The Satanic Scholar’s Iconography page has recently undergone a massive overhaul, and now includes not only Romantic art but proto- and post-Romantic art as well, each subpage featuring a thorough cultural context, extensive biographical information about the artists, and informative commentary on their Miltonic illustrations.
A review of the Satanic iconography linked to above gives one an appreciation of what Romanticism’s Miltonic illustrators produced, which was nothing less than the pictorial apotheosis of Milton’s fallen archangel Satan—and, it must be said, the most accurate portrayal of the majestic arch-rebel who curiously holds pride of place in Paradise Lost. “As to the Devil he owes everything to Milton,” observed Percy Bysshe Shelley in his unpublished Essay on the Devil and Devils (ca. 1819–20), for “Milton divested him of a sting, hoofs, and horns, clothed him with the sublime grandeur of a graceful but tremendous spirit—and restored him to the society.” This Miltonic makeover of Satan as fallen Lucifer—a magnificent figure whose “form had yet not lost / All her Original brightness, nor appear’d / Less than Arch-Angel ruin’d” (I.591–93)—is precisely what Romantic artists executed as they brought the princely rebel angel to life. The Romantic Satan is heroically human, his form—almost always angel-winged, if not wingless and fully humanized—titanic in stature, his face Apollonian in beauty, with due emphasis on Milton’s description of “Eyes / That sparkling blaz’d” beneath “Brows / Of dauntless courage, and considerate Pride…” (I.193–94, 602–3). As Romantic Satanic artwork discards traditional Christian iconography in favor of Milton’s poetry, long gone are the bestial horns and hoofs and general grotesquerie of medievalism; the Miltonic Satan of Romanticism is clothed in a splendor befitting a Grecian god.
The importance of the images of Satan which appear across Romanticism’s Miltonic iconography simply cannot be overstated. Those who never venture to read Paradise Lost’s more than ten thousand lines of verse (“None ever wished it longer,” Samuel Johnson famously remarked) or the Romantics’ extensive critique of Milton’s epic poem, to say nothing of their own Satanic poetry and prose, can still comprehend the Miltonic-Romantic legacy of Lucifer simply by surveying the abundant sketches, paintings, and engravings of Romantic illustrators of Milton. Gazing upon the Romantic Satan is the simplest way to register just how illustrious Lucifer was during Romanticism—but to also understand that, as Shelley duly noted, the Devil is indebted not so much to the Romantics as to Milton, whose Paradise Lost invited—or rather insisted upon—such a reimagining.
“…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 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.
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…Mr. Southey – & 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).
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
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.
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,  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,  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.,  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,  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.↩
“…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
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.
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)
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
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.
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,  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.,  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.↩
“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
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.
Romanticism 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
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,  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,  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,  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.↩
Romantic Satanism was a predominantly English phenomenon, but it did have a significant French manifestation. English Romantic Satanism, however, was far more Miltonic, suffused with the passion and pride which motivated Milton’s Satan in his rebellious individualism and heroic endurance of suffering. The French Romantic Satanists preferred to imagine reconciliation between the damned angel and the Deity,1 whereas in the hands of the English Romantics, Lucifer always remained a rebel defiant to the very end, following his Miltonic predecessor in proudly preferring “an independency of torture / To the smooth agonies of adulation…” (Lord Byron, Cain , I.i.385–86). These different forms of Romantic Satanism reflect the zeitgeist of the separate nations wherein this movement manifested: the French Romantics saw their nation torn asunder by the Revolution and its aftermath; the English Romantics saw their radicalism stamped out by an oppressive establishment that feared the revolutionary spirit crossing the Channel, leaving them seething with a frustrated rebelliousness much akin to that of Milton’s Satan. While I have much more of an affinity for English Romantic Satanism, French Romantic Satanism birthed a rather beautiful symbol which truly encapsulates the significance of Romantic Satanism: the fallen rebel angel Lucifer’s feather of Liberty.
In Victor Hugo’s La Fin de Satan (The End of Satan, 1854–62; 1886), a feather from the archangel Lucifer’s wing falls from Heaven down to our world and becomes Liberty, Lucifer’s angelic daughter—a more positive offspring than Sin, the daughter born Athena-like from Satan’s head in Paradise Lost (II.747–58). Most significantly, Hugo’s Luciferian angel Liberty descends to Earth at the time of the fall of the Bastille in 1789, which launched the epochal French Revolution and ushered in the modern world, thus illustrating just how intertwined Romantic Satanism was with the revolutionary politics of the time.2 For Hugo, the angel of Liberty not only instigates earthly uprisings but enacts the cosmic reconciliation between God and Satan; it is God Himself who brings Lucifer’s feather to life as Liberty, Hugo’s Deity announcing to His damned, despairing angel:
Come; your prison will be pulled down and hell abolished!
Come, the angel Liberty is your daughter and mine:
This sublime parentage unites us.
The archangel is reborn and the demon dies;
I efface the baleful darkness, and none of it is left.
Satan is dead; be born again, heavenly Lucifer!
Come, rise up from the shadows with dawn on your brow.3
All of the shifts Romantic Satanism induced are recalled here: the Devil transforming from angel of evil to father of freedom; the fallen angel repossessing his angelic luminosity and beauty; Satan regaining his native name, Lucifer. The important difference, of course, is that for Hugo these shifts come about through the Devil reconciling with the Deity, whereas English Romantic Satanism restored such luster to Lucifer in all of his defiant magnificence amidst damnation. The latter is more significant because it captures the uniqueness of Romantic Satanism: it was not about the end of Satan but the celebration of Satan; the fallen archangel was idealized not in spite of but because of his rebellion against Almighty God.
While the concept of a cosmic reconciliation between God and Satan is once again wholly at odds with the adversarial “Satanic spirit of pride and audacious impiety”4 at the heart of English Romantic Satanism and its Satanic School, it is nevertheless difficult to resist the poetic power of French Romantic Satanism’s intertwining Man’s revolutionary struggle for freedom with Lucifer’s revolt—so much so that the earthly urge for emancipation is inspired by a token of the heavenly Lucifer’s very being. Hugo’s La Fin de Satan gives the French Revolution a mythical treatment and a poetical sacredness, but its religious air is sacrilegious, its sacredness Satanic. It turns the eagerness of the forces of reaction to demonize the French Revolution on its head by deliberately aligning the Revolution with the Devil, but imagining this as a blessing rather than a curse.
Lucifer’s feather of Liberty is far more appropriate as a symbol for Romantic Satanism than any of the icons which have become familiar representations of Satanism proper: the inverted pentagram, with or without the Baphomet goat head; the inverted crucifix; the 666 “mark of the beast”; etc. The significance of the symbol of Lucifer’s Liberty feather is threefold: 1), it stresses that most important component of the Lucifer myth: the apostate angel’s revolutionary struggle for freedom; 2), it underlines the Romantic refashioning of this liberty-loving Lucifer as beautiful rather than bestial; 3), it designates the luminous rebel angel’s celestial revolt as the inspiration for terrestrial Man’s quest for self-determination. I cannot imagine a more apposite symbol for the phenomenon of Romantic Satanism—and for The Satanic Scholar, the proud preserver of this grand tradition—than Lucifer’s feather of Liberty.
1. See Maximilian Rudwin, The Devil in Legend and Literature (LaSalle, IL: Open Court Publishing Company,  1959), Ch. XXII, “The Salvation of Satan in Modern Poetry,” pp. 280–308; Jeffrey Burton Russell, Mephistopheles: The Devil in the Modern World (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press,  1990), pp. 194–200; Ruben van Luijk, Children of Lucifer: The Origins of Modern Religious Satanism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016), pp. 74–76, 105–08.↩ 2. See Russell, pp. 196–200; Ruben van Luijk, “Sex, Science, and Liberty: The Resurrection of Satan in Nineteenth-Century (Counter) Culture,” in The Devil’s Party: Satanism in Modernity, ed. Per Faxneld and Jesper Aa. Petersen (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), p. 45; van Luijk, Children of Lucifer, pp. 81–82, 107–08.↩ 3. Victor Hugo, La Fin de Satan, quoted in Russell, p. 200.↩ 4. First-generation Romantic radical turned reactionary Poet Laureate Robert Southey’s characterization of Romanticism’s “Satanic School” in his Preface to A Vision of Judgement (1821). Quoted in C. L. Cline, “Byron and Southey: A Suppressed Rejoinder,” Keats-Shelley Journal, Vol. 3 (Winter, 1954), p. 30.↩
In Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667), Satan conforms conceptually to Frank S. Kastor’s analytical breakdown of Christianity’s arch-villain: “a trimorph, or three related but distinguishable personages: a highly placed Archangel, the grisly Prince of Hell, and the deceitful, serpentine Tempter.”1 Kastor’s dissection identifies three distinctive roles (the Apostate Angel, the Prince of Hell, the Tempter) performed in three distinctive environments (Heaven, Hell, Earth) and distinguished by three distinctive names (Lucifer, Satan, the Devil).2 Milton’s Satan fulfills these three “roles,” to be sure, but he is distinctly different from his Renaissance forebears, which is in part due to Milton’s storytelling.
The closest literary relative of Milton’s Satan is the titular angel of Joost van den Vondel’s tragedy Lucifer (1654), so-called because it follows the descent of the Light-Bearer from Heaven, where he cuts a dazzling figure in image and in action, into Hell, where he is humbled—fallen in every sense of the word. Milton’s Paradise Lost, on the other hand, begins in epic fashion in media res (“in the midst of things”), Satan already fallen into Hell. But Milton wanted to portray Satan as superhumanly seductive at the opening of his poem in Books I and II, where he dominates the action, so as to make the reader feel the extent of the power of “the proud / Aspirer” (VI.89–90) whom a third of the heavenly host marched behind into perdition. As a result, Milton wound up producing, as John M. Steadman observes in his essay on “The Idea of Satan as the Hero of Paradise Lost,” Satan the Prince of Hell intermingled with Lucifer the aspiring archangel:
The Satan of the first books of Paradise Lost is, in a sense, a transitional figure between the aspiring rebel against God and the sly seducer of mankind. Milton has left him much of his original brightness and his original archangelic form; and in character and rhetoric, as well as in external shape, he bears a closer resemblance to the hybristic Lucifer of the celestial war than to the Mafia figure he will subsequently become.3
Milton’s “Apostate Angel” (I.125) vastly outshined all prior Satanic models, and Romantic Satanists very much admired the peerless rebel prince introduced in Books I and II of Paradise Lost. William Hazlitt wrote that Paradise Lost’s “two first books alone are like two massy pillars of solid gold,” his idolization of the poem of course the result of its compelling arch-rebel: “In a word, the interest of the poem arises from the daring ambition and fierce passions of Satan.…Satan is the most heroic subject that ever was chosen for a poem; and the execution is as perfect as the design is lofty.”4 Lord Byron asserted in a similar vein that “the two first books of it are the very finest poetry that has ever been produced in this world.”5
The Romantics felt the Satanic Lucifer/Luciferian Satan of Books I and II of Paradise Lost eclipsed the rest of the poem, where the Prince of Hell transitions into his role of Tempter and proceeds “To wreck on innocent frail man his loss / Of that first Battle, and his flight to Hell,” finally becoming “the Devil” (IV.11–12, 502). This gives credence to the position John Carey takes in his essay on “Milton’s Satan”: “The ambivalence of Milton’s Satan stems partly from his trimorphic conception; pro-Satanists tend to emphasize his first two roles, anti-Satanists his third.”6 Perhaps what made Byron most merit the position of “master-Satanist”7 of the Satanic School was his radical choice to take the Miltonic tradition a step further and idealize the Tempter role of the diabolical triptych.
The Lucifer of Byron’s Cain: A Mystery (1821) is clearly cast in the mold of Milton’s Satan, but wrested from the Christian cosmology of Paradise Lost and recast as a rather Promethean figure, however haughty he might be. “I tempt none,” insists the Byronic Lucifer, “Save with the truth” (I.i.196–97). It is certainly a step beyond Shelley, who in the Preface to Prometheus Unbound (1820) deemed Milton’s fallen light-bringer the near-equal of the fire-bringer, Prometheus, but conceded that the fellow God-defying hero Satan fell short of the Promethean ideal.8
Byron’s Promethean purification of the Miltonic Satan involved restoring to the fallen angel Lucifer status—not merely in name but in function. Yet Byron infused the illustrious angelic name he returned to the Devil with Satanic irreverence, for it is not divine radiance that the Lucifer of Byron’s Cain brings, but the enlightenment of a self-assertively godless existence—a true Promethean state indeed. Despite the ambiguity of his disdainfully patrician disposition, Cain’s Lucifer enlightens the Byronic title character by illuminating a path of defiant, liberating godlessness, his parting words of wisdom to Cain transforming the so-called “Fall of Man” into the most profound moment in human history. With overt allusions to “the mind is its own place” speech Milton’s Satan delivers on the burning marl of Hell (I.242–70), Byron’s Lucifer urges Adam’s firstborn son to cast off the tyrannous yoke of divine authority and embrace what the cursed apple of Eden has paradoxically blessed the human race with:
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)
Although Cain is no sooner prepared to bend the knee to his father’s Devil than his God (I.i.310–18), and although he pities Lucifer for his loveless aloofness (II.ii.338), Cain admires the rebel angel as a Promethean patron—“A foe to the Most High,” but a “friend to man” (III.i.169). Byron scholar Jerome J. McGann concurs insofar as he finds in Lucifer’s grand concluding speech “a commitment to intellectual freedom that has never been surpassed in English verse.”9
Byron’s Lucifer, in his fierce opposition to Heaven’s “indissoluble tyrant!” (I.i.153), bears a notable resemblance to Milton’s Satan, and Byron openly acknowledges his debt in Cain’s Preface. As Miltonic as Byron’s Lucifer may be, however, he is a rehabilitated Devil in several significant respects.10 The insistence of Byron in the Preface to Cain and of Lucifer in the play itself that the Devil and the Eden serpent are not one and the same both undermines the Christian account of the Fall and exonerates Lucifer from the malevolence towards Man maintained in the Miltonic model. Byron’s restoration of the name Lucifer is emblematic of this rehabilitation, as Peter A. Schock notes in his study of Romantic Satanism: “This defamiliarizing effect is compounded by the use of the angelic name derived from Isaiah [14:12], distancing Lucifer from the New Testament tradition of demonology.”11
The Luciferian Lord Byron’s preference for the Devil’s prelapsarian name was no whitewash. Milton’s Satan, at the end of his journey in Paradise Lost, prides himself on his name “Satan (for I glory in the name, / Antagonist of Heav’n’s Almighty King)” (X.386–87), but if synonymous with the Miltonic Satan’s moniker is his “unconquerable Will” and “courage never to submit or yield” to the God who “Sole reigning holds the Tyranny of Heav’n” (I.106, 108, 124), the Lucifer of Cain is certainly no less Satanic: “I have a victor—true; but no superior. / Homage he has from all—but none from me…” (II.ii.429–30). Byron’s choice of Lucifer over Satan in fact exacerbates rather than evades the element of blasphemous defiance; its implications are far more radical than the impious effort to break Lucifer free from Christian/Miltonic tradition: Lucifer, Byron suggests, is more of a light-bearer in his fallen rather than his unfallen state. In falling from Heaven, the Byronic Lucifer does not lose his honorific, as in Paradise Lost (I.82; V.658–59), but gains it. It is a sentiment captured rather splendidly by the Devil of Glen Duncan’s novel, I, Lucifer: “Ironic of course that after the Fall they stopped referring to me as Lucifer, the Bearer of Light…Ironic that they stripped me of my angelic name at the very moment I began to be worthy of it.”12
Romanticism shed new light on Milton’s Satan, and Romantic Satanism re-envisioned the arch-rebel in a flattering light, so it was perhaps inevitable that Satan would once again become Lucifer. The Latin Lucifer is quite simply far more mellifluous, more elegant, more magisterial than the Hebrew Satan, and therefore an entirely more appropriate moniker for the regal rebel angel out of the Miltonic-Romantic tradition, who lent himself to that refined radicalism of Romantic Satanism. I believe Lord Byron’s Cain to be the apex of Romantic Satanism, and I find it entirely appropriate that when the Miltonic-Romantic Devil reached his zenith, he reclaimed his native name, Lucifer.
1. Frank S. Kastor, Milton and the Literary Satan (Amsterdam: Rodopi N.V., 1974), p. 15.↩ 2. See ibid., pp. 15–16.↩ 3. John M. Steadman, “The Idea of Satan as the Hero of Paradise Lost,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 120, No. 4, Symposium on John Milton (Aug. 13, 1976), p. 272.↩ 4. 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.↩ 5. Quoted in Martin Garrett, The Palgrave Literary Dictionary of Byron (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), p. 194.↩ 6. John Carey, “Milton’s Satan,” in The Cambridge Companion to Milton, ed. Dennis Danielson (New York [2d rev. ed. 1989]: Cambridge University Press, 1999), p. 162.↩ 7. Clara Tuite, Lord Byron and Scandalous Celebrity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), p. 233.↩ 8. Percy Bysshe Shelley, Preface to Prometheus Unbound, 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), pp. 206–07: “The only imaginary being resembling in any degree Prometheus, is Satan; and Prometheus is, in my judgement, a more poetical character than Satan because, in addition to courage and majesty and firm and patient opposition to omnipotent force, he is susceptible of being described as exempt from the taints of ambition, envy, revenge, and a desire for personal aggrandisement, which in the Hero of Paradise Lost, interfere with the interest.”↩ 9. Jerome J. McGann, ed. Lord Byron: the Major Works (New York: Oxford University Press Inc.,  2008), p. 1072n.↩ 10. Milton’s Satan evades the angelic guards of Eden and hides inside the serpent, the slimy vessel within which he laments he must lowly descend for conquest of the world (IX.157–71), whereas Byron’s Lucifer boasts to Cain that he acts within sight of Eden’s angels (I.i.554–56) and derides the notion that a superior spiritual being free to roam the cosmos would covet what little the material world has to offer, let alone in the shape of a material creature (I.i.216–17, 228, 237–45); Milton’s Satan misinterprets the biblical protevangelium (X.494–501), whereas Byron’s Lucifer is an acute scriptural commentator, informing Cain of the immortality of the soul (I.i.103–19, II.i.90–92) and the future incarnation of the Son of God (I.i.163–66, 540–42), theological concepts which Cain, as an Old Testament character, is unaware of; Milton’s Satan boasts of having “by fraud…seduc’d [Man] / From his Creator” (X.485–86), whereas Byron’s Lucifer indignantly insists, “I tempt none, / Save with the truth…” (I.i.196–97).↩ 11. Peter A. Schock, Romantic Satanism: Myth and the Historical Moment in Blake, Shelley, and Byron (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), p. 104.↩ 12. Glen Duncan, I, Lucifer (New York: Grove Press, 2002), p. 12.↩
Traditionally, just as Lucifer lost his illustrious name, so too had he lost his resplendent beauty, the refulgent angelic prince’s magnificent face and form marred as he was cast out from Heaven. The greatest of these deformed Devils was Dante’s Lucifer, who in the Inferno of The Divine Comedy (1308–1321) 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: gigantic, hairy, and three-faced, each monstrous mouth chomping down on history’s great traitors, Judas, Brutus, and Cassius (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, which is to say, the Satan of Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667) is more Luciferian than the Lucifer of Dante’s Inferno, so much so that while Dante’s Devil is Lucifer in name only, Milton’s Satan is Lucifer in all but name.
The extent of the Miltonic Satan’s glittering majesty is perhaps best demonstrated when he is contrasted with his closest literary cousins. In her study of The War in Heaven: Paradise Lost and the Tradition of Satan’s Rebellion, Stella Purce Revard posits that Milton’s epic hero Satan is an installment in a long line of Renaissance Lucifers.1 While there are certainly striking similarities, Milton’s Renaissance predecessors were unquestionably far more unforgiving when visualizing the Devil’s hellish fall, however generous they might have been when depicting his heavenly revolt. The medieval tradition of defacing the fallen angel is upheld by Torquato Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberate (Jerusalem Delivered, 1581), Giambattista Marini’s La Strage degli Innocenti (1610), Giambattista Andreini’s L’Adamo (1613), Joseph Beaumont’s Psyche, or Love’s Majesty (1648), and Joost van den Vondel’s Lucifer (1654).2
Vondel’s transformation of his Lucifer into a grotesque hodgepodge of several beasts as he falls from Heaven is only exceeded by Erasmo di Valvasone, whose L’Angeleida (1590) uniquely imagines a monstrous prelapsarian Lucifer, who appears in the War in Heaven as a seven-headed, hundred-handed, hundred-winged monstrosity. Milton’s Satan is no such thing, appearing on the heavenly battlefield in boundless majesty:
High in the midst exalted as a God
Th’ Apostate in his Sun-bright Chariot sat
Idol of Majesty Divine, enclos’d
With Flaming Cherubim, and golden Shields;
Then lighted from his gorgeous Throne.…
Satan with vast and haughty strides advanc’d,
Came tow’ring, arm’d in Adamant and Gold… (VI.99–110)
The most radical aspect of Milton’s vision, however, is that his “Prince of Darkness” (X.383) is not as darkened as he might have been. In Paradise Lost, the fallen archangel Satan remains in possession of much of his “Original brightness” (I.592), as do the fallen “Satanic Host” (VI.392), likened 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:
…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… (I.589–94)
Milton’s Satan was in Heaven “Sun-bright” (VI.100), and in Hell he is still likened to the Sun, but as obscured by a misty horizon or eclipsed by the Moon (I.592–99). Milton’s dimmed Devil, in short, is the fallen Lucifer, “Dark’n’d so, yet shone / Above them all th’ Arch-Angel…” (I.599–600).3 In this, Milton initiated the fallen Dark Prince’s re-ascension to Lucifer, the title he was to regain in the Romantic Era.
1. Stella Purce Revard, 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.”↩ 2. 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 (Tasso), 221 (Marini), 236 (Andreini), 350–51 (Beaumont), 414–15 (Vondel).↩ 3. Milton reserved true hellish monstrousness for Sin and Death (II.648–73, 781–802), as well as the native denizens of Hell, “worse / Than Fables yet have feign’d, or fear conceiv’d, / Gorgons and Hydras, and Chimeras dire” (II.626–28). Of course, Milton does in the end bring his stately Satan low when he returns triumphantly to Hell: Satan is transformed into “A monstrous Serpent on his Belly prone” (X.514) at the conclusion of his exultant speech, Satan’s supporters suffering the same ignominy, “all transform’d / Alike, to Serpents all as accessories / To his bold Riot…” (X.519–21). Satan’s punishment seems reminiscent of Dante’s Inferno insofar as his punishment in Hell correlates to his crime on Earth, Satan “punisht in the shape he sinn’d, / According to his doom” (X.516–17), but in truth it is less harsh than Milton’s Renaissance predecessors, let alone Dante. Milton’s Satan and his coconspirators “thir lost shape, permitted, they resum’d,” their temporary transformation merely an “annual humbling certain number’d days, / To dash thir pride, and joy for Man seduc’t” (X.574, 576–77).↩
“The Satanic Scholar” struck me as an appropriate moniker for the resource dedicated to preserving the tradition established by the Satanic School of English Romanticism. Truth be told, I hold the name/title Lucifer in much higher regard than Satan, though I am obliged to more often invoke the latter, which abounds in the field of Miltonic-Romantic Satanism: e.g., “Milton’s Satan,” “Romantic Satanism,” “the Satanic School,” (Miltonic) “Satanists” and “anti-Satanists.” Be that as it may, this grand tradition—despite the frequency with which the name Satan appears in it—restored not only the fallen angel’s celestial luster, but also his luminous name, which I find both aesthetically and philosophically fitting.
The tradition of the Devil having possessed the name Lucifer (Latin for “Light-Bearer”) before falling from Heaven and being rechristened Satan (Hebrew for “Adversary”) was the product of the early Christian Church, when the concept of the Devil was in its infancy. Lucifer signified the prestigious celestial status the fallen angel once possessed and forever lost1—an interesting addition to the cosmic cautionary tale. The name Lucifer originates from the fourteenth chapter of the Old Testament Book of Isaiah, which the Church Fathers absorbed into the Satanic biography beginning to take shape to further flesh out the character of the Devil, who was to play a major role in Christian theology.
Patristic exegesis of Isaiah 14 concretized the Devil’s prelapsarian name and the sin of prideful ambition to godhead that led him to forfeit it. “How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!” thunders the biblical prophet Isaiah, “For thou hast said in thine heart…I will exalt my throne above the stars of God.…I will be like the most High. Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit” (Isaiah 14:12–15). The extravagant imagery employed by Isaiah to overstress the overriding pride and commensurate downfall of “the king of Babylon” (Isaiah 14:4) led patristic writers to conclude that the king himself, rather than the vivid language used to describe his spectacular fall from the seat of power, was figurative—a mortal means to describe the Devil’s supernatural fall from grace. For the Church Fathers, Isaiah’s diatribe revealed that Satan became Satan because he aspired above his station, Lucifer the angelic rebel having established himself as simia Dei,2 arrogating divine attributes in his blasphemous ambition to “be like the most High” (Isaiah 14:14).3
Lucifer, as invoked in Isaiah 14:12, is Latin for “light-bearer,” and the original Hebrew reads Helel ben Shahar, “Day Star, son of the Dawn.” It is a reference to Venus, the Morning Star, which is the light-bringer, appearing to herald the light of the rising Sun. Day Star transitioned into Lucifer in Latin translations of the Bible, such as St. Jerome’s fourth-century Latin Vulgate Bible. All English translations of the Bible familiar to Milton4 maintained Lucifer as a proper name, and Milton stuck to this tradition in Paradise Lost,5 retelling the traditional story he inherited as best it could be told. “Lucifer… / (So call him, brighter once amidst the Host / Of Angels, than that Star the Stars among)…” (VII.131–33), relates the archangel Raphael, who alternately emphasizes that—like all fallen angels, who’ve had their names “blotted out and ras’d / By thir Rebellion, from the Books of Life” (I.362–63)—the ruined archangel was stripped of his honorific: “Satan, so call him now, his former name / Is heard no more in Heav’n” (V.658–59).
Traditionally, Lucifer was the highest angel in Heaven, second only to God Himself,6 and despite the qualification Milton places upon Lucifer’s heavenly rank—“he of the first, / If not the first Arch-Angel”7 (V.659–60)—the angelic aristocrat’s celestial status is attested to by Milton’s emphasis on splendor denoting rank in the hierarchy of Heaven. Milton affirms that “God is Light” (III.3; cf. 1 John 1:5), as well as the “Fountain of Light” (III.375), God’s angelic sons the “Progeny of Light” who are by the Almighty “Crown’d…with Glory” (V.600, 839). The title of Light-Bearer thus signifies just how “great in Power, / In favor and preëminence” (V.660–61) the prelapsarian Lucifer was—a point emphasized by Raphael/Milton:
His name, and high was his degree in Heav’n;
His count’nance, as the Morning Star that guides
The starry flock… (V.706–09)
In spite of how illustriously highborn he was in Heaven, “great Lucifer” (V.760), who “sdein’d subjection, and thought one step higher / Would set [him] highest” (IV.50–51), finds himself cast down into “utter darkness… / As far remov’d from God and light of Heav’n / As from the Center thrice to th’ utmost Pole” (I.72–74). Heaven’s erstwhile Morningstar is outcast and reduced to “the Prince of Darkness” (X.383).
The supernal splendor Lucifer once enjoyed intensifies his loss, for though the fallen archangel nobly refuses to “repent or change, / Though chang’d in outward luster” (I.96–97), exchanging the lost glory of his person for the glory of his will,8 he is obviously chagrined by his “faded splendor wan” (IV.870), particularly in the presence of divine radiance. Milton’s fallen Lucifer, “And thence in Heav’n call’d Satan” (I.82), laments his loss of luster in his apostrophe to the Sun atop Mt. Niphates:
…O Sun…how I hate thy beams
That bring to my remembrance from what state
I fell, how glorious once above thy Sphere;
Till Pride and worse Ambition threw me down
Warring in Heav’n against Heav’n’s matchless King… (IV.37–41)
As close as Milton ostensibly stuck to tradition in his portrayal of Lucifer/Satan, he undeniably took radical departures. In Paradise Lost, Milton’s Satan is Lucifer in all but name.
1. See Jeffrey Burton Russell, The Devil: Perceptions of Evil from Antiquity to Primitive Christianity (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press,  1987), pp. 195–97; The Prince of Darkness: Radical Evil and the Power of Good in History (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press,  1992), pp. 43–44; Neil Forsyth, The Old Enemy: Satan and the Combat Myth (Princeton: Princeton University Press,  1989), pp. 134–36; The Satanic Epic (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003), pp. 51–54, 80–81; Luther Link, The Devil: A Mask without a Face (London: Reaktion Books Ltd, 1995), pp. 22–23; T. J. Wray and Gregory Mobley, The Birth of Satan: Tracing the Devil’s Biblical Roots (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), pp. 108–10.↩ 2. See Maximilian Rudwin, The Devil in Legend and Literature (LaSalle, IL: Open Court Publishing Company,  1959), Ch. XII, “Diabolus Simia Dei,” pp. 120–29.↩ 3. See Russell, The Devil, pp. 195–97; Satan: The Early Christian Tradition (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press,  1987), pp. 130–33; The Prince of Darkness, pp. 78–80; Stella Purce Revard, The War in Heaven: Paradise Lost and the Tradition of Satan’s Rebellion (Ithaca, NY and London: Cornell University Press, 1980), pp. 32–35, 47–49; Forsyth, The Old Enemy, pp. 134–39, 370–71; The Satanic Epic, pp. 44–45, 51–54, 80–81; Link, pp. 22–27; Wray and Mobley, pp. 108–12; Henry Ansgar Kelly, Satan: A Biography (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), pp. 191–99.↩ 4. See Matthew Stallard, ed. Paradise Lost: The Biblically Annotated Edition (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2011), p. xxix.↩ 5. Some critics insist that Milton did not intend his references to Lucifer in Paradise Lost to be understood as Satan’s angelic name in Heaven, but rather as a means of denoting Satan’s erstwhile splendor, for his heavenly abode is referred to as “The Palace of great Lucifer, (so call / That Structure in the Dialect of men / Interpreted)” (V.760–62), his hellish abode “Pandæmonium, City and proud seat / Of Lucifer, so by allusion call’d, / Of that bright Star to Satan paragon’d” (X.424–26). Despite this, I believe it is safe to assume that Milton was conforming to Christian tradition with regards to the change of names from Lucifer to Satan. In his outlines for Adam Unparadiz’d—the verse drama Paradise Lost was originally planned to be—Milton refers to the Devil as Lucifer rather than Satan. See Barbara K. Lewalski, ed. Paradise Lost (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2007), “Appendix: Sketches for Dramas on the Fall, from the Trinity Manuscript,” pp. 341–43. Additionally, Milton referred to Lucifer at various points in his political polemics, in part to add emphasis to his message against men imitating the sin which led to Lucifer’s loss of his illustrious name: prideful aspiring above one’s sphere. See Frank S. Kastor, Milton and the Literary Satan (Amsterdam: Rodopi N.V., 1974), p. 49.↩ 6. See Jeffrey Burton Russell, Lucifer: the Devil in the Middle Ages (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press,  1986), pp. 173–74.↩ 7. In the traditional Christian hierarchy of angels—seraphim, cherubim, thrones, dominions, virtues, powers, principalities, archangels, angels—Milton’s Satan would be placed second to last in the nine orders. However, although Milton invokes these traditional angelic ranks at various points in Paradise Lost, he does not keep their traditional order. Milton’s archangels are so-called because they are entrusted with tasks of great significance: the archangel Uriel is “Regent of the Sun” (III.690); the archangel Gabriel is “Chief of th’ Angelic Guards” (IV.550) in Eden; the archangel Raphael is placed in charge of educating Adam and Eve about Satan and the danger they are in (V.221–45); the archangel Michael is “of Celestial Armies Prince” (VI.44), is named “the Prince of Angels” (VI.281) on the heavenly battlefield, and is also placed in charge of banishing Adam and Eve from Eden after revealing to the fallen parents of the human race the hope of future salvation (XI.99–125). Just as Milton refers to Satan as “th’ Arch-fiend” (I.156) to emphasize that he is “the superior Fiend” (I.283), so too does he refer to Satan as “th’ Arch-Angel” (I.600) to emphasize his superior angelic rank—“Above them all…” (I.600).↩ 8. Milton’s Satan makes repeated reference to the glory of his endeavors: “…the Glorious Enterprise” (I.89); “That Glory never shall his wrath or might / Extort from me” (I.110–11); “…that strife / Was not inglorious, though th’ event was dire…” (I.623–24); “From this descent / Celestial Virtues rising, will appear / More glorious and more dread than from no fall…” (II.14–16); “If I must contend… / Best with the best, the Sender not the sent, / Or all at once; more glory will be won, / Or less be lost” (IV.851–54); “…The strife which thou call’st evil…wee style / The strife of Glory…” (VI.289–90); “To mee shall be the glory sole among / Th’infernal Powers, in one day to have marr’d / What he Almighty styl’d, six Nights and Days / Continu’d making…” (IX.135–38); “…I in one Night freed / From servitude inglorious well nigh half / Th’ Angelic Name, and thinner left the throng / Of his adorers…” (IX.140–43); “…I glory in the name, / Antagonist of Heav’n’s Almighty King…” (X.386–87).
In his narration, Milton himself emphasizes Satan’s relentless pursuit of glory: “…aspiring / To set himself in Glory above his Peers…” (I.38–39); “Him follow’d his next Mate, / Both glorying to have scap’t the Stygian flood / As Gods…” (I.238–40); “And now his heart / Distends with pride, and hard’ning in his strength / Glories…” (I.571–73); “…Satan, whom now transcendent glory rais’d / Above his fellows, with Monarchal pride / Conscious of highest worth…” (II.427–29).↩
Alongside Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley also possessed a penchant for the Satanic1—arguably more so than “the Satanic Lord.”2 In his study of Romantic Satanism, Peter A. Schock determines “Shelley – not Byron – to be the driving force in the development of the Satanist writing of this group,” for as devilish as Byron’s persona and poetry were, “In adopting the stance of the diabolical provocateur, Byron was led by the precedent of Shelley.”3 It is certainly true that Shelley anticipated Byronic Satanism with his amplification of his own rebellious characteristics through adoption of a devilish persona—less pessimistically than Byron, it must be said—and his employment of grandly Satanic characters in his poetry.
Shelley, the youthful radical expelled from Oxford University for refusal to deny authorship and distribution of a pamphlet on The Necessity of Atheism (1811), entertained fantasies of himself as an ennobled Satanic opponent of the Christian Deity he demonized: “Oh how I wish I were the Antichrist, that it were mine to crush the Demon, to hurl him back to his native Hell never to rise again – I expect to gratify some of this insatiable feeling in Poetry.”4 Shelley echoes Milton’s Satan and his rebel angels, who refer to God with epithets typically reserved for the Devil, such as “enemy” (I.188, II.137) and “foe” (I.122, 179; II.78, 152, 202, 210, 463, 769). Shelley thus exhibits the true nature of Romantic Satanism, which is getting caught up in “Satan’s cult of himself”5 insofar as Romantic Satanists deliberately sided with the Miltonic Satan, accepting Satan’s own lofty image of himself. The Satanic Shelley followed the precedent set by his mentor and eventual father-in-law, William Godwin, whose analysis of Milton’s Satan in his radical Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793) more or less took Satan at his word: “But why did he rebel against his maker? It was, as he himself informs us, because he saw no sufficient reason, for that extreme inequality of rank and power, which the creator assumed.”6
The would-be Antichrist Shelley’s insatiably deicidal desires were certainly gratified in his poetry. In Queen Mab (1813), Shelley invoked the mythic “Wandering Jew” Ahasuerus, transforming the doubting Semite into an idealized Satanic blasphemer, who channels the spirit of Milton’s Satan in his defiance of the tyranny of Heaven (VII.173–201). In the Preface to Prometheus Unbound (1820), Shelley went so far as to deem Satan the near-equal of that ultimate Romantic symbol of boundless human potential imprisoned within the bonds of divine oppression, Prometheus: “The only imaginary being resembling in any degree Prometheus, is Satan.…the Hero of Paradise Lost…”7
Shelley employed Satanism not only as a means of dramatically expressing his contempt for Christianity, but also for a more positive expression: admiration for the unfettered humanity he so longed for. The dramatic finish to Shelley’s Declaration of Rights (1812)—a clarion call for Man to assert his proper worth and rise from lowliness and degeneracy to loftiness and dignity—reads, “Awake!—arise!—or be forever fallen,”8 which is the concluding line of the fiery speech with which Milton’s Satan rouses his fallen compatriots from the burning lake of Hell (I.330). Shelley thus casts 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). In the closing diatribe of A Declaration of Rights, the pride in Man’s innate dignity and lofty potential Shelley expresses is intermingled with scorn for his current state of abjection, Shelley thus attempting to awaken Man in the same way that Milton’s Satan summons his fallen legions (I.315–23). Shelley adopted the persona of the Miltonic Satan, who believes himself a noble liberator, whose supporters were “freed / From servitude inglorious” (IX.140–41) by him, a “faithful Leader” (IV.933) at whose resumed command “Celestial Virtues rising, will appear / More glorious and more dread than from no fall…” (II.15–16).
Shelley’s acceptance of Satan’s self-image and his willingness to incorporate the idealized Satanic spirit into his own self-dramatization verifies Southey’s claim that the members of the Satanic School were essentially among Satan’s number. Despite the lack of belief of Byron and Shelley—more prominently pronounced in the latter—it is easy to imagine them enlisted in the rebel archangel’s “Satanic Host” (VI.392), beneath “Th’ Imperial Ensign” passionately “Hurling defiance toward the Vault of Heav’n” (I. 536, 669).
1. See Ann Wroe, Being Shelley: The Poet’s Search for Himself (New York: Vintage Books,  2008), pp. 319–22. ↩ 2. Mario Praz, The Romantic Agony, trans. Angus Davidson (Cleveland and New York: The World Publishing Company,  1963), p. 81.↩ 3. Peter A. Schock, Romantic Satanism: Myth and the Historical Moment in Blake, Shelley, and Byron (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), pp. 7, 8.↩ 4. Quoted in Schock, p. 80.↩ 5. Schock, p. 39.↩ 6. Quoted in Schock, p. 1; my emphasis.↩ 7. Percy Bysshe Shelley, Preface to Prometheus Unbound, 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), pp. 206–07.↩ 8. 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.↩
Romantic Satanism was not about Devil worship, but rather identification with Satan the magnificent rebel angel out of Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667) and adoption of his mythic/poetic revolt against the absolute authority personified in the Almighty as a sociopolitical countermyth. Romantic Satanists were essentially little Lucifers—Miltonic Satans in miniature.
Before Lord Byron found himself implicated in Robert Southey’s Satanic School diatribe,1 English clergyman Reginald Heber had identified in Byron “a strange predilection for the worser half of manicheism,” accusing Byron of having “devoted himself and his genius to the adornment and extension of evil.”2 This, “being interpreted,” reflected Byron himself, “means that I worship the devil…”3 Heber would go on to explain that “Lord Byron misunderstood us. He supposed that we accused him of ‘worshipping the Devil.’ We certainly had, at the time, no particular reason for apprehending that he worshipped anything.”4 Byron’s failure—or refusal, rather—to bend the knee in worship of anything, however, was what made Byron so Satanic, and the same goes for Shelley, the militant atheist who imagined himself very much like the heroically unbowed Satan: “Did I now see him [God] seated in gorgeous & tyrannic majesty as described, upon the throne of infinitude – if I bowed before him, what would virtue say?”5 Just as “narcissists” are simply individuals who bear the likeness of the mythical Narcissus, Byron and Shelley were “Satanists” not because they worshipped the Devil, but because of their likeness to the arch-rebel—an image they often deliberately donned.
Satanism was certainly at the heart of Byronism, the cultural phenomenon that saw Byron hurled haphazardly into the limelight. “I awoke one morning and found myself famous,”6 Byron stated of the meteoric rise to stardom Cantos I and II of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (1812) afforded him. The poem was largely a success on account of its eponymous hero, who marks the arrival of a truly Satanic character type, the “Byronic Hero,” which Peter L. Thorslev, Jr. considers “the most popular phenomenon of the English Romantic Movement and the figure with the most far-reaching consequences for nineteenth-century Western literature…”7 During his years of fame in English high society, Byron titillated an enthralled public with a series of bold and brooding figures enigmatically treading the line between virtue and villainy. These Byronic Heroes are hallmarks of the poet’s preoccupation with Milton’s Satan, for they were all clearly cast in the mold of Milton’s “Hell-doom’d” (II.697) anti-hero.8 Byronic Satanism would reach its zenith when Byron, in the wake of the public collapse of his ill-suited marriage, was compelled to exile himself from England on account of the cancerous rumors of his scandalous sexual escapades of incest with his half-sister, Augusta Leigh, and indulgence in the capital crime of sodomy. Outcast from the realm of which he was a peer, the tortured Byron produced works so irreverent that he ultimately crafted a Byronic Hero who is not only Satanic9 but Satan himself—or Lucifer, rather.
Byronic Heroes were in part poetic self-portraits, as Byron cultivated a notoriously “mad – bad – and dangerous to know”10 persona—to the point of claiming Satanic status. With ironic Calvinist certainty, Byron asserted that he was not destined for Heaven, but doomed to Hell, viewing his clubbed foot as his own personal mark of Cain. As far as Byron was concerned, his deformed foot may as well have been a cloven hoof. “He saw it as the mark of satanic connection,” relates Benita Eisler in her biography of Byron, “referring to himself as le diable boiteux, the lame devil.”11 Byron’s dogged sense of sin was mostly the product of the perverted form of Calvinism literally beat into him as a young boy by his Scottish nurse, May Gray, who also introduced the young Byron to the sins of the flesh. Being “Majestic though in ruin” (Paradise Lost, II.305) was part and parcel of the Byronic persona, however, and so “Byron seized for himself the starring role of fallen angel,” Eisler explains, “the outcast branded with the mark of Cain.”12
Claiming fallen angel status, Byron went so far as to profess himself literally “a stranger in this breathing world, / An erring spirit from another hurled” (Lara 18.27–28) to his wife, his legendary womanizing presumably the result of having been among those angels of Genesis 6 who descended to Earth to make love to mortal women13—a subject Byron explored in Heaven and Earth (1823). A seething sense of damnation was central to the Byronic persona, for, in the words of Mario Praz, “like Satan, Byron wished to experience the feeling of being struck with full force by the vengeance of Heaven.”14 Byron should hardly have been surprised when Southey accused him of having “rebelled against the holiest ordinances of human society” and establishing a “Satanic School.…characterised by a Satanic spirit of pride and audacious impiety…”15
1. In the Preface to A Vision of Judgement (1821), Robert Southey wrote: “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.” Quoted in C. L. Cline, “Byron and Southey: A Suppressed Rejoinder,” Keats-Shelley Journal, Vol. 3 (Winter, 1954), p. 30.↩ 2. Quoted in Peter A. Schock, Romantic Satanism: Myth and the Historical Moment in Blake, Shelley, and Byron (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), p. 101.↩ 3. Quoted in ibid., p. 190n. 48.↩ 4. Quoted in Clara Tuite, Lord Byron and Scandalous Celebrity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), p. 233.↩ 5. Quoted in Schock, p. 80.↩ 6. Quoted in Fiona MacCarthy, Byron: Life and Legend (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2002), p. x.↩ 7. Peter L. Thorslev, Jr., The Byronic Hero: Types and Prototypes (Minneapolis: Lund Press, Inc., 1962), p. 3. Atara Stein traces the pervasiveness of the Byronic Hero beyond the nineteenth century and into modern popular culture in The Byronic Hero in Film, Fiction, and Television (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press,  2009).↩ 8. Childe Harold “would not yield dominion of his mind / To spirits against whom his own rebell’d; / Proud, though in desolation; which could find / A life within itself, to breathe without mankind” (III.12.105–8); the Giaour (“infidel”) was comprised “Of mixed defiance and despair!.… / If ever evil angel bore / The form of mortal, such he wore” (The Giaour  908–13); Conrad had “a laughing Devil in his sneer, / That raised emotions both of rage and fear” (The Corsair  9.31–32); Lara “stood a stranger in this breathing world, / An erring spirit from another hurled” (Lara  18.27–28).↩ 9. Manfred, like Milton’s Satan, asserts that “The mind which is immortal makes itself / Requital for its good or evil thoughts— / Is its own origin of ill and end— / And its own place and time” (Manfred [1816–1817], III.iv.129–132); Cain and Lucifer are twin “Souls who dare look the Omnipotent tyrant in / His everlasting face, and tell him, that / His evil is not good!” (Cain: A Mystery , I.i.138–40).↩ 10. Lady Caroline Lamb, quoted in MacCarthy, p. 164. Her famous assessment of Byron did nothing to prevent their ill-fated love affair, but perhaps did a great deal to instigate it.↩ 11. Benita Eisler, Byron: Child of Passion, Fool of Fame (New York: Vintage Books, 2000), p. 13.↩ 12.Ibid., p. 299.↩ 13. See Malcolm Elwin, Lord Byron’s Wife (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1962), pp. 263, 271, 346.↩ 14. Mario Praz, The Romantic Agony, trans. Angus Davidson (Cleveland and New York: The World Publishing Company,  1963), p. 73.↩ 15. Quoted in Cline, p. 30.↩