THE LUCIFER OF LIEGE AND THE REASON PEOPLE LOVE SATAN
Behind the pulpit at St. Paul’s Cathedral in Belgium you’ll find a beautiful statue, the Lucifer of Liege. And with it, the secret of why atheistic Satanists love Satan.
Last week we talked about why, contrary to the unsolicited advice most Satanists get, there’s little downside to publicly identifying with the devil, despite the taboo around it. After all, the whole reason the myth of Satan exists is to tar people like us anyway.
But that leaves an important question dangling: What’s the appeal?
Satan does represent personal liberty, rational and scientific insight, and defiance in the face of arbitrary authority. Those are good reasons.
But we could invent new symbols for those things if we wanted to, sans the sometimes weird associations with other religions. But evidently, nobody wants to. And to understand why, go to St Paul‘s.
The 1848 sculpture by Guillaume Geefs is technically titled The Genius of Evil. But to most people it’s the Lucifer of Liege, or just Lucifer.
The really interesting thing is that it wasn’t the first Satan statue this cathedral commissioned.
Geefs’ younger brother Joseph sculpted St Paul’s first Lucifer. It’s very similar: a beautiful young man with bat wings, a ripped torso, and fabulous hair.
But church fathers found such a tranquil image of the devil inappropriate. As the Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Belgium observes:
“The Genius of Evil illustrates the attraction to the dark side. Far from instilling revulsion, its chiropteran wings form a casing that enhances the beauty of a young body.”
So they had the other Geefs make a new Lucifer, very similar but less sublime. In the final statue, Satan looks distressed, he’s in chains, and he’s surrounded by symbols like a tumbled apple and a broken scepter, just in case anyone somehow missed the point.
The church liked the vibe of this secondary Satan better. It suited their rhetorical ends more than the previous edifice and its “I’m too good for this shit anyway” attitude.
But the real kick in the ass is: It didn’t matter. The second statue is just as alluring, and incites just as much sympathy. Indeed, its pathos improves its appeal; “tortured but beautiful” Atlas Obscura calls the revision.
Ugly Satan up if you want to, but people will remain engrossed. Because he’s easy to relate to. He’s humanlike. The Lucifer of Liège is attractive in part because it has an unmistakably personal emotional center. His distress invites our sympathy.
When ancient theologians needed a biography for the devil, they made him god’s rebellious favored creation, who now live in sin.
Notably, this is the exact profile they previously pinned on humanity at large. We‘re the devil‘s sequel. The myth of Satan harmonizes with the human experience.
God, on the other hand, is depicted as pointedly and intentionally unhuman. In the Gospels, when Jesus smacks down his right-hand man Peter, he declares:
“Get behind me, Satan! You are thinking not about the things of God but the things of humans.”
Yes, human things are Satan’s things. They can’t make it any more plain than that.
And that’s why the devil is eternally popular, why the Lucifer of Liege will always be beautiful, and why Satanists can’t help but be Satanists. It’s all about us. And how can we not want to love ourselves?