In case you missed the memo, the phrase “the devil’s fane” is kind of important around here at—well—The Devil’s Fane. I all but fetishize these words because they encapsulate the heart of Satanic religion for me. Yet the true nature of this connection should be pretty non-obvious to those unfamiliar with the character of much of modern Satanic religion.
On the one hand, fane means ‘temple,’ so right off the bat, if you’re the sort who regards self-styled “Satanists” as nothing more than “Devil worshippers,” the phrase “Devil’s fane” might make sense to you only as in “temple to Satan” or some such: you know, like a place where one would go to make obeisance to the Devil. On the other hand, though, the word fane is archaic enough, with a difficult enough Latin etymology, to render its association with temples and religion pretty opaque for most folks. And this obscurity serves as a clue to the fact that, in the context of Satanic religion, the term has an altogether different meaning than one might expect. Indeed, I would argue that combining that archaism with the possessive devil’s all but completely obliterates whatever connotations of holiness, sanctity, or anything worthy or deserving of traditional worship might still have managed to sh(r)ine through. (See what I did there?)
The quote from LaVey’s The Satanic Bible from which the phrase derives makes clear that “the Devil’s fane” is not a physical sanctuary or place of worship at all, but the human body: the flesh, the gross physical being so long reviled or at least considered second rate by religious impulses of countless different stripes down through the ages and regularly pitted as symbolic and conceptual antithesis against the notion of sanctity. The Devil’s fane is no sanctuary or place of holiness at all, but, quite literally, the embodiment of all that is unholy, impermanent, susceptible to contagion and corruption. Furthermore, since “the sinews of Satan” move in not just one particular body, but in all flesh, the Devil’s fane is therefore all bodies, a vast network with no center, no sanctum at all.
LaVey makes use of the importance he places on the physical being in his discussion of the necessity of rejecting externalized conceptions of deity, forging a clear conceptual link between realization that externalized gods are simply manifestations of ego or fear of egoic desires and realization that there is no valid distinction or separation, ontological or moral, between the various parts of one’s makeup, between the flesh and something more that merely inhabits the flesh. With all the work being done these days in the fields of psychology and neuroscience on embodied cognition and uncovering the limits of conscious mind and the degree to which it often lags behind signs of motor activity, this view of distributed, interconnected mental-and-physical being seems to hold more water than the bread-and-butter body-mind-spirit dualities and trichotomies of traditional religion, in which the body almost always ends up occupying the lowest rung in the hierarchy. By privileging the carnal and refusing to recognize subdivisions of the self, LaVey enacts nothing short of a revolution in moral reasoning and religious thinking. That revolution is modern Satanic religion.
The importance of the phrase “Devil’s fane” for Anton LaVey himself was recently driven home for me after I purchased a copy of the 2017 German pressing of the vinyl album Anton Szandor LaVey — The Devil Speaks (& Plays), which features on its B side the original September 1968 recording of the Satanic Mass made on Friday the 13th of that year at the infamous Black House in San Francisco, California, and billed as “the first authentic recording in history of a Satanic ceremony.” During the Mass, LaVey utters the phrase “Devil’s fane” twice, first while invoking the hosts of hell to aid him in seeking vengeance (“Oh great brothers of the night, thou who makest my place of comfort, who rideth out upon the hot winds of Hell, who dwelleth in the devil’s fane; Move and appear!”) and once in performing the consecration and dedication of his daughter, Zeena Schreck, to the path of Satan (“In the name of Leviathan, and with the great salt sea, finalize [sic]. May its power and your own be always the same, that all the gods that dwell within the watery abyss shall smile upon your being, and swirl about you lovingly. And with those others in the Devil’s fane, you so will cause the heads of men to reel and spin. You too will fill them with desire, symbol of indulgence bound forever to the magic of your name”). When LaVey pronounces a “baptism” over Zeena, he again utters the word fane, this time without the initial possessive: “Zeena we baptize you with earth and air, with brine and burning flame. And so we dedicate your life to love, to passion, to indulgence, and to Satan, and the way of darkness, fane. Hail Zeena! Hail Satan!” One wonders whether he simply forgot and left off the possessive Devil’s there by accident. Whatever the case, clearly, the archaic word fane and its association with Satan and the Devil formed important parts of LaVey’s Satanic thought and liturgical wording.
But since we know that LaVey plagiarized a great deal of his Satanic Bible from nineteenth and twentieth century sources, the question naturally arises as to the origin of the phrase “Devil’s fane”: did he ape that one off somebody else as well? The purpose of this post is to delve into that very question and to discuss some possible sources of the key phrase that fuels so much of LaVey’s and my own Satanic thought. Where did the phrase “Devil’s fane” really come from? Inquiring minds want to know. Let’s dive in, shall we?
One weekend recently, an ugly bout of bronchitis had me feeling like crud, weak from a near-constant cough and dizzy from the labor of every wheezing breath. So I spent most of the day just lying around. At one point, out of boredom and to take my mind of my sorry state of health, I decided to watch a movie: the 1996 film The Whole Wide World starring Vincent D’Onofrio and Renée Zellweger as, respectively, legendary pulp writer and creator of the character of Conan the Cimmerian, Robert E. Howard, and the local schoolteacher Novalyne Price who befriended the eccentric writer for a turbulent three-year period from 1933 until Howard took his own life at age 30 during the summer of 1936. I’ve long been a fan of Howard’s vivid, fast-paced writing and the grim and brutal, but intriguing, worlds he managed to create on the page.
One of the best aspects of the film is its wonderful depiction of Howard’s writing process, which is likely true-to-life as the movie is based principally on Price’s 1986 memoir of Howard entitled One Who Walked Alone. In her book, Price comments on how Howard would drive himself around the north-central Texas countryside, telling himself his “yarns” as though a storyteller to an audience. Then, when he finally sat down at his Underwood No. 5 typewriter to “pound them out,” the movie depicts him repeating his out-loud narration, yelling and carrying on as though enacting the very characters in his stories. For a large man who practiced boxing and relished the “barbarian” life of animalistic inclinations, away from the civilizing influences of law & order and just plain normal pro-sociality, it must have been a fearsome sight (and sound!) to witness Howard at work, and the film depicts it as such.
I mention all this because, two years after his suicide, the pulp magazine in which Howard published the majority of his fiction, Weird Tales, printed a poem by the author in its August issue entitled “Lines Written in the Realization That I Must Die.” The penultimate stanza of that poem features none other than the phrase “Devil’s fane”:
“Towers shake and the stars reel under,
Skulls are heaped in the Devil’s fane;
My feet are wrapped in a rolling thunder,
Jets of agony lance my brain.”
Earlier in the poem, Howard dwells on the transience of human life and the ultimate emptiness of human pursuits. The third line of the first stanza reads: “Paper and dust are the gems man prizes.” The corresponding line of the following stanza answers: “Let my name fade from the printed pages.” For his epitaph in the third stanza, Howard imagines the hopeless line: “He never could say what he wished to say,” suggesting the fruitlessness of his writer’s craft, if not a feeling of disillusionment with the very possibility of meaningful expression itself. The final stanza casts the world as “phantom forms in a fading sight,” dwarfed in importance and power before “the ebon river” that will carry the poet (and presumably all others shuffling off this mortal coil) “into the Night.” In this poetic work, a writer whose signature Conan character battled it out in a harsh world without remorse or pity imagines an equally pitiless end for himself and indeed all human endeavors. Howard’s ideas seem to rival the Book of Mormon for the degree to which they are taken with the romantic notion of human civilization falling so utterly to the depredations of time and decay as to be wholly blotted out from remembrance. Howard’s is an imagined oblivion more total even than Shelley’s famous “Ozymandias” depicts.
Now it’s well known that Anton LaVey befriended over the course of his life numerous authors who published in Weird Tales and that he was himself an avid reader of the publication. Born in April of 1930, LaVey would have been eight years old when Howard’s poem made its appearance in the pulp serial. It is thus possible, indeed probable, that he could have read the piece in the August issue and resonated with the evocative phrase.
Not only that, but LaVey’s original thought bears more than a little resemblance to some key ideas that also fascinated Howard and exercised the big man’s imagination. For instance, in her memoir, Price recalls Howard commenting on his character of Conan “the barbarian” by saying: “Civilized man makes rules against his nature, then beats his damn brains out because he can’t live up to them.” In The Satanic Bible, in the section entitled “The God You Save May Just Be Yourself,” just before the passage where LaVey deploys the phrase “the Devil’s fane” following his discussion of the problem of humanity grappling with ego, unable to accept it and choosing instead to cast it out into the cosmos in the form of “an externalized god,” he writes:
“Could it be that when he closes the gap between himself and his ‘God’ he sees the demon of pride creeping forth—that very embodiment of Lucifer appearing in his midst? He no longer can view himself in two parts, the carnal and the spiritual, but sees them merge as one, and then to his abysmal horror, discovers that they are only the carnal AND ALWAYS WERE! Then he either hates himself to death, day by day—or rejoices that he is what he is! If he hates himself, he searches out new and more complex spiritual paths of ‘enlightenment’ in hopes that he may split himself up again in his quest for stronger and more externalized ‘gods’ to scourge his poor miserable shell.” (emphasis added)
There is a striking similarity here to the quote from Howard above, as well as to the Conan creator’s notion, published in the story “Beyond the Black River” in 1935, that “barbarism is the natural state of mankind” while “civilization is unnatural” and “a whim of circumstance.”
And just as LaVey’s celebration of the carnal, animalistic nature of humanity caused (and continues to provoke) quite a stir among the more conservative and traditionally religious communities, so also did Howard’s celebration of his notion of “barbarism.” Indeed, as recently as 2005, Howard’s ideas were still prompting scathing criticism: a letter in June of that year to the editor of the Cross Plains Review, the newspaper in the small Texas town where Howard lived and wrote and where his family home has since been turned into a small museum by a foundation that also sponsors annual celebrations of his life and career in commemoration of the anniversary of his death by his own hand on June 11, 1936, decried the themes of Howard’s writing and their association-by-proxy with the “worthy, valuable” community of Cross Plains.
It’s most likely no coincidence, then, that LaVey included Robert Ervin Howard in the long list of dedicatees at the front of his 1969 Satanic Bible. Howard’s full appellation appears in the list just two names before that of H. P. Lovecraft, with whom the Conan author carried on a lengthy and regular correspondence and into whose circle of like-minded writers he was quickly accepted.
What brought Howard to Lovecraft’s notice in 1930 was a letter the former had written to Farnsworth Wright, editor of Weird Tales, sometime between July and August of that year, offering up high praise of Lovecraft’s story “The Rats in the Walls” that had appeared in the March 1924 issue of the magazine. In the letter, Howard noted that the one foible in the tale had been its author’s choice, near the end, to include a quote in “Gaelic instead of Cymric,” that is Welsh, as demanded by the particular time-frame and physical setting of the story. Wright passed the letter along to Lovecraft himself who, impressed that a member of the Weird Tales readership had spotted the detail, promptly started up correspondence with Howard.
It turns out that the only other significant appearance of the phrase “the Devil’s fane” that I have been able to hunt down in English comes from the 1771 translation by a Welsh preacher named William Evans of his 17th-century countryman Vicar Rhys (also spelled Rees) Prichard’s immensely popular collection of Christian-themed “Cymric” verse entitled Cannwyll y Cymry or The Welshman’s Candle. The poems, which appeared in the original Welsh in at least fifteen different editions between 1616 and 1672 when the collection was finally published whole for the first time, provide Christian moral guidance on everything from how to select a wife to the importance of avoiding drunkenness to how to make a proper Christian dwelling of one’s home, all in homely, simple verse for easy consumption and ready memorization. The title of one 1815 edition of Evans’ 18th century English translation of Prichard’s work is almost too perfect for the present context: The Morning Star or, the Divine Poems of Mr. Rees Prichard. O Lucifer, son of the morning, indeed! How art thou fallen.
While there’s likely no way to show a connection of literary dependency between Prichard’s use of the phrase “the Devil’s fane” and later uses by Howard and LaVey, conceptually the Welsh vicar’s coinage seems an important contrast that sheds real light on the radical meaning of LaVey’s redeployment of it. Within Prichard’s collection of Christian verse, the phrase appears in a poem entitled “Advice to every Master of a Family to govern his house in a religious Manner.” As the explicit title suggests, the poem treats how a Christian should turn his home into what is effectively a temple or church for God to indwell, keeping it scrupulously devoid of any potentially offending and corrupting influence or presence. Prichard includes advice on the hiring of servants (“The Church of God does not a Turk admit, / Nor any one, that of true faith is void, / To her communion: Do not thou permit / A reprobate to be by thee employ’d. // A servant, without faith, can ne’er be true / Unto his master, whether God, or man: / For ’tis the custom of the faithless crew / To sell them both, like Judas, if they can.”), on administering discipline (“Teach ev’ry one his duty to his God, / And with thy finger point him out the way, / And, when he’s perfect in it, let the rod / Oblige him, though reluctant, to obey.”), and on admonishing good conduct from both wife and children (“Make thou thy bosom-wife to be a star, / Righteously-mild, and cheerfully-serene, / Make her, to all her sex, a pattern rare, / In words and works, throughout life’s various scene. // Make thou thy children to thy rule submit, / Make them examples for a sinful age, / Make them obey thy orders, as ’tis fit, / Like Rechab’s offering, in the sacred page.”).
Prichard also advises the paterfamilias to ensure that his home be an appropriate abode for God and godly worship by making certain that those who partake in the labor of building up the home and who will eventually comprise its inhabitants be of a properly pious sort. He writes:
“An holy temple make of thy abode,
That all, within its walls, may daily join,
Without cessation, to adore their God,
Early and late, with harmony divine.
Instead of stones, cut out and squar’d by art,
Take thou good men, to rear the sacred wall —
Men, who have ever acted well their part —
Religious men, to build thy church withal.
Let not an ill-hewn stone be found in it,
Let not a reprobate the structure raise;
God will no rough, unpolish’d, stone admit
To rear a building, sacred to his praise.
Then cast aside each rude, improper stone;
For God will not accept of ought profane:
Thy house must be the house of God alone,
An hallow’d temple, not the Devil’s fane.”
Here, the instruction that “no rough, unpolish’d,” “rude, improper,” or “ill-hewn stone” be admitted in a building that is to be “sacred to [God’s] praise” would seem, at first blush, to run counter to the requirements of Exodus 20:25, where the instruction for building an altar to God includes the proviso “if you make for me an altar of stone, do not build it of hewn stones; for if you use a chisel upon it you profane it.” This Biblical passage effectively forbids that the altar in question be artistic and beautifully wrought rather than just of simple, stacked stone. It would also seem to run counter to Jesus’ parable of the wheat and tares from Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43, which Jesus himself interpreted to imply that both the wicked and the good were to be tolerated upon the earth until the end of days, when God and the angels would take care of sorting the one out from the other and dispensing rewards and punishments to each accordingly. Christian reformer John Calvin, however, and many subsequent Protestant exegetes after him, interpreted the passage as referring solely to controversies over doctrine within the larger Christian church, despite Jesus’ own clear identification of the field in his parable as comprising the whole world (Matthew 13:38). That is, they were concerned not with encouraging tolerance of religious viewpoint and practice in a large, diverse world, but rather principally with safeguarding the sanctity and unity of the church from schism and decay within. That Prichard himself subscribed to such a narrow interpretation of the parable is clearly in evidence later in his poem when he writes: “The sons of God, and children of the fiend, / In the same church are not together seen” (emphasis added). We see Prichard’s concern along these lines also as he writes of his Devil’s Fane: “For wicked folks, therein, the good excel, / And are more proper Satan’s fold to rear, / And be the fuel of an endless hell, / Than in the church of Jesus to appear.” He warns the householder that “One rough, uneven stone, one shapeless mass, / Will all the beauty of the work deface: / One lawless man, that does in vice surpass, / Will thee and all thy family disgrace.”
Prichard’s use of the phrase “Devils’ fane” therefore serves as a warning against the possibility of precisely the scene of horror and degradation depicted in Robert Howard’s use of the same phrase in his poem foreshadowing his eventual death at his own hand. The old Welsh vicar would likely have agreed with the author of the 2005 missive to the editor of the Cross Plains Review when she decried Howard’s dark legacy and lamented the godly town’s association with the pulp writer’s demonic ideas. She wrote:
“It saddens me that Howard was drawn to the dark side of the underworld, of demons, sorcery and horror, and that the ultimate end to embracing this dark philosophy catapulted him into the inevitable pit of suicide. It seems Howard’s life was a short story of hopelessness, depression and finally death. It appears he lived a frustrated tragic life and his legacy is washed with darkness and despair.
I find it strangely satirical and perplexingly paradoxical that this wonderful city, that was given the name Cross Plains, (the representation of ultimate life, joy, hope and triumph over all death and destruction), holds a festival each year to honor and uphold a man whose life and writings defiantly manifest every belief and action contrary to those values. The irony of that is staggering and deserves to be re-evaluated.
The community of Cross Plains is worthy, valuable and deserves a yearly celebration that promotes life, not death. What kind of legacy are we unknowingly passing on not only to our children, but to our children’s children about the sacredness of life, or lack thereof?”
The letter writer’s fear here seems identical to Prichard’s in his 17th century poem: “one lawless man” is bringing posthumous disgrace upon a “worthy, valuable” community. In sum: “Let not a reprobate the structure raise.”
Both Novalyne Price’s memoir of her time with Robert Howard and the 1996 film The Whole Wide World based upon it depict the famous pulp writer as a moral maverick in small-town Texas, whose very existence served as something of an affront to “decent” society. In the book, Price segues toward the end of her narrative to honest discussion of her many attempts to change Howard so as to bring him more in line with societal expectations of him in Cross Plains, an aim she was, of course, unable to accomplish. Price’s principal concern in this abortive endeavor, like that of the author of the disapproving letter to the editor of the Cross Plains Review quoted above and of Rees Prichard several hundred years before, was with appearance and reputation, with conforming to external expectations and fitting in with “the flock.”
Howard, though, clearly didn’t live for, or even in accord with, external expectations, and LaVey, clearly influenced by the Conan author, didn’t either. Indeed, both Howard’s profession of commitment to “barbarism” and LaVey’s novel Satanic religion betoken a revolutionary rejection of externalization in favor of an existence driven solely by internal appetites for immediate fulfillment. Perhaps, for Howard, the tension in 1930s small-town central Texas proved too great, although, with so many competing ideas about the causes of his suicide swirling around, it would be uniquely unwise of me to attempt overmuch to psychologize a dead man. LaVey clearly reveled in his “Devil’s fane,” both his physical, carnal being, inseparable from any other part of him, and his demonic reputation. Until his death in 1997, LaVey obviously delighted in bucking societal expectations and fomenting much self-righteous anger of the sort Prichard would surely have mustered in response to his profane antics.
I, for one, am truly grateful that LaVey decided to “rear a fold” for Satan in which “the wicked” could finally begin to excel “the good” and “the Devil’s fane” could start to take real precedence over “an hallow’d temple” to God. The sort of vital, immediate-return existence he championed, as had Howard before him, speaks to the reprobate demon at my core, the one that delights in carnal pleasure and in thwarting other people’s expectations and even demands of me as a member of what they still like to conceive of as “their” societies and communities. “Give the Devil his due” was LaVey’s cry, and it is mine as well, for “the whole wide world” is more manifold and diverse than any narrow, parochial mind could ever conceive. To quote the Bard: “There is more in heaven and earth…than is dreamt of in your philosophy.” And it is to crystallize this very realization, if for no other purpose, that Satanism and the Devil’s Fane are more important now than ever.