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Are Satanists Pagans?
The claim made by David Bay, of Cutting Edge Ministries, that the Washington Monument is "a filthy, phallic and satanic homage to the god Baal" is rightfully dismissed by Gwydion Tiamat, a self-professed Satanist. He wisely chose not to go by his given name because, as he says, friends' houses "have been firebombed." And anyway, as he says, "they're just pagans."[1]

My jaw dropped. Satanists are Pagans?

Are they?

Remember, Satan is a Judeo-Christian construct. Satan did not exist in the Biblical era. The early Jews had no concept of Satan. The snake in the Garden of Eden, the one that tempted Eve, was originally just a snake. There was no group of people, no ethnic group or cult, that worshiped a being known as Satan.

So are Satanists Pagans?

Polytheists had no concept of an arch-evil entity like the Judeo-Christian figure known as Satan. To accept the existence of such a being would require a cosmic dualism that was missing from Classical Paganism as well as from Norse or Germanic Heathenism. As I quoted Ramsay MacMullen saying a few days ago, our ancestors believed the Gods were beneficient. There was no cosmic contest between Good and Evil.

I used to work with a Satanist. He told me a lot about it and cleared up many of my misconceptions, misconceptions that many share. He said much what Gwydion Tiamat said, that Satanist are not out to hurt people and don't sacrifice cats. It's more about recognizing that people have carnal desires and expressing the freedom to satisfy those desires.

From this, I thought they sounded more like Epicureans. Epicurus had preached that this was the only life we had and that we might as well enjoy it, that happiness comes from pleasure and freedom from pain. So why not simply call themselves Epicureans? Why embrace a being who is an invention of monotheistic dualism?

And if you embrace a construct of monotheistic dualism, can you call yourself Pagan?

"Satan," Tiamat said, "is everywhere."[2]

He is? My coworker, the Satanist, didn't go in much for theology. He really didn't have much to say about that aspect of his life. He really didn't give any indication of believing in a being called "Satan." But I suppose there are Satanists and there are Satanists, just like there are Christians and there are Christians. Not all ancient Christians worshiped Jesus as a God, after all, as the Gnostics demonstrate.

Granted, one brand of Satanist embraces the idea that Satan is to be equated with the Egyptian god Set (Setianism). Christians and Jews are more likely to equate Satan with the god Baal. Anton Szandor LaVey, who founded the Church of Satan in 1966 and who authored The Satanic Bible, did not consider Satan to be an actual god to be worshiped but rather the human instinct within us. In that sense, I suppose, Gwydion Tiamat is right: "Satan is everywhere."

But does believing that human instinct is everywhere make you a Pagan? Hardly.

Does worshiping Baal make you a Pagan? Yes, most definitely. But which Baal are you worshiping? The Baal of Judeo-Christian imagination and propaganda, or the actual god Baal?

Baal was a Canaanite god, seen as the son of El (whose attributes and position were stolen by Yahwists for their god). Canaanite religion has a very bad reputation as a consequence of the Hebrew Bible's libel upon it. This outlook is maintained by today's Christians and even by some scholars who ought to know better than to let religious propaganda color their perceptions. William Foxwell Albright, the "Father of Biblical Archaeology," for example, stated that the "Canaanites, with their orgiastic nature-worship, their cult of fertility in the form of serpent symbols and sensuous nudity, and their gross mythology..."[3]

Never mind that scholars are recognizing that what Albright was in fact insulting was the true and original religion of the Israelites, who were in fact, Canaanites themselves and not escaped slaves from Egypt.

The point I am trying to make, the question I am trying to ask, is, if you see our gods through monotheistic eyes, are you a Pagan? So if you let monotheistic prejudice color your perceptions, corrupt the religious landscape, are you doing justice to your gods? You're worshiping a monotheistic corruption of a god who was originally not seen in that way at all. Let's face it: ancient Baal worshipers did not have the same jaded view of their god as the Israelites, as the Yahwists who wrote the propagandistic version of his worship that appears, via the Bible, in modern imagination.

"Nothing could be more fatal to a spiritual faith than this sensual religion." says the Catholic Encyclopedia.

There is a great deal wrong with this statement. First, the assumption that Pagan worship was not spiritual. Second, the assumption that because something might be sensual that it could not also be spiritual. There is no doubt that Paganism, with its acceptance of life and celebration of life lends itself more to sensuality than does Christianity, which tends to be death-oriented and life-hating and opposed to nature. After all, as we can see from Albright's assertion, nature-worship is a bad thing.

At the same time we must recognize that much of what is commonly attributed to ancient Paganism is slander, and that everything associated with Paganism, including dancing, feasting and drinking, were opposed by Christianity. Accusations of sexual excess are more of the same. Pagans are drunkards, licentious, and so forth. It did not matter than fertility is life-affirming and that there is nothing wrong with sex. It did not matter that feasting and drinking and dancing were legitimately part of religion, aspects of religion that Christianity rejected and in time made illegitimate.

Should we take the view, in our attempts to reconstruct or revitalize the customs and traditions of our ancestors, that any of these slanderous outlooks is legitimate, we are following the wrong path. Acceptance of the role of sex and sensuality is not the same thing as worship of sensuality. It is not the same thing as saying these ancient people who accepted its role and legitimacy, felt that life revolved around it, or that they did not have very strong morals. Pagans were very moral people. The Romans were almost prudish, in fact.

The idea that giving yourself over to absolute pleasure makes you Pagan seems to me a bit misguided.

So if I go back to my original question, "Are Satanists Pagans?" I find myself troubled. For one thing, if Satanism is really about satisfying your sensual desires and not about a god, can you really be a Pagan? Religion was never about self-indulgence. Religion for the ancients was giving proper respect to their gods, not to their own desires. Can you have religion without a god?

If Satan is Baal, why don't you call him Baal? Why don't you call yourselves Baalists? And why, if you want to worship Baal, do you worship the Judeo-Christian Baal and not the original, pre-propaganda Baal? If Set, the same goes. Set was a powerful warrior who slew the chaos serpent each day so that the sun could rise. He was identified with Baal, and also with the Hittite god Teshub. Does Set sound like a deity given over to sensuality to you? Sounds to me like Set is performing a service for his people, a selfless act, not one of self-indulgence and pleasure-seeking.

Yes, in time, Set came to be demonized and this is one of the ways in which I think Tom Stone is right about people "inventing" their gods. Even if the gods cannot change, our views of them can. Set came to have negative associations, for instance with foreigners, and the Egyptians were always very insular and xenophobic. But why, if you want to worship Set, do you choose this later view of him and not the original, beneficial Set? And then why do you associate him with a being, Satan, who was never a god, never worshiped and never, in fact, existed?

The final litmus test must be, I think, the term "Pagan" itself. If, as we argue here, Paganism is to be identified as ethnic, or indigenous religion, then Satanism is not to be identified with Paganism. Pagans are people of the place, practitioners of the customs and traditions of their ancestors.

But Satan had no place. He was the god of no tribe, of no nation, but existed instead in the imagination of monotheists clinging to a dualistic view of the universe, of a titanic struggle between what they deemed to be "good" and "evil". Today's Satanists plug themselves into this worldview, sometimes co-opting Pagan deities as stand-ins for Satan, but still, this is not Paganism; it can never be Paganism. Without claim to an indigenous origin and without a place, without any associations with nature, Satanism is, if anything, just another facet of Abrahamic monotheism.

[1] Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, May 10, 2008, "D.C.: The devil's City?" by Dan Morse. Originally published in the Washington Post.

[2] Ibid.

[3] W.F. Albright, From the Stone Age to Christianity: Monotheism and the Historical Process (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1940), 281. But for a modern re-appraisal, see William G. Dever, Did God Have a Wife? Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2005).

Sidebar Notes

Satan is a product of Abrahamic monotheism

Satanists co-opt the gods of polytheism as stand-ins for Satan