Musings on Black Sabbath’s so-called Satanism

Despite that I’m definitely a follower of heavy metal music, I tend to have a hard dealing with the grandfather of heavy metal, Black Sabbath. It’s not because of their music, I think the music is great. It’s their reputation as this band that was in league with the dark side and the devil, which the music press seems to continue in some way despite the fact this reputation has no basis on the band or its music,. I recently saw a program in which a music critic talks about a song from their 2013 album, 13, which was titled “God Is Dead?”, and he talks about how supposedly Sabbath used to shout “God is dead” (according to him) or something along those lines and were now somehow more mature and simply ask if God is dead instead. At this point you can expect my reaction is thus:

What the fuck was he talking about!?

Honestly, it still feels like people like him haven’t been paying attention, that they haven’t seen anything about Black Sabbath or critically analyzed the lyrics. I mean, if Black Sabbath honestly believed that God is dead, then can you explain the lyrics of their song After Forever, from their 1971 album Masters of Reality? If you looked at the lyrics objectively, then you’ll have realized that the lyrics don’t refer to Satanism at all. In fact, they are Christian. As another matter of fact, as I’m sure the learned individuals who read this blog will know, Black Sabbath were never attached to Satanism at all, and it’s not just songs that reflect it. The whole image of them being supposedly being Satanic, as I’m sure you may know, is not only a lie, it was pretty much leveled against them by people who knew nothing about the band or what they were singing about. It’s based entirely on their name and the dark tone of their music, and the fact there are people who don’t understand anything about it. It’s so bad, that it never occurs to some people that the crosses that Black Sabbath wear are right-side up rather than upside down.

Black Sabbath during the 1970’s

I mean, it’s really quite baffling how musicians who went about wearing Christian crosses and put them on the stage could still be construed as Satanists, and it really speaks to level of ignorance present even in Christians. Not to mention, even if people were thinking of upside-down crosses, they’d still be thinking of Christian symbols. In Catholic Christianity, the upside-down cross is the sign of St. Peter, who is attested to be the founder of the first church, and it basically means “I am not worthy”, in reference to the story in which Peter is crucified upside-down instead of right-side up because he apparently felt he was unworthy to die in the same way as Jesus, to whom he was once a disciple. Pretty much all of the original line-up were Christian, and at least half of them Catholic.

Not to mention, whenever they talk about Satan/The Devil, it’s in a negative, Christian-influenced viewpoint, and right down to their self-titled song from their self-titled debut album, and that song talked about the Devil showing up and everyone being scared of him just like in the Middle Ages. I don’t think there was ever a metal band that sang about Satan in a celebratory fashion, and with genuine references to Satanism, until Venom showed up, and even then it was basically all for fun in their case. The same album had a song called N.I.B. which was also about the Devil (referred to as Lucifer), but it was about him falling in love and supposedly becoming “good” because of it. The second album, Paranoid, only has one song that has anything remotely to do with Satan, and it’s in traditional Christian context. Masters of Reality has a song called Lord of this World, in which the Devil is the evil overlord of this world, like he’s treated by Christians and their Bible. To be honest, I doubt religion and the devil are as highly talked about in Black Sabbath’s lyrics as people think, and people seem to be think that’s the bulk of what they talk about. A lot of their songs are about lots of other subjects including drug use, war, the horrors being inflicted upon mankind and the world by mankind itself, love (but not really in the same way all those pop and soul songs were doing it), and other subjects. I think the crosses and the name were all supposed to fit in with their dark, heavy, and striking sound, and I can only assume it worked even if not entirely the way they intended it.

Speaking of the Devil, I also suspect that Black Sabbath pretty much knew nothing about real Satanism and were entirely ignorant of it. Below is what Geezer Butler, Black Sabbath’s lyricist, stated on the BBC TV program Classic Albums about the song War Pigs.

“I wanted to write a song called ‘Walpurgis’ – you know, the Satanic version of Christmas – write it about that Satan isn’t a spiritual thing, it’s warmongers. That’s who the real Satanists are, all these people who are running the banks and the world and trying to get the working class to fight the wars for them.”

When you describe Walpurgis Night as basically Christmas for Satanists and warmongers as the “real” Satanists (never mind that here Satanists are confused with devil-worshipping cultists in the Christian sense), then your ignorance, nay stupidity, on the subject of Satanism becomes obvious, and I can’t find myself showing a lot of respect for people who are possessed of such ignorance. And that’s sad when you consider the virtues of the music itself, most prominently the way it challenged the hopes of the optimistic climate of the 1960’s and the tastes and expectations of “liberal” middle-class culture and the conservative mores and climate that may usually wag its finger at rock music in general, and the way it first introduced heaviness and darkness to music.


17 responses to “Musings on Black Sabbath’s so-called Satanism

  1. It is difficult to take any heavy metal band’s affiliation to Satanism or Satanic themes seriously, without having to ask if their words and actions is just part of their marketing to sell more music.

    • Well, with Black Sabbath, a lot of their reputation regarding Satanism (pretty much all of it in fact) had nothing to do with them. It was pretty much drummed up by people around them.

  2. I love Black Sabbath, but I definitely wouldn’t depend on them for an accurate portrayal of anything occult-related. Even Ozzy’s solo song, “Mr. Crowley,” is actually very critical of Aleister Crowley and not reverent of him at all.

    I do believe, though, that there’s something really mystical about their early albums, especially the first one. Mind you, I’m not saying it was intentional on their part at all; but then again, part of my tradition involves thinking the Gods sneak all kinds of crazy secret messages into popular art without the artists themselves necessarily knowing about it. All I know is, there’s just something about that 14-minute “Sleeping Village/Warning” opus that makes me feel like Seth-Typhon must have shoved His mighty red hand straight up Tony Iommi’s ass while they were in the recording studio.

    (Yeah, I admit it’s a weird thing to believe. But hey, at least it’s better than trying to scrub away all my “Thetans” with an overpriced tape deck.)

    Just out of curiosity, have you ever listened to the newer band Ghost? I’m not sure if they’d be your cup of tea, but I really enjoy them myself. Their lyrics are very pro-Satan, pro-Lucifer and pro-dark side in general, but not in the way that Venom was. I don’t know how to describe their sound exactly (though “A much more radio-friendly version of Mercyful Fate, with additional influences from Pink Floyd, Uriah Heep, Kansas and Asia” comes to mind), and I don’t know if they’re actually Satanists or Luciferians or not; but the depth of their lyrics suggests that they’ve actually researched the subject pretty seriously, at the very least. If you haven’t already, give ’em a try!

    • I have indeed listened to Ghost, but I’ve gotten a little less fond of them after they became increasingly popular to the point that their merchandise includes a dildo.

      • Not to mention, there was an ad campaign I saw for their third album which openly plays with the idea of Ghost becoming a religion, establishing churches, and influencing governments, and while that’s entirely silly it just feels like a point where I think “this is getting a little ridiculous”.

    • There is one thing with Black Sabbath I sometimes think about: do you ever get the feeling that their music sometimes tries to get across the idea that without love the world is dry? Because that’s an idea I’ve thought about ever since reading an interview of Kazuma Kaneko, Cozy Okada, and Ryutaro Ito, three people involved in my favorite game series Shin Megami Tensei. Here’s the part of the interview that I refer to:

      • It’s a little hard to explain, but I guess it means a world where there are no bonds between people that can freely be cultivated between people, and a world where there’s only hostility and malice.

      • Oh, certainly! I think most of Sabbath’s music is about the disintegration of human relationships – from the personal level to the global – and the potential apocalyptic consequences of this social decay. (Or to put it in Egyptian lingo, it’s about the dissolution of Ma’at and the intrusion of isfet into our world. When I think about it that way, the Christian imagery doesn’t bother me so much.) They were particularly obsessed with this theme because they were, in essence, disillusioned hippies. In the wake of Vietnam and the Manson murders, it was clear to some hippies that their “revolution” had failed and that the world was doomed. (Much the same message can be seen in cutting edge films of the day, like Romero’s Night of the Living Dead in ’68.) Sabbath was definitely tapping into that part of the early 1970s zeitgeist.

      • Strangely it sounds like something that could be dealt with the Shin Megami Tensei games, especially in older ones, or in the 1986 Fist of the North Star film. In both, when the balance of power is disrupted, all sorts of Isfet, as you describe, is introduced.

        Isfet is good word. I could use it to substitute the usual “chaos”, which I like for different reasons. I wear red and black all the time because of Chaos, or because of a power I feel reminds me of such. I don’t think of Chaos in the same way as a lot of people. Isfet, and perhaps a similar word, could be a good substitute for what everyone else might simply call chaos.

      • There are actually three different kinds of “chaos” in Egyptian thought that I know of. There’s Nun, the primordial state of inertia; there’s Kheper (Temple of Set folk spell it “Xeper”), the power of forward-moving transformation; and then there’s Isfet, which is the violation of Ma’at and the dissolution of all social, political, spiritual, emotional and psychological bonds. If left unchecked, Isfet would erode everything back into Nun and keep them there forever. Nun is neither good nor evil, but is the source of everything; Kheper is the principle by which the cosmos was first created and continues to regenerate itself over and over again; and Isfet is what most people think of when they hear the word “chaos.” It’s also roughly equivalent to what the Hopi call “koyaanisqatsi,” or the disastrous state of living out of balance with nature.

      • After a some further thought, I think I can sympathize with Black Sabbath a little more insofar as what they were about, but not with the ignorance that they’ve sometimes displayed. Some songs, like After Forever, might still take a while to get into.

        Also, I should definitely consider Night of the Living Dead.

      • It’s a little hard for me to stomach “After Forever” myself, but at least it isn’t boring. I have more trouble with songs like “Solitude” and “Changes.” I know many people like them, but when I play Sabbath, I want loud, fast and thrashin’, not quiet, slow and introspective. But that’s just me.

      • I want to get into After Forever too, mostly because of its sound. And parts of it remind me of how in Shin Megami Tensei you enter the realm known as the Kongokai (which is actually Diamond Realm from esoteric Buddhism).

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