What Is the Difference Between Wiccans and Satanists?

by Aaron Thorpe
Many Wiccan practices can appear Satanic to the uninformed.

Many Wiccan practices can appear Satanic to the uninformed.

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Wiccans and Satanists -- much to the consternation of each -- are often confused for one another. There are a number of reasons for this -- self-definition as witches, a belief in magic and the use of an encircled, five-pointed star as a holy symbol, to name a few -- but, fundamentally speaking, the two couldn't be farther apart. What the confusion ultimately boils down to is a basic misunderstanding of three very different belief systems: Wicca, theistic Satanism and atheistic Satanism. A brief examination of each is more than sufficient to correct the misconceptions.

Wicca

There are a surprising number of Wiccan denominations, or traditions, as they are often called, and attendant differences in specific beliefs combined with the decentralized, slightly anarchic nature of the religion as a whole can make it difficult to pin them down. Most Wiccans, however, are essentially duotheistic, venerating a God and a Goddess in equal measure, although some see both as different aspects of a greater, single deity. Wiccans do not worship, nor do most even recognize the existence of, Satan or any Satan-like figure. Their beliefs are typically Earth-centered, with rituals and observances focused on the seasons and other natural forces and phenomena.
Wiccans sometimes incorporate specific figures from a variety of pre-Christian belief systems into their own cosmology, either as analogs for the God or Goddess or as deities in their own right. Wiccans also believe in and perform magick -- typically spelled with a “k” to differentiate it from stage illusion -- which, in practice, often resembles a highly ritualized form of prayer. Finally, most Wiccans adhere to some version of the Wiccan Rede: if it harms none, do what you will; and the Three-fold Law of Return: that which you send out returns to you, three-fold.

Theistic Satanism

While their individual beliefs are just as diverse as those of Wiccans, virtually all theistic Satanists -- also sometimes known as Luciferians or Setians -- worship or venerate Satan in some form or another. They are probably closest to what most people think of when they hear the term Satanist, however the vast majority of theistic Satanists do not see Satan as a destructive figure of absolute evil, neither do they typically practice an inverted form of Christianity. Rather, they view the God of the Abrahamic faiths as a vengeful deity, who seeks to enslave or oppress humanity. Satan, in their view, is God's rightful adversary and an embodiment of free thought and humanity's creative potential.
The theistic Satanist's moral code is based on individual self-interest and personal development. They are quick to point out that they neither perform nor condone human sacrifice or other forms of ritual abuse and argue that disturbed individuals who do such things -- some of whom might self-identify as Satanists -- are part of a criminal fringe and in no way representative of Satanists in general.

Atheistic Satanism

Like theistic Satanists, atheistic Satanist beliefs emphasize personal development and free thought. However, as the term implies, they do not believe in the literal existence of Satan as a deity or deity-like figure. They do not worship Satan or any other god. Rather, theirs is more of a ritualized philosophy. Satan is viewed metaphorically as a symbol of pride, liberty and individualism. The largest and best-known atheistic Satanist organization is the Church of Satan, founded in 1966 by Anton Szandor LaVey. Its teachings, based on LaVey's “Satanic Bible” hold that all gods are human creations, personifications of basic human qualities and ideals. They believe that worshiping any god or deity is essentially self-worship and that self-deification is, therefore, the most direct path to individual fulfillment and self-actualization.

Tolerance through Understanding

Clearly, Wicca and Satanism are as different as any two religious belief systems. If there is any one thing Wiccans and Satanists have in common, it is that they are often maligned and misunderstood by others outside of their respective faiths. While it may be argued that Satanists invite this to some degree by deliberately setting themselves in philosophical opposition to more mainstream religions, they and all practitioners of non-mainstream faiths enjoy the same protections under the establishment clause of the First Amendment. Understanding them in all their differences and similarities is key to ensuring that protection remains in place for everybody.

About the Author

Aaron Thorpe has been writing on social and cultural issues for more than 20 years. He studied history and English at Portland State University. In addition to his work here, Thorpe also writes short fiction and essays which he publishes on his own blog, The Bitter Optimist.

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