Benedict XVI and the transphobic legacy of the Catholic Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Catholic Church’s new stance on sex: A bold liberalization of tradition, or the dying gasps of moral authority?

This week, Pope Francis officially declared that “sins of the flesh” are not the most serious sins. He said this in the wake of the resignation of Michael Aupetit, the former Archbishop of Paris who admitted to having an “ambiguous” relationship with an anonymous woman prior to becoming a bishop. Pope Francis described his actions as a failing of the sixth commandment, which forbade adultery, but apparently a minor one, consisting of small caresses and taking a massage. This apparently is a sin, but not “the worst kin”, with the Pope suggesting that hatred and pride are much bigger sins.

It’s easy to take this as a relaxation of attitudes within the church towards sex, and on the surface that seems like it might be the case. But stepping beyond the basic nature of what Aupetit is accused of, and it certainly looks like small potatoes to me anyway, there’s something else about what Pope Francis is saying that tells me that there’s another, somewhat problematic dimension to it.

The part that does all the work is when he says it’s still a sin. It’s still essentially a transgression against God, that’s what sin is. All he’s really saying is that there’s a sliding scale of transgressions that are easier to forgive than others. A bit moot, considering that at least most sins are surely forgiveable by God, if we take the Christians seriously anyway. To say that Aupetit’s actions, then, are not a “total failing”, while probably not wrong, could be saide of basically any “failing” insofar as it is not beyond redemption.

But you know, there’s a way in which it makes sense for him to be softer on sex outside of marriage than many Christians. I say this not just because the Bible doesn’t actually contain any actual injunctions against pre-martial sex, but also because the same Pope also approved a declaration from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which stated that same-sex marriages cannot be approved on the grounds that “God does not and cannot bless sin”, and doubled down on that while insisting that this isn’t a condemnation of LGBT people. The Catholic Church also played a role in ensuring that hate crimes and discrimination against LGBT people would not be criminalised, without a peep of oppostion from Pope Francis. I guess it’s easy to be an otherwise still fairly traditional Catholic and go easy on pre-martial sex while trying to put up a nice face for the LGBT community, so long as you’re still making sure LGBT people can’t get married or be entitled to protections against hate crimes.

I notice there are some takes out suggesting that Pope Francis’ new announcement, far from just being him defending the clergy as you might suspect, is actually the dawn of the end of the tyranny of focusing on sexuality. But think about what that means. The church is not actually changing its sexual mores, it’s just talking about them less, and from where I’m standing it’s not borne from a reflection of the actually restrictive and tyrannous substance of Christian sexual morality, but instead from a mixture of embarassment and opportunism. And I think that those who look at this and talk about how Jesus said nothing about sexuality should probably remember that Jesus said that whoever looked upon woman with lustful thoughts had already committed adultery in his heart (Matthew 5:28), which is probably the exact opposite of Pope Francis’ stance on “sins of the flesh” – for Jesus, Michael Aupetit would be guilty of adultery if he merely thought about ambiguous relationships with women. And even if Jesus didn’t have much to say about sexuality, people like Paul sure did, such as in his pronouncements that homosexuality is a shameful behaviour that God thrust upon people for engaging in idolatry. Not exactly the most inclusive religion.

I know I like to beat this drum a lot every time Pope Francis comes around, but I never did trust him, and frankly, I think there’s no good reason to trust liberal Christianity just because it’s nicer in theory than conservative Christianity. If you’re a Christian, you have to contend with several aspects of scripture and tradition that are problematic and difficult, or find some interpretation, and you still have to deal with the basic premise of being in a religion where human behaviour is to be judged in relation to the designs of a supreme ruler as the divine principle. If you’re an atheist or a Pagan, on the other hand, you don’t really have this problem. Personally, I don’t think I’ll understand why there is such demand for the hegemony of the Catholic Church to be preserved, let alone through such obviously weak appeals to modern ideas about sexual morality that often actively conflict with what the Gospels actually say. It would be better that more people simply accept that Christianity, if pursued genuinely and seriously, would conflict with their way of life in a repressive fashion. Of course, this would mean the end of Christian hegemony, and while I would take such delight in seeing the demise of the power of the church, it’s perfectly logical that the church, and Christians, could never allow the release of the soul of mankind from its iron grip.

But all in all, this is probably nothing in the grand scheme of things.

What I’m sure we’re all thinking

Fuck the Satanic Temple

OK, so The Satanic Temple is really pissing me off at the moment. Just yesterday I learned from Queer Satanic, a group of ex-TST members who are currently being sued by The Satanic Temple, that The Satanic Temple have decided to support a Catholic organisation called Church Militant by filing an amicus brief for them. An amicus brief is a letter written to the court by people not involved in a case in order to present argument or evidence not yet presented by the parties involved to the court on behalf of one of the parties. Church Militant, also known as St. Michael’s Media, is a right-wing Catholic website which pushes climate change denial, LGBT-phobia, sexism, anti-Muslim fearmongering, and anti-abortion talking points as part of an ideological program of Christian conservatism, and its leader, Michael Voris, supports Donald Trump on the grounds that he believes Trump would have granted Roman Catholicism the status of state religion in America.

You did not misread that. The Satanic Temple, the very same organisation trying to bill itself as defenders of abortion rights and secular freedom in general against the threat of Christian theocracy, just supported an anti-abortion Christian conservative group dedicated to the cause of Catholic theocracy! And at that, the very same Christian propaganda network that has over the years repeatedly portrayed The Satanic Temple as villainous buffoons!

You might very reasonably be wondering what the hell The Satanic Temple would be doing allying with Church Militant of all people. Apparently, the Satanic Temple thinks that Church Militant is being “silenced” by the city of Baltimore. They say that even though they disagree with everything Church Militant stands for, they oppose the apparent “outrage” being committed against them, and they even do the typical Voltaire quote trope that had essentially become a religious mantra for “classical liberals” who, especially in the case of TST, inevitably fail to practice what they preach. Marc Randazza, the right-wing attorney who represented Lucien Greaves in his battle to get his blue checkmark back, is also representing Church Militant, which if we’re being honest is not a coincidence considering his record.

At this point we should ask, just what “outrage” is The Satanic Temple referring to? A few months ago, Church Militant planned to hold a rally at the MECU Pavilion in Baltimore, during the US Conference of Bishops on November 16th. Ostensibly, the rally was supposed to be all about speaking up against sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. That might seem funny coming from a Catholic organisation, but apparently Church Militant are not properly affiliated with the Catholic Church and the church itself seems to distance itself from them. The rally was also to feature former Trump advisor Stephen Bannon and professional non-serious person Milo Yiannopoulos as guest speakers, and purportedly involved support for the January 6th rioters. The city of Baltimore claimed that Church Militant risked inciting violence through inflammatory speeches, while Church Militant denied this and argued that the city is persecuting them over differences of opinion. In the end, on October 12th, the case was dismissed and judge Ellen Hollander ruled that Church Militant had the right to hold their rally in Baltimore. In TST’s amicus brief, Matthew Kezhaya, counsel for The Satanic Temple, argued that the rally was a religious event, on the grounds of the ostensible focus of the event as well as the involvement of prayer, and that the city of Baltimore was denying Church Militant their fundamental free speech and free exercise rights.

So, what to make of all this in relation to The Satanic Temple. Ostensibly, this is a free speech case for them, consistent with their fourth tenet which extols the right to offend. But if TST were at all consistent about that famous Voltaire’s maxim, they wouldn’t be suing Netflix for the use of their “Baphomet” statue in The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, nor would they be suing queer Satanist activists for daring to criticize them in public – or, sorry, “commandeering” their social media page, per their politically correct interpretation of events. There’s no doubt that Lucien Greaves and Milo Yiannopoulos are friends, and Lucien has frequently spoken up in defence of Milo while condemning anti-fascists as threats to freedom of speech. If that’s the case, and it seems to be pretty consistent for Lucien, then this is less about freedom of speech for everyone including those who offend you, and more about Lucien Greaves simply sticking up for his far-right buddies.

Is it wrong to argue that the city of Baltimore was acting against Church Militant’s right to free speech? I’d say arguably not, at least in a vacuum. But this isn’t just Lucien Greaves going on his social media account posting Voltaire quotes to make innocuous arguments about freedom of speech. I wouldn’t complain if that were the case, but the reality of the situation is different. An amicus brief isn’t filed for free. I don’t know how much TST paid to file that amicus brief, but apparently, depending on who you ask at least, it can cost thousands of dollars in the US. That may not mean financial support for Church Militant, but when you keep in mind that Lucien Greaves probably derived at least some of those legal fees from the dues of its members, that means a lot of money drawn from TST membership went to Matthew Kezhaya just to provide legal support for Church Militant. Lucien Greaves could have just tweeted that the city of Baltimore was wrong and that they were violating Church Militant’s free speech rights, and then stayed out of the actual case. In my eyes there would be no problem if that was all that happened, as it would not mean any material support for the organisation. Instead of that he chose to spend lots of money, probably thousands of dollars, presumably pooled from paying members, to support Church Militant.

And let’s drag ourselves away from the strict details of the case for a moment to re-establish the real heart of the matter. The Satanic Temple paid thousands of dollars from its members to materially support an organisation that is completely against everything they and almost all Satanists and secularists stand for, and did so in the name of the right to offend, while at the same time they are actually suing left-wing Satanists for criticizing them, which only makes sense from the standpoint of having to justify punishing dissenters for having offended Lucien Greaves and his ego. And frankly, all this legal caping for theocratic anti-abortion Catholics while trying to act like the last line of defence for abortion smacks profoundly of contradiction, one that in my view completely invalidates the whole purpose of The Satanic Temple as an organisation. You can invoke the name of free speech and the right to offend as much as you like, but when you’re repeatedly trying to silence people for disagreeing with you, that to me is proof that, in all honesty, this is not about freedom of speech, and instead this is about how you support far-right, often fascistic, and even theocratic conservative people because, if we’re being fucking honest with ourselves and with you, you just plain like those people! Obviously religion has nothing to do with it. You just like right-wing authoritarianism, wherever that happens to come from. Given that Lucien Greaves was openly arguing for eugenics until 2018, continually sides with the right against the left, repeatedly defends hard-right ideologues against the left, and seems to have no problem with whatever the fuck Cevin Soling is up to, I’d say I’ve got a pretty strong case. Or maybe I’m wrong and you don’t, in which case the only option left is that this is pure selfish opportunism, since you’re still silencing left-wing critics and suing people over your dumb statue despite claiming to love the freedom to offend.

You might be thinking about all the “good work” TST supposedly does, the shit that launched the organisation to fame. Well, not one of its legal campaigns has ever landed any real success. Even the Ten Commandments vs “Baphomet” controversy that endeared guys like me to them can’t be credited to TST’s efforts. It was resolved by the ACLU, without any input or involvement from TST, but TST opportunistically took credit for it anyway. They are, in reality, utterly useless, coasting atop undeserved accolades. I’m gonna tell you right here and now that the only reason you might think TST are worth even half of a damn is the mainstream media. TST have done nothing of value, the cases hyped up by media coverage went nowhere, and meanwhile the actual leadership is authoritarian, opportunistic, and consistent allies of the far-right, but because they receive frequent and typically uncritical coverage from the media, often including sympathetic liberal and progressive commentary, likely taking advantage of their sensational opposition to Christianity, they enjoy a lasting reputation as progressive freedom fighters for secularism against Christian theocracy. In fact, I am sure that you have not heard of their support for Church Militant anywhere in the media and you probably never will because it’s inconvenient for the narrative they’re trying to create. The only times when the media is even vaguely critical of TST is when it has to talk about their dealings with Marc Randazza, for maybe a day or so. There is no coverage of The Satanic Temple’s attempts to sue the queer Satanists who criticized them, except maybe in an article from the increasingly conservative Newsweek, and even they couldn’t be bothered to do that unless it involved sleazy allegations regarding orgies.

You know, things like this have me thinking that Amaranthe Altanatum was broadly right about atheistic Satanism. I’m not saying all atheistic Satanists are like TST are even approve of TST, but there’s still a lot who will defend TST, and that’s probably because not enough people know what’s going on. Still even its rivals labor under the illusion that they can dismiss the Satanism of anyone they please. And either way, I think it’s something that has to be reckoned with.

Regardless, wherever you stand, The Satanic Temple aren’t your friends. They’re opportunistic fedora-tippers who are presently betraying everything that Satanism has ever held dear. They don’t deserve any support or honour.

Brian Holdsworth’s bullshit about Satanism

For some reason I’m in the mood lately for deconstructing bad arguments about Satanism, despite my being a Luciferian seeking a strict line of demarcation between Luciferianism and Satanism, and so in this spirit, as long as it is still relatively current, let me take the time to address a laughably bad video about Satanism made by a somewhat popular Catholic YouTube personality named Brian Holdsworth. Now Brian is quite the character in the Christian apologetics movement. By which I mean he has a habit of gladly defending nearly all of the worst aspects of Christian power: he has defened the Inquistion as a subject worthy of apathy rather than contempt, has argued that the Catholic Church has never opposed science, and more recently has openly defended the Crusades. So one can already expect him to be quite woefully ignorant on the subject of Satanism right of the gate. The video we are responding to is called Satanism: Inside the Incoherence, in which Brian argues that Satanism is an incoherent religious movement that exists solely to plagiarize Catholicism.

The video opens not so much with a discourse of satanic doctrine but rather a set of personal reflection on his relationship with metal music. By watching just one of his videos you may learn that he has some guitars on the wall, perhaps indicative of his musical inclination or aspirations, past or present, and he certainly looks the part in a somewhat stereotpyical sense (from whichever perspective, he either looks like a hippie or looks like a homeless person). Anyway, this reflection on metal music is intended to be an opening bridge to the broader subject of Satanism, and it certainly does contain some laughable pronouncements. He talks about having lived on a musical diet consisting of “heavy and dark music”, taking every chance he could not only to listen to it but also to play it on his guitar (and let’s give him credit here, that sounds like a fun part of his life). He reduces its appeal to the fact that, as he says it, it is unambiguous, noisy, and can get a lot of attention due to its “obnoxiousness”, not at all like the choirs that slowly become audible as the video goes forward to its introduction. I never really got this. We metalheads can and do have obnoxious tendencies, sure, but I always associated a fixation on this other type of music with a kind of pompous persona whose pronouncements about the falts of others serve as a projection of their own ceasless egoic pride and boundless self-importance. It even bleeds into when some of them denounce secular, colour-blind (by which we really mean not a racist of any variety) individuals as being “self-hating”, even if their worldview precludes any kind of self-discourse or any notion of individualism. He tends to broad-brush metalheads as being insecure and metal as appealing to insecurity, which is funny because Brian is the exact kind of Christian conservtive who would be inclined to feel deeply insecure about the apparent collapse of Catholic orthodoxy and dominance in modern life (perhaps the Catholics should have thought about that one).

Somewhat bafflingly for a video ostensibly dedicated to addressing the subject of Satanism, right after the title cue the first band Brian mentions is Opeth, who in no way promote Satanism and nowadays might not even be counted strictly as a metal band. Opeth established themselves in Sweden beginning in 1989 and for much of their career they did play some sort of progressive variety of death metal, but in more recent years have shifted from extreme metal, to progressive metal, to progressive rock, and now find their newer material played on general rock (or “classic rock”) stations such as Planet Rock. He brings them up because he listened to them more recently, and showed their music to his kids, and both he and his kids laughed at the “demonic” vocals, treating as an expression of insecurity. The only reason we have to infer insecurity is because of some spiel about “the appearance of toughness”, which only seems like an insecurity because it’s aggressive and involves something other than glorifying conventional beauty. Because of this, Brian reasons, bands like Opeth must be compensating for something. That exact something is intentionally left a mystery, but where we finally get to the subject of Satanism is that Brian believes that the appeal of Satanism, or any preoccuption with the demonic, is guided by the same pathology. Of course, how easily do we forget that it is Christians who, historically, have had the biggest preoccuption with the demonic, writing whole treatises on the subject and hunting down anyone they deemed to be in league with Satan.

Brian argues that people get into Satanism for the thrill of being seen as dangerous to society, and that they get a thrill out of mocking God or the sacred because doing something dangerous, and surviving, is indeed thrilling. Of course, that same thrill-seeking principle can apply to many other dangerous activities, like mountain climbing, so this on its own explains rather little. Then we get to his first attempt to explain the absurdity of satanic fascination, one which, ironically, is itself an absurdity. Brian argues that the mocking or challenging God can only look or feel dangerous because of the tacit acknowledgement that God exists. So it goes, supposedly, the only reason to put so much effort into mocking God is because he is actually real. But is there any reason why this is necessarily the case? Why does it have to be that mocking God is thrilling or feels dangerous because God is actually real, and why is it necessarily not the case that it could simply be explained by existing social context? Think about it: insofar as rebellion is usually salient specifically as relative to an object that it is rebelling against, the idea of mocking God being a rebellious thing ultimately makes sense in the context of a society wherein the God-concept is embedded into the superstructure of society, whether as overt religious doctrine held over the masses or simply as a residual cultural belief that had previously been conditioned for generations. Not to mention, there are other cultures where the use of the demonic is employed as a way to mock co-existing belief systems. Tantric Buddhism regularly features artwork depicting Hindu deities such as Ganesha or Shiva being trampled by wrathful, demonic-looking beings representing Buddhist enlightenment, and their literature sometimes depicts the Hindu gods as either inferior to the Buddha, ultimately dependent on his refuge, or as hostile forces that actively disrupt the cosmic order. If Brian followed his reasoning to the letter, he would have to concede that the Hindu gods are actually real, which would of course violate his Christian monotheism, and if he refuses to concede this, he must either admit that social context, not the actual existence of a God, is the correct inferrence or show himself to be a hypocrite.

Brian claims that no one spends any time or effort mocking the gods of pre-Christian polytheism, such as Thor or Odin. As he puts it, “why would you, if you were convinced they don’t exist?”. And to this I would point to the Bible itself. The New Testament spends some time mocking the gods of the non-Christians as demons whose worship was the folly of heathens, who in turn are mocked as well. The Christians certainly were never convinced of the reality of the other gods, nor were the Jews for that matter, and that never stopped them from mocking gods they were not necessarily convinced were gods. The name of the demon Beelzebub, for instance, comes from the god Baal Zebul, and his status as lord of the flies served as a way to cast his worshippers as flies buzzing around a pile of feces, thus mocking the god and his religion. Brian brings up that the Church of Satan to be atheistic, which they most certainly are, and dismisses this atheism, calling himself an atheist in relation to the various gods of polytheism and hence stating that this means he spends no amount of time thinking about them. He tries to own the Church of Satan on this point by stating that fixating on that which is not is a waste of time, and that, in contrast to himself, Satanists and atheists “obsess” over a God they believe does not exist. Again, this argument is much weaker and less profound than it appears to be, and is easily silenced when one begins to invoke social context. In the Western world, if atheism is not marginal at present, it is still the case where Christianity and its God-concept informs the cultural makeup of the society in which Western atheists live, and atheism still lives in tension with surrounding religious culture. Thus, the “obsession” with God is really just constant interaction with a counterveiling philosophical and cultural presence that has been here for centuries and still exerts psychological and cultural influence over the masses, not to mention still serves to legitinate power structures. As such, Brian proves himself to be dishonest by treating anti-theistic rebellion strictly in isolation as an expression of his own discomfort with something he considers sacred being treated as feeble and worthy of mockery. In other words, the atheist triggers him.

The second “absurdity” Brian points to is that it is, in his words, “entirely derivative”. Now there are arguments to be made about Satanism, at least in the parlance of Anton LaVey, as being fairly unoriginal, and there are accusations to be made conerning plagiarism on LaVey’s part. But this is not what Brian points to. The actual proof he gives is much weaker and less substantial. He argues that Satanism is completely contingent upon the Catholic Church, and to demonstrate this he starts out by bringing up examples of satanic musicians mockingly wearing the imagery of Catholicism in their music videos. He shows examples from Marilyn Manson, Behemoth, and Ghost (a.k.a. Ghost BC) wearing outfits intended to subvert the Catholic aesthetic as proof of Satanism simply copying it in order to appear more ancient and esoteric, thus Satanism supposedly parasitically feeds off of the Catholic aesthetic to sustain itself. Building from his he talks about the Black Mass being derivative of the Catholic Mass, except being a mockery of it. And dude, yes, that’s the point. It’s not an actual rite as such, merely a parodic re-enactment of it in order to profane Catholic liturgy. In fact, the Satanic Bible talks about this and is very open and up front about the fact that it is a mockery and a subversion, not so much an actual ancient rite that was once practiced by some ancient pagan cult or some nonsense. You can actually kind of understand this through the Situationist principle of detournement, the concept of radical movements taking edifices of existing cultures and more or less hijacking them, usually applied in the context of turning capitalist media culture against itself.

While we’re here, Brian uses the point of the Black Mass to make an utterly vapid point about tolerance vs intolerance. He finds it “interesting” that the Black Mass is tolerated because, in his view, the only thing society does not tolerate is intolerance. He seems to take that perceived fact with a sense of subtle, almost passive-aggressive grief, and he complains about liberal society’s apparent handwringing about tolerance, diversity, and respect for other people who are different, on the grounds that Satanism is the subject of a blind spot and that this is a problem because Satanism is, in his words, a hate group. Now this is a very specific charge, it’s not something that can be thrown around lightly. The term “hate group” is used to refer to organizations that actively spread bigotry and often encourage violence towards others on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender, “gender identity”, national identity, or any such characteristics, typically on the basis that they are outside of their own. Now through some sort of manipulative argument you might be able to argue part of that for Satanism on the grounds that Satanists despise Christianity, along with all other forms of organized religion (other than, presumably, their own), but if you’re going to do that you’ll have to do the same for countless atheists who express open disdain towards Christianity and organized religion in general, often mocking it ferociously and treating it as a dinosauric obstacle to social progress. And yet atheists don’t typically call for jihad against religious people, unless of course you’re like Sam Harris and the idea is to sneakily justify such violence by proxy through foreign policy. It’s also worth noting that the Church of Satan may traffic in bombastic rhetoric against Christianity, but have never encouraged the violent persecution of Christians. But as for racial hatred, it is actually possible to talk about that in relation to the historical movement of Satanism, since high-profile Satanists, as I’ve laid out before, have associated with and promoted actual white nationalists, and as I’ve come to understand others such as Michael Aquino were even outright Nazis. This would not be enough to label Satanism as a whole as a “hate group”, categorically speaking anyway, though it does raise certain questions for the Church of Satan and the Temple of Set, and even The Satanic Temple given Lucien Greaves’ shady past on the Might Is Right podcast. But Brian Holdsworth doesn’t make any mention of this at all. In fact, fascism and white supremacy aren’t brought up by him at all, and if he really wanted to talk about how Satanists are hate-mongers he really could have. But instead it’s just him whining about how much Satanists hate Christians and about how they “get away with it”.

Now, how Brian goes on to explicate this further is to be taken in a peculiar light. He complains that “we can’t talk about racial slurs in an academic context without teachers jobs getting threatened”. If he’s referring to the incident that I think he’s referring to, I suspect Brian is only complaining that you can’t say the n word in public. And don’t get me wrong I do basically believe in free speech absolutism, but please don’t dress up your desire to simply spout racial slurs under the guise of some vague “academic context”, and I say it’s vague because Brian never in the entire video gives any examples of what he’s talking about (he alludes to the subject once and then never refers to it again in the video). He says further that we can’t talk about cartoons of the prophet Mohammad in “a similar academic context”. Again, which academic context? Those cartoons are blasphemous (by Islamic defintion) depictions of Muhammad, they are created to satirize Islam in a rather crude fashion, and I am unaware of any “academic context” being spoken of. And while it is true that these are often censored today, in recent times the French government has been rather brazen about displaying them in their campaign against “political Islam” (which they’ve since renamed “islamo-leftism”). So it is actually not entirely fair to say that we can’t talk about those cartoons. In fact, even in the extent that they face censorship, in a strict sense people talk about them all the time whenever Charlie Hebdo is back in the news.

Anyways, Brian’s complaint seems to be that racial slurs and anti-Islamic blasphemies are considered taboo but Satanists can appparently steal communion wafers for the purpose of desecrating them in their rituals. Um, can they? He doesn’t say what he’s talking about, in fact he alludes to the subject very abruptly, but I suspect he is making reference to a 2014 incident in Oklahoma, in which members of the Church of Ahriman stole a communion wafer. This incident was not broadly supported by society, and if anything it seems to have met condemnation, but it was ultimately a trivial affair. The Archdiocese of Oklahoma City were planning to sue the Church of Ahriman for said theft, but the Church of Ahriman later agreed to return the wafer to the church, and the Archbishop dropped the lawsuit soon afterwards. The foolish Church of Ahriman hoped to get a rise out of the Christians with the daring stunt as part of their Black Mass, but its leader decided that the wafer wasn’t worth dealing with lawsuits from the church, and in the end the incident was resolved, and ultimately forgotten (along with the Church of Ahriman itself by my count). So to answer Brian on this point, the theft of the communion wafers was never “tolerated” under the aegis of political correctness. It was forgotten, because it was an irrelevant, and frankly pathetic, stunt that ended with the Church of Ahriman assenting to the demands of the Catholic Church. In the bigger picture, the incident is hardly worth dwelling on except as curisoity.

The next “evidence” of plagiarism on the part of Satanism that Brian points to is The Satanic Bible. Now, you could actually talk about the fact that, at least according to some observers, LaVey seems to have simply taken Ragnar Redbeards’ Might Is Right and only slightly modified it in order to form the basis of the Book of Fire section of The Satanic Bible. But as usual, Brian does not seem interested in any case for his argument that might actually be based on anything serious or credible, preferring instead trifing and often groundless flanks for his position. The reason he blasts The Satanic Bible as plagiaristic has nothing to do with its actual content but instead the name, specifically the fact that it has the word “Bible” in it. Now, I could just go on about the fact that it’s consciously intended to be a detournement or subversive reference to a familiar point of reference within existing Western cultures, or the fact that there’s several other non-religious books with the word “Bible” in their names (including multiple “cooking bibles”) and you don’t see Brian or anyone else crying plagiarism over that, which would tell us that Satanism is being unfairly, indeed almost arbitrarily, singled out here. But far more salient is just the fact that the word “Bible” itself simply means a collection of books. It derives from the Greek word “byblos”, meaning book, or the Greek expression “ta biblia”, meaning “little papyrus books”, and such terms have been in use during antiquity before Christianity emerged. In fact, the use of the term “ta biblia” to refer to the collected Old and New Testaments, which we now refer to as The Bible, didn’t emerge right at the beginning of Christian history but instead developed in the 3rd or 4th century, probably beginning with John Chrysostom. So once again, Brian’s argument is weak. He desperately tries to invoke Zeena LaVey having renounced her father as being on the basis of plagiarism, but when you hear from Zeena herself, the actual reasons why she left the Church of Satan and renounced her father are somewhat different, though no less damning for LaVey.

In continuance of his point on plagiarism, Brian appears to cite the broad philosophical syncretism of LaVey’s original doctrine as either evidence of plagiarism or as simply related to it. He describes the philosophy as borrowed and sampled from various places but in an incoherent way, likening it to a glutton going to a buffet and, owing to his lack of restraint, stuffs together all manner of incompatible dishes. Of course, he never actually goes into detail as to these different philosophical influences, let alone explain why the result is incoherent. He simply expects us to believe him at his word. Meanwhile, if we look at the history of Christianity, we can find that it is more or less a synthetic doctrine. The early formation of Christianity borrowed much from surrounding influences of Greek philosophy, such as Stoicism, Aristotielianism, Platonism, and Cynicism to a certain extent, along with Greek mystery religiions such as the Eleusinian and Orphic mysteries, with then merge with Jewish mythos and particularly reformist currents of Judaism such as Hellenistic Judaism. In fact, if you look at Brian’s beloved Catholic Church, you’ll notice elements that have almost nothing to do with the teaching of the Bible and instead have more in common with Roman polytheism, right down to the concept of the papacy being an evolution of the Roman pagan high priest, literally sharing the title of Pontifex Maximus. All told, it’s very interesting to see Brian, and perhaps other Christians as well, complain about philosophical syncretism and synthesis when it seems to have been a somewhat normal part of religious development, and thus it seems that it is only when it happens outside the remit of Christianity that it becomes a problem, which is a fundamentally arbitrary beef to have in my opinion.

The third “absurdity” Brian points to concerns the apparent ignorance of Satanists towards the Christianity that they despise. Now this can be a somewhat general phenomenon depending on what aspect of Christianity is being discussed, but the examples he points to, once again, in fact demonstrate Brian’s misunderstanding of Satanism rather than the Satanist misunderstanding of Christianity. Predictably, he points to the preponderance of the upside down cross in various music bands that, in his view, intentionally give off a satanic presence, and just as predictably he points out, correctly, that the upside down cross is in fact a symbol of the papacy and of St. Peter, who deemed himself unworthy to be crucified upright and so insited that he be crucified upside down. The problem with Brian’s point is that most serious Satanists already know this, and in fact there are memes illustrating this. But I would not dismiss the angle of hijacking or subversion either, considering it does still appear in some way, though, I would also say that all real acts of detournement must be conscious. You have to know what the upside down cross is in order to subvert its meaning.

After talking about St. Peter’s cross, Brian seems to leave the subject behind to masturbate about how it is Christians who are the real original rebels and badasses. He praises Peter and the martyrs as being immune to even the worst injustices that could be visited upon them by the powerful, and thus beyond the controlling influence of any despotic figure, holding up in particular an admittedly impressive example of rebelliousness in the form of Saint Lawrence, who refused to hand over the treasures of the church to the prefect of Rome, and instead distributed them to his community and was martyred for it upon a gridiron laden with hot coals, and in the process of said martyrdom he defiantly told his torturers “I’m well done on this side. Turn me over!”. He uses this to convey the point that, if rebelliousness and standing up against tyranny is what you’re attracted to, then Satanism plagiarizes this theme from “the real thing”, being Christianity. The problem, however, as I’m sure is obvious to many of my readers, is that Christianity stopped being some underground nexus of genuine rebellion centuries ago. He points out that the church, in its early existence, refused to sell itself out to the Roman Empire, and it is true that the early Christian movement was a real force of resisting authoritarian domination in its day. But the only way to paint the church as the real rebels in a contemporary sense is to ignore history of Christianity after Constantine. Sure, when Christianity initially took power, there was still in the early years a struggle between the priesthood and the constant threat of emperors who would oppose them theologically and demand their exile, but as time went on the priesthood ultimately found itself attached to elite hierarchy, doing whatever they could to curry favour with the internal structure of the empire, and eventually, over the centuries, the church in no way resembles the original Christian community and has since morphed purely into the religious establishment of Europe, and the West as a whole, and now makes up the superstructure of residual Western culture. Not to mention, even before taking power, the movement of the church spent a lot of its days going heresy-hunting, seeking to effectively stamp out non-conformity within its own ranks in the name of consolidating stringent orthodoxy. Attempting to cast Christianity as the real rebellion and Satanism as the false rebellion in many ways presents us a false dichotomy that sustains itself on a selective historical context rather than the whole of it, and it certainly does not account for the progression into modernity.

And with this, the video ends. Well, not accounting for the outro message he puts in anyway. Ultimately, I think this video is a masterclass of Christian projection and hypocrisy. Christians like Brian, and there are rather many of them, shriek at their opponents for all sorts of follies and sins while embodying many of the same follies and sins themselves. They have a nasty habit of lying in the name of what they suppose to be the truth, they treat nearly everything in isolation and pretend thusly to have understood things, they sometimes obsess over how easily offended society is while drowning in their own insecurity towards secularism, and despite being unable to justify their core concept of God or many of the impositions they place upon humans they tend to act like they have attained superior philosophy over all others. I find it ironic that Brian would be so dismissive of metal because of its drive to project toughness and strength in a supposedly obnoxious fashion, while staunchly conservative expressions of Christianity strive for essentially the same impulse Brian describes – an insecure, in some ways desperate, spirit of chest-thumping that comes across as an obvious compensation. Brian Holdsworth has not exposed the incoherence of Satanism. He has instead exposed only his own ignorance and hypocrisy.

The beasts of Revelation as depicted in the Book of Miracles

Link to Brian Holdsworth’s video:

What is the Church of Light and Shadow?

Witchcraft has been growing in popularity over the last decade or so, and Wicca in particular from what I hear is one of the most popular new religious movements for people seeking an alternative to both Christianity and secular atheism. The general phenomenon of modern witchcraft is typically associated with neopaganism, with much of modern witchcraft bearing an antagonistic relationship to Christianity. What if I were to tell you that there exist people who consider themselves to be both devout Christians and witches at the same time, and not only that but also considered the latter to be part of the former?

It’s a strange concept, isn’t it, but that is what we get from a new religious organization that calls itself The Church of Light and Shadow. You won’t find much about them except through their website and Facebook page, but they are a church (or coven, they seem to prefer both labels simultaneously) that has been in operation since last year, though they claim that they are in fact a descendant of the Liberal Catholic Church, which is more or less an umbrella movement consisting of Catholic churches and organizations that are considered to be open to the influence of esoteric or mystical doctrines such as Theosophy. But that’s just the beginning of how strange and unique this church is.

If you go to their website, you will immediately find that the logo used for their browser tab, and which appears at the top left corner of their webpage, is a red cross, equilateral sure but at the same time not unlike the kind you find on Christian websites (red would make sense here, in the sense of its symbolism of the blood of Christ), and you will also see the official logo of the church, which seems to draw inspiration from Catholic heraldry. Your first impression would be that this is a Christian organization, of an unusual sort but still Christian. And then you go to the about page and find this:

The Church of Light and Shadow exists to forward the work of the Morning Star in the world under both his guises – the Christ and Lucifer. It is an independent and autonomous Apostolic and Sacramental body, in no way dependent upon the See of Rome, or upon any other See or authority outside its own administration. It synthesizes Christian Mysticism and Traditional Witchcraft. Offering the sacraments Sponsoring and facilitating group celebrations and functions on the Liturgical Holy Days, Sabbats and Esbats and other special occasions, in order to celebrate the seasons, learn and work magic, and recognize rites of passage.

In Christianity, generally, Jesus Christ would be the central archetype, as the principal source of human salvation and harmony with God. But here, Jesus/Christ and Lucifer are both aspects of an entity known as the Morning Star. It’s certainly an interesting way of looking at the Christian mythos, and it’s not like there’s no scriptural basis for it when you consider that Jesus identifies himself as the morning star in the Book of Revelation, which would mean that scripture would hold that the morning star (that which we call Lucifer) would in fact be Jesus rather than The Devil. However it seems that in this doctrine Jesus is just one aspect of an archetype of being known as the Morning Star. In this light, it may seem that this group deviates significantly from Christianity on a central level and, in fact, resembles a kind of Luciferianism, albeit one that makes connections with Christian mythos (which tbf is entirely possible to do for Luciferianism). Despite this, I don’t think I can separate them from Christianity so easily, because the church derives almost all of its sacraments from Christianity. On their Statement of Principles it says that they recognize seven sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, the Holy Eucharist, Absolution, Holy Unction, Holy Matrimony, and Holy Orders, all of which are unmistakably Christian sacraments. But the about page ends on a curious note. It displays the message “APRIL 30th, 2019 – WALPURGISNACHT”, which the site’s Liturgical calendar cites as the date of the founding of their church.

Officially Walpurgisnacht is actually the name of a festival celebrated by Christianity, commemorating the eve of a feast dedicated to Saint Walpurga, an English missionary who was canonized as a saint by Pope Adrian II on May 1st in 870. However, Walpurgisnacht is also known for its associations with pre-Christian paganism, due perhaps to association with similar pagan festivities in other parts of Europe, and later with Satanism due largely to the fact that the other church to have been founded on April 30th in honor of Walpurgisnacht is quite literally the Church of Satan. So this was a little strange to see from an ostensibly Christian church. And if that’s not enough, if you look at their Liturgical Calendar again, most of the dates are clearly Christian festivities and commemorations, as well as commemorations of important Chrstian thinkers and even mystics, but some of them are dedicated to figures associated with witchcraft and even neopaganism. Examples include Sibyl Leek (a famous British witch who was a frequent TV guest), Gerald Gardner (the founder of Wicca) and his Operation Cone of Power (basically Gardner’s plan to cast spells in order to somehow stop the Nazis from bombing Britain), Marie Laveau (a famous Voodoo practitioner who was called “the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans”), and Tituba (the slave of Samuel Parris who “confessed” to being a witch), all very strange figures to be commemorating in the capacity of a Christian church. You will also notice neopagan festivities such as Beltane, Yule and Lammas, which are considered Sabbats in Wiccan parlance and more generally are treated as seasonal festivals of the pagan annual cycle. Not to mention that, as was shown earlier, the church facilitates not only Christian sacraments but also Sabbats and Esbats, which are clearly derived from Wicca. Their website even has a page for something called “Sacramental Witchcraft”, which seems to just be their explanation for how their syncretism of Christianity and witchcraft works. They say it derives from a combination of church liturgy, Western esotericism and folk magical tradition, thus a syncretism of Liturgical Christianity and what they call Folk Witchcraft, hence the name Sacramental Witchcraft. They also call themselves Luxumbrians, practitioners of Luxumbrian Witchcraft, and consider themselves to be a coven, or a “special interests” witchcraft group for local parishes.

This is a very fascinating idea, to be sure, but I still don’t have the best idea of what this syncretism is based on. They say they draw their practice from Robert Cochrane, Nigel Pennick, Nigel Jackson, Gemma Gary, Paul Huson, and Jason Miller, all of them modern practitioners of witchcraft, as well as the grimoire revival movement, “cunning folk” tradition, and Catholic folklore, not to mention “the mystical and magical exploration/experimentation and practice by clergy members throughout the whole of Christian history”. This is something that, in my view, begs for greater elaboration and exposition. Christianity has been around for close to 2,000 years, which would mean quite a lot of time for Christians to be experiment with magic and the like, and that means there should be plenty of examples of this. The Liturgical Calendar gives us some idea via the Christian mystics, but we still get a very lacking picture here. All I get is that apparently it allows Luxumbrians to go to Mass, pray to saints, pray the rosary, and do all the usual Catholic stuff, and make “witch ladders”, make pacts with demons, talk to the spirits of the dead and make “witches brews” at the same time. I’m intruiged but at the same time I have no idea of how this is meant to be possible.

I’ve gone through some blogs related to this new sect as well and they’re not much better at helping me get a good idea. Garden of the Nightside (who seems to have been writing about “Monastic Witchcraft” since at least 2017) writes that the connection that makes the basis of “dual faith” lies in folklore concerning the Devil and the Queen of Elphame, and how the “Cunning Folk” met with the Devil and the Queen of Elphame while also attending Mass and accepting Jesus, all while seeing no contradiction in such practice. That’s an interesting idea, but what I want to know more than anything is how is there no contradiction. I see something about the Queen of Elphame being “the darker aspect of the Holy Spirit”, but we have no idea how this is to work within their doctrine. Another blog called The Nowl Betwixt, which is also a new face on the occultnik scene of WordPress (having apparently started in 2019), offers multiple posts with witchy and Luciferian twists on Catholic lore, they even have a post where the Virgin Mary called “the Empress of Hell” (which, lets be honest, seems blasphemous, not that I’m complaining of course). What I get out of their blog is that they break off from the Vatican (which they refer to as “the pedophile banking cartel” and I have to respect them for that), and they build a lot of their arguments for Christian witchcraft or “Catholic Luciferianism” on the fact that, for over a millennia, our ancestors were practicing Christianity and that a lot of witches in this time were likely Christians themselves, which is an interesting point, and even talk about the Bible being used as a spellbook, all of which is interesting, but unfortunately the site is not particularly thorough-going in its explication of Christian witchcraft. I’ve gone through other blogs as well and I don’t get a complete picture from it. What I do get out of it, however, is that it is a current of witchcraft in itself, it does seem to have some presence at least on the internet, and the church itself appears to have several listed locations where bodies are formed and in operation throughout the world, not just across US states but also in Canada, Britain, Sweden, Norway, Poland, Belgium, Singapore, Argentina and even the United Arab Emirates. Quite an impressive range for such an organization, and it’s a lot more than the Greater Church of Lucifer managed to do.

The church appears to have been founded by a man who goes by the name Mal Strangefellow (really wearing it on your sleave aren’t you?), who a while back went on a podcast about magic called The Hermit’s Lamp with Andrew Kyle McGregor to talk about his belief system. Unfortunately there isn’t much in there that weaves Christianity and wtichcraft (let alone any loose sense of Luciferianism) together. Strangefellow says that John Chrysostom wrote a defence of Christians who practiced hesychasm, a sort of ascetic mystic practice involving the blocking of the senses that some Christians considered to be heretical, and the French Gnostic Jules Doniel claiming apostolic succession in the 19th century, but for about about an hour that’s about it. Then he begins talking about pushback he got for the Church of Light and Shadow, and the points out that Jesus is the only figure in the Bible who called himself the morning star, and argues that Prometheus and the Miltonian Satan are in fact Christ figures (which in the case of Prometheus is something I have toyed with in the past) on the grounds that they wanted to do away with older authorities and give a new law to Man, and thus he sees both Jesus and Lucifer as light-bringers. Thus he views Christianity from a Luciferian perspective, and as he appears to identify with Luciferianism we can infer that, consequently, he embraces Christianity as a Luciferian. It’s still not an especially thorough-going take in terms of philosophical alignment with Christianity but it does give us a good idea of how such an alignment could be positioned, and to be honest, it’s not a terrible effort. In fact, given that this guy knows that Jesus was called the morning star in Revelations and uses this to build an interpretation of Luciferianism off a Christian base, it definitely seems like an informed approach.

When we look at how the Church of Light and Shadow promote themselves on Facebook, we start to see some other interesting tropes. One image macro features a close up of the famous Satan/”Baphomet” statue from The Satanic Temple (as far as I’m concerned that is not Baphomet but anyways), with part of John 8:12 superimposed on it, saying “I am the light of the world”, which is supposed to be a quote from Jesus but is instead associated with what is a depiction of Satan. What is the angle here? Aren’t they supposed to be Christians, albeit heretical ones? So why the declaration that Satan is the light of the world? Is he actually Jesus? I would get it if it was Lucifer but it’s not (deal with it guys, Satan is not Lucifer and Lucifer is not Satan). A similar image macro featuring a three eyed goat with a candle between his horns, yet again an image of Baphomet that may also be Satan judging by its red colour, with the text “let there be light” (referencing Genesis 1:3). More interesting, however, is an image macro that says “If your Witch group doesn’t accept your Saints or Christianity, WE’RE your Coven now”, which is probably the most unique and bizarre thing I’ve seen in any religious community. It’s curious, we are left to infer from this that there is a movement of witches who are pro-Christian, in the sense that they practice magic/witchcraft while somehow operating within Christian tradition (which is usually not friendly to witchcraft, although there does exist a long tradition of Christian occultism), and apparently face exclusion and ostracism by non-Christian witches because of it. It is not unknown to me that the general trend of witchcraft is a belief system built by and large on Wicca and neopaganism, and that since these systems are both definitively opposed to Christianity, its members are likely to be somewhat hostile or dismissive to Christianity, no doubt in part because of the inquisitions and burning carried out by the church against people they thought were witches (little realizing, of course, that a lot of them could have just been lay Christians and that much of the accusations were trumped-up nonsense that existed largely to further the careers of medieval Catholic clergy). Many modern witches feel threatened by the presence of Christian witches in their community, perhaps because they see it as a reminder of the faith they left, and the bitterness they feel towards it. The Church of Light and Shadow, by contrast, is open to them and offers them a space where they are considered legitimate within the confines of the church. And that’s fascinating, because it seems like we might be looking at a concerete organization wherein Christian witchcraft seems is not only included but it’s also kind of central in that the church doctrine is a syncretism of Catholic Christian doctrine with folk witchcraft, wrapped up in what appears to be a Christian take on Luciferianism. It will be curious to see how such a movement grows in the future, particularly in comparison to other movements, particularly LHP witchcraft, as I have to wonder what will happen when it becomes established that a person can explore the realm of magic and occultism in freewheeling fashion without leaving Christianity, and while LHP organizations and movements by and large continue to fail to see real growth and organization.

The funny thing about this is, it does seem that there is a somewhat burgeoining community of people who consider themselves Christian witches, concentrated principally in the United States of America. It seems that the phenomenon of Christian witchcraft has been getting some more attention over the last few years, at least judging by the fact that people on Tumblr feel the need to talk about how “valid” Christian witches are. In fact, in 2019 and early 2020 there was news about a convention on Christian witchcraft simply called Christian Witches Convention 2020, the first convention of its kind, that was supposed to be held in Salem this Easter weekend (I’m guessing thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic that had to be cancelled). This convention is the product of a woman named Valerie Love, a witch who has, over the course of well over a decade at least, written several books about New Age wealth magic that apparently is perfectly compatible with Christianity despite literally the concept of simony being considered a sin, and has been uploading YouTube videos on the subject for about 4 years. But there’s actually been talk of the phenomenon of Christian witchcraft through the 2010s, and even before that. There was a Yahoo group set up for self-professed Christian Wiccans simply titled “Christian Wicca” (later renamed “Trinitarian Wicca”) all the way back in October 1999. These Wiccans embrace aspects of Christianity as the base of their syncretic faith, including the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, but reject the concept of Satan, original sin, (both of them pretty essential to Christian doctrine) and what they see as the patriarchal aspects of the church. In 2003 a book about Christian Wicca was written by Nancy Chandler Pittman, and in 2010 another book about being a Christian witch was written by Adelina St Clair. So, all told, this has been a phenomenon for quite some time, though one that is altogether overlooked in most discourse concerning the witchcraft movement. It appears that this is a crowd that the Church of Light and Shadow might be trying to appeal to, and it might not be such a hard sell for them. Though, honestly, I would like to see the whole Luxumbrian phenomenon as somewhat distinct from the other strands of Christian withcraft, in that most of the rest seem to be more of a hodge-podgey mess and in the case of Valerie Love a clear grift, whereas Mal Strangefellow’s project, although clearly eccentric and heretical (from the standpoint of mainline Christianity), seems like it might have more grounding.

Anyways, we’ve gone on about the subject for long enough so let’s just get into the overall principles of the Church of Light and Shadow, what appears to be the ideology of the movement. They seem to believe in freedom of thought, at least as far as individual interpretation of Christian doctrine and scripture is concerned, within their confines, allowing for complete freedom to interpret the scriptures and doctrines however they like, demanding only courtesy of expression, and it asserts that belief should be the product of individual intiution and study. This might actually be close to the spirit of early, pre-Nicene Christianity, in which there was a surprising amount of diversity of thought and interpretation. They seem to oppose proselytism and desire to build friendship with other Christian denominations. They say they embrace progressive theology and ideas about inclusiveness while also embracing traditional forms of worship, which means preserving the liturgy and Apostolic heritage of the tradition they claim to emerge from. Their clergy claims no authority over its individual members in terms of conscience, which in no way hampers their official function as priests in every other respect. Private confession is seen as entirely optional and, unlike in mainstream Catholicism, is not required in order to undertake your first Communion. Marriage is never enjoined nor forbidden by the church, the church declares no interest in the private sexual activities of two consenting adults, and gender or “gender identity” have no bearing on your status within the church hierarchy. They are officially apolitical, in that they have no stated involvement in political activism, but at the same time they endorse “he universal struggle toward social and political liberation that wells up from the deepest moral and religious commitments of humanity, and ultimately from the divine spark within all of Creation”. Given the rhetoric of not being “neutral” and a Facebook post in which they declare support for the Antifa movement, alongside other posts, we can assume they have a broadly progressive political outlook. In the overall, this is actually mostly good, though I wonder the extent to which their progressive political outlook might impact on their commitment to freedom of thought in the political dimension. Other than that, it’s a very open organization in terms of your ability to express your religious faith and practice.

Of course, one question you might have is how do they intend to connect with Catholic tradition despite not being tied to the Holy See? Well, no doubt due to the disdain that the Vatican tends to generate throughout its history from other Christians, there’s actually a history of integrating Catholic tradition into sects that otherwise break off from the Catholic sect or at least the Holy See. Anglo-Catholicism, for example, considers itself to be an expression of Catholic faith within the Church of England, emphasizing Catholic as opposed to Protestant heritage, but generally it considers itself independent from the papacy. High Church Lutheranism is a movement of Lutheranism within Europe that integrates and emphasizes Catholic liturgy and tradition whilst rejecting the authority of the Vatican and basing itself around the doctrine of Martin Luther. And speaking of Luther, even he with his opposition to the Catholic Church, wanted to reconcile with Catholic tradition even if not the Vatican itself. And let’s not forget how the occultist Eliphas Levi, credited with creating the “satanic” image of Baphomet, was a Christian mystic who considered himself a Catholic at least insofar as he called his esoteric doctrine “Catholicism” despite considering the Catholic Church to be corrupt and decadent. It is definitely possible to have a Christian church that bases itself on Catholic tradition whilst refusing loyalty to the Vatican, and good for them for doing so.

Now, would I join this church? Ultimately I would probably have to say no. As a doctrine I think what they’re offering is interesting, certainly heretical enough for my tastes, but as a church I almost think of it as a joke, mostly because it doesn’t make sense to me that a Christian church would actually be built around witchcraft. Perhaps something more like Christopaganism or whatever would be somewhat believable, maybe building off of Renaissance Christian flirtation with Greco-Roman antiquity, or speaking of the Renaissance drawing from centuries of Christian occultism that flourished in that time period. Approaching Luciferianism from a Christian perspective is perfectly legitimate, considering that Jesus identified himself as Lucifer. Ultimately I find the irony of them basing themselves around Catholic tradition perhaps too much, considering that it was the Catholic Church that is responsible for the diabolization of the Morning Star to start with.

On the other hand, it is still interesting in the sense that it does, in a weird way, give a kind of Jungian expression, not just of the concomitance of light and darkness, but also of Jung’s own goal to update Christianity. He felt that Christianity lacked wholeness through its unwillingness to integrate its own shadowy opposite, the adversarial principle attributed to the devil, into the realm of the divine, thus serving a model for the individual psyche’s quest for individuation.
An image of Jesus used on the Church of Light and Shadow’s Facebook page

The reactionary, authoritarian spirituality of Julius Evola

There are few intellectuals who could be said to have had such a broad influence on not only esoteric fascism but, unfortunately, a lot of occult philosophy than Julius Evola. He is often recommended within Left Hand Path circles, and you find one or two of his books in the reading list featured in Stephen Flowers’ Lords of the Left Hand Path. This, I think, is a problem, because in many ways Evola’s spiritual worldview is deeply authoritarian in character, and not to mention rests on a frankly ridiculous understanding of some of the religions he’s talking about. Although not a self-defined fascist, indeed he was often opposed by the Italian fascists and in turn despised them in kind as not being sufficiently reactionary for his liking, he is nonetheless at the foundation of so much of esoteric fascist thought today.

A major dichotomy in Evola’s thought is between the divine masculine and the divine feminine, which conceptualized through the “Solar” and “Lunar” spiritual races, which for him also represent superior and inferior civilizations respectively. The “Solar” race is the “superior” race that represents the Hyperborean civilization that supposedly preceded all other civilizations, as well as Aryan civilization and the Northern Atlantic or Germanic races, and a cult of the sun god or divine father that represented the values of heroism, dominion, traditional hierarchy, and transcendental divinity/spirituality. Evola associated this solar principle with the Greek god Apollo, the Greco-Egyptian god Ammon (or Zeus-Ammon), the Mithraic Mysteries, the Germanic cult of Odin, the old Vedic religion of the Aryans, the Zoroastrian worship of Ahura Mazda, Buddhism (which he considered to be the inheritor of the lost Aryan tradition of India; which is utterly laughable given the Buddhist contempt for Vedic tradition, but more on that later), and the Roman Empire. The “Lunar” race by contrast is the “inferior” race that for Evola represents the influence of southern races, such as the Southern Europeans (or Mediterraneans) and the Southern Indians, and for him represents a cult of the mother goddess that embodies submissiveness, “materialism” (meaning things like consumerism or greed as opposed to ontological materialism), social degeneration, and the undifferentiated masses, as well as collectivist societies that emphasize equality, brotherhood, and sharing. Evola associates this not only with mother goddess cults like those of Demeter and Isis, but with Greek mystery religions (whose Asiatic influences he deemed feminine or “Demetrian”), the Dravidian religion, and even Christianity. He despised Christianity because of its emphasis on salvation, faith, brotherhood, and love along with most crucially its premise that anyone regardless of caste, race or tradition can join in the Kingdom of God, all of which was an affront to the traditional hierarchy that Evola praised in the Roman Empire and therefore he considered to be too feminine for him. He also despised the Brahmanist schools of Hinduism because he felt that it identified God with nature and for him this was a corruption of Aryan religion generated by the influence of Southern Indian beliefs.

“Apollo and Diana” by Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo (1757)

Naturally, this view of the history of religion and civilization likely stems from deep-seated sexist attitudes about men and women, as can be suggested through his chief inspiration, Otto Weininger, who basically believed that women were mindless sex objects. He conceived an ontological dualism between the sexes in which the male sex represented the aspirations towards some kind of “higher” reason, conceived through the lens of Platonic and Kantian idealism, and the immortality of the soul while the female sex represented matter, nature, and the sense, all of which Weininger considered to be “fallen” in character. This for him meant that men posess a “higher” spirit, not bound to the material world, and that they have the capacity to decide whether or not death means either oblivion or the restoration of the soul to some kind of “pure” state, while women not only do not possess this “higher” spirit but they also lack ego, individuality and the capacity for logic and morality, and exist only to have sex with men, be desired by men, have children and therefore reproduce the material world. And if that sounds sexist to you, that might be because it absolutely is. Evola, naturally, was influenced by this view when he espoused the “masculine” solar race as concerned with transcendental logic and spirituality and the “feminine” lunar race as materialistic. So it should come as no surprise that Evola was a proponent of social inequality between men and women, which he believed was natural. He also believed that the true purpose of women was merely to do whatever men tell them and apparently his contempt for women was such that he merely considered them to be things, or at least that’s the impression I get from the fact that he wrote an article titled “Woman As Thing”. He also seemed to believe that both rape and regular sexual coitus shared an element of sadism at their root, which leads some to conclude, possibly correctly, that Evola supported and justified the rape of women and considered all forms of sex to be rape.

Evola’s solar cult, it should be noted, takes on a distinctly authoritarian connotation when you make note of how he praises the Roman Empire for banning the Bacchanalia, which he viewed as a civilizational rejection of Dionysian and Aphroditistic elements, which we can surmise were supposed to be related to the “Lunar” cult. That is an important detail because we should remember a few things about the cult of Dionysus in the Greco-Roman world. In Rome, Dionysus was not only known as Bacchus but also as Liber, or Liber Pater (or “Father Liber”, meaning “Father Freedom”). In addition to wine and fertility, which were the typical domains of Dionysus/Bacchus, Liber was also a god of freedom (as his name suggests) and was the patron saint of the plebeians, which was basically the Roman name for commoner, as in the common man. Dionysus, as Liber, was the divine champion of the common man, and his cult therefore was quite the populist one. In addition to this, his festival, Liberalia, was a coming-of-age festival in which the opportunity for uncensored speech was allowed for just one day. Normally, in ancient Roman society, you couldn’t always say what you want and in fact you could find yourself detained for saying the wrong thing about the powerful (an example of this being the satirist Gnaeus Naevius, who was arrested twice by the Romans and ultimately exiled to Tunisia). Related to the Roman Bacchic cult was the Phrygian satyr Marsyas, who alongside Liber was something of an emblem for freedom of speech, and by himself was something of a symbol of resistance to imperial power in that the Roman Empire considered him an emblem of subversion against Augustus, who in turn became a symbol of Apollo, the god who flayed him alive. In general, Bacchanalia and the Dionysian cult in Rome, as in Greece, represented the freedom to transcend the rigid hierarchy of the society.

Whereas nowadays the dichotomy between the Apollonian and the Dionysian has been reduced to some Nietzschean pablum about the dichotomy between reason and creativity, in the actual Roman religion we find that the dichotomy was defined noticeably by class. There were two triads of gods in ancient Rome, each associated with two of the seven hills of Rome. The Capitoline Triad, the gods worshipped at the temple of Capitoline Hill, consisted of Jupiter, Juno and Minerva, while the Aventine Triad, representing a cult established by the Aventine Hill, consisted of Liber, Ceres, and Libera. The Capitoline Triad represented the patricians, meaning the Roman aristocracy, and the temple at the Capitoline Hill (which, ironically enough, was originally dedicated to Saturn) was situated within the Pomerium, the legal boundary separating the city itself from the rest of Rome (everything outside of this boundary was just the property of Rome). The Aventine Triad, by contrast, represented the plebeians, the common people, and the Aventine Temple lay outside the Pomerium, outside the legal boundary of Rome. The Aventine cult is also deeply republican in nature, having been established just after the overthrow of the Roman monarchy. Take note of the gods of each of these triads. The Capitoline Triad – Jupiter, Juno and Minerva, the Roman forms of Zeus, Hera and Athena respectively – are the jealous gods arrayed against humans. Jupiter, the usurper king of the gods, jealous of mankind, enmitous of the thought that man might equal the divine; Juno, constantly motivated to jealousy by Jupiter’s many adulteries, torments the sons of Zeus; and Athena, who cursed Arachne for defeating her fair and square in a weaving contest. All, of course, the triad of Olympus, the heavenly mountain. As for the Aventine Triad, you have Liber, a god of freedom and a Roman form of Dionysus, a god whose original connotations were deeply chthonic in their connection to death and rebirth, Ceres, the Roman form of the Greek Demeter who was a goddess of agriculture and the earth, and Libera, an Italic goddess of wine who evolved into the goddess Proserpina, the Roman form of the Greek Persephone, the wife of Hades and goddess of the underworld. The gods of the earth and underworld take center stage in the populist Aventine cult, while in the Capitoline cult the holy family of heaven do. Thus, in Rome, chthonic spirituality interwines with populism, working class republicanism and Bacchic freedom, while the authority of Zeus and the light of Apollo is totemic of ruling class authority. The Apollonian vs the Dionysian is not, then, a dialectic of reason and passion, but instead a cultic conflict between elitism and populism, the Apollonian being elitism and the Dionysian being populism.

“Bacchanal” by Frans Wouters (1612-1659)

This chthonic association also seems to mirror the popularity of chthonic cults, which often involved Dionysus or Persephone, in the more rural areas of ancient Greece, where in local cults you would have versions of a triad featuring Zeus, Hera and Athena wherein Persephone takes Athena’s place. And while we’re on the subject of Greece, it is here also that Dionysus is associated with populism of a certain type. The Dionsyia of Athens, the city version of the original rural festival, was introduced by Peisistratus. Peisistratus was considered by the ancients to be a tyrant, and while he does probably fit at least one qualification of what we would understand to be a tyrant, in that he overturned that government of Athens by force as opposed to democratic means, it’s not like he abolished the constitution of Athens (in fact he maintained much of the constitutional governance), and he actively and openly confronted the Athenian aristocracy. He removed many of the privileges of the aristocrats and generally reduced their control over the city, indeed distributing power and wealth throughout Athens rather than hoarding it for himself, remitted taxes to farmers who were receiving low wages for their labour, as well as more generally cutting taxes for working class citizens, he gave both land and loans to people who needed them, he protected foreigners who emigrated to become citizens of Athens, he built the aquaduct to distribute water to the masses, and ultimately was responsible for turning Athens from a collection of villages or polities into a grand unified city-state. As far as “tyrants” go, he did a lot of good for Athens and he seems to have been a genuinely populist ruler, and so it makes sense that he would introduce a festival devoted to the most ancient god with deep archetypal ties to populism.

In this light, Evola’s cult of the solar race presents an example of what I would consider to be a kind of authoritarian spirituality – that is, a spirituality that bases itself obsequious worship of power, authority and hierarchy for its own sake, for whom the freedom of the masses is an evil that must be suppressed under the authority of the gods of heaven and popular will and expression is to be crushed by a militant elite. And that’s just the start.

Rigid, insurmountable hierarchy, characterized by the inequality of its subjects, is an essential component of Evola’s notion of an ideal society, which is governed by a unchangeable metaphysical tradition, which exists outside of nature and is alien and “superior” to Man, and to which all subjects orient their actions. Evola’s favorite analogy for this was the Indian caste system, associated with Hinduism, in which the priestly representatives of Brahman rule at the top, followed by a warrior aristocracy, then the merchants, and then finally the undifferentiated masses that comprise the workers and the “untouchables”. Opposed to this sort of governance is a society where all individuals share dignity equally and everyone shares the same right of self-being, to be oneselves. In this sense, you are expected to submit yourself to an authority that has no basis in the world, no basis in reason, no basis in nature, and is completely alien to you. If that doesn’t sound like the most abominable and not to mention superstitious form of tyranny to you, then I don’t know what does. Now, let’s take note of the fact that Evola favored the caste system, because he also identified Buddhism as an inheritor of Vedic Aryan tradition. We should note this because of the fact that this is based on an erroneous understanding of Buddhism. The caste system is not endorsed by Buddhist social philosophy, Siddhartha Gautama, while not necessarily opposing the caste system, is known to have repudiated caste distinctions, and several Buddhist philosophers wrote against the authority and social system of the Vedas. Dharmakirti, for example, rejected caste as an entirely arbitrary construct that isn’t based in reality, as well as generally ridiculing the theism and the spiritual doctrine of the Vedas as foolish. Indeed, Buddhism has proven so amenable to the elevation or liberation of the lower classes that many dalits (“untouchables”) in India converted to Buddhism en masse as recently as 2018. Not to mention, one of the core doctrines of Buddhism is Anatman, literally the rejection of Atman, which is to say the rejection of a transcendental divine self identical to God; this represents such a fundamental departure from Vedic/Hindu religious philosophy that it’s baffling how Evola could have thought Buddhism was the inheritor of his beloved Aryanism.

Brahma Sahampati visiting the Buddha

A key element of Evola’s philosophy is the theme of regression, which is to say the idea that mankind as it exists is a regression from its original state, which is to say the original Hyperborean race that lived on the North Pole. He refers to this doctrine as involution, in opposition to evolution. Taken in the context of Evola’s doctrine of the solar versus lunar races, it represents an inversion of the ideas of Johann Jakob Bachofen, an anthropologist who believed that human civilization begins in a kind of primitive goddess worship or some kind of chthonic matriarchal religion before eventually progressing into a more patriarchal religion and culture. In Evola’s framework, it’s actually the patriarchal civilization that came first, then the matriarchal one. More broadly, this doctrine of involution holds that it is not humans that evolved upwards from apes, but rather apes that devolved from an original “superior” race. This, of course, represents a total repudiation of the Darwinian theory of evolution, which is of course so backed by mountains of evidence at this point that you wonder how anyone can deny it. You might be tempted to say that, in Evola’s time, this wasn’t so well-established, but in fact Evola was very much aware that evolution was consistent with scientific thinking, which is why Evola rejected science altogether, not least on the grounds that he thought modern science was unreliable on the grounds that it was based on “profane” materialistic premises. Instead of science, then, he bases his doctrine of involution on “tradition”, which invariably means his own ideas about tradition, which may or may not align with ancient pre-Christian beliefs to varying degrees. And yes, pre-Christian is operative here, since Evola rejects both Christianity and science in favour of Roman paganism, or more or less his own revival thereof, based on an esoteric interpretation of Roman paganism influenced by a combination of mystery religion, Hinduism and especially Tantra, all interpreted of course through the ideas of people like Rene Guenon, who he considered to be the master of his epoch. Although Evola is adored by modern fascists, and many of his ideas do dovetail nicely with a lot of fascism, this attachment to paganism actually set him against the Italian fascist movement of his day, as Mussolini and the other Italian fascists rejected Evola’s calls for pagan revival and so did the Catholic Church. Ironically, however, Catholicism was the one sect of Christianity that Evola didn’t despise, and indeed he considered conversion to Catholicism as a form of spiritual advancement. But to return to the main point, Evola’s mysticism is divorced from any scientific understanding, cannot be verified and apprehended through reason, and therefore is to be accepted simply because it is declared by “tradition” to be so. The term we normally use for this is blind faith, and blind faith has always been a way to psychological slavery, and as such is a favored tool for authoritarian spirituality and politics.

To be honest, the theme of regression is the most striking thing about Evola’s thought in relation to the way Evola has been received in the Left Hand Path circles, because to me it creates a profound archetypal dissonance in relation to the Left Hand Path. Evola rejects the premise that human beings evolved from apes and in turn from a chain of prehistoric creatures that emerged from the sea, preferring instead to believe that we came from some fantastical race of polar sun men. I think about that and think of the gulf between this and the way people like Michael W. Ford interpret creation myths like the Enuma Elish as a kind of archetypal metaphor for the evolution from reptile to mammal to Man, the emergence of form from darkness and so on, with in a sense the dark archetypes of mythology serving as reminders of our point of origin as a place to draw wisdom and power from. In fact, many world mythologies begin with a premise of primordial darkness, sometimes embodied or inhabited by serpents, out from which creation, form, light emerges, so in a sense you find many mythological understandings in which the soul and form of man emerge not from a race of light but from a place of darkness. I don’t know if such dissonance has ever been considered or accounted for.

Lastly, I believe there is a point where Evola’s thought, and the esoteric fascist thought that derives from it, converges with, of all things, transhumanism, which also demonstrates that the transhumanist impetus is a deeply reactionary and ascetic one. Because Evola held mankind as we know it to be a degeneration from some original Hyperborean race, and because his ideal society predicates itself on an principle that is supposed to exist outside of nature, Evola held that the ideal society must cultivate values that remove human existence from the natural order so that it can ascend to “a superior dimension of life” not found in the material cosmos. Such a worldview calls for the state to rear its subjects away from material existence through service to the state and the military – essentially, the idea is that by becoming a servant of authority you transcend human existence. As nonsensical a premise as it is, it also belies a fairly basic background ethos of transhumanism: the desire to become more than human. It is for this reason that Evola apparently admired the Waffen SS of Nazi Germany. Indeed, while transhumanism itself is not wedded to Nazism by any means, it’s no coincidence that people like Jeffrey Epstein embraced eugenics for the purpose of creating a superior race while also wanting to preserve his head and penis through cryonics. And, while transhumanism is certainly broader than just the practice of eugenics, there are many transhumanists who advocate a kind of “new eugenics” – that is, eugenics but somehow sublimated to liberal values – just that they often don’t like to call it eugenics. And of course, eugenics was a central part of Nazi ideology as their means to create their new master race, which is why any talk of “new egalitarian eugenics” is compelled to take place. But whereas modern transhumanists, and to some extent the Nazis as well, embraced “scientific” (to the extent that their methodology can be called scientific) ways of acheiving their goals, mainly through technology, Evola rejected science and modern technology and instead believed that people would transcend their humanity through spiritual means by way of his esoteric doctrine.

So in summary, this is the philosophy of Julius Evola. A practically insane reactionary who opposed science because it repudiated his moonbatty racialist theories, a man who despises mankind because he thinks it devolved, somehow, from an imaginary Hyperborean race, a man whose ideal society amounts to a restoration of the Indian caste system or the Roman Empire at its worst, in the name of a tradition that cannot be justified through conscious reason or apprehended in this world, and whose spiritual and political philosophy entails the total rejection of liberty, freedom and the species-being of humanity. Evola is a profoundly negative spiritual influence, with barely any elements that can be considered positive. And the only reason we can’t consider him to be a fascist is because he thought fascism wasn’t radical enough in its rejection of modernity.

A picture of Julius Evola at quite an old age

Are some Catholics coming around to paganism?

In December of last year, the New York Times arch-Catholic Ross Douthat wrote an article about what he believed was an ongoing pagan revival, entitled The Return of Paganism. Some time after this Robert Barron, an American Catholic bishop, uploaded a clip from his Word on Fire podcast to YouTube, in which he and a man named Brandon Vogt discuss the article and paganism in general. The video was originally uploaded on January 28th of this year, but I had only just discovered it, and I believe it is worth commenting on.

You would think that, being devout Christians and all, they would be very dismissive of paganism throughout the video. But upon watching the video, you may find yourself quite surprised to find that these Catholics are actually very open-minded and even positively curious about the subject of paganism, even if it’s quite clear that they have reservations about paganism for obvious reasons (their rejection of polytheism). Barron in particular offers a positive assessment of paganism despite his Christian faith, saying that there was something true, deep and noble about paganism. He at one point also refers to a man named Robert Sokolowski, a monsignor of the Roman Catholic Church who he considers his intellectual hero, who many years ago told Barron and others something to the effect of “if you want to stop being Christian, I’d recommend you become pagan”. He particular characterization of paganism is also deeply fascinating to me. He describes paganism as, in his words, “the great religion of the natural necessities”, meaning of course that it is the religion of nature, worldly life, and everything that makes it work. This is in stark contrast to the Christian faith, whose God is palpably supernatural in the sense that he exists outside of the natural universe (whereas the gods of paganism are part of and often, as per Hesiod, born out of the natural universe). In fact, when Vogt tries to understand paganism as another expression of the longing for a transcendent, supernatural realm, Barron counters this by saying that the gods and goddesses of paganism were believed to be realities within the framework of the natural universe, and that the Biblical framework distinguishes itself from paganism by its assertion of a God who is totally distinct from nature. Included in the pagan framework, some reason, is the concept of pantheism (which is essentially the belief that the universe itself is God), which Barron seems to believe positions God as being in his fullest sense and within the framework of paganism. He even describes pagan religiosity, in terms of the reverence of ancient natural forces albeit personified as gods, as a healty spiritual outlook. All told, this is quite high praise for paganism coming from a Catholic Christian. As a side-note, I find it interesting that he notes that the Catholic title Pontifex Maximus, used for the Pope, was originally a pagan term referring to the chief high priest of the College of Pontiffs as part of the pre-Christian Roman religion.

Barron’s altogether naturalistic assessment strikes at the heart of how I’ve very often related to paganism, as I presently do, and might be how I always sort of “go back” to it even though I’m not what you’d call a practicing pagan (I still consider myself a Luciferian for now). Although the historical form of paganism can’t be said to be without supernaturalism and certainly not without theism, at the center of the ethos of paganism is indeed the natural world, and mankind’s relationship to it. Although it would be very ahistorical to treat the old pagans as essentially the kind of hippies who were “above” manipulating their environment for the purpose of facilitating human civilization, they certainly did not see themselves as the masters and owners of the world in the way that the Biblical God told his foolish believers they were. There was, in a sense, a sacredness to the natural world, and within a natural world with forces within it represented by gods mankind was part of a whole in which his fate was connected to the natural forces that were represented and controlled by these gods – in this sense, the ancient belief was that man could feasibly attain some mastery of his environment, but not without the aid of the gods. It is the pagan centrality of the natural world that distinguishes it not only from Abrahamism, but also from the Dharmic religions. I once thought when I was younger that Hinduism could be seen as much like paganism, indeed the Indian equivalent of it, but thinking about it this comparison is remarkably shallow. Whereas classical paganism centers on the world and man’s role within it, post-Vedic Hinduism (that is, the Hinduism you know today) ultimately places man as part of a struggle to escape the world, or rather the cycle of reincarnation, in order to unite with a God that exists beyond the material universe.

Worth note also is their treatment of the idea of paganism as a civic religion, which is part of the argument of the Ross Douthat article that they initially addressed. They understand this too to be a part of the interweaving of the human social order with the natural order, although I find it very annoying that Vogt (and I suppose Douthat by proxy given his article) shoe-horns some spiel about “social justice theology” and transhumanism for no discernible reason. These two have nothing to do with paganism, and in fact whatever could be determined to be “social justice theology” is easily the product of Christianity, not paganism (the very term “social justice” originates from a Catholic intellectual).

Now all of this is not to be dismissed as something minor within Catholicism. Although I don’t know how just how prevalent the curiosity for paganism is within Catholicism, I do know that Robert Barron is a major and influential figure in the Catholic movement. He’s one of the most popular Catholic bishops in the world, and especially on the internet. His Word on Fire website and his YouTube videos reach tens of millions of people, and his following on social media is so great that he’s been dubbed “the bishop of social media” and “the bishop of internet”. He’s also a frequent contributor on the subject of religion within the old guard of mainstream media, having worked for NBC and made appearances of CNN and Fox News, and he’s even given talks on religion for major multinational corporations such as Amazon, Facebook and Google. So here we have one of the most influential Catholics in modern times seemingly giving praise to paganism. To me, that’s a gift that I never imagined I would receive, because it potentially might help rehabilitate the idea of paganism and enable it to evolve into a force for modern times.

And if his opinion reaches as many people as it does, it leads to the question: how many people listening to him might come around to a modern take on paganism? I suppose only time will tell. But, in the meantime, I invite you to take a look at the video at the end of this post.

The Pantheon in Rome, just one of many pagan temples that the Christians converted into one of their churches.

Where is your Catholic God now, progressives?

I remember when Jorge Mario Bergoglio, aka Pope Francis, entered the scene back in 2013, and almost instantly it seemed like I had no trust in this guy whatsoever. To me he was just the new Pope, and his benign and progressive personality was nothing more than an marketing ploy designed to redeem the image of the Catholic Church after the last pope, Georg Ratzinger, became known as the face of an organization that was simply out of touch with the modern world and complicit in the covering up of the sexual abuse of children by the Catholic priesthood. I have been expressing this on my own blog in the past since its early days, and I have to say I don’t think I’m entirely wrong on this.

Let’s get one thing straight: Francis himself does not appear as liberal and tolerant as he is believed to be. In fact, some of his famous quotes on the subject of God, the church and belief have been shown to be faked. For example, there was one alleged quote that was famously shared on Facebook in 2014 that goes as follows:

“It is not necessary to believe in God to be a good person. In a way, the traditional notion of God is outdated. One can be spiritual but not religious. It is not necessary to go to church and give money — for many, nature can be a church. Some of the best people in history do not believe in God, while some of the worst deeds were done in His name.

It’s a perfectly admissible statement, to be fair, but he didn’t actually say it. There is no record of Francis ever having said that in real life. There is record of a homily that was made by Francis about atheists, and how he believes that even the atheists are or can be redeemed in the blood of Jesus on the grounds that all humans are created in the likeness and spirit of God, and according to a Vatican spokesperson, Friar Thomas Rosica, it is possible that this homily got lost in translation.

He also never claimed that the Catholic Church no longer believes in the traditional doctrine of Hell, nor did he declare that all religions were true and nor that the myth of Adam and Eve was indeed a fable during the “Third Vatican Council”. This seems to have been a hoax spread by a blog called Diversity Chronicle in 2013. What is Diversity Chronicle? Apparently it may be a satirical website, at least judging from the disclaimer. The icing on the cake. There was no “Third Vatican Council” for Francis to make these statements in to begin with.

Also, for someone who is supposed to so progressive about homosexuality, having allegedly stated that Christians should apologize to gay people because of the actions of the intolerance of their ancestors and also allegedly stated that homosexuals and transgender individuals should be embraced, he has more recently affirmed that the Catholic Church does not allow homosexuals into the Catholic priesthood, and the Catholic Church does not approve of anyone in support of “gay culture”. He also considers abortion to be a grave sin, not a million miles away from the typical conservative Christian, he just gives his priests greater power to forgive this “sin”. And he has recently made it clear that the Catholic Church will not repeal its ban on women entering the priesthood, stating that, in his opinion, the edict put in place by the church under the papacy of Karol Jozef Wojtyla (John Paul II) is to stand “forever”.

That being the case, I don’t think I understand why progressives and liberals are so keen on embracing Francis, as well as the hope that the Catholic Church could become anything other than the same old religious organization that it always was that is only trying to redeem its storied image in the eyes of the modern public. Hell, I never understood why liberals, progressives and especially homosexuals even needed some religious figure to guide them and give them hope to begin with. Judging from the scores of articles that go on about him supposedly delivering blows and stings to conservatives and right wing Christians, I can only assume that the left wants a progressive Christian figure to use as a stick with which to beat conservatives and other Christians, particularly in the United States of America where Christianity is still a big deal for people on the political right. It’s all part of an ideological/cultural war that the West is still fighting in the modern world, and the left will stop at nothing to morally browbeat its opposition. Religion, when it’s convenient, is but another justification for such things.

Pope Francis with a dove
Pope Francis with a dove

My experience in Italy (Part 3): Christianity in Italy

If you’ve ever been to Italy, there’s no doubt that you’ve encountered a very large Catholic Christian presence in the country. You can never be too far away from any religious reference, you can find a Jesus, Virgin Mary, saint, or pope almost anywhere in Italy, and you’d almost think everyone was Catholic (in fact some statistics say that Roman Catholicism is followed by 90% of the population in Italy; it’s usually around 80% actually). On the coach trip from Naples it’s usually not too long before I find a church, or a Jesus or Mary.

During my trip, I have been wondering how the Italian culture of festive indulgence and celebration can coexist with Christianity, a religion that is about self-denial, abstinence from personal pleasures and desires, and submitting your soul to both the god Jehovah and his son Jesus (and keep in mind, we’re dealing with Roman Catholicism, a faith that additionally considers the pope extremely important if not infallible and values the hierarchy of clergy which he is the top part of, and is known for venerating the dead “saints”). Not to mention, this is the same place where you can be uncomfortably lax about children’s innocence on the beach (but not young adults and adolescents mind you). As the week went by as I was thinking about it, and I think there is an explanation for it.

In my experience with a Catholic family (or more or less the Catholic side of my family), Catholic tradition seems to allow for festivity and indulgence in the form of family traditions, though this indulgence is very usually food and fiesta related. Catholicism also has a number of feasts and festivals for saints, and events of religious significance, and it is also intermingled with Italian family traditions. This would make it easy to embrace the faith and pass it down the generations, goes well with blind acceptance of the Christian version of the truth. Although, perhaps it’s more to do with the centuries of Catholic influence and indoctrination eventually settling in to the point that it’s almost natural (but it’s not).

It’s worth noting, though, that freedom of religion and separation of church and state are actually guaranteed under Italian law, so much of the Catholic presence has less to do with the state and a lot more to family and tradition.  The fact that many families hold on to the faith, go with it, and pass on the faith down the lines pretty much means that the faith and its influence is preserved by the masses themselves through the belief of entire families and in mass obedience to tradition. Keep in mind Italian culture is big on family and traditions, and so Catholic Christianity would have a high presence because of family and tradition and the importance they hold.

This concludes my series of posts about my experience in Italy. I must end by mentioning that half of my experience in Italy was actually good, I just don’t really feel like I would go back there after realizing I do not really belong there.

Goddesses, the Virgin Mary, and the Black Madonna

A Black Madonna statue

Ever heard of the Black Madonna? It’s a depiction of the Virgin Mary with dark or brown skin rather than white. Though these suspicious black statues come directly from Christianity, Catholic Christianity to be precise, to my understanding, it’s roots are pagan, and the symbolism is there.

Before Christianity took over, people worshiped many gods, and there were a lot to choose from. Among the variety of deities were goddesses of earth, fertility, and agriculture, such as Isis of Egypt, Artemis of Ephesus, Diana of Rome, Ceres and Demeter of Greece, and Cybele of Phrygia. When Christianity took over, the temples to these goddesses were taken over and replaced with Christian establishments, and the goddess statues airbrushed to resemble the Virgin.

A key characteristic of Black Madonnas is obviously their dark or brown skin. The skin seems to be the color of the fertile earth, very suited for agriculture or the soil. It is also said that the images of the Black Madonnas originate with images of the goddess Isis holding baby Horus, which in turn echo an African archetypal mother figure.

Isis and baby Horus

Some say, and I may agree, that the Black Madonna in some way represents female power and sexuality, as opposed to the white Virgin Mary, who represents the more docile qualities of purity and obedience (especially obedience to “God”). And as we all know, female sexuality was not tolerated in the Christian world. But then, that makes me think, how are there Black Madonnas in Catholic churches?