Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Witch, an Authentic Look at Witchcraft From the Recesses of the Neurotic Puritan Mind

Here are some of my thoughts on The Witch, the incredibly popular occult thriller that has captured the imaginations of so many lately. 

(warning  spoilers)

In my opinion, the movie was a top notch psychological thriller and a "must see" if you prefer that type of film.

The film is grey and dark both in imagery and in atmosphere. The subject matter being what it is, I found the director's choices in regards to cinematography and color palette to be flawless. Naturally, with nearly everything on screen being capable of carrying a symbolic meaning, it seems quite clear that the bleakness and darkness of the film is rooted in the oppressive, soul-crushing, joyless nature of Puritanism that practically oozes from screen from its very beginning.

Having said that, allow me to state that this movie is not, despite the fanfare it is receiving among many Witches and Pagans, a Pro-Witchcraft movie.

"The Witch" is not an Anti-Witchcraft movie either.

In regards to Witchcraft, "The Witch" is neither an apologetic nor a polemic film.

Instead, the story underlying The Witch it is a tale told both through the lens of the Christian Puritan mindset and extant Witchcraft folklore. It is a story that hews closely to its source material which is exactly what makes it very much worth seeing. 
Therefore it is important to keep in mind that "The Witch" is a story told from the perspective of those who would have believed in Witchcraft at the time. 

If one wants to see what Puritans thought of Witches and Witchcraft, the "The Witch" is the movie to watch.

Witchcraft in, "The Witch" is dark and terrible and by "dark and terrible," I mean unremittingly evil by any rational definition of the term. 

The first encounter the puritan family, around whom the tale is built, has with a witch involves the theft of their infant son who is, in turn, slaughtered and used as an ingredient for a flying ointment (again, true to the folklore of using baby-fat in flying ointments). This first unflinchingly brutal act on the part of the witches in the film is symbolic of their nature. These witches are horrifically dark and, one could argue, barely human any least not in any way the viewer could understand. What they do, they do for their own inscrutable motivations. 

There is nothing to be found in these witches that one could see as sympathetic. The film, thankfully, does not attempt to peer into their psychology because in so doing, the witches would perhaps become relatable and this would fly directly in the face of the subject matter as told from the film's Puritan perspective.

If these witches, as cruel and calculating as they are in the film, started out as innocent as Thomasin (the film's primary protagonist), which one could I believe safely assume to be the case, then they are not only dreadful, they are tragic.

There is no "romantic darkness" to be found here, no misunderstanding, no sympathetic villains. One may argue that in this bleak spiritual landscape there are no "good" and no "bad" guys. This would not be true. The innocents struck down by witches, Thomasin's entire family, for a total of six victims, are the "good guys" even if the culture from which they come, and the beliefs they hold are noxious to us. They are still victims of a fate they did nothing to deserve. This is especially true of the children, even the creepy twins, who are themselves highly unsympathetic characters.

True malevolent Darkness (pathological selfishness, cruelty, libertine freedom at the expense of the well-being of others, etc.) only seems romantic when the Light ("the good") is defined as oppressive, moralizing, repressive ugliness as it is in this film. There is no joy, no laughter, no happiness, no love in the Light in this film. There is bleakness and debasement.

Unfortunately for Thomasin she is, because she dwells in a universe wherein Puritan Christian assumptions of spiritual truth are clearly implied (as is obvious in the storytelling and events of the film), doomed. She escapes from under the boot heel of her Puritan culture and its God only to find herself forced to choose a new master if she would retain her freedom. 

This new master, who is both directly and indirectly responsible for the brutal deaths of her entire family, does not grant Thomasin freedom out of  love for her or respect for her agency, but instead grants her agency so she can in turn serve as a tool of his own rebellion. He is no more noble a figure than the oppressive and joyless taskmaster God of the he seems as such to Thomasin who, at her lowest and most vulnerable, signs his offered pact.

As any occultists knows, should one fail to approach a power of questionable character as anything but its equal or superior, and instead approach as a servant, things are bound to end badly. Thomasin is not the equal of the Devil, and so her fate is to serve him as his creature. She will become the very thing that stole away and slaughtered her infant brother in the earlier portion of the film. In a Puritan universe, this young woman can never be truly free.

Yes, the protagonist's outlook is that grim from within the Puritan paradigm from which this darksome tale is woven. 

The Devil, in this tale, is no Prometheus, no Lucifer the Lightbringer, bringing illumination even at great personal sacrifice. He is the Satan that is the Enemy of God and man, who waits as a hungry lion to pounce upon believers. This is the Devil/Satan of "The Witch," as the Puritans would have believed him to be in accordance with the truths they believed expressed in their Bible.

The Devil, in this film as he is rooted in Puritan assumptions, is a malevolent force....even if he is only a slightly less odious figure, possibly, than the conception of God the Puritans worship. That's entirely arguable. One may attempt to, wrangle something of value out of "The Witch's" Devil, to make him somehow a liberator, or, gods forbid, a representative of older Pagan sensibilities, but this seems, in my opinion, to be projecting one's own hopes/preferences/biases onto a character and story that implies no such thing. If one swaps paradigms, seeing the movie's antagonists through the lens of modern Pagan Witchcraft (Wiccan, Trad, or other) wherein the underlying Puritan belief structure if lost or invalidated, the story loses all internal consistency.

In all instances when I refer to "darkness" or "light" in reference to this film, it is from within the paradigm of a dualistic Christian moral universe as presupposed by The Witch and not as these concepts are understood from within various Pagan faiths in general or from within Witchcraft, of any kind, specifically. 

This movie is interesting, disturbing, and even fascinating (for the student of folklore) look at the manner in which 17th Century Christians saw the world outside of that which fell directly under the influence of Christendom....this of course includes the wild places of the being under the dominion of the adversary of their God.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Case against the Case for Satan or What Really Underlies the Desire to Include Satan in Wicca and Paganism?

Milton's Satan
This is a response a rebuttle, to the blog article making the rounds that suggests that Wicca needs to embrace Satan or at least not reject him outright (The Case for Inviting Satan Back into Wicca).

*Note: This is an attempt to present a logically consistent argument against the NEED to include Satan in modern Wicca and Paganism. This is not an argument against the simple operative sorcery of including Christian symbolism and spirits in one's eclectic spiritual practice.

I disagree and in this article I will explain why.

Satan, as the actual Adversary, the ultimate transgressive force, makes absolutely no sense outside of
his conflict with the dictatorial (from the Satanic point of view) creator Yahweh. A rebel without a rebellion.....just isn't. The Good vs. Evil dynamic required to allow Satan to make any theological sense is not found in Wicca.

Some theistic Satanists conflate all "dark" gods with Satan as a sort of archetype of (cue spooky music and thunder) Dark Power...a sort of LHP overgod. This form of Satanism is nominally Pagan. It could be argued, by some, that Luciferians belong to this grouping as well, but many would disagree, as would I....because many Luciferians never reference Satan.

Some Witches, though usually not Wiccan Witches, see Satan as a form of the Horned God, the Master, the Lord of the Wild Hunt, Odin, Lucifer, etc. This is the folkloric Devil more than it is the Satan of Milton's Paradise Lost.

Devl at the Mississippi Crossroads
Colloquially Satan and the Devil are seen as the same being. However, in practice, the Devil is form of initiator/trickster god/spirit (an amalgamation of several) whose only relationship to the Biblical Satan is that, in European folklore, this being was transformed into the Lord of Darkness via the Catholic Church's relentless campaign to demonize all remaining remnants of indigenous European Paganism. Thus, to rustic folk (the storytellers and chroniclers of folklore), this being was Satan/The Devil. This is the only point of reference medieval folks had once they were successfully Christianized by the Church...while still clinging to echoes of their ancient Pagan perceptions.

It's quite apparent to me that folks who cling to the imagery of Satan, despite the fact that he is a useless accretion or add-on to any path outside of one that fails to include the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, are those who are tied to an aesthetic they grew up with as part of a Christian culture.
They are, for all intents and purposes, closet Abrahamics.

LaVeyan Satanists are simply hedonist atheists (some of whom are unacknowledged Chaos Magicians) many of whom buy into Ayn Rand's Objectivist philosophy. Again, no Pagans here either.

The whole thing is a clusterf*ck of bad theology and unrelated, half-baked concepts that make little sense if studied objectively. There is no case for inviting Satan back into Wicca, because he was never there.

I would argue that Satan, for most, is merely a symbol of transgressive virtues. I would argue that he is a completely unnecessary symbol in terms of most modern Pagan practice. Satan, according to the author of the much shared blog post that's been doing the rounds lately isn't all that dark, he is merely selectively transgressive.

For the author whose work I'm referencing the Satan he wishes to shoehorn into Wicca is more about making a cultural statement about sexuality, gender dynamics, the oft-sighted Cis-Hetero-Patriarchy, queerdom, trans-issues, and whatnot. His other blog article about Satan/The Devil (Prying Open the Devil's Broom Closet) makes this quite clear. The author is really proposing the inclusion of Satan, not as a deep mystery of some kind, but as a kind of Social Justice Occultism. It would have been better had he been more honest in his motivation and approached the subject of social justice more directly instead of couching it in smoke and mirrors the way he has.

Satan isn't required so as to bring issues of social justice to the fore. Modern Paganism is quite capable of discussing/wrestling with these issues sans Satan and all the baggage that comes with him. We just don't need Satan as a symbol when most Pagans deal with entire pantheons of deities, many of which fit the bill for....transgressive power....quite nicely.

But, let's be honest here....

What does it even mean to be Transgressive in today's society?

The truth is that what is, and what is not, truly transgressive is entirely rooted in the current moral structure of our time and culture. So much of what was once transgressive thought and values are now pretty much an inseparable part of Progressive/PC/Post-Modern/Tolerance/Inclusion culture. What was once transgressive simply isn't so any longer...assuming of course one lives outside the Bible Belt or Mormon Utah.

Free Love....Heard of hook up culture?

Witchcraft....go to any bookstore

Homosexual activity.....depends on where you live

Magick....again, any bookstore

Gender Bending....Social media, Tumblr, and depends on where you live

Animal Sacrifice....Not exactly supported overall (outside of ATRs) but legal

BDSM....entered pop culture for the desperate housewives set, 50 Shades anyone?

Goetia....kinda hip at the moment

Grave Robbing......Frowned on even by the blackest of black magicians

Human sacrifice.....still frowned on by everyone

Cannibalism......still frowned on by everyone.

So, one may have to travel far afield to be truly transgressive in our culture. One has to do some pretty dark things to do it right nowadays. Saying the Lord's Prayer backwards just isn't going to do it for most folks anymore.

Because we are, in many ways a divided culture, what is transgressive to the values of New York sensibilities is very different than what it might be in rural Mississippi.

We are not, like the Puritans of old, a society of monochrome virtues/taboos. And for blasphemy to have any liberating effect, one has to violate taboos that, deep down, one holds or fears breaking. If one is doing otherwise, one is merely cosplaying at being transgressive.

And if one isn't willing to bite the bullet, so to speak, and be truly transgressive, what's the point of Satan after all beyond the nostalgic yearning for familiar symbols even if they don't make sense?

One of the arguments in favor of Satan's inclusion is that Satan/The Devil has been part of folklore
and culture for a very, very long time. This is a dangerous argument to make because even more than Satan, THE central figure for the entirety of Western culture, for nearly 2000yrs, has been the figure of Jesus Christ.
Wars have been fought, lands have been conquered and colonized, indigenous faiths in both Europe and the Americas snuffed out, millions killed and enslaved, all in the name of the necessity of belief in Christ...for the good of the souls of the conquered/colonized/killed.

If anyone or anything has the right to be seen as central or necessary to Western culture, and by default, Western Pagan and magickal culture, it's Jesus Christ and, with him, his father Yahweh. In fact, I believe that whether or not the "pro-Satan in Paganism/magick camp" realizes it or not....

Their argument in favor of Satan is, in my opinion, really an argument for the recognition of Jesus Christ and Yahweh in Western Paganism and magick. It's an unconscious desire to be sure, but still a reactionary desire to their deeply held, even though consciously rejected, belief that Christ/Yahweh is their god and the god of Western civilization/culture.

Now, many will bridle at this idea, but consider this, one of the primary arguments for the inclusion of Satan in Paganism/magick is, "We need the transgressive in Paganism and magick!" The unspoken point of view is that "Satan is the ultimate source of transgressivism!" Beneath that expression of belief is another deeper, unspoken, belief and that belief is...

"We need Satan as the transgressive rebel against Jesus/Yahweh the lawgiver, the lightbringer, the lynchpin of Western culture and spirituality for nearly 2000yrs!"

This is what is being said, without the words being spoken. How can one so completely support the shadow of Yahweh/Christ without, albeit unconsciously, accepting the sovereignty of the very God who Satan stands in clear rebellion against?

One can't...not in any consistent manner anyway.

The reality is as follows...

Satan opposes the law of only one.

Satan's rage is against only one.

Satan steals the souls of men to pain only one.

Satan is dedicated to deceiving the servants of only one.

Satan corrupted the Creation of only one.

Satan deceived Eve to spite only one.

All that Satan does he does not in opposition to Baal, Zeus, the Great Mother, Cernunnos, Marduk, Jupiter, Shiva, Kali, etc, but opposition to one power, the singular authority figure that hides in the shadows of the Western unconscious mind.....


It doesn't matter that Satan is a prosecuting angel in the Jewish OT, Yahweh's servant, because that myth isn't what infuses the consciousness of 99% of Westerners. The Satan of the New Testament and Milton is the mythic structure that underlies the Western psyche. It doesn't matter that Satan, or the idea of Satan, may be built on even older Pagan beings. The psyche, the deep emotional/intuitive place that hums and buzzes when in the presences of myths that speak to us, cares little for scholarly nuance. That part of us resonates to that with which it has been infused over a lifetime.

This deep intuitive/emotional place in the psyche is the place that rebels when someone speaks Lord's Prayer backwards. This deep place is the reason that those who claim to reject Christianity still respond so strongly to Christian symbols.

The conscious and unconscious mind is only rarely in alignment. This is the deep place that allows Hebrew psalms to work effective magick even for those who would find the idea of bending the knee to Yahweh unthinkable. This is the deep place wherein Christ/Yahweh and Christianity is both loved and hated, embraced and rejected.

Don't expect the unconscious mind to make sense, reason isn't its strength. It is perfectly capable of holding contradictory beliefs/perceptions/worldviews at once without experience the cognitive dissonance that would cripple the conscious mind. Satan dwells in the deep places of the psyche beyond the influence of the relatively weak and ephemeral conscious mind and with him dwells Jesus/Yahweh.

Some can and will be able to caste off all unconscious remnants of our nominally Christian culture. Those that can should feel free to walk away from all Christian symbols, gods, and spirits without regret.

However, those that cannot or, deep down, would rather not, should not. These Witches and magicians should continue to use Christian symbols, gods, and spirits and can do so successfully. Sometimes it is easier to work with the contents of the unconscious than it is to attempt to change them.
No talk of Satan in Wicca, Paganism in general, or magickal culture, is complete without the equal
and opposite recognition that Christ/Yahweh is the very sovereign being honored while one is arguing for Satan's inclusion.