1890s flyer for a talk in Paris by Léo Taxil, part of a lengthy campaign in which he “exposed”– or in truth, made up– connections between Freemasonry, Satanism and other esoterica of the kind that still exercises simple-minded conspiracy theorists to this day. Taxil or his printer has appropriated occultist Eliphas Levi’s already iconic image of Baphomet (not Satan).
One pretty obvious tip-off should have been that he was already well-known as a disillusioned former Catholic who’d written satirical, mocking books about the evident absurdities, incongruities and logical errors present in Church doctrine and in the Bible, particularly if one took the Bible literally. One of his books was called The Amusing Bible. In the 1880s he alighted on some already existent conspiracy theories about Freemasonry, then spent over ten years puffing them up into grand accusations about the worship of Satan in modern Paris. He had a huge and lasting influence on popular Western culture, though unfortunately most people don’t know that he was making fun of the credulous and didn’t for one moment believe that evil fraternities ruled the world in cahoots with Satan. Taxil’s still sometimes cited in crank texts as an “authority” on occultism or Masons. The image of Baphomet was re-appropriated to Anton La Vey’s little club of genuine Satanists in the 20th century via Arthur Waite, via Taxil; many of their Satanist practices were actually made up originally by Taxil as well. Future founder of Scientology L. Ron Hubbard, Aleister Crowley and the pioneering rocket scientist Jack Parsons were also involved to various degrees in Satanism or occultism created in reality from Taxil’s fiction. I think I need a flowchart or something. Probably not until H.P. Lovecraft was there another individual who so inadvertently and yet so thoroughly provided a gateway for fiction to seep through into the real world.
Taxil was nearly lynched by a Catholic audience in Paris when he revealed that he’d been taking the mickey, thereby finding out that satire and subtlety are wasted on most people; even he had underestimated the gullibility and confirmation bias of the ostentatiously religious, and also their fury at having their pet conspiracy theories attacked with logic. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.