Neo-Pagan Witchcraft Vs. Satanism: Confusions And Distinctions Essay, Research Paper
Neo-Pagan Witchcraft vs. Satanism:
Confusions and Distinctions
by -***** ****
It seems to be necessary to preface every discussion of Witchcraft with an explanation that, no, Neo-Pagan Witches aren’t Satanists. The Christian anti-God, Satan, has no place in Pagan pantheons, either mythologically or theologically. Plainly and simply, Satanism is the dark side of Christianity, and Satan is nothing other than the collective Id of Christendom.
Even today, Witchcraft is frequently misrepresented by being confused with Satanism. Often the word Witchcraft is used to represent two wholly opposite phenomena: the survival of ancient Paganism in one instance, and the inversion of Christianity in another. Let us make it clear: a Satanist is a renegade Christian, who, in his rebellion against the authority of the church, worships Satan rather than Christ. Such people are at times called witches and warlocks in popular books and movies but they e little to do with Pagan Witches. Satanists, for one thing, accept the Christian duality between good and evil; Pagans do not. Satanists may choose to worship evil rather than good: but they have utterly bought the Christian world view”.1
The word Pagan derives from the Latin paganus, meaning “peasant” or “country dweller”. It is correctly applied to indigenous (native) pantheistic folk religions and peoples. The term “Neo-Paganism” is applied to the current revival of ancient Pagan religious values, including the sacredness of all Life and the worship of Nature. Modern Witchcraft has been a major component of the Neo-Pagan resurgence since England repealed its anti-Witchcraft laws in 1951.
The Goddess and the God of Witchcraft
The many traditions of Neo-Pagan Witchcraft have few universal theological precepts, but one of them is certainly the veneration of the Moon Goddess, known most commonly by her Roman name, Diana. She is perceived as manifesting in triple form: Maiden, Mother and Crone. These triple aspects are identified respectively with the waxing, full, and waning moons. Witches gather at esbats every full moon, to sing and dance in Her moonlight, share cakes and wine, and work magic to heal each other, their friends, and the Earth. Many modern Witches expand the concept of the Goddess considerably, and see Her also as Mother Earth and Mother Nature.
Most traditions of Neo-Pagan Witchcraft also honor the Consort of the Goddess in the form of the Horned God, who is seen as Lord of Animals as well as seasonal ruler of the Underworld. The most familiar version of the Horned God is the Greek Pan, goat-horned and goat-hooved, playing His panpipes, guzzling wine from His freely-flowing wineskin, and seducing nymphs in the woods. He is regarded as lusty and jovial, epitomizing masculine attributes of ideal father, brother or lover. As the Goddess of Witchcraft is closely identified with the Moon, so the God is identified with the Sun. In this way He may be seen mythologically as the lover both of the Moon and of the Earth. Another of His many epithets is “Lord of Light”.
Every light casts its shadows, and the Lord of Shadows is the other face of the Lord of Light. Lord of the Underworld is the title of the God in Winter when He goes underground with the animals to hibernate. Some traditions had Him alternate with His brother as husband to the eternal Goddess. Others, as in the Greek Hades, had a year-round God of the Underworld.
It is essential to clarify the historic relationship of Pagan and the Devil, as Christianity has tended to confuse the two, giving rise to the accusation that Pagans are Devil-worshipers because some Pagan gods have horns. Once and for all, the Christian Devil is not the God of the Witches! The genesis of the Devil comes from a merging of two concepts: Satan and Lucifer.
The original meaning of the word satan is “adversary”, and his inclusion in the Bible represents an attempt by later apologists of the Old Testament to justify the more negative actions of a benevolent God (such as the persecution of Job) by attributing the actual dirty work to a testing spirit; the original “devil’s advocate”.
This entity was not considered evil until after the Persian conquest introduced the Hebrews to the Zoroastrian dualism of Ahura-Mazda (the good God) vs. Ahriman (the evil God). This later manifested in Christianity as Manichean dualism. The Manichean equation was brutally simple: God=Good; evil=Evil. But it was not until the year 447 CE that the Council of Toledo declared the legal existence of the Devil as an actual entity, though he was still not thought of as necessarily manifesting in human form.
The Lucifer story is a mish-mashed retelling of the Canaanite myth about the overthrow of Baal by Mot and the usurpation of Baal’s throne by Athar, the god of the morning star. The original Hebrew name for Lucifer was helel ben shahar meaning “son of the day star” (the planet Venus). The name Lucifer (”light bearer”), a Romano-Etruscan title of the Sun God, was erroneously used when the Bible was first translated into Latin.2
Various shadow gods or divine adversaries contributed to the creation of the Devil, including the Canaanite Moloch or Mot, the Egyptian Set or Suteck and the Roman Saturn.
Judeo-Christian theologians placed all Pagan gods and goddesses in an adversary position to Yahweh, the god of Israel, who, as a monotheistic deity, cannot share a pantheon. This is a profound cultural difference from Pagan pantheons and polytheistic peoples who co-existed together, whether or not in harmony. Also since unbridled sexuality, especially for females, was defined by Judeo-Christianity as evil, Pagan gods and goddesses who were especially sexual or sensual garnered the new sect’s particular hatred.
Pan (who instills panic) and Dionysus were neither evil nor adversary deities, but because of their riotous celebrations the Devil a uired Pan’s horns and hooves and Dionysus’ ambiguously mad and bibulous nature. This final equation of the Pagan Horned God with Satan was not established, however, until the year 1486, when the Dominicans Kramer and Sprenger published the Malleus Malificarum, or “Hammer of the Witches”, wherein they gave the first physical description of the Devil as he is commonly depicted today, declaring that this was the god worshiped by those they wanted to call “witches”, thereby justifying the centuries of terrible persecution inflicted upon those who clung faithfully to their worship of the elder gods.
Witchcraft and Shamanism
Witches were the shamans, or medicine men and women, of the tribal Celtic peoples of Europe, and they functioned in the same fashion as shamans of any other tribal culture, be it American Indians, Africans, or Australian Aborigines. In fact, and in time-honored tradition, shamans are still commonly referred to as “Witch Doctors”.
Shamans are specialists in all lore, and the Witches of Pagan Europe were no exception. Usually, but not exclusively, women, they practiced herbal medicine, midwifery, augury, spellcasting, and counseling. Often dwelling alone out in the woods, Witches lived close to Nature, and attuned to Her cycles. Their gardens grew not only food, but also many kinds of herbs, including those valued for their medicinal, anesthetic and hallucinogenic properties. In a period of time when good Christian folk maintained only those domestic animals that could be considered “livestock” (i.e., useful to humans), Witches frequently
kept wild animal pets: foxes, ferrets, owls, ravens and of course, the ubiquitous cats. Such became known, appropriately
enough, as familiars. When Witches came to be persecuted, so did these familiar animals, and the brutal capture, torture and burning of millions of cats that accompanied the Witch burnings begat the horrible Black Plague that devastated Europe in the 14th century, for the cats had kept the rat populations under control, and it was rat fleas that were the carrier of the bubonic plague bacillus.
“The Burning Times”
It is sadly ironic that, though the practitioners of Witchcraft have historically suffered real abuse and persecution, the Witch has somehow continued to be misrepresented as the villain.
Christianity did not become the world’s dominant religion by peaceful conversion, but by the sword and stake. As the legions of Caesar had forged the Roman Empire over the dead bodies of countless tribal peoples of Europe, so did its heir, the Holy Roman Empire, continue the tradition. Declaring them “heresies”, agents of the Holy Inquisition hunted out and ruthlessly exterminated every religion, sect or tradition that would not convert to “The One True Right And Only Way”.
Witches, however, lived outside of any organized religious structure and were largely ignored until the 13th century, when the Church had finally gained enough power to deal with grass-roo Paganism.
“In the 13th century the Church opened its long-drawn-out conflict with Paganism in Europe by declaring “Witchcraft’ to be a “sect’ and heretical. It was not til the 14th century that the two religions came to grips. . . In 1324 the bishop of Ossory tried Dame Alice Kyteler in his ecclesiastical court for the crime of worshiping a deity other than the Christian God. . .
“The 15th century marks the first great victories of the Church. Beginning with the trials in Lorraine in 1408, the Church moved triumphantly against Joan of Arc and her followers in 1431, against Gilles de Rais and his coven in 1440, and against the Witches of Brescia in 1457. Towards the end of the century the Christian power was so well-established that the Church felt the time had come for an organized attack, and in 1484 Pope Innocent VIII published his Bull against “Witches.’
All through the 16th and 17th centuries the battle raged. The Pagans fought a gallant, though losing, fight against a remorseless and unscrupulous enemy; every inch of the field was disputed, but the Christian policy of obtaining influence over the rulers and law-givers was irresistible. Vae victis ["woe to the conquered"] was also the policy of the Christians, and we see the priests of the Papacy gloating over the thousands they had consigned to the flames while the ministers of the Reformed Churches hounded on the administrators of the law to condemn the “devil worshipers.’ What could have been the feelings with which those unhappy victims regarded the vaunted God of Love, the Prince of Peace, whose votaries condemned them to torture and death? What wonder that they clung to their old faith, and died in agony unspeakable rather than deny their God”.3
It should also be pointed out that the court recorders at the Witch trials were specifically instructed that, whatever gods or goddesses the accused actually claimed to worship, what went into the record was “Satan” or “The Devil”. And what wonder if some of those who had come to believe the Biblical history taught them by the missionaries, monks and priests of the conquering faith, concluded that the story must have gotten it wrong somehow? That if there had indeed been a rebellion in heaven, it was clearly evident that the winner had not been the God of love and peace, as his propagandists claimed, but rather a God of cruelty and evil; of war and violence, wrath and jealousy. (This had, in fact, been an old Gnostic tradition.)
The clear implication was that the defeated Lucifer must have been the good guy, and surely many must have swarmed to his allegiance in this belief. While true adherents of the Old Religions certainly knew better, and continued their faith entirely distinct from Christianity, there were surely, then as now, many ignorant people who were simply too unsophisticated or too illiterate to question the Christian paradigm once it became established. And thus did Satanism as a belief and a practice come into being, spawned by the Church, and forever to be locked together with it in a fatal embrace of mutual antagonism. Whether or not the persecuted peasantry who came to side with Satan against their oppressors thought of themselves as “Witches”, the Church and the authorities of the Holy Inquisition certainly identified them as such:
“The heart and centre of the persecution of Witches was that they were Satanists, that they had rejected the rightful God and given their allegiance to his arch-opponent, and that in their “sabbaths’ or meetings they worshiped the ruler of evil, carnality and filth. Some of those accused as Witches do seem to have taken the Devil for their god, worshiping him as an equal opponent of the Christian God, over whom he would eventually triumph. They looked to Satan for power and pleasure in this world and for a happy future in the next, and they vilified Christ as a traitor and a cheat, who had made promises which he did not keep, and who had gone away to live in heaven while Satan remained with his faithful on earth”.4
“The Witches and sorcerers of early times were a widely spread class who had retained the beliefs and traditions of heathenism with all its license and romance and charm of the forbidden. . . in their ranks every one who was oppressed or injured either by the nobility or the church. They were treated with indescribable cruelty, in most cases worse than beasts of burden, for they were outraged in all their feelings, not at intervals for punishment, but habitually by custom, and they revenged themselves by secret orgies and fancied devil-worship, and occult ties, and stupendous sins, or what they fancied were such. I can seriously conceive: what no writer seems to have considered: that there must have been an immense
satisfaction in selling or giving one’s self to the devil, or to any power which was at war with their oppressors. So they went by night, at the full moon, and sacrificed to Diana, or “later on’ to Satan, an they danced and rebelled. It is very well worth noting that we have all our accounts of sorcerers and heretics from Catholic priests, who had every earthly reason for misrepresenting them, and did so. In the vast amount of ancient Witchcraft still surviving in Italy, there is not much anti-Christianity, but a great deal of early heathenism. Diana, not Satan, is still the real head of the Witches”.5
Since Witchcraft is still little understood by the general public, whose images are shaped mostly by the popular media, Witches continue to be easy targets for persecution. It must be remembered that, in the previous episodes of Witchcraft persecution hysteria, it was the Witches who were the victims, not the Christians. Witches, and those conveniently accused of being Witches, died by the millions during the terrible centuries of the holocaust they remember as “The Burning Times”. They do not wish to repeat that experience today.6
Notes and References:
1. Jong, Erica, Witches American Library, New York,1981) p. 52
2. Zell, Morning Glory, “The Lord of Light”, Green Egg,
Vol. XXI, No. 82; Aug. 1, 1988 (POB 1542, Ukiah, CA 95482) p. 12
3. Murray, Margaret, The God of the Witches (Oxford Univ. Press,
NY, 1931) pp. 21-22
4. Cavendish, Richard, “Satanism”, Encyclopedia of Man, Myth and
Magic, Vol. 18 (Marshall Cavendish, NY, 1970) p. 2479
5. Leland, Charles Godfrey, Legends of Florence, (David Nutt,
6. Guiley, Rosemary, Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft (Facts on
File, NY, 1989).