Satan as Humanitarian Hero in "Revolt of the Angels"
Satan wasn’t always portrayed as an evil, beastly monster. In the Romantic era of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, revolutionary writers and artists reimagined the character of Satan in the epic poem “Paradise Lost” as a hero, daring to rebel against God’s unjust tyranny. Though the Romantic era and the most prolific visions of Satan as hero came to a close around the 1850s, the idea still continued to inspire a number of artists, including a French writer named Anatole France.
France’s writing was irreverent and in some places downright anticlerical, and his entire works were placed on the Catholic Church’s Prohibited Books a few years before his death in 1922. In 1914, he published “Revolt of the Angels”—a witty novel whose main storyline follows a group of angels who rebel and plot together to retake Heaven. Its portrayal of Satan and his demons illustrates perfectly the Satanic ideals aspired to by modern Satanists who tread the same path as those Romantic revolutionaries, and is one of the few works considered to be canon by the Satanic Temple.
Taking a closer look at its portrayal of Satan, we find him painted as a humanitarian hero, a compassionate friend and benefactor to mankind and the source of such gifts as knowledge, art, culture, and civilized law. The Christian god, on the other hand, is portrayed not as the source of all good, but as an evil pretender who loves pain, misery and suffering and who seeks to subjugate all under his unjust tyranny.
The story centers on Arcade, the guardian angel of Maurice d’Esparvieu, the worldly son of the family whose library Arcade frequents in his thirst for learning. It is through study, knowledge, logic and science that Arcade begins to doubt. He says, “I have delved deep into Oriental antiquities and also into those of Greece and Rome. I have devoured the works of theologians, philosophers, physicists, geologists, and naturalists. I have learnt. I have thought. I have lost my faith.”
Through his studies, he comes to realize that Jehovah (often called Ialdabaoth in this tale, a Gnostic name for an evil demiurge) is nothing more than a fraud. He says, “I deny that He created the world. At the most He organised but an inferior part of it, and all that He touched bears the mark of His rough and unforeseeing touch. I do not think He is either eternal or infinite, for it is absurd to conceive of a being who is not bounded by space or time. I think Him limited. ... And, to speak candidly, he is not so much a god as a vain and ignorant demiurge.”
Arcade, having completely lost his faith and his desire to obey God, decides to leave his post, gather an army of rebel angels, persuade Satan to lead them, and retake Heaven from the pretender ensconced in its throne.
As Arcade makes contact with other rebel angels, he meets an old archangel, Nectaire, living as a simple gardener. Nectaire, who fought alongside Satan in the original battle against heaven, recounts to Arcade the story of the battle and the ensuing history of humanity, offering a vivid portrayal of Satan as a noble hero who helps mankind time and again.
As Nectaire tells the tale, in the beginning, Jehovah was just one among many Seraphim. Lucifer was his equal—and where character was his concerned, by far his superior. Nectaire describes him in heroic terms: “[Lucifer] was the most beautiful of all the Seraphim. He shone with intelligence and daring. His great heart was big with all the virtues born of pride: frankness, courage, constancy in trial, indomitable hope.” For France, pride, not submission, was a measure of greatness, lending hope, courage and honesty to those who dared take pride in themselves.
Lucifer’s greatness of character inspired admiration in other angels, and they came to be
near him and enjoy his friendship. “To those who were possessed of a daring spirit, a restless soul, to those fired with a wild love of liberty, he proffered friendship, which was returned with adoration,” says Nectaire. As angels left Jehovah’s mountain en masse to become companions to Lucifer, God grew jealous, wanting to keep their homage for himself alone.
As one of Lucifer’s angelic companions, Nectaire applied himself to study nature and science, and much as Arcade did, found in his studies ample reason to doubt God’s claim to omnipotence and superiority. He says, “To satisfy my mind—that was ever tormented with an insatiable thirst for knowledge and understanding—I observed the nature of things ... I sought out the laws which govern nature, solid or ethereal, and after much pondering I perceived that the Universe had not been formed as its pretended Creator would have us believe; I knew that all that exists, exists of itself and not by the caprice of Iahveh; that the world is itself its own creator and the spirit its own God. Henceforth I despised Iahveh for his imposture, and I hated him because he showed himself to be opposed to all that I found desirable and good: liberty, curiosity, doubt.”
As more angels fled the mountain of Jehovah to become companions of Lucifer, Jehovah’s jealousy grew until he demanded that all should bow to him alone or risk punishment by force, and war became inevitable in Heaven. After gathering a great army of angels, Lucifer and his companions assailed the citadel where God had set himself up as the ultimate authority. They fought a mighty battle, sweeping over the ethereal plains. “Above our heads streamed the blacks standards of revolt,” Nectaire says as he tells the tale.
After a pitched fight, however, God’s thunderbolts overtook the rebellious angels and they were flung down into hell. “The horror of the place was such that we wept as we sat, crouched elbow on knee, our cheeks resting on our clenched hands,” says Nectaire. But Lucifer retained his noble attitude, consoling his companions. “‘Comrades,’ said he, ‘we must be happy and rejoice, for behold, we are delivered from celestial servitude.” Gathering his defeated forces, he once again led them in an assault on the throne of the jealous God, but the celestial storm of thunderbolts proved once more to be too much, and they were cast down another, final time.
Nectaire continues his tale: “After this fresh disaster, the Seraph remained awhile in meditation, his head buried in his hands. At length he raised his darkened visage. Now he was Satan, greater than Lucifer.” Satan exhorted his loyal angels not to give up, but instead to hone their skills of reason and observation and so know the ways of nature and thus how to eventually prevail against Jehovah the pretender. “‘Nature shall not be ruled, the sceptre of the Universe shall not be grasped, Godhead shall not be won, save by knowledge alone,’” said Satan.
This defeat and the pain it caused opened the angels’ eyes to their first glimpse of compassion. Even if Nature’s mysteries are ultimately kept hidden, Satan said, “we still must needs congratulate ourselves on having known pain, for pain has revealed to us new feelings, more precious and more sweet than those experienced in eternal bliss, and inspired us with love and pity unknown in Heaven.” Having now experienced pain, the angels understand suffering for the first time, and are able to feel empathy and compassion for others. “These words of the Seraph changed our hearts and opened up fresh hope to us. Our hearts were filled with a great longing for knowledge and love,” says Nectaire.
Meanwhile, the Earth had come into being. Man arose in the wilderness, a sorry creature without the talons, fur, and other advantages of the other animals. Nectaire says, “Man entered painfully on his kingdom. He was defenceless and naked.” But though man lacked the fierce claws or warm pelts of other animals, he did have the ability to observe, compare, and learn. His curious, prideful nature, so much like their own, drew the fallen angels to become his companions. “His miserable lot and his painstaking spirit aroused the sympathy of the vanquished angels, who discerned in him an audacity equalling their own, and the germ of that pride that was at once their glory and their bane. They came in large numbers to be near him ... And they took pleasure in sharpening his talents and fostering his genius.”
France portrays Satan as a Promethean character, who, like Prometheus, dared to bring man the gifts of fire and knowledge. As history progressed, Satan and his demons taught men to clothe themselves in skins, to make fire, build boats, invent the wheel, and learn the ways of agriculture, among many other lessons. Their teachings concerned not just simple survival, but the higher arts as well—music, painting, and dance. “When they had learned to appease their hunger without too painful efforts we breathed into them love of beauty,” says Nectaire.
As civilizations were birthed into being, man, in awe of the demons’ powers and gifts, saw Satan and his companions as gods. France portrays Satan as the benevolent Dionysus:
“Satan was worshipped under the names of Evan, Dionysus, Iaccus, and Lenaeus. He showed in his various manifestations all the strength and beauty which it is given to mortals to conceive....On all these creatures fierce and fearful, that lived on bitter berries and beneath whose hairy breasts a wild heart beat, half-human creatures of the woods—on all he bestowed loving-kindness and grace, and they followed him drunk with joy and beauty. He planted the vine and showed mortals how to crush the grapes underfoot to make the wine flow. Magnificent and benign, he fared across the world, a long procession following in his train.”
To this day, depictions of the devil often include the horns and cloven hooves of the satyr—reflecting Christianity’s penchant for demonizing the benign nature gods worshipped by earlier cultures.
In Nectaire’s story, the demons were responsible for teaching humans not only agriculture, art and beauty, but also civilized law. Nectaire says of Satan, “And while he pondered the art of transforming the rough woodlanders into a race that should love music and submit to just laws, more than once over his brow, burning with the fire of enthusiasm, did melancholy and gloomy fever pass. But his profound knowledge and his friendship for mankind enabled him to triumph over every obstacle.”
The teachings of Satan and his demons resulted in the flowering of civilization, most notably in Greece, pinnacle of art, philosophy, and democracy. Nectaire ascribes the Greeks’ phenomenal cultural success to their humanism, their focus on self-inquiry and rational discovery as opposed to fearful obedience to priestly dogma:
“In a short time they brought wisdom and beauty to a point that no nation had attained before them, that no nation has since approached. Whence comes it, Arcade, this solitary marvel on the earth? Wherefore did the sacred soil of Ionia and of Attica bring forth this incomparable flower? Because nor priesthood, nor dogma, nor revelation ever found a place there, because the Greeks never knew the jealous God. .... It was his own grace, his own genius that the Greek enthroned and deified as his God, and when he raised his eyes to the heavens it was his own image that he saw reflected there.”
History unfolded peacefully as Greek and Roman culture took shape, but soon, thanks to the free trade in ideas made possible by Roman peace, the idea of Jehovah and his cult of cruelty arose and spread throughout the Western world. “Until now, Iahveh, the persecutor of the laborious demons, was unknown to the world that he pretended to have created,” Nectaire says. But Jehovah, alongside other gods like Thammuz, Isis, and Mithra, undertook to conquer to the world, inventing the false concept of sin to trick humanity into bowing before him:
“Of all the spirits, Iahveh appeared the least prepared for victory. His ignorance, his cruelty, his ostentation, his Asiatic luxury, his disdain of laws, his affectation of rendering himself invisible, all these things were calculated to offend those Greeks and Latins who had absorbed the teaching of Dionysus and the Muses. He himself felt he was incapable of winning the allegiance of free men and of cultivated minds, and he employed cunning. To seduce their souls he invented a fable which, although not so ingenious as the myths wherewith we have surrounded the spirits of our disciples of old, could nevertheless, influence those feebler intellects which are to be found everywhere in great masses. He declared that men having committed a crime against him, an hereditary crime, should pay the penalty for it in their present life and in the life to come (for mortals vainly imagine that their existence is prolonged in hell); and the astute Iahveh gave out that he had sent his own son to earth to redeem with his blood the debt of mankind. It is not credible that the innocent should pay for the guilty. The sufferings of the innocent atone for nothing, and do but add one evil to another. Nevertheless, unhappy creatures were found to adore Iahveh and his son, the expiator, and to announce their mysteries as glad tidings,” says Nectaire.
Instead of science, learning, beauty and love, this new cult lauded ignorance and suffering in all its myriad forms. “The reign of Iahveh proclaimed its advent in a hundred place by its extravagances. The Christians burnt books, overthrew temples, set fire to the towns, and carried on their ravages as far as the deserts. There, thousands of unhappy beings, turning their fury against themselves, lacerated their sides with points of steel. And from the whole earth the sighs of voluntary victims rose up to God like songs of praise.”
Nectaire describes one “apostle of sorrow” sent to his pagan village: “He was drier than a smoked fish. Although attenuated with fasting and watching, he taught with unabated ardor all manner of gloomy mysteries. He loved suffering, and thought it good; his anger fell upon all that was beautiful, comely, and joyous.”
The glorification of violence in Iahveh’s cult fed horrific wars, and nations arose in the midst of the tumult. “Since they attributed the innumerable ills that fell upon them to their God, they called him the Most Good, not by way of irony, but because to them the best was he who smote the hardest,” Nectaire says.
In these times, the demons disguised themselves and lived among the humans, teaching them the arts lost under the tyranny of Jehovah. “We taught them letters and sciences. A mouthpiece of their god, one Gerbert, took lessons in physics, arithmetic, and music with us, and it was said that he had sold us his soul,” says Nectaire. Wisdom, knowledge, and curiosity became signs of witchcraft instead of laudable virtues, and many people were killed in this reign of superstition and fear. Nectaire says, “Where I recognize the instigation of the All Good (as they called him) was in the custom instituted by his pastors, and established throughout Christendom, of burning, to the sound of bells and the singing of psalms, both men and women who, taught by the demons, professed, concerning this God, opinions of their own.”
But in the midst of the dark times, the rediscovery of classical art, culture and philosophy from Greece and Roman fueled the birth of the Renaissance. The classical focus on humanism inspired Renaissance artists and philosophers to think in new directions outside the confining dogma of Christianity. “After so many centuries of barbarism, the beauty of the antique world had appeared for a moment before the eyes of men; it was long enough for its image, graven on their hearts, to inspire them with an ardent desire to love and to know.”
Thereafter, infused with fresh energy by the classical secular, humanistic ideas of the Renaissance, the spirit of inquiry, reason and science began to dismantle the foundations of Jehovah’s earthly empire. “Henceforth, the star of the God of the Christians paled and sloped to its decline. Bold navigators discovered worlds inhabited by numerous races who knew not old Iahveh, and it was suspected that he was no less ignorant of them, since he had given them no news of himself or of his son the expiator,” Nectaire says.
Amid the tumult of the following centuries, mankind began to loosen the chains of both the church and the monarchy. Nectaire was in France at the time of the French Revolution and became one among the many freethinkers there. “I was living in Paris, and was at the supper where they talked of strangling the last of the priests with the entrails of the last of the kings. France was in a ferment; a terrible revolution broke out. .... While Liberty was coming to birth amid the storm, I lived at Auteuil, and visited Madame Helvetius, where freethinkers in every branch of intellectual activity were to be met with.”
Despite the promises of freedom and equality suggested by the French Revolution, soon enough Napoleon and his armies ravaged Europe and left nations at war with each other, much to the dismay of the angels. “While Napoleon’s amusements were throwing Europe into a turmoil, we congratulated ourselves on our wisdom, a little sad, withal, at seeing the era of philosophy ushered in with massacre, torture, and war. ... They did not understand that war, which trained the courage and founded the cities of barbarous and ignorant men, brings to the victor himself but ruin and misery, and is nothing but a horrible and stupid crime when nations are united together by common bonds of art, science, and trade,” Nectaire says.
Lamenting “insane Europeans who plot to cut each other’s throats, now that one and the same civilisation enfolds and unites them all!” Nectaire removed himself to his quiet garden, content to wait there for the day far in the future when Satan returns to usher in a new Golden Age. “I renounced all converse with these madmen and withdrew to this village, where I devoted myself to gardening. ... For mankind I have retained my old friendship, a little admiration, and much pity, and I await, while cultivating this enclosure, that still distant day when the great Dionysus shall come, followed by his Fauns and his Bacchantes, to restore beauty and gladness to the world, and bring back the Golden Age.”
But Arcade and his fellow rebel angels are not content to wait any longer, and they convince Nectaire to join them in their fight against Heaven. They gather a great army of angels, ready to assail once more the throne of Heaven, topple Jehovah, and raise Satan in his stead. At last, at the end of the book, they finally meet Satan, and tell him of the armed forces of angels assembled in masses all over the earth, simply waiting for his command to begin the heavenly assault. The angel Zita urges him on. “‘Prince,’ she went on, “your army awaits you. Come, lead it on to victory.”
But Satan bades them rest, refresh themselves, and sleep pleasantly in the garden. He promises to give them his answer in the morning.
That night, Satan has a long, vivid dream. In it, he leads his army in revolt against Jehovah. After many great battles, Satan’s army finally triumphs and God is driven from his throne. “And Satan had himself crowned God,” writes France.
But in the dream, not all is well in Satan’s victory. He becomes drunk with power, issuing decrees from on high and losing all his capacity for compassion—in essence becoming the vain tyrant he sought to depose. “And Satan found pleasure in praise and in the exercise of his grace; he loved to hear his wisdom and his power belauded. ... Satan, whose flesh had crept, in days gone by, at the idea that suffering prevailed in the world, now felt himself inaccessible to pity. He regarded suffering and death as the happy results of omnipotence and sovereign kindness. And the savour of the blood of victims rose upwards towards him like sweet incense.”
Satan awakes from this vision in an icy sweat, shocked and appalled by what happened in his dream. This prescient dream persuades him that war on heaven would only result in the reign of a new evil tyrant god—himself—inflicting all the same horrors as the old Jehovah. “‘Comrades,’ says the great archangel, ‘no—we will not conquer the heavens. Enough to have the power. War engenders war, and victory defeat. ...God conquered, will become Satan; Satan, conquering, will become God. May the fates spare me this terrible lot.”
In closing, Satan muses that the real battle is not external, but internal to every man, demon and seraph. We must overcome our own jealousy, fear, superstition and ignorance, and cultivate wisdom, compassion, curiosity, and the love of arts and beauty instead.
“What matter that men should be no longer submissive to Ialdobaoth if the spirit of Ialdobaoth is still in them; if they, like him, are jealous, violent, quarrelsome, and greedy, and the foes of the arts and of beauty? .. As to ourselves, celestial spirits, sublime demons, we have destroyed Ialdobaoth, our Tyrant, if in ourselves we have destroyed Ignorance and Fear,” says Satan. “We were conquered because we failed to understand that Victory is a Spirit, and it is in ourselves alone that we must attack and destroy Ialdabaoth.”