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

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

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

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

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


New Satanic Organization, Same Old Goatish Satan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                       Then who was the demon? He

Who would not let ye live, or he who would

Have made ye live for ever in the joy

And power of knowledge? (I.i.207–10)

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


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

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

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


The Return of the Miltonic-Romantic Rebel Angel

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

“O foul descent! that I who erst contended

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

Into a Beast, and mixt with bestial slime,

This essence to incarnate and imbrute,

That to the highth of Deity aspir’d…”

Paradise Lost (1667), IX.163–67


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

                                 …A shape like to the angels,

Yet of a sterner and a sadder aspect

Of spiritual essence.…

Yet he seems mightier far than them, nor less

Beauteous, and yet not all as beautiful

As he hath been, and might be: sorrow seems

Half of his immortality. (I.i.80–96)

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


A Brief History of Satan’s Sullied Beauty

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

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

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

                                    …he above the rest

In shape and gesture proudly eminent

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

All her Original brightness, nor appear’d

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

Of Glory obscur’d.…

…Dark’n’d so, yet shone

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

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

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

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


Modern Satanism’s Goatish Devil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

When Satanism Overshot Romanticism: The Curious Case of Setianism: Part 1 of 2

As I have covered at length, the Miltonic-Romantic tradition has received scant attention within Satanism proper, i.e., organized Satanism, which began with Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan, founded in 1966 by San Francisco’s “Black Pope.” Within this quintessential counterculture’s first decade, however, there was an opportunity for Satanism to shift into more of a Miltonic-Romantic direction, courtesy of the Church of Satan’s leading intellectual, Michael A. Aquino. What occurred instead is a curiosity: Satanism overshot Romanticism, landing in ancient Egypt.

Second Lieutenant Michael A. Aquino, 1968

According to The Church of Satan, Aquino’s two-volume critique of LaVey’s endeavor, when Aquino was a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army on leave in his native San Francisco in 1968, the young military officer caught his first glimpse of LaVey in a chance encounter. Walking out of a theater following a showing of Roman Polanski’s Satanic horror classic Rosemary’s Baby, Aquino was met with the peculiar sight of the shaven-headed, Mephistophelean-goateed LaVey and a group of his sable-robed associates, who were being used to promote the demonic-themed film—and who were in turn using the film to promote LaVey’s newly founded Satanic church.1 The controversial group and its sacrilegious ceremonies held at LaVey’s San Francisco “Black House” sparked in Aquino an intense interest that would later on lead to deep involvement. While he felt that LaVey’s carnivalesque presentation of Satanic philosophy and lifestyle was somewhat tawdry, Aquino was very much taken in by the Black Pope. LaVey was likewise much impressed by Aquino, an extremely bright, well-read, and accomplished individual. Indeed, Aquino would go on to become a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army and earn a doctorate in political science from the University of California, Santa Barbara. LaVey surely saw in the man someone who lent credence to his characterization of “the Satanist” as “THE HIGHEST EMBODIMENT OF HUMAN LIFE!” as LaVey loudly put it in his Satanic Bible.2 Yet The Satanic Bible, which codified Satanism in the written word and continues to serve as Satanism’s bestseller, would not be published until December of 1969, and so when Aquino was deployed to South Vietnam in June of ’69, he carried Milton’s Paradise Lost in tow:

…I had taken with me a copy of John Milton’s epic Paradise Lost, which I considered then, as now, one of the most exalted statements of Satanism ever written. Satan is its true hero; its Christian moralisms are so pale and watery in comparison that I am surprised it and its author were not summarily burned upon its appearance in Cromwellian England. That it not only survived Puritan censorship but was actually lauded as a compliment to Christianity is yet another of those titanic ironies which have accompanied the Prince of Darkness on his tortuous journey across the eras of human civilization.3

Milton - Paradise LostThis experience of Aquino’s is generously likened to that of the turn-of-the-nineteenth-century Romantic Satanists by Ruben van Luijk in his scholarly tome Children of Lucifer: The Origins of Modern Religious Satanism,4 but the learned Aquino, his erudition notwithstanding, makes several errors in his assessment of John Milton and Paradise Lost’s journey to becoming “one of the most exalted statements of Satanism ever written.” Milton, who had penned The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates (1649) in immediate support of the regicide of Charles I, worked for Oliver Cromwell’s government as secretary for foreign tongues, as the Puritan poet enjoyed a vision of Cromwellian England as a new Israel, the English as God’s new “chosen people.” Paradise Lost was composed during the Restoration, which followed the Lord Protector’s demise, and was published in 1667, seven years after Charles II reclaimed the throne. If anything, it is rather remarkable that Milton, who was briefly imprisoned during the persecution of the regicides, was during this oppressive period able to publish Paradise Lost, with all of its embedded antimonarchical imagery and messages. Additionally, the “titanic irony” of Milton’s Paradise Lost is not that it has been “lauded as a compliment to Christianity,” but rather that it became celebrated as a Satanic epic. Paradise Lost was to be a Christian epic poem whereby Milton would “justify the ways of God to men” (I.26) and demonstrate “the better fortitude / Of Patience and Heroic Martyrdom” (IX.31–32), as embodied in the Son of God. The reading of Milton’s Satan as the poem’s “hero” is one which evolved since its seventeenth-century inception, and it wasn’t until the advent of Romanticism around the turn of the nineteenth century that Satan was seen as the true hero of the poem.

It was the Romantics who were responsible for recognizing that Milton, inadvertently or otherwise, created the most sympathetic and sublime Satan imaginable—the arch-revolutionary who, though “Hell-doom’d” (II.697), remains nobly defiant in the face of “the Tyranny of Heav’n” (I.124). Milton’s Paradise Lost was the principal inspiration for the Romantic Satanism phenomenon, becoming something of a Bible to the Romantic Satanists. While Aquino may not have been terribly well-versed in the history of the Miltonic-Romantic tradition, his reading of Paradise Lost was nevertheless very much a Romantic reading:

…Satan’s great “sin” was ultimately that of individualism: In order to follow the dictates of his own will, he broke away from the collective will of God, regardless of its “social beneficence.” Even when confronted with the horrors of Hell, Satan valued his individualism above all else. “Better to reign in Hell,” he said in Milton’s Paradise Lost, “than serve in Heaven.”5

As Aquino immersed himself in Milton, however, the officer felt that the Satanic epic had fallen short of what he was searching for:

As much as I admired Paradise Lost, I was annoyed at its ever-present, if pro forma bias. The die was loaded against Satan; he might put up a good fight, but in the end he was doomed to defeat. It was not so much that I wanted to see him triumph. Rather I felt that his power and position were equal to God’s if not more potent, and I wanted to see a contest that would more accurately represent the struggle between the Powers of Darkness and those of Light.6

Aquino proceeds to relate that he took it upon himself—or rather that he was chosen by the Powers of Darkness—to pen a work of demonic cosmology, The Diabolicon (1970), which Aquino believed to be inspired writing, hence the dramatic picture he paints of feeling compelled to continue writing it even in the midst of life-or-death situations in Vietnam. Aquino sent The Diabolicon back to San Francisco, and while the work is by no stretch of the imagination superior to Milton’s Paradise Lost,7 it was apparently well received by LaVey, who proceeded to incorporate portions of the text into at least one Church of Satan ritual held at the Black House.8

Aquino and LaVey with Sammy Davis, Jr., who became involved in the Church of Satan

LaVey expressed to Aquino that he saw in him a rising star, and once stateside Aquino indeed rose swiftly in the ranks of the Church of Satan, becoming LaVey’s right-hand man. The mutual respect was to become mutual contempt, however. In Paradise Lost, “Devil with Devil damn’d / Firm concord holds” (II.496–97), and this concept of infernal camaraderie is best exemplified in the relationship between Milton’s Satan and Beëlzebub, Satan’s trusted second-in-command. The occult world, contrariwise, is notorious for its warring egos, backbiting, and infighting, which the deterioration of the LaVey–Aquino relationship was to serve as the high-profile case of. As mentioned above, Aquino admired LaVey for launching history’s first openly Satanic organization, but he harbored reservations about the ex-carny’s aesthetic, which clashed with his own Miltonic predilections. For instance, Aquino became the editor of the Church of Satan’s official bulletin, The Cloven Hoof, and one of the amusing anecdotes Aquino relates in his mammoth Church of Satan tome is the tension between himself and LaVey over the publication’s cover image. “The first thing the new Hoof Editor needed was a quarter-page masthead,” Aquino explains, “and I turned to [my wife] Janet, who created a bat-winged, Miltonian Satan hurling bolts of fire across the page to form the blazing words ‘Cloven Hoof.’ ” Aquino goes on to explain that LaVey decided to intervene and design the masthead himself, producing “a magnificently hideous Baphomet goat-dæmon, whose most inescapable feature was a hairy, erect phallus.”9

Tensions escalated between Aquino and LaVey, the former wishing to see Satanism become an occult order of esoteric distinction, the latter increasingly stressing Satanism as a down-to-earth, pragmatic philosophy of street-smart selfishness, the validity of which was demonstrated by Satanists’ personal and professional accomplishments “in the real world.” LaVey’s growing emphasis on materialism irked Aquino and various other more occult-oriented Church of Satan higher-ups, who would be needled by LaVey granting his chauffer a Satanic priesthood, which they believed ought to be earned by the accumulation of esoteric knowledge and occult practice. The last straw was LaVey’s move to offer Satanic priesthoods in exchange for donations to the Church of Satan. Things came to a head in June of 1975, when Aquino broke with LaVey and made sure to take a number of Church of Satan members with him, which would lead to the birth of a new Satanic organization.10

The organization Aquino established with a number of disgruntled ex-Church of Satan members who had followed him in Satanic defection could have resorted to a form of Satanism more in touch with its Miltonic-Romantic roots. Such a shift would have even seemed a no-brainer, considering Aquino’s stress on the Satanist being essentially the Miltonic Satan made flesh, or vice versa:

…Lucifer rejects the single condition set upon his Archangelic rank – that he may achieve self-actualization. “Better,” he decides, “to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.” The implication is that the rejection of mindless nirvana brings one into abrupt and crushing contact with the almost endless obstacles which must be overcome in the search for pure knowledge. The Miltonian Lucifer is, in fact, our Satanic man.11

Milton’s Satan was obviously far more prominent in the mind of Aquino than LaVey, who in The Satanic Bible made only an oblique reference to Luciferian literature12 and merely mentioned the Satan of Paradise Lost seemingly at random in one of his published essay collections.13 One would expect Aquino to have capitalized on this significant difference as a means of distinguishing his own organization from LaVey’s. Aquino did not, however, decide on this literary and cultural direction. Despite his Romantic reading of Milton’s Paradise Lost as “one of the most exalted statements of Satanism ever written,” despite his preferred iconography of a “Miltonian Satan” (Gustave Doré illustrations for Paradise Lost adorn both volumes of Aquino’s Church of Satan), with Aquino, Satanism overshot Romanticism and landed in ancient Egypt, Aquino and company having adopted the evil Egyptian figure of Set as the central icon for the new, rival Satanic organization: the Temple of Set.



1. See Michael A. Aquino, The Church of Satan: Volume I: Text & Plates ([8th ed. 1983] San Francisco: N.p., 2013), pp. 13–14.
2. Anton Szandor LaVey, The Satanic Bible, intro. Peter H. Gilmore (New York: Avon Books, [1969] 2005), p. 45.
3. Aquino, Volume I, p. 73.
4. See Ruben van Luijk, Children of Lucifer: The Origins of Modern Religious Satanism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016), pp. 349–50.
5. Aquino, Volume I, p. 60.
6. Ibid., p. 73.
7. See Michael A. Aquino, The Church of Satan: Volume II: Appendices ([8th ed. 1983] San Francisco: N.p., 2013), pp. 63–73; see also Flowers From Hell: A Satanic Reader, ed. Nikolas Schreck (Washington, D.C.: Creation Books, 2001), pp. 273–85.
8. See Aquino, Volume I, p. 74.
9. Aquino, Volume I, p. 150. To be fair, being an apologist for the Church of Satan’s goatish aesthetic wasn’t beneath Aquino. See “About That Goat,” in Volume II, pp. 121–22.
10. See Gavin Baddeley, Lucifer Rising: Sin, Devil Worship & Rock ‘n’ Roll (London: Plexus Publishing Limited, [1999] 2006), pp. 102–03; Chris Mathews, Modern Satanism: Anatomy of a Radical Subculture (Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 2009), pp. 83–84; van Luijk, pp. 347–48.
11. Aquino, Volume II, p. 44.
12. “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…” LaVey, The Satanic Bible, p. 29.
13. “…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, intro. Adam Parfrey (Los Angeles: Feral House, 1992), p. 90.

Gavin Baddeley on the Importance of Milton’s Satan

When I had the pleasure of sitting down with Gavin Baddeley for a conversation on the subject of Satanism (that exceeded one and a half hours), I was most impressed by the author’s eloquent finish to our extensive discussion: a praiseworthy assessment of the Miltonic Satan as “an icon of the Western cult of the individual.” Gavin’s musings on the importance of the Satan of Milton’s Paradise Lost were the inspiration for the following video.


Christopher J. C.


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.



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.



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 (1930–1997), 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.



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.