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Azazel-Pan - Devil God of the Witches

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He had plucked the hazel rod
From the rude and goatish god,
Even as the curved moon's waning ray
Stolen from the King of Day.
He had learnt the elvish sign;
Given the Token of the Nine:
Once to rave, and once to revel,
Once to bow before the devil,
Once to swing the thurible,
Once to kiss the goat of hell,
Once to dance the aspen spring,
Once to croak, and once to sing,
Once to oil the savoury thighs
Of the witch with sea-green eyes
With the unguents magical.
Oh the honey and the gall
Of that black enchanter's lips
As he croons to the eclipse
Mingling that most puissant spell
Of the giant gods of hell.

- Aleister Crowley, The Wizard Way -

There has been, and may always be, much argument among witches as to the identity of “the Devil,” the Horned Lord of the Sabbath. For many, He is the rustic, pagan satyr, identified with the Greek Pan, symbol of Nature and Life, and also with the Gaelic Cernunnos, or Dis Pater, Horned Lord of the Underworld. In the minds of certain practitioners of the Craft, “Satan,” and “the Devil” are merely insults towards this gentle Faunus, placed in the mouths of poor witches by their torturers/confessors, and as such, are anathema to “genuine” witchcraft.

But there was, and is, another form of the Craft altogether, which recognizes that while the God of Witchcraft is indeed a survival of Pan, things change. And in the case of European paganism, the reality is, things changed drastically, a LONG time ago. The cults of the Old Gods DIED. The charming theories of Margaret Murray aside, there was no pre-Christian underground resistance movement devoted to a purely pagan Horned Lord still alive and kicking in the medieval and early-modern eras. No, by the time of the witch-crazes that ravaged Europe for centuries, the religious life and language of the common people had long been that of Judeo-Christianity.

The witch-cults of this era were born out of an extreme sense of desperation in the face of a brutal feudalism headed by a hypocritical Church. When the “God” of Abraham and even the “Christ” of his new faith failed them, the people did indeed turn to the Old Gods, and this was made easy for a largely illiterate class by the fact that the Church had kept the Old Gods and their figurehead, Pan, alive all this time in her own way.
Pan had never died at all, as had often been claimed in the early days of Christianity. Indeed, He had never even left the popular consciousness: He was now the Devil, and His presence was felt and feared throughout all of Christendom, as surely as He was previously felt to be coursing through all of Nature itself as Pan. And it was to this Devil, this “Satan” or “Lucifer,” that the medieval witch offered her prayers, and He was approached consciously as the “Devil” of Christendom.

However, even though He was acknowledged to be the same metaphysical being known as “Satan” in Judaeo-Christian mythology, it is clear that the witches held very different ideas as to the scope of His power, His origins, and his inherent “goodness” or “badness.” And in this, the witches were not consistent, with some holding theologies closer to the orthodox Christian conception, and others confessing beliefs influenced by varying amounts of heretical Christian doctrine, half-remembered paganisms, folk-belief, and any other scraps of various mysticisms which the particular witch may have come into contact with.

European Witchcraft was not nearly as organized and systematic as some authors would have us believe. We should speak of “witch-cults” in the plural rather than in terms of one collective “witch-cult,” for it is clear that it was a decentralized “movement” wherein the various cults and individual witches were shown to hold wildly divergent views. However, as decentralized as Devil Worship was in medieval Europe, there were certainly common threads that run throughout, and as a whole, European witchcraft can be said to be a recognizable phenomenon with certain traits generally common to most manifestations of it.

To return to the identification of Pan with the Devil, it is often asserted that the “mix-up” was entirely arbitrary and cosmetic. However, there is a bit more to it than conflating two entirely unrelated characters for political gain. The idea that it is just a cheap name-swap with no basis in any previous theological tradition rests upon two assumptions, both of which are incorrect:

1) It is asserted that Pan, being emblematic of Nature, is in no way comparable to the Christian concept of Cosmic Evil; and

2) that the Judaeo-Christian fallen angel “Satan” was never envisioned as anything close to Pan or a satyr before Christianity came to power.
To assert the first is to misunderstand a central teaching of Christianity, especially in the early Church: in Christian thought, Nature IS Evil. Nature, from the actions of Satan in the mythical Garden of Eden, had fallen under Satan’s power.

By the time of the Apostles, the Devil had become the “God of this World,” and the Christians were hoping daily for Christ to return and destroy all of this “sinful” creation, and close the book on our story forever. The Christians, not being a foreign cult from a foreign culture, but instead, a movement born and raised in the pagan Roman Empire, were entirely aware of who Pan was, and aware of the high status he had achieved in the Mysteries as the Soul of the World, the All. In the eyes of the Christians, He was the Soul of Nature still . . . the Soul of a “fallen” and “sinful” Nature. In short, the Evil One who tempts man with every “evil,” fleshly desire. The God of Nature. The God of “Evil.” The Devil.

And this Devil, under the name “Azazel,” centuries before the title “Satan” had become His most common name, had indeed already been envisioned in the cult of JHVH as the leader of a species of half man, half goat spirits who inhabited the wilderness and lusted after mortal women.

As recorded in the book of Leviticus, the ancient Israelites were wont to offer unto Azazel, the dark leader of the se’irim (satyrs), a goat laden with the sins of the people, leading it into the wilderness to die. This was done more as a way of returning unto Azazel what was his, the sins that he was believed to have inspired, rather than as a form of worshipful sacrifice. Although elsewhere in Leviticus, the Israelites are squarely condemned for outright worshipping the se‘irim and offering them actual sacrifice, as opposed to merely using Azazel as a “scapegoat” for the sins of the people.

That Azazel, like the later “Satan” of Christian theology, was blamed for tempting man and being a source of “evil” is confirmed by His role in later Hebrew texts such as the books of Enoch and in the Apocalypse of Abraham. In the former, Azazel is one of the leaders of the Watchers, a class of angels tasked with watching over man, but fall from their station by mating with mortal women and teaching man “forbidden” arts. In the later, the apocryphal Apocalypse of Abraham, the character of Azazel has clearly grown to the stature of “the Devil” as recognized in Christian and, later, Islamic theology and doctrine, and while still retaining the same name as the Goat God of the se’irim, is now described both as a bird, a winged creature reflecting his angelic nature, and as a monstrous seven-headed dragon with twelve wings.

In time, the beliefs surrounding Azazel, the fallen angel who caused men to fall with him and who now lurked in the wilderness with his hordes of goat-spirits, grew through contact with the Egyptian Set and the Persian Ahriman. And under the influence of these foreign demonologies, the Mosaic cult’s fear of Azazel magnified, and his role as the arch-enemy of JHVH was slowly but steadily strengthened, until something resembling the “Devil” of medieval Christendom emerged.

The title “Satan,” formerly employed mostly for angels loyal to JHVH but charged with testing and opposing mankind, in time came to be applied to the Devil almost exclusively. As early as the 2nd century CE, in the works of the Church Father Origen, we find the names Azazel, Satan, and yes, even the title “Lucifer,” all applied to the theological concept of the Devil, the fallen angel and “God of this World.”

In Islam, the name Azazel continued on as a preferred name for Shaitan, the Devil, being used to denote the Devil before his “fall,” with “Iblis” (Despair) being used for afterwards, in a mirroring of the eventual Christian convention of using “Lucifer” for before, and “Satan,” for after His “fall.” Azazel is also the name of the Devil used by the Yezidis, where He is once again the Lord of this World, although loved and worshipped for it, rather than despised. Here He is honored as Melek Taus, the peacock angel, and is seen as the personal manifestation of a deistic “God.” As LaVey noted about the Yezidi beliefs concerning Azazel (Satan):

“The Yezidi interpretation of God was in the purest Satanic tradition. . . . If there was any semblance of a personal manifestation of God, it was through Satan, who instructed and guided the Yezidi toward an understanding of the multifaceted principles of Creation, much like the Platonic idea that the Absolute was itself static and transcendental. This concept of ‘God’ is essentially the position taken by the more highly evolved Satanists.” - LaVey, The Satanic Rituals

In this connection, it may be interesting to note Crowley’s identification of the author of the Book of the Law with this Devil-God of the Yezidis:

“Aiwaz is not (as I had supposed) a mere formula, like many angelic names, but is the true most ancient name of the God of the Yezidis, and thus returns to the highest Antiquity.” - Crowley, Cephaloedium Working

So, in the name Azazel, and the myths and traditions surrounding it, we have not only the pre-Christian origins of the Devil’s explicit link to the satyrs, but the history of a being who progresses in scope from mere local goat-spirit, to a fallen angel of cosmic scope and power; an Infernal dragon who draws the stars down with it in its “fall,”; a rival to the Abrahamic “God” himself. This, in a twisted mirror-image sort of way, is not entirely unlike Pan’s rise from local patron of sheep herders to mystical source of All in the ancient Greek mysteries.

And it just may be that the early Christian identification of Pan with their Devil may have been a case of recognition of their ancient foe, with more substance to their position than many are willing to concede.

In conclusion, the point of this article has not been to suggest that one is not a “real” witch if one prefers strictly pagan, pre-Christian terms for our Lord. The Gods are older than any human language or system or theology, whether Heathen or Christian, heretical or orthodox. How an individual approaches the Lord of the Sabbath, and what names and titles they use for Him, is entirely a personal matter, and “thou hast no right but to do thy will.” But, to once again quote LaVey: “Even if one recognizes the character inversion employed in changing Pan (the good guy) into Satan (the bad guy), why reject an old friend just because he bears a new name and unjustified stigma?”

With that, I’ll leave the reader with a few choice excerpts from varied sources that I feel are pertinent to the topic:

“Azazel belongs to the class of ‘se‘irim,’ goat-like demons, jinn haunting the desert, to which the Israelites were wont to offer sacrifice . . . the Book of Enoch . . . brings Azazel into connection with the Biblical story of the fall of the angels, located, obviously in accordance with ancient folk-lore, on Mount Hermon as a sort of an old Semitic Blocksberg, a gathering-place of demons from of old . . .” - The Jewish Encyclopedia

“Throughout Germany the Blocksburg or the Brocken, the highest peak of the Hartz Mountains, was the great meeting-place of the witches, some of whom, it was said, came from, distant Lapland and Norway to forgather there. But local Blocksburgs existed, or rather hills so called, especially in Pomerania, which boasted two or three such crags.” - Montague Summers, The History of Witchcraft and Demonology

“This ‘Devil’ is called Satan or Shaitan, and regarded with horror by people who are ignorant of his formula, and, imagining themselves to be evil, accuse Nature herself of their own phantasmal crime. Satan is Saturn, Set, Abrasax, Adad, Adonis, Attis, Adam, Adonai, etc. The most serious charge against him is that he is the Sun in the South. . .We have therefore no scruple in restoring the ‘devil-worship’ of such ideas as those which the laws of sound, and the phenomena of speech and hearing, compel us to connect with the group of ‘Gods’ whose names are based upon ShT, or D, vocalized by the free breath A. For these Names imply the qualities of courage, frankness, energy, pride, power and triumph; they are the words which express the creative and paternal will. Thus ‘the Devil’ is Capricornus, the Goat who leaps upon the loftiest mountains, the Godhead which, if it become manifest in man, makes him Aegipan, the All.” - Aleister Crowley, Magick

“The primal power was also symbolized by the Uraeus Serpent which crowned the Egyptian gods, or the horns which protruded from the brow of the Great God Pan, the Greek All-begetter. It is the risen Kundalini, identical with the Set-Pan-Baphomet-Mendes-Phoenix chain of symbols. . . . The number of Shaitan is 359; that of Aiwass, 418. Together they total 777 which is the total numeration of the Paths of the Tree of Life. Therefore Shaitan-Aiwass=The Totality of Existence and Non-Existence=All=Pan.” - Kenneth Grant, The Magical Revival

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