In May of 2014, the Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club and The Satanic Temple announced that they would perform a "Black Mass" at Harvard University as one part in an ongoing series of diverse religious rituals, with the intention of exploring the range of religious practice.
As soon as the plan became wildly known, loud demands for censorship of the ceremony came from powerful religious leaders. "I was disappointed. I was hoping Harvard would see how offensive and evil this was, and please ask them not to do it on their property," chided Cardinal Sean O'Malley of the Roman Catholic Church.
Drew Faust, President of Harvard University, lectured, "The 'black mass' had its historical origins as a means of denigrating the Catholic Church; it mocks a deeply sacred event in Catholicism, and is highly offensive to many in the Church and beyond. The decision by a student club to sponsor an enactment of this ritual is abhorrent; it represents a fundamental affront to the values of inclusion, belonging and mutual respect that must define our community. It is deeply regrettable that the organizers of this event, well aware of the offense they are causing so many others, have chosen to proceed with a form of expression that is so flagrantly disrespectful and inflammatory."
People all over the world joined in the condemnation of the Black Mass. It seemed self-evident that a Satanic ritual would be unacceptable, and ought to be stopped. The historical reality behind the ceremony, however, didn't turn out to be so morally simple.
Before she began her tirade against the planned Black Mass, President Faust didn't bother to get her facts straight. The Black Mass did not, as Faust claims, have its historical roots in the denigration of the Catholic Church. The historical roots of the Black Mass go back to the Catholic Church itself. The evidence suggests that the Black Mass was a fantasy invented by Catholic anti-heretic courts, and exploited for political ends in the court of King Louis XIV of France.
In 1680 a woman working under the name La Voisin was rounded up with other fortune tellers and alchemists, and accused of witchcraft and poisoning nobility. They were the prisoners of The Burning Court, the Chambre Ardente, a law enforcement entity dedicated to the capture, torture, and execution of heretics. Some of the suspects underwent torture from inquisitors that was so severe it killed them.
The investigations began after Madame de Brinvilliers, the daughter of a rich family, admitted to poisoning her father and brothers in order to inherit their estates. The case alarmed French nobles who presumed that resentful relatives would try to poison them in order to gain inheritance as well. There may have been some actual poisonings at the beginning of the scare, but quickly the investigation burst out of control, as excessively eager and sadistic inquisitors coerced suspects with remarkably inhumane and unreliable methods, seeking the names of new co-conspirators.
Some suspects had their limbs crushed. La Voisin was given large amounts of alcohol, and interrogated while she was intoxicated. Terror gripped those who were being questioned, and soon, what had been a poisoning investigation took on the character of a witch hunt. Tortured suspects were given suggestions of more and more outlandish crimes, and seeking to avoid gruesome execution themselves, began to accuse people they knew of murdering babies as sacrifices to Satan in order to gain supernatural power over their enemies.
The following are from the actual notes of the interrogations, translated from French into English:
"A child that appeared to have been prematurely born was presented at Madame de Montespan's Mass by order of her mother, and Guibourg put it into a basin, cut its throat, poured the blood into a chalice and consecrated it with the host, finished his Mass, then took out the child's entrails; the next day mother Voisin took to Dumesnil, to be distilled, the blood and the host in a glass phial which Madame de Montespan took away. The child's body was burnt in the stove by mother." - Testimony of La Voisin's daughter
"He had bought for a crown the child that was sacrificed at this Mass; it was presented to him by a grown girl. Having drawn blood from the child, whose throat he pierced with a penknife, he poured some into the chalice, after which the child was removed and taken to another place, and its heart and entrails were brought back to him for a second" - Testimony of the Abbe Guibourg
"Guibourg, who had denied opening the child's body, agreed that he had torn out the heart and entrails and had cut open the child's heart after the Mass to take out the clotted blood that was inside the heart and put it into a vessel prepared for that purpose; and with it he also put fragments of the consecrated host, and what was in the chalice, and it was taken away by the lady on whose belly he had celebrated Mass, whom he believed to be Madame de Montespan, as La Voisin told him." - Testimony of Nicholas de la Reynie
None of this testimony would be allowed in an ordinary court of law today, because it's clear that the suspects were forced to testify against their friends and relatives, tortured until they complied with the demands of The Burning Court. Yet, today, many people still take it for granted that there really were Satanic sacrifices of babies taking place in the court of Louis XIV.
For example, Professor of Religious History J. Gordon Melton, when questioned on the background of Satanic practices by a reporter writing about the censorship of the Black Mass event at Harvard University, declared that, "They sacrificed a baby in the first black mass." With Melton's encouragement, the reporter spun a tale that King Louis XIV was himself involved, and that, "enlisted the help of a renegade Catholic priest who drew upon lingering notions of pagan magic to perform the dark ceremony."
The truth is that there was never actually any evidence that the Satanic sacrifice of babies by nobles in the French royal court ever actually took place. The outlandish nature of the reports (witnesses swore there were the corpses of 2,500 babies buried in La Voisin's yard, though none were ever actually found there) and the similarity of the coerced testimony to known perjury in the Salem Witch Trial and the Satanic ritual abuse hoaxes of the 1980s, suggest that the Black Mass is nothing but a dark fantasy created by the Catholic Church itself as a tool for the suppression of heretics.
It's worth noting that the accusations the Catholic inquisitors made against their prisoners bore a striking resemblance to the violent practices of the Catholic Church itself. There is no evidence of any real murderous Satanic rituals during the reign of Louis XIV, but there is ample evidence of gruesome killings and torture by the Catholic Church at the time.
Of course, now as then, there are many who seek to contort the historical record, to convince people that they should be afraid of Satanists, even as they celebrate the bloody history of Christian churches. A swarm of legends about the Affair of the Poisons has grown in the centuries since it took place, seeking to justify the torture and execution of large numbers of people in the absence of evidence of their guilt. Among these legends is the story that Gabriel Nicolas de la Reynie, the man who led the investigations into alleged murderous Satanic rituals in the court of King Louis XIV, was a sober, neutral party to the affair, conducting a scrupulous, and religiously disinterested examination of the facts. Massimo Introvigne, for example, presented a paper at the World Dracula Congress in 1997 in which he claimed, " Although some historians are skeptical, the documents of the inquiry by Nicholas de la Reynie, the Police Chief of the king -- who was not a particularly religious man but a rather cold and stubborn policeman -- published by the 19th century historian François Ravaisson-Mollien, make a persuasive case for the celebration of "Black Masses" (the term was coined by La Voisin herself) at the Court of Louis XIV."
Given that he was the leader of The Burning Court, a inquisitorial body that existed for no other reason than to punish religious unorthodoxy, it is not credible to suggest that Reynie "was not a particularly religious man". Nonetheless, assertions such as this usually go unchallenged.
If the Black Mass is, as Drew Faust claims, an insult to the Roman Catholic Church, then it is an insult that comes from the Roman Catholic Church itself. Modern day Satanists can't be blamed for the dark Catholic history of persecution of religious minorities that has contributed to the rise of the mythology of the Black Mass.
In fact, people who call themselves "Satanists" these days don't even believe in the real existence of Satan, as obedient Catholics do. The Satanic Temple, which partnered with the Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club to design the Black Mass ritual that was to performed at Harvard University, before it was censored, plainly states that they deal with Satan as a "theological metaphor", not as a concrete reality. When they declare themselves to be Satanists, it is a flamboyant protest against the real atrocities of Christianity.
Given that these many of these atrocities were committed in order to suppress religious diversity, and are at the root of the Black Mass, it is astonishing that the Temple of Satan and the Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club are being accused of "evil", "abhorrent" and "offensive" actions, while the Catholic Church is being celebrated as an organization worthy of "respect" and "reasoned discourse".
What Drew Faust and her allies at Harvard University have proven is that Harvard won't be a place that allows a genuine reasoned discourse on the matter of religion. They are showing that Harvard is a school where people are encouraged to speak out of prejudice in order to support the sensibilities of powerful religious groups, without bothering to consider the facts first.
The condemnation of the Harvard Black Mass event is an especially troubling indicator of American culture in general, given the context of the recent Greece v. Galloway Supreme Court decision, in which a narrow, all-Christian majority ruled that government bodies in the United States can use their power to establish Christianity as a privileged, state-established religion, while shutting out non-Christian from government meetings with impunity.
The real religious bullies in America are being encouraged, while absurd medieval fantasies about Satanic rituals are being perpetuated, as if there is a genuine Black Mass danger.