In what ways are we Pagans?

Pan by Frederic Leighton, 1st Baron Leighton [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The important thing in a religion or spirituality is, well spirituality. The official criteria are really insignificant compared to the sincere personal reality of the adherent, and their relationship with their religion, faith or practice. I agree with RJ Womack’s assertion that Satanism is essentially a form of Paganism, and I’m going to try to explain why.

Needless to say this is my view and experience of my spirituality, which is developing for me all the time. I have always been most interested in personal religion. It’s that which gave stability and integrity, and the preservation of value. In that sense I am quite religiously conservative, but unconventional. I am a secularist because it both ensures religious freedom (and freedom from any single religion), and protects spirituality from the contamination of politics. But to embark on the subject of this post:

I feel we are most essentially polytheists or spiritists, as Spiritual Satanists. We generally have a profound interest in spirits, gods, demons, otherworldly entities, the supernatural, magick, and making contact with these things.

We generally have a love for Nature, its forces, beauty, majesty and power. I think Satanists also have an appreciation of the capacity to go against Nature, against the apparent natural order, and understand that this is itself a part of Nature. But we love it and try to learn from it.

Satanists generally have a real (though unsentimental) admiration for animals, often seeing them as embodying a wisdom and dignity which we can learn from.

The romance of the “Witches’ Sabbat” and of Witchcraft has been key to the revival of modern Paganism. There is really no question that the imaginal leader of the Sabbat, whatever his possible names and ancestry, was The Devil himself for the people at large.

Similarly the god Pan became a key focus of the Pagan revival in the early 20th century. That Pan’s form was also ascribed to The Devil was I think no coincidence. In The Devil the Old Gods returned, for in The Devil and his world, they had never left.

Aleister Crowley did a great deal to bring occultism into the 20th century and beyond, and he took one of his missions to be assisting the return of Paganism. If you take a look at the “Charge of The Goddess” of Wicca, Crowley’s influence is quite clear. Just compare the language of the “Star Goddess” section with chapter 1 of The Book of The Law. Crowley said he received this text from a being called Aiwaz, and it eventually came to define his life’s work. He identified Aiwaz with Satan and Set, the Devil. So according to the man who shaped it, The Charge of The Goddess is at least partly authored or inspired by The Devil.

I feel it is also quite clear that Thelema had a great influence on Anton LaVey and his philosophy, which certainly did not start out as atheistic or anti-supernatural. So the modern popularisation of Satanism has I feel got genuinely occult roots, which are themselves both Pagan and Satanic, prior to the creation of The Church of Satan.

As with many Pagan spiritualities, we draw on direct experience, Nature, supernatural beings, magick, poetry and art. We are not a “religion of the book”, but part of the perennial search for mystery and meaning, undimmed by monotheism and modernity.


Satanism, Paganism and Nature

Two years ago I left Paganism, and by May 1st of that year I had declared myself a Satanist.

It was good to make the break with Paganism, and I have no regrets about that, or becoming a Satanist. After two years of rest from the online tangle of neopaganism, and all the community roleplaying, I feel like I can look at things a little more neutrally though, and recognise a great deal of common ground between Satanism and Paganism. Having remained a polytheist with a deep interest in the occult has probably helped there admittedly.

When people used to ask me about modern Paganism, I used to point to two things which didn’t define it, but which one way or another described modern Paganism as far as I could see. I used to say that modern Paganism tended to be polytheistic and/or Nature centred as a spirituality. You could find Pagan paths that were one, the other or both, but really rather few that were neither.

There is of course a major part of modern Satanism which is atheistic, but there are whole sections of neopganism which are at the least non-theistic in essence. Then again, there are other parts of Satanism which are polytheistic or henotheistic. I maintain that the most natural default for Satanism is agnostic, as this leaves all options open for the individual to determine themselves. Personal experience is the royal road of Satanism, and actually this seems to be what a lot of neopagans are looking for in Paganism too.

The reverence for Nature, while not universal within Paganism, is quite prominent. Within Satanism Nature is pretty much the bottom line, and is one of the things reflected in the acceptance of carnality and fulfilment of the whole person. Satanists in general have a love of Nature, and of our own deepest nature. On the other hand, Satanists recognise our capacity to negate and seemingly go against Nature, as part of our creative, individuating essence. But this level of sophistication is part of Nature itself, when seen in a wider perspective.

So I see a good deal of commonality between the phenomena of modern Satanism and Paganism, and what people are looking for in both. That is something I celebrate and enjoy.

Here is a clip of the front man of the black metal band Inquisition taking about Satanism, which my friend Aleph turned me on to. I really liked it.

I liked the way he talks about love, showing that it is important for him, but not making a defining badge out of the concept. I put love very central in my own spirituality, but I leave it to others to discover their own terms and understandings. I like the way he brings everything down to the individual, without prior conditions in essence, to the open minded enquiry into Nature. I can see that we are experiencing some of the same thing here.

What I can also say now, after two years, and a reconciliation with Paganism, is that I feel an increasing sense of the “personage” of Satan, alongside the concept or symbol, particularly transitional, subtle, metaphorical, open, free, fearless, clear. As with everything for me, it is the direct experience that counts, rather than the formal sense or definition, for this is where we find the reality of things. This is good.

Meanwhile I feel a renewed sense of connection with deities and Nature.

Bon voyage, and Hail Satan.


The witches Sabbath by Luis Ricardo Falero [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

16th February 2017: 9th paragraph edited.

The Devil’s Due

This is just a little shout out for the group I set up on facebook. It’s called The Devil’s Due and is a place for the overlap between Satanism and Paganism, but has turned into a friendly place for Satanists and people interested in Satanism, and Left Hand Path philosophy and spirituality to come together.

Not all Satanists are described by atheistic Satanism, and not all Pagans are described by Wiccan-influenced goddess spirituality. We are kinda here for the people who don’t fit and don’t need to fit, but anyone is welcome who has an open mind and an attraction to the Left Hand Path.

Recently I found that two of the open and welcoming Left Hand Path message boards I frequented had gone offline, and that prompted me to make this post. So if you are looking for a friendly, fraternal LHP group that welcomes beginners and the curious, you can give us a try on facebook. You can find us here.

V0019447 A bacchanalian scene with Pan sleeping and many drinking ves

A bacchanalian scene with Pan sleeping and many drinking ves Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images Etching by F. van den Wyngaerde after P. Rubens, mid 17th century. By: Peter Paul Rubensafter: Frans van den WyngaerdePublished: – Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

looking back on lilithgate

Back in the bad old days of the mirage of online “Pagan community” I wrote two posts on the controversy that blew up around Z Budapest and her attitude to transwomen, as focussed through the lens of PantheaCon. The posts got a lot of traffic, and you can find them here and here if you want to read them.

Sometimes I feel like deleting the posts as it was such a long time ago now, and I know I wouldn’t write them the same way today. It is not that I don’t support transmen and transwomen gaining both equality and understanding, and equal protection under the law in full. I certainly do. But getting in on Budapest’s game? I mean if a transwoman wants to join the Nazi Party or the KKK, I support her having the same rights as anyone, but there is an elephant standing in the room right? I didn’t just imagine that.

Of course I’m a long way from the Pagan community now, and every time I get a glimpse of its concerns I’m relieved to be out of it. The hand wringing (and finger wagging) over “privilege”, “cultural appropriation”, straight-white-cis-male guilt, “rape culture”, “triggering” and whatever else it is now that must be sincerely debated. It just confirms that the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party really was what it last looked like.

I support transmen and transwomen because they deal with real things that won’t go away, and they are on for the long haul, and as far as I am concerned, if you can take on the job of living 24/7 as a man or a woman then you are a man or a woman, and don’t give me that crap about having a penis or menstruating and giving birth. Nature is a train wreck, so give your fellow human some support. That’s just how I see it.

As for the whole queer/gender-fluid/whatever-I-say-I-am-whenever-I-say-it thing; well that’s great, but if someone isn’t talking about the long haul, their whole life, it just isn’t going to get to register socially, and that’s just how the world works. No one is a man or a woman for a day, or a year, or just 10 years. As a man or a woman you don’t get a pass on that. Gender roles and characteristics are obviously not the same as gender. I hated being a boy due to gender expectations, but I never thought I was anything other than a boy. I would have rather been a girl when I was small. That didn’t make me transgender. I think there are precedents for genders other than man or woman (they are found throughout history in various cultures), but those were very definite things for those people in those cultures. I’m not sure if we are helping to bring about that kind of accommodation with the extended menu on facebook say.

People do need to define their terms and their experience, I think they owe it to themselves, and I hope the world will be open to genuine learning (and no one should be persecuted or discriminated against for being anything, understood or not), but the words “man” and “woman” can’t mean just anything anybody wants, when it suits them, and still be meaningfully intelligible. We don’t live in a world without consequences or boundaries, however much post-modernism tries to pretend.

We have to try and make the consequences and boundaries that we have power over reasoned and humane, for every individual we can.

As someone who values the individual, that’s what I’d like to see anyway.

Participants of the ColognePride demonstration, Christopher Street Day Parade 2015 © Raimond Spekking / CC BY-SA 4.0 (via Wikimedia Commons)

a gloomy Saturday and a different time

It’s a chilly day and grey, and we are seemingly in the pall of Autumn now, though only a day or two ago it seemed warm and sunny enough for mid September. Today though, I have closed all the windows and doors, and I am in cocooning mode. We are also post-flu-shots, in that immediate ghost virus phase, like we’re stumbling round a film where we play two people who actually have colds. It’s oddly pleasant, in a drunkenly Winter welcoming sort of way. The tiny ash sapling in the garden has gone all golden, and the amaryllis is foolishly thinking it is Christmas and trying to bloom.

I got a reminder this week of the Pagan and occult communities, and why I love both books and the internet. Some people still assume that if you are Pagan, or an occultist, or witch, that you will be part of a world of groups and orders and covens. They still think that is “the real thing”. They really haven’t caught up with how things are nowadays. That might apply more to the UK than to places like the USA where Paganism has been more community and festival oriented for almost 50 years. Here Paganism has always seemed to be more rooted in the occult and in recognized orders and traditions, something which I think only started to change significantly in the 90s or 00s. You had to find occult bookshops, specialist magazines, find out about rare conferences or symposia, buy fanzines and books and write off to people.

And it’s quite true that we owe a debt to the people who wrote the books, and got together to do things, but since the advent of the internet the majority of unrepresented and unacknowledged people who bought the books and found inspiration in the romance of occultism and Paganism have found their own representation. The independents have come into their own. It started in the 80s really, when things like DIY witchcraft really started to take off. Actually, way before then with the likes of Israel Regardie publishing detailed “how to” books, and before him Aleister Crowley with his own works spilling the beans. It was all part of the “new age” (before the commercial version), the “Age of Aquarius”, the dissemination of “ancient wisdom” to a new world, freed from the constraints of secrecy and hiding.

There’s no question really that both the publishing of magical material, and the democratization of DIY participation catalysed by the internet are both consistent with that “Aquarian” ideal, but the resistance seemed to be considerable, in the resentment and contempt expressed by elements of the “old world”. But times have changed, we’ve moved on, and the orders and covens and traditions can’t speak for people at large, and can’t define who is or isn’t part of “it” anymore. The idea that a bounded group can have the obvious authority to define a spirituality better than an individual now seems … not so obvious at all. Defining validity through which group you might be seen to belong to is an idea that is just falling apart. In that sense, I feel we do live in a more Satanic time.

And about time too. The figure who was the greatest single inspiration to me was the artist-magician Austin Osman Spare, a truly wonderful man with a superb, unique vision. He belonged to no group for any amount of time. He shunned both the art world and the occult world. He was a genius in both areas. Things like Chaos Magic claimed descent from his ideal, but they never caught his spirit, his poetry, his unique flight to the imaginal Sabbat. He had gone.

Don’t drop into the mundanity of groups and qualifications, if what you want is more. Don’t fall from individuality. Fall, or stray, from that unvital consensus. Don’t listen. Your night is young.

Go on.

detail of self portrait of Austin Osman Spare, sceeen capture from video by Alan moore at

detail of self portrait of Austin Osman Spare, sceeen capture from video by Alan moore at

gods, demons and stories

I have a reasonable amount of personal history as a polytheist, relating to gods as independent entities with which we can form relationships. With neopagan polytheism one has varying amounts of mythology and lore to draw upon, and everything you can find is potentially helpful in finding your gods, and making relationships.

Paganism in general seeks collective identity and validation in groups, communities, traditions and paths, whether they are based on things like Wicca, or on specific pantheons that had historical communities of devotees. Some of the more symbolic approaches to pantheons and mythologies treats them as role models and reflections of what is possible or validated in a culture. Others treat their stories as having far deeper meanings, beyond psychology, politics or sociology.

For those who might be termed “hard polytheists”, the mythology and lore is of great value generally, but the god is an individual, not a job description, and the relationship is not predictable. The god is a person (though not a human one), not a cog in a celestial computer, no matter how awe inspiring. This is one of the things that made the disclaimer of UPG (unverified personal gnosis) rather meaningless but telling. Gnosis is always personal, because it is a direct experience, and despite some thinking that they have the low down, the idea of verification is stretchy and subjective at best.

Nevertheless, the stories that we have told ourselves about the gods, that we have received and repeated, they do have implications for the collective that accepts them. We hold stories up as mirrors to ourselves; how we see ourselves, how we want to see ourselves, and even sometimes those things that we would rather not recognize.  Our experience of the gods, on the other hand, is intimate and individual.

When it comes to Satanism we have a spiritual movement which collapses the moral authority of any collective or society. The individual is definitively sovereign in Satanism. For theistic (and polytheistic) Satanists, we have all manner of what are effectively deities, though we often refer to them as demons. Some of these appear (from their names) to be what were once Pagan gods and goddesses, and some can’t be so easily placed. Yet what they all share is the dissolution of an overarching cultural narrative. We have a plethora of actors but no pre-set story, which is fascinating, because polytheistically, if one is not worshipping a story or a culture, then you again have actors (more properly persons), and the story may give you an understanding of the deity, but does not define them, and less still does it describe a narrative that the deity is somehow fated to repeat endlessly.

We have to forget the conventional moral implication of the word “demon” in Satanism of course, but more importantly, I think we can consider what it means, when the individual Satanist meets gods that have become free of collective story.

Is it for nothing that we somehow mirror each other in this one respect? That we find ourselves free of judgements and cultural stories? I think at the very least the circumstance is poetic, interesting and potentially companionable.

Of course they may have stories, histories untold, and a world our imagination might apprehend and relate. They certainly have characteristics. But in our world as Satanists, the meaning is the individual, their empowerment and fulfilment. We call what reflects our deepest meanings. I believe we call, and are called by, what we are already in relation with, whether we know it or not.

What story will you write for yourself today?

Dr. Fausto by Jean-Paul Laurens [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons