Well folks I was going to do another piece today about Satanism being justified in claiming the label of religion*, but in light of the Vegas Shooting I’m really not into it today. Let’s do something a little different in honor of the start of Halloween season.
One of the interesting things about Satanism is that it exists in a weird space that makes it a part of the atheist/secular community, but with strong ties (aesthetically at the least) to the occult/metaphysical community. There’s a lot of reasons for that, but mainly I think it has a lot to do with both of those communities always being erroneously accused of being in league with the devil by more mainstream groups.
This labeling of things as Satanic by non-Satanists has a long history.
Satan has Always Been the Other
When you think about modern depictions of Satan what do you picture? Red skin? Horns? Goat legs? Where’d all that come from?
To answer this what we really need to talk about is the spread of Christianity. The early church made a habit of demonizing the gods of other cultures (and people they just didn’t like) as it spread into their regions. In Greece that meant ‘oh, your god has goat legs? But the Devil has goat legs!’, in Austria it was Krampus. Remember that ‘Night on Bald Mountain’ part of Disney’s Fantasia?
That’s not Satan either, it’s Chernabog, a Slavic deity who is barely remembered outside of Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods”.
My point here is that when it comes to calling things Satanic, Christianity has a strong tradition of painting anything they don’t like or don’t understand with the label. As a result, modern popular culture has ended up with a hodgepodge, mashup creature that most people think of when they picture Satan.
This Brings us to Witches
If there’s one thing the medieval church didn’t like it was an independent woman. (A lot of the modern churches still aren’t particularly fond of the idea.) The European witch hunts are where we get many of the standard tropes for cartoon witches. The pointy hats, the cat familiars, caldrons, and brooms all source to this period of time. The interesting thing is that they all come from one particular trade, beer brewing.
Women brewers were common in Europe back then, because making beer is cooking, and cooking was a domestic trade. Making and selling beer was one of the few professions available to a women since society frowned on women being independent breadwinners.
Women brewers would wear tall hats to market so they would stand out in a crowd. They kept cats to keep mice away from their grain stock. A foaming caldron is just what making beer looks like, and its no wonder the effects of alcohol made pre-enlightenment villagers consider it a magic potion.
See that broom above the door in that picture? It’s called an ‘alestake’, they would use it as a ‘Yes We are Open’ sign.
It Was a Cash Grab
When monks started brewing beer all of a sudden these entrepreneurial women were competition in the marketplace. Stigma began to spread about these women who didn’t need a husband to make a living and laws were made against women owning businesses or property. In many ways, the European witch hunts were more about seizing property, eliminating the competition, and punishing proto-feminists than anything else. So, all these tropes associated with women brewers became symbols of witchcraft, and witches got branded as servants of the devil.
Notice how there’s no magic or spells involved in any of this. It’s more like an industry takeover by men in positions of power from unmarried women just trying to make a living at one of the few jobs they were allowed to have. Think about that over your seasonal pumpkin porter.
*UPDATE: I did that post the next day