History of the Black Mass
Magical uses of the Mass and alleged perversions of the Mass are almost as old as Christianity itself.
In the second century, Saint Irenaeus accused the Gnostic teacher Marcus of perverting the Mass. The Gelasian Sacramentary (ca. sixth century) documents masses to be said for a variety of magical purposes, including weather control, fertility, protection, and love divination.
Masses also were said with the intent to kill people; these were officially condemned as early as 694 by the Council of Toledo. 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, were condemned by the Catholic Church as early as the seventh century.
Magical uses of the Mass increased in the Middle Ages. The beginnings of the organized Black Mass as part of Devil worship coincides with the expansion of the Inquisition and rising public fears about the evil powers of witches.
The first witch trials to feature accusations of sabbats, Devil’s Pacts, and Black Masses all occurred in the 14th century. In 1307, the powerful and wealthy Order of the Knights Templar was destroyed on accusations of conducting blasphemous rites in which Christ was renounced and idols made of stuffed human heads were worshipped.
The Knights Templar also were accused of spitting and trampling upon the cross and worshipping the Devil in the shape of a black cat. Members of the order were arrested, tortured, and executed.
In 1440, 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 charged with kidnapping, torturing, and murdering more than 140 children as sacrifices. He was convicted and executed.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, priests in France were arrested and executed for conducting Black Masses. Many of the masses were theatrical events intended for social shock and protest against the church; the seriousness of the actual “Devil worship” was dubious.
For example, in 1500, the cathedral chapter of Cambrai held Black Masses in protest against their bishop. A priest in Orléans, Gentien le Clerc, tried in 1614–15, confessed to performing a “Devil’s mass,” which was followed by drinking and a wild sexual orgy.
Black Masses figured in high-profile Possession cases, such as the Louviers Possessions in 1647. Ursuline nuns said they had been bewitched and possessed and were forced by chaplains—led by Abbé Thomas Boulle—to participate nude in Black Masses, defiling the cross, trampling upon the host, and having sex with demons.
The height of the theatrical, anti-Catholic 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,” a witch who told fortunes and sold love philters.
La Voisin employed a cadre of priests who performed the masses, including the ugly and evil Abbé Guiborg, who were gold-trimmed and lacelined 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.
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 some of France’s highest-ranking nobles, and put them on trial. Confessions were made under torture.
Most of the nobility received only jail sentences and exile in the countryside. Thirty-six of the commoners were executed, including La Voisin, who was burned alive in 1680.
Louis kept Montespan out of the trials, but she suffered great humiliation and disgrace. When Louis’ queen, Maria Theresa, died in 1683, he married another woman, Madame de Maintenon.
Paralleling the theatrical and antichurch Black Masses were the accusations of Black Masses conducted by witches.
In the 14th–18th centuries, inquisitors considered Devil worship in obscene rites to be an integral part of witchcraft. Victims tortured by witch hunters and inquisitors confessed to participating in obscene rituals at SABBATs, in which the cross was defiled and the Devil served as priest.
It is doubtful that such sabbats actually took place as described by inquisitors and demonologists. There is no evidence that the Black Mass was part of historical European witchcraft.
The Black Mass continued as a decadent fashion into the 19th century during an occult revival. Joris K. Huysmans’ 1891 novel Là-bas (Down There or Lower Depths) features the Gilles de Rais story.
It draws upon Abbé Boulle from Louivers—Huysmans even inserted himself as a character—in its exploration of Satanic rites and contains a description of the Black Mass. Durtal, the character who is based on Huysmans, is taken by a woman, Hyacinthe, to a dingy, moldy chapel that once was used by Ursuline nuns, then turned into a livery and a barn to store hay.
It has been taken over by Satanists. Among the participants is a debauched nun. A choking incense of henbane, datura, dried nightshade, and myrrh is burned. After a mass of obscenities and blasphemies and the desecration of the host, the place erupts in “a monstrous pandemonium of prostitutes and maniacs.”
Participants, high on the fumes, tear off their clothes and writhe on the floor. Sexual acts are implied but not described by Huysmans; his two characters who are witnesses become disgusted and exit the scene.
The Hell Fire 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 more likely that the rites were little more than sexual escapades with liberal quantities of alcohol. In the 20th century, the Black Mass became a staple of Devil worship novels and films.
One of the most influential fictions was the 1934 novel The Devil Rides Out by Dennis Wheatley, with a black magician character, Morcata, modeled on Aleister Crowley. The novel was made into a film in 1968 by Hammer Films of England, during a time of occult revival and the birth of Witchcraft, or Wicca, as a religion.
Black Masses are not part of modern Witchcraft, or Wicca, which emphasizes rituals composed of ceremonial magic and reconstructed pagan seasonal rites. The occult revival that began in the 1960s saw the birth of contemporary Satanism as a religious practice, with varying views on the Black Mass. Satanic cults born of social rebellion also instituted Black Masses as a form of social shock.
Last updated: October 30, 2012 at 21:36 pm
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