Satanic Imagery: Vision is a Carnal Way of Knowing

Mini-Drafts on Media and Magic: Imagery in Satanic ritual

Sigilofbaphomet (2)

Apart from the Sigil of Baphomet that is hung over the altar, other images are also used in ritual: photographs, drawings, paintings, sculptures, or tableaus (LaVey 2005, 125). Depictions of your desires should surround you: photographs of your intended paramour; images of objects, wealth, or other materials wants; the portrayal of an enemy that you destroy by proxy (125). LaVey explains:

Imagery is a constant reminder, an intellect-saving device, a working substitute for the real thing. Imagery can be manipulated, set up, modified, and created, all according to the will of the magician, and the very blueprint that is created by imagery becomes the formula which leads to reality. (125)

The visceral provocation of images has traditionally been suspect. David Morgan writes: “Images work their magic by a subtle and often irresistible effect on the body: provoking fear, envy, pride, desire, obsession, rage—all the strong feelings and passions that grip the chest or rise in the blood, creep over the flesh, well up as tears in the eyes” (2002, 96). He states that images “appeal to and rely on the body,” and that this embodied experience is what has lead “philosophers, teachers, moralists, clergy, and parents” to be suspicious of the image, as they can quickly unravel the dogma of moral authorities (ibid). Again, it is the provoked emotions that are questionable, and reflect the ostensible mind-body dichotomy; anything rooted in the body, emotions, and uncontrollable reactions are suspect. As Morgan writes: “Vision is a carnal way of knowing” (2002, 97).

Satanists recognize this “carnal way of knowing” and maximize on the primal experience of the image. The image of our object of hate or desire compels an emotional, immediate reaction, wherein one re-experiences those feelings with simply a gaze. The idiosyncratic depictions collapse time and space into the immediacy of the image-experience, the gaze-feeling. To be incited and roused is to have a successful magical working.

Not only personal images are used, as Satanists also adapt thematic ritual aesthetics. Examples are: primordial creatures of the Lovecraftian Cuthulu mythos; Bettie Page to evoke the playful burlesque; and Norse runes and narrative to conjure the fierce warrior. Satanic ritual imagery is thus a combination of the idiosyncratic and archetypal icons.

LaVey, echoing threads of contemporary scholarship, laments how embodied experiences have historically been denounced. Satanists’ use of Satan reflects the popular and theological notion that the material image is lesser, “evil” even, than philosophical or intellectual pursuits. Satanists subvert this idea, and reinterpret the image-experience as a cathartic and powerful magical tool.

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Select Sources

LaVey, Anton Szandor. 2005 [1969]. The Satanic Bible. New York: Avon Books.

Meyer, Birgit. 2013. “Material Mediations and Religious Practices of World-Making,” in Knut Lundby, ed. Religion Across Media: From Early Antiquity to Late Modernity. New York: Peter Lang, 1-19.

Morgan, David. 2008. “Image,” in David Morgan, ed. Key Words in Religion, Media, and Culture. New York: Routledge, 96-110.

Nemo, Magister. The Fire From Within: Volumn One. U.S.A.: CoS Emporium, 2007.

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