In 1991, Rex Church was Portland's pre-eminent "devil dude." Thirteen years later, he has only grown more diabolical.
Resplendent in black robes, black shirt and black leather boots, his head shaved smooth as an egg, Rex Diabolos Church leans back in his enormous black leather armchair, swathed in the inky blackness of his underground studio, and curls his fingers through his long black goatee.
By day, Church is--well, usually asleep. By night, he is a magister templi, one of the leading darks of the Church of Satan, America's best-established Satanic organization.
In 1991, WW first chronicled Church's sinister pilgrimage from the dreary wharves of Astoria to becoming Portland's No. 1 fiend.
Back then, some of Church's pronouncements were a little disturbing, to say the least. He described his group as an "occult-fascist pre-ecology think tank" and declared Portland the ideal place to build "my own little piece of Hell," in part because of its predominantly European ethnic population. His office was adorned with swastikas and SS banners.
Thirteen years later, we tracked him down in the Southeast Portland warehouse where he works and keeps an artist's studio--in the basement, of course.
Church, now 44, is in some ways more diabolical than ever. To start with, he's got horns--a bulbous pair of four-inch implants running under the skin from his eyebrows up toward the crown of his head. His face is a torture chamber of spikes and wires. His studio is crammed with monstrous paintings on canvases made of steel, phantasmagorias bristling with skulls and scorpions. He denounces "parasites" who rape, murder and rob. He maintains a spooky website (www.asylum-of-satan.com) dedicated to "aesthetic terrorism and occultural design."
But the servant of Darkness has also mellowed. The black leather harness girdling his midriff gives lumbar support to his dodgy back. There's a bottle of Dasani on his ritual table. He prefers Rachmaninoff to rock music. And he admits that sometimes, rather than stoke ungodly passions with a ravenous she-devil, he would just as soon curl up with a good paperback.
More important, Church chalks up his previous infatuation with fascist ideas to "youthful idealism" and says people of all ethnic backgrounds are welcome to join the fold--uh, pack.
"We're interested in the color of your soul," he says. "Not the color of your skin."
Church subscribes to the doctrine of so-called "modern" Satanism, in which Satan is viewed not as a dark angel but rather as a principle of nature. "We are the ultimate realists," he says. "We don't believe in a fiend in a red union suit and a pitchfork."
Scorning all forms of worship, Church does not believe in God or the afterlife. He believes in order, discipline and justice, and attempts to live his life according to a modified Golden Rule: Do unto others as they do unto you. "Treat us well, we'll do the same to you," he explains. "Treat us badly, and you'll get as good as you give--with compound interest."
Many of these ideas were articulated by arch-fiend Anton LaVey, the self-described "Black Pope" who founded the CoS in 1966. In fact, Church's parents went over to the dark side after attending a lecture by LaVey in the '60s. The young Church dedicated his first "ritual chamber" at the age of 6 and created his first altar two years later.
The CoS now boasts a national membership "in the thousands," Church says, although he reckons there are just over a dozen practicing Satanists in Portland. Part of the problem is that the Forces of Chaos are lamentably disorganized. Besides the CoS, there's also the First Church of Satan, the Church of Lucifer, the Church of Eternal Darkness, the Temple of Set, the Order of the Magi, the Children of the Black Rose, etc.
Church denounces these competing cabals as "guys sitting behind their computers in their underwear," and insists that the CoS is the only Satanic organization worthy of the name. And woe betide the ignorant soul who would lump Satanism in with Wicca, which Church derides as an "unsophisticated nature-worshipping religion that has more in common with Christianity than it does with Satanism." (For what it's worth, local Wiccans aren't big on Satanism, either.)
While Church has given up on "redeeming" society, he draws some hope from the general immorality of today's youth. "They're ready to embrace a darker aesthetic," he says. "Ready to handle outré ideas. The majority do not believe in God. They have a devil-may-care attitude. They believe the planet's going to hell in a handcart, so you might as well live life to the fullest--that's a Satanic way of thinking."
"They don't have a lot of discipline," he sighs, "But the spirit's there."
Originally published in Willamette Week 11/10/2004