Tag: The Devil

A Friend of the Devil

The story of a musical genius, made at a crossroads one night.

Black road long and I drove and drove
I came upon a crossroad
The night was hot and black
I see Robert Johnson
With a ten dollar guitar strapped to his back
Lookin’ for a tune

Well here comes Lucifer
With his canon law
And a hundred black babies runnin’ from his genocidal jaw
He got the real killer groove
Robert Johnson and the devil man
Don’t know who’s gonna rip off who.

Nick Cave – Higgs Boson Blues
The story of Robert Johnson is vague. It is built on rumors, half-truths, fading memories and flat-out lies. It is the story of a black musician in white-supremacist America. It is the story of Delta Blues. It is a story fueled with envy, hatred, passion, genius and awe. But above all, it is a story of inner and outer demons.
Born 1911 in Hazelhurst, Mississippi to relatively prosperous parents, Robert Johnson was a calm and shy young boy, noted for playing the harmonica and the jaw harp, just like so many other African Americans of the time. The boy had a keen interest in music and the strong determination to one day become more than that. In the American South, there were only so many things that a young black adult was able to do and being a musician was one of them. After Johnson married his first wife, Virginia Travis, at the age of 18 – she was 16 at the time – he became more and more determined to turn his passion for music into their means of livelihood. His young wife and her parents were shocked that an educated black man like Johnson would not use his good fortune and favorable position to strive for a reputable job. When Virginia died during childbirth, shortly after their wedding, relatives of the young girl interpreted her death as a divine punishment for Johnson’s decision to choose his music career over a settled life as family father and for singing non-religious songs. Doing so amounted to selling his soul to the devil, they thought. But to young Robert, the loss meant that he only had one love left in his life: music.
In 1930, legendary blues guitarist Son House came to the Mississippi delta. Johnson went to see him perform and was taken aback by the raw energy and the power of Son’s music. Son played music that had more to it than rhythm: he played songs that expressed the harsh living conditions and the daily struggles the suppressed black community faced in this part of the United States. Johnson realized, that he could not express these emotions with the harp or the harmonica, but that the guitar was the musical instrument most apt to set his feelings to a tune. Not long after, Johnson began traveling around his hometown Robinsonville with a cheap guitar strapped to his back. But unfortunately, as Son House recalled in interviews about the young Johnson much later, he did not appear to be very talented on the 6-string instrument and would literally scare off audiences. “They would come out and say ‘Why don’t y’all go in there and get that guitar from that boy?’”, Son remembers.

A genius in the making

Making barely enough money to get by, Johnson left the scene around Robinsonville and relocated to the nearby town of Hazelhurst where he – a nobody – played in taverns, on street corners and during Saturday night dances. During one of these performances, he became acquainted with Isaiah “Ike” Zinnerman, a well-renowned blues guitarist who would change Johnson’s life.
As with most of Johnson’s life story, the details surrounding their first encounter and their following meetings are vague at best. Most accounts were passed on over generations, from mouth to mouth, but were never properly documented or verified. What we know today, is that Zinnerman was famous not only for his guitar skills but also the way he acquired them. Rumor had it, that Zinnerman learned to play the guitar supernaturally, by visiting local cemeteries at night and strumming tunes on top of graveyards. Most chroniclers of Johnson’s life are positive, that Zinnerman was Johnson’s tutor and helped him to perfect his playing. How he did that, remains a topic of much speculation and the source of the myth that became almost synonymous with Robert Johnson himself: his deal with the devil.
There are many accounts of a dark night – some place it in a hot summer, others in a stormy winter – in which Robert Johnson went to a crossroads, the precise location of which is still widely debated, to meet a tall, dark man who would wait for him at midnight to tune his guitar and thereby bestow upon him superhuman guitar skills in return for his soul. The first one of these accounts goes back to Tommy Johnson, potentially a distant cousin of Robert and a Delta blues musician himself. Apparently Zinnerman also made a pact with the devil and told an ambitious Robert Johnson that this was the only way he could master the instrument like his role models Son House and Willie Brown did. Other accounts claim that Johnson heard of the deal after one of his gigs. Most of the accounts, however, lack precision or conflict with others. The only indisputable thing is that something happened in Hazelhurst. That when Robert Johnson returned to his hometown Robinsonville, shortly after having left as an embarrassingly untalented guitarist, he returned as the musician that would later become the unrivaled king of delta blues.
Johnson’s guitar playing had improved so drastically over such a short time that many of his contemporaries thought black magic or some other supernatural power was at work. To musicians like Son House, it seemed abnormal that the guy they had laughed about only two years ago would now outplay them. Johnson’s hard-drinking and womanizing lifestyle, paired with his dirty-sounding and energetic music, further boosted his reputation as a musical daredevil. His play was too perfect, too different, to be man-made. Even decades later, musicians listening to his recordings would marvel in awe at his skills. Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards famously asked “Who’s the second guy playing?” when he first listened to the king of delta blues, disbelieving that one man could play both chords and riffs like Johnson did. At the time, the idea, that pure ambition and discipline were Johnson’s formula for success, seemed preposterous. There had to be more.

A devilish pact

The history books are filled with stories of people making deals with the devil and trading in their soul for power, money or success. Goethe’s Faust is likely the most prominent example but by no means the only one. It was rumored that the mother of the Italian violin virtuoso Niccolò Paganini sold her son’s soul to the devil in order for her son to become the world’s greatest violin player. Throughout Europe, there are many bridges that became known as “devil bridges” because people during the Middle Ages considered such constructions to be beyond human capabilities. It seems that in most cases when devil’s help has been added to a story, it was for human disbelief in human talent or achievement. The things that are too perfect, too flawless to be true, that almost exceed our imagination, are explained by the intervention of a product of our imagination: the dark lord. Religious beliefs tell us, that things have a god-given order. Religion tells us what is possible and what is not. Often, pious, bible-loving people do believe in the miracles of scripture, but consider man-made miracles simply implausible.
Especially in music, religious beliefs have a tradition of discrediting or accusing everything that does not appear to be in line with the imagined harmony of the universe. For example: during the Middle Ages, the tritone between C and F sharp became known as “diabolus in musica” (the devil in music). This tritone – a musical interval composed of three adjacent whole tones, sounded dissonant and was believed to summon the devil if played out loud. Centuries later, the tritone would become known as “the blue note” – a fundamental part of the “devilish” Jazz and Bebop of the 1940s.
In the case of Robert Johnson, as with Paganini, it’s fair to say that jealousy and malevolence lie at the heart of the devil legend. It was easier to believe that Johnson had acquired his skills by cheating rather than through talent. Johnson would travel the Mississippi delta, that wedge of land bordered by the waters of the Yazoo and Mississippi rivers, and a stronghold of Southern white supremacy, for the rest of his career as an itinerant musician, recording his landmark album King of the Delta Blues Singers that would secure him his status as musical genius decades later, when guitarists in the 1960s re-discovered his work and let themselves be influenced by it.
On August 16th 1938, aged just 27, Johnson died in Greenwood, Mississippi. The exact circumstances leading to his death remain as mysterious as the man himself. Some accounts have it, that he was stabbed by a jealous husband of a white woman that Johnson had been flirting with. Another version of the events has it that the husband poisoned him. Typical for his times, Johnson was buried in a homemade coffin provided by the county and laid to rest in an unknown grave. What remains is his music, which inspired so many later generations of musicians, and the myth of a man willing to do everything to achieve his life goals.
In Me and the Devil Blues, one of Johnson’s most famous songs, he sings: “Me and the Devil was walking side by side”. Maybe they still are – somewhere at a crossroads, somewhere in the Mississippi Delta.

"We are rational people"

The Devil brings out the best in us, says Magus Peter H. Gilmore, High Priest of the Church of Satan. But only, if we don’t believe in him.

Is Satanism evil?
Good and evil are subjective valuations, despite many religions claiming that their mythical deities authenticate these human judgments. The philosophy of Satanism is thus something you must judge by the standards you yourself use, whether self-evolved or adopted from some religion or philosophy. Satanism is intended as a tool to enhance the life of a person for whom it comes naturally, one who is by nature carnal, skeptical, pragmatic, materialistic. Our self-centered view, which requires personal responsibility for one’s successes and failures, may be too challenging for most. And our championing of liberty concurrent with responsibility frightens people who feel that they can’t control themselves unless forced to behave by laws constricting their actions. Satanists are boldly capable of embracing a social contract of civilized behavior by our own volition, rather than because of the supposed dictates of some legendary supernatural overlord. It is thus up to each person to decide whether Satanism may be beneficial or negative to themselves. Satanism is a good for we Satanists who can live up to its challenges, but those who fear liberty and self-control might regard it as evil. Those who wish to have hegemony over others certainly find our creed of self-determination to be contrary to their dictatorial ends.
There is widespread misconception that Satanists must necessarily worship the devil as a mythical entity or external deity. You write, that he is merely representative of ourselves. In what way?
Satan in Hebrew means the adversary, the accuser, the one who questions, and that symbolism is apt for Satanists who actively explore and evaluate the world around themselves, only accepting information that we decide to be credible. Satan has served to represent pride, liberation from oppression, and as an enabler of earthly joy. He has been depicted as an astute critic of society by many intellectuals and creators throughout history: Milton, Baudelaire, Twain, Carducci, and Byron amongst others. Since Satanists are atheists, Satan represents a magnified symbol of our selves and what we value: freedom, individualism, skepticism, pragmatism, carnality, creativity, self-improvement, and the pride we have for our personal accomplishments.
You claim that the devil only exists within ritual and that all religions are in the “show business”, but that you are the only one honest enough to admit it. Why is the ritual necessary?
In Satanism ritual is not necessary – it is an optional tool that many Satanists find beneficial, but not every Satanist employs ritual. It seems clear to us that rituals are common to our species in all cultures: they function as an extension of the conceptual consciousness of human animals. For us, ritual is self-transformational psychodrama, a means for releasing and purging obsessive emotions hindering our pursuit of joy. It might only be utilized by some Satanists on rare occasions. One acts as celebrant in one’s own rituals—we don’t have a professional priesthood in the Church of Satan.
The world’s organized religions work to impress their followers, often through elaborate religious structures and ceremonial actions. Their Gods are myths, so what they do is a sham meant to enthral their followers—a show. They convince them that their professional priesthoods are needed so that via attending rites, their followers might be favored now and in the fantasy of an afterlife. That’s certainly show business since it presents a fiction; gullible people are made to think they are getting something (a deity’s beneficence) which does not exist. Satanic ritual is not worship, rather it is a form of self-celebration. We understand that ritual is metaphor, what our founder Anton Szandor LaVey called an “intellectual decompression chamber,” a means for emotionalizing via symbolic actions that are therapeutic.

“Satan serves to inspire us”

If Satan is only a fabrication of the Satanist mind and Satanism is ultimately about oneself, why not just worship yourself without the proxy of a supernatural entity?Certainly one could do so, but where’s the fun in that? We are Satanists, rather than just atheists and secularists, because we are excited by the symbol of Satan as an external projection of the best of ourselves. It has an aesthetic aspect, this embracing of the resonant symbol of Satan, and that is what becomes the dividing line for many who share our secularism. Satan serves to inspire us. Other atheists find different sources of inspiration and symbols to stimulate themselves.
What is hell to you?
Hell in most mythologies is a place of punishment for the damned or a cold, dreary underworld. For me, such myths are interesting in how they serve to threaten the adherents of most religions into obedience. A Satanist would consider a situation to be hellish if it was something deeply unpleasant that could not be readily escaped. For myself, having to deal with those who lack intelligence and curiosity on a regular basis would be tedious enough, and certainly hellish if I was forced to do so for the majority of my precious time.
You write that every Satanist is an atheist and his own personal “God”. What then is the difference to regular atheists?
Atheism is a position stating the non-belief in any supernatural deities—nothing more. After that fundamental thought, an atheist must examine the surrounding universe and society of humans to determine what sort of course of action might be most suitable. If you’ve observed atheists in general, amongst them there is no major agreement on a necessary philosophy after the determination that gods are myths. Coming to terms with a definition of what is right for humans in general, once God is not part of the equation, presents many different avenues of thinking. There are many humanist atheists who deify society above the individual. They seek a “common good,” but few agree with each other regarding what that might be or how it could be attained via various forms of government, economy and social regulation.
Satanism begins with the self as primary in one’s life, so each Satanist is free to determine what is personally valuable and how to then move through society. In Satanism we are not attempting to present a philosophy for everyone. Our way of thinking is meant as a method to find a path of maximum satisfaction during our lives, regardless of the society in which we find ourselves. We are not trying to change the society, unless we decide that is a worthwhile endeavor. A Satanist might decide he wishes to sacrifice his time and even his life for others who live now or in times to come, but that decision must be his, un-coerced by others.
Is Satan, a concept so deeply rooted in religion, the best figurehead for an atheist community?
We Satanists do not see ourselves as part of any community, not even one of Satanists. Satan as a symbol of the material, of human desire fulfilled, has global cultural impact, arising initially from the world dominance of Christian imagery and literature. His legendary refusal to serve Yahweh works well as an exemplar for we who oppose the spiritual regardless of what culture might be its source.
A large portion of Satanists around the globe still believe in Satan as an anthropomorphic being and identify as theistic Satanists. Do you actively try to convince them otherwise?
We do not accept those who believe in Satan as being Satanists, regardless of what they call themselves. Christians supposedly believe in Satan, but the subset of Satan’s believers—essentially heretical Christians—who worship him are not very large from what I’ve seen. From my observations over decades the amount of people who self-identify as “theistic Satanists” is a small one. To us, the term “theistic Satanism” is an oxymoron, since we defined Satanism for the first time in history as a coherent philosophy and it is atheist. “Devil worship” or “demonolatry” is the more accurate term for such theistic people. Just as we wouldn’t try to teach a pig to sing, we don’t try to alter the thoughts of such persons—it would waste our time and annoy those who are comfortable living in their illogical fantasies.
How do you handle ritual abuse? How do you distance yourself from it?
Ritual abuse is not a frequent criminal activity, contrary to what was claimed during the “Satanic Panic” of the 1980s-90s. That it was ascribed to “Satanic cultists” back then has been debunked by American and European law enforcement agencies. Therapists who planted false memories in young subjects, due to their own twisted fantasies, have been sued for what was indeed an abuse of trust. During those hysterical times, I appeared on many talk shows to point out how such behavior is not congruent with Satanic philosophy. The Satanic Bible points out that children are to be cherished as they embrace their natural impulses before repressive religions condition them to do otherwise. Since Satanists are atheists, the idea that we’d sacrifice children or animals is senseless.
Only theists make sacrifices since they think such murders appease the supernatural entities they worship. Ancient pagans and jews sacrificed animals regularly. Today, we find that crime statistics indicate that Christians abuse their children and each other, at times in ritual, and they are being prosecuted for such atrocities. The widespread sexual abuse of children by the Roman Catholic Church’s priesthood has been their shame, and since its exposure they’ve paid much money as reparations to victims, though they’ve often protected the agents of abuse who are their clergy. Aside from this world’s largest Christian sect, small offshoots have been prosecuted for the torture and murder of their fellows, often in acts of purification or exorcism. But it is well-documented that ritual abuse by Satanists is non-existent. One must look to theists for those misdeeds.
You mentioned the “Satanic Panic“ of the 1980s and early 1990s, when people associated Satanism with violent rituals. Do you think that Satanism still suffers from that public stigma?
At this point, the talk show hosts who fanned the flames of that hysteria have apologized for promoting such lunacy. The wider public now has no belief in that mythology. Younger people have even forgotten that “The Satanic Panic” happened. Evangelical Christians were the source of that mythology and amongst their more radical sects there is still belief in such things, but most see them as freakish, and not a source of truthful data.
Satanism has reached a point where comedians have used accurate aspects of it for humor, since they tend to grasp that there’s been a shift in the public consciousness from believing in Satanists as being dangerous to now seeing them as having unusual, but not threatening, beliefs. Mike Judge’s Silicon Valley has a character who professes to following aspects of The Satanic Bible, and sketch comedy troops such as The Kids in the Hall as well as Mr. Show, by Bob Odenkirk and David Cross, had skits dealing with genuine aspects of our beliefs and aesthetics. Times have changed and our work towards educating not only the public but law enforcement – we consult for police and the FBI – has brought a basic understanding that we are not devil worshippers and not criminals. They’re also learning that not every Satanist listens to Metal music.

“Egoism is fundamental to Satanism”

Your church claims that “good is that which benefits me and promotes that which I hold in esteem. Evil is that which harms me and hinders that which I cherish.” Morality in that sense, does not seem to be bound to, or defined by a collective set of principles, but purely based on our own personal choices. Can that be good?
Yes, indeed that can be good, since Satanism is a rational philosophy which accepts a social contract of dealing equitably with our fellow humans. Morality is always subjective – it has been created by somebody, even if they claim it has been given to them by some mythical deity. It is what one chooses as the basis for morality that can make a difference. We see the Sharia law promulgated by Islam – a restrictive set of guidelines collectively held and enforced – and most who do not hold to that belief system find it unjust and inappropriate. The earliest forms of Christianity, like most theism-based moralities, defines any who are not adherents as tantamount to being inhuman and worthy of destruction, should they not convert. History shows us that such “collective” moralities can readily produce results leading to misery, oppression and genocide.
Satanism, since it demands self-responsibility and an equitable social order – live and let live being our goal – offers an approach wherein people would have the freedom to live within their chosen moralities so long as they don’t forcibly impose them on others. I suspect that this would be seen as a positive approach by many liberal-minded individuals.
Is egoism then more important than altruism?
We self-deify so egoism is fundamental to Satanism. We don’t expect others to adopt our perspective, as it is one of great personal responsibility. It comes naturally to those few with a carnal, rather than a spiritual, nature. We think the idea of sacrificing oneself for the good of others is something that must only come as a matter of personal choice; a Satanist can willingly make the decision to act in that fashion. Our philosophy places each of our selves as the sovereign center of a subjective hierarchy of values, and that does not mean that the goal of the Satanist is to crush everyone else. We are rational people, and we do not react in an automatic manner to the situations we encounter in our lives. People around us must earn our love and respect, as well as our disgust and contempt. We thus treat people as we would like to be treated upon first encounter, then, considering their response, we adjust our behavior accordingly.
We value principles supporting liberty and justice so some Satanists join the military in their nations of residence, so as to fight for such causes, perhaps even giving their lives in that pursuit. Satanists are also police officers or fire fighters, who risk and at times lose their lives performing the duties they’ve chosen to accept. Altruism, as an automatic sacrifice of oneself for others when one values others less than oneself, we observe to be a required duty imposed on many people who allow themselves to be subjected to authoritarianism, whether it be religious or political. No Satanist would accept being forced into such a position.
There are not too many shared rules or principles in Satanism, which is the basis of almost every other belief system. Does that make it more difficult to establish a sense of community?
We reject the idea that community is essential to Satanism. We understand that people with spiritual natures cannot find solace in our materialist world view, and we do not wish to convert them. However, we do not want them to force their ideas upon us, as we Satanists find their concepts to be unnatural. We thus advocate a secular, not a pluralist, government, based on reason and equity for all participants in the society. We do not advocate egalitarianism, the idea that all people are the same and should all have the same outcome in their lives despite different talents and desires to work towards success. We consider that, via a mutually agreed upon social contract, society should offer a level playing field from which we make our way towards success through developing our talents through discipline and hard work towards attaining desired goals. Each individual will have a unique course, based on ability and its application.
Is Satanism even meant to be a communal belief system?
Absolutely not. We do not have meetings, services or church buildings. Ritual is a tool that is personal, so Satanists who employ that practice create personalized spaces in their homes. They might at times include other people who are emotionally sympathetic to them in ritual, but since worship plays no role in Satanism, there is no need to gather in the way done by most other religions.
Are Satanists therefore the better “religious worshippers”?
Worship has no place in Satanism. Our philosophy seems best for those few people who naturally see themselves reflected in our literature. Regardless of whatever might be their culture of origin, their sexuality, or their social status, those who identify with Satanism as defined by the Church of Satan come to it of their own accord and find it to be the best tool for directing their lives towards positive results for themselves and those for whom they care.

“We have earned the right to defend our definition”

How open are members about their affiliation?
It depends upon the life situation of each member. We have thousands of members around the globe and many must keep their affiliation secret because of widespread prejudice and misunderstanding. Our members in creative fields like art and music can often be open. If what they express includes Satanic symbols and imagery it may limit their audience. But others, especially those who have succeeded in more popular art forms, often mask their membership. Our activist members typically are not open, especially if they run activist organizations that require major funding, since prejudice would hamper them achieving their goals and raising the required operational money. Our members who have prominent positions in government or institutions such as schools and universities also must stay closeted, for the most part.
That one is a Satanist can be a fact that may best be shared with a select few, those whom one can trust to not only understand, but to keep it as a secret. However, you’ll see on our website that we have a news feed and on that our members who are open about it display their doings. The Church of Satan is thus like an iceberg, with the smaller, public face being our open members, while the majority remain hidden beneath the surface, pursuing their desires without being hindered by other people who could be hostile.
Is Satanism in, for example, a Muslim country different than in a secular Western country?
Our members who reside in Muslim countries must keep their affiliation with Satanism strictly secret, otherwise they could be executed for being apostate. Even regular atheists are in danger since we’ve recently seen that Saudi Arabia has declared atheism to be a form of terrorism. Satanism is atheism-based, hence no Satanist in that country could be open.
The Church of Satan claims to be the only organization that represents Satanism. Is that not the same dogmatic or ideological stance you criticize in other religions?
No. What we oppose in other religions is their forcing their dogmas or ideologies upon others not interested in them. They are quite welcome to maintain their belief systems as they see fit. We do not consider them to be the truth, simply a human construct which may or may not be rationally consistant. Only someone who is part of one of those religions and wishes to change it would find dogmatism of ideology to be an issue. We are not their adherents, so such is none of our business. Defining a philosophy is a crucial task, for if it is nebulous, then people cannot find it worthy of consideration if they seek a consistent set of principles.
Before Anton LaVey began the Church of Satan in 1966 and codified the philosophy in The Satanic Bible in 1969, Satanism only existed as an accusation of heresy leveled by Christians at anyone they opposed, including their own adherents. The Church of Satan was first to define and widely promulgate Satanism as a belief system and thus our organization and literature are the foundations of Satanism worldwide. We have earned the right to defend our definition, particularly since it is the only coherent, well-developed philosophy using that name.
If one worships Lucifer or The Devil or Satan, one is practicing devil worship or demonolatry, not Satanism. More recently there have been people calling themselves “Luciferians” who have beliefs taking elements from Satanism, Chaos Magic, Thelema, Vampirism, and other “Left Hand Path” occult systems. These concepts are blended in a loose manner so that followers might believe in a supernatural entity known as Lucifer, or might see him as just a symbol. They might include all manner of magical acts as part of their religious practice, since one of their leaders favors such occultism. They like to gather in church buildings so they see themselves as communal. Because they differ greatly from Satanism, they chose a different label for their beliefs—“Luciferianism.” That is a sensible approach so that they can be defined in contradistinction to Satanism, though outsiders readily confuse the two. There are also people who have appropriated our label of Satanism because of its ability to generate sensational media interest while using limited aspects of our philosophy (atheism and secularism) for communal activism under a brief set of principles that have little connection to the majority of aspects of Satan as seen over history. They are opportunists seeking publicity, but have little to offer when it comes to elucidating a coherent, comprehensive philosophy.
Concluding: over the centuries, Satan has been depicted in many ways in religious writings, literature, art, or film. Which depiction is your favorite one and why?
I don’t have one particular favorite, since none offers a portrait that I find has enough depth to cover the resonance of Satan as a symbol for me. Milton’s Satan from Paradise Lost is heroic and inspiring. Mark Twain’s Satan in Letters from the Earth is sensible and sardonic. Al Pacino’s Satan from The Devil’s Advocate is savvy and pragmatic. Darkness from Ridley Scott’s Legend is an impressive looking  diabolical figure who calls to our attention that we are all animals—a prime tenet of Satanism. Carducci’s Hymn to Satan celebrates The Adversary as an advocate of learning and carnality who shatters the stultifying bonds of Christianity with reason—indeed a true inspiration to we Satanists serving as an admirable exemplar.

The devil you know

The devil exists. But not in the way you think.

The devil is a demon inside you. He’s the demon of myopia, of short-sightedness. He’s the demon preventing you from building a better future. He’s the demon who tells you that your actions have no consequences, and that your life is just yours, unbeholden to anyone else. Your devil is persuasive: he convinces you that participating in-line with society’s norms and coercions – regardless of their diseased nature – is the most important thing to do. He smirks and drums his fingers as you amass things – products and services that he’s convinced define you, and that social recognition, of you in your individual capacity, is something to live and die for. We all have these demons inside us, preventing us from becoming the best version of ourselves. And it’s up to us to decide to fight them.
The Oxford dictionary defines The devil as ‘chief evil spirit of Christian and Jewish belief’. But over time it’s slipped into an abstraction that also fits our secular world and our metaphors. The devil represents the dark side, or even our dark side. It’s antonymous to what we define as the good or morally ethical.
The parables presented in the bible are often deeply analogous to contemporary life. God does not just have to be some external father-figure that judges us, but could also be a representation of our inner agency and rationale. We are each our own “god” in some way, and each of us has the power to turn the world around us into a heaven or a hell. This world, in all its unbelievable complexity and beauty, and in all its future outcomes, is always definable by us.
Look out of the window. What do you see? Is it a world already defined and fixed? Or do you see that opportunity for improvement? Regardless of what you see, the fact remains: in an interconnected world, densely networked both physically and digitally, one person’s actions can now reverberate across the globe with huge repercussions. It is technology that now allows us to define the world, and in a way that was totally unprecedented.
We are all gods now
When we look out towards the horizon what do we see? Do we see our own narratives, lives, children or grandchildren, or can we comprehend the full scope of possibility? By contemplating the spectrum of future scenarios we are forced to reconsider our roles within a broader narrative. Heaven is the flourishing existence of this world. Hell is the destruction of it. We are the gods of this world. Dystopian futures (hell) are easy, because they don’t require us to do anything right now. Building better futures (heaven) requires us to step up to the mark – as individuals, as groups, societies, as a species.
Joris-Karl Husymans’ infamous 1891 novel, Là-Bas, tells a story of Durtal, a protagonist based on the author, embarking on an investigation of the occult underworld. The novel culminates with a description of a black mass, the ultimate satanic feasting of devil worship. Throughout the story, the reader is presented with and challenged by savage ideas of moral turpitude stemming from these demonic rituals. And on some days today, we as well fall into the constant entrapment of the media, obsessively consuming the horrors of our own actions. As individuals, as groups, societies, as a species, we continue to worship our own devils in a way that reminds me of Husymans’ Là-Bas.
We sacrifice our rational to the black mass of our own media outlets. We parade our own demons. We fill our minds every hour of every day with a plague of distraction. The fact that we have become accustomed to a constant noise rotting our brains is endemic to an anthropological system that needs to be hacked. We should feel a shock that should fuel us into action, both as individuals and as societies. The future of the universe might very well depend on us recognizing our human power. By recognizing this power within us, it contextualizes our actions. Are we making the best use of it within our careers, our love lives, our daily lives? It’s an idea that isn’t antonymous to humility, it’s an idea that should have humbleness at the forefront. By recognizing our individual and group power to affect, it connects us with every life past and present.
The devil is real
The devil is real. He’s behind you clicking the next link in your Facebook newsfeed to another pointless article about what a celebrity did today. He’s keeping your eyes fixed on the news headlines that play every evening on your television set. He’s the adverts on your radio, reminding you of your own insecurities – insecurities that can only ever be resolved through purchase. He’s the magazines we read and the ads that line our streets.
Knowing that every future life is somehow connected to the current time-slice of the universe in which I am existing doesn’t allow for television, the Kardashians, or caring about how many ‘likes’ I have gathered on social media today. What is required from us is action, actions that rely on us developing a strength of will to avoid these distractions. Actions that depend on the rejection of our own internal demons that fuel our demise.
Actions, born out of kindness, for the sake of all the future beauty of the world.

The Devil

It’s a scary concept, really: A fallen angel, who reigns over the underworld and tortures lost souls until eternity. According to scripture, the devil is a corrupting force that never cedes to tempt humanity, a merchant of souls and the polar opposite of the good and forgiving God who supposedly watches over us. Any of these attributes should make you tremble, dear reader, but chances are that you simply registered these attributes and shrugged. You have heard them countless times before, and the term “devil” has become void of meaning. After all, we live in rational times and tend not to worry about eternal damnation as much as our medieval ancestors did.
The devil, it turns out, no longer scares us. He has become a caricature of evil, a figure of speech that scares but the ultra-faithful. Yet as a character, Lucifer has proved remarkably sticky: The devil remains one of the most portrayed characters in literature and film, and its characteristics keep inspiring musicians across the globe. Not necessarily for the original religious reasons, but as a force of malignity or seduction that each and every one of us feels within themselves from time to time.
So the scary concept has become a seductive one: Maybe the evil we do isn’t our fault but that of a corrupting force? Maybe we carry the devil inside of us only for him to occasionally rear his horned head and lead us astray? The idea that the we are as much the devil as he is us is anything, if not a great excuse – and ironically just as tempting as the man himself.
This month on The Idea List we’re taking on the dark lord himself, the way he keeps sparking popular imagination and meddles with our supposedly rational times.