The definitions of things like New Religious Movements (NRMs) and the New Age are fraught with difficulties and contradictions. Neo-paganism; neo-druidism, the revival of interest in native religious culture; Wicca and Paganism; and the New Age in general, all share certain features and have overlapping memberships1, so, they all get a mention on this page alongside secret societies and other movements. Nearly all new groups are viewed with suspicion. And although it was once the case that they alone were often associated with all kinds of social problems, nowadays religion in general is also considered unwholesome by many2. So in relation, alternative religions are growing in status, especially now that traditional religions have been made unable, legally, to monopolize the public sphere. These spiritualities are all highly individualistic3, based on personal experience4, which are both features popular in modernism in general. Many of the elements of these movements are not new in terms of beliefs or practices, just new in terms of (dis-)organisation and context.
The New Age is a wildly varied collection of practices and beliefs rather than a structured belief system, and as such it is difficult to define5. Popular elements include alchemy, alternative psychotherapy techniques, animism, aromatherapy, astrology, crystal work, divination, Gnosticism, karma stuff, lightwork and colour healing, magic, psychic powers of every kind, reincarnation and past life regression, sacred geometry (leylines, pyramids, magical shapes), Spiritualism, Tarot card readings, Taoism, Yoga and many other splintered movements and zany practices6.
Its derives from folklore, superstition, pre-modern magical beliefs and elements of Hinduism and Buddhism. The peoples of mythical places such as Atlantis and Avalon rub shoulders with the gods, goddesses and other spiritual beings from ancient Greece, ancient Egypt, Celtic, Nordic, Saxon, Teutonic and Native American belief systems7. New Agers themselves emphasize the 'arcane' nature of their 'ancient' and 'secret' wisdom8. Some of it comprises of practices that are commonplace in the East (such as meditation) but which are simply called 'new age' when they happen to be practiced by Westerners. Much of the Indian influence on the New Age derives from diluted practices and ideas brought from India by the Theosophists.”
Paganism encompasses a range of religions, belief systems and practices9,10,11,12: these include Asatrú, Celtic revivalism, Druidism, Goddess Spirituality, Heathenism, Paganism, various magical groups, some of the New Age, a few occult groups, Sacred Ecology and Wicca. It also covers the interest of previously-uninvolved Westerners in Shamanism, Native American and Native Australian spiritualism, and other primitivist belief systems. The Pagan Federation defines a Pagan as "a follower of a polytheistic or pantheistic nature-worshipping religion"12. In general, followers and fans are called Pagans with a capital "P" in order to differentiate them from "pagans", a historical religious term to mean anyone not a member of the traditional monotheistic religions. In the USA the term neo-Pagan is used for the same purpose.
General modern Paganism "is not a doctrinaire movement" and it is based "on experience rather than on blind faith"13. The various forms of Paganism tend to share an individualistic approach, are spiritually and magically oriented, reject monotheism14, involve a goddess of some sort ("a religion without goddesses can hardly be classified as Pagan"12), and veer away from commercialism. They claim ancient and timeless "wisdom" and draw upon elements of religions from around the world, especially Western esoterism, romanticised versions of native beliefs and Indian spirituality, and share a creative use of myth and a seasonal cycle of festivals15. Also normal are a positive and moral approach to environmentalism and feminism (or at least gender neutrality) and a generally liberal approach to human (and animal) rights in general. They do not consider the world to be bad nor ourselves to be inherently sinful16.
The resulting kaleidoscope of beliefs and practices are mostly indulged in quite lightly, all described and merged using mystical and airy language which, however kindly it is meant, tends to lack any philosophical cogency and sits, generally speaking, within the realm of the mythical and the irrational. Concerns abound from Christians and other representatives of world religions who are clearly worried about the new competition from this popular and young suite of newcomers to the world stage, however, it must be noted that "most people's prejudices [towards Paganism in general] are based on misrepresentation by the media"15 and some people still confuse Paganism with Satanism17. Critics of Paganism can also be found amongst historians, skeptics, scientists and intellectuals based on the negative effect it can all have on common sense, and, complaints also arise from the natives and other genuine gurus of the traditions from which Paganism has drawn. Despite those problems and the addiitonal one of "Pagan" not referring to any particular belief system, "there is both official and academic recognition that Paganism is a serious religion"15.”
Wicca is a Western mystery religion18 invented and founded by Gerald Gardner in the UK in the 1950s, followed shortly by the very similar Alexandrian Wicca in the 1960s, although the two strands are now very closely intertwined19 and Wicca is decentralized. Wiccan practices centre on ritual, nature veneration, natural cycles, and magical and spiritual learning20. Much of it derived from pseudo-folklore. Its festivals are held on the eight yearly Sabbats. Divinity in Wicca is seen as both male and female (typically as the Horned God and Mother Goddess20), as are the general forces of nature which emanate from the male and female principal21,22, and these two sides complement one another19,23. Groups of adherents are called covens and as with other mystery religions entrance to Wicca comes by way of initiation, a process which requires study and the gaining of the trust of the others. Covens aim to have thirteen members, which are then traditionally seen as "full", and growth comes by way of splintering19. Solitary practitioners are called hedgewitches. Compared to other new religious movements in the West, adherence to Wicca takes up a surprising amount of dedication and time19.”
“Shamanism is a timeless and ancient style of religion24, involving beliefs and practices that predate history, although the word itself comes from the Tungus people of Siberia, Russia25. Shamans still operate today in North America in some native Indian communities and amongst some Australian aborigines.26 The oldest evidence of Shamanism comes from European cave paintings, the oldest of which are over 30,000 years old27. It is based on animism - the belief that spirits are everywhere, indwelling not only all animals, but objects too28. Shamans are tribal spiritual leaders who are believed to be skilled in harnessing animal spirits as allies in order to look after the local community29,30 and to be able to act as "mediator between the human world and the world of the spirits"31. They attempt to ascertain the causes of calamities and to improve the luck and enterprise of the tribe. In trances and altered states of consciousness, often brought about through the use of psychoactive drugs, deprivation and mental illness (or episodes are sometimes simply faked), shamans attest to a world full of animal and ancestor spirits.32
In the modern, developed world, new forms of shamanism have arisen as part of the general growth of neo-Paganism. Enthusiasts reconstruct, re-read and re-interpret shamanism, turning it into a general spiritual enterprise divorced from its original context and meaning. It "has spawned numerous related books, workshops and training sessions, some of which incorporate practices and paraphernalia from a variety of native traditions"33, although many are critical of this modern reconstruction and the connection between modern and ancient shamanism can often be described as "tenuous" at best34. Arthur Versluis writes with scorn of "some modern authors who give workshops" but says that "to be a shaman is not merely a weekend of entertainment"35. The pagan scholar Nevil Drury starts his book Shamanism by saying that "it is a fantasy to endeavour to transpose the world of the shaman to our own contemporary setting"36 and despite hundreds of years of shamanic experience, spiritualists nowadays report a completely different spirit world. So someone's making a lot of stuff up. Either way, our knowledge of physiology, delirium, neurology and science is simply too great, and the history of charlatans, cold-readers and other chauvinistic spiritualists is too long, for shamanism to ever seem authentic again.”
The Christian reaction to NRMs has often been frenzied and maniacal - the phrase "anti-Christian" is used to describe pretty much anything that does not conform to the son-of-god monotheism that Christians and Westerners are used to. But just because a new group is occult, magical, counter-cultural or simply weird, does not mean that it is born in opposition to Christianity. The Golden Dawn, parent to so many occult and (later) anti-Christian cults, itself had "no official stance against establishment Christianity"37 and some members (famously: A.E. Waite and Dion Fortune) even used alternative spirituality to further their own Christian development. Pearson writes that "for many members, there existed no abyss between Christianity and the occult" and indeed throughout the history of Christianity there has existed a strong undercurrent of pagan, non-institutionalized magical practices that have often been condemned from above, even including the authorship of magical grimoires by Priests38, but which has nonetheless existed within underground Christian culture.
Aside from esoteric groups, the Celtic revival (including Druidism) amalgamated much ancient Scottish, Welsh, Irish and S.W. English history into a single romanticised (and ahistorical) period39. The influential Edward Williams who wrote under the name of Iolo Morganwg, and forged most his life work (he was discovered by historians who doubted his supposed sources), was a Unitarian Christian. Many Christians adopted Celticism as part of an inclination towards non-dogmatic intuitive spirituality40. The rise of neo-druidism and Celticism is not mainly a protest against Christianity, but often was an expression of soft, popular, Christianity, merely with a Celtic and pantheistic theme (the latter frequently being popular amongst lay Christians who know no better). There are many reasons that people join such movements. When it comes to Wiccans, a relatively well-researched group, it is clear that "a straightforward disaffection or disillusionment with Christianity is ... unlikely to be the main cause of Wiccan membership"VCCM_Book=BI0338:Invisible VCCM_Ref="Chapter 4, p144."-->.
Likewise with the New Age and all of its disparate practices and groups; William James in 1901, the most recognized scholar of religion of that period, remarks on the volume of Christian-sounding material there was in the New Age (known then, as it was, as New Thought and Mind-Cure),: "Although the disciples of the mind-cure often use Christian terminology, one sees from such quotations how widely their notion of the fall of man diverges from that of ordinary Christians"41. Most must agree that over time, the Christian element has decreased and few now consider the New Age to have anything to do with Christianity. But what is clear is that the movement did not start out in opposition to Christianity. Early Christianity would have been much closer to the New Age, but that modern Christianity has moved far away from popular magical practices to become increasingly sterile and homogenous so that now the New Age seems opposite to it.
The practitioners of common healers and magicians throughout Europe from the 15th to 19th centuries are sometimes called "cunning folk" amongst many other names, and represent lots of disparate practices largely derived from superstition and various folk beliefs. Prof. Hutton is the expert on early modern religion and folklore and has written on this already:
“In 1976 James Obelkevitch published his famous pioneering monograph upon popular religion in Victorian England [and] used the term 'paganism' to describe popular magical practices [which was] 'not a distinct and conscious movement or organization but a loose agglomeration of religious phenomenon. It was not a counter-religion to Christianity; rather, the two coexisted and complemented each other. This conclusion was echoed by Willem de Blecourt, surveying what is known of cunning folk in Europe as a whole; their work did not reflect a single cosmology, but was made up of the debris of many.
[Popular magic and cunning folk techniques...] often contained a large component of Christianity. [...] It is obvious that many [charms] - perhaps the majority - are Christian in character. They quote from the Bible, or appeal to the Trinity, or to Jesus, or to saints. In most cases, to be sure, they are using the trappings and symbols of Christianity with little regard to what churchmen would have regarded as its essence; the Bible, for example, is regularly treated as a magical object in itself. [...] This is, however, a large part of what popular Christianity had always been about, and, something that had caused learned and devout members of the faith to tear their hair at intervals ever since the time of the Church Fathers.
[Demand for such practices was rife in a medieval Europe.]
Such demand, and supply, still exists, but the suppliers are no longer likely to be called charmers, but to be identified with one of the techniques within the burgeoning fields of natural healing and therapy, such as naturopathy, homeopathy, hypnotherapy, herbalism, acupuncture, flower remedies, aromatherapy, and colour-healing.”
"The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft" by Ronald Hutton (1999)42
Despite the synergy with common magic, there are now some strong anti-Christian elements within modern, 20th--century neopaganism. The practice of low magic has generally become the New Age which is now generally non-Christian in character. Other groups started out antagonistically. The Theosophists started out with a specific anti-mainstream-Christian intent43 and the highly influential Aleister Crowley identified himself specifically with the anti-Christ and wrote volumes against Christianity; according to Pearson this was due to his in rebellion to his strict Plymouth Brethren upbringing44. Wiccans and Pagans repeat the phrase "Never Again, the Burning Times" to justify anti-Christian rhetoric on the basis of horrors that Christians committed against nonconformists during the Dark Ages. Likewise Christian institutions have employed strong condemnations of all things non-Christian using all available forms of communication: it seems that such "anti-language" is part of the normal development of religion. To extrapolate that a particular movements is protest-based because of it, is selective: all religious movements employ such language.
“Spirituality is being explored in some unexpected areas of Western life (such as the world of business) and may incorporate a range of beliefs informed by anything from the world religions to ideas about UFOs and dolphins.”
There are a few general causes of the continual growth of unusual, novel, small, untraditional, often magical, seemingly counter-cultural and Earth-centered religious movements. The New Age, the Celtic revival (Druids, et. al.), neo-Paganism and Wicca all seem to share some features and often share actual practices, beliefs and members1, and all are growing in sync. Likewise, there are often similar motivations for people to get involved with these types of movements. Robert Schroëder states that people "in today's societies, finding themselves spiritually and morally lost, seek alternative routes to faith and the meaning of existence"46. But we can do better than that, and identify some of the precise areas of attraction for alternative religious movements:
Some adopt new religious movements and alternative spiritualities as reactions against the complexities of science and of reductionism47 and many members of the New Age in particular maintain attacks upon science, calling it closed-minded and limited in scope48,49. But the same rhetoric against the modern world can be found in conservative Christian and Muslim groups, so this does not entirely explain the growth of NRMs in particular.
Anti-consumerism and anti-materialism supply common motives alongside general disillusionment with Western capitalism and globalisation50. Two scholars who have comprehensively examined modern Paganism state that the rise of interest in Paganism is "a response to an increased dissatisfaction with the way the world is going ecologically, spiritually and materially; people are disillusioned by mainstream religion and the realisation that materialism leaves an internal emptiness" (Harvey & Hardman 199551). But these feelings are also shared by many other traditional and world religions and by secular critics. For example, zany Pentecostal Christianity, also a growth sector in religion, shares these traits. Harvey Cox in his analysis specifically states that Pentecostalism is a response against contemporary materialism, giving expression to "the language of the heart" and supporting "chaotic emotions without suppressing them", and providing people with an "alternative" life, all within a Christian context52. All very similar proclamations to those supporting the New Age and many NRMs.
Activism. Areas of popular concern are often taken up quickly by small and new religious movements. Activist causes have found accord with neo-pagan groups and bolstered their numbers and popularity, in particular from the 1970s. As liberal Christians have embraced many of these same concerns53 we can see that they are not the reserve of NRMs but of modern religious liberalism and moral conscientiousness.
Environmentalism is commonly proclaimed by all kinds of pagan, Celt, pseudo-Native and New-Agers, and attracts many people on the basis of their concerns and passions for the world that we live in. A "desperate" reaction to the sad loss of the countryside and rapid urbanisation from 1890 onwards made people turn towards paganism54,55 as a theoretical solution - and soon enough, neo-pagan religions arose to take on the challenge. Predictably, such people are nature-deprived city folk "as is usually true of those who love nature (the farmers are too busy fighting it)"56. Many alternative spiritualities now sell themselves as representing "green religion"49. Conservationism and sustainability are ubiquitous and this is the case both amongst the emoting of individuals and the doctrine and stance of organised groups.57
Prudence Jones writes that "by experience we know that we can be transported into rapture by the beauty of Nature. [...] For Pagans the divine, transcendent powers seem to be present within Nature itself, and by deliberate ritual and contemplation the devout Pagan can make contact with these"(1995)58. A study published in 1986 brokedown the reasons that American Pagans gave for becoming involved, and the positive and green stance on environmentalism was amongst the top 6 most commonly given motivations59. Researchers William Bloom and M. York state that this has also been a strong trend within the New Age; according to York a New Ager "through interdependence and interpenetration, accepts responsibility for the planetary state"60. Author Kenneth Rees imagines that we might expect to find that one hundred percent of all Pagans are environmentally-conscious and "professing a green spirituality"61.
See: "Religion Versus Womankind" by Vexen Crabtree (2007)
Feminism: Neopaganism and Wicca formed strong associations with early feminists. Feminists joining Dianic witchcraft in the 1980s (influenced by authors such as Zsuzsanna Budapest and Starhawk) outnumbered all other kinds of convert in that decade62, and Paganism in general attracts those who are interested in feminist spirituality and goddess worship63.
Emotionalising, escapism and primitivism ('golden age' romanticism): Many NRMs are sourced from the vagaries of human experience, human credulity and introspective emotions: spiritualities where whim and fancy trump historical and scientific skepticism. It is related to what sociologists call "cultural primitivism": a romantic view of a past 'Golden Age' in a pre-industrial world, where a less sophisticated life is deemed more desirable, less spiritually constrained, and the idea helped along by a sense of mystery aided by a lack of concrete evidence on distant cultures64. Those who adopt "native" mores are particularly likely to have a cultural primitivist outlook65. Escapism and romanticism easily merge with mysticism, attracting many of those who now find Christianity too dogmatic, organised and proscribed.
Native Peoples' Fandoms include a wave of Native-American "aspirational Indians" and British-orientated "Cardiac Celts" (Bowman 1996), interlinked with the New Age in a haphazard manner, whose audience are often those disaffected souls who espouse rhetoric against capitalism and modern technology. (Porterfield 1999, Mumm 2002 p114,p120)
A lack of magic and fantasy in text-based religions has been highlighted by multiple sociologists as causing a gap in the provision of public religion. Monica Furlong (2000)66 describes how institutional religion in Britain from the Reformation became increasingly dogmatic and text-based; reformers made "a world in which text was everything, sign nothing". David Martin talks of "religious frustration with an over-intellectualized" Christianity67. The zealous suppression of supernaturalism made Christianity more abstract and removed. This has produced two opposites; a gradual increase in secularism (as it is supernatural thinking that grants religious legitimacy) and a gap into which non-textual alternative spiritualities has grown. Another scholar of religion, Momen, says that the roots of religion can be removed but "all that happens is that modern myths and rituals replace the traditional ones, for myths and archetypes are an inherent part of the human psyche"68, and Christopher Partridge tells us that "many are drawn [to Wicca] by the desire to practise magic"23. These NRMs are rising to cover the supernatural ground that organized Christianity has increasingly shunned over the last few centuries.
The rise of individualism and the modern pick-and-mix approach to religion has seen people abandon the concept of adopting a religious tradition that is formulated, structured and archaic in favour of personalized collections of beliefs, some from one tradition, some from another. This approach does not suit centralized or dogmatic religions where doctrine has been worked out as part of an entire theology of existence. Instead, unstructured, new and novel pseudo-religions are embraced where freethought (but not skepticism) are likely to be accepted. Adler (1986) found that of the 6 main reasons American gave for being involved in Paganism, most of them were individual-based including the freedom of practice, the exercise of the imagination, intellectual satisfaction and personal growth63.
Many New Religious Movements, especially the New Age, thrive on emotional instinct, basic magical thinking and supernatural beliefs that are anathema to science - "the heart in favour of the head" according to Paul Heelas, who specifically notes that the New Age is opposed to rationalism and prefers to rely on intuition and "inner wisdom"69. Likewise it might sound positive and healthy to follow Sir George Trevelyan´s New Age advice to "Only accept what rings true to your Inner Self"3 but it is as much a recipe for anarchy as it is for peace.
Poor thinking abounds. Simplistic and nonsensical categorisation methods - based on whim and fancy - are used as the basis for systems of healing which are then sold to uncritical customers. The otherwise impassionate Steve Bruce compared the style of thinking to that of the Middles Ages:
“Causal mechanisms rarely gets beyond metaphor and highly contestable notions of temperament that have hardly developed since the Middle Ages' four humours of blood, phlegm, choler, and block choler (or melancholy). For example, Edward Bach's flower remedies, which were first formulated in the 1930s and are now popular again [held] that there are twelve basic moods which can be manipulated with the appropriate flower essences [to cure disease]. [...]
For outsiders, one of the most startling features of the New Age is its apparent division from the rational scientific world-view which dominates Western culture [... with includes its] insistence on experimentation, observation and testing. [...] New Agers tend to have little interest in conventional notions of testing. That one or two people assert that a therapy worked for them is enough.”
"Religion in the Modern World: From Cathedrals to Cults" by Steve Bruce (1996)70
Scientific journals and periodicals such as the Skeptical Inquirer are filled with articles that despair at the scientific nonsense that is peddled on the New Age shelves of bookstores. Religious studies academic Roderick Main notes that all too "commonly, New Agers speak and write about science, whether drawing on or denigrating it, with very little understanding of actual scientific theories or methodologies"71. Sam Harris summarizes the net effect of the volumes of pseudo-scientific rubbish that is produced by New Age authors and disseminated by New Age publishers:
“The New Age has [...] made spiritual life seem generally synonymous with the forfeiture of brain cells. Most of the beliefs and practices that have been designated as "spiritual," in this New Age or in any other, have arisen and thrive in a perfect vacuum of critical intelligence. Indeed, many New Age ideas are so ridiculous as to produce terror in otherwise dispassionate men.”
"The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason" by Sam Harris (2006)72
These criticisms against the modern New Age are not in themselves modern. William James, one of the esteemed founders of the study of comparative religion, warned us all clearly that "what immediately feels most 'good' is not always most 'true'" (in 1902)73. Such criticism began as the pre-echoes of the Enlightenment began to be felt across Europe and superstition itself became to be seen as a human weakness in critical thinking: an attempt to trick humans for selfish purposes, rather than an attempt to promulgate the Devil's practices. It was this that caused King Louis XIV in 1682 to enact laws to protect "many ignorant and credulous people who were unwittingly engaged with... the vain professions of fortune-tellers, magicians, or sorcerers" and to regulate the selling of posions74.
In British society by the nineteenth century, secret societies and fraternities such as Freemasonry were rather common. They were epitomized by secret membership and rather involved clothing adorned with all kinds of symbolism. They were almost purely the reserve of men, not women.
“Freemasonry (though now generally lacking a genuine occult content) was found even in small country towns, and had quite a high public profile; at Melrose in the Scottish Lowlands, for example, the local lodge paraded through the streets carrying torches every Midsummer's Eve. All its branches preserved rituals of initiation and celebration which had a quasi-magical character, and Masons referred to the traditions collectively as 'the Craft'. Then there were Friendly Societies or Benefit Clubs, rudimentary insurance societies to provide members with sick pay, unemployment benefits and a decent funeral. These sprang up in both town and country in the early-nineteenth century, flourished until its end, and incorporated ceremonies loosely modelled upon those of Freemasons. They could be very dramatic; one initiation rite of the Oddfellows, for example, involved leading the newcomer blindfolded into a circle of members and tearing off the blindfold to reveal that a sword was pointed at this chest. He then had to take the oath of secrecy and fidelity to the society. It is worth bearing in mind through all this that what he was actually supposed to be doing was buying an insurance policy! Membership of these groups was often linked to a particular trade or 'craft', and meanwhile the old-style trade guilds or 'crafts' still survived in many towns. Some adopted the trappings of the quasi-ceremonial societies; in Shrewsbury in 1840, a trade guild bought up a job-lot of Masonic regalia for its meetings in order to add dignity and excitement to them.
Such groups continued to proliferate into the early twentieth century. Some were drinking clubs in which the rites were largely humorous, such as the Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes. Others were much more serious. One of the most important was the Order of Woodcraft Chivalry [... which] met in woodlands, especially the New Forest, and conducted ceremonies within a sacred circle, consecrated by people standing at the quarters in the order east then south then west then north. Its leaders were called the Witan, Anglo-Saxon for 'wise'; and so its practices were 'the craft of the wise'. In 1938, the Order went into schism, and split into a number of different groups, meeting at different places in the New Forest in subsequent years and developing their own rituals.”
"The Roots of Modern Paganism" by Ronald Hutton (1995)75
Although some say that many of the pagan and New Age religions mentioned on this page are anti-Christian, this is far from the truth. Compare them to a religion that is truly and heartily anti-Christian: Satanism. In this fearsome religion, which is actually atheist, dislike of god(s) is taken to such an extreme that Satanists actually embrace and uphold the symbol of Satan as their figurehead. Satanism is certainly not part of the New Age or paganism, and is in most areas very much incompatible with traditional New Age thought. However bookstores will invariably put LaVey's books in the Mind-Body-Spirit section, through ignorance and innocence. LaVey's texts clearly should be in philosophy or religion, probably the latter. My reporting on this religion is surely biased as it is my own; however, here are two of my introductions to the subject of LaVeyan Satanism:
Satan is good and evil, love and hate. It is the gray; the totality of reality undivided into arbitrary dichotomies. Satan is not a real being, not a living entity, not conscious, nor a physical thing that can be interacted with. It is a symbol, something ethereal, something that exists as an emotional attachment and personal dream. Just like Buddhists do not worship Buddha, Satanists hold up Satan as an ultimate principle rather than an object of literal worship. Satan inspires and provokes people, so, like all (honest) religions the ultimate point is self-help. God-believers have a different opinion on what Satan is, but their opinion is a result of their religion, steeped in mankind's ignorant past. Satanism's Satan is much more eclectic and multicultural than to be defined by Christianity or Islam.
Satan is the dark force in nature representing the carnal nature and death of all living things. The vast majority of the Universe is cold, uninhabitable and lifeless. In the only part of the Universe that we know to host life, it is tied to a system of predator-and-prey: the natural world is violent, desperate, bloody and amoral. If there is a god, it is surely evil. Satan, and Satan alone, best represents the harshness of reality.”
“Satanism is a ferocious religion based on materialism, the empowerment of the self and the ego, the carnal realities of animal life, the questioning of social taboos, the ridiculing of most other religions, and the promotion of tough social justice. Satan is not real but is the most ideal and accurate symbol of reality and nature: The world is full of violence, suffering, stress, striving and death - the life cycle itself requires all these things. It is clear that no symbol of 'goodness' or 'light' can embody it all. The vast, uninhabitable darkness of the Universe, with galactic cataclysms rendering huge destructions on huge scales, means that only Satan can embody the true state of everything that is. Satanists tend to use all the symbols of darkness and evil. There is no heaven, no hell, no afterlife, no angels or demons: there are no gods or saviours apart from ourselves. But if there was a god, it would surely be utterly evil.
The Church of Satan was founded in 1966 by Anton LaVey and as of 2001 its Black Pope has been the powerful and articulate Peter Gilmore. Satanism as religion is highly skeptical, rationalist and philosophical, demanding evidence and strong argumentation, but is otherwise open-minded on magic and some parts of the supernatural. Satanists are often bold, intelligent, demanding; but are also often subtle, cautious, hidden, while others still are outrageous, aggressive, angry and puzzling. It is a religion of fire, drama, depth and forceful progress.”
Although not a growth religion (numbers slowly wax and wane), the character of Satanism shows that other pagan and NRMs are clearly not anti-Christian in character. The Left-Hand-Path is formed mostly from a series of small and sturdy philosophies and occult groups, with kaleidoscopic membership and beliefs, based heavily around the self as the center of the religious world. Despite the paranoias of some people, however, left-hand-path and occult religions are not experience anything like the levels of growth of the other NRMs discussed on this page. Their appeal is hard to gauge, with followers of Satanism being somewhat more mature, educated and stable than many would expect - see Satanists and Satanic Community: How many are there and what are they like?: 3.5. Satanists as Studied by Sociologists.
By Vexen Crabtree 2014 Sep 27
(Last Modified: 2016 Nov 30)
Parent page: Human Religions
(1986) Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-worshippers, and other Pagans in America Today. Originally published 1979. Current version published by Beacon Press, Boston, USA. In "Belief Beyond Boundaries: Wicca, Celtic Spirituality and the New Age" by Joanne Pearson (2002) Chapter 4, p137.
(1991, Ed.) The New Age: An Anthology of Essential Writings. Published by Rider, London, UK.
"Contemporary Celtic spirituality" (2002), chapter 2 of "Belief Beyond Boundaries: Wicca, Celtic Spirituality and the New Age" by Joanne Pearson (2002).
(2002) Contemporary Celtic Spirituality. This essay is chapter 2 of "Belief Beyond Boundaries: Wicca, Celtic Spirituality and the New Age" by Joanne Pearson (2002) (pages p55-102).
(1996) Religion in the Modern World: From Cathedrals to Cults. Paperback book. Published by Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.
Clarke, Peter B.. Peter B. Clarke: Professor Emeritus of the History and Sociology of Religion, King's College, University of London, and currently Professor in the Faculty of Theology, University of Oxford, UK.
(2011) The Oxford Handbook of The Sociology of Religion. Paperback book. Originally published 2009. Current version published by Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.
(1995) Wicca as Modern-Day Mystery Religion. This essay is in "Pagan Pathways" by Graham Harvey & Charlotte Hardman (1995) (pages 81-93).
(2009) Grimoires: A History of Magic Books. Hardback book. Published by Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK. Davies is Professor of Social History at the University of Hertfordshire, UK.
(1996) Shamanism. Paperback book. Published by Element Books.
Fenn, Richard K.
(2009) Key Thinkers in the Sociology of Religion. Paperback book. Published by Continuum International Publishing Group, London, UK. A look at what 11 sociologists of religion think of "the sacred". Be warned that Fenn's book contains one chapter on each sociologist of religion but that his own mystical and specific take on 'the sacred' is heavily intermingled with his commentary - see the book review for a proper description. Book Review.
(2000) The C of E: The State It's In. Paperback book. paperback first edition, 2000. Originally published in UK in 2000 by Stoughton.
Gardner, Martin. Died 2010 May 22 aged 95.
(1957) Fads & Fallacies in the Name of Science. Paperback book. Originally published 1952 by G. P. Putnam's Sons as "In the Name of Science". Current version published by Dover Publications, Inc., New York, USA.
(2006) The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason. Paperback book. 2006 edition. Published in UK by The Great Free Press, 2005.
Harvey, Graham & Hardman, Charlotte
(1995) Pagan Pathways. Paperback book. 2000 edition. Originally published 1995. Current version published by Thorsons.
(1996) The New Age Movement: Religion, Culture and Society in the Age of Postmodernity. Paperback book. Published by Blackwell Publishers Ltd, London, UK.
Hjelm, Titus. Lecturer at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College London, UK.
(2011) Religion and Social Problems. This essay is chapter 51 of "The Oxford Handbook of The Sociology of Religion" by Peter B. Clarke (2011) (pages 924-941).
(1995) The Roots of Modern Paganism. This essay is in "Pagan Pathways" by Graham Harvey & Charlotte Hardman (1995) (pages p3-15).
(1996) The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain. Paperback book. 2001 re-issue. Published by Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.
(1999) The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft. Paperback book. 2001 edition. Published by Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.
(1999) Shamanism: Traditional and Modern Approaches to the Mastery of Spirits and Healing. Published by Berghahn Books, New York, USA. In Bowman (2002) p77.
James, William. (1842-1910)
(1902) The Varieties of Religious Experience. Paperback book. Subtitled: "A Study in Human Nature". 5th (1971 fifth edition) edition. Originally published 1960. From the Gifford Lectures delivered at Edinburgh 1901-1902. Quotes also obtained from Amazon digital Kindle 2015 Xist Publishing edition. Book Review.
(1995) Pagan Theologies. This essay is in "Pagan Pathways" by Graham Harvey & Charlotte Hardman (1995) (pages 32-46).
(2002) Religion, Science and the New Age. This essay is chapter 5 of "Belief Beyond Boundaries: Wicca, Celtic Spirituality and the New Age" by Joanne Pearson (2002) (pages p173-224).
"Aspirational Indians: North American indigenous religions and the New Age" (2002), chapter 3 of "Belief Beyond Boundaries: Wicca, Celtic Spirituality and the New Age" by Joanne Pearson (2002).
Murray et al.
(2009) Hammond Atlas of World Religions. Hardback book. Published by Hammond World Atlas Corporation, Langenscheidt Publishing Group, New York, USA. Contributing authors: Stuart A.P. Murray; Robert Huber; Elizabeth Mechem; Sarah Novak; Devid West Reynolds, PhD; Tricia Wright; Thomas Cussans.
Pagan Federation, the
(2008) Witchcraft Information Pack. Originally published 1992. Accessed online at www.paganfed.org/dl/Witchcraft_Info_Pack.pdf on 2014 Apr 20.
(2002, Ed.) Belief Beyond Boundaries: Wicca, Celtic Spirituality and the New Age. Paperback book. Published by Ashgate Publishing Ltd, Aldershot, UK, in association with The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK.
(1995) The Tangled Skein: the Role of Myth in Paganism. This essay is in "Pagan Pathways" by Graham Harvey & Charlotte Hardman (1995) (pages 16-31).
(1991) A History of Witchcraft: Sorcerers, Heretics and Pagans. Published by Thames & Hudson, London, UK. Originally published in 1980. Cited in Pearson (2002) Introduction p17.
(2007) Cults: Secret Sects and Radical Religions. Hardback book. Published by Carlton Books.
(2002, Ed.) Global Religious Movements in Regional Context. Published by Ashgate Publishing Ltd, Aldershot, UK, in association with The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK. This was a religious studies textbook in the AD317 OU course.
York, Michael. Principal Lecturer in Cultural Astronomy and Astrology and Director of the Sophia Centre at Bath Spa University College, UK. Previously a post-doctoral reasearcher at the Academy for Cultural and Educational Studies in London.
(1995a) The Emerging Network: A Sociology of the New Age and Neo-Pagan Movement. Published by Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, MD, USA.
(1995b) New Age and Paganism. This essay is in "Pagan Pathways" by Graham Harvey & Charlotte Hardman (1995) (pages p157-165).