I was listening to the Eagle's Hotel California recently, and of course that got me to thinking about satanism. Now, as a practicing agnostic, I can't really believe in the powers of darkness and witchcraft and all that, but on the other hand I equally can't disbelieve it either. Instead, like most folks, I subscribe to the "wouldn't it be nice if" theory of magic. I know lots of people who really deserve to be turned into frogs, and I'd like to be the one to do it. Sure, they say that black magic is bad for you, but they say the same thing about sugar, hitting people, and porn.
Hmm. Now that I bring up porn, I'm gonna have to allow this column to bifurcate so as to make an observation. We'll return to the discussion of satanism, but I wanted to comment that there is an awful lot of sexual power bound up in the whole "naughty" thing. Most people get turned on to varying degrees by thinking that certain behaviors are wicked. Sure, it's a whole range from mere knowing glances all the way to giraffes and neoprene, and the vast majority of us stay in the shallow end of the pool, but there's definitely a kick to the whole "sex = forbidden" thing. Bad girls and rebels sans cause are sexier than mousey librarians and Dudley Do-right. (Okay, not in all cases, but what turns you on about the mousey librarian is when she becomes all sweaty and feline. You know it. It's the same "bad girl" thing.) And I was wondering why.
I mean, it's kind of silly from an evolutionary point of view. Choosing mates based on their violence and ability to sleep around is not the best way to have lots of successful children. (Of course, there is a school of thought, based on the behavior of a number of species - such as those former paragons of monogamy, storks - that what females want is to have the children of the strong, dangerous males, and at the same time have the family unit with the stable, reliable male. A definite "eat your cake and have it too" perspective, and one on which I am not going to comment further, except to say that while it may have some validity, it certainly applies only to some women and definitely not any of the ones I know.
Anyways, why is it that the whole "naughty" thing has sexual pull to it? The only theory I can advance is that, thanks to our Christian heritage, Western culture has associated sex with evil for so long that evil has come to be associated with sex. I imagine that all cultures have "watch out for predatory members of the opposite sex" myths, but it takes a point of view already conditioned to condemn wantonness as morally evil behavior to come up with Dracula, succubi, and "Convent of Sinners".
Of course, I could be way off. Lord knows that Americans are in many ways more uptight than anyone else (well, save the British. They invented uptight.) So it may be a Puritan thing. Or, more likely, it's a combination of a whole bunch of factors, including Columbus' discovery of syphilis, 19th century wine taxes leading to the drinking of absinthe, and the assassination of Lincoln.
BUT, whatever the cause, the powers of darkness have been associated with sex for a long time. Anywhoo, to get back to the main thrust of this column, I was thinking about how the whole satanism thing works.
Note that my research is pretty thin, basically consisting of an interview with Anton LeVey called 'Full Devil Jacket' which I think was about clothes, some reading I did about Alestair Crowley several years ago, and some thirty or so 1970s supernatural horror movies - they really went in for Satan in the 70s - with titles such as "Black Candles", "The Satanic Rites of Dracula", and "Vampire Ecstacy". Hey, while I may not be an expert on much, if you want info on supernatural horror movies, you come to me.
And one of the interesting conclusions I came to was that the whole "black magic" thing hearkens back to a pre-scientific way of thinking. How do you learn about things? From ancient sources! And, no matter how knowledgable you become, pretty much you are just using info passed down from long ago. You don't do "research". In fact, the only way to get new knowledge is through... you guessed it... revelation! I.e. it has to be given to you by one of the dark powers you are now on a first name basis with.
Which is pretty much how the post-Roman world worked, at least until the Enlightenment. You learned things that other people already knew. If you were really cutting edge, you tried to learn things that no one knew any more, but that someone had known once upon a time. That was the whole Renaissance kick, figuring out how the Romans had done things.
And what's really different now is the mindset. After all, until you become really advanced in a given field, you basically learn things other people already know, and teach you. But all of us believe that, if we had to find out something new, we could do it. Mostly through trial and error, to be sure. But that's how science works. And we don't believe that people who came before us could do everything as well or better than we could.
Whereas, if you are seeking forbidden knowledge, you're not drawing a million different pentacles and chanting a million different incantations. Although that does lead to a whole series of humorous mental images. ("Can you hear me now? Can you hear me now? Can you *urk*!") No, you have to find something already known, generally a book or a wall inscription or something. You are seeking information not from the present, but only from the past.
Which kind of discredits the whole thing, in my opinion. Any sort of knowledge you can't even theoretically come by yourself is dodgy. But then, it's not like it had a lot of credit to start with.
Makes for some good songs, though.
- Sun Ra
Columns by Sun Ra