Recently, I witnessed some fellow walkers of the Sinister Path lamenting the decline of honor in today’s society. Seeing this got me thinking, perhaps it would be of interest for me to share my own take on honor. A large portion of this post accordingly consists of excerpts from my forthcoming book, Nine Keys of Abyssal Darkness. But I have also added some additional commentary, in connection with further reading I’ve since done, and thoughts thus stirred.
Honor strikes me as a virtue with a bit of an image problem. Often when it gets brought up, language gets thrown around re: it being a “noble” or “aristocratic” concept. This results, however, in alienating anyone who sees “nobles” not as virtuous, but as manifestations of privilege and economic injustice.
I personally find this unnecessary and counter-productive. I’m well-aware of historical rationales for construing honor as “aristocratic.” Ultimately though, such a definition produces an artificial limitation, via poor formulation of the concept’s essence.
What I have tried to do in Tenebrous Satanism is to define honor more inclusively, yet still meaningfully. To me, honor is not some special thing that only an “elite” possesses. It is, rather, a general foundation and prerequisite for humans living with other humans in a functional way. One must understand, in connection, that Tenebrous Satanism does not see virtues as “moral” qualities that make one “good.” They are, rather, qualities that enable one to live well, and whose absence tends to make Life needlessly difficult. Pragmatism is what recommends zeal, wisdom, honor, empathy and perseverance as qualities humans are better-off developing than neglecting.
My forthcoming book Nine Keys of Abyssal Darkness is the source of all quotations below. The commentary that follows each quoted passage is just some additional thoughts I’ve had since first writing this. Whether the final draft may include additions or changes based on this content remains to be seen.
Note: You’ll quickly see honor is a concept on which there is a certain intimacy between Tenebrous Satanism and the Order of Nine Angles (ONA/O9A). If this troubles you, please read this first.
Tenebrous Satanism defines honor as a way of acting that is grounded in the recognition that human beings exist within a web of reciprocal relationships. Given that human beings are social animals of this kind, it makes sense both to think of human relations in terms of a social contract, and to assent to the validity of said contract, for the benefit of all. To pursue immediate gain by lying, breaking promises, taking advantage of trust, or etc. is the behavior of a short-sighted fool. In the long-run, such dishonorable behaviors both deprive oneself of the support of one’s fellow human beings, and undermine the social contract as such, to everyone’s detriment. Mature Satanists are capable of recognizing this.
Commentary: Honor does not require a “spiritual” perspective
O9A documents that make reference to honor often assert that dishonorable people lack awareness of “the numinous.” This implicitly means that honor requires an awareness of one’s own place within a grander scheme of things. As a very general concept, I agree with this notion.
What I disagree with, however, is the idea that honor requires some kind of specifically spiritual awareness. Claim that, and you wind up implying that atheists are incapable of being honorable – i.e. same anti-atheist bias as many traditional religions. As someone who sees validity in both “secular” and “spiritual” forms of Satanism, I find such a presumption unproductive. I therefore define honor’s horizon as social rather than spiritual. Honor does require awareness of other beings distinct from oneself, and of obligations stemming from one’s relationships with them. The “spiritual” Satanist is free to include supernatural beings in this idea. Concern for human relationality is, however, a non-negotiable facet of honor, applicable to “secular” and “spiritual” people alike.
Relationships matter because human beings are social animals. Secular reflection upon nature and evolution reveals this. Therefore, honor does not require belief in anything “spiritual” per se.
Honor also inherently has an individual component
At the same time though, Satanic honor is not only about upholding the social contract. It also encompasses integrity, in the sense of knowing what oneself stands for, and resisting the compromise of one’s closely-held principles. This aspect of honor provides robust support for self-assertion, as opposed to the attitude of “forgive and forget.” It is a fundamental wrong, Satanism asserts, for people to be pressured into “making nice” with those who have harmed them, just so that cowardly bystanders will not have to deal with the unpleasantness of conflict. Upholding honor means not only treating others with appropriate reciprocity, but also seeing to it that oneself receives what is due from others, rather than being taken advantage of.
Commentary: Integrity is the most self-evidently “Satanic” component of honor
Those who call Satan “Father of Lies” typically envision Satan as deceitful, sneaky, and therefore dishonorable. From the perspective of the Satanist, however, Satan’s rebellion against God constitutes a brave act of personal conviction. He stands up for what he sees as right, regardless of God/society disapproving and levying harsh penalties in response. So too, then, with the Satanist. There is no obligation to openly and constantly court controversy by openly identifying as a Satanist. But each Satanist sets limits re: their minimum requirements of authenticity, and will push back against violation of said boundaries.
Two other considerations are also relevant in construing Satan as honorable. One is that in a majority of pact folklore, Satan does adhere to the terms of the pacts he signs. Yes, he interprets them a bit creatively at times, but seldom if ever does he break his own contracts outright. Accordingly, if honor has any meaning to a Satanist at all, they will keep their word if they give it. Most Satanists I have ever met have come across to me as honorable in this specific sense.
Second, as accuser/adversary, Satan insists on addressing wrongs, instead of glossing them over or letting them go. Accordingly, multiple Satanic denominations assert that vengeance is not a “sin,” but a just prerogative. I do not wholly agree with other Satanists re: when and how to seek vengeance (more on this below). I insist without hesitation, though, that it is nobody’s place to tell another that they “should” forgive injustices they’ve suffered. Guilting people into tolerating abuse, lest unpleasantness interrupt the Herd’s complacent “peace,” is among RHP religions’ worst tendencies.
The Watchers model honor via their choice to engage with the World
A wise individual recognizes that the purpose of a social contract is to shield human beings from some of our shared vulnerability to Life’s Perils. Recognition of these Perils is thus one of honor’s roots. Honor is even more directly tied, however, to interdependence, for rootedness in a shared World is what justifies the virtue: one ought to honor those relationships which one is most deeply and intimately invested in. The Watcher angels behaved in this fashion when they gifted the women they loved with such arts as would advance both themselves and their tribes. The idea thus illustrated – that it is worthwhile to enter into relationships with others in the World, and that such relationships ought to be mutually-rewarding – speaks to the condition of human beings as creatures who live their best lives when they temper their innate selfishness with social cooperation.
Commentary: Empathy is actually the secondary virtue the Watchers model
I have written elsewhere about 1 Enoch’s story of the Watchers, and its relevance for the virtue of empathy. In Nine Keys of Abyssal Darkness, though, it is actually honor that I associate most strongly with said narrative. The Watchers are a manifestation of Blake’s proverb, “eternity is in love with the productions of time”. Love, in this context, encompasses both honor and empathy. Relationality is the ground of honor, which the Watchers story speaks to, as alluded-to above. And insofar as one needs empathy to make relationships “work”, the story speaks to empathy secondarily. Tenebrous Satanism sees empathy itself, though, as primarily grounded in the recognition of Life as a place of pervasive suffering. This theme I discuss in connection with the Book of Job – both in my book, and previously on this blog.
What O9A gets right about honor
The Order of Nine Angles (O9A) is a Satanic denomination whose writings more explicitly evoke the value of honor than do many others. Since Tenebrous Satanism is derived from O9A, our conception of honor naturally overlaps with O9A’s to some extent. Most worth highlighting in this regard is the conception of honor as warranting differential degrees of ethical relationship between different human beings, rather than a universalistic ethic of “treat everyone equally.”
O9A and Tenebrous Satanism alike could be said to see merit in the old Arab Bedouin saying, “I against my brothers; I and my brothers against my cousins; I and my brothers and my cousins against the world.” Like it or not, the reality this saying alludes to is that we simply are not in the same relationship with all human beings. When some relationships then press more closely upon our hearts and interests than others, prioritizing those relationships is the honorable thing to do. This concept is self-evident to any spouse who favors their significant other, and even more so to any parent who favors their own child. To those who engage with Life honestly, there should be nothing controversial about such a principle.
Commentary: Honor distinguishes the mature Satanist from the immature solipsist
The conception of honor just-described does not excuse one from still treating all human beings with a certain baseline level of respect. As LaVey writes, “Satan represents kindness to those who deserve it, instead of love wasted on ingrates.” If a random stranger has done nothing to you, then why not treat them with courtesy? I even have seen O9A documents making this very proposal (though disappointingly contradicting it elsewhere with stupid Antisemitic bullshit):
It seems to me that Satanism badly needs more emphasis on principles of this kind. LaVey himself called solipsism a Satanic sin. And yet, many identify Satanism with an Ayn Randian individualism that amounts to little more than purposely-adopted psychopathology. This is – so I perceive – one of several factors in folks gravitating away from “Satanism” toward “Luciferianism.” Which is totally fair, for those it works for. My own antidote, however, is to use the concept of honor to “correct” the unrealistically-individualistic ethos of past “Satanisms”. Both the reading I’ve done and personal experience convince me that human beings are social animals that flourish collectively. If Satanism is then to honestly acknowledge earthly realities, it must propose virtues that reflect this (honor and empathy). To deny the need for such virtues is to deny reality, in the selfsame way as traditional Christians deny evolution.
What O9A gets wrong about honor
On the other hand, though, there are two fronts on which Tenebrous Satanism sees O9A’s conception of honor as appropriate in past societies, but less so nowadays. One is O9A’s framing of honor as owed only within one’s own Sinister tribe, i.e. a too-insular way of drawing honor’s boundaries. The other is O9A’s conceiving of honor as entailing an obligation to meet certain kinds of insult with physical force.
These are conceptions of honor that befit situations in which a community is acutely endangered by its neighbors, or where individuals fear being pillaged by stronger competitors, who must be dissuaded from this temptation via dominance displays. Tenebrous Satanism acknowledges the adaptive utility of O9A-like conceptions of honor in such circumstances.
Most people living in developed nations today, however, do not experience such conditions, and stand to lose more than they gain by trying to live “honorably” by O9A’s definition. Tenebrous Satanism therefore defines honor in terms both broader and less reactive than O9A’s.
Commentary: Additional reasons why dueling is stupid
I don’t have much to add about “too insular” that my preceding remarks don’t already allude to. I’ll therefore only address dueling here.
A fundamental problem with dueling – whether physically, or some other way – is the way it inherently equates force with righteousness. Sure, bringing back dueling could produce incentives to get fit, learn how to fight, etc., which could be positive in some ways. There are, however, hard physical limits re: what each individual can attain. Likewise with whatever skills a non-physical equivalent of dueling (e.g. flyting) might require. Result: how much justice people can secure for themselves is made to depend upon traits having no inherent moral significance. Why should vindication depend upon who is stronger, smarter, better able to inflict violence (whether by their own hands, a champion’s) or etc.?
A typical answer to this question is, “it’s nature’s way”. Yet humans do any number of other things that are “unnatural” that enable us to flourish beyond nature’s defaults. What we have here is thus the same unimaginative, pedestrian, un-Satanic thinking as “sex = reproduction = non-reproductive sex is wrong.”
Yes, Satanism needs to acknowledge the dark realities of nature. But that is different from allowing such realities to rule over oneself. Tenebrous Satanism asserts that we should not allow “how nature says things should be” to rule us. Instead, we should consider what best fosters flourishing for ourselves and others we care about. Sometimes it is good to go with the flow of nature. Other times, we carve out better lives for ourselves by striving to transcend nature. It’s therefore simpleminded to assume “natural” behavior always serves honor while “unnatural behavior” is dishonorable.
Honor means knowing when to do one’s “duty” – and when not to
As far as how honor is moderated, wisdom and empathy together illuminate the requirements of honor in any given situation, from an intellectual and an emotional standpoint respectively. The absence of either results in the neglect of honor’s duties, whereas their presence promotes further refinement of one’s sense of honor over time. This includes, among other things, being able to perceive whether obligations of the social contract are being invoked in good faith or abused, and whether the social contract may itself contain blind spots, e.g. cases where a society is in the habit of treating certain kinds of people inhumanely for poorly-justified reasons. Empathy decries such inhumanity, whilst wisdom demands that irrational arrangements be replaced with ones that make better sense for everyone involved.
Amid all of this, Satanic honor entails a recognition that a balance must be struck between reciprocity’s demands and the imperative to be true to oneself. Accordingly, it repays genuinely-felt debts without complaint, but bristles at guilt-based attempts at extortion; it keeps promises to those who deal fairly, but breaks them with those who attempt to use one’s word against oneself; it recognizes a general right to avenge wrongs done, even if pragmatic considerations weigh against the actual taking-of-vengeance. At all times, it is self-aware about the motivation for reciprocity – e.g. whether a given relationship is founded upon mutual affection or pragmatic convenience – and gives and takes accordingly.
None of this nuance is manageable in the absence of wisdom and empathy. With their support, on the other hand, honor hits its mark: the living of a life in which meaningful engagement with others augments one’s own sense of fulfillment, instead of detracting from it.
Commentary: Overemphasizing duty turns honor into a tool of injustice and conformity
I personally see a clash between Satanism’s celebration of transgression, and any too-absolutist demand that one “do one’s duty”. “Duty” inherently posits an existing network of relationships, in the context of which one owes obligations. Only in a perfectly-just cosmic order could “doing one’s duty” always be the right thing to do. Satanism challenges the idea of such an order, though. An archangel’s “place” in such a hypothetical order is to submit to God. In refusing to do so, our fallen archangel has rejected his “duty”. His priority is, instead, to honor his own convictions.
My point here, then, is that one must beware of people who use “honor” to uphold unjust hierarchies. You do not have to “honor your parents” if they are setting abusive limits on your life. Any formulation of honor that burdens women more than men – e.g. “modesty” – deserves no respect. And so forth. Not that I seriously think any competent Satanist disagrees with these points. How does one articulate such lines without turning honor into a meaningless “if I feel like it” -type thing, though? Here is where I think wisdom and empathy are key. It is they that reveal the “rules,” which honor then impels one to live in accord with.
Does what I’ve described here bear any resemblance to what you think honor is? If so, on what fronts? If not, how do you define it? Let me know in the comments.