In an additional twist, we revealed the first part of Elijah Tamu’s massive interview on Walpurgisnacht earlier this year. The artist was kind enough indulge us with a multiple page correspondence that revealed much of this interesting worldview. For those of you keeping track, the singular artist introduced us to his seemingly incongruent existence as an Orthodox Christian within a black metal context. And for those of you not keeping track, a follower of Christ within an inherently Satanic art form certainly raises a few eyebrows.
In part one of the interview, Tamu explored the origins of his faith and his physically altering awakening to a remarkable new existence. Regardless of the outward expressions of this faith, we were assured that he still “speak[s] a language of death, transformation, and rebirth,” when he creates his art, and exactly how that works in his context. By confronting darkness head on he understands the depth of duality and repurposes its symbols anew. But it is this tension that constantly retests his faith on a regular basis.
Now we move into the next phase of this revelation and plumb the depths of how this multilayered duality works, and how it ultimately challenges both sides of the coin.
Many will likely still be confused or unconvinced of a devout Christian’s place in this overtly antithetical atmosphere, but like a religious scholar of old, contemplation and careful perception has allowed for Elijah to embrace the sometimes dangerously potent artform into his own life.
“There were times in the past when I feared that my gravitation toward black metal was the result of some kind of spiritual or moral failing on my part—that this was something that needed to be rooted out and killed because it indicated an aberration in me and posed a mortal threat to my soul. I still don’t take that type of concern for granted, and I really believe that there are people for whom dabbling in this world would be spiritually disastrous. There were times when I felt a compulsion to make oaths to God about how I wouldn’t allow myself to follow this inclination toward black metal. At a certain point I realized that I needed to leave that dread curiosity behind and instead turn my focus to the more important matters of the heart that lay between me and God. After sacrificing my desires in order to find myself in God, I came to a place of greater inner peace. In time I was able to reassess the question of black metal again—this time from a place of freedom, without self-condemnation. In tranquility I brought the question to God once again, and this time he gave me his blessing.
“[Approaching black metal] there was an initial aversion, yes—but also a pull. It seems that the inverse of this is also embedded in the DNA of black metal itself; remember, the cover of De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas is simply a picture of a church. I can’t help but think that is a particularly elegant summation of something fundamental to the black metal spirit. How many black metal musicians do you know who take photos of themselves standing in front of cathedrals? And do they not often do this with an attitude that begins to touch upon reverence? How many black metal bands sample Christian sacred chants and incorporate liturgical texts into their lyrics? Even when those elements are twisted for other purposes the native gravitas remains, and you often have the distinct sense that what is happening goes far deeper than mere mockery.
“A number of people will likely take a detached perspective on this: some notion of a dialectic that will resolve the antitheses into a higher unity—a truth that transcends the archetypes of Christ and Satan. But that is decidedly not my belief. My faith rests in the supremacy of Christ, my emperor whose face is like the sun, whose mere presence will one day silence all arguments. My belief is that the very best black metal, in all its dark glory, is beautiful and compelling because it is a blind and chaotic but nonetheless sincere response to the inner call of Christ—the wordless thunder that is felt but seldom understood in the deepest chasms of the heart. As Saint Augustine says, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” I will go further and say this: black metal in its truest and highest form will be Christian. The perfection of black metal can only be found in the return to Christ. Come home, you who have wandered far. You are the lead that shall be transmuted into gold. The touch of the Stone turns the sickle.”
What multitudes of modern denouncers of the faith had come to know religion from a young age, only to lapse into the inverse just as quick, simply because it was forced on them by family or a society? But as Elijah appears a person of faith who seems to hold his beliefs as very personal and individual, as well as being rooted in a much older tradition than what is generally practiced, I couldn’t help but diverge into asking his views on the current religious climate.
“First, a point of clarification: in some previous interviews I’ve discussed theology from the Eastern Orthodox tradition, which I think has led some people to believe that I’m Orthodox myself. I actually belong to a theologically conservative branch of the Anglican Church, though I can’t overstate the importance Orthodox theology has played in my spiritual life. When I speak of “creedal orthodoxy” (with a small “o”), I mean something broader than just Eastern Orthodoxy; in this case, I’m talking about adherence to the doctrines established in—at the very least—the first two Ecumenical Councils of the early Church.
“Your question touches on two essential and intertwined poles of the Christian experience: the communal and the personal. In whatever way we parse things, my views on the matter hinge on one fundamental belief: each pole is mutually foundational to the other. The personal is founded upon the communal, the communal upon the personal. Scripture describes the Church as the mystical Body and Bride of Christ, and these are more than organizational metaphors; they are teleological and ontological claims—claims about the very purpose and being that humanity is intended to have. “In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you” (John 14:20, ESV). Whether I like it or not, I am part of the Church, and my fate is bound to hers. Though I may critique things that I see within the Church, I am not free to divorce myself from the sacramental and social bonds of participation. I am a Christian, not a rebel mystic.
“When my Evangelical brethren talk about the need for a “personal relationship with Jesus” they are right. Absolutely. Any teaching that replaces the personal nature of God with an abstraction is not Christianity. Any philosophy that values tradition only in terms of some dialectical outworking of “spirit”, “civilization”, or “history” is not Christianity. Christ is life, life is relation: no matter how deep I delve within my being, Christ is already there as an Other. This is the Philosopher’s Stone, the greatest foundation and existential security any person can ever have. This is my comfort within the ever-changing river of space and time—that I am eternally loved and that I am never alone.
“But there are false Christs as well. Tradition safeguards the access point to the one true Christ, and tradition is by definition communal. I cannot live without Mother Church and her guiding hand. Now, as you’ve seen from my story, there is a strong Charismatic streak to my faith—a belief in prophecy, miracles, mystical tongues, and direct guidance from the Spirit. In this sense my faith is very experiential. But subjective experience cannot be the sole arbiter. Within some Charismatic circles there is the very real danger of rampant individualism and sentimentalism, without the accountability of communal, traditional, and scriptural discernment. I’ve seen so many people fall into terrible delusions because they wanted powerful experiences and emotions more than they wanted God. In my story I highlighted some dramatic personal experiences because I wanted to show that there’s a living power behind me and my words—but I must also stress that every step of the way I was weighing my interpretations of events against Scripture and praying with fellow Christians and church leaders.
“You asked about the “current religious climate”. This is a difficult thing to answer, because there are so many different socio-religious currents at play. The Church is still in the birth-pangs of manifestation, and it will continue in its lurching and chaotic motion until the eschaton, when all things will be weighed, purged, and perfected with fire. Just as there are pitfalls in fixating on subjective religious experience, there are likewise pitfalls in fixating on the institutional or social frameworks of Christianity. In our age this seems to go awry in two main directions. On the one hand, communities that rightly see the encroaching threat of secularism often become so focused on preservation that they lose compassion and simply become right-wing political instruments driven by fear. This is a problem in the American Evangelical right, as well as in European countries where national and ethnic identities are deeply imbricated with regional Orthodox identities. Similar trends are present in the traditionalist Catholic milieu. On the other hand, communities who are rightly sensitive to certain social justice issues ignored by conservatives often pay the high price of overcorrection and doctrinal compromise. Eager to make amends for Christianity’s history of abuses, they adopt secular definitions of social justice wholesale and abandon core traditional teachings. I have a number of beliefs that prevent me from aligning myself with leftist movements or what many would consider progressive theology. I say none of these things for the sake of stirring up reactions, but because I’d rather be hated for what I really am than loved for a false face I show to the world. I have dear friends on all sides of these ideological schisms, and I find myself very troubled by what I see. My own beliefs contain non-negotiables that some might view as extreme in their own ways, and I dislike the term “centrist” anyway. I’m increasingly convinced that the current trajectories of both the right and the left do violence to the heart of Christianity, though I’m not looking for a middle ground either. A middle ground is defined entirely by its relation to the two sides it mediates; my normative standards come from a completely different source, and this set of values cuts right across the lines drawn by the world. There are worsening storms gathering, and I fear my faithfulness to my convictions will cost me more than a few friendships. Regardless, I am resolute: to walk forward in love, refusing to bow to fear, without expectation that anyone owes me anything. Kyrie eleison.”
Despite the many passages of the Holy Visage and angelic perfection that populate its annals, none can deny that Christianity is perhaps the greatest source of truly dark and inspiringly macabre imagery. It is in this ‘True Christian Darkness’ that Elijah seems to draw from in his belief, and therefore his work, which is a primary reason it translates so well into the world of underground metal
“When I speak of darkness as a key to transcendence I have a very specific set of principles in mind. My focus is not on that which is merely macabre, horrific, or dark in what I would consider lower or inferior senses. Darkness and evil are not the same, though both are purely negative principles (i.e. negation or nothingness, as opposed to substance or being). All evil is dark (a negation), but not all darkness is evil (a degeneracy). Evil is disordering and degeneracy—that which is inherently the very “form” of inferiority (or, technically, the lack/negative of form). Those who claim that darkness or chaos are primal principles which are superior to light and structure are wrong; the very fact that light ever became manifest in outward from (whether spiritual or physical) requires that reality contains at its heart the “inner form” or primordial principle of light. The darkness before the fiat lux was only the absence of manifestation, but this does not make it in any way equal to the Uncreated Light, which always had inner existence. Being, by pure logic, cannot emerge from non-being. There always was Something. Indeed, there always was Someone; for light, being, and consciousness are intertwined principles. Here is a journal entry I wrote several years ago, after a time of meditation on a candle flame (and a successful standoff with a malign spirit who had been inhabiting the place I lived in at the time—but that’s another story).”
I loved the candle flame, yet it was only in the context of the room’s natural darkness that its beauty was revealed. A candle in daylight simply doesn’t possess the beauty of a candle in the darkness—even though it produces the same light. Why is this? It is because there are subtleties, traits, characteristics of the candle flame which are drowned out in the glaring light of day. It requires darkness, a quieting and stilling of the cacophony of light, to learn the secrets of the candle flame, to get to know it intimately. And this is the same principle that is at work in color, the visible spectrum. White light is beautiful, but a world of only white light without differentiation would be no different from a world of darkness—you wouldn’t be able to see anything in either. What makes sight possible is the interplay of fullness and negation, light and darkness. Indeed, the principle of darkness is necessary for color to be seen. Darkness is the negation. A surface absorbs (negates) some of the white-light spectrum that is cast on it, and bounces back the other wavelengths. Thus the phenomenon of color dialectically contains the principle of darkness as part of its essence. The interplay of absorption and reflection, brightening and dimming, is what makes possible all the beauty of the visible world. Sometimes darkness is what makes it possible to appreciate and contemplate certain subtleties of light.
“This is a fundamental piece of the picture, but the ways in which this manifests in the fallen world are necessarily severe at times. Some of my paintings involve the motif of rays emanating from what appears to be a void or a central dark point. The idea is that higher forms of divine light are incomprehensible to mortal eyes, and thus only appear as darkness. Remember that even on the purely material plane the visible spectrum is just a small slice of the entire electro-magnetic continuum; this means there is other light that simply appears as darkness to us. Indeed, there are even other animals who have eyes that can see colors that we can’t. In the Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna must be given “new eyes” before he can see Krishna in his universal, ascendant form—and it’s a sight that shakes him to the core of his being. The same principle is at play in this “black light of God” that I explore in my art. There are some correspondences to the hidden light of Da’ath here, whereas Tifereth makes the unification visible as divine beauty. Spiritual evolution (which is always affected through personal communion with God) integrates the previously unknown light into the unified and known beauty in the secret chambers of the heart: here the hidden sun (the Morning Star) blazes forth and sends its rays into the world, effecting transmutations in time and space.
“Sometimes the divine light appears as darkness because its radiance is a threat to the false structures of the world and the lower self. In this case, the light manifests as the adversarial fire of Gevurah. The goodness of God may look evil to worldly eyes, because it is a deadly threat to their systems. Whether in the form of Lion or Lamb, Christ is a conqueror. As far as the world of gods and spirits is concerned, Christian dogma is absolutely non-egalitarian. The path to the Absolute requires the eradication of allegiance to any other gods. I am speaking in terms of empire, though not in a worldly or political sense. Forced conversions are not conversions at all, because they do not bring about true repentance and change of heart. True conversion happens when you respond to the tormenting call that thunders in the depths of your heart. For many, Christ will appear as Adversary before he can be seen for what he truly is, as Light-bearer. As Christ’s servant I will gladly speak the language of black fire, if that is what it takes to help you see. I’m fully aware of what I’m doing; speaking about the imperial superiority of Christ’s light in the middle of LHP circles isn’t a particularly diplomatic move, and I don’t expect it to be well received by many. Still, for those who care enough about truth to be troubled or even righteously angered by my words, I pray you find the hidden threshold revealed—a painful way that has long been hidden in plain sight. Once you see it, what you do with that knowledge is your choice. But you will be marked by the curse and burden of all real gnosis: the ray has pierced your mind and heart, and you can never go back to the false peace of ignorance. If the Lord wills it and gives his blessing, I burn to bring forth a Christian darkness whose magnitude has only been hinted at so far. If suffering is the only way, then I wholeheartedly pray you suffer—not because I take any joy in that, but because I hope for the luciferous transformation that this suffering will bring if you prove your worthiness by admitting that you are unworthy (just as I am unworthy). For all who desire truth above all, may the Spirit of Truth haunt you like an inescapable and incessant burning. May you smoulder in the terrible gaze of the truth! Come, tremble before the darkness of Christ! Perhaps then you will see what you are now too fearful to see—that all along he was the True Lucifer you had unknowingly sought.
“Yet for all of this severity, there is one thing that needs to be said: this darkness of Christ is merciful, and even when you burn in the torment of his presence, it is the burning of a compassionate gaze fixed upon you. The Devil’s darkness is different. His is the voice that whispers hatred, twisting the knife in your side, flooding and crushing with despair. Satan is a parasite and a predator who cares nothing for his servants when all is said and done. The darkness of Satan the Accuser leads only to degradation and death; the darkness of Christ is the death that serves as a passageway to ascension. Contemplate these things and you will begin to see the difference. Not all light is the same, and neither is all darkness. Devote yourself to truth, and you will begin to be able to separate the voice of the true Light-bearer from that of the imposter who masquerades as an angel.”
The gravity and implications of Elijah’s statements would cause black metal fans and devout Christians alike to be stricken into introspection. But regardless of one’s beliefs, it is undeniable that, apart from the sonic element of black metal, a primary and defining feature of the genre’s identity lies within, or draws from the Christian mythos.
By way of a worldview hinged on religious beliefs and a love of Christ, Elijah seems to appreciate the real power, however hostile and dangerous, held within black metal that, more often than not, black metal bands do not. It quickly becomes clear why Tamu has been able to carve a place within this community the way he has. Unlike so many of his faithful ilk of today, Elijah does not merely deny and scoff at that which varies from his own beliefs, but avidly seeks to understand them.
“This is a good place to comment on some interesting developments regarding theistic Satanism and Luciferianism. Certainly neither of these categories is monolithic or easily defined and there’s a lot of overlap, with many people who refer to themselves as both. Yes, both are a veneration of the fallen angel, but this shift in primary focus from the aspect of Adversary to that of Light-bearer underlines a sapiential shift that interests me. Those who have made this shift have recognized that negation in and of itself is inferior to that which is ineffably substantive—i.e. the Divine. Darkness and adversarial energy are important, of course. But they are inherently inferior principles to light and unity. This is not soft sentimentalism, nor does it preclude the idea of divine severity. You will find these ideas attested to in perennial wisdom across ages and civilizations. The shadows are a liminal place for initiation, but the highest goal is solar ascension. Theistic Satanism, defined as such, is still very young. For those who have taken this path out of a genuine desire for truth and ennoblement of spirit, the road has often led to interesting places. Johannes Nefastos’ Fosforos is among the most moving esoteric texts I’ve read, even though it’s written by a Satanist. Perhaps unexpectedly, the book is replete with direct quotations of Jesus Christ, and in almost every one of these cases his words are treated with utmost respect. Despite Nefastos’ averse stance toward Christianity, he genuinely sees Jesus as an exemplary Luficerian figure. He writes, “May Lucifer-Christos help all those who look into the abyss to make their choice wisely”, and if I take the liberty of interpreting that epithet in its raw etymological sense of “Light-bearer, Anointed One”, I could say the exact same thing—the difference being that I am referring exclusively to the man Yeshua and absolutely none other. Still, there’s a certain power in names and titles, so I don’t address my personal prayers to “Lucifer”, even if I truly believe that Jesus has the truer claim to that title than Satan. Returning to Fosforos—in a particularly poetic moment, Nefastos writes the following:
Thus, let our magnetic gaze be such that it draws death out of the depths of every being. May life wither away where we walk, so that the brightness of intelligence and spirit can gradually be drawn into being. Let us welcome destruction, let us call and ask for it with our existence—not with any violence, no, not with a single forceful syllable or tone of voice. Let us love! Let us love even matter, even the ugliness made by men, in its own way. We should not accept it, except as a thought, as a formula, and as an instrument. It is right, but it is not enough for us. May death be in our hands all the time, let us bring it with us everywhere. May the brightness of space live upon our faces! Brethren, brethren! How bright is the embrace of space, how wonderful its black depths! Behold! Few see it but it saves them. (73)
“When Nefastos speaks of death he is speaking about transition—the negation involved in moving from one form to another. Looking at a world in which the vast majority simply want comfort and material pleasures, he rightly understands that sacrifice and mortification must take place if they are ever to ascend. He speaks of darkness, but he does so primarily in the sense of looking into a light that cannot yet be perceived—the “brightness” found within the blackness. I feel a strong closeness to the sentiment behind this passage. It immediately brings to mind a passage of Scripture that has been strangely and closely linked to my life since I was born:
But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. (2 Corinthians 2:14, ESV)
“When confronted with the possibility of a higher life, it often looks like death at first. From baptism to the eucharist, the Christian sacraments bear the marks of death, even though “The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:26). Light and life are superior, yet even in the sacred mysteries of the Christian faith they are inaccessible without first passing through darkness and burial. Black metal speaks to me most deeply when it acknowledges darkness as a fundamental aspect of moving toward the higher goal of divine light. Here are a couple gems that highlight that interplay:
Increase my light
Forever into all directions
O God, strengthen my light and give me the greatest light of all,
The light of your darkness,
Grant me light, God of night.
– Lyrics from “Grant Me Light” on Ascension’s album Consolamentum
Sunk and sunk and sunk have I
Into skin and sin and sleep.
Yet this wasteland has revealed a gate
And my heart holds its key.
O pierce the webs of dream
Pierce my cold lifeless heart,
Infernal firstborn spark.
Ignite my funeral altar
And let me rise like the dawn
From the dregs of darkest ignorance
To the blinding light of your throne.
[. . . .]
Deeper and deeper! Into the very heart of the sun.
Below the shadows fall in multitude
But here the light is one.
– Lyrics from “Serpent Sun” on Nightbringer’s album Terra Damnata
Join us for the next Chapter of this conversation with Elijah Tamu in due time.