Prolegomena to the Luciferian Archetype and Myth
There is no point in trying to write about anything related to the Devil as if it can be disinterestedly. The subject never fails to elicit certain reactions. As such, we may address the two most common of those reactions head-on with the further caveat that we are not interested in propagating either. The first is fairly well known. It is the kind of thought-process that also would see a ban on everything from Halloween to Charles Darwin. A bit like how normally solitary animals have a way of finding each other over long distances, nothing draws a particular type of Christian fundamentalist out quite like the suggestion that somebody is considering the myth of Satan with anything other than gut-wrenching revulsion. This creates an obstruction to deeper introspection that is not only wrong, but also increasingly futile in our own times. The second type of reaction is more modern, but less recognized. While many people have simply grown bored of all things that even hint of religion and earnestly wandered off, there remains another type of person, every bit as narrow-minded as the fundamentalist (and, interestingly, often from the very same families) who feels compelled to applaud anything that could be considered a snub at tradition. For this person, there is nothing too cliched or hackneyed that cannot garner a few attaboys if cloaked in an anti-Christian message. The object of protest itself is arbitrary, so long as it can be imagined that some figure like Sarah Palin will be offended. As John Gray writes in Straw Dogs:
“Atheists say they want a secular world, but a world defined by the absence of a Christian God is still a Christian world.”
What we aim to do here is not to encourage one feeling or another, but to simply look at what the myth is trying to convey. The feelings will follow on their own.
Satan had previously held the rank as most beloved amongst the angels. He was closest to God. But he grew prideful. According to the German mystic Jacob Boehme, Satan found the voice of God to be childlike, its meekness unfit for the role of commanding the cosmos. Satan and his angels rebelled, but they failed and were cast into Hell. John Milton describes the aftermath in his poem, Paradise Lost. After reassembling, the angels hold council about their next course of action. Should they accept their plight and make due in Hell or hazard another assault on Heaven? The demon Mammon offers this defense of remaining in Hell:
Unacceptable, though in Heaven, our state
Of Splendid vassalage: But rather seek
Our own good from ourselves, and from our own,
Live to ourselves; though in this vast recess, free
And, to none accountable; preferring
Hard liberty before the easy yoke
Of servile pomp.
Mammon’s words are unheeded. Be’elzebub reveals that since the fall, God has designed a new, more cherished creation, humans, who are a more vulnerable target. Satan concludes that he will sneak out of Hell and performance a reconnaissance mission and will decided what to do from there. The fallen angels, however, will not remain in place. The rest of the poem takes place between that point and the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden.
The myth of Satan’s fall can then be summarized by a few central motifs.
- Vanity, Satan’s belief that because he is the most accomplished amongst the angels, he must be fit for a higher station. Satan therefore seeks to rise without being initiated
-The rebellion and its subsequent failure
-A new chance in Hell, but the inability to accept what has happened or create anything new. The Fallen Angels immediately reestablish the hierarchies they previously existed in (which should also negate the claim of Satan as a creative force)
-Despair and a desire to retake what was lost by force, or at least accomplish some form of vengeance (the tempting of Adam and Eve)
An important takeaway is that it is Satan who brings his own misfortune upon himself and it is his own pettiness that prevents him from cutting his losses. No black cloaks or pentagrams necessary, everyone can name people or events that exemplify these different motifs.
Critics have since claimed that Satan is actually the hero of the poem and that is rebellion heralded the coming end to the monarchies of Europe. There is some back and forth about this, other scholars claim that Milton composed the poem with a certain animus towards King Charles I specifically, but was more accepting of monarchial rule in general. I maintain that if there is a hero amongst the fallen angels, it is Mammon. Mammon is the true proponent of creativity, and further, of responsibility. But the Mammons of the world never fare well. They are the politicians who avoid making extravagant promises and the artists who refuse to create propaganda.
Milton’s poem is not explicitly canonical. But by bringing the myth into dramatic form, moving from ‘potential’ to ‘actual’, it becomes more tangible. It is an expression of supernal forces once they have moved through the soul as subjective experiences, as opposed to the more modern kinds of analysis which seek to ‘deconstruct’ myths and archetypes in order to name those forces while showing less regard towards their subjective experience. The two types of knee-jerk reactions to Satan are both modern in that they are an attempt to ‘solve’ the myth by declaring Satan as either good or bad. Our goal is to step back and observe the myth as its different motifs play out across the world stage. In the next two posts, we shall see how confusing this can be as the archetypal elements become more deeply implanted in human concerns and the identities of the figures become less clear.
Mammon’s speech is found in Book II, Lines 251-257