The fourth tenet of the Tenebrous Creed identifies zeal, wisdom, honor, empathy and perseverance as foremost values for Satanists. But in what sense is empathy “Satanic”? Part 1 of 3 discusses the Serpent in Genesis and the fallen Watchers in Enoch. Read the introduction to this series here.
Does the Serpent in Eden show Satanic empathy?
This is probably the easiest Satanic narrative from which to derive empathy as a Satanic value. I suspect it’s also the primary one that liberal-humanist Satanists (e.g. those of The Satanic Temple (TST)) would most tend to turn toward.
A traditional view vs. a romantic one
Of course, the traditional Christian interpretation of the Eden story is that the Serpent corrupts humans. i.e. God made humanity perfect; eating the forbidden fruit causes them to become less so.
Theologians are not agreed on Satan’s exact motivation, however. Some construe him as envying the elevated place given to humans in God’s plan, and as bearing ill-will primarily toward them. Others understand him as motivated more by malice toward God himself (for outshining him, failing to grant his rightful place, or etc.). Satan’s desire to ruin creation then follows from this. Finally, there are also some who envision Satan as well-meaning but misguided, pursuing his own perverse vision at cross-purposes to the divine plan.
Proto-Satanic Romantics, such as Percy Bysshe Shelley, took this last take as the seed for an interesting thought experiment: what if, actually, Satan did have a better plan for the universe than God did? It is not then difficult for Satanists to take that idea, and develop it more fully.
The decisive influence of Paradise Lost
A text that has proven especially inspirational on this front, both for individuals like Shelley and for Satanists, is Milton’s Paradise Lost.
Now, I do think that proto-Satanic Romantics and contemporary Satanists alike often fail to acknowledge how extremely selective their reading of Paradise Lost is. But setting that issue (which I may write about elsewhere) aside, certainly Paradise Lost does contain some great quotes. And certainly, the Satanic reader is free to interpret these contra Milton’s own purpose and intentions.
In Paradise Lost, when Eve repeats God’s prohibition to the Serpent, the Serpent is described as reacting “with show of Zeal and Love to Man, and indignation at his wrong” (Book IX, lines 665-666). Satan goes on to outline how knowledge of good and evil would enable Eve to have a better, happier life (ibid, lines 697-700), and to complain that God oppresses her and Adam unjustly (ibid, lines 703-704). (Book IX full text available here – skip down to the quotes if you’re interested)
Milton himself of course posits that all of this is part of the Serpent’s deception. Nonetheless, many modern people who read this part of the poem find Satan’s reasoning persuasive. To such an audience, it does seem like God has limited Adam and Eve arbitrarily. By contrast, what Satan is proposing genuinely seems better for them. Readers can thereby reinterpret Satan as a benign figure who cares about human well-being. He wants them to flourish instead of languish, and to seek new horizons instead of remaining God’s tame pets in the garden.
This is, of course, how we get memes such as this one:
Do the Watchers in Enoch show Satanic empathy?
The second story this entry discusses is at least as plausible as Eden re: fallen angel actually cares about humans. It’s from the apocrypha, though – “Biblical” style books that are not actually canon – so less well-known. Nonetheless, many esoteric Satanists (e.g. Luciferians) will be familiar with it. It has also influenced a number of popular culture works, such as the 2014 Noah film and the 1986 YA novel Many Waters.
Enoch’s interspecies romance
The apocryphal Book of Enoch contains a story about a group of angels called the Watchers. One day, the story goes, the Watchers are looking down from heaven, and notice that human women are extraordinarily beautiful. This causes the angels to fall, in the course of pursuing the gratification of their lust.
Once upon the Earth, however, it seems the Watchers develop some degree of real affection and esteem for the humans they take as wives. For one thing, they are moved to reveal secrets both of practical technology (e.g. weapon-making, cosmetics) and esoteric arts (e.g. herbalism, sorcery). This gives an edge to their wives’ tribes, allowing said groups to advance their fortunes. It thus seems that the angels’ reasons for violating heavenly prohibitions against sharing such knowledge lie in the desire for their loved ones to live better lives.
For another thing, though, God’s reaction to this entire matter is rather striking. When he finds out what has occurred, he chastises the angels harshly for “defiling” themselves with the women. The accompanying speech’s wording implies that in the text’s worldview, females exist only in the world of matter. Their sole purpose, that is, is enabling mortals to reproduce. Despite this, though, God still refers to the Watchers’ wives and children as their “beloved ones.” This is, moreover, in the context of pouring salt in the wounds of the damned, i.e. part of their punishment for this “terrible” thing they’ve done is that they will have to witness horrible fates coming to their “beloved ones.”
A Satanic reinterpretation
Enoch does posit that the Watchers messed up the world pretty badly. For one thing, the offspring of themselves and the women, the Nephilim, have vast appetites that lay waste to the land. For another, human use of angelic knowledge unleashes a plague of conquest, seduction, etc. upon the earth.
Nonetheless, I do not think it is much of a stretch to suggest that the motivation for the Watchers’ fall was not wholly selfish. One can, instead, read it in terms similar to the Romantic/Satanic take on Genesis. Wise, virtuous angelic being beholds humans; said being concludes that God’s plan fails to make the best of humans’ true potential; cue attempt to improve upon God’s plan.
Yes, this take is contradicted by the traditional understanding that “really,” God’s plan was better. But how plausible is this in our contemporary age, in which we tend to see sexuality, technological advance and other such earthly matters in a more positive light?
A Satanic interpretation of Enoch discovers similar Promethean themes in Enoch as in Genesis. One could argue, however, that Enoch’s God comes off much worse than Genesis’ does. The implication of his chastisement of the angels is that love is “supposed” to consist in obedient submission to hierarchy. The Watchers’ sin, by contrast, consists in subverting hierarchy toward the end of actually making peoples’ earthly lives better. And how does God react to this proposition? By throwing a misogynistic tantrum and destroying the world.
This is, if anything, a more effective story at illustrating why Satanists oppose traditional religious norms than much of what is actually in the Bible!
Genesis and Enoch’s implications for empathy as a Satanic virtue
As I’ve already alluded to above, one can readily reinterpret both Genesis and Enoch in Promethean terms. Prometheus famously stole fire from the gods. He thereby bestowed a decisive boon upon humanity, only to be punished by the gods for having “transgressed.” Analogously, Satan and the Watchers both share knowledge that drives human advancement, yet are chastised and demonized for it.
Tradition paints these fallen angel characters as motivated by various negative traits. These include selfishness, stubbornness, and even outright malicious spite. Nonetheless, note what emerges if one reads Milton’s Paradise Lost and Enoch’s text closely. It is not impossible to find elements in these texts that make it sound like maybe, just maybe, the fallen angels were motivated by empathy for humans too.
A Satanic understanding can then amplify and extend that idea. God in these stories appears to stand for childish innocence, timeless stasis, externally-imposed hierarchy, submissive obedience, and dualistic separation. The fallen angels, by contrast, stand for carnal experience, evolution, going one’s own way to seek one’s own good, and reconciliation between the earthly and the heavenly.
The moral of the story: when you encounter beings of flesh, possessed of rationality and consciousness, do not treat them as pets, children, or pieces on a game board who are “supposed” to only move in a certain way. Instead, look at their situation and ask: what would make this better, for them? And then, do what you can to bring about that good end, for the benefit of everyone involved.
Thus does one frame the notion that Satan models empathy, and that we, as Satanists, ought to conduct ourselves likewise.
Closing shout-out to The Satanic Temple
Now, I myself am not a member of TST. This is, however, mostly because my obligations as a sorcerer have bent my path elsewhere. In large strokes, I am nonetheless a supporter of liberal-humanist forms of Satanism. On an ideological level, then, I am much more comfortable putting forward apologetics for Satanic groups like TST than I would ever be for certain other groups whose DNA Tenebrous Satanism shares a large portion of.
I therefore want to close this entry by saying:
- I have the utmost respect for TST for being the first Satanic denomination to forthrightly assert that compassion is indeed a Satanic virtue. Best wishes to them when it comes to popularizing this idea!
- I grasp that many Satanists will not be as enthused about an in-depth analysis of religious texts as I am. Nonetheless, I hope what I have written here will prove thought-provoking re: how a position like TST’s can stand as a legitimately “Satanic” position.
- I think one can argue, in connection with what I’ve written here, that contra certain TST critics, their Snaketivity scenes are not merely trolling. The Serpent does belong alongside the Nativity as a figure of love for humanity, and hope for a new dawn. The whole thing is cleverer than drive-by critiques give it credit for.
I’ve got two more installments of this series on empathy still coming. Do let me know your thoughts so far, though:
- If empathy is indeed a legitimate Satanic value, what could/should Satanists do to more fully live this out?
- What other Satanic values is empathy potentially in tension with? How might we navigate this?
- Or, on the other hand, do you strongly dislike the idea of empathy being a Satanic value? If so, why, and how would you argue for your position?
Let me know in the comments.
This post received a new title image and small edits to improve wording and search engine optimization on Aug 13/23.