“Ancillary”: 1. providing necessary support to the primary activities or operation of an organization, institution, industry, or system. (google)(my emphasis)
It is one of my primary theses in this blog that reviewing lyrics and focusing on album art and music videos can provide almost essential hints to fully apprehending the music. “Support to the primary activity” of listening to the music itself.
I’ve only listened to Ghost for one year, after hating on them five times as long (I thought they were typical over-hyped Swedish bearers of retro mediocrity; indeed, I ignored that scene so vehemently that I didn’t even realize that the “non guttural male vocals” bore no relationship to the blighted “clean singing” of ’00s emo and metalcore).
I don’t have the answer to the ways that Ghost can be employed for spiritual gain, other than for the strictly “rock & roll” -style Dionysian sentimentality and nostalgia I already mentioned (invoking this Dionysian sentimentality is one of the highest arts, very close to the highest when done right– so mind you I am not marginalizing that meaning). I do know that we could gain a lot from paying attention to the lyrics. If you do a search for the phrase “the meaning and interpretation of the band Ghost”, you’ll get some thought-provoking hits. In response to a question about the lyrics “I was carried on a wolf’s back / Here to corrupt humanity / I will pummel it with opulence / With corpulence and greed / In god you trust” (“Mummy Dust”), one person pointed out:
Thomas Aquinas (Dominican Priest in the 13th century) described the son of greed (avarice) as “Mammon being carried up from Hell by a wolf, coming to inflame the human heart with Greed” (Reddit)
Other commentators described how “mummy dust” is a term akin to “snake oil”, something of illusory value, and relate the idea to the entire enterprise of Catholicism, or the stock market. I prefer the simpler, deconstructed explanation in the Reddit blurb above– it’s about cash money. Make it rain at the belly dancing club, and sniff up all that mummy dust, because those nice linens aren’t coming with you to the next life.
I was quite impressed with the erudition of my fellow Ghost fans. I myself don’t have any such insights into the meaning of Ghost lyrics to add, though I will interpret one theme. Like Huntress, Ghost released a “trilogy” of sorts. Both bands released the second installment of their respective trilogies in 2013 and third in 2015. I would refer you to a 2013 interview with Pitchfork:
Pitchfork: How does the new album connect to the last one? Can you discuss the title and the other Latin phrases?
Papa: The first album was about an impending doom, whereas the new album is about the presence of the Devil. The title, Infestissumam, means “the biggest threat” and refers literally to the arrival of the Antichrist, but what it is also is about is what man has traditionally regarded as diabolical presence– namely female form and swagger.
Pitchfork: You say that the first record is kind of building up to the Antichrist in a way and then the new record is the Antichrist or Satan in the every day. Is that the idea?
NG: Yes. That’s basically what I’m talking about. Everything on the first record was about a coming darkness, an impending doom. Whereas the new record is about something present, and literally, the new record deals with the presence of the Anti-Christ, the Devil. But subliminally, the meaning of it is more how mankind– predominantly men– what they have deemed to be the presence of the Devil, throughout history and even nowadays. And that’s why the record is so fueled with sexual themes and females. That’s basically it, the Inquisition was basically men accusing women of being the Devil just because they had a hard-on for them. That was basically that.
So there you have it. On their second album, Ghost references the Goddess through the lens of scared Christian hordes who would vilify Her as the Anti-Christ. We could argue that someone like the lead singer of Huntress, on the other hand– with her long legs and sharp claws– very well is that Goddess. In that capacity, Ghost ushers out the old with hymns of reminiscence, while Huntress heralds a new way of seeing things. Huntress is a band embedding passion, ancient wisdom and beauty into musical notes like never before. Mainlining raw punk energy and idealism, they are utterly in the present; the obverse of the Popestars’ nostalgia.
If you take the Anti-Christ in Ghost as a representation of anima/yin/feminine power, then the Jill-Janus-as-Rockstar entity is that figurative Anti-Christ. On the other hand, if you take the Goddess as a supernatural entity, well, one might still argue that Jill is the literal embodiment of that entity.
Admittedly there are other perspectives. I do believe that certain key members of the Decibel and maybe Terrorizer camp (representing an entire metalhead demographic) are in love with bands that are genuinely Satanic in a more traditional sense. Maybe that’s why The Devil’s Blood were held in higher esteem by those publications than the pagan Blood Ceremony. Since both bands are amazing, I used to assume that a seemingly nonsensical bias like that could only be explained by some personal connection between artist and journalist that would disqualify any claim to objectivity. But a couple years later, and after the whole Ghost hysteria, I think it is something different. I think it really is about ideas. That would also go a long way towards explaining the obsession with the most musically-irredeemable strains of black metal. After all, that “we are completely fucked” is not a totally unreasonable conclusion to arrive at– maybe some people really believe that anything human or sentimental at all is a distraction from the task at hand. [EDIT, 10/4/16. I re-wrote this paragraph after the brilliance of The Devil’s Blood revealed itself to me one very late night. I had previously marginalized the band. See upcoming post “I Am An Idiot”, and also “The Dialectical Process”.]
I don’t know if there are members of Ghost who visualize themselves as reciting invocations to some actual otherworldly entity. What is an otherworldly entity? What does the word “is” even mean? Are prayers to an absent deity sometimes intercepted by other entities? Old Ones, new ones? Do our thoughts and external reality form a feedback loop that defies explanation by Newtonian physics? And is there a separate world beyond the sevenfold veil of color that our human eyes are attuned to?
That’s a discussion for another day. What matters is that there isn’t a label on the album that says “Satan Music”. The fact of the matter is that I really don’t know what is held in the hearts of the performers, and that may be the point. Ghost tip-toes around invocations of both the juvenile and the frighteningly real variety. In the meantime, by way of legerdemain and raw skill, they entertain us with the “good” (and societally-approved) kind of devil worship: the worship of individuality and freedom.