This is a guest post by Eric Steinhart, Professor of Philosophy at William Paterson University.
Many Wiccan writers criticize Christians for dividing the ultimate deity into a purely good God and a purely evil Devil. They deny this division. Buckland writes: “the idea of dividing the Supreme Power into two – good and evil – is the idea of an advanced and complex civilization. The Old Gods . . . were very much ‘human’ in that they would have their good side and their bad side. It was the idea of an all-good, all-loving deity that necessitated an antagonist” (1986: 5).
The Farrars assert that polarity is very important for Wiccans. But this polarity is not good versus evil. However “the trap into which monotheist religions have fallen has been to equate polarity with good-versus-evil. They recognize that the activity of the world around them is engendered by the interaction of opposites; but they see this interaction only as the battle between God and Satan” (1981: 111). And monotheists are guilty of “debasing the Theory of Polarity into a mere conflict between Good and Evil” (1981: 113).
Cunningham likewise criticizes the division of the divine into a purely good God and a purely evil Satan. The problem is “the concept of a pristine, pure, positive being – God. If this deity is the sum of all good, worshipers believe that there must be an equally negative one as well. Thus, Satan. The Wicca don’t accept such ideas” (2004: 18). Cuhulain affirms this by writing: “We [Wiccans] do not believe in the Christian God or the devil; . . . we do not have a forces-of-light versus forces-of-darkness concept” (2011: 30). Sabin writes that “Wiccans do not believe in Satan. Satan is a part of the Christian religion and Satanism is a Christian heresy” (2011: 22).
For Wiccans, the ultimate deity divides into a male god and female goddess. Since this division does not correspond to a division between good and evil, it follows that the male god and female goddess must be mixtures of good and evil. But even this seems to be too strong. It seems more accurate to say that they are mixtures of positive and negative values.
Cunningham affirms that the god and goddess are mixtures of values: “We acknowledge the dark aspects of the Goddess and the God as well as the bright. All nature is composed of opposites” (2004: 18, his italics). He continues: “When death, destruction, hurt, pain, and anger appear in our lives (as they must), we can turn to the Goddesss and God and know that this is a part of them too. We needn’t blame a devil on these natural aspects of life and call upon a pure-white god to fend them off” (2004: 19).
Religious naturalists like Donald Crosby have stressed the moral ambiguity of nature (2002; 2008). Cunningham likewise affirms the moral ambiguity of nature. Since they are natural powers, the Wiccan god and goddess are likewise ambiguous:
Yes, the God and Goddess have dark aspects, but this needn’t scare us off. Look at some of the manifestations of their powers. From a ravaging flood comes rich soil in which new plants thrive. Death brings a deeper appreciation of life to the living and rest for the transcended one. ‘Good’ and ‘evil’ are often identical in nature, depending on one’s viewpoint. Additionally, out of every evil, some good is eventually born. (Cunningham, 2004: 18-19)
Since Wiccans do not recognize a maximally perfect creator God (that is, they do not recognize the Christian God), their deities are immune to the Argument from Evil. The Argument from Evil against the Christian God runs something like this: (1) God is all-good and all-powerful and all-knowing. (2) If God is all-good, then God wants to abolish evil. (3) If God is all-powerful and all-knowing, then God can abolish evil. (4) If any agent wants to do something and can do it, then it does it. (5) Therefore, God abolishes evil. (6) But if God abolishes evil, then there is no evil. (7) Hence there is no evil. (8) However, it is obvious that there is evil. (9) Consequently, an all-good, all-powerful, all-knowing God does not exist. Since that is the Christian God, the Christian God does not exist. Atheists often appeal to this argument to refute Christianity. It will not work against Wicca. And Christians often reply to the Argument from Evil by developing theodicies. A theodicy tries to reconcile God with evil. Wiccans need not develop any theodicies.
As with the god and goddess, so with humans. For Cunningham, Wiccan anthropology says that humans, like the god and goddess, are natural mixtures of positivity and negativity “this polarity is also resident within ourselves. The darkest human traits as well as the brightest are locked within our unconscious” (2004: 18). It should be noted that this conception of human nature differs from the Christian conception of humanity as fallen, or the Calvinist notion that we are totally depraved or entirely lost in sin.
Other posts in this series:
Buckland, R. (1986) Complete Book of Witch Craft. Second Edition Revised and Expanded. St. Paul, MI: Llewellyn Publications.
Crosby, D. (2002) A Religion of Nature. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.
Crosby, D. (2008) Living with Ambiguity: Religious Naturalism and the Menace of Evil. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.
Cuhulain, K. (2011) Pagan Religions: A Handbook for Diversity Training. Portland, OR: Acorn Guild Press.
Cunningham, S. (1988) Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner. St. Paul, MI: Llewellyn Publications.
Farrar, J. & Farrar, S. (1981) A Witches Bible. Blaine, WA: Phoenix Publishing.