Project title
Satanic feminism: Lucifer as the liberator of woman in nineteenth-century culture

Per Faxneld

Stockholm University

Duration period

According to the Bible, Eve was the first to heed Satan’s advice to eat of the forbidden fruit. The notion of woman as the Devil’s accomplice is prominent throughout the history of Christianity. During the nineteenth century, rebellious females performed counter-readings of this misogynist tradition. Hereby, Lucifer was reconceptualised as a feminist liberator of womankind, and Eve became a heroine. In these reimaginings, Satan is an ally in the struggle against a patriarchy supported by God the Father and his male priests.

This study delineates how such Satanic feminism is expressed in a number of nineteenth-century esoteric works, literary texts, autobiographies, pamphlets and journals, newspaper articles, paintings, sculptures and even artefacts of consumer culture such as jewellery. We encounter figures like the suffragette Elizabeth Cady Stanton, gender-bending Theosophist H. P. Blavatsky, author and diplomat wife Aino Kallas, actress Sarah Bernhardt, anti-clerical witch enthusiast Matilda Joslyn Gage, decadent marchioness Luisa Casati, and the Luciferian lesbian poetess Renée Vivien.

In the material, four motifs in particular are prominent: 1) interpretations of Eve’s role in the fall of man as something positive, 2) the witch as a proto-feminist figure, 3) the demon lover as an emancipator, 4) a feminised Satan contrasted with an oppressive male God. A fifth and less central motif is conceptions of Lilith, according to Jewish lore the rebellious first wife of Adam, as the first feminist.

The analysis focuses on interfaces between esotericism, literature, art and the political realm. New light is thus shed on neglected aspects of the intellectual history of feminism, Satanism and revisionary mythmaking. The study is informed by theories concerning counter-readings, counter-discourses and counter-myths, and in particular highlights the complex interplay of such phenomena and the hegemonic discourses that demonised feminism. A key theme in this context is the limits and paradoxes of inversion as a subversive strategy.