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Satan as gate-opener:
Modern Western polytheists and Satan

by Diane Vera

Copyright © 2004 by Diane Vera. All rights reserved.

  1. Modern Pagan theologies and the JCI entities
  2. Polytheism and the existence of Satan and the Christian god
  3. Is it reasonable for polytheists to dismiss Satan as totally irrelevant?

  1. Modern Pagan theologies and the JCI entities

    Many modern Western Pagans will say they believe in just about every god in just about every pantheon except for the Christian god and Satan. This position is quite illogical, in my opinion.

    Pagans vary in their theology. Many Wicca-based Pagans hold a view which Tim Maroney once satirized as: "All goddesses are The Goddess, including Eve, Mary, and Lilith, who are The Goddess. All male gods are The God, except for Jehovah, Jesus, and Satan, who are not The God." Other Pagans are more polytheistic, believing in the gods as distinct entities, not just aspects of one Goddess and one male God.

    Regarding the Wicca-based view: There can be no logical basis for including, among The God's many facets, all male gods from all religions, with the sole exception of the Jewish/Christian/Islamic triad, unless you believe both (1) that all non-JCI religions are fundamentally alike and (2) that only the JCI triad worships a truly unique god. Such stereotyping of all non-JCI religions as a single unified "other" is, itself, a JCI-centric attitude. In reality, there are many different non-JCI religions. (It is not true, for example, that all non-JCI religions worship Nature.) And the JCI religions inherited a lot of themes from older religions, just as all other religions have inherited themes from older religions.

    The remainder of this article will be addressed to the minority of Pagans who hold a more hard-polytheistic view, including those Pagan Reconstructionists who acknowledge the existence of at least some deities outside their own particular pantheons.

  2. Polytheism and the existence of Satan and the Christian god

    Of course, Christian theology does conflict with polytheism, so a polytheist cannot accept the idea that the Christian god is the true cosmic God. Nor can a polytheist accept the idea that all nonhuman spirits are mere servants of either the Christian god or Satan. Still, as I will explain below, it is most reasonable for a polytheist to believe that the Christian god is in some sense a real entity, though a polytheist's interpretation of who and what that entity is will necessarily differ from traditional Christian beliefs. Furthermore, it is most likely that both the Christian god and Satan are at least as powerful as most of the gods that have been popularly worshipped by large groups of people in the past.

    Regarding the Christian god: If even some of the gods of the old religions of Europe and the Middle East are real, and if those gods had any liking at all for the attentions of their human worshippers, then how could so many of those religions have been displaced by a religion which worships a totally unreal god? Of course, Christianity and Islam spread via a combination of aggressive persuasion and force. But why didn't the older gods protect their worshippers from being conquered by Christians and Muslims? If you believe in these gods at all, then the most reasonable conclusion is that the Hebrew/Christian/Muslim god too is indeed a real spiritual entity of some sort, and indeed a relatively powerful one, even though I don't think it's at all likely that the Hebrew/Christian/Muslim god is the true cosmic God. (I'm not sure whether the Hebrew, Christian, and Muslim god(s) are the same entity, but I'll assume for now that they are.)

    Regarding Satan: If one accepts the idea that the Christian god (1) is in some sense real and relatively powerful and (2) desires to be worshipped by as many people as possible, then it also seems likely that the Christian god has a powerful enemy other than just the old gods who were displaced. Why? During the past few centuries, the Christian god seems to have lost much of his grip in quite a few of his former strongholds, including Western Europe and most other cultureally Western countries around the world (e.g. Canada, Australia, and New Zealand), and to a lesser degree the United States. Many (though not all) of these countries are among the world's most prosperous and most technologically advanced. But, in these regions, Christianity has not been supplanted by the worship of any other specific deity or pantheon. It has been supplanted primarily by atheism and agnosticism (often under the guise of a continued nominal membership in the state church), and only secondarily by a growing variety of alternative theistic religions. So, it would appear that the Christian god has been at least partially driven into exile by an entity or group of entities who don't particularly care about being worshipped by large numbers of people, but who do favor human technological progress.

    The above description fits Satan/Azazel to a tee. Traditionally, Satan is not seen as wanting vast hordes of worshippers. (Christians traditionally see Satan as being much more interested in leading people away from the Christian god. I would add that Satan seems to enjoy challenging dogma in general.) As for the technology angle, this too makes sense if one recognizes that the Christian "Satan" concept is based more on Azazel than on "ha-satan" of the Book of Job. (See the first two sections of the Theology of the Church of Azazel, and see the question Why do you consider Satan and Azazel to be the same entity? in the Church of Azazel FAQ.)

    So, it does not seem at all logical for a Western polytheist to deny the existence of Satan.

  3. Is it reasonable for polytheists to dismiss Satan as totally irrelevant?

    Some Western polytheists will say that Satan exists but is irrelevant. This doesn't seem logical to me either.

    In the African Diaspora religions, the god Exu/Echu/Legba/Ellegua has often been identified with Satan/Lucifer - not just by Christians, but by adherents of the African Diaspora religions themselves. Exu is traditionally seen as, among other things, the god of doorways, gateways, and crossroads. (Crossroads were often associated with the Devil in European folklore too. For example, until the nineteenth century, suicides and ex-communicated people were commonly buried at the crossroads rather than in consecrated ground.) Among other things, Exu is seen as opening the gates between the worlds, between the gods and humans. Therefore, in at least some variants of the African Diaspora religions, it is believed that one should always call upon Exu/Echu/Legba/Ellegua first, before any of the other gods, so that Exu will open the gates and thereby make it possible to communicate with the other gods.

    Now, I don't fully embrace a generalized version of this African Diaspora belief. I don't believe that Satan directly manages, on an ongoing basis, all other spirits' access to the human realm. I don't believe, for example, that modern Western Pagans need to call upon Satan before calling upon any other god in order to communicate effectively with that god.

    Nevertheless, it does seem to me that Satan has played a gate-opener role for the modern Pagan community, in the following ways:

    1. The modern Pagan movement arose only after Christianity's near-monopoly in the West had been already broken. That near-monopoly was broken, primarily, not by Pagans but by atheists, agnostics, and Deists. Hence, if indeed any spiritual entity at all was involved in breaking the Christian near-monopoly and thereby laying the groundwork for the growth of modern Paganism, the most likely candidate would be Satan/Azazel (who does not desire large numbers of worshippers), not any popularly-worshipped ancient god.

    2. The most popular form of modern Paganism is Neo-Pagan Witchcraft. Although Neo-Pagan Witches do not worship Satan and in many cases will vehemently deny that they even believe in Satan, it seems to me that many of them do, in effect, call on Satan in a backhanded sort of way, by using symbols and terminology traditionally associated with diabolical witchcraft and, therefore, having to spend lots of time and energy denying that they are Satanists. (No other religion's adherents spend so much time denying that they are Satanists. For example, when was the last time you heard a Western Buddhist say "Buddhism is not Satanism"? Except perhaps in the most isolated Bible Belt backwaters, it is simply obvious to everyone that Buddhism is not Satanism.) And it seems to me that the diabolical-witchcraft baggage associated with Neo-Pagan Witchcraft has drawn attention to that religion and thereby helped it grow.

    3. The most immediate ancestors of Neo-Pagan Witchcraft include various traditions which aren't, strictly speaking, "Satanist", but which do have a definite "Luciferian" component, involving a "Lucifer" based at least in part on the Christian "Satan" concept, even though "Lucifer" is often distinguised from "Satan." These traditions include (1) Theosophy, (2) Thelema, (3) the witchcraft traditiion described in Aradia: Gospel of the Witches, (4) Feri Witchcraft, and (5) various other forms of "Traditional Witchcraft" that have become increasingly open about their Luciferian aspect in recent years.

    4. The growth of Neo-Pagan Witchcraft has, in turn, created a subculture in which other modern Pagan religions have grown also, partly in reaction against the "fluff-bunniness" of many Neo-Pagan Witches.

    5. There are quite a few theistic Satanists who believe that "Satan" is actually the Christian-era name of some ancient popularly-worshipped pagan deity, e.g. Pan, Set, and, most recently, Enki.   I do not agree with this belief. (See Who and what is Satan? Various Satanist reinterpretations.) But it seems to me that those who hold such a belief are, in effect, calling upon Satan as a gate-opener for whatever god they've identified with Satan. Such forms of theistic Satanism are likely to give birth to new forms of modern Paganism centered around the deity in question.

    Thus, in various ways, it seems to me that Satan has helped the older gods regain their access to the human realm.

    It does not follow that these gods are mere servants of Satan. In most cases, I see their relationship with Satan as being more like a temporary alliance of convenience, most likely on a basis something like "The enemy of my enemy is my friend."

    So, my point here is not that Western polytheistic Pagans really should worship Satan. As I've said, Satan doesn't desire vast hordes of worshippers. The only people who should worship Satan/Azazel are those who feel specifically called to do so.

    Still, if you're a Western polytheist, it doesn't make sense to diamiss Satan either as totally nonexistent or as totally irrelevant to your life. If you live in the modern West, you live in Satan's domain. Worship whatever god or gods you personally feel called to worship -- but don't be horrified by the idea that you do so with Satan/Azazel's blessing.

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