Neo-paganism and the Culture of Death

Jameson Taylor
Reproduced with Permission

Culture cannot exist apart from religion. The root and source of the Culture of Life is faith in Christ Jesus and His Church. The source of the Culture of Death is faith in manŐs capacity to become divine-like by his own labors. At first cloaked as a materialistic atheism, manŐs self-idolatry is evolving into a form of materialistic spiritualism. Whether packaged as a return to the ancient ways or an anticipation of a new age, neo-paganism is emerging as the vehicle by which the Culture of Death is solidifying its hold on menŐs hearts. The three most popular manifestations of neo-paganism are wicca, the new age movement and satanism. Granting the existence of a distinct mythology for each of these sects, the groups share common historical origins and philosophic presuppositions.

A Not-So-Ancient Past

Wicca is apparently the most ancient of the neo-paganisms. Claims Raymond Buckland, founder of “Seax-Wicca,” wicca “evolved centuries before Christianity…it’s an old religion, but fills modern needs.” According to the United States Army’s Handbook of Chaplains, “Witchcraft or Wicca is a reconstruction of the Old Religion, the tribal worship of ancient peoples based in magic, herbology, healing, and the worship (primarily) of the Mother Goddess and (secondarily) her consort, the Horned God. Witches believe they have existed throughout known history in many parts of the world.”

The Spiral Dance, a 1979 best-selling wiccan manual by “Starhawk,” goes so far as to claim that wicca is “perhaps the oldest religion extant in the West,” having begun over 35,000 years ago as a matriarchal, earth-centered cult.1 Recent scholarship suggests otherwise, finding instead that wicca is “a 1950s concoction influenced by such things as Masonic ritual and a late-nineteenth century fascination with the esoteric and the occult.”

Writing in 1886, the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche warned, “the religious instinct [among modern Europeans] is indeed in the process of growing powerfully—but the theistic satisfaction it refuses with deep suspicion.” As Nietzsche observed, the skepticism and scientific materialism of the so-called Enlightenment had slowly eroded the influence of Christianity in the West. In the mid-1800s, this decline was hastened by Karl Marx and Charles Darwin, whose theories seemed to provide a philosophic and scientific justification for atheistic humanism. Marx promised that man could build heaven on earth. Disillusioned Christians, yearning still for paradise, took Marx at his word and turned to socialism. A perfect world, however, must be inhabited by perfect people, and Darwin’s theory of evolution became the basis of a host of projects, including those devised by Margaret Sanger and Adolph Hitler, aimed at creating a race of supermen.

Unlike Marx, Nietzsche understood that man’s innate desire for religious truth would not allow the establishment of an atheistic society, but would cause a vacuum in which other faiths—almost any faith other than Christianity—would prevail. It is no accident, then, that the late 1800s were an era of heightened interest in the occult. In 1875, the Theosophical Society was founded by Helena Blavatsky and Henry Olcott. Blavatsky claimed to be the “channel” of certain “masters” who could teach human beings how to become like gods. Theosophy likewise popularized the masonic notion that a secret wisdom is the common source of all religious teaching.

As “the most active occult group from the 1880s to the 1920s,” the Theosophical Society exercised a profound influence on what was to become the New Age Movement. After moving to London in 1887, Helena Blavatsky made the acquaintance of Dr. William Wynn Westcott, a freemason and Rosicrucian.2 A year later, Westcott co-founded the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (GD) as a “magical fraternity” devoted to preserving the secrets of the “Western Esoteric Tradition” and “dedicated to the philosophical, spiritual, and psychic evolution of humanity.” For all practical purposes, the GD was formed in reaction to the Theosophical Society’s increasing emphasis on Buddhism and the “Eastern Mystical Tradition.”

In 1898, Aleister Crowley, the “self-proclaimed drug and sex ‘fiend’” joined the GD, but was later expelled for being “mentally unbalanced.” In 1904, Crowley penned his (in)famous Book of the Law and thereafter published versions of the Second Order rituals of the Golden Dawn. Eventually, Crowley found his place with the Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO), another Masonic-inspired group who “taught that sex magic was the key to all Masonic and Hermetic secrets, and ultimately the explanation of all systems of religion.” Anton LaVey, founder of the Church of Satan (COS) in 1966, drew heavily from Crowley’s work.

Enter Gerald B. Gardner. In 1954, Gardner wrote Witchcraft Today, claiming that wicca was an age-old pagan religion still being practiced covertly. Unfortunately for Gardner’s case, researchers have found no evidence of the coven from which Gardner claims he learned “the Craft.” Indeed, Allen concludes that “not a single element of the Wiccan story is true. The evidence is overwhelming that Wicca is a distinctly new religion.” As it turns out, Gardener was a freemason, Rosicrucian, and an acquaintance of Aleister Crowley. Scholars have thus had little difficultly in finding parallels between contemporary wiccan rituals and those used by the Golden Dawn and the OTO. “Most notable,” observes one neo-pagan author, “is the…Great Rite, which is based more on Crowley’s revised OTO rituals than on traditional village Witchcraft.”

Now we are in a position to see why neo-paganism has such appeal in the modern world; it is a modern religion with little historical connection to paganism as practiced in the West prior to the Christian era. Neo-paganism so adequately addresses “modern needs” because it was created to vindicate the sins of self-idolatry and indulgence so typical of this age.

You Shall Be Like Gods

It is surprising that members of the Church of Satan claim they do not actually worship the devil, despising other satanists who do. The COS teaches that satan is not an anthropomorphic being, but rather, an embodiment of “the forces of nature.” Notes Matt G. Paradise, a “grotto master” with the COS, “We take the name Satan in concept only…instead of worshipping Satan, we emulate him.” Indeed, according to the U.S. Army’s Handbook of Chaplains, the COS, “is essentially a human potential movement.” Potentially, man is god; and for the COS, one’s own birthday is the satanic calendar’s highest feast day.

The COS assumption that man is god or can become god-like is shared by many wiccans and almost all new-agers. Wiccans believe that nature is divine and recognize no distinction between God and creation. Though wiccans worship a mother goddess and god, these deities are thought to be “visualizations of immanent nature.” The goddess is nature, which is also the “life-force” that unites all things. Insofar as this life-force or “divine spark” dwells within each person, wiccan rituals sometimes refer to individual members as gods themselves.3

Borrowing from Crowley’s Book of the Law, many satanists live by the motto, “Do what thou willst.” The “Wiccan Rede” or rule of life is almost identical: “An Ye harm None, Do as Ye Will.” Most neo-pagans, COS-satanists included, also claim to have “magical” powers, which entail the use of “natural psychic” abilities to “focus and direct energy to achieve positive results.”

The New Age Movement (NAM) remains the most popular of the neo-paganisms. As we recall, it was the new age Theosophical Society that indirectly contributed to the creation of both wicca and the COS. The NAM is so attractive because it seems to avoid the crassness of the COS and the superstition of wicca by appealing to pseudo-scientific arguments drawn from evolutionary theory and quantum physics. New-agers frequently revert to Christian symbolism as well. For example, James Redfield’s The Celestine Prophecy, which sold more than 5.5 million copies, uses Catholic priests to explain new age insights. In one scene, a Fr. Sanchez explains, “All religions speak of a perception of God within….The [Celestine Prophecy] says that sometime in history one individual would grasp the way of connecting with God’s source of energy and direction and would thus become a lasting example….Isn’t that what Jesus really did?” Soon after, the reader learns that mankind is to collectively and consciously direct his own evolution to a higher spiritual state in which the physical world “expands” into the spiritual. Proclaims one of the characters, “Reaching heaven on Earth is why we are here. And now we know how it can be done.” Man, in other words, is capable of bringing about his own perfection—not through faith and good works—but armed with the knowledge of an esoteric wisdom.4

A Hidden Agenda?

The COS aside, neo-pagan mythology often either assumes or looks forward to the establishment of a communist-like society. One of three “declared objects” of the Theosophical Society is the formation of a “universal brotherhood of humanity.” Similarly, wicca claims to have originated in a matriarchal, nonviolent, egalitarian culture that practiced “sexual communism.”5

Most neo-pagans thus approve of abortion, birth control and homosexuality.6 For some neo-pagans, abortion is even considered a “sacrament”—made holy by offering the child to the goddess Artemis. Indeed, the etymology of the word, “witchcraft,” as derived from the Greek “pharmakeia,” is associated with a knowledge of herbs and roots used for abortion and contraception. Neo-pagan beliefs in reincarnation and monism also do not support the view that human life is inviolably sacred.7 “Looking at the matter from a pagan perspective,” writes Lynna Landstreet, a priestess of the Wiccan Church of Canada, “in which the entire web of life is sacred, it might make more sense to consider an embryo of an endangered species to be of crucial importance, but of a species that’s currently overrunning the planet like a plague of locusts? …that particular type of death [i.e., abortion] is not worth getting too upset about. I’d have more respect for the ‘pro-lifers’ if they showed as much concern over the death of the whales, the rainforests, or the Great Lakes.”

Landstreet’s views regarding human overpopulation have long been an essential element of neo-paganism. The career of Annie Besant is illustrative. While a member of the Secular Society, Besant violated British law by helping publish The Fruits of Philosophy—the first birth control manual ever printed in the United States.8 After being acquitted of violating the Obscene Publication Act in England’s Court of Appeal, Besant defiantly wrote and published The Laws of Population. Newspapers of the time denounced the book as “indecent, lewd, filthy, bawdy and obscene.” In 1889, the same year she joined the socialist Fabian Society, Besant became interested in theosophy. In 1893, Besant moved to India to devote herself full-time to the movement. Besant’s influence in the organization steadily expanded until she became president in 1907—an office she held until her death in 1933.

New-age enthusiasm for population control has not waned.9 The Celestine Prophecy asserts that a significant decrease in population is absolutely necessary for mankind to evolve to a higher spiritual consciousness. “This problem,” claims one of the novel’s characters, “is more important than people think. Adults often glamorize the idea of large families…humans will slowly understand that they should not bring children into the world unless there is at least one adult committed to focus full time attention, all of the time, on each child.” This full-time care-giver will “not necessarily” be the child’s parents.

For Redfield, heaven seems a lot like Marx’s communist paradise. Marx is even praised as a “visionary” who “had glimpsed such a world,” but was unable to find a way to “create such a utopia.” Marx, of course, taught that violent revolution was the means of drawing down heaven to earth. If books like Redfield’s are any indication, a neo-pagan cultural and religious revolution is proving much more effective.

To learn more: Inside the New Age Nightmare and The Hidden Dangers of the Rainbow are both available through HLI at or call 1-800-549-5433.


1 Charlotte Allen’s “The Scholars and the Goddess” discusses the debunking of the ancient origins of wicca (The Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 287, No. 1, pp. 18-22). See also, “A Brief History of Golden Dawn and Other 19th Century Occult Groups” by “Merlyn” ( [Back]

2 Margaret Sanger, also a radical socialist, had a “life-long interest” in Rosicrucianism (Dr. Lesley A. Hall’s review of The Pursuit of Serenity: Havelock Ellis and the New Politics); George Grant reports that Sanger was involved in theosophy and various occult practices as well. [Back]

3 “Reviews: Charmed, I’m sure,” by Roy Maynard ( Also, see—the “Covenant of the Goddess” is the largest and most public wiccan organization in the United States. [Back]

4 The belief in such saving knowledge is an old Gnostic heresy. Author Michael O’Brien observes that one of the primary problems with the Harry Potter series is its appeal to “esoteric knowledge and power.” As the books progress, one should likewise be aware of Potter’s role as a Christ-figure. [Back]

5 See Allen’s “The Scholars and the Goddess.” Coincidentally, Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling’s “heroine” is former communist, Jessica Mitford. Rowling’s daughter is named after Mitford. [Back]

6 The COS and most wiccans, like many Christians, claim that contraception and abortion are a matter of personal choice. The organization, “Pagans for Life,” opposes abortion, but not contraception and homosexuality. [Back]

7 Harry Potter is similarly taught that “to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.” [Back]

8 Unlike Besant, the book’s author, Charles Knowlton, spent three months in a U.S. prison for writing the work that made him the “founder of American contraceptive medicine” in 1832. [Back]

9 Coincidentally, British prime minister Tony Blair, a rabid population-controller and socialist, is a new age devotee. On 15 December 2001, the Times of London reported that Blair and his wife underwent a “New Age/Mayan rebirthing ritual” in which they bowed toward the four points of the compass, prayed to the “Mayan symbols of the sun and baby lizards” and chanted hymns to “Mother Earth.” [Back]