What is a Black Mass?

   A so-called Black Mass is an occult ceremony that reverses or parodies the classical Mass—black vestments instead of white, prayers said backward, blasphemy instead of piety, sexuality instead of chastity, and the worship of Satan instead of God. According to Doreen Valiente, author of An ABC of Witchcraft Past and Present, "The Black Mass does not belong to genuine witchcraft because the latter has its own traditions and rituals. The real witch is a pagan, and the Old Horned God of the witches is much older than Christianity or the Christian Devil or Satan."

   According to Prof. Rossell Hope Robbins, who compiled the much-respected Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology, "No matter how titillating, all accounts of black masses (with one exception) must be dismissed as unfounded speculation. The black mass as something that historically occurred is one of the biggest intellectual frauds ever imposed on the lay public."

   The one Exception referred to by Professor Robbins is well documented and took place in France in 1672 dur­ing the reign of Louis XIV. Mme. de Montespan, Louis' mistress, instigated a series of Black Masses in the hope of rekindling the king's interest in her and of curing him of wandering into the arms of more seductive women at court. After having seven children by the king and not being at the top of her form (she supposedly weighed 200 pounds at the time), Mme. de Montes­pan sought the good offices of the notorious abortionist Catherine Deshayes Monvoisin, known as La Voisin. This woman, who was alleged to have dispatched some 2,500 infants, also was a genius with poison. La Voisin worked with several co-conspirators, but her most notable colleague was a 67-year-old priest, the Abbe Guibourg. This ruthless character, the father of several children, created a bizarre program for reuniting the king and his mistress. His Mass included sacrificing a baby while simultaneously uttering incantations to two mythical demons—Astaroth and Asmodeus. The former, a foul-smelling figure, was supposed to have the talent for obtaining favors from rulers; the latter demon was said to be capable of exterminating unwanted people.

   Most other accounts of alleged Black Masses are figments of the imaginations of the Inquisitors during the 16th and 17th centuries and of such authors as Frenchman Donatien Alphonse François, the Marquis de Sade, in his books Justine and Juliette. Another author, Joris-Karl Huysmans, in his book Là-Bas (Down There), wrote an account of a Black Mass that respected demonologists consider to be pure fiction.