Paganism, Witchcraft, WICCA, W I C C A

General Information

Satanism, the worship of Satan, developed from the religious doctrine that there are two supreme beings - one good, the other evil. It involves black magic, sorcery, and the invocation of demons and the forces of darkness, who are propitiated by blood sacrifices and similar rites. In Christian cultures these ceremonies include the Black Mass, a mockery of the Christian rite.

Satanists, or Luciferians, believe that Satan is the power behind the processes of nature. What is natural is acceptable. Sin is only what is unpleasant. Unlike the Christian God - stern and moralistic, restraining the free expression of the instincts with a set of difficult and unnatural commandments under threat of punishment hereafter - Satan is the leader of a liberated people who are free and indeed encouraged to indulge in the good things of life, including uninhibited sexual activity. The history of Satanism is obscure. Medieval Christian writers tended to label any dualist sect (such as the Bogomils and Albigensians) as Satanist.

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Benjamin Walker

W S Bainbridge, Satan's Power: A Deviant Psychotherapy Cult (1978); P Haining, ed., Satanists (1970); A Masters, The Devil's Dominion (1979); C Nugent, Masks of Satan (1984).

Satanism and Witchcraft

Advanced Information

Worship of Satan and the use of sorcery with evil intent. Probably no subject alarms Christians more than that of satanism and witchcraft. Today many groups claim to be neopagans who belong to such movements. These groups, along with practitioners of ritual magic, are often conceived as belonging to a vast underground movement with its roots in antiquity. In fact, the neopagan movement consists of a large number of small, diverse groups who share the common belief that they are inheritors of ancient religious traditions. Some of these groups are violently anti Christian, but others claim to be the true inheritors of Gnostic Christianity. The traditions to which they appeal in their attempts to legitimate themselves vary greatly. Some claim to be a revival of Druidism, others of Greek religions, or of ancient Egyptian mysteries. Many simply claim to belong to what they call W I C C A, which they assert is the ancient witchcraft religion of Europe. A few groups claim to be satanists who worship the devil of the Christian traditions.

In the new pagans' understanding of the world, Christians have distorted humanity's development by emphasizing the dominance of the intellect over other aspects of the human psyche. Christians, they claim, demand that humans subordinate themselves, their emotions, and will to God. The new pagans argue that humans must live in harmony with nature. Such a harmony represents a cosmic orientation which they claim brings man in contact with the cosmic powers of the universe.

For the new pagans, religion is a practical activity carried out through ritual and ceremonial acts to align the participants with the cosmic order and thus release the mystical power within them. The exact rituals, techniques, and beliefs of the new pagan groups vary greatly. But all are concerned with a quest for power and the desire that humans control their own destiny.

The roots of the new paganism lie in the romantic movement of the nineteenth century and the desire to exalt feelings and imagination over the intellect. Thus the poetry of William Blake is often very important to members of such groups. Contrary to their claims, the history of these pagan movements is relatively short. Rather than representing long historical traditions the majority represent groups only a few decades old.

One of the most important figures in the growth of modern paganism is Alphonse Louis Constant (1810 - 75), who called himself Eliphas Levi. An ex Roman Catholic seminarian, he claimed to be an occult initiate and wrote many books that purported to reveal ancient mysteries and occult law. He drew upon theories of magic and the kabbalah, which is an ancient system of Jewish mysticism.

In Britain, the growth of modern paganism was encouraged by the foundation of the Order of the Golden Dawn in 1888. This is the most famous of many esoteric groups that grew out of nineteenth century romanticism. The movement's influence extends to the work of such figures as the poet W B Yeats and the notorious black magician Alistair Crowley. Most ritual magic and satanistic groups trace their origins to these sources.

The majority of witchcraft groups have a different and less bizarre history. In England the work of historian Margaret Murray, who claimed to have discovered evidence of a pre Reformation witchcraft religion, and Gerald Gardiner, the proprietor of a witchcraft museum on the Isle of Man, provides the basis for most W I C C A groups. Although these authors give witchcraft an apparently respectable history, their works have not stood the test of time. They are in fact refuted by competent historians. Today witchcraft groups are usually based upon the journalistic writings of self proclaimed witches who propound a religion based upon the concept of a mother goddess. During the 1970s this movement was greatly reinforced by the writings of some religiously inclined feminists.

Although groups like that of the infamous Manson family are obviously highly dangerous, the majority of witchcraft and ritual magic appear to be relatively innocuous. In attempting to assess such groups it is extremely important to consider carefully their specific claims. Some self proclaimed "white magic" groups appear to be little more than ill informed people with vague religious sentiments. Others that practice ritual magic may be more articulate but are still essentially harmless. There remains, however, a small number of social deviants who are psychologically disturbed and potentially socially harmful. It is important to realize, however, that the vast majority of people involved in the neopagan movement repudiate and strongly denounce such deviants. Although a rejection of traditional Christianity, the neopagan movement seems to be essentially no more harmful than many other religious groups which also stand outside the Christian tradition.

I Hexham
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

J W Montgomery, Principalities and Powers: A New Look at the World of the Occult; M F Unger, Biblical Demonology; K E Koch, Christian Counseling and Occultism; W Cavendish, The Black Arts; W S Bainbridge, Satan's Power: A Deviant Psychotherapy Cult.

The individual articles presented here were generally first published in the early 1980s. This subject presentation was first placed on the Internet in May 1997.

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