This is a follow-up on a conversation started with Old Disgruntled Bastard, and specifically to his article ‘Spirituality in black metal’
“In effect, what D.A.R.G. proposes is treating black metal on a spiritual plane first and foremost, albeit always guided by those stylistic markers as auxiliaries.”
Yes, and no. I’d say, there is a link between that spiritual plane and the resulting musical expression. In my current experience, the link is not so much to outright complexity of structure, but of balance, measure and a certain maturity —so far I cannot be explicit in its theorization. I must stress using that now-famous occult adage: “As above, so below.” / etc… I do not think it is possible to have bad art with good spirituality, shallow music with deep transmission. Intentions and lyrical flare do not make for profound spirituality, which is often the contention.
To get this, we might need to raise ourselves above the intelectual / religious, believer / agnostic / atheist, schism. The enlightened (in the true sense) man should be above them, but should be able to access and utilize their points of view, and only in doing so achieve the complete picture that in illusion divides objective and subjective worlds.
“To surmise, sacred art is created in homage to an external object that human comprehension is incapable of grasping in its entirety. It is a seat traditionally occupied in human history by an all-powerful God. Man tries to make sense of the invisible all-pervasive by choosing a medium equally inexplicable in its workings: art, and musical art in particular, helps him to capture some element of that immaterial truth which he cannot prove but which he feels with all his being.”
The article follows with a collection of relevant observations on the secular and how foreign it is to the sacred boundary that art appears to inhabit. But the reader will allow me to digress, however, in light of that and Black Ivory Tower’s explicitly modern contextualization of the sacred in the materialist / pseudo-sacred farce of the Nazarene ideology (Catholics, Orthodox Church, Protestants, etc.), for that view is extremely limited, even if given priority today because of its (until relatively recently) triumph over the masses.
A more illuminating approach to explaining that sacred-profane world juxtaposition is given in Bataille’s Erotism: Death and Sensuality (of which I am aware thanks to the insightful hermetic writings of Von Sanngetall, who takes not only from Bataille, Evola, Nietzsche and Heidegger, but also from European Alchemical sources). Bataille gives an account of sacred versus profane in a way that sees above that “all-powerful God”, which is an exclusively monotheistic and relatively recent development. In fact, given his exposition of the nature of the sacred, he also posits (very convincingly for those of us who already detected this by our own means) that Christianity is “the least religious of them[i.e. religions] all”.
The beginning of this is a clarification on the terms sacred and profane. Christianity has made the world believe that the sacred is themselves, and equivalent to “tolerance and love” (towards what they define as permissible, of course) and “feeling nice and warm”, and that the profane is everything that opposes that. How convenient. The more historical and philosophical stance, on the other hand, sees in the every-day world, and all that it holds, either benign or malignant, as profane; and sees in the world of the exceptional, of man going beyond the merely human, the sacred.
Contrary to Christian-biased belief, this sacredness can take violent and dark overtones, sickening and dangerous actions can be as sacred as the most generous or compassionate of them. That is, the sacred-and-profane equivalence to good-and-evil is an exclusively self-serving Christian invention. In “the vocabulary of irrationalism”, says Bataille, the profane is ‘the world of reason’ (and work and organisation), while the sacred is the ‘world of violence’ (which includes birth, sex and death in all their forms).
Bataille sees the profane as the creation of the world of rules with which humankind says “no” to Nature (his words) for the first time and is able to, through (organized) work and taboo, establish boundaries that facilitate the development and attainment of a more complex society and culture. Now according to Bataille typically (and in opposition to our modern concept of “religious” or “the sacred” that is tainted with Christianity’s 2000 year-old reign and its humanist legacy), the sacred is necessary for this balance as it implies a measured series of transgressions upon the taboo that delineate the profane. That higher development of humankind depends on the sacred, while it in turn depends on the profane to have meaning.
The sacred is not the Natural, says Bataille, nor is it a return to it. The sacred, instead, seems to raise man above the line that divides our organized “civilized” lives from the savagery that we still carry inside. It allows us to enact both, by allowing for the latter within the former. Art seen in this light, and black metal (and related dark ambient genres) seen in this light, give new meaning to the tired trope of “metal music as ritual”.
To try and see art as the access to the sacred through the lens of Christianity would be incomplete and inadequate, for Christianity itself is so. Christianity tries to eradicate the savage/natural/violent side and flood the universe with transcendent love, a poetically beautiful idea, perhaps, but not so much in accordance with the balance of reality. Bataille explains how Christianity renders the sacred sterile:
“By introducing transcendence into an organised world, transgression becomes a principle of organised disorder.”
Besides, does this not echo the funderground absorption of the short-lived yet artistically rich explosion of underground metal that resulted in trve black metal? The reaction of secular, mainstream, politically-correct society to the actual transgression that black metal proposes (and which most metalheads misunderstand or are unaware of through self-conceit) may not allow them to see how transgression, as rupture of the taboo and the profane as the only means to the sacred, implies very literal violence and danger for their own sake, and not some modern Marxist revolution (which could be seen as the result of unaddressed savagery outbursts that could have been more appropriately addressed with the element of the sacred). Intimations of this can be discerned in ODB’s article ‘Absolute metal: The initial premise’.
Bataille continues to refer to Christianity’s reaction towards the old pagan religions, which may have survived and expressed themselves through anti-Christian names and symbols —essentially, the real basis of traditional Satanism, completely distinct from the boutique shop, Qliphothic, Crowley-influenced ego-inflating satanism of many artists today:
“Sacredness misunderstood is readily identified with Evil. While it conserved a sacred quality in people’s minds the violence of eroticism could cause anguish or nausea, but it was not identified with profane Evil, with the violation of the rules that reasonably and rationally safeguard people and property. (…) Transgression in pre-Christian religions was relatively lawful; piety demanded it. Against the transgression stood the taboo, but it could always be suspended as long as limits were observed. In the Christian world the taboo was absolute. (…) Transgression would have made clear what Christianity concealed, that the sacred and the forbidden are one, that the sacred can be reached through the violence of a broken taboo. (…) Evil is not transgression, it is transgression condemned.”
A further reading of Bataille’s explanations on the sacred as transgression of profane limits but essentially enabled by it by profane limitation itself, can be greatly enriched by Gnostic – Hermetic concepts of reverse-traversing of man through the Seven Spheres towards the Constellations; further still and beyond that, the practical application of such fundamentally Alchemical (ars regia) concepts to an exeatic life as proposed by David Myatt will give a far more real sense to black metal as spiritual and philosophical essence. Last, it will also provide a key to differentiate the seeds of a philosophy for the superior man in this Black Art, from the mediocrity, blasphemous joke or religious dogmatism that has, in parallel, cropped up as a result of weakness or limitation in discernment.
The sacred is, then, literally a deliberate walking into the darkness outside our constructed boundaries of civility, rationalism and order. However, the sacred needs these bounds to attain context and significance, and we also use the faculties of a developed intellect to further digest and understand our experience of the sacred. To attain that experience, moreover, intellect and rationalism cannot get in the way of the storm of savagery that the sacred demands in order for it to become possible.
Anguish is what makes humankind, it seems; not anguish alone, but anguish transcended and the act of transcending it. —G. Bataille, Erotism: Death and Sensuality, Chapter VII: ‘Murder and Sacrifice’