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.
I’m growing more and more fascinated by the Surrealist milieu of the early 20th century, by which I mean not so much the art movement but the philosophical movement surrounding it, and the largely left-wing political tendency that composed French surrealism in particular. From what I hear it was deeply libertarian, which is why many of them opposed Joseph Stalin while being communists (although many did align with Leon Trotsky instead, who, let’s face it, was not much better), and they seemed to be committed to dialectical materialism despite accusations to the contrary. I also read about how Lucifer made appearances in surrealist literature and essays, such as Andre Breton’s Arcane 17 and Roger Caillois’ The Birth of Lucifer, suggesting the presence of a Luciferian modality within Surrealism. I say modality, because it’s not like the Surrealists viewed themselves as Luciferians in a religious sense, but that’s a subject for another post. Anyways, in the process of searching through the Surrealist milieu I somehow stumbled across Walter Benjamin, a German intellectual who either was a surrealist himself or simply adjacent to surrealism, or more specifically one concept of his in particular: profane illumination.
What is profane illumination? In his 1929 essay Surrealism: The Last Snapshot of the European Intelligentsia, Benjamin defines profane illumination as referring to a form of inspiration that he stresses to be materialist, anthropological and secular, though as I’ll lay out it has some pretty mystical overtones that can used to relate it to an ultimately religious outlook (not that this should be to the discredit of Walter Benjamin, who was himself influenced by religious thinking). The main characteristic of profane illumination is that is meant to be a type of illumination that allows you to see through the illusions of the society you live in, particularly in the context of bourgeois values. As Donna Roberts and Daniel Garza Usabiaga write in The Use Value of Lucifer: A Comparative Analysis of the Figures of Lucifer and Satan in the Writings of Roger Caillois and Walter Benjamin in the 1930s, the concept is to be taken as a way of piercing through the phantasmagoria (illusions or make-believe images) that comprised the superstructure of bourgeois society and liberating all that is trapped under its spell of reification (which in Marxism is a term for when temporal human social relations come to possess immutable authority through idealization). Thus profane illumination is a surrealist device by which to see and illustrate bourgeois society as it really is, and destroy the self-image of this society that is presented by the ruling superstructure, in order to align oneself and others with the truth of present day conditions in order to create a new culture base defined by authentic freedom. Applied to the Situationist tendency that followed (and criticised) surrealism, we could still say that in this light the surrealist profane illumination is a tool by which to dismantle the Spectacle, the sum total of the spectacular reign of bourgeois superstructure and its manifold illusions, a task that, for Guy Debord, will only truly be completed with the revolutionary reconstruction of society through the destruction of capitalism and the mass implementation of workers councils as the dominant structure of the economy.
To add to this, Michael Löwy further describes profane illumination as the materialistic and “post-mystical” core component of the otherwise romantic and even “magical” tendency of Surrealist experience and formulas, thus, ironically for a supposedly secular concept, we have a what seems to be a deeply spiritual take on what could otherwise be seen as an empirical and materialist engagement with the world. The French neo-Marxist Henri Lefebvre observed that the Surrealists wanted to “decode inner space and illuminate the nature of the transition from this subjective space to the material realm of the body and the outside world, and thence to social life”. What this means is that the aim of Surrealism can be taken to mean the revelation of the unconscious forces prevalent in the social sphere and the psyche, and the mechanism by which these forces manifest in the body and the world and are translated in the social fabric. The German philosopher Hermann Schweppenhäuser added that the concept of profane illumination, although Benjamin partially defines them in relation to intoxication, is defined by its rejection of intoxication as a means of attaining spiritual enlightenment, stating that profane illumination is where “intoxication comes to its senses” and “speculative thinking becomes sober”. Thus, although Benjamin said that narcotic intoxication could give a lesson into this experience, he ultimately did not recommend it on the grounds that it was dangerous. In fact Benjamin also said that “the most passionate investigation of the hashish trance will not teach us half as much about thinking (which is eminently narcotic), as the profane illumination of thinking about the hashish trance”, suggesting that, ultimately, sober meditative contemplation is better for the purposes of profane illumination than narcotic intoxication. And all the better. Such illumination, though intended by Benjamin to be secular, makes the most sense not only as a clear mental pursuit, but spiritual praxis.
The easiest way to ground the otherwise secular concept of profane illumination in religious terms is through the concept of the Light of Nature, or Lumens Naturae, introduced by the medieval Swiss physician Paracelsus, and expanded by Carl Jung. Paracelsus, you may remember, was a Christian who, although ultimately loyal to the Catholic Church even in the wake of the Protestant Reformation, harbored a distinct naturalistic outlook that inspired skepticism towards religious dogma and ecclesiastical authority, at least on matters of his profession. He considered scientific, natural knowledge to be the domain of the Light of Nature, and theology to be the domain of the Light of God (Lumens Dei). He also considered both lights to be a gift imparted to Man by God. Even though his own preference was for the latter, as judged by his statement that “Christian knowledge is better than natural knowledge”, it nonetheless sketches out an interesting religious grounding for the concept that would later remanifest in surrealism as profane illumination. As Jung says the light leaves behind nothing but dross and scoriae and the rejected earth, which in light of profane illumination can be interpreted as the ruins of the illusions imposed upon the empirical, natural world. Its profane nature is due to it being, for Jung, the light of the darkness which illuminates itself as opposed to the light from above which renders the darkness darker still, the darkness in this case being not just the unconscious realities of human life but also Nature itself.
A concept that seems to be related to profane illumination is that of the organization of pessimism, or organized pessimism. I could also perhaps call it revolutionary pessimism as well, since while the term in other communist usages can mean more or less anything, Benjamin’s concept of the organization of pessimism easily lends coherent definition and context to such a concept. The concept comes from the writings of Pierre Naville, one of the French Surrealists who also happened to be a Trotskyist, who called for the organization of pessimism as the most authentic manifestation of revolutionary attitude, a sort of anti-optimism that is the only mode capable of dispelling the illusions of bourgeois society and the only idea that can, in his words, “save us from death”. In context this seems to be related to opposition to the optimism found in both bourgeois and social-democratic parties. This attitude seemed to alienate him from other French communists, and it contributed to his expulsion (or departure) from the French Communist Party, after which he began identifying with Trotskyism and the “left opposition”. For Walter Benjamin organized pessimism is “the Communist answer” the Surrealism has come ever close to, and this answer means “Mistrust in the fate of literature, mistrust in the fate of freedom, mistrust in the fate of European humanity, but three times mistrust in all reconciliation: between classes, between nations, between individuals.”, which is Benjamin’s way of describing an attitude of skepticism towards bourgeois optimism and the promises of reform that are offered by bourgeois society. The ironic reference to LO Farben and “the peaceful perfection of the air force” as the only things a person can trust is taken as a prediction of the rise of the Luftwaffe and the onslaught of World War 2, and suggests a skepticism and acute radical awareness of the dangers of the logic of modern technology, its tendency towards acceleration, and the destructive effects this brings upon the world – a point that Pierre Naville may not necessarily have shared in that his own attitude towards technology was somewhat more positive. Michael Löwy connects this idea with profane illumination on the grounds that it illuminates all of the forces, murmurs, energies and catastrophes that would be obscured through bourgeois optimism and its phantasmagorias of false hope.
But Naville and Benjamin take different approaches in a related sense, in terms of accompanying political ethos. Whereas Naville, as a committed Trotskyist, called upon Surrealists to simply abandon any anarchist leanings, Benjamin, as evidently more of a libertarian Marxist, instead suggested that the revolutionary discipline and structure of orthodox Leninism should be combined with the libertarian tendencies that were classically associated with anarchism. As Sami Khatib writes in To Win the Energies of Intoxication for the Revolution, this suggestion, inspired by Surrealism, entails a materialist theory of perception that entails “a revision of the commonplace dichotomy of sober ratio and enthusiast affect”, meaning of course the dissolution of the dichotomy between seemingly rational consciousness and the life-affirming unconscious, and as Benjamin says, this means that any exploration of the surreal entails a dialectical intertwinement of these opposing forces, to the extent that excessive focus on the mysterious element of the mystery is one-sided, ignoring the real world that the mystery ultimately underpins. Indeed the title of Khatib’s paper really sums up the project that Walter Benjamin describes of Surrealism, that is to “win the energies of intoxication for the revolution”, which means not to completely immerse yourself in transgressive ecstasy but instead to traverse reality and surreality and undertake cultural and political action that dissolves the boundaries of the bourgeois subject by way of a revolution of consciousness, concurrent of course with class revolution, leading ultimately to a community free of totalitarian spectacle and the formatting of bourgeois rational-positivism.
There are, of course, many applications for profane illuminations. We can, in a Jungian sense, take the component of profane illumination to reference the incorporation of the life-affirming contents of the personal and collective unconscious, the soil of Hades from which psychic and spiritual content springs and to which it returns. In this sense profane illumination is the light either of the unconscious or the individual who clings fast to his Hadean roots, the true light of the morning star. It is Luciferian light just as much as the Light of Nature is the light of Mercurius, the Christ of the unconscious and the alchemist’s world soul. We can then extrapolate revolutionary goals to this: to, in the fashion of the Morning Star, retrieve the worthies of the underworld, the liberatory contents of the unconscious, discover and reveal its hidden presence in all things, its true nature, and from there, in a way, the true order of things, and harmonize human beings with the true substance of their humanity and the true substance of humanity with human beings. In this sense such an idea can be applied beyond the class struggle and applied to the nature of psyche and reality, for no matter what time and what place, humans have always lied to themselves without realizing it, there was always been a hidden underbelly to life, to the psyche and to society that is frequently obscured by the ego and by reification, with the goal of spiritual enlightenment being to dispel that reification, cultivate profane illumination, and see the world, and yourself, as you really are, and attain spiritual freedom from this knowledge. That is the true fruit of psychoanalysis, the fruit of empiricism and, indeed, the fruit of genuinely good religion.
The accompanying element of revolutionary pessimism can be applied to confer other characteristics to profane illumination that are relevant to socio-political outlook, lending itself to a paradoxical intersection between the traditionally libertarian and the traditionally “conservative”, all within the context of a communist philosophical device. The libertarian end of this is not difficult to explain. In the original Surrealist context this meant an emphasis on complete creative and artistic freedom to interface with the unconscious without interference from the state or the party and any prevailing dominant culture, and these elements were associated with libertarians and anarchists and clashed with the prevailing Stalinist currents of the French left at the time as well as other Leninists (though not necessarily Trotskyists it seems). But we can, within the same field of cultural libertarianism and revolutionary pessimism we may derive a fundamental skepticism of teleological progress. Bourgeois society, dominated by economic liberalism and, in proceeding fashion, social liberalism, is anchored in an unshakeable belief in its own endless growth, a fantastical moral arc bending towards some transcendental conception of justice or progress, the idea that everything can be managed in a meticulously rational-technocratic fashion, and that the West has passed through the “end” of history. Even within the left, you notice some variation of this teleological progressivism, and in the broader sphere, it lends ultimately to the alienation of humans from their own destiny, as the march of progress ultimately wrests humans away from their central place in the world through the increasing complexity and all-pervasiveness of technology and our dependence upon it. The organization of pessimism in light of profane illumination instills a resolute contempt for the illusions of teleological progressivism and its moralizing content. This, combined with the insight of a pervasive unconscious element that has always permeated human life, lends itself to a profound skepticism of teleological progress that, ultimately, lends to a somewhat conservative outlook. And by no means is this a bad thing, if in the sense that such conservatism serves as an element of the libertarian component and perhaps a watch against excess rather than simply as a yoke to be imposed on non-conformists.
Of course, this ultimately presents a problem for orthodox Surrealism (yes, that was a historical thing) given that, unfortunately, the surrealists of old tended to oppose many of the moral conventions that would make sense to the average person even before capitalism had anything to say, under the premise of dismantling bourgeois values. Take the case of the Surrealist defence of Charlie Chaplin in 1927. At this time, Chaplin’s then-wife Lita Grey was divorcing him and demanding hundreds of thousands of dollars (at the time; surely millions in today’s money) in alimony from him on the grounds that Chaplin had cheated on her with multiple other women. The divorce was an international sensation at the time, and the public was aghast at Chaplin’s actions at least to the extent that they believed Grey’s testimony. But the French Surrealists, blinded by their admiration of Chaplin, decided to defend Chaplin’s actions, thinking he should live as he pleased. As part of their critique of bourgeois morality and its restrictive tendency towards human freedom and creativity, they decried marriage as an oppressive institution, a “prison” for human passions, and they admired Charlie Chaplin because he followed his desires wherever they went. This can be a dangerous attitude to have, in my opinion, and I wonder if the Surrealists ever found out about the fact that, went Chaplin met and impregnated Grey to start with, she was 15 years old and he was 35, and they had to marry in secret in order to avoid Chaplin being arrested for having sex with a minor. I suppose it’s no wonder that men like Roger Caillois decided that the Surrealists lacked the ideals of discipline and self-mastery that would come to form his conception of Lucifer, or why the Letterist International, a precursor to the Situationist International, hated Charlie Chaplin, began to transgress Surrealism, and in 1952 staged a disruption of Chaplin’s press conference at the Hotel Ritz Paris, accusing him of emotional blackmail and calling him a “fascist insect”.
Things like this pose a problem for interpreting the Surrealist enchantment with the past in a “conservative” light, even when it can be a potent source of teleological skepticism to counter the optimistic rationalism of the Situationist International – after all, if the Surrealists decided that there should be no limits as to how you live your life, what even can be preserved? However, with Walter Benjamin’s conception of profane illumination, we see the attempt to harmonize the almost anarchic instincts of Surrealism with the discipline of Leninism, and in a sense bring the surrealist ethos away from complete identification with the unconscious and the passions latent therein. Jung would tell you that it is supposed to be the conscious mind that integrates unconscious content, I would say darkening itself in the process, rather than the unconscious devouring conscious mind, because while the latter leads to possession of the personality and therefore disaster, the former leads to an integrated wholeness that leads to the birth of the Self. Of course, both paths ultimately entail the embrace of darkness.
And while we’re on this point, it may be worth briefly referring to the point of the “cult of evil” as a political device. In Surrealism: The Last Snapshot of the European Intelligentsia, Benjamin states that “One finds the cult of evil as a political device, however romantic, to disinfect and isolate against all moralizing dilettantism”. Darkness, the traditionally “evil” realm, the “cult of evil”, refers here not to some puerile Satanism let alone of the kind that is frequently imagined in popular consciousness, but instead to a way of guarding yourself against moral grandeur and teleological zeal, and the illusion, megalomania and decadence that follows for the spirit. In some ways one could make the comparison to Tibetan Buddhism, where the seemingly evil-looking wrathful deities are in reality merely the violent guardians of spiritual practice, disinfectants against illusion and destroyers of the ego. In this sense it makes sense that you find themes pertaining to Lucifer appear in Surrealist literature and discourse, or discourse adjacent to it, between Andre Breton, Walter Benjamin, Roger Caillois and Georges Bataille. Lucifer is the archetype that makes the most sense here because it seeks enlightenment defined what we would call profane illumination, not just in a social-political class context, but in an existential context.
However, for Surrealism to truly take on the form of Luciferian light, it must be developed in a way that its romantic elements can still lend itself not so much to flight from reason, as is sometimes suggested by the early Surrealists, but in subversion of rationalism, the detournement thereof in order to take the tool of reason and use it to make a scientific methodology for understanding and appreciating the darkness, the hidden, the unconscious, the dare I say occult layer of reality that is just as much a part of Nature and society as you or I. For that purpose, one should both retain surrealism as an ethos of communism and transcend it as a framework. I believe reading both Walter Benjamin and Roger Caillois simultaneously offers a good road for what that might look like. One should not, as Andre Breton would have us do, refuse to cut open the Mexican jumping bean simply in order to honor the mystery. How can a man honour any mystery if he cannot see it for himself? How can humans honour darkness and make it bright if he has no knowledge of the dark light? A science of the surreal is thus indispensable.
Music, in my opinion, is the greatest drug ever made by human beings, and unique in its power to both unite and diversify people. Music intoxicates the mind and the soul and provides an infintely wide array of emotions, how you feel depends on you and whatever tastes you have or nurture, it is powerful, it can be addictive at times, and best of all, to my knowledge, it kills no one. Why even do we have other drugs? Well, to each his own I guess.
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