Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Pagan Misconception #1

Pagan religions tend to be prone to misunderstandings or misrepresentations by other religions. There are many stories, myths and comparisons that are made up to perpetuate the idea that Paganism is wrong. Whether this intentional or not, it creates many problems for Pagan religions in moving forward in the public’s eye to be considered a legitimate religion. I am going to spend the next few posts exploring some of the myths and misconceptions regarding modern Pagan religions.

Myth #1 – Pagans Worship The Devil

One of the top myths that I see talked about is that some religions state that Paganism equals devil worship, specifically Satan worship. On many Pagan websites, the first thing that you will see is a disclaimer stating that the occupants of the site do not adhere to Satanic beliefs as a way to get past this false belief. They dispel this myth by pointing out that Satan is a figure in the Christian religion and is therefore not something they believe in. But it seems there is more to this misconception then meets the eye – it includes Pagans spreading these types of myths, too. Let me explain.

While it is fair to say that Pagans are not Satanic, one site I found says that when Pagans try to use this as their reason, they have to remember that Pagans could be misrepresenting Satanism. Satanism, while having its roots in Christianity, is not part of the Christian religion. When Pagans try to debunk the whole Pagans as Satanism as Christianity, they are also creating misconceptions. I think that it is fair to say that if you don’t want your religion misrepresented, it is necessary to understand how you are representing a religion that is not your own and be aware that you, too, may be creating misconceptions.

While Paganism-is-not-Satanism-by-way-of-Christianity seems to be the top defense in debunking this myth, there is another one that I noticed. While looking around to see what some sites had to say about this particular myth, I noticed that one site goes beyond the above misrepresentation.’s Pagan/Wiccan site mentions that not only are Pagans not Satanists because they don’t believe in the Christian idea of Satan, but also because they don’t do summon demons to work for them. From my understanding of Satanism, Satanist don’t do this either.

Instead of creating more religious misconceptions, I think that a fair way to deal with this myth would be to state that Paganism is not Satanism and that Satanists have their own beliefs. I think that it is necessary to leave out explaining this myth away by using an interpretation of the beliefs of others. I would rather see explanations of what Pagans believe rather than what they don’t.

In the end, it is true that Paganism does not equal Satanic practice and people who perpetuate this myth should stop passing this off as truth. However, it is also true that how the Pagan community deals with this particular myth could have an impact on how other religions are viewed and it needs to be addressed as well. We all need to be careful when we are discussing another's set of beliefs.


Cosette said...

You bring up an interesting point. Pagans don't often think of the Church of Satan when responding to accusations of devil-worship, but it hardly matters. Satanists aren't devil-worshippers either (and personally I think they invite confusion by choosing to call themselves such when they don't, in fact, worship Satan at all). Christians make no distinctions anyway. Theirs is a religion that claims exclusivity to God. For those on the conservative side of the spectrum, one is either Christian or misled at best (and a devil-worshipping Satanist at worst).

Wanderer said...

The choice of the terminology goes to the meaning of the word, Cosette. Satan=The adversary. While the Church of Satan does not worship the devil, it is my understanding that they hold themselves up as adversaries to God, or at least the church. In vein with the point of this post, I will state that I am no expert, but this has been my understanding of what I have been taught by those who claimed the practice themselves. If this is the case, the name would be appropriate, if bound to be misinterpreted.

Starfisher said...

Very interesting points everyone. This is an issue that really gets my goat, as well - not least since I've known a few "dogmatic Pagans" that were almost religious in their hysteria over 'Satanism'! As far as I understand it modern Satanists place the self in the centre of the universe instead of deity. LaVey even wrote some Satanic commandments, many of which I am not abashed to say made perfect sense to me - see this Wiki page on Satanic philosophy. I am not at all in tune with the rest of their thinking, but I realise that, as a Pagan who wants to be given equal respect for her religion, I ought to be doing likewise for others - and this includes not adding to the public misconceptions about them.

As far as the point about Satanists choosing to invite confusion, well perhaps they are; but as a magical practitioner I'd add that some Pagans are also inviting it by using the term 'witchcraft'. Many use 'wisecraft' as a way of distinction. I know, I know that we are attempting to 'reclaim' the word BUT whether we like it or not, in the eyes of the public, who were brought up on Macbeth and the scary Halloween witch stereotype, witchcraft = Satanism. I am very careful where I drop the 'w' word as a result.

On a seperate note, I'd point out that the claim that "we are not Satanic because we don't worship the devil" wouldn't wash with many dogmatic Christians, anyway - since everyone who believes in a deity that is not theirs, is basically worshipping the devil so far as they're concerned. Thankfully, this group of people represents the minority of the Christian faith. I do find it irritating that many Pagans b**ch about 'the' Christians all the time, as well...

Sojourner said...

I didn't want anybody to think that I was ignoring their comments. Somehow, I just missed them. I will add to the conversation when I get back from class tonight.

Sojourner said...

Cosette said:

Pagans don't often think of the Church of Satan when responding to accusations of devil-worship, but it hardly matters. Satanists aren't devil-worshippers either

I think it does matter. When Pagans say "Hey! we are not Satanists because we don't worship the devil," it sounds as if they are saying that Satanists are the ones that are doing evil things when in truth most of them do not worship the devil either (as you said).

Here is why I think that it does matter. If someone was misrepresenting my religion in an attempt to make theirs look better, I would have a problem with it. It is not okay to fall into the habit of misrepresenting someone elses faith to futher your own path, which is what I see happening here, even if it is unintentional.

I think that the idea of the article that I linked to was making a point regarding the content of the statement that is made. In other words, what is being done to Pagans by Christians is also the same thing that is being done to Satanist by Pagans. Finger-pointing.

I do realize that I may be taking your statement a little out of context, but I wanted to try to make the above distinction. Maybe you could explain more regarding why do you don't think it matters.

Sojourner said...

Wanderer - I don't know very much about Satanism either, as I have not specifically looked for information about it. I did take an anthropology class about 10 years ago that talked a little about LaVey and Satanism, but I don't remember much of what we talked about. Thanks for adding to the conversation.

S G Fisher said:

As far as the point about Satanists choosing to invite confusion, well perhaps they are; but as a magical practitioner I'd add that some Pagans are also inviting it by using the term 'witchcraft'.

What a great point. This is a term that I admit that I am leary with it's use as well. I don't think that this is a word that I could use to describe my choice of religion. This is not something that I have given a whole lot of thought to, however. I may just have to do that. :)