Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Esoteric practices in Satanism, part II: Divination

Previously, I’d mentioned these topics as being a few of the esoteric matters I’d like to explore here in connection with Satanism:
  • Meditation
  • Divination
  • Lesser Magic (a.k.a. glamour)
  • Greater Magic (a.k.a. ritual)

It makes sense to look at divination next inasmuch I see it as having a couple of connections to meditation: i) one way of understanding divination – the way that I myself use – basically situates it as a subtype of meditation; and ii) I think the two are similar with regard to people who have negative views of them perhaps not actually knowing what they entail to actual contemporary occult practitioners (whether Satanic or otherwise). 

Hence, subsections of the current entry:
I had a few thoughts to share also about a couple of political issues I’ve seen come up in connection with divination in online forums, but as my attempt to write these out ran toward the long side and contained repetition of some points made in my previous entry about cultural appropriation, that content may or may not wind up in another entry later on down the line.

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Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Esoteric practices in Satanism, part I: Meditation

Inasmuch as I’ve gotten the impression that actual engagement in esoteric practices may be unusual among people who identify as Satanists, despite this element being present in the writings of LaVey and other authors, I thought making this aspect of the religion better understood to people who may have no familiarity with it might be an interesting challenge to take on.

Esoteric practices that I think a case can be made for in Satanism include the following:
  • Meditation
  • Divination
  • Lesser Magic (a.k.a. glamour)
  • Greater Magic (a.k.a. ritual)
As this list may imply, what I am here terming “esoteric practices” includes what I have elsewhere called “ritual practice,” but I’m adopting the former in this case as a better umbrella term than the latter when it comes to covering the full range of practices I want to discuss.

This is a big enough topic to constitute multiple entries, so I’ll cover only one area of practice at a time, starting with meditation:

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Friday, June 7, 2019

Cultural appropriation vs. spirituality: a thorough dissection

Since my recent thrift-store luck in connection with an upcoming event has provided opportunity for a good accompanying photo for the topic, now struck me as the right time for a few things I wanted to say about cultural appropriation, specifically the concept’s salience within the context of what might broadly be called spirituality.

Sections of this entry:

Note: this wound up being insanely long even by this blog’s already-unreasonable standards - hence the jump cut below - so if you are mainly here for the spirituality-related content and find lengthy dwelling upon the concept of cultural appropriation to be tedious, feel free to skip down to the last section, as that’s where I get to the point that I’ve least seen people talking about elsewhere when cultural appropriation comes up.

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Thursday, May 30, 2019

Why Satanic Temple is likely to continue growing: a theory

As some friends have already messaged to inform me, a recent article in the Calgary Journal about the Satanic Temple cited me for some background info on Satanism.

Now, given the focus of the article being the Calgary chapter of the Satanic Temple specifically, I had no expectation of the rather-lengthy interview the journalist did with me, re: other Satanic denominations and the appeal of Satanism more generally, making up any significant portion of the article in question.  However, inasmuch as I wound up making a few points to my interviewer that are germane to topics I’m discussing on this blog, I did nonetheless want to just post a short addendum here about a theory I have about why Satanic Temple strikes me a denomination especially likely to grow in the near future.

I want to stress, before getting into this, that this is just my own theory based on what I know of Satanic Temple’s tenets on one hand vs. the issues I’ve personally had with politics over the last few years on the other hand.  It is thus not a theory based on my own contact with specific Satanic Temple members, and it neither is, nor pretends, to have anything to do with the understanding of Satanism that the particular Satanic Temple folks who are the focus of the article may themselves have.  I am thus sharing it not because I have data to suggest that it is true, but because I find the claims I am making philosophically-plausible and will therefore be interested to see whether trends in the next few years support or refute it.

The theory has four components, as follows:

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Black sun and black pharaoh

I’ve made a couple references now to appropriation, i.e. in this context, the taking of someone else’s or some other religion’s narrative/symbols/etc. and interpreting/applying these toward one’s own ends. 

Sooner or later I’ll have an entry on how this collides with contemporary politics, and was thus one element contributing to that spiritual crisis I was trapped in last year - but this is not that entry. 

This entry does, however, cover the content of my own practice where I figure the supposed appropriation issue is perhaps most relevant.

One component of LaVeyan ritual practice is the invocation of dark names that the individual finds best flesh out one’s own take on the values and/or spiritual realities of Satanism, these being either names of fallen angels, or names of dark gods from other cultures, or etc. 

One of the names I have long invoked in this context is that of Tezcatlipoca, who is an Aztec god of strife, sorcery and the night. 

I have no connection with the Aztec culture in any material way, nor pretenses toward representing any kind of “authentic” tradition here.  However, somewhere in the late high school / early undergrad era of my life, I ran across a book called “The Fifth Sun” by Burr Cartwright Brundage, which contains quite detailed info about Aztec mythology, religion and ritual practice, and something about the stories and folklore surrounding Tezcatlipoca (which I then went on to read more about via other sources) was definitely striking to me. 

The seed thus planted did not really sprout or bear fruit until recent years.  But as my practice has gradually become more “dark pagan,” it’s increasingly struck me as a resource worth returning to and reflecting upon more.

Here then are a few points about Tezcatlipoca that are of interest to me as a Satanist, organized along similar lines to the key points of Satanism that I referred to previously in this entry:

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Reflections about chaos magic

Since last entry mentioned chaos magic, and it increasingly looks like I’m likely to meet some folks of that tradition during my upcoming holiday in BC here, it feels worth taking the opportunity to reflect upon what exactly that particular occult “tradition” actually means to me.  I’ll do this in three sections: 1) history of applying the label in my case, 2) the appeal and 3) reservations I have at this point. 

History of using the label

My earliest relevant influence for chaos magick is probably Church of the Subgenius when I was in my late teens.  Subsequent reading included Discordia, Philip Hines, Peter Carroll, Ramsey Dukes, Lon Milo Duquette, etc.  Probably my biggest influences overall though were Grant Morrison’s graphic novel series “The Invisibles” and Kenneth Grant’s book “Nightside of Eden.”

Interestingly, I’ve come to realize in retrospect that the short period of my life during which I was up-playing the chaos magic quite a bit and somewhat downplaying the Satanism largely overlaps the time when I was in the UK doing my MA.  I figure a big part of the reason for this is that I experienced North America and Britain quite differently from one another re: when you hear about “chaos magic,” what does that actually mean:

  • In North America, most chaos magic people I met seemed to be significantly influenced by the aesthetic of Discordia, Subgenius and/or what most readers would understand to be the “good” guys in The Invisibles, i.e. “chaos as fun and freedom.”  In that context, chaos magic seemed to be 50/50 between pure technique (see the “appeal” section below) and “joke religion.”
  • In the UK, I got the impression that in the circles I was moving, all the men said they were Heathens and all the women said they were Hedgewitches, but really they were all chaos magicians who didn’t like using the term because it had been previously ruined by people who thought chaos magic meant slavish dedication to the system of A.O. Spare in combination with being weird, dark and kind of an asshole.

Thus, in one setting, chaos magic seemed to entail both a specific ethos and a technique, whereas in the other, it mainly designated a technique compatible with a variety of ethos.  Naturally then, if you can have Heathen-chaos-magicians and Hedgewitch-chaos-magicians, you can have Satanist-chaos-magicians, and there I was. ;) 

It’s also probably worth noting that among the North Americans I knew, references to Cthulhu were always “part of the joke,” vs. in the UK, I’d say there were some contexts in which Lovecraft was taken light-heartededly and some contexts in which the notion of genuine “dark” encounters with entities of that nature did rear its head.  For me personally, chaos magic always had more of the “dark” than the “light” in it, so for this reason too, I gravitated toward it much more in the British context vs. the more time has passed since my MA, the more overtly I have drifted back toward explicitly Satanist territory.

The appeal

The key appeal of chaos magic for me was the notion that all aspects of the human condition can be utilized toward the purposes of magic, i.e. discernment of unseen spiritual realities and manipulation of these in order to bring about change in accord with will – more specifically, that contemporary culture, technology and “the new” are not somehow inherently “unmagical” in comparison to traditional culture, nature and “the old.” 

I have long been self-aware about how, as a near-sighted asthmatic (and now, for that matter, celiac) with a very non-outdoorsy upbringing, I did not feel any kind of “closeness” with “nature.”  And as I have gotten older, I have also increasingly felt at odds with anything that resembles “tradition” because it so often entails assumptions about gender roles that don’t speak to my own experience and/or expectations about “looking to your roots” that are somewhat awkward for a biracial person.  This then left me in a position where there were certain things I liked about Wicca and Neopaganism, but I never really felt it was “for me” as far as being able to identify with those religions.

On the other hand, if one is both of an urban bent that appreciates technology, and hybrid in terms of one’s identities, the great thing about chaos magic is that you can just go explore and invent and figure out what works for you personally – i.e. you can elevate fictional entities to godhood if that’s what speaks to you; you can observe how divination’s most requisite feature is an element of randomization and posit that you ought then to be able to interpret your iPod shuffle results the way some people interpret runes and tarot (obviously in the context of ritual and intention); you can borrow from different cultures and construct something that reflects your own complexities instead of being stuck feeling “left outside” of everything (here’s that appropriation can-of-worms again); etc.

In other words, it’s fun and fulfilling inasmuch as it lets you proceed on your own instincts.  Additionally, I think there is a strong affinity of mentality between the effective chaos magician and the effective Satanist, inasmuch as both have the attitude of “this is all up to me, without any external authority, therefore I have to be ruthlessly honest with myself about my progress as well as disciplined in my practice if I want to actually improve.”  Yes, that attitude is to some extent present among all individual “spiritual” practitioners, but in my view, less strongly so in others than in these specific two cases, inasmuch as others fall back upon appeals to spirit guidance, ancient ways, supposed-universality of principles, and other elements beyond just one’s own experiences & results.

The reservations

Probably the biggest reservation I have about chaos magic pertains to the famous saying that “nothing is true, everything is permitted.” 

It is my impression that, for many people who put forward this saying, the underlying reality of the world (chaos) is conceptualized as a blank slate that different worldviews draw different things on; the chaos magician, realizing this, is then potentially empowered to draw whatever they like on there.

I do not myself conceive of chaos in this way.  To me, chaos is less like a blank slate than a really blurry out-of-focus picture (you may notice I did mention above being nearsighted ;)) that no one has the perfect lens to bring into full focus (because Lovecraftian madness would result) vs. everyone uses different lenses and thus sees different things in better/worse focus.  Unlike the blank slate though, here there is something there, and if you persist in using lenses that do not register certain key characteristics that it has, you are missing things that may bite you in the ass. 

Notice then that, according to the “typical” chaos magic view, you cannot really compare worldviews beyond just their being different/equal.  Vs. according to my view, yes there is an element of relativism re: no one is one-hundred percent “right,” but I do think some worldviews fare better than others at dealing honestly with a larger percentage of “reality, and “better/worse” here can be determined via empirical investigation, whether that means consulting science (regarding material matters) or consulting the experience of the individual (regarding matters of meaningfulness) or etc.  This then is plainly not “nothing is true, everything is permitted” – the Satanist reserves the right to be able to put forward critical claims that in some respects, society is deluded, people lie to themselves, etc.

I have other reservations about chaos magic, but I think fundamentally they all go back to this one and also tie in to what I said in my previous entry about Satanism about dark spiritual realities.  You might say on that front that I am not much of a “chaos as Eris” chaos magician vs. much more of a “chaos as Azathoth” chaos magician – i.e. no less of a chaos magician for that, but of the view that at least for me, a darker, more monstrous image of chaos better “fits reality” than certain cutesy, flippant-sounding characterizations I’ve occasionally encountered within the chaos magic context.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Obligatory "I'm a Satanist" post

Anyone who’s known me for awhile has likely noticed that every time I start blogging anew, there will at some point early-on be an entry about how I’m a Satanist and what exactly that means.  Well, here’s that entry for this time around. 

Why retread that ground yet again?  Because i) I find it useful to re-articulate this stuff to myself once in awhile; ii) it seems all the more worth unpacking given references to it in my previous entry (i.e. if you came here looking for the crazy "black metal convinced me to NOT kill myself" story, that's the link you're looking for); and iii) my understanding of the religion actually has changed in some details over the last few years.

Anyway, though: I was first exposed to LaVeyan Satanism when I was sixteen, i.e. like, a quarter-of-a-century ago now, which is kind of insane to think about. 

I would not say Satanism was something I hugely focused on during my early twenties, but from about 2003 onward (that being when I went to grad school at a university that had a pagan/occult student society), I began exploring that side of things much more explicitly and purposefully.  This has intensified further in recent years until the point where, from about 2013 onward, I was fairly “out” about it even at my workplace, inasmuch as I was by then teaching classes in which the subject was coming up.

Now, while these days I’d still say I am strongly influenced by LaVeyan Satanism, what I actually believe and practice has increasingly deviated from that denomination, enough that I gravitate toward the term “heterodox Satanist,” as I am not in wholesale agreement with any of the other denominations either.  This is hairsplitting though, vs. as a starting point, here’s what I see as a common core shared by pretty much everything that credibly calls itself “Satanism”:

  1. A critical, adversarial stance toward authorities and institutions that dominate society, especially inasmuch as said authorities and institutions make appeals to dogmas that the Satanist, by light of their own reason, reflection and experience, does not find intellectually convincing, emotionally satisfying and/or conducive to their own flourishing.

  2. A dedication to the pursuit of knowledge via the exercise of one’s own intellect and, in connection with this, a life of constant introspection, resulting in a high level of self-awareness regarding what one really wants, why, to what extent one is succeeding at attaining it, etc. – as per Socrates, “the unexamined life is not worth living.”

  3. Appreciation for the carnal world in the form of sensual and aesthetic experiences, embrace of these experiences as an important part of the human condition, and awareness of how otherworldly religiosity tends to reject such experiences, thereby promoting a diminished quality of life in which human beings are alienated from themselves – hence the Satanist being the enemy of that kind of religiosity.

  4. Strong emphasis on such concepts as liberty, sovereignty and the strong will of the individual; it is not that one is never willing to ‘play ball’ with other people or with society (though some Satanists are like that) but rather that one ultimately puts oneself first and is thus resolutely unwilling to act against one’s own interests for the sake of others that one feels no adequately-justified obligations toward.  Most Satanists additionally understand that a natural consequence of this stance is that you are going to be labeled the “bad guy” at some point, and that from the perspective of those doing the labeling, you are the “bad guy."

  5. A recognition that, inasmuch as living a successful life as a Satanist requires intelligence, self-awareness, discipline, autonomy, etc., it is just a fact of life that not everyone is cut out to be one, at least not by default.  Differences in how they see the implications of this are what I see as a key distinguisher of Satanic denominations: there are optimists who think people can be educated and political moves made to create a more ‘Satanic’ society, there are pessimists who think society will always be ‘a herd’ and hence seek only to carve out a life for themselves that is as separate from stifling social mores as possible, and there are nihilists who actively strive toward the destruction of society.  In all cases though, some degree of alienation from society is a typical ingredient of Satanism, as a big part of the point of adopting the label is that you are basically saying to society “your idea of good sucks so much that I’d rather side with the Devil.”

  6. Rejection of “feel good” metaphysical claims – e.g. a benevolent personal God, “the universe is fundamentally made of love,” etc. – on the basis that such notions are not in accord with the harsh realities of life.  Satanists may run the whole range from atheistic materialists at one extreme to “dark” pagan polytheists at the other, but the implication then of that spectrum as a whole is “maybe there is nothing beyond the physical, or maybe there is a dark spiritual something that should not be assumed be in a caring relationship with humanity, but there is definitely NOT some lovey-dovey, anthropocentrically-conceived, inherently-good-thing that ensures justice in the universe and magically ‘makes it all okay in the end.’”

OK, so with all that said, the question that typically arises is “but why call that Satanism instead of just calling it humanism?” 

The short answer is “because the mythology of Satan vividly illustrates all of these themes.”

The longer answer is:

  1. Satan rebelled against God, and thereby models the criticism and rejection of irrational, tyrannical authorities who harbor attitudes such as “the way I’m running things is the best way and you are not allowed to question that” (as per the Devil’s rebellion in Christianity) or “this thing I made is awesome simply because I made it and you are not allowed to think otherwise” (as per Iblees’ rebellion in Islam).

  2. Satan encouraged Adam & Eve to eat the fruit of knowledge, and though that led to punishment by God, one cannot help observing that it seems like a bit of a waste of potential for human beings to have been expected to just remain innocent children in a garden forever.

  3. Satan is associated with temptation, whether that means fulfillment of primary earthly needs (“turn these stones into bread”), attainment of social power and influence (“all the kingdoms of the world if you bow down to me”) or self-aggrandizement via special talents (“throw yourself off this roof and angels will catch you – everyone will be very impressed!”).  One could argue that these things can be good at least in moderation, vs. absolute ascetic rejection of these things means a life of dissatisfaction, disempowerment and “hiding one’s own light” – that’s all fine if you’re a totally God-oriented person such as Christ, but is it realistic for anyone else?

  4. In Paradise Lost, some of Satan’s most famous quotes include “The mind is its own place, can in itself make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven” and “Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven.”  i.e. defeat is not a cause for despair, but rather an opportunity to make one’s own way and thereby rise to even greater eminence. There are also lines elsewhere in the poem indicating that this character knows he is “the bad guy” (e.g. “Evil, be thou my good”), yet many readers of the poem nowadays nonetheless find something compelling about his steadfast dedication to his chosen cause, even if it is “evil.”

  5. Medieval folklore about the Devil portrays him as being served by witches, i.e. a pariah group who could be construed variously as using magic to make life better for their communities, as simply outcasts rejected by the society around them, or as involved in an organized conspiracy to promote evil.  Note, then, that the Neopagan interpretation of this history conceptualizes witches optimistically, the secular interpretation is more pessimistic, and the traditional Christian view of witches portrays them as having nihilistic intentions.

  6. By questioning God about whether Job was truly good or not, Satan created a situation in which God wound up coming across as a giant asshole who destroys his own follower’s life and puts him through hell for no really good reason.  The story’s ending can be read as God himself admitting that he’s not wholly good while asserting that humans don’t get to complain about it.  Satan’s actions thus initiate a series of events by which a rather dark spiritual reality is revealed.

Obviously countless exegetical and historical objections can be raised against all of this – it self-evidently a very selective interpretation.  But the point is that in these narratives, the Satanist sees elements that speak to them, and in what might itself be said to be a Satanic gesture, dares then to appropriate whatever they find useful here in creating a meaningful and vivid worldview for themselves. (And yes, I will definitely return to the can-of-worms that this specific phrasing opens up in a later entry…)

As this predictably got long quickly, I’ll finish for now with a few summary-thoughts about where I’m at with the spiritual side of things these days:

  • As far as the values and ethos associated with Satanism, I don’t think I have changed that much over time – rather, I’ve just gotten better at more thoroughly articulating the implications and consequences of what I see as the fundamental principles.

  • LaVey’s Satanic Bible describes ritual practices, but I’m under the impression that most LaVeyans don’t bother, and the other most-visible denomination (Satanic Temple) does not have an esoteric component at all; I am thus something of an outlier inasmuch as for me, the “magical” or “religious” component was key from the start, and has always remained such.

  • When it comes to the beliefs and practices that differentiate me from other Satanists, I figure the two decisive drivers are: i) my broad knowledge of mythology, world religions, esoteric practices and etc. via my educational background; and ii) my having in recent years gotten obsessed with certain aspects of black metal.  Combine these factors with the sensibility of chaos magic (click here for brief explanation if you don’t know what this is), and the result is a “personal mythology” and “magic system” with some significant differences from that typically associated with LaVeyan Satanism.

  • Despite my religious idiosyncrasies, and my growing impression that they likely make me closer to what is technically known as Luciferianism than Satanism, I have long stuck with the latter terminology because inasmuch as “Satan” means “accuser/adversary,” this to me is the most appropriate general term for the religious stance that is against what basically every other religion says.  Vs. I tend to use other diabolic names in invocation of specific sub-parts of the religion, e.g. in the case of Lucifer, the pursuit of knowledge in particular.

I’m not 100% sure yet how explicit I will ultimately want to get on here about my, as Ihsahn in Emperor once put it, pretentious secrets. ;)  But “articulating the implications and consequences of what I see as the fundamental principles” – with regard to a few political matters on my mind, but also with regard to other topics – is most definitely something I will be getting into more in future entries as far as Satanism goes.