Weird History

The Gruesome History Of The Black Mass  

Genevieve Carlton
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Ranker Video Gruesome Black Mass Ritual

The black mass is a mysterious, gruesome ritual with a long history. Rumors and legends about the black mass date back to at least the 4th century. The historical black mass ritual usually featured demon worshipping, "the shameful kiss," cross trampling, and group sexual relations. The modern black mass involves the performance of the mass on the body of a naked virgin lying on an altar - right before the priest copulates with her. 

Questions - like "what happens during a black mass?" and "how is black mass celebrated?" - surround the mysterious ritual. But just as Satanism isn't exactly what it seems, how to perform a black mass depends on whom you ask. There are a number of elements that are the same at nearly every black mass, including desecrating Christian symbols and deviant sexual behavior.

Medieval Christians claimed that thousands of women were having intercourse with demons during black masses. And thousands confessed to participating in them. Even more disturbing stories involved consuming bodily fluids - a practice that Aleister Crowley, "the wickedest man in the world," revived in the 20th century. It doesn't get more gruesome than the black mass, in which there was even a recipe for cooking babies.

Black Masses Were An Inversion Of Catholic Mass, So Instead Of Bread And Wine, They Ate Male And Female Bodily Fluids
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Photo: BurgererSF/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

As early as the 4th century, Christians were writing about evil rituals that debased the Catholic Mass. Epiphanius of Salamis wrote that one sect called the Borborites practiced all sorts of dark and disturbing rituals during their unholy black mass. They collected menstrual blood to replace the Eucharist, claiming it was the true blood and body of Christ. Epiphanius wrote that they "take the unclean menstrual blood they gather from [women], and eat it." As part of their deviant sexual rituals, during the group relations, men would finish and then the group would "absorb the seeds of their dirt" by "eating the dirty stuff themselves."

For centuries after Epiphanius's writings, descriptions of black masses circulated among Christians. Tales included fantastical magic that involved flying or calling up demons, and the rituals almost always had a sexual element. The key to the black mass, though, was the inversion of the liturgical mass - black masses twisted and defiled traditions, like how the Borborites reportedly consumed one another's liquid byproducts.

Eating Babies Was Part Of The Black Mass Ritual
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Photo:  Wellcome Images/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 4.0

Epiphanius didn't stop at bodily fluids with his 4th-century description of a black mass. He also claimed that the rituals always included deviant sexual acts. "They have [intercourse] all the time and commit fornication," Epiphanius wrote. And sometimes, the group relations went even further. If a woman ever got pregnant, the Borborites would cannibalize the infant. 

According to Epiphanius, the Borborites would "extract the fetus at the stage which is appropriate for their enterprise, take this aborted infant, and cut it up in a trough with a pestle. And they mix honey, pepper, and certain other perfumes and spices with it." After mixing up their fetus stew, the participants would gather, and "each [would eat] a piece of the child with his fingers." Epiphanius claimed that the Borborites compared this to Passover.

Witches Had Black Masses To Worship Satan Where They Practiced The 'Osculum Infame'
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Photo: Compendium Maleficarum/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

By the 14th century, the stories about black masses transformed into tales of witches' Sabbaths. Just like the purported earlier black masses, witches inverted Catholic rituals by worshipping Satan instead of God. Another holdover from earlier black masses was the osculum infame, also called "the obscene kiss" or "the shameful kiss."

During the ceremony, witches would kiss the Devil on his anus. 

A Naked Virgin Would Lie On The Altar For A Black Mass
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Photo: Martin van Maële/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

As dozens of images show, the black mass was to be performed on the naked body of a woman - preferably a virgin. One book reports that "the first requirement in the celebration of the Black Mass is a virgin, naked, spread-eagled on the 'altar' and the climax is reached when the officiating priest performs the sexual act with her." There are also a number of more modern reports of black masses featuring naked virgins.

In 1889, one reporter wrote that the mass was said on the bare body of a woman stretched on the altar. Dating back to the 4th century, black masses always had a reputation for "unnatural" sexual acts, which might explain the insistence that a naked virgin was an integral part of the ceremony.