Satanic Thought in Ancient Religion

Part of my series “A Satanist Reads the Bible,” in which I explore the Bible, Christianity, and other religions and their sacred texts through the lens of Satanism in order to reinvent religion for myself.

The Rigveda is the highest sacred text of the extensive canon of the Hindu religions. We know precious little of its origins: it is unknowably ancient and was likely brought into the land now known as India from elsewhere by a civilization now known as the Vedic culture (so named for the text). It is a collection of hymns on various subjects, most of them addressed to various divinities, to be recited during rituals. It does not attempt to present a coherent cosmology or theology; rather, it is seen, from the emic perspective (by those indigenous to the culture that followed in its wake), as being the sonic manifestation of the cosmos. The Rigveda is truth more than it is intended to convey truth. From this perspective, the Vedas are seen as existing prior to creation and encompassing all of creation in the sound of its recitation. The Sanskrit in which it is written is so ancient that even the priests who now recite it may not fully understand the words, but this is entirely inconsequential.

One of the reasons that I venerate the Hindu religions may be that I find Satanism present even in its earliest sacred texts, which are as well the earliest extant sacred texts that we have access to. Granted, the ones I have in mind often come late in the chronology of the Vedas, but these still are earlier than any other sacred texts in any known canon.

Citations from the text are taken from a translation of 108 of the hymns of the Rigveda written by Wendy Doniger and published by Penguin Books in 1981.

To begin with, consider hymn 121 from the tenth book of the Rigveda, which offers an explanation of the origin of the gods. A First Being is posited, a “one lord of creation” born from a Golden Embryo, who “held in place the earth and this sky.” This is given first, and then the question is asked, “Who is the god whom we should worship with the oblation?” God is posited first, but the honoring of this god is still something uncertain, still a question being asked. More qualities of this First Being are posited: “He who gives life, who gives strength, whose command all the gods, his own, obey.” “He who by his greatness became the one king of the world that breathes and blinks, who rules over his two-footed and four-footed creatures.” After each statement describing the qualities, this question is again posed: “Who is the god whom we should worship with the oblation?” Only in the final verse does the poet concluded that Prajapati, the creator god who meets all of the criteria that have been posited, is worthy of worship and sacrifice. Or perhaps Prajapati is just as much the name given to that mystery as a kind of placeholder, in this and perhaps in all texts in which this name is mentioned. The point is, the anonymous poet who authored this text however many thousands of years ago would not have been satisfied with divine dicta, but rather sought the truth through their own questioning.

We are all of us confronted with mystery, and we’ve been asking questions of it and finding their answers for perhaps a couple hundreds of thousands of years now, or maybe more than three billion if you look at life itself as being a process that tries to answer these questions. It seems there’s never an end to the questions, no matter how long we keep asking them and answering them. Might was well give a name to that mystery, that endless depth of questions, one leading to the next without end. Why not Prajapati, to whom the priests seem to be singing in order to garner favor that will afford them greater wealth (as per the rest of verse 10)? I think that, yes, the more we figure out how all of this works, the more wealthy we’ll be in general, by way of being able to understand what’s going on and work with it. I think Satan is a good answer to that question as well.

Hymn 129 from the tenth book of the Rigveda is often called the Creation Hymn. It’s quite striking in several regards, and I will reproduce it here in its entirety:

There was neither non-existence nor existence then; there was neither the realm of space nor the sky which is beyond. What stirred? Where? In whose protection? Was there water, bottomlessly deep?
There was neither death nor immortality, then. There was no distinguishing sign of night nor of day. That one breathed, windless, by its own impulse. Other than that there was nothing beyond.
Darkness was hidden by darkness in the beginning; with no distinguishing sign, all this was water. The life force that was covered with emptiness, that one arose through the power of heat.
Desire came upon that one in the beginning; that was the first seed of mind. Poets seeking in their heart with wisdom found the bond of existence in non-existence.
Their cord was extended across. Was there below? Was there above? There were seed-places; there were powers. There was impulse beneath; there was giving forth above.
Who really knows? Who will here proclaim it? Whence was it produced? Whence is this creation? The gods came afterwards, with the creation of this universe. Who then knows whence it has arisen?
Whence this creation has arisen — perhaps it formed itself, or perhaps it did not — the one who looks down on it, in the highest heaven, only he knows — or perhaps he does not know.

The first thing that strikes me is the similarity of this text to the first narrative of creation given at the beginning of the book of Genesis in the Bible:

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.

Genesis 1:1–2, NRSV

The Creation Hymn seems almost as if it could be a direct response to the Biblical narrative. I don’t know about any historical connection between the Vedic culture and the ancient Hebrews. All I know at this point is that people are answering the same questions in similar ways across disparate cultures around the same time in human history.

Like Genesis, the Creation Hymn is rife with contradictions, and the poet makes no attempt to hide them; to the contrary, they’re the central feature of the hymn. I’ve written of this extensively in my other stories: I believe that these contradictions are the result of the author’s going beyond the limits of reason and discourse to so as to attempt to describe, however failingly, the profound religious experience of the sacred. This process is a dialectic, a continuous dialogue between contradictions, never resolved but always in motion, like the endless depth of questions about reality that we’ve encountered.

I especially appreciate this poet’s humility. They speculate, but ultimately have more questions than they have answers. I think that they and I are alike in that regard; I’m always suspicious of those who have more answers than questions. Not that the Rigveda does not elsewhere posit more concrete creation narratives, but these often deal with the creation of specific things (the world, the gods) rather than the creation of Creation itself, and often these narratives conflict with each other. This does not at all seem to be a problem in Hinduism (this is, after all, the family of religions that sees quantities of gods ranging anywhere from zero to three-hundred-and-thirty million as being equally valid expressions of the divine).

These are some of the clearest hymns of the Rigveda that I have read. Others are so thoroughly expressed through esoteric symbolism that their meaning becomes deeply obscured to etic readers (those from outside the culture in question) and perhaps (though maybe to a lesser degree) to emic readers as well.

The most enigmatic hymn that I’ve encountered is the 164th of the first book. It begins:

This beloved grey priest has a middle brother who is hungry and a third brother with butter on his back. In him I saw the Lord of All Tribes with his seven sons.
Seven yoke the one-wheeled chariot drawn by one horse with seven names. All these creatures rest on the ageless unstoppable wheel with three naves.
Seven horses draw the seven who ride on this seven-wheeled chariot. Seven sisters call out to the place where the seven names of the cows are hidden.

…and it goes on like that for 49 more verses. This one seems especially Biblical, calling to mind the numerical symbolism of the Book of Revelation. The translator gives possible interpretations for these symbols, but while they help with an intellectual aspect of the reading, I find that there is something more experiential and transcendent here to which interpolations of the symbols add little, if anything.

Who saw the newborn one, the one with bones who was brought forth by the boneless one? Where was the breath and blood and soul of the earth? Who can go to ask this from someone who knows?
An ignorant fool, I ask in my mind about the hidden footprints of the gods. Over the young calf the poets stretched out seven threads to weave.
Unknowing, ignorant, I ask for knowledge about it from the poets who know: What is the One who in the form of the unborn propped apart these six realms of space?

There is a reflection here of the humility found in the Creation Hymn, an admission of ignorance in the face of cosmic mystery. Curiously, that first sentence almost seems to hint at knowledge of evolution by natural selection: organisms did not always have bones; there must have at some point been an organism with bones born from an organism with bones. Granted, the actual evolutionary progression from no-bones to bones would have been subtle and gradated, but there must at some point have been a delineation — even an arbitrary one — between no-bones and bones. As well, there is the appearance of early knowledge of a heliocentric solar system: “All the worlds are kept in motion on the eye of the sun, that moves on though shrouded in dark space.”

My favorite verses from this hymn, which are among my favorite verses from all that I have read of the Vedas, are 37–38. I’ll refrain from commentary here and let the verses speak for themselves, if only because I don’t know what I could say that would explain what they mean to me.

I do not know just what it is that I am like. I wander about concealed and wrapped in thought. When the first born of Order came to me, I won a share of this Speech.
The one who is compelled as his own nature wills goes away and comes back; the immortal came from the same womb as the mortal. The two constantly move in opposite directions; when people perceive the one, they do not perceive the other.

The 124th hymn of the 10th book speaks of Agni (the fire god to whom many of the Vedic hymns are addressed), who is being called back from hiding among demons (Asuras) and, specifically, from within the body of Vritra, the father of demons (who is, curiously, portrayed as a serpent or dragon). Indra, the warrior god, invites Agni to join the sacrifice (as the gods in Hinduism participate in ritual sacrifice as well — I’ll be writing more on sacrifice in Hinduism and in general in a coming story, “Faith and Sacrifice”). Agni responds:

Secretly going away from the non-god, being a god and seeing ahead I go to immortality. Unkindly I desert him who was kind to me, as I go from my own friends to a foreign tribe.

The tense-structure of this verse makes it difficult to parse, and, not knowing the first thing about Vedic Sanskrit, I can only assume that this is intentional. The hymns of the Vedas often seem constructed to carry many layers of meaning simultaneously — the translator mentions this in several of her notes throughout the book, and tense-structure is definitely a viable avenue for that process. The most obvious gloss reads the first sentence as Agni’s intention to abandon the demons and return to the gods, and the second sentence as being a statement of regret for having abandoned the gods for the demons in the first place. But at the same time, I think it can be read the other way around, with the first sentence acting as warrant for having gone to the demons and the second sentence acting as the statement of intention to return to the gods. (In Capital vol. 1, Karl Marx describes such cycles of dialectical opposition as ellipses, which also reflects the orbits of planets around the sun). Perhaps some emic interpretations see Agni as being of both the gods and demons.

Varuna, god of the sky and the arbiter of moral law, responds:

When I see the guest of the other branch, I measure out the many forms of the Law. I give a friendly warning to the Asura father: I am going from the place where there is no sacrifice to the portion that has the sacrifice.

“The guest of the other branch” presumably means Agni as the guest of the demons. Using the term “the other branch” to refer to the demons puts them on equal footing with the gods, and as well reminds me of the concept of the Left Hand Path within Western esoteric traditions. The divine Law of Varuna originates from Agni’s presence among the demons; moral order arises not from perfection but from the motion implied by contradiction. “…Going from the place where there is no sacrifice to the portion that has the sacrifice” is especially enigmatic; being that this is a warning to Vritra, it must mean that Varuna gains something by this action which would be a threat to the demon. Evidently the world that the gods inhabit is divided between a portion that has sacrifices and a portion that doesn’t, and the gods (or at least Varuna) gain something by going from the former to the latter. I presume that this world would be among those that the poet is referencing as being a part of the portion with sacrifice since sacrifice was extensively practiced and central to the religion at the time the Vedas were written (the Vedas themselves being extensively concerned with sacrifice).

The last verse of the hymn is as follows:

They say that the yoke-mate of those full of loathing is a swan who glides in friendship with the divine waters. The poets through their meditation have seen Indra dancing to the Anustubh.

Anustubh is the system of meter in Vedic poetry. This last verse seems to give a mystical and Satanic underscoring to the hymn. The translator’s notes interpret it in a literal sense: “those full of loathing” means those who hate Vritra, and they have help from Indra, the “swan who glides in friendship with the divine waters.” That may be a viable gloss, but I think that, at the least, there is something else going on here. Even given the obscurity of the rest of this hymn, such an intention seems to be especially obscured. I think that “those full of loathing” are the Asuras, the demons, and they are yoked together in Samsara with something beautiful and divine. The two aspects are primally tied together. In this contradiction lies the divine substrate of reality reflected by the metric verse of the Vedas, to which the poets have seen Indra dancing.

Agni himself parallels with Satan (especially the Luciferian Satan, the Adversary) in many ways. In the fourth verse of the fifth book, Agni is called “great light” and “the self-ruled god who gave this gift [of a vision of knowledge] to me.” In this verse, Agni declares to the poet the inner meaning of things, and this correlates with Satan the Adversary, who revealed knowledge to humankind in defiance of God’s command. There is as well, in this verse, a particularly Satanic admonition against the empty-of-thought: “Those whose speech is empty and contrary, insipid and petty, who leave on unsatisfied, what can they say here, Agni? Unarmed, let them fall defeated.”

When I say that Satanism is present in the Vedas, I do not mean at all that the Vedas contain anything derived from the Abrahamic religious tradition (although I wonder whether ideas from the Vedas have made their way into Abrahamic religion), but rather that the ideas that are fundamental to Satanism are present, independently, in the Vedas as well. In particular, concepts of doubt and questioning in the face of cosmic mysteries, an open acceptance of contradiction, and the inclusion of the demonic as being a part of the divine. These ideas (and many others) are further explicated in the Upanishads, philosophical teachings from the era following that of the Vedas that contemplate and explore their underlying meaning. The Upanishads are among the richest and most inspiring sacred texts I’ve encountered. Arthur Schopenhauer called them “the production of the highest human wisdom,” and I’ll be turning to their teachings in a future story.

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