28 September 2009

Are Wiccans Satanists?

One of my Dominican lay sisters asked me recently: "Are Wiccans Satanists?"

Here's my answer:

Wiccans will say that the charge of being Satanists laid against them by Christians is false. Satan is a character found in Christian mythology. He's the Evil One, the Adversary of the Christian god. Without the Christian god, Satan is meaningless as a concept. Since Wiccans are not Christians, they cannot be Satanists. In other words, to believe that Satan exists, one must first be a Christian.

Wiccans will also point out that they do not accept the monotheistic belief in absolute good and evil. There is force, power, energy in the universe, but labeling these "Good" and/or "Evil" is a monotheistic obsession. The energy of the universe can be used for productive or destructive ends. The power itself is morally neutral; it's the intent of the power's user that makes it good or evil.

Wiccans will usually acknowledge that there is a distinction to be made between White Magic and Black Magic. White magic is used for healing, attracting luck, finding love, etc. Black Magic is used for revenge, obtaining power, causing sickness, etc. Most Wiccans are quick to denounce Black Magic and ally themselves with the White side of the Old Religion, noting that the Wiccan Reede, "Harm no others and do what you will," is morally binding. Violating the Reede invokes the Threefold Law: "Whatever you do returns to you three times." Some Wiccans claims that this is why witches are usually portrayed as ugly hags--too many Black Magic spells have resulted in the ugliness wrought by the Threefold Law.

In one sense we can see how Wiccans might not be Satanists. It is true that Wiccans do not invoke Satan in their rites nor do they pray to him by name as a god. They are not Christians, so they do not believe in the Judeo-Christian mythos surrounding the origins of Good and Evil. We might say that on a purely historical-sociological level, Wiccans are not to be classified along with Satanists as a cultural-religious phenomenon. Wicca pre-dates Christianity* and most Wiccans do not believe that they worship a Christian devil named "Satan."

For Christians, however, the question remains: is praying to or invoking the name of any other god than the God of scripture the same as praying to His enemy? The answer to this is Yes. We cannot and should not avoid the hard truth that the world is influenced by demonic forces. Precisely what this means is not altogether clear to me. Over the centuries we have found that many maladies and "supernatural" phenomena are actually quite natural to creation; that is, what we once thought to be demonic activity has since been found to be just part of nature. Not only are these phenomena explicable in terms of the natural order, we can defend against them or cure their effects in perfectly natural ways.

In fact, many scientists, like the atheist astronomer, Carl Sagan, believe that science will eventually bring the light of reason to every dark corner of human knowledge. Maybe. I tend to think that the universe is too large and too mysterious for us bring human reason to bear on every event, every object out there. This doesn't mean that the currently inexplicable is attributable to demonic activity. It simply means that there may indeed be some events, some things in the universe that will not be fully explained by human reason.

Anyway, Christians know that when we open ourselves to spiritual influences other than God, we open ourselves to forces and powers that do not create, do not love, do not show mercy. Wiccan magic opens all sorts of extraordinarily dangerous doors. Magic is the attempt to manipulate natural forces by use of the will. Ritual focuses the will to make manifest whatever the magic-user wishes. God cannot be manipulated in this way. Prayer is not magic. The Christian who prays must understand that what she is doing is receiving God's blessings with thanksgiving. Petitions addressed to God are the most effective means we have for growing in humility and faith. Asking for what you need creates and nurtures your sense of dependency on God. We don't bargain with God. We don't make pacts or bribe Him with sacrifice. A contrite heart is sacrifice enough!

Here's my warning to anyone who would dabble in magic: DON'T DO IT! If you were home alone in a dangerous neighbor, would you casually open your front door to just anyone who knocked? Would you leave your child alone in the city park overnight? Post your credit card number on Craigslist? No, of course not. Then why would put something as precious and valuable as your immortal soul in danger of corruption and loss? Tarot cards, Ouija boards, psychics, mediums, astrology, ritual magic, neo-pagan religions--using any of these will open your heart and mind to any number of dangerous spirits that long to possess you. Maybe we don't know exactly what these spirits are. Maybe there is a perfectly good scientific explanation for what they are. But remember: we have a perfectly good scientific explanation for why a high-velocity bullet shot through your head kills you. Do you play Russian roulette anyway?

*In response to Bob (cf comments) I want to clarify this statement. "Wicca" is a 20th century reclamation project. Modern Wiccans readily admit that their traditions have been lost to history. They blame Christians for this in one of their many myths, "The Burning Times." What I am saying in the sentence above is that the practice of worship nature and the belief that natural forces can be manipulated by ritual is a pre-Christian notion. Most, if not all, of the books on Wicca in your local Borders contain rituals, prayers, etc. that are wholly invented by modern Wiccans or in some way adapted from fairly recently published texts. In this modern sense, Wicca does not pre-date Christianity, of course.

P.S. FOLLOW HancAquam! (right side bar ---------------------------------->)


  1. Thank you, Father.

    It's remarkable how quickly you change on a soul-deep level when you start playing with the occult, and doubly so if you invite it in wholeheartedly. It's neither pretty nor pleasant, no matter how a person might frame it as freedom.

    In a way, I think that explains the radical differences between my experiences growing up pagan, and returning to the occult after having known something of Christ.

    I have known people who have converted or returned to Christianity after that- I guess I am one in a sense, but it's terribly difficult, and I'm not sure the scars ever fully fade. It's really, truly, not worth it.

  2. Re: "Wicca pre-dates Christianity"

    Father, you're accepting their claims to be an ancient religion and not a 20th century invention. That's an arguable point since they cannot point to a continuous tradition that extends prior to their modern existence.

    Neopagan seems capture it perfectly, in that they are moderns who are mimicking an ancient practice.

  3. Bob, I was referring to the more general notion of nature worship and the practice of using ritual to manipulate natural power.

    I'll edit it to be more specific.

  4. Father,

    It's Wiccan Rede, not Reede. At least, that's how we always spelled it when I was doing Wicca. I was involved with the Craft for 12 years before converting to the Catholic Church. (I was actually raised Baptist--I got mad at God and went away for awhile, which in hindsight was really stupid. But that's a whole Tale of Woe in and of itself.)

    You're quite right about Tarot and the rest, you know. It seems all very innocent (for Entertainment Purposes Only!), but there are always strings. Always. And you don't see it until you're in too deep.

    This is precisely why the New Age stuff that I see at "Catholic" retreat centers just makes me cringe. Because I know what it is. I used to do it back in the coven.

    I need to write some of this up.

  5. Maria, you do need to write it up!

    And I've seen the word spelled about 12 different ways.

  6. Thank you for your clarification, Father.

    This is moving off topic, but it is a question that's been bothering me. Regarding your sentence: "For Christians, however, the question remains: is praying to or invoking the name of any other god than the God of scripture the same as praying to His enemy? The answer to this is Yes. We cannot and should not avoid the hard truth that the world is influenced by demonic forces."

    It seems fairly easy for us to pass off the pagan gods as demonic. It's easy for me to see that the God of the Jews is the same as the God of the Christians, since Christians believe that Jewish scripture is divinely inspired. However, it becomes more difficult when it comes to Muslims. We don't accept that Mohammad is a prophet, nor do we accept the Koran as divinely inspired scripture. It's hard to see that same continuity we have with the Jews, even though Muslims claim to be praying to the God of Abraham.

    It's obvious that the Jews and the Muslims deviate from our conception of God, since they both deny the Trinity. However, the Catechism claims Muslims worship the same God as we do [CCC 841].

    Okay, then. But what about the Hindu gods which seem pagan and pantheistic and yet there seems to be room in their mystical religion to be monotheistic as well. Would we call the Hindu gods demons? I get the sense that we would not.

    But it seems to me that it's a problem of chronology (which is a distasteful logic), rather than that of distinctions. That is, we were ready to call other gods demonic then, but we are not willing to do so now. I'm open to correction, but I'm most concerned about how I might be able to discern for myself. What are the distinctions that also us to call the pagan gods demons, yet the worship of Muslim God the same as ours, and what about the Hindu gods?


  7. Nancy1:16 PM

    The practice of witchcraft, regardless of what it is called, however it is spelled, is devoid of Love and full of lust. It is dark, murky and exciting, but lacks any substance. We all recognize the feeling of being loved by God, even if sometimes we doubt it. We recognize Love. There is no God in witchcraft. It is dabbling in power that does not come from God. Thank you, Father Powell. This is one of the nicest articles I've read regarding this subject.

  8. Glad you fixed the predates Christianity part. There is a fine article on Wicca by Catholic historian Sandra Miesel that describes its history and how it was mostly invented by Gerald Gardner who used a lot of elements including paganism to create it.


    Wiccans certainly arten't Satanists, but like any who invoke other gods and spirits the reality involved is Demonic. Regardless of their intention, as you say they are praying to the enemy.

  9. Anonymous7:54 PM

    Whereas I appreciate the attemnpts here to spell out why one should not worship Wicca - discussion is always better than simply providing a quick answer - I was surprised to see that in the end, no one mentioned the simplest and most immediate answer as to why it is wrong to pray to Wicca: the first commandment. I am the Lord your God; you shall hold no false gods before me." Isn't that quite enough for any good Catholic?

  10. Bob, generally speaking, we can have at least two responses to the problem of "other gods":

    1). they are understood to be somehow part of our mythos (demons, angels, saints, etc.)


    2). they don't exist.

    The 1st Comm. instructs us: you shall have no other gods before me. The imperative here is clear enough, but can we infer from this that there ARE other gods?

    The question about Islam is more difficult. And this is most definitely not my area of expertise (he stalls for time)...let me get back to you on that. (Chickened out...)

  11. What I love about reading a debate like this is the trap that Christianity attempts to ensnare God. If something we don't know presents itself differently than our holy book and teachings indicates, then it has to be other, evil. Well but the book is the word of God. So you say. Another trap. Christianity is riddled with traps and seems to me to be the work of that which you call Satan. But you would never recognize it because you live in the trap. How limited do you believe God to be? Do you believe that God can only appear in Church sanctioned ways? I myself have experienced the love of God in many different forms and in many different places. In Christianity. In Islam. In Judaism. In Hinduism. In Witchcraft. The kingdom of heaven is all around you, you have but to see. It might help if you lifted your head from the book once in awhile and took a look.

  12. HLR,

    You didn't do your homework before tossing all that self-righteousness my way.

    I spent many years as a neo-pagan/Wiccan wannabe and a few more as an atheist and some few more as a Buddhist. I am more than well-aware of what these offer.

    If you had taken the time to read some of my homilies, e.g., 25th Sunday in OT, you would have discovered that I fully understand how limited human knowledge of God really is.

    Oh well. . .now, what was that you were saying about being ensnared in a trap?

  13. M. Burns2:27 PM

    Re: Bob - "....Would we call the Hindu gods demons? I get the sense that we would not."

    Actually, St. Justin Martyr (circa A.D. 100-165) says in his First Apology, "...and not knowing that these were demons, they called them gods, and gave to each the name which each of the demons chose for himself," (Chapter V: Christians Charged With Atheism). (He is not talking specifically of Hinduism.)There is actually quite a bit on demons and their influence on humanity and beliefs in this document.

    Although we are not bound to believe what is written in St. Justin's writings as we are bound to believe the Bible and the teachings of [Jesus via] the Catholic Church, it would be wise, nonetheless, to take heed of what St. Justin says, as this document, after being examined by the Church, has not been condemned.

    The First Apology can be downloaded for free on the His Mercy Web site under E-books: http://www.hismercy.ca/.

  14. Anonymous12:48 AM

    Hi Fr Powell,
    I posted a comment a while back about a friend (lapsed catholic, on way to becoming practicing catholic upon discovery of latin mass and Aquinas)of mine using the I-Ching to 'get answers' to some of his questions.

    He claimed affinity more for the traditions of China (confucianism and daoism) than for the Jews (he isnt Chinese btw) and argued that the I-Ching should be ok, just as Aquinas Christianised Aristotle so he wants to Christianise the I Ching.

    I suggested that prayer would be a better source of answers, particularly lectio divina, but if the questions were silly he'd soon know not to ask them. Is this appropriate?

    thanks for your advice.
    - J