the various types of magic that are legally encompassed in such activities. Those activities that are clearly illegal in nature, occult crime, are the subject of the next chapter.
Types of Occult Activity
Currently, at least four types of contemporary occult-centered belief systems are practiced in the United States: Neo-Paganism, Witchcraft (or Wicca), Cultural Spiritualism and Satanism. Practitioners of each are involved in very different types of occult activities based upon very different occult-centered ideologies.
The beliefs of today's Neo-Pagans evolved from those of the earliest primitive religions. Arising out of early man's need to understand and control nature, most primitive religions were nature-oriented. As the hunters and gatherers of early society converted to a farming economy, the spiritual beliefs of early man centered around the need to understand and respect the new farming technology. The rituals arising from such beliefs later become known as magic. The early practitioners and teachers of such magic used incantations and spells designed to help nature take a positive course in the survival and enrichment of society. Such practitioners tried to convince the gods to produce fruitful crops, provide bountiful supplies of game, heal the sick, and sometimes, make their enemies ill.
The term pagan, which is derived from the Latin paganus meaning a country dweller, was first applied during the Inquisition. Thereafter, Catholic inquisitors used the word Pagan to describe any opponent of Christianity. Thus, many religions which had nothing in common except their status as a perceived enemy of Christianity, were lumped together under one all-inclusive label: Pagan.
Today's Neo-Pagans practice a polytheistic nature religion; that is, they worship many gods, foremost of whom are the Great Earth Mother and her consort, the Horned God, who together provide symbols of fertility and power; respect all natural objects as living entities; and participate in rituals that symbolize their understanding of and oneness with the gods and nature. Their rituals are practiced in connection with white magic and are largely based upon three ideals: animism, pantheism, and polytheism.
Animism, the belief that all things in nature are imbued with life, embraces an almost childlike exuberance with and participation in nature. By cherishing the life forces in all natural objects and depending on nature for sustenance, believers in animism abhor any actions that destroy the integrity of the environment.
Polytheism recognizes the existence of many gods and encourages a worldview that is multiple and diverse.
Polytheism is an attitude that has allowed a multitude of distinct groups to exist more or less in harmony, despite great divergence in beliefs and practices.
Pantheism, the belief that the spirit of the gods are inseparable from nature, encourages Neo-Pagans to participate in divinity, or the act of being a god, "from time to time in rite and fantasy." The pantheistic philosophy implies that individuals can become gods and in so doing, become one with nature. (Adler, 1986:25.)
Neo-Pagans worship in covens usually consisting of less than 20 people, meet in natural surroundings, and participate in rituals that reflect the individual experience and needs of its members. As such, their rituals are not bound by any creed, doctrinal statements, or ceremonial requirements. Neo-Pagans celebrate eight festival days called sabbats: four sabbats mark the sun's extreme movements, the summer and winter solstices and the spring and fall equinoxes. The four other sabbats mark the agricultural seasons in February, May, August and November.
Witches are perhaps the least understood of all persons involved in the occult. Like Neo-Pagans, Witches are often persecuted because they do not conform or are considered a threat to Judeo-Christian cultural and religious traditions.
However, as a veteran Witch and law enforcement officer explains, "We Witches do not believe in the Christian God or Devil... But we are not anti-Christian; we are simply different." (Cubulain, 1989.)
Indeed, controversy even surrounds the root of the word Witch. Some claim it stems from the Celtic word wicce and wicca meaning "wit" or "wisdom." Others cite derivations from the Sanskrit words wic and weik meaning to bend or turn. Depending upon the root structure, a Witch was either a wise person in a village with healing powers or was someone skilled in the craft of shaping, bending or changing reality. Contemporary definitions such as that in Webster's ("one that is credited with malignant supernatural powers") adds fuel to the stereotypical image of ugly, snaggle-toothed old hags who conjure up malevolent potions for malignant ends. Such an image, however, is both historically and contemporarily simplistic.
As medieval historian Jeffrey B. Russell explains, over the years, three quite different meanings have been attributed to Witchcraft: (1) The "practice of simple sorcery, the charms or spells used in many societies worldwide to accomplish such practical ends as healing a child, assuring the fertility of crops, or warding off an enemy"; (2) the Neo-Paganism movement of the late 20th Century in which small groups are involved in pagan belief systems; and (3) the diabolical Witchcraft allegedly occurring in Europe between 1400-1700 whereby Witches worshiped Satan, practiced evil sorcery and desecrated Christian symbols and rituals through the Black Mass. (Russell,1988:162.) It is this latter group, the diabolical Witches, who have been the center of historical and contemporary debates as demonstrated in The Occult Debate, Issue #1.