October 8th, 2005


Why I am not a Satanist

From time to time, Satanists and Occultists seem to take an interest in me. Perhaps it's because my bid to chart a single in the UK Top 40, back in 1989, was called "The Hairstyle of the Devil". Perhaps it's because Momus is the name of a non-Christian deity, or because I sing about "the old religion", or because my name appears on the Famous Non-Believers List. Or perhaps it's simply because my name is Nick and I'm old.

Well, I have to thank someone called Jason Louv for sending me the book he edits, Generation Hex (Disinformation), an attempt to connect alternative culture to the occult. "Magic is what sprouts up between the cracks in the modern world and its ideologies," Jason writes in his introduction, 'Towards an Ultraculture'. "Its branches and leaves curl forth from underneath the halls of church and state, from our television and computer screens, from every bookstore and tabloid rack—if we know how to look." Jason also included a DVD of "Disinformation: The Complete Series", the TV show made by the Disinformation Company and broadcast by Channel 4 in the UK, "which Richard Metzger wanted you to have". Metzger is the co-founder of Disinformation, the missing link between Adbusters and Beelzebub, between No Logo and Belial. On the cover of the video he lifts a quizzical eyebrow, like someone convinced of his own enormous charismatic power. On his blog, though, he seems like a fairly normal yuppie; he's just discovered reggae dub, for instance, and is "buying several new CDs a week and generally driving my girlfriend to utter despair".

I found the shows pretty silly, to be honest, rather like long-forgotten Channel 4 tabloid TV shows Rapido and Eurotrash, with some kind of diluted post-Seattle-Satanism replacing frenchness as the structuring gimmick. But actually, it would probably be more subversive, in today's America, to come across as a Frenchman than to drop vague hints that you worship where it smells of sulphur.

Actually, the hints aren't all that vague. "Things you'll never see on television!" boasts the DVD sleeve, then lists "Satanism!" as the very first item. There's a familiar cast of alternatives and iconoclasts featured in interviews and the conference clips on Disc 2: Genesis P. Orridge, Douglas Rushkoff, Robert Anton Wilson, Marilyn Manson, Kenneth Anger, Grant Morrison. Now, some of these people are friends of friends, or people I've heard are admirers of my work. But it's somewhat disturbing to see them all collected together to vaunt irrationality as a solution to the world's problems, and Satan as a binding force for the subculture. It's as disappointing, in its way, as reading biographies of David Bowie and realising that cocaine and LA occultists really did make him a bit insane for a couple of years in the 70s (he saw Satan's face in his swimming pool, believed witches were collecting his sperm, and was terrified to see a demonic white hand around his wife's waist in an old photo).

It's always disappointing when you hear how credulous and irrational your heroes are. For instance, I've spoken in this blog before about a certain admiration for Genesis P. Orridge. The man has style, and has made some great work, so he's welcome to read Aleister Crowley books all day if he likes. But I was a bit disappointed to hear—from a member of a famous goth band, as it happens—that Gen, on the night of the fire at Rick Rubin's house in which he fell from a window and was later awarded a million dollars for his injuries, had been burying voodoo dolls in the ground. Jesus, was all that satanic abuse stuff that made him leave Britain true, then? You know, how... silly.

Yes, Satanism just strikes me as... silly, I'm afraid. Why abandon the idiocy of God if you're not also going to abandon the idiocy of The Devil? Sure, I love mystery, and I love "the old religion", the Greek pantheon, the Celts, Shinto, all that stuff. What I hate, though, is the way Christianity vilified fertility religions and made them "evil". You can still see the result of that in the way various speakers at the Disinfo conference, included on the DVD, have a certain "evil glow" in their eyes, or believe they possess an "evil charisma". America's idiotic binary culture forces you to be good or evil, with or against, constructive or destructive. The result is that alternative culture people internalize the stigma of otherness, becoming Fashion Goths and Slayer fans.

Just as the principal danger of anti-capitalism is that it makes you think like a capitalist, so the principal danger of Satanism is that it makes you think like a Christian. I am very, very evil, you think. Well, no you're not. If Christianity is silly, just walk away from it, and from its stigmas too; its dark underbelly, its Satanism. I mean, I'm all for people like Rushkoff reviving ethics and comparing the early internet to the Talmud. Interesting metaphor. And I must say Robert Anton Wilson comes across in his clip like a sweetie, an old Silenus or Pan type. But—well, here comes the inevitable Japan bit—I'm really so over this Western demonization of paganism, this I'm-so-evil thing. Shinto in Japan is a quiet, gentle, mainstream influence, and you can embrace its fertility messages, its nature messages, and its animism messages without having to become an outsider, or waggle your eyebrows like a second-rate magician practicing in front of the mirror. In other words, what in the West would be an alternative culture which you'd have to be a deviant or a nut or an outsider to embrace is, in Japan, something central which you can conform towards.

I dislike Satanism for aesthetic reasons too. Occult sections in bookstores are usually magnets for the spottiest, stupidest, most badly-dressed people. Occultist websites are appalling cautionary tales, evidence that, whatever else he does, Satan makes you commit every graphic design sin known to man. But I particularly resist precisely this thing that Jason Louv is advocating in Generation Hex, the stringing together of Satanism and alternative culture. I resist it because it's just fucking boring to see the counterculture summed up with a skull. But also because alternative culture has some important work to do, work it needs rationality and clear-headedness to carry through, and work which it needs to believe in its own ethical goodness to bring to mainstream acceptance. Wouldn't it be terrible if everyone, for instance, who thought there were other shibboleths than endless economic growth, all turned out to go to secret meetings and make secret signs to each other and think they were "evil"? Wouldn't it be a bit of a blow to the open source software movement, for instance, if you could say of its hobbit-like proponents, as these Satanist kids josh about Jason Louv, "Jason Louv drinks with nobody but the devil, I tell you! Satan mixes his cocktails! A horned beast with a dark and terrifying cock stirs his vodka martini and a putrid she-devil with monkeys for tits pours his lager! No man on earth dare sip from the same cup!" I mean, that wouldn't just be disinformation and defamation, it would be something much worse: distraction.