BLACK MASS HYSTERIA: A NON-HISTORY OF SATANIC RITUAL
In December, Satanic Bay Area hosted our biggest and most successful public Black Mass yet. And on the latest episode of our Black Mass Appeal podcast we discussed Satanic rituals great and small with Satanic Philadelphia’s Braden Rhys.
Even just basic ritual observation can be a fraught affair. Before Satanic Philadelphia’s own 2018 Black Mass, 33,000 Catholic fascists with American TFP signed a petition trying to run them out of town.
It didn’t work, mainly because if petitioning couldn’t save the McRib then what hope have we left in the world?
If anything, reactionary groups like American TFP should be glad that Black Masses happen. After all, their forebears spent centuries trying to wish such things into existence.
Now that it’s all finally paid off, they get to indulge in their own favorite ritual: self-inflicted martyrdom.
Fear of subversive rites and devilish masses may have been baked into Christian tradition from the very beginning.
In his 1967 occult primer The Black Arts, British historian Richard Cavendish wrote, “As early as the second century AD, St Irenaeus accused the Gnostic teacher Marcus of perversions of the mass to worship a deity other than the Christian god.”
In their 2008 book Hidden Intercourse, professors Jeffrey Kripal and Wouter Hanegraaff write that the second-century Borborites faced persecution in part because they may have used blood and semen in “Eucharistic-style rites.”
To be honest, the thing that bothers me most about that is that this predated the accepted wisdom of washing your hands first.
In any case, a dark and potent fear of heathens doing heathenish things at the altar took root early and nobody’s ever really weeded it out.
In her Encyclopedia of Magic & Alchemy, Rosemary Gulley notes that the term “Black Mass” does not appear in the charges against the Knights Templar in 1307, despite the accusations–“spitting and trampling on the cross and worshiping the devil in the shape of a black cat,” among other things–clearly fitting the bill.
But the term was in vogue by 1440 when confessed French serial killer and knight Gilles de Rais hanged for allegedly murdering children in what Kings College historian Brian Pavlic calls “heretical perversions of the Christian liturgy” where “a priest conducted the Black Mass” featuring “bloodletting, killing, and sex.”
I say “allegedly,” even though de Rais’ dead ass is hardly going to come out of his urn and sue me for libel. But as with the Templars of the previous century it’s likely the charges were mostly fiction, essentially a medieval “SVU” sweeps episode.
Jean Bodin’s 1580 book Demon Madness of Witches (which I’m pretty sure is also the title of at least two Coven EPs) claimed that Queen Regent of France Catherine de Medici conducted murderous Black Mass rites at court.
Of course Bodin also thought that wars cause eclipses, so maybe the communion wine was particularly strong in that province.
Wonderfully weird 19th century historian Jules Michelet believed that medieval peasants celebrated secret Black Masses as a holdover from paganism, and a way to stick it to the man.
“The Black Mass is the redemption of Eve from the curse Christianity laid on her,” he wrote in 1862. “At the Witches’ Sabbath woman fulfils every office, and is she not the very god of the sacrifice as well?”
Witch hunting oddball Montague Summers claimed to have attended a real 20th century Black Mass. So did novelist JK Huysmans, whose scandalous Las Bas featured devil worshipers furiously copulating atop piles of consecrated communion wafers, which again seems queasily unhygienic and why can’t I stop thinking about that?
The thing is, probably none of this shit ever really happened. But there’s a Schrodinger quality to witch hunts, in which myth and delusion make the charges simultaneously real and unreal, much like my hairline these days.
Fear of the Black Mass persists today. In 2014, Harvard ran the Satanic Temple off campus before a planned Black Mass, thus giving them the late Walpurgis gift of free and easy PR.
“The Black Mass had historical origins as a means of denigrating the Catholic Church,” Harvard President Drew Faust–yes, really–wrote in an unsuccessful attempt to mollify right-wing whiners.
Except of course this isn’t true. As we’ve seen, the genesis of the Black Mass was Catholic persecutions of other sects. Which later morphed into a wild-eyed delusion that they were being persecuted by hidden heretics in their own ranks.
I guess that arc is just begging for closer examination, but psychoanalyzing the Roman Catholic Church is like washing your feet with your socks on. Slightly less work than the usual endeavor, but also far less productive.
For my part, I feel good about the work we’ve done. Contrary to what pampered attention seekers of theocratic faiths believe, we direct Satanic rituals at ourselves, not them.
But if they want to contend that we’re “denigrating” their centuries of institutional abuse, murder, torture, persecution, paranoia, witch hunting, and hysteria at the same time, well, that’s fine too.
Try though I might, I cannot find the sin in such a thing.