The Devil and Me

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?

The Sacrifice -

The Sacrifice

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 Ritualsyou 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?

Good Guy Lucifer

Good Guy Lucifer

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.

To Read the Rede

A discussion over on Camylleon’s blog reminded me of the fact that I’m pretty sure the Wiccan Rede is probably one of the most misunderstood pieces of Vogon poetry ever cited. I hate it when I walk into occult shops and see plaques with “And it harm none, do what ye will!” plastered all over. I see it on t-shirts and posters, pens and embroidered pillows. It just won’t go away. And needless to say, that wording isn’t even correct!

All in all, the Wiccan Rede has a lot of good stuff in it (even if it is horribly worded). But I think that it’s almost completely ruined by the fact that people like to ignore its entirety. When people focus solely on “An it harm none, do what ye will”, the importance of everything else it talks about is lost. People seem to forget that while that last line is a nice little bit of wording, it really doesn’t sum up the rest of the Rede, and that there are, in fact, many more lines to it (25 more, to be exact).

How come people like to entirely ignore the lines “Deosil go by the waxing moon, singing out ye Witches’ Rune, Widdershins go by the waning moon, chanting out ye Baneful Rune”? Isn’t this saying that there is a time and place for both light and dark? It also says, “fairly take and fairly give”. We see this with the Charge of the Goddess as well; people like to ignore that there is also a Curse of the Goddess, though it is much less known. The line “When misfortune is anow, wear the star upon thy brow” refers to shielding in defense of yourself. You can’t just cite one line of the Wiccan Rede without looking at other parts of the liturgy and understand that there is a greater whole. Unfortunately the world is not all puppies and rainbows. Wiccans get a bad reputation from their blindness in regards to this balance of good and bad. “An it harm none, do what ye will” would be great in an ideal world. We don’t live in an ideal world. We live in a much more complicated and scary world.

Maybe it’s because I started my Pagan life as a pirate and not a Wiccan. The Wiccan Rede is not the end all, be all of my ethical and moral decisions. You have to take these things with a grain of salt. There is always a dark side to the light. There’s a reason that darkness exists. It always goes back to being balanced. I don’t usually see things in shades of white and black. I live very much in the grey. One of the things the pirates discuss a lot is the fact that you need to know your shadow self. You need to understand your bad side and what that side of you is capable of. If you aren’t aware of this, you can’t guard against it. You have to acknowledge it to understand it and to understand why the things that part of you may want to do are wrong and why they should be restrained. If you want to put it a modern context, look at Freud’s idea’s of the Id, the Ego, and the Super Ego. Negative impulses exist, and always will. You can’t just sum up an entire ethical framework with something like “An it harm none, do what ye will”. Life is just not that simple.

We were just discussing the Grimm’s fairy tale Sleeping Beauty at a Pagan meetup. When the evil fairy shows up at the party to curse Sleeping Beauty, the last fairy who hasn’t yet given her gift cannot undo the curse that the evil one has given. She can mitigate it, make it much less severe, but once spoken, the curse can’t be entirely taken back. A friend of mine pointed out that you can also see this in the story of Esther in the Bible. The King can’t just take back his order for the massacre of the Jews; all he can do is allow the Jews to fight back. This is a good example of the threefold law. Anything you say or do, can never be entirely taken back. Usually, once something is said, it takes on a life of its own and the next time you hear it, it has grown threefold from whatever might have been originally. This is why the threefold law is so true. It’s not saying that you can’t ever cause harm, it’s saying that if you do, it’s going to grow much bigger than you expect and when it comes back on you, its going to have greater consequences than  you originally considered. It’s also saying that this is true of any good you put out there. “An it harm none, do what ye will” is therefore not as simple and straightforward as people like to misconstrue.

In the traditional Wicca of the fifties, sixties and seventies, Wiccans were not afraid of the dark side of the Craft. They recognized that when you worship Goddesses like Hecate, Cybele, Demeter, the Morrigan and Hel, you weren’t necessarily going to be working with “the light” all of the time. When you read Aradia it is full of death and violence and curses. People were not afraid to go after those who were attacking them. (Whether or not you believe that Leland was given something that was actually “true” Witchcraft, the book Aradia was certainly instrumental in shaping early Wicca). In the eighties, Wicca began changing into a much more “Neo Pagan” sort of religion and started to become side tracked with political correctness. The Starhawk generation changed Wicca into a pretty religion. Wicca lost its bite. It was at this point that the last line of the Wiccan Rede became the penultimate line.

For me, it comes down to accepting personal responsibility. You have to hold accountability for your actions and you have to know when an action is appropriate or not. Decisions like these are very rarely simple. And sometimes you have to stand up to someone who is malevolent and send everything that they’re doing to you back to them. What if you don’t and they go from you to someone who is much less able to handle whatever it is that they’re doing? We need to get over “An it harm none, do what ye will” and focus on how we can protect others who are in the Craft; by looking backwards, we can move our ethical thinking forward. There’s no reason the last line of the Rede can’t be a solid foundation for our Wiccan morals, but it isn’t the only way to approach life, especially when you want to ignore all of the Rede’s other ramifications.