Thursday, July 12, 2007

Getting ready for the release of the final Harry Potter book, Anthony North discusses the Devil on Beyond the Blog

The Devil may seem an archaic symbol of evil, but he is supposed to be alive in the world to this day with his Satanic conspiracies. From the 1960s onwards, one expression of him was the Church of Satan, set up in San Francisco by occultist, Anton La Vey.

Said to have perverted many a star, his ceremonies involved a naked woman as an altar and his philosophy was based on unbridled hedonism. The death of Jane Mansfield was even put down, by some, to their rituals.


The name, the Devil comes from the Greek ‘diabolos’, meaning slanderer. A fallen angel, in the 1970s we had his image of evil implanted with the film, The Exorcist. By the 1980s we were more sceptical and he appeared humourously in the Witches of Eastwick
He is first mentioned in the Dead Sea Scrolls as one of the sons of darkness, but in the Bible he is simply seen as temptation, his home - the future Hell - just a place of sleep.
This was no good for frightening superstitious people into obedience, so the image of the Devil became a conspiratorial perversion of the ancient Greek god, Pan, a nature deity. With the Roman poet Virgil devising Purgatory - a place where the dead lingered - and Dante’s Medieval vision of Hell as a place of eternal torment in the Divine Comedy, the Devil was becoming imprinted on our mind.
Yet as with the future ‘devil-like’ Pan, our notion of Hell is more akin to the Greek Hades, an underworld for bad Titans such as Sisyphus and Tantalus, the former condemned to roll a rock up a hill forever, the latter never quite reaching the water and food in front of him.


The Devil is thought to gain influence in the Black Mass, a perversion of Christian ceremony. But in reality, the mass was a creation of Catholic priests, attempting to use dark powers to better their life. In the 7th century, priests from Toledo used the Black Mass to name people they wanted dead.
In the 16th century, priests in Cambrai used it to try to kill their bishop. In the mass of Saint Secaire, Christian objects were baptised in order to produce a curse. But perhaps the French Church of Carmel, set up in 1839 by Eugene Vintras, can offer insights into these practices.
Vintras wore an inverted crucifix, used consecrated bread soaked in blood, and a fat pigeon to represent the Holy Spirit. Using nudity and masturbation, he had a ceremony known as the sacrifice of Mary.
Such practices tell us that Satanism can be a simple excuse for debauchery and crime. Indeed, in England, the Medmenham Monks and Hellfire Club set up by Sir Francis Dashwood in the 18th century, used mock occult ritual as a starter to debauched orgies.
Satanism thus appears to be a dark side of human nature, rather than supernatural influence although many Satanists today proclaim none of this. Indeed, they argue Satanism is a valid religion, if grounded in individualism.
But to conspiriologists, a real Satan was at work in the 20th century, his main agent being one Adolf Hitler. And to them, the evidence is appealing.



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