I’m probably going to get a lot of heat for saying this, but there are a lot of similarities between pagan religions and Satanism. A lot of Satanists and pagans will vehemently deny this, and on a certain level, I understand why. While neither religion involves a belief in or worship of “the devil,” many pagans are resentful of the vilification and demonization of their religions and passionately deny any association with Satanism, not understanding what Satanism is truly about. Likewise, many Satanists scorn any belief in the supernatural and find the implication that they might harbor any such beliefs offensive. However, despite their determination to quash any association, pagans and Satanists aren’t as different as they would like everyone to believe.
Any time we’re comparing and contrasting two different concepts, I always like to start with definitions. Since paganism came first, I’ll begin there. Merriam-Webster defines paganism as “the spiritual beliefs and practices of ancient polytheistic religions,” or “the beliefs and practices of contemporary religions or spiritual movements based on ancient paganism.” On the other side of the coin, Satanism is defined as “any of a highly diverse group of religious, philosophical, or countercultural practices centered around Satan, either as a deity or a nontheistic symbol of enlightenment, individualism, or ethical egoism.”
Definitions are only surface level, and based on just those definitions, there doesn’t seem like there is much in common between paganism and Satanism. The similarities lie in how they are perceived, which is something we can blame Christianity for. As the early Christians spread out, following their messiah’s edict, “Go now and make disciples of men,” they encountered many different pagan religions. As are most people who are forced to adopt the lifestyle and culture of the people invading their homes, those who followed those pagan religions were resistant to Christianity – adversarial, one might say. When we remember that “Satan” is really just a Hebrew word for adversary, it’s easy to see why pagan religions might be labeled satanic.
While modern Satanism isn’t a branch off of pagan religion at all, they are nevertheless connected thanks to Christianity’s influence, and there are some modern Satanists – myself included – who incorporate some pagan traditions into their practice. There are those who would probably call that cultural appropriation. I can see their point, but when talking about cultural appropriation, there are always a few things we need to consider before passing judgment.
The first is that, with only a handful of exceptions, cultures do not exist in a vacuum. They are constantly bouncing off of each other and borrowing from one another. It is unreasonable to expect people not to adopt traditions and customs they’ve been exposed to that resonate with them, even if those people weren’t brought up practicing them. That’s cultural exchange, and it’s perfectly normal. Exchange becomes appropriation when there is a lack of respect for the traditions and customs being borrowed. Cultural appropriation is not a new phenomenon – if you’re a Christian and you celebrate Christmas in December, congratulations! You are guilty of it! In this particular instance, Christmas is an example of cultural appropriation because the traditions and customs associated with it were taken from pagan celebrations and twisted to have new meanings associated with Christianity. No respect is given to the people who practiced those customs first, and that is why this is an appropriation instead of an exchange. Whether you’re a Satanist, a Christian, or just someone trying to come up with a cool Halloween costume, it’s always important to do your research and honor the people whose traditions you’re borrowing before you actually do the borrowing.
Neither side might like it much, but the fact remains that Satanism, pagan religions, and even Christianity have more in common than they’d like to admit. Since my Satanism comes from a place of anger toward Christianity and rebellion, a big part of my practice as a Satanist is to honor and bring to light the cultures that those early Christians sought to destroy. I know I’m not the only one.
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