The Romantic Outlaw

“But the Romantic Outlaw must have something to rebel against,” writes Camille Paglia, Sex, Art, And American Culture: Essays. As Paglia complains, though Rock music was once created by outsiders who “read poetry, studied Hinduism and drew psychedelic visions in watercolors,” today managers make sure to sanitize and repackage the music before it’s even aired.

The same can be found in probably every aspect of Western culture, including modern spirituality. Notably, my friend, author Mitch Horowitz, recently found himself at the center of some controversy over his study of Satanism — though he is interested in “Satanism,” not as a TV-style embodiment of evil, but in the Promethean, Romantic, literary, artistic sense (think Joris-Karl Huysmans and William Blake). 

The authentic rebel has a problem today. And, let’s be blunt. He has a problem because rebellion is built into “the system” — but only so much rebellion is acceptable. The modern spiritual practitioner (including the pagan) often either practices a soft repackaging of Christianity (minus the difficult theology and hierarchy) or a repackaging of politics (usually Left-wing but sometimes also extreme Right-wing). The focus is increasingly on “rights,” love, diversity, and acceptance. And, with that, conformity.

The true rebel (the man or woman of self-mastery and uncompromising vision, who is determined to elevate and to create themselves, and to create something of transcendent value (rather than emulating whatever is en vogue) is still an outsider, and, as such, is still perceived as a danger. 

Hence, it is not uncommon to find the modern pagan worrying more about political correctness that the transcendent. Or, in contrast to La Vey and Aquino, to find the modern Satanist saying that she is unable to defend free speech if it’s “not strategic.” Today, rebellion is more about imitation than authenticity. 

It’s difficult to be a romantic outlaw in a society in which everyone is posing as one. Despite what we might think, outlaws, or outsiders, tend to associate with each other and in a world of decoy outsiders no doubt it’s easy to get stuck in a group of poseurs.

But, nonetheless, the romantic outlaw can still exist as such, because it is not a case of having a tattoo or not, of smoking cannabis, or of listening to a certain type of music. It is an attitude that sees how society has gone too far in one direction and seeks to rediscover both the primal and the higher. 

To borrow a phrase from G.K. Chesterton, in an age of cookie cutter-rebellion, the authentic rebel is “a rebel against rebellion.”

To put it another way, it is about not being swept along in the fashion of the day — which is always rebellious (at first), but almost immediately filled with conformists, all of whom will move on to the next fashion when it comes along, changing their opinions as quickly as their clothing. 

The trappings of the romantic outlaw are on sale in every high street shop, but its spirit has to be constantly rediscovered within one’s being, to push one’s own creativity, to try something new, and to do the unexpected. The romantic outlaw can borrow the guitar riff, the clothing, the lyrics of the past, but what’s important is the attitude; the spiritual, mental, and emotional power; the curiosity; and the integrity that made their creation possible. In a sense, authentic rebellion is about self-mastery. It is standing up to the mob in one’s own being. 

Related to “Satan” of the Romantics, the Greek hero Prometheus is said to have stolen the fire from heaven, giving it mankind, and thus sparking the beginning of civilization. For his act of insubordination, Prometheus was punished by Zeus. Today, the rebel, who brings light to mankind, is punished mankind, especially by those collectives who think of themselves as rebels but who have merely swapped one dogma for another. 

Angel Millar is the editor of The Spiritual Survival and the author of several books including The Three Stages of Initiatic Spirituality: Craftsman, Warrior, Magician (release date: February 2020).