A Pagan Primer Ė 23
There are some things in this world that are simply impossible. Iíll grant that miracles can happen, but short of divine intervention, there are some things that simply donít happen, and there are some that are completely unavoidable.
Without divine intervention, a baby isnít going to be born without someone having sex.
If Iím standing on the Earth, or any body which has enough gravity to hold me there, and I drop an apple, Iím not going to see it suddenly rise up into the air.
The body I have isnít going to last forever; sooner or later, it will wear out. Everyone who exists will, someday die. Taxes are also, as the saying goes, pretty much a certainty.
And if you, like myself, are a Pagan, in this country, and not totally deaf, or completely in the closet, going to make it through life without someone telling you that youíre a Satanist, and that youíre going to hell. If youíre the sort that wears a pentacle or other somewhat obvious pagan bling, you might as well be wearing a bulls-eye. Nothing could be more of a bait for people who are out there to help you see the error of your ways, trying to save your soul.
So, the purpose of the Pagan Primer this week is to have a brief description of this particular Christian underworld deity, and to explain why we seem to have so many Christians who seem to claim that he is ours, rather than theirs.
Perhaps the first thing to consider is that in Christianity Satan was not always the evil god of darkness; nor was he always known by that name.
Originally, the creature Satan was known as Lucifer. Most people probably know that. Lucifer was originally an archangel, associated with brilliance or light. The root of his name is still used today. Lucifer is from the Latin Lux, for light. The chemical that causes glow-worms and fireflies to shine is called luciferace. Even the star of the morning, Venus has been known as Lucifer.
Eventually, in the Christian tradition, Lucifer rebelled, left Heaven, and became the Christian equivalent of an underworld deity. Rather than being the beautiful angel of light, he was transformed into the dark deity of Hell.
Hell though, in the Christian world, is not the same place as our Pagan underworld. Hell is a place of punishment, a place one goes to pay the eternal price for oneís sins. The pagan underworld is more of an in-between place, between this life and the next.
One thing thatís quite interesting is the connections made in the Judeo-Christian understanding between darkness and evil. To be fair, this was not their own invention; it seems to have come from Zoroastrianism, but in the Abrahamic faiths, dualism, and the connections between darkness and evil seem very strong. And with Satan as the Christian ďdark lordĒ, if there is evil in the world, then Satan seems to have a hand in it.
This is all quite different than the gods and goddesses of the underworld of Paganism. In the Pagan traditions, these beings will fill one with awe, trepidation or even fear, but it is not because of some inherent evil nature. We have trepidation and fear at the time of death, not because we are expecting eternal torment, but because we face the unknown; we are leaving a familiar existence, and have no idea what is on the other side. Thatís not a flaw in Paganism, nor is it an indication that itís wrong; itís simply that for many of us, we recognize that there is a very dramatic change of state, and we really donít know what the experience is going to be like.
Itís somewhat like taking a long trip with an unfamiliar mode of transportation. We might some day decide to visit a relative in a distant land Ö for example, Australia. Weíve never been on an aeroplane before, and thatís how weíll get there. The plane is actually an adequate metaphor for death. We enter this conveyance, the airplane, our mobile underworld. The crew of the plane is much like the underworld deities. They will leave us at the other end of our journey.
Most people who havenít flown before are quite nervous their first time. Thatís understandable. The flight-attendant will tell us about the possible dangers and what will need to be known and done to insure a safe voyage. Once we begin the journey, we have no control over where we are, nor can we end the journey when we desire. The Lords of the underworld, in this case, the pilot and cabin crew, are in control.
The concept of Satan and Hell though is a quite different thing. Satan is much more of a malevolent prison-keeper, one whose purpose is to see that we are tormented. This is a prison with one sentence for all who enter its gates Ö eternity.
Itís fairly easy to see that weíre talking about two different things and two different sorts of deities.
At this point youíre probably wondering how it is, after all this time, that Christians can equate Pagan deities with Satan. Most Pagans will likely already understand this, but the point of PaganFM! Is not to merely preach to the choir. I donít expect that itís only Pagans listening.
So, hereís the history. At one point, Rome was the most powerful nation on Earth. As Rome grew, it needed resources, and conquered vast territories. After Rome became a Christian nation, when it would conquer a land, it required the peoples of that land to follow the Christian God.
In Western Europe, one god commonly held in esteem was Cernunnos. Cernunnos was a horned god, representing male fertility.
The easiest way to dispose of something is to cause it a loss of esteem, to put it out of fashion, to make it bad or evil. The Christian church took the image of the Pagan horned god and equated it with their Satan, and thus, Satan had horns.
The image of Satan did not exist as such until the Christian church took an existing Pagan god and gave its image to their underworld deity. So really, the only correspondence between Paganism and Satan is that someone in the Christian church simply said ďYour Cernunnos looks like our SatanĒ.
Some will look to the inverted pentagram and note that it resembles the head of a goat, or a man with horns. Again though, the only reason that the horns are an issue is because of the description, by fiat, of Satan is that of the God Cernunnos, or for that matter, any horned god.
In Paganism, the horns are not a symbol of evil or darkness. They are a symbol of virility and fertility. They represent a creative aspect, and an aspect of youthful vigor, as well as maturity.
So, if youíre a Christian listening, I hope that you recognize that when a Pagan says they donít believe in Satan, they mean precisely that. Itís not a slight on your religion, nor is it disrespectful; itís simply the truth.
And if youíre a Pagan, hopefully, you might have a somewhat easier way to explain, the next time youíre accosted by someone telling you that you are a Satanist, why you can state with certainty that you are not.