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Le Défi magique, volume 2

 | 
Massimo Introvigne
, 
Jean-Baptiste Martin

La question du satanisme aujourd'hui

The presence of Satan nowadays: autumn or spring?

Maria Immacolata Macioti

Résumé

Bien que cela soit difficile à admettre, Satan est bien présent dans les peurs, les anxiétés et les attentes de beaucoup de monde. Il est vrai que l’on est au seuil de l’an 2000, que bien des choses ont changé depuis le temps des procès de sorcières ; mais aujourd’hui on trouve encore des magiciens des campagnes et des magiciens des villes, entrepreneurs du magique illettrés ou qui ont derrière eux des études universitaires. Tous vont agir à partir de la conviction de la présence de Satan dans les choses de ce monde; une présence à combattre ou sur laquelle s’appuyer, selon les points de vue et les circonstances, mais qui est partie intégrante de l’imaginaire collectif contemporain.

Texte intégral

1In the past Satan attracted poets and writers with his image of being a rebel; frightened men and women; filled nightmares and court-rooms with his presence; was sometimes used as an alibi for inexplicable pregnancies. He was either considered as the bursting strength of reason or, on the contrary, seen as representing the most wicked obscurantism; was in the dreams of power of magicians and witch-doctors of other times, frightened the clergy, whose members were sometimes too zealous when looking for evil, always and everywhere.

  • 1 Refer to the congress «Diabolos, Dialogos, Daimon», held in Turin from the 17th to the 21st of Oct (...)

2And today? Has Satan still got a place in the contemporary world, at least where there are catholics, practising or otherwise? Certainly novelists and journalists still write about him, and theologians, psychologists and psychoanalysts still examine his influence; musicians, choreographers and film-makers are interested in his presence and character. Recently, in Italy, scientists and scholars in various disciplines discussed this topic during several days’study which, being held in Turin, alarmed the Savoyard capital, provoking indignation in respectable people, revealing obscure fears about the possibility of an upsurge of negative powers: «white» groups gathered in prayer to ward off any risk, any nefarious possibilities1.

3Certainly it is unthinkable to quantify the presence of Satan, always seen as being disreputable, in our towns. However, without thinking about a possible quantification, it must be said that some indicators exist, which render at least uncertain the thesis of a progressive eclipse of Satan in the contemporary world.

  • 2 These are brief quotations from letters, which have in part been published, sent to a sympathizer (...)

4In the research which I carried out in the centre and in the north of Italy with some colleagues on the existing forms of esoterism and magic, the belief in the Lord of Darkness, companion of obscure rites, has often come out in relation with different types of magic operators. They are beliefs which occur in the expressions of fear of the clients of rural and urban magicians in a more or less explicit way («...I have been a victim of witchcraft...»; «...there are hidden things which should be neutralized and destroyed»; «...I have been cursed since my birth»; «black magic exists, this negative power has influenced my life»; «...I have suffered accidents and continuous illnesses, caused by witchcrafts and spells»; «...we have a spell in our house, and also on ourselves... priests are needed, indeed, exorcist priests, but where can we find them?»; «But talking about black magic, about occult powers... as for me... am convinced that those powers have really ruined me» etc.)2. Those are fears, dreads, anxieties that lead to the search for mechanisms for defence, for reassurance: this creates systems of certainty-dependence.

  • 3 See: Miriam Castiglione, Professionisti dei sogni, Napoli, Liguori, 1981.

5The belief in the presence and powers of Satan is alive in the messages of those Miriam Castiglione had defined as «The professionals of dreams», people who believe themselves, and are believed to be, bearers of messages from God, from the Madonna, from Angels or Archangels3.

  • 4 See: F. Ferrarotti, L. Catucci, Μ. I. Macioti, G. De Lutiis, Forme del sacro in un’epoca di crisi, (...)

6In messages of this kind, the presence of Satan is diffused, imminent, impudent, certainly provocative: Mary can only restrain with difficulty the irate arm of her Son from chastising lands and peoples with tremendous scourges. In the words of these visionaries the Devil is described as he is in traditional iconography: the enemy of God and of men; he also represents, somehow, the modern world, too overwhelmed by technological developments, too certain of itself and of its scientific discoveries, forgetful of real values. Evil is still represented by the woman who wears trousers or «indecent» clothes, who, on the beach, goes around topless; Evil is also the man who betrays his wife or the man who is too arrogant and self-confident, forgetful of human fragility, therefore already on the road to perdition4.

7The discussion cannot only be limited to such categories, as belief in Satan and in Evil is also widely present in the category of «operators of magic» who operate in urban areas, who have offices with modern equipment, who maybe have secretaries to sort out appointments and clients, who charge high prices because, as they say, they do not want to depreciate their work.

  • 5 See: «Il Giornale dei Misteri», Year XVII, July 1987, n.189. For more general information concerni (...)

8Now, Evil is usually at home in these surroundings; it can be found behind the deadly witchcraft that some say has been eradicated, behind evil ghosts who trouble a great part of mankind, who contact them. A typical case in this sense is that of Fulvio Rendhell, who carried out a survey in the «Giornale dei misted» for a long time, and explained how he had to suffer a lot to free a woman haunted by a dead magician: in fact a black magician, if he dies while performing deadly witchcraft, takes his «tremendous secret» to the grave5.

  • 6 See: «Il Giornale dei Misteri», year XI, Dec. 1981, n.127.

9It is easier, instead, to intervene against low black magic, which uses «instruments like herbs, bones, pins, ribbons, mixtures of powders and also small animals, like toads, spiders and so on. The powers which are evoked are of a low level and therefore also in positive operations they tend to destruction»6.

  • 7 Ibidem, p. 66

10Low magic, thus, would not have full control of the powers which come forth, and so «each witchcraft takes in itself the germ of destruction»7. Amongst all the cases proposed, one in particular had caused apprehension and attraction among the readers: a woman, even though she was very much in love, was unable to marry her lover for years, because inexplicable and frightening physical phenomena would oblige the couple to delay their wedding; in fact, the woman, a few days before the wedding, would be covered by ecchymosis and cuts, would bleed all over her body and would suffer from diffused pains. While living with her lover, the woman became pregnant: the baby was stillborn, with the same horrible signs, as if it had been bitten.

  • 8 See: Fulvio Rendhell, Le nozze nere, in «Il Giornale dei misteri», year XVII, June 1987, n.188.

11When consulted, Rendhell interpreted the case as an apparent manifestation of «black magic witchcraft against the wedding, a mournful wedding, and against the fruit of physical love, against pregnancy»8. Rendhell is not the only professional «operator of magic>· who refers to the presence of Satan and to witchcraft in a clear and manifest way: this is not evidence in itself, but certainly a strong indication of belief in the Devil: in the same way as, on the contrary, it is possible to have signs of the divine demonstration of Grace.

12If Rendhell is, besides being a connoisseur, also an operator in these fields, ready to use negative witchcraft to «restore magic justice», other «emerging» experts clearly prefer to refrain from such contacts, choosing the light of the sun rather than the darkness, a train de vie which would derive from their own work rather than from the uncertain magnificences proposed by the Prince of Darkness.

  • 9 See: Maghi e magie nell’Italia di oggi, pp. 77-78

13However they certainly know of the existence of Satan and of his followers; they have sometimes got in touch with secret conventicles, with halls decorated black and purple, adorned with images of the infernal goat, with pictures of repellent animals, with small bottles which may contain poison and evil infusions. Secret doors burst open in front of them, as if they have received offers of rare knowledge to make use of: and, at the same time, they have been warned about the problems they would have had to face, if, having taken their first steps on these paths, they would like to withdraw at a certain moment9. They know the places where black magic rites are still celebrated, also using sacrifices of animals: this is more understandable in societies where meat was precious, in poor societies. But what about today?

  • 10 See: Luigi Berzano, Religione e autoperfezionamento, in Maghi e magie nell'Italia di oggi.

14Also the «virtuouses», the purely esoteric men, have acknowledged the presence of Satan, of his snares. They are people who tend towards selfperfectioning, who take into consideration the presence of Evil in order to avoid it, who pursue more spiritual aims, far from the uproars of the mass media, generally in a silent and hidden way10.

  • 11 The studies on the Devil by A. M. Di Nola are well known. I would like to point out in particular (...)

15However, naturally, also opposite and contrary trends both exist, in which Satan becomes a landmark, a moment of attraction and of coagulum of consent: Alfonso M. Di Nola and Massimo Introvigne have, among others, discussed this11. Rightly or wrongly, the various categories of operators of the magic-esoteric universe consider the figure of Satan as being central, even though in a negative sense: it is a sign, circumstantial evidence of his presence in the imagination of those who, for some reason, address them.

  • 12 See: L’ombra di Satana dietro i furti di reliquie·. L’allarme del vescovo di Padova, in-La Repubbl (...)
  • 13 It happened in S. Agostino in Rome, not far from Palazzo Madama. On the possibility of black Masses (...)

16Is this all? No. Periodically in Italy and in other countries in the Christian matrix, the news report on facts and episodes whose obscure dynamics reveal worrying presences. It can be the larceny of relics that alarms the Bishop of Padua12 or the discovery of skulls inside a confessional in Rome13, or, even more alarming, the announcement of some exorcism or similar rite: there cannot be any exorcism or attempt at exorcism without the belief that there is somebody to be exorcised, without the conviction that there is some evil presence to be expelled.

17Exorcism is another subject. It could have been believed that it is a question of old-fashioned forms of belief, bound with underdevelopment, with illiteracy, with pre-industrial societies, with those peasants of the south studied by Ernesto De Martino. In reality, we find traces of this belief-and substantial traces-nowadays, in urban areas, and not only in Italy (whose participation in the group of the modern nations is still uncertain and controversial), but also in rich industrial Germany.

  • 14 As for Milingo, see for instance: La Repubblica, 18/12/1991,-Angeli contro diavoli· Il Vescovo lan (...)
  • 15 See: Ho venduto l’anima al diavolo, «Astra», year VI, Jan. 1982, n.1.

18Possession can appear in different ways: the traditional and coarse way, like that of Emmanuel Milingo (or, in the USA, according to the model of fundamentalism, in the speeches of TV-preachers, etc.) and, what is more rare and interesting, that proposed for example by an exorcist who lives and operates in Milan14 and who insists on the fact that the Devil can be defeated by praying with one’s heart and not only with one’s lips: «...you see, the Devil does not get scared by the sign of the cross or by a crucifix brandished in front of his eyes, or by similar things like those one can see in a film, if all that is done with superficiality. The Devil does not get scared by theatricality: it is a question of substance, not of form, to defeat him. » The Devil, here as in other testimonies, has his own nobility, makes use of subtle weapons, resorts to irony, tries his best to be forgotten; he loathes public places, the mass-media. According to these testimonies, a possessed person will seem completely normal, it will indeed be his «normality» that will deceive people. In the same vein we find the testimony proposed by Alberto C. Ambesi, because it ignores those very well known rituals, the «folklore of the worst kind»15. He explains that there are enterprises which must be faced by oneself, in the most absolute isolation: «demoniacal sets are purely goliardic», what really counts is «the experience of darkness». That darkness which is outside the circle of light in which common people live. The darkness is the world of «Great adventure» which is approached for many, different reasons, but not for material benefits: «the only benefit that one can have from this kind of experience is the knowledge of darkness, the capability to find one’s way in the unknown. The devil, what is called the devil, does not give richness... At the most it is from the experience of darkness that comes the capability to see something where others see nothing, because they would hate to look there».

19Is it really a question of demoniacal presence? Some experts, priests or laymen do not have their doubts: Giorgio De Simone, a lover of esoteric sciences, believes that there can be explanations of various kinds, but then one gets into the hypothesis of possession, when «at the limit, really at the limit... there is the hypothesis of a real ‘possession by some spiritual power (what a contradiction!) which tries from the outside to dominate the human subject, maybe pretending to be... a ‘devil’: probably with the aim of striking the imagination of the subject/victim, in order to suggestionize him negatively or to weaken him even more, terrorizing him, reviving primordial archetypes which are referred to the illusory, mythical, but eternal conflict between the powers of Good and Evil».

  • 16 See: Arturo Graf, Il Diavolo, Roma, Salerno Ed., 1980, new edition with an introduction by Luigi F (...)
  • 17 See: Danilo Di Diodoro, Diavolo in corpo? No, nella testa, in «Il Corriere della Salute», 9th Sep. (...)
  • 18 See: Caterina Kolosimo, La donna e il diavolo, in «Achab. Il corriere dell’aventura», Year II, n.1 (...)

20The Devil does not seem to have been eliminated from contemporary imagination as Arturo Graf, with an excess of rationality, thought would happen16. Writers, who had illustrious presences in this field-from Milton to Byron, from de Sade to Baudelaire, from Barbey d’Aurevilly to Verlaine and many others-do not seem to be particularly active, at present, in this field, but it is not so in the field of essay writing. Catholicism and mysticism are a fertile source of anxiety and anguish which are not totally expressed, for a form of religiosity which is scrupulous to a fault and which subtends various pathologies17. The rebellion personified in Satan is not proclaimed any more in the verses of a new Giosuè Carducci. However, we find traces of Satan in uneducated testimonies, in some feminine intolerances, in the anxiety to break schemes and cages in which one finds oneself because of the acceptance of imposed roles and statuses, defined and provided by society. The reader would be well-advised to consult the fine article by Caterina Kolosimo, who replies to women who write to her about their dreams upset by apparitions of black devils with long horns, enormous tails and a frightening look. They are devils who sometimes look like night animals, like wolfhounds: however, they always try to penetrate the bodies of the young women who are dreaming about them. They write about calm and satisfying domestic situations, about husbands and fiancés with whom they have lived for years in syntony. Caterina Kolosimo writes: «...the long story which links the devil to the woman goes on, assuming different forms. The Prince of Darkness re-takes possession of his dominion, the night, to enter the dreams of the women of the XXIst century. Is it to tempt them again? Yes, certainly: with his sly skills he invites them to refuse conformism, passivity, resignation, not to be content with easy attainable aims, but to live a full life accepting all the challenges of contemporary society. After all, without the temptations of the devil, human existence would be deadly boring»18.

21Does this mean the eclipse of the sacred in the industrial and post-industrial civilization in which we live? Does this mean the eclipse of the Devil, who was the obscure Lord of Darkness, the refined, tenacious tempter, bold and impudent, and who is now just the pale shadow of himself?

22Certainly times have changed since Nature was considered sacred, since a shell, the foam of the sea were Venus, the fire was Vulcan, since Gods and devils walked on our earth. However is it legitimate to talk about autumn for the devil? Perhaps yes, in European and western countries as regards the most striking phenomena.

23Certainly not, for instance, as regards the USA, a country which is full of preachers in the words of whom Satan with his acolytes stands out. In my opinion, we cannot talk about autumn for the devil, in our countries, if we look at those phenomena which are less immediately visible, at hidden fears, at the attempts to break certain frontiers.

24Perhaps, the Devil’s case is one of the few in which we can talk of dawn and sunset, of autumn and spring at the same time.

Notes

1 Refer to the congress «Diabolos, Dialogos, Daimon», held in Turin from the 17th to the 21st of October 1988; the proceedings have been published in two volumes by the publisher Bompiani; the first volume, edited by Eugenio Corsini and Eugenio Costa, in 1990; the second, edited by Filippo Barbano and Dario Rei, in the same year, with the title L’autunno del diavolo.

2 These are brief quotations from letters, which have in part been published, sent to a sympathizer who lives and works in Rome; see: Maria I. Macioti, Fede, mistero, magia. Lettere a un sensitivo, Bari, Dedalo, 1991. As for certain mechanisms of reassurance operated by rural magicians, see: Vittorio Dini, Attualità delle categorie magiche (tipiche della cultura agropastorale) nei valori-atteggiamenti e nei sistemi di sicurezza-dipendenza, in: Μ. I. Macioti (ed.) Maghi e magie nell’Italia di oggi, Firenze, Pontecorboli Editore, 1991.

3 See: Miriam Castiglione, Professionisti dei sogni, Napoli, Liguori, 1981.

4 See: F. Ferrarotti, L. Catucci, Μ. I. Macioti, G. De Lutiis, Forme del sacro in un’epoca di crisi, Napoli, Liguori, 1978.

5 See: «Il Giornale dei Misteri», Year XVII, July 1987, n.189. For more general information concerning this category of magic, formed by «ascending» operators, see my intervention in Maghi e magie nell’Italia di oggi.

6 See: «Il Giornale dei Misteri», year XI, Dec. 1981, n.127.

7 Ibidem, p. 66

8 See: Fulvio Rendhell, Le nozze nere, in «Il Giornale dei misteri», year XVII, June 1987, n.188.

9 See: Maghi e magie nell’Italia di oggi, pp. 77-78

10 See: Luigi Berzano, Religione e autoperfezionamento, in Maghi e magie nell'Italia di oggi.

11 The studies on the Devil by A. M. Di Nola are well known. I would like to point out in particular II diavolo. La sindrome demoniaca sovrasta l’umanità, Roma, Scipioni ed., 1980; Il diavolo. Le forme, la storia, le vicende di Satana e la sua universale e malefica presenza presso tutti i popoli dall’antichità ai nostri giorni, Roma, Newton Compton, 1987; see also this brief intervention in the magazine «Grazia» on the 6th of March 1988, E’un povero diavolo, where the sub-title says:-Fraternitas saturni» o magari «figli dell’Abisso»: sono i nuovi adepti di un signore millenario, Belzebù Tomato d’attualità grazie anche ad autorevoli pronunciamenti teologici, il Maligno mette in scena il suo show.» See also: Massimo Introvigne, Il cappello del mago, Milano, Sugarco, 1990.

12 See: L’ombra di Satana dietro i furti di reliquie·. L’allarme del vescovo di Padova, in-La Repubblica», 1-2 dec. 1991.

13 It happened in S. Agostino in Rome, not far from Palazzo Madama. On the possibility of black Masses, the press intervenes periodically. See:-Messe nere al cimitero·, Corriere della Sera, 3/2/1992.

14 As for Milingo, see for instance: La Repubblica, 18/12/1991,-Angeli contro diavoli· Il Vescovo lancia la sfida TV. Here Milingo’s-television challenge to Devil’s worshippers, occult’s lovers, who celebrate black Masses, diabolical Sabbath and witchcraft-is discussed, as Milingo is ready to celebrate Masses in public, prayers and exorcisms, with-screaming and possessed followers·.
There exist instead priests who intervene without clamour and who rather want to remain anonymous. See, for instance: Costanza Maesi, La mia vita col diavolo,-Astra·, Year 5, n.6, June 1981; it is an interview with an exorcist from Milan who has wanted to remain anonymous. See also: Satana bussa ogni giorno, «Corriere della Sera·, 18th Nov. 1991, an interview with Don Capra, exorcist, who insists on the importance of serenity and declared to be much more frightened by bigots than by atheists. These phenomena do not only take place in Italy, as in the USA the reference to the Devil and to evil powers is insisting and hammering in the messages of fondamentalism and of the television preachers. According to some scholars, indeed we find these amongst the main causes of the diffusion and of the strengthening, nowadays, of the belief in the Devil. Recently has reached Italy the echo of an exorcism that husband and wife tried on their daughter in order to «save» her, in Pennsylvania. (See: La Repubblica, 27th Nov. 1991:-La torturavano con aghi bollenti per cacciare via il demonio»)·

15 See: Ho venduto l’anima al diavolo, «Astra», year VI, Jan. 1982, n.1.

16 See: Arturo Graf, Il Diavolo, Roma, Salerno Ed., 1980, new edition with an introduction by Luigi Firpo. Herbert Haag and Alfonso M. Di Nola have fought for a world in which these beliefs would not exist anymore.

17 See: Danilo Di Diodoro, Diavolo in corpo? No, nella testa, in «Il Corriere della Salute», 9th Sep. 1991.

18 See: Caterina Kolosimo, La donna e il diavolo, in «Achab. Il corriere dell’aventura», Year II, n.12, Dec. 1991. The whole issue is about Satan and his presence in the contemporary world, in cinema, arts, literature and so on.

Auteur

Université de Rome.

© Presses universitaires de Lyon, 1994

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