Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Black Mass

Blasphemous rite allegedly carried out by Satanists (see Satanism). The BM was distinguished from the Sabbats supposedly celebrated by Witches as a result of the "Chambre Ardente" affair of 1679, when Louis XIV's mistress Madame de Montespan was alleged to have been a client of Satanists involved in such ceremonies. It was adopted for dramatic purposes by the Hell-Fire Clubs of the 18th century. Whether such rites actually figured in the repertoire of the French lifestyle fantasists who dabbled in occultism in the late 19th century – as vividly depicted in J K Huysmans's quasi-documentary novel Là-Bas (1891) – is unclear, but that novel set an important precedent enthusiastically followed by many 20th-century writers wishing to cash in on the innate melodrama of the notion. Examples can be found in E F Benson's Colin II (1925), Dion Fortune's The Winged Bull (1935) and several novels by Dennis Wheatley. The most effective use of the motif is perhaps "The Earlier Service" (1935) by Margaret Irwin. A Scholarly Fantasy detailing the "history" of the black mass is The Satanic Mass (1954) by H T F Rhodes. [BS]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.