By Lady Arsinoe
I was raised Lutheran. It didn’t take.
I remember sitting on the edge of my bed at the tender age of five, crying my eyes out because I was going to hell. My teachers in Sunday School said that everyone was a sinner, and that all sinners go to hell. I decided right then I was no longer a Christian. At that point, I started looking elsewhere for my spiritual sustenance. How could a loving God condemn the innocent to an eternity of torment? To a child’s mind, that teaching was evil. As I grew up, I studied many different religions and history a great deal, and have read the Bible from cover to cover, though it took me a long time to do so. As a result, I have a basic understanding of many spiritual paths. This ultimately lead me to Wicca, in which I have found a great deal of comfort, love, and connection to the Divine.
Recently, I have been examining the nature of evil as viewed by the majority religions, Christianity in particular. I often wonder where the idea of the Evil One comes from. “From the Torah/Bible/Koran!” I hear you say. After all, these three Holy Books are based on the same Hebrew sacred texts. From a Wiccan perspective, Christian ideas, in particular, of “Satan”, “evil”, “the Devil”, and “Lucifer,” seem rather muddled.
But what is evil, after all? Where do our ideas about evil originate? “Evil” is generally defined as “morally wrong or bad, immoral, or wicked”. Many who follow spiritual paths other than The Big Three (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) are characterized as “evil” by many who don’t, or won’t, take the time to understand different spiritual practices and paths. From many of these perspectives, evil is often connected to the figure of Satan. There are forty nine references to Satan in the King James Version Bible. A typical Old Testament account is found in 1 Chronicles 21:1: “And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel” for which God punished David and the people of Israel with a plague which killed 70,000 men. Punishing a people for being counted seems excessive to me. Which is more evil, tempting a king to count, or killing 70,000 simply for being counted?
Then we get into the unfortunate Book of Job, where God and Satan make a bet on the faithfulness of one good and pious man, “one that feareth God, and escheweth evil.” Poor Job gets the short end of the stick. “The fire of God is fallen from heaven, and hath burned up the sheep, and the servants, and consumed them.” All his property, livestock, servants, children, and wives, are wiped out by the hand of God, just to see if Job would crack. Being the pious man, “Then Job arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped, and said, Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD. In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly.” In the end, God wins the bet with Satan, for Job never condemns God, despite all the things that God allows to be done to Job. In winning the bet with Satan, God loses. If “evil” means morally wrong or bad, immoral, or wicked, who was evil in this story? If God is the Good Guy, and Satan the Bad Guy, based on this story, the Good Guy is the bad guy. Therefore if one wants to live a Godly life, evil is good!
The name “Lucifer” pops up in modern times as a reference to the Evil One. There is only one direct reference to Lucifer in the Bible, as found in Isaiah 14:12, “How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!” (This passage is actually a reference to King Nebuchadnezzar, not to any evil Divinity.) The only other reference to Lucifer is Revelation 22:16 which says, “I, Jesus, have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star.” The word “Lucifer” translates from the Greek as “day star”, “morning star”, or “the light bringer.” If Christians equate Lucifer with the Devil, then they are equating Jesus with the Devil! Confused yet? No wonder the Abrahamic ideas of evil are so muddled.
The followers of the Abrahamic faiths often characterize Wiccans as evil and “satanic” by saying we worship the Devil. Based on the Book of Job alone, if I were of these religions, I would have to say that yes, Satan is the lesser of the Evil Deities. Since Satan and God are specifically of the Abrahamic faiths, who is the Satan worshiper? Certainly not Wiccans; we don’t believe in the Devil. “There is no Devil in the Craft,” as Sandra Bullock succinctly stated in Practical Magic. As Celsus, writing around 180CE, so succinctly stated, “it is blasphemy…to say that the greatest God…has an adversary who constrains his capacity to do good.” And, Christians “divide the kingdom of God, creating a rebellion in it, as if there were opposing factions within the divine, including one that is hostile to God.” If God is ‘all that’, how can there be a Devil?
The Wiccan idea of evil is vastly different from that of the Abrahamic religions. Wicca is a nature-oriented spiritual path that tends to focus inside ourselves and then outward to our relationship with the Universe. We do not see evil as being something outside or “other”. As a result, Wiccans have no convenient excuse for ill behavior; there is no “the Devil made me do it!” in Wicca. Evil exists only because mankind has evil tendencies. Wiccans understand that we, as human beings, are responsible for our own actions. No outside Deity of Good or Evil makes us do anything. We see humans acting out of Good or Evil because humans want to, and we reap the benefits or consequences of our actions accordingly. We see everything we do as coming back to us according to the Threefold Law: whatever energies we put out into the world comes back to us threefold, be it for good or ill.
Wiccans follow a very difficult path because of this. We have no Evil One to blame, only ourselves. The ultimate responsibility rests within us all. Our code of ethics is derived from the Wiccan Rede, the short version of which states “’An it harm none, do as ye will” which is an awfully difficult rule to live by, if you think about it! There is no way to go through life without causing any harm. We have to eat, for example. Even vegans cause harm, from the plant’s perspective. The Wiccan Rede demands that we closely examine all our thoughts, words, and deeds, and then to act in a manner that causes the least harm, and doing the most good.
Because of these laws, Wiccans do not practice animal sacrifice, as we have been accused of by some. The idea of taking a life is abhorrent to a Wiccan. How dare we, as Children of the Divine, take the life of another as a sacrifice to Divinity? All life is Divine in our eyes. And, since all life is Divine, we ourselves are part of that Divinity. By causing harm to another, we are ultimately causing harm to ourselves. This view is one of the reasons many Wiccans are environmentalists. By caring for our planet, and all that inhabit it, we are caring for all of us.
Wiccans have also been accused of being sex-crazed, we participate in orgies, and dance around naked. Do we dance “skyclad” (clothed in nothing but the sky) under the moonlight stars? Some Wiccans do, but really, how many people in their right mind want to run around naked in February? The answer is, “Not many!” And let’s face it; people don’t really want to see large groups of other people naked. Not all of us are as fit as we should be…
The main reason Wiccans are said to be evil, Satanic, or any of the other outlandish “crimes” we are accused of, is Fear. Fear of “the Other.” People are afraid of what they don’t understand, and for the most part, they refuse to even try. The Jews and Romans didn’t know exactly how to take the early Christians. Try looking at Holy Communion from the outside: Eating the flesh and blood of your God? Of course that sounds evil. How is one supposed to understand that? Why should one even try?! That’s just Evil! The same tired accusation lobbied against early Christians, of killing babies for blood rites, has been recycled and used against Wiccans. Simply because of fear.
Fear clouds otherwise rational judgment. People identify with those like themselves, and shun or “demonize” those who aren’t. It’s hardwired in us, biologically. This fact of humanity has been proved over and over again, in different ages and different cultures. Fear can be blamed for racism, sexism, war, and every other evil. Fear is the Great Evil. Understanding is the one sure way to combat Evil. The question is: do the fearful have the courage to understand? Or will they hide behind their fear, and continue their evil ways.
If there is a Devil, then his name is Fear.
In addition to our regular academic and news articles, Religion Nerd also offers a forum for the religious “insider.” Lady Arsinoe’s thought provoking look at Evil from the perspective of a practicing Wiccan grants RN readers an intimate opportunity to “hear” the voice of a Wiccan High Priestess and presents us with a snapshot of her personal religious journey and chosen tradition.
Lady Arsinoe’s Bio:
I was initiated into the Wiccan spiritual tradition as a First Degree in 1993. Over the years, I continued my studies and increased my involvement. In 2000, the members of OakSpring (www.HouseOfOakSpring.org) separated from Ravenwood to go our own way. In 2006, I became the High Priestess of OakSpring, with my husband serving as High Priest. OakSpring is large by Wiccan standards, and has been blessed to own and maintain our covenstead on 38 acres of woodland in the Metro-Atlanta area.
Like most Wiccans, my mundane life is similar to anyone else’s: I go to work each day (for a large engineering firm), bear with traffic, and go home to relax with my family and pets. Living a magical life isn’t always about the spells; it’s about living in a way that is harmonious with Nature, the Universe, and ourselves. I do my best to live in accordance with Wiccan principles every day of my life. I think that is the best way to show the world what Wicca is all about.