So Tell Me ... What's The Weather Like on YOUR Planet?

16 February, 2012

D is for the Devil

Oh, but wait, so many pagans will say: we are not Satanists! We are not devil-worshippers! We are not the bad people bogeymen in your sensationalised and mostly manufactured news stories! We are normal people, just like you! We are not dangerous! Let us differentiate ourselves from the people we find it acceptable to be the scapegoated Other who might otherwise be numbered among us.

Oh, but wait.

I hang with Set.

I had a friend whose protector - chosen by her parents - was Loki. And I read the work of people who deal with the various j├Âtnar in various ways.

My first teacher in the Craft named her line of the tradition "Morningstar". You know, one of those titles of 'the Adversary' (tee em).

Now, obviously, I have a problem with the whole "We're nothing like them so don't persecute us (we don't mind if you persecute them)" attitude. But really, the whole "but I'm not a devil-worshipper" thing is more deeply problematic than that, as anything other than a factual correction.

It's a factual correction that I cannot provide in that many words. Because, honestly, I don't fucking know if I'm a devil-worshipper or not. Not with any intellectual honesty.

That Christian adversary figure, Source Of All Evil In The Eyes Of Those People Who Don't Do Close Textual Analysis Well? Not so much.

But, again, I hang with Set. And really, Set has a lot more in common with Judaism's ha-Satan than that guy they call "Satan" does. Ha-Satan being the title of Hashem's prosecuting attorney, whose job it is to test and prove the righteousness of others. (I actually have a fascinating book called The Devil: Perceptions of Evil from Antiquity to Primitive Christianity, which, among other things, manages not to paint Neb.y as the boogety-boo God Of Ee-vile Tee-Em in His, like, two paragraph mention.)

And, as someone who hangs with Set, I've done things like peer at the public information put out by the Temple of Set, because hey, one good Setian deserves another. A lot of it sounds familiar. (A lot of it sounds like someone who's missing the goddamn point already, could someone slap 'em upside the head please.) But oogety-boogety Satanists, right? Not anything like us fine, upstanding pagans.

Sorry, I'm getting sarcasm in your peanut butter.

One thing I think matters about polytheistic systems is that they don't make benevolence into a virtue. (Except, perhaps, those goddess-worship groups often snidely referred to as "Jesus in drag.") Many of the Powers - even the ones who are put forward as "this is one of the good and proper ones to venerate" - are not actually all that nice. Important, necessary, possibly even in some cases in favor of the greater good, sure, but you wouldn't want your offspring to marry one.

Being beloved of Set does not mean that I can go waltzing out in a suit made of copper bakeware waving a conductive antenna at the sky when there's a front coming through. Because one of the things about storm gods is, well, when you have a certain charge built up, the lightning's gonna go somewhere. Not because lightning is evil. Because lightning goes from here to there when there's a particular buildup, and you don't want it to be you in the middle. A storm god taking a fancy to ya is not going to give you electricity resistance 10; this isn't D&D. If you're lucky, it'll give you the sense to keep in out of the rain.

So yes. Lightning strikes. With a combination of indifference and opportunistic exploitation. Does that make Set a devil? Or does that mean that we know something more about Set when we understand lightning?

One of the things that that first Craft teacher mentioned was that most of the lines of traditionally-oriented witchcraft work with some form of Lucifer. That dreaded force in the dark is also the initiator, the enlightener, and "Lucifer" was deliberately chosen as a term, that alternate name for Morningstar: that feared force that illuminates understanding. In the Book of Job, the trials Ha-Satan seeks permission to inflict upon Job are chosen to illuminate his piety and test out the limits of his strength.

She told a story: a vision of angels wrestling in heaven, the Good Angel and the Evil Angel. And the Good Angel won, and cast the Evil Angel out, and closed the gates of heaven to leave that force dying on the rocks. And that fallen Angel was nurtured back to health by a passing herdsman, who won from it the chance to grow through struggle, to learn, to change, to become stronger - so what is Evil anyway? And what form of Good closes the gates of heaven to watch something suffer and die from the far side of that barred palisade?

Fairy folklore has a lot of interesting things in it, and one of them is that the fey lands are those populated by spirits neither of heaven nor of hell. Or, as some put it, there is the road to heaven, the road to hell, and there is the third way, where the spirits are neither. But still dangerous, and in many ways more so than those who have granted their allegiance to a set of laws and principles. So are those devils dancing in the fairy circle, or something like? Or is that something more dangerous?

Even in non-Craft circles, this idea kicks around - the sacred monster. The Jungian shadow, which conceals and reveals the depths of power. The wild god, dangerous and compelling, with the power to transform. Sometimes the stories are clean and gentle, and sometimes that is a bowdlerisation, like a fairy tale purged of its old blood to make it safe for children. But we are not children, and we cannot run from our devils.

Every so often I toy, in my fiction, with writing a universe in which angels and demons exist. And angels are the Powers of Virtues, things to which people may aspire. The demons ... are the powers of Passion. And if this were the world, would it look all that different from the one built as virtue and temptation, where asceticism and restraint rather than that visceral, blood-filled joy in being are celebrated?

I mean, it's easy to kick everything back to "define your terms".

But when people ask me about devils, I truly don't know how to begin.

1 comment:

Trinity said...

Okay, so maybe this comment is going to make no sense, but that thing I do? Where I actually Not (All That) Ironically call myself a Decepticon?

I'm not generally mentioning the sacred or my relation to it when I say that, and yet... the kind of stuff you're talking about in this post is why.

(Captcha is "evoloci ourselves," which I can't help but think... also goes, somehow.)