Lucifer Aspired to be a God, Not a Goat: On Satanic Aesthetics (Part 2 of 2)

Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey established within the Satanism he codified an aesthetic of goatish ghoulishness, as opposed to the Miltonic majesty associated with Romanticism’s Satanic iconography. Many Satanic organizations competing with LaVey’s have come and gone over the years, and yet somehow exploiting the magnificent imagery of Satan produced by the Miltonic-Romantic tradition has not proven to be the interest of any of them. Modern, organized Satanism would seem stuck in the aesthetic set by LaVeyan Satanism and, ironically enough, dictated by popular culture.

Vol. I of Aquino's The Church of Satan
Vol. I of Aquino’s Church of Satan

LaVeyan Satanism’s first significant breakaway organization came in 1975 in the form of The Temple of Set, established by “the Black Pope” LaVey’s onetime trusted lieutenant, Michael A. Aquino. According to Aquino, LaVey’s carnivalesque presentation of Satanic philosophy and lifestyle was a major contributing factor in his dramatic departure from the Church of Satan. For example, Aquino relates in his mammoth, two-volume Church of Satan tome that one of his clashes with LaVey was over the cover image of the organization’s official bulletin, The Cloven Hoof: Aquino, the publication’s editor, preferred “a bat-winged, Miltonian Satan hurling bolts of fire across the page to form the blazing words ‘Cloven Hoof,’ ” but LaVey decided upon “a magnificently hideous Baphomet goat-dæmon, whose most inescapable feature was a hairy, erect phallus.”1 It is an amusing anecdote, but despite Aquino’s preferred iconography of a “Miltonian Satan” (Gustave Doré illustrations for Paradise Lost adorn both volumes of Aquino’s Church of Satan)—as well as his Romantic reading of Paradise Lost as “one of the most exalted statements of Satanism ever written”2 and his assertion that its “Miltonian Lucifer is, in fact, our Satanic man”3—Aquino was not above defending the Church of Satan’s goatish aesthetic,4 and, more importantly, when he parted ways with LaVey and took a number of disgruntled Church of Satan members with him in the summer of ’75, what Aquino opted for was not Miltonian but Egyptian. Founding a Temple of Set, Aquino would exchange Satan for Set, the local-chapter “grottoes” for “pylons,” and street-smart selfishness for Xeper (“becoming”).

The Miltonic-Romantic tradition’s significance to modern Satanism does not look promising if it was overlooked by the most Miltonic-minded high-profile Satanist. Indeed, the various rival Satanic organizations over the span of the half-century organized Satanism has enjoyed either closely mimicked LaVey’s synthesis of Satanic aesthetics (as well as ideology) or followed Aquino’s lead and opted for a style so disassociated from the Western conception of the Devil that they would never gain the prominence of a church “consecrated” in the name of the infernal figure the West is most familiar with.


New Satanic Organization, Same Old Goatish Satan

The Satanic Temple's logo, which recycles much of the features of Satanic sigils of old
The Satanic Temple’s logo, which recycles much of the features of prior Satanic sigils

Today, the Church of Satan’s most significant competition has come in the form of The Satanic Temple, which has gained increasing infamy since its 2012 inception on account of its members’ sociopolitical engagement, which the Church of Satan has always refrained from. LaVey imagined Satanism as an extremely personal endeavor—not a cause demanding contributions but a system for living life to the fullest for radical individualists with macabre sensibilities. While LaVey was a firm believer in the separation of church and state, he did not feel it was appropriate for his organization to take any official political positions; rather, Satanists should work out on an individual basis which political positions and parties best suit their self-interests. The Satanic Temple, by contrast, is overtly political, its Satanic philosophy intertwined with progressive politics, and its members encouraged to engage in political activism to actualize its vision of a more secular society. “No tolerance for religious beliefs secularized and incorporated into law and order issues,” insisted LaVey in his “Pentagonal Revisionism: A Five-Point Program,”5 but The Satanic Temple feels simply stating a belief in secularism is insufficient; self-declared Satanists should instead dedicate their energies to transforming society along these lines. The Satanic Temple endeavors to accomplish this by engaging in high-profile activism—summarily dismissed by the Church of Satan as the embarrassing political stunts of “Satanic Social Justice Warriors”—intended to combat religious encroachment upon what was intended to be, or at least what should be, a secular society, principally by drawing attention to breaches of the wall separating church and state. Many of these battles focused on the placement of religious icons on state grounds or in public spaces, The Satanic Temple chooses to enter the fray by demanding equal representation and, as a result, poisons the well, so to speak, as these battles tend to end in religionists withdrawing altogether from promoting their beliefs in the public sphere if it means sharing the same space with Satan. This, The Satanic Temple’s members refer to as “Lucien’s Law,” after Lucien Greaves, cofounder of the organization.6

But what concerns us here is aesthetics. The Satanic Temple, like the Church of Satan, claims to follow in the Miltonic-Romantic tradition. “Ours is the literary Satan best exemplified by Milton and the Romantic Satanists,” the organization’s website explicitly states, yet, again like the Church of Satan, it offers up very little in terms of visual links to that Miltonic-Romantic tradition. In fact, while members of The Satanic Temple may be eager to distinguish its philosophy from that of LaVeyan Satanism—specifically the latter’s coldhearted Social Darwinism—its imagery is practically indistinguishable from the Church of Satan’s. The Satanic Temple offers up more goats, more horns, more skulls, and more Halloween-style imagery in general. (Like the campy Coop Devil embraced by the Church of Satan, The Satanic Temple also offers a more satirical Satan in the form of the mascot for its “After School Satan” clubs, but such deliberately tongue-in-cheek icons are exceptions; the symbolism of both Satanic organizations is predominantly dark and sinister, intended to shock and scare the strait-laced.)

The Satanic Temple's "7 Fundamental Tenets"
The Satanic Temple’s “7 Fundamental Tenets”—here overwhelmed by a lack of artistic restraint

These younger Satanists of The Satanic Temple maintain that such iconography is inherently Satanic with or without the legacy of LaVey, and thus could be used at liberty, as the Church of Satan cannot claim a copyright on it. That’s fair enough, but could does not necessarily mean should, and it does appear to be the case that The Satanic Temple’s exploitation of the gloomy aesthetic it shares with the Church of Satan clashes with the far different message it wishes to put out. Frightful feral imagery is not incongruent with the cold, often brutal devil-take-the-hindmost philosophy endorsed by LaVeyan Satanism7 and its celebration of a bestial Satan that “represents man as just another animal,”8 whereas The Satanic Temple’s use of the same imagery seems counterintuitive to its stress on a less animalistic and more humanitarian strain of Satanism, what with its tenets such as “strive to act with compassion and empathy towards all creatures,” the “struggle for justice is an ongoing and necessary pursuit,” and “the freedoms of others should be respected…” Is it not jarring for tenets such as these to be set against a pitch-black background and flanked by goat-headed skeletons? Such a Halloween-every-day ethos is surely harmless and good fun—as attested to by the great popularity of shows like The Addams Family and The Munsters, or Halloween itself having increasingly grown from a peculiar autumn holiday to a year-round lifestyle for many otherwise conventional people—but for an organization that claims such respectable literary, artistic, and cultural roots, and that claims to be channeling this profound energy into real-world political action, the harmless horror sensibility seems rather out of place.

Romantic Satanism, despite its tragic and melancholic elements, was fundamentally humanistic, its titanic Lucifer an emblem of humanity’s lofty drive for transcendence, which differentiates us from our fellow beasts of the field (or so at least the Romantics believed9). This sentiment was expressed in the Romantic Satan’s appearance, which was within the era’s Miltonic iconography wholly humanized and heroicized—the arch-rebel as “an image of apotheosis,” in the words of Peter A. Schock, “an emblem of an aspiring, rebelling, rising human god who insists that he is self-created.”10 “Though we could take from the imagery of those such as William Blake or Gustave Doré exemplifying the beauty of purity of the fallen angel,” Satanic Temple spokesperson Stu de Haan explained to me,

we prefer to use the more well-known and arbitrarily offensive imagery exemplified by the media and pop culture…Fully aware of the trite offense these images may provoke, this is a statement that our “freedom to offend” is in the nature of our very existence; an existence that strives to demonstrate that the heckler’s veto has no bearing on our beliefs or our rights.

The Satanic Temple's "Baphomet" monument
The Satanic Temple’s Baphomet monument

This preference for more offensive imagery playing upon pop cultural stereotypes is most apparent in the icon that crystallized The Satanic Temple’s goatish aesthetic: a nine-foot, two-ton monument of Baphomet, which the organization sought to situate outside of the Oklahoma State Capitol in contrast to its Ten Commandments monument—a campaign which, in accordance with Lucien’s Law, was terminated upon the Supreme Court of Oklahoma’s decision to remove the Ten Commandments. (At time of writing, The Satanic Temple is planning to relocate its Baphomet monument to the Arkansas State Capitol, where the Devil is once again intended to contrast the Decalogue.)

The Satanic Temple’s monumental Baphomet is fairly close to the Éliphas Lévi “Sabbatic Goat” design, save for the removal of the female breasts (a move made so as to evade being barred on account of accusations of obscenity) and the humanoid goat figure being flanked not by waning and waxing moons but by two children—a Caucasian girl and an African-American boy, which, while apparently an incidental choice on the part of the artist, would seem to evoke progressive politics’ hobbyhorses of sexism and racism. Also, it was at least at one point planned for the back of the Baphomet monument to be inscribed with the following Luciferian lines from Lord Byron’s Cain (1821):

                       Then who was the demon? He

Who would not let ye live, or he who would

Have made ye live for ever in the joy

And power of knowledge? (I.i.207–10)

It is a quintessentially Romantic sentiment—and a commendable connection to Romantic Satanism—but it is difficult indeed to imagine such magnificent verse being put in the mouth of the beastly Baphomet. As with the Church of Satan, there is an obvious aesthetic disconnect between the Miltonic-Romantic heritage that The Satanic Temple ostensibly lays claim to and the goatish gloom with which it promotes itself. While there are undeniably many who will never understand Satanism regardless of how carefully and thoroughly the concept may be explained to them, Satanists perhaps can’t complain too much if their message of Satan-as-hero fails to register with people who are presented with imagery which, contrary to Romanticism’s Miltonic iconography, fails to connote that idea.


I discussed the matter of Satanic aesthetics with the Church of Satan’s self-styled “Irreverend” Gavin Baddeley, who observed, “Satanism has this ghoulish, abrasive, quite cartoonish imagery which has very little overlap with the Romantic/Miltonic ideal…I think that aspect of it has been underplayed…[but] I think it’s a difficult sell, to a certain extent, because when people want Satanism they want…explosions and goats.” Baddeley went on to explain that presenting Satanism to the media is especially tricky because there is a preconceived notion of what Satanism looks like—based upon popular culture in general and horror movies in particular—which a presenter of Satanism must, at least to a degree, placate. “If I suggested we get out some Greco-Roman statues, they wouldn’t buy it.…[If] you deal with the media and you try and present them something which isn’t what they’ve already decided they want, then you’ve got an uphill struggle that usually leads nowhere.” Baddeley would know best, as he is the foremost authority on Satanism in the UK, but this is a rather striking issue, if it is the case: Satanism is meant to be a radically individualistic creed that breaks away from Western culture’s Judeo-Christian confines and is adversarial to conformity broadly speaking, yet for Satanism to survive Satanists must exploit imagery which has been largely crafted and instilled in the popular consciousness by the Christian Church and mass media. Ultimately, then, Satanism in relation to society is not so much autonomous as symbiotic. Baddeley suggested that before Satanism could truly make use of Romanticism’s rich Miltonic iconography or any kind of imagery inspired by it, an aesthetical evolution within Satanism that places greater emphasis on its literary and cultural roots would have to take place first. That may be so, but such an evolution occurring any time soon—if at all—appears dubious. Indeed, The Satanic Temple’s headquarters in Salem, Massachusetts doubles as an art gallery, and among its many pieces is Baphomet in baby form, which apparently is meant to symbolize the Satanic rebirth the organization feels its members are at the forefront of. Baby Baphomet would seem to imply, however, that this supposed Satanic renaissance is simply to recycle the same old goatish and ghoulish aesthetic of the Satanism of yore.

Ricardo Bellver, El Ángel Caído (The Fallen Angel, 1877)
Ricardo Bellver, El Ángel Caído (The Fallen Angel, 1877)

It is curious indeed that The Satanic Temple, in its efforts to distinguish itself from LaVey and the Church of Satan, has not endeavored more to evolve Satanism in terms of imagery and aesthetics. Mark Porter, the artist employed by The Satanic Temple to construct the massive Baphomet monument, was trained in classical sculpture, and one imagines Porter would have warmed to the opportunity to create a Satan in the spirit of Romantic interpretations of the fallen archangel, the dynamic figure rendered as a handsome classical hero, as per Milton’s Paradise Lost. In addition to the many examples provided by Romantic history painting, there are also sculptural precedents of such a Satan, such as Joseph Geefs’ L’ange du Mal (The Angel of Evil, 1842), Guillaume Geefs’ Le Génie du Mal (The Genius of Evil, 1848), Costantino Corti’s Lucifero (1867), and last but certainly not least, Ricardo Bellver’s El Ángel Caído (The Fallen Angel, 1877). These nineteenth-century Satanic sculptures, which were clearly inspired by the Miltonic-Romantic tradition (Bellver’s is based upon Milton’s first description of the Hell-doomed Devil in Paradise Lost), imagine Satan more as Grecian god than goat, and the result is magnificent, whether the fallen angel sports the wings of an angel or of a bat. Modern Satanism falls far short of such Miltonic majesty. While The Satanic Temple holds that its aesthetic sense is not static and has the potential to evolve, it is difficult to imagine the organization being able to move beyond the gloomy goatish imagery it has promoted up to the present moment in its generous press coverage. (In late 2015, CNN dedicated an hour-long documentary to The Satanic Temple and the unveiling of its Baphomet monument, which is the most mainstream and unbiased attention organized Satanism has ever received since The History Channel’s five-minute coverage of the Church of Satan in its two-hour program on Hell and the Devil about a decade prior.)


The Return of the Miltonic-Romantic Rebel Angel

Whatever we might think of the prospect of public Satanic monuments—likely a misguided idea with a great deal of unintended consequences, in this writer’s opinion—are we really to believe a statue of Satan less goatish and more godlike would be less worthwhile? If anything, such a display may possibly generate greater controversy and garner more attention, as it would surely draw censure for depicting the Devil in a human and heroic light, largely unexposed as the general public is to the Miltonic-Romantic tradition’s reinterpretation of the fallen angel. Is Romanticism’s Miltonic imagery less relevant now than it was around the turn of the nineteenth century? The opposite appears to be the case. People are as drawn to myths of the superhuman as ever, whether it’s Greco-Roman demigods or Marvel and DC superheroes on the silver screen. (The present popularity of the Norse demigod Thor—or, more appropriately, his diabolical foe Loki—highlights the blurring of these categories.) We are undoubtedly living in the age of the superhero, as attested to by the ongoing tsunami of comic-book films, made with monstrous budgets and megastars in the lead roles, and raking in absurd amounts of money as they not only incite an almost religious investment among the fan base but manage to maintain the continued interest of filmgoers at large; in this cultural context the Romantic iconography of a superhuman Satan would seem more appropriate than ever.

William Bromley, after Henry Fuseli, Satan calling up his Legions (1802)
William Bromley, after Henry Fuseli, Satan calling up his Legions (1802)

Many have recognized a comic book element to Milton’s Paradise Lost. “Readers have always thrilled to Milton’s heroic superheroes and indestructible arch-villains,” writes Edward M. Cifelli in his Introduction to a 2000 Signet Classics edition of Paradise Lost, explaining that Milton’s are “characters who may remind younger readers of comic books, movies, television shows, and computer games.”11 Renditions of these Miltonic characters in the visual arts have drawn similar commentary. Take, for example, the work of the Swiss-born Romantic painter and draftsman Henry Fuseli, the most prolific illustrator of the Miltonic Satan, which earned him the unofficial moniker “Painter in Ordinary to the Devil.” Milton’s Satan lent himself to Fuseli’s extraordinarily distinct art style, fitting in perfectly with the artist’s gigantically imagined heroes with elongated limbs and exaggerated musculature, depicted in violent and gravity-defiant melodramatic poses. In the 2006 Tate Britain exhibition entitled “Gothic Nightmares: Fuseli, Blake and the Romantic Imagination” (Feb. 15 – May 1, 2006), the Satanic artwork of Fuseli, as well as that of Blake and Barry, was tellingly included in the “Superheroes” room of the exhibit/chapter of the exhibition catalogue.12 Martin Myrone, curator of the “Gothic Nightmares” exhibition and Tate Britain’s lead curator of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British art, notes that Fuseli’s “vividly stylised images of ghosts and fairies, muscle-bound superheroes, fainting maidens and voracious viragos are obvious prototypes for the figures in today’s comic-books, action movies and computer games.”13 Myrone reinforces his point with a reference to Fuseli’s Satan Starts from the Touch of Ithuriel’s Spear (1776), one of the artist’s Roman sketches which he would later flesh out into a full-fledged painting (1779) that would be exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1780 and later featured in Fuseli’s own Milton Gallery (1799, 1800), which was abundant with similar sublime canvases depicting Paradise Lost’s superhumanly heroic and handsome Satan.

Henry Fuseli, Satan Starts from the Touch of Ithuriel's Spear (1779), Staatsgalerie Stuttgart
Henry Fuseli, Satan Starts from the Touch of Ithuriel’s Spear (1779), Staatsgalerie Stuttgart

While Fuseli’s Milton Gallery, despite the artist’s monomaniacal commitment to the project over the span of a decade (1790–1800), may have been a dismal failure commercially, Fuseli would find his audience two centuries later, as an exhibition held in Stuttgart, Germany gathering together a great many of the Miltonic works executed throughout Fuseli’s astounding career drew some 20,000 attendees from around the world. Miltonists Wendy Furman-Adams and Virginia James Tufte, who attended the “Johann Heinrich Füssli: Das Verlorene Paradies” exhibition (Sep. 27, 1997 – Jan. 11, 1998), explain in “The Choreography of Passion: Henry Fuseli’s Milton Gallery, 1799/1998” that “in an already weak market, the Milton Gallery paintings simply failed to sell. Blake, however, was among the Gallery’s handful of defenders and prophesied that ‘two centuries’ of ‘advance in civilization’ would bring the world to a fitting appreciation of his friend’s sublime achievement. Those two centuries, indeed, brought the Milton Gallery to Stuttgart.”14 Two decades have passed since Satan stole the show at the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, and today’s comic-book culture seems uniquely prepared to receive such a Fuselian fallen angel—a Satan more Michelangelesque than grotesque. It should come as no surprise that the most significant modern-day manifestation of such a Satan derived from the Miltonic-Romantic tradition’s archangelic arch-rebel has come in the form of a comic book, Vertigo’s Lucifer (1999–2006; 2015–2017). Likewise, the Paradise Lost film, before its plug was pulled and the project was consigned to development hell indefinitely, was unsurprisingly being promoted at the San Diego Comic-Con. (Admittedly, the defunct film’s concept art for the infernal regions—which is more in the spirit of a Silent Hill videogame than the poetry of Paradise Lost—indicated that the filmmakers were likely to gravitate toward popular Satanic stereotypes much more than Milton’s majestic vision.)

The time seems right for the masses to be exposed to a less bestial and a more sublime, superhuman Satan—a true Satanic renaissance that would surely incite great intrigue. In terms of such elevated imagery, organized Satanism—whether in the form of LaVey’s Church of Satan, Aquino’s Temple of Set, Greaves and company’s Satanic Temple, or any other nominally infernal entity yet to come—is quite simply missing the mark. Given its goat-obsessed aesthetic, modern Satanism frankly appears unlikely to ever be a force for such a glorified Satan, as strange as that may seem. Far more worthwhile than anything the occult has to offer on the subject of Satan is the eighteenth-century cult of Milton and its influence on modern-day treatments of the legend of Lucifer. Just as the literary, artistic, cultural tradition of Romantic Satanism has heaped far more magnificence upon the Devil than the proceedings of organized diabolism, today’s eruptions of neo-Romantic Satanism within the arts are proving to be far more significant in terms of perpetuating the Prince of Darkness derived from the rich Miltonic-Romantic tradition. As with Milton and the Romantics, it would appear belonging to the Devil’s party is far more important than knowing it.




The Miltonic in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, on the Novel’s Bicentenary

“But Paradise Lost excited different and far deeper emotions. I read it, as I had read the other volumes which had fallen into my hands, as a true history. It moved every feeling of wonder and awe, that the picture of an omnipotent God warring with his creatures was capable of exciting. I often referred the several situations, as their similarity struck me, to my own. Like Adam, I was created apparently united by no link to any other being in existence.…Many times I considered Satan as the fitter emblem of my condition…”1

— The creature, in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818)


January 1st, 2018 marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. This nineteenth-century Romantic novel is known as a Janus work that looks both backward to eighteenth-century Gothic horror and forward to twentieth-century science fiction—to say nothing of its unshakeable status as a timeless reference for just about any morally questionable scientific endeavor—but less often discussed is its thematic dialogue with John Milton’s seventeenth-century epic poem Paradise Lost (1667). Exploring Frankenstein’s Miltonic elements, analyzing how they inform the novel, and reviewing how they obliquely contribute to the Romantic reading of Milton’s Satan as a profoundly sympathetic figure seems in order for the bicentenary of Mary Shelley’s masterwork.


Milton, Mary, and Shelley

Richard Rothwell, Portrait of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (1840)
Richard Rothwell, Portrait of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (1840)

Mary Shelley was born Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, the child of feminist pioneer Mary Wollstonecraft and anarchist philosopher William Godwin. Inheriting her parents’ creative genius meant inheriting the influence of Milton. Both Wollstonecraft and Godwin were members of the Johnson Circle—the London-based intellectual coterie presided over by the radical publisher Joseph Johnson—within which the Satan of Milton’s Paradise Lost was the subject of much spirited discussion, thus producing the first wave of Romantic Satanism, that most singular branch of Romanticism’s cult of Milton. For instance, Wollstonecraft noted in her feminist treatise A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) that, in the face of the idealized domesticity of Milton’s Adam and Eve, “instead of envying the lovely pair, I have, with conscious dignity, or Satanic pride, turned to hell for sublimer objects,” and what Wollstonecraft describes as the most sublime sight—“the grandest of all human fights”—is “an outcast of fortune, rising superior to passion and discontent,”2 thus aligning fallen but still-dignified woman with Milton’s sublime Satan, who is Hell-doomed yet remains Heaven-defiant.3 Godwin was especially important in situating Milton’s Satan as a Romantic icon, defending in his influential Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793) a position that argues “Milton’s devil to be a being of considerable virtue” as one who, with a strong “sense of reason and justice,” had “rebel[led] against his maker…, as he himself informs us, because he saw no sufficient reason for that extreme inequality of rank and power which the creator assumed,” and who subsequently “bore his torments with fortitude, because he disdained to be subdued by despotic power.”4 Little did Godwin know that one of his own children would come to pen the modern world’s perennial tale about the tensions between creator and creature—a literary classic dedicated to none other than Godwin himself.5

The spirit of Milton loomed over Mary Shelley as much as he had over her prestigious radical parents. She had been reading Paradise Lost along with Percy Bysshe Shelley throughout the dreary summer of 1816,6 when the eighteen-year-old Mary first conceived what would become Frankenstein, courtesy of a ghost story competition proposed by Lord Byron, their neighbor on Lake Geneva, and a fellow English outcast.7 Unsurprisingly, like the pariah poetry of Shelley and Byron, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is suffused with Milton,8 advertising the Miltonic inheritance right on its title page, as Shelley’s novel takes its epigraph from Paradise Lost, when the fallen Adam addresses his Creator thus:

Did I request thee, Maker, from my Clay
To mould me Man, did I solicit thee
From darkness to promote me[?]… (X.743–45)9

These Miltonic lines must have been particularly poignant for Mary herself as a young person with a troubled relationship with her own makers: her birth had robbed her mother of life, as Wollstonecraft died from complications only eleven days after the birth of Mary in 1797, and, more importantly, her relationship with her father Godwin had been fractured when in 1814, at the age of sixteen, she eloped to the Continent with Shelley, Godwin’s ardent protégé, and a married man. A disowned daughter and a young woman demolishing her reputation in respectable society back home in England, Mary was in a state of profound alienation when the germ of Frankenstein took root in her youthful mind. The relationship between father and daughter would improve at the close of 1816 when Mary and Shelley married, following the suicide of Shelley’s first wife, Harriet Westbrook, who was pregnant with a third child by him. The marriage was in part intended to help Shelley’s case for custody of his two living children by Harriet, but he was nevertheless denied on account of his irreligion and dissoluteness.10 Following the fierce impulses of their hearts and indulging in idealistic pursuits to change the world mired the Shelleys in deep moral ambiguity, which had a turbulent impact on their lives. The intense ambivalence that accompanies aspiring beyond social mores permeates Frankenstein, and is often expressed through the lens of the Miltonic Satan.


How Milton’s Paradise Lost Informs Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

Theodore Von Holst, Frontispiece to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1831)
Theodore Von Holst, Frontispiece to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1831)

In the novel Frankenstein, both Victor Frankenstein and his unnamed creature11 are paralleled to Milton’s Satan. The creature in particular repeatedly relates his situation to Satan’s so as to stress his own alienation and despair, which in turns leads him to vengefully impose suffering on others—in this case, the kith and kin of Frankenstein, the source of the creature’s suffering. “I had cast off all feeling,” he relates, “subdued all anguish to riot in the excess of my despair. Evil thenceforth became my good” (159). Frankenstein’s creature takes the words right from the mouth of Milton’s Satan, who in his apostrophe to the Sun, finding “All hope excluded” and therefore “all Good” to be “lost” in him, infamously declares, “Evil be thou my Good…” (IV.105, 109–10). And as embracing evil at least puts Milton’s Satan in competition with God—“by thee at least / Divided Empire with Heav’n’s King I hold / By thee, and more than half perhaps will reign” (IV.110–12)—Frankenstein’s creature assumes some measure of dignity by his ability to pursue and punish his cruel creator. “As the story progresses so he becomes progressively more Satanic,” the late Christopher Small observed in Ariel like a Harpy: Shelley, Mary, and Frankenstein, “his powers growing to positively fiendish capacity (he is alluded to more often as ‘the Fiend’ in the later part of the book) and his ill deeds multiplying accordingly, but also taking on some of the Luciferian majesty so striking in Milton’s Satan.”12

Yet the Satan of Paradise Lost was no mere icon of evil for the Romantics, nor was he simply a symbol of the sublime; Milton’s Satan was also a profoundly sympathetic figure, and for this reason Frankenstein’s creature primarily draws the Satanic parallels to illicit sympathy, if not from Frankenstein than certainly from the reader. During his dramatic encounter with his own mortal maker, the creature reveals to “the modern Prometheus” Frankenstein that his autodidactic solitude included reading—in addition to Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774), Plutarch’s Lives, and Frankenstein’s journal relating the profane and grotesque four-month creation project—none other than Milton’s Paradise Lost, which presented a “picture of an omnipotent God warring with his creatures…” (90). On the one hand, Frankenstein’s creature relates to Milton’s Adam as another full-grown man derived directly from his creator, but on the other hand, Adam held pride of place in the Creation and was given a beautiful companion, whereas Frankenstein’s creature, as he himself observes, is an abomination—a monster, and a lonely one at that—and so he identifies with Milton’s Satan rather more. “Many times I considered Satan as the fitter emblem of my condition” (90), the creature confesses, and the main reason for this Satanic self-identification is that his sorrow and suffering, which propels him down a dark path of diabolical vengeance, is rooted in the cold rejection of his creator: “Remember, that I am thy creature: I ought to be thy Adam; but I am rather the fallen angel, whom thou drivest from joy for no misdeed. Every where I see bliss, from which I alone am irrevocably excluded. I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend” (68).

Frankenstein, illustrated by Bernie Wrightson
Frankenstein, illustrated by Bernie Wrightson (1948-2017)

Of course, Frankenstein’s creature, doomed from “birth,” is far more alienated than Milton’s Satan, formerly an angelic aristocrat in the heavenly hierarchy, “he of the first, / If not the first Arch-Angel, great in Power, / In favor and preëminence…” (V.659–61). The creature himself, in a moment of supreme sadness, points out that Milton’s Satan, despite his damnation, was far more fortunate than he: “Satan had his companions, fellow-devils, to admire and encourage him; but I am solitary and detested” (91). Frankenstein’s more Satanic figure, then—when defined as a person of privilege who commits a grave transgression and suffers a severe fall for it—is Victor Frankenstein himself. As Small observed in his dissection of Frankenstein, “not only the Monster is a fallen angel: so is Frankenstein. He is so by definition, if we allow Prometheus to be identified in some respects with Lucifer. His attributes and aspirations are angelic: he is extraordinarily gifted, the particular darling of his family, even in ruin described (by Walton, after his death) as a ‘glorious spirit’.”13 Indeed, right at the start of Frankenstein, the character of Walton—the ambitious explorer whose perilous Arctic journey frames the narrative—describes the much-fatigued and near-frozen Victor Frankenstein he takes onboard in language quite reminiscent of Paradise Lost’s portrait of the fallen Satan, whose “form had yet not lost / All her Original brightness, nor appear’d / Less than Arch-Angel ruin’d…” (I.591–93). “He must have been a noble creature in his better days,” Walton writes to his sister, “being even now in wreck so attractive and amiable” (16). Near the end of the novel, Walton’s words are even more evocative of Milton’s great fallen archangel: “What a glorious creature must he have been in the days of his prosperity, when he is thus noble and godlike in ruin. He seems to feel his own worth, and the greatness of his fall” (152). This of course smacks of Paradise Lost’s Prince of Darkness, who in Hell is “Majestic though in ruin” (II.305)14 and is with “transcendent glory rais’d / Above his fellows, with Monarchal pride / Conscious of highest worth” (II.427–29), but who in sight of Eden also recognizes,

While they adore me on the Throne of Hell,
With Diadem and Sceptre high advanc’d
The lower still I fall, only Supreme
In misery; such joy Ambition finds. (IV.89–92)

This particular soliloquy of Satan’s in Paradise Lost is certainly called to mind by Frankenstein’s crestfallen confession to Walton at the close of Mary Shelley’s novel; emphasizing the overriding hubris of his ambitions and the resulting catastrophic fall, Frankenstein fully comprehends his likeness to Lucifer, “the archangel who aspired to omnipotence”:

When younger…I felt as if I were destined for some great enterprise.…I could not rank myself with the herd of common projectors. But this feeling, which supported me in the commencement of my career, now serves only to plunge me lower in the dust. All my speculations and hopes are as nothing; and, like the archangel who aspired to omnipotence, I am chained in an eternal hell.…From my infancy I was imbued with high hopes and a lofty ambition; but how am I sunk! Oh! my friend, if you had known me as I once was, you would not recognize me in this state of degradation. Despondency rarely visited my heart; a high destiny seemed to bear me on, until I fell, never, never again to rise. (152)

Frankenstein, illustrated by Bernie Wrightson
Frankenstein, illustrated by Wrightson

The Satanic turns out to be the strongest link between Frankenstein and his creature: Victor Frankenstein is a Satan before God insofar as he uses his God-given abilities to arrogate godlike power—in this case, the power to create life—and the creature is a Satan before his “God”—i.e., Frankenstein, his “father”—as a creature warring with his own creator. “You are my creator, but I am your master;—obey!” (120) barks Frankenstein’s creature to his “tyrant and tormentor” (121)—when Frankenstein reneges on his agreement to create a female companion for his lonely creature—the monster mimicking Milton’s Satan inasmuch as the archangelic arch-rebel obsesses over “maistring Heav’n’s Supreme” (IX.125).

It’s not for nothing that tradition has blurred the line between Frankenstein and his creature by bestowing the name of the former upon the latter, as the fates of both creator and creature are inextricably intertwined in Frankenstein. Hence, creator and creature echo one another: “…I bore a hell within me, which nothing could extinguish” (59), Victor Frankenstein states, later lamenting, “I was cursed by some devil, and carried about with me my eternal hell” (146), and his creature likewise cries, “I, like the arch fiend, bore a hell within me…” (95). Yet they both echo, as Frankenstein’s rather well-read creature acknowledges, Milton’s Satan, who suffers from “The Hell within him, for within him Hell / He brings, and round about him” (IV.20–21), and who knows that his eternal internal Hell is far worse than the “Infernal Pit” (I.657) wherefrom he has escaped: “Me miserable! which way shall I fly / Infinite wrath, and infinite despair? / Which way I fly is Hell; myself am Hell…” (IV.73–75). As we will see in the following section, however, Frankenstein’s frequent allusions to Milton’s Satan are there for more than simple dramatic effect.


How Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein Informs the Romantic Reading of Milton’s Paradise Lost

Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein is engaged in a dialogue with Paradise Lost’s themes, such as “the ways of God to men,” which Milton himself was attempting to “justify” (I.26). Romantic radicals of course celebrated Milton’s Satan as a noble rebel whose heroic defiance of what he lambasts as “the Tyranny of Heav’n” (I.124) roused admiration—and sometimes even emulation in the real-world sociopolitical struggles of the Romantics in their own age. Percy Shelley, for instance, wrote effusively in his Defence of Poetry (1821) that

Nothing can exceed the energy and magnificence of the character of Satan as expressed in Paradise Lost. It is a mistake to suppose that he could ever have been intended for the popular personification of evil.…Milton’s Devil as a moral being is as far superior to his God as one who perseveres in some purpose which he has conceived to be excellent in spite of adversity and torture, is to one who in the cold security of undoubted triumph inflicts the most horrible revenge upon his enemy, not from any mistaken notion of inducing him to repent of a perseverance in enmity, but with the alleged design of exasperating him to deserve new torments.15

Small posited in Ariel like a Harpy that whereas Percy Shelley’s reading of Milton presents “a simple reversal…of moral virtue between God and the Devil,” Mary Shelley’s does not: “For Shelley it was simple: Satan, the justified rebel, was virtuous, God the tyrant was evil. But the moral ambiguity was restored by Mary.”16 This is not entirely accurate of either of the Shelleys, however. While it is certainly true that Frankenstein presents the most ambivalent Romantic commentary on the Miltonic inheritance, Mary Shelley heaps far more sympathy upon Milton’s Satan than may be immediately apparent, and thus she is closer than Small and others have suspected to Percy Shelley’s position on the infernal figure, which does not outright idealize the Devil but presents a rather nuanced assessment.

Gustave Doré, Paradise Lost, Book IX (1866): "Him fast sleeping soon he found / In Labyrinth of many a round self-rowld." (IX.182-83)
Gustave Doré, Paradise Lost, Book IX (1866): “Him fast sleeping soon he found / In Labyrinth of many a round self-rowld.” (IX.182-83)

Shelley voiced his ambivalent view of Milton’s Satan quite clearly in the Preface to his Prometheus Unbound (1820). “The only imaginary being resembling in any degree Prometheus, is Satan,” Shelley contends, yet he proceeds to explain that Prometheus is “a more poetical character than Satan” because the deity-defiant, humanitarian Titan shares the virtues of “courage and majesty and firm and patient opposition to omnipotent force” without the vices of “ambition, envy, revenge, and a desire for personal aggrandisement, which in the Hero of Paradise Lost, interfere with the interest.”17 As far as Shelley was concerned, while “Prometheus is, as it were, the type of the highest perfection of moral and intellectual nature, impelled by the purest and the truest motives to the best and noblest ends,” the same simply cannot be said for the character of Milton’s Satan, who instead “engenders in the mind a pernicious casuistry which leads us to weigh his faults with his wrongs and to excuse the former because the latter exceed all measure.”18 This rather bold position of Shelley’s—that Satan’s shortcomings are essentially excusable because they are utterly outweighed by the wrongdoing perpetrated against him—was previously asserted far less vaguely in one of Shelley’s earlier, unpublished works: his Essay on the Devil and Devils (ca. 1819–20). As a matter of fact, the above quotation from A Defence of Poetry—that Milton’s Satan is unsurpassable in “energy and magnificence”—was a passage Shelley took nearly verbatim from his Essay on the Devil, but what Shelley prudently chose not to copy from his Essay over to his Defence was his irreverently detailed description of how and why that which is genuinely malignant in Milton’s otherwise virtuous Devil—his quest for the destruction of Man—may be blamed upon Milton’s God, who, as in Satan’s “baleful eyes” (I.56), emerges as the far more demonic figure of the story.

In his Essay on the Devil, Shelley observes how remarkably undaunted Milton’s Satan remains in the face of his damnation; however, once God had “exhausted all the varieties of smothering and burning and freezing and cruelly lacerating his external frame, and the Devil laughed at the impotent revenge of his conqueror,” Shelley finds that the almighty tyrant resorted to corrupting Satan’s “benevolent and amiable disposition”19 instead. Milton’s God, according to Shelley, diabolically coerces Satan to pursue the parents of the human race—for whom Satan expresses genuine sympathy—and thereby magnify his own damnation:

He is forever tortured with compassion and affection for those whom he betrays and ruins; he is racked by a vain abhorrence for the desolation of which he is the instrument; he is like a man compelled by a tyrant to set fire to his own possession, and to appear as the witness against and the accuser of his dearest friends and most intimate connections, and then to be their executioner and to inflict the most subtle protracted torments upon them. As a man, were he deprived of all other refuge, he might hold his breath and die—but God is represented as omnipotent and the Devil as eternal. Milton has expressed this view of the subject with the sublimest pathos.20

This is undoubtedly Romanticism’s most extreme defense of the Satan of Paradise Lost. As early as the seventeenth century, Milton’s Satan had been deemed the epic poem’s “hero”—i.e., its active character who is triumphant in his quest21—and throughout the eighteenth century Satan was widely considered an exemplar of the sublime,22 so much so that the text on the sublime, Edmund Burke’s A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757), held up Hell’s towering and still-heavenly radiant Satan as a supreme example of sublimity.23 Many prominent Romantics went further and applauded Milton’s Satan as heroic, if not an outright hero, for his rebellion in Heaven (rather than in spite of it) and his defiance in Hell, but even they tended to overlook Satan’s nefarious activities in Eden. Shelley, on the other hand, brings this aspect of Satan into focus in his Essay on the Devil, which is especially daring for its purpose: incriminating the Deity rather than the Devil.

Frankenstein, illustrated by Bernie Wrightson
Frankenstein, illustrated by Wrightson

It does not seem at all unlikely that a major inspiration for Shelley’s apology for Milton’s Satan was none other than Frankenstein’s monster, whose plight Shelley views through a similar lens. “Treat a person ill, and he will become wicked,” observed Shelley in 1817 in his commentary on his wife’s soon-to-be-published novel, arguing on behalf of its unfortunate creature that “the circumstances of his existence are so monstrous and uncommon, that, when the consequences of them became developed in action, his original goodness was gradually turned into inextinguishable misanthropy and revenge.”24 This is strikingly similar to Shelley’s assertion in his Essay on the Devil (written two or three years later) that Satan’s “benevolent and amiable disposition” is spoiled by his most monstrous circumstances. Of course, unlike Mary Shelley’s victimized creature, Milton’s Satan is not driven from the “happy Fields” (I.249) of Heaven “for no misdeed” (68). Then again, in the rebellious Romantic reading of Paradise Lost, Satan is much more than merely innocent; his rebellion against the Almighty is admirable, and his heroic endurance of all that omnipotent power can hurl down on his defiance is as praiseworthy as the longsuffering Prometheus. As Shelley himself put it, Milton’s Satan is “one who perseveres in some purpose which he has conceived to be excellent in spite of adversity and torture,” one who possesses the “energy and magnificence” of “a moral being…far superior to his God,”25 and so the immoral depths of envy and revenge into which the fallen angel is “thrust[ed]” (IV.508) by the omnipotent hand of Milton’s implacably angry God serves only to excite greater rage for the demonic Deity against whom Satan so nobly rebelled and under whom he suffers in such a Promethean manner.

While Shelley’s profoundly blasphemous apology for the Satan of Paradise Lost quoted at length above appears on the surface of it to overstate the Devil’s case, there is ironically substantial textual support for Shelley’s most sympathetic stance on the fallen angel. Milton’s Satan, as Shelley observes, is anything but “the popular personification of evil,”26 for even when we find him plotting Adam and Eve’s ruin, the Devil remains rather sympathetic. Milton’s soliloquizing Satan, with the hapless human couple in his sight, says that he is “no purpos’d foe / To you whom I could pity thus forlorn / Though I unpitied” (IV.373–75), and he not only “could pity” but “could love” (IV.363) them. Sorrowful, Satan ultimately places the blame upon God Himself for the loathsome vengeance he is forced to inflict upon the innocent parents of the human race: “Thank him who puts me loath to this revenge / On you who wrong me not for him who wrong’d” (IV.386–87). Certain Milton critics have argued that this psychological depth Milton curiously infused his Devil with—not least through the five soliloquies he is given throughout Paradise Lost (IV.32–113, 358–92, 505–35; IX.99–178, 473–93)—is there to demonstrate how God’s creatures (corporeal or incorporeal) pave the road to Hell, which is to say, how horrible evils are committed by shirking moral responsibility and thereby finding a way to justify immoral acts, as when Satan enumerates what “compels me now / To do what else though damn’d I should abhor,” which Milton responds to with the disarming lines, “So spake the Fiend, and with necessity, / The Tyrant’s plea, excus’d his devilish deeds” (IV.391–94). Others have not found this line of reasoning a satisfactory explanation for why Milton—who again with Paradise Lost took it upon himself to “justify the ways of God to men” (I.26)—chose to play up Satan’s majestic grandeur and heroic daring while downplaying his malevolence, creating a Satan not evil incarnate but a complex character reluctantly driven to iniquity by his irremediable circumstances.

To fully comprehend how diluted the evil intent of Milton’s Devil is, we need only compare him to similar literary incarnations of the Prince of Darkness. It has been observed that Milton’s epic hero Satan of Paradise Lost is a descendant of the Lucifers of Renaissance epic;27 however, Milton’s Satan differs markedly from his Renaissance forebears, not least for ruining Adam and Eve being an afterthought for him (I.650–56, II.344–76), an indirect means of bittersweet revenge against the omnipotent Deity that defeated the angelic insurgents in open war (IX.171–78). Envy of Man is much more at the forefront of the other Renaissance Lucifers’ minds.28 In Paradise Lost, Satan initially rises in rebellion against “he who reigns / Monarch in Heav’n” (I.637–38) over the Almighty’s exaltation of His Son to universal kingship (V.600ff.)—to the Romantics a suspect choice for the antimonarchical Milton, apologist for the regicide of Charles I, propagandist for Oliver Cromwell’s Commonwealth, and persona non grata under the restored monarchy with Charles II on the throne. The prior Renaissance epics, by contrast, preferred envy of Man as the root cause of the angels’ rebellion in Heaven and subsequent everlasting war with God.29 Joost van den Vondel’s Lucifer (1654) may offer the closest literary cousin of Milton’s Satan, yet even here enmity with Man is so acute in its eponymous tragic character that in Lucifer’s sequel, Adam in Exile (1664), Vondel depicts a depraved Devil who fantasizes about dancing triumphantly around the corpses of Adam and Eve in their paradisiacal garden turned grave.30 This is a far cry indeed from Milton’s Satan, who sheds tears for Adam and Eve when ruminating on how their “harmless innocence” must soon be destroyed by him, who has no recourse but to precipitate their ruin (IV.388–92).

Gustave Doré, Paradise Lost, Book IX (1866): "O Earth, how like to Heav’n, if not preferr’d / More justly." (IX.99-100)
Gustave Doré, Paradise Lost, Book IX (1866): “O Earth, how like to Heav’n, if not preferr’d / More justly.” (IX.99-100)

Although Milton follows tradition by having the angelically arrogant Satan express disdain for the earthborn creatures of dust promoted to the bliss wherefrom he’s been banished (IV.505–11; IX.143–57), Milton also—and more significantly—breaks radically from tradition by giving his Satan uniquely mixed emotions about orchestrating the Fall of Man, and this peculiar choice lends substantial support to the claim made by Shelley (and by Satan) that Paradise Lost’s Devil has been provoked in his envious malignity by a devious Deity. The sole purpose for which Milton’s God crafts human life is to “worship him.… / And multiply a Race of Worshippers” (VII.628, 630), worshippers who are created to fill the vacant positions of the celestial congregants who rebelled and fell with Satan (VII.150–61). Man, God Himself specifically says, is made to spite Satan, “lest his heart exalt him in the harm / Already done, to have dispeopl’d Heav’n, / My damage fondly deem’d…” (VII.150–52). Satan is certainly not off the mark when he dubs “this new Favorite / Of Heav’n, this Man of Clay” a “Son of despite” (IX.175–76). His “envy” having been “Provoke[d],” Satan decides that “spite then with spite is best repaid” (IX.175, 178), and Milton’s God follows suit, as the Son expresses that the Father’s offer of salvation to fallen Man is, at least in part, designed to spite Satan (III.150–62). The Fall of Man ultimately deals no damage to Milton’s Deity, of course (even the War in Heaven is, in His words, “My damage fondly deem’d”), and in fact the Almighty will only profit from the Fall, for He boasts that Man will “to me owe / All his deliv’rance, and to none but me” (III.181–82). Satan, on the other hand, inflicts upon himself horrible damage by destroying Adam and Eve’s innocence: “…so bent he seems / On desperate revenge,” observes Milton’s omniscient God, “that shall redound / Upon his own rebellious head” (III.84–86), and Satan himself comes to comprehend that “of worse deeds worse sufferings must ensue” (IV.26)—that his relentless pursuit of vengeance only courts further suffering for himself; yet he finds no choice but to carry on:

Revenge, at first though sweet,
Bitter ere long back on itself recoils;
Let it, I reck not, so it light well aim’d,
Since higher I fall short, on him who next
Provokes my envy… (IX.171–75)

Gustave Doré, Paradise Lost, Book VI (1866): "Nine days they fell." (VI.871)
Gustave Doré, Paradise Lost, Book VI (1866): “Nine days they fell.” (VI.871)

Paradise Lost anticipates—and appears to support, albeit unintentionally—Shelley’s radical assertion that Milton’s God is the true architect of the Devil’s malevolence towards Man. Satan snidely but quite rightly states to Gabriel, Eden’s archangelic guardian, “let him surer bar / His Iron Gates, if he intends our stay / In that dark durance” (IV.897–99), and indeed we are reminded early on in Milton’s epic that it is the Almighty Himself who frees Satan from the burning lake of Hell so that “with reiterated crimes he might / Heap on himself damnation” (I.214–15), as well as garner greater glory for God, as Satan’s “spite still serves / His glory to augment” (II.385–86). Milton’s God not only frees Satan from the “Adamantine Chains” (I.48) that bind him on Hell’s burning lake, but places the key to the gates of Hell in the hands of Satan’s daughter Sin, who is easily convinced by her father to aid him in undermining God’s Creation by unlocking the infernal gateway, allowing Satan to commence his journey to Eden (II.850–84). When Milton informs us that “Sin and Death amain / Following his track,” he is sure to emphasize that “such was the will of Heav’n” (II.1024–25), for in the Miltonic cosmos, “the Spirits perverse / With easy intercourse pass to and fro / To tempt or punish mortals…” (II.1030–32). What’s more, Milton explains that human history’s pagans had “Devils to adore for Deities” (I.373) because the host of Hell assumed the identities of the various pagan gods, “wand’ring o’er the Earth, / Through God’s high sufferance for the trial of man…” (I.365–66). This strange scheme of Milton’s God—using the fallen spirits to lead much of the human race astray as some sort of test—all begins with the Almighty using the infernal fugitive Satan to put Adam and Eve’s obedience to the test by having them face disobedience personified (III.80–96). The interlocking reason for Milton’s God ensuring Satan’s arrival in Eden, however, is to lead Satan deeper into his own damnation, as Shelley surmised.

Any genuinely ill-willed action taken up by Satan and his infernal peers occurs only after they have been hurled down into hellfire, and their “Prison ordained” is no correctional facility, but a “Dungeon horrible,” a fiery pit of utter damnation “where peace / And rest can never dwell, hope never comes / That comes to all; but torture without end…” (I.71, 61, 65–67). As Shelley observed, Milton’s God “in the cold security of undoubted triumph inflicts the most horrible revenge upon his enemy,” but not to break Satan’s spirit and drive him into repentance or reform, but strictly to sadistically perpetuate his torment.31 Shelley is quite simply not off the mark, and Milton’s “Torturer” (II.64) God appears to allow Satan to escape from his hopeless infernal torture chamber and journey to the blessed joys of Eden only because He knows that Satan will there be subjected to the greater torment of “the hateful siege / Of contraries” (IX.121–22), fulfilling a punishment of self-destruction devised for the otherwise unconquerable adversary. The twentieth-century literary critic A. J. A. Waldock would go even farther than Shelley, exonerating Milton’s Satan by arguing that his descent is not merely designed by Milton’s God but by Milton himself: “The changes do not generate themselves from within: they are imposed from without. Satan, in short, does not degenerate: he is degraded.”32 Then again, to protest that Milton’s sublime and sympathetic Satan is undone because he is ultimately treated unfairly by an overpowering hand pulling the strings is essentially Shelley’s argument; the Romantic poet simply stepped into Milton’s cosmos to make the case—a case which, while stunningly irreverent in making God the true “Author of evil,” as Satan is labeled for his “revolt” (VI.262), is surprisingly strong.

Gustave Doré, Paradise Lost, Book IV (1866): "Me miserable! Which way shall I fly / Infinite wrath, and infinite despair?" (IV.73-74)
Gustave Doré, Paradise Lost, Book IV (1866): “Me miserable! Which way shall I fly / Infinite wrath, and infinite despair?” (IV.73-74)

Milton critics less sympathetic to Satan than Shelley argue that the rebel angel’s heroism in Paradise Lost’s infernal books—specifically his “unconquerable Will” and “courage never to submit or yield” (I.106, 108), his “dauntless courage, and considerate Pride” (I.603), his assertion that “The mind is its own place, and in itself / Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n” (I.254–55), and his declaration that it is “Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heav’n” (I.263)—entirely evaporates when Satan is no longer in the infernal regions fighting to rekindle the spirits of his fallen compatriots. It is wrong, however, to view Milton’s Satan as putting on a duplicitous show for political purposes in Hell; it is only after Satan plants his “unblest feet” (I.238) on Earth at the opening of Book IV and directs his gaze toward the Sun, whose divine radiance serves as a bitter reminder of his loss, that this Devil demonstrates a shift in perspective:

O thou that with surpassing Glory crown’d,
Look’st from thy sole Dominion like the God
Of this new World; at whose sight all the Stars
Hide thir diminisht heads; to thee I call,
But with no friendly voice, and add thy name
O Sun, to tell thee how I hate thy beams
That bring to my remembrance from what state
I fell, how glorious once above thy Sphere;
Till Pride and worse Ambition threw me down
Warring in Heav’n against Heav’n’s matchless King:
Ah wherefore! he deserv’d no such return
From me, whom he created what I was
In that bright eminence, and with his good
Upbraided none; nor was his service hard. (IV.32–45)

Prior to this point, Satan has traveled alone across the landscape of Hell, the realm of Chaos, the material cosmos, and the surface of the Sun without suffering any such mental breakdown. Worth noting is that Milton himself, in Book IV’s opening “Argument,” writes that “Satan now in prospect of Eden…falls into many doubts with himself” (277), and not that he—as Satan’s detractors theorize—shows his true face or something to that effect. Satan goes on to reaffirm his position as God’s great adversary, as he later recalls to himself,

…I in one Night freed
From servitude inglorious well nigh half
Th’ Angelic Name, and thinner left the throng
Of his adorers… (IX.140–43)

John Martin, Satan Starts at the Touch of Ithuriel’s Spear (ca. 1823-25)
John Martin, Satan Starts at the Touch of Ithuriel’s Spear (ca. 1823-25)

When the fallen angel returns triumphantly to Hell at the end of his journey, he in fact revels in his identity “Of Satan (for I glory in the name, / Antagonist of Heav’n’s Almighty King)…” (X.386–87). Nevertheless, throughout that journey Satan suffers continued hellish pangs over his loss of heavenly blessedness, a feeling reinforced by the very “Earth, how like to Heav’n, if not preferr’d / More justly, Seat worthier of Gods…” (IX.99–100). Indeed, Book IV not only opens but closes with such a moment, when Satan is discovered within the bower of the slumbering Adam and Eve by the celestially radiant angelic guards Ithuriel and Zephon:

…abasht the Devil stood,
And felt how awful goodness is, and saw
Virtue in her shape how lovely, saw, and pin’d
His loss; but chiefly to find here observ’d
His lustre visibly impair’d… (IV.846–50)

As Satan acknowledges in the first of his five soliloquies given throughout his sorrowful sojourn in Eden, “myself am Hell,” for Satan is painfully well aware that his suffering is to intensify with each step closer to carrying out the ruin of the human race: “…in the lowest deep a lower deep / Still threat’ning to devour me opens wide, / To which the Hell I suffer seems a Heav’n” (IV.75–78). We repeatedly witness Satan’s horrid pain induced by the pleasures surrounding him; exposed to the sight of bliss by the will of God, the Hell-flames within Satan are relentlessly stoked: “…the more I see / Pleasures about me, so much more I feel / Torment within me…” (IX.119–21). “O Hell!” is Satan’s reaction to the sight of Adam and Eve, even though his “thoughts pursue [them] / With wonder, and could love, so lively shines / In them Divine resemblance” (IV.358, 363–65), and not long after we hear him cry “Sight hateful, sight tormenting!” in response to the two “Imparadis’t in one another’s arms…” (IV.505–06). Milton’s Devil is never evil incarnate, however: when Satan (housed within the serpent) sets his sights on the lonesome Eve in her peerless beauty, for instance, he is suddenly struck “Stupidly good”:

That space the Evil one abstracted stood
From his own evil, and for the time remain’d
Stupidly good, of enmity disarm’d,
Of guile, of hate, of envy, of revenge… (IX.463–66)

Yet once again, the fallen angel’s innate admiration for the beauty of goodness is spoiled by the hellish misery his “punisher” (IV.103) has infused in his breast as an affliction fit for the cosmic pariah:

But the hot Hell that always in him burns,
Though in mid Heav’n, soon ended his delight,
And tortures him now more, the more he sees
Of pleasure not for him ordain’d… (IX.467–70)

As Satan earlier states, “only in destroying I find ease / To my relentless thoughts” (IX.129–30), and his “hot Hell that always in him burns” forces Satan to recall that he is Hell-bent on Man’s destruction:

Thoughts, whither have ye led me, with what sweet
Compulsion thus transported to forget
What hither brought us, hate, not love, nor hope
Of Paradise for Hell, hope here to taste
Of pleasure, but all pleasure to destroy,
Save what is in destroying, other joy
To me is lost. (IX.473–79)

Frankenstein, illustrated by Bernie Wrightson
Frankenstein, illustrated by Wrightson

Which brings us back to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. “All, save I,” cries Frankenstein’s creature, “were at rest or in enjoyment: I, like the arch fiend, bore a hell within me; and, finding myself unsympathized with, wished to tear up the trees, spread havoc and destruction around me, and then to have sat down and enjoyed the ruin” (95). The creature expresses this nihilistic fury even though he bids the “happy earth” a “fit habitation for gods” (80)—lines themselves lifted from Milton’s Satan (IX.99–100)—and this hellish rage is not reserved merely for those who cruelly exclude the creature; it inevitably extends even to those who, like Adam and Eve, exemplify the best of humanity. Frankenstein’s creature confesses that he often “considered Satan as the fitter emblem of my condition” because, when he “viewed the bliss” of the De Lacy family—the thoroughly admirable cottagers whose hovel he had surreptitiously taken refuge in—“the bitter gall of envy rose within me” (90), just as Satan envies the prelapsarian human pair, despite their lovely divine resemblance. Haunted by his hellish thoughts and the diabolical deeds which have resulted from his sorrow and suffering, the creature acknowledges at the end of his tragic journey that, like Milton’s Satan, he has fallen so far:

I was nourished with high thoughts of honour and devotion. But now vice has degraded me beneath the meanest animal. No crime, no mischief, no malignity, no misery, can be found comparable to mine. When I call over the frightful catalogue of my deeds, I cannot believe that I am he whose thoughts were once filled with sublime and transcendent visions of the beauty and the majesty of goodness. But it is even so; the fallen angel becomes a malignant devil. Yet even that enemy of God and man had friends and associates in his desolation; I am quite alone. (160)

The descent of Frankenstein’s creature into evil is principally caused by his creator’s negligence, and as harsh as this mortal maker may be towards his monstrous creature, Frankenstein does on occasion express guilt for his negligence;33 Milton’s God, however, deliberately orchestrates Satan’s prolonged self-destruction, and even finds it occasion for laughter (V.711–42). Frankenstein is vilified for his disastrous attempt at playing God, yet he at least has the excuse of being but a mortal man, whereas God Himself—all-knowing, all-powerful, and (by His own judgment) all-good—has no such excuse. Victor Frankenstein ultimately seems far less villainous and criminal than the all-too-human “angry Victor” (I.169) of Paradise Lost on account of the sadistic game Milton’s God plays with Satan, manipulating the fallen angel to betray his finer feelings and bring destruction both to himself and to others. Frankenstein’s creature pleads, “misery made me a fiend” (68), and misery has likewise made Milton’s Satan a fiend—the “Arch-fiend” (I.156), as he is “Supreme / In misery…” (IV.91–92).

Gustave Doré, Paradise Lost, Book VI (1866): "Then Satan first knew pain, / And writhed him to and fro." (VI.327-28)
Gustave Doré, Paradise Lost, Book VI (1866): “Then Satan first knew pain, / And writhed him to and fro.” (VI.327-28)

Both Milton’s Satan and Frankenstein’s creature, in Percy Shelley’s estimation, are victims of circumstance, and it should come as no surprise that when Frankenstein was first published anonymously in 1818, Shelley was widely assumed to have authored the novel penned by his wife’s hand. Lord Byron may have taken the Miltonic heritage a step further in Cain (1821) by transforming the Tempter of Eden into a Promethean liberator and enlightener—which itself, it can be argued, is anticipated in the response elicited from Milton’s Satan when he first learns of Adam and Eve being barred from the Tree of Knowledge (“Knowledge forbidd’n? / Suspicious, reasonless. Why should thir Lord / Envy them that?” [IV.515–17])—but Percy Shelley’s radical moral reevaluation of Milton’s Satan, “pernicious casuistry”34 though it may be, forgives the fallen angel his flaws, virtually redeeming the Devil. Yet that this redemptive reading of Shelley’s applied both to Frankenstein’s creature and to Paradise Lost’s Satan highlights how Mary Shelley’s novel—painfully tragic though it may be—is worthy of far greater consideration in discussions of Romanticism’s rehabilitation of Milton’s Satan.


Just as Mary Shelley survived by far the other members of the Lake Geneva ghost story group of 1816, her novel Frankenstein—conceived and begun by Shelley when she was still a teenager—mimicked its maker insofar as it has proven to be the longest-lasting and influential literary creation produced by the Romantic age. “I bid my hideous progeny go forth and prosper,” she wrote in the Introduction to Frankenstein’s 1831 edition,35 and prosper Frankenstein did, for two centuries later we are still reflecting on this Romantic novel and its implications—and its influence. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is not typically included in the canon of Romantic Satanism, and is instead often read simplistically as a wholly hostile reaction to Romanticism’s hubris and resulting perverseness. Frankenstein, like Paradise Lost, is far more ambiguous and ambivalent than that. As the literary critic Paul A. Cantor beautifully put it in Creature and Creator: Myth-making and English Romanticism:

Both Frankenstein and the monster are symbols of the Romantic revolt against the human condition, the idealistic refusal to accept the facts of human nature. In portraying the disastrous consequences of this revolt, Mary Shelley wrote one of the few truly tragic stories in Romantic literature, perhaps because she was dramatizing the tragedy of Romanticism itself.36

Romantic-inspired sympathizers of Milton’s Satan especially ought to take a closer look at Mary Shelley’s complex masterwork. Today, sympathy for Frankenstein’s monster is commonplace; however, just as the parallels the creature of Shelley’s novel draws to the damned angel of Paradise Lost serve to make him seem more sympathetic, the parallels can be drawn in reverse, and to the same effect. If Frankenstein’s monster is worthy of readers’ sympathies, so too is Milton’s reluctant monster, and so while Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein may be Romanticism’s most ambivalent venture into Miltonic mythmaking, her groundbreaking story indirectly offers up one of the most sympathetic readings of the Satan of Paradise Lost. William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790–93) may have provided Romanticism’s most famous assessment of Paradise Lost—that “Milton…was a true Poet and of the Devils party without knowing it”37—but Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, though often overlooked in discussions of the Romantic reevaluation of Milton’s Satan, is really a companion to the Blakean reading of Paradise Lost, which essentially holds that Milton, like the legendary Dr. Frankenstein himself, lost control of his monster.


Lucifer Aspired to be a God, Not a Goat: On Satanic Aesthetics (Part 1 of 2)

“O foul descent! that I who erst contended

With Gods to sit the highest, am now constrain’d

Into a Beast, and mixt with bestial slime,

This essence to incarnate and imbrute,

That to the highth of Deity aspir’d…”

Paradise Lost (1667), IX.163–67


So laments Milton’s Satan as he contemplates possessing the slimy serpent in order to carry out the temptation in Eden. Lord Byron—“master-Satanist”1 of Romanticism’s “Satanic School”—relieved Lucifer of this “foul descent” in Cain (1821), as both Byron himself and the Byronic fallen angel deny the popular identification of the Eden serpent with Lucifer. Indeed, Byron’s proud “Master of spirits” (I.i.99) scoffs at the notion that a superior spiritual being free to roam the cosmos—“One who aspired to be what made thee” (I.i.126), as he puts it to Adam’s firstborn son—would covet what little the material world has to offer, let alone in the shape of a creeping creature (I.i.216–45). And as in Milton’s Paradise Lost, wherein Satan’s “form had yet not lost / All her Original brightness, nor appear’d / Less than Arch-Angel ruin’d” (I.591–93), Byron’s Cain presents the fallen Lucifer as a sublime sight:

                                 …A shape like to the angels,

Yet of a sterner and a sadder aspect

Of spiritual essence.…

Yet he seems mightier far than them, nor less

Beauteous, and yet not all as beautiful

As he hath been, and might be: sorrow seems

Half of his immortality. (I.i.80–96)

Sir Thomas Lawrence, Satan Summoning His Legions (1796-97)
Sir Thomas Lawrence, Satan Summoning His Legions (1796-97)
The Miltonic-Romantic Lucifer is beautiful rather than bestial, awe-inspiring rather than horrifying. This alluring angelic rebel aspired to be a god, and, although a fallen figure, he looks the part. “Wherever the figure of [Milton’s] Satan is introduced,” wrote the Romantic critic and essayist William Hazlitt, “it is illustrated with the most striking and appropriate images: so that we see it always before us, gigantic, irregular, portentous, uneasy, and disturbed—but dazzling in its faded splendour, the clouded ruins of a god.”2 This Miltonic makeover of Satan as fallen but godlike Lucifer is precisely what Romantic artists executed as they brought the princely rebel angel to life: a heroicized figure whose titanic form is almost always angel-winged, if not wingless and thereby wholly humanized, and whose countenance is rendered with an Apollonian beauty, with due emphasis on Milton’s description of “Eyes / That sparkling blaz’d” beneath “Brows / Of dauntless courage, and considerate Pride…” (I.193–94, 602–3). As Romanticism’s Satanic artwork discards traditional Christian iconography in favor of Milton’s poetry, long gone are the bestial horns and hoofs and general grotesquerie of medievalism; the Miltonic Satan of the Romantics is clothed in a splendor befitting a Grecian god. Romanticism, inspired by Milton, produced the fallen archangel’s pictorial apotheosis, and yet this most majestic image of Satan has somehow eluded self-declared Satanists. Modern Satanism’s aesthetic component consistently imagines Satan not as a god but as a goat, reverting back to the bestial imagery formerly used within Christendom to humble the Prince of Pride.3


A Brief History of Satan’s Sullied Beauty

Romanticism’s handsome Devil was wholly indebted to the Miltonic Satan, for Paradise Lost’s portrait of the fallen angel was a remarkably radical break from Christian tradition. Traditionally, Satan’s celestial magnificence was transformed into monstrousness as he was cast into Hell, his prelapsarian splendor sometimes even stripped at the moment of his exile from Heaven. Sullying Satan’s former beauty and majesty was a dramatic way of expressing the cataclysmic nature of his fall, as attested to by the Old Testament passages which the Church Fathers, when formulating the Devil’s official biography, took as veiled descriptions of the renegade angel’s heavenly war against God and subsequent infernal imprisonment (Isaiah 14:12–15; Ezekiel 28:12–19). In Paradise Lost, Milton pays homage both to the prideful Lucifer of Isaiah, who sought to scale the heavens and equal the Almighty Himself, and to the beautifully bejeweled “anointed cherub” of Ezekiel, whose radiance led to rejection of God, when describing the angelic aristocrat’s sparkling celestial abode (V.756–66). Yet the splendiferous structure that Milton’s industrious fallen angels erect in Hell—“Pandæmonium, the high Capitol / Of Satan and his Peers” (I.756–57)—is not necessarily less magnificent, for this “City and proud seat / Of Lucifer” (X.424–25) is described by Milton as a marvelous sight far outshining all sublime structures throughout human history (I.710–30), within which Satan is seated atop an incomparably splendid throne (II.1–10).

John Martin, "Pandemonium" (1841)
John Martin, Pandemonium (1841)

These glittering palaces reflect the Miltonic Lucifer’s luster: Satan the heavenly rebel angel is described as “Sun-bright” (VI.100), and yet Satan the hellish fallen angel is still likened to the Sun, though as obscured by a misty horizon or eclipsed by the Moon (I.592–99). In short, Milton’s Satan remains in possession of a considerable degree of his “Original brightness” (I.592), as does the fallen “Satanic Host” (VI.392), which Milton likens to a lightning-scorched but nonetheless stately forest (I.612–15). The fallen rebel angels, despite their diminished glory, bear “Godlike shapes and forms / Excelling human, Princely Dignities” (I.358–59), and no one is as princely and godlike as Satan himself, who even in the midst of damnation cuts a truly dazzling figure:

                                    …he above the rest

In shape and gesture proudly eminent

Stood like a Tow’r; his form had yet not lost

All her Original brightness, nor appear’d

Less than Arch-Angel ruin’d, and th’ excess

Of Glory obscur’d.…

…Dark’n’d so, yet shone

Above them all th’ Arch-Angel… (I.589–600)

Milton calls his Satan “the Prince of Darkness” (X.383), but as the prestigious Miltonist John Leonard aptly notes, though “a ‘disstarred’ Lucifer,” Milton’s Satan “is not the prince of darkness, but the prince of twilight, a denizen of Heaven, splendid even in exile.”4 Consider what a far cry this is from the arch-fiend of medieval Christianity, which was wholeheartedly dedicated to humbling the prideful angel. During the Middle Ages, Satan was portrayed sometimes as a frightful fiend, sometimes as a fumbling fool,5 but always as a malformed monster, and the greatest of these deformed Devils was Dante’s Lucifer.

Cornelis Galle the Elder, after Lodovico Cardi, Lucifer (1595)
Cornelis Galle the Elder, after Lodovico Cardi, Lucifer (1595)
In the Inferno of Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy (1308–21), Lucifer lies in the ninth and lowest circle of Hell, reserved for the treacherous. Dante’s Devil, frozen below the waist in unbreakable ice, is a grotesque sight: a gigantic, hairy, three-faced monstrosity (XXXIV.28–67). Dante’s use of the name “Lucifer” is an ironic mockery of the perfidious angelic prince, who “was once as handsome as he now / is ugly,” imprisoned in the icy depths of Hell because he “raised his brows / against his Maker” (XXXIV.34–36). Yet if Dante’s Lucifer is as repulsive as he once was beautiful, Milton’s Satan is as magnificent as Dante’s Lucifer was monstrous. Paradise Lost’s curiously sympathetic portrait of the fallen archangel was genuinely unprecedented, for medievalism’s visual vilifications of Satan carried over into the Renaissance,6 and while a number of Renaissance works may have conceded a certain degree of proto-Miltonic magnificence in their treatments of Lucifer’s heavenly revolt,7 they were also far more unforgiving than Milton when visualizing Satan’s hellish fall, as they all upheld the medieval tradition of marring of the fallen angel’s marvelous face and form.8 Paradise Lost’s Prince of Darkness therefore outshines all of these prior Devils.

Satan as the Fallen Angel (ca. 1797)
Sir Thomas Lawrence, Satan as the Fallen Angel (ca. 1797)
That the grandly luminous Lucifer brought to life in Romanticism’s Miltonic iconography is the closest artists have ever come to a proper portrayal of Milton’s Satan simply cannot be overstressed. Whereas traditional Christian renderings of the diabolical underscored Satan’s no longer being an angel of Heaven, in Paradise Lost Milton over and again emphasizes that his “Hell-doom’d” (II.697) Devil is still an angel—nothing less than “Arch-Angel ruin’d,” his “excess / Of Glory” merely “obscur’d” (I.593–94). The Devil “owes everything to Milton,” aptly noted Percy Bysshe Shelley in his unpublished Essay on the Devil and Devils (ca. 1819–20), as “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.”9 It is curious indeed that actual Satanists—those who are so moved by the figure of Satan that they embrace him as an inspirational icon to the point of deliberately adopting his name as part of their own identity—have paid the rich and exceedingly Satanic Miltonic-Romantic tradition so little attention. Nowhere is this more blatant than in modern Satanism’s aesthetic sense, which renders Satan not with Miltonic majesty but with goatish ghoulishness.


Modern Satanism’s Goatish Devil

When Church of Satan founder Anton Szandor LaVey staked his flag on Satanism in 1966 with his codification of the world’s first openly Satanic creed and accompanying aboveground Satanic organization, he laid claim to an authoritative position on not only Satanic philosophy but on Satanic aesthetics as well. As it happens, LaVey’s proved to be an aesthetic far removed from the infernal elegance descended from the Miltonic-Romantic tradition, reflected most perfectly in that cultural tradition’s Satan, a true Prince of Darkness.

Anton Szandor LaVey (1930–1997)
Anton Szandor LaVey (1930–1997)
Whereas Romantic Satanism was the product of turn-of-the-nineteenth-century English high culture, emerging organically from the works of titans of literature and art (even if a number of them went either unappreciated or unnoticed during their own lifetimes), LaVeyan Satanism was the product of twentieth-century American popular culture, consciously weaved together by a former carny, occult practitioner, and populist provocateur exploiting media frenzy. A dark carnival showmanship was pervasive in the Satanism synthesized by LaVey: an easily digestible philosophy of street-smart self-indulgence wrapped up in a playful Halloween horror aesthetic of horns, capes, skulls, magical candles, medieval demons, and so on. While LaVey rejected certain aspects of the stereotypical Satanism portrayed in the media (there was no place in LaVey’s Satanic church for human or animal sacrifice, drug addled orgies, or even Devil worship, technically speaking), he clearly made use of popular Satanic stereotypes when constructing “the Satanist” defined in his seminal Satanic Bible of 1969. The two extremely different traditions of Romantic Satanism and LaVeyan Satanism—despite both embracing Satan as a symbol as opposed to as an entity—produced two extremely different Devils, Romantic Satanism’s a Promethean figure of heroic defiance, LaVeyan Satanism’s a cartoonish figure of fun—an idealized carny, you might say. (Indeed, this is the popular Devil image created by the Church of Satan-affiliated artist Coop.) LaVey’s logic was twofold: embracing such a Satan would be splendidly blasphemous to straight-laced, God-fearing, Bible-thumping believers while at the same time helping place extreme emphasis on the opposite of what those preoccupied with the otherworldly preached: fleshly fun in the here-and-now, held sacred by Satanists.

Fleshly fun was indeed the focus of the much publicized ceremonies hosted throughout the late 1960s at “the Black House”—LaVey’s San Francisco home, and the newborn Church of Satan’s headquarters—which featured melodramatic rites in darkened, red-lit rooms over the sound of mournful organ music, “the Black Pope” LaVey himself presiding over salaciously sacrilegious rituals in campy attire, not least a horned skull cap. Poking fun at the Christian Church by satirizing traditional Satanic imagery was not unheard of; consider the eighteenth-century Hell-Fire Clubs,10 whose mischievous members channeled the spirit of the infernal as they mocked sacred rites, or even the young Lord Byron dressing as a monk and drinking from a skull cup during orgiastic revels held at his gothic manor, Newstead Abbey.11 However, while LaVey and his sable-robed associates were undeniably having fun at Christianity’s expense, the Black Pope seems to have taken the satirical Satan look he donned rather seriously.

LaVey CoS RitualSatanism’s advantage over mainstream religion is certainly its strong sense of humor,12 but it is difficult to deny that Satanists tend to drift into self-parody when insisting with the utmost conviction that their philosophy is fit only for a natural-born “alien elite”—Satanists as a superior subspecies of Nietzschean supermen13—while appearing in fancy dress, rebranded with colorful names drawn from various demons or cinematic villains (something even Peter H. Gilmore, LaVey’s successor as the Church of Satan’s High Priest, has criticized as crass and silly14) or, worse yet, absurd adopted surnames like “Ruthless” or “Murder.” (One such former prominent member of the Church of Satan would even resort to subdermal implants to give the impression that he had horns.) LaVey himself, though the consummate showman, appears to have been at least somewhat cognizant of the clash between Satanism’s dark doctrines—Social Darwinian might-makes-right and Machiavellian manipulation for personal gain—with its carnivalesque aesthetic. For example, the year 1967 saw LaVey preside over the world’s first Satanic wedding, baptism, and funeral, and while the Black Pope wore the horned cap for the first two affairs, when it came to the more somber third—performed for a deceased serviceman, no less—LaVey showed some restraint and hung up the horns. The Church of Satan High Priest would later abandon his horned cap image altogether in the 1970s, when he decided that it was time to “stop performing Satanism and start practicing it.”15 But LaVeyan Satanism would be stuck with that imagery, famously crystallized in the 1970 documentary film Satanis: The Devil’s Mass, which has provided stock footage for just about every documentary on Satanism since.

Romantic artwork may have oscillated between the sublime and the ridiculous, but the iconography of modern Satanism has leaned much more toward the latter, despite LaVeyan Satanists’ patrician pretensions. For instance, the Church of Satan leadership has been at pains to distance Satanism from the “shock-value Satanism” associated with metal music (classical music is true Satanic music, they maintain16), but is the Satan of LaVeyan Satanism really all that different from the alternately horrific and humorous Devils which adorn heavy metal album artwork? The Church of Satan’s is “the figure championed by the likes of Mark Twain, Milton, and Byron as the independent critic who heroically stands on his own,”17 insists Gilmore, but one would be hard-pressed to identify any such Satan within the imagery produced by LaVeyan Satanism over its half-century span. Their Satan is not the godlike arch-rebel out of Milton and the Romantics; theirs is the goatish arch-fiend out of medieval Christianity, and Satanism’s goatish aesthetic is encapsulated in the Church of Satan’s official emblem: the Sigil of Baphomet.

The Sigil of Baphomet
The Sigil of Baphomet, foremost symbol of modern Satanism
The Sigil of Baphomet is comprised of an inverted pentagram within two concentric circles, between which the Hebrew letters spelling “Leviathan” punctuate each point of the pentagram (counterclockwise, starting from the lowermost point), the head of a goat fitted within the pentagram. On one level, the Sigil of Baphomet highlights the Church of Satan’s multi(counter)cultural component: LaVey posited that “the Satanist” was a specific type of person scattered across the globe throughout human history, simply lacking the specific name and identity he provided,18 and in accordance with the spirit of this sentiment, the Sigil of Baphomet commingles three ancient cultures in one symbol: the pentagram of the Greek Pythagoreans, the Leviathan of the Hebrews, and the carnal goat of the Egyptians. Given that LaVey’s was principally a carnal creed—one that apotheosized the guiltless pursuit of fleshly self-indulgence—it is no surprise that the goat head is the most prominent feature of the Church of Satan’s central symbol.

Baphomet, from Éliphas Lévi's Dogme et rituel de la haute magie (1855)
Baphomet, from Éliphas Lévi’s Dogme et rituel de la haute magie (1855)
The goat head of the Sigil of Baphomet not only evokes ancient Egyptian carnality, but ancient Hebrew scapegoating as well. In the Hebrew Bible, the Israelites are said to have ritualistically transferred their sins onto sacrificial goats (see Leviticus 16), and for a philosophy such as Satanism, which defiantly celebrates the carnal delights denigrated as sinful by the great religions, a scapegoat seemed an appropriate symbol. The most significant connection between goats and the occult, however, is made explicit by the Satanic sigil’s name: Baphomet. The meaning of the mysterious goat-headed idol of Baphomet to the medieval Catholic order known as the Knights Templar (ca. 1119–1312) is rich19 and well beyond this blog’s remit, but its central role in the Templars being deemed heretical and persecuted accordingly has lent Baphomet a diabolical aura ever since. The Satanic reputation of the legendary Baphomet figure was aided by the nineteenth-century French occultist Éliphas Lévi,20 who was responsible for the famous image of the “Sabbatic Goat”: a humanoid figure with a goat’s head and cloven hoofs, angelic wings, female breasts, a male phallus (or rather a caduceus, representing a phallus), and saturated with occult symbolism, such as the pentagram and torch ornamenting the goat’s head. As indicated by the Latin inscriptions on the figure’s forearms—solve and coagula, to “separate” and to “join,” respectively—Lévi’s Baphomet image is clearly a union of opposites: human and animal, angelic and demonic, male and female, above and below. Baphomet has ever since represented the most popular occult Satanic symbol, often taken for an image of Satan himself—most significantly by the Church of Satan founder.21

While Éliphas Lévi was undeniably influenced by the Romantic Satanists who came before him,22 and while the idea of a union of opposites is certainly a familiar Romantic trope—absolutely central to Byronism, for instance—Baphomet quite simply cannot be considered an accurate representation of the Romantic Satan (nor did Lévi intend it to be23). Lévi’s Baphomet and its myriad recreations situate Satan much more in the tradition of medieval Christianity, which emphasized a beastly Devil—an image Milton and later the Romantics broke away from in imagining Satan as a handsome and heroic figure, restoring considerable luster to Lucifer’s much tarnished image. Somehow, the Miltonic-Romantic tradition’s radiant and regal Satan appears to have no place within LaVeyan Satanism—nor, as we will see, within its various offshoots.



1. Clara Tuite, Lord Byron and Scandalous Celebrity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), p. 233.
2. William Hazlitt, Lectures on the English Poets (1818), “Lecture III: On Shakespeare and Milton,” in The Romantics on Milton: Formal Essays and Critical Asides, ed. Joseph Anthony Wittreich, Jr. (Cleveland: The Press of Case Western Reserve University, 1970), p. 385.
3. “Prince of Pride” (princeps superbie) was an obscure medieval epithet for the Devil. See Jeffrey Burton Russell, Lucifer: The Devil in the Middle Ages (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, [1984] 1986), pp. 88, 128n. 76.
4. John Leonard, The Value of Milton (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2016), p. 75.
5. See Russell, Lucifer, p. 243.
6. For exceptions, see Roland Mushat Frye, “Milton’s Paradise Lost and the Visual Arts,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 120, No. 4, Symposium on John Milton (Aug. 13, 1976), pp. 233–44.
7. Stella Purce Revard posits that Milton’s epic hero Satan is an installment in a long line of Renaissance Lucifers in her study of The War in Heaven: Paradise Lost and the Tradition of Satan’s Rebellion (Ithaca, NY and London: Cornell University Press, 1980), p. 198: “Satan, proud but magnificent, unyieldingly resolute in battle, emerges in the Renaissance poems wearing the full splendor of epic trappings. To these poems we owe in large measure the hero Satan as he is developed in Paradise Lost. Renaissance poets drew on two traditions to depict Satan or Lucifer: the hexaemeral and the epic. Hexaemera described Lucifer as a prince, glorious and unsurpassed, whose ambition caused him to strive above his sphere; epics described their heroes as superhuman in battle and accorded them, whatever their arrogance or mistakes in judgment, ‘grace’ to offend, even as they are called to account for their offenses. The Lucifer of the Renaissance thus combines Isaiah’s Lucifer with Homer’s Agamemnon, Virgil’s Turnus, and Tasso’s Rinaldo. Milton’s Satan, in turn, follows the Renaissance Lucifer and is both the prince depicted in hexaemera and the classical battle hero.”
8. See Watson Kirkconnell, The Celestial Cycle: The Theme of Paradise Lost in World Literature with Translations of the Major Analogues (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1952), pp. 59–61 (Torquato Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberate, 1581); 221 (Giambattista Marini’s La Strage degli Innocenti, 1610); 236 (Giambattista Andreini’s L’Adamo, 1613); 350–51 (Joseph Beaumont’s Psyche, or Love’s Majesty, 1648); 414–15 (Joost van den Vondel’s Lucifer, 1654).
9. Percy Bysshe Shelley, Essay on the Devil and Devils, in Shelley’s Prose: or the Trumpet of a Prophecy, ed. David Lee Clark, pref. Harold Bloom (New York: New Amsterdam Books, 1988), p. 268.
10. See Chris Mathews, Modern Satanism: Anatomy of a Radical Subculture (Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 2009), pp. 16–17; Ruben van Luijk, Children of Lucifer: The Origins of Modern Religious Satanism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016), pp. 66–67.
11. See Phyllis Grosskurth, Byron: The Flawed Angel (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1997), pp. 76–77; Benita Eisler, Byron: Child of Passion, Fool of Fame (New York: Vintage Books, 2000), pp. 173–75; Fiona MacCarthy, Byron: Life and Legend (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2002), pp. 79, 87.
12. Anton LaVey was emphatic about the centrality of humor to Satanism. In his essay on “How to be God (or the Devil),” featured in The Devil’s Notebook (Los Angeles: Feral House, 1992)—a book “Dedicated to the men, whoever they are, who invented the Whoopee Cushion, the Joy Buzzer, and the Sneeze-O-Bubble” (p. 3)—the fifth of LaVey’s nine guidelines reads, “A sense of humor is a must; a god who can’t laugh at himself or find comic relief is a dull Jehovah and most definitely un-Satanic” (p. 66). “Those who are humorless should not be taken seriously,” reasoned LaVey in his posthumous publication Satan Speaks! (Los Angeles: Feral House, 1998), as “They take themselves so seriously, they leave no room for others to do likewise” (p. 165). While undeniably a misanthrope, LaVey insisted he was no mope, just “a very happy man in a compulsively unhappy world” (Satan Speaks!, p. 170).
13. LaVey voiced his sense of Satanic superiority rather loudly in The Satanic Bible (New York: Avon Books, [1969] 2005) when he characterized “the Satanist” as “THE HIGHEST EMBODIMENT OF HUMAN LIFE!” (p. 45). LaVey would later explain, “Satanism is the first time in history where a master race can be built on genetically predisposed, like-minded people — not based on the genes that make them white, black, blue, brown or purple — but the genes that make them Satanists.” Quoted in Blanche Barton, The Secret Life of a Satanist: The Authorized Biography of Anton LaVey (Los Angeles: Feral House, [1990] 1992), p. 212.
14. See Peter H. Gilmore, “The Myth of the ‘Satanic Community’ and Other Virtual Delusions,” in The Satanic Scriptures (Baltimore, MD: Scapegoat Publishing, 2007), p. 174.
15. LaVey, quoted in Barton, p. 125.
16. See, for example, Peter H. Gilmore, “Diabolus In Musica,” in The Satanic Scriptures, pp. 112–35.
17. Peter H. Gilmore, “What, the Devil?” in ibid., p. 209.
18. See LaVey, The Satanic Bible, pp. 53, 104.
19. See, for example, Jeffrey Burton Russell, Witchcraft in the Middle Ages (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, [1972] 1984), pp. 194–98; Peter H. Gilmore, “Baphomet,” in Satanism Today: An Encyclopedia of Religion, Folklore, and Popular Culture, ed. James R. Lewis (Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, Inc., 2001), pp. 20–21; Mathews, pp. 12–13; van Luijk, pp. 136–37.
20. For more on Éliphas Lévi (a.k.a. Alphonse-Louis Constant), see Mathews, pp. 104–5; van Luijk, pp. 127–44.
21. LaVey, The Satanic Bible, p. 136: “The symbol of Baphomet was used by the Knights Templar to represent Satan.…In its ‘pure’ form the pentagram is shown encompassing the figure of a man in the five points of the star—three points up, two pointing down—symbolizing man’s spiritual nature. In Satanism the pentagram is also used, but since Satanism represents the carnal instincts of man, or the opposite of the spiritual nature, the pentagram is inverted to perfectly accommodate the head of the goat—its horns, representing duality, thrust upwards in defiance; the other three points inverted, or the trinity denied.”
22. See van Luijk, pp. 132–36.
23. See ibid., pp. 136–39.

Lord Byron’s Skull Cup

Lord George Gordon Byron (1788 – 1824)—famously characterized as “mad, bad and dangerous to know”—was the quintessential Romantic figure. Lord Byron could be extremely Gothic, as is broadly evident in the major Gothic vein running through much of his poetry, and nowhere more evident than in the story of Byron’s skull cup and his early poem inspired by it.

Along with his peerage, Lord Byron inherited the grandly Gothic residence, Newstead Abbey, and when a sizeable and well-preserved skull was incidentally dug up in the garden, Byron explained, “a strange fancy seized me of having it set and mounted as a drinking cup.” The skull cup would serve as Byron’s own personal drinking vessel during the drunken revels he’d host at Newstead—the “Order of the Skull,” he called it—and Byron went on to compose a poem written from the perspective of the skull, who fashions himself as a memento mori, a grim reminder that the grave awaits, but, as such, an inspiration to live life to the fullest in the here-and-now—to drink life to the dregs.




Lines Inscribed Upon a Cup Formed from a Skull

Start not—nor deem my spirit fled:
In me behold the only skull
From which, unlike a living head,
Whatever flows is never dull.

I lived, I loved, I quaff’d, like thee:
I died: let earth my bones resign;
Fill up—thou canst not injure me;
The worm hath fouler lips than thine.

Better to hold the sparkling grape,
Than nurse the earth-worm’s slimy brood;
And circle in the goblet’s shape
The drink of Gods, than reptiles’ food.

Where once my wit, perchance, hath shone,
In aid of others’ let me shine;
And when, alas! our brains are gone,
What nobler substitute than wine?

Quaff while thou canst—another race,
When thou and thine like me are sped,
May rescue thee from earth’s embrace,
And rhyme and revel with the dead.

Why not? since through life’s little day
Our heads such sad effects produce;
Redeem’d from worms and wasting clay,
This chance is theirs, to be of use.

— Lord Byron, Newstead Abbey, 1808

From Scripture to Superbook: A History of Lucifer and the War in Heaven

Gustave Doré, Paradise Lost, Book I (1866): "Him the Almighty Power / Hurled headlong flaming from th’ ethereal sky." (I.44-45)
Gustave Doré, Paradise Lost, Book I (1866): “Him the Almighty Power / Hurled headlong flaming from th’ ethereal sky.” (I.44-45)

The War in Heaven has proven to be one of the most fascinating tales in the history of Christendom. The story of Lucifer’s celestial revolt has been told many times over, not least by Milton in Book VI of Paradise Lost (1667), a remarkably unique interpretation involving a three-day conflict that sees Heaven war-torn by cannon fire and mountain-hurling, which requires the Son of God—God the Father’s “Second Omnipotence” (VI.684)—to enter the conflict and rout the rebel angels out of Heaven. As surprising as it may be, the familiar story of the heavenly rebellion of the preeminent angelic prince Lucifer is not strictly biblical; indeed, little of what is now common knowledge about the Devil has a solid biblical basis. The Miltonic Satan we all know and the Romantics loved was the product of a lengthy evolution of the Devil’s biography within theology and literature.

Thumbing through the Bible in the hope of finding Milton’s tightly woven narrative of a cosmic conflict between God and Satan will inevitably turn out a time-wasting disappointment. The Devil is an extremely minor biblical figure, his appearances rare, dialogue even rarer. Satan is Hebrew for “adversary,” and in the Hebrew Bible—otherwise known as the Old Testament—the term was not originally a name but denoted a function or a stance,1 assumed by a mere mortal (1 Samuel 29:42) or even an immortal angel of the Lord (Numbers 22:223). The Hebrew Bible’s most fleshed out depiction of adversity personified—Satan as a supernatural person—is found in the first two chapters of the Book of Job, wherein Satan appears in Heaven, but not as an insurrectionist; Satan appears instead among the angels of the Lord, carrying out the role of divinely appointed tester, vetting the faith of God’s human servants,4 as in Zechariah (3:1–25). The Satan of the Old Testament, inasmuch as he exists at all, is an extremely hazy figure, and remarkably miniscule in comparison to Jehovah, who, for good or for ill, indisputably rules the world: “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things” (Isaiah 45:7).6

In the New Testament, though its diabology at times hearkens back to the Old Testament use of Satan in its semantic sense of “adversary” (see Mark 8:33; John 6:70–71)—Satan arguably even representative of collective Jewry,7 not least for Jesus effectively Satanizing the nonbelieving Jews (John 8:42–45)—the Devil of Christian Scripture is certainly a much more developed character. The New Testament Satan is presented as a formidable foe, “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience…” (Ephesians 2:2). Although direct references to the Devil are sparse even in the New Testament, Satan is clearly portrayed as a cosmic bogeyman to be feared by all and at every step: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour…” (1 Peter 5:8); “Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11).

Gustave Doré, Paradise Lost, Book I (1866): "So numberless were those bad Angels seen / Hovering on wing under the cope of Hell." (I.344-45)
Gustave Doré, Paradise Lost, Book I (1866): “So numberless were those bad Angels seen / Hovering on wing under the cope of Hell.” (I.344-45)

Satan’s heightened cosmic status in the New Testament was inherited from the apocryphal writings of the Intertestamental Period—the gap between the composition of the Old Testament and New Testament events—when the concept of a genuine Adversary against God began to blossom. The apocryphal books Enoch and Jubilees depict an angelic rebellion—or transgression, at least—incited by earthly desire, these fantastical texts about so-called “Watcher” angels copulating with mortal women and producing a hybrid race of “Nephilim” taking their inspiration from the sixth chapter of the Book of Genesis. These non-canonical stories lent themselves to the burgeoning biography of the Christian Satan,8 and the influence of the Intertestamental Period legends is evident throughout the New Testament: “…God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment…” (2 Peter 2:4); “…the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of that great day” (Jude 1:6). When Judgment Day is envisioned in the Gospel of Matthew, it is foreseen that the Son of God “shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left,” and once the Son has parted the righteous sheep and the ungodly goats, “Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:33–41).9 Unlike the imprisoned Watchers of Enoch and Jubilees, however, demons abound in the New Testament world, and demonic possession is so widespread in the Scriptures10 that Jesus not only performs exorcisms himself (Mark 5:1–20; Luke 8:27–39), but empowers his disciples to deal with the world’s demonic infestation, in fact ordering them to exorcize demons as part of their public ministry (Matthew 10:1, 8).

Satan “is decidedly not peripheral to the New Testament message,” explains Jeffrey Burton Russell, author of a five-volume investigation of the Devil in history and literature. “The saving mission of Christ can be understood only in terms of its opposition to the power of the Devil: that is the whole point of the New Testament.”11 Indeed, Christian Scripture is unequivocal on this point: “He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). It was in the most elaborate Scriptural depiction of the opposition between Christ and the Devil that the New Testament Satan was fully fleshed out. By the fourth chapter of the first New Testament Gospel,12 the Devil is introduced into the narrative of Jesus, Satan carrying out three temptations of the Son of God in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1–11). The story serves to both make the Son look good and instruct believers in how to properly face temptation, as the Son easily dismisses Satan’s temptations by appealing to Scripture, his refrain: “it is written…” However, this story—repeated in two other Gospels (Mark 1:12–13; Luke 4:1–13) and retold by Milton in Paradise Regained (1671)—is also demonstrative of the heightened cosmic status of Satan. Unlike the Book of Job, wherein Satan is the Adversary of Man while still a servant of the will of God, the Gospels depict a Satan at odds with God’s will, which the Devil attempts to subvert on Earth. The Christian Satan is, as Milton puts it in Paradise Lost, “the Adversary of God and Man” (II.629).

Ary Scheffer, Temptation of Christ (1854)
Ary Scheffer, Temptation of Christ (1854)

What’s more, if in the Old Testament Satan is portrayed as somewhat presumptuous in the overzealous manner in which he carries out his God-given role of testing mortal faith—“And the LORD said unto Satan…thou movedst me against [Job], to destroy him without cause” (Job 2:3); “The LORD rebuke thee, O Satan…is not this [Joshua] a brand plucked out of the fire?” (Zechariah 3:1–2)—in the New Testament Satan is granted true hauteur in his independent attempt at tempting God Himself, incarnate as the Son of God. Also, in the Gospels Christ is tempted by a Devil wielding staggeringly greater power than that of the Hebrew Bible’s Satan: whereas Satan in the Old Testament merely prowls the Earth (Job 1:7; 2:2), in the New Testament Satan is shown in full possession of the planet, for when he shows the Son “all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them” (Matthew 4:8), Satan points out that these glorious kingdoms are at his disposal: “All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it. If thou therefore wilt worship me, all shall be thine” (Luke 4:6–7; cf. Matthew 4:8–9).

The Devil’s dominance over the world is undisputed in the New Testament. “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36), states Jesus, who himself concedes that it is Satan who is “the prince of this world” (John 12:31). Satan is elsewhere referred to as “the god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4) in Christian Scripture, which places all worldliness under the Devil’s aegis: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world” (1 John 2:15–16). While the New Testament Satan is provided with such worldly preeminence, however, he is still a rather mysterious figure—still but a skeletal outline of the Devil that would be developed by Christian tradition, initially over the course of the first centuries of the Church. Satan’s official biography was the product of the early Church Fathers—namely the second-/third-century patristic writers Origen and Tertullian—who were truly responsible for formulating Satan’s story,13 a process consisting of a great deal of reading between the lines.

The New Testament’s most significant contribution to this Christian biography of Satan—certainly as far as Milton’s Paradise Lost is concerned—was to be found in the Book of Revelation, a cryptic text14 which liberally employs imagery befitting a bizarre fever dream. Revelation, which was very nearly left out of the official New Testament canon,15 envisions Satan inciting a War in Heaven:

And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. (Revelation 12:7–9)

Gustave Doré, Paradise Lost, Book VI (1866): "Hell at last / Yawning received them whole." (VI.874-75)
Gustave Doré, Paradise Lost, Book VI (1866): “Hell at last / Yawning received them whole.” (VI.874-75)

Some patristic commentators, and later Luther, interpreted Revelation 12 as an allegory of the early Church, and Michael—a Hebrew name meaning “he who is like God”—as Christ,16 but the prevailing interpretation was that of a literal outbreak of angelic warfare in Heaven, a cataclysmic event predating the Fall in the Garden of Eden. This epic celestial conflict was even thought to have been glimpsed by Jesus, who remarked to his disciples, “I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven” (Luke 10:18).17

John of Patmos, the author of Revelation, himself anticipated patristic reinterpretations of biblical texts in equating “the great dragon” he writes of with “that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world…” (Revelation 12:9).18 Previously, the double-talking villain of the Garden of Eden was understood to be a mere serpent, but Christian tradition recast the slimy tempter as a serpentine Satan—or a serpent demonically possessed by Satan, as in Paradise Lost (IX.182–91). The reconceived Eden serpent was the Devil in disguise, who deceives Adam and Eve into forfeiting dominion over the world through their original sin against the Deity. In addition to Satan, the Son of God was also spotted in Eden, the cosmic feud between the two supposedly foretold in the curse God places upon the serpent: “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15).19

Confident that the Christian Satan, whose official biography was being gradually pieced together, was to be found hidden in the Hebrew Bible, the Church Fathers curiously identified sightings of Satan’s heavenly insurrection in two Old Testament accounts of the fall of earthly tyrants brought low by their hubris: Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28.20 “How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!” thunders the biblical prophet Isaiah,

How art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High. Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit. (Isaiah 14:12–15)

Isaiah’s diatribe is directed against the Babylonian tyrant Nebuchadnezzar, and in its context is clearly referring to “the king of Babylon” (Isaiah 14:4), whose fall will serve as a cautionary tale against overreaching ambition: “They that see thee shall narrowly look upon thee, and consider thee, saying, Is this the man that made the earth to tremble, that did shake kingdoms; That made the world as a wilderness, and destroyed the cities thereof; that opened not the house of his prisoners?” (Isaiah 14:16–17). The extravagant imagery employed by Isaiah to overstress the overriding pride and commensurate downfall of this tyrant led the Fathers of the Christian Church to conclude that the king himself, rather than the vivid language used to describe his spectacular fall from the seat of power, was figurative—a means to describe the Devil’s fall from grace, and Ezekiel 28:12–19 would be absorbed into the Devil’s biography for the same reasons. For the Church Fathers, Isaiah’s diatribe revealed that Satan became Satan because he in his unbounded pride aspired above his station, Lucifer the angelic rebel having established himself as simia Dei,21 arrogating divine attributes in his ambition to “be like the most High” (Isaiah 14:14), just as he would later tempt Eve and Adam to “be as gods” (Genesis 3:5), thereby mirroring his own sin and suffering like exile from Paradise.

Lucifer, as invoked in Isaiah 14:12, is Latin for “light-bearer,” and the original Hebrew reads Helel ben Shahar, “Day Star, son of the Dawn.” It is a reference to Venus, the Morning Star, which is the “light-bringer,” appearing to herald the light of the rising Sun. “Day Star” transitioned into “Lucifer” in Latin translations of the Bible, such as St. Jerome’s fourth-century Latin Vulgate Bible. The continued use of Lucifer as a proper name contributed a significant element to the traditional biography of Satan: before falling from Heaven and becoming Satan, “the Adversary,” the Devil possessed the name Lucifer, which signified the great celestial status he once possessed and forever lost.22

Cornelis Galle the Elder, after Lodovico Cardi, Lucifer (1595)
Cornelis Galle the Elder, after Lodovico Cardi, Lucifer (1595)

Proud Lucifer’s fall from Heaven would serve as a timeless tale demonstrating the biblical aphorism “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18). Recreations of Lucifer’s heavenly rebellion on the medieval stage imagined an egomaniacally evil angel, who in a moment of impulsive pride seats himself on the vacant Throne of God and commands the angelic host to adore him, before long instantaneously and ignominiously transported to Hell by the Almighty Himself.23 Fallen from Heaven, the Devil of the Middle Ages was depicted as a hideous creature, and the greatest of these deformed Devils was Dante’s Lucifer, who in the Inferno of the Divine Comedy (1308–21) lies in the ninth and lowest circle of Hell as a gigantic, hairy, three-faced monstrosity frozen below the waist in unbreakable ice (XXXIV.28–67). Dante’s use of the name “Lucifer” is an ironic mockery of the perfidious angelic prince, who “was once as handsome as he now / is ugly,” imprisoned in the icy depths of the treacherous circle of Hell because he “raised his brows / against his Maker” (XXXIV.34–36).

Medievalism’s visual vilifications of Satan carried over into Renaissance art,24 but there were a number of Renaissance literary works which conceded a certain degree of proto-Miltonic majesty in their treatments of Lucifer’s heavenly revolt. Indeed, Stella Purce Revard, in her study of The War in Heaven: Paradise Lost and the Tradition of Satan’s Rebellion, posits that Milton’s epic hero Satan is an installment in a long line of Renaissance Lucifers.25 There are certainly similarities between the Renaissance Devils and Milton’s epic hero Satan, the “great Commander” (I.358) of the “Satanic Host” (VI.392), not least that in these Renaissance works “pride and ambition, long identified as Lucifer’s sins, acquire specific political ramifications.”26 What’s more, these Renaissance depictions of the Devil would invest the character with a complexity which, as Revard observes, is decidedly different from “a motiveless malignancy (which patristic tradition gives us) or a strutting egotist (which the medieval mysteries pose).”27 Indeed, many of these Renaissance rebel angels vocalize the virtue, valor, nobility, and glory of their war with God.28 It was Milton, however, who most infused Satan’s rebellion with evocative political overtones, which was due in no small part to the antimonarchical and regicide-defending Milton’s own extensive experience in the political realm.

In Paradise Lost, Satan lambasts God as a “Tyrant” (X.466), and the archangel’s “ambitious aim / Against the Throne and Monarchy of God” (I.41–42) is saturated with republican sentiment. His rebellion set in motion by God the Father’s exaltation of His Son to cosmic kingship (V.600–15, 657–71), Milton’s Satan asserts himself as the “Antagonist of Heav’n’s Almighty King” (X.387), and it is with great “disdain” that Milton’s archangelic arch-rebel decides “With all his Legions to dislodge, and leave / Unworshipt, unobey’d the Throne supreme, / Contemptuous…” (V.566, 569–71). Protesting that the newly crowned Son “hath to himself ingross’t / All Power, and us eclipst under the name / Of King anointed” (V.775–77), Satan scorns “Knee-tribute” as “prostration vile” (V.782) before the angels beneath his banner, asking,

Who can in reason then or right assume

Monarchy over such as live by right

His equals, if in power and splendor less,

In freedom equal? (V.794–97)

Milton’s Satan incites rebellion among his angels by urging them “to cast off this Yoke” of the Messiah, ordained by God “to be our Lord, / And look[s] for adoration…” (V.786, 799–800).

Paradise Lost follows in the tradition of its Renaissance precursors insofar as it awards the rebel angel with not only a sense of a just cause but great majesty and epic heroism in his pursuit of it as well: when “The banded Powers of Satan” (VI.85) appear on the heavenly battlefield, intent “To win the Mount of God, and on his Throne / To set the envier of his State, the proud / Aspirer” (VI.88–90), Satan appears in boundless majesty:

High in the midst exalted as a God

Th’ Apostate in his Sun-bright Chariot sat

Idol of Majesty Divine, enclos’d

With Flaming Cherubim, and golden Shields;

Then lighted from his gorgeous Throne.…

Satan with vast and haughty strides advanc’d,

Came tow’ring, arm’d in Adamant and Gold… (VI.99–110)

Sir Thomas Lawrence, Satan Summoning His Legions (1796-97)
Sir Thomas Lawrence, Satan Summoning His Legions (1796-97)

Yet Milton goes much farther than his Renaissance forebears by making his fallen archangel incomparably magnificent in Hell, where the reader first encounters him at the start of Paradise Lost. Satan the heavenly rebel angel is described as “Sun-bright” (VI.100), and yet Satan the hellish fallen angel—the so-called “Prince of Darkness” (X.383)—is still likened to the Sun, though as obscured by a misty horizon or eclipsed by the Moon (I.592–99). In short, Milton’s Satan remains in possession of a considerable degree of his “Original brightness” (I.592), as does the fallen rebel host, likened by Milton to a lightning-scorched but nonetheless stately forest (I.612–15). The ruined rebel angels, despite their diminished glory, bear “Godlike shapes and forms / Excelling human, Princely Dignities” (I.358–59), and no one is as princely and godlike as Satan himself, who “above the rest / In shape and gesture proudly eminent / Stood like a Tow’r” (I.589–91), his preeminence signified by his surprising resplendence: “Dark’n’d so, yet shone / Above them all th’ Arch-Angel…” (I.599–600). The prior Renaissance treatments of Satan’s revolt all upheld the medieval tradition of marring the fallen angel’s marvelous face and form,29 and were therefore far more unforgiving when visualizing Satan’s infernal fall than Milton, whose fallen angel cuts a truly dazzling figure.

Satan as the Fallen Angel (ca. 1797)
Sir Thomas Lawrence, Satan as the Fallen Angel (ca. 1797)

The Satan of Paradise Lost bears “Brows / Of dauntless courage, and considerate Pride” (I.602–3) and a “mighty Stature” (I.222), and he is much reminiscent of classical heroes as he firmly grips his ponderous shield and mast-like spear (I.284–96). These heroic features are not merely superficial, moreover, for Milton’s Satan is at his most impressive not during the War in Heaven but when in Hell, where even in the midst of damnation he decries “the Tyranny of Heav’n” (I.124) and is found “Hurling defiance toward the Vault of Heav’n” (I.669). In the “Infernal Pit” (I.657), Milton’s Satan boasts of his “unconquerable Will” and “courage never to submit of yield” (I.106, 108), and he indeed exhibits such Promethean pride and endurance in the face of incredible loss and suffering—not unlike Milton himself throughout the Restoration, the oppressive period during which the then blind pariah of a poet composed Paradise Lost. Milton’s curiously sympathetic portrait of the fallen archangel was genuinely unprecedented, and it was quite a godsend that, as Jeffrey Burton Russell notes, Milton’s was “a scenario so coherent and compelling that it became the standard account for all succeeding generations.”30 Paradise Lost was designed as a Christian epic poem meant to “justify the ways of God to men” (I.26), but as Percy Bysshe Shelley aptly put it in his unpublished Essay on the Devil and Devils (ca. 1819–20), “the Devil…owes everything to Milton.”31

An interpretation of Milton’s War in Heaven was nearly brought to the silver screen about a half-decade back. The plug was pulled on the Paradise Lost film at the eleventh hour, however, and so until that project escapes from development hell—or until the recently proposed TV series comes to fruition—the most complete depiction of the War in Heaven belongs to Superbook, amusingly enough. Superbook is an animated series of religious stories made palatable for Christian kids, who are taken on a tour through biblical times with the two young protagonists and their zany robot friend as they make their way through episodes from “the Book.” Superbook’s original 1980s incarnation was an attempt by the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) to reach out to a Japanese audience, and the show, produced in Japan by Tatsunoko Productions under the name Anime Oyako Gekijō (Animated Parent and Child Theatre), was an immense success. The CBN launched a new Superbook series in 2011—when Legendary Pictures’ Paradise Lost film seemed like it was actually going to happen—and the show’s first episode, “In The Beginning,” focused on the fall of Lucifer and his subsequent temptation of Eve in the Garden of Eden. The impressionable youth watching Superbook are meant to learn the importance of obedience by beholding the rebel Lucifer’s cataclysmic loss, the result of his having “thought he could be like God.” This is not dissimilar to the message conveyed by Milton, who speaks to the reader through Raphael when the archangel, in his education of Adam and Eve, concludes the story of the War in Heaven with the following words of warning:

…let it profit thee to have heard

By terrible Example the reward

Of disobedience; firm they might have stood,

Yet fell; remember, and fear to transgress. (VI.909–12)

Yet of course Milton’s Adam, also like the reader, is rather thrilled when he first learns that “some are fall’n, to disobedience fall’n, / And so from Heav’n to deepest Hell” (V.541–42), the first man absolutely fascinated by the story of the War in Heaven (V.544–60). Also, the angel Abdiel—the sole seditionist among the rebel angels (V.803ff.)—is shocked and horrified when he sees the still-heavenly radiant Satan appear on the battlefield: “O Heav’n! that such resemblance of the Highest / Should yet remain, where faith and realty / Remain not…” (VI.114–16). The Lucifer of Superbook is not Miltonic per se, and Superbook’s retelling of this timeless tale by no stretch of the imagination matches up to Milton’s, but it is not difficult to imagine the show’s visualization of the warring rebel angel inciting reactions similar to those of Milton’s Adam and Abdiel in its young viewership.

Superbook’s Satan is both “motiveless malignancy” and “strutting egotist,” to borrow Revard’s terms. While his dialogue is unsurprisingly nothing special—best described as biblical verse filtered through a Disney villain (“I am God’s greatest work, and I shall ascend above all of Creation!”)—this Lucifer is nevertheless rather impressive in terms of appearance: a bright-eyed, blond-haired, full-armored figure with two sets of massive, luminous angel wings. The image of Lucifer rousing his rebel army, who cheer him on and wave their arms as he directs his steely gaze toward the Kingdom of Heaven in the distance, his long locks of hair swept by the wind, is rather stirring. What’s more, like Milton’s Satan, “who that day / Prodigious power had shown, and met in Arms / No equal” (VI.246–48), the aspiring angel of Superbook holds his own in combat, eliminating a number of angelic combatants in a sulfurous whirlwind attack. Unlike Paradise Lost, wherein the Son of God is required to overcome the resilient rebel army on the third day, Superbook is more traditional inasmuch as it has Lucifer defeated by Michael after a rather short-lived celestial conflict. (Milton does have the archangel Michael best Satan in battle on the first day of the war, but ultimately only omnipotence can overcome the rebel angel and his host).

More significantly, whereas in Paradise Lost the fallen archangel’s “form had yet not lost / All her Original brightness, nor appear’d / Less than Arch-Angel ruin’d” (I.591–93), Superbook instead follows tradition by having Satan transform into a monstrous figure as he falls from Heaven—with the horns, talons, and tail Milton had graciously discarded. (Superbook does however permit the fallen angel to assume his former angelic form—a literal interpretation of the biblical warning that the ever deceitful Devil is capable of “transform[ing] into an angel of light” [2 Corinthians 11:14], which was also Milton’s inspiration for having Satan transform into a “stripling Cherub” [III.636] in order to deceive the archangel Uriel in their encounter on the Sun [III.654ff.].) In any event, as laughably cheesy as Superbook may be, its rather surprising depiction of Lucifer in the War in Heaven is noteworthy, not least for being more impressive than how Milton’s Satan was imagined in the concept art for the Paradise Lost film—especially Satan’s fallen form, which apparently would have been even more monstrous than that of the Satan of Superbook.

That the War in Heaven has been one of the most fixating stories in the history of Christianity and the cartoonish Superbook offers up its only real full-fledged depiction in modern media highlights just how needed an adaptation of Milton’s Paradise Lost is. While Satan has been beloved by cinema since its inception, motion pictures have hitherto offered but mere glimpses of celestial conflict,32 more often than not resorting to the much cheaper option of the Devil-as-tempter. (D.W. Griffith’s The Sorrows of Satan [1926] included both the martial rebel angel and the sleek tempter in human form, but the former, which was featured in the film’s prologue, was ultimately left on the cutting room floor.) The War in Heaven is the most cinematic story in Lucifer’s biography, and it is definitely time for the modern day’s most audacious visual medium to give the Devil his due: the regal rebel angel’s defining moment of heroic heavenly revolt.



1. See Jeffrey Burton Russell, The Devil: Perceptions of Evil from Antiquity to Primitive Christianity (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, [1977] 1987), pp. 189–90; Satan: The Early Christian Tradition (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, [1981] 1987), pp. 25, 27; Neil Forsyth, The Old Enemy: Satan and the Combat Myth (Princeton: Princeton University Press, [1987] 1989), p. 113; Henry Ansgar Kelly, Satan: A Biography (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), pp. 2–3.
2. See T. J. Wray and Gregory Mobley, The Birth of Satan: Tracing the Devil’s Biblical Roots (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), p. 53; Kelly, p. 17.
3. See Forsyth, The Old Enemy, p. 113; Wray and Mobley, pp. 57–58; Kelly, pp. 14–17.
4. See Russell, The Devil, pp. 198–204; Forsyth, The Old Enemy, pp. 110–11, 114; Wray and Mobley, pp. 58–64; Kelly, pp. 21–23, 27, 168–69, 175.
5. See Forsyth, The Old Enemy, pp. 115–18; Wray and Mobley, pp. 64–66; Kelly, pp. 23–25.
6. See Russell, The Devil, pp. 174–83; Forsyth, The Old Enemy, pp. 107–09; Peter Stanford, The Devil: A Biography (New York: Henry Holt and Company, Inc., 1996), pp. 36–40.
7. See Elaine Pagels, The Origin of Satan (New York: Vintage Books, [1995] 1996), p. 101. In John’s Gospel, Pagels points out, the Jews perform the temptations of Jesus ascribed to Satan in Mark, Matthew, and Luke. Mark’s Gospel vaguely mentions Jesus being “tempted of Satan” (Mark 1:13) in the wilderness, but Matthew and Luke expand upon Mark’s account and portray the Satanic temptations of the Son of God, the most significant of which is Satan’s offer of power over all the kingdoms of the world (Matthew 4:8–9; Luke 4:5–6). In John’s Gospel, however, Jesus refuses this “offer” of worldly power not from Satan but from Jews impressed by his miraculous power: “When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone” (John 6:15). Similarly, just as the first of Satan’s triad of temptations of Jesus is to turn stones into bread to verify that he truly “be the Son of God” (Matthew 4:3; Luke 4:3), in John’s Gospel it is the Jews who question Jesus along these lines: “They said therefore unto him, What sign shewest thou then, that we may see, and believe thee? what dost thou work? Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat” (John 6:30–31). Jesus’ response is essentially the same he delivers to Satan in Matthew 4:4 and Luke 4:4: “Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world” (John 6:32–33).

8. See Russell, The Devil, pp. 191–94; Stella Purce Revard, The War in Heaven: Paradise Lost and the Tradition of Satan’s Rebellion (Ithaca, NY and London: Cornell University Press, 1980), pp. 29–32; Wray and Mobley, pp. 99–105; Kelly, pp. 32–41.
9. In Matthew 25:41—as in other biblical passages, such as “A wise man’s heart is at his right hand; but a fool’s heart at his left” (Ecclesiastes 10:2), and “let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth” (Matthew 6:3)—the Bible openly expresses a right-handed bias. Abnormal left-handedness has throughout human history been viewed as suspect—or sinister, Latin for “left.” In Milton’s Paradise Lost, Sin is born full-grown from the sinister side of Satan’s head (II.752–58), and Eve is formed from a rib taken from Adam’s sinister side (VIII.460–71). Milton’s Adam comments on this after the Fall, complaining that his wayward wife is “but a Rib / Crooked by nature, bent, as now appears, / More to the part sinister from me drawn” (X.884–86).
10. Ailments such as deafness, dumbness, and blindness are said to be caused by “unclean spirits” in the New Testament (Mark 6:7; Luke 11:14, 13:10–13), whereas in the Old Testament Jehovah had claimed responsibility for these afflictions (Exodus 4:11).
11. Russell, The Devil, p. 249.
12. Mark’s was actually the first Gospel written, though Matthew’s Gospel has been placed first.
13. Origen’s belief in the ultimate salvation of Satan was, however, not to take hold in the tradition. See Russell, Satan, pp. 144–48; The Prince of Darkness: Radical Evil and the Power of Good in History (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, [1988] 1992), p. 81.
14. Revelation is fairly straightforward about its allegorical nature: “…I saw seven golden candlesticks; And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man.…And he had in his right hand seven stars.…The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches” (1:12–13, 16, 20).
15. See Jonathan Kirsch, A History of the End of the World: How the Most Controversial Book of the Bible Changed the Course of Western Civilization (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, [2006] 2007), pp. 112–16.
16. See Revard, pp. 109–10.
17. Luke 10:18, when read in context, appears to refer to a future fall of the Devil. In Luke’s Gospel, the seventy disciples of Jesus return to joyously report, “Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name,” and in his response, Jesus appears to express assurance that the miraculous efficacy he has bestowed upon them portends the inevitable overthrow of Satan’s reign over the earth, which will be a lightning-speed plummet from power: “And he said unto them, I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven. Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you” (Luke 10:17–19). See Forsyth, The Old Enemy, pp. 294–95; Kelly, pp. 97–100.
18. John may have been referring to “Leviathan,” the Old Testament’s “piercing…crooked serpent…the dragon that is in the sea” (Isaiah 27:1), also described as “a king over all the children of pride” (Job 41:34). The connection between the dragon of Revelation 12 and the serpent of Geneses 3 was nonetheless solidified by second-century Christian theologian Justin Martyr. See Russell, The Prince of Darkness, pp. 62–63; Kelly, pp. 151–52.
19. Despite being referenced after the death of Jesus—“the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly” (Romans16:20)—the Genesis 3 passage known within Christian theology as the “protevangelium” anticipates the virgin birth of Jesus by Mary (the “woman’s seed”) and the Passion, which will paradoxically be Satan’s undoing (“it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel”). See Forsyth, The Old Enemy, pp. 271–72.
20. See Russell, The Devil, pp. 195–97; Satan, pp. 130–33; The Prince of Darkness, pp. 78–80; Revard, pp. 32–35, 47–49; Forsyth, The Old Enemy, pp. 134–39, 370–71; The Satanic Epic (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003), pp. 44–45, 51–54, 80–81; Luther Link, The Devil: A Mask without a Face (London: Reaktion Books Ltd, 1995), pp. 22–27; Wray and Mobley, pp. 108–12; Kelly, pp. 191–99.
21. See Maximilian Rudwin, The Devil in Legend and Literature (LaSalle, IL: Open Court Publishing Company, [1931] 1959), Ch. XII, “Diabolus Simia Dei,” pp. 120–29.
22. See Russell, The Devil, pp. 195–97; The Prince of Darkness, pp. 43–44; Forsyth, The Old Enemy, pp. 134–36; The Satanic Epic, pp. 51–54, 80–81; Link, pp. 22–23; Wray and Mobley, pp. 108–10.
23. See Revard, pp. 201–03; Russell, Lucifer, pp. 250–52.
24. For exceptions, see Roland Mushat Frye, “Milton’s Paradise Lost and the Visual Arts,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 120, No. 4, Symposium on John Milton (Aug. 13, 1976), pp. 233–44.
25. Revard, p. 198: “Satan, proud but magnificent, unyieldingly resolute in battle, emerges in the Renaissance poems wearing the full splendor of epic trappings. To these poems we owe in large measure the hero Satan as he is developed in Paradise Lost. Renaissance poets drew on two traditions to depict Satan or Lucifer: the hexaemeral and the epic. Hexaemera described Lucifer as a prince, glorious and unsurpassed, whose ambition caused him to strive above his sphere; epics described their heroes as superhuman in battle and accorded them, whatever their arrogance or mistakes in judgment, ‘grace’ to offend, even as they are called to account for their offenses. The Lucifer of the Renaissance thus combines Isaiah’s Lucifer with Homer’s Agamemnon, Virgil’s Turnus, and Tasso’s Rinaldo. Milton’s Satan, in turn, follows the Renaissance Lucifer and is both the prince depicted in hexaemera and the classical battle hero.”
26. Ibid., pp. 200–01.
27. Ibid., p. 210.
28. See Watson Kirkconnell, The Celestial Cycle: The Theme of Paradise Lost in World Literature with Translations of the Major Analogues (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1952), pp. 61–62 (Torquato Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberate, 1581); 237–38 (Giambattista Andreini’s L’Adamo, 1613); 276 (Phineas Fletcher’s The Locusts, or Apollyonists, 1627); 351 (Joseph Beaumont’s Psyche, or Love’s Majesty, 1648); 360 (Jacobus Masenius’ Sarcotis, 1654); 372, 401, 403, 405 (Joost van den Vondel’s Lucifer, 1654); 422 (Abraham Cowley’s Davideis, 1656); 431 (Samuel Pordage’s Mundorum Explicato, 1661).
29. See ibid., pp. 59–61 (Torquato Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberate, 1581); 221 (Giambattista Marini’s La Strage degli Innocenti, 1610); 236 (Giambattista Andreini’s L’Adamo, 1613); 350–51 (Joseph Beaumont’s Psyche, or Love’s Majesty, 1648); 414–15 (Joost van den Vondel’s Lucifer, 1654).
30. Jeffrey Burton Russell, Mephistopheles: The Devil in the Modern World (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, [1986] 1990), p. 95.
31. Percy Bysshe Shelley, Essay on the Devil and Devils, in Shelley’s Prose: or the Trumpet of a Prophecy, ed. David Lee Clark, pref. Harold Bloom (New York: New Amsterdam Books, 1988), p. 268.
32. For a comprehensive catalogue of heavenly conflict in cinema, see Eric C. Brown, Milton on Film (Pittsburgh, PA: Duquesne University Press, 2015), Ch. 5, “Winged Warriors and the War in Heaven,” pp. 245–81.


The Satanic Scholar on Nerds with Words

Nerds With WordsI recently had the pleasure of sitting down with my old friend Adam and his partner Greg of Nerds with Words, a fun podcast that welcomes diverse individuals for free-flowing conversation that always ventures down the rabbit hole. We engaged in an in-depth discussion of The Satanic Scholar, exploring the origins of the site and its aims of preserving the Miltonic-Romantic legacy of Lucifer and drawing attention to signs of this radical tradition’s echoes and influences today. Along the way were various tangents, a number of non sequiturs, and lots of laughs. You can download the episode on iTunes (Episode 46), listen in on Libsyn, or watch on YouTube.


— Christopher J. C.



Christopher Hitchens: Anti-Theism and the Devil’s Party

The late Christopher Hitchens (1949 – 2011), author of God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (2007) and editor of The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Non-Believer (2007), was not only an atheist—and arguably the most formidable of “the Four Horsemen” of New Atheism—but a self-styled “anti-theist.”1 On occasion, this sentiment led Hitchens to voice open sympathy for the Miltonic-Romantic Lucifer, who was listed as one of Hitchens’ favorite heroes of fiction in the author’s memoir.2 In a lecture given on February 23, 2004 at Sewanee: The University of the South, entitled “The Moral Necessity of Atheism”—after Romantic Satanist Percy Bysshe Shelley’s The Necessity of Atheism (1811), the pamphlet which saw Shelley ousted from Oxford—Hitchens likened his anti-theist position to the Romantic tradition of being “of the Devil’s party.”

As Hitchens demonstrates in the above, once the character of Almighty God is deemed not only nonexistent but malevolent, praise for Milton’s Satan—who in Paradise Lost (1667) famous asserts in the midst of damnation that it is “Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heav’n” (I.263)—tends not to tarry far behind. Having dismissed Heaven as “a celestial North Korea”—“a hideous realm of permanent, total, inescapable unfreedom” as a “system of surveillance, control, supervision, and the compulsory exacting of our thanks”—Hitchens states that he would simply have to strike the same pose of unyielding defiance of the Miltonic Satan if there truly were a God who, as the great religions propose, ruled as dictator of the cosmos. “I would, in that case, take the Miltonian line,” Hitchens explains. “I would be of the Devil’s party: I wouldn’t worship it; I wouldn’t agree to be bound by it; I wouldn’t become one those serfs.”

Hitchens echoes not only Shelley’s Necessity of Atheism but his Declaration of Rights (1812) as well. In the dramatic finish to A Declaration of Rights, Shelley had channeled the spirit of Milton’s Satan summoning his fallen legions—his “Atheist crew” (VI.370) of rebel angels—and later swelling with pride before their reassembled ranks (I.315–23, 522–89), Shelley concluding this clarion call for Man to rise from lowliness and degeneracy to assert his proper worth and attain loftiness and dignity with “Awake!—arise!—or be forever fallen,”3 which is the last line of the fiery speech with which the Satan of Paradise Lost rouses his fallen compatriots from the burning lake of Hell (I.330). Likewise, by deeming theism “the origin of totalitarianism…within our own minds” and determining that “the struggle to throw off this servility is the precondition for any struggle for liberty, whether intellectual or personal or moral,” Hitchens too effectively assumes the position of Milton’s Satan, who scorns “Knee-tribute” to God the Father and the Son as “prostration vile” (V.782) and incites rebellion among the angels by urging them “to cast off this Yoke” of the Messiah, ordained by God “to be our Lord, / And look[s] for adoration…” (V.786, 799–800).

Hitchens, an intellectual titan of godlessness, demonstrated like Shelley before him that, as Maximilian Rudwin observed in his seminal study of The Devil in Legend and Literature, “anti-theism leads to Satanism.”4



1. In his Introduction to The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever (Philadelphia: Da Capo Press, 2007), p. xxii, Christopher Hitchens provided his most thorough explanation of his “anti-theist” stance: “I myself have tried to formulate a position I call ‘anti-theist.’ There are, after all, atheists who say that they wish the fable were true but are unable to suspend the requisite disbelief, or have relinquished belief only with regret. To this I reply: who wishes that there was a permanent, unalterable celestial despotism that subjected us to continual surveillance and could convict us of thought-crime, and who regarded us as its private property even after we died? How happy we ought to be, at the reflection that there exists not a shred of respectable evidence to support such a horrible hypothesis. And how grateful we should be to those of our predecessors who repudiated this utter negation of human freedom.”
2. See Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir (New York: Twelve, 2010), p. 331.
3. Percy Bysshe Shelley, A Declaration of Rights, in Shelley’s Prose: or the Trumpet of a Prophecy, ed. David Lee Clark, pref. Harold Bloom (New York: New Amsterdam Books, 1988), p. 72.
4. Maximilian Rudwin, The Devil in Legend and Literature (LaSalle, IL: Open Court Publishing Company, [1931] 1959), p. 306.

Iconography Update for The Satanic Scholar

The Satanic Scholar’s Iconography page has recently undergone a massive overhaul, and now includes not only Romantic art but proto- and post-Romantic art as well, each subpage featuring a thorough cultural context, extensive biographical information about the artists, and informative commentary on their Miltonic illustrations.

Click here to see the Proto-Romantic Art.


Click here to see the Romantic Art.


Click here to see the Post-Romantic Art.

Sir Thomas Lawrence, Satan Summoning His Legions (1796-97)
Sir Thomas Lawrence, Satan Summoning His Legions (1796-97)

A review of the Satanic iconography linked to above gives one an appreciation of what Romanticism’s Miltonic illustrators produced, which was nothing less than the pictorial apotheosis of Milton’s fallen archangel Satan—and, it must be said, the most accurate portrayal of the majestic arch-rebel who curiously holds pride of place in Paradise Lost. “As to the Devil he owes everything to Milton,” observed Percy Bysshe Shelley in his unpublished Essay on the Devil and Devils (ca. 1819–20), for “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.” This Miltonic makeover of Satan as fallen Lucifer—a magnificent figure whose “form had yet not lost / All her Original brightness, nor appear’d / Less than Arch-Angel ruin’d” (I.591–93)—is precisely what Romantic artists executed as they brought the princely rebel angel to life. The Romantic Satan is heroically human, his form—almost always angel-winged, if not wingless and fully humanized—titanic in stature, his face Apollonian in beauty, with due emphasis on Milton’s description of “Eyes / That sparkling blaz’d” beneath “Brows / Of dauntless courage, and considerate Pride…” (I.193–94, 602–3). As Romantic Satanic artwork discards traditional Christian iconography in favor of Milton’s poetry, long gone are the bestial horns and hoofs and general grotesquerie of medievalism; the Miltonic Satan of Romanticism is clothed in a splendor befitting a Grecian god.

The importance of the images of Satan which appear across Romanticism’s Miltonic iconography simply cannot be overstated. Those who never venture to read Paradise Lost’s more than ten thousand lines of verse (“None ever wished it longer,” Samuel Johnson famously remarked) or the Romantics’ extensive critique of Milton’s epic poem, to say nothing of their own Satanic poetry and prose, can still comprehend the Miltonic-Romantic legacy of Lucifer simply by surveying the abundant sketches, paintings, and engravings of Romantic illustrators of Milton. Gazing upon the Romantic Satan is the simplest way to register just how illustrious Lucifer was during Romanticism—but to also understand that, as Shelley duly noted, the Devil is indebted not so much to the Romantics as to Milton, whose Paradise Lost invited—or rather insisted upon—such a reimagining.


Christopher J. C.


From Big Screen to Small: Paradise Lost as “Biblical Games of Thrones” TV Series

While the Paradise Lost film continues to flounder in development hell, it was announced yesterday that a TV adaptation of John Milton’s seventeenth-century epic poem is in the works, with Dancing Ledge Productions bringing onboard as executive producer Martin Freeman, star of The Hobbit trilogy (2012–14) and the acclaimed British TV series Sherlock (2010–present). That Milton’s Satan may at long last make his debut on the small rather than the big screen is a surprising twist of fate.

Other than the prestigious SFX company Framestore attached for the presumably ambitious visuals, details about the Paradise Lost TV series are scant, but Dancing Ledge CEO Laurence Bowen explained the project as follows: “Paradise Lost is like a biblical Game of Thrones, transporting the reader into an internecine world of political intrigue and incredible violence. At stake? The future of mankind…There’s never been a better time for big, original, bold drama series, and Martin and I both feel incredibly inspired by the material.” As for Freeman himself, his remarks indicate a potential Romantic vision of the Satanic star of Milton’s magnum opus: “Paradise Lost is epic, exciting, and surprisingly modern. And maybe the first time the devil gets all the best tunes!”

Moses Haughton, after Henry Fuseli, Milton Dictating to his Daughter (1806)
Moses Haughton, after Henry Fuseli, Milton Dictating to his Daughter (1806)

The sanguinary political intrigue of Game of Thrones is not only reminiscent of the world of Paradise Lost, but also the world of its author. Milton experienced firsthand the English Civil War (1642–1651), responding to the public execution of Charles I—which shocked and horrified the European monarchies—with his defense of the regicide, The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates (1649), Milton subsequently serving as Secretary for Foreign Tongues under Oliver Cromwell’s government. For this, he’d be imprisoned for a time during the persecution of the regicides that followed in the wake of the restoration of the monarchy, Charles II having assumed the throne in 1660, two years after the death of Lord Protector Cromwell. His republican dreams of an English Commonwealth dashed, Milton, amidst the shattered remnants of his political vision and the complete loss of his actual vision, composed Paradise Lost, his protesting voice, as Milton writes in the poem, not “hoarse or mute, though fall’n on evil days, / On evil days though fall’n, and evil tongues; / In darkness, and with dangers compast round…” (VII.25–27).

Paradise Lost was undeniably informed by Milton’s political experiences, and the poem does present what Bowen calls “an internecine world of political intrigue and incredible violence”: the “Apostate Angel” (I.125) Satan is imagined as the “Antagonist of Heav’n’s Almighty King” (X.387), responding to the Almighty’s exaltation of His Son to universal kingship (V.600–15, 657–71) with celestial insurrection, leaving “Unworshipt, unobey’d the Throne supreme” (V.570) and scorning “Knee-tribute” as “prostration vile” (V.782); defeated in the cataclysmic War in Heaven and exiled to Hell, the fallen archangel and his rebel hosts raise “Pandæmonium, the high Capitol / Of Satan and his Peers” (I.756–57), and in this infernal Parliament vote to avenge their damnation by ruining the newly created mortals designed to take their emptied seats in Heaven (II.284–389); Satan makes the heroic journey all alone from Hell to Eden for “public reason just, / Honor and Empire with revenge enlarg’d, / By conquering this new World…” (IV.389–91). One could go on with the “biblical Game of Thrones” aspects of the poem.

James Barry, Milton dictating to Ellwood the Quaker (ca. 1804-5)
James Barry, Milton dictating to Ellwood the Quaker (ca. 1804-5)

Many have argued that Milton, unconsciously or otherwise, invested his sympathetic and sublime Satan with much of his own fiery rebelliousness, and of course the turn-of-the-nineteenth-century Romantic radicals applauded the republican Milton and championed his heroic Satan in the revolutionary and post-Waterloo periods. Paradise Lost is, as Freeman stresses, “epic, exciting, and surprisingly modern,” and indeed Milton’s epic poem is incredibly relevant in our current political climate. I would argue it is an ideal moment for a Paradise Lost adaptation, but is the small screen preferable to the big screen? I suppose that remains to be seen, but one would imagine the benefit of a TV series is the capacity to do justice to the vastness of the narrative and its events by telling a prolonged, episodic story. Indeed, Scott Derrickson, the original director attached to the Paradise Lost film project, remarked in an interview for MTVNews back in 2008 that “What [the film] encompasses is still a fraction of the poem and has to be, because you could make a 50-hour miniseries out of it if you wanted to.”

If nothing else, perhaps this Paradise Lost TV series will revive the Paradise Lost film, and perhaps at least one of the projects will live up to its poetic counterpart and indeed give the Miltonic Devil, as it were, “all the best tunes.”


When Satanism Overshot Romanticism: The Curious Case of Setianism: Part 2 of 2

As demonstrated in part one, Michael Aquino was a Satanist much more in touch with Satanism’s Miltonic-Romantic roots than Anton LaVey, founder of the Church of Satan, history’s first ever aboveground Satanic organization. The learned Aquino was in an ideal position—particularly when he set out to form his own irreligious institution upon having apostatized from LaVey’s Church of Satan, which Aquino felt had become, in more ways than one, commercialized—to steer Satanism into more Miltonic-Romantic territory. Curiously, Aquino, the Satanist who found in Milton’s Paradise Lost “one of the most exalted statements of Satanism ever written”1 and who asserted that the “Miltonian Lucifer is, in fact, our Satanic man,”2 swiftly snuffed out any hope of this happening. Aquino’s alternative to LaVey’s Church of Satan was to be the Temple of Set, which overlooked Milton and the Romantic Satanists inspired by the revolutionary genius, Aquino staking his flag in ancient Egypt and adopting the evil Egyptian deity of Set as his organization’s central icon.

Set, ancient Egyptian god of the desert
Set, ancient Egyptian god of the desert

Aquino, not content with merely dismissing LaVey as a crass charlatan and a bloodless opportunist, opted for a mystical narrative in his portrayal of his fallout with the Black Pope.3 Aquino had always believed in a personal Satan, and he insisted that LaVey shared this belief during the Church of Satan’s formative years. With LaVey’s loss of faith in the fallen angel, Aquino claimed, the Church of Satan had degenerated into the “Church of Anton,” and so the Prince of Darkness had stripped LaVey of his “Infernal Mantle.”4 Having departed from the Church of Satan in the summer of 1975, Aquino invoked Satan for guidance, and was apparently instructed by the infernal entity as follows: “Reconsecrate my Temple and my Order in the true name of Set. No longer will I accept the bastard title of a Hebrew fiend.”5 The Hebraic Satan, it turns out, was in actuality a corruption of the older Egyptian desert deity Set. In addition to providing marching orders, Satan/Set dictated to Aquino The Book of Coming Forth by Night (1975), the work to serve as the foundational text for Setianism, which would liberate Satanism from the confines of its Judeo-Christian context—and LaVey’s betrayal. Ironically enough, as Aquino was insisting that Setianism was Satanism having shed its Judeo-Christian skin, his characterization of LaVey was colored by his reading of Milton, as scholars Asbjørn Dyrendal, James R. Lewis, and Jesper Aa. Petersen observe in their study of The Invention of Satanism: “Ever the well-read and poetically inclined academic, Michael Aquino…obliquely has LaVey follow the trajectory of Milton’s Satan, from proud archangel to deluded, hissing snake, ever more caught up by his own ‘sins.’ ”6

LaVey’s version of the proceedings, beginning with his own letter to the Church of Satan members who Aquino reached out to as part of his dramatic departure,7 was far less fanciful. LaVey maintained that the Satanism of the Church of Satan was purely atheistic from the start, all of the rituals and titles—indeed, the very “Church of Satan” moniker—embraced merely for their symbolic significance. To be fair, while LaVey undeniably believed in the power of ritual magic—not merely as cathartic theatrics but the ability to induce change in the physical world through ceremonial spells8—LaVey’s early writings and media appearances do appear to reflect a belief in a Satan that was only ever a team mascot, essentially. Interestingly enough, while Aquino appeared to be more Miltonic-minded than LaVey, the fundamental atheism of LaVeyan Satanism sets it more in the tradition of Romantic Satanism, as the nineteenth-century Romantics did not believe a literal Devil—who had been brought to his deathbed by the eighteenth-century Enlightenment—and embraced the Satan of Milton’s epic for his manifest poetic power. In any event, while Aquino’s open belief in a personal Satan was incongruent with the bedrock atheism of LaVeyan Satanism, LaVey was willing to tolerate the supernatural preferences of Aquino and various other early Church of Satan members so as not to thin his ranks as he was trying to get his organization off the ground. As the Church of Satan successfully established itself, however, LaVey felt less and less the need to hold on to such “occultniks,” and after the schism LaVey would go on to claim that Aquino and his cohorts were deliberately driven out of the Church of Satan so that Satanism could evolve.

While LaVey’s reality-based take on Aquino’s break with the Church of Satan is certainly more plausible than Aquino’s version of infernal intervention, the extent to which the once loyal lieutenant’s Satanic exodus impacted LaVey is disputable. While Aquino insisted that the Church of Satan effectively died in 1975, LaVey was dismissive of the Setians, scoffing at the idea that the desertion of these “Egyptoids”9 was of much significance. Superficially at least, LaVey paid Aquino and company little mind, which was quite the opposite of Aquino, who hovered over LaVey for the remainder of his life, even creepily including LaVey’s divorce proceedings as an appendix to his two-volume text, The Church of Satan.10 On the other hand, LaVey clearly became much more cynical, misanthropic, and detached following the events of the summer of ’75. LaVey had already ceased group ritual activities at the Black House in 1972, when the Black Pope decided that it was time to “stop performing Satanism and start practicing it,”11 but after 1975 he dissolved the Church of Satan’s local chapters (“grottoes”) which dotted the U.S. and beyond, and withdrew into the Black House to remain an effective recluse. Whether LaVey did so because he truly desired to evolve Satanism beyond the blasphemous fun-and-games of its first decade or because the Church of Satan turned out to be a disappointing endeavor—or some mixture of the two—remains open to debate.

Ironically, as LaVey sat out the proceedings of the Satanic Panic that gripped the dark decade of the 1980s, the modern-day witch hunt saw Aquino, who stepped into the media spotlight formerly enjoyed by the Black Pope, accused of child abuse as part of an alleged Satanic scandal at the daycare center of the Presidio military base in San Francisco.12 Aquino’s prestigious martial and academic accomplishments surely made him a target for the religious paranoiacs and media opportunists who imagined a vast Satanist network within the government engaging in Satanic ritual abuse, and while Aquino’s name was ultimately cleared as the baseless accusations were demystified, his background—not least his field specialty of “psychological warfare” in the Army—ensured that he would continue to be speculated upon by conspiracy theorists to this day.

Aquino may have certainly removed Satanism—or at least his own Egyptianized version of it—from the Judeo-Christian context of LaVeyan Satanism, but by opting for an anachronistic Egyptian context, Aquino’s Temple of Set was bound to be much more obscure than LaVey’s Church of Satan.13 While Satanists may not like it, Western culture remains predominantly Judeo-Christian, yet that context is precisely why Satanism continues to survive and thrive—even twenty years after LaVey’s death in 1997—for as Satan remains the ultimate antithesis, embracing that infernal figure will continue to provoke outrage and intrigue. Having swapped Satan for Set—to say nothing of the many other esoteric exchanges—Aquino’s organization, which was presented from the start as the successor to the Church of Satan, is unlikely to outlast LaVey’s. On the other hand, perhaps this kind of obscurity was what Aquino desired for the Temple of Set all along, as he took issue with LaVey making Satanism (relatively) “popular,” i.e., accessible to the masses. Aquino yearned for Satanism to be more of an esoterically elite occult order a la nineteenth-century magical fraternities, and this he aspired to achieve by going Egyptian, transforming Satanism into Setianism.

Aleister Crowley (1875-1947)
Aleister Crowley (1875-1947)

Satanism had overshot Romanticism, Aquino having overlooked the entire Miltonic-Romantic tradition. (I believe Ruben van Luijk, the author of Children of Lucifer: The Origins of Modern Religious Satanism, is far too generous when he writes that within “the Temple of Set, one could say, Byron’s Lucifer eventually found its adherents after all, albeit masked as a cult to an Egyptian deity.”14) Then again, it is perhaps more accurate to conclude that Aquino hadn’t overshot but in fact undershot Romanticism, for with the Temple of Set he was not so much guided by the ancient Egyptian deity of Set as he was the infamous early-twentieth-century English occultist Aleister Crowley.15 Crowley reacted to his bleak and oppressive Christian upbringing with diabolical defiance, fancying himself “the Great Beast 666” and taking perverse pleasure in being pilloried in the press as “the wickedest man in the world.” Crowley may have touched on Miltonic-Romantic territory with his “Hymn to Lucifer”—the poem wherein “sun-souled Lucifer” is presented as Eden’s enlightener (“The Key of Joy is disobedience”16)—but the ambitious magician aspired to move beyond simply blaspheming Christianity and enter into a more magical (or “magickal”) context. This landed Crowley—at least for a time—in Egyptian territory. The Book of the Law (1904), Crowley claimed, was dictated to the evil Englishman during his Cairo honeymoon by an entity called Aiwass—a messenger of the ancient Egyptian deity Horus—and this inspired writing was to serve as the foundational text for Crowley’s new religion of Thelema. Aquino’s deliberate emulation of these aspects of “Crowleyanity” are unmistakable, and indeed Aquino presented Thelema, Satanism, and Setianism as a continuum: the ancient Egyptian god Set, Aquino claimed, revealed himself to Crowley as his “Opposite Self” (i.e., Horus), then to LaVey as Satan—a bastardization of Set, the Setians maintain—and finally to Aquino as his true self, Set.17 Whatever is to be made of this bizarre narrative, one thing is certain: there is no room for the Miltonic-Romantic Lucifer within it.

Whether Aquino overshot or undershot Romanticism, what the history of Satanism has in the curious case of Michael Aquino and the Temple of Set is a squandered opportunity to return Satanism to its Miltonic-Romantic roots. In the end, perhaps it was for the best. I have argued that Romantic Satanism was far more impressive than organized Satanism, and not despite but because the Romantic Satanists did not construct some formal Satanic religion with stringent hierarchies and rigid rituals. Romantic Satanism emerged in a remarkably organic fashion: the Romantic Satanists did not work in tandem, and in some cases they were not even familiar with one another, but what their works collectively produced was the most significant rehabilitation of the figure of the fallen angel in the history of Christendom. In this respect, the Romantic Satanists spearheaded the most significant challenge to the status quo in Western history, and the fruits of their labor proved to be cultural treasures. The Satanic literature and artwork of the Romantic era remains of far greater value than anything organized Satanism has produced over its half-century span, with all its continued ritualistic paeans to infernal entities, whether they are believed to be merely symbolic or sentient.

Ironically enough, immersing oneself in the poetry and prose of Milton, Byron, Shelley, Blake and others in this tradition is “occult” insofar as the term means “hidden”; in other words, a thorough understanding of this rich Miltonic-Romantic tradition is fit for an “elite” of sorts insofar as Milton’s Paradise Lost and the Romantic writings inspired by that fascinating seventeenth-century epic poem are profoundly challenging to the modern reader and altogether escape the attention of the average person today. Embracing this kind of challenge strikes me as far more worthwhile and rewarding than reciting Enochian, invoking long dead Egyptian deities, accumulating esoteric degrees,  or amassing shelf loads of mass-market occult bric-a-brac. The philosophical substance to LaVeyan Satanism was arguably always overshadowed by LaVey’s skills as a showman in the ritual chamber,18 but Aquino’s infatuation with esotericism unquestionably pushed Satanism’s occult element to its absolute—and, I would argue, embarrassing—extreme. (LaVey was not wrong to sneer at Aquino for accusing him of authoritarianism while simultaneously claiming supernatural authority from a diabolical deity.19) As ironic as it might have been for the man who in the midst of warfare was inspired by reading Milton’s Paradise Lost as a Satanic epic—like the Romantic Satanists before him—to extinguish rather than cultivate Satanism’s Miltonic-Romantic spark, the occult-obsessed Aquino ultimately helped illustrate the greater value of the literary, artistic, cultural tradition of Miltonic-Romantic Satanism.



1. Michael A. Aquino, The Church of Satan: Volume I: Text & Plates ([8th ed. 1983] San Francisco: N.p., 2013), p. 73.
2. Michael A. Aquino, The Church of Satan: Volume II: Appendices ([8th ed. 1983] San Francisco: N.p., 2013), p. 44.
3. See Gavin Baddeley, Lucifer Rising: Sin, Devil Worship & Rock ‘n’ Roll (London: Plexus Publishing Limited, [1999] 2006), pp. 102–03; Chris Mathews, Modern Satanism: Anatomy of a Radical Subculture (Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 2009), pp. 83–84; Ruben van Luijk, Children of Lucifer: The Origins of Modern Religious Satanism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016), pp. 347–48.
4. See Aquino, Volume II, p. 360.
5. Aquino, quoted in van Luijk, pp. 351–52.
6. Asbjørn Dyrendal, James R. Lewis, and Jesper Aa. Petersen, The Invention of Satanism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016), p. 98.
7. See Anton Szandor LaVey, “Hoisted by His Own Patois,” in Aquino, Volume II, pp. 374–75.
8. See, for example, Blanche Barton, The Secret Life of a Satanist: The Authorized Biography of Anton LaVey (Los Angeles: Feral House, [1990] 1992), Ch. 17, “Curses and Coincidences,” pp. 195–98. It’s also worth noting that the original Church of Satan evolved out of LaVey’s “Magic Circle,” the group which met at LaVey’s San Francisco home for lectures on various taboo topics.
9. Anton Szandor LaVey, “The Church of Satan, Cosmic Joy Buzzer,” in The Devil’s Notebook, intro. Adam Parfrey (Los Angeles: Feral House, 1992), p. 29.
10. See Aquino, Volume II, pp. 418–25.
11. LaVey, quoted in Barton, p. 125.
12. See van Luijk, p. 363.
13. There is an interesting parallel with the Paradise Lost and Gods of Egypt films. Alex Proyas entered the director’s chair for Paradise Lost in the fall of 2010, and after the plug was pulled on the project just before production was set to start in early 2012, the film Proyas moved on to was Gods of Egypt. The ill-fated Paradise Lost project and the Gods of Egypt film, which was released in early 2016, overlapped with one another, both on a narrative level—an epic battle between two supernatural beings (Michael and Lucifer vs. Horus and Set) with a patriarchal deity looking on overhead (God vs. Ra), this cosmic conflict grounded by the story of two imperiled mortal lovers (Adam and Eve vs. Bek and Zaya)—and on a technical level (an aesthetic of ancient mythology filtered through science fiction), for which numerous crew members who worked on Paradise Lost with Proyas joined the director for Gods of Egypt. There are a whole host of reasons for Gods of Egypt bombing at the box office, but we can be reasonably sure that if the Paradise Lost film were released—even if it suffered from some of the same shortcomings as Gods of Egypt—it would have been more of an event on account of its greater relevance in this cultural context.
14. Van Luijk, p. 353.
15. See Baddeley, pp. 23–32; Mathews, pp. 36–38; van Luijk, pp. 306–11.
16. Aleister Crowley, “Hymn to Lucifer,” in Flowers From Hell: A Satanic Reader, ed. Nikolas Schreck (Washington, D.C.: Creation Books, 2001), p. 263.
17. See Mathews, pp. 84–85; van Luijk, p. 352.
18. The Satanic Bible (New York: Avon Books, [1969] 2005) would be a case in point: LaVey’s wit is evident in the various essays contained in “The Book of Lucifer” section, but these worldly observations are completely overwhelmed by The Satanic Bible’s extended coverage of Satanic ritual, which dominates a vast majority of the brief book’s pages. The Black Pope’s Satanic Bible may be the foundational text of modern Satanism, but LaVey’s published essay collections—The Devil’s Notebook and the posthumous Satan Speaks! (Los Angeles: Feral House, 1998)—are, it must be said, more worthwhile reads.
19. See LaVey, “Hoisted by His Own Patois,” p. 374.