By indulging myself in the writings of Renzo Novatore, Italy’s most well-known exponent of individualist/egoist and nihilist anarchism, I came to notice a theme across these writings. Throughout his literary work, Novatore frequently used the term “pagan” or “paganism” as a way of describing the spirit of his ideas. I am fairly convinced that this was in practice probably a poetic affectation, on the grounds that Novatore was an atheist who, by his own terms, opposed religion. Then again, the terms in which he opposed religion are, much like Max Stirner and others before him, rather blatantly conditioned by the Christian understanding of what religion is. But beyond that, as a Pagan who is definitely interested in Novatore’s philosophy, and arguably aligns with it, I think I would derive some intellectual pleasure from examining the way Novatore talks about Paganism. And so, to further indulge myself, that’s what I’m going to do.
In The Expropriator, Novatore describes the titular archetype as “singing playful songs of beauty”. In Beyond the Two Anarchies, he describes his own mind as a “passionate, pagan mind” which he likens to that of an uninhibited poet, after passionately declaring the shattering of all -archies before egoistic self-exaltation. In A “Female”, Novatore talked about a woman giving herself over to a loving embrace and her body becoming a “Harp of voluptuousness” seized by a “pagan fire”, and further a “hymn of intoxication sung beyond good and evil”. In Anarchist Individualism in the Social Revolution, he describes the ethical part of Individualism as amoral, wild, furious, warlike, and rooted in “the phosphorescent perianth of pagan nature”, and later says that “pagan nature” “placed a Prometheus in the mind of every mortal human being and a Hercules in the brain of every thinker” and that this same heroic impetus was later condemned by “morality”. In In The Circle of Life, he praised “this vigorous creature” who blossomed through the “pagan mystery” of homerically tragic art which he took to be a symbol of “sublime heroic beauty”. In Towards the Creative Nothing, Novatore condemned Christianity for “killing” the joy of the earth he attributed to Paganism and setting itself against “the dionysian spirit of our pagan ancestors”, while also lauding the gaze of the “pagan poet” and the preservation of “pagan will”. In In Defence of Heroic and Expropriating Anarchism, Novatore briefly refers to the Italian anarcho-communist Errico Malatesta as someone “who cannot be accused of having a pagan, Dionysian, Nietzschean concept of anarchism”, presumably to mean that Malatesta opposes his form of anarchism.
We can see from this that, although Novatore probably wasn’t a religious man, he clearly regarded some idea of Paganism as a core part of his concept of anarchism as opposed to certain others. It’s easy enough to understand this as an aesthetic quality, or at most a flamboyant extension of Friedrich Nietzsche’s anti-Christian worldview. But even in the context of the latter, what does it tell us?
There seems to be a lot of emphasis on “the dionysian” in Novatore’s writings, and that itself is often expressly linked to Nietzsche. In I Am Also A Nihilist, Novatore says the following:
But I don’t yearn for Nirvana, any more than I long for Schopenhauer’s desperate and powerless pessimism, which is a worse thing than the violent renunciation of life itself. Mine is an enthusiastic and dionysian pessimism, like a flame that sets my vital exuberance ablaze, that mocks at any theoretical, scientific or moral prison.
Here Novatore invokes “the dionysian” in order to distinguish his own brand of pessimism from the pessimism he perceives of Arthur Schopenhauer. Novatore’s pessimism and nihilism is a doctrine of the negation of every social order which, in this negation, allows egoistic self-consciousness to truly freely and mutually develop without being bound to any conceptual prisons. That basic conception of nihilism would echo the nihilism that was developed in Russia during the 19th century. Central here, though, is the “dionysian” part. What do we derive from this?
Of course, I’m sure we all know about Dionysus. Dionysus is usually understood as a god of wine and drunkenness, but is more broadly a chthonic god, a god of death and rebirth, a god of ecstasy, festivity, and intoxication, a father of liberation through whom his worshippers could transgress the boundaries of society and everyday consciousness in order to commune with the divine. Dionysus was worshipped in intoxicating mysteries, festivals involving phallicism, and ecstatic ceremonies of ritual death and rebirth, and in Rome he was the center of a plebeian republican cult and thus a patron god for the masses who were subjugated by the Roman ruling class. The way Novatore invokes Dionysus may have some link to the way Friedrich Nietzsche talks about him, and in fact the very idea of “dionysian pessimism” was born from Nietzsche. Nietzsche’s concept of “dionysian pessimism” was, to put it simply, a pessimism that justified life rather than abhorred it (the latter, of course, being Schopenhauer’s school of pessimism). This justification comes from life itself, even at its most terrible, ambiguous, and mendacious, without the belief in progress or even reason to undergird that affirmation of life. In other contexts, for Nietzsche, the “Dionysian” seems to denote a fundamentally tragic outlook in life.
From here we can see that Nietzsche’s influence on Novatore’s anarchism was far from subtle. It seems to me in fact that Novatore’s anarchism was very essentially a Nietzschean anarchism. But what exactly does it have to do with Dionysus himself, or with Paganism? Nietzsche in a certain sense did identify with a notion that he called “paganism” and regarded this worldview as superior to Christianity. But again, what was that for Nietzsche? I have to doubt that it meant much in the way of any concrete religious practice since, even if he liked to call himself a pagan, there’s no evidence of him having ever worshipped any gods or nature or partaken in pagan celebrations (in fact he seemed to regard devotional worship as foolish), but that’s ultimately beside the point.
“Paganism” for Nietzsche meant a conscious appreciation of that which is beyond good and evil, since the pagan gods in his observation were beyond good and evil. But it also seems to involve a “return” of sorts to the natural world, and to embrace nature even in its terrors and inclinations, either by living apart from civilization or by staying true to one’s “natural inclinations” – or, in a word, Wildness. In Twilight of the Idols, he says that “It is in our wild nature that we best recover from our un-nature, our spirituality” (“spirituality” here meaning “religious sensibility” as he understood it mostly in terms of Christianity). While Nietzsche tended to use the term “idol” in reference to moral ideals that he opposed, in Thus Spoke Zarathustra he mocked those who would destroy idols through the pronouncements of his character Zarathustra and also says that an image may not remain an image in the context of the authentic use of the will. It’s also possible to interpret the opening lines of Thus Spoke Zarathustra, as Zarathustra’s “prayer” to the sun. Nietzsche believed that the earth was sacred in pre-monotheistic religions and that it should be regarded as sacred again, which Zarathrustra communicates by urging the lauding of that which is earthly and the rejection of the heavenly, and in The Antichrist he wrote that humans are not only animals but also that other animals shared “the same stage of perfection” with humans. In The Will To Power, Nietzsche explicitly refers to”pagans by faith”, describes their aim as being the “dismoralization” of the world, and prefers believing in Olympus instead of believing in the Crucifixion. In the same text he thought that the pagan cults of old were typified by sexuality, pleasure in appearance and deception, and joyful gratitude for life in itself and that this was the mark of good conscience.
In this sense, even though it’s difficult to regard him as what would in proper terms be a religious Pagan, it is beyond doubt that Nietzsche sought the revival of Paganism as a system of values insofar as he understood it. In such a context we may understand that Nietzsche’s anti-Christian transvaluation of values ultimately has this restoration in mind. I do suspect that Nietzsche’s conception is very influenced by the way the 19th century Enlightenment received “Paganism” as a more rational or humane religion compared to Christianity, though I would definitely insist that Nietzsche was not simply a “man of the Enlightenment” or a mere “man of his time”. Regardless, though, I will say that I do rather feel well-aligned to much of how Nietzsche talked about his idea of Paganism, in that he describes certain ideas that have been almost instinctual to me personally. I would say that this includes the idea of nature as actuality, the idea that prevailing systems of moralization tend to be ways of attacking or suppressing this nature, and the upholding of “wild nature” as a means of setting us free from moralization, as understand it to be communicated in Twilight of the Idols and The Antichrist. His Dionyisan Pessimism is made further sense of in this context as well, and is made the more admirable and closer to instinct.
But back to Renzo Novatore, the man whose anarchism seems to be expressly modelled on Nietzsche’s philosophy as well as that of Max Stirner, and back to his “Paganism”. What do we derive from Novatore’s work? Returning to Towards the Creative Nothing, we see the sanctification or veneration of the earth or nature, which of course Christianity had suppressed, and we see essentially a recapitulation of Nietzsche’s conception of Paganism as based in the embrace of the full integrity of life. And yet unfortunately Novatore offers very little exposition compared to Nietzsche. It would seem that Novatore seems to have taken up Nietzsche’s idea of .
Yet we can also find certain pre-Christian parallels in Novatore’s about “libertarian aristocracy”, which when carefully considered seems very obviously not representative of any actual aristocratic hierarchy and instead perhaps something more like Stirner’s concept of the Union of Egoists. This “libertarian aristocracy” in any case consists of the outsiders who band together in their individualistic struggle against society. About a year ago I read Towards the Creative Nothing, and then, as I later read about Stanislaw Przybyszewski in Per Faxneld’s The Devil’s Party, I noticed a similar theme emerge in Przybyszewski’s depiction of Satan as the “dark aristocrat”, no doubt meaning him as the patron of rebels and outsiders who join his company for the pursuit of their own curiosity, pride, and instinct against society. The parallel that instantly emerged in my mind was none other than Odin, the king of the Norse/Germanic gods.
Odin is repeatedly typecast as a god of war but was always much more complex than that. He was the leader and magician of the battlefield, but could also be thought of as a trickster similar to Loki, a god associated with death, at least chthonic enough to be called the lord of the gallows, the keeper of a certain share of the slain, a tireless seeker of wisdom looking for ways to overcome his fated demise at the battle of Ragnarok, and a god of ecstatic divine inspiration (which, to be fair, was still also associated with battle). More importantly he was not only the patron of kingship, he was the divine patron of outcasts or outlaws, and was sort of an outcast himself. In a Danish myth, he was said to have been exiled from Asgard for ten years for seducing and having sex with the daughter of a king, while in the Lokasenna Odin was referred to as “ergi” (basically “unmanly”) for his practice of seidr, a magickal art typically regarded by Norse society as strictly women’s business. Odin seemed to favour men and women regardless of social stature who distinguished themselves individually through their talents, which made them valuable to Odin in his struggle to prevail in Ragnarok. And of course, for all the times Odin is compared to Mercury by the Romans or to Zeus or Yahweh in modern times, Odin actually had much more in common with Dionysus than almost any other non-Germanic deity. After all, Odin was also worshipped in ecstatic rituals, sometimes involving the assumption of consciousness of wild nature, and Odin also had his own “mead of divine inspiration”.
In a very strange way I think that the ecstatic or intoxication-oriented vision of Paganism as philosophy of life can make for a fairly valuable way of grounding modern Paganism, though not necessarily. A friend remarks that Paganism must strive for the continual reintegration with the state of religious intoxication apparently found in animals. In their own way, though as non-Pagans, I’d say that people like Stanislaw Przybyszewski or Charles Baudelaire would probably sympathize with that idea. More to the point there is something similar in the historical sense of Paganism that kind of aligns with that idea. The pre-Orphic Dionysian Mysteries could be defined by such an idea, as does the state of consciousness attained by the Norse berserkers or ulfhednar. The Eleusinian Mysteries, which were a major part of Hellenic antiquity, involved the use of psychedelics in order to commune with the divine through intoxication. In Egypt, goddesses such as Mut, Bastet, or Bathory were sometimes worshipped in drunken ecstasies, while none other than the god Set was worshipped with offerings of wine. In the old Vedic religion of India, a substance called Soma was offered to the gods and ritually consumed in order to achieve awareness of the divine as well as magickal visions/powers. A similar ancient Iranian ritual involving a similar substance called Haoma was initially condemned by Zoroaster for its “drunkenness” before being modified as part of later Zoroastrian practice. The idea of ecstatic intoxication as a means of liberating consciousness seems to also be shared in the Japanese concept of seihan (“sacred transgression”) as applicable to festivals. In Greek mysteries, the whole idea of orgia was predicated on a similar sort of ecstatic freedom.
Nietzsche for his part aligned with a certain type of intoxication. Not drunkenness of course, but with the kind of intoxication attained through sex, dancing, or religious activities. He also seemed to regard the essential characteristic of art as Rausch, a German word that seems to mean something like “frenzy”, which for Nietzsche denoted a condition of pleasure that signified a feel of rapturous strength and even mastery. One can link to this some pre-Christian ideas of ecstasy such as the earlier mentioned Germanic and Vedic forms. Ludwig Klages claimed that Nietzsche’s understanding of Rausch was his discussion of “the ultimate Dionysian state of mind”, but this seems somewhat doubtful in light of the whole of Nietzsche’s work. Walter Benjamin had his own concept of Rausch which denoted a form of experience that neutralised separation between subject and object, which had been likened to an ancient experience of the cosmos. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves again: what about Novatore? Rausch is not exactly located in Novatore’s work, and would instead have to be synthesized through some form of exegesis in light of the Nietzschean context. Still, with Novatore we may find in his heroic emphasis something of Nietzsche’s Rausch if only in imprecise spirit.
In the overall, we can summon from this indulgent inquiry a grounding idea of the experience of intoxication in the context of Paganism in the overall. Nietzsche’s “Paganism” amounts to a philosophy of the experiential embrace of life in itself, contextualised as a life-affirming pessimism that sees the chaotic tragedy of life as the basis of its actuality and value. Novatore essentially recapitulates this idea as an expression of nihilistic anarchism, albeit with exceptional rhetorical bombast. The value of this outlook on Paganism is the grounding of religiosity in a sort of communion with raw actuality as represented by nature, and, within nature, Darkness and the divine. That at least is how I relate to it.
This is the second half of my commentary on Stanislaw Przybyszewski’s The Synagogue of Satan, based on the second chapter. The original plan was to simply write one single article covering the whole book. That plan seemed feasible, as the book itself was fairly short. But I had a lot to say about the book, its overall claims about Satanism and all attendant subjects, and the overall contours of Przybyszewski’s Satanic philosophy. So it ended up bloating until finally I had to split my commentary in two.
This second article covers the second chapter of The Synagogue of Satan, and covers Przybyszewski’s treatment of witchcraft, the “sabbat”, and the “black mass”, and with it the exposition of his own brand of Satanism that proceeds from this treatment. And, remember, it’s not possible to really take up Przybyszewski’s work as actual history, so what matters is what is said about Satanism.
Part 3: The Witch
The church of Satan is in full swing. The people agreed that everything which originates in evolution and owes its existence to procreation and generative activity belongs to Satan, the Prince of Darkness. We’re told that the Cathars, with sad resignation, acquiesed to this idea as well. The Christian church, for its part, had actually “Satanized” the world with its attacks on nature and instinct, while the refined ideas they created to salvage some sort of moral freedom were ignored by the people. The people had little to no regard for the sophisticated theories and sophistries that the church was busy crafting on the subject of evil, these were seen as some alienated and internal church affair. What interested them instead was the dualism between heavenly matter and infernal matter, that there was “Evil” per se, and that this “Evil” was in fact good. How “Evil” came to be was unimportant. People knew almost nothing about God, God’s son was abandoned by the theologians, and there was only one real religion in the world: the church of Satan.
Satan was the sole ruler of the world, and his demons flowed everywhere as they comprised an ocean of demons. Satan was no “ape of God”, but a god in his own right whose power reaches just as far as the “White God”. Satan taught people enter ecstatic states, produce stigmata, and even gave the saints the idea to “paralyze evil” through choc en retour. Satan alone is the father of life, propagation, evolution, and eternal return. By this, it is understood that “Evil” is good because life is “Evil”, and “Good” is therefore the negation of life, since it is the negation of its basis in passion. Satan is “positive”, eternal, and in itself. Satan is the god of the brain, and therefore governor of the realm of thoughts, from which the power to ceaselessly defy and remake the world derives its basis. In this power Satan inspires curiosity towards all things, which reveals the hidden things and unravels the runes of the night. Satan also inspires the daring to destroy even that which appears to make thousands of people happy so that something new and better might emerge instead. In other words, Satan embodies the negation embodied in active nihilism, which counsels the negation of the order of things as the sole source of new life. This nihilist’s negation is the drive for new conditions, spurred by “evil desires” whispered by Satan. Satan is continually persecuted, periodically vanquished, but he always emerges from his own ashes more powerful and beautiful than before. The Christian church tried to destroy Satan, only to be subverted and destroyed by Satan. Satan is unconquerable, and in his own way “conquers” everything. Satan is eternally evil, and the eternally evil is life.
Here Przybyszewski explores further the negativity of Satan as embodied in the contrary projection into the future. This is called a raging negation of negation, which I suppose we could take as negation unfolding from and upon itself. Another phrase he uses for this is “e pur si muove”, meaning “and yet it moves”, which is actually a famous phrase attributed to Galileo Galilei. I believe that this is not incidental. It is said that Galileo said this phrase after being forced by the church to recant his observation that the Earth revolved around the Sun. It is unclear whether Galileo actually uttered that phrase, and in fact the only actual sources for it come from after Galileo’s death, but what matters here is its contextual implications: namely, it embodies intellectual defiance of persecution and authority on behalf of one’s own revolution against the prevailing order of thought, and with it an inner freedom of thought that cannot be erased, even during incarceration. Unfortunately, however, Przybyszewski then goes on to refer to Christopher Columbus as an example of Satanically-inspired curiosity.
This is problematic for a number of reasons, among the most stark, for one thing, is the implication that it presents for colonialism and its attendant genocides. Though, of course, it might be argued that it is expected that men in The Enlightenment would countenance colonialism as a progressive world-historic force, though it does mean that poor Przybyszewski was not nihilist enough. Another problem might well be the fact that Christopher Columbus very probably didn’t “discover” America, or at least not before a certain band of Christianized Vikings got there first. Yet perhaps the biggest problem with framing Christopher Columbus as a paragon of Satanic curiosity is ultimately the fact that his expeditions were actually religious and missionary in purpose, on Christian terms. Columbus wrote in his journals about how he wanted to convert all the peoples of the world to Christianity and ultimately gather enough gold and other resources in order to allow Christian leaders to launch a new Crusade to retake Jerusalem from the control of Islamic empires, all under the belief that this would lead to the Second Coming of Jesus. Columbus was not contrarily projecting into the future to follow an irreducible quest for knowledge. Instead he was a missionary and proselyte of God and his son, seeking to fulfill God’s will on earth, eager for him to “save” the world. In other words, he was actually in many ways the opposite of Przybyszewski’s Satanic heroism.
That said, there are certainly better examples given by Przybyszewski. He cites the chemical sciences as owing their origin to “evil”, here meaning the curiosity of Satan. Remember that here the power of curiosity consists in its ability to remake the world, and so Przybyszewski says that in the name of Satan that Friedrich Nietzsche called for the re-evaluation of all values, that anarchists dreamed of the abolition of the state, and that the artist created works that could only be understood in secret. Nietzsche in particular is important to note, as he was arguably Przybyszewski’s favourite philosopher and certainly had a great influence on Przybyszewski’s thought. At one point, Przybyszewski might have fancied himself as one of the few to have grasped his work.
But, having waxed lyrical about “Evil”, what is the “Good” that opposes Satan? In a word, thoughtlessness. As Przybyszewski says, “Good” is Gregory the Great boasting of his ignorance and forbidding the study of grammar to clerics. Gregory, of course, made efforts to suppress pre-Christian literature, such as the works of Cicero and Livy, the latter of which he burned, because in his opinion they promoted idolatry and distracted people from the study of Christian scripture. “Good” is Francis of Assisi imitating the donkeys that stood and brayed around the manger of baby Jesus. “Good” is the surrender and/or abnegation of individual will in order to imitate God and/or his order/will. “Good” here obviously denies the work of Satan, to the point of denying evolution on the grounds of its origination with Satan; thus evolution in religious terms is heresy, in political terms is treason, and in terms of life is perversion, all punishable as crime. The summary of “Good” is ad maiorem Dei gloriam (“for the greater glory of God”), which incidentally was the motto of the Jesuits. I believe that on egoist terms the distinction between “Evil” and “God” is easily illuminated. Since “Evil” is meant to pertain to your own curiosity, nature, instinct, and of course lust, “Evil” thus connotes your own egoistic enterprises in their purity, without the disguise of a higher cause outside yourself. “Evil”, then, is your own undertaking for your own sake, albeit as borne of the universal egoism and negativity of Satan. “Good”, as “for the greater glory of God”, can be understood as the undertaking done on God’s behalf, so as to imitate God or his will, it is that which brings you closer to God, closer to being one with his will. But this means that “Good” is nothing more than the egoism of another that is then, under the spell of illusion, taken up as some higher purpose or greater good beyond yourself. Max Stirner elaborated in The Unique And Its Property that God’s cause is a purely egoistic one, just like all other causes. What is God’s cause? Does he make an alien cause for himself? God is love, truth, but that means he cannot promote them as alien causes, since he himself is them. Thus, God is an egoist, an Ownness or Einzige, like any other, whom Christianity and similar religions afford the status of the world’s only egoist – and of course, our business is to drag that falsehood away from him, expose it for the fraud that it is, and thus abolish the alienation of causes. Put simply, “Evil” is what you do for yourself”, “Good” is when you think you’re doing it for God or someone else. “Evil” is honest-to-goodness egoism, “Good” is self-denial. Per Stirner’s Critics we may make further sense of sin in this dynamic. Sin is a tendency towards your own interest, and its opposite is “sacred interest”, by which is only meant the alienation or “setting apart” of egoistic interest.
Przybyszewski’s Satan is a philosopher, even a demon, in short a god. That is his role as the father of the sciences which shine into the deepest secrets of human life, always melancholic because he must draw his circle anew after being destroyed by some fool. For this Satan is called “Samyasa”, or the fallen angel Samyaza, who Przybyszewski describes as the Father and the “mathematician”. As the patron of the secret sciences, Satan was purportedly only accessible to the few to whom he revealed his mysteries, thus Przybyszewski refers to him as a “dark aristocrat”. This in some ways presents a contradiction. On the one hand, Satan reveals mysteries only to a few individuals (including, for some reason, Christian occultists such as John Dee or Christian alchemists such as Paracelsus). On the other hand, Satan whispers his doubts to the whole masses, and receives worship from and fulfills the desires of the people. He is too universal to truly be exclusive, but I suppose when dealing with the secret sciences, there are only a few people who can receive them. Still, the secret sciences are not preached. They must be accessed by those who want to pursue them and who can understand them, and not many people can claim to that. According to Przybyszewski, Satan could only be conjured by the “most powerful”, presumably meaning magically powerful, while he sent his demon servants across the land to ingite human passions, sowing the baser instincts of humans and cultivating their pride and arrogance, in order to awaken the beast within.
And so we come to what Przybyszewski calls the sole principle of Satanism: a rebours. This French phrase, in English, means “backwards” or “going against the grain”, and for Przybyszewski it meant the reversal of all values sanctified by law and order. The phrase a rebours is also the title of a book written by the French decadent author Joris-Karl Huysmans; his famous book of the same name, whose title is translated in English as “Against Nature”, published in 1884, follows the story of a French aristocrat who, disgusted by his current life, retreats from Paris to lead alife of luxury, excess, and intellectual and aesthetic contemplation that ultimately leaves him physically ill and alienated from human society. Elsewhere, Huysmans described Satanism as essentially based on Catholic principles “followed in reverse (a rebours)”, which is reflected in his depiction of the Satanic Mass in his novel La Bas in which a Satanic priest holds consecrated hosts upside down and generally performs an inverted Catholic ritual. The principle of a rebours is also linked to Friedrich Nietzsche, Przybyszewski’s favourite philosopher, a link that I am quite certain comes about through Nietzsche’s concept of the transvaluation (or re-evaluation) of values, which, because of its diametrical conflict with Christianity, must seem like its forthright reversal. Indeed, there is a suppressed passage from Nietzsche’s The Antichrist which calls for the transvaluation of value, whereby the divine becomes criminal, thus we see reversal, a rebours. In any case the principle and act of reversal, a rebours, constitutes a subversive negation, the art of turning against, negating, destroying the order of things in the totality of normative and social conditions in order that something new may emerge in the place of their destruction.
The servants of Satan, or “Satan-Samyasa”, came to earth and made themselves masters there, while Satan as Lucifer, the bringer of light and “Paraclete” of humanity, practiced black magick in locked laboratories with magicians. At this time, the people remained “heathen” in their hearts, and they were also desperate to the point of madness. They hated Christianity and they hated Jesus, who promised salvation and left them only torments, but most of all they hated the church, that empty edifice who extorted every penny from the peasant and every acre of land from the nobles. They also hated the bishops who accused each other of adultery, whoremongering, and perjury. The synods attempted to impose taxation on the drunkenness of clerics. But, in the age of repeated prohibitions against drunkenness and fornication, when “our sacrilege is piled up over our heads” and “our crimes are stacked to heaven”, the servants of the Devil renounced and mocked all things holy, and derided the impotence of God in orgies. The people hated Christianity, and were only kept in check by the fear of eternal damnation and punishment in Hell. Hell and the Devil were at the center of the church’s sermons, designed principally to keep the masses in line. The fantasies of the priests evoked the Old and New Testaments of the Bible as well as the fear of nocturnal gatherings of heretics, Jewish and Arab magicians spreading their systems of mysticism, and “Gypsies” spreading intoxicating herbs throughout Europe.
Against this backdrop we embark on Przybyszewski’s discussion of Satanic femininity leading into the discussion of the Witch. And here it should be noted in advance that there is an engagement with classically misogynistic ideas about women leveraged by reactionary Christianity which are, at once, taken up in a positive sense in Przybyszewski’s application of negativity. It is taken to some cartoonish and grotesque levels, but on this I see no reason to deviate from Per Faxneld’s argument in The Devil’s Party: Satanism in Modernity or Satanic Feminism: Lucifer as the Liberator of Woman in Nineteenth Century Culture, which stresses that Przybyszewski’s philosophy establishes Christian evil as actually good, since decadence is progress and lust is nature and so on, and that on this basis there is a sort of ambivalent or even laudatory element in his writings about women, even when he speaks in terms of outrage, based on his belief in evolution and ontological evil as the motor of life and progress, with Good being the engine of stasis and repression, and so on these grounds it’s not quite possible to interpret his writing as a condemnation. With that established, we can safely begin this exploration.
Satan loves evil because he loves life, and hates “Good” because he hates stagnation and inertia. Because of this, Satan loves women, who the Christian church had long regarded as the principle of evil, which as far as Satan was concerned meant life. And in turn women, in Przybyszewski’s account, loved Satan, and Satan had a preference for them as the evangelists of his cult. We are then taken through Przybyszewski’s account of the pre-Christian history of his idea of the Satanic feminine. First we are told that the “night-side of life” in Babylon and Chaldea was embodied in Mylitta, who Przybyszewski characterized as a goddess of lust, sexual excess, and “the cosmic secret of decay”. The name Mylitta is simply Herodotus’ name for a goddess who was actually called Mullissu, the wife of Ashur, who may also have been identified with the goddess Ninlil. I can only assume Przybyszewski got the “goddess of lust” idea from Herodotus’ account of sacred prostitution in association with the goddess, which of course we can’t quite rely on as a historical source, and the rest was simply his own idea. Then, turning to Syria, the goddess Astarte is presented as “the adversarial, evil, and destructive divinity”. Obviously a rather inappropriate idea for the context of pre-Christian polytheism, though I will say that one would’ve thought that the god Mot would’ve been the better candidate for such a role. In any case, Przybyszewski refers to Astarte for the horns on her head (supposedly a bull’s head) and being a goddess of war. Next he talks about the Phrygian goddess Cybele, and how her temples were places of fornication and orgasm. Then Semiramis, who was not a goddess but merely a mythological queen, who we’re told killed her lover with her lust. Then we’re presented with Maya, the Indian goddess;(except she kind of wasn’t) of deception who created illusions that made reality inaccessible. Then the Devas (Daevas) of Iran, who we’re told represented untruth, deception, and the “pollution” of the souls of men; the supposed “feminine virtues”.
From there Przybyszewski slowly graduates from talk of goddesses to talk of demonesses. Regarding Greece, Przybyszewski talks about the “dark demons of death” emerging from the earth goddess Gea (Gaia) and everything terrible and frightening being dedicated to Hecate, who travelled with demons and drove men to madness. Lastly we are turned to the Romans, who most feared the demons they called Strigas, most likely meant to mean Strix, who we’re told were believed to suck the blood of the young and devour their guts before flying away. Przybyszewski says that the most feared demons of antiquity were female, because, as he put it, they were demons of death, madness, debauchery, obsession, crime, nocturnal horror, and spectral terror. This includes none other than Lilith, the destroyer of men in her lusts, and for some reason a goddess named Lady Holda, who we’re told is the leader of the Wild Hunt. Such themes are ultimately connected forwardly to witchcraft, via the landlady of Horsselberg who led sabbaths with witches. And, of course, Przybyszewski tells us that, in the Middle Ages, witches were accused of basically everything the Strigas did. We then get to what is quite easily a discussion of patriarchy. We’re told that alongside the “night-side” of the feminine ancient people worshipped the fertility and life-giving power of women, but it was assumed that the man had to protect life from the destructive and deceptive impulses they believed were present in women. Thus patriarchal society had established man as “the real originator of life”. Through Christianity, in the Middle Ages, patriarchy had almost completely denied life-giving power to women and instead preferred to view them exclusively as evil. This attitude even seemed to affect depictions of Satan. We’re told that Satan was originally feminine, and that by the Middle Ages the only feminine part of Satan that remained was the breasts. Satan had transformed into an entirely masculine entity, while woman had become completely subordinate to the male Satan as a concubine who led souls to him while receiving his lusts. Male magicians were expected to command the Prince of Darkness himself to reveal the secrets of nature, female witches were expected to serve as obedient handmaidens of demons who learned the arts of destruction but gained little from their covenant beyond the erotic discipline of demonic masters.
It would seem that medieval patriarchy was so universal that even the cult of Satan came to be conditioned by it, to the extent that church patriarchy had found itself dressed in black rather than in a coffin. The traditions of dead generations had weighed like a nightmare on the brains of the living, and as long as that contradiction was not resolved, we might say that the transvaluation of values could not yet have taken place. Since we’ve already established that we’re dealing with a narrative rather than an actual history, it’s probably not unfair to say that Przybyszewski colours this with what is clearly a BDSM-esque kink involving demons and witches.
And so finally we move on to the subject of the Witch, and things still get weird from here. Przybyszewski starts with the question of why witches were much more likely to be women then men such that it is claimed that hardly a single man was condemned. Putting aside the fact that this is not completely true (while women were the typical target of witch-hunts, in some countries more men were killed on charges of witchcraft), Przybyszewski proposes certain answers to that question. He says that, whether for good or evil nothing could stop three things: the tongue, the priest, and woman. It was supposed that women were gullible, and the Devil works against faith so he prefers to work through them. Then there goes the old argument about “flexible” constitutions, their supposedly “limited” faith, and the idea that women tended to pass on malefic arts to other women through speech. At this point I think it’s worth reiterating that as far as Przybyszewski was concerned practicing dark arts while lacking faith in God was basically a good thing. We’re then presented with a strange etymological argument attributed to Jacob Sprenger (who himself was listed as an author of the Malleus Malificarum alongside Heinrich Kramer), who argues that the word “foemina”, a medieval Latin word for women from which we get the word “feminine”, derives from the words for “faith” and “minus”, presumably so as to mean “faithless”. That’s not actually the etymology of “foemina”, but that obviously never stopped Sprenger from waxing lyrical on the depravity and vices of women. Sprenger goes to many lengths to justify his absurd misogynistic views of women. Sprenger relates an anecdote about a man whose wife had drowned and, because she always talked back to him in life, he looked for her upstream on the presumption that this would mean her soul must have gone upstream. As bizarre and non-sequiturish as that is, Sprenger further cites Sirach and John Chrysostom to argue that marriage is torture (presumably because of women) and Seneca to argue that women don’t actually weep and are only capable of negative thoughts and either love or hate. From all this Sprenger makes the argument that women are most susceptible to magical heresy and that men should thank God for protecting them from it. Of course we can gleam from all this an obvious problem: God loves his children so much that he can only keep the male ones from becoming agents of Satan. Or God just seems to love the men and think nothing of women.
Przybyszewski then moves away from Sprenger to discuss his own ideas about how the witch comes to be. This involves possession, or “demonomania”, which Przybyszewski asserts as having been commonplace in the Middle Ages and apparently was accompanied by clairvoyance and somnambulism. Demonomaniacs were led by visions and fell into monstrous paroxysms. The symptoms of demonomania, at the lowest level, appear to be voluntarily produced through narcotics and salves. Przybyszewski says that this how the Witch, for whom everything is inverted, is born. Highest is lowest, right is left, front is behind, the witch embodies the complete inversion of values which places her at odds with the order of the world. This, of course, would make the Witch the apogee of Przybyszewski’s Satanism via the principle of reversal, or a rebours. But still we deal with the symptoms of demonomania. The possessed body curls into a sphere before then standing up on its toes and throwing itself back onto its head so that its back forms the shape of a bow. Then the possessed body’s arms and legs are held up in the air like interwoven weeds, the hair stands up as if wanting to fly everywhere, the person walks backwards or in a continuous circle with the face turned outward. In an ecstatic demonomaniac state, Przybyszewski’s Witch is capable of superhuman flexibility and power. She can intertwine her limbs like pliable rods, she can stretch her whole body any way she wants and shrink back again, her center of gravity is altered, she cannot drown in water, she can be lighter than air, and she can rise up and hover in the air for several minutes.
Then, of course, there is the “mark” of Satan, the sign left on the bodies of those possessed. These are small, no more than pea-sized places on the skin, insensitive and without blood, sometimes red or black spots. They are typically unseen and located in the genitals, and if pricked they will draw no blood, whereas any other part of the body does draw blood. Several marks could also be found elsewhere; on eyelids, the back, the breasts, and in rare cases can even change its place on the body somehow, as though at will. Really there is no consistency in this, that’s just how the old medieval superstition was. But this “mark” was not the only distinguishing sign of the Witch. Her magical powers make her “physical sensitivity” unusually low, which seems to mean she is impervious to torture and/or generally cataleptic. Supposedly, even when put on the rack or the strappado, the Witch felt nothing, laughed, or slept through it, seemingly not feeling any pain. The Witch also possessed a certain “organic healing power”, connected to the “sorcery of maintaining silence” that was given by the Devil, usually linked to an amulet. This power apparently allowed the Witch to rapidly and easily heal severe injuries or wounds. For this reason witches were stripped naked and then shaved before they were tortured. In an ecstatic state of demonomania, all laws that normally apply to organisms are reversed or suspended, as for example in the power of the Witch to, just like the Magician before her, not be burned by fire. Taken together this quite an exceptional complex of superhuman power for someone who we were told was meant to simply be an obedient handmaiden for male demons. In this sense, patriarchy truly does sell women short.
And, of course, in this setting we should realize that Przybyszewski seems to believe that all of this was real, or at least he writes as if this were the case. When giving accounts of the abilities of the Witch, even from Sprenger, he regards that there is no reason to doubt such accounts, and asserts that all descriptions of the powers and ecstatic states of the Witch correspond to reality. Whether this is the actually the case, and there is probably reason to doubt, among other things, the existence of the “Devil’s mark” as described by Sprenger, what it establishes about Przybyszewski’s thought is that he was not a rationalist seeking to debunk stories of witchcraft on behalf of reason and enlightenment. Although Przybyszewski definitely praised rationalists for the extent to which they undermined faith in God and ostensibly encouraged curiosity towards the workings of the world, he himself can’t be counted as a rationalist, and he tended to prefer the madness he ascribed to the individual soul over the cold reasoning of the brain. From this, Per Faxneld argues, probably correctly, that his writing on madness and “hysteria” is probably not entirely a condemnation, and may even contain a laudatory aspect. This is one way to make sense of how Przybyszewski talks about the Witch, and in this subject it is more obvious when considering that the Witch’s transgression of rational mind and body is presented as a source of insurmountable power ultimately connected to Satan.
The Witch’s invulnerability and physical insensitivity is then shown to deny compassion, leaving her “bestial in her cruelty” and lacking sympathy while given to a delight in the pain she may cause. Her love of cruelty is also mixed with intense sexual desire to the extent that she can be thought of as a sort of sadomasochist, or at least as far as Przybyszewski might have understood it. But Przybyszewski stresses that it was not enough that the Witch flogged others or was flogged herself. No, for this Witch only the most extreme, grotesque, and frankly absurd acts of violence enthused with her strange drives can she feel the hint of emotional satisfaction. The Witch despises every notion of law, she hates the church and all its establishments, indeed she hates that which inhibits her demonic or demonomaniacal drives, and derives joy in that hatred and in mixing the body of God into her salves for perverse ends.
If we look past the grotesque and senseless depravity that Przybyszewski ascribes to the Witch, which almost certainly has nothing to do with any real historical expression of witchcraft, what might we derive from the character being presented. The character of the Witch is not so easily separated from the oppressions and tortures she experiences, so it is easy to make the point of the monsters that society creates, even if every instance of this argument never dare march towards the moral conclusion of the destruction of society – one might assume that after this the monsters would no longer exist. But I would argue that what is operative is what is derived from the hatred of authority and the joy derived from that hatred and the destruction of authority. In nihilism, the basic concept of this is called jouissance. Jouissance is the name given to the sensation of liberation and richness in life that emerges from the act of resistance, and which cannot be measured against incentive or as teleological will. It is part of the core of what distinguishes nihilism, or at least the active nihilism found in anarchist thought. In this, we may at least Przybyszewski’s Satanism as a nihilist religious philosophy in the sense that it counsels joy in the resistance towards and the overcoming and destruction of authority and in the active principle of reversal or a rebours. The culmination of this is found in the location of jouissance in the Nietzschean transvaluation of values, on Satanic nihilist-egoist terms of course. And from that standpoint, it is only natural to derive liberationist joy in that very negative engine of life itself.
Right after all this we enter the discussion of the “witch craze” that swept across Europe, and in this context we unexpectedly return to the so-called “Manicheans”, with whom we are told the church was not yet finished. The Christian church had of course persecuted the Manicheans for decades with exceptional cruelty, thousands of them were burned on the stake or broken upon the wheel, but they still survived, forming secret societies and congregations even in the places where they were once completely rooted out. These Manicheans held on to a tradition of nocturnal masses that they celebrated in the woods or on hilltops. People appeared to have converted to Christianity in order to save themselves from persecution and torture, but actually continued to participate in there nocturnal gatherings in order to run wild. Przybyszewski says that in these gatherings and in “real sabbatical orgies” it was women who whipped the men into instinctual excesses. A comparison may perhaps be found in pre-Christian Bacchanalias celebrating the mysteries of Dionysus, in which the priesthood of Dionysus was said to have been dominated by women. Przybyszewski described medieval women as having been rendered anemic by the conditions of medieval society. Covered in filth, enslaved by men, rejected by the church, condemned by the God who the church says created them from Adam’s rib, women were treated like animals in the society they lived in; actually, you might argue they were treated somewhat worse. In this setting their “evil instincts” developed and they plotted revenge against their oppressors, against the people who kicked them, cast evil eyes at them, or whipped them out of boredom.
Things get stranger from here. In these conditions Przybyszewski says that women would lie beneath any man, even against her will, but in either case never be satisfied. A ceaseless longing for sexual enjoyment and its lack of fulfillment became a source of torment, and in the melancholy of “The Devil’s Bath” all feelings became poisonous. Przybyszewski hints that it is here, once all the “seeds of possession” sprout, a woman may become a Witch. One woman, agitated like never before, is tormented by the desire for violence and the urge to rave and scream when, suddenly, she suddenly flees into the woods, she flies above the ground and hovers in the air before ultimately plunging to the ground again. And then the incubus appears besides her. He appears as a red man with a carefully concealed tail and horns, dressed like a hunter. The woman instinctually knows that this is a devil, but as much as she fears him she is also inexorably curious about him. She knows that he has the power to give her anything she wants, she doesn’t think about his money turning out to be sand or shit, and she is much more curious than afraid. That’s when the Devil, knowing her inner longings and wanting to fulfill them, promises to fulfill her wishes if she submits herself to him and without regret. The demon presses and mounts himself upon her, and she gives in, hoping to be fulfilled. But the fulfillment does not happen, there is only a cold feeling and shivering in her body, and a regret accompanied by the fear of eternal damnation.
You might think that would be the end of it, but, one night, she sleeps beside her husband, and experiences a vision of Hell itself before her eyes. She fearfully stares into Hell and prays only to be pulled back, while hellish laughter surrounds the room. Green lights flicker about the room, increasingly loud knocks can be heard, her bed rotates and its sheets dance around her, all the while she herself is paralyzed. Then she sees the Devil once again. She endures intercourse with him again, but this time not only does she do it without fear she even starts to ask him questions during the act, and the Devil, that “friendly master” (oddly kinky language here), for his part tells her to look for a witch in the forest who can give her miraculous herbs. When she wakes up that becomes her first thought. With neither husband nor children around she waits impatiently for nightfall. Finally finding the old witch of the forest, herself feared by the public, she talks to the old witch and the old witch gives her a salve and a staff to take home with her and keep hidden from every except a member of “the same sect”. Then the signal is given for her to go to the “synagogue”, and at midnight she strips completely naked in order to apply the salve to every part of her body. She briefly falls into a deep sleep, and then awakens to go to the “synagogue”, somehow knowing the way despite never having been there, as though her whole journey is unconscious. This “synagogue” is actually a pathless heath upon a mountain, whose existence she knew only whispers of. An assemblage of people has gathered here already, but it is dark and they can only be seen faintly through the flickers of torches. Half-naked women run around and jump wildly and nimbly, as though they were weightless, and the cries “Har! Har! Sabat! Sabat!” can be heard. This is the beginning of the Witches’ Sabbath.
Everyone forms a circle, their hands touching each other’s backs, while a man and a woman turn their backs toward one another. Then, an ecstatic dance begins, people throw their heads back with increasing tempo while singing “obscene” songs, occasionally interrupted by a cry: “Har! Har! Sabat! Sabat! Har! Devil! Devil! Jump here! Jump here!”. An orgy begins, greed joins with lust, the frenzy triggers a delirium of desire, and people throw themselves upon each other indiscriminately. A woman controls and exalts these ceremonies, she throws herself to the ground with her hands behind her and her legs up towards the air in order to receive the phallus. This is then followed by absurd and senseless sacrificial violence. Przybyszewski likens her furious nymphomania to the priestesses of Cybele, who he says are re-awakened in her. Indeed, Przybyszewski likens the whole orgy to what he imagines to be the pre-Christian and pre-Manichean “sabbats” of Babylon, Greece, and Rome, and says that only after this does the contemporary “sabbat” begin in earnest. In this “sabbat”, reality disappears, the senses fade, the infinite realm of night manifests, and Satan appears perched upon a chair.
Przybyszewski’s Satan has a number of features that make him worth remarking upon. He appears in the shape of a goat, or half human and half goat. He wears a crown of black horns, one of which illuminates the “sabbat” with a light brighter than the full moon. He has huge circular eyes. He has female breasts, which hang down towards his stomach. But most uniquely, he has a giant, red, crooked dog penis which is itself tipped with a vulva. He also has a second face below his navel, with a gaping mouth and outstretched tongue, and his voice is without timber and hard to understand. Here the image of Baphomet is radically embellished, or from another perspective enhanced, its androgynous qualities magnified in comparison to the original, and further mixed with the influence of medieval iconography of the Devil. We can vaguely see what Przybyszewski meant when he said that Satan was originally feminine, though to refer to this Satan as strictly a woman would be inaccurate. This is completely different from the entirely masculine Satan discussed previously, and certainly unique when compared to many traditional images of Satan. This Satan is not merely a paragon of dark masculinity, instead this Satan brazenly defies normative gender with his simultaneously male and female body.
The mass begins, and it is altogether an inversion of Christian rites. First, the participants gather before Satan to confess their failure to be evil; to confess their chastity, their humility, their patience, their temperance, their brotherly love among other pieties and general lack of sin. Satan patiently listens to these confessions, but also dispenses beatings to the confessors, because he does not appreciate anyone going only halfway, for all who enter his church must fulfill his commandments completely. The confession is then followed by the introduction of those wishing to join Satan’s church. These people move before the throne of Satan, Satan asks if they want to become his minions, and they say yes. Those wanting to join Satan’s church follow his instructions. First the initiate must renounce the following: “I reject God, then Jesus Christ, then the Holy Spirit, the Virgin, the saints, the Holy Cross, I give myself over to your power and into your hands in every way, I also acknowledge no other God, so that you are my God and I am your servant.”. The initiate then kisses Satan on his second face, a sign of eternal servitude to evil. Then, Satan scratches the effect of baptism off of the initiate’s forehead with his claw, and the initiate is then baptised in a font of filthy water. The initiate swears to never again take up Christian sacrament except for blasphemy, to defile Christian relics, to keep the secret of the “sabbat”, to acquire new membership for Satan’s church, and to dedicate all strength to Satan. The mass ends with the petition of a person rebaptized by Satan to their name erased from the book of life and then have it written in the book of death. At that point Satan marks the initiate with a stigmata. Men are stigmatized on their eyelids, shoulders, or lips, while women receive this on their nipples or their labia. At that point, the pact with the Devil is concluded, and the soul of the initiate is forever sworn to Satan. From then on, the initiate’s nature is completely reversed. What was highest becomes the lowest, and vice versa, the law that once bound them has been rendered powerless, and the virtues of the law were stripped away in mockery. For women, Przybyszewski says, this means freedom from the restrictions that men placed on them.
So, to summarize what all of this means for Przybyszewski’s doctrine of Satanism, we should above all return to the subject of reversal, or a rebours. The witches’ sabbath and the black mass culminate in a reversal that is at once the transvaluation of values. A rebours as an act initiates the re-evaluation and dissolution of the order of things as applicable to the soul, and this reversal, as a Decadent and Satanic extension of Nietzschean transvaluation, is the essence of Przybyszewski’s Satanism. This has an obvious appeal to those who find themselves trodden underfoot by society, while those who benefit from its structures are not quite capable of grasping its value and indeed find themselves arrayed against it.
Since Przybyszewski makes comparisons to pre-Christian orgiastic rites or more aptly his idea thereof, it is worth briefly examining the subject of the mysteries of Cybele, as quite probably the only extant historical subject we can actually assess. Przybyszewski does point to Babylonian orgies, but from a historical standpoint this can probably be dismissed as the fantasy of Herodotus, who is himself rather well-known for his fantasies and exaggerations. Regarding the mysteries of Cybele, the thought of the priestess of Cybele receiving the phallus in an orgy must seem quite alien to the actual worshippers of Cybele. Indeed, as far as the male member is concerned, one of the more well-known aspects of the worship of Cybele consists in the severing of said member from and by male priests. These priests, the Galli, castrated themselves in imitation of the god of Attis, and then lived and presented as women in devotion to Cybele. A similar tradition can be seen in ancient Sumeria, where a similar priesthood also castrated themselves and embraced femininity while defying male norms in worship of the goddess Inanna. The amusing thing about all this is that I would think Przybyszewski would find this act of castration an attack on nature, if solely for the reason that it involves the severing of the phallus. I would say that this comprises a misunderstanding of the orgiastic rites dedicated to Cybele. Again, if there is an analogue to Przybyszewski’s “sabbat”, it is in the Dionysian mysteries or popular worship of Dionysus. The mysteries were presided over by a largely female priesthood, while more local festivals honouring him involved carrying a phallus sculpture through the streets to denote fertility. But of course, perhaps the operative aspect is that it serves to re-establish Przybyszewski’s Satanism as a continuation of the orgiastic pagan tradition, of “the heathen cult” as it were.
Finally, before the next section, let us return to the subject of how Przybyszewski writes about women and the Witch. There is still doubtless something problematic, in that many aspects of the text present an inherently contradictory impression of his Satanism and the Witch as its apostle, and it is a trend that continues on further in the book. Per Faxneld in The Devil’s Party explains this development with two possibilities: either Przybyszewski felt pressure towards the second half of the book to increasingly vilify Satan worship, or he as a Decadent author consciously drew from the trappings of Decadent literature so that his presentation of Satanism is coloured by, well, abject decadence. I tend to think the latter theory, that he deliberately hyperbolized his narrative, is much more plausible than the idea of probably the world’s first self-avowed modern Satanist somehow felt the need to re-tailor his work to appease Christian audiences. I do maintain that Faxneld is probably correct to assume that Przybyszewski is not simply vilifying women here, he almost certainly seems to lionize the Witch albeit it in a very perverse way. But even while Faxneld assures that Przybyszewski is no woman-hater based on his journals, I am inclined to suspect that there is some misogyny in Przybyszewski as well. We should remember that he writes as if the old Christian accounts are accurate, even if his overall point is that the evil women are saints because they are evil, which could still be interpreted simply as their will to destroy the authority and norms of the church. Ultimately there is a remarkable and somewhat disturbing ambiguity Przybyszewski’s writing, which is underscored by the fact that his whole point is about reversal and that the Witch embodies this reversal, and that on this basis, it’s not possible that Przybyszewski’s Witch is necessarily meant to be taken as a malefic character, at least in that the decadent narrative contains within itself more than its sensational lustre.
I think Przybyszewski may have, in his own deeply flawed way, attempted to communicate a negativity similar to the way baedan talks about queerness. The birth of the Witch is still situated in the utter bleakness of the Middle Ages and particularly the life of women in that setting. Enslaved and contained by patriarchy both Christian and pre-Christian and even subordinated by the male Magicians and demons, branded as criminals by the church and its God, women in Przybyszewski’s narrative occupy a special space of deviance and criminality that they in turn embrace through their will to destructive vengeance against the world that attacks them. Culminating up to the pact with Satan at the end of the “sabbat”, Przybyszewski’s Witch makes it her business to tower over even the very role foisted upon her in her embrace of evil, and the promise of liberation contained within Satanic a rebours becomes the mechanism of unmitigated revenge. In this way, the pact is sealed and Christianity ain’t seen nothing yet.
Part 4: The Progress of The Sabbat
We continue our exploration of the Witches’ Sabbath. For Przybyszewski, the entire sordid history of the Middle Ages is reflected in this “sabbat”. The “sabbat” is characterized as an orgasm of unbridled instincts, an all-powerful revolt of the flesh against its repression, and a dark cry of hallelujah to a crucified paganism. Yet again we see Przybyszewski establish his Satanism as an evolution of “the heathen cult”. In fact, he goes on to describe the “sabbat” as a synthesis of every pre-Christian orgiastic cult. Again we are referred to the cult of Cybele, where greedy desire culminated in “a frenzy of refined cruelty”, then to the sacred prostitution attributed to the cult of Astarte, and then to Greek witches invoking Hecate through conjurations. Przybyszewski asserts that all of this was synthesized together in the medieval “sabbat” and revised to suit the contemporary religious context. The difference between the two “sabbats” is established as their aim, with the pre-Christian versions of the “sabbat” being entirely “positive”, or rather about as positive as it gets with Przybyszewski’s bleak Decadent prose, and the medieval “sabbat” was entirely negative. In the pre-Christian “sabbats”, the aim was to draw everything into the realm of the divine; the instincts of nature were sanctified and the orgiastic ecstasies were a way of worshipping the gods. In the medieval “sabbat”, by contrast, was based almost entirely in the hatred of Christianity, the Catholic Church, Jesus Christ, and all things ecclesiastical.
It is at this point worth discussing the nature of the orgiastic aspects of pre-Christian religiosity again. Actually, I suppose it’s better to start with the whole concept of sacred prostitution in the context of pre-Christian Syria. Perfectly lurid, scandalous, and ostensibly titillating, this is very much an archaic trope in historical discussion of pre-Christian religion. It makes sense that someone like Przybyszewski in his day would take it for granted, let alone lauded it, as hardly anyone questioned it by the time The Synagogue of Satan was written. But in modern scholarship, depending on what context we are referring to, it is a point of contention. While there are credible accounts of the practice of sacred prostitution in the context of ancient Greece in temples devoted to the goddess Aphrodite, in the context of ancient Phoenicia, there isn’t really much in the way of hard evidence for the practice being devoted to Astarte. As for the cult of Cybele, I’m not totally sure how violent Przybyszewski meant it to appear, but it is documented that the orgies dedicated to Cybele did involve flagellations, ritual mutiliation, and self-castration. Sex didn’t enter into it, but there was some ecstatic dancing and drinking set to music and ritual cries. The term “orgy” itself bears some examination. It comes from the Greek word “orgia”, or “orgion”, which referred to an ecstatic religious celebration, often specifically in worship of the god Dionysus. The word actually meant “secret rites”, and although modern use of the term “orgy” (including by Przybyszewski) tends to connote large-scale sex parties, it’s not obvious that these involved sex of any sort. The real point of the orgia was simply ecstatic union with the divine (which, in his own way, Przybyszewski did still acknowledge), though they were “unrestrained” in the sense that they involved unscripted frenzied dances meant to embody the divine madness of Dionysus and reflect his myths. That said, what is true is that there is an extent to which this ecstasy allowed its participants to shatter the norms of the society they lived in. It can also be said that the orgiastic aspects of pre-Christian religiosity were intimiately connected with social transgression. Examples of this include not only the mysteries of Dionysus and Cybele but also the religio-magickal practice of goeteia, the mysteries of Sabazios, the Egyptian Festival of Drunkenness, the Scandinavian Berserker cult, the worship of Inanna by the Gala priests in Sumeria, the bands of Mairiia warriors in ancient Iran, the “primitive” cult within Manchu folk religion, and the art of sacred transgression (or “seihan”) in Japanese Shinto festivals. This is not to mention the whole practice of Vamachara Tantra within Hinduism and its Buddhist counterparts. In this sense, it is not totally wrong for Przybyszewski to locate a pre-Christian mode of transgression in the ecstatic or orgiastic aspects of pre-Christian religion, and, while in practice he is very probably working backwards from his own ideas of the “sabbat”, it is also possible to take his idea of Satanism in development from that orgiastic legacy.
In the description of the negativity of the medieval “sabbat”, we arrive once more at the theme of “the heathen cult” as the negative space lurking beneath the Christian church. On the substratum of hate were the deep layers of the shadow of the church built; this was the site of all that the church despised, persecuted, and suppressed. This was every remnant of paganism that lived on after the rise of Christianity, and every foreign opinion and custom, that was accepted by the people and attacked by the church. And, of course, this also included Przybyszewski’s constructed “Manichaeanism”, which we’re told is the progenitor and custodian of the medieval “sabbat”. What the church constructs as its criminal shadow, which it does straight from the soil of its foundation, inevitably contains within itself, in this very construction, the pure potential of its unraveling in the transvaluation of anti-Christian revolt and reversal.
The church insisted that demons raged in those who were possessed and sought to heal them with prayer and holy water. The possessed “knew” this, they acknowledged that they were being possessed by the Devil, and they let him roar fearsome blasphemies against the church. The Witch especially allowed this possession by the Devil, giving herself over to him after all difficulty, and thereby accessing the superhuman ecstasies of the “sabbat” through their erotic dedication to Satan. This, we’re told, had an effect on “Manichaeanism”, which was thus merged with a widespread popular desire for anti-Christian sacrilege. Positive matter, the “God quand méme” of the Cathars, became filth amidst the rage of battle and in the polemics of the dying Albigensians and possessed witches. The principle that Przybyszewski attributes to the Cathars, that “no one can sin below the navel”, and which he asserts was the holy precept of the priestesses of Ashtaroth, was turned into a means by which the Satanic Witch could assail all things holy and crucify Jesus once more. Whereas the devout Cathar renounced the Catholic Church with holy seriousness, the Witch took up the Cathar’s renunciation as a form of mockery that concluded in devil worship. For the Witch, the religion of the Cathars was but a vessel of satirical detournement from which she might derive weapons with which to attack God and his church.
The people, who were apparently converted to Christian love through cruelty, nonetheless took up the heritage of their ancestors. The desperate, the enslaved, and the tortured did not cease to celebrate the festivities of old; the festivals of instinct, the rituals of purifying sin by means of sin (odd, considering this was already established as an attempt by the church to try and defeat the power of Satan), and the celebration of the phallus and the fury of generation. The church of Satan was so powerful that even if you only once visited the church of the initiates, your soul would forever belong to Satan. The “sabbat” melted into the phantasms of the possessed, and the originally natural forms of the “sabbat” transformed into monstrous visions that made it impossible to tell where reality begins and ends. Thus thousands of years of distinct religious heritages and perversions carried across all times and peoples amalgamated into a chaos of contrasting instincts. But as monstrous as Przybyszewski makes it sound, he also makes it seem like an unrivalled rapture of joy. It was a form of intoxication and addiction in itself. Attending the “sabbat” was like taking up opium; after the first time, it was a passion that could not be broken. But the witches referred to the “sabbat” as a “true paradise”, home to more joys than it was possible to express, and the sign being given at the “sabbat” was equivalent to being called to a wedding. The soul was said to connect to the heart and the will in a manner that overrode all other concerns.
We can again assess the pre-Christian thematic content being invoked. Phallicism, of course, was a part of pre-Christian religion. Indeed, depictions of the phallus have been around since pre-historic times. Throughout pre-Christian cultures, the phallus was a symbol of fertility, and therefore I suppose part of the generative powers of nature. In Greece, the phallus was part of the celebration of the Rural Dionysia, a festival in honour of Dionysus in which participants carried phalluses among other objects. The phallus was a symbol of Dionysus that adorned the entrance to his temple in Delos. It was also a symbol of the god of Hermes, which may have connoted some association with fertility. The Norse god Freyr was often worshipped in a somewhat phallic form. In the Balkans, a god of fertility named Kuker is represented with a phallus. In India, the cult of the phallus was linked to the worship of the god Shiva. In Japan, phalluses are sometimes carried in festivals meant to celebrate fertility and the harvest. In ancient Rome, phalluses were universal and often apotropaic symbols. The point is, the celebration of the phallus was a thing in the pre-Christian world, and which Christianity has, of course, suppressed. “Festivals of instinct” is certainly another way of referring to orgiastic celebrations as was already discussed, but the idea of purifying sin by means of sin has essentially nothing to do with Paganism and is instead the innovation of certain “Gnostic” Christian sects, such as the Carpocratians and the so-called “Borborites”. Perhaps Przybyszewski is again working backwards from his own ideas in defining “the heathen cult” specifically as an expression of religious libertinism, and it is very clear that he seems to mean libertinism when discussing his idea of the pre-Christian “heathen cult”, but at least it is true that Przybyszewski is discussing something that Christianity had tried to suppress in the wake of its own ascendancy.
Christian authorities could not understand the appeal of the “sabbat”, since they understood it only as a place of abomination and filth. When judges asked for the answer, they were told that the people enjoyed the “sabbat” with a wondrous lust and furious desire and in that, in so doing, time elapsed so quickly as the idolatries were indulged that one only left the “sabbat” with regret and felt an irresistable longing to return. The joys of the “sabbat” are not mundane joys, but are instead superhuman joys. As the “sabbat” grew, the Witch transitioned in her priorities. She moved on from merely sacrilegious appropriation of Cathar doctrine and had taken up the “sabbat” as her religion. The reversal of her nature took place almost imperceptively, and as a result she had become a new being. The orgy of the “sabbat” became an end in and of itself, and because of this the Witch no longer considered the relationship of her cultus to the Christian church and no longer even considered her rites to be a form of sacrilege. The orgies were hence celebrated for their own sake, and with no reference to prior customs or blasphemies. The supposed joys of heaven were nothing compared to the “sabbat”, thus the participants raged in the consciousness of eternal damnation, believing that hell was preferable to heaven, and in the magical fury of sabbatical desire the participants often transformed into wolves, vampires, goats, or pigs. Over time, the “sabbat” became the only cultus of the people, changing from a place of trembling to a place of immeasurable desire, and Satan, the lord of the “sabbat”, had transformed from the anti-God par excellence to the only God. And, where the people originally turned to him for gold and power, the revolt of the flesh experienced in the “sabbat” that he presided over made the gold and the power seem quite worthless.
The “sabbat” in this sense reveals the real locus of Przybyszewski’s Satanism: flesh. We must remember that Satan, in Przybyszewski’s framework, is the god of flesh. Through the “sabbat”, flesh and sensation become a portal for the highest of spiritual or superhuman experiences, in which desire heightens and is fulfilled in its transmutation into the ecstatic experience of dark divinity in communion with Satan. Gold is ultimately nothing but worthless dust and power over others is ultimately nothing but foolish vanity when compared to the ecstasy brought about with the tremors of the flesh. And so the “sabbat”, as the supreme celebration of desire as communion with the divine, or with Satan, supercedes mundane society, its classed hierarchies and acquisitive norms one and all. The “sabbat” is where people raise their instincts above all the structures of society, and from their the ecstatic desire arced toward Satanic communion becomes a force of communization in its own right. Thus the appeal of the “sabbat” is easily elucidated, and the desire of the church to stamp it out requires only basic intuition to understand.
God, of course, was completely forgotten in the course of the “sabbat”, for there was no God but Satan. Satan raised the black host, and barked the words “this is my body!” in reference to a towering phallus. The whole congregation fell to their knees, engaged the same reverence once reserved for Christian sacrament, and they cried out: “Aquerra goity! Aquerra boyty!” (supposedly meaning “goat above! goat below!”). Another, more modern, version of this chant is “Akhera goiti, akhera beiti!“, meaning “the He-goat on high, the He-goat below!”. The Basque word “Akerra” means “he-goat”, and the Basque term for the Witches’ Sabbath was “Akelarre”. This Akelarra is the subject of legend, supposedly the remnants of a pagan culture that once flourished in Spain and possibly involving the use of hallucinogens. This was said to involve the company of a black goat, who may be recognisable as Akerbeltz, a spirit or possibly a deity who protected animals. In any case, the witches who were judged in the Basque region insisted that they had no idea they were committing any sins or doing anything wrong, and to the contrary considered their activity to be the only true religion. Far from ashamed of their actions, they recounted their celebrations with comfort, shamelessness, and pleasure, for they preferred the caress of the demons to any other and no matter what questions were directed to them.
This in my view invites us to return to the subject of “purifying sin by means of sin”, as it was related by Przybyszewski to the “sabbat”, and there is an extent to which we might discuss the form it takes. When Przybyszewski first discussed this idea, it was in the context of the Christian church resorting to the development of this idea in the hope of ultimately extinguishing sin. This, of course, is one of the contradictions that in our narrative contributed to the decline of the church. In the “sabbat”, however, something different occurs. Instead of extinguishing sin by means of sin, the esctatic eruption of sinful desire ends up enveloping and dissolving the concept itself. Passing into the maelstrom of evil passion, the participants seem to experience the breakdown of the barriers that comprise the notion of sin. Once again we can turn to Stirner’s terms: in the sacrilege against the ecclesiastical and the holy, the “absolute interest” in the face of which the concept of sin is created has been destroyed, sin no longer exists because that which sin sins against is gone, and so sin itself has been forgotten along with the holy (the “absolute interest”). Sin has not been extinguished by means of sin, as the church or the “Gnostics” may have hoped. Instead, sin has withered into nothing by means of its unfolding, giving way into what it was before the emergence of the holy, or what it shall be after the death of the holy. The “sabbat”, as communization, acheives the realization of sin into the dissolution of sin and the holy, into its own unfolding into its own forgotten, which is the product of the mass liberation of consciousness in the ecstasies of the “sabbat”. In a few words, the “sabbat” has become a means by which to abolish good and evil, leaving only unqualified desire and immeasurable joy.
The “sabbat” proves to be a source of great difficulty for the powers that be. No matter how many witches are tortured and burned at the stake, Satan ensures that just as many new witches take their place. But now, in relation to this, we come to Przybyszewski’s presentation of the Enlightenment, and it serves not only to recapitulate that Przybyszewski was not a rationalist but also to show that, if anything, despite his praises of rationalism earlier in the book, he might even have been a sort of anti-rationalist – or, again, at least writes as if that’s the case. Przybyszewski here regards the Enlightenment as an erroneous dismissal the “sabbat” and the occult more generally. He considers the Enlightenment explanation of witchcraft and the various other subjects he discusses in terms of superstition or ignorance as not only an error but also an opportunistic bias whose aim is simply to attack the church. He viewed historians who dismissed the “sabbat” and witchcraft and similar subject matter as having glossed over “all-too-well-attested facts” because they made them uncomfortable. In his view, only comparatively recently did historians begin to seriously consider the occurences of occult phenomena, whose existence he regarded as undeniable, and only then be able to shed light on them. As far as Przybyszewski is concerned, the fundamental problem is that the supposed reality of the “sabbat” was overlooked, and as proof Przybyszewski offers not only the accounts already offered about Satanic sects and their practices but also his claim that the gatherings were happened upon by outsiders. In such instances, we’re told, the participants either scattered and fled from the scene or beat the outsider to death, in both cases in order to preserve the secrecy of the “sabbat”. Thus, for Przybyszewski, the reality of the “sabbat” and all occult phenomenon is not in doubt, however historically dubious it seems to us. To him, we are all swimming in a hopeless opportunistic that presents us from clearly seeing the truth. Unfortunately for Przybyszewski, however, I cannot quite say that he is right.
We then return to the nature of the “sabbat”. Participants induced orgasm in themselves through furious dance, and the visionaries cannot distinguish this orgasm from “the real one”. The orgiastic condition was elevated through the use of narcotics, demonology books are apparently supposed to be full of them, and the orgiastic condition then concludes in a kind of epileptic somnambulism. All present in the “sabbat” were in a state of mutual interconnectedness, and because of this their visions appear to be identical and share characteristics. The visions were already insinuated into their minds by “the Satanic code” to the extent that those participating in the Satanic circle would enter into a visionary spiritual union with the others without even having any awareness of this union. People share in the sacrilegous abolition of absolute or holy interest, and then in the pure egoistic eruption and ecstasy of desire, and in so doing they seem to unite with each other during the duration of the “sabbat”, in this way self-consciousness appears to be shared in the process of sabbatical communization, individual interests find themselves interconnected in the Satanic visionary state. The hypnagogic narcotics employed in “sabbats” made various extant phenomena appear veiled, and the image of Satan was rarely seen clearly. In one instance Satan appeared as just an immense mass of fog, while in another in the shape of tree stump with a human face, albeit covered in darkness, and in yet another appears as a red human-shaped fire burning in a barely visible oven. Then there is the stiffening of extremities; the icy coldness supposedly felt during coitus or the offering of the host, abnormal muscular activity during dances, the sensation of flight, the complete reversal of natural orientation in space, terrible cramps that are perceived to be the whips that they receive from the Devil, and certain phenomenon related to light and fire. All of this, Przybyszewski, says, is indicative of epipleptic and somatic processes brought about by the use of narcotics. This, I think, is somewhat curious, because it arguably lends to a physical explanation of what Przybyszewski might otherwise insist is strictly non-physical occult phenomenon. Yet it also arguably helps his thesis of the “sabbat” as a continuation of paganism, since psychedelics were actually a part of pre-Christian mystery traditions such as the Eleusinian Mysteries.
But, Przybyszewski tells us, the historical “sabbat” slowly disappeared. Gatherings became limited to a midsummer night, or faded away entirely as the witches found a way to enjoy all the pleasures of the “sabbat” without actually being present in any gatherings. We are told that Alphonso de Spina referred to the existence of a sect which was called the Xurginae, or Bruxae, which consisted of men and women who voluntarily involved themselves with the Devil. This is most likely an archaic reference, and outside of The Synagogue of Satan I can’t find anything about the so-called “Xurginae” or “Bruxae” or any reference to them apart from in Wilhelm Gottlieb Soldan’s Geschichte der Hexenprozesse (“History of Witch Trials”). What are told about them, though, is that they involved themselves with the Devil, that the Devil took their souls away from “that place”, and that by means of deceptions he makes them believe that they can fly 200,000 miles in four or five hours. Spina is then said to have recounted a witch boasting before her Inquisitor and the royal court that she was carried through air on a trip with the Devil. She only needer her salve to prove it to the court, but when she applied it to herself nothing happened, indicating that her flight was an illusion, a deception from the Devil. In another account, attributed to the French jurist Jean Bodin (a.k.a. Bodinus), a witch told Inquisitors that she would travel to the “sabbat” if she were allowed to apply her salve, which she did and then immediately feel asleep. Tied in her bed, and beaten and pricked without her giving any sign of life, the next day she recounted her trip to the “sabbat”, but, according to Przybyszewski, this was a hallucination that got mixed up with the tortures inflicted on her. He further adds that no credible accounts of levitation have ever been given in the entire study of demonology.
Here we see an interesting contradiction. Przybyszewski previously established levitation as an attribute of the Witch or a phenomenon of the “sabbat”, but now it seems that Przybyszewski is in the business of refuting it. Is the idea here to establish that later developments away from the “sabbat” are based in falsehood? Whatever the case may be it seems he’s explaining the trips with the Devil in physical terms, in terms of some sort of confusion of the senses, whereas he had just previously regarded Enlightenment historians as stupid and opportunistic for doing so in their refusal to recognise occult phenomena as real. In any case, Przybyszewski says that in every case the witch prepared herself for trip to the “sabbat” in the same way: she stripped naked and applied the witch’s salve upon her body, and then fell into a trance. If we remember, this is the same way that the actual “sabbat” starts in Przybyszewski’s account of the Witch, but previously this was meant to refer to an actual process of an actual “sabbat”, and yet now the same process is depicted as a deception or an illusion.
The salve is an important part of the accounts of the witch trials, and Przybyszewski that it is not unique to medieval witchcraft. We are referred to the soma drink of the “Brahmans”, as in the Soma that was believed by Vedic to heal people, cure sickness, grant immortality and allow humans to commune with the gods. Vedic myths described trhe consumption of Soma by Indra and his warriors as giving them near-invincibility and a trance-like state of battle-fury. In Zoroastrianism, a similar substance is called Haoma, and the prophet Zoroaster condemned a series of ecstatic rituals involving haoma before a more moderate version of the ritual was introduced. Przybyszewski says that Soma was consumed in order to attain clairvoyance and the perfection of yoga. We are also refered to the “repenthes” of Homer, probably actually referring to a drug called “nepenthes”, which in the Odyssey was said to quiet all pain and strife and induce forgetfulness of all ills. These and other drugs, such as the potamantis (apparently an Indian plant, which he calls “protomantes” for some reason), the thalassegle (which seems to actually be another name for the potamantis), and the gelatophyllis (which may or may not have been an old word for cannabis), as all referred to by Pliny, are asserted by Przybyszewski to be ways of separating the soul from the body in order to transport it into a state of otherworldly joy and happiness. Another plant given as an example is the heliocabus, also called “atropia mandragora” or “antropa belladonna”, which seems to be another name for the plant we know as deadly nightshade.
We are told that Karl Kiesewetter, a German Theosophist and occultist, had contemporarily performed experiments on himself in which he rubbed witches’ salves on himself. According to Przybyszewski, Kiesewetter found that rubbing the salve (seemingly a form of hyoscyamine) in the pit of his stomach produced visions dreams of animated flight in a spiral, as though he was being hurled around in a tornado. Witches are said to be able to dispense with all artificial means to go to the “sabbat”, provided they sleep for a little while beforehand. This was apparently agreed upon by the witches who were prosecuted by Pierre de Lancre, all about 1,000 of them. A consistent “awakening” occurs if the sleep is only so deep. Some said it was sufficient to close one eye, and then in the next instance one “awakens” and is spirited away. After a short nap, the witches enter a perfect awakened state, with no doubts about the reality of what they see while spirited away or what is presently occurring. Somnambulism, then, is presented as something distinct from regular sleep, the difference between which is not understood by normal people. Apparently only one witch ever doubted the reality of the “sabbat”. Przybyszewski says that people definitely do not have normal eyesight during the “sabbat”, everything appears confused, no one can see anything definite. This is compared to drunkenness or sleep, or trickery. Cases of partial waking sleep are said to be extremely rare. Somnambulism is established as being so highly developed that the time of transition between physical sleep and transcendental time contracts, meaning that it would not take long to go from sleeping to some sort of transcendent “awakening” state. Thus a woman named Katharina of Landal says that she does not need sleep, but when sitting by the fire in the evenings she feels an incomparable longing to go to the “sabbat” and is immediately transported there.
So, after a somewhat confusing assessment of the reality of the “sabbat”, at least confusing as far as Przybyszewski’s position on it is concerned, our understanding of Przybyszewski’s Satanism is increased via our discussion of the “sabbat”. It reveals to us the essence of Satanic communization locked within the “sabbat”, in which the limits of reality are upended and even good and evil themselves are dissolved, leaving only the immeasurable and unqualified quantity of desire that takes the soul away towards infinite night, that it may behold Satan and his ecstasies. The liberation of consciousness in the tunnel of desire is the outcome of the “sabbat”, and so it is the highest desire, longed for again and again, and in the “sabbat” egoistic interest is purified, being free from holy interest, and then in the void of the holy even sin is gone, having transformed back into the purity of desire, and then egoisitic interests join together in communization under Satan. This is also attendant to a will to reversal that is cultivated in the communion with Satan, as previously established about the “sabbat”. Witchcraft, in the context of Przybyszewski’s Satanism, is thus the means to bring about the ultimate liberation induced by the “sabbat”. The Witch emerges from persecution and moves from heresy to blasphemy and finally becomes the priestess of the ultimate religion and its ultimate God; that religion being the communization of the “sabbat” and that God being Satan.
Before we move on to the final section of The Synagogue of Satan, I think it is worth once more re-examining the Witches’ Sabbath, this time touching on its possible pre-Christian roots. Whether real or concocted by the church or by heresy-hunters, the fact remains there is something about it that is not entirely Christian in its legacy. Just where did people get the idea of people stripping naked, convering themselves with hallucinogens, taking drugs, dancing at the hilltops and performing magic to worship a black goat? The whole idea of nocturnal revelry is rather consistently Pagan, specifically it harks back to ancient Greek mysteries, such as to Cybele, Dionysus, or Sabazios. They had orgiastic ecstasies (though, again, not exactly orgies in the modern sense) and ritual cries, not to mention drugs. Heraclitus described worshippers of Dionysus as magicians roaming together in the night, raving madly in performance of “unholy” rites to the phallus. The idea of the soul travelling away from the body for the purpose of communion is much in line with how ancient Greeks would have understood the concept of ecstasy, whose root word “ekatasis” means “to stand outside oneself”. The idea of hallucinogens inducing a sense of flying may have been attested to at least far back as the 2nd century, when Apuleius depicted witches using unguents to confer supernatural powers, such as flight and shapeshifting onto themselves in his Metamorphoses. Beyond this, there are attestations to the worship of the goddess Diana in nocturnal gatherings that involved singing and dancing, as possible remnants of folk pagan custom in parts of Europe. This has been interpreted as a rebellion of witchcraft against the Catholic Church. The goat himself can be interpreted as a unique medieval image of Satan, but of course it does have certain antecedents. Many people point to Pan as the obvious origin of the goat-like appearance of many depictions of the medieval Devil, and this has no doubt in informed Przybyszewski’s treatment of Pan as a pre-Christian avatar of Satan. But Pan is not the only influence here. In Francisco Goya’s Witches Sabbath, one of the classic artistic representations of the Witches’ Sabbath, the Great He-Goat featured therein may have been based on Athansius Kircher’s depictions of Molech, or Moloch. Moloch was purportedly a Canaanite idol, but since there probably was no actual Moloch outside of the Bible, this is probably a cipher for other deities such as Ba’al Hammon, Milcom, Malik, or Ba’al himself.
Yet, if we are looking for a precise point in pre-Christian history where we might find the existence of an original Witches’ Sabbath, we would be chasing phantoms. Perhaps the trope itself is more like the amalgamation that Przybyszewski said the actual “sabbat” was, though not quite the merger of all customs that he assumed it was; more like a transmission of certain elements of Pagan mystery into the context of a Christian overculture, when then saw these elements as absolutely satanic. In this, the church had that much in common with the Roman establishment, who regarded witches as dangerous and illicit elements of society.
Part 5: The Black Mass
For the final section of The Synagogue of Satan, we are once again referred to a discussion of the Witch. This, of course, also means that we must observe the exact same caveats as before when inevitably we must deal with Przybyszewski’s sensationalistic depictions of the crimes of the Witch. We are told that the crimes committed by the Witch are countless, and Przybyszewski cites the German theologian Johannes Nider in providing a list of crimes attributed to the Witch. These include defaming the church and the Pope by way of the Devil, performing rites of homage to the Devil, joy-riding with devils, bewitching or hexing crops and livestock, inciting hate and/or lust among people, interfering with intercourse and copulation among humans or animals, transforming humans into animals or causing lycanthropy, killing the “fruit of the womb” (presumably meaning either children or the unborn, it’s difficult to tell which) through sorcery, using the body parts of the slain for slaves, and sexual intercourse and copulation with demons such as the incubus or succubus. Of note here is that Nider himself doubted that witches could actually fly so it does have me working how Przybyszewski got the “joy-riding” accusation from him. Whatever the case, Przybyszewski assures us that, while it became customary to accuse witches of every absurd charge, what the witches actually did caused even hardened Inquisitors to recoil in horror. The other thing to bear in mind here is that, in actual fact, most of the people who were actually charged with witchcraft probably never even came close to doing any of the things that Przybyszewski described.
We are then brought back to themes of reversal and evil as contained in the Witch. Her “criminality” resulted from the reversal of her whole nature, spiritual and physical, and the total devaluation of the laws given to their bodies. This, we are told, is not quite an expression of volition or will but instead an expression of necessity, specifically a necessity akin to the necessity felt by those doing “good”, which is thus undertaken without any awareness of the nature of one’s actions; we can think of it as an involuntary and unconscious will-to-evil, akin to a similarly unconscious will-to-good. The Witch, here, contains within herself the reversal of all conventional and divine law, and thus the question of “where does evil come from?” is supposedly answered and the supposed “Satanic code” arises in her. In essence, this code is to go against the law and vex the holy. Przybyszewski insists that, for the Witch, this meant loving Satan, serving only Satan, regarding Satan as the only God, despising and defiling the name of Jesus, honouring the holy days in the “synagogue” (of Satan), killing men, women, and even children so as to vex Jesus in his saying “Suffer the little children to come unto me”, committing adultery, fornication, robbery, and murder, bearing false witness, and lying. In essence, the code is to commit every sin, and to sin on principle, and subvert all laws.
It is at this point hard for me to ignore an obvious contradiction, returning to the issue of misogyny. The worst crimes are attributed to the Witch, while the male Magician’s only real crime is against the laws of gravity and thermodynamics. Practically the entire second chapter of The Synagogue of Satan is devoted to recounting the extravagant and frankly fantastical crimes of female witches, but the Magician’s is introduced in the first section of the first chapter and ultimately gives way to the subject of the “Manichaeans” and the Cathars, all of whom don’t even come close to the depravity assigned to the Witch. The bias is fairly obvious in this setting. Women are obviously being positioned as “more evil” than men. Now, there is a general sense in which it is still probably correct to adhere to Faxneld’s argument that ambiguities and reversal are the primary tropes at play, being a self-declared Satanism and that Satanism entailing evil and evolution being linked and therefore positive, but even there, a certain degree of skepticism is naturally elicited when we look at the details. It is frankly not possible to assume that Przybyszewski would seriously have accepted every sin he describes as actually a virtue. Yet, at the core of it all, it may yet be more troublesome and typical Decadent ambiguity.
However, if we accept the argument that Przybyszewski deliberately sensationalized his accounts in order to weave a narrative suitable for his Decadent sensibilities, and those of his audience, then we may accept that there’s a larger point, perhaps comprising the “spirit” of the work for a lack of better terminology. And so we may ask, what is the operative point? The obvious answer is reversal, a rebours, as the central point of Przybyszewski’s Satanism. Reversal is in essence an extension of the transvaluation of values set forth by Nietzsche, realized in the act of the practical dissolution of fixed values that are set over individual action.
Continuing Przybyszewski’s recapitulatory discussion of the Witch, we are told that the Witch possessed magical powers that gave her a terrible power over other people. Her glance alone could cripple her enemies. When brought to trial, she was presented before the judge with her back to him so that the judge would avoid receiving her glance and its effects. A certain gesture of one of her hands was enough to hypnotize someone and cause them to receive stigmata, and she could do so to people far away from her due to the strength of her magickal will. And she did not limit herself in her means. Both natural and artificial means suited her just fine. An industrious poison-mixer, there was no poisonous plant she did not know about. But, of course, she needed human flesh and blood to increase the effects of those plants. This is obviously in reference to those tropes about Satanists collecting blood and fat for the Witches’ Sabbath, or in Przybyszewski’s telling in order to produce the so-called “anthropotoxin” for their concoctions. Of course, this all not only has no basis in reality (for one thing, there’s no such thing as “anthropotoxin”) but also bears a similarity to accusations of blood libel that preceded the witch trials. This positions the Witch in the space where Christian society designates the Other as inherently hostile towards it, and therefore establishes it as a negativity, or as the death drive. The lacking reality of the accusations belies a contradiction that marks the power inherent within Christian society to produce its own antagonism and potential for internal revolt.
Przybyszewski then moves on to the subject of murder. Witches were not the only people thought to have abducted children. Przybyszewski claims not only that at least one child was sacrificed during “sabbats” but also that hunting children for sport became a popular pastime in the Middle Ages, partaken by people of every major religion, with an unbelievable (and I mean perhaps quite literally unbelievable) number of victims. He references the notorious French serial killer Gilles de Rais and asserts that he murdered around 1,000 children for “Satanic purposes”. This particular idea, on its own, should be addressed first and foremost.
Gilles de Rais has long had a reputation as some sort of medieval Satanist in connection with his crimes, and a few people have even attempted to somehow cast him as a persecuted witch or martyr for a long-lost pre-Christian religion, but on what grounds has he been called a Satanist? Is it simply because his crimes were so unbelievably grotesque that they could only be understood as the work of a “Satanic” mind? Or is it because of his apparent esoteric inclinations? Certain testimonies assert that Gilles de Rais practiced alchemy and the art of demon summoning. But King Solomon summoned demons and he was no Satanist. Indeed, he summoned them with the authority of God, and the reality of much of old ceremonial magic, not discussed by Przybyszewski, is that until relatively recently that is how demons were meant to be summoned in the Christian era. A magician, following what was ultimately a Christian system, cast a circle and the names of God and his angels, summoned demons, and through God’s authority bound the demon to his will. Not the most consistently Satanic idea by my standard at least. There is no evidence that Gilles de Rais opposed this idea, certainly none to suggest that he had ever dedicated such efforts to Satan. People, especially when they are unfamiliar with occultism, tend not to understand that just because you’re an occultist and you summon demons doesn’t mean you’re a Satan, particularly not when Satan has nothing to do with your craft. I think that it is more likely that Rais was some sort of lapsed Catholic who dabbled into the occult, as some scholars suggest, and I suspect that the fact that he was testified as having tried to summon demons and killed people for it is the sole reason that anyone, including Przybyszewski, ever regarded him as a Satanist, despite the lack of evidence of any belief system that could be called Satanism or any first or even third person reference to Satanism by name.
Another example Przybyszewski gives is the abbot Guiborg, presumably referring to Etienne Guibourg, who he says held “Black Masses” in which he slaughtered children to mix their blood with menstrual blood and offered the resulting concoction as communion wine. For one thing, I have no doubt that this is one of the original ideas that spawned countless other contemporary Satanic Ritual Abuse conspiracy theories. For another thing, it’s not entirely clear if he was an avowed Satanist, and even the details of the alleged crime scene are disputed among historians, though Montague Summers claims to have an account of him performing a sacrificial rite to Astaroth and Asmodeus. In all truth, we really don’t know if the “Black Masses” ever actually happened, though I personally would not be surprised if in reality they never happened. Przybyszewski then asserts that not only children but also adults were used in these concoctions. He claims, for example, that an Italian cardinal once took a concubine (funny, I thought he already said those were banned by the church) and buried in the ground her up to her breasts, placed snakes at her breasts to bite them, and then took the “juice” that flowed out and used it to mix poisons. There’s no name so I think it’s safe to sarcastically file that under “thing that definitely happened”. According to Przybyszewski, all poisons, including the notorious Aqua Tofana, were supposedly manufactured in this way. Except, that’s not actually true. What is apparently known about the Aqua Tofana, which was created in 1630 by Giulia Tofana, is that it was made with arsenic, lead, and belladonna, not human blood or anything derived from human flesh, although we don’t actually know how it was mixed.
Whole epidemics are attributed to these concoctions, which seems doubtful in my eyes. Remember that he said that these were made using human blood obtained through sacrifice. Creating deadly concoctions through the use of mixtures of human blood would probably caue some sort of blood-related disease. In fact, just drinking human blood on its own is hardly safe; besides the possibility of becoming poisoned by ingesting too much iron from blood, different people can carry all sorts of diseases and pathogens in their blood, and drinking that blood would likely transfer this into your own bloodstream. Now imagine what a mixture of blood from two different people mixed with all sorts of other substances could do to you? Based on Przybyszewski’s claim that Gilles de Rais killed 1,000 children, the allegation that Etienne Guibourg and his mistress Madame de Montespan killed another 2,500, and the presumably innummerable cases of people who Przybyszewski says were killed so that their blood could be turned into poisons, there should have been evidence of massive epidemic of blood-related diseases. I have not found any noteworthy outbreaks of blood diseases in the Middle Ages, let alone any that could be attributed to any sort of witches’ concoction or “black masses”. Frankly, if such ceremonies were real let alone frequent, there would at least be evidence of small outbreaks of blood disorders caused by drinking blood or blood mixed with other substances en masse. The fact that Przybyszewski seems to nonetheless present such things as real and factual is inherently problematic, particularly considering the broad similarity between these “black mass” claims and claims of blood libel, and that problem is not necessarily reduced by the argument about his views about evil.
In any case this is all connected by Przybyszewski back to the subject of witch trials, which are then presented as “well justified” from the standpoint of society. Przybyszewski claims that in 1605, about 2,000 poison mixers were executed in Bohemia, Silesia, and Lausatia. I can’t verify that claim anywhere, so I have no idea where he got it from. Assuming it was true, the poison-mixers would supposedly have been punished by being pinched with red-hot tongues, broken on the wheel, and then “smoked”: that is, roasted by a fire encircled around them. One might as well have already died and gone to the Christian Hell if we go by that description. This, of course, is all justified by the power of these poisons and how they were made. Going from an account attributed to the Swiss physician Bartholomäus Carrichter, we are told that a witch takes certain herbs, speaks magickal words taught to her by a demon or “evil spirit” and which she supposedly does not actually understand (Carrichter treats the whole thing as a creation of her imagination as conditioned by false beliefs), then she presses the juice out of the herbs, washes her hands with it three times, lets it dry by itself in her hands, and don’t wash their hands anymore until they have touched the one they want to harm. As soon as they approach the person they want to harm and that person is not “committed to God”, the spirit of the herbs entered the target and blocked the spirits of their blood, causing a maddening and continuous pain and convulsions. Somehow I fail to see this being an effective epidemic threat, let alone one capable of justifying what must seem like the actual tortures of the Christian Hell upon probably thousands of people. But, of course, Przybyszewski would disagree, suggesting that people in the Middle Ages were highly suggestible to the effects of the poison, which apparently ensured that it worked.
By Przybyszewski’s telling, people in the Middle Ages “had to defend themselves”, and medieval society “had to root out criminal sects” just like how the British attempted to wipe out the “Thuggee” in India in Przybyszewski’s time. It is interesting enough that the witches are being compared to another sect whose existence is not entirely accepted by contemporary scholarship and made for a convenient target for state violence, in this case the British Empire as opposed to the old monarchies of medieval continental Europe. From this standpoint, persecution is framed as a matter of self-defence. From a critical standpoint, we may well admit that this inevitably the case from the standpoint of the overall logic of society, or at least statehood. Society and the state always needs some kind of “Other” to oppose and project a wide array of crimes onto. The state retains its existence through an exclusive monopoly of violence, and so it must always find ways of justifying that violence or ability to dispense it, and so it continually seeks out those it can persecute in order to exercise its own authority. So goes for society in order retain widespread conformity and, from there, authority. Crimes were continually attributed to witches, which allowed the medieval state and church rationalize persecuting them. The fear of the strappado, the tongs, the wheel, and the pitch-boot were assumed to prevent magically-talented people from giving themselves to Satan and mixing poisons in his honour, and supposedly there were many such witches. Eight million were supposedly processed, only a small portion of which turned out to be innocent. I suppose that all depends on the question, “innocent of what?”, when we account for the actual reality of the witch trials. For one thing, the actual number of people executed for witchcraft was definitely far lower than eight million (a figure likely influenced by Gottfried Christian Voigt’s similar count of nine million); the highest estimated death toll is likely to have been 60,000. For another thing, we know that at least most of the people who were killed as a result of these trials were actually other Christians, sometimes practicing a form of folk magick alongside their faith but often simply poor women who were considered rebellious – most certainly not people who had “given themselves over to Satan”. So on those terms, it is definitely not “a small number of people” who were innocent, contrary to Przybyszewski’s assertion.
And yet Przybyszewski also hints that perhaps much worse was done by the anti-witch party. We are told that it is hard to “nab” a good medium, a supposition that Przybyszewski gleams from the accounts of Sprenger, Bodin, Nicolas Remy (a.k.a. Remigius), de Lancre, and the many judges who Przybyszewski seems to suggest as having carried out massacres against entire sects and mediums in order. This was supposedly justified by “the consideration of the well-being of the human family”, on the basis that the people killed by the witch-hunters suffered from “moral insanity”. Freethinking individuals are advised to thank Remy that no outrageous dances, doppelgangers, or hellish noises were ever present at these witch trials. Not quite sure where that was meant to go.
After all that, however, now we come to what appears to be the next stage of the development of Satan’s church. We are told that Satan has become bored with his band of witches, and that the militant church, up to now assumed to have been crushed by Satan’s church, appears to have triumphed at this point. Satan decided that he no longer needed agitation and propaganda, and he became indifferent to the women who danced before him. Out of boredom and desire for new forms of lust, Satan became cruel. Sex with him became a form of torture, the women he chose screamed in agony and trickled blood from wherever he penetrated them. We’re told that Paracelsus claimed that the women were virgins and did not desire the act. Satan’s imagination could no longer bring any variety to the orgies of old, and he no longer cared to hide in remote and inaccesible places. Instead, he was now powerful enough to infiltrate the church of his Christian adversary, and from there to topple him from his own altar and make the priests into his servants. By the end of the 16th century, the advances made by Satan ensured that this was not difficult.
Przybyszewski says that at this time there were a plethora of priests who brought the “sabbat” to their congregations and staged “black masses”. We are told that Pierre de Lancre had burned three priests, presumably on charges of holding “black masses”, and offered endless excuses for his actions. Soon the “black mass” became common and widely practiced in convents, held and developed by priests who wanted to satisfy the desires of flesh. We are then presented with an account of the development of an “obscene cult”, ostensibly derived from the Memoires of Madeleine Bavent (or “Magalaine Bavent” as he seems to spell it for whatever reason). “Memoires” seems to actually be The Confessions of Madeleine Bavent, which for some reason Przybyszewski inaccurately referred to as “Memoires”. In any case, the account of the “obscene cult” begins with a location: a chapel in the cloisters at Louivers. There are no sects, it was bright because of the arrangement of lamps on the altar, supposedly fueled with human fat, which was supposedly common practice. A few priests are said to be involved: one named Picard, his vicar, Boullé, and about five or six nuns. The host bore no image, blasphemies were uttered as the host was elevated, and the mass was conducted with maledictions against the Trinity, the Eucharist, and all Christian sacraments. Supposedly, it was asserted that, while the Saints of God “do great things”, the unholy ones of the Devil are not inferior to them. This particular aspect would seem to recall the dualism between God and Satan that was established at the beginning of The Synagogue of Satan and later attributed to “Manichaeanism”. The priest then supposedly carved a hole into the mass and then stuck a piece of prepared parchment through the hole, apparently to satisfy some kind of lust.
A woman named Maria Von Sains is said to have recounted that the priest would sprinkle “the blood of Christ” all over the congregation, while the cry “may his blood cover us and our children!” resounded during the service. This exact saying seems to come from Matthew 27:25, in which it originally followed the act of Pontius Pilate washing his hands of Jesus’ blood. This seems to have since been interpreted as an acceptance of collective responsibility for the crucifixion, and hence became a part of Christian anti-semitism. I can only assume that in this context it’s being uttered in a different, purely blasphemous context. During this mass, the congregation stuck out their tongues, took off their clothes, or simply presented their bare asses to the altar, or they masturbated to the elevation of the host before converging into an orgy. This was the “Black Mass”, which so far appears as a subversion of Christianity that is nonetheless within Christianity, though clearly packaged with aspects of the older forms of Satanism as presented by Przybyszewski. Przybyszewski asserts that this “Black Mass” was not only very popular but also “almost public” towards the middle of the 17th century. Such celebrations were supposedly no longer a secret, and Przybyszewski cites as an example the gatherings of women in the Church of the Holy Spirit in Paris and the Abbey of Montmartre.
We then return to the subject of Etienne Guibourg and his trial. This trial is purported to have compromised the aristocracy of the court of the “Sun King” Louis XIV as well as his mistresses to such an extent that it had to be covered up. Whether or not that was actually the case, Przybyszewski insists that despite this there are plenty of facts to establish about the case. Again, these should be understood solely as claims made by Przybyszewski, since we have no actual idea if Guibourg’s “Black Mass” actually happened. We are told in any case that, in a chapel, completely decked out in black, there was an altar with a wreath surrounded by black candles, and that it is here that Guibourg awaited his many clients. These clients apparently included the poet Jean Racine, Marquis D’Argenson, a man referred to as “de Saint-Pont”, Cardinal de Boullion, the Duke of Luxembourg, Lord Buckingham, and none other than Madame de Montaspan. It can’t have escaped your notice that these consist mostly of powerful and influential people in the court of Louis XIV. Madame de Montaspan supposedly wanted to become the queen of France, and would do and sacrifice anything in order to win the crown, while Guibourg, who Przybyszewski says supplied the entire French royal aristocracy with poisons, was the only man who could help her achieve her goal. Przybyszewski says that just after entering the chapel the Madame stripped down completely and placed herself on the altar.
The ritual itself, according to Przybyszewski, began when Guibourg laid a cloth over the Madame’s belly and placed a chalice upon it. Then he recited the liturgical mass in accordance with Catholic tradition, except that he then kissed the naked body of the Madame instead of the altar, and then consecrated the host over her vagina before inserting a piece of said host into her body. Then, the daughter of the witch La Voisin cried out three times while Claude des Oeillets, here presented as a witch, brought in a child purchased from their mother. Exactly why the mother would ever agree to such a transaction is frankly beyond my understanding, but Przybyszewski claims that children were viewed as a cheap commodity in that time. Then, Guibourg supposedly said “Christ said, suffer the little children who come unto me. I want you to go to him and become one with him.”. Then he allegedly invoked the “princes of friendship”, Astaroth and Asmodeus, to receive the child as sacrifice. Blood flowed into the chalice, and spilled everywhere else, and the blood that entered the chalice was mixed with wine, part of the host, and the ashes of the unbaptised to produce communion wine, while the sacrifice is turned into a mummy. Guibourg supposedly said “This is my body! This is my blood!” before sharing the blood wine between himself and the Madame. Then he conjured “dark powers” to fulfill the Madame’s primary goal for this ritual: to win the affection and favour of Louis XIV in order to become the queen of France. Then the mass concludes with Guibourg covering his genitals as well as those of the Madame with blood and having sex.
Probably the most important thing to reiterate is that almost certainly none of this happened. There is no evidence of any of the sacrificial rites having been carried out. There would be evidence of human remains if any of it happened, but La Voisin’s garden was never even searched. What is Przybyszewski’s source for any of the details of Guibourg’s so-called “Black Mass”? According to Przybyszewski, what little evidence exists comes from Joris-Karl Huysmans’ novel La Bas and the preface to Le Satanisme et La Magie by Henri Antoine Jules-Bois (a book that Przybyszewski otherwise regards as mediocre). So his source is a work of fiction written by a Catholic and fellow Decadent whose actual connection to Satanism is entirely unverifiable and a book about Satanism written by a man known in the French occult partly for accusing his rivals of being Satanists. Stuff like that is basically what I mean when I established at the outset that you cannot treat The Synagogue of Satan as an actual history of Satanism, because as history it’s frankly fairly terrible. But here let us return to the operative point: what does all of this lurid exposition tell us about Przybyszewski’s form of Satanism? Frankly, not much. I suppose all the blasphemy might be interpreted in terms of reversal, though the rest of the details take us back to the exact same conversation about possible problems with Przybyszewski’s overall approach to negativity. More to the point, even here it is hard to believe that Guibourg is necessarily a Satanist. Even if we assume that the blasphemies that Przybyszewski describes could invoke some sort of Satanic reversal, even in Przybyszewski’s account it seems that Guibourg never actually invokes Satan. Although he petitions the powers of Astaroth and Asmodeus, it’s not clear that he actually denies Christ or God; though of course, the ritual in the overall can hardly be described as Christian. It’s an absurd mess with no inherent concept behind it. I am absolutely confident that no one has ever actually performed it in reality.
We are then directed to the subject of Leo Taxil’s infamous hoax, in which he claimed that the Freemasons were a Satanic sect only to publicly reveal that he made the whole thing up as a prank. I believe that it is here, after all the absurdities regard black masses, poisons, and witch trials, that we are once again able to get deeper into Przybyszewski’s philosophy of Satanism. While Przybyszewski does not defend the idea that the Freemasons were Satanists as Taxil’s hoax said they were, he does nonetheless propose that the Satanists did in fact split into two camps. The first of these camps is the so-called Palladians, who, according to Przybyszewski, simply turned Catholicism upside down. The name “Palladian” brings to mind the “Palladists”, who supposedly worshipped Lucifer and consorted with demons. Przybyszewski’s Palladians are apparently a “neo-Gnostic” sect who believed that Lucifer, apparently also called Adonai, was the “God of Light” and Principle of Good, in opposition to Jehovah-Adonai, the “God of Darkness” and presumably “Principle of Evil”. I would say that Przybyszewski might as well have called them Luciferians, since in essence it is the same idea as certain stereotypical representations of Luciferianism as (theoretically) distinct from Satanism: Lucifer is the true expression of divine goodness and knowledge, who was unjustly opposed, usurped, and cast down by the God of the Bible. This dualism between a “God of Light” and a “God of Darkness” is very much familiar, it reminds us of the “Manichaeans” that Przybyszewski discussed in previous sections of the book. And indeed Przybyszewski himself draws this comparison, saying that the Palladians represent the tenacity and life force of the old “Manichaeanism”. As long as we’re comparing the Palladians to the “Manichaeans”, it stands to reason that the Palladians are a new incarnation of the “Manichaean” sect that favoured the worship of the “White God” or “God of Light” over the “Black God”. But, of course, from the starting point of the Palladians we are also presented with a space in which Satanism distinguishes itself from them.
Whereas the Palladians identify Satan as Lucifer and regard him as the God of Light and Principle of Good, Satanism, on Przybyszewski’s terms, absolutely rejects this idea. Satanists accept Satan as the Fallen Angel, the Great Adversary, the eternal Serpent of temptation, the Prince of Darkness; in essence, Satanists do not deny evil from Satan, and instead revere him for it. Satan for the Satanists remains as he was in the Middle Ages; the Devil who could help people obtain strange powers, and under whose protection one could commit crimes or transgress the law without fear. This apparently is even moreso the case now that black magic is no longer accounted for in the law books. According to Przybyszewski, the Satanists are typically lead by a priest who is gifted with magical abilities and performs blasphemous masses. His example, of course, is Canon Docre, which seems to simply be a nickname for Etienne Guibourg, and I have already gone through the problems of him as an example. Citing Huysmans’ La Bas, we get a description of what the generic Black Mass is apparently supposed to be. The Black Mass is meant to consist of blasphemous recitations of mass and the defiling of the sacraments concluding with a sexual orgy. This apparently is meant to involve a particularly horny priest (one afflicted with satyriasis) and women with somnambulistic tendencies, which essentially just means giving to hypnotic states of trance, much like the witches that Przybyszewski. These seem to be the basic elements of a Black Mass, and it’s interesting and rather fortunate that blood sacrifice isn’t actually listed as an essential part of it. But as for what is basic to the Black Mass, open transgression against God, wanton carnality, and somnanmbulistic ecstasy are the key themes here, because the part of the central point of Przybyszewski’s Satanism, lodged beneath the sensationalism is that Satan is to be worshipped with ecstatic and orgiastic rites, with sexuality, and an unremitting defiance and will-to-reversal. That’s a big part of why Przybyszewski positions “the heathen cult” as essentially religious libertinism, that’s why the “Manichaean” splinter sect who favoured “The Black God” worshipped him with nocturnal orgies resembling the ancient worship of Dionysus, and it’s part of the reason why sexuality, drunkenness, and intoxication are such big features of the “sabbat”. But, of course, that’s not the only reason. The other reason is that, in Przybyszewski’s philosophy, sex itself is the refuge of transgression, where everything is possible and thus every transgression.
Satanism, Przybyszewski tells us, is a religion a rebours, a religion of reversal, a religion of hate, revenge, and fornication. It is in this setting no less than the cult of the transvaluation of values, the doctrine of negation of the so-called law that stands against desire, the church of vengeance against oppression and authority, and the unholy mystery of sexuality. This encapsulates the raw negativity that is the real point of Przybyszewski’s Satanism. And, again, sex is central to Satanism, and to Satanic reversal. Sex is an abyss in which all things are possible, every crime is hatched, and a terrible urge for delirium rages that can only be stifled by inhuman things. Thus it is the seat of the destruction of all that is binding on the human psyche. Such things are a mystery to the outsider, a “normal” person, so called by nature of their conditioning and the extent to which they passively accept it, cannot quite understand it, no more than your average cishet man or woman understands queerness. Perhaps even those with “Satanic inclinations” must first pass into the mystery of Satanism before they really grasp its essence; as with Life itself, it is a dark forest, it is arrheton. And so, Przybyszewski says that a “normal” person cannot comprehend the Black Mass. But, of course, he does insist that no one can deny what people do in the frenzy of the Black Mass.
Now we come to Przybyszewski’s remarks on the growth of Satanism in the 19th century, his own time, and I find it is another instance which tells us of his ultimate lack of regard for the Enlightenment and his contradictory relationship with materialism. Przybyszewski says that Satanism has continued to grow under the protection of the “atheistic” liberal state and “liberal church”, the latter of which has come to a certain understanding with a nascent Darwinism and materialism. Both are said to have based their existence on “materialistic” teachings, and in this setting Satanism becomes strong and powerful. Ah, if only things were so simple in reality, then perhaps Christianity would have been nothing but a memory in my age. The liberal church, of course, has no desire to deal with Satanism, despite apparently having every cause to do so, supposedly because it denies its own origins and is the enemy of all forms of mysticism. Liberalism is thus positioned simultaneously as the unwitting ally of Satanism, who protects Satanism and Satanists from the persecutions of the traditionalist church, and as an interminable nuisance whose presence ultimately harms all attunement to mysticism. This latter trait, of course, sets liberalism at odds not only with Christianity, but with all forms of occultism and ultimately with the individualist mysticism of Satanism. It is very much implied that Przybyszewski does not like contemporary materialism, on the grounds of its similar rejection of mysticism, the occult, the soul, the Devil, witchcraft, and all the attendant subject matter. Yet, I am also not convinced that Przybyszewski was entirely opposed to materialism, not while he positions Satan as the god of flesh and matter and thus extolls what Iwan Bloch refers to as the “Physical Mysterium of Copulation” in opposition to the idealism of the “Metaphysical Mysticism of Idolization”. Indeed, by placing sex at the center of his Satanic mystery, Przybyszewski could arguably interpreted as privileging flesh, or at least such would seem to be the case if it were not for his belief in the soul as something that can be separated from the body.
Przybyszewski apparently concludes The Synagogue of Satan with a discussion of Eugene Vintras, one of the more notorious Catholic mystics, and his sect, the Church of Carmel, which he says practiced “the most shameful” fornication and blasphemy. He cites Stanislas de Guaita’s book Le Serpent de la Genese as his source for the information he writes about Vintras. To begin with, we are told that the Carmel sect is based on a belief in the progressive redemption of all beings from the lowest level to the highest level. To that end, each individual must work on their own perfection and participate in the common effort of perfection. The goal of the Carmelite is to reunite with the Garden of Eden through religious rites involving sexual union; the rationale here is that Eve lost Paradise through an act of “sinful love”, but through an act of “religious love” it can be recovered. Thus, sex can lead to either sin or salvation depending on its purpose. From there we are told that the Carmelites practiced “heavenly love” by fornicating among themselves in order to perfect themselves as well as with “lower elementary spirits” or demons with the aim of converting them into celestial beings. It seems that sex, if practiced in the Carmelite way, has the power to turn you into an angel. For the Carmelite, salvation is found only in sexual union. Supposedly, every man in the sect “owned” every woman, and vice versa. Przybyszewski refers to this as “sexual communism”, which he asserts forms the basis of this doctrine and others like it. The bed was the altar, the kiss was the priestly office, and masturbation (“the unnatural vice of Onan”) was a means of elevating lower beings. Public sex and prostitution supposely became not only virtues but also acts of inner sanctification.
This was deemed to be quite exceptionally offensive in France, and the Rosicrucians called for the head of Eugene Vintras. Przybyszewski says that a death sentence was to be carried out by the Vehme if Vintras did not cease his activities within a few years. The “Father” Vintras is alleged to have sanctified his followers through sexual intercourse. Infidelity among spouses was purportedly resolved through “celestial unions”. The Carmelite leader was apparently surrounded by mediums and somnambulists, through he whom he wanted to explore the secrets of black magick. This, we’re told, poses a danger that the liberal state should not ignore, due to the growing membership of the Church of Carmel. Przybyszewski then frames the “highest eternally old and eternally new principle” of Gnosticism as essentially the worship of copulation; “the skeleton was created to bear children, the genitals for mating”. Przybyszewski then claims that the Carmelites even railed against “the taboo of blood” on the grounds that “even the Christians mated amongst themselves”. Sexual mysticism, allegedly sanctifying the worst forms of fornication, is both central and nothing new; Przybyszewski claims that it is in essence the doctrine of the Cathars in a new form. He asserts that the “positive character” of Carmelite sexual mysticism made it more dangerous than Satanism, because Satanism was according to him rooted in a negation full of the fear of hell. But why the bad conscience when you’re under Satan’s protection? Why the fear of hell in the face of the torments of God? Perhaps the real point is that the fear of hell is one of the contradictions that lies at the center of Satanic transgression, which is then resolved in the “sabbat” and the cult of Satan through the ecstatic rejection of heaven.
And so again we return to the serious philosophy of Satanism, and Przybyszewski reiterates that sex is central to it. Satanism, on Przybyszewski’s terms at least, is about acquainting oneself with the hidden powers of sexuality, and being able to do so requires quelling the ever-increasing demands of sex and satisfy its vengeance. This is why a person gives themselves over to Satan. Not for nothing, then, that Iwan Bloch refers to Przybyszewski’s Satan as the “Personification of the Physical Mysterium of Copulation”. Indeed, this doctrine makes a lot of sense of the way sexuality and sexual excess figure so strongly into the cult of Satan as presented by Przybyszewski throughout The Synagogue of Satan. But the other important part of Przybyszewski’s Satanism, indeed, the last important premise to be discussed, is the central role of intoxication. In the realms of night and even pain, one finds delirium and intoxication. You may fall into hell, but by receiving delirium in frenzy, you can forget about it. And so in this forgetting and ecstasy, we lean into the grand formula of Satanism: “Erase me from the book of life, inscribe me in the book of death!”.
At last I can talk about this in an interesting way. After all, what is the “book of life”, and what is the “book of death”? The “book of life” is something that is referenced in the Bible, but the idea of there being a book for life and for death seems to be a more apocrine idea. The “book of life” in both Judaism and Christianity is the tablet on which God inscribes the names of those he considers righteous. Those whose names are recorded in the “book of life” are assured of everlasting life with God, while those whose names are blotted out of that book are condemned to death. In the Book of Revelation, those whose names are inscribed in the “book of life” are saved, while those who are not inscribed are cast into the lake of fire where they die the second death. But although death is the fate of those blotted out of the “book of life”, the “book of death” is found not in the Bible but in the apocryphal Book of Jubilees. In Jubilees, whereas “the righteous” are recorded in the “book of life”, those who are wicked and walk a path of impurity will be inscribed in the “book of death”, also known as the “Book of Perdition”. The latter name suggests the camp of rebels, those who defy God, like the “son of perdition” who is the most intractable enemy of the church. “Everlasting life” with God is to be propertied to God. You belong to God for as long as your name is inscribed in the “book of life”, and that name stays there for as long as you remain servile to God, as one of the sheep presided over on the right side of Christ. To take yourself out of God’s property, then, is to take your name out of the “book of life”. To inscribe your name into the “book of death”, or rather the Book of Perdition, is in this sense the act of self-assertion, to partake in the war of all against all on your own behalf. It is a declaration of Rebellion. Though, as we will see, perhaps Przybyszewski has a somewhat different view.
Towards the very end of The Synagogue of Satan, we see Przybyszewski’s Satanism unfold as a form of philosophical and mystic pessimism. For you see, life, according to Przybyszewski, is cruel. Life is a difficult burden that is foisted upon you. This is the realm of daylight. The realm of night, however, represents intoxication, delirium, and the attendant forgetting of life. Bourgeois life cannot do much to help you understand this, there is no measure by which the middle class citizen may compensate themselves for their ignorance through their riches. The facts of life, to truly be understood, must be understood in their abyss. It is again arrheton, that which is ineffable and whose knowledge requires passing into it. Life is harsh and cruel, and so there is only one way out: intoxication. Desperate people have intoxicated themselves with poisons, with filth, and with sexual ecstasies. The individual “splits in two”, their nerves rip, and they suffer tortures, but in the process at least they forget about life. This we are told is the one horror that exceeds every other: the filth, the slavery, the herds of lizards, the sacraments of blood and piss, all these for Przybyszewski pale in comparison to the horror of life itself. This ultimately motivates Przybyszewski’s ideas about Satanic transgression in the context of his fantastical narrative; the crimes that are committed, the vengeance that is undertaken, the shattering of the laws that commences, all of it is to inscribe one’s name into the “book of death” in order to negate the life that is so hated.
Przybyszewski’s Satanist would rather give himself up than allow himself to be deterred from his crimes. Przybyszewski’s Satanist breaks, inverts, mocks, and pollutes all laws, and hates everything that is in power over him, whether that is religion, secular institutions, the state, or capitalism. Przybyszewski’s Satanist would rather die than surrender or be forced to recant. Przybyszewski’s Satanist makes it his business – no, his religious duty – to shatter the restrictions of life, and judging by how cruel life is we might say that this rebellion and will to reversal is his reason to continue living. Przybyszewski’s Satanist is also the witch who, when her executioner wanted to free her in exchange for sexual subservience, rejected his advances with anger and pride: “I, who have kissed the ass of Satan, should give myself to you, the executor of the law!?”. Through everything else this simple roar of outrage expresses the true ethos of Przybyszewski’s Satanism. Total refusal and negation of authority and power, taken up as the highest virtue. That is the raw nihilist ethos Przybyszewski’s Satanist. This supremely anti-authoritarian nihilism is in utter contrast to LaVeyan Satanism, with its Pentagonal Revisionism and Anton LaVey’s self-avowed law and order ideology, or the bastardised Platonism of Michael Aquino, or The Satanic Temple with their humanism and their police regalia. I think that Przybyszewski would probably laugh at today’s Satanists for this and their lack of nihilistic vitality, let alone for the fact that many of them deny worshipping Satan (I must remind you at this point that, as far as Przybyszewski was concerned, Satanism meant actually worshipping Satan).
Finally, Przybyszewski derides the Cathars and the Carmelites, and presumably any similar sects, for their apparent efforts to sanctify delirium, nymphomania, and satyriasis. He considers this to be a sad and miserable hypocrisy. I think there may be a contradiction here, since he does hold the same regard for “the heathen cult” and the pre-Christian form of the “sabbat” for doing the same thing. But, it is also obvious that “sanctification”, for the Cathars and the Carmelites, would have meant dedicating those things to the Christian God as a means of blessing and saving beings. Satanism, of course, rejects such efforts. The whole premise of “salvation” is diametrically opposed to Satanism, and so Satan himself is no Saviour. Przybyszewski’s Satan is the creator and the destroyer, the god who creates life and then destroys it again and generates evolution only to negate it again. Funny enough, the exact same thing could be said about God if we take the monotheistic claims about him seriously, though I suppose at least Satan never claimed that he was going to “save” mankind in this telling. We should remember that Przybyszewski’s framing easily positions Satan as the true creator, being the father and patron of matter, flesh, and the generative powers of the world, which would make the Christian God a false creator. Satan-Paraclete is but the Paraclete of Evil, the spirit that proclaims the only law: the submergence of sin in something greater. Satan teaches humans to forget and overcome the maladies of life by means of negation and the ecstasy of instincts. The word of the Satan-Paraclete is enivrez-vous, meaning “get drunk”. And so ends the text of Stanislaw Przybyszewski’s The Synagogue of Satan.
I suppose before we conclude we could well examine this doctrine of enivrez-vous, of drunkenness as a virtue. Charles Baudelaire, one of France’s great Decadents, wrote a poem with exactly that title, Enivrez-vous, and its overall message is sort of similar. One must always be drunk or intoxicated in order to not feel the bruises of Time, you must intoxicate yourself with what you can – wine, poetry, or even virtue, truly anything! – in order to avoid becoming a “martyred slave of Time”. Przybyszewski’s Satanism would thus present a slight alteration of this: you must always intoxicate yourself in order to avoid becoming a tortured slave of life, or indeed a slave of God. The doctrine that Przybyszewski presents regarding intoxication allows us to make a great deal of sense of the radical emphasis on ecstatic ritualism, hypnotic states, and narcotic consumption in the celebrations of Satan, and even the emphasis on sexuality can be said to fold into this broader doctrine.
Conclusion: Summary of Przybyszewskian Satanism
So, now to summarize what we can understand about Stanislaw Przybyszewski’s form of Satanism. We may understand it as comprising the following points:
Przybyszewski’s Satanism is based on the worship of Satan.
It is also based on a philosophy defined by nihilism, pessimism, libertinism, and egoism.
The core aspects of Przybyszewski’s Satanism are reversal, negation, intoxication, sexual ecstasy, and drunkenness.
Przybyszewski’s Satanism begins with “the heathen cult” and gradually evolved into “Manichaeanism” and then into the church of Satan.
Satan is the patron god of matter, flesh, and the evolution, generation, and negation contained within it.
Opposed to Satan is God, his son Jesus, and the church, who all represent the invisible kingdom against the world.
Satan is not the misunderstood principle of good, rather he is “good” because he is “evil”, and “evil” is the transvaluation of values.
Satan is worshipped through orgiastic and ecstatic celebrations, such as the “sabbat” and the “black mass”.
Satanism is based on pride, instinct, curiosity, and individualistic mysticism (or “the autocratic imagination of mysticism”). This means that Przybyszewski’s Satanism opposes Christianity and similar religions, but also modern rationalism.
While Przybyszewski’s Satanism can be thought of as materialistic, it also seems to privilege the soul and the possibility of its ecstatic movement away from the body.
Free will is a myth, but at the same time the ability to exercise individual will is central.
Sin is good, no one is culpable of sin because Satan is the author of sin, so no one is punished for sin after death.
Life is cruel, death is certain, but by worshipping Satan you can forget about life and overcome its horrors through ecstatic negation.
The aim of the “sabbat” is to transform sin into the purity of desire through Satanic communization.
Przybyszewski’s Satanist is someone who opposes all authority and all laws, and thus negates everything in an act of transvaluation of values.
The goal of the Satanist is to erase their name from the “book of life” and inscribe it in the “book of death”.
It should be pointed out that I don’t think I agree wholeheartedly with Przybyszewskian Satanism. For one thing I think it’s already clear that I don’t think The Synagogue of Satan can be taken as an actual historical account, and in this sense I don’t agree with Przybyszewski’s presentation of the so-called facts of the history of Satanism. I reckon that any modern observer of history would likely understand me here. For another, I obviously don’t align with Przybyszewski’s views on free will, and I maintain that his views on free will are ultimately self-contradicting on the grounds that individual will still exists so that it can be exercised as he says it ought to be, whereas if we take the absence of free will seriously this should not be possible. While I may be something of a pessimist, indeed I insist on revolutionary pessimism and on freeing the power of pessimism, while I definitely have a good sense of where Przybyszewski goes when he says that life is cruel, I don’t think I inclined myself towards the view of life as an abject horror the way he seems to present it as. How can we totally do so, when the ecstasies of instinct that Przybyszewski presents are so latent to life, even if this only means that this is the online purpose to an otherwise totally meaningless life? All this of course is to say nothing of the problematic ambiguity surrounding Przybyszewski’s presentation of women.
But I insist that there is a great deal of value in Przybyszewski’s form of Satanism that should seriously be considered. For one, understanding the “sabbat” as a form of communization, the desire it upsurges as superseding the value of currency and hierarchy, and understanding Satanic negation as applicable to all authority and all “systems” carries with it an immense potential to define Satanism on anti-capitalist nihilist-egoist terms that allow for an easy break from the reactionism that LaVey and his legacy have largely put forward. For another, in the overall we see an emphasis on negation and reversal that allows us to develop away from the limits of the humanist orthodoxy that seems to pervade modern discussions of Satanism (and at this point I should say right now that Satanism isn’t reducible to the idea that by rejecting God you can be a nicer and more rational person). From the standpoint of Satanic Paganism I can’t deny that I have some fondness of his attempt to link back to some orgiastic pre-Christian tradition, though I must say it smacks the old Enlightenment-era Romantic Paganism and its simplistic understanding of Paganism. At the very least it may also provide a way of enriching the links between the two worlds. I would also say that Przybyszewski is absolutely correct to suggest that our understanding of things should consist “in their abyss”. From one of his other works, Homo Sapiens, we behold a demand for life and its “terrible depths” and “bottomless abyss”, which I think can be interpreted at least on its own as a call for the understanding of life as something that cannot be separated from its “abyss”. The inner darkness of life is to be cherished, not exorcised.
Regardless of everything, though, it must be stressed here and now: this is the Satanism that predated Anton LaVey. This is what was called Satanism before LaVey claimed to have invented it. This is the Satanism that Stanislaw Przybyszewski identified with since 1889 at the earliest, and around which he formed a small movement including people like Hanns Heinz Ewers and Wojciech Weiss dedicated to spreading Satanism. This apparently even inspired later movements such as Fraternitas Saturni. Its philosophy, when considered carefully on its own terms and in its own context, flies squarely in the face of our existing orthodoxy about what Satanism is. And, even if not for all else, Przybyszewski deserves a lot of credit for extending the philosophy of Nietzsche into the form of a Satanic doctrine.
I won’t say that The Synagogue of Satan is the best read even on Satanism, not least because as history it’s just not fit for purpose. But we ought to remember that book anyway, and Przybyszewski more generally. I should hope to eventually be able to get my hands on more of his work at some point. Perhaps they might say yet more.
Last year I wrote an article about Stanislaw Przybyszewski, who at the time I had sort of “discovered” through the work of Per Faxneld, and in the process got to know a fair bit about Przybyszewski’s philosophy, enough to conclude that Stanislaw Przybyszewski, not Anton LaVey, was in fact the world’s first Satanist. But at the time, I did not have access to probably the main statement of his vision of Satanism: The Synagogue of Satan. Written in 1897, The Synagogue of Satan is a decadent manifesto that outlines his own somewhat artistic account of what he seems to have believed was the tradition of Satanism, which in his view emerged from deep roots in mystic traditions that reacted against Christianity and presented a philosophy that included an active principle of “evil”. In last year’s article I could only discuss parts of that text, as presented via Per Faxneld’s The Devil’s Party: Satanism in Modernity. But, a few months ago, I managed to track down and purchase a physical copy of The Synagogue of Satan to have and to read, and now, because of this, I am able to discuss its contents in full.
What follows is a commentary on The Synagogue of Satan, undertaken from the standpoint of its place in the history of Satanic canon and from the standpoint of a contemporary treatment of Satanism. It examines what The Synagogue of Satan has to say about Satanism, how to interpret Przybyszewski’s treatment of Satanism, issues within the overall work, and what insights we can weave through it. In this way, I hope to address what is from my standpoint probably the original essence of modern Satanism, at least insofar as we’re dealing with the word of the first modern Satanist, and contribute to its revival, and thereby the work of philosophically grounding contemporary Satanism against the vision offered by the “mainstream” of modern Satanist organizations such as the Church of Satan and The Satanic Temple.
I should note that the edition of The Synagogue of Satan that I possess is the Runa Raven Press edition, translated by Istvan Sarkady and published in 2002. I have scoured all over the internet for literally any edition for a physical English translation, and this was the only one I can find. This edition seems to consist of five chapters, whereas other editions split the same content into two chapters; the first is usually called “The Creation of the Church of Satan” and the second is called “The Cult of the Church of Satan”. I am informed that the same appears to be true for the Alkahest Press edition, though like the Runa Raven Press edition there is a paragraph at the beginning referencing three “essays”. In the Runa Raven Press edition, the first chapter is presented as an account of what Przybyszewski believed to be the historical development of Satanism from antiquity up to the time when “the church of Satan” was fully developed, which from the seems of it he seemed to believe occurred with the rise of Manicheism. The second chapter is presented as a treatment of the priesthood and cult of “the church of Satan”, and seems to focus on how he believed Satan became popular in the Middle Ages. The third chapter is presented as a “critical scientific evaluation of Satanism”, though it tends to focus on the concept of the witch. The fourth chapter seems to be Przybyszewski’s exposition of the sabbat, or witches’ sabbat, in its supposed historical origin and relevance to Satanism. The fifth and final chapter seems to continue discussion of the witch and the sabbat but tending ultimately toward the broader subject of Satanic negation.
Still, for the ease of the reader, it may actually be better that I run with the structure of the Runa Raven Press edition that I own, especially since the original is technically divided into five parts between its two chapters anyway, so that I can divide this commentary into five parts. Part 1, The Heathen Cult, examines Przybyszewski’s account of the supposed origin of the cult of Satan in pre-Christian polytheism and its development towards his construction of “Manichaeanism”. Part 2, The Church, explores Przybyszewski’s account of the gradual deterioration of the Christian church as beset by heresy, revolt, and the vengeance of Satan. Part 3, The Witch, examines Przybyszewski’s conception of the Witch as the most notorious expression of Satanic negativity as well as the nature of Satan’s church. Part 4, The Sabbat, continues to explore the nature of Przybyszewski’s Satanism, or the church of Satan, through the subject of Witches’ Sabbath. And finally, Part 5, The Black Mass, concludes the investigation of Przybyszewski’s Satanism with a discussion of the “Black Mass” as well as Przybyszewski’s overall Satanic philosophy as ostensibly expressed in the occult of Przybyszewski’s time.
Also, in the process of writing this commentary, I have found that it has taken more effort to cover what I wanted to than I had hoped, and the overall has ended up becoming quite bloated. Rather than subject you, the reader, to another article in excess of 30,000 words, I have instead decided to split my commentary into two articles, based on the two chapters of the original German edition of The Synagogue of Satan. As you have seen first of these articles covers the first chapter, “The Creation of the Church of Satan”, and is named accordingly after it. It will consist of Part 1, The Origin of Satan’s Cult, and Part 2, The Decline of Christendom. The second article will be named after the second chapter, “The Cult of the Church of Satan”. It will consist of Part 3, The Witch, Part 4, The Sabbat, and Part 5, The Black Mass, as well as the overall conclusion of the commentary.
It should finally be noted that although my principle aim is to discuss the philosophical content and rammifications of Przybyszewski’s Satanism, there are also several problems and issues with Przybyszewski’s historical treatment of the subject matter, and these are to be addressed as they appear. It’s worth remembering that, at least based on his writing, Przybyszewski seems to have actually believed in the historicity of certain accounts of witchcraft and black masses, and did not regard them as superstitions or tall tales, and so we are required to take his accounts of such things with a grain of salt. It also seems to me that Przybyszewski may have based some aspects of his history of Christianity from the work of Jules Michelet. But of course, for our purposes, what matters is what is communicated about Przybyszewski’s vision of Satanism. In this respect, I tend to think that The Synagogue of Satan is best treated as a narrative meant to communicate his philosophy of Satanism, not so much an actual history of it.
Part 1: The Heathen Cult
We can start with Przybyszewski’s account of the two gods who oppose each other forever: Satan and God. Satan is the “evil god” or “bad god” that created the physical world, the flesh, the earth, nature, and all of the passions, doubts, conflicts, pain, and agonies that come with it. God is the “good” god that created spirits and “pure” beings, and the invisible kingdom in which they dwell, ostensibly perfect and devoid of suffering or conflict. This on the surface seems clear-cut: Satan is bad, and God is good, right? No. Because God, the supposed “good god”, is little more than the patron of law, normalcy, humility, and submission, a petty tyrant who claims the past and the future solely for himself, and who demands fully childlike obedience and ignorance so that his followers may have the faith needed to be admitted into the invisible kingdom. And Satan, the supposed “evil god”, is also none other than the lawless and visionary leap into the future, the curiosity for the most hidden secrets, and the defiance that overthrows all laws and all norms. God the “good god” is actually bad because God wants the souls of humans to remain fixed in a purity that is ultimately slavery to his will, and Satan the “evil god” is in his own way actually good because Satan, who is so clearly the force of active negation or negativity, kindled the instincts that allowed people to investigate the world around them and break the rules that were set against their liberty. Wisdom, depravity, pride, humility, in their highest, noblest, deepest, and wildest forms are in Satan, for this is what composes the negativity of the freedom that Satan represents. Satan is the author of heroism, science, philosophy, and art, who called upon his followers to use his herbs and poisons to be healthy, find hidden treasures of the earth to become rich, follow the signs to decipher the future, use magic to destroy enemies while remaining beyond the grasp of the law, and even learn the art of necromancy. Love comes from Satan, and the soul is said share the same origin as Satan, and Satan promises his followers that they will see and obtain everything by embarking his difficult path. This is Przybyszewski’s Satan: the patron of outcasts, heroes, rebels, magicians, and all those animated by his negation, who invites the creatures of his world to cast off the invisble kingdom on behalf of their shared freedom.
An interesting but probably somewhat flawed element here is in the many forms Satan is said to have taken in the book. Przybyszewski calls Satan the Light Bearer, obviously meaning Lucifer, Satan-Father, Satan-Samyasa, no doubt referring to the fallen angel Samyaza, and Satan-Paraclete; very peculiar, considering that Paraclete is another word for the Holy Spirit, though this will become more relevant later. But Przybyszewski also says that Satan lived in the clan of the Magi and the mysteries of the Chaldean temples, and that his priests were called “khartunim”, “kasdim”, and “gazrim”, and that thus Satan was part of the doctrine of “Mazdaism”, or Zoroastrianism, and appeared as the god Ahura Mazda to teach Zarathustra (Zoroaster) the secrets of the haoma plant. It seems like it would have made more sense for Satan to have appeared as Ahriman, the eternal opponent of Ahura Mazda, especially considering that Przybyszewski’s cosmology of two eternally opposed gods is pretty similar to Zoroastrianism, which also assumes two gods eternally locked in struggle. I suspect that the idea is obviously to connect Satan to the work of Friedrich Nietzsche through his character Zarathustra, the hermit prophet named after the prophet Zoroaster but who otherwise does not resemble Zoroaster. In this way Satan, in his guise as Ahura Mazda, would have inspired the re-evaluation of values in ancient Iran. And I suppose that’s true if we mean the shift from polytheism to monotheism, but as we’ll see it’s rather incongruous with what Przybyszewski says about pre-Christian antiquity.
Ahura Mazda is indeed not Satan’s only guise. Przybyszewski’s Satan seems to have appeared as the Egyptian god Thoth, who is here also referred to as “Trismegistos” (as in Hermes Trismegistos), to write down books of esoteric knowledge that shared among a chosen few. Satan also manifested as the Greek goddess Hecate, who shared magickal arts with her devotees including the “invisible death stroke”. Satan also appeared as Pan, also here referred to as Satyr or Phallus, here positioned as a universally revered god of lust and carnality who taught women how to seduce and men how to satisfy their lusts, as well inventing the flute. Przybyszewski’s Pan was also the god Apollo and the goddess Aphrodite “at the same time”, authoring schools of philosophy, building temples to Muses, and teaching medicine, mathematics, and the sexual arts. This all obviously has a simplistic bent to it, and is a fairly obvious sign of the influence of the way pre-Christian Greek and Roman antiquity were interpreted by Enlightenment-era radical liberal authors. In that time, there was a certain romantic notion of “paganism” as referring to a humane and rational creed based simply on the reverence of the natural world and the teaching of “natural law”, the latter rather conveniently dovetailing with certain ideas of “natural law” that were already an established part of the political philosophy of liberalism. It was thus in some ways a constructed religion of liberalism, a more antique Cult of Reason based on the idea of Greek and Roman religion but without actually reflecting its traditional content, and it should come as no surprise that this sometimes incorporated the ideas of what was contemporary hedonism. Words like “pagan”, “paganistic”, or “paganism” in this setting were often practically interchangeable with concepts like hedonism or libertinism, which were long believed to be widespread before the rise of Christianity; such terminology has continued in certain anarchist circles into the 21st century, sometimes to disastrous effect. In any case, the actual realities of Greek and Roman society don’t quite entail the free love that Enlightenment radicals longed for. If certain accounts of the life of Aristippus are anything to go by, ancient Greeks considered it immoral to sleep with a woman who has had sex with more than one man in her life. In Rome, the same place Christians like to look back on as a place of constant orgiastic excesses, the raucous Bacchanalias were banned before eventually being recuperated, while the poet Ovid was exiled by order of the emperor Augustus, possibly on the back of obscenity accusations. In Greece and Rome generally hedonism was often actually mistrusted or looked down upon, its adherents regarded as “slaves to passion”, and even merely contemplative hedonists such as Epicureans were presented by intellectuals such as Cicero as threats to the Roman religion and social fabric, and ultimately blamed for the collapse of the Roman Republic. Still, it remains true that pre-Christian attitudes towards sexuality where not the puritanical tendencies associated with Christianity. Phallicism (the veneration of the phallus), after all, was very much a part of pre-Christian religiosity, and there is reason to think that prostitution received religious sanction in some cases.
In any case, the role the gods mentioned by Przybyszewski take is consistent with the attributes seen in Satan. Thoth or Hermes in this framework obviously represent the pursuit of esoteric or forbidden knowledge, as does Hecate though she is referred to for more deadly magick. Pan is a no-brainer here, clearly invoked to express the untrammeled carnality that Satan represents. Of course, Pan was never a simple “god of sex”, and in Greece was more typically worshipped as a god of rustic wilderness who could inspire panic to those who wondered into his domain. That said, he was known for teaching people to masturbate. Nonetheless, although phallicism itself was a part of pre-Christian paganism, the idea of Pan as a symbol of sexuality is ultimately modern, and his identity with the Phallus is almost certainly Przybyszewski’s own idea. The association with Apollo and Aphrodite are ultimately extensions of the connection between Satan and the themes of knowledge, creativity, and sexuality. What is to be taken from this is the idea that Satan represented the free pursuit of knowledge and sensuality that was taken to be part of pre-Christian “Pagan” but which was denied in the ascent of Christianity, and which so becomes a negativity. There’s a sense in which it can be argued that, because hedonism was actually typically looked down upon by Greek and Roman normativity, it is just as well a negativity there too. Still, if we run with the idea of Satan as having incarnated as the gods of polytheism, then surely there’s more that could be done with that. We can make sense of what Przybyszewski went with, but why not Satan as Bacchus/Dionysus, for the drunken liberation of consciousness and terrible wrath against kings? Or Satan as Pluto/Hades, for the treasures of the underworld? Or Satan as Vulcan/Hephaestus, for the power of fire to transform raw matter? Or Satan as Ares, for rebellion and war?
At a certain point, the “good god” gets sick of observing the indulgences of mankind from his invisible kingdom and so sends a son to earth to proclaim the message of this same invisible kingdom. The son, no doubt meaning Jesus Christ, first revealed himself to the poor, the oppressed, the slaves, and day workers. Now, this is where we need to step back a little. On the one hand, it is known that Przybyszewski was a socialist, or at least that he involved himself with the socialist or workers movement, for which he was arrested and later expelled from university in 1893. In fact, in 1892 Przybyszewski worked as an editor for a socialist newspaper called Gazeta Robotnicza (“Worker’s Gazette”), which was founded in Berlin in 1891 by Polish socialist activists who lived in Germany and were aligned with the Social Democratic Party of Germany. Yet, on the other hand, in The Synagogue of Satan he seems to glow with praise for “the aristocratic enjoyment of life” and remark with contempt for those who “had never tasted the holy joys of Pan”. What explains this? Of course the rigid social stratification of Roman society is rather unfortunately papered over in Przybyszewski’s telling, but I think it might be operative to point out how Christianity appeals to a religious sense of solidarity only so it may console and socialize the masses. Jesus was merely the “teacher” of the poor, teaching them contentment through the promise of “the good news”, not the advocate of the poor, who would have instead dragged the wealth of the elites down to the poor, and while he was given to flipping the tables of poor merchants he certainly was not interested in smashing open the shackles of slaves. Perhaps, though, Przybyszewski is ultimately working through the influence of Friedrich Nietzsche, perhaps his favourite philosopher, in assigning slave morality to Christianity and master morality to Satan and pre-Christian antiquity. Yet it may be worth ourselves working through the influence of Renzo Novatore, the individualist anarchist who was himself thoroughly Nietzschean. For Novatore, the “aristocratic” that occupied his political thought was not the aristocracies who sat at the top of rigidly stratified hierarchies but instead a sort of defiant individualism that sets itself against conformity, the common, and the mass that set itself against it. It makes sense that this is the “aristocratic” quality of Przybyszewski’s Satan in the individuality he champions.
We come to Przybyszewski’s summary of the teachings of Christianity. In this summation, bread is no worry, earthly riches are fleeting, pride is meaningless because the highest ones will be in hell and the lowest ones in heaven, and, most crucially for Przybyszewski, carnal desire, which Przybyszewski the inexhaustible source of love for life and the will to eternal life, is the portal to Hell which must be shut in order to facilitate the reign of the invisible kingdom. Central to this discussion of the evils of carnality is, in Christian parlance, women, who the fathers of Christianity have long positioned as a threat to salvation. It is pointed out that Jesus said that a man has already defiled a woman simply by looking at her with lust, based on Matthew 5:28 where Jesus says that “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman to lust after her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”. And after the master the pupil goes further. St. Cyprian, it seems, proclaimed that a woman who could excite a sigh of love from a man was shameless. Tertullian called women “the portal of the Devil”, accused women of destroying “that tree”, of being “the first sinner against the holy law”, and of turning “the one to whom the Devil does not want to be turned”, and proclaimed that everything evil comes from women. Jerome purportedly argued that women were not created in the image of God; that might actually have been Augustine, though make no mistake Jerome generally hated women for a slew of other reaons, and is known for declaring woman the root of all evil. Female sexuality is an important part of the space of Satanic negativity that Przybyszewski presents, and it is a subject that Przybyszewski delves into much further when discussing the witch. I suspect that female sexuality is operative in this space because of the power that men seem to have invested in it as something they really don’t have much control over, try as they might to control it.
For now, what is operative for Przybyszewski in this chapter is that the contempt for women and their arts is an expression of God’s contempt for earthly beauty. We are told of divine hatred directed against every ribbon, against paintings, poets, and philosophies, against theatres and circuses, and even against the colours of flowers as potential portents of demonkind. Temples and icons were destroyed, the priestesses of Aphrodite were condemned as whores, and it was proclaimed that the demonic was everywhere. Demons were feared to fill the air and hide in trees, Lucifer haunted men with debauched dreams as Venus, and so the first struggle is the struggle against demonkind. In this struggle the church waged war against the bonds that connected humanity to nature, and the “naked soul” (an important concept in Przybyszewski’s philosophy), meaning the soul as an “absolute phenomenon”, and its connections were declared the deceptions of Satan. Here again Przybyszewski connects to a certain idea of Pagan religioisty in that, in his account, pre-Christian societies lived both with and in nature, humans in this setting were intimately a part of nature, and that nature revealed itself in the symbols of “the heathen cult” and in the polytheistic gods themselves. There’s a sort of Feuerbachian premise being played with here, in that he grants the idea that the power of the gods was a projection of natural forces. Of course, this is an extension of the idea that pre-Christian polytheism was strictly the worship of nature which was taken for granted during the Enlightenment, but while nature worship in some form was a part of pre-Christian religion it is just not true that the gods of polytheism were strictly reifications of natural phenomena. Nonetheless, in the context of The Synagogue of Satan we can sketch out this general idea of “the heathen cult”, the orgiastic religion of polytheistic nature worship, as the first phase of the church of Satan. The veneration of the processes of nature (albeit clearly interpreted in the lens of a vulgar master morality) was expressed in the gods and symbols and in the veneration of the demon and the earth. This cult is here indestructible, and the demon hides in the forests, grottoes, and caves, gathering worshippers in “crude bacchanals”. Numinous, divine negativity, taking the form of the demonic, is in this way understood as imminent in nature itself, and impossible for the teleological will of Christianity to suppress.
Satan, from this standpoint, is understood as the most hated enemy of Christianity. And not just Satan in himself, but Satan as the magician and healer. Here, the Magician is understood as the active devotee of the church of Satan, through whom the principle of Satan’s cultus is realized. The principle was proud egoism against the laws of God. Przybyszewski’s Magician is an individualist who refuses obedience and all poverty of spirit, unlocks the secrets and mysteries of the world, and would follow no one. Such fantastical accolades are attributed to The Magician; he can levitate above the ground, he cannot drown in water, and he cannot be burned in fire. More importantly, The Magician could be as divine as Jesus Christ, and thus rival and set himself up against God and his son. In fact, Przybyszewski says that Jesus Christ himself was a magician, a defier of laws, and a seer, and so The Magician was the same thing as Jesus was, except that The Magician had more pride. The comparison between The Magician and Jesus Christ is operative because it establishes the profound egoism of Przybyszewskian Satanism. God is his own Ownness, just as you are, but God wants you to worship him as the sole Ownness and deny your own. So it is with Jesus Christ and The Magician. Jesus is a magician, but he must have you think of him as the only magician and worship him accordingly instead of practicing magick yourself and becoming a magician like Jesus. This is an absurd tyranny. The egoist is one who understands this, that there is no difference between God’s or Christ’s Ownness and your own, that their claims to sole sovereignty are a senseless oppression put over you, which must militantly be opposed and overcome, and thence participate in what I call the war of all against all in pursuit of apotheosis, to become divine, fully overcoming the barriers to individuation.
We must examine the pride of The Magician versus that of Jesus for a moment, because there are multiple angles approaching it. The Magician’s pride consisted in him passing his arts to a chosen few, the proudest and strongest, while Jesus passed his teachings on to the plebeians. On the one hand Jesus could just as well be proud enough to spread his teachings to as many people as possible, confident in their reception by the masses. On the other hand, perhaps Jesus’ “pride” ultimately makes the most sense as the “pride” of the preacher, of the proselyte and therefore of proselytism, and perhaps from this standpoint it is easy to see it as a folly. Likewise, the pride of Przybyszewski’s Magician is not hard to construe as a different sort of folly, thoroughly uninviting and obstinate in not disseminating liberation outwardly. But perhaps it is also true that The Magician does not spread his work everywhere because he is not a preacher or proselyte spreading a cult unto his own, and needs only for those who want his craft to come to him; and perhaps they most certainly will.
In Przybyszewski’s account, Christianity hated The Magician more than anyone as a competitor to Jesus, and so he tells of their vicious persecution under Christian authority. We are told that the emperor Constantine imposed heavy penalties on the practice of magick, that the philosophers were driven out under the emperor Valens, that the philosopher Iamblichus took poison after being imprisoned, and that the people gathered books and burned them. Thus Przybyszewski declares that the children of Satan were martyred by Christians in persecutions dwarfing those carried out under the emperor Nero. There are some things to account for here. For one thing, there’s no record of Iamblichus being imprisoned let alone poisoning himself. There were, however, book burnings carried out by Christians, such as in Alexandria and Antioch, in which literature deemed “unacceptable” was burned at the orders of the bishop Athanasius and the emperor Jovian respectively. Over the centuries books on divination and astrology were gathered up and incinerated by Roman authorities, while the Bible ostensibly recounts an incident where “books of sorcery” were burned en masse by recently converted Christians in Ephesus. And let’s not forget about the destruction of the Serapeum. Valens for his part did not quite “drive out the philosophers”. What he did do instead, however, was have Maximus of Ephesus executed and many other polytheists massacred because he thought they were conspiring to replace him. Constantine of course did issue a decree against divination, but it is also true that Romans had regarded magic as a form of superstition and often illicit even before the ascent of Christianity.
For all that, though, The Magician lived on, and magick with him, and he helped the signs and symbols retain meaning and power. Meanwhile, the church could not win by brute force alone, so it used the power of “atavism”, or “choc en retour” (meaning “backlash”), to imitate and thereby contain the magickal arts. Holy water, sacraments, and the sign of the cross replaced conjurations with magickal signs, while the art of envocatio was contained by Mass, and it was assumed that Satan was driven out with holy water and his magicians thwarted by the cross. And yet, Przybyszewski says, rthe church ended up acquiesing to the old ways. He claims that obscene figures seen on church pillars were remnants of the cult of the phallus, that the “Bacchanalia” at the festivals of Ceres Libera (possibly just meaning the goddess Ceres, who was not worshipped in Bacchanalias) were celebrated in festivals devoted to St. Mary, and that the priests together with the common folk celebrated old orgiastic festivals. Hell itself is taken as proof as the influence of “the heathen cult”, as the Greek rivers of the underworld appear as the river of hell and Charon as the ferryman of Hell in medieval literature and art. Thus Przybyszewski says that Satan triumphed over Christ, transforming from a means of reinforcing Christ’s dominion through fear of the Devil into the almighty lord of the world who people tried to appease out of fear. The fear of demonic possession became widespread, he Przybyszewski claims the existence of a sect called the Messalinians who believed they were possessed by the Devil. I can’t seem to find anything about these “Messalinians” other than one reference in Alphonsus Ligouri’s The History of Heresies and Their Refutation, in which it seems to be a name for a 4th century sect called the Euchites, who were accused by the early church of worshipping Satan but it doesn’t seem like they were constantly in fear of demonic possession. Satan in any case multiplies and takes on many new forms, tormenting the holy fathers in the desert with doubts, going to monasteries to tempt the minds of monks, visiting pious women to fornicate with them, and planting curses and blasphemies into thousands of believers. He is everywhere, and thus the church must constantly try to exorcise him. But, Przybyszewski says, this struggle only strengthened Satan as it was continuously waged, and he mocked God through the voices of the possessed, all the while revealing secret sins to priests, weaving prophesies, and granting power to the possessed through their possession.
Przybyszewski’s “heathen cult” at this point has been pushed into the bottom of the social hierarchy. Not quite banished, seemingly incapable of truly being banished, lurking in the periphery and eventually reasserting itself, and as it does gradually transforming and undermining the order of Christian faith. The “heathen cult” thus transitions into a negative space around Christianity, to which Christianity inevitably returns. But if “the heathen cult” is that negative space, Satan is none other than the death drive, in the sense that baedan meant it. Satanic negativity is irrepressible, irreducible, Satan is within himself a constantly self-reproducing power to destroy the order of the invisible kingdom and unravel the limits of theology and the church, and this power only seems to expand when the church confronts Satan, until finally Satan becomes the actual sovereign of the world. The death drive of Satan is revealed, pushed to the bottom, exorcised, and then thunders up to the top from the abyss, fought as the constant threat to society and order only to prevail over society anyway and tear it apart with blasphemy and madness. Satan then is the function of the death drive, a darkness and revolt producing the contradictions that threaten to destroy the power of the church. First presented as the contradiction outside of God, responsible for the evil and flaw in the otherwise perfect creation, thus freeing God from the culpability of his monstrous creation, Satan then breaks out of this role and threatens society with all of the contradiction that is actually internal to itself and to God’s creation, and by entering the minds of the masses Satan turns them into agents of this same negation.
As Satanic negativity overtakes and Satan’s death drive swamps over Christendom, sin is universal, Satan’s visions and voices impossible to avoid or deny, his seductions impossible to resist, and all thoughts sins before God. Supposedly, the devils even disregard exorcisms and don’t fear them at all. Thus all falls under the power of Satan, and Heaven is denied. In this setting, where madness and the fear of the end of the world plagued the land, the belief in “the Paraclete”, the “triune Satan”, and the Antichrist emerged, and the Antichrist became the perennial figure of speculation and intrigue. The Antichrist is the Adversary, the son of ruination, the “man of sin” more sinful than Jesus is virtuous, he is born from the Pope and a succubus, his reign is both imminent and already here, he will cut down the servants of Christ, he will cause miracles, and he will exalt himself to heaven and declare himself God. Basically, as an individual figure, the Antichrist is meant as the total opposite of Jesus. As a term, though, Antichrist seems to just signify that which is outside of and opposed to the community of Christians. In any case, in Przybyszewski’s account, the Antichrist seems to appear as an actual person, but not as an earthly ruler in accordance with Christian tradition. Instead the Antichrist is a spiritual sovereign, the spirit of pride and exaltation. Satan got bored of constantly possessing people and playing the game of exorcism with priests, and instead he wanted to “become God”, or rather “a proud and wild anti-God” capable of forcing Jesus back into his domain and end his ultimately hollow dominion over the world. The Antichrist in this setting is, apparently, Mani, the prophet of the religion of Manichaeism (or “Manichaeanism” as he refers to it). As strange as it sounds, his framing of it all ultimately comes back to the initial theology of the two gods: Satan and God.
Mani proclaimed the teaching of two gods, equally powerful and locked in eternal struggle with each other. One was the invisible god of goodness, seated in his heaven, unconcerned with the earth, concerned only with the perfection of his elect. The other was the god of sin, who rules the earth and is the source of sin in the world, and who says “do not strain yourselves, just imitate me”. Manichaeism, as well as Gnosticism, both supposedly spread rapidly in the Christian world. Przybyszewski presents what he considers the difference between Christianity and Manichaeism. Christianity presents mankind with the idea that humans can choose whether to sin or not, whereas Manichaeism rejects this idea on behalf of some form of determinism. Christianity from his standpoint valorized the imitation of stupidty, whereas Manichaeism supposedly lauded “the autocratic imagination of mysticism”. Christianity emphasized slave morality, whereas Manichaeism supposed endorsed proud sinning in the name of instinct, curiosity, passion, and “Satan-nature”. Thus Manichaeism in Przybyszewski’s story becomes the next phase of the cult of Satan.
I must elaborate at this point Przybyszewski seems to have obviously and completely missed the point of Manichaeism. Manichaeism did not reject free will, but it appears that the Manichaeans did believe in a sort of “true” free will, that is to say will that acts in harmony with the “World of Light”, the spiritual (or indeed “invisible”) world which was the birthplace of the soul. The soul had “free will” only so long as it remained pure and in harmony with its origins, and was not ultimately contaminated by the influence of matter. If the soul is mixed with matter and influenced by it, then free will was impossible. In this sense we can already infer that Manichaeism most certainly did not endorse “proud sinning” in the name of instinct or passion, since this too was the influence of matter that was to be avoided. Those who sinned were destined to reincarnate as animals, fall into the hands of demons, and ultimately be imprisoned with them in the realm called Bōlos. The whole goal for Manichaeism was the salvation of human souls, and the point of that was that humanity is responsible for redeeming both itself and the “World Soul”. The actual ethics of Manichaeism could be very strict: it was forbidden to drink alcohol, it was forbidden to eat the flesh of animals because animals were believed to be created from demons and contain “greed-arousing substance”, and it was forbidden to kill or at least hurt any living being, including plants. Everything, including not only plants but also the earth, the stars, skies, contained particles of the “World Soul”, and not only killing animals and cutting plants for sustenance but also to even walk across the earth or bathe in water was a violation of the World Soul. This all sounds quite unimaginably strict even by the standards of the most ascetic religions we know, and naturally it was assumed that most believers weren’t up to such a standard of holy life. The lay Manichaean was only expected to observe a set of moderate commandments, such as to not be miserly or to give alms to the elect. The elect, however, observed much stricter commandments in order to live a holy life. They were forbidden from eating meat, forbidden from drinking alcohol of any sort, forbidden to make money outside of business, and forbidden to practice any sexual activities at all. Both the elect and lay Manichaeans were expected to fail to live up to their commandments, so both regularly and constantly practiced atonement rituals. The point of leading a holy life in Manichaeism was not just to be saved, but also to become a physical instrument of the redemption of the “World Soul” from matter. Simply put, the actual religion of Manichaeism had nothing in common with Przybyszewski’s presentation of it.
The way Przybyszewski presents Manichaeism seems to based only on the part of Manichaeism that upholds dualism between light/spirit and darkness/matter as equally powerful, with the obvious assumption that this naturally elevates Satan as God and sin as an imitation of God. The idea seems to be that, in a Christian standpoint at least, to establish equality between Satan and God is to establish Satan as God, and I suppose it makes in the sense of Satan being the tangible ruler of creation as opposed to God the intangible one. But it doesn’t have anything to do with what Manichaeism was, it’s mostly just Przybyszewski projecting his own ideas onto Manichaeism. That said, this formula ends up presenting aspects of Przybyszewski’s philosophy to us. For one thing, it seems that Przybyszewski rejected free will in favour of some form of determinism. It’s not clear at this point how he meant to square this determinist rejection of free will with the defiant assertion of individual will so evident in his Satanic philosophy and especially in his concept of The Magician. Matter as represented by Satan is obviously superior to Spirit as represented by God, as the tangible principle and the vehicle in which sensation travels as opposed to be stifled by Spirit. And of course, mysticism, pride, and indulgence are held above obedience, faith, and humility. On “the autocratic imagination of mysticism” it is again perhaps worth inserting the later ideas of Renzo Novatore, for whom “autocracy” in anarchist terms means the “autocracy” of the individual unto itself, as set against the oligarchy of phantoms and all systems that seek to oppress, sublimate, or recuperate individual will. In this interpretation, “the autocratic imagination of mysticism” is, simply put, the free imagination of individual spiritual thought in rejection of dogmatic faith. Though, again, it’s not obvious how this is to be reconciled with the wholesale rejection of free will. Przybyszewski’s constructed “Manichaeism” is in this sense a vessel to communicate these values as represented in the “evil” side of a dualism in which it is supposed the “evil” side is ultimately better and more powerful than the “good” side.
The church is presented as ultimately the victor in the struggle against “Manichaean” darkness, and with the defeat of Avignon (which here represents the “anti-Christian” forces for some unknown reason) Satan blasphemed unto the world that he was the “God of Light”, that the “dark god of revenge” overthrew him out of jealousy of his “light”, that the time has come to fear his pride and hate. The “eternal light” will not sleep and neither do his children, but the children of his enemies will sleep, tired from struggle against the “light”. The “light” has sacrificed millions of fellows to the vengeance of its enemy, but these sacrifices are “fertilizer” for “the One”, who will in turn generate “a thousand new communities”. The vengeance is coming and it is to be feared. Blasphemy takes the form of inversion, and in this setting Satan presents himself as the true light, God the true darkness. This is the hint that the dark matter of Satan is the true nobility, and the invisible kingdom of spirit the true villainy, and the unjust takeover of the kingdom of spirit will be overturned by the power of Satan. As for the identity “the One”, however, I’m afraid that is a complete mystery.
The only thing I’m inclined to add at this point is concerning the Manichaean conception of Hyle, and through this a way parsing a doctrine of dark materialism through Przybyszewski’s constructions. The evil principle in Manichaean cosmology is the Prince of Darkness, who invaded the world of light out of lust to mingle with it, and can only create through copulation whereas the Father of Greatness can create out of nothing. The Prince of Darkness was identified with Ahriman, the main adversary of Zoroastrianism, Iblis, the main adversary in Islam, and of course Satan himself, but he also went by another name: Hyle. Hyle was the Greek word for matter. It was also sometimes used as a name for Az, the mother of demons in Zoroastrian myth. Darkness created the world or body in which Light was imprisoned, and so Darkness propagates matter. But, understood via Hyle, this means Hyle propagates itself. Hyle is linked to copulation, in that the Prince of Darkness creates through copulation while his demons set into motion the whole process of human generation. In Przybyszewski’s framing, Hyle identified with Satan becomes a principle, substance, and presence that is the source of copulation and which produces all things through a process of generation that starts from itself. Perhaps this is the true depth of Iwan Bloch’s description of Satan as the “Personification of the Physical Mysterium of Copulation”. It is still a negative force, though. It is dark in that it that raw, formless potentiality of generation that negations all barriers to itself, and for this reason opposes the “Metaphysical Mysticism of Idolization”.
Part 2: The Church
Przybyszewski says that Satan began his vengeance against God by possessing the world, and in the coming millennium humanity began to doubt God while miracles occurred everywhere. The Devil personally visited Pope Sylvester IV, Otto the Great saw the sun dim and turn saffron, and the order of the seasons seemed to change such that snow fell in the summer and thunderstorms broke out in the winter. As this took place, a “holy fire” melted the flesh of humans, leaving only tattered bones in its wake. The people were driven to madness and hunger, but would not eat the flesh of animals; instead they were driven to horrible acts of cannibalism. People tried to expiate God, bitter enemies swore the “Peace of God”, kings joined choirboys in singing prayers to God, but it was all to no avail. God would not help anyone, and as people became convinced that God had abandoned them they began turning to Satan to deliver them from their suffering. God’s symbols were desecrated and mocked, and Satan had already whispered doubts in people’s ears to turn them against God. The salvation offered by Jesus appeared quite hollow in the face of the world’s horror. What salvation is it when people eat each other, when the earth burns under their feet, and when plague rips off their flesh? Thus “salvation” was scorned while the church was scandalised by its infamous dealings.
The “temple of God” was no more, having changed hands to Satan. And so what were God’s children meant to do? Supposedly they made the children of barons and dukes into bishops, and then the people were convened to elect a six year old boy to the status of minister. A dove perched atop his head was meant to signify his election by the Holy Spirit itself. Meanwhile two women selected their lovers as Popes, and thereafter the “goodly father of sin” came to be secure in his reign and the church was restored. The world cried out for ecclesiastical reform, and Pope Gregory VII delivered on this reform by establishing the rule of celibacy. Woman was blamed for the church’s problems and so it was thought that Woman had to be “destroyed” within the church. Priests who refused to part with their wives were attacked by celibate monks. But the people defiled what they previously held sacred, drinking befouled communion wine and scattering communion wafers to the winds. The authority of the priests was completely undermined, while the authority of the monks and the mob prevailed. We are told that concubines were mutilated to death, that abbots who ordered castrations were rewarded with bishoprics, and that the theologian Manegold is said to have insisted that priests who resisted celibacy should be killed. In imposing celibacy the church had attacked nature, once again, by regarding Woman as an impure creature, equivalent to Satan, who spelled death for men. Fanatically bigoted pronouncements were made against women all the time. Pietro Damiani, for example, was said to have called women “scum of paradise” and “bait of Satan”.
What is operative in this narrative is that here the church is shown reconstituting itself on the back of a negative space, again. The negative space, from the Christian standpoint, is women, who are blamed for the corruption of the church, for which the solution is deemed to be the imposition of celibacy upon the clergy. And there was indeed a celibacy drive in the Catholic Church associated with Pope Gregory VII. Gregory VII did indeed absolve people from having to obey bishops who retained married priests. That said, Gregory VII was probably motivated less by the subject of women and more by a certain abstract ascetic ideal that he associated with the fulfillment of holy life. While I can’t find those quotes from Pietro Damiani outside of the texts of Jules Michelet, it is true that Damiani was a prolific advocate of clerical celibacy and vehemently condemned priests who were married. The ascetic ideal fulfilled in celibacy naturally clashes with sexuality, and in Christendom women were very often seen as portals through which temptation worked its way into the world, all then way back to the church fathers. Sexuality, female sexuality in particular, was feared for its power to unravel holy life and Man’s connection to God. The way this connects to the death drive is perhaps more fittingly explored once we get to the subject of the witch. But the point is that sexuality is the negative space upon which the church reforms sit, and which the order of clerical celibacy was instituted to repress, but to which humans, even the faithful, will inexorably return.
I would also take the opportunity to mention at this point that Przybyszewski’s idea of the imposition of celibacy, which would connote a clampdown on sexuality and libertinism, is a fairly obvious extension of the ideas of Friedrich Nietzsche. In his essay Nietzsche contra Wagner; Out of the Files of a Psychologist, specifically in a section titled “Wagner as Apostle of Chastity”, Nietzsche describes the advocacy of chastity as “an incitement to perversion”, and on such grounds regards Wagner’s opera Parsifal as “an attempt to assassinate ethics”. In The Antichrist, Nietzsche describes chastity, alongside humility and poverty, as having done immeasurably more harm to life than any vice or horror, and in a suppressed passage we see that the fourth position of Nietzsche’s “Law Against Christianity” describes the preaching of chastity as incitement against nature while stressing that contempt for sexuality and making it “unclean” are the real sins against life. This is an idea that carries on in Przybyszewski’s writing over the course of The Synagogue of Satan, and I think that it is best understood as a Satanic interpretation, or even extension, of Nietzsche’s anti-Christian transvaluation of values. From the lens of Stirnerite egoism we can also add an additional dimension via the discussion of lewdness and egoistic versus sacred love in Stirner’s Critics. Sin in the context of natural impulse, in this case lust, is denied for the sake of chastity as the result of what Stirner understands as a “religious consideration”, by which he means a strictly moral and therefore alienated consideration, which is not aligned to natural or egoistic interest, which would be lewd. “Absolute” interest, “spiritual” interest, set against natural or egoistic interest, is like a despot opposed to nature, like the God of the invisible and spiritual kingdom is a despot opposed to the world as belonging to Satan, thus we come right back around to Przybyszewski’s dualism on Stirner’s terms. And on that note I think it is reasonable to assume that, while I can’t tell you if Przybyszewski had read Stirner’s Critics, I can establish that he was at least familiar with Stirner on the grounds that he discussed Stirner and Nietzsche with fellow decadents. From there a convergence between Stirnerite egoism and Przybyszewski’s Nietzschean Satanism is fairly easy to develop.
With celibacy established and the church “finished with nature”, the priests having been separated from their wives began practicing unspeakable obscenities with their own flock, and we are told that meanwhile the church also waged war against reason. The investigation of the nature of God had already been forbidden, and now ideas were declared to be beings, which Przybyszewski tells us means they cannot be observed or learned from, which means the people gave up on thought. People flipped through fragments of Aristotle, and wrote commentaries on Aristotle which then distorted his writings such that Aristotle was to have prophesied the coming of Christ and proved his divinity. The philosophers of the day brooded over the psychology of angels and invented formulas to establish that comparing words is equivalent to knowledge of the real. In this setting, the “Satanic philosopher”, who we are told was a fan of Plato and shattered Christian thought by upholding Manichaean heresies, smiled at this state of affairs, presumably sensing the decline the Christian thought. This philosopher asked the doctors of the church, “what about when the farmer is leading a pig along to the market. What is doing the pulling there, the farmer or the leash?”, and the doctors of the church struggled to answer. Later we are told of a philosopher named Abelard ruining the efforts of the church by proclaiming that an idea is not a being and an abstraction is not reality. Somewhat unremarkable as an observation, but for some reason Przybyszewski lionized Abelard as “beautiful and glorious as a god”, such that no woman in France could resist him, and he possessed great eloquence and developed confusions that turned the doctrines of the church upside down. If by Abelard we mean Peter or Pierre Abelard, who lived from 1079 to 1142, the real Abelard was definitely considered a heretic, and he was an intellectual defender of women, but it is not evident that he was the stud that Przybyszewski makes him out to be. What is true, however, is that Abelard thought of original sin as a punishment or penalty for Adam’s sin, differing in some respects from other interpretations of original sin. Przybyszewski presents Abelard as wanting to know in order to believe, in opposition to Anselm who wanted to believe in order to know. But this simplisitc idea, one that is no doubt the product of its time in the context of the 19th century, smooths over much of Abelard’s thought, and positions him as a rationalist trying to challenge Christianity from the outside rather than, as is more likely, a logician and theologian seeking to redefine traditional doctrinal positions within the context of Christian moral thought. Unfortunately for Przybyszewski, what we know about Peter Abelard suggests that he was no “Satanic philosopher”, even if he was sometimes regarded as a heretic.
But whether we are dealing with heresy or simply a redefining of Christian teaching, what we are presented with is a state of affairs in which church orthodoxy is constantly under threat or being re-examined by mavericks. We are told that Abelard derided the faith of the morally simple and eviscerated the secrets of God, though of course he probably did no such thing and Bernard of Clairvaux never said that he did. But even if Abelard did not actually shake the foundations of the church, his student, Arnold of Brescia, arguably did. Arnold indeed revolted against the papacy, and in fact Arnold frequently denounced the political power of the church. He also condemned property ownership as sinful, and called on the church to renounce property and renounce worldliness. Arnold was exiled from Italy for his anti-clericalism, but he eventually returned and became part of the republican Commune of Rome, where he preached apostolic poverty and purity and demanded the institution of democratic rights and freedoms along with the restoration of a wholly spiritual church. For both this and the role he played in driving out Pope Eugene III, Arnold was denounced as “the father of political heresies”, excommunicated, arrested, and ultimately burned at the stake. We are then presented with Frederick II, the Holy Roman Emperor. Przybyszewski says that under Frederick’s protection Arab physicians opened a human corpse for medical study. Of course, although Frederick did require studying physicians and surgeons to attend dissections, human cadaveric dissections had already been practiced in ancient Greece and elsewhere for centuries and Frederick did not single-handedly reinstate such practices. Frederick supposedly asked the Muslims “My lords, what do you think about God?” and this was to be taken as a display of unbridled skepticism. Again, this statement has no record, but it is true indeed that Frederick has a reputation for skepticism, known for his empiricism and Epicureanism, not to mention his penchant for sensual indulgence. His reputation was such that he was accused of writing a book called Treatise of the Three Impostors, which purportedly argued against Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all at once, though in reality Frederick probably never wrote it and the book’s real authorship and even its very existence are impossible to verify. But while he was often seen as an atheist and a rationalist and even accused of being a predecessor to the Antichrist, he was not really an atheist, and although he often went against the wishes of the church he was no real opponent of it; in fact, he still placed strict edicts against heresy, joined in the suppression of heretics, and granted secular powers to the church.
The point to be taken from all of this is that Christendom was not quite all that it seemed, or at least the authority of the church and its faith was not as absolute as perhaps God would have hoped. There was contestation, there were deviations, there were doubts, and there was revolt. For Przybyszewski, this insecurity marked the growth of skepticism and disbelief among Christians, and the ego rose with enthusiasm to prove everything and then refute it, as was “the highest philosophical art”. We are told that the man of the 12th century disregarded God, felt that Christ had ruled for long enough, and that the Holy Spirit needed to take over. Messiahs and new sects began to appear, and humans did not search for God because God was already inside of them, and so individual striving and the liberation of instincts unfolded. In the mean time, the Crusades had failed, God apparently slept while the Muslim armies repeatedly triumphed over the Christian armies, and troubadours had begun to sing with melancholy about how God preferred Muslims over Christians. And the hardships didn’t stop; God kept heeping more torments, defeats, and humiliations upon the people. At this time, people were longing for the chance to part with God without shame, and Satan gave them just that chance. Satan, here also referred to as Chernebog or Diabol and described as ruling the world alongside “the good god”, came to shake the church with his iron fist. A sect called the Bogomils spread out from Bulgaria and settled in France, facing decimation along the way. Here the south of France is referred to as “the favorite seat of Satan”, because of the many heresies that gathered there. Black magick is said to have been widespread, and Kabbalah was supposedly spreading among a supposedly no longer Christian society. Grimoires allowed people to summon demons like Samael to serve them for “evil”, while the Satanim live inside Man and tempt Man.
Forgetting the obvious problem with bringing up Kabbalah in the context of black magick, when the whole point of Kabbalah is to unify with God, it is here that Przybyszewski once again invokes his construction of “Manichaeanism”, which he states has returned in a younger form, and so in this setting the device of “Manichaeanism” recapitulates some of Przybyszewski’s ideas of Satanic philosophy. Evil is established as possessing the same substantiality as Good, rather than only existing incidentally through the self-incrimination of Good. Evil and Good opposed each other, but were equally essential and substantial, and in their opposition they go back to the source of existence all the way to the Godhead. Sin is not self-incrimination because it is not a product of free will, and instead it is the work of the “Black God”. Thus there is indeed no such thing as sin, because it carries no volition, and incurs no punishment. Eternal damnation is dismissed as a stupid invention, the sacraments of penance and communion are regarded as invalid, and regret for sin is considered useless – what Nietzsche called the “bite of conscience”, which he regarded as like a dog biting a stone, which is to say pointless. The human being, just like the Godhead, is also divided into “good” and “evil”, which was based in spirit and matter respectively. I should stress again that the division of good and evil along the lines of spirit and matter is pretty much the only thing this “Manichaeanism” has in common with the real religion of Manichaeism. But then Przybyszewski tells us of a schism within this new sect, between those who decided to favour the worship of the “Light God” and those who favoured the worship of the “Black God”. The worshippers of the “Light God” embraced a highly austere moral code and severe asceticism, their beliefs were spread by zealots who were later worshipped as saints, and these saints had the power to completely purify a person after their death. The worshippers of the “Black God”, in contrast, gathered in secret, established secret organizations dedicated to worshipping this god, and celebrated the mysteries of the “Black God” in forests, caves, and mountaintops.
Here “Manichaeanism” becomes two distinct sects: one devoted to the “Light God” of spirit, the other devoted to the “Black God” of the world. It sounds a little bit like the “Light God” is meant to be Belobog, the “White God”, and the “Black God” must be Chernebog, or rather Chernobog, since that is one of the names Przybyszewski gave to Satan, or rather “the Slavic Satan” It was long supposed that these two gods were meant to be seen as complimentary opposites in a dualistic Slavic religion, but in reality Chernebog was just a minor local deity that was only ever worshipped in parts of Mecklenburg and Pomerania while Belobog was not actually a deity but rather a local name for the Christian God. I suppose on this basis, though, it is fitting enough that Przybyszewski states that the two sects serve as re-statements of the difference between Christianity and Paganism, although I would argue that the sect of the “Light God” presented here is much closer to what Manichaeism actually was than the “Manichaeanism” that he has typically presented as some sort of ancient Satanism. The schism establishes, or perhaps rather reinforces, Przybyszewski’s conception of Satanism as essentially a continuation of “the heathen cult”, an evolution of a raucous, romantic, quasi-Epicurean pagan polytheism (as constructed by Przybyszewski of course) that was then pushed to the bottom by Christianity, beneath which it became an omnipresent negative space for Christendom as a whole. The idea of going to off to worship “The Black God”/Chernebog/Satan in the forests, the caves, and the mountains in orgiastic celebrations calls back to the mysteries of Dionysus, the worship of gods and nymphs in nature, and the old tradition that held that these old places of nature contained numinous power that humanity was a part of.
Then Przybyszewski talks about the Perfecti, or “perfected ones”, who possessed “oriental magical techniques” and performed miracles and spread under the name of a family of sects dubbed the Cathars. These Cathars, he says, “mangled and destroyed” the Christian faith. Secret societies were formed to pursue “obscene” aims, and the philosophical core of “Manichaeanism” was lost to the point that all that remained of “Manichaeanism” was doctrinnaire hatred of Christianity. The God of the Old Testament was despised by the Cathars, because he knew that Adam and Eve would die if they ate from the tree of knowledge and yet allowed them to eat of it, because ultimately he lied because they in fact did not die as he said they would, and because he killed both the innocent and the guilty at Sodom and Gomorrah. They are also purported to reject the doctrine that the “Good God” suffered on the cross because it was blasphemous to say that God could suffer, die, and come back to earth, let alone eat and drink as we do. They are also said to reject the idea of distinction between the sin of eating and the sin of procreation, and supposedly questioned the idea that procreation is sinful on this basis. And, of course, these Cathars hated the church of Rome perhaps more than anything; we are told they called Rome a den of murderers, that they likened Rome to the Whore of Babylon, and that they derided and supposedly even killed the priests of the church. Przybyszewski further claimed that Cathars held parodies of the Mass that were essentially almost complete reproductions of “the sabbat”, and that all novices had to renounce all Catholic teachings and sacraments and spit on the cross. Supposedly they even threw the sacred host into manure, broke the legs of Christ, and soiled him with filth. As far as reality in contrast to Przybyszewski’s narrative is concerned, I could remark about how much of this almost certainly had little to do with the “real” Cathars, but then there’s just one problem with that: the “Cathars” may never have existed at all.
In any case, as far as our narrative is concerned, the church responded to the rising Cathar movement by launching a Crusade against them, and so a massacre took place in which 60,000 people were killed. This seems to be in reference to the Massacre at Beziers, for which we actually don’t know exactly how many people died. But it’s from here that we apparently get the Latin phrase, “Caedit eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius”, which means “Kill them all. The Lord knows those that are his own” (Przybyszewski seems to have rendered it a little differently; for him it’s “caedite omnes, novit enim Deus, qui sunt eius”, or “kill them all, for God will renew those that are his”); in modern English, the equivalent phrase is “Kill ’em all and let God sort ’em out”, as frequently used by Americans, especially in the military. The Albigensians fled massacre and persecution wherever they could, but every fortress they took refuge in in was conquered, one after another. Captured Cathars were burned at the stake for their heresy, supposedly even if they recanted, while the “knights of the Holy Spirit” executed thousands of people in all manner of ways. Nothing was left, and the church assumed that it had triumphed over heresy. But Satan felt more powerful than ever before. His church hadn’t actually been destroyed, for apparently the hearts of the people were loyal to Satan.
After the fall of Toulouse people apparently crept into catabombs or hid in mountain valleys in order to worship Satan, which never before had they done so enthusiastically, and a new priestess of Satan had emerged: the Witch. Of course, Satan needed to spring as many seeds as he could, and so he sought a wife with whom he could increase his kind. An allegory tells of Satan having intercourse with Godlessness, and producing seven daughters with her. These daughters were Pride, Greed, Infidelity, Hypocrisy, Envy, Vanity, and Fornication. When they grew up, Satan married six of these daughters off to mankind; Pride was married to the powerful, Greed was married to the rich, Infidelity was married to the masses, Hypocrisy was married to the priests, Envy as married to the artists, and Vanity was married to women. Only Fornication remained unmarried, and Satan reserved her for no one in particular, because she was for the whole world. Przybyszewski then says that what he termed “hysterical epilepsy” was common in the 13th century, and that leprosy was universal to the point that “everyone was a little bit leprous”. The succubi and the incubi destroyed those with “weak blood”, while women, we’re told, spontaneously fell down, lifted their dresses, and started masturbating, which suggested a sort of widespread sexual mania. Przybyszewski claims both that the “Albigensian theory” lent itself to such developments and that, in a turnabout, the priesthood of the church employed this very theory to develop new techniques of self-denial. Thus, orgies became a way to “kill sin by means of sin”, a means of negating individual will and instinct, and sacrifice yourself to God, by transforming self-indulgence into self-abnegation. It is true that certain “Gnostic” sects were assumed to have believed in indulging your sexual appetites to the point that you become sick of the material world, but it doesn’t seem that this was prevalent in the Middle Ages. Przybyszewski then says that the priests went further and taught that every act is holy for the saint, and sanctified anyone who sinned with him. The church was also the sole possessor of wealth, while the people were dying of hunger; a fairly basic indictment of class society in conjunction with Christianity. Thus the church was then mocked, scorned, and despised, and faced its collapse.
So, while Satan was growing his power in the world and while demons inspired sexual mania, the church in its attempts to recuperate the heresy it despised appear to have resulted in failure. The vices, married to the people or shared by all of humanity, reasserted themselves against Christian piety, and so dominated the world that the church tried to take them up as a pharmakon – the poison that is at once the cure – in the hope of destroying Satan’s power. Sin as death drive so unravels the world as to consume it completely, and with it seemingly the church itself, by now writhing in its own social contradictions. Interestingly, it is perhaps here that we see a fairly clear indicationg that Satan does not restrict his gifts to a few people, but rather has something to give for everyone, across class backgrounds. And of course, he certainly offers his doubts to the people at large at moments of intense contradiction in the reign of the church.
Then, in Przybyszewski’s telling, we see that the church owned land and the bishops were princes who could raise armies, while the monarchies were losing money and having to counterfeit currency. The solution of the monarchies to this was to confiscate from the church, and so kings incited soldiers against the priests and demanded portions of the church’s income. Przybyszewski seems to describe Pope Boniface VIII as a “perjured lawyer,” a “savage atheist”, who “debauched the church” with “filthy blasphemies”. As ridiculous as all of this is, he comes into conflict with Philip the Fair over the latter’s desire to impose levies on the church’s income. The Pope responds by issuing bulls against the king, and is derided in turn. After a feud with the king’s representatives, the Pope absolves the people all sins except sacrilege and stealing from the church, and then, Przybyszewski claims, he died while possessed by the Devil. From there the church declines further. Benedict XI released Phillip from excommunication, and then died of poisoning. From there the church was seemingly handed over to Phillip the Fair, who appointed Clement V as Pope under restrictions, and Clement V embarked on an inspection trip in which he stole from the French clerics. He cooperated in paying the king a tenth of church income, but this was not enough, so he “abandoned the Jews to him”, presumably meaning he let the king expel all Jewish people from France in 1306. When this was still not enough, Clement V withdrew all of Boniface’s bulls and elected cardinals that would ensure the new Pope would be completely under the king’s control, hoping to curry his favor. Still not enough, Clement V had to bring the Knights Templar to the king to be judged as heretics and executed. This, Przybyszewski says, outraged the people, and from there Satan went from being the god of secret societies and a handful of magicians to being the only god for the people. God could not be expected to give what was offered by Satan, he could only deliver torments to humanity and withheld paradise from them, and as the people turned to Satan his power grew immeasurably. Only Satan could give power to the weak, honor to the despised, vengeance to the wronged, and love to estranged lovers, and Satan alone was the god of the poor, the deceived, and the despised.
Here we see that Satan is, in truth, no elitist. How can he be, with “Evil” as universal as it is? And with the church in decline and God discredited in absence, Satan proved to be the true patron of the downtrodden. Satan was offering everything to the masses, God denied everything but torments to the masses, Christ was nowhere to be found and the masses were sick of Christ anyway. Christ’s position as the patron of the masses is at this point thoroughly discredited, although I should note that even in the Bible he never was the champion of the poor; how can he be, when all he has to offer the poor is the “good news” and the assurance that poverty will always exist?
And Satan was everywhere by now. He was in every household, he encountered people everywhere, he could even be sold in bottles. The ranks of hell swelled to 72 princes and over 7 million common devils. Sorcery became prolific, and so the authorities began charging people for it and punishing them with death, torture, and even rape. Przybyszewski appears to be referring to the three daughters of Philip the Fair, which is strange because in reality they were all charged not with sorcery but with adultery, and certainly not punished in the ways he seems to describe. The royal families were caught in adultery and crime, and Satan rubbed his hands together at the sight of such times. Then, eventually, there was a new idol: gold. Gold was the new God, and also the new Antichrist. Gold could be used to create treasures, fulfill every worldly wish, and even grant souls a place in heaven. The church turned it into crosses, reliquaries, and chalices, while other “important people” made jewelry and luxury with it. But gold began to run out. Everyone began a fanatical search for gold. Gold was seemingly manufactured, but it continually evaporated. Everyone needed gold, and at any price they would have it. The “prince of the earth” possessed all the gold, held onto it, and was willing to give some of it, but at the price of your immortal soul. People began a relentless persecution of Jewish people because they were believed to have all the gold and know where it was, but this was for naught. In the end, the people once again turned to Satan for gold. In this, Satan himself was gold, and he turned the church into a whore, the government into a band of counterfeiters, judges to scoundrels, priests to profiteers, peasant women to prostitutes, and morality to depravity. For gold the Templars were destroyed, for gold the church was expropriated by kings, for gold Jewish people were persecuted, and for gold the nobles began torturing the peasants. The people hid what gold they had from the nobles, and after a long period of oppression they violently rose up against the nobles and the priests, killing and plundering their oppressors and desecrating sacraments, but only to be suppressed each time. Through all this the peasants turned to Satan, The Devil, because only he had compassion for them, only he could bring them happiness, however brief, and only he could grant them vengeance against the nobles.
By now, Satan’s role as the champion and avenger of the oppressed is clear, and in this he emerges as the inverter and revealer of power and class. In his temptations, his blasphemies, and his gold, he inverts the power of the church and thereby revealing its true basis: not in righteousness, not even in God, but in acquisition; an acquisition shared by the state, by the nobles, quite arguably by everyone at least from Przybyszewski’s standpoint. Satan revealed the true nature of the authority hanging over the people, and the people then turned to Satan as their true saviour, the only one who could give the people what they really wanted. Not salvation, but freedom. Not peace, but revenge. Not abstinence, but indulgence. Not the daily bread, but gold. Christ could only promise the “good news”, and God could only promise torment in this life and heaven after it if only you obeyed him, and the nobles and the priests who oppressed the peasants did so in the name of God and his Christ. Thus Satan stands as the enemy and the subverter of the ruling classes, not their friend.
What follows next is another indictment of the medieval ruling classes. The nobles took a liking to abusing and torturing the peasants and common folk, and we are told that they developed increasingly elaborate ways of satisfying their brutality. One such way according to Przybyszewski was that the peasant would be thrown into a dough barrel, which was then tipped over, and the noble would put the peasant’s wife over the barrel and have their way with her, and they made their child watch while a cat was bound to the child’s leg and scratched the child every time they screamed. This is what Przybyszewski refers to as “ius primae noctis”, or “right of the first night”, in which feudal lords were supposedly entitled to assault women under their sovereignty during their first wedding night. It’s all very lurid and outrageous, certainly scandalising for the ruling class. But most modern historians conclude that this was a fictitious practice, whose accounts originate only from later sources and not from medieval accounts. Przybyszewski, as a 19th century man, no doubt took the side of a historical debate at the time on the subject which insisted that it was all true. In any case, within the scope of Przybyszewski’s narrative, such abuses naturally drove the people to a breaking point, and meanwhile people were dying of a plague that ravaged the land, and then dying of starvation afterwards. In this setting, no one worked, people waited for death, but in the country people fled to the woods and gathered to worship the Devil. Flagellants marched throughout France, the people became epileptic and performed orgiastic dances in the face of death, while the kings and emperors had gone mad. People renounced heaven and did not forget the misery in their hearts. It seemed that nothing really mattered, the popes were mocked and scorned and their authority ignored, and it was “better to kiss the stinking ass of a corpse than the mouth of Peter”.
Satan, in this setting, became popular, and so did the practice of magic and sorcery, which achieved the highest honour it ever had. The “witch-masters” in all nations gathered to summon demons that could possess the king, herbs with magical properties were brewed in cauldrons, the king enjoyed himself with an emerald magic book, and pearls were ground into dust that was used by magicians to please the Devil. Everyone enthusiastically participated in conjurations and the people performed orgiastic dances and carnal celebrations on the mountaintops to honour the Prince of Darkness. Meanwhile, alchemical laboratories were made to manufacture gold and people mixed poison in the courts of the dukes. Satan was now loved instead of feared, and even imitated in dress. Women would wear horned headdresses while showing their breasts and bellies, while men would wear stockings covered in magical signs, boots tipped with claws, and pouches that accentuated their genitals. Satanist sects arose, grew, and spread everywhere, and there was no village that did not have a dedicated Satanic congregation and nocturnal orgies.
And thus, the church of Satan is born, and the cult of Satan flourishes. Out of the oppressions of the church and feudal society, out of the madness of a world buckling underfoot, Satan’s cult arises as the true vehicle of the liberation of the people, it grows as the negative space from underneath the Christian church which then finally unravels it. Of course, at this point it must be stressed once more that a lot of this is best taken as pure narrative. If you were to take all of this as actual history, you would run into severe problems, and to put it forward as history today would be an act of revisionism. Still, my point was about what to derive about the philosophy and ideology of Przybyszewski’s Satanism. And what do we understand of it? Well, Przybyszewski has so far reiterated his construction of “Manichaeanism” which is no way the real Manichaeaism, but from which we derive the following:
Przybyszewski’s Satanism believes in the primacy of Satan, “The Black God”, as the author of sin and the father of corporeal life.
On this basis, free will is denied, and therefore no one is culpable of sin.
On that basis, the doctrine of eternal damnation or punishment after death is completely rejected.
Not unlike Manichaeism or Gnosticism, there is a dualism between matter as “evil” and spirit as “good”, but unlike these religions, Satanism favours “evil” and matter over “good” and heaven/spirit.
Przybyszewski’s Satanism also endorses the “autocratic imagination of mysticism”, by which is simply meant a form of mystical individualism, or individualistic mysticism.
Przybyszewski’s Satanism upholds pride, and especially pride in committing “sin”, as a virtue, while rejecting obedience and humility before God.
This idea then develops further through schism, and from “Manichaeanism” we get a cult based entirely on worshipping Satan as “The Black God” through nocturnal orgies in the wild. Magick for self-interested ends is a part of Przybyszewski’s Satanism, and Satan is of course the patron of these arts, for Satan encourages people to transgress. Much of this section has been less an exploration of Satanism and more an exploration of Christian decline, but the inversion presented by Satan’s vengeance gives us an important suggestion of a Satanic attitude towards political power; the rulers of the world rule in the name of faith, and faith rules by control, orthodoxy, and fear, but the basis of their authority is in no way righteous, and is instead greed and violence. Satan contains within himsel the negativity which is that same greed and violence, which is revealed to be shared across all social strata, and the negative spaces upon which Christendom establishes itself and then deteriorates and decays. It also establishes Satan’s place not as the patron of some elite values or as some Social Darwinist but instead as the real champion of the people, and the sole source of their deliverance, liberation, fulfillment, and vengeance against the powerful. Satan is the greed that impels the people against the greed of the powers that be, and which calls not for abnegation but for fulfillment in the liberating revenge against the powers that be and the long oppression that hangs over them. For Satan did indeed take pity on their long misery!
But, hold the thought, because Przybyszewski promises more, a greater divulgence of Satan’s church in the next chapter. Of course, we will explore further in the second half of my commentary.
Prelude to “The Cult of the Church of Satan”
So far we have established Przybyszewski’s Satanism as essentially a doctrine of libertinism, egoism, and individualistic mysticism centered around the worship of Satan. Przybyszewski presents this Satanism as having originated in the pre-Christian polytheistic worship of nature and generation – the “heathen cult” as Przybyszewski calls it – before it was driven underground by the Christian church, and then evolved into “Manichaeanism” and other heresies before the church of Satan proper began in earnest. Satan, as the patron of the generation of flesh and vengeance against the church, worked his influence into the world through heresy and revolt and then delivered the people fron the torments of God into and brought about a new age of Satanism. The church of Satan humiliated and competed against the Christian church, and orgies of sin shared with demonkind swept across the land.
But this is only the beginning of Przybyszewski’s narrative exploration of his philosophy of Satanism. The next section, “The Cult of the Church of Satan”, continues to convey it, but in a grisly narration of the story of witchcraft, the “sabbats” of Satan, and the “black mass”. Here Przybyszewski’s Decadent sensibilities colour his expression of Satanic negativity, and it takes a certain amount of discernment and context to get used to it. But through it all, we are gradually acquainted with the real substance of his nihilist philosophy of transgression which makes up the essence of Satanism as he defines it.
I hope you look forward to the second half of my commentary on Stanislaw Przybyszewski’s The Synagogue of Satan.
I have been meaning to write this article since last month, after I encountered a video published by Caleb Maupin titled “Four Forms of Satanism: A Marxist View”, in which Maupin attempts to define Satanism on his terms for his audience. But, at the time, I was still working on my article on my developing philosophy of Satanic Paganism, and above all else I wanted to complete that article and resolve the desire that animated that work, thus my writing was devoted entirely to that article as well as the abridged version I wrote immediately afterwards. But now that both articles are finished, I can now bring you a response to Caleb Maupin’s video, even though it’s a month late.
I’ve talked about Caleb Maupin before, three months ago, in the context of conspiracy theories and Satanic Panic in relation to the Ukraine-Russia War, but let’s briefly introduce Caleb Maupin for the purpose of this article. As many of you probably already know, Caleb Maupin is a prolific socialist journalist (and I use both terms loosely here) who works for Russia Today, a news station owned and controlled by the Russian government and which is thus a platform for Russian state propaganda. Of course, Caleb really doesn’t like it when you call him a Russian asset, and was outraged when his Twitter account got labelled Russian state-affiliated media. Caleb seems to operate as a Marxist-Leninist, and certainly invokes Marxist theory in his various arguments about socialism, but in practice he mixes his “Marxism” with pro-American conservative populism, the neofascism espoused by Lyndon LaRouche, and the Eurasianist neofascist ideology of Aleksandr Dugin, so in practical terms he is perhaps more accurately referred to as a “left-fascist” or “red-fascist”. His particular brand of “anti-imperialism” leads him to uncritically support for dictatorships such as Russia and China, even to the point of defending the idea that there will be billionaires in a socialist or communist system, and he is prepared to defend rank anti-semites such as Louis Farrakhan on the grounds that he sees them as “anti-imperialists”. In fact, as you’ll see, Caleb Maupin himself is actually grotesquely and notoriously anti-semitic. His current project seems to be the Centre for Political Innovation, a think tank that serves mostly as a vessel to transmit his own brand of left-right confusionism and rehabilitate the ideas of Lyndon LaRouche. It is probably fair to say that Caleb Maupin, the CPI, and their supporters represent a minor tendency within “The Left” as a whole, but they are building a network of parasocial influence through which to disseminate their ideas, including fascistic conspiracy theories, and so it is somewhat important to address Caleb Maupin’s claims about Satanism.
Now, to start with, I think it’s best for me to offer a definiton of Satanism for our purposes, before we get into how Caleb Maupin tries to define it. Satanism, broadly speaking, is a religious and philosophical or magickal belief system based most specifically in a conscious relationship to Satan, either as a conceptual archetype or an actual being, grounded in a egoistic philosophy of transgressive individuation and self-realization, in more magickal forms aimed at the apotheosis of the individual. By my understanding, Satanism is an egoistic religious philosophy whose goal is the liberation of human consciousness through the practice of negation, meaning the negation of the boundaries of egoistic consciousness, so as to light the Black Flame of active negativity and attain individual apotheosis. It is to identify with Satan, the eternal rebel and the lord of Darkness, and his path lit by the Black Flame in order to join the war of all against all on your own side against all that is put over you. That’s my definition of Satanism. But what is Caleb Maupin’s definition?
To summarize Caleb’s basic premise before we dissect his arguments, the idea seems to be that there are four distinct types of Satanism, which seem to differ in their content. The first of these is called “Constructive Satanism”, which Caleb seems to define as essentially just when any form of constructive criticism happens within any organisation. The second of these is called “Adolescent Satanism”, by which Caleb seems to mean either juvenile rebellion or any form of social contrarianism. The third of these is called “Ideological Satanism”, which seems to refer to a more concrete doctrine of Satanism but is in reality just a construction of every ideology that Caleb doesn’t like which is only tenuously linked to any extant Satanism. The last of these actually doesn’t seem to have a name but seems to be Caleb’s way of referring to some vague feeling of hopelessness and self-loathing, possibly even a suicidal ideation, which attacks all positive or affirmative aspirations or ambitions. On its own all of this must already sound pretty ridiculous, but I assure that there is more to what you’re about to see than just what has been presented here – and trust me, it only gets more absurd from here.
On “Constructive Satanism”
We can begin, appropriately, with Caleb’s discussion of the “first definition of Satanism”, which of course he calls “Constructive Satanism”. Right off the bat, we are treated to a very strange argument for this concept. We’re told for starters that every religion has some concept of “good and bad” or “good and evil”, despite the fact that this isn’t really true when you look at the old polytheistic religions, Buddhism, arguably Hinduism, Shinto, Wicca, Thelema, or probably any non-dualistic religion. That doesn’t really have to do with anything, but soon enough Caleb gives us an explanation of the role of “The Satan” in the Book of Job, in which “The Satan” is one of God’s angels who tests your loyalty and your faith, and, according to Caleb at least, brings you hardship and criticizes you in order “reveal who you really are” and “test your strengths”. It’s not a totally inaccurate understanding of the Jewish conception of “The Satan”, but I think he misses the point. The purpose of “The Satan” is specifically to oppose, and indeed the term “Satan”, literally meaning adversary, was used not only in reference to angels but also humans who opposed you in some way, and in Jewish theology this was indeed a functionary of God’s order, but it was less about self-improvement by helping you work on your flaws and more specifically about testing the extent to which you remained faithful to God. But regardless, from this starting point “Constructive Satanism” is defined as essentially just what happens when in an organization there’s someone pointing out flaws and “troubleshooting worst case scenarios”, and when people who care about you criticize you to stop you from going astray or something.
Absolutely none of this is connected to any extant tradition of Satanism. There’s a loose interpretation of “The Satan” from the Book of Job that extrapolates from the core concept some spiel about how every organization needs a critic, but no example of any form of Satanism that emphasizes this theme is ever mentioned. It’s basically just some archetypal image of Satan that Caleb Maupin seems to have synthesized or probably picked up from gods know where. The “Constructive Satanist” here is just someone whose job it is to criticize things and reveal flaws with things in order to point our problems that need to be addressed. I suppose this is almost taking the phrase “devil’s advocate” literally. It’s a very reductive interpretation of the term “Satan” in its etymological meaning, and to be honest it’s very weird that Caleb Maupin thinks there needs to be a special position in society or organizations whose specific role is to criticize the way things are when anyone and probably everyone can do that, and if anything you could argue that in a “functioning society” critique would be universal instead of an exclusive profession. But hey, I guess that’s just authoritarianism for you; only approved people can criticize the regime, and everyone else is just supposed to nod along and bow. While Caleb offers no examples from Satanism to support “Constructive Satanism” as a definition of Satanism, he instead uses the story of the emperor with no clothes to illustrate the problems of not having “Constructive Satanists” around. Then, in a bizarre turn, he tries to argue that Abraham Lincoln was somehow a “Constructive Satanist” on the grounds that Lincoln was “basically an agnostic” and was known in Illinois for visiting local churches to debate pastors about the Bible. Yes, apparently Satanism is nothing more than just having any skepticism about the Bible whatsoever and debating Christians about it.
Curiously enough, however, during the course of his argument, Caleb takes the opportunity to criticize the Soviet Union by saying that it “fell to the sound of applause”. What he means by this is that, as he says, in the Soviet Union every leader since Joseph Stalin would be applaued for basically every pronouncement he gave, no matter how right or wrong-headed, by the Soviet bureaucracy including future successors, which meant that after Nikita Khrushchev took over and denounced Stalin’s regime the same people who praised Stalin turned around and praised Khrushchev for it, and so on and so forth with each leader until the collapse of the Soviet Union itself. The fall of the Soviet Union cannot singularly be blamed on this trend, but it is worth pointing out that, insofar as you can quite rightly and deservedly make this criticism of the Soviet Union, the problem for Caleb Maupin is that to take this criticism seriously requires admitting that the Soviet Union was dictatorship. I mean think about it: if it’s true that nobody in the Soviet bureaucracy ever criticized any of the Soviet leaders, and that everyone applaued each leader for every pronouncement, why do you think people within that system would be compelled or inclined to simply applaude every pronouncement rather than disagree? It’s because you’re in a system where that sort of disagreement is literally punished by the state which dictates that you ultimately cannot go against the leadership. Even Khrushchev, framed as the arch anti-Stalinist, still brutally suppressed dissent. But if you were to try and get Caleb to think about it that way, I’m sure all he’d do is yell at you and accuse you of being a fascist for tarnishing a state that he insists lead the global struggle against Nazism (never mind that Soviet leadership ultimately credited American aid with the very possibility of being able to fight and defeat the Nazis). Oddly enough, though, he eventually admits that the Soviet Union dragged dissident elements away in the middle of the night, and I say “oddly enough” because for all that he’ll still defend the legacy of the Soviet Union from people who view it as a murderous dictatorship, often specifically from such charges! But the operative point here seems to be that the reason the Soviet Union collapsed, rather than anything to do with the weight of its own systemic contradictions as a gerontocratic dictatorship that was crawling away from anything remotely resembling “socialism” for decades, was because of a lack of “Constructive Satanism”, by which Caleb means nothing more than a lack of debate within the Soviet bureaucracy. Of course, like any Leninist, he attributes this solely to the multiple invasion attempts against the burgeoining USSR, despite his account being that these problems continued well past any danger of frontal invasion, and of course completely overlooking any argument that might point out that there is no inherent reason for a country to be “forced” to suppress literally any party comrade who goes against the leadership let alone to go on to invade other countries like Georgia, Czechoslovakia, or Afghanistan, as though the Soviet Union had no agency to not do any of those things. Left out of this conversation, of course, is the working class of the Soviet Union, along with the people of the lands the Soviet Union came in and took over. Debate, as far as Caleb Maupin is concerned, is a privilege of the powerful, we might as well say a small class of people who hold authority over the masses, while those ruled by the so-called “Communist” Party have no right to debate on its agenda.
In any case, though, for all that I can say about his arguments about the Soviet Union, there is still no link between any of this discussion and any extant and conscious tradition, expression, or definition of Satanism. The only thing Caleb ever ties this notion of “Constructive Satanism” back to is the Hebrew conception of “The Satan” that he then twists into some abstract discussion of the need for constructive crticism or nitpicking for the good of society or an organization, but besides sort of missing the significance of Jewish theology in this regard, this simply misses the point of what Satanism is. The Negativity embodied by Satan, as understood in Satanism, is not some socializing form of critique, some troubleshooting functionary of the order of things. It is a universal attack on the order we put over ourselves, it is an affirmation of the freedom of egoistic consciousness through the negation of control. This negativity cannot be encapsulated in the mere function of an advisor who points out the flaws of the system so as to ultimately preserve its perpetuation, because this negativity is based in the destruction of systems and the totality of conditions.
On “Adolescent Satanism”
Moving on from there we come to the “second definition of Satanism”, which of course is called “Adolescent Satanism”, or as he initially calls it “Teenage Satanism” or simply “Contrarianism”. Now, I’m actually sure a lot of Satanists are somewhat familiar with some idea of “teenage Satanism”, by which we typically mean some disassociated act of malicious violence or “criminality” carried out by angry contrarian teenagers who may or may not attach some Satanic imagery to it in order to give some quasi-religious aura to their crimes. Of course, such a phenomenon is not limited to teenagers, there are plenty much less sound adults who do similar and sometimes worse things, and the media is happy to help them attach Satanism to their crimes, while almost never attributing Christianity to the actions of Christian killers no matter how many times they say that they are killing people in the name of God and his Son. But, when Caleb Maupin says “Teenage Satanism”, he simply means a type of behaviour where people “just want to break social norms” in order to go against authority and “assert their individualism”. Similar to the previous “definition”, this is one of those things that loosely plays into certain attributes of Satanism or Satanists, but is altogether separated from any conscious Satanism. In fact, just as before, Caleb Maupin never refers to any examples of any extant or self-defined Satanism embodying what he describes. Instead, the first thing he talks about is how he thinks communist movements end up “indulging the forbidden” as a response to the demonization of “communism” in the United States. “Communism”, Caleb tells us, is “Satan”, or “forbidden” in American society. There is of course some truth to this, but then you have to remember that, by “communism”, he means state socialists or state capitalists such as Joseph Stalin, Fidel Castro, Mao Zedong, Kim Il-sung, all the various leaders of “actually existing socialist” countries who used to have their own major bloc of geopolitical power against “the West”; and let’s face it, in an age where the Cold War has long since ended, the “red menace” is a largely vestigal aspect of bourgeois propaganda, though still trotted out to some extent when the “leftists” appear to be gaining ground. Even when discussing China as a threat in some way, it’s usually the hard right more than anyone else that likes to emphasize the so-called “communism” of China.
An important point to address here is Caleb’s assertion that, because the United States of America is, as he says, “the capital of capitalism” and “the world center of anti-communism”, communists “embrace the opposite of what they are told”. There is an extent to which this is true, but it all depends exactly what you’re being told. The majority of mainstream discourse concerning “communism” would tell you that communism is nothing more than when you have a one party dictatorship that assumes control of all aspects of the economy as well as political and social life and transforms all private or personal property into state property. When Caleb says that Western communists embrace the opposite of what they’re told, this is accurate, but that’s to the extent that they reject that entire concept of “communism”, and with it whatever beady-eyed authoritarianism that Caleb Maupin would advocate for. Instead, many of the people who become interested in communism do so on the understanding that communism means that private property and capitalism is abolished in order to create a stateless, classless, moneyless society. Other serious communists take this further, understanding that communism is the movement of the abolition of the totality of the existing conditions, and that a communist society means a free association of people who, without the rule of the state or hierarchy or capital, interact with one another to fully develop themselves in any way they want. These people typically also reject the legacy of the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China, Cuba, North Korea, or any of the countries Caleb upholds because they were not only authoritarian but also not even close to what communism is. There are, however, some self-styled communists who do not follow this pattern, and instead reject entirely any suggestion that the old red bloc and similar countries were oppressive, authoritarian, or even bad, and take for granted that these were “communist” countries despite not actually having the conditions of communism, take the way they organize society as “communism”, and then embrace this model as the model they believe will solve all the world’s problems. These people are often referred to as “tankies”, and fortunately it seems that they probably don’t comprise the majority of today’s radicals.
But what exactly does all of this have to do with Satanism? Caleb asserts that contemporary communists take the opposition of the US narrative to the point of taking on “a childist, adolescent” character, and the reason he refers to this as “Satanism” is because, to him, it is similar to “the teenager who starts wearing a pentagram necklace and starts listening to Ozzy Osbourne” This person is “literally a Satanist” according to him. I would have thought that, in the decades since heavy metal became the cultural phenomenon that it is now, we all came together and understood that listening to Ozzy Osbourne does not make you a Satanist, no matter how many Satanists (myself included) happen to like Ozzy Osbourne. But apparently it’s Satanism, because to him, under this “definition” of Satanism anyway, you can be a “Satanist” simply by making aesthetic declarations of rebellion against authority and breaking from the conventions of your parents. Under this same “definition”, a young person becoming a Buddhist or a vegetarian is thus “being a Satanist” insofar as “Satanism” is simply an assertion of individuality in contradiction to society at the time; such a statement would have us ignore the fact that most forms of Buddhism (at least in its “orthodox” form) are actually diametrically opposed to Satanism while vegetarianism, though not exactly popular, is very compatible (and some might even argue more consistent) with the teachings of Christianity. “This is not politics, this is emotion”, we are told, as though emotion does not involve itself with “politics” at all, and as though Buddhism, vegetarianism, or for that matter Satanism, or any expression of individuality at all is invalid merely because it is “feelings”, as though the emotional capacity of humans is somehow inferior to some disembodied rationality that is somehow divorced from this very same emotional capacity.
Caleb then goes on to at last give what he sees as a concrete example of “Teenage Satanism”, but once again it’s not actually a form of Satanism. Instead it’s “the 1960s left”, by which he seems to mean the American counterculture of the 1960s and its general alignment with left-wing political movements. I’m pretty sure that most hippies in the 1960s would have rejected any suggestion that they were Satanists, and I know for a fact that Anton LaVey and the Church of Satan that arose in the 1960s despised hippies almost as much as they despised Christianity, but I’m also sure that this inconvenient reality doesn’t quite matter to Caleb. Caleb tells us a story about someone he once knew from that decade; a communist who, as a young woman, got involved with the anti-war movement, supposedly because she liked it when the protestors broke windows, confronted police officers, and chanted “smoke dope, get high, all the cops are gonna die!”. Caleb frames this as the dominant message of the 60s counterculture for some reason, no doubt intending to depict hippies as terrorists, and he relates to us the apparent existence of a left-wing organization in New York that called themselves The Motherfuckers. This seems to have been a real organization, apparently an anarchist group who incorporated Dadaism and the ideas of Situationist International. Caleb claims that they got their name from the comedian Lenny Bruce saying “This is a stick-up! Up against the wall motherfucker!”, but this doesn’t seem to be true and in fact they actually got it from a poem written by Amiri Baraka. But the operative point seems to be that shouting “Up against the wall! Motherfuckers!” is “Satanism”, somehow, because, again, “Satanism” in this setting is just when you openly confront authority. Again, this is take one aspect of what makes Satan who he is and Satanism what it is while divorcing it from any conscious relationship to Satan as an idea, and thereby missing the point of Satanism.
What I find to be an amusing contradiction within Caleb’s idea of “Teenage Satanism” is his account of an anti-war/anti-imperialist group he refers to as The New York City Committee To Support The Vietnamese (I swear I can’t actually find anything about this group anywhere). The communist woman Caleb talks about apparently joined this group because they “walked through the streets of New York waving the flag of the enemy”, supposedly they really did march across New York City waving the Vietnamese flag and chanted “Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh! The NLF is gonna win! Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh!”. Now Caleb actually likes it when people chanted this, but for him the difference is that she didn’t mean it and just chanted it to be “bad”, whereas according to him other people who chanted it really meant it. Could we argue that, from a certain point of view, or at least from the perspective of power, the difference doesn’t matter that much? In fact, simply “going against what you have been told”, by Caleb’s standards, does that not animate the very “anti-imperialist” movement that he stands by so resolutely. Consider the Center for Political Innovation’s first conference in Austin, Texas, this year, of which Caleb Maupin was a part. Not only did they raise the flags of both the United States of America and the Soviet Union at the same time, they also displayed the flag of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic as well as the Z symbol that was found on Russian tanks and currently used to signify support for the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In practice, this sort of politics tends to play out as simple identification with the perceived enemies of “the West”, and Caleb, very strangely for his particular brand of “patriotic socialism”, is just happy to cultivate this sense of identification. In fact Caleb Maupin vocally supported the pro-Russian separatists in Donbas and the Russian army as the invasion of Ukraine began. In fact he had his own fanatical slogan: “Donbas Lives Matter!”. His Center for Political Innovation has also been seen holding rallies in support of Russia, in which they display the flag of Russia as well as the flag of Donetsk and the Z symbol, while also displaying pro-Russian slogans. Is Caleb Maupin not a “Satanist” by his own definition? He would say no, but that’s only because he claims he believes in the Russian cause “against imperialism”. In reality he simply takes the side of Russia and Donbas because it’s the apparent enemy of Western imperialism. It is contrarianism by any measure, except only that Caleb refuses to recognize it as such. The difference between his politics and the “not real politics” he attributes to “Teenage Satanists” is quite simply that Caleb decides that he is not a contrarian, that he is not merely “identifying with the enemy”, and it seems to me that this difference is ultimately decided by the proposal that the “Teenage Satanist” takes joy in his simple opposition while Caleb at least ostensibly refuses such joy. But if you are a revolutionary (and, I assure you, Caleb Maupin by his own consideration is not) then what is the point in not deriving joy from the overthrow of the existing conditions, and with it the casting off of oppression? What a poor revolution it is that cannot embody jouissance? In this sense, “Teenage Satanism” is definitely not a form of Satanism, not in any historical, contemporary or serious sense, but I am quite sure that Satanism, at least on my terms, embraces the idea of deriving jouissance from the act of resistance itself.
On “Ideological Satanism”
Now we come to the “third definition of Satanism”, which Caleb refers to as “Ideological Satanism”. I will establish here and now that this is the only part of the video in which Caleb even tries to connect what he’s saying about “Satanism” to any actual extant form of Satanism, but even then it’s very tenuous and brief, and much of his definition is still hardly connected to Satanism. This is also the section where, I assure you, things seem to get really “interesting” if you know what I mean.
First, Caleb brings up the Church of Satan, briefly, and then mentions Anton LaVey, the founder of the Church of Satan, only to seemingly shift focus away from LaVey himself in order to focus on Ayn Rand, who he refers to as one of LaVey’s favorite authors. Now, there is a small connection to Satanism in that Anton LaVey did describe his form of Satanism as “just Ayn Rand’s philosophy with ceremony and ritual added”. But, for other people who have encountered Caleb Maupin and his work, they may have noticed that Maupin sometimes has a fixation on Ayn Rand in particular, among other intellectuals he seems to count as part of the “forces of darkness”. In his book Satan At The Fountainhead, ostensibly a book about the influence of so-called Israel Lobby in foreign policy, Caleb denounced Ayn Rand as having “no grounds to define what it means to be an American” as a Russian-born Jewish atheist who was not born in the United States, accused her of conspiring to overthrow the then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and at times he even refers to her by her birth name, Alysa Rosenbaum, instead of Ayn Rand, in what appears to be an obvious ploy to accentuate her Jewish identity as a negative so as to indicate her Jewishness itself as a form of villainy. In fact, this is not his only instance of fairly open anti-semitism, and there are in fact some people who reckon he is more anti-semitic than even the notorious white nationalist Nick Fuentes. In any case, it seems that Caleb’s discussion of Ayn Rand ultimately overshadows any discussion of Anton LaVey, and as he goes on he quotes the last part of Ayn Rand’s most famous novel, Atlas Shrugged, as what he believes to be the distillation of “doctrinnaire Satanism”. The quote seems to be from John Galt’s speech and it goes like this:
Your acceptance of the code of selflessness has made you fear the man who has a dollar less than you because it makes you feel that that dollar is rightfully his. You hate the man with a dollar more than you because the dollar he’s keeping is rightfully yours. Your code has made it impossible to know when to give and when to grab. You know that you can’t give away everything and starve yourself. You’ve forced yourselves to live with undeserved, irrational guilt. Is it ever proper to help another man? No, if he demands it as his right or as a duty that you owe him. Yes, if it’s your own free choice based on your judgment of the value of that person and his struggle. This country wasn’t built by men who sought handouts. In its brilliant youth, this country showed the rest of the world what greatness was possible to Man and what happiness is possible on Earth. Then it began apologizing for its greatness and began giving away its wealth, feeling guilty for having produced more than its neighbors.
And then he skips ahead to what appears to be the last line of Atlas Shrugged, John Galt’s “oath”, “I swear by my Life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for the sake of mine.”. “Selfishness as a virtue”, Caleb Maupin decries with utmost self-assurance. In fact, he categorizes that John Galt speech as a “rejection of morality”. From a certain point of view, it may be possible to concur, but based on my familiarity with the philosophy of Objectivism it actually seems that the aim of Rand and her followers was in fact to create a different and new code of morality, one that just happened to center an enclosed, rational, acquisitive ego, a thereotically ideal capitalist subject, at the center of its ethical considerations. The Randians, perhaps much unlike Anton LaVey and his antecedents, would if anything go out of their way to demonstrate their commitment to the cause of objective morality, just that they think that they can base that objective morality on the precepts of capitalist acquisition (reified of course as “rational self-interest”) and obviously without any recourse to God or to any religious concept of what morality is. Of course, let’s not be too charitable to Rand here, because in many ways her philosophy is still incredibly foolish, misguided, appears to have destructive and oppressive effects on the world, and is ultimately, insofar as it can be counted as “egoism”, in truth a very narrow-minded and shallow form of egoism when compared to the philosophy of someone like Max Stirner; not to mention, let’s make no mistake, Ayn Rand herself was a cruel-minded and disgusting person who lauded colonial genocide and happily counted the murderers of children as her idols. But with that said let’s take note of Caleb Maupin’s characterization of the John Galt speech. He regards it simply as “evil”, on the apparent understanding that it teaches against empathy and against helping others. Not inaccurately, though, Caleb refers to it as “the ideology of capitalism”, though in reality Randian free market fundamentalism is only one of the many ideologies with which capitalism supports itself. We in bourgeois society merely single it out because it is more honest in its alignment with the interests of the concentration of capital and more brazen in the rejection of any obstacles to it, while the subtler and more cunning forms of capitalist ideology, which assume the form of the very opposite of Randian morality, often go unchallenged even by progressives.
There is a lot we can say about Caleb Maupin’s overall assessment of this expression of capitalist ideology, but a lot of that is what can also be said of Ayn Rand’s version of “egoism”. Caleb complains that capitalism as Ayn Rand’s “unknown ideal” positions a society where untrammeled “greed” nourishes the world, and that the problem of contemporary society is that greed is in some way suppressed or simply discouraged. For Caleb, greed is bad, for Ayn Rand, greed is good, but altogether neither of them understand anything. Taking communism seriously means understanding that, even on Marxist terms, the self-interest of the proletariat is the actual “mass progressive force”. The working class, conditioned as a labouring class, have done nothing but sacrifice their labour and its fruits so that others, more specifically capitalists, may benefit from it, to the point of their impoverishment via surplus extraction, so the revolution of the proletariat is in fact the pursuit of self-interest on class terms; the workers revolt so that they might restore what is rightfully theirs, which has hitherto been stolen from them and whose theft has always been legitimized with some “greater good”. “Greed”, in this setting, is in fact the weapon against the “greed” of the ruling class. For Caleb, whose “socialist” instincts are ultimately guided by FDR’s fanciful “war on want”, this is an unthinkable statement of immorality against morality, but for Ayn Rand, the rightful greed of the working masses cannot be recognized as greed or egoism because to her the masses are somehow incapable of the greed displayed by those few capitalist adventurers that are her ideal individualist. Both are wrong, and Caleb’s critique falls short because of it, because his “Marxism” is not “materialist” enough to realize the egoism of communism.
In any case, Caleb continues to rail against his construction of Ayn Rand’s philosophy, and declaring it to be “Political Satanism” or “Doctrinnaire Satanism”, which I suppose is accurate if you consider Anton LaVey himself to be the sole expression of Satanism (and, of course, he wasn’t). It is “ideological capitalism”, and “anti-moralism”, the latter of which is funny because some observers would describe Karl Marx as “anti-moralist”. But the funny part is that Caleb also describes this construction as “what most of the elite in the United States believe”. This is where the real meat of Caleb’s thesis starts to present itself. Now Caleb claims that Ayn Rand is merely what the elites present to the masses, business majors, “edgy teenagers”, and the right-wing talk radio scene, while their “real” philosophical foundation, shared with the “more educated” strata of society, is Friedrich Nietzsche. Basically, his conspiracy theory is that Nietzsche is “the more sophisticated Ayn Rand”, and that the elites water down Nietzsche’s philosophy through Ayn Rand for the masses to consume. The fact that Nietzsche’s books are readily available for just about anyone to read and purchase is the most obvious problem with this thesis that Caleb simply does not care to grapple with. Caleb goes on to characterize Nietzsche, or more specifically via his book Beyond Good and Evil, as arguing that Christian teaching is a form of slave morality, whuch is thus contrived in order to console the weak, in contrast to the “master morality” which “worships strength”, supposedly embodied by the ancient Romans and Greeks who supposedly lived only for their own pleasure. Caleb claims that Nietzsche argued for a return to “might makes right” and “greed is good”.
Before we go any further, let’s stop and assess what Beyond Good and Evil says, to see if Caleb Maupin got anything right about it. From the start of the book, Nietzsche makes clear his opposition to all forms of philosophical dogmatism, describing all philosophical dogmatizing as “the infantile high-mindedness of a beginner”. When addressing egoism versus altruism, Nietzsche seems to consider that a hard opposition between the two is the creation of metaphysicians and argues that altruism actually bears an insidious relationship to egoism, and suggests that a new class of dangerous philosophers will arrive and be able to deal with this possibility. That doesn’t sound much like how Ayn Rand frames egoism and altruism. He did say that a “noble soul” accepts its egoism, though. Part of Nietzsche’s criticism of Christianity, and a lot of religion in general including Buddhism, is that he thought that these religions inculcated contentment with the harsh realities of the world and its order by placing them within “an illusory higher order of things”, but he also considered religion a means by which philosophers could educate and through which some people could elevate themselves to authority. It is true, though, that Nietzsche regarded Christianity as the worst of major religions, on the grounds that he believed it turned the human species into a herd animal, inverted all love for earthly things, and “turned all evaluations upside down”. As much as Caleb would disagree with that assessment, Caleb would make the same “turning all evaluations upside down” argument against what he deems “the Synthetic Left”. Regarding master morality and slave morality, in Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche actually seems to count charity or compassion as part of “master morality” on the grounds that he thought that the noble person would help the unfortunate out of an urgency created by an excess in their power. A tad naive on his part, I’d say, but it does punch a hole in Caleb’s idea that Nietzschean master morality was simply “might makes right” or “greed is good”; in fact it’s not obvious that this is relevant to the content of Beyond Good and Evil at all. Indeed, Nietzsche is not only not “anti-moralist”, he seems to concern himself with the subject of the cultivation and detoriation of moral values in a societal context; an arguably genuine “anti-moralist” would declare all talk of morality to be talk of fiction, and I am not convinced that Beyond Good and Evil really proposes this. For whatever else can be said of Beyond Good and Evil, I am fairly confident that Caleb Maupin is probably distorting its content.
It is on the subject of master morality that we discover another contradiction in Caleb Maupin’s thinking. Because, in spite of his defense of Christianity from the charge of slave morality and his condemnation of the constructed ideology of master morality, Caleb himself is a supporter of a kind of fascistic “master morality”, and nowhere is this more evident in his discussion of supposed “Odinist values”. Caleb has repeatedly stressed the virtues of what he refers to as “Odinist values”, by which he means the influence of a supposed “Germanic pagan ethos”. Of course, the irony of all this is that Caleb is, per his own description, a Christian. “Odinist values” in his parlance seems to just mean some abstract belief in the hard work of the individual, in self-sacrifice, grit, determination, “motor-mindedness” and entrepreneurialism, which, it is supposed, can come with an opposition to oversensitivity and weakness. Forgetting for a moment that almost none of this has anything to do with the actual pre-Christian Germanic religion or the actual character of Odin (Caleb in fact bases his entire idea of who Odin is on the work of Thomas Carlyle rather than any actual historical material on Norse/Germanic polytheism), if we understand master morality by Caleb Maupin’s definition, by which he means a glorification of strength at the expense of empathy, his own construction of “Odinist values” seems like it could be taken as an example of “master morality” by his terms, and yet he embraces it. On the other hand, it may be relevant to consider another interpretation of master and slave morality. What if appeals to “hard work” are a form of slave morality, imploring a person to consider that they will ultimately be rewarded if they obey their capitalist masters for long enough while heeping scorn and suspicion on anyone who suggests that perhaps this might just be a senseless grift? Still, the fact that Caleb Maupin has elsewhere stressed the idea that socialism should be associated with strength by appealing to the glories of the various authoritarian leaderships of figures like Joseph Stalin suggests that he leans on the side of “master morality”, which makes it all the stranger that he should condemn Nietzsche’s work.
Caleb ties the philosophies of Ayn Rand and Friedrich Nietzsche together simply by how, in his view, they both casted “the People” as their enemy. On the basis of this, and after rambling about Nietzsche’s hatred of the Paris Commune, Caleb then goes on a bizarre pivot to discuss Leo Strauss, an influential neoconservative intellectual, and how he apparently is an exponent of “Political Satanism”. Caleb talks about how Leo Strauss argued that all the “great philosophers” had been persecuted throughout history and for this reason “wrote in code” so as to hide “what they really said” from “the rabble” who would “punish” them if they wrote without such “code”. He then goes on to say that this belief is animated by a broader belief that the intellectuals have always lived in fear of “the rabble”, supposedly just like Ayn Rand’s character John Galt or Nietzsche’s opposition to the Paris Commune, which is thus, according to Caleb, part of the belief system of “Doctrinnaire Satanism” which he claims believes that there are “chosen ones” who sit at the center of the elite and must be protected at all costs from “the rabble”. While it seems that Leo Strauss did espouse a belief that what he called “esoteric writing” was a widespread practice in philosophy, it would be a distortion on Caleb’s part to assume that the utility of “esoteric writing” concerns merely the protection of the elite from the masses. In fact, the practice can become very relevant in the context of totalitarianism, in which case the philosopher is not simply “protecting himself from the rabble” but instead concealing their real values from a totalitarian government that would have abducted and murdered them for going against the government’s ideological narrative. It seems telling that Caleb has not considered this possibility, and instead prefers to think only of “the elites” versus “the people”.
Then Caleb claims that Strauss argued that propaganda was needed in order to control the citizenry, supposedly modelled after his favorite show Gunsmoke, supposedly for the purpose of getting the masses to think of politics as just “good versus evil” so that they don’t rise up against the elites. Where even to begin with this? For starters, Strauss liked Gunsmoke because to him it was a great representation of the Hobbesian concept of the “state of nature”, not because it was some convenient narrative of “good versus evil”. Second, the whole delineation of politics along the lines of “good versus evil” via propaganda is exactly Caleb Maupin’s own enterprise. Remember, as the Russian invasion of Ukraine started, he literally described the Russian army and the pro-Russian separatists as the forces of good and the government of Ukraine and its allies as the forces of darkness allied with Satan. Remember that he describes a whole group of economists as “forces of darkness” set against an “inherently moral and religious” American people. For Caleb to attribute such thinking to Leo Strauss is entirely an act of projection, and, even if it wasn’t, the whole concept has nothing to do with Satanism. Satanists, if anything, tend to strive to break the power that the notion of good versus evil has over human consciousness, and to us the arts of negativity and subversion are ways of acheiving just such an end, so even if Caleb was correct about Leo Strauss, this would make Leo Strauss an opponent of Satanic liberation instead of its ally. Besides, as a man who forthrightly hated atheism and seriously considered the value of religion even as he was not an orthodox believer, Strauss would have opposed the sort of Randian or Nietzschean rejection of religion that Caleb assigns to “Doctrinnaire Satanism”.
Despite these facts, however, Caleb weaves together a constructed ideology of “protecting the freedom of the elites from the persecution of the rabble” as the ideological core of both neoconservatism and the so-called “Synthetic Left”. “Synthetic Left”, of course, is a term that Caleb Maupin created as a catch-all term for any expression of left-wing politics that opposes his own brand of socialism, with specific attention to online left-wing commentators such as ContraPoints and Vaush (who he namedrops at the very end of his video), with whom he has a frankly unhealthy obsession. Caleb claims that the Congress for Cultural Freedom was created to funnel money to “anti-communist” left-wing intellectuals who criticized American society while also criticizing the Soviet Union (the horror!). He names Susan Sontag, Hannah Arendt, Mary McCarthy, and Herbert Marcuse as examples of “anti-communist” left-wing intellectuals. That Herbert Marcuse was himself a Marxist probably doesn’t bother Caleb much when making his arguments. In fact none of the individuals he names seem to have ever actually been affiliated with Congress for Cultural Freedom; the particular claim that Marcuse was affiliated with them seems to have originated in the LaRouche movement. What Caleb especially opposes about these intellectuals is how, according to him, they “reinterpreted” the concept of fascism away from Marxist orthodoxy (which he dubs the “scientific view” of fascism). Caleb asserts the “orthodox Marxist” view that fascism is essentially a crisis of capitalism and its resolution by the bourgeoisie (or one faction thereof) through authoritarian measures and the mass mobilization of the population to drive down living standards in the hope of stablizing capitalism. To summarize, this is the doctrine that “fascism is capitalism in decay”, as Lenin put it. Forgetting for a moment the simplicity and problems with this definition that could be discussed, the opposing perspective that Caleb constructs from “left-wing anti-communists” is that fascism is “when the rabble get together and start persecuting the intellectuals”. Caleb cites Fascinating Fascism by Susan Sontag and Eichmann in Jerusalem by Hannah Arendt as accounts of this definition of fascism, but this doesn’t seem evident in these works, or at best it’s a grotesque over-simplification. Sontag presents fascism as a totalitarian exaltation of the community carried out at the expense of rationality and individuality, while Arendt also largely (though not always) defines fascism in terms of totalitarianism. Ironically enough, the way Hannah Arendt refers to fascism as “the alliance of the Mob and Capital” in The Origins of Totalitarianism is actually rather well-aligned with the way Caleb Maupin seems to define fascism, and it seems obvious that the only reason he would not assume so is because Arrendt dare call it “the Mob”.
Of note is the way Caleb talks about Susan Sontag refers to communism as “fascism with a human face”. I see everything wrong with taking such statements at face value, but for this reason it’s worth noting that Caleb doesn’t seem to care to present her reasons for saying that. He doesn’t care about the fact that, by the time she was making those remarks, Poland had been repressing opponents of the pro-Soviet regime there, in a manner that she compared to right-wing repressions elsewhere. Her point is that the type of governance traditionally attributed to fascism is also very much possible within the “communist” or Marxist-Leninist framework, and this leads her to believe that democratic governance is not possible in that framework because of its denial. Caleb seems to dismiss this point, and derides Susan Sontag for referring to communism as “the most successful form of fascism”, but in so doing this Caleb ends up defending reactionary dictators such as Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi as “communists”. Now, I don’t agree at all with Susan Sontag’s description of communism, for the simple reason that I don’t recognize the countries Sontag is clearly referencing as “communist”, but Caleb Maupin defending Hussein and Gaddafi as “communists” despite the fact that both leaders were openly anti-communist is a pretty easy way to prove her right, in my opinion.
The actual connection to Satanism is still incredibly thin if present at all, but we ostensibly see another contradiction in Caleb’s thought through his description of “Doctrinnaire Satanism”. He tells us that, at its core, “Doctrinnaire Satanism” believes that humans are evil. The problem there is that it’s Christianity that believes human nature is basically evil. Part of the core of Christian philosophy, and the very reason for Jesus Christ’s incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection, is that humanity has been corrupted by sin ever since Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. Now, I acknowledge that there are certain interpretations of Christianity that differ from this basic throughline, but it is baseline Christianity nonetheless, and for Caleb Maupin to imply that he opposes this is necessarily to imply that he is going against the basic core of Christianity, while still claiming to be a Christian. And yet, it is clear that Caleb means something else. By “human beings are evil”, he means the idea that “human beings are the problem”, and then, by implication, the idea that humans beings are animals. Satanists don’t tend to agree that humanity is necessarily “evil” or “the problem”, but if there’s one thing Caleb actually gets right about at least many Satanists, even if not all of them, it’s that we regard homo sapiens as another species of animal. Satanism, both LaVeyan and non-LaVeyan, tends to recognizes humanity as animals, and Caleb, naturally, as a Christian, has a problem with this conception. You see, in the opinion of Caleb Maupin, human beings are not animals. His argument for why human beings are not animals, while almost certainly a diversion from our main subject matter, does allow us the opportunity to address a sort of baseline Marxist conception of species-being relevant and discuss broader questions of what makes a human human in this setting.
Caleb refers to Friedrich Engels’ essay The Part Played by Labour in The Transition from Ape to Man (which he seems to have referred to “The Role of Labour in The Transition from Ape to Man”) so as to point to the argument that human beings are separate from animals not because of civilization (“an ant farm is a civilization”), not because they use tools (“you can see different animals using tools”), and not because of language (“some people argue that animals have a kind of spoken language”), but rather because humans supposedly have the unique ability to manipulate the environment around them. Caleb says that animals can only interact with their environment, whereas humans make the environment serve them, they master the environment around them. That does indeed seem to be Engels’ basic thesis, which is summarized by Engels as the following:
In short, the animal merely uses its environment, and brings about changes in it simply by its presence; man by his changes makes it serve his ends, masters it. This is the final, essential distinction between man and other animals, and once again it is labour that brings about this distinction.
There is an obvious problem with this idea. Humans are fundamentally distinguished from animals by their ability to manipulate their environment. The problem with this is that there’s many other species of animal that have done the same. Termites take the soil around them and mix it with saliva and shit in order to construct termite mounds, in this manipulating their environment in their own service. Ants similarly construct and carve through the soil around them in order to create the colonies in which they live. Beavers take branches and logs from trees in order to create dams, and in so doing manipulating and restructuring the enivronment around them in order to serve them in some way. In directly manipulating their respective environments, by this definition, we could say that ants, termites, and beavers are also human beings. But Caleb would say the difference is that humans also “constantly reinvent the way they interact with the environment”, meaning that while animals build their mounds and dams the same way for thousands and thousands of years, humans by contrast have gone from hunter gatherers to space travel and iPhones in just a few thousand years. On this basis, “there is something unique about mankind”. But is this not simply saying that what is unique about humanity is only its products? The difference then is merely iteration and what is produced, but the core trait is in no way unique to the human species, and is found in other animal species. In this sense, we would find reason to question the truth of this concept of species-being, or labour as human nature; and that’s really what this is, it’s essentially just the standard Marxist argument for what is otherwise just another appeal to “human nature”, the naturalizing basis of an only questionably natural civilization. Well, it’s almost standard Marxism, until Caleb adds the idea of humans being “endowed by their Creator” (there’s that familiar rhetoric from the Declaration of Independence, odd for a Marxist-Leninist wouldn’t you say?) with special abilities that make them separate from other species, thus we seem to have gone from the standard Marxist argument of labour as species-being to some kind of Christian argument about how God is the source labour’s power to transform the environment. The idea of labour as human nature, in itself, is also very questionable, at least when we get into our concept of what labour is. Labour is a social activity and this activity is essentially work, and work is not something that humans actually inherently want to do; it’s something that we are made to do or which we might be persuaded to agree to do. The idea that we could refer to such a relationship as “human nature” is laughable, because, if we take “human nature” seriously, we would define it as something that is constant prior to, beyond, and beneath the structures that we socialize ourselves into and which cannot be altered by our conscious efforts, and work simply cannot be described as such a thing.
In any case, Caleb believes that labour as Man’s ability to dominate and constantly reinvent the environment around them is the fundamental distinction of mankind from the animal kingdom, and, according to Caleb, the “Doctrinnaire Satanists” disagree with this premise. If they do, they’re quite right to, because it seems obvious that humanity does not actually control nature as much as they think. We certainly have no control over the Sun, the weather, the tectonic plates, the tides, or indeed the consequences of anthropogenic climate change. Even Engels, in the same essay Caleb cited, admitted that humans do not actually “conquer” nature the way that Caleb puts it or in the way that the standard Marxist doctrine might imply. Engels said thus:
Let us not, however, flatter ourselves overmuch on account of our human victories over nature. For each such victory nature takes its revenge on us. Each victory, it is true, in the first place brings about the results we expected, but in the second and third places it has quite different, unforeseen effects which only too often cancel the first. The people who, in Mesopotamia, Greece, Asia Minor and elsewhere, destroyed the forests to obtain cultivable land, never dreamed that by removing along with the forests the collecting centres and reservoirs of moisture they were laying the basis for the present forlorn state of those countries. When the Italians of the Alps used up the pine forests on the southern slopes, so carefully cherished on the northern slopes, they had no inkling that by doing so they were cutting at the roots of the dairy industry in their region; they had still less inkling that they were thereby depriving their mountain springs of water for the greater part of the year, and making it possible for them to pour still more furious torrents on the plains during the rainy seasons. Those who spread the potato in Europe were not aware that with these farinaceous tubers they were at the same time spreading scrofula. Thus at every step we are reminded that we by no means rule over nature like a conqueror over a foreign people, like someone standing outside nature – but that we, with flesh, blood and brain, belong to nature, and exist in its midst, and that all our mastery of it consists in the fact that we have the advantage over all other creatures of being able to learn its laws and apply them correctly.
Nonetheless, Caleb specifically points to Anton LaVey’s belief that Man is just another animal, in LaVey’s words, “sometimes better, more often worse than those that walk on all-fours” (Caleb paraphrases this but it is esssentially the same quote). This is indeed quoting Anton LaVey, and it’s also practically the only time in this entire video that Caleb ever actually does quote LaVey or discuss what he or the Church of Satan actually said. For most of the rest of his section on “Political/Ideological/Doctrinnaire Satanism”, there is no discussion of any extant Satanism, not even LaVeyan Satanism, and instead all discussion of so-called “Doctrinnaire Satanism” is actually practically a discussion of liberalism (in fact later on he literally does just call it “Doctrinnaire Liberalism”) or just the various ideologies and philosophies that Caleb Maupin simply doesn’t like, which is then presented as one monolithic ideology of “the elites must construct a society that protects the intellectuals from the rabble”, which of course is not an actual, serious ideology but instead a nonsensical populist construct. In this absurd ideological amalgamation, Caleb derives a worldview that promotes elitism and misanthropy, opposes compassion and empathy, views collective solidarity as totalitarianism, and dictates that a small elite must rule the world while the masses must be prevented from challenging the power of the elites. Telling, of course, is the part where Caleb talks about how “the elites view people coming together as totalitarianism”, because the simple truth is he probably defends the totalitarianism that people like Hannah Arendt point to. In fact, it is probably not for nothing that Caleb is much friendlier with actual self-described fascists than with leftists who are consciously anti-fascist and anti-authoritarian. Caleb opposes anti-totalitarianism on principle, as is certainly evidenced by his defense of totalitarian regimes, and does not appear to deny a link between totalitarianism and his desired form of politics even as he dismisses allegations of totalitarianism, which leads us to think that he is probably a supporter of totalitarianism, on principle.
There is an irony in Caleb’s spiel about the value of law, to the point of him even literally quoting the US State Department when it says “when law stops, tyranny begins”. The irony being that Anton LaVey, as a man who established himself as a law and order ideologue, would likely have felt the same way. But the other irony is that in this sphere Caleb reiterates what is fundamentally a conservative worldview: law is the source of freedom, only laws and morals protect the “weak”. This would require us to forget the many ways in which the law was arrayed against the “weak”, the marginalized, the disenfranchised, the powerless etc, and the many hypocrisies of our so-called morality. The law protects old ladies from people strong enough to beat them up and take their purses, never mind why they should do so, but what is the law? None other than an organization of force capable of overpowering said criminals. Law does not supercede power; in truth, law is built on the power of the state’s exclusive monopoly on violence. How else does law get its power, if not the ability to enforce it through violence or the threat thereof? Even more egregious here is his apparent belief that it’s because of the law that your boss has to pay you a minimum wage. The times that the working class had to organize and fight, and risk being bashed by the long club of the law, in order to get such concessions from the ruling class in the first place are mentioned only so as to make the point that without the law their boss could do whatever they wanted. But it’s not without the law that the boss could pay his worker’s nothing but rather because of it, and it is because of law and its basis in the exclusive monopoly of violence that the whole system of wage, currency, and class that produces the conditions of exploitation even exists! Such an analysis, however, is simply too materialist for him. Instead Caleb prefers to speak of socialism or communism as a means to be “even more civilized than capitalism”. What a truly horrifying notion! Why would you wish for such a thing, knowing what the “civilizing” power of capitalism is, and what maintains it! No, I am being too presumptuous here; he very obviously doesn’t know in the sightest the true nature of this power. If he did, perhaps he would join me in calling for its total destruction, instead of masturbating to the thought of reaching a “higher order of civilization”, which, in truth, would be nothing more than a new order of oppressive waking nightmares.
There is something that needs to be said about Caleb’s construction of the “Satanic worldview”, especially of the fact that he frames it as the worldview of Ayn Rand, Friedrich Nietzsche, Leo Strauss, Susan Sontag, Irving Kristol, the “Synthetic Left”, and the right-wing all at once. Somehow people who critique and oppose capitalism are actually pro-capitalist and on the same side as right-wingers who hate them and probably want them to die. Every political force that Caleb hates somehow supports the same ideology. He reckons it’s because of this ideology that neoconservatives want America to invade “anti-imperialist” countries in order to install societies organized along the lines of this ideology, while he says the “Synthetic Left” regard any sort of collective unity or marching in unison or populism as fascism, dismiss communists as red-brownists, dismiss “class struggle” as “class reductionism”, supposedly in rejection of Marxist materialism, while regarding the United States and social media as the good guys and Russia, China, and Venezuela as the great world-historic villains. Utter nonsense. But according to Caleb, they all share the same “Satanic ideology”, and not only that but so do Wall Street, London, Paris, “the German bankers”, the London Stock Exchange, Harvard University, Yale University, all somehow believe. We’re left with the impression that the whole complex of bourgeois economic power, the whole spectrum of politics within capitalism, promotes Satanism and is controlled by the “elites” who want to suppress the masses and protect a special group of people through that suppression. This looks quite a bit like standard conspiracy theories about “Satanic elites” ruling the world, and it definietly amounts and builds to this. So it’s probably no surprise, then, that, as usual, this conspiracy theory places Jewish people at the center of its woes.
Think about all of the people Caleb has mentioned so far as exponents of “Doctrinnaire Satanism”. Most of them happen to be Jews. There’s Ayn Rand, for starters, and I’ve already explained Caleb’s anti-semitic fixation on Ayn Rand. There’s also Leo Strauss, who Caleb accused of wanting to brainwash the masses with propaganda about good versus evil to protect the elites, and he happened to be of Jewish heritage. Same with Irving Kristol, who Caleb mentioned briefly as one of the teachers of “Satanic” neoconservatism. Susan Sontag, whom Caleb derided for her left-wing opposition to totalitarianism, also happened to be of Jewish heritage. In fact, with the exception of Mary McCarthy, all of the left-wing “anti-communist” intellectuals Caleb mentions happened to be Jews. It makes you wonder, why did Caleb Maupin select these people specifically. He only talks about Susan Sontag and Hannah Arendt in some detail, while Mary McCarthy and Herbert Marcuse are just mentioned as people supposedly affiliated with the Congress of Cultural Freedom. Indeed, Irving Kristol is only mentioned once in the entire video. So just how is he relevant to all this? As for “the Synthetic Left”, in a book titled BreadTube Serves Imperialism, whose admirers include the Neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer, Caleb argues that “BreadTube” (basically just an assemblage of left-wing YouTubers) as we know it was created by a man named Steven Hassan, a famous cult deprogramming expert who happened to be Jewish. There’s a clear pattern emerging in the way Caleb constructs his enemies. In fact, in his article about “Odinist values”, Caleb refers both explicitly and implicitly to the Jewish backgrounds of neoliberal economists such as Milton Friedman, Ludwig von Mises, and Friedrich Hayek. Consider also how, in the past, Caleb openly talked about the idea of there being a “Satanic cabal of bankers” in the world. When examined in this context, it seems very self-evident that Caleb is arguing for an anti-semitic conspiracy theory in which Jewish “elites” are supposedly trying to spread “Satanism” and brainwash the masses in order to somehow prevent “socialism” or “communism” from being established. This, of course, comes as no surprise to a lot of people who’ve been examining conspiracy theories about Satanism for a while now, though I imagine Caleb Maupin would be furious about the suggestion. He certainly gets very angry if you suggest that his ideas have any commonality with fascism, as those who make the suggestion end up being accused of somehow trying to incite violence against him.
On “The Fourth Form of Satanism”
Finally we come to the “final type of Satanism”, the “fourth definiton of Satanism” if you will, for which it seems Caleb Maupin has no name. He says that it is not blatant, but it is “within all of us”. This is because it is “the part of yourself that is working against you”. Already this seems like yet another very loose interpretation of the fact that “Satan” means “adversary” in Hebrew, but which again misses the point. Very simply, Caleb describes it as “a voice in your head that gets in your way and says “There is no hope””. Or it interrupts your morning and tells you things like “what’s the point?”, “there’s no hope”, or “everyone’s against you”, or how it says “everyone’s gonna laugh at you”, “that’s stupid”, or “you’ll never succeed” when you want to accomplish something. This seems less like Satanism and more like a whole range of emotions mostly characterized by what we would call self-doubt, or arguably even depression. It certainly feels like he’s talking about depression when he brings in phrases like “you have no future”, “you have no value”, or “no one cares about you”. These can sound like things a person tells themselves when undergoing a profound state of despair or depression, possibly even a state of suicidal ideation. I have to be honest, I think there’s a grotesque side to it. Here it just seems like he’s trying to construct Satanism as some abstract synonym for anything bad, and in the process it seems like it’s just exploiting psychological suffering by treating it as some sort of religious type. Literally, the more he describes this “fourth form of Satanism” the less it seems like he’s talking about Satanism and more like depression, suicidal ideation, or perhaps a more generalized mode of psychological suffering or dysfunction that Caleb obviously doesn’t know much of how to talk about. At one point he refers to it potentially driving people to drug abuse in order to “silence that voice with drugs”. Then he compares it to the voice of an abusive parent, or abusive partner, or the result of a traumatic experience or hostile external conditions. Simply put, this “form of Satanism” is really just Caleb’s way of referring to the part of your soul or psyche that is actively trying to kill you, seemingly just for the sake of doing so. He thinks that that part of you is pessimism, which he seems to equate with depression.
This really is something that, on its own, should be addressed, because I’m just going to be straightforward about this: being a pessimist is not the same thing as being depressed. Pessimism is simply a way of saying that the negative tends to predominate things. It is usually interpreted as an emotional state where you don’t believe anything positive will happen to you, but there’s also philosophical pessimism which is generally a way of referring to a collection of philosophies that hold that suffering adversity, or meaninglessness pervade the cosmos in some way. In the Surrealist movement there is also a concept referred to as the “organization of pessimism”, by which Pierre Naville and Walter Benjamin meant a fundamental mistrust in the reconciliation of classes and in the hope of the positive reformation of the social order. I argue that such a perspective is actually the wellspring of the liberation of human consciousness, unfettered by the hopes generated by futurity. Depression isn’t any of this. Depression isn’t just when you feel sad about life or pessimistic about the world. Depression is an illness, not just a mental illness but a physical one. Depression is caused by adverse changes in the human brain, such as an undesired change in the functioning of neurotransmitters, and it actually has physical symptoms, such as chronic fatigue, decreased appetitie or a lack of or even excess of sleep, it can also increase your further susceptibility to illnesses or adverse physical conditions. Even on an emotional level, being depressed isn’t just when you’re sad, it’s more like when your body and your mind seem to be pressing down against you, like a weight beneath which you’re trapped. It’s not a simple matter of a “negative mindset” that can be changed with enough application, it’s something that often actually requires treatment. Caleb should really not be treating these concepts as though they are interchangeable, because this is a gross (but sadly all too common) misuse of clinical terminology, and its application here serves only to exploit real suffering in order to service some fake ideological construction.
Ultimately it seems that Caleb’s “fourth form of Satanism” probably shouldn’t even be termed “Psychological Satanism” or “Internal Satanism”, because as far as he is concerned, the “fourth form” is simply depression. Depression, here, is framed as “a destructive impulse within ourselves”. I would say that any scientific or professional assessment of depression simply wouldn’t agree with Caleb here, and they certainly wouldn’t have any time for anyone seeking to classify depression as a form of “Satanism”. The obvious problem with Caleb’s argument is that, by classifying depression as a “form of Satanism”, it thereby classes depression as some sort of religion or philosophy, which it simply isn’t. And it’s not something that can be batted away by platitudes such as “the best cure for it is other people”, especially when you establish that “other people” are just as well the cause as the supposed cure. Caleb blames the rise of “this fourth form of Satanism” on the purported rise of isolation. “Satanism”, thus, is blamed on loneliness. But it’s honestly such a convenient talking point when you think about it. We are told of our rapid isolation in the face of a reality defined by a rapid increase in our global interconnectivity. Even if you’re alone in “the real world”, it’s very possible to find arguably more acquaintances than you’ll ever have outside the internet, even if you never meet them. Some people even eventually find love halfway around the world. It’s pretty hard to take that as anything other than a sign of how increasingly connected we all are, and that connectivity has many blessings and many horrible curses attendant to it, like with many things in the world. I frankly don’t see what it is about merely socializing with others that has this inherent power to destroy pessimism or depression. If anything, it’s just as well possible that people can become pessimistic in their time with other people, for varying reasons, ultimately probably not reducible to people in themselves. Some people can live in solitude and even find it far healthier for them, even if most people don’t. The simple truth is that everyone is different, and it’s for this reason that there is no model of human nature, whether it’s “human beings are naturally acquisitive” or “human beings are inherently social” that can really do people any justice.
At the very end of the video we are told that Caleb’s discussion is merely the “opening remarks” of a broader presentation of Satanism. If that’s true, I honestly can’t say I look forward to any future content from Caleb on the subject of Satanism. Caleb proclaims that this is probably the first time you’ve ever heard a Marxist analysis of Satanism. I sincerely doubt that this is in fact the first time a Marxist has ever discussed Satanism in any capacity, but if it really is the first dedicated Marxist discussion of Satanism, then I’m sorry to say that the worst discussion of Satanism that I have ever seen was producd by a Marxist. Or, well, a very strange Christian populist fascist version of a Marxist I should say. Either way, I’m sure you get my point: if this really is the “first Marxist analysis of Satanism”, and I sincerely doubt that it is, it’s also the worst analysis of Satanism I’ve ever seen. Every single category of Satanism that Caleb constructs is entirely based in his own ideological construction, with almost no reference to any extant tradition of Satanism. Even his discussion of “Political/Ideological/Doctrinnaire Satanism” is largely based on his own construction and conspiracy theory, and the actual teachings of Anton LaVey are barely explored, and only serve as a basis from which he extrapolates a much larger and overshadowing anti-populist ideology he created himself to attribute to “the elites”. It’s all complete bullshit that has nothing to do with anything, and despite this Caleb seems entirely convinced that this is an accurate description of Satanism, or politics more broadly!
All I can say to make sense of the way Caleb frames Satanism is that it is ultimately consistent with the way the Russian establishment often likes to. In the Russian Orthodox Church, the concept of terrorism itself is described as “Satanism”. In fact, in a 2014 article written by a man named Yuriy Porodnenko for the website of the Ukrainian branch of the Russian state news outlet RIA Novosti, which can apparently be found on the Pravoslavie website, we can find the exact same analysis of Satanism that Caleb Maupin makes. According to Porodnenko, Satanism is the prevailing ideology of the Western bourgeoisie, was for all intents and purposes invented by Ayn Rand, and supposedly has been espoused by Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Hillary Clinton, Angelina Jolie, and Alan Greenspan. “Satanism” here is essentially used as a synonym for right-wing free market capitalist orthodoxy, not unlike the way Caleb Maupin defines “Doctrinnaire Satanism” as “the ideology of the elites”. Porodnenko also repeatedly refers to Ayn Rand by either her birth name or “Rand-Rosenbaum” similar to how Caleb Maupin did it in Satan at the Fountainhead. In this sense, there is a significant overlap between Caleb Maupin’s presentation of Satanism and the way Satanism has been presented in Russian state media, and since Caleb Maupin works for Russian state media (Russia Today) I think it’s not unreasonable to suggest that he may have developed his views on Satanism with the influence of Russian state media talking points.
This concludes my late response to Caleb Maupin’s video. I do not look forward to the possibility of having to write about Caleb Maupin’s views on Satanism again.
Sometimes when I check my emails I get notifications from the website of Hells Headbangers Records, probably because of one time when I bought a Rigor Mortis T-shirt from them. I don’t typically complain. Hells Headbangers is a venerable metal label responsible for the distribution of countless classic metal albums, both old and new, and the emails I get from them keep me somewhat up to date about what they release, a lot of which, though, consists of re-releases of classic albums, but it is often useful in that it sometimes alerts me to bands that I hadn’t heard of beforehand. As is my instinct as a metalhead what then follows is a trip to Metal Archives or somewhere to do some light research. In that spirit, the most recent instance of this is an email telling me about a band called Abhomine, a black/metal band based in Florida, USA. Through some light research I learned about one of its members, Pete Helmkamp, and the fact that he wrote a book called The Conqueror Manifesto: Capricornus Teitan, and it’s from there that we learn about his fascist ideas.
Helmkamp is fairly prolific in the intersection between black metal and death metal. Before Abhomine, he was in more famous black/death metal bands such as Order From Chaos, Angelcorpse, and Revenge, the last of which is considered to be a pioneer in a subset of black/death metal referred to as bestial black metal (or “war metal”), which is even more extreme than garden variety black metal, death metal or any mixture thereof – the basic distinction lies in the significant influence of grindcore on the overall sound, which tends to be generally more chaotic, frenetic, and brutal than baseline black metal or death metal. To summarize, bestial black metal is not simply what you get when you mix black metal and death metal; it’s what you get when to mix black metal, death metal and crack cocaine.
The main focus here is his book, The Conqueror Manifesto, which seems to have been published in 1993 under the alias Seirizzim. In his book, he advocates a philosophy aimed at helping mankind reach a new stage in human development that he terms Homo Deus, which Feldkamp defines as the stage in which he is free from mythological thinking and morality. On the surface, his philosophy doesn’t seem that different from baseline Satanism, at least judging from what extracts from the book I can find. He bases his doctrine on “self-will”, which sounds like the kind of rebranding of Nietzschean will-to-power that would fit pretty much perfectly within Satanic philosophy, and the doctrine of might makes right certainly isn’t out of place in baseline Satanism. But from reading interviews with Pete Feldkamp about his philosophy, it’s clear that there are other undertones that are seemingly unique to his philosophy, and which reveal deep fascist leanings. We can gain key insights into his thinking via an interview he took part in with the Finnish metal zine Isten, which seems to have been undertaken during his time in Order From Chaos.
When asked about the mentality of the average American, which the interviewer characterizes as pathologically hypocritical, Feldkamp declares nearly all of humanity to be a slave race and that “only the elite ASTR will have the necessary strength and wisdom to rule”. What is ASTR? Later in the interview, Helmkamp tells us that ASTR stands for Arya Serpent Theos Race, which he believes to be a European race that once ruled much of the ancient world – he cites the Central Asian steppes, Eastern Europe, the Mediterranean, Egypt and North India as their supposed original territory. If that’s not enough he also seems to believe that Chinese civilization has European rather than Asiatic roots, citing the alleged discovery of mummified Europeans dating back to 2000 BC as proof. What this thesis comes down to when you think about it for about five minutes is the idea that Europeans ruled the Old World, which can be taken to mean that the white race, or “Aryans”, (what else could Arya refer to?) once ruled the world. If you think that seems uncharitable, just look at the way he endorses Adolf Hitler in that interview as a man who had “incredible” ideas. He even cites his sense of Germanic identity (the name Helmkamp being apparently of German extraction) as an influence on his way of thinking and acting. Therefore, Helmkamp is an ethnocentric fascist, nay, a neo-Nazi of some type, and it is laughable then that in the same interview he claims that his idea of “Heretic Supremacy” as not based on racial supremacy. There’s also something he said in an interview with Voices from the Darkside, wherein he appears to give a soft defence of eugenics:
We burn cattle in England because of a terrible contagious disease. Do we burn humans in Africa because of a terrible contagious disease? We proscribe birth control to koala bears in Australia after we allowed the population to grow out of control. Firstly, wouldn’t bullets be cheaper, and then we could utilize the meat. Secondly, do we proscribe birth control to humans that we allow to grow out of control? We proscribe rice. Indeed. Evolution does not happen over night.
During the mid-1990s, Helmkamp and The Unsane (from the Dutch black metal band Bestial Summoning) formed a group promoting his philosophy called the Heretic Supremacist Brotherhood. Take note also of this flyer they released, which seems to have been released at around the time of the release of Helmkamp’s manifesto in 1993.
As you can see, what is presented is a synthesis of Satanism, the doctrine of Aleister Crowley, Nietzschean philosophy, and the writings of Adolf Hitler. It’s generally a good rule of thumb that if you cite Mein Kampf as a key inspiration for your philosophy, and indeed you refer to your own doctrine as “following in the wake of Mein Kampf”, you’re a Nazi. In addition to this is the inclusion of the writings of Adam Parfrey, a fascist and a supporter of eugenics who in turn was beloved by fascists.
You will also notice references to OLHP, meaning the Order of the Left Hand Path. The Order of the Left Hand Path is a fascist Satanist group founded by Kerry R. Bolton in 1992. This group existed for a few years before reconstituting as Ordo Sinistra Vivendi in 1994, which then went on to become fairly influentual in the black metal underground of the early-to-mid-1990s. Bolton seems to have originally been a member of the Temple of Set, but left the group after some sort of dispute with other members. I imagine this dispute must have had something to do with his neo-Nazi beliefs because, prior to founding the Order of the Left Hand Path, Bolton had already been deeply involved in neo-Nazi and ultra-nationalist movements since the 1970s, and from there went on to have a whole network of Satanic Nazis surrounding him. In 1994, Bolton also started another Satanic Nazi organization known as Black Order, which served as a sort of on-the-ground activist movement intended to mobilize groups of like-minded Satanic Nazis, including artists and musicians, to advance their ideological goals. And if you needed some idea of the nature of Bolton’s Nazi ideology, know that he believed that the world was being dominated by what he called a “Puritan-Jewish aristocracy” seeking to impose a New World order by creating a docile and consumeristic mass via the three prongs of laissez-faire capitalism, communism, and multiculturalism, and that only Nazism and fascism could serve as effective opposition against these forces. Furthermore he published several pro-fascist books through Realist Publications and Renaissance Press, distributed a series of National Socialist texts from David Myatt from the Order of Nine Angles, and issued a rerelease of Savitri Devi’s The Lightning and the Sun. He even founded a Thelema-oriented group called The Thelemic Society in 1996, which sought to establish Thelema as a “fighting creed” for his ideology.
The doctrine of the OLHP/OSV seems to be based on an extrapolation of Nietzsche’s concept of the Ubermensch (or Overman, the next stage of human development which would overcome the perceived decadence and egalitarianism of the “last man”), in that it bases its philosophy on the idea of the Higher Man, a sort of midway between the ordinary man and the Ubermensch which serves as a nexus of transition to the Ubermensch. The goal of the Satanist in this doctrine is to start the path of embodying the Higher Man, which means withdrawal from mass society, and to create what it deems the Faustian Civilization, their name for a society which discards the various doctrines they despise (Christianity, liberalism, socialism, human rights, egalitarianism, humanism, democracy, the “welfare state” and so forth) and expunges those they deem to be inferior through eugenicsn programs, ruled by an elite composed of what it deems to be “Faustian heretics”, who through their governance will usher in the arrival of Homo Galactica, the genetically engineered successor to mankind. Just the reference to Homo Galactica is a suggestion of heavy influence from the Order of Nine Angles, whose whole schtick concerning Satanism is that it is supposed to be the religion of a space-faring Aryan empire who will conquer the universe. One main difference though is that Nietzsche is directly emphasized in OLHP/OSV in a way that he wasn’t in other groups, and they even refer to Nietzsche as “Satan’s hammer”. The organization offered courses on their version of Satanism that were taught via Collegium Satanas, which taught that Satan was an archetypal opponent of stasis and conformity (pretty much the same doctrine the Church of Satan teaches), that Nietzschean philosophy is the cornerstone of Satanism to the point that Nietzsche was the primary basis of Anton LaVey’s own philosophy, that Satanism is an anti-democratic and anti-egalitarian doctrine that seeks to bring about a god-man race through eugenics, and that the Faust who sold his soul to Mephistopheles was based on the Norse god Odin. Despite being founded by a neo-Nazi, the OLHP wasn’t a completely fascist organization, as suggested by a schism that involved a member named Tani Jantsang, who was a Marxist Satanist (yes, that apparently exists) and the creator of a group called the Satanic Reds which blended Satanism with communist ideolgy and various Eastern religious/spiritual influences – indeed, they are notable for their thesis that Satan comes from the words Sat and Tan, which they claim to be Vedantic words and concepts. The Sat-Tan doctrine is clearly visible in the writings of Kerry Bolton and the OLHP as is suggested by Bolton’s reference to this theology in a 1993 edition of Key of Alocer, a New Zealand-based underground black metal zine, though it seems this influence was apparently discarded in 1994 when the OLHP became Ordo Sinistra Vivendi.
There appears to be quite a bit of crossover between Feldkamp and a network of Satanic Nazis who promote their own idiosyncratic takes on what is otherwise the philosophy of the Order of Nine Angles and even Anton LaVey in parts, all united in what seems to be a synthesis of Satanic philosophy and esoteric racialist politics. And thus, what we have in Feldkamp is an avatar of a type of racialist Satanism that had been developing and growing back in the early 1990s, where it co-habitated with elements of the black metal underground. What’s also troubling is the knowledge that, for a time, Hells Headbangers Records sold Felkamp’s Conqueror Manifesto on their website, thus giving his brand of Satanism a platform.
One of the main reasons I have often despised conservatism in my life is the perception I’ve always had that conservatives were the enemies of freedom, as was often demonstrated by how often they would line up in support of cultural authoritarian throughout the 20th century as well as the current century. However, ever since my transition to socialist political thought, I now realize that one of the most insidious things about conservatism is, in fact, the way that they pretend to be in support of freedom, they way they bastardize the meaning of freedom in a very Orwellian fashion (which is ironic, considering how much conservatives love to quote Orwell on freedom). A good example of this that I stumbled onto recently is a video by the popular conservative YouTube channel known as Prager University, which is just organization that is not actually an accredited university but nonetheless calls itself one for some reason. The video in question was titled “Discipline = Freedom” and was narrated by a man named Jocko Willink, a retired Navy SEAL officer who hosts a self-help podcast dealing with topics about leadership, discipline and willpower.
The video is littered all manner of fairly bog-standard standard, self-help tropes but from a conservative and disciplinarian perspective, the funny thing being that the speaker rejects motivation as fickle and unreliable while also basically employing the rhetoric of motivational self-help. What sticks out for me though is the premise laid out in the video as pertains to “extreme ownership”, which is basically just your bog standard pop spiel about self-motivation with a subtle dash of Social-Darwinism, Nietzschean master morality, and the conservative worship of authority. Let me illustrate this with a quote from the video:
Let other people blame their parents, their boss, or the system. Let weaker people complain that the world isn’t fair. You are the leader of your life: take ownership of everything in it.
The level of trickery and deception being employed here should not be lost on you. Simultaneously he is teaching you that you are the master of your life and that you have no right to question the system around you. If you entertain the idea that the system is an impedient to your freedom or your well-being in any way whatsoever, that’s supposed to be taken as weakness. If we think about it for even a minute we would consider that psychologically training ourselves to obey the status quo because we have to do so isn’t really freedom, or self-mastery, or self-ownership, you’re just letting the system take ownership of you and your mind while tricking yourself into thinking that you’re just taking in charge of your life as a free and independent agent. “Freedom” in conservative parlance only means, as one young communist remarked, the freedom to conform to society and do what you’re told when you’re told to do it. This to me becomes all the more ironic when you take into account the fact that conservatives, since about 2015 or so, have been constantly pushing themselves as the victims of a system characterized by supposed liberal or left-wing domination of the institutions, some even still trying to bill themselves as the new counterculture. If we were to apply the pseudo-Stoic logic we’re presented here to conservatives, why are they in any position to be whining about the very system that they support suddenly turning against them in the way that fickle, almost anarchic market forces tend to do under capitalism? Shouldn’t they be taking responsibility for everything, even if it’s not their fault? Aren’t they the masters of their own lives at all times and in all circumstances? It’s here that much of the self-help rhetoric employed here can be exposed as self-serving woo whose only purpose is to berate people for being sick of a system that is actively hindering their prosperity and freedom.
The Social-Darwinism is also quite noticeable, and here it ironically serves as a way of inducing conformity to the system by appealing to your sense of strength vs the supposed weakness of others. You are told not to be like those wretches who take issue with rampant inequality, unfairness and suffering much of which is actually in our power to stop, and instead to pursue strength and self-mastery by keeping your head, never questioning the system and silencing the voice in your head that tells you that something’s wrong with the world around you and that it can changed. This concept of “extreme ownership” can be framed as a reflection of the conventional understanding of master morality and slave morality as per Nietzsche’s philosophy – master morality is said to originate from the strength of the aristocratic “noble man” while slave morality is said to originate from the weakness and ressentiment of his subjects. When the speaker says, “let weaker people complain that the world isn’t fair”, he is palpably invoking the idea of ressentiment, that the “weak” only criticize the society they live in because of envy and bitterness. It is notable that such analysis invariably fails to ask the question of what create said envy and bitterness. But this is immaterial to the speaker, because it interferes with the idea that you are, at all times, the master of your life and your surroundings, even in circumstances when this is objectively not the case.
The conservative view of freedom is both inconsistent and observably a mask for the desire for unquestioning obedience to the system. I am not saying that you cannot make the argument for discipline generating mental freedom (indeed, to the videos credit, it sometimes comes close to doing so, though never surpasses the realm of idealistic self-help axioms), in fact you might apply Pierre Joseph Proudhon’s liberty-authority dialectic as per The Principle of Federation in support of such efforts. But in this proposal of “extreme ownership”, discipline is not the seed of mental and spiritual freedom, but instead the means by which to silence the voice of such freedom, the spark of doubt and critique that would lead the individual against the capitalist system and against conservative ideology and morality, which of course Prager University wouldn’t want. Since I sometimes see similar rhetoric to the speaker being spouted by Left Hand Path types, and indeed I’ve seen Michael W. Ford parrot similar rhetoric in his videos, I would advise that we be very careful, and take a critical look at any proposal that tells us that to see the world as unjust or unfair for any reason is a sign of weakness, because such talking points are not bold statements against the establishment but in fact music to the ears of the system and its ruling elites. You will not find freedom by telling yourself to keep your head down as though it’s all your fault rather than raise your voice (and, eventually, your sword) against the enemy.
I read something about the concept of the eternal return as hypothesized by Friedrich Nietzsche. He once posed a question to the reader in his book The Gay Science:
“What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: ‘This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more’ … Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: ‘You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine.”
He posed it as a test of willpower to the individual. If the individual was able to endure the thought of reliving his/her life infinitely, experiencing all mistakes and triumphs over and over again, without regret, misery, or bitterness, then the individual would be considered to be a true lover of life and master of the principle of amor fati, virtuous by the standards Nietzsche’s ideals by embracing and facing life with an affirmed self.
It should be noted however that amor fati is a fatalistic concept of accepting ones fate, and part of Nietzsche’s test was to see if the individual would accept a fatalistic universe with confidence rather than withdraw in terror. Honestly though, I think it’s more likely that eternal recurrence applies to the afterlife than the universe. I can’t say about the universe, but the afterlife may well be any experience you want it to be, but it would go on for eternity.
That would lead to the question I ask you: would you accept an afterlife where all experiences within it go on forever and repeat infinitely, or would you revolt at the idea? Before you answer and think on it you must remember that even if you choose no afterlife whatsoever, said choice amounts to oblivion, which itself goes on forever.
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