This article first appeared on VICE India
“Masturbate before you come,” Synyster* told me. “We want you to be calm before the ritual.”
The "ritual" was to be a Satanic initiation rite in the unlikely setting of the outskirts of Aligarh—a city in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Synyster, a 24-year-old who goes by his pseudonym, assured me that the ritual his cult created would be a “mild” experience, suitable for a beginner.
“Take a bath,” Synyster said. “Wear black clothes and some perfume. Bring five candles, some incense sticks, a silver chalice, a small bell and a shaving blade."
“A shaving blade?”
“For your blood. If you are reluctant, bring a living organism to sacrifice: a lizard or a mouse.”
I asked if I could bring a syringe instead. "It would tarnish the sanctity of the ritual,” he said sarcastically, “but sure.”
A sleepy, conservative city in a state governed by a Hindu yogi, Aligarh has a 42 percent Muslim population and a small but visible Christian minority. And, as I discovered through a chance message from an old schoolmate, a determined bunch of devil worshippers.
From time to time, reports of “Satanic activities” crop up in India, mostly in places with a strong church presence, such as Kerala, Mizoram, and Nagaland. The Vatican’s news service expressed fears about the threat after an incident in Cochin in 2013. For the most part, though, Satanism in India seems to be an affect—a blend of goth aesthetic and interest in the occult that has less to do with the country’s indigenous occult practices, and more to do with Hollywood films like Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist.
The existence of a cult in Aligarh is a whispered rumour in my friend circles. How much is truth and how much exaggeration remains difficult to prove. Though Synyster claims there are hundreds of members in the cult, I could find only about 12 people who were open about their beliefs or had participated in “rituals” at various times. They write Facebook posts that celebrate death and decay and upload photographs with their arms slashed and blood oozing out of their body parts.
The genesis of Synyster’s group was simple: a bunch of school friends, who began dabbling in Satanism about 10 years ago, creating their own rituals by using elements they found in books and from their personal lives.
The thin, short and soft-spoken man considers his Muslim family to be relatively progressive: they sent him to a co-ed school run by Catholics, allowed him to pursue his interest in poetry, and tolerated his buddies, with their nails painted black.
But however open-minded, Synyster said, his family would never understand the things he and his friends did as adolescents.
Synyster and the other the young men I met in Aligarh claim to have dug corpses out of cemeteries, given each other human skulls as birthday presents, and drunk blood from these skulls. They say they broke into churches, desecrated the Bible, and inverted the Holy Cross. Synyster showed me some of the faded scars on his body, carved by himself and his friends using knives. “You can see the signs of an inverted cross on my arms," he said. "Here is 666. And then there is a triangle.”
They befriended Naga sadhus and stole skulls from aghori tantric drug dealers. They cut open lizards and crows and spiders, mixed animal remains with tobacco and smoked it up. They say they fed their own flesh to their followers.
Gathering the Flock
Aligarh’s alleged satanic cult started with four students at an elite Aligarh school: Synyster, Necronemesis, Doctor and Professor*.
“We grew averse to Aligarh’s conservative culture,” Synyster told me. “We disliked the prevalent goondaism and too much stress on religion. We didn’t want be like the ones who just rode on bikes, spent their time near the Women’s College and eve-teased the female students.”
They set up an “ashram” near Chherat, a village about 10 kilometres north of Aligarh. “We interacted with the villagers and sadhus. They would make chillums for us,” said Synyster. “It was just us, away from the world.” They spent their days together at the ashram, a tiny hut in green farmlands they describe as “aesthetically pleasing and close to nature.” Synyster told me that at one point, they were spending more time in their isolated abode than their homes. “Our clothes and even toothbrush was there.”
His family would have seen this as a rebellion against the established norms of the society. They sometimes barred him from going out at night and advised him away from people they considered unscrupulous but Synyster began to question these restrictions. “Aren’t they people like us?”
Though Synyster, Necronemesis, Doctor and Professor studied in different colleges, they found time to meet, and to attract others to their cause. It’s hard to say how many “followers” were simply people buying into a goth aesthetic as adolescents. Synyster, who is fascinated by numbers like 13, 33 and 666, told me, “Our cult is now just 13 percent as powerful as it used to be. At its peak three years ago, it had 13,000 followers." (Aligarh doesn’t even have that many Christians.) “Now it will be just around 333.”
A former classmate of the core leaders, who said he was afraid to use his real name, told me that the Satanists used to come to school with black nail-paint, eye-shadow, and weird hairstyles. “They were referred as ‘devil worshippers’ or ‘illuminati’. When they walked through the corridors, it was impossible to miss them,” he said.
“Most of the people either considered them fools or people waylaid by Satan. Some said to not give them any attention, while the devout ones were confident that Allah will show them the right path,” he added.
But others were attracted to the group. One of the members, “V” is tall, handsome 23-year-old who joined the group after clearing his board exams. He’s now studying engineering, and idolises the Serbian-American inventor Nicola Tesla, but has fond memories of his involvement in the “cult.”
“We used to download and read books by Aleister Crowley,” V said, describing the English occultist as “the world’s wickedest person.” Shunning American music, they listened to European bands like Burzum, Opeth, Mayhem, A Forest of Stars, Necrobutcher and Sledgehammer. “Even Putin listens to Opeth,” he said.
V once stole a human skull from an aghori tantrik and gifted it to Necronemesis on his birthday. “After seeing what was inside, he hugged me and said this was the best gift he ever received," V told me.
According to him, the boys’ parents are often busy working, as teachers, professors, doctors, or engineers abroad, he said. “Most of our friends had rich, educated parents who didn’t have time for their children,” he said. “The kids took advantage of this.” His own father died when he was in kindergarten.
“Some among us were suffering from various disorders.” he said. “A few are still undergoing therapy and rehabilitation.” In their ashram, the boys found a sense of community. “We accepted each other as we are,” he said.
The philosophy of the “blood brothers” is based on a combination of ideas derived from satanic literature, religious texts, paganism, the popular art and fortuities—the sign that they say universe keeps throwing to them about the existence of forces that created it.
Last year, I met Necronemesis, now 24, a dark skinny man with shoulder-length hair and blank eyes and the de facto leader of the cult, in his family home in an affluent neighbourhood in northern part of the city, where most of the “blood brothers” are from. Slightly disconnected from the rest of the city by a railway line, Necronemesis and his friends called this area the “New Aligarh”.
His room had black walls decorated with half-burnt pages of the Bible, an electric guitar, an animal bone hanging from the ceiling, a skull, an inverted cross and a Shiva linga. Necronemesis, he said, meant a dark messiah with supernatural abilities: an agent of death. “A necronemesis can bring disaster even in his sleep, just by thinking of it,” he said.
Necronemesis said he was perpetually in search of wisdom and knowledge. “I read a lot of books and began to reject the things which didn’t seem right to me. I have a collection of such books. I yearned for the dark stuff.” The books in his room included the “The Satanic Bible” by Anton Szandor LaVey and Salman Rushdie’s “Midnight’s Children”.
The same applied to drugs. He started smoking weed as a teenager, and was soon using heroin. There’s an algae-covered pond in what he calls the “Barren Lands” near his home, where Necronemesis would go to study Satanic literature and shoot up. “With heroin in my bloodstream, I lie on the rocks and stare at the starry skies," he said. "I swim in the pond sometimes.”
As the sound of azaan floated over from a nearby mosque, he snorted a line and told me to play “To Die Alone” by the Norwegian band Veil. (He said his favourite metal subgenre is depressive suicidal black metal.) “Religion is a set of rules anyone can write,” he remarked. “I can write them better.” He lit a cigarette. “There is a whole army of Muslims who are disturbed that we worship Satan,” he claimed.
BlackLeg, 22, claimed he was part of an offshoot sub-cult with at least 20 followers. “I have the power to manipulate them and bring them to dark side through drugs,” he boasted. BlackLeg said he was introduced to the dark side when someone put a spell on his father when he was five years old. When he was in eighth standard, he participated in his first ritual—”an eye-shift.” Then drugs and music, especially thrash metal, entered his life. In tenth standard, he participated in a “blood oath”, pledging his allegiance to the ideology.
For him, Satanism is not “a religion”. “In its essence, it’s about worshipping yourself,” he said. He said there’s no conflict between his beliefs and those of his religious girlfriend.
BlackLeg’s philosophical view of Satanism contrasts with some of the things V said his group participated in. “We did everything,” V told me, “from desecrating holy books to asking people to stand on the Quran, to test their devotion. Some of us did that, while the weaker ones refused.”
But over the years, the core group and others dissipated. Some dropped out of Aligarh Muslim University, while others struggled to finish their courses in private institutions, their studies interrupted by visits to drug rehabilitation centres. One set of parents found a skeleton in their son’s room. Another member was thrown out of his home after painting a Nazi swastika on his bedroom wall. Synyster’s parents eventually sent him to study in Lucknow.
Those who did go on to careers distanced themselves from the group. Doctor and Professor didn’t want to be interviewed.
Synyster blamed some of the new followers for diluting the original message. They were “wannabes,” he said, “drawn to the black attire, nail paint, eye shadow, knuckle-rings and lockets.” He added, “The new millennials began to interpret things their own way and made drugs into a business. It went out of our control.”
I asked Synyster if I could witness a ritual, which is how I found myself on the back of his motorcycle on an evening. When we arrived at the “barren lands,” it was just the two of us. “I’ve found a bone,” Synyster said. “It’s a sign.”
He drew a pentagram inside two concentric circles, placed five candles on the vertices and a chalice in the center. Alongside, he made a cross, and ordered me to stand in the middle of it. He put on a skull mask, which covered the lower half of his face.
In an eerie voice, Synyster pointed once in each cardinal direction and spoke four times:
“Hail Lord Lucifer.”
“Hail Lord Beelzebub.”
“Hail Lord Abazgaroth.”
“Hail Lord Iblis.”
“Concentrate on the sound of the bell,” he said, and began chanting lines that could have been lifted from The Craft: “Praise thy Lord Lucifer who created us in His own image. Please accept me as I have come to thee. Tell your hellhounds to accompany me. Tell them to treat me like a brother.”
He inserted a syringe in his hand and dropped a few drops of his blood in the chalice. “O' Lord Lucifer, please accept the sacrifice.”
I’d gone along out of a sense of curiosity, but being out there with just Synyster seemed kind of creepy and I wanted to be done with it. He finished the ritual and put his mask on my face. “You are now one among us,” he said, then left me somewhere on the road nearby.
*Sources used pseudonyms.
Follow Zeyad Masroor Khan on Twitter.
This article originally appeared on VICE IN.