Italian Nazis in Black: An analysis of the Union of Italian Satanists

Whenever Satanism is covered in the press, the focus is usually on the representations of atheistic Satanism, usually consisting of the Church of Satan, The Satanic Temple, and/or the Global Order of Satan. This is a very problematic phenomenon, one that typically leaves out theistic and esoteric expressions of Satanism, both historical and modern, to service the presentation of Satanism as an edgy but ultimately palatable form of humanism. I see that Vice recently published an article that, on the surface, would seem to buck that trend. But, in doing so, even they do not tell the whole truth, and this is a problem.

The article, written by Camilla Sernagiotto and originally published in Vice Italy, discusses a Theistic Satanist organisation that refers to themselves as the Union of Italian Satanists (or, Unione Satanisti Italiani), and consists of an interview with Jennifer Crepuscolo, the apparent founder of the USI, and a number of other Satanists who are members.

Sernagiotto’s article ostensibly gives us a basic overview of the beliefs of the Union of Italian Satanists. The USI purports to believe in what they call “Traditional Satanism”, or rather “Original Satanism” (or “Satanismo Originale”). In this system, Satan is regarded as a real and ancient deity, who was later turned into a demon by God. We are told that USI’s “Original Satanism” also worships a Mother Goddess as a central deity, a “dark and shining feminine figure that is widely stigmatized by patriarchal religions”. They also seem to believe that Satan and the Mother Goddess descended to Earth in order to impart knowledge to humans, then had sex with some humans and created a line of descendants referred to as “Satanids”. USI members often refer to themselves as “Satanids”, they believe themselves to be actually biologically descended from Satan and, thus, capable of accessing divine knowledge through “genetic memory” contained in their blood. Of course, the USI rejects the notion of Satan as corresponding to the Devil in the Biblical/Christian imaginary, but instead see him as a distinct primordial deity of knowledge and the human soul.

So far we’re already getting into vaguely familiar territory. There are sentiments among members that sound familiar enough to garden variety Satanism, theistic or atheistic, such as the belief in self-ownership, egoistic spiritual independence, the notion of Satan as a being who is distinct from Christian myth, a rejection of animal sacrifice and respect for nature. The doctrine of the “Satanids”, however, bears a suspicious similarity to the concept of the “serpent seed”. The “serpent seed” doctrine is a Christian idea which holds that Eve had sex with the serpent in the Garden of Eden and consequently gave birth to Cain, and in turned created a entire racial lineage descended from the serpent and therefore genetically and fatalistically inclined towards evil and destined for eternal damnation, as contrasted with the line descended from Adam who could earn eternal life in heaven. It’s an idea that has some antecedents in early Christianity or more specifically the “Gnostic” sects, but its modern form is the specific product of white supremacist movements and preachers who wanted to present Jews as the product of the “serpent seed” and therefore evil. Of course, here being part of the serpent’s line is in this case not to be seen as evil (indeed far from it!), but it’s still sort of the same idea: Satan has sex with humans and spawns a distinct racial line genetically aligned with his will and knowledge. On their website, as we’ll soon explore, they even apparently use the term “the satanic race” in a positive sense.

This is basically what Sernagiotto’s article discusses so far, but that is not all there is to it. They have a website, which the article handily links to. But that website also reveals some deeply troubling ideas that, for some reason, Sernagiotto did not see fit to discuss in her article and its interviews with USI members.

There’s a lot to unpack, and keep in mind that we’re going off of the available translation. From the website we learn that the Union of Italian Satanists was founded on August 11th 2010 with the intention of presenting its own take on Satanism to the public. The organisation was founded by Jennifer Crepuscolo (who also goes by “Jennifer Twilight”), but the webstie also features other authors such as Mandy Lord, Kate Ecdysis, Paola Difilla, and Khaibit, to name just a few who are listed on the “USI Authors” page. They insist that they are not “Judeo-Christian”, not rationalist, not atheists, not Freemasons (weird that they felt the need to point that out), and not “anything that we do not openly declare”. Their main purpose is to bring together the “Family of Satan” by spreading a doctrine that they call “Original Satanism”.

There are many contours to this concept of “Original Satanism”. It positions Satan as the “God of Origins”, the god of choice and self-determination, the Sophia and Lucifer of the initiatory path of self-knowledge, the “root and essence” behind countless other cults and traditions, the originary truth hidden behind every alteration imposed upon it by successive generations under the influence of “Yahwehism”. The USI’s doctrine holds that reality is an illusion, a virtual form constructed around us as a way for humans to receive meaning, and beneath this illusion is the essence represented by Satan. It’s for this reason that the USI considers that Satan can be approached through a multitude of forms, and that it would be too static to approach him as just one. For example, the USI considers Enki and Odin to be Sumerian and Norse aspects of Satan repsectively. The same goes for traditions, on the basis that Satanism is a evolution and dynamism that nonetheless proceeds from roots; one could choose to interpret this as presenting Satanism as a “living tradition”. According to USI doctrine, Satan is not evil, the Devil or a servant of Yahweh, and is instead “the God of the Soul”, the guardian of the thresholds and of wisdom, and even Existence itself, even beyond this life. This Satan is also sometimes identified with Lucifer, to the extent that USI members occasionally call themselves “Heirs of the Morning Star”. The Fallen are counted as divine ancestors who descended to the Earth to give knowledge to humans and then created a line of humans who carry “the divine seed” through procreation. USI members also believe that the primary purpose of magic is to fully retrieve the memory of that “divine” seed in the soul.

The USI espouses something called “Natural Ethics” as the ethical basis of their version of Satanism. “Natural Ethics” is basically a form of ethics that is supposed to emerge spontaneously from the person, and in turn links them to their divine ancestors and the “natural order” of the universe. Mind you, this “Natural Ethics” seems to be based on the concept of “genetic memory”. “Morality” (or rather “Imposed Morality”) on the other hand is an anti-spontaneous code of behaviour that the USI opposes because they think it leads to involution and separation from the natural order. The USI apparently does believe that “good” and “evil” exist but they’re defined as follows: “good” means what is in harmony with “the natural order”, allows or supports its maintenance and perpetuity, and facilitates the evolution and existence of life as a continuum, whereas “evil” means that which is not in harmony with “the natural order”, hinders and attacks this order, causes “involution”, hinders evolution, and supports non-existence. The USI also espouses nine points dubbed “The Nine Values of Satanic Ethics”. These are “Completeness” (meaning to “complete yourself” by acheiving a unity of opposites), “Beauty” (meaning inner and outer self-care in pursuit of the perfection of form), “Honor” (meaning to “keep one’s memory alive” or to live in harmony with your own nature or ethos), “Truth” (sort of self-explanatory I think), “Justice” (neither good nor bad, seemingly just upholding “the natural order”), “Freedom” (here meaning self-control, self-sufficiency, and the soteriological possibility of “really being ourselves”), “Wisdom”, “Pathos”, and “Identity” (meaning to uphold the identity of “the People of Satan”).

The USI tend to be very strict with the term Satanism, and uses the term “Acid” or “Acidism” to refer to really anyone who commits generically “evil”, “immoral”, or “criminal” acts, particularly if they do so while presenting ostensibly “satanic” imagery. This is essentially their term for what has conventionally been dubbed the “Reverse Christian”. These “Acids” are regarded as non-Satanists, entirely the product of “Judeo-Christian” society, who are simply either anti-Christian and nothing else or “bad Christians”. They also use the term “Hipster Satanist” for people who they think are not Satanists and simply call themselves and dress as Satanists for the purpose of transgression. Bear in mind, though, that in their eyes, being a “real” Satanist means worshipping Satan as they define him – that is, not The Devil, but their own god of truth and origin, the father of the so-called “Satanids”. By their standard, that could amount to many Satanists. Satanism to the USI is simply the “Cult of Origins”, a supposedly authentic form of the religious values of the so-called “golden age”, and the self-styled mission of the USI is the “restoration” of their cult.

The USI also seems to be polytheistic in that they recognise and venerate numerous deities besides Satan, which includes both pre-Christian deities and demons from Christian demonology. The website lists Lucifer, Samael, Bast, Sekhmet, Haagenti, Maat, Andras, Bifrons, Buer, Asmodeus, Hel, Abigor, Agares, Aini, Amon, Anubis, Beelzebub (here identified with Baal and Bael), Belphegor, Bune, Dantalian, Decarabia, Foras, Gaap, Glasya Labolas, Haagenti, Halphas, Khepu, Lucifuge Rofocale, Marchosias, Nergal, Ronove, Set, Sorath, Volac as the many gods worshipped, at least individually, within the USI. It also has a section focused on various gods of war (also dubbed “protectors of life”), and discusses a whole list of war gods including Ogma, Set, Anhur, Sekhmet, Neith, Sobek, Horus, Pakhet, Wepwawet, Montu, Menher, Maahet, Satis, Sopdu, Mars, Ninurta, Mixcoatl, Xipe Totec, Huitzilopochtli, Shay Al Qawm, Athtar, Hubal, al-Uzza, Minerva, Morrigan, Ishtar/Inanna, Tyr, Durga, Indra, Ogun, Shango, Sobo, and Hachiman, while also listing Baal, Azazel, Glasya Labolas, Halphas, Volac, and Andras as “Demons of War”.

The USI also seems to have to some fairly peculiar thoughts on the subject of aliens, as suggested by the fact that they have an article discussing the notion that the gods are aliens. The short answer, in their opinion, is yes and no. They sort of argue that it doesn’t really matter if the gods are aliens or not since either way they would be extradimensional beings, also insisting that the gods manifested on Earth biologically while taking every opportunity to assert the categorical rejection of atheism. That said they do regard the appeal to the extraterrestrial as an attempt by humans to “control” the gods, who otherwise cannot be controlled, through scientific rationalism. For USI members, “alien” is a word that can also refer to creatures from other dimensions, not just extraterrestrial but also “otherworldly”, and they do ultimately describe the gods and Satan this way too, so the lines between terms are ultimately blurred. As far as the USI is concerned, the divine beings may or may not be basically ancient astronauts.

More importantly, however, the USI also seems to be really antisemitic, and they can arguably be described as neo-Nazis. Their page on “Original Satanism” describes many people as being “slaves of the Jewish preconception” of Satan, while also attacking Jewish mysticism as blasphemous (yes I’m sure the irony isn’t lost on anyone here). They hit out at other Satanist movements by accusing them of “Judaizing” Satanism, which to them means making it “more plebeian” and atheistic; the idea that atheism is a product of Jewish influence is of course both inherently antisemitic one of the basic talking points of Nazi ideology. Their article on “Satanid Nature” asserts that they made their pact with Yahweh because they wanted nothing but power over and revenge (funny how now revenge is a bad thing!) on other lands and are in turn responsible for destroying “a world full of traditions and values” and “the birth of a progressive decline”. The same article negatively compares them to Jesus by stressing that Jesus refused the temptations of Satan (again, you would think that Satanists would prefer that Jesus not be the Messiah) whereas Moses allowed Yahweh to “corrupt” them. The article “The Way of Signs” features an image of a shining Nazi Sonnenrad alongside a discussion of the so-called “Black Sun” versus the “White Sun”. The USI rejects the popular notion of a “pact with Satan”, specifically because they believe it to actually be “the pact between the Jews and Yahweh”, which they deem to be “spiritual opportunism”.

Another almost baffling example of USI’s antisemitism is that the page about Lucifer appears to almost dismiss a source because it is ostensibly Jewish, and then presents quotations from Otto Rahn, a literal SS officer and Nazi Ariosophist ideologue, and Miguel Serrano, one of the major original proponents of Esoteric Hitlerism, as part of its discussion of the nature of Lucifer. They even argue that Christianity in its current state is “totally Judaized” and that the original Christianity was strictly “Gentile”, based on the “physiognomy” and philosophy of Jesus. This is literally just Nazi ideology, in that the Nazis argued for a Christianity that they felt be fully divested of supposed “Jewish influences”, thus an “Aryan” faith, based in turn on volkisch Protestant nationalist ideas that had already circulated in Germany during the early 20th century. More to the point it’s incredibly bizarre for self-described Satanists to be concerned with Christianity being “too Jewish” or having fallen away from some supposed origin, when the church of any stripe is still the church to us!

As a matter of fact, it seems to me that the USI has its own version of Nazi “de-Judaization”, at least as concerns the very etymology of Satan. You see, in order to prove that Satanism is not “Judeo-Christian” and is “pure” “Gentile” religion, they have to show that Satan is not a Jewish concept (as opposed to, you know, not being Nazis and not being interested in “de-Judaizing” everything). As opposed to the Hebraic origins of the name Satan, the Hebrew word “satan” or “ha-Satan” meaning “adversary”, the USI proposes a supposed Sanskrit origin for the name Satan. They claim that the Sanskrit word “Sat”, ostensibly meaning “truth”, and a supposed Indian mantra “Sat Nam”, supposedly meaning “whose name is truth”, or alternatively the words “Sanat” (meaning “eternal”) or “Sat Ana” (supposedly meaning “acting in the truth”), as the true etymology of Satan. There is of course no evidence of any correspondence between these Sanskrit terms and Satan or any figure or concept like Satan. In fact, I suspect that this idea is the brainchild of Kerry R. Bolton, a white supremacist esoteric fascist who set up several fascist occult and pagan groups before ultimately converting to Christianity. Not to mention, the fact that I only ever seem to see this idea espoused by Nazi Satanists tells me that the idea of Satan having a Sanskrit rather than Hebrew origin suggests a various obvious attempt to portray Satan as a fully “Aryan” concept.

And speaking of Nazism, there is a page of the USI’s website that implies the group’s possible ideological support for Nazism. In an article billed as an analysis of Joy of Satan, Jennifer appears to defend National Socialism by saying that “National Socialism has effectively been portrayed as the greatest evil in the world without however ever saying its positive aspects, much less telling how even Communism has shed blood and totalitarianism, indeed maybe more”. Ostensibly this takes the form of some argument about how all ideologies are violent and therefore none are sacred, which would still not merit any equivalence or defense of Nazism by any stretch, but then Jennifer goes on to say that she “learned about the ethics that moved the original ideology”, as well as “esoteric studies” and “the spirituality itself that distinguished our Aryan ancestors”. These suggest a clear ideological sympathy for Nazism. If I’m being honest, the fact that, in a separate article, the USI characterizes Jesus as a “personification of the Gentile spirit” modelled on the basis of pre-Christian gods and “pagan” heroism only further demonstrates that it is based on Nazi ideology . After all, the Nazis frequently insisted that Jesus was originally an “Aryan” German deity named Krist, while Adolf Hitler himself lionized Jesus as an embodiment of “Aryan” virtues. The USI similarly claims that there is a “real” Kabbalah (that is, an “Aryan Kabbalah”) that originated in ancient Egypt, was supposedly derived from a phrase “Ka Ba Ankh”, was violently suppressed by “Judeo-Christians”, and supposedly could be recovered by Satanists with the help of demons. In essence this is basically the same basic idea that the volkisch occultist Guido Von List (who did inspire the Nazis) had, except that List believed that Kabbalah was created by ancient Germans.

A major theme of USI doctrine is a supposed conflict between “Yahweism” and “the religion of the Gentiles”. This is of course forgetting for a moment that the “Gentiles” in Rome were really all too happy to embrace Christianity once it became part of the existing cultural and political spiral of proto-whiteness, or at least politically expedient for the ruling classes of European or “Gentile” nations. The subjugation of Satan by Saint Michael is thus interpreted as the subjugation of “Gentile religions” by “the Yahwehists”. They consider the awakening of “Gentile Memory” (which, if you’ll remember, is supposed to contained in the blood of the Satanids, which is supposed to be USI members!) to be a return to the origin of the soul of the Satanid, as the biological descendant of Satan, so as to deify themselves and “restore” their identity as a “spiritual race” – or, “the satanic race”. The fact that the USI repeatedly uses the word “Gentile” implores us to remember that “Gentile” is supposed to be a word used to refer to non-Jews. On this basis, using the word “Gentile” to refer to yourself, your religion, and your “racial memory” and contrasting it with “Yahwehism” or “Judeo-Christianity” is a clear statement of religious, spiritual, and ontological antisemitism. For fuck’s sake there’s an article in which Jennifer distinguishes Satanists from Pagans by saying that Pagans are the “civilians” and Satanists are a kind of military force fighting against “the Judeo-Christian regime guilty of having contaminated our ancient traditions”. Not only is that classically antisemitic, it’s essentially just the original Christian distinction between the Christian as “Milites Christi” (literally soliders of Christ!) and pagans as “civilians”.

Based on all of this, there are times when I question even the very validity of the USI’s self-designation as “Satanist”. The “Satan” they worship may share characteristics with prevailing ideas about Satan within Satanism, but can be understood as essentially their own “god of the Gentiles”, strictly separated from the idea of Satan as The Devil or The Adversary (which for the record is still typically honoured within Satanism) and representative of an originary “Gentile” religion. Jesus is lauded for refusing the temptations of Satan because to them the Biblical Satan is not Satan, but rather a “Judeo-Christian” construction meant to serve as God’s shadow, while the “real” Satan is basically the “Aryan” supreme deity and Jesus is one of the various “Aryan” gods. Everything about the USI’s doctrine is tied together by what is essentially a neo-Nazi ideology in which members believe that they are racially linked to Satan and are therefore biological representatives of ancient “Gentile”/”Aryan” religion. We can also see that the white supremacist concept of the “serpent seed”, originally created to demonize Jewish people, is basically reimagined by the USI as the lineage of the “god of the Gentiles” and thus the “Aryan race”. When USI members reject conversion on the grounds that “you are either a Satanist by nature or you will never be a Satanist”, what they mean is that you can’t be converted to Satanism because you have be born a “Satanid”, because their version of “Satanism” is basically an ethnic religion for “Gentiles” (“Aryans”).

It should thus also come as probably no surprise at all that the Union of Italian Satanists has also had a history with Joy of Satan, another notoriously antisemitic spin on Theistic Satanism in which Satan is believed to be Enki and worshipped as the god of the “Gentiles”. In fact, they even cited JoS leader Maxine Dietrich in their article arguing for the name Satan being Sanskrit rather than Hebrew in origin. There is a whole article written by Jennifer “Twilight” Crepuscolo (who we must remember is the founder and leader of the USI) about the Joy of Satan, in which a significant degree of praise is mixed with criticism. Jennifer wrote that she always admired the “passion”, “frankness”, “simplicity”, and “courage” of Joy of Satan, and praised them for allegedly coining the definition of “Spiritual Satanism” and thus supposedly slapping Satanists away from the materialism of atheistic currents such as LaVeyan Satanism, while also criticizing the organisation for its perceived dogmatism, angry young membership, and an obsession with having sex with demons and (ironically enough) antisemitism. I say ironically because the USI itself is a pro-Nazi antisemitic organisation that makes arguments based on Nazi ideology and cites Nazi authors, so really their only objection to JoS’ antisemitism is that they’re too loud and too virulent about it – nothing but a matter of taste, and I suppose the fact that JoS members like to call Jennifer things like “filthy Jewish whore” for not being sufficiently antisemitic. In fact, just to highlight USI’s antisemitism once again, there is an article on their website discussing the so-called Illuminati, which uses quotes from the Talmud to argue that Jews hate “Gentiles” and features a meme of a man wearing a shirt saying “I love shiksas”, so as to emphasize a supposed xenophobic misogyny in Jewish men (“shiksa” is apparently a disparaging word for non-Jewish women, which the USI article insists is an object of sexual fantasy). For a group that insists that JoS spends too much time hating on Jews, they seem awfully eager to do it themselves. By the way, that same article defends Roman colonialism while emphasizing that the colonization and enslavement of Africans was done by “Judeo-Christian” people and that the former was good and the latter bad.

OK, I think we’ve seen about enough. That website obviously has far too much content for the Sernagiotto’s article to cover fully in its intended scope, but I reckon that Sernagiotto could have at least visited the website once and asked questions about, among other things, the USI members’ opinions about Jews, National Socialism, and what the USI website says about those subjects. That she did not cover this at all is a serious omission, because all this stuff about “Gentiles” versus “Judeo-Christians” is core part of the USI’s worldview, not just an incidental oart of the beliefs of some individual members. The only problem there is that perhaps they might not have answered. I attempted to ask Jennifer Crepuscolo about the USI’s support for Nazism as she was responding to QueerSatanic, but she has not responded.

Let me clear about a few things, I want there to be more positive coverage of Theistic Satanism. I’m tired of glorified humanist think tanks and the Church of Satan, or just this narrative that “Satanism isn’t about worshipping Satan”, getting all the limelight whenever the press wants to talk about Satanism to the normies or what have you. What I do not want is for this to mean that neo-Nazis get to have puff pieces wrriten for them by people who don’t ever do the research they’re supposed to. And make no mistake: the Nazism is the main issue. It’s not their theism, it’s not necessarily their beliefs about aliens (though that subject has some problematic contours on its own), its primarily the fact that they uphold repackagings of Nazi and white supremacist ideology that they use as the basis for their broader worldview, and the fact that their founder and apparent leader seems to support National Socialism.


The Vice article contains a link to the website of the Union of Italian Satanists, so if you want look for it, just go through the Vice article, since I figure that’s ultimately better than just dropping the website here: https://www.vice.com/en/article/y3pxj5/why-satanists-believe-in-satan-interview

The Left Hand Path of Dracula the Barbarian

While reading Gruppo Di Nun’s Revolutionary Demonology I encountered an interesting discussion of the figure of Dracula in the essay “Gothic Insurrection”, which was written by Claudio Kulesko. Here, Dracula figures as a major archetypical expression of the barbarian in popular culture, and it’s this particular context that I feel inspired to explore.

Why would I focus on this, you might wonder? Isn’t it a little early for Halloween? Fool! For some of us every day is Halloween, at least if you mean what I think you mean, but only one day of the year is Samhain! But seriously, I think that Kulesko’s discussion of Dracula in the context of the barbarian presents a fascinating opportunity to explore thematic underpinnings that have frequently found expression in the Left Hand Path and adjacent subcultures. Vampires have never been absent from the archetypal considerations of the Left Hand Path, indeed there are often frequent explorations of the theme of vampirism within modern Satanism, which is perhaps not too surprising when we consider how often that vampires were frequently linked to Satan himself as antitheses to Christianity. And it’s perhaps this combined with the Paganism of Dracula’s “barbarian heritage” in which Dracula emerges as a glorious icon of the intersection so important to my own polycentric project of Satanic Paganism.

But I suppose first of all: what is a barbarian, besides perhaps a loaded term? We can stay on Kulesko’s analysis for this question. The term “barbarian” derives from the Greek word “barbaros”, which in ancient Greece seemed to denote those who spoke in “incomprehensible” non-Greek languages, and therefore referred to foreigners. The barbarian’s linguistic outsideness from Greek (or indeed “Aryan”) civilization led to their consideration as almost non-human, more animal than human, and certainly not subject to the rights that civilization affords its subjects. By the Middle Ages, the term “barbarian” also came to designate non-Christians at large (“pagans”, “heretics”, Muslims, atheists, etc.), and in theological terms those who opposed God because they somehow lacked the light of natural intellect that would allow for some supposed latent intuition of God. Conceptually, the barbarian is always someone who not only sits on the wrong side of civilization but also threatens to cross through the borders and invade that civilization.

The barbarian’s “non-human” animality is reflected in the civilized imaginary via the nightmare of the Berserker, the ecstatic bear-skin warriors who dedicated themselves to the Norse god Odin. These Berserkers would actively negate the cultural boundary between “the human” and “the animal” by not only dressing in animal skins but also by taking on the traits of the animals they sought to emulate. It was even believed that they actually transformed into wild animals, thus completely transgressing the line between “human” and “animal”. For Kulesko the Berserker’s wildness and separation from the word figure strongly into black metal, such as in the case of Bathory with songs like “Baptised in Fire and Ice” and “Blood and Iron“, lyrically narrating a lost time without any clear boundaries between Man and beast and where humans were immersed in the voices of the land. Kulesko actually quite beautifully describes this admittedly nostalgic expression of the Pagan worldview:

The forest spoke in a non-human voice, the gods had not been relegated to an unreachable sky, humans had not been separated from non-humans; nature was one and, at the same time, many things constantly striving to know, relate and interpret each other.

So, without stretching our preamble too much further, how exactly does Dracula figure into all of this? Well, Dracula does share certain characteristics with the barbarian as we have thus far discussed. He along with the archetypical vampire share a sort of becoming-animal with the Berserker. He can turn into a bat or a wolf, and beyond this he could even turn into mist, thus going beyond even animal. The barbarian’s outsideness is also reflected in the way Dracula presents a chaotic and elusive threat in the form of the return of the undead, or of undeath itself, and with it the possibility that humanity could be destroyed by something that seems fundamentally alien to life. Perhaps Dracula inherits a “barbarian” reputation via the cruel reputation of the historical “Dracula”: Vlad III, also known as Vlad Tepes (“The Impaler”), the Voivode of Wallachia (modern day Romania) who became known for his exceptional brutality. The barbarian outsideness of Dracula is also, in Bram Stoker’s novel, given a conspicuous racial subtext, reflective of the anxieties of 19th century eugenicism. In Chapter 3 we find Jonathan Harker recounting his conversation with Dracula, in which Jonathan asks Dracula about the history of Transylvania and then Dracula regales Jonathan with the stories of his people – apparently the Szekelys, a Hungarian subgroup who lived mostly in the Eastern Carpathian Mountains in Romania.

We Szekelys have a right to be proud, for in our veins flows the blood of many brave races who fought as the lion fights, for lordship. Here, in the whirlpool of European races, the Ugric tribe bore down from Iceland the fighting spirit which Thor and Wodin gave them, which their Berserkers displayed to such fell intent on the seaboards of Europe, aye, and of Asia and Africa too, till the peoples thought that the werewolves themselves had come. Here, too, when they came, they found the Huns, whose warlike fury had swept the earth like a living flame, till the dying peoples held that in their veins ran the blood of those old witches, who, expelled from Scythia had mated with the devils in the desert. Fools, fools! What devil or what witch was ever so great as Attila, whose blood is in these veins?

The description of Dracula’s lineage as a “whirlpool of European races” serves to emphasize a background that is meant to be seen as both exotic and dangerous. Dracula descends from an ethnic melting pot of peoples, whose diverse admixture is from his perspective a source of unparalleled strength. In Victorian England “whirlpool” was a term reserved for impoverished parts of the East End in London, home to a diversity of immigrant populations, which to Victorian audiences seemed inexorably violent and unruly. This subtext is only exasperated when we remember that part of the plot of Dracula is that Dracula wanted to buy property in England in order to infiltrate English society, especially by seducing English women, to create more vampires.

All of that having been said, the point of my article was to disccuss the intersection involving Paganism, and having established the overall theme of the barbarian in Dracula, we can safely move on. In the same chapter, we see Dracula invoking, or at least recalling, the Norse gods Odin and Thor in the name of his apparent ancestors, the Vikings and the Huns. Kulesko notes this as a conscious choice on Stoker’s part, meant to convey a link between Dracula on the one hand and the polytheistic “barbarians” who were subjugated by Christians on the other hand. Dracula’s conceit is that he and his people derived their strength, their ability to conquer, from the lineage of Attila the Hun as well as the divine inspiration of Norse gods, and to this effect he later credits this influence to the successful repulsion of invasions by various enemies. It’s here that we can get into a theme that interests me.

The idea of evil pagan barbarians worshipping warlike gods and marching against Christian civilization has its own long chain of historical context. For one thing, the pre-Christian Vikings acquired that sort of reputation among Christian Anglo-Saxons, whose accounts described them partaking in ecstatic war dances dedicated to their gods during their campaigns. Before Scandinavian kings started converting to Christianity, the Vikings could be contrasted from other parts of early medieval Europe, and so marauding Vikings were feared as great heathen armies at war with Christendom. The Odin and Thor invoked by Dracula could be seen as “warlike” in their own way, at least in that both of them were warrior deities, though Odin was also more like the magician who directed the course of battle than the frontline fighter that Thor was. But there were also many other gods to some extent connected to war and battle, such as Freyja, Freyr, Tyr, Ullr, or Hodr, and in the end, when Ragnarok comes, all the gods are warriors fighting in the “ultimate” war. But before Christianity there was the Roman Empire, whose imperialist narratives about barbarians are ultimately an urgrund for the later Christian imagination, and ultimately further the imaginary of the construction of whiteness. Consider the Roman campaigns against the Germanic tribes and Britain. Rome, Germania, and Britain, were all polytheistic, but they worshipped different gods (which the Romans often interpreted as actually being their gods) in their own cultural contexts, which have since become (perhaps utterly) lost to time. The Romans frequently depicted their Celtic and Germanic adversaries as practicing gruesome rites such as human sacrifice and contrasted them against the civilization of Roman religion, even as they also cast the gods of their enemies as their own Roman gods.

In the case of Vlad III, we should note that he was probably not a polytheist, and nor for that matter was the Wallachia he ruled over. Wallachia was officially founded in the 14th century long after what we now call Romania had already accepted Christianity as its official religion, and Wallachia was founded as a Christian principality. Still, it could be said in Eastern Europe there were late converts. The Bulgarian Empire, for instance, was officially polytheistic until the year 864, under Tsar Simeon I and his successful campaign to Christianize the empire. Pre-Christian Bulgarians worshipped Tengri alongside the various gods of Slavic polytheism, and in the eyes of Christians they were a warlike society that, initially, did not take well to Christianity. The Principality of Hungary essentially remained polytheistic, or at least continued to be ruled by pagan monarchs, until the year 1000 when Stephen I became King of Hungary after defeating the pagan duke Koppany. The Magyars likely remained pagan for centuries until the 11th century, what few sources remain of their beliefs suggest a prevailing animistic worship of the natural world. Lithuania, known as “the last pagan country in Europe” did not officially adopt Christianity until 1387, prior to which Lithuania continued to practice pre-Christian polytheism and had to fight the Christian crusades against it while expanding as a sovereign power in their own right. But, of course, even under the veneer of official Christianization, in the Slavic countrysides pre-Christian polytheism persisted among the general population, to the point that it took centuries for Christianity to actually integrate. The Kyivan Rus (which consisted of what is now Ukraine, Belarus, and parts of Russia), for instance, officially became a Christian state in the year 988, after Volodymyr I Sviatoslavych converted to Christianity and renounced polytheism, but most of the population still did not consider themselves Christian for centuries, and in the northern settlements (now corresponding to western Russia) many people continued to practice polytheism and occasionally revolted against Christian rule. Similarly, in Poland, polytheism persisted by the 11th century and there was popular opposition culminating in revolt against Christian rule, and the Catholic Church struggled to eventually suppress it.

Relevant also to the context of “barbarian” outsideness would be the nomadic Mongols that eventually came to be dubbed the “Golden Horde”. As they spread across Asia and towards Europe, the Mongols were feared by Christendom for the strength of their armies and the devastation they wrought, and with it the threat they posed to Christian Europe following the invasions of Hungary and the Rus, which by this point happened to be Christian states. Until the institution of Islam as the official state religion in the 14th century, the Mongols maintained the practice of their own autochthonous animistic religion, and although the Mongol empire probably had no particular anti-Christian animus, their being non-Christian while attacking Christian kingdoms led to the church presenting them as basically agents of Satan. Perhaps Christian leaders feared that a successful Mongol conquest of Europe would lead to the dethronement of Christianity, though within Mongol territory Christianity was actually tolerated alongside many other religions.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula in the context of his ancestral conceits emerges as a reflection of Pagan outsideness within the Christian imaginary. The “whirpool” of Dracula’s origins curiously reflects a cornucopia of antagonisms to Christianity. He claims descent from Attila the Hun, the leader of the Hunnic Empire, which was likely a non-Christian territory worshipping gods like Tengri or “Mars” (probably the Roman identification of a Hunnic god of war) and which led a campaign against Christian Rome, as well as the Norse Vikings, who up until between the 9th-11th centuries would typically have been polytheists. Dracula also claims that the Magyars, whose ancestors he asserted gave rise to the werewolves and the Beserkers (a claim, by the way, that Stoker probably sourced from Max Muller’s work), recognized the Szekelys as their kindred after conquering the Carpathian Basin under Árpád (who was a pagan), and trusted them with their protection from Turkish forces. Transylvania and Wallachia in the time of Vlad III would definitely not have been pagan, but it’s interesting that this context in Dracula swirls here, in the remnants of pagan resistance alongisde another sense of barbarian outsideness. Dracula, as contrasted with the seemingly unproblematic chain of English Christianity (we should at this point keep in mind that England had its own complicated history of Christianization), is presented as emblematic of the legacy of anti-Christian barbarism, positioned as foreign to Christian civilization.

At long last we can focus on the legacy of the warlike gods and spirits, and it is something I rather enjoy reiterating when I get the chance here. I could take any chance, for instance, to repeat the subject of the Mairiia, that purported band of polytheistic ancient Iranian warriors who celebrated orgiastic feasts, had promiscuous sex with women who were termed “jahika” (traditionally understood as promiscuous sorceresses), and worshipped “warlike” deities such as Indra, Rudra, Mithra, Vayu, Anahita, and Θraētaona (or Fereydun), and whose ecstatic cult we are told was proscribed by Zoroaster and banished from Iran as an enemy of the emerging Zoroastrian religion. These Mairiia, in this sense, embody barbarian outsideness in that they were considered enemies of the community within the Avestan context. They may or may not have been echoes of older Indo-European clans of warriors who disguised themselves as wolves, held orgiasitc sacrifices and feasts, and devoted themselves gods that represented “dark forces of life”, or Indo-European bands of warriors who similarly devoted themselves to esoteric worship of gods with strong connections to the realm of the dead. This is what scholars refer to as Koryos, meaning “war band”, or alternatively as Mannerbund, meaning “alliance of men”. The barbarian is well-reflected in them, not just in their resonances with the Berserkers but also in their nomadic outsideness, living outside the boundaries of their society with nothing but their weapons, and going on raids thus always threatening to cross the borders of the community; and also being employed by powers to do the raiding for them, perhaps so that they would not be raided themselves.

The rites and gods of these war bands tell us something else. In Greece, adolescent war bands typically dedicated themselves to Apollo, who was often called Lykeios and regarded as the master of wolves that symbolised their fighting style. The mythical battle between Melanthus and Xanthos, the former associated with Dionysus Melanaigis, has also been interpreted as a rite of passage for the ephebes, who wore dark goat skins just as Dionysus did. The Norse Ulfhednar and the Berserkers, of course, were devoted to Odin, the patron of their divine inspiration and madness. The wolf association spreads far and wide; the Langobards of northern Italy who worshipped Godan/Odin and the Vanir were intially called Winnili, meaning “wolves”. In Vedic India, adolescent warriors would be initiated into a band of warriors during a winter solstice ritual where they would go into a trance and then “die” and be reborn as war dogs. The outlaw warriors and their priests had the gods Rudra and Indra as their divine patrons, both linked to the Maruts, the latter believed to be a mythological representation of the Mannerbund. At Krasnosamarskoe, located in the Russian steppes, some people practiced midwinter rituals where they inverted social customs, particularly the taboo against eating dog meat, in order to become like dogs or wolves themselves, thus transforming themselves as a rite of passage. Darkness seems to be a theme for these sorts of ancient warrior bands, in that there may be keen preference for the nocturnal and the mobilization of chthonic forces. The Roman author Tacitus recorded something like this in the Germanic Harii, who he dubbed “savages”, wearing dark dye, brandishing dark shields, and preferring to conduct battle at night, while the Athenian ephebes wore dark black cloaks (or rather chlamys) and both hunted and fought at night. In India, warriors who worshipped the gods Rudra and Indra wore black clothes.

For Amir Ahmadi, writing in The Daēva Cult in the Gāthās, this would all resonate not just with the Mairiia but with the cult of the Daevas at large, with its preference for nocturnal sacrifices and its self-emphasis on a warlike divine centre. The Daeva cult was very chthonic in emphasis, with the daevas being worshipped at night and often underground, while the Mairiia also performed nocturnal sacrfices to their gods. Many of the ancient Koryos or Mannerbunds have their own chthonic link, often more implicit and symbolic by their wearing black or just the association with the wolf, which itself is often symbolically linked with death across culture, but also sometimes more forthrightly in the associations with gods such as Odin or Rudra. Ahmadi tells us that one of the operative points is that the warrior of the Koryos or Mannerbund took up a mystery in which they separated themselves from the herd, both in life and in death, in order to win not only fame in this life but also a place of distinction and honour in the afterlife. One then plunges into the underworld, and across the world sword in hand, to carve one’s own place in the beyond, one that cannot be taken away. But the consistent theme of wolves and bestial transformation also returns us to the subject of Dracula and the vampire.

The vampire, the barbarian, the warlike Mannerbunds that turn into wolves, and to a certain extent the witch (part of the fabled Witches’ Sabbath involves a carnival of shapeshifting into animals), all these share a very similar Deleuzian sense of becoming-animal, and in this sense we can understand that as a unique mode of becoming: freedom from the civilizing perception of the civilized human organism, a subject that is no longer stable but constantly anomalous, inaccessible to definition, and in a certain way irrepressible because of it. The sort of localised chaos, the double negation that elevates individual expression, a kind of abject liminality as subject to desire, that is the tendency of passing through dimensions at will instead of drawing permanent boundaries – thus Kulesko notes of the barbarian. Pagan religious consciousness is resplendent with this latent sense of barbarian liminality and outsideness, even in view of the many boundary-drawing civilization-states of pre-Christian antiquity. The spirits of the netherworld could always cross into our world, and at certain points the borders between worlds could be shattered completely: the divine was seen to be everywhere, always intermingled with the world, and could cross the boundaries of our world anywhere. Kulesko notes the reflection of this consciousness in Quorthon’s modern reassertion of Paganism, in his lamentation for the lost time when “Man and beast was one and the gods of the sky walked the face of the earth”. Per Kadmus Herschel we can be reminded of the way that polytheistic myth echoes the notion of a potentially endlessly transforming form or body. And, of course, we may recall Stanislaw Przybyszewski’s satanic observation of remnant paganism as the latest negativity beneath the Christian order, and its resonances with barbarian outsideness and perhaps the pre/intra/preter/anti-cosmic darkness that Gruppo Di Nun speaks to in their larger body of work.

I would invite the consideration of another theme as well: how the death of Dracula figures into the magical art of the Left Hand Path.

Consider Kulesko’s telling of the novel’s end, from the lens of a Marxist critique of neoreaction and its interpretation of catastrophic time (the bold/italic emphasis is my own):

In the last pages, Dracula is cornered and stabbed in the heart, whereupon he turns to dust – but not before, for a brief moment, an expression of peace crosses his face. The narrator interprets this expression in a moral sense, attributing it to relief at being freed from his tormented existence, consisting of crime and eternal damnation. However, the Marxian analysis, and what we have said so far here, would seem to indicate that a different interpretation is more appropriate: the vampire has returned to his place of origin, the atmospheric-inorganic world, only to be reincarnated in the complex cybernetic system of machines and monetary flows that shapes Capital, waiting to once again unleash his annihilating fury. The Anthropocene, the age of ecological catastrophe, is the era through which the cybergothic age winds like a snake.

When I read that passage, the first thing I immediately thought of was Hellsing, both the manga and the Hellsing Ultimate series. Why? Because it felt a lot like how Alucard “died” in the end.

For one thing, Hellsing’s Alucard is supposed to be none other than Dracula himself. The name Alucard is obviously the name Dracula in reverse, and prior to Hellsing it was used as the name of the son of Dracula, the first version of which was Count Alucard in the 1943 movie Son of Dracula. Here, though, Alucard is not the son of Dracula, but rather is Dracula himself. Based on the narrative of Bram Stoker’s novel, he was Vlad III, Voivode of Wallachia, who in turn came to be known as Count Dracula. Dracula was defeated by Abraham van Hellsing, and then for some reason Abraham decided to, instead of killing him, bind him with sorcery and turn him into his servant, and from then on he became the servant of the Hellsing Organisation deployed in its battles against various occult adversaries.

Now, as regards Alucard’s “death”. The Millennium Organisation, a Nazi paramilitary group, created artificial vampires from the blood of an old vampire (referred to simply as “She”) and then sent a whole army of them, dubbed “the Last Battalion”, to invade London and destroy the Hellsing Organisation. These artificially-produced Nazi vampires do battle with the forces of Hellsing and the Vatican, and with Alucard himself. As Alucard slaughters all of his enemies, including his comrade-turned-traitor Walter Dornez, he absorbs the blood of all those who were slain in London, and with it their souls, gaining their knowledge and memories – in a sense their very lives – within himself in turn. That ability is what allows him to learn about the continued existence of Millennium after their presumed destruction during World War 2. Then, amidst Alucard’s protracted blood feast, Schrodinger, the Millennium Oberscharführer, cuts off his own head with a knife, and then falls into the ocean of blood in order to also be absorbed by Alucard. This results in Alucard vanishing into thin air, disappearing and “absorbing into himself” as Schrodinger’s power being absorbed along with millions of souls causes Alucard to no longer perceive himself. The flipside of this, however, is that while Alucard seemingly accepts his defeat and “dies”, he is also not really dead. For 30 years he persisted in an inert corpse-like state, in which he had to kill the millions of souls he had already absorbed to control Schrodinger’s power, and upon succeeding, he could then seemingly reincarnate into the whole body of existence. Somehow he became both everywhere and nowhere.

In Hellsing’s Alucard, Dracula’s “death” manages to take on a new and elevated significance. Dracula per Kulesko is a being of pure gothic time: that is to say, an “inorganic” or “eternal and motionless time, suspended below the veil of the present, ready to seize those human beings naive enough to go snooping around in the dark recesses where evil hides”. This makes him both Vlad III and not Vlad III, and both Dracula and not Dracula, and his thirst for blood is a desire for atmospheric dissolution that emerges from exactly his origin in the otherworld of gothic time. Alucard naturally shares this sense of gothic time, and the obscure essence of the vampire, with it double negation of individual unity, is magnified by his ability to contain countless souls in himself, as well as the way this eventually causes him to “disappear” into everything by absorbing Schrodinger. Alucard has simultaneously returned to his origin in gothic time and weaved his power into the whole world. He is and is not Alucard, because he is and is not everything, and this allows him to appear and disappear like a shadow at any time and any place. Moreover, perhaps even Alucuard’s thirst for battle can be interpreted on these terms in that it draws him to the conclusion of awesome cosmic dissolution and reincarnation. For this reason, Alucard could never be satisfied by any battle that would not draw him towards this conclusion: only the Battle of London, an apocalyptic confrontation with Millennium, could bring about this end, and that’s why, to the shock of everyone, he welcomes the Major’s declaration of war with such maniacal joy.

It is not sufficient for the Left Hand Path individual to exist as an eternal temple, gnawing away at everything in the name of its absolutism and sovereignty. No, there must be a different point to the cultivation of will, to divine identification. The Left Hand Path adept would rather strive to be reborn in the whole body of the endlessly becoming universe through their will. A will capable of imprinting itself and being absorbed into the world, as if becoming part of an endless stream of blood, or entering into the whole of things from the soul’s origin. Thus, we go to the bottom of the earth. Some aspect of this feels like I’m talking about Thelema, except there’s no surrender involved. It’s more like the blood thirst, or more appropriately as though you’re plunging into the world, and thus still penetrating it as the Left Hand Path practitioner might. In an endless chain of becoming, we will dictate the horizons of our own becoming, and gain the power to thrust open the doors of divine reality that we may enter the world itself, and join the company of the gods.

Actually, that whole analogy is very suitably barbarian. If you’ll forgive the flaws in this initial comparison, remember that the barbarian is recognised as one who not only dwells outside the borders of civilization but also seeks to cross into them, invade them even. Barbarian outsideness invites the consideration of our own relative position. If there is a realm outside us perhaps we are just as surely outside of it. While Gruppo Di Nun speak of an outer that threatens to penetrate our own world at every turn, it could also be said that we stand outside another world or plane: one that stands beyond our perception, and (or) one that is as well inner to us. In a way, I suppose we can lend on a distinct interpretation of what Kulesko and Rhettt have called “stepping out of our present condition into an alien state of absolute Outsideness and community with the Unknown”. Humans, indeed all living things, are born into a world that they wake into without understanding it, as they then reach out to each other. The esoteric barbarian of the Left Hand Path will descend and penetrate the world, going down to open the doors that others will not, and into the unknown, and by doing so surpass the condition of other humans: perhaps, even, of humanity. The idea of storming heaven to steal the fire carries with it a similar meaning. Stirner’s notion of heaven-storming is also somewhat relevant, in that for Stirner the real storming of heaven consists in the total destruction of the heavenly boundary between the Unique and the world: that, after all, is the point of transgression, to destroy the boundaries that alienate our consciousness.

The theme of barbarian outsideness also inevitably connects us to the demonic, in the sense of demonic outsideness. The demonic, for Kulesko at least, is connected not only to un-being and becoming but also outsideness, in that demons represent a dimension that is both external to the order of humans and capable of breaking into it: that, of course, is the spectre of demonic possession. We may find that Bernard Faure’s analysis of the demonic in Japanese Buddhism, per Rage and Ravage, more or less aligns with this idea, with the addition that it represents a reality that not only subverts and overflows structure but also acts as the negative source of movement and life itself. Kulesko would probably nod to that to some extent, in that he locates a demonical presence in even the most mundane actions. In some contexts, such as in Egyptian magic, demons exists at the margins between this world and the otherworld, protecting the afterlife from intruders, and could be invoked, thus entailing the demonic as representative of a liminal space, or an interstice between life and death. And, of course, none other than The Devil himself brings together the demonic and barbarian outsideness. In the medieval imagination, The Devil, or Satan, was frequently positioned in the wilderness, outside the borders of the Christian community, but also constantly threatening to infiltrate this community. That sense is part of the root of the fears and superstitions around witchcraft, and with it the medieval mass panic that was the witch hunts. This idea also has its resonances with the Biblical conception of the wilderness, or rather particularly the desert, as the home of demonkind, not to mention Satan’s appearance in the wilderness as the attempted tempter of Jesus, and with the wild men or woodwoses that also preoccupied the medieval imagination and may themselves have also been identified as demons. In medieval Scandinavian folklore the Devil is allied to nature spirits and nymphs that were perhaps previously honoured or venerated before the dominance of Christianity, and in this setting the wilderness is pictured as an inverted world, as gateway to demonic powers. Outlaws would be believed to step in and out of this inverted world, making pacts with the Devil as their patron god and having sex with nymphs in order to gain magical knowledge and powers. Medieval devil-worshipping Swedish outlaws, such as Tideman Hemmingsson, Hakan Jonsson, or Mickel Kalkstrom, can here be pictured as stepping out into a realm of outsideness, into the unknown community, precisely so as to elevate themselves.

Dracula, of course, ultimately connects back to the realm of the Devil in some way, even at the level of his namesake. The name comes from the fact that Vlad III was called Dracul, which means “dragon”. It was originally inherited from his father, Vlad II, who gained this moniker from his service in the Order of the Dragon. But the word “dracul” in modern Romanian also came to mean “devil”. Perhaps this is shaped by the reputation of Vlad III, or equally by the long-standing link in Christian symbolism between the Devil and dragons, solidified in the Book of Revelation by the reference to Satan as “the great dragon” who “deceives the whole world”. In some versions of the Dracula story, Vlad III became Dracula by renouncing God and making a pact with the Devil for eternal life. A short story by Bram Stoker, titled Dracula’s Guest, seemingly links Dracula to Walpurgis Night, and to ideas about how it marks the arrival of the Devil in the world, along with the attendant uprising of the dead. It is even sometimes suggested that Dracula himself is a like a modern symbol of the Devil, from the Christian standpoint of course, emphasizing the idea of the Devil as the intractable adversary of humanity, struggling bitterly and insidiously against humans, to corrupt or destroy us.

In the end there’s much to be said for the crossing of boundaries as regarding the Left Hand Path. I remember a few years ago encountering certain ideas about, in Roger Caillois’s terms, the “left side of the sacred” in relevance to Paganism. This aspect of “the Sacred” (a term that I now accept as fairly insufficient as a descriptor as a descriptor of divine reality) concerns itself with the transgression of the “normal” boundaries that are attached to life, can be defined by a relationship with death and the powers of the underworld, and emphasizes the power of the sacred to disrupt and penetrate the day-to-day order that we live in. I remember Finnchuill relating this to certain practices of the pre-Christian world, such as Dionysian rites and the worship of chthonic gods such as Hecate in Greece, dealings with the dwellers of the sidhe mounds in Ireland, the invocation of chthonic deities by Gaulish sorcerers, and the Sumerian myth of Inanna’s descent to the underworld. He also used Bataille’s image of the Akephalos, the headless demon, to convey “the left sacred” in terms of the death of the monarch, the destruction of hierarchy, and the resulting disruption of the social order (Bataille’s Acephale was likely intended to symbolize the radical rejection of fascist spirituality in favour of anti-authoritarian mythology and ritual). For Paganism, this means the core matter is the trangression and dissolution of the boundaries between humans and “the Sacred”, which would come a resulting fixation on chthonicism, as contrasted with the “right sacred” which sought to preserve boundaries between Man and “the Sacred”, to prevent “the Sacred” from constantly pouring into the world. Disinhibition is central to this outlook: this meant flagrant defiance of the prevailing social customs as a means to access divine consciousness or community in ways that could be acheived within the boundaries of the civic order.

Dracula, that dragon containing within himself the wild negativity of demonic and pagan outsideness, the vampire lord who invokes the warlike gods and the Devil and can turn himself wolves, bats, and mist, the barbarian who thirsts for blood and so invades Christendom, is an emblem of the gothic time that shines upon and in the Left Hand Path. Here lies an interesting nexus of intersection that can be cultivated between Satanism and Paganism, and a darkly radiant ethos for the Left Hand Path. Thirsting, devouring, battling one’s way into the world, living forever in the black atmosphere of everything, becoming without end.

The Satanic Temple gets owned

The hits just keep on coming for the start of 2023. First Andrew Tate gets arrested because he decided to tip himself off to Romanian authorities, then Benedict XVI dies, and now The Satanic Temple has once again lost their primary case against the Queer Satanic collective.

Yesterday, the United States District Court for the State of Washington in Seattle granted a motion to dismiss the claims made by The Satanic Temple, and its parent LLC the United Federation of Churches, against four queer Satanist activists collectively referred to as Queer Satanic. This is apparently the second time in the entire history of The Satanic Temple’s three year legal campaign against Queer Satanic where TST has had their case dismissed in court, which certainly does not bode well for TST’s attempts to silence their critics or their larger litigation record. In 2020, the United Federation of Churches and the leadership of The Satanic Temple accused the Queer Satanic activists of taking over their social media for the purpose of defamation as well as absurd charges of cyberpiracy, computer hacking, unfair competition, and tortious interference with business expetancy, and served them papers for a lawsuit. The case was originally dismissed in court in 2021, but TST re-filed it in order to finanically drain the defendants, no doubt hoping to demoralize them into submission. I would expect that these efforts have failed, at least for now. It remains to be seen what The Satanic Temple will do next.

The documented court ruling outlines that the plaintiff’s case was lacking in numerous regards. The US District Court seems to more or less accept the defendant’s argument that the case lacks subject-matter jurisdiction, which would necessarily mean the case being dismissed, as well as noting the absence of facts establishing an amount in controversy that would be required for the case. In simple terms, TST’s case was dismissed because it appeared to consist of nothing.

This ruling constitutes a major defeat for The Satanic Temple in that they had hoped to suppress activist dissent against the organisation. Indeed, it would add another failure to their long list of failures, which I will present below for reference:

This is the most recent databse for TST lawsuits and their various outcomes, as compiled by The Satanic Wiki and presented by @QueerSatanic on Twitter on December 2nd 2022.

I can already see, however, that this case is not getting much coverage. There has been no media coverage of this court ruling and its outcome for TST. The most recent media coverage of The Satanic Temple that I can see is an article from The Guardian, written by Adam Gabbatt, which largely lionizes The Satanic Temple and its official leader Douglas Misicko (or rather “Lucien Greaves” as he prefers to be called) as fighters against the religious right – no mention is given, of course, to Douglas’ public defense of Church Militant. The Satanic Temple itself appears to have no comment on the latest court ruling, and the same appears to go for their leadership and membership. It would seem that TST’s supporters can do nothing but sit in silence at this failure. Or perhaps they will regard it as a minor incident, irrelevant to the broader mission and priorities of the Temple. It would be a weak position, though, in view of how the “larger priorities” have been shaping up for them. The media is no doubt uninterested in this case, perhaps because it does not matter to them or perhaps because it interferes with the progressive reputation they mean to construct around The Satanic Temple as a pre-eminent countercultural adversary to American conservatism. Perhaps the Temple itself will continue to try and extend their SLAPP suit after dismissal, just as they had before, or perhaps they will find themselves facing the upper limit of their legal options before long.

But regardless, this remains an important victory against The Satanic Temple for queer, anti-fascist activists that have been fighting against the SLAPP suit. The Satanic Temple cannot maintain its litigious campaing forever, and the financial drain has clearly not destroyed the cause, as Queer Satanic continues to raise the funds necessary to continue fighting TST’s campaign against them. Freedom of speech has been upheld. TST’s case remains decrepit and stands in ruins while their hypocrisy lay bare, though perhaps a sympathetic media might see to it that this last part remain obfuscated.

The struggle against oppression can never truly be defeated, and it is without end. The minions of the Demiurge who impersonate the legacy of Satanism will not win, and will either be scattered to the wind or collapse on their own. The black flame will continue to burn in spite of The Satanic Temple, while the fighters of the black flame forever persevere.

Hail Satan


While you’re here consider reading the following:

United Federation of Churches LLC v. Johnson, Order on Motion for Preliminary Injunction AND Order on Motion to Dismiss — Document #48: https://www.courtlistener.com/docket/17042463/48/united-federation-of-churches-llc-v-johnson/

The article on The Satanic Temple in The Satanic Wiki, which features a live database on their court cases: https://the.satanic.wiki/index.php?title=The_Satanic_Temple#Lawsuits

Benedict XVI and the transphobic legacy of the Catholic Church

Pope Benedict XVI died on New Year’s Eve 2022. May he rest in piss. He’s remembered for a litany of foul deeds in his life, and rightfully so. He was a conscripted member of the Hitler Youth, and the years that followed he beatified Pope Pius XII, a man who knew about the Holocaust but remained silent and in fact collaborated with the Nazis on “anti-communist” grounds. He also excommunicated a 9-year old child for having an abortion after being raped by her stepfather, who he did not excommunicate for anything, and is in general notorious for his role in protecting priests who committed child sexual abuse. He also probably helped HIV/AIDS spread in the global south by actively discouraging condom use. But there’s one other horrible legacy that Benedict left in the world, and in fact it’s the continued modern legacy of the Catholic Church at large: the transphobic fascist concept of “gender ideology”.

Every time someone wants to intellectually justify their hatred of trans people, along with queer and non-binary people, and from there justify many policies that are meant to oppress them, they refer to this abstract concept called “gender ideology”. The term “Gender ideology” doesn’t have any real meaning in itself, in that it doesn’t seem to correspond to any clearly defined ideology, or really anything except for the premise that trans people exist and that the experience of their gender identity is real. “Gender ideology” is a rhetorical device favoured by a variety of reactionary ideologues ranging from Christian conservatives to aging Marxist-Leninists, but is often especially deployed by so-called “gender critical feminists”, or Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists (TERFs), as part of an apparent ideological opposition to the concept of gender, which is obviously a front from which to attack and marginalize trans and queer people. As Judith Butler notes in a 2021 interview with The Guardian (which we should keep in mind was later censored), the “anti-gender ideology movement” seeks not to oppose any specific account or idea of gender but rather to remove the concept of gender from discourse and banish it from academic study, in order to privilege the concept of biological sex, sometimes with a religious basis, in order to exclude non-traditional gender identities from the social order. The very phrase “gender ideology” seems like a relative novelty, but it has been around for years already. In fact, it seems that the core concept was invented by the Catholic Church.

It’s not clear who individually coined the phrase “gender ideology”, but there are three likely candidates: Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI), Karol Wojtyła (Pope John Paul II), and an American Catholic anti-abortion activist named Dale O’Leary. Per Juan Marco Vaggione’s account of the Catholic discourse on “gender ideology”, it would seem that most studies trace the spread of the concept of “gender ideology” to Dale O’Leary. Yet, Benedict XVI and John Paul II were an instrumental part of the whole construction of the concept and discourse of “gender ideology”, which was itself created by the Catholic Church as a response to both contemporary feminist theory and an emerging new political framework around gender, human rights, and the sexual sphere.

In the 1990s, the United Nations held conferences in Cairo, Egypt and Beijing, China to discuss and establish the recognition of reproductive rights and sexual rights as part of the overall concept of human rights. The Catholic Church opposed this development, on the grounds that it deemed sexual and reproductive rights to be antithetical to the doctrine of the Holy See. John Paul II referred to the UN recognition of sexual and reproductive rights as a “tragic denial” of human rights and regarded it as an affirmation of the “culture of death” – this seemed to be an umbrella term for all manner of things that the Church opposed, including abortion, euthanasia, artificial reproduction, and contraception. The Vatican opposed the UN by contrasting sexual and reproductive rights with a concept of “natural law”, presumably deriving from God, as the basis of “objective moral law”, which in turn they regarded as the necessary basis of civil law.

Beginning in 1994, Pope John Paul II launched a concerted campaign to promote the conservative/traditionalist agenda of Church ideology against progressive frameworks of human rights. This was done through the creation of two Pontifical Academies (the Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences in 1994 and then the Pontifical Academy for Life in 1998), the publication of an encyclical titled Evangelium Vitae in 1995, and the establishment of a triennial Catholic conference called the World Meeting of Families in 1994. All of this was aimed at presenting sexual and reproductive rights as an attack on the traditional family, whose defense the Church saw as one of its main roles, as well as crafting a Catholic traditionalist narrative to be inserted in contradiction to the perceived new liberal cultural mainstream. He even seemed to include in his overall argument a proposal for “a new feminism”, which would oppose “gender ideology” and ultimately conform to Catholic essentialism.

The concept of “gender ideology” as an amorphous threat to society seems to have emerged within this background, and eventually replaced the idea of “the culture of death” in Vatican rhetoric. In this setting, Benedict XVI played an essential role in the construction of the discourse of “gender ideology”. As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he apparently encountered feminist literature in his native Germany and then made it his business to oppose whatever ideas he saw in them. For Ratzinger, the so-called “ideology of gender” meant making “every role interchangeable between man and woman”, the idea that sex is no longer “a determined characteristic”, the idea that everything is a culturally and historically conditioned role rather than “a natural specificity inscribed in the depths of being”, and the idea that technology can allow both women and men to procreate at will without sex. There’s obviously a lot to unpack, and this all but a summary of Ratzinger ‘s larger rambling in The Ratzinger Report, which he released in 1985, but the general throughline of it all is that he viewed radical feminism and trans rights as an attack on the natural order of being dictated by God, and the basic arguments form a similar family of reactionary objections to the movement for trans rights. In fact, the way that Ratzinger paired feminism and trans rights with certain spectral notions of hyper-individualism and transhumanism recall the way that traditionalists like Aleksandr Dugin also talk about modern liberalism in general, and thus we see a pattern familiar to much of the far-right and modern fascism.

As Pope Benedict XVI, he continued to echo this form of traditionalism, repeatedly denouncing “gender ideology” as “rebellion against our God-given nature”. In 2000, Benedict XVI asserted that the United Nations was trying to destroy the family and world nations by “imposing” reproductive rights and other social changes. Such an idea bears obvious resonances to right-wing anti-UN conspiracy theories about “one world government” and later reactionary commentary concerning “cultural imperialism”. In 2003, the Vatican published the Lexicon of the Pontifical Council for the Family in order to oppose “misleading use of certain terms in order to create new rights that were contrary to universal principles” on the grounds that they “immediately turn crimes into rights”. In 2004, the Vatican released a letter addressed to the Bishops of the Catholic Church concerning “the collaboration of men and women in the church and in the world”, in which the Church under Benedict XVI explicitly attacked a certain “theory” of gender for its “obscuring of the difference or duality of the sexes” and for “inspiring” ideologies that “call into question the family”, “make homosexuality and heterosexuality virtually equivalent”, and “strengthens the idea that the liberation of women entails criticism of Sacred Scripture”, while affirming the idea of an objective gender binary as human nature, as reflective not only of the limit of biology but also the idea of difference as the basis of an ordered universe as created by God. Furthermore, Benedict XVI often espoused “anti-gender” traditionalism through the metaphor of ecology. In 2010, Benedict XVI asserted the existence of human nature as consisting of a binary between man and woman, likened this constructed state of human nature to endangered rainforests, and insisted that proponents of “gender ideology” threatened to destroy human nature, just as clear-cutters were destroying the rainforests, by advocating for reproductive rights and the concept of gender identity. In all, Benedict XVI represented the evolution of the Catholic Church’s campaign against sexual and reproductive rights and “gender ideology” as systematic defense of Catholic traditionalism and conservatism based around this overall theme, which of course has the effect of ideologically anchoring the Catholic Church to many forms of reactionary bigotry and cultural authoritarianism as reflective of the order of partiarchy.

Benedict XVI’s reactionary pronouncements about “gender ideology” and its supposedly destructive nature are probably no surprise to many people who are already aware of his apparent role as a strictly conservative Pope, notwithstanding the fact that his ideas about gender were also established by his predecessor John Paul II. But Pope Francis, despite his progressive-reformist reputation, not only did not oppose the traditionalist rhetoric predecessors but instead he continued the conservative Catholic discourse on “gender ideology”, albeit with his own superficially “anti-capitalist” twist.

In general, Pope Francis continued to espouse that “gender ideology” (or rather “gender theory” as he preferred to call it) as a threat to “human rights”. One difference in his rhetoric is that, unlike previous Popes, Francis positioned “gender ideology” as a form of intellectual colonialism. He in fact explicitly referred to it as “ideological colonization”, and accused people of demanding conformity to the teaching of “gender theory” as a condition of receiving grants for the education of the poor. This of course rings familiar to the right-wing conspiracist idea of the “long march through the institutions” as the triumph of so-called “Cultural Marxism”, pioneered by such ideologues as William Lind and Pat Buchanan. Another rhetorical difference is that, also unlike previous Popes, Francis connected “gender theory” to neoliberal capitalism by asserting that it is the product of the so-called “individualism” and “technocratic materialism” of capitalism. Francis also explicitly compared “gender theory” to nuclear war, Nazism, and the reign of King Herod, describing it as one of the so-called “Herods that destroy, that plot designs of death, that disfigure the face of man and woman, destroying creation”. Ironically, he apparently said it right after embracing a trans Catholic man who wanted to know if he was welcome in “the house of God”. In 2016 Pope Francis remarked with horror at what he believed was the idea of children being taught that they can choose their own sex, claiming that this was the work of influential nations and a well-funded “ideological colonization”. In 2019, the Congregation for Catholic Education published documents that establish a theoretical separation between “gender theory” and “gender ideology”, the latter concept being reasserted as referring to “unnatural tendencies” that lead to “educational programs and legislative enactments” that supposedly promoted ideas about identity and the body that “make a radical break with the actual biological difference between male and female”. The CCE’s “Guidance on Gender Issues” also explicitly positions the gender binary as human nature, based on the narrative in Genesis 1:27 that God created humanity in the image of man and woman, which is explicitly framed as “moral law, inscribed in our nature”. In a 2020 book titled San Giovanni Paulo Magno, Francis described “gender theory” as a place where “evil” is at work today, describing it as “erasing all distinctions between men and women, male and female” and “an attack on difference, on the creativity of God and on men and women”.

It is clear that, even in view of the rhetorical differences from previous Popes, Francis’ actual views on gender are not substantially different from previous Popes. He is still a conservative traditionalist on this question, still continuing the tradition of Catholic ideology in asserting a human nature defined by an essentialized gender binary versus “gender ideology” or “gender theory” which aims to destroy it. His arguments about the nature of “gender theory” come from the same place as Benedict XVI and John Paul II in that they emerge from the traditionalist concern that the nuclear heterosexual family will no longer be a political absolute ostensibly secured by divine will, and this sense Francis has done nothing but continue and if anything expand the project of these two Popes. In fact, I am of the persuasion that perhaps this worldview, and particularly Francis’ emphasis on “gender ideology” as colonialism may resonate with reactionary “anti-imperialist” ideas about how “progressive” values concerning individual autonomy are inherently “imperialist”, supposedly a dogmatic imposition by “Western” powers upon the global south, and it may have some bearing on Francis’ lack of solidarity with Ukraine. Note that within the last year, Vladimir Putin in Russia used the idea of “the West” somehow imposing progressive values through imperialism as a justification for invading Ukraine.

But more importantly, Francis has clearly referenced Benedict XVI in his views. Allow me to present a quotation from his dialogue with the Bishops of Poland, which was held in Krakow on July 27th 2016, in which he presents “gender theory” as connected to “colonization”. Here, he emphatically restates Benedict XVI’s ideas about “gender ideology” and references him accordingly:

In a conversation with Pope Benedict, who is in good health and very perceptive, he said to me: “Holiness, this is the age of sin against God the Creator”. He is very perceptive. God created man and woman; God created the world in a certain way… and we are doing the exact opposite. God gave us things in a “raw” state, so that we could shape a culture; and then with this culture, we are shaping things that bring us back to the “raw” state! Pope Benedict’s observation should make us think. “This is the age of sin against God the Creator”. That will help us.

It’s worth noting that, in this same speech, Francis even continues the older Catholic use of the term “gender ideology”, saying of his so-called “ideological colonization”: “I will call it clearly by its name – is [the ideology of] ‘gender'”.

Much of these ideas are, of course, a major part of the modern international right-wing movement. Consider that Jair Bolsonaro, during his inauguration as President of Brazil in 2019, promised to eradicate “gender ideology in the schools”, framing this as a resistance against “ideological submission”, and to that effect he replaced basically all sex education in Brazil with a cirriculum that enforces the teaching of the universal gender binary. In Poland, the term “gender ideology” is frequently deployed by right-wing activists who also use it to attack homosexuals, and the Polish government itself, ruled by the Law and Justice Party, explicitly attacked “gender ideology” as a facet of neoliberal globalisation, while far-right critics of the government insist that they are not doing enough. Right-wing parties across Europe, including the Italian Lega Nord, as well as right-wing protest movements, all deploy some variation of the concept of “gender ideology”, and in many cases use it as a platform to attack not only feminism and trans rights but also same-sex marriage. In Peru, conservative Catholics adapted the work of American conservative activists like Dale O’Leary to develop a notion of “gender ideology” as the secret antithesis to all morality, which then became part of the official rhetoric of Catholic churches throughout Latin America since the late 1990s. Denunciations of “gender ideology” as a threat to “identity”, “soul”, and “body” are common in right-wing anti-gender protests, and the idea presented in these protests is basically identical to the argument given by Popes Benedict XVI and Francis. But of course it’s not strictly confined to the Right, either. Ostensibly “socialist” populists like Rafael Correa, former President of Ecuador, have also decried “gender ideology” as a tool to “destroy the family”.

To summarize the subject of “gender ideology”: “gender ideology” is not real. It’s nothing more than an invention of the Catholic Church, and particularly the thought of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI. It exists as nothing other than a projected “Other” that can be opposed in defense of essentialist ideology, presumably without taking on the crass language associated with conventional far-right bigots even while sharing the actual sexual politics of the far-right. The necessary premise of such an attack on the notion of gender is a belief in human nature as consisting principally of a static gender binary, man and woman as strictly defined representations of sex, which is thus a moral law that is set into the nature of being by God, and, co-attendant to this, the belief in its antithesis, “gender ideology” as a shadowy umbrella category for anything which might oppose or deviate from it. This idea can, in secular terms, be understood as essentialism. But in its religious underpinnings, and more specifically the modern project of the Catholic Church in its response to the United Nations’ definition of human rights, I would regard the construction of “gender ideology” as part of an edifice that I am inclined to refer to as Catholic ideology. In any case, this also means that all non-Christian proponents of this form of essentialism, whether it’s atheists or anybody else, are, despite any professed objection to Christianity (let alone specifically the Catholic Church), to be understood as simply regurgitating the propaganda of the Catholic Church.

So, in other words, to all the New Atheists, the folkists, or anything like that who might be reading this, congratulations; by attacking trans people in defense of gender essentialism in opposition to “gender ideology”, you’re actually just promoting Catholic ideology! Good going, you reactionary assholes.

To summarize the legacy of Benedict XVI in relation to “gender ideology”: for decades, he helped shaped the scope and agenda of Catholic ideology as part of a larger Church campaign against the ascent of a new framework of human rights that would account for ways of life that the Church deemed sinful. Things like sexual and reproductive rights and the category of gender appeared to present an expansion of individual autonomy within the legal and conceptual framework of human rights, which in turn appeared to present a threat to the moral authority of the Catholic Church, which insisted that these rights were contrary to “natural moral law”. To defend this moral authority, and the ideas about “natural moral law” that it was based on, the Catholic Church created an ideology in which “human nature” is constructed as an absolute binary and then pitted against an amorphous anti-essentialist ideology that somehow threatens to destroy it and thereby corrupt the order of God’s creation. That is what I call Catholic ideology. This Catholic ideology was originally meant to attack feminism, abortion, and the rights of homosexuals from a Catholic religious standpoint, but has over the last decade been deployed with increasing specificity against trans people and trans rights, presumably in reaction to an overall increase in the social visibility of trans people. In view of the nature of anti-trans arguments that appeal to “human nature”, even secular “scientific” forms that hinge strictly on biological essentialism sans the deity, we can trace the influence of Catholic ideology across the entirety of the Right, and all expressions of anti-gender thought, to the point that we can locate the Catholic Church as the fundamental basis of much of modern anti-trans opinion. In this sense, Benedict XVI probably helped create the modern anti-trans movement, having (at least partially) composed the fundamental logic of its animus and argument and having laid the groundwork for it even as far back as the 1970s, when he first began writing about supposed artificial reproduction technology in Germany. And not only this, but Pope Francis to this day continues the legacy of ideological anti-genderism and anti-transness that he consciously attributes to Benedict XVI.

In a way, then, contemporary anti-trans backlash can be understood as the handiwork of the Catholic Church through the last three Popes, including Benedict XVI, and in this sense it is a noxious legacy that will not die with him. By now Catholic ideology is already deeply embedded as part of a vast ecosystem of micro-fascisms that pervade the culture of modernity, and the current Pope continues to wage the same systematic anti-gender campaign. What radicals of all stripes should derive from this knowledge is that the Catholic Church, in its entirety, is to be understood as an enemy in the struggle for LGBTQ liberation. The Church’s interests and institutional legacy are incompatible with the autonomy of gender, and thus the Church opposed the freedom of trans, queer, and non-binary people to be themselves. That on top of everything else is part of the horrible legacy of Benedict XVI.

Disinhibition

There’s something I thought about when contemplating the drunkenness that I sought after over the holidays. I don’t see myself as a “binge drinker” in the sense that I once had some vague idea about in my youth; in fact, for a lot of my early life, the main thing I had in common with Friedrich Nietzsche was never drinking alcohol. But in the years since I started drinking, this time in particular gives me a taste for the disinhibition of drunkenness. In fact, while I tend to avoid addictive behaviours, I do prefer that my drinking would have me reasonably disinhibited. But it’s from there that I reflected on the value of disinhibition in a much broader sense.

I would maintain that in life, and in politics, you should strive to disinhibit yourself to the extent possible. By which I mean, you should be able to cut off the fetters that prevent you from accessing the experience of life or cut off the options you would otherwise have to affect political change. A person lives, desires to keep living, and so works to avoid meeting danger and harm, and yet one never entirely approaches life in the safety of the normal limits of their sensorium. For this reason, people may push themselves beyond the limits of their “normal” state, their “everyday” consciousness, perhaps even if it means bringing themselves a little closer to death, so that they might access their own freedom or possibilities of action or being/becoming. There is perhaps a certain lack that is associated with a life that does not involve some extent of disinhibition, however small, because there is a sense that disinhibition, even if dangerous, brings some sense of completion to the fulfillment of individual life, by expanding it.

In the context of ancient pre-Christian religions, disinhibition was served not just as a way, but an important vehicle for the attainment of divine inspiration. The cult of Dionysus in Greece often centered around the liberation of consciousness through an intoxication that would invite the spirit of Dionysus to posssess his worshippers, and thereby experiencing ecstasy. Similarly ecstatic states of divine possession have been attributed to gods such as Pan, Hecate, Cybele, and Ares. In some other mystery cults, gods such as Sabazios were similarly worshipped in orgiastic festivals of drunkenness aimed at communing with the god to attain a blessed afterlife. In Scandinavia, religious disinhibition was part of the cult of the berserkers and the ulfhednar, the bear or wolf-pelted warriors whose battle frenzies were linked to the divine inspiration bestowed by the god Odin. In Egypt, disinhibition via drunkenness was sometimes observed as a way to re-enact the cycle of fertility and commune with the gods through the drunken worship of goddesses such as Hathor, Sekhmet, and Bast. In Vedic India, a substance called Soma was offered to the gods and then ritually consumed in order to become inebriated from it, which was believed to lead to a state of divine inspiration as well as magical powers and even immortality.

In politics, it’s obvious that everything depends on what you’re prepared to do in order to affect meaningful change, and it would seem that allowing your hands to be tied by the norms of those in power – that what we call “liberal-democratic rules” – does not allow you to do much. Our enemies certainly seem to have a certain sense of that, but we sometimes don’t. I’d wager that it’s usually only insurrectionary anarchists who have the idea that they must act without inhibition or decree. Many Marxists, of course, have an utterly confused stance on the matter: on the one hand, the Marxist-Leninist will assert that they will “make no excuses for the terror”, to justify basically any exercise of power, and then on the other hand repeatedly chastise other radicals for any broad commitment to political violence as a means of acheiving revolutionary aims outside of their sphere. Yet even they are all too aware of the need to assert themselves against the norms of the current system. Not only this, but all leftists, when discussing things as basic as anti-fascism or the labour movement, know the same thing, implicitly. Politics is basically a condition of social war, even if few political actors are actually conscious of this fact in their operations. To disinhibit yourself here means to shed the norms that stop you from acting in full knowledge of this reality.

In the Left Hand Path, disinhibition as transgression can be seen as part of the praxis of apotheosis, even if I can recall a few modern LHP practitioners who have insisted against intoxication. Whether involving intoxication or not, moral disinhibition is the name of the game, in that the bounds of custom and normativity are, as fetters, cut away in order to access knowledge, power, divinity, the truth of the world, really everything that the adept needs to progress on their path. In Satanism, this is in many ways the purpose of inversion: shattering the laws of “God” in devotion to the dark inner principle of the universe, from which endless liberty for the soul is to be derived.

So disinhibit yourself. Get weird with it. Cut down the spectre of morality in its many forms: authoritarian, democratic, conservative, progressive, essentialist, Christian, humanist, and all alike. If you need a New Year’s resolution, you can promise to set fire to the future. Or, if you need to be modest, you need only promise to go beyond yourself in what chances you have.

Pagan chthonicism and its virtues

I had considered writing this as a Twitter thread, but it occurs to me there is a lot more to say and thus I think it would be best to write this as its own article. I think it’s somewhat fitting considering the long-standing obsession I have with chthonicism; I have spoken of a “chthonic path” since at least 2015, and continue to dwell on research the subject of just about anything chthonic. After looking at my articles on Satanic Paganism (see here and here) to see if I had already dissected the subject there, I decided that there is space for more exposition in a separate article. You can think of it as sort of a ramble about what is admittedly a ridiculously broad concept within pre-Christian (and especially “classical” Mediterranean) culture, but the insight we may derive from it will, I hope, become apparent. So here we go, into the underworld.

To begin with, what do I mean by “chthonicism”? Simply put, chthonicism is a word I use to refer to a generalized orientation towards that which is called “chthonic”, which in turn means an orientation towards the contents of the underworld. In my opinion this, in turn, entails a fixation on a greater mystery represented by the underworld and its power, a mystery that is lodged at the spiritual core of Paganism as a religious worldview. Thus chthonicism is one of the core and immutable links to the Pagan worldview within my own distinct philosophy.

In a religious and mythology context, the word “chthonic” typically refers to that which inhabits the underworld and can mean “subterraneous”. The word itself, however, comes from the Greek word “khthon”, which means “earth”, “ground”, or “soil”. This denotes a relationship between the earth and its inner life, the natural world and its ur-naturality, as I hope to convey it.

Chthonic Divinity in the “Classical” Context

There is a vast legacy of chthonicism across the pre-Christian world, though more pronounced in some cultures than others. This will as a result be an exhausitve overview. As is entirely predictable for me at this point, I think the best place to start is ancient Greece and across ancient Italy. The Hellenic world recognised numerous chthonic gods, as well as chthonic aspects in gods that were not typically considered chthonic. Ancient Italy, particularly Etruria and Rome, likewise has a vast chthonic complex comprising numerous deities and rich with religious meaning. I guess you could say we have much to talk about.

One of the most important chthonic deities in Greece was Hermes. Hermes was a trickster, a messenger, a god of commerce and communication, but he was also psychopomp, leading the souls of the deceased to their destined place in the underworld. His link to the underworld is also denoted by one of his epithets, Chthonios, meaning “of the earth”. As Hermes Chthonios, he was also evoked in curses, worshipped as a patron god of necromancy, believed to be capable of summoning spirits from the earth, and venerated in festivals dedicated to the dead. Some funerary stele depict Hermes Chthonios as though rising from the earth or from the grave, his epithet giving him an almost fixed place in the earth perhaps at odds with Hermes’ typically liminal character. Some curse tablets also give Hermes the epithet Katachthonios, or “subterranean”, which is apparently meant to signify his ability to immobilize people and restrict their movement in curses. Hermes Chthonios was also probably identified with the Agathos Daimon, itself a sort of chthonic spirit, in that Hermes shares its attributes of fertility and good fortune

Another major chthonic god within the Hellenic pantheon is Dionysus. Even though Dionysus is popularly understood mostly as a god of wine and drunkenness, he was actually also a god of the underworld, divine madness, and the power of death and rebirth. Dionysus, like Hermes, was sometimes worshipped as Dionysus Chthonios, and in this context Dionysus Chthonios was the god that wondered in the underworld only to periodically emerge in the overworld. Dionysus even appears frequently in Greek and Roman funerary artwork. In fact, the Orphic hymn to Hermes Chthonios seems to refer to this Hermes as “Bacchic Hermes”, suggesting that his chthonic element is linked to Dionysus as his progeny. Dionysus was also, in the context of mystery tradition, the son of the goddess Persephone, a ruling goddess of the underworld. Much of Dionysus’ chthonic identity is in a certain sense reflected in his past, through the god Zagreus. Zagreus is an epithet of Dionysus, but Zagreus was also a god of the underworld, who was worshipped alongside “Mistress Earth” (possibly meaning Gaia) was at one point called “the highest of all the gods”, at least meaning the gods of the earth or underworld. In Orphic myths, Zagreus is born, killed and dismembered by the Titans, and then is reborn as Dionysus, in this context thus cementing Dionysus’ link to death and rebirth as a god who dies and is reborn. Dionysus was also frequently identified with other chthonic deities, including the Egyptian god Osiris and most notably none other than Hades, the ruler of the Greek underworld. The philosopher Heraclitus regarded Dionysus as identical to Hades, saying in reference to orgiastic rites dedicated to the god, “If they did not order the procession in honor of the god and address the phallus song to him, this would be the most shameless behavior. But Hades is the same as Dionysos, for whom they rave and act like bacchantes.”. Here Dionysus and Hades are identified as one, Dionysos was life and Hades was death, and both one and the same principle of indestructible and recurrent life. And of course Dionysus and Hades did share multiple epithets, they are sometimes shown together in funeral craters, Dionysus sometimes takes the place of Hades in his throne in some portrayals, and in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter we see that Demeter refuses a gift of red wine, sacred to Dionysus.

We absolutely cannot talk about chthonicism in Greece without talking about Hecate, the goddess of magic and the crossroads. One of Hecate’s main epithets is Chthonia, already explicitly positioning her among the chthonic goddesses. Hecate was believed to preside over the oracles of the dead and was the patron goddess of the art of necromancy, summoning the spirits of the dead, who she led across the world at night. She was also believed to hold the keys to the underworld, that could open the passages between the realms, and thus was believed to be able to open the gates of death. Hecate was also so strongly identified with the underworld by the late Hellenistic era at least that she became syncretized in magical texts with Ereshkigal, the Babylonian goddess of the underworld. Hecate was also a custodian of impurity and uncleanliness per one of her epithet, Borborophorba, meaning “eater of filth”. This epithet may also connect her to the earth in some way, perhaps suggestive of the earth consuming the dead.

Hades himself, as a chthonic power par excellence in Greek myth, offers a lot of context to Hellenic chthonicism. Of course, Hades was never really worshipped directly, since most Greeks feared Hades as the lord of the dead and, in some sense, even of death itself. Indeed, Hades was sometimes believed to consume the corpses of the dead. Even very his name wasn’t uttered, because he was sometimes seen as the god “most hateful to mortals”. Instead, Hades was frequently worshipped through different more palatable names. For instance, in certain chthonic cults, Hades is given the name Zeus Katachthonios, or “subterranean Zeus”, perhaps positioning Hades as a sort of dark mirror image of Zeus. Zeus Katachthonios was often worshipped alongside the goddess Persephone as his consort, and in some versions of the Orphic myth it is Zeus Katachthonios who sired Zagreus-Dionysus with Persephone. Another popular name for Hades, in place of his real name, was Plouton, through which he was worshipped as a god of the earth and its mineral bounty as well as the seeds that lead to a good harvest. Over time, the name Hades came to be used more as a reference to denote the realm of the underworld, which was believed to be ruled over by Plouton, the earth god. But to ancient Greeks, the name Plouton was less evocative of the spectre of death and more evocative of the fertility and wealth of the earth, which thus positioned the underworld he ruled over as a source of boundless life and prosperity. Hades, as Plouton, was worshipped in a handful of shrines referred to as Ploutonion, which were believed to represent entrances to the underworld. At Hierapolis (modern day Pamukkale, Turkiye), one such Ploutonion was attended by a statue of Hades and his guard dog Cerberus, and was otherwise visited by priests of the goddess Cybele.

If there’s another chthonic power par excellence, it is none other than the earth itself, often worshipped as the goddess Gaia. In modern times Gaia is often understood as a strictly benign power, an abstract representation of life and its goodness affected as the consciousness of the earth. But Gaia, as the earth, was not worshipped this way in the Hellenic context. In fact, in parts of Greece, Gaia was worshipped in association with the dead, particularly during an old festival predating the Anthesteria, and may also have been worshipped alongside Hermes and Hades at the Areopagus. Gaia herself was also called Chthon or Chthonia, which is perhaps fitting since these names also mean “earth”. Gaia also sometimes received the sacrifices of black lambs or rams, as many other chthonic deities often received sacrifices from black animals, and her cult was frequently conflated with that of another goddess: Demeter. Demeter is perhaps the other major Greek goddess for whom the term “earth mother” is quite apt. Demeter herself was also, for one thing, worshipped with the epithet Chthonia. For another thing, Demeter was not merely a goddess of the earth, soil, or grain but also, in her own right, a goddess of the dead, who brought things to life and welcomed them back in death, as was believed to be characteristic of the earth itself. In Sparta, Demeter was the goddess who was worshipped as queen of the underworld in lieu of the usual Persephone. In Athens, the dead were referred to as the Demetrioi, meaning “people of Demeter”, suggesting that they are in her domain. At Eleusis, Demeter was the main goddess of a mystery tradition in which she bestowed secret rites that were meant to grant immortality or a blessed afterlife upon initiates who re-enacted a descent into the underworld.

There’s a lot to be said about Persephone herself, the queen of the underworld and consort of Hades. Like her mother Demeter, Persephone was also considered both a goddess of the underworld and a goddess of vegetation. She also goes by the name Kore, a name that in the Greek context denoted more specifically a goddess of nature, and its simultaneous creative and destructive power. In Arcadia, Persephone was worshipped as Despoina, which was also the name of an old chthonic goddess who was worshipped in Arcadia as the goddess of a local mystery tradition in which even her very name was only revealed to initiates. Persephone seems to have been a central figure in the theme of katabatic descent; the Orphic initiate was to greet Persephone in order to confirm their liberation, while the philosopher Parmenides talked about having descended to meet “the Goddess”, who is at least speculated to be Persephone. Persephone is also sometimes paired with the goddess Hecate; in fact, in the Greek Magical Papyri, Hecate and Persephone are shown dining in the graveyard together, again perhaps representing the earth devouring the dead.

And of course, there were many other chthonic deities known to the ancient Hellenes. There is of course Thanatos, the daemon/god of death itself, as well as the Keres, the daemons representing violent death in particular. The god Adonis was also worshipped as a chthonic deity, or at least invoked as one in spells. There are also the Erinyes (or Eumenides), chthonic daemons/goddesses of vengeance who were also worshipped as goddesses of the earth in Athens under the name Semnai Theai, and who notably challenge the authority of even gods like Apollo. “Vengeful daemons” in general were considered chthonic spirits, which were sometimes believed to punish perjurers and other wrongdoers. There are goddesses like Macaria, the daughter of Hades and goddess of the blessed death, Angelos, daughter of Zeus who became a goddess of the underworld, and Melinoe, goddess of the propitiation of ghosts, and there was Hypnos, the daemon of sleep who lived with Thanatos in the undeworld. The Moirae, or Fates, were sometimes portayed as attending the throne of Hades, and Nyx (Night) herself was believed to reside in the underworld and yet even Zeus answered to her. Themis, the goddess of divine law, was also apparently an earth goddess who may have originally presided over the oracle at Delphi before it was taken over by Apollo. And there was Kronos, the god-devouring Titan who consigned to Tartarus after being defeated and overthrown by Zeus. In the Greek Magical Papyri, Kronos’ chains and sceptre are given to Hecate, possibly suggesting a link between Hecate and the power of Kronos. The Titans themselves were arguably understood to be chthonic powers in their own right; Hesiod describes them as “earth-born”, while in the Homeric Hymn to Apollo the goddess Hera invokes the Titans as “gods who dwell beneath the earth about great Tartarus” to aid her against Zeus. Hera similarly invokes the Titans in the Illiad as “all the gods below Tartarus” in an oath.

What is truly fascinating about the context of Greek polytheism is that chthonic worship seems to have been pervasive enough that even gods that normally are not chthonic, or at least not typically considered chthonic, can and have been worshipped in a chthonic way. Pan, for instance, has no connection to the underworld. But he was frequently worshipped in caves and underground. Examples include the Phyle Cave at Mount Parnes in Attica, the Corcyian Cave at Mount Parnassus in Delphi, the Vari Cave at Mount Hymettos in Attica, and the cave on the northern slope of the Acropolis of Athens, to name just a few. A cave where Pan was worshipped has also been discovered in Banias, at the foot of Mount Hermon, which is located in the Golan Heights which are currently occupied by Israel. There is also an altar to Pan Heliopolitanus that was discovered almost two years ago, within the walls of a church dated to the 7th century. This is somewhat important in the context of chthonicism because caves have also been places where the worship of chthonic deities took place alongside that of nymphs, Olympian gods, and (as we’ll explore a little later) heroes, and sometimes specific caves would have links to death and funerary worship. Hades was worshipped in a small cave known as the Ploutonion, which represented the entrance to the underworld as well as the site of the birth of Ploutos, a child god of wealth. The Semnai Theai (a.k.a. the Erinyes) were worshipped at a cave under Areopagus, where they received special honours. Asklepios, a god of doctors and medicine who was traditionally believed to be both celestial and chthonic, was worshipped in a sanctuary where people would dwell in order to “encounter” Asklepios, and give sacrifices beforehand to receive dreams from him.

Moreover, even the gods of Olypmus possessed certain chthonic aspects or were venerated in the form of chthonic gods. Zeus was sometimes venerated as Meilichios, a chthonic deity or aspect of Zeus who took the form of a snake and was given burnt offerings at night. His main cultic focus was the attainment of wealth through propiating the deity, but he was also worshipped as a god of vengeance who could purify the souls of those who killed another as an act of revenge. There is also Zeus Ktesios, another serpent-form Zeus who was the god of storerooms and guardian of the household, Zeus Philios the protector of friendships, Zeus Eubouleus, another local avatar for Plouton/Hades worshipped alongside Demeter and Persephone, Zeus Trophonios, based on the chthonic hero Trophonios, and Zeus Chthonios, worshipped in Boeotia and Corinthia. Hera, the goddess of marriage and wife of Zeus, was likely originally worshipped as an earth goddess charged with the fertility of the island of Samos, and who renewed the earth through the installment of primeval water dragons, and in later myths remains the mother and nurturer of chthonic monsters and serpents who sometimes go on to pose a threat to the Olympians. Poseidon, the god of the sea, was sometimes venerated as Enesidaon, a chthonic god of earthquakes, was venerated as an oracle of the dead at Tanairon, and in the Mycanaean era he was originally venerated as Wanax, who was the chief deity and god of the earth. Poseidon was also represented as Poseidon Hippios, a horse spirit of the underworld and the rivers. Artemis, the goddess of the hunt, was worshipped in chthonic aspects, such as Artemis Amarysia at Amaranthos, was also sometimes syncretized with Hecate, and in Sicily was worshipped alongside Demeter and Persephone. Aphrodite, the goddess of love, was somethimes worshipped as Aphrodite Chthonios, who was believed to bestow eternal life to her worshippers, and sometimes adopted the characteristics of Persephone and or venerated alongside her, as well as being syncretized with the Scythian goddess Argimpasa. Hephaestus, the blacksmith of the gods, was an earthbound god whose companions included chthonic monsters and his offspring known as the Kabeiri, whose mysteries were dedicated to Demeter, Persephone, and Hecate, and he himself may have originally been an important god of an older chthonic religion. Ares was sometimes aligned with the Erinyes in relation to his bloodthirsty ways, the dragon slain by Cadmus was sacred to him, and at Sparta he received chthonic offerings such as black dogs. Even the solar Apollo, sometimes seen as the most Olypmian among the Olympians, had chthonic aspects, possibly originating as a chthonic healing deity. At Amyklai he was venerated alongside his lover Hyacinthus in a tomb. He also was not originally a sun god, not in Homer anyway, and may have originally been a warlike deity of disaese. Apollo’s mother, Leto, presided over graves in her cult in Lycia, and elsewhere represented a volatile spring that upheaved from the earth. Several Hellenic gods were sometimes worshipped as Kourotrophoi, or “child-nurturing” gods, representing the whole cycle of life from pregnancy to departure into the next life: these include Apollo, Artemis, Hecate, Hermes, Aphrodite, Athena, Gaia and Demeter. The chthonic context of the Kourotrophoi lies in the cycle they represent, containing the notion that life springs from the earth and returns to the earth upon death. In fact, in a certain sense, you may even argue that very few Greek deities were completely devoid of some chthonic aspect. Even the sun god Helios had a chthonic side, at least in that his name was sometimes an epithet for Ploutos. Strangely enough even the stars themselves may have had some chthonic connection, based on a folk belief that stars were born when people died.

An important chthonic tradition within the ancient Greek tradition was the cult of the hero. Heroes, in the ancient Greek religion, were humans who existed in a liminal position between humanity and divinity. They were not gods, but they were pretty close. Heroes usually were not thought to have gone up to Olympus with the heavenly gods but rather descended beneath the earth. Heroes were given libations at night, offered sacrifices that were not shared by the living, and could sometimes take the form of snakes. Because of this, the worship of heroes was inherently chthonic worship, and it involved sacrifices that were carried out in the fashion of chthonic cults. As was mentioned before, the heroes were also frequently worshipped in caves. Iphigenia, the daughter of Agamemnon who was sacrificed to Artemis, was venerated as a chthonic heroine and/or goddess in a tomb located within the Sanctuary of Artemis at Brauron, where she was honoured through the Arkteia, a festival in which girls performed sacred dances, marathons, and sacrifices. Another heroine, Aglauros, was worshipped at a cave located on the slopes of the Acropolis, where she was invoked in an oath made by ephebes who were preparing for the prospect of dying for the polis. The hero Serangos was worshipped in a cave as a healing divinity and the founder of Piraeus.

By now I’ve probably established well enough the pervasiveness of chthonicism in the context of Greek divinity and religion, but in this regard the only missing link is the mysteries, which tended towards chthonicism. The Eleusinian Mysteries, for instance, which originally evolved from a set of agricultural festivals about the seasons and grain cultivation, were centered around the re-enacitng of the myth of the abduction of Persephone and Demeter’s descent to the underworld so as to understand “the true principles of life” and how to live in happiness and die with hope. The Dionysian Mysteries similarly pertained to the underworld, in that the initiates similarly hoped to descend into Hades in order to attain a blessed afterlife, but also in that its rites assumed the theme of death and rebirth in the context of ritual liberation from civilized norms. The Samothracian Mysteries were centered around the veneration of a group of apparently chthonic deities known as the Cabeiri, as well as the gods Hephaestus, Hecate, and Persephone. The Mysteries of Cybele, originating in Phrygia, were celebrated with torchlit processions similar to other chthonic festivities, alongside orgiastic festivities centered around a goddess that dwelled in her mountain and directed the land’s fertility through the dances of chthonic daemons, as well as the death and rebirth of her lover Attis. The Orphic Mysteries centered around ritually re-enacting the death and rebirth of Dionysus, and an eventual journey into the underworld in which the initiate, having lived a pure life in accordance with the teachings of the mystery, would descend into the underworld and address its rulers in order to be reborn into the company of the gods. In this sense, the trend in Greek mysteries is a form of mysticism that aligns itself with the underworld, and the power to transform the soul that can only be found in that descent.

Finally it is worth noting the pre-Hellenistic heritage of Greek chthonicism. The Mycenaeans not only venerated a god of the earth, Wanax, as their chief deity, their overall pantheon tended to centre around chthonic deities, with “sky gods” such as Zeus pushed to the size when compared to their “classical” role. A goddess known as Potnia, perhaps the mother goddess of the Mycenaeans, was powerful at this time. Over time her name transformed into an epithet for the goddess Artemis. It is also thought that Potnia may have originally been worshipped by the Minoans. Despoina, an epithet for goddesses such as Persephone, was also the name of an old chthonic mother goddess who was worshipped at Lycosura. In Minoa, a god of vegetation and fertility was worshipped as the son and consort of a great earth goddess, and later identified with Zeus. A mother goddess was worshipped in a cave, which the Minoans likely regarded as the abode of chthonic deities much like the later Greeks did. .

Moving on from Greece itself, we turn our attention towards Italy. In this regard we might start with the Etruscans. In the Etruscan pantheon, chthonic deities included Aita, a god of the underworld who seems to have been the Etruscan equivalent of Hades. Aita was frequently depicted alongside other underworld gods and demons such as Persiphnei, Vanth, and Charun. Aita is also known for a distinctive wolf cap, which, though a fairly unique aspect of central Italian religious iconography, may also have been inherited from an obscure attribute of Hades. But Aita can also be thought of as the successor of an older underworld deity named Calu, who, like Aita, had lupine features. Calu received dogs or statuettes thereof as sacrifices, and it was believed that the dead went to him. Another chthonic god worshipped in Etruria was Suri, sometimes considered equivalent to the Greek god Apollo and sometimes referred to by the similar name Aplu. Suri was a god of the underworld and purification as well as oracles, and he was worshipped at Mount Soracte (now known as Monte Soratte). Satre was another god of the underworld, who liked to hurl thunderbolts from abode beneath the earth.

What is particularly fascinating in my opinion is that it seems that many of the Etruscan gods seem to have either been chthonic or aligned with the chthonic realm in some way, as the Etruscan pantheon is purportedly characterized by gods who were powerful in both this world and the world of the dead. The goddess Catha, otherwise a solar goddess, shared her cult with Suri, possibly as his consort, and received gifts meant for the underworld or afterlife. Fufluns, a god of vegetation, was also believed to be able to assist the transfiguration of the soul of the dead and assure its safe passage. The sky god, Tinia, was occasionally represented as a figure of the underworld alongside gods such as Turms and Calu, depicted with snake-like locks of hair and referred to as Tinia Calusna. The goddess Vei, possibly equivalent to the Greek Demeter, was viewed as a liminal figure standing between the living and the dead. In Etruria, water wells and springs were believed to be portals to the underworld, the underground water presenting a link between worlds, and since many different gods were presided over them, it meant that gods like Aplu, Vei, Uni, Diana, and Hercle were connected to the chthonic realm through the sites if they weren’t already. Unsurprisingly, these springs were often the sites of local chthonic cults. The apparent supreme god of the Etruscan pantheon was a deity called Voltumna, or Veltha, who was originally a local earth spirit. Voltumna was a strange deity, thought of as god of vegetation, a monster, an androgyne, a god of war, truly containing multitudes. But as a deity associated with the underworld, being apparent chief god of the Etruscans (at least according to Varro) would bring the chthonic realm at the center of Etruscan religious life.

The Etruscan underworld was full of demons that guarded its boundaries and sometimes pestered the souls of the deceased. One prominent example of these was Vanth, a benign psychopomp who guided the souls of the deceased through the underworld. Another, more aggressive psychopomp was Charun, seemingly based on the Greek Charon; unlike his Greek counterpart, the Etruscan Charun was believed to torment the souls of the deceased with his mallet. A mysterious demon named Tuchulcha was believed to protect or enforce the order of the underworld by barring unwanted visitors and threatening the souls of those who cheated death. The god Calu appears in Etruscan burial art as a demon ascending the portals of the underworld.

Wolves in particular seem to be chthonic in Etruscan symbolism in a way that appears almost uniquely Etruscan. There is of course Aita’s distinctive wolf cap, for starters. There’s also Calu, a similarly lupine deity (indeed he was often depicted simply as a wolf) who may have been devoted to . Suri was also sometimes depicted as a wolf. At Mount Soracte, there was a distinct cult devoted to the god Apollo Soranus practiced by a group of priests referred to as Hirpi Sorani. In Rome, this deity was identified with the god Dis Pater, the ruler of the underworld, and may ultimately be related to Suri. The Hirpi Sorani honored Apollo Soranus by jumping on burning piles of wood and walking across burning coals. The figure of the wolf itself may have been considered a chthonic demon, or the incarnation of the soul of the dead, in either case requiring ritual propitiation, or much more broadly a liminal figure, crossing the boundaries between worlds that humans cannot. The Hirpi Sorani may themselves have embodied this liminal state through their rituals to Apollo Soranus. Some scholars also suggest that wolves represent death itself, based on a proposed etymological link between the Latin word “lupus” (meaning “wolf”) and the Etruscan word “lupu” (meaning “death”).

The context of chthonicism in ancient Rome bears similarities to Greek chthonicism, not simply in terms of the actual gods being very derived from the Greek religion but also in the worship of the chthonic gods and the role they play in the broader context of Roman polytheism.

The Dii Inferi, meaning “the gods below”, who were basically chthonic deities in a very similar sense to the Greek variety. These deities are usually understood as the gods of the underworld, death, and the dead, in contrast to the Dii Superi, the “gods above” who presided over the heavens. The Dii Inferi were worshipped in hearths, either on the ground or in a pit, and received nocturnal rituals and burnt offerings where the sacrifice was completely consumed in fire, and they were invoked in spells that involved burnt offerings. The Dii Inferi also sometimes received rare instances of human sacrifice, including rituals where a general offered his life alongside that of an enemy in battle. All rituals to them were held outside the sacred boundary of the pomerium, and “old and obscure festivals”, often involving horse racing, were reserved for their propitiation. The Dii Inferi were also sometimes called Manes, or Dii Manes, meaning “spirits of the dead”, which were sometimes treated as ancestral spirits. The Manes may rather have been part of the broader family of the Dii Inferi. In any case, Romans across the Empire would worship them in caves so as to venerate their ancestors. Christians regarded the Dii Inferi as the core divinities of the ancestral Roman religion, and believed that the Roman gladiatorial games were devoted to these gods and representated their supposedly horrific nature.

The exact identities of the Dii Inferi are actually obscure, but there are several gods and goddesses who were traditionally considered gods of the underworld; many of them were originally the gods of Greek or Etruscan polytheism, while others seem to be uniquely Roman. One of these was the Greek goddess Hecate, often referred to in Rome as Trivia. The Romans seemed to conflate Hecate with not only Trivia but also the goddesses Diana and Luna, and such an identification appears to have been ubiquitous in sacred groves throughout ancient Italy. Another major chthonic deity in Rome was Dis Pater, a god of mineral wealth and the underworld who was sort of the Roman equivalent of the Greek god Plouton or Hades. Proserpina, the Roman equivalent of Persephone, was worshipped alongside Dis Pater in underground sanctuaries or in festivals. Both Dis Pater and Proserpina also had strong cultic connections to the agricultural fertility, or that of the land, in a way very familiar to the context of Greek chthonicism. Another major figure here would be Orcus, a Roman god of the underworld, possibly of Etruscan origin, who was sometimes identified with Dis Pater and Hades. Orcus was believed to punish wrongdoers in the underworld, or was understood as the name of a place of purification in the underworld. It is possible that the cult of Orcus may have lived on in rural areas for a while during the Middle Ages, and may have echoed into the medieval figure of the wild folk and, together with Maia and Pela, celebrated in dances themed around the wild folk that were later condemned by the church as a resurgent pagan custom; thus Orcus potentially emerges as a symbol of certain remnants of pagan worship.

Scotus, apparently a Roman version of the Greek Erebus, is a god of darkness found in the chthonic pantheon. There is also Mors, the Roman equivalent of the Greek Thanatos, and Februus, a god of purification likely adapted from the Etruscan god of the same name. More obscure Roman gods are also present in this category. One of these is Summanus, an archaic Roman god of nocturnal thunder. Not much is known about Summanus and his attributes, obscure even to the Romans, but he was often identified with Pluto and known as “the greatest of the Manes”, and he is often imagined as a “dark twin” of Jupiter. Vejovis, an obscure god of healing and volcanic eruptions, was similar in his position as a sort of chthonic “anti-Jove”. Another chthonic deity is the goddess Mater Larum, the Mother of the Lares (guardian divinities with chthonic attributes). According to Ovid, she was originally a nymph named Lara who betrayed Jupiter’s secret romances and was thus made mute and exiled to the underworld, thus she was also called Muta. Mana Genita, an obscure and archaic goddess, was believed to be concerned with birth and infant mortality and was worshipped as a protector of the household. There was also Libitina, a goddess of funerals and burials whose very name was sometimes a byword for death itself. Another funeral goddess was Nenia Dea, who was also a goddess of transience and the patron of men who neared their deaths.

Another major chthonic deity would be none other than Saturnus, or Saturn. Saturn enjoys a distinguished place in the Roman pantheon; on the one hand, somewhat beloved as the, but on the other hand feared as a cruel deity who devoured even the gods. The Saturnian reign of the Golden Age was similarly ambivalent and contradictory; at once benign and unjust, on the one hand he was the benefactor of all humanity even in his arbitrary rule, but on the other hand his arbitrariness was believed to lead to chaos, disorder, and injustice. When Jupiter assumed leadership of the cosmos, he bound Saturn in chains and imprisoned in the underworld to keep his power from sating itself on the order of things. Saturn seemed to be especially revered on the month of December, which the time of not just Saturnalia but also other festivals reserved for chthonic deities; these include Consualia (held in honour of the god Consus), Opalia (in honour of the goddess Ops), and Angeronalia (in honour of the goddess Angerona). One thing Saturnus may have had in common with the mysterious Dii Inferi would be his purported association with the gladiatorial games. Blood was apparently shed in his honour during gladiatorial combat, and he received gladiatorial offerings around the time of Saturnalia. Christians then interpreted the games themselves as a form of human sacrifice.

Saturn’s wife, the goddess Ops, was a fairly important chthonic goddess in her own right. In fact, Ops was sometimes identified with Terra, or the earth itself, by Roman authors such as Varro and Festus. This seems strange, considering that Terra is traditionally listed as the mother of Ops. Still, as the goddess of plenty and abundance, she would have represented the powers of the earth, or at least in their “productive” aspect, and she was worshipped because of the fertility and bounty that she bestowed from the earth. It was believed that vegetation grew by her power, and it was believed that her abode was none other than the earth itself. Her festival, Opalia (or Opiconsivia), was one of the oldest agricultural festivals in Rome. According to Macrobius, this festival involved the invocation of Ops by sitting on the ground and placing hands upon the earth.

As in Greece, some gods that aren’t typically regarded as chthonic have nonetheless been worshipped in a chthonic context. The Roman god Mars, for example, was supposedly worshipped in rituals that suggest a role in the cycle of death and rebirth. It has been suggested that Mars patronised the chthonic powers, possibly inheriting aspects of the Etruscan Maris or Mares, a god of vegetation who represented the vital powers of the earth. Mercury also retains his chthonic function as psychopomp, originally from the Greek Hermes. Juno, none other than the patron goddess of Rome, was sometimes characterised as “the earth” and was sometimes worshipped as Juno Sospita, who may have originally been embodied as a serpent. The Roman agricultural god Consus is not listed among the Dii Inferi, but he was worshipped in underground altars and in this sense he can arguably be regarded as a chthonic deity. Indeed, Consus was sometimes thought of as another name for the chthonic deity Saturn. The underworld goddess Libitina also appears as an epithet of the goddess Venus. Gods associated with birth would also sometimes have chthonic associations or be worshipped similarly to gods of death. This includes Ceres, the Roman equivalent of the Greek Demeter who represented both birth and death, while gods of birth in general received the same burnt offerings as chthonic gods. The reverse was also sometimes true, as Dis Pater and Proserpina were sometimes said preside over birth.

And again, as in Greece, we may call into attention the extent to which the mysteries of Rome may be considered chthonic, and in this regard we may consider perhaps the most distinct of these mysteries: the Mithraic Mysteries. The Roman Mithras seems to have been based on the Iranian god Mithra, usually understood as a god of light, justice, and oaths who was also venerated as a Zoroastrian divinity, in this capacity as a protector of truth. But what little we know about the Roman Mithras establishes him as altogether different from his Iranian counterpart.

For one thing, the Mithraea in which Mithras was always worshipped were underground temples or carved within or out of caves. This no doubt served the functions of secrecy and initiation, but it also reminds us of how chthonic deities in both Rome and Greece were worshipped underground or in caves. Then again, in Rome, Christians sometimes held underground congregations for the precise purpose of concealing their faith from Roman authorities, not to venerate Jesus Christ as a chthonic deity. For another thing, the Roman Mithras was born from a rock, and this is not to be understood as a celestial rock but rather a “maternal” rock, ostensibly echoing aspects of Anatolian mysteries. Mithras can also be understood to some extent in terms of a psychopomp, gathering the souls of the dead with Helios, or more specifically the souls of initiates to their next life. But beyond that, it’s very difficult to make any thematic generalisations about the character of Mithras and his cult. There’s also no obvious theme of descent into the underworld, save perhaps for the subtextual “descent” into the Mithraea and their own internal universe. If anything, the Mithraic Mysteries could as well have centered around solar worship, in view of Mithras’ association with Sol Invictus and since Mithras was frequently identified with the sun god Helios. Perhaps the point is rather an ascent, in that, according to Clauss, the aim of the initiate was to reach the fixed stars through secret rites and rituals. It has been suggested that the Mithraic Mysteries emerged as a celebration of the mysterious, then newly-discovered, motions of the cosmos and the god they believed controlled them. It is possible, on the other hand, that the Neoplatonic interpretation via Porphyry, in which the Mithraic Mysteries signify the descent of the soul to the sublunary regions and its return, provide a possible though loose context of katabasis befitting of chthonicism, suitable to the worship of Mithras in caves and undergound. Porphyry asserted in On The Cave Of The Nymphs that the Persians signified the descent of the soul by going into a cavern, and that a cave in the Persian mountains was consecrated by Zoroaster in honour of Mithra and contained symbols of the elements and the climate, which if true would indeed prove a source of some chthonic context. But, again, there is very little we actually know, and it may be impossible to know most of the details, and perhaps Mithras’ composite nature results in multitudes that evade the categories we are discussing.

And of course, many Roman festivals carried the context of chthonic divinity. We have already mentioned a few examples such as Opalia and Consualia. Saturnalia itself, being centered around the god Saturn, perhaps de facto confers chthonic character to its time of misrule and subsequent reconstitution. One more important festival, however, was Lupercalia, a time of purification celebrated in the month of February. This festival probably centered around a god named Lupercus, a wolf deity who was often identified with Pan or Faunus, and it was also sacred to Juno. Lupercalia is popularly understood as a celebration of fertility and sexuality, but it actually primarily commemorated the ritual purification of the community, which just so happened to involve nudity and indiscriminate goatskin-whippings. The Lupercal cave is significant in that it acted as a passage to and from the underworld; the Luperci priests emerged from the cave to start their running, enacted their rites of purification, and then returned to the cave, thus symbolically the priests came to purify the land and then returned to the underworld with the ancestors.

“The Eleusinian Mysteries” by Paul Serusier (1888)

Chthonic Divinity in a Global Context

Now we can look at the context of chthonicism throughout the world outside of the “classical” context of Greece and Italy. Being that we are dealing in a very broad diversity of cultures, it is probable that the context of chthonicism between these cultures will be somewhat different across cultures, and it will still, for the sake of scope, be a somewhat limited inquiry. It is especially important to consider that Hellenic and Roman polytheism had fairly distinct (though sometimes overlapping) categories that marked between chthonic and celestial divinities, while the same precise and not to mention explicit delineation is not necessarily present in many other polytheistic cultures.

In pre-Christian Celtic and Brythonic polytheism, there was a pair of underworld deities referred to as the Andedion (the “Infernal Ones”), or the Andee (or “non-gods”) in Ireland. The Andedion or Andee seem to be the spirits of the underworld, or Annwn, which is ruled over by the deity Gwyn Ap Nudd. The Gauls seem to have invoked them alongside the god Maponos Arveriatis, a god of youth who was likened to the Greco-Roman god Apollo to enhance them via the magic of the undeworld. The Andedion/Andee were believed to be furious spirits, kept in check by Gwyn ap Nudd because of their fury. Ancient Britons may have worshipped the Andedion/Andee through offering pits, in which the spirits were offered all manner of things in exchange for favour. Chthonic spirits may have occupied a strange place in the Brythonic religion, in that they were popularly revered and yet not openly acknowledged as divine presences. At St Mary’s Church in Penwortham, three human skulls were found in the wall of the church, and their presence may or may not be an echo of a pre-Christian belief in their apotropaic power. The spirits of the underworld were likely feared, since there were rituals that may have been meant to drive them away, but they also seem to be involved in maintaining the relationships between the living and the dead, and the seasons. They were spirits of both fertility and death, and that is characteristically chthonic. Their furious nature is also related to the “Scream Over Annwn”, a gesture of ritual frenzy enacted by disinherited persons trying to resist becoming indentured bondsmen.

There are many more chthonic deities to be found across the Celtic world. It is thought that the Gallo-Roman deity Sucellus was a chthonic deity, perhaps akin to Dis Pater, enforcing the boundaries of the living and the dead with his mallet. A popular Iberian deity named Endovelicus was worshipped as a god of the underworld as well as vegetation, healing, and prophecy. It is possible to think of Cernunnos, that iconic Celtic fertility god himself, as at least a liminal figure connected to chthonic powers, mediating between the underworld and the realm of the living and thus sitting between life and death. The Irish deity Donn, a god of the dead, was believed to be the divine ancestor of humans, to whose abode humans would return upon death. But, similar to the Greek context, numerous Celtic gods have their own chthonic aspect or at least some association with death. Mother goddesses, for instance, were frequently linked to death alongside their more characteristic link to fertility, and if the context of the Caerwent goddess is any indication, they may have been worshipped in wells, pits, or cellars beneath the ground. Gods and spirits were believed to reside in mounds protruding from the ground referred to as Sidhe. Trust in chthonic divinity may have been common and a major part of pre-Christian Celtic polytheism, in that ritual pits were frequently dug so that sacrifices would be buried beneath the ground to honour gods and spirits beneath the earth, who would have been disturbed by agricultural activity.

When discussing chthonicism in the context of Norse or Germanic polytheism, it is worth noting that in this context it is probably not quite as simple as saying that the Aesir are the celestial camp and the Vanir are the chthonic. Many Norse/Germanic deities, including the Aesir, . But one particular member of the Aesir stands out for his distinct connotations: none other than Odin, who is traditionally the leader of the Aesir.

Odin is popularly understood as a god of war, and because of his function as leader of the Aesir and title as Allfather, he is all too often thought of as essentially the Norse answer to Zeus, or even Yahweh in some cases. This reflects only a fraction of Odin’s richly complex character. There are indeed many hints as to his chthonic nature. Odin was called the “lord of the gallows”, and sometimes received hanged men as sacrificial offerings to the ravens. Among many epithets are Valdrgalga (“ruler of the gallows”), Farmrgalga (“burden of the gallows”), Draugadrottin (“lord of the Draugr/undead”), and Foldardrottin (“lord of the earth”), all which emphasize his sovereignty via the chthonic realm. Conversely, we can see that only one of his epithets, Valdrvagnbrautar (“ruler of the wagon road”), may stress his connection to the sky. Odin’s horse, Sleipnir, can be understood as a liminal entity or perhaps embodying a function similar to the psychopomp, in that the Sleipnir allowed Odin, as well as other deities such as Hermodr, to travel between worlds and, most importantly, through the underworld. Some theories about Valhalla, the hall where Odin keeps his share of those slain in battle, and its worth keeping in mind there is no universally accepted dogma on the subject (and this applies to much of Heathenry in general), Valhalla may have been located underground as opposed to the sky where many versions of “heaven” are. Other theories suggest that Valhalla was not actually a hall but rather a kind of underworld in itself. And of course, Odin goes down into the underworld to raise a volva (seeress) from thence in order to gain knowledge of the fate of the world. In a separate myth he goes to the underworld in order to resurrect a volva to reveal the fate of Baldr. In many ways, Odin actually emerge as a subtextually chthonic deity, concerned with death and the descent into hidden knowledge that he hopes would allow him to prevail at Ragnarok and overcome prophecised fate.

Other Norse and Germanic gods have a chthonic aspect or function not limited to more tangenty associations with death. The goddess Gefjon, a goddess of ploughing sometimes identified with the goddess Freyja, has been described as a chthonic goddess, perhaps on the basis of her role as an earth mother figure. The Germanic earth goddess Nerthus, attested solely via Tacitus, was believed to dwell in a lake in which she received sacrifices; incidentally, her attested name is thought to be etymologically linked to the Greek word “nerteros”, meaning “from the underworld” or “belonging to the underworld”. The Norse goddess Saga similarly resided in subterranean waters known as Sokkvabekkr, whose waters are drank by both Saga and Odin. It has been speculated that Saga herself is an aspect of or alternate name for the goddess Frigg, who is in turn often connected with Freyja. The earth itself was often personified by Jord, the goddess who gave birth to Thor and otherwise understood principally as a goddess of the earth. Freyr, a major Norse and Germanic god of fertility, seemed, according to the Gesta Danorum, to prefer “dark-coloured” sacrifices over bright-coloured or white sacrifices; such an affinity was of course shared with the chthonic deities of Greece and Rome. It is not certain, however, if this preference was more typical of the Vanir or any chthonic Norse/Germanic deities as opposed to just specifically the apparent preference of Freyr. The dwarves were believed to reside beneath the earth, where they crafted valuable artefacts on behalf of the gods. The jotunn, giants who frequently fought the gods in Norse myth, are sometimes understood as chthonic figures in view of their representation of the primordial forces of nature. For instance, in the Grottasongr, two jotunn named Fenja and Menja describe themselves as the offspring of a clan of mountain giants who are nourished beneath the earth.

Of course, the chthonic deity par excellence in the Norse context (besides Odin himself if we count him as such) would probably decidedly be Hel, the goddess of the dead who ruled over the place where many Norse people, typically those who died of sickness or old age, were expected to go when they die. Hel is the name of both the goddess and the realm over which she presides, a trait she has in common with the Greek Hades or the Etruscan Aita. The realm of Hel is a fairly abundant place, neither bliss nor torment but rather life in a different form. Those who died and went to Hel could expect to live lives similar to their former lives as shades or spirits, doing most of the things they could in the realm of the living while reunited with their deceased ancestors. Not such a bad place to be ruled by a goddess who was feared by the rest of the gods. Of course, some Christian-esque depictions of Hel present a different spin: Snorri Sturlusson, for his part, referred to Hel’s plate as “hunger”, her servants “slow” and “lazy”, her bed “illness”, and her curtains “bleak misfortune”. But although this has little to do with the pre-Christian Norse conception of Hel, the goddess Hel was feared by the other gods enough that Odin sent her to rule over the underworld in the hopes that the Aesir would not be threatened by her power. It was also believed to be possible to see into the realm of Hel by traversing the Helvegr, or “the road of Hel”, the path usually travelled by the dead, through what was understood to be a mystic journey practiced by Norse seers or magicians or gods to recover knowledge from the realm of the dead.

In Slavic polytheism, the main chthonic deity is Veles, a complex god associated with magic, water, earth, and of course the underworld to name just a few of his many domains. He was also a trickster and was worshipped as a protector of cattle and musicians and a patron of magic and commerce. Veles was believed to rule over the dead from below the roots of the World Tree. He seems to have been frequently locked in combat with the thunder god Perun, who presided over the top of the World Tree. Veles was sometimes believed to take the form of a serpent, and over time he was slowly re-imagined as a dragon or a local name for the Christian Devil. As a god of the underworld, Veles was also believed to escort the souls of the deceased to the meadows of the underworld, and may have also been invoked to punish those who broke their oaths by inflicting them with diseases.

It is also possible that the Pomeranian deity Triglav, the three-headed deity sometimes regarded as a “Pan-Slavic” god, may have either been a chthonic deity or possessed chthonic aspects. Black horses were scared to Triglav, as opposed to white horses being sacred to deities such as Svetovit or Perun. Some scholars argue that Triglav may have been a “proto-Slavic” god of the dead. Triglav may even have been identified with Veles in some cases. Others argue that Triglav served as the axis mundi of the Slavic cosmos, his three heads signifying the heavens, the earth, and the underworld into which everything would collapse without his support. Supposedly he lived at the bottom of a mountain (probably not the Slovenian Mount Triglav) bearing the foundations of the world, or hid within a tree of similar significance. For some, even his three heads are taken as a trope of chthonic gods such as Hermes as well as Slavic dragons.

In Egypt, there was something of a litany of chthonic deities, some of whom interacted with the influence of the Hellenistic culture that reached into Egypt. Anubis, the major psychopomp of Egyptian polytheism, is probably a typical example of such deities. Anubis is best known as the god who led the souls of the dead to the weighing scales where they would be judged by their hearts to determine their worthiness for the next life. He was also regarded as a protector of graves and a divine patron of embalming and mummification. In Greek magical spells, Anubis was also invoked as a chthonic god alongside Hermes, Persephone, Hecate, and Adonis. Other chthonic deities include Tatenen, the god of the primordial mound whose realm was deep beneath the earth, worshipped as the source of all worldly bounty and a guide for the souls of the deceased. Geb, as a god of the earth, was said to have ruled over snakes beneath the earth, swallowed up the dead, existed as the source of grain and fresh water, and animated the earth with his power sometimes as the cause of earthquakes. Gods like Ptah, Osiris, and Min were symbolically linked to subterranean powers by their bandaged legs, bound by the vital energy they unleashed, or by their sharing of a pedestal representing the primordial hill. At the main temple at Abu Simbel, the rays of the sun avoid the god Ptah, who thus always remains in the darkness, apparently because of some connection to the underworld.

The god Osiris is perhaps a curious case. He was frequently linked to the underworld, and perhaps originated as a chthonic deity of fertility, not to mention his link to the cycles of nature. He is also typically recognised as a judge of the dead, presiding over the underworld as its king. Under Hellenistic influence he was identified with Dionysus and/or Hades, and was syncretised with the sacred bull Apis to give rise to Serapis, a chthonic deity who rather closely resembles Hades. And yet, even though Osiris can in many respects clearly be understood as a chthonic deity, over time came to be understood as more than a chthonic deity, or at least took on other aspects. Osiris came to be identified with the soul of the pharoah and its aspiration for immortality as a star, and so in the Pyramid Texts Osiris was positioned as a star in the sky, while the soul of the pharoah was meant to transform into a star and into Osiris, and ultimately merge into the sky or “light land” with Ra.

In Canaan, the major god of the underworld and death was Mot, into whose jaws life was consumed. The god Horon is also thought to have resided in the underworld, and is often considered to be a god of sorcery. It is frequently supposed that Resheph (a.k.a. Reshef or Rasap), who was chiefly a god of pestilence and war, was a chthonic deity himself, possibly owing to his identification with the Mesopotamian god Nergal; this categorization may otherwise be somewhat questionable. In Ugaritic mythology, the fertility god Athtar, after declining to assume the throne of Ba’al after his death, descended into the underworld to become its ruler instead. The Moabite deity Chemosh, often identified with Athtar, is sometimes, with extremely limited information, described as a chthonic deity and is also speculated to be a form of the Mesopotamian underworld god Nergal. Dagon, the god of grain, also has chthonic aspects in that he was in certain instances also called “bel pagre” (“Lord of the Dead”) and his temple at Mari was called the “temple of the funerary ritual”. But perhaps the greatest expression of chthonicism in this milieu is, ironically enough, none other than Baal himself.

Klaas Spronk argues that the Baal of Peor that appears in the Bible represents a chthonic aspect of the broader fertility deity Baal. This is based on the name Peor being connected to the netherworld through Isaiah 5:14, referencing the mouth of the netherworld, and further the myth of the bull of Baal mounting the heifer in the underworld. Indeed Baal himself was sometimes worshipped in a chthonic way, with texts such as the KTU2 listing Baal as a deity residing in the underworld and receiving offerings from a hole in the ground. Baal was also believed to descend into the underworld for a time so as to fortify the deceased, and in the netherworld Baal was the lord of the “mighty dead”, who are called Rephaim. The name Baal Zebul, the basis for the name Beelzebub, may have referred to a chthonic deity originally worshipped for help in cases of illness. That Baal, as the Canaanite and Ugaritic deity who represented the principle of nature, would have a chthonic aspect is not terribly surprising, though this was almost certainly not the entirety of his character within Canaanite and Ugaritic polytheism.

In ancient Mesopotamia, Nergal was one of the main gods of the underworld and, thus, one of the main chthonic powers. He ruled over the underworld alongside a clan of ancestral deities, was invoked in apotropaic rites, presided over war and peace, and was occasionally worshipped as a patron of vegetation and agriculture. The other major chthonic deity is Ereshkigal, queen of the underworld, also referred to as Irkalla (like the underworld itself) or Ninkigal (“Lady of the Great Earth). She was usually venerated alongside Nergal, but plays a central role in the myth of Inanna’s descent into the underworld. Many other Mesopotamian gods could be considered chthonic. The god Ninazu, son of Ereshkigal, was a god of the underworld who cured ailments and presided over the death and regeneration of plant life. Ningiszida was a god of snakes, vegetation, and the underworld who stood at its entrance and travelled there when the plants began to die out, and also presided over the law of the earth as well as the underworld. But even the sun god Utu (a.k.a. Shamash) had strong ties to the underworld, where he makes judgements over the dead.

In ancient Iran, there seems to have been a cult devoted to the Daevas, the evil spirits of Zoroastrianism who are none other than the old gods of India and Persia, who were worshipped by Magi. These daevas were apparently worshipped at night instead of day, receiving libations after sunset, because of their association with night and darkness. According to Plutarch, writing in On Isis and Osiris, there were gloomy rites involved made to Ahriman (or Areimanius, who Plutarch seems to identify with Hades) for the purpose of warding off evil, and were performed in dark or sunless spots such as caves. Rites to these daevas seemed to involve libations that were mixed with the blood of a slain wolf, and the body and milk of a wolf were to be offered to the daevas in accordance with ritual law. Another chthonic ritual involved a nocturnal rite in which a bull was sacrificed outside the boundaries of the village, never to be brought back. The bull apparently served as a stand-in for the god Rudra, the wild god of storms who was believed to be the protector of cattle, so sacrificing the bull in the wilderness meant the Rudra of the cattle joining with the Rudra of the wilderness.

In Vedic India, multiple gods possessed chthonic aspects or outright embodied the chthonic realm. One example is Yama, the ruler of the land of Naraka and the sovereign judge of the dead. Once the first mortal, he became the ruler of departed souls upon his death, and so he was worshipped as a god of death, the underworld, and the spirits of ancestors. The god Varuna, often recognised as a god of the night sky, water, and cosmic law, was also a god of the underworld, and the underworld was believed to be the place where the celestial waters of the night sky were found and the home of Varuna. Both Varuna and Yama seem to share the trait of binding sinners or wrongdoers with a noose for judgement. Nirrti, goddess of decay, was believed to live in the kingdom of the dead, and in some texts was also called “the earth”, possibly having originally been an earth goddess. The god Kubera was the lord of a group of chthonic spirits called yakshas (and their feminine counterparts called yakshini), who were once worshipped as protectors of the earth and its treasures, and otherwise was himself. Some argue that Rudra was, in addition to being a wild god of storms, a spirit of vegetation, who created vegetation and dwelt in the waters as its hidden spirit, and in this capacity a chthonic power. For what it’s worth, the Svetasvatara Upanishad says that Rudra is present inside the hearts of all beings; thus, he dwells in all life as its protector and life force. In Atirātra sacrifices, the night is dedicated entirely to Indra, otherwise understood as the main celestial deities with no general chthonic aspect.

While we may or may not be focusing on the Devas in the Vedic/Hindu context, there is much to be said about the chthonic context of their opponents: the Asuras. The name Asura, perhaps originally an epithet of several gods denoting their might and power, came to denote a clan of demigods or deities whose home was the underworld. The Asuras were believed to reside in or around Patala, a beautiful subterranean land inhabited by nagas and other spirits, constantly illuminated by crystals. The Asuras were believed to periodically emerge from this realm to do battle against the Devas. In both Hindu and Buddhist myths, the Asuras are often depicted as having been driven into the underworld after being defeated by either Vishnu (in Hindu myths) or Indra with the help of Manjushri (in Buddhist myths). In Indian folklore and magic, the caves of the Asuras were believed to be the entrances to subterranean paradises filled with otherworldly beauty and wealth. It is sometimes thought that the underworld was a place of subterranean riches guarded jealously by the Asuras, and later forcibly extracted by the Devas. In later Tantric Buddhist tradition, the caves of the Asuras were the centre of a set of mystic practices called Patalasiddhi, in which yogis sought to descend to the subterranean realm of the Asuras in order to gain magical knowledge and powers, as well as longevity, and the purity that comes with bathing in the sacred waters of the cavern streams. They also travelled to these realms in order to experience erotic pleasures with the Asuri. This tradition, recorded in Tibetan and Chinese esoteric Buddhist texts, draws on legends such as the stay of Padmasambhava in the Asura Cave at Pharping.

In Japanese myth, there is a divide between two factions of kami: the Amatsukami, the gods of heaven, and the Kunitsukami, the gods of the earth. The chthonic powers, in this setting, are the Kunitsukami, who are also sometimes called Chigi. The Kunitsukami are also positioned as rebellious beings, wild gods, termed by their heavenly adversaries as “araburu-no-kami” (or “savage gods”). Gods under this label traditionally include Okuninushi (a.k.a. Onamuchi-no-kami among several other names), Omononushi (a.k.a. Miwa Myojin), Takeminakata (a.k.a. Suwa Myojin), and Sarutahiko Okami. In myth, the Kunitsukami were the autochthonous deities of Japan who were deemed unruly by the Amatsukami, and thus the Amatsukami descend in order to take the land from the Kunitsukami. Other mythological examples of the autochthonous Kunituskami include Kotoshironushi, Sukunahikona, Kuebiko, and Ame-no-Kagaseo, the last kami to resist the takeover of the land. The only thing is, it is thought that the terminological distinction between Amatsukami and Kunitsukami is not an originary product of Shinto tradition and more like political categorization, the distinct product of medieval mythmaking meant to justify the rule of the Yamato imperial dynasty. To that effect, the term Kunitsukami also understood as sometimes referring to the gods of peoples that were conquered by the Yamato, including the people of Izumo. It may help that there are numerous Japanese deities can be considered chthonic but which are not traditionally “Kunitsukami”. The goddess Izanami, having died during childbirth and become a permanent resident of Yomi, can be thought of as simultaneously a mother goddess and a goddess of death and the dead, and in this sense classically chthonic. In Japaense esoteric Buddhism we also see a complex network of chthonian deities who are, to varying degrees, related to each other and other gods. These gods include Kojin, Kenro Jijin, Ugajin, Benzaiten, Dakiniten, Enmaten, Daikokuten, Bishamonten, Gozu Tennoh, and Matarajin.

The chthonic power par excellence in the context of Shinto is usually Susano-o. Usually understood as a god of storms, Susano-o is a wild god who, over time, found his home in the netherworld. His very wild demeanor and friction with Amaterasu, the solar goddess of the imperial family, led medieval nativists and anti-syncretic Buddhists to count him as an “evil” deity. In myth, he was exiled from the heavenly plain of Takamagahara for wreaking havoc and causing Amaterasu to hide in a cave, thus bringing darkness to the world. As an outcast from Takamagahara, Susano-o came to be regarded as ruler of the underworld (though not Yomi), and in this regard he came to represent the spirits of the dead. He in turn came to be invoked in divination, and the basements of some shrines were used to practice incubation and induced states of spiritual possession. After killing the dragon Yamata-no-Orochi, winning the sword Kusanagi, and blessing his daughter’s marriage to Okuninushi, he descends into the underworld to become its ruler. From a more philosophical standpoint, Susano-o perhaps represents what Iwasawa Tomoko calls the “chthonic dialectic”. Susano-o’s gratuitous transgressions are also a source of worldly dynamism connected to life. Vital energy and fertility find theophany not only in the violent power of storms and thunder, which serves as an active life force, but also in his seemingly unhinged defecation of Takamagahara, which simultaneously destroys and fertilizes the fields. Even Amaterasu fleeing to the cave because of his actions results in that cave into a womb that thus gives birth to light.

Ancient Egyptian depiction of a section of the underworld, presided over by the god Osiris

The Meaning of the Underworld and Chthonicism At Large

We could go on and on about chthonic divinity in various traditional contexts, but it’s better now to focus on the central subject to chthonicism: the underworld itself. It is this domain that is the source of the religious meaning relevant to our understanding of chthonicism in this setting. From here we can also sort of extend our inquiry on the global contexts of chthonicism beyond the individual gods and their associative networks.

The underworld, for many pre-Christian cultures, was often imagined as simply the place that most people would go to when they die. This was the case, for instance, in Greek polytheism, where the soul of the deceased would go and join with the shades after death. Sometimes the underworld was divided into sections, with one reserved for the particularly heroic dead, another for the exceedingly wicked, and one for the rest. In Norse polytheism, Hel, or Helheim, was the place where the souls of many of the deceased would go after death, although there were many other realms where the deceased could end up instead depending on the circumstances of their death; for example, those slain in battle could go to either Valhalla or Folkvangr, while those who died at sea would go to the bottom of the sea with the goddess Ran. The Mesopotamian underworld, called Irkalla, was believed to be the sole destination for all the souls of the dead, from which they were never to return and in which they were neither punished nor rewarded for their lives. In Canaanite polytheism, all who died passed into the land of Mot, the god of death. In Irish polytheism, the souls of the dead went to Tech Duinn, the house of Donn, possibly before going to the Otherworld or being reincarnated.

Sometimes the underworld was, ironically enough, imagined as a celestial plane rather than a place beneath the earth. This idea can be found in ancient Greek authors who imagined a sort of “celestial Hades” existing in the sky where souls. The idea of a “celestial underworld” can also be found in ancient Egypt, where it was imagined as a reverse image of every aspect of the world of the living. However, in the case of the Greek concept, there is an argument to be made that the idea of a “celestial Hades”, particularly the positioning as allegory, serves to displace the chthonic idea of the underworld with a celestial abode, as an effort to remake the underworld in order to conform to prevailing philosophical dogma linking heavenly beauty with philosophical truth.

The idea of the underworld as a double of this world, however, is not quite uncommon. For example, in Celtic cultures, the Otherworld is frequently described as a mixture of beautiful elements of the world of the living with more dreamlike elements (such as “purple trees” as depicted in Serglige Cu Culainn). The Egyptian Duat was similarly a place that mixed the familiar images of the world of the living with surreal and fantastical landscapes. In Mesopotamian polytheism, Irkalla was thought of as essentially a shadow of life on earth, and not particularly distant from it.

Of course, if the underworld was a double of the world of the living, perhaps it had its own sun as well. This was sometimes at least purported to be believed in antiquity. In ancient Mesopotamia, the planet Saturn was sometimes regarded as a dark solar entity, a “black star” or “Sun of the night”, more specifically an appearance of the sun god Utu in his role as the supreme judge of the dead. The Egyptian god Osiris is sometimes referred to as the sun disk of the inhabitants of the netherworld. The Roman author Macrobius insisted that Liber/Dionysus was, in the context of the Orphic religion, the same as the Sun, possibly referencing the Thracian deity Zis who was at once the Sun and the ruler of the underworld. At Smyrna, a funerary inscription describes a sanctuary dedicated to six deities, two of which are called Plouton Helios (as in Pluto the Sun) and Koure Selene (as in Kore the Moon), possibly suggesting that Plouton/Hades was, in some local cults, venerated as a nocturnal sun. More frequently, though, it was assumed that the Sun itself travelled through the underworld on a regular basis as part of the daily solar cycle. The Egyptian sun god Ra regularly descended into the underworld on a barque, where he was protected by other gods who did battle with the serpent Apep. In the Mesopotamian context, Utu’s appearance in the underworld was probably also meant as a regular sojourn into the underworld. In the Mayan context, the “night sun” was a sun god who descended into the underworld, took the form of a jaguar to fight other jaguars, before ascending as the rising sun. Of course, for the Greek philosopher Empedocles, it was actually the Sun that emerged from Hades.

Underworlds were also frequently positioned as sources of mystic knowledge, not to mention magical power. Greek mystery cults centered themselves around the idea of traversing into the underworld for the purpose of attaining knowledge that would grant them a blessed afterlife, or immortality amongst the gods. In Norse polytheism, traversing the Helvegr was seen as a way to receive wisdom from the dead. The Celtic Otherworld was regarded as a source of wisdom, truth, and healing power among other things, and those who crossed into it and returned were changed forever.

If Pagan chthonicism has a symbol it is probably the snake, and this is for a variety of reasons. Although it is certainly not the only symbol of the power of the underworld (in differing contexts this has also been symbolized by a diverse range of animals, including horses, wolves, owls, or jaguars), it is easily its most enduring. In Greece, the snake represented the realm of the underworld, and is sometimes regarded as a chthonic element for numerous deities. This connotation comes from the ancient Greek belief that the dead could appear in the form of a snake. More importantly, the snake was the perennial symbol of the renewal of life through death, and in this sense the sacred vehicle of immortality. The snake was associated with the hero cult as a companion to the hero, if it did not represent the hero him/herself, since heroes were people who, in death, resided in the earth just as the snakes were believed to do, and the burial of the hero denoting his keeping company with the original subterranean inhabitants of his gravesites, becoming part of the litany of the underworld. The Etruscans similarly regarded serpents as chthonic agents, as dwellers of the underworld who embodied its power and enforced its boundaries. Ancient Etruscan iconography also features bearded serpents, frequently brandished by demons, as apotropaic images or objects of power over the dead. It has been suggested that the image of the bearded serpent can be traced to Egypt, where it was connected to the Egyptian god Osiris. Throughout the Mediterranean, the snake was seen as an ambivalent power that could produce oracles and confer plentiful harvests, while in Egypt the serpent was also associated with the growth of plants.

In Slavic folklore, serpents and dragons are chthonic entities, typically associated with Veles, and believed to devour gold and silver while cursing people with disease. In Slavic magical charms they were invoked to cure the ailments they otherwise caused. Over time, however, they were also frequently identified with foreign names (such as Lamja from the Greek Lamia or Azdaja from the Iranian Azhi Dahak), sometimes to denote apparent foreign adversaries, which in a Christian context are opposed by figures such as Saint George. In what is arguably a nationalistic framework, the chthonicism of the dragon becomes the shadow of the nation, in this sense a space in which “the Other” is represented as a hostile force to be cut down.

There is also often a link between the chthonic realms and ancestry, in that the chthonic powers and gods were often linked to ancestral spirits, or rather they were themselves those ancestral spirits, or sometimes a chthonic deity was the ancestor either of humanity or a given people. In Rome, for instance, the deities referred to as Dii Manes, often considered chthonic gods in their own right, represented the spirits of the dead, often meaning the collective body of deceased ancestors. Either Pluto, as the god of the underworld, or Summanus, god of nocturnal thunder, were called “the greatest of the Manes”, which in some ways would make either of them the divine representative of ancestral spirits. The Roman god Saturn, exiled from the heavens or bound in the underworld, was believed to be the ancestral father of the Italic peoples and in this respect was regarded as the ancestral king of Latium if not the whole of Italy. Other mythological sources hold the god Janus to be the king of Latium. In ancient Greece, the Titans themselves could be seen as the ancestors of both gods and men, and are indeed acknowledged as such in the Orphic Hymns. Beyond this, it is thought that chthonic cults at large were intertwined with ancestor worship, and the pair of Hades and Persephone were often worshipped as presiding over this context, such as in the Necromanteion of Acheron. In Canaanite polytheism, the Rephaim, or “mighty dead”, were sometimes believed to be presided over by Ba’al in the underworld. In Irish myth, the chthonic god Donn was believed to be the ancestor of humans, and it is to his house that all the deceased souls return before their ultimate fate. Hel, as goddess of the Norse underworld realm bearing her name, is surely the keeper of the realm of the deceased ancestors. Odin, himself at least partially a chthonic deity, is regarded as a divine ancestor by various peoples across parts of Europe. In Slavic polytheism, the god Veles was often worshipped in conjunction with the veneration of ancestors, being called upon in celebrations of Dziady with the spirits of deceased ancestors or simply honoured in celebrations dedicated to them. Yama, the Vedic and Hindu judge of the dead who dwelled in the underworld, was traditionally regarded as the first mortal, and therefore the divine ancestor of the human species. In Japan, chthonian deities referred to as Kunitsukami are sometimes regarded as the ancestors of various non-imperial peoples within Japan. In some sources, for instance, Susano-o is regarded as the ancestor of the Izumo.

The underworld as connected to the ancestors is in many ways logically co-attendant with the position of the underworld as the resting place of the dead at large. The context of the ancestors is one of many that may afford a sense of seniority and primacy to the power of the underworld, as the ancestral basis of life itself within many pre-Christian cultural contexts. In the Aztec context, for instance, the underworld could be seen as the place that simultaneously represented death and the originary state of creation, a time of primordial darkness where the gods were “still in their bones”. In a sense it reflects an appreciation of the omnipresence of death, and the idea of the germination of life within the whole cyclical system of death and rebirth, a realm to which the ancestors are a link for the living. Or, in another sense, they link the living to the gods.

Chthonicism in the classical context seems to have close connections to subversion that then may also link back to the theme of death and rebirth. One chthonic rite that stands out among othesr is the Katabasis that was practiced by “Western” Greeks in Sicily. Katabasis generally refers to the descent to the underworld, followed by a return to the world of the living. Several mythological figures, including gods and heroes, partake in their own journeys to the underworld, not just in Greece but all over the world. In Sicily, the Western Greeks practiced a Katabasis that involved rituals to chthonic deities such as Dionysus, Demeter, and/or Kore (Persephone). These rituals entailed a re-enactment of mythical narratives as well as an initiation that put the initiate in a sort of otherworldly experience characterized by the temporary dismantling of everyday self-hood, or a “ritual death”, followed by ritual rebirth. There also seems to have been a comical character to this Katabasis, with the chthonic gods playing host to parodic dramas and playful bufoonery, and comic inversion giving initiates the power to subvert the patterns through the patterns hidden within, and the living and the death almost joined together under the sight of a benign King and Queen of the underworld, invitation to the party of the afterlife. Sex and death are sort of one in this chthonic realm, with Aphrodite and Hermes, the depiction of Eros embodying a kind of erotic ecstasy parallel to the loss of self in the “ritual death”, and the presence of fornicating satyrs, all serving as a backdrop to the marriage of Persephone in Locri. Katabatic rituals also had a comic and subversive element throughout Greece. At Plataea, during the festival of Daedala, the cave of Trophonios was host to mythical narratives and ritual activities that produced laughter, which signified the renewal of life and a restoration of equilibrium.

The freedom of Saturnalian excess was also sometimes associated with the underworld. The Roman philosopher Seneca condemned the emperor Claudius for his condonement of gambling, accused him of turning the mock misrule of Saturnalia into a state of permanent misrule, and wrote that after his death he would be forced to continue his gambling ways in the underworld. This, of course, is meant to be understood as punishment for his transgression in life, and as a statement that, in Seneca’s words, “the Saturnalia cannot continue forever”. But the effect of that is nonetheless that the underworld becomes a place where individual license could be said to perpetuate, as opposed to worldly life where it must be weighed against duty and custom.

The myth of Saturn also may contain room for the chthonic as a zone of resistance, or indeed a microcosm for the imminent reality of rebellion even within the cosmic order. You see, in Roman myth, the god Saturn is said to have once ruled the world in a Golden Age, an age of boundless abundance and equality, until he was dethroned by the Olympians, and then Jupiter, in fear of Saturn’s power, cast Saturn in chains to contain him. His chains are, of course, released once a year, at the time of the winter solstice when chaotic revelries in his name break out in Rome and order of Roman society is joyously upended; thus is Saturnalia. In the account of Macrobius, Saturn is ostensibly born from the original Chaos, or more specifically carved out from it by the division of that Chaos by the primordial god Coelus, the god of the heavens who established the first order of the cosmos. This would make Saturn, and the power of time that he represents, a remnant of the primal chaos that is thus immiment in the cosmic order. The Greek Magical Papyri deepens this connection in its spells such as the Prayer to Selene, where Selene (or rather Hekate) wears the chains of Kronos and wields a scepter made by Kronos that gives her dominion over all beings and the very powers of Chaos. In a way, we might say that, one way or another, by force or otherwise, the original reality of Chaos evolved from a state of disorganized undifferentiation to a state of organization that is nonetheless riddled with entropy, contradiction, and the latent potential of its own negation. In Saturn this is a power feared by even the gods, for time devours all in its ruthless passage. But it is also important to understand this primal negativity not just as the eternal source of life itself per Saturn’s link to rebirth, but also as itself a zone of resistance. Saturn himself was regarded as a kind of outlaw in Rome; a god who arrived in Italy as a fugitive and dethroned god, exiled from Olympus, who nonetheless established agriculture and law among fauns, nymphs, and humans.

Rebellion is imminent in the pagan ideas of the cosmos, especially in Greek and Roman polytheism. In its infancy, the cosmos undergoes successive changes in management under different rulers, whose regimes are established through successive revolutions or insurrections. And even after Zeus or Jupiter had already ostenisbly established dominion, still the prospect that Zeus/Jupiter might themselves lose their power remains imminent. The god devours his own wife just as Saturn devoured his own offspring to prevent this from happening, and even then, Zeus/Jupiter’s wife and Olympian offspring have themselves tried to overthrow him. But before that, of course, the Titans continued to war with the Olympians, with Typhon doing battle against Zeus/Jupiter. The possibility of the cosmic order to be overturned is inherent in the cosmos itself, and Saturn, especially in Roman myth, embodies that. But there’s also more. Think back to the Golden Age, the time of Saturn’s reign, of apparent boundless abundance and equality. Of course there are many different versions of that myth, but we’ll stick with the account of the Roman poet Virgil, in which the Golden Age persists until the reign of Jupiter which overthrows Saturn. It has been said that there was a reason for Jupiter’s abolition of the Golden Age, that this Age was in its own way a brutal subjugation, and that it was not ideal and that it thus needed to be overthrown. But is that really the case? Or is it really just an arbitrary act of power? Think about the sort of life that disappeared with the death of the Golden Age, and the life of rigid hierarchies that succeeded it. From a standpoint, I suppose, that is just progress. But progress is simply the movement of men, social processes, and the heavens; those movements are not inherently essential, and are often arbitrary. From the standpoint of Saturn and his cohorts at least, why should the primitive abundance of the Golden Age have had to disappear?

To align with the chthonic is in a certain sense to go into a negative space not defined by the progressive revolutions of celestial will. To go into the underworld is to go into the knowledge of the soul’s origin. All of these are themselves a microcosm as the larger ontological negativity that I like to talk about, and thus it’s all a microcosm for the divine reality of Darkness, and the knowledge thereof. This does not only pertain to the context of Saturn within the same Hesiodic mythology of insurrection: from the same realm of the underworld where Kronos is imprisoned, the Hecatoncheires that were imprisoned there by Ouranos are later freed by Zeus so that they would assist him in overthrowing the reign of Kronos. In this sense, as well, the underworld functions as a zone of constant potential for resistance, a profound and latent negativity within the cosmos.

The link between chthonicism and rebellion may also be linked to the figure of the wild folk that appear in medieval iconography. Richard Bernheimer notes that the wild folk are simultaneously “demons of the earth” and “ghosts of the underworld”, and suggests echoes of the traits of the “wild man” Silvanus, as benefactor of wild creatures and their woods and fields on the one hand, and on the other hand Orcus the “enemy” of Man and living things. The wild folk of the medieval imagination were complex and liminal figures in their own right; they were “savage”, “ruthless”, “cunning”, “mad”, sexually libertinous and unrestrained, but also proud, benign, occasionally sympathetic representations of the freedom that exists in a nature beyond the constraints of nature, and thus a kind of innocence. Some medieval authors even believed that wild folk could develop chivalry and become knights without having to abandon much of their “savage” nature. The wild folk were thus somehow simultaneously the threat of moral anarchy and degeneration and an emblem of a wild virtue lost to civilization and its acculturations. The wild folk were also related to demons that were purportedly invoked in old fertility rites for their positive powers of fertility and then ritually banished or destroyed through burning. Because these demons were hairy like the wild folk, I would conjecture that they could have been the Dusios, a divinity thought to have been venerated by the Gauls or Celts. These Dusii reportedly still received worship in parts of what was called Prussia, where it was believed forests were consecrated to them. The wild folk may have been believed to be the descendants of Orcus, and insofar as that was the myth we could say that the chthonic powers thus once again become central to the underbelly of rebellion, this time in the context of the remnants of paganism in a society marked by an ascendant Christian hegemony.

Perhaps the deepest meaning of the underworld is as a hidden source of rebirth. After all, the underworld, while it was the destination of the souls of the dead, it was in many contexts simultaneously regarded as a source of renewing fertility and returning life. In a much broader sense, going down into the underworld was often regarded as a precursor to a sort of mystic rebirth of the practitioner or initiate, more specifically into a blessed afterlife. That was in the core idea of Greek mystery traditions such as the Eleusinian Mysteries and later the Orphic Mysteries. A similar idea is presented in Apuleius’ The Golden Ass, where he is depicted as going through a ritual descent into the underworld and a kind of mystic death and rebirth, emerges in the divine image of a solar deity, and then meets the gods themselves, worshipping them “face to face”. The idea also seems to be present in the Egyptian Book of Thoth, which ostensibly aims to expedite the spiritual rebirth of the disciple and their meeting with the gods.

In the Egyptian Books of the Sky, the underworld realm of Duat is composed of multiple regions, one of which consisted of the primordial waters of the limitless and timeless outer cosmos. In this region, the sun and the stars undergo a process of regeneration involving its incursion into the primordial waters, briefly plunging into them in order to be reborn. This realm also seems to have been linked to the divine body of Osiris, in whose realm the Egyptian sun god Ra is believed to have passed through for his regular renewal. A similar idea can be found in Aztec myth, wherein the Sun is guided through the underworld by Xolotl, to its apparent “death” and then to its rebirth, thus supporting the cycle of life, death, and rebirth. In Mayan myth, it is an unidentified god of maize who makes this descent, passing below the waters of the underworld only to emerge triumphantly from the earth’s surface. And yet this theme of rebirth is not always universal, as is illustrated by the distinction between the Egyptian and Mesopotamian underworlds. Whereas the Egyptian underworld was a realm of potential rebirth, the Mesopotamian underworld was simply the land of no return, no rebirth to speak of except perhaps for some of the gods. In the Greek context, the underworld is always a source of deifying power, in that descent into this realm was thought to lead to transformation into a divine being; thus it is a timeless source of becoming and immortality.

It has often been noted that a sort of ritual, meaning spiritual, death and rebirth is an essential component of mysticism at large. In fact, we might well consider the theme of descent itself as a fairly integral aspect of ancient mysticism. Pythagoras, for instance, retreated into an underground chamber so as to “disappear into Hades” and then re-emerge, ostensibly bringing forth messages or “commands” from the “divine mother” (possibly meaning the goddess Demeter). Another Greek philosopher, Zalmoxis, who also was regarded as divinity or daemon in parts of Thrace, was similarly reputed to descend into an underground chamber for three years and then re-emerge. Empedocles apparently enacted his own form ritual katabasis, his own descent into the underworld. Supposedly, even Zoroaster went down into the underworld. The Greek Magical Papyri contains some fragments of a ritual wherein the practitioner must enter the underworld and then recite spells to protect oneself from hostile daimones, which is on its own very in line with Egyptian magic and particularly the spells meant to ensure the immortality of the pharaoh. Such is the mystagogical tradition within the pre-Christian polytheism. But just to illustrate that theme of descent a different, perhaps monotheistic context, we can note the importance of the theme of descent in Jewish mysticism or parts thereof. In the Hekhalot texts, for example, there is a fairly mysterious idea about descent into a state of spiritual transformation as the necessary precursor to a mystic ascent towards the Merkabah, the throne of God. It’s probably not the underworld as such, but it is descent in a mystical context, and the resonance does speak to a broader theme of ancient mysticism: you must go down into the divine in order to discover it. And for a lot of pre-Christian mysticism, this meant going into the underworld.

All in all, chthonicism contains a multitude of themes that all converge in a broad and distinct religious mode. It locates the divine in the inner regions of the world, it signifies that divine power as running through the world at large, and it locates a wild presence of devours the order of things and which, in order to access the knowledge and life of the divine, must be accessed through descent into its realm.

The Sibyl showing Aeneas the Underworld” by Jacob Isaacsz. van Swanenburgh (1620)

The Season of Death

I’ll say in complete honesty that one of the main reasons for writing this article was indeed none other than “spooky season”, or at least some ideas about it that were swirling around and which I think allow for a very clarifying discourse on chthonicism. And yes, I’m referring to both the time we call Samhain or Halloween and the time that we recognise as the run up to Yule or Christmas and the end of the year.

Let me start this off by referencing a tweet or two from Margaret Killjoy, an anarchist author and musician known for her work in a black metal band called Feminazgul. She says that Halloween is not the end of “spooky season” but is rather the beginning of the “season of death”. In this “season of death” even Christmas can be seen as a time where everyone clings to one another in the darkest time of the year, before the cold sets in. I can think of it as this positioning the last few months of the year, crawling up to the end of the solar cycle itself, as a progression, or perhaps “death march”, towards the rebirth that is thus signified in Yule, and the natural-cosmological significance of this season serves as a microcosm for a much larger chthonic mystery of death and rebirth itself. In the endeavour of this writing, I hope to adequately explain how, and in this respect we should start with Samhain.

Samhain is usually understood as the time of the year when the borders between our world and the netherworld burst open, and the spirits of the dead and the denizens of the underworld join the company of the living. The presence of death and the beyond is thus a constant theme of Samhain. Samhain was also understood as the festival that marked the beckoning of winter and the beginning of the dark nights leading up to the winter solstice, the longest night of all. To call it the beginning of the season of death is thus quite apt. But there’s also another theme present that also makes Samhain, or perhaps more aptly the modern Halloween, what it is: rebellion. This aspect is not obvious from modern Halloween celebrations, but it is to be understood in the context of the passage of Samhain into the Christian era. As discussed in an anonymous article from Ill Will titled “The Devil’s Night: On The Ungovernable Spirit of Halloween“, the remnants of pre-Christian folk paganism and the rumored nocturnal gatherings of “witches” were, as the subjects of religious panic amongst the Christian ruling classes, filtered through the dominant overculture as the concept of All Hallow’s Eve, ostensibly a Christian day to commemorate the saints and the martyrs, as the holiday of witches and devils. This shift has a noticeable political context in that it ties back to the infamous North Berwick Witch Trials, in which dozens of Scottish people were accused of gathering on Halloween night to perform witchcraft in order to stop King James I from meeting with his future queen Anne of Denmark. These witch trials are probably the origin of several iconographic tropes associated with witchcraft in popular culture and, alongside this, modern Halloween, such as the association of cats with witches, the use of cauldrons and brooms by witches, and the presence of demons and the Devil.

Over time, Halloween came to be associated with drunken revelries, mischief, “whoredom”, pranks on random domiciles, and mockery of public officials. In Britain this was in conjunction with similar celebrations of Guy Fawkes Night, which included burning effigies of not only the Pope and Guy Fawkes but also a number of other politicians. In America, Halloween was a time where people frequently played pranks on each other, but some people also staged riots against authority figures and other societal edifices: attacking police officers, vandalising cars, defacing churches, raiding police stations to rescue imprisoned comrades, and general civic unrest that was then dispersed by the authorities. In fact, it was arguably only relatively recently, after the Second World War, that the harmless commercial custom of trick-or-treating emerged as the main public face and primary custom of Halloween. This taming of Halloween was the product of concerted campaigns by local authorities, advertising companies, candy and chocolate companies, churches, schools, politicians, and entertainment media; apparently all layers of American capitalist society worked in tandem to recuperate Halloween as a peaceful consumer holiday. The desire to recuperate Halloween was explicitly stated in the media, and authorities reinforced an intense propaganda war by having students sign pledges to refrain from Halloween pranks and influence others to conform. In a sense, American consumer capitalism had succeeded where the medieval Christian church had failed. But even this only goes to show the rebellious heritage that Halloween has, a legacy of danger, chaos and unrest that even to this day has not entirely faded from view.

Unsurprisingly for such heritage, the medieval imagination also linked the Devil himself to Halloween celebrations and their attendant cultural imaginary. The Devil was believed to be the consort or leader of all witches, perhaps even their patron deity, and on Halloween night it was believed that he danced and held feasts with witches while fortune-telling charms were performed in his name. Such beliefs also formed part of the accusations against supposed witches in the North Berwick Witch Trials. It’s not exactly clear where these ideas about the Devil come from, but by this point the Devil has already been filtered through the legacies of multiple pre-Christian deities. His horned visage obviously owes much to the god Pan, but many medieval depictions of Hell, where Satan is depicted as a bearded figure sitting on a throne in Hell, recall the appearance of the god Hades. The Devil’s blue skin and brutish expression has also been linked to Charun, an Etruscan demon psychopomp who may have tormented the souls of the dead. Indeed, the medieval Devil was sometimes named Dis, as in Dis Pater, a Roman god of the underworld, particularly in Dante’s Divine Comedy. Thus the medieval imagination explicitly links the Devil especially to chthonic gods of old. Even the fall of Satan/Lucifer has echoes of the banishment of the Titans, itself echoing the fallen gods who became lords of the underworld in Hittite and Mesopotamian mythology. Another Halloween character we can turn our attention to is Death, who is surely the other chthonic power par excellence in the medieval landscape. The medieval figure of Death, a skeletal grim reaper complete with the scythe, recalls the imagery of the Roman god Saturn or Saturnus.

Even the idea of witches as a dangerous transgressive element in society may have some link to certain interpretations of the chthonic element in ancient Greek and Roman society. For one thing, if pre-Christian witches had a patron deity, it was probably Hecate, one of the main goddesses of the underworld, who was believed to have taught witchcraft and sorcery to mortals. The way we understand witchcraft is sometimes related to goeteia, the ancient Greek art of sorcery that, per Jake Stratton-Kent, is itself also connected to a much older form of Greek religion centered around ecstatic rites and the worship of wild, chthonic deities in order to acheive worldly desires. As Greece passed into its “classical” or Hellenistic era, goeteia evolved into a byword for malicious sorcery, “lower” magick (as opposed to the “higher” magic of Neoplatonic theurgy), fraud, and deception in the eyes of a society that categorized its particular brand of wild, ecstatic religion as anathema to its own nascent values of rational civilization. In Rome, witches were believed to cast curses out of spite and malice while invoking and even threatening the spirits of the dead, and were frequently accused of murdering children and plotting to kill the emperor. Such depictions, of course, are very likely to have been constructed from the perspective of patriarchy, thus superimposed upon an otherwise general and often benign phenomenon of women who practiced magic and offered healing and counsel. Still, the alignment of “witches” or “sorceresses” to nocturnal rites and chthonic imagery speaks to the subversive context that was attached to chthonicism.

Chthonicism in general can be tied back to rebellion in many ways through the context we have already thus explored. In Rome, this is most evident in the cult of chthonic gods such as Liber or Bacchus being tied to ritual disobedience, while in Greece, as Luther H. Martin noted in Hellenistic Religions, the chthonic element is inherently transgressive in that the association of chthonic religion contained an implicit challenge to the social order. This may be linked to the way the goens (practitioners of goeteia) challenged the order of Hellenistic society, defined by aristocratic democracy that couched its rule in a sort of metaphysical rationality, by holding on to an older religion of ecstatic rites and chthonic gods. In the case of Halloween as we know it, it comes back to the traditional association with bonfires. From the ritual bonfires of Samhain, to the medieval revelries of mischief that involved bonfires, to the fires that once raged on Devil’s Night in Detroit, USA, the Halloween bonfire heralds the impulse to burn the order of things, thus it is a totem of the death of order. In the ancient context of Samhain, the boundaries between worlds are burst open with abandon while the spirit of death fills the air, and in later celebrations the fires were lit in mockery or even aggression against the powers that be. Fire is thus lit for the death of the order of the world, and the beginning of the season of death, and so also the march towards rebirth.

Which of course finally brings us to the winter solstice, the other end of our season of death. For as Samhain inaugurates the season of death, Yule brings it to its close. We may have much to say about the many solstice celebrations that are often cited as antecedents for the way we celebrate the solstice, and we will comment on that aspect. But perhaps it is more important to focus the chthonic meaning of the solstice itself. In the context of Greek polytheism, there is an interpretation of the myth of Hades and Persephone, an interpretation attributed to Porphyry and Heraclitus, in which Hades/Plouton is interpretation as the sun, while Persephone/Kore is interpreted as the shoots or seeds that Hades/Plouton snatches up when he goes down into the earth. In this interpretation, during the winter solstice, Hades/Plouton was the sun that travelled to the western hemisphere, went down beneath the earth, and draws down the power of the seeds. This was a myth about the life cycle of vegetation, which over generations took on a different, more eschatological meaning concerning the life and death of human beings.

There is indeed something to be said for Saturnalia, which, while decidedly not “the original pagan Christmas”, was one of the major Roman winter solstice festivals, aspects of which did end up getting recuperated by Christianity. The festival itself, as perhaps the most popular of Roman festivities, was given certain degrees of theological significance, and as such it’s worth exploring some of the theological ideas that have been invested into Saturnalia. Porphyry considered Saturnalia to be an allegory for the liberation of souls into immortality. Macrobius, in his Saturnalia, notes that Saturnalia was celebrated in the month of December, which according to him is also the time when “the seed”, held in the womb by the bonds of nature, starts growing and quickening, while the god Saturn is bound in chains until that one time of year when he is set free. The bondage of Saturn could thus also be intrinsically tied to a cycle of vegetation or perhaps a larger cycle of the renewal of life at large. Macrobius also argued, in a sort of quasi-monotheistic fashion, that all worship was ultimately directed to the Sun, which he regarded as the divinity behind all divinities, and for this reason he asserted that Saturn himself was necessarily the Sun. Saturn was etymologically and theologically linked to the “seed” that generated all things, born from the heavens, spilled out from the act of castration, and transferred from the waters to Venus. Jupiter binds Saturn, but on Saturnalia he is temporarily liberated, thus signifying the release of the original and destructive power of life in the world and the momentary restoration of the Golden Age: in this particular sense, it is a celebration of rebirth by way of return.

Of course, while Saturnalia was celebrated on the winter solstice, it was not celebrated on December 25th. Rather, that was the day in which Romans observed a distinct cosmological event that occurred around that time; none other than the winter solstice itself. In Rome, via the Julian calendar, December 25th was the traditional (though not necessarily actual) date of the winter solstice. The winter solstice itself was interpreted as the “birth” of the sun, and this was likely because it was the time when the days were shortest and thereafter the day would only get longer. Both Christian and polytheist acknowledged the winter solstice and each attributed their own religious significance to it. Christians simply settled on the date in an attempt to produce an exact traditional date for the birth of Jesus, and in so doing, by selecting the traditional Roman date for the winter solstice, endowed Jesus with solar significance (that is alongside numerous references and comparisons between Jesus and the sun, not to mention syncretism with sun gods such as Helios). Macrobius – who, although he was a polytheist, we must keep in mind was writing in the 5th century, decades after the Roman Empire had already instituted Christianity as its official state religion – asserted that December 25th was the day when the “new sun” was born. As much as it reads like a competition with Christianity, it’s also just as likely that he was referencing an already prevalent tradition, albeit one that Christianity had successfully adopted.

And then there’s Yule. Yule is a name known to have been derived from the Old Norse “Jol” as well as similar words from the Germanic, Gothic, and various Scandinavian languages. In the Norse and Germanic contexts Yule, or Jol, was rather explicitly connected to Odin, one of whose epithets is “Jolnir”, meaning “Master of Yule”. Odin, you will remember, was a god closely associated with chthonicism, being a lord of the gallows and possibly his own corner of the underworld. Yule, in this context, was probably a series of midwinter religious feasts held in celebration of the winter solstice. People prayed to the gods for the return of the sun, fires were lit to recall the sun’s appearance, and the feasts and solstice celebrations would go on for several days. This was also the time when the Wild Hunt, a hunting party or perhaps army of the dead typically believed to have been led by Odin himself, swept across the land. Little is known about the Wild Hunt, but it is thought that they wreaked havoc, snatched the souls of those unfortunate, and were sometimes joined by magicians who travelled with the Hunt voluntarily. In a sense Jol was their time of the year, their moment to roam the land and hence when the dead are closest to the living: oddly enough rather like what Samhain is in the context of Celtic cultures. Among the Anglo-Saxons there was a different custom, attested to around the same time we celebrate Christmas Eve: Mother’s Night, or Modraniht. Modraniht was a holiday dedicated to the worship of either mother goddesses or beings like the Disir in the context of a celebration of fertility.

The sun itself was in some sense also linked to the fertility of the earth, at least in the Roman context and at least as pertains to Saturnalia. The sun was positioned as essentially the source of the earth’s fertility, by virtue of its rays and its heat. Macrobius positioned Saturn as the sun in part because of the release of the power of seeds being symbolically linked to the castration of Uranus, and even his devourment being in some way linked to its destructive aspect, for the sun scorches as well as renews. The time of the winter solstice was in this sense undoubtedly a cosmological season of renewal, signifying a continuous return and rebirth of life. Thus, the “season of death” that I pointed to is a long cycle in which the death of the order of things and the ushering of darkness is the pre-condition and itself of the process of the constant generation, regeneration, emergence, and re-emergent life in the world. A cycle that itself represents the shadow of life, the primordial dynamism of the underworld that always permeates the surface of the visible world. Saturn, in his own way, is key to that, on Macrobius’ account being the power by which things are born, destroyed (or devoured), and then reborn; the cyclical power of endless becoming, bound by the powers of the heavens and the overworld, but still latent in all life.

“Samhain” by Margaryta Yermolayeva

Conclusion

So, what do we get from all of this? What do we derive from the complex of chthonicism that we have thus explored? What are the “virtues” that I alluded to earlier?

It is the chthonic realm that locates the vital powers of the pagan cosmos. It is this realm in which we see the centrality of the cyclical system of life, death, and rebirth, and where the fallen and rebels are at once part of the source of life. It is a place that sits underneath the visible world and yet animates its very being. It subverts the image of the visible world, and its power and reality defy the demiurgic properties of the visible world, which thus pushes it into the unconscious sphere of cosmic life ready to reassert itself in rebellion. It is the “shadow” of this world that also contains within itself the seed of its true life, and, as we will see, the deepest expression of all of this is locked into its theme of rebirth, and within this theme the possibility of becoming.

In reflecting on the broad theme, I tend to have the idea that the way the underworld can be approached may be viewed as a sort of microcosm for a yet still deeper consideration of life, nature, and divine reality. In its own way the underworld as the other side is in philosophical terms at once the shadow and inner self of the cosmos, in its own way a map of the nature of nature, the hidden world that is at once this world’s basis. And in the cyclical system of life, death, and rebirth, these realms, though one is so often obscured from the other, interpenetrate each other, such that is the true meaning that can be ascribed to the truism of the unity of opposites. An analogy I rather like comes from the doctrine of Izumo Taishakyo, a Shinto sect which bases itself on the idea of the unity between the visible and invisible worlds (this concept is given the name “Yuken Ichinyo”). The visible world would be the mundane physical world, while the invisible world would be Kakuriyo, ruled by the Kunitsukami Okuninushi. Kakuriyo can perhaps be thought of in terms of the underworld, since Okuninushi was, in some forms of Shinto theology, positioned as the ruler of the underworld and, hence, the divine matters of the “dark world” of spirit. And yet Kakuriyo is more than the world of spirits; it’s also the realm of things hidden to the human eye, the things that happen in the earth and the body beyond our sight. The visible world, of course, would be ruled by Amaterasu. But the two worlds are inseparable from each other, and beings alternate between them in an endless cycle of reincarnation. This appears to be influenced by the theology of kokugaku philosophers like Hirata Atsutane, who positioned Kakuriyo as the “real” or “true” world, and the visible world as a finite “false” world, yet also existing alongside each other and overlapping with one another, sometimes sacred spaces were points of passage between them. That analogy is one way to think of the underworld in some forms of Paganism; an unseen realm of life that is at once its hidden image, essential to the mystery of reality, whose apprehension thus requires the magical arts of katabasis.

The underworld, throughout pre-Christian religion, was in many cases never without its sense of dread or terror, even if not because of its fundamental assocaition with death. This was, after all, an uncanny realm, often invisble to the world of the living even as it underpins its very life, and as a result principally alien to human understanding. Underworlds filled with monsters or spirits were morphed in the Christian imagination into the realm of Hell inhabited by Satan and his legions of demons. Yet before the Christian imagination took shape, the fear of the underworld gradually evolved towards theological and philosophical trends aimed at transfiguring it towards the celestial principle, which was gradually deemed the superior existential centre, or contrasted against this exact principle as the principle opposed to being. It is thus not such a surprise that the Christian imagination positioned this realm as the seat of the principle of evil, thus a zone of moral antagonism to life, but in so doing it strove to cast this realm away, to alienate it from religious consideration – except, perhaps, as regarding the question of eternal damnation. In this sense, our image of the The Devil evolves with the history of chthonicism, running through a pagan legacy that Christianity could never really erase.

There is one last thing to say about the virtues of chthonicism, concerning the apparent goal of life. Sigmund Freud conceived the idea that, in his words, the goal of life is death. This summarizes a concept that he refers to as the death drive, that is to say the unconscious drive within sentient beings towards their own destruction or integration. It’s an idea that is extremely difficult to make sense of; after all, it seems almost impossible to imagine life having spent eons of effort towards its own continuity in evolution and reproduction for the sole sake of its own death or oblivion. But for pre-Christian religion, it’s possible to argue that, if we do indeed take Freud’s death drive seriously (and I will say here that I am not quite convinced of his overall argument), there was a larger animus to the death drive that can be linked to the mystagogical katabasis we find in chthonic mysteries. On the one hand, it’s possible to think in terms of Parmenides, for whom the descent into the underworld meant the discovery of the true and immaculate content of Being (as represented by the image of the goddess Persephone). On the other hand, much of the old mystagogical, magical, and goetic traditions of descent into the underworld centered around the possibility of spiritual transformation through the knowledge of that realm. Perhaps one could argue that these possibilities are actually intertwined, in that the true source of being consists of an endless cycle of becoming. But in any case, the descent is made into the underworld often in order that the mystagogue, the initiate, or the magician might become something and transform themselves, in this sense become something spiritually greater than themselves; to “become” divine. Even in the theme of dissolution, philosophically emblematized by Hades/Plouton in certain forms of Greek Neoplatonism, one finds this theme. In Zen Buddhist parlance, this can be understood in terms of its conception of nothingness: not as an inert lack of content, but as a statement of untangible content and worlds, extending in all directions beyond the limits of the senses, mundane form always on the brink of sinking back into this sort of utter potentiality. In this view, what we sense of in the visible world cannot approach the invisible world of nothingness, and which must be approached by embracing its mystery. Descent, interpreted this way, means entering into the underworld in order to consciously approach the mysteries of the invisible world; whethere that be the kingdom of Hades, the land of Duat, the caves of the Asura, or the infinite realms of nothingness. Perhaps in this way the primordial power of becoming is the true meaning of the light that is hidden within the darkness, and it is the occult nature of this power of becoming that is why one must descend into the underworld.

Thus, pagan chthonicism roots itself in the quest for divine becoming. Philosophically, this is what it means to follow the path of darkness to the bottom of the earth. There sits the full brilliance of divine reality…hidden from the light.

God Jul Tid

World Order: An inquiry on global reaction in the digital age

I have memories of those days when it appeared to people on the internet that a new counterculture was emerging from the Right. It sounds ridiculous when you take into account the fact that lots of the mainstream media says most of the same things they do, but people think about things like chan boards and assume that their brand of toxic far-right politics is some kind of underground counterculture, some resistance to mainstream values. What if I were to tell you that this was all bullshit from the start? What if far from some underground counterculture all of that was actually a manufactured, controlled environment that was created from the start by powerful right-wing establishments as vehicles of authoritarian culture through which to spread right-wing reaction? And what if I told you there’s more, that this itself is part of a global system of social reaction which serves to maintain oppression and social domination across the world? That’s what I aim to show you in this article, through an exposition of World Order as it exists.

How The Japanese Government Engineered A New Right-Wing Internet Culture

The main place to start would be the chan forums. 4chan and 8chan are fairly notorious in their own right, sometimes looked upon as supposed havens of freedom of speech, and places were an assortment of online reactionaries, deep in their utter ressentiment, organise harassment campaigns or even attacks on, well, just about anyone they happen to dislike, which can tend to include online progressives and people from historically marginalized communities. They have also been used as channels for spreading white supremacist manifestos and propaganda, including texts written by perpetrators of mass shootings. They were also the initial base of operations for the harassment campaign/failed “consumer revolt” that was dubbed “GamerGate”, and people have gone on to become convinced of white supremacist ideology there before committing acts of mass murder in its name; they were even among the many websites where right-wing insurrectionists planned the storming of the Capitol Building on January 6th 2021 as well as a home for the fascist QAnon movement. Another website, the recently-terminated Kiwifarms, spun-off from 8chan and was explicitly set up as a place to anonymously harass, dox and threaten LGBTQ people and non-neurotypical people to enforce violent bigotry against them. All of these websites have, in their own way, played a role in the growth of right-wing politics in the 21st century so far, including getting the Donald Trump 2016 presidential campaign to share memes from them.

Now, where am I going with this? 8chan was created in 2013 by Fredrick Brennan and modelled after 4chan as a more “free speech” alternative to 4chan. 4chan was created in 2003 by Christopher Poole, who was inspired by and used open source code from a Japanese imageboard website called Futaba Channel (a.k.a. 2chan). Futaba Channel, in turn, was created in 2001 supposedly as a refuge for users of another website called 2channel, back when said users feared that 2channel was in danger of shutting down. 2channel was created in 1999 by Hiroyuki Nishimura, who many people in the “West” may know as the man who bought 4chan from Christopher Poole in 2015 and is now still currently its administrator. As you can see, there’s something of a creative lineage with these websites that goes back to 2channel. Why is that important? Because 2channel itself, and its creator, may in fact be tied to the Japanese political establishment; more specifically, the Liberal Democratic Party.

Before we go any further, we really need to establish just who the Japanese Liberal Democratic Party are. If you’ve dipped your toes in Japanese politics, you probably know that they are currently the ruling political party in Japan, and have enjoyed basically consistent dominance in the Japanese general elections since 1958. When you hear the phrase “Liberal Democrats” in other contexts, such as in the United Kingdom, you probably think of people who want a modestly regulated form of market capitalism, meaning of course rudimentary public services and regulations coupled with expansive social rights all within the context of liberal capitalism. But that’s not really what the Japanese LDP are about. The Liberal Democratic Party of Japan is actually the main conservative party in Japan, fairly similar to the Tories in the UK or Canada or even the Republican Party in the United States of America. They have overseen the growth of a neoliberal capitalist economic order, marked by extensive privatisation, alongside forging close geopolitical and economic ties to the USA and imposing generally reactionary social policies. They are also staunchly nationalistic, known increasingly for its emphasis on “patriotic education” and efforts to “take back Japan” from the “Postwar Regime”, by which is meant the undoing of Japan’s postwar national identity in favour of militarisation and an identity closer to the pre-WW2 vision. In fact, many LDP politicians and even Prime Ministers, such as the late Shinzo Abe as well as Yoshihide Suga and Fumio Kishia, are members of an ultranationalist think tank called Nippon Kaigi, which contests or outright denies certain atrocities that Japan committed during World War 2. Given its illustrious membership, Nippon Kaigi thus emerges as one of the pillars of the Japanese political establishment, arguably equivalent to the role played by the Federalist Society in the American conservative establishment. For this reason, some argue that the Japanese Liberal Democratic Party could actually be considered a far-right movement, and not just part of one.

You might ask: so what does this have to do with 2channel? Well, there’s an article from the Japanese branch of Anonymous that talked about a split between 2channel’s ownership, and in the process discussed apparent links between the LDP and Japanese imageboards. In that article, we learn that 2channel was sponsored by a company called Hotlink through a man named Yuki Uchiyama, the president of Hotlink who was also Hiroyuki Nishimura’s business partner. Hotlink seems to have been a data company that had an exclusive contract with 2channel, under which Yuki Uchiyama would monitor and delete any negative threads and comments about its customers – a service that Hotlink apparently liked to brag about. Now, as it happens, one of Hotlink’s customers was the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan. The LDP hired Hotlink for its services for the 2013 House of Councillors election, and all the contracts and money went from the LDP to Hotlink and then in turn to 2channel and its then-owner Hiroyuki Nishimura. This may explain some observations that some of 2channel’s users have noted.

Much like its American cousins, 2channel was a website where right-wing ideology was fairly common, bigotry was prevalent, and users sometimes engaged in coordinated online attacks against political opponents. Opponents of the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan have had their posts on 2channel removed under Hiroyuki Nishimura’s moderation, or, in the case of anti-nuclear activists such as Naoto Kan, they have faced defamation from LDP supporters probably on 2channel. In fact, it seems that 2channel and certain affiliated websites have manipulated Google search results in Japan in order to boost xenophobic nationalist propaganda against South Korea and Koreans, all under LDP direction. Users also seem to have noticed that attacks on such figures and redactions of critical posts all seem to have ceased after Hiroyuki Nishimura lost ownership of 2channel on February 19th 2014, when it was acquired by Jim Watkins.

Meanwhile, over the years Hiroyuki Nishimura has continued to maintain connections to the Japanese government. Nishimura had a business partnership with a telecommunications company called Dwango, which in turn was involved in the 4chan acquisition deal, featured Nishimura as a guest for a live election broadcast on Niconico, and is connected to LDP politicians and has had an affinity with Shinzo Abe and the LDP itself. In fact, the LDP Vice President Taro Aso was part of a correspondence course on politics run by Kadokawa Dwango Gakuen, while Shinzo Abe has appeared in Nico Nico Super Conferences organised by Dwango. In August of this year, Nishimura appeared in a PR video released by the Financial Services Agency, a state financial regulatory body, which has sparked some outrage on social media over his apparent failure to pay court-ordered compensation. The video shows him talking to Hideki Takada, an FSA director, about a tax exemption scheme among other things. Hiroyuki Nishimura also apparently has multiple connections to Japanese media companies, possibly owing to his status as a sort of media celebrity, including AbemaTV (where he has his own show), which, incidentally, is also somewhat connected to the LDP. According to a Japanese anti-fascist researcher named Mitsuwo, another network called TV Asahi has a 50% share in AbemaTV. TV Asahi is known to have some ties to Shinzo Abe, and is also known to have pulled a report which said that Abe was being questioned by prosecutors over possible violations of political funding laws. In 2021, Hiroyuki Nishimura was hired by Fukuoka City as a technical advisor for their digital innovation project, while later that year it seems he became a digital advisor for Yoshihide Suga, the then-Prime Minister of Japan. Just this year he became the corporate PR advisor to Fukuoka City.

Based on this it is clear that Hiroyuki Nishimura is more than an internet businessman. He’s also deeply connected to not only the tech bourgeoisie in Japan but also several figures of the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan, and is now a de jure employee of the Japanese government. What many on 2channel suspected and which Anonymous had more or less unraveled has more than proven true over the years, and for all intents and purposes Hiroyuki Nishimura is a fixture of the Japanese establishment. After creating 2channel Nishimura rose to prominence in the Japanese business world, where he made deals with the government to run 2channel to its liking, and in so doing he helped lay the foundations for a modern right-wing internet culture where mobs of online reactionaries engage in elaborate trolling campaigns against counter-reactionaries of any sort while upholding right-wing ideology and even hosting and disseminating white supremacist manifestos. For the Japanese government that could all have just been to reinforce an already existing controlled environment supported by complacence in the masses and self-censorship in the media, but on the internet, even though 2channel may ostensibly have been created with freedom of speech, it was run as its own controlled environment, and even without moderation or state oversight the descendants of 2channel have been doing their part to create controlled environments in their own space and the wider internet.

Jim Watkins and the QAnon Connection

A fairly important figure in all of this is Jim Watkins, the current owner of 2channel. For one thing, Jim Watkins is also currently the owner of 8chan, which is itself partnered with 2channel, having acquired the website from its creator in 2016. For another thing, Jim Watkins has had several ventures in both internet business and politics. In 1998, he created a US-based website called “Asian Bikini Bar”, which was later renamed N. T. Technologies, as a way to host pornography, particularly Japanese pornography, and also began selling web hosting to Japanese pornography websites so that they could circumvent legal censorship. From there, Jim Watkins became involved in several different business ventures, and in 2016 he began a right-wing media project called The Goldwater (named, of course, after Barry Goldwater), which was intended as the main news source for 8chan users. From what we can gather about its content, The Goldwater was sort of like if Breitbart were more enthusiastic about QAnon-style deep state and even PizzaGate conspiracy theories, effectively styled itself as sort of the “Charlie’s Angels” of right-wing news (they had videos hosted by Jim in secret agent garb and a team of Fillppina women), and all while ignoring “mainstream” social media in favour almost exclusively of 8chan.

Ironically, The Goldwater wasn’t actually too popular on 8chan, whose users derided it out of antisemitic prejudice regarding its “Jewish name”. But The Goldwater is not Jim Watkins’ only vehicle for conspiracist right-wing politics. 8chan itself was, under his ownership, a place where users would frequently spread memes and discussed far-right culture jamming in support of the Donald Trump 2016 presidential campaign, and over the years overt white supremacist propaganda would also frequently be distributed on 8chan. Jim Watkins himself even personally takes credit for the election of Donald Trump in 2016 at least through his website. Furthermore, Jim Watkins seems to have established himself as a major part of the QAnon movement, which, what a surprise, also finds widespread support within 8chan. In fact, there is some fairly credible (though still unconfirmed) speculation among experts that either Jim Watkins or his son Ron are the real identity behind the mysterious “Q”. As evidence, some suggest that the lack of content from “Q” after 8chan got shut down in August 2019, followed by the sudden return of “Q” three months later when 8chan went back online, indicates that “Q” was either Jim Watkins himself or connected to him. We might also consider Jim Watkins’ leaked connections to prominent members of the QAnon movement. Ron Watkins is himself a known QAnon and MAGA influencer, frequently peddling conspiracy theories with a particular focus on discredited claims of widespread election fraud.

Jim Watkins has also had some involvement with Kiwifarms, having provided infrastructure through a company called VanwaTech (which is owned by Nick Lim). He has also tried and seemingly failed to establish a right-wing super PAC called Disarm The Deep State, which was intended to bring Watkins into mainstream Republican politics by establishing financial ties to GOP candidates. As strange it may seem, though, he may have another major connection to the international right-wing movement. That connection is none other than Hiroyuki Nishimura – the same man he “stole” 2channel from.

Last year, Mitsuwo seems to have spotted something interesting regarding the surprising presence of the QAnon movement in Japan. Hiroyuki Nishimura appeared as the co-host of a conservative internet programme on AbemaTV. This programme also apparently featured numerous right-wing politicians as well as members of QArmyJapanFlynn (QAJF), which seems to be a Japanese branch of the QAnon movement. According to Mitsuwo, QAJF is operated by Jim and Ron Watkins. Watkins may have ties with the apparent leader of QAJF, a woman named Eri. Eri has also promoted Hiroyuki Nishimura and his AbemaTV show, and she claims that Jim Watkins and Hiroyuki Nishimura have recently exchanged information. The show ostensibly features QAJF members as the butt of a joke, but Nishimura also uses this to give them a platform, thus potentially seeking to normalize QAnon in Japan.

Incidentally, this connection is definitely not the only avenue through which the Japanese Liberal Democratic Party has connections to the American Right. There’s actually a Japanese branch of the Conservative Political Action Conference, which I’m sure you probably know as the biggest Republican Party conference in America. CPAC Japan was founded and first launched in 2017 by Jikido Aeba, the former leader of the Happy Science cult, in association with the American Conservative Union. Over the years it has been attended not only by American right-wing ideologues, but also by members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. These include Masahisa Sato (LDP member of the House of Councillors), Tomomi Inada (LDP member of the House of Representatives), Akari Amari (LDP member of the House of Representatives), Gen Nakatani (former Minister of Defense), and Takashi Nagao (LDP member of the House of Representatives). It has also been host to nationalist historical revisionists such as Genki Fujii, Kohyu Nishimura, Eitaro Ogawa, Takashi Arimoto (from the revisionist right-wing paper Sankei Shimbun), Tsutomu Nishioka, and none other than Jikido Aeba himself, all of whom seem to be particularly interested in trying to exonerate the Japanese army by denying that it practiced sexual slavery.

In broad terms, though, we can consider the possibility that Jim Watkins, even though he’s failed in many of his other ventures, he has been somewhat successful in establishing a network of neofascist internet politics that seems to be molding the American Right in its image, possibly threatening to replace US democracy with outright dictatorship in the process, and not to mention managing to spread it across the world. QAnon is not just in the USA and Japan. It has also been documented in the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Italy, Romania, and probably many more countries. Given Jim’s apparent continuing business with Hiroyuki Nishimura, and given how QAnon was likely built by Watkins and then spread there with Nishimura’s help, it’s worth speculating that QAnon is part of the next step in a larger project.

Ordered Liberty And How “Free Speech” Exists Within It

There’s a concept that I find relevant to all of this in some way. It may seem abstract, but there’s a thread that can be established. By “ordered liberty”, I’m mostly talking about a concept frequently referenced by Matthew MacManus in his critiques of Jordan Peterson. “Ordered liberty”, in this context, means a strand of conservative ideology which supports the institutions of democracy insofar as they remain embedded within the constraints of “traditional” values systems. MacManus refers to Jordan Peterson’s ideology as “ordered liberty conservatism”, but the thing is it could as well describe conservatism at large. “Ordered liberty” is an idea within the broader ideology of conservatism. In conservative circles, Edmund Burke is often regarded as an early champion of this idea, and his notion of “ordered liberty” refers to the idea that, for freedom to be legitimate as freedom, it must comport with the order of “natural law”, or a set of institutions deemed to reflect that order, or else it would become dangerous and evil.

I could get into how such an idea of liberty seems to be influential far beyond conservatism, and that even “leftists” tend to embrace Burkean concepts of freedom, civil society, and even human nature especially when arguing against individualism, but that’s not within the scope of this article. Instead let’s talk about how relevant it is to our overriding subject. After all, you’d think “ordered liberty” doesn’t even remotely describe the kind of internet that Nishimura, Watkins and the rest helped create. Especially not Watkins, who is known for a certain “hands-off” approach to illicit materials. But perhaps we could look at “ordered liberty” another way in order to make sense of it.

The conservative premise of “ordered liberty” tells us that freedom must exist within a definite social order defined by institutions in order to exist, and that any liberty that exists outside of this is not freedom but instead either “anarchy” or tyranny. In practice, this means that “freedom” in conservative terms is the condition of a controlled environment. Moral and political institutions set the boundaries of legitimate free action and even speech, whilst proscribing anything outside of that. In modern terms this is then recapitulated as the assertion of unmitigated liberty against restriction, and particularly when it comes to “freedom of speech”. The UK offers us a very illustrative example. Stop and wonder why the same party that sought to lead the way in online censorship is also presenting itself as the champion of freedom of speech, all the while even this itself is a call to academic censorship. Tories constantly accuse student bodies of being controlled environments that are supported by ruthless censorship of political opposition, while simultaneously, on this same justification, calling for restrictions on freedom of association in campus spaces, banning critical theory, and imposing restrictions on your right to protest. It must all seem like rank hypocrisy, but that’s “ordered liberty” in action, and “liberty” here is the range of choices allowed by the state.

So far, so what, though? Well let’s look at it this way. Nishimura definitely portrayed 2channel as sort of a free speech haven, where people could anonymously and therefore freely say things that could be deemed socially irresponsible. But 2channel under Nishimura’s ownership was still a controlled environment, run on behalf of the Japanese government, in which threads that opposed the government would be redacted, while right-wing mobs formed to defend the government from criticism and manipulate search engines to control what you see on the internet. “Free speech” in this setting is not freedom of speech as such. It is in fact a byword for a right-wing echo chamber, a controlled environment created in support of government interests.

The same thing applies to Twitter in its current state of ownership under Elon Musk. Like anyone else on the Right, Elon repeatedly invokes the “free speech” argument in support of his administration of Twitter. In fact he repeatedly positions his own idea of “free”, open, and “civil” discourse as the foundation of democracy and of civilization itself. Except that, where Elon is concerned, the discourse is always carefully controlled, and in fact, as I will soon lay out and as I’m sure many readers are probably aware, Elon now has more control over what you can say than ever. Not to mention, before owning Twitter, Elon has gone to ridiculous lengths to impose censorship on his critics. Examples include the time his company SpaceX fired several employees for demanding better working conditions, the time he tried to censor an online critic by taddling to his boss and later threatening to sue the critic, multiple instances of firing Tesla employees for unionizing, whistleblowing, or even just creating instructional videos, and on top of all that his attempts to get the Chinese government to block social media criticism of Tesla. Ironically enough he actually wrote a column for a magazine currently called China Cyberspace, which was created and is run by the Cyberspace Administration of China, which is a major Chinese state apparatus of online censorship, to promote his overall utopian technological vision for humanity.

If the premise of “ordered liberty” is that freedom, in order to exist, must exist within a social order defined by institutions, the reproduction of this arrangement is the definition of freedom within the institution of Twitter as controlled by Elon Musk. “Free speech” in this setting is very simply the range of speech dictated within Elon Musk’s sphere of influence. “Freedom” coming from this standpoint does not mean freedom in itself, and in fact actually denotes a controlled environment.

The Reality Of Right-Wing Controlled Environments

The modern internet is a precarious place, its apparent sense of freedom giving way to a reality dominated by a host of controlled environments vying for power. These controlled environments are complex, often functioning as disincentives or pressures arrayed against contrary speech, thereby producing a chilling effect typically aimed at suppressing already marginalized communities.

A very illustrative example in this regard would be Kiwifarms. The website’s supporters and its owner Josh Moon have frequently appealed to freedom of speech in order to justify its existence, and all the moreso since the website got taken down from Cloudflare following public pressure via Clara Sorrenti’s campaign. But think carefully about just what “free speech” means to them. Never mind the usual argument about “the freedom to do hate speech”, what tells us more is what happens inside Kiwifarms itself. The entire website was started up to harass, dox, and abuse trans and autistic people, or just whoever they happen to dislike. On top of that, even members of Kiwifarms can sometimes find themselves doxxed by other members on the website over some drama, or some disagreement with the moderators. Now, what “free speech” is that, when you can be doxxed inside that forum potentially for saying something the moderators don’t like? But in a broader sense, it can’t have escaped anyone’s notice that the point for these people is to essentially take it upon themselves to intimidate people into silence for expressing themselves in a way that they don’t like. If you think about it from that standpoint, the entire way they talk about “free speech” comes to be seen as an illusion; not because of some point to be made about the limits of freedom of speech – a discussion invariably contained almost solely within the bounds of the logic of liberal statehood – but because cultivating free speech was never the point.

Motivated by reactionary ideologies, Kiwifarms’ userbase intimidate people online, often literally purposefully bullying them into suicide, in order to silence them. They’ll deny this of course, especially the suicide part (even though they gloat about it in their own spaces), and they tend to concoct their own rationales for what they think they’re “really” doing, but we know from how they act and the website’s stated purpose that they just do this to silence people. And the obvious reason for it is to control what can be expressed on the internet, all while claiming to fight just that sort of authoritarianism. Josh Moon makes this clear enough in ways that perhaps he doesn’t mean to. Whenever the opportunity arises, Josh presents his own ideological views on what he thinks is modern society, and he’s very explicit about how he believes trans people are trying to brainwash and exploit children – that’s basically his transphobic way of talking about the fact that trans kids are real and should be allowed to receive gender affirming care/surgery. Now, if you seriously believe that trans people are coming for your kids somehow, you will probably act on this bigoted belief in a number ways. You’ll treat them as mentally ill predators, you’ll probably ally with reactionary authoritarians who want to implement transphobic policies, you’ll probably bully them online or physically assault them, and you’ll probably dox them under the belief that driving them out of public life will stop them from doing whatever it is you somehow believe they’re doing. Kiwifarms was designed with that whole process in mind. Doing this means creating an environment where certain people aren’t safe on the internet, which in turn means that said people can’t express themselves freely without facing basically violent harrassment, which in turn means that an organised mob of people have effectively controlled what you can and can’t say or do on the internet.

In the case of Twitter, “freedom of speech” under Elon Musk has seen the start of Twitter’s transformation into a right-wing controlled environment. Several anti-fascist accounts have been banned or suspended, frequently in connection to criticisms they made of Elon Musk. These include Chad Loder, the Elm Fork John Brown Gun Club, Colorado Springs Anti-Fascists, Crimethinc, Vishal P. Singh, Alexander Dial, Garland Nixon, Dean Baker, Andrew Lawrence, and @.bonnotgalaxy. In fact, it seems these bans have often been requested by right-wing activists who asked Elon Musk to “take action” on their behalf. Crimethinc, for instance, was banned after Andy Ngo complained to Elon about how they “created riot guides” and “claimed attacks”. Crimethinc was also put on a massive leaked list of “antifa” accounts created by far-right activists to target for mass report spamming for the sole purpose of getting them banned. In a similar trend, fascists like James Lyndsay and his fans are actually calling for Elon Musk to “do something” about the fact that people keep posting an image of him posing with Nicki Clyne, an actual human trafficker and high-ranking member of the abusive sex cult NXIVM. Meanwhile some bans appear to be more or less connected to criticism of Elon Musk and anti-fascist reporting and commentary in general, possibly also affected by right-wing mass flagging. Vishal P. Singh got suspended just hours after tweeting about Andy Ngo’s connection to and apparent support for known paedophiles like Amos Yee and Deme Cooper. Chad Loder was suspended after reporting a major data breach on Twitter affecting millions of users in the USA and EU. An account called Cryptoterra was suspended shortly after posting an image of Elon Musk with Ghislaine Maxwell to Elon Musk’s account.

And then there’s just the bizarre proposals Elon put forward for improving Twitter functionality or, ironically, “combatting hate speech” which, at face value, makes it seem like he doesn’t actually know what freedom of speech is. On November 6th, Elon stated that any Twitter accounts “engaging in impersonation without clearly specifying ‘parody'” would be permanently suspended, following a wave of Twitter accounts satirically impersonating Elon Musk, often explicitly stating the satirical purpose. A few days earlier, on November 4th, in an interview with Ron Baron (founder and CEO of Baron Capital Management) conducted at the 29th Annual Baron Investment Conference, Elon told investors that Twitter Blue’s payment-verification system would ensure that verified users would be constantly prioritized while unverified users would be pushed almost inaccessibly to the bottom a given Twitter feed. Of course, how exactly this is supposed to “suppress hate speech” is beyond me when I consider that actual Nazis could pay to be verified and be able to post excruciating antisemitic bile all day long. But, in practice, the effect is that those who don’t pay $8 a month to be on Twitter Blue would effectively have their speech suppressed in favour of the speech of those who do. On November 18th, Elon tweeted that “negative/hate tweets” will be deboosted and demonetized, which would result ad revenue being denied and the tweets in question being effectively buried (you would have to search for them to find them rather than them appearing on your feed): in summary, Elon announced that he accounts posting “negative tweets” would be shadowbanned. In fact, if anything, it’s possible that Elon could actually codify shadowbanning as Twitter policy in a way that it perhaps wasn’t before. All told, Elon’s plans to make a “free speech” plaftorm of Twitter actually amount to a significant reduction of freedom of speech on the platform.

It’s easy to draw some conclusions about the nature of the controlled environment Twitter will become. If you consider who benefits from Elon’s payment-verification system, those who pay into it versus those who don’t, you can tell who is going to be prioritized and who will be suppressed. Many right-wingers will pay for Twitter Blue, and in fact having the blue checkmark itself figures as a cultural signpost: whereas the Right previously despised and mocked the blue checkmark as a figure of some hated liberal authority, now it becomes a symbol of authentification, a sign that you are a part of Elon Musk’s Twitter, and not having it has changed from a mark of conservative “authenticity” to a mark of liberal petulance or even bourgeois class status. Many anti-fascists or “leftists”, on the other hand, recognize the absurdity of the principle of having to pay $8 to be verified on Twitter, but that also means that, as a result of Elon’s proposals, their tweets will be buried. This means that Elon’s payment-verification system is structurally advantageous to the Right, in that it assures right-wing dominance of Twitter’s public square. Moreover, the fact that Elon appears to be actively responding to the requests of right-wing activists to take down or suppress tweets or accounts that they personally don’t like, or seemingly allowing right-wing mass flagging to take down accounts, further shows that Elon is working to control what information you can and cannot see on Twitter, and he is doing so with a right-wing ideological vision in mind, often at the direct behest of far-right activists. This is what must be kept in mind whenever you hear people talk about Twitter as though it is some kind of “free speech anarchy”, because the simple truth is that it’s not. When Elon Musk completed his acquisition of Twitter, conservatives have proclaimed their newfound “freedom” by espousing 2020 election denial and statements of transphobia, but people could already freely say those things on Twitter before Elon Musk acquired it. Thus, what has changed now is not that people are actually “free” to say whatever they want, but rather that certain people are now privileged to speak while others are buried and could actually expect to be banned. Twitter is not a “freewheeling haven of free speech”; it’s a place that is being dictated by Elon and his fascist friends.

But there’s more as well, because Elon Musk’s Twitter dragnet does not weigh only on “Western” users. There remains the possibility, considered increasingly by analysts, that Elon Musk may ultimately sell data from Chinese Twitter users to the Chinese government, not unlike how Hiroyuki Nishimura sold data from 2channel users to corporations before. As Tesla continually tries to expand into Chinese automobile markets, it is entirely possible that Elon Musk, as the owner of both Tesla and Twitter and as a businessman interested in maintaining ties with China, could be leveraged into fulfilling demands that allow the Chinese state to expand its ability to suppress information that it doesn’t like. This could put dissenters in China, and other similarly authoritarian countries, at an increased risk of repression by the state, and it would it make Twitter a controlled environment on two fronts: domestically, it would be an environment where “free speech” is a byword for the privilege of right-wing voices supported by the suppression of anti-fascist dissent, while internationally it allows greater scope for authoritarian regimes to directly repress their citizenry. Keeping in mind, of course, that Chinese internet is itself a controlled environment of its own, with information tightly controlled by Chinese state agencies and nationalistic pro-CPC opinion reinforced at home and abroad by legions of paid as well as unpaid activists whose job it is to indirectly control the narrative on behalf of the government.

There’s a different sort of controlled environment we can discuss that arcs in a very similar way, though it sort of plays out opposite to how the 2channel saga did. You may have heard of a Russian social media website called VKontakte. It is often popularly described as the Russian equivalent of Facebook. It was created in 2006 by a man named Pavel Durov, who initially established the website as a barely moderated hub for all sorts of internet content, from pirated music to illicit pornography. VKontakte also may have served as a network for protests against the Russian government, such as during widespread protests against the 2011 legislative election. The Russian government at that point sought to control the flow of information on social media and regulate them so that they might conform to the political interests of the Russian state. From 2012 the Russian government began putting the screws on VKontakte, beginning with a government blacklist for websites it deemed harmful to children. At the same time, however, it was also revealed that Pavel Durov had been sharing VKontakte user data with the Russian government. Then, in 2014, when VKontakte refused to take down posts and groups that were affiliated with the Ukrainian Euromaidan, Russian authorities began searching VKontakte’s offices while running its founder out of the country with false accusations of running over a police officer. Of course, the Ukrainian government would later ban VKontakte in 2017 on the grounds that it was waging “information aggression” against Ukraine. After this VKontakte was taken over by Mail.ru, an internet company which, until 2018, was controlled by an oligarch named Alisher Usmanov, who is reputed to have ties to Vladimir Putin. Incidentally, Usmanov himself is also known for playing a role in the suppression of online and media criticism against both himself and the Russian government.

Over the years, VKontakte forged closer and closer ties to the Russian government. Beginning in 2016, the website complied with Russian legislation requiring it to store all information and data from all users to be processed by the Roskomnadzor, blocking all content prohibited by the government, and also promoting pro-government content. According to VKontakte insiders, the company hands over user data to the government whenever they ask. According to Article 19, a human rights group, VKontakte has cooperated more thoroughly and unquestioningly with the Russian government than any other social network. Although many of the users affected were people who ostensibly posted xenophobic content, the law also effectively suppressed anti-war activists. For example, in 2015, an activist named Darya Polyudova was sentenced to two years in prison for posting against the Russian government and its ongoing war in Ukraine. As of 2021, VKontakte is currently controlled by Gazprom, a multinational energy corporation owned by the Russian state, further solidifying the company’s economic and institutional connection to the government.

To take stock of this is to understand that what you can say and see on VKontakte is pretty much directly controlled and monitored by the Russian government, and furthermore that this would affect not only Russian citizens but also VKontakte users elsewhere in Russia’s sphere of influence. If, for instance, Russia were to somehow succeed in absorbing Ukraine into Russian sovereignty by completing the invasion, Ukrainian citizens would have their data collected by the Russian government and used to bring criminal charges against Ukrainians who might oppose Russian rule, as well as LGBTQ people who would be accused of “spreading gay propaganda”. The scope increases when we keep in mind Russia’s overall imperial ambition to reabsorb the former Soviet territories into its sphere of influence, thereby establishing a huge controlled environment spanning parts of the European and Asian continents.

Now a lot of this does come back to the Right in some ways, and broader conservative projects to remake the internet in their image. But let’s not forget that mainstream social media is every bit a part of this, including the official adversaries of the Right. Facebook has long been accused of disproportionately censoring conservative opinion, especially by US Republican lawmakers eager to tighten the screws on the company. But in reality, not only is Facebook not disproportionately censoring conservatives, Facebook have repeatedly brought in right-wing ideologues to work on its administration, designated Breitbart News as a “trusted news source”, and actively suppressed progressive news sources such as Mother Jones. In fact, as a concession to the hard right, Mark Zuckerberg replaced human editors with an algorithm that would be susceptible to manipulation by right-wing actors who could then control the flow of newsfeed information. On top of that, Facebook does not reveal analytics on what news stories receive traffic on Facebook, which means that we probably have no idea about the actual nature of Facebook news feeds. Considering that Facebook’s administration does consist of right-wing ideologues and considering the actual proclivity towards concession to the Right, if we did not know better then perhaps we might assume that Facebook itself manufactures the whole “conservative censorship” narrative to drive up right-wing outrage and in turn media traffic, and then from there fuel the cycle that furthers the growth of right-wing controlled environments across the plane of social media. What we know from Facebook insiders absolutely suggests that Facebook is actively manipulating the flow of information so as to control what news sources you can see.

Conclusion: “Free Speech” and the Order of the World

The notion that the internet is a free-for-all is strictly a dysfunctional myth. Liberal commentators need to be able to present the current landscape as the Wild West of cyberspace in order to argue that democratic governments need to extend their regulatory powers over social media. In the case of the United Kingdom, such concerns among others are repeatedly weaponized by a press more or less allied with a state that ultimately aims to introduce legislation such as the Online Safety Bill to erode the right to privacy and curtail freedom of expression. The reality, though, is not the absence of control but instead the dominance of it. The cream of the bourgeoisie, often in conjunction with reactionary governments, politicians, and fascist activists, are controlling what you can say and see on the internet, or at least doing their best in that regard, with the aim of slowly reshaping the internet into a series of totalitarian controlled environments suitable to both their ideological proclivities and their economic interests (for people like Elon Musk the point is to have an authoritarian echo chamber that he can also make money with).

To even engage the conversation about the limits of freedom of speech is ultimately to miss the point and fight in the wrong battlefield, because “free speech” in the reactionary parlance relevant to this is ultimately just code for the privileging of speech, which is then reinforced by censorship. The architects of a new garden of controlled environments want you to take the claim of freedom of speech at face value, when in reality they’re not building anything like that. Instead, they’re creating an internet where dissent against the managers is suppressed in various ways, some more sophisticated or even stochastic than others, and “speech” exists within the personal limits of said managers. World order in this parlance is the generalized state of management that exists internationally, in terms of the internet we’re talking about a vast complex of authoritarian infrastructures centered around control and profit.

This is part of the reality of the re-ascension of fascism in the context of a growing trend of reactionary backlash, itself existing alongside the general feedback loop between capitalist growth and technological development that itself arcs almost inevitably towards the concentration of state power. There is no “new world order” here, as such, there is only the world order, and it is the sum of these relationships and structures of domination.

Don’t let yourself fall into the trap of bourgeois discourse surrounding freedom of speech. Trust me, we’ve seen the same argument for years play out leading up ultimately to the landscape we see before us. “Free speech” to these people just means certain kinds of speech, namely theirs, gets to be protected or outright privileged while others still get suppressed, all at the expense of any concept of freedom of association. And all that ends up happening is that people get caught up in this end up defending the worst people imaginable while blind to the system of control developing around them and which they have become part of. The other side of that just takes at face value that anarchy is afoot when in reality what’s happening is that the speech and information are being controlled by the same people who tell you that they are liberating it.

This whole landscape should be regarded as a zone of resistance, contradiction, and social war, instead of discourse as leveraged by competing visions of control. The only answer to world order is to negate it entirely.

Musings on the inhumanity of Nature or matter

I had recently looked at an interview with the esoteric collective Gruppo di Nun on Diffractions Collective, conducted by Dustin Breitling, and there was an idea from that interview that had me thinking. At some point in the interview, a person called the High Priestess of Nun talks about how Gruppo di Nun wants to eschew “traditional” 20th century occultism in pursuit of a new magic that reaches “beyond the human” through all available means, and as part of this accepts the inspiration of scientific thought as a tool that could allow the access of “the inhuman depths of matter”. It’s that particular theme, the inhumanity of matter, that I would like to really over-extend and fixate on here.

To understand this inhumanity, perhaps we must first stay with the interview for a little longer. A key focus of Gruppo di Nun’s demonological worldview is that they see themselves as “vessels for a swarm of voices from the great outside”, and the attendant politics of this demonology involves the unleashing of the inhuman or anti-human forces against the “Man-God machine”. Such forces include, per their examples, Tiamat as the “Original Mother” slain by the masculine sun god in Mesopotamian mythology and then comes to represent a rebellious anti-cosmic matter, and The Beast as depicted in the Book of Revelation. The archetype of the barbarian also figures into this framework as an Insurrectionary rejection of “the Human” (among other things), and so does the concept of the demonic invasion as a path of resistance as conceptualised through the Witches Sabbath. It is also reflected in Gruppo di Nun’s namesake: Nun refers to the Egyptian goddess of the primordial abyss and represents the ocean of infinite recombination, while the name Gruppo di Nun inverts the premise of Julius Evola’s Gruppo di Ur, in which Ur represented the triumph of (male) human will over the abyss of matter.

I can only hope that their upcoming book Revolutionary Demonology delves more into the content of that inhumanity, but at the same time I’m inclined to delve into other ideas about that from other places.

One of the things that springs to mind instantly is Georges Bataille’s essay, Base Materialism and Gnosticism, where he discusses his particular take on Gnosticism and its supposed leitmotif of esoteric materialism. Bataille argued that the Gnostics were fixated on “monstrous archontes” and “outlawed and evil forces”, such as the “ass-headed god” (no doubt the god referred to as Seth-Typhon), which to him represented “the most virulent manifestation of materialism”. This ostensibly was, to Bataille, more of a psychological obsession than an ontological statement, but it also denoted matter as something extant and foreign to the aspirations of human ideation, idealisation, or idolization, and thus could not be subordinated by “the great ontological machines”. In a way it does track with the way Gruppo di Nun talks about the demonic in terms of a great outsideness in relation to the order of things, or the barbarian as alien par excellence.

Insofar as Bataille’s Gnostic venerated these monstrous archontes, these inhuman forces, it is possible to interpret this Averse Gnosticism (per the terminology of Nicholas Lacetti) as a religious communion with the inhumanity of matter and nature as represented by the archontes. Per Lacetti the emblems of this dark principle of Averse Gnosticism are not only monstrous archontes or divinities featured but also tripartite devil’s signature of attested by Eliphas Levi, consisting of the inverted pentagram and sign of the goat, the “typhonian fork” and the diverging serpents, and the inverted name of God, all symbols of rebellion, negation, conflict, creative destruction, and a sort of Satanic subversion which all present a chaotic, inhuman, “blind” totality at the centre of reality. Of course, it’s probably not worth overlooking that this doesn’t necessarily have much to do with what was the makeup of esoteric Christian sects referred to as “Gnosticism”, and pertains much more to the shadow of “Gnosticism”. Yet, there is something about the historical movement of “Gnosticism” that perhaps we can discuss in relation to this idea.

In The Cult of The Black Cube, Arthur Moros’ treatise about his proposed cult of Saturn, Moros discusses the figure of Saturn in relation to Ialdabaoth, one of the many Demiurge figures presented within “Gnosticism”. In the course of this he argues that there was Gnostic current which did not reject the Demiurge or Archons and renounce the world but instead venerated and petitioned these beings as the rulers of the world in order to attain secret rites, which would allow them to cultivate magical power, fulfill worldly goals and desires, or perhaps even achieve some kind of liberation. He bases this idea largely on Origen’s account of an Ophite ritual within Contra Celsum in which the “Gnostic” invokes the rulers of the seven gates of wickedness in order to receive secret teachings from them. We can refer to a passage from Origen given by Moros, per his own translation, as follows:

Further, if anyone wants to better understand the practices of those magicians, through which arcane secrets they endeavor to mislead people, with mixed success, then listen to the secret teaching which the Gnostics receive after passing through the spiritual gates, which are governed by the archons. At the First Gate, say: Hail, Solitary King! You are the first power, the darkening of sight, utter destruction, upheld by wisdom and foresight, by which I am purified. […] Hail, lord, let it be so!’ At the Second Gate, they shall find Ialdabaoth. Say, ‘Hail, Ialdabaoth, first and seventh, fearless, and born to rule. Your mind is clear and pure. You are a perfect son [to Chaos], holding the sigil of life, and opening the sealed gate to your realm. Again I pass through your realm. Peace be upon me, lord, let it be so!

Of course, Contra Celsum is likely the sole source for this ritual, and Origen in turn regarded it as a profane sorcery that had nothing to do with Christianity. But Arthur Moros believes that it was a real and reflected a historical, albeit probably heretical, tendency within “Gnosticism”, and thus that Origen somehow had access to this tradition. There’s no real way to have any historical certainty about this idea, but perhaps it should not be discounted. If the principle holds that to write against heresy is ultimately to preserve it, then there is reason to assume that Origen may have ended up preserving something. But moreover, if you look at the Greek Magical Papyri, you will find spells invoking archons such as Sabaoth and Abraxas for various worldly ends. Beings such as Ialdabaoth and Abraxas appear in various amulets attributed to Gnostic magic, which Moros takes as a sign that magicians were using the image of Ialdabaoth as a talisman for the purposes of invocation. Why exactly any Gnostics would want to invoke such a being is a mystery, but I suppose it’s into this mystery that you can explore any number of rationales. A creative interpretation of Valentinian Gnosticism, for instance, would position the Demiurge as a being who could be invoked by initiates to save them from the cycle of rebirth. An interpretation of the ritual described by Origen could lead to a similar conclusion, but the idea being to liberate yourself from the cycle by gaining the power to acheive apotheosis. One can think of passing through the gates of wickedness as an application of the credo of “no way out but through”, paging the approach to nihilism presented by Keiji Nishitani or Maurice Blanchot, but it’s also inseparable from the recognition of a monstrous and chaotic principle at the source of reality

And further reinforcing this on esoteric terms we can revisist the subject of hongaku thought and its applications in certain strands of Japanese esoteric Buddhism. Hongaku, or “innate enlightenment”, is the idea that all beings and even things in general already possess some kernel of enlightenment, or even a latent mode of enlightenment in toto. You can also sometimes find possibly similar ideas well outside Buddhism, including in modern neopagan groups: towards the end of Nevill Drury’s The Occult Experience, we see a member of The Temple of the Mother, an Australian neopagan group focused on worshipping the goddess Isis, explain his belief that humanity is already enlightened and just has to become aware of it, whcih to him means that the religious process consists of an “unfolding” of inner spiritual truths rather than creating them while spiritual freedom consists in Man realizing its own latent divinity and perfection. In an esoteric Buddhist context, the Hongaku philosophy establishes the possibility of enlightenment being present or potential even in the most ignorant, unenlightened, or wicked beings. Tendai Buddhism established not only that all things were in some way Buddha but also that all thoughts and deeds, even ignorant ones, could be seen as expressions of innate enlightenment without cultivation. In theological terms, it also meant that even demons were themselves manifestations of innate enlightenment. In Bernard Faure’s study Protectors and Predators, we see a triad of chthonian demon gods, Bishamonten (Vaisravana), Daikokuten (Mahakala), and Enmaten (Yama) emerge as emblems of an “unthinkable reality” of violence and evil that is nonetheless. Daikokuten in particular, as “The Great Black One” came to be regarded as the representation of fundamental ignorance, from “great darkness”, and thus, in Tendai doctrine, an embodiment of ultimate reality and innate enlightenment. A similar context developed for a number of Japanese Buddhist and Shinto deities that came to be regarded in demonic terms. Thus fear, anger, passion, violence, defilement, all the “poisons” – which were seen as attributes of beings such as Kojin, Daikokuten, Ugajin, Matarajin, and Mara – were all understood as the fundamental identity between ignorance and awakening, the inhuman ultimate reality that the practitioner must realise.

The inhumanity of Nature or matter as a larger subject should also be considered on its own terms. To play with Gnostic parlance, matter is not inherently “good”, but neither is it inherently “evil” as the “traditional” “Gnostic” perspective. What it is, though, is inhuman. It’s simply absurd to moralize it. Thus it is for Nature. The idea that Nature can be conceived in the terms of human morality is nothing but an illusion. The idea that Nature is inherently “Good” comes as a projection of our place within it, the fact that we necessarily derive existence from it, our perception of it as the organising principle of existence, and the further bias or prejudice that the organising principle must by dint of its status be “Good”. But destruction, as in the destruction of everything, is one of the immovable “laws” of nature, and the destructive aspect of Nature is bound up with its creative aspect. It’s worth noting the way that Spinoza recognises this in his assertion of his God-concept, which in some ways can and has been identified with Nature. Spinoza does posit definitions for “good” and “evil”, but these are defined in terms of what is beneficial to us versus what hinders that beneficence, while nothing is “good” or “evil” from the point of view of Spinoza’s “God”. “Good” and “evil” are either equally serviceable to this “God” or Nature or they do not exist as “good” or “evil” at all. They’re the products of we who spring up from the earth and which, with our seemingly distinctly developed sentience, we do not understand, struggle to understand, fail to understand and almost cannot understand.

The fundamental inhumanity is not hard to understand. There is a profound chasm that sits between Nature and thought; that is, between reality as it exists and the systems by which we strive to understand it. We try to cross or bridge that chasm, but neither reason nor moralization permit us to do so. We very often try to see Nature in human terms, and we might even occasionally regard the opposite perspective as merely a reflection of a cruel life. But there is nothing “human” about Nature, except perhaps for humans. Nature does not care what comes of humans, or any other creature or things, when we perish. It is not the concern of Nature what we become in life or in death. If within a system of metempsychosis we may reincarnate as one of the vast menagerie of animals whose existence we sometimes mock from the relative comfort of civilization, would Mother Nature really shed a tear, or even smirk upon as the vindication of some karmic law? And if it did, for what reason would it permit that living things often must devour other living things in order to continue their existence, or for that matter the very fact of their inexorable decay and death? But of course, even this is merely speaking with a degree of senselessness: after all, to talk of the “permission” of Nature is also absurd. Nature doesn’t “permit” or “forbid” anything in the fashion that the familiar lawmaking God might, just that nothing can exist beyond, apart from, or outside of Nature.

So long as we understand this about Nature, it is simple enough to locate the realities of destruction, struggle, and violence. Ah, but perhaps it is here that inhumanity becomes a somewhat tenuous category, for you see violence is perfectly human. In political life, the one and only taboo is that violence exists at the centre of all political arrangements, as well the alteration of and emancipation from said arrangements. Bourgeois democracies have their subjects pretend that they exist without any structural violence and do not depend on violence to exist, and even sometimes among some anarchists there is a tendency to pretend that violence exists only as something that other people do against you. Meanwhile, reactionaries and fascists opportunistically exploit the contradiction of violence by claiming some recognition of violence as the sole law of nature, and in some cases proudly proclaiming that their ideology is based on violence, and yet when anti-fascists exercise violence against fascists and militant reactionaries, they denounce the recognition of violence as a necessary part of defending the oppressed from fascism. The truth about fascists is not that they believe violence in itself a law of nature, rather they typically ultimately only accept that the violence of domination is natural; the violence of the master is just and natural but the violence of the slave is somehow to be accepted as an attack on “the natural order”, even when the very order they worship was quite literally established by the violence of rebellion or insurrection against a previously dominating order! In that sense their morality actually differs little from the tacit acceptance of the violence of liberal-democracy as somehow inherently legitimated, sans the matter of recognition as violence, while the violence arrayed against that system must only be some malefic aberration of history.

Whether we recognise it or not, though, violence is rather inseparable from political struggle, even if only in limited forms such as defense or the ability to threaten violence against adversaries. In fact, there is absolutely no way to guarantee that we will somehow abolish it once all the major structures of domination have been dismantled. There are many reasons for this, of course, but among the most relevant would be that you have no guarantee that no one will try to re-establish authority and domination, after cultivating some desire to dominate others. To establish that authority will invariably depend on violence, just as it has before when statehood itself emerged, and to oppose that authority, to prevent its re-emergence, will require violent resistance. Thus, since struggle is never absent, even in the world after the world, so too violence is never absent. Yet here it may seem that the inhumanity of nature is at once abject humanity, underpinning the universality of struggle.

There are other prospective considerations that emerge from the theme of the inhumanity of Nature. Gruppo di Nun seem to their understanding of the inhumane powers of outsideness to themes of disintegration, destruction, and ultimately towards becoming, even referring to Mihkail Bakunin’s axiom that the passion for destruction is also creative. Of course, the beginning and rest of that passage is “Let us therefore trust the eternal Spirit which destroys and annihilates only because it is the unfathomable and eternally creative source of all life”, and with Gruppo di Nun it’s safe to assume they interpret Bakunin’s quote as a reference to an actual esoteric power. The demonic outsidness is thus also a perennial source of becoming, but the link between this outsideness and becoming is also already established in Nun as the chaotic abyss that is also the zone of endless transformation. In Pagan terms, it’s not so hard to link this same theme to that of the deifying power of the underworld as discussed by Jake Stratton-Kent in relation to ancient Greek polytheism, and from there to the whole world of chthonic mystery. I also see in the conception of the inhumanity of nature the possibility of certain ways of conceiving chaos from years ago returning to life in different ways. I imagine any idea of Chaos that would emerge in such considerations would differ from how, when I was much younger, I inclined myself towards the idea of Chaos as a kind of energetic life force, but insofar as it pertains to a kind of abyssic power of becoming, Chaos as a power in itself would not be an invalid idea. On the other hand it all would smack of the way I’ve already written about Darkness as an ontological concept or urgrund, the nature of nature as it were, and I lean towards the idea of Chaos as a meta-condition of sorts; the inhumanity of nature and its rammifications not necessarily being a bad description of that condition, though perhaps incomplete when describing the condition of Chaos.

In any case I am rather looking forward to the clarifications that perhaps Revolutionary Demonology might bring forward in regards to the overall demonological philosophy of Gruppo di Nun, which I am actually eager to see more of and hope will prove to be both personally inspirational and an expression of new ways of thinking within the broader Left Hand Path.

The Art

The last few months have had me dwelling heavily on my life as of ten years ago. In the summer of 2012 I had just graduated from high school, and a few months later I had begun life as an eccentric and semi-lonesome art student. By that time, by Society’s terms, I had just become a young adult. And though I was very un-social and ended up missing out, I was rather expressive, and I saw my time in college as a grand opportunity to set my mind and imagination free, even if you could say I wasn’t a very good artist back then. I took on a lot of unique ideas back, and I’d say some discussions and influences have survived in my psyche to this day.

Ten years later, I have felt a noticeable urge to revisit that aspect of my life, and the potential that I feel could have been unleashed had I, perhaps, done things differently in my life instead of going through a game design course and never getting a career out of it. At the same time, seeking to deepen any sense of concrete religio-magickal praxis has me naturally thinking about just how such creative aspirations might intertwine with practice, inspired mainly by discussions in modern Paganism. And so to this end I got inspired to write some notes and cobble some ideas together in order to assemble an artistic philosophy that would animate my work in much the same way that my two articles on my concept of Satanic Paganism seem to animated the way think about religion and life philosophy going forward. In much the same way as the two articles about Satanic Paganism were all about establishing philosophical footing towards a practical end, this article continues exactly that goal in application to a practical interest that I desire to deepen.

Art As Occult Pagan Praxis

Back in December of last year, Aliakai hosted an interview with Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa, a Kemetic polythetist iconographer and the author of the book Sacred Verses: Entering the Labyrinth of the Gods, to discusss art as a means of conversing with the divine. The basic idea being presented is that art itself, regardless of your level of skill or even your own confidence in that skill, is by its nature a conversation with or about the divine. Thus we see art brought into focus as a part of Pagan praxis. Aliakai pointed out that, from the Hellenic perspective, the divine works in all aspects of artmaking and including the written word; the Mousai (or Muses) presided over the written word (which was itself considered art), Athena over weaving, Hephaistos (Hephaestus) over pottery and metallurgy, Hermes over messages and speech, Dionysos (Dionysus) over all kinds of performance, to name a few. The point being made is that art itself, and the flow state attendant to it, may constitute conversation with the divine. This also connects to a broader idea that Ptahmassu laid out in which mundane activities, insofar as they can be invested with meaning or creative purpose, can be dedicated to the gods, even as offerings to the gods; such a model, Ptahmassu, notes, is present across the various polythetistic traditions. In this perspective, activities such as cooking can be thought of as a way of honouring gods such as Hestia.

The idea is that basically (potentially) any activity can be dedicated to the gods and received as an offering. This observation is sort of expanded on in Aliakai’s more recent video, “What to Offer To the Gods in Hellenism”. Here, it is noted that songs written by bards and poems written by poets could be counted as offerings alongside animal offerings (which were actually fairly uncommon in practice), fruits and vegetables, incense, and votives. Relevant to the discussion I give here is the section about devotional offerings. The concept of a devotional offering includes what is called a devotional activity, which is simply an intentionally performed activity within the domain of interest of a god that is then focused and concentrated towards that god. Examples of this could include plays performed to Dionysus at the Dionysia festivals, or the concept of rhapsoidos (from which we get the word “rhapsody”) as a poetic offering. Feats of strength or artistic creativty, not to mention poetry itself, were often believed to be recognised by the gods as offerings to them insofar as they were devoted to the gods. What counts is that the act is consciously considered as actively devoted to the gods.

For the purpose of what I’m writing here, I have pursued a line of inquiry involving the connection between art, devotional offerings, and magick. Finding leads in that direction was difficult, but I have found aspects of chaos magick that may prove sufficient. In the eighth chapter Condensed Chaos, Phil Hine discusses the conception of Invocation, or Pathworking, as a way to identify oneself with a god-image in order to amplify a desired attribute or multiple thereof. Hine uses an example of a woman who identified herself with an image of the Hindu goddess Kali and, by way of Pathworking, seemed to take on some her powerful attributes. Another example is in a Pathworking invocation of Ra-Hoor-Khuit, a Thelemic avatar of the Egyptian god Horus, through which one may apparently gain magickal prowess. Something about this conception of Invocation feels very much in harmony with the magickal practice of divine identification found within the Greek Magickal Papyri, and I’m tempted to think of it as a modernized take on it, less steeped in older forms of ceremonial magick. It is also possible for me to interpret Invocation in artistic terms.

Phil Hine talks about the connection between Invocation and acting or drama. It’s actually likened to a performance, directed at the entity being invoked, and a good performance would be met with reward while failure would not. Voice, gesture, form, and other attributes form part of what Hine calls the “theatre” of magic. This connection is then expanded in the subject of mask work. Much like ancient Greek theatre, Hine’s concept of Invocation/Pathworking also involves the use of masks, which, although commonly understood by modern societies as simply aesthetic objects, were understood by older cultures as powerful magickal implements, even weapons. The mask is here understood as a channel through which a spirit or divinity enters the individual personality, takes possession of it, and thereby enact a transformation of personality. Face-painting, props, instruments, pose, all kinds of elements of performance are drawn together in the Invocation, because in that concept of Invocation you are indeed meant to put on a good show for the gods, or at least one of them in particular.

So how do we track Phil Hine’s overall principle of Invocation to the concept of devotional offerings in Hellenism, and thereby Pagan praxis in a wider sense? The short answer is that the Invocation entails making an Art of yourself and that this is the offering. The long answer is context, which we will explore forthwith.

One important aspect of this context is not merely theatre itself but the origins thereof. Ancient or “classical” Greek theatre originated from religious ritual, particularly as devoted to the god Dionysus. As early as the 6th century BCE, worshippers of Dionysus would publicly perform wild and ecstatic cultic songs called dithyrambs in his honour, not to mention their very namesake referencing the god’s death and rebirth, and from this period it is acknowledged that the dramatic arts gradually developed. During such festivals as the Dionysia and the Lenaia, actors would perform on the stage at the Theatre of Dionysus, attended by thousands of spectators, enacting the myths and tragedies with divine import. Other similar Hellenic cultural artefacts include the paean, a much more sober and triumphant set of songs dedicated to the god Apollo, as well as the Delphic Hymns also dedicated to Apollo. Theatre in ancient Greece had all the trappings that Phil Hine described as part of mask work: masks, costumes, instruments, vocal performances, and more. It would make sense to contextualize this in terms of devotional offerings in the sense that poetry competitions were, in that these poetry competitions were indeed dedicated as offerings to gods, and the theatres themselves derived origin from similar ritual performances.

The way Phil Hine talks about performance in Invocation in some ways brings to mind the idea that, as Aliakai noted in her video, the gods enjoyed watching humans as their own form of entertainment – an idea that apparently stretches all the way back to Homer’s Iliad, with its emphasis on the divine audience. Indeed, it has been observed by critics that, throughout the Iliad, the gods appear to observe the world of mortals as though watching a show from Mount Olympus, albeit a very special show where they get to intervene in the affairs of a cast whose fate they sometimes invest themselves in. They feast and laugh while seeing us performing our roles in the world, and Zeus alternates between amusing himself at the antics of the mortals and beholding in anguish as his sons die in the same world as the others. It’s almost tragic when you put it that way, but then that would make sense for Homer, wouldn’t it?

To extend this to a logic appropriate for Satanic Paganism, though, means to place us as more than actors that the gods occasionally invest themselves in. Our “performance” is in this setting a conscious, active, magickal act, aimed at reaching out to that realm in such a way that we might actually approach it, and take on divinity into ourselves. This is thus the sense in which the gods may be understood as potential partners or even collaborators in our self-actualization, as in a Great Work on a cosmic scale. Those who partake in this effort are the alchemists who turn the world around them, and in a certain way themselves, into the magnum opus, the philosopher’s stone, and become their own divine individuals. That work in itself, the performance and ritual we undertake, and perhaps especially the means by which invocations allow the gods (and the demons!) to work their hands in the world and in human life, can in their own way be thought of offerings in the precise sense that any of the traditional devotional offerings were.

Warlike Soul, Magickal Self

What I found somewhat notable is the role of the Egyptian god Ptah, a creator god who was also the god of craftsmen, from the Kemetic perspective. For Ptahmassu, anyone who does anything in the arts receives divine inspiration from Ptah, and all creative acts ultimately come from the gods, even if one is not conscious of that, and indeed this springs from the belief that really everything and even the other gods originate from Ptah as per Memphite theology. But more interesting from my perspective is the discussion of the wrathful/warlike aspect of Ptah – that may seem like a random subject, but stay with me on this. Ptahmassu says that Ptah is also a god of war, and was one of the gods of the four branches of the ancient Egyptian military, and that one of his epithets is “bull who rampages with sharp horns”, among other apparent epithets not known outside of specialist circles. In this way Ptah is not only a creator god but also a war god and a destroyer. It is noted that one of his spouses is Sekhmet, the war goddess who was seen as a wrathful manifestation of the power of Ra.

Modern polytheists (including reconstructionists), because of the modern context in which we often see war and violence, prefer not to think of the gods of war as to be invoked in relation to actually going into battle with enemy combatants, but instead as deities who may fight spiritual battles for us when we face overwhelming obstacles, or give us the strength (or as Ptahmassu says “heavy artillery”) to fight them. But from my perspective, this view, believe it or not, is not dissimilar to the way wrathful deities are viewed in Buddhist practice. Buddhist wrathful deities are invoked to destroy the spiritual obstacles a practitioner faces in pursuit of enlightenment, as well the obstacles to the Buddhas and the Dharma more generally, and in this they represent the force, energy, and power by which passion, anger, and ignorance are turned into compassion and wisdom. You might well think them as the “heavy artillery” of Buddhist meditative practice, and for this reason the proper term for them is the Wrathful Destroyers of Obstacles (or Krodha-Vighnantaka).

Those figures have always been fascinating to me. Warrior gods in particular have a way of bringing into focus a persona of desire and individuality I’ve sought to cultivate. It’s going to sound more weird, trust me. In high school and college I would take any sword substitute I could find, usually a ruler or a bamboo stick, and make like it’s a sword to practice with. One day in college I’d just go out back to do sword swings with what I think was a bamboo stick. I seem to recall having the faculty talk to me about that not long afterwards; seems that was a tad disturbing for them. I suppose it must have also felt weird that I was probably the only person in my college class to support the idea of owning a firearm. When collecting old metal records I sometimes referred to it as collecting weapons or ammo. That’s kind of just how being into old school metal felt like. Some of that is still with me. The whole “classic/underground metalhead” aesthetic, right down to its often wildly liberal use of bullet belts, always had me feeling it was the genre that’d have you thinking you were a warrior if you listened to it. I rather liked that feeling.

Shin Megami Tensei undeniably set off a lot of sparks of identification for me. That probably started with identifying with the Chaos alignment, and with it the aesthetics and some of its attendant themes. A big part of that is the gods and demons, and in this regard it’s arguably responsible for the way I interact with anything from “The East” as I were. I mean look at these guys from the original Shin Megami Tensei. Did I mention the Gaians too? Or the Chaos Hero? Maybe some more examples. Something about it formed what I think of as a sort of gestalt aesthetic and spiritual identification that has persisted over the years and shaped the contours of my spiritual aspirations. Honestly, though, I think the ethos of it all that can only deepen when looking at anarchism in the way Shahin talks about it in Nietzsche and Anarchy. Living free can only mean living fighting, embracing the conflict inherent in life and finding joy within it, with yourself as a participant in this conflict.

This probably feeds into the deep-seated appreciation for war gods, warlike and wrathful deities in various contexts. The interview I mentioned earlier brought up not only Ptah but also the Hellenic god Ares. Ares in particular actually seems very ontologically significant, being that he is not only the god of violence but also the patron of rebels – he is thus the renewal of the war (the literal meaning of rebellion) in the cosmos. Though in the context of polytheism it is probable that “god of [insert thing]” doesn’t really apply. Several deities counted war, battle, and the like as part of their overall complex of attributes. Some really good examples include Inanna, Anat, Athena, Tezcatlipoca, Perun, Set, Anahita, Ba’al Hadad, and of course Odin to name but a few. In fact, one of the very fascinating things about Norse/Germanic polytheism is that many of the gods could be thought of as “war gods” to some extent or another. Besides Odin, there’s Freyja, Freyr, Tyr, Ullr, Thor, Hodr, to name a handful. Some expressions of Germanic polytheism also seem to have been associated with a particularly warlike cultus in at least some accounts. Anglo-Saxon accounts (keeping in mind the probable Christian bias) described Vikings partaking of ecstatic war dances to their gods during their campaigns in England, while in northern Italy the Langobards are defined by their worship of gods of war and fertility (specifically Odin (or Godan as they called him) and the Vanir). I get a bit of a kick from reading about the Mairiia, an apparent band of polytheistic warriors from ancient Iran, and how they held orgiastic feasts and worshipped “warlike” deities such as Indra, Rudra, Mithra, Vayu, Anahita, and Θraētaona (or Fereydun), and whose ecstatic cult was apparently eventually banished as a supposed enemy of the emerging Zoroastrian religion. At least quite of the Buddhist wrathful deities double as war/warrior gods in particular; these include Begtse, Tshangs Pa, and Vaisravana/Bishamonten among others.

How does that play into any kind of personal “magickal self”? I suppose I should start with the base concept. Aleister Crowley, in Book 3 of Liber ABA, defined the Magical Operation as “any event in nature which is brought to pass by Will”. Crowley suggested that this definition could include a range of activities from potato-making to banking. What makes it magical is the extent to which Will may be exercised in the material world towards a desired affect. It’s consistent with Crowley’s overall definition of magick and therewith the conception That alone does not tell us much, but what if we were to consider the notion of the magickal self as a sort of artistic Magical Operation? Crowley says later on, that “No matter how mighty the truth of Thelema, it cannot prevail unless it is applied to any by mankind”, meaning in practice that the Book of the Law had to go from simply being a manuscript to being published in order to achieve magickal effect. So then, Will must reach outwards to achieve its affect.

The Magical Operation I may speak there is thus: to cultivate and impress the power of a wild, warlike magickal self whose object is to fill the world with his will. The magickal self, in this sense, can be thought of as the active, imprinted manifestation of the magician’s subjective universe via identity, through which the magician affects their own consciousness onto the world, and conveying that which it means to affect in its inner and outer world. For me, for this “wild, warlike magickal self”, that is a sort of transgressive mystic freedom and strength, bound to the unbridlding of the inner darkness of life and the hearth of will nestled within it.

The entire enterprise is to be considered a manifestation of the Left Hand Path, insofar as this is to be understood in modern parlance. The magickal self is a process of the creative actualization of the will of the artist-magician, done so as to become an active force in their own existence, and not only this persisting, survivng presence in the world through the creative power of magickal subjectivity. By imprinting the world with Art, the artist-magician transforms themselves and then the world around them by the same practice, and, in a way, they might well contribute to their own “immortality”, their own will surviving in the face of death, joining a world of divine wills. The spirit you want to impress on this world is down to the individual. For my purpose, I wish to cultivate and impress transgressive strength.

There’s also obviously another purpose to it. After all, if one desires to affect a warlike spirit or persona in the world, then even if it’s just for its own sake or out of one’s own raw affinity, it only makes sense that you mean to fight in the long term. And I do, for many reasons. I suppose one of the main ideas ideologically is to produce an autonomy capable of participating in the broad social war, as Shahin puts it, or the broader war of all against all (in Stirner’s terms) that pervades the cosmos, upholding its own freedom and ownness by standing and fighting against all of its enemies. In full candour, though, there is also a pure desire to it. The desire to be able to have the inner and outer strength to independently rely on, to always be able exert myself in will, and to be able to enter into moments of destiny that might depend on it: in other words, to fight and put the fear of the gods into anyone hostile to those persons, or just the one, to whom I invest my full devotion. But there’s also an obvious way to connect it to the way Toby Chappell conceives of magick as, at least I’d argue, a sort of dialectical transformation of the inner and outer worlds. Or, perhaps, as Michael Bertiaux put it in his Voudon Gnostic Workbook, “the imagination making the world to be as it is in itself”. The development of subjectivity towards its own empowerment, and working performed upon it, is to become an agent upon the outer world, and perhaps so on. The warlike spirit grows so that it can be its own full ontological autonomy, so that it can forge its will as like a blade within an actual forge, and then imprint will as the expression of active creative agency and as the mark of resistance.

To briefly return to ideological-philosophical considerations, it is worth establishing that struggle is never absent in life. Indeed, our species is perhaps alone in its thinking that it can cut itself off from the struggle: establishing civilization itself as an ostensible enclave from that whole world, all while actually containing struggle within itself, and then collapsing and being rebuilt again and again, beholding new iterations of the same cycle. Struggle in many ways can be thought as essential to life, certainly so if we take from the Pagan worldview that rebellion is locked into the origination and perpetuation of cosmic life in itself. Thus, as Kropotkin says in Anarchist Morality, to struggle is to live. Certain philosophers of resignatory pessimism, like Arthur Schopenhauer, almost certainly sensed this albeit to the precise extent that they wanted an out from it. Even in a world of Anarchy, nothing tells us that struggle will end, as a new world without authority will yet contend with those whose desires tend toward social control and intimate authoritarianism, which thus threaten the re-establishment of every system of social domination you can name, thus leading to new cycles of social war marked by the necessary battle against social domination and its various sources. All I mean to say, though, is that insofar as the struggle is endless, one has the option to take it up and make oneself a combatant, knowing all of this, as a matter of amor fati. Thus is the world into which warlike spirits maintain their place in the eternity of resistance.

The “Luciferian” Impulse in Art (Or, A Word on the Mysterium Luciferianum)

I’d also like to discuss the sort of “Luciferian” current that not only runs about through the way I’ve appreciated this whole warrior theme, as well as a much broader artistic theme that might have a broader place in the artistic worldview, all of which sort of gradually emerged as I wrote this article.

Lucifer, the spirit of the morning star, is the spirit who rebels against the Sun. Fraternitas Saturni, who linked Lucifer and Satan together with the Roman god Saturn, interpreted this as the conflict between Saturn and the Solar Logos (or Sorath), which they hoped would end in the absorption of the Solar Logos by Saturn. Japanese astrology also believes that the planet Venus (which in Japan is often called Taihakusei) was believed to compete with the Sun for brightness. Although the Roman Lucifer and the Hellenic Phosphoros seem like purely innocuous spirits of light and dawn, several other morning star gods and spirits were also linked to war, and even death and the underworld.

This includes Athtar, the Ugaritic god whose myth is a likely “origin” point for the Luciferian Fall mythos, since he represented war and battle as well as fertility and water. Athtar was connected with the goddess Astarte or Ishtar, to whom he was considered a male counterpart, and Ishtar is known for being a goddess of both sex and war and was regarded as the evening star. Athtar was also paired with the Moabite god Chemosh, who is perhaps Biblically notorious as the god who managed to defeat Yahweh once in battle. The Syrian deity Azizos was a morning star god who the Roman emperor Julian identified with the Hellenic god Ares, the Arabian goddesses al-Uzza and Baltis were identified with the morning star and worshipped as warrior goddesses, the Iranian goddess Anahita was connected to the planet Venus and worshipped as a goddess of war as well as water and fertility, the Egyptian god Sopdu was a morning star deity who was also a god of war, and the Slavic Zorya goddesses, representing the morning and evening stars, were also warrior goddeses. The ancient Mayans venerated the planet Venus in the context of war and planned military campaigns based on the planet’s movements, the Japanese gods Daishogun and Taihakujin, who were associated with the planet Venus, were depicted as generals, and the Pawnee venerated the morning star as a god of war.

The morning star itself was sometimes believed to be a rebellious entity. The Mayan Chak Ek was believed to bring disorder to the world and fight the other gods. In Islam, Zohreh is the name of Venus and a woman who tricked two angels into giving her the secret of how to enter Heaven. In Shinto, the morning star was likely personified as the god Ame-no-kagaseo (more popularly known as Amatsu-mikaboshi), who rebelled against the Amatsukami by refusing to submit the land of Japan to them, while in Japanese astrology the star called Taihakusei was believed to inspire sedition and was considered an omen of coup d’etat.

What’s funny is that, as far as Michael Bertiaux is concerned, people are motivated to become artists because of the “Luciferian” impulse. Also funny is that, in that interview, the actual line between “Luciferianism” and Satanism is not really established in that interview, and in fact his concept of the “Luciferian impulse” emerges in relationship to his discussion of esoteric Satanism – specifically the so-called “school of Rops” that Bertiaux says was founded by the artist Felicien Rops in Paris in 1888 as well as the so-called “Temple of Boullan” that was ostensibly founded by a Haitian occultist named Paul Michaël Guzotte. I think I’ll have to look into those at some point. Still, there’s a way to make sense of it especially when we don’t consider “Luciferianism” to be a distinct religious tradition (which it can’t be, since there are several doctrines called “Luciferian” and some of them are basically just brands of Satanism). If we creatively apply the way Rene Guenon defined “Luciferianism” as “rebellion” or “counter-tradition” (bearing in mind that he also considered it to be basically just “unconscious Satanism”), that can apply as much to my own enterprise of Satanic Paganism inasmuch as it too bears this impulse.

Therein lies a larger point, though. “Luciferianism” is not a religion in itself. There is no real shared body of doctrine or praxis that can be called “Luciferian”. Instead there’s a bunch of doctrines and praxes from a variety of occultists for whom the term often seems to have very different meanings – in some cases it literally is just a different take on what is basically Satanism. And to be honest the more I see self-styled Luciferians around the more it becomes somewhat obvious that “Luciferianism” exists as part of the Satanic landscape, just that it focuses on a very distinct mode of magickal-mythical identification.

But as much as I’d like to elaborate more on what I might call the “Mysterium Luciferianum” (to adapt Rudolf Otto’s terminology of the Holy), what matters is the impulse that Bertiaux speaks to. It’s fundamentally what Carl Jung talked about when he discussed the principium individuationis: that is, selfhood seeking to define itself on its own terms. Art is probably the most ubiquitous means for the principium individuationis to manifest itself concretely, and perhaps that is why it is so reviled by mass society when it does exactly this and shunned by mass markets for not being some mere product. In this sense, art cannot be adequately understood as solely the production of beauty and thus the recapitulation of forms. The individual artist, insofar as they pursue conscious self-definition through artistic media, can apply the “Luciferian” impulse in that this impulse is fundamentally to assert your own creative will, especially in rebellion against Society.

My Very Own Little Sparta

One artistic ambition that I have nurtured since I was a student in college was the creation of my very own space in the vein of Little Sparta by Ian Hamilton Finlay. All I can think of when it comes to what that would actually be like is that I would practice the sword there or maybe even do some outdoor worship there, but to understand just the idea being explored it’s necessary to explain the concept of Little Sparta.

Little Sparta is a garden that was created in 1966 by Ian Hamilton Finlay and his wife Sue Finlay. It still exists to this day and is still open for public visitations in Dunsyre, located in South Lanarkshire in Scotland. I think what attracted me to Little Sparta was this idea of a personal artistic space that was loaded with invested meaning, by which I of course mean poetry, allegory, and revolutionary symbolism connected to pre-Christian mythos. The garden features a “Temple of Apollo”, which is dedicated to the god Apollo, his music, his “missiles”, and the Muses. The Temple is apparently meant to represent a thematic attention to certain ideas about civilization, violence, tenderness, and sublimity meant to be conveyed throughout the garden. Elsewhere in the garden there’s a golden bust of Apollo’s head, with the name “APOLLON TERRORISTE” inscribed on the forehead. This icon of Apollo is modelled after the image of Louis Antoine de Saint-Just, one of the leaders of the French Revolution, and invokes the myth of Apollo slaying Marsyas after defeating him in a music contest (incidentally, the Little Sparta website claims that Marsyas won the contest and was thus punished by Apollo for it). A quote from Saint-Just, “The order of the present is the disorder of the future”, is depicted in an inscription somewhere in Little Sparta. Several other inscriptions can be found on the various sculptures scattered throughout the garden, all of them meant to carry some sort of poetic message that Finlay meant to express.

One comparison that I find to be potentially significant is the comparison to sacred groves. Prudence Carlson, writing for The Financial Times, suggested that Little Sparta – along with another garden he created called Fleur de L’Air – represents an expression of the concept of the sacred grove. This is supposedly illustrated by the seriousness of the undertaking of its creation, and also the extent to which it renders the natural world as a place of solitary ideality set apart from the ordinary “world of man”. Of course, we may remember that an actual sacred grove is specifically uncultivated land that is set apart as a place for the divine to be communally observed. Still, it is probably possible to make a connection by the way of the concept of a space that is “set apart” as a site of meaning, including individual meaning.

In the context of a magickal framework, this means my equivalent of Little Sparta would be a place upon which my Will is embedded through edifices of creative expression that imbue individual meaning. A daemonic habitat that constitutes the power of a subjective universe, or perhaps a lasting physical link to said universe. An island into which perhaps a “magickal self” might flourish and enact itself, perhaps. The home of the artistic persona, and its identification with the divine.

I, to reiterate, don’t really have the clearest idea of what that garden would consist of. Space to practice swords is a no-brainer for me, though Shahin’s Nietzsche and Anarchy has me thinking about taking the concept of “idea-weapons” and giving them the form of aesthetic expression. Obviously the place would be stamped with expressions of individuality, especially in an esoteric way, and ritualistic and occult trappings alongside depictions of pagan gods and divine demons would be a must-have for this space.

Back when I was starting college we had an induction week and I remember the main project we were doing was to get into groups of two and work on a flag for what was going to be a display. We were supposed to base the flag on objects we brought from home – one object per person, so two per group. I brought a very strange wooden animal head that my grandfather had, it was like the head of a buffalo on one side and that of a hippopotamus on the other. That became a big red buffalo head, meant to denote some idea of personal strength. I thought of it as a flag of freedom. I was then again the odd one out, not just for its theme but also, as far as I recall, for having the only one of the induction flags whose background wasn’t white. Perhaps some day I might revisit the idea, and create a new, similar banner, as the banner of the garden of warlike individuality.

The idea of it as a “sacred space” or “ideal space” can, in Pagan terms, intersect again with the notion of devotional offering as previously discussed. A distinct enclave of will, of concentrated subjectivity, perhaps including the elements of gods or demons, may contain potential in relevance to the link, established through Phil Hine’s concept of Invocation via mask work, to “performance”, in the ontological sense. You have created your own “sacred space” for yourself, but this “sacredness”, this setting apart of creative will in physical form, may be extended in devotional terms, that will reaching out as an offering of spirit to the realms of divine power. Perhaps it pleases them as the dedication in itself does, and the point of all that is to elicit the larger work of divine identification and actualisation of which the mortal and the divine are both a part.

Alchemy, Carnal and/or Otherwise

The aim of art is principally expression and to develop means of expression, even if that is so that it can be enjoyed by others (which, in turn, is so that you are happy). Kink is another means of self-expression, one much more intimately connected with the enjoyment of an other, and as I read certain books about BDSM more I tend to think that there’s a role that a certain magickal understanding of BDSM can play in the broader creative philosophy. Granted, this is all possible principally because I happen to have that kink myself. I don’t want it to come off as some mere rationalization, rather a part of the “unity” of psychic life in the context of philosophical praxis.

The book Carnal Alchemy: A Sado-Magical Exploration of Pleasure, Pain, and Self-Transformation by Stephen Flowers and Crystal Flowers (the former of whom I normally don’t like) has been a surprisingly interesting source for ideas on how to imbue your kink with a distinct religio-magickal context. But, for my purposes, it would actually be better to start with a discussion of Marquis De Sade. The Flowers’ refer to Geoffrey Gorer, who in The Life and Ideas of the Marquis de Sade presents his definition of sadism (or “Sadeanism” as the Flowers’ put it) as “The pleasure felt from the observed modifications on the external world produced by the will of the observer”. A very simplistic interpretation of this idea would have it that all of magick fits this definition and is thus “sadism” in its own right. Indeed for Gorer himself it can encompass a broad array of activities: from creating works of art to blowing up bridges, as long as it represents a modification of the external world as willed by the agent. In fact, it is perhaps especially applicable to the Artist, whose magickally application of their is the impression of their individual subjective universe and therefore Will upon the objective world. But putting aside the question of the extent to which masochism fulls under the general magickal applications of this (and I’m convinced that it does, but I’m not much of a masochist to know precisely how), it also connects with the sort of creative-destruction (to which Mikhail Bakunin in his own way referred) you see locked in the basis of life, and from there a broader appreciation of the darksome kernel of pure reality.

Imagination is an important part of the worldview being discussed. The character Dolmance in Philosophy in the Bedroom says that imagination is “the spur of delights”, upon which all (presumably at least in the realm of pleasure) depends and by which the greatest joys are known. As the Flowers’ note, the exercise of willful imagination is thus key to extending the possibilities of individual pleasure, which is thus understood as the cultivation and enactment of fantasies, in order to transform yourself through such acts of will. This is meant to be understood as “in accordance with Nature”. The “law” of Nature is pretty frequently invoked by De Sade’s characters as justifications for their actions, which are often outlandish at best and downright tortuous at worst, but the key theme there is that human vices, as much as “virtues”, are part of the workings of Nature, since Nature seems to allow them to take place. On the basis of this idea and the mortality of human beings, there emerges the argument that destruction is part of the “laws” of Nature, an indispensible one in fact, without which Nature cannot create. Incidentally, one of the interesting aspects of this worldview is that, on this basis, death itself is not actually the annihilation so frequently discussed in modern atheist circles but instead merely the re-arrangement of matter. In Justine we see this idea expressed by some of the characters, one of whom says “What difference does does it make to her creative hand if this mass of flesh today wearing the conformation of a bipedal individual is reproduced tomorrow in the guise of a handful of centipedes?”. What matters about this, though, is the extent to which Nature and Will/Imagination interact. Your subjective universe is as natural as anything else, insofar as Nature allows it to exist. Nature refers not merely to that which is outside of human civilization, but to the system of life and processes that all things are a part of and outside of which nothing really exists. Unlike De Sade I see the nature of Nature as a kind of spontaneous negativity, an always fertile Darkness, not a body of purposive law. Nature is a creative system with perpetuation as its fundamental trait, and those who create and assert their own subjective universes, even to the extent that it alters their external world, may be said to be in tune with Nature, at least in their own sense, whether that its following Nature or following their own nature.

Returning to the focus on BDSM in Carnal Alchemy, “alchemy” is basically the watch word here. The Flowers’ elaborate that their concept of Sado-Magic or Carnal Alchemy is in essence an extension of the old idea of alchemy: turning lead into gold is thus translated as turning pain into pleasure and power into powerlessness. The phrase “solve et coagula” (which you’ve doubtless seen on the arms of Baphomet), meaning the breaking down of a substance into constituents and then recombining them into perfection, is then interpreted as the submissive undergoing that same process by their ritual submission to the dominant as the object of transformation into perfection. The dominant or sadist in this framework is thus analogous to the alchemist seeking to create the philosopher’s stone, for whom the body of the submissive is a microcosm of the objective world in which they work their Will, taking on. On the other side of this equation, though, the submissive is actually the power that the dominant strives to work with and develop magickally. This alchemy for both parties can also entail a form of identification: the dominant, or a certain type thereof, may identify with the “tortures” inflicted on the submissive, and both partners by way of the principle of sexual magick may even identify each other as the God in each other. From a certain point of view, the dominant may even be seeking to perfect themselves as much as the objective world through the bondage they practice upon the submissive. Self-perfection, of course, is a magickal aspiration, especially on the left hand path, going hand in hand with divine identification.

From this standpoint, though, the connection between the dominant/sadist and art is well-explored in the Flowers’ book. The dominant’s role and the pleasure the dominant feels through it is likened to artist working in their medium, like Michaelangelo taking pieces of marble – specifically pieces that he believed contained the image he was looking for, and upon which he used his tools to “liberate” that image. The dominant through their ritual enacts their subjective will into the world, and liberates and transforms the submissive because their ritual fulfills their desires.

Another discussion of alchemy in relation to kink can be found in Carolyn Elliott’s Existential Kink. Admittedly it’s very self-helpy, and its discussing of embracing kink is decidedly fixated on the submissive side of kink, but we can take on a generalized perspective in its discussion of alchemy. Alchemy is likened to the process of individuation, which Elliott relates to as The Great Work. Partaking in this Great Work sees the individual consciousness evolve and integrate such that it expands its own possibilities for “seeing and acting upon beautiful worldly opportunities for fulfillment” – or, perhaps in better terms, to enact Will in the world. By establishing a unified mind, and then from there attaining a “one world”, you attain a sort of “embodied unity with reality”. This process involves the integration of that part of you that is disowned by the “ego” (I can take this to mean normative consciousness), thereby changing the locus of your own agency in alignment with the “kinkier” and “darker” whole of the self, which results in the cultivation of genuine individuality and, through the fulfillment of the Great Work, a greater ability to manifest will in the objective world. Thus Elliott frames her vision of The Great Work as an expression of the Left Hand Path (which she also calls the “lightning path”, because it quickly and radically transforms you).

I’m establishing a pretty strong thread connecting a sort of general principle of alchemy to the artistic philosophy by connecting it to kink, but that is not its only connection. Reiterating the way Liber ABA sheds light on the intersection between magick and worldly creative practice, let’s note Crowley’s discussion of Rembrandt: Crowley says that Rembrant took a number of ores and crude objects and from these he “banished the impurities, and consecrated them to his work, by the preparation of canvasses, brushes, and colours”, and then “compelled them to take the stamp of his soul”. In this, Crowley says, Rembrandt created a being of truth and beauty out of the “creatures of earth”. This is meant to be taken as an application of Crowley’s understanding of the larger process of magick, or more specifically initiation: here initiation is understood as the process of transforming “First Matter” into immortal, incorruptible, eternally individual intelligence. According to Crowley, this is how one comes to understand alchemy.

Moreover, I think there’s room to apply the alchemical understanding of individuation to certain forms of anarchist psychology. In their book, Nietzsche and Anarchy, Shahin argues from a Nietzschean perspective that individuals as such are not born ready-made but instead have to be created, both by social processes outside of a person’s control and ultimately by the person themselves. The Nietzschean worldview that Shahin presents holds that most people are what Shahin calls “dividuals”, not “individuals”. For Shahin, an “individual” would be a person or body that has developed full psychological coherence, having a single, unique, self-directed, consistent set of values, drives, thought structures, and patterns of action, whereas most human beings, as “dividuals” do not and instead carry multiple and often conflicting sets of drives and patterns, some of which are far from self-directed. The aim of individuation, in this sense, is to develop that sense of coherence, however ultimately imperfect even that may be, in order to become a fully autonomous and self-determining individual (well, again, to the best possible extent).

The alchemical metaphor here pans out when we take Crowley’s discussion of the process of initiation and then map it onto the context of Shahin’s Nietzschean self-transformation. In such a scheme, “dividuals” would correspond to “First Matter” or “creatures of earth”. “First Matter”, in alchemist terms, is a state of disorganized matter or energy, but in alchemy this is very specifically in reference to the state of primordial chaos that contains all possibilities of creation. Our “dividual” would not exactly correspond to this, save perhaps as an expression of the possibilities of chaos, but it is unorganized, at least in the sense that it does not necessarily organise itself creatively. Indeed, it is an all too obvious fact that we don’t simply organise ourselves under the direction of some discrete rational consciousness when we are born, and instead find ourselves dependent upon a system of social processes created by others. That’s where the arts of individuation and initiation come in.

Even if we learn the tools of our own self-reflection through the relationships we have with others, simply growing up in the set of social relationships we are born into is far from a guarantee of our individuality. In fact, it can be very easy to lose our sense of individuality, or even simply never cultivate one, within society. In fact, contrary to the insistences of common socialist narratives about the “individualism” of capitalism, life under capitalism finds many people in some ways “forgetting who they are”, losing sight of their individual aspirations and identities as they allow them to be entirely dedicated by capitalist stimuli or just forget about them as they set about “growing up” – entering the rat race and keeping up with social convention, whether they really believe in it or not, to survive in a society so tightly built upon it, all while probably being convinced that this is just the way the world works. Individuation means to break from that whole process, to change the locus of agency towards yourself, and in so doing changing from being disorganized, meaning in this case not entirely organised by your own direction and consciousness, to embodying autonomous self-direction.

A Short Word About AI Art

Since this is an article about art in itself I would be remiss if I were to ignore the subject of artificial intelligence in art, and its surrounding discourse which has become very relevant to art as a whole. AI art, meaning any art made using artificial intelligence tools, has increasingly been the subject of major controversy in the art world. Many artists hate AI art, often because they deem it inferior to traditional art or even dismiss the idea that it is really art at all, and sometimes also accuse AI artists of stealing the work of other artists. Some artists, however, seem to believe that AI art is the future of art-making, even believing it to be superior to non-AI art. AI art tools very much available across the internet, often freely at that, AI art pieces have already been sold for tens of thousands of dollars at auctions, an AI art piece recently won a prize at the Colorado State Fair, and AI art tools are already being integrated into Microsoft’s family of software products. All told, it’s not for nothing that AI art is such a hot topic in the art world.

But what do I think? Or rather, how does it figure into my overall philosophy of art? Ostensibly, the answer is “not much”. For now, the use of AI Art figures little into whatever designs I have, and, admittedly, I think that the actual output of AI art tools is vey hit-or-miss. It could range from what’s basically a new wave of outsider digital expressionism, to complex algorithmic images that resemble old first person shooter games, to, if I’m being honest, mediocre and distorted parodies of traditional art, and at that some of the worst softcore pornography I’ve ever seen. On the other hand so much criticism goes down to the replication of form, and this comes back to how we define art.

In my opinion, it is impossible to define art without considering it as an expression of individual subjectivity. That’s not to say the depiction of form is absent from it, and for generations Nature has inspired countless artists with its abundance of form. But what counts is the starting place of art, the investment and reception of meaning from it, and that all derives from the relationship between the artist’s subjectivity and the world around the artist. Without subjectivity, without imagination, without abstraction, the capacity for art really becomes impossible, or confined only to illustration as a form of stenography. In simple terms, the mere repetition of forms is not in itself art. What is art is the conveyance of subjective relationship to it, even if it’s just a realistic depiction of the natural world. But if art is all about individual creative subjectivity, then art is also intimately related to the expression of individual will, and because of that, there are many ways in which art is not so far apart from magick, or indeed the precise sense in which Stanislaw Przybyszewski meant “the autocratic imagination of mysticism”. Art is thus not a collection of dead aesthetic objects, it’s not just “pretty pictures/paintings” as all too many people across modern political persuasions seem to think it is. To simplify: art, at base, is will.

So how does this tie back to AI art? Well, the idea that it’s “not real art” is really not a matter of objective fact. What counts is the extent to which AI tools allow the individual artist to express creative subjectivity in a completely self-directed manner. And in this regard, especially when it comes to proficiency, I believe it’s fair to say these tools need some work. But one thing I think about is what would happen if AI tools crossed into video game development? After all, video games are in themselves a form of art in their own right, even if it’s not something like Disco Elysium or Death Stranding, despite what our consumeristic conditioning would have us believe. The difference from other artforms, however, is that video games tend to be collaborative projects, since their design typically depends on the efforts of a team of developers working in tandem with each other. Multiple subjectivities are invested in development, leading to contradiction between them, and more often than not some visions prevail at the expense of others; and if it’s not one part of the design team over another, it’s the corporate hierarchy and capitalist markets over the developers. This is especially true for projects meant to follow the current industrial standard – “AAA” games, if you will – but it is no less true for indie projects in large part. Perhaps one person can do it, or more realistically just two, but it can be incredibly difficult and taxing labour, and one project could probably take many years to finish. So imagine if AI tools could be developed that would allow an individual artist to create an entire game effectively by themselves, its content dictated by their own individual subjectivity?

It sounds like a wild and fantastical idea, but I do remember seeing a few lectures back in university where people would discuss artifical intelligence in design and, in turn, discuss exactly this possibility. It was pretty exciting, thought at the time I couldn’t receive it without the same latent fears that many others have. From the same standpoint of individual subjectivity, there also arises the fear of the loss of its investment in traditional media. After all, we’re told that it’s just “the machine doing it all for you” – ignoring of course the fact you still have to give it input, and no doubt fashion the raw output that proceeds from it to your liking. But what if far from displacing the labour of the individual artist, and far from merely compensating for a lack of artistic talent, it could actually free individual game designers and their creative development from the dominant industrial relationships of collaboration, in which their subjectivity must contend with the propsect of getting drowned out by both capitalistic interests and your colleagues?

That whole world still has a long way to go, and to be honest I have no idea how to balance all of this with my longstanding skepticism of the positive potential of artifical intelligence as a whole, but to reiterate, in the end what matters is the possibilities that it affords the expression of individual subjectivity. If I were you, I wouldn’t worry too much about your jobs being taken away by it. If you’re really serious about that, you should turn your gaze towards capitalism as the real enemy.

The Art As Esoteric Anarchist Prefiguration

Let’s return to Nietzsche and Anarchy for an overview of the concept of projectual life. Projectual life is the conscious self-direction of one’s individual life towards one’s own individuation. This is in the sense that it’s the conscious project to move away from the herd and its passivity towards the development of an active embodied consciousness capable of demonstrating a continuous lived resistance to the world. Drawing from Nietzsche’s The Gay Science, a Nietzschean view on projectuality emerges from Nietzsche’s description of self-transformation. In The Gay Science, Nietzsche’s idea of this would be “to give style to one’s character”; an art, and a rare one at that. This art comes about through the surveyance of one’s personality or character (Nietzsche and thence Shahin prefer the term “nature” here) so as to transform all of your strengths and weaknesses into artforms. The aim of the constant process of projectuality is to develop a creative self-consciousness to the extent of concentrating the locus of agency in the self and transforming the psyche to become, as Nietzsche said, “those that we are” – that is, an individual, a unique self-creating body that can administer its own law unto itself. By my interpretation: this means an individuated being with the perpetual power to manifest their Will.

There’s a few things to note about Shahin’s idea that make my interpretation sort of different. For one thing, Shahin seems to resist thinking about projectuality in relationship to will. But I tend to think it’s not possible to separate projectuality from will. Besides the simple fact that will in a somewhat mundane sense and the ability to exercise it (even if it is not perfect or fully discreet) is absolutely necessary affect the change and transformation entailed in projectuality, the throughline we can get from understanding projectuality dovetails fairly nicely with Crowley’s discussion of alchemy and initiation. The process of initiation as a transformation from “First Matter” or “creatures of earth” to “an immortal, incorruptible, eternally individual intelligence” is not so alien to Nietzschean projectuality. One starts from the base, that base being the complex dividual body, and progresses towards individuation, the Nietzschean individual being in many ways the “intelligence” Crowley spoke of. The difference, besides perhaps Crowley’s methodology, would be that Nietzsche arguably would not have thought of his individual as entirely discrete even in the process of individuation.

The other thing, of course, is the way Shahin appears to define projectuality in opposition to what he calls “negative nihilism”, by which he seems to mean a reflexive mode of rebellious action without (or indeed even against) any kind of affirmative project or new set of values, without which, they believe, it is impossible to do anything except revert to despair, self-destruction, conformity, and submission. I think that this is just nonsense. For starters, Shahin is in this context not speaking strictly in individual terms. When Shahin says “we can only destroy the values, desires and cultures that destroy us if we also create and affirm new values to take their place”, we have to understand that “taking their place” means to create a new overculture whose “place” is the domination of mass valuation. No anarchy will be complete unless it can rid itself of precisely this. If you want new values, make them for yourself and live them yourself. After all, from the standpoint of any consistent ontological application of nihilism, that’s all you’re doing this for: there’s no objective teleological value in the universe, you value and create values because you want to do so, therefore do it for your own sake, your own desire. That ultimately is Shahin’s starting point, since Shahin engages in projectuality because they desire freedom. More to the point, projectuality framed as the idea that you can live joyfully towards the construction of liberation/freedom is not only not somehow “anti-nihilist”, the anarcho-nihilist concept of jouissance is, in itself, a fulfillment of projectuality by much of the criteria Shahin sets out. If the anarcho-nihilist already accepts the premise that their business is to live joyfully even in a world that they believe will not be saved, then projectuality is already part of nihilist praxis.

All of this, however, is ultimately a tangent. The real point is to establish what projectuality has to do with the Art. It connects to the extent that individuals may prefigure real freedom in their lives through the application of meaning through ritual and will, through our interaction with some decidedly non-rational structures of life.

Unlike some anarchists (including many “classical” anarchists and probably including Shahin as well) who reject religion as such, I am fairly convinced that religion and especially occultism are ways by which an individual may cultivate a form of projectual individuation. It is true that you don’t necessarily “need” religion or occultism to “be a good person” or “have morals/ethics” as such, but then what if that’s not the point? Anyone can be a “good person” through the consistent application of either personal or shared ethics. Likewise, “community” is also irrelevant to what I consider to be the value of religion. True, religion can seem to play a role in forming strong social bonds and communal relationships, but this is no proof that this is itself the value of religion – indeed, we have ample proof that it can even be a significant downside for those who don’t conform to society. “Cohesion”, too, is similarly a red herring, since secular societies are just as capable of producing “cohesion” without religion.

The real value of religion, along with occultism, consists in the precise relationships that these generate, the extent to which one may identify themselves with the divine, and from there, cultivate individuation. It consists in the extent to which the pattern of ritual (perhaps thus “re-legere”, the Pagan definition of religion) allows us to develop individual coherency and autonomous consciousness in collaboration with the numinous, through channels of meaning such as myth and ritual and non-rational communion with divine reality (or perhaps the Darkness of “pure” reality). Admittedly, many mainstream ideas of religion don’t necessarily acheive this, perhaps even basing the value of religiosity in something entirely different, and “organised religion”, by which we mean the institutionalisation of religion as hierarchy, is simply worthless in this regard. But that’s the bath water, and not the baby, when discussing religious experience. If projectuality in Nietzschean terms is an art, so is ritual, and ritual itself can be thought of as posessing projectual aims in itself, at least insofar as their aim is the Great Work. Still, there is the argument to be made that even in the more “established” religious traditions we may find magickal sense in their practices of contemplation, at least from the purview that the idea is to immerse yourself in all of the sacred images and patterns in religious contemplation so that, in this contemplation, you may imitate them. I would interpret that as in some way a means of identification, but, I would stress that most religions don’t share the ideas and aims of divine identification that I have, from my starting point within the Left Hand Path. Nonetheless, I would say it’s a useful way of making sense of religion, the good side of it anyway, or at least an aspect of what religion should be as a function. I would also suppose that it’s the different approaches to imitation, contemplation, and identification that really give concrete definition to the Right Hand Path versus the Left Hand Path as we understand them in modernity: one, the Right Hand Path, positions imitation as harmonization, to “imitate the divine” as a vessel for it so as to accord oneself with it or with the “right order”, while the Left Hand Path positions imitation as apotheosis, to imitate the divine so as to ontologically become divine, join the divine, and achieve a sense of spiritual equality with it.

But perhaps all of this links to a much broader concept found within the tradition of anarchist thought: prefiguration. Prefiguration, or “prefigurative politics”, simply refers to the idea that our actions and relationships in the current world should strive to reflect the new world that we wish to bring into being. Some people have summarized it in that famous saying “be the change you want to see in the world” (which is often erroneously attributed to Mahatma Gandhi), and I’d say that’s not necessarily incorrect. Prefiguration entails a micro-political practice of harmony between means and ends, which is fulfilled by the desire to embody the values of the desired to new world via the relationships built upon anarchistic prerogratives, or the spread of behaviours that generally follow them, in order to meaningfully establish the social possibility of life without authority or hierarchy in real time. This often means the rejection of consequentialist, utilitarian, or instrumentalist ethics (such as attributed to Marxism-Leninism or more “centrist” tendencies within the Left) in favour of what some might argue to be a radical interpretation of virtue ethics. There are critics even within anarchism who see the concept of prefigurative politics as pregnant with the notion of apocalyptic imminency, akin to a Christian idea that God’s will/plan for our salvation is prefigured almost fatalistically in our preceding actions, which is then translated into the belief in revolutionary imminency – that is the historic inevitability of the revolution, typically associated with Marxist orthodoxy. But I completely reject that comparison. Instead, I tend to believe that prefiguration in its most sincere sense relies on the understanding that we have no such guarantees, we cannot derive such guarantees from any external source, and there is no final point of moral authority or fulfillment, and so if we are to enact major social change or enjoy the fruits of our desired world we are thus entirely dependent on our own consistent programmatic actions.

So where does this position religious life, the occult, and the Art? It’s absolutely true that you don’t “need” religion in order to “be a good person” – except is that necessarily the point? I suppose the answer to that depends on our criteria of “good”. But what counts is that in order to be able to prefigure the world desired on anarchistic terms, then it is fundamentally necessary for individuals to prefigure the mind for that very possibility so as to set the possibilities for action or behaviour. This means that, despite what such figures as Frére Dupont might suggest, it is entirely necessary to centre consciousness, and I thus mean prefigurative consciousness. Now what if a person were to ritually dedicate themselves to their own individuation? For a person to pursue the Great Work means to partake in the transformation of individual personality through ritual and esoteric means, to become the philosopher’s stone, to achieve alchemistic perfection as a beacon of freedom. People think themselves free only in the secular means by denying all spiritual concepts and forms, but what I see in modern societies and radical spaces increasingly convinces me that this is probably an illusion, and at that hardly less an illusion than the supposed authority of God. But in ritual pattern and praxis, there is an obvious extent to which the psychological affectation associated with religious life and myth may arc towards liberatory ends and, thus, make for effectual means. For better or worse, I believe that the Left Hand Path as we understand it contains this idea within itself.

In this framework, so-called “lifestyle anarchism” emerges not as the handmaiden of bourgeois rule but instead as simply a dismissive byword for what consistent anarchist praxis can look like if it is projectual and prefigurative. For this, we should see fit to reject the influence of Murray Bookchin’s critique which still haunts the “social-anarchism” of the present in favour of its opposite. What I call Esoteric Anarchy locates this value in the study and practice of esotericism and ritual as the locus of projectual individuation, which is then thus the ground of prefigurative politics. If the simplest end of magick is change or transformation on behalf of the person, if it is the art of will reshaping the inner and outer world, then Esoteric Anarchy is the recgonition of this as prefiguration, as the means and the end in themselves. Indeed, I believe that this understanding also applies to the way Phil Hine, at the very end of Condensed Chaos, talked about the concept of gnosis. Here, gnosis entails experiential magickal knowledge that then transforms you and becomes the basis of a new mode not merely of thinking but also, crucially, of acting within the world. This is what Phil Hine calls “Knowledge of the Heart”. Experience here is the secret language of magick, passing into it is required in order to grasp esoteric meaning. Thus the magickal transformation of the inner and outer world is a process in which the praxis of ritual and gnosis set the basis of the magician to prefigure themselves and the world around them in thought and deed.

Even in John Michael Greer’s Blood of the Earth, which unfortunately betrays a markedly conservative outlook, we can see relevant links in the significance of magic and occultism to prefigurative politics. In the last chapter, summarizing basically everything discussed in the book, Greer establishes that magical training, in practically distinct system with its unique tools, can allow the individual to liberate their minds from the limits of collective consciousness and what he calls “mass thaumaturgy” in order to better prepare themselves for the crises set for what believes to be the end of the industrial age. He then adds that, once this is done, the magician then has to bring their magickal work down into the material plane and anchor it with actions, a practice he associates with seemingly all of the old philosophies of occultism. If we throw aside all of the major ideological presumptions that otherwise attend his discussion of magic, a major takeaway that is no doubt of some value is that the indiviudal, and the extent to which the individual affects and alters their own life in accordance to will, is the starting point all the work Greer talks about. That’s basically the primary subject of prefigurative politics and Nietzschean projectuality: even if you won’t be able to do everything alone, it all has to start with you; you, as an individual, must prefigure an alternative way of life for yourself. And for Greer, both magick and the pursuit of lifestyles that break you away from the dominant set of industrial lifestyles affect changes into your individiual consciousness that set the horizon for this prefiguration in the material world.

From an opposing perspective, as an esoteric anarcho-nihilist ultra (just one way of putting it!), this can easily take a different focus; as in take out the ideological considerations from Greer, swap it with different set of said considerations, and the throughline remains more or less the same. You must be able to prefigure a world no longer guided by authority, hierarchy, or the total order of things, and hence a world in which you, and your communities, must rely on yourself and each other autonomously. You must prefigure the world after the world, a world beyond good and evil, a world where the last chain is scattered into the wind. That is enormously difficult to imagine within the shell of the current world, no doubt nearly impossible in the minds of most people. But by establishing new modes of autonomous life you become an example through it that imagination becomes very possible for more people, which in turn spreads the mode of prefiguration across social life. Magick can hardly be discounted from this effort, since the object of magick is the transformation of the inner and outer world through will, as I believe all of the occult authors discussed and the tradition of occultism at large typically all acknowledge.

Conclusion: The Art of Satanic Paganism

Before really summarising the form and relevance of all of this I think it’s worth really focusing on art as a creative medium where you really see the occult connect to creative work, and not only this it permeates creative media with its inspiration. Would you believe me if I told you that you wouldn’t have Martin Scorsese without Kenneth Anger? Because it’s true. He inspired Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, and from there surely countless other directors. Would you believe that Dan Aykroyd was a little bit into occultism and that this even went into the initial development of Ghostbusters? Because that’s true too. In fact, this is probably referenced in Ghostbusters II, where Dan Aykroyd’s character Ray Stantz owns an occult book shop called Ray’s Occult Books. Everyone knows about David Bowie, but I wager not that many people are aware of the fact that he based lyrics for whole songs on occult themes, often especially drawing from the quasi-historical Morning of the Magicians, and even fewer people know that he literally believed in magick. Some more people are probably more familiar with Jimmy Page’s enthusiasm for Aleister Crowley. Returning to the subject of visual art, though, I could easily point to the art scene of fin de siecle Germany, in which we see artists whose work is deeply inspired by esotericism and pre-Christian myths, even to the point of there being whole personal artistic cults to gods and spirits such as Hypnos.

There really is an extent to which the occult can often be ubiquitous in the creative world, and I really do believe that this comes down to the horizons that it contains for the pursuit of individuation. Neville Drury in The Occult Experience talked about how there is a gap between what we think we know and what we feel, between (what we believe to be) the limitless horizons of knowledge as pertains to the world around us and the comparative miniscule knowledge we actually have about ourselves, and fields the possibility that occultism offers a bridge between that gap, that it can “take us beyond ourselves” and “to the infinite”. I believe that John Michael Greer, from the perspective of Paganism and deep ecology, makes basically the same point in Blood of the Earth, where he talks about how magick serves as a valuable response to the world after peak oil and mass ecological crisis.

I also think that all of the major considerations presented tell us that the ontological aspect of the conversation around magick, while definitely not unimportant, almost finds itself de-centered. One of the better points of Blood of the Earth is the overview of just this ontological question. Greer says that within a year or two of consistent ritual practice the magician begins to have real experiences with spirits, powers, planes, and all the other major metaphysical stuff, and establishes that these are mental experiences, not physical ones. They may be real, but they are real in basically the same sense that dreams are real. This has lead to questions and debate across occultism about their ontological status, with propositions ranging from hallucinations, to dissociated complexes, to Jungian archetypes, to actual extradimensional entities. There has so far been no way to establish any ontological certainty to comport the experiences of the magician, we have no real answers in this regard. But what if that doesn’t exactly matter? It’s the gnosis that counts, the possibility of experiencing the Great Work, the prospect of cultivating and applying your will, and thereby prefiguring your own freedom, that is what counts, and I do think that as long as that goes you don’t have to worry about ontology too much – but I will say you really should abide yourself by ontological agnositicism, especially in the Satanic sense.

And speaking of Satanic, I think that at this point we can begin summarizing what all of this means within the broader polycentric framework of Satanic Paganism. I think I’ve gone out of my way to elaborate some of the major contours of that philosophy in relation to artistic praxis throughout this article, but more can be said here. The Art, in this sense, comes to mean the creative application of the basic goals and ethos of Satanic Paganism, which can sort of be summarized as achieving individual apotheosis through ritual identification with the divine and the shattering of normative consciousness, or really all illusions that defile both human freedom and knowledge of deep reality or nature. Prefigurative politics in this setting means being able to live in a cultivate state of relative self-perfection, internal autonomy, consistent individuation and lived manifestation of will, wrapped in the full embrace of the dark, creative-destructive core of divine reality; a sort of ontological inner freedom that echoes into the outer world in will, and through the example of prefigurative life. I almost think of it as what the idea of the Anarch should be and would be if it were not an almost entirely passive subject.

In the view of Satanic Paganism, the Art is the medium in which the divine and Man actualise each other, prefiguring a world where everyone is a star. The Art is the creative effort of the religious magician directed towards their own apotheosis – it is will, striving towards that goal. The Art is the application of creative subjectivity in aesthetic, ritual, and/or projectuality at large. The Art is alchemy; it is how the individual goes beyond itself in order to become itself. The Art is in so many senses the vehicle by which Anarchy is made manifest as a practice of everyday life. The Art is the form of the transvaluation of values. And of course, The Art is also a spiritual weapon in the fight against the Demiurge and against all tyrannies and the domination of order.

And so, within the purview of the philosophy of Satanic Paganism, The Art is a way of conceptualising creative praxis as a vehicle for the broader goal of apotheosis. You could say it is an indispensable part of your journey; to paraphrase something I remember Michael Bertiaux saying (and I swear I wish I could find you the exact quote), you must be capable of producing The Art. A person seeking individuation must, in their own way, even if it doesn’t mean they are “artists” per se, be able to practice and develop The Art. From the perspective of esoteric anarchism this makes The Art an essential medium of prefigurative politics. This also means that the idea that occulture and religion are entirely apolitical is, from this perspective, not only false but also antithetical to any consistent practice of The Art.

And so Satanic Paganism itself can be thought of as a religious or religio-magickal worldview that is dedicated to the realisation of The Art. Thus, we who adhere to this philosophy should, to the best of our ability, to develop, cultivate, practice, and perhaps “master” The Art, and study this practice as much as we can, in order that we might fill this world with unbridled daemonic life, and produce a world truest to that classic axiom of occultism; a world where all people are stars.

The myth of conservatism

Conservatism as we know it appears to be in a strange place right now. In fact, it seems that there are some conservatives in the United States who have become convinced that conservatism is dead, a failed project, no longer capable of defeating the “woke dystopia” that they fear so much or reversing what they imagine to be the triumph of progressivism. To that end, such people decide that the Right needs a new identity to coalesce around, one better suited to the new ethos that they want to emphasize; not mere preservation of that which exists, but a new project to overturn that which exists in order to restore what they believe once was. You might say, a revolution of restoration. By now we’ve probably all seen that article from The Federalist titled “We Need To Stop Calling Ourselves Conservatives”, and it probably hasn’t escaped anyone’s notice how fashy this all feels. Personally, my immediate first thought was to compare its impetus to the old movement of “revolutionary conservatism” (or “Conservative Revolution”) that existed in Weimar Germany (a parallel that perhaps bears further exploration). But I think this new position also leaves us with a lot more to say about the nature of conservatism itself. More crucially, I think this moment probably serves to expose the myth of conservatism.

The case that John Daniel Davidson makes is a straightforward one: conservatism is at best irrelevant and at worst an entirely outdated idea for the Right, “dead” in the sense that he believes it is no longer possible for conservatism to preserve the institutions of “Western Civilization” against progressive social change. Conservatism, we are told, has preserved next to nothing, and what it means to preserve is slowly and seemingly inexorably dying. The “traditions” cherished within conservatism are supposedly being relegated into the private sphere only to soon be marginalized even there, as irreligion supposedly prevails while the nuclear family and border controls supposedly fade away. It then follows from this that, according to Davidson, people who call themselves conservatives should instead embrace a new identity, one reflecting a new “radical” agenda of restorationism. This agenda would see the Right abandoning modern forms of neoconservatism and fusionism with their apparent fidelity to liberal values and “the free market” in favour of a new love for massive expansions of state intervention in social and economic life on behalf of their ideological goals.

I can’t help but note how impossible it is to remark about this position without considering the sheer divorce from reality that it involves when it comes to points of policy. Davidson talks about abortion, for instance, but the conservatives as we understand them have already acheived probably their biggest victory on this issue in decades. Just this year Roe vs Wade was officially abolished by a Supreme Court dominated by conservative justices, and almost immediately after that numerous US states began tightening restrictions on abortion or banning it outright, all under the supervision of a Democratic presidency. He talks about marriage, but Republicans are already moving to try and abolish Obergefell v Hodges, and if Roe v Wade is any indication they just might get their way. He talks about the First Amendment, and if we’re being bluntly honest that concept in America is already a joke what with things like FOSTA/SESTA around, but the actual amendment is in no danger. If we assume he just means conservatives get to say what they want on social media, that is by and large not in danger and in fact the Supreme Court can effectively be said to have ruled in their favour. In fact even when it comes to “Big Tech”, we already know that a number of Facebook’s staff are actually right-wingers, and in fact right-wing sympathy appears to be so endemic on Facebook’s internal team that they fired someone for trying to expose it. He talks about the rule of law, as though the 92% of the “riots” in 2020 were not actually peaceful protests. He talks about “control over our borders”, never mind that even the Democrats are busy putting kids in cages, telling immigrants not to come to America, and constructing a wall on the southern border. He talks about irreligion, as if there isn’t still a massive and hugely-influential evangelical lobby across the US establishment, and as if 2022 wasn’t a very good year for Christian dominionists. In fact, my instincts tell me that Davidson’s article is possible in its entirety because of the momentum that the Right now has rather than its apparent decline.

And yet, even this sort of misses the point. For one thing, even if Davidson acknowledges the reality of the conservative standing and the victories that come with it, he clearly wants more. We’re talking about banning no-fault divorces, we’re talking about weaponising anti-trust laws against social media companies to break them up for not in their view sufficiently accomodating conservative ideology (again, despite conservative groups actually receiving preferential treatment on these mediums in reality), we’re talking about people being arrested and charged with “child abuse” for attending drag shows with their kids (it’s worth noting that by now all drag shows are banned in Idaho), we’re talking about doctors being arrested for administering gender-affirming care, we’re talking about teachers being arrested basically for telling their students that LGBTQ people exist. If he had his way, the Republicans would turn the entirety of the United States of America into something almost resembling a mixture of 1950s Ireland and modern Hungary, perhaps with a side-order of Russia; that means massive restrictions on social autonomy alongside financial incentives for heterosexual couples to have “traditional families”, administered by an interventionist state animated by political Christianity (possibly specifically a form of reactionary Catholicism).

For another thing, putting Davidson’s politial prescription into the context of the extant realities of US politics only deepens the sense of right-wing politics as inherently a politics of escalation. Think about it: it’s never enough for the Right even when they get what they want. The easiest way to illustrate this is on the subject of immigration. All the time the increasingly nationalistic Right joins hands in attacking the current Democratic administration for supposedly opening the borders to waves of undocumented immigration, and accusing Joe Biden of deliberately weakening border controls to replace the white Americans with non-white immigrants, supposedly making for a more reliable voting bloc for Democrats. It’s all nonsense of course, most of all because the current administration has already deported hundreds of thousands of immigrants within its first year. But again, Joe Biden can deport countless immigrants, Kamala Harris can tell many more that they are not welcome in the United States, the Democratic administration can keep detaining immigrants, separating their families out of sight, and still build the border wall probably more efficiently than Donald Trump could have done, but none of it will matter to Republicans. It’s easy to see this as mere opportunistic bickering, merely a ploy of antagonism within the context of a democratic system where such pantomimes are always necessary. But I suspect it’s more. It’s a politics of escalation, but escalation towards what? Nothing less than the total concentration of the existing hierarchy. For immigration, this means the total control of movement by the state as a way of maintaining total nativistic hegemony in the form of what amounts to a white ethno-state.

For still another thing, however, the fact that one has to make this shift in terms of a break from conservatism tells us a few things about what conservatism is. Let’s stop and think about how Davidson references conservatism in his article. He begins his article by defining the status quo of conservatism in terms of a generalized ideology of preservation; specifically, a conservative (keeping in mind this is mostly speaking to the American context) is ostensibly someone who wants to preserve the traditions of “individual rights”, family values”, “religious freedom” etc., to defend them from radical change and pass them on continuously through the generations. In practice, you can think can of much of this as meaning the preservation of the legacy of what would now be called classical liberalism, with its original emphasis on a market capitalist economy and society managed by frameworks of rights that, it’s worth remembering, were originally defined via religious terms. In a way you could say that “conservatism”, in this understanding, is still a form of liberalism. Its definition in this setting is more or less reflexive, a sort of schismogenetic response to a vast array of apparent social shifts that began within the Enlightenment.

Of course conservatism as we know it has always come with a certain ideological conceit inherited from Edmund Burke: the belief in an organic society. Although it is commonplace for conservatives to follow the fashion of Thomas Hobbes in regarding “human nature” in its uncultivated state as a morass of violent urges that, if uncontrolled by some extant authority, lead to that famous “nasty, brutish, and short” life that he talked about, Burke actually seemed to believe that civil society was the “state of nature”, and that humans are naturally inclined to reason. Civil society derives its basis from rights and morality as derived from God, humans on this basis come to know this through the refinement of nature through art and the cultivation of law, and radical change insofar as it threatens this organic basis of civil society and its resultant complexity is to be resisted. It is perhaps from this belief, though, that conservatism as we know it also derives a certain reflexive quality embued with a conceit of ideological skepticism. You may have noticed how conservatives often present themselves as non-ideological actors, as people who merely present skepticism towards larger ideological projects. But if you take into account the question of what that skepticism is based on, it becomes apparent this Burkean idea of organic civil society is at the root of it, in that the skepticism is reserved for anything deemed to be counter to the “natural law” of civil society. Still, it is reflexive tendency more than a coherent ideological program. You might even say that it is by definition reactionary.

It’s worth noting, though, that the idea of civil society as human nature has many reverberations beyond conservatism as we understand it. For one thing, Burke himself was a Whig, which could be understood as a liberal movement. For another, if we focus strictly on the idea of civil society as human nature, this in its own way is nothing other than the statement that humans are a social species for whom civil society is the organic expression of their nature. Even if stripped from considerations of God and natural law, the idea of an organic civil society as the “natural” mode of human social life is easily found quite readily among certain left-wing tendencies in politics. In fact, even within anarchism, you will find some individuals who make defenses of natural law and organic concepts of society outside of the state. Whenever someone makes the metaphor of society as a living organism, they are effectively echoing a similarly Burkean conception of the world, even if they’re also rejecting Burke’s idea of what that means. Indeed, even revolution is easily fitted into this framework as a way of renewing civil society or even restoring it.

Conservatism as we understand it is also connected to a dense set of institutions that are supposed to define this “order” of “natural law”. But even so, this also means that it’s defined mostly reflexively. Insofar as it fixates itself on the preservation of the order of things as it exists, it has no precise form. There was a time where it seemingly did not just mention wholehearted embrace of “free market” capitalism, and then there’s a time where you can’t even talk about conservatism without “free markets”. But at the core is a reflexive instinct towards the preservation of the institutions of certain “traditional” notions of civil society against social change. However, the lines are often somewhat blurred in pracitce. An idea like that sometimes carries over elsewhere as residual instincts in other ideologies. Even progressivism as we understand it can emerge as an ideological force latent with reactionary notions, and even its core mission can be understood as an economistic interpretation of the struggle to preserve civil society, even if not necessarily the “free market”. Meanwhile, you can actually find conservatives who talk in ways that almost couldn’t have less to do with the standard conservative instinct. From fringe “MAGACommunists” who insist that communism is conservative while also rambling about annihilating all restraints to human progress, to Liz Truss, the recently-departed Prime Minister of Britain, counselling the nation that sometimes radical change is necessary while ostensibly ushering the return of Thatcherism, it is indeed true that sometimes some notions of “radical change” are not actually beyond their imagination.

Conservatism then emerges in large as an instinct towards preservation in the abstract, which then emerges as one of the distinct products of the revolutions of the Enlightenment. Major social changes were being brought forth, old social orders were being dismantled, sometimes violently, traditions were being questioned, new traditions had started to emerge, and amidst all that a keen reaction emerged from the desire to preserve what was, including the traditional norms of life and the class privileges of those who came to occupy the Right side of revolutionary table. Conservatism, then, is mostly a placeholder for a broadly generalized mode of reaction, the kind that you usually find in “conservatives” as such as well as nationalists, liberals, “libertarians”, and “centrists” among other assorted reactionaries. In most cases, in modern times this does still amount to a defense of the classical liberal order, maybe with a certain appeal to ancient philosophy and Christian teaching. In a sense, it is its own myth, corresponding to what is in essence a reactionary expression of the whole order of the Enlightenment.

What Davidson wants is for the Right to move beyond that idea of its role in the world, to embrace a “revolutionary moment” in order to “restore Western Civilization”. This “revolutionary moment” has an obvious fascistic tinge to it, suggestible from his idea that the government should be utilized as an “instrument of renewal in American life”, echoing the characteristic palingenetic nationalism of fascism, as well as the co-optation of left-wing slogans and policy suggestions that could have been lifted straight out of the National Socialist playbook. But even if we don’t accept that this is the makings of a nascent fascist movement, conservatism in this setting is going to unravel into something else, something beyond the conventions of conservatism as we understand it in the US context. The term “Christian Nationalism” has been repeatedly invoked in reference to the rising American far-right, and it does make for a rather coherent encapsulation of its goals in the terms that perhaps Davidson has in mind. It’s not a particularly new idea, mind you. Theodore Beale (otherwise known as “Vox Day”), who was often referenced as a figurehead of what was once called the alt-right, has been pushing that concept for years now, possibly since at least as far back as 2015. His idea of “Christian Nationalism” is similarly predicated on the rejection of libertarianism or “free market” capitalism in favour of an authoritarian capitalist state that intervenes in the economy and public life on behalf of nativist interests.

It has often been said that conservatism is an unpopular ideology, detested by the masses, and we can safely assume that the its more reactionary cousins are unlikely to be terribly popular. But the unconscious tendencies of micro-fascism are not so marginal, and without the ecosystem of micro-fascist tendencies within the masses conservatism has no meaning, and its evolutions in the form of the larger ideologies of Traditionalism, “Christian Nationalism”, and neofascism are the concentration of these tendencies into coherent reactionary ideologies that, most crucially, do not exist solely as reflections against social change within the current order in that they outwardly embody their own definite orders of social control. This, in relation to the development of reactionary anxieties, may go some way to explaining why “conservatism”, in our time, appears to be looking more and more like fascism. And if it’s not that, then we really are just looking at reactionary expressions of the liberal status quo, bent on upholding the concentration of politics in the hands of the few while animating the latent micro-fascisms of the social order as a source of power.

All of this is good reason to emphasize that conservatism, in all of its manifestations, should not be regarded as a fine concern for aesthetic values but instead as petty reaction that should be overcome and discarded. And it’s not even much of coherent ideological worldview, but a placeholder for an amalgamation of social anxieties and interests that tend towards reaction. And perhaps it may indeed unravel over time, as the conditions of a planet barrelling towards irreversible crisis generate massive social changes that cannot simply be stalled or controlled in the fashion of “conservatism”. The Right is going to define itself in a manner most befitting the moment, as it decides that liberal capitalism is no longer congruent with its desires, goals, and interests. This invariably poses a larger threat to the struggle for autonomy, and perhaps life, than we already currently face. We may bear this in mind in the struggle that must waged, as well as the impetus of deconstruction, of profane illumination directed the current order of the world.

As this idea takes hold “conservatism” as an idea will unravel, and its placeholder status will seem all the more apparent. The hardcore Right at this stage will be recognised as a collection of ideologies that define themselves beyond it. These ideologies include a newly-defined notion of “Christian Nationalism”, as well as standard fare white nationalism, “libertarianism” (including “anarcho-capitalism”), Traditionalism, and outright fascism. All of these ideologies follow aspects of what Davidson has in mind, even if the “libertarians” would rather die than embrace “big government”. Oh but “conservatism” will always be around, in that the instinct to defend the deepest abstracted hierarchies of civil society will always arise as soon as these hierarchies are called into question. But “conservatism” writ large is a reflexive tendency towards micro-fascism, in that it is largely a placeholder for a set of instincts and scripts that eventually give rise to things like fascism or more generally authoritarianism; a byword, then, for reaction.