November 24, 2007

Astrophel, my second Satanist correspondent

[Note. I began this post on 22 November 2007.]

Dear “Astrophel”:

“fond of stars” or “star-lover”—
from two Greek words:
astron, meaning “star,”
philos, meaning “fond” or “loving.”

In my monastery’s family tree there is an ancient monk, Herman the Cripple, who is thought to have been the composer of a famous invocation of the Blessed Virgin Mary as “STAR of the Sea.”



Herman lived in the Years of Our Lord 1013-1054 at the monastery of Reichenau Island, Lake Constance. An earlier monk of that monastery, Saint Meinrad, went to be a hermit in what is now Einsiedeln, Switzerland, dying there in 861, and inspiring the foundation of a monastery in the same place in 934. Einsiedeln sent monks in 1854 to Indiana, to start the monastery that is now Saint Meinrad Archabbey. Monks came from the Indiana monastery in 1958 to found my monastery, Prince of Peace Abbey, in the city of Oceanside, California, overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

Our Lady of Einsiedeln statue at my monastery (click image to see bigger)
The monastery of Einsiedeln enshrines a blackened, statue of the Madonna and Child that is nearly six centuries old. My monastery in Oceanside has a copy of that statue enshrined in our abbey church, “Our Lady of Einsiedeln Church.”

Star of the Sea! Star of Oceanside!

The topper is that my monastery is within the same part of Oceanside as Saint Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Church.

Again: Star of the Sea, Star of Oceanside!

I believe she played— and prayed— a role in the fact that you, “Starlover,” Astrophel, came to my blog.

At this point you have now received a brief story of my monastic family tree. Elsewhere on my blog, you may find a link to a story of my life and personal monastic calling.

By the way, stephanos (accent on the first syllable) is the Greek word for “crown,” and is the original name of Saint Stephen the First Martyr of Jesus Christ.

Well ... that’s enough of introducing myself.

Yes, “Starlover,” Astrophel, I am willing to correspond with you as I have been doing with “Demensira.”

I want to know if you want me to address you as “Astrophel.” Historically, that is a man’s name; but I suppose a woman might use it. Are you a man or a woman?

What is your personal religious background?

I wonder that you cringed, as you say, to read that Demensira’s Satanist beliefs differ from yours. Why cringe? Are there beliefs that Satanists expect other Satanists to hold? Among Satanists, is there also an accepted Satanist orthodoxy and are there rejected Satanist heresies? Did you cringe because Demensira is evidence of disunity among Satanists?

I ask those questions while saying to myself, “Odd to see a Satanist mindset parallel to Christian religiosity!” However, it is paradoxical to me, because I am ignorant about Satanism. Christianity holds and preaches the “universals” of Truth, Goodness, Beauty, and Unity as attributes of God, while I think of Satanism as opposed to Unity (which in Christ is a gift of the Holy Spirit), Satanism as opposed to Truth (Christ is The Truth, and Satan is the primordial distorter of the Truth), Satanism as opposed to Beauty (created beauty is a reflection of the Glory of God), and Satanism as opposed to Goodness (Demensira even excludes the application of that category in decisions about spiritual well-being). All of that goes on inside my head as I read that you “cringed” over the diversity between your Satanism and Demensira’s. I acknowledge that what is inside my head might not be the same as what’s inside your use of the word “cringed.”

I will impose one restriction on the topics of our dialogue. If I wanted to learn about Satanism in depth and from a Satanist perspective, I would go to a Satanist website or source (or to Catholic sources to learn about Satanism from a Christian perspective). I am here to receive your questions, to give my explanations, to respect your right to disagree, and to receive your explanations as they may be pertinent to our discussion. I am not here— my blog is not here— to enable the wholesale preaching of Satanism, which you are free to do on a blog of your own.

[My other readers! If you'd like to comment, please do so under the blogpost entitled, "My correspondence with a 'theistic Satanist.'" I'm going to restrict my dialogue with Astrophel here to Astrophel and myself.]


Anonymous Astrophel said...

I am a male and I think it would be best to address me by my username for now. I am familiar with the hymn you posted (even set it to my own tune, once), though I drew my name from Aleister Crowley's statement that "every man and woman is a star" - so "star-lover" serves as a reminder to love everyone.

There are no beliefs Satanists expect others to hold. We're a very disorganized religion without any orthodoxy, heresies, or unity. Just as Catholics have areas of "legitimate diversity of opinion", so do we, save that most all areas are such in Satanism. I cringed merely as I'd cringe over any strong personal disagreement. Oddly enough, though, I'd agree with you that truth, goodness, and beauty are godlike attributes.

I was raised in a (Protestant) nominally Christian household, and was taught that God existed and little more. Despite this, I was always fascinated by religion. At age 12, after my parents had divorced, my mother began dating a churchgoing man who took us to a Pentecostal service every Sunday. This inspired me to research Christianity. I read the Bible every night and acquainted myself with theological and doctrinal issues. Until age 15 I was a firm "non-denominational Protestant" by my own description.

At 15, of my own volition and after a few weeks of research, I decided that Catholicism was the most sensible sort of Christianity, and began attending Mass. I went through RCIA and on Easter of the following year I received baptism, first communion, and confirmation all on the same night. I studied Catholicism in depth: the saints, the theologians, and so on. I finally finished the Bible. I've been through all of it at least once, most of it twice, and most of the New Testament several times. I nearly finished the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Right before my 18th birthday, I turned to Satanism.

That is my religious history. Yet through all of this I had the same undeniable, inexplicable attraction to Satan that Demensira describes. As a devoted Catholic, I loathed it, but I could not conquer it. I'm sure you know, as a priest and a monk, of that natural piety that penetrates every aspect your life, but particularly the small, quiet moments, and reminds you of god and his goodness in everything that you do. I have the same thing, only with Satan. It is not the result of exposure to corrupt influences, as the most innocuous, or even godly, things would inspire Satanic thoughts in me. It comes from within, and I cannot be rid of it. It is difficult for me to convey exactly how strong this tendency was, except that if you read the journal of some saint and imagine them speaking of the devil instead of god, you'll have an idea of how my mind worked at that time. It was horrfying.

I cut myself off from the world as much as possible and adhered to a strict regimen of prayer, including a daily rosary, for about a year. I was willing to accept my unfortunate condition as a cross to bear, and I offered it up daily, yet as I prayed, I began to develop an aversion to God. I could not even THINK of prayer without becoming nauseous. It took me an hour and a half to complete a rosary because I would be shaking and hyperventilating throughout the entire thing, yet I pressed on anyway. Thoughts of God filled with such incredible dread that I just wanted to hide. I begged him for release from this, because it prevented me from growing in the faith - I could not pray, could not even think of him, without paralyzing fear and revulsion. I prayed harder.

I attended Mass in this condition. It was all I could do to make it through the whole thing. I would have panic attacks during Mass, and once I nearly fainted during a standing part. My priest screamed at me, told me I was trying to draw attention to myself, and when I explained to him that I was afflicted by a terrible fear of god - even during my prayers at home - he called me insane. I was terribly embarrassed of it, and did my best to hide it, but then I started breaking out in hives when I entered the church. This is not a joke; I broke out in hives on several occasions, and my family and the other members of the church all saw it happen and were very concerned. Even though I was breaking out in hives, I still kept attending Mass, until the panic attacks got so bad I couldn't even enter the building without my knees giving out from fear. And even still, I would come to the church when it was closed, and sit outside for hours at a time, in order to be as close to Jesus as I possibly could. Eventually, that too became too much.

I physically could not enter the church building without collapsing from fear and breaking out in hives, and I could not pray without becoming nauseous and hyperventilating. I could not enjoy life because every single thing, no matter how innocuous or even holy, reminded me of Satan. I did the only thing I could do and cried out to God. I begged him for hours on end every single night to help me. Every few nights or so this would turn into hysterical sobbing until my eyes were dry. I spent about nine months in this state. Towards the end of it I attempted suicide multiple times because I disgusted myself so much. And at no point did God ever help me, or even give me the slightest relief from those relentless feelings, which were growing steadily worse.

In the last few weeks, they had become so strong that if I did not consciously fight them, with every bit of willpower I could muster, I would simply accept them and feel myself fall comfortably into the Satanic mindset that had plagued me for so long. They were irresistable. I had school, chores, a life - I could not devote every waking moment to fighting this! It kept me from sleep, and when I did finally give out from exhaustion, I dreamt of spiritual warfare. I begged God to fight for me, as I could not do this. He never did, and left me in that impossible battle. Is it any wonder I lost? The following Sunday, after Mass, I entered the church again. I took a consecrated host from the Tabernacle as the early arrivals for the next Mass looked on, walked into the church bathroom, and committed the worst desecrations I could think of, in order to get myself excommunicated.

And the question I have for you at the end of this is, why? Why did he never help me, though I begged him every night for hours on end, over a period of several months? I knew I could never overcome this myself, though I did my best in order to cooperate with his grace. Yet he gave me no grace and watched impassively while Satan claimed his own. No one has ever been able to tell me why God would do such a thing, and many people disbelieve me outright. But I loved him once, and all I wanted was the ability to love him and be with him, yet that was taken from me, and he made no moves to help me recover it.

6:26 PM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

Dear Astrophel,

You have asked me a very grave, “Why?” I’ll get to that question towards the end of what I am writing now.

I am going to propose right now the worst possibility regarding the events you describe, but merely as a possibility— that your description fits the category of possible demonic possession.

In all that you wrote, despite the gravity and extremity of your account, you never used the word “possession.” Has no one ever suggested that might be precisely the situation you describe?

Demonic possession can occur through one’s own actions or those of others.

Through the actions of others?
Others associated with the one possessed have at some time invoked occult or demonic realities in the presence of or concerning the one eventually possessed. Sometimes the well-intended but imprudent actions of others can be a factor in the onset of possession. More about that later.

Through one’s own actions?
One who has a pattern of willful sins opens a path to possession.
One attempts or engages in occult practices, such as horoscopes, Ouija boards, Tarot cards, etc. Such things, even if seemingly innocuous or “silly,” are open doors that send out an invitation to hidden realities one does not know or control. The word “occult” is from the Latin for “hidden.”

When a possible case of possession is brought to Church authorities, the procedure is first to investigate psychological conditions and physiological conditions. After those conditions have been investigated and evaluated seriously, and psychological or physiological factors do not seem to account sufficiently for what may appear to be a possible instance of demonic possession, only then does the Church proceed with considering the possible need for an exorcism.

If a person suffers from psychological or physiological illnesses, even grave ones, this does not exclude the possibility of real demonic possession.

Even personal holiness does not exclude the possibility of being possessed. Some canonized saints have suffered demonic possession (and undergone exorcism), or have been victims of physical attacks from demonic forces. Offhand, I call to mind St. Francesca (Frances) of Rome. There are others whom I can look up. Satan sometimes aims very high. He tried to take on the Son of God who had become man.

You say your priest called you insane. I think you know that some Catholics, priests included, would laugh at the notion of demonic activity. What a paradox that such priests celebrate Mass during which they kiss the very Gospel that affirms Jesus himself confronted demons and exorcised them. Your priest might have helped you, rather than dismiss you as insane. As it turned out, have given you additional grounds for despair, thus making himself somewhat responsible for what followed in your description.

You’ve given some elements of a timeline of your personal history. A few details are absent that I would like you to clarify.

How old were you when your parents divorced? Were you twelve when your mother began dating the “Pentecostal” devotee, or were you twelve when your parents divorced?

How old are you now?

It would appear that in six years, between ages twelve and eighteen, you experienced the divorce of your parents, Pentecostalism, RCIA, Catholicism, Satanism. Even without the Satanism, you went through a lot.

A sideline concerning Pentecostalists. Such groups “dabble” dangerously in exorcism. That’s an instance of what I called (some paragraphs above), “the well-intended but imprudent actions of others.” The Catholic Church restricts the carefully ordered Rite of Exorcism to bishops or to priests whom bishops have carefully selected and delegated. Only sacramental apostles— valid, sacramentally ordained bishops— receive the authority that Jesus gave certain men on earth to bind and loose even heaven. Matthew 16 (to Peter first). Matthew 18 (to all the apostles). You write that between your twelfth and fifteenth years, you were exposed weekly to Pentecostalists. Such persons can inadvertently expose themselves and others to spiritual danger.
Astrophel, as a teenager did you witness attempts at exorcisms among the Pentecostalists?

I encourage you to obtain a full psychological evaluation on your own. This would be helpful for two reasons. First, you may gain some understanding of yourself that you would find helpful. Second, if you desire to abandon Satanism, if you want help in doing so, if you want to have the Church investigate the possibility that you have suffered demonic possession, then a psychological evaluation would eventually be one of the tools in that investigation.

If you wish to pursue the possibility, I would be willing to write on your behalf to the bishop where you live.

In communicating with me, if you ever wish anything you write to be kept from appearing on my blog, then tell me to keep it confidential. As you know, I screen each submitted comment before deciding to let it appear or not on my blog.

Do I disbelieve your description of events?
I have no reason to disbelieve you.
I believe such things are entirely possible.
I have personally confiscated the Blessed Eucharist from at least one person who “pocketed” it.
I personally knew a priest, now dead, who assisted in a real exorcism many years ago. I personally know a woman I venerate for her holiness who suffered not a possession, but some instances of physical attacks from demonic forces.

Jesus the Incarnate Son of God was himself beset by Satan, though not possessed.

The handpicked apostles of Jesus were unable to exorcise at least one instance of possession by a malevolent spirit. Mark 9:17-29.

2 Corinthians 12:7. Here St. Paul the Apostle writes of personally having suffered in his flesh from, literally, “an angel of Satan.” The Biblical words for “messenger” and “angel” are the same.

Now your final question.
Why did God allow this to happen to you?

I don’t have the answer.

Could any greater good come of it eventually? Well, honestly, that is another question, and not the question you asked. Even if I hypothesized about the possibility of eventual greater good, that would still not be an answer to why God would let things happen to you as they did.

To my other readers! Lest those reading this say simply that God does not want such things to happen, I must say: “Perhaps he does not want such things to happen, but he certainly appears to not prevent Satan from taking possession of people at times.” Devout and sincere Christians must respect that the existence of evil is a mystery we do not fully understand, and Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior has NOT explained it away. My fellow Catholics and other Christians: do not be glib about this, but be humble— you do not really have the answer.

Dear Astrophel, I am much pained at the events, experiences, and actions in your description.

I am going to make an appeal to you. Here’s my approach to it.

First, my guess is that you have no heroes among Satanists. Conversely, do you recognize heroes of decency, humanity, and goodness in the history of the Church? [Sinners in the Church, GREAT sinners and criminals in the Church? That’s a no-brainer.] If you no longer have love for God, are you still able to recognize that some persons in the Church have lived and do live for Truth, Unity, Goodness? You have written that you agree: “truth, goodness, and beauty are godlike attributes.” If the example of persons who have those attributes appeals to you, then I appeal to you to consider that escaping Satanism can be possible for you.

To that end, you must have the help of the Church. Having relied on your own prayers was not sufficient. On your behalf I am angry and sad that a priest of the Church simply called you insane. Jesus silenced the silly proposal of the Sadducees who believed that angels (whether holy or evil) or a human “afterlife” really did not exist. The priest who so quickly dismissed your concerns and experiences may bear some culpability for “pushing” you in the direction you have fallen. About such a one, Jesus said in Matthew 18:
“whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the man by whom the temptation comes!”
Also in Luke 17:
“Temptations to sin are sure to come; but woe to him by whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung round his neck and he were cast into the sea, than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.”

There are foolish men in the Church, because human beings are foolish. There was foolishness, bickering, ambition, cowardice, lying, and wickedness among even the handpicked first twelve apostles of the Son of God.

The ongoing “from-the-beginning” scandal of the Church is that fallible humanity is the instrument and collaborator of God’s saving work. That is the same scandal as the instrumental human incarnation of the Son of God.

You need the help of the Church that is the human body of the Incarnate Son of God. You need the help of the Church, and not abandonment to your own efforts.

The alternative Satanism offers you in eternity is the absence of Truth, the absence of Goodness, the absence of Beauty, the absence of Unity, the absence of Joy.

1:40 PM  

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