Satanism: The Allure of the Dark Side - Part III

Dr. Ron J. Bigalke

The Devil was a familiar reality during the Middle Ages (ca. AD 476-1500)—beginning with the fall of the Western Roman Empire, and later amalgamating into the Renaissance—and the early modern world. Satan had noticeable and significant prominence in mummers’ plays, popular tales, sermons, and stage plays. The devil and his minions were perceived as present everywhere, always with cognizance, formidability, maliciousness, and subtlety. “Evil has its own perverse allure and the greater the powers with which the Devil is credited the more his attraction is increased.”1 Having considered the allure of Satanism as remnants of the ancient pagan religions, and explaining the differences and similarities between the belief system of Satanists and witches, it is now appropriate to reflect upon the enticement of Satanism during the Renaissance and Enlightenment periods as precursors to modern expressions.

Renaissance and Enlightenment Satanism
Renaissance is derived from the French word for “rebirth,” and thus the term is often used to describe any rediscovery or revival. The Renaissance period (from the 14th to the 17th century) resulted from an emphasis upon human fulfillment, reason, and science. An increased fascination with alchemy and magic was also prevalent throughout the Renaissance era, which precipitated the religious persecutions for sorcery and witchcraft. For instance, the seventeenth century English witchcraft pamphlets were particularly influential in portraying witchcraft as an inherently diabolical crime, and sought to explain a witch’s motivations for succumbing to the devil’s influence.

Satanists were those who renounced Christ and the church, in addition to blasphemously abusing sacred, religious ceremonies, objects, and symbols. The focal point of the persecution of witches was to accuse them of being Satanists, because they rejected the true God and gave their allegiance to the enemy and falsifier of God’s truth. Some of those accused as witches did indeed regard the Devil as their god. They regarded Satan as granting pleasure and power in the material world, and even fostering a pleasant future in the next. Opposition to the persecutions brought the hysterics to a general cessation around 1700 (although some endured into the 19th century). Social conditions were a primary reason why people sought the black arts; that is, they were frustrated by their own powerlessness (some even learned to combine their satanic beliefs with diabolical crimes). French serial killer Catherine Monvoisin (known as “La Voisin”) is one example of such crimes.

La Voisin was arrested in Paris on 12 March 1679. She lived based upon her practice in fortune telling. La Voisin also celebrated black masses, practiced abortions, and sold love potions and poisons. She was one of the leading personages in the “Affair of the Poisons” during the reign of King Louis XIV of France. La Voisin is generally thought to have created the criminal phase of the Black Mass. She had many clients among the aristocracy and profited considerably from her business.

The most noteworthy client of La Voisin was Madame de Montespan, the official mistress to Louis XIV. The scandalous aspect of the commission’s investigation into the crimes of La Voisin and her accomplices was the discovery that certain ladies of the French court, which included Montespan, hired La Voisin to arrange a Black Mass. On (at least) one occasion, Montespan acted as the human altar during the Mass, in which the officiating priest invoked Satan and his perceived demons of deceit and lust (Asmodeus, Astaroth, and Beelzebub).

Other masses performed by La Voisin involved nude women performing the role of an altar and then copulating with the officiating priest in hopes of receiving or securing the sexual favors of other royal courtiers, and who even sought the murder of incongruous and undesirable rivals or spouses. Montespan, in particular, conspired to have the king murdered if he ever abandoned her. When the king commenced a relationship with another woman, Montespan called for La Voisin and eventually convinced her to undertake regicide.

When police searched La Voisin’s home, they discovered a peculiar chapel. The walls were draped in black, and stretched behind the altar was a black curtain with a white cross embroidered upon it, and the altar itself was covered by a draping of black cloth (rather than the typical white altar cloth), which concealed a mattress. The altar included a tabernacle that was surmounted by a cross, yet the candles were black. Particularly disturbing was the discovery of a furnace that was used for burning the bodies of children who were ritually murdered during the Black Mass. Although the use of torture was permitted, it was unnecessary because La Voisin confessed to the crimes for which she was accused, and even described the development of her career. She was convicted and burned alive in public on 22 February 1680.2

The Black Mass was a decadent trend that endured into the 19th century, when its practice eventually began to diminish. The infamous prosecution of La Voisin was the probable reason for many practicing Satanists to become secretive. Nevertheless, quasi-Satanic organizations, such as the Hellfire Club, which was a fraternal group whose membership included the social elite and wealthy (including some of the most prominent literary and political individuals of 18th century England), were scandalous in their debauchery throughout the tolerant decades of the Enlightenment. Hellfire Club members operated on the fringes of the law and acted however they desired; it is alleged that they performed a Black Mass regularly in worship of the Devil, yet it is also probable that their rituals were focused more upon consuming liberal quantities of alcohol followed by copious sexual escapades. The club motto was “Do What Thou Wilt,” and later appropriated by English occultist Aleister Crowley. Nevertheless, it was not until the mid-19th century that satanic activities (involving the black arts) became widely known.

Modern Satanism
Not only were the Black Masses intended to be obscene parodies of the Catholic Mass, by inverting its sacred observance into a veneration of Satan, but also celebrants perceived the distorted practices as means for gaining the Devil’s favor, and thus being rewarded with power, riches, and whatever else was coveted. Current expressions of Satanism appear more in print than in actual physical expressions, yet contemporary interest in devil worship (and malicious occultism as its accompaniment), as evident in the satanic ritual abuse hysteria at the end of the 20th century, is the most ominous and vehement resurgence since the early decades of the previous century. English occultist Aleister Crowley is most responsible for the revival of interest in Satanism and the black arts.

Crowley’s religious philosophy (Thelema) is best summarized by his motto, “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law,” with its corollary, “Love is the Law, love under will.”3 Crowley was born in 1875 into a Plymouth Brethren family, and he soon rebelled against his parent’s religious fundamentalism. He was a student at Trinity College in Cambridge from 1894 to 1897, yet never completed a degree, as he was more interested in sexual promiscuity and the study of occultism. Crowley did not consider himself a Satanist, yet he frequently portrayed a devilish image, even referring to himself as “the Beast” (an allusion to the Antichrist in the book of Revelation). He is the primary source for the magical practices of modern Satanism. One example of his influence is the Enochian Keys in Anton Szandor LaVey’s The Satanic Bible,4 which were adopted (without attribution5) from Crowley’s occult journal Equinox.

In 1898, Crowley was initiated into the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, an occult group focused upon ritual magic (or Magick, as Crowley preferred to spell it, to distinguish his philosophy from conjuring), with much of its philosophy derived from Russian occultist Madame (Helena) Blavatsky, who co-founded the Theosophical Society in 1875. Crowley was later expelled from the Golden Dawn. He claimed that the basis for his practice of Magick was spirit dictated (by an entity known as Aiwass) to him in Cairo, in 1904, with the result being The Book of the Law.

Crowley’s work formed the basis of his belief system, Thelema. His teachings included the following exhortations: “stamp down the wretched & the weak”; “reason is a lie”; “vices are my service; ye do well, & I will reward you here and hereafter”; “the slaves shall serve”; “mercy let be off: damn them who pity! Kill and torture; spare not; be upon them!”; and, “Swift as a trodden serpent turn and strike! Be thou yet deadlier than he! Drag down their souls to awful torment: laugh at their fear: spit upon them!”6 Crowley’s admonitions (and similar perspectives) are fundamental attitudes that characterize modern Satanism and the black arts. Modern Satanism can be directly traced to Crowley, and his influence upon practitioners of malicious occultism and Satanism continues to be tremendous. (The fourth and final part of this series will consider the various categories of modern Satanism, and how to reach Satanists with the truth of God’s Word.)

1  Richard Cavendish, The Black Arts (New York: Perigee Books, 1967) 275.
2  Ibid. 316-17.
3  Aleister Crowley, The Book of the Law (Berlin, Germany: Ordo Templi Orientis, 1938; reprint, Boston, MA/York Beach, ME: Weiser Books, 1976) 9.
4  Anton Szandor LaVey, The Satanic Bible (New York: Avon Books, 1969) 155-272.
5  LaVey’s daughter, Zeena, who abandoned the Church of Satan, was the first to make accusations of plagiarism against her father. Zeena (and her husband, Nikolas Schreck) asserted, “The Satanic Bible was conceived as a commercial vehicle by paperback publisher Avon Books. Avon approached ASL [Anton Szandor LaVey] for some kind of satanic work to cash in on the Satanism & witchcraft fad of the late 1960s. Pressed for material to meet Avon's deadline, ASL resorted to plagiarism, assembling extracts from an obscure 1896 tract—Might Is Right by Ragnar Redbeard into a ‘Book of Satan’ for the SB [Satanic Bible], and claiming its authorship by himself. . . . Another third of the SB consists of John Dee’s ‘Enochian Keys,’ taken directly but again without attribution from Aleister Crowley's Equinox. The SB's ‘Nine Satanic Statements’, one of the Church of Satan's central doctrines, is a paraphrase, again unacknowledged, of passages from Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged” (Zeena and Nikolas Schreck, “Anton LaVey: Legend and Reality” [article online] [Satanism Central, 2 February 1998, accessed 5 April 2017] available from
6  Crowley, Book of the Law, 31, 33, 35, 36, 41, 45.

Midnight Call - 06/2017

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