Forgive the interruption between my inquiry on Revolutionary Demonology, but it seems there’s been a nuisance coming my way. Suffice it say that, it is quite incredible to see what lengths some people will go to in order to keep other people’s mouths shut. Last month, I wrote an article about a small Italian Theistic Satanist organisation called the Union of Italian Satanists (or, Unione Satanisti Italiani), in which I analysed their philosophy as best I could, and discussed its relationship to the ideology of National Socialism. It would seem that, since then, the leader of the USI, Jennifer Crepuscolo (or rather Jennifer Mezzatta), has discovered that article, and is none too happy about what I have said. In fact, she sent a message to the Facebook page of this website to say this:
Your article on Unione Satanisti Italiani is dishonest and leads to slander. Precisely for this reason we’re evaluating with our law firm to proceed with a lawsuit against you. We hope that in the future you will be more careful about making unfounded accusations. You should have read more about us before writing such slanders. We are open to discussion but we do not like those who try to cleverly reinterpret our contents with malice.
Since you chose to wrongfully assault us, if we have any other contact between us, it will likely be through the law.
For posterity, here is the same message in a screenshot taken from the messages of my blog’s Facebook page:
“Best regards”? Yes I suppose that is the polite way to conclude a message in which you accuse me of “assault”. But observe the utter folly of what Jennifer is saying. Her objection is that my article is “dishonest” and “leads to slander”, and that for this reason she thinks she can intimidate me with groundless threats of litigation. Take stock of this: I am not even primarily being accused of slander, I am being accused of writing things that “could lead to slander”. How exaclty do you intend to prove that? And just how can you charge someone on the basis that you think what they said “could lead to slander”? Do you not see how legally absurd that is on its own, let alone the idea of hashing that out internationally?
As long as we’re focusing on the “dishonesty” canard, I intend to talk about many things I discussed in the original article, but I would also point out that Jennifer Mezzetta’s Facebook bio contains the words “Onore a Satana, il Dio Gentile dell’Anima”, or, “Honor to Satan, the Gentile God of the Soul”.
I don’t know how anyone thinks they can beat any allegations of Nazism when they openly and publicly refer to their version of the Satan they worship as “the Gentile God”. Remember that the USI also talks on their website about Jewish influences being a corruption of Satanism. In this context especially, “Gentile” is a dogwhistle being used by non-Jews, or more specifically by white non-Jews, define themselves in active contradistinction to Jewishness.
Jennifer seems keen enough to talk about “slander”. But slander is only slander if I am wrong and have made up everything that the USI website says from whole cloth. I contend that I am not wrong, and that the USI cannot prove that I am inventing its own words, let alone drag me from my home country just for a case that they don’t have and which would be dismissed. And just to underscore all of this, let’s focus on the parts where I talk about the particularly objectionable highlights of the USI’s website. We will present screenshots of these highlights, with the Italian and English language versions side by side, in that order, for maximum posterity.
This will be a systematic overview of the antisemitism and Nazi alignment of the USI, focusing largely on material I already covered, and more. These are, in large part, Jennifer’s own words, in that most of the articles being discussed have been written by Jennifer Creposcolo. We will also cover a few articles written by a USI member named Mandy Lord. Any accusation of “slander” will have to prove that they are not her own words. I maintain that this would be impossible, because they are clearly their words. This will not be terribly exhaustive, at least not compared to the entire breadth of the USI website, the totality of which I will not be covering. But I will cover much of what I have already discussed in my original article, which should also be enough to encapsulate the ideological content of the Union of Italian Satanists, in their own words.
Now, just bearing in mind. I am not entirely fluent on the Italian language. I have certain aspirations to effect, of course, but for the purpose of covering this article I am relying on available translations, which are of course provided as an option within the website via my browser. All English screenshots come from a Google-provided translation, which I am reasonably confident is not inaccurate, especially since I have not been made aware of any translation errors by anyone, especially not Jennifer Creposcolo.
The “God of the Gentiles” and Antisemitic Screeds About Jewish Mysticism
To start with, let’s refer to their pages on “Original Satanism” where they discuss Jewish mysticism as blasphemous, decry modern Satanist movements by accusing them of “Judaizing” Satanism, and assert that atheism is a product of “Jewish influence”. But first things first let’s just get one point out of the way right now: the fact that they refer to Satan as “God of the Gentiles”. That is what Jennifer says for instance in “What is Satanism really?” and it will be fairly important as a cornerstone of the USI’s philosophy.
Now, let’s see them talk about Jewish mysticism and the “Judaization” of Satanism. In “Cult of Origins”, Jennifer can be seen accusing other Satanists of being “slaves of the Jewish preconception” by accepting the etymology of Satan as meaning “Adversary”.
And here, in the same article, Jennifer writes that Satanic intiation centers around the “Satanist”‘s self-declaration of their “Gentile nature” and that the “Gentile” is centered around both their roots and the evolution of their “spiritual race”.
Immediately after this, Jennifer describes Jewish mysticism as “blasphemy”, again seemingly without a shred of irony or self-awareness, and accuses it of being “violent” and “opportunistic”.
There is much more antisemitism and Nazi ideology in this page alone right below this paragraph. Here, for instance, Jennifer refers to the awakening of “Gentile Memory”, and thereby a return to “our blood” (as in, the “blood of the Gentiles”), as the goal of her particular system of “Original Satanism”.
And afterwards, Jennifer goes on to refer to Jews as “historical criminals” who “corrupt” and “distort” the “Gentile” in various ways. For some reason the English translation seems to repeat the last few sentences.
Jennifer’s Nazi-esque Definition of Satanism
Moving on from this page, let’s briefly, and just as an aside, refer to this fairly colourful paragraph from the page “Define Yourself As Satanist”, in which we can see familiar fascist rhetoric about sex and gender identity that is used to justify transphobia, itself couched in a concept of “rootlessness” that is inherently tied to white identiarianism and antisemitism (the concept of “rootless cosmopolitans” as an antisemitic reference to Jews).
In their page “Etymology of the name Satan”, Jennifer refers to Satanists as the purest form of the “Gentile” while accusing Jewish people of racism towards non-Jews. It is important to note that here Jennifer incorrectly asserts that the Hebrew word “goyim” means “cattle”. The word “goy” actually means “nation”, not “cattle”, while in the Biblical context the word “goyim” often referred simply to the various non-Israelite nations.
Here of course we also see Jennifer establish a Sanskrit etymology by way of the words “Sat” and “Nam” as what she claims to be the “true” etymology of Satan, as opposed to the Hebrew etymology. There is of course no basis to any of this, and in fact it is an idea strongly associated with neo-Nazis such as the Joy of Satan group. I suspect that it was originally invented by Kerry Bolton, a white supremacist fascist who spent the 1990s spreading neo-Nazi interpretations of Satanism, neopaganism, and Thelema to various subcultural movements (such as black metal and industrial music) before eventually converting to Christianity.
There is an entire section dedicated to the etymology of the word “Aryan”, which the USI claims does not influence their philosophy in way, though it is also full of defenses of Nazi iconography as ancient and therefore legitimate symbology. Note that Jennifer also personally connects the mythology of Aryans and Hyperboreans to her own views the divine origins of the “Satanids” as linked to the lineage of the Nephilim and therefore the Fallen and Satan, which, contrary to what Jennifer says otherwise, establishes a credible ideological link between the concept of “Aryans” and her philosophy.
And, once again, at the end of this page, Jennifer once again links the religious identity of the “Satanist” with the racial identity of the “Gentile”.
Racist Nazi-esque Ramblings About “Satanid Nature”
Next, let’s refer to the article “Satanid Nature”. Here, we see Jennifer assert that the Jews made their pact with Yahweh because they wanted revenge and conquest and this is the cause of a progressive civilizational decline. She also seems to contrast this with the example of Jesus and his refusal of the temptations of Satan.
It is in this same page that Jennifer, who calls herself a “Satanist”, lauds the figure of Jesus Christ as a personifiction of “the Gentile spirit” as supposedly represented by ancient pre-Christian gods and by Satan. This idea clearly echoes Nazi ideology, which portrayed Jesus as an “Aryan” German god or hero instead of being Jewish.
Jennifer also seems to refer to the idea of a link between Satan and “wanton materialism” as the product of “Judeo-Christian corruption”. This opinion reflects a Nazi belief that materialism is Jewish in origin and thereby a corruption of the “Aryan” spirit.
And here, Jennifer accuses modern American Satanists of trying to “Judaize” Satanism, and thereby make it more “plebeian”, “lifeless”, and atheistic. Again, this presents the idea that atheism is a Jewish product, which is both inherently antisemitic in that it positions atheism as a form of corruption and a major component of Nazi ideology, in which the main opponent “Jewish materialism” is presented in opposition to “Aryan” idealism.
Now let’s turn to the page titled “The Way of Signs”, which features a discussion of the “black sun” alongside an image of the Nazi Sonnenrad symbol, which was invented for use by Heinrich Himmler, leader of the SS, as the insignia for Wewelsburg Castle.
Next let’s refer to their page about Lucifer, or “Luciferus”, written by Mandy Lord. This page contains multiple expressions of antisemitism and Nazi ideology. For example, Mandy almost dismisses a source because it was Jewish, and then proceeds to quote Otto Rahn, a Nazi Ariosophist who was also literally an Obersturmführer in the SS.
Later in the same page, Mandy quotes Miguel Serrano, a neo-Nazi occultist and proponent of a system referred to as Esoteric Hitlerism, before describing contemporary Christianity as “totally Judaicized” in contrast to its “Gentile origins”.
Jennifer’s Remarks on National Socialism
An important source of concern would be Jennifer’s “Joy of Satan Analysis”. First of all, let’s note that even Jennifer’s supposed criticism of Joy of Satan’s antisemitism also consists in the objection that she thinks that they are too Jewish. I’m not kidding around: Jennifer critcises Joy of Satan for having a “Jewish mentality”, even in their antisemitism. This “Jewish mentality” appears to simply consist of summoning demons in order to fulfill material needs, which is again based on the Nazi belief that materialism is a “Jewish corruption”.
And then, of course, there is in the same page Jennifer’s defense of National Socialism, which she seems to regard as fundamentally moral, noble, and ethical in substance.
The “Kabbalah” of Mandy Lord
In the page “Occult History”, Mandy Lord claims that Kabbalah is actually a non-Jewish system of mysticism that belonged to “the Arii” and came from Satan and his demons. Mandy also claims that there is an Egyptian Kabbalah, called “Ka Ba Ankh”, and a “true runic Kabbalah” practiced by the Druids, in contrast to Jewish Kabbalah. This idea is very similar to an idea from the Austrian volkisch mystic Guido von List, who claimed that the Kabbalah was originally invented by German “Aryans” rather than Jews.
Jennifer’s Views on “The Illuminati” (Somehow Even More Antisemitic!)
In an article titled “Are The Illuminati Satanists? But Also Not!”, Jennifer runs through a litany of antisemitic tropes about Jews while discussing the Illuminati. For example, early on she falsely claims that Adam Weishaupt, the founder of the Bavarian Illuminati, was the son of a Jewish rabbi and supported by the Rothschild family. Adam Weishaupt’s father was a man named Johann Georg Weishaupt, who was in fact a lawyer and a professor of law at the University of Ingolstadt, and there is no record of him ever having been a rabbi or of him having been Jewish.
Later, Jennifer talks about the so-called “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” in an incredibly apologetic manner. She claims that it is not possible to know if “Protocols” was written by Jewish authors, claims that its content is being proven true “before our eyes”, and brings up verses from the Talmud that supposedly justify the book’s contents. I need to stress that this is blatant antisemitism.
There is also this take from Jennifer in the same article, which is once again a familiar element of fascist conspiracy theories, naturally latent with antisemitism. Basically she’s asserting that the Illuminati want to eliminate traditional gender roles and biological sex or all that stuff in order to somehow control society.
Of course this also comes with a standard ethnonationalist argument.
Jennifer again explicitly ties “the Illuminati” to Jews and asserts that they are aligned to Yahweh as the “God of Israel” and want to destroy all cultures that are not Jewish.
Jennifer puts forward an argument that Jews cannot be Satanists because Jews are “the Sons of Yahweh” and Satanists are “the Sons of Satan”. This is Jennifer arguing that Jews, because of their race, cannot be Satanists, and conversely that Satanists are Satanists because of their race. It is a racialist argument, and in this sense is antisemitic.
In the same article, Jennifer also defends ancient Roman colonialism by saying that the white colonialism was bad specifically because the white colonialists and slavers in question were “Judeo-Christian”. This is effectively blaming Jews for the enslavement of African-Americans and the systematic genocide of native Amerindians by white colonialists.
The Racial Mission of the Union of Italian Satanists
Finally, the mission of the USI, as outlined in “Presentation of Italian Satanists Union”, consists of three objectives. The third objective is “Restore Satanic Identity”. In the article, Jennifer establishes that the goal of the USI is to activate what she believes to be the racial consciousness of “the Gentiles” and that to be a Satanist you have to be born a Satanist as if genetically, and hence ethnically or racially.
I think that I have shown more than enough at this point. The website itself has much more content within it, but this was about demonstrating that what I have said to be the words of the USI are in fact the words of the USI. I would ask again: would anyone be able to prove that I am fabricating these words, and that this is not what Jennifer and the USI have said? What basis could there be for any claim of “dishonesty” or the potential to “lead to slander”, let alone “assault”? These are Jennifer’s own words, as well as those of Mandy Lord where applicable.
Being that there is little point in discussing any supposed case, let us simply summarize what USI say in their own words. We are talking about an organisation whose “Original Satanism” appears to be based on a racial ideology built around the idea “recovering” the “genetic memory” of the “Gentiles”. There is a heavy emphasis on “de-Judaicizing” Satanism, which entails reinterpreting Satan as a “Gentile” god of truth, soul, origin, and the divine order rather than The Adversary, Kabbalah as “Gentile” mysticism, and even Jesus as a “Gentile” hero who only opposed the Jewish Satan rather than the “Gentile” Satan, all of which mirror the Nazi ideology of “Positive Christianity”, whose volkisch interpretation of Christianity meant bracketing out everything the Nazis deemed to be Jewish “corruption”. The USI website contains defenses of the ideology of National Socialism and also features quotes from Nazi and neo-Nazi esotericists. Antisemitism is pervasive in the USI writings, sometimes more subtly and sometimes quite blatantly, as an effect of their racial ideology, even to the point that they can’t criticise antisemitism in others without also expressing their own antisemitism. The “noble Gentile spirit” is positioned in opposition to Jews and “Judeo-Christianity”, Christianity is described as an originally “Gentile” faith that they deem totally “corrupted” by Judaism, and antisemitic conspiracy theories form a major part of the USI’s opposition to both Judaism and Christianity. In short, USI an organisation that promotes an ethnofascist ideology strongly aligned with National Socialism. Based on the mateiral available this is an open and shut matter of fact.
For additional posterity, I will provide archived links below to each article being referred to here, to remove any last shred of doubt without requiring you to provide traffic to their website. The archived links, however, will only show the pages in Italian. However, it should be evident that these are the same pages contained within the screenshots.
Even though it is yet another unplanned interjection between working on my article about Revolutionary Demonology, I just can’t say no to the opportunity to address some common secular conceptions and misconceptions about Satanism by responding to YouTube commentator Big Joel’s short ramble about Satanists and why he seems to dislike them.
Joel, obviously, does not “love the Satanists”. That much is not in question. What, though, are misgivings towards Satanism? Joel recounts a video he previously uploaded where, in a larger discussion about Christianity, he briefly discussed Satanists as defined within the Christian imaginary. This apparently was a cause of offence to certain Satanists, who insisted that Satanism is not about worshipping or loving Satan, but instead is about atheism, rationality, and “free thinking”. Joel thinks that this is actually false, and perhaps something of a facade: he thinks that the “Satanism” of his Satanist critics is actually not Satanism, that it’s just an edgy way of saying you’re a “normal” atheist, and that “real” Satanists are just people who, in some way, love Satan. To him, that most consistently means worshipping Satan. The funny thing is, I can say with confidence that there are Satanists who would completely agree with this assessment.
In its own way Joel’s understanding of what Satanism is is not incorrect. True, it lacks the sense of distinct philosophical subtext by which Satanism is usually defined and presented in contrast to other religions, but in many ways it presents a much simpler way of looking at Satanism, as an internally diverse contemporary religious phenomenon. The only thing is, it does still invite the obvious question of “what does it mean to worship, revere, or honour Satan?”, which must be up to individual Satanists to answer. But, if Satanism is simply any belief system centering around Satan in some way, and that really means any way, then even the very atheists who Joel considers to not be Satanists would indeed be Satanists. Of course, since I connect Satanism to the concept of a distinct Satanic philosophy, I can think of atheists for whom their Satanism is in fact nothing but a provocative facade. But, that being said, the rejection of God as entailing atheism was at least a part of Eliphas Levi’s concept of Satan himself, though as far as I can see Levi himself had no doubts about the existence of either God or Satan.
There’s really not much to what Joel says here except that he then complains about how, in his opinion, Satanists are solely interested in looking for ways to correct people who say that Satanists are people who worship Satan, looking for every opportunity to butt in and assert that Satanists are not Satan-worshippers and instead just love rationality and atheism. It would seem that he is talking strictly about LaVeyan Satanists, or even more specifically just the official Twitter account of the Church of Satan.
His objection, in this light, is a curious one. He asks, perhaps somewhat facetiously, “then why do you name yourselves Satanists?”, followed by the suggestion that they do this simply to get a reaction from non-Satanists. The funny thing about it is that, as much as I am loath to say it these days, this was an argument that Anton LaVey already addressed within The Satanic Bible. LaVey predicated the distinction his own brand of Satanism from standard secular humanism, and attendantly the justification for calling his philosophy Satanism, on the argument that .
“Satanism is based on a very sound philosophy,” say the emancipated. “But why call it Satanism? Why not call it something like ‘Humanism’ or a name that would have the connotation of a witchcraft group, something a little more esoteric – something less blatant.” There is more than one reason for this. Humanism is not a religion. It is simply a way of life with no ceremony or dogma. Satanism has both ceremony and dogma. Dogma, as will be explained, is necessary.
As elaborated further:
Inevitably, the next question asked is: “Granted, you can’t call it humanism because humanism is not a religion; but why even have a religion in the first place if all you do is what comes naturally, anyway? Why not just do it?”
Modern man has come a long way; he has become disenchanted with the nonsensical dogmas of past religions. We are living in an enlightened age. Psychiatry has made great strides in enlightening man about his true personality. We are living in an era of intellectual awareness unlike any the world has ever seen.
This is all very well and good, BUT – there is one flaw in this new state of awareness. It is one thing to accept something intellectually, but to accept the same thing emotionally is an entirely different matter. The one need that psychiatry cannot fill is man’s inherent need for emotionalizing through dogma. Man needs ceremony and ritual, fantasy and enchantment. Psychiatry, despite all the good it has done, has robbed man of wonder and fantasy which religion, in the past, has provided.
Satanism, realizing the current needs of man, fills the large grey void between religion and psychiatry. The Satanic philosophy combines the fundamentals of psychology and good, honest emotionalizing, or dogma. It provides man with his much needed fantasy. There is nothing wrong with dogma, providing it is not based on ideas and actions which go completely against human nature.
In this context, the argument is essentially a psychological one, albeit one carried from a rather optimistic view of the institution of psychiatry and flat rejection of religion (except, of course, for Anton LaVey’s religion!). LaVey and LaVeyan Satanism treat religion as a psychological structure which, in selfish terms, fulfills the emotional needs or desires of humans, specifically the ones that all connect to the practice of ritual. It’s all taken as “fantasy”, or psychodrama, the specific form of which can unlock certain instincts and satisfy certain needs. The LaVeyan view in this sense is that most religions are psychodramas that satisfy a few specific needs or desires, but require the denial many others, often of a basic variety, and in the process elicit a tendency towards aggressive self-denial, whereas Satanic psychodrama is meant to satisfy the whole complex of the needs of “human nature” in its religious alignment with flesh and its wants. It’s an argument that is in many ways central to LaVeyan Satanism in particular, and I think this argument has sort of fallen out of focus in contemporary discussions of atheistic Satanism. I suppose that’s almost just natural as the Church of Satan, for all its internet presence as a notable Twitter gadfly, gradually slipped out of media relevance as The Satanic Temple eventually eclipsed it.
But as to the other atheistic Satanists, who may not be LaVeyans and in the overall may or may not share the LaVeyan view of religion as psychodrama, one may indeed still say, on a case by case basis, “why even call yourselves Satanists?”. The Satanic Temple is in this respect all the more hollow, lacking a larger philosophy of Satanism and preferring instead to take up aspects of the mythology of the Romantic Satan in service of an opportunistic commitment to egalitarian secular humanism. Yet, as obnoxious as the insistence on correction must seem in view of the particular attitude of the LaVeyans and their successors regarding “real Satanism”, if we’re being fair, it seems a tad natural that contemporary Satanists might bother to correct any sort of record at all. Popular culture, still driven latently by the Christian imaginary, contains many misconceived or simply tropey ideas about Satanism, at least some of which can be traced to some rather old and often fascistic conspiracy theories, which then occasionally, often subtly, still feed back into public consciousness. Thus, in principle, Satanists do have an imperative to push back against popular conceptions of Satanism. For one thing, it is an essential part of our broader struggle against the Christian imaginary, and Christianity as a whole. For another, at least some of these ideas and narratives are, in themselves, weapons against us, and they do often support actual social persecutions against Satanists as carried out typically by Christians.
In this sense, there are pretty much only two problems. The first is the fact that some Satanists are doing it in the wrong way, like the Church of Satan insisting its own distorted narrative and narrow definition of Satanism as the sole truth, or the far more general flat denial of all historical or pre-1960s expressions of Satanism on the grounds of their non-atheism. The second is that the media at large, whenever it does not cover Satanism through stories of criminal sects and neo-Nazi “accelerationist” cults, focuses pretty much all vaguely sympathetic or at least non-hostile coverage on atheistic Satanism: whether that’s the Church of Satan, The Satanic Temple, or the Global Order of Satan, to the exclusion of many esoteric or theistic tendencies within Satanism.
I will say that in the overall Joel’s video was more underwhelming than offensive, and I find it embarrassing that, even as a joke, he feels the need to insinuate that we might be itching for a fight with him over his ill-informed commentary. But I suppose I could close this with an answer to the question of why I embrace the label of Satanist, and I promise to keep it brief. For one it’s because it is the natural expression of religious egoism, hedonism, and “active nihilism” at least in our context, and for another its solar myth and philosophy of inversion has always been, for as long as it has been known, the key to your own inner freedom. Satan is the being who himself is the primordial spiral of insurrection, a solar myth denoting the “other side”, the inner and outer of life, the darkness, that is nonetheless life’s true basis. While I am Pagan, I am a Satanist because I see the war of all against all in the cosmos, the insurrection that ceaselessly propels life, and thus recognise and in turn honour Satan as its divine-demonic apogee, and to follow his black light. In short, I am a Satanist because I honour the war of all against all, and aspire to fight in it on my own side, just as he did.
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.
Whenever Satanism is covered in the press, the focus is usually on the representations of atheistic Satanism, usually consisting of the Church of Satan, The Satanic Temple, and/or the Global Order of Satan. This is a very problematic phenomenon, one that typically leaves out theistic and esoteric expressions of Satanism, both historical and modern, to service the presentation of Satanism as an edgy but ultimately palatable form of humanism. I see that Vice recently published an article that, on the surface, would seem to buck that trend. But, in doing so, even they do not tell the whole truth, and this is a problem.
The article, written by Camilla Sernagiotto and originally published in Vice Italy, discusses a Theistic Satanist organisation that refers to themselves as the Union of Italian Satanists (or, Unione Satanisti Italiani), and consists of an interview with Jennifer Crepuscolo, the apparent founder of the USI, and a number of other Satanists who are members.
Sernagiotto’s article ostensibly gives us a basic overview of the beliefs of the Union of Italian Satanists. The USI purports to believe in what they call “Traditional Satanism”, or rather “Original Satanism” (or “Satanismo Originale”). In this system, Satan is regarded as a real and ancient deity, who was later turned into a demon by God. We are told that USI’s “Original Satanism” also worships a Mother Goddess as a central deity, a “dark and shining feminine figure that is widely stigmatized by patriarchal religions”. They also seem to believe that Satan and the Mother Goddess descended to Earth in order to impart knowledge to humans, then had sex with some humans and created a line of descendants referred to as “Satanids”. USI members often refer to themselves as “Satanids”, they believe themselves to be actually biologically descended from Satan and, thus, capable of accessing divine knowledge through “genetic memory” contained in their blood. Of course, the USI rejects the notion of Satan as corresponding to the Devil in the Biblical/Christian imaginary, but instead see him as a distinct primordial deity of knowledge and the human soul.
So far we’re already getting into vaguely familiar territory. There are sentiments among members that sound familiar enough to garden variety Satanism, theistic or atheistic, such as the belief in self-ownership, egoistic spiritual independence, the notion of Satan as a being who is distinct from Christian myth, a rejection of animal sacrifice and respect for nature. The doctrine of the “Satanids”, however, bears a suspicious similarity to the concept of the “serpent seed”. The “serpent seed” doctrine is a Christian idea which holds that Eve had sex with the serpent in the Garden of Eden and consequently gave birth to Cain, and in turned created a entire racial lineage descended from the serpent and therefore genetically and fatalistically inclined towards evil and destined for eternal damnation, as contrasted with the line descended from Adam who could earn eternal life in heaven. It’s an idea that has some antecedents in early Christianity or more specifically the “Gnostic” sects, but its modern form is the specific product of white supremacist movements and preachers who wanted to present Jews as the product of the “serpent seed” and therefore evil. Of course, here being part of the serpent’s line is in this case not to be seen as evil (indeed far from it!), but it’s still sort of the same idea: Satan has sex with humans and spawns a distinct racial line genetically aligned with his will and knowledge. On their website, as we’ll soon explore, they even apparently use the term “the satanic race” in a positive sense.
This is basically what Sernagiotto’s article discusses so far, but that is not all there is to it. They have a website, which the article handily links to. But that website also reveals some deeply troubling ideas that, for some reason, Sernagiotto did not see fit to discuss in her article and its interviews with USI members.
There’s a lot to unpack, and keep in mind that we’re going off of the available translation. From the website we learn that the Union of Italian Satanists was founded on August 11th 2010 with the intention of presenting its own take on Satanism to the public. The organisation was founded by Jennifer Crepuscolo (who also goes by “Jennifer Twilight”), but the webstie also features other authors such as Mandy Lord, Kate Ecdysis, Paola Difilla, and Khaibit, to name just a few who are listed on the “USI Authors” page. They insist that they are not “Judeo-Christian”, not rationalist, not atheists, not Freemasons (weird that they felt the need to point that out), and not “anything that we do not openly declare”. Their main purpose is to bring together the “Family of Satan” by spreading a doctrine that they call “Original Satanism”.
There are many contours to this concept of “Original Satanism”. It positions Satan as the “God of Origins”, the god of choice and self-determination, the Sophia and Lucifer of the initiatory path of self-knowledge, the “root and essence” behind countless other cults and traditions, the originary truth hidden behind every alteration imposed upon it by successive generations under the influence of “Yahwehism”. The USI’s doctrine holds that reality is an illusion, a virtual form constructed around us as a way for humans to receive meaning, and beneath this illusion is the essence represented by Satan. It’s for this reason that the USI considers that Satan can be approached through a multitude of forms, and that it would be too static to approach him as just one. For example, the USI considers Enki and Odin to be Sumerian and Norse aspects of Satan repsectively. The same goes for traditions, on the basis that Satanism is a evolution and dynamism that nonetheless proceeds from roots; one could choose to interpret this as presenting Satanism as a “living tradition”. According to USI doctrine, Satan is not evil, the Devil or a servant of Yahweh, and is instead “the God of the Soul”, the guardian of the thresholds and of wisdom, and even Existence itself, even beyond this life. This Satan is also sometimes identified with Lucifer, to the extent that USI members occasionally call themselves “Heirs of the Morning Star”. The Fallen are counted as divine ancestors who descended to the Earth to give knowledge to humans and then created a line of humans who carry “the divine seed” through procreation. USI members also believe that the primary purpose of magic is to fully retrieve the memory of that “divine” seed in the soul.
The USI espouses something called “Natural Ethics” as the ethical basis of their version of Satanism. “Natural Ethics” is basically a form of ethics that is supposed to emerge spontaneously from the person, and in turn links them to their divine ancestors and the “natural order” of the universe. Mind you, this “Natural Ethics” seems to be based on the concept of “genetic memory”. “Morality” (or rather “Imposed Morality”) on the other hand is an anti-spontaneous code of behaviour that the USI opposes because they think it leads to involution and separation from the natural order. The USI apparently does believe that “good” and “evil” exist but they’re defined as follows: “good” means what is in harmony with “the natural order”, allows or supports its maintenance and perpetuity, and facilitates the evolution and existence of life as a continuum, whereas “evil” means that which is not in harmony with “the natural order”, hinders and attacks this order, causes “involution”, hinders evolution, and supports non-existence. The USI also espouses nine points dubbed “The Nine Values of Satanic Ethics”. These are “Completeness” (meaning to “complete yourself” by acheiving a unity of opposites), “Beauty” (meaning inner and outer self-care in pursuit of the perfection of form), “Honor” (meaning to “keep one’s memory alive” or to live in harmony with your own nature or ethos), “Truth” (sort of self-explanatory I think), “Justice” (neither good nor bad, seemingly just upholding “the natural order”), “Freedom” (here meaning self-control, self-sufficiency, and the soteriological possibility of “really being ourselves”), “Wisdom”, “Pathos”, and “Identity” (meaning to uphold the identity of “the People of Satan”).
The USI tend to be very strict with the term Satanism, and uses the term “Acid” or “Acidism” to refer to really anyone who commits generically “evil”, “immoral”, or “criminal” acts, particularly if they do so while presenting ostensibly “satanic” imagery. This is essentially their term for what has conventionally been dubbed the “Reverse Christian”. These “Acids” are regarded as non-Satanists, entirely the product of “Judeo-Christian” society, who are simply either anti-Christian and nothing else or “bad Christians”. They also use the term “Hipster Satanist” for people who they think are not Satanists and simply call themselves and dress as Satanists for the purpose of transgression. Bear in mind, though, that in their eyes, being a “real” Satanist means worshipping Satan as they define him – that is, not The Devil, but their own god of truth and origin, the father of the so-called “Satanids”. By their standard, that could amount to many Satanists. Satanism to the USI is simply the “Cult of Origins”, a supposedly authentic form of the religious values of the so-called “golden age”, and the self-styled mission of the USI is the “restoration” of their cult.
The USI also seems to be polytheistic in that they recognise and venerate numerous deities besides Satan, which includes both pre-Christian deities and demons from Christian demonology. The website lists Lucifer, Samael, Bast, Sekhmet, Haagenti, Maat, Andras, Bifrons, Buer, Asmodeus, Hel, Abigor, Agares, Aini, Amon, Anubis, Beelzebub (here identified with Baal and Bael), Belphegor, Bune, Dantalian, Decarabia, Foras, Gaap, Glasya Labolas, Haagenti, Halphas, Khepu, Lucifuge Rofocale, Marchosias, Nergal, Ronove, Set, Sorath, Volac as the many gods worshipped, at least individually, within the USI. It also has a section focused on various gods of war (also dubbed “protectors of life”), and discusses a whole list of war gods including Ogma, Set, Anhur, Sekhmet, Neith, Sobek, Horus, Pakhet, Wepwawet, Montu, Menher, Maahet, Satis, Sopdu, Mars, Ninurta, Mixcoatl, Xipe Totec, Huitzilopochtli, Shay Al Qawm, Athtar, Hubal, al-Uzza, Minerva, Morrigan, Ishtar/Inanna, Tyr, Durga, Indra, Ogun, Shango, Sobo, and Hachiman, while also listing Baal, Azazel, Glasya Labolas, Halphas, Volac, and Andras as “Demons of War”.
The USI also seems to have to some fairly peculiar thoughts on the subject of aliens, as suggested by the fact that they have an article discussing the notion that the gods are aliens. The short answer, in their opinion, is yes and no. They sort of argue that it doesn’t really matter if the gods are aliens or not since either way they would be extradimensional beings, also insisting that the gods manifested on Earth biologically while taking every opportunity to assert the categorical rejection of atheism. That said they do regard the appeal to the extraterrestrial as an attempt by humans to “control” the gods, who otherwise cannot be controlled, through scientific rationalism. For USI members, “alien” is a word that can also refer to creatures from other dimensions, not just extraterrestrial but also “otherworldly”, and they do ultimately describe the gods and Satan this way too, so the lines between terms are ultimately blurred. As far as the USI is concerned, the divine beings may or may not be basically ancient astronauts.
More importantly, however, the USI also seems to be really antisemitic, and they can arguably be described as neo-Nazis. Their page on “Original Satanism” describes many people as being “slaves of the Jewish preconception” of Satan, while also attacking Jewish mysticism as blasphemous (yes I’m sure the irony isn’t lost on anyone here). They hit out at other Satanist movements by accusing them of “Judaizing” Satanism, which to them means making it “more plebeian” and atheistic; the idea that atheism is a product of Jewish influence is of course both inherently antisemitic one of the basic talking points of Nazi ideology. Their article on “Satanid Nature” asserts that they made their pact with Yahweh because they wanted nothing but power over and revenge (funny how now revenge is a bad thing!) on other lands and are in turn responsible for destroying “a world full of traditions and values” and “the birth of a progressive decline”. The same article negatively compares them to Jesus by stressing that Jesus refused the temptations of Satan (again, you would think that Satanists would prefer that Jesus not be the Messiah) whereas Moses allowed Yahweh to “corrupt” them. The article “The Way of Signs” features an image of a shining Nazi Sonnenrad alongside a discussion of the so-called “Black Sun” versus the “White Sun”. The USI rejects the popular notion of a “pact with Satan”, specifically because they believe it to actually be “the pact between the Jews and Yahweh”, which they deem to be “spiritual opportunism”.
Another almost baffling example of USI’s antisemitism is that the page about Lucifer appears to almost dismiss a source because it is ostensibly Jewish, and then presents quotations from Otto Rahn, a literal SS officer and Nazi Ariosophist ideologue, and Miguel Serrano, one of the major original proponents of Esoteric Hitlerism, as part of its discussion of the nature of Lucifer. They even argue that Christianity in its current state is “totally Judaized” and that the original Christianity was strictly “Gentile”, based on the “physiognomy” and philosophy of Jesus. This is literally just Nazi ideology, in that the Nazis argued for a Christianity that they felt be fully divested of supposed “Jewish influences”, thus an “Aryan” faith, based in turn on volkisch Protestant nationalist ideas that had already circulated in Germany during the early 20th century. More to the point it’s incredibly bizarre for self-described Satanists to be concerned with Christianity being “too Jewish” or having fallen away from some supposed origin, when the church of any stripe is still the church to us!
As a matter of fact, it seems to me that the USI has its own version of Nazi “de-Judaization”, at least as concerns the very etymology of Satan. You see, in order to prove that Satanism is not “Judeo-Christian” and is “pure” “Gentile” religion, they have to show that Satan is not a Jewish concept (as opposed to, you know, not being Nazis and not being interested in “de-Judaizing” everything). As opposed to the Hebraic origins of the name Satan, the Hebrew word “satan” or “ha-Satan” meaning “adversary”, the USI proposes a supposed Sanskrit origin for the name Satan. They claim that the Sanskrit word “Sat”, ostensibly meaning “truth”, and a supposed Indian mantra “Sat Nam”, supposedly meaning “whose name is truth”, or alternatively the words “Sanat” (meaning “eternal”) or “Sat Ana” (supposedly meaning “acting in the truth”), as the true etymology of Satan. There is of course no evidence of any correspondence between these Sanskrit terms and Satan or any figure or concept like Satan. In fact, I suspect that this idea is the brainchild of Kerry R. Bolton, a white supremacist esoteric fascist who set up several fascist occult and pagan groups before ultimately converting to Christianity. Not to mention, the fact that I only ever seem to see this idea espoused by Nazi Satanists tells me that the idea of Satan having a Sanskrit rather than Hebrew origin suggests a various obvious attempt to portray Satan as a fully “Aryan” concept.
And speaking of Nazism, there is a page of the USI’s website that implies the group’s possible ideological support for Nazism. In an article billed as an analysis of Joy of Satan, Jennifer appears to defend National Socialism by saying that “National Socialism has effectively been portrayed as the greatest evil in the world without however ever saying its positive aspects, much less telling how even Communism has shed blood and totalitarianism, indeed maybe more”. Ostensibly this takes the form of some argument about how all ideologies are violent and therefore none are sacred, which would still not merit any equivalence or defense of Nazism by any stretch, but then Jennifer goes on to say that she “learned about the ethics that moved the original ideology”, as well as “esoteric studies” and “the spirituality itself that distinguished our Aryan ancestors”. These suggest a clear ideological sympathy for Nazism. If I’m being honest, the fact that, in a separate article, the USI characterizes Jesus as a “personification of the Gentile spirit” modelled on the basis of pre-Christian gods and “pagan” heroism only further demonstrates that it is based on Nazi ideology . After all, the Nazis frequently insisted that Jesus was originally an “Aryan” German deity named Krist, while Adolf Hitler himself lionized Jesus as an embodiment of “Aryan” virtues. The USI similarly claims that there is a “real” Kabbalah (that is, an “Aryan Kabbalah”) that originated in ancient Egypt, was supposedly derived from a phrase “Ka Ba Ankh”, was violently suppressed by “Judeo-Christians”, and supposedly could be recovered by Satanists with the help of demons. In essence this is basically the same basic idea that the volkisch occultist Guido Von List (who did inspire the Nazis) had, except that List believed that Kabbalah was created by ancient Germans.
A major theme of USI doctrine is a supposed conflict between “Yahweism” and “the religion of the Gentiles”. This is of course forgetting for a moment that the “Gentiles” in Rome were really all too happy to embrace Christianity once it became part of the existing cultural and political spiral of proto-whiteness, or at least politically expedient for the ruling classes of European or “Gentile” nations. The subjugation of Satan by Saint Michael is thus interpreted as the subjugation of “Gentile religions” by “the Yahwehists”. They consider the awakening of “Gentile Memory” (which, if you’ll remember, is supposed to contained in the blood of the Satanids, which is supposed to be USI members!) to be a return to the origin of the soul of the Satanid, as the biological descendant of Satan, so as to deify themselves and “restore” their identity as a “spiritual race” – or, “the satanic race”. The fact that the USI repeatedly uses the word “Gentile” implores us to remember that “Gentile” is supposed to be a word used to refer to non-Jews. On this basis, using the word “Gentile” to refer to yourself, your religion, and your “racial memory” and contrasting it with “Yahwehism” or “Judeo-Christianity” is a clear statement of religious, spiritual, and ontological antisemitism. For fuck’s sake there’s an article in which Jennifer distinguishes Satanists from Pagans by saying that Pagans are the “civilians” and Satanists are a kind of military force fighting against “the Judeo-Christian regime guilty of having contaminated our ancient traditions”. Not only is that classically antisemitic, it’s essentially just the original Christian distinction between the Christian as “Milites Christi” (literally soliders of Christ!) and pagans as “civilians”.
Based on all of this, there are times when I question even the very validity of the USI’s self-designation as “Satanist”. The “Satan” they worship may share characteristics with prevailing ideas about Satan within Satanism, but can be understood as essentially their own “god of the Gentiles”, strictly separated from the idea of Satan as The Devil or The Adversary (which for the record is still typically honoured within Satanism) and representative of an originary “Gentile” religion. Jesus is lauded for refusing the temptations of Satan because to them the Biblical Satan is not Satan, but rather a “Judeo-Christian” construction meant to serve as God’s shadow, while the “real” Satan is basically the “Aryan” supreme deity and Jesus is one of the various “Aryan” gods. Everything about the USI’s doctrine is tied together by what is essentially a neo-Nazi ideology in which members believe that they are racially linked to Satan and are therefore biological representatives of ancient “Gentile”/”Aryan” religion. We can also see that the white supremacist concept of the “serpent seed”, originally created to demonize Jewish people, is basically reimagined by the USI as the lineage of the “god of the Gentiles” and thus the “Aryan race”. When USI members reject conversion on the grounds that “you are either a Satanist by nature or you will never be a Satanist”, what they mean is that you can’t be converted to Satanism because you have be born a “Satanid”, because their version of “Satanism” is basically an ethnic religion for “Gentiles” (“Aryans”).
It should thus also come as probably no surprise at all that the Union of Italian Satanists has also had a history with Joy of Satan, another notoriously antisemitic spin on Theistic Satanism in which Satan is believed to be Enki and worshipped as the god of the “Gentiles”. In fact, they even cited JoS leader Maxine Dietrich in their article arguing for the name Satan being Sanskrit rather than Hebrew in origin. There is a whole article written by Jennifer “Twilight” Crepuscolo (who we must remember is the founder and leader of the USI) about the Joy of Satan, in which a significant degree of praise is mixed with criticism. Jennifer wrote that she always admired the “passion”, “frankness”, “simplicity”, and “courage” of Joy of Satan, and praised them for allegedly coining the definition of “Spiritual Satanism” and thus supposedly slapping Satanists away from the materialism of atheistic currents such as LaVeyan Satanism, while also criticizing the organisation for its perceived dogmatism, angry young membership, and an obsession with having sex with demons and (ironically enough) antisemitism. I say ironically because the USI itself is a pro-Nazi antisemitic organisation that makes arguments based on Nazi ideology and cites Nazi authors, so really their only objection to JoS’ antisemitism is that they’re too loud and too virulent about it – nothing but a matter of taste, and I suppose the fact that JoS members like to call Jennifer things like “filthy Jewish whore” for not being sufficiently antisemitic. In fact, just to highlight USI’s antisemitism once again, there is an article on their website discussing the so-called Illuminati, which uses quotes from the Talmud to argue that Jews hate “Gentiles” and features a meme of a man wearing a shirt saying “I love shiksas”, so as to emphasize a supposed xenophobic misogyny in Jewish men (“shiksa” is apparently a disparaging word for non-Jewish women, which the USI article insists is an object of sexual fantasy). For a group that insists that JoS spends too much time hating on Jews, they seem awfully eager to do it themselves. By the way, that same article defends Roman colonialism while emphasizing that the colonization and enslavement of Africans was done by “Judeo-Christian” people and that the former was good and the latter bad.
OK, I think we’ve seen about enough. That website obviously has far too much content for the Sernagiotto’s article to cover fully in its intended scope, but I reckon that Sernagiotto could have at least visited the website once and asked questions about, among other things, the USI members’ opinions about Jews, National Socialism, and what the USI website says about those subjects. That she did not cover this at all is a serious omission, because all this stuff about “Gentiles” versus “Judeo-Christians” is core part of the USI’s worldview, not just an incidental oart of the beliefs of some individual members. The only problem there is that perhaps they might not have answered. I attempted to ask Jennifer Crepuscolo about the USI’s support for Nazism as she was responding to QueerSatanic, but she has not responded.
Let me clear about a few things, I want there to be more positive coverage of Theistic Satanism. I’m tired of glorified humanist think tanks and the Church of Satan, or just this narrative that “Satanism isn’t about worshipping Satan”, getting all the limelight whenever the press wants to talk about Satanism to the normies or what have you. What I do not want is for this to mean that neo-Nazis get to have puff pieces wrriten for them by people who don’t ever do the research they’re supposed to. And make no mistake: the Nazism is the main issue. It’s not their theism, it’s not necessarily their beliefs about aliens (though that subject has some problematic contours on its own), its primarily the fact that they uphold repackagings of Nazi and white supremacist ideology that they use as the basis for their broader worldview, and the fact that their founder and apparent leader seems to support National Socialism.
While reading Gruppo Di Nun’s Revolutionary Demonology I encountered an interesting discussion of the figure of Dracula in the essay “Gothic Insurrection”, which was written by Claudio Kulesko. Here, Dracula figures as a major archetypical expression of the barbarian in popular culture, and it’s this particular context that I feel inspired to explore.
Why would I focus on this, you might wonder? Isn’t it a little early for Halloween? Fool! For some of us every day is Halloween, at least if you mean what I think you mean, but only one day of the year is Samhain! But seriously, I think that Kulesko’s discussion of Dracula in the context of the barbarian presents a fascinating opportunity to explore thematic underpinnings that have frequently found expression in the Left Hand Path and adjacent subcultures. Vampires have never been absent from the archetypal considerations of the Left Hand Path, indeed there are often frequent explorations of the theme of vampirism within modern Satanism, which is perhaps not too surprising when we consider how often that vampires were frequently linked to Satan himself as antitheses to Christianity. And it’s perhaps this combined with the Paganism of Dracula’s “barbarian heritage” in which Dracula emerges as a glorious icon of the intersection so important to my own polycentric project of Satanic Paganism.
But I suppose first of all: what is a barbarian, besides perhaps a loaded term? We can stay on Kulesko’s analysis for this question. The term “barbarian” derives from the Greek word “barbaros”, which in ancient Greece seemed to denote those who spoke in “incomprehensible” non-Greek languages, and therefore referred to foreigners. The barbarian’s linguistic outsideness from Greek (or indeed “Aryan”) civilization led to their consideration as almost non-human, more animal than human, and certainly not subject to the rights that civilization affords its subjects. By the Middle Ages, the term “barbarian” also came to designate non-Christians at large (“pagans”, “heretics”, Muslims, atheists, etc.), and in theological terms those who opposed God because they somehow lacked the light of natural intellect that would allow for some supposed latent intuition of God. Conceptually, the barbarian is always someone who not only sits on the wrong side of civilization but also threatens to cross through the borders and invade that civilization.
The barbarian’s “non-human” animality is reflected in the civilized imaginary via the nightmare of the Berserker, the ecstatic bear-skin warriors who dedicated themselves to the Norse god Odin. These Berserkers would actively negate the cultural boundary between “the human” and “the animal” by not only dressing in animal skins but also by taking on the traits of the animals they sought to emulate. It was even believed that they actually transformed into wild animals, thus completely transgressing the line between “human” and “animal”. For Kulesko the Berserker’s wildness and separation from the word figure strongly into black metal, such as in the case of Bathory with songs like “Baptised in Fire and Ice” and “Blood and Iron“, lyrically narrating a lost time without any clear boundaries between Man and beast and where humans were immersed in the voices of the land. Kulesko actually quite beautifully describes this admittedly nostalgic expression of the Pagan worldview:
So, without stretching our preamble too much further, how exactly does Dracula figure into all of this? Well, Dracula does share certain characteristics with the barbarian as we have thus far discussed. He along with the archetypical vampire share a sort of becoming-animal with the Berserker. He can turn into a bat or a wolf, and beyond this he could even turn into mist, thus going beyond even animal. The barbarian’s outsideness is also reflected in the way Dracula presents a chaotic and elusive threat in the form of the return of the undead, or of undeath itself, and with it the possibility that humanity could be destroyed by something that seems fundamentally alien to life. Perhaps Dracula inherits a “barbarian” reputation via the cruel reputation of the historical “Dracula”: Vlad III, also known as Vlad Tepes (“The Impaler”), the Voivode of Wallachia (modern day Romania) who became known for his exceptional brutality. The barbarian outsideness of Dracula is also, in Bram Stoker’s novel, given a conspicuous racial subtext, reflective of the anxieties of 19th century eugenicism. In Chapter 3 we find Jonathan Harker recounting his conversation with Dracula, in which Jonathan asks Dracula about the history of Transylvania and then Dracula regales Jonathan with the stories of his people – apparently the Szekelys, a Hungarian subgroup who lived mostly in the Eastern Carpathian Mountains in Romania.
We Szekelys have a right to be proud, for in our veins flows the blood of many brave races who fought as the lion fights, for lordship. Here, in the whirlpool of European races, the Ugric tribe bore down from Iceland the fighting spirit which Thor and Wodin gave them, which their Berserkers displayed to such fell intent on the seaboards of Europe, aye, and of Asia and Africa too, till the peoples thought that the werewolves themselves had come. Here, too, when they came, they found the Huns, whose warlike fury had swept the earth like a living flame, till the dying peoples held that in their veins ran the blood of those old witches, who, expelled from Scythia had mated with the devils in the desert. Fools, fools! What devil or what witch was ever so great as Attila, whose blood is in these veins?
The description of Dracula’s lineage as a “whirlpool of European races” serves to emphasize a background that is meant to be seen as both exotic and dangerous. Dracula descends from an ethnic melting pot of peoples, whose diverse admixture is from his perspective a source of unparalleled strength. In Victorian England “whirlpool” was a term reserved for impoverished parts of the East End in London, home to a diversity of immigrant populations, which to Victorian audiences seemed inexorably violent and unruly. This subtext is only exasperated when we remember that part of the plot of Dracula is that Dracula wanted to buy property in England in order to infiltrate English society, especially by seducing English women, to create more vampires.
All of that having been said, the point of my article was to disccuss the intersection involving Paganism, and having established the overall theme of the barbarian in Dracula, we can safely move on. In the same chapter, we see Dracula invoking, or at least recalling, the Norse gods Odin and Thor in the name of his apparent ancestors, the Vikings and the Huns. Kulesko notes this as a conscious choice on Stoker’s part, meant to convey a link between Dracula on the one hand and the polytheistic “barbarians” who were subjugated by Christians on the other hand. Dracula’s conceit is that he and his people derived their strength, their ability to conquer, from the lineage of Attila the Hun as well as the divine inspiration of Norse gods, and to this effect he later credits this influence to the successful repulsion of invasions by various enemies. It’s here that we can get into a theme that interests me.
The idea of evil pagan barbarians worshipping warlike gods and marching against Christian civilization has its own long chain of historical context. For one thing, the pre-Christian Vikings acquired that sort of reputation among Christian Anglo-Saxons, whose accounts described them partaking in ecstatic war dances dedicated to their gods during their campaigns. Before Scandinavian kings started converting to Christianity, the Vikings could be contrasted from other parts of early medieval Europe, and so marauding Vikings were feared as great heathen armies at war with Christendom. The Odin and Thor invoked by Dracula could be seen as “warlike” in their own way, at least in that both of them were warrior deities, though Odin was also more like the magician who directed the course of battle than the frontline fighter that Thor was. But there were also many other gods to some extent connected to war and battle, such as Freyja, Freyr, Tyr, Ullr, or Hodr, and in the end, when Ragnarok comes, all the gods are warriors fighting in the “ultimate” war. But before Christianity there was the Roman Empire, whose imperialist narratives about barbarians are ultimately an urgrund for the later Christian imagination, and ultimately further the imaginary of the construction of whiteness. Consider the Roman campaigns against the Germanic tribes and Britain. Rome, Germania, and Britain, were all polytheistic, but they worshipped different gods (which the Romans often interpreted as actually being their gods) in their own cultural contexts, which have since become (perhaps utterly) lost to time. The Romans frequently depicted their Celtic and Germanic adversaries as practicing gruesome rites such as human sacrifice and contrasted them against the civilization of Roman religion, even as they also cast the gods of their enemies as their own Roman gods.
In the case of Vlad III, we should note that he was probably not a polytheist, and nor for that matter was the Wallachia he ruled over. Wallachia was officially founded in the 14th century long after what we now call Romania had already accepted Christianity as its official religion, and Wallachia was founded as a Christian principality. Still, it could be said in Eastern Europe there were late converts. The Bulgarian Empire, for instance, was officially polytheistic until the year 864, under Tsar Simeon I and his successful campaign to Christianize the empire. Pre-Christian Bulgarians worshipped Tengri alongside the various gods of Slavic polytheism, and in the eyes of Christians they were a warlike society that, initially, did not take well to Christianity. The Principality of Hungary essentially remained polytheistic, or at least continued to be ruled by pagan monarchs, until the year 1000 when Stephen I became King of Hungary after defeating the pagan duke Koppany. The Magyars likely remained pagan for centuries until the 11th century, what few sources remain of their beliefs suggest a prevailing animistic worship of the natural world. Lithuania, known as “the last pagan country in Europe” did not officially adopt Christianity until 1387, prior to which Lithuania continued to practice pre-Christian polytheism and had to fight the Christian crusades against it while expanding as a sovereign power in their own right. But, of course, even under the veneer of official Christianization, in the Slavic countrysides pre-Christian polytheism persisted among the general population, to the point that it took centuries for Christianity to actually integrate. The Kyivan Rus (which consisted of what is now Ukraine, Belarus, and parts of Russia), for instance, officially became a Christian state in the year 988, after Volodymyr I Sviatoslavych converted to Christianity and renounced polytheism, but most of the population still did not consider themselves Christian for centuries, and in the northern settlements (now corresponding to western Russia) many people continued to practice polytheism and occasionally revolted against Christian rule. Similarly, in Poland, polytheism persisted by the 11th century and there was popular opposition culminating in revolt against Christian rule, and the Catholic Church struggled to eventually suppress it.
Relevant also to the context of “barbarian” outsideness would be the nomadic Mongols that eventually came to be dubbed the “Golden Horde”. As they spread across Asia and towards Europe, the Mongols were feared by Christendom for the strength of their armies and the devastation they wrought, and with it the threat they posed to Christian Europe following the invasions of Hungary and the Rus, which by this point happened to be Christian states. Until the institution of Islam as the official state religion in the 14th century, the Mongols maintained the practice of their own autochthonous animistic religion, and although the Mongol empire probably had no particular anti-Christian animus, their being non-Christian while attacking Christian kingdoms led to the church presenting them as basically agents of Satan. Perhaps Christian leaders feared that a successful Mongol conquest of Europe would lead to the dethronement of Christianity, though within Mongol territory Christianity was actually tolerated alongside many other religions.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula in the context of his ancestral conceits emerges as a reflection of Pagan outsideness within the Christian imaginary. The “whirpool” of Dracula’s origins curiously reflects a cornucopia of antagonisms to Christianity. He claims descent from Attila the Hun, the leader of the Hunnic Empire, which was likely a non-Christian territory worshipping gods like Tengri or “Mars” (probably the Roman identification of a Hunnic god of war) and which led a campaign against Christian Rome, as well as the Norse Vikings, who up until between the 9th-11th centuries would typically have been polytheists. Dracula also claims that the Magyars, whose ancestors he asserted gave rise to the werewolves and the Beserkers (a claim, by the way, that Stoker probably sourced from Max Muller’s work), recognized the Szekelys as their kindred after conquering the Carpathian Basin under Árpád (who was a pagan), and trusted them with their protection from Turkish forces. Transylvania and Wallachia in the time of Vlad III would definitely not have been pagan, but it’s interesting that this context in Dracula swirls here, in the remnants of pagan resistance alongisde another sense of barbarian outsideness. Dracula, as contrasted with the seemingly unproblematic chain of English Christianity (we should at this point keep in mind that England had its own complicated history of Christianization), is presented as emblematic of the legacy of anti-Christian barbarism, positioned as foreign to Christian civilization.
At long last we can focus on the legacy of the warlike gods and spirits, and it is something I rather enjoy reiterating when I get the chance here. I could take any chance, for instance, to repeat the subject of the Mairiia, that purported band of polytheistic ancient Iranian warriors who celebrated orgiastic feasts, had promiscuous sex with women who were termed “jahika” (traditionally understood as promiscuous sorceresses), and worshipped “warlike” deities such as Indra, Rudra, Mithra, Vayu, Anahita, and Θraētaona (or Fereydun), and whose ecstatic cult we are told was proscribed by Zoroaster and banished from Iran as an enemy of the emerging Zoroastrian religion. These Mairiia, in this sense, embody barbarian outsideness in that they were considered enemies of the community within the Avestan context. They may or may not have been echoes of older Indo-European clans of warriors who disguised themselves as wolves, held orgiasitc sacrifices and feasts, and devoted themselves gods that represented “dark forces of life”, or Indo-European bands of warriors who similarly devoted themselves to esoteric worship of gods with strong connections to the realm of the dead. This is what scholars refer to as Koryos, meaning “war band”, or alternatively as Mannerbund, meaning “alliance of men”. The barbarian is well-reflected in them, not just in their resonances with the Berserkers but also in their nomadic outsideness, living outside the boundaries of their society with nothing but their weapons, and going on raids thus always threatening to cross the borders of the community; and also being employed by powers to do the raiding for them, perhaps so that they would not be raided themselves.
The rites and gods of these war bands tell us something else. In Greece, adolescent war bands typically dedicated themselves to Apollo, who was often called Lykeios and regarded as the master of wolves that symbolised their fighting style. The mythical battle between Melanthus and Xanthos, the former associated with Dionysus Melanaigis, has also been interpreted as a rite of passage for the ephebes, who wore dark goat skins just as Dionysus did. The Norse Ulfhednar and the Berserkers, of course, were devoted to Odin, the patron of their divine inspiration and madness. The wolf association spreads far and wide; the Langobards of northern Italy who worshipped Godan/Odin and the Vanir were intially called Winnili, meaning “wolves”. In Vedic India, adolescent warriors would be initiated into a band of warriors during a winter solstice ritual where they would go into a trance and then “die” and be reborn as war dogs. The outlaw warriors and their priests had the gods Rudra and Indra as their divine patrons, both linked to the Maruts, the latter believed to be a mythological representation of the Mannerbund. At Krasnosamarskoe, located in the Russian steppes, some people practiced midwinter rituals where they inverted social customs, particularly the taboo against eating dog meat, in order to become like dogs or wolves themselves, thus transforming themselves as a rite of passage. Darkness seems to be a theme for these sorts of ancient warrior bands, in that there may be keen preference for the nocturnal and the mobilization of chthonic forces. The Roman author Tacitus recorded something like this in the Germanic Harii, who he dubbed “savages”, wearing dark dye, brandishing dark shields, and preferring to conduct battle at night, while the Athenian ephebes wore dark black cloaks (or rather chlamys) and both hunted and fought at night. In India, warriors who worshipped the gods Rudra and Indra wore black clothes.
For Amir Ahmadi, writing in The Daēva Cult in the Gāthās, this would all resonate not just with the Mairiia but with the cult of the Daevas at large, with its preference for nocturnal sacrifices and its self-emphasis on a warlike divine centre. The Daeva cult was very chthonic in emphasis, with the daevas being worshipped at night and often underground, while the Mairiia also performed nocturnal sacrfices to their gods. Many of the ancient Koryos or Mannerbunds have their own chthonic link, often more implicit and symbolic by their wearing black or just the association with the wolf, which itself is often symbolically linked with death across culture, but also sometimes more forthrightly in the associations with gods such as Odin or Rudra. Ahmadi tells us that one of the operative points is that the warrior of the Koryos or Mannerbund took up a mystery in which they separated themselves from the herd, both in life and in death, in order to win not only fame in this life but also a place of distinction and honour in the afterlife. One then plunges into the underworld, and across the world sword in hand, to carve one’s own place in the beyond, one that cannot be taken away. But the consistent theme of wolves and bestial transformation also returns us to the subject of Dracula and the vampire.
The vampire, the barbarian, the warlike Mannerbunds that turn into wolves, and to a certain extent the witch (part of the fabled Witches’ Sabbath involves a carnival of shapeshifting into animals), all these share a very similar Deleuzian sense of becoming-animal, and in this sense we can understand that as a unique mode of becoming: freedom from the civilizing perception of the civilized human organism, a subject that is no longer stable but constantly anomalous, inaccessible to definition, and in a certain way irrepressible because of it. The sort of localised chaos, the double negation that elevates individual expression, a kind of abject liminality as subject to desire, that is the tendency of passing through dimensions at will instead of drawing permanent boundaries – thus Kulesko notes of the barbarian. Pagan religious consciousness is resplendent with this latent sense of barbarian liminality and outsideness, even in view of the many boundary-drawing civilization-states of pre-Christian antiquity. The spirits of the netherworld could always cross into our world, and at certain points the borders between worlds could be shattered completely: the divine was seen to be everywhere, always intermingled with the world, and could cross the boundaries of our world anywhere. Kulesko notes the reflection of this consciousness in Quorthon’s modern reassertion of Paganism, in his lamentation for the lost time when “Man and beast was one and the gods of the sky walked the face of the earth”. Per Kadmus Herschel we can be reminded of the way that polytheistic myth echoes the notion of a potentially endlessly transforming form or body. And, of course, we may recall Stanislaw Przybyszewski’s satanic observation of remnant paganism as the latest negativity beneath the Christian order, and its resonances with barbarian outsideness and perhaps the pre/intra/preter/anti-cosmic darkness that Gruppo Di Nun speaks to in their larger body of work.
I would invite the consideration of another theme as well: how the death of Dracula figures into the magical art of the Left Hand Path.
Consider Kulesko’s telling of the novel’s end, from the lens of a Marxist critique of neoreaction and its interpretation of catastrophic time (the bold/italic emphasis is my own):
When I read that passage, the first thing I immediately thought of was Hellsing, both the manga and the Hellsing Ultimate series. Why? Because it felt a lot like how Alucard “died” in the end.
For one thing, Hellsing’s Alucard is supposed to be none other than Dracula himself. The name Alucard is obviously the name Dracula in reverse, and prior to Hellsing it was used as the name of the son of Dracula, the first version of which was Count Alucard in the 1943 movie Son of Dracula. Here, though, Alucard is not the son of Dracula, but rather is Dracula himself. Based on the narrative of Bram Stoker’s novel, he was Vlad III, Voivode of Wallachia, who in turn came to be known as Count Dracula. Dracula was defeated by Abraham van Hellsing, and then for some reason Abraham decided to, instead of killing him, bind him with sorcery and turn him into his servant, and from then on he became the servant of the Hellsing Organisation deployed in its battles against various occult adversaries.
Now, as regards Alucard’s “death”. The Millennium Organisation, a Nazi paramilitary group, created artificial vampires from the blood of an old vampire (referred to simply as “She”) and then sent a whole army of them, dubbed “the Last Battalion”, to invade London and destroy the Hellsing Organisation. These artificially-produced Nazi vampires do battle with the forces of Hellsing and the Vatican, and with Alucard himself. As Alucard slaughters all of his enemies, including his comrade-turned-traitor Walter Dornez, he absorbs the blood of all those who were slain in London, and with it their souls, gaining their knowledge and memories – in a sense their very lives – within himself in turn. That ability is what allows him to learn about the continued existence of Millennium after their presumed destruction during World War 2. Then, amidst Alucard’s protracted blood feast, Schrodinger, the Millennium Oberscharführer, cuts off his own head with a knife, and then falls into the ocean of blood in order to also be absorbed by Alucard. This results in Alucard vanishing into thin air, disappearing and “absorbing into himself” as Schrodinger’s power being absorbed along with millions of souls causes Alucard to no longer perceive himself. The flipside of this, however, is that while Alucard seemingly accepts his defeat and “dies”, he is also not really dead. For 30 years he persisted in an inert corpse-like state, in which he had to kill the millions of souls he had already absorbed to control Schrodinger’s power, and upon succeeding, he could then seemingly reincarnate into the whole body of existence. Somehow he became both everywhere and nowhere.
In Hellsing’s Alucard, Dracula’s “death” manages to take on a new and elevated significance. Dracula per Kulesko is a being of pure gothic time: that is to say, an “inorganic” or “eternal and motionless time, suspended below the veil of the present, ready to seize those human beings naive enough to go snooping around in the dark recesses where evil hides”. This makes him both Vlad III and not Vlad III, and both Dracula and not Dracula, and his thirst for blood is a desire for atmospheric dissolution that emerges from exactly his origin in the otherworld of gothic time. Alucard naturally shares this sense of gothic time, and the obscure essence of the vampire, with it double negation of individual unity, is magnified by his ability to contain countless souls in himself, as well as the way this eventually causes him to “disappear” into everything by absorbing Schrodinger. Alucard has simultaneously returned to his origin in gothic time and weaved his power into the whole world. He is and is not Alucard, because he is and is not everything, and this allows him to appear and disappear like a shadow at any time and any place. Moreover, perhaps even Alucuard’s thirst for battle can be interpreted on these terms in that it draws him to the conclusion of awesome cosmic dissolution and reincarnation. For this reason, Alucard could never be satisfied by any battle that would not draw him towards this conclusion: only the Battle of London, an apocalyptic confrontation with Millennium, could bring about this end, and that’s why, to the shock of everyone, he welcomes the Major’s declaration of war with such maniacal joy.
It is not sufficient for the Left Hand Path individual to exist as an eternal temple, gnawing away at everything in the name of its absolutism and sovereignty. No, there must be a different point to the cultivation of will, to divine identification. The Left Hand Path adept would rather strive to be reborn in the whole body of the endlessly becoming universe through their will. A will capable of imprinting itself and being absorbed into the world, as if becoming part of an endless stream of blood, or entering into the whole of things from the soul’s origin. Thus, we go to the bottom of the earth. Some aspect of this feels like I’m talking about Thelema, except there’s no surrender involved. It’s more like the blood thirst, or more appropriately as though you’re plunging into the world, and thus still penetrating it as the Left Hand Path practitioner might. In an endless chain of becoming, we will dictate the horizons of our own becoming, and gain the power to thrust open the doors of divine reality that we may enter the world itself, and join the company of the gods.
Actually, that whole analogy is very suitably barbarian. If you’ll forgive the flaws in this initial comparison, remember that the barbarian is recognised as one who not only dwells outside the borders of civilization but also seeks to cross into them, invade them even. Barbarian outsideness invites the consideration of our own relative position. If there is a realm outside us perhaps we are just as surely outside of it. While Gruppo Di Nun speak of an outer that threatens to penetrate our own world at every turn, it could also be said that we stand outside another world or plane: one that stands beyond our perception, and (or) one that is as well inner to us. In a way, I suppose we can lend on a distinct interpretation of what Kulesko and Rhettt have called “stepping out of our present condition into an alien state of absolute Outsideness and community with the Unknown”. Humans, indeed all living things, are born into a world that they wake into without understanding it, as they then reach out to each other. The esoteric barbarian of the Left Hand Path will descend and penetrate the world, going down to open the doors that others will not, and into the unknown, and by doing so surpass the condition of other humans: perhaps, even, of humanity. The idea of storming heaven to steal the fire carries with it a similar meaning. Stirner’s notion of heaven-storming is also somewhat relevant, in that for Stirner the real storming of heaven consists in the total destruction of the heavenly boundary between the Unique and the world: that, after all, is the point of transgression, to destroy the boundaries that alienate our consciousness.
The theme of barbarian outsideness also inevitably connects us to the demonic, in the sense of demonic outsideness. The demonic, for Kulesko at least, is connected not only to un-being and becoming but also outsideness, in that demons represent a dimension that is both external to the order of humans and capable of breaking into it: that, of course, is the spectre of demonic possession. We may find that Bernard Faure’s analysis of the demonic in Japanese Buddhism, per Rage and Ravage, more or less aligns with this idea, with the addition that it represents a reality that not only subverts and overflows structure but also acts as the negative source of movement and life itself. Kulesko would probably nod to that to some extent, in that he locates a demonical presence in even the most mundane actions. In some contexts, such as in Egyptian magic, demons exists at the margins between this world and the otherworld, protecting the afterlife from intruders, and could be invoked, thus entailing the demonic as representative of a liminal space, or an interstice between life and death. And, of course, none other than The Devil himself brings together the demonic and barbarian outsideness. In the medieval imagination, The Devil, or Satan, was frequently positioned in the wilderness, outside the borders of the Christian community, but also constantly threatening to infiltrate this community. That sense is part of the root of the fears and superstitions around witchcraft, and with it the medieval mass panic that was the witch hunts. This idea also has its resonances with the Biblical conception of the wilderness, or rather particularly the desert, as the home of demonkind, not to mention Satan’s appearance in the wilderness as the attempted tempter of Jesus, and with the wild men or woodwoses that also preoccupied the medieval imagination and may themselves have also been identified as demons. In medieval Scandinavian folklore the Devil is allied to nature spirits and nymphs that were perhaps previously honoured or venerated before the dominance of Christianity, and in this setting the wilderness is pictured as an inverted world, as gateway to demonic powers. Outlaws would be believed to step in and out of this inverted world, making pacts with the Devil as their patron god and having sex with nymphs in order to gain magical knowledge and powers. Medieval devil-worshipping Swedish outlaws, such as Tideman Hemmingsson, Hakan Jonsson, or Mickel Kalkstrom, can here be pictured as stepping out into a realm of outsideness, into the unknown community, precisely so as to elevate themselves.
Dracula, of course, ultimately connects back to the realm of the Devil in some way, even at the level of his namesake. The name comes from the fact that Vlad III was called Dracul, which means “dragon”. It was originally inherited from his father, Vlad II, who gained this moniker from his service in the Order of the Dragon. But the word “dracul” in modern Romanian also came to mean “devil”. Perhaps this is shaped by the reputation of Vlad III, or equally by the long-standing link in Christian symbolism between the Devil and dragons, solidified in the Book of Revelation by the reference to Satan as “the great dragon” who “deceives the whole world”. In some versions of the Dracula story, Vlad III became Dracula by renouncing God and making a pact with the Devil for eternal life. A short story by Bram Stoker, titled Dracula’s Guest, seemingly links Dracula to Walpurgis Night, and to ideas about how it marks the arrival of the Devil in the world, along with the attendant uprising of the dead. It is even sometimes suggested that Dracula himself is a like a modern symbol of the Devil, from the Christian standpoint of course, emphasizing the idea of the Devil as the intractable adversary of humanity, struggling bitterly and insidiously against humans, to corrupt or destroy us.
In the end there’s much to be said for the crossing of boundaries as regarding the Left Hand Path. I remember a few years ago encountering certain ideas about, in Roger Caillois’s terms, the “left side of the sacred” in relevance to Paganism. This aspect of “the Sacred” (a term that I now accept as fairly insufficient as a descriptor as a descriptor of divine reality) concerns itself with the transgression of the “normal” boundaries that are attached to life, can be defined by a relationship with death and the powers of the underworld, and emphasizes the power of the sacred to disrupt and penetrate the day-to-day order that we live in. I remember Finnchuill relating this to certain practices of the pre-Christian world, such as Dionysian rites and the worship of chthonic gods such as Hecate in Greece, dealings with the dwellers of the sidhe mounds in Ireland, the invocation of chthonic deities by Gaulish sorcerers, and the Sumerian myth of Inanna’s descent to the underworld. He also used Bataille’s image of the Akephalos, the headless demon, to convey “the left sacred” in terms of the death of the monarch, the destruction of hierarchy, and the resulting disruption of the social order (Bataille’s Acephale was likely intended to symbolize the radical rejection of fascist spirituality in favour of anti-authoritarian mythology and ritual). For Paganism, this means the core matter is the trangression and dissolution of the boundaries between humans and “the Sacred”, which would come a resulting fixation on chthonicism, as contrasted with the “right sacred” which sought to preserve boundaries between Man and “the Sacred”, to prevent “the Sacred” from constantly pouring into the world. Disinhibition is central to this outlook: this meant flagrant defiance of the prevailing social customs as a means to access divine consciousness or community in ways that could be acheived within the boundaries of the civic order.
Dracula, that dragon containing within himself the wild negativity of demonic and pagan outsideness, the vampire lord who invokes the warlike gods and the Devil and can turn himself wolves, bats, and mist, the barbarian who thirsts for blood and so invades Christendom, is an emblem of the gothic time that shines upon and in the Left Hand Path. Here lies an interesting nexus of intersection that can be cultivated between Satanism and Paganism, and a darkly radiant ethos for the Left Hand Path. Thirsting, devouring, battling one’s way into the world, living forever in the black atmosphere of everything, becoming without end.
The hits just keep on coming for the start of 2023. First Andrew Tate gets arrested because he decided to tip himself off to Romanian authorities, then Benedict XVI dies, and now The Satanic Temple has once again lost their primary case against the Queer Satanic collective.
Yesterday, the United States District Court for the State of Washington in Seattle granted a motion to dismiss the claims made by The Satanic Temple, and its parent LLC the United Federation of Churches, against four queer Satanist activists collectively referred to as Queer Satanic. This is apparently the second time in the entire history of The Satanic Temple’s three year legal campaign against Queer Satanic where TST has had their case dismissed in court, which certainly does not bode well for TST’s attempts to silence their critics or their larger litigation record. In 2020, the United Federation of Churches and the leadership of The Satanic Temple accused the Queer Satanic activists of taking over their social media for the purpose of defamation as well as absurd charges of cyberpiracy, computer hacking, unfair competition, and tortious interference with business expetancy, and served them papers for a lawsuit. The case was originally dismissed in court in 2021, but TST re-filed it in order to finanically drain the defendants, no doubt hoping to demoralize them into submission. I would expect that these efforts have failed, at least for now. It remains to be seen what The Satanic Temple will do next.
The documented court ruling outlines that the plaintiff’s case was lacking in numerous regards. The US District Court seems to more or less accept the defendant’s argument that the case lacks subject-matter jurisdiction, which would necessarily mean the case being dismissed, as well as noting the absence of facts establishing an amount in controversy that would be required for the case. In simple terms, TST’s case was dismissed because it appeared to consist of nothing.
This ruling constitutes a major defeat for The Satanic Temple in that they had hoped to suppress activist dissent against the organisation. Indeed, it would add another failure to their long list of failures, which I will present below for reference:
I can already see, however, that this case is not getting much coverage. There has been no media coverage of this court ruling and its outcome for TST. The most recent media coverage of The Satanic Temple that I can see is an article from The Guardian, written by Adam Gabbatt, which largely lionizes The Satanic Temple and its official leader Douglas Misicko (or rather “Lucien Greaves” as he prefers to be called) as fighters against the religious right – no mention is given, of course, to Douglas’ public defense of Church Militant. The Satanic Temple itself appears to have no comment on the latest court ruling, and the same appears to go for their leadership and membership. It would seem that TST’s supporters can do nothing but sit in silence at this failure. Or perhaps they will regard it as a minor incident, irrelevant to the broader mission and priorities of the Temple. It would be a weak position, though, in view of how the “larger priorities” have been shaping up for them. The media is no doubt uninterested in this case, perhaps because it does not matter to them or perhaps because it interferes with the progressive reputation they mean to construct around The Satanic Temple as a pre-eminent countercultural adversary to American conservatism. Perhaps the Temple itself will continue to try and extend their SLAPP suit after dismissal, just as they had before, or perhaps they will find themselves facing the upper limit of their legal options before long.
But regardless, this remains an important victory against The Satanic Temple for queer, anti-fascist activists that have been fighting against the SLAPP suit. The Satanic Temple cannot maintain its litigious campaing forever, and the financial drain has clearly not destroyed the cause, as Queer Satanic continues to raise the funds necessary to continue fighting TST’s campaign against them. Freedom of speech has been upheld. TST’s case remains decrepit and stands in ruins while their hypocrisy lay bare, though perhaps a sympathetic media might see to it that this last part remain obfuscated.
The struggle against oppression can never truly be defeated, and it is without end. The minions of the Demiurge who impersonate the legacy of Satanism will not win, and will either be scattered to the wind or collapse on their own. The black flame will continue to burn in spite of The Satanic Temple, while the fighters of the black flame forever persevere.
Pope Benedict XVI died on New Year’s Eve 2022. May he rest in piss. He’s remembered for a litany of foul deeds in his life, and rightfully so. He was a conscripted member of the Hitler Youth, and the years that followed he beatified Pope Pius XII, a man who knew about the Holocaust but remained silent and in fact collaborated with the Nazis on “anti-communist” grounds. He also excommunicated a 9-year old child for having an abortion after being raped by her stepfather, who he did not excommunicate for anything, and is in general notorious for his role in protecting priests who committed child sexual abuse. He also probably helped HIV/AIDS spread in the global south by actively discouraging condom use. But there’s one other horrible legacy that Benedict left in the world, and in fact it’s the continued modern legacy of the Catholic Church at large: the transphobic fascist concept of “gender ideology”.
Every time someone wants to intellectually justify their hatred of trans people, along with queer and non-binary people, and from there justify many policies that are meant to oppress them, they refer to this abstract concept called “gender ideology”. The term “Gender ideology” doesn’t have any real meaning in itself, in that it doesn’t seem to correspond to any clearly defined ideology, or really anything except for the premise that trans people exist and that the experience of their gender identity is real. “Gender ideology” is a rhetorical device favoured by a variety of reactionary ideologues ranging from Christian conservatives to aging Marxist-Leninists, but is often especially deployed by so-called “gender critical feminists”, or Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists (TERFs), as part of an apparent ideological opposition to the concept of gender, which is obviously a front from which to attack and marginalize trans and queer people. As Judith Butler notes in a 2021 interview with The Guardian (which we should keep in mind was later censored), the “anti-gender ideology movement” seeks not to oppose any specific account or idea of gender but rather to remove the concept of gender from discourse and banish it from academic study, in order to privilege the concept of biological sex, sometimes with a religious basis, in order to exclude non-traditional gender identities from the social order. The very phrase “gender ideology” seems like a relative novelty, but it has been around for years already. In fact, it seems that the core concept was invented by the Catholic Church.
It’s not clear who individually coined the phrase “gender ideology”, but there are three likely candidates: Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI), Karol Wojtyła (Pope John Paul II), and an American Catholic anti-abortion activist named Dale O’Leary. Per Juan Marco Vaggione’s account of the Catholic discourse on “gender ideology”, it would seem that most studies trace the spread of the concept of “gender ideology” to Dale O’Leary. Yet, Benedict XVI and John Paul II were an instrumental part of the whole construction of the concept and discourse of “gender ideology”, which was itself created by the Catholic Church as a response to both contemporary feminist theory and an emerging new political framework around gender, human rights, and the sexual sphere.
In the 1990s, the United Nations held conferences in Cairo, Egypt and Beijing, China to discuss and establish the recognition of reproductive rights and sexual rights as part of the overall concept of human rights. The Catholic Church opposed this development, on the grounds that it deemed sexual and reproductive rights to be antithetical to the doctrine of the Holy See. John Paul II referred to the UN recognition of sexual and reproductive rights as a “tragic denial” of human rights and regarded it as an affirmation of the “culture of death” – this seemed to be an umbrella term for all manner of things that the Church opposed, including abortion, euthanasia, artificial reproduction, and contraception. The Vatican opposed the UN by contrasting sexual and reproductive rights with a concept of “natural law”, presumably deriving from God, as the basis of “objective moral law”, which in turn they regarded as the necessary basis of civil law.
Beginning in 1994, Pope John Paul II launched a concerted campaign to promote the conservative/traditionalist agenda of Church ideology against progressive frameworks of human rights. This was done through the creation of two Pontifical Academies (the Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences in 1994 and then the Pontifical Academy for Life in 1998), the publication of an encyclical titled Evangelium Vitae in 1995, and the establishment of a triennial Catholic conference called the World Meeting of Families in 1994. All of this was aimed at presenting sexual and reproductive rights as an attack on the traditional family, whose defense the Church saw as one of its main roles, as well as crafting a Catholic traditionalist narrative to be inserted in contradiction to the perceived new liberal cultural mainstream. He even seemed to include in his overall argument a proposal for “a new feminism”, which would oppose “gender ideology” and ultimately conform to Catholic essentialism.
The concept of “gender ideology” as an amorphous threat to society seems to have emerged within this background, and eventually replaced the idea of “the culture of death” in Vatican rhetoric. In this setting, Benedict XVI played an essential role in the construction of the discourse of “gender ideology”. As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he apparently encountered feminist literature in his native Germany and then made it his business to oppose whatever ideas he saw in them. For Ratzinger, the so-called “ideology of gender” meant making “every role interchangeable between man and woman”, the idea that sex is no longer “a determined characteristic”, the idea that everything is a culturally and historically conditioned role rather than “a natural specificity inscribed in the depths of being”, and the idea that technology can allow both women and men to procreate at will without sex. There’s obviously a lot to unpack, and this all but a summary of Ratzinger ‘s larger rambling in The Ratzinger Report, which he released in 1985, but the general throughline of it all is that he viewed radical feminism and trans rights as an attack on the natural order of being dictated by God, and the basic arguments form a similar family of reactionary objections to the movement for trans rights. In fact, the way that Ratzinger paired feminism and trans rights with certain spectral notions of hyper-individualism and transhumanism recall the way that traditionalists like Aleksandr Dugin also talk about modern liberalism in general, and thus we see a pattern familiar to much of the far-right and modern fascism.
As Pope Benedict XVI, he continued to echo this form of traditionalism, repeatedly denouncing “gender ideology” as “rebellion against our God-given nature”. In 2000, Benedict XVI asserted that the United Nations was trying to destroy the family and world nations by “imposing” reproductive rights and other social changes. Such an idea bears obvious resonances to right-wing anti-UN conspiracy theories about “one world government” and later reactionary commentary concerning “cultural imperialism”. In 2003, the Vatican published the Lexicon of the Pontifical Council for the Family in order to oppose “misleading use of certain terms in order to create new rights that were contrary to universal principles” on the grounds that they “immediately turn crimes into rights”. In 2004, the Vatican released a letter addressed to the Bishops of the Catholic Church concerning “the collaboration of men and women in the church and in the world”, in which the Church under Benedict XVI explicitly attacked a certain “theory” of gender for its “obscuring of the difference or duality of the sexes” and for “inspiring” ideologies that “call into question the family”, “make homosexuality and heterosexuality virtually equivalent”, and “strengthens the idea that the liberation of women entails criticism of Sacred Scripture”, while affirming the idea of an objective gender binary as human nature, as reflective not only of the limit of biology but also the idea of difference as the basis of an ordered universe as created by God. Furthermore, Benedict XVI often espoused “anti-gender” traditionalism through the metaphor of ecology. In 2010, Benedict XVI asserted the existence of human nature as consisting of a binary between man and woman, likened this constructed state of human nature to endangered rainforests, and insisted that proponents of “gender ideology” threatened to destroy human nature, just as clear-cutters were destroying the rainforests, by advocating for reproductive rights and the concept of gender identity. In all, Benedict XVI represented the evolution of the Catholic Church’s campaign against sexual and reproductive rights and “gender ideology” as systematic defense of Catholic traditionalism and conservatism based around this overall theme, which of course has the effect of ideologically anchoring the Catholic Church to many forms of reactionary bigotry and cultural authoritarianism as reflective of the order of partiarchy.
Benedict XVI’s reactionary pronouncements about “gender ideology” and its supposedly destructive nature are probably no surprise to many people who are already aware of his apparent role as a strictly conservative Pope, notwithstanding the fact that his ideas about gender were also established by his predecessor John Paul II. But Pope Francis, despite his progressive-reformist reputation, not only did not oppose the traditionalist rhetoric predecessors but instead he continued the conservative Catholic discourse on “gender ideology”, albeit with his own superficially “anti-capitalist” twist.
In general, Pope Francis continued to espouse that “gender ideology” (or rather “gender theory” as he preferred to call it) as a threat to “human rights”. One difference in his rhetoric is that, unlike previous Popes, Francis positioned “gender ideology” as a form of intellectual colonialism. He in fact explicitly referred to it as “ideological colonization”, and accused people of demanding conformity to the teaching of “gender theory” as a condition of receiving grants for the education of the poor. This of course rings familiar to the right-wing conspiracist idea of the “long march through the institutions” as the triumph of so-called “Cultural Marxism”, pioneered by such ideologues as William Lind and Pat Buchanan. Another rhetorical difference is that, also unlike previous Popes, Francis connected “gender theory” to neoliberal capitalism by asserting that it is the product of the so-called “individualism” and “technocratic materialism” of capitalism. Francis also explicitly compared “gender theory” to nuclear war, Nazism, and the reign of King Herod, describing it as one of the so-called “Herods that destroy, that plot designs of death, that disfigure the face of man and woman, destroying creation”. Ironically, he apparently said it right after embracing a trans Catholic man who wanted to know if he was welcome in “the house of God”. In 2016 Pope Francis remarked with horror at what he believed was the idea of children being taught that they can choose their own sex, claiming that this was the work of influential nations and a well-funded “ideological colonization”. In 2019, the Congregation for Catholic Education published documents that establish a theoretical separation between “gender theory” and “gender ideology”, the latter concept being reasserted as referring to “unnatural tendencies” that lead to “educational programs and legislative enactments” that supposedly promoted ideas about identity and the body that “make a radical break with the actual biological difference between male and female”. The CCE’s “Guidance on Gender Issues” also explicitly positions the gender binary as human nature, based on the narrative in Genesis 1:27 that God created humanity in the image of man and woman, which is explicitly framed as “moral law, inscribed in our nature”. In a 2020 book titled San Giovanni Paulo Magno, Francis described “gender theory” as a place where “evil” is at work today, describing it as “erasing all distinctions between men and women, male and female” and “an attack on difference, on the creativity of God and on men and women”.
It is clear that, even in view of the rhetorical differences from previous Popes, Francis’ actual views on gender are not substantially different from previous Popes. He is still a conservative traditionalist on this question, still continuing the tradition of Catholic ideology in asserting a human nature defined by an essentialized gender binary versus “gender ideology” or “gender theory” which aims to destroy it. His arguments about the nature of “gender theory” come from the same place as Benedict XVI and John Paul II in that they emerge from the traditionalist concern that the nuclear heterosexual family will no longer be a political absolute ostensibly secured by divine will, and this sense Francis has done nothing but continue and if anything expand the project of these two Popes. In fact, I am of the persuasion that perhaps this worldview, and particularly Francis’ emphasis on “gender ideology” as colonialism may resonate with reactionary “anti-imperialist” ideas about how “progressive” values concerning individual autonomy are inherently “imperialist”, supposedly a dogmatic imposition by “Western” powers upon the global south, and it may have some bearing on Francis’ lack of solidarity with Ukraine. Note that within the last year, Vladimir Putin in Russia used the idea of “the West” somehow imposing progressive values through imperialism as a justification for invading Ukraine.
But more importantly, Francis has clearly referenced Benedict XVI in his views. Allow me to present a quotation from his dialogue with the Bishops of Poland, which was held in Krakow on July 27th 2016, in which he presents “gender theory” as connected to “colonization”. Here, he emphatically restates Benedict XVI’s ideas about “gender ideology” and references him accordingly:
In a conversation with Pope Benedict, who is in good health and very perceptive, he said to me: “Holiness, this is the age of sin against God the Creator”. He is very perceptive. God created man and woman; God created the world in a certain way… and we are doing the exact opposite. God gave us things in a “raw” state, so that we could shape a culture; and then with this culture, we are shaping things that bring us back to the “raw” state! Pope Benedict’s observation should make us think. “This is the age of sin against God the Creator”. That will help us.
It’s worth noting that, in this same speech, Francis even continues the older Catholic use of the term “gender ideology”, saying of his so-called “ideological colonization”: “I will call it clearly by its name – is [the ideology of] ‘gender'”.
Much of these ideas are, of course, a major part of the modern international right-wing movement. Consider that Jair Bolsonaro, during his inauguration as President of Brazil in 2019, promised to eradicate “gender ideology in the schools”, framing this as a resistance against “ideological submission”, and to that effect he replaced basically all sex education in Brazil with a cirriculum that enforces the teaching of the universal gender binary. In Poland, the term “gender ideology” is frequently deployed by right-wing activists who also use it to attack homosexuals, and the Polish government itself, ruled by the Law and Justice Party, explicitly attacked “gender ideology” as a facet of neoliberal globalisation, while far-right critics of the government insist that they are not doing enough. Right-wing parties across Europe, including the Italian Lega Nord, as well as right-wing protest movements, all deploy some variation of the concept of “gender ideology”, and in many cases use it as a platform to attack not only feminism and trans rights but also same-sex marriage. In Peru, conservative Catholics adapted the work of American conservative activists like Dale O’Leary to develop a notion of “gender ideology” as the secret antithesis to all morality, which then became part of the official rhetoric of Catholic churches throughout Latin America since the late 1990s. Denunciations of “gender ideology” as a threat to “identity”, “soul”, and “body” are common in right-wing anti-gender protests, and the idea presented in these protests is basically identical to the argument given by Popes Benedict XVI and Francis. But of course it’s not strictly confined to the Right, either. Ostensibly “socialist” populists like Rafael Correa, former President of Ecuador, have also decried “gender ideology” as a tool to “destroy the family”.
To summarize the subject of “gender ideology”: “gender ideology” is not real. It’s nothing more than an invention of the Catholic Church, and particularly the thought of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI. It exists as nothing other than a projected “Other” that can be opposed in defense of essentialist ideology, presumably without taking on the crass language associated with conventional far-right bigots even while sharing the actual sexual politics of the far-right. The necessary premise of such an attack on the notion of gender is a belief in human nature as consisting principally of a static gender binary, man and woman as strictly defined representations of sex, which is thus a moral law that is set into the nature of being by God, and, co-attendant to this, the belief in its antithesis, “gender ideology” as a shadowy umbrella category for anything which might oppose or deviate from it. This idea can, in secular terms, be understood as essentialism. But in its religious underpinnings, and more specifically the modern project of the Catholic Church in its response to the United Nations’ definition of human rights, I would regard the construction of “gender ideology” as part of an edifice that I am inclined to refer to as Catholic ideology. In any case, this also means that all non-Christian proponents of this form of essentialism, whether it’s atheists or anybody else, are, despite any professed objection to Christianity (let alone specifically the Catholic Church), to be understood as simply regurgitating the propaganda of the Catholic Church.
So, in other words, to all the New Atheists, the folkists, or anything like that who might be reading this, congratulations; by attacking trans people in defense of gender essentialism in opposition to “gender ideology”, you’re actually just promoting Catholic ideology! Good going, you reactionary assholes.
To summarize the legacy of Benedict XVI in relation to “gender ideology”: for decades, he helped shaped the scope and agenda of Catholic ideology as part of a larger Church campaign against the ascent of a new framework of human rights that would account for ways of life that the Church deemed sinful. Things like sexual and reproductive rights and the category of gender appeared to present an expansion of individual autonomy within the legal and conceptual framework of human rights, which in turn appeared to present a threat to the moral authority of the Catholic Church, which insisted that these rights were contrary to “natural moral law”. To defend this moral authority, and the ideas about “natural moral law” that it was based on, the Catholic Church created an ideology in which “human nature” is constructed as an absolute binary and then pitted against an amorphous anti-essentialist ideology that somehow threatens to destroy it and thereby corrupt the order of God’s creation. That is what I call Catholic ideology. This Catholic ideology was originally meant to attack feminism, abortion, and the rights of homosexuals from a Catholic religious standpoint, but has over the last decade been deployed with increasing specificity against trans people and trans rights, presumably in reaction to an overall increase in the social visibility of trans people. In view of the nature of anti-trans arguments that appeal to “human nature”, even secular “scientific” forms that hinge strictly on biological essentialism sans the deity, we can trace the influence of Catholic ideology across the entirety of the Right, and all expressions of anti-gender thought, to the point that we can locate the Catholic Church as the fundamental basis of much of modern anti-trans opinion. In this sense, Benedict XVI probably helped create the modern anti-trans movement, having (at least partially) composed the fundamental logic of its animus and argument and having laid the groundwork for it even as far back as the 1970s, when he first began writing about supposed artificial reproduction technology in Germany. And not only this, but Pope Francis to this day continues the legacy of ideological anti-genderism and anti-transness that he consciously attributes to Benedict XVI.
In a way, then, contemporary anti-trans backlash can be understood as the handiwork of the Catholic Church through the last three Popes, including Benedict XVI, and in this sense it is a noxious legacy that will not die with him. By now Catholic ideology is already deeply embedded as part of a vast ecosystem of micro-fascisms that pervade the culture of modernity, and the current Pope continues to wage the same systematic anti-gender campaign. What radicals of all stripes should derive from this knowledge is that the Catholic Church, in its entirety, is to be understood as an enemy in the struggle for LGBTQ liberation. The Church’s interests and institutional legacy are incompatible with the autonomy of gender, and thus the Church opposed the freedom of trans, queer, and non-binary people to be themselves. That on top of everything else is part of the horrible legacy of Benedict XVI.
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.
The last few months have had me dwelling heavily on my life as of ten years ago. In the summer of 2012 I had just graduated from high school, and a few months later I had begun life as an eccentric and semi-lonesome art student. By that time, by Society’s terms, I had just become a young adult. And though I was very un-social and ended up missing out, I was rather expressive, and I saw my time in college as a grand opportunity to set my mind and imagination free, even if you could say I wasn’t a very good artist back then. I took on a lot of unique ideas back, and I’d say some discussions and influences have survived in my psyche to this day.
Ten years later, I have felt a noticeable urge to revisit that aspect of my life, and the potential that I feel could have been unleashed had I, perhaps, done things differently in my life instead of going through a game design course and never getting a career out of it. At the same time, seeking to deepen any sense of concrete religio-magickal praxis has me naturally thinking about just how such creative aspirations might intertwine with practice, inspired mainly by discussions in modern Paganism. And so to this end I got inspired to write some notes and cobble some ideas together in order to assemble an artistic philosophy that would animate my work in much the same way that my two articles on my concept of Satanic Paganism seem to animated the way think about religion and life philosophy going forward. In much the same way as the two articles about Satanic Paganism were all about establishing philosophical footing towards a practical end, this article continues exactly that goal in application to a practical interest that I desire to deepen.
Art As Occult Pagan Praxis
Back in December of last year, Aliakai hosted an interview with Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa, a Kemetic polythetist iconographer and the author of the book Sacred Verses: Entering the Labyrinth of the Gods, to discusss art as a means of conversing with the divine. The basic idea being presented is that art itself, regardless of your level of skill or even your own confidence in that skill, is by its nature a conversation with or about the divine. Thus we see art brought into focus as a part of Pagan praxis. Aliakai pointed out that, from the Hellenic perspective, the divine works in all aspects of artmaking and including the written word; the Mousai (or Muses) presided over the written word (which was itself considered art), Athena over weaving, Hephaistos (Hephaestus) over pottery and metallurgy, Hermes over messages and speech, Dionysos (Dionysus) over all kinds of performance, to name a few. The point being made is that art itself, and the flow state attendant to it, may constitute conversation with the divine. This also connects to a broader idea that Ptahmassu laid out in which mundane activities, insofar as they can be invested with meaning or creative purpose, can be dedicated to the gods, even as offerings to the gods; such a model, Ptahmassu, notes, is present across the various polythetistic traditions. In this perspective, activities such as cooking can be thought of as a way of honouring gods such as Hestia.
The idea is that basically (potentially) any activity can be dedicated to the gods and received as an offering. This observation is sort of expanded on in Aliakai’s more recent video, “What to Offer To the Gods in Hellenism”. Here, it is noted that songs written by bards and poems written by poets could be counted as offerings alongside animal offerings (which were actually fairly uncommon in practice), fruits and vegetables, incense, and votives. Relevant to the discussion I give here is the section about devotional offerings. The concept of a devotional offering includes what is called a devotional activity, which is simply an intentionally performed activity within the domain of interest of a god that is then focused and concentrated towards that god. Examples of this could include plays performed to Dionysus at the Dionysia festivals, or the concept of rhapsoidos (from which we get the word “rhapsody”) as a poetic offering. Feats of strength or artistic creativty, not to mention poetry itself, were often believed to be recognised by the gods as offerings to them insofar as they were devoted to the gods. What counts is that the act is consciously considered as actively devoted to the gods.
For the purpose of what I’m writing here, I have pursued a line of inquiry involving the connection between art, devotional offerings, and magick. Finding leads in that direction was difficult, but I have found aspects of chaos magick that may prove sufficient. In the eighth chapter Condensed Chaos, Phil Hine discusses the conception of Invocation, or Pathworking, as a way to identify oneself with a god-image in order to amplify a desired attribute or multiple thereof. Hine uses an example of a woman who identified herself with an image of the Hindu goddess Kali and, by way of Pathworking, seemed to take on some her powerful attributes. Another example is in a Pathworking invocation of Ra-Hoor-Khuit, a Thelemic avatar of the Egyptian god Horus, through which one may apparently gain magickal prowess. Something about this conception of Invocation feels very much in harmony with the magickal practice of divine identification found within the Greek Magickal Papyri, and I’m tempted to think of it as a modernized take on it, less steeped in older forms of ceremonial magick. It is also possible for me to interpret Invocation in artistic terms.
Phil Hine talks about the connection between Invocation and acting or drama. It’s actually likened to a performance, directed at the entity being invoked, and a good performance would be met with reward while failure would not. Voice, gesture, form, and other attributes form part of what Hine calls the “theatre” of magic. This connection is then expanded in the subject of mask work. Much like ancient Greek theatre, Hine’s concept of Invocation/Pathworking also involves the use of masks, which, although commonly understood by modern societies as simply aesthetic objects, were understood by older cultures as powerful magickal implements, even weapons. The mask is here understood as a channel through which a spirit or divinity enters the individual personality, takes possession of it, and thereby enact a transformation of personality. Face-painting, props, instruments, pose, all kinds of elements of performance are drawn together in the Invocation, because in that concept of Invocation you are indeed meant to put on a good show for the gods, or at least one of them in particular.
So how do we track Phil Hine’s overall principle of Invocation to the concept of devotional offerings in Hellenism, and thereby Pagan praxis in a wider sense? The short answer is that the Invocation entails making an Art of yourself and that this is the offering. The long answer is context, which we will explore forthwith.
One important aspect of this context is not merely theatre itself but the origins thereof. Ancient or “classical” Greek theatre originated from religious ritual, particularly as devoted to the god Dionysus. As early as the 6th century BCE, worshippers of Dionysus would publicly perform wild and ecstatic cultic songs called dithyrambs in his honour, not to mention their very namesake referencing the god’s death and rebirth, and from this period it is acknowledged that the dramatic arts gradually developed. During such festivals as the Dionysia and the Lenaia, actors would perform on the stage at the Theatre of Dionysus, attended by thousands of spectators, enacting the myths and tragedies with divine import. Other similar Hellenic cultural artefacts include the paean, a much more sober and triumphant set of songs dedicated to the god Apollo, as well as the Delphic Hymns also dedicated to Apollo. Theatre in ancient Greece had all the trappings that Phil Hine described as part of mask work: masks, costumes, instruments, vocal performances, and more. It would make sense to contextualize this in terms of devotional offerings in the sense that poetry competitions were, in that these poetry competitions were indeed dedicated as offerings to gods, and the theatres themselves derived origin from similar ritual performances.
The way Phil Hine talks about performance in Invocation in some ways brings to mind the idea that, as Aliakai noted in her video, the gods enjoyed watching humans as their own form of entertainment – an idea that apparently stretches all the way back to Homer’s Iliad, with its emphasis on the divine audience. Indeed, it has been observed by critics that, throughout the Iliad, the gods appear to observe the world of mortals as though watching a show from Mount Olympus, albeit a very special show where they get to intervene in the affairs of a cast whose fate they sometimes invest themselves in. They feast and laugh while seeing us performing our roles in the world, and Zeus alternates between amusing himself at the antics of the mortals and beholding in anguish as his sons die in the same world as the others. It’s almost tragic when you put it that way, but then that would make sense for Homer, wouldn’t it?
To extend this to a logic appropriate for Satanic Paganism, though, means to place us as more than actors that the gods occasionally invest themselves in. Our “performance” is in this setting a conscious, active, magickal act, aimed at reaching out to that realm in such a way that we might actually approach it, and take on divinity into ourselves. This is thus the sense in which the gods may be understood as potential partners or even collaborators in our self-actualization, as in a Great Work on a cosmic scale. Those who partake in this effort are the alchemists who turn the world around them, and in a certain way themselves, into the magnum opus, the philosopher’s stone, and become their own divine individuals. That work in itself, the performance and ritual we undertake, and perhaps especially the means by which invocations allow the gods (and the demons!) to work their hands in the world and in human life, can in their own way be thought of offerings in the precise sense that any of the traditional devotional offerings were.
Warlike Soul, Magickal Self
What I found somewhat notable is the role of the Egyptian god Ptah, a creator god who was also the god of craftsmen, from the Kemetic perspective. For Ptahmassu, anyone who does anything in the arts receives divine inspiration from Ptah, and all creative acts ultimately come from the gods, even if one is not conscious of that, and indeed this springs from the belief that really everything and even the other gods originate from Ptah as per Memphite theology. But more interesting from my perspective is the discussion of the wrathful/warlike aspect of Ptah – that may seem like a random subject, but stay with me on this. Ptahmassu says that Ptah is also a god of war, and was one of the gods of the four branches of the ancient Egyptian military, and that one of his epithets is “bull who rampages with sharp horns”, among other apparent epithets not known outside of specialist circles. In this way Ptah is not only a creator god but also a war god and a destroyer. It is noted that one of his spouses is Sekhmet, the war goddess who was seen as a wrathful manifestation of the power of Ra.
Modern polytheists (including reconstructionists), because of the modern context in which we often see war and violence, prefer not to think of the gods of war as to be invoked in relation to actually going into battle with enemy combatants, but instead as deities who may fight spiritual battles for us when we face overwhelming obstacles, or give us the strength (or as Ptahmassu says “heavy artillery”) to fight them. But from my perspective, this view, believe it or not, is not dissimilar to the way wrathful deities are viewed in Buddhist practice. Buddhist wrathful deities are invoked to destroy the spiritual obstacles a practitioner faces in pursuit of enlightenment, as well the obstacles to the Buddhas and the Dharma more generally, and in this they represent the force, energy, and power by which passion, anger, and ignorance are turned into compassion and wisdom. You might well think them as the “heavy artillery” of Buddhist meditative practice, and for this reason the proper term for them is the Wrathful Destroyers of Obstacles (or Krodha-Vighnantaka).
Those figures have always been fascinating to me. Warrior gods in particular have a way of bringing into focus a persona of desire and individuality I’ve sought to cultivate. It’s going to sound more weird, trust me. In high school and college I would take any sword substitute I could find, usually a ruler or a bamboo stick, and make like it’s a sword to practice with. One day in college I’d just go out back to do sword swings with what I think was a bamboo stick. I seem to recall having the faculty talk to me about that not long afterwards; seems that was a tad disturbing for them. I suppose it must have also felt weird that I was probably the only person in my college class to support the idea of owning a firearm. When collecting old metal records I sometimes referred to it as collecting weapons or ammo. That’s kind of just how being into old school metal felt like. Some of that is still with me. The whole “classic/underground metalhead” aesthetic, right down to its often wildly liberal use of bullet belts, always had me feeling it was the genre that’d have you thinking you were a warrior if you listened to it. I rather liked that feeling.
Shin Megami Tensei undeniably set off a lot of sparks of identification for me. That probably started with identifying with the Chaos alignment, and with it the aesthetics and some of its attendant themes. A big part of that is the gods and demons, and in this regard it’s arguably responsible for the way I interact with anything from “The East” as I were. I mean look at theseguys from the original Shin Megami Tensei. Did I mention the Gaians too? Or the Chaos Hero? Maybe some more examples. Something about it formed what I think of as a sort of gestalt aesthetic and spiritual identification that has persisted over the years and shaped the contours of my spiritual aspirations. Honestly, though, I think the ethos of it all that can only deepen when looking at anarchism in the way Shahin talks about it in Nietzsche and Anarchy. Living free can only mean living fighting, embracing the conflict inherent in life and finding joy within it, with yourself as a participant in this conflict.
This probably feeds into the deep-seated appreciation for war gods, warlike and wrathful deities in various contexts. The interview I mentioned earlier brought up not only Ptah but also the Hellenic god Ares. Ares in particular actually seems very ontologically significant, being that he is not only the god of violence but also the patron of rebels – he is thus the renewal of the war (the literal meaning of rebellion) in the cosmos. Though in the context of polytheism it is probable that “god of [insert thing]” doesn’t really apply. Several deities counted war, battle, and the like as part of their overall complex of attributes. Some really good examples include Inanna, Anat, Athena, Tezcatlipoca, Perun, Set, Anahita, Ba’al Hadad, and of course Odin to name but a few. In fact, one of the very fascinating things about Norse/Germanic polytheism is that many of the gods could be thought of as “war gods” to some extent or another. Besides Odin, there’s Freyja, Freyr, Tyr, Ullr, Thor, Hodr, to name a handful. Some expressions of Germanic polytheism also seem to have been associated with a particularly warlike cultus in at least some accounts. Anglo-Saxon accounts (keeping in mind the probable Christian bias) described Vikings partaking of ecstatic war dances to their gods during their campaigns in England, while in northern Italy the Langobards are defined by their worship of gods of war and fertility (specifically Odin (or Godan as they called him) and the Vanir). I get a bit of a kick from reading about the Mairiia, an apparent band of polytheistic warriors from ancient Iran, and how they held orgiastic feasts and worshipped “warlike” deities such as Indra, Rudra, Mithra, Vayu, Anahita, and Θraētaona (or Fereydun), and whose ecstatic cult was apparently eventually banished as a supposed enemy of the emerging Zoroastrian religion. At least quite of the Buddhist wrathful deities double as war/warrior gods in particular; these include Begtse, Tshangs Pa, and Vaisravana/Bishamonten among others.
How does that play into any kind of personal “magickal self”? I suppose I should start with the base concept. Aleister Crowley, in Book 3 of Liber ABA, defined the Magical Operation as “any event in nature which is brought to pass by Will”. Crowley suggested that this definition could include a range of activities from potato-making to banking. What makes it magical is the extent to which Will may be exercised in the material world towards a desired affect. It’s consistent with Crowley’s overall definition of magick and therewith the conception That alone does not tell us much, but what if we were to consider the notion of the magickal self as a sort of artistic Magical Operation? Crowley says later on, that “No matter how mighty the truth of Thelema, it cannot prevail unless it is applied to any by mankind”, meaning in practice that the Book of the Law had to go from simply being a manuscript to being published in order to achieve magickal effect. So then, Will must reach outwards to achieve its affect.
The Magical Operation I may speak there is thus: to cultivate and impress the power of a wild, warlike magickal self whose object is to fill the world with his will. The magickal self, in this sense, can be thought of as the active, imprinted manifestation of the magician’s subjective universe via identity, through which the magician affects their own consciousness onto the world, and conveying that which it means to affect in its inner and outer world. For me, for this “wild, warlike magickal self”, that is a sort of transgressive mystic freedom and strength, bound to the unbridlding of the inner darkness of life and the hearth of will nestled within it.
The entire enterprise is to be considered a manifestation of the Left Hand Path, insofar as this is to be understood in modern parlance. The magickal self is a process of the creative actualization of the will of the artist-magician, done so as to become an active force in their own existence, and not only this persisting, survivng presence in the world through the creative power of magickal subjectivity. By imprinting the world with Art, the artist-magician transforms themselves and then the world around them by the same practice, and, in a way, they might well contribute to their own “immortality”, their own will surviving in the face of death, joining a world of divine wills. The spirit you want to impress on this world is down to the individual. For my purpose, I wish to cultivate and impress transgressive strength.
There’s also obviously another purpose to it. After all, if one desires to affect a warlike spirit or persona in the world, then even if it’s just for its own sake or out of one’s own raw affinity, it only makes sense that you mean to fight in the long term. And I do, for many reasons. I suppose one of the main ideas ideologically is to produce an autonomy capable of participating in the broad social war, as Shahin puts it, or the broader war of all against all (in Stirner’s terms) that pervades the cosmos, upholding its own freedom and ownness by standing and fighting against all of its enemies. In full candour, though, there is also a pure desire to it. The desire to be able to have the inner and outer strength to independently rely on, to always be able exert myself in will, and to be able to enter into moments of destiny that might depend on it: in other words, to fight and put the fear of the gods into anyone hostile to those persons, or just the one, to whom I invest my full devotion. But there’s also an obvious way to connect it to the way Toby Chappell conceives of magick as, at least I’d argue, a sort of dialectical transformation of the inner and outer worlds. Or, perhaps, as Michael Bertiaux put it in his Voudon Gnostic Workbook, “the imagination making the world to be as it is in itself”. The development of subjectivity towards its own empowerment, and working performed upon it, is to become an agent upon the outer world, and perhaps so on. The warlike spirit grows so that it can be its own full ontological autonomy, so that it can forge its will as like a blade within an actual forge, and then imprint will as the expression of active creative agency and as the mark of resistance.
To briefly return to ideological-philosophical considerations, it is worth establishing that struggle is never absent in life. Indeed, our species is perhaps alone in its thinking that it can cut itself off from the struggle: establishing civilization itself as an ostensible enclave from that whole world, all while actually containing struggle within itself, and then collapsing and being rebuilt again and again, beholding new iterations of the same cycle. Struggle in many ways can be thought as essential to life, certainly so if we take from the Pagan worldview that rebellion is locked into the origination and perpetuation of cosmic life in itself. Thus, as Kropotkin says in Anarchist Morality, to struggle is to live. Certain philosophers of resignatory pessimism, like Arthur Schopenhauer, almost certainly sensed this albeit to the precise extent that they wanted an out from it. Even in a world of Anarchy, nothing tells us that struggle will end, as a new world without authority will yet contend with those whose desires tend toward social control and intimate authoritarianism, which thus threaten the re-establishment of every system of social domination you can name, thus leading to new cycles of social war marked by the necessary battle against social domination and its various sources. All I mean to say, though, is that insofar as the struggle is endless, one has the option to take it up and make oneself a combatant, knowing all of this, as a matter of amor fati. Thus is the world into which warlike spirits maintain their place in the eternity of resistance.
The “Luciferian” Impulse in Art (Or, A Word on the Mysterium Luciferianum)
I’d also like to discuss the sort of “Luciferian” current that not only runs about through the way I’ve appreciated this whole warrior theme, as well as a much broader artistic theme that might have a broader place in the artistic worldview, all of which sort of gradually emerged as I wrote this article.
Lucifer, the spirit of the morning star, is the spirit who rebels against the Sun. Fraternitas Saturni, who linked Lucifer and Satan together with the Roman god Saturn, interpreted this as the conflict between Saturn and the Solar Logos (or Sorath), which they hoped would end in the absorption of the Solar Logos by Saturn. Japanese astrology also believes that the planet Venus (which in Japan is often called Taihakusei) was believed to compete with the Sun for brightness. Although the Roman Lucifer and the Hellenic Phosphoros seem like purely innocuous spirits of light and dawn, several other morning star gods and spirits were also linked to war, and even death and the underworld.
This includes Athtar, the Ugaritic god whose myth is a likely “origin” point for the Luciferian Fall mythos, since he represented war and battle as well as fertility and water. Athtar was connected with the goddess Astarte or Ishtar, to whom he was considered a male counterpart, and Ishtar is known for being a goddess of both sex and war and was regarded as the evening star. Athtar was also paired with the Moabite god Chemosh, who is perhaps Biblically notorious as the god who managed to defeat Yahweh once in battle. The Syrian deity Azizos was a morning star god who the Roman emperor Julian identified with the Hellenic god Ares, the Arabian goddesses al-Uzza and Baltis were identified with the morning star and worshipped as warrior goddesses, the Iranian goddess Anahita was connected to the planet Venus and worshipped as a goddess of war as well as water and fertility, the Egyptian god Sopdu was a morning star deity who was also a god of war, and the Slavic Zorya goddesses, representing the morning and evening stars, were also warrior goddeses. The ancient Mayans venerated the planet Venus in the context of war and planned military campaigns based on the planet’s movements, the Japanese gods Daishogun and Taihakujin, who were associated with the planet Venus, were depicted as generals, and the Pawnee venerated the morning star as a god of war.
The morning star itself was sometimes believed to be a rebellious entity. The Mayan Chak Ek was believed to bring disorder to the world and fight the other gods. In Islam, Zohreh is the name of Venus and a woman who tricked two angels into giving her the secret of how to enter Heaven. In Shinto, the morning star was likely personified as the god Ame-no-kagaseo (more popularly known as Amatsu-mikaboshi), who rebelled against the Amatsukami by refusing to submit the land of Japan to them, while in Japanese astrology the star called Taihakusei was believed to inspire sedition and was considered an omen of coup d’etat.
What’s funny is that, as far as Michael Bertiaux is concerned, people are motivated to become artists because of the “Luciferian” impulse. Also funny is that, in that interview, the actual line between “Luciferianism” and Satanism is not really established in that interview, and in fact his concept of the “Luciferian impulse” emerges in relationship to his discussion of esoteric Satanism – specifically the so-called “school of Rops” that Bertiaux says was founded by the artist Felicien Rops in Paris in 1888 as well as the so-called “Temple of Boullan” that was ostensibly founded by a Haitian occultist named Paul Michaël Guzotte. I think I’ll have to look into those at some point. Still, there’s a way to make sense of it especially when we don’t consider “Luciferianism” to be a distinct religious tradition (which it can’t be, since there are several doctrines called “Luciferian” and some of them are basically just brands of Satanism). If we creatively apply the way Rene Guenon defined “Luciferianism” as “rebellion” or “counter-tradition” (bearing in mind that he also considered it to be basically just “unconscious Satanism”), that can apply as much to my own enterprise of Satanic Paganism inasmuch as it too bears this impulse.
Therein lies a larger point, though. “Luciferianism” is not a religion in itself. There is no real shared body of doctrine or praxis that can be called “Luciferian”. Instead there’s a bunch of doctrines and praxes from a variety of occultists for whom the term often seems to have very different meanings – in some cases it literally is just a different take on what is basically Satanism. And to be honest the more I see self-styled Luciferians around the more it becomes somewhat obvious that “Luciferianism” exists as part of the Satanic landscape, just that it focuses on a very distinct mode of magickal-mythical identification.
But as much as I’d like to elaborate more on what I might call the “Mysterium Luciferianum” (to adapt Rudolf Otto’s terminology of the Holy), what matters is the impulse that Bertiaux speaks to. It’s fundamentally what Carl Jung talked about when he discussed the principium individuationis: that is, selfhood seeking to define itself on its own terms. Art is probably the most ubiquitous means for the principium individuationis to manifest itself concretely, and perhaps that is why it is so reviled by mass society when it does exactly this and shunned by mass markets for not being some mere product. In this sense, art cannot be adequately understood as solely the production of beauty and thus the recapitulation of forms. The individual artist, insofar as they pursue conscious self-definition through artistic media, can apply the “Luciferian” impulse in that this impulse is fundamentally to assert your own creative will, especially in rebellion against Society.
My Very Own Little Sparta
One artistic ambition that I have nurtured since I was a student in college was the creation of my very own space in the vein of Little Sparta by Ian Hamilton Finlay. All I can think of when it comes to what that would actually be like is that I would practice the sword there or maybe even do some outdoor worship there, but to understand just the idea being explored it’s necessary to explain the concept of Little Sparta.
Little Sparta is a garden that was created in 1966 by Ian Hamilton Finlay and his wife Sue Finlay. It still exists to this day and is still open for public visitations in Dunsyre, located in South Lanarkshire in Scotland. I think what attracted me to Little Sparta was this idea of a personal artistic space that was loaded with invested meaning, by which I of course mean poetry, allegory, and revolutionary symbolism connected to pre-Christian mythos. The garden features a “Temple of Apollo”, which is dedicated to the god Apollo, his music, his “missiles”, and the Muses. The Temple is apparently meant to represent a thematic attention to certain ideas about civilization, violence, tenderness, and sublimity meant to be conveyed throughout the garden. Elsewhere in the garden there’s a golden bust of Apollo’s head, with the name “APOLLON TERRORISTE” inscribed on the forehead. This icon of Apollo is modelled after the image of Louis Antoine de Saint-Just, one of the leaders of the French Revolution, and invokes the myth of Apollo slaying Marsyas after defeating him in a music contest (incidentally, the Little Sparta website claims that Marsyas won the contest and was thus punished by Apollo for it). A quote from Saint-Just, “The order of the present is the disorder of the future”, is depicted in an inscription somewhere in Little Sparta. Several other inscriptions can be found on the various sculptures scattered throughout the garden, all of them meant to carry some sort of poetic message that Finlay meant to express.
One comparison that I find to be potentially significant is the comparison to sacred groves. Prudence Carlson, writing for The Financial Times, suggested that Little Sparta – along with another garden he created called Fleur de L’Air – represents an expression of the concept of the sacred grove. This is supposedly illustrated by the seriousness of the undertaking of its creation, and also the extent to which it renders the natural world as a place of solitary ideality set apart from the ordinary “world of man”. Of course, we may remember that an actual sacred grove is specifically uncultivated land that is set apart as a place for the divine to be communally observed. Still, it is probably possible to make a connection by the way of the concept of a space that is “set apart” as a site of meaning, including individual meaning.
In the context of a magickal framework, this means my equivalent of Little Sparta would be a place upon which my Will is embedded through edifices of creative expression that imbue individual meaning. A daemonic habitat that constitutes the power of a subjective universe, or perhaps a lasting physical link to said universe. An island into which perhaps a “magickal self” might flourish and enact itself, perhaps. The home of the artistic persona, and its identification with the divine.
I, to reiterate, don’t really have the clearest idea of what that garden would consist of. Space to practice swords is a no-brainer for me, though Shahin’s Nietzsche and Anarchy has me thinking about taking the concept of “idea-weapons” and giving them the form of aesthetic expression. Obviously the place would be stamped with expressions of individuality, especially in an esoteric way, and ritualistic and occult trappings alongside depictions of pagan gods and divine demons would be a must-have for this space.
Back when I was starting college we had an induction week and I remember the main project we were doing was to get into groups of two and work on a flag for what was going to be a display. We were supposed to base the flag on objects we brought from home – one object per person, so two per group. I brought a very strange wooden animal head that my grandfather had, it was like the head of a buffalo on one side and that of a hippopotamus on the other. That became a big red buffalo head, meant to denote some idea of personal strength. I thought of it as a flag of freedom. I was then again the odd one out, not just for its theme but also, as far as I recall, for having the only one of the induction flags whose background wasn’t white. Perhaps some day I might revisit the idea, and create a new, similar banner, as the banner of the garden of warlike individuality.
The idea of it as a “sacred space” or “ideal space” can, in Pagan terms, intersect again with the notion of devotional offering as previously discussed. A distinct enclave of will, of concentrated subjectivity, perhaps including the elements of gods or demons, may contain potential in relevance to the link, established through Phil Hine’s concept of Invocation via mask work, to “performance”, in the ontological sense. You have created your own “sacred space” for yourself, but this “sacredness”, this setting apart of creative will in physical form, may be extended in devotional terms, that will reaching out as an offering of spirit to the realms of divine power. Perhaps it pleases them as the dedication in itself does, and the point of all that is to elicit the larger work of divine identification and actualisation of which the mortal and the divine are both a part.
Alchemy, Carnal and/or Otherwise
The aim of art is principally expression and to develop means of expression, even if that is so that it can be enjoyed by others (which, in turn, is so that you are happy). Kink is another means of self-expression, one much more intimately connected with the enjoyment of an other, and as I read certain books about BDSM more I tend to think that there’s a role that a certain magickal understanding of BDSM can play in the broader creative philosophy. Granted, this is all possible principally because I happen to have that kink myself. I don’t want it to come off as some mere rationalization, rather a part of the “unity” of psychic life in the context of philosophical praxis.
The book Carnal Alchemy: A Sado-Magical Exploration of Pleasure, Pain, and Self-Transformation by Stephen Flowers and Crystal Flowers (the former of whom I normally don’t like) has been a surprisingly interesting source for ideas on how to imbue your kink with a distinct religio-magickal context. But, for my purposes, it would actually be better to start with a discussion of Marquis De Sade. The Flowers’ refer to Geoffrey Gorer, who in The Life and Ideas of the Marquis de Sade presents his definition of sadism (or “Sadeanism” as the Flowers’ put it) as “The pleasure felt from the observed modifications on the external world produced by the will of the observer”. A very simplistic interpretation of this idea would have it that all of magick fits this definition and is thus “sadism” in its own right. Indeed for Gorer himself it can encompass a broad array of activities: from creating works of art to blowing up bridges, as long as it represents a modification of the external world as willed by the agent. In fact, it is perhaps especially applicable to the Artist, whose magickally application of their is the impression of their individual subjective universe and therefore Will upon the objective world. But putting aside the question of the extent to which masochism fulls under the general magickal applications of this (and I’m convinced that it does, but I’m not much of a masochist to know precisely how), it also connects with the sort of creative-destruction (to which Mikhail Bakunin in his own way referred) you see locked in the basis of life, and from there a broader appreciation of the darksome kernel of pure reality.
Imagination is an important part of the worldview being discussed. The character Dolmance in Philosophy in the Bedroom says that imagination is “the spur of delights”, upon which all (presumably at least in the realm of pleasure) depends and by which the greatest joys are known. As the Flowers’ note, the exercise of willful imagination is thus key to extending the possibilities of individual pleasure, which is thus understood as the cultivation and enactment of fantasies, in order to transform yourself through such acts of will. This is meant to be understood as “in accordance with Nature”. The “law” of Nature is pretty frequently invoked by De Sade’s characters as justifications for their actions, which are often outlandish at best and downright tortuous at worst, but the key theme there is that human vices, as much as “virtues”, are part of the workings of Nature, since Nature seems to allow them to take place. On the basis of this idea and the mortality of human beings, there emerges the argument that destruction is part of the “laws” of Nature, an indispensible one in fact, without which Nature cannot create. Incidentally, one of the interesting aspects of this worldview is that, on this basis, death itself is not actually the annihilation so frequently discussed in modern atheist circles but instead merely the re-arrangement of matter. In Justine we see this idea expressed by some of the characters, one of whom says “What difference does does it make to her creative hand if this mass of flesh today wearing the conformation of a bipedal individual is reproduced tomorrow in the guise of a handful of centipedes?”. What matters about this, though, is the extent to which Nature and Will/Imagination interact. Your subjective universe is as natural as anything else, insofar as Nature allows it to exist. Nature refers not merely to that which is outside of human civilization, but to the system of life and processes that all things are a part of and outside of which nothing really exists. Unlike De Sade I see the nature of Nature as a kind of spontaneous negativity, an always fertile Darkness, not a body of purposive law. Nature is a creative system with perpetuation as its fundamental trait, and those who create and assert their own subjective universes, even to the extent that it alters their external world, may be said to be in tune with Nature, at least in their own sense, whether that its following Nature or following their own nature.
Returning to the focus on BDSM in Carnal Alchemy, “alchemy” is basically the watch word here. The Flowers’ elaborate that their concept of Sado-Magic or Carnal Alchemy is in essence an extension of the old idea of alchemy: turning lead into gold is thus translated as turning pain into pleasure and power into powerlessness. The phrase “solve et coagula” (which you’ve doubtless seen on the arms of Baphomet), meaning the breaking down of a substance into constituents and then recombining them into perfection, is then interpreted as the submissive undergoing that same process by their ritual submission to the dominant as the object of transformation into perfection. The dominant or sadist in this framework is thus analogous to the alchemist seeking to create the philosopher’s stone, for whom the body of the submissive is a microcosm of the objective world in which they work their Will, taking on. On the other side of this equation, though, the submissive is actually the power that the dominant strives to work with and develop magickally. This alchemy for both parties can also entail a form of identification: the dominant, or a certain type thereof, may identify with the “tortures” inflicted on the submissive, and both partners by way of the principle of sexual magick may even identify each other as the God in each other. From a certain point of view, the dominant may even be seeking to perfect themselves as much as the objective world through the bondage they practice upon the submissive. Self-perfection, of course, is a magickal aspiration, especially on the left hand path, going hand in hand with divine identification.
From this standpoint, though, the connection between the dominant/sadist and art is well-explored in the Flowers’ book. The dominant’s role and the pleasure the dominant feels through it is likened to artist working in their medium, like Michaelangelo taking pieces of marble – specifically pieces that he believed contained the image he was looking for, and upon which he used his tools to “liberate” that image. The dominant through their ritual enacts their subjective will into the world, and liberates and transforms the submissive because their ritual fulfills their desires.
Another discussion of alchemy in relation to kink can be found in Carolyn Elliott’s Existential Kink. Admittedly it’s very self-helpy, and its discussing of embracing kink is decidedly fixated on the submissive side of kink, but we can take on a generalized perspective in its discussion of alchemy. Alchemy is likened to the process of individuation, which Elliott relates to as The Great Work. Partaking in this Great Work sees the individual consciousness evolve and integrate such that it expands its own possibilities for “seeing and acting upon beautiful worldly opportunities for fulfillment” – or, perhaps in better terms, to enact Will in the world. By establishing a unified mind, and then from there attaining a “one world”, you attain a sort of “embodied unity with reality”. This process involves the integration of that part of you that is disowned by the “ego” (I can take this to mean normative consciousness), thereby changing the locus of your own agency in alignment with the “kinkier” and “darker” whole of the self, which results in the cultivation of genuine individuality and, through the fulfillment of the Great Work, a greater ability to manifest will in the objective world. Thus Elliott frames her vision of The Great Work as an expression of the Left Hand Path (which she also calls the “lightning path”, because it quickly and radically transforms you).
I’m establishing a pretty strong thread connecting a sort of general principle of alchemy to the artistic philosophy by connecting it to kink, but that is not its only connection. Reiterating the way Liber ABA sheds light on the intersection between magick and worldly creative practice, let’s note Crowley’s discussion of Rembrandt: Crowley says that Rembrant took a number of ores and crude objects and from these he “banished the impurities, and consecrated them to his work, by the preparation of canvasses, brushes, and colours”, and then “compelled them to take the stamp of his soul”. In this, Crowley says, Rembrandt created a being of truth and beauty out of the “creatures of earth”. This is meant to be taken as an application of Crowley’s understanding of the larger process of magick, or more specifically initiation: here initiation is understood as the process of transforming “First Matter” into immortal, incorruptible, eternally individual intelligence. According to Crowley, this is how one comes to understand alchemy.
Moreover, I think there’s room to apply the alchemical understanding of individuation to certain forms of anarchist psychology. In their book, Nietzsche and Anarchy, Shahin argues from a Nietzschean perspective that individuals as such are not born ready-made but instead have to be created, both by social processes outside of a person’s control and ultimately by the person themselves. The Nietzschean worldview that Shahin presents holds that most people are what Shahin calls “dividuals”, not “individuals”. For Shahin, an “individual” would be a person or body that has developed full psychological coherence, having a single, unique, self-directed, consistent set of values, drives, thought structures, and patterns of action, whereas most human beings, as “dividuals” do not and instead carry multiple and often conflicting sets of drives and patterns, some of which are far from self-directed. The aim of individuation, in this sense, is to develop that sense of coherence, however ultimately imperfect even that may be, in order to become a fully autonomous and self-determining individual (well, again, to the best possible extent).
The alchemical metaphor here pans out when we take Crowley’s discussion of the process of initiation and then map it onto the context of Shahin’s Nietzschean self-transformation. In such a scheme, “dividuals” would correspond to “First Matter” or “creatures of earth”. “First Matter”, in alchemist terms, is a state of disorganized matter or energy, but in alchemy this is very specifically in reference to the state of primordial chaos that contains all possibilities of creation. Our “dividual” would not exactly correspond to this, save perhaps as an expression of the possibilities of chaos, but it is unorganized, at least in the sense that it does not necessarily organise itself creatively. Indeed, it is an all too obvious fact that we don’t simply organise ourselves under the direction of some discrete rational consciousness when we are born, and instead find ourselves dependent upon a system of social processes created by others. That’s where the arts of individuation and initiation come in.
Even if we learn the tools of our own self-reflection through the relationships we have with others, simply growing up in the set of social relationships we are born into is far from a guarantee of our individuality. In fact, it can be very easy to lose our sense of individuality, or even simply never cultivate one, within society. In fact, contrary to the insistences of common socialist narratives about the “individualism” of capitalism, life under capitalism finds many people in some ways “forgetting who they are”, losing sight of their individual aspirations and identities as they allow them to be entirely dedicated by capitalist stimuli or just forget about them as they set about “growing up” – entering the rat race and keeping up with social convention, whether they really believe in it or not, to survive in a society so tightly built upon it, all while probably being convinced that this is just the way the world works. Individuation means to break from that whole process, to change the locus of agency towards yourself, and in so doing changing from being disorganized, meaning in this case not entirely organised by your own direction and consciousness, to embodying autonomous self-direction.
A Short Word About AI Art
Since this is an article about art in itself I would be remiss if I were to ignore the subject of artificial intelligence in art, and its surrounding discourse which has become very relevant to art as a whole. AI art, meaning any art made using artificial intelligence tools, has increasingly been the subject of major controversy in the art world. Many artists hate AI art, often because they deem it inferior to traditional art or even dismiss the idea that it is really art at all, and sometimes also accuse AI artists of stealing the work of other artists. Some artists, however, seem to believe that AI art is the future of art-making, even believing it to be superior to non-AI art. AI art tools very much available across the internet, often freely at that, AI art pieces have already been sold for tens of thousands of dollars at auctions, an AI art piece recently won a prize at the Colorado State Fair, and AI art tools are already being integrated into Microsoft’s family of software products. All told, it’s not for nothing that AI art is such a hot topic in the art world.
But what do I think? Or rather, how does it figure into my overall philosophy of art? Ostensibly, the answer is “not much”. For now, the use of AI Art figures little into whatever designs I have, and, admittedly, I think that the actual output of AI art tools is vey hit-or-miss. It could range from what’s basically a new wave of outsider digital expressionism, to complex algorithmic images that resemble old first person shooter games, to, if I’m being honest, mediocre and distorted parodies of traditional art, and at that some of the worst softcore pornography I’ve ever seen. On the other hand so much criticism goes down to the replication of form, and this comes back to how we define art.
In my opinion, it is impossible to define art without considering it as an expression of individual subjectivity. That’s not to say the depiction of form is absent from it, and for generations Nature has inspired countless artists with its abundance of form. But what counts is the starting place of art, the investment and reception of meaning from it, and that all derives from the relationship between the artist’s subjectivity and the world around the artist. Without subjectivity, without imagination, without abstraction, the capacity for art really becomes impossible, or confined only to illustration as a form of stenography. In simple terms, the mere repetition of forms is not in itself art. What is art is the conveyance of subjective relationship to it, even if it’s just a realistic depiction of the natural world. But if art is all about individual creative subjectivity, then art is also intimately related to the expression of individual will, and because of that, there are many ways in which art is not so far apart from magick, or indeed the precise sense in which Stanislaw Przybyszewski meant “the autocratic imagination of mysticism”. Art is thus not a collection of dead aesthetic objects, it’s not just “pretty pictures/paintings” as all too many people across modern political persuasions seem to think it is. To simplify: art, at base, is will.
So how does this tie back to AI art? Well, the idea that it’s “not real art” is really not a matter of objective fact. What counts is the extent to which AI tools allow the individual artist to express creative subjectivity in a completely self-directed manner. And in this regard, especially when it comes to proficiency, I believe it’s fair to say these tools need some work. But one thing I think about is what would happen if AI tools crossed into video game development? After all, video games are in themselves a form of art in their own right, even if it’s not something like Disco Elysium or Death Stranding, despite what our consumeristic conditioning would have us believe. The difference from other artforms, however, is that video games tend to be collaborative projects, since their design typically depends on the efforts of a team of developers working in tandem with each other. Multiple subjectivities are invested in development, leading to contradiction between them, and more often than not some visions prevail at the expense of others; and if it’s not one part of the design team over another, it’s the corporate hierarchy and capitalist markets over the developers. This is especially true for projects meant to follow the current industrial standard – “AAA” games, if you will – but it is no less true for indie projects in large part. Perhaps one person can do it, or more realistically just two, but it can be incredibly difficult and taxing labour, and one project could probably take many years to finish. So imagine if AI tools could be developed that would allow an individual artist to create an entire game effectively by themselves, its content dictated by their own individual subjectivity?
It sounds like a wild and fantastical idea, but I do remember seeing a few lectures back in university where people would discuss artifical intelligence in design and, in turn, discuss exactly this possibility. It was pretty exciting, thought at the time I couldn’t receive it without the same latent fears that many others have. From the same standpoint of individual subjectivity, there also arises the fear of the loss of its investment in traditional media. After all, we’re told that it’s just “the machine doing it all for you” – ignoring of course the fact you still have to give it input, and no doubt fashion the raw output that proceeds from it to your liking. But what if far from displacing the labour of the individual artist, and far from merely compensating for a lack of artistic talent, it could actually free individual game designers and their creative development from the dominant industrial relationships of collaboration, in which their subjectivity must contend with the propsect of getting drowned out by both capitalistic interests and your colleagues?
That whole world still has a long way to go, and to be honest I have no idea how to balance all of this with my longstanding skepticism of the positive potential of artifical intelligence as a whole, but to reiterate, in the end what matters is the possibilities that it affords the expression of individual subjectivity. If I were you, I wouldn’t worry too much about your jobs being taken away by it. If you’re really serious about that, you should turn your gaze towards capitalism as the real enemy.
The Art As Esoteric Anarchist Prefiguration
Let’s return to Nietzsche and Anarchy for an overview of the concept of projectual life. Projectual life is the conscious self-direction of one’s individual life towards one’s own individuation. This is in the sense that it’s the conscious project to move away from the herd and its passivity towards the development of an active embodied consciousness capable of demonstrating a continuous lived resistance to the world. Drawing from Nietzsche’s The Gay Science, a Nietzschean view on projectuality emerges from Nietzsche’s description of self-transformation. In The Gay Science, Nietzsche’s idea of this would be “to give style to one’s character”; an art, and a rare one at that. This art comes about through the surveyance of one’s personality or character (Nietzsche and thence Shahin prefer the term “nature” here) so as to transform all of your strengths and weaknesses into artforms. The aim of the constant process of projectuality is to develop a creative self-consciousness to the extent of concentrating the locus of agency in the self and transforming the psyche to become, as Nietzsche said, “those that we are” – that is, an individual, a unique self-creating body that can administer its own law unto itself. By my interpretation: this means an individuated being with the perpetual power to manifest their Will.
There’s a few things to note about Shahin’s idea that make my interpretation sort of different. For one thing, Shahin seems to resist thinking about projectuality in relationship to will. But I tend to think it’s not possible to separate projectuality from will. Besides the simple fact that will in a somewhat mundane sense and the ability to exercise it (even if it is not perfect or fully discreet) is absolutely necessary affect the change and transformation entailed in projectuality, the throughline we can get from understanding projectuality dovetails fairly nicely with Crowley’s discussion of alchemy and initiation. The process of initiation as a transformation from “First Matter” or “creatures of earth” to “an immortal, incorruptible, eternally individual intelligence” is not so alien to Nietzschean projectuality. One starts from the base, that base being the complex dividual body, and progresses towards individuation, the Nietzschean individual being in many ways the “intelligence” Crowley spoke of. The difference, besides perhaps Crowley’s methodology, would be that Nietzsche arguably would not have thought of his individual as entirely discrete even in the process of individuation.
The other thing, of course, is the way Shahin appears to define projectuality in opposition to what he calls “negative nihilism”, by which he seems to mean a reflexive mode of rebellious action without (or indeed even against) any kind of affirmative project or new set of values, without which, they believe, it is impossible to do anything except revert to despair, self-destruction, conformity, and submission. I think that this is just nonsense. For starters, Shahin is in this context not speaking strictly in individual terms. When Shahin says “we can only destroy the values, desires and cultures that destroy us if we also create and affirm new values to take their place”, we have to understand that “taking their place” means to create a new overculture whose “place” is the domination of mass valuation. No anarchy will be complete unless it can rid itself of precisely this. If you want new values, make them for yourself and live them yourself. After all, from the standpoint of any consistent ontological application of nihilism, that’s all you’re doing this for: there’s no objective teleological value in the universe, you value and create values because you want to do so, therefore do it for your own sake, your own desire. That ultimately is Shahin’s starting point, since Shahin engages in projectuality because they desire freedom. More to the point, projectuality framed as the idea that you can live joyfully towards the construction of liberation/freedom is not only not somehow “anti-nihilist”, the anarcho-nihilist concept of jouissance is, in itself, a fulfillment of projectuality by much of the criteria Shahin sets out. If the anarcho-nihilist already accepts the premise that their business is to live joyfully even in a world that they believe will not be saved, then projectuality is already part of nihilist praxis.
All of this, however, is ultimately a tangent. The real point is to establish what projectuality has to do with the Art. It connects to the extent that individuals may prefigure real freedom in their lives through the application of meaning through ritual and will, through our interaction with some decidedly non-rational structures of life.
Unlike some anarchists (including many “classical” anarchists and probably including Shahin as well) who reject religion as such, I am fairly convinced that religion and especially occultism are ways by which an individual may cultivate a form of projectual individuation. It is true that you don’t necessarily “need” religion or occultism to “be a good person” or “have morals/ethics” as such, but then what if that’s not the point? Anyone can be a “good person” through the consistent application of either personal or shared ethics. Likewise, “community” is also irrelevant to what I consider to be the value of religion. True, religion can seem to play a role in forming strong social bonds and communal relationships, but this is no proof that this is itself the value of religion – indeed, we have ample proof that it can even be a significant downside for those who don’t conform to society. “Cohesion”, too, is similarly a red herring, since secular societies are just as capable of producing “cohesion” without religion.
The real value of religion, along with occultism, consists in the precise relationships that these generate, the extent to which one may identify themselves with the divine, and from there, cultivate individuation. It consists in the extent to which the pattern of ritual (perhaps thus “re-legere”, the Pagan definition of religion) allows us to develop individual coherency and autonomous consciousness in collaboration with the numinous, through channels of meaning such as myth and ritual and non-rational communion with divine reality (or perhaps the Darkness of “pure” reality). Admittedly, many mainstream ideas of religion don’t necessarily acheive this, perhaps even basing the value of religiosity in something entirely different, and “organised religion”, by which we mean the institutionalisation of religion as hierarchy, is simply worthless in this regard. But that’s the bath water, and not the baby, when discussing religious experience. If projectuality in Nietzschean terms is an art, so is ritual, and ritual itself can be thought of as posessing projectual aims in itself, at least insofar as their aim is the Great Work. Still, there is the argument to be made that even in the more “established” religious traditions we may find magickal sense in their practices of contemplation, at least from the purview that the idea is to immerse yourself in all of the sacred images and patterns in religious contemplation so that, in this contemplation, you may imitate them. I would interpret that as in some way a means of identification, but, I would stress that most religions don’t share the ideas and aims of divine identification that I have, from my starting point within the Left Hand Path. Nonetheless, I would say it’s a useful way of making sense of religion, the good side of it anyway, or at least an aspect of what religion should be as a function. I would also suppose that it’s the different approaches to imitation, contemplation, and identification that really give concrete definition to the Right Hand Path versus the Left Hand Path as we understand them in modernity: one, the Right Hand Path, positions imitation as harmonization, to “imitate the divine” as a vessel for it so as to accord oneself with it or with the “right order”, while the Left Hand Path positions imitation as apotheosis, to imitate the divine so as to ontologically become divine, join the divine, and achieve a sense of spiritual equality with it.
But perhaps all of this links to a much broader concept found within the tradition of anarchist thought: prefiguration. Prefiguration, or “prefigurative politics”, simply refers to the idea that our actions and relationships in the current world should strive to reflect the new world that we wish to bring into being. Some people have summarized it in that famous saying “be the change you want to see in the world” (which is often erroneously attributed to Mahatma Gandhi), and I’d say that’s not necessarily incorrect. Prefiguration entails a micro-political practice of harmony between means and ends, which is fulfilled by the desire to embody the values of the desired to new world via the relationships built upon anarchistic prerogratives, or the spread of behaviours that generally follow them, in order to meaningfully establish the social possibility of life without authority or hierarchy in real time. This often means the rejection of consequentialist, utilitarian, or instrumentalist ethics (such as attributed to Marxism-Leninism or more “centrist” tendencies within the Left) in favour of what some might argue to be a radical interpretation of virtue ethics. There are critics even within anarchism who see the concept of prefigurative politics as pregnant with the notion of apocalyptic imminency, akin to a Christian idea that God’s will/plan for our salvation is prefigured almost fatalistically in our preceding actions, which is then translated into the belief in revolutionary imminency – that is the historic inevitability of the revolution, typically associated with Marxist orthodoxy. But I completely reject that comparison. Instead, I tend to believe that prefiguration in its most sincere sense relies on the understanding that we have no such guarantees, we cannot derive such guarantees from any external source, and there is no final point of moral authority or fulfillment, and so if we are to enact major social change or enjoy the fruits of our desired world we are thus entirely dependent on our own consistent programmatic actions.
So where does this position religious life, the occult, and the Art? It’s absolutely true that you don’t “need” religion in order to “be a good person” – except is that necessarily the point? I suppose the answer to that depends on our criteria of “good”. But what counts is that in order to be able to prefigure the world desired on anarchistic terms, then it is fundamentally necessary for individuals to prefigure the mind for that very possibility so as to set the possibilities for action or behaviour. This means that, despite what such figures as Frére Dupont might suggest, it is entirely necessary to centre consciousness, and I thus mean prefigurative consciousness. Now what if a person were to ritually dedicate themselves to their own individuation? For a person to pursue the Great Work means to partake in the transformation of individual personality through ritual and esoteric means, to become the philosopher’s stone, to achieve alchemistic perfection as a beacon of freedom. People think themselves free only in the secular means by denying all spiritual concepts and forms, but what I see in modern societies and radical spaces increasingly convinces me that this is probably an illusion, and at that hardly less an illusion than the supposed authority of God. But in ritual pattern and praxis, there is an obvious extent to which the psychological affectation associated with religious life and myth may arc towards liberatory ends and, thus, make for effectual means. For better or worse, I believe that the Left Hand Path as we understand it contains this idea within itself.
In this framework, so-called “lifestyle anarchism” emerges not as the handmaiden of bourgeois rule but instead as simply a dismissive byword for what consistent anarchist praxis can look like if it is projectual and prefigurative. For this, we should see fit to reject the influence of Murray Bookchin’s critique which still haunts the “social-anarchism” of the present in favour of its opposite. What I call Esoteric Anarchy locates this value in the study and practice of esotericism and ritual as the locus of projectual individuation, which is then thus the ground of prefigurative politics. If the simplest end of magick is change or transformation on behalf of the person, if it is the art of will reshaping the inner and outer world, then Esoteric Anarchy is the recgonition of this as prefiguration, as the means and the end in themselves. Indeed, I believe that this understanding also applies to the way Phil Hine, at the very end of Condensed Chaos, talked about the concept of gnosis. Here, gnosis entails experiential magickal knowledge that then transforms you and becomes the basis of a new mode not merely of thinking but also, crucially, of acting within the world. This is what Phil Hine calls “Knowledge of the Heart”. Experience here is the secret language of magick, passing into it is required in order to grasp esoteric meaning. Thus the magickal transformation of the inner and outer world is a process in which the praxis of ritual and gnosis set the basis of the magician to prefigure themselves and the world around them in thought and deed.
Even in John Michael Greer’s Blood of the Earth, which unfortunately betrays a markedly conservative outlook, we can see relevant links in the significance of magic and occultism to prefigurative politics. In the last chapter, summarizing basically everything discussed in the book, Greer establishes that magical training, in practically distinct system with its unique tools, can allow the individual to liberate their minds from the limits of collective consciousness and what he calls “mass thaumaturgy” in order to better prepare themselves for the crises set for what believes to be the end of the industrial age. He then adds that, once this is done, the magician then has to bring their magickal work down into the material plane and anchor it with actions, a practice he associates with seemingly all of the old philosophies of occultism. If we throw aside all of the major ideological presumptions that otherwise attend his discussion of magic, a major takeaway that is no doubt of some value is that the indiviudal, and the extent to which the individual affects and alters their own life in accordance to will, is the starting point all the work Greer talks about. That’s basically the primary subject of prefigurative politics and Nietzschean projectuality: even if you won’t be able to do everything alone, it all has to start with you; you, as an individual, must prefigure an alternative way of life for yourself. And for Greer, both magick and the pursuit of lifestyles that break you away from the dominant set of industrial lifestyles affect changes into your individiual consciousness that set the horizon for this prefiguration in the material world.
From an opposing perspective, as an esoteric anarcho-nihilist ultra (just one way of putting it!), this can easily take a different focus; as in take out the ideological considerations from Greer, swap it with different set of said considerations, and the throughline remains more or less the same. You must be able to prefigure a world no longer guided by authority, hierarchy, or the total order of things, and hence a world in which you, and your communities, must rely on yourself and each other autonomously. You must prefigure the world after the world, a world beyond good and evil, a world where the last chain is scattered into the wind. That is enormously difficult to imagine within the shell of the current world, no doubt nearly impossible in the minds of most people. But by establishing new modes of autonomous life you become an example through it that imagination becomes very possible for more people, which in turn spreads the mode of prefiguration across social life. Magick can hardly be discounted from this effort, since the object of magick is the transformation of the inner and outer world through will, as I believe all of the occult authors discussed and the tradition of occultism at large typically all acknowledge.
Conclusion: The Art of Satanic Paganism
Before really summarising the form and relevance of all of this I think it’s worth really focusing on art as a creative medium where you really see the occult connect to creative work, and not only this it permeates creative media with its inspiration. Would you believe me if I told you that you wouldn’t have Martin Scorsese without Kenneth Anger? Because it’s true. He inspired Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, and from there surely countless other directors. Would you believe that Dan Aykroyd was a little bit into occultism and that this even went into the initial development of Ghostbusters? Because that’s true too. In fact, this is probably referenced in Ghostbusters II, where Dan Aykroyd’s character Ray Stantz owns an occult book shop called Ray’s Occult Books. Everyone knows about David Bowie, but I wager not that many people are aware of the fact that he based lyrics for whole songs on occult themes, often especially drawing from the quasi-historical Morning of the Magicians, and even fewer people know that he literally believed in magick. Some more people are probably more familiar with Jimmy Page’s enthusiasm for Aleister Crowley. Returning to the subject of visual art, though, I could easily point to the art scene of fin de siecle Germany, in which we see artists whose work is deeply inspired by esotericism and pre-Christian myths, even to the point of there being whole personal artistic cults to gods and spirits such as Hypnos.
There really is an extent to which the occult can often be ubiquitous in the creative world, and I really do believe that this comes down to the horizons that it contains for the pursuit of individuation. Neville Drury in The Occult Experience talked about how there is a gap between what we think we know and what we feel, between (what we believe to be) the limitless horizons of knowledge as pertains to the world around us and the comparative miniscule knowledge we actually have about ourselves, and fields the possibility that occultism offers a bridge between that gap, that it can “take us beyond ourselves” and “to the infinite”. I believe that John Michael Greer, from the perspective of Paganism and deep ecology, makes basically the same point in Blood of the Earth, where he talks about how magick serves as a valuable response to the world after peak oil and mass ecological crisis.
I also think that all of the major considerations presented tell us that the ontological aspect of the conversation around magick, while definitely not unimportant, almost finds itself de-centered. One of the better points of Blood of the Earth is the overview of just this ontological question. Greer says that within a year or two of consistent ritual practice the magician begins to have real experiences with spirits, powers, planes, and all the other major metaphysical stuff, and establishes that these are mental experiences, not physical ones. They may be real, but they are real in basically the same sense that dreams are real. This has lead to questions and debate across occultism about their ontological status, with propositions ranging from hallucinations, to dissociated complexes, to Jungian archetypes, to actual extradimensional entities. There has so far been no way to establish any ontological certainty to comport the experiences of the magician, we have no real answers in this regard. But what if that doesn’t exactly matter? It’s the gnosis that counts, the possibility of experiencing the Great Work, the prospect of cultivating and applying your will, and thereby prefiguring your own freedom, that is what counts, and I do think that as long as that goes you don’t have to worry about ontology too much – but I will say you really should abide yourself by ontological agnositicism, especially in the Satanic sense.
And speaking of Satanic, I think that at this point we can begin summarizing what all of this means within the broader polycentric framework of Satanic Paganism. I think I’ve gone out of my way to elaborate some of the major contours of that philosophy in relation to artistic praxis throughout this article, but more can be said here. The Art, in this sense, comes to mean the creative application of the basic goals and ethos of Satanic Paganism, which can sort of be summarized as achieving individual apotheosis through ritual identification with the divine and the shattering of normative consciousness, or really all illusions that defile both human freedom and knowledge of deep reality or nature. Prefigurative politics in this setting means being able to live in a cultivate state of relative self-perfection, internal autonomy, consistent individuation and lived manifestation of will, wrapped in the full embrace of the dark, creative-destructive core of divine reality; a sort of ontological inner freedom that echoes into the outer world in will, and through the example of prefigurative life. I almost think of it as what the idea of the Anarch should be and would be if it were not an almost entirely passive subject.
In the view of Satanic Paganism, the Art is the medium in which the divine and Man actualise each other, prefiguring a world where everyone is a star. The Art is the creative effort of the religious magician directed towards their own apotheosis – it is will, striving towards that goal. The Art is the application of creative subjectivity in aesthetic, ritual, and/or projectuality at large. The Art is alchemy; it is how the individual goes beyond itself in order to become itself. The Art is in so many senses the vehicle by which Anarchy is made manifest as a practice of everyday life. The Art is the form of the transvaluation of values. And of course, The Art is also a spiritual weapon in the fight against the Demiurge and against all tyrannies and the domination of order.
And so, within the purview of the philosophy of Satanic Paganism, The Art is a way of conceptualising creative praxis as a vehicle for the broader goal of apotheosis. You could say it is an indispensable part of your journey; to paraphrase something I remember Michael Bertiaux saying (and I swear I wish I could find you the exact quote), you must be capable of producing The Art. A person seeking individuation must, in their own way, even if it doesn’t mean they are “artists” per se, be able to practice and develop The Art. From the perspective of esoteric anarchism this makes The Art an essential medium of prefigurative politics. This also means that the idea that occulture and religion are entirely apolitical is, from this perspective, not only false but also antithetical to any consistent practice of The Art.
And so Satanic Paganism itself can be thought of as a religious or religio-magickal worldview that is dedicated to the realisation of The Art. Thus, we who adhere to this philosophy should, to the best of our ability, to develop, cultivate, practice, and perhaps “master” The Art, and study this practice as much as we can, in order that we might fill this world with unbridled daemonic life, and produce a world truest to that classic axiom of occultism; a world where all people are stars.
As of September 8th 2022, Queen Elizabeth II is dead. That means the man we called Prince Charles is now King Charles III. I’m not going to talk too much about whether it’s “the end of an era” for us in the UK. Mostly because I don’t give too much of a shit. But there’s one thing that interests me about what the reign of Charles III might mean. I speak, of course, about his support for Traditionalism; specifically the philosophy of one René Guénon.
Now, some people stumbling onto this article might well wonder, who is René Guénon? René Guénon was a French esotericist and religious philosopher who is perhaps best known as an early proponent, or perhaps arguably the founder, of a school of thought known as Traditionalism. Traditionalism in this setting refers to the belief that all major religions are founded upon a single shared set of primordial metaphysical “truths” referred to as “perennial philosophy”. “Perennial philosophy”, otherwise referred to as “Absolute Truth”, is to be understood as a set of axioms that are to be intuited through a “divine intellect” that is also their source, believed to be latent in the souls of all humans. Traditionalists also tend to believe that adherence to “perennial philosophy”, through one of the major world religions based upon it, is the sole foundation of all genuine esoteric practice. Unsurprisingly, proponents of Traditionalism believe that the “truth” of “perennial philosophy” has been “lost” in modernity, seemingly having been obscured by modernism, secularism, “The Enlightenment” and similar philosophical tendencies, and that we must therefore abandon modernist ways of thought and life in order to reaffirm the”unchanging truth” that is “Tradition”. In practice, this tends to mean embracing a certain set of oppressive hierarchical relationships deemed to be in alignment with that perennial “Tradition”. René Guénon, for his part, opposed democracy in favour of a rigid caste system ruled by spiritual elites.
While Guénon is one of the earliest proponents of this concept of Traditionalism, other notable proponents include Frithjof Schuon, Ananda Coomaraswamy, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Martin Lings, Titus Burckhardt, and Charles Upton, to name just a few. The fascist philosopher Julius Evola was also, in his own way, a Traditionalist, though he apparently developed certain ideas about Traditionalism that differed from Guénon’s original thought. Traditionalism in turn has been massively influential on not only modern far-right and fascist politics but also certain segments of modern conservatism. Evola’s Traditionalism became part of the broad ideology of Italian neo-fascism as well as the broader European “New Right”. For that matter, Evola himself attempted and failed to influence the Italian Fascist and Nazi German regimes. The ideas of both René Guénon and Julius Evola form a major part of the ideology of Aleksandr Dugin, one of Vladimir Putin’s most important advisors and the creator of the Russian Eurasianist movement. Guénon’s ideas also seem to have been influential on Steven Bannon, the former advisor to Donald Trump, as well as a major interest for Olavo de Carvalho, a Brazilian political philosopher, conspiracy theorist and apparent advisor to Jair Bolsonaro. In Argetina, Guénon’s ideas were widely read in (and had a major impact on) the bourgeoning fascist movement in the country during the 1920s and 30s. To this day Traditionalism is also a current in contemporary esotericism. Nigel Jackson, after having abandoned the Luciferian witchcraft of Michael Howard (which he would go on to completely denounce), took up the Guénon’s Traditionalism as his new esoteric path.
The basic throughline of Guénon’s Traditionalism is obviously a recollection of a much older idea found within the “humanist” tradition of the Christian Renaissance, in which it was often argued that all religions contained some aspect of a larger divine mystery. In this argument, the divine mystery means the hidden teaching of Christianity, which was said to have been spoken by Jesus in parables to all except his disciples and hidden in all religions preceding Christianity through poetic language and esoteric symbolism. Renaissance humanist philosophers such as Giovanni Pico della Mirandola argued that this idea was confirmed Dionysius the Areopagite and supported by Augustine of Hippo’s statement that “What we now call the Christian religion existed amongst the ancients, and was from the beginning of the human race, until Christ Himself came in the flesh; from which time the already existing true religion began to be styled Christian”.
In the context of the time, this humanist thesis probably emerged as a way of reconciling Christianity with the ancient pre-Christian Greco-Roman philosophy and culture that had been rediscovered at the time, not to mention some Christian encounters with Jewish mysticism (Mirandola in particular is considered the father of what’s called Christian Kabbalah), but it has persisted over the centuries and can be found in certain variations within not only Traditionalism but also Theosophy and certain New Age and spiritualist circles. In fact, you’ve probably heard about the concept of “perennial philosophy” from the work of Aldous Huxley, who despite not being a Traditionalist in the strict sense definitely adhered to his own concept of perennial philosophy, for which he titled a book about mysticism. The irony of this, of course, is that the Renaissance is sometimes cited in Traditionalist narratives as the beginning of the current stage of humanity’s supposed spiritual decline. Even more ironic is the fact that the very term “perennial philosophy” itself was actually coined in 1540 by Agostino Stueco, an Italian Renaissance humanist.
Of a certain relevance to Satanists and travellers of the Left Hand Path as well as the subject of Satanic Panic is Guénon’s denunctions of what he considered to be “Satanism” and “Luciferianism”. Guénon believed that, just as surely as there existed a great perennial philosophy and tradition, there existed forces of “counter-tradition” or “counter-initiation” in the world, which thus opposed tradition. “Counter-initiation”, he said, involves “true Satanism” which “overturns the sacred” by way of “degradation until the most extreme degree”. For Guénon, such forces of “counter-initiation” included occultists such as Theodor Reuss, Aleister Crowley, Jean Bricaud, Charles Detre, G. I. Gurdjieff, R. A. Schwaller de Lubicz, and possibly Giuliano Kremmerz – no doubt all of them occultists who Guénon disagreed with or detested for whatever reason. Guénon also included Freemasons in his network of “counter-tradition”, as well as Mormons and practitioners of ancient Egyptian magic (the latter of which he believed consisted only of “dangerous” and “inferior” magic dedicated to Set or Typhon). Guénon also frequently claimed to be the victim of attacks by “counter-initiates” against him. To Guénon, the difference between Satanism and Luciferianism was simply a matter of consciousness – Luciferianism meant rebellion against tradition in the name of the idea that Satan was actually an angel of light named Lucifer or simply a form of “unconscious Satanism”, while Satanism per se meant the conscious subversion and degradation of tradition in itself. For Guénon, “unconscious Satanism” meant practically any theory that he believed “disfigured” the concept of God, including the “limited God” theory and the idea of an evolving God, which he thus attributed to thinkers like Baruch Spinoza, G. W. F. Hegel, and William James.
It cannot be overstated how important Guénon is to the imagination of right-wing and fascist conspiracism. In fact, I consider my precise lack of discussion of Guénon in my previous article on Satanic Panic to be a gross oversight. If you consider right-wing conspiracy theories with Guénon in mind, you can easily imagine all of the major villains of the right-wing imagination as “agents of counter-initiation”. That angle is essentially the idea of many of the original anti-Masonic and anti-Illuminati conspiracy theories in that the premise was that shadowy organisations were fomenting revolution in order to destroy the Catholic Church (thus, “Tradition”). From this standpoint, right-wing conspiracism itself emerges as an emergent, organic expression of what is essentially traditionalist ideology, and thus the growth of the far-right also means the growth of traditionalism at large.
So, having established all of this, how do we go from René Guénon to the new King of the United Kingdom? What does Charles III have to do with Guénon and his Traditionalism? The short answer is this: Charles III is a Traditionalist, in the sense that he is a student of René Guénon’s spiritual ideology.
When it comes to discussions of Charles III’s quasi-activist role in British politics and its public discourse, most people focus on either his tendency to talk about environmentalism, his apparent interest in homeopathy, or his prolific opposition to genetically modified crops. But if we take note of the fact that Charles buttresses those latter two concerns in a generalized appeal to “traditional” knowledge and ways of life, it is not hard to realize – and I think not even many critics of Charles’ political activism notice this – the way that Traditionalist ideology plays a role in even this particular form of nuisance politics.
Charles III is a patron of an organisation called the Temenos Academy, which asserts itself to be “dedicated to the teaching and dissemination of the perennial wisdom”, which they regard as “the ground of every civilisation”. This is very much an explicit statement of Guénon’s ideology of Traditionalism. Charles III, who has been a patron of the Temenos Academy since it was founded in 1991, seems to have held the work of the Academy in high regard, saying that the organisation was committed to “fostering a wider awareness of the great spiritual traditions we have inherited from the past”, which he asserted “form the basis of mankind’s most civilised values and have been handed down to us over many centuries”. Charles III also seems to have been a close friend of one of the Academy’s founders, Keith Critchlow, who apparently travelled with Charles for 30 years and taught both Charles and Prince Harry the art of “sacred geometry”. This friendship probably began while Charles was busy campaigning against “inappropriate architecture” (presumably meaning the “monstrous carbuncles” of “modern” architecture) in 1984, at which time Critchlow had come up with the idea behind the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts, which Charles later founded in 2005. In 1986, Charles established the Prince’s School of Architecture, which then incorporated Critchlow’s Visual Islamic and Traditional Arts department into its cirriculum, which in turn was later transferred to the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts when it was founded. Critchlow himself was also acquianted with Seyyed Hossein Nasr, a Traditionalist intellectual who was also a scholar of Sufi Islam.
The connection to Islam is somewhat fascinating, considering the nature of British conservative politics and its tendency towards Islamophobia, and so merits considerable attention. In fact, Charles III has something of a reputation as an unexpected advocate for the merits of Islam. In 1993, Charles III gave a speech at the Sheldonian Theatre in which he urged greater understanding between Islam and “the West”, arguing that Islam and Christianity share the same tradition of ethical monotheism, that sharia law is misunderstood by the public because of Western media, and, most importantly, that Islam, unlike modern Christianity, “has preserved a metaphysical and unified view of ourselves and the world around us”. In 1996, he spoke at the Foreign Office Conference Centre to encourage the teaching of Islamic pedagogy and philosophy to young Britons, in 2010 he gave a speech to the Oxford Centre of Islamic Studies arguing that the Quran teaches that “there are limits to the abundance of Nature” established by God and that “we cannot exist on our own without the intricately balanced web of life around us”, and according to his 2018 biography, Charles At Seventy: Thoughts, Hopes, and Dreams written by Robert Jobson, it is recounted that Charles studied the Quran and that he argued that Christianity needs to learn from Islam as well as Judaism, and thus rediscover “universal truths that dwell at the heart of these religions” in order to secure the future.
Such a worldview can be interpreted as an appeal to tolerance or even multiculturalism, and it has certainly endeared him to Muslims around the world. Indeed, if his biography is to be believed, Charles III actually opposed the US invasion of Iraq, disagreed with banning the niqab, and even argued that a political solution for Palestine was necessary to resolve the enmity that he felt was at the root of international terrorism. However, his particular appreciation of Islam may also have brought him on the side of reactionary religious authoritarianism. In 1989, when Ayatollah Khomeini issued the infamous death fatwa against Salman Rushdie for writing The Satanic Verses, Charles III refused to give any public support for Rushdie’s right to freedom of expression. According to Martin Amis, who had an argument with Charles III over this subject, Charles seemed to suggest that no one had the right to insult “someone else’s deepest convictions”, which by implication means that he may have supported Khomeini on this issue. He also seems to have made the same argument much later in response to the publication of Danish cartoons that mocked the Prophet Muhammad.
In view of the broader context of Traditionalism, any connection to Islam is probably not an accident. Islam, or rather Sufi Islam in particular, is one of the religions that Traditionalists believe contains the perennial philosophy. In fact, Traditionalists also often believe that, whereas in “the West” this perennial philosophy is almost entirely lost or forgotten, in “the East” it has been preserved in doctrines such as Sufi Islam and Advaita Vedanta. Moreover, René Guénon himself converted to Islam in 1912, later moved to Egypt in 1930 in order to be initiated in a Sufi order and then study, practice, and preach Islam, and apparently the last word he uttered before he died in 1951 was “Allah”. This perhaps also explains the fact of Guénon’s work having spread and become as influential as it did in the Islamic world, at least if Seyyed Hossein Nasr is to be believed. In Iran, three out of seven members of the Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution organised by Ayatollah Khomeini were influenced by Guénon’s Traditionalism, and meanwhile Guénon’s work was widely read and discussed among the Iranian intelligentsia during the 1960s and 70s. Likewise, in Pakistan, Guénon’s ideas seem to have inspired the famed author Hasan Askari, as well as A. K. Brohi, the intellectual politician who served in the regime of Zia ul-Haq, and apparently Muhammad Shafi Deobandi, the father of Deobandi Islam.
For all of that, however, while Charles III has been presented as an inveterate anti-Western Islamophile and even a possible Islamic convert by sections of the British establishment and the Transatlantic right-wing press eager to present his appreciation of Islam as a rejection of Christianity and a possible threat to the British nation, Islam is not the only religion that Charles has a special appreciation for. Charles III has also been notable for a similarly intense interest in the Eastern Orthodox Church, which I have to assume has not come at the expense of his appreciation of Islam. In 1997, soon after the death of Princess Diana, Charles III visited Mount Athos, the famous autonomous Greek Orthodox monastic community, presumably seeking to find solace in the mountain’s cloisters. Charles has since made multiple visits to Mount Athos over the years, and in 2004 he offered to assist the Greek and Serbian governments in restoring the Monastery of Chelandari, which was damaged by fire. Around this time he also became a member of an organisation called Friends of Mount Athos, which was set up to raise funds for the Monastery of Chelandari. Close friends said that Charles adorned a section of his Highgrove home with Byzantine icons, possibly originally from Mount Athos, and Athonite monks were convinced that Charles was “Orthodox in his heart”. Charles has also made numerous visits to Orthodox churches not only in Greece but also Serbia, Romania, and elsewhere.
You might be wondering how to make sense of this. Charles III is definitely not a Muslim or a member of the Eastern Orthodox Church in any official capacity. He is a member of the Church of England, and for him to convert to Islam or Eastern Orthodoxy he would have had to give up the right to succeed the throne. Rather, it seems more likely to be the case that Charles admires both Islam and the Eastern Orthodox Church as doctrines in which he sees survivals of what he believes to be the “traditional worldview”. There’s a way that I believe makes more sense of this as it relates to Charles’ affinity for Mount Athos. Abbot Ephraim of the Vatopedi Monastery once said that Athonite monasticism is both “a signpost to heaven” and “a bridge over which pass true spiritual provisions for the world”. From this perspective, we might suppose that Charles III looks at Mount Athos as a worldly link to the universal order of life, a place where “traditional wisdom”, or “perennial philosophy”, and its “blessings” are passed from heaven to earth.
It is worth noting that Charles has also offered some praise to religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism, though this praise seems to be mostly in connection to his much larger appraisal of Islam, and his opinion of all three of those religions is connected to his belief that they reject the idea of Man being separate from Nature, religion from science, or mind from matter. Charles III has also praised the principles of Sikhism ahead of his visit to India in 2019. However, it seems clear to me that much of his focus is on the three “Abrahamic” religions, or rather at least two of them: Christianity and Islam. As for Judaism, I haven’t been able to find any extensive discussion of Judaism from Charles, or at least nowhere near as much as Islam or Christianity. That said, Charles was apparently circumcised as an infant by Rabbi Jacob Snowman in a Jewish ceremony, maintained a close friendship with Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, and it has often been said that he had a special relationship with the Jewish community. At the same time, however, in 1986 Charles blamed unrest in the Middle East on “an influx of foreign Jews” and called for the United States government to “take on the Jewish lobby” in a letter addressed to his friend Laurens van der Post.
In a much broader sense, Charles III has been rather consistent in his advocacy of Traditionalism as an ideology. As Hannah Gais points out in her article for The Baffler, Charles suggested in an essay in 2006 that “so much discarded and derided tradition is not the enemy of modernity, but is its inevitable future precisely because of the balance that needs to be struck”. In a 2000 address before the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, Charles proclaimed that “our secular age” runs the risk of “ignoring, or forgetting, all knowledge of the sacred and spiritual”. In his 2010 book, Harmony: A New Way of Looking At Our World, Charles argued that all the major crises of the modern world comprise a “crisis of perception”, in that humanity no longer knows how to live in harmony with the planet because it has lost sight of the sacred principles that it embodies. In his lectures, Charles III often references the work of Seyyed Hossein Nasr, who let’s once again establish is an intellectual devotee of René Guénon. In fact, I should also note that, in a 2008 issue of Sophia, a journal published by the Foundation for Traditional Studies, a speech from Charles III about humanity’s relationship to the environment, alongside a similar discussion by none other than Seyyed Hossein Nasr, can be found among its content.
Charles III is also a contributor to an organisation called The Matheson Trust, a think tank on comparative religion that was founded by Donald Macleod Matheson in 1974. The Matheson Trust seems to be interested in spreading works of traditionalist scholarship in order to promote the idea of the underlying metaphysical unity of all religions. Charles III has an essay titled A Sense of the Sacred: Building Bridges Between East and West published in Volume 13 of Sacred Web in 2004. Charles also gave an introductory speech for The Matheson Trust’s Sacred Web Conference in 2006. In fact, both the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts and the Temenos Academy are listed as “academic contacts” on The Matheson Trust’s website, suggesting a solid connection between these organisations. Donald Macleod Matheson himself, by the way, in addition to being an active part of the Traditionalist School, having translated the works of Traditionalist authors such as Frithjof Schuon and Titus Burckhardt, was also the Secretary to the National Trust, for which he received appointment as Commander of the Order of the British Empire. That’s quite a prestigious honour, at least when you consider who else has received it.
Perhaps the smoking gun in all this is the fact that Charles III, even if he may not publicly call himself a Traditionalist, is clearly aware of his own connection to the Traditionalist School and its broad movement. The proof of this is that, in that 2006 introductory speech for The Matheson Trust’s Sacred Web Conference I previously referenced, Charles explained that the mission of both the Temenos Academy and Sacred Web is to explore the role of “Tradition” in the modern world while critiquing “the false premises of Modernity”. Charles refers to this critique as the same critique that was set out by none other than René Guénon, or more specifically in Guénon’s book The Reign of Quantity. Thus we see that Charles III, in an audience of Traditionalists, hosted by a Traditionalist organisation, directly acknowledges his ideological and cultural mission as being based on the ideas of René Guénon.
Understand now that it is the Traditionalism of René Guénon that is at the root of many of Charles III’s political involvements. He is a Traditionalist in the sense that he adheres to the basic form of René Guénon’s ideology, albeit in his own distinct way, and he takes that ideology seriously. He genuinely believes in Traditionalism as something that confronts what he believes to be the dominant ideology of modernity, and he defends Traditionalism from the charge of nostalgia by claiming that it seeks not so much the past as much as “the sacred”, and reveres the past only because it consisted of “the sacred”. There are many conservatives across the Atlantic who fail to understand this and so prefer to think of Charles III as little more than a freewheeling liberal dilettante for his inclinations, but no such prejudice could be further from the truth.
Think about why Charles expressed an interest in being called “Defender of Faith”, referencing religion at large, rather than the traditional “Defender of the Faith”, referencing specifically the Church of England to which he is royally bound. To most people it sounds like just an expression of liberal pluralism or multiculturalism, which some may find noble and high-minded while others deem it to be a bewildering eccentricity. But in reality, what appears to the conservative and liberal alike as an expression of multiculturalism is actually based on the Traditionalist premise that all major religions share an underlying metaphysical unity in the form of perennial philosophy.
Or how about Charles’ environmentalism? Most people assume that this is, again, just fashionable liberal politics, and in turn despised by many a conservative. But while environmentalism may be its own ideological interest for Charles, it is for him rather neatly blended with his overall Traditionalist worldview, or indeed may ultimately derive its core premise from that Traditionalism. His basic argument in Harmony is apparently that “Modernity”, in the sense of our purported move away from the metaphysical order and unity of the world, is the primary cause of our lack of harmony with the planet, which in turn is the supposed cause of the present ecological crisis, and all other social crises. Indeed, I think that Charles’ ideology might make for an curious template for what to expect of “conservative environmentalism”, or “traditionalist environmentalism”, in the future as the bourgeoisie continues to scramble for strategies on how to respond to climate change.
Even Charles’ prolific interest in homeopathy or “alternative medicine”, and further prolific opposition to genetically modified crops, is best understood through his adherence to the Traditionalism of René Guénon. Charles’ argument in defense of homeopathic/”alternative” medicine, as was given during his inauguration speech as President of the British Medical Association in 1982, is that according to him “folk healers” have over the centuries practiced a form of medicine that he believes to be “guided by traditional wisdom”, which, he claims, “sees illness as a disorder of the whole person, involving not only the patient’s body, but his mind, his self-image, his dependence on the physical and social environment, as well as his relation to the cosmos”. It sounds like it’s just airy nonsense – though I would contend that actual indigenous people using their particular medicinal arts probably weren’t as hopelessly inadequate as the modern “skeptic” would have you believe – but even this is an expression of Traditionalism in Guénon’s sense. What is “traditional wisdom” for Charles if not a name for perennial philosophy? Indeed, that holistic worldview he discusses is basically the same as that which he attributes to Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and to some extent Christianity. As for GM crops? Well, his objection that it involves meddling with “realms that belong to God and God alone” can probably be contextualized in his views on “Tradition”, which he most certainly assumes to be “God-given”.
And so we understand that Charles III, the new King of the United Kingdom, is a Traditionalist, and in all likelihood has been a Traditionalist for much of his life. Charles has undeniably studied Traditionalism, is familiar with the work of René Guénon and other Traditionalist authors such as Seyyed Hossein Nasr, and all of his political activism has been on behalf of his Traditionalist ideology. That’s why Charles granted patronage to homeopathic organisations, religious organisations, Islamic studies courses, and of course Traditionalist think tanks. That’s also why he lobbied for Tony Blair to give official state support for “alternative medicines”, it’s why he has devoted such personal and official effort to opening up dialogue between Christianity and Islam, and it’s also part of why he goes on visits to places such as Mount Athos and the Middle East.
Now, what does this all mean now that Charles III is the king of Britain? At this early stage of his reign it’s not easy to get a reliable picture of how his reign could turn. There is a general speculation that Charles III could be somewhat more interventionist than his predecessor. I suspect that this means he will actively lobby on behalf of his personal political priorities, not unlike his attempts to lobby Tony Blair’s government to endorse homeopathy. Perhaps we could expect royal diplomatic ventures in the Middle East? That depends, because the British government has already barred Prince William from getting involved in Israeli and Palestinian politics, though perhaps Charles III could order that bar to be lifted if he saw fit. Charles III has been publicly endorsing homeopathy for decades, it’s come up fairly recently as well, and it’s probably going to come up again, which means he may lobby the government on this again. It’s possible that Charles III may try to establish himself as a tangible world leader in the global effort to combat man-made climate change, which would contrast him with the fact that the ruling Conservative government is currently staffed with inveterate climate change deniers. I suspect that his particular ideological inclinations may actually put him at odds with those of the Conservative Party, whose conservatism is based essentially on the ideology of classical liberalism and its belief in “free market” capitalism, although we should be clear that Charles III obviously has no interest in the abolition of capitalism in any form whatsoever. Hannah Gais is probably on to something when she speculates that any solution Charles puts forward will involve elite management.
But whatever Charles III does, insofar as he takes any concrete actions as the official head of the British state, you could expect all of it to be guided by Charles’ particular form of Traditionalist ideology. If you follow through the connections I’ve presented thus far, this fact becomes obvious. That means Charles III being King means we now have a committed Traditionalist as the head of state. Don’t make any mistakes about what this might mean. While the British commentariat and much of the public currently assumes that Charles’ stances will bring more of a liberal-progressive social agenda into focus, the reality is that behind all of that is a deeply conservative and reactionary ideology that is just as much a part of the growing reactionary tide as any of the right-wing populists vying for power – not to mention, was part of the original primordial soup of reaction from which fascism as we know it emerged. No, Charles III won’t be somebody like Viktor Orban or Donald Trump (just for anyone who might be getting the wrong idea), but he will use his power to fulfill the agenda of Traditionalism as much as he can. That could be a major political victory for the Traditionalist movement, and in that sense a victory for global reaction.
And yes, make no mistake, Traditionalism is an enemy. The institution of the monarchy is itself already one of the eternal champions of authority against freedom, but Traditionalism is likewise such a vanguard, and all the more insidious. I believe that, if you study Traditionalist ideology from a critical perspective, you will be able to see aspects of its ideology across the major developments of global reaction, esoterica, and in the subtle, often barely noticeable contours of reactionary online discourse. Once that happens, it might just transform the way you look at politics and its intersection with culture.
In esoteric terms, Traditionalism is one of the clearest expressions of the Right Hand Path you will find in Western esotericism/occultism. Its premise is that the purpose of life is to live in harmony with a metaphysical order of truth that underlies everything, and esoteric attainment on Traditionalist terms requires participation in “orthodox” religions. René Guénon indeed positioned himself as the defender of traditional religion and esotericism, which set him against many other contemporary occultists that he deemed “counter-traditional”, and he established regular Masonic lodges, such as La Grande Triade (which currently still exists under the Grande Loge de France). The occultists that Guénon opposed include neo-Gnostics, the founder of Thelema, irregular Masonic rites/lodges and their members, syncretic practitioners, Egyptian magicians, to name a few, and he names Enlightenment-era rationalist, pantheist, and empiricist philosophers as “unconscious Satanists”. To my mind, this recalls the way that Enlightenment ideology and its exponents were invoked as a “Satanic” adversary against the Catholic Church. Conspiracy against the order of Christianity thus feeds the trope of conspiracy of counter-initiation against metaphysical tradition. Insofar as Guénon hit out against the arguably “counter-cultural” forms of occultism in his day while elevating regular Masonry and “orthodox” religions, Guénon can be thought of as, ultimately, a champion of The Establishment, in the sense that we mean the religious and esoteric establishment of his day, true to the will of the Right Hand Path.
Charles III is also The Establishment in modern Britain. Indeed, now that he is King of the United Kingdom, he is officially at the maximum possible level of being The Establishment that you can be in this country. And as a committed Traditionalist he thus stands as an almost conscious representative of the Right Hand Path. But on that note, I can’t allow myself to wrap up this article without discussing the fact that Charles III is not the only man of power to have convened at Mount Athos. It may surprise you to know that Mount Athos has, for decades, served as a place where world leaders and powerful people got together, ostensibly for the purpose of spiritual contemplation.
According to an article found on The Seattle Times written by A. Craig Copetas (apparently originally for Bloomberg News), thousands of politicians and elite businessmen have visited a private pilgrimage site at Mount Athos as a sort of spiritual retreat before travelling to Switzerland for the annual World Economic Forum at Davos. According to Copetas these men include not only Charles III but also Silvio Berlusconi, Juan Carlos, Jimmy Carter, George Karaplis, George H. W. Bush, Vladimir Putin, Peter Armitage, the Aga Khan, and even Fidel Castro. That sounds like quite a lot of names, and it does seem strange that they would all go to such a place. But I double-checked; at least a few of these aren’t solely off of Copetas’ reporting. George H. W. Bush appears to have visited Mount Athos in 1995 and attended a ceremony there, seemingly as part of a weekend trip to Greece where the shipping tycoon Yiannis Latsis presented a luxury yacht to the Bush family. Vladimir Putin has made multiple pilgrimages to Mount Athos over the years, the earliest I can find being at around 2005. Peter Armitage, who ran a company called Capital International, has visited Mount Athos, and in fact he seems to have taken an interest in Christianity and Buddhism some time after he left the company. Fidel Castro visted Mount Athos in 2004, after having invited Patriarch Bartholomew to attend the inauguration of Cuba’s first Orthodox Church. Apparently, in 1998, Mount Athos was visited by the exiled Bulgarian king Simeon Saxe-Coburg Gotha, the fourth Aga Khan Shah Karim al-Husayni, and Vladimir Romanov, apparently to create a “Club for Friends of Byzantium”. In 2018, Abbot Ephraim met with Eugene Fishel, from the US State Department, along with Wess Mitchell and George Kent, at the Vatopedi Monastery in Mount Athos to discuss the Orthodox Church and apparently also the persecution of Christians in parts of the world. In fact, The Guardian noted in 2004 that Mount Athos has been seen as an ideal “detox trip” for the European bourgeoisie.
With these facts established, not to the mention the original Bloomberg article, I have to assume Copetas is on to something legitimate. So we can take as granted that George Karaplis, the former chief financial officer for the OTE (Hellenic Telecommunications Organisation), has in fact visited Mount Athos, apparently having made up to 70 pilgrimages since 1991, and has even described Vatopedi Monastery as “the original World Economic Forum”. He even claims to have accompanied senior executives from Lehman Brothers and Morgan Stanley. Apparently Mount Athos was considered a highly fashionable retreat for world leaders, and according to the local Athonite monks businessmen come to the Vatopedi Monastery all the time. Father Irenaios has said that he has spent hours listening to professionals, politicians, and businessmen talk about their lack of focus in life, while Father Germanos has said that businessmen regularly come to Mount Athos with “a great emptiness”. According to Copetas in his book, Mona Lisa’s Pajamas: Diverting Dispatches from a Roving Reporter, businessmen, politicians, and monarchs have been making visits to Mount Athos since as far back as 985 AD, when three rich merchants built the Vatopedi Monastery with their fortunes, and since then the monastery has been visited by the likes of the Medicis, the King of Spain, and wealthy brokers such as Ciriaco d’Ancona. You wouldn’t know it too much today, though, since meetings with businessmen typically aren’t publicized. The visits are treated as private moments, and are apparently usually kept secret. This secrecy also goes for royalty, with both Charles and Harry having visited the Vatopedi Monastery in secret.
This is all fascinating especially when your mind turns to certain conspiracy theories about how the bourgeoisie are all godless devil-worshippers. I mean, you could argue that it doesn’t have much meaning, but think about it: if you have the money to go anywhere in the world to find yourself, why the holiest Orthodox site in the world? Is it because Vatopedi Monastery, in addition to being a place of monastic contemplation, also happens to be a historical place of financial influence? Or do they happen to find some vague meaning in Christianity in particular? That wouldn’t be too surprising. Despite decades of conspiracy theory there’s simply no way that the bourgeoisie consists of Satanists. Even things like the Bohemian Grove or that one Surrealism-themed party aren’t “Satanic rituals” in any sense. If they were Satanists, why the hell would they go to Mount Athos, which is an immensely holy place for Christianity – and they go there in private I might add! If nothing else it’s more proof of how Christianity is still to this day bound up in the dominant capitalist system, which is quite the problem for those on “the Left” who keep trying to appeal to some fanciful socialist Christianity. But in a broader sense, you should understand the ruling class not as godless nihilists or devil worshippers, but as faithful servants of the White Lodge, just as eager for the stamp of heaven as any poor worker fearfully humbling themselves before God. Thousands of businessmen, probably many more, and multiple politicians and heads of state, have all gathered at the Vatopedi Monastery at Mount Athos, and perhaps they seek some aspect of what Charles III was looking for. They go there for solace, contemplation, meaning, “heavenly provisions” etc.
King Charles III, and his Traditionalist inclinations together with his history of going to the Vatopedi Monastery, can be thought of as a symbol of the elite progress of the Right Hand Path. At least, if he indeed is as much of an “activist monarch” as we might suspect. He’s certainly much more concerted about any coherent spiritual project than almost anyone in the British ruling class that I can think of, almost impressively so. He should be observed in tandem with the continuing progress of global social reaction. The White Lodge is on the move. I wonder what will follow.
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