Hello everyone, I come today with something I have been meaning to share for quite some time now. I had other things in mind to write about and thus, kept delaying this post from being created, but alas I feel that due to the significance of Juneteenth, it is a perfect time to make this happen! For those who are not aware of the importance behind Juneteenth, or perhaps not even sure what it is about, allow me to briefly explain. Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States and it is has just become a Federal holiday.
However, while this post is not about the holiday, it does have to do with race, particularly how the racial imagery of the Devil impacted my self-image. I realize that many of you lovely individuals are already aware of the history the Devil has with being synonymous to the outcast or the “other.” This is going to dive into a different element which may be more alien to some, so I felt it was necessary for us to have an exposure of perspectives, mainly with regards to the symbolism of Satan, because at the end of the day it will help us realize why we, as Satanists, truly have sympathy for the Devil.
That said, I will be covering a few specific things here as it all pertains to my main idea. I would like for us to take a brief look into the value placed in religious art when it comes to certain colors. We will also go over the way our subconscious mind could get affected by racial imagery, and finally I will spend a bit of time exposing you all to my self-reflections. So, while this post might include some serious topics, I would love for you all to at least gain a new perspective on our dear Satan.
Colors in Cultural History
Colors in art play a massive role into what message gets portrayed by a given individual. There are psychological effects which are attributed to colors like red and its association to hunger, blue and its relation to calmness, and so forth. When we speak about the way art shaped the creative license of religious imagery, we must also pay attention to which colors are indeed attributed to certain mythological characters. In religious mythologies or even epic tales, you can note a certain narrative being played between a protagonist and an antagonist. Both of these characters would have a given role to play, a given feeling to portray, and thus a given color associated with them.
Now, before I dive deeper, I will acknowledge the fact that the art portrayed in religions and mythological stories cannot all be represented in a binary perspective of “good vs evil.” This is a gross misrepresentation of cultural diversity and anyone who wishes to paint this brush stroke across human history is doing a disservice to how creative we are as a species. (Looking at you Peterson!) That said, I will, for the sake of simplicity, expand on the element of blackness and how it could be synonymous with negative concepts.
“Blackness possesses an immense range of negative and fearful associations. Basically black is the color of night, when your enemies can attack you unexpectedly. Cosmogonically, blackness is chaos; ontogenically it is the sign of death and the tomb, or of the ambivalent womb. Though pallor is associated with death and hence with evil – heretics and demons are often pallid in the Middle Ages – black indicates evil in places as disparate as Europe, Africa, Tibet, and Siberia.” (Russell, 1977, pg. 66)
This excerpt comes from a book entitled The Devil, Perceptions of Evil from Antiquity to Primitive Christianity by Jeffrey Burton Russell. In this quote, he details the complexity behind the concept of blackness in cultures around the world. Modern scholars, however, have noted that Russell held some personal biases regarding binary elements within color that do taint some of his conclusions. Nevertheless, he does allude to the idea we, as primates, do have an innate fear of the dark. This darkness is then perceived and personified in religious art form through the element of “blackness.”
The reason why I am spending a considerable amount of time on this is because I would like to ensure that I am not overlooking certain elements to facilitate a point. My claim is not that all depictions of blackness in culture in contrast to whiteness is inherently racist; no, my perspective is that these binary depictions were exploited to promote a racist narrative. Let’s explore this thought a bit further.
Conquering the Subconscious
Since 1492, the year when Columbus and his men crash landed on Quisqueya (now known as the Dominican Republic and Haiti), there has been a looming perception of inequality in the island. Colonialism brought forth the creation of “race” and the invading religion helped with the coercion by soothing it out in the guise of “salvation”. This history is personified with the binary elements I’ve described earlier. In this case, the christian concept of “good vs evil” is showcased as whiteness vs blackness. The exercise of excessive violence, murder, and genocide is to be subconsciously drawn as a blip in our history, because of course, the images associated to those times were of white men “discovering” and claiming land. The ones invading our land “cleansed” the darkness of the unknown with christianity. As kids taking lessons of this early Dominican period, we were always told to remember that our “history” started after 1492, that we were not a “civilization” previous to this date.
We must recall that in earlier renditions of devils and demons, they were mostly represented as bestial creatures. In some cases, you could see that medieval artists went a bit overboard with their perceptions of reptilian and winged creatures being the manifestation of pure evil. While I could spend time describing why these earlier renditions were depicted this way, what is interesting to note is how it changed over from creature to human features. It could be safely determined that it was not until the romantic period that renditions of Satan sought a shift in the devil being personified as equal to angels. This is due to the fact that the romantics, after the enlightenment, were pushing the idea of Satan as Lucifer the fallen angel. Prior to this, even if we did have the devil depicted in a humanistic perspective, it was almost always morbid with elements of prior medieval beast-like qualities.
What this means is that when Columbus came around to conquer the new world we still had a beast-like representation of what is to be considered “evil” or bad in European christian culture. Given how the indigenous population was depicted by early explorers, it is easy to draw the parallel between the creation of “race” with the artistic renderings of “evil” to the subjugated other. This is then clearer still when we notice how blackness is exemplified with the Devil after the Slave trade occurred. As the African population grew in our country to replace the absence of the Taino Indians, the subconscious assertion of supremacy was painted with the similar stroke as before: whiteness was pure, blackness was the devil. To add a final note here, we could see this manifesting more clearly in Africa where you could literally see a white jesus boxing with a black Satan. In an ironic plot twist, you also have a demon called “Muzungu Maya” in South Africa / Mozambique, this demonic figure translates to “wicked white man” and its origins are traceable to white slave catchers. How we develop an association to color is all subjective to the experiences we have and the narrative we wish to tell.
Seeing the Devil in the Mirror
The depiction of the Devil in the Dominican Republic always fascinated me as a child. I was lucky to grow up in an environment which promoted independent thought. My parents did not wish to formally introduce religion in my early life as they believed it would take away from my childhood. Due to this privileged position, I had the opportunity to view religion objectively for what it is in relation to how people reacted to it. Catholicism ran rampant in our culture and the perceptions of racial inequality via religious imagery were obvious, but only to those who did not have an obligation to respect it. Most Dominicans did not see any correlation with a dark skinned Devil being trampled by a light skinned St. Michael with the color of their skin and the history of the land they called home.
We were all meant to relate with the European history, culture, and religion. We had to remember that the goal was to be like the conquerors because they “discovered” and “built” the country. To that end, there was little to no mention of the cultural influences our African and Taino ancestors had in the development of our diverse culture. This left us with a whitewashed history we embodied as a norm. There were some salvaged elements of our African heritage masked as catholic saints; however, this practice of Santeria was quickly determined to be “black magic” and obviously associated with “Devil Worship.”
All of this push back against my Indigenous and African heritage hit a tipping point for me when I first saw the statue we have of Columbus in the capital. You can notice Columbus looking forward towards “the new world,” exemplifying his grandeur as a Taino Indian writes his name below his feet. This imagery quickly reminded me of how the dark skinned and curly haired Satan was below the feet of St. Michael. In both artistic renditions, you have a clear image of superiority and suppression. When I looked in the mirror as a child, I never saw a Columbus nor a St. Michael; I saw a curly haired and dark skinned little boy. It was the first time I sympathized with the Devil and years later, when I identified as a Satanist, I finally understood why.