In a 1928 English translation of a Chinese Confucian classic, modernist poet Ezra Pound evinced what would become his characteristic injunction and the inspirational dictum of poetic modernism: “Make it new.” Some 2,228 or so years earlier, the Hellenistic poet Callimachus, scholar in the Ptolemaic institution that was the Library at Alexandria, Egypt, reported in the prologue to his massive, epic-scale poem On the Origins of Things, the Aetia, that the god Apollo had appeared before him to issue a very similar command: “Do not plod down the already rutted road, nor follow in the tracks of others. Travel not the broad, thronged thoroughfares, but take untrodden paths, even if they are more narrow.” Mine is, admittedly, a very narrow Satanic path, but I have chosen to endure and explore these somewhat confining strictures for the greater virtues of their novelty and freshness.
Why the Neophilia?
Why am I after “Satanic uniqueness” at all? you might ask. You can probably chalk this emphasis up to my linguistic background. In matters of terminology—specifically category labels, I remain committed to the proposition that such labels should uniquely and exhaustively denote the categories of phenomena to which they mean to refer. If we’re to go on calling something Satanism and mean by that designation phenomena that are clearly Satanic and not also, say, somehow Buddhist or Christian or generally occult-related, then we need to carve out an equally clearly defined conceptual space in which this specifically, uniquely, and exhaustively Satanic class of phenomena can operate. If we don’t take care to define Satanism in this highly particular way, then we can have little or no assurance that we’re not just labeling a jumble of beliefs and practices as Satanic when, in fact, they differ but little from other already available systems of religious belief and practice, their chief distinctiveness being solely aesthetic and terminological rather than substantive.
I see a lot of people claiming the label of Satanist while practicing general occult magic(k)™ with a darker focus, while taking standard Christianity and merely turning it on its head, while seeking some kind of Tantric Buddhist synthesis with more infernal aesthetics and emphases, while pursuing New Thought and self-betterment with a harder edge, while professing mysticism and even the character of an ancient mystery religion, and so on. These practices may be “Satan-adjacent” in their nominal claims to some hodge-podge of Satanic historical precedents and imagery, but they fail the test of being uniquely and exhaustively different from things that both are clearly not Satanism and, in most cases, antedate the modern Satanic religion(s).
Satanism should not be reduced to a mere epiphenomenon of other, preexisting religiosity. I don’t want a meronymic Satanism that is properly a part of another religious whole, a hyponymic Satanism that is properly a subtype of some larger encompassing category of religious experience, or, worse still, a metonymic Satanism that is just some other religious practice by another name (and smelling equally as rank!) or even a synonymic Satanism that is actually entirely the same as another religious variety but self-deluded and dishonest enough to profess distinction. Rather, I call myself a Satanist and mean by that something utterly different from any and all other possible labels I could apply to my set of principles, beliefs, and practices. If such were not the case, in all frankness, Satanism would become utterly boring to me, yet another manifestation of some old religiosity gussied up in fresh duds but ultimately going nowhere new.
Moreover, I mean to distinguish my Satanism not just from other religions, but also from atheism and secular humanism generally. Too many modern atheistic Satanists are just general secular humanists and cooperate very closely with groups like the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF), essentially sharing all of their aims and methods. If so, then I see no merit in calling oneself a Satanist over and against some other label which just as well describes one’s secularist activity and agenda, and usually without the standard stigma associated with reference to Satan. I am personally not just a masochistic secular humanist who invites undue persecutory attention so as to bolster my flagging sense of self-worth and frighten theists into ever more extreme radicalization. I am trying to carve out a Satanism that is “a thing” unto itself with the distinct requirement that it be based in, and remained ineluctably associated with, the ultimately Biblical figure of Satan.
Can Any Religiosity Be Truly ‘New’?
Now, if I can anticipate one possible line of objection, I know what you might be thinking now: when it comes to religious ideas and practices, the reality is, to quote Ecclesiastes 1:9, that ein kol hadash tahat ha-shamesh: there just ain’t a damn thang new under the sun. Such an opinion obviously risks reducing the uniqueness of each individual existent religion to some set of abstract and potentially bland generalities that will inevitably fail to account for distinctives within each tradition (somewhat like the now common objection to attempting to study “mysticism” across different religious varieties).
Despite that fact, I actually agree in large part with the Biblical platitude, but I attribute the conundrum it expresses when applied to religiosity not to some Durkheimian, Geertzian, or even neurobiological determinism delimiting in a hard-and-fast way the ultimate bounds of “varieties of religious experience.” Rather, I hold that all phenomena to which moderns can now point as proper constituents of the twin domains of religion and the religious bear the unmistakable stamp of ultimate origins in delayed-return social orders that have prevailed and proliferated since the time of the Neolithic Revolution, getting underway some twelve-to-ten or so thousand years ago.
New Relative to What?
Despite much wrangling in the anthropological and archeological secondary literature over chicken-and-egg problems of cause versus effect (whether population pressure was the main driver of the enormous changes in the offing at the time, or the advent of agriculture and large-scale domestication and husbandry of herd animals, or religious convictions that placed humankind in a position to exercise more robust dominance over nature than ever before, leading to the spread of agricultural and husbanding technologies which, in turn, propelled human population figures ever higher), the broad outlines of the changes in demography, settlement, subsistence, social organization and order, and complexity that took place over the course of the period running from some twelve to seven or so thousand years ago are reasonably clear. Human groups became increasingly sedentary. They took up farming and animal husbandry with greater intensity and monoculture than ever before, organized themselves in larger social formations with more hierarchy and occupational specialization than ever before, and insisted more than ever before on private property and exclusive ownership of goods and land. They also began exercising more total dominance and control over the non-human natural world than ever before through a process of domestication that political scientist and anthropologist James C. Scott has emphasized operated as much reflexively on the humans and human societies doing the domesticating as it did directly on the natural world that was the object of such activity.
At the same time, all of the changes brought along (or, in the opinion of French archeologist Jacques Cauvin and British archeologist Ian Hodder were occasioned and helped along by) radical changes in human religiosity. Powerful high gods with intense moralizing concern for human behavior and enforcing social norms appeared on the scene in a greater proliferation than ever before. Social psychologist Ara Norenzayan calls the new style of “prosocial” (read: conformist and hierarchical) religiosity that of “Big Gods,” while social psychologist Leonard L. Martin, with whom I had the good fortune to study at the University of Georgia back in the day, relates it to the distinction made by British anthropologist James Woodburn between immediate-return and delayed-return social organizations.
However you choose to term or characterize this religious shift, its broad outlines and nature, like that of the social changes with which it coincided, are reasonably clear. This newer religiosity emphasized in a way more totalizing than before the reality and efficacy of a hidden, unseen, and entirely non-physical order of existence—a higher, more stable, durable, and (because it is non-physical and therefore not subject to decay) imperishable power, value, intelligence, and/or consciousness or set of such—operative in the universe. It also held that this external source of perfect value and importance is both known to a teacher, revelator, prophet, shaman, priest or other similar professional or body of such professionals and, more than ever before, wholly, ineluctably, and well nigh implacably concerned that humans behave in certain, specified ways towards both themselves and others…as dictated, of course, by said teacher, revelator, prophet, shaman, priest or other similar professional or body of such professionals.
Because the ultimate end these new religious systems serve is some version of “prosocial” cooperation (that is nonetheless ripe for gross abuse by those at the top of hierarchical power structures), some aspects of the various “ways, truths, and lives” they push are cross-culturally stable and predictable on the basis of general principles. Hence you have the much-observed parallels in formulations of the so-called “Golden Rule” across various religious and cultural traditions. So too you find customary prohibitions on in-group murder, theft, and other antisocial practices that tear at the social fabric. The obvious rationale behind these behavioral constraints stems principally from Jonathan Haidt’s care/harm, fairness/cheating, and liberty/oppression moral foundations.
At the same time, because these systems are concerned strictly with group-internal trust, obedience, and cohesion, while at the same time strengthening solidarity, protectionism, and militancy against outsiders, they have relatively little condemnatory to say about outward-facing antisocial action. Indeed, they generally work to condone and justify it. You will recall from my much earlier essay on the Left Hand Path how, from Wicca with its magical circles and name derived etymologically from a Proto-Indo-European root meaning ‘to separate/divide’ to both ancient and modern Jewish havdala and beyond, the act of separation constitutes perhaps the most fundamental drive in delayed-return religiosity. It is found in the Aboriginal totemism described by Durkheim, with its strict separation between “the sacred” and “the profane.” We saw it in my previous essay on diabology and anthropology in how ancient Roman fas and Greek hubris likewise served not only to articulate and enforce bounds on proper conduct as regards the respective spheres of activity for human beings and the gods, but also, among humans, to circumscribe and proscribe deviant sexuality and defend traditional notions of acceptable manhood.
Outside of entirely functional constraints on killing, theft, lying, cheating, and the like, many other behavioral principles pushed by more delayed-return religiosity are entirely culturally bound and therefore arbitrary, part of what sociologists of religion refer to as “costly signaling” that serves, again, to bolster cohesion and solidarity while weeding out freeriders and barring (or at least rendering difficult) participation by outsiders. Here you will find the many dietary laws of various religious groups and subgroups, statutes regarding clothing and traditional dress, restrictions on sexual activity and the activities of women generally, and so on. The culturally-relative and therefore rather non-obvious and arbitrary rationale behind these particular types of behavioral constraints stems from Jonathan Haidt’s loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, and, especially, sanctity/degradation moral foundations.
What was not so Revolutionary about Neolithic Revolution Religiosity?
Now, the notion that there is a hidden or unseen, conscious and intelligent order with which humans, to some degree or other, interact (often through the mediation of a specialist like a shaman) was not itself new to, nor the product of, this period of social, conceptual, and religious revolution. Phylogenetic reconstructions of early human religious behavior show animism to be a universal trait, most likely a byproduct of generally adaptative cognitive processes like hyperactive agency detection that I’ve written about before. Humans have specially evolved for and come prewired to excel in reasoning on the basis of agentive causality. Thus, Anton LaVey’s comments about externalization in his Satanic Bible, within the section entitled “The God You Save May Just be Yourself,” were more prescient than he could have realized. Gods, spirits, ghosts, demons—all of these are the product of human brains projecting their own biases and cognitive proclivities onto the external world, seeing an agentive intelligence in every phenomenon whose physical cause is not readily apparent (and often even in the face of, and despite, such obvious physical causes!) and attributing to it the power and responsibility for both accomplishing and punishing actions which, though entirely within the purview of the individual to condone or censure, prove too morally fraught for her to want to go it alone. Using the masculine singular “man” and its associated pronoun to refer to humankind in general, LaVey wrote:
“Just because he has an ego, and cannot accept it, he has to externalize it into some great spiritual device which he calls ‘God’. .. 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.”
Also not new to this time of revolution were the presence and activity of shamans, nor belief in an afterlife, though these features weren’t universally present within pre-Neolithic societies. Rather, both of these traits—shamanism and belief in an afterlife—appear on the scene together within those hunter-gatherer groups most likely to face greater stress over resources and greater difficulty in extracting those resources and whose social structures tend toward the delayed-return. That is, religious professionals and commitment to an afterlife appear in tandem within more delayed-return-oriented groups in response to enhanced concern for mortality, a conclusion affirmed as well for societies of much greater complexity by sociologist Peter Berger with his “Sacred Canopy” concept and anthropologist Ernest Becker in his Pulitzer-Prize-winning 1973 book Denial of Death. Moreover, the social psychological theory known as Terror Management, based in part on Becker’s work and ideas, has provided a wealth of experimental data to corroborate the finding that strong commitment to a literal afterlife and fear of the limited, impermanent, “creaturely” nature of our physical being go hand in hand (the TMT literature is vast, and this point has been amply well demonstrated within it: for just a taste of the work along these lines, see this study from 2007). The recently discovered massive scale of cultic child sacrifice among the Chimú people of fifteenth-century Peru provides a tragic case in point: the heinous acts are thought to have stemmed from adverse climatological change occasioned by severe El Niño phenomena that made the Chimú fearful for their physical survival and desperate for relief, which their priests and leaders sought from punitive gods through still more death and human suffering.
Again, humans posit heavenly realms and a higher, more permanent and perfected domain of existence transcending death because they fear and cannot handle their own anxiety over the impermanence, corruptibility, and precariousness of their limited flesh. Moreover, living in a delayed-return system as almost all of us now do and have done for millennia, we are constantly plagued by an invasive sense of irreality to daily life, an ultimate meaninglessness that comes from investing massive amounts of time, energy, and labor in the here and now for uncertain (though promised) rewards that, in some cases, can only be reaped and enjoyed, according to the religious and cultural theories underpinning them, much later in life and maybe even post mortum. On this last point, think of everything from heaven to nirvana to ancient epic poems with their promises that “our cries shall echo through eternity.”
What’s more, this sense of irreality and constant despair over the meaning of it all only increase in direct proportion to the advancement of human technology and dominance over nature. That is, the more our technological progress and domestication of an unruly natural world require massive upfront investments of time, energy, and labor to create and sustain them, the greater the risk that all that enterprise will prove fruitless when things don’t go according to plan, and the harsh macrophysics, biology, and climatology of a world we didn’t create and cannot control reassert themselves powerfully over us. Hence you have the real physical danger and persistent conceptual metaphor of the literal bookworm in antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance, referred to as “the teeth of time” and symbolic enemy of human culture, providing the Roman poet Horace with worry that his works will become “food for moths” and described by the Greek poet Evenus of Ascalon from the turn of the so-called Common Era as “the Muses’ bitterest foe, lurking destroyer…black bookworm…[who] lie[s] concealed among the sacred utterances, producing the image of envy.” This is also the likely source of our still-consuming interest in and emotional susceptibility to the pathos of collapsed civilizations and our proleptic nostalgia for their eventual total passing from all memory.
Not only did the more delayed-return religiosity of Christianity ultimately prevail over paganism within the hotly contested real estate of ancient Alexandria, Egypt, but it also uniformly favored a novel technology for its bookishness, the codex, a book form that was the precursor of our modern tomes, but was ultimately more costly and labor intensive to produce than the papyrus rolls favored by pagans and Jews. That was because codices used vellum or parchment made from animal skins and tissues for their pages, animals that had to be reared, slaughtered, skinned, gutted, prepared with lime, and scraped clean and smooth to be rendered down into effective writing surfaces. More delayed-return religiosity, more delayed-return technology, more hyper-competitiveness for a perceived scarcity of ideological and physical space, more ruthlessness against rivals, as the fate of the philosopher Hypatia and, with her, pagan religion, philosophy, and science more generally in the ancient city laid bare in all its ugliness. Cultures and lifeways heavily invested in massively delayed-return existence have most need of a conceptual Devil, an ultimate epitome and embodiment of destructive evil on which to pin their fears that all that delaying of fulfillment will prove for naught in the finality of the end, as well as earthly foes to vanquish, to make the space safe from competitors and thus enable the dominance of their own delayed-return designs.
Similarly, as I’ve written about here, experimental work described by moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt has demonstrated that reminders of physical contagion and uncleanness (whether from being in the presence of such or even just prodded to think on them) produce harsher, more conservative-leaning moral judgments among subjects. LaVey traced human reliance on belief in external gods to our being conscious of having an ego and refusing to accept both it and the responsibility for managing its desires. Recent research supports this idea that religiosity as we have known it for more than ten millennia results from externalizing what are properly internal human concerns with our own nature. Yet the newer findings have diversified this particular portfolio, so to speak: delayed-return religiosity results from externalizing not only our own cognitive and mental processes, but also our deep, emotional fears of our own physical bodies and their impermanent, “dirty,” and, as regards inner processes in an era before medical imaging, occult nature.
What was Revolutionary about Neolithic Revolution Religiosity?
What was new in the religious changes that accompanied and possibly shaped the radical shifts taking place over the course of the Neolithic Revolution was how thorough-going these emphases became as human societies increasingly adopted sedentary, agriculturally and animal-husbandry-based ways, with burgeoning societal complexity, stratification, privatization, and trade with economies based in abstract external value vested in objects and real estate. Bigger Gods became all powerful and their moralizing concern all pervasive like never before. These changes laid the foundation for the heavy emphasis on “the transcendent” that many, like popular religion writer Karen Armstrong, have attributed to Karl Jasper’s later so-called Axial Age. There has been much wrangling in scholarly literature over the concept and overly broad time frame (usually given as stretching from the 8th to the 3rd century BCE) of the Axial Age idea, but the basic thrust of the transformation attributed to it is precisely one from “a short-term materialistic orientation to a long-term spiritual one.” That is, if the Axial Age really can be said to have been “a thing,” it constituted a second major shift from immediate-return to delayed-return worldview and lifeways, from more immediately perceptible and enjoyable fruits of labor to yet still more delayed, abstract, and future rewards and emphases that transcend the current time and place. And it coincides with the period of even more great societal complexifications, witnessing the birth and flourishing of Classical civilization in Greece and then its transition into the massive multi-cultural urbanization of the Hellenistic world that would also make possible the height of Republican Rome and the splendor of Ptolemaic Egypt and Seleucid Asia Minor, with all the mixing, mingling, and cross-fertilization of cultures and ideas heralded by Alexander the Great’s far-flung conquests stretching and bringing Hellenic culture all the way out to Bactria in modern-day Afghanistan and Gandhara in modern-day Pakistan, two lights in what would become the Greco-Indian Kingdom.
One of the more intriguing moments in French sociologist Emile Durkheim’s Elementary Forms of Religious Life comes amid his initial search for the Ur-form of religion, the most basic religion which, he believed, would arise from the most basic of human social organizations. Of course, he eventually settled on Aboriginal totemism as his model (a somewhat unfortunate choice, but perhaps inevitable given the then paucity of available data on more immediate-return hunter-gatherers). But on the way to that conclusion, Durkheim briefly entertains and ultimately rejects ancestral cults of the dead and ghosts for the principle reason that “[t]he ancestral cult develops and appears in its characteristic form only in advanced societies such as China, Egypt, and the Greek and Roman cities; on the other hand, it is lacking in the Australian societies, which represent, as we will see, the lowest [yikes!] and simplest forms of social organization we know (p. 59).” Again, Durkheim could not have known about the important discoveries at the Neolithic site of Çatalhöyük in modern-day Turkey that wouldn’t come to light until the beginning of the first excavations there in 1958. Those discoveries show, within a complex permanent settlement created by people practicing a mixture of foraging as well as limited agriculture and animal husbandry, burial of the dead directly beneath living spaces in homes. Nor could he have known of the research of James Woodburn, showing how signally these burial practices differed from those of immediate-return hunter-gatherers, who tend to bury their dead shallowly and quickly, if at all, and then walk away from and never return to sites associated with the deaths. They have litte-to-no conceptions of private property, no positions of social command and prestige with associated trappings to worry over for the purposes of succession and inheritance. Indeed, within such groups, if certain items of physical culture were uniquely and closely associated with the deceased, they too tended to be abandoned, forgotten. Woodburn writes:
“It seems obvious that, other things being equal, where death involves major social readjustments and the risk of conflict and disorder, death beliefs and practices will be more elaborate and more ritualised than where such adjustments involve no reallocation of authority or of assets but are largely a matter of personal feelings. … In those immediate-return societies in which individuals are to a large extent self-provisioning, in which they do not depend on intergenerational transmission (either inter vivos or on the death of the person of senior generation) for access to crucial property or status, there is unlikely to be much ideological development of the fact that persons of senior generation beget those of junior generation and are both displaced and replaced by them.”
Sumeria, Babylonia, Egypt, Greece, Persia, Rome, India, China, and before them all Çatalhöyük: these are the sites of complex sedentary societies imbued with and structured by what anthropologist Elsie Begler called “sociocentric statuses” and their associated property rights to negotiate. They are also locales where elaborate cults of the dead developed and proliferated, like that of the Roman manes. Even today in our own cultures, ghost stories remain most associated with physical locations where people dwell (haunted houses), those locations where the dead are interred (cemeteries and burial grounds), and physical property once owned by the prominent deceased (cursed items), all representing the pathological fear and revulsion of delayed-return societies grappling with their own dread of mortality and the fraught social relations it occasions when position and property are up for grabs. Of course, Çatalhöyük excepted, these are all also early civilizations that developed not just literacy but true literary culture (perhaps the ultimate externalization), all places where people not only lived alongside their dead, but they also heard them speaking and spinning their tales in their own words preserved on everything from baked clay to scraped animal hides to palm leaves down through the centuries. They all also spun numerous myths about fraught intergenerational succession and conflict that I’ve written about in my piece on parricide. From Plato’s treatment of children as wild animals—their play liable at any moment to tip over into violence and chaos—to the elaborate codes of filial piety or duty and parental power over children in the Roman Twelve Tables and ancient Confucian Classics to William Golding’s Lord of the Flies to lurid tales of superpredatory, demonic children that fueled the Satanic Panics of the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, delayed-return culture has long been plagued with feelings of dread and unease surrounding childhood, social order vs. collapse, directive and overbearing parenting, and the inevitable resentments that build up between generations and boil over into open conflict as a result.
Only Matter Matters
The greatest trick these tendencies of humans, especially those living in post-Neolithic Reolution delayed-return social systems and lifeways (the lion’s share, by far!), ever pulled was to convince us all that what matters most is the unseen and immaterial, the delayed and promised potential over the immediately manifest and enjoyable physical and material. Literally everything that is, ever was, or will be is matter. Even information—whether encoded in binary bits; inscribed on papyrus, parchment, vellum, wax, clay, you name it; conveyed on longitudinal or compression waves of air created and shaped by a physical vocal track and impacting the delicate physical machinery of your inner ear; or pulsing in electrical signals and neurotransmitters across synaptic bridges and down neurons and the spinal cord—is physical, inextricably bound up in and dependent upon physical modalities.
Even when dedicated occultists like Mitch Horowitz attempt to provide a semi-respectable explanation for the how of psi phenomena, they generally do so on the basis of quantum entanglement: that is, an entirely physical explanation. The physical nature of info perhaps helps account for how Ganzfield Experiments and other research on ESP and remote viewing, when they seem to work, provide information in such amazingly lossy formats. No one has ever conveyed an entire impressionist painting, all the notes for a finished symphony, or the complete contents of a published work (even a small epigrammatic poem) using psi techniques. Rather, research has had to rest content with subjects guessing just slightly above chance whether a card pictures simple geometric shapes or wavy lines or remote viewers coming up with hazy, impressionistic single images instead of detailed maps and schematics. If there really is anything measurable and physically possible taking place, the information transfer is obviously made enormously difficult under the circumstances. Information is physical. Ghosts, with their canonically missing limbs and transparent forms, provide a wonderful illustration of our tacit, if begrudging, acknowledgement of this problem of non-embodied information and degradation of the signal. At any rate, even as they contrive physicalist/materialist explanations for their woo-adjacent powers ascribed to thinking, New Thoughters nonetheless quickly fall back into traditional delayed-return religious tropes like the damaging and delusional Just World Belief, which I covered in this older essay.
As I’ve written about before in discussing why I chose the title The Devil’s Fane for my blog and the most palpable symbol of my Satanic thought, the genius germinal idea Anton LaVey hatched but never fully developed was to found a religion precisely on the gross physical and material corporeal substance that almost all human religiosity has uniformly held at revulsed arm’s length: denigrated, mocked, feared, demonized, ignored, desperately cleansed by any and all means, and kept under strict, oppressive control. The beautiful irony of the phrase Devil’s fane is that it applies to the perishable, transient, corruptible, and corrupted body the designation of sacred space implied in the word fane, from Latin fas, referring to the proper limits and bounds separating humans from gods, proper from improper, sacred from profane, normative from deviant. The Devil’s Fane is a unique space in which all those distinctions are subverted and ultimately destroyed. No gods. No sacred. No proper. No normative. Just flesh, its actions, and their consequences.
In Making it New, We are the Only Makers
I’ve argued at (great!) length before that what makes up the heart of Satanism’s dangerous, evil, even destructive left-hand path is our turning on our collective “maker.” This is the heart of the mythos evidenced in the Biblical and post-Biblical traditions of “the Satan.” Not only do Satanists reject God and traditional delayed-return religion, but we also resist our evolutionary “maker” in the form of the very human tendency to project our cognitive and emotional processes out into the void as externalizations and our tendency to create strong group cohesion on the basis of externalized identities, with corresponding denigration of and dehumanizing violence toward out-groups. The dangerous, destructive evil of Satanism is glimpsed in our resistance to the delayed-return worldviews and lifeways that have prevailed on planet earth by virtue of their hyper-competitiveness, views and ways expressed in divisions and groupishness of all kinds based in externalizations like race, gender, sex, religion, social class, socio-economic status, and ideology. We resist not only these, but also their enforcement through economic dependencies and placing abstract external values higher in importance than individual human beings and human social interactions.
Recall behavioral economist Dan Ariely’s starburst experiment that I described in an earlier essay as well and its lesson that market behavior supplants and ultimately destroys social behavior. Humans don’t reckon well with externalized value because it’s too abstract, too removed from the immediate-return world in which we evolved for between 90 to 99% of our existence as homo sapiens sapiens. The evil of modern Satanism as I see it consists in unpacking and then dismantling Peter Berger’s “sacred canopy”; gleefully kicking over and grinding into dust Durkheim’s totems; reveling in our imperfect bodies with their unseemly sights, sounds, and smells; surrounding ourselves with frightful aesthetic images of death, darkness, and decay and fearing nothing of the ultimate annihilation of the grave save that we might not yet have really dared to live fully, joyfully, sensually, even hedonistically.
The trick, then, is for me to defend how this essentially deconstructive enterprise merits the label of religion at all. This need is especially acute given the fact that the term religion derives from the Latin term religio which, at least according to one popular etymology, is itself a nominalized derivative of the verb ligare meaning ‘to bind (together),’ as in the mutually-binding, long-range dependencies that make up the backbone of delayed-return thinking and living. Ever wonder why so much Ancient Near Eastern religion and social organization relies heavily on the idea of covenants: that is, contracts and contractual obligations? Why contracts have only gained in importance over time in human cultures that rise to global scale? Why so much modern religion of all geographic regions and types privileges the directive teacher-student educational relation? Why both families and the states metaphorically modeled on them depend on directive parenting and social control styles? Binding, conforming, following directions, upholding duties and responsibilities while fulfilling obligations. Satanism stands opposed in one way or another to all these traits in their most insistent and demanding forms. The Satanic program is more of an irreligion, then, it would seem. Well, I say that if you can call religion tying individuals and society up into tight, neat little oppressive and coercive bundles, both body and mind, then you can equally call religion untying those knots, releasing the captives, and freeing both physical bodies and equally physical minds. This task will form the subject of my next big blog entry.
For now—and as a way of signing off from this tedious missive—let me reinforce my physical focus by again anticipating your objection: did I just write “equally physical mind”?! Emergent property, you say? Emerging from what precisely? Answer: Matter! One of my favorite songs is Australian signer Sam Sparro’s Black and Gold, which, though I suspect it of being principally a love ditty with an extended evolutionary conceit in the manner of the famous 17th-century English Metaphysical Poets, I can just never manage to hear as anything but an extended exploration of a certain kind of theology and commitment to immaterialism. When Sparro sings: “‘Cause if you’re not really here // Then the stars don’t even matter // Now I’m filled to the top with fear // That it’s all just a bunch of matter” and “I feel the weight of something beyond them // I don’t see what I can feel // If vision is the only validation // Then most of my life isn’t real,” he commits the time-honored error of our species. Yes indeed: many entirely physical causal agents (unintelligent, insentient agents!) are invisible to the human eye. Just as so much that scientific investigation has uncovered about the world is unavailable to our canonical senses yet still entirely physical, quantifiable, detectable, measurable by other means. Because we at times feel like “something more” merely inhabiting flesh suits and can sense all around us unseen causal behavior (some of which actually is real and not just a by-product of our own internal hyperactive agency detection!), we assume an invisible intelligent order like the Stoics’ “craftsmanlike fire” pervading the universe and ultimately giving rise to us, the ultimate craftsmen. This is anthropocentric fallacy at its finest, folks.
Feel the sinews of Satan moving in your flesh and know that it’s all in your cavernous, corporeal little head. There is flesh, there is food, there is fucking, there is shit. There are delights for the intellect as well, entire possible worlds and imaginary universes we can summon up at will, but there’s nothing divine in this power. It is entirely ours, all human, all depending upon the meat that we are and think with. Thought is most certainly not God. It’s physical, material, dependent on the physical for transmission and preservation, and one day will be lost for good and all. Remember and meditate long and hard on the words of Richard Wilbur’s brilliant poem “To the Etruscan Poets”:
“Dream fluently, still brothers, who when young
Took with your mothers’ milk the mother tongue,
In which pure matrix, joining world and mind,
You strove to leave some line of verse behind
Like a fresh track across a field of snow,
Not reckoning that all could melt and go.”
And then leave to live your real life in the physical, impermanent world, with zero fucks given and none taken and absolutely no desire to fix “for all mankind” a masterful universal chaos whose very turbulent, transient nature was never a problem to be solved to begin with.
Postscript: On Heresy, Disagreement, and Freedom to Dissent
Hey: you’ve read down this far, right? What’s another thousand or so words? I promise: the end is nigh (in more ways than one, I’m afraid).
Too many people discuss the etymology of the word heresy incorrectly. They assert that it derives from a Greek original meaning “choice” or a verb meaning “to choose.” In the middle voice, it’s true that the verb haireomai can mean “to choose” or even “to adopt an opinion.” And the deverbal noun hairesis can also mean “a choice” or even the outcome of a choice, as in “a purpose or course of action” and even “a philosophical school or set of philosophical principles undergirding such a school.” But the basic meaning of the simplex active-voice verb haireō is “to take with the hand, grasp, seize.” The middle voice haireomai, then, means “to take for oneself.” The concept, here, in the religious sphere is self-determination as opposed to conformity with doctrinal authority. The result is schism or, worse still from the point of view of orthodoxy, outright novelty.
If Satanists follow a Left-Hand Path, which Stephen Flowers defines as “the path of nonunion with the objective universe,” then this concept of heresy seems a good fit for Satanism generally. It should be deeply embedded within what the religiosity of the ultimate rebel is all about. Yet I want to suggest that there are nonetheless some hand-and-fast limits on all this freedom of self-determination that arise naturally from the remorseless workings out of linguistic and conceptual logic. I’m abbreviating here a much larger and more involved argument from one of the book projects I’m supposedly working toward, but I’ll try and include enough detail to make sense in the present context.
First, to reprise my discussion above of wanting a unique and exhaustive Satanic belief and practice to answer to the label of Satanism: Satanism is so many things to so many people that the word Satanism itself is in real danger of becoming utterly meaningless, conveying no more useful semantic content than a personal name. You tell me you are called D’Andre and, apart from the fact that I may have personal history with another individual bearing that name as a result of which I harbor certain prejudices that I may or may not attempt to foist upon you, I know nothing more about you as a person than that you enjoy a special association with that label. These days, you tell me you are a Satanist, and I am forced to conclude similarly that you have shared with me no more vital informational content than that you have deliberately chosen to associate with that label. This reality accords well with the statement in the 2015 book The Invention of Satanism that what self-identified Satanists “have in common may be as much the intentional act of declaring oneself a Satanist as any specific point of view.” Yet it doesn’t bode well for the future of Satanism as a coherent idea.
Why identify with a label that has no concrete meaning outside of what you supply to it? Why not just call yourself a Me-ist, I-ist, or Egoist, or just your own damn name?! If the words Satanism and Satanist point to nothing in human experience and thought outside of yourself, then I see no good reason for keeping them around as words. Language, however open to perspectival enrichment (a lot!), remains a social phenomenon that operates largely on the basis of shared convention. In affirming this point, I may be seen to make a significant concession to a kind of potential paradox lurking at the heart of this Satanism business that may prove its ultimate undoing and evidence of the madness of its pursuit. While I’ll accept and own that Satanism is intended to constitute a reaction of sorts to and even attack on and/or attempt to destroy certain societal norms, I feel the nihilism of such a program would be pressed too far were we to allow it to work within language as well. [Surprise! Surprise! The Satanic linguist, otherwise so intent on destroying society as we know it, argues for exempting from his evil program the domain of language. Hypocrisy is real!] We simply cannot continue to accept that something we all tend to write, speak, and think of as a movement or religion (or at least family of related movements/religions) wholly reduces to just whatever each individual self-identified “Satanist” wants it to for him-, her-, or themself. I have never been a relativist (even in my heedless younger days), and I am not about to start being one now.
To be sure, other words are also uniquely amenable to individual perspectives and therefore notoriously vague and shifty in their meaning. Take the word God, for instance. Heaven and Hell both know that particular little gem of a linguistic token has been defined and redefined in so many contradictory and mutually exclusive ways over the years as to render it all but similarly useless and meaningless. And yet somehow it not only manages to hang on, but still serves to point up an important concept. Why? I would argue that’s because the word, however defined, has never lost the one crucial ingredient of sense that makes it continue to work: it points to an less contingent, external, and usually immaterial power, reality, or value that gives more contingent, internal, and material existence meaning, purpose, and worth in a delayed-return world. [Note: divine immanence does no violence to this notion, for immanence or pantheism is nothing more than the local and pervasive presence of what is ontologically other, superior, and by virtue of which what is is and has value.] For some Satanists, this is what Satanism is and does as well. But for others—myself included—this very idea is what Satanism self-consciously opposes and ultimately rejects. What a maddening state of affairs! This word Satanist is nothing but a vast and vociferous rabble of referents in search of a sense. Which is why I have insisted on providing a radical, if limited and limiting, conception of Satanism that does something fundamentally new, as far as I can tell, on the religious scene.
Now, one tack you might mean to take in order to avoid this particular conundrum is simply to insist that Satan and Satanism are the very quintessence and embodiment or representation of the spirit of heresy and transgression themselves, not an actual set of consistent ideas. Yet this notion too runs into immediate and obvious logical problems of incoherence. If all a Satanist is was embodied resistance, transgression, or heresy per se, then the ultimate resistant, transgressive, and heretical act for a Satanist would be to turn on and abandon Satanism itself. Satanism conceived in this way is no better than the logically bankrupt notion that “the Dark Lord” is somehow an embodiment of undiluted negation or destruction: a principle of such “pure evil” would constitute the ultimate nihilism, compelled by logic to annihilate itself in the end.
The fear of the Devil has never really been that he represents pure destruction (pace Jeffrey Burton Russell in his polemic against the Temple of Set [see Aquino’s ballsy reply here]), but rather that he personifies unbridled lust for and delight in destruction and evil, that he is a hedonistic sadist, a creative being (just like God) who engineers not a fulfilling delayed-return life that proceeds according to foreordained plain and the promised reaping of laboriously sown harvests, but rather the frustration of delayed-return lifeways: a meaningless, Sisyphean torment of fruitless labor, toil without telos, and aspirational reach that finally exceeds one’s grasp in a catastrophic way and brings everything crashing disastrously down in suffering all around. The Devil is not just transgression and rejection, he is specifically the rejection of his delayed-return maker, the transgression of the specific bounds imposed by the delayed-return designs of that maker, and the creation of a new and freer order in their stead. The Devil is an embodiment of immediate-return.
The mythos of Satan and the development of religiosity and worldview-making over the course of human history point to a unique conclusion about what Satan is and should be and how Satanism is and can be different, fresh, revelatory, and important for the modern world. This conclusion avoids both the quandary of a meaningless term Satanism and the logical nihilism of defining the word in ways that are internally inconsistent. In forging and arguing for this form of Satanism, I have defied the maker of modern atheistic Satanism himself, Anton LaVey, taking from his works the kernels of key ideas and then developing them in ways unanticipated by and heretical to both him and his Church of Satan. I stand as a heretic, as well, to other humanistic, theistically-minded, mystical, and mysterious Satanists alike. This is my working out of the Devil’s Fane, not with the fear and trembling that accompany worry over ultimate salvation, but with joy, gaiety, lightheartedness, and—yes—even impish glee. My Satanism is, I trust, a conceptual analogue of the erotic statue of Pan giving it to the goat found in the Villa of the Papyri at Heculaneum: I don’t honor the Satanic or religious past so much as have my way with them as I may, sowing seeds of what I hope will be a new birth—a renaissance—of Satanic thinking and behaving in the world. Hail Satan! Hail the Devil’s Fane!
I know some of the above postscript sounds harsh and exclusionist in theory, but I can provide assurance, as I have in the past, that I will in practice banish none from my camaraderie save those who wed a nominal Satanism to an actual racial supremacy and practice of authoritarianism. [And yes, I’m aware of Ezra Pound’s turn to fascism and overt racism; my use of his dictum to introduce this piece is an endorsement neither of his politics nor his poetry.] I am invigorated by the dialogue on diabology I’ve been having of late with my continental colleagues and very much welcome its continuance. May we all discover something new.