Puneet Varma (Editor)

Black Mass

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Black Mass

A Black Mass is a ritual characterized by the inversion of the Traditional Latin Mass celebrated by the Roman Catholic Church. The history of such rituals is unclear before the modern era. The Black Mass was allegedly celebrated during the Witches' Sabbath.


The clarity of the celebration of the Black Mass in medieval times is imprecise; some sources referring to Black Masses during the medieval period appear to be lurid manuals that seem to have been written for witch-hunters in Latin, such as the Malleus Maleficarum (1486) and the Compendium Maleficarum (1608). There are arguments claiming that the Black Mass served solely as a shock method in order to accuse enemies for several reasons, but there also remain various sources claiming that it was practiced throughout Western history and currently in the modern era for the sole purpose of Satanic worship and sacrifice in ridicule of Christianity.

Origins and history of the Black Mass

One recent outline of the history of the Black Mass can be found in Richard Cavendish, The Black Arts (1967) in the section on the Black Mass. Before that, an entire book was written about it, The Satanic Mass, by H.T.F. Rhodes (1954). Additionally, a detailed study was published in German (and since translated into English) by Gerhard Zacharias, The Dark God: Satan Worship and Black Masses (1964).

Early Christianity

The Catholic Church regards the Mass as its most important sacrament, going back to apostolic times. In general its various liturgies followed the outline of Liturgy of the Word, Offertory, Liturgy of the Eucharist, and Benediction, which developed into what is known as the Mass. However, as early Christianity was becoming more established and growing in influence, the early Church fathers described a few heretical groups practicing their own versions of Masses, some of a bizarre sexual nature (such as among the Borborites).

Middle Age Roman Catholic parodies and additions to the Mass

In the Middle Ages, beginning with the Latin writings of the Goliards, the Roman Catholic Mass was drawn from or elaborated upon to create parodies of it for certain Church festivities. Thus, there was a Mass parody called "The Feast of Asses", in which Balaam's Ass (from the Old Testament) would begin talking and saying parts of the Mass. A similar parody was the Feast of Fools. Other Middle Age parodies of the Mass, also written in ecclesiastical Latin, were "drinkers' masses" and "gamblers' Masses," which lamented the situation of drunk, gambling monks, and instead of calling to "Deus" (God), called to "Bacchus" (the God of Wine). Some of these Latin parody works are found in the medieval Latin collection of poetry, Carmina Burana, written around 1230. The Catholic Church, however, eventually reacted by condemning them as sacrilegious and blasphemous.

Additionally, the Rite of the Mass was not completely fixed, and there was a place at the end of the Offertory for the Secret prayers, when the priest could insert private prayers for various personal needs. These practices became especially prevalent in France (see Pre-Tridentine Mass). As these types of personal prayers within the Mass spread, the institution of the Low Mass became quite common, where priests would hire their services out to perform various Masses for the needs of their clients (Votive Masses) — such as blessing crops or cattle, achieving success in some enterprise, obtaining love, or cursing enemies (one way this latter was done was by inserting the enemy's name in a Mass for the dead, accompanied by burying an image of the enemy). However, such practices were condemned by the Church as sacrilegious.

A further source of late Medieval and Early Modern involvement with parodies and alterations of the Mass, were the writings of the European witch-hunt, which saw witches as being agents of the Devil, who were described as inverting the Christian Mass and employing the stolen Host for diabolical ends. The witch-hunter's manuals such as the Malleus Maleficarum and the Compendium Maleficarum give details relating to these supposed practices.

Early modern France

Between the 16th and the 19th centuries, many examples of interest in the Black Mass come from France.

  • 16th century: Catherine de' Medici, the Queen of France, was said by Jean Bodin to have performed a Black Mass, based on a story in his book on witchcraft De la démonomanie des sorciers. In spite of its lurid details, there is little outside evidence to back up his story.
  • 17th century: Catherine Monvoisin and the priest Étienne Guibourg performed "Black Masses" for Madame de Montespan, the mistress of King Louis XIV of France. Since a criminal investigation — L'affaire des poisons ("Affair of the Poisons") — was launched (resulting in the execution of Monvoisin and the imprisonment of Guibourg) many details of their Black Mass have come down to us. It was a typical Roman Catholic Mass, but modified according to certain formulas (some reminiscent of the Latin Sworn Book of Honorius, or its French version, The Grimoire of Pope Honorius) and featuring the King's mistress (the Marquise de Montespan) as the central altar of worship, lying naked upon the altar with the chalice on her bare stomach, and holding two black candles in each of her outstretched arms. The Host was consecrated on her body, and then used in love potions designed to gain the love of the King (on account of the magical power believed to be in the consecrated Host). From these images of the Guibourg mass, further developments of the Black Mass derived.
  • 18th century: The Marquis de Sade, in many of his writings, places the host and the Mass, monks, priests and the Pope himself (Pope Pius VI in Juliette) in blasphemous sexual settings.
  • 19th century: Joris-Karl Huysmans wrote the classic novel of French Satanism, Là-bas (1891). The characters in the novel have long discussions on the history of French Satanism up to their time, and eventually one of them is invited to participate in a Black Mass, the type of which Huysmans claimed was practised in Paris in those years. Although a work of fiction, Huysmans' description of the Black Mass remained influential simply because no other book went into as much detail. However, the actual text which Huysmans' satanic "priest" recites is nothing more than a long diatribe in French, praising Satan as the god of reason and the opponent of Christianity. In this way, it resembles the French poetry of Charles Baudelaire (in particular Les Litanies de Satan), more than it resembles an inversion of the Roman Catholic Mass.
  • Late 19th century and early 20th century scholarly interest in the Black Mass

    Scholarly studies on the Black Mass relied almost completely on French and Latin sources (which also came from France):

  • The French historian Jules Michelet was one of the first to analyze and attempt to understand the Black Mass, and wrote two chapters about it in his classic book, Satanism and Witchcraft (1862).
  • J. G. Frazer included a description of the Mass of Saint-Sécaire, an unusual French legend with similarities to the Black Mass, in The Golden Bough (1890). Frazer was recounting material already found in an 1883 French book entitled Quatorze superstitions populaires de la Gascogne ("Fourteen Popular Superstitions of Gascony"), by Jean-François Bladé. This Mass was said to be employed as a method of assassination by supernatural means, allowing the supplicant to avenge himself if he was wronged by someone.
  • Montague Summers discussed many classic portrayals of the Black Mass in a number of his works (especially in The History of Witchcraft and Demonology (1926), ch. IV, The Sabbat, with extensive quotations from the original French and Latin sources).
  • 20th century

  • H. T. F. Rhodes' popular book, The Satanic Mass, published in London in 1954 (American edition in 1955), was a major inspiration for modern versions of the Black Mass, when they finally appeared. Rhodes claimed that, at the time of his writing, there did not exist a single first hand source which actually described the rites and ceremonies of a Black Mass.
  • Zacharias and Cavendish, both writing in the middle of the 1960s, while presenting detailed studies of source material, offer no new sources for a Black Mass, relying solely on material that was already known to Rhodes.
  • When Anton Szandor LaVey published his Satanic Bible in 1969, he wrote that:

    The usual assumption is that the Satanic ceremony or service is always called a Black Mass. A Black Mass is not the magical ceremony practiced by Satanists. The Satanist would only employ the use of a Black Mass as a form of psychodrama. Furthermore, a Black Mass does not necessarily imply that the performers of such are Satanists. A Black Mass is essentially a parody on the religious service of the Roman Catholic Church, but can be loosely applied to a satire on any religious ceremony.

    He went on in the Satanic Rituals (1972) to present it as the most representatively satanic ritual in the book.
  • 21st century

  • In 2014 the Black Mass was held in public at the Oklahoma City Civic Center by the Dakhma of Angra Mainyu. The event saw backlash in the form of protesters such as John Ritchie, the Director of TFP Student Action. The event was also condemned by Archbishop Paul Coakley in a public statement.
  • The Dakhma of Angra Mainyu held another Black Mass in 2016 at the same location.
  • The Modern Black Mass

    In spite of the huge amount of French literature discussing the Black Mass (Messe Noire) at the end of the 19th century and early 20th century, no set of written instructions for performing one, from any purported group of Satanists, turned up in writing until the 1960s, and appeared not in France, but in the United States. As can be seen from these first Black Masses and Satanic Masses appearing in the U.S., the creators drew heavily from occult novelists such as Dennis Wheatley and Joris-Karl Huysmans, and from non-fiction occult writers popular in the 1960s, such as Grillot de Givry, author of the popular illustrated book Witchcraft, Magic and Alchemy, and H. T. F. Rhodes, who provided a title for the satanic ritual in his 1954 book The Satanic Mass. Herbert Sloane, the founder of an early Satanist group, the Ophite Cultus Satanas, speaks of Satanists performing the ritual of the "Satanic Mass" in a letter he wrote in 1968 (see the article on his group), and in 1968 and 1969 also appeared the first two recordings of Satanic rituals, both entitled the "Satanic Mass":

  • The first was a 13-minute recording of a full-length "Satanic Mass" made by the U.S. band Coven. Coven's Satanic Mass, part of their stage show beginning in 1967, was expanded and included on their 1969 record album "Witchcraft Destroys Minds & Reaps Souls", together with the full published text. On the album cover, it is stated that they spent a long time researching the material, and to their knowledge it was the first Black Mass published in any language. The result was eclectic, drawing chants and material from numerous sources, including two medieval French miracle plays, Le Miracle de Théophile and Jeu de Saint Nicolas, which both contain invocations to the Devil in an unknown language. These chants, along with other material on the album, could be found in books on witchcraft popular in the 60s, notably Grillot de Givry's Witchcraft, Magic and Alchemy (originally published in France in 1929). A large portion of the English dialogue was taken verbatim from Dennis Wheatley's 1960 occult novel, The Satanist, in which the female protagonist is initiated into a Satanic cult. Additionally, the recording, while using a couple of the Latin phrases the Church of Satan was already making popular, also added a substantial amount of church Latin, in the form of Gregorian chants sung by the band, to create the genuine effect of the Catholic Latin Mass being inverted and sung to Satan.
  • The second was a record album of readings in Satanic ritual and philosophy by the Church of Satan, called "The Satanic Mass", which contained material later to appear in their Satanic Bible (published in 1969). In spite of the title and a few phrases in Latin, this album did not deal with the traditional Black Mass.
  • Soon after Coven created their Satanic Mass recording, the Church of Satan began creating their own Black Masses, two of which are available to the public. The first, created for the Church of Satan by Wayne West in 1970, was entitled "Missa Solemnis" (named after the Missa Solemnis version of the Latin Mass; originally published only in pamphlet form, later published in Michael Aquino's history of The Church of Satan), and the second, created by an unknown author, was entitled "Le Messe Noir" (published in Anton LaVey's 1972 book The Satanic Rituals).

    All three of these Satanic Masses (the one by Coven and the two by the Church of Satan) contain the Latin phrase "In nomine Dei nostri Satanas Luciferi Excelsi" (In the name of our God, Satan Lucifer of the Most High), as well as the phrases "Rege Satanas" and "Ave Satanas" (which, incidentally, are also the only three Latin phrases which appeared in the Church of Satan's 1968 recording, "The Satanic Mass"). Additionally, all three modify other Latin parts of the Roman Catholic Missal to make them into Satanic versions. The Church of Satan's two Black Masses also use the French text of the Black Mass in Huysmans' Là-Bas to a great extent. (West only uses the English translation, LaVey publishes also the original French). Thus, the Black Mass found in The Satanic Rituals is a combination of English, French, and Latin. Further, in keeping with the traditional description of the Black Mass, all three also require a consecrated Host taken from a Catholic church, as a central part of the ceremony.

    A writer using the pseudonym "Aubrey Melech" published, in 1986, a Black Mass entirely in Latin, entitled "Missa Niger". (This Black Mass is available on the Internet). Aubrey Melech's Black Mass contains almost exactly the same original Latin phrases as the Black Mass published by LaVey in The Satanic Rituals. The difference is that the amount of Latin has now more than doubled, so that the entire Black Mass is in Latin. Unlike Coven and Wayne West, LaVey and Melech don't give the source for the Latin material in their Black Mass, merely implying that they received it from someone else, without saying who.

    The language of the Black Mass

    The French sections that LaVey published were quotations from Huysmans's Là-bas. The Latin of Melech and LaVey is based on the Roman Catholic Latin Missal, reworded so as to give it a Satanic meaning (e.g. the Roman Mass starts "In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti, introibo ad altare Dei", while LaVey's version, printed in the Satanic Rituals, starts "In nomine magni dei nostri Satanas, introibo ad altare Domini Inferi"). There are a small amount of copyist and grammatical errors. For example, "dignum" from the Mass, is once incorrectly spelled "clignum", in the printed Satanic Rituals. Another example, also appearing once, is "laefificat" instead of "laetificat". One of the more obvious grammatical errors is "ego vos benedictio", "I bless you", which should have been "ego vos benedico". Another grammatical peculiarity is that, throughout his version of the Mass, LaVey does not decline the name Satanas, as is typically done in Latin if the endings are used, but uses only the one form of the word regardless of the case. Melech uses Satanus. "Satanas" as a name for Satan appears in some examples of Latin texts popularly associated with satanism and witchcraft, such as the middle age pact with the Devil supposedly written by Urbain Grandier. Both Black Masses end with the Latin expression "Ave, Satanas!" — "Welcome, Satan!" (expressing the opposite sentiments of the similar statement made by Jesus to Satan in the Latin Vulgate Bible (Latin Vulgate, Matthew 4:10), "Vade, Satanas!" - "Go away, Satan!").


    Black Mass Wikipedia