Sympathy for the Devil(s)

Pleased to meet you. Hope you guessed my name.

May 14, 2010

I rail against Beck… a lot… but it’s usually something to do with politics, religion, or basic common sense. Now, though, he’s infringing on literature. He’s gone against characterization and one of the oldest archetypes in Western writing. He’s gone after Lucifer himself.

You’re in my world now, Becky Boy.

Apparently, it’s not enough for him to twist quotes, reference debunked stories, or just make up stuff to discredit liberals and progressives. Now, it seems, we’re Satanists.

Time for literature class, boys and girls. Lucifer, Satan, the Devil, and even the words “demon” and “devil” all have wildly different meanings from what people usually think and all have a sordid history that could only be compared to a bad soap opera.

Not that there are “good” soap operas.

While the Devil has been portrayed as everything from the cunning trickster to the beautiful woman, these images have basis in both mythology and literature. Let’s go down the list.

Paradise Lost by ~SilentBeforeTheStorm on deviantART


“If the devil does not exist, and man has therefore created him, he has created him in his own image and likeness.”
-Fyodor Dostoevsky

Literately meaning “Light Bearer,” it was a title used both for Jesus and the planet Venus as it was one of the last stars visible in the morning and heralded the coming dawn, also giving rise to its alternate name “The Morning Star.”

The word itself is never used to refer to the being known as Satan in the New Testament, however.

In Isaiah 14:12, the Bible makes reference to the Babylonian king who oppressed the Israelites, saying, “How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn!” The metaphor to the king is that Venus also appears to try and rise above the other stars in the horizon, but never triumphed. And we all know how uppity Venus can get. Likewise, the Babylonian king would never be more powerful than God.

So… where’s Satan in all this?

The Bible was written over thousands of years by dozens of people. Eventually, you’re going to get some disconnect between the writers and the editors. Early Christian writers saw the reference to the Morning Star and applied the title to a fallen angel based on ancient pagan writings. Early Jewish lore was also filled with the concept of fallen angels, and one story in particular stuck out, one which some claim had an influence in passages in Revelation 12:7-10 where Satan is named as a fallen angel.

Basically, this boils down to the fact that Lucifer is never once mentioned in the Bible. He becomes, as you’ll see later, a literary character that fills a role for storytelling purposes.

In short, Lucifer is to Christianity as Star Wars/ Star Trek crossovers are to science fiction. Got it?

The Morning Star by ~RevolverWinds on deviantART


“The shadows of our own desires stand between us and our better angels, and thus their brightness is eclipsed.”
-Charles Dickens

Heaven has a hierarchy. Or at least, that’s one popular conception based on the Medieval Christian concept of the Angelic Choirs. It makes sense to put one of God’s helpers in such a system.

In the Bible, there are dozens of names for him, everything from the serpent, the deceiver, and the Book of Mark even names him as the one who tempted Christ in the desert. Satan (whose name means “Adversary”) is perhaps most prominent in the Bible in the book of Job where he points out Job, a devout man, to God and basically makes a wager with the Almighty Himself to see just how far a human’s devotion can go. We all know the story. God comes down and strikes down family, cattle, and curses Job with plagues and boils and every disease you’d get from a bad Spring Break.

However, Satan is not a devil in the story, never mind THE Devil. He is an angel, one of the Heavenly Host. He doesn’t even do anything to Job. That’s God’s doing.

Satan didn’t really become prominent until the Middle Ages and the New Testament. By this time, Satan had goat-like features as an attempt to turn pagan religions into something evil. Many depictions during this time are combinations of descriptions of Dionysus, Pan, Selene, and other horned creatures.

Slowly, Satan was merged with the idea of Lucifer, of the fallen angel, until we get some of the archetypal Satan stories: Paradise Lost and Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy, specifically Inferno.

We also learn through this literature and later writings that Hell has a system of keeping track of its assets: Circles. It’s not just Heaven that has a hierarchy, you know. Hell has to have one too, and all you little sinners and pagans are going to your own reserved Circle for eternal punishment. It’s like a reservation at Motel 6. Except you’re going to boil in urine and blood.

Okay, so it IS like staying at Motel 6.

In Paradise Lost, Satan is cast as a tragic villain, an angel who must pay for eternity for a single act of hubris. It is perhaps one of the most sympathetic depictions of the character in Western literature. While depressed over his expulsion from Heaven, Satan is nonetheless a cunning former angel who can manipulate humanity to sin and force the armies of Heaven to organize against God. He’s kind of like a superpowered Karl Rove.

Dante’s Satan, on the other hand, is almost the opposite. Despite the recent video game’s depiction of the Great Adversary, Dante’s Satan is almost a blubbering monster forever encased in ice and nearly powerless. He’s like a kicked and abused dog… except a dog that’s the size of a skyscraper and must be half-entombed in ice frozen from his own tears to keep him from breaking free.

Angel by ~H4ch3 on deviantART

The War in Heaven

“I charge thee, fling away ambition: by that sin fell the angels.”
-William Shakespear, Henry VIII

Not much to say here except that the War in Heaven is alluded to in Revelations and apparently takes place at the End Times, not shortly after creation like most people think. Adding Satan and his fallen angels to the story of creation was a bit of a retcon on the part of theologians.

That’s pretty much it.

The War in Heaven by ~Abi909 on deviantART

Devils and Demons

“We may not pay Satan reverence, for that would be indiscreet, but we can at least respect his talents.”
-Mark Twain

The word “devil” comes form the Greek diabolas, which means “to throw across, slander,” while “demon” comes from the Greek word “daemon,” which means “spirit.” Demons only became the Devil’s helpers and minions in later Christian mythology.

However, “devil” has a complex history. The root for “devil” is the same as the Hindu-Buddhist term deve, which is roughly approximate to “angel.” Like angels, devils had many types. In early Greek mythology, devils were spirits that could be good or bad, but didn’t need to be either one by default. They were like fey. Christianity changed it later. According to one version of the War on Heaven, those angels who refused to fight for God were banished to punish the souls of sinners in Hell, though they remained angels.

In other words, Hell is staffed with angels, not demons. It’s just another department in the great office that is reality.

Think they get coffee breaks?

Commission – Laurence Strider by =RinAvenue on deviantART


“One’s religion is whatever he is most interested in.”
-J. M. Barrie

Let’s get a few quick things out of the way. The pentagram and the pentacle are two separate symbols. If the star points up, it is a pagan symbol that stands for many things, among them four elements and the soul or even the wounds Christ suffered on the cross. Point down, it’s usually a representation of Baphomet, a supposed goat deity that is, like Lucifer and Satan, a pastiche of various bits of lore and mythology and is associated with dark magic.

Baphomet has as much to do with the Christian Devil as nuclear weapons have to do with the American Civil War.

On a side-note, dark magic and magic in general are typically associated with Satanism because anything not associated with God is viewed as being of the devil.

Satanists are a lot like Christians. You’ve got the ones that are members and live their lives like normal people, and then you have the people who are REALLY into it. For most people who describe themselves as Satanists, it usually involves the rebellion against God and traditional Christian values.

Then you have LaVeyan Satanism, which is an atheistic Satanism. Created by Anton LeVey, this belief system teaches that Satan is a figure, an aspiration, not a real being. Humans are their own gods and must live accordingly, not suppressing carnal desires, but embracing them. They also hold on to the belief that, if the gods are created by humans, then to worship a god is to worship the human that created it, and this to them is subjugation.

Baphomet Jr by ~leviathan218 on deviantART

So there you go. A quick primer on Lucifer, Satan, and assorted horned things. It’s actually a LOT more convoluted than this. Satan was renamed Lucifer after a metaphor involving a Babylonian king, then mixed with an Abrahamic legend regarding fallen angels and pagan goat deities… but that just barely scratches the surface. There are dozens of contradicting stories regarding all these creatures and it would take years to untangle them.

Personally, I think the Stones gave the Devil too much credit.

Short version? Glenn, you’re an idiot. And yes, if it will scare you, the devil made me do it.

3 Replies to “Sympathy for the Devil(s)”

  1. Thanks so much for clearing up the difference between the Satanist pentagram and the pagan pentacle. People seem to have a very, very hard time distinguishing the two. And I’m no Satanist, but you actually got the meanings right insofar as the pentacle; nice researching ^^ I applaud you.

    Isn’t Satan basically a compilation of everything Christianity deems to be wrong put into an archetype? Wow, I never knew that about Dante’s imaginings of Satan, that’s mindblowing stuff. Awesome article.

    1. Glad you enjoyed the article!

      You’re right. The modern concept of “the Devil,” whatever his name is, is a collection of various imaginings. The Biblical devil bears no resemblance to the modern version. I actually got a bit of a headache writing this since there really are SO many versions of these stories. And, although I’m not a pagan or a Satanist, people getting those symbols mixed up always bugged me.

Leave a Reply