[Warning: this article contains highly disturbing content.]
Joris-Karl Huysmans (1848-1907) was a French novelist of Dutch ancestry whose works are notable for their unflinching examination of evil. Originally a reactionary decadent and Schopenhauerian pessimist, over time Huysmans came to accept that the Christian faith (or the Roman Catholic faith in his particular case) is the only real alternative to the ugly positivism of the modern world. This movement from decadent despair to faith is the main theme of his most famous books, À rebours and Là-bas.
The former book recounts the efforts of its main character Des Esseintes to flee from the world through purely carnal aesthetic enjoyment. The wealthy and aristocratic Des Esseintes isolates himself in his home, surrounding himself with every conceivable artistic and sensory enjoyment. The book describes the elaborate lengths to which Des Esseintes goes to procure the very best in literature, beverages, perfume, painting, furniture and floral arrangement, all with the aim of escaping the vulgarity of the bourgeois mob.
Huysmans describes Des Esseintes’ contempt for modern society as follows:
“Such an inveterate stupidity, such a scorn for literature and art, such a hatred for all the ideas he worshipped, were implanted and anchored in these merchant minds, exclusively preoccupied with the business of swindling and money-making, and accessible only to ideas of politics—that base distraction of mediocrities—that he returned enraged to his home and locked himself in with his books.”
But this aesthetic perfection leaves Des Esseintes physically ill and spiritually impoverished. At the end of the novel Des Esseintes’ physician has ordered him to end his seclusion and return to normal society in order to recover his health, and as he prepares to follow his doctor’s orders Des Esseintes laments,
“Ah! courage leaves me, my heart breaks! O Lord, pity the Christian who doubts, the sceptic who would believe, the convict of life embarking alone in the night, under a sky no longer illumined by the consoling beacons of ancient faith.”
The failure of Des Esseintes’ solitary life is presented as a contrast to the fruitful solitary life of the Christian ascetic. In his solitary prayers the Christian ascetic grows in peace and in love for God and neighbor, while the purely carnal and self-absorbed solitude of a decadent aesthete only leads to physical deterioration and spiritual despair. Des Esseintes recognizes the necessity of faith, but he is still incapable of the humility requisite for true repentance.
Là-bas is the first in a series of four novels featuring an author named Durtal as the main character. Like Des Esseintes, Durtal is a lapsed Catholic who has a contempt for the modern bourgeois world and a fascination with the aesthetic achievements of the middle ages. In the following passage Durtal expresses his dissatisfaction with contemporary society:
“…daydream is the only good thing in life. Everything else is vulgar and empty…The bourgeoise has taken the place forfeited by a wastrel nobility which now subsists only to set ignoble fashions and whose sole contribution to our ‘civilization’ is the establishment of gluttonous dining clubs, so-called gymnastic societies, and pari-mutuel associations. Today the business man has but these aims, to exploit the working man, manufacture shoddy, lie about the quality of merchandise, and give short weight. As for the people, they have been relieved of the indispensable fear of hell, and notified, at the same time, that they are not to expect to be recompensed, after death, for their sufferings here. So they scamp their ill-paid work and take to drink. From time to time, when they have ingurgitated too violent liquids, they revolt, and then they must be slaughtered, for once let loose they would act as a crazed stampeded herd. Good God, what a mess! And to think that the nineteenth century takes on airs and adulates itself. There is one word in the mouths of all. Progress. Progress of whom? Progress of what? For this miserable century hasn’t invented anything great. It has constructed nothing and destroyed everything.”
The closing passage of Là-bas features the following exchange between Durtal and his close friend Des Hermies, in which they express their shared contempt for modernism and materialism:
“Des Hermies rose and paced the room [and said] ‘…this century laughs the glorified Christ to scorn. It contaminates the supernatural and vomits on the Beyond. Well, how can we hope that in the future the offspring of the fetid tradesmen of today will be decent? Brought up as they are, what will they do in Life?’
‘They will do,’ replied Durtal, ‘as their fathers and mothers do now. They will stuff their guts and crowd out their souls through their alimentary canals.'”
But just as in the case of Des Esseintes, Huysmans shows that a merely negative reactionary contempt divorced from a positive faith in insufficient. Despite their talk of respecting Christ, Durtal and Des Hermies are both apostates, and because of their lack of faith they are easily drawn into great evils.
In Là-bas Durtal is engaged in researching the life of the 15th century mass-murderer Giles de Rais. De Rais enjoyed a distinguished military career and was named a Marshal of France for his service in the Hundred Years’ War. Later, however, he developed a dangerous preoccupation with alchemy, sorcery and the conjuring of demons. He then progressed to committing what are possibly the most grotesque and Satanic crimes in all of history. De Rais tortured, mutilated, disemboweled and sodomized hundreds of victims, mostly young boys. Durtal describes these nauseating crimes:
“The little boys are brought from their cellar prisons to this room. They are disrobed and gagged. The Marshal fondles them and forces them. Then he hacks them to pieces with a dagger, taking great pleasure in slowly dismembering them. At other times he slashes the boy’s chest and drinks the breath from the lungs; sometimes he opens the stomach also, smells it, enlarges the incision with his hands, and seats himself in it. Then while he macerates the warm entrails in mud, he turns half around and looks over his shoulder to contemplate the supreme convulsions, the last spasms. He himself says afterwards, ‘I was happier in the enjoyment of tortures, tears, fright, and blood, than in any other pleasure.’ Then he becomes weary of these fecal joys. An unpublished passage in his trial proceedings informs us that ‘The said sire heated himself with little boys, sometimes also with little girls, with whom he had congress in the belly, saying that he had more pleasure and less pain than acting in nature.’ After which, he slowly saws their throats, cuts them to pieces, and the corpses, the linen and the clothing, are put in the fireplace, where a smudge fire of logs and leaves is burning, and the ashes are thrown into the latrine, or scattered to the winds from the top of a tower, or buried in the moats and mounds.”
Durtal’s description of the Marshal’s crimes reaches an apex of evil in the following passage, showing the truly Satanic character of these transgressions:
“As these terrifying atrocities, these monstrous outrages, no longer suffice him, he corrodes them with the essence of a rare sin. It is no longer the resolute, sagacious cruelty of the wild beast playing with the body of a victim. His ferocity does not remain merely carnal; it becomes spiritual. He wishes to make the child suffer both in body and soul. By a thoroughly Satanic cheat he deceives gratitude, dupes affection, and desecrates love. At a leap he passes the bounds of human infamy and lands plump in the darkest depth of Evil. He contrives this: One of the unfortunate children is brought into his chamber, and hanged, by [his accomplices] Bricqueville, Prelati, and de Sillé, to a hook fixed into the wall. Just at the moment when the child is suffocating, Gilles orders him to be taken down and the rope untied. With some precaution, he takes the child on his knees, revives him, caresses him, rocks him, dries his tears, and pointing to the accomplices, says, ‘These men are bad, but you see they obey me. Do not be afraid. I will save your life and take you back to your mother,’ and while the little one, wild with joy, kisses him and at that moment loves him, Gilles gently makes an incision in the back of the neck, rendering the child ‘languishing,’ to follow Gilles’s own expression, and when the head, not quite detached, bows, Gilles kneads the body, turns it about, and violates it.”
From these passages we can see that evil is not mere animal desire, but a direct, intentional inversion of goodness as defined by God. All rebels against God’s order share in this same desire to twist and desecrate that which is good simply for the purpose of insulting their creator.
While carrying out his investigations, Durtal becomes fixated with the idea of trying to better understand the Satanism of Giles de Rais by finding modern practitioners of the black arts. At the same time he begins a sexual relationship with a married woman named Hyacinthe who claims to have relations with incubi. Durtal is slowly and reluctantly drawn into this dangerous relationship, despite recognizing its folly, and Huysmans clearly presents the overpowering desire for sinful sexual union as a species of demonic possession. Eventually Durtal comes to discover that his lover is connected with the infamous Satanist Canon Docre, a former priest. At his pleading Hyacinthe is able to arrange for Durtal to witness the black mass, the great ritual of Satanism.
The detailed description of the black mass forms the denouement of the novel. Whether this description is based on something that Huysmans actually witnessed, or it is merely a product of his imagination, a close analysis of the ritual is of great interest. The similarities of this black mass to many aspects of the current globalist culture in which we live show that all evil is similar in its theological tendencies, even when it does not openly embrace the name of Satan.
One of the first things that Durtal notices when entering the chapel where the black mass is to be held is the presence of sexual deviants.
“They came out into a court and stopped before an old house. ,[Hyacinthe] rang. A little man advanced, hiding his features, and greeted her in an affected, sing-song voice. She passed, saluting him, and Durtal brushed a fly-blown face, the eyes liquid, gummy, the cheeks plastered with cosmetics, the lips painted.
‘I have stumbled into a lair of sodomists.—You didn’t tell me that I was to be thrown into such company,’ he said to Hyacinthe, overtaking her at the turning of a corridor lighted by a lamp.
‘Did you expect to meet saints here?'”
Soon afterwards Durtal notes that a majority of the attendees are women of low character. This alliance between homosexuals and fallen women (today’s feminists) in the service of a Satanic master certainly mirrors our own political and cultural situation.
The chapel is in many respects similar to a normal church, with various deliberate perversions, most notably in the blasphemous image of Christ above the altar.
“A choir boy, clad in red, advanced to the end of the chapel and lighted a stand of candles. Then the altar became visible. It was an ordinary church altar on a tabernacle above which stood an infamous, derisive Christ. The head had been raised and the neck lengthened, and wrinkles, painted in the cheeks, transformed the grieving face to a bestial one twisted into a mean laugh. He was naked, and where the loincloth should have been, there was a virile member projecting from a bush of horsehair.”
This sexualization of Christ and other religious imagery is a favorite device of today’s popular culture, from the Madonna song Like a Prayer to the films A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas and the gay-themed The First Temptation of Christ. There is probably nothing that reprobates hate more about Christianity than its demands for sexual purity, so it is not surprising that a sexualized Christ (rather than a murderous or thieving Christ) is the chosen symbol for Satanic worship.
“In front of the tabernacle the chalice, covered with a pall, was placed. The choir boy folded the altar cloth, wiggled his haunches, stood tiptoe on one foot and flipped his arms as if to fly away like a cherub, on pretext of reaching up to light the black tapers whose odour of coal tar and pitch was now added to the pestilential smell of the stuffy room. Durtal recognized beneath the red robe the ‘fairy’ who had guarded the chapel entrance, and he understood the rôle reserved for this man, whose sacrilegious nastiness was substituted for the purity of childhood acceptable to the Church.”
Giving this sacramental role to sodomites echoes the role that these degenerates play in today’s culture, where disease-riddled homosexuals are presented as saints and martyrs suffering for the cause of sexual liberation.
“Preceded by the two choir boys the canon entered, wearing a scarlet bonnet from which two buffalo horns of red cloth protruded. Durtal examined him as he marched toward the altar…The canon solemnly knelt before the altar, then mounted the steps and began to say mass. Durtal saw then that he had nothing on beneath his sacrificial habit.”
This last detail is apparently a reference to the Biblical commandment that a priest must not expose his nakedness while serving at the altar (see Exodus 20:26 and Exodus 28:42). The Satanic priest goes out of his way to mock God in a very specific way. This type of blasphemy can be seen today in those who deliberately profane Christian holy days or who invoke Christ in a mocking way when promoting the most sinful of practices. Dishonoring God in this way does nothing to convince pious Christians to accept worldly beliefs. It is motivated purely by rebellion and contempt for what is holy.
Next in the black mass comes the direct prayer to Satan offered by Canon Docre:
“Master of Slanders, Dispenser of the benefits of crime, Administrator of sumptuous sins and great vices, Satan, thee we adore, reasonable God, just God!”
Satan, who encourages and validates the wicked conclusions of fallen reason, is addressed by his followers as a “reasonable God,” just as many under Satanic influence today put forth human reason as their guiding principle, as their god.
“Superadmirable legate of false trances, thou receivest our beseeching tears; thou savest the honour of families by aborting wombs impregnated in the forgetfulness of the good orgasm; thou dost suggest to the mother the hastening of untimely birth, and thine obstetrics spares the still-born children the anguish of maturity, the contamination of original sin.”
Abortion is here justified as necessary in order to make possible unrestrained carnal enjoyment, and in order to show “compassion” towards those who would be born into difficult circumstances.
“Mainstay of the despairing Poor, Cordial of the Vanquished, it is thou who endowest them with hypocrisy, ingratitude, and stiff-neckedness, that they may defend themselves against the children of God, the Rich.”
This Satanic prayer of lust and hatred also features a revolutionary, socialistic outlook on economics. Of course revolutionary policies do nothing to alleviate the suffering of the poor, as the countless failures of socialist states demonstrate.
“Suzerain of Resentment, Accountant of Humiliations, Treasurer of old Hatreds, thou alone dost fertilize the brain of man whom injustice has crushed; thou breathest into him the idea of meditated vengeance, sure misdeeds; thou incitest him to murder; thou givest him the abundant joy of accomplished reprisals and permittest him to taste the intoxicating draught of the tears of which he is the cause.”
Here we see the contradiction in Satanic, humanist thought: they claim to celebrate evil and the complete destruction of moral categories, but then claim that injustice is bad. Nietzsche vainly sought to go beyond good and evil, but he merely renamed the categories of “good” and “evil” as “health” and “sickness.” In the same way today’s humanists claim that immoral rebellion against God’s order is justified as acting in the interest of “social justice.”
“Hope of Virility, Anguish of the Empty Womb, thou dost not demand the bootless offering of chaste loins, thou dost not sing the praises of Lenten follies; thou alone receivest the carnal supplications and petitions of poor and avaricious families. Thou determinest the mother to sell her daughter, to give her son; thou aidest sterile and reprobate loves; Guardian of strident Neuroses, Leaden Tower of Hysteria, bloody Vase of Rape!”
The obsession with sexual sin and carnal gratification is against made manifest, as the Satanic priest rejoices in the fact that his master demands neither fasting nor abstinence.
“Master, thy faithful servants, on their knees, implore thee and supplicate thee to satisfy them when they wish the torture of all those who love them and aid them; they supplicate thee to assure them the joy of delectable misdeeds unknown to justice, spells whose unknown origin baffles the reason of man; they ask, finally, glory, riches, power, of thee, King of the Disinherited, Son who art to overthrow the inexorable Father!”
The prayer here ends in a millenarian hope that Satan will finally overthrow our Heavenly Father and totally rid the creation of all Christian virtue. This surely is the same hope of the current globalist system.
Là-bas is set in a Roman Catholic context, and therefore the black mass has a very specific definition. As the Catholic mass centers around the transubstantiated elements of the Eucharist, so the black mass must include the profanation of a properly consecrated host. Thus a true black mass requires either the participation of a renegade priest or the presence of a stolen host. Following his prayer to Satan, Canon Docre, by virtue of his priestly office, commands Christ to descend to the sacramental elements.
“‘We would drive deeper the nails into thy hands, press down the crown of thorns upon thy brow, bring blood and water from the dry wounds of thy sides. And that we can and will do by violating the quietude of thy body, Profaner of ample vices, Abstractor of stupid purities, cursed Nazarene, do-nothing King, coward God!’ ‘Amen!’ trilled the soprano voices of the choir boys.”
Following this Satanic consecration, the attendees of the black mass break out into a frenzy. Now, when they are convinced that they can directly, physically defile the body of the incarnate God, they lose all self-control.
“Durtal listened in amazement to this torrent of blasphemies and insults. The foulness of the priest stupefied him. A silence succeeded the litany. The chapel was foggy with the smoke of the censers. The women, hitherto taciturn, flustered now, as, remounting the altar, the canon turned toward them and blessed them with his left hand in a sweeping gesture. And suddenly the choir boys tinkled the prayer bells.
It was a signal. The women fell to the carpet and writhed. One of them seemed to be worked by a spring. She threw herself prone and waved her legs in the air. Another, suddenly struck by a hideous strabism, clucked, then becoming tongue-tied stood with her mouth open, the tongue turned back, the tip cleaving to the palate. Another, inflated, livid, her pupils dilated, lolled her head back over her shoulders, then jerked it brusquely erect and belaboured herself, tearing her breast with her nails. Another, sprawling on her back, undid her skirts, drew forth a rag, enormous, meteorized; then her face twisted into a horrible grimace, and her tongue, which she could not control, stuck out, bitten at the edges, harrowed by red teeth, from a bloody mouth.
Suddenly Durtal rose, and now he heard and saw Docre distinctly.
Docre contemplated the Christ surmounting the tabernacle, and with arms spread wide apart he spewed forth frightful insults, and, at the end of his forces, muttered the billingsgate of a drunken cabman. One of the choir boys knelt before him with his back toward the altar. A shudder ran around the priest’s spine. In a solemn but jerky voice he said, ‘Hoc est enim corpus meum,’ then, instead of kneeling, after the consecration, before the precious Body, he faced the congregation, and appeared tumefied, haggard, dripping with sweat. He staggered between the two choir boys, who, raising the chasuble, displayed his naked belly. Docre made a few passes and the host sailed, tainted and soiled, over the steps.
Durtal felt himself shudder. A whirlwind of hysteria shook the room. While the choir boys sprinkled holy water on the pontiff’s nakedness, women rushed upon the Eucharist and, grovelling in front of the altar, clawed from the bread humid particles and drank and ate divine ordure.
Another woman, curled up over a crucifix, emitted a rending laugh, then cried to Docre, ‘Father, father!’ A crone tore her hair, leapt, whirled around and around as on a pivot and fell over beside a young girl who, huddled to the wall, was writhing in convulsions, frothing at the mouth, weeping, and spitting out frightful blasphemies. And Durtal, terrified, saw through the fog the red horns of Docre, who, seated now, frothing with rage, was chewing up sacramental wafers, taking them out of his mouth, wiping himself with them, and distributing them to the women, who ground them underfoot, howling, or fell over each other struggling to get hold of them and violate them.
The place was simply a madhouse, a monstrous pandemonium of prostitutes and maniacs. Now, while the choir boys gave themselves to the men, and while the woman who owned the chapel, mounted the altar caught hold of the phallus of the Christ with one hand and with the other held a chalice between ‘His’ naked legs, a little girl, who hitherto had not budged, suddenly bent over forward and howled, howled like a dog. Overcome with disgust, nearly asphyxiated, Durtal wanted to flee.”
At the climax of the black mass we can see in its full horror the orgiastic and hedonistic enjoyments of Satanism. In our culture, popular music concerts, recreational drug use, night clubs, raves, and other activities more or less approximate this Satanic phenomenon. Our culture celebrates and exults the practice of “letting yourself go” to experience ecstatic, subrational enjoyment of transgressing God’s law.
At this point in the narrative Durtal does flee with Hyacinthe, who seems to vacillate between and enjoying and deploring these Satanic excesses. They make their way out of the chapel, and enter a nearby wine shop. At first Durtal thinks that he has escaped the Satanic environment, but he soon grows suspicious as he perceives that the proprietor of the shop is familiar with Hyacinthe. Rather than serving them in the main room, the proprietor leads the couple to a private chamber. Too late Durtal realizes that the visit to the wine shop is merely another ploy to drag him into blasphemy.
“The paper was peeling from the walls, which were nearly covered with pictures torn out of illustrated weeklies and tacked up with hairpins. The floor was all in pieces. There were a wooden bed without any curtains, a chamber pot with a piece broken out of the side, a wash bowl and two chairs.
The man brought a decanter of gin, a large one of water, some sugar, and glasses, then went downstairs.
Her eyes were sombre, mad. She enlaced Durtal.
‘No!’ he shouted, furious at having fallen into this trap. ‘I’ve had enough of that. It’s late. Your husband is waiting for you. It’s time for you to go back to him—’
She did not even hear him.
‘I want you,’ she said, and she took him treacherously and obliged him to desire her. She disrobed, threw her skirts on the floor, opened wide the abominable couch, and raising her chemise in the back she rubbed her spine up and down over the coarse grain of the sheets. A look of swooning ecstasy was in her eyes and a smile of joy on her lips.
She seized him, and, with ghoulish fury, dragged him into obscenities of whose existence he had never dreamed. Suddenly, when he was able to escape, he shuddered, for he perceived that the bed was strewn with fragments of hosts.”
This last passage is especially instructive for understanding how the agents of Satan operate in the world. Durtal, though a lapsed Catholic, still retained enough Christian decency to be repulsed by Satanism when seeing it revealed in its full wickedness. When the black mass reached the point where the host was to be desecrated, he fled rather than partake in the abomination. But in the end he is compelled to desecrate the host against his will, and it is the lust of the flesh that brings him to do so. Durtal had already habituated himself to a life of fornication and adultery. He already had carnal knowledge of Hyacinthe, and his sinful habit and his past involvement with this woman made it impossible to resist her advances. This use of the carnal appetite to seduce careless individuals into greater blasphemy and evil is frequently seen today. Many young people are first drawn to popular entertainment because of its simple prurient nature, usually unaware of its more obscure occult content. Once totally immersed in a godless way of life, escape becomes ever more difficult, and the guilty conscience drives many to greater impiety as they promote ever bolder arguments in an attempt to justify their sin. No one puts forth blasphemous defenses of abortion without first becoming addicted to sexual permissiveness. Indeed, no one promotes atheism without first becoming a slave to a sin condemned by God’s law.
But despite providing us with such a vivid picture of evil, both in the life of Giles de Rais and in the black mass of the late 19th century, Huysmans does not end his story with despair. Even the history of de Rais ends in hope. Shocking as it may seem, at his trial de Rais not only admits his guilt, but he demonstrates the most genuine contrition, and is in fact reconciled to the Church prior to his execution. Likewise Durtal does not end his life in the practice of Satanism, but finds redemption. In En Route, the sequel to Là-bas, Durtal goes beyond his merely aesthetic dislike for the modern world and undergoes a genuine conversion. Thus Huysmans’ study of evil, although it should cause us to shudder and cry out to God to preserve us from such wickedness, should not ultimately cause us to despair. The grace of God easily swallows up every sin and blasphemy conceived by Satan and his followers.