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Do you ever watch the Canadian artist and cultural critic Jonathan Pageau’s videos? Here’s a link to his “Symbolic World” YouTube channel. And here’s a link to his The Symbolic World website. He’s an artist and an Orthodox Christian who likes to analyze popular culture looking for deep symbolic themes and mythological narratives. It’s really interesting and challenging.
The other day Jonathan tweeted that he tried twice to record an analysis of “Montero,” the Satanic-themed music video from Lil Nas X, but both times the video failed. He said that had never happened to him before. He decided to put it aside. Jonathan’s a friend, so I reached out and told him I would post his script if he wanted. He said yes. Here is the text of what would have appeared on his YouTube channel. Note well, everything below is not written by Rod Dreher, but by Jonathan Pageau. If you agree or disagree with what he says, take it up with him on Twitter @pageaujonathan :
Lil Nas X, WandaVision and the Satanic Pattern in Culture
by Jonathan Pageau
The black and red, blood injected, upside-down pentagram sporting Satan shoes by Lil Nas X as well as his serpent-alien sex, Satan lap-dancing Montero video could only be released a week before Easter. This is business as usual. It has almost become part of Christian celebrations to expect a slew of these smears in the mainstream media before important Christian holidays. There is something boring and tedious about the whole affair, a nicely organised propaganda supply chain with just-in-time delivery.
Nonetheless, beyond my first reaction of dismissal, I found there is something people might want to understand in this Satanic imagery. It is not arbitrary at all, but like any system of meaning, it rather has a strange coherence. This coherence can give us a few clues as to why this imagery would be used to attract the type of attention someone like Lil Nas X desperately needs in order to stay relevant in a post-Christian, blasé, porn-infused, hungover culture.
And I guess I should tip my fedora to Lil Nas X as he does a bang-up job at weaving this imagery together succinctly. The Lil Nas X situation alone probably wouldn’t have been enough for me to put any energy into this, in fact there is also a second angle entering this article. I found another source of fodder in the denouement of Disney’s WandaVision, which lays out imagery similar to Lil Nas X, a feminine Witchcraft contrasting to the more masculine Satanism while nonetheless playing in similar tones to Montero’s hellish carnival.
Yes, yes. I remember the so-called Satanic panic in the 1980s, those pastors telling us about back-tracking and how rock songs had secret Satanic messages when played backwards. Even as a young teenager, I often wondered why they needed to look for secret messages when the overt messages were clear enough. People are very bad at hiding what they are doing. If you pay attention, they will tell you what they are up to, especially if you know what to watch for.
The Montero video is a disturbing sight to behold. In a world inhabited only by versions of himself, Lil Nas X sings about his sexual encounters and obsession with a man who has the same name as him (Montero). “Call Me By Your Name” is the unofficial title of the song. The video is about one thing: Pride.
This self love is represented as an exploration of the strangeness and idiosyncrasies of oneself, self seduction, self-victimizing, self-abasement, self-gratification and ultimately self-crowning. In speaking to his self-named lover, Montero tells us that “I’m not fazed, only here to sin/If Eve ain’t in your garden, you know that you can”.
Pride as self-love appears ultimately as a sterile revolution against the natural patterns of the world, a desire for the world to be in our own image, and a desire to free ourselves from the usual constraints of natural patterns and cycles of being. He tells his self-named lover he wants to “Shoot a child in your mouth’”. This is of course the ultimate image of sterility, solipsistic dreaming, and imagination which is taken up in fantastical places but does not produce body, community, or cohesion, but only revolution, fragmentation, and loneliness. Montero tells us: “I want to **** the ones I envy, I envy“. We have entered the pattern of revolution, of attempting to come in and up from behind.
We find Montero under the Tree of Knowledge in the primordial garden, where he is first frightened, but then seduced by a serpent figure. The serpent figure is a hybrid in the tradition of Renaissance depictions of the serpent, which has often been linked to Lilith by historians. The Hybrid also takes on the imagery of the Alien. Of course this Hybrid/Alien/Demon/Serpent figure is one that has become the narrative monster of conspiracy theorists from David Icke to QAnon. So it could be easy to dismiss all of this as a kind of trolling of course, and this is indeed the game being played.
Yet the question remains: Why does Montero invoke this very precise imagery in his video? To gain attention, to provoke, to subvert?
Yes, yes, and yes. But the error is to believe it stops there, that such an answer somehow explains what is happening. In searching for a more subtle understanding, one needs to ask first of all why these narrative elements crystalized the fears and worry of so many people at the time they did, and then especially ask why someone like Montero is allowed to embody these fears so perfectly at this moment in order to increase his fame.
Of course, it is about attention, but the reason why certain things will bring you attention rather than condemnation or lack of care at certain times in a cycle of attention is in no way arbitrary and can help us understand where we are in our ongoing social narrative. The patterns of the stories that we live and tell ourselves are not arbitrary.
After his seduction by the serpent, the video then follows Montero to a kind of Colosseum where he is chained and judged by cross-dressed versions of himself, stoned by dusty zombie like replicas and then finally killed with a sex toy. He ascends into the sky to meet a shadowy angel, but a pole/lance shoots up from below. As Montero grabs it, he begins to slide down in the guise of a pole dancer into the belly of Hell.
If ever there was a perfect representation of the ontological reality of pole dancing, I think this is it. The pole coming up from below is of course an inversion of the spear of St. Michael which is portrayed in medieval imagery as pinning down the great Serpent that is Satan. This spear/pole is now coming up to claim Montero from behind with all its phallic undertones. Even though it comes from below, it is nonetheless the axis mundi, the hierarchy which connects heaven and earth, though a hierarchy not seen from the side of the traditional ladder, with its going up in humility and worship, but rather the coming up and from behind of revolution.
This of course ultimately ends up not being a going up but a coming down, “a being chased from heaven” and so it is not the axis from the point of view of the ladder, but from the side of the shoot or of the serpent sliding down. We see movement from the periphery of the wheel wrapped around the axis which turns and slithers, seducing onlookers by its changeability and leading them into their passions. Montero is replaying the first part of the video, where he was seduced by the serpent sliding down the tree, but now he is the serpent who will seduce Satan himself.
Ending up in a caricature of Hell with a thorn covered door (nice touch. BTW), Montero lap dances Satan into simulated sodomy, to then himself come up behind the Evil One to break his neck and steal his horns and crown, replacing the Devil in a final revolution, the supremacy of the self.
For a Satanic story, I would say it scores pretty well.
The media coverage about this “Lil NasX scandal” has been mostly about how Christians are reacting to it, how they are offended, how they are falling into a new Satanic panic, how they are too stupid to see the provocative humor and social message in this. Let’s be honest: this is what this whole circus is for.
Like I said at the outset, it is not arbitrary that this imagery was put out there just before Easter. Satanism has systematically been about Christianity since its very beginning. All the contemporary popular imagery, from Anton LaVey’s celebrity status and movie acting, to Black Sabbath and other forms of Heavy-Metal Satanism, all the upside down crosses, the Black Mass, and the celebration of sin and passion are all about embodying, in a mythological setting, the end of Christianity and its hold on the mythic narrative (while secretly and unknowingly restating it, but that is another story).
Once one understands this, many things will appear to us more clearly, even the ironic aspect of Satanism and cultural provocations like the Satanic shoes or the Montero video.
Satanism is Irony itself, from its ritual version of Black Masses to its more philosophical social manifestation, it is the Christian story re-stated from its upside down and narrative margin. It is the gargoyle as priest, the rebel as king. The theatrics, the “joke” of Satanism is one of the most important considerations of its meaning and purpose, and ultimately of its Satanic qualities. If you ask a LaVey style Satanist about their religion, they will tell you they do not believe in Satan. This is of course difficult for Christians, who order their lives on truth and faith, to understand. “Why would they go to such efforts for something they do not believe in?”
Of course such a reaction comes from decent people who cannot see how there is nothing more Satanic than believing both God and Satan do not exist, though all the while acting in self-righteous pride and resentment to offend Christians and destroy their hierarchy of meaning by ritually and mythologically embodying all that Christians oppose.
Remember, the Montero video ends with the putting of the Satanic crown on oneself. This is of course what happened recently in the Baphomet statue hubbub surrounding the Temple of Satan. In embracing the very ambiguous and egalitarian American notion of “religious freedom”, these Satanic pranksters are able to show how Americans are potentially Satanists because they must equally include the parody and opposite of what most of them believe in.
In a traditional world, the monsters, the demons, the gargoyles and especially the Satan or opponent, are on the outside or underground. They are below us. It is best to not even pronounce their names. But now, in the context of Liberty and Equality driving social forms, the figure of Satan begins to appear as a dark prophet of the modern world, a noble Promethean who tragically stood against authority and declared himself equal to that which was above him.
In the Montero video, Mr. X gets it right. Satanic imagery has never ultimately been about worshiping the devil, but rather about embodying the revolutionary pattern through the type of Pride exemplified by Satan in his war against heaven, and which ends with self-worship and self-crowning. Obviously it cannot really end that way, for Montero’s only claim to the crown of horns is violence and revolution, which means that there is another pole-riding lap dancer in line to kill Montero and take the crown from him. (But that is for another story.)
One of the tropes of the anti-Christian “religious scholar” of the past decades has been to point to how idiosyncratic the “devil” of pop-satanism is. The brooding red demon, the horns, the trident, the goat like appearance — all of this, they tell us is an early-modern development which grew with layers of additions, from the horned monster present in images of the Last Judgement, through the frenzied description of witches and devils of the Malleus Maleficarum (The Hammer of Witches, which is the famous text used in early modern witch trials), to Milton’s Lucifer and Faust’s Mephistopheles. Our pompous religious scholars remind us this figure has little to do with what early Christians believed. As usual, these scholars, for all their factual accuracies, are missing the point.
The transformation of the Evil One from a shadowy and ambiguous character in early Christian and even Jewish imagination, to the tragic romantic figure he has become is one of the narrative threads one can follow to trace the development of Western society into our present state of crisis. This narrative development does not end in Milton but grows more so in post-Milton representations such as the one told by Neil Gaiman in his Season of Mists graphic novel, a characterization which has become the basis for the Lucifer Netflix show.
Historically this transformation follows the return to pagan references as a tool of revolution, as the image of secularism which informs much of Renaissance and Enlightenment thought and accelerates into the modern age. In fact, the culminating figure of Satan in popular imagination, the one who attracted Mick Jagger’s sympathy has its precedent in Aeschylus’s Prometheus Bound.
In this ancient Greek tragedy, the Titan punished for bringing humans knowledge is presented as a noble resistance to the tyrannical father. One will come to realize that there is nothing arbitrary about the golden Prometheus statue in Rockefeller Plaza.
All of this follows a narrative thread which is the very story of modernity. The reason The Satanic Temple wanted to put up an image of Baphomet in the United States, is believe it or not, the culmination of the same process which made Napoleon fill his Arc de Triomphe with Roman gods. I wonder if Napoleon could perceive that the gesture of declaring himself emperor while putting the crown on his own head would culminate in a solipsistic video by a pole dancing rapper who seduces the Devil only to kill him and put his crown on himself?
[Read more below the jump]
One of the historical moments where we can trace the origin of modern Occultism and Satanism is when the Knights Templar were disbanded in the 14th century. The legitimacy of the accusations made against them is still being discussed interminably by historians. But in terms of social narrative, it does not matter so much if you believe in the accusations against the Templars or not. It is quite possible they did not practice sodomy, blaspheme against the cross, or worship a strange god named Baphomet. In same vein, in terms of what we are seeing today, it does not matter if you believe the accusations against witches in the early modern period either, the descriptions of their Sabbat Masses and their fornicating with demons.
Of course one could argue about this in historical terms, and people can do this interminably until they forget the original point of why such accusations matter. What matters most is how these new possibilities at the end of the Middle Ages became a narrative space where the opposite of Christianity began to explicitly take form in sacrilege, in parody, in inversion, and in an embracing the opposite of all that Christianity valued. And so we mostly need to see these accusations as an opening and recognizing of certain possibilities, the narrative space of the “edge and end of Christianity”, and this “anti-Christ” was slowly filled as Christianity itself began to falter and break apart. It was through these very tools and imagery, whether consciously or unconsciously, that Christianity would be attacked by its own dissidents. By these very means it would be inverted and subverted, until even new pseudo-religions like Satanism and Wicca would explicitly take on, identify, and expand the very tropes which were manifested in those early modern fears.
Even if the accusations against the Templars were fabricated, we arrive nonetheless through a strange process of development, through the Enlightenment to 19th century occultists like Eliphas Levi and Aleister Crowley, through Bulgakov and Slayer, at a point where we have this massively popular, not at all edgy, video which won attention for its sacrilege and an allusion to being sodomized by a “Devil”. Ultimately the figure of this devil is itself the culmination of this late medieval Baphomet who haunted the Templars in the 14th century.
Stories have patterns. Stories play themselves out, and once the narrative elements have been cast, there will always be people, events and organizations to embody them in a very factual, incarnate way. The material causes by which this will happen are quite secondary. When Christ said, “Judge not, lest you be judged”, this was not finger-wagging moralizing. He was telling people how reality works, how the projection of sins unto our enemies, this focused attention on the sin of others, opens up the space of our own end, the riddle of our own Sphinx , and it is by this very Sphinx that we will be devoured.
Besides the strange movement from Baphomet to Montero, a good example to help people understand what is happening is that according to the Malleus Maleficarum, the purpose of witches was to prevent normal reproductive relations between men and women out of resentment. They accomplished this by seducing men away from their wives, by using disincarnated female demonic phantasms or “Succubae” so that men lose their seed, by making it so women have children from “Incubi” demonic males, through other men besides their husbands, by killing and harming children, aborting babies, and ultimately by removing the male member all together.
Two hundred years ago I might have been mocked by the well-to-do for suggesting a group of people would want such a thing for the world, and I can understand why the Catholic Inquisition rejected the content of the Malleus and its proponents. But seeing these dark descriptions as a narrative arc moving towards the “end” or dissolution of Christianity, we only have to ponder a moment to realize that whether it is pornography, artificial insemination, proliferation and acceptance of abortion, or young boys on hormone blockers, there are prominent contemporary examples of all the “ancient witchcraft” I just mentioned. That the early modern witches might have been projections or collective dreams is not so important to us. What matters now is that they are healthy, unabashed, and winning the culture war today.
In the show WandaVision (which I will definitely “spoil” for your now), the Scarlet Witch, a Marvel hero with magical powers, creates a Matrix-style simulation in a small town, a “safe place”, in order to preserve and simulate the artificial existence of her robot husband, Vision. Vision, an AI with a robot body, is the perfect man, the wisest, most moral, most well-intentioned man you could ever imagine. Such a perfect AI character, a living soul worth torturing to preserve, being presented to us so straightforwardly at this point in history should already send icy shivers down all our spines.
This simulated world Wanda has created goes so far as to generate simulated children (Incubus, anyone?). Her virtual reality takes on the form of sitcoms across the decades, but for the inhabitants of the town this manifests itself as mind control. The entire town is controlled and tortured by Wanda into doing her will and playing the characters in her sitcom. When they are “off screen”, the other people in town almost cease to exist. Occasionally the spell breaks for a moment and we see the tortured souls peek out, pleading to be let go, pleading for the incessant pain to stop, pleading at least for their children to be set free, as the young ones are being controlled by Wanda as well. All of this for a simulated media reality.
Such a chilling premise can be imagined in a story where the resentful supervillain, the totalitarian AI, or the 1984-style government is imposing a false reality and controlling people’s every action and thought. What is presented in WandaVision is a version of the Matrix from the point of view of the Matrix itself.
The torturer is the main character, and although what Wanda is doing is presented to us as immoral, we are also called to have far more compassion for her and her suffering for having lost her artificial husband, more compassion for her imaginary children, than we are for the real children and townspeople she is torturing. All of the supporting characters are trying to save Wanda, and when the zealous leader of the government team there to deal with the situation tries to kill her to stop this, he is the one presented as the villain.
Yes, the fact that the Witch is using media to control the narrative, torture us all by imprisoning us and preventing us from communing with each other is a bad thing, but one must also understand that the Witch has her reason, which is to preserve, foster its unholy union with technology and AI– seriously folks, this is the actual premise of the show.
There is an insane moment where a mother pleads with Wanda to at least let her child come out of her room. I could almost see the mother in a medical mask when I heard it. While watching, at some point I started to ask myself if this premise was not secretly a very ingenious argument for witch burning. I’m sure in the Malleus Maleficarum there is a section about witches forcing all reality to follow their whim in order to avoid real male-female union, real relationships, ultimately in order to preserve artificial men and solipsist fantasy children. I’m sure there is something…. I will have to go back and check.
Joking aside, one can easily see how this is all related to Lil Nas X’s Montero and his Satanic shoes through a strange mixture of victimhood and Pride. Just as Montero populates his own world with himself, obsessed with his self-named lover, so too Wanda has bent all minds to her own whims and made them expressions of herself. This is truly the place where western individualism shows its Satanic colors. If in American movies we are used to that scene at the end where all the characters in a crowd applaud the protagonist as a stand-in for the individual and the underdog, here we see the individual with its idiosyncrasies, all her/his/their fluid desires and whims imposing themselves as something to which all of society must bend and transform.
In Montero’s Hell we see engraved in flaming letters the famous Latin phrase; “amnant quod non intellegunt” (they condemn that they do not understand). What is wanted through these narrative tropes is ultimately the opposite: “The misunderstood will condemn them.” “The exceptional will invalidate the rule.”
If in the Christian trope, The shepherd is willing to leave the flock unprotected to find the one lost sheep, here we rather have the lost sheep demanding the shepherd, not bring it back into the flock, but bring the entire flock to the wilderness. If in traditional societies we see scapegoat mechanisms sacrificing the exception in order to preserve coherence, here it is a desire to sacrifice the entire world for the exception.
On a social level, this appears as an upside down hierarchy, where the strange, the impure, the exceptional, the fluid, the rejected, the sick, and the unknown become a new measure by which society is evaluated. It is only in this sense that the “back tracking” fears of my 80s youth pastor, just like upside-down crosses and upside-down pentagrams, can make sense as a basic narrative intuition, the intuition that the Satanic, like a massive carnival on the edge and end of the Christian world, is acting like an evil Christian jester who wants to be king, turning, mocking, and then embodying the upside-down of Christianity both morally and ritually while putting the crown on his own head.
Because of a consideration for the victim, many of our contemporary social manifestations can dupe Christians into thinking what is happening is aligned with their values. Stories like WandaVision can help us realize how the very opposite is the case. Whether it be the willingness to destroy our social fabric for the sick, whether it be the advent of woke victimhood culture and its desire to make inclusion the purpose for any group, sports team, church or corporation; what we are witnessing is the reverse of Christianity.
In his book, Live Not By Lies, Rod Dreher points us to René Girard’s piercing of this upside-down scapegoat mechanism as being the driving force of our entire post-Christian society. In citing Girard, Dreher reminds us how: “The current process of spiritual demagoguery and rhetorical overkill has transformed the concern for victims into a totalitarian command and a permanent inquisition. … We are living through a caricatural ‘ultra-Christianity’ that tries to escape from the Judeo-Christian orbit by “radicalizing” the concern for victims in an anti-Christian manner.”
It is important to be aware of what is happening so as to not be duped by Anti-Christ, as Christ warned us. But underneath all the scandal, sacrilege and reversals, there is a secret story happening through all of this.
Watching someone like Lil Nas X mock, deride and invert our stories to the cheers of the media and cultural gatekeepers, we must remember that Christ chose Judas who would betray him from within his inner circle. In the same manner, our current situation is part of the story, and the Satanic imagery, for all its arrogance and pride exposes in plain view the underbelly of modern secularism.
And though this imagery appears as a manifestation of where Christians have failed, it is nonetheless a restating of the Christian story through attention to its opposite. An upside-down world, a solipsistic, sterile and artificial world must inevitably flip-back. The glorification, even in spiteful jest, of Satanic tropes of rebellion, reminds us that it is only the Crucified One and the story of self-sacrifice which break those unending revolutions.
* This article was originally published here
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