Here, here she comes. I’ll have a bout with thee;
Devil or devil’s dam, I’ll conjure thee:
Blood will I draw on thee, thou art a witch,
And straightway give thy soul to him thou servest.
– Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Scene I, Act V
The history of witchcraft is intertwined with the image of the Devil.
It’s an ongoing battle for most modern Neo-Pagans to convince the rest of the world that we aren’t worshiping the Devil; killing goats, sacrificing babies at midnight, that kind of thing. If I had a Quarter for every time someone asked me if I worshiped Satan, I’d be quite well off.
And as this comic wonders, why would Satan want babies anyway?
As a witch, it seems that my story is inevitably going to be entwined with this entity in the eyes of the larger community. From the merging of Christianity with mainstream culture in the Roman empire, the Burning times in later Europe, the witch trials of early America, to the occasional panic over witches in the current media (such as the West Memphis Three), witchcraft and the Devil are seen going hand in hand by a large majority of the population. Margaret Murray’s Witch Cult Theory may have been the first big argument in centuries for witches being separate entities from the Devil; but for the most part, witches and the Devil still go hand in hand in the general mindset of the populace.
While I don’t worship the Devil, I do believe he exists. If he didn’t exist before, he certainly does now: there is too much fanatic belief by the same majority population for such a deity not to exist. And I don’t think he’s as easily escaped by Pagans as some of us would like to think. It’s easy enough to say “Oh! I have nothing to do with the Devil!” but that old Devil pops up in some interesting places.
The Devil is in and of himself an initiation that most witches have to go through. To us, he is part of a different pantheon, tied to the Christian God (though never actually mentioned in the Bible, other than a brief conversation with Jesus). But anyone who has been approached in public by a complete stranger and asked if they worship the devil, or asked the same thing by their family when they came out of the broom closet, will understand what I mean. The Devil is a liminal figure that most of us have to face at one point or another. There is a reason The Devil is one of the Major Arcana in the tarot; the Devil is a stumbling block, a blatant symbol of the need to make changes in one’s life. The most important aspect of the card is that all of the things that the Devil represents within the Tarot are bindings that a person willingly takes on themselves. You have to be willing to throw off the ties that the Devil creates.
Another one of the places where I find the Devil to be the most intriguing is in fairy tales. Fairy tales are excellent archetypes for magical work. If you were to read my S.O’s book Fairy Tale Rituals, you would read about his theory that many fairy tales are describing initiations. Hansel and Gretel have to go into the Forest and defeat the witch (who has some rather suspicious ties to their evil stepmother from the first part of the story) to be able to grow up. He didn’t touch on the Devil, but the Devil shows up in many Grimm’s fairy tales as well, and serves as a Trickster character that helps assist these initiations along, just as any good villain will.
And really, at the end of the day, isn’t Lucifer the best villain ever?
The Grimm’s have many stories that involve the Devil. The authors even introduce the Devil’s Mother. Though, as the story of “The Devil’s Three Gold Hairs” shows, the Devil’s mother actually helps our hero on his way. It’s also interesting to note that the Devil is a fairly passive character in this story. We can assume that he was out and up to no good before he comes home, but the true evil character in the story is the King who is trying to get our hero killed. The Devil is simply a foil for the hero.
And then we have Baphomet. Many just see Baphomet as another image of the Devil, so for those Neo-Pagans who work with him, the stereotype continues. Baphomet can be a confusing figure, symbolizing many different ideas. It also probably doesn’t help that Baphomet came out of the Christian imagination during the Crusades anyway and was a large part of Crowley’s workings in the early twentieth century. It is a conundrum for Pagans that Baphomet has been heavily linked to Satanism.
In Aradia, Gospel of the Witches, Lucifer is Diana’s brother. Lucifer, of course, in Christian theology is Satan or the Devil. In Aradia, Lucifer is a God of intellectual freedom. He probably embodies everything that most people like to think of him as anyway: the free thinker who would not compromise his ideals, though it meant damnation. This tale, the Fall of Lucifer, is represented in Aradia.
The question also arises as to whether or not Satanists are Pagan. I know some who identify as Pagan and some who want absolutely nothing to do with that label. Several years ago, Anton LaVey’s daughter wrote a tome blasting Pagan girls, stating that Satanist girls were much better, and lived their ideals in a way Pagans did not. I think Jason Mankey’s article, “Are Satanists Pagan?” sums the wider discussion up pretty thoroughly. But as with all labels, that’s a personal decision. It does probably cloud of the waters though for the larger issue.
The Devil, however you want to approach him as a divine figure, is a Trickster. Most Tricksters cause chaos to bring about a positive change. And as with any villain, the hero couldn’t overcome obstacles to change for the better without the barriers the villain is instrumental in bringing about. Maybe whether we like it or not, the Devil is here to stay: the trick he plays on us is challenging us to divorce ourselves from him. It’s a devilish conundrum.
Great essay–love the connection with Trickster figures in particular. Do you know Elaine Pagels’ book _The Origin of Satan: How Christians Demonized Jews, Pagans, and Heretics_? Fantastic historical/theological stuff.
I do not, I will go and look it up. Thanks!
Yes all those names are really different deities, though many think them the same. There is Lucifer, the rebel against authority, who could be the god of the French and American Revolutions. There is Baphomet, the hermaphrodite initiator in the Templar and Thelema lines. There is Satan and his earlier form Shaitan of the Yezidis. There is the Devil, who is the slavery to the material world like in the Tarot card. I think of him more as Exu, the trickster and opener of the ways. They are all “dangerous” gods, but then playing with fire is how we got roast beef!
Really enjoyed your essay, it gave me so much to think about and further reading to pursue. I have been involved in a very difficult relationship with someone who identifies very strongly with the Raven, who in the local Haida tradition is known as the Trickster. The piece about ties we willingly bind ourselves with resonated so strongly for me. Very thought provoking, thank you.
Another outstanding blog, really enjoyed it.
I’m glad I went back and read this post! I’ve been negligent in keeping up with everyone in my reader. The idea of the Devil is kind of a sore subject between myself and several friends who vary from pagan to catholic to agnostic. At this point there is probably a Devil. In fact, there may well be many of them, as the word is a title, not a name. It’s a loaded title, however, and it doesn’t always translate correctly across pantheons or cultures. Adversary, Test-giver, Trickster all apply. I suppose the sore point comes from the idea that the Devil is the Evil One in the Christian culture and most pagans see a challange or a hard lesson instead of Evil. I wonder how much this contributes to the persistant perception that pagans are devil-worshipers? Now I have things to ponder.