In Lucifer’s Name: Michael Ford’s Invented Religion Comes to Old Town Spring
Photos by Daniel Kramer
Luciferians are early risers. At 8:30 a.m. on Halloween, about 20 Luciferians, wearing mostly black, gathered in the Greater Church of Lucifer, a small restored house on Main Street in the heart of Old Town Spring surrounded by kitschy cupcake stores and cute boutiques with names like “Frou Frou Galore” and “La Chic,” “Beyond Blessed Books” and “Angel Wings Bakery.”
Among the Luciferians are lawyers and surgeons, metalheads and grease monkeys, DJs and gamers and geeks and grandmas. They are former Mormons and Muslims, ex-Buddhists and Baptists, Bible Belt born-agains who have since grown up. Luciferians spend Christmas with their families, exchanging thoughtful gifts and sending out cards that say “happy holidays.” On Easter, they decorate eggs.
The Luciferian philosophy requires open-mindedness and welcomes different opinions, and while no two Luciferians are exactly alike, the lot of them have one thing in common: a deep distrust of established religion.
Luciferianism is a “nondogmatic” theology — members do not bow before any deity. There are dozens of small statues of Baphomet and other horned figures scattered about the church (even in the restroom, a dark skull-and-snake figurine shares space with bottles of Febreze and lavender-scented hand soap). There is a vivid mural of a muscular Lucifer — “the enlightened one” — lounging on a grassy knoll and gazing into the stars (head bathed in a ring of flames), and also a cubbyhole with dark robes hanging in it in the back corner (next to a clear plastic container of chocolate chip cookies). But the Luciferians still want you to know, in no uncertain terms, that they do not in fact worship Satan.
There are no ritual sacrificial killings of baby goats, no biting or bloodletting or pushing pins into voodoo dolls. The atmosphere of the Luciferians’ biweekly meetings oscillates between a goth fantasy lit bookclub, a philosophy seminar at a community college and a group therapy session for marginalized young adults searching southeast Texas far and wide for acceptance.
Many Luciferians are marginalized members of society — those from the LGBTQ crowd, recovering substance abusers or simply people who became unhappy in the religions they grew up with and struggled to find a better communal spiritual experience. Luciferianism is less a religion than a self-help book.
But that name, Lucifer, has everyone all riled up.
There’s a petition circulating online with 206 signatures calling for the town’s business association to give the church the boot. A tree next to the church was vandalized a few weeks ago, sending a sawed-off branch crashing down onto the roof of an adjacent shop. Then someone plucked a small statue off the front sidewalk and chucked it at the church, shattering the Luciferians’ front window. On Halloween weekend, protesters snaked down Main Street, bearing large wooden crosses and rosary beads and splashing holy water on the Church of Lucifer’s small, rain-soaked front lawn.
The protesters came from out of town, and most of the locals in Old Town Spring appeared apathetic at most, except for some curious passersby gawking at the sideshow of protesters, and a few local businesses who were less than welcoming to their new neighbors (Beyond Blessed Books, for example, exhibited a handmade clapboard sign declaring, “Be Aware Beyond Blessed Is A Christian Store We Honor Jesus Christ Here,” in pristinely painted blue and red handwriting, with curlicue tails garnishing the interior O’s in “Honor” and the long end of the J in “Jesus,” because even in protest, Old Town Spring can’t help being cute).
Every local media outlet, from Telemundo to the Houston Chronicle, has run a story on the church and its rowdy opposition, far more attention than any other local church opening has ever received. The Greater Church of Lucifer has brought the spotlight to Old Town Spring — all one square mile of it — and in the process, sparked intense debates over tolerance and religious freedom. Surely the leaders of the church must have known what they were getting themselves into when they plopped down a church named after Lucifer right in the heart of this tiny town.
So why did they go ahead and do it anyway?
Well, in one sense, the reasoning is written into the Luciferian philosophy, which celebrates a character adherents see as a symbol of rebelliousness and “the adversary,” in contrast to the more modern and Christian view of Lucifer as pure evil.
There’s also 39-year-old Michael W. Ford, the public face of the Greater Church of Lucifer, who is known in some local circles as something of a self-promoter and has started several ventures over the years, among them a handful of dark metal bands; an online shop selling New Age products; almost two dozen self-published books about witchcraft and magic and the history of Lucifer; a production company to distribute his CDs and books; and a decade-long career as a market training store manager at OfficeMax. All this attention to the church’s location of choice and its Halloween grand opening has magnified Ford’s name recognition, and perhaps the sales of his various Lucifer-themed merchandise.
And then there’s pure pragmatism. According to Michael’s wife, HopeMarie, co-president of the Greater Church of Lucifer and the brains behind the business side of the operation, the rent in Old Town Spring is also very cheap.
“It was really about what we could afford and what was central,” HopeMarie, 42, said in an interview.
The Fords live in Spring, as does co-president Jacob No, 35 (“No” requested his real last name not be used because he fears it would negatively affect his marketing career if his role in the church became public). Michael said he had hoped to open the church in Montrose near Westheimer, but it was simply too expensive, so they settled on Spring. “I love Old Town Spring,” HopeMarie said. “It’s a great place to shop. I take my grandkids here all the time.”
Old Town Spring may not be Montrose, but it also isn’t as straitlaced as one would expect. The church shares a building with a “metaphysical shop” called Mystic Muse, and across the street is a New Age boutique store that sells gems and rocks and offers ghost tours. “Really, we’re just the next step up,” Michael said.
Many aspects of Luciferianism are a little abstract, like its definition of truth. Jacob No said he believes truth is subjective, but struggles to describe what that means. To demonstrate, he points to a chair. “One person might see the chair, but someone else in the room might not,” No said while sitting in what is most definitely a chair. “Does that make the chair any less real to the person who sees it? No, it doesn’t. So who’s the crazy one? There’s no answer to that. The Luciferian thinks outside the box. We think on a different realm, like in a fourth dimension, and try to see all perspectives. It’s hard to explain.”
No said he grew up in Sealy, Texas, in a family of devout Mormons. He said he quickly fell out of line with the faith’s restrictions, and a string of bad decisions left him broke and living on the couch of a friend, when he discovered Luciferianism, which he said helped him turn his life around on his own using the philosophy’s framework. No is awaiting the birth of his first child, but he said he won’t force his own religion on his son, and will instead, in the spirit of Luciferianism, encourage him to find his own path.
As Michael explains it, Luciferianism is about self-liberation and self-improvement. He wrote the “11 Points of Power” (the Luciferian equivalent of the Ten Commandments, plus one), in addition to 23 self-published books ranging from the etymological history of Lucifer to magic and witchcraft to his most recent book outlining the philosophy of Luciferianism, Wisdom of Eosphoros, co-written with his wife, Jacob No and Jeremy Crow, a Luciferian based in Toronto. That book, published in May, coincided with the opening of the Greater Church of Lucifer in Old Town Spring, the first brick-and-mortar version of the church.
“We’re establishing this place for people who are highly individualistic,” Michael Ford said. “People who use reason and logic, who want to reach what we call ‘apotheosis,’ which means becoming your own god, or finding your “Daemon,” or spirit. It’s about what you see for yourself in the most self-excellent way and adopting our structure to your own life in your own way to try to make change. Luciferianism is like a compass and a map, but you have to do it yourself.”
The first physical branch of the Greater Church of Lucifer, led by Michael W. Ford (in red), opened over Halloween weekend in a restored home on Main Street in Old Town Spring.
As you drive from downtown Houston and take exit 70A on I-45, you’ll pass four churches on the one-mile stretch leading straight into the heart of Old Town Spring, where four more churches await: Immanuel United Church of Christ, the Tamina Church of Christ, the Haven Community Church, and the Greater Church of Lucifer.
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Old Town Spring goes back to the waning days of winter in 1840, when railroad workers set up camp there and gave the town its name, Spring, because the weather turned warm. The railroad led to a building boom, and the town saw its first church in 1913, a Baptist congregation that soon began to share the space with Methodists. Three years later, Evangelical Lutherans established their own church nearby, too.
The railroad relocated its base of operations to Houston, which started Old Town Spring’s long slide away from prosperity, through Prohibition and the Great Depression until, in 1960, the town’s bank and shopping center moved one mile west on the other side of I-45, leaving Old Town Spring in economic decline.
The new Old Town Spring began with hamburgers. Specifically, the ones made at Wunsche Bros. Cafe & Saloon, which drew tourists from the region into Old Town Spring. In 1984, the saloon was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, and, with the help of the oil boom, local business owners saw a chance for opportunity. The Old Town Spring Association began to restore the old homes on Main Street, filling them with boutiques.
Enter Michael Ford and the Greater Church of Lucifer.
For Michael, this was baptism by fire. Although he has been in a number of bands, Michael says he considers himself a lifelong loner, and suffers from social anxiety. He says he rarely made public appearances (aside from his YouTube videos) before the opening of the church. It wasn’t too long ago that he was just a district manager for OfficeMax, getting nauseated from nerves on nights before he was scheduled to train new employees. Now, he was the center of attention.
“I started in numerous New Age orders and occults in the 1990s, and over time, I had this idea that Luciferianism is basically the ideal of self-mastery, of controlling what happens in your life,” Ford says. “I’ve studied ancient religions, and the common thing that I’ve put together is the importance and power of words and belief. From the way I was able to evolve as a person, from being a teenage musician to eventually moving up in the corporate world, to publishing all these books — it’s basically the 11 points of power.”
Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, Michael says his family was never particularly religious. He split his childhood between Indiana and Florida, and lived for a few years with his uncle in Miami, where he attended the Cushman School, an elite, nonprofit elementary and middle school — Enrique Iglesias was a few years ahead of him.
His uncle worked for an eccentric and wealthy Hungarian count, Tassilo Szechenyi. Michael says he grew up wanting to be a horror fiction writer and a musician, and remembers Szechenyi would tell him stories of growing up in a royal castle in Hungary. When Szechenyi passed away, he left Michael a black, red-lined cloak with a clasp, which Michael says he still has today.
The Michael of today says he was always interested in Lucifer as a character, and was interested in magic. He remembers as a kid casting spells in his attic from the Necronomicon, a book based on H.P. Lovecraft’s fiction that a young Michael believed was real. He eventually became a follower of the “left-hand path,” a spiritual movement based on the philosophy of Anton LaVey, the author of The Satanic Bible.
Michael never attended college, and instead embarked on a music career in black metal and dark, industrial, atmospheric music (some of his band names: Hexentanz, Empire of Blood, Psychonaut 75, Black Funeral), but struggled to make much money. He met HopeMarie at OfficeMax in 2005.
By then, Michael had grown disillusioned with LaVey’s left-hand path, which he saw as too restricting. He started to research Lucifer on his own, and self-published his first book in 1999 (Michael said he approached a few publishers, but was rejected). Michael says he is usually working on four books at once, and has self-published 22 books all without an editor, which may explain the rampant typos and sometimes nonsensical syntax — for example, try to read this passage from Wisdom of Eosphoros:
“Luciferians are not atheists in the strict sense: We acknowledge the connection between our minds which via thought creates energy waves and the act of Magick. Magick is the act of the willed act of directing energy towards change according to the individual.”
Or this, from the same book:
“If you illustrated your visualized ‘Daemon’ it would have symbolic attributes akin to the coin imagery of the ancient Hellenic period (coins such as Alexander the Great, Ptolemy, Seleucids, Parthians, Romans, etc.) As your initiation and experience is made great by not only knowledge but achievement from applying Magick then your Daemon may have different symbolic representations depending on the cultural interest.”
On Amazon, Wisdom of Eosphoros, 137 pages in paperback, costs $13. There is also a hardcover copy available for purchase on the Greater Church of Lucifer website for $29.99.
“I think of what inspires me, and I want to know the entire history,” Michael says when asked about his research and writing process. “I read biblical scholars and compare them, which gives me a framework to understand what these symbols represented to these people and cultures. Then I reconstruct ways of focusing on those symbols in very simple ceremonies that I do myself. Then I start to write the definitions of the symbols and bring a modern picture of them with the historical foundation, and think of how these old symbols can mean something now.”
In 2007, he first had the idea to create a church, and through his books had gained enough of a following to begin making plans for a physical location. Now, their OfficeMax days long behind them, Michael and HopeMarie own an online store called Luciferian Apotheca that sells various New Age and occult knickknacks. They say some sales from his books and the website go toward the church.
Eric Hanley rubs “bat’s blood ink” on his forehead during the Greater Church of Lucifer’s “self-illumination ceremony” on the day after Halloween.
On Friday, the day before Halloween and the first day of the Greater Church of Lucifer’s weekend-long grand opening, historic Main Street was filled with protesters. They were divided into three groups: The Hispanic Catholics stood directly in front of the church, saying prayers and singing hymns; next to them gathered some Christians from Las Vegas promising doom and gloom and raptures — two leathery-skinned and tattooed men shouting through bullhorns, a bald-headed man in a sleeveless tee propping up a large wooden cross, and, clutching a blood-red sign that said “Wait Til You Die!” a middle-aged woman with a chain-smoker’s cackle and an unsettling resemblance to a pear-shaped Popeye.
Across the street, standing four deep along the concrete pad of a used bookstore, were members of the conservative Catholic political activist group The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property, who had come all the way from Pennsylvania to protest and play dress-up. They sauntered through Old Town Spring in their classic tweed suits and horn-rimmed glasses while a personal video production team captured their every move. They even brought their own statue of Mary, which a quartet of stone-faced men in sashes and robes paraded around town, carrying Mary propped on their shoulders like slaves would an Egyptian pharaoh. They stuck around for two or three hours, said a few Hail Marys, wept a bit, chanted “Tradition! Family! Property!” three loud times, and turned around and walked away, presumably headed straight home to Pennsylvania.
Traffic trickled down Main Street as drivers rubbernecked and snapped photos on their phones of the motley group of religious fundamentalists. Television news camera crews crowded the front lawn of the church, where the Luciferians would stand for smoke breaks and giggle at the absurd scene before escaping back inside amid the protesters’ indiscriminate insults (anyone who walked by and happened to be wearing a dark T-shirt or had tattoos immediately became the subject of the protesters’ derision, regardless of whether that person was actually involved with the church).
By 3 p.m. the next day, most of the protesters are gone. The Luciferians themselves are running a little late. They’re on their way back from lunch at the Lake Houston campground they rented for out-of-town folks interested in attending the opening ceremony. They came from all over — California, Maine and Manhattan (Hell’s Kitchen, of course). Next on the weekend’s carefully planned itinerary is the “self-illumination ceremony,” and interested observers mingle outside the church building with the few remaining protesters while waiting for the doors to open. An hour later, the Luciferians finally arrive. Inside it smells of incense, and Michael puts a big black robe over his gray suit and approaches the pulpit to address the crowd of around 20 packed into the small, smoky space.
“This ceremony is to formally induct an individual in formal membership in the Greater Church of Lucifer,” Michael announces. “This is a type of awakening and actualization of inner power, knowledge and possibility.”
Michael takes a deep breath, and his voice suddenly changes and turns deep. “In nomine Lucifer!”
He opens a small, dark vial of bat’s blood ink (which isn’t actually blood but just a potpourri of herbal ingredients and some colored dye) and invites those present to come up to the pulpit, dip their finger in the vial and smear the bat’s blood across their foreheads in the shape of an X. One by one, the Luciferians walk up and make the X.
“Behold, the new Luciferian era!” they read in unison from a printed-out pamphlet. “Hail the self and the path to power within my mind, body and spirit! I shall use the 11 Luciferian points of power to attain heights of wisdom, power and joy to my unique life here and now!”
Michael sprinkles water over the crowd and explains what all of this means. Today, he says, is the day they each begin their search to find their inner God, their “Daemon.” This ceremony symbolizes a new beginning.
However, Jacob No is absent. He’s been shuttling back and forth between the church and the hospital, where his partner, Michelle, is resting, along with their baby boy, born on the day before Halloween.
His name: Daemon.