Occultism has always provided a counter/alternative to prescribed organized religion – whose failure to prevent/console in times of war/strife, frequently exposed hypocrisy/corruption and charlatanism, and its tyranny/oppression of the (gendered, racial, class-divided) masses – is frequently the target of backlash/dissent. Its 20th century revival – Rosicrucianism, The Golden Dawn, Ireland’s Celtic revival, personality Aleister Crowley, writers like H.P. Lovecraft – has resurrected occultism in modern media.
Music as social dissent has harnessed the occult to express dystopic “realities.” Image is everything in heavy metal – just as in occultism. In contemporary rock/metal, bands often exploit the symbolism of LaVey’s The Satanic Bible. Music, as a post-war counter-culture movement branching into thousands of anti-establishment pastimes (radicalism, psychedelic drugs, cults, religious revisionism), has been a central pillar of western culture since WWII. From Robert Johnson to Elvis, Sabbath to The Stones, BOC to Slayer and Marilyn Manson, occultism is a fairly mainstream rejection (or celebration) of temptation (hypocrisy, corruption, lust, consumerism).
Ghost, a melodic Swedish [doom] metal band, capitalizes on imagery of the occult in a parody of organized religion – concerts are “rituals,” announcements “messages from the clergy,” fans “members of the cult.” Visually, the band is rich with imagery: full papal regalia and corpse paint; five Nameless Ghouls (representing fire, water, wind, earth, ether); an inverted-cross logo; “stained glass” banners recast narratives from Biblical stories; portions of the “service” replicate the rituals of mass – incense, chanting chorales, mock communion. Songs emphasize man’s common struggles and needs – “He is,” “Stand By Him,” “I Believe,” “Secular Haze” – and present an alternative deity ready to fill the void.
Rhetorically, Ghost’s success is predicated on its audience’s understanding the symbolism. Their performances and lyrics humorously reject Christianity’s hollowness, mysticism, and core beliefs. Embracing modern imagination, writing music celebrating Lucifer’s power and love, Ghost offers a new (dystopic) faith. While the trappings of occultism have certainly become innocuously mainstream over the last 50 years, Ghost’s performances – their repurposing of symbolism and appropriation of the rituals and mysticism of Mass – are a unique revitalization of faith in the modern age.