NOT-SO CROSS WORDS ABOUT INVERTED CROSSES
So, is an inverted cross a Satanic symbol, or a Catholic one?
Technically the answer is both, although these days it’s hard to imagine almost anybody waving one around in a non-Satanic context. Because there’s borrowing trouble, and then there’s going into debt for it.
It’s also not particularly important, since the hours you spend arguing about this could instead be spent doing fucking anything else.
But I did go on about the importance of semantics in Satanism a few weeks ago. And I realized very recently that the answer might matter more than I realized to some people. So let’s put a little work into this and see if we can get a few wires uncrossed.
A couple weeks ago I bought a new altar piece, a 12-inch tall crucifix from Ebros Gifts with the figure of Baphomet suspended upside down on it. I would call it quite handsome, definitely worth $40 and going to Hell someday (which according to the receipt was the full market price).
But after sharing the image on Instagram, one comment asked, “Why is Baphomet on the Cross of St. Peter?”
This is kind of like asking Michael Jackson where his other glove is at. But fair point, that is what some people call that symbol, assuming we still stretch the definition of “people” to include Catholics.
“The church has used the upside down cross (without a corpus, so not a crucifix) to designate St. Peter” for centuries, according to a slightly defensive 2014 blog from the slightedly defensive Catholic apologist group Catholic Answers.
“The Pope, being the successor of Peter, employs the symbol of the upside down cross as a symbolic reminder of St. Peter’s martyrdom,” they say.
This in accordance with a myth related by fourth century bishop and St. Peter posse party organizer Eusebius of Caesarea, whose Ecclesiastical History says that Peter “having come to Rome, was crucified head-downwards, for he had requested that he might suffer in this way.”
This story probably never happened, and odds are Eusebius was just hoping he could find another crucifixion story to turn into an awkward anti-Semitic diatribe, like Alex Jones after a couple beers or Stephen Molyneux after no beers, because that was just his thing.
Nevertheless the story stuck. So when did we start calling an inverted cross a Satan thing? Honestly, I’m still not sure.
It might have come up because of Eugene Vintras, a fascinating 19th century French crackpot who if living today would probably make a killing selling silver nitrate coronavirus scam cures but had to settle for just being the messiah instead.
Per History Answers, Vintras paraded around Paris doing what he said were miracles and “receiving messages from the Virgin Mary and Archangel Michael,” which I like to think he received via the old Big Giant Head schtick from Third Rock From the Sun.
This must have been more convincing than it sounds, because he attracted no small number of followers. Mind you before this he was a foreman at a cardboard box factory, which you’d have to imagine made him very popular with friends who were in the middle of moving but presumably garnered nowhere near this volume of acclaim.
Anyway, he adopted an upside cross as his symbol, claiming it represented the “Reign of Love,” which sounds like a creeper move but fine. Naturally his enemies smeared him as a Satanist, because this was 19th century Paris and if you put too much butter on your croissant you were probably some kind of Satanist or another.
By the 20th century it seems the inverted cross was fixed in most people’s minds as a Satanic symbol, although I’m still not sure why. And usually I don’t care, but lately I’ve been warming up to the topic.
A few weeks ago I read criminologist Henry Rhodes’ 1954 book The Satanic Mass, purporting to report the history of secret Satanism in the Catholic church.
Except not really, because Rhodes cops on page one that the case for any such thing is spectral and based on “fragmentary hearsay evidence and small clues,” which is the historian’s equivalent of, “It must have slipped off by accident baby, honestly.”
Rhodes’ argument is that historical Satanists labored under “the urgent need at all times for secrecy,” so they could not create documents, rituals, and religious artifacts of their own for us to find later.
Rather, Satanic priests would perform unholy rites right in church by just changing a few regular prayers and liturgies on the sly “without any of the congregation except the Satanically initiated being aware.”
Pretty thin story. I think I’ve read letters to Penthouse with more substance. That reference dated me about a million years and turned my blood to dust, but actually I never really read Penthouse, so I should have a few minutes of life clinging to my bones to finish this blog with.
Anyway, this bullshit story DID get me thinking: Today there really are lots of Satanists who have to keep their religion quiet.
Maybe it’s not safe for them to practice openly. Maybe they think people in their lives won’t understand. Maybe they don’t even understand yet and are still coming to terms with what words like “Satanism” mean to them. (Been there.)
For them, perhaps, there’s a kind of built-in security in a symbol like the inverted cross. It’s easy to disguise: Just turn it the other way and you’re safe. Only you know its true intent. Mind you I don’t know if anybody actually does this, but it’s kind of a nice idea.
On the other hand, I’m very lucky that I have the privilege of being largely very open about my religious life. I’m fortunate to have a community of supportive Satanist friends who help me learn and grow, and to live in a region where, if anything, Satanism seems almost blase to most of the general public.
So I can slap a goat on an inverted cross without fear. Not everyone is so lucky, so maybe for their sake the rest of us can go an extra step now and then, the way they probably wish they could.
And that’s why Baphomet is on the Cross of St. Peter.