"On the northern shore of the lake, right under the precipitous cliffs on which the modern village of Nemi is perched, stood the sacred grove and sanctuary of Diana Nemorensis, or Diana of the Wood. The lake and the grove were sometimes known as the lake and grove of Aricia. But the town of Aricia (the modern La Riccia) was situated about three miles off, at the foot of the Alban Mount, and separated by a steep descent from the lake, which lies in a small crater-like hollow on the mountain side. In this sacred grove there grew a certain tree round which at any time of the day, and probably far into the night, a grim figure might be seen to prowl. In his hand he carried a drawn sword, and he kept peering warily about him as if at every instant he expected to be set upon by an enemy. He was a priest and a murderer; and the man for whom he looked was sooner or later to murder him and hold the priesthood in his stead. Such was the rule of the sanctuary. A candidate for the priesthood could only succeed to office by slaying the priest, and having slain him, he retained office till he was himself slain by a stronger or a craftier.
The post which he held by this precarious tenure carried with it the title of king; but surely no crowned head ever lay uneasier, or was visited by more evil dreams, than his. For year in, year out, in summer and winter, in fair weather and in foul, he had to keep his lonely watch, and whenever he snatched a troubled slumber it was at the peril of his life. The least relaxation of his vigilance, the smallest abatement of his strength of limb or skill of fence, put him in jeopardy; grey hairs might seal his death-warrant. To gentle and pious pilgrims at the shrine the sight of him might well seem to darken the fair landscape, as when a cloud suddenly blots the sun on a bright day. The dreamy blue of Italian skies, the dappled shade of summer woods, and the sparkle of waves in the sun, can have accorded but ill with that stern and sinister figure. Rather we picture to ourselves the scene as it may have been witnessed by a belated wayfarer on one of those wild autumn nights when the dead leaves are falling thick, and the winds seem to sing the dirge of the dying year. It is a sombre picture, set to melancholy music--the background of forest showing black and jagged against a lowering and stormy sky, the sighing of the wind in the branches, the rustle of the withered leaves under foot, the lapping of the cold water on the shore, and in the foreground, pacing to and fro, now in twilight and now in gloom, a dark figure with a glitter of steel at the shoulder whenever the pale moon, riding clear of the cloud-rack, peers down at him through the matted boughs".
Sir James George Frazer - The Golden Bough
Of course, the fiery sacrifice of Fantoft Stavkirke - an 800-year old wooden church, one of the national treasures of Norway - conferred cold and glittering prestige in the Norwegian Black Metal scene of the early nineties on Kristian 'Varg' Vikernes, the man behind one-man Black Metal band Burzum.
But another sacrificial crime, another act of destruction, brought him supreme glory (in the dual forms of adoration and hatred) in the world of Black Metal fandom: his murder of Øystein Aarseth on August 10th, 1993.
Aarseth functioned as the priestly king of the Norwegian Black Metal scene.
Like an infernal pope taking on a regnal and religious name at his inauguration, Aarseth had taken on the name of Euronymous - in all probability the first to take on such a sacronym in the scene.
Aarseth behaved with all the pomp and circumstance of a hierophant. "When talking, he seemed stern and serious, sometimes with a pomposity verging on the theatrical".
The record store Aarseth opened - 'Helvete', which means 'Hell' in Norwegian - functioned as scene's Holy of Holies, as it's Tabernacle. It's function was not economical in nature: on the contrary, Helvete only lost money. The shop was in fact far too large for it to function successfully as a specialist record store. Because of the size of the shop, Euronymous had to expend much more on the rent than he could ever hope to recoup through record sales. Rather than functioning as an economical enterprise, Helvete was Black Metal's temenos.
The position of Euronymous within the scene can be likened to that of an anthropological 'culture hero' . From an interview with a contemporary of Aarseth in 'Lords Of Chaos':
"The opening of the record store Helvete happened a few months after [Dead's suicide]. That's the creation of the whole Norwegian Black Metal scene - it's connected with that shop, the influence Euronymous had on the young customers in the shop, and how he convinced them what was real and not real in this world. A lot of the guys in Immortal and Dark Throne were all into normal Death Metal and Euronymous showed them what Black Metal was really like, how things should be, and they followed him. (...) The whole Norwegian scene is based on Euronymous and his testimony from this shop. He convinced them what was right and what was wrong. He was always telling what he thought, following his own instincts to the true Black Metal stuff like corpsepaint and spikes, worshiping death, and being extreme".
Euronymous - though not a murderer - was involved in a killing himself: the suicide of his friend Per Yngve Ohlin, who had taken on the fitting name of 'Dead'. Not content with taking photographs of Ohlin's remains, Euronymous took more trophies, appropriating pieces of the suicide's skull to make them into talismanic necklaces which were distributed amongst the initiated. From Wikipedia: "It is also rumored that pieces of his skull were mailed out to bands that Aarseth saw as "worthy", such as the Swiss band Samael. According to Mayhem drummer Hellhammer, Morgan S. Håkansson of Marduk still has some pieces of Dead's skull. Tony Särkkä of Abruptum also claims to have small pieces". What's more, Euronymous is said to have eaten some of Ohlin's brain. Of course, eating his fellow creature was not a gastronomical pursuit: like making the talismanic necklaces, this 'consumation charnelle' was an act of a ritual nature. The transgression of the taboo of cannibalism gained Euronymous prestige as a Priest-Cannibal-King.
In 'Lords Of Chaos' various witnesses stress how much of an impression Euronymous made on Kristian 'Varg' Vikernes. Vikernes's mother on her son's relationship to Aarseth:
"I met him a couple of times and felt that Varg initially looked up to him a lot. He was very proud that he was the one who had gotten the record contract and not the others. That Øystein, who was five years older, achieved such an enormously strong grip on Varg, made me a little wary".
But young Vikernes's fascination with Euronymous slowly transformed into envy, that strange brew of attraction and repulsion. Bård Eithun in 'Lords of Chaos':
"Vikernes was very much into making war with Øystein. He didn't like him anymore, because obviously Øystein got more attention in the underground scene than Vikernes, and he couldn't handle it".
Insahn in the same book:
"To some degree I think it was a fight for leadership. In some way they both wanted power, and to be the leading man. They had both done a lot; Grishnackh started the church burning, but Euronymous had the shop and kind of started the scene up. They were both important people for the progression of the scene. Maybe I'm speculating too much".
Like in the sacred grove and sanctuary of Diana Nemorensis, Vikernes, who saw himself as a candidate for the Black Metal's hierophancy, could only succeed to office by slaying the high priest, by sacrificing Euronymous.
When interpreted as an attempt to ascend to the throne of Euronymous as a symbolical figurehead of the Black Metal scene, the murder of Euronymous was a sucesss.
Vikernes demanded and got huge attention in the media, as the documentary 'Satan Rir Media' shows; young girls clad in black blushed and giggled when Vikernes was in the stocks. As is documented extensively in 'Lords of Chaos' and on Vikernes's website, Vikernes thinks of himself as both a spiritual leader and a king, sermonizing like a priest about fascist beliefs and his theophany concerning nazi viking robots from outer space.
Imprisoned for a 21-year sentence, Vikernes is as disturbed as the Priest-Murderer-King of Francis Ford Coppola's 'Apocalypse Now' - and any careful viewer of that film will have seen Frazer's "The Golden Bough" lying on Kurtz's bedside table.
A number of prominent Black Metal adepts have sworn to avenge Aarseth's death on the day Vikernes is released from prison - supposedly in april 2008. Like the Priest-Murderer of the sacred grove at Nemi, Vikernes will have to be watchful day and night. "The least relaxation of his vigilance, the smallest abatement of his strength of limb or skill of fence, [will] put him in jeopardy".
If Vikernes is indeed killed, it can be presumed that the killer - if he becomes publicly known as such - will gain prestige in at least a sizable part of the Black Metal Inner Circle. Will he also succeed Vikernes as the current Priest-Murderer-King of Black Metal? Only time will tell.