In December 2017 and February 2018 The Satanic Scholar published a two-part essay entitled “Lucifer Aspired to be a God, not a Goat,” which has captured the imagination of many within the Satanic community.
The crux of his argument is that the image of Lucifer as a beautiful angelic being is more in line with the noble character of Lucifer portrayed by the Romantic-era writers—the angel who was punished by a petty selfish God merely for putting his own reason and aspirations above blind faith and obedience—than the dark, twisted “evil” aesthetic most commonly seen in the Satanic community.
Because many Satanists, especially those who are drawn to The Satanic Temple, find inspiration in that romantic-era characterization of Satan, The Satanic Scholar argues that they should reject the the dark “evil-looking” aesthetic in favor of this more beauty-and-enlightenment oriented symbolism.
“L’ange du mal” (the angel of evil) is a statue of Lucifer by Joseph Geez that was commissioned to stand in the pulpit of St. Paul’s Cathedral in Liège, Belgium. It was completed and installed in 1842. The cathedral administration declared that he was too sexy, and the local press said it would distract the young women during mass. So it was removed.
While I have a lot of appreciation for the “Satan as rebellious hottie” narrative, I’ve never felt very comfortable with the approach The Satanic Scholar takes in his article.
I’ve always viewed Satanism as a very personal religion, and aesthetics are perhaps the most personal aspect of almost any religion. So when someone tries to make a case that people should reject one aesthetic in favor of another, it feels very strange to me.
My view of Satanic aesthetics is: if you are drawn to a symbolism or a type of imagery, then embrace it. Model it in your life, if you like, so others can see it as well. If it resonates with them, they may adopt it themselves. If it does not resonate with them… who cares? What difference could it possibly make to you whether some other Satanist is inspired more by a regal Lucifer on gossamer wings, or a demon with twenty eyes and scales who vomits blood?
After all, both are beautiful in their own way.
The Satanic Scholar tried to interview me for material for his article, back in the beginning of 2017. None of that interview made it into his final article… probably because I disagreed with the goals of the piece so strongly.
But looking back on that correspondence, I feel I expressed my perspective well. So, to contrast with The Satanic Scholar’s article “Lucifer Aspired to be a God, not a Goat”, I would like to share the email interview, and my reactions to the ideas he presented even before the article came out.
The best summary of my response, I believe, is: Lucifer aspired to be… whatever he wanted to be. And so should you.
From:The Satanic Scholar
Jan 22, 2017, 5:04 PM
As per your request, the following is my twofold question on Satanic aesthetics (in e-mail form):
1) While The Satanic Temple appears to make more of an effort than the Church of Satan to place itself in the Miltonic-Romantic tradition—e.g., “Ours is the literary Satan best exemplified by Milton and the Romantic Satanists, from Blake to Shelley, to Anatole France—there appears to be very little visual overlap with that tradition, and in fact much of the imagery and aesthetics of The Satanic Temple appear quite close to the Church of Satan’s: goats, horns, skulls, and general Halloween-style horror imagery. A bestial Satan seems somewhat fitting for LaVeyan Satanism, considering its overemphasis on Man as “just another animal,” but if The Satanic Temple is an evolution within the Satanic tradition—a less “animalistic” form of Satanism, say—do you believe an evolution of aesthetics might be in order?
2) Satanism’s dark and frightful imagery—at least when it’s not deliberately tongue-in-cheek—seems fitting for the cold, often brutal Social Darwinist philosophy of LaVeyan Satanism, but such imagery appears somewhat disconnected from The Satanic Temple’s deliberate stress on a more humanitarian form of Satanism. Have the imagery and aesthetics shared with the Church of Satan made it difficult for The Satanic Temple to differentiate itself from LaVey’s philosophy/organization?
Any thoughts you are able to share with regards to this issue are most appreciated.
To: The Satanic Scholar
Jan 24, 2017, 3:23 PM
Thanks for your email. These certainly are very interesting and insightful questions. I’m going to slightly re-word the questions that you presented, in an effort to make sure I understood them correctly. If you feel that I have misunderstood or misinterpreted the meaning or spirit of the question, please let me know and I am happy to make an effort to answer the question you intended!
1) Since The Satanic Temple embraces a less animalistic interpretation of Satanic philosophy than the Church of Satan, does it make sense for them to embrace a shift in the aesthetic as well?
While this perspective is understandable, I think it is based on a fairly surface reading of the meaning and role of dark imagery within Satanism. For me, a very important part of the Satanic religious narrative and iconography is the way that embracing an inverted perspective allows us to deconstruct basic religious symbols and assumptions that woven deeply into the culture around us — so deeply that they often are completely unnoticed. Looking at the myth of the “war with heaven” from the fallen angel’s perspective falls within the same tradition, from this perspective, as post-modern literary works such as Grendel (a retelling of Beowulf from the monster’s perspective). It can be used to shake up very basic assumptions that you make about any story.
So for me, the “dark” aesthetic of Satanism isn’t so much about expressing animal nature, it is about conceptual inversion: what is it about these images that makes everyone think they are “bad”? Why exactly are some features considered “beautiful” and others “ugly”? In what ways does it impact our day-to-day lives when we are constantly told we should associate physical (and even sexual) beauty with goodness and a lack of physical (or sexual) beauty with immorality and evil? Can we remove ourselves far enough from these deeply ingrained cultural assumptions that we can appreciate “dark beauty” as no more inherently unnatural than what we have been conditioned to assume “beauty” should mean?
When interpreted from that perspective, these elements of the Satanic aesthetic do indeed transcend any differences that The Satanic Temple and the Church of Satan may have in their specific philosophies. Indeed, conceptual inversion and the deconstruction of standard cultural symbols is, in my opinion, one of the strongest elements of commonality between the two organizations.
2) Has the fact that The Satanic Temple and the Church of Satan share much of the same imagery possibly contributed to confusion between the two, and would it serve the interests of The Satanic Temple to evolve a distinct aesthetic in order to make it easier for people to distinguish between the two?
This is the easiest question for me to answer, because I don’t believe that it is within our interests, nor is it consistent with our goals, to deliberately manipulate the way we express the symbols of our religious history and tradition simply to “be different from” any other organization. Nor should we manipulate the expression of our religious history or tradition in order to conform to any other organization. For most people, religious narrative and iconography has a deep personal resonance, and that deep personal resonance is in part what motivates a person to make it part of an identity: “I am a Satanist”.
If the image of a bright and triumphant beautiful Lucifer resonates with any member of The Satanic Temple, then xe is encouraged to embrace that aspect and expression of xir own Satanic impulse. In fact, at a meeting of The Satanic Temple Dallas chapter this past weekend, I presented the idea of making use of this type of image and asked people how they felt about that kind of symbolism: most people loved it! They thought it could be used to send a very powerful message about the diversity of expressions and perceptions of Satan, and could potentially trigger people to think more deeply about the nuances of that figure in mythology.
But, to embrace such a change in aesthetics simply because it makes it easier for people to “tell us apart” from another organization? That is not an impulse that resonates for me. In my personal opinion, it is no more virtuous to be a “reverse sheep” than it is to be a sheep.
Please let me know if you have any questions, or would like me to expand on any of the things I expressed here.
From:The Satanic Scholar
Jan 25, 2017, 11:06 PM
Thank you very much indeed for your thoughtful responses to my questions.
From my studies of the Devil in history and literature, I find that animalizing Satan seemed to be a means of humbling the prideful angel within Christendom. This idea of Lucifer’s beauty being tarnished—the luminous rebel angel transformed into a malformed monster—was central to the story even up until Vondel’s Lucifer, the closest literary cousin of Milton’s Paradise Lost. Milton’s insistence on the fallen archangel retaining a great deal of his angelic beauty was quite a revolutionary decision, and the Romantic artists who rendered Milton’s Satan in classically beautiful and heroic guise—with Apollonian beauty and Promethean pride—really had it right. Shelley quite rightly observes that the Devil “owes everything to Milton” at least in part because “Milton divested him of a sting, hoofs, and horns, clothed him with the sublime grandeur of a graceful but tremendous spirit—and restored him to the society.”
I understand your point about inverting popular imagery used to demonize “the other” in order to deconstruct that demonization, and I respect that as your personal take on it. As for most Satanists—and I have no statistical data on this, but this is a hunch—if we were to conduct some surveys on why they embrace the imagery and iconography associated with Satanism, my suspicion is that they would say that that is what Satanism has offered up. (It certainly hasn’t promoted Satanic iconography derived from Romanticism, as it took me a great deal of time to unearth all of the artwork I have displayed on my site, and it wasn’t from scouring Satanist websites.) I have a feeling that the goatish or animalistic aesthetic doesn’t necessarily speak to Satanists across the board, but they adopt it because it’s been traditionally considered Satanic. Again, this is just a hunch; but then again, the story you related in your response—the Dallas Satanic Temple members becoming stirred by the more Romantic-style Satan and enthusiastically embracing the idea of exploiting that imagery as a means of making people think outside of the proverbial box—seems to indicate that there is potential for more of a Miltonic-Romantic shift within Satanism, should Satanists be willing to promote that aesthetic more.
And why not, I suppose? One of my chief problems with LaVeyan Satanism is that it puts a bit too much emphasis on “Man, the animal.” Of course, humans are a part of the animal kingdom, not distinct from it as some divine creature, but I believe, as the Romantics did, that the human drive for transcendence is what differentiates us from our fellow beasts of the field. I suspect that that is why humans have always indulged in fantasies of the superhuman—whether it’s Greco-Roman demigods or Marvel superheroes. And that is perhaps another point worth making: we are undoubtedly living in the age of the superhero, and perhaps it should come as no surprise that the Paradise Lost film—before its plug was pulled and the project was cast into development hell, at least—was being promoted at the San Diego Comic-Con; or that the most significant modern-day manifestation of the Miltonic-Romantic Lucifer has been in a comic book: Vertigo’s Lucifer. Maybe the time is right for a less bestial and a more superhuman Satan—the Satan derived from the Romantic tradition.
In any event, thank you very much once again for taking the time to respond to my inquiries. I hope you are interested in continuing this dialogue.
To: The Satanic Scholar
Jan 26, 2017, 7:25 PM
I agree with everything you say about having an appreciation for the Milton-Romantic image of Lucifer. But I think what I still don’t understand or connect with about your questions is this: suppose I agree with you… so what?
I don’t mean that flippantly, but honestly, as in: what are the next steps?
You seem very impassioned about the importance of encouraging the Romantic artistic representation of Satan within Satanism. Apart from educating people about it, and spreading your own enthusiasm through your articles and videos, how does one go about trying to motivate an evolution of aesthetic among Satanists? What is the “action item”, as it were, to try to bring this idea into being?
From:The Satanic Scholar
Jan 31, 2017, 12:13 AM
My apologies for the delayed response. Things have been somewhat chaotic over the past few days. I’m certainly wildly passionate about preserving the legacy of the Miltonic-Romantic Lucifer, which of course is the central aim of the site. As for how to actualize a redirection of Satanism proper more in this direction…I’m not so sure…
Generally speaking, I have found it somewhat strange that Satanists, who of course embrace Satan symbolically as a representation of sublime selfhood, have not capitalized more on the Romantic tradition, which was the purest expression of this sentiment. Even a cursory glance of the Romantic Satanic artwork illustrates that the fallen angel was at the height of his career then. I can say that—with the exception of Gavin Baddeley, of course—LaVeyan Satanists have not taken much of an interest at all in the flag I’m flying. I’ve felt more and more that their anxiety over protecting the legacy of LaVey has kept them mired in the context in which he founded the Church of Satan. For instance, LaVey’s insistence on “Man as just another animal” was not only meant to fly in the face of Judeo-Christian theology but ’60s Eastern mystical occultism. If LaVeyan Satanism had an opportunity to exploit the Romantic spirit of opposition to political and cultural oppression with Satan as an ideological weapon, I suppose it would have been during the Satanic Panic in the 1980s and ’90s. Instead, Satanism shifted into a sort of quasi-fascist phase.
I suppose you could say that I lost a great deal of confidence in organized Satanism over the years. I’ve noted a tendency to downplay or even dismiss Romantic Satanism as “genuine Satanism” because those involved—some of the most titanic intellectuals, poets, prose writers, and artists around the turn of the nineteenth century—were not part of some Satanic organization. I’m inclined to argue that Romantic Satanism was more impressive because it emerged organically, without the need for some organized governing body. The nascent neo-Romantic Satanism I sense in the culture seems to be emerging in a similar fashion, those involved simply contributing to a particular current.
My work, I must say, has been well received by members of The Satanic Temple, who are far more open-minded about the phenomenon of Romantic Satanism, and I’m grateful for that. But will there be a Romantic-style shift in Satanism? I’m not so sure, and while I understand that the choice of Baphomet for the Oklahoma State Capitol monument was meant to be emblematic of balance—up and down, angelic and bestial, human and animal, male and female, etc.—as the statue was balancing out a Ten Commandments monument, my suspicion is that the Baphomet monument most likely cemented The Satanic Temple’s aesthetic, both outside and inside of the organization.
I’ve been rambling on, but the short answer is I’m not sure. I suppose I’m inclined to think that organized Satanism isn’t likely to make a significant shift in more of a Miltonic-Romantic direction, but I’m reminded of your story of some Satanists finding the fallen angel iconography rather stirring, and I’m reminded of the fact that my work appears to have been pretty well received by The Satanic Temple Dallas’s members. Who knows? Satanism has certainly surprised the world before.
To: The Satanic Scholar
Feb 3, 2017, 4:22 PM
Well, I think it’s great that you are modeling a particular way to interpret Satanism and that some people are seeing it and deciding that it resonates with them enough to follow your lead. But I don’t think it makes sense to try to drum up some kind of “bit push” to get other people to agree with you about what aesthetics should or shouldn’t be. The entire mission of trying to convince people that there are some “more correct” ways to approach their personal religious aesthetic than others seems misguided, to be honest.
And even if we sat in a smoke-filled room and decided: Yes, we must change the dominant aesthetic of Satanism within The Satanic Temple! I still don’t know what that would look like, in action. I think you may believe we (as an organization) have more control over what images appeal to people than we actually do. I suppose your work, putting the ideas out there and seeing who responds, is the only way to really find out.