Against Satanic Panics > To Pagans and occultists > Why oppose a Satanic panic?

Why it behooves Pagans and occultists to oppose a Satanic panic

by Diane Vera

Copyright © 2006 by Diane Vera. All rights reserved.

  1. What can Pagans and occultists gain by counteracting a Satanic panic? - Brief summary
  2. Why you can't escape being seen as "Satanic" or "demonic"
  3. How, then, can conservative Christians be calmed down about Pagans and occultists?
  4. Why Pagans, occultists, and other religious minorities will need to take more responsibility for debunking future Satanic panics
  5. A lesson from the GLBT community
  6. How Pagans and occultists can help

  1. What can Pagans and occultists gain by counteracting a Satanic panic? - Brief summary
  2. Public panics about "Satanism" are inherently dangerous to people of all minority religions and spiritualities, especially the more "magical" religions and any types of spirituality which develop or claim to develop the individual's own powers. "Satanism" scares inherently inflame Christian opposition to occultism of all kinds, and to non-Christian religions in general.

    "Satanism" scares may even inflame prejudice against atheists. (See the thread The notion that atheists "worship Satan" (???!!) on the Internet Infidels message board, an atheist forum.) Likewise, even Unitarian Universalists have been accused of being in league with the Devil, according to Jim Eller, pastor of All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church of Kansas City, August 4, 2002.

    Given current trends within Christianity itself, the linkage between "Satanism" scares and general Christian religious bigotry is becoming more and more solidified. As the more doctrinaire forms of Christianity continue to grow at the expense of more liberal, tolerant forms, it will become less and less feasible for Pagans and occultists to escape Christian wrath by trying to distance themselves from Satanists. If even mainstream humanistic atheists - who don't believe in any gods at all, and who in most cases don't believe in any other spirits either - are now associated with Satan by more and more Christians these days, then there is simply no way that Pagans and occultists can possibly hope to escape being associated with Satan in the popular Christian imagination.

    What, then, is the most important key to calming down conservative Christian panic about Pagan Witchcraft? Not the distinction between Pagan Witchcraft and Satanism - a distinction which Pagans are certainly entitled to make, but which, even when conservative Christians understand it, is often seen by them as a mere technicality.

    Rather, what would be far more helpful to Pagans and occultists would be to debunk the Christians' more mundane fears about Satanism itself. As long as many conservative Christians still believe in a powerful conspiracy of Satanists, they'll see Pagan Witchcraft as, at best, an unwitting pawn of that conspiracy. As long as they still believe that murder and child sexual abuse in the name of Satan are commonplace, they'll most likely see Pagan Witchraft as a deceptively innocent-looking first step into the vast evil web of "Satanic crime." After all, they'll still believe that Pagan Witches are dealing with the same army of demons that Satanists do, albeit unwittingly, evan after you've convinced them that the religions themselves are distinct. But, once conservative Christians realize that even Satanism isn't quite the horrendous menace to society that the scaremongers have claimed, then they'll feel far less menaced by other "Satanic" religions too, such as Pagan Witchcraft.

    Most importantly, although many uninformed Christians still do believe in widespread "Satanic crime" and Satanic conspiracy theories, these beliefs are not mandated by the official doctrines of any Christian church that I know of. On the other hand, the idea that Pagan Witchcraft isn't in any sense "Satanic" does indeed conflict severely with what the vast majority of conservative Christians (especially the fastest-growing denominations, e.g. Pentecostals) would consider to be orthodox doctrine.

    Hence you are far more likely to win an argument on the former issue than on the latter - at least when talking to the better-educated, more articulate, and more religiously-literate conservative Christians, including pastors, theologians, and apologists. Even more so than conservative Christians in general, conservative Christian pastors and theologians tend to be obsessed with doctrinal orthodoxy. And, if your aim is to promote religious tolerance, pastors and theologians are among the most important Christians to talk to, given their influence on other Christians.

    Therefore, it is in the best interests of Pagans and occultists not only to distinguish themselves from Satanists, but also to support efforts to calm down public fears about Satanism itself as well. And the latter can be done. (See my pages on "Satanism" scares and their debunking and The "Satanic Ritual Abuse" scare of the 1980's and early 1990's.) Even some very orthodoxy-minded conservative evangelical Christians have endorsed the debunking of the SRA scare of the 1980's and early 1990's. (See Christian writers and the Satanic Panic on my Theistic Satanism site.) Some have even played an proactive role in said debunking.

    Furthermore, as I will explain below and on my separate page on Promoting religious tolerance, it is also possibile to convince even some very doctrinaire conservative Christians of the need for religious tolerance in the sense of respecting one another's religious freedom - even while they still believe that Pagan Witchcraft is in some general sense "Satanic."

  3. Why you can't escape being seen as "Satanic" or "demonic"
  4. When talking to liberal and middle-of-the-road Christians, it was feasible for Pagans and occultists to escape the "demonic" stigma simply by distancing themselves from Satanists and by trumpeting the Wiccan Rede. But there are now, proportionately speaking, a lot fewer Christians attending liberal and middle-of-the-road churches than there were a generation ago.

    These past several decades, the more intolerant forms of Christianity have been growing. The more moderate and liberal forms of Christianity have been shrinking, while the more conservative forms - and various other, even more fanatical and demon-obsessed forms - have been growing. (See my collection of links on The growing number of Christians of kinds which inherently fear demons, Satanists, witches, occultists, Pagans, and atheists - Why a new worldwide Satanic panic is likely, given worldwide religious trends.)

    Among conservative Christians, "Satanism" scares lead inevitably to a greater emphasis on demons and exorcism. Christian preoccupation with demons, in turn, exacerbates prejudice against all non-Christian spiritualities, especially the more individualistic and self-empowering forms of spirituality, for four reasons: (1) All spiritual powers not subordinate to the Christian God are believed to be demons. (2) As for the idea of developing one's own spiritual or psychic powers, "This exaltation of humanity overturns the correct relationship between Creator and creature," according to an official Vatican statement (Jesus Christ, the Bearer of the Water of Life: A Christian Reflection on the "New Age" by the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, 2003), which then adds, "and one of its extreme forms is Satanism." Many similar statements have been made by Protestants as well. (3) Not only all non-Christian spiritual powers, but also all non-Christian belief systems - even atheism - are believed by conservative Christians to be inspired or at least encouraged by Satan. (4) Modern Pagan Witches typically have some major disagreements with traditional Christian morality, tending to be pro-feminist and to favor responsible sexual freedom.

    Ideas like the above are not simply a result of ignorance about non-Christian religions; they are intrinsic to the core theological doctrines of nearly all the more conservative forms of Christianity. Even if educated about the beliefs of Pagans and occultists, the more doctrinaire Christians will still see you as trafficking with demons, unknowingly if not knowingly, or at least opening yourself up to demonic influence. And in any case they'll still believe that you're destined to go to hell. Conservative Christian theology inherently requires this.

    Pentecostal evangelist Rafael Martinez, Co-Director of Spirit Watch Ministries, has made an unusually conscientious effort to portray the beliefs of Wiccans accurately in his essay Out Of The Broom Closet - Witchcraft Today. He refutes the common Christian claims that "Witches practice Satanism and worship the devil," "Wiccans are evil people," and "witches are a cult group." Martinez also says, "We do not support and will firmly resist the demonization of Wiccans as subhuman monsters and believe that their right to worship as they would must be respected." Yet even he writes, "while witchcraft is not Satanism, it is still Satanic in spirit. Wiccans may well reject any belief in Satan, which in no way dismisses his own actual existence and work which is still very real. At the core of Satan's resistance of God is his rejection of what God has revealed as ultimate spiritual truth, that being the revelation of the Gospel and Person of Jesus Christ...." Given traditional Christian doctrine that the only spiritual powers not subservient to the Christian God are Satan and demons, and given traditional Christian belief that worship of the "true God" requires doctrinal orthodoxy, Martinez's attitude is the very friendliest that Pagan Witches can possibly hope for from most conservative Christians and especially from most Pentecostals, who are among the fastest-growing branches of Christianity.

    Christians traditionally see all "false religions" as having been inspired or at least encouraged by Satan. Even in the extraordinarily well-informed (though outdated) conservative Christian web article The Truth About Satanism, Calvinist evangelist Lance King refers to all non-Christian religions - and some Christian sects he considers heretical, such as the Jehovah's Witnesses - as "false religions," all of which "are generally 'satanic' to the extent that they turn people away from the person of Jesus" - even though, as King notes, most "false religions," including Wicca, don't worship Satan. In King's eyes, all "false religions" are equally 'Satanic" because they all "lead the seeker away from God with the same eternal results." King rejects the idea that even "a Mormon is better off with Joseph Smith’s 'restored gospel' (which teaches that men may become gods) than the Satanist with his copy of 'The Satanic Bible' (which teaches that man is an animal)."

    On the other hand, many other conservative Christians will see as especially "Satanic" those particular "false religious," such as Pagan Witchcraft, which (a) have even a few disagreements with traditional Christian morality, (b) aim to empower the human individual, rather than encourage the worship of the Abrahamic God, and/or (c) claim experience with actual spiritual beings or forces - which, in the eyes of nearly all conservative Christians, must be demonic if they aren't purely illusory.

    If you're Wiccan, the "harm none" part of the Wiccan Rede does not make you any less "Satanic" in the eyes of most conservative Christian pastors or theologians. If your ethics are based on anything other than subservience to the Biblical God, then your ethics are "Satanic" in the sense of "rebelling against" the Biblical God - even if you don't believe in said God, and even if you're a thoroughly nice person. In any case, the more doctrinaire conservative Christians will not be favorably impressed by the Wiccan Rede; you'll probably have to spend quite a bit of time trying to convince them that society won't fall apart without a much stricter "absolute standard."

    So, if you are a Pagan or occultist, all the "we're not Satanists" disclaimers in the world will not stop the more doctrinaire Christians from perceiving you as being de facto in league with Satan. The theology of most conservative Christian churches requires them to see you that way.

  5. How, then, can conservative Christians be calmed down about Pagans and occultists?
  6. Luckily, even the most devout Christians tend to worry less about purely spiritual threats than about perceived material dangers to themselves and to their children and to their homes, neighborhoods, and churches.

    And, although conservative Christians are required by their doctrine to believe that Pagans and occultists are going to hell and are at least potentially dealing with demons, there is nothing in their doctrine which requires them to believe that Pagans, occultists, or even Satanists are necessarily violent criminals. Nor does their doctrine require them to believe in a human grand comspiracy of Satanists.

    If you are a Pagan or occultist, there is simply no way you can assure a doctrinaire Christian that you aren't trafficking with demons, or at the very least opening yourself up to demonic influence. But you nevertheless can, with sufficient effort, assure at least the relatively more intelligent conservative Christians that they and their children do not face very much danger from "Satanic and occult crime." You can also - with greater effort - assure them that Western civilization won't fall apart due to acceptance of religious diversity. (See my page on Promoting religious tolerance.)

    Once assured on those two points, even the most devout conservative Christians will be more apt to feel that, although you're still going to hell, that's your problem and not theirs. Or, if they do still consider it to be their problem, they'll at least be more apt to feel that they'll have a better chance of converting you if they "show Christian love" by not spreading nasty stories and by not trying to force Christianity on religious minorities.

    Among conservative Christian evangelists and apologists, a non-panicky attitude toward Wicca is likely to reflect a non-panicky attitude toward Satanism too. For example, in Wiccans and Christians: some mutual challenges by Philip S. Johnson, the section False witness? briefly mentions a few Satanic-conspiracy scaremongers and the debunking thereof. Johnson's article is on a Christian website which also has an unusually good collection of links on Satanism. A few of the articles listed on that Satanism links page are by John Smulo, an Australian Baptist minister who has debunked common Christian misconceptions about Satanism and is now working to debunk common Christian misconceptions about Wicca. Likewise John Morehead, a Southern Baptist minister here in the U.S.A., has written the article Giving the Devil More than His Due:  Supernatural Sensationalism and the Need for Discernment, debunking some Christians' slanders against a northern California Pagan bookstore while at the same time debunking some anti-Satanist claims. And the earlier-quoted article by Pentecostal evangelist Rafael Martinez contains a link to Lance King's unusually well-informed though outdated article on Satanism, also on the Spirit Watch Ministries website (although Martinez goes on to make some inaccurate statements of his own about Satanism - see my comments about Martinez's essay on my Theistic Satanism site.).

    Many Pagans have evidently felt that the way to do Pagan public relations is to scapegoat Satanists;  to endorse the idea that Satanists are violent criminals while insisting that Pagans aren't. Three problems with this strategy, from the point of view of what's best for Pagans:

    1. It is plainly dishonest and will therefore undermine one's credibility in the long run. In fact, most real-life human sacrifices today are performed by fringe adherents of genuinely old pagan religions. (See my collection of links on human sacrifice.)
    2. Nevertheless, the West has not been inundated by a vast wave of human sacrifice performed by African or Indian immigrants either. Human sacrifice isn't commonplace anywhere in today's world - unless you count holy war as a form of human sacrifice, in which case it is still common and the worst offenders have been Christians and Muslims. But human sacrifice in the strict sense (killing for the purpose of an offering to a god, or to gain some hoped-for magical benefit) isn't common in general, and it isn't common among those who revere Satan either, just as it isn't common among the practitioners of traditional religions.

    3. As long as conservative Christians believe that there is a significant threat of "Satanic crime," they will see that threat as a reason to oppose religious diversity in general, not just Satanism, even if the other religions are not directly equated with Satanism. As I've already explained, "Satanic crime" is seen as a manifestation of the same army of demons (and, according to some Christians, the same behind-the-scenes human Satanic conspiracy) that is also thought to be behind all forms of occultism and all non-Abrahamic religions. And, as long as "Satanic crime" is seen as commonplace, Pagan Witchcraft will most likely be seen as an innocent-looking first step into the alleged criminal Satanist underground, in much the same way that marijuana use has often been alleged to be a first step to heroin addiction.
    4. As long as "Satanic crime" is seen as a widespread threat, its alleged ubiquity can be trumpeted by the religious right wing as one of direst signs of an alleged general "moral breakdown" that can be remedied only by ramming Christianity down everyone's throat. For an example of the general panic-stricken mentality which lumps Satanism, occultism, Wicca, and Druidism together with a slew of perceived social ills associated with "de-Christianization" and an alleged "death of morality," see The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: Consequences of De-Christianization, published 13 Nov. 2004 by Zenit, a Catholic news agency. (For my comments on the Zenit article, see my page about Satanism and the Roman Catholic fear of "de-Christianization". Regarding the Zenit article's typical religious right wing worries about an alleged "death of morality," see my page on Promoting religious tolerance.)

    To convince conservative Christians to become more tolerant, it is necessary to find out what they fear are the practical, material-world consequences of "de-Christianization," and then to assure them that, in those practical terms, all hell isn't breaking loose. And one of the ways that all hell isn't breaking loose is that the Christians and their children and their churches do not face a significant criminal menace from Satanists.

    To address Christian fears of religious diversity, it will also be necessary to debunk plenty of other urban legends besides just those pertaining to "Satanism." For some suggestions on how to reassure Christians on issues other than "Satanic crime," see my page on Promoting religious tolerance.)

    However, "Satanic and occult crime" is one of the first fears that will come to mind when Christians think about the growth of non-Abrahamic religions or a growth of interest in the occult, so it's a fear that will need to be addressed - not just by attempting to disassociate one's own religion from that fear, but also by addressing the fear itself.

    So, what can Pagans and occultists gain by supporting efforts to quell popular fears about Satanism? A vast reduction in danger to themselves. Insofar as the public is not panicking about Satanists, it is also not panicking about those people who are popularly confused with Satanists - and who will still be inextricably associated with Satan and demons in the official theology of nearly all conservative Christian churches even when the confusion with Satanists has been cleared up. And, insofar as the First Amendment rights of Satanists are protected, so too are the rights of Pagans and all other religious minorities.

  7. Why Pagans, occultists, and other religious minorities will need to take more responsibility for debunking future Satanic panics
  8. The "Satanic Ritual Abuse" scare of the 1980's and early 1990's was discredited successfully without much help from Pagans. Indeed, until approximately 1990-91, the Pagan community almost unanimously opposed the efforts of those few Pagan leaders who did speak out against the SRA scare, according to this blog entry by Brad Hicks. The SRA scare was successfully discredited anyway, in part because there were enough other people with strong need to oppose it - including lots and lots of mainstream upper middle class parents who had been accused by daughters in "recovered memory therapy."

    However, future Satanism scares will likely take forms that don't step on quite as many mainstream upper middle class toes. Therefore, if they are to be resisted successfully, we will need the Pagan community to do its share. If Pagans refuse to help, there will be, most likely, lots of unpleasant consequences for Pagans as well as for Satanists and for other religious minorities.

    Pagans should follow the example of various atheist/humanist organizations and publications, which, around 1990, did take the lead in standing up against the SRA scare.

    Atheist/humanist organizations and publications have long recognized that, in order to win tolerance toward atheists, they need to address Christian-based paranoia in general, including fears about "Satanic and occult crime," not just Christian fears about atheists in particular. Atheist/humanist organizations took the lead in debunking the Satanic Ritual Abuse (SRA) scare of the 1980's and early 1990's. In 1989, the Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion, affiliated with the Council for Secular Humanism, published Satanism in America: How the Devil Got Much More than His Due.

    On the other hand, even after the SRA scare died down in the early 1990's, many Pagans, as part of their own "we're not Satanists" disclaimers, still implicitly endorsed popular misconceptions about Satanism and, in many cases, added some misconceptions of their own. (For examples, please see A Critique of Wiccan and Other Neo-Pagan Disclaimers About Satanism and Stop scapegoating Satanists! Various Pagan sites and their not-Satanists disclaimers, both on my Theistic Satanism site.) Pagans do have every right to say that they are not Satanists. What I object to is Pagans perpetuating common misconceptions about Satanism. When I've pointed out these misconceptions to Pagans, some have listened while others have displayed an even more closed-minded attitude than the average fundy Christian. Apparently they were terrified of the possibility of being "associated with Satanists" if they were to say anything even remotely non-nasty about us.

    This kind of cowardice has a long history of being politically self-defeating, convenient though it may seem in the short run. As Martin Niemoller famously said, regarding the failure of resistance in Nazi Germany:

    First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a communist. Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me - and there was no one left to speak out for me.

    Fortunately, these days, some Pagan authors have been doing a lot of work to counteract at least some of the popular myths about Satanism, as well as to distinguish Paganism from Satanism. We need more Pagan writers to do likewise.

    In 2002, Kerr Cuhulain began posting the Witch Hunts series of articles on the very influential Pagan website Witchvox, including some pages about the "international Satanic conspiracy" myth (e.g. Mike Warnke, Michelle Remembers, Lieutenant Larry Jones, and Police Who Believe). Not everything Kerr Cuhulain says is accurate, even about the Pagan community. (For example, in Part 2 of Ex Pagan 4 Christ, he doesn't seem very knowledgeable about Pagan Reconstructionists.) But he has done a lot to educate Pagans and others about the SRA scare and its purveyors, and he has done a lot to educate law enforcement personnel about Pagan Witchcraft. I'm very glad he has recognized that the danger of Satanic panics is not just a thing of the past, and that it's worth his while to educate today's Pagans about it. My one major gripe is that, when he has had occasion to mention real-life Satanist leaders and groups such as the Church of Satan, I haven't yet seen him mention that these groups want their members to be law-abiding. (Admittedly I haven't yet read all his many essays about the Satanic panic, so it's possible I may have missed something.) I wouldn't ask him to devote a lot of space to talking about real-life Satanism - he is, after all, a spokesperson for Pagan Witchcraft, not Satanism - but the law-abidingness of at least the larger Satanist groups is a crucial point that needs to be made when debunking "Satanic crime" scares. (See Key points to be made when debunking "Satanism" scares on my page "Satanism" scares and their debunking: A brief introduction.)

  9. A lesson from the GLBT community
  10. The expression "gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender" (or "lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender") is now very common among GLBT (or LGBT) activists. But there was once quite a bit of resistance to that compound term. Many gay men and lesbians were prejudiced against bisexuals. Some even claimed that bisexuality didn't exist. And the more conservative gay activists didn't want to be associated with transgender people.

    But eventually most gay activists realized that it is not politically productive to feel embarrassed by one's natural allies, or to worry about being "associated with" other unpopular minorities. Trying to win acceptance by appearing as "normal" as possible - and, to that end, distancing oneself as much as possible from all other unpopular minorities - might be a workable strategy on a purely individual level, e.g when coming out of the closet to one's parents. But it's not a productive strategy on a political level. On a political level, it is essential to form alliances with other unpopular minorities to defend the rights of all. To worry too much about being "associated with" other minorities is to be divided and conquered.

    As Pagan queer activist Raven Kaldera has explained:

    I've been a queer activist for many years now, and a Pagan activist as well. This is a question that the queer community has been dealing with for some time: who do we dump in order to "look better" to right-wing fundamentalists? After years of angry (and justified) infighting, the queer community is finally coming to the realization that we can never dump enough "fringe groups" to look good to them. The fact that we are queer at all damns us. [...]

    That doesn't mean that all hope is lost, though. In Massachusetts, the state where I live, gay marriage was just legalized. I have faith that it will be a long, slow tumble across the country over the next few years. It's just a matter of time. The first stone has fallen, and the rest will follow. My point is that Massachusetts has one of the most inclusive queer movements in the country - we don't turn away the leatherfolk, the transsexuals, the drag kings and queens, the polyfolk in order to look respectable - and we won. We won. That says that it's possible to win without sacrificing any of your children at the gate.

    Why did we win? By being inclusive, we got the sheer numbers to do so.

    Raven Kaldera wrote the above in reply to an angry email message denouncing him for espousing polyamory in a Pagan context. Evidently some Pagans feel embarrassed by the out-of-the-closet polyamorists within their ranks. In his article In Defense of Pagan Polyamory, Kaldera wrote:

    The Pagan demographic will, similarly, have to come to this decision. The fact that we are a sex-positive, queer-positive religion means that we will never have their [conservative Christians'] blessing, polyamorists or no.

    I would add that Pagans still wouldn't have their blessing even if all Pagans were suddenly to turn staunchly sex-negative, homophobic, and gender-conformist. Pagans would still be seen as courting demons, and would still be non-Christian. Anyhow, Kaldera also wrote:

    We cannot convert most of the enemy....but we can outnumber them by gaining like-minded allies. By like-minded, I mean groups who are also pro-diversity, and who do not make rules about who their allied groups can have as members. Because that's one of the deepest tenets of Paganism.....that diversity is sacred, a truth that we can see reflected in Nature. By gaining allies who believe similarly, we gain the numbers to win. By not sacrificing our more controversial members, we show those allies - and the Gods who watch us and our cause - that we are not merely paying lip service to that ideal.

    I just came back from Detroit, where I was a guest speaker for an interfaith conference. I was one of the only two Pagan presenters. I went there thinking that I would be surrounded by unfriendly people who would not accept anything about me. I was wrong. There were people of all faiths there who were learning to see diversity as sacred, and while my path was not theirs, they could see the value in having many paths. I'd like to think that we Pagans would know better than to fall into the homogenization trap.

    The more general point here is that, for members of controversial minorities, the strategy of trying to make oneself look respectable by making as few waves as possible - and hence refusing to stand up for other, more controversial minorities even when there are compelling reasons to do so - can be a very limiting one.

  11. How Pagans and occultists can help
  12. How can Pagans help counteract Satanic panics?

    First, by educating themselves and other Pagans about both real-life Satanism and previous Satanic panics.

    To learn about real-life Satanism, I would suggest talking to a variety of different kinds of Satanists and reading a variety of Satanist writings. On my own websites, I would suggest, as introductory articles, What is Satanism? and Satan and "Evil" in Christianity (and Satanism). See also various sites listed on the following pages on my Theistic Satanism site: Other theistic or theistic-friendly Satanism/"LHP" websites and Miscellaneous links. (The latter page includes some symbolic Satanist sites.) I would also suggest reading articles about Satanism by some outside scholars and journalists. If you have questions about Satanism, please feel free to ask them in Theistic-Satanists-and-others or Theistic-Satanism-ethics-and-politics if you're a Pagan or occultist. (People other than Satanists, Pagans, and occultists are invited to join Theistic-Satanists-and-others-2.)

    To learn about previous Satanic panics, see "Satanism" scares and their debunking: A brief introduction and the many articles listed on my page about The Satanic Ritual Abuse Scare of the 1980's and early 1990's. See also my page about Italy's current Satanic panic.

    When asked, "Are you a Satanist?" or "Do you worship Satan?", please distinguish between Paganism and Satanism in ways that do not scapegoat or misrepresent Satanists. (For some common Pagan misrepresentations of Satanism, please see A Critique of Wiccan and Other Neo-Pagan Disclaimers About Satanism on my Theistic Satanism site.) Please remember that it is not in the best interests of Pagans to feed Christian fears about Satanism, even though doing so may seem, at first glance, to be a quick and easy way to get Pagans off the hook.

    To distinguish between Paganism and Satanism, I would suggest pointing out that most modern Pagans revere one or more deities of pre-Christian cultures, and that pre-Christian pantheons do not include Satan, who is a figure in Jewish/Christian/Islamic mythology. However, please do not say things like "Satanism is just upside-down Christianity," or "Satanism is a Christian heresy," or even "Satanism is Christian" or "only a Christian would believe in Satan." (See Is Satanism a "Christian heresy"? Is Satanism "Abrahamic"? on my Theistic Satanism site.)

    Regarding questions about Satanism and criminal activities, the Media Guide for Pagans by Quill and Frater S.P.R.V. contains the following commendable - though inaccurate and outdated - attempt to handle this issue:

    8. When dealing with journalists, it must be assumed that they know little about Paganism and, therefore, cannot sufficiently distinguish between those traditions, genuine Satanism, and the pseudo-Satanic activities of those who play at calling up the darker forces through animal sacrifice, drinking blood, ritual abuse or other abhorrent practices. Since the media, unfortunately, tends to base its reports on the need for viewer ratings and, therefore, sensationalism, providing a basic education to the journalists in the regard will give Pagans recourse, should inaccurate information be included in the journalist’s final product.

    • Paganism
      Can be clearly explained as a grouping of traditions, primarily nature based and polytheistic, but ultimately promoting positive action involving self-responsibility and ethical behavior.
    • Satanism
      As defined by the Church of Satan founded by Anton LaVey in 1966, and reformed into the Temple of Set by Michael Aquino in the 1970s - is primarily concerned with fulfillment of the personal desires and goals of the individual, per the Satanic Bible and other pertinent documents. While mostly “inwardly” focused, true members of these organizations hold that breaking the civil laws in any form is not allowed, with responsibility for one’s actions and subsequent results as vital.
    • Pseudo-Satanic activities
      All too often, groups of teenagers or some adults will gather and enact self-composed rites which have little basis in history or fact, which involve mutilation of animals, abuse of other human beings, or other irresponsible behavior, while seeking the beneficence of “Satan”. Such practices are not associated with established and recognized Pagan traditions, or the Church of Satan or Temple of Set. They are the misguided attempts by the practitioners to gain personal power, with no regard for the effects of their activities, and an unwillingness to take responsibility for their actions. In some cases, the participants may have psychological problems, as well.

    These distinctions make it clear that journalists should specifically differentiate of which group they are writing, and not freely intermingle the three, because such inaccuracies are detrimental to all. Journalists who may request interviews can - and should - be screened by those to be interviewed, to determine the level of knowledge and, seeing any lack, should make this information readily available, to prevent any confusion on the part of the journalist.

    About the definition of "Satanism": Last I heard, the Church of Satan folks still claim that they, and only they, have the sole legitimate right to define who is or isn't a "true Satanist." But this claim becomes less and less credible with every passing year. Thanks to the Internet, it is now plainly evident that there are lots of non-LaVeyans out there who consider themselves to be Satanists and who are serious about their beliefs. Many are solitary, and some are members of small groups. To confine the label "Satanist" to members of the Church of Satan and the Temple of Set is no more justified than confining the label "Pagan Witch" to members of the Covenant of the Goddess. Even if LaVey was the first person to go public in a big way with the label "Satanism," he did not coin the word, and the Church of Satan does not have a copyright on it.

    Because the Satanist scene is now in a state of flux, it's now difficult to define "Satanism." I personally would define "Satanism" as a broad category of religions and worldviews all involving a favorable interpretation of "Satan." The most public form of Satanism is LaVeyan Satanism, which does not believe in or worship Satan as an actual entity, but instead sees Satan as a symbol of independence, individuality, etc. Since the late 1990's, thanks to the Internet, Satanism had diversified quite a bit. There are now more and more theistic Satanists, who do revere Satan as a deity - in most cases also associating Satan with independence, individuality, etc. Most do not see Satan as "evil" except in an ironic sense.

    Due to the difficulty in defining what a "true Satanist" is, I would replace Quill's and Frater S.P.R.V.'s third category ("Pseudo-Satanic activities") with "Satanism's criminal fringe" - and, as part of the description of that category, mention that most of the real-life people in that category are dabblers.

    The most important thing is to urge skepticism regarding reports of "Satanic crime." For example, if someone spray-paints "666" on the wall of a church, the police and the media are often quick to holler that it's the work of "Satanists" before the vandals have even been caught - when, more likely, the culprits are just kids who have taken too far the normal teenage pastime of shocking the grownups. Satanism's criminal fringe does exist, but is not nearly as commonplace as media sensationalism often makes it out to be.

    About Quill's and Frater S.P.R.V.'s definition of "Paganism":  I'll leave it to self-described Pagans to argue about the exact definition of "Paganism," but I would suggest adding that most forms of modern Paganism involve reverence for deities that were worshiped in ancient pre-Christian societies. Just please don't define "Paganism" so broadly as to encompass all non-Abrahamic religions and then exclude Satanism on the alleged grounds that "Satanism is Christian" or "Satanism is Abrahamic" - the latter statements are not accurate, and are an insult to both Satanists and Christians. (See Is Satanism "Pagan"? on my Theistic Satanism site.)

    Anyhow, to debunk fears about "Satanic crime," it is necessary to make all of the points I've listed under Key points to be made when debunking "Satanism" scares on my page "Satanism" scares and their debunking: A brief introduction.

    If you would like to help the Against Satanic Panics network in particular, please see What we need to do now on my page "Satanism" scares and their debunking: A brief introduction.

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