May 11, 2014

Once Again, Harvard Students Plan to Raise Satan

Once again some Harvard students are planning to raise Satan on campus. It's not the first time it's happened, and probably won't be the last. 

So, here's the story. Tomorrow evening some students at Harvard University's Extension School will be participating in a Satanic Mass. The students are part of the Extension School's Cultural Studies Club, and are holding the devilish rite as a way of learning about other religions.

The Boston Archdiocese is outraged, saying the Black Mass mocks Catholicism and is contrary to "charity and goodness." The school's administrators responded to the church and said they support the club in this educational endeavor. The club is also planning to perform rituals from other religious traditions like Shinto and Buddhism.

The Black Mass will be led by the Satanic Temple of New York. Temple spokesperson Lucien Greaves says they will base their Mass on La Bas, a 19th century novel by the French Decadent Joris-Karl Huysmans. Greaves is an atheist and a Harvard alumnus, and claims the ritual is more political than religious in intent.

“This is not a supernatural ritual,” Greaves told the Daily News. “We don’t believe in the supernatural. And I don’t think belief in the supernatural should give you any privilege, since any deeply held belief should be protected."

"...There’s no stronger cultural symbol for the revolt against the general idea of arbitrary authority and revolt against ultimate tyranny,” Greaves said of Satan. “There’s no better a construct that can act as a narrative for our works and goals.”

The Satanic Temple of New York is no stranger to publicity. They've been in the news recently with their efforts to erect a statue of the goat god Baphomet in front of the Oklahoma state capital building. Last summer, Greaves and the Temple performed a Pink Mass at the grave of Christian fundamentalist Fred Phelps's mother with the intent of making her lesbian in the afterlife.

Lucien Greaves (center) celebrating the Pink Mass

The Satanic Temple seems like a group of political pranksters more than serious Satanists, but their presence on campus still indicate how things have changed at Harvard University. Harvard was founded in 1636 to train Puritan ministers and they took the Devil quite seriously.

The last time Harvard students tried to raise the Devil things didn't go the way they expected. That story goes something like this. One day, way back in the 1640s, Harvard's president Henry Dunster was called away to Concord on business. A group of student took advantage of his absence to experiment with some black magic. After all, Harvard had an extensive occult library, so why not use it?

Harvard's Dunster House, named after Henry Dunster, the school's first president.
The student's did succeed in raising Satan, but unfortunately were not able to control him. The Evil One proceeded to run amok on campus. In a panic, the students sent a message to Dunster that he needed to come back to campus immediately. Dunster mounted his horse and galloped back to campus to handle the rampaging demon. He was a well-trained minister and knew just what to do.

When he arrived at Harvard he poured the contents of his gunpowder horn onto the ground and told the Devil to appear. Satan obeyed, apparently drawn by the familiar, sulfurous smell of the gunpowder. Dunster ignited the gunpowder and the Devil disappeared in a fiery explosion, leaving behind only a foul smell. There's no word on whether the students were expelled or were given extra credit for successfully applying what they found in the library.

I'm all for youthful occult experimentation, but I do think caution is required, particularly if you're summoning Satan. Let's hope Greaves or one of the students brings a horn of gunpowder in case their ritual is more effective than they think.

(The story about Henry Dunster and the Devil was first told by one of his descendants in Proceedings of The Centennial Celebration of The One Hundredth Anniversary of The Incorporation of The Town of Mason, N. H., August 26, 1868 and has since been repeated in various folklore books.)

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