Get Thee Behind Me, Satan (1974)
Get Thee Behind Me, Satan (1974)
Screenprint on rag paper
Last from the edition of 100
20 3/4 x 20 3/4 in. / 52.7 x 52.7 cm
Signed and numbered by the artist
Subject: The Inverse of Humanity Is Divinity.
Symbol Evocation: The Five-Pointed Star of the Pythagorean Brotherhood.
In the book of Saint Matthew, chapter 16, verses 13 to 20, Jesus was with his disciples in the district of Caesarea Philippi, forty kilometers above the Sea of Galilee. Simon Peter confesses his faith in Jesus as the Messiah saying, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” As a reward, Jesus holds Peter above the others with, “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” In verses 21 to 23 Jesus foretells his numerous trials and his ultimate triumph at the last supper in the Essene Quarter of Jerusalem: the arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane near the Golden Gate of the east side of the temple of Jerusalem, the crucifixion and burial on Golgotha on the west side, and his rising from the dead on the third day.
At this Peter took Jesus aside and said, “Far be it from thee, O Lord, this will never happen to thee.” This is like someone saying, “If you really know the place where you are going to be in trouble, the wise person does not go there.” To this Jesus wheels around and says to Peter, “Get thee behind me, Satan, thou art a scandal to me; for thou dost not mind the things of God, but those of men.”
I always thought this passage in the New Testament to be a bit bizarre. Jesus, in an almost mechanical manner, declares not only Peter to be “Satan,” the Hebrew word for “adversary,” but also commands him to place himself behind Jesus. If to “get behind someone” was a slang term of the day meaning, “to go away,” it might make some sense. But remember religions like political parties are rarely involved in slang and humor at their beginnings. Nevertheless, they often utilize neologisms: new words or expressions sometimes coined by psychotics.
My belief is that it is not so in this case. Jesus really meant what he said. To place one’s enemy behind oneself is the most dangerous of acts, but not for someone who is beyond the realm of flesh and in the realm of the Spirit. The Divine World is the inverse of the mundane. In order to illustrate this mystical paradox, I needed an abstract image of the face of God, and the face of Satan, just to keep the visual result symbolic of the transcendent. For the face of God I chose the image provided by the Christian Gothic poet Dante Alighieri (1265–1321). In his poem popularly know as The Divine Comedy” (originally known simply as a “Comedy”), in the third section,
Il Paradiso, in canto 33 (the entire poem contains one hundred cantos), Dante faces “the Beatific vision” and learns how substance, accident, and mode were fused in such a way that what I now describe is but a glimmer of that light. Further on he describes the living light: “Within its depthless clarity of substance, I saw the great light shine into three circles in three clear colors bound in one same space; the first seemed to reflect the next like rainbow on rainbow, and the third was like a flame equally breathed forth by the other two. And in one globe appeared the face of a man.”
The image of Satan (representing the force of the Dark) reflects that he has no form of his own and must steal form from the Light, although with distortion. Constantine I (the Roman emperor who ruled in the West from 312 to 337 CE) allowed Christianity a basic legal status as another Roman religion. His mother was a Christian before it was legal, and Constantine himself became a deathbed catechumen to Christianity. During the three hundred years or so prior to the legalization of Christianity, members of the cult identified themselves to each other by wearing the symbol of the vesica pisces (or bladder fish) as costume jewelry. The Roman guards caught on to this ploy very quickly. What the Christians did next was rather interesting. In Rome at that time there remained the cult of Hygeia, the Greek Goddess of Health. Her symbol was the upright pentagram with one point up worn as a neck pendant. The five-pointed star represented the five physical senses that contained and controlled the principal of death, the irrational fraction of the phi proportion. This was also worn by the remains of the Pythagorean Brotherhood.
The Christians soon discovered that the pentagram worn upside down with the two points up looks very similar to the one-point-up star. They next identified the point-up star with the Triumphant Christ and the point-down with Christ Crucified. Since Saint Peter requested to be crucified upside down to partially make up for his betrayals of Jesus, I thought the image of the point-down star for the image of Satan is appropriate for two reasons: First, Constantine used both the right-side-up and upside-down stars on his shield to represent the triumph of good and the defeat of evil with his famous phrase “In Hoc Signo Vinces” (By this standard you will conquer). Second, during the Middle Ages, Christians would chalk the upside-down star on their doors, meaning Christ Crucified was within and the devil had better leave because Jesus already had their souls.
By a cultural inertia the upside-down star eventually became the face of Satan.
Paul Laffoley: Structured Singularities. Kent Fine Art, New York, 1989.
Paul Laffoley: The Tree of Sephiroth and Other Drawings. Kent Gallery, New York, 1999.
Time Phase X. Kent Gallery, New York, 2005.
Chasing Napoleon. Palais de Tokyo, Paris, 2009. Curated by Marc-Olivier Wahler.
Laffoley, Paul. The Phenomenology of Revelation. Edited by Jeanne Marie Wasilik. New York: Kent Fine Art, 1989, ill. p. 85.
Laffoley, Paul. “The Phenomenology of Revelation.” Interview by Richard Metzger. In Disinformation: The Interviews. New York: The Disinformation Company, 2002, ill. p. 38.
Paul Laffoley: Time Phase X. New York: Kent Gallery, 2005, ill. p. 31.