Romanticism: More Satanic than Satanism: Part 3 of 3

“…Milton’s Satan assumes in the Romantic era a prominence seen never before or since, nearly rivaling Prometheus as the most characteristic mythic figure of the age. A more active and ambiguous mythic agent than the bound, suffering forethinker and benefactor of humanity, the reimagined figure of Milton’s Satan embodied for the age the apotheosis of human desire and power.”1
                                                                      — Peter A. Schock, Romantic Satanism (2003)


 

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

Satan was not so prominent before Romantic Satanism, to be sure, but modern-day, self-declared Satanists would surely take issue with the idea that Satan has not been so prominent since. Yet an honest comparison of Romantic Satanism on the one hand and modern organized Satanism on the other makes it difficult indeed to disagree with Schock’s assertion. The bestial Satan of LaVeyan Satanism and its offshoots pales in comparison to the titanic Lucifer of Romantic Satanism. While both are symbols or icons of fundamentally human drives, the former is all-too-human—concerned as LaVeyan Satanism is with “man as just another animal”2—whereas the latter is emblematic of the more lofty human drive for transcendence, which differentiates us from our fellow beasts of the field (or so at least the Romantics believed3). In any event, the fallen angel was raised to an unprecedented height by Milton and the Romantic Satanists the poet inspired, and as organizational Satanists have chosen not to embrace but rather distance themselves from this marvelous tradition, the real Satanic trailblazing has been carried out by those contemporary creative individuals who have summoned the sympathetic and sublime Satan of Miltonic-Romantic Satanism in their works, thereby ushering in a movement of neo-Romantic Satanism today.

 

The Romantics: Satanists in All But Name?

What’s in a name? To downplay the monumental significance of the Romantic Satanism phenomenon simply because those involved did not self-identify as “Satanists” is to be overly focused on semantics. If the Romantic Satanists did not term themselves “Satanists,” neither did they term themselves “Romantics,” as that label was applied retrospectively. This of course does not diminish the historical significance of those under the “Romanticism” umbrella: a wide array of creative individuals caught up in a similar current and preoccupied by similar issues, such as revolution, liberty, the sublime, the cult of genius, and so on. Likewise, the Romantic Satanists having been termed “Romantic Satanists” in retrospect does not diminish the fact that they were caught up in a similar current of overall positive reappraisal and implementation of the Miltonic Satan—caught up in “Satan’s cult of himself,”4 as it were.

H. Meyer, after G. H. Harlow, Portrait of George Gordon Byron (Lord Byron) (1816)
H. Meyer, after G. H. Harlow, Portrait of George Gordon Byron (Lord Byron) (1816)

Certainly worth noting is that while the “Romantic” label was applied to the Romantics retrospectively, the “Satanic” label was bandied about during the heyday of Romantic Satanism. Mario Praz may have rechristened Lord Byron “the Satanic Lord”5 in 1933, but the poet’s contemporaries themselves considered “Byronic” interchangeable with “Satanic.” In 1820, the English clergyman Reginald Heber identified in Byron “a strange predilection for the worser half of manicheism,” accusing the wayward peer of having “devoted himself and his genius to the adornment and extension of evil.”6 This, “being interpreted,” reflected Byron himself, “means that I worship the devil…”7 In the following year, the Poet Laureate Robert Southey condemned Byron as the orchestrator of a “Satanic School…characterised by a Satanic spirit of pride and audacious impiety…”8 This condemnation was “the official birth certificate of the Satanic School of Poetry,” as Ruben van Luijk aptly puts it in his scholarly tome Children of Lucifer: The Origins of Modern Religious Satanism, “the original source for the designation ‘Romantic Satanism’ or ‘Literary Satanism,’ still used by scholars of literature today.”9 Simply because Byron ostensibly dismissed the Satanic branding10 and mocked the self-satisfied Southey by turning the accusation back around11 does not alter the fact that Byron indeed spearheaded the Satanic strand of Romanticism. Byron’s bad eminence was manifestly exhibited in his decision to “give…MrSouthey – & others of the crew something that shall occupy their dreams!”12 by penning Cain (1821), wherein a Miltonic Lucifer emerges as a noble, even Promethean opponent of “the Omnipotent tyrant” (I.i.138), urging Adam’s firstborn son to defy the “tyrannous threats to force you into faith / ’Gainst all external sense and inward feeling…” (II.ii.461–62).

Alexander Nasmyth, Portrait of Robert Burns (1787)
Alexander Nasmyth, Portrait of Robert Burns (1787)

There is arguably a better example than “the Satanic Lord” of someone on the border of Satanism proper in the person of Robert Burns, Scottish Poet Laureate and a proto-Romantic figure. “Robert Burns makes several brief references to Satan in letters written in 1787 and 1788,” notes John Leonard in his two-volume Faithful Labourers, which masterfully traces the reception history of Milton’s Satan, from the seventeenth century to contemporary criticism. While Burns’ “tone is hard to pin down,” Leonard observes, “it is clear that he feels sympathy for the Devil.”13 Most significantly, Burns employs Milton’s Satan as a vehicle for self-assertion, holding up the figure of the fallen angel as an exemplar of dauntless defiance in the face of personal adversity: “I know what I may expect from the world, by and by; illiberal abuse and perhaps contemptuous neglect: but I am resolved to study the sentiments of a very respectable Personage, Milton’s Satan—‘Hail horrors! Hail, infernal world!’ ”14 Romanticism scholar Fiona Stafford notes that Burns, not insignificantly, expressed this Satanic sentiment as he alternately dismissed the powerful and their reservations about him: “I set as little by kings, lords, clergy, critics, &c as all these respectable Gentry do by my Bardship.”15 Thus, as Stafford states, Burns’ “admiration of Milton had a political as well as personal significance,” for

To celebrate Satan in the same breath as dismissing those at the top of the contemporary social hierarchy was to reveal the same kind of response to Paradise Lost as that of Blake, Godwin, Byron or Shelley. For Burns as for his radical heirs, Milton’s Satan was the champion of the oppressed and the eloquent opponent of tyranny.16

“Give me a spirit like my favourite hero, Milton’s Satan,” Burns would declare, and he was inclined to keep that dark hero close by so as to continually rekindle the Satanic spirit within himself: “I have bought a pocket Milton which I carry perpetually about with me, in order to study the sentiments—the dauntless magnanimity; the intrepid, unyielding independence; the desperate daring, and noble defiance of hardship, in that great Personage, Satan.”17

Thomas Stothard, Satan Rising from the Burning Lake
Thomas Stothard, Satan Rising from the Burning Lake

Burns was compelled to calm certain brows he had raised due to the diabolical defiance on his own, but when he qualified his admiration for the Satan of Paradise Lost, Burns’ passion for the Satanic sublime burst through: “My favourite feature in Milton’s Satan is, his manly fortitude in supporting what cannot be remedied—in short, the wild broken fragments of a noble, exalted mind in ruins.—I meant no more by saying he was a favourite hero of mine.”18 To mean no more is to mean quite a lot. If enthusiastically embracing Satan as a mythic/poetic figure to cultivate that character’s very own heroically defiant spirit within oneself does not constitute genuine Satanism, I don’t know what does. In his professed admiration for Milton’s Satan and his inclination to emulate that “very respectable Personage,” Burns very much anticipated Romantic Satanism, which deserves the recognition of “real Satanists.”

Romantic Satanism was responsible for restoring a great deal of the tarnished Lucifer’s luster, and it is undeniable that a vast majority of organizational Satanists have paid this grand and groundbreaking movement little more than lip service. However, while contemporary Satanic circles may have missed the Miltonic-Romantic mark with regards to Satan and the Promethean values which the celestial rebel signifies, the twenty-first century has witnessed a cultural resurgence of the spirit of Romantic Satanism. The Miltonic-Romantic Lucifer has reared his refulgent head in the artistic mediums of today, and this nascent neo-Romantic Satanism—a burgeoning phenomenon signifying the influence of Romantic Satanism on our milieu, from faint echoes to modern-day manifestations of its distinguished Devil in the arts and culture at large—appears to be returning Satanism to its Miltonic-Romantic roots. The fallen archangel’s lost grandness may be returned yet.

James Barry, Satan and His Legions Hurling Defiance toward the Vault of Heaven (ca. 1792-95)
James Barry, Satan and His Legions Hurling Defiance toward the Vault of Heaven (ca. 1792-95)

Much like Romantic Satanism, today’s cultural current of neo-Romantic Satanism is not organizational but organic or “in the air,” and the creative individuals who are its contributors, much like the Romantic Satanists themselves, most likely wouldn’t describe themselves as “Satanists”—let alone officially join some Satanic group—or even recognize that they are part of a broader movement giving the Devil a much needed makeover. What does it matter? If self-identifying as a Satanist were really all that key, then over the past five decades organized Satanism has existed “real Satanists” would have written remarkable Satanic literature or even lyrics which put the poetry of Milton’s Paradise Lost and Byron’s Cain to shame, and “real Satanists” would have created artwork much more magnificent than James Barry or Henry Fuseli. Needless to say, this has not been the case. Milton was as pious a man as one could imagine, yet the Puritan poet effectively created a Satanic epic with Paradise Lost; Lord Byron was dismissive of the Satanism brand imposed upon him by his reactionary contemporaries, yet he lived a scandalously Satanic lifestyle, peppered his poetry with grandly Satanic characters, and with Cain crafted Romantic Satanism’s literary apex; Barry was a Roman Catholic and Fuseli an ordained Zwinglian minister, yet these artists created some of the most sublime Satanic iconography in history. Belonging to the Devil’s party is far more important than knowing it,19 and so while today’s “neo-Romantic Satanists,” as noted above, may not self-identify as Satanists, they are proving to be far more significant than organizational Satanists in terms of continuing the Miltonic-Romantic tradition of the laudable Lucifer. Unsurprisingly, these writers and artists I categorize as “neo-Romantic Satanists” often profess to have drawn inspiration from Milton’s Paradise Lost and its Romantic admirers, as opposed to anything organized Satanism has produced over its half-century span. Judging by the fruits, Satanic organizations would do well to return Satanism to its Miltonic-Romantic roots.

Of course, the examples of neo-Romantic Satanism which The Satanic Scholar helps to highlight—Vertigo’s Lucifer comic, Legendary Pictures’ Paradise Lost film, New Atheism’s half-joking sympathy for Satan, and the increasingly frequent usage of Miltonic-Romantic-Satanic imagery and references in the arts, broadly speaking—are not the equivalent of the cultural treasures that are Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost and the Romantic works inspired by that masterpiece of English literature. Then again, poets are no longer the “legislators of the World”—unacknowledged or otherwise—that they were in Shelley’s nineteenth-century vision,20 and the above examples are sure to prove far more effective in moving the collective conscious today. Romantic Satanism was undeniably the most significant historical reevaluation of Satan, and this neo-Romantic Satanism may have similar far-reaching effects, perhaps the likes of which have never been seen. We may be living in a time in which the fallen angel is not only restored to his former Romantic prominence but perhaps exalted to even greater glory than ever before. In any case, one thing is certain: if this day and age truly is the fallen Morningstar’s time to shine, it will have been realized not by “real Satanists” but those who, like Milton and arguably many of the Romantic Satanists, are “of the Devil’s party without knowing it”—a telling reminder just why Romanticism was far more Satanic than Satanism.

 

Notes


1. Peter A. Schock, Romantic Satanism: Myth and the Historical Moment in Blake, Shelley, and Byron (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), p. 3.
2. LaVeyan Satanism’s overemphasis on the animalistic nature of Man is enshrined in the seventh of “The Nine Satanic Statements,” which serve as the philosophical foundation for the Church of Satan: “Satan represents man as just another animal, sometimes better, more often worse than those that walk on all-fours, who, because of his ‘divine spiritual and intellectual development,’ has become the most vicious animal of all!” Anton Szandor LaVey, The Satanic Bible, intro. Peter H. Gilmore (New York: Avon Books, [1969] 2005), p. 25.
3. See Ruben van Luijk, Children of Lucifer: The Origins of Modern Religious Satanism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016), p. 115.
4. Schock, p. 39.
5. Mario Praz, The Romantic Agony, trans. Angus Davidson (Cleveland and New York: The World Publishing Company, [1933] 1963), p. 81.
6. Quoted in Schock, p. 101.
7. Quoted in ibid., p. 190n. 48.
8. Robert Southey, Preface to A Vision of Judgement (1821), quoted in C. L. Cline, “Byron and Southey: A Suppressed Rejoinder,” Keats-Shelley Journal, Vol. 3 (Winter, 1954), p. 30.
9. Van Luijk, p. 73.
10. “…[W]hat is the ‘Satanic School?’ who are the Scholars?.…I have no school nor Scholars…” Lord Byron, quoted in Cline, p. 35.
11. “If there exists anywhere, excepting in his imagination, such a school, is he not sufficiently armed against it by his own intense vanity?” Lord Byron, Preface to The Vision of Judgment (1822), in Lord Byron: The Major Works, ed. Jerome J. McGann (New York: Oxford University Press Inc., [1986] 2008), p. 939.
12. Quoted in Schock, p. 101.
13. John Leonard, Faithful Labourers: A Reception History of Paradise Lost, 1667–1970: Volume II: Interpretative Issues (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), p. 409.
14. Quoted in ibid.
15. Quoted in Fiona Stafford, “Burns and Romantic Writing,” in The Edinburgh Companion to Robert Burns, ed. Gerard Carruthers (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press Ltd., 2009), p. 105.
16. Stafford, p. 105.
17. Quoted in Leonard, p. 410.
18. Quoted in ibid.
19. William Blake, in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790–93), famously theorized that “The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels & God, and at liberty when of Devils & Hell, is because he was a true Poet and of the Devils party without knowing it[.]” The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake, ed. David V. Erdman, rev. ed. (New York: Anchor Books, [1965] 1988), p. 35; pl. 6.
20. Percy Bysshe Shelley, A Defence of Poetry (1821), in Shelley’s Poetry and Prose, ed. Donald H. Reiman and Neil Fraistat (New York [2d rev. ed. 1977]: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2002), p. 535.

Romanticism: More Satanic than Satanism: Part 2 of 3

“…Satanism is associated with that hard core of romanticism which can only be called hubris—the will to be God—the will to arrogate to the individual and finite mind those attributes traditionally reserved for God alone: self-sufficiency, creativity, and ultimate freedom from all moral law.”1
                    — Peter L. Thorslev, Jr., “The Romantic Mind Is Its Own Place” (1963)


 

As discussed in part one, Romantic Satanism—the grand and groundbreaking phenomenon within which Lucifer, as reimagined and immortalized by Milton in Paradise Lost (1667), was most lauded—has received little more than lip service within organized Satanism over its half-century span, starting with Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan in 1960s San Francisco. The tellingly insecure insistence of most organizational Satanists that Satanism is entirely unprecedented has led to the snubbing of the Romantic radicals known as “Romantic Satanists.” Yet LaVeyan Satanists are not alone in calling into question the Satanic legitimacy of Romantic Satanism, truth be told, for academics are prone to a similar skepticism. While Satanists have tended to ignore Romantic Satanists in an effort to secure their own Satanic hegemony, academics have demonstrated a predilection for downplaying the significance of the Satanic strand of Romanticism, ironically citing the same reason as Satanists proper: the Romantic Satanists were not real Satanists. These doubting academics, however, invariably end up demonstrating just how Satanic the Romantic Satanists were.

 

Romantic Satanists: The Unacknowledged Legislators of Lucifer’s Legacy

Richard Westall, George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron (1813)
Richard Westall, George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron (1813)

In his 1968 essay “The ‘Satanism’ of Blake and Shelley Reconsidered,” Joseph Anthony Wittreich, Jr. argued that Romantic Satanism is a grossly exaggerated phenomenon. When venturing into the etymology of the terms “Satanist” and “Satanism,” however, Wittreich inevitably illustrated the fact that Southey’s “Satanic School” diatribe against Byron and Shelley2 for the first time in history employed the “Satanist” stigma most appositely, i.e., against actual Satan sympathizers.3 For a more recent example, consider Peter A. Schock’s definition for “Satanism” in the Encyclopedia of Romanticism: “The Romantic perspective on Satan is so complicated and qualified that no writer of the age could be considered a true ‘Satanist,’ ” Schock writes, explaining, “No one individual thoroughly idealized Satan or identified this closely with the figure: there was no ‘Devil’s party’ in the Romantic era.”4 This greatly overlooks Romanticism’s many “true Satanist” moments. To say that no Romantic idealized Satan is to overlook, for instance, both Byron and Shelley’s applause for Satan as the Promethean “hero of Paradise Lost,”5 Shelley’s bold assertion that “Nothing can exceed the energy and magnificence of the character of Satan as expressed in Paradise Lost,”6 or Hazlitt’s celebration of Milton’s Satan as “the most heroic subject that ever was chosen for a poem…”7 To say that no Romantic identified with Satan is to overlook Shelley’s professed longing to be the (Miltonically conceived) Antichrist8 and Byron’s fantasies of himself as a fallen angel.9 There may not have been an actual “Devil’s party” or a “Satanic School” during Romanticism, but the phrases themselves belong to the period, and they could not have been more appropriate.

“Devil’s party” was coined by one of Romanticism’s most important figures, William Blake, who in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790–93) famously theorized: “The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels & God, and at liberty when of Devils & Hell, is because he was a true Poet and of the Devils party without knowing it[.]”10 Blake’s witticism clearly establishes that there is a tradition—reaching back to Milton—into which Blake places himself and his fellow “true Poets,” and it is a tradition of an unbounded artistic genius that can only be considered Satanic. (“…I was walking among the fires of hell,” Blake writes in The Marriage, “delighted with the enjoyments of Genius; which to Angels look like torment and insanity.”11) Yet “Devil’s party” also suggests a political aspect to Blake’s conceived tradition: Satanic partisans enlisted in the cause of republicanism, hence Blake’s co-opting the regicide-defender Milton.

Satan Exulting (ca. 1794)
Richard Westall, Satan Exulting (ca. 1794)

Some two decades after Blake’s Marriage, Shelley would quite explicitly forge a Satanic political link in A Declaration of Rights (1812), his own clarion call for Man to assert his proper worth and rise from lowliness and degeneracy to loftiness and dignity. The dramatic finish to Shelley’s exhortation reads, “Awake!—arise!—or be forever fallen,”12 which of course is the concluding line of the impassioned speech with which Satan rouses his fallen compatriots from Hell’s burning lake in Paradise Lost (I.330). Shelley thus imagines oppressed peoples as fallen angels, casting himself as Milton’s Satan, whose “heart / Distends with pride” at the sight of his fallen but reassembled brethren, who are promised, “this Infernal Pit shall never hold / Celestial Spirits in Bondage…” (I.571–72, 657–58).

Lord Byron moved beyond employing the fallen archangel as a symbol of artistic expression and political indignation, taking the idealized Devil into the arena of existential philosophy. In Cain: A Mystery (1821), Byron cast Lucifer as a genuine light-bringer, in the Promethean sense—promoting knowledge as liberation from divine authoritarianism—and the Byronic Lucifer’s enlightenment of Adam’s firstborn son radically reassesses the so-called Fall of Man:

One good gift has the fatal apple given—

Your reason:—let it not be over-sway’d

By tyrannous threats to force you into faith

’Gainst all external sense and inward feeling:

Think and endure,—and form an inner world

In your own bosom—where the outward fails;

So shall you nearer be the spiritual

Nature, and war triumphant with your own. (II.ii.459–66)

Gustave Doré, Paradise Lost, Book IV (1866): "A happy rural seat of various view" (IV.247)
Gustave Doré, Paradise Lost, Book IV (1866): “A happy rural seat of various view” (IV.247)

Lucifer’s parting words of wisdom to Cain “declare a commitment to intellectual freedom that has never been surpassed in English verse,” insists Byron scholar Jerome J. McGann,13 and it is no small thing for such an eloquent expression of mental emancipation to be placed in the mouth of the Prince of Darkness; indeed, it Satanically reevaluates him as a true Light-Bearer, hence Byron’s restoration of his native name, Lucifer.

Satanism permeates the lives and the literature of those Romantic radicals who’ve been rightly referred to as “Romantic Satanists.” One simply cannot overstate the significance of these Romantic titans irreverently upending Christendom’s foundational myths and scandalously celebrating the Satanic with such spirited artistic expression. Much to Schock’s credit, despite his leading qualification of the legitimacy of the Romantic Satanists’ Satanism in his Encyclopedia of Romanticism entry quoted above, Schock immediately proceeds to appropriately stress the significance of the Romantic preoccupation with Satan:

Nevertheless, many Romantic writers and artists were absorbed with the myth of Satan: the persistent fascination with the Devil evident in their work amounts to Romantic myths of Satan. In new or renovated guises, the figure of Satan looms large in the writings of Blake, Byron, and the Shelleys and appears in the work of many other English and continental writers, painters, and popular artists. Nearly rivaling Prometheus as the most characteristic mythical figure of the age, Satan assumes a prominence in the Romantic era never exhibited before or since.14

The momentousness of the Romantics raising the fallen angel to such a prominent position—essentially setting the erstwhile “Adversary of God and Man” (PL, II.629) shoulder-to-shoulder with the champion of Man found in the humanitarian Titan Prometheus—quite simply cannot be overstressed. In Romantic Satanism, the only book-length study of the subject, Schock would go on to thoroughly demonstrate how and why “the reimagined figure of Milton’s Satan embodied for the age the apotheosis of human desire and power.”15

 

Satanic Academics

While real Satanists have failed to give the Miltonic-Romantic Devil his due over the past five decades organized Satanism has enjoyed, and while literary academics have exhibited a tendency to downplay the monumental significance of Romantic Satanism, the past decade or so has proven to be a shifting point in Satanic scholarship. Within the culture at large, Satanism had previously been either dismissively derided as adolescent, and therefore essentially harmless, or—as was the case at the height of the 1980s Satanic Panic launched by doomsday preachers and opportunist media personalities—virulently attacked as a major threat to Western civilization. Either way, academics were for the most part content to ignore the matter altogether, but today Satanism is the subject of increasingly serious academic studies. “Recent works of preponderantly young scholars have given this field of research an important impetus toward maturity,”16 astutely observes Ruben van Luijk in Children of Lucifer, the most recent and most significant of these new Satanic studies. These “young scholars”—namely Jesper Aagaard Petersen, Per Faxneld, Asbjørn Dyrendal, James R. Lewis, and of course van Luijk himself—might best be called “Satanic academics,” for their scholarly work vindicates Satanism as not only a serious study but also an overall positive pursuit. (Van Luijk, for instance, intertwines the historical Satanic tradition with what he collectively refers to as the Western Revolution.17) Most importantly, at least as far as The Satanic Scholar is concerned, by forging important links to Satanism’s literary and cultural heritage—chiefly the Miltonic-Romantic tradition18—these Satanic academics have succeeded where real Satanists have failed.

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)

A cogent example of the missed opportunity of Satanists to place appropriate stress on Satanism’s rich historical and literary lineage is Chris Mathews’ Modern Satanism: Anatomy of a Radical Subculture, an academic assault on the Satanism movement. While Mathews is extremely critical of Satanism in general (“crypto-fascist ideology…intellectually, scientifically, and morally bankrupt”19) and of LaVey in particular (“a rather poor terminus for the rich literary and philosophical traditions he drew on”20), the first two chapters of Modern Satanism are devoted to noteworthy investigations of Satan’s evolution in religious and literary history, respectively. What’s more, Mathews, when defining Satanism for the reader, makes clear links to the Miltonic-Romantic tradition; for example: “Shorn of all theistic implications, modern Satanism’s use of Satan is firmly in the tradition that John Milton inadvertently engendered—a representation of the noble rebel, the principled challenger of illegitimate power.”21 Something is obviously wrong when Satanism’s detractors are more likely to give due attention to Satanism’s cultural roots—and thereby provide a more satisfying description of Satanism—than real Satanists.

 

Romantic Literature as Satanic Liturgy

“Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the World,” Shelley famously stated in the final line of A Defence of Poetry (1821),22 and this assertion held a considerable degree of truth. This of course is yet another reason why the Romantic Satanists were of far greater importance in redirecting the Devil’s destiny than those involved in modern organized Satanism are willing to give them credit for. Because the Romantic Satanists “strove to express conceptions about ultimate grounds of being and a general order of existence in their major ‘Satanist’ works,” van Luijk observes in Children of Lucifer, and given that they “were also, sometimes quite consciously, staking claims on what had formerly been considered the territory of the church,” Romantic Satanism is definitely nothing to scoff at:

It is inadequate to contest that these appearances of Satan were merely a matter of literature. Literature was a matter of religion for the Romantic Satanists, the place where they gave symbolic form to their deepest convictions. I think thus that we might be justified to describe these utterances as forms of bona fide religious Satanism.23

If poets were “the unacknowledged legislators of the World,” then the Romantic Satanists, despite occupying a “relatively narrow literary stratum”24 making for a “slender chain of sympathy for the devil,”25 surely were the unacknowledged legislators of Lucifer’s legacy. Academics are coming around to understanding this, and it is high time real Satanists join them in giving those Romantic devils their due.

 

Notes


1. Peter L. Thorslev, Jr., “The Romantic Mind Is Its Own Place,” Comparative Literature, Vol. 15, No. 3 (Summer, 1963), p. 251.
2. “Men of diseased hearts and depraved imaginations, who, forming a system of opinions to suit their own unhappy course of conduct, have rebelled against the holiest ordinances of human society, and hating that revealed religion which, with all their efforts and bravadoes, they are unable entirely to disbelieve, labour to make others as miserable as themselves, by infecting them with a moral virus that eats into the soul! The school which they have set up may properly be called the Satanic School, for though their productions breathe the spirit of Belial in their lascivious parts, and the spirit of Moloch in those loathsome images of atrocities and horrors which they delight to represent, they are more especially characterised by a Satanic spirit of pride and audacious impiety, which still betrays the wretched feeling of hopelessness wherewith it is allied.” Robert Southey, Preface to A Vision of Judgement (1821), quoted in C. L. Cline, “Byron and Southey: A Suppressed Rejoinder,” Keats-Shelley Journal, Vol. 3 (Winter, 1954), p. 30.
3. Joseph Anthony Wittreich, Jr., “The ‘Satanism’ of Blake and Shelley Reconsidered,” Studies in Philology, Vol. 65, No. 5 (Oct., 1968), pp. 817–18: “The terms ‘Satanist’ and ‘Satanism’ have historical liaisons that take us as far back as the Renaissance. During the sixteenth century these terms were used first in reference to the dissenters (1559), then the Arians (1565), and finally the Atheists (1589). By linguistic extension, ‘Satanism’ was broadened in the seventeenth century to include any devil-inspired doctrine or anyone with a diabolical disposition. Robert Southey, however, is the first to link Satanism with the Romantics, specifically Byron.…In our time, through linguistic specialization, ‘Satanism,’ with its full range of historical meanings, has come to refer specifically to the Romantic critics of Paradise Lost and more generally to those critics who evince a strong ethical sympathy for Satan.”
4. Peter A. Schock, “Satanism,” in Encyclopedia of Romanticism: Culture in Britain, 1780s – 1830s, ed. Laura Dabundo (New York and London: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1992), p. 507.
5. Lord Byron, quoted in Jerome J. McGann, Don Juan in Context (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976), p. 25; Percy Bysshe Shelley, Preface to Prometheus Unbound (1820), in Shelley’s Poetry and Prose, ed. Donald H. Reiman and Neil Fraistat (New York [2d rev. ed. 1977]: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2002), p. 207.
6. Percy Bysshe Shelley, A Defence of Poetry (1821), in Shelley’s Poetry and Prose, p. 526.
7. 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. 384.
8. See Peter A. Schock, Romantic Satanism: Myth and the Historical Moment in Blake, Shelley, and Byron (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), p. 80.
9. See Malcolm Elwin, Lord Byron’s Wife (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1962), pp. 263, 271, 346; Benita Eisler, Byron: Child of Passion, Fool of Fame (New York: Vintage Books, 2000), pp. 13, 299.
10. William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, in The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake, ed. David V. Erdman, rev. ed. (New York: Anchor Books, [1965] 1988), p. 35; pl. 6.
11. Ibid.
12. 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.
13. Jerome J. McGann, ed. Byron: The Major Works (New York: Oxford University Press Inc., [1986] 2008), p. 1072n.
14. Schock, “Satanism,” p. 507.
15. Schock, Romantic Satanism, p. 3.
16. Ruben van Luijk, Children of Lucifer: The Origins of Modern Religious Satanism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016), p. 12.
17. See ibid., pp. 76–77, 323, 400–01.
18. See Jesper Aagaard Petersen, ed. Contemporary Religious Satanism: A Critical Anthology (Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2009), pp. 11–13; Per Faxneld and Jesper Aa. Petersen, ed. The Devil’s Party: Satanism in Modernity (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), esp. Ch. 2, Ruben van Luijk, “Sex, Science, and Liberty: The Resurrection of Satan in Nineteenth-Century (Counter) Culture,” pp. 41–52; Asbjørn Dyrendal, James R. Lewis, and Jesper Aa. Petersen, ed. The Invention of Satanism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016), Ch. 2, “Satanic Precursors,” pp. 27–46; van Luijk, Children of Lucifer, Ch. 2, “The Romantic Rehabilitation of Satan,” pp. 69–112, and Ch. 3, “Satan in Nineteenth-Century Counterculture,” pp. 113–50.
19. Chris Mathews, Modern Satanism: Anatomy of a Radical Subculture (Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 2009), p. 205.
20. Ibid., p. 59.
21. Ibid., p. 54.
22. Shelley, A Defence of Poetry, p. 535.
23. Van Luijk, Children of Lucifer, p. 109.
24. Schock, Romantic Satanism, p. 2.
25. Van Luijk, Children of Lucifer, p. 74.

Romanticism: More Satanic than Satanism: Part 1 of 3

“Satanism is not a part of Romanticism. It is Romanticism. It may well be said without any levity that Satan was the patron saint of the Romantic School. He impressed it with his personality to such an extent that it was soon named after him.”1

                             — Maximilian Rudwin, The Devil in Legend and Literature (1931)


 

Romantic Satanism—that grand turn-of-the-nineteenth-century tradition which proved to be a lodestone for some of the most titanic intellectuals, poets, prose writers, and visual artists of the Romantic Era—was the most significant cultural reappraisal of the figure of the fallen angel, and as such was the most radical challenge to the status quo in Western history. The Romantic Satanists championed the sympathetic and sublime Satan out of Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667) as a sociopolitical icon of idealized defiance, employing the Miltonic arch-rebel in their struggle against oppressive orthodoxy. Curiously, those within organized Satanism—that is, Satanism as codified as an aboveground, legally recognized religious or irreligious philosophy, which began with Californian “Black Pope” Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan in the 1960s—are not necessarily prepared to grant genuine Satanic status to the Romantic Satanists. An honest investigation of Romantic Satanism reveals, however, that the phenomenon was not only as genuinely Satanic as one could hope (or dread) but in fact far more influential than modern Satanism in redirecting the Devil’s destiny.

 

Satanists  Shunning  Romantics

Organized Satanism cannot be said to give the Miltonic-Romantic Devil his due. LaVey’s acknowledgment of Satanism’s literary heritage was an extremely rare occurrence. In The Satanic Bible, the brief book that defined Satanism and has continued to serve as the primary reference point for aspiring Satanists to this day, LaVey made only an oblique reference to Luciferian literature,2 and little changed throughout the course of his more than three-decade tenure as the Church of Satan’s High Priest, LaVey merely mentioning the Satan of Milton seemingly at random in one of his published essay collections.3 Peter H. Gilmore, LaVey’s successor as the organization’s High Priest, has undeniably been more prone to referencing Satanism’s literary roots, being sure to note in his Introduction to the 2005 edition of The Satanic Bible, for instance, that LaVey’s was “the imagery of the archfiend found in Twain, Milton, Byron, and other romantics.”4 Yet this is really just a quick tip of the hat, and in Gilmore’s own Satanic Bible-style book on Satanism, The Satanic Scriptures, he likewise references the titanic literary Lucifer and his significance in passing.5

Anton Szandor LaVey, founder of the Church of Satan and author of The Satanic Bible
Anton Szandor LaVey (1930–1997), founder of the Church of Satan and author of The Satanic Bible

One gets the impression that the ironic hesitancy of such prominent Satanists to dwell upon history’s most distinguished Devils and their sympathizers is related to the ever-present anxiety within Satanism over outsiders mistaking it for Devil worship. Yet it is indeed strange for self-proclaimed Satanists—those who are so moved by the figure of Satan that they have adopted his name as a part of their own identity—to downplay or even deliberately ignore Lucifer at his most luminous historical moment—at the height of his career, you might say. To be fair to the late LaVey, while he codified Satanism for the first time in history as a coherent religious philosophy and founded the first ever unabashedly Satanic organization, LaVey never claimed to be the world’s first Satanist. To the contrary, he claimed that “the Satanist” existed throughout human history as a specific type of person simply lacking a specific name and identity.6 LaVey believed he had with his “brand of Satanism”7 provided that name and identity—Satanist—which he felt was appropriate for the time and place in which he and his disciples were operating. Nevertheless, LaVeyan Satanists are notoriously resistant to broadening the boundaries of Satanism’s definition beyond the walls of the Church of Satan. Indeed, they even reject the term “LaVeyan Satanism,” finding it to be redundant, at best, as they dismiss all other forms of Satanism as “pseudo Satanism.” These Satanists’ incessant squabbling over the issue of Satanic legitimacy8 has resulted in Romantic Satanism being largely shunned, for even when they are willing to apply the term “de facto Satanist” to various historical personages co-opted on account of their apparent alignment with Satanic principles, the Romantic Satanists never seem to make the list—which is telling, given that they really ought to be at or at least near the top of any such list.

Ruben van Luijk, Children of LuciferRomanticism was monumentally significant to shaping the modern world, and Romantic Satanism was in turn a watershed moment in the character of Satan’s development. The relevance of the various Romantic titans of which the movement was comprised is not diminished simply because they did not overtly assert themselves as “Satanists” or belong to some official Satanic group. I’m inclined to argue quite the opposite, in fact: it was far more impressive that Romantic Satanism emerged organically, without the need for some organizational body to direct the energies of those involved. And while it is certainly true that aboveground, organized Satanism started with LaVey and his brazenly blasphemous church, it is a falsity to assert that the concept occurred to the Black Pope out of a magical puff of smoke. In his scholarly tome Children of Lucifer: The Origins of Modern Religious Satanism, Ruben van Luijk persuasively argues his position that LaVey was surely indebted to the Romantic rehabilitation of Satan as a positive emblem of sex, science, and liberty—the unholy trinity of Satanic virtues, in van Luijk’s analysis.9 While LaVey’s inspiration for forming the Church of Satan was certainly not a reading of the Romantic Satanists’ works, van Luijk observes, we can be sure that the influence of Romantic Satanism reached LaVey, even if indirectly via the Romantic-inspired nineteenth-century occultists whose works LaVey was intimately familiar with.10

For our purposes here, of course, what’s more significant than whether or not LaVey was influenced by Romantic Satanism is whether or not Romantic Satanism can be considered a legitimate forerunner to modern Satanism. Van Luijk’s conclusion is that although “Romantic Satanism cannot be described as a coherent movement with a single voice, but rather as a post factum identified group of sometimes widely divergent authors among whom a similar theme is found,”11 the radical phenomenon may nevertheless be considered an anticipation of later religious Satanism, having undeniably paved the way for it in significant respects:

…the Romantic Satanists, although they never established a form of religious Satanism themselves, already provided all the necessary preliminaries for such a religious Satanism to arise. For the first time, Satan was seen not as the embodiment of evil, but as a positive force heralding the liberation of body and mind. After this fundamental reversion was made, the only thing needed, one could say, was somebody to give this idea religious bedding.12

Preparatory drawing for Satan Summoning his Legions (ca. 1796-97)
Sir Thomas Lawrence, preparatory drawing for Satan Summoning his Legions (ca. 1796-97)

LaVey’s Church of Satan remains the most significant Satanic organization in the world, and while LaVeyan Satanists may be willing to offer an occasional horn-handed salute to those figures within the phenomenon of Romantic Satanism—as well as to others throughout the past and present inclined to expressing likeminded sympathy for Satan—they are reluctant to concede genuine Satanism nonetheless. Much like the Christians, who damned humanity prior to Jesus walking the Earth and continued to damn those outside of the Gospels’ reach, LaVeyan Satanists reject the notion of genuine Satanism existing before LaVey’s founding of the Church of Satan, likewise refusing to extend the Satanism brand to anyone lacking membership therein. A consequence of this insistence that Satanism simply started (and was copyrighted) in 1966, when LaVey formed the Church of Satan and consecrated the year as Anno Satanas (year one of the Age of Satan), has been the obvious tendency of Satanists to exhibit little interest in Satanism’s rich historical and literary lineage.13 Ironically, Satanism’s self-proclaimed “alien elite” have deprived Satanism of its most refined of roots: the Miltonic-Romantic tradition, which restored more luster to Lucifer and the virtues he embodies than organized Satanism ever has. In this respect, it is no exaggeration to consider Romanticism more Satanic than Satanism.

 

Notes


1. Maximilian Rudwin, The Devil in Legend and Literature (LaSalle, IL: Open Court Publishing Company, [1931] 1959), p. 277.
2. “Never has there been an opportunity, short of fiction, for the Dark Prince to speak out in the same manner as the spokesmen of the Lord of the Righteous…” Anton Szandor LaVey, The Satanic Bible, intro. Peter H. Gilmore (New York: Avon Books, [1969] 2005), p. 29.
3. “…Milton’s heroic Satan steal[s] the show from the Heavenly hosts in Paradise Lost…” Anton Szandor LaVey, “Confessions of a Closet Misogynist,” in The Devil’s Notebook (Los Angeles: Feral House, 1992), p. 90.
4. Peter H. Gilmore, “Opening the Adamantine Gates: An Introduction to The Satanic Bible,” p. 14.
5. “…Satan serves us well as a symbol. He was described as the prideful one, refusing to bow to Jehovah. He is the one who questions authority, seeking liberty beyond the stultifying realm of Heaven. He is the figure championed by the likes of Mark Twain, Milton, and Byron as the independent critic who heroically stands on his own.” Peter H. Gilmore, “What, the Devil?” in The Satanic Scriptures (Baltimore, MD: Scapegoat Publishing, 2007), p. 209.
6. See LaVey, The Satanic Bible, pp. 53, 104.
7. In his Foreword to his first collection of essays, The Devil’s Notebook, pp. 9–10, LaVey unpacks his Satanic brand as follows: “My brand of Satanism is the ultimate conscious alternative to herd mentality and institutionalized thought. It is a studied and contrived set of principles and exercises designed to liberate individuals from a contagion of mindlessness that destroys innovation. I have termed my thought ‘Satanism’ because it is most stimulating under that name. Self-discipline and motivation are effected more easily under stimulating conditions. Satanism means ‘the opposition’ and epitomizes all symbols of nonconformity. Satanism calls forth the strong ability to turn a liability into an advantage, to turn alienation into exclusivity. In other words, the reason it’s called Satanism is because it’s fun, it’s accurate, and it’s productive.”
8. See, for example, James R. Lewis, “Infernal Legitimacy,” in Contemporary Religious Satanism: A Critical Anthology, ed. Jesper Aagaard Petersen (Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2009), pp. 41–58.
9. See Ruben van Luijk, “Sex, Science, and Liberty: The Resurrection of Satan in Nineteenth-Century (Counter) Culture,” in The Devil’s Party: Satanism in Modernity, ed. Per Faxneld and Jesper Aa. Petersen (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), pp. 41–52; Children of Lucifer: The Origins of Modern Religious Satanism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016), pp. 116, 392–93.
10. See van Luijk, Children of Lucifer, p. 323.
11. Ibid., p. 108.
12. Ibid., p. 116; cf. pp. 111, 407.
13. The one significant exception is Gavin Baddeley, who has spent a great deal of his creative energies digging up and analyzing the cultural roots of Satanism in history, literature, and the arts. Baddeley’s classic study of Satanism in popular culture, Lucifer Rising: Sin, Devil Worship & Rock ‘n’ Roll (London: Plexus Publishing Limited, [1999] 2006), certainly gives the devilish LaVey his due with extensive coverage of the Church of Satan and personal interviews with LaVey himself—for which the author was made an honorary Reverend (or, as Baddeley prefers, “Irreverend”) in the Church of Satan by the Black Pope himself. The first third of Lucifer Rising, however, is reserved for “The History of Satanism,” and therein Baddeley highlights Milton as “One of the most important figures in the development of Satanic aesthetics and philosophy,” with due emphasis on Milton’s masterpiece Paradise Lost as “more than a literary milestone,” Baddeley observing that “in Milton’s poem Satan achieves a certain dark magnificence, becoming the archetypal anti-hero whose doomed rebellion is the act of a noble, if flawed character…” (p. 20). Baddeley’s appreciation for the Miltonic Satan and his significance only seemed to expand with each new publication, the author stating in a subsequent work that Paradise Lost is “Perhaps the most significant work in the Satanic literary tradition” (Dissecting Marilyn Manson [London: Plexus Publishing Limited, (2000) 2008], p. 146), and in yet another subsequent work going so far as to assert, “If Satanism has a sacred text, then it is Paradise Lost” (The Gospel of Filth: A Bible of Decadence & Darkness [Godalming, Surrey: FAB Press Ltd., (2009) 2010], p. 305.

Lucifer’s Feather of Liberty: On French Romanticism’s Satanic Symbol

“The feather of Liberty falls

          From the wing of Rebellion…”

— Victor Hugo, La Fin de Satan (1854–62; 1886)


 

Eugène Delacroix, The Revolt of Lucifer and the Rebel Angels (1876)
Eugène Delacroix, The Revolt of Lucifer and the Rebel Angels (1876)

Romantic Satanism was a predominantly English phenomenon, but it did have a significant French manifestation. English Romantic Satanism, however, was far more Miltonic, suffused with the passion and pride which motivated Milton’s Satan in his rebellious individualism and heroic endurance of suffering. The French Romantic Satanists preferred to imagine reconciliation between the damned angel and the Deity,1 whereas in the hands of the English Romantics, Lucifer always remained a rebel defiant to the very end, following his Miltonic predecessor in proudly preferring “an independency of torture / To the smooth agonies of adulation…” (Lord Byron, Cain [1821], I.i.385–86). These different forms of Romantic Satanism reflect the zeitgeist of the separate nations wherein this movement manifested: the French Romantics saw their nation torn asunder by the Revolution and its aftermath; the English Romantics saw their radicalism stamped out by an oppressive establishment that feared the revolutionary spirit crossing the Channel, leaving them seething with a frustrated rebelliousness much akin to that of Milton’s Satan. While I have much more of an affinity for English Romantic Satanism, French Romantic Satanism birthed a rather beautiful symbol which truly encapsulates the significance of Romantic Satanism: the fallen rebel angel Lucifer’s feather of Liberty.

In Victor Hugo’s La Fin de Satan (The End of Satan, 1854–62; 1886), a feather from the archangel Lucifer’s wing falls from Heaven down to our world and becomes Liberty, Lucifer’s angelic daughter—a more positive offspring than Sin, the daughter born Athena-like from Satan’s head in Paradise Lost (II.747–58). Most significantly, Hugo’s Luciferian angel Liberty descends to Earth at the time of the fall of the Bastille in 1789, which launched the epochal French Revolution and ushered in the modern world, thus illustrating just how intertwined Romantic Satanism was with the revolutionary politics of the time.2 For Hugo, the angel of Liberty not only instigates earthly uprisings but enacts the cosmic reconciliation between God and Satan; it is God Himself who brings Lucifer’s feather to life as Liberty, Hugo’s Deity announcing to His damned, despairing angel:

Come; your prison will be pulled down and hell abolished!

Come, the angel Liberty is your daughter and mine:

This sublime parentage unites us.

The archangel is reborn and the demon dies;

I efface the baleful darkness, and none of it is left.

Satan is dead; be born again, heavenly Lucifer!

Come, rise up from the shadows with dawn on your brow.3

All of the shifts Romantic Satanism induced are recalled here: the Devil transforming from angel of evil to father of freedom; the fallen angel repossessing his angelic luminosity and beauty; Satan regaining his native name, Lucifer. The important difference, of course, is that for Hugo these shifts come about through the Devil reconciling with the Deity, whereas English Romantic Satanism restored such luster to Lucifer in all of his defiant magnificence amidst damnation. The latter is more significant because it captures the uniqueness of Romantic Satanism: it was not about the end of Satan but the celebration of Satan; the fallen archangel was idealized not in spite of but because of his rebellion against Almighty God.

While the concept of a cosmic reconciliation between God and Satan is once again wholly at odds with the adversarial “Satanic spirit of pride and audacious impiety”4 at the heart of English Romantic Satanism and its Satanic School, it is nevertheless difficult to resist the poetic power of French Romantic Satanism’s intertwining Man’s revolutionary struggle for freedom with Lucifer’s revolt—so much so that the earthly urge for emancipation is inspired by a token of the heavenly Lucifer’s very being. Hugo’s La Fin de Satan gives the French Revolution a mythical treatment and a poetical sacredness, but its religious air is sacrilegious, its sacredness Satanic. It turns the eagerness of the forces of reaction to demonize the French Revolution on its head by deliberately aligning the Revolution with the Devil, but imagining this as a blessing rather than a curse.

Lucifer’s feather of Liberty is far more appropriate as a symbol for Romantic Satanism than any of the icons which have become familiar representations of Satanism proper: the inverted pentagram, with or without the Baphomet goat head; the inverted crucifix; the 666 “mark of the beast”; etc. The significance of the symbol of Lucifer’s Liberty feather is threefold: 1), it stresses that most important component of the Lucifer myth: the apostate angel’s revolutionary struggle for freedom; 2), it underlines the Romantic refashioning of this liberty-loving Lucifer as beautiful rather than bestial; 3), it designates the luminous rebel angel’s celestial revolt as the inspiration for terrestrial Man’s quest for self-determination. I cannot imagine a more apposite symbol for the phenomenon of Romantic Satanism—and for The Satanic Scholar, the proud preserver of this grand tradition—than Lucifer’s feather of Liberty.

 

Notes


1. See Maximilian Rudwin, The Devil in Legend and Literature (LaSalle, IL: Open Court Publishing Company, [1931] 1959), Ch. XXII, “The Salvation of Satan in Modern Poetry,” pp. 280–308; Jeffrey Burton Russell, Mephistopheles: The Devil in the Modern World (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, [1986] 1990), pp. 194–200; Ruben van Luijk, Children of Lucifer: The Origins of Modern Religious Satanism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016), pp. 74–76, 105–08.
2. See Russell, pp. 196–200; Ruben van Luijk, “Sex, Science, and Liberty: The Resurrection of Satan in Nineteenth-Century (Counter) Culture,” in The Devil’s Party: Satanism in Modernity, ed. Per Faxneld and Jesper Aa. Petersen (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), p. 45; van Luijk, Children of Lucifer, pp. 81–82, 107–08.
3. Victor Hugo, La Fin de Satan, quoted in Russell, p. 200.
4. First-generation Romantic radical turned reactionary Poet Laureate Robert Southey’s characterization of Romanticism’s “Satanic School” in his Preface to A Vision of Judgement (1821). Quoted in C. L. Cline, “Byron and Southey: A Suppressed Rejoinder,” Keats-Shelley Journal, Vol. 3 (Winter, 1954), p. 30.

Holly Black’s Yearlong Lucifer Run

“Nature abhors a vacuum. If the Devil didn’t exist, we’d have to reinvent him.”1
— Holly Black, Lucifer #5


 

I was both enthused and apprehensive when it was announced at the 2015 San Diego Comic-Con that Vertigo would be bringing back Lucifer. On the one hand, I was enthused because, as I’ve written extensively about in my four-part “Why Vertigo’s Lucifer Morningstar Matters,” Lucifer presents modern popular culture—predominantly saturated with Satans of either the medievally monstrous or lightheartedly comical variety—with the Miltonic-Romantic Satan’s true heir, and this neo-Romantic rebel angel thus helps expand the reach and influence of the grand tradition wherefrom he derives. On the other hand, I was apprehensive because Mike Carey had not only executed but concluded his 75-issue Lucifer series so perfectly that I worried about his masterful treatment of the Morningstar being tampered with, especially in the hands of another writer. Yet I must say that Holly Black’s yearlong Lucifer run has been remarkably impressive, and I, who read Carey’s series religiously, applaud Black’s success in once more taking the Devil descended from the tradition of Milton and the Romantic Satanists and making the rebellious Morningstar a veritable star in modern popular culture.

Apart from my general apprehensions about Lucifer being brought back nearly ten years after its perfect finish, I had two major concerns: the visual presentation of the titular angelic anti-hero and the plot. First off, while the Lucifer of Black’s comic was obviously far closer visually to the Lucifer of Carey’s than the Lucifer of Fox’s TV show (played by Tom Ellis), I was somewhat concerned when I saw the cover art for the first issue of the new Lucifer. My reaction was mixed: I was pleased to see that Lucifer retained his angelic wings, but alarmed when I saw that he had the barbed tail of a stereotypical demon; I was delighted to see that Lucifer kept the massive gash across his flawless face—given to him by his sole love Mazikeen as something to remember her by at the end of Carey’s series2—but I was disturbed by Lucifer looking like Scarface in an all-white suit. My worry continued as I made my way through the opening pages of Lucifer’s first issue, wherein the white-suited Lucifer pulls into Los Angeles in a white convertible, with the license plate “LC4R,” and enlists the dregs of society in the construction of Ex Lux, his new L.A. piano bar—here, like Lux in Lucifer on Fox, imagined as more of a nightclub. It all seemed too gaudy and cheesy for the refined rebel Mike Carey gave us. Fortunately, Black’s Lucifer swiftly sheds this skin, and even though his attire falls short of the dandified look Carey’s Lucifer adopts—Black’s Lucifer clothed rather like an Express model, in slim suits, skinny ties, and winkle pickers—the new Lucifer looks great.

Lee Garbett has done a phenomenal job illustrating these new Lucifer comics over the past year, leaving each and every panel exceedingly polished. Following the lead of Carey’s Lucifer, illustrated by Peter Gross, Garbett renders the colorful otherworldly characters surrounding the fallen angel in either bestial or insectile guises, but keeps Lucifer himself a handsome Devil. There are slight differences, such as Lucifer bearing blue rather than golden eyes and his angelic wings always being exposed, but the point is that the fallen angel’s image is impressive, especially when he dons his battle armor, Lucifer appearing as though he just marched out of the Romantic artwork inspired by Milton’s Paradise Lost (namely Thomas Stothard’s).

However Lucifer looked, there was of course the more significant issue of the plot he was to inhabit. I was frankly filled with trepidation when I learned that Holly Black’s Lucifer would consist of Lucifer, mysteriously wounded and fallen back to our world after a decade in the void he entered at the close of Carey’s comic, forced to work together with his disgraced angelic brother Gabriel to clear his name by solving the ultimate murder mystery: the death of God. (Yahweh, that is, not Elaine Belloc, who in Carey’s comic assumed the vacant Throne of God to keep Creation from crumbling.3) Lucifer’s resurrection was coinciding with the Vertigo series’ TV adaptation, the first issue coming out just a month before the show’s premiere, and it seemed that the Lucifer comic was perhaps in danger of being influenced by the Lucifer show, which, much to the dismay of the comic’s fans, was fashioned as a police procedural. Fortunately, Black’s storytelling swiftly laid those fears to rest, as she did a splendid job bringing back Lucifer’s iconic characters and making them her own.

My interest in Holly Black’s Lucifer was genuinely sparked when I reached the final page of its first issue, as Black gives us our first glimpse of Mazikeen, seated on Hell’s throne—crucified in place, in fact. Black’s portrayal of Mazikeen’s evolution as a character has been terrific. Over the course of Mike Carey’s Lucifer comics, Mazikeen evolved from the Devil’s cowled assistant, whose hidden half-face made her dialogue difficult to discern, into Lucifer’s warrior-woman and true love—a character of such significance to Lucifer that she ultimately inherited the Morningstar’s mantle, anointed the new Lightbringer by her Lord before his departure from Creation.4 With Black’s Mazikeen—now Mazikeen Morningstar—we see how much further she has evolved as Hell’s monarch. Mazikeen is now a woman of even fewer words, but her words are firmly authoritarian, and her actions are ruthlessly regal. We learn that Mazikeen agreed to be nailed to Hell’s throne as a sign of good faith to her Lilim brethren, lest she, with her newfound Lightbringer powers, rule over them as an angel rather than as a peer.5 Whereas Lucifer abandoned Hell’s throne and shrugged off his responsibilities as ruler, Mazikeen is monomaniacal in her commitment to reigning in Hell and her responsibilities to her people.

I was quite invested in the emotional evolution between Mazikeen and Lucifer. When Lucifer first comes face-to-face with her in the throne room of Hell, Mazikeen is cold and distant in the face of her erstwhile lover and Lord, but she still clearly harbors intense admiration for Lucifer as the legendary arch-rebel. When Lucifer is commanded to bend the knee upon arrival, Mazikeen interjects, “No. He may remain standing. I would be disappointed if he bent his head to anyone.” Lucifer’s admiration for Mazikeen is equal, and it was interesting to see him express uncharacteristic vulnerability before his one true love:

LUCIFER. Who dares hold you here?
MAZIKEEN. I am the ruler of Hell. I am the Lightbringer. Do not presume on our old friendship.…You kept my mark. I am touched.
LUCIFER. You said I would be a coward if I did not.
MAZIKEEN. I didn’t think you cared what I had to say.…
LUCIFER. I could free you. Command me, Mazikeen. Command me and I will not fail you.
MAZIKEEN. You have already failed me, my Lord. Go. That’s the only command I have to give you.6

As the story progresses, Black gives us the sense that Lucifer is rather lovesick for Mazikeen, and that Mazikeen, beneath her hardened outer shell, is deeply hurt by Lucifer having left her. Hell hath no fury like Hell’s matriarch scorned, and Mazikeen eventually loses her icy cool and attacks her long-lost lover. “You left me with a power I barely understood,” she shouts at Lucifer. “You left me in the world you remade. You left me!” “I’m here now,”7 Lucifer reassures Mazikeen, and indeed it is only his heartfelt kiss which rescues her from Yahweh’s mind control (more on that below). Their fiery passion for one another slowly but surely rekindles over the issues, and it was interesting to see them regain something resembling their old dynamic.

Black explained early on that her Lucifer was pitched between the poles of Neil Gaiman’s mischievous trickster and Mike Carey’s coldhearted bastard, and this slightly more human Lucifer was worked out not only in his dynamic with Mazikeen but his dynamic with his brother, the Heaven-ousted, alcoholic angel Gabriel. Following in the tradition of Carey’s Lucifer, which had a great deal of levity to it, Black’s Lucifer has many moments of comic relief, the majority of which come courtesy of Gabriel as he and his unlikely partner Lucifer embark on a strange buddy-cop journey through various realms to find God’s killer. Lucifer and Gabriel of course have history, as in Carey’s comic Lucifer’s chief tension in Heaven was with the authority of Gabriel rather than that of Michael,8 and it was likewise Gabriel instead of Michael who bested Lucifer in battle during the War in Heaven.9 The dynamic between Lucifer and Gabriel in Black’s comic has a very human feel to it—the feel of siblings who have quarreled in the past and, however much they might have moved on as significant time has lapsed, continue to irk each other. While their mutual disdain for one another is mostly expressed in a lighthearted way—“Every angel’s hallelujah must have been particularly fervent the day you got kicked out of Heaven,”10 Lucifer at one point remarks to his irritating brother—Gabriel seems to really resent his superior sibling. As the first arc of Black’s Lucifer run concludes and it is revealed to both the reader and Gabriel himself that it was he who delivered the deathblow to Yahweh and injured Lucifer, Gabriel expresses profound ambivalence. On the one hand, he is clearly frustrated with Lucifer as the rebellious yet still favored son of God, groaning, “you got to be the bad son, so the rest of us were stuck with being good forever,” but on the other hand Gabriel finds some perverse satisfaction in out-sinning the original sinner: “But I guess it turns out that I’m much worse than you ever were. That must piss you off. At least I’ve got that.”11 It will be interesting to see where Lucifer will take the deicide Gabriel, who has decided to take Mazikeen up on her offer, entering into her service in exchange for help discovering who it was who stole his memories. “If I can’t be blessed, then let me be a curse,” Gabriel states. “A curse on Heaven.”12 


“I left home to find my fortune. To no longer be constrained by our Father’s narrow worldview. By our Father’s gifts. By our Father’s anything.”13


Much like Mike Carey’s Lucifer, Holly Black’s Lucifer is at its best when it’s exploring the deep complexities of Lucifer’s struggle for freedom from God—his Father, Yahweh. In Carey’s Lucifer, the autonomy-obsessed angel dedicated every fiber of his being to escaping the will of God. In Black’s Lucifer, the once more newly fallen angel is finally freed from God’s will by virtue of the Almighty’s demise, but the angelic son’s response to his divine Father’s death infuses the character with fresh ambiguity. Falsely accused of dealing Yahweh a fatal blow by his brother Gabriel—sent by the heavenly host to rain justice down on the Devil in exchange for his return to the Silver City—Lucifer expresses his willingness to investigate the cosmic whodunit. When Gabriel questions why, Lucifer’s response is rather ambiguous: “Because no one gets to kill God but me. And because He was my Father, too.”14 

Once the mystery of the death of God is finally solved, Lucifer finds himself somewhat lost. Previously, Lucifer tried his damnedest to escape God, and more recently he was preoccupied with solving God’s murder, but with both God and His murder mystery gone, Lucifer is left with nothing to do. He sits alone in Ex Lux, almost trying to convince himself that he is pleased: “Here’s to you, Dad. One last drink to speed you on your way. Good-bye and good riddance.” The narrator, however, reveals—much like Milton’s Epic Voice in Paradise Lost—that within, Lucifer suffers far more than he’s willing to show: “Once, Lucifer defined himself in opposition to his heavenly Father. Now there is no one to oppose. No one to escape. No one to hate. He keeps turning that absence over in his mind, deliberately provoking himself, as a human might poke a tongue into the socket of a lost tooth. Perhaps even the Devil can mourn.”15 Interestingly, Lucifer lets on that he is perhaps aware of being more similar to his Father than he’d like to think when he reveals a dark secret: he was in fact the reason for Yahweh’s departure from Creation. While his heavenly rebellion was foreseen and even nudged along by Yahweh, Lucifer’s abandonment of his duties in Hell was not part of the Divine Plan, and was in turn wholly unacceptable to God, hence His abandonment of Creation. “My true rebellion was not leading an army against Heaven,” Lucifer explains to his brother Raphael. “It was handing over the key to Hell to Morpheus.…He [Yahweh] abandoned the world. And then I suppose I abandoned it, too. Like father, like son.”16

Perhaps the most significant development in the relationship between Lucifer and God is Yahweh’s resurrection/metamorphosis. God is dead at the start of Black’s Lucifer, but in fact Yahweh’s corpse becomes cocooned,17 emerging late in Black’s run as a dark, malevolent monster of a God—a caricature of the demonic deity imagined by the Romantic Satanists. This demonic Yahweh plans to reshape Creation and strip its creatures of free will: “I am a new God. A God of fire and brimstone. I scorn free will. And I mean to remake the world in my image.”18 Yet this God is not all-powerful, as Yahweh abdicated the Throne of God, which was assumed by the young Elaine Belloc at the close of Carey’s series. Elaine has struggled to remain a neutral deity, but her restoration of Lucifer’s Morningstar powers,19 while unrequested by the fallen angel, enables Lucifer to confront the reborn God in the Silver City. “No one can ever say you weren’t ambitious,” the demonic Yahweh scoffs at Lucifer. “Hubris, they call it. I will not miss you. You were a good idea, messily rendered. A first draft. I will make you again and make you better. Just as I have remade myself. I will remake everything.” As Yahweh insists on his absolute power over Creation—“This world is mine. You are mine. I made it and I made you”—Lucifer counters with his characteristic pride: “Not everything you make belongs to you.…Whatever you are, you may have some of Him in you. Perhaps you stole His power as you stole mine. But you are not my Father.”20 That last line is very telling, for while Lucifer mocks the demon God because He lacks the omnipotence of Yahweh, Lucifer also seems to say that he has even greater contempt for this monster on God’s Throne because it is not his true Father, Yahweh.


“This is the third time you’ve tried to destroy the world. Someone should really congratulate me on how right I was about you.”21


Despite Black’s interesting depiction of the power struggle between the paternal God and His insubordinate angelic son, perhaps the most interesting commentary on Lucifer’s issues with parental authority comes with the revelation that he is no longer simply a son but a father himself. It is revealed that the carnal relations Lucifer indulged in with the Japanese underworld goddess Izanami-no-Mikoto at the very end of Carey’s series22 produced a Satanic son, Takehiko, who has grown up with a deep-seated hatred for his father. Izanami spells out the similarities between the Yahweh–Lucifer and Lucifer–Takehiko dynamics:

IZANAMI. Did I not tell you that all things come full circle, Prince of Hell? A disapproving father, a rebellious son. All so familiar, is it not?.…Just as you were the cause of your Father’s undoing, Lucifer, so shall your son be the cause of yours.
LUCIFER. You think an ominous tone and a hint of prophecy will get under my skin? I don’t think you remember my Father well at all.23

Lucifer is indeed his Father’s son, as he displays when brought face-to-face with his own offspring. Izanami has urged Takehiko to usurp the throne of Hell from Mazikeen, who is forced to face the upstart prince in battle—and thereby break her oath to the Lilim to be bound to her infernal seat. “You’re just a little mote of my energy,” Lucifer sneers at the son who challenges him. “A spark I could reach out and extinguish.” “I am not just some piece of you. I am nothing like you!” desperately cries Takehiko.24 It was a moment much reminiscent of Carey’s flashback to the War in Heaven, when a defeated but defiant Lucifer scorns his Father Yahweh’s explanation that His angelic sons are “the aspects of myself through which I act”: “No! I am myself. Not a limb or an organ of yours. I separate myself from you. You can kill me. But you cannot claim me back!”25 Interestingly, while Yahweh’s response was to relocate Lucifer to Hell, where he could rule (even if he was fulfilling another aspect of the Divine Plan), Lucifer is simply dismissive of his domineering son: “Now go away, little spark, before I get angry.”26

Satan, Sin and Death
Thomas Stothard, Satan, Sin and Death

The struggle between Lucifer and Takehiko not only calls to mind Carey’s depiction of the tension between Lucifer and Yahweh but also Milton’s depiction of the tension between Satan and his son Death in Paradise Lost. When Milton’s Satan reaches the gates of Hell en route to Eden (II.643ff.), the crowned specter of Death boasts that he is Hell’s true ruler and aggressively asserts himself as Satan’s “King and Lord” (II.699), which throws the fallen angel into a fiery rage: “…Incens’t with indignation Satan stood / Unterrifi’d, and like a Comet burn’d…” (II.707–08). This of course is a mirror image of Satan’s conflict with his own Father, Almighty God, as “maistring Heav’n’s Supreme” (IX.125) was Satan’s overreaching ambition, after all. Takehiko is not monstrous like Milton’s Death—notwithstanding his temporary transformation into a towering blob of viscera, induced by the first sight of his father—but his tension with Lucifer is extremely reminiscent of Milton’s scene. Of course, unlike Milton’s Satan, Black’s Lucifer does not appear at all interested in forming an alliance with his son (unlike the demonic Yahweh, who recruits Takehiko for the purposes of the new Divine Plan27). In their encounter, Lucifer easily subdues Takehiko, skewering him to a slab of rock. “You can’t just mean to leave him like that. He’s your son,” Gabriel remarks to his brutal brother as they are about to depart from Hell. “A sword through the stomach is nothing compared to what our Father did to us,” Lucifer coldly replies. “If he wants to be in this family, he better toughen up.”28 The Devil’s son motif could have easily slipped into disastrous camp, but Black executed the concept splendidly, establishing an interesting conflict between Lucifer and Takehiko, which is something I’m certainly looking forward to seeing unfold as the series progresses.


“You could have had Heaven, you know. You had Hell. Humans have called you the prince of this world for as long as anyone can remember.…You want what you can’t have. Too bad you’ve already had everything. Poor spoiled Lucifer. Daddy’s favorite. No hill left to climb?”29


Holly Black has done a phenomenal job of reestablishing Lucifer’s classic characters, particularly the Morningstar himself. Indeed, Black has succeeded in maintaining Vertigo’s Lucifer as the place to find the true heir of the sympathetic and sublime Satan created by Milton and embraced by the Romantics. In fact, my favorite moment of Black’s Lucifer run was when, in the realm of The Dreaming, Lucifer confronts a dream of the Devil—“Luciferian energy” manifested in the form of a gigantic, red, horned, goateed demon.30 I found it quite perfectly symbolic of how Vertigo’s Lucifer achieves what even Satanism proper falls short of: presenting to the world a modern-day manifestation of the Devil descended from the Miltonic-Romantic tradition, vanquishing popular stereotypes associated with Satan in the process.

The one thing that bothered me about Black’s Lucifer run was the product of it only being a yearlong run, which proved somewhat problematic in terms of pacing the story out. Several times I found myself wanting to spend more time exploring the story Black was telling, and feeling somewhat unsatisfied on account of the writer’s eagerness to move on. There was a tendency for the characters to hurry or be hurried from place to place, and Lucifer’s rushed confrontation with the demonic Yahweh—and Michael Demiurgos,31 whose recreation is monumentally significant but with which little has been done thus far—was the perfect example. Black, who is a successful writer of fiction, was open about struggling to squeeze Lucifer into her daunting schedule. While reluctant to accept Vertigo’s offer of a monthly comic series, Black felt compelled to take the opportunity to write for Lucifer because she’d get to delve into the fascinating character created by the brilliant minds of Neil Gaiman and Mike Carey. Black certainly succeeded in continuing their visions in her own unique way—the ideal outcome in such an endeavor—but it is truly a shame that she could not continue working on the comic indefinitely. I am as sorry to see Holly Black leave Lucifer as I was uneasy to hear that she’d be restarting what Mike Carey finished a decade prior.

It was announced at the 2016 New York Comic Con that Richard Kadrey would be handed the reins of Lucifer after Black’s yearlong run on the comic. Black and Kadrey collaborated on a lighthearted Christmas issue of Lucifer for the holiday season, but the merits of Kadrey’s contributions to Lucifer remain to be seen. “I’ve been living with the devil for a long time,” Kadrey reassures us. “It was a distant relationship for most of my life, but has become a closer, more intimate one over these last few years.…Let’s face it: if you’re going to be interested in angels, you’re going to gravitate to the most fascinating one. That’s Lucifer. Hands down. End of discussion.” I’m hoping for the best, and certainly Black has already done the difficult work for Kadrey in terms of bringing back Lucifer’s iconic characters, reestablishing their relationships, and setting them on intriguing new journeys. If handled properly by Kadrey, there is much to look forward to: Lucifer’s rekindled relationship with Mazikeen and their newfound endeavor “to kill God”32; the demonic Yahweh’s effort to enthrall Creation; Takehiko’s quest for revenge against his diabolical father; Mazikeen’s fight for the coveted throne of Hell; the political intrigue of Beelzebub, Asmodeus, and Izanami, now in the Japanese goddess’ realm; Elaine’s struggle to remain a neutral deity; and Gabriel’s search for a new purpose in life. Most importantly, there is ever more opportunity to explore the labyrinthine Lucifer, whose incessant search for self-authorship continues to fascinate and astonish.

Holly Black has undeniably impressed the hell out of me with her treatment of the Lucifer she inherited from Mike Carey—especially with her yearlong Lucifer run’s preservation of the Morningstar’s Miltonic-Romantic spirit—and so I wish to close here by giving Black the last word:

After a year of writing Lucifer, I have thought a lot about the perennial fascination of the Devil. His story is a dynastic story: it’s about kings and princes and wars and thrones, and at the same time it’s a family story about brothers and fathers and sons.…And I think we love him, if we love him, because he’s a bad son; because he’s ambitious; because he’s a screw-up; because he’s a rebel; [because] he spits in the face of the establishment, the government, the rules. And he was the brightest angel, before he fell, but maybe he was pushed … a little bit. So, it’s been an honor to spend a year with the Devil…

 

 

 

Notes


1. Holly Black, Lucifer #5: Cold Heaven: Part Five: Son of Mystery.
2. See Mike Carey, Lucifer: Evensong (New York: DC Comics, 2007), pp. 72–74.
3. See Mike Carey, Lucifer: Morningstar (New York: DC Comics, 2006), p. 139ff.
4. See ibid., pp. 68–72.
5. See Holly Black, Lucifer #8: Father Lucifer: Part Two: The Not-So-Fortunate Fall.
6. Holly Black, Lucifer #2: Cold Heaven: Part Two: Lady Lucifer.
7. Holly Black, Lucifer #10: Father Lucifer: Part Four: World Unchained.
8. See Mike Carey, Lucifer: The Wolf Beneath the Tree (New York: DC Comics, 2005), pp. 12–13, 32–33, 37–42.
9. See Carey, Lucifer: Evensong, pp. 132–36.
10. Black, Lucifer #2.
11. Black, Lucifer #5.
12. Ibid.
13. Holly Black, Lucifer #4: Cold Heaven: Part Four: Hosts.
14. Holly Black, Lucifer #1: Cold Heaven: Part One: Prodigal Sons.
15. Holly Black, Lucifer #7: Father Lucifer: Part One: Practicing to Deceive.
16. Black, Lucifer #8.
17. See Black, Lucifer #7.
18. Holly Black, Lucifer #9: Father Lucifer: Part Three: Prodigal Sons.
19. See Holly Black, Lucifer #11: Omniscient Narration.
20. Holly Black, Lucifer #12: Endgame: Father Lucifer: Part Six.
21. Ibid.
22. See Carey, Lucifer: Evensong, pp. 56–62.
23. Black, Lucifer #9.
24. Black, Lucifer #10.
25. Carey, Lucifer: Evensong, p. 135.
26. Black, Lucifer #10.
27. See Black, Lucifer #11.
28. Black, Lucifer #10.
29. Holly Black, Lucifer #3: Cold Heaven: Part Three: Mothers of All.
30. See Black, Lucifer #4.
31. See Black, Lucifer #10.
32. Black, Lucifer #12.

Getting Past the Milton of It All?

Legendary Pictures chairman and chief executive Thomas Tull wryly remarked back in the March 4, 2007 New York Times article on the Paradise Lost film project that his initial reaction to the prospect of making Milton’s seventeenth-century epic poem into a movie was, “Well, that’s going to make a lot of older folks relive bad college experiences.” Yet he came to believe that the film could be made appealing to a broad audience “if you get past the Milton of it all,” in the words of Tull, who explained, “if you get past the Milton of it all, and think about the greatest war that’s ever been fought, the story itself is pretty compelling…” Making a film adaptation of Milton’s masterpiece and proceeding to try and “get past the Milton of it all” was certainly a suspect sentiment, but what did Tull mean by this?

Milton - Paradise LostMilton’s Paradise Lost is certainly Milton’s Paradise Lost, which is to say, although the Puritan poet was retelling literally the oldest story in the book—the Fall of Man at the dawn of Creation—Milton’s presentation of this age-old tale in Paradise Lost was unique unto him. For one thing, as Milton states early on in the poem, his ambition was to outshine the classical epics of the Greek Homer and the Roman Virgil—“to soar / Above th’ Aonian Mount” (I.14–15)—with his own Christian-themed English epic. A byproduct of this aspiration was challenging the pagan epics on their own ground, Milton setting out to demonstrate that pagan heroism pales in comparison to Christian virtue—as personified in none other than God’s Son, “By Merit more than Birthright Son of God, / Found worthiest to be so by being Good, / Far more than Great or High…” (III.309–11). Thus, Milton declares in the proem to Book IX that he dismissed for his Christian epic the traditional epic subject of warfare, “hitherto the only Argument / Heroic deem’d,” which lamentably left “the better fortitude / Of Patience and Heroic Martyrdom / Unsung…” (IX.28–29, 31–33). Milton opted for the subject of “Man’s First Disobedience” (I.1), a subject he found “Not less but more Heroic” (IX.14) than those found in the Iliad and Odyssey of Homer and the Aeneid of Virgil, for through the primeval disobedience of Adam and Eve, the Son of God becomes the glorious savior of disobedient Man. This, for Milton, completely eclipsed the classical heroes’ martial valor, assumed in Paradise Lost by Milton’s Satan, “the proud / Aspirer” (VI.89–90) who is “by merit rais’d / To…bad eminence…” (II.5–6). (Of course, Milton’s demonization of the classical virtues via imbuing Satan himself with them was part of what made Milton’s Devil far more appealing than intended.)

John Martin, Paradise Lost, Book II (ca. 1823-25)
John Martin, Satan Enthroned (ca. 1823-25)

As if Milton’s theological aspiration wasn’t task enough, the poet included in Paradise Lost a significant political component as well. Paradise Lost was composed during the Restoration, the republican Milton writing—or dictating, actually, as Milton was at this point completely blind—amidst his dashed dreams of an English commonwealth free from the bondage of monarchal tyranny. Paradise Lost was subsequently infused with a strong antimonarchical message, and while Romantic radicals saw the regicidal Milton reflected in his arch-rebel Satan, who fashions himself as the “Antagonist of Heav’n’s Almighty King” (X.387), Milton repeatedly suggests that earthly monarchy came straight from Hell (II.672–73; IV.381–83; XII.24–74) as a sinful imitation of “Heav’n’s matchless King” (IV.41).

These complex literary, theological, and political positions embedded in Paradise Lost are part and parcel of “the Milton of it all,” but one would imagine that a film adaptation of Milton’s Paradise Lost would jettison these weighty issues in favor of the grandness of the story and the cosmic conflict of its outsized characters—“the greatest war that’s ever been fought,” as Tull put it—which would surely make for plenty of onscreen spectacle. Yet even certain aspects of Milton’s presentation of his story and characters would likely prove puzzling to modern-day film audiences. For instance, Milton prolongs his War in Heaven into a three-day conflict, Satan and his rebel angels, after suffering a terrible loss on the first day of battle, inventing cannons to even the odds on the second day (VI.469–634). Milton is at his most peculiar in Paradise Lost, however, when he (via the archangel Raphael) goes out of his way to explain the complexities of angelic anatomy and physiology (VI.344–53), including angelic digestion (V.404–13) and sexual intercourse (VIII.620–29).

“Sin” – concept art for Paradise Lost by Dane Hallett
“Sin” – concept art for Paradise Lost by Dane Hallett

Speaking of supernatural intercourse, one would have to imagine a film adaptation of Paradise Lost would excise the Satan, Sin and Death episode, wherein Satan’s daughter Sin explains that when she burst full-grown from her father’s haughty head (II.749–58), Satan saw in his offspring his own “perfect image” (II.764) and in turn “Becam’st enamor’d” (II.765), copulating with Sin and inadvertently creating Death, Satan’s “Son and Grandchild both” (X.384). Death, Sin relates, tore from her womb and proceeded to rape his mother, deforming Sin’s lower half into a serpentine monstrosity (II.761–802). Paradise Lost’s incestuous and monstrous unholy trinity is surely part of “the Milton of it all,” but would a film adaptation dare to go there? Well, as revealed by the demonic concept art of Dane Hallett and the Milton on Film book by Paradise Lost’s script consultant Eric C. Brown, Sin was set to appear in the film, albeit in an altered dynamic (Milton’s devoutly loyal angel Abdiel was recast as “the Angel of Death,” who would surely replace Sin’s incestuous son). What’s more, it is safe to assume that Tull’s comment about “get[ting] past the Milton of it all” was not necessarily about Paradise Lost’s challenging language—seventeenth-century English epic verse rife with Latinisms—as Sin, according to Brown’s book, “was so insistently Miltonic in her speech as to be dubbed ‘like Yoda times a thousand.’ ”1 Perhaps the Paradise Lost film was more Miltonic than Tull anticipated?

Yet perhaps the need to “get past the Milton of it all” pertained more to the character of Milton’s Satan than to his Sin or Death. “The depiction of Satan may be a polarizing one among scholars,” noted Michael Joseph Gross in his 2007 New York Times article. “Some, in line with Romantic poets like William Blake, will want the dark prince to be the hero; others won’t be happy unless Satan is a self-deceiving hypocrite, and the story an education in virtue and obedience.” The latter was certainly what Milton the Puritan set out to accomplish, but the former was undeniably what Milton the poet ended up achieving. “Milton gives the Devil all imaginable advantage,” observed Percy Bysshe Shelley in his unpublished Essay on the Devil and Devils (ca. 1819–20), Shelley questioning Milton’s status as a Christian and speculating that he may have masked his Satanic sympathies within a literary work so as to evade the inevitable persecution such heresy would call down, given the oppressive climate in which Milton was writing: “Thus much is certain, that…the arguments with which he [Milton’s Devil] exposes the injustice and impotent weakness of his adversary are such as, had they been printed distinct from the shelter of any dramatic order, would have been answered by the most conclusive of syllogisms—persecution.”2

F.P. Simon, after Richard Westall, Satan Exulting
F.P. Simon, after Richard Westall, Satan Exulting

Shelley’s extreme position that Milton was a conscious Satanist is unwarranted, and the more plausible (and frankly more intriguing) theory is derived from the infamous dictum of Blake’s Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790–93): Milton was “of the Devils party without knowing it[.]”3 Either way, the Romantic Satanists’ reading of Paradise Lost, to be fair, did “get past the Milton of it all” insofar as they liberated Milton’s Satan from the Christian confines of Paradise Lost—an epic poem designed by Milton to “justify the ways of God to men” (I.26)—which enabled the fallen angel to ascend as a Promethean Romantic hero. Then again, as far as the Romantic Satanists were concerned, Milton had with his Satan created a character—inadvertently or otherwise—so sympathetic and sublime that he was destined to break free from the pages of the poem. “As if misplaced in the ideological structure of Milton’s epic,” notes Peter A. Schock in his study of Romantic Satanism, “the figure of the fallen angel invited his own excision and insertion into different contexts,” and as a result

Milton’s Satan assumes in the Romantic era a prominence seen never before or since, nearly rivaling Prometheus as the most characteristic mythic figure of the age. A more active and ambiguous mythic agent than the bound, suffering forethinker and benefactor of humanity, the reimagined figure of Milton’s Satan embodied for the age the apotheosis of human desire and power.”4

Considering Milton’s Satan “the hero of Paradise Lost”—a phrase employed matter-of-factly by the Satanic School’s Byron and Shelley5—was for the Romantic Satanists entirely central to “the Milton of it all.”

If, in the end, “the Milton of it all” refers to the theological Puritanism of Paradise Lost, and if a Paradise Lost film that “get[s] past the Milton of it all” means that Milton’s Satan could be translated to the big screen as “the apotheosis of human desire and power” for our own age, as he was for the Romantic age, then from the perspective of a neo-Romantic Satanist it is to be wished that a Paradise Lost film “get past the Milton of it all.” It remains to be seen, however, whether the film adaptation of Paradise Lost—should it ever make it to theaters—will deliver the complex ambiguity of a Miltonic-Romantic Lucifer or Legendary’s Thomas Tull simply meant that Milton’s masterpiece would be reduced to a superficial angelic action film.

 

Notes


1. Eric C. Brown, Milton on Film (Pittsburgh, PA: Duquesne University Press, 2015), p. 332.
2. 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. 267.
3. William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, in The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake, ed. David V. Erdman, rev. ed. (New York: Anchor Books, [1965] 1988), p. 35; pl. 6.
4. Peter A. Schock, Romantic Satanism: Myth and the Historical Moment in Blake, Shelley, and Byron (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), p. 3.
5. Lord Byron, quoted in Jerome J. McGann, Don Juan in Context (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976), p. 25; Percy Bysshe Shelley, Preface to Prometheus Unbound (1820), in Shelley’s Poetry and Prose, ed. Donald H. Reiman and Neil Fraistat (New York [2d rev. ed. 1977]: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2002), p. 207.

The Satanic Scholar & The Satanic Irreverend: An Informal Discussion

The Satanic Scholar & The Satanic Irreverend: An Informal Discussion is a ten-part talk on the subject of Satanism and its cultural components between myself and Gavin Baddeley, the author of Lucifer Rising (1999) who, when conducting research for his study of Sin, Devil Worship & Rock ‘n’ Roll, was granted an honorary priesthood in the Church of Satan by its founder, “the Black Pope” Anton LaVey, who codified Satanism as a modern (ir)religious philosophy back in 1960s San Francisco.

Gavin Baddeley—the self-proclaimed Satanic “Irreverend”—is an English author who specializes in the dark, decadent, and devilish aspects of Western culture. The scope of his scholarship is vast, and the manner in which he presents his material is not only thoroughly informed, but remarkably witty and humorous as well. While authoritative on all of the subjects he covers, I have always singled Gavin out as the best spokesman for Satanism, as his presentation of the equally fascinating and controversial subject is truly unparalleled. For most Satanists, Satanism simply started in 1966—and, as far as aboveground, organized Satanism goes, it did—but the concept didn’t just appear magically out of a puff of smoke; Satanism’s roots reach deep into the Western world’s past—most significantly for The Satanic Scholar, of course, into English Romanticism—and a large part of what makes Gavin stand out from his Satanic peers is his penchant for digging up these roots and subjecting them to the analysis they deserve. Gavin felt my effort to preserve the Miltonic-Romantic legacy of Lucifer was worthwhile, and he was kind enough to provide constructive criticism and share invaluable insight when I was first getting my Satanic Scholar site off the ground in early 2016. Not long after, I had the pleasure of having Gavin as a house guest during his stay in New York. Gavin and I had many interesting conversations during his stay, the last of which we decided to commit to film: The Satanic Scholar & The Satanic Irreverend: An Informal Discussion.


 

Part 1

 

GB: “I still have things to say about Satanism; it’s still something that’s very close to me; [‘Satanist’ is] still something I’d identify as.”

CJC: “I would say I’m…a neo-Romantic Satanist at heart.”

 


Part 2

GB: “You can have as many guys in dressing gowns in basements as you like, and they won’t have an iota of the influence of somebody who knows what they’re doing with art, literature, film… The Dark Arts are the arts.”

CJC: “A big part of [Romantic Satanism] is being an exiled figure—an outcast.”

 


Part 3

CJC: “I do think that there has to be an underlying idealism to [Satanism].”

GB: “[Compared to Satanism,] atheism feels like a copout. And it’s not as much fun!”

 


Part 4

CJC: “Back to the myth: Lucifer has a third of Heaven on his side, so it’s sort of the original counterculture.”

GB: “Christianity has over the years…imagined this foe—this Satanic faith, this Satanic bogeyman—and in their limitation of imagination has imagined that it’s what [Christians are] like in a funhouse mirror.…Of course, the opposite of belief is not belief in something else; the opposite of belief is doubt.”

 


Part 5

CJC: “What’s so appealing about the myth [of Satan] is that he is doomed. That’s what makes him Promethean—that’s what makes him actually excel Prometheus, as far as I’m concerned, because Prometheus’ suffering ends, but with Satan it’s eternal.”

GB: “[The Devil] has a habit of escaping from the pages. Once you give him a personality, he creates problems, and the problems are always interesting.”

 


Part 6

CJC: “I think of Satanism as a slaughterhouse for sacred cows, whatever they might be.”

GB: “Satanism is unusual in being not exclusivist, but not expansionist.”

 


Part 7

CJC: “You can’t pooh-pooh mythology. It’s something that really taps into these things that are relevant to the human psyche. [Myths are] these human stories just writ large—projected onto this cosmic canvas.”

GB: “Religion likes to pretend that it has this Golden Age [and] these sacred texts.…Satanism evolves. There’s even a good argument to say that Satanism might want to evolve to the point where it’s no longer necessary.”

 


Part 8

CJC: “Rebellion for its own sake is not inherently positive. It has to be based on something, and again I think the characteristics of the Miltonic-Romantic Lucifer are very positive and principled.”

GB: “You can take a rebellious stance and say that imperialism had positive aspects—that the British Empire is or was admirable in many respects.…For me, a Satanic political position is: I’m a proud imperialist, so I will fly the flag for Britain and fly the flag for the British Empire because nobody else is.”

 


Part 9

GB: “Satan is often referred to as ‘the Prince of Lies’.…but from my experience of Satanism, a lot of it is about just speaking the truth.”

CJC: “Perhaps [Satanists] need to move away from shock to surprise.…Perhaps it would be easier to emphasize this idea of Satan as the rebel hero if it were matched up with imagery that went along with that.”

 


Part 10

CJC: “ ‘Occult,’ as I understand it, means ‘hidden,’ so it has this esoteric connotation to it.…What can be more occult—insofar as it means hidden or esoteric—than taking a seventeenth-century epic poem…and exploiting the potential of its mythic [Satanic] figure?”

GB: “Milton’s Satan is…an archetype for this Western cult of the individual.…What you have in the Miltonic Satan is an emblem for this idea that you can break out of a monolithic, totalitarian system.…This is a myth that expresses how this happens, and that’s in a sense what’s important about Satanism: it says you can express yourself; it’s worth doing this regardless of the cost; sometimes the self is the most important thing; there’s something incredibly noble about this. And it’s a selfish thing to do, but it’s also a selfless thing to do, and a noble thing to do.”

 


Additional Footage

In case ten parts simply weren’t enough…

The following is additional footage captured after the above discussion. The initial idea was to have cutaway shots in case they were needed during the editing process, but of course the ever insightful Gavin Baddeley wound up sharing more substantive commentary.

“Satanism always has a hoof firmly planted in the past…and a hoof firmly thrusting into the future.”

 

Onetime Paradise Lost Director Was of the Devil’s Party—and Knows It

Pioneer of Romanticism (and Romantic Satanism1) William Blake famously theorized in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790–93) that the sublime grandeur surrounding Satan in Paradise Lost makes sense given that Milton, as “a true Poet,” was “of the Devils party without knowing it[.]”2 It appears that infernal inspiration lies behind all the arts, as Alex Proyas, the onetime director of the Paradise Lost film, recently revealed that his effort to bring Milton’s masterpiece to the silver screen made him realize his own place in the Devil’s party.

“While attempting to make Milton’s Paradise Lost into a movie,” Proyas wrote in a Facebook post on October 24th,

I had an epiphany of sorts. I’m obviously not the only guy who has had it, but it felt very personal at the time. Can good exist without evil? Further to that, it seems the God of Paradise Lost actually manipulates Lucifer in such a way that his only recourse is to become Satan, and thereby He invents the very notion of evil itself. There was no good before God made it, and therefore no evil either. And that is why Paradise Lost was considered so blasphemous when it was written and continues to be challenging even today. That is one of the reasons why the movie was never made.

Alex Proyas, onetime director of Paradise Lost

Proyas had made a similar comment concerning the real reason for Paradise Lost’s cancelation prior to production via Facebook back in December of 2015, when he was still working on his ill-fated Gods of Egypt (2016) film: “…[T]he [Paradise Lost] project fell over not because the budget was too big (as reported in the media),” Proyas claimed, “but because I really do think the material is just too out there for Hollywood. Let’s not forget Milton himself was branded a heretic for writing it.” In any event, the director’s analysis of Lucifer being forced to become Satan—the heavenly Morningstar compelled to become the hellish Prince of Darkness—was but a more subdued variation on the analysis the Satanic School’s Percy Bysshe Shelley offered in his unpublished Essay on the Devil and Devils (ca. 1819–20).

As far as Shelley could see, because Milton’s Satan possessed an “unconquerable Will” and the “courage never to submit or yield” (I.106, 108), the fallen archangel “was so secure from the assault of any gross or common torments that God was considerably puzzled to invent what he considered an adequate punishment for his rebellion; he 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.” Given how remarkably undaunted Milton’s Satan remains in the face of his damnation, Shelley explains, Milton’s God resorted to corrupting the fallen angel’s “benevolent and amiable disposition,” the omnipotent tyrant diabolically coercing Satan to corrupt the innocent Adam and Eve, thereby magnifying the intensity of his own suffering:

At last the benevolent and amiable disposition which distinguished his adversary furnished God with the true method of executing an enduring and a terrible vengeance. He turned his good into evil, and, by virtue of his omnipotence, inspired him with such impulses as, in spite of his better nature, irresistibly determined him to act what he most abhorred and to be a minister of those designs and schemes of which he was the chief and the original victim. 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.…Milton has expressed this view of the subject with the sublimest pathos.3

Amelia Curran, Percy Bysshe Shelley (1819)
Amelia Curran, Percy Bysshe Shelley (1819)

In his radical reinterpretation of Paradise Lost, Shelley lays the blame for the Fall of Man on God Himself—just as Milton’s Satan does (IV.373, 386–87)—and while this particular apology for Satan appears on the surface of it to overstate the Devil’s case, it ironically has the most textual support. After all, we are reminded early on in Paradise Lost that it is none other than the Almighty 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, for Satan’s “spite still serves / His glory to augment” (II.385–86). In Eden, Milton’s Satan sheds tears for the human couple whose ruin he must precipitate in order to avenge himself and his fallen brethren on God and divide the Deity’s Empire by conquering the “new World” (IV.388–92). It appears quite safe to say that the Paradise Lost film was going to be faithful to the spirit of this uniquely sympathetic Satan imagined by Milton.

As I have explained, I became a believer in “the guy from The Hangover” playing Lucifer not only because of Bradley Cooper’s heartfelt love for Paradise Lost but the unabashed passion for Milton’s Satan that the actor expressed, Cooper having openly asserted that he “fell in love with that character because I couldn’t believe how appetising he is in that poem. Satan is the hero.…It’s about the father [God] betraying the [Satan] character.” Regardless of what the other filmmakers had in mind for the presentation of Paradise Lost, that Cooper was clearly going for a Romantic portrayal of Milton’s Satan was to me rather reassuring back in late 2011/early 2012. I am now further impressed—and in turn further disappointed that the film never made it to the production phase—to see that Proyas shared a Romantic vision of the poem and acknowledged that his cinematic version would be just as “blasphemous.” To be fair, during preproduction Proyas had shown that he intended to stay true to the deep ambivalence of Milton’s Satan when he related that “Lucifer was the brightest and smartest of the archangels, and even as he descended into evil and evolved into Satan, he’s not just some black-and-white villain,” which is yet another variation on Shelley: “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.”4

As promising as Proyas’ pitch was a half-decade ago, to now hear from the director that working on Paradise Lost induced a Satanic “epiphany of sorts” is quite a reminder of the power and influence of Milton’s epic poetic treatment of the rebel angel. It’s a shame that the film fell through, and I can only hope that Hollywood will eventually muster the audacity to bring Paradise Lost to the big screen—with Milton’s fallen Morningstar as the Satanic star of the film. Proyas estimates it will take Hollywood another half-century to do so, the diabolical director promising, “I will haunt the cinemas at that time to make sure they’ve done it right.”

 

Notes


1. See Peter A. Schock, “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: Blake’s Myth of Satan and Its Cultural Matrix,” ELH, Vol. 60, No. 2 (Summer, 1993), pp. 441–70.
2. William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, in The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake, ed. David V. Erdman, rev. ed. (New York: Anchor Books, [1965] 1988), p. 35; pl. 6.
3. 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. 270.
4. Percy Bysshe Shelley, A Defence of Poetry (1821), in Shelley’s Poetry and Prose, ed. Donald H. Reiman and Neil Fraistat (New York [2d rev. ed. 1977]: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2002), p. 526.

Castlevania Summons (and Vanquishes) the Miltonic-Romantic Satan

The Miltonic-Romantic Lucifer makes an interesting appearance in Castlevania, the action-adventure videogame series that made its U.S. debut in 1987 (debuting a year earlier in Japan), spawning a plethora of sequels spanning several gaming platforms. Castlevania was essentially a great homage to the horror genre, paying tribute to Dracula in particular, the series’ vampire-hunting Belmont family incessantly hunting the immortal Count from game to game. Castlevania was rebooted with 2010’s Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, which resulted in a 2014 sequel, and in these last two installments of the undying series, homage was paid to a character far greater than Dracula: the Devil himself, as descended from the Miltonic-Romantic tradition.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, set in an apocalyptic eleventh century, follows Gabriel Belmont of the “Brotherhood of Light,” an order of knights responsible for protecting the world from otherworldly enemies. The Lords of Shadow of the title have disrupted the natural order by casting a malevolent spell keeping the deceased in a perpetual limbo, preventing them from crossing over to the afterlife. Gabriel’s quest to defeat the Lords of Shadow is personal, as his wife was slain by a supernatural creature (or so he believes). An elder member of the Brotherhood by the name of Zobek (voiced by Patrick Stewart) informs Gabriel of “the God Mask,” which has the power to restore life to the dead. Longing to bring his wife back to life, Gabriel ventures to defeat the three Lords of Shadow and obtain the three pieces of the God Mask. When Gabriel’s journey reaches its climax in the Land of the Necromancers—a tempestuous, ethereal realm not dissimilar to the Hades of the second act of Lord Byron’s Cain (1821)—Zobek reveals that he is the nefarious Lord of the Necromancers, who deceived Gabriel to set him on a journey to eliminate the competition of the other two Lords of Shadow. Zobek explains that he had ventured to Hell in search of the power that would enable him to disrupt the natural order and set the events of the story in motion. Orchestrating this charade included compelling Gabriel to take the life of his own wife, which, when revealed to our hero, naturally plunges him into despair.

As Zobek, with the God Mask in his grasp, revels in his victory before the subdued Gabriel, he suddenly hears a diabolical laugh, followed by a sinister voice. “Hail, Mighty Zobek,” mocks the unseen speaker, who proceeds to explain to the frightened Zobek that it was he who granted the supernatural strength beyond Zobek’s own reach. It is revealed to the manipulative, self-serving Zobek that he, like Gabriel, was but the tool of another’s plan. “I planted the idea for this whole elaborate ruse into your tiny mind in order to serve my own higher purpose,” announces the voice. “I no longer need your assistance. The power is now mine!” With that, Zobek spontaneously combusts, crumbling to the ground. Casually walking through the flames and stepping over the corpse of Zobek, Satan enters the scene and takes possession of the God Mask.

Satan now in full sight, it is clear how indebted this interpretation of the fallen angel is to the Miltonic Devils depicted by Romantic artists. Like the portrayals of Milton’s Satan wrought by Barry, Lawrence, Fuseli, and Blake, this Satan is wingless (although he can summon “shadow wings” at will during the actual boss battle) and nude, with the superhuman form and the dignified bearing befitting a Greco-Roman god. This Satan has no horns, hoofs, or tail, but an athletic figure, his head crowned with long black hair (with little of the character of many a Romantic Lucifer’s locks, it must be said), which drapes down his back and chest. Satan’s demonic aspects are relatively subtle: translucent skin, menacing eyes (pitch-black sclerae punctuated by glowing pupils), and an ethereal darkness that swirls about his lower half. A convincing portrayal of Satan as “Arch-Angel ruin’d,” as he is “Majestic though in ruin” (PL, I.593; II.305), this Satan’s majesty and menace are complemented by his haughty voice, executed perfectly by Jason Isaacs, who in the 2000 film The Patriot had played the English Colonel William Tavington, who was, in the words of proud Englishman and Satanist Gavin Baddeley, “absurdly evil…”1 Castlevania’s less absurd Satan, gripping a massive staff much like Milton’s Satan grips his mastlike spear (I.292–96), lifts his malevolent gaze skyward and vaunts his “higher purpose”: “Father! I come for you… Before the end YOU will bow down to ME!”

As Gabriel is miraculously restored to life by spirits at the behest of his wife’s ghost, Satan attempts to form an alliance with the man, drawing parallels between their doomed dispositions: “So… he has abandoned you, too? So be it. Join me. I will love you more than He!” Turning to face Gabriel, Satan reminds the devout knight that he, first of the damned, was once Heaven’s preeminent angel: “I was adored once above all others. I too didn’t deserve to be cast out… abandoned. Now you know what that feels like, don’t you…? Hate can bring us back, give us strength. Embrace it!” It is a moment very much reminiscent of Lord Byron’s Lucifer, who approaches Adam’s firstborn son Cain as something of a Promethean patron, professing, “I know the thoughts / Of dust, and feel for it, and with you” (I.i.100–01), styling himself and his human counterpart as reflections of one another: “Souls who dare look the Omnipotent tyrant in / His everlasting face, and tell him, that / His evil is not good!” (I.i.138–40). Yet, while the Byronic Cain can relate to the arch-rebel Lucifer—“Thou speak’st to me of things which long have swum / In visions through my thought” (I.i.167–68)—Castlevania’s Gabriel Belmont is not swayed in the slightest by the Tempter. “He loves you as he loves me,” Gabriel reassures the fallen angel, the knight reaffirming his faith in God: “We have only to ask for forgiveness deep within ourselves and be welcomed back.” Ever the arrogant angel, Satan gibes, “You monkeys don’t deserve redemption.”2 Satan’s scorn for mortal “monkeys” may betray the dishonesty of his proposed alliance, but then again we are once more reminded of Byron’s Lucifer, who expresses respect for Cain in his likeminded defiance of Jehovah, yet as a spirit—indeed, a “Master of spirits” (I.i.99)—holds humans in disdain as “dust” and “clay.”3

The Satan of Paradise Lost’s “Monarchal pride” (II.428) and ambition “to have equall’d the most High” (I.40) are overstressed in Castlevania’s portrayal of the Prince of Darkness: “It is MY divine right to rule by his side as an equal… Or perhaps more than that…”4 “You would rather rule in power and might than to offer forgiveness and love?” asks Gabriel, pitying the fallen angel for his waywardness: “This is why you are cast out, unholy one!” Satan’s pride is needled by Gabriel’s “blasphemy,” which underlines his sense of his own godhood, and so Satan promises to deliver Gabriel his death. After a Castlevania-style slugfest, Gabriel subdues the God-Masked Satan, and a pillar of divine light envelops the two. Despite his contemptuous defiance, Satan is unmasked and vanquished by the unseen hand of the Almighty, the tempestuous Land of the Dead calming with the Devil’s disappearance.

In the game’s epilogue, set in modern times, it is revealed that Zobek still lives and that Gabriel has been cursed to live on as the immortal Dracula. Zobek has come to inform Gabriel/Dracula that “Satan’s acolytes are readying for his imminent return.” Knowing full well that Gabriel yearns for the release of death, Zobek promises to free him of his vampiric immortality in exchange for his help in dealing with the Satanic crisis.

In Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2, which largely (and jarringly) takes place in a modern urban setting, Gabriel/Dracula and Zobek work together to hunt down Satan’s acolytes. At the end of the unevenly paced game, the third acolyte—a demonic-looking Crowley type by the name of Guido Szandor (after Anton Szandor LaVey, founder of the Church of Satan)—successfully summons Satan to the mortal plane in appropriate supernatural spectacle. The third acolyte falls to his knees before his Lord, who spreads his dark wings to reveal himself. It is immediately apparent that this Satan possesses none of the subtlety of his incarnation in the previous game. Satan is now a massive, hulking figure with a pallor more haunting than Dracula’s, his lower half covered in spiky silver armor, his forearms dripping with tar. Satan’s black hair is shorter and stringier, and his eyes are now pronounced by their glowing purple irises. The only interesting aspects of Satan’s significantly altered appearance are his tremendous black-feathered wings—albeit strangely protruding from his lower back—and his facial scars, which was a feature of Milton’s portrait of Satan (I.600–01) missing from all artistic renditions.

While Satan’s last acolyte stares up at his Lord in awe, Satan looks down with disgust, clearly irritated by the sight of Gabriel/Dracula, still alive and well after all this time. Satan slowly steps forward and lifts up the bowed head of his acolyte, as one would a loyal dog, but suddenly jags his fingers into the acolyte’s throat and peels off the man’s face, delivering his faithful servant a painful demise. Satan tosses the shocked face of the acolyte aside in disdain and remarks with a shrug, “I despise incompetence.” Satan once again proposes an alliance with Gabriel: “We could share this world…you…and I…” Dracula and his son, Alucard (“Dracula” reversed), remain silent, Satan chuckling, “But you desire to destroy me… I see that now.” Satan then shifts his motive from conquest of the world to its wanton destruction: “I’m very well aware of your power, Gabriel. However…I desire to destroy this world.” With that, the room begins to quake and split apart, and as the surroundings crumble, Satan vaunts, “If I cannot rule the world of men…then no one will!”

A massive, wormlike leviathan bursts through the floor, Satan surfing the beast into the sky. Dracula and Alucard mount the ascending leviathan and, of course, manage to slay the monster before it is able to carry out Satan’s command to destroy the world. As the debris falls, Satan transforms into tarry ethereal form and possesses the body of Alucard, as he believes Gabriel will not be able to harm the body of his son. After the game’s final boss battle, the two fall from the sky and crash into a city street like meteorites. “You won’t kill your son to destroy me,” mocks the incapacitated Satan/Alucard. Gabriel begs to differ, and as he proceeds to stake the body of Alucard in dramatic slow-motion, Satan dives out of the boy’s body and assumes his own form. Having anticipated this, Gabriel thrusts Satan against a gate and daggers him, at which point the impaled Satan goes limp and collapses. In an anticlimactic ending, Gabriel revives his son Alucard with blood from his own veins and exits before sunrise, leaving the demonic corpse of the fallen angel lying on the pavement.

Satan’s first Castlevania incarnation was subtle, the Prince of Darkness given an angelic beauty slightly sullied by his exile from Heaven, much akin to Romantic renditions of Milton’s Satan in the visual arts. Satan likewise possessed the Miltonic-Romantic arch-rebel’s aristocratic demeanor and titanic ambition, and his mixed sympathy and contempt for the Gabriel character recalled the ambiguity of the Byronic Lucifer. Satan’s second Castlevania incarnation is as different from his first as could possibly be. While he formerly sought to re-ascend into Heaven and bring the Almighty to his knees, here Satan’s ambition is far more measured, as he wishes only to rule the mortal world and settles for demolishing it. While he formerly reflected on his prestigious place in Heaven, brooded over his infernal ruin, vaunted his patricidal/deicidal endeavors, and exuded an air of monarchal divinity, here Satan is given few lines (a terrible waste of the vocal talent of Jason Isaacs), all of which completely lack the complexity of his dialogue in the first game. The entire Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 game builds up to an epic confrontation between Dracula and Satan, but they hardly exchange words and their battle is terribly brief, the payoff in terms of story and gameplay tremendously unfulfilling for the player. Alas, if Castlevania summoned the Miltonic-Romantic Satan in the first Lords of Shadow game, its sequel vanquished him with little care, having recast the regal apostate angel as a monstrous, muscle-bound brute roid-raging through the cosmos.

 

Notes


1. Gavin Baddeley, with Dani Filth, The Gospel of Filth: A Bible of Decadence & Darkness (Godalming, Surrey: FAB Press Ltd., [2009] 2010), p. 42.
2. This Satan’s dialogue, it must be said, appears to be somewhat indebted to the Lucifer of the 1995 film The Prophecy: Lucifer, as played with relish by Viggo Mortensen, asserts, “I was the first angel, loved once above all others,” and in the end amusingly pleads for the male lead’s alliance thus: “I love you! I love you more than Jesus!” Mortals are routinely referred to as “monkeys” by the disdainful angelic characters throughout the film.
3. Certain critics of Byron’s Cain have insisted that its portrayal of Lucifer is traditional, the rebel angel’s companionship with Cain a false face. See, for example, N. Stephen Bauer, “Byron’s Doubting Cain,” South Atlantic Bulletin, Vol. 39, No. 2 (May, 1974), pp. 80–88, and Wolf Z. Hirst, “Byron’s Lapse into Orthodoxy: An Unorthodox Reading of Cain,” Keats-Shelley Journal, Vol. 29, (1980), pp. 151–72.
4. This is also reminiscent of St. Anselm’s unique assessment of Satan’s self-sought apotheosis in his essay On the Fall of the Devil (ca. 1080–1086). Anselm explains that Lucifer aspired to godhead not by attempting to overpower the Almighty—an impossible act that a supernatural being as intelligent as Heaven’s highest angel could not possibly have believed—but by merely being prideful, which is to say, by valuing his own self-will above the will of God. In exalting his own will above God’s will, Satan’s ambition, according to Anselm, was to be not only equal to but in fact greater than God: “Even if he didn’t will to be completely equal to God, but instead willed something less than equality with God that was contrary to God’s will: by that very fact he willed inordinately to be like God, since he willed something by his own will, which was not subjected to anyone else. For it is the prerogative of God alone to will anything by his own will in such a way that he does not follow any higher will.…Now he did not merely will to be equal to God by presuming to have a will of his own; he willed to be even greater than God, in that he placed his own will above God’s will by willing what God didn’t want him to will.” (Anselm, On the Fall of the Devil, in Basic Writings, ed. and trans. Thomas Williams [Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 2007], p. 178.) See also John M. Steadman, “Satan and the Argument from Equality,” in Milton’s Epic Characters: Image and Idol (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, [1959] 1968), pp. 160–73.

The Ambivalence of Horror’s Homage to Milton: The Video for GosT’s “Arise”

Milton’s Paradise Lost has proven to be popular within the horror genre.1 The latest example of horror’s homage to Milton has come in the form of the video for the song “Arise” off the 2016 album Non Paradisi by GosT, the skull-masked, synthwave solo act. GosT’s label, Blood Music, is described as an organization “dedicated to anthropological and cultural preservation of extreme metal music,” yet “Arise” is very much reminiscent of a 1980s, John Carpenter-style, synthesized horror film soundtrack. Proudly donning its Miltonic influences on its sleeve, GosT’s Non Paradisi album is described as “a loose musical adaptation of John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost, concerning Lucifer’s fall from Heaven and ensuing ascent from the Lake of Fire.” The video for “Arise”—itself a reference to the call with which Milton’s Satan summons his fallen legions in Hell (“Awake, arise, or be for ever fall’n” [I.330])—charts this Satanic epic, with imagery commingling traditional illustrations of Paradise Lost and Halloween-style horror.

While the video for Delta Heavy’s “White Flag” had a smooth and cartoonish Super Nintendo look, the video for “Arise” has more of a gritty and violent Sega Genesis style, which works well for GosT’s 80s horror aesthetic. I’m not convinced that it works for the Miltonic-Romantic Lucifer, however. “Arise” highlights the ambivalence of horror’s adoption of Paradise Lost, as the genre’s homage to Milton’s masterpiece can have a negative impact on the epic poem’s unique vision of the Satanic. With the exception of the video’s original opening—the silhouettes of rebel angels in their retreat and Lucifer’s ejection from Heaven—most of the imagery is lifted straight from the artwork of Gustave Doré and John Martin (in some cases depicting moments preceding and following those captured by the artwork). Yet the majestic artwork of Doré and Martin does not mesh well with the Halloween imagery the “Arise” video is suffused with: an overabundance of skulls, skeletons, inverted crosses, and monsters.

Paradise Lost has some elements of the monstrous, such as the native denizens of Hell—“worse / Than Fables yet have feign’d, or fear conceiv’d, / Gorgons and Hydras, and Chimeras dire” (II.626–28)—and Sin and Death (II.648 ff.), but such monstrousness does not quite extend to the fallen angels. Of course, Milton does in the end bring Satan and his coconspirators horrifyingly low: when he returns to Hell after triumphing in Eden, Satan is transformed into “A monstrous Serpent on his Belly prone” (X.514) at the conclusion of his exultant speech, Satan’s supporters suffering the same ignominy, “all transform’d / Alike, to Serpents all as accessories / To his bold Riot…” (X.519–21). Satan’s judgment seems reminiscent of Dante’s Inferno insofar as his punishment in Hell correlates to his crime on Earth, Satan “punisht in the shape he sinn’d, / According to his doom” (X.516–17), but in truth Milton’s judgment is far less harsh than Dantean torment because it is a temporary punishment. Milton writes of his writhing fallen angels, “thir lost shape, permitted, they resum’d,” explaining to the reader that this ignominious metamorphosis is merely an “annual humbling certain number’d days, / To dash thir pride, and joy for Man seduc’t” (X.574, 576–77).

The lost shape Paradise Lost’s fallen angels resume is rather dignified: Milton likens the Hell-doomed host to a lightning-scorched but nonetheless stately forest (I.612–15)—a far cry from the horribly deformed faces of the angels tossed into the fiery pit of Hell in the “Arise” video. No, Milton’s rebel angels, despite their diminished glory, bear “Godlike shapes and forms / Excelling human, Princely Dignities…” (I.358–59). None are as princely and godlike as Satan himself, who stands “above the rest / In shape and gesture proudly eminent / …like a Tow’r…” (I.589–91). As the heavenly Lucifer he was “Sun-bright” (VI.100), yet even as a ruined archangel in Hell he retains much of his “Original brightness” (I.592), Satan still likened to the Sun, but as obscured by a misty horizon or eclipsed by the moon (I.592–99)—“Dark’n’d so, yet shone / Above them all th’ Arch-Angel…” (I.599–600). The only trace of genuine deformity in Milton’s Satan is that “his face / Deep scars of Thunder had intrencht” (I.600–01), yet these battle scars only serve to make him seem more heroic, Satan’s thunder-scarred visage merely magnifying the impressiveness of his “Brows / Of dauntless courage, and considerate Pride” (I.602–3). To its credit, the “Arise” video depicts Satan’s facial scars, which have been entirely ignored by all artists of Milton’s poem. Unfortunately, the scars do not stop at a cracked porcelain face; by the end of “Arise,” Satan’s face has decayed to an almost skeletal state, and the horns protruding from his head are no less unflattering—no less unMiltonic.

“Arise” delights in depicting such monstrous decay, and the triumph of the horror elements over the Miltonic-Romantic iconography is illustrated by the precedence the GosT character assumes in the video. Among the many Doré pieces the video employs is Doré’s towering Satan summoning Beëlzebub, but in this case Satan is recast as Beëlzebub, now looking up in awe at the towering figure of GosT, which makes for a jarring image. GosT’s eponymous frontman explained in an interview that the video’s variation on Paradise Lost was “casting GosT…as the right hand of Lucifer. In our version, GosT is instrumental in helping Lucifer rise from the lake of fire and triumphantly claim his new throne without the unjust hand of God controlling his every move.” Within the walls of “Pandemonium – the City of Satan,” however, it is GosT who is crowned the king of Hell and ascends the infernal throne, once again replacing Satan—this time, the Satan of Martin’s image. Satan’s seat is not only usurped but reduced in significance, Pandemonium reimagined as a gothic horror rock concert, GosT presiding over bestial demons. Meanwhile, Satan ascends to Eden (with raptured skeletons), and in the final shot of the demonic angel (“O how fall’n! how chang’d…” [PL, I.84]) overlooking Eden, it is quite clear that the Miltonic-Romantic Lucifer invoked at the start of the video has been consumed by the horror element.

With “Arise,” Paradise Lost is exploited as a means of exalting the GosT brand—the symbolic significance of which is the GosT character’s coronation—but at the expense of the imagery of Milton’s poem, particularly as brought to life by Doré and Martin (and many others). GosT’s “Arise” was a nice attempt at playing with traditional Miltonic iconography, but the video highlights the double-edged sword of horror’s homage to Milton’s Paradise Lost.

 

Notes


1. See, for example, Laura Lunger Knoppers and Gregory M. Colón Semenza, eds. Milton in Popular Culture (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, [2006] 2007), “Part II: Milton in Horror Film,” pp. 83–124; Eric C. Brown, Milton on Film (Pittsburgh, PA: Duquesne University Press, 2015), Ch. 6, “ ‘All Hell Broke Loose’: The Horror Film,” pp. 283–324.