Readers, please enjoy this guest blog post by Aaron Leitch, author of several books, including Secrets of the Magickal Grimoires, The Angelical Language Volume I and Volume II, and Essential Enochian Grimoire.
So when it rains it poursâ€”even if it’s raining fire and brimstone! Just a few months ago, at the Florida Pagan Gathering, I gave one of the most unique lectures I have ever given. It was called, “Why are Satan, Hell, and Demons in the Grimoires?” It explored the question of why in the world a bunch of magickal texts, written by devout Christians during the medieval and renaissance eras, would so often focus upon satanic subject matter. Rather, that is, than focusing exclusively upon angels and Jesus. But, more than that, it explored the supreme importance of the underworld and chthonic entities to shamanism and occultism throughout history, when and how the West lost contact with the underworld, yet how it remains vital in our work even today.
It perhaps goes without saying that it is rare to attend a Pagan festival where you can sit and listen to a lecture that includes talk of Satan, the Bible, and Christian tradition. But what really made this lecture unique was how very well it was received. It was, hands-down, my most well-attended lecture in some time, and everyone had a blast. We explored subject matter that is usually considered entirely taboo, even for Pagans (maybe especially for Pagansâ€”read on), yet the entire crowd was engaged and eager to learn the obscure history of chthonic occultismâ€”but with the subject approached without a veneer of “Dark N’ Scary” fluff. At the time, I considered this a wonderful signâ€”and it’s not the first time I’ve whipped out my Bible for a lecture at the Pagan festivals. Pagans are changing, friendsâ€”it’s not like it was back in the 90s.
Now, I have not published that lecture, and I have not given it anywhere else (outside of my Templeâ€”and I did that only a few days ago), so I can in no way take credit for what has happened since. Apparently, it was simply time to Satan in the Neopagan communitiesâ€”and Satan it has! First, we have this bold article written by Pat Mosley, asking whether or not Satan should be invited (back??) into modern Paganism. It has created something of a storm; in part via a bunch of blog responses (either for or against) such as this one, this one, and even this guy over here (though he’s always going on about this very subject). And, perhaps it is needless to say, it has also created a ton of quite emotional comments and responses.
You should certainly go read Mr. Mosley’s article, but I can sum up his argument here: The figure of Satan is not purely a Christian invention, it is merely their version of the Pagan Horned God (drawn largely from imagery associated with Pan, and I’ll add drawn from Hades as well). He also points out that Satanists and Pagans haven’t always been at odds with one another, and in fact once freely associatedâ€”that is, until Neopaganism became a growing public movement, and it became necessary to distance ourselves from Satanism and any kind of satanic imagery. In 1974, the (now-defunct) Council of American Witches published their Principles of Wiccan Belief that states: “We do not accept the concept of absolute evil, nor do we worship any entity known as ‘Satan’ or ‘the Devil,’ as defined by Christian tradition.”
He points out (rightly so) that many Pagans took the low-road during the dark days of the “Satanic Panic” (a period in the 1970s and 80s where perfectly grown people believed, en mass, that Satanists had established child abuse rings in day care centers around the entire globe). Satanists are easy targets for accusations of crime, and of course any wannabe occultist who kills someone and gets caught is proclaimed a Satanist. And while the Satanic Panic was in full swing (and, really, even before and afterward), Neopagans have been quick to declare “We aren’t those dirty evil Satanists! That’s them over there! Get em!” It is a part of our history that should rightfully make all Pagans ashamed, because Satanists have never been what Christians or the media pretends they are. We should be pointing that out, instead of pointing fingers.
Yet, as Mosley also rightly points out, it was probably necessary to distance Wicca and Neopaganism from Satanism in the public eye, especially when the feces was flying over “Satanic ritual abuse.” Jobs, homes, and families were being lost or broken over Paganism and witchcraftâ€”even as late as the 1990s. You all have The Craft, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Charmed, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and, most especially, Harry Potter to thank for the fact that you can (in most places) safely wear your Pentagram in public and call yourself a Witch. In previous decades, that simply wasn’t the case. Even I once lost a job because someone saw my Pentagram and decided they didn’t like itâ€”and that was many years after the Satanism thing had been forgotten.
So, here we are in the post-Potter future, and Mr. Mosley wants to know if it’s really necessary to distance ourselves from Satan and Satanism any longer. On one hand, just look at what the Satanists are out there doing for all of us at this very moment. They have this absolutely beautiful statue of Baphometâ€”and every time the fundamentalist Christians attempt to use “religious freedom” to push their own faith on the public, the Satanists show up with Baphomet (and stacks of Satanist pamphlets) to demand equal consideration. In every case, the Christians quickly change their minds and retreat. (So it’s suddenly not ok to hand out religious pamphlets at schools? I see…) Yeah, those Satanists are my heroes. You don’t see any Wiccans doing thatâ€”but I’m not shaking my finger at Wiccans here. Such protests require shock value, so this really is a job for the Satanistsâ€”you go guys!
Another important point is one I mentioned above: the Satanists have a bad reputation, but it’s not deserved. (Except for their contamination by Ayn Rand and her sociopathic Objectivism. Perhaps they will eventually mature beyond that.) Contrary to what the media would have you believe, Satanists do not spend their time murdering kitty cats or abusing children. To be perfectly honest, every Satanist I’ve met was actually a pretty nice personâ€”they just happen to be into dark imagery and generally enjoy the look on people’s faces when they declare themselves a “Satanist.” And if you happen to meet a member of LaVey’s Satanic Church (or any of it’s offshoots), then you are likely dealing with a hard-core atheist who doesn’t even believe in a “Satan.” They simply use Satan as a symbol for sex, fun, drugs and the enjoyment of life (again, see Pan)â€”and as a symbol of their rebellion against fundamentalist Christianity’s skewed values.
However, it is not Mosley’s attempt to generate sympathy for the Devil (see what I did there?) that has generated the emotional response from Neopagans. Instead, it is his comparison of Satan to the Wiccan Horned God, and the values of Satanism and Paganism, and his suggestion that Neopagans should perhaps open their arms to the Satanists and accept them as part of the greater Pagan family. I see two things going on here, which need to be firmly separated. On one hand, there is the idea that Satanists are not that bad, are not (as people) that far removed from Pagans, and we should probably start looking at them as brothers instead of boogeymen. With this I fully agree (If only they could overcome that Rand bullshit!), and to their credit I haven’t yet seen a Pagan say anything bad about the Satanists as people.
No, the emotional responses have all been on the other issue: whether or not Satan (as a figure) should be adopted into Paganismâ€”even Wicca. If I were to attempt to sum up the negative responses, it would be that “Satan”â€”as a Christian conceptâ€”does not work outside of a dualist cosmology that accepts the existence of “good” and “evil,” along with the concept of an “ultimate source” for that evil somewhere outside the heart of mankind. As the Council of American Witches correctly pointed out, Wiccan cosmology possesses none of these things.
I can understand where the Wiccans are coming from. Mosley focuses upon the Pagan origins of Satanâ€”which are very realâ€”and suggests this means we should accept Satan (back) into the Pagan pantheon. In rebuttal, however, I must point out that the fundamentalist Satan is, intentionally, a corruption of Pagan concepts. Pan represented lust and drunkenness and parties and fun, but Satan was a twisted negative embodiment of those things. He represents rape and violence and addiction and wasted life. Christians looked at all the enjoyable parts of life, projected them into their worse-case-scenario outcomes, and decided they were all gateways to evil.
It is true that both Satanists and Wiccans are rebelling against that kind of idiocy, each in their own ways. I can clearly see where Mosley is making his comparison. However, why should folks who worship nature desire to adopt a twisted Christian figure to represent nature when they already have The Horned One/Panâ€”who is not only the origin of Satan but comes without all the dualist Christian baggage?
Unless…what if the fundamentalists are wrong about Satan? Yeah, odd concept thatâ€”as they are clearly so “on point” about everything else in the spiritual realm. But, what if the mainstream Christian concept of Satan as the polar opposite of God and Source of All Evil is entirely made-up political nonsense? What if…Mosley was talking about another Satan altogether?
That’s right! There’s a third option here. Mr. Mosley could very well be talking about someone else entirely when he says “Satan.” You see, the Ultimate Evil Satan was created by the Church as a tool of political warfareâ€”to frighten butts into pews (and coins into collection plates) as well as to give every good Christian an excuse to do whatever horrible thing they desiredâ€”because “the Devil made me do it.” It has absolutely no theological support from any Biblical writing; Christians believe it only because Priests and Pastors have harped on it for centuries.
But then there is the folk Satan. The Satan of the common people, and the one described in the grimoires. He is very much akin to the Horned God of Wicca, the Lord of Nature and Spirits. He is the Man of the Crossroads, summoned for divination and favors. He is the trickster. If you draw upon Biblical imagery for him, he is the angel who accuses you of wrongdoing on behalf of God (that’s right, he works for the Big Guy in the Bible) and offers temptations much as Pan did before him. Christian tradition actually establishes Satan as the “god of this world,” in charge of physical reality (again, working for God) until Christ comes to establish a new celestial kingdom.
While Satan is undoubtedly a dangerous figure no matter how you slice him, there exist very elaborate traditions wherein he is not specifically evil. In fact, when Christianity came to a new area, Satan generally just absorbed whatever nature spirit(s) the local people were used to invoking in their spells. If you need to work with an elemental, or faery, or dryad, or gnome, or elf, or any other spirit of nature or the air, then Satan was the guy in charge of them. Where you once called Oberon, now you call Satan. In practical terms, they aren’t that different.
Even today, we can look into traditions like the ATRs (Palo, Voodoo, Candomble, etc.) and find very satanic-looking figures who are invoked for all sorts of practical purposes. For a great example, take a look at images of Baron Samedi in the Voodoo tradition. He’s in charge of the deadâ€”the spirits you call to get things done in the real world. Or consider the importance of the spirit “Lucero” in Palo Mayombe. There, he is the gate-keeper; you have to call him before you can even make contact with another spirit or Orisha. He is also the primary go-to spirit for divination.
This is where guys like me and Jake Stratton Kent come into the pictureâ€”because we are among a growing number of people who are looking into this other Satan character. The folk Satan whoâ€”within the folk Christian tradition (that is, the Christianity of the common people, as opposed to the view of the Church)â€”is simply the guy in charge of the underworld and the spirits of nature who witches regularly invoke. Wiccans call him the Horned One, the old grimoires call him Satanâ€”but it’s basically the same guy. My lecture about Satan’s role in the grimoires focused heavily upon this very subject.
To sum up my thoughts: I think Mr. Mosley makes a good point that Neopagans need to get over the “we aren’t like them!” mindset where it comes to Satanists. Because, in many ways, we do share similar values and social goals (Again, follow that statue of Baphomet and appreciate how they are fighting for your religious freedom!) I do not agree that Wiccans need to, or even should, adopt Satan into their tradition, because they already have a perfectly good Horned One of their own. Yet, I have personally seen evidence that Pagans are, indeed, more willing than ever to take a new look at Satan (and other Christian-based occult subjects) and reconsider how even they view the figure. It’s not an either-or situationâ€”but it sure looks like it was time to have the discussion!
Our thanks to Aaron for his guest post! Visit Aaron Leitch’s author page for more information, including articles and his books.