Do Pagans Worship the Devil?

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Pan may have horns, but that doesn't make him the devil. Floriano Rescigno / E+ / Getty

You've just discovered and started researching Paganism, and that's great! But uh-oh... someone went and got you worried because they told you Pagans are devil worshipers. Even more scary, you saw a picture, somewhere on this website, of a guy wearing horns. Yikes! Now what? Do Pagans really follow Satan?

The short answer to that question is No. Satan is a Christian construct, and so he’s outside of the spectrum of most Pagan belief systems, including Wicca. If someone tells you they’re a Satanist, then they’re a Satanist, not a Wiccan.

It's also important to keep in mind that most people who self-identify as Satanists do not, in fact, worship Satan as a deity, but instead embrace a concept of individualism and ego. Many Satanists are in fact atheists, particularly among those who follow LaVeyan Satanism. Others consider themselves hedonists. Regardless of your feelings about Old Scratch, the Devil, Beelzebub, or whatever you want to call him, Satan generally doesn't appear in most modern Pagan spiritual systems.

In particular, many evangelical branches of Christianity warn members to avoid any sort of Pagan belief path. After all, they caution you, worship of any being other than the Christian god is tantamount to devil-worship. Focus On the Family, a fundamentalist Christian group, warns that if you're looking at the positive aspects of Paganism, it's because you've been tricked by the devil. They say, "Many Wiccans say that Wicca is harmless and nature-loving—that it has nothing to do with evil, Satanism and dark forces. But that is exactly what Satan wants them to believe! Intent on deceit, "Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light," says Paul. "It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness." Paul says that if they don't turn toward God and repent, "their end will be what their actions deserve" (2 Corinthians 11:14-15)."

The Horned God Archetype

As to the "guy wearing horns," there are a number of Pagan deities who are often represented as wearing horns or antlers. Cernunnos, for instance, is the Celtic god of the forests. He is associated with lust and fertility and the hunt - none of which sound terribly evil, do they? There's also Pan, who looks a bit like a goat and comes to us from the ancient Greeks. He invented a musical instrument which ended up being named for him–the panpipe. Again, not too threatening or scary at all. If you happen to stumble across an image of Baphomet, he's another goat-headed deity, and happens to reflect many of the theories and ideals found in 19th-century occultism.

In many Wiccan traditions, the archetype of the Horned God represents the masculine aspect of the divine, often as a consort to a Mother Goddess. In Margaret Murray's The God of the Witches, she attempts to prove that there was an all-encompassing, pan-European cult that honors this archetype, but there is simply no academic or archaeological evidence to support this. However, there are indeed various individual horned gods that pop up in a number of ancient cultures.

Horned Gods and the Church

So, if our Pagan ancestors were out frolicking in the forests and honoring horned deities like Pan and Cernunnos, how did the idea of devil worship come to be associated with these gods?

Well, it's an answer that's fairly simple, and yet complex at the same time. In the Bible, there are passages specifically addressing deities who wear horns. The Book of Revelation in particular speaks to the appearance of demons, wearing horns on their heads. These may have been inspired by the appearance of ancient, pre-Christian gods, including Baal and Moloch.

The well known "devil" imagery featuring the giant ram's horns, the Baphomet image, may be based upon an Egyptian deity. This goat-headed depiction is often found in modern Tarot decks as the Devil card. The Devil is the card of addiction and bad decision-making. It's not uncommon to see this card come up in readings for people with a history of mental illness or various personality disorders. Reversed, the Devil portrays a much brighter picture -- such as removing the chains of material bondage in favor of spiritual understanding.

Accusations of witch-craft in [the 16th and 17th centuries] were often associated with devil-worship and Satanism. Witch-hunts were used to target any heretical (non-mainstream Christian) beliefs. Victims were often accused of debauched practices and transformation (turning into animals) as well as communion with evil spirits.

So again, no, Pagans don't generally worship Satan or the devil, because he's simply not part of most modern Pagan belief systems. Those people in Pagan religions who are honoring a horned god–whether it's Cernunnos or Pan or anyone else–are simply honoring a horned god.