What A Former Satanist Taught Me About Faith
It’s Halloween this week, my favorite holiday of the year, and I thought I would get into the spooky ooky spirit over here on my blog. I’ve never been one for full-on scary movies, books, and tv shows, and you will usually find me staying as far away as possible from all things demonic and exorcism-related. As a Catholic, it is a part of my faith and it’s important to never fear these kinds of things. As a self-admitted scaredy cat, though, I like to keep myself out of trouble.
I also believe there is hope in the darkness, though, and there are some ways we can see the light of Christ in even the darkest corners of the world. Including in the life of a former Satanist.
If you’re a Christ believer, you may not know that there are two kinds of Satanists: those who belong to the Church of Satan and the occultist/spiritualists who worship the supernaturally demonic.
The Church of Satan is a group that believes that the idea and philosophy of the traditional idea of Satan is about rationalism, egalitarianism, and the celebration or free will. They believe they are using the symbols and verbiage of spiritual evil to elucidate and expose what they believe are hypocritical societal, religious, and cultural beliefs. I’ve had a few Church of Satan acquaintances and friends in the past, love and care for them deeply, and hope I did their philosophy a little justice in the above description.
That being said, I’m not endorsing their beliefs, rituals, symbols, teachings, or writings on my blog. It’s something that I think is way too close to all kinds of dangerous spiritual stuff, so I kind try to stay away.
This post does not involve members or the beliefs of the Church of Satan.
The other group of Satanists follow spiritualist and occultist views of the demonic and participate in some of the things that Christ-believers might find truly evil. All the ghoulish things of the night: seances, “black” masses, necromancy, and soul-selling. If you are one of those who enjoy truly terrifying movies about the supernatural, you might have a little familiarity with the modes and methods of this group of Satanists. Even fictionalized, they can be pretty scary. Not. My. Thing. At. All.
At this point, you may be asking yourself: why the hell (actual literal place) is Stephanie writing about all this stuff and where, exactly, is she going with it? Isn’t this supposed to be a blog about all the good and bright and blessed and inspiring things in the world? Those are good and appropriate questions.
I will say that I’m the type of person who finds light in the darkness and my faith likes to as well. I believe that if you have to go through all the ghoulish, scary things in the world to get to a place of redemption, well, that’s just your journey. And God is right there with you, every step of the way.
How do I know this? Here’s how: one of the most compelling saints of the 19th Century, Bartolo Longo, is my favorite example of redemption in the face of great darkness. I also believe that he is the best spokesperson for those who feel they have fallen too far to know the love and forgiveness of God. Because if a former Satanist can find his way back, and become a saint in the process, we can be certain that God leaves no stone left unturned and finds us wherever we go.
Bartolo Longo was born in 1841 in Brindisi, Italy. As a child, he was funny and mischievous and had a joyful life. After a series of family deaths, political instability in his area of Italy, and a few counter-culture professors in college who blamed the Catholic Church for the nationalist fervor in Italy at the time, Longo began to deeply question his faith. Questioning is a good and healthy part of any young adult’s faith, but it can sometimes lead a believer down some spiritually dangerous paths. Longo followed one of those paths.
In the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, spiritualism and contacting the dead became a popular trend among the educated, wealthy, imperialist class in Europe and the US. Spiritualist practices included fortune telling, seances, and consulting with mediums. Some see the rise of this practice as a reaction to the Industrial Revolution, worldwide reaction to the US Civil War and European Napoleonic Wars, a participation in Queen Victoria’s lugubrious mourning for her late husband and the cult of Victorian funerary practices, or influenced by any number of other events at the time.
As a wealthy, educated European, Bartolo Longo no doubt found spiritualism an alluring temptress as did many of his peers. It gave Longo a way to channel his rebellious, youthful energy and offered him one path to understand the spiritual world in the midst of personal and cultural change. And he got really into it.
He eventually became so involved with spiritualist practices that he turned deep study and participation into outright Satanism that led him to pledging his soul to a demon and becoming a priest of Satan. He was definitely not in the realm of the secular, rationalist, skeptical beliefs of today’s self-professed Church of Satan members. Longo was fully immersed in the spooky world of demonic worship that we might see in horror movies.
His family and friends prayed fervently for Longo to have a change of heart. They tried interventions, letters, intense conversations, and whatever else at their disposal to make him turn back to the faith of his youth. To no avail.
As Longo became more deeply attached to his Satanist beliefs, he also experienced inner turmoil, failing health, haunting visions, and a rapid decline in his appearance and affect. He was a mess. Eventually, a university priest confronted him and offered Longo a way out. This priest appealed to Longo’s reason and instinct for self-preservation, and this turned out to be the best language to reach Longo.
After three weeks of intense intervention with his college priest, Bartolo Longo eventually began the path back to his faith and started to form the practices and beliefs of his adult life. Longo spent a good part of his young adulthood trying to atone for his Satanist past, and his guilt and feelings of unworthiness started to eat away at him. He became suicidal and riddled with remorse. Longo despaired of the love and forgiveness of God and attempted to absolve himself through earthly actions that renounced his former faith.
In one totally badass and insane moment (depending on your perspective) of his life, Bartolo Longo burst into a seance, threw a rosary on the table, and shouted, “I renounce spiritualism because it is nothing but a maze of error and falsehood!”
None of his formal renunciations seemed to make a difference in Longo’s feelings of guilt and worthlessness. Instead he began to seek the heart of God through repetitive and meditative prayers like the rosary. His growing faith began to turn things around and slowly chipped away at his false beliefs about himself and God. God reached through all the mess and disaster, plucked him from danger, and settled him safely on the other side.
Because of Longo’s deep faith and belief in redemption, he become a great worker for social justice, charity, and service to the poor. His particular dedication to the children of the incarcerated and orphans was groundbreaking at the time. Aside from his spiritual legacy, his works of mercy inspired many countless others to take up the good work of the Gospel and serve those in need.
After my little tale about this great saint of the 19th Century, I hope you have an idea of why I think he’s so inspiring. Bartolo Longo so clearly reflects my own beliefs about faith and the redeeming love of Christ. We normally can’t picture anything so far from God than a Satanic occultist, but still Longo was called so closely to the heart of God that God plucked him out of obscurity and elevated him to be called “blessed” by millions of Catholics. Even in Longo’s great despair, he held to a shred of hope that he was worthy, valuable, full of dignity, and a child of God. And when he didn’t believe it, his loved ones continued to pray and intercede on his behalf. Longo never got so far from the reach of God that he wasn’t ultimately redeemable.
How many times do we often feel unworthy and unforgivable? Whether we have transgressed in our faith or in the relationships of those we love, we can all be wracked with guilt and despair. How could God ever forgive me? How could my friend ever forgive me? How could my family member ever forgive me? Even if these are once or twice in a lifetime feelings, they can start to chip away at our belief in our own worth and dignity. And in these moments we can feel as if God and our loved ones have turned their backs on us.
When Bartolo Longo felt like God has turned his back on him, he decided to turn around. He saw that God was there all along. Fighting for him, loving him, supporting him, and whispering to his soul to come home. Longo showed me personally that I’ve really got nothing to worry about. God is steadily guiding me back to His heart in every step of my journey. And for those of my loved ones who I worry might be beyond help, God reassures me lovingly and steadily that He’s got this. He’s on the case. And He watches over them no matter where they go.
If God and the love and care of family and friends can save a Satanist priest, there is hope for us all. While we’re lighting jack o’lanterns, watching scary movies, and sneaking around in the night looking for tricks and treats this Halloween, let us remember the example of Bartolo Longo. There is light in the darkness. There is hope in despair. And the shadows of the night only look so long until they disappear.
Bartolo Longo, totally a Satanist
For more spooky ooky reading, check out last year’s post “I Practiced Witchcraft Every Day.”