"Satanism" in 1600s Europe

What was it like? How did people who believed in the power of the adversary act? I played a witch in a M&M playtest and couldn’t get the 1980s satanic panic mentality out of my head. What would a Bride of Satan do and how can one better portray them in a historically informed fashion as befits the game?


It’s hard to give a clear answer. A lot that we know about Satanist or supposed devil worshippers comes from witch trails and surely there were some witches and warlocks killed in them, but most of the victims were innocent. This is a separate matter, but the whole witch trails were more aimed at easy way of getting rid of unwanted individuals, that actually hunting for occultists and people wanting to hang out with Satan.

From my perspective, people who believed in Satanist doctrine would for sure want to keep it secret from the society at large, especially with inquisition hanging around. Seeking out like minded people would be dangerous (and hellfire clubs would not be around for at least another century) - failure to properly identify them most likely would lead to getting ran out of town in the most favorable case, persecution or even death.

Look at the trails of more prominent “occultists” of the day like Giordano Bruno for example. A lot of it has to do with holding contrary stance on some matter of faith to the catholic church. There are some neat examples in that article.

And I know that you like weirdos, so I present you with Roger Crab, probably first in documented western history straight edge Christian pacifist and member of Philadelphian Society.


But Dro, hanging out with Satan is the best part. You’re right though, that’s a good way of looking at it - I’d absolutely love to play with that as a GM for M&M. I guess the interesting bit there is, if you’re a player whose character has those abilities / background, the best thing you can do is keep it quiet.

There’s also, as you pointed out, the whole “I’m not really a Satanist I just disagree with the Church in some way” is a whole-ass vibe and available to any character whether they’ve signed the devil’s book or not.

The threat of being accused of the thing is actually worse than just being the thing, since at least if you’re a witch you get magickal powerz.


Some initial thoughts:

Let’s narrow our field of inquiry:
1600s Europe was a diverse place, so not everyone believed in Satan (or god), but most Protestants and Catholics did. But our modern conception of Satan and Hell is largely derived from John Milton’s Paradise Lost (published in 1667), and not canonical Christian texts. Whereas most believers in the 17th century rooted their beliefs about the supernatural in the Bible.

The second most influential text on our modern conception of Satan and witches comes from Geothe’s Faust (first published in 1808-ish), in which Mephistopheles is the literal antagonist who takes the (not so) good philosopher to a rather provocative witch’s sabbath.

From our contemporary perspective, it’s hard to see past these towering myths as they’ve infected culture and even religion—fire and brimstone preachers often recall images from Milton’s text, not found in the Bible. And it only gets harder to see clearly since prior to the mid 17th century witches were just a part of the tapestry of life in Europe. They weren’t reviled per se. They practiced a form of magic that was often seen as acceptable and necessary on the local level, even if it was inveighed against by the hegemonic Christian Church. And the magic these traditional witches practiced wasn’t Satanic, it was natural stuff like bringing rain, aiding births, placing curses and abetting love.

Of course, no domain of women or outsiders is safe from the wrath of angry conservative men. Hence the Malleus Maleficarum enters the picture in 1487, written by a literal creep priest, Heinrich Kramer, who was expelled from his order because he was stalking a woman and accused her of all sorts of bullshit because she said No to him.

After her acquittal from his charges, and his expulsion from his order, Kramer spent two years writing the “Hammer of Witches” that literally accuses women of being in league with the Devil. (Does any of this sound familiar?)

Initially, theologians thought Kramer’s stuff was too out there and even heretical in and of itself. But Kramer had created an angry, hateful meme which festered in the occult Christian underground for a 70 years before its vial sentiments began to infect life in Europe and America again.

In the 17th century, attitudes about magic were shifting. The shadowy powers of the necromancer and the witch were slowly being subsumed by natural philosophers and alchemists. As magic became more technical, more learned, the practice of witchcraft was seen as more of a thing of the past or something alien. This cultural fault-line allowed Kramer’s hate and fear to mix in.

These cultural shifts merged with the madness gripping Europe in the form of the Wars of Religion. It seems between the 1550s and 1650s, when not murdering co-religionists, good Christians were hunting, trying and murdering “witches” across Europe and Scandinavia. Sometimes executing a hundred at a time.

It’s worth noting that the fearsome Inquisition in Catholic Spain wasn’t primarily dedicated to hunting witches. They took on investigations, trials and ecclesiastical murders of anyone deemed a heretic: Jews, Muslims, Protestants, and, of course, women who did not want to live a life of servitude and misery, etc.

While the panic against “witches” caught fire all across Western Europe, the English Protestants, always late to the party, took their madness with them to America. In the decades of the latter 17th century, they accused a lot of innocent women in their midst, culminating in the murder of 19 innocent people in Massachusetts in 1693.

That’s a lot of background, but it leads me back to an answer to your question: The accusations of Satanism in witches appears to be largely invented by angry Christian men. It’s important to note that it is Kramer who writes out six qualifications of witchdom (including Diabolism)—it’s not from a text written by the witches themselves.

It’s also worth noting that Kramer doesn’t invent Diabolism. The accusation of being in league with Satan was leveled against Jacques de Molay and the Templars in France by Philip the Fair in 1314—174 years before Kramer publishes his anti-woman treatise. So Satan is definitely exists in the shadows of Europe’s religious discourse prior to the murderous 17th century, even if he is not yet in league with all of them witches.

Let’s step back and answer your broader question: Was Satanism involved in magic in the 17th century? In my readings, magic in the 17th century wasn’t concerned with interacting with Satan. In the Lesser Keys of Solomon there are instructions for commanding demons and angels (or ærial spirits, depending on which version you’re looking at). Necromancers were often monks or doctors (who could read Latin, Syriac, Aramaic, Hebrew, etc.) searching for answers and power in ancient texts. Commanding demons and angels was just one form of that power. They didn’t consider it “Satanic” at all. They still believed in the Christian God and would in fact call on his aid during rituals if necessary.

Hope that helps!


As always I am obliterated by your historical knowledge. Excellent points about Milton and the Goetia especially. These kinds of modern thought-biases and cultural baggage are what make a game like M&M both daunting to engage with but also really thought-provoking.

I always think about John Dee in this context - like, he was basically a textbook “wizard” but fit into society none-the-less. I guess that’s part of what I was trying to get to - when we played that playtest I figured the smart move was to keep the magic shit away from everyone in the party as well, but there’s a practicality that would allow for it to be just a useful skill or whatever.

I’m putting too much puritanism in my Catalonia.


That Catalans were zealous Catholics on one hand and purveyors of some ancient witchy shit on the other. I’ve always found this dialectic difficult to reconcile personally, but it’s worth setting aside my biases to explore more!


Dro’s alive!


Catholicism is pretty witchy.


You really should read The Demonology by King James the First (he of the bible fame) who in 1597 published a Socratic dialogue intended to illustrate the ways of sorcerers and witches and how to hunt them.
If the King of Scotland and England published such a work, it goes a long way to show that well educated and powerful people did believe in their existence and that they posed a threat to society. There is quite a readable annotated translation of the work by Donald Tyson that I recommend if you are interested.

Also in Bamberg and Wurzberg in the Holy Roman Empire there were some pretty bloody and murderous witch trials going on the the first half of the 1600. These petered out pretty quick once the 30 Years War kicked off.


This thread piqued my interest in M & M. I’ll likely be picking up the books soon. Just getting my partner into BW, so it may be a bit before playing it. Though I can tell that I’d love to run an occult centered game with M & M. So thanks all for the great discussion.

Regarding the OP, it may be some food for thought to consider that in the context of pre-modern thought on witchcraft, the Christian Satan and what now might be termed the folkloric “Devil” were quite different personages. This was especially true among rural people throughout Europe during the period. The grimoire tradition certainly had influence on the older animistic beliefs and practices and vice versa. As far as I can tell, syncretic belief systems are the norm throughout history. I’ve found the works of Emma Wilby and Eva Pocs to be helpful around these topics as well as the Palgrave Historical Studies in Witchcraft and Magic, in general.

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