Friday, October 17, 2014

The Devil and the Witch

We cannot have a discussion about Halloween and its sexual constructs without talking about the crimson-skinned and, presumably, hung enemy of God.  Even with his sharp pointy horns, lashing tail and hairy, hooved feet, I’d probably hit it.  And that’s okay!  After all, isn’t that what the devil’s job is while lumbering around here on earth—to tempt us with those washboard abs and rippling flanks?  Those horns that go on and on and on…

Sorry.  I just watched Legend and am still a little flustered.  Seriously, was I the only one turned on by Tim Curry as the Devil?

The Devil has an interesting history.  Like any good story villain, he has evolved with each passing generation.  In the Bible, the Devil is simultaneously the arch nemesis and beloved friend of God, both of them vying for the souls of people.  (Remember Job, the poor bastard.  And we wonder why the world is full of such cognitive dissonance.) 

In Christianity, it is widely believed that Satan, or hassatan, rebelled against God and was cast from heaven to earth where he is currently praying on—and occasionally casting lots for—our souls.  Eventually, the Devil will manifest himself in the form of a man (it’s always a man in the Bible, people) and will fuck humanity up until God shows up for yet another showdown, this time one that ends with the devil being cast into the bowels of hell which, according to Dante (and who would know better than Dante, right?), is cold as shit.
However, very little in the Bible is—how do you say?—original material.  Another people held rights to the devil before the Christians made him an object of our disdain/affection.  According to Raymond Buckland:

“In those early days, when Christianity was slowly growing in strength, the Old Religion—the Wiccans and other pagans—was one of its rivals.  It is only natural to want to get rid of a rival and the Church pulled no punches to do just that.  It has frequently been said that the gods of an old religion become the devils of the new.  This was certainly the case here.  The God of the Old Religion was a horned god.  So, apparently, was the Christian’s Devil” (Buckland 4).
These pagans, as you will remember, also had a more lenient stance regarding human sexuality.  The seed of the flesh and the seed of the earth, and so forth.  So naturally, Christians turned the Devil’s attention to human psychology, or the reason people do the things they do.  And nothing has been more of a mystery than human sexuality.  Even with science’s long, sordid past, we still haven’t quite figured out what makes the libido tick.  So, when science fails to give an explanation, the simplest explanation must be the solution... 

The Devil made me do it.

Such a notion sounds absurd by today’s standards, but history screams just how dumb we have been.    

Like Salem…

“From June through September of 1692, nineteen men and women, all having been convicted of witchcraft, were carted to Gallows Hill, a barren slope near Salem Village, for hanging” (Linder 1).

The Salem Witch Trials is just one of the fucked up squares in America’s sordid tapestry.  For those unfamiliar with Salem, allow me to catch you up:

A few privileged girls in the town of Salem, Massachusetts began screaming witchcraft on some of the underprivileged townsfolk.  More than a hundred people were accused of everything from flying about on broomsticks to licking the Devil’s asshole.  Those whose cohorts with the Lord of Darkness was considered the most salacious paid the ultimate price, including one man who was pressed to death for the unspeakable nerve of defending his wife, an accused witch herself.  Only when these accusers began pointing their fingers at the wrong women (i.e. other privileged Puritan women) did someone in authority finally raise a questioning hand.

The “Hysteria” surrounding witchcraft stands as historical testimony to the puritanical mysticism so rampant in the Seventeenth Century.  To the people of Salem, however, it was proof that the Devil was in the new world.  All one had to do was look at all of those Native American “pagans”—with their strange rituals and lusty lore (none of which mentioned the God of the Bible, I might add)—to see that the Devil was up to no good here.  So naturally it fell to the Puritans, as it did to Joshua and the Israelites, to rid the place of its demonic influence and establish this New World for God.

While history is rife with examples of imperialism, Salem is an interesting story of sexual repression and the ways desire might manifest itself.  We are all just powder kegs of sexual energy that, if not dealt with, might light up the night like a fall bonfire.  But the Puritans maintained that sex in all its forms (other than missionary, of course) was abominable, and if you were caught in the throes of passion, you were dealt with accordingly.  Remember Hester Prynn?  Stories like Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter remind us, though, how even those with a direct connection to the divine, the religious elite, are not infallible and can fall into that most basic of the Devil’s traps…their own genitals. 

The Salem Witch Trials also remind us of the role women played throughout much of American history.  Many of the accused were independent women who hadn’t conformed to the idea that man and woman and baby equals a balanced civilization.  These were widows and single women, prostitutes and women with disabilities—all indicted for owning one of them damnable vaginas!  As Sean Purdy puts it:

“Though the Puritans believed women equally worthy of salvation, they believed women were especially vulnerable to the Devil’s temptations. The image of Eve in the Garden of Eden was frequently invoked in Puritan sermons. Because Eve gave into the serpent’s persuasion to defy God, she was responsible for mankind’s fallen position. Furthermore, women’s inherent sexuality made them a liability to the Puritans. The Puritans believed women at heart were wonton sexual beings who could lead men astray. Because the Devil encouraged such sexuality, the Devil could use this weakness to gain control over women and thereby men” (Purdy 5).

In other words, it was the Devil that made women want to fuck.  And if the man gave into his carnal lust, well, that was the devil in the woman.  Interesting how early Christians not only stole one pagan god and vilified him, it would seem they vilified the female deity, too, the one pagan worshippers held in esteem even above the phallic male.  Well, that just wouldn’t do.  And this patriarchal trend of vilifying women is still seen today.  While we’re not burning women at the stake, we are still making them stand before God and man while we place violence and rape at their feet like kindling ready to burn.  It’s also important to note that the word “Hysteria” so often associated with the witch hunts was later used as a medical term to describe a woman’s increased sexual libido, a condition often dealt with by a medical professional masturbating a women to relieve some of her “stress.”

Last week I wrote about terror management theory and the associations death and sex play in our psyche.  Is anyone more associated with death than the Devil?  It is this obsession with an afterlife, with the eternal damnation or reward that creates the mysticism that can still be seen in many of our culture’s sexual attitudes.  And I could go on for pages about the Devil and the hell fire he often sets ablaze in our loins, but I want to save something for next week.  Besides, Halloween is right around the corner.  And what would Samhain be without a little dance with death? 

Until next time, stay terrifying you sexy beasts.


Works Cited:

Buckland, Raymond.  Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft.  St. Paul: Llewellyn Publications, 1998.  Print.

Linder, Douglas.  “The Witchcraft Trials in Salem: A Commentary.”  Web.  2005.

Purdy, Sean.  “Conjuring History: The Many Interpretations of the Salem Witchcraft Trials.”  Rivier Academic Journal  3.1 (2007): 1-18. Web.    

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