In Praise of Hellfire & Brimstone

“Another night as the holy Father entered the church he saw the evil one seated, as it were, with a paper in his hand which he appeared to be reading by the light of the lamp, and his hand was hideous to behold and furnished with iron claws. The saint approached him, and asked him what he was reading. “I am reading the sins of thy brethren,” was the reply. Then the blessed Dominic laid hold of the paper, and commanded him in the name of God to give it up, which he was forced to do. And the saint found written therein several things wherein the brethren had transgressed, for which he duly corrected them.”

— From Augusta Theodosia Drane, The History of St. Dominic, Founder of the Friars Preachers (1891)

Given the rabid religious rhetoric of the American Right, it’s easy to hate those who speak the devil into existence. There is something absurd about seeing some sweating, mad-eyed preacher ranting about the evils of sin and blasphemy when you know damn well that the preacher isn’t even half as holy as a hustler on the corner squeezing pennies from passing executives. This becomes even more prevalent as we approach the elections, and those crippled political clowns dance around with plastic faces seeking to abuse our favor.  Look in the eyes of these folks and all you see is blatant insanity.

Despite the fact that it’s all too often mentioned by these hatefully perverse pretenders, there is still something sweet about hellfire.  It’s that diabolical fire that burns out the impurities of our spirit and fuels the flames of passion that push us, through our own weaknesses, into ecstatic union with the sublimity of existence.

St. Dominic & the Devil – Pietro della Vecchia, Italian, 1603-1678

Then wilt thou have the double and treble water represented by the rose tree in the book of Abraham the Jew, which issues out of the foot of an oak, namely our Saturnia, which is the royal key, and goes to precipitate itself into the abyss, as says the same author, that is to say, into the receiver, adapted to the neck of the retort, where the double Mercury throws itself by means of a suitable fire. But here are found thorns and insuperable difficulties, unless God reveals this secret, or a master bestows it. For Mercury does not marry with royal Saturnia: it is experient to find a secret means to unite them: for unless thou knowest the artifice by which this union and peace are effected between these aforesaid argent-vives, you will do nothing to any purpose.”

— From The Testament of Nicholas Flamel  (1806)

One must be careful when stoking these flames, taking the alchemists’ advice that the heat must be natural, must be steady, and mustn’t exceed the bounds of proper application. Idiotic ideas about the sinful source of natural disasters or social collapse have no place with the tried and true devil that we’re discussing here. Nothing judgmental coming from the mouths of human monsters has to do with our devil.

Our devil is very personal. If you’re posturing about someone else’s path, then you don’t know our devil. If you politicize the power of the diabolic judge, heaven help you if you meet up with him some night, and see yourself soaking in your own malevolence. Our devil is a gentleman, an aristocrat, disgusted by a lack of spiritual dignity, and ready with his teeth to rend any who would walk unwary on the path to heaven.

The innocent fool passes by, accepts a cup of water from some sly stranger, and, thankful for the gift, drifts off to sleep feeling no ill portent from the poison he’s been slipped. One who is guilty, however, doesn’t sip the cup, but swallows whole the virulent vaccine against his or her own ill will. Those more filled with sickness find they are set to painful torture until their self-induced delusions are worked out in a hallucinatory hell of their own devising.

“It’s that diabolical fire that burns out the impurities of our spirit and fuels the flames of passion that push us, through our own weaknesses, into ecstatic union with the sublimity of existence.”

Those who fear the devil have no place for peace. Even Christ said to agree with one’s adversary in the way. Ponder that for a moment, and see how far afield the excruciating evangelical rhetoric really is: a bogeyman set up as a perfect sociological tool for control, but in no way suited to prepare us for our walk through the darkness of this world.

Literalism is of no effect, and speaks of a misstep in the way. For what use is it to ponder the materiality of some dualistic diabolism if one is seeking union with an infinite end? Those who pass themselves as masters, and who have not made peace with the prosecuting spirit, will find themselves at a loss no matter what they appear to know in the flesh.

Whereby (the soul) had gotten such bestial Inclinations, that now it must lie captive in great Misery, and for very shame dared not lift up its Eyes to God, who hid the Light of his Countenance from it, and would not so much as look upon it. And as it was thus sighing and crying, it was drawn into the Abyss or Pit of Horror, and laid itself as it were at the Gates of Hell, there to perish.

Upon which the poor troubled Soul was as it were bereft of Sense, and wholly forsaken, so that it in a Manner forgot all its Doings, and would willingly yield itself to Death, and cease to be a Creature. Accordingly it did yield itself to Death, and desired Nothing else but to die and perish in the Death of its Redeemer, Jesus Christ, who had suffered such Torments and Death for its Sake. And in this Perishing it began to sigh and pray in itself very inwardly to the Divine Goodness, and to sink down into the mere Mercy of God.

— From Jacob Boehme, The Way from Darkness to True Illumination (1622)

It is a sad deception that so many fight the writings of the past due to a language which has been corrupted by ignorance. The very lessons that could heal our present situation have been tainted by the malediction of those who have usurped their proper usage. So many will be offended at the fact that Christ is mentioned in the quotes, or that a devil is mentioned, because these words spark fears of religion that have been fostered by ignorance on all sides of the debate. This is the true evil: that we are so blinded by our preconceived notions, and by the idiocy planted by inept and fiendish leaders, that the lessons intended in these writings cannot overcome our own discomfort with their historical abuse.

When one makes friends with his or her devil, this all drifts away. We no longer look at the poverty of others’ intent, but focus instead on the path ahead, taking whatever lesson or gift is offered for help.  That we still have any question as to the intentions that have led our society into this morass of corruption and destruction is a sign that we have not matured enough as a society to accept chastisement for our blatant sickness of soul.

So rather than taking up the defense, take up the dice, and play a game with the devil. If you win or lose, you will certainly learn something, and when you next encounter some red-eyed rambling pervert disguised as a preacher or politico, you can laugh knowing that the devil in this person’s demented dreams is your teacher and friend. And even more, that the fear fomented in hellfire and brimstone is a fuel for the fiery truth of our inescapable nature, and that we walk freely, under the wings of divinity, in gardens planted by our own intention … for good or for ill.


About David Metcalfe

In addition to writing De Umbris Idearum, David Metcalfe is the Books Editor for THE REVEALER, the online journal for NYU's Center for Religion and Media. He's also an independent researcher, cultural historian, and artist. He regularly contributes articles and reviews to Modern, Evolutionary Landscapes, Reality Sandwich, and Alarm Magazine.

Posted on September 4, 2012, in De Umbris Idearum and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a Comment.

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