Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Pagan/Satan Connection, or Lack of One

Last March I started reading George R. R. Martin's "A Song of Fire and Ice" and my life hasn't been the same since. If you ever bother to read Martin, you'll find this his writing style is dense. In the usual amount of time it takes me to read forty pages of any author, I've read twenty of Martin's. That's not all bad. I loved the story, the characters, and the depth of the whole thing. Since each book is nearly 1000 pages (or far more) it took an awful long time to read. Now that I'm through with it I've been totally crapping the bed about reading anything with any depth. (That's not to say I haven't been reading, I finished a whole book over the weekend, but my reading has been light.)

As I procrastinate and try to avoid any books that might require me to work my blonde brain I've been spending a lot of time surfing the internet. Much of that time is spent on Facebook. Last night I ran into a link from the Witches' Voice that took me to something written by Theistic Satanist Diane Vera. Quite surprisingly, I'm pretty well versed in the history of Satanism as a movement, and even more well versed in the development of Satan in the Old and New Testaments, even though Satanism is one of the few religions I'm not particularly tolerant of.

Unlike some of my more enlightened friends there are a few religions I make fun of: Scientology, Satanism, Militant Mormonism, but that's pretty much the list. I don't wish any ill will towards Satanists in general, I just find the idea of worshipping a sketchy demonic entity from the Bible kind of, well, dumb. I just don't understand where you go with it. I realize that Yahweh can be kind of a bastard, especially in the Old Testament, but that's not quite enough to start worshipping his prosecuting attorney. I'm also fully aware that (Anton) LaVey style Satanism is more of a selfish philosophy than an actual religion (which is why the "Theistic" in Theistic Satanism is so important, differentiation between those who worship the Devil and those who follow LaVey's ideas). I think naming a philosophy "Satanism" showed a shrewd carny like business sense, but also proved that the ideas contained within aren't strong enough to stand up on their own without a dash of sensationalism.

I do think that there are good things that can come out of Satanism. For someone with serious self-esteem issues LaVeyian philosophy probably works pretty well as a self-confidence builder. I lied, I can't think of any more "good things" that might come out of it. That's the only one. For me, being a Pagan is about living in harmony with stuff, if I wanted to force my "dominion" over the Earth I'd be a Christian (a crappy Christian who doesn't really understand Christianity, but a Christian none the less). I can't come to grips with lakes of fire, and brimstone. I need the beauty of the green earth, songs that sing on the breath of a breeze. If you get that out of being a Satanist, more power to you, but that doesn't seem like the purpose of it all to me.

Back to that whole not reading thing . . . . . I clicked on the link and then ended up at Diane Vera's Theistic Satanism page, and suddenly found myself with lots to read. While I had some problems with Ms. Vera's essay "A Critique of Wiccan and Other Neo-Pagan Disclaimers About Satanism" it would be silly to call her ignorant or ill-informed. She's obviously smart, and extremely prolific. Her website is more "book" than website, just tons of information, but I did object to some of the things she wrote about Satanism having an influence on Modern Wicca.

One of my main objections was in a section about common inaccuracies modern Pagans have about Satanism, specifically Ms. Vera's contention that Witchcraft is not the name of a specific religion. She writes:

"Many Wiccans use the word "Witchcraft" as a name for their own religion, implying that Wiccans are the only true Witches and, therefore, Satanists can't be Witches. But the idea of "Witchcraft" as the name for one specific religion is absurd. There are witches all over the world, in many different cultures. They don't all belong to the same religion, and they don't all worship The Goddess."

Much of what she writes there is true, there are "witches" all over the world, and the word "witchcraft" is generally used to convey the idea of malevolent magic by scholars. However, a "Witch" is simply a practitioner of The Craft, or Wicca in the United States. "Witchcraft" with the capital "W" means a specific path, one that can generally be traced to Gerald Gardner and other folks in Great Britain who nurtured it. I've never been a big fan of the word Witch, but with capital letters it's our word, and it applies only to Modern Paganism. I'm not saying someone couldn't call themselves a "Satanic Witch," but the word "Witch" alone is ours. It doesn't mean anything other than (Modern Pagan) Witchcraft.

Vera attempts to link Satanism and the development of Modern Paganism in her Satanism and the History of Wicca article, and while I'm willing to admit that Pagans borrowed from everyone and everything, I think she's giving "Literary Satanism" far too much credit. Yes, writers like Jules Michelet were among the first to link the idea of medieval of (persecuted) witchcraft to Satanism, but writers like Michelet (and later Margaret Murray) always saw that "witchcraft" as a perversion of ancient paganisms, not Satanism in the idealized modern sense. Besides, Michelet wasn't trying to write actual history, he was trying to write a best-seller.

Vera says that Charles Leyland's "Aradia" was one of "Wicca's major sources" and mentions the husband of Diana being named "Lucifer" in the text. While parts of Aradia have certainly been influential, the cosmology of Aradia has been abandoned and the extremely unethical belief system outlined in its pages is definitely not a part of the Modern Craft. If "Aradia" truly represents a legitimate strain of religious thought or philosophy from nineteenth century Italy, it's likely that it dates back to the Renaissance, and the name "Lucifer" was chosen simply because there were so few options. My parents didn't name me after "Jason" from the argonauts, just because the male principle in "Aradia" is named Lucifer, that doesn't necessarily make him the Christian Devil.

It is true that Witchcraft and Satanism shared an uneasy bed in the late 1960's and early 1970's, and Vera does make mention of Paul Huson's "Mastering the Art of Witchcraft," but that book has been nothing more than an "artifact" since shortly after it was published. You really won't find a lot of Pagans today excited about buying (or even reading) Huson. There was so little occult information available during that period of time that it all sort of blended together, but the mixing was short-lived, and is now most certainly a relic.

Vera also mentions several "feminist" writers from the nineteenth century, and while Matilda Jocelyn Gage did come up with the "eight million women were killed during 'The Burning Times'" footnote, I have yet to meet a Pagan who has ever read Gage. It just doesn't happen.* In fairness to Vera, her essay was written years before Ronald Hutton's "Triumph of the Moon" or "Wicca: Magickal Beginnings."

I'm about as well versed as anyone when it comes to the history of the Modern Craft and I've never been able to find any real connection. Writer like Murray were trying to articulate the belief that if there was a real religion behind the Witch Trials of the Renaissance, it was a pagan one, that might have been bastardized enough through centuries of oppression to end up being labeled "Devil Worship." Murray traces the evolution of her Witches' God to a period before Israel, Yahweh, Jesus, and certainly Satan.

Vera wraps up her essay with "It would also be nice if Wiccans would stop making inaccurate pronouncements on what Satanism is, such as, 'Satanism is a form of Christianity' or "To be a Satanist, you must believe in the Christian God," but isn't that the point if you are Theistic Satanist? Aren't you saying that you believe in the Satan of the New Testament, and for that being to be real you have to believe in the New Testament?

*Though admittedly I run in strange circles, so if there is someone who has read Gage in Pagandom, I might know them.

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