Last year I wrote an article about Stanislaw Przybyszewski, who at the time I had sort of “discovered” through the work of Per Faxneld, and in the process got to know a fair bit about Przybyszewski’s philosophy, enough to conclude that Stanislaw Przybyszewski, not Anton LaVey, was in fact the world’s first Satanist. But at the time, I did not have access to probably the main statement of his vision of Satanism: The Synagogue of Satan. Written in 1897, The Synagogue of Satan is a decadent manifesto that outlines his own somewhat artistic account of what he seems to have believed was the tradition of Satanism, which in his view emerged from deep roots in mystic traditions that reacted against Christianity and presented a philosophy that included an active principle of “evil”. In last year’s article I could only discuss parts of that text, as presented via Per Faxneld’s The Devil’s Party: Satanism in Modernity. But, a few months ago, I managed to track down and purchase a physical copy of The Synagogue of Satan to have and to read, and now, because of this, I am able to discuss its contents in full.
What follows is a commentary on The Synagogue of Satan, undertaken from the standpoint of its place in the history of Satanic canon and from the standpoint of a contemporary treatment of Satanism. It examines what The Synagogue of Satan has to say about Satanism, how to interpret Przybyszewski’s treatment of Satanism, issues within the overall work, and what insights we can weave through it. In this way, I hope to address what is from my standpoint probably the original essence of modern Satanism, at least insofar as we’re dealing with the word of the first modern Satanist, and contribute to its revival, and thereby the work of philosophically grounding contemporary Satanism against the vision offered by the “mainstream” of modern Satanist organizations such as the Church of Satan and The Satanic Temple.
I should note that the edition of The Synagogue of Satan that I possess is the Runa Raven Press edition, translated by Istvan Sarkady and published in 2002. I have scoured all over the internet for literally any edition for a physical English translation, and this was the only one I can find. This edition seems to consist of five chapters, whereas other editions split the same content into two chapters; the first is usually called “The Creation of the Church of Satan” and the second is called “The Cult of the Church of Satan”. I am informed that the same appears to be true for the Alkahest Press edition, though like the Runa Raven Press edition there is a paragraph at the beginning referencing three “essays”. In the Runa Raven Press edition, the first chapter is presented as an account of what Przybyszewski believed to be the historical development of Satanism from antiquity up to the time when “the church of Satan” was fully developed, which from the seems of it he seemed to believe occurred with the rise of Manicheism. The second chapter is presented as a treatment of the priesthood and cult of “the church of Satan”, and seems to focus on how he believed Satan became popular in the Middle Ages. The third chapter is presented as a “critical scientific evaluation of Satanism”, though it tends to focus on the concept of the witch. The fourth chapter seems to be Przybyszewski’s exposition of the sabbat, or witches’ sabbat, in its supposed historical origin and relevance to Satanism. The fifth and final chapter seems to continue discussion of the witch and the sabbat but tending ultimately toward the broader subject of Satanic negation.
Still, for the ease of the reader, it may actually be better that I run with the structure of the Runa Raven Press edition that I own, especially since the original is technically divided into five parts between its two chapters anyway, so that I can divide this commentary into five parts. Part 1, The Heathen Cult, examines Przybyszewski’s account of the supposed origin of the cult of Satan in pre-Christian polytheism and its development towards his construction of “Manichaeanism”. Part 2, The Church, explores Przybyszewski’s account of the gradual deterioration of the Christian church as beset by heresy, revolt, and the vengeance of Satan. Part 3, The Witch, examines Przybyszewski’s conception of the Witch as the most notorious expression of Satanic negativity as well as the nature of Satan’s church. Part 4, The Sabbat, continues to explore the nature of Przybyszewski’s Satanism, or the church of Satan, through the subject of Witches’ Sabbath. And finally, Part 5, The Black Mass, concludes the investigation of Przybyszewski’s Satanism with a discussion of the “Black Mass” as well as Przybyszewski’s overall Satanic philosophy as ostensibly expressed in the occult of Przybyszewski’s time.
Also, in the process of writing this commentary, I have found that it has taken more effort to cover what I wanted to than I had hoped, and the overall has ended up becoming quite bloated. Rather than subject you, the reader, to another article in excess of 30,000 words, I have instead decided to split my commentary into two articles, based on the two chapters of the original German edition of The Synagogue of Satan. As you have seen first of these articles covers the first chapter, “The Creation of the Church of Satan”, and is named accordingly after it. It will consist of Part 1, The Origin of Satan’s Cult, and Part 2, The Decline of Christendom. The second article will be named after the second chapter, “The Cult of the Church of Satan”. It will consist of Part 3, The Witch, Part 4, The Sabbat, and Part 5, The Black Mass, as well as the overall conclusion of the commentary.
It should finally be noted that although my principle aim is to discuss the philosophical content and rammifications of Przybyszewski’s Satanism, there are also several problems and issues with Przybyszewski’s historical treatment of the subject matter, and these are to be addressed as they appear. It’s worth remembering that, at least based on his writing, Przybyszewski seems to have actually believed in the historicity of certain accounts of witchcraft and black masses, and did not regard them as superstitions or tall tales, and so we are required to take his accounts of such things with a grain of salt. It also seems to me that Przybyszewski may have based some aspects of his history of Christianity from the work of Jules Michelet. But of course, for our purposes, what matters is what is communicated about Przybyszewski’s vision of Satanism. In this respect, I tend to think that The Synagogue of Satan is best treated as a narrative meant to communicate his philosophy of Satanism, not so much an actual history of it.
Part 1: The Heathen Cult
We can start with Przybyszewski’s account of the two gods who oppose each other forever: Satan and God. Satan is the “evil god” or “bad god” that created the physical world, the flesh, the earth, nature, and all of the passions, doubts, conflicts, pain, and agonies that come with it. God is the “good” god that created spirits and “pure” beings, and the invisible kingdom in which they dwell, ostensibly perfect and devoid of suffering or conflict. This on the surface seems clear-cut: Satan is bad, and God is good, right? No. Because God, the supposed “good god”, is little more than the patron of law, normalcy, humility, and submission, a petty tyrant who claims the past and the future solely for himself, and who demands fully childlike obedience and ignorance so that his followers may have the faith needed to be admitted into the invisible kingdom. And Satan, the supposed “evil god”, is also none other than the lawless and visionary leap into the future, the curiosity for the most hidden secrets, and the defiance that overthrows all laws and all norms. God the “good god” is actually bad because God wants the souls of humans to remain fixed in a purity that is ultimately slavery to his will, and Satan the “evil god” is in his own way actually good because Satan, who is so clearly the force of active negation or negativity, kindled the instincts that allowed people to investigate the world around them and break the rules that were set against their liberty. Wisdom, depravity, pride, humility, in their highest, noblest, deepest, and wildest forms are in Satan, for this is what composes the negativity of the freedom that Satan represents. Satan is the author of heroism, science, philosophy, and art, who called upon his followers to use his herbs and poisons to be healthy, find hidden treasures of the earth to become rich, follow the signs to decipher the future, use magic to destroy enemies while remaining beyond the grasp of the law, and even learn the art of necromancy. Love comes from Satan, and the soul is said share the same origin as Satan, and Satan promises his followers that they will see and obtain everything by embarking his difficult path. This is Przybyszewski’s Satan: the patron of outcasts, heroes, rebels, magicians, and all those animated by his negation, who invites the creatures of his world to cast off the invisble kingdom on behalf of their shared freedom.
An interesting but probably somewhat flawed element here is in the many forms Satan is said to have taken in the book. Przybyszewski calls Satan the Light Bearer, obviously meaning Lucifer, Satan-Father, Satan-Samyasa, no doubt referring to the fallen angel Samyaza, and Satan-Paraclete; very peculiar, considering that Paraclete is another word for the Holy Spirit, though this will become more relevant later. But Przybyszewski also says that Satan lived in the clan of the Magi and the mysteries of the Chaldean temples, and that his priests were called “khartunim”, “kasdim”, and “gazrim”, and that thus Satan was part of the doctrine of “Mazdaism”, or Zoroastrianism, and appeared as the god Ahura Mazda to teach Zarathustra (Zoroaster) the secrets of the haoma plant. It seems like it would have made more sense for Satan to have appeared as Ahriman, the eternal opponent of Ahura Mazda, especially considering that Przybyszewski’s cosmology of two eternally opposed gods is pretty similar to Zoroastrianism, which also assumes two gods eternally locked in struggle. I suspect that the idea is obviously to connect Satan to the work of Friedrich Nietzsche through his character Zarathustra, the hermit prophet named after the prophet Zoroaster but who otherwise does not resemble Zoroaster. In this way Satan, in his guise as Ahura Mazda, would have inspired the re-evaluation of values in ancient Iran. And I suppose that’s true if we mean the shift from polytheism to monotheism, but as we’ll see it’s rather incongruous with what Przybyszewski says about pre-Christian antiquity.
Ahura Mazda is indeed not Satan’s only guise. Przybyszewski’s Satan seems to have appeared as the Egyptian god Thoth, who is here also referred to as “Trismegistos” (as in Hermes Trismegistos), to write down books of esoteric knowledge that shared among a chosen few. Satan also manifested as the Greek goddess Hecate, who shared magickal arts with her devotees including the “invisible death stroke”. Satan also appeared as Pan, also here referred to as Satyr or Phallus, here positioned as a universally revered god of lust and carnality who taught women how to seduce and men how to satisfy their lusts, as well inventing the flute. Przybyszewski’s Pan was also the god Apollo and the goddess Aphrodite “at the same time”, authoring schools of philosophy, building temples to Muses, and teaching medicine, mathematics, and the sexual arts. This all obviously has a simplistic bent to it, and is a fairly obvious sign of the influence of the way pre-Christian Greek and Roman antiquity were interpreted by Enlightenment-era radical liberal authors. In that time, there was a certain romantic notion of “paganism” as referring to a humane and rational creed based simply on the reverence of the natural world and the teaching of “natural law”, the latter rather conveniently dovetailing with certain ideas of “natural law” that were already an established part of the political philosophy of liberalism. It was thus in some ways a constructed religion of liberalism, a more antique Cult of Reason based on the idea of Greek and Roman religion but without actually reflecting its traditional content, and it should come as no surprise that this sometimes incorporated the ideas of what was contemporary hedonism. Words like “pagan”, “paganistic”, or “paganism” in this setting were often practically interchangeable with concepts like hedonism or libertinism, which were long believed to be widespread before the rise of Christianity; such terminology has continued in certain anarchist circles into the 21st century, sometimes to disastrous effect. In any case, the actual realities of Greek and Roman society don’t quite entail the free love that Enlightenment radicals longed for. If certain accounts of the life of Aristippus are anything to go by, ancient Greeks considered it immoral to sleep with a woman who has had sex with more than one man in her life. In Rome, the same place Christians like to look back on as a place of constant orgiastic excesses, the raucous Bacchanalias were banned before eventually being recuperated, while the poet Ovid was exiled by order of the emperor Augustus, possibly on the back of obscenity accusations. In Greece and Rome generally hedonism was often actually mistrusted or looked down upon, its adherents regarded as “slaves to passion”, and even merely contemplative hedonists such as Epicureans were presented by intellectuals such as Cicero as threats to the Roman religion and social fabric, and ultimately blamed for the collapse of the Roman Republic. Still, it remains true that pre-Christian attitudes towards sexuality where not the puritanical tendencies associated with Christianity. Phallicism (the veneration of the phallus), after all, was very much a part of pre-Christian religiosity, and there is reason to think that prostitution received religious sanction in some cases.
In any case, the role the gods mentioned by Przybyszewski take is consistent with the attributes seen in Satan. Thoth or Hermes in this framework obviously represent the pursuit of esoteric or forbidden knowledge, as does Hecate though she is referred to for more deadly magick. Pan is a no-brainer here, clearly invoked to express the untrammeled carnality that Satan represents. Of course, Pan was never a simple “god of sex”, and in Greece was more typically worshipped as a god of rustic wilderness who could inspire panic to those who wondered into his domain. That said, he was known for teaching people to masturbate. Nonetheless, although phallicism itself was a part of pre-Christian paganism, the idea of Pan as a symbol of sexuality is ultimately modern, and his identity with the Phallus is almost certainly Przybyszewski’s own idea. The association with Apollo and Aphrodite are ultimately extensions of the connection between Satan and the themes of knowledge, creativity, and sexuality. What is to be taken from this is the idea that Satan represented the free pursuit of knowledge and sensuality that was taken to be part of pre-Christian “Pagan” but which was denied in the ascent of Christianity, and which so becomes a negativity. There’s a sense in which it can be argued that, because hedonism was actually typically looked down upon by Greek and Roman normativity, it is just as well a negativity there too. Still, if we run with the idea of Satan as having incarnated as the gods of polytheism, then surely there’s more that could be done with that. We can make sense of what Przybyszewski went with, but why not Satan as Bacchus/Dionysus, for the drunken liberation of consciousness and terrible wrath against kings? Or Satan as Pluto/Hades, for the treasures of the underworld? Or Satan as Vulcan/Hephaestus, for the power of fire to transform raw matter? Or Satan as Ares, for rebellion and war?
At a certain point, the “good god” gets sick of observing the indulgences of mankind from his invisible kingdom and so sends a son to earth to proclaim the message of this same invisible kingdom. The son, no doubt meaning Jesus Christ, first revealed himself to the poor, the oppressed, the slaves, and day workers. Now, this is where we need to step back a little. On the one hand, it is known that Przybyszewski was a socialist, or at least that he involved himself with the socialist or workers movement, for which he was arrested and later expelled from university in 1893. In fact, in 1892 Przybyszewski worked as an editor for a socialist newspaper called Gazeta Robotnicza (“Worker’s Gazette”), which was founded in Berlin in 1891 by Polish socialist activists who lived in Germany and were aligned with the Social Democratic Party of Germany. Yet, on the other hand, in The Synagogue of Satan he seems to glow with praise for “the aristocratic enjoyment of life” and remark with contempt for those who “had never tasted the holy joys of Pan”. What explains this? Of course the rigid social stratification of Roman society is rather unfortunately papered over in Przybyszewski’s telling, but I think it might be operative to point out how Christianity appeals to a religious sense of solidarity only so it may console and socialize the masses. Jesus was merely the “teacher” of the poor, teaching them contentment through the promise of “the good news”, not the advocate of the poor, who would have instead dragged the wealth of the elites down to the poor, and while he was given to flipping the tables of poor merchants he certainly was not interested in smashing open the shackles of slaves. Perhaps, though, Przybyszewski is ultimately working through the influence of Friedrich Nietzsche, perhaps his favourite philosopher, in assigning slave morality to Christianity and master morality to Satan and pre-Christian antiquity. Yet it may be worth ourselves working through the influence of Renzo Novatore, the individualist anarchist who was himself thoroughly Nietzschean. For Novatore, the “aristocratic” that occupied his political thought was not the aristocracies who sat at the top of rigidly stratified hierarchies but instead a sort of defiant individualism that sets itself against conformity, the common, and the mass that set itself against it. It makes sense that this is the “aristocratic” quality of Przybyszewski’s Satan in the individuality he champions.
We come to Przybyszewski’s summary of the teachings of Christianity. In this summation, bread is no worry, earthly riches are fleeting, pride is meaningless because the highest ones will be in hell and the lowest ones in heaven, and, most crucially for Przybyszewski, carnal desire, which Przybyszewski the inexhaustible source of love for life and the will to eternal life, is the portal to Hell which must be shut in order to facilitate the reign of the invisible kingdom. Central to this discussion of the evils of carnality is, in Christian parlance, women, who the fathers of Christianity have long positioned as a threat to salvation. It is pointed out that Jesus said that a man has already defiled a woman simply by looking at her with lust, based on Matthew 5:28 where Jesus says that “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman to lust after her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”. And after the master the pupil goes further. St. Cyprian, it seems, proclaimed that a woman who could excite a sigh of love from a man was shameless. Tertullian called women “the portal of the Devil”, accused women of destroying “that tree”, of being “the first sinner against the holy law”, and of turning “the one to whom the Devil does not want to be turned”, and proclaimed that everything evil comes from women. Jerome purportedly argued that women were not created in the image of God; that might actually have been Augustine, though make no mistake Jerome generally hated women for a slew of other reaons, and is known for declaring woman the root of all evil. Female sexuality is an important part of the space of Satanic negativity that Przybyszewski presents, and it is a subject that Przybyszewski delves into much further when discussing the witch. I suspect that female sexuality is operative in this space because of the power that men seem to have invested in it as something they really don’t have much control over, try as they might to control it.
For now, what is operative for Przybyszewski in this chapter is that the contempt for women and their arts is an expression of God’s contempt for earthly beauty. We are told of divine hatred directed against every ribbon, against paintings, poets, and philosophies, against theatres and circuses, and even against the colours of flowers as potential portents of demonkind. Temples and icons were destroyed, the priestesses of Aphrodite were condemned as whores, and it was proclaimed that the demonic was everywhere. Demons were feared to fill the air and hide in trees, Lucifer haunted men with debauched dreams as Venus, and so the first struggle is the struggle against demonkind. In this struggle the church waged war against the bonds that connected humanity to nature, and the “naked soul” (an important concept in Przybyszewski’s philosophy), meaning the soul as an “absolute phenomenon”, and its connections were declared the deceptions of Satan. Here again Przybyszewski connects to a certain idea of Pagan religioisty in that, in his account, pre-Christian societies lived both with and in nature, humans in this setting were intimately a part of nature, and that nature revealed itself in the symbols of “the heathen cult” and in the polytheistic gods themselves. There’s a sort of Feuerbachian premise being played with here, in that he grants the idea that the power of the gods was a projection of natural forces. Of course, this is an extension of the idea that pre-Christian polytheism was strictly the worship of nature which was taken for granted during the Enlightenment, but while nature worship in some form was a part of pre-Christian religion it is just not true that the gods of polytheism were strictly reifications of natural phenomena. Nonetheless, in the context of The Synagogue of Satan we can sketch out this general idea of “the heathen cult”, the orgiastic religion of polytheistic nature worship, as the first phase of the church of Satan. The veneration of the processes of nature (albeit clearly interpreted in the lens of a vulgar master morality) was expressed in the gods and symbols and in the veneration of the demon and the earth. This cult is here indestructible, and the demon hides in the forests, grottoes, and caves, gathering worshippers in “crude bacchanals”. Numinous, divine negativity, taking the form of the demonic, is in this way understood as imminent in nature itself, and impossible for the teleological will of Christianity to suppress.
Satan, from this standpoint, is understood as the most hated enemy of Christianity. And not just Satan in himself, but Satan as the magician and healer. Here, the Magician is understood as the active devotee of the church of Satan, through whom the principle of Satan’s cultus is realized. The principle was proud egoism against the laws of God. Przybyszewski’s Magician is an individualist who refuses obedience and all poverty of spirit, unlocks the secrets and mysteries of the world, and would follow no one. Such fantastical accolades are attributed to The Magician; he can levitate above the ground, he cannot drown in water, and he cannot be burned in fire. More importantly, The Magician could be as divine as Jesus Christ, and thus rival and set himself up against God and his son. In fact, Przybyszewski says that Jesus Christ himself was a magician, a defier of laws, and a seer, and so The Magician was the same thing as Jesus was, except that The Magician had more pride. The comparison between The Magician and Jesus Christ is operative because it establishes the profound egoism of Przybyszewskian Satanism. God is his own Ownness, just as you are, but God wants you to worship him as the sole Ownness and deny your own. So it is with Jesus Christ and The Magician. Jesus is a magician, but he must have you think of him as the only magician and worship him accordingly instead of practicing magick yourself and becoming a magician like Jesus. This is an absurd tyranny. The egoist is one who understands this, that there is no difference between God’s or Christ’s Ownness and your own, that their claims to sole sovereignty are a senseless oppression put over you, which must militantly be opposed and overcome, and thence participate in what I call the war of all against all in pursuit of apotheosis, to become divine, fully overcoming the barriers to individuation.
We must examine the pride of The Magician versus that of Jesus for a moment, because there are multiple angles approaching it. The Magician’s pride consisted in him passing his arts to a chosen few, the proudest and strongest, while Jesus passed his teachings on to the plebeians. On the one hand Jesus could just as well be proud enough to spread his teachings to as many people as possible, confident in their reception by the masses. On the other hand, perhaps Jesus’ “pride” ultimately makes the most sense as the “pride” of the preacher, of the proselyte and therefore of proselytism, and perhaps from this standpoint it is easy to see it as a folly. Likewise, the pride of Przybyszewski’s Magician is not hard to construe as a different sort of folly, thoroughly uninviting and obstinate in not disseminating liberation outwardly. But perhaps it is also true that The Magician does not spread his work everywhere because he is not a preacher or proselyte spreading a cult unto his own, and needs only for those who want his craft to come to him; and perhaps they most certainly will.
In Przybyszewski’s account, Christianity hated The Magician more than anyone as a competitor to Jesus, and so he tells of their vicious persecution under Christian authority. We are told that the emperor Constantine imposed heavy penalties on the practice of magick, that the philosophers were driven out under the emperor Valens, that the philosopher Iamblichus took poison after being imprisoned, and that the people gathered books and burned them. Thus Przybyszewski declares that the children of Satan were martyred by Christians in persecutions dwarfing those carried out under the emperor Nero. There are some things to account for here. For one thing, there’s no record of Iamblichus being imprisoned let alone poisoning himself. There were, however, book burnings carried out by Christians, such as in Alexandria and Antioch, in which literature deemed “unacceptable” was burned at the orders of the bishop Athanasius and the emperor Jovian respectively. Over the centuries books on divination and astrology were gathered up and incinerated by Roman authorities, while the Bible ostensibly recounts an incident where “books of sorcery” were burned en masse by recently converted Christians in Ephesus. And let’s not forget about the destruction of the Serapeum. Valens for his part did not quite “drive out the philosophers”. What he did do instead, however, was have Maximus of Ephesus executed and many other polytheists massacred because he thought they were conspiring to replace him. Constantine of course did issue a decree against divination, but it is also true that Romans had regarded magic as a form of superstition and often illicit even before the ascent of Christianity.
For all that, though, The Magician lived on, and magick with him, and he helped the signs and symbols retain meaning and power. Meanwhile, the church could not win by brute force alone, so it used the power of “atavism”, or “choc en retour” (meaning “backlash”), to imitate and thereby contain the magickal arts. Holy water, sacraments, and the sign of the cross replaced conjurations with magickal signs, while the art of envocatio was contained by Mass, and it was assumed that Satan was driven out with holy water and his magicians thwarted by the cross. And yet, Przybyszewski says, rthe church ended up acquiesing to the old ways. He claims that obscene figures seen on church pillars were remnants of the cult of the phallus, that the “Bacchanalia” at the festivals of Ceres Libera (possibly just meaning the goddess Ceres, who was not worshipped in Bacchanalias) were celebrated in festivals devoted to St. Mary, and that the priests together with the common folk celebrated old orgiastic festivals. Hell itself is taken as proof as the influence of “the heathen cult”, as the Greek rivers of the underworld appear as the river of hell and Charon as the ferryman of Hell in medieval literature and art. Thus Przybyszewski says that Satan triumphed over Christ, transforming from a means of reinforcing Christ’s dominion through fear of the Devil into the almighty lord of the world who people tried to appease out of fear. The fear of demonic possession became widespread, he Przybyszewski claims the existence of a sect called the Messalinians who believed they were possessed by the Devil. I can’t seem to find anything about these “Messalinians” other than one reference in Alphonsus Ligouri’s The History of Heresies and Their Refutation, in which it seems to be a name for a 4th century sect called the Euchites, who were accused by the early church of worshipping Satan but it doesn’t seem like they were constantly in fear of demonic possession. Satan in any case multiplies and takes on many new forms, tormenting the holy fathers in the desert with doubts, going to monasteries to tempt the minds of monks, visiting pious women to fornicate with them, and planting curses and blasphemies into thousands of believers. He is everywhere, and thus the church must constantly try to exorcise him. But, Przybyszewski says, this struggle only strengthened Satan as it was continuously waged, and he mocked God through the voices of the possessed, all the while revealing secret sins to priests, weaving prophesies, and granting power to the possessed through their possession.
Przybyszewski’s “heathen cult” at this point has been pushed into the bottom of the social hierarchy. Not quite banished, seemingly incapable of truly being banished, lurking in the periphery and eventually reasserting itself, and as it does gradually transforming and undermining the order of Christian faith. The “heathen cult” thus transitions into a negative space around Christianity, to which Christianity inevitably returns. But if “the heathen cult” is that negative space, Satan is none other than the death drive, in the sense that baedan meant it. Satanic negativity is irrepressible, irreducible, Satan is within himself a constantly self-reproducing power to destroy the order of the invisible kingdom and unravel the limits of theology and the church, and this power only seems to expand when the church confronts Satan, until finally Satan becomes the actual sovereign of the world. The death drive of Satan is revealed, pushed to the bottom, exorcised, and then thunders up to the top from the abyss, fought as the constant threat to society and order only to prevail over society anyway and tear it apart with blasphemy and madness. Satan then is the function of the death drive, a darkness and revolt producing the contradictions that threaten to destroy the power of the church. First presented as the contradiction outside of God, responsible for the evil and flaw in the otherwise perfect creation, thus freeing God from the culpability of his monstrous creation, Satan then breaks out of this role and threatens society with all of the contradiction that is actually internal to itself and to God’s creation, and by entering the minds of the masses Satan turns them into agents of this same negation.
As Satanic negativity overtakes and Satan’s death drive swamps over Christendom, sin is universal, Satan’s visions and voices impossible to avoid or deny, his seductions impossible to resist, and all thoughts sins before God. Supposedly, the devils even disregard exorcisms and don’t fear them at all. Thus all falls under the power of Satan, and Heaven is denied. In this setting, where madness and the fear of the end of the world plagued the land, the belief in “the Paraclete”, the “triune Satan”, and the Antichrist emerged, and the Antichrist became the perennial figure of speculation and intrigue. The Antichrist is the Adversary, the son of ruination, the “man of sin” more sinful than Jesus is virtuous, he is born from the Pope and a succubus, his reign is both imminent and already here, he will cut down the servants of Christ, he will cause miracles, and he will exalt himself to heaven and declare himself God. Basically, as an individual figure, the Antichrist is meant as the total opposite of Jesus. As a term, though, Antichrist seems to just signify that which is outside of and opposed to the community of Christians. In any case, in Przybyszewski’s account, the Antichrist seems to appear as an actual person, but not as an earthly ruler in accordance with Christian tradition. Instead the Antichrist is a spiritual sovereign, the spirit of pride and exaltation. Satan got bored of constantly possessing people and playing the game of exorcism with priests, and instead he wanted to “become God”, or rather “a proud and wild anti-God” capable of forcing Jesus back into his domain and end his ultimately hollow dominion over the world. The Antichrist in this setting is, apparently, Mani, the prophet of the religion of Manichaeism (or “Manichaeanism” as he refers to it). As strange as it sounds, his framing of it all ultimately comes back to the initial theology of the two gods: Satan and God.
Mani proclaimed the teaching of two gods, equally powerful and locked in eternal struggle with each other. One was the invisible god of goodness, seated in his heaven, unconcerned with the earth, concerned only with the perfection of his elect. The other was the god of sin, who rules the earth and is the source of sin in the world, and who says “do not strain yourselves, just imitate me”. Manichaeism, as well as Gnosticism, both supposedly spread rapidly in the Christian world. Przybyszewski presents what he considers the difference between Christianity and Manichaeism. Christianity presents mankind with the idea that humans can choose whether to sin or not, whereas Manichaeism rejects this idea on behalf of some form of determinism. Christianity from his standpoint valorized the imitation of stupidty, whereas Manichaeism supposedly lauded “the autocratic imagination of mysticism”. Christianity emphasized slave morality, whereas Manichaeism supposed endorsed proud sinning in the name of instinct, curiosity, passion, and “Satan-nature”. Thus Manichaeism in Przybyszewski’s story becomes the next phase of the cult of Satan.
I must elaborate at this point Przybyszewski seems to have obviously and completely missed the point of Manichaeism. Manichaeism did not reject free will, but it appears that the Manichaeans did believe in a sort of “true” free will, that is to say will that acts in harmony with the “World of Light”, the spiritual (or indeed “invisible”) world which was the birthplace of the soul. The soul had “free will” only so long as it remained pure and in harmony with its origins, and was not ultimately contaminated by the influence of matter. If the soul is mixed with matter and influenced by it, then free will was impossible. In this sense we can already infer that Manichaeism most certainly did not endorse “proud sinning” in the name of instinct or passion, since this too was the influence of matter that was to be avoided. Those who sinned were destined to reincarnate as animals, fall into the hands of demons, and ultimately be imprisoned with them in the realm called Bōlos. The whole goal for Manichaeism was the salvation of human souls, and the point of that was that humanity is responsible for redeeming both itself and the “World Soul”. The actual ethics of Manichaeism could be very strict: it was forbidden to drink alcohol, it was forbidden to eat the flesh of animals because animals were believed to be created from demons and contain “greed-arousing substance”, and it was forbidden to kill or at least hurt any living being, including plants. Everything, including not only plants but also the earth, the stars, skies, contained particles of the “World Soul”, and not only killing animals and cutting plants for sustenance but also to even walk across the earth or bathe in water was a violation of the World Soul. This all sounds quite unimaginably strict even by the standards of the most ascetic religions we know, and naturally it was assumed that most believers weren’t up to such a standard of holy life. The lay Manichaean was only expected to observe a set of moderate commandments, such as to not be miserly or to give alms to the elect. The elect, however, observed much stricter commandments in order to live a holy life. They were forbidden from eating meat, forbidden from drinking alcohol of any sort, forbidden to make money outside of business, and forbidden to practice any sexual activities at all. Both the elect and lay Manichaeans were expected to fail to live up to their commandments, so both regularly and constantly practiced atonement rituals. The point of leading a holy life in Manichaeism was not just to be saved, but also to become a physical instrument of the redemption of the “World Soul” from matter. Simply put, the actual religion of Manichaeism had nothing in common with Przybyszewski’s presentation of it.
The way Przybyszewski presents Manichaeism seems to based only on the part of Manichaeism that upholds dualism between light/spirit and darkness/matter as equally powerful, with the obvious assumption that this naturally elevates Satan as God and sin as an imitation of God. The idea seems to be that, in a Christian standpoint at least, to establish equality between Satan and God is to establish Satan as God, and I suppose it makes in the sense of Satan being the tangible ruler of creation as opposed to God the intangible one. But it doesn’t have anything to do with what Manichaeism was, it’s mostly just Przybyszewski projecting his own ideas onto Manichaeism. That said, this formula ends up presenting aspects of Przybyszewski’s philosophy to us. For one thing, it seems that Przybyszewski rejected free will in favour of some form of determinism. It’s not clear at this point how he meant to square this determinist rejection of free will with the defiant assertion of individual will so evident in his Satanic philosophy and especially in his concept of The Magician. Matter as represented by Satan is obviously superior to Spirit as represented by God, as the tangible principle and the vehicle in which sensation travels as opposed to be stifled by Spirit. And of course, mysticism, pride, and indulgence are held above obedience, faith, and humility. On “the autocratic imagination of mysticism” it is again perhaps worth inserting the later ideas of Renzo Novatore, for whom “autocracy” in anarchist terms means the “autocracy” of the individual unto itself, as set against the oligarchy of phantoms and all systems that seek to oppress, sublimate, or recuperate individual will. In this interpretation, “the autocratic imagination of mysticism” is, simply put, the free imagination of individual spiritual thought in rejection of dogmatic faith. Though, again, it’s not obvious how this is to be reconciled with the wholesale rejection of free will. Przybyszewski’s constructed “Manichaeism” is in this sense a vessel to communicate these values as represented in the “evil” side of a dualism in which it is supposed the “evil” side is ultimately better and more powerful than the “good” side.
The church is presented as ultimately the victor in the struggle against “Manichaean” darkness, and with the defeat of Avignon (which here represents the “anti-Christian” forces for some unknown reason) Satan blasphemed unto the world that he was the “God of Light”, that the “dark god of revenge” overthrew him out of jealousy of his “light”, that the time has come to fear his pride and hate. The “eternal light” will not sleep and neither do his children, but the children of his enemies will sleep, tired from struggle against the “light”. The “light” has sacrificed millions of fellows to the vengeance of its enemy, but these sacrifices are “fertilizer” for “the One”, who will in turn generate “a thousand new communities”. The vengeance is coming and it is to be feared. Blasphemy takes the form of inversion, and in this setting Satan presents himself as the true light, God the true darkness. This is the hint that the dark matter of Satan is the true nobility, and the invisible kingdom of spirit the true villainy, and the unjust takeover of the kingdom of spirit will be overturned by the power of Satan. As for the identity “the One”, however, I’m afraid that is a complete mystery.
The only thing I’m inclined to add at this point is concerning the Manichaean conception of Hyle, and through this a way parsing a doctrine of dark materialism through Przybyszewski’s constructions. The evil principle in Manichaean cosmology is the Prince of Darkness, who invaded the world of light out of lust to mingle with it, and can only create through copulation whereas the Father of Greatness can create out of nothing. The Prince of Darkness was identified with Ahriman, the main adversary of Zoroastrianism, Iblis, the main adversary in Islam, and of course Satan himself, but he also went by another name: Hyle. Hyle was the Greek word for matter. It was also sometimes used as a name for Az, the mother of demons in Zoroastrian myth. Darkness created the world or body in which Light was imprisoned, and so Darkness propagates matter. But, understood via Hyle, this means Hyle propagates itself. Hyle is linked to copulation, in that the Prince of Darkness creates through copulation while his demons set into motion the whole process of human generation. In Przybyszewski’s framing, Hyle identified with Satan becomes a principle, substance, and presence that is the source of copulation and which produces all things through a process of generation that starts from itself. Perhaps this is the true depth of Iwan Bloch’s description of Satan as the “Personification of the Physical Mysterium of Copulation”. It is still a negative force, though. It is dark in that it that raw, formless potentiality of generation that negations all barriers to itself, and for this reason opposes the “Metaphysical Mysticism of Idolization”.
Part 2: The Church
Przybyszewski says that Satan began his vengeance against God by possessing the world, and in the coming millennium humanity began to doubt God while miracles occurred everywhere. The Devil personally visited Pope Sylvester IV, Otto the Great saw the sun dim and turn saffron, and the order of the seasons seemed to change such that snow fell in the summer and thunderstorms broke out in the winter. As this took place, a “holy fire” melted the flesh of humans, leaving only tattered bones in its wake. The people were driven to madness and hunger, but would not eat the flesh of animals; instead they were driven to horrible acts of cannibalism. People tried to expiate God, bitter enemies swore the “Peace of God”, kings joined choirboys in singing prayers to God, but it was all to no avail. God would not help anyone, and as people became convinced that God had abandoned them they began turning to Satan to deliver them from their suffering. God’s symbols were desecrated and mocked, and Satan had already whispered doubts in people’s ears to turn them against God. The salvation offered by Jesus appeared quite hollow in the face of the world’s horror. What salvation is it when people eat each other, when the earth burns under their feet, and when plague rips off their flesh? Thus “salvation” was scorned while the church was scandalised by its infamous dealings.
The “temple of God” was no more, having changed hands to Satan. And so what were God’s children meant to do? Supposedly they made the children of barons and dukes into bishops, and then the people were convened to elect a six year old boy to the status of minister. A dove perched atop his head was meant to signify his election by the Holy Spirit itself. Meanwhile two women selected their lovers as Popes, and thereafter the “goodly father of sin” came to be secure in his reign and the church was restored. The world cried out for ecclesiastical reform, and Pope Gregory VII delivered on this reform by establishing the rule of celibacy. Woman was blamed for the church’s problems and so it was thought that Woman had to be “destroyed” within the church. Priests who refused to part with their wives were attacked by celibate monks. But the people defiled what they previously held sacred, drinking befouled communion wine and scattering communion wafers to the winds. The authority of the priests was completely undermined, while the authority of the monks and the mob prevailed. We are told that concubines were mutilated to death, that abbots who ordered castrations were rewarded with bishoprics, and that the theologian Manegold is said to have insisted that priests who resisted celibacy should be killed. In imposing celibacy the church had attacked nature, once again, by regarding Woman as an impure creature, equivalent to Satan, who spelled death for men. Fanatically bigoted pronouncements were made against women all the time. Pietro Damiani, for example, was said to have called women “scum of paradise” and “bait of Satan”.
What is operative in this narrative is that here the church is shown reconstituting itself on the back of a negative space, again. The negative space, from the Christian standpoint, is women, who are blamed for the corruption of the church, for which the solution is deemed to be the imposition of celibacy upon the clergy. And there was indeed a celibacy drive in the Catholic Church associated with Pope Gregory VII. Gregory VII did indeed absolve people from having to obey bishops who retained married priests. That said, Gregory VII was probably motivated less by the subject of women and more by a certain abstract ascetic ideal that he associated with the fulfillment of holy life. While I can’t find those quotes from Pietro Damiani outside of the texts of Jules Michelet, it is true that Damiani was a prolific advocate of clerical celibacy and vehemently condemned priests who were married. The ascetic ideal fulfilled in celibacy naturally clashes with sexuality, and in Christendom women were very often seen as portals through which temptation worked its way into the world, all then way back to the church fathers. Sexuality, female sexuality in particular, was feared for its power to unravel holy life and Man’s connection to God. The way this connects to the death drive is perhaps more fittingly explored once we get to the subject of the witch. But the point is that sexuality is the negative space upon which the church reforms sit, and which the order of clerical celibacy was instituted to repress, but to which humans, even the faithful, will inexorably return.
I would also take the opportunity to mention at this point that Przybyszewski’s idea of the imposition of celibacy, which would connote a clampdown on sexuality and libertinism, is a fairly obvious extension of the ideas of Friedrich Nietzsche. In his essay Nietzsche contra Wagner; Out of the Files of a Psychologist, specifically in a section titled “Wagner as Apostle of Chastity”, Nietzsche describes the advocacy of chastity as “an incitement to perversion”, and on such grounds regards Wagner’s opera Parsifal as “an attempt to assassinate ethics”. In The Antichrist, Nietzsche describes chastity, alongside humility and poverty, as having done immeasurably more harm to life than any vice or horror, and in a suppressed passage we see that the fourth position of Nietzsche’s “Law Against Christianity” describes the preaching of chastity as incitement against nature while stressing that contempt for sexuality and making it “unclean” are the real sins against life. This is an idea that carries on in Przybyszewski’s writing over the course of The Synagogue of Satan, and I think that it is best understood as a Satanic interpretation, or even extension, of Nietzsche’s anti-Christian transvaluation of values. From the lens of Stirnerite egoism we can also add an additional dimension via the discussion of lewdness and egoistic versus sacred love in Stirner’s Critics. Sin in the context of natural impulse, in this case lust, is denied for the sake of chastity as the result of what Stirner understands as a “religious consideration”, by which he means a strictly moral and therefore alienated consideration, which is not aligned to natural or egoistic interest, which would be lewd. “Absolute” interest, “spiritual” interest, set against natural or egoistic interest, is like a despot opposed to nature, like the God of the invisible and spiritual kingdom is a despot opposed to the world as belonging to Satan, thus we come right back around to Przybyszewski’s dualism on Stirner’s terms. And on that note I think it is reasonable to assume that, while I can’t tell you if Przybyszewski had read Stirner’s Critics, I can establish that he was at least familiar with Stirner on the grounds that he discussed Stirner and Nietzsche with fellow decadents. From there a convergence between Stirnerite egoism and Przybyszewski’s Nietzschean Satanism is fairly easy to develop.
With celibacy established and the church “finished with nature”, the priests having been separated from their wives began practicing unspeakable obscenities with their own flock, and we are told that meanwhile the church also waged war against reason. The investigation of the nature of God had already been forbidden, and now ideas were declared to be beings, which Przybyszewski tells us means they cannot be observed or learned from, which means the people gave up on thought. People flipped through fragments of Aristotle, and wrote commentaries on Aristotle which then distorted his writings such that Aristotle was to have prophesied the coming of Christ and proved his divinity. The philosophers of the day brooded over the psychology of angels and invented formulas to establish that comparing words is equivalent to knowledge of the real. In this setting, the “Satanic philosopher”, who we are told was a fan of Plato and shattered Christian thought by upholding Manichaean heresies, smiled at this state of affairs, presumably sensing the decline the Christian thought. This philosopher asked the doctors of the church, “what about when the farmer is leading a pig along to the market. What is doing the pulling there, the farmer or the leash?”, and the doctors of the church struggled to answer. Later we are told of a philosopher named Abelard ruining the efforts of the church by proclaiming that an idea is not a being and an abstraction is not reality. Somewhat unremarkable as an observation, but for some reason Przybyszewski lionized Abelard as “beautiful and glorious as a god”, such that no woman in France could resist him, and he possessed great eloquence and developed confusions that turned the doctrines of the church upside down. If by Abelard we mean Peter or Pierre Abelard, who lived from 1079 to 1142, the real Abelard was definitely considered a heretic, and he was an intellectual defender of women, but it is not evident that he was the stud that Przybyszewski makes him out to be. What is true, however, is that Abelard thought of original sin as a punishment or penalty for Adam’s sin, differing in some respects from other interpretations of original sin. Przybyszewski presents Abelard as wanting to know in order to believe, in opposition to Anselm who wanted to believe in order to know. But this simplisitc idea, one that is no doubt the product of its time in the context of the 19th century, smooths over much of Abelard’s thought, and positions him as a rationalist trying to challenge Christianity from the outside rather than, as is more likely, a logician and theologian seeking to redefine traditional doctrinal positions within the context of Christian moral thought. Unfortunately for Przybyszewski, what we know about Peter Abelard suggests that he was no “Satanic philosopher”, even if he was sometimes regarded as a heretic.
But whether we are dealing with heresy or simply a redefining of Christian teaching, what we are presented with is a state of affairs in which church orthodoxy is constantly under threat or being re-examined by mavericks. We are told that Abelard derided the faith of the morally simple and eviscerated the secrets of God, though of course he probably did no such thing and Bernard of Clairvaux never said that he did. But even if Abelard did not actually shake the foundations of the church, his student, Arnold of Brescia, arguably did. Arnold indeed revolted against the papacy, and in fact Arnold frequently denounced the political power of the church. He also condemned property ownership as sinful, and called on the church to renounce property and renounce worldliness. Arnold was exiled from Italy for his anti-clericalism, but he eventually returned and became part of the republican Commune of Rome, where he preached apostolic poverty and purity and demanded the institution of democratic rights and freedoms along with the restoration of a wholly spiritual church. For both this and the role he played in driving out Pope Eugene III, Arnold was denounced as “the father of political heresies”, excommunicated, arrested, and ultimately burned at the stake. We are then presented with Frederick II, the Holy Roman Emperor. Przybyszewski says that under Frederick’s protection Arab physicians opened a human corpse for medical study. Of course, although Frederick did require studying physicians and surgeons to attend dissections, human cadaveric dissections had already been practiced in ancient Greece and elsewhere for centuries and Frederick did not single-handedly reinstate such practices. Frederick supposedly asked the Muslims “My lords, what do you think about God?” and this was to be taken as a display of unbridled skepticism. Again, this statement has no record, but it is true indeed that Frederick has a reputation for skepticism, known for his empiricism and Epicureanism, not to mention his penchant for sensual indulgence. His reputation was such that he was accused of writing a book called Treatise of the Three Impostors, which purportedly argued against Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all at once, though in reality Frederick probably never wrote it and the book’s real authorship and even its very existence are impossible to verify. But while he was often seen as an atheist and a rationalist and even accused of being a predecessor to the Antichrist, he was not really an atheist, and although he often went against the wishes of the church he was no real opponent of it; in fact, he still placed strict edicts against heresy, joined in the suppression of heretics, and granted secular powers to the church.
The point to be taken from all of this is that Christendom was not quite all that it seemed, or at least the authority of the church and its faith was not as absolute as perhaps God would have hoped. There was contestation, there were deviations, there were doubts, and there was revolt. For Przybyszewski, this insecurity marked the growth of skepticism and disbelief among Christians, and the ego rose with enthusiasm to prove everything and then refute it, as was “the highest philosophical art”. We are told that the man of the 12th century disregarded God, felt that Christ had ruled for long enough, and that the Holy Spirit needed to take over. Messiahs and new sects began to appear, and humans did not search for God because God was already inside of them, and so individual striving and the liberation of instincts unfolded. In the mean time, the Crusades had failed, God apparently slept while the Muslim armies repeatedly triumphed over the Christian armies, and troubadours had begun to sing with melancholy about how God preferred Muslims over Christians. And the hardships didn’t stop; God kept heeping more torments, defeats, and humiliations upon the people. At this time, people were longing for the chance to part with God without shame, and Satan gave them just that chance. Satan, here also referred to as Chernebog or Diabol and described as ruling the world alongside “the good god”, came to shake the church with his iron fist. A sect called the Bogomils spread out from Bulgaria and settled in France, facing decimation along the way. Here the south of France is referred to as “the favorite seat of Satan”, because of the many heresies that gathered there. Black magick is said to have been widespread, and Kabbalah was supposedly spreading among a supposedly no longer Christian society. Grimoires allowed people to summon demons like Samael to serve them for “evil”, while the Satanim live inside Man and tempt Man.
Forgetting the obvious problem with bringing up Kabbalah in the context of black magick, when the whole point of Kabbalah is to unify with God, it is here that Przybyszewski once again invokes his construction of “Manichaeanism”, which he states has returned in a younger form, and so in this setting the device of “Manichaeanism” recapitulates some of Przybyszewski’s ideas of Satanic philosophy. Evil is established as possessing the same substantiality as Good, rather than only existing incidentally through the self-incrimination of Good. Evil and Good opposed each other, but were equally essential and substantial, and in their opposition they go back to the source of existence all the way to the Godhead. Sin is not self-incrimination because it is not a product of free will, and instead it is the work of the “Black God”. Thus there is indeed no such thing as sin, because it carries no volition, and incurs no punishment. Eternal damnation is dismissed as a stupid invention, the sacraments of penance and communion are regarded as invalid, and regret for sin is considered useless – what Nietzsche called the “bite of conscience”, which he regarded as like a dog biting a stone, which is to say pointless. The human being, just like the Godhead, is also divided into “good” and “evil”, which was based in spirit and matter respectively. I should stress again that the division of good and evil along the lines of spirit and matter is pretty much the only thing this “Manichaeanism” has in common with the real religion of Manichaeism. But then Przybyszewski tells us of a schism within this new sect, between those who decided to favour the worship of the “Light God” and those who favoured the worship of the “Black God”. The worshippers of the “Light God” embraced a highly austere moral code and severe asceticism, their beliefs were spread by zealots who were later worshipped as saints, and these saints had the power to completely purify a person after their death. The worshippers of the “Black God”, in contrast, gathered in secret, established secret organizations dedicated to worshipping this god, and celebrated the mysteries of the “Black God” in forests, caves, and mountaintops.
Here “Manichaeanism” becomes two distinct sects: one devoted to the “Light God” of spirit, the other devoted to the “Black God” of the world. It sounds a little bit like the “Light God” is meant to be Belobog, the “White God”, and the “Black God” must be Chernebog, or rather Chernobog, since that is one of the names Przybyszewski gave to Satan, or rather “the Slavic Satan” It was long supposed that these two gods were meant to be seen as complimentary opposites in a dualistic Slavic religion, but in reality Chernebog was just a minor local deity that was only ever worshipped in parts of Mecklenburg and Pomerania while Belobog was not actually a deity but rather a local name for the Christian God. I suppose on this basis, though, it is fitting enough that Przybyszewski states that the two sects serve as re-statements of the difference between Christianity and Paganism, although I would argue that the sect of the “Light God” presented here is much closer to what Manichaeism actually was than the “Manichaeanism” that he has typically presented as some sort of ancient Satanism. The schism establishes, or perhaps rather reinforces, Przybyszewski’s conception of Satanism as essentially a continuation of “the heathen cult”, an evolution of a raucous, romantic, quasi-Epicurean pagan polytheism (as constructed by Przybyszewski of course) that was then pushed to the bottom by Christianity, beneath which it became an omnipresent negative space for Christendom as a whole. The idea of going to off to worship “The Black God”/Chernebog/Satan in the forests, the caves, and the mountains in orgiastic celebrations calls back to the mysteries of Dionysus, the worship of gods and nymphs in nature, and the old tradition that held that these old places of nature contained numinous power that humanity was a part of.
Then Przybyszewski talks about the Perfecti, or “perfected ones”, who possessed “oriental magical techniques” and performed miracles and spread under the name of a family of sects dubbed the Cathars. These Cathars, he says, “mangled and destroyed” the Christian faith. Secret societies were formed to pursue “obscene” aims, and the philosophical core of “Manichaeanism” was lost to the point that all that remained of “Manichaeanism” was doctrinnaire hatred of Christianity. The God of the Old Testament was despised by the Cathars, because he knew that Adam and Eve would die if they ate from the tree of knowledge and yet allowed them to eat of it, because ultimately he lied because they in fact did not die as he said they would, and because he killed both the innocent and the guilty at Sodom and Gomorrah. They are also purported to reject the doctrine that the “Good God” suffered on the cross because it was blasphemous to say that God could suffer, die, and come back to earth, let alone eat and drink as we do. They are also said to reject the idea of distinction between the sin of eating and the sin of procreation, and supposedly questioned the idea that procreation is sinful on this basis. And, of course, these Cathars hated the church of Rome perhaps more than anything; we are told they called Rome a den of murderers, that they likened Rome to the Whore of Babylon, and that they derided and supposedly even killed the priests of the church. Przybyszewski further claimed that Cathars held parodies of the Mass that were essentially almost complete reproductions of “the sabbat”, and that all novices had to renounce all Catholic teachings and sacraments and spit on the cross. Supposedly they even threw the sacred host into manure, broke the legs of Christ, and soiled him with filth. As far as reality in contrast to Przybyszewski’s narrative is concerned, I could remark about how much of this almost certainly had little to do with the “real” Cathars, but then there’s just one problem with that: the “Cathars” may never have existed at all.
In any case, as far as our narrative is concerned, the church responded to the rising Cathar movement by launching a Crusade against them, and so a massacre took place in which 60,000 people were killed. This seems to be in reference to the Massacre at Beziers, for which we actually don’t know exactly how many people died. But it’s from here that we apparently get the Latin phrase, “Caedit eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius”, which means “Kill them all. The Lord knows those that are his own” (Przybyszewski seems to have rendered it a little differently; for him it’s “caedite omnes, novit enim Deus, qui sunt eius”, or “kill them all, for God will renew those that are his”); in modern English, the equivalent phrase is “Kill ’em all and let God sort ’em out”, as frequently used by Americans, especially in the military. The Albigensians fled massacre and persecution wherever they could, but every fortress they took refuge in in was conquered, one after another. Captured Cathars were burned at the stake for their heresy, supposedly even if they recanted, while the “knights of the Holy Spirit” executed thousands of people in all manner of ways. Nothing was left, and the church assumed that it had triumphed over heresy. But Satan felt more powerful than ever before. His church hadn’t actually been destroyed, for apparently the hearts of the people were loyal to Satan.
After the fall of Toulouse people apparently crept into catabombs or hid in mountain valleys in order to worship Satan, which never before had they done so enthusiastically, and a new priestess of Satan had emerged: the Witch. Of course, Satan needed to spring as many seeds as he could, and so he sought a wife with whom he could increase his kind. An allegory tells of Satan having intercourse with Godlessness, and producing seven daughters with her. These daughters were Pride, Greed, Infidelity, Hypocrisy, Envy, Vanity, and Fornication. When they grew up, Satan married six of these daughters off to mankind; Pride was married to the powerful, Greed was married to the rich, Infidelity was married to the masses, Hypocrisy was married to the priests, Envy as married to the artists, and Vanity was married to women. Only Fornication remained unmarried, and Satan reserved her for no one in particular, because she was for the whole world. Przybyszewski then says that what he termed “hysterical epilepsy” was common in the 13th century, and that leprosy was universal to the point that “everyone was a little bit leprous”. The succubi and the incubi destroyed those with “weak blood”, while women, we’re told, spontaneously fell down, lifted their dresses, and started masturbating, which suggested a sort of widespread sexual mania. Przybyszewski claims both that the “Albigensian theory” lent itself to such developments and that, in a turnabout, the priesthood of the church employed this very theory to develop new techniques of self-denial. Thus, orgies became a way to “kill sin by means of sin”, a means of negating individual will and instinct, and sacrifice yourself to God, by transforming self-indulgence into self-abnegation. It is true that certain “Gnostic” sects were assumed to have believed in indulging your sexual appetites to the point that you become sick of the material world, but it doesn’t seem that this was prevalent in the Middle Ages. Przybyszewski then says that the priests went further and taught that every act is holy for the saint, and sanctified anyone who sinned with him. The church was also the sole possessor of wealth, while the people were dying of hunger; a fairly basic indictment of class society in conjunction with Christianity. Thus the church was then mocked, scorned, and despised, and faced its collapse.
So, while Satan was growing his power in the world and while demons inspired sexual mania, the church in its attempts to recuperate the heresy it despised appear to have resulted in failure. The vices, married to the people or shared by all of humanity, reasserted themselves against Christian piety, and so dominated the world that the church tried to take them up as a pharmakon – the poison that is at once the cure – in the hope of destroying Satan’s power. Sin as death drive so unravels the world as to consume it completely, and with it seemingly the church itself, by now writhing in its own social contradictions. Interestingly, it is perhaps here that we see a fairly clear indicationg that Satan does not restrict his gifts to a few people, but rather has something to give for everyone, across class backgrounds. And of course, he certainly offers his doubts to the people at large at moments of intense contradiction in the reign of the church.
Then, in Przybyszewski’s telling, we see that the church owned land and the bishops were princes who could raise armies, while the monarchies were losing money and having to counterfeit currency. The solution of the monarchies to this was to confiscate from the church, and so kings incited soldiers against the priests and demanded portions of the church’s income. Przybyszewski seems to describe Pope Boniface VIII as a “perjured lawyer,” a “savage atheist”, who “debauched the church” with “filthy blasphemies”. As ridiculous as all of this is, he comes into conflict with Philip the Fair over the latter’s desire to impose levies on the church’s income. The Pope responds by issuing bulls against the king, and is derided in turn. After a feud with the king’s representatives, the Pope absolves the people all sins except sacrilege and stealing from the church, and then, Przybyszewski claims, he died while possessed by the Devil. From there the church declines further. Benedict XI released Phillip from excommunication, and then died of poisoning. From there the church was seemingly handed over to Phillip the Fair, who appointed Clement V as Pope under restrictions, and Clement V embarked on an inspection trip in which he stole from the French clerics. He cooperated in paying the king a tenth of church income, but this was not enough, so he “abandoned the Jews to him”, presumably meaning he let the king expel all Jewish people from France in 1306. When this was still not enough, Clement V withdrew all of Boniface’s bulls and elected cardinals that would ensure the new Pope would be completely under the king’s control, hoping to curry his favor. Still not enough, Clement V had to bring the Knights Templar to the king to be judged as heretics and executed. This, Przybyszewski says, outraged the people, and from there Satan went from being the god of secret societies and a handful of magicians to being the only god for the people. God could not be expected to give what was offered by Satan, he could only deliver torments to humanity and withheld paradise from them, and as the people turned to Satan his power grew immeasurably. Only Satan could give power to the weak, honor to the despised, vengeance to the wronged, and love to estranged lovers, and Satan alone was the god of the poor, the deceived, and the despised.
Here we see that Satan is, in truth, no elitist. How can he be, with “Evil” as universal as it is? And with the church in decline and God discredited in absence, Satan proved to be the true patron of the downtrodden. Satan was offering everything to the masses, God denied everything but torments to the masses, Christ was nowhere to be found and the masses were sick of Christ anyway. Christ’s position as the patron of the masses is at this point thoroughly discredited, although I should note that even in the Bible he never was the champion of the poor; how can he be, when all he has to offer the poor is the “good news” and the assurance that poverty will always exist?
And Satan was everywhere by now. He was in every household, he encountered people everywhere, he could even be sold in bottles. The ranks of hell swelled to 72 princes and over 7 million common devils. Sorcery became prolific, and so the authorities began charging people for it and punishing them with death, torture, and even rape. Przybyszewski appears to be referring to the three daughters of Philip the Fair, which is strange because in reality they were all charged not with sorcery but with adultery, and certainly not punished in the ways he seems to describe. The royal families were caught in adultery and crime, and Satan rubbed his hands together at the sight of such times. Then, eventually, there was a new idol: gold. Gold was the new God, and also the new Antichrist. Gold could be used to create treasures, fulfill every worldly wish, and even grant souls a place in heaven. The church turned it into crosses, reliquaries, and chalices, while other “important people” made jewelry and luxury with it. But gold began to run out. Everyone began a fanatical search for gold. Gold was seemingly manufactured, but it continually evaporated. Everyone needed gold, and at any price they would have it. The “prince of the earth” possessed all the gold, held onto it, and was willing to give some of it, but at the price of your immortal soul. People began a relentless persecution of Jewish people because they were believed to have all the gold and know where it was, but this was for naught. In the end, the people once again turned to Satan for gold. In this, Satan himself was gold, and he turned the church into a whore, the government into a band of counterfeiters, judges to scoundrels, priests to profiteers, peasant women to prostitutes, and morality to depravity. For gold the Templars were destroyed, for gold the church was expropriated by kings, for gold Jewish people were persecuted, and for gold the nobles began torturing the peasants. The people hid what gold they had from the nobles, and after a long period of oppression they violently rose up against the nobles and the priests, killing and plundering their oppressors and desecrating sacraments, but only to be suppressed each time. Through all this the peasants turned to Satan, The Devil, because only he had compassion for them, only he could bring them happiness, however brief, and only he could grant them vengeance against the nobles.
By now, Satan’s role as the champion and avenger of the oppressed is clear, and in this he emerges as the inverter and revealer of power and class. In his temptations, his blasphemies, and his gold, he inverts the power of the church and thereby revealing its true basis: not in righteousness, not even in God, but in acquisition; an acquisition shared by the state, by the nobles, quite arguably by everyone at least from Przybyszewski’s standpoint. Satan revealed the true nature of the authority hanging over the people, and the people then turned to Satan as their true saviour, the only one who could give the people what they really wanted. Not salvation, but freedom. Not peace, but revenge. Not abstinence, but indulgence. Not the daily bread, but gold. Christ could only promise the “good news”, and God could only promise torment in this life and heaven after it if only you obeyed him, and the nobles and the priests who oppressed the peasants did so in the name of God and his Christ. Thus Satan stands as the enemy and the subverter of the ruling classes, not their friend.
What follows next is another indictment of the medieval ruling classes. The nobles took a liking to abusing and torturing the peasants and common folk, and we are told that they developed increasingly elaborate ways of satisfying their brutality. One such way according to Przybyszewski was that the peasant would be thrown into a dough barrel, which was then tipped over, and the noble would put the peasant’s wife over the barrel and have their way with her, and they made their child watch while a cat was bound to the child’s leg and scratched the child every time they screamed. This is what Przybyszewski refers to as “ius primae noctis”, or “right of the first night”, in which feudal lords were supposedly entitled to assault women under their sovereignty during their first wedding night. It’s all very lurid and outrageous, certainly scandalising for the ruling class. But most modern historians conclude that this was a fictitious practice, whose accounts originate only from later sources and not from medieval accounts. Przybyszewski, as a 19th century man, no doubt took the side of a historical debate at the time on the subject which insisted that it was all true. In any case, within the scope of Przybyszewski’s narrative, such abuses naturally drove the people to a breaking point, and meanwhile people were dying of a plague that ravaged the land, and then dying of starvation afterwards. In this setting, no one worked, people waited for death, but in the country people fled to the woods and gathered to worship the Devil. Flagellants marched throughout France, the people became epileptic and performed orgiastic dances in the face of death, while the kings and emperors had gone mad. People renounced heaven and did not forget the misery in their hearts. It seemed that nothing really mattered, the popes were mocked and scorned and their authority ignored, and it was “better to kiss the stinking ass of a corpse than the mouth of Peter”.
Satan, in this setting, became popular, and so did the practice of magic and sorcery, which achieved the highest honour it ever had. The “witch-masters” in all nations gathered to summon demons that could possess the king, herbs with magical properties were brewed in cauldrons, the king enjoyed himself with an emerald magic book, and pearls were ground into dust that was used by magicians to please the Devil. Everyone enthusiastically participated in conjurations and the people performed orgiastic dances and carnal celebrations on the mountaintops to honour the Prince of Darkness. Meanwhile, alchemical laboratories were made to manufacture gold and people mixed poison in the courts of the dukes. Satan was now loved instead of feared, and even imitated in dress. Women would wear horned headdresses while showing their breasts and bellies, while men would wear stockings covered in magical signs, boots tipped with claws, and pouches that accentuated their genitals. Satanist sects arose, grew, and spread everywhere, and there was no village that did not have a dedicated Satanic congregation and nocturnal orgies.
And thus, the church of Satan is born, and the cult of Satan flourishes. Out of the oppressions of the church and feudal society, out of the madness of a world buckling underfoot, Satan’s cult arises as the true vehicle of the liberation of the people, it grows as the negative space from underneath the Christian church which then finally unravels it. Of course, at this point it must be stressed once more that a lot of this is best taken as pure narrative. If you were to take all of this as actual history, you would run into severe problems, and to put it forward as history today would be an act of revisionism. Still, my point was about what to derive about the philosophy and ideology of Przybyszewski’s Satanism. And what do we understand of it? Well, Przybyszewski has so far reiterated his construction of “Manichaeanism” which is no way the real Manichaeaism, but from which we derive the following:
- Przybyszewski’s Satanism believes in the primacy of Satan, “The Black God”, as the author of sin and the father of corporeal life.
- On this basis, free will is denied, and therefore no one is culpable of sin.
- On that basis, the doctrine of eternal damnation or punishment after death is completely rejected.
- Not unlike Manichaeism or Gnosticism, there is a dualism between matter as “evil” and spirit as “good”, but unlike these religions, Satanism favours “evil” and matter over “good” and heaven/spirit.
- Przybyszewski’s Satanism also endorses the “autocratic imagination of mysticism”, by which is simply meant a form of mystical individualism, or individualistic mysticism.
- Przybyszewski’s Satanism upholds pride, and especially pride in committing “sin”, as a virtue, while rejecting obedience and humility before God.
This idea then develops further through schism, and from “Manichaeanism” we get a cult based entirely on worshipping Satan as “The Black God” through nocturnal orgies in the wild. Magick for self-interested ends is a part of Przybyszewski’s Satanism, and Satan is of course the patron of these arts, for Satan encourages people to transgress. Much of this section has been less an exploration of Satanism and more an exploration of Christian decline, but the inversion presented by Satan’s vengeance gives us an important suggestion of a Satanic attitude towards political power; the rulers of the world rule in the name of faith, and faith rules by control, orthodoxy, and fear, but the basis of their authority is in no way righteous, and is instead greed and violence. Satan contains within himsel the negativity which is that same greed and violence, which is revealed to be shared across all social strata, and the negative spaces upon which Christendom establishes itself and then deteriorates and decays. It also establishes Satan’s place not as the patron of some elite values or as some Social Darwinist but instead as the real champion of the people, and the sole source of their deliverance, liberation, fulfillment, and vengeance against the powerful. Satan is the greed that impels the people against the greed of the powers that be, and which calls not for abnegation but for fulfillment in the liberating revenge against the powers that be and the long oppression that hangs over them. For Satan did indeed take pity on their long misery!
But, hold the thought, because Przybyszewski promises more, a greater divulgence of Satan’s church in the next chapter. Of course, we will explore further in the second half of my commentary.
Prelude to “The Cult of the Church of Satan”
So far we have established Przybyszewski’s Satanism as essentially a doctrine of libertinism, egoism, and individualistic mysticism centered around the worship of Satan. Przybyszewski presents this Satanism as having originated in the pre-Christian polytheistic worship of nature and generation – the “heathen cult” as Przybyszewski calls it – before it was driven underground by the Christian church, and then evolved into “Manichaeanism” and other heresies before the church of Satan proper began in earnest. Satan, as the patron of the generation of flesh and vengeance against the church, worked his influence into the world through heresy and revolt and then delivered the people fron the torments of God into and brought about a new age of Satanism. The church of Satan humiliated and competed against the Christian church, and orgies of sin shared with demonkind swept across the land.
But this is only the beginning of Przybyszewski’s narrative exploration of his philosophy of Satanism. The next section, “The Cult of the Church of Satan”, continues to convey it, but in a grisly narration of the story of witchcraft, the “sabbats” of Satan, and the “black mass”. Here Przybyszewski’s Decadent sensibilities colour his expression of Satanic negativity, and it takes a certain amount of discernment and context to get used to it. But through it all, we are gradually acquainted with the real substance of his nihilist philosophy of transgression which makes up the essence of Satanism as he defines it.
I hope you look forward to the second half of my commentary on Stanislaw Przybyszewski’s The Synagogue of Satan.
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