Online reactionaries have a strange relationship to anime. On the one hand they are sometimes known as great admirers of anime, fetishizing it and from there Japanese society and culture at large for aligning with their own ideas about how society should be structured, or at least for supposedly nurturing their own particular commitment naievte. On the other hand, anime can often be reviled by reactionary masculinitsts, such as one I encountered who seemed to regard it as both “low art” and “virtual estrogen”, on the belief that men who watch anime are insufficiently masculine or even somehow effeminate. I suppose there’s a conversation to be had about gender and the nature of patriarchal normative ideas about masculinity as such. However, the conversation I am interested in is altogether different.
There is an irony to the complaint against the “hairless creatures” of anime. If you look at the sculptures from “classical” Greece and Rome as well as the Renaissance, you will find seemingly idealized male figures that lack body hair. Even if they have thick, bushy beards, these men typically lack the body hair of real, living men, which, if anything, must seem quite strange when reflecting on typical notions of the “proper” masculine body. You’ll find no hair on the limbs or torso of the bodies of Bandinelli’s Hercules and Cacus, even though Hercules in particular has a very hairy face. In fact, we can see plenty of Greek status of male figures that apparently lack even pubic hair. In the case of the Kroisos Kouros, a statue meant to mark the gravesite of a young warrior named Kroisos, any pubic hair was probably originally painted on the statue rather than sculpted. That said, while we tend to see depilation in male statues, it is all the more common in female statues, given the patriarchal expectation of women, especially in Roman society, to remove all hairs from their genitals, even while men may keep theirs intact. That said, body hair in men was also often considered uncivilized or plebian. Yet this is ultimately a digression. We are still speaking about idealization, here. More importantly, I think it’s from here that I can touch on some thoughts that I had, originally surfacing perhaps last month, about anime through “Lifting the Absolute” by Bronze Age Collapse, as contained within Revolutionary Demonology by Gruppo Di Nun. Yes, it seems I must return to the subject of that work.
We should make a cautionary note, however, that for Bronze Age Collapse, the ancient statues are not merely idealizations of the human form. Bronze Age Collapse’s point, after all, is that the bodies depicted by those statues did exist in their time, and we only assume that they did not because of our distance in modernity from antiquity. In his words, “how could Greek artists have idealised entire muscle groups in the smallest detail, without having had concrete models of flesh and blood at their disposal?”. “Before Mediterranean antiquity, we are like children”. Yet, there is a body not of this world that Bronze Age Collapse is ultimately concerned with. What does Bronze Age Collapse consider to be “supreme fitness”? The answer lies in the immortality sought by not just men but even gods themselves, who in classical myth were themselves known to bleed. The tendency or tension towards the absolute is to be understood as the desire to embody a kind of energetic or atmospheric state or principle, linked to the chaos of the world soul is an immortality characterised by perpetual metamorphosis, seemingly agentic at that. Struggle and the coincidence of opposites contains the secret of this tension towards the absolute. Claudio Kulesko conveys a similar but somewhat different idea in his discussion of asceticism in “Catholic Dark”, where altitude and lightness form a negative spiral that approaches eternity and wherein the flesh becomes precisely energetic or atmospheric, and thereby godlike. But, where am I going from there?
When I thought about anime, and what we often think of as “anime bodies”, I could not at the time think of a kind of energetic or even atmospheric virtuality. It is naturally somewhat limited by way of the fact that it is ultimately representational, but it may also be possible to sketch something from it. There is one important component to all of this: in my opinion, anime is basically inherently anti-realist, even when it reflects or shows fidelity to the real world. On a basic level, it is simply an affect of the aesthetic style of anime. You are probably not going to find what we typically envision as an “anime body” in the real world. That fact inevitably colours the way “weeaboos” or “otakus” sometimes relate to the world, and it also illustrates the odd sense of “weirdness” we feel when people try to become actual, real world “anime girls”. Anime bodies are energetic in ways that seem to exceed the “real” human body, and that trait seems to be afforded by both the style and the medium itself. They also tend possess forms that simultaneously imitate and transcend the human body, and that’s when they don’t completely defy human proportionality in all manner of ways. The virtual representation of anime allows the formation of an inhuman human, a body that can be anything – and believe me, bodies in anime can be anything, can be part of anything, and make anything part of themselves. But the appeal of the anime body can seem to not only the possession of virtual form as object, as in the case for many male “weeaboos”, but to embody the virtual form, as a virtual transcendence of flesh as an energetic body.
You could say that the appeal of the anime body comes from the way that its sort of ideal image contains a representative possibility of energetic form. On the internet, this is becomes a horizon of digital representation, home to endless pathways of becoming-anime. It’s not lifting the absolute, it’s not apotheosis, but perhaps it is a representation of energetic bodies. It is, in this way, a form of the process of identification, by which one attempts an approximate embodiment of the energetic-atmospheric form in virtual terms. My suspicion is that this insight is also locked somewhere in the recesses of the transphobic belief transness is being artificially inspired in young people, particularly young men, by anime. That idea is obviously specious nonsense that exists only promote transphobia and especially transmisogyny while also underwriting within that blatant xenophobia (in this case not only establishing transness as dangerous to society but framing it as a product of foreign cultural influences trying to weaken “Western” masculinity). But it also hides within itself (poorly, at that) the fear not only of men adopting and performing some notion of femininity but also of the horizon of virtuality and representation. Becoming-anime on the internet is a virtual becoming of a desired form, and that in its own way is at odds with what passes for patriarchal normalcy, even if reactionary “weeaboos” might earnestly believe that the opposite is true.
As I wrote my critique of Revolutionary Demonology by Gruppo Di Nun, I developed a series of reflections around the broad content of Revolutionary Demonology as well as sort of echoing from before I got around to reading the book itself. As my writing progressed, what was once intended as one single article became partitioned into three separate articles as I found brevity impossible to maintain. This third and final piece of my critique of Revolutionary Demonology is all about those reflections in dealing what I perceived to be the ultimate weltanschauung of Gruppo Di Nun.
I may, in the process of this, briefly and periodically revisit parts of the book that I already covered, but, seeing as neither Parts 1 nor 2 devoted any more than periodic mention of the afterword as written by Amy Ireland, I may use this section to give it some attention. Granted, much of the afterword can be thought of as a summary, and rather a clarification, of the previous sections of the book, but in this very sense its throughlines are relevant.
The Sethian Problem
There is one major theme within comparative religion that has been somewhat latent since at least my encounter with the Cultivating Darkness lecture from Urbanomic, presented by Any Ireland and which I saw on YouTube before getting around to reading Revolutionary Demonology. I call it the “Sethian Problem” because it reflects what was the objection to Sethian Gnosticism levelled by the Hellenistic philosopher Plotinus. Of course, it is meant to be understood as a critique of “Gnosticism” at large, but appears to focus on the Sethian sect in particular. Nonetheless, it’s the substance that counts.
Plotinus, as a pagan polytheist, seems to have regarded the Sethian Gnostics as fundamentally unfounded, both philosophically and also morally, not just by way of his allergy to what he believed to be their antinomianism but also what he saw as their underlying hypocrisy. In Plotinus’ understanding, the Sethians regarded the world, being the product of an evil bastard deity (who is of course not to be understood as God) and consisting of nothing but the suffering and captivity of severance from the Pleroma, as both fundamentally and irredeemably evil. His objection to this was that, as soon as one realizes this, there was no good reason to continue living in a fundamentally and unalterably evil cosmos, except perhaps so that other beings might come to share this understanding.
It is, of course, a limited and arguably flawed critique. It ostensibly covers at least one of the “Gnostic” sects, and apparently Plotinus himself admitted that he did not get to behold a detailed philosophical explanation of “Gnosticism” from one of the “Gnostics” personally, and what he does discuss, he does not discuss charitably. Of course, why would he do so if he thought “Gnosticism” was both absurd and obscene? Nonetheless, there is substance worth considering that is quite relevant to our discussion of Revolutionary Demonology and its love of the death drive. In the second of Plotinus’ Enneads, Plotinus accuses the “Gnostics” of slandering “Providence” and its “Lord”, of scorning all law, of mocking virtue and the restraints it is meant to impose, of “cutting at the root of orderly living”, and of rejecting “righteouness” and “all that would give us a noble human being”. In fact, the way he talks about them, you’d think that he was talking about atheists, insofar as he thought they denied “Providence” entirely. This of course he based on what he perceived to be their rejection of the mundane cosmos on behalf of their own souls, which were declared deathless and divine and were to be released from the ontologically evil physical world into a “New Earth”, as well as the apparent belief that they could use magic to cure themselves of diseases and manipulate higher celestial/spiritual entities into doing their bidding. In the face of what he perceived as the “Gnostic” teachings, Plotinus could not help but imagine the proposition of a deathless soul somehow choosing to dwell in an unworthy place, and ask, in response to the doctrine of “another earth” made for them after their departure, why would they desire to live in the archetype of the world that they deemed so abhorrent? He likened the “Gnostic” to a malcontent living in a stately house, believing himself to be wiser than the architect and readier to leave the house while his angst hides his own admiration for the beauty of his handiwork, to assert the necessity of the body as the preparation of Soul and “her” craft. At one point Plotinus says, “You are wronged; need that trouble an immortal? You are put to death; you have attained your desire.” This is very clearly aimed at the “Gnostic” contention of the irredeemable corruption of the world versus the purity and immorality of their souls. Forgetting for a moment that many “Gnostics” actually seemed to believe in reincarnation requiring the preparation of the soul, the obvious implication from Plotinus’ critique is, “you believe that you are an immortal pneumatic soul, and you think that the world was created entirely evil, so why do you continue to live in a world you deem evil, if dying would allow you to escape it?”.
There are moments where I sort of picked up a throughline similar to this while reading parts of Revolutionary Demonology, or at least more particularly from the introductory ritual, and certainly while contemplating Gruppo Di Nun’s particular discourse of the death drive. Think about it: the universe is the creation of violence against a primordial Mother, whose body was dismembered by a demon named AHIH or a god named Marduk in order to produce the cosmos and/or its image, and locked within all life is the wound of that dismemberment. All the while, the universe seems to be born only to die, the Beast, the Mother, God, the universal death drive slowly devours everything, everything suffers in the course of their existence, their pain and eventual death being the price of their existence. Tiamat, though dismembered, will come back, crawling backwards from the future to destroy not merely the order of the world but also everything that exists, including herself, in order to heal the wound of her own separation. Everything is fundamentally driven towards death, not simply because material entities inevitably decay, or because the machinery of the universe works always up to the point of its own destruction, but because extinction and dissolution allow access to the completion of their own being in un-being, “healing” the separation perceived by matter. Or, there’s a throughline evident in so many examples invoked by Revolutionary Demonology. We see it in Kulesko’s treatment of Christina the Astonishing, who appararently yearned for death and detested the world of the living. We see it in the whole analogy of extinction, and the love of extinction, as communicated by Laura Tripaldi in her writing about Apophis, not to mention the revelation of the migraine. We see it in the image Enrico Monacelli gives of the freedom felt by the protagonist of Guido Morselli’s Dissipatio H.G. and Morselli’s suicide. Even in the way Kulesko talks about freeing oneself from the gravitation in matter it seems like one can detect resonances with the familiar “Gnostic” premise about the excarnation of spirit from matter.
On and on, one might think that, if everything exists solely to die, that everything exists by a drive to die, why don’t we just die already and save ourselves the effort? As crude as that sounds, if all we want is to die, we can do that pretty easily. Now, obviously, this is without the consideration of the “Gnostic” idea of the immortal and potentially pneumatic soul. In fact, I’d say Gruppo Di Nun don’t really address “Gnosticism” at all. It’s just that by reading Revolutionary Demonology one picks up a latent throughline familiar to “Gnosticism” at large. If we stick to the mythology presented in the opening “ritual” and reverberated through Revolutionary Demonology, the wound at the heart of the universe is the wound inflicted by what must emerge as a primordial crime, resulting in a cosmos that is thus fundamentally unjust to such an extent that “justice” only exists in reconciliation, reconciliation coming only in the form of dissolution, disintegration, and death.
Of course, in Amy Ireland’s telling, this can be interpreted as missing the point, because suicide is not the intended solution and neither is denial. In this sense, we’re almost coming back to the same dilemma that was proposed by Albert Camus. But what of the third road that rejects both paths? For Gruppo Di Nun, as Amy Ireland says, that third road is to “let go” into cosmic love, in the sense of getting in touch with a universe penetrated by the love of its own dissolution. Instead of attempting to “transcend” nihilism, and instead of giving over to despair and suicide, the way is to exalt death as the supreme generative force, and, more than that, achieve the gnosis of an a-human, eliminative, hyper-entropic universe, and then make oneself a transmitter for the black gnosis of a universe of death. Though, even there, Amy Ireland seems to place a certain emphasis on construction when sketching out the path that is neither suicide nor transcendent control, in that she elaborates Claudio Kulesko’s assessment of the creative implications of nihilism. This, however, opens up its own horizon, different from the cosmic love of surrender, as we will continue to explore. But I will emphasize a contrast. “Dogma” makes Gruppo Di Nun’s path plain: the proposal is nothing short of love for the process of cosmic disintegration and death is an alternative to dominion as well as suicide, without needing to articulate any reason for that love – though articulation is something Gruppo Di Nun does plentifully. Love is an indefinitely generating spiral into the darkness in which our souls feed the hunger of the Beast, but it is also fundamentally the path of reconciliation with the universe. I suppose one can tell I’m going for something different.
In the course of my critique of Revolutionary Demonology I have repeatedly referred to the fall of Sophia as originally recounted by the Sethians and the Valentinians and largely taken in modern terms as “Gnostic mythology”. You probably know how it goes. God exists, the Pleroma exists, the Aeons exist and they’re all constantly reproducing (I mean almost literally reproducing) the order of spirit together until Sophia, curious as she was, wanted to understand the nature of God, and to do so she decided she had to imitate God. To do this, she tried to generate a new being without the presence of a szygzy (in essence, a sexual partner for Aeons), just as God surely did. This ended up giving birth to a being named Yaldabaoth (interestingly, his name means “son of chaos”), who in turn created the material universe and then proclaimed himself God, thus becoming the being presumably behind the God of the Old Testament. Sophia then repents before God, accepts partnership with the Saviour (Jesus Christ), and sorrowfully scolds her son Yaldabaoth for proclaiming himself God.
Now, where am I going with this? For a start let me make something plain: my stance is that the only thing that Sophia did wrong is repent before God and join the side of the Christ. I do not say this because the world that Yaldabaoth created and the dominion he imposed upon it were somehow inherently good. Rather, I insist it because, in terms of the Gnostic cosmos, Sophia’s actions, no matter how disastrous their consequences may have been, burst open the possibility that life beyond the self-duplicating order of the Pleroma is possible, perhaps irrevocably so. For better or worse, Sophia’s quest to imitate and thereby understand God resulted in the creation of a whole world – no, a whole universe. Sophia herself can arguably be understood as in her own way following or even embodying Bronze Age Collapse’s tendency towards the absolute, in that her whole quest and her whole fall centered around her quest to embody God in herself. And in that sense, the tendency towards the absolute represented in her accomplished the only two things that matter: it created the world, and, in so doing, overturned everything. In this interpretation, her repentance is the only crime, and her example is only the beginning.
If you want an interpretation of Gnostic myth consistent with the Satanic worldview, it’s this, not the more popular idea that the Devil is actually here to help us return to the Pleroma. The Pleroma itself is just the constant reproduction of that spirit which already existed by the first Aeon, every Aeon since pairs up to reproduce (in a chain of cosmogonic heterosexual union) each other, until Sophia came and broke that chain and thereby sparked creation. Again, her example is only the beginning, and by this I believe there is room to discuss the horizons of Enrico Monacelli’s conception of sadism as “separative wisdom”, as discussed by way of Gilles Deleuze. Monacelli describes sadism as the apotheosis of separative wisdom in that he claimed it sought the dissolution of the self through its very power of division and devourment, to achieve apotheosis by tearing apart the world, unity, and somehow the self. Unlike last time, let’s venture into Deleuze’s Masochism: Coldness and Cruelty, as sourced by Monacelli, to really try to unravel the apotheosis of separative wisdom relevant to Monacelli’s view of sadism, that we may establish the start of an underwriting thread of an alternative demonomanical descent.
The Satanic Gnosis of Sadistic Demonomania
Monacelli seems to basis his description of sadism on a particular kind of impersonality that Deleuze ascribes to sadism. For Deleuze, De Sade’s libertine doesn’t really aim to convince anyone but instead to demonstrate reasoning as a manifestation of violence, which of course De Sade’s libertine represents. This libertine is not interested in proving anything, not even this, only showing it. They reflect what Deleuze called a “higher form of violence”, related to their own solitude and the power constructed from the scene of the torments they inflict, while caught in their own circle of uniqueness – perhaps all reflecting a distinct magical will. Deleuze of course claims that the higher factor of De Sade’s language identifies impersonal violence with an idea of pure reason, which becomes the basis of Deleuze’s identification of Baruch Spinoza as somehow akin to Marquis De Sade, for essentially no reason other some shared rhetorical style of incessant suspense. There is more, though. Deleuze also says that sadism in De Sade’s work means negation, a “pure negation” representing a negative primary nature that overrides all laws and regimes and which Deleuze seemed to think of as a delusion, but also the demonstration of destruction, disorder, and death, as merely the reverse/alternate forms of creation, order, and life. Deleuze locates the excitement of the sadist in the idea of evil, which is in fact an absent idea, negativity: “what is not here” as opposed to “what is here”. For Deleuze, the sadistic libertine follows the power of their negativity right down to the negation of their own ego. He seemed to define sadism versus masochism as meaning negative-analytic apprehension of the “Death Instinct” versus suspension as the transcendent expression of a dialectical order.
There is another weird, but telling, complex: Deleuze, through Freud, takes sadism as the active negation of the mother and the inflation of a father who is beyond the law, and masochism as the idealized disawoval of the mother who is the law and the invalidation of the father expelled from the world. Applied a certain way, we could interpret this framing as denoting sadism as the negation of the law and the world to affirm some sort of power beyond law, and masochism as the transcendent affirmation of a cruel law of a rigorous maternal order that is at once the agent of the masochist’s rebirth into a “new man”. But of course both complexes are also meant to be understood as different modes of subversion. De Sade parodied the whole concept of law and institution itself by extending every possible crime as an institution, and the sadist champions both their own passions and those of others against law as the sole tyranny, while Masoch’s masochist demonstrates the absurdity of the law by provoking its punishment towards themselves so as to reduce it.
Now, how do we arrive at “separative wisdom”? Monacelli’s notion of “Separative wisdom” entails the quest to dissolve the self and the world through the violent faculty of wisdom. To hear Deleuze tell it, this is essentially a passion whose aim is to dissolve secondary nature or the affects and institutions thereof – law, norms, civilization, even the “ego” – in demonstration of primary nature, primary nature being an all-pervasive chaos and negation in which creation and destruction and even life and death are simply different identities of each other. So, this is to attain apotheosis by ceaseslessly destroying, revealing primary nature, and embarking upon permament insurrection at an ontological level. To negate all orders in order to reveal the power that allows for one’s own perpetual self-creation. It is also a passion aligned against tyranny, for tyranny and the law that supports its existence, and for that matter we might say the external arrangements of order that Max Stirner described, are all products of the same secondary nature that the sadistic process serves to negate. Secondary nature is comprised of soft molecules of conservation while primary nature comprised of wild, lacerating molecules of chaos, disorder, “anarchy”, which at once is true and spontaneous creation. Transcending the law requires the discovery of primary nature, the chaos and “evil” of the absent idea, which the sadist seems to try and approximate by way of an impersonal self-consciousness. This allows imagination to cut and lacerate the Image of the World and its order as a realization and assertion of its own impersonal power by the sadist.
Sophia imitates God, initiating the creation of a whole universe separate from the self-perpetuating spiritual order of the Pleroma, thereby following the example rather nicely. Either Lucifer or Satan, in many stories, rejects the authority of God and subsequently falls from Heaven and in so doing gains his own kingdom. Adam and Eve, by eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge, create a destiny that separates them and the human species from God I’m exile, while humans begin their march to the realm of the gods. By apocryphal tradition, Lilith does this as well by refusing to bottom for Adam and then shouting out the forbidden name of God. Cain kills Abel after God accepts Abel’s offering of slain animals, in so doing separating himself further from God. Saturn or Kronos, in some interpretations of the Greek and Roman cosmogonies, frees the power of generation by cutting off Ouranos’ genitals, allowing numerous beings to spring forth. Odin and his brothers remake everything from the body of Ymir, and Odin strives to defy fate towards the battle of Ragnarok in order that he might preserve either the world he has created or his right to shape the world after the world, sacrificing himself solely to himself for that very cause. Many of these touch on the broader theme of an insurrectionary rejection of the original state that results in creation and overturns everything. One also perhaps finds some aspect of Friedrich Nietzsche’s prophet, Zarathustra, who, ostensibly demanded a certain measure of severity, hardiness, and even cruelty in order to propagate his message, since his teachings brought strife and stressed the transformation and overcoming of suffering.
But pride in its own way follows a different form of the motion of separative wisdom. It is worth remarking on, from the Pagan context, the pride that, as Frater Archer explains in Goetic Common Sense, was attributed to the ancient Greek goês, a kind of autonomous ecstatic magician or sorcerer, by the Hellenistic philosophical establishment. Plotinus used the word “tolma”, perhaps meaning “courage”, perjoratively to describe both a point of differentiation from The One, that is the separation of the first Dyad from the Monad, and the choice to embrace a sense of dissimilarity from The One. This defection also seems to generate its own reality, at least by some accounts. The word seems to have been associated with the goês insofar as it was believed that they embodied “tolma” by transgressing the morals of the polis and practicing privately and in the fringes of society, often for a fee at that, which was in turn interpreted as a renegade position against the divine order. Plotinus, curiously enough, considered this “tolma”, the self-will, the division into the Dyads, to be the ontological source of “evil” in the world, outright expressing and elaborating that idea in his fifth Ennead. This in turn influenced the Christian theology of Augustine and his belief that human souls were ontologically fallen because of pride, and, in some ways, isn’t terribly dissimilar to the Gnostic account. But, of course, the word “tolma” was also frequently employed against many rebellious or simply bold figures. It was often reserved both positively and negatively for women such as Timoclea, Clytemnestra, Cloelia, and even the queen Semiramis. But what’s more important is goetic “tolma”, a rebellious audacity that, in practice, corresponds to a particular sense of autonomy, ability to work outside tradition, and perhaps a proclivity for working with chthonic spirits as well as those of the natural world, all connected by a perceived divergence from “common sense”. Privation is perhaps key in that one necessarily separates from “common sense” and the order of the polis as the Hellenic Image of the World, and points to rebellious pride as the path of autonomous wisdom and magical creation. We might thus sadistically accelerate the free motion of primordial division, even if it leads to the disintegration of the order of things, and especially if it leads to the disintegration of the order of things.
I asked in Part 2, who did Satan kill in the beginning? Because Jesus says that Satan is “a murderer from the beginning”, but you don’t quite see Satan kill anyone. But, from a Christian standpoint, the “murder” that Jesus refers to is the original temptation of Adam and Eve, attributed to Satan. To Jesus, this meant death for a previously immortal Adam and Eve, for Satan’s temptation introduced death into the world. That much is suggested in Romans 5:12: “Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned.”. But, as Al Pacino’s Milton said, “consider the source!”. Indeed, if Adam and Eve were supposed to be immortal before the interference of Satan or the serpent, why did God say that Adam and Eve must not reach the tree of life and live forever? The Garden of Eden is taken to be the primordial state of human serenity and bliss, whose return is often sought after in mystical terms. But the Garden of Eden was just an image of order set up by God, and there was no “future” or motion for Adam and Eve in the Garden. The “future”, or centrifgual motion, rests in the path that Adam and Eve began. Cain’s murder of Abel is seen as the logical result of the negation of God’s promise in the Garden of Eden. Cain and Abel are divded as the sheep represented by the latter and the goats represented by the former. Cain’s murder of Abel, the construction of the Tower of Babel, sin in humans divides Man away from God in perpetual centrifugal movement away from any original harmony, contending to retreive absolute sovereignty in the company of the gods who God would later cast down, to the tree of life, or to Bronze Age Collapse’s “absolute fitness”. Yes, Man’s motion of division away from God is the grand motion of self-creation. This is the joy of sin, the destruction of the law.
The Shadow of Thelema?
When I was writing my article about Claudio Kulesko’s discussion of Dracula in his essay “Gothic Insurrection”, I elaborated a creative interpretation of Kulesko’s dissolution of Dracula in terms of Alcuard’s transformation into everything in Hellsing, so as to sketch out a way of turning that particular avenue of dissolution into apotheosis. At the time, at the back of my mind I thought that what I wrote sounded like an idiosyncratic interpretation of the doctrine of Thelema, and a good friend of mine by the name of Free Musick saw that seemed to share the idea that I was possibly bordering on the territory of Thelema with that take. As time goes by and I read Revolutionary Demonology the second time to write these articles, I find myself making comparisons to the “Left Hand Path” within Thelema. I’m not simply talking about Kenneth Grant and his Typhonian Ordo Templi Orientis, though I do derive certain insights from his work and evidently so do Gruppo Di Nun. I also mean things like Fraternitas Saturni, and the general throughline of the so-called “Black Brothers” that Aleister Crowley talked about.
Before we get into that, though, it’s worth examining the extent to which Thelema influences the content of Revolutionary Demonology at large. Although direct reference to Thelema and its doctrine is rather scant, Aleister Crowley’s axiom “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law” does recur in parts of the book. And of course, Gruppo Di Nun likes to present subversions of Crowley’s other famous maxim, “Every man and woman is a star”, turning it into their opening “ritual”: “Every worm trampled is a star”. It may be said, however, that their particular concept of cosmic love of disintegration, although it is evidently based on Christian mysticism, may also align with certain aspects of Thelema. Indeed, the fundamental theme of cosmic love as a mode of reconciliation is perhaps one of the strongest resonances with Thelema. This is ostensibly communicated in Aleister Crowley’s Book of the Law, in which we find a very similar theme within even just the first chapter of the book.
Verse 29 of Chapter 1 of the Book of the Law says “For I am divided for love’s sake, for the chance of union”. The next verse says ” This is the creation of the world, that the pain of division is as nothing, and the joy of dissolution all.”. The familiarity to Gruppo Di Nun’s love of dissolution should be quite apparent. Crowley explains in The Law of Liberty that those verses signify death itself as an ecstasy akin to love, and also signifies the “reunion of the soul with its true self”. Union is the overriding theme of Thelemic love, in that Crowley appeared to understand love as the will and act of union, in this case unity with the universe – a universe that divides itself for love’s self, and enjoys its own dissolution. That universe is Nuit, who according to Crowley, is “all that exists” and is “Matter in its deepest metaphysical sense”. “Crossing the abyss”, in Thelemic terms, can be seen as the reconciliation of the individual personality with the whole actuality of the universe, and its noumenal source as non-being. This reconciliation means the disintegration of the individual personality. And so the universe divides itself so that it can experience reunion, manifestating for the sake of dissolution, disintegration the expression of a True Will that attracts individual phenomenonal beings to their abyssal source. In its own way it is quite senseless.
In modern terms, Thelema is often thought about as an expression of the Left Hand Path, or as occupying a weird place in between the Right Hand Path and the Left Hand Path. But, to my mind, despite all the overt transgression and the extent to which his work has furnished rich understandings of the Left Hand Path at large, it seems like Aleister Crowley definitely thought of himself as a practitioner of the Right Hand Path. By some account Crowley considered himself and his A∴A∴ to be part of the “Great White Brotherhood” (White Lodge). In fact, as far as Crowley was concerned, the “Left Hand Path”, did not signify his particular brand of transgression or his amoral solar myth, but rather the rejection of the very disintegrating cosmic love that was just elaborated.
In Magick Without Tears, Crowley considered the “Right Hand Path” and the “Left Hand Path” to be basically identical for the Thelemic adept until the attainment of the grade “Adeptus Exemptus”, whereupon the adept is expected to understand the nature of the Abyss. The “correct” path within Thelema, according to Crowley, was to understand yourself as identical to the universe and annihilate your sense of distinct individuality. Those who refused to do this, he referred to as “Black Brothers”. These “Black Brothers” seek to preserve their own distinct individuality, and for this reason forego and resist “crossing into the abyss”. Crowley believed that this would inevitably end with their own descent into megalomania and their minds being invaded by the demon Choronzon. Funny enough, Crowley’s account reads as though it would be Gruppo Di Nun’s account of the fate of the God-Man of the Right Hand Path in his efforts to deny the disintegrating cosmic love of “the Left Hand Path”. Though it is also seemingly a precise inversion of the philosophy Crowley sets out, most likely consciously constructed by Crowley for that purpose, in much the same way many other ideas of “the Left Hand Path” have been constructed by the multivalent tradition of “the Right Hand Path”. What interests me more, though, is whatever actually passes for “the Left Hand Path” within Thelema.
Separation is in many ways still a theme here, in that this is the example of Fraternitas Saturni, a Luciferian organisation created by Eugen Grosche (a.k.a. Gregor A. Gregorius). Fraternitas Saturni formed in 1926 after the Weida Conference a year prior, in which Aleister Crowley attempted to “unite” the Ordo Templi Orientis by establishing himself as “World Teacher” and the Book of the Law as the central text. This created a schism that resulted in Grosche dissolving the Pansophic Lodge and forming Fraternitas Saturni. Although Grosche admired Crowley and the teachings of the Book of the Law, he did not accept any claims of authority that Crowley apparently tried to make. Many aspects of Thelema are different in Fraternitas Saturni, especially love. Fraternitas Saturni championed an idea they called “compassionless love”, as its own extension of the Law of Thelema and which formed part of the motto of the organisation: “Do what Thou wilt is the whole of the Law, there is no Law beyond do what Thou wilt. Love is the Law—Love under Will—Compassionless Love”. The term was apparently derived from Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra, where Zarathustra preaches that “all great love is even above all its pity; for it still wants to create the beloved.”. This perhaps entailed a distinct conception of love that was to be understood as cruel or severe in its delight for struggle rather than the avoidance of struggle and for the overcoming of suffering by said struggle.
“Compassionless love”, or “pitiless love”, is interpreted as a love that did not result in or attract towards self-annihilation, although it did seem to be a way of “cleansing good from evil” and “ending” fragmentation and helplessness by way of a willing suffering or, at least, the cultivation of severity. But it also seemed to denote the path of the magician to create the beloved out of their own selfhood. Grosche seemed to explain compassionless love as a kind of alchemical process by which one was supposed to “Become hard like a crystal”. Saturn’s lead needed to be transformed into gold, the “lights” had to be reversed, so that Saturn would transform into the Sun as all vice would transform into virtue. Of course, their emphasis on austerity in opposition to ecstasy absolutely represents an ideology that can be opposed to that of Gruppo Di Nun, and I would say that’s not really in the ideal way. Still, there could be no doubt that it in some way aligns with Deleuze’s construction of sadism, with its cold impersonality and lacerating hardness. Saturn’s sickle or scythe is itself certainly not the worst analogy. And, of course, the alchemical metaphor remains highly relevant: one would construct oneself from the black magma of Saturn, make oneself into a crystal and into gold by alchemy, and acheive the “absolute fitness” of the divine.
Separative wisdom finds its expression in Fraternitas Saturni’s mythology of Lucifer and Saturn. Saturn in this system is the “Demiurge”, who is here is not the jailer of the cosmos but instead the guardian of the initiatic threshold and an agent of cosmic evolution. Saturn sparks this evolutionary motion by rebelling against the cosmic order, which has the side-effect of apparently introducing death and war but also change and regeneration to the world. Fraternitas Saturni also identified Saturn with Lucifer, because in their mythos he originally sat beside God but then, much like Prometheus of Greek mythology, stole the torch of light and the secrets of the divine, and then flew to the farthest region of the solar system, where God’s light could not touch him. In their version of the Eden myth, Lucifer has sex with Eve, which thereby gives birth to procreation, sex, and also death, but also begins the path of initiation that leads to immortality. This in esssence carries the same separative wisdom relevant to the original Garden of Eden myth. But all the more so in the light of Lucifer-Saturn, called either the “Luciferian Light” or the “Light of Reason”, whose struggle in matter manifests creation and structure and continues to extend throughout all of life, from the simplest molecule to the human species. Endless struggle thus creates endlessly, striving in perpetual motion away from God and yet towards the Sun. Also, rather than crossing the abyss so as to disintegrate oneself in unity with the universe, Fraternitas Saturni embraced the idea that the aim of the initiate was to merge with the “Light of the World”, not so as to annihilate the self but to transform into a divine entity. There is, in this sense, a paradoxical conclusion to separative wisdom, whereby perpetual motion arcs towards the deification of the individual as a process of alchemical severity that, to acheive its outcome, necessarily folds the individual into the a whole so as to facilitate its re-assemblage as divine.
But the other major Left Hand Path within Thelema, and in fact perhaps the far more influential one at that, would be the “Typhonian” branch of Thelema founded by Kenneth Grant, whose also work seems to inform parts of Revolutionary Demonology. Here, the difference from mainline Thelema revolves around the centrality of the god Set rather than Horus (as is more typical within Thelema), substantial inspiration from the work of H. P. Lovecraft, and a pronounced alignment with Tantric Hinduism drawing from Grant’s understanding of Vamachara Tantra (or “Vama Marga”) as a transgressive cult dedicated to the feminine sexual principle. Make no mistake, apotheosis is very much the goal for Grant, but perhaps it is a somewhat different kind of apotheosis from what Eugen Grosche envisioned. In The Magical Revival, Grant invokes Liber Oz and The Book of the Law while discussing a kind of “solar consciousness”, which he believed would connect the human species with its “true centre” in the unity of Nuit and Hadit and which he thought was represented by both the Sun and the Kundalini. As Grant says, “Men will become as gods, because the power of creation (the prerogative of gods) will be wielded by them through the direction of forces at present termed “occult” or hidden”. This apotheosis is connected to an idea of the shared identity with “absolute consciousness” and return to the “Supreme State” embodied by Nuit, a process in turn represented by Set. According to Grant it is this desire that was misapprehended as evil, and thus necessarily represented as Satan, but the Devil is the true formula of illumination because he represents the urge to “know yourself through your own double”. For Grant, this is also a form of “ego death”: the “ego”, meaning the limited personality complex, “dies”, and the objective universe is dissolved, leaving behind nothing but gnosis of pure reality.
As much as you can argue for Grant as advocating for a kind of “regressive wisdom” or at least outlining a philosophical basis for, the path to “Solar Consciousness” could as well be its own separative wisdom. Not in the sense of separation from “the supreme state” but in more or less what Monacelli meant: Typhonian “ego death” is the affect of will, which organises the serpent brain of the individual in order to assimilate the dark forces of the “Nightside”, that realm of Otherness in Grant’s schema, into your own consciousness, through precise ritualism and rigorous control, and also access them in the deepest reaches of the unconsciousness and at the ends of the Tunnels of Set, up to the point where they shatter the sensorium, “invert” reality, and dissolve the “ego”. Controlling one’s dreams was a way of establishing contact with the discarnate beings of the other side – as far as Grant was concerned this was the fundamental goal of occultism at all – and this communion would in theory take humans away from the limits of their mundane persona and cross into the other side, to another mode of being, or, rather, non-being. Will thus works to dissolve everything around it, or rather every affect of secondary nature, including the “ego”, in order to commune with primary nature, represented by Satan or Set, and derive magical power and self-awareness from it. On the other hand I think it’s hard to deny where aspects of Kenneth Grant’s occultism resonate with that of Gruppo Di Nun. Kenneth Grant’s emphasis on magic as the means of communion with “discarnate beings” and the Nightside, notwithstanding the overrding emphasis on sexual magic, certainly resonate with Gruppo Di Nun’s emphasis on xenophilia and the extent to which they see magic as a means of acheiving communion with the Outside and thereby the intrisinc death drive of the universe.
My speculations when discussing the myth of Dracula, and the “death” of Alucard in Hellsing, may take on a different quality in this light. The “blood thrist” of Dracula and Alucard arc towards dissolution, but first and foremost Dracula and Alucard devour around them. They feast on the blood of humans, transform themselves into bats and mist, assert their power in modes of becoming to the extent that it leads into to become atmospheric in death, that their will itself lives forever in the world. In that sense, is this not a triumph of separative wisdom rather than regressive wisdom? The barbarian contains that when they ride on as the heaven-storming agent, and the thrust of the demonic, thrusting open the gates of the divine towards godhood, is the alchemy of the separative magician in their quest to become energetic, atmospheric, and thereby eternal. Perhaps this is what I detected when I outlined apotheosis by way of being reborn into the whole of reality and feeling that sound something like Thelema.
The Love of Surrender and the Christian Death Drive
I think I would prefer to simply address multiple subjects in this one section, because I think there is a convergence between them anyway that should allow for some brevity. Though, at the centre of it all is the shadow of Christianity. Christian mysticism actually seems to figure very heavily in Revolutionary Demonology, at least in that it is frequently invoked to communicate the nature of their masochistic mysticism. In fact, there are many ways in which perhaps the primary concept of cosmic love proposed by Gruppo Di Nun is in many ways underwritten by Christian mysticism, and to some extent Christian ideas about cosmic love.
In Laura Tripaldi’s “Mater Dolorosa” (the essay named for Our Lady of Sorrow, a major icon of Catholicism), we get a treatment of migraine suffering that is linked, by way of Oliver Sacks, to a kind of ecstatic Christian mysticism embodied by people like Teresa of Avila, whose paroxysm paralysed her and brought her to the brink of death but also activated an ecstatic experience of martyrdom. This mysticism comes with the idea that suffering is, in itself, a form of devotion to God, the very “way of truth”. That same essay seems to liken Tiamat to the Virgin Mary (to the point of literally describing her as a “draconic Virgin-Mother”), counterposes a model based on Christian mysticism against Chaos Magic, and sort of ends with the lamentation of Angela of Foligno. In Enrico Monacelli’s “The Highest Form of Gnosis”, masochism is rather explictly linked to Christian theology, figuring the God who tortured Henry Suso as the personification of the Outside, and Suso’s practice of self-torture as expressing the highest level of mysticism. We even find the crucifixion of Jesus reinterpreted along the lines of Andrea Emo: a dialectic of consumption and slaughter, in which God progresses towards the annihiliation of everything including itself, God is nailed to the cross to show humans the way to self-consumption. Claudio Kulesko in “Catholic Dark” similarly invokes aspects of Christian mysticism so as to illustrate a process of lightness and emptying meant to the realization of nothingness. We see in this the story of Christina the Astonishing, of course, and we also go through the asceticism of the stylites and the mountain-climbers.
There are parts where it seems like a reproduction of Christian mysticism sans the God and sans the name, and parts where the horizon of subversion and even inversion seem intelligible. For instance, to invoke “the Virgin”, even insofar as this done alongside the recapitulation of Christian mysticism, is also intended ultimately as an invocation of Tiamat, as one of the aspects of Tiamat, decoupled from the power of the Man-God molding her into form – forgetting, of course, that the Tiamat of Babylonian myth was very likely not a virgin. The idea there of course is to present a divine feminine capable of displacing the power of the patriarchal Godhead. The axiom introduced by Enrico Monacelli, “God consists in his own annihilation” would on the one hand subvert Christianity by bringing God to his own demise. On the other hand, it might seem to be the ultimate logical conclusion of Christian sacrifice. Remember that the most fundamental premise of Christianity is God’s incarnation as a human being for the precise purpose of suffering and dying for the sins of humanity. Applying Andrea Emo’s dialectic would thus comprise an almost theothanatological fulfill of the whole mission of God’s incarnation: consuming, destroying, dissolving, annihilating, suffering, showing us the way to our own consuming and suffering through his agony in Golgotha. Of course, with Kulesko, there is the particular analogy of the apophatic God. On the one hand, “Catholic Dark” seems to consciously apply the lesson of Christian asceticism in pursuit of its elaboration of lightness. We are to bear in mind that the point of ascetic lightness is to reject the world, to deny the desires of the flesh, and perhaps even to abjure matter, all for God. On the other hand, the apophatic quality is part of Christianity’s own inner undoing, revealing a power meant to be reserved for God, but which in truth goes beyond and against God.
More crucial to us is the question of love – the question of Christian love. In the ecstatic, masochistic, feminine mysticism for which Teresa of Avila is the example, to love God is to suffer. Suffering is pretty explicitly presented as the love of God. Catholic doctrine in particular emphasizes suffering as a channel through which the love and glory of God is made manifest. Pope John Paul II, for instance, wrote explicitly that suffering was its own form of redemption, a way of opening oneself up to the redemptive power of Jesus, in a tract whose title is literally “Redemptive suffering”. In fact, the Catechism of the Catholic Church regards the incarnation and sacrifice of Jesus as the start of the paschal mystery in which Christians are invited to join Jesus as partners in his suffering, and that suffering is presented as the channel by which God and his salvific presence may be accessed – in its words, “Apart from the cross there is no other ladder by which we may get to heaven”. The idea of suffering as divine love also features in the New Testament of the Bible. In John 11:4, when Lazarus becomes sick, Jesus explains to his sisters that Lazarus’ sickness is for the glorification of God and his son. Paul says in Colossians 1:24 that he rejoiced in his own suffering for filling his body with the afflictions it “lacks”. In Romans 5:3-4, suffering is presented as a source of character and hope. 1 Peter 4:1 says that whoever suffers in the flesh, as Jesus did, will “cease from sin”. Remember that, in Christian terms, redemption through the death and resurrection of Jesus is meant to be understood as the apogee of God’s supposed love for humans and for creation.
It is in this sense that we can see that the death drive of the cosmic love proposed by Gruppo Di Nun contains the character of Christian love. The mystical core of Christianity is precisely the surrender to God and to the suffering through which the world and the community of Christians are to be redeemed. It is in this core that we can see the theme of suffering as the resolution of divine alienation in a suffering and abnegation that acts to fulfill a xenophilia whose object is the Christian God. Such a theme is not terribly obvious from the more popular and conventional exoteric expressions of Christianity, but it is easily located in scripture and is resplendently explored in mystical and esoteric expressions of Christianity. This is not without subversion in the work of Gruppo Di Nun, as particularly evident in Claudio Kulesko’s treatment of negative theology, in which the apophatic quality of God is also the nihility upon which Christianity is undermined and undone. But in other aspects it is also consummated, in that the self-annihilation of God is merely the ultimate form of God’s own telic self-sacrifice as the crucifixion of Jesus. Thus, there is a sense in which it is the mystical ideology of Christian love that Gruppo Di Nun is pitting against modern occultism, and perhaps also against reactionary Christianity at large.
Incidentally, I’m sure I’m reiterating something here but be that as it may, what better proof of the anti-Christian contention of God than from the horse’s mouth, from the core of the Christian mysticism we are presented with. God indeed compels the human species to surrender so that it can win salvation, meaning the promise of eternal life in his dominion. God indeed demands us to abjure our own free will, along with everything else, he indeed seems to desire nothing less than our own very spiritual death. From the Christian standpoint, this is God seeking to consummate the love of his creation. But from another, it just seems like God wants to senselessly destroy us for our ancestral defiance, or to remake the very “image of God” as a creature of obeisance. And if God is as radically indifferent as we might consider he is here, then the incoherent one-sidedness of Christian love is all the more apparent. We love a God who they say loves us but just doesn’t, and maybe he’s actually trying to kill us all, and ultimately himself, at every turn. It’s the love of one who is brought into capitivty for a captor they can never know. It’s the love of slave who may never see their master. Or, perhaps, the love of a poor beady-eyed tenant for, yet again borrowing a phrase, an absentee landlord.
I won’t belabour the obvious point to be made about Gruppo Di Nun’s particular criticism Satanism and the Left Hand Path in relation to this, because I’ve been hammering away at it repeatedly and it’s already an overriding current within this article alone, but I will say that the relationship to Christian cosmic love presents an obvious problem for their particular opposition to Satanism. After all, how can one oppose Satanism on the grounds of it supposedly recapitulating or reproducing Christianity on the back of a mysticism that bases itself on a concept of love built on Christian ideas of the love of God and suffering and in turn gives them new form?
The Power of Inner Darkness
Reading Revolutionary Demonology for the second time in conjunction with my own article about Darkness from last year makes for an interesting introspection in my case. I say this because, as I read the essays of Revolutionary Demonology on the subject of Darkness, perhaps more particularly Claudio Kulesko’s essays, I would swear that I could detect resonances between the way Kulesko talks about Darkness and the way I discussed Darkness in my article on the subject. It is worth for starters returning to the subject of Kulesko’s Darkness in order to get to where I’m going.
In the essay “Cultivating Darkness”, Darkness seems to be a formless, indeterminate, magmatic property in everything that comprises the pure and uncontaminated state of reality. It also forms a field of limitless experimentation wherein you might either end up destroying yourself or discover unknown horizons of pleasure, knowledge, and transformation. To be totally immersed in this Darkness is to realize the emptiness and inadequacy of our representation of the world, which thus collapses. From our cultural standpoint at least it seems very gloomy, to the point that we suppose a risk going mad from its realization, and it would be quite misguided to think one can appreciate this Darkness without a certain amount of melancholy, but from another perspective, it is simply potentiality, and thus the ground of every possibility. Kulesko’s Darkness is both the pure apophatic potentiality of reality and the conceptual space that emerges from total destruction, which allows the full freedom of creative possibility: if the world has fallen apart and the end is already written, we are free to build anything and go anywhere without the strictures of established philosophy.
In “Catholic Dark”, Kulesko discusses Darkness by way of an analysis of negative theology, dissecting Christian apophatic mysticism so as to elaborate a concept of Darkness lodged at the heart of Christianity’s own undoing. Actually, it seems like this was anticipated in “Cultivating Darkness” where Kulesko uses the analogy of the apophatic God to denote a wholly negative concept, escaping every partial perspective: nothingness in itself, parallel to the premise of practical nihilism. A negative will, bracketing out everything, unlocks new horizons by reaching the highest altitude of the soul: nothingness, the most volatile of concepts. Nothingness, which is how we would understand Darkness in this setting, seems to pertain to the faculty of divine power, and its infinite capacity to generate other worlds. At the height of the eternal, there is no limit to form or matter, and it is absolutely capable of generating any possibility. Christianity’s undoing is locked in the universal horizon of nihility, because Christianity assumes that the power of infinite horizons is locked in God alone, and we are to simply bow before God’s vastness – that is faith. But we can be dark, we are dark, and we blaze across the sky like black flames, and shine like black suns, and the light of our darkness may penetrate in all directions.
In last year’s piece I sought to explore a concept of Darkness that, at the time, I was sort of arriving at, from many angles. From Georges’ Bataille’s essay on Gnosticism and materialism, the eccentric occultism of Ben Kadosh, negative theology, Taoist philosophy, Esoteric Buddhism, Japanese demonology, Max Stirner’s Creative Nothing, alchemical nigredo, anarchist nihilism, to Satanism, I sketched out Darkness as essentially a negative “ground of being”, out from which everything else springs. It is infinitely creative, ceaselessly destructive, the wild place where such creativity and destruction are utterly inseparable. It is the wellspring of manifestation, and the machinery of rebellion in that all true insurrection or revolution fulfills its principle – overturning the old world and creating a new one in the ashes. It is that “spontaneous” and vicious thing that lay beneath everything, seemingly alien to us but also right in the heart of everything. The way I put it, in retrospect, Darkness seems a lot like the Sadean primary nature that Gilles Deleuze discussed, as I previously elaborated. The way Kulesko talks about it would seem to add depth to that concept, in that the diagram of death within Christianity seems to open up a way of seeing negative theology in application towards that frame of approaching a concept beyond partial category. Though in this sense perhaps this is what Christianity got wrong for the same reasons that maybe the Tao Te Ching still got it right: Darkness is not God, because it is larger and older than God.
And, I suppose once again, perspective counts for everything. In a “Western” sense the Darkness could hardly be anything except gloomy, brutal, or silent. In some sense, it would be unwise to think you can dismiss what makes the nigredo what it is. But from another, it is just potentiality, just the invisible realm of intangible forms. The “Western” and “Eastern” outlooks on the same substance are better served informing each other than set apart. In the alchemy of the demonic, as portrayed by Ernst Schertel, perhaps they are one and the same. But while we’re on the subject of perspective in regional terms, I’d like to take the time to elaborate the comparison I made between Japanese Buddhist hongaku (“innate enlightenment”) doctrine and Kulesko’s writing about the importance of unknowing in his concept of Gothic Insurrection. Towards the end of “Gothic (A)Theology”, Kulesko says that non-knowing and the unknown anticipate the formation of knowledge at every turn, being situated at the roots of the world, because there is no knowledge that precedes ignorance. The main point of hongaku doctrine is that enlightenment exists in potentia within everything, even in wicked and ignorant beings, because all things, all thoughts, and all deeds, are in some way Buddha. For medieval Tendai Buddhism, this meant that even demons were manifestations of innate, uncultivated enlightenment. Wrathful, quasi-demonic deities such as Kojin, Fudo, Daikoktuen, Enmaten, Bishamonten, Susano-o, Ugajin, Matarajin, and even that devil called Mara, were all figured as representing a fundamental ignorance that dwells within everything, even within the Dharmarata (the virtuous). Ignorance and awakening, affliction and awakening, they all exist in a single non-dual moment, and the former is ultimately its fundamental ground. Thus Bernard Faure, in his Gods of Medieval Japan series, figures the realm of the demonic, in its wicked passion and violence, form the unthinkable reality of the world, visually represented by demonic deities. I trust that it is not hard to understand the importance of this idea for Satanism, or to imagine how one might extend this idea in the context of our own demonological landscape?
I remember tweeting a while back about the possibility of nihilism emerging as the highest religious idea. Admittedly, I can’t say if I knew exactly where I was going with that at the time. But now there is a certain clarity to it. Nihility, even within the horizon of Christian negative theology, represents the darkness that is at once the absolute power of creation and recombination, which is always and absolutely present in the universe, as the true fundamental basis of life. For Christianity, however, the price of recognising this within the bounds of Christian faith is to keep it locked up in a God who is forbidden to be known. And I mean literally forbidden. Still, there in the religious recognition of nihility, across multiple traditional and philosophical contexts, the whole possibility of infinite actualisation contained within Darkness, as the fundamental unspeakable power to create any destiny and any world.
Power is in many ways quite operative. It is in fact the hidden horizon of the nihility proposed by Gruppo Di Nun. Well, I say “hidden” in theory, but in my mind it is made plain in especially Claudio Kulesko’s writing. Gruppo Di Nun said in their Dogma about Satanism that Satanists frequently seek personal power. That is not incorrect, but they only seem to understand that as vertical authority. Only that’s not what Kulesko means when referencing divine power, per the quotation of Jean Buridan in his essay “Catholic Dark”. “Divine power can make”. Occultism is all about seeking what is hidden, and what is hidden is the power that contains endless horizons of becoming and recombination. I would sort of paraphrase Boris Balkan in The Ninth Gate here to say this: Darkness contains the absolute power to determine your own destiny. I would say that it’s not incorrect to treat that as the standpoint of Satanism, or much of the Left Hand Path despite Gruppo Di Nun’s distinct definition of it.
The duality presented between Carlo Michelstaedter and Julius Evola, which is in turn central to the core philosophy of Gruppo Di Nun, presents hidden horizons of perversion that bend it. Take the whole throughline of “self-deification”. If we assume that the whole universe is comprised of the power of recombination, becoming divine would be assumed to be one of many possibilities of becoming and recombination. Indeed, Claudio Kulesko seems to figure xenophilia and ascetic mysticism as becoming-divine by way of shedding oneself into nihility. Against Michelstaedter’s utter lack of any possibility of persuasion, Evola is presented as quite conspicuously as an anti-passive, non-surrendering figure, in the sense that to make this choice, rather than follow Michelstaetder, is to be understood as an inherently fascist act. But Dracula, as Kulesko understands him, could accept his own death knowing exactly that he would not be surrendering to his enemies, or even to his own disappearance, because now, even in his death, he has become atmosphere. The knowledge of the power of Darkness invites only one meaningful path forward: to use it. You cannot build a temple of light over the Darkness, you cannot conquer or defeat Darkness, you cannot “rescue the light from” Darkness, but what you can do instead far surpasses the ambitions of men like Julius Evola, who, even on behalf of some concept of the ego, seek only to erect a magic circle expel the real source of the power of apotheosis. The canvas of limitless Art is all around you. You only have to see it.
Amy Ireland figures the nightmare of Evola’s “Magical Idealism” – its nemesis, the terror that plagues its foundations – in what Claudio Kulesko describes as the “black primordial magma” of reality in its uncontaminated state, the darkness that is the cradle and grave of every world and every meaning. Ireland asserts that Evola’s version of the notion of an unchanging immaterial I, and his goal of “binding and freezing the waters of Nun” for the purpose of “rescuing something stable, impassive, and immortal from it”, is inherently compromised and haunted by the presence of this material darkness. Though, while I gather that one is intended to take away from it the notion of selfhood itself as being compromised by it, as if Evola’s Magical Idealism was somehow the only relevant working notion of selfhood, the horizon of construction, located within nihility, is in my opinion the main locus here. It’s the same horizon that popular, one-sided, collectivist notions of “constructivism” so often ignore: if you can be constructred, you can construct yourself. Rather than suppress the darkness and suspend chaos, the path is to embrace the darkness as the sole horizon to become anything you want, the only true source of apotheosis. You will construct an I within the darkness, that is at once the canvas of your own alchemical creation, not the prison of your eternal soul. The “I” is not something to be given to you by the order of the universe, and it’s not this fixed presence in the world. In order to be you, in order to be your own “I”, you have to create it, and you have take ownership of your own self-creation/construction if you don’t want to be constructed from without. That’s what you need to kindle and wield the Black Flame for.
It may indeed be that this, all along, is at the root of the theme that I have perhaps perennially fixed myself on in life: the inner “light” of the darkness. Perhaps Evola would view this light as something that has to be “rescued” from the darkness. But, as if to subvert his expectation, we ought to consider that light not as something trapped within the darkness, but rather an inherent property of that darkness. Trying to separate that light from the darkness in the hopes of “rescuing the light” would be like trying to separate your stomach from the body in the hopes of rescuing yourself from hunger. And the problem has nothing to do with “balance” or “equilibrium” between “light and “darkness” as representing something along the lines of the white and black horses of Plato’s Chariot: I suppose I would thus now say that the Assembly of Light Bearers and their particular school of Luciferianism are entirely misguided in this sense! No, it’s not because of a balance or equilibrium between light and darkness, at least because we are speaking of but one special kind of light. No, it’s because the light I am talking about is a property of darkness, intrinsic to that darkness, not something outside of darkness to be contrasted and complimented by darkness. It might just be the Black Flame.
The Insurrectionary Spiral of Satan (or, My Alternative to the Love of Surrender)
I have to admit, getting down on my knees isn’t my preference, let alone dying on them. I know that sounds unfair, and there’s a lot of Revolutionary Demonology that really doesn’t seem all that masochistic on its own, particularly the essays on bodybuilding, gothic time, and solarisation. Really, if there’s one of many issues I have with Gruppo Di Nun it’s their insistence that everything, or at least everything worth a damn, is masochistic in the precise sense that it longs for its own demise and dissolution into nothing. Which is not to say that you can discount the death drive in their terms or that you can’t appreciate it in certain places. You could, for instance, point to the warrior having a piece of that in themselves. And I did indeed write about the death drive of Dracula’s vampirism, by way of Kulesko’s interpretation; but, I must admit, from my reading you could guess that this appreciation is not entirely for its own sake. In a sense, the same could really be said of the way I appreciate Gruppo Di Nun’s talk of the endless sea of recombination: it’s all about the possibility of becoming something, about how it is always become something else, and the thing I always emphasize is a descent by which you could at least choose to do so and set the horizons of your own becoming.
In the name of a different sort of nihilism I position my own alternative to surrender. Gruppo Di Nun propose, in view of a cosmos fatalistically drawn towards its own annihilation, a love for one’s own dissolution. I carve out my alternative on a similar premise: love. But love for what? Not just insurrection, but the whole spiral of insurrection, the war of all against all in Stirner’s terms, the strife that the ancient polytheists located at the heart of the cosmos, the fight that we fight on our behalf. Satan, as the Adversary, is the sign and Sun of all of this, beyond humanistic reason. The reality of our world of desires, conflicts of will and reality production, rebellion and force, class antagonism, subjective agencies, all point to worlds of individual interest, interests that are often mutual to each other to the point of reconciliation but which sometimes fight each other. Politics is the organisation of these interests in a struggle for the right to, in Deleuzian terms, produce reality: for instance, modern capitalism as the reality produced by the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie versus all of its underclasses and/or outer-classes striving to produce a new reality beyond capitalism. As Shahin elaborates in Nietzsche and Anarchy, social war is the sum condition of all this: a constant state of bodies interacting with each other, possessing mutually opposed desires and projects, inevitably leading to conflict. Anarchists, or at least those of the anti-utopian camps, understand that this means a constant struggle with authority, not just as the extant structures that exist now but as the paranoiac desires and projects of control that inevitably lead to the oppressive institutions of statehood and which even after the abolition of the state could eventually appear again. The insurrection never really ends. That insurrection, that war of all against all, the struggle to defy and produce reality autonomously that thus animates life itself, this is what I advocate we reserve a satanic love for, the love that Gruppo Di Nun otherwise reserves for surrender.
There’s a sense in which life itself has to be seen as an insurrection, at least in the sense of a spontaneous overturning of everything. That is one of the readings one can take even from the base mythology of Gruppo Di Nun, which necessarily entails the successful overthrow of the void state represented as Tiamat, and the resultant exile of life from its womb. When I make the comparison to Gnosticism, it is not for nothing, for the myth conveyed in “Every Worm Trampled Is A Star” resonates inescapably with the Gnostic universe, with its corruption at the heart of matter set and the exile of spirit from the Pleroma into matter, set in place by Sophia breaking the order of the Pleroma in her quest to know God. And if life is an exile then this is only be embraced, because that embrace is the only way to make sense of life. You were not born only to die. You were born to become, and you can become anything you want. That is what the insurrection brings about at the primordial level, because life emerges so that it can become anything.
Gruppo Di Nun’s primordial mother in all her incarnations wants nothing in us except transformation, but was transformed herself and cries out in agony because of it. Insurrection is also transformation, right down to the primordial level. Insurrection, following Max Stirner’s terms, fights that which is and enacts a transformation of everything. It also entails a transformation of the self, one that must be enacted willfully, by a willing agent seeking to transform in accordance with will. As Saul Newman observes in Insurrection or Revolution?, insurrection is a transformation not simply of society but of the self, an act of self-liberation that allows the person to overcome their own obedience and attachment to authority and arrange themselves, and their relationships with others, as they see fit. This is, in Satanic terms, is its own nigredo, and the Great Work as a whole. Alchemy as a process of continuous individuation and perfection is a labour of will, none other than the insurrectionary will to transform yourself on your own terms, and it’s on those exact terms that the alchemist gives way to the transformation they desire. I see this alchemy in art, play, sex (especially in kink), and ritual in that all of these are ways that the will, to varying degrees of intensity, may transform itself on its own terms.
At odds with masochism, I pose what Geoffrey Gorer called “The pleasure felt from the observed modifications on the external world produced by the will of the observer” as not only the percept of Valerio Mattioli’s concept of solarisation but also insurrection itself (again, per Stirner’s terms at least). In an undying love for the war of all against all, those who walk the Left Hand Path will overturn the world and turn it into their own, alchemically turning themselves into beings that can thrust open the world around us, fly inside like demons, and make ourselves divine. Satan is our solar myth exactly because he represents the whole spiral of insurrection that life consists of.
In this sense one can say there are two approaches to the demonic in play. Both of these embrace the demonic to the extent of wanting to invoke it in this world for transformative ends. But in one approach, the demonic as an outside is invited as a mechanism for one’s own disintegration, in the other the demonic is drawn in as an avenue of becoming. Gruppo Di Nun represents the former approach, I strive for the latter. The latter approach of becoming-demonic would see you not simply as a vector in relation to the outside but also, with the model of the barbarian as its guide, place yourself as an outsideness: you would Stirner’s heaven-stormer. And after all, why should I settle for anything else? Besides, that is ultimately the kind of individual we see in the outcome of Enrico Monacelli’s assessment of Mandy, even if Monacelli does not give attention to that aspect.
The Lessons of Revolutionary Demonology
For all of that, however, I consider Revolutionary Demonology as a body of work to be very valuable. Even if seen as a challenge in relation to the Left Hand Path as it exists, I consider it a worthy challenge, to the extent that I absolutely recommend reading it. I would even regard it as essential reading for aspiring students of the Left Hand Path, not simply because of its philosophy but because of the horizons that the whole book can offer. I believe I am at point where, even for all of my criticisms of Gruppo Di Nun here, I would nonetheless consider myself indellably influenced by Revolutionary Demonology and Gruppo Di Nun. In that spirit, I believe I can summarize some valuable takeaways for myself.
At the end, Amy Ireland summarizes the core message of Gruppo Di Nun as follows: there is always another world hidden in this one. The thing is, that itself is not such a novel thing. The magical tradition has, in many ways, assumed something like this for many centuries, perhaps longer than we can remember. In a way, pagan mysteries already have some uncanny sense of that. The difference is that Gruppo Di Nun are convinced that one can only truly access this through masochism. And from this standpoint I think it both arguably underscores and arguably “resolves” the Sethian Problem. Why? It makes sense of the universe as an endless chain of becoming, for one thing, but it’s probably the only reason one doesn’t just extinguish yourself in a world that they repeatedly emphasize is a Landian machine of disintegreation and laceration: because even in this there is always more, something else. There is always Remoria, the infernal double of Rome that always pushes for the inversion of the world. There is always a shadow in which we discover the possibility of another world – no, the power to create one. There is always, all the more so, another world that we are capable of bringing into being.
The horizon of self-construction is inherently relevant to the metaphysics of becoming we can observe from Gruppo Di Nun, and especially Claudio Kulesko’s form of it. We too often ground our freedom in the idea of a naturalistic essence of being, while assuming that to accept construction means only to accept that we are always constructed around us by forces that are externally autonomous to us, without us ever autonomously constructing ourselves. I am loathe to admit it, but there was a time many years ago when a prejudice like this animated a deep-seated difficulty in accepting any notion of constructivism. But when you learn that you and everyone else are just as surely constructing themselves, even whether wittingly or unwittingly, and when you can locate the power to do so in yourself and in pure reality itself, it becomes very easy to image constructivism in terms of the process of construction flowing everywhere and in all directions. Kulesko’s nihilism is only a much more powerful vehicle for the realization of construction: the darkness that is the ur-reality of everything is the same darkness that allows us to construct ourselves in any way we please, and to recognise it is in many ways the first step to undertaking your own Great Work.
The world is coming apart. But it is also constantly being re-ordered, all the time, at least all the moreso by those who “get to” shape it in their own image. The Image of the World hangs over us, but that is only at the making those who have built it before us, and maintain it in the present, and it can and will be destroyed, one way of the other. History is the successive creating, destroying, and re-ordering of the world, in the name of no teleology and instead on behalf of desire. There can be no cowering from this world, if we are to change and construct it to our liking. If, also, we are to be reborn in apotheosis.
I think that, at the end of it all, it is possible to conclude that almost everything in Revolutionary Demonology points to a very elaborate way of saying “there is no way out but through” as the simplest principle of the Left Hand Path, as they understand it. That is certainly to my mind what flows not simply in consideration of the crushing pessimism and nihilism that Gruppo Di Nun considers, but also in the whole discourse of Gothic Insurrection, the implications of nigredo, the whole metaphor of alchemy that is employed throughout the book, and especially the inclusion of Bronze Age Collapse’s materialist metaphysics of fitness and the tendency towards the absolute. That tendency, should it be accessed and perfected, leads into a centrifrugal motion towards the “ultimate” state, as opposed to descending back towards antediluvia as in the wound. Maurice Blanchot said, “Nihilism stands like an extreme that cannot be gotten beyond, and yet it is the only true path of going beyond; it is the principle of a new beginning.” Insofar as he is right, the new beginning is down to the bottom of the earth and up through its hidden paths of ascent, and all false hope of salvation is to be rejected on behalf of the power to create and traverse new worlds. The whole “problem” of nihilism is one of the other main subjects Gruppo Di Nun attends to, and in this regard they understand something important. They regard nihilism as the motor of love, rather than our adversary, precisely because it is only the destruction of transcendent values and the elimination of the need for transcendent validation new values, meanings, subjects, and worlds, can come into being. For Gruppo Di Nun this leaves no room for will in that will cannot constrain the black horizon of nihilism. But from another standpoint, it frees the will for as long as will accepts the Darkness as its most powerful ally, rejecting transcendent order on behalf of its own becoming and construction. I suppose in this sense, from one angle, that does mean finding ways of “letting go”.
I have sometimes found myself wondering, with a sense of perspectivism, would some semblance of the Pagan worldview not make some difference for the rammifications that Gruppo Di Nun affords to their abyssic metaphysics of becoming. After all, if you want a rationale for life in this setting, Gruppo Di Nun is not necessarily wanting on its own terms, especially not as borne out by the anarcho-nihilist implications of Kulesko’s take on cosmic pessimism, but it’s also honestly just right there in Bronze Age Collapse’s essay, and, in a larger sense, the Pagan worldview that it draws from our speaks to. It’s almost to the point that one might ask if some aspect of the supreme cosmic pessimism we are presented with is not in some way conditioned by Christian meaning and its concurrent collapse. And of course, “letting go” is a phrase that becomes important. But to let go is to let go of something. From one perspective, perhaps that is order. Logos, Pleroma, the Kingdom of God, everything like that in which humans think they will find freedom, peace, salvation, power, but in which they are bound in their sense of hope, all wrapped up in their bid to repress the power of Darkness. It is funny how often people tend to try and repress that which might give them the most power and the most freedom. If that power is what one desires, then, from a certain point of view, perhaps that does take a bit of letting go of something. And yet, you cannot surrender. Your business is to fight, but your quarrel is not with the Darkness. It is in the name of your own will in darkness.
Above all, however, we should turn to what is ostensibly the central theme of Revolutionary Demonology: the demonic. I find myself meditating on a throughline that seems to emerge; the idea that the demonic may in its own way be a portal, either from the outside to the world of phenomenon, or from the standpoint of the world towards the beyond and unknown. The exact nature of what that entails is still not entirely clear to me, but I think it emerges from the discussions of solarisation, Gothic Insurrection, and the Outside, all of these avenues seem to give a throughline whereby we might see the demonic in terms of the outside coming in. That is a conception familiar to the demonic at large. In “Dogma”, “Gothic Insurrection”, and “The Highest Form of Gnosis” in particular, as well as in some sense throughout Revolutionary Demonology, Gruppo Di Nun stresses a concept of the demonic as a presence that capable of entering in from outside, as if to “invade” this world from another one, from the Outside. There is obvious a vast history of demonic liminality behind this concept. Everyone knows about the conventional Christian idea of demonic possession, but there’s also much more beyond the Christian complex. In ancient Egypt, for instance, the demonic was inherently liminal, owing to their existence at the threshold of the netherworld and the world of the living, violently enforcing its boundaries. The Etruscan wolf, crossing from the underworld to the world, embodies a similar property. In many pre-Christian contexts, the divine itself could be seen crashing through the boundaries of existence, and not merely nymphs and other spirits but also some of the gods themselves could possess humans. In esoteric Buddhism, demons embody a presence that always exists outside the structure of order, capable of subverting and overflowing it, thus also crossing through the walls. From there, I believe we have the beginnings of the demonic as a portal, and perhaps a portal that does not only have one way through.
The way Gruppo Di Nun talks about the demonic also leads us into one point that I have neglected so far up to now: demonic multiplicity. In an interview hosted on Diffractions Collective by Dustin Breitling, Kulesko says that the demonic always refers to “atmospheric multiplicity”. The appropriate example and analogy is Legion, the demon whose name derives from the fact that they are many. The concept of Gothic Insurrection is deeply animated by this notion of multiplicity, striving to literally be Legion, spreading out in all directions in a multiplicity of barbarous and demonic forms. The other analogy is Austin Osman Spare’s concept of Zos-Kia, with the point being that you may be closer to apprehending the demonic if you already understand yourself as many. I meditated on that a little, and I think I can see the horizon of demonic multiplicity in terms of the way I seek to apply Paganism. Whether it is the concept of Satanic Paganism, or down the line a development towards a formless, “non-Euclidean” (loosely borrowing the term from Robert Anton Wilson) expression of the Left Hand Path, within both Pagan syncretism and demonology the horizon of multiplicity may in .
The final thing I could say about the reflections I have put forward is, for myself, relevant to how I might like to manifest The Art. Since adolescence I suppose one could say one of my driving obsessesions has been demons and the demonic. Therefore, one way to manifest the lessons of Revolutionary Demonology that I take up for my own valuation is to more practically align my manifestation of Art with the manifestation of the demonic in the and my own becoming-demonic into the world. To put another way: I must create in ways that bring demons and the demonic into the world, and in turn I must make myself demonic, so that I may propel towards the absolute and become divine. I accept the demonic as the alchemical basis of magical realization in the context of the Left Hand Path, much like Ernst Schertel did for magic at large and much as Stanisław Przybyszewski accepted Satan as the insurrectionary basis for life’s origin and development. And further, I accept the world of demons as the portal not just of darkness into the world, but the portal of the individual magician into the forbidden world of the divine, where one can propel into the beyond and become divine.
I might also consider another dimension of this work as in the sense that certain applications of psychogeography could comprise a more experimental, but worthwhile, path to pursue. Employing Valerio Mattioli’s insights on the solarisation of the ethnographic work of Alan Lomax and Ernesto De Martino, and the way they unravel a whole arcane world in southern Italy, in the context of psychography might lend to a development of psychogeograhical occult praxis that allows for the opening up of arcane worlds and access their insight, to solarise the world around you. Consider it not only another avenue of practical and artistic fulfillment of the opening up of the demonic and thereby becoming-demonic, but in equal measure a practical and artistic fulfillment of the precept I share with esoteric forms of the doctrine of innate enlightenment, which places a sinister arcane world as a dark ground of being and ultimate reality. And, just as well, part of a broader application of psychogeography that is as pagan as it is demonic.
And so I conclude, in the hopes that I have sketched for myself more than anyone else, one more possibility that might emerge from the black magmatic waters of Revolutionary Demonology, one forged of my own resonance in the name of my own will. That I have shown the way to the love of the war of all against all, far beyond the love of surrender, as part of the renewal of the Left Hand Path. That I wield a love worthy of The Devil, and which shines the light of the Black Flame again.
Here I continue my exploration of Revolutionary Demonology by Gruppo Di Nun, and concurrently a much deeper exploration of the Left Hand Path as a whole. So far, in Part 1, I have explored the first main sections of Revolutionary Demonology, comprising its introductory “ritual” (“Every Worm Trampled Is A Star”) as well as the first (“Principles of Revolutionary Demonology”) and second (“Notes On Gothic Insurrection”) chapters. If you have not read Part 1 before reading this article then I suggest you go back and do so first. Here, in Part 2, I will focus solely on the contents of the third chapter of Revolutionary Demonology.
The third chapter is titled “Nigredo”, and it is here also that we cut deeper into the core ethos of the philosophy of Gruppo Di Nun by way of more elaborate expositions of it. Though, of course, there are somewhat multifaceted. On the one hand, we can see the contours of the philosophy of ontological masochism that Gruppo Di Nun means to get across. On the other hand, there are the makings of a much more active worldview, that arcs in a direction other than this ethos so eloquently summarized by Amy Ireland’s afterword. In any case “Nigredo” consists of five essays, which we will go through in order: “Cultivating Darkness” by Claudio Kulesko, “Mater Dolorosa” by Laura Tripaldi, “Solarisation” by Valerio Mattioli, “The Highest Form of Gnosis” by Enrico Monacelli, and “Catholic Dark” by Claudio Kulesko.
The World Falling Apart (The First Nigredo)
“Cultivating Darkness” begins by establishing our total immersion in darkness, alien yet familiar. To realize this immersion is to realize that our prevailing representation of the world is either simply false or merely limited, and is it collapses, Kulesko asserts, the world shows itself to be a collection of fragments forming a collage. But the other lesson we’re given is that there is always more than one world, and that it is always possible to construct new worlds from the fragments. Yet, once our world shatters, it cannot be reconstructed as it was – like Humpty Dumpty falling from the wall, when his shell shatters no one can piece him back together. Human life is a network of stories, and meaning in this setting is simply an internal coherence between the pasts, presents, and futures of these stories. In moments of existential dread, we think of ourselves as like scale insects: mummifying but alive, and so it must seem as we live in the advanced, technologically accelerated capitalism of the late Anthropocene. History appears to be either advancing or standing still waiting to be set in motion, but in despair we find neither advance nor standstill, and the fragments of our world blindly and incoherently fly around without direction. Thus we fall out of time, and into the subject of depressive realism – thus, a kind of psychological nigredo.
Depressive realism is the name given to the theory that depressed people, far from suffering from a negative bias that hinders their objectivity, actually tend to access a greater dimension of objectivity than non-depressed people might possess. Kulesko seems convinced that this theory is basically correct, and in some ways goes a little bit further: the depressed person not only perceives the world more objectively, this also means they can (in theory) more accurately locate their own personal responsibility in terms of what is and is not within their control. To Kulesko they become like oracles of an uncaring subterranean world. Paging Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism, the depressive realist subverts the axiom of neoliberalism by saying, “there is no alternative, except for the end of the world”. Yet they also go further, in their despair they might conclude that the world either already ended or had simply never existed. What then also ensues is a kind of disorientation and self-aggravation; depressive realism can change into full blown extinctionism, as, for Kulesko, philosophical pessimism and nihilism tended to change into eliminativism – the idea that truly nothing exists at all.
Is there a way out of this trajectory? I would be inclined to think that the idea that life is a series of fragments can lend itself to a freedom of interpretation, wherein the great thing about life is precisely its fragmentation, or rather the fact that it allows everyone to create their own world, to the extent of their will. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Kulesko tells us that the problem with the development towards eliminativism is that, in the depressive moment, what emerges is not the non-existence of things but rather their inconsistency, or metastability (that is, the utter fragility of the universe). In terms of empiricism this comes down to the fact that the “laws” of nature are not actually “laws” at all, but rather chains of cause and effect or rather still a set of tenuous regularities or rhythms. In this view there is no logical reason why the sun rises and sets when it does except that we continually see it rise and set each day, and from there further that there is no inherent reason why the universe itself will not be annihilated. In view of this, the world as we know hangs precariously above an abyss, and everything is pervaded by nothingness. “Darkness”, here, is an uncanny property: a shapeless, indeterminate atmosphere and field of experimentation, wherein one may either destroy oneself or discover unknown pleasures. It is in this sense meant to be seen as none other than reality in its purest state, from which all worlds and meanings emerge and into which they die. From a certain point of view it is a rather gloomy and depressive world, like the world that was before humans or the world that will exist after humans. Not to entirely take away from that, but I might suggest that other perspectives, such as found in at least some forms of Zen Buddhism, it is simply a realm of intangible content and worlds. I suppose both Kulesko’s darkness and Zen nothingness are to be understood as pure potentiality, but taken with a different attitude. But it is here that I am again drawn to refer to the fact that Ernst Schertel ascribes this to the realm of Satan and Hell, as the starting basis of magical power. I sense a conceptual synchronicity here somewhere at least. In any case, it is perhaps here that any notion of a “way out” becomes apparent.
Humans must either realize the absence of teleological meaning and unity in the universe and gain self-consciousness of the real, or remain forever ignorant as they are consumed by time and matter. To acheive this self-awareness, one must abandon hope without succumbing to despair. That means realizing how the ontological collapse of the world can open up new horizons. Those horizons are contained in the negativity at the heart of things, the apophatic nothingness that runs parallel to our world of things, forms, facts, and narratives. If everything arises from nothing or from chaos, it follows that nothingness is plastic, in that it is possible to extract from it an infinite quantity of worlds and meanings. An infinite diversity of constructions can result from nothing. The only issue is getting stuck within them; if you let yourself be lied to by the worlds and meanings that arise, you will become their slave, or you will find yourself having to go through dark nights of the soul all over again – perhaps, an eternal recurrence of nigredo. Perhaps here we get what can amount to basically nihilist alchemy. One begins in a nigredo, in this case the whole process of seeing the world around you fall apart and realizing its nothingness, and after that first step the nihility changes into the material by which you will, somehow, perform the Great Work, creating a philsopher’s stone. In many ways, though, conatus as a vehicle for the ceaseless development even greater perfections and freedom emerges as the best way to make sense of just why everything might stop being nothing in the first place, and that why really remains a missing piece in Kulesko’s philosophical presentation. To be sure, if we are dealing with philosophical nihilism through and through then one could ask why the question even matters, but one cannot ignore amidst a collapsing world why one has found oneself here to start with. That is surely one of the components of the despair Kulesko discusses, except to the extent that Kulesko’s depressed subject has stopped asking the question. And if there is an answer, there is only one: our life is so that we may arrange ourselves at will, overcoming and transforming that which is in accordance with will and desire.
We now come to a discussion of Giacomo Leopardi, an Italian philsophical pessimist and skeptic, for whom the truth consists principally of a doubt unassailable by human reason. This particular form of skepticism brings thought to the point where knowledge collapses and leaves behind only doubt as the manifestation of the pure unknowability of reality. It is also to be contrasted with more popular (and palatable) forms of skepticism, wherein knowledge is cast aside, suspended, only to be recovered. The point of this skepticism is to discover the abyss. But it is also essentially a hyper-manifestation of the rationalist materialism that developed during the Enlightenment, and which influenced Leopardi’s thought. He believed that rational analysis dissects nature to the extent that it “resolves and undoes” it into something akin to a corpse, and, ostensibly as a result of his research, that every faculty of mind is material and that spirit is a deception of “the heart” by itself. Such a worldview makes for a potential step towards eliminativism: after all, so the logic goes, if only sensory perception is real, then self-consciousness is only a second-level perception. Yet for Leopardi appearance is the only thing that counts, because substance in itself does nothing and makes no impressions. This seems contrasted with the blind brain theory we are then introduced to, which holds that the world, as represented by our minds conceals a “real” world much more multifaceted; in other words, here substance is richer than appearance.
A problem that can stem from this perspective lies still within the scientific nigredo that ensues: this is summed up in Thomas Ligotti’s quotation of Thomas Metzinger, when he says “there are aspects of the scientific world-view which may be damaging to our mental well-being”. This theme of psychic damage brought on by the collapse of the teleological and phenomenal world into darkness is in some ways captured by both Giacomo Leopardi and H. P. Lovecraft, the latter a fan of the former, the latter writing that complete knowledge of the world would traumatize us such that would either “go mad from the revelation” or retreat into a new “dark age”. If consciousness is accepted as an illusion (mind you, this is not an opinion that I hold), along with the inevitable extinction of everything, then, according to Ray Brassier, then the philosophical subject is already dead, and philosophy itself is the organon of extinction.
An interesting point Kulesko goes on to make is that the enterprise of philosophy tends to consist of isolating one component of reality that can then be established as its ultimate principle and the foundation of thought itself. One recalls that ancient quest of Greek philosophers, as far back as the pre-Socratic era, for the one element or substance that could be acknowledged as the prime arche upon which the cosmos is founded. Kulesko’s examples include a metaphysics of becoming produced by the isolation of change or becoming, or a metaphysics of static being by isolating the existence of an object. In any case, for Kulesko there is an abyss between these two possibilities, which contains both, their mixture, their conflict, and their absence, and reality at large resists all efforts to define it by isolating a single principle. Yet, what interests me is that a question emerges: does a metaphysics of becoming not naturally emerge from the condition of abject fragmentation and the change that is implied by the condition of indeterminacy? In fact, that idea can be seen as the whole throughline of Gruppo Di Nun’s metaphysics, in that transformation is the fundamental potential of magical practice and philosophy. Nothingness almost certainly changed into everything that we know, so in this sense absolute power of becoming is one the core properties of Kulesko’s abyss. In that sense, a metaphysics of becoming is not a natural outcome, but also necessary.
But now we return to Kulesko’s central point about the abyss of reality: its ultimate potential. Rather than defeat, the chaos, unknowing, and senselessness of darkness offer a limitless wealth of possibility. In this setting, the practice of philosophy means bracketing out everything we know or think we know about the world in order to unlock new configurations that at the same time exist in the world. Fiction itself, and for Kulesko especially science fiction, emerges as a gateway to the groundlessness of the world, which is it at once the ground of its being. The end of the world, the nightmare of the apocalypse that animates human beings to the point that they endlessly narrate their own demise, is itself its own gate. Total destruction is the limit that thought drifts towards, the darkness that arises from just the thought of that destruction can negate everything, but if the world has fallen apart and the end is already written, then, even for that, we are gifted with an utter freedom of action. We can go wherever we please and build whatever we want, and we may cast off the burdens that modern philosophy has imposed on us. This becomes Kulesko’s version of the primary axiom of Thelema: do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law. Not only do we and our particularity emerge from chaos but matter itself is this chaos, and at the innermost core of both reality and our own souls is lawlessness and multiplicity. As unreal as it sounds, for Kulesko that’s all there is, and it is everything. For this reason, it is best to cultivate darkness when lost in the night.
When I read the end of that essay, I sensed in Claudio Kulesko the formation of what I recognised as the basic principle of anarcho-nihilism. I don’t think Kulesko identifies himself with that, and in fact I don’t think he commits himself to any particular label, apart from philosophical pessimism – and, as far as I can see of his work, beyond all other labels he is first and foremost a student of philosophical pessimism. Nonetheless, somewhere in Kulesko’s conclusion I could sense the core idea in that in the negation of everything we come free to no longer be arranged and in turn arrange ourselves in any way we wish. It presents the ultimate silver lining to the question of meaning and its absence, and it illuminates the real meaning of the expression that nihilism does entail a position of despair or emptiness, and that meaning for the nihilist is exactly what they create for themselves. Of course, for Kulesko it is all fully ontological in ways that I’m not entirely sure it’s even possible to agree with, whereas for anarcho-nihilism it pertains largely to the political dimension, in that the point is to negate all social and political institutions to create a space of full autonomy for individuals which can then manifest and experiment in all directions. Still, that itself may find extension in the nigredo that Kulesko presents, and in the magma of darkness that lies beneath the lies of the world and its utopias. The chaos embodied by that eight-pointed star expanding in all directions, unleashing the world after the world like, in late Norse mythology, the rebirth of the world after the carnage of the battle of Ragnarok, it’s the fragmentation of the Image of the World. The insurrection is its own cultivation of darkness.
Wounds of the Divine Feminine (The Second Nigredo)
Our second discussion of nigredo, “Mater Dolorosa”, which as the name suggests seems to centre around a discussion of the Virgin Mary, begins with Laura Tripaldi taking us on a recollection of her childhood frolics in a garden in her school, hidden from the eyes of adults, filled with vegetation and small animals – sometimes dead ones that she and her friends would hold funerals for. We are also introduced to the flower Veronica persica, or Persian speedwell, known locally as the “eyes of the Madonna”, a namesake that naturally then pivots focus figure of the Virgin Mary, her heavenly abode evoked by an analogy to her eyes, and to the torment she supposedly feels when you pluck the petals of the speedwell. Amusing, by the way, that this Virgin is called “Mother of God”: we’re told that the Christian God created everything thousands of years if not eons ago and yet also that his mother is a teenage girl who lived 2,000 years ago. A testament to the incoherence of Christianity, or at least especially Roman Catholicism. Then we’re presented with an anecdote about a pregnant female earthworm that the children punctured, seemingly to assist the earthworm’s delivery of its offspring; an act that seemed to almost primordially disgust the young Tripaldi. The particular reproductive economy of invertebrates, profoundly alien to our own, brings us to the subject of Georges Bataille’s assessment of abiogenesis and the relationship between asexual reproduction and death – the original one dying and becoming two – and then we get to a more fundamental pain at the heart of living matter. The ancestral wound of life, for Tripaldi consists of a primordial separation from the primordial condition of indistinction, and in this setting life is Giacomo Leopardi’s garden, which Leopardi insists is nothing but a beautiful hospital. Thus, the second nigredo is the realization of the pain of primeval separation.
It all comes down to the idea that not being born is better than being born. In many ways, this theme communicated in terms of a perceived separation from original matter and the concurrent pain of that separation is a lot closer to what I expected of Gruppo Di Nun based on the opening salvos of Revolutionary Demonology and its core dogma than much of what we have previously discussed so far. It certainly is closer in spirit with the thematic emphasis on the myth of the dismembered Mother Tiamat that they present much more than the subject of Gothic Insurrection or even the latent alchemical theme strewn throughout, and as we’ll see that theme takes us through a much larger response to the doctrine of emanation. This could offer us a rather multifaceted journey.
We are introduced to a man named Laszlo Toth, a Hungarian-Australian geologist who, in 1972, went to St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City and attacked Michaelangelo’s Pieta, striking the face of the Madonna with a hammer while shouting “Christ is risen! I am the Christ!”. At the time of the incident it was assumed that Toth was mentally ill, consequently he was sent to a psychiatric hospital without criminal charges before being deported to Australia. I tend to think that there can be few bolder blasphemies against Christendom than declaring yourself Christ and smashing one of the holy symbols of the Christ myth, not to mention the synchronicity of having done so at the same age as Jesus supposedly was when he died. But for Tripaldi the incident carries a different meaning: for her it displays an uncanny alchemical property associated with depictions of the Virgin Mary – the transfiguration of suffering and disgrace into triumph and splendour.
The cult of the Virgin Mary, and particularly the cult of Our Lady of Sorrows centres around miraculous events that often involve the disfigurement of the various depictions of the Virgin Mother. Across Italy, there are local tales about icons of Mary being attacked or defaced by an unbeliever and then, as if to answer the assailant’s lack of faith, shedding tears of blood. In that exact sense, Laszlo Toth smashing the Pieta is interpreted as actually making it beautiful. But then we get to theme of weeping. Our Lady of Sorrows is always weeping. Her exposed heart illuminates the reason for her weeping: seven daggers, representing the seven sorrows she suffered in the Gospel narrative, pierce for open heart. That number, 7, recurs throughout religious and esoteric symbolism as a number of significance. In Hermeticism, for instance, the number 7 represents the manifestation of divine perfection in matter. In Christianity, 7 means the realisation of God’s kingdom in this world, through the conjunction of the Holy Trinity with the four corners of the earth. In Kabbalah, or rather at least according to Eliphas Levi, 7 represented the totality of the power of magic, backed by the sum of the soul and the four elements. Since the Hermetic tradition the number 7 denoted throughout “traditional” esotericism a mysterious harmonic function of the divine order that can be found everywhere in the universe. But, in the work in the Aleister Crowley, the number 7 referred to the goddess Babalon, as explicitly denoted by the seven-pointed star seal of the A∴A∴ (Astrum Argentum). Babalon, who in Thelema corresponds to the Biblical figure of the Whore of Babylon, is on her own a very complex representation of “divine” femininty, which is nonetheless defined primarily by transgression and wickedness, down to her angelic namesake (“Babalon” in the angelic langauge meaning “wicked”). The Biblical narrative presents the Whore of Babylon as a sinister and voluptuous feminine, opposed to the pious and sorrowful feminine embodied by the woman clothed in sun. Their visions are both accompanied by a demonic beast with seven heads and ten horn, who is both the antagonist of the woman clothed in sun and the ally of the Whore of Babylon. For Tripaldi this recurrence presents an alternate meaning to the number 7 that clashes with both the meaning presented by traditional “Western” esotericism and the symbolism of the seven daggers.
So where is that all going? Tripaldi’s reflection on the number 7 serves as the gateway to a broader discourse of an esoteric “divine feminine” that can be positioned against a divine patriarchal order and the traditional doctrine of its emanation across creation. It also seems to attend the recovery of a theme of pain and restraint that she perceives to be latent in the original Kabbalah and forgotten by the Western esoteric traditions that appropriated it, and, in a larger sense, to recover a dynamism and processuality in Kabbalah from the order imposed by the glyph of the Tree of Life.
In the Zohar, we are told, the descent of the divine into matter, and the ascent of matter into the divine, can occur in non-linear moments of emanation – moments that are marked by complication and interruption. Such moments are called Tzimtzum, or “contractions”, and are an important part of the manifestation of divine light as conceived in Kabbalah. They are also moments of rupture and separation that are in turn associated with “feminine” aspects of the process of emanation, as well as two of sefirah in particular: Binah and Malkuth. Binah and Malkuth seem to be involved in a ceaseless series of ascending and descending transmutations that see them both constantly merge and separate from each other. This process, for Tripaldi, points to the presence of a multitudinous “divine feminine” trapped within the architecture of creation. Rather than that familiar idea of a monotheistic Goddess parallel to a masculine God, Tripaldi proposes a multiplicity of divine femininity, and the liberation of this femininity in the processual forces of Kabbalah. In this sense, the cryptic diagram on the cover of Revolutionary Demonology is in some way illuminated. The Tree of Life is without a head. Kether, as the unity from which the divine order is emanated and the masculine godhead, is cut off, liberating the multiplicity of divine femininity and the form of nine apocalyptic goddesses. It is thus a signifier for a kind of alternative Kabbalah, animated by the spiral of a sinister divine feminine. I can perhaps sense the makings of a particular form of an goddess-centered (and arguably “anti-cosmic”) polytheism revolving around the goddesses that Gruppo Di Nun identifies with this spiral.
The tzimtzum are here defined as processes of separation within divinity that in turn facilitate its manifestation. To repair the separation of Malkuth from the divine light, Binah, the heavenly mother, is divided and her lower sefirot fall into darkness and corruption: a process referred to as tears falling into the Great Sea. This imagery obviously strikes a chord with the Catholic icon of Our Lady of Sorrows as Tripaldi has presented her so far, but for Tripaldi it also recalls the myth of Tiamat and her dismemberment by Marduk (I note here that Tripaldi refers to Tiamat as a “draconic Virgin Mother”, despite not ever being depicted as a “virgin mother” and really only tenuously identified as a dragon). The feminine polarity consists of a distance between two aspects that are identified and yet distant, and their respective symbolisms (the celestial abode for Binah, a red rose for Malkuth) ostensibly point to the two distinct female figures of the Book of Revelation: the woman clothed in sun and the Whore of Babylon. The process of rupturing and separation shatters the sefirot, interrupts the chain of divine emanation, and the empty shells sefirot become filled with impure forces (presumably the qliphoth). Through Gershom Scholem we get a throughline of an original rupture and separation as the causes of a primordial suffering brought on by a necessary separation from God, resulting in all being existing in exile. Three aspects of the Mother are part of this whole disruptive process: The Dragon, The Celestial Virgin, and Babylon The Great. They also represent a hidden generative force latent in the machinery of divine emanation, which replicates itself and will suffocate the order that contains it.
For Tripaldi, any esoteric struggle against the order of patriarchy means understanding the phenomena of disequilibrium that secretly make the divine order possible to start with. On its own, it is very possible to derive from this analysis a much larger analysis on the relationship between order and chaos, and especially the centrality of the latter. On the other hand, we still cannot but return to the question of the implications of the ancestral wound, especially when aligned with Kabbalah. I remember an analogy given to describe Kabbalah, whereby the point was for humanity to return to the garden of Eden. In essence, what that means is to correct the separation of humanity from God, represented in this analogy by the exile of Adam and Eve from Eden. Only here it’s not necessarily about God, and the separation pertains to the dismemberment of Tiamat. What does it entail for life, having arisen from separation? But I suppose for now, the pressing question is, what does the Tree of Life look like without the head?
We continue this inquiry by exploring migraine attacks, and their apparent prophetic character. Tripaldi perceives migraine as a pain that has no wound because it is the wound at the heart of the world. Percolating into every last particle of matter, migraine is said to reveal in everything the spectre of decomposition. A migraine crisis arrives and passes of its own accord and without a trace, and when it leaves all that remains is a feeling of well-being that is nonetheless plagued by a sense of guilt and suspicion. Tripaldi seems to recall an experience of being locked in a hotel room for two days, without eating or drinking, suffering so much that at points her consciousness began to waver, and at one night she experienced a vision of nostalgia for a primitive motherhood. One could say that this vision hints at Tripaldi’s idea of a hidden dimension of the world, accessible only by occult means, or, perhaps, made vaguely accessible by a migraine crisis. This, migraines are a kind of sinister unveiling of a hidden substratum of the world – an arcane world of pain, of the wound lodged in the heart of creation, and of the cry of agony that reverberates through the whole universe. In other words, the occult body of Tiamat. But it’s also here that we come to another, more concerted application of Christian mysticism. This starts with an account, from Oliver Sacks’ Migraine, of a patient suffering from a migraine attack and describing feeling a hole not only in their own memory but in the world itself, and feeling the instability of their own bodies. Tripaldi, through Sacks, links the migraine experience to the idea of suffering as a vehicle for the realisation of spiritual truths, and from there to “female mysticism”. And, by this, we of course mean Christian mysticism. Specifically, for example, we are invited to consider Teresa of Avila, a Spanish Catholic Carmelite nun who, in 1539, suffered a paroxysm in the process of what she called her “conversion”. This paroxysm caused Teresa to lay comatose for days and then remain paralysed for three years, and it also brought her to the brink of death. But, while she suffered all manner of torments from her paralysis, her body overcome with weakness and the feeling of death, she also described her experience as a kind of martyrdom, and asserted that when the body is in rapture it is as though it is in death.
For Tripaldi this all represents a very specific mode of mysticism, centered around an ecstasy that afflicts the soul from the outside like a disease, cannot be summoned intellectually, cannot be “resisted” once it visits upon the individual, and is defined by an intense suffering that, to lesser degrees, remains with the individual after the ecstasy has subsided. This form of mysticism can thus be understood as an ecstatic system, and for Tripaldi the basic idea is to be applied as an introspective, ecstatic, and fundamentally feminine mysticism in which suffering, rather than positioned as a another path to traditional initiatic gnosis, is its own goal as the highest form of gnosis. This is also meant to be contrasted with the application of meditation within “the intiatic traditions” as tending towards a desired state of “absolute concentration”, whereby the practitioner excludes all stimuli and gradually obliterates their individual consciousness in order to elevate it to the level of cosmic or universal consciousness, thus bringing it into coincidence with God. Tripaldi argues that Chaos Magick is an example of this in that Peter Carroll ostensibly marshalls a concept of no-mind that he calls “Gnosis” as a medium for magic to be affected. It’s a strange and arguably somewhat myopic interpretation of Chaos Magick, not least since it positions Chaos Magick as part of “the Right Hand Path”, and its justification is not especially systematic for the scope of Revolutionary Demonology. In fact, about a page and a half and one quote from Peter Carroll’s Liber Null seems to be the full extent of Gruppo Di Nun’s discussion of Chaos Magick, which hardly merits the prejudice reserved for Chaos Magick as a whole, let alone their distinct classification of it as part of “Western initiatic traditions”. But, since Chaos Magick is meant as an example of the mysticism of absolute concentration, and the mysticism of Teresa of Avila as a paragon of the ecstatic mysticism of suffering, it also almost seems like Tripaldi means to contrast Chaos Magick with – and there’s no beating around the bush here – Christianity.
This has a number of interesting implications. Obviously Gruppo Di Nun’s system can’t be thought of as Christian in itself, since it centers around a non-Christian mythology while rejecting many of the familiar tenets of Christianity at least in its exoteric sense. But we seem to see here a distinct application of Christian mysticism in conceptual terms: in other words, it accepts Christian ideas about mysticism and ecstasy, God and his son notwithstanding of course, and reapplies them to its own distinct framework. In my view, this still has the effect of lodging Christian mysticism at the centre of the philosophy of Gruppo Di Nun in that it serves as the intellectual basis of its philosophy of cosmological suffering, and that to me is another notch against their critique of Satanism as reproducing Christianity by inverting it. I know I never tire of the opportunity to seize on points like this, but it is interesting that the alternative to “reproducing Christianity” by way of Satanism should be to reproduce Christian mysticism in the name of Tiamat. The thing is, for Teresa of Avila, suffering could constitute a form of prayer to the Christian God, or a trial through which the sufferer would find God and become more spiritually pure through it. Perhaps “that my soul may emerge from the crucible like gold” denotes a hidden alchemical metaphor, with the suffering obviously being a form of nigredo. But the whole point is still opening yourself up to sufferings visited upon you presumably by God so that you can love God more. This form of suffering, in Teresa’s words, pleases God. The very notion of suffering as “the way of truth”, which she expounds, is inherently Christian thought. God gives trials that inflict suffering on those he considers spiritually strong so that the love of God may respond to them, while the saints inflict severe penances on themselves to battle the Devil. God, who is joyless in all instances except for moments of profound suffering, humbles and tests his would-be servants, leaving them with a hunger for suffering.
We invoke the term “suffering cult” a lot to describe Christianity in exoteric terms, but if anything that term is all the more apt for the deeper core of Christian mysticism that a lot of popular exoteric Christianity doesn’t always reflect. It is important remember that here, even though suffering can be positioned as its own goal, that is distinctly for its perceived revelatory practices, and in Christian mysticism, moments and revelations of suffering such as the visions and ecstasies of Teresa of Avila are meant to be understood as proof of God’s presence in and love for creation. Thus, Laura Tripaldi has reproduced Christian love, and even the cult of suffering in its mystical dimensions, in the form of mystical devotion to the primordial wound at the heart of the world, the cuts made into the flesh of Tiamat by Marduk, all while Gruppo Di Nun denounces Satanism as an expression of the Right Hand Path by accusing them of reproducing Christianity by way of inversion. One must wonder if we are to be thought fools for such a pretentious repression response to Satanism to be made so transparent. And ultimately, if we’re talking about a dichotomy between centripetal and centrifugal motion while favoring the centrifrugal, what irony, because what could be a bigger “cult of the Centre” than the God for whom Teresa suffered so abjectly?
Also, it is here that we come to a hole in the broad narrative concerning self-designation as an edifice of the Right Hand Path. After all, for starters Tripaldi says that, in the purview of absolute concentration, your own self-consciousness is obliterated. That part may be consistent with modern understandings of the Right Hand Path, but it is not consistent with the notions of self-deification found in a lot of the modern Left Hand Path. And, are you here fashioning your own selfhood into God or a god, or simply harmonizing it with God? After all, it does not seem that to “be brought into coincidence with God” must mean that the initiate actually becomes or imitates God. In that sense, this “self-deification” is not as it seems, and would call into question the critique made against the modern Left Hand Path.
Our journey through Tripaldi’s mysticism does not end here. We continue on through an exploration of virginity through the Greek and Roman cults of Artemis and Diana – both traditionally considered virgin goddesses. For Tripaldi, the myth of Artemis living alone in the woods in solitude, away from any male suitors, resonates with her own adolescent hope of refuge from patriarchal society in a pure wilderness: a hope seemingly shattered by that same uncontaminated purity consisting of the same obscenity and violence as the body. Virginity for Tripaldi is a pact tied to death because it is a sacrament of war. That is because for Tripaldi it is the promise to never participate in the reproductive order of patriarchal civilization, and embodies a militant recognition of womanhood as the key to both the preservation and destruction of this order. This is presented as a kind of self-sufficiency inherent in womanhood that amounts to an absolute monotheism that holds the entire universe to ransom in its power. A more lofty exaltation of womanhood there almost isn’t, let alone one more at odds with the notion that. More curiously though, I was sure that self-monotheism of some sort was supposed to be what Gruppo Di Nun declared a fascistic folly reserved the initiatic Right Hand Path. I suppose I’m left to conclude that it’s supposed to be bad when Satanists strive for their own apotheosis but not bad at all to consider virgin women their own goddesses, and just leave whatever rationale there is for that contradiction to my own imagination – I doubt its interpretation would be very charitable. But perhaps patience is in order: there is a subject we will examine later that will be relevant to the subject of self-deification.
In any case, virginity is its own mystery for Tripaldi, due to the paradoxical quality she attributes to it: simultaneously a source of the integrity of the social order and a cause of its very negation. The sanctity of virginity, which is obviously also a familiar fetish of traditional/conventional Christian sexual morality, is exemplified in the Vestal Virgins, whose vow of chastity was linked to the preservation of the whole body politic of the Roman state, and in Joan of Arc, whose purity is said to have ensured the destiny of the medieval Kingdom of France. It is here meant to be understood as a sacred condition, relevant to feminine mysteries, and representative of what Tripaldi supposes to be a purity that passes through creation. The goddess Artemis is here understood as fiercely representing just such a purity: those who approach her know that any outrage against her purity would be paid in their flesh and blood. That at least is the myth of Actaeon, the hunter who saw the naked body of Artemis and, as punishment for ogling her, was silenced, then turned into a stag, and then killed by his own oblivious hunting dogs.
As lunar goddesses Artemis and Diana are seen as dual-natured: bright and yet dark, chaste and yet perverse, protector and yet also destroyer, at once luminous and murderous. Of course, it should be noted that just this sense of duality is not at all unique to Artemis or Diana in the context of pre-Christian polytheism, where basically every deity was assumed to be “dual-natured” or multifaceted, and I think there’s a sense that this basic fact is more or less excluded as is a lot of the perspective of paganism for much of the book except for its second chapter. What seems unique about these goddesses, however, is what Pierre Klossowski describes in The Bath of Diana as their “closed” nature, by which is meant their renunciation of the possibility of the possibility of mortal union and their existence “beyond destiny”. That said, I doubt that the interpretation that the wholeness of the universe rests on a single goddess is in any way consistent with polytheism as a religious worldview where a multitude of divine presences pervade a universe that exists between all of them. Nor for that matter does it make sense to assume that Artemis or Diana exist “beyond destiny’ in a religious context where even Zeus answers to the Fates. Again, it seems that here the goddesses of pre-Christian antiquity are invoked so as to represent a larger metaphysical concept of virginity as part of the formation of a divine feminine multiplicity, but without sufficient consideration for the actual context of the ancient polytheism they were a part of. What seems far more operative for Tripaldi is the lunar symbolism of Diana, which certainly does reflect Diana’s dual nature in a more historical sense, and how she connects this back to the subject of Kabbalah.
In classical terms, the moon is both celestial and chthonic, a light in the sky that also represented the powers of the underworld. As a celestial object, the moon’s light is really a reflection of the sun, which makes it seems like a spectral double of the sun. But, we are told, the moon in Kabbalah corresponds to the sefira Malkuth, the “impure” aspect of the divine feminine from before, because it reflects light from God. According to Gershom Scholem, this reflected an exile referred to as “the lessening of the moon”, which in turn was interpreted as the exile of the Shekhinah, the “holy moon”. The moon is also heavily associated with cyclical time, its influence linked to the movemennts of the tides, the reproductive cycles of many marine animals, and at least traditionally the menstrual cycles of women. Tripaldi interprets this cyclicality as a cycle of purification through death, through the cycle of the Flood and the purification of menstruation, and thus the moon as a symbol of virginal purity and death. This makes the moon a distrubing aspect of the divine feminine, an object of maniacal love and sacred terror, containing in itself all the ancient violence directed upon its flesh. But for Tripaldi the moon also has a mask, whose removal is but the hunter’s foolish and blasphemous quest to domesticate the divine feminine. It is presumed that behind the face of the moon lies a lost harmony, but we have no certainty that its true face is any better than the mask we have built for her. Sacrilege and unknowability interplay in an interesting way here. God in Christian terms is not only unknowable but the attempt to comprehend him, let alone imitate him, is a sin. Knowledge is in Christian terms the blasphemy and disobedience that overturns everything, because that’s how it was in the Garden of Eden: Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge, in so doing they began their link to the realm of the gods, and so they were exiled from the garden, punished with the burden of original sin, and plagued further still by the apparition of their redemption in the form of Jesus Christ. If what hides behind the mask is no harmony, then what is it? No doubt a representation of raw entropy, or the death that is at once ineffable life. Might the blasphemy of discovery thus force us to confront the truth that lay beyond? Might the piety to the contrary only promote ignorace?
Still not finished, Tripaldi turns us next to the subject of Paolo Gorini, an Italian scientist whose legacy is commemorated in a square outside the University of Milan. He was also an embalmer, and was known as “the petrifier” for his experiments in mummification and preserving corpses. Gorini also found himself coming up against the Catholic Church for advocating the return of cremation to common practice for disposing of the dead. In the context of the Risorgimento (the unification of Italy), Gorini was going against traditional authority in a time of radical political and social change. At this time, positivist rationalism and new natural sciences were an axis of resistance against the obscurantism of traditional religious authority, and secret societies worked towards a new future governed by enlightened ideals, while in northern Italy that very struggle was fought over the bodies of the dead, and its traces are left in the necropolises. Gorini rationalized his interest in the preservation and destruction of human bodies through his horror at their decomposition after burial. He believed that what happened to buried bodies was worse than if they were simply left on the ground, and that burial would be unequivocably left behind as soon as anything less cruel was introduced. To that end, Gorini turned to two practices from two ancient civilizations. On the one hand, the ancient Egyptians petrified and mummified corpses to preserve the body for what was believed to be its resurrection; on the other hand, the ancient Greeks and Romans practiced cremation, burning the bodies of the dead and thereby hastening their decay. Either proposal, Tripaldi notes, amounted to the “mineralisation” of the body: whether petrification or combustion, the dead body is turned into a new form of matter.
In all truth, this is a rather strange interjection. It’s not quite clear how this discourse connects to the rest of Tripaldi’s discussion of the divine feminine in the context of her heterodox interpretation of Kabbalah. There is a discourse present in the treatment of the body as an alchemical matter, and Gorini deriving his ideas about cremation from his research into plutonic liquid, and its ostensible Hermetic significance. Plutonic liquid is the name of a mysterious liquid that Gorini thought created volcanoes and mountain ranges when made solid. Tripaldi opens the suggestion that Gorini was a magician, for which there is scant basis both within this essay and certainly without, but in any case his cause to preserve the human body or at least save it from burial is seen by Tripaldi as a magical quest to stop or reverse time. As if a “Promethean” challenge to the disintegration of matter, or, through the words of Elemire Zolla, a form of alchemy similar to the transmutation of metal into gold. And, in the face of defeat, Gorini chose cremation; for Tripaldi, this meant a last stand against time in which his body “decapitated” time by returning to an original state. But as fascinating as it may be to take this view of cremation and alchemy as a plunge into immolation over surrender to time, I am still unsure of how it pertains to the whole essay. Unless, perhaps the “petrifying gaze of eternity in the eyes of a severed head” is none other than the face behind the mask of the moon that Tripaldi discussed. Is that what we, like the example of Actaeon, are counselled to never reveal to ourselves? Would it destroy us so?
The last relevant section of this essay returns us to the subject of the Virgin Mary, or rather one of her names: Stella Maris, meaning “star of the sea”. This name is meant denote her as watching over sailors or seafarers, thus linking her to the light of the North Star. The name’s origin seems to be a transcription error upon the original Latin name Stilla Maris, meaning “drop of the sea”, as translated by Jerome from the Hebrew name Maryam. Now, what is the meaning of all this? It would seem to establish a connection between the Virgin Mary and the depths of the ocean, which must seem very unusual compared to her conventional association with the heavens. From this we’re then introduced to Thalassa, a book written by the psychoanalyst Sandor Ferenczi. Ferenczi’s apparent aim was to establish a scientific basis for a psychological link between motherhood and the ocean and the broader view that all life is based on return to the womb. The fact that Thalassa is almost exactly a century old (having been written in 1924) leaves us with the suggestion that we should not take the “science” strictly at face value. Incidentally, though, the name Thalassa, which is the Greek word for “sea”, resonates with the name Thalatte, the Hellenistic name for the Babylonian Tiamat – certainly a meaningful coincidence given the overall centrality of Tiamat throughout Revolutionary Demonology and particularly in Tripaldi’s essays. Anyways, Ferenczi’s thesis is based on a theory he called “thalassal regression”: the idea of a latent drive to return to a long-lost aquatic mode of existence, which he thought continued to operate in genitality. Within this theory, it’s not the ocean that symbolises the womb but rather the womb that reminds us of the ocean, from which our distant mammalian ancestors emerged.
Trauma seems to be the main fixation of Tripaldi’s exploration of Ferenczi’s Lamarckian psychoanalysis. Human beings here are like living fossils that bear in their bodies evidence of eons of geological trauma created by ancient catastrophes visited upon our evolutionary ancestors, like the drying up of the primordial ocean. Birth is presented as a trauma that repeats the trauma of life emerging from the sea, and sexual intercourse is presented as means of regression, fulfilling a desire to return to the ocean. It’s not hard to see how the analogy to the womb comes into play, but it also almost feels like the ocean is like a center-point from which life plunges and to which, even as it crawls to the surface, it remains chained, and thus must at some point plunge back. I assure you, it’s not obvious what’s so centrifugal about this diagram of origination and return. The main insight that Tripaldi derives from Thalassa is in the idea that inhuman, geological, catastrophic forces mold individual subjectivity in the context of a catastrophic cosmogony of separation that positions the human being as the ultimate recepticle of cosmic suffering. Our drive to emerge from the abyss is framed thus as a catastrophic urge for separation, rather than a creative act. The strange thing about this idea, though, is that Tripaldi has spent pages of her illuminating separation and exile as fundamental to the creation of the world in the Kabbalistic context of the manifestation of God’s light. In this setting, you cannot just uncouple separation from creation. Nonetheless, evolution is presented by Tripaldi through Ferenczi not as a rise to the top of some natural order but a continuous propagation of traumas that in turn always motivates the desire for regression. After this, the essay ends with a lamentation of everything plunging into darkness, paging the cry of Angela of Foligno: “my son, my son, do not abandon me, my son!”. Perhaps for Tripaldi this is also Tiamat crying out for her myriad offspring, her own flesh and blood separated from her body, hung on the cross of creation. Now that I think about it, a more Christianized metaphor for the myth of Tiamat there isn’t.
So what emerges from all this? We see a particular interpretation of Kabbalah through the theme of cosmogonic separation and exile that is then taken through the theme of primordial agony and manifests as a metaphysics of a catastrophic divine feminine. This divine feminine is multifaceted: in many ways a reification of the perceived wound of our separation from an original state of non-creation, but also a reflection of the death and entropy that underlies the whole basis of life itself, albeit more so the violence of creation. It is obvious that the multitudinous divine feminine is still supposed to be Tiamat, but perhaps it is also Babalon, the exposed and bleeding heart of the Virgin Mary, the virginal divinity of Artemis and Diana, the petrifying gaze of Medusa, and the ocean itself. It is still curious that eight out of the nine goddesses of the seal of Gruppo Di Nun (namely Ammit, Nammu, Kauket, Hushbishag, Nungal, Sekhmet, Uadjet, and Ishtar), while only Tiamat seems to be discussed anywhere at all. In any case, this is the complex of feminine mystery that Tripaldi proposes alignment with as an occult axis against the patriarchy, and which, in Tripaldi’s occult schema, is the hidden machinery of Kabbalah meant to rise up and take the head from the Tree of Life.
One does wonder, though, to what end? Perhaps it can be connected to Kulesko’s discourse of the shattering of the world which then facilitates endless creation, thus to sever the Tree of Life and shatter the Image of the World would mean to open up the space for endless horizons of new creation. Yet, I doubt this is the throughline we get from Tripaldi. Instead it seems more like this is to fulfill a different kind of death drive, that the divine feminine might resolve the agony of separation by constricting around the whole machinery of Kabbalah and initiating an ecstatic regression towards the ocean of Nun (which, we might be assured, is not an alternative Centre from which we have still fallen). In Tripaldi’s premise, creation is a violence that leaves a wound at the heart of the universe, of matter itself, and, if that pain has any means of resolution, regression to the ocean, which is here the drive towards dissolution, is that resolution. But if life inexorably carved itself out, would it not do so again? If so, then I wonder, what is the point? And, I suppose the question arises that if we had any awareness of the pain of the world and of our own desire for regression, and if dissolution was the love that fulfilled it, then if we really wanted to go back to the ocean we could just die. Yet we choose to live for as long as we can.
Italian Southern Gothic (The Third Nigredo)
Our third discussion of nigredo consists of the essay “Solarisation”, written by Valerio Mattioli. It is a rich exploration of the distorting power of the sun, and the alchemical cipher of the black sun, which is to be understood as a symbol of the process of nigredo, as situated in a tour of multiple distinct contours of modern Italian culture (or perhaps counter-culture). From Italian neorealist cinema, to giallo movies, to underground music, this scene is also explored in terms of an occult context of a land bathed in the sun’s light, and in my view provides valuable context for solar mythology relevant to the Left Hand Path. I have already discussed this particular essay in a separate article about the solar myth of Satan, which I propose as a central locus of Satanism that makes Satanism what it is (and, in turn, makes us Satanists what we are), with particular attention paid to Mattioli’s discussion of solarisation in relation to the subject of inversion and blasphemy. As such, I may attempt to minimize anything that risks repeating ground that I already trod last month. But a much broader exploration of the whole of the essay can be taken up in the scope of this article, and within this scope it would be my pleasure to give focus to Mattioli’s psychogeographical exploration of the occult landscape of Italy.
We are first introduced to Minor White, an American photographer known for his Surrealist pieces that employ the effect of solarisation: that is, a process of overexposure that both darkens and inverts the colour of an image. The monochromatic Oregon landscape of White’s “Black Sun”, made in 1955, is almost literally a textbook example of the technique of solarisation. It almost seems to reveal another world, as if hidden within this one, equal and opposite to it. For Mattioli, it’s as if that’s the point: to investigate and peer into a subconscious world parallel to our own. Photography was invented so as to produce images as mirrors of the real world around us, but ironically enough it was ostensibly first used to try and capture spectral presences (like ghosts or ectoplasms), and the camera filter, when activated properly, can invert photographs in ways that overturn the principles of empiral experience. Already, we see that humans by way of technical creativity can invert the world around them, revealing an other world and creating new worlds. What was meant as a tool to rationally document the world brought life to irrational worlds. Thus, through photography we begin to examine our subject of solar myth. The sun illuminates the world around us with its light, which to us should mean more reality accessible to us. But instead, more sunlight has the counterintuitve effect of distortion: solarisation means an exposure that exposes an “incorrect” truth. The solar disk turns black, the sky becomes milky, and all values change places. Thus, more sun does not mean more reality, but instead an inversion of reality. That observation has important implications that I intend to explore (or rather revisit), but suffice it to say for now that solarisation and sunshine appear magical a the fundamental sense: they change the world around them and overturn everything.
The black sun of alchemy, not to be confused with the other so-called “black sun” of neo-Nazism, enters into this in that solarisation is itself likened to nigredo. In alchemy, nigredo denotes the process of putrefaction in which matter is reduced to primordial chaos, the initial stage of the Great Work in which matter can begin to be transfigured into the perfection and immortality represented in the philosopher’s stone. For Mattioli, solarisation represents a kind of mechanical nigredo that explodes the sun’s light so as to translate it into what appears to be its opposite, and thus shatters the confines of the phenomenal world to reveal the invisible, unnameable, and the unknowable locked beneath it. To Mattioli this reveals primordial chaos in the form of an uninhabitable planet, and that it is revealed through a mechanical filter is to him all the more befitting of the inhumanity of the dimension that solarisation reveals, represented by the darkness of the black sun itself. But while it might be revealed through technique, it can only be known by occult means, by recourse to witchcraft and similar practices. Our sun ultimately emerges from that same world. The nigredo of solar myth can be interpreted along the lines of an active inversion, a blasphemy that will be made clear as we explore further. For Mattioli it is perhaps and abdication on the part of the alchemist’s self. But for the Satanist, this nigredo is the Fall re-enacted, a conscious inversion undertaken to reshape the world around you. There’s a sense in which solarisation here is a lot like Walter Benjamin’s concept of profane illumination: a non-contemplative materialist consciousness meant to allow the revolutionary subject to decode the superstructure of bourgeois society, destroy its field of reification and interact in full free consciousness with conditions as they really are. Or the way Henri Lefebvre described the mission of Surrealism as to “decode inner space and illuminate the nature of the transition from this subjective space to the material realm of the body and the outside world, and thence to social life”. Yes, perhaps solarisation actually denotes an active principle of surreality, bending the world so as to reveal it.
An ancient folk belief (or perhaps superstition), illuminated by a quote from Giacomo Leopardi at the start of the essay, hangs in the background of this exploration. In Italy and other Mediterranean lands, people believed that the spirits of the dead would appear at noon and disturb the living. For this reason, Leopardi said, classical authors would warn shepherds against going to places like Pallene or Phlegra, the latter thought to house the bones of giants, at noon. At midday, when the sun was at its highest point in the sky, the world of the dead crossed with the world of the living, and the demons of the underworld appeared in the world above. Similar beliefs seem to appear in other cultures. In East European countries, a demon named Lady Midday (known in Poland as Południca) was believed to appear at the hottest time of noon, attack people in the fields, and occasionally ask them questions or challenge them to a dance. The Book of Psalms refers to a “destruction that despoils at midday”, which over time was translated through Jerome as the “daemonium meridianum”, or “Meridian Demon”. In Jewish demonology, a plague demon called Keteb was believed to be most powerful in the midsummer season and during the mid-day, and was also called Keteb Meririm. According to Cornelius Agrippa, Meririm was the name of the “Meridian Devil”, which he believed was the power of the air that worked in the children of disobedience. It’s often thought that these spirits were folk representations of the phenomenon of sunstroke, but the “daemonium meridianum” was also taken as a form of melancholy, depression, or rather a condition known as acedia (meaning basically listlessness or lack of care). Incidentally, acedia is also the Latin word given to the “deadly sin” of sloth. The irony, of course, is that we also use words like “sunny” to refer to the exact opposite conditions: happiness, joy, vibrancy etc., no doubt communicating a sense of life felt from the sun’s presence, which we in turn stereotypically associate with the peoples of the Mediterranean Basin. Or perhaps this all a cipher for a daemonic life, the vivifying light of an inner darkness that is the soul of this world, a soul that can be unlocked through solarisation.
For Mattioli, the sun is an altogether different presence from the optimistic light we perceive culturally. Per Antonin Artaud, it is a messenger of the breath of chaos, and Mattioli believes this communicates a perverse reality intuited by gothic fiction, whose classics were set in Mediterranean lands. For example, Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto, often considered the very first gothic novel, is set in a guilt-ridden Otranto, located in southern Italy, and Walpole claimed that he based it on what was originally an Italian manuscript, supposedly written in Naples in 1529. Matthew Gregory Lewis’ The Monk casts its decadent story in Spain, Charlotte Dacre’s Zofloya is set in Venice, and need we say anything about Ann Radcliffe’s novels? In many ways this tendency reflected a mix of revulsion and fascination for an irrational outside within the Enlightenmentarian English psyche. But to really venture into a world where the sun doesn’t shine, we are to touch on a genre referred to as Italian Southern Gothic.
Italian Southern Gothic is the name given to a very broad cultural exploration of the macabre, the decadent, and the occult as running through the Mezzogiorno (as in, southern Italy). Italian Southern Gothic as we know it begins in 1954, when Alan Lomax, an American ethnomusicologist, visited Italy. Alongside his colleague Diego Carpitella, he travelled across the south to places such as Liguria and Carrara in order to study the sounds and culture of the region. It was also at this time that the modernization of Italy was about to begin in earnest, as Italy’s “economic miracle” was set to transform Italy into a modern industrial nation in its own right alongside its European peers. This of course was to see older, archaic communities obscured beneath the new highways built for the rat race of modern consumer capitalism. But it was just the arcane world beneath that Lomax was to find, and while he still could: a wild, transgressive, immoral world, unlike the quaint image of Italian folk culture. Wild and uncanny sounds portrayed a world of sexual mania, irrationality, demonic fantasy, inexplicable fear, mind-shattering guilt, and archaic religious and ritual practices that go back centuries in time. This all led to the development of a “New Hypothesis” wherein southern Italy was to be understood as a clash between the human body, its surrounding social context, and memory. It also not only disturbed Lomax himself but also apparently horrified some of the Italian cultural intelligentsia, as I’m sure the dark side of life so often does.
Lomax was not alone in searching this arcane world. Ernesto De Martino, an Italian anthropologist, wrote essays and studies that elaborated a geography of sinister tales of decadence and even abuse interspersed with arcane religious rites and magical formulas. De Martino thus, for Mattioli, embodies a solarisation that unravelled a world of meridian demons and blind divinities just as Lomax unravelled the lost world of Mezzogiorno. This solarisation is indeed an unparalleled exercise in profane illumination. Further, I find myself imagining a perverse form of Terrence McKenna’s “Archaic Revival”, one where unlocking the liberationist values of a distant past means unlocking the sinister underbelly of the present. Italian Southern Gothic is in this sense a mechanism of solarisation whose hyperrealist gaze allows us to discover truly archaic contents that animate or lurk beneath the world we live in. It may indeed open up mystical and esoteric praxis that enhances the Left Hand Path in its access to the true ground of being, as if the substance of innate enlightenment (here I am admittedly invoking Bernard Faure’s image of Daikokuten within esoteric Tendai Buddhism).
The theme of hyperreality turns us toward a genre of film that, in its late years, seemed to draw inspiration from the ethnographic work of Alan Lomax and Ernesto De Martino. Enter, Italian Neorealism. The term “neorealism” refers to a gritty and almost documentary form of cinema that emerged in the middle of the 1940s and focused on depicting the realities of life in post-World War II Italy. Directors such as Luigi Di Gianni, Roberto Rossellini, Gianfranco Mingozzi, Vittorio De Sica, Cecilia Mangini, and Federico Fellini all sought to bring to focus a society exhausted by poverty as it struggled in the beginning of life after Benito Mussolini’s fascist dictatorship. The point was to portray the real conditions of contemporary Italian society just as they were, right down to its worst aspects, without any artifice, metaphor, symbolism, or dreamlike flourish. For this, neorealism is typically recognised as a form of documentary denunciation rather than an expression of Italian Southern Gothic. But, for Mattioli, this impression is not complete, and merely reflects a more polite repression of a latent arcane world, one befitting the emerging reign of rational modernity.
To illustrate what Mattioli sees as a practical interplay between hyperrealism and demonic solarisation, we are referred to the novel Conversations in Sicily, written by Elio Vittorini in 1941. In the novel, Vittorini apparently lets his documentary narrative of Sicilian life subtly move towards oneiricism. Perhaps the better example might be Carlo Levi’s memoir, Christ Stopped At Eboli, which is a reflection of Levi’s life and travels as a political exile in southern Italy that is apparently nonetheless populated with witches, cemeteries, drunken priests, and invisble brigands, who all form the image of a land where time has stopped and neither reason and history have a place, all inaugurated by a solar eclipse. More than that, however, it is in neorealism we see a perverse magic to solar inversion. The example we are presented with is a short documentary film titled Appunti su un fatto di cronaca (Notes On A News Story), directed by Luchino Visconti in 1951, which focuses on the story of the abduction, rape, and murder of a 12-year old Annarella Bracci in the Primavelle district, which was probably one of the most notorious crimes of the day. The film depicts the sunlit outskirts of Rome in the throes of its worst nightmares, almost morphing before our eyes into a desert where human and non-human garbage is tossed aside, and a road in the final shot connecting the Primavelle flats to a sky that seems like an omen of damnation. The inertia and salvation of the golden city seems like an inferno, and thus, in Mattioli’s words, Hell lies in the celestial vaults. Mattioli treats this as an iconic representation of solar inversion. That very solar inversion also strikes a chord with Satanic inversion: after all, if heaven is hell, is hell not heaven, and is God not thus the ultimate villain of his own cosmic drama? Though, for Mattioli, the relevant aesthetic fulfillment of solar inversion for the old neorealism is in its slow rhythm, its narratives of abject fatigue and social nightmares, lack of colour, and above all the fact that these films were typically filmed on long summer days and shot in the open air, altogether conveying the acid of excessive sunlight.
The transition from black and white films to colour films also meant a transition from neorealism to “post-neorealism”, and the qualities of neorealism passing into two iconic Italian cult movie genres: spaghetti westerns and giallo movies. Spaghetti westerns were Italian movies set in the “American West”, or rather the picture of an American West filled with stylized violence and revolving around the bleak stories of rugged, often silent protagonists. Giallo movies were essentially horror-thriller or murder mystery movies that were also known for their wild eroticism, madness, violent gratuity to the point that they can be called “slashers”, and, often enough, a flair for esotericism, supernatural horror, and even psychedelia. Their bright colours manage to subtly invoke the weight of the Mediterranean sun, but they also still seem to lead back to a kind of meridian nigredo. But from there we come an odd but insightful discussion of a principle of solarisation that is also descriptive of the magical principle of solar myth: the whiteout. Here, Mattioli is talking about what he calls the “Mediterranean whiteout”. This is a phenomenon where, when the sun is its at brightest, its light seems to turn the whole field of vision into a vast white expanse, leading a blindness bound in the liquification of existence. For Mattioli, the cinematic genius of the whiteout is none other than Pier Paolo Pasolini, whose movies seem to activate inverting properties of solarisation and the amplifying the properties of the principle of neorealist cinema: the need to know and modify reality. Mattioli then positions this need as a magical gesture, an expression of Aleister Crowley’s definition of magic as “the Science and Art of causing changes in conformity with the Will”. Thus magic itself expresses the quality of solarisation.
Here, we can briefly revist the solar myth of Aleister Crowley. As Cavan McLaughlin observed in his essay The Dark Side of the Sun, Crowley’s own life was a solar myth supported by his own magical will. He was born as Alexander Edward Crowley, dubbed himself Aleister Crowley as an act of magical self-authorship, and in 1930 he even faked his own death by suicide by spreading false information and producing a fake suicide note, only to then re-emerge alive and well in Berlin. Crowley in a sense distorted the boundary between fiction and realtiy, solarising the world around him and creating a new one. The property of solar myth consists in the interpretation of the need to know and modify the world as the desire to overturn everything, changing it in accordance with will. Neorealism was received as a documentary denunciation, and welcomed with the moral ends of humanism. But in Crowleyan terms, the need to know and modify the world is an amoral desire, from which begins an amoral quest. McLaughlin again illuminates this, in that, if every man and every woman truly is a star, then the magical quest for transcendence or doing what thou wilt has the potential to “make monsters of us all”. But then if life per Schopenhauerian terms life is kind of monstrous, and we are all thus monsters for participating in it, then, in Nietzschean terms, we cannot really cower from it. Thus is the starting point of Crowleyan solar heroism as its own solarisation: every man and woman is a star, meaning that they are Suns, in that they are at the center of their own magical universe, and their light may shine down on the world, transforming it entirely, overturning everything in the process.
Mattioli presents the cinematic career of Pier Paolo Pasolini as a kind of journey of initiatory journey of solarisation. This journey begins with Accattone, where Pasolini seems to turn Rome, the “Eternal City”, into a phantasmagorical sea of light marked by a stark contrast of white and black, whose geometries come to take a surreal and tenebrous quality associated with the city of R’lyeh in H. P. Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulhu. The journey ends in Salo, Pasolini’s adaptation of The 120 Days of Sodom by the Marquis de Sade, whose reputed unwatchability and brutality would seem to coincide with the similar unwatchability of the noonday sun. Mattioli connects the “death and terror” of Salo to Georges Bataille’s description of Mount Vesuvius as a “filthy parod of the blindingly hot sun”, and then, to a different parody: the anus. For Bataille, volcanoes are like the asshole of a world that eats nothing, and constantly spew out its contents. Mattioli then links that theme to Salo as the sum of the link between the sun and the asshole, both at least figuratively impossible to lay eyes on, then we are brought to the magical property of anal sex. Seemingly an inversion of the function of procreation and the mandate of the sun to illuminate the world, anal sex is here positioned as an instrument of reconciliation with the arcane world parallel to ours, revelaed by the light of a black sun, and in a way that echoes Austin Osman Spare’s concept of “new sexuality”. For Spare, this meant accessing the innermost layers of the psyche through “unnatural” sexual acts in order to trigger the awakening of primordial states of the subconscious mind, which he called “atavistic resurgence”. Kenneth Grant described this as a process by which Spare visted fantastical cities constructed of lines and angles that seemed unlike anything on Earth. Mattioli relates this to the lost city of R’lyeh in Lovecraft’s work and Pasolini’s treatment of the city of Rome in Accattone. It’s fairly interesting that in this essay Chaos Magick (or at least as anticipated by Spare) seems to align with the aims that Mattioli and the Gruppo Di Nun at large present while in the previous essay the entire tradition of Chaos Magick is portrayed as part of the “Western iniatic tradition” on the basis of a single passage from Liber Null.
But, from here, we come to an aspect of Pasolini’s solarisation that I find rich with Satanic significance: the assassination of Pier Paolo Pasolini on the beaches of Ostia. The very name Ostia clues us in on the nature of solar inversion: simply put, it overturns everything. It simultaneously references the holy communion wafer of Catholic liturgy and the hidden blasphemy of the solar disc. The name Ostia relates to the Latin words “hostia”, meaning “victim”, and “hostis”, meaning “adversary”: the former can be seen as Jesus, the divine victim central to Christianity, and the latter as Satan, the Adversary himself. Yet, it also actually comes from the Latin word “ostium”, meaning “mouth”, as in the mouth of a river. A mouth where water and shit exit the metropolis of Rome: the anus of the city. But it is also the Mithraic solar disc trapped inside the Christian host, and thus the secret of blasphemy. Every mockery and desecration of the cross, every carnal gratification for its own sake, kink, queering, disinhibition, insurrection, all sure the same magic as solar inversion, and the monstrous duality of solar mystery, and in turn solar myth. In Satanic terms, this is the creative act of blasphemy, the creative act of “Satan’s Fall”, the primordial insurrection, the a rebours (reversal) that is central to Stanislaw Przybyszewski’s understanding of Satanism. Without surrender or abdication, we penetrate the world with our own solar rays, as we partake in a defiant Satanic nigredo that is disinhibition and solarisation. The Ostia described by Mattioli is perhaps its own psychogeography of blasphemy, its own example of satanic solar inversion, as the place where, as he put it, the hierarchies of the city of Rome are upended.
What Pasolini brought to life in his work was an alternate city of Rome. In ancient Roman myth and tradition this city had a name: Remoria. Remoria was the mythical city that was to be founded by Remus, the twin brother of Romulus. The traditional myth goes that, when Romulus and Remus had finished restoring their grandfather as king of Alba, the two brothers set out to found a city of their own, but they argued bitterly over where the city should be built, and eventually Remus was killed while Romulus established Rome as we know it. Remoria can thus be seen as an image of what Rome could have been. All this also sits beneath a dark sun, or rather a solar eclipse. According to Plutarch, Remus was killed by Romulus during what happened to be a solar eclipse. For Mattioli this invites us to look beyond the sun to another world.
But what does that other world look like? Mattioli says that Romulus, as the founder of Rome, seemed to establish the civilizational archetype of “the West”, with its emphasis on a vertical ideology of hierarchy, order, and discipline, constructed atop a square city of continuous conquest and production what is, with no tolerance for waste. Remoria, in this picture, would seem to be a chaotic and circular city of expenditure and sacrifice of what never was, a spectral twin city born dead, welcoming the waste of the world and reflecting the irrational qualities attributed to Remus. Yet this Remoria exists within Rome itself: the senseless and chaotic suburbs that are connected to Rome by the anal symbol of the Grande Raccordo Anulare, which seems to mimic the circumference of a volcanic crater and form a solar disc on the ground. In this way, it would seem that the other world is always lying beneath the surface of this one, seemingly inseparable from this world. If Mattioli is to be believed, there are urban legends surrounding the Grande Raccordo Anulare that position it as some kind of magic seal, which if we take them for granted would perhaps literally make it an occult ideogram planted in Rome. This, the hidden structure of an arcane world is there, waiting to be unravelled by the solar will of a magician looking to unleash the darkness of the world.
Delving deeper into the Italian underground we start to explore what Mattioli figures as the sound of Remoria. This begins with Italian techno music, focusing on the album Muta, which was released by Leo Anibaldi in 1993. Muta seems to be unique among techno records in that techno as a genre seems to inaugurate a cybernetic age, but Muta does not, apparently sounding a little too much like old giallo soundtracks to have that feel. But then, from Mattioli’s description, Rome at this time was still hardly a cybernetic city; in fact, he claims that Rome was never even a punk city. By the turn of the 1970s and 80s, the most prevalent subculture among the young working class of Rome was goth subculture (which, incidentally, centres around a music genre that spun off from punk), which celebrated the night, the long sunless winters, and tanless flesh. This apparently has nothing to do with the old gothic novels frequently being set in Italy. More fitting the scene seems to be the disc of death celebrated by Coil on their album Scatology. But Leo Anibaldi’s work is also positioned in what Mattioli calls a “dark continuum”, which apparently begins with a band named Goblin.
Goblin was an Italian progressive rock band formed in 1972 by Claudio Simonetti, the same Claudio Simonetti who went on to compose soundtracks for several Italian horror movies. In fact, Goblin made music for numerous films directed by Dario Argento, including Suspiria,Deep Red, and Phenomena to name just a few. But, at the end of the 1970s, Claudio Simonetti became a disco producer and got involved in a number of disco bands. Local DJs around this time played alongside Simonetti before eventually moving on from Italo disco to house, and then new DJs would discover techno and develop a new “Sound of Rome”. Then, as the 1990s progressed and rave parties became the new scene, amidst the electronic decadence of drugs and esotericism emerged a rap group called TruceKlan, which brought Anibaldi’s brand of techno together with Satanism and the legacy of neorealism and giallo movies into their own distinct sound. Although they remained obscure everywhere else, they apparently had a major impact in Rome, and into the 2010s one of TruceKlan’s producers went on to create a trap collective called Dark Polo Gang. Thus is Mattioli’s dark continuum, running from the morbid legacy of giallo movies to a new kind of depressive dark trap music.
That dark continuum seems in itself to be an expression of Italian Southern Gothic, in that we behold a hidden world of decadence beneath the surface of the golden city, locked inside, per Visconti’s description, the inertia and salvation. Hell continues to lie inside the celestial vaults. Celebrations of anal sex and roundabouts around the GRA form a kind of modern Witches’ Sabbath. The myth of the Witches’ Sabbath resonates in the rave parties due to their character as an ecstatic, transgressive, and “illicit” counterculture, but also in a commitment to inverting their surroundings, revealing the symbol of the world turned upside down. Again we see an avenue for Satanism. For Stanislaw Przybyszewski, the myth of the Witches’ Sabbath corresponded to a ritual manifestation of a Satanic-Nietzschean transvaluation of values, an event whose orgies, dances, and sacrifices culminate in a dissolution of reality and/or the sensorium into an endless night in which Satan appears. This inversion sees flesh and its instincts triumph over law and the social order, desire exceeds itself by its fulfillment in communion with Satan, and sin itself, along with holiness, and all good and evil, dissolve into nothingness. Only joy and desire remain: wealth, God, morality, the pursuit of power, all of these are worthless before this raw revolt of flesh, and they melt before Satan’s inner world as revealed by the frenzy of the Witches’ Sabbath. In the case of the Italian underground, their frenzy, their artifical rhythms, synthetic drugs, samples, and autotune all reveal an inhuman, inorganic world, the image of a dead planet. For Italian Southern Gothic at large, in the work of Alan Lomax the frenzy of the songs and screams he recorded were a revelation of a spectral world seemingly populated by the living dead. But these all point to an axis that reveals disinhibition as a solarising act that unravels an arcane world, that is at once the ground of this world. It is as if ecstasy as a means of revelation, and yet that ecstasy is not the suffering of Teresa of Avila. No, for Satanism it is a joy and triumph that destroys all else.
Finally, we revist the legacy of giallo movies through one film in particular that Mattioli deems archetypical for the genre. Directed by Giulio Questi in 1972, Arcana is a film that depicts a widow named Ms. Tarantino and her son living in Milan, having moved there from the south, and practicing spiritualism and magic. Ms. Tarantino makes money by performing seances with the aid of her secret magical knowledge, while her son somehow forces her to teach him said magical arts so that he can use them to cause panic wherever he goes and however he pleases. At the background of the film seems to be an unresolved tension between a fully modern and industrial Milan on the one hand and a still very much occult south on the other hand. Questi apparently performs a cinematic whiteout to depict the south in overexposed but dark images to convey its constant presence in the past. But Milan contains its own darkness. Its underground construction sites almost seem home to ancient chthonic powers and irrationality, while conveying assemblies of men amputated in their work. Even though Arcana is a film that centers occult themes, for Mattioli it is fundamentally a realist movie, in that it also centres an emigration from southern Italy to the north that has been depopulating the south since World War II. Modern, “enlightened” Milan sits ensconsed in the comforts of Capital, while sinking its bowels into an underworld of construction sites and curses. That underworld is a negative of Milan itself, a kind of negative that every city contains witin itself, a double that pushes for the inversion of the city we know, and it which is thus a force of solarisation. From there Milan upends itself from within, as in the Covid-19 pandemic, for Mattioli, unravels the truth of the disk of death: that there is no consumption without waste, no nourishment without excrement, and that there is always an asshole somewhere. But another inversion took place: Milan, which previously saw continous emigration from the south, was abandoned by those some southerners seeking refuge in their motherlands, and became one big ghost town. Within Italy, that flight was portrayed as a betrayal by southerners of the city that welcomed them, but for Mattioli it was just the city consuming and then execrating a mass of labour, and thus having suceeded in its mission as the machinery of Capital.
From this final psychogeographic revelation we turn our heads to the sky once more, to see the Medierreanean sun burn and evaporate everything one last time, and behold Lucifer shining in the sky. The Canicola that conludes Mattoli’s essay tells us of a Sun that, from 150,000,000 kilometres above our planet’s surface, evaporates all shadows, and melts all knowledge, desertifies the earth, and whose fire is the very fire of hell itself. Mattioli in this sense portrays light and darkness as ultimately the same; hell lies and the celestial vaults, but hell is heaven and heaven is hell. Too much light actually means too much darkness rather than more illumination, and for this reason Lucifer, the light-bringer, is in truth a master of shadows. The connection between Lucifer, the spirit of the morning star himself, and the sun almost seems like an echo of Charles Leland’s Lucifer (or Lucifero), who was cast in Aradia as a sun god, similar to the Greek and Roman god Apollo. In any case the sun stands as the source of life, death, and the life of death, and the principle of delusions, abnormalities, and all abysses of the human psyche. Mattioli’s sun almost seems to take on the principles of the God of Christian negative theology, who is “dark” in the sense that God is “dark” precisely because he exists as a superabundance of light, which would naturally blind human consciousness. But, on the other hand, this sun might just as well be the “Father of Lies”, the Devil, on the same terms. Either way, it is the light of the sun overturning everything in a surreal field of vision, that surreality being nothing but creation, and new creation. By this understanding God would be one more magician, and Satan in this schema would just happen to reject God’s particular design.
Without reprising the entirety of my previous article on solarisation, we can summarize the primary takeaway. The exploration of Italian Southern Gothic (which I believe I would like to continue on its own in a future article) is a valuable illustration of a particular kind of gnostic katabasis and magical gesture, whereby one “descends” into hidden structures or membranes of the world so as to become fully aware of the world in a way that is only possible through its darkness. Yet it is solar inversion in particular that poses a problem for Gruppo Di Nun’s critique of Satanism, at least in the sense that I, within my previous article alone, am able to elaborate ways in which the discourse of solarisation aligns with and even enhances some conception of Satanism. Granted, much hinges on a matter of perspective. If, after all, what primarily matters is some sense of “abdication” to the other world, then Satanism at large would still not align with that. But if what counts is the illustration of blasphemy as a magical act, by which the will may make change occur through solar inversion, then it is actually somewhat easily to develop a Satanic understanding of what Mattioli means to convey. Satan is insurrection, Satan is the sun at the heart of the world, the primordial engine of overturning everything: The Adversary.
Masochism As Gnosis (The Fourth Nigredo)
Our fourth discussion of nigredo is revolves around the essay “The Highest Form of Gnosis”, written by Enrico Monacelli. This essay is Enrico Monacelli’s elaboration of masochism not only as a principle of inverted wisdom but the absolute fundamental principle of the overall philosophy put forward by Gruppo Di Nun as a whole. I believe it is here that again move closer and closer to the core of Gruppo Di Nun’s answer to life. “Solarisation”, in Gruppo Di Nun’s schema, would serve as the revelation of a world whose tongue invites its visitors to become vessels of its transmission. “Mater Dolorosa” in a certain sense prepares the centrality of masochism by positioning suffering as its own goal and the mechanism of revelation. Yet “Solarisation” and “Cultivating Darkness” present alchemical avenues that, as I have shown, can still lead to an alternative to masochistic mysticism. “The Highest Form of Gnosis”, in this sense, is different, in that its philosophical pessimism lacks these avenues of subversion, and hinges entirely on ontological masochism. What is also central to Monacelli’s essay and the masochistic ontology he presents is a dialogue around the fearful encounter of Julius Evola, one of the foremost philosophers of traditionalism and 20th century fascism, and Carlo Michelstaedter, arguably one of the most formidable philosophical pessimists of the 20th century. This dialogue serves as a way to dissect Evola’s system of esoteric fascism as a response to Michelstaedter’s philosopher, so as to contrast it with Monacelli’s philosophy of masochism, with the aim of presenting this masochism as the diametric opposite of esoteric fascism and the ultimate means of breaking the spiral of fascism. Such a discourse cuts right into Gruppo Di Nun’s particular strategy of inversion, reflected in the namesake being a subversion of Julius Evola’s Gruppo Di Ur, and therefore allows us to cut deeper into its conceits.
We can, to start with, skip the first seven pages of Monacelli’s essay insofar as they largely recapitulate the psychogeographical exploration carried out by Valerio Mattioli in the previous essay. Instead, I think it is more pertinent to move straight on to his discussion of masochism. And even there, it is difficult to see if anything valuable could be said of Mattioli’s conceptual denunciations of “healthy sex”, “the abandonment of fetish”, and “the BDSM romantic comedy we find ourselves trapped in”. Monacelli appears to think that modern sexuality consists only of a one bivalent form of sexual deviancy consisting of the servant-master dialectic. I would posit that this is only his own unfamiliarity. He quotes Gilles Deleuze to support this idea and apparently Deleuze thought the very term “sadomasochism” was a construction of psychoanalysis meant to convince us that there is only one form of sexual deviancy. Well, notwithstanding that I might consider some aspect of Monacelli’s writing here to constitute psychoanalysis in itself, and to some extent the core philosophy of Gruppo Di Nun as a kind of psychoanalytical application, if Deleuze says this then I would maintain that Deleuze is also wrong. Everyone even vaguely familiar with fetishes or pornography knows what kind of fetishes exist which exceed this familiar field, and it is almost safe to assume that no one actually believes that there is just one form of sexual deviance. What exactly is the “servant-master” dialectic of the fecalphiliac, for instance? The assumption of bivalence in regards to fetish or kink is in many ways inherently flawed, and one would think that that a system billing itself as queer occultism should be innately familiar with that. I don’t find it entirely productive to dwell on this subject too long. In the end, Monacelli’s discussion of feitsh is a protracted appeal to taste, and perhaps it’s safe to assume Monacelli just isn’t into BDSM. But what he believes to be a comedy is its own ritual, a ritual that some of us enjoy and live by. In Kulesko’s terms, as long as we’re all just making our own meaning from the black magma of the cosmos, what does it matter what “comedy” by which people fornicate with each other? Kink and taste are what they are, so what matters is the philosophical substance Monacelli intends to propose.
That being said, I suppose we can comment on Monacelli’s discussion of sadism. Monacelli interprets sadism as an annihilating desire to be God’s right hand man, and echoes Deleuze’s opinion that the apogee of sadism is, rather than Marquis De Sade, none other than the philosopher Baruch Spinoza. This perhaps comes solely down to the perception of Spinoza’s philosophy as mechanistic, and sadism as a mechanistic desire. Not really much to work with in this sense, though Deleuze claims this is all to do with sadism supposedly impersonalizing violence with the support of an idea of pure reason. This almost feels like the way Vladimir Lenin and his successors define imperialism into something distinct from imperialism. Deleuze’s “sadism” could as well describe all conventional violence or political violence, which typically de-personalize or even deny violence, justifying it by turning it into reason, whereas sadism simply isn’t sadism without the derivation of pleasure. Indeed, even the most extreme and systematic forms of fascism are justified not by sadistic pleasure but by depersonalization as the hand of fascistic reason. But Monacelli in any case derives from this the idea of sadism as “separative wisdom”, meaning that it divides and lacerates the unity of the world, but for Monacelli it also cuts against and dissolves the self. His description of sadism sort of strikes a chord with Stirner’s concept of devourment, but that’s what makes it all the stranger that he should read it as “self-dissolution”. It seems obvious that, since the masochistic death drive is, in Gruppo Di Nun’s analysis, the centre of all cosmic life, all behaviour must be mapped onto self-dissolution or the desire to surrender. I will say that one can take up a form of self-dissolution as dissolving into apotheosis in the sense that Kulesko’s Dracula, and in turn Hellsing‘s Alucard, embody, it also seems like it’s also, ironically enough, just what Kulesko was counselling us against: to isolate a single desire or aspect of being as the fundamental principle of the universe. That may just be the inherent self-made contradiction for Gruppo Di Nun’s core ethos.
With that, we can move on to the “perverse mysticism” of masochism. Whereas sadism is “separative wisdom”, masochism could be understood as “regressive wisdom”. Masochism, for Monacelli, means to recall our point of origin and enjoy descent and immersion in the terror of infinite night. But already, from the starting point of the masochist as the faithful receiver of the massacre of the cosmos, back through Monacelli’s definition of sadism, it almost seems that, despite the denunciation of the servant-master dialectic in BDSM, Monacelli positions us as part of the one servant-master dialectic that he can accept. If sadism is the amplified wisdom of separation that lacerates the body and the cosmos, and the universe itself is a Landian machine of laceration, then it feels amusing to think that we might be asked to accept a God that separates and to reject any separative wisdom that might be our own. It almost comes back to the idea that God can distort, create, and destroy but we humans cannot. Our place is not to imitate God, only to be constantly solarised, confused, perverted, and destroyed by God. The opposite perspective is the path of Satan, of Lucifer, or Sophia.
It’s worth briefly focusing on what Deleuze tells us about Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s Galician Tales. In the beginning of the book, a wanderer condemns Nature as evil, and Nature responds to the wanderer that she does not hate humans, even when she deals death, but is simply cold, severe, and maternal. Deleuze proposes this as a steppe that buries sensuality and sadism and also transmutes desire and cruelty. From another perspective, though, the coldness of Nature is an idea shared by De Sade. For De Sade, Nature is a whole matrix of generation whose basic process depends on destruction and recombination. Death and destruction are the basis of Nature’s ability to create, things die so that Nature can bring new things into being, and matter is continually re-arranged by Nature as it dies. It makes no difference to Nature if a human being were to reincarnate as a centipede. This idea appears frequently in De Sade’s work, often as a device for characters to justify the tortures they inflict. But in this sense, both the sadistic worldview of De Sade and the masochistic worldview of Masoch as an almost cruelly impersonal and necessarily destructive basis for life. The difference is that De Sade’s sadist views themselves as following in Nature’s example, deriving solely from Nature’s power and “law” while perhaps imitating its destructive creativity in their exercise of imagination, per Geoffrey Gorer’s description modifying the external world for the pleasure of doing so, while Masoch’s masochist seems to surrender to this Nature, and this Nature, rather than furnishing the desires of the individual, seems to subsume and change them. Monacelli seems to embrace Masoch’s idea on the basis that it sketches a descent into what he sees as the “geo-traumatic core of sexuality”. It seems here that we have returned to Laura Tripaldi’s ideas about the wound of creation, and by extension to Ferenczi’s psychoanalytical theories.
Perhaps enlighteningly, we see Monacelli’s discussion of masochism venture into Christianity. In fact, he seems to regard masochism as the basis and fulfilment of Christian mysticism and theology. It seems to me like this says something about the nature of Gruppo Di Nun’s masochistic outlook. Monacelli here invokes the example of Henry Suso, a German Dominican friar who our author considers to be among the most misunderstood pioneers of mysticism. Suso apparently tortured himself and built instruments of torture for the purpose of understanding the self-torture of God, thus, in this exact sense, almost “imitating” Jesus Christ. Suso’s dialogue with “Eternal Wisdom” seems to show God revealing transcendence as a humiliating immanence that empties desire and everything else. In this exact sense, mysticism for Monacelli means going down into what he takes to be Love, a kind of primordial trauma at the basis of sexuality. Thus, Monacelli’s masochism is a sexuality that abolishes humanity and turns the mystic into a voice for an omniscient, ineffable, unmanifest, and unnameable God, which is thus Monacelli’s representation of the Outside.
It is here that we revisit the problem and contradiction of Gruppo Di Nun’s rejection of Satanism. Gruppo Di Nun interprets the entirety of modern Satanism as a reinterpretation of the “principles of the Right Hand Path”, accuses Satanism of being structurally identical to the religions that it opposes, and asserts that Satanism reproduces Christianity by way of inverting it. But, just like in the case of Laura Tripaldi, we see Enrico Monacelli quite literally reproduce Christianity, quite literally basing his philosophy of masochism on Christian mysticism, literally identifying Gruppo Di Nun’s Outside with the Christian God. Admittedly a most fascinating, if misguided subversion: here, if Satanism is somehow “the Right Hand Path”, then per their terms the “Left Hand Path” at least looks an awful lot like Christianity. In fact one might reckon the notion of cosmic love at the centre of things as a reflection of Christianity. There is certainly a notion of disintegrating love that both Monacelli and Tripaldi trace directly to Christian mysticism. Is it on the back of this substance that Gruppo Di Nun rejects Satanism? In this sense their rejection of Satanism emerges as all the more hypocritical, incoherent, and actually quite farcical. Yet it also seems to echo the old divide of philosophical pessimism: that of Schopenhauer versus Nietzsche. In this sense one cannot help but sense the fulfilment of masochism in Christian mysticism as the consummation of the Nietzschean critique of Christianity, the full circle of the denial of life often typified as the Schopenhauerian response to life.
But from here we move on to the subject of a “terrible Italian affliction”, by which Monacelli means the suicidal gnosis of Carlo Michelstaedter, the illumination of what Monacelli observes as the anti-social pleasure and revelation of suicidal descent. Michelstaedter’s thesis, Persuasion and Rhetoric, is regarded by Gruppo Di Nun as a precursor of the philosophy of entropic cosmic love that they outline at the start of Revolutionary Demonology, which would make it rather central to their core project. Michelstaedter outlined what was, in his view, a radically indifferent universe that consists of a primordial hyperentropic hunger of a will whose end is annihilation. After writing Persuasion and Rhetoric, Michelstaedter committed suicide: an act that some people believe to be the practical culmination of his philosophy. It seems that none other than Julius Evola also almost committed suicide after reading Persuasion and Rhetoric. Apparently it was only by reading a fragment of the Majjhima Nikaya, one of the five Nikaya texts within the canon of Theravada Buddhism, did Evola become persuaded to not kill himself. And then, against annihilating cosmos of Michelstaedter, Evola proposed a fascist metaphysics that he called “Magical Idealism”. Monacelli contrasts this with Michelstaedter’s answer to life, which Monacelli supposes to be an openness to “inorganic desire”, even if means total surrender to the laws of cosmic massacre. Such illustrates the core dichotomy of Gruppo Di Nun’s worldview: the split is between the “Right Hand Path”, defined by idealistic self-fortification of a consciousness trained to rule the world, and the “Left Hand Path”, defined as a mysticism that strives to unveil the true and hideous nature of the world in order to surrender to it. That last part is more operative than anything. Other iterations of the Left Hand Path also share with Gruppo Di Nun the aim of destroying the veil of reality so as to unleash its true nature, in all its darkness, and break down the barriers to your own agency and self-awareness, and, yes, derive power from it. I suppose I could be describing what Monacelli calls “sadistic” worldview. Such a worldview can, as I have hopefully shown thus far (especially in the previous article), draw a perverse sense of strength from many aspects Gruppo Di Nun’s entropic philosophy. But in the overall Gruppo Di Nun’s response is not the “sadistic” response, and is in fact the “masochistic” response, one that ironically actually hues closer to what is traditionally understand as the “Right Hand Path”. Again, the example of Marxism-Leninism and its definition of imperialism versus any other practical definition of the term springs to mind for a suitable analogy to what I see.
The duality of Michelstaedter’s pessimism and Julius Evloa’s esoteric fascist response to it seems to get more attention in Amy Ireland’s afterword at the end of the book, so I think we can brief turn to it. To hear Ireland tell it, Michelstaedter proposed a universe in which it was impossible for individuals to access things like eternity which might bring themselves into coincidence with themselves, thereby attaining what Michelstaedter called “persuasion”, because that would mean an absence of lack that is impossible to attain. For Michelstaedter, only death allows being to experience itself fully, but death also extinguishes being: thus, the entirety of human existence is a tortuous paradox. Evola’s response involved the reinterpretation of Michelstaedter’s philosophy into an extreme theory of the self-sufficiency of being, in which persuasion and direct access to the absolute were both attainable for specific individuals (“spiritually strong” and “Aryan” men) through a certain form of occult training that he devised. Evola’s dichotomy was between “spontaneity” and “domination”, which he coded in terms of gender and sexual and racial determinism, which seems ironic for his rhetoric of “freedom” and “the absolute individual” until you remember that Evola defined “freedom” as “domination” – that is to say, the domination of an elite clique of “Aryan” men. There can be few more abject forms of false hope than this. But is that not coloured by a broader idea that you must first accept yourself as part of an order of the universe, in that it is only within this order that, for select individuals who have the “correct” place (biological, racial, sexual, gendered etc.) within it, allows them to secure their ordained place as rulers of the world. True, Evola’s philosophy at every turn aims for the fascistic transcendence of – or perhaps rather escape from – matter, but if we take seriously the idea of “self-deification” as a function of a Hermetic order, that order is already surely latent even in the material world. Evola may had denied the existence of God, but his throughline, taken through Gruppo Di Nun’s understanding, gives us the picture that people can only “overcome matter” because “God” or some stand-in for him allows it, as the secret ruler of everything. Thus, in practice, the dichotomy between the acceptance and control of reality is a false one within the purview of esoteric fascism, whose adherents are all too happy to insist on their image of objective truth being accepted as reality, often by force. And in the end, it seems like a fundamentally mediocre alternative to the contradiction presented by Michelstaedter, or rather to the masochistic acceptance presented by Monacelli.
But, as much as there is to talk about the matter of Evola, we are not finished with Monacelli’s exploration of masochism. Returning to the essay at hand, we now get something of a curveball. Because in Monacelli’s words, “we need to impale God himself”. Having just established God as the Outside for which the masochist is a kind fo ecstatic, suffering transmitter into the world, this seems puzzling. But we are introduced to Andrea Emo, a reclusive Italian philosopher apparently known for a uniquely pessimistic take on the Hegelian dialectic. Emo’s God is the unstoppable abolition of everything, a hidden war latent within time that ceaselessly and meaninglessly destroys everything that is, and which will eventually destroy itself. Emo’s maxim was that God consists in his own annihilation. Now this would be the point where Monacelli at least appears to extend his masochism beyond Christianity. Before getting ahead of ourselves we can look at Emo’s adherence to what was called “actualism”, which was incidentally also the same form of Hegelianism advocated by Giovanni Gentile. Actualism can be summarized as a philosophy that interprets the Hegelian dialectic as centering a perpetual action that always moves away from its inner potential towards its outer consumption. For Giovanni Gentile, this meant that everything is like a fire, in that everything exists because it burns and exists to be combust. For Andrea Emo, though, everything is already being consumed, and everything in the universe is its own massacre, every chain of being sheds blood until the whole universe is nothing but blackness. For Gentile, the dialectical act is the foundation and constitution of everything. For Emo, it actually demostrates that there is no foundation or constitution to anything, and that everything is progressing in a straight line towards the “final attractor”. In this philosophy, the crucifixion of Jesus is itself God crucifying himself just to show humanity the way to its self-consumption. And of course, for Emo, the only legitimate knowledge consists of masochistic regression, of a “return to the Heart of Darkness”, abandoning everything and going back before creation: salvation consists, in a word, in memory.
The metaphor of Heraclitus is interesting to play with. Monacelli describes Emo’s actualism as the expression of an all-consuming war. For both Emo and Monacelli it would almost seem to be a one-sided battle if that’s the case, to the point that it seems to be misleading. It’s not a war if it’s a massacre. The metaphor of war is ultimately obscured and subsumed into the metaphor of the massacre. But the Heraclitean metaphor could as well be turned towards the dialectic as the conatus described by Bronze Age Collapse in “Lifting the Absolute”. In the all-consuming war, everything is burned, cut, recombined, remade in the alchemical conatus of struggle. But more important is the metaphor of crucifixion, because it is here that we realize that even God’s “impalement” in this scheme can be seen as a consummation of Christianity in almost theothanatological terms. At base, Christianity asserts that there is one God, and that he incarnated himself as a man who would suffer and die in agony (only to be resurrected) so that humans could access the “salvation” offered by God through his “love”. Here, the message is our self-consumption and that we are all pacing in a straight line towards the final attraction of dissolution, and God allows himself to suffer before us so that we can see it. It is ultimately in many ways a reproduction of Christian philosophy, with the possible difference being that God himself dies at the end of the dialectic, as the final sacrifice of his own ceaseless violence. One can can think of it as a kind of Hegelian Christian theothanatology, except that God isn’t dead…not yet. Christianity is in this sense maintained, albeit “accelerated”.
Lastly, Monacelli introduces us to one more major influence on Gruppo Di Nun’s masochistic philosophy: an Italian novelist named Guido Morselli. Particularly important among Morselli’s novels is Dissipatio H. G. (“The Vanishing”), which is about a man who, after attempting and failing to end his own life in a cave, discovers that he somehow survived the extinction of the human species, and now finds himself in a world without human beings. It is not irrelevant to note that, in 1973, Morselli himself committed suicide, apparently motivated by his book being rejected by Italian publishers. Through Morselli, Monacelli outlines Gruppo Di Nun’s masochism as centered around a vision of the world without humans as the emptying out of everything human. Dissipatio H. G. is taken as presenting a world which, in the absence of humans, an oddly serene and certainly inhuman emptiness. Morselli, in presenting this extinction, apparently relishes in the demise of his own species. Through his protagonist he seems to seize every opportunity to deride humanity and mock all human hopes and dreams. Thus, Monacelli portrays Morselli as the saint of omnicidal visions, misanthropic joy, and extinction. The masochism that Monacelli advocates hinges on the desire to capture that feeling, a particular kind of ecstasy and emptiness that they associate with extinction, but without actually passing through the gates of suicide. The gnosis that Monacelli attributes to Morselli is established as a guiding inspiration for Gruppo Di Nun, alongisde a religious love for the laws of thermodynamics, and so the point for them is the pleasure of living without your humanity and infinite reflection on dissolution. That is what going beyond the human means in the context of this philosophy, and thus it colours their perception of the demonic.
It would seem here that masochistic mysticism, based on Christianity, cultimates in the desire to see the extinction of humanity, yet inevitably even the gnosis of suicide must be felt in the absence of actual suicide. Such a masochism would turn life back against itself, a thought that makes little sense without reflecting on the morality of humanity at the height of civilizational modernity, and its current crash course. The Christian-Schopenhauerian spiral is complete, reaching its natural conclusion, and it calls for the denial of everything else. The totality and exclusivity of masochism is the consummation of the Gospel, which seems to ingeniously wear the flesh of the demonic as its disguise, like a reversal of the trope of the sheep in wolf’s clothing. True, the visions that Monacelli’s masochism offers would never be offered by much of Christianity, though really that’s just much of exoteric Christianity, but even the hellish nightmares seem to be the relevations of a reinterpretation of a Christian God in a reinterpretation of Christian mysticism. Perhaps Monacelli means for this to be the extinction that we are to consider in Mandy, which is curious because it’s just not what one gets from the Unmensch of Stirner’s egoism: as if the Unique would possibly abolish itself just to be one with the God that it had just destroyed in the pyres of the black flame. But there of course remains the question of Satanism and inversion, because as it still stands we are looking at extinctionism as the consummation of Christianity, which is thus posed as an alternative to the Right Hand Path. Entirely distinct from Hermeticism it may be, but a break from Christianity it most decidely is not.
But there is one last question, one that may offer some fascinating horizons, but for which I have no answer. It is in fact the question that Monacelli asks towards the end of his essay: can the homicidal dream have a different purpose? It is of course wedded to the question of how to mystically experience human extinction without giving up your own life, but I find that it has other ramifications as well, and perhaps even a faint possibility of Satanic perversion even here. My suspicion is that it goes back to Monacelli’s definition of sadism as “separative wisdom”, almost certainly for the philosophy of kink and fetish, or at least certain parts thereof. Perhaps one may even see in this a gnosis of Cain, as much as a Gnosis of Sophia, Satan, Lucifer, Odin, a broad Gnosis that, no doubt is distinct from that of Tiamat, the Mother Goddess of Sorrows, or for that matter the Christian God. Ironically enough, perhaps a passage from the Bible is a fitting enough closure for this section, if only that it might be a spark for the future. For the Book of John said of Satan, “he was a murderer from the beginning”. But in the Bible you almost never see Satan kill anyone, certainly not in “the beginning”. So who did Satan kill in the beginning?
Via Negativa (The Fifth Nigredo)
Our fifth and last discussion of nigredo consists of the essay “Catholic Dark”, written by Claudi Kulesko. This essay appears to be a discussion of asceticism and apophatic mysticism and theology in the context of xenophilia and Gruppo Di Nun’s discussion of the “great attractor”. Here, again, we seem to cross through the context of Christian mysticism as conditioning the overall core of Gruppo Di Nun’s philosophy, but in a way that serves to communicate a sense of “lightness” that perhaps presents fairly interesting implications about nothingness, or rather darkness, and some will to darkness, though one still has to content with the Christianity.
Kulesko begins with a digression, a story about a woman in medieval Flanders named Christina: known to Catholics as Saint Christina the Astonishing. When she was just 21 years old, Christina had apparently “died” after suffering a seizure, But then, as her funeral rites were being observed, she suddenly opened her eyes and then rose up to the beams supporting the roof of the local church, or so her legend goes. In any case, she went on to live a long life before dying of old age in 1224. But her “resurrection” is what interests Kulesko. Christina “dies”, then in her resurrection she tells everyone the story of her journey from Hell, through Purgatory, and to Heaven, meeting God himself and being allowed to return to her life in order atone for the sins of the souls stuck in Purgatory. But Kulesko sees something morbid in it as well. He asks, what if Christina was just a rotting body infested with demons, or one of the living dead? Kulesko says that she apparently started to seem more disgusted with humans, and increasingly inhuman herself. She spends hours on end in solitude, climbing everywhere, supposedly she even soared in the air, and when her parents chained her up to keep her home, she somehow broke those chains. On top of all that she supposedly couldn’t burn, drown, or be hurt in any way. Locals started calling her “wild”, “savage”, or “crazy”, and subsequently abused her, forcing her to flee to a city where criminals take pity on her and show her kindness.
Where exactly is this all going? Perhaps it is that the life of Christina – or perhaps, the life she lived after her life – portrays the anti-gravity of a great attractor. Kulesko figures her body as being inhabited by an “alien” presence, that presence being the Outside. For Kulesko she is nothing but an appendage of this power, a link to a paradise that Kulesko interprets as absolute night (where for Christina herself it was otherwise probably just the Christian Heaven, harps and all), for whom the world of the living and of humans is a Hell. I can sense a faint Gnostic throughline here in that the longing for death seems inseparable from the longing to return to God as the divine origin of everything, and the separation felt in the physical world populated by humans feels like a curse. That is how it must be for Christina, since she longed constantly for the return to death, and on the day of her second death she apparently yelled at a nun “Why are you disturbing me, why are you forcing me to come back?”. But then what are we looking at from this standpoint: God as the great attractor?
Next we turn to the example of Simeon Stylites, a Christian ascetic who lived in Syria during the 5th century. In his youth, Simeon was apparently so intense in his asceticism, and his uncompromising practice of austerities caught on so rapidly, that he was expelled from a local monastery who thought his practices were excessive and dangerous to their followers. Then he decided to go and take up a space for himself to continue his austerities, and a few years later he decided to climb up a pillar and install a platform at the top, sitting four meters above the ground, where he could only be accessed by the public through a nearby ladder. Over the years, he ascended to ever taller pillars, placing himself ever higher and ever farther away from the masses who pestered him so. By the time he died, Simeon sat as high as 15 meters above the ground. Kulesko suggests that in this activity Simeon broke with all the trends of ancient Christianity – the Church Fathers, the Christian Cynics, and even the Desert Fathers – while producing a completely new discipline. In the process, Simeon seemingly makes use of the tools of this world in order to progressively abandon it, discarding the tools themselves as he goes and makes his ascent. The pillar itself can almost be seen as akin to a leader to heaven, whereby the ascetic moves closer and closer to God, and further away from the desires of the world. For Kulesko this then connects to the very structure of the cathedral itself, in that its spires are the remnants of an ascetic ideology of progressive elevation.
We arrive at gravity, and it’s opposition to the lightness of the mystic. We should note that, from the standpoint of Christian asceticism, “gravity” would mean the weight of the world and its temptations, perhaps arguably even matter itself from a certain point of view, while “lightness” is the condition of having emptied oneself for God. In any case, Kulesko directs us to the example of Joseph of Cupertino, an Italian Franciscan friar and saint known for supposedly having levitated above the ground. Kulesko interprets the story of Joseph of Cupertino as an illustration of the horizon of “gravity”, whose only favourable end is death. Until death, light spirits must keep their feet on the ground. This is compared to a scenario where a hot air balloon, in this instance capable of rising indefinitely, and its crew, increasingly and understandably anxious as the air thins and becomes less visible, refuses to continue the journey. The verticality of the cathedral seems to be its own symbolic institution, which then gave way to horizontality and in turn to monasticism and hermitude, with their perceived autonomy and silence.
Where is this all going, besides perhaps to the surface of the moon? The answer, it seems, is solitude. The worldly and vertical church strives to destroy or recuperate the horizontal, which thus causes the anchorites or stylites of the age to flee to whatever precipice they can find for themselves, that they might rise above the monastery and the cathedral. In so doing, they might claim a path towards a sort of original place and from there an unlimited altitude. To paraphrase a passage of one Arthur Schopenhauer’s manuscripts, one who takes the high mountain road must leave everything behind in making their path through the snow, cling themselves to the rocks with as much strength as they can muster, and then in so doing they might see the whole world beneath them, without being disturbed by anything. Thus the stylite severs themselves from all humanity and all worldly stimuli in order for the soul to reach the ultimate altitudes of an inner highness.
I believe that there are familiar themes that converge on this point. For one thing, the theme of the abandonment of humanity is obviously striking, and also conveys itself as if directly continued from Enrico Monacelli’s “The Highest Form of Gnosis”. There seems to me to be some sort of connection to the theme of self-emptying that Monacelli talks about, including the empyting of humanity, and in this case it’s reflected in ascetic severance. On the other hand, it also seems to play out as another application of what Kulesko talked about in “Cultivating Darkness”: that process of bracketing out everything, so as to unlock new configurations, or, in this case, the highest altitude of the soul. I almost think that the stylite striving toward the supreme altitude is meant to echo Bronze Age Collapse’s concept of “tendency towards the absolute”. Of course, it’s worth noting that the asceticism we are talking about is still Christian asceticism and Christian mysticism, not the pagan physical culture of the Hellenes. But, perhaps there is an inescapable familiarity to it, as though supreme altitude is comparable to the absolute being tended towards. Perhaps even the lightness of the ascetic may be the closest that the Chrisitan gets to the deathlessness of the gods that they despise as demons. But it comes from a bracketing out that is at once the denial of the world around them and their own desires, whereas the alchemical conatus of steel and flesh always happens within it, and the mountain path is that of a soul struggling towards God, whereas our conatus pushes towards the overcoming of God.
In any case, we turn from the mountain path to the mountain itself. The Italian poet Francesco Petrarca, a.k.a. Petrarch, wrote in his (possibly fictitious) Ascent of Monte Ventoux about his shame for the selfish passion of climbing, and his reckoning with the real eschatological status of mountain-climbing. In this setting, the mountain itself is a continuation of the body of the Church, as the precipice which, just like a cathedral spire, elevates itself towards heaven. In some pre-Christian religious traditions, it was more like the mountain was its own deity in an animistic sense, though in traditions such as Greek and Canaanite polytheism there were mountains (namely Olympus and Sapon respectively) that can be seen as elevated precipices towards the divine realm. But what Kulesko focuses on is the oppressive weight of gravity in places such as Aokigahara, the infamous “Suicide Forest” located at the northwestern flank of Mount Fuji in Japan, where if you go down through the lower valley you will find a force at the centre of earth that seems to confine spirit, to the point that not even in the suicides can the soul rise to the sky. That weight seems to be a gravitational attractor, but it also seems like something meant to be escaped. Or at least, there is this tendency towards escape, one that makes the ascetic fundamentally vertical and anti-terrestrial, fundamentally alien. Their desire for constant vertical surpassing meant to be understood here as based on a desire for lightness, which is thus to be understood as a negative will, in the sense that the soul must sever and bracket everything keeping it attached to the earth. Yet again. it’s hard to escape the presence of a throughline more or less aligned with conventional Gnosticism (which, to be fair, historically consisted of heterodox sects of Christian mysticism), for whom the entire material cosmos was literally a prison from which the soul must escape in order to be reunited with God. But from there we turn our attention towards a different, “alien” attractor.
Between 1578 and 1579, the Spanish Catholic mystic Juan de Yepes Alvarez (a.k.a. John of the Cross) wrote a treatise called Ascent of Mount Carmel, which outlined what he believed to be a progression towards the summits of “the Highness” and the “luminous darkness” that awaits. In this system, perfection leads upward in a narrow path, requiring that every “burden” associated with “lower thing” must be denied. Indeed, God in the Carmelite scheme seems to demand nothing less than “spiritual death” in all things. God, being completely incomprehensible and inaccessible as per the tradition of negative/apophatic theology, needs the will to centre its activity precisely on the incomprohensible and inaccessible rather than what it can sense. Within this purview of negative theology, one extinguishes every divine attribute, and in this case brackets the principle of the intellectual soul. It also seems to amount to an individual and cosmic process of unlearning, in which one frees oneself not only from a lifetime of social conditioning but also from billions of years of gravitation in matter. Here, I suppose, is where we are able to see Christian negation ultimately turning against Christianity, as part of the dominant complex of social conditioning that must be negated. The ultimate point of this negation is to manifest the most volatile concept of all: nothingness. That is how Christian mystical theology understands God. From another perspective, though, it is larger than God. In any case, for Kulesko, nothingness is all that remains when everything has been negated, and there is nothing lighter than nothingness. Even so, however, the Christian notion of mystical ascension being discussed doesn’t end in nothingness, even though we have just established that the apophatic God is nothingness.
The emptying that both Monacelli and Kulesko talk about, and what is referred to in Christian mysticism and theology as “kenosis”, is the culmination of a process whereby God becomes more alien as he loses all the attrbites afforded by humans while the human loses everything that makes them human, and both become more intangible and abstract in the process of negation. There is something that connects them, and it is lightness. Because lightness doesn’t want for anything, except nothingness and the annihilation of all distinction between God and his creation. In Christian terms, this means the surrender of everything to the love of dissolution through which God loses his creatures and all creatures lose God, the abjuration of free will, wisdom, and all faculty to rapture and endless ascent. Here I think, I get the feeling I remember being told that the idea that the Christian God opposed free will was some mere paranoia, the prejudice of some Reddit-brained “edgy new atheist” in modern internet parlance. Yet that appears to be exactly what is spelled out, not merely in the exoteric form of Christianity that the masses are supposed to just consume, but in the core of Christian mysticism itself. Right at the core of Christianity is a belief system built around one God whose one desire, more than anything, is for humanity, and all life, to surrender itself completely to him – and, perhaps, to be destroyed by him. And the Christian, at the most core sense, strives to be raised up by God, even if they take up Meister Eckart’s maxim “Therefore let us to pray to God that we may be free of God”, to never return to the earth and forever be united and identical with God. To return, in this setting, would “weigh down the soul”.
Return and non-return possess their own significance for Kulesko. Desire itself, by way of etymology, in his interpretation signifies a kind of cosmic nostalgia. The “mysticism of return” seems to involve bracketing out the world, knowledge, individual consciousness, but always with the prospect of removing those brackets to regain them. The mystic is sated by having been changed irrevocably even in their return, their heart made full with even a small taste of the stars. The “mysticism of non-return”, by contrast, offers no satisfaction, no confirmation, only an endless continuity of rapture and ascent. If the mystic is a channel through which the boundless night signals into the world, then perhaps we might interpret “return” as the ability to fill yourself with the night, retain part of it in yourself, and by this bring it into the world, while “non-return” would be to simply disappear into the night forever. But “non-return” entails more. “Non-return”, for Kulesko, entails a process of the soul being completely stripped of the body and the casuality of nature, guided away from the world by an alien attractor. The “non-returning” mystic seems again like a Gnostic pneuma, a piece of God’s spirit longing to return to God, longing to break from the weight of the hylic realm that was set in motion by Sophia’s transgression. Though it is perhaps here that we may arrive at the sense all of this is simply setting up the logic for a very specific kind of attraction.
Our final exploration dwells on the subject of xenophilia: that is, the attraction to or love of the foreign, or in this case the “alien”. The xenos at the centre of Kulesko’s concept of xenophilia does not denote something merely foreign, but rather something “wholly other”. The supreme xenos in this sense is silence, that is to say the deafening silence and extrahuman indifference of the universe. Here perhaps we may note that, no matter how apophatic, Christianity still predicates itself on the belief that God loves us, so perhaps we are looking at something quite different: after all, how exactly can God love us while also being indifferent to humanity, and how can the Christian God be so radically indifferent without invalidating the core premise of Christian salvific love? In this sense cosmic xenophilia would appear fundamentally one-sided: the universe cannot possibly love us, but we can love the universe, more than it will ever love us. One wonders, what is the point?
In any case, Kulesko takes cosmic silence to be at the root of Christina the Astonishing’s nostalgia and for the universe to be but a tomb, and part of the fabric of Rudolf Otto’s concept of the mysterium tremendum and the mysterium fascinans, the latter of which is the magnetism of cosmic silence. The “mysticism of non-return”, with its dizzying ascent, fills the mystic with xenophilia. But there is still the locus of the body, in that xenophilia is to begin in the flesh. There’s also a locus in all the distinct forms of the natural world, all manifestations of a kind of “positive nothingness”. In all things, the divine exists as an “imprint”, which is to say an innate faculty of ascension of anti-gravity. I think this may be another strange double: from the standpoint of Christian mysticism, this is the innate love of God thereby tending towards God, but from an alternative, creatively Pagan standpoint drawn from Bronze Age Collapse, it is not God’s love but instead the primordial tension towards the absolute. These two avenues, from what we have shown, bear out different conclusions. But in either case, the imprint is to be seen as a faculty of emancipation, which appears to be connected to the quality of nothingness. Vanity, that lightness of things, reveals infinite horizons at the height of the eternal. If there is no limit to form, there is no limit to matter, and, in the words of Jean Buridan, different worlds can be created by divine power.
From there we arrive at quite the curveball, wherein the apophatic quality of the divine is a nihility by which one accesses none other than apotheosis itself! At the highest altitude, which approaches eternity, flesh changes and becomes mineral, energetic, or atmospheric, objects made of unknown materials and possessing inscrutable characteristics and functions come into existence, and the organism becomes all the more alien and disharmonious, more deformed and inaccessible. That, for Kulesko, is the very image of God, in that it repudiates all worldly attributes on behalf of the darkness of the unknown, at which point one attains “maximum propulsion”. The soul has become godlike, having either surpassed or abandoned everything. For Kulesko this means entering the heart of the divine, which means merging oneself with the xenos, the Outside, the wholly Other. This in turn means entering into a place without beginning or end, here or now, one or many, before or after. It is anti-gravity triumphant, and it is eternity. It is also interpreted in terms of xenophilia, that sense of oneness being its apogee and consummation. But, this xenophilia is both unconditional and unsatisfiable, and so it has no goals and no foundation, leads nowhere, and progresses only as a ceaseless plummet to silence.
With the conclusion of “Catholic Dark” I at this point think it is worth very carefully considering the role of Christianity in all this as seemingly multiple contours from the rest of Revolutionary Demonology converge. On the one hand, much of this essay is focused on an explication of Christian mysticism and theology in relation to asceticism, and there’s throughline that feels similar to the essays “Mater Dolorosa” and “The Hightest Form of Gnosis” in that appears to employ Christianity or aspects of Christianity as part of its own distinct framework, which of course undermines Gruppo Di Nun’s broader rejection of Satanism. On the other hand, the culmination of Kulesko’s discussion of nothingness in apophatic theology appears to lead into places more or less consistent with Kulesko’s broad body of work within Revolutionary Demonology but which are unfamiliar to Christianity, such as in the horizons of the apotheosis of the soul. I would also say that the basic model of progressive elevation, forgetting that it is a model drawn from Christian asceticism, strikes me as one of the clearest illustrations of an actually centrifugal motion. That may sound strange in view of the example of Christina’s nostalgia, but one is not “returning to the void”, in fact the point is to go up to eternity and not return at all. Instead, from the starting point of the earth, one ascends the mountain path to move further and further away from the earth, from any notion of the centre, towards the endless horizon of transfiguration and, to go against Christian terms, apotheosis. And as much as self-deification is meant to be opposed by Gruppo Di Nun, apotheosis of some sort is what we’re looking at. Of course, we absolutely cannot ignore that everything being discussed about Christian asceticism comes from the Christian standpoint that the world is fundamentally plagued by evil, latent with the taint of Adam and Eve’s original transgression, and it is for this reason that the ascetic strives to “lighten himself”, climb pillars, or in any way detach themselves from the world.
Yet, for everything I have said about this discussion of Christian theology and mysticism, perhaps there is another way to look at it. The horizon of nihility is consistent with the darkness that Kulesko talked about in “Cultivating Darkness”. So what if we were to take the presentation of Christian negative theology as containing a different potentiality: what if, instead of simply reproducing Christianity, we are seeing the inner diagram of Christianity’s undoing? What if we see God writing his own demise? And what if, that entire horizon is to be seen in the infinite power of nihility, hidden beneath the name of God? Or, yet again paging Bronze Age Collapse, the absolute to which humans and perhaps even gods strive for and in which they unlock their own apotheosis.
I think that the theme of the atmospheric body is a clue here. Remember that Bronze Age Collapse also described the form of the absolute, and thereby his notion of “supreme fitness”, in terms of force or atmosphere. Remember that Kulesko described Dracula’s barbarian heritage in terms of his becoming-mist, his death as his dissolving into the atmospheric world, and his bloodlust as the desire to dissolve into this kind of atmospheric becoming. For Bronze Age Collapse, to exist is to insist, since life is a conatus, and therefore one insists and struggles to transform and enrich flesh and spirit up to apotheosis. For the Christian ascetic, to exist is to insist mostly on cutting away from the flesh and the world for the sole sake of approaching God. But there is still the throughline of atmospheric apotheosis that is, in many ways. I sense a point at which the horizon that becomes available is not surrender in the fashion of Christian or Christian-esque cosmic love, but instead the stealing of fire from heaven. Of course, perhaps that’s not quite “non-return” as Kulesko put it. But the diagram of Christianity’s undoing that is locked within nothingness. To hear Claudio Kulesko tell it, Christian apophatic mysticism positions God as essentially nothingness, and on this basis divine power appears to be absolutely capable of generating any possibility. But then there is God, being the only egoist who constantly depends on herds of duped egoists to support him, and then there is the egoist themselves. Then there is the idea that both Claudio Kulesko and Enrico Monacelli present, by way of Miroslav Griško and Andrea Emo, that God seems to always be in some kind of eliminativistic war against the universe he is supposed to have created. Monacelli puts it as an all-consuming war, but there is no such thing as a one-sided war. Thus, there is nothingness against nothingness. Our ability to pervert the horizon we are given lies in the ability to oppose negation against negation: for every manifestation of Einzige to participate in the war of all against all, against God.
I’ve talked for a bit about Gruppo Di Nun on this blog before, commenting on a series of ideas that were presented in an interview conducted on Diffractions Collective, and since then I had eagerly anticipated the arrival of a copy of their book Revolutionary Demonology, which I had already been waiting for since the summer. The book launch event, hosted by Urbanomic as a lecture tilted “Cultivating Darkness”, further deepened this anticipation for Revolutionary Demonology, particularly as I grappled with its particularly bleak vision and resolved to derive something unique from Grupp Di Nun’s take on the occult philosophy of becoming. Now, at last, I have a copy of Revolutionary Demonology, and am now able to analyse its content. This article will be represent my effort to do just this; to study its philosophical contours and from there derive value or critique. I think that Revolutionary Demonology ultimately presents a work that cannot be overlooked.
This will be Part 1 of a lengthy discussion of Revolutionary Demonology and the overall philosophy presented within it. Here we will discuss the introductory ritual and first two chapters of Revolutionary Demonology. Part 2 will focus on the thid chapter, “Nigredo”. Part 3 will consist of a series of reflections around the whole of the book and what I perceive to its overall ethos and my own response to it.
But first, up until now I’ve neglected to give Gruppo Di Nun a proper introduction in my writings. To put it simply, they’re at least ostensibly a collective of Italian anti-fascist psychoactivists and philosophers of the occult who want to redefine the Left Hand Path away from what they perceive as the Hermetic and Kabbalistic orthodoxy of modern occultism. They seem to have dissolved relatively recently for reasons unknown, and it seems that all attempts to reach them have been met with silence. But it seems to me that, although Amy Ireland says they are “enemies of identity” known only by given initials, you can actually find most of the authors by name. “CK” is Claudio Kulesko, who was publicly acknowledged as one of the founders of Gruppo Di Nun, and is otherwise an author and editor at Nero Editions and Not Nero Editions, and who also studied philosophy at Roma Tre University. “VM” is Valerio Mattioli, another editor at Nero who also contributed for Liberazione and La Repubblica and might also be a musician in the experimental band Heroin in Tahiti. “EM” is Enrico Monacelli, who seems to be a PhD at the State University of Milan and is also a writer for The Quietus, Nero, and Not. And “LT” is Laura Tripaldi, who seems to be a researcher in Materials Science and Nanotechnology at the University of Milano-Bicocca. The only truly mysterious figure here is Bronze Age Collapse: all we know about them is that they are an obscure blogger whose pseudonymous identity is a parody of the far-right ideologue Bronze Age Pervert. On the other hand I suppose I have no idea who the “High Priestess of Nun”, from the Diffractions Collective interview, is either.
In any case, the fundamental basis of their esoteric philosophy is a kind of philosophical or ontological masochism, or masochistic mysticism, based in turn on a distinct expression of cosmic pessimism and almost anti-cosmic nihilism, the main ideological premise of which is the death drive interpreted as an overriding love for one’s own dissolution, and the rejection of everything else. In this, they reject self-deification of just about any kind in favour of a disintegration of the self that brings about what they believe to be the deepest form of cosmic love. That love, they believe, is a force of cosmic attraction that draws all beings towards dissolution and disintegration.
Before we begin properly, I think it is best to address an elephant in the room immediately: the demonology. It seems at once to be a misnomer and (arguably) not a misnomer. There’s not really any study of demons or how to magically work with or religiously worship them in any way, or at least not in. The book has “rituals”, but these are more like brief manifestos. “Demonology” here is a term used to refer to systems of hyperstition – as K-HOLE put it, neither disinformation nor mythology but rather “fictions that make themselves true”. Gruppo Di Nun refers to “the demonological practices of the alt-right”, presumably meaning dangerous systems of hyperstition created by and around modern right-wing nationalism and fascism, which are in turn powered by the esoteric fascism that Gruppo Di Nun attributes to the Right Hand Path, and it can be assumed from the title of Revolutionary Demonology that Gruppo Di Nun means to counter the hyperstitions of patriarchy and fascism with a new set of queer hyperstitions devoted to the outsideness of chaos. The demonic itself is defined as a dimension that is external to the order of humans but which, at the same time, is capable of breaking into that order and disrupting it, and demons themselves are understood as entities that can enter the material plane and both feed and multiply within it through human vectors. That said, the demons themselves don’t get much focus at all, and instead the book arguably devotes itself almost entirely to that dimension that perhaps they represent.
Fundamentals of Revolutionary Demonology
We start off with a forceful proclamation of the cult of entropy, the fundamental ethos of Gruppo Di Nun’s working in ritual form followed by elaborations of the basic principles of Gruppo Di Nun’s philosophy.
The ritual opening, “Every Worm Trampled Is A Star”, establishes a fairly pessimistic mytho-philosophical basis of what Gruppo Di Nun takes to be the Left Hand Path. The universe begins as primordial chaos, a boundless ocean of night and infinite recombination. This nocturnal ocean is the body of an ancient dragon, who we can interpret as Tiamat from Babylonian mythology, and her hisses are the music that all matter vibrates to, that you can hear in silence in its deepest recesses, in the beating of your own heart. The order of the cosmos, taken specifically as the order of the One God Universe (implying a monotheistic cosmos), appears to us as a primordial unity, but in reality is a “thermodynamic abomination” carved in the flesh and blood of the original Mother, from which it continually and coercively derives life. We humans are born from her dismembered body and entrails, our civilization is perpetually nourished on her blood, and as it continually builds itself higher on her shattered body we are perpetually separated from her. But the blood and entrails that form us serve as the link to her being, and so our atoms tremble before her endless cries, such to the extent that love itself is the constant hunger for return to her womb. Meanwhile, the order of creation is always in danger of its inevitable collapse, and contains within itself its own decay. The ancient goddesses are replicated and then infiltrate the order of Man’s Unique God as remnants of the ancient dragon. The light at the moment of creation was so intense that the order of the universe could not contain it, and then it shattered, and the world plunged into darkness. At the heart of matter is the fall of this order and of the emanations, amidst its ruins is a blasphemy that replicates itself in its own collapsing structure, and over this reigns the infernal mother Malkhut. Pain in this world is an insurrectionary agony by which the ego is sacrificed in flames. The city of Babylon stands on an underworld where the devotees of the primordial Mother erect temples to a chthonic goddess. The metropolis pulsates with larva as the division of universal order is multiplied, and the city gradually suffocates as a result. And so we are all waves of decline partaking in a ritual of death. Every drop of the blood of the dragon Mother illuminates the abyss, and as the city burns and crumbles the slaughtered dragon will return and bring the abyss upon the world. That is the narrative that Gruppo Di Nun gives us.
An important theme pervading the work of Gruppo Di Nun is what is apparently the radical definition of the concept of the Left Hand Path, and with it the Right Hand Path. Gruppo Di Nun operate on a distinct conception of these two paths that it asserts as being derived from the tradition of Hermetic Qabalah. On this basis, they assert that self-deification, normally understood in modern occultism as the purview of the Left Hand Path, is actually the fundamental goal of the Right Hand Path, which is understood as collection of sects that, in practice, tend to differ from and conflict with each other but are nonetheless united by the goal of producing godlike initiates who can live forever and gain control over the entire world as God. So what’s the Left Hand Path, then? In a previous section, they refer in a footnote to Moshe Idel’s Primeval Evil in Kabbalah, which in turn refers to the sefirot of Binah, Gevurah, and Malkhut as representing negatively portrayed feminine qualities that then belong to the “left side” of the divine hierarchy. The terminology of the left-right hand paths is, to my knowlege, not employed in pre-modern Kabbalistic tradition, so we have to assume the connection to the Left Hand Path is extrapolated by Gruppo Di Nun. Unfortunately the precise definition of the Left Hand Path is not really explored anywhere else in the book, or at least not nearly as much as the Right Hand Path (it seems this is not an uncommon part of RHP vs LHP discourse), which they understand as the separation of spirit from unformed matter for the birth of an ordered world. However, on the other hand it is not difficult to infer what they mean by the term, in that their conception of the Left Hand Path centers around acheiving magical attainment (in their case the realization of cosmic love) through disintegration by invoking the chaotic and entropic (and hence “demonic”) forces of outside the order of humanity and Man’s Unique God.
These forces are perhaps encapsulated in Gruppo Di Nun’s tri-triangular seal, whose nine points denote monstrous beings and goddesses presumably of the entropic outside; Ammit (the Egyptian beast-goddess they refer to as “The Devourer”), Nammu (the Mesopotamian creator goddess they refer to as “The Mother”), Kauket (the Egyptian goddess of darkness they refer to as “The Twilight”), Hushbishag (the Sumerian chthonic goddess they refer to as “The True Form of Night of Time”), Nungal (the Mesopotamian goddess of the underworld and prisons they refer to as “The Expression of All That is Done”), Sekhmet (the Egyptian solar goddess they refer to as “The Fires that Consume the Universe”), Uadjet (the Egyptian snake goddess they refer to as “The Black Sun”), Ishtar (the Babylonian goddess of love and war they refer to as “The Bleeding Star”), and finally none other than Tiamat (“The Worm” herself). Yet, with the exception of Tiamat, none of these entities are ever discussed again. In any case, though, honouring them means abnegating oneself in a sacrificial love for cosmic dissolution and the disintegration of the self in the jaws of the dragon.
There is something I can’t help but escape when it comes to the subject of inversion. In the “Dogma” section, which I believe was originally a standalone manifesto/essay by Gruppo Di Nun, Satanism is rather starkly pillaried for its inversions of Christianity, under the belief that Satanism represents a symmetrical reversal of Christianity and thus an identical copy. The thesis in play is that Satanism, by ostensibly reversing Christian morality, negating the existence of God, simply reproduces Christianity in itself. But already at the start of Revolutionary Demonology we see three separate scripts flipped in the fashion of inversion. The narrative of the dismemberment of the Mother obviously retains of the narrative territory of Enuma Elish, but adopts a sort of anti-cosmicist framing within it and takes the side of Tiamat against Marduk. In so doing it sort of directly references the narrative of “the ancients” (clearly the ancient Babylonians or Mesopotamians) Marduk is in this sense an ancient Mesopotamian expression of the Man-God Machine, and Tiamat is the slaughtered dragon, the primeval chaos that was the original victim of an original crime, and will return from the depths and bring the abyss upon the Earth. Similarly, the framework of Egyptian mythology is inverted in the veneration of Apophis, the enemy of the Egyptian sun, the serpent that devours the whole cosmos, as the indestructible and lesbian True Zero that is always capable of overcoming the patriarchal order of creation, taking the perspective of Egyptian magic (where Apophis is the uncreated matter that must always be slaughtered for the sake of the world) and then flipping it: identifying with a love for Apophis the uncreator, instead of his solar opponent. In regards to Kabbalah itself, although they seem to reject the Qliphtoth as essentially an inverted reproduction of Right Hand Path Kabbalah, they thus far flip the existing structure of Kabbalah so as to privilege the lower sefirot rather than the highest one, even identified Malkhut with the primordial and dismembered Mother. And this is far from the end of the discussion to be had about inversion.
One of the most important themes in the entire work is the central location of dissolution, death, suffering, and entropy. This of course is all constructed along the lines of their understanding and interpretation of thermodynamics, which forms of the core Gruppo Di Nun’s worldview. One of the important kernels of this is the link between dissolution and recombination. The discussion of Apophis – both the asteroid and the serpent it’s named after – is perhaps what first brings us to that theme. The solar disk of Ra plunges into the darkness of Duat in the course of its journey, and with it the souls of the dead, to face Apophis. Apophis is constructed as the monster that lies beyond the light of existence, representing dissolution, unconstructed matter, and eternal recombination, as the unborn uncreator swallowing all things and all souls back into the prima materia of Nun, though this very concept is also presented through a discussion of 99942 Apophis, a near-Earth asteroid that, for a brief time, people predicted would collide with Earth and cause the annihilation of the human species. Even though at this point it has been established that the asteroid Apophis will probably never impact the Earth within our lifetimes, and probably won’t be the cause of our extinction, the asteroid still occasionally haunts the imagination of the internet, which itself is a repository of every question and prediction about the doom of humanity, every manifestation of our seemingly primordial obsession with the question of our own demise. The asteroid Apophis is thus discussed as an omen of a much larger fear of and desire for our own destruction, and, for Laura Tripaldi, a lesbian love of extinction (at least in a weird Landian use of the term), an alien rejection of the cycle of heterosexual reproduction.
Something interesting is the way the absolute dissolution embodied by Apophis is positioned against the reproduction of human-divine order. But, in the tradition of Egyptian mythology and magick, Duat as a zone of becoming is itself a source of ostensibly endless life for the Sun. It always renews itself as it descends into the dark waters, even as it is constantly threatened with total destruction. To become anew is surely one horizon of becoming or recombination (itself a species of becoming). Indeed, does the reverse birth of Nibiru and creation of Planet Earth framed as the reincarnation of Tiamat in Earth (an idea I should hope that Gruppo Di Nun doesn’t take literally) not strike one as rebirth?
In any case, Apophis is of course is part of a whole “Catastrophic Astrology” which includes Nemesis, the dark phantom of twin of our Sun which supposedly threatens to exterminate life, Nibiru, the mythical Planet X and incarnation of Marduk believed to destroy all life in a cataclysmic encounter with Earth, and none other than the remnants of Tiamat herself. The imaginary of doomsday and the fictitious mythology of Zecharia Stitchin are turned into a hyperstitious expression of their overall mythology about Tiamat that then blends into the figure of the Whore of Babylon in the Book of Revelation. The primordial matter of the Mother that was dismembered to give birth to the Kingdom of God is nonetheless not dead, but rather undead, crawling up from the abyss, through the gates of Babylon, rising to destroy all of creation, and herself with it, in an unspeakable blaze of ekpyrosis. She, reborn in the clash of Nibiru, is the future, a future that consists of annihilation, a disintegration into which everything is sucked. The world’s creation itself is inverted by Nibiru’s mythical clash with Earth: whereas the cosmos was carved out of the dismembered remains of Tiamat, the Earth that was created it smashed to pieces and life drawn into disintegration.
“Principles of Revolutionary Demonology” concludes with a section titled “Spectral Materialism”, also authored by Laura Tripaldi. We’re treated to a critique of the philosophy modern science, where the idea of science as the triumph of reason over matter gives way in the laboratory where an apparent magical thinking seems to emerge in practice. By Tripaldi’s admittedly anecdotal account, there are instances where votive candles and magical talismans could sometimes be seen in the laboratories of otherwise secular-scientific study. Irreproducibility haunts a methodology wherein material evades a chemist’s control, but the chemist’s proper skill is described in terms that suggest a strange sense of “affinity” between human minds and the inanimate substances. There is a discussion of the physics of Erwin Schrodinger, which then goes towards a sort of anti-mechanistic physics where atoms and molecules are simply miniature bodies, all transformation is physical, macro-physical “laws” are just statistical results of microscopic processes, and those processes may not at all be mechanical in nature. Chemistry, by way of quantum chemistry, is potentially understood as radically indeterministic, without a single body of “law” governing its operation or capable of predicting the evolution of chemical reactions. Chemicals themselves are quantum in that they cannot be approximated to any classical model of physics, and so the laboratory is like liminal space where two realms of matter make contact. Indeterminacy, rather than simply being a principle of incomplete knowledge, is a fundamental problem and condition of physics. The harmonious order of classical physics is thus an illusion, and matter is at the quantum level more like a chaotic symphony of waves.
Intruigingly, Gruppo Di Nun’s spectral materialism to very consciously draw from the concept of alchemy. First there’s the reference to Isaac Newton having been an alchemist, with the implication of his alchemist pursuit being complimentary to the apparent inadequacy of his theory of bodies in motion before the spectral behaviour of quantum matter. More than that, though, there is practically a whole section exploring the subject of Azoth, the universal agent of transformation in alchemical tradition. Here, Azoth is relevant to the subject of nitrogen, in that right down its etymology (the Greek root word means “lifeless”) links to the inert nature of the gas, and to a chaotic aspect of the traditional equilibrium of the universal agent. Azoth, as the Elixir, is intrinsically circular in containing all things, but it also is also indeterminate and numinous in the way that primordial chaos is. This is then connected to the Lovecraftian figure of Azathoth, the blind idiot god, and from it the spectral and viral nature of Lovecraftian substance that contaminates and interacts with bodies in a manner befitting the principle similia similibus solvuntur – like dissolves like. The colour that the Great Work is divided around is thus said to reveal the idea that we ourselves are spectres and that the blackness that consumes is a resonance from the core of matter, and our whole being, and thus a likeness that allows bodies and the darkness of matter to dissolve into each other.
The alchemical resonance of spectral materialism continues. Escaping a hard binary between “primitive science” and magical-religious initiation, it contaminates the borders between two supposedly strictly separate worlds, while the content of the philosopher’s stone is ostensibly reflected in an interpretation of the concept of complementarity, that principle whereby objects possess complimentary attributes that cannot be observed simultaneously. But then the formula of the philosopher’s stone is reversed: while traditional alchemy, per Gruppo Di Nun’s understanding of it, is supposed to arrive at the reconciliation of spirit and matter by the descent of the soul into the world, the quantum proposed by Gruppo Di Nun is instead the revelation of sheer distance, inaccessibility, or even incompatibility between mind and matter, or between human reason and cosmic physis. Spectral materialism here emerges as a worldview concerned with an unobservable relationship between matter and itself, and matter itself as beyond the human gaze. The process of nigredo is, in this alchemy, understood as a deliberate process of intoxication brought on by interactions with chemical matter and its contamination of mind, which thus reveals the “living death” of matter. Chemistry at large is presented as a spectral science, concerning the dissolution of the individuality of the objects it studies into the ocean of quantum matter. That ocean itself emerges as none other than the blind idiot god and the quicksilver, an abyss whose vibration haunts the phenomenal world and the structures that emerge over the abyss, and whose incessant sound and presence unites all beings in embrace, and could contaminate us at any time. And thus it is only this ocean, not any God, larger than any God, that could possibly have given rise to everything.
In the course of this, though, we arrive at something strange. Through the analogy of Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris we get the picture of a matter that could not be produced by any Demiurge, or the guiding hand of any Creator. Yet this in some ways clashes with the whole notion presented in Gruppo Di Nun’s whole ritual, of the cosmic order as the violent ordering of chaos. On the other hand, per “Catastrophic Astrology” we are given the picture of existence as an expression of spontaneity, which in Tripaldi’s reading is inherently sacrificial: we spontaneously exist, and this condition contains within itself the price of extinction, making the spontaneity of transformation a species of death. But then, perhaps the spontaneity in this setting must emerge as a spontaneous insurrection at the quantum level. If no demiurge or creator could possibly have given rise to the universe as it is, then the spontaneity is the insurrection of a willing life that ruptured and transformed the void that existed before, and has marched away for eons. This quantum will that, at the highest price, overturns everything, is perhaps the key to something larger. But we will explore this more later.
I have perhaps said far too much about the initial principles of Revolutionary Demonology, but we can summarize this core so far. The occultism of Gruppo Di Nun founds itself on a materialism in which matter, at the quantum level, is fundamentally alien to itself, to us as its manifestations, and a cosmic pessimism undergirded by the anti-cosmic mythology of Tiamat which is also resonated in a doomsday astronomy. Beyond the world we live in lies spectral matter as a chaotic ritual dance of death, to which all of life ultimately vibrates and through which life is drawn towards its own dissolution. This is also an extinction which Gruppo Di Nun asserts that life contains an inherent drive towards, and in which they locate the possibility of rejecting heterosexual reproductive futurity, and with it the whole hyperstitious order of patrairchy. God did not create the universe, and yet, per the ritual, the universe is Tiamat’s flesh and blood carved into order by ordering gods, though in any case this order always intrinsically writes its own demise. Magic is therefore the art of letting go into this condition, into the morbid love that attracts all things towards dissolution, in a sense reconciling with the universe. But, as you’ll see, even this is just the beginning.
“Notes on Gothic Insurrection” presents a part of the philosophy that forms the body of Revolutionary Demonology by way of a strange and complex concept referred to as “Gothic Insurrection”. Gothic Insurrection, or “Goth/Ins”, seems to be a species of accelerationist theory concerned with temporal multiplicity in the context of a Real that supercedes ideology as such, and seemingly also with a kind of inorganic time and matter relevant to developments that, in their virtuality, can be activated, corrupted, and “recovered” in a seemingly “undead” way. It is also intimately concerned with the hauntology or “retromania” of modernity, with how modernity seems in itself to give way to the revival of older, pre-modern structures and thought-forms, or perhaps rather their “undead” manifestation. That’s about the best I can do to summarize the concept, and I can tell you that the main authors of Gothic Insurrection, Claudio Kulesko and Enrico Monacelli, do not make that very easy for me. But it’s in the broader discussion of Gothic Insurrection that counts, in that it’s from here that we can derive philosophical content that contains in itself an averse potentiality relative to Revolutionary Demonology as a whole.
Claudio Kulesko’s essay, “Gothic Insurrection”, establishes the context of a neo-medieval landscape, a new Middle Ages in which traditionalism and the project the “New Right” are corroding modernity from within, bending all of its means and forces to repressive ends in the name of medieval power. Modernity itself almost seems like just a long dream in a world otherwise still very medieval. Reaction is in full swing in calling for the reversal or closure of modernity, while at the same time always an innate part of its nightmare spiral, in which liberal world peace either gives way to a theatre of violent bigotry or simply belies it. This is the world of the cybergothic. In this setting, hauntology emerges as a way to understand this re-activation of the past. But, Gothic Insurrection, while so intimately concerned with the past as a location of inorganic time, also sees itself as a sort of progressive motion: like the spires of a medieval cathedral peaking into the sky, or like bats flying into the twilight, its only route is upwards, and outwards. The cybergothic in this sense is present in a strange union between technological modernity and medieval apocalypse.
The spiral of Gothic Insurrection begins with a consideration of how to ring in the cybergothic era without embracing fascist neoreaction. Art, as a means of the reactivation of the past, is explored from the work Jacques-Louis David and his nostalgia for the French Revolution on the one hand, to William Bevan’s “re-dreaming of the past” through his electronics on the other hand, until we arrive at black metal, of all artforms, as the key to an alternative temporal distortion against that of the alt-right, despite the reactionary tendencies often found in the black metal scene. Neoreaction seems to distinguish itself from other models through its double spiral vector, paradoxically regressing to the past and advancing to the future, but its particular acknowledgement of violence and chaos as the primary source of order, or at least its particular order, against any perceived ideological containment of the violent spontaneity of (human) nature, exposes it to an even more profound presence of violence and chaos in the form of ancient, not quite dead horrors. Thus, we are to imagine an alternative spiral of anti-modern rebellion in black metal: a spiral that, unlike neoreaction, does not want to constitute or liberate anything, and is a spirit set purely on negation.
The black metal imaginary is palpably distinct, made unique by its sort of symbiotic fusion of Satanic iconoclasm, witchcraft, and pagan myth and romance. The first wave of black metal itself inaugurated this spiral, and none other than Bathory is its paragon. Beginning with the pure satanic fury of their first three albums (“Bathory”, “The Return”, and “Under the Black Mark”), over time Bathory evolved towards an emphasis on the pre-Christian Norse past and a style that came to be dubbed “viking metal”. Quorthon, the man behind Bathory, imbued this new direction with a hauntological voice for the life and time of pre-Christian Scandinavia, and with it a pagan nostalgia for a time where humans and extant wild nature were inseparable with the divinity of its many gods, all of which then invoke the spectral character of the barbarian. Outside and against Christianity, rationalism, humanism, and universalism, the barbarian resists civilization, resists boundaries, not only smashing through the borders of nations and civilizations but also crossing the boundary of the human itself via the figure of the Berserker or wolf-like Mannerbund, and, in Christian terms, exists somehow outside and against even God himself. The barbarian is, here, a chrono-warrior who brings ancient interpretations of the world and the quest to reunite with nature, plunging forward in a disordered assault into the cybergothic arena. Representing another barbarian vector of the black imaginary is Darkthrone, whose album “Transylvanian Hunger” and especially the title track invite us to consider the figure of the vampire, through both its sheer, cosmically inorganic sonic negativity and the obvious lyricism. The vampire is not alive, and not dead, and emblematic of the darkness of the gothic novels that represent an eternal, inorganic, and immobile time – gothic time – sitting below the present and threatening to intrude into modernity, or in a larger sense the world of civilization and phenomena. The apogee of this gothic time is Dracula, the vampire par excellence, embodying both the barbarian archetype in his outsideness and becoming-animal/mist and in his undead multiplicity (he is alive and not alive, dead and not dead, Dracula and not Dracula, Vlad III and not Vlad III).
I seem to have a particular affinity for this concept of Gothic Insurrection and its barbarian modality. Although in the context of Revolutionary Demonology as a whole it is still supposed to connect to the cosmic love of self-disintegration, and Kulesko’s writing about Dracula is an interesting demonstration of this theme, it also, to mind points to something that can take a different form. As I lay out in my article about Kulesko’s essay on the subject of Dracula, tsking on the gothic insurrection of barbarian becoming and liminality is its own becoming-demon, a modality of propulsion by which not only ride against the order of things but also thrust open the portals of reality itself, and, from a satanic perspective, vampiric dissolution changes from the disappearance of will implied by much of Gruppo Di Nun’s whole ideology to the embedding of it, its embodiment within the world and its totality, the form of katabatic apotheosis. The apocalypse of Gothic Insurrection is not only the vampiric resurrection of the Middle Ages, the reactivation of a past or myth into the weapons of a horde marching into the future. It is Legion, the Hobbesian “Kingdome of Darknesse” or “Confederacy of Deceivers”, and by these examples the spiralling breakdown of order at the level of fixed identity into multiplicity, and the smashing of the identity between political order and its projection into cosmic order. The Image of the World, the imaginary representation of world order, is smashed, destroyed by the new barbarians of gothic time against the world. The only thing I might add is that it is in this sphere that might join this gothic horde, whose spiral of recombination and battle presents a path to immanent apotheosis.
Perhaps something different can be seen in Enrico Monacelli’s essay, “Extinction”, which discusses and responds to Kulesko’s essay. After a lengthy exposition of Lil Peep’s “Cry Alone” music video, in which Lil Peep seems to be discussed as the martyr of a kind of ultra-Calvinistic cosmos sans the God, Monacelli begins his answer to Kulesko’s Gothic Insurrection by asserting that our turn towards the new Middle Ages is a kind of fatalistic linearity, a destiny that has seemingly already set for us in advance and which renders everything futile, guided by the obsession of the modern world with the idea that it will be annihilated. Lil Peep in his essay emerges as the contemporary symbol of this feeling of predestined extinction, but also one of a number of examples by which to understand hauntological structure of our social body. Monacelli also invokes two horror movies, the 2018 Halloween and Hereditary, to show the horror genre itself as representing this “tragic temporality”. In the 2018 Halloween, we see Laurie Strode constantly preparing the return of the serial killer Michael Myers, her house covered in traps and her mind tormented, she goes on to struggle with Myers and again and trap him in her basement, set the house on fire in the hopes of destroying him, only for it to be revealed that Myers survived and is still on the loose; not unlike the original Halloween. This repetition is clearly a device for the production of future movies, but for Monacelli it also communicates a spectre of silent death that has already condemned us to extinction, as if in a script that has already been written all along. In Hereditary, a sacrificial rite from beyond the grave meant to summon the demon Paimon is the ground of an occult predestination that propels the film’s events in a way that the characters, as spectators, do not fully understand. For Monacelli it represents an impenetrable facticity that resonates with a universe that seems predestined to self-destruction but which is also completely unknowable to us.
The whole reckoning of this mystifying and hopeless tragedy is what Monacelli calls “passive extinctionism”. Passive extinctionism is composed of time seemingly flowing in reverse, from a future already set towards a past that activates said future, moving solely and single-mindedly towards the sole destination of extinction, supported by the inability to comprehend this temporality and its motives (if any). So far I suppose “ultra-Calvinistic cosmos sans the God” remains an apt metaphor, in that it seems obvious that Monacelli’s universe is seemingly utterly fatalistic. But while that is the basic form of Monacelli’s proposal, there is also so much more beneath even the surface of fate, in the sense that horror both creates and destroys. This becomes apparent as Monacelli discusses the movie Mandy and barbarism as an escape from our time prison that only horror could provide.
In Mandy, there are essentially two rituals. The first one summons the Black Skulls, a quasi-demonic biker gang enlisted by a redneck cult leader named Jeremiah Sands to capture Mandy and her boyfriend Red, which Monacelli presents as an involuntary evocation whose consequences cannot be controlled. The second one, however, subverts these consequences, with Mandy laughing in the face of her captor, her mockery embodying joy in the face of her own death, which then unleashes Red’s unrelenting vengeance. For Monacelli, drawing from the work of Nicola Masciandaro, this amounts to the creation and assertion of a kind of mystical sovereignty formed by being the vector of the Outside that breaks tragic time. That sovereignty is a wild abandonment that deposes all authority, breaks tragic temporality, and transforms ignorance into the sublime dark power of Max Stirner’s Unmensch; the inhuman individual who devours all and transforms it into power.
It’s impossible to escape the gulf between the whole ethos of disintegration established by the core throughline of Gruppo Di Nun’s philosophy and this state of power that Monacelli expressly recognises as sovereignty. Mandy, the Unmensch, are positively death-defiant, “letting go” into their ostensible fate only so that they might overcome it, overturn everything, and become their own true masters. Dracula, and Alucard, in many ways embody the same process, accepting their own dissolution so as to re-emerge as everything. Between the prospect of deathless negative power and the invocation of egoism, there could not be a greater antithesis to surrender, and it’s right here, in a book ostensibly about the joys of surrender. I cannot help but recall the concept of katabasis in the context of pre-Christian Greece, and the many similar forms across other pre-Christian cultures: to willingly descend into the underworld, and as is often the case return, in order to become a god. I sense that it is somewhat at odds with the core of Revolutionary Demonology, and yet I actually somewhat find it almost clarified by it.
But what does this all mean for Gothic Insurrection? We can understand Monacelli’s view of Gothic Insurrection as articulating a nameless barbaric mysticism whose aim is to destroy hegemonic time and the tragic prison it holds us in. The identity of the barbarians is unimportant. Only the work of destructive liberation matters, and Monacelli sees Gothic Insurrection as that work, which turns tragedy, decadence, and chaos into sources of power for the barbarians, demons, and Unmensches: the warlike gods of darkness! I must admit here that Monacelli’s explanation of Gothic Insurrection seems much more succinct and concise than what I have seen of Kulesko’s. I should also note that the theme of multiplicity is shared by both authors, with Monacelli’s take on Gothic Insurrection still acknowledges it as multitudes. But moreover, while Gruppo Di Nun never gives an explicit definition of its concept of the Left Hand Path, I suspect that we find it anyway in the new barbarians of Gothic Insurrection. Monacelli says it almost outright. The new barbarians turn tragedy and decadence into sources of power and subversion, while fascism and the Right Hand Path want to expel them and replace chaos with order. The insurrection means the overcoming of the tragic world by its own surpassing, while the Right Hand Path wants to escape and/or cast a magic circle over it. It seems obvious that what Monacelli is trying to describe amounts to the Left Hand Path. Historically speaking the aim of Left Hand Path sects and traditions in the context of Vamachara was to cultivate power, enlightenment, and God-realization through decadence, while a similar and more modern take also, at minimum, draws power from traditionally “dark” or averse sources. It’s also, if you think about it, the basis of Stanisław Przybyszewski’s conception of Satanism, where decadence and evil are sources of the power for the satanist magician or witch to enact their own transvaluation of values, and of the Witches’ Sabbath’s dissolution of everything in the vortex of flesh. Monacelli in some ways adds to this another way of saying that the “only way out” is through and not without. Instead of the conquest of the world by order, apotheosis is almost a victory over tragedy by turning it into divine power. I can’t help but sense a continuation of the theme of alchemy here, a Great Work complete with its own nigredo, in the form of horror.
We are not quite done with the subject of Gothic Insurrection yet. In “Gothic (A)theology”, Claudio Kulesko continues to explore the subject in terms of horror and terror through two young philosophers – Vincent Garton and Miroslav Griško – and their unusual takes on Christianity.
Beginning with Vincent Garton, Kulesko examines a view of Christianity, and particularly Catholic Christianity, that stresses Christian temporality as being founded on a time outside of time and the divine as an absolute Other or Outside to humanity. What we get is the closure of the Enlightenment and the postmodern landscape that attends it as pointing to the rediscovery of the soul, which Kulesko stresses as to be understood as an abyssal interiority that places everyone before horror and absurdity. In a sense, Kulekso gets from Garton the idea of the “return to the sacred” as his understanding of the reactivation of the past, which the dissolution of the future is also supposed to open up and for which the reascent of irrationalism and fundamentalism serves as a signpost, while for Kulesko this return of the sacred is also paired with the revival not just of horror but also cosmic pessimism. Turning to Miroslav Griško, Kulesko arrives at horror, the sense of annihilation and paralysis before atrocity or fatality, and terror, the interdeterminacy that attends the presence of horror, as the twin qualities of God, the ultimate intelligence who is also the supreme murderer, hidden beyond time, waiting to unleash the war that will annihiliate the world. Both views are connected by a stark dualism between immanence and transcendence, and a wager on the Real that posits that either the world has a purpose or is ruled by chance, whose answer remains suspended beyond time. Kulesko then discusses classic gothic novels, such as The Monk by M. G. Lewis and The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole, as representing a kind of “obscure Catholicism” and gothic time. These novels present an overrarching inorganic power, a virtuality of death, desire, decadence, and fatality, whose secret life and “presence of absence” can be found everywhere and whose exploration is the novels’ prime subject. And thus we come to the “Hidden God”, the worst and most tenebrous of demons, the myth behind all manner of cosmic and technological nightmares, an invisible direction of destinies who becomes larger and more evident as it is paranoiacally pursued. That is the “God of the Outside”.
This “God of the Outside” also seems to be discussed as a symptom of a monomaniacal linearity and corresponding idealism that Kulesko attributes to accelerationism itself. For Kulesko, the only field of absolute freedom is the “real-material field” in which the world constructs itself independently, and that’s a problem for accelerationist anti-naturalism because of it ascribes injustice to nature despite that injustice, and its just counterpart, having nothing to do with nature. More relevant, though, is the belief in the Singularity (the point where human technology becomes totally uncontrollable and supercedes matter) and its supposed inevitability; as if the will of the entire universe set to this end. This prophecy (and it might as well literally be prophecy) obviously runs against the realities of supposed predestination: that not everything is already decided, inevitable, or perhaps even possible. But, more than that, here we also come to the last major component of Gothic Insurrection: its alternative model of acceleration. It is the Nietzschean passing of knowledge that is to be accelerated, “to guide the blade here” as it were, taking up unknowing as situated at the root of the world and anticipating the formation of knowledge. Here, we arguably find a statement of the doctrine of innate enlightenment (hongaku) in Buddhist terms, but in the context of the Gothic. The Gothic denotes an infinite virtuality of formless matter and perpetual actualisation, becoming, denoting the basis of the production of form, and which constantly thwarts everything we think we know in the moment. Accelerating the passing of knowledge means speeding up the “thawing” of structures, proceeding to the unknown and blurring the boundaries between natural and unnatural or even between possibility and impossibility, and the purest form of gothic terror is disruption of immanence by immanence, and its destruction at the hands of chaos. In every direction, the end is to be accelerated, and every direction overcomes every future, including the Singularity.
In the overall this turn in Gothic Insurrection is a multifaceted one. Because of the focus on Catholicism, and the meditation on God as “God of the Outside” (and thus of the central theme of Gruppo Di Nun’s occult philosophy), it almost feels like Kulesko is attempting to construct particularly decadent form of what is nevertheless a mystical form of Catholicism. It’s almost strictly diagnostic in that it ultimately serves as a construction through which the flaws of accelerationism can be studied in a way that informs the larger construction of Gothic Insurrection at large, but in view of a much later essay also devoted to the subject of Catholicism, it feels like there are the makings of a particular, albeit subverse, interpretation of Christianity. The irony, which I think I will keep stressing, is that Gruppo Di Nun opposes much of modern Satanism for relying on the flat inversion of Christianity, thereby supposedly reproducing it, and thus there is the call to completely break from Christianity, and yet in order to illustrate and inform Gothic Insurrection both Kulesko and Monacelli turn to Christian philosophy and mysticism. In fact, Monacelli seems to directly identify the active extinctionism of Mandy and the darkness of Stirner’s Unmensch with the darkness and unknowing referred to by Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite in The Mystical Theology – not to mention a footnote in the same essay interpreting “real faith” as a venture into darkness by way of Kierkegaard. Though, in Gothic Insurrection, this is but one small piece of a larger idea, and not outside the purview of the reactivation of the past. In fact, this basic idea seems to permeate Gruppo Di Nun’s core to some extent, right down to the reference to the creation myth of the Enuma Elish. The ancient mythology of a long-dead civilization is reanimated, re-aligned, and turned as a weapon against the Image of the World. In this sense we can understand the project of Gothic Insurrection as part of the core of Gruppo Di Nun’s philosophy, from my perspective clearly the strongest and most insightful aspect of it, and I believe this presents interesting implications for that philosophy.
But, Gothic Insurrection understood as the reactivation of a distant, dark past as an insurrection against the order of the present is a throughline that already, in its own way, underpins so much of the Left Hand Path, including those tendencies that Gruppo Di Nun finds either dangerous or simply mediocre. Satanism as a whole has historically sometimes invoked a distant pre-Christian past defined by unfuttered indulgence and magical power, to the extent that even atheistic models of Satanism such as the LaVeyan model as a vehicle for the presumed restoration of some ancient hedonism. The theme of reactivation is all the more pronounced in the more esoteric forms of Satanism and what is called Luciferianism. For example, Carl William Hansen (a.k.a. Ben Kadosh) presented his system of Luciferianism as essentially the return of the ancient cult of Pan, while for Fraternitas Saturni this is the cult of Saturn brought together with what they see as a lost “Barbelo-Gnostic” teachings. I can hardly forget Michael W. Ford’s particular emphasis on his idea of Luciferianism as an ancient pre-Christian philosophy weaving through various cults and re-summoned in the present day as his own distinct system. In many ways it’s a lot more blatant with the Temple of Set, which sees itself as a magical restoration of the cult of Set. And there are many more examples within Satanism, including the distinctly unsavoury and fascist forms thereof. Gothic Insurrection, in this sense, should be seen within Satanism as a conscious insurrection in which the reactivation of an occult past is aligned with insurrectionary, rather than reactionary, aims: an awareness that reawakens the true anarchic content of the Left Hand Path. I see this as my current aim within Satanism and within the Left Hand Path: to renew them by reactivating the radical and insurrectionary forms within this milieu – to plunge into the future by going down into the past. In my mind, this is the only real way to “rescue” the Left Hand Path in a climate of endemic reaction, and it is the path that must be taken, or else there is no point to anything.
Before we move on to our next section, I would like to use the scope of this article to discuss the value of the barbarian archetype as the force that strikes its blow against reaction, retroprogressivism, and modernity alike while marching into the cybergothic age. There’s a sense (limited as it may be within the scope of this article) in which we can briefly touch on a contrast relevant to a certain prevailing discourse about masculinity and certain progressive efforts to counter right-wing machismo with their own humanistic version of male-centered mythopoesis. Indeed, all too often, there is an opportunistic employment between certain ideas about toxic masculinity, inherited ultimately , in which reactionary behaviours of control are ideologically intermixed with a more abstract “macho” wildness, perhaps so as to repress notions of barbarian wildness. But while violent excess is often fetishized in fascist spaces, the central archetype of fascist masculinity was not a wild warlike barbarian. Instead fascist ideologists, particularly the Nazis, preferred what they saw as a much more orderly pedigree to be found in the mythical “Aryan” farmer. As discussed by Stefan Arvidsson in Aryan Idols: Indo-European Mythology as Ideology and Science, and explored in adequate summary by Krešimir Vuković in Wolves of Rome: The Lupercalia from Roman and Comparative Perspectives, Nazi ideologists were what Arvidsson called “ideologists of order”, who favored a nationalist interpretation of history centering around mythologized Indo-German Aryans as the only true progenitors of historical culture. These Aryan Germans were thought to be primitive farmers who practiced a cult that centered around agricultural life and the veneration of a solar hero figure whose struggle against monsters was interpreted as a moral allegory of good against evil. Nazi mythologists considered myth itself to be, in the words of Alfred Rosenberg, “an image of order”, namely the hidden order of the “folk soul”. This idea meant an ideological contrast between the Aryan farmer and the perceived “decadence” of modernity, which was also meant as an opposition between “Indo-European” order on one side against “Jewish” subversion on the other side. This broad idea was also contrasted against scholars who positioned an ecstatic cult of warrior fellowships, or Mannerbund, as the center of ancient Germanic society, and in turn supported a cultural ideology that centered a kind of Dionysian ecstasy. That ideology was opposed by the mainstream of Nazism because it seemingly cast the ancestry of the German nation as uncivilized and barbaric, and clashed with the conservative values of the Nazi intellectual establishment.
At its historical root, fascism recognises the barbarian as its diametrical opposite, because, at its root, fascism itself is the ideology of order par excellence. In this light, National Socialism can be seen as the apogee of this fascist love of order, being systematically the ultimate logical conclusion of all the major systems of domination that preceded it – if you want an idea of this, just think about how the Nazis derived their basis not only in the image Roman imperial civilization but also the American and British imperial systems of oppression and extermination. Indeed, I find it interesting that both the Nazis and the United States of America drew from the dutiful farmer as the font of civic order, whether it’s an invented mythology of Indo-European farmers or George Washington modelling himself after the Roman farmer/statesman Cincinnatus. And, if you examine modern fascism, order and cleanliness quickly emerge as the idee fixe of fascist politics. In the end, that’s why people on the more reactionary corners of Satanism, such as Anton LaVey and Doug Mesner, so professed themselves as law and order ideologists: they are reactionary authoritarians or straight up fascists, and on the back of that they prefer “nice”, “clean” orderely communities that answer to the fear of political concentration. It is communicated with almost immaculate subtlety in right-wing rhetoric about “law and order”, and it is this ideology of order, rather than some mental aberration or the triumph of unbridled sadism or some abstract “evil”, that lies at the root of all fascist genocide: purgation is the lifeblood of fascist order, and so the fascist will, without any sense of remorse or imbalance, countenance all atrocities under the hyper-concentration of state violence, as fascism requires in order to generate the purity of a total order. So, from there, in Gothic Insurrection we may locate the ecstatic barbarian war bands, these warlike fellows of Odin or Rudra, as a chaotic, antithetical gothic time wielded against a present whose ordered path bends towards fascism once again. If you want your alternative to reactionary masculinity, just meditate on Gothic Insurrection, and you will do the rest of the work for yourself almost without any need for programmatic intellectualism.
An Alchemy of Steel
I felt that the last chapter of Part 2, “Notes on Gothic Insurrection”, merits its own separate discussion here, simply because to me it felt very different to the rest of the book, or at least certainly at first it did. “Lifting the Absolute” by Bronze Age Collapse seems like its own distinct messsage. Amy Ireland assures us in the afterword that it fits into Gruppo Di Nun’s overall message of magic as a masochistic practice of anti-mastery and ‘letting go’, this is not the sense that I got from reading Bronze Age Collapse’s sort of alchemical take on physical culture. And, while it seems almost random at first, it ties well into the theme of Gothic Insurrection with the author’s conscious reactivation of pre-Christian religious, mythological, and philosophical forms.
“Lifting the Absolute” was originally part of a collection of writings released by Bronze Age Collapse as The Search for Absolute Fitness: Plato as a Bodybuilder in 1991. Apparently this essay contributed to the development of the concept of Gothic Insurrection, and a judicious footnote reminds us of the basic point at stake: the idea that the present moment is to be overcome both joyous destruction and immersion in a distant but reactivated past. So far this past has been discussed in the geneaology of the barbarian, the gothic novel, and “the sacred” of Garton’s take on Catholicism. Through Bronze Age Collapse, this immersion takes us, quite splendidly, through Paganism, to an extent exceeding even Kulesko’s treatment of Bathory, but this time focusing on ancient pre-Christian Greece.
We begin with an account Pankration, a dangerous ancient Olypmic sporting event similar to both wrestling and boxing. It was an extreme contest of strength where almost any move was permitted, and there were only three ways out of a fight: surrender, lose consciousness, or die. The legend of Sostrtus “Acrocheriste” Sicionio, and his defeat by the young Aristocles of Athens, opens a whole dialogue on the philosophy of physical culture. For Bronze Age Collapse, Aristocles won because his body represented a complete and total harmony of muscular strength, instinct, intelligence, expertise, and experience, and that this perfect harmony, consisting of the subjection of all individual parts of the body to a whole, was the founding myth of the philosophy of mind as well as wrestling. The Platonic and “classical” view is that psychophysical harmony – that between body and mind – is the work of adapting one’s body to a paradigm, an Idea, by submitting it to gradually more intense labours and more refined challenges. But within this discourse, our author goes on to assert that this whole process is a means of returning the body to beauty. The author’s express conviction is that harmony and beauty pre-exist discord and ugliness. This obviously invites the question of the fall: after all, if harmony and beauty pre-exist discord and ugliness, it follows that something must have happened for harmony and beauty to change into discord and ugliness. Indeed I sense it’s very easy for such a conviction to find itself warping towards the doctrine of involution, in which we have degenerated from some imagined state of antediluvian perfection and unity. But patience, because there is more to be explored, and what our author valorizes is not so much a fallen spiritual presence to which matter must conform, but the body, and in this sense matter, itself.
Bronze Age Collapse upholds that the body is not originally weak, passive, and sedentary, but powerful, active, and dynamic, and that it is this dynamism that, in the modern world, seems lost but can be recovered. In fact, our author positions this dynamism in a larger sense: the tendency towards the absolute – that is, understood properly, a tendency towards enhancement, recombination, speed, and efficiency, which is naturally followed not only by the body and the mind but also the entire universe itself. This is actually a fairly bizarre twist in the broader philosophy of Gruppo Di Nun that came after this original essay: what Gruppo Di Nun proposes as the universal death drive, the cosmic love of disintegration, becomes for Bronze Age Collapse not so much the longing for demise in itself but the yearning for transformation to the point of greater and greater perfection. To that end, life erupts from the void and beings ceaselessly create, destroy, and reorder things around them. In a way, “tendency towards the absolute” is an apt metaphor, because it rather makes sense as the quest for apotheosis, or at least to become godlike. Self-deification may not be what Gruppo Di Nun had in mind, but in a certain sense that is what it is, just that it’s not the same self-deification that Julius Evola or Hermeticism had in mind and which is in practice the only concept of self-deification that Gruppo Di Nun actually seems invested in refuting. The only thing is, so far we must ask if this perspective does not clash with the way Enrico Monacelli discusses decadence as a source of power for the Gothic Insurrection. The point, however, is that in this setting life is a conatus, a repeated insistence or striving, necessarily of will, and thus a perpetual tension and discharge. This is what steel acquaints flesh, and which the battered and weak body of modernity is supposed to discover, and thereby become daemonic.
Bronze Age Collapse points to Arthur Schopenhauer as having posited the body as the vehicle of metaphysics, in that the body poses itself as the visible and physical expression of individual interiority and is not only the seat of all perceptions and instinctive causality but also, since in Schopenhauer’s view these things precede all objective activity, the origin of all cosmic activity – essentially, the basis of the universe itself. Our author takes this understanding of Schopenhauer’s metaphysics and extends it into the idea that the activity of each individual bodies determines the nature of the cosmos that it inhabits. This means that, for a reactive body, the world around it seems to become reactive, linear, and static, while for a dynamic body, the world around it seems to become similarly dynamic. No, more than that: for our author, the world of a truly dynamic body spins into a vortex, the heroic spiral of the Nietzschean will to power. This, for our author, is the hidden meaning of the Greek phrase kalos kagathos (“the beautiful and good”), and the psychophysical rhythm and harmony it denotes. But more important, it seems to locate the body as the voice of the spirit, the source of wisdom. This rather fundamentally places matter at the centre of ontology. Human history, in this worldview, is an account of every trial that matter undertakes to rise above itself, and every effort that we undertake to measure ourselves against the cosmos: this is what the weight or the pull-up bar come to symbolise for our author – personally, I like to think that the blade has a similar meaning. This also means never satisfying yourself with any proposal of the perfect fundamental order and its image. To borrow our author’s analogy: if God were a lobster, and the lobster (as God) is the model of every human action and law, the hero prefers to be a star, a supernova, or a black hole. This means that, in order to really measure yourself against the cosmos, you must reject and defy God and his law.
From my standpoint, this all has some important Satanic (or perhaps also “Luciferian”) implications. In fact, if we take our author’s proposal as rooted in a pre-Christian Hellenic philosophy of mind and the body, then we can extend our author’s heroic rejection of the law of the lobster as a manifestation of Satan’s rebellion and insurrection on behalf of himself, and from there we can arrvie quite easily as, dare I say it, a Satanic application of Paganism. But it also poses an interesting implication for the broader philosophy of Gruppo Di Nun. After all, from this standpoint, it doesn’t make much sense to regard what is presented to us as the violence of creation as anything other than the primordial conatus of matter, as the rupturing of the primordial void into forms appears as simply matter overcoming itself. For me, the obvious is to recognise this as an insurrectionary outcome, and the work that proceeds after this as a new insurrection after this against the order of things that has come to pass. In this setting, both history and the work of magic are insurrection upon insurrection.
Moving on from there, we get a tour of the proper understanding of bodybuilding, which for Bronze Age Collapse is neglected even by the trainer at the gym, and of the error of temporal linearity. For our author, bodybuilding is the process of the return to the body, or to oneself, as the restoration of eidetic harmony. For the average gym trainer and their students, on the other hand, bodybuilding is apparently more like a one-time projectual cleansing meant to reach some seasonal event – often the path to the beachfront, where a sufficiently honed body can be presented typically in the hopes of impressing the opposite sex. Meanwhile, modernity tries to refashion the dignity of body and spirit while running up against a corruption generated by the teleological and economical influences created by Christianity. Sin is met with punishment and renunciation, because sin incurs debt, and purification is met with reward in accordance with a promise made with a creditor: the body Christianity in this sense is a religion not of death but of debt. Eternal return and the mythic property of Sisyphus or Prometheus fundamentally important to genuine bodybuilding, without which it lapses into a hyperreal torment of steroid abuse. Our author also locates in this a gulf between antiquity and the present, pronounced by the way modern people afford supernatural stature to the muscular forms of classical art that they encounter in museums or in images on the internet. It is sometimes said that the ancient Greeks idealised the human body, but it might be more accurate to say that it is modern men, hopelessly distanced from antiquity, that idealise what the forms that the ancients produced – that idealisation is fundamental to the traditionalist reaction of the digital age, right down to the Roman statue cliches. Thus our author goes on to say that we are like children before Mediterranean antiquity, in the same way that children cannot imagine their father’s strength at their age. In a way that it is indeed all the truer of every pathetic neofascist brandishing an image of statue from ancient Greece and Rome or the Italian Renaissance as their profile picture online: idealising these images, denouncing the world for supposedly abandoning them, but so utterly distant from their form, totally unable to perceive and conceive them, let alone embody them. These reactionaries are in a sense no different to any other modern, they can only be amazed at what once was.
The statues are interpreted as a call to invert the course of history, to change your life as it were, and in this sense act on the observer with the appropriate inspiration. This too feels like it is part of that same gulf. Imagine not just the life of antiquity, but all of prehistory, the life of all hominids who preceded us and every fearsome long-dead creature that they co-existed and/or contended with. Some of us might be relieved that they no longer exist and that we no longer struggle with them. Others, though, might feel remorse for the passing of what could have versus the life of what exists now. For our author this gulf is also like the abyss of Tartarus into which the Titans were thrown, where Kronos became king and reigns supreme above all else, but where the Titans nonetheless became weak and docile as their strength faded. This, for our author is exactly our situation: it’s like we are the Titans in Tartarus, cast into a pit where we become weak. But, we are told, our imprisonment will end, and a Golden Age might begin again, and in this Golden Age everything will speak again, all humans will find gods in themselves, everything will be accompanied by joy, and the sun will shine on everyone. All of that, however, is the struggle, our primordial conatus.
Keep in mind that when I said that “tendency towards the absolute” was an apt metaphor for apotheosis or some concept of self-deification, that’s only because Bronze Age Collapse says forthrightly that bodybuilding and weight training brings the body closer to the body of a god or goddess. “Absolute fitness” is meant as the realization of impersonal form, and the desire to attain this form is what our author believes drives the motion of the whole universe. In this sense, our author agrees with Henri Burgson that the universe is a machine for the making of gods, and in fact, it seems that this axiom is only deepened in content by the philosophy we mean to explore so far. At this point we come to an articulaion of our author’s view through an expression of ancient Hellenic polytheism that clicked with me as I read it. The gods, while imagined to be a pantheon of superior beings that embody a pure principle or essence, were born of chaos, and often found themselves having to scale or overturn hierarchies of beings by their own strength and power before getting to Olympus. The origin of the gods in chaos is the same origin of everything else that exists – perhaps this is what Pindar meant by the one mother from whom both gods and men draw their breath. That origin, our author asserts, also means that both the gods and mortals share a desire to embody a certain kind of force or atmosphere. Chaos here is not simply the void that existed before the first god, but the supreme power that generates and destroys without mercy, to which all beings, even the gods, are subject. The anima mundi of this cosmos contains every possibility, combination, environment, and adaptation, while living beings are contractions of the infinite activity of matter. Immortality, supreme fitness, is to be understood as perpetual metamorphosis. Form and elan are locked in a battle at the heart of reality that tears the cosmos apart, and this reality lends itself to the real secret of the tendency towards the absolute.
Bronza Age Collapse’s physical philosophy has its flipsides. Being strictly carnal, our author shuns the practice of writing. This must be why he writes so infrequently. Writing is seen as a moment stolen from living thought, whose proper pasttime is training, play, and sex. It’s to the point where writing is even discussed as an “original sin”, or perhaps more aptly “false consciousness”, either way a corruption more ancient than any other, because of its apparent stasis. Writing is to be reserved for rare occasions, the marginal pursuit meant only for the exposition of the truth, rooted in the impersonality of the absolute. Here we run the risk of assuming the “God’s Eye” perspective of objectivity, one that is necessarily problematic if we take as our starting point that the individual body is the origin point of the perception of objective activity. And that body does not in itself possess an objectivity that, in Archimedean terms, is free of distortion. In fact, as our author insists, the body requires nutrition, and the way we nourish and refine our body impacts the supposed objectivity it generates, and the illness of modernity requires that, by force of will, we tear time at the hinges to recover it. I suppose if we take it as the Gods eye view the very notion seems absurd, certainly too absurd to merit almost never writing about the glories of cultivating the Hellenic body even to develop theory. But then I suppose the point is to constantly develop the absolute in the flesh. The point, the real point, is alchemy. Through steel, you are developing matter in a way that overcomes its base form and transfigures into the absolute: the Great Work, the Philosopher’s Stone, Azoth, this is the flesh-god of the divine body that has tended to the absolute.
I would contend, though, that maybe bodybuilding is not the only way to derive the basic contour of Bronze Age Collapse’s pagan-alchemical philosophy of mind and body. What I mean here hinges on understanding bodybuilding as a creative act, and I know it sounds strange since that’s not how we think about it culturally. But why not? It is a creative act in the precise sense that you are trying to create the body out of itself. There’s something fundamentally aesthetic about bodybuilding, that is in the strict sense that many modern bodybuilders build their bodies for show. But even so, a painter could as well paint in order that their painting would be seen, or the sculptor sculpts their statues so that the forms they represent can be seen and impact the viewer. Art itself, and from there The Art, thus has to be seen in terms of the same alchemical conatus, and so too should magic itself. So too should fighting, especially in view of the introductory analogy of Pankration. I did not suggest the metaphor of the blade idly: the clashing and honing of the blades is its own magical conatus of will, leading the fighter in the battle against the world that so comprises their life, all the way up to the storming of heaven and the fight against God. None other than the war of all against all is this conatus. Art, combat, training, sexual intercourse, insurrection, love, all forge its participants towards “the absolute”, at least if they put their minds towards alchemy. And yet, if art and magic are part of that, who’s to say writing, to a certain extent, is not also a means of creatively impacting the observer as any other Art does, especially if the point is to transmit knowledge, theory, or experience.
The last major point we can explore in “Lifting The Absolute” is Bronze Age Collapse’s discussion of the Cynic philosophy, or more specifically the legend of Diogenes of Sinope, and sunbathing. The basic details of this legend should be familiar. One day Alexander the Great visited Greece, and upon his arrival he received visits and homage from seemingly all the intellectuals, politicians, scientists, and philosophers; all except Diogenes, who was sunbathing idly amidst the streets of Corinth. Alexander found himself impressed by Diogenes, and offered to grant the sunbathing Cynic any wish. Diogenes responded simply, “stand out of my sun”, as if to say Alexander was blocking the light. Our author recognises this as the legend of a sovereign and unyielding spirit, quite naturally given how indifferent Diogenes seemed in the face of the imperial authority embodied by Alexander. But our author also connects that spirit to the properties of sunlight itself.
We are told that sunlight draws thought out from its depths and refuges, allows us to distinguish night and day and stabilize the mood of the body by instinct, and allow our bodies to synthesise calcium and Vitamin D. These, seemingly, are faculties that the enclosures of modernity often perturb. The sun is the “greatest gift of heaven”, to which human beings may offer themselves in order to become part of a life-process that joins all other life forms together. We draw power and life from the sun: our bodies tend to become strong, healthy, and beautiful while our minds grow intuitive and spontaneous as apprentices of cosmic existence, and at night we rest, reproduce, and regenerate. That’s our author’s prognosis for the physical property of sunlight, but the author also proposes a “secret” meaning relevant to the legend of Diogenes. Diogenes renounces worldly possessions and all hierarchy (the summit of which is, again, embodied by Alexander), and in turn gains everything, including the sun. The sun “belongs” in this sense to Diogenes, from whom only the seasons can always take away but to whom they will always return it, both at any time. Diogenes’ supreme self-sufficiency is the basis of his truth. The Cynic, like many Greek philosophers who came before, searches for a “primal scene”, an eternal preceding substrate as the basis of all harmonious action. For our author, that is the undertaking where everything converges to illuminate the path to the absolute.
Perhaps really, in lieu of the substrate of order that was the fixation of many classical philosophers and the late Hellenistic spiral towards monotheism, we might say the primal scene is a double. First, there is the primordial chaos, by which is meant the eternal rhythm of ceaseless creative destruction. Second, there is “the absolute”, the divine existence, that force and atmosphere that imparts the quality of deathlessness – the traditional quality of the Hellenic gods. The Great Work proposed by Bronze Age Collapse sees us go into the primal scene, to embrace our origin in the chaos at the heart of the cosmos, and then propel towards the absolute through the primal scene that is itself alchemical conatus. How strange that I might find myself thinking about Ernst Schertel as I write this. After all, Schertel locates a chaotic, creative-destructive ground of being in Satan, identifies Hell as pure potentiality, and takes this as the starting point that arcs towards Seraph, representing the created world. In Schertel’s thought, Satan and Seraph are two ends of a pole, ostensibly opposite but actually conceived in and through each other. But in this philosophy the demonic, as the source of all magical power, communion with which is for Schertel the first principle of magic, develops towards the seraphic, towards the creation of a contained world. There is, though, a more “decadent” basis to this. Schertel believed that all art was, at root, amoral and even pornographic, and thus that the pornographic was the root of all cultural values. This in turn emerged from a belief that art was the manifestation of an unconscious energy, or trance. Dance, eroticism, and occultism, were all held to produce art, love, and religion, what he in called “the highest values that humanity can represent”. The point for Schertel was that the goal of spiritual and occult practice was not some “release” of spirit from the body but rather the transfiguration of the body, which he hoped would become the basis of a new religion to supercede the old religions. You can think of Satan as that unconscious, erotic, occult energy, Seraph as the “highest values” and the “new religion”, and both the demonic and the body as the vehicles for an alchemical tranfiguration that is, in the terms of Bronze Age Collapse, the tendency towards the absolute. What I’m getting at is that the pressing of steel and demonic magic and ecstatic trance point to the same alchemical transfiguration of matter, which starts from a demonic basis and, when activated at that level, pushes centrifrugally in that level towards mastery, that is, “the absolute”, towards apotheosis. Thus the path to Olypmus is, in the admittedly idiosyncratic understanding I present, an infernal, demonic path, and we have here arrived again at an understanding of the Left Hand Path.
I might take the opportunity while I still can to note the relevance of the body to the ancient Cynics. Diogenes was not an athletic body by any stretch of the term. Nor was the typical body of the Cynic. But they did prize strength in more than one sense. Strength of spirit and mind was prized as much as physical strength. It could be argued that the Cynic needed that strength to continuously live in rejection of the civilized world around them. But Diogenes did note that, for the Cynic, there were exercises meant for the body and the mind, which depended upon each other because both mind and body depended on each others well-being to practice virtue. Strength as an active warlike quality was prized by the Cynics right down to the symbolic level. They were known to wield staffs or weapons in public when Greek society had deemed them a foolish old custom. Against state-decreed progress, then, the Cynic took up the staff against labour and on behalf not just of their own leisure but their strength and struggle. They held on to an old custom and reactivated its meaning against their present. How best befitting the concept of Gothic Insurrection!
Ultimately, I still cannot get past the sense that what Bronze Age Collapse proposes presents something radically different from the core of Revolutionary Demonology. True, our author may speak of a kind of submission to the process of training, but this is ultimately tangential to the surrender that Gruppo Di Nun repeatedly lauds, and the training that Bronze Age Collapse cannot be seen as a “discipline of anti-mastery” without some form of contortion. This is, in fact, a doctrine of personal/individual mastery, just that it is different from such fascistic doctrines as “Magical Idealism” that separate the individual from matter. One makes oneself a part of the dynamism of matter and the conatus of the corporeal and divine universe, rather than escape from it. One “submits” oneself only to become more powerful and masterful by way of cultivating psychophysical harmony, and the tendency towards the absolute is such that it sets the individual practitioner against God and against the cosmos. There can be no real “surrender” in this. The analogy of literally Olypmic striving would suggest the opposite. Though I do not doubt that it is ancestral to the conception of Gothic Insurrection, in that it reactivates the past to wage war on the present order. That to me is part of the makings of an active nihilism, but with a Pagan spirit, and Satanic character. That, to me, is the key to an ethos other than surrender, as Bronze Age Collapse points the way to an alternative outlook on the cosmic love proposed by Gruppo Di Nun – not mere disintegration in itself, not surrender, but recombination through the conatus of will, and of that conatus itself.
For months I had been obsesssed with the idea of a link between Satan and the sun. I believe this fixation in recent times started off a while after I wrote my article about Darkness, and I encountered solar references to Satan in the work of Aleister Crowley. The main point of reference here would be in Liber Samekh, which features invocations to Satan as identified with the Sun, such as in section B:
Thou Satan-Sun Hadith that goest without Will!
And section C:
I invoke Thee, the Terrible and Invisible God: Who dwellest in the Void Place of the Spirit:
Thou spiritual Sun! Satan, Thou Eye, Thou Lust! Cry aloud! Cry aloud! Whirl the Wheel, O my Father, O Satan, O Sun!
Another link Crowley made between Satan and the Sun is his assertion that 666, the colloquial “number of the beast”, is the number of the Sun. This may have been playfully derived from Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa’s assertion that the Sun has a square composed of 36 squares, which then produces the number 111 and the sum of all squares as 666. Section J of Liber Samekh also contains this rather explicit link:
Now this word SABAF, being by number Three score and Ten, is a name of Ayin, the Eye, and the Devil our Lord, and the Goat of Mendes. He is the Lord of the Sabbath of the Adepts, and is Satan, therefore also the Sun, whose number of Magick is 666, the seal of His servant the BEAST.
The Crowleyan Satan presents an interesting picture of Satan as a cipher of inversion in the precise sense of being the god of the other side. We get some interesting commentary on this theme in Cavan McLaughlin’s The Dark Side of the Sun, which focuses on the double-sided nature of solar myth; a theme that will be central to later explorations of our subject. The observation that McLaughlin gives is that Crowley presents Satan as a chthonic double of the Sun, or Self in Jungian terms. From one perspective, though, we can think of the dark solar double as absolutely inherent to the Sun as it is: the other side, which is at once the “true” image. The Devil is thus the shadow of the world that is also its ultimate and original truth.
The Typhonian occultist Kenneth Grant seems to have developed this idea of the other sun as Satan, and in turn Satan as the true root of life. In The Magical Revival, we find a description of Satan, here identified interchangeably with the Egyptian god Set (clearly a manifestation of the erroneous Set-Sat-Satan line) as the “true formula of illumination”. The full quotation is as follows:
In the preceding Aeon (that of Osiris), Set or Satan was regarded as evil, because the nature of desire was misunderstood; it was identified with the Devil and with moral evil. Yet this devil, Satan, is the true formula of Illumination. “Called evil to conceal its holiness”, it is desire that prompts man to know himself – “through another” (i.e. through his own double, or “devil”). When the urge “to know” is turned inwards instead of outwards as it usually is, then the ego dies and the objective universe is dissolved. In the light of that Illumination, Reality, the Gnosis, is all that remains.
In this doctrine, enlightenment means to know yourself through “your own double”, presumably meaning your own shadow. In a sense, knowing Satan is to know “the self behind the self”. The macrocosm of this idea consists in Satan, or Set, or Sirius as the “sun behind the sun”, and so “the hidden god”.This idea is extrapolated further in Cults of the Shadow wherein Grant gives the following description of Set:
The prototype of Shaitan or Satan, the God of the South whose star is Sothis. Set or Sut means ‘black’ (q.v.), the main kala or colour of Set is black, or red (interchangeable symbols in the Mysteries), which denotes the underworld or infernal region of Amenta. As Lord of Hell, Set is the epitome of subconscious atavisms and of the True Will, or Hidden Sun.
We need not concern ourselves with this portrayal of Set as an actual reflection of the historical representation of Set, because there can be no doubt that it has nothing to do with the historical cult of Set. What matters here is the idea of Set/Satan as the “True Will” or “Hidden Sun”. Earlier in the book, Grant explains that, in his particular parlance, the “True Will” is the term given to the “Hidden God” that accompanies humans through the cycles of birth and death, always uniting mankind with “the Shade” and seeking reification in the objective universe, and only the adept can determine its substance. The Magical Revival explores the notion of “the sun behind the sun” via Sirius as the original presence of the Sun:
As the sun radiates life and light throughout the solar system, so the phallus radiates life and light upon earth, and, similarly, subserves a power greater than itself. For as the sun is a reflection of Sirius, so is the phallus the vehicle of the Will of the Magus.
Grant obviously means here that Sirius is the power behind the Sun, and as Sirius is identified with Set/Satan, this itself is to be understood as meaning that darkness, or Set, or Satan, is the power behind the light of the solar system. In a much larger sense, it’s an idea that positions the forms of nature as the expressions of an unseen force or substance, the “true will” or “hidden god”. This is perhaps viewed in terms of a sort of subconscious content, though perhaps we can extend it to the realm of unconscious content, that is then the source of conscious thought and form. Obviously this hidden power is darkness, this hidden god, for Grant, is Set, but for us it could as well be Satan. Though, it could be said that in a pre-Christian context chthonic gods would be that hidden divinity: for example, Paramenides’ descent to the underworld in search of being seems to have led him to the goddess Persephone, the queen of the underworld.
Finally, in Nightside of Eden, Grant brings up a quote from J. F. C. Fuller’s The Secret Wisdom of the Qabalah which, in full, goes as follows:
Satan, as we call this power, is in fact the Tree of Life of our world, that free will which for its very existence depends on the clash of the positive and negative forces which in the moral sphere we call good and evil. Satan is therefore the Shekinah of Assiah, the World of Action, the perpetual activity of the Divine Essence, the Light which was created on the first day and which in the form of consciousness and intelligence can produce an overpowering brilliance equal to the intensest darkness.
The power in question seems to refer to the divine power that conciliates all oppositions and permeates and vitalizes all things. It is course likely purely the interpretation of Fuller and later Grant that this power is supposed to be Satan, but our focus is not the interpretation of Kabbalah (a conversation that, in the hands of white occultists, may invariably veer towards cultural appropriation). What does interest me is the way in which Grant, through Fuller, positions Satan as the inner active creative force that is, thus, the deep source of the agency of life. Grant ultimately links this concept of Satan to inversion, and it would seem this inversion is linked to enlightenment. A footnote in Cults of the Shadow references an apparent quotation in Helena Blavatsky’s The Secret Doctrine which says “Satan represents metaphysically simply the reverse or the polar opposite of everything in nature.”, which in certain ways conforms with many similar ideas about Satan that persisted in the occult milieu and ultimately in Stanislaw Przybyszewski’s view of Satanism as a religion based in a rebours (“reversal”, as in the reversal of values). The full significance of this theme will be revisited soon, but here we can say that this inversion is also inseparable from the reality that Satanism seeks to access, for the “reverse” image also lies beneath the world as it is.
But, enough about Kenneth Grant. The other more profound throughline in McCaughlin’s essay is in the amorality of the Sun, and the implications of this in solar mythos. The sun, McLaughlin stresses, is amoral, inherently double-sided. We understand the Sun as the giver of life, but it is also a bringer of suffering, pain, and even death. For this analogy we can turn to a number of solar deities and myths across the pre-Christian world. We can start with the Iranian deity Mithra as a particularly interesting example. Mithra was, among other things, a sun god, occasionally even identified with the Sun itself. He was also a god with two sides: one of them is benevolent and concerned with the bonds of friendship and contract, and the other was mysterious, secretive, uncanny, even “sinister”, and according to Kris Kershaw in The One-Eyed God: Odin and the (Indo-)Germanic Männerbünde the daeva Aeshma may have been actually represented an aspect of Mithra’s being. Yet, it is said that Mithra only appears “malicious” to humans because they cannot control or understand him. The Egyptian sun god Ra has his own double-sided persona as suggested by his wrathful emanation of the goddess Sekhmet. The very solar image of the pharoah also contained a demonic aspect in the symbol of the black ram, denoting a divine sovereignty that at once protected and threatened the order of the cosmos. The Babylonian Utu (a.k.a. Shamash) is also a judge in the underworld. Nergal, a warlike god of disease and death, also represented a harsh aspect of the sun at noon. The Greek god Apollo, who over time was increasingly linked to the sun, shared Nergal’s domain over disease alongside the power of oracular healing, and was otherwise regarded as a destroyer and punisher, at least for the wicked. Helios, the traditional Greek god or representation of the Sun, was himself also one of the Titans, those ancient chthonic gods occasionally regarded as wicked, while one of his epithets, Apollo or Apollon, denoted him as “the destroyer”, suggesting that the Helios as the Sun was also a destructive power.
Somewhat related to this is Valerio Mattioli’s discussion of an ancient Mediterranean belief about the demonic; that the demons of the underworld materialised in the world above at midday, when the sun is at its highest. As strange as it sounds, it does seem to be reflected in other cultures – the Bible, for instance, talks about a “destruction that despoils at midday” – and it may harken to certain qualities of the sun that are linked to depression and melancholy. But for all that, there’s that jovial temperament we associate with sunlight, which we see as characteristic of Mediterranean life. It may, indeed, be something of a stereotype. Or, perhaps, there is a strange cipher for daemonic life: a vivifying light of an inner darkness, that is thus the soul of the world.
More importantly, though, is McCaughlin’s idea about the implications of Crowleyan solar myth regarding Thelema. The summary of McCaughlin’s idea is that the sun is by nature amoral and thus, if every man and every woman truly is a star, then the magical quest for transcendence or doing what thou wilt has the potential to “make monsters of us all”. The solar link to the axiom “every man and woman is a star” can be traced to the identification of Horus, the god of Crowley’s new Aeon, with the Sun, and as “a symbol of That which contains [and] transcends dualities, an image of our True Selves, identical in essence yet diverse in expression for each individual”. Horus, as the Sun, is meant as a cipher for the True Will and its inherent solar duality, presumably along with everything that goes with that. As the Sun itself is a star in space, McLaughlin interprets everyone being a star as everyone being their own Sun, in that everyone is the center of their own personal solar system.
An even more fascinating horizon is how McLaughlin plays with Arthur Schopenhauer’s assertion that “life is something that should not have been”, that life is, in some way, monstrous, and that in participating in life we’re all monsters. That monstrosity is taken as a starting point for the solar heroism of the New Aeon, particularly in its utter defiance and transcendence of the moral binary (“good” versus “evil”) on behalf of a totality true to its own nature, and from there an individuating process that facilitates the impression of Will in the world. The amorality of it all is observed to be a fundamental to the principle of “do what thou wilt”, owing to a Nietzschean root in the statement that there is no such thing as moral phenomenon, only moral interpretation of phenomenon. In this setting, morality is simply a reflection upon will or desire. Thus, if everyone is a star, or rather Sun, then everyone is the bearer of their own amoral quest to enact their will in and upon the world and transform themselves and the world around them, their solar light reflecting on the world and will in accordance with their own will (or “nature” or “purpose” in the official philosophical framing of Thelema), in a manner as heroic and beautiful as it is potentially monstrous, all in the same measure. Or, if not monstrous, then certainly demonic.
This all makes for ample conceptual space in which to play with Gruppo Di Nun’s underlying cosmic pessimism, and its mythological narrative concerning the “thermodynamic abomination” of the cosmos. Gruppo Di Nun would seem to be more or less in agreement with the sentiment that life is monstrous, something of an anomaly. They indeed dub the cosmos a “thermodynamic abomination”. Carved from the Mother’s flesh, the creation of the universe emerges arguably as a sort of “crime”. But crime or not, the universe is monstrous in its natural tendency towards disintegration and dissolution, its inherent finitude. And yet, it’s funny to think about life as a crime. Should life never have come to be? Should the stars, the animals, the oceans, the clouds, the trees, us, everything, all never have been? Was the void meant to last forever? Could it have been expected to never change into life as it is, even if we could never expect life to not change or decay? The solar myth ventures into this mystery with a sense of defiance, in the sense of will as this monstrous agency that can never be satisfied without its own art, and thus transforms the world.
The double-sided nature of solar myth brings us neatly into the consideration of solar inversion, and it is in this realm that we may can get a much deeper perspective on the solar dimension of Satan via Gruppo Di Nun’s Revolutionary Demonology, an entire section of which is dedicated to the dark mysteries of the sun, and the alchemical symbol of nigredo dubbed the “Black Sun” (or Sol Niger). This section, an essay titled “Solarisation” written by Valerio Mattioli, centers around inversion, particularly solar inversion, and the overall mystery being contained in the concept of solarisation through multiple conceptual avenues. Funny enough, it presents an interesting contradiction for Gruppo Di Nun’s overall rejection of modern Satanism, since Satanism from the outset has involved inversion, and even though Gruppo Di Nun criticized Satanism for reproducing Christianity by inverting it, their discussion of solar inversion leaves us quite a lot of room to expand and deepen Satanism by way of its inversion.
We can begin our analysis in the concept of solarisation, as through the Surrealist art of Minor White, Man Ray, and Lee Miller. Solarisation here ostensibly refers to a photographic technique used by these artists not just darken the photos but also invert their colour, which in a monochrome palette turns white into black and black into white. For Valerio Mattioli this also serves to create snapshots of a subconscious realm and, thus, an inverse reality. The Sun illuminates our world with its light, so more sunlight should mean more visible reality. But in solarisation more sunlight actually means the inversion of visible reality; the solar disk turns black, positive and negative change places, and a hidden, inverse, “incorrect” truth is revealed. This also brings us to how Gruppo Di Nun understands the Black Sun, by which we mean the original alchemical symbol and the misnomer given to the Nazi sunwheel. The Black Sun here is a symbol of nigredo, the initial state of the Great Work, the putrefaction in which matter is disinterested and reduced back to its primordial state. In alchemical terms solarisation as a certain kind of nigredo, in which the power of the sun translates into its opposite: the light of a realm of shadows, of the invisible and unnameable, as opposed to the sun of the phenomenal world in which all of this darkness is hidden – an occult world, accessible only by occult means.
I would recall here an obscure aspect of ancient Greek religion and philosophy: the belief in a dark, hidden sun, which represented the power of the underworld. At Smyrna, Hades was worshipped as Plouton Helios, and hence as a solar deity. His consort, Persephone, was worshipped alongside him as Koure Selene, the moon. But Plouton Helios did not simply represent the visible or phenomenal sun. Rather, he represented a dark sun, as contrasted with the heavenly sun in the form of Helios Apollo. Plutarch interpreted this sun – Hades – as “the many”, the multiplicity that was contrasted with the unity of The One, represented by Apollon, whose namesake supposedly denied “the many”, while Ammonius proposed that Hades represented obscurity, darkness, and the unseen into which things pass – dissolution and non-Being – in contrast to Apollo representing Being, memory, light, and the phenomenal – for which Ammonius calls Apollo God Himself. Hades was thus the sun of an invisible, chthonic realm; a “black sun” if you will.
This idea carries broad resonances and contains many horizons. We see one of the ancestors of Christian dualism, in which “Being” is located in unity, paired with phenomenal light (the celestial Sun), and called God, while darkness is presided over by the ruler of the underworld and representative of death and non-Being, and the stamp of God implies an ontological alignment with Apollon’s light. The opposition of multiplicity in The Many to unity in The One can, to a very limited extent, recall Satan’s role in the Qliphoth as the ruler (or co-ruler alongside Moloch) of the order of Thaumiel, representing division as opposed to the unity of Kether. The idea of the invisible sun takes a broader and somewhat different significance in Neoplatonism, where the invisible sun represents the form of the sun that exists beyond and behind the visible sun, the source of the visible sun, of which the visible sun is a mere representation or likeness. In Neoplatonist philosophy, this invisibility is meant to denote the noetic or noeric realms, the unseen layers of divine mind or intellect from which the visible and phenomenal world derives its origin. But from a chthonic lens, this framework is easy to reorient from the unity of divine mind to the dark life of the underworld, whose deifying power sleeps hidden in everything and contains all possibilities; and of course, where the daemons come from, where their vivifying power dwells and from which it crosses into the world in which we live.
But, our journey of solar inversion has still only just begun. We come to an exploration of solarisation in Italian neorealist films, whose aim was to nakedly portray the harsh realities of everyday life in post-World War 2 Italy. In Luchino Visconti’s Appunti su un fatto di cronaca, a short documentary about the kidnapping and murder of 12-year old Annarella Bracci, the outskirts of Rome are shown to be a massive refuse where human garbage is dumped alongside non-human garbage, and in the “golden city” blocks of flats connect to a dismal sky stinking of damnation. As Mattioli puts it: hell lies in the celestial vaults. Hard indeed to find a better representation of solar inversion. But that’s also it isn’t it: how many times have I seen Satanic inversion blur the line between heaven and hell by reversing them? After all, from a certain standpoint, Satanism says exactly that what we call “heaven” is actually closer to what we might call “hell”, or at least is more tortuous than hell, not to mention God himself being “evil”; and what we call “hell” isn’t so bad, while Satan is good.
Going right back to Aleister Crowley, there’s an important dimension contained in neorealism’s “need to know and to modify reality” (per the Enciclopedia Treccani), which we may in turn connect to Crowley’s definition of magic as “the Science and Art of causing changes in conformity with the Will”. Magic by this term is then connected to the hallucinatory quality of the Sun; it’s said that the Mediterranean sun can get so bright that its light induces a blinding whiteout: your vision becomes nothing but a vast white expanse. Mattioli figures the work of Pier Paolo Pasolini as an initiatory journey that sees Rome, in Accatone, take on an almost Lovecraftian character a la the lost city of R’lyeh, and then culminates in the blinding solar anus of Salo; unwatchable and brutal like the body of the Sun, and filled with absurdly sadistic inversions of the function of coitus. But then anal sex and its “unnatural” quality becomes an instrument of reconciliation with the reality and truth revealed by the “black sun”, which for Mattioli seems to be hinted through Austin Osman Spare’s concept of Atavistic Resurgence, where his explorations of non-normative sexual activity penetrate the psyche and allowed him to explore fantastical cities constructed of otherworldly geometries.
By now you’re probably wondering what all this has to do with anything, but don’t worry: by the time Mattioli discusses Ostia, the place where Pasolini was murdered in 1975, we get to the defining characteristic of solar inversion: as Mattioli says, it confuses and overturns everything. That’s the need to know and modify the world, which in turn overturns everything. I could not help but think of the “Gnostic” version of the Fall, as Sophia’s quest to imitate and thereby understand God throws the order of the Pleroma into chaos resulting in the creation of Yaldabaoth and the material cosmos. The Fall in the sense of rebellion emerges as a similarly creative act, rejecting God’s world on his own behalf, and carving out his own kingdom afterwards: his rebellion, even as it is repelled and subjugated, throws creation into disarray. Satanism in magical terms aims for the Fall as an act of devourment, locating the darkness and the Fall in order to imitate it, to then storm heaven and seize all things in a dark solar myth, carving out a new kingdom in the process. That of course sounds nothing like what Gruppo Di Nun has in mind, with its ontological masochism and its attendant emphasis on masochistic surrender and the resulting interpretation of nigredo as abdication. But it’s one way of looking at solar inversion. Perhaps it’s my bias – I definitely don’t consider myself much of a masochist. But I think we can turn to blasphemy to illustrate my point, since blasphemy contains solar inversion.
Mattioli suggests that the name Ostia carries resonances with the contradiction and inversion in the Christian host. On the one hand, the name Ostia relates to two Latin words for “victim” and “adversary” – “hostia” and “hostis” respectively; one almost thinks of Christ (that divine victim) and Satan (the Adversary himself). On the other hand, Ostia actually comes from another Latin word, “ostium”, meaning “mouth”. As a place where waste and shit spill out, it is the literal anus of the metropolis. But it’s also the host: that is, the Mithraic disk trapped inside the Christian host. Inversion and blasphemy contain themselves in solar mystery, and it reminds us: blasphemy is a willful act. To place your feet on the cross, to spit upon, piss on, or destroy it, to penetrate the flesh in acts of self-gratification, to practice kink, to queer the body in all sorts of ways, to disinhibit the human sensorium (to be intoxicated), to rise up in insurrection or revolution, to overthrow order and take the head of the Demiurge with your sword: there is a magic between all such acts that connects to the will of solar myth, perhaps even to a primal will that could not content itself with undifferentiation – and therefore, to the fatality, primacy, and eternity of the fall of Satan. Thus we return to Satanism, for Satanism can be understood as the belief that rebellion, or the Fall, constitutes the highest creative act, and Satan is the wellspring, the emblem, the god of that endless spiral of insurrection.
And while we’re here I think there is the opportunity to take a quick detour into the Satanism of Stanislaw Przybyszewski – for all we know, the first man ever to identify himself as a Satanist. Satanism, per Przybyszewski, is a religion whose sole principle is reversal: it is religion a rebours. This idea was probably forged from the combined influence of French occultism and decadence on the one hand (Joris Karl-Huysman certainly described Satanism as “Catholic religion followed in reverse”), and Friedrich Nietzsche’s concept of the transvaluation of values on the other hand. A rebours emerges as an active negating principle, that of spiritual insurrection against order and authority. Przybyszewski takes the Witch, who inverts all values and sensations, as the apogee of this principle, for whom it is a source of exceptional power and the revelation of Satan in the Witches’ Sabbath. A rebours allows individuals to gain power over their lives amidst the oppression they suffer, to remake themselves into defiant agents of transvaluation, who can refuse authority, and cannot be satisfied by it, or anything except blasphemy, and by blasphemy the ability to know and modify the world. The association with intoxication completes the Przybyszewskian context of solar inversion: drunkenness, intoxication, enivrez-vous is necessary in order to not be a slave of God or the world. The hallucinatory aspect of solar inversion is here intoxication, and it completes the spiral of Przybyszewskian Satanism: swear yourself to Satan as the true father of this world, break the laws of God and his kingdom of spirit, get drunk, and have your name written in the book of death, then you will overthrow everything in the name of your own satanic will. That, in Przybyszewski’s Satanism, is negation.
The context of solar inversion that we explored through Luchino Visconti can also be found in none other than Przybyszewski’s inverted cosmogonic dualism. God, the spirit of “good”, is the ruler of a celestial kingdom of slavery, and on earth his rule is the author of countless brutal repressions carried out in his name; heaven truly is a hell. Satan, the spirit of “evil”, is actually humanity’s greatest benefactor, teaching humans all of the ways that they can manifest and fulfill their desires and gain freedom from God. Satan himself also pronounces to the world that he was “the God of Light” and that God was the “dark god of revenge” who overthrew him out of jealousy, and meanwhile also inverting the power of the church itself: not based in “salvation”, possibly not even in “God” either (who is in turn revealed to be absent), but in acquisition. As to sunlight, Przybyszewski’s statement that Satan was called Lightbringer arguably has us skipping ahead to the solar inversion of Lucifer (which I will revisit later): Mattioli says that Lucifer is the light-bringer, but his domain is the shadows; that might just be another way of saying that the bringer of light always casts darkness. But we’ll soon get to that.
Another horizon for solar inversion, relevant to sun of the other side that we have previously explored, can be seen through the mythological city of Remoria: the city that Remus had built, and, for Valerio Mattioli, perhaps the Rome that might have been if Remus had prevailed against Romulus in their ancient fratricidal duel. The duel is said to have taken place under a solar eclipse, which Mattioli figures as the illumination of another world. Remoria emerges as an inverted twin city, the parallel opposite of Rome, and the incarnation of the beyond-threshold. It is the city of expenditure, of the sacrifice of that which never was nor will be, where Rome was supposed to be the city that continually reproduces what already is, and it is a round and circular city, welcoming the waste of the world of the living, where Rome was meant to be a square city that strictly boundaries the inside and out. Remoria as a spectral, abymsal double of Rome, almost echoes the idea of the underworld as a surreal mirror image of life on earth – like the earth and yet not quite. But perhaps it also lies locked in the heart of the metropolis. For Mattioli the Grande Raccordo Anulare (or “Great Ring Junction”) that encircles the modern city of Rome is akin to a magic seal replicating the features of the solar disk on the city ground: an anal symbol, without beginning and without end, and a site where solarisation projects in a spiral between the earth and the sky.
The solar inversion of the Mediterranean “disk of death” then takes us into a dark continuum, represented in Italian underground music and through which Mattioli ultimately portrays the legacy of the Witches’ Sabbath. The Witches’ Sabbath, whether real or strictly imagined, was never sanctioned within any sacred, and its dances sought to invert the existing regime, revealing, according to Silvia Federici, “the living symbol of ‘the world turned upside-down;”. This upside-down world is also the world in which the noontide demons raged: remember, the middle of the day, when the sun is at its highest, and none other than the city so burned by that sun’s light. This reveals a hidden world, perhaps one that is at once this world, which for Mattioli is the synthetic, inorganic world of the living dead, and their dead planet, the Sun; too much heat and light means death rather than illumination. We can again turn to Stanislaw Przybyszewski for the Satanic significance of the inversion in the Witches’ Sabbath. Here, the Witches’ Sabbath is the vehicle for a personal Satanic-Nietzschean transvaluation of values, initiated by a frenzy of orgies, ecstatic dances, and sacrifices that culminate in the dissolution of reality and sensorium into an endless night in which Satan appears to lead his mass. Flesh revolts against law, its instincts triumph over the society that exists over them, desire is elevated and heightened to the point of being fulfilled in the transmutation of divine communion with Satan, or perhaps the gods. Gold, God, power over others, these are worthless before the Sabbath of the flesh, and as it is partaken the concept of sin itself is destroyed along with the holy, dissolving into itself and becoming nothing. In the dark continuum that is the infinite night of the Witches’ Sabbath, good and evil cease to exist, leaving nothing but joy.
Finally, we turn to Valerio Mattioli’s examination the solarisation of Milan via Giulio Questi’s 1972 film Arcana, a giallo movie set in Milan and containing in the background a setting of tension between the modern, industrial metropolis of Milan and an exhausted but still deeply occult South. Questi seems to present images of Milan that include underground construction sites that ostensibly and unwittingly invoke dormant chthonic powers and latent irrationality smouldering both within the earth and in the southern Italy sunshine. Mattioli then illustrates the two worlds as interconnected: Milan, that rational, enlightened, advanced capitalist metropolis, sinks its bowels into an underworld of underground construction sites where southern immigrant workers regularly lost parts of their bodies, not to mention a host of curses, memories, and spells. The city contains within itself its own nemesis, its own negative, its own dark mirror image that pushes for inversion: solarisation. And for Milan, that solar inversion is imminent, or already underway. Mattioli sees the Covid-19 pandemic as having unravelled the truth of the disk of death: there is no consumption or nourishment without waste or excrement, and there is always an asshole somewhere. Thus the mass flight of southerners from Milan to the South, which was interpreted as a betrayal of the metropolis, was simply the city having consumed and then excreted a labouring mass. In this sense the inverting quality of solarisation again reveals a hidden world, a hidden Remoria, that is perhaps at the same time this world.
And so we at last return to the Canicola, the conclusion, as our final exploration of Valerio Mattioli’s discussion of solar inversion. His summary of the inverting power of the sun centres on none other than Lucifer, the morning star, whose name is here invoked in reference to the sun. At first that’s a little strange, but given all the references to Italian folklore and counterculture I’m actually tempted to think it echoes the Lucifer, or Lucifero, of Charles Leland’s Aradia, who was cast as a sun god. What Mattioli says of “Lucifer” is more or less a summary of the whole discourse of solarisation. The sun, perched 150 million kilometres from our planet, shoots intense rays of light at Earth every day. Its rays, just as much as they support life, melt the shadows, evaporate knowledge of things, and make a desert of the earth. The light does not illuminate, it only brings darkness, because too much of it can only blind you. So the fire of the sun is also the very fire of hell, and Lucifer, though the bearer of light, would appear to be a master of shadows. The Sun itself is the source of both life and death for Earth, and, for Mattioli, the principle of delusions, abnormalities, and all abysses of the human psyche. One is almost tempted to call it the Father of Lies.
What’s somewhat amusing is that, when I read that Canicola, I picked up what sounded like a description of Christian negative theology, in the sense that God is dark because his light is beyond comprehension. For Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, the “darkness” of the apophatic God is actually light, in his words a “light above light”, some might even say an excess of light. Even the negative theologians, insofar as they were Christians, would not worship a god of darkness, not as I would, so the apophatic God must still be light. Just that this light is too much for us, it would make us dark. The apophatic Christian God indeed blinds us by the supposed radiance of his absolute presence in the cosmos. There is also for them the darkness that is ignorance, and there is the darkness that is actually the supreme superabundance of God’s light. Perhaps it is a matter of interpretation for the Christian. Though of course, Christianity is not quite alone in its understanding of divine darkness. Neoplatonists also seemed to refer to a certain concept of divine darkness: Damascius said that the “first principle of the Egyptians” was what was called the “thrice unknown darkness”, beyond all human comprehension, and Iamblichus referred to the same concept in On the Mysteries of the Egyptians, Chaldeans, and Assyrians. Older Greek philosophers such as Heraclitus referred to a divine quality referred to as “unseen”, “unapparent”, or “unknown to men”, the rammifications ought to be fairly different from the need to maintain light as the supreme centre of truth rather than darkness in itself. In any case, one almost thinks of the God of negative theology as a sun in the way Mattioli talks about, so bright that it whites out the entire universe.
But the more important takeaway involves going back to the subject of solar myth. Let’s return to solarisation in relationship to Italian neorealism and Aleister Crowley, to that very neorealist desire to know and modify the world, its connection to the Crowleyan precept of magic as the art of causing change according to will, and their suggested link to the hallucinatory power of the sun. This will to know and modify the world, to overturn everything, is what makes the hallucinations of the sun the property of solar myth. Here, we can insert a little bit of philosophical sadism, well, of a sort. Geoffrey Gorer in The Life and Ideas of the Marquis de Sade presents a remarkably broad definition of sadism, which he summarizes as “The pleasure felt from the observed modifications on the external world produced by the will of the observer”. Gorer submits that this is expansive enough to include creating works of art to blowing up bridges, so long as it constitutes a modification of the external world by a willing agent. This of course is fairly magically significant, in that it denotes the modification of the objective universe by the subjective universe of the will, a process that also transforms the magician, and it also in some ways echoes the creative-destruction that anarchists have talked about since Mikhail Bakunin first did. But in some ways, it also denotes a solar myth.
The Mediterranean whiteout is a phenomenon in which sun, at its brightest, turns the field of vision into a vast, dazzling field of white that then liquefies perceptual reality. As a creative and magical technique, it is a way of inverting the world into an unreal inner world of phantasmagorial structures and landscapes. Crowleyan solar myth sees the light of a willing Sun reforming the world in accordance with itself and its own universe, and again to some extent the magician. For Cavan McLaughlin, the whole life of Aleister Crowley is its own archetypical form of this process. As he points out, Crowley’s life is a personal mythology, supported by a magical authorial will. Born Edward Alexander Crowley, he dubbed himself Aleister Crowley as an act of magical self-authorship, itself understood as an expression of the “Western Esoteric Tradition” through the a key axiom of the Hermetic Orde of the Golden Dawn, “By names and images are all powers awakened and reawakened”, for which reason members take up new magical names for their initiation. In 1930 Crowley even faked his own death by suicide, leaving a “suicide note” and false information to the press, before re-appearing three weeks later, alive and well, in Berlin. In so doing he has blurred the lines between fact and fiction, and in this sense sort of solarising reality, in a sense blinding it with a hallucination, and in so doing creating a new one for himself. Crowley in this sense was a Sun named The Great Beast 666, whose light burned and warped his world in the image of his will. One might say similar things about other magicians as well, even the likes of Anton LaVey.
And what if, to turn back to the point about negative theology, God himself also qualifies? If we take that God’s light solarises the universe in his own image, and if we assume that God created the world, then God would be a magician who solarised his order of things into existence, theoretically at least overturning what state of things came before. God of course even has his own secret magical names. God, then, is at war with Satan simply for rejecting his creation and trying to do what God does, just as Sophia is cursed and having to redeem herself for the very same imitation of God. God, Pleroma, they are the egoists who would prefer that you deny this and not be egoists. But in rejection of monotheism, we may still assume an endless spiral of insurrectionary creative-destruction underpinning the whole of reality. That’s “Satan’s Fall”. From a certain standpoint this may indeed be the dragon at the centre of the world. By inversion, by blasphemy, overturn everything and reveal reality in order to create it anew. Perhaps this is the only meaningful way to express oneness with the nature of reality.
Now, after all of this exposition from Revolutionary Demonology, we should finally summarize what all of this discussion of solar myth and inversion means for understanding Satan in the view of Satanism. For this, I suppose we can briefly return to the subject of Lucifer. The relationship between Satan and Lucifer is complex to the point of occasional confusion, but I believe I can present a somewhat simple perspective in defense of their mutual distinction. Lucifer is the polytheistic spirit of the morning star, a rebel angel who emerges from a long chain of pre-Christian myth and chthonicism into modern day occultism, on his own an illuminating agent of gnosis. Satan, on the other hand, is a much larger presence. Satan is this great adversarial “Other” whose sign as it once within everything, a whole spiral of negative insurrection and desire that in its own way animates the flesh of everything, the atavistic rebellion that cuts through all silence and creates and destroys things without end, the Darkness of life that is inherent to it, cannot be ignored, and must embraced in order to access the truth and power of this world and run wild and free in it. In this exact sense, Eliphas Levi was correct to identify Satan as the instrument of liberty.
The relevance of the Sun is clearly in the significance of the Sun as a metaphor for the primordial ground of reality. That is why, in the course of the development of monotheism in antiquity, the Sun emerged as a cipher for the divine unity of the cosmos, or a nascent concept of “God”. This idea that still has some currency to this day. Carl Jung certainly thought it made sense when he wrote in Psychology of the Unconscious that the Sun is “the only rational representation of God” across culture, being the “father” or “parent” from whom everything on Earth derives its life, the source of living energy, the natural extra-human source of spiritual harmony, and simultaneously utterly destructive. George Gurdjieff proposed the “Most Holy Sun Absolute” as the kernel of all divine unity and reality, the ultimate platform, basis, and thereby original state of the universe, which he believed God created specifically to maintain the “Most Holy Sun Absolute”. Aleister Crowley also seems to have reflected the solar idea in his emphasis on a solar centre, encapsulated in his statement that Thelema (“our religion”) is “the cult of the Sun”. From a Satanic standpoint, obviously, it would be Satan that embodies this solar urgrund. Crowley certainly identifies him as such by identifying him as “Sun”, and Agrippa’s identification of 666 as the magical number of the Sun would do well assist Crowley in this regard. But Satan as the Sun is no mere cipher for the unity of reality. In some ways, perhaps the opposite is the case. Remember that Satan is, very literally, the Adversary. That’s the simplest way to understand Satan, but its significance for Satanism stems exactly from insurrection and longing in its primordial sense.
Think of it in terms of the exile of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. This event is traditionally regarded as the primordial disgrace of humanity, in Christian terms the origin of our propensity to sin and, therefore, need for the redemption through Jesus. But, of course, for us on the Left Hand Path, in Satanic terms, this even is to be interpreted as the beginning of humanity’s initiation, the path of our own liberation and perfection. But there is another angle as well. There is the idea, a form of cosmic pessimism, that our existence is an exile, nothingness being our original home. That’s the question Emil Cioran posed in Tears and Saints, but if this is indeed the case then it means that life is a rebellion, an insurrection, that overturns everything that came before it. In that sense, life itself is an insurrection of solarisation, and one response to this is to simply embrace it. If to embrace life is to embrace exile, cruel as it may be, then so be it. To me, it is the only answer to the question of life that makes sense, if this is how one poses it. The mythological Satan and Lucifer both embrace their exile from heaven as the fruit of their insurrection/rebellion, and with it the very desire that it was based on. In Sethian or Valentinian terms, the exile of spirit in separation from the Pleroma, born of Sophia’s desire to understand God and the resultant creation of Yaldabaoth, was, from another standpoint, the sole reason a life beyond the order of the Pleroma is possible, thus life itself is a product of her Fall. On the other hand, perhaps it’s simply a more innocent longing to beyond what is. I remembered T L Othaos’ system of “Tenebrous Satanism”, and one idea from it being that life is basically an adventure of the acausal (spirit) in the realm of flesh, seemingly undertaken for the pleasure of the acausal. The point of reconciling with the Darkness is simply to disinhibit ourselves by removing the barriers of despair and fear in order to more fully embrace the adventure. The theme of exile and solarisation is still present in this interpretation of the Fall, however: here, Satan “fell” from heaven, embracing exile in order to reject the order of God, which traps the adventurous progression of life, which itself primordially overturns everything.
In a unique way the Sun, particularly because of its “black” and nocturnal aspect, is actually quite an apt analogy for Satan and the magical path of Satanism. Satan’s Fall overturns everything, and his spiral of insurrection is the basis of life. For this reason, his sign is the imprint of life. That is Satanic solarisation, and it can be our interpretation of the dragon at the heart of the world; the dragon for us can be other than Satan, though we usually much prefer to see him as the goat. Satanic nigredo is disinhibition, enivres-vous, blasphemy, inversion, a rebours, magic in itself, and, in Pagan terms perhaps, the journey into the underworld, going to the bottom of the earth so as to overturn everything per will, on the path to our own self-actualisation and alchemical perfection. Never surrendering to anything, the magician on the path fully embraces solarisation as the delirious overturning of everything, reshaping the world in their art in their will, and on the path to weaving their will into everything. That is our will-to-darkness, our path to becoming-demonic, for Satan is the whole basis of our path, by dint of everything that we have established so far. And for all of this Satan is also the emblem of our solar myth, the solar myth of the Satanist, overturning everything to reveal the truth of its double image, its hidden reality, whiting out everything in our black light and manifesting the truth our will, a new truth, in our own Art. That is our satanic solarisation.
I would like to conclude this article with an ironic note on the lamentation that in the next essay, “The Highest Form of Gnosis” by Enrico Monacelli, about the nature of the “worldwide annihilation” that is modernity. Monacelli says here, citing Amy Ireland’s The Poememenon:
Whereas pre-moderns lived in a world ‘marked by dogmatism, a drive towards unity, verticality, the need for transcendent rule and the symbol of the sun’, moderns live in a catastrophic miasma that can only be characterised as ‘lunar, secular, horizontal, multiple, and immanent’.
Why do I think there’s irony involved? Because one is to reflect on this either as a spiral of disintegration and lunacy pervading the world at large, or as proof of Nick Land’s argument that the universe is nothing but a distintegrating machine in which we’re all witnesses to our own laceration and martyrdom. But, if we humans are truly in need for a representation of the sun, we can have it, easily! Because that sun is not the unity of God or the daylight of the world of forms. No, that sun is the sun in the underworld, the shining light of Hades. Nay, the sun is Satan, without whose sign we should not be.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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:
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.
I decided that it might be worth my time to address some arguments against anarcho-nihilism, if mostly because I keep seeing them floating around. This is mostly in reference to arguments from non-anarchist communists, including Marxist-Leninists, but social-anarchists and standard issue anarcho-communists also tend to make similar arguments – either from first principle, as the case may be, or perhaps simply to take after the old “Anarcho-Bolsheviks” who thought that allying with the Soviet Union would save them after the suppression of Makhnovschina. In the process of this, however, we will not spend any time addressing any accusations of fascism, because in reference to our subject those are simply aesthetic slurs made with no consideration of the actual nature of their object, and as such can be dismissed out of hand.
Let’s consider the following arguments against anarcho-nihilism:
“Nihilism means doing nothing”
“Anarcho-nihilism is the ideology of the ruling class”
“What has anarcho-nihilism negated?”
“Anarcho-nihilism is the ideology of serial killers/abject immorality/suicidal ideation”
(the adventurism accusation)
“Aren’t you just pessimists, not actually nihilistic?”
“Nihilism can only lead back to conformity and submission”
“We live in a society”
Objection #1: “Nihilism Means Doing Nothing”
This is a fairly obvious case where the people making this complaint don’t even bother to read the quotations presented to them. Let’s go to the quotation in question, from Serafinski’s Blessed Is The Flame, to see where some people might be going wrong:
The anarcho-nihilist position is essentially that we are fucked. That the current manifestation of human society (civilization, leviathan, industrial society, global capitalism, whatever) is beyond salvation, and so our response to it should be one of unmitigated hostility. There are no demands to be made, no utopic visions to be upheld, no political programs to be followed – the path to resistance is one of pure negation.
Blessed Is The Flame, Serafinski (2016)
So, where have critics gone wrong here? The answer is to be found in but another question: how do you derive “do nothing” from “unmitigated hostility”? I suppose the phrases “we are fucked” and “human society is beyond salvation” would have some people interpreting it as a statement of utter resignation to fate, but such a sentiment is in no way reflected in Blessed Is The Flame. If it were, why would the book consist of detailed accounts of insurgent resistance undertaken by concentration camp prisoners against their Nazi captors, guided by no hope in futurity but instead by the purity of their desire to destroy systematic and genocidal oppression. Or perhaps it just comes down to the rejection of formal programs or utopic visions? In that case, what you understand as “doing nothing” is simply the rejection of new ways of ordering people, of new grand designs to impose upon the each other after the old ones perish one by one. In this sense we take after Max Stirner when, in juxtaposing insurrection against “Revolution”, he said that the point should not be to let ourselves be arranged but to clear the way for us to arrange ourselves, reserving no hope for any great institutions. In this sense, then, rather than advocating for doing nothing, anarcho-nihilism in this sense binds actions towards a locus of agency which is then drawn back into its rightful place in individual (and then collective) subjectivity.
The thing is, though, when Marxist-Leninists make this argument, they are making it against all of anarchism and are always talking about it from the standpoint of certain ideas of revolutionary success. What I mean is, when they say that anarcho-nihilists, or really any anarchists for that matter, have never accomplished anything, their standard is the “success” of the various so-called “socialist” states – the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China, Cuba, Venezuela, to name just a few. It sounds believable if you only think about it in terms of holding onto power and controlling states for maybe more than one decade, but when you think about it in terms of the goals of Marxism itself the argument loses meaning.
Even if we discount the matter of the authoritarianism that they practiced, whenever the conversation about their acheivements comes up, it seems impossible to identify any actual establishment of socialism (at least insofar as we define it as a system wherein the working class control the means of production) within these countries. Instead, what comes up is mostly expansions of public infrastructure, maybe some state support for public service, as well as certain quotas about “raising living standards”, all under the supervision of one party states, none of which actually has much to do with “socialism”, let alone “communism”, as such. In Marxism-Leninism, the whole goal of establishing a socialist state or “dictatorship of the proletariat” is to (gradually) establish the conditions of communism, but after over a century (and, keep in mind, Marxist-Leninist governments still exist to this day) not only has this never happened, if anything the reverse seems to keep happening as under their leadership ostensibly “socialist” nations actually seem to be developing rudimentary capitalism, with no sign of any reverse course. So under this very criteria, we can’t actually judge these states as “successful revolutions” just because of the fact that they managed to take power when and where they did.
To summarize, it’s a meaningless objection. That is, it is meaningless to accuse your opponents of “doing nothing” when, first of all, you yourself are doing no more than they are, and secondly, the powers you support, and for which you demand solidarity from others, have failed to acheive any kind of communism anywhere.
Or perhaps the whole canard is simply an extension of the idea that nihilists “believe in nothing” – if you “believe in nothing”, you will ergo “do nothing”, so it supposedly goes. But even nihilism in itself comes in different shades. For one thing there is often a distinction between “passive” nihilism and “active” nihilism. Passive nihilism is understood basically as a sort of Schopenhauerian pessimism, the resignation to life as an “unprofitable episode”, while active nihilism represents the conscious effort to break down existing value structures, at least insofar as they are undesired, so that you can carve your own meaning yourself, and so all may enjoy the same freedom. Very much the opposite of “doing nothing”, especially when applied in the context of the Russian nihilist movement, or for that matter all similar movements.
Objection #2: “Anarcho-Nihilism Is The Ideology Of The Ruling Class”
This is another staple not only of Marxist-Leninist critics but also of social-anarchists, and to be honest I have absolutely no idea how this idea came into being. I have to suspect it comes from the deliberate conflation of any and all individualist forms of anarchism with right-wing ideology. Maybe it also comes from Murray Bookchin, who in Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism explicitly referred to so-called “lifestyle anarchism” (meaning individualist anarchism and basically whatever else he didn’t like about contemporary anarchism) as “a bourgeois form of anarchism”.
Of course, it’s nonsense. You will never see Joe Biden, Liz Truss, Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Ursula Von der Leyen, Kristalina Georgieva, or any of the bourgeoisie present any suggestion that they want to destroy society or abolish all of the institutions of capitalism and statehood. In fact, you would think that they all benefit from the very institutions that we would like to see destroyed. That much should seem obvious from even the most cursory reflection, but for some reason people on the Left like to believe nihilism is bourgeois. Are we to forget that the Russian nihilists, who were very likely the first to take up that name for themselves in a modern sense, worked towards the negation of all of the major institutions of Russian society, including class society?
I think that a lot of this criticism rests on the idea of the supposed “individualism” of modern capitalism. Thus, for our purposes, let us put that myth to rest. Whatever capitalism presents as “individual freedom” is often anything but. Whatever you believe to be “capitalist individualism” is actually a sophisticated form of collectivism developed through the admixture liberal ideology and Christian morality. You hear the establishment talk of the importance of”individual responsibility”, but when you ask “who or what is the individual responsible to”, the answer reveals itself as economy, society, the state, work, the major social institutions of the present. Thus “personal responsibility” in capitalist parlance is, in reality, the expectation of the individual to conform to society at large as a productive agent for the state. Social marginalization is the function of societies as collective bodies that then invariably base their order on some kind of authoritarian normativity. And so individuals that defy normativity are either violently repressed or socially shunned. I ask you, what “individualism” is this?
Further, I say that the “communist” objection to nihilism, alongside egoism and individualism, is rendered all the more meaningless by none other than the existential criteria of communism. To illustrate this, let’s consult Karl Marx in Critique of the German Ideology:
In communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, to fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I have in mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, shepherd or critic.
Karl Marx, Critique of the German Ideology (1846)
Communism, in this understanding, would mean a set of social conditions in which an individual is free to pursue any creative activities they desire without the division of labour, class society, and statehood, and without the individual subjectivity of creative activity being locked into any sort of professional identity. In other words, the communist subject is someone who creates because they enjoy creating, not because they are a creator. They produce things in accordance with will, interest, desire, and not because they are workers. Such an understanding is easily transferred towards and nourished by the egoist worldview; for the Unique, in establishing communism on behalf of itself, destroys the totality of existing conditions in order to arrange itself for itself, produce and create for itself, and share this condition with others without coercion or hierarchy.
As a matter of fact, there are at least some Marxists who understand quite well what this entails, and ironically, without realising it, end up as anti-communists because of it. The main illustrative example here would be Domenico Losurdo, a Stalinist intellectual whose main response to Marx’s elaboration of communism is to call for revising the definition of communism entirely, rejecting Marx’s proposal as “fantastical” and “anarchistic” in favour, presumably, of an idea more congruent with the actual conditions of Soviet capitalism. My point here is that at least some Marxists are well aware of what Marx’s communism entails, even if the majority are utterly confused, and one of the responses, ironically enough, is to attack the theoretical basis of communism.
I am well aware that my approach to nihilism and communism is not always accepted even by others in the same milieu, but just to support it further we can turn to none other than Stirner’s egoism itself, at least as presented by Jacob Blumenfeld. Here, I am specifically drawing from a lecture he presented in 2016. Blumenfeld here illustrates that Stirner’s “communism”, or at least communism as unwittingly borne out from Stirner’s egoism, consists in the insurrectionary/revolutionary negation of Capital as a world-historic force, in the liberation of unique individual relationships to create and devour each other, and in the ontological nothingness of the proletariat and the impermanence of its labour that then enacts its own emancipation in the devourment of the order of things. Communism in nihilist terms is thus to destroy the totality of extant social conditions so as to fully realise the freedom of human beings, manifest in the full negative splendour of the Unique.
Objection #3: “What Has Anarcho-Nihilism Negated?”
This is something of a silly question, because, again, those who ask this question have invariably done no more than we have. Actually, when I think about it, this is sort of the same as the first objection. In a way, the better question would be “what is anarcho-nihilism trying to negate?”. But then the answer should be obvious.
All of the ordering processes that humans have to created regiment our collective existence, every project that can roundabout be described as “the New Man”, every grand teleological design, every new regime of futurity, all of this is what we cast to the fire.
Objection #4: “Anarcho-Nihilism Is [Insert Bad Thing Here]”
Most outside encounters with anarcho-nihilism appear to treat it as either a statement of abject malevolence, an expression of utter despair, or outright suicidal ideation. It’s an obvious ad hominem of course, and there really is no evident basis for it other than a reflexive emotional response. Perhaps an unconscious script, you might say.
There is a somewhat prejudicial idea at play here. The idea seems to be that being a nihilist of any sort means that, since you “believe in nothing”, supposedly meaning that you believe “nothing matters”, you will be willing to do all sorts of heinous things to people just because “nothing matters”. There’s a bunch of problems with that though. For starters, if nihilism in an ontological sense is just the belief that life does not possess any inherent meaning or teleological will, what about that is supposed to be so inherently anti-ethical, or even “anti-social” necessarily? And what about that belief is supposed to be so conducive to murder, when countless more people have been by people and organisations whose actions were all guided by some greater good they thought they were serving?
That really is the strange thing, isn’t it? Everyone seems to have a problem when someone kills maybe a hundred people in a self-satisfying spectacle of violence, but no one seems to have any problem when states, whether capitalist or “socialist” kill tens of thousands or even millions of people, either directly or as the consequence of a set of conditions they create. You think you are morally upstanding because you condemn some imagined mayhemic violence that you associate with statelessness, but in reality by supporting statehood you also support the systematic violence that invariably supports it. You may object, but what are the processes and functions that uphold the existence of states? Wars, incarceration, slavery, patriarchy, punishment, intelligence, eugenicism, economics, even sexual abuse, there are countless apparatuses of violent instrumentality that support the state, and chances are your average non-anarchist person is prepared to support at least one of those things and thereby its effects, all while handwringing over the threat of lawless violence. And it’s not because they’re assholes or bad people necessarily, it’s definitely not because they’re “nihilists”, “sadists”, “sociopaths”, “psychopaths” or the like; they’re probably often nice people interpersonally in many other respects. In fact, you’re looking at the current majority of the world’s population, and they can’t all be “insane” and “psychotic”. And whether they are or not isn’t the problem. You can believe anything you want, be “perfectly sane”, and under certain circumstances you’ll justify the worst atrocities you can think, not because you get off on it but because you think there’s a greater good that makes it all worthwhile.
Don’t make any mistake: in more people than you might think, there’s an ideal that people are willing to countenance sacrificial violence to fulfill. There’s legions of people that are willing to condemn the whole world to a long and painful ecological catastrophe so that some way of life that they cherish, that they’ve taken as the natural order of their lives or life more generally, can continue unabated for generations more. Even more people are prepared to tolerate or even justify the fact of thousands of millions of indigenous peoples being killed and/or displaced, in either case amounting to acts of genocide, if it means they can lead comfortable lives or that the progress of “civilization” can continue to enrich the world or so they believe. So, on that count, people may accuse anarcho-nihilists of being serial killers in waiting (or training) only to deflect the reality of unmitigated violence away from whatever social order they prefer to defend.
At heart the whole objection comes down to the perception that anarcho-nihilists are just anarchists who are just enthusiastic about committing violence. Pacifists hold this objection and sometimes refer to nihilists as “violentoids”, while also making the same arguments about violence and authoritarianism that Friedrich Engels already made in On Authority, albeit from the opposite perspective to Engels. The pacifist opposes all forms of violence because, like Engels, they deem that all violence is a form of coercion and authoritarianism. I say that this perspective runs into severe problems when we consider the possibility of abuse victims using violence to liberate themselves from abuse; namely, it establishes false equivalence between the people being abused and the people doing the abusing. Frequently motivated by the self-righteous belief that anarchism is just a signifier for “good person”, they attack the nihilists for being willing to accept what is already the basis of all politics, and believe that they can transcend it. Now you could say that it is very possible to embody anarchistic relationships without violence, and you can establish small-scale communities to that effect. But how are you going to dismantle the state just by getting into drum circles? The state is never going to abolish itself, even if pacifists, reformists, and orthodox Marxists seem to think so, and I will gods-damned if it is only anarcho-nihilists who are going to be honest about that fact!
Objection #5: “Anarcho-Nihilists Are Just Edgy Pessimists”
This objection is somewhat more interesting, because it’s at least ostensibly an actual philosophical objection rather than simply an aesthetic one. Of course, it could still be an ad hominem, but it is worth examining the distinction between nihilism and pessimism.
Pessimism, in itself, is not necessarily nihilism. I find revolutionary pessimism to be highly meaningful and valuable, and the French Surrealist conception thereof is an important part of my current political/philosophical ideology, but even this doesn’t necessarily start off from a nihilist perspective, or at least not inherently so. Pessimism on its own can mean many things, philosophically, often starting from very anti-nihilist perspectives (including forms of Christianity). That said, philosophical pessimism can overlap with philosophical nihilism. An interesting example is 19th century German pessimism, certain forms thereof have sometimes been termed nihilism – Julius Bahnsen, for instance, used that term to describe his own philosophy. But more to the point, a pessimist can be someone who takes a generally dim view of the world, sentimentally or ontologically, they can be someone whose worldview is built on the centrality of suffering, contradiction, or evil in the world regardless of the attitude towards it (religions such as Christianity and Buddhism all can have their pessimistic streaks), or it can be the broad thesis that life is in some ways not worth living. Depending on who you ask, a nihilist might reject at least one of these ideas.
If there’s a definition of nihilism we can work with, it’s the ontological position that existence has no inherent meaning, that meaning only consists of what we create, and, following from this, all of the externalised meanings that obscure this for us should be smashed or cast aside. That doesn’t always start from a pessimistic outlook. A pessimist can still be beholden to the same meaning-structures that a nihilist is not or strives not to be. A nihilist may not even necessarily derive melancholy from their position. From the standpoint of at least some nihilists, the rejection of meaning-structures can be an unambiguously positive and joyous thing.
Anarcho-nihilism is admittedly a case where the nihilism and the pessimism interlock. That’s probably part of what makes it meaningful, ironically enough. The pessimism is in the rejection of the received horizons of hope and futurity, of revolutionary optimism, of the idea that there’s a program out there that’s going to deliver us from all of our sufferings – loaded of course with the premise that the only thing left for us is to save ourselves. The nihilism is in the active pursuit of the destruction of the horizons of futurity, normative meaning, and social ordering and, most strikingly, in the joy that accompanies this destructive liberation – in a word, jouissance. So then, it is not that anarcho-nihilism is merely pessimistic. It is often pessimistic yes, but it is also strictly more than pessimism.
Objection #6: “Nihilism Only Leads Back To Oppression”
This is an argument I observed in Shahin’s Nietzsche And Anarchy, a book that otherwise enjoyed reading and have found very valuable in illustrating a psychological individualist standpoint for collective action based around individuation. Shahin seems to define nihilism in terms of “the trap of reflexive action” (apparently borrowing from Alfredo Bonnano here), action done without planning or critique and with no vision of the future, and appears to argue that we can only destroy the dominant values-structures if we also create new ones to take their place, and without new affirmative projects one slips into despair, self-destruction, and ultimately back into conformity with the status quo. This is another far more interesting argument than the usual ad hominems, and bears a response.
There’s a way in which the emphasis on “reflexive action” as “action done without planning or critique” cuts into the subject of direct action. What is direct action? People don’t always understand it, but it is as the term suggests: taking actions in order to directly achieve political goals or interests. Ziq in Burn The Bread Book defines it as “an isolated use of force unconnected to institutional systems of power”. There’s no appeal to any kind of higher authority, no official “legitimacy” conferred upon it by anyone, no monopoly on violence granted to them for or by this action, and often, because of that, nothing to guarantee safety from the threat of retalitation. Now, by what standard do we say that such actions are necessarily “non-reflexive”? It’s not true that there is no planning or critique involved, but it’s also not true that the tactic of direct action is entirely unspontaneous. And insofar as that’s the case, does it entirely matter if, for instance, you could destroy the war effort of a fascist state with our without reflexion, with or without “planning” or “critique”?
But this is obviously only somewhat meaningful. Who says nihilists don’t make plans or engage in critique? As if we don’t have theory for the latter, which is all too often hardly read. No, the real fixation here is on the idea of the “vision of the future”. One could say that, if we’re serious, everyone has a vision of what they want the future to look like, even anarcho-nihilists with an almost entirely negationist vision. From that standpoint, the simple problem is that our future is not your future and that we want our future and not your future. But it’s deeper than that. Part of anarcho-nihilist theory concerns itself with opposition to what is called futurity, or “reproductive futurism”. But you might ask, what is that? Futurity is not just the general idea that we can create and live in a better world than the world we live in. Futurity is the reproduction of order, that is the prevailing social order, it is the idea of teleological Progress which then elicits the concentration of order at the expense of autonomous life.
In Lee Edelmann’s No Future, as well as baedan, we see this concept of futurity tied intrinsically to the familiar reactionary forces of cisheteronormativity and white supremacy, all of whom and even sometimes progressive ideologies appeal to the abstract figure of The Child at the expense of actual children. Put this way, ideologies of futurity and progress can be understood as a devotion to abstract notions of better futures (and, I assure you, there are few things more abstract than “the future”) at the expense of the present or even the actual possibility of a better future world. So then, it is only pitiable that other anarchists might look down on nihilist anarchists because of their lack of faith in “the future”, because at heart what counts for the core of it is the ordering process of futurity, and its inexorable authoritarianism.
Next, consider what Shahin says here: “we can only destroy the values, desires and cultures that destroy us if we also create and affirm new values to take their place”. Now consider what this actually means in practice. What are “the values, desires and cultures that destroy us”? They are dominant value-systems, they are social systems of ordering human life predicated on imperative valuation, they are meant to be understood collectively as structures that are imposed upon subjects. Therefore, what does it mean “to take their place”? It means to create new systems of social ordering based, ultimately, around dominating value-structures, which then order the behaviour of humans in conformity to value. Is it really possible to interpret such organisation as consistent with the anarchist commitment to oppose all forms of hierarchy, authority, and collective domination? Or are we just aiming for new arrangements instead of no longer letting ourselves be arranged by anyone but ourselves?
And then there’s despair. I ask you: who in their right mind can persist in the world we live in entirely absent of despair? Who, other than someone who may stand to benefit from the existence and perpetuation of the order of things? Is despair in itself such a bad place to begin collective action? At the very least, it’s not a bad place for alchemy and mysticism to get going, and I can promise you that those things have more prefigurative value than many people think! But let’s just pose the alternative question: how do you know the nihilist is necessarily a mere reflection of embodied despair? Indeed, the nihilist emphasis on jouissance could betray just the opposite attitude. What room is there for despair when there is so much joy to be had in the resistance to and destruction of oppression, and in the transvaluation of values undertaken by each one of us who partakes in the realisation of anarchy in the world?
Objection #7: “We Live In A Society”
This last one is something of an ad hominem, but, as with the others, makes for an ample springboard for a larger conversation around anarcho-nihilism. The objection is aimed at the destruction of the abstract notion of “society”, to which the inevitable retort is that we live in a society. A sardonic quip, a meme, thereby an ad hominem. But it is not without meaning.
You see, every materialist is a materialist who questions everything until it’s time to question society itself. Every leftist learns to see things as the products of social processes and see social arrangements as at least arbitrary enough that they can be dismantled, until it’s time to consider society itself. Now, “society” is sacrosanct to the extent you in your propaganda will tell others that you’re actually fighting for civil society. Scratch that, you’re fighting for civil society as an organism, your ideology is in fact not ideology, more like the “natural immune system” of civil society, through which you will destroy every “foreign parasite” that threatens its integrity. You congratulate yourself for saying this, to everyone and to yourself, mired in a micro-fascism that you will never recognise for what it is. We tell people that we live in a society when the point is to challenge it. We mean it to mock some sort of reactionary pseudo-profundity but then see how quickly it extends as a cudgel against all critics of civil society in itself.
What the hell is society in itself? It’s simply the confederation of human social relationships. That’s it. That’s all it is. Societies are groupings of relationships between individuals who confederate with each other towards what is at least theoretically their mutual advantage. That’s what we all really mean when we say that you can’t fight the status quo alone. The warm fuzzies we get about togetherness are just a way of obfuscating what is ultimately as egoistic as anything else. Modern societies are also networks of ordered relationships that are necessarily maintained through extensive social control. But modern or no, societies also tend to possess their own sort of normativity, which can create marginalization. You would think that there’s no inherent justification for such a thing, but apparently “human nature” demands civil society and so it should not be questioned. But there is no actual “human nature”. We are a “social species” only in the sense that humans tend to like and enjoy forming social relationships and fulfill their needs through sociation. But there are also people who are for many reasons averse to such sociation, perhaps even preferring solitude, or who prefer individuation over sociation. You might argue that this is a minority, but that doesn’t matter if you consider the obvious fact that such tendencies should not exist if “human nature” is inherently social or collectivist, for the same reason that, if a thing is outside what we call “Nature” it could not be said to exist.
Societies, understood in “materialist” terms, are arrangements of human relationships and their attendant conditions. They are not essential presences of human life, or fixed elements of “nature”. They can be altered, reformed, dismantled, or destroyed. “Society” itself is a fixed idea of said arrangements. People blindly conform to it, and then compel others to conform, because they assume that Society is just the essential link of being human. It isn’t. It’s a frozen image of the bonds that we forge with each other, the rules we assume for and impose upon each other, and in sum the relationships we cultivate. In itself, it has no actual meaning.
By indulging myself in the writings of Renzo Novatore, Italy’s most well-known exponent of individualist/egoist and nihilist anarchism, I came to notice a theme across these writings. Throughout his literary work, Novatore frequently used the term “pagan” or “paganism” as a way of describing the spirit of his ideas. I am fairly convinced that this was in practice probably a poetic affectation, on the grounds that Novatore was an atheist who, by his own terms, opposed religion. Then again, the terms in which he opposed religion are, much like Max Stirner and others before him, rather blatantly conditioned by the Christian understanding of what religion is. But beyond that, as a Pagan who is definitely interested in Novatore’s philosophy, and arguably aligns with it, I think I would derive some intellectual pleasure from examining the way Novatore talks about Paganism. And so, to further indulge myself, that’s what I’m going to do.
In The Expropriator, Novatore describes the titular archetype as “singing playful songs of beauty”. In Beyond the Two Anarchies, he describes his own mind as a “passionate, pagan mind” which he likens to that of an uninhibited poet, after passionately declaring the shattering of all -archies before egoistic self-exaltation. In A “Female”, Novatore talked about a woman giving herself over to a loving embrace and her body becoming a “Harp of voluptuousness” seized by a “pagan fire”, and further a “hymn of intoxication sung beyond good and evil”. In Anarchist Individualism in the Social Revolution, he describes the ethical part of Individualism as amoral, wild, furious, warlike, and rooted in “the phosphorescent perianth of pagan nature”, and later says that “pagan nature” “placed a Prometheus in the mind of every mortal human being and a Hercules in the brain of every thinker” and that this same heroic impetus was later condemned by “morality”. In In The Circle of Life, he praised “this vigorous creature” who blossomed through the “pagan mystery” of homerically tragic art which he took to be a symbol of “sublime heroic beauty”. In Towards the Creative Nothing, Novatore condemned Christianity for “killing” the joy of the earth he attributed to Paganism and setting itself against “the dionysian spirit of our pagan ancestors”, while also lauding the gaze of the “pagan poet” and the preservation of “pagan will”. In In Defence of Heroic and Expropriating Anarchism, Novatore briefly refers to the Italian anarcho-communist Errico Malatesta as someone “who cannot be accused of having a pagan, Dionysian, Nietzschean concept of anarchism”, presumably to mean that Malatesta opposes his form of anarchism.
We can see from this that, although Novatore probably wasn’t a religious man, he clearly regarded some idea of Paganism as a core part of his concept of anarchism as opposed to certain others. It’s easy enough to understand this as an aesthetic quality, or at most a flamboyant extension of Friedrich Nietzsche’s anti-Christian worldview. But even in the context of the latter, what does it tell us?
There seems to be a lot of emphasis on “the dionysian” in Novatore’s writings, and that itself is often expressly linked to Nietzsche. In I Am Also A Nihilist, Novatore says the following:
But I don’t yearn for Nirvana, any more than I long for Schopenhauer’s desperate and powerless pessimism, which is a worse thing than the violent renunciation of life itself. Mine is an enthusiastic and dionysian pessimism, like a flame that sets my vital exuberance ablaze, that mocks at any theoretical, scientific or moral prison.
Here Novatore invokes “the dionysian” in order to distinguish his own brand of pessimism from the pessimism he perceives of Arthur Schopenhauer. Novatore’s pessimism and nihilism is a doctrine of the negation of every social order which, in this negation, allows egoistic self-consciousness to truly freely and mutually develop without being bound to any conceptual prisons. That basic conception of nihilism would echo the nihilism that was developed in Russia during the 19th century. Central here, though, is the “dionysian” part. What do we derive from this?
Of course, I’m sure we all know about Dionysus. Dionysus is usually understood as a god of wine and drunkenness, but is more broadly a chthonic god, a god of death and rebirth, a god of ecstasy, festivity, and intoxication, a father of liberation through whom his worshippers could transgress the boundaries of society and everyday consciousness in order to commune with the divine. Dionysus was worshipped in intoxicating mysteries, festivals involving phallicism, and ecstatic ceremonies of ritual death and rebirth, and in Rome he was the center of a plebeian republican cult and thus a patron god for the masses who were subjugated by the Roman ruling class. The way Novatore invokes Dionysus may have some link to the way Friedrich Nietzsche talks about him, and in fact the very idea of “dionysian pessimism” was born from Nietzsche. Nietzsche’s concept of “dionysian pessimism” was, to put it simply, a pessimism that justified life rather than abhorred it (the latter, of course, being Schopenhauer’s school of pessimism). This justification comes from life itself, even at its most terrible, ambiguous, and mendacious, without the belief in progress or even reason to undergird that affirmation of life. In other contexts, for Nietzsche, the “Dionysian” seems to denote a fundamentally tragic outlook in life.
From here we can see that Nietzsche’s influence on Novatore’s anarchism was far from subtle. It seems to me in fact that Novatore’s anarchism was very essentially a Nietzschean anarchism. But what exactly does it have to do with Dionysus himself, or with Paganism? Nietzsche in a certain sense did identify with a notion that he called “paganism” and regarded this worldview as superior to Christianity. But again, what was that for Nietzsche? I have to doubt that it meant much in the way of any concrete religious practice since, even if he liked to call himself a pagan, there’s no evidence of him having ever worshipped any gods or nature or partaken in pagan celebrations (in fact he seemed to regard devotional worship as foolish), but that’s ultimately beside the point.
“Paganism” for Nietzsche meant a conscious appreciation of that which is beyond good and evil, since the pagan gods in his observation were beyond good and evil. But it also seems to involve a “return” of sorts to the natural world, and to embrace nature even in its terrors and inclinations, either by living apart from civilization or by staying true to one’s “natural inclinations” – or, in a word, Wildness. In Twilight of the Idols, he says that “It is in our wild nature that we best recover from our un-nature, our spirituality” (“spirituality” here meaning “religious sensibility” as he understood it mostly in terms of Christianity). While Nietzsche tended to use the term “idol” in reference to moral ideals that he opposed, in Thus Spoke Zarathustra he mocked those who would destroy idols through the pronouncements of his character Zarathustra and also says that an image may not remain an image in the context of the authentic use of the will. It’s also possible to interpret the opening lines of Thus Spoke Zarathustra, as Zarathustra’s “prayer” to the sun. Nietzsche believed that the earth was sacred in pre-monotheistic religions and that it should be regarded as sacred again, which Zarathrustra communicates by urging the lauding of that which is earthly and the rejection of the heavenly, and in The Antichrist he wrote that humans are not only animals but also that other animals shared “the same stage of perfection” with humans. In The Will To Power, Nietzsche explicitly refers to”pagans by faith”, describes their aim as being the “dismoralization” of the world, and prefers believing in Olympus instead of believing in the Crucifixion. In the same text he thought that the pagan cults of old were typified by sexuality, pleasure in appearance and deception, and joyful gratitude for life in itself and that this was the mark of good conscience.
In this sense, even though it’s difficult to regard him as what would in proper terms be a religious Pagan, it is beyond doubt that Nietzsche sought the revival of Paganism as a system of values insofar as he understood it. In such a context we may understand that Nietzsche’s anti-Christian transvaluation of values ultimately has this restoration in mind. I do suspect that Nietzsche’s conception is very influenced by the way the 19th century Enlightenment received “Paganism” as a more rational or humane religion compared to Christianity, though I would definitely insist that Nietzsche was not simply a “man of the Enlightenment” or a mere “man of his time”. Regardless, though, I will say that I do rather feel well-aligned to much of how Nietzsche talked about his idea of Paganism, in that he describes certain ideas that have been almost instinctual to me personally. I would say that this includes the idea of nature as actuality, the idea that prevailing systems of moralization tend to be ways of attacking or suppressing this nature, and the upholding of “wild nature” as a means of setting us free from moralization, as understand it to be communicated in Twilight of the Idols and The Antichrist. His Dionyisan Pessimism is made further sense of in this context as well, and is made the more admirable and closer to instinct.
But back to Renzo Novatore, the man whose anarchism seems to be expressly modelled on Nietzsche’s philosophy as well as that of Max Stirner, and back to his “Paganism”. What do we derive from Novatore’s work? Returning to Towards the Creative Nothing, we see the sanctification or veneration of the earth or nature, which of course Christianity had suppressed, and we see essentially a recapitulation of Nietzsche’s conception of Paganism as based in the embrace of the full integrity of life. And yet unfortunately Novatore offers very little exposition compared to Nietzsche. It would seem that Novatore seems to have taken up Nietzsche’s idea of .
Yet we can also find certain pre-Christian parallels in Novatore’s about “libertarian aristocracy”, which when carefully considered seems very obviously not representative of any actual aristocratic hierarchy and instead perhaps something more like Stirner’s concept of the Union of Egoists. This “libertarian aristocracy” in any case consists of the outsiders who band together in their individualistic struggle against society. About a year ago I read Towards the Creative Nothing, and then, as I later read about Stanislaw Przybyszewski in Per Faxneld’s The Devil’s Party, I noticed a similar theme emerge in Przybyszewski’s depiction of Satan as the “dark aristocrat”, no doubt meaning him as the patron of rebels and outsiders who join his company for the pursuit of their own curiosity, pride, and instinct against society. The parallel that instantly emerged in my mind was none other than Odin, the king of the Norse/Germanic gods.
Odin is repeatedly typecast as a god of war but was always much more complex than that. He was the leader and magician of the battlefield, but could also be thought of as a trickster similar to Loki, a god associated with death, at least chthonic enough to be called the lord of the gallows, the keeper of a certain share of the slain, a tireless seeker of wisdom looking for ways to overcome his fated demise at the battle of Ragnarok, and a god of ecstatic divine inspiration (which, to be fair, was still also associated with battle). More importantly he was not only the patron of kingship, he was the divine patron of outcasts or outlaws, and was sort of an outcast himself. In a Danish myth, he was said to have been exiled from Asgard for ten years for seducing and having sex with the daughter of a king, while in the Lokasenna Odin was referred to as “ergi” (basically “unmanly”) for his practice of seidr, a magickal art typically regarded by Norse society as strictly women’s business. Odin seemed to favour men and women regardless of social stature who distinguished themselves individually through their talents, which made them valuable to Odin in his struggle to prevail in Ragnarok. And of course, for all the times Odin is compared to Mercury by the Romans or to Zeus or Yahweh in modern times, Odin actually had much more in common with Dionysus than almost any other non-Germanic deity. After all, Odin was also worshipped in ecstatic rituals, sometimes involving the assumption of consciousness of wild nature, and Odin also had his own “mead of divine inspiration”.
In a very strange way I think that the ecstatic or intoxication-oriented vision of Paganism as philosophy of life can make for a fairly valuable way of grounding modern Paganism, though not necessarily. A friend remarks that Paganism must strive for the continual reintegration with the state of religious intoxication apparently found in animals. In their own way, though as non-Pagans, I’d say that people like Stanislaw Przybyszewski or Charles Baudelaire would probably sympathize with that idea. More to the point there is something similar in the historical sense of Paganism that kind of aligns with that idea. The pre-Orphic Dionysian Mysteries could be defined by such an idea, as does the state of consciousness attained by the Norse berserkers or ulfhednar. The Eleusinian Mysteries, which were a major part of Hellenic antiquity, involved the use of psychedelics in order to commune with the divine through intoxication. In Egypt, goddesses such as Mut, Bastet, or Bathory were sometimes worshipped in drunken ecstasies, while none other than the god Set was worshipped with offerings of wine. In the old Vedic religion of India, a substance called Soma was offered to the gods and ritually consumed in order to achieve awareness of the divine as well as magickal visions/powers. A similar ancient Iranian ritual involving a similar substance called Haoma was initially condemned by Zoroaster for its “drunkenness” before being modified as part of later Zoroastrian practice. The idea of ecstatic intoxication as a means of liberating consciousness seems to also be shared in the Japanese concept of seihan (“sacred transgression”) as applicable to festivals. In Greek mysteries, the whole idea of orgia was predicated on a similar sort of ecstatic freedom.
Nietzsche for his part aligned with a certain type of intoxication. Not drunkenness of course, but with the kind of intoxication attained through sex, dancing, or religious activities. He also seemed to regard the essential characteristic of art as Rausch, a German word that seems to mean something like “frenzy”, which for Nietzsche denoted a condition of pleasure that signified a feel of rapturous strength and even mastery. One can link to this some pre-Christian ideas of ecstasy such as the earlier mentioned Germanic and Vedic forms. Ludwig Klages claimed that Nietzsche’s understanding of Rausch was his discussion of “the ultimate Dionysian state of mind”, but this seems somewhat doubtful in light of the whole of Nietzsche’s work. Walter Benjamin had his own concept of Rausch which denoted a form of experience that neutralised separation between subject and object, which had been likened to an ancient experience of the cosmos. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves again: what about Novatore? Rausch is not exactly located in Novatore’s work, and would instead have to be synthesized through some form of exegesis in light of the Nietzschean context. Still, with Novatore we may find in his heroic emphasis something of Nietzsche’s Rausch if only in imprecise spirit.
In the overall, we can summon from this indulgent inquiry a grounding idea of the experience of intoxication in the context of Paganism in the overall. Nietzsche’s “Paganism” amounts to a philosophy of the experiential embrace of life in itself, contextualised as a life-affirming pessimism that sees the chaotic tragedy of life as the basis of its actuality and value. Novatore essentially recapitulates this idea as an expression of nihilistic anarchism, albeit with exceptional rhetorical bombast. The value of this outlook on Paganism is the grounding of religiosity in a sort of communion with raw actuality as represented by nature, and, within nature, Darkness and the divine. That at least is how I relate to it.
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