I’m surprised I didn’t see it before. I’ve been working on a research book about Satan as a revolutionary hero: a tradition of liberal rebellion against totalizing and corrupt government, starting from Prometheus, going through Paradise Lost, Moby Dick, the Modernist and Romantic Movements, ending in today’s Super Heroes.
I’ve already considered contemporary revolutions as part of this same tradition: I can prove that The American Revolution, the Free Rights, Gender Equality, Racial Tolerance and all other movements of liberation and progress are indebted to the Satanic tradition, rather than a religious one.
Hackers shutting down websites and taking on huge corporations, using technical skills, and organizing mass protests are also firmly on Satan’s side of the line. (Technology has always been associated with Prometheus and Satan – who give humans these skills and knowledge against God’s wishes).
But for some reason, I hadn’t until today recognize the importance of the Guy Fawkes mask, which was used in the movie “V for Vendetta” and has since become a symbol of rebellion and revolution – something for protesters to wear into battle to protect their identities from the persecution of authorities.
Guy Fawkes is Satan
I don’t need a whole entire book to prove this point (although I’m writing one). It’s so clear. Look at the mask. Look at the eyebrows, the wry grin, the goatee, the narrow eyes…
I’m willing to bet if you drew a picture of Satan from scratch, it would like like a Guy Fawkes mask, but colored red and with horns. Kind of like these book covers (one vintage, one recent – same face).
Surprised? You shouldn’t be
Here’s the history: Guy Fawkes was a Catholic in England who wanted to assassinate King James (yes, the same King James with a Bible named after him) so that he could restore a Catholic Monarch to the throne. He hid under the House of Lords (located in the southern part of Westminster Palace) with a ton of gunpowder. But an anonymous letter alerted the authorities, and they found Fawkes guarding the explosives.
He was questioned and tortured, but avoided more punishment by breaking his own neck.
Fawkes became synonymous with the Gunpowder Plot, the failure of which has been commemorated in England since 5 November 1605. His effigy is traditionally burned on a bonfire, commonly accompanied by a firework display.
So in England, from 1605 the face of Guy Fawkes was already synonymous with two things: the first is blasphemy – faithful English citizens were strictly anti-Catholic, and burned the effigy of Fawkes as a symbol of everything evil and dangerous in the world.
The second was revolution: English politics were far from settled, and Fawkes became a banner of dissent and refusal.
Only a few years later, in December 1608, John Milton was born. Milton became a supporter of Cromwell. He was against the monarchy, in favor of regicide (killing the king), and passionate about free speech and public heroism. In the Aeropagitica he argued for “the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties.”
“It is lawful,” Milton writes, “and hath been held so in all ages, for any who have the power, to call to account a Tyrant or wicked King, and, after due conviction, to depose and put him to death.” (Tenure of Kings and Magistrates)
Cromwell’s death in 1658 caused the English Republic to collapse into feuding military and political factions, Milton stubbornly clung to the beliefs that had originally inspired him to write for the Commonwealth. In 1659 he published A Treatise of Civil Power, attacking the concept of a state-dominated church, as well as Considerations touching the likeliest means to remove hirelings, denouncing corrupt practices in church governance. As the Republic disintegrated, Milton wrote several proposals to retain a non-monarchical government against the wishes of parliament, soldiers and the people
Upon the Restoration in May 1660, Milton went into hiding for his life, while a warrant was issued for his arrest and his writings burnt. And then, near the conclusion of his life, bitter, blind and alone, he finished his Magnum opus: Paradise Lost.
Paradise Lost’s central character is a failed revolutionary hero (like Milton) trying to unseat an unjust tyrant, who passes leadership onto his son rather than the most deserving, or someone the people elected (Milton’s core beliefs were against hereditary rule, and for election or meritocracy).
Milton’s Satan (which was probably modeled on the Guy Fawkes legacy) became the new symbol for progressives, liberals, and rebels. He was a hero for the Romantics, including the “Satanic School” of Byron and Shelley. He was the inspiration for Manfred, Captain Ahab and countless literary figures. This was a time of political upheaval and revolution, and courage and violence in the face of oppression were virtues:
Nothing can exceed the energy and magnificence of the character of Satan as expressed in Paradise Lost. It is a mistake to suppose that he could ever have been intended for the popular personification of evil. Milton’s Devil as a moral being is as far superior to his God, as one who perseveres in some purpose which he has conceived to be excellent in spite of adversity and torture is to one who in the cold security of undoubted triumph inflicts the most horrible revenge upon his enemy, not from any mistaken notion of inducing him to repent of a perseverance in enmity, but with the alleged design of exasperating him to deserve new torments. (Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1821)
In 1840 William Harrison Ainsworth wrote the story of Guy Fawkes as a novel, and it was illustrated by George Cruikshank (below).
In 1897 George Bernard Shaw wrote “The Devil’s Disciple”, which positions the American revolution as Satanic.
The year 1777 is the one in which the passions roused of the breaking off of the American colonies from England, more by their own weight than their own will, boiled up to shooting point, the shooting being idealized to the English mind as suppression of rebellion and maintenance of British dominion, and to the American as defence of liberty, resistance to tyranny, and selfsacrifice on the altar of the Rights of Man.
The hero, Dick, says:
I knew from the first that the Devil was my natural master and captain and friend. I saw that he was in the right, and that the world cringed to his conqueror only through fear. I prayed secretly to him; and he comforted me, and saved me from having my spirit broken in this house of children’s tears. I promised him my soul, and swore an oath that I would stand up for him in this world and stand by him in the next. (Solemnly) That promise and that oath made a man of me. From this day this house is his home; and no child shall cry in it: this hearth is his altar; and no soul shall ever cower over it in the dark evenings and be afraid. Now then: how many of you will stay with me; run up the American flag on the devil’s house; and make a fight for freedom?
If you mix the white, revolutionary hero with his Master, Satan, you get the Guy Fawkes mask.
The crazy thing is, it’s hard to tell which came first!
Perhaps the modern portrait of the red devil with the goatee is a tradition that began with the burning Guy Fawkes effigies. Since these two streams of literature were so closely entwined, it is possible that illustrations of one were copied and reproduced for the other.
Then again, maybe both traditions are drawing on an older tradition which was also instrumental in the Satanic Mythos: the pagan god Pan.
Why it Matters
No matter how we got here, this much is true: Satan and Guy Fawkes both represent fighting for freedom against powerful organizations and forces who are trying to tell us how we must live our lives, what rules we must follow, what we can do with our bodies, and what happens to our world.
There are no such thing as “natural rights” – the rights that we have are given to us by shared understanding, politics and compromise. (Animals kill and eat each other all the time. The reason we don’t is because we’ve agreed not to). Unfortunately, the rights we want can be taken away from us if we are silent.
Religion, Big Business, Wall Street and Government all want us to be good, manageable, work hard and give them our money. Democracy isn’t working – only Government even pretends to listen. Religion most strenuously tells us not to follow our own desires, but give everything up to God – that we live and breathe in Him and owe everything to Him; and then warns us of the dire consequences of betrayal.
In this sense, Religion is the most powerful anti-libertine political force of modern times, especially because most of us aren’t even fighting back.