I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with my old friend Adam and his partner Greg of Nerds with Words, a fun podcast that welcomes diverse individuals for free-flowing conversation that always ventures down the rabbit hole. We engaged in an in-depth discussion of The Satanic Scholar, exploring the origins of the site and its aims of preserving the Miltonic-Romantic legacy of Lucifer and drawing attention to signs of this radical tradition’s echoes and influences today. Along the way were various tangents, a number of non sequiturs, and lots of laughs. You can download the episode on iTunes (Episode 46), listen in on Libsyn, or watch on YouTube.
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 “As to the Devil he owes everything to Milton,” observed Percy Bysshe Shelley in his unpublished Essay on the Devil and Devils (ca. 1819–20), for “Milton divested him of a sting, hoofs, and horns, clothed him with the sublime grandeur of a graceful but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.
The Satanic Scholar & The Satanic Irreverend: An Informal Discussion is a ten-part talk on the subject of Satanism and its cultural components between myself and Gavin Baddeley, the author of Lucifer Rising (1999) who, when conducting research for his study of Sin, Devil Worship & Rock ‘n’ Roll, was granted an honorary priesthood in the Church of Satan by its founder, “the Black Pope” Anton LaVey, who codified Satanism as a modern (ir)religious philosophy back in 1960s San Francisco.
Gavin Baddeley—the self-proclaimed Satanic “Irreverend”—is an English author who specializes in the dark, decadent, and devilish aspects of Western culture. The scope of his scholarship is vast, and the manner in which he presents his material is not only thoroughly informed, but remarkably witty and humorous as well. While authoritative on all of the subjects he covers, I have always singled Gavin out as the best spokesman for Satanism, as his presentation of the equally fascinating and controversial subject is truly unparalleled. For most Satanists, Satanism simply started in 1966—and, as far as aboveground, organized Satanism goes, it did—but the concept didn’t just appear magically out of a puff of smoke; Satanism’s roots reach deep into the Western world’s past—most significantly for The Satanic Scholar, of course, into English Romanticism—and a large part of what makes Gavin stand out from his Satanic peers is his penchant for digging up these roots and subjecting them to the analysis they deserve. Gavin felt my effort to preserve the Miltonic-Romantic legacy of Lucifer was worthwhile, and he was kind enough to provide constructive criticism and share invaluable insight when I was first getting my Satanic Scholar site off the ground in early 2016. Not long after, I had the pleasure of having Gavin as a house guest during his stay in New York. Gavin and I had many interesting conversations during his stay, the last of which we decided to commit to film: The Satanic Scholar & The Satanic Irreverend: An Informal Discussion.
GB: “I still have things to say about Satanism; it’s still something that’s very close to me; [‘Satanist’ is] still something I’d identify as.”
CJC: “I would say I’m…a neo-Romantic Satanist at heart.”
GB: “You can have as many guys in dressing gowns in basements as you like, and they won’t have an iota of the influence of somebody who knows what they’re doing with art, literature, film… The Dark Arts are the arts.”
CJC: “A big part of [Romantic Satanism] is being an exiled figure—an outcast.”
CJC: “I do think that there has to be an underlying idealism to [Satanism].”
GB: “[Compared to Satanism,] atheism feels like a copout. And it’s not as much fun!”
CJC: “Back to the myth: Lucifer has a third of Heaven on his side, so it’s sort of the original counterculture.”
GB: “Christianity has over the years…imagined this foe—this Satanic faith, this Satanic bogeyman—and in their limitation of imagination has imagined that it’s what [Christians are] like in a funhouse mirror.…Of course, the opposite of belief is not belief in something else; the opposite of belief is doubt.”
CJC: “What’s so appealing about the myth [of Satan] is that he is doomed. That’s what makes him Promethean—that’s what makes him actually excel Prometheus, as far as I’m concerned, because Prometheus’ suffering ends, but with Satan it’s eternal.”
GB: “[The Devil] has a habit of escaping from the pages. Once you give him a personality, he creates problems, and the problems are always interesting.”
CJC: “I think of Satanism as a slaughterhouse for sacred cows, whatever they might be.”
GB: “Satanism is unusual in being not exclusivist, but not expansionist.”
CJC: “You can’t pooh-pooh mythology. It’s something that really taps into these things that are relevant to the human psyche. [Myths are] these human stories just writ large—projected onto this cosmic canvas.”
GB: “Religion likes to pretend that it has this Golden Age [and] these sacred texts.…Satanism evolves. There’s even a good argument to say that Satanism might want to evolve to the point where it’s no longer necessary.”
CJC: “Rebellion for its own sake is not inherently positive. It has to be based on something, and again I think the characteristics of the Miltonic-Romantic Lucifer are very positive and principled.”
GB: “You can take a rebellious stance and say that imperialism had positive aspects—that the British Empire is or was admirable in many respects.…For me, a Satanic political position is: I’m a proud imperialist, so I will fly the flag for Britain and fly the flag for the British Empire because nobody else is.”
GB: “Satan is often referred to as ‘the Prince of Lies’.…but from my experience of Satanism, a lot of it is about just speaking the truth.”
CJC: “Perhaps [Satanists] need to move away from shock to surprise.…Perhaps it would be easier to emphasize this idea of Satan as the rebel hero if it were matched up with imagery that went along with that.”
CJC: “ ‘Occult,’ as I understand it, means ‘hidden,’ so it has this esoteric connotation to it.…What can be more occult—insofar as it means hidden or esoteric—than taking a seventeenth-century epic poem…and exploiting the potential of its mythic [Satanic] figure?”
GB: “Milton’s Satan is…an archetype for this Western cult of the individual.…What you have in the Miltonic Satan is an emblem for this idea that you can break out of a monolithic, totalitarian system.…This is a myth that expresses how this happens, and that’s in a sense what’s important about Satanism: it says you can express yourself; it’s worth doing this regardless of the cost; sometimes the self is the most important thing; there’s something incredibly noble about this. And it’s a selfish thing to do, but it’s also a selfless thing to do, and a noble thing to do.”
In case ten parts simply weren’t enough…
The following is additional footage captured after the above discussion. The initial idea was to have cutaway shots in case they were needed during the editing process, but of course the ever insightful Gavin Baddeley wound up sharing more substantive commentary.
“Satanism always has a hoof firmly planted in the past…and a hoof firmly thrusting into the future.”
In addition to my write-up for my pilgrimage to Ricardo Bellver’s El Ángel Caído (The Fallen Angel, 1877) in Madrid’s Retiro Park and the replica Fallen Angel statue in the Spanish capital’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando (Bellver’s alma mater), I have edited two short clips of my visit to the stunning statues, which brought the proud Miltonic-Romantic tradition’s Lucifer to life as the very pinnacle of the Satanic sublime.
Satanic Scholar Christopher J.C. discusses his site (TheSatanicScholar.com) and explores its aim of preserving the Miltonic-Romantic legacy of Lucifer.
Part Three of this three-part documentary draws attention to the influence of the Miltonic-Romantic-Satanic tradition on our cultural milieu, which perhaps signifies a nascent movement of neo-Romantic Satanism. Discussed are the Miltonic-Romantic Satan’s reemergence in the Vertigo comic Lucifer—the most Romantic portrayal of the fallen angel since Lord Byron’s Cain—and its adaptation to the small screen on the Fox network, as well as subtler modern-day echoes of this distant tradition, namely New Atheism’s sympathy for the Miltonic Devil in the face of the parties of God.
Romantic Satanism and its Satanic School restored luster to Lucifer’s much tarnished name and image, and The Satanic Scholar—carrying the torch of the Romantic Satanists and perpetuating the memory of the majestic Miltonic-Romantic Lucifer—claims the proud honor of preserving this grand tradition, endeavoring to give its distinguished Devil his due.
Satanic Scholar Christopher J.C. discusses his site (TheSatanicScholar.com) and explores its aim of preserving the Miltonic-Romantic legacy of Lucifer.
Part Two of this three-part documentary covers the centrality of Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost and its unparalleled portrayal of Satan to the tradition of Romantic Satanism. By the turn of the nineteenth century, Milton’s Satan was seen as the true hero of Paradise Lost, his rebellion against Almighty God deemed virtuous and just. While this radical vision of a Promethean Lucifer is often considered either a misguided assessment or a mischievous misinterpretation on the part of the Romantic Satanists, Milton’s sympathetic Satan—curiously given pride of place in Paradise Lost—truly lends himself to the Romantic reading of the poem.
Perhaps the most significant example of the Satan-as-hero reading’s validity is the Romantic iconography inspired by Paradise Lost, which brought the Miltonic Lucifer to life as a humanized and heroicized figure. The dazzling depictions of Milton’s Devil as a handsome classical hero by artists such as Stothard, Barry, Westall, Corbould, Lawrence, Fuseli, Blake, Martin, and Doré accurately rendered the sublime Satan described by Milton. The Satanic Scholar takes the position that the Romantic reading of Milton’s Satan as the noble hero of Paradise Lost is no less valid than these visual triumphs.
Satanic Scholar Christopher J.C. discusses his site (TheSatanicScholar.com) and explores its aim of preserving the Miltonic-Romantic legacy of Lucifer.
Part One of this three-part documentary covers the origins of Romantic Satanism, the turn-of-the-nineteenth-century phenomenon within which Milton’s Satan—the Hell-doomed yet Heaven-defiant archangel of the epic poem Paradise Lost—was celebrated as a Promethean icon of revolutionary virtue. Discussed are the Satanic reflections of the Romantic Era’s most radical intellectuals, poets, and prose writers, namely Godwin, Blake, Hazlitt, and of course Byron and Shelley, who presided over Romanticism’s “Satanic School.” Mirroring the Miltonic mutiny of the angels, these Romantic Satanists channeled the spirit of Milton’s apostate angel and adopted his mythic/poetic celestial revolt for earthly use as a sociopolitical countermyth.
Although seldom given the attention it deserves and far too often overlooked by even occult Satanists, the Miltonic-Romantic-Satanic tradition—spearheaded by English Romanticism’s literary and artistic élite—was the most radical reevaluation of the arch-rebel, and thereby the most intriguing challenge to the status quo in Western history.
Long before I was exposed to Romantic Satanism, the radical tradition spearheaded by English Romanticism’s “Satanic Lord,”1 George Gordon Lord Byron, I was heavily influenced by another irreverent George: comedy legend George Carlin (May 12, 1937 – June 22, 2008).
I am proud to proclaim George Carlin my lifelong hero. Having had the privilege of seeing him perform onstage twice, having been lucky enough to meet the man before he died (yes, died, not passed away or expired), and having had the honor to teach a class on Carlin’s comedy as a guest lecturer for a “Comic Vision” course are some of the finest memories of my life. Eight years ago today, news of Carlin’s death was broken to me by my mother, who knew it would strike me like the death of a close family member or mentor. Not a day has gone by without Carlin being abundantly present in my thoughts, however, and I have every intention of sharing his genuine genius with my own family in the hope that my children will not only be brought unparalleled laughter but will also learn fundamental lessons in freethinking in the process. That, of course, was the case with this Carlin aficionado.
George Carlin loomed large over my youth, and it is fair to say that he was the most significant influence on me during my formative years. Everyone in my childhood home was a Carlin fan, and his peerless comedic wit brought ceaseless laughter to our household. I grew up cherishing Carlin as someone who was funny as Hell, surely, but I admired Carlin much more for the invaluable lessons I learned from his unique social commentary. Ever comedy’s matchless wordsmith, Carlin made me hyperaware of the power of language, and from the razor-sharp wit he vocalized in his own poetic (and often perverse) rhetoric I learned the value of untrammeled free speech, the importance of questioning all things, and the need to drag all sacred cows to the satirical slaughterhouse.
I saw Carlin’s HBO stand-up special You Are All Diseased (1999) when I was twelve years old, and his all-out assault on not only organized religion but on God Himself—the “invisible man living in the sky”—struck a chord with me. “Between you and me,” he boldly stated from the stage, “in any decently run universe, this Guy would have been out on His all-powerful ass a long time ago.” Carlin’s memorable blasphemous skit (“There Is No God”) undeniably put this fellow Catholic on a path to militant atheism/anti-theism, but I daresay it also put me on a path to Miltonic-Romantic Satanism as well. After all, wasn’t Lucifer the one who aspired to put God out on His all-powerful ass?
Years after seeing Carlin’s misanthropic magnum opus You Are All Diseased, I encountered Satan the Heaven-defying anti-hero of Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost and embraced the radical tradition of Romantic Satanism the Miltonic arch-rebel inspired. During my studies of Romanticism’s “Satanic School,”2 I gained a new Satanic hero in George Gordon Lord Byron, whose life and poetry are remarkable monuments to irreverent wit and humor in their own right. Nevertheless, it was unquestionably George Carlin who was my first Satanic hero, who was the one to plant in my mind the Satanic seeds of doubt which would one day compel me to conclude that—as Carlin himself put it—“Satan is cool.”3
— Christopher J. C.
1. Mario Praz, The Romantic Agony, trans. Angus Davidson (Cleveland and New York: The World Publishing Company,  1963), p. 81.↩ 2. In the Preface to A Vision of Judgement (1821), Robert Southey alluded to Romantic icons Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley as heads of a “Satanic School”: “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.↩ 3. George Carlin, Brain Droppings (New York: Hyperion, 1997), p. 186.↩
Spanish sculptor Ricardo Bellver rendered the Miltonic-Romantic Lucifer to perfection with El Ángel Caído (The Fallen Angel, 1877). The statue imagines Milton’s ruined archangel as a classical heroic nude reeling back off of a chunk of rocky cliff his serpent-coiled lower half rests atop, the angelic-winged Lucifer’s long, streaming locks of hair windswept upside his youthfully fair face, which is racked with fierce pain but exudes defiant pride as he releases an earthshattering scream toward the Heaven he has been banished from. I have always felt that Bellver’s masterpiece is the very apex of the Satanic sublime, and having at long last seen El Ángel Caído in person has certainly reinforced my position.
A native of Madrid, Ricardo Bellver was a student of the Spanish capital’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando, and in 1874 he earned a pension to complete his studies in Rome, where he sculpted El Ángel Caído in 1877. Bellver’s statue, commissioned by the Duke of Fernán Núñez, was inspired by Milton’s Satan in Paradise Lost (1667), as described in the following two passages from the poem’s infernal introduction of the fallen archangel:
Had cast him out from Heav’n, with all his Host
Of Rebel Angels… (I.36–38)
…round he throws his baleful eyes
That witness’d huge affliction and dismay
Mixt with obdúrate pride and steadfast hate… (I.56–58)
Milton’s Satan is already damned to Hell in these lines taken as inspiration for El Ángel Caído, and Bellver accordingly brought to life not a falling but a fallen angel. Yet Bellver portrayed Milton’s Satan as Lucifer, which is to say, the fallen angel, though already Hell-doomed in the dramatic moment the statue captures, retains his preeminent angelic beauty, including his massive feathery wings—both of which were major hallmarks of Romantic renditions of Milton’s Satan in the visual arts.
A likely inspiration for El Ángel Caído was Laocoön and His Sons, displayed in the Vatican—not least because of the serpents coiled around the fallen angel’s limbs—but Lucifer’s dramatic position also bears a striking resemblance to Gustave Doré’s 1866 engraving of Milton’s despairing Satan atop Mt. Niphates. But Bellver’s Fallen Angel strikes the viewer as far more heroic than these two iconic images. The look of Lucifer’s thunder-stricken countenance unleashing that desperate cry heavenward is best described as “mixed defiance and despair,” to borrow a line from Lord Byron (The Giaour , l.908), the exiled angelic prince’s form best described as “Majestic though in ruin,” to borrow one from Milton (Paradise Lost, II.305).
Romantic iconography inspired by Paradise Lostvisualized Milton’s Satan very much in the spirit of Romantic radical William Hazlitt’s paean to the arch-rebel: “His ambition was the greatest, and his punishment was the greatest; but not so his despair, for his fortitude was as great as his sufferings.…[T]he fierceness of tormenting flames is qualified and made innoxious by the greater fierceness of his pride…”1El Ángel Caído is quintessentially Romantic, yet uniquely so, for while Milton’s Satan was portrayed as singularly splendid amidst his loss by many Romantic artists, they tended to choose his most heroic moments—rising from the burning lake, summoning his legions, or facing off with Death himself—whereas Bellver chose Lucifer’s fall from Heaven/his realization of his ruin in Hell, but still capturing the dazzling splendor of Satan as Romantic hero.
El Ángel Caído crystallizes the Miltonic Lucifer’s defining moment of cataclysmic loss, but Bellver’s sublime statue evokes not mere fear but awe, compelling viewers to admire the glorious, godlike fallen angel for withstanding the omnipotent ire of “The Thunderer” (Paradise Lost, VI.491). Bellver’s is no horned half-beast Devil beneath the heel of a stoically triumphant St. Michael. Of course, the fallen angel is bound by hostile serpents, which stand in for Milton’s “Adamantine Chains” (I.48), as well as serve as a symbolic reminder that the Heaven-defying “Apostate Angel” (I.125) becomes “Th’ infernal Serpent” (I.34), who is “to [him]self enthrall’d” (VI.181). (“…Pride and worse Ambition threw me down,” Milton’s Satan cries, yet rejecting even the thought of atonement because repentance requires “submission; and that word / Disdain forbids me…” [IV.40, 81–82]). Nevertheless, Bellver’s Fallen Angel focuses attention on Lucifer in Romantic fashion, the defeated rebel angel’s catastrophe paradoxically portrayed in a flattering light, his heroic resolution shining forth despite his despair.
Bellver’s depiction of the Miltonic Lucifer in all his damned, defiant magnificence won the artist First Medal in Spain’s National Exhibition of Fine Arts, held in Madrid in 1878. In the same year, El Ángel Caído was cast in bronze for the third Paris World’s Fair (where, incidentally, the head of Lady Liberty was also on display). Bellver’s Fallen Angel enjoyed a brief stay in Madrid’s Prado Museum, and in 1879 Benito Soriano Murillo, director of the Prado, decided to hand the statue over to the City of Madrid, believing El Ángel Caído should be placed outdoors to fully capture The Fallen Angel’s dramatic effect. In 1885, The Fallen Angel was finally stationed in Madrid’s majestic Retiro Park, resting atop a grand pedestal erected by the renowned architect Francisco Jareño, which includes at its base various demonic faces spouting water into the fountain below, each demon clutching assorted reptiles and fish in their talons. (The bestial demonic busts aren’t the only Satanic cliché El Ángel Caído was subject to; the statue apparently stands 666 meters above sea level as well.) The Prado tried to reclaim El Ángel Caído in 1998, but the statue remains exalted in Retiro Park for all to see. Fortunately, however, a replica Fallen Angel, which can be admired up close, resides within Madrid’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando, Bellver’s alma mater.
For me—as someone hell-bent on preserving the Miltonic-Romantic legacy of Lucifer—venturing to see El Ángel Caído was like a pilgrimage, for Ricardo Bellver’s statue truly brought this proud tradition’s Lucifer to life. Walking through Madrid’s Retiro Park is a wonderfully daunting experience to begin with, but to see The Fallen Angel in person was simply sublime. The countless photos of El Ángel Caído I had seen over the years simply could not compare to the overwhelming feeling of standing in the Plaza del Ángel Caído, staring up at this artistic masterpiece.
As amazing as the pedestaled Fallen Angel in Retiro Park was, I am tempted to say that visiting the replica in the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando had more of an impact on me. There, El Ángel Caído rests at the top of the entryway staircase, and walking up to the statue, which was illuminated by the almost heavenly brilliance of the room’s natural light, was genuinely awe-inspiring. I was able to truly appreciate the massiveness of Lucifer’s figure; if the fallen angel were to come to his feet, he would probably tower over me at about eight or nine feet tall. There was not much traffic in the open room, and amid the remarkable quiet, which made my footfalls echo as if I were in a capacious cathedral, I was able to spend much time admiring every detail of Bellver’s exquisite work. This profoundly moving experience, in all honesty, induced the feeling of somehow coming face-to-face with Lucifer—as imagined by the Miltonic-Romantic tradition—frozen in his fall.
I highly recommend venturing to see both statues of El Ángel Caído in Madrid. While it was a deeply personal experience for me, I would be remiss if I did not share the videos and photos I managed to capture in Retiro Park and the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando of Ricardo Bellver’s Fallen Angel—the visual culmination of the grand Miltonic-Romantic-Satanic tradition I am so very proud to preserve.
— Christopher J. C.
1. 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.↩
The Satanic Scholar is dedicated to preserving the Miltonic-Romantic legacy of Lucifer, the radical tradition established by English Romantic Satanism and its Satanic School: the spirited celebration of Milton’s Satan as a veritable Promethean champion of laudable revolutionary virtues.
As The Satanic Scholar, I follow in the irreverent footsteps of Romantic icons Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley, who were castigated as heads of a “Satanic School” in 1821 by Poet Laureate Robert Southey, a first-generation Romantic radical turned reactionary. Southey condemned these wayward second-generation Romantic poets for having “rebelled against the holiest ordinances of human society” to the point of alliance with the fallen archangel out of Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667), inspired as their works were by “a Satanic spirit of pride and audacious impiety…”1 Byron—the primary target of Southey’s diatribe, and a bitter rival—was dismissive of the Satanic branding: “…what is the ‘Satanic School?’ who are the Scholars?.…I have no school nor Scholars…”2 Despite his denial, Byron, along with Shelley, was at the forefront of a Satanic School, and I pride myself on being its Scholar.
I have found it to be my calling to bear the torch of the Satanic School. As the keeper of the Miltonic-Romantic-Satanic flame, I deem Milton’s “Apostate Angel” (I.125) nothing less than “the hero of Paradise Lost”3 and, for his singularly “daring ambition and fierce passions,” celebrate Milton’s Satan as “the most heroic subject that ever was chosen for a poem…”4; I find that the “only imaginary being resembling in any degree Prometheus, is Satan,”5 and boast Milton’s Satan unexceeded in “energy and magnificence”—even by the Deity Himself, to whom “Milton’s Devil as a moral being is…far superior…”6; I cherish the Miltonic-Romantic Satan brought to life in the visual arts as a humanized and heroicized figure by the likes of Henry Fuseli, Thomas Stothard, James Barry, Richard Westall, Sir Thomas Lawrence, William Blake, John Martin, and “the last of the Romantics,” Gustave Doré. Theirs was the handsome Devil of heroic proportions imagined by Milton, these artistic geniuses exchanging the traditional Satan’s grotesque horns and hooves for classical beauty, an athletic physique, and a passionate mien, the awe-inspiring artistic tradition of the Satanic sublime reaching its apex in Spanish sculptor Ricardo Bellver’s El Ángel Caído (The Fallen Angel, 1877). I take great pride in safeguarding this grand tradition, which restored luster to Lucifer’s much tarnished name and face.
Like the Romantics, I was quite overwhelmed when I first encountered the eloquent fallen angel found in the pages of Milton’s Paradise Lost, awestruck by Satan’s heroic defiance, though “Hell-doom’d” (II.697). It swiftly occurred to me that I was, to cite Blake’s famous line, “of the Devil’s party without knowing it,”7 and so I discovered my affinity with the Romantic radicals who laid claim to Milton’s Satan as one of their own, magnifying their own diabolical dispositions. Over a decade ago, an immersive study of diabology in general and Miltonic-Romantic Satanism in particular led me to intellectual enrollment in the Satanic School, as it were. A diabolical autodidact with of course no actual Satanic School to attend, I transformed my undergraduate and graduate work into ventures in Satanic studies, ultimately teaching Milton’s Paradise Lost and its Satan controversy at my alma mater.
This site is the product of the independent scholarship of a seasoned neo-Romantic Satanist, one who identifies with that “Satanic spirit of pride and audacious impiety” pervasive in the poetry, prose, and politics of Byron, Shelley, and their circle. In fact, I daresay I feel the “Satanic spirit” more intensely, for while the Romantics expressed occasional reservations about Milton’s “proud / Aspirer” (VI.89–90), I believe wholeheartedly that the magnificent Miltonic Satan should be set upon a pedestal.
One simply cannot overstress the significance of the Romantic legacy of Lucifer, which enlisted a number of the era’s most titanic intellectuals, poets, prose writers, and visual artists. Romantic Satanism was rooted in the eighteenth-century intellectual circle presided over by radical publisher Joseph Johnson (which included Thomas Paine, Mary Wollstonecraft, William Godwin, and William Blake), and the movement reached its apex in the early nineteenth-century Satanic School of Byron and Shelley. Romantic Satanists celebrated Milton’s Satan, with his “dauntless courage” in the face of “the Tyranny of Heav’n” (I.603, 124), as the sublime hero of Paradise Lost and an illustrious symbolic standard-bearer for unfettered humanity. Southey’s demonization of Byron and Shelley was undeniably inclined to hyperbole (“Men of diseased hearts and depraved imaginations.…labour to make others as miserable as themselves, by infecting them with a moral virus that eats into the soul!”8), but the paranoid Poet Laureate was nevertheless remarkably accurate in his charge of Satanism.
The Byronic/Shelleyan penchant for channeling the spirit of Milton’s arch-rebel and putting his celestial revolt to earthly use as a sociopolitical countermyth has had a greater impact on the Morningstar’s majesty than the proceedings of any occult order.9 Indeed, Romantic Satanism’s reevaluation of Milton’s Satan can truly be said to have mirrored the Miltonic mutiny of the angels, as Romantic Satanists challenged Judeo-Christian authority and exalted the fallen archangel to godlike glory as an idealized iconoclast in the face of the Almighty—or at least His mortal representatives wielding ecclesiastical and secular power. One may rightly be tempted to conclude that Romantic Satanism realized on Earth what the mythic Lucifer had vainly attempted in Heaven.
The tradition of Romantic Satanism became somewhat endangered as it came under heavy fire in the twentieth century, but Romantic sympathy for the Devil endured in the writings of those literary critics who continued to defend Milton’s Satan as a noble rebel against divine despotism, and who were accordingly (and appropriately) categorized as “Satanists.”10 While the Miltonic-Romantic-Satanic flame flickered in the twentieth century, it shows signs of new life in the twenty-first, and I intend to report modern-day sightings of the Miltonic-Romantic Satan and his influence on our cultural milieu. Significantly overt examples include the Paradise Lost film, which, despite numerous failures to launch over the past decade, I imagine will soon be successfully resurrected, and, more immediately, the Vertigo Comics series Lucifer (1999–2006), soon to enjoy a loose television adaptation on Fox. I cite these particular examples because they seem to indicate that it is the fallen Morningstar’s time to shine: such echoes of Miltonic-Romantic Satanism expose or will expose mass audiences to an idealized Devil largely absent from popular culture, hitherto predominantly saturated with Satans of the medievally monstrous or lightheartedly comical variety.
Asserting oneself as the Devil’s defender is an unusual gesture, contemporary Satanic circles notwithstanding. In doing so, I defy both religionists and secular humanists, who would like to see Satan forsaken to the pit of Hell or discarded into the dustbin of history, respectively. Why promote myself to the peculiar position of Satanic Scholar? It would be more difficult for me to imagine why I wouldn’t. Like Paradise Lost’s fallen cherub Azazel, who claims the “proud honor” of unfurling Satan’s “mighty Standard” (I.533), I can think of no more worthwhile vocation than honoring the memory of “the sublimest creation of the mind of man,”11 the majestic Miltonic Satan. To perpetuate the legacy of the Heaven-defying, liberty-loving Lucifer radically apotheosized12 by Romantic Satanism and its Satanic School is not only a worthwhile endeavor, but one which makes me—to cite the old proverbial phrase—as proud as Lucifer.
— Christopher J. C.
1. Quoted in C. L. Cline, “Byron and Southey: A Suppressed Rejoinder,” Keats-Shelley Journal, Vol. 3 (Winter, 1954), p. 30.↩ 2. Quoted in ibid., p. 35.↩ 3. 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.↩ 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. Shelley, Preface to Prometheus Unbound, p. 206.↩ 6. Percy Bysshe Shelley, A Defence of Poetry (1821), in Shelley’s Poetry and Prose, p. 526.↩ 7. In The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790–93), Blake famously wrote: “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[.]” William Blake, The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake, ed. David V. Erdman, rev. ed. (New York: Anchor Books,  1988), p. 35; pl. 6.↩ 8. Quoted in Cline, p. 30.↩ 9. In “The ‘Satanism’ of Blake and Shelley Reconsidered,” Studies in Philology, Vol. 65, No. 5 (Oct., 1968), pp. 816–33, Joseph Anthony Wittreich, Jr., despite his argument that Romantic Satanism is a grossly exaggerated movement, highlights the fact that Southey’s Satanic School diatribe for the first time in history employed the “Satanist” accusation most appositely, i.e., against actual Satanic sympathizers: “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” (pp. 817–18).↩ 10. The most thorough definition of Miltonic Satanists is given by the anti-Satanist John S. Diekhoff in Milton’s Paradise Lost: A Commentary on the Argument (New York: The Humanities Press, Inc.,  1963): “The literary heretics who have thought Satan the central figure in Paradise Lost, who have regarded him as a thoroughly admirable moral agent, and who have thought that Milton consciously or unconsciously, more or less, identified himself with Satan, have been classified together under the label Satanists” (p. 29).↩ 11. George Cilfillan, quoted in Merritt Hughes, Ten Perspectives on Milton (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1965), p. 176.↩ 12. In Romantic Satanism: Myth and the Historical Moment in Blake, Shelley, and Byron (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), the only book-length treatment on the subject, Peter A. Schock over and again asserts that the apotheosis of Milton’s Satan in Romantic Satanism made for an apotheosis of humanity: “…the apotheosis of human desire and power” (3), “the apotheosis of human will and consciousness” (26), “the apotheosis of human desire” (36), and “an heroic apotheosis of human consciousness and libertarian desire…” (39).↩