There’s a moment in the 2011 science fiction novel The Martian when protagonist Mark Watney manages to use instructions sent in ASCII from NASA to hack his rover’s OS and patch it into the 1997 Mars Pathfinder roving probe, allowing him to talk normally to a team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, for the first time in over ninety days. In his initial long-form response to the folks back on Earth, Watney takes a second to emphasize that his being left behind on Mars was no fault of his fellow Ares crew members, who escaped the planet to safety from a massive surface storm before the action of the book even opens. Then he asks: “What did they say when they found out I was alive?” In the 2015 film adaptation of the book directed by Ridley Scott, this moment is even more dramatic because you can see the flood of tears almost erupt in actor Matt Damon’s eyes and hear the catch in his breath as he receives the first normal communication from JPL through the new patch. What’s remarkable in all this is the fact that among the first instincts of a man stranded alone on Mars for three months when finally able to make a connection to people back on his home planet is to inquire after those humans with whom he shared his most recent and relevant close relationship. That is, his first impulse upon patching up his general connection to humanity as a whole is to seek to renew the more intense and more recently sundered connection to his crew of intimates. Broken connections often turn out like phantom limbs for many people. We seem to have a natural drive to reclaim the lost wholeness from before the connection was severed.
For the past six months or so, I’ve found myself perpetually on the verge of sundering some connections of my own, and over pointless concerns too: things like policies, hierarchy, bureaucracy. I was self-righteously angry that these concerns even existed inside of a Satanic organization. So imagine how pissed I was when I finally admitted to myself that I was letting precisely the non-issues I thought shouldn’t exist interfere with the real, existent source of personal connections that are important to me, even vital. I did the same thing earlier in my life too, like when I was working as a sous-chef of sorts at a small fine-dining restaurant in Cincinnati, Ohio, alongside the owner with whom I put in countless twelve-to-sixteen hour days. Just when our relationship was at its closest and most intense, I found myself committing small acts of rebellion in an implicit effort to push away, like putting on the loud local hard rock & alternative radio station in the tiny kitchen where we danced around each other at close quarters, even though I knew good and well the chef-owner hated that particular station. And the funny thing is: I had nothing particular to rebel against. I had risen quickly to prominence in that kitchen from a position of total neophyte peon to the owner’s right hand, working hard to obtain such status and enjoying the success. But then I started for no good reason feeling all put upon by the very position I had worked to attain, thinking I was un- or under-appreciated for all the ridiculously long hours I was getting on the schedule and the weighty responsibility—indeed privilege, not that I saw it as such at the time—of creating my very own new specials to be served to high-paying guests in the restaurant. In the end, what I was unselfconsciously rebelling against was simply my own internal dislike for being part of a team, for partaking in a fundamentally good and successful relationship where I couldn’t call all the shots and where therefore sometimes things happened that I didn’t fully care for, eventualities that required that I adapt as much as, if not more than, I was able to impose myself. I labored under the delusion that I was a lone wolf with his foot caught in a gnarly trap and began acting the ass in an effort to gnaw it off when, in reality, no one but me shared responsibility for my being in that position and no one but apparently me wanted to see me hobble myself and sever something that really had, on balance, brought me considerable joy.
Irony is: this life-long habit of all-by-myself lone-wolfism probably lies at the heart of my attraction to Satanism in the first place. Irony of ironies is: this habit has lately been killing my connection to the local group of actual Satanists I’ve grown to be a part of. These are people I first sought out, not the other way around. I’m the one who kept coming back, got involved, dug deeper, and accepted ever greater amounts of responsibility and involvement. In the beginning, I wanted this, and I’ve no particular reason to now no longer want it other than for its not being completely perfect, entirely what I would have it be were I in complete control over everything about it and everyone involved in it right alongside me.
At a critical point in my young life, I read the Ray Bradbury story “The Flying Machine” from his 1953 collection Golden Apples of the Sun. The tale narrates what happened one morning when Emperor Yuan of China in 400 CE received a report of a man spotted flying like a bird in a machine of his own invention. The emperor summons the man to an immediate audience, where he orders the inventor’s execution along with the destruction of his miraculous flying contraption. Dumbstruck, the unfortunate fellow pleads for his life, as well as that of his newest creation. Emperor Yuan, however, directs the man’s attention to a delicate machine of the emperor’s own devising: when he winds a key, it sets in motion a garden of metallic and jeweled delight, with studded birds singing in metal trees, encrusted wolves prowling through metal forests, and bedazzled people running about through metal sunshine and metal shadow. The machine is an idealized simulacrum of the world, flawless in every way, especially for how the emperor holds complete and total control over both it and its perpetual perfection. The real world, he laments, is alas not so. While Emperor Yuan admires the flying machine and the genius who invented it, he fears what might happen in a world he can’t control where some future evil-doer sees in the invention new possibilities for war and destruction. So he opts to preserve the peace and relative perfection of the kingdom he created and controls as emperor over the exciting, if uncertain, possibilities inherent in the new machine he didn’t create and cannot control. After sending inventor and flying contraption to their mutual death then winding up his metallic garden to again marvel at its miniature, mechanical perfection, the emperor’s final words form a half-lament—“Oh, look at the birds, look at the birds!”—said while holding his eyes closed. Closed against what? The horrific knowledge of what he’s just ordered done? Realization that he can’t hold everything under his thumb forever? That he would secretly rather have at least the possibility of flying like the birds himself in the very machine he just destroyed? The tragedy of the story is that Emperor Yuan is very, very wrong for a very, very right reason. His heart is in the right place, but the world, kingdoms brimming with people, and the inexorable messiness of invention are all arrayed against him. Given his blindness to these urgent realities, the emperor’s delight in his miniature mechanical marvel becomes pathetic, risible, grotesque even, not to mention sinister.
In so many organizations, especially religious ones, when the individual gets bogged down in the struggles and striving seemingly innate to humanity, he or she can take refuge in the concept, the vision and purpose that transcend individual members or even leadership, the revealed words of an external deity or revered founder set down in writ, or the hidden, ultimate, or hoped-for reality to which such words aspire. Since Satanism rejects these externalizations, there’s no comparable way of rising above people problems when they occur. In a religion of the immediate over the delayed; the carnal, material, and physical over the spiritual, ethereal, and mystical, all there is is people as complex wholes, embodied wills doing their best to live deliciously in the here and now while the delicious living’s good. If it’s perfectability you’re after, or some sublime transcendence or doctrinal purity, you should have stayed with traditional religion. The Devil’s fane is fallen from such lofty ideals. Here is messy, vital carnality and massive decentralization: bodies and wills coming together, now in resonance, now in dissonance. Satanism is polyphonic, contrapuntal, a fugue. Either learn to enjoy the chase inherent in the name of that multilayered musical style or, as the name also suggests, simply flee. To quote the enigmatic and playful character of Q from the 1989 episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation entitled “Q Who”:
“It’s not safe out here. It’s wondrous, with treasures to satiate desires both subtle and gross. But it’s not for the timid.”
“Out here” is where the action is, and we’ve barely scratched the surface of what our little local Satanic group is capable of. I for one have an appetite to see what else we can get up to, what other treasures we can collectively transmute from the base metal we all innately are. At any rate, it’s hard to have a Black Mass all on your own.