Black Mass

Black Mass

Black Mass is the name given to a ceremony supposedly celebrated during the medieval Witches or Black Sabbath, which was a parody of the Christian Mass. Its main objective was the profanation of the Host, although there is no agreement among authors on how Hosts were obtained or profaned; the most common idea is that they were profaned by means of some ritual related to sexual practices. Authors also disagree on which rites were performed during the ceremony.

Some medieval writers believed that the Host was replaced by a toad, a turnip or a piece of dry flesh, but most judges and authors believed that true hosts were given by Christian priests that had made a diabolical pact to the attendants to the Sabbath to be profaned by them.

Given the modern practices of the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church, which permits parishioners to receive the host in the hand, it is possible to steal a host in that manner. Though priests and Eucharistic ministers are cautioned to be on the look out for persons who do not immediately consume the host, there are usually too many parishioners at any given Mass or Communion Service to ensure that no hosts are stolen in this manner.

In the Satanic Bible, Anton Szandor LaVey writes that "A usual assumption is that the Satanic ceremony or service is 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."

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 Rite of the Sacrifice of the Mass was developed by early Christians. As Christianity, and specifically the Roman Catholic Church, was consolidating, there were different varieties of masses practised, many of which were quite different from the Roman Catholic Rite which was eventually adopted.

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 "drinker's 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.

Additionally, the Rite of the Mass was not completely fixed, and there were places where the priests could insert private prayers for various personal needs. As these types of personal masses 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 - 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).

A further source of Middle Age 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 manual Malleus Maleficarum gives details relating to these supposed practices.

Early modern France

The more recent players in the history of the Black Mass as we know it today, all come from France.

  • 16th century Catherine de' Medici, the Queen of France, was said to have performed a Black Mass, all based on a story by Jean Bodin, in his book on witchcraft. In spite of its lurid details, there is little outside evidence to back up his story.
  • 17th century: Catherine Monvoisin and the priest Etienne Guibourg performed "Black Masses" for Madame de Montespan, the mistress of King Louis XIV of France. Since a criminal investigation (resulting in the execution of Monvoisin and the imprisonment of Guibourg) was launched, 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) and featuring the King's mistress 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. 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, in sexual settings.
  • 19th century: Joris-Karl Huysmans wrote the classic of French Satanism, Là-Bas (1891). This novel summarizes all of French Satanism up to that point, and describes a new version of the Black Mass, 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. The actual text which Huysmans' satanic "priest" recites, however, 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 (specifically, that found in Les Fleurs du mal), 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 in the Black Mass relied almost thoroughly 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-Secaire, 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.
  • Montague Summers discussed many classic portrayals of the Black Mass in a number of his works (especially in The History of Witchcraft and Demonology, ch. IV, The Sabbat, with extensive quotations from the original French and Latin sources).
  • H. T. F. Rhodes' popular mass market book, The Satanic Mass, published in 1954, was undoubtedly a major inspiration for modern versions of the Black Mass, when they finally appeared. Rhodes, while having access to all the historical documents, writes 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.

The Black Mass itself

Surprising as it may seem - in spite of the huge amount of French literature discussing the Black Mass (Messe Noire) at the end of the 1800s and early 1900s—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.

A growing interest in witchcraft and satanism in the 1960s inspired the creation of two recordings, both made in 1968, and both called "Satanic Mass":

  • The first 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 Black Mass.
  • The second was a 13 minute recording of a full-length "Satanic Mass" made by a US band called Coven. Coven's Black Mass, part of their stage show in 1968, was included on their 1969 record album "Witchcraft Destroys Minds and Reaps Souls", together with the full published text. The band 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 medieval French miracle plays, such as Le Miracle de Théophile, in which one of the players sells their soul to the Devil. These chants were gleaned from 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.

Soon after Coven created their Black Mass, 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 and entitled "Missa Solemnis" (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 and entitled "Le Messe Noir" (published in Anton LaVey's 1972 book The Satanic Rituals).

All three of these early Black Masses (the one by Coven and the two by the Church of Satan) contain the Latin phrase "In nomine Domini Dei nostri Satanae Luciferi Excelsi", 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.

Finally, 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.

The language of the Black Mass

As mentioned, the French sections that LaVey published were quotations from Huysmans' La Bas. As for the Latin of Melech and LaVey, it 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, a result of someone not copying correctly, and confusing the "d" with "cl". 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!").

See also


Studies of the Black Mass

  • Rhodes, H.T.F. (1954). The Satanic Mass. ISBN 978-0090867301.
  • Zacharias, Gerhard (1964). Der dunkle Gott: Satanskult und Schwarze Messe. ISBN 978-3809021872.
  • Cavendish, Richard (1967). The Black Arts. ISBN 978-0399500350. (See especially, Chapter 7, "The Worship of the Devil", section 3, "The Black Mass")
  • Zacharias, Gerhard (1980). The Dark God: Satan Worship and Black Masses. ISBN 978-0041330083. (Translated from the German by Christine Trollope)


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