Using the Devil to Discipline
“The Devil made me do it” is one of my favorite sayings from childhood. I grew up utilizing and reiterating this popular slogan that I learned oh so well in black church culture. More often than not, I believed this tale would shield me from trouble with my mom and grandparents almost on a daily basis. I can still hear the echoes of my grandmother saying “Monica, stop acting evil!” when she needed me to simmer down and “be good.”.
Being the high energy kid I was, nicknamed “the wild hellion” my (often) tired and stressed out mother would regularly scream “Monica! You’re being bad tonight! You’re acting like you got the Devil in you!” And as if during the week Devil talk wasn’t enough, my childhood preacher reminded us each Sunday to be on the watch for the one who wanted to be like God – but failed. Devil language (and talk of evil) circulated so often in my house that I vividly remember almost wanting to see, if only for a second, the Devil himself. Like the idea of God – we knew the Devil existed. Un/like God, we worked hard to keep him at bay until moments of social convenience arrived (especially to discipline the children).
Highly suspicious of the idea of God in my late teens – I’ve come to realize that I never really gave up on the idea of the Devil, even while knowing that it too, is a social construction used for a variety of human interests (including my own). There’s just something taboo about the Devil, even if unreal. Something too scandalous and scary about the “dark side” to open up that can of worms! I am curious about my own anxieties about something that I know not to be real.
Personifying the Devil
Devil talk rolls off of our tongues – smoothly and unconsciously. Its use is particularly effective when we want to cast particular people, groups, ideologies and practices in a certain way. The Devil as an idea, thing, evil entity, dark spirit, or fallen angel is almost always paired with notions of bad, malevolence, Other, gluttony, carnal pleasure, and vengeance –ideations further pathologized and “demonized.”. The Devil of my childhood was, of course, the way the Christian bible (and community) had explained him to be. The Sunday School lessons that stuck like glue, becoming proverbial A, B, C’s necessitated the figure of Satan in order to make the folk tales of good, evil, and triumph work. You can’t have a war without (at least) two sides – and the Devil – Satan – is the evil ‘Other’ that makes the story of Christian triumph work.
The domain of the ‘Other’ helps polarities and dualities work, function, and gain value and meaning. I quickly learned that although this tale from childhood would provide a rigid and salient structuring structure within my own consciousness – the Devil, as an idea, a concept is utilized as a socially convenient category to cause alarm, anxiety, discipline and policing. Growing up, as liberal as my mother was, I still wasn’t allowed to experiment with séances and the Ouija boards that became popular activities during weekend sleepovers. In our house growing up, you just didn’t “play with the Devil.” We could talk about him, and use his name as an excuse for mediocrity or rod of discipline – but ultimately we needed him to stay in his place – in the comfortable realm of social construction.
Devil Worship and Making Rappers Holy
While my days in church are long over, I am continually struck by how much Devil talk pervades and consumes public discourse and conversation on popular culture in particular. Again, the Devil and talk of evil assist in elaborating how bad and unacceptable certain behaviors and propositions are. In the same way that talk of God becomes a way to parse out, separate, and set apart that which is (socially) acceptable, (publically) sanctioned, and (personally) appealing. Case in point: “Kanye and Jay-Z: Our Most Powerful Preachers?” This was the title of a recent Huffington Post article sparked by a Huffington Post Live segment initiated by a piece I wrote about the song ‘No Church in the Wild.’ To this (blasphemous) question many responded that it was impossible to imagine these rappers as preachers based on what they stand for and represent.
In other words, how could two “fleshly” “materialistic” and utterly “capitalistic” men possible represent anything close to God? Others responded with the (expected and worn out) conspiracy theories about Jay-Z worshipping the Devil. In our quickness to “defend” Jay-Z (among others) from the tale of evil – we fail to realize that we are demeaning a modality/philosophy/spirituality by which some find meaning. The rush to defend Jay-Z’s image from the tainted vocabulary of Devil talk speaks volumes to and about our own trouble with the Devil and our collective belief in a tale that has considerable capital, power, and weight.
As an African-American woman, growing up in traditional black church culture, the Devil was something you didn’t play with. You didn’t go THERE! Whether you believed in “him” or not – you didn’t try to TRY to see if it was real. The Devil, while very much talked about, blamed, and disparaged in everyday talk – is not something one really wants to meet and confront. Or at least that was true for me. Even while my scholarly imagination reminds me that the Devil is a rhetorical device used to accomplish certain things in the social world, for the purposes of certain human interests – the tales from childhood powerfully structure and discipline how I react to and feel about the Devil. I held this level of understanding until confronted with the incarnation of the Devil himself – or so I thought. It took me to actually meet someone with (real) horns who looked JUST like they said he would – but beyond that, failed every aspect of the Devil discourse of my childhood – much to my surprise. As a scholar who claims to be interested in (and learn from) unlikely people, places, and things – I seized the opportunity to befriend this Devil, learn from this Devil, and create friendship with an unlikely ‘Other.’
Dining with the Devil
When I first metMagus Dabolus Rex I didn’t know how to respond. Upon entering a birthday party dinner for a mutual friend, I immediately walked around to introduce myself. Next up – the scary looking guy with horns implanted in his head (among some other really serious facial piercings) greeted me with a warm smile and offered me a seat. Being the kind person that he is, he introduced himself right away – little voice, of small stature, extremely technical and scientific, and most importantly humble and polite. Within a few minutes of conversation – he blew every expectation of who they said the Devil was supposed to be! I would soon find out that Magus Rex was formerly a higher up in the Church of Satan (now a founding member of Chaos Imperium ) and here began our journey of friendship very much bound by similar intellectual passions. I was stunned that Rex didn’t at all meet the image of the Christian fables. I felt bamboozled! Hoodwinked! Led astray! A sleight of hand has certainly taken place – he did not fulfill the mythic tales of my childhood. Rex has become a great friend and colleague – getting together as often as we can for intellectual exchange and a drink – there are many things I have learned from him, our friendship, and interaction.
My Interview with the Devil
How do you understand the Devil?
To properly answer your questions regarding the nature of Satan, and to allow you a correct perspective, I will give you definitions that come from the accepted philosophical positions of (LaVey-Church of Satan)=material reductive, and the Transcendent=Chaos Imperium positions.
In the Church of Satan, Satan is seen as an unseen, non-conscious, material force germane to nature which the Satanist/Black Magician can tap into. It is simply accepted as Life-Force, and never extrapolated on more than that as a Deity. Satan as symbol within the COS is allegorical and polemic to how Satan would live his life IF he was a living entity, and an example of how Satanists should live their own lives. This would include, but not nesseceraly be limited to all the so-called seven deadly sins which are accepted as virtues as they are natural, instinctual, animalistic activities which humanity engages in every day. These “sins” are directed under the constraint of personal responsibility, and do not include illegal activity as this violates the natural order of the social contract. Satan is seen as a natural element of the cosmic construct, not unlike other naturally occurring quantum forces of paradox, but not conscious!, therefore within Transcendent Satanism, this former position cannot correctly be accepted as a sentient being or God… but simply symbolic.
Within the Chaos Imperium, Satan, Set, Shiva, Mahakala, Lucifer, or the SUPER consciousness responsible for all life, matter/antimatter, within the totality of what would be correctly defined as the UNIVERSE=(large U=all interior subjective experience and all exterior quantum phenomena) is the defining element we call Satan or Lucifer. This BEING in not seen as a grand metaphysical totality of consciousness with nothing to determine its distinctness, (as in the accepted notion postulated by all other spiritual disciplines on down to new age simplicities), but a unique-isolate psyche defining itself against all other forms of matter and experience! id est, this God-form is non-natural to the Universal Construct, ‘to wit’= Lucifer’s hand is in all things, but he is not his hand!
What’s the connection between the Devil and horns?
Universally, the connection came from the animal kingdom where horned creatures were seen by man as elements of strength and power. This connection is most obvious in animals such as goats, bulls, rams etc, where each of these animals has at one time or another held a connection in man’s psyche as synchronous with evil and the Devil. Horned beings were also venerated for their wisdom, anthropomorphising these traits completed the need to blame misfortune and fate on demonic agents. It is interesting to note that almost without exception, horned beings were seen as nessessary and natural to man’s development, even auspicious, with the exception of judaeochristianity where this symbolism is seen as synonymous with evil. In Satanism, the horns are seen as thesis-antithesis~”synthesis” and the mind as the throne or center where the two forces meet. The position in between the horns is the balance factor, where all conscious forces of the psyche must determine order, creativity, and initiate transcendence.
What do your horns signify?
My physical representation in the temporal world mirrors a very clear internal psychic landscape where these symbols serve as sign of mastery in Black Magick, my conviction as an avatar of Mahakala and Black Bodhisattva, and as a warning to those who would resent my Being.
Why does the Devil (as myth) get such a bad rap?
History is written by the winners, often a lie. Christianity has successfully brainwashed Western society and therefore has a need to keep the fearful in line. By creating the illusion of duality where none exists, they can rule through accusation and use the Devil to enforce their agenda, an agenda driven by monetary concerns. This is a subject I could speak on all day.
Learning from the Devil
Recently I invited Rex to my ‘Religion, Youth, and Popular Culture’ class as a guest lecturer– and I must say – he was a big hit (just like he was when he spoke at a symposium I hosted on Material Religion at Lewis & Clark College last year). Students enjoyed being able to ask Rex whatever they’d like. As an educator, it was great to hear students later explain to me that interacting with Rex was a hallmark in their intellectual journeys – pointing out that he “did NOT” meet their expectations after seeing his picture online. Differing from the tales of my childhood, Rex was more and less than what many of us have been conditioned to think about the Devil. Storybooks from childhood never quite pan out the way they are supposed to in real life, I suppose. My students were transfixed, attentive, all present, and engaging. I am sure some, if not many, were made anxious by his coming to class, but like the true growing intellectuals they are, they struggled through it, and challenged themselves in very reflexive (and commending) ways. They continue to refer back to Rex’s visit quite often and much to my surprise.
Rex reminded them that, “Satan as symbol within the Church of Satan is allegorical and polemic to how Satan would live his life IF he was a living entity, and an example of how Satanists should live their own lives.” As someone with intellectual interests in Humanism and Atheism, I immediately saw many connections. The more Rex described his life philosophy – it occurred to me that it’s less spooky and supernatural than what my childhood religion made it out to be. In fact, Rex and I share similar perspectives related to aesthetics, human pleasure, desire, embodiment, and community.
Despite the ideologies, often violent in nature, that we inherit growing up (and throughout life) – every once in a while we should interrogate our assumptions and preconceptions from whence our ideas and “human values” derive. Devil talk is no different from God talk – just another way of talking about the social world. I am sure some of you reading this right now are formulating your own conspiracy theories about me, my work, my beliefs and commitments – we can’t help it – these strategies provide protection, stability, and order.
In retrospect, I think – the rhetorical device of the Devil in public discourse – as an idea, concept, reality, thing – is a snazzy trick of social control! When in doubt – blame it on the Devil and don’t forget to remind them of hell! That should do the trick! As a scholar of religion – I have no interest in whether or not the Devil is “real” or not “real” – nor do I have an interest in participating in the silly conversation over who does or doesn’t worship the Devil, rather, I think the Devil, as a rhetorical device, functions extremely well to Other, disguise, disparage, distinguish, polarize, dominate, win and shine. One childhood lesson still sticks – “Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover!”
Bio: From 1985 to January of 2011, Magus Diabolus Rex was a Priest of Mendes and member of the ruling hierarchy in Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan, having resigned his position in that organization to fully develop the Chaos Imperium as the most advanced Black Magickal and antinomian Order in the world today. As a representative of the Underworld, Rex has made numerous media presentations, from television to radio, to film and documentary work with the Discovery Channel. He has appeared on Montel Williams as a Church of Satan representative, a black magickal theorist on ground zero conspiracy radio, and has had his art widely covered in print media from books to magazines as well as having exhibited internationally. Chaos Imperium: A techno-Black Magickal think tank and research group dedicated to experimental work in the strange shadow realm where sorcery and quantum physics meet. Rex is currently writing a book on black magickal physics and quantum sorcery involving fractals, mental entities, and quantum mass entanglement through optical systems as developed in a project called the “Ragnarok Engine.”