Black Mass, Bright Angel
I note that this is not only the eve of Walpurgisnacht, but the eve of the 50th anniversary of the Paris Uprising of May '68.
Angels have been rendered anathema due to the ministrations of the New Age, yet Angelology, the study of angels, is of fundamental importance in that it is the demonstrable foundation of the grimoire tradition, the logic that informs the heresy of witchcraft and the survival of a current of wisdom and magic that can be called prediluvian, that is from before the flood, the great symbolic event that separates us from the ancient past in the rain swollen overflowing of the wine dark sea.
This darkness calls to us, the lack of knowing that speaks of our own occluded histories of our bodies, of drives and desires whose carnality is denied, extracted and then sold back to us in the guise of consumer goods and whose unheeded pronouncements become the narcoleptic image stream of digital media. In the absence of angels, swathed as they are by the waters we are lost in forgetting and distraction. In the absence of knowledge we become marked by rejection and reaction which as a path to understanding is insufficient in that it easily becomes an end in itself.
We are in the midst of a second flood; a flood of information that without being embedded and given meaning in the body, the flesh and the world – which St Paul identified as the province of the Devil – is caustic. It is a second baptism that removes not only the maternal blood line, pagan daemon and stellar nativity, but accomplishes something far more destructive than an exorcism that delivers one into the community of faith. The second deluge creates a tabula rasa from which isolated individualism is the inevitable outcome.
Yet I have a different outcome in mind, one in which it is not the individual in isolation, but in relationship, as in the original angelic conspiracy, one of sworn allegiance to the liberation of humanity from the tyranny of the demiurge and his oligarchs. This was the ur-story told in the Babylonian epic Atrahasis; we are not ditch diggers for the Anunanki, neither did the Serpent deny us knowledge, nor did Prometheus steal the fire just for himself. Ours is the original liberation theology. I therefore aspire to a community of equals whose standard bearer is primus inter pares, first among equals, the bright angel, Lucifer.
The study of angels, the encounter with angels can be used to remedy the loss of the major pillar of modern Satanism – and it is modern, left-wing and radical, dating at the earliest to the Romantic poets, anarchists and feminists, as Per Faxneld has shown. If we are to have a litany of saints, a remembrance of the mighty dead in our practice it is to these Rephaim, the fallen ones that we should pour our wine, honey and milk. If we do not know our saints of the Abyss we have no chain of spirits upon which to draw, which renders magical work ineffectual. The names I will relate to you today are unlikely to be ones that you have considered in relation to your practice, my suggestion is that you should broaden your horizons and do so.
The Lucifer we know is the Romantic Lucifer, like the one in Liège Cathedral executed in patient marble by Guillame Geefs in 1848, naked chained and still clutching his iron crown and a broken stellar sceptre, he is framed with bat wings, and at his feet lies the fatal apple of Eden still bearing the imprint of teeth. Geefs is referencing the 1824 poetic telling of the Lucifer mythos by Alfred Vigny where the virgin Eloa falls for the angel and in attempting his redemption is ultimately dragged to hell. The most intriguing modern attempt to solve this same quandry was in the quaternity of The Process Church of Final Judgement. What cannot be avoided here, in the cool precincts of St Paul’s Cathedral is the summoning of other cultural influences in the eyes of the beholders, Milton’s 1667 Paradise Lost, Goethe’s 1808 Faust, Byron’s 1821 Cain, and Mary Shelley’s 1823 The Modern Prometheus, better known as Frankenstein. In an act of magical doubling Guillame’s Le génie du mal replaced L’ange du mal, a statue of Lucifer created by his brother Joseph, which was deemed too explicit with gaze lowered to parted thighs and suggestive serpent twined about the pedestal. Herein lies the difficulty of Lucifer, a figure whose erotic power fascinates but who cannot be brought to order and who exceeds the biblical canon.
Having established the Romantic heritage of our tradition and its iconography, I will return to my initial metaphor, and the challenge of our own particular age. The pillar of Satanism that has collapsed is that of Christianity and, more broadly, faith itself. According to the most recent survey (Bullivant 2017), religion amongst the youth is moribund: 'Christianity as a default, as a norm, is gone, and probably gone for good – or at least for the next 100 years.' We have won. I am therefore here as an emissary from a post-Christian Europe, and I bring glad tidings.
Or are they? Often victory is fatal to the victor, if they have not prepared for the new circumstances. I want to talk about this in America, because you are a little behind us Europeans; even if the CIA-funded mega churches have begun to slump, religion is a factor here (perhaps in Portland a little less). Regardless, you need to be prepared for the post-Christian age.
Slavoj Zizek points out that, ‘to be part of a community, it is not enough to know the rules, it is necessary to know how to violate the rules.’ These are the acts of satire and misrule that are necessary in maintaining social order, but also the inversion practices – for example reciting the Lord’s Prayer backwards, engaging in non-reproductive sex and so forth – that aim to re-order the world. Therefore we do not need a book of Satanic rituals, they are already woven into the cultural fabric, they are not set down in the book clutched by the Master of the Sabbat in which your name is written, but in the actions of the Sabbat itself. We should know what to do, and our magical path in terms of undoing, of self-overcoming as Nietzsche characterises it in Also Sprach Zarathustra, should be to discover and perform that series of rituals that lead to personal liberation. That is a process that requires not only excess but introspection, a certain degree of brooding and isolation that is out of step with the constant demands of digital time. Byron and the romantics epitomised this satanic virtue. It is the melancholic humor of black bile that has been the target of psycho-pharmacology when we actually require left-handed process rather than pills, as Michel Foucault argued, and when it is society itself that is sick. Isolation is only one aspect of the process, and one that needs to be balanced by community, even if that is a disavowed community or secret society or secret societies.
But if community itself, in the sense of a shared story or set of stories has gone, then so too has much of what we could call the Left Hand Path. Folk Satanism collapses with a loss of oral lore and a disenchantment of place, where the Devil at the bounds of the village is no longer encountered or sought. Neither is the risk of contagion from spirits, the dead or the devil present in every day actions: spilling salt, looking into mirrors, opening scissors, making bread. Parallel to this has been the loss of cunning and witchcraft traditions with the success of modern medicine and the meeting of needs both perceived and created by the machinery of capital. The work of the Romantics now seems verbiose, florid, distant.
This leaves those of us who have experienced, witnessed and provoked non-ordinary events ministered to by the pharmaceutical industry and storied by Hollywood movies and Netflix. This is a poverty of ideas, and a failure of ambition most unbecoming to the Luciferian ideal.
The fact of community and cultural collapse along with alienation, individualism, chronic stress and trauma explain the problems with what could be called third wave Satanism. Indeed, if we are able to parade wearing the signifiers of the anti-church, to congregate openly, then it is a sign of the weakness of our position. We aren’t scaring anyone other than the most reactionary of people for whom we merely reinforce their faith. In a sense Satan himself has become as empty a symbol as Christ, (a trend made explicit by his misuse by atheist hipsters the Satanic Temple whom Chris Knowles accurately lampoons as ‘safe space satanism’). Statues of Baphomet are a sign of the banalisation of occult wisdom, a process perhaps unwittingly begun by LaVey with his Ayn Rand brand of carnival spectacle. I want no part of this.
High church Satanism collapses with Catholicism and the Latin Mass, a trend exemplified by Vatican 2 (1962–1965) and the liberalism of John Paul and now Benedict. There are exceptions to this trend, notably Poland and in terms of the Orthodox Church, Russia. The export of Evangelism from the US to Africa and the status of South America are more complex questions I will not pursue in this talk.
To practice traditional Satanism required the hothouse atmosphere of the decadent period where Catholicism and the values of the Ancien Régime were being challenged; a world evoked by Baudelaire’s 1857 Les Fleurs du Mal, Lautremont’s 1869 Les Chants de Maldoror and Huysmans’ 1891 work Là-bas. We should be cognisant of this history, of these texts and of course those of the philosopher in the bedroom, Donatien Alphonse François de Sade, then Rabelais, Blake, Shelley, Milton and so forth, as these constitute our literature and culture without which we are constituted by the meme and the shopping mall, regurgitators of pre-chewed food who will never develop teeth let alone fangs.
The rejection of Catholicism and the search for the sacred was also very much the project of George Bataille whose life straddled two world wars, and his lover Colette Peignot (also known as Laure) who died in a bloody coughing paroxysm of tuberculosis in 1938. In them Marxism encountered the challenge of Nietzsche via their personal histories; in the case of Laure, sexual abuse at the hands of a priest and literal church burning in the Spanish Civil War, linking hands with the workers to prevent the fire brigade getting past. In the case of Bataille, in his past as a prospective monk and priest. They recognised that Marxism was an erotic failure, it had failed to anticipate Freud, and worse, Fascism was able to exploit this absence and fill it with the spectacle, an idea we also find in the work of Guy Debord and Alice Becker-Ho. The moral policing done by the Social Justice Left in the US makes the same stupid mistakes as classical Marxism but adds to it bourgeoise pearl clutching and unexamined protestantism.
Bataille follows Durkheim in positing a dual aspect to the sacred: the malefic, disordering and contagious alongside the benevolent and ordering. Durkheim writes, ‘an impure thing or an evil power often becomes a holy thing or tutelary power – and vice versa – without changing nature, but simply through a change in external circumstances.’ This is precisely what we see with the fallen angels to whom I will soon turn.
For Bataille the sacred is nature at its greatest intensity, which violates the world of the profane to destroy rationality with ecstasy. The sacred for Bataille is a practice aimed at the renewal of the individual and of society. The work towards a community of lovers culminates in a secret society, Acéphale, and the projected willing human sacrifice of one of their number at a lightning struck oak; it is one of the most controversial episodes in the modern avant-garde, the details of which are only just coming to light. In their work sacrament becomes excrement, and excrement sacrament, in this they are no different from Crowley’s experiments in ways of being at the Abbey of Thelema in Cefalù, Sicily, or the rituals of medieval tantra, but as their work has not been framed in a sufficiently occult manner, or written in bite-sized English, it has been largely missed by anglophone esotericists.
Bataille, Leiris, Caillois and Peignot sought a sacred sociology, seeking to understand the irrational transformative energies at the heart of the sacred. In distinction from Fascism, which is consumed with horror of the ill-disciplined body, the erotic body, and the female body in particular, the sacré gauche, the sacred left, includes the power of filth, of abnegation, of menstrual blood and sex. It locates death as the source of the sacred, it finds the answer for the creation of a new world in excess, in the festival or community ritual. We can recognise this in the Mass or Sabbat. When I say that I am left wing, this is what I mean, a participant in the sacré gauche. Luciferianism cannot afford to ignore the work of these luminaries or the questions they posed, as they are still relevant. That is not to say that Bataille is the final word, I do not share his apophatic theology and think that he needs to be read critically, in light of the work of Giorgio Agamben on homo sacer in particular. He also pre-dates the internet, and the technologies of control that must be part of contemporary Luciferian discourse.
The point I wish to emphasise is that as an engine of diabolism the Catholic church is done, though its symbols will still elicit a response and provide an outer form for the traditions of the anti-church. Yet the sacred endures, if we can find an inner orientation and not be wedded to appearance over substance.
German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk opines, 'It will be advantageous for the free spirit to emancipate itself from the anti-Christian affect of recent centuries as a tenseness that is no longer necessary. Anyone seeking to reconstruct basic communional and communitary experiences needs to be free of anti-religious reflexes.' This is a point worth considering, and I agree we can no longer organise around the ‘anti’ we need to have a ‘pro.’ Such is the mistake made by the identitarian Left in the US and its many moral horrors. We too need joy, love, light in a manner that does not compromise our embrace of the sacred in the averse. Therefore, where I differ from Sloterdijk is that I still see the ritual efficacy in the transgression of religion in order to attain to such a position. We still need our excommunication, our Black Mass, our rite of passage. I spit on the cross, deny Christ, trample the host, but then laughing am free from them, I do not have to keep repeating it and thereby tacitly accepting it as the source of my power.
Before I leave Sloterdijk, it may be advantageous to consider his idea of individuals as ‘foam’ in terms of how we organise and relate rather than part of a larger sphere or bubble of nation or monotheism. It is this change in global culture that has the New Right building compounds and conspiracies, a frightened attempt to return to the bubble. They fear that we are not foam, but just the scum of neoliberal globalisation. I would rather see Aphrodite emerging from such foam, by which I mean to learn to celebrate our victory and the challenges it brings in a world where the bubble of Christendom has burst.
I propose an experiential and theological response to the end of the age of oppositional Satanism and a new phase in the work. Where better to make such a proclamation than in America, the land of new ideas, of youth; this is the magical reason for me being tempted across the Atlantic.
I suggest that we are a dismembered community, but one which can gather, speak freely, break bread and drink wine together. In doing so we can consider what exactly are we left with? Is there any meaning at all in the absence of the old enemy? One response is endless infighting, and the creation of internal enemies; therefore I am critical of ideas and not individuals. I want to see a vibrant, distributed network, not petty fiefdoms who have fallen prey to what LaVey called ‘the silver top cane’ of grand sounding titles and social media spats. We have more in common than in difference, especially when we meet in physical space. The internet is a source of conflict, as its key metric is engagement, which Jaron Lanier, a one-time digital utopian, now sagely points out.
After the orgy?
Jean Baudrillard famously asks, ‘What do we do after the orgy?’ by which he means ‘the moment when modernity exploded upon us, the moment of liberation in every sphere. Political liberation, sexual liberation, liberation of the forces of production, liberation of the forces of destruction, women's liberation, children's liberation, liberation of unconscious drives, liberation of art.’ He argues that everything since this moment is a simulation, not the thing itself; an idea popularised in The Matrix, where Neo hides his passport and cash in a hollowed out copy of Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation. So we must ask, after the manner of Baudrillard, in simulation of Baudrillard, what do we do after the Black Mass?
Yet to ask the question implies that we have partaken in the Mass, in the orgy. The liberation of Baudrillard, the Black Mass that the culture has celebrated, exists for the most part only in the digital, where our dirty secrets are catalogued by the watchers of the NSA for some future inquisition. The actual freedoms, those which we enact, are being systematically curtailed as the simulacra sprawls over our retinas.
As a ritualist, and as a species we are all homo ritualis, we need to have explored our transgressions in the psychodrama of performance, not in order that they become a new orthodoxy by which we are ultimately jaded, but to know ourselves as free individuals. The most effective modern example of this was the work done by the individual Coyotes, Kalis and Edens in the Temple of Psychic Youth. In contrast, the Satanic Bible gave permission to dominate and seek power, to acknowledge one aspect of self-knowing of which ritual was perhaps the least important part compared to the production of aesthetics for the mass media. It is this void that gave rise to the Temple of Set and now Theistic Satanism and Demonolatry. Though we may engage in the formal traditional reversals, particularly in group settings that require a shared symbolic language, it is the personal Black Mass that must be our aim, and increasingly so once we accept the painful truth that the hegemony of Christianity is over, le Roi est Mort, the King is Dead, Christ is dead, the State is dead, Satanism is dead. It may be convenient to meet beneath the shadow of the cross, but we are rushing towards the singularity, an omega point, an apocalypse for which there needs to be a new approach, a reappraisal of where the sacred lies.
To answer Baudrillard, what do we do after the Black Mass? First we must celebrate it, and do so thoroughly by finding the sacred. Next we must resist the simulation, whether that is augmented reality, Westworld or the automatons of LaVey’s basement, and place the body centrally as the altar; our bodies, not just those of idealised others beneath the purely male gaze. Then we must live and embody our practice in perpetual revolution. But how to communicate such a revelation? If there is a common language to be sought it is not in sovereign texts whose meaning has been obliterated, deconstructed in the manner of Jacques Derrida, cut-up in the manner of Gysin and Burroughs. In the war with control our strategy needs to be urgently updated, and though God is dead, we really need to talk about angels and ecology.
Bible study is important, both because it is the text that has been used as the source for the majority of our operative magic, has sown the field of Western culture upon whose bread we have been raised, and perhaps most critically, it is because the text itself has been lost. This has made us prey to invisible forces of the submerged narrative. The stories have been replaced on the one hand by consumerism, and in the counter-culture with an ill-conceived and reactionary Satanism that is often flattering and an intellectually trivial backwater.
My aims are however contra Jordan Peterson, I do not want to rescue and repackage the Bible as Jungian wisdom for a generation of lost boys. Like the Gnostics I find little to recommend the Old Testament God, nor in the Gospels. What I find fascinating are the counter narratives often preserved in the polemics and curses which enable a diverse response to the monoculture in terms of ritual praxis, art, culture and the resistance and resilience of individuals and communities as we get deeper into our own age of apocalypse.
What we see through the lens of angelology, calibrated by critical theory, is that the Bible is not a bound text, but a wild text incorporating the apocrypha, the commentaries, but also sites, stones, artefacts, and the weather. We can benefit from the revolution in biblical scholarship which understands that these texts are embedded in the wider cultural context of the Ancient Near East. Patterns emerge, entities and classes of entities are seen to both persist and transform, right through to present time; and this is how we begin to hunt our angels. It is these extra-canonical elements that enable us to read Revelation in particular, a text that makes no sense without an understanding of the fallen angel traditions. It is wild text theology that characterises my exegetic and ritual approach.
If texts have failed as arbiters of final truth, are the product of unreliable narrators and not the word of God, we are liberated from a single reading and able to function as gnostics; that is the bare minimum we need to take from postmodernism and critical theory. We can enter into the narrative and transform it through our interaction with the forces which it reveals but whom it fails to accurately portray.
Angels are not robed in the blue toned hues of prayer cards making bland pronouncements that ‘All will be well.’ So what does the Bible say on angels? Can we produce a taxonomy, a classification of these beings? The angels in Jacob’s dream of Genesis 28 ascend and descend a ladder, they are not winged. The Cherubs in Ezekiel have human and lion faces and are associated with wheels set with eyes. The six winged Seraphim of Isaiah 6:2 have been described as fiery serpents, speculatively related to the Royal Egyptian Uraeus serpent, but that may be inaccurate. A stone relief excavated from Tel Halaf in Syria has just such a six winged creature, a plumed goddess who grasps twin serpents. The carving shows a marked Babylonian influence and indeed it can be argued that the angels are a Babylonian import.
Readers of my Lucifer: Princeps will further know that these divine messengers are the returning Mighty Dead as birds of prey in Canaanite religion, the epiphanies of lightning and storm, particularly for the Phoenicians, and when finally othered, gain the heraldry of the goat and serpent from Leviticus and Genesis to become the chimeric Devil, or devils, of the Middle Ages. If we are looking for a leader of these angels it is provided by Helel Ben Shahar of Isaiah whom the Septuagint names as Lucifer and combines the Asael and Shemhazah figures of the Enoch books.
Why is this important? Because the angels both pre-date and post-date the Bible.
We have an ecology of spirits under the designation ‘angel,’ from the Greek angelos, messenger. A multiplicity rather than a bound hegemony under a tyrant, a multitude of possibilities. This is a philosophy, a theology and a path of practice. The particular angels that we are interested in are the fallen angels; and what are they like? The answer is terrifyingly simple, they are identical to the rest of the celestial hierarchy in appearance, powers and knowledge. Identical. They aren’t garbed in black robes and sporting inverted pentagrams. The bat wings and horns are a rearguard action to combat the heresy of the angel cults that flourished in the deuterocanonical, or intertestamental, period; then to exteriorise the inner conflict of a riven church; and finally evoked in the anti-hero angel of the social and sexual renegotiation of the Romantic period. But when we read the Book of the Watchers it is absolutely clear that the only difference between the divine angels and the fallen angels is that the fallen angels want to teach us. Such teaching spirits are a consistent presence in human history from the Apkallu to the Daemon to the Holy Guardian Angel. We can either have the unknowable God of Job, controlled by the ministers of the sacré droit, or an open channel of revelation through the sacré gauche and divination through the reading of signs in the sublunar world through which the angels make themselves known.
The angels are either bound forces, functions and expressions of unity, or independent entities. If they are independent, and the evidence is that they are, then theology has a problem; the emanationist Neo-Platonic hierarchy is rendered a nonsense. Angelology ultimately problematises the commonly understood topology of the Bible, of Christ, and the omnipotence of Yahweh. Angels are the ghost DNA preserved across cultures and time, occulted but intact, singing all the while for those who choose to listen.
The issue is not even what the angels teach, it is who they teach. The fallen angel tradition is democratic in that it is available to be read by the people and not by the priest class. Even worse, if we turn to Genesis 6:2 there is a fragment of a tradition: ‘the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose.’ It is women who through their sexuality gained divine lovers and fathered heroic offspring. The texts we are reading are propaganda for Yahweh, so the offspring of the angels are characterised as blood drinkers, destroyers and so forth. The women are the ‘harlots’ whom Revelation 17:5 confides are the daughters of ‘Mystery, Babylon The Great, The Mother Of Harlots And Abominations Of The Earth’; a phrase that can only be understood when read within the fallen angel tradition. Those of you familiar with the work of John Dee and Edward Kelley, Jack Parsons and Cameron will see the continuity; a continuity that is also present in the creation of the witchcraft panic and the witch herself. The pattern is transgression, revelation, transformation. It is therefore under the auspices of Lucifer, and Babalon, that our work is done.
For me, magic is the only solution: contacting and engaging with those beings and classes of being who care for humankind; and binding or redirecting those who are harmful, rather than mistaking our place in the spirit ecology and disrespecting the strong spirits out of personal vanity or from a position of alienation. Tibetan Buddhism is the most developed version of such a practice, our Western equivalent is found in the grimoire tradition within which I include the Enochian project. The grimoires are already in transition from the sacré droit in that they were worked by the clerical underground in the grey zone of the liberation of the fallen angels in preparation for the second coming of Christ. They are subsequently transformed into the sacré gauche, in that we can legitimately appeal to the first among equals rather than Yahweh/God, whom in Europe we executed by guillotine on the 21st of January 1793. Despite a series of revolutions and counter-revolutions, the Place de Bastille is the pilgrimage point given that in 1840 it was graced with a statue of Lucifer by Auguste Dumont, the Génie de la Liberté which has subsequently appeared on the 10F coin, a useful Luciferian talisman. Lucifer is a king in the sense of the anthropology of David Graeber and Marshall Sahlins, rather than a Louis XIV or Donald Trump. It is the head of the hierarchy, and not the operating procedure of the grimoires, that a Luciferian approach rewrites. That is the key to successful modern ritual practice.
How is it then more broadly that we access the realm of the sacred? We can put it in terms of wine, women and song, but to open up a breach also requires sacrifice. Lucifer and the angels fell. Is not the promise of Lucifer light, knowledge and wisdom? If Lucifer is a teaching angel then is not the question how is it that we can become receptive to such knowledge? We need to become vulnerable, from the Latin vulnus, meaning wound; something that the Prometheus story makes explicit as the vulture daily returns to tear out his liver. Bataille also obsesses over this déchirement, wrenching, heartbreak. The choosing to be wounded, just as lovers ache and communicate through their mutual wounds. These ideas also evoke the sparagmos, the tearing or rending in the mysteries of Dionysos, and the corrida, the bullfight. In ritual terms we have the re-enacting of the myth of the fall with the use of inversion postures and practices, of a certain wound mysticism, sex magic, and a constant return to the body as site of ecstasy and suffering, as our culture seeks to remove it as a source of pain, shame and failure.
The answer is not to be sought in texts, but in the body. The body in the special extended sense of the 'body without organs,' the flows, the nomadic and frankly confusing deterritorialised world(s) of Deleuze and Guattari’s Mille Plateaux. (I think Mille Plateaux counts as the most Satanic literary work since Maldoror, everyone should be baffled by it at least once.) It is the body which is the site of ritual actions, that generates the sacred substances; a body that only makes sense in relationship to the world and a community, an ecology of beings. This is the antidote to the abstraction of theologians such as Baudrillard, and the sundry other postmodernists I have quoted, hence the need to meet, to come out of the shadows, but also a rejection of blood and soil reactionaries in the New Right, for whom only certain bodies are citizens, for whom ego loss is experienced in terms of the flag and the nation, not the tumult of the witches' sabbat or the sparagmos of Dionysos or Prometheus on his crag.
I will end with a quote from an essay by Bataille, 'The Sacred': 'God represented the only limits to human will, and freed from God, man alone suddenly has at his disposal all the possible human convulsions, and cannot avoid this heritage of divine power which belongs to him.'
Vive la revolution. Vive le sacré gauche.