Tim Pendry's Reviews > The Secret History of Lucifer: Evil Angel or the Secret of Life Itself?

The Secret History of Lucifer by Lynn Picknett
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I would read this as entertainment because it sure ain't coherent history. It is part of a peculiar genre that mixes an author's ideological commitment to seeing the world in a different and subversive way with elaborate and largely unsustainable claims about history.

This is a shame because the subversive intent is not a bad idea. Unfortunately, the technique of piling up notes from entirely separate incidents in history into a narrative with a weak evidential basis merely discredits the intent. The book offers some catharsis for the powerless (especially women) and no doubt is moderately profitable for the author but it is no call for action and little to understanding.

The central early claim of this potboiler appears to be that power struggles within the very early Christian Church were lost, by a sexually open spiritual tradition, to the sexually repressed Pauline Church. The original practice of Christ was a form of sexual spirituality led by St. John the Baptist who was nothing like the picture presented by the Church in subsequent centuries.

The book then meanders into the highways and byways of history until it ends with praise of Lucifer and a condemnation of those who dabble with the Satanic. This, of course, refers to Lucifer the Light-Bringer, who must definitely not be confused with Satan, positioned as the positive force behind science, sexual freedom, tolerance and the Enlightenment.

The meandering takes us from ancient times through the usual tales of ancient spirituality, Cathar-Templar suffering, witch-burning, John Dee and Edward Kelley (why? we ask, as we are reading it), masonic lore, gobbets from the history of spiritualism and, of course, Crowley and LaVey to become yet another chapter in the attempt to create an alternative historical reality. There is certainly no necessary connection between one tale and the next - or even between components within each narrative.

As entertainment this is all is amusing enough but as a factual basis for understanding history, forget it. A cursory reading of the useful Wikipedia entries on the persecution of 'witches' and the Inquisition, studied alongside the relevant chapter in the book, will tell you that it is not wholly reliable. The book is riddled with polemic, selective facts, lots of 'mays' and 'could it be thats', odd etymologies, conflation of events from different times and circumstances and extremely doubtful 'evidence' (though we have no doubt this is due to weak judgement rather than malice aforethought).

The claims about the Johannite tradition in the West and the 'secret' messages in the art of a subversive Leonardo Da Vinci may excite Dan Brown enthusiasts - and may even be 'true' up to a point - but they are not adequately evidenced or contextualised here.

We, who do believe that 'resistance' to elites and prevailing culture has been much more widespread in the past than we have been allowed to believe, must, nevertheless, accept the fact that the victors write the history of past times. But, just because no evidence exists of our 'resistance proposition', this does not mean that we can make something up out of the gaps or make massive deductive leaps from what does exist.

The best approach is deep scepticism about all authorities' claims about the past rather than to make attempts to prove our own expectations. Better, perhaps we should decide not to make any claims for liberation in or on the past but just concentrate our demands on the present (our current condition) and on the future (how we believe we should be allowed to live our lives).

Yes, the book is footnoted. Yes, the authors have read widely. No, the sources are not considered contextually or critically. This is a shame because the passion in the polemic does hit its target sometimes.

The underlying message of the book is about the intrinsic evil of institutionalised religion in its effects on Western culture over nearly two thousand years (Picknett is not alone in this and a better book in this respect might be Reay Tannahill's 'Sex in History' also reviewed on this website). This proposition bears serious consideration in the year when the Church of Rome in Ireland finally was forced to admit not only that child abuse was rampant in its organisation but that successive prelates had covered it up deliberately in order to protect the reputation of their morally questionable institution.

There is a genuine and righteous anger in the book about how the human race can develop a collective will to malice, often manipulated by sick psychopaths under cover of religion. I like her for this. It makes her somewhat more worthy as passionate myth-spreader than the dry truth-telling academic who refuses to take a moral stand and who seeks to objectify us out of our anger by suggesting that 'that was then'. We must not look on past crimes as if they mean nothing in judging the conduct today of modern successor organisations, whether Crown or Church.

Picknett is also trying to make an important point about the sexual oppression of women (as a sex-positive feminist, no doubt) - not by men in general (as less sex-positive feminists try to do) but by the institutions of men who oppress all equally. Here, she is pushing at an open door with this reader.

It is quite possible that she will drive many women to righteous anger not only at 'authority' but at a culture that denies full female sexual expression - but what a shame that this matter cannot be argued on its merits based on a considered assessment of the facts rather than through a mythic narrative that is no more reliable than the nonsense perpetrated by her opponents. A war of myths is not what we need at this time in our history.

But, unless you just want an entertainment from within this now widely published genre (and, why not, if it whiles away a train journey or two without lasting harm), don't bother ... just say to yourself that you don't need to be told how to run your life by anyone and, if you are one of those people who like to spiritualise your sexuality, don't get angry about how people were treated in the past, just go do it today.
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