Michael A. Aquino (1946-), U.S. Army officer and founder of the Temple of Set, is a graduate of the University of California, Santa Barbara (B.A., 1968; Ph.D., 1980). In 1968 he joined the army as a specialist in psychological warfare. The next year he joined the Church of Satan. His career in the church was put on hold while he served a tour of duty in Vietnam, but shortly after his return to the United States in 1971, he was ordained as a Satanic priest and organized a group (termed a grotto) that met at his home.
Aquino rose to a position of prominence in the Church of Satan, but became dissatisfied with the leadership of church founder Anton LaVey. He opposed LaVey’s arbitrary leadership and atheistic approach to religion. LaVey actually denied the existence of Satan. In 1972 Aquino resigned and was joined in his revolt by Lilith Sinclair, another prominent leader on the East Coast. In 1975 he sought a new mandate to operate by invoking the devil. Satan responded by appearing as Set, the ancient Egyptian deity, and gave Aquino a document, The Book of Coming Forth by Night. He authorized Aquino to found the Temple of Set to supersede the Church of Satan. Aquino created a new religious society built around the worship of Set, of whom Satan is one derivation.
During the 1980s Aquino gained some degree of fame when the media became aware that an army officer led a Satanic group. The temple became the subject of criticism, and Aquino was charged with fabricated tales of Satanic child abuse. Aquino, an officer who has an exemplary record, was investigated and found innocent of any wrongdoing. The molestations he was accused of perpetrating were traced to a fellow officer. Meanwhile, he continues his professional career and his leadership in the temple.