Thursday, August 30, 2012

Church Trip II: Italian Edition

So at the beginning of the summer I went on a cathedral/church trip around the East of England so as the summer is coming to the end what better way to bring it to a close then by going on another church trip. This one will be on the continent. After studying about Florence and Italian art this year I am breaking the habit and instead of studying I will actually go to see it.
So far the plan for the 5 days in Italy is to go to Milan, Venice, and Florence. How will this be managed I have no idea, but I am looking forward to making the lovely triangle of northern Italy.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Satanism: am I a closeted Satanist?

Witches' Sabbath, F. Goya, 1789. Oil on canvas.
I remember years ago when wikipedia was not as mainstream as it is now and I was still in school I became aware of Satanism mostly because I was in to rock and metal, but also because a couple of Daily-Mail-like newspapers had articles demonising satanism and with in depth descriptions of people gathering at night to boil babies and sacrifice kittens. So, intrigued, I googles 'Satanism.' I expected to find newspaper articles and maybe a couple of dodgy blogs somewhere on the 3rd search page but instead the official website of LaVey's church of Satan was the first thing I saw.
Witches' Sabbath, F. Goya, 1821–1823, Oil on Canvas.
I must admit that I was a little disappointed not to find recipes for puppy slaughter or manuals on how to thro the best witches Sabbath. Instead I found something very logic and not hypocritical or self righteous (the two Christian traits that make me wince). What shocked me most was the humanity and rationality of The Eleven Satanic Rules on Earth (well the 7th and the last one are debatable) but the first one should be tattooed on everyones' wrist as a constant reminder.
1. Do not give opinions or advice unless you are asked.
2. Do not tell your troubles to others unless you are sure they want to hear them.
3. When in another’s lair, show him respect or else do not go there.
4. If a guest in your lair annoys you, treat him cruelly and without mercy.
5. Do not make sexual advances unless you are given the mating signal.
6. Do not take that which does not belong to you unless it is a burden to the other person and he cries out to be relieved.
7. Acknowledge the power of magic if you have employed it successfully to obtain your desires. If you deny the power of magic after having called upon it with success, you will lose all you have obtained.
8. Do not complain about anything to which you need not subject yourself.
9. Do not harm little children.
10. Do not kill non-human animals unless you are attacked or for your food.
11. When walking in open territory, bother no one. If someone bothers you, ask him to stop. If he does not stop, destroy him.
tacky/generic satanism image
Moreover the 9 Satanic Sins impressed me so much for a while I considered referring to my religious affiliations as 'Satanism' but then reconsidered because of the baggage that comes with the label.
1.Stupidity—The top of the list for Satanic Sins. The Cardinal Sin of Satanism. It’s too bad that stupidity isn’t painful. Ignorance is one thing, but our society thrives increasingly on stupidity. It depends on people going along with whatever they are told. The media promotes a cultivated stupidity as a posture that is not only acceptable but laudable. Satanists must learn to see through the tricks and cannot afford to be stupid.
2. Pretentiousness—Empty posturing can be most irritating and isn’t applying the cardinal rules of Lesser Magic. On equal footing with stupidity for what keeps the money in circulation these days. Everyone’s made to feel like a big shot, whether they can come up with the goods or not.
3. Solipsism—Can be very dangerous for Satanists. Projecting your reactions, responses and sensibilities onto someone who is probably far less attuned than you are. It is the mistake of expecting people to give you the same consideration, courtesy and respect that you naturally give them. They won’t. Instead, Satanists must strive to apply the dictum of “Do unto others as they do unto you.” It’s work for most of us and requires constant vigilance lest you slip into a comfortable illusion of everyone being like you. As has been said, certain utopias would be ideal in a nation of philosophers, but unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately, from a Machiavellian standpoint) we are far from that point.
4. Self-deceit—It’s in the “Nine Satanic Statements” but deserves to be repeated here. Another cardinal sin. We must not pay homage to any of the sacred cows presented to us, including the roles we are expected to play ourselves. The only time self-deceit should be entered into is when it’s fun, and with awareness. But then, it’s not self-deceit!
5. Herd Conformity—That’s obvious from a Satanic stance. It’s all right to conform to a person’s wishes, if it ultimately benefits you. But only fools follow along with the herd, letting an impersonal entity dictate to you. The key is to choose a master wisely instead of being enslaved by the whims of the many.
6. Lack of Perspective—Again, this one can lead to a lot of pain for a Satanist. You must never lose sight of who and what you are, and what a threat you can be, by your very existence. We are making history right now, every day. Always keep the wider historical and social picture in mind. That is an important key to both Lesser and Greater Magic. See the patterns and fit things together as you want the pieces to fall into place. Do not be swayed by herd constraints—know that you are working on another level entirely from the rest of the world.
7. Forgetfulness of Past Orthodoxies—Be aware that this is one of the keys to brainwashing people into accepting something new and different, when in reality it’s something that was once widely accepted but is now presented in a new package. We are expected to rave about the genius of the creator and forget the original. This makes for a disposable society.
8. Counterproductive Pride—That first word is important. Pride is great up to the point you begin to throw out the baby with the bathwater. The rule of Satanism is: if it works for you, great. When it stops working for you, when you’ve painted yourself into a corner and the only way out is to say, I’m sorry, I made a mistake, I wish we could compromise somehow, then do it.
9. Lack of Aesthetics—This is the physical application of the Balance Factor. Aesthetics is important in Lesser Magic and should be cultivated. It is obvious that no one can collect any money off classical standards of beauty and form most of the time so they are discouraged in a consumer society, but an eye for beauty, for balance, is an essential Satanic tool and must be applied for greatest magical effectiveness. It’s not what’s supposed to be pleasing—it’s what is. Aesthetics is a personal thing, reflective of one’s own nature, but there are universally pleasing and harmonious configurations that should not be denied.

The second point thought does sound funny considering that LaVey looked like this:
Anton LaVey founder of Church of Satan
Now years later I started googling satanism again just to make sure that my memory was not playing tricks on me, after all at around the same time I was studying Machiavelli in philosophy class and reading Nietzsche, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky in literature (they do compliment each other yet it is a very big doze of the idea 'for the greater good' from which I still haven't really recovered).
The LaVey website is still up and running along with another Satanist site where you can find some charming links like 'kids and teens for Satan' or 'dedicate your soul to Satan'. Yet after a round of giggling I started reading. And I must admit that I have never encountered this much sympathy, tolerance, compassion and respect for personal opinion on any Christian website. Maybe the Rolling Stones were right and we should have some sympathy for the Devil.

I must admit despite the scary baby-sacrifice reputation Satanism seems soft and cuddly and less extreme and scary than some other forms of religion at the same time I don’t want to attach labels to myself and I will just stay the secular agnostic baptised-in-to-Catholicism (Go Pope!) that I am.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Counting Churches

I have a thing for churches (this sounds like an entrance sentence at an AA meeting according to sitcoms) so it is no surprise that my version of the popular car game 'I spy with my little eye...' is 'cpot the church' or 'who pots more churches'  after playing this game for a while I came to two realisations:
1) Britain is littered with churches they are everywhere.
2) If I was taking a picture every time I spotted a church I would have a a small yet diverse archive of churches.
So I decided to take the game digital and created a blog that has no text just bad-quality-taken-on-the-phone pictures of churches. The contributors so far are me and Adrian  as we compete for the amount of churches seen, so far I am winning but mostly because he works full time. However I will appreciate any photos of churches being send in with a brief note to their location and possibly name. Thank you. 

p.s. you can send the image of a church to

Friday, August 10, 2012

Devil the scapegoat

Virgin and Child and the 9th commandment, German, Rhine Land c. 1440-50, detail of the stain glass window in Burrell collection.
After reading a bit on the devil I am now sure that it is the ultimate scapegoat. There has always been a ruler of the underworld or an evil god but usually they were part of a bigger reality, monism could acknowledge that evil is a natural and necessary part of life. The devil, it seems, came in to existence the second someone said god is all merciful, god is all good (and happy clappy). Jeffrey Burton Russell describes the devil as the ultimate evil the example he uses to show that ultimate evil is an extract from Brothers Karamazov in which a mother tortures her young child. 
To me this approach seems dangerous because at its roots it rejects the idea that people are selfish and often do bad things to pursue their interests or in the words of Dr Cox from Scrubs:

Another problem is that good and bad are subjective - there is no such thing as universal evil just as there is no such thing as universal justice. Roald Dahl has a short story which depicts the subjectivity of every individual. The story tells about a young woman in labour and as she and her husband try to get to the hospital everything seems to be against them. The reader becomes emotionally involved and with every paragraph more upset with the cruel nature and the unjust world. Then despite the odds the happy ending is pronounced and then the story takes a U turn, I personally started hoping that the child was never born and feeling guilty that I wanted the story to have a happy ending. Everything is subjective and in retrospect somethings that seem great might turn out to be the worst things that happened. Good and evil are just a point of view.
My thesis will never be concerned with what is evil, with what the devil is or is not, yet it does not mean that I do not ponder the question. I myself will probably never be able to summarise an opinion as elegantly as Joseph Campbell in 'The Hero with a Thousand Faces' :
The crux of the curious difficulty lies in the fact that our conscious views of what life ought to be seldom correspond to what life really is. Generally we refuse to admit within ourselves, or within our friends, the fullness of that pushing, self-protective, malodorous, carnivorous, lecherous fever which is the very nature of the organic cell. rather, we tend to perfume, whitewash, and reinterpret; meanwhile imagining that all flies in the ointment, all the hairs in the soup, are the faults of some unpleasant someone else.
or in other words the devil is a by product of human hypocrisy and the inability to accept and embrace our faults.