Oh they’re a motley, problem crew, these Children of Erlik. And how not? Darkness, Courage & Bravery, Chaos, Evil, Disaster, Defeat, Iron & Mining, Informants, Discord: that’s a cohort worthy of Pandora’s fateful box. The leadership are alternately unpredictable, acting under cover of darkness, courageous but given to bravado. The apologist is on the warpath, emergency preparedness on high alert, treasurer like Tolkien’s trolls digging deep in lust for lucre and awakening something monstrous in the bargain, informants informing beyond anyone else’s ken, activists resisting all as best they can. They may all be children of the same tricky devil, but these offspring of Erlik know no brotherly nor sisterly love. Children—yes—but siblings? No. How so, you ask? What manner of family is this?
A while back, in the run-up to a tiff I had with a group of English Satanists, I noticed on Facebook they had posted a blog entry entitled I’m NOT your Brother. There, the writer took issue with the common practice, especially in religious groups, of referring to everyone as “brother” or “sister” in fictive kinship designed to draw all together in sibling-hood within worldwide family under God or whatever empty externality they serve. Of course, as Satanists, not only are we not bound by such familial ties or service to the external, but the mere idea of family as social order is one against which we consciously rebel. I first reacted negatively to the “hackneyed sigh…internal eye roll and…finishing face palm” the brother-hating blogger expressed at others assuming the friendly forms of familial address so common in tight communities. But I now see real wisdom in his iconoclasm.
A father myself, I know that even in the most democratic of family structures, there’s strong-arming, cajoling, manipulation. There are grabs for freedom, for power and influence just to prove you have them. There’s constant impoverishment of space and possessions, with everyone always claiming to be in need, even as they refuse to grant others their own or to share from their precious, hoarded stock. Reminds me of the scene in the 2003 rom-com Love Actually, where the British Prime Minister responds to the crass American President’s use of the phrase “special relationship” to characterize his own nation’s dealings with Britain. “I love that word relationship,” the PM begins, “It covers all manner of sins, doesn’t it?” Or the recent “apology” of Pentacostal Bishop Charles H. Ellis III for inappropriately hugging pop singer Ariana Grande and grazing her breast as he pulled her close to himself. “That’s what we are all about in the church. We are all about love,” he said, “And again, maybe I crossed the border, maybe I was too friendly or familiar, but again, I apologize.” What can you expect from the representative of a faith that commands love, reducing that intimate affective state to one of expectation for a given response? God “loves” us and demands requital, obedience, besottedness beyond reason. Or the scene in the play Shirley Valentine—made into one of my all-time favorite movies from 1989—when the eponymous housewife observes:
“It’s terrible—‘I love you,’ isn’t it? Like, like it’s supposed to make everythin’ all right. You can be beaten an’ battered an’ half insane an’ if you complain he’ll say, he’ll say, ‘what’s wrong, y’know I love you.’ ‘I Love You.’ They should bottle it an’ sell it. It cures everythin’.”
The family conceived in modern terms is a microcosm of the changes wrought over the course of the Neolithic Revolution some twelve to seven thousand years ago, changes that left us with permanent settlement, domestication, and constant pressure to cohere, conform, and construct…together. My Satanism, though, hearkens back to a pre-Neolithic world of hunter-gatherer bands the likes of which humans favored for over 95% of our shared cultural evolution. They maybe didn’t produce much in the way of lasting monuments to art, literature, architecture, or governance, but they ate better and more widely than their grain-grubbing agrarian conquerors, had more and fuller knowledge of their world and natural surroundings, devoted less of their free time to the mere struggle to survive, and assiduously avoided the types of long-term, binding commitments to other humans that fuel so much of both our triumphs and our tribulations as a post-Neolithic species. Anthropologist James C. Scott writes that once humans, plants, and animals settled down together in what he calls “late-Neolithic multi-species resettlement camps” and continued thence into full-blown state societies with megacities, the possible vectors of epidemic disease proliferated, as well as the virulence of the plagues they produced, among which I personally class traditional religion and the pernicious myth of state-as-family and family-as-vassal-state.
I have described ideal Satanists as Children of Erlik, borrowing from the Uralic-Altaic mythos I shared before. In those myths, the trickster Devil gave life to human beings with the promise of independence in thought, word, and deed. Humans created by the savior-god Maidere, by contrast, found such autonomy troubling, even pestiferous. My mother always called me “pestiferous” too. I haven’t talked with her since last Christmas, partly because I know that, if I do, I’ll go from merely pestiferous to full-blown, all-consuming plague. We were never good together, my mother and I. Separation has brought serenity.
The Children of Erlik are all khans, all leaders, all headstrong and independent. Fractious is their nature; fracture, their nurturing. They were born already weaned.
Someone just shared in my Facebook feed this image of a piece of Dutch tile from the 17th century, handpainted with an image of Satan smoking a pipe and scratching his ass. (Scratching, puffing, gazing into the middle distance) Sounds real good about now.
Carry on, fellow Children of Erlik, with whom I won’t even feign family ties.