This is a thought-provoking treatment of a movement that has captured the attention of scholars and laypeople alike. Its chronological scope is wide, beginning with a chapter on “The Christian invention of Satanism” (actually, Van Luijk looks briefly at pre-Christian roots of the figure called Satan) up to the twenty-first century. He defines Satanism as “religiously motivated veneration of Satan” (not, e.g., admiration of Satan as one deity or supernatural force among many, but embracing a system of belief or ritual in which Satan has dominance). Van Luijk’s introduction makes a distinction that is fundamental for his analysis, one that he successfully carries out throughout this book: he distinguishes between “attribution” (that is, ascribing Satanism to others, often with completely or primarily fantasized descriptions) and “identification” with, or “appropriation” of Satanism. He contends that attribution precedes identification, a contention that he justifies through the whole of his analysis. The centrality of this distinction to his scholarly endeavor, and the rigor with which he employs it, is a major point of differentiation between Van Luijk’s work and the recent publication by Massimo Introvigne (Satanism: A Social History, Brill, 2016); the two massive books are otherwise similar in scope. Van Luijk’s book provides a wild ride to its reader. The vast bulk of the book explores the underside of modern religious history, beginning with the “Affair of the Poisons” in France in the 1680s and reaching its culmination in the twentieth century, where the Church of Satan of Anton Szandor LaVey, and its offshoots, receives a thorough treatment. Between, Van Luijk looks at relevant writings from highly regarded “Romantic Satanists,” such as William Blake, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron, and Victor Hugo, as well as others whose fame resides mostly in their development of Satanist motifs, such as Eliphas Levy. Van Luijk emphasizes that he does not claim to have made any major archival discoveries about Satanism. Instead, his reason for writing the book was to provide a fresh conceptualization of the topic. The Romantic Satanists—Blake, Shelley, Byron, and Hugo—are of particular interest to Van Luijk. He sees them as crucial in the development of the concept of the Satanic value system, focusing on sex, science, and liberty. It is an easy misconception, but a misconception nonetheless, to see Satanism as a relentless pursuit of evil. What the Romantic Satanists showed, influenced by their reading of John Milton, is that when a prevailing Christianity turns overly repressive in many respects, Satan is an available resource for providing a more balanced treatment of the human condition. Thus, embrace of Satanist themes must generally be read in the context of their times. In early nineteenth-century Europe, when counterrevolution had the upper hand, the embrace of Satan by these literary figures showed a commitment to a concept of freedom that the conservative Christianity of the period did not readily permit. In fact, conservatives of their era often attributed Satanism to the Romantic Satanists, and this preemptive attribution may then have prompted them to identify with Satanism to the extent that they did. According to Van Luijk, their works “confront us with a new, modern form of religious Satanism in embryo” (111). For the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, van Luijk explores the attribution of Satanism to Freemasons by Catholics and fleeting connections with the theosophy of Helena Blavatsky and the occult sciences of Aleister Crowley, but he recognizes that none of these could be called Satanism by his definition; hence their connection to his central theme is tangential. The Satanism of Anton Szandor LaVey (1930–1997), the so-called “black Pope,” provides the most compelling counterpoint to Romantic Satanism in Van Luijk’s narrative. With LaVey and his followers and schismatics, the narrative explores for the first time a movement that fully embraces and identifies with Satanism, in the terms of van Luijk’s definition of Satanism as a system of veneration. Van Luijk provides a lavishly written, richly textured portrait of LaVey and several of the movements that derived from his Church of Satan, famously founded in San Francisco in 1966, as well as contemporaneous movements that flirted with Satanism, such as The Process. While others have written adequately about LaVey’s indebtedness to such figures as Ayn Rand, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Crowley, Van Luijk’s distinctive interpretive twist is to explore the relationship of LaVey and the Romantic Satanists. Thematically, like the Romantic Satanists, LaVey and the Satanists influenced by him also built their movements around the causes of sex, science, and liberty. Van Luijk believes that one could misconstrue the relationship between LaVey and the Romantic Satanists if one were to talk baldly about influence, either direct or indirect. Instead, he favors a subtler strategy of portraying Romantic Satanists as setting “in motion a cultural chain process of appropriation and rehabilitation of Satan that, through a series of diverse but interconnected stages, eventually gave birth to a religious Satanism” (324). Van Luijk aims to demonstrate how fully various Satanist philosophies are embedded in virtually all phases of Western modernity, and he succeeds remarkably. Others might provide a more encyclopedic treatment of the often sordid and ghastly events that have surrounded many aspects of vaunted Satanist devotion; Van Luijk is much more interested in the intellectual ramifications of the movement. Ironically, Van Luijk portrays a LaVey who had much in common with his seeming spiritual adversaries who spread Satanist scares. LaVey was mostly culturally and politically conservative, nostalgic about the era of his youth in the 1940s and 1950s, and not at all comfortable with the heavy metal rock bands that often embraced the Satanist cause. Both LaVey’s Satanism and the fundamentalist Christianity that vilified Satanism were built around hostile reactions to the secularization of modern Western society. The Satanism of LaVey was “clearly situated on the right in most matters of political ideology, sometimes even leaning toward neofascism or neo-Nazism” (400). As Van Luijk explains, the “Church of Satan propounded to offer a thoroughly sanitized Satanism for slightly wicked ladies and gentlemen. Thus the starker elements of inversion, such as cannibalism, human sacrifice, and ritual orgies, were silently dropped by LaVey” (396). Nor did the “animal-friendly” LaVey approve of animal sacrifice (396). But these gestures toward respectability carried their own dangers for the movement: “This image of harmlessness … threatens to destroy the provocative and transgressive appeal that undeniably forms a part of the attractiveness of Satanism as a religious or ideological option” (397). LaVeyan Satanism was all about striking a proper balance between provocation and respectability. This book provides sweeping treatment of a fascinating and challenging theme that might well provoke its readers into rethinking the intellectual foundations of Western modernity. © The Author(s) 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Academy of Religion. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
Journal of the American Academy of Religion – Oxford University Press
Published: Nov 14, 2017
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