Date: 15 Feb 1998
In the Burning Times, the Inquisition's stereotypes about Witches drew on two sources of "inspiration." Stereotyped allegations of evil behavior (sexual excess and incest, beastiality, devil-worship) were combined with genuinely Pagan details (Pagan holidays, worshipping the goddess Diana, folk magick, etc.) The resulting conspiracy theory was a hybrid creature, part fantasy, part distorted reality.
The same thing happens today. Modern Satanism experts have created a new demonology. Part of it is the same old stereotypes of evil behavior that bothered the inquisitors. Part of it, however, is Neo-Paganism. Little or nothing of this theory actually comes from the practices of modern Satanists.
To demonstrate this, I'd like to discuss two essays from _Out of Darkness: Exploring Satanism and Ritual Abuse_ by David Sakheim and Susan Devine. The book is a collection of pieces on SRA (Satanic Ritual Abuse), mostly done by practicing psychiatrists and nurses. This is one of the "good" books. The authors decry the sensationalism and hysteria of many of the fundamentalist SRA experts and try to present a balanced, reasonable discussion of the topic. Yet the book is chillingly bad -- especially to Neo-Pagans.
The first article is Martin Katchen's "The History of Satanic Religion". Its first paragraph is: "The figure of Satan is an ancient one. A figurine depicting a man with a goat's head, seated cross-legged, surrounded by worshiping animals, was found in the Indus valley. It was made in 3000 BC."
And so it begins: the Horned God *is* Satan. A good thing to remember the next time you hear someone worry about those awful Satanists. As Pagans, we talk about how the Church demonized our Gods, how they called Pan and Cernunnos "Satan." Well, they did. They still do.
Katchen believes that Satan developed out of Pagan religion. He equates him with the Egyptian god "Set", whose name kind of looks similar. Katchen apparently is not aware that "ha-Satan" (the accuser) was a Hebrew title for the angel who brought man's sins to God's attention. He talks about several Pagan religions that were strongly dualistic, like Zorastorianism. But he fails to note that although these Pagan faiths believed in a god of evil, none of them worshipped him.
Next, Katchen jumps to the early Christian period. Rumors of an evil, devil-worshipping cult circulated, and they were accused of doing many of the same things that modern Satanists are blamed for. Katchen believes that this proves that "Satanism" has been around for years -- historians believe that this shows that the stereotypes that caused the Burning Times are very old. And it's unfortunate that Katchen skips the late Roman Empire. Because if he'd studied the Roman reaction to Christianity, he'd see that the Romans accused the Christians of committing these exact same crimes! Yes, by Katchen's logic, Christianity is Satanism, too.
Things get worse when we hit the Middle Ages. Katchen says that the earliest anti-Witchcraft and anti-dancing laws were probably attempts to combat Satanism. Then he contradicts his earlier theories and speculates that pedophile homosexual priests of the High Middle Ages created Satanism. He never presents any evidence that there were any such priests in the Middle Ages. But again, this article isn't really big on evidence.
We hit bottom at the Burning Times. Witches, Katchen says, actually were anti-Christian Satanists, not Pagans. The Burning Times were a good thing, the Church's desperate attemtp to "maintain social discipline". He has a great deal of sympathy for the Witch hunters who, he says, faced many of the same problems that modern Satanism experts face. Katchen never actually offers any evidence to support this interpretation of the Witch crazes. He just says the Inquisition was hunting Jews and nobody doubts there were Jews. So why should we doubt there were Witches?
The simple answer is, because the Inquisition doubted it. The Spanish Inquisition found many Jews in Spain -- it found *no* Witches. It killed six, then, after a more detailed investigation, passed a general prohibition on Witch hunting. The Inquisition recognized that it was dealing with a rumor panic, not a conspiracy. Katchen's brief survey of the Burning Times demonstrates that he knows little about it. He doesn't realize that many people doubted the reality of Witches (though not of Jews), that the Burning Times only occurred when societies dismantled their legal systems, dumping their most important legal safeguards.
From here, Katchen briefly discusses some genuine Satanic crime (the La Voisin scandal, where the king of France's mistress hired a Satanist to perform Black Masses for her), the renewed interest in the occult during the 19th century, Aleister Crowley (who was a Satanist, you know...), L. Ron Hubbard (him and his Scientologists are Satanists, too), and Wicca (which is different from Satanism -- but many Wiccans are former Satanists). He flies over Anton Le Vey's Church of Satan and Michael Aquino's Temple of Set, and then says that Charles Manson is a good example of the reality of Satanic crime (apparently unaware that Manson is a warped Christian and considered himself Jesus Christ).
Finally he wraps up with a whirlwind list summary of a couple of books on Satanic Ritual Abuse and a complaint about how many Satanism experts are religious fanatics who use this issue to promote their own sect's beliefs.
In summary, this is a disjointed, episodic article. It doesn't make any sense when you look at it closely. It contradicts itself constantly. First the Horned God is Satan, the Set, then a bunch of wingy Catholic homosexuals make the whole thing up. The history is terrible and shallow; Katchen makes grandiose, sweeping statements with little or no evidence to back them up.
But most importantly, he never shows that any of these groups he discusses are related. What does the Temple of Set have to do with gay Catholic priests? Where's the link between Scientology and Zorastorianism? How does Charles Manson relate to the Burning Times, to people like Paolo Gasparutto (the Italian Good-Walker/healer mentioned in the biographies)? None of this connects.
Nor does he show that any of these groups have anything in common with the Satanic conspiracy he sees today. A couple of his examples come close: the rumor panics about devil-worshippers, for instance, and the Burning Times. But Katchen doesn't investigate these subjects in depth. He never questions them, never doubts for a moment that the Church's records accurately reflected reality. Most historians who've studied medieval and early modern conspiracy theories are quite convinced that the conspiracies they describe didn't really exist. Jews never did drink human blood. Lepers and beggers never conspired with Moslems to poison the wells of Christians. Witches never killed babies to harvest their body parts for spells. When you look at these theories closely, they're insane and unbelievable. When you glance at them briefly, as Katchen does, they sound almost realistic.
At the end of the article, I was left wondering, "What was the point of this?" I'm sure Katchen felt he was demonstrating that Satanists have existed throughout all times. But all he really does is show that people have always worried about conspiracies, and that there have been some sick folk like Manson in many times. And, in the course of doing this, he labels a number of different groups Satanic. Groups that don't worship Satan in any way, shape, or form.
Rather than documenting a logical, coherant conspiracy that has existed since 3000 BCE, all Katchen does is point out that there have been people in many times who bear a slight similiarity to his ideas of "Satanism." So if you're a magician or a Witch, if you read Aleister Crowley, if you're a Scientology or Pagan, you might be a Satanist.
And -- alas! -- things get worse in the next article, "Satanic Beliefs and Practices."