- Satanic Feminism: Lucifer as the Liberator of Woman in Nineteenth-Century Culture by Per Faxneld
Satanism, feminism, western esotericism, Satan, Devil, Lucifer, nineteenth century Europe, Christianity, Theosophy, Romanticism, Gothic literature, Decadent literature, socialism, witchcraft
Appearing as a part of a series Oxford Studies in Western Esotericism, Per Faxneld's Satanic Feminism: Lucifer as the Liberator of Woman in Nineteenth-Century Culture adds to a body of high-quality research in the history of Satanism that has blossomed in recent years. Faxneld focuses on the role of narratives about Satan in the movement for emancipation of women during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He proposes to consider the myth of Satan as a counter-myth constructed by those who were opposed to the power structures of nineteenth-century European society in an attempt to alleviate the oppression they experienced (15). The concept of "satanic feminism" that gives the book its name describes a flip from the "demonized feminism," typical of mainstream Christian theology, to this counter-myth formed within nineteenth-century culture (510). Chapters of the book focus on various ways in which these flipped narratives about Satan were introduced in socialist thought, Theosophy, Romanticism, Gothic and Decadent literature, and on certain specific figures, namely Mary MacLane and Sylvia Townsend Warner, each of whom gets a dedicated chapter. References to Satan here serve as a kind of Ariadne's thread helping to navigate nineteenth-century thought and to uncover certain hidden or disregarded connections between intellectual and political currents of the period, similar to each other in their attempts to question the established status quo.
In order to achieve this goal, Faxneld relies on wide definitions of the phenomena he writes about. Thus "feminism" is defined here as "the view that women are oppressed by men and that equality of the sexes (or, in some rare cases discussed, female supremacy) is desirable and worth working towards" (23), while esotericism "designates a set of discourses that share a strong rhetorical focus on secrecy and concealment in relation to a supposed higher [End Page 297] knowledge" and "represent[s] a form of rejected knowledge at odds with hegemonic discourses" (27). The latter definition makes use of approaches by two prominent scholars of esotericism—Wouter Hanegraaff and Kocku von Stuckrad—in an attempt to combine them, despite the theoretical debate between these scholars. Most interesting though is Faxneld's definition of Satanism. He provides two definitions of Satanism, sensu stricto and sensu lato. Satanism sensu stricto, according to this approach, refers to "a system in which Satan is celebrated in a prominent position," i.e. as the highest or most important entity or symbol, with "system" implying something more than just an occasional mention of Satan. Satanism sensu lato, on the other hand, "entails celebrations of the Devil used as a discursive strategy in a fairly demarcated and restricted manner" (25).
Such wide and somewhat vague definitions allow the author to highlight connections in the history of thought that would not be visible otherwise. As Faxneld points out, the vast majority of figures in the study can be considered "satanists" only sensu lato. However, their turn to the image of Satan signals something important about their projects and their place in the culture of their era. Thus, for instance, in the case of Eliphas Lévi, who is credited with introduction of the image of the hermaphroditic Devil-like figure of Baphomet and its esoteric reading as a pure natural force, it is also important that he was a socialist and pro-feminist writer (53–54). His use of a Devil-like imaginary (even though Lévi himself never understood Baphomet as an antagonist of God) provided material for conservative writers who implied a satanic conspiracy behind socialist and feminist politics, but also inspired esoteric authors like Blavatsky who leaned towards a feminist agenda and—in some respects—utilized Lévi's views.
One of the most well-known figures with whom Faxneld deals in the book, at least from the perspective of a scholar of esotericism, is...