ROBERT W. BROCKWAYTHE ROOTS OF NEW AGE
frequently than one would imagine.) We encounter in archaic demonology and Christian exorcism the roots of witchcraft in the Western world. Strictly speaking, a witch or warlock is a person who makes a pact with Satan, usually through one of his subordinates. In return for powers to heal or do harm to enemies, control the weather, suspend the laws of nature, and perform all sorts of wonders, the witch or warlock sells his or her soul to Satan. Satan gains an ally, and also deprives God of one of his own. The witch must pay after death by serving Satan in hell, and sharing his torment.
Most modern occultists do not believe in the Evil One, hell, or in divine wrath. This is consistent with the gnostic and hermetic doctrine, the basis of occultist metaphysics. Instead, they are mainly reincarnationists, believing in many rebirths until the soul achieves its final resting place in the Pleroma or divine. This has not been understood by many orthodox Christians, with the result that there have been periodic outbursts of persecution against gnostics and occultists, such as the extermination of the Albigensians.
What is popularly called Satanism today must not be confused with other forms of occultism. It is a distinctive esoteric doctrine based on very different premises. These, too, are not Judeo-Christian, but of pagan origin. There is, for instance, a Church of Satan in San Francisco which, during the 1960s and 1970s, was headed by a former carnival character by the name of La Vey. He devised elaborately ritualistic ceremonies complete with votive candles, swirling capes, and symbols popularly associated with Satan and devil worship. However, the Lucifer which he worships is not the Evil One, but a benevolent, permissive deity who relieves his votaries of their guilt feelings over such matters as their sexuality. This is essentially a form of psychodrama, a sort of psychotherapy aimed at people who are having psychological problems because of early childhood repressions. In many ways, it involves the same principles of free association as Freud devised in psychoanalysis, the freedom to express one’s innermost thoughts and feelings in an entirely non-judgmental context. Most people who are attracted to the Church of Satan join for such reasons.
Occasionally, the press reports instances in which, for example, the body of a mutilated animal is found surrounded by black candles, usually attributed to Satanism. This is probably not the case: such behaviour is more likely to be the result of adolescent fantasies aided by violent video games, lurid motion pictures, and television. Similarly, so-called “Black Masses” are rare. These are conducted by self-styled Satanists, and stem ultimately from the imaginations of medieval inquisitors.
However, most occultists do recognize what they sometimes call “lower forces” or “negative spirits.” These include poltergeists, or mischievous entities. Many occultists advise people not to consult ouija boards, saying that lower spirits sometimes manifest themselves through them in disturbing ways. Other occultists maintain that poltergeists and other such phenomena are actually abstract energies rather than spirits. This is often given as the explanation for