Theistic Satanism: Home > To Pagans > Reply to Chris N's critique
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Reply to Chris N's critique of my article
"Satanism and the History of Wicca"
by Diane Vera
Copyright © 2003 by Diane Vera. All rights reserved.
I recently found a page titled My Response To A 1992 Article By Satanist Diane Vera, a reply by one Chris N to the First Church of Satan's copy of my article Satanism and the History of Wicca (to which I've also written this update).
Chris N's comments have brought to light a real problem with my article, which is that I wasn't clear enough on what I meant by "literary Satanism." I was referring to various 19th-century and early 20th-century writings, mostly fiction and poetry but also some purported non-fiction, which contained favorable, often passionately sympathetic portrayals of either Satan or worshippers of Satan. Examples include:
- William Blake's prose-poem "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell"
- Mark Twain's novels Letters from the Earth and A Pen Warmed in Hell
- Jules Michelet's La Sorciere, translated into English under the title Satanism and Witchcraft, a very influential (though, according to later scholars, not very accurate) history of the witchhunts
- Giosue Carducci's poem "Hymn to Satan" (about which see this commentary by some eastern European Satanists -- and, yes, Carducci did win a Nobel Prize.)
- Charles Baudelaire's poem "Litanies of Satan"
- Anatole France's Revolt of the Angels
- George Bernard Shaw's plays The Devil's Disciple and Man and Superman
I originally wrote my article for an audience of people who had already seen other writings of mine in which I talked in more detail about literary Satanism, so I didn't bother to elaborate on it in my article on the history of Wicca. Alas, this omission seems to have caused quite a bit of confusion for Chris N. -- and probably a lot of other readers too, now that I think about it.
Chris N. assumes, for example, that by "pre-LaVey Satanism" I can only mean mean so-called "gothic Satanism." In fact, back in the 19th and early 20th centuries, there was plenty of well-known literature that could easily have inspired -- and, most likely, did inspire -- forms of Satanism in which Satan was regarded as having various positive qualities. That is, positive by modern standards, though "evil" by traditional Christian standards.
Now for a point-by-point reply to Chris N's critique. Chris N. wrote:
Also, please note that the New Church of Satan has now placed a disclaimer at the top of the section of their site containing Ms. Vera's essay, which can be surmised as an attempt to distance themselves from some of her assertions
No, the disclaimer was written by ME. I was tired of getting Email from people who thought I was claiming that Wicca is a form of Satanism, which my article does NOT claim. The disclaimer does not contradict my article in any way, at least not if you read my article carefully. Please read it again, Chris.
and they refer to the sources that she utilizes to back up her claims as "literary Satanism," which did exist in written, albeit generally fictitious, form during the Middle Ages.
Here, and later in the article, Chris N. assumes that by "literary Satanism" I meant Christian witchhunt propaganda. See my clarification above. Literary Satanism is NOT the same thing as Christian witchhunt propaganda, athough Christian witchhunt propaganda was one of its sources of inspiration.
The main point of my article is that BOTH modern Wicca and modern Satanism have been influenced by Christian witchhunt propaganda as filtered through 19th-century literary Satanism, via both occultists (such as Aleister Crowley) and subsequent writers about the witchhunts, such as Margaret Murray.
This is in marked contrast to religious Satanism, which did not exist prior to Anton Le Vay's official institution of the faith in 1966, which is very contrary to what Ms. Vera seems to contend in her essay.
There IS indeed some documented evidence of the existence of small groups of religious Satanists prior to LaVey. Besides the sources already mentioned in my article, see, for example, Satan Wants You by Arthur Lyons, 1988. On p. 133 (paperback edition), Lyons briefly describes a group called the Lady of Endor Coven, founded back in 1948, no longer in existence. This same group is also described in Leo Louis Martello's book Black Magic, Satanism, and Voodoo, pp.31 to 34 (1972 paperback edition). Martello quotes Herbert Sloane, the founder of the Lady of Endor Coven, as claiming to have had some friendly correspondence with Gerald Gardner. (Thanks to Chattul for telling me about Leo Martello's book.)
Also -- although I can't document this, alas -- I do know someone who briefly belonged to a pre-LaVey Satanic group in the mid-1960's. Their form of Satanism seems to have been based primarily on Jules Michelet, plus their own form of demon evocation. As per Michelet, they emphasized healing and herbalism. Their rituals involved Black Masses and sacrificing goats, and were followed by a meal in which they ate barbecued goat. Like some of the early leaders of modern Wicca, some members of the group claimed hereditary descent from a long line of witches.
Chris, ask around amongst your elder acquaintances in the occult scene. If you ask enough people who were around long enough, you will almost certainly run into someone who knew a Satanist or two before 1966 e.v. (At least that's true here in New York.)
I also used to know an elderly woman who spontaneously invented her own form of Satanism when she was a child, without any knowledge of any other people doing anything similar. I think it highly unlikely that she would have been the only kid in the whole world to have thought of such a thing. I've heard similar stories from younger people too.
For that matter, I've heard personal stories of this kind regarding not only Satanism, but also Neo-Paganism as well. Some people say they began spontaneously worshipping one or more Pagan deities before they ever heard there was such a thing as the Neo-Pagan scene. Chris N., ask around among your Pagan friends, and you'll almost certainly encounter someone like this.
My point here is: If there are quite a few people who have spontaneously conceived of the idea of returning to the worship of Pagan deities, then all the more so is it likely -- in a Christian culture -- that quite a few people would have spontaneously conceived of the idea of revering Satan. And, given how oppressive Christian culture has so often been, it is likely that at least some of these people -- like the title character of Shaw's play The Devil's Disciple -- would have believed that Satan "was in the right, and that the world cringed to his conqueror only through fear." It seems likely to me that Satanism, in one form or another, has been spontaneously reinvented through the centuries by lots of people, most of whom would have kept it private or told only a few close friends. Some of these people did form or join groups. Why shouldn't this have occurred?
Unfortunately, pre-LaVey Satanism is hard to document because, unlike LaVey and Crowley, most pre-LaVey Satanists did not seek a lot of publicity. But there's a fair amount of indirect evidence to suggest that they did indeed exist. A couple of other examples, besides the ones I already mentioned in my article on Satanism and the History of Wicca:
- In what is admittedly a hostile Christian source, but a relatively scholarly and un-sensationalist Christian source, the Catholic Encyclopedia's article on Masonry (Freemasonry) quotes the "official organ of Italian Masonry" as stating, back in 1905: "The formula of the Grand Architect, which is reproached to Masonry as ambiguous and absurd, is the most large-minded and righteous affirmation of the immense principle of existence and may represent as well the (revolutionary) God of Mazzini as the Satan of Giosue Carducci (in his celebrated hymn to Satan); God, as the fountain of love, not of hatred; Satan, as the genius of the good, not of the bad".
Note: This is not an accusation of "gothic Satanism." The point is merely that the Italian Masons welcomed people of all religious beliefs, even Satanists, provided they were sufficiently "righteous" by Masonic standards. But it does strongly suggest the existence of at least a few people who believed in a form of Satanism inspired by Carducci's "celebrated" poem. I'll admit that it doesn't prove the existence of such people. The Masonic author was just making a point about how inclusive and "large-minded" the Italian Masons were. Still, I wonder whether it would likely have occurred to the author to mention a Carducci-based belief system if such a belief system didn't exist at the time.
- Another example, which, as a socialist, Chris N. might have already seen: In Rules for Radicals by Saul D. Alinsky, the dedications/acknowledgments page includes a bow to "Lucifer, the first rebel," and there are a few assorted hints of Satanism scattered throughout the book, such as a remark that some untalented people can succeed at organizing "only by a miracle from above or from below." (Alas, I've misplaced my copy, so can't provide page numbers at the moment.) And Alinsky's overall attitude and philosophy are surprisingly congruent with those of a lot of today's Satanists, though his left-wing political views are not common among Satanists today. (His left-wing views were shared by quite a few of the 19th-century literary Satanists, and also by the "gothic Satanists" in Dennis Wheatley's novels of the 1950's and early 1960's.)
The idea that Satanism was invented by LaVey is a dogma propounded by LaVey's Church of Satan, in their efforts to monopolize the market for "Satanism." Based on their insistence that LaVey invented Satanism, the Church of Satan claims to have the sole legitimate right to define what "Satanism" is. Michael Aquino has taken a similar position, claiming that the Temple of Set is the sole legitimate successor to the "real" (pre-1975) Church of Satan. (Or, at least, Aquino used to take this position; I haven't checked to see whether this is still his current position.) Other kinds of Satanists disagree, obviously.
I would advise Chris N., and other Wiccans, not to take sides on this issue -- unless they're willing to take the time to do some truly independent research. Otherwise, let us Satanists fight it out amongst ourselves.
It's a bit ironic to see a Wiccan championing the LaVeyan party line, given how intensely LaVey and many of his followers have despised Wicca.
Most objective sources on religion flatly disagree with this, and the fact that the "literary Satanism" mentioned continuously in print from the Dark Ages right into the present describe an entirely fictitious religious tendency created and erroneously linked to Witchcraft by Christian paranoia-mongers since the Christian victory over the "old" religion. This has been very well documented in direct contradiction to the common belief still carried by the modern Christian Right (and Diane Vera, it would seem),
As I hope is clear by now, my references to literary Satanism do not constitute an endorsement of the tales told by Christian paranoia-mongers.
and is described in great detail within the section on Satanism to be found on the marvelous Religious Tolerance web site; the researchers on the Religious Tolerance site refer to the fictitious "literary" Satanism of the past as "gothic" Satanism, and the authentic religion as "religious" Satanism.
The folks at Religious Tolerance mean well, and I am deeply grateful to them for their debunking of the "Satanic Ritual Abuse" scare. But, regarding their statements on real-life Satanism and its history, I must point out that they don't have enough time to research thoroughly every single one of the hundreds of religions they document. Their statements on Satanism have fluctuated quite a bit over the years -- probably depending, I would guess, on which faction of the Satanist scene they happen to have gotten the most Email from in a given year.
The opinions of most other "objective sources on religion" have likewise been influenced strongly by LaVeyan propaganda, because LaVey's Church of Satan and Aquino's Temple of Set happen to be the groups that have gotten the most publicity -- and, thus, naturally, the most requests for information on the part of researchers on religion. Perhaps some "objective sources" simply assume, as Chris N. apparently does also, that if "even" the Church of Satan says it doesn't have any historical antecedents, then there must not be any. After all, most other religions pride themselves on their pedigree and will claim to be as old as they can possibly get away with claiming.
I suspect that the attitude of "objective sources" will change as the public Satanist scene continues to grow and becomes more diverse, especially in view of a growing groundswell of resentment against the Church of Satan's would-be monopoly. Hopefully some "objective sources" will soon be motivated to dig deeper into the past, rather than accepting the CoS's claim that there is nothing to be found. Of course, actually digging into the past will require a lot more work than simply accepting LaVey's say-so.
There's also the question of how one defines "religious Satanism" -- not a simple question at all.
LaVey Satanism does not involve belief in or worship of Satan as a deity. Instead, Satan is regarded as a symbol of various desirable qualities such as independence and individuality. But, if such a view can be called "religious Satanism," then (although the CoS refuses to draw this very logical conclusion) most of the writers of 19th-century literary Satanism could qualify as "religious Satanists" too. In terms of credentials qualifying one as a "religious Satanist," the only significant differences between the CoS and the 19th-century literary Satanists are that (1) the literary Satanic writers were not organized as a "church", but (2) most of the literary Satanic writers did use their symbolism in a more sincerely passionate (and, in that sense, more "religious") fashion than many CoS people I've run into, many of whom seem to be into "Satanism" mainly for shock value. Of course, the 19th-century literary Satanists also differed quite a bit from LaVey (and from each other) in their values and ethics, but that is a disqualification only if one regards LaVey's Satanism as the sole legitimate form of "religious Satanism" in the first place.
If William Blake, Mark Twain, Jules Michelet, Giosue Carducci, and George Bernard Shaw were not "religious Satanists" (indeed, like a lot of LaVeyan Satanists, most of them were atheists), then, to be consistent, one could say that LaVeyan Satanists aren't really "religious Satanists" either.
Further complicating matters is the CoS's silly insistence that "Devil worship" is not Satanism. By the most commonly-accepted meanings of the word "religion," Devil worshippers (i.e. theistic Satanists) are the ONLY people who really qualify as "religious Satanists." And, indeed, when looking for examples of pre-LaVey Satanism, what most people would naturally have in mind is people who actually worshipped Satan as a deity (whatever they believed Satan to be).
These days, the only thing that some LaVeyans seem to be "religious" about is their dogmatic, increasingly obnoxious effort to monopolize the label "Satanism." In response, many theistic Satanists will say that LaVeyans are not "true Satanists," just as LaVeyans say that "Devil worshippers" are not "true Satanists."
I personally am inclined to define "Satanism" as including any favorable reinterpretation of Christianity's Satan myth. By this definition, "Devil worshippers" and LaVeyans and all the authors of literary Satanism qualify as "Satanists," though not necessarily as "religious Satanists." A Satanist who does not believe in Satan is a symbolic Satanist, as distinct from a literalist or theistic Satanist. As for whether a given Satanist is "religious," my inclination would be to accept people's self-definition in this regard.
My definition of "Satanism" as including literary Satanism is not out of line with traditional meanings, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. Literary Satanism has long been referred to, in literary circles, as the "Satanic School" and as a form of "Satanism."
Throughout the diverse history of Pagan theology, no connection was made between beings possessing horns and hooves and the concept of evil. As you will see, however, in direct contradiction to all of the prevailing evidence, Ms. Vera insists that the current conception of the Pagan Horned God was derived from the Devil imagery of the Middle Ages after the Christian usurpation of Western religious thought.
None of the ancient horned deities were associated with witchcraft either, especially "witches" that met in "covens" for festivities known as "sabbats." This conjunction of concepts ("horned God" of "witches" who meet in "covens" for "sabbats") was indeed derived from no source prior to Christian witchhunt propaganda, as far as I am aware.
The entirety of this essay will be directed towards responding to Ms. Vera's attempts to connect Wicca to modern Satanism, as well as her assertions that the aforementioned "literary Satanism" as described in various Christian manuscripts of the past details an authentic religious tradition of Satanism that existed in history long before the establishment of modern Wicca.
Nowhere in my article did I assert that Christian witchhunt propaganda described an authentic religion. Rather, I assert that some modern religions, including Wicca and some pre-LaVey forms of Satanism, drew inspiration from 19th century literary Satanism, including the latter's reinterpretation of witchhunt propaganda.
She then goes on to state that Wiccan philosophy is greatly derived from 19th century occult philosophy, particularly the writings of historian Jules Michelet who described witches as healers, and she labels Michelet a proto-Satanist and describes his philosophy as "Satanic" simply because his book is filled with "passionate, sympathetic depictions of Satan as well as that of medieval witches," which may simply suggest that he realized the true origins of the Roman Catholic Church's political purposes for creating Satan, and a familiarity with the mythical story of Satan as a being cast from Heaven due to his opposition to the prevailing hierarchy of his reality, a story obviously replete with numerous socio-political themes, and an attempt by the ruling class of the time to cast aspersions against those who rebel against authority figures and social institutions. This does not, however, in any way suggest that he harbored ideals in alignment with the complex religious and social themes instituted by modern Satanism.
First, I do not define "Satanism" as a particular set of "religious and social themes." I define "Satanism" as any favorable reinterpretation of Christianity's Satan myth, regardless of the particulars of one's interpretation. Not even all of today's Satanists agree with LaVey's "complex" (I would call them "incoherent") social and political views. A lot of us don't. And Michelet certainly qualifies as a "Satanist" in the literary sense.
Second, although LaVey's social and political views were certainly different from Michelet's, their views of the Church's political uses of Satan were similar. As LaVey's 9th Satanic Statement put it, "Satan has been the best friend the church has ever had, as he has kept it in business all these years!"
Third, as I said in Satanism and the History of Wicca, Michelet has had more of an influence on modern Wicca than on modern Satanism. What really counts, as far as my argument is concerned, is Michelet's influence on modern Wicca, not his influence on modern Satanism. The key point is simply this: that modern Wicca drew some (not all or even most) of its inspiration, directly or indirectly, from some Satanic sources such as Michelet.
Anyhow, Chris N. concedes:
It may well be true that Michelet inspired modern Wicca in certain ways (just as many other sources did as well,) as suggested by author Jeffery B. Russell in his book History of Witchcraft,
but she fails to state that Michelet's knowledge and ideology were probably affected by the lack of accurate and unbiased information about Witchcraft available in the 19th century, and that what information was available was undoubtedly tainted by Christian tampering with the truth about the history of witches and Paganism. These inaccuracies were not straightened out until Dr. Murray conducted her extensive research in the early part of the 20th century.
I never claimed that Michelet's history was accurate, but only that it was influential. I'm sorry if I wasn't sufficiently clear on that point.
Most historians of the witchhunts would not agree with Chris N. that Margaret Murray "straightened out" anything. Her theories are, in all likelihood, even less credible than Michelet's.
Again I will state that there may indeed be some correlation between the magickal and ritual sources used by both Wiccans and Satanists, but I challenge Ms. Vera to find commonalities between the practices, beliefs and ethics of the two religions (though she does admit that the two religions are very different, and again, I am not trying to imply that the Satanists are "evil" or their religion invalid, but merely that her assertions of a major connection between the two is incorrect).
As even Chris N. acknowledges elsewhere, there are various similarities, in both basic structure and assorted little details, between Wiccan ritual and LaVey's rituals. For example, the association of the four elements with the four directions. As Chris N. points out, these similarities are to be expected because both Wiccan ritual and LaVey's rituals drew inspiration from earlier, more complicated forms of Western ceremonial magick.
I'll discuss ethics later in this article.
Ms. Vera further tries to find connections between the two by pointing out the references to "Lucifer," an old non-Pagan god-form used by the Christians as an alternate name for Satan, and in which Wiccans and Satanists alike (including Ms. Vera) distinguish from Satan, that were made in poetic spellwork verse by writer Charles G. Leland in his 1899 book Aradia: Gospel of the Witches. This book has indeed been appreciated by modern Wiccans, but any Wiccan will point out that the book was written long before the modern revival of Witchcraft with the New Age movement, and that Leland, like Michelet, was obviously influenced by the then still popular conception of witches being connected to Satan. In fact, he clearly refers to Lucifer as a "God of the Sun and Light," and not as a being of absolute evil (as the Christian conception of Satan clearly states), despite his mention of Lucifer being "cast out of Paradise," an admittedly obvious reference to the Christian story of Satan; however, as I said before, Leland should be expected to have made such a denouement considering the incorrect notions of Witchcraft prevalent at the time.
Given how "prevalent" these "incorrect notions of Witchcraft" were, wouldn't these same "incorrect" notions have ALSO been "prevalent" among at least some of the real-life folk witches who existed back them? That would seem highly likely.
Ms. Vera next goes on to her very dubious assertion that the Horned God of Wiccan/Pagan belief, while admitting that this being is not Satan, is indeed actually a "Paganized interpretation of medieval Christian Devil imagery" that originated from the days of the Inquisition, and from "no other source." In fact, Ms. Vera boldly states that "Much of Wicca's self-image is based upon a Paganized re-interpretation of alleged Devil-worship rather than an actual ancient religion." She then contradicts this statement by pointing out that there were indeed horned and hoofed male Pagan deities long before the advent of Christianity and its conception of the Devil, such as the Greco-Roman Pan, as well as entire races of paranormal nature beings known as satyrs and fauns (she fails to mention the well known Celtic deity Cernunnos, who was also horned and hoofed, which provides even further evidence in favor of a universal Pagan concept of a horned and hoofed god-form despite Ms. Vera's statements to the contrary).
No contradiction here. Were Pan and Cernunnos ever associated, historically, with "witches," especially "witches" who met in "covens" for "sabbats"? If not, then where did that cluster of associations come from? Obviously, it came from witchhunt propaganda -- where else?
Sorry, Ms. Vera, but there is plenty of evidence via cave paintings and other artwork by prehistoric Cro-Magnon Man (see the section on History of Paganism and Wicca elsewhere on this site) that clearly depicts tribal priests wearing the raiment of a horned male deity in magick rituals, which is believed by modern historians to be the religious end result of wearing such horned disguises to get closer to game animals during the hunt, and some of these paintings clearly depict the image in a ritualistic manner. This Horned God image (as well as his counterpart, the Green Man) is very ancient
Yes indeed, very ancient, a little too ancient to have given birth directly to modern Wicca. Today's Wiccans are not hunter/gatherers. Neither were medieval Europeans, nor were the inhabitants of the Pagan Roman empire that preceded Christendom. It is highly unlikely that very many (if any) "witches" in the Pagan Roman empire, let alone in medieval Europe, practiced Cro-Magnon-style hunting magic. Wicca has indeed drawn inspiration from shamanic practices -- but, in all likelihood, only as an afterthought, not as Wicca's original inspiration for its "horned God" concept.
The existence of horned male nature deities in very different Pagan cultures are obviously carry-over elements from distant memories of this primal Horned God.
In fact, researchers who have noticed the bastardization of the primal Pagan Horned God by Christians of the Middle Ages have certainly not been limited to the Wiccan or greater Pagan community in recent years, and there have been Western folklorists who have made such observations before the heyday of the Pagan revival, and also before the creation of modern religious Satanism.
It's true that some folklorists have made such statements. However, as far as I am aware, Christian iconography did not give the Devil horns and hoofs until the late Middle Ages, long after the the worship of Pan et al had pretty much died out. So the point of that imagery was, in all likelihood, NOT to scare people away from any still-widely-worshipped Pagan God, but merely to express Christianity's deep distrust of our animal nature.
Thus, Ms. Vera is quite incorrect when she claims that it was the Wiccan community alone who stated and opined that the modern Judeo-Christian image of Satan as a horned entity possessing cloven hoofs was actually a Christian bastardization of the fertility-oriented Pagan Horned God
I never said Wiccans were alone in characterizing the horns-and-hoofs image of Satan as being derived from Pagan deities. What I do claim is that the modern Wiccan concept of its horned God -- and the very fact that Wicca has a horned God in the first place -- is not derived solely from ancient Paganism, but is also influenced by Christian witchhunt propaganda, as filtered first through Jules Michelet and then through Margaret Murray.
Did the Roman-era Pagans inherit, from Cro-Magnon days, any association between horned Gods and witchcraft?
Chris N. admits they probably didn't:
Ms. Vera then correctly points out that none of these ancient horned deities were connected to Witchcraft, that there is no evidence of a Horned God directly connected to Witchcraft and that the idea of this derives from the era of the Christian witch hunts. First of all, few Wiccans would claim there is a direct connection between either the primal Horned God or his later brethren such as Pan, Cernunnos, Frey (see below) or the satyrs and fauns with Witchcraft, since the latter magickal practice hails from much later in history. I myself, and most other responsible Wiccans, have never suggested that the Horned God and his later spin-offs, such as Pan and Cernunnos, were historically connected to Witchcraft!
Thank you. Like you said, most responsible, well-read Wiccans these days would not make such a claim. However, I've gotten lots of Email from people I like ot call "Wiccan fundamentalists" who believe that Wicca is "the Old Religion" descended intact from Cro-Magnon days, via Margaret Murray's alleged medieval "witch cult."They were connected to Paganism in general, however, and were merely adopted by Wicca after its inception due to their universal representation of being the revered image of nature-friendly religions of the past.
They were adopted after Wicca's inception? Does Chris N. mean to suggest that Wicca didn't have a Horned God from its very beginning?
On the other hand, it's extremely silly to suggest that the Horned God is entirely derived from the Christian Devil imagery of the medieval era.
I did not claim that the Wiccan Horned God is entirely derived from Christisn Devil imagery. My point is only that Christian witchhunt propaganda provided the initial impetus for the modern concept of a Horned God associated with witchcraft -- a concept which was then fleshed out by looking back at ancient Pagan and even Cro-Magnon sources.
Next, Ms. Vera accuses Wicca of being partially responsible for the bad press it receives, and by deliberately contributing to its public notoriety, by using words like "witch," "coven" and "sabbat," despite the negative connotations attributed to those words thanks to their misuse by the Roman Catholic Church during its "witch hunting" days. However, she does point out the original linguistic meaning of these words, which is her way of inadvertently explaining why Wiccans still adhere to them.
What about the original meaning of a conjunction of words, as distinct from the words themselves taken in isolation? Individual words can have many different meanings, depending on their context.
As I see it, the common Wiccan obsession with the archaic meanings of certain words (and only certain words, not all the many words they use every day, after all) is an after-the-fact rationalization for their choice of terminology.
This Wiccan preference for sticking to the original, as opposed to commonly misunderstood, meanings of a word is further substantiated by the fact that most Wiccans refuse to use the word "warlock" to describe the male members of the religion due to the original Scottish derived etymology of the word, which meant "oath-breaker,"
I suspect that etymology isn't the only reason Wiccans avoid the word "warlock." Most Wiccans ALSO avoid the word "wizard," which, as far as I know, has no negative archaic meaning. Perhaps both of these masculine terms are avoided, in part, because of Wicca's emphasis on the feminine? (Not that there's anything wrong with emphasizing the feminine, and this is a side point.)
Ms. Vera then decries Wiccans for identifying themselves too closely with the brutally repressed group of witches from the Inquisition era, yet the reason we do so is because the Roman Catholic Church of that era was indeed out to destroy any remaining Pagans, and these were our forerunners, so I believe it is justified that we identify with them, just as all modern Jews identify with their predecessors throughout history.
Of course the Church was out to destroy the remaining Pagans. But, in most parts of Western Europe, the Church succeeded in destroying them much earlier than the height of the witchhunts in the 1500's and 1600's. As far as I am aware, most historians agree that most victims of the witchhunts were not Pagans, or especially Pagan-leaning people, or even ceremonial magicians, but were just people who were unpopular for whatever reason, or who had property worth confiscating, etc.
She then states that she is offended by Wiccans who declare that "We are not Satanists!" in the same breath as "we are not baby killers." If any Wiccan did indeed utter the latter statement, Ms. Vera would have every right to be upset.
Lots of Wiccans have in fact made that statement in precisely that fashion. Fortunately, it has become less common over the years.
Anyone who would desire to criticize that or any religion should do a considerable amount of research on it before even considering a critical evaluation, otherwise they risk arriving at incorrect conclusions and thereby making fools of themselves. I have read up on Satanism,
Well, you've read up on at least some parts of the Satanist scene. I'll admit it's not easy to keep up with all the different factions. Even I don't keep up with all of them. These days, I prefer to focus my attention on the despised but growing minority of people who, like myself, actually worship Satan as a deity (with a wide variety of interpretations as to exactly who/what Satan is).and I can comfortably say in an informed manner that its ethics in no way resemble Wiccan ethics.
Different factions of the Satanist scene vary widely in our views on ethics, so it's a vast oversimplification even to speak of "Satanism's ethics" as if there were a single ethical viewpoint by that name.
But it's true that hardly any of us believe in the "Threefold Law," so on that key point it can be safely said that nearly all Satanists do differ from most Wiccans.
On the other hand, there are also some key points of similarity between Wicca and most forms of Satanism. For example, both respect sexual freedom. LaVey Satanism pioneered in this regard. LaVey's Satanic Bible urged tolerance for gays and assorted other sexual minorities back in 1969.
More generally, Wicca and most forms of Satanism share a respect for human individuality -- unlike, say, hardcore Christianity or Islam. Wicca and most forms of Satanism do differ quite a bit on the ethical implications of that respect for individuality. Nevertheless, that respect for individuality is still a fundamental point of commonality. Both Wicca and most of today's forms of Satanism have been influenced strongly by Thelema, which likewise emphasizes individual freedom.
Next up, Ms. Vera points out the inspiration that the early 20th century magician Aleister Crowley had on both Wicca and Satanism, plus the New Age movement which spawned them both. Ms. Vera states that Gerald Gardner, the founder of modern Wicca, based his rituals heavily on that of Crowley. There can be little doubt that Gardner read and was influenced by the rituals described by Crowley (I don't know about "heavily," though),
According to Doreen Valiente in Rebirth of Witchcraft, many of Gardner's rituals were almost verbatim the same as Crowley's. She says she herself re-wrote a lot of Gardner's rituals to make them less obviously Crowley-based, and she admits that she re-wrote them largely for public-relations reasons.
Yet Crowley's influence is still quite obvious in what has been published of Gardnerian and Alexandrian ritual (e.g. in the Farrars' writings). See the rituals in Crowley's Magick in Theory and Practice.
yet Crowley in turn derived many of his rituals from the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, who practiced a variety of undeniably effective magickal rituals that were derived from a hodgepodge of influences, such as Ceremonial Magick with a healthy dose of Egyptian influences and other sources.
Crowley carried the Paganization of ceremonial magick much further than the Golden Dawn did. The Golden Dawn system was based to a large degree on the Qabalah.
So Gardner also borrowed heavily from Ceremonial Magick, and this is obvious to anyone who can reason clearly, from a casual observation of our own ritual structure, including the use of the five elements, the casting of the magick circle, the usage of the pentagram, the use of a magick wand, and many other examples, in addition to our practices based upon early Shamanistic nature magick. This was never in doubt, and there wasn't much need for Ms. Vera to point this out.
Except to Wiccan fundamentalists.
Of course, it is well known that Crowley was a major social rebel, and absolutely enjoyed shocking and reviling the ultra-prudish public of the time. He did indeed make "Satanic" references, such as referring to himself as the "the Great Beast 666." This was obviously to get attention, and it succeeded handsomely. However, Ms. Vera denies that such was a "joke," i.e., an attention-getting scheme, though it's well known that Crowley had a salacious love of such things.
I don't deny Crowley's sense of humor. When I wrote that "Crowley's attitudes were well within the 19th-century Satanic literary tradition," I meant that literary Satanism included quite a bit of humor and irony too, e.g. in the writings of Mark Twain and George Bernard Shaw.
Perhaps a better answer than I gave in my article on this point is the following: LaVey too had a sense of humor -- and, like Crowley, a "salacious love" of getting attention by being shocking. If these disqualify Crowley from being "Satanic," then they disqualify LaVey also. If they do not disqualify LaVey, then neither do they disqualify Crowley. Remember, LaVey -- like Crowley -- did not believe in or worship Satan as a literal entity. And LaVey's ethical views are very similar to those espoused in Crowley's Book of the Law.
Of course, Crowley was much more than just "Satanic," and Crowley had a much more complex and syncretic magical system. But Crowley did use his Satanic imagery in some of his rituals, not just in his public persona.
she attempts to make further connections between Witchcraft and Satanism by pointing out obscure references by several past authors of very dubious credibility, in books written long before the serious post-Inquisition study of Witchcraft began (and not until Dr. Margaret Murray published her first ground-breaking book in 1921).
Chris N. doesn't bother to explain why these authors are not "credible", other than to repeat the unlikely though widespread claim that "no serious individuals did exist" before LaVey.
Anyhow, even if it can be shown that none of these authors are "credible," it is still likely that their zeitgeist was shared by at least some self-described witches at the time. If nearly everyone else back then shared the perception that "Witchcraft" (as a religion) equals Devil worship (or a mix of Devil worship and Paganism), the only point of controversy being whether Devil worship was necessarily a bad thing, then why should the beliefs of the folk witches themselves have been an exception? (Of course, there were also plenty of folk witches whose witchcraft was not a religion in the first place, but only a craft, e.g. "water witches" like my great grandfather. These would most likely have been neither Pagans nor Devil worshippers, but Christians.)
Ms. Vera then asserts the possibility that "certain traditions of Wicca have started out as forms of Satanism and then gradually moved away from it." This one is hardly worthy of commenting on, and the differences between the two religions clearly rule this possibility out (in fact, if such a thing actually occurred, it would be a religious change of extreme magnitude for all of its members, a quite improbable occurrence indeed).
Religious groups evolve in many ways, not necessarily involving "a religious change of extreme magnitude for all of its members." Groups also evolve via turnover of membership and power struggles between factions, for example. Thus, for example, a group whose beliefs included a mix of Pagan and Satanic elements might have de-emphasized the Satanic elements for public-relations reasons, and hence might have attracted more and more new members who were interested only in the Pagan elements and not the Satanic elements.
Also, when a religious subculture is brand new, its beliefs are likely to be a lot more varied and fluid than later on, when the religion has become an established tradition. It is highly unlikely today that a group of, say, LaVey Satanists, would convert en masse to Wicca, or vice versa.
However, suppose that, at any time between the 1920's and the 1950's, a group of Michelet-based Satanists had read Margaret Murray's books. If the group had already equated Satan with Pan anyway, they would have taken Murray's books as a validation of the Pagan aspects of their own beliefs. And they would likely have used Murray's (and Sir James Frazer's, Robert Graves's, Charles G. Leland's, etc.) books to help them flesh out their Paganism. Thus they would have ended up with something a lot like Wicca.
Also, although today's Satanists almost unanimously reject the "Threefold Law," this might not have been the case years ago. In fact, the group that a friend of mine briefly belonged to back in the mid-1960's did believe in something like the Threefold Law. My point here is not to endorse this group's beliefs, but simply to point out that there was less difference between Wicca and at least some forms of Satanism back then than there is today.
Satanism is a very fluid, protean thing. The spotlight-grabbing LaVeyans may have hardened their beliefs into an agreed-upon dogma, but we "Devil worshippers" (including Egan's First Church of Satan, of which I am not a member) have not. Many of us have been isolated for many years and are now finding each other thanks to the Internet. We hold a bewildering variety of opinions as to exactly who/what Satan is. Who knows what consensus will eventually emerge, if any? Along the way, I suspect that we will give birth to some new forms of Neo-Paganism too, since many of us equate Satan with one or more pre-Christian deities. (I myself do not.)
trust me, a person going from Satanism to Wicca would find much more differences in the belief and ethical structure of the religion than anything similar, and vice versa. A general knowledge of magickal ritual and structure may help someone jumping from one religion to "understand" the other better, but would soon find out that everything else was different.
Yes, there are a lot of differences, as I well know, having gone from a form of Wicca-based Paganism to a form of Satanism (though, for about a year, I tried to hold on to a mix of both). Nevertheless, I still see some important commonalities. Not just the ritual magic, but also, as I mentioned earlier, the respect for individuality, shared by most other occult/"New Age" religions as well. Perhaps one reason I notice the commonalities is that I have also undergone a far more radical conversion, namely leaving hardcore Christianity. I was brought up in a conservative Christian household and gave up Christianity at the age of 15.
Next, Ms. Vera attempts to point out the possibility of having a "Satan-like" Pagan deity, such as Pan. This is highly unlikely, as well as a poor example, because Satan is supposed to be a being of absolute evil, a concept unknown to Pagan theology, as all of Paganism's deities and god-forms were a combination of light and dark qualities, even if one was dominant over the other in certain deities,
In case you haven't noticed by now, most Satanists do not see Satan as "a being of absolute evil." Satan is associated with various things that Christians have traditionally considered evil, but which the Satanists themselves typically do not consider "evil," except in an ironic sense. I personally dismiss the very concept of "absolute evil" as an absurdity.
Oh, and by the way, "light" and "dark" are not the same thing as "good" (in the sense of beneficial) and "evil" (in the sense of harmful). Light can sometimes be harmful, e.g. staring at the Sun is bad for your eyes. And various "dark" things can be beneficial, e.g. being in touch with your unconscious mind. (Chris N. isn't the first Wiccan I've pointed this out to. Still, it always amazes me when I have to point this out to a Wiccan, given Wicca's use of morally neutral "light" and "dark" symbolism, and given Wicca's emphasis on "polarity and balance.")
and Satan also lacks the close connection to nature that the Pagan deities often embody (and Pan was a prime example of such a nature deity, as were all the male deities with horns and hooves without exception).
Many forms of Satanism, especially those that identify Satan with Pan, do see Satan as being closely connected to Nature -- which shouldn't be surprising, given how Christianity has traditionally lumped together "the Devil, the world, and the flesh," and given the Apostle Paul's put-downs of "the natural man," as distinct from "the spiritual man." Even LaVeyans see Satan as symbolizing a "dark force in nature," among other things, and speak of "man as just another animal, sometimes better, more often worse, than the ones that walk on all fours, who, because of his "divine spiritual and intellectual development," has become the most dangerous animal of all!"
However, I strongly beg to differ with Ms. Vera that the problem with Wicca being connected to Satanism is over-stated. It is disgustingly common for Wiccans seen wearing a pentagram to be asked "Why are you wearing the symbol of the Devil?" or "Why are you wearing the symbol of Satanism?" I've been asked such things myself too many times to count
This probably depends on where one lives. I'm guessing that Chris N. lives in the Bible Belt, correct? Here in New York, the most common question a pentagram-wearer (whether point-up or point-down) will get asked is, "Is that a Jewish star?" Yet, even here in New York, I've known Wiccans and other Neo-Pagans who would go on and on about how they are "not Satanists!" when no one had even thought to ask such a question. I was particularly irritated by one such woman who, in her choice of clothing, makeup, and jewelry, went out of her way to look as sinister as possible.
Actually, the problem is not so much that people attempt to connect Wicca (or sometimes Paganism in general) with Satanism (as wrong as such a thing is) but the fact that they connect us with the public misperception of Satanism as being a religion of evil, devil-worshipping child-murderers and virgin-slayers.
That's an important distinction. Alas, too many Wiccans have failed to make that distinction.
Also, I believe that a Satanist has a lot of nerve to accuse Wiccans of using "diabolical" terms like "witch" and "sabbat" to gain notoriety and achieve salacious attention, or perhaps to "feel naughty," when Satanists use the word "Satan" to describe their religion! There is no term in a Judeo-Christian society that could possibly harbor more ill will and misperceptions upon a religion by the uninformed than the word "Satan!" Yet in her article she actually asks "Why do Wiccans insist on using words like 'witch' and 'coven' when they could easily use other, more respectable sounding words?"
The question here is how essential the terminology is to one's beliefs. Quite a few Wiccans have, in fact, moved away from the terms "witch", "coven", and "sabbat." I've seen quite a few Wiccans use the term "circle" instead of "coven," and "Pagan holiday" instead of "sabbat." Does Chris N. see anything wrong with this? Or does Chris N. see the terminology of "coven" and "sabbat" as being important to hold onto for some reason? If so, why?
The only possible reason I can think of, besides attention-getting, would be an identification with the victims of the witchhunts. Fine, as long as this identification is metaphorical (e.g. a religious statement of solidarity with all victims of all witchhunts through the ages, regardless of the victim's religion) rather than based on belief in the at-best very shaky hypothesis that the witchhunts were targeted primarily at an alleged surviving Pagan "witch cult," let alone that Wicca itself is descended intact from Cro-Magnon days via said "witch cult."
As for "Satan," I have not much choice about my use of the name "Satan," at least not if I'm being honest. I became a Satanist because the most profound spiritual experiences of my life were triggered by reading a brief invocation to Satan that I happened to run into online. (And I realized that these experiences were congruent with things I had felt in the past without attaching a name to them.) I do not equate Satan with any other deity, and my personal understanding of Satanism is based primarily on a reinterpretation of Christianity plus the history of Western civilization. Thus, there is no other name I can use for my deity that seems appropriate.
By the way, I am every bit as annoyed -- if not more so -- by the attention-getting behavior of some Satanists (mainly some LaVeyans, but a few others too) as I am by the attention-getting behavior of some Wiccans. Too many of them go out of their way to make themselves look big, bad, and scary, to the point of ridiculousness.
Regarding feminist Goddess-worship and Satanism:
She makes this particular "connection" by referring to the fact that certain feminist mystics pay homage to Lilith, the legendary she-demon from Jewish folklore, and who is sort of a female version of Satan (some religious scribes added her to the story of Adam and Eve, claiming she was Adam's first wife that fell further from grace than he and his second wife eventually did). Ms. Vera then refers to the feminist Pagan author Mary Daly, who has often attacked and inverted Christian imagery, but this in no way suggests evidence for Ms. Vera's "Wiccan/Satanist connection" (in fact, such flimsy and circumstantial evidence is indicative of one of those famous "conspiracy" theories).
"Conspiracy" theories??? That sure is a straw-man argument. I am merely pointing out some obvious parallels between Satanism and some forms of feminist Goddess religion that are well-accepted within the Neo-Pagan scene, at least among feminist Goddess worshippers. I am not asserting an organizational connection or "conspiracy," nor am I asserting that there are no significant differences between the two. I myself tried to combine the two for about a year and concluded that the combination did not work well (at least not in the form that I tried it). But the parallels are still there.
And there is also, as I mentioned in my article, the direct influence of Michelet on some influenctial feminist writers.
Ms. Vera next proceeds to point out the book Women, Church and State by 19th century feminist and suffrage leader Matilda Joslyn Gage, and cites her as the "first" writer of Witchcraft and Goddess-worship (that's news to me)
Not necessarily the "first writer of Witchcraft and Goddess worship," but, as far as I know, the first feminist writer on these topics.
and how she "enthusiastically" describes a Black Mass. Once again, refer to my many arguments listed above in favor of the lack of accurate information about Witchcraft, and the strong misunderstandings of it, available to 19th century writers.
The relevant point here is not that Gage's description of a medieval peasant Black Mass is accurate (which indeed it probably isn't), but that Gage herself -- a well known, influential 19th-century feminist leader -- praised Satan as "the God of Freedom."
The idea of Goddess-worship was quite unheard of in the 19th century, sorry.
No it wasn't. Read Matilda Gage yourself if you don't believe me. Her book Woman, Church, and State begins with a chapter on "the Matriarchate" in which, among other things, she talks about ancient Goddess religion. (My point here is not that her description of "the Matriarchate" was accurate, but only that she did write about ancient Goddess worship in favorable terms.)
As for actual Goddess worship, that was around too in the late 19th century. Neo-Paganism is older than the religion of Wicca (which, as Chris N. correctly notes, was founded in the 1950's by Gerald Gardner). Even the Golden Dawn venerated some Egyptian Goddesses, though, in their case, not as a central theme.
Ms. Vera's final argument is one of particular importance. She brings up the topic of whether or not "anyone" can be a witch, regardless of whether they are Wiccan or not, and she says she is annoyed that Wiccans imply that our religion has the exclusive rights to the Witchcraft label. I shall attempt to explain this here. It's true, as she said, that Witchcraft itself is not a religion, but is a type of magick practiced by Wiccans, and only people who practice Witchcraft and are adept at it to some degree, whether Wiccans or not, can claim the term for themselves. She then points out that her great grandfather called himself a "water witch" when he was in fact Christian and that many books have references to people who are called "witches" despite no claim to Wicca or the "old" religion it is based on. This is merely indicative of the fact that Witchcraft is still so misunderstood by our society, and that many people believe that all magick can be defined as "Witchcraft,"
Chris N. doesn't clearly define "witchcraft" (as a particular system of magick) or explain how to distinguish "witchcraft" from magick in general, except by stating that (1) witchcraft is not the same thing as ceremonial magick (which tends to be practiced by Christians who practice magick) and (2) that witches must by definition follow the Wiccan code of ethics, because the word "witch" originally meant "wise," and any truly "wise" person would necessarily follow Wiccan ethics.
First, scholars do not agree on the etymology of the word "witch." Some say that it never meant "wise one," but is derived from an Anglo-Saxon word meaning "to bend."
Second, what a truly "wise" person would do in a given situation is a matter of opinion.
Third, I think it pretentious for anyone to call oneself "wise" simply by virtue of practicing a particular system of magick according to a particular ethical code.
Fourth, my great grandfather did not practice ceremonial magick, nor did he ever (to my knowledge) curse anyone. All he did was tell people where to dig wells. Does that make him a "Christian witch" by Chris N's definition? If not, why not? In other words, how, more precisely, does Chris N. define "witchcraft" as a system of magick?
Fifth, other than to cite a controversial derivation of the word "witch," Chris N. does not explain what entitles Wiccans to claim the word "witch" as referring exclusively to a particular system of magick, when the word has been used much more broadly for centuries.
Finally, one minor annoyance: On the parts of Chris N.'s website that I've looked at so far, I have found no clue as to whether Chris N. is male or female. Hence my clumsy overuse of Chris N.'s name, to avoid using the pronoun "he" or "she." Chris N., if you're reading this, please let me know your gender.
December 2002 e.v.
See also the update to my article Satanism and the History of Wicca.