The Black Mass is an obscene parody of the Catholic Holy Mass firmly entrenched in the popular notion of Devil worship. Black Masses are erroneously associated with all witches. They are not performed by Wiccans and Pagans, who do not worship the Devil, and it is doubtful that they were ever performed, at least in any significant numbers, by anyone in centuries past. The Black Mass exists more in fiction and film than it does in reality, though it is performed by various modern satanic groups (see Satanism).
There is no one Black Mass ritual. The general purpose of the mass is to mock the Catholic Holy Mass by performing it or parts of it backwards, inverting the cross, stepping or spitting on the cross, stabbing the host and other obscene acts. urine is sometimes substituted for the holy water used to sprinkle the attendees; urine or water is substituted for the wine; and rotted turnip slices, pieces of black leather or black triangles are substituted for the host. Black candles are substituted for white ones.
The service may be performed by a defrocked priest, who wears vestments that are black or the color of dried blood, and embroidered with an inverted cross, a goat’s head (see Baphomet), or magical symbols. The magical significance of the Black Mass lies in the belief that the Holy Mass involves a miracle: the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. If the priest, as magician, can effect a miracle in a Holy Mass, then he surely can effect magic in a mass used for other purposes.
Priests who attempted to subvert the Holy Mass for evil purposes, such as cursing a person to death (see curse), were condemned by the Catholic church as early as the 7th century. One such famous form of the Black Mass was the Mass of St. Secaire, said to have originated in the Middle Ages in Gascony. The purpose of the mass was to curse an enemy to death by a slow, wasting illness.
Montague Summers provided a colorful description of it in The History of Witchcraft and Demonology:
The mass is said upon a broken and desecrated altar in some ruined or deserted church where owls hoot and mope and bats flit through the crumbling windows, where toads spit their venom upon the sacred stone. The priest must make his way thither late, attended only by an acolyte of impure and evil life. At the first stroke of eleven he begins; the liturgy of hell is mumbled backward, the canon said with a mow and a sneer; he ends just as midnight tolls.
The Mass of St. Secaire required a triangular, black host and brackish water drawn from a well in which the corpse of an unbaptized baby was tossed. The beginnings of the Black Mass as it is known in modern times date back to the 14th century, when the church was persecuting heretics. Most of the Black Mass cases centered in France. In 1307 the Knights Templar were accused of conducting blasphemous rites in which they renounced Christ and worshiped idols made of stuffed human heads.
They also were accused of spitting and trampling upon the cross, and worshiping the Devil in the shape of a black cat. Through arrests and trials, the order was destroyed. In the 15th century, Gilles de Rais, a French baron, was arrested and accused of conducting Black Masses in the cellar of his castle in order to gain riches and power. He was accused of kidnapping, torturing and murdering more than 140 children as sacrifices and was executed in 1440.
In the 16th and 17th centuries numerous priests in France were arrested and executed for conducting Black Masses. In 1500 the cathedral chapter of Cambrai held Black Masses in protest against their bishop. A priest in Orleans, Gentien le Clerc, tried in 1614–15, confessed to performing a “Devil’s mass” which was followed by drinking and a wild sexual orgy. In 1647 the nuns of Louviers said they had been bewitched and possessed, and forced by chaplains to participate nude in masses, defiling the cross and trampling upon the host.
During the same period, the Black Mass was associated with witchcraft. Witches tortured and tried by witchhunters and inquisitors confessed to participating in obscene rituals at sabbats, in which the cross was defiled and the Devil served as priest. It is unlikely that these took place. The height of the Black Mass was reached in the late 17th century, during the reign of Louis XIV, who was criticized for his tolerance of witches and sorcerers. It became fashionable among nobility to hire priests to perform erotic Black Masses in dark cellars.
The chief organizer of these rites was Catherine Deshayes, known as “La Voisin,” said to be a witch who told fortunes and sold love philtres. La Voisin employed a cadre of priests who performed the masses, including the ugly and evil Abbé Guiborg, who wore gold-trimmed and lace-lined vestments and scarlet shoes. The mistress of Louis XIV, the Marquise de Montespan, sought out the services of La Voisin because she feared the king was becoming interested in another woman.
Using Montespan as a naked altar, Guiborg said three Black Masses over her, invoking Satan and his demons of lust and deceit, Beelzebub, Asmodeus and Astaroth, to grant whatever Montespan desired. It was said that while incense burned, the throats of children were slit and their blood poured into chalices and mixed with flour to make the host. Whenever the mass called for kissing the altar, Guiborg kissed Montespan. He consecrated the host over her genitals and inserted pieces in her vagina.
The ritual was followed by an orgy. The bodies of the children were later burned in a furnace in La Voisin’s house. When the scandal of the Black Masses broke, Louis arrested 246 men and women, many of them among France’s highest-ranking nobles, and brought them to trial. Confessions were made under torture. Most of the nobility got off with jail sentences and exile in the countryside. Thirty-six of the commoners were executed, including La Voisin, who was burned alive in 1680.
The Black Mass was a decadent fashion into the 19th century, when it began to wane. The Hellfire Club, a fraternal group in London in the late 19th century, was said to perform a Black Mass regularly in worship of the Devil, though it is likely that the rites were little more than sexual escapades with liberal quantities of alcohol. In 1947 a Black Mass was performed at the graveside of Aleister Crowley.
When the Church of Satan was founded in 1966, a Black Mass was not included among the rituals; it was the opinion of the church’s founder, Anton Szandor LaVey, that the Black Mass was outmoded. Nevertheless, Church of Satan and other satanic groups perform their own versions of Black Masses.
Taken from : The Encyclopedia of Witches, Witchcraft, and Wicca By Rosemary Ellen Guiley
Edited for the Web by Occult World