Although the Black Mass is erroneously associated with witches and witchcraft it does play a distinct part in witchcraft history. During the middle ages and in the midst of the witch-hunt mania witches were accused of participating in these ceremonies. It is doubtful if any, but only a few witches, ever participated in the celebrations. As it will be shown, the Black Mass was more of a ceremony that attracted the more wealthy and educated dissenters of the Church. Also, it has no association with modern Witchcraft because most Neo-Pagan Witches do not believe in the Devil or worshipping him.
There is no set Black Mass ritual, rather the ceremony is a parody on the holy Catholic Mass. One ritual is that it is performed in entirety, or in parts, backwards. The Mass may include inverting the cross, spitting and stepping on the cross, stabbing the host and other obscenities. Urine, supposedly, was at various times substituted for holy water, or for the wine. Sliced pieces of rotted turnips, black leather, or black triangles were substituted for communion bread. Black candles were used instead of white ones. A defrocked generally performed the Black Mass wearing vestments of black or a color of dried blood, and embroidered with inverted crosses, a goat’s head (referring to Baphomet), or magical symbols.
One such famous form of the Black Mass is The Mass of Saint-Secaire, which is said to have originated in the Middle Ages in Gascony. Its purpose was to curse an enemy to death by a slow illness, which wasted him away. Montague Summers renders a colorful description of it in The History of Witchcraft and Demonology.
The origins of the current known versions of the Black Mass date back to the 14th century in France. This was the time when the Church was persecuting heretics.The Knights Templar, in particular, were accused of conducting these Masses and also other blasphemous rites in which they denounced Christ, worshipped idols composed of stuffed human heads, spit on and trampled the cross, and worshipped the Devil in the form of a black cat. Through accusations and trails the order was tumbled, but whether all the accusations were true still remains a mystery to many.
There is recorded the arrest of a French baron, Gilles de Rais, who was accused of conducting Black Masses in the cellar of his castle in order of acquiring riches and power. The accusation claimed that he kidnapped, tortured, and murdered more than 140 children as sacrifices. He was executed in 1440.
The popularity for the celebration of Black Masses seemed to spread during the 15th and 16th centuries. In 1500 the cathedral chapter of Cambrai held Black Masses in protest against their bishop. A priest in Orleans, Gentien le Clerc, tried in 614-1615, confessed to performing the “Devil’s mass” which was followed by drinking, and a wild sexual orgy. In 1647 the nuns of Louviers claimed that they had been bewitched and possessed, and forced by chaplains to participate naked in masses, defiling the cross and trampling the host.
The peak for the Black Mass was reached in the 17th century during the reign of Louis XIV, who was accused of being lenient toward witches and sorcerers. It was the time when the Black Mass was extremely popular among the nobility, who thought its performance was exotic. Also, this was a time when the Church was becoming more stringent. The nobility still enjoyed indulging in the pleasures of life, which they considered sex still to be one of them. The Black Mass was a form of protest too.
It became fashionable to have Black Masses said in dark cellars. The leading organizer of such events was Catherine Deshayes, known as “La Voisin,” who was supposedly a witch that read fortunes and sold love philters. She was able to acquire priests, probably also protesting the Church, to say these blasphemous masses, including the infamous Abbé Guiborg, who wore gold-trimmed and lace-lined vestments and scarlet shoes.
When the scandal broke 246 people were arrested by the king’s order. Among them were some of France’s highest-ranking nobility. They were brought to trial and confessions were gotten by means of torture. Most of the nobility receive jail sentences, or exile to the countryside. The thirty-six commoners were executed, including La Voisin who was burned alive in 1680.
When reviewing the history of the Black Mass it is easily seen why many doubt that a large number of witches participated in them. The Black Mass, on the whole, was more of a protest of churchmen against the Church. The witches, as a group, of the time were already on the out with the Church. Many were desperately trying to save their lives, plus few fitted into the nobility. Perhaps La Voisin was a witch, but if she was, it appears she used her skills to better herself. She, most likely, could not be classified as an ordinary witch.
Nevertheless, none of this was obvious to the witch-hunters and inquisitors. For them the Black Mass only served as another reason to go after witches. Likewise, confessions were tortured from witches that included tales of performing obscene rituals at sabbats such as defiling the cross while the Devil served as the priest. It is uncertain whether such accounts entailed the actual performance of the Black Mass. It is possible that some pagans retained their beliefs in face of the Church’s opposition and did worship another god or the Devil as a way of fighting back. Possibly, they felt they had a friend in the Devil, for they knew they had no friend in the Church.
During the 19th century the Black Mass went into further decline. A London fraternal group call the Hellfire Club, in the latter part of the century, was said to perform a Black Mass regularly to worship the Devil. Although, speculation is that the ritual was little more than sexual escapades with large quantities of alcohol. In 1947, a Black Mass was performed at the graveside of Aleister Crowley, who in life thought himself the Antichrist. When the Church of Satan was founded in 1966, the Black Mass was not included among its rituals because the founder, Anton Szandor LeVey, thought the Black Mass was outmoded.
However, other satanic groups do conduct their versions of the Black Mass that include deviant sexual acts and orgies, necrophilia, cannibalisms of sacrificial victims (including human beings), and drinking the blood of the victims. A.G.H.
Source: 9, 26-27.