Occulture, politics, and the American mental terrain

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Hi all. My name is Nic Laccetti. I’m a practicing occultist, an esotericist, and a theologian. I’m the author of The Inner Church is the Hope of the World: Western Esotericism as a Theology of Liberation (Resource Publications, 2018). You might know my writings on occultism from publications such as Patheos, my personal blog The Light Invisible, or at the Rosicrucian Tradition group blog (and its very active Facebook group). Alternatively, you might also know me through the Kairos Center or from us organizing with the Poor People’s Campaign together. If the latter, this newsletter might require some additional explanation.

What is “The Baphometic Left”?

To be honest, I don’t have a strong identification with the word “left,” even though I’m on it. But I thought a strongly-worded title that might terrify reactionary conservatives by confirming their wildest conspiracy theories, while parodying some of the constant think pieces revisioning left politics would be a good title. Other title options included “The People’s Baphomet,” the “The Baphometic Turn,” or “The Baphomet Option.” I should still publish something called that last one.

Really, this newsletter, along with my recent book, draws together my work in movement building with my interests in popular religion and the occult. It aims to answer a number of questions: From the perspective of building a broad social movement, what is the meaning of the contemporary interest in occult and alternative religious ideas, especially among young people and those who would formerly be destined to be a part of the middle class? How can this occult revival, its narratives and its imagery, be moved toward the struggles of the dispossessed, rather than toward neo-fascist movements on the so-called alt-right? Why is there an abiding interest in the occult and in esoteric beliefs even or especially among the young organizers of our social justice movements today? (And do you know any organizers who don’t check their horoscopes?)

My perspective here is not disinterested, but dedicated to the idea that building a broad and powerful movement led by the poor and dispossessed as a social force is the only way we will be able to transform the unjust economic and political structures of our society, to end poverty, racism, militarism, and ecological destruction forever. In the Poor People’s Campaign, we constantly reiterate that we are rooted in a moral analysis based on our deepest religious values that demand justice for all. We just don’t usually talk about the weirder iterations of those deep religious values, even though they have always been a part of American culture and even though they are gaining more and more popularity today as opposed to traditional Christianity and organized religion.

Why the Baphomet?

The Baphomet has been in the news a lot over the past few years, in large part due to the antics of the Temple of Satan. Just this past week, the Temple announced it was suing Netflix over the streaming video company’s use of the ToS’ version of the Baphomet statue (notably not androgynous, like Lévi’s original image, and including the depiction of two little children). Netflix prominently displayed the statue in the witches’ school of its recent TV show, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, which unfortunately did not include a talking cat but was, I thought, a fun horror dramedy that included a lot of allusions to the recent popularity of Luciferian traditional witchcraft. Of course, the Temple of Satan is not Luciferian, nor does it actually believe in Satan. (As an aside, most traditional witches I know really liked the show, and spent more time cataloguing its Latin spells than worrying about its use of the Baphomet image.)

The Baphomet, as most occultists know, is not actually a symbol of Satan or even of Lucifer. Eliphas Lévi, the founder of what we today know as popular “occultism,” designed the Baphomet image as a representation of his doctrine of the Astral Light.

More importantly, Lévi scholar Julian Strube has explained how the Baphomet, for Lévi, actually acted as “the embodiment of a politically connoted tradition of ‘true religion’ which would realize a synthesis of religion, science, and politics” — an emblem of “a long tradition of revolutionary heretics” in religion and politics stretching from the ancient Gnostics, to the Knights Templar, to the sabbats of early modern witches, to Lévi’s own nineteenth-century tradition of French radical socialism. The Baphomet is not Satan. But it might be a communist.

This newsletter is written in the hopes of reviving that long, semi-legendary, but also vibrant and clearly still-resonant “tradition of revolutionary heretics” that Lévi originally meant to signify with the Baphomet image, committed to an explicit program of radical social transformation.

What will be in this newsletter?

Semi-regular, informal updates on occultism & politics in American culture, reflections on the meaning of the occult revival from the perspective of working daily in contemporary movements for social change, and liberative interpretations of weird religious beliefs and American occulture. Plus links to longer-form writing on all of these things, to important pieces on occultism and esotericism from others in the community, and to writings on social movements, especially the #PoorPeoplesCampaign.