Satan’s School for Ghouls: Luciferian Dark Academia

“There is nothing wrong with the love of Beauty. But Beauty – unless she is wed to something more meaningful – is always superficial.”

― Donna Tartt, The Secret History

Satanists search for beauty in far-flung corners, looking from church to dungeon to nature and back for what pleases the eye and heart- and from the Tumblr-verse emerges an intriguing new style that might pique our interest: Dark Academia. Blogger The Ancients and the Moderns describes the Dark Academic as wearing: “simple gold or silver jewellery, blouses or turtle necks, midi or maxi skirts (tweed is perfect), and always has several books on their person, with ideally one in a foreign (preferably dead) language.” Amid the swirl of hair ribbons, luxe sweaters, and thick tomes, we still want to dig deeper and find the meaning beneath the look. So here’s a Luciferian primer on some of the influences on and deeper meanings to Dark Academia.

The Secret History

Inspired the character Camilla Macaulay

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Donna Tartt’s novel The Secret History could easily serve as Dark Academia 101, as many of the key themes of the Dark Academic aesthetic (private schools and their trappings, appreciation of the classics, and a sinister undercurrent of excess) spring from Tartt’s vision. The novel itself follows a group of clever outsiders at a private college in the early 1990s, and their
descent from love of learning for learning’s sake into the darkness lurking within their passions. In her review for the New York Times, Michiko Kakutani highlighted the “shocking, melodramatic events” like a Dionysian rite” present in the novel; as such, The Secret History also serves as important reminder to the Satanic aesthete that outward appearance, absent a strong foundation in philosophy and praxis, is a flimsy platform for any life.

Dead Poets Society

A Dapper queer Keating

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Dead Poets Society is no longer just your English teacher’s not-so-secret
professional fantasy—it’s also another rich inspiration for Dark Academia. Set in the late 1950s at a Vermont boarding school (more catnip to the fans of the aesthetic), the film shows what happens when a rebellious teacher introduces his students to ideas beyond their prescriptive, conservative world. The classical tensions embodied in the film (tradition versus freedom, the literary canon vs reading for pleasure, academia vs art for art’s sake) hold additional meaning to the Satanic viewer. For example, while referencing Thoreau (another must-read), Robin Williams’ John Keating adds a necessary twist to the text by saying “Sucking the marrow out of life doesn’t mean choking on the bone.” The meaning? Hedonism done to excess leads to indolence and stagnation. Those on the Left
Hand Path have to feast upon life and savor it, and not simply gulp it down without pause for reflection; nor should they starve themselves in some quasi-moralistic show of renunciation (as is the case with the film’s grim, disapproving parents, who seek a return to the dry, suffocating instruction they feel more appropriate for their sons). Keating himself, consumed by his passion for teaching and his own rebellious zeal, fails to follow the wisdom of Oscar Wilde, another tragic hero of the Dark Academic: “All things in moderation, including moderation.”

The Picture of Dorian Gray

A modern, decadent Dandy

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Speaking of Oscar Wilde, another classic influence upon Dark
Academia is The Picture of Dorian Gray. Wilde’s novel captures the
thread of danger, romance, homoeroticism, and an almost Dionysian (oh, look, there he is again!) decadence woven into the more scholarly tweed of Dark Academia. Dorian Gray embodies this dark side of learning as he is driven to vice and decadence by what Wilde described as a “poisonous book”. Author and fellow of the Royal Society of Literature Michael Schmidt OBE points out “a more likely source” than any other of that mysterious novel in Wilde’s story was Joris-Karl Huysmans’ À rebours. For those behind on their Satanic reading list, Huysmans is an incredibly important author, as his Là-Bas described Black Masses supposedly occurring in late-1880s France. Massimo Introvigne, a dapper Italian expert in Satanism, says in his Satanism: A Social History that it is “ambiguous” whether or not Huysmans actually ever saw any Black Masses, but Huysmans’ work in Là-Bas (and to a lesser extent À rebours) “shaped the image of Satanism for a whole generation, and images are productive of social consequences…” So too does Dorian’s inner image produce hideous consequences from his wanton, unchecked, and unexamined vice. Overall, Wilde and Huysmans present this intriguing tangle of study and vice that weaves perfectly into the fabric of Dark Academia.

Sylvia Plath

Sylvia of all sizes

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While Dark Academics admire the passionate zeal of the driven,
they also deeply understand the dreary malaise of the melancholic. As Tumblr creator linenandliterature said in their “Dark Academia Reading Material” list: “[Read any] Other poets, let’s be honest, we’re all sad.” No one quite conveys both depression and sartorial elan like Sylvia Plath. Looking at pictures of her in sweaters and skirts layered beneath long coats with tartan scarves and argyle socks, we see the Dark Academic archetype made truly manifest. More than just a style to imitate, Plath presents adherents with her shocking, literary substance that pushes the reader to see beyond an appealing sweater set. Her quality is best demonstrated in her posthumous work “Lady Lazarus”, where we see Plath pushing the boundaries by using fascism as a metaphor for all oppression – including
the sexism of her husband Ted Hughes; a man who controlled and manipulated her life and her work even after death. In the poem, Plath rises beyond this oppression in an almost demonic, Lillith-like moment, where she transforms into a red-haired creature that “[eats] men like air.” A Luciferian Dark Academic would recognize the Satanic power in the juxtaposition of aesthetic with rebellion against oppressive authority. Through her art, as well as her appearance, Plath offers instruction on how to extend an Internet fashion phenomenon beyond the superficial and into something deeper. The Dark Academia aesthetic doesn’t just have to be hair bows and tartan skirts; it can also be a symbolic path of study over worship, style with meaning, and an embrace of dark excess restrained only by reason and will.