DON’T PASS ME BY: THE STORY OF A SATANIC PASSOVER
Passover, which began Wednesday, is a solemn occasion for many. And I guess it was for me too, although as you can imagine for very different reasons.
As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, while Satanic Bay Area prides itself on our group rituals (including our upcoming Virtual Black Mass on Beltane), I only rarely do personal rituals, and under ordinary circumstances I never talk about them.
But of course these are far from ordinary circumstances. So I’ll tell you what I did Wednesday night, but first I’ll tell you why.
Passover of course is a much older tradition than Easter as we know it, although perhaps not as old as the origins of the word “Easter.” Being part of what academic types term a “new religion” myself, I don’t specialize in interfaith pissing matches about who was first for anything.
According to one of America’s most frequently cited religious texts–the 1956 Academy Award winner The Ten Commandments–the Passover observation dates to the end of the captivity in Egypt:
“Take of the blood of the lamb and strike it on the two side posts and on the upper door post of the houses, wherein they shall eat it. They shall eat the flesh in that night, roast with fire, and unleavened bread; and with bitter herbs.
“For I will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you.”
This procedure does not come CDC recommended. But then what does these days?
In reality of course there’s no historical evidence for the supposed Egyptian captivity. Hebrew cultural historian Elon Gilad wrote in Haaretz in 2014 that “the holiday we know today began as two distinct ones, one for nomadic herders and one for farmers,” and “neither involved Egypt.”
Gilad says the Israelites of 3,000 years ago practiced springtime rites only vaguely similar to the current Passover tradition, with the sacrifice of a lamb meant “to protect their flocks and families from the dangers” of the year ahead.
The modern Jewish holy day, as Time’s Sarah Gray observes, still “incorporates themes of springtime,” but more importantly “a Jewish homeland, family, remembrance of Jewish history, social justice, and freedom”–more modern values for a more modern tradition.
One of the more transparently bad-faith arguments Satanists encounter from anonymous Twitter critics is that, while many Satanists will protest Christian fundamentalist hegemony with word, deed, and ceremony, allegedly we are “afraid” to similarly criticize other Abrahamic practices like Judaism.
The reality of course is just that there is no cultural Jewish hegemony in the US to challenge, which is why specifically anti-Jewish sentiment is confined to dudes who have this exact haircut and two different copies of The Fourth Turning they’ve never finished reading.
Believe it or not (oh who are we kidding, you’ll believe it), the pre-medieval blood libel myth that the traditional Passover meals employ blood from ritual human sacrifice survives in the dumbest corners of the Internet to this day.
All that said, I will admit that I’ve had a nearly lifelong anti-Passover agenda. Not about the wine or the matzo or the telling–but about the Passover myth itself, as related in Exodus and the criminally underrated 1998 animated musical The Prince of Egypt. (Two sources that I assume are equally prominent in American culture today.)
“And it came to pass that at midnight the lord smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the firstborn of the captive that was in the dungeon.”
Really god, dungeon guy didn’t have enough problems already? This is textbook equality vs equity tension in action.
As soon as I was old enough to understand this story I objected to it on moral grounds. After all, it wasn’t the firstborn’s fault that their tyrannical unelected head of state didn’t want to negotiate the release of his unpaid workforce. This tale of divine mass slaughter offended my ideas about personal agency.
My mother–bless her heart–struggled to defend the merits of the narrative. Not that she was particularly invested in Passover, or even in the Bible–but she perhaps felt obligated to help me make sense of the world.
I wouldn’t have to worry about things like that, she told me, because our house would have been one marked for death to pass by (our non-Judaism notwithstanding I guess). As you can imagine, I replied that this was not the point, and the conversation went downhill from there.
Mom of course could hardly be expected to articulate what even few trained theologians seem to want to admit: that individual human lives simply don’t matter in these sorts of faith myths or in the obvious implications of their practiced theology.
The blood on the door is one of several Bible tales of god setting a mark or seal on persons he intends to shelter. In both Ezekiel 9 and Revelation 7 it’s on the forehead. This gesture in effect creates a sort of ultimate cosmic in-group.
To be honest, even if I had grown up in a Passover family, I don’t think I’d have liked the idea of being specially singled out for such privileges. The ramifications make me queasy.
So on Wednesday night I spent a moment at my altar, where I took the chalice that we’ve used in countless past Satanic rituals and filled it with water.
Then, firmly but without a lot of fuss, I wiped my forehead. After that, to the presumed mystification of any spying neighbors, I took a second to wipe down the door frame to my apartment too.
I cannot scrub away my childhood consternation at the unfairness of the world so easily. But I don’t have to keep putting up with it either.