The following post is from a paper written for my 2016 course in New Religious Movements. Enjoy!
In truth at first Chaos came to be, but next wide-bosomed Earth, the ever-sure foundation of all the deathless ones who hold the peaks of snowy Olympus, and dim Tartarus in the depth of the wide-pathed Earth, and Eros (Love), fairest among the deathless gods, who unnerves the limbs and overcomes the mind and wise counsels of all gods and all men within them.
-Hesiod, Theogony, 116-1221
The cosmogony of Hesiod and the Pre-Socratics identifies chaos as the genesis from which both the world and the gods emerge. In Greek, this word is sometimes translated as “chasm” or “gap”, and calls to mind the notion of a formless void. Hesiod goes on to note that the two first things born from chaos were Erebus (darkness) and Nyx (night), followed by Day and Aether. Hermann Gunkel documented similar cosmogonies among the Babylonian Enuma elis and the ancient Israelite scriptures, referring to this motif as Chaoskampf: a struggle for order against chaos.
The theme of cosmic battle is recognizable within many religious traditions, and like the saying goes, as above so below. Historically, commentators of various and differing backgrounds have reflected on ways in which they see this cosmic struggle being fought on the smaller scale, as part of our day-to-day lives. In the West, this battle is commonly depicted as good vs. evil, or God vs. the devil. Satanism has stood for innumerable things over the centuries, not only for blasphemy and idolatry, but also for a wide range of challenges to the general social and moral order. Christopher Partridge describes Satanism as a “cult of opposition” in keeping with this picture.2 On the other hand, Jesper Petersen has argued for a satanic milieu – a conglomeration of differing but related discourses on Satanism that can adopt positive, non-Christian, identity-focused perspectives.3 Within this milieu are a variety of satanisms taking rationalist, reactionist, and esoteric forms.
One of these forms that will be the focus of this paper is known as Anti-Cosmic Satanism (ACS). It is best characterized as esoteric in nature, though its particular beliefs also set it apart from many other types of esoteric Satanism. Organizations such as the Temple of the Black Light, Templum Falcis Cruentis, and the (now defunct) Misanthropic Luciferian Order are some of the best known ACS ‘temples’, and the movement has gained significant notoriety from its relationship with an assortment of Northern European black metal bands. ACS is of interest not just because of how relatively unknown it is compared to other satanisms, but also because it features a blend of ideas and influences that can help to expand our understanding of the satanic milieu, while raising valuable questions about the utility of the “Satanist“ label.
In what follows, I will propose three angles through which to locate the place of ACS within the broader satanic milieu: 1) a duality of chaos and order, 2) a reverence for death and a rejection of the material, and 3) radical freedom and magical practice. Kennet Granholm’s work on Post-Satanism will serve as a critical lens through which to consider these issues. On this approach, I will argue that ACS is more meaningfully categorized as satanic rather than post-satanic.
The Devil You Know
The association of light and dark with the forces of good and evil may be one of the oldest and most recognizable pieces of religious imagery. In popular culture, the Prince of Darkness and his minions are often depicted as lurking in the shadows, calling people away from the light, and being most active at nighttime. The darkness, it has sometimes been said, conceals their evil deeds. While the forces of good preserve the peace, create and sustain life, the forces of darkness provoke conflict and engage in corruption, destroying what has been created and ordered. In this we see a further dualistic theme of chaos against order.
Satan did not begin his career as the great enemy of God that he has become known to us as today. Christian theology under the influence of Dante’s Inferno and Milton’s Paradise Lost believes that Satan was once a member of God’s own celestial court of angels, until he was eventually cast out for insubordination. Interestingly, the Hebrew Bible does describe a character that looks quite benign in comparison to the Satan encountered in the New Testament. The Hebrew word ha-satan is traditionally translated as “the adversary”, and in the Book of Job and other places this seems to mean a kind of prosecuting force, or a voice of opposing counsel.4
In the gospels, Satan starts to take on some of his stronger negative characteristics that turn him from an opposer to an oppressor. Matthew 4:1-11 tells of the temptation in the wilderness, where the devil offers all the kingdoms of the world to Jesus in exchange for his worship. There is an implication here that, unlike in the Book of Job, Satan tests the faithful not strictly because God wills it, but because he has desires and ambitions of his own, which are to be exalted in the place of God. However, this is not explicitly stated in the passage. Other New Testament verses are typically utilized to form a fuller picture. Luke 8:12, for example, more clearly states that the devil “comes and takes away the word from their hearts” in deliberate opposition to the gospel, while Revelation 9:11 refers to Satan as the “angel of the abyss”, whose name means Destroyer.
From these scriptures, we find some support for the traditional view of Satan as the adversary of God, the opposer and oppressor of believers, and the destroyer of life. With this in view, we now have a basic ground for understanding what it may mean to speak of an idea or belief as “satanic.” In considering Satan as the opposition to God, we can make sense of other inversive language in Satanism, not only dark as opposed to light, but chaos opposed to order, self-interest opposed to altruism, death opposed to life, and so forth. This likewise applies to certain rituals like the Black Mass, and certain symbols like the upside-down cross – inversions which have been used to represent Satanism.
In his introduction to contemporary religious Satanism, Jesper Petersen contends that all satanic groups and individuals are satanic in the sense that they relate in some way to the figure of Satan. The declaration, “I am a Satanist”, he says, is a speech-act expressing an adversarial stance.5 This invites us to view Satanism in a discursive manner, rather than as something distinctly tied to Christianity, or that is a mere inversion of it. Thanks in part to reimaginings of the devil during the Enlightenment and Romantic eras, Satanism has found a place among other Western esoteric traditions as a self-religion. Whether the aim is rationality, gnosis, or natural development, modern satanisms evince positive aspects as well as the negative or oppositional ones.
Chaos and Order
Anti-Cosmic Satanism articulates many of its core beliefs in three occult texts: Liber Azerate: The Book of the Raging Chaos, Liber Falxifer: The Book of the Left-Handed Reaper, and Liber Falxifer II: The Book of the Anamlaqayin. These texts and the previously mentioned temples paint a very Gnostic image for the cosmogony of ACS. A section of Liber Falxifer reads:
…it was Qayin, the firstborn son whose secret blood lineage linked Him to the acosmic fire of the Outer Light, that became the second gift of the Devil, Samael, to Eve. And it was Qayin who was destined to open the gates between the Kingdom of Black Light (Sitra Ahra) and the Sephirotic realm wherein the demiurge YHWH had imprisoned the sparks of the Divine and Formless Flames of the Unknown Aeon Before All Aeons, through his blind acts of creation.6
The references in this passage to a secret lineage and imprisoned sparks of the divine relate strongly to Christian Gnosticism from the 2nd century CE and on. Gnostic Christians believed the world was created by a false god, the demiurge, and that some of us have “a spark of the divine trapped in our bodies.”7 It is through the attainment of gnosis, or secret knowledge, that we come to realize this and are able to be set free.
We can see that ACS takes some of these ideas a step further. It is not just the Old Testament god Yahweh that is the false god, but the god of Jesus and the New Testament as well. The Liber Falxifer also tells us that the first reality that lies beyond this corrupted world is not the true heaven of Christian teaching, but an acosmic realm associated with the devil and the darkside of the Hermetic Qabalah. As Benjamin Olson puts it, to achieve gnosis is, for the anti-cosmic Satanist, about forming “a mystical union, but with a primal, Satanic chaos; one which returns the practitioner’s ‘acosmic flame’ to its primordial source.“8
The notion of Chaoskampf mentioned above may be a particularly useful way of understanding this aspect of ACS. There is the primordial chaos, the gods of cosmic order, and a struggle between them – albeit chaos is the expected victor for anti-cosmic Satanists. This might also provide some insight into why biblical lore is utilized in Liber Falxifer and other anti-cosmic texts. To an extent, these mythologies and stories do reflect an underlying primal truth, so that they are not just books of total deception, but will mislead the uninitiated. The French Satanic black metal band Deathspell Omega, who has numerous acosmic themes in their lyrics and music, expresses a view very much like this in one of their interviews. Tyler, the interviewer, concludes with a verse from “their book” (the Bible), and is answered by the band: “It is also our book, Tyler, but one among many.”9
Kennet Granholm argues that self-definition is an important factor in seeing a group as either satanic or post-satanic.10 It is clear that ACS self-identifies with the devil and Satanism, but I have tried to also lay some groundwork in the preceding sections for understanding this association of chaos with Satan. In the sense of an adversary, chaos can be thought of as satanic. It is not only opposed to order, but destructive towards it as well. The imagery of the Chaoskampf motif is also suggestive in that chaos is often depicted as a sea monster or dragon, whereas the gods are typically the representations of order. ACS does incorporate ideas and symbols from other traditions, such as Señor De La Muerte, who is discussed at some length in Liber Falxifer. Yet there seems to be a respect in which the cultural prevalence of Judeo-Christian mythology may account for the apparent preference for the character of Satan as emblematic of chaos.
These sorts of associations are not that foreign to esoteric Satanism, either. The Order of Nine Angles (ONA) in the United Kingdom is known to have similarly acausal and Gnostic beliefs.11 David Myatt, an occult author affiliated with the ONA, writes in an essay about “a return to the primal chaos, which the previous succession has covered up through ritual, word and even symbol.”12 Chaos magick advocates a theory that views reality as fundamentally random and disordered. Although not all chaos magicians are Satanists, chaos magick has been quite influential on both ACS and the ONA. Other Left-Hand groups such as the Temple of Ascending Flame, a Luciferian offshoot of Dragon Rouge, espouse philosophies close to that of ACS. “The Void itself is the Womb of the Dragon,” their website says, “the primordial force existing outside the structures of Creation, unnamed and undefined, for it has no form and all forms at the same time”.13
Death, if that is what we want to call this non-actuality, is of all things the most dreadful, and to hold fast what is dead requires the greatest strength.
We have just looked at some of the Gnostic aspects of ACS, particularly its distaste for the material realm created by the demiurge. In 2nd century Gnosticism, this rejection of the physical was accompanied by an ascetic withdrawal from the world. Anti-cosmic Satanists likewise repudiate worldly existence, focusing on death as release and ascension.
On this subject, Liber Falxifer states that death “was thus introduced into the world by the forces of the Other Side, as a means for the Black Light to help liberate the parts of the Unformed Fires of Spirit that are kept imprisoned inside the causal forms of cosmos.”15 While gnosis may bring the elect to realize who they really are, it is ultimately the demise of life that frees them and returns them to the chaotic pleroma. In Liber Falxifer I and II, several death-oriented folk traditions from Argentina, Haiti, and Mexico are described as paths to gnosis, and along with the Qayinitic tradition in these texts, it can be seen that death worship is an important part of ACS.
Self-injury has been associated with Satanism and black metal for some time. One of the earliest black metal bands, Mayhem, became infamous for the antics performed by its appropriately named vocalist Dead, who would cut himself on stage, bury his clothes, and once erected pig heads on stakes for a live show.16 The imagery of death is clear here, and although the band did not practice ACS as discussed in this essay, the connections are worth noting, particularly as Dead would eventually commit suicide in 1991. Another early black metal musician, Jon Nödtveidt of the band Dissection, was a member of the Misanthropic Luciferian Order. In 1997, Nödtveidt was convicted as an accesory to murder, and two years after his release in 2004, he would also commit suicide. As he explained in an interview, “The Satanist decides of his own life and death and prefers to go out with a smile on his lips when he has reached his peak in life, when he has accomplished everything, and aims to transcend this earthly existence.”17
Death can be viewed as satanic in much the same sense as chaos. It is destructive of, and antithetical to, life. In John 8:44, Jesus refers to the devil as “a murderer from the beginning”, evoking the Fall and yet also the story of Cain and Abel, where the first murder and the first death occur in the Torah. ACS claims for itself a Cainitic (or Qayinitic) tradition,18 as we have already found, but its use of the Qliphoth is an additional way death is represented as satanic. In Qabalah, the Qliphoth are the dark opposites of the divine Sephirot, and as the symbolic diagram of the Sephirot is known as the Tree of Life, the Qliphoth has its own Tree of Death. To worship death and reject material existence is to oppose the alleged gift of life given by God.
In this, ACS differs quite substantially from rationalist and reactionary satanisms, like the Church of Satan or The Satanic Temple. Anton LaVey wrote in support of a kind of self-deification that appears fairly avoidant of death and is tied in some ways to this world. LaVey talks about an ego that “has fought to the end for [its] earthly existence” and will not perish even after the flesh decays.19 The Satanic Temple and reactionary groups that seek to provoke for mainly political, social, or personal reasons embrace a form of Satanism that also seems very much concerned with the goings-on of material existence. The Temple of Set may be closer to ACS in philosophy than these others, with its concepts of xeper and immortality, but it is worth noting how they have moved beyond Satanism into Setianism while anti-cosmic Satanists remain affiliated with Satanism. There does not seem to be as clear a sense of “drift” in the way Kennet Granholm finds with the Temple of Set.
Freedom and Magic
As with other types of Gnosticism, ACS considers reunion with the divine to be spiritually liberating and indicative of a radical freedom from physical and worldly constraints. It is an antinomian view that finds salvation not in obedience to religious law or dogma, but in faith or gnosis. Within the Left-Hand Path tradition, there is a distinctly transgressive flavor to this antinomianism. In Liber Falxifer II, some explanation for this oppositional attitude is given in the resistance of the Black Light to the demiurge:
Where the Demiurge had bound by laws of restriction all within and from himself for the sake of the order, contrasting the Acausality of Ain, it would instead uphold freedom and Chaos as the only Law.20
Freedom, like chaos, is boundless to the practitioner of ACS. As Jon Nödtveidt says in the previously mentioned quote, the Satanist decides his or her own life and death. A strong notion of individuality can also be located in this picture.
According to texts like Liber Falxifer I and II, those of the Qayinitic bloodline have a spark of the divine within them that sets them apart from others. This grants them the ability to receive gnosis and to transcend the mortal sphere at death. It also gives them warrant to transgress the laws of morality, religion, society, and so forth here on Earth. Yet limitless freedom and radical individuality are accompanied by a kind of ascetic yearning for a realm beyond this realm which calls into question how socially transgressive practitioners of ACS really aim to be. Liberation, it might be worth pointing out, is not said to be gained on this view from destroying order or destroying life, but from a measure of self-realization that extends into death, when the self is released from the restrictions of life and matter.
The occult magical practices of anti-cosmic Satanists serve to further highlight the sense of freedom and individuality in their teachings. In an article on magic in Satanism, Jesper Petersen cites a variety of different practices that are sometimes used in ACS: “‘Kliffotic (Qliphothic) ceremonial magic’, ‘grimoire based demonology’, ‘the Babylonian Cult of Tiamat, Draconic forms of Typhonian Setianism, Nephilimic forms of Traditional Witchcraft, Necrosophic systems of sorcery, certain extreme forms of Left-Hand Path Tantrism’ and so on“.21 The object of this all is stated to be self-deification. Petersen refers to the Dragon Rouge and its comments on how magick develops and ennobles the individual. “Man becomes a god,” the organization says, “when he ceases to be a creation and instead becomes a creator.“22
Much of Western esoteric magic is based on will and is creative. This complements other forms of creativity often seen in occult groups and satanisms in particular, like the surprising association of black metal music with Satanism, even with ACS itself. For the anti-cosmic Satanist, magick is a liberating communion with the divine, but it is also radically individualistic in that it involves the magician harnessing powers to her will, or navigating the Qliphoth of her own accord. Unlike in traditional Western monotheistic religion, there is a sense of no limitations here, no natural or supernatural boundaries which ‘man was not meant to cross.’
In a 2001 survey, James R. Lewis found that only 14 out of 96 Satanists do not believe in the efficacy of magic.23 Although most of those who did say they believe stipulated that magic is not “supernatural”, this is nevertheless one area in which ACS is in very good company. The emphases on radical freedom and Satan as the symbolic liberator of the self are other common themes among modern Satanism. On the other hand, Kennet Granholm argues that “discourses of individualism, self-deification, and antinomianism” in the Temple of Set are precisely what make it more suited to the Left-Hand Path designation than to Satanism.24 The difficulty with this, which Granholm acknowledges, is the Temple’s past history with Satanism. It complicates the question of where these discourses come from, not to mention the monumental task it leaves of trying to separate out the frequently overlapping approaches of the Left-Hand Path and esoteric Satanism. To agree with Granholm, then, it may be wise to reserve the post-satanic label for those Left-Hand groups that do not self-identify with Satanism, or for those that are actively working to move away from that identification.
Anti-cosmic Satanism draws on a number of ideas that help us to understand its place within the larger satanic milieu. We have seen how its teachings on chaos and order, life and death, and freedom and magick relate it to other satanic traditions, as well as how they cause it to stand out in some ways. Though ACS comprises a small subset of Satanists, appreciating its similarities and differences with other “sinister” spiritualities gives us a more well-rounded picture of modern Satanism, and allows us to make more sense of certain trends against hedonism and nihilism that have emerged in the black metal scene and other artistic and occult venues. ACS is also admittedly controversial in its concentration on things like death and chaos, and a closer look at this subject matter and its usage within the tradition can help us better understand what it means to be a practicing anti-cosmic Satanist.
- “Hesiod, Theogony,” Perseus Digital Library, accessed November 28, 2016, http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Hes.+Th.+116.
- Christopher Partridge, The Re-Enchantment of the West, Vol. 2: Alternative Spiritualities, Sacralization, Popular Culture and Occulture (London: T&T Clark, 2005), 222-223.
- Asbjørn Dyrendal, James R. Lewis, and Jesper Aa. Petersen, The Invention of Satanism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016), 3.
- Elaine Pagels, The Origin of Satan (New York: Random House, 1995), 39.
- Jesper Petersen, Contemporary Religious Satanism: A Critical Anthology (Farnham: Ashgate Publishing Ltd., 2009), 3.
- N.A-A.218, Liber Falxifer: The Book of the Left-Handed Reaper (Tampere: Ixaxaar Occult Literature, 2008), 72.
- Bart D. Ehrman, Forged: Writing in the Name of God – Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are (New York: HarperCollins, 2011), 96.
- Benjamin Hedge Olson, “At the Threshold of the Inverted Womb,” International Journal for the Study of New Religions 4, no. 2 (2013): 234.
- “Interview with Deathspell Omega from AJNA Offensive,” accessed November 26, 2016, http://ezxhaton.kccricket.net/interview.html.
- Kennet Granholm, “The Left-Hand Path and Post-Satanism,” in The Devil’s Party: Satanism in Modernity, ed. Per Faxneld and Jesper Aa. Petersen (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 215.
- George Sieg, “Angular Momentum: From Traditional to Progressive Satanism in the Order of Nine Angles,” International Journal for the Study of New Religions 4, no. 2 (2013): 255.
- David Myatt, “The Approach of the Dark Gods,” Darkness Converges, accessed November 26, 2016, https://darknessconverges.wordpress.com/2009/07/10/the-approach-of-the-dark-gods-2/.
- “Draconian Gods & the Path of the Nightside,” Temple of Ascending Flame, accessed November 26, 2016, http://ascendingflame.com/philosophy.html.
- G.W.F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A.V. Miller (India: Motilal Banarsidass, 1998), 19.
- N.A-A.218, Liber Falxifer, 74.
- Michael Moynihan and Didrik Søderlind, Lords of Chaos: The Bloody Rise of the Satanic Metal Underground (Port Townsend: Feral House, 2003), 53-54.
- Jon Kristiansen, Metalion: The Slayer Mag Diaries (Brooklyn: Bazillion Points Books, 2011), 569.
- In chapter XXXI of his Against Heresies, Irenaeus describes a Gnostic sect known as the Cainites with views attributed to them that seem to be quite similar.
- Nevill Drury, Stealing Fire from Heaven: The Rise of Modern Western Magic (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 221.
- N.A-A.218, Liber Falxifer II: The Book of Anamlaqayin (Tampere: Ixaxaar Occult Literature, 2011), 22.
- Jesper Petersen, “The Seeds of Satan: Conceptions of Magic in Contemporary Satanism,” ARIES 12 (2012): 121.
- Ibid, 120.
- James R. Lewis, “Who Serves Satan? A Demographic and Ideological Profile,” Marburg Journal of Religion 6, no. 2 (2001): 11.
- Granholm, 223.