Satan wasn’t always portrayed as an evil, beastly monster. In the Romantic era of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, revolutionary writers and artists reimagined the character of Satan in the epic poem “Paradise Lost” as a hero, daring to rebel against God’s unjust tyranny. Though the Romantic era and the most prolific visions of Satan as hero came to a close around the 1850s, the idea still continued to inspire a number of artists, including a French writer named Anatole France.
France’s writing was irreverent and in some places downright anticlerical, and his entire works were placed on the Catholic Church’s Prohibited Books a few years before his death in 1922. In 1914, he published “Revolt of the Angels”—a witty novel whose main storyline follows a group of angels who rebel and plot together to retake Heaven. Its portrayal of Satan and his demons illustrates perfectly the Satanic ideals aspired to by modern Satanists who tread the same path as those Romantic revolutionaries, and is one of the few works considered to be canon by the Satanic Temple.
Taking a closer look at its portrayal of Satan, we find him painted as a humanitarian hero, a compassionate friend and benefactor to mankind and the source of such gifts as knowledge, art, culture, and civilized law. The Christian god, on the other hand, is portrayed not as the source of all good, but as an evil pretender who loves pain, misery and suffering and who seeks to subjugate all under his unjust tyranny.
The story centers on Arcade, the guardian angel of Maurice d’Esparvieu, the worldly son of the family whose library Arcade frequents in his thirst for learning. It is through study, knowledge, logic and science that Arcade begins to doubt. He says, “I have delved deep into Oriental antiquities and also into those of Greece and Rome. I have devoured the works of theologians, philosophers, physicists, geologists, and naturalists. I have learnt. I have thought. I have lost my faith.”
Through his studies, he comes to realize that Jehovah (often called Ialdabaoth in this tale, a Gnostic name for an evil demiurge) is nothing more than a fraud. He says, “I deny that He created the world. At the most He organised but an inferior part of it, and all that He touched bears the mark of His rough and unforeseeing touch. I do not think He is either eternal or infinite, for it is absurd to conceive of a being who is not bounded by space or time. I think Him limited. … And, to speak candidly, he is not so much a god as a vain and ignorant demiurge.”
Arcade, having completely lost his faith and his desire to obey God, decides to leave his post, gather an army of rebel angels, persuade Satan to lead them, and retake Heaven from the pretender ensconced in its throne.
As Arcade makes contact with other rebel angels, he meets an old archangel, Nectaire, living as a simple gardener. Nectaire, who fought alongside Satan in the original battle against heaven, recounts to Arcade the story of the battle and the ensuing history of humanity, offering a vivid portrayal of Satan as a noble hero who helps mankind time and again.
As Nectaire tells the tale, in the beginning, Jehovah was just one among many Seraphim. Lucifer was his equal—and where character was his concerned, by far his superior. Nectaire describes him in heroic terms: “[Lucifer] was the most beautiful of all the Seraphim. He shone with intelligence and daring. His great heart was big with all the virtues born of pride: frankness, courage, constancy in trial, indomitable hope.” For France, pride, not submission, was a measure of greatness, lending hope, courage and honesty to those who dared take pride in themselves.