– Thomas Cole, The Architect’s Dream, 1840
Modern Man Believes in Nothing:
Modernity in Contemporary Satanism and the Order of Nine Angles
by Nameless Therein
Many years ago, I had the pleasure of studying with a former and well-respected Harvard professor, a man who later became a mentor to me and shaped my spiritual and intellectual worldview. Armed with Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, Richard Tarnas’ The Passion of the Western Mind, and some of the most important texts in the Western tradition, we critically examined the relationship between faith and reason in Western thought over the last two thousand years of intellectual and religious history. In clarifying the context of our modern perspective through the clash between faith and reason, we came to a deeper understanding of how that relationship shaped our entire worldview. Contrary to my own view at the time, I learned that faith was not a belief in something without good reasons, nor was it a euphemism for “religion” or the opposite of reason. Rather, as Wilfred Cantwell Smith notes, faith is not belief but the essential human quality, one “constitutive of man as human,” where “that personality is constituted by our universal ability, or invitation, to live in terms of a transcendent dimension, and in response to it.” Van Austin Harvey elaborates on this distinction as follows:
In the history of Christian thought, two general tendencies concerning the concept of [faith] may be observed: (1) [faith] is regarded more nearly as belief or as mental assent (assensus) to some truth, whether about the nature of God (supernatural truth) or about the past (historical truth). (2) [Faith] is understood to be the basic orientation of the total person that may include belief but is best described as trust (fiducia), confidence, or loyalty.
Faith in this sense is not a fideistic blind belief, but a dynamic mode of knowledge as a descriptive relation of being. It is what bridges the gap between the known and unknown, the rational and the empirical, the idealistic and the materialistic. In one sense, it involves a form of mental assent; but it also involves the total orientation of a person toward the transcendent.
Contrary to the modern tendency to reduce faith to a religious worldview, modernity itself embodies a powerful kind of faith in its belief in nothing. Our post-Enlightenment faith in reason as a talisman for “real” knowledge, in the relativity of meaning, in empirical science as a dogmatic means to objective truth, and in the conviction that religion is an anachronistic and outdated mode of thinking all point to our uncritical confidence in a myth that has now become modern canon. David B. Hart describes this in the following way:
As modern men and women – to the degree that we are modern – we believe in nothing. This is not to say, I hasted to add, that we do not believe in anything; I mean, rather, that we hold an unshakable, if often unconscious, faith in the nothing, or in nothingness as such. It is this in which we place our trust, upon which we venture our souls, and onto which we project the values by which we measure the meaningfulness of our lives. Or, to phrase the matter more simply and starkly, our religion is one of very comfortable nihilism.
As modern individuals, many of us are unaware what this “nihilism” actually entails, given our lack of understanding regarding the historical, cultural, and intellectual roots that comprise our modern perspective. This lack of awareness is reflected in the superficiality of nearly every so-called contemporary “Satanic” or left-hand path tradition, and is additionally operative in the Order of Nine Angles. David Hart elaborates on what this entails in a powerful way:
We live in an age whose chief moral value has been determined, by overwhelming consensus, to be the absolute liberty of personal volition, the power of each of us to choose what he or she believes, wants, needs, or must possess; our culturally most persuasive models of human freedom are unambiguously voluntarist and, in a rather debased and degraded way Promethean; the will, we believe, is sovereign because unpromised, free because spontaneous, and this is the highest good. And a society that believes this must, at least implicitly, embrace and subtly advocate a particular moral metaphysics: the unreality of any ‘value’ higher than choice, or of any transcendent Good ordering desire towards a higher end. Desire is free to propose, seize, accept or reject, want or not want – but not to obey. Society must thus be secured against the intrusions of the Good, or of God, so that its citizens may determine their own lives by the choices they make from a universe of morally indifferent but variably desirable ends, unencumbered by any prior grammar of obligation or value … Hence the liberties that permit one to purchase lavender bed clothes, to gaze fervently at pornography, to become a Unitarian, to market popular celebrations of brutal violence, or to destroy one’s unborn child are all equally intrinsically “good” because all are expressions of an inalienable freedom of choice. But, of course, if the will determines itself only in and through such choices, free from any prevenient natural order, then it too is in itself nothing. And so, at the end of modernity, each of us who is true to the times stands facing not God, or the gods, or the Good beyond beings, but an abyss, over which presides the empty, inviolable authority of the individual will, whose impulses and decisions are their own moral index.
In its emphasis on its own moral index, its advocacy of precisely this kind of “inviolable authority of the individual will,” its emphasis on extremism as a substitution for meaninglessness or “nothingness,” its dogmatic weariness of all things “abstract” at the expense of long-term practical strategy, and in the erroneous substitution of brutal violence for its muliebral virtues of compassion and empathy due to an avalanche of misinterpretation on the part of its associates, the Order of Nine Angles has not just become mundane; it has become distinctively modern.
This is nothing new. In fact, this lack of awareness regarding the roots and pitfalls of our modern perspective is operative in nearly every contemporary “Satanic” and left-hand path tradition, rendering the majority of them inoperative. We saw this years ago in the Church of Satan, as the death throes of LaVey’s naturalistic animism substituted the mystery of Satan for hedonistic atheism in the form of a voluntarist symbol. We saw this again in the Temple of Set, who, in positing Set as an “isolate intelligence,” failed at the outset to understand or account for the significance of Edmund Husserl’s phenomenological dissolving of the traditional distinction between subject and object, both as a response to the long-standing problem of the self-contained Cartesian subject and as an important part of his theory of intersubjectivity and temporality. (Far from a trivial theoretical issue, this point calls into question the entire epistemological framework of the Temple of Set.) And we see this currently in contemporary groups like the Dragon Rouge, who, despite their motivations to establish a trail along the narrative of truth, nevertheless fall victim to a hidden reductionism in their attempt to reconcile their magickal system with a modern perspective.
That so many groups, traditions, and initiatory orders get this wrong at even the most basic level points to the urgency with which we need to correct this tendency within the Order of Nine Angles. In the last decade, we have seen a shift from that tendency toward one of misunderstanding, misinterpretation, bigotry, infighting, extremism, racism, prejudice, and violence. Less and less, we see a grappling with the ideas that have shaped the modern world, let alone a critical examination of the ideas that now threaten the extermination of the ONA as a tradition that barely managed to live out the twentieth century. Nothing new or worthwhile can be offered by a tradition that is not aware of its own perspective, nor can it rightly be called a “tradition.” The Order of Nine Angles is sadly no exception.
Despite these bleak prospects, there is hope. But before we can correct the mistakes of the past, it will be necessary to first critically examine the perspective that comprises the modern world. Only then will it be possible to collectively renegotiate the direction and context of the ONA as a tradition located squarely within modernity, despite its ancient influences and claims to the contrary.
With this, I return to my discussion of the aforesaid seminar with my former Harvard professor. The lens of interpretation we used to examine modernity’s place in the context of the Western tradition involved many important texts and thinkers. The one that left the deepest impression on me, however, was Richard Tarnas’ seminal work, The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas That Have Shaped Our World View. This text eloquently surveys the ideas that shaped the Western tradition, beginning with the ancient Greeks and moving through post-modernity. On the cover of the 1991 Ballantine Books edition, Joseph Campbell describes the text as, “The most lucid and concise presentation I have read, of the grand lines of what every student should know about the history of Western thought. The writing is elegant and carries the reader with the momentum of a novel … It is really a noble performance.”
Whether in The Passion of the Western Mind, his later work Cosmos and Psyche, or in his November 2007 lecture on The Art of Writing at the Pacifica Graduate Institute, Tarnas has had a powerful influence on my own thinking and writing. Like my former professor, Tarnas was a Harvard graduate in addition to being the previous director of programs at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur. His understanding of the Western intellectual tradition is comprehensive, deep, and unrivaled in most academic circles.
Though Tarnas has nothing to do with the Order of Nine Angles (and in fact would be appalled at being mentioned in the context of the ONA), his work provides a foundation for coming to terms with modernity as a necessary lens through which to view the ONA. With that in mind, the following lectures provide an introductory overview to some of the ideas covered in his texts.
1. “The Evolution of Consciousness from the Primal to the Postmodern”
This brief lecture provides a concise overview of Tarnas’ distinction between what he terms the primal worldview and the modern worldview in Cosmos and Psyche. An article that I have been recently developing concerns the way the Order of Nine Angles attempts to restore the primal worldview against modernity; though whether it can and will be successful in this largely depends on whether it can come to terms with its place within the modern perspective.
2. “A Brief History of Western Thought, part 4 of 5”
This lecture addresses the post-modern, picking up where the previous lecture leaves off. Both lectures segue into the important post-secular examination of disenchantment, which connects to my above discussion about the role of faith and reason in modernity.
On a personal level, I will say that a post-secular lens of faith illuminated more depth and meaning with respect to what Satanism really is than did my two decades of committed Satanic practice through contemporary left-hand path groups claiming that title. In my experience, the ONA touches on that deeper post-secular sense of the Satanic in its broader and beautiful spectrum of the sinister and sinister-numinous. However, much work needs to be done before the ONA will be equipped to address this. Part of that work will involve an understanding of the post-secular context of disenchantment, which is what the next lecture addresses.
3. “Disenchantment, Misenchantment, and Re-Enchantment”
Tarnas’ overview of the post-secular topic of disenchantment in the introduction of this lecture is an excellent introduction to the topic. This examination helps deepen the context of modernity in terms of the relation between the primal and modern worldviews – a relation that the ONA attempts to address.
4. “The Great Initiation”
This final lecture provides an additional overview of some of the aforesaid modern phenomena within an initiatory context. In addition to other relevant points, Tarnas’ account of the relation between the masculine and the feminine in terms of the astrological context of the sun and moon can deepen the ONA’s explication of the masculous and the muliebral at the core of its philosophy.
In closing, two points are worth emphasizing with respect to the final lecture listed above on “The Great Initiation.” The first concerns the way in which Tarnas’ characterization of modernity equally applies to the current climate of the Order of Nine Angles; and this is no coincidence, given what I have said above. Here, Tarnas quotes Woody Allen, whose comments highlight a tension that the ONA has been facing for over a decade (and now more than ever). Tarnas says the following:
The New York Jewish philosopher Woody Allen put his finger on this with his customary Schopenhauer-like clarity … in a speech he gave to the graduates some time ago: “More than at any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other [path], to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly. I speak, by the way, not with any sense of futility, but with a panicky conviction of the absolute meaninglessness of existence which could easily be misinterpreted as pessimism. It is not. It is merely a healthy concern for the predicament of modern man.”
The second point worth emphasizing is a quote Tarnas cites from Jung’s The Undiscovered Self. In addition to characterizing modernity, the following comments by Jung find a powerful voice in the current struggle of the ONA. As a meditation on what I have written in this article, I will end with this quote:
[A] mood of universal destruction and renewal … has set its mark on our age. This mood makes itself felt everywhere, politically, socially, and philosophically. We are living in what the Greeks called the καιρός – the right moment – for a “metamorphosis of the gods,” of the fundamental principles and symbols. This peculiarity of our time, which is certainly not of our conscious choosing, is the expression of the unconscious man within us who is changing. Coming generations will have to take account of this momentous transformation if humanity is not to destroy itself through the might of its own technology and science.
May 4, 2022
 For more information on the significance of this painting and why Richard Tarnas chose it for the cover of The Passion of the Western Mind, see 4:21 of the following lecture: https://youtu.be/2B3zm8R0dEo?t=261
 The phrase “modern man believes in nothing” was inspired by David B. Hart, “On Being Modern,” First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life (October 2003).
 Wilfred Cantwell Smith, Faith and Belief: The Difference between Them (Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 1998), 129.
 Van Austin Harvey, “Faith,” in A Handbook of Theological Terms (New York: Macmillan, 1964).
 Hart, “On Being Modern,” 47.
 In fact, the over-emphasis on the authority of individual judgment without any critical examination of the historical and intellectual context of modernity has given rise to a democratizing of individual opinion, thereby mistaking it for knowledge. In some respects, the need to critically examine the ideas that have shaped our modern perspective are condemned as an “abstraction” rather than being recognized as an attempt to reconcile our daily mode of operation at the most practical level. This has done great harm in the ONA as the need for this critical examination has shifted to ruthless and vacant extremism in light of the substitution of opinion for knowledge, resting on a gross misunderstanding of what the ONA actually is.
 Interestingly, I recall Michael Aquino himself acknowledging his lack of understanding regarding Husserl’s philosophy on a 600 Club forum post many years ago. I have not since been able to locate that post since the site closed down, but it appeared to be authored by him. Nevertheless, I sensed this fatal flaw at a young age, given that much of the Temple of Set’s philosophy rests on a metaphysical distinction between subject and object – a distinction phenomenology largely did away with in the early twentieth century. In some respects, the ONA’s distinction between “acausal” and “causal” risks a similar danger; and though I will not elaborate further here, it is a topic that I may investigate in the future. Regardless, it is something to be aware of, particularly in the dogmatic and often uncritical repetition of such terms on the part of the ONA’s associates.
 Richard Tarnas, The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas that Have Shaped Our World View (New York: Ballantine Books, 1991).
 This all-day workshop was recorded and previously available on DVD by Depth Video. See Richard Tarans, “The Art of Writing: An All-Day Workshop Presented Nov. 17, 2007 at the Pacifica Graduate Institute” (Santa Barbara, CA: Depth Video, 2007). The description on the rear of the DVD summarizes the workshop as follows:
This landmark workshop, the fruit of 30 years of writing and teaching, was given before a sold-out audience at the Pacifica Graduate Institute in November 2007. In these lectures, Richard Tarnas provides an in-depth look at writing not just as an intellectual or artistic discipline, but as a spiritual path. Because we live in a time of extraordinary urgency, when we must contemplate the future of the Earth community, it is essential that those with relevant information speak and be heard, received, and understood. Writing in the service of such a goal involves the development of certain skills, disciplines, and knowledge, as well as other less tangible but perhaps even more important capacities. These lectures illuminate the writer’s path with both practical tips and a larger vision of the writer’s noble calling.
 See, for example, Richard Tarnas, “Forging the Self, Disenchanting the World,” in Cosmos and Psyche: Intimations of a New World View (New York: Viking, 2006).
 Tarnas appears to be referencing Woody Allen, “My Speech to the Graduates,” New York Times, August 10, 1979, https://www.nytimes.com/1979/08/10/archives/my-speech-to-the-graduates.html
 Carl Jung, The Undiscovered Self, trans. R.F.C. Hull, rev. ed. (1990; repr., Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010), 60.