Satanism

Witches Sabbat (1789). Francisco de Goya. Pagan horned god demonized by the Church as the Devil.
Witches Sabbat (1789). Francisco de Goya.
It seems so stupid. Why would anyone worship Satan? Does Faust?

Since you have to believe in the Christian God to think the Christian Satan1 even exists, you’re usually better off sucking up to God, not Satan.

If you worship Satan, you’re going to go to hell. Why make God, the creator of everything, mad at you and doom yourself to untold suffering?

Among the reasons (we assume) are bitterness, madness, despair, rage, greed, disease (addiction), debauchery, and yes, even stupidity. People who are looking for their rewards in this life.

Pascal’s wager (wikipedia) posits that given that God may or may not exist, you’re better off acting as if He does, because being wrong has no significant consequences beyond ruined Sundays (and God’s rage at your hypocrisy?) while being right possibly wins you an eternity in Paradise. Now we include Satan in the calculation. You’re better off worshipping God than worshipping nothing, and better off worshipping nothing than worshipping Satan. It should be obvious.

But is there really that much to lose? Among many Protestants2 you’re probably only going to get Jesus’ promise of after–life in heaven if you’re really, really super good and blessed, a true believer, or already chosen. Your success in life may be a sign of God’s pleasure. So have faith. Be born well, live in the best society, die without sin and be counted among the chosen. Be respectable and go to Church.

Otherwise, the odds are against you. God might cut you a break if you are super supportive of those He likes, so the lesser lot should look to be useful to those who are going to get in. Sacrifice for your betters. Work long and hard and well and know your place. Ask for little and avoid the things of the Devil which are the things of the world of pleasure. Be diligent in your work and efficient. That is the Protestant work ethic that took Northern Europe to prosperity.

Faust was smart and talented, and maybe he was going to get saved, but he wanted his reward now. Faust was also a scholar, seeking knowledge, and finding knowledge can unravel faith, but even when faith is in tatters, knowledge is still insufficient. It walks you to the brink that faith once sailed over.

Failure was a sign that God had withdrawn his grace. All that was left for him was to… what?

Die? Rejected by God, after a post–mortal period he would be obliterated. There is no eternal suffering in Hell. Even Hell has a happy ending for an anguished soul.3

So why not take advantage while still on Earth? These few years of life are short and precious compared to the near–eternity of death. Faust wants things still—answers perhaps, pleasure as well. If God won’t answer maybe the Devil will. The Devil can at least provide pleasure, if only to avoid giving answers.

But does Faust necessarily worship Satan? He made a deal after all, a business arrangement. Cynically one could look at religious worship as deal–making, and in fact, witches were said to both make pacts with the Devil and worship him.

15 There is nothing from outside a man that, entering into him, can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man.

16 If any man have ears to hear, let him hear.”

17 And when He had entered into the house away from the people, His disciples asked Him concerning the parable.

18 And He said unto them, “Are ye so without understanding also? Do ye not perceive that whatsoever thing from outside entereth into a man, it cannot defile him,

19 because it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly and goeth out into the drain, thereby purging all meats?”

20 And He said, “That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man.

21 For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders,

22 thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness:

23 all these evil things come from within and defile the man.”
Mark 7:15-23 21st Century King James Version (KJ21)

In his dark moments Faust may desperately worship the Devil, but for self–preservation. He may gratefully worship him in the good times. How is that different from any other worship? Does God care where Faust goes begging? Does a rich man care when a beggar chases after someone else?

(A father does).

Poor Faust. He does something evil in the hopes of achieving something good and he hopes that achieving the good erases his sin. God the humanitarian, Faust assumes. God will understand, Faust hopes.

In the final book of the Bible false Christians are punished. If a modern–day Christian (say) supports an evil leader (say) to bring on the end–times or preserve a Christian society, are they good Christians or the very false Christians the Bible threatens to destroy? Are they Satanists without knowing?

History

Whatever Faust’s thoughts on worship, his relationship with Satan or his proxy Mephisto, is personal. Faust joined no Church. Was there such a thing as a Satanic church congregation in previous centuries?

Witches' Sabbath (The Great He-Goat). A coven of witches with Satan as a goat. 1821-1823. One of the Black Paintings of Francisco Goya.
Witches’ Sabbath (The Great He-Goat). A coven of witches with Satan as a goat. 1821-1823. One of the Black Paintings of Francisco Goya.

A lot of what Europeans think about witchcraft is derived from folk/pagan religions – the religion and superstitions of the people before Christianity arrived, and alongside it. But those practices were not Satanic. They were neither specifically badly intended (maleficent) nor antagonistic to Christianity and they were not associated with Satan.

Satan himself only became a Christian celebrity around the fourteenth century, reaching the heights of his infamy through the time of the Faust legend in the sixteenth century and into the seventeenth. Faust himself lived in a time and place infused and surrounded by witch hunts, and so did the author of the first Faust story.

It had taken centuries for theologians to nudge out the place of evil in Christianity, details of the nature of passage from life to afterlife, the cleansing of the soul, and who might be responsible for it, and where. In the end they had: evil is separate from God. There is an evil force and Satan is/or represents that force and opposes God. Satan runs Hell, which is where bad people go to be punished for their sins.

From about the early 11th–century the Church officially didn’t believe in witchcraft. In fact, Church law (Canon Episcopi (Wikipedia)) said that if you believed in witchcraft then maybe you were the heretic. But a growing belief that witchcraft was part of a Satanic cult created waves of panic expressed in the witch hunts of the 15th and 16th (etc.) centuries.

In one respect Satanism began when students parodied rituals of the Mass and other ceremonies. The students weren’t Satanic, they were bloody rude and disrespectful. A lot of people like that joined the Church because they had no better options, not because they were especially suited to it.4 They were young, drunk punks, and they set a standard for the Satanic Mass.

More immediately threatening to the Church were the different—perverse, deviant and evil—religious beliefs of pseudo–Christian rivals. Heresy like that threatens “proper” religious practice and leads to people falling away from the “true” path.

The Church wasn’t willing to lose anybody. When recently–converted pagans wanted their animals and fields blessed as they had always been in ancient fertility rites, the Church went along with it. Ultimately one could buy a Mass for whatever purposes one had in mind. What would happen if you performed a funeral Mass for an enemy who wasn’t yet dead?

For its part, folk witchery was willing to get along as well. If you wanted to find a lost item, cast the fortune of a friend or an enemy, curse, or find out who cursed you, you went to a witch or a folk healer or a cunning man/woman, whose toolbox now included prayers and appeals to holy things in place of the old ways.

Ultimately, the Church didn’t like to lose control or souls, and since Satan was God’s enemy, it was easy to guess that he was behind the assaults on the Church and the corruption of worship, and the panicking of the congregation. Who perverts the works of God at the cost of innocent souls? The Devil!

Yes, and witches too.

People from many walks of life could be suspected of Satanism and witchcraft. They weren’t necessarily folk-healers. They were often people who aroused uncomfortable feelings in people—beggars and widows who inspired guilt, and gifted, successful people who inspired jealousy. An especially talented person, rather than being suspected of being blessed by God, was perhaps blessed by Satan.

In the time of Faust, the knowledge gained from decades of witch hunts had established the material nature of Satan and Satanism. This was based on testimony and expert opinion. According to the best knowledge, witches worshipped Satan in ceremonies in which he was present, and he in turn, gave them their powers. All sorts of perversities sealed the deal, including infanticide and sexual acts with the Devil himself.

One drawback was that it presumed that Satan (and other spirits) could actually interact with physical matter and that wasn’t evident.

Still, the idea that there were witches who were subjects of Satan held for centuries, bubbling through the time of Faust and up until about the eighteenth century when the Church determined that spirits such as Satan did not have the ability to make material change, and therefore all the hooey about witches having sex with Satan was just that. Hooey. Hot hooey.

What previous generations had thought was wrong. Folklore and confessions were false. There had been no such Satanic worship. They didn’t call it the Age of Reason for nothing.

That conclusion hasn’t stopped people from believing or others from taking advantage of them, and the myth of Satanic worship continued to evolve as people embellished the story for their own usually criminal, fraudulent and/or occult purposes.

The Taxil hoax (Wikipedia) of 1890 showed how willingly people believe stories of the occult and Satanic conspiracies.5

Inasmuch as criminals are already on the slippery slope to Hell, it isn’t much more degraded to use Satanic worship either in fraud or in earnest. Among the most famous cases in French history is the Affair of the Poisons (Wikipedia).

Still, who knows about Christian Satanic worship? It’s necessarily done in private, if it’s done at all, so we can’t it rule out Satanic worship altogether. There may be Satanists living right next door to you….

It is worth remembering the days of witch hunts aren’t over. There is a psycho–social phenomenon called a moral panic (Wikipedia). It’s not over.


See Satanism at Wikipedia.
Footnotes
  1. ‘Modern–day Satanism is a term that may refer to a religious, semi–religious, and/or philosophical movement. It does not exclusively mean that an individual worships the Christian Satan or that they are “devil worshippers.” Many modern “Satanists” do not actually believe in a being called “Satan,” and co–opted his name only as a symbolic allusion to certain materialistic and individualistic values.’ (From Wikipedia on Satanism).

    In the traditional Christian context of Faust, however, it applies to those individuals who worship the entity called “Satan,” and advocate the triumph of evil forces over good in the universe. []

  2. Faust comes out of a Protestant-leaning region of Germany, and there are many different opinions on salvation, damnation, and immortality. []
  3. From Wikipedia: “Rejection of the immortality of the soul, and advocacy of Christian mortalism, was a feature of Protestantism since the early days of the Reformation with Martin Luther himself rejecting the traditional idea, though his mortalism did not carry into orthodox Lutheranism.” — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hell#Christianity []
  4. It was a way to deal with superfluous offspring for the landed. Only the eldest son inherited the land. []
  5. “The Taxil hoax was an 1890s hoax of exposure by Léo Taxil intended to mock not only freemasonry but also the Catholic Church’s opposition to it.” []