Despite the incredible availability of information about Wicca today, some people are still under the impression that Wicca has something to do with “devil-worship,” or “Satanism.” If you or someone you know is concerned about this possibility, please read on! You’ll soon discover that Wicca and Satanism have nothing to do with each other, and that this notion is nothing but an old misconception with a few different sources.
Perhaps the most basic reason for the association between Wicca and Satanism is the prejudice on the part of evangelical Christians (and others) against any religion that isn’t centered on the Judeo-Christian concept of “God.” Since the days of the witch hunts, there have always been people who fear what they don’t understand, and feel compelled to label it negatively. Anyone who isn’t aligned with their particular religious view of the world must be “in league with the devil.” Sadly, this notion persists today when it comes to Wicca and other Pagan religions, although much progress has certainly been made.
Wicca and Satanism: The Crowley connection
As far as Wicca is concerned, there are some elements in the history of its development that have contributed to the confusion. Gerald Gardner, widely considered to be the founder of modern Wicca, had a friendship with occultist Aleister Crowley in the mid-20th century, and was inspired by Crowley’s spiritual writings. In fact, much of the written material used in the rituals of Gardner’s first coven came from Crowley’s work, and was only later rewritten.
Crowley himself was a complicated figure, who had tremendous influence on occult circles during his time. In fact, he was the first to add the “k” to the word “magic”—magick. He was a prolific author, drawing influences from different religions and mystery traditions from around the world, and some of his writings include what is considered to be “Satanic” imagery. Although he denied being a Satanist when asked, and there is no evidence to suggest that he worshipped a figure called “Satan,” he didn’t seem to mind the ambiguity. And although Crowley was not a member of Gardner’s coven and never claimed to be a Witch, the association between the two men has been enough for some to confuse Wicca with Satanism.
To better understand the impossibility of the Wicca and Satanism association, it can be useful to take a very quick look at where the concept of Satan comes from. From the Christian standpoint, Satan is usually viewed as a “fallen angel” who was banished from Heaven and now dwells in Hell, working hard every day to tempt people into doing “evil” deeds so that they will end up with him, rather than with God, in the afterlife. This is the figure that people often have in mind when the word “devil” comes up.
However, in Judaism, where Christianity gets its origins, the “Satan” figure was viewed quite differently. The word “satan” in Hebrew means “hinderer,” and he was actually seen as a function of God, serving to challenge or distract people from the right path so that they would become better people. After all, you can’t be actively choosing to be “good” unless there’s an equal opportunity to be otherwise. So Satan was actually working for God, by strengthening the positive qualities of the human character through temptation, as opposed to working against him.
Regardless of which view of Satan one adopts, however, it’s important to realize that there is no such figure as “Satan” in Wicca, so clearly Wiccans are not “worshipping” him. Insisting otherwise is a little bit like accusing Muslims of worshipping the Celtic goddess Brighid, or arguing that Buddhists actually revere the gods of the ancient Aztecs.
Satanism as a NeoPagan phenomenon
Interestingly, and odd as it may seem to some, there are indeed some religious, spiritual, and even atheistic groups and individuals who do identify as “Satanists.” A wide variety of philosophies and worldviews are represented among these people. Some see themselves as simply reacting against the intolerance so often displayed by Christianity over the years, while others genuinely believe in a deity called Satan who is actually, to them, a benevolent figure. Generally speaking, those who identify as Satanists do not actually tend to be proponents of “evil” or causing harm to others (although there are, unfortunately, some exceptions). They mostly emphasize that it is human beings—not spirits, deities, devils or other invisible forces—who are responsible for their own behavior.
This last point is one that Wiccans would generally agree with—it is up to each individual to make ethical choices that do not cause harm to themselves or others. Indeed “harm to none” is the gist of the Wiccan understanding of morality. Wiccans don’t need to believe in a heaven, a hell, or in a struggle between good and evil in order to understand how to make the right choices in life. Rather than rules or fear of punishment, they are guided by respect for all living things and the beauty of the Earth as they make their way in the world.