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Modern Diabolism, or the “Question of Lucifer” in France

Modern Diabolism, or the “Question of Lucifer” in France
© Photograph by Shitikov Dmitry

Modern Diabolism has passed from the region of rumour into that of exhaustive and detailed statement, in fact, if a short time ago that ultimate and universal source of reference, the person of average intelligence, had been asked concerning Modern Diabolism, or the “Question of Lucifer”, — What it is? Who are its disciples? Where is it practised? And why? — he would have replied, possibly with some asperity: — “The question of Lucifer! There is no question of Lucifer. Modern Diabolism! There is no modern Diabolism.” And all the advanced people and all the strong minds would have extolled the average intelligence, whereupon the matter would have been closed hermetically, without disquieting and unwelcome investigations like the present.

The “Great Teacher of Christianity” beheld Lucifer’s fall from heaven like lightning, and, in a different sense, the modern world has witnessed a similar spectacle. Assuredly the demon of English poet John Milton has been cast down from the sky of theology, and, except in a few centres of extreme doctrinal concentration, there is no place found for him. The apostles of material philosophy have in a manner searched the universe, and have produced — well, the material philosophy, and therein is no question of Lucifer.

At the opposite pole of thought there is, let us say, the spiritualist, in possession of many instruments superior, at least by the hypothesis, to the searchlights of science, through which he receives the messages of the spheres and establishes a partial acquaintance with an order which is not of this world; but in that order also there appears to be no question of Lucifer, through vexed questions there are without number concerning “unprogressed spirits,” to say nothing of the elementary. Between these poles, there is the flux and reflux of multitudinous opinions; but, except at the centres mentioned, there is still no question of Lucifer; it has been shelved or dropped.

The revival of mystical philosophy, and, moreover, of a transcendental experiment, which is prosecuted in secret to a far greater extent than the public can possibly be aware, has, however, set many old oracles chattering, and they are more voluble at the present moment than the great Dodonian grove. As might be expected, they whisper occasionally of deeds done in the darkness which looks weird when exposed to the day. The terms Satanism, Luciferianism, Diabolism, and their equivalents, have been buzzed frequently, though with some indistinctness, of late, and in accents that indicate the existence of a living terror — people do not quite know what kind — rather than an exploded superstition. To be plain, the “Question of Lucifer” has reappeared, and in a manner which must be eminently disconcerting to the average intelligence and the advanced and strong in mind. It has reappeared not as a speculative inquiry into the possibility of a personal embodiment of evil operating mysteriously, but after a wholly spiritual manner, for the propagation of the second death; we are asked to acknowledge that there is a visible and tangible manifestation of the descending hierarchy taking place at the close of a century which has denied that there is any prince of darkness.

Now there are some subjects which impress one at first sight as unserious, but we come to regard them differently when we find that they are being taken seriously. We have been accustomed, with some show of reason, to connect the idea of devil-worship with barbarous rites obtaining among savage nations, to regard it, in fact, as a suitable complement of the fetish. It seems hypothetically quite impossible that there can be any person, much less any society or class of persons, who, at this day, and in London, Paris, or New York, adore the evil principle. Hence, to say that there is Black Magic actively in function at the present moment; that there is a living cultus of Lucifer; that Black Masses are celebrated, and involve revolting profanations of the Catholic Eucharist; that the devil appears personally; that he possesses his church, his ritual, his sacraments; that men, women, and children dedicate themselves to his service, or are so devoted to their sponsors; that there are people, assumed to be sane, who would die in the peace of Lucifer; that there are those also who regard his region of eternal fire — a variety unknown to the late Mr Charles Thomas Marvin — as the true abode of beatitude — to say all this will not enhance the credibility or establish the intelligence of the speaker.

But this improbable development of Satanism is just what is being earnestly asserted, and the affirmations made are being taken in some quarters “au grand sérieux.” They are not a growth of today or precisely of yesterday; they have been more or less heard for some years, but their prominence at the moment is due to increasing insistence, the pretension to scrupulous exactitude, abundant detail, and demonstrative evidence. Reports, furthermore, have quite recently come to hand from two exceedingly circumstantial and exhaustive witnesses, and these have created distinctly a fresh departure.

Books have multiplied, periodicals have been founded, the Church is taking action, even a legal process has been instituted. The centre of this literature is in Paris, but the report of it has crossed the channel and has passed into the English press. As it is affirmed, therefore, that a cultus of Lucifer exists, and that the men and women who are engaged in it are neither ignorant nor especially mad, nor yet belonging to the lowest strata of society, it is worthwhile to investigate the matter, and some profit is possible, whatever the issue.

If the devil be actually among us, then for the sake of much which has seemed crass in orthodox religion, thus completely exonerated; for the sake of the fantastic in fiction and the lurid in legend, thus unexpectedly actualized; and, further, as it may be, for the sake of our own souls, we shall do well to know of it. If Abaddon, Apollyon, and the “Lord of Flies” are to be understood literally; above all, if they are liable to confront us in propria persona between Freemasons Hall and Duke Street, or between Duke Street and Avenue Road, then the sooner we can arrange our reconciliation with the one Church which has consistently and invariably taught the one full-grown, virile doctrine of devils, and has the bonâ-fide recipes for knowing, avoiding, and at need of exorcising them, why the better will it be, more especially if we have had previously any leanings towards the conception of a universal order not pivoting on perdition.

If, on the other hand, what is said be of the category of Ananias, as distinguished from what alchemists call the “Code of Truth”, it will be well also to know that some portions of the old orthodoxies still wait for their deliverance from the bonds of scepticism, that the actual is to be discriminated from the fantastic by the old test, namely, its comparative stupidity, and that we may still create our universe about any pivot that may please us.

I am writing ostensibly for transcendentalists, of whom I am one; it is as a student of transcendentalism that I have been led to examine this modern mystery, equipped as it is with such portentous phenomena. Diabolism is, of course, a transcendental question, and black magic is connected with white by the same antinomy that connects light and darkness.

Moreover, we mystics are all to some extent accused by the accusations which are preferred in the matter of modern diabolism, and this is another reason for investigating and making known the result. At the same time, the general question has many aspects of interest for that large class which would demur to be termed transcendental but confesses to being curious.

The earliest rumour which I have been able to recall in England concerning existing occult practices to which a questionable purpose might be attributed, appeared in a well-known psychological journal some few years since, and was derived from a continental source, being an account of a certain society then existing in Paris, which was devoted to magical practices and in possession of a secret ritual for the evocation of planetary angels; it was an association of well-placed persons, denying any connection with spiritualism, and pretending to an acquaintance with more effectual thaumaturgic processes than those which obtain at séances.

The account passed unchallenged, for, in the absence of more explicit information, it seemed scarcely worth while to draw attention to the true character of the claim. The secret ritual in question could not have been unknown to specialists in magical literature, and was certainly to myself among these; as a fact, it was one of those numerous clavicles of the goëtic art which used to circulate surreptitiously in manuscript some two centuries ago. There is no doubt that the planetary spirits with which the document was concerned were devils in the intention of its author, and must have been evoked as such, supposing that the process was practised. The French association was not therefore in possession of a secret source of knowledge, but as impositions of this kind are to be à priori expected in such cases by transcendentalists of any experience, I for one refrained from entering any protest at the time.

Much about the same period it became evident that a marked change had passed over certain aspects of thought in “the most enlightened city of the world,” and that among the jeunesse dorée, in particular, there was a strong revulsion against paramount material philosophy; an epoch of transcendental and mystic feeling was, in fact, beginning.

Old associations, having transcendental objects, were in course of revival, or were coming into renewed prominence. Martinists, Gnostics, Kabbalists, and a score of orders or fraternities of which we vaguely hear about the period of the French Revolution, began to manifest great activity; periodicals of a mystical tendency — not spiritualistic, not neo-theosophical, but Hermetic, Kabbalistic, and theurgic — were established, and met with success; books which had grievously weighted the shelves of their publishers for something like a quarter of a century were suddenly in demand, and students of distinction on this side of the channel were attracted towards the new centre.

The interest was intelligible to professed mystics; the doctrine of transcendentalism has never had but one adversary, which is the density of the intellectual subject, and wherever the subject clarifies, there is idealism in philosophy and mysticism in religion. Moreover, on the part of mystics, especially here in England, the way of that revival had been prepared carefully, and there could be no astonishment that it came, and none, too, that it was accompanied, as it is accompanied almost invariably, by much that does not belong to it in the way of transcendental phenomena. When, therefore, the rumours of Black Magic, diabolism, and the abuse of occult forces began to circulate, there was little difficulty in attributing some foundation to the report.

Also published on Medium.


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