Stephen Bradford Long 00:13 This is sacred tension, the podcast about the discipline of asking questions. My name is Steven Bradford long. And as always, I have to thank my patrons, this show is only possible because of people who enjoy my work enough to support me every single month on patreon.com. So for those of you are listening, and you enjoy my work, you look forward to a new episode every week and you enjoy the blog as well. Then please go to patreon.com forward slash Steven Bradford long for $1 a month, $5 a month you get extra content every single week, including my house of heretics podcast with the former Salvation Army officer Timothy McPherson, and we talk about Christianity and theology and politics or whatever's interesting going on in the world. Also, patrons get to listen in live on a zoom every Wednesday morning and hanging out in the chat. So for this week, I have to thank Michael Sam il Nix Ward, and f v. Thank you so much. I truly could not do this without you. All right. Well, with all of that out of the way, I am delighted to welcome Levi Walbert to the show.

Levi Walbert 01:33 Yeah, thanks for having me excited to be on.

Stephen Bradford Long 01:35 So we have been talking for a while now about Satanism and theology and all kinds of various things. But before we get into that, tell us some about who you are and what you do.

Levi Walbert 01:49 Shorter thing I mean, I mean, the first thing since I'm here is I'm a recent graduate of my master's program, which I've just finished seminary up and I did a lot of my focus on Satanism, as kind of the crux of my thesis work. So

Stephen Bradford Long 02:04 congratulations. Tell tell everyone where you were you were at where you went to seminary?

Levi Walbert 02:10 Sure. It's in radian Theological Seminary, which is a seminary here in Pennsylvania.

Stephen Bradford Long 02:17 Yeah, we we won't go down a fascinating side quest of who the Moravians are, but they are a fascinating group. Oh, yeah,

Levi Walbert 02:27 I really, maybe that's another episode. But the Moravians are super interesting. And I'm very happy about the study under them.

Stephen Bradford Long 02:34 They were founded by a we are going down the side quest. Okay. They were they were founded by someone with the best fucking name on the planet. Count von Zinzendorf.

Levi Walbert 02:48 Am I right? Yeah. Yeah. Was that was a fascinating.

Stephen Bradford Long 02:52 Yes. Count von Zinzendorf is the founder of the Moravians. And I just picture like the net, the Netflix Castlevania series? Whenever I hear Count von Zinzendorf. He said he sounds like a character from Castlevania.

Levi Walbert 03:07 Yeah, he was he was a strange guy. And I think that kind of accounted for his ability to form I guess, you know, this now, what is a new denomination? In the Moravians? You know, he obviously wasn't the sole founder. It was founded off of a lot of things. But yeah, he was this kind of strange guy where he was this somewhat noble at the time aristocrat kind of person, but he was just so obsessed with religion, and everyone was going, what the hell is wrong with you? You know, yeah, let's go to parties and stuff. But he's like, no, no, I'm, I'm just gonna throw all that away. But he never threw away some of his mannerisms and came to America with old you know, the colonies and, and all that and, you know, he wouldn't give up his royal attire he would travel play islands and stuff in this not royal but very fancy clothing. And that's a very interesting guy.

Stephen Bradford Long 04:00 Yeah, he was very radical to anyway, okay. End of that side quest. Moravians are fascinating. I love weird little religious offshoots, like that. And we're going to talk about a weird little religious offshoot today. But so I wanted to have you on to talk about your recent graduate thesis project, which was on Satanism. And but before we get to that, I very rudely interrupted you telling us who you are and what you do. But you're a Buddhist?

Levi Walbert 04:29 Yeah, I am. I'm actually a bit in the Buddhist tradition. I'm a minister. As you know, it's not a visual podcast, but I always like to clarify that I'm a minister and not a monk, which is why I continue to have my hair.

Stephen Bradford Long 04:41 Oh, got it. Interesting. Yeah, actually, my

Levi Walbert 04:45 denomination is called Jodo Shinshu, which is not very, not a lot of people know about in America outside the fold, especially a lot of Japanese communities, but it is the largest denomination of Buddhism in Japan, but it's just not as well known in America. We're completely non monistic. It's, it was a labor movement. And we have, you know, trained clergy and you know, people like that. So people who are somewhat authorities on it, but yeah, we specifically there was a lot of issues at the time in medieval Japan with, with monks and monasteries, a lot of corruption. So kind of came out of that as a Buddhism for the average people. But of course, that's not to talk down on monks. It's it's just the historical kind of context.

Stephen Bradford Long 05:30 That's interesting. How long have you been a Buddhist?

Levi Walbert 05:33 Well, you know, it's kind of one of those things that I have a hard time keeping track of what happened, because it was not one of those aha enlightened me. Pardon the pun, enlightenment moment. So I said, Oh, I have a conversion story. It was kind of, you know, maybe I pointed around 14 is, when I really started getting introduced to Buddhism, I had to watch a documentary for I was taking art history and you know, moved to India and Asia. So give context to what some of the art was about. And I just really got me interested, I was very moved by it. So it was one of those things where I said, Well, I'll start one practice. And then I'll try another and oh, this is interesting. I read this other book. And it's over time, I guess, I look back. And I said, like, so I'm a Buddhist down practicing, I believe this kind of stuff. And, you know, I was very, it was at the time, I was kind of moving away from Christianity, which is where my origin was, kind of roughly culturally, I'll put it that way. I did believe very heavily at some time. But

Stephen Bradford Long 06:25 what's tradition? What, what tradition were you raised in? Well,

Levi Walbert 06:29 it was kind of a won't be short. With this, it's kind of a funny story like to tell about, you know, my parents background where my parents chose not to baptize me when I was born, because they actually wanted me to choose my tradition. They want me to choose my belief, they were kind of very open about that. But eventually, I kind of caught on as a younger person, that was the only one not as a member of a church or groups. I didn't really know what it meant. But I knew I wanted to be part of it, because I wanted to be part of my family. So my mom was a Catholic. And my father is Lutheran. So I had those two choices. And you know, my mother said, we can do either one. And I said, you know, Mom, I'm like, seven. I don't know what those mean. My mother being Catholic looks at me and says, Leave I choose. Choose Lutheran. It's easier.

Stephen Bradford Long 07:14 Yes, she's right. She's very, very high.

Levi Walbert 07:17 She very much remembers having to go to school. And the idea of having a school one extra day at that point was absolutely off the table for me. So, you know, I was very culturally raised in that my mother's Italian. So it was more she was a culturally Catholic, you know, might her her parents would drop her off at church and go home. You know, one of those things were you do it to be a part of the community. So that's, I don't have a huge background. And I did pick up the Bible and start reading kind of, at like a very young age, which I didn't understand how to read it. So scared the hell out of me. And you know, that's kind of the backstory of like, oh, I guess I was kind of gotten very religious. Yeah, just because I didn't know what I was doing.

Stephen Bradford Long 07:59 The Bible will terrify anyone. So I hear a lot of people who have an interest in Satanism, most of them come from kind of non religious backgrounds, and it meshes with their atheism or from Christian backgrounds, because they have some experience and Christianity. And that segues nicely into using Satan as a religious symbol. I've also encountered a lot of Jews, either having an interest in Satanism or becoming Satanists. But as a Buddhist, you're what I call us a spooky, Buddhist, you're, you're, you're that interesting subset of of people who have an interest it kind of an academic slash religious interest and Satanism, but as a Buddhist, so What draws you to Satanism? What made you want to study Satanism as a Buddhist?

Levi Walbert 08:59 So I think, you know, there's, there's a couple of background features of that story. And where I came from, I think has to be addressed. One, you know, I was not raised in a Buddhist culture. I was not raised in this household. It's something I've found later into my life, or I guess, almost midway, I'm I'm only 26 So it's almost halfway into my current lifespan, you know, and I'm a white guy. So I'm a convert in that sense. You know, I found it I became very immersed in it i very grateful for especially my teachers, Japanese and I got ordained in the Japanese community given all this but I'm never a Japanese Buddhist. I'm a white Buddhist in America, practicing a tradition that comes from Japan. And you know, there's aspects that hold up from that. But, you know, I was raised in a Christian culture, I was raised around this imagery, these stories, this kind of worldview. And like I said, I picked the Bible and started reading it not understanding that, you know, now that I went through seminary, a lot of it is not met. To be one for one literal and exactly, there's a lot of nuance, but of course, I didn't pick up on that. So, you know, the idea of hell and Satan and demons scared the hell out of me. But I think at the same time, there was something. Those passages were so interesting. And the aesthetics that went along with them, especially within kind of a horror culture in America and movies. And all this stuff was just, even though it scared me, it was always almost one of those fears that generated a kind of a attraction like that, you know, it's spooky, it's scary, oh, well, but I can't step away from it. And I think as I left, that kind of Christian fear behind that aesthetic interest, was what kind of drew me originally to well, this is something that you know, I the first, of course, I encounter a church of Satan is the thing. And then TSD come comes along a little bit later, I know as I've kind of growing up and learning more about it. And once I kind of learned about that, that's where my interest formed. And then, especially with TSC, in particular, the fact that it relies so heavily on with imagery and values from the kind of romantic period, that's where it really started to gather my anxious looking at, you know, of course, Paradise Lost, but the revolt of Angel angels especially, and just a lot of this imagery and poetry and kind of the philosophy that developed during that time period. The fact that there was something behind it, that was more than just the aesthetic was very interesting. And, of course, PTSD, I do generally support a lot of the more social and political projects that works on so that was a lot more to learn a little bit more about it. But all of that mix together into one movement in one kind of organization, is it really kind of dreamy, because I want to study this. And now that I'm studying religion, I haven't seen a lot that is taking this seriously from this very religious theological lens. There's a lot of social commentary. So I thought, hey, maybe this is something I can actually explore this can have value and people.

Stephen Bradford Long 12:08 It's always so interesting to me to hear people's first reactions to Satanism. And I, and I feel like, I don't know, it points to something in people's personalities, and backgrounds or something, because people almost always have some kind of visceral reaction to it. There is never not a reaction to Satanism. You know, people, people might not have a reaction to, you know, Unitarian Universalists. But there is always a reaction to Satanism. And some people describe what you said, which is kind of intrigue, you know, there is fear. But there is also intrigue and enchantment and kind of this allure to it, where it's like, oh, this is really interesting, I want to go deeper, whereas other people will see it and immediately roll their eyes and see it as cringe or adolescent and just not be able to see anything more than that. And, and almost seem dogmatically closed to that possibility. You know, I would just saw like a post on Twitter, some, some, some Catholic Trad guy was like, yeah, the only Satanists I've ever met have a been psychopaths or be, you know, complete adolescent edge lords. And I'm like, yes, those people do exist. But there's that response. And then there's the reaction of just absolute shutdown and fear. Yeah. And, and I am always so fascinated by what is it that causes those reactions? Because those are the three main ones that I encounter of, you know, open curiosity, and intrigue, eye rolls, or just hodl terror. It's it's only those three is so Was there something about Satanism that meshed in some way with your own Buddhism? Is there some intersection there is? Or is there something in your own tradition that made you more open minded to Satanism?

Levi Walbert 14:23 Yeah, sure. I think there's a couple of things I could talk about, I think, when it comes to the initial lore, and kind of intrigue, that was also something I had with Buddhism at the early start, because there were some things that were almost, I guess, especially aesthetically paradoxical, that were so fascinating. So for example, especially within some of the esoteric traditions, or the Tibetan traditions, there are these Bodhisattva or I described them like Buddha saints, the Buddhist to be their kind of these enlightened figures and I don't want to call them deities because that's not Uh, that kind of gives a weird connotation. Yeah, I can talk about that more later. But, you know, there are these kind of enlightened figures. And in a lot of these traditions, they have these wrathful forms. And you know, you look at these, and if you had no idea what Buddhism was, or any kind of knowledge of this, I mean, they look like demons. I mean, there's, you know, they have skull necklaces and severed heads. And, you know, they're, they're dancing on top of corpses and all this stuff. They're very metal. Yeah, they're really, really cool. But you will look at them. And the thing is that these represent compassion. These are the destruction of ignorance, the destruction of obstacles from paths, which lead to wisdom, compassion, love care, you know, the, but it's represented in these really, sometimes brutal forms. And that was so you know, just just captivating. And seeing that and this kind of boat, you expect this to be evil, because especially within I think, really mainstream Christian culture. That is what it's kind of represented anything in those forms of imagery. Because even you see, like a Saint Michel, conquering the serpent I think was Saint Michel. He still was kind of an angelic figure, you steal this beautiful figure and the, the Satan or the serpent is is this disgusting, heroic figure, but you know, within the least the Buddhist tradition, it's so interesting seeing some of these figures that are ultimately ultimately good. Yeah. What am I my favorites in the Japanese a Fudo meal or a Paola, I think some other think that's Tibet, via food on me, oh, who is this, this figure is a wrathful face, he has the snarling his eyes are going different directions. He's holding a sword and a noose. But the whole thing is that he is the sword cuts down ignorance and the news and binds demons and you have distraction from the path and he is a protector. And you know, so it's interesting, though, it's Satanism and the fact that Satan becomes a liberator for humanity. And you know, the even Baphomet is this opposite and joining the unities and kind of this, this aspect of peace between unity, but presented in these forms that are traditionally so you know, made to be grotesque and evil. I've seen that duality is what I think was one thing that drew me in somehow this can look one way but function a whole different way. And then once you get into it, the looks and the function kind of have a unity that you do see these things as beautiful and as good you know, the some of the aesthetics and the horror stuff still post stays around because it's fun. It's cool. I mean, I think in our some of our previous discussion, we said, you know, look at Catholic imagery, the flayed flesh and blood and oh, yeah, it's just as gory. It's some

Stephen Bradford Long 17:54 you got some Hellraiser shit, right there. Yeah. And, like, well, and I think a lot of religions have precedent for that. And my friend John Morehead pointed something out. Where he, he's an evangelical multifaith guy. He does multifaith conversations, and he's a great friend, and we've done some work together. But when he describes Satanism to his fellow Christians, one of the things that he says is, well, there's there's precedent for this kind of stuff in the Christian prophets. In the Old Testament, you know, they, they do when it comes to kind of tsps extreme public persona? Well, that's, that's a very prophetic, you know, that's the kind of stuff that zekiel did. That's the kind of shit that the Old Testament prophets would do, where they would almost do like extreme performance art, almost in order to convey a deeper, profound theological message. And he would say, he said, This is something that Christians have done as well. And this is something that is in our heritage, this is something that is within the Old Testament. And so we don't really need to be that frightened of it. And I and I love that point. How he's, he's pointing out how different religions even Christianity and Judaism have that precedent as well of the extreme outsider, being a voice of transformation and and kind of using that extreme aesthetic to to present some deeper theological truth along the lines of theology. It sounds counterintuitive to apply the term theology to a non theistic religion. Right? It Yeah, it sounds that that that sounds like a contradiction in terms. So In the context of your project of your thesis, how do you define and expand theology to include Satanism?

Levi Walbert 20:09 Yeah, that was one of the bigger challenges to think about because, like you said, theology when we think Theo's the Word of God, and how do you do that with something that doesn't affirm that? So one of the points I found, which I kind of held on to and I wanted to build off of is, I think, first, Paul Tillich was a kind of this very famous Christian theologian. And his definition of Theo's, he said, The, you know, the rational study of God and divine things. So I think that is a very interesting point, that it's God and or really divine things. You know, how we understand divinity is going to be a very central point. I kind of brought to Buddhism as well, Buddhism is, in some sense, non theistic, obviously, Buddhism does not affirm a creator deity. There's no universal, omniscient creator deity that's explicitly rejected within, you know, even some of the earliest Buddhist canon. The question is, well, then is there no Buddhist theology? And this kind of starts to raise this interesting question over? Where are the lines of theology drawn? And why are they drawn like that? One of the things I argue for is this idea that only Christianity and the other Abrahamic traditions can do theology actually, is kind of this weird, restrictive privilege, that there's this weird thing of, well, what are some has, you know, Buddha ology or Buddhist studies, but doesn't have theology is the theology is this kind of wonderful, academic long tradition that, you know, is mostly done by Christians. And you know, there's a lot of Islamic theology and Jewish theology, but you know, Christianity has had a very large hold on it for that wasn't, you know, a couple 1000 years? Well, a couple 1000 2000 years. And there's kind of a problem with that, because it also holds this idea that it dismisses that anybody else can ask these kinds of questions, or do this rigorous discussion on the idea of what are divine things? How do we rationalize them, understand them, integrate them into our life? So I kind of took a little bit of problem and arguing that theology only has to deal with one kind of idea of God or divinity. So that's kind of a starting point. So non theistic theology is, what are divine things for Satanism? Is it just nothing nothing's divine, or all divinity, it's a nice little word. We don't use it for anything. That's not been the case of what I've understood. From talking to people look into it, I think it's can be radically different. But I think the one of the things I kept hitting at what could be divine or I think Tillich also uses the term of ultimate concern that which one cannot live without, which is kind of one puts their foundation into. And that's kind of a very basic Tilak thing. I'm sure Tillich scholars can report on that one, and I welcome all learn from it. The idea of the unknown, kept coming up. And this all of the unknown, this respect for the unknown, this kind of ability to throw yourself into it, and use that as a foundation to overcome existential issues in life, through the acceptance of, you know, quite literally agnosticism, you know, that which is unknown, unknowable. Yeah, I think that was one thing that was very interesting that I focused on and tried to use as the start of what is a maybe agnostic theology, a theology kind of has its own term, I didn't, I started using that. And I kind of walked away from it a little bit, because that actually does have a kind of connotation within Christianity, essentially, radical theology. But that's another avenue actually, I'm hoping to explore more in the future. So without rambling further, that's kind of a small overview of my thoughts going into it.

Stephen Bradford Long 24:23 Yeah. For me, it is certainly the case that agnosticism becomes transcendent, into a form of mysticism, and that there's a kind of holy terror and standing before the utter unknowability of the universe, and I wrote an article about this called Satan and the void. And I also I really like the idea of theology and the idea of religion having to do with ultimate what we believe to be the ultimate, or what we believe to, to be the ultimate story. And I just found this quote from Ruben van lacs children of Lucifer, where he says, for the purposes of this book, therefore, I opt for a broader definition of religion. To this end, I adopt the concise formula of Robert Bellah, who defined religion as, quote, a set of symbolic forms and acts which relate man to the ultimate conditions of his existence. I tacitly assumed by the way that Bella really meant to write a set of symbolic forms and acts which relate man to what he perceives to be the ultimate conditions of his existence. Right. So, religion being that which connects us to what we believe to be the ultimate conditions of our existence, that is religion. And then theology being the study of that the the, the experience and study and formulation of that. And I think when we open up the concept of theology and religion in this way, then suddenly the world is full of religions. Suddenly, suddenly, this seemingly, you know, that suddenly this seemingly, a religious culture that we live in, is teeming with, with new religious movements, and it's teeming with all different kinds of weird religions. And, you know, I had a friend who said that he believes that our modern world is fundamentally atheistic, and, you know, he was kind of opining for this. He was, oh, pining for kind of this former mystical age. And I'm skeptical about all of that, but I'm like, nothing can be further from the truth. We are, we are in an age of basically like, you know, a jungle of new religious movements, the Satanic Temple is one of them. Just one among, you know, untold 1000s We just have a name, you know, we have a name we have, we're organized, but we're just one of gazillions.

Levi Walbert 27:21 Yeah, for sure. I mean, I think there's a lot of truth to that, I think one of the aspects of religion that has to be focused on and where I would argue, is the defining factor, thinking of it versus mere appearance of a religion is I don't think that these when we say beliefs, I don't think that we can stop as simply an intellectual endpoint. I think that for to really be a religion, one that affects people there is something that is fundamentally felt about it and transformative in the life of the individual. Because the thing is, I can I can rationalize a lot of beliefs I can think and make arguments for and kind of grasp things intellectually. But when it comes down to it, if that's not affecting my life, in a very fundamental way that I think is somewhat beyond my control at a certain point. I think that's where the heart of religion goes,

Stephen Bradford Long 28:15 is it transcendent? In other words, does it does it create transcendence? does it generate transcendence of some kind?

Levi Walbert 28:21 Yeah, and I think I want to even I think, at the ultimate level transcendence is there but even even just the idea that this is something that generates a feeling or residence, just to without people who don't get to the mystic part of it to someone who can say, Yeah, I just deeply feel this

Stephen Bradford Long 28:37 doesn't move the needle in some way.

Levi Walbert 28:39 I think that I think I used it in terms of religion. I pulled it up here because your quote reminded me of and I think goes along very well. I use the book, religion in the making by Alfred North Whitehead is one of my favorite philosophers of all time, and I call him a begrudging theologian, because he actually didn't want to be he didn't want to talk about divine things or God or anything like that. He defines God very differently than normal, the normal kind of Christian Abrahamic views but he he kind of had to add it to the system to make it work and I think it's one of the most genius systems out there but I'm not gonna rattle on about Whitehead but he does say religion is the force of belief cleansing the inward parts. For this reason the primary religious virtue is sincerity of penetrating sincerity. And I think that is a really big key point to what a religion is. And that is what I see in many dedicated satanist if I can even say devout Satanists because like you said, there are people who join because they think it's an edgy joke. They they liked all you have to troll Christians. I get the kind of do that but from a lot of the ones I've interacted with you some of the other members of ministry Council on this, those dedicated to TSD in this or even just Satanism, I even want to limit PST He has just been the ones I've interacted with the most. There is this, this very deep sincerity to what they're doing. And it's something that I see as a transformative aspect of their lives. I think that's what really moved me once I started to actually interact with Satanists.

Stephen Bradford Long 30:17 You know, it's always so funny, this disorientation that people experience when they have these preconceived notions about what Satanism is what Joseph Laycock calls, ignorant, familiarity, and then, and then they interact with me or they read my work, and suddenly, they're in new religious territory that seems deeply uncomfortable for them. Because I am, because I am a Satanist to my core, I mean, I'm, I live and breathe this. The tenets are a fundamental part of my life, embodying the symbol of Satan. The romantic Satan is just kind of an everyday thing to the point that it is unnoticeable to the point that it is just so much of a piece that it feels invisible, but really, it permeates everything. And I think that that's just so disorienting for for so many people. And I had this experience actually where I mean, it's it's a little thing, but I usually wear a pentacle with the, with the, you know, the inverted pentacle with the goat head and so on. I took it off a while I've worn it every single day for like three years straight, but I, I took it off the other day and put it in the drawer and went to you know, went about my day. And the feeling of loss was very real, like, Oh, this is something that's part of me, that symbol is part of me. And it doesn't feel right for it not to be part of me even something as simple as a, as a necklace, even something as simple as that. And one of the things that really stood out to me in your thesis is how a lot of things that people might assume are simply edgy, or simply kind of humanist talking points, or what have you are actually vehicles for transcendence, are actually profoundly meaningful and important and transcendent. And you do a really good job of identifying kind of those hidden things that maybe people wouldn't necessarily think of what are some of those things like you, you point out epistemic humility, you point out social justice activism, you point out several items in the tenets. How are these seemingly edgy slash mundane things, actually, vehicles for transcendence,

Levi Walbert 33:05 epistemic humility, I think was one of my big focuses, because, like you said, it's interesting from the outside, this kind of feels like we talk Oh, yeah, really questioning our beliefs, and where do we have foundations and our beliefs? And, you know, how do we know that we're kind of on the right track, you know, this seems like a very, you know, kind of humanist than the atheistic talking point, as you know, we need to be rational people. But when you actually get into it, the idea of consistently questioning where you stand in your foundation, to understanding reality to understanding how you function as a person, and how you understand the world around you, that is a really religious action to do. I mean, if you think about prayer, and especially contemplative prayer, oftentimes, it follows a very similar process of this reflection, this breaking down of assumptions, this openness to being wrong, this openness, sometimes more terrifying, of being right. But this consistent work of change and understanding that you are a limited person, you're a fallible individual, you know, these things that you know, I think everyone could probably sit down and think of one thing they were 100% sure about, that was wrong. And that was such an incredible painful experience. foundationally life changing experience and so on. So the idea of willingly in sometimes daily, sitting down and questioning your core values and beliefs. Yeah, that can lead to a transcendent experience in the sense of just when you reach that idea of, I don't know, I can't really be sure of everything. Of course, you kind of have to find some foundation for your life and where you're going to stand with this openness. Simply to say I don't know, it's so powerful. It's an ego death. Yeah, it can lead to the ego death. And so who am I? Will all these things I thought to be me, you know, I can keep breaking down. And I mean, obviously it's a Buddhist This is a very similar process to a lot of, you know, ritual and a lot of practices that Buddhism talks about in trying to undermine our assumptions about the world and how it functions. So talking about that alone, epistemic humility. Yeah, that that is a really foundational, transformative process for anyone, if they take it to that logical end, because unfortunately, I think sometimes, if you don't kind of go in with the attitude, which, you know, happens, you say, Well, I'm only going to really do this kind of humility, the things I disagree with. And that's where things go wrong. And that's where you get people very, very unsure of themselves, and kind of, even when they're wrong, they don't want to admit it, and he kind of they treat their own position, like, like a dogmatic religion. And I think that is the opposite of what Satanism really wants to do. And I think it's really interesting that even in my conversations in my research, like I said, those who are really in this are pretty committed to, you know, hey, I think I'm right, but I got to keep checking myself continuously, because things could change.

Stephen Bradford Long 36:21 Yeah, I also, I realized that I have not yet included the disclaimer that I was one of your research subjects. So I do need to say that that, you know, I have not, I have not, you know, totally disinterested in this interview I was I was one of your interview subjects. But no, like everything that you're saying, I think really resonates with the revolt of the angels. And for people who aren't familiar with revolt of the angels, its primary reading for tst. And it basically ends with a turning inward with a revelation that, to quote the book, the very end of the book, quote, We were conquered because we failed to understand that victory is a spirit and that it is in our selves and in ourselves alone, that we must attack and destroy, I'll Dube off, I ought to be off being the the name for God and God in this context, not being the ground of being but kind of the petty tyrant that Satan is rebelling against. And so, the the message being, you know, we have to overcome the PT, ironical petty God within our own hearts. Well, how do we do that one of the ways we do that is by second guessing ourselves by practicing kind of radical epistemic humility and not forming those quick answers. And it becomes not just an external fight against injustice, but an internal fight against the, you know, tyrannical overlord that we all become.

Levi Walbert 38:07 Yeah, I think I'm really glad you brought up the revolt of the angels. It is one of my favorite romantic satanist kind of themes and just imagery. But one of the things I also talked about is, oftentimes, we can't stay at full epistemic humility that leaves I do love the idea. I'm a fan of Robert Anton Wilson, who talked about how he was a he was a he called himself a militant, agnostic, they just don't believe is funny, little closes, don't believe in anybody else's belief system, but also don't believe in your own belief system. So don't take anyone's BS nor your own. Right. And that's a great position to take. I think there's a lot of wisdom in that what humor but for most people that's at that's very difficult, I don't think that they can really stand in it. I think sometimes the fear is too much. So I kind of call this the first half of this kind of hermeneutical system. This is a system of analyzing and understanding the world and in the tradition itself. So that's the first step getting to this this place of acceptability of our knowledge, and questioning knowledge, but we also have to have a way to interpret it. So the idea of using the mythic Satan as a symbol in all of these romantic satanist narratives, I think is such an interesting thing because it takes the unknown knowledge and puts it into mythic form Satan as the great discover the one who does doubt but still continues to persevere on and it gives the episode humility, a vehicle for transformation, for action for motivation to keep going because I can definitely see a point if you don't have that. You just say I don't know anything fine. You know, what does it matter trying to find knowledge? I don't know. You know, that could be dangerous thing. I don't think that's what Satanism wants to do. I think that push board that continuously search, even if you don't believe there's an endpoint is so radical in such a motivating I think that's beautiful. I think that's one of the most beautiful things about Satanism. I think even just quickly to add with Buddhism, that's another thing that drove me. I think both religious traditions have this acknowledgement of impossibility. But this vow to do it anyway.

Stephen Bradford Long 40:29 And yeah, and paradoxically, I mean, there's also the fact that and you pointed this out, as well as Joseph Laycock, that the tenets are not the tenets are not argued, they are simply asserted as foundational in an almost transcendent way. It's like, we have to have our priors somewhere. We have to, we have to establish our priors somewhere. And you know, for TST Satanists, I guess that would be, in part, the tenets and how, you know, one should strive to act with compassion and empathy. Well, the tenant doesn't say why the tenant doesn't defend that position of why we should do that. It simply says it, it isn't put under the microscope and defended in a scientific or rational sense. Rather, it is us asserted makes it sound. us the word asserted makes it sound arbitrary, but I don't think it is. It is put forward simply as the best way to live.

Levi Walbert 41:41 It's almost something that feels discovered and not created.

Stephen Bradford Long 41:45 Yes, absolutely. Talk about knowledge as a as a important piece of transcendence for Satanists.

Levi Walbert 41:53 Yeah, knowledge is such this, it is a morphic in a certain sense, because it's not just information, I think there's also knowledge has to do with wisdom of how to use it. But again, there's this this continuous searching for knowledge, with the notion that we'll don't have an endpoint, knowledge is not going to be we know everything about the subject, because the causes and conditions about the world are going to continuously factor it. Things are changing, how even how if we have knowledge, how do we use it is now part of that. But yeah, it is this goal to continuously never be settled in feeling that you know, something. And one thing that can keep me that leads back to humility, it can make someone humble. But it also says, well, knowledge is powerful at the same time, you shouldn't shy away from using it when we have enough. All you can use the sport, I don't know if it's gets you in trouble faith, to use it correctly. Because I think, you know, there's this kind of idea of the variables of the universe in any given factor are almost impossibly large, you have to have this point where you say, I think I have enough data to make the choice. And I think again, the knowledge in kind of wisdom gained to when to do that is also extremely important in the satanists religious kind of quest. But again, the thing that goes along with knowledge is, is the destruction of ignorance is just equally as key. Because you can't gain knowledge without destroying ignorance, or maybe wisdom too. I think knowledge and wisdom kind of seem to function almost. Together in Satanism, I kind of

Stephen Bradford Long 43:36 definitely, also, I mean, I mean, I, it was funny reading your thesis, because he pointed out that the way Satanists talk about knowledge, it's always with a capital K. You didn't say that outright, but you included the capital K. And I was like, that's true. When Satanists talk about knowledge. And of course, I'm generalizing, not all Satan hashtag not all Satanists, but a lot of Satanists, when they talk about knowledge, it is always with an assumed capital K as a religious pursuit. This is something that is pursued with extraordinary devotion, and is really central to the life of a lot of Satanists. And another component that you bring up is the individuation of Satanism. How how so very individualistic it is and you pointed out kind of a paradox where you were talking point talk about that paradox that you pointed out at the beginning of your thesis. Yeah. Do you know Do you know the one that I'm talking about? IDEA, the schema just where where it's like, you know, you were talking to two people on ministry Council who were insisting that they don't speak for other Satanists and And to an outside to me that is not in any way a paradox that that to me is, is in no way a paradox and to hear, you know, Pinna Moo, who's the director of ministry say, Well, I can only speak for my Satanism. Well, someone on the outside might say, What the fuck are you talking about? You're the director of ministry. Any if there's one person in a religious system who is most qualified to talk on behalf of other members of your religion, it will be the quote unquote, Director of ministry, but that's not true and and tst. So there is a paradox there. We'll talk about that paradox and what you found with the concept of my Satan, my Satanism,

Levi Walbert 45:42 yeah, it's funny, like you said, it's an apparent paradox. Maybe it's one of the best ways to say it, because it seems like one but when you really get into a there is it's solvable, it reminded me a lot, because I think it's also a what traditionally people think of as religion. You know, this is the spokesman for the Catholic Church, they are the ones who are going to tell you the doctrine, tell you how it focuses, you know what it does, and that's it. But to say, I'm a ministry council member, or even I'm pretty sure that Lucien and the co founders have said the same thing. By the way, I

Stephen Bradford Long 46:18 should I should clarify. The technical name is ordination, council ordination Council.

Levi Walbert 46:23 Thank you. Yep. Yeah, you know, you're running that kind of thing. seems strange, because Aren't you the guys who are supposed to be defining it, you're refusing to define it outside your experience? It reminds me a lot, I think the solution is actually one of one of my professors would always say, but their own religious tradition and the Moravians, they would often say, you know, he was also a clergy member of the church. And they'd always say, Well, what the Moravians believe about this. And he would say, I don't know what Moravians believe. I can tell you what the Church teaches. But each Moravian is going to have a different interpretation of that. And I think that that is something immediately, I think a lot of Satanists who have dealt with religion who come from religious backgrounds, who have that very big struggle of the Church says this, their religion says this, there's no room for personal understanding. It's only this, I think that there are a lot of Satanists and hat as the cynic Temple has developed. This is kind of a we don't want to deal with that. Let's Nip it, nip it in the bud right away, and not try to speak for everyone. So because Satanism is so individualistic, there is this kind of openness to say, we're not trying to start hierarchies, we're not trying to force anyone to believe these things. We've come together to say, hey, willingly come and identify yourself and as a member of PST, if you believe in these core, you know, the seven tenants. And then from there, people who are coming in are coming in agreeing to some foundation, which I think is important to recognize. And then from there it is this open discussion with everyone from every level, to continuously develop it, some sickness are going to look very different from each other and their beliefs, but they are unified in core belief systems, core ideals, I think that's where the religion comes together. It's a collective of individualists who all are willingly coming together to discuss this and to form something. And I think that that openness to say, you know, you don't have to, you don't have to be you can be a Satanist not be a tst. Member. That's fine. I've heard that from almost every single person. I think that's generally the Oh, yeah. Yeah, that's, I've never heard anyone say you're not a Satanist. If you're not TSD, that's kind of a oxymoron for what you all stand for. So the idea that, hey, if you are identifying TST, you're openly coming in wanting to work together. And I think that's where it kind of stands for that it is this everyone's chipping in and trying to be one group together without forcing each other to believe something. So the idea of debate and constant discussion is also factors in the epistemic humility, that you're kind of doing that process as a group. So it makes sense why ministers and ordination council members and leaders outside of specific, you know, obviously, if there is a campaign going on, there's some more rigid definitions of what the goals are and why they're doing it. But as just practice, in everyday life, there's an openness to it. And I think from that openness comes creativity. And from that creativity comes new discovery. And I think that's always been a core facet of what TST has tried to form. I hope that answered it.

Stephen Bradford Long 49:59 Absolutely. Oh, absolutely, no, I love that. And and, you know, this kind of points to one of the things that I found so helpful about reading your thesis. And I and I felt the same way reading Joseph Leigh Cox book Speak of the devil, which is it is so helpful for me personally to kind of read and analysis of what we're doing and who, who we are. That kind of brings it all together. And I'm like, Oh, yes, in my opinion, that's it that at least that is what I am trying to accomplish. And that is what my that is what my own Satanism looks like. And I don't know, it's it's very clarifying and very helpful in a lot of ways, and that was my experience reading Lake hawks book, and it was also my experience reading your thesis where, you know, you you kind of describing your findings of things like epistemic humility, the various forms of transcendence within kind of hidden in the guise of, you know, of what appears to just be dark aesthetic or humanist talking points or whatever, incredibly helpful for me as a Satanist to see it reflected back to me in that way. So, yeah, that it was incredibly helpful to read. And I think, yeah, I think more stuff like that will be incredibly helpful for other Satanists as well.

Levi Walbert 51:36 Well, I'm really glad to hear that. Because I think going into this, I saw doing doing research, I saw a lot of work that was trying to describe Satanism to those outside of Satanism. And while I think partly, that is what I had to do as I am talking to a non satanist audience, sure. But at the same time, a lot of it didn't deal with some of the very personal aspects of it that I think is important to know. I think sometimes you still see it talked about more as a social movement than a religious movement. Yeah. Which I think is incorrect. I think that as time keeps moving forward, my view is that is continuously getting more religious, more spiritual, even if you will. And I think that is direction, the right direction, because I think that social movements without that core to keep people in and motivated, do fall apart at the end of the day. And I don't see that with tsp. It will continue to change, obviously, but when it has a core group of people dedicated in a religious way, that bankers very deeply but yeah, my whole point is that I'm glad that a Satanists can read what I wrote, and gain some insight into their own understanding of their practice. Very much. So. Yeah, that's that I wanted that to a degree. Yeah,

Stephen Bradford Long 53:00 very, very, very much. So. And I think it was relieving to read it. Honestly, there's this sense of relief, because I am in the middle of it. I'm constantly wrestling this stuff, and it's really hard to see the mountain when you're standing on it. I mean, it's really hard to kind of gain perspective or to or to succinctly articulate it in a way that and of course, this isn't, you know, it isn't. This isn't just me, I'm one of many, many, many, many, many, many, many people who are who are kind of working through what does it mean to be a religious Satanist? So this isn't self aggrandizing in any way that I am. I'm just one of many people doing this within Satanism, but it wasn't, it's incredibly helpful for that, to be reflected back to me in kind of this really sustained, scholarly way. And to just be able to go through it and be like, oh, yeah, this, this clarifies my own religious life to me in a way that is very helpful. You did a fantastic job with that. That would be so if that was part of if that was one of your goals, then you succeeded.

Levi Walbert 54:07 Well, I'm very happy to hear that I thank you. Yeah, it's one of the reasons why I personally love interfaith work, interfaith dialogue and our faith discussion, scholarship, because I get the same feeling, hearing how other traditions and groups are viewing the practices and thoughts I'm doing are so important. Because they you can get lost in them. If you said you you're when you're standing on the mountain can't see it. Yep. Whatever you said, I can't remember. But that was the analogy and in some way, it's hard to see yourself from from the outside.

Stephen Bradford Long 54:42 Yep. Absolutely. And during this entire conversation, I've been thinking of my friend Panama's definition of theology that I find really helpful, which is religious scholarship is the study of religion from outside that religion. Whereas theology is the study of that religion from within it. Yeah. And you're, you are kind of doing both you're doing religious scholarship, but you're also something of an insider, maybe I don't know, to what degree you identify as a Satanist. But you, you seem to identify with some of the imagery and you seem to identify so. So, you know, you, you you're a bit porous, moving between Satanism and Buddhism, it sounds like,

Levi Walbert 55:29 I mean, I'll say that, you know, Buddhism is my central practice, I, you know, there's so much to it, especially in shouldn't Buddhism, which is a form of pure land Buddhism. You know, there are there's a lot of metaphysical speculation out here too, that I don't know if the Satanist would be comfortable doing. You know, there is an aspect of you know, one of the central aspects of Shin Buddhism is called shinjin, often translated as faith, but I think true, interesting is the best term. But the thing about it is, I think a lot of us have Satanists do is super, super useful. And I think that is such a really, it can be an impactful spiritual experience. Even the best way I describe it is I very much, I'm attracted to the aesthetic, I love the mythic aspects of it, I think it's a great way to understand especially social issues, and the kind of spiritual integration with social issues, which I think Buddhism is really only catching up on. I mean, there's a lot of historical analysis, but there's been a big push in the modern era or contemporary era for more Buddhist social movements. So I mean, that's something I longed for I look for in the other religious traditions, I study, you know, maybe the single romantic satanist because I identify with the romantic themes and overarching themes. Yeah, that's, that's the most I would go, you know, I definitely support TST as an organization, a lot of the stuff they're doing politically, but again, I don't think that makes someone necessarily a Satanist, a friend of Satan, for sure,

Stephen Bradford Long 57:02 definitely. And I didn't bring this up to try to like, get you to know yourself. Because I think one of the things that that's helpful about maybe some non western religions, like Buddhism, is that there is a porousness to it and kind of this this, I mean, maybe I'm completely stereotyping and misunderstanding, but in my own personal experience there, there's this ability to enter into other religious spaces and head spaces without necessarily taking it on as a core identity. And I think that's a really valuable skill. Maybe that's just been the Buddhists that I have, personally, you know, the Western Buddhists that I have personally encountered. But I think that there is value to that to that ability to kind of inhabit, secure, you know, to practice curiosity and inhabit this space, the spiritual and theological space of another religion, even for a time even if you don't necessarily identify as that.

Levi Walbert 58:03 Yeah, I think the I think the mistake comes with, you know, Western Buddhists and some issues I've seen is this idea that Buddhism is, you know, I call it like open source that you can just make out and put in whatever you want, you know, which is not true. Buddhism has a pretty strong doctrinal side, if you disagree with what the Buddha taught. You're not a you're not a Buddhist. Yeah, it's kind of just that, I think it's fine and there's no there's no wrong you know, if you if you are interested in Buddhist teaching, absolutely use it for whatever you want. You know, the word means something and I will say that at the same time, we do practice a kind of epistemic humility in ourselves that look, we're not enlightened beings, we don't know all this stuff. We don't say that, you know, every other religious tradition is totally wrong. We there's absolutely wisdom and truth and other religious traditions. We have a path that we think works. And you know, as Buddhists, we say, Hey, we're gonna stick to that law, enter in you know, learn what I can. That's great, you know, the Buddhas and bodhisattvas are said to manifest in many forms. And I think there's a wonderful teaching within Buddhism, which I think as someone who does a lot of interfaith work, Tala pi are skillful means that the Buddha taught different people at different stages and in different contexts in different ways. That it's not one single path, that you know, that these other teachings whether they not may not be, you know, quote unquote, ultimately true, will lead to ultimate truth in different forms. You know, the kinds of things that the Buddha opened 8040 gates, 84,000 gates, you know, that's just a random number. But you know, the idea is that there are many ways to get there, and different traditions will say, Well, this is the best way to get there. You know, so okay, that it's a religion and you know, I have my thoughts I have my you know, once I stick to but I can still appreciate, I can still take things and I can still, even as a Buddhist learn about Buddhism by examining other traditions and what they're doing, you know, I think that there should be that self reflection to say, what are they doing right? And what am I missing in my own tradition? And what am I not thinking about? It was a wonderful book called holy entity that talks about this phenomenon. Oh, yes,

Stephen Bradford Long 1:00:25 I was going to bring that up. Yeah, yeah,

Levi Walbert 1:00:27 I love that book. I think, you know, there's standoffs three rules for religious interfaith dialogue. I think it's always asked the adherence of the religion about the religion, not the detractors, which was contacted. Yes, yes. Because I can definitely do a lot of stuff online. If I use are they gotten a very different result? Through? Never, it was never compare your best to their worst. So I'm not gonna go on Reddit and ask anybody that is identifying on Twitter, or just you know, there's a lot of people that I could definitely try. If I wanted to paint TSD badly, I could definitely just do some searching and find some people who, you know,

Stephen Bradford Long 1:01:09 Oh, absolutely. Yeah. And to that point, it's always important for for me to clarify, we are not perfect. We are not, we will always, you know, welcome criticism, like, like, Yeah, always want to put that out there. In no way. Are we perfect.

Levi Walbert 1:01:24 So I will argue and you can you can deny this all you want. I do go to you as an authority. Oh, dear, in your experience. And in your in your actual lived experience and the knowledge I know you've put into it. So I'm not saying people can't disagree with you. But you are you have authorship you've written a lot. And so that's kind of the idea of why I'm going to you all and people can still disagree with me. Absolutely. Makes me their own authority if they want. Yes. Especially. And if they do it, well write it out. And I'll take a look at it. I'd love to. Absolutely. Yeah. And of course, definitely. In that show, which I described is the third one.

Stephen Bradford Long 1:02:03 Yeah. Holy envy. Yeah. And why we're running out of time here. But this has been a fantastic conversation. Do you have any future plans to keep working on this, this weird intersection of religion, Buddhism, Satanism, etc.

Levi Walbert 1:02:21 I definitely, you know, especially reaching back out to you and some of the other members, I would love to take this thesis, which I did, and put it to a full length book. Because there is so much I regret deeply. I could not put in because I was limited by both time and page number and kind of topic just to try to keep it very scholarly. I would love to do a little bit more not informal. But you know, being able to say things and speculate a little bit more freely by talking to more people. Like, I have a whole chapter and to cut out on the idea of parody religion and the concept of humor and satire, which I regret cutting out I have so much more on gender that would love to talk about with some people. But yeah, I want to continue that. I think that's going to continue being a little bit more based on Christianity and Satanism and kind of the cultural aspects of it. Buddhism of Satanism, I would love to talk about more, I don't have a lot of future things. I want to write some articles, I think, maybe that will take something else. But yeah, I'm hoping to continue on. And it's been a really fascinating and interesting thing to discover and write on, I've learned so much that I'm having too much fun to want to stop.

Stephen Bradford Long 1:03:34 Yeah, I find that so refreshing. Because A, it's refreshing to me to see a non Satanists kind of take delight in it. Or, you know, to take, you know, to see someone whose primary religious identity is not Satanism to kind of take delight in Satanism, and, and that's really the vibe that I get from you is like, Oh, this is just so delightful. This is wonderful. And that's refreshing for me, because that is how I experience it. And of course, you always want someone who's not in your religious tradition to at least see the things that you love about it, it doesn't matter if they identify with it, it doesn't matter, but But you, you want people to see why it is meaningful to you. And it means a lot to me, when people take the time to try to understand why something is meaningful to me, even if they disagree with it, even if they don't like it even if they you know or or they don't adhere to it or whatever the case may be. And so it's just incredibly refreshing to have that experience. That's a pretty rare experience. For me. I think most most people just raise an eyebrow. Most people are like I don't fucking get it and it's ends it ends there. And I'm always like, you know, you could find out what That's that's the that's my approach to everything. You know, when when people are like, I don't understand X. I'm always like, well, there is an answer. You could take the time to find out. And so I it's always so refreshing when someone takes the time to listen and to find out why we're into this weird fringe thing and why we take such delight in it. Yeah, that means a lot.

Levi Walbert 1:05:31 I'm very happy to hear that. And yeah, I don't know why. I mean, this is just where I fell. Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Maybe it's just like karma. Yeah. Sure. It's just cool. What can I say?

Stephen Bradford Long 1:05:43 Absolutely. All right. Well, everyone can look forward to more writing from you on Satanism. And do you have any socials, any social media that you want to direct people to? Are you a wise person who is not very active online?

Levi Walbert 1:05:58 Yeah, it's one of those things where I really have gotten offline, but I'm probably going to go back online eventually. So not right now. Just to be able to publish stuff and get into contact with people. I'm going to be continuing this but I'll, I'll give it to you one day once I have. I would like to actually write some stuff so the public can take a look at what I'm actually doing.

Stephen Bradford Long 1:06:19 Yeah, please do and when you do send it to me and I'll I'll boost it. All right. Well, thank you so much for joining me.

Levi Walbert 1:06:26 This has been great. Thanks for having me.

Stephen Bradford Long 1:06:29 Well, that is it for this show. The music is by eleventy seven. The theme song is called Wild you can find it on Apple Music Spotify, or wherever you listen to music. The show is written, produced and edited by me Steven Bradford long, it is supported by my patrons@patreon.com forward slash Steven Bradford long and it is a rock candy production. As always Hail Satan. And thanks for listening