Mythological Spotlight #8 Part 1 – Satan

For Part 3 of my planned series, I offer you a special Mythological Spotlight dedicated to comparing the archetypes of Satan and Lucifer, both of whom are important mythological figures within the current of Satanism, as well as its sister philosophy known as Luciferianism. The main impetus for these two posts is simple: although Satan and Lucifer are treated in the popular imagination as similar entities, if not the expressly synonymous, the two characters are known to have two separate historical origins within two distinct contexts. I hope that in these posts, I will adequately demonstrate how this is the case.

I had originally intended to wrote a single Mythological Spotlight comparing Satan and Lucifer, essentially making for two Mythological Spotlights in one. However, as I was writing it I decided that the single post would be excessively long, so I decided to split this into two part. The first part of this Mythological Spotlight, of course, concentrates on the character of Satan. The second part is in progress should be released soon enough.

Satan smiting Job with boils, as illustrated by William Blake

 

Description

To Christians, he is The Devil, The Beast, That Old Snake, 666 and other names, the being that leads people away from God’s will and into sin and will soon do final battle with God. To Jews, he is just another angel of God, just that his main function is to test the faith of Mankind. To Muslims, he is Iblis, the one who refused to bow to Adam and revolted against Allah in order to become the master of the djinn. To Satanists, he is the embodiment of Man’s true nature, and the representation of Man as he ought to be. To others, just a bogeyman made up of all manner of pre-Christian deities designed solely to revile pre-Christian religions. Satan is a character with a complex and storied history, and one that continues to evolve.

 

History

Satan seems to have originated as a title in Hebrew lore, meaning “adversary”, “opposer” or “accuser”. It could have referred to anyone, often including a human, who served as an obstacle to the individual believer. Sometimes it can refer to an invisible or illusory obstacle placed by YHWH. The most familiar context of the name is that of a specific angel, or a specific kind of angel, found within the Hebrew Bible or Tanakh; one who tests the faith of Man, argues his sins to YHWH and creates difficulties for humans under YHWH’s command. This is the angel typically identified as Ha-Satan, or “the Satan”, the angel cited as the original Satan. This Satan is the angel who features in the Biblical story of Job, who thought that Job was only humbly serving YHWH because he gave him a blessed life, and that if he took it all away he would stop praising his name. YHWH accepted the challenge, and so he ordered the Satan to take his misfortune away from him and ruin his life. As an angel of YHWH, the Satan requires the permission of YHWH before he can act, and cannot act independently according to Jewish lore.

Since Satan is a title, “the Satan” or Ha-Satan is not necessarily a proper name, but rather a title referring to the role played by the angel in question, the identity of the Satan of the book of Job has been the subject of some debate. The name Satan is typically used to identify the Satan of Job, perhaps to relate to the Christian concept of Satan. However, traditional and apocryphal Jewish sources consider the identity of the Satan of Job to be Samael, also known as the angel of death. Little appears to be known about Samael, and opinion of Samael can vary wildly within Jewish tradition. Samael is either the prince of evil itself, a being unaligned with the heavenly host or even outside of it, which is the view held in some later or more apocryphal texts, or as simply an angel who, though pernicious and often malevolent, is still a servant of YHWH and is simply playing his role in YHWH’s order of things, which aligns with the view of the concept of Satan held within mainstream Judaism.

In the Ascension of Moses, an apocryphal Jewish text, Samael is identified directly as the angel who tests Job, apparently to weaken his faith so that he may collect his soul:

There was another angel in the seventh heaven, different in appearance from all the others, and of frightful mien. His height was so great, it would have taken five hundred years to cover a distance equal to it, and from the crown of his head to the soles of his feet he was studded with glaring eyes, at the sight of which the beholder fell prostrate in awe. “This one,” said Metatron, addressing Moses, “is Samael, who takes the soul away from man.” “Whither goes he now?” asked Moses, and Metatron replied, “To fetch the soul of Job the pious.” Thereupon Moses prayed to God in these words, “O may it be Thy will, my God and the God of my fathers, not to let me fall into the hands of this angel.”

The Lost Apocrypha of the Old Testament by Montague Rhodes James identifies Samael as The Devil, the opposite of the archangel Michael, and is described as a being .

And Moses said unto Jesus the son of Nauë, ‘Let us go up into the mountain.’ And when they were gone up, Moses saw the land of promise and said to Jesus, ‘Go down unto the people and tell them “Moses is dead.”‘ And Jesus went down unto the people, but Moses came to the end of his life. And Samael tried to bring down his body (tabernacle) unto the people, that they might make him a god. But Michael, the Chief Captain, by the command of God came to take him and bury him, and Samael resisted him, and they contended. So the Chief Captain was wroth and rebuked him, saying, ‘The Lord rebuke thee, devil.’ And so the adversary was vanquished and took to flight, but the Archangel Michael buried the body of Moses where he was bidden by Christ our God (and no man saw the burial of Moses)

It is noted, however, that as Michael’s opposite Samael is also seen as the compliment to Michael in some way. Samael is the prosecutor and the adversary of Mankind and Israel, while Michael is its defender. As not only the Satan par excellence but also the prince of “satans”, the prince of the powers of evil, Samael is very much a figure synonymous with Satan similar to how we may understand him today. But nonetheless, this Satan is still viewed as a servant of YHWH, just a servant who fulfills a negative function – that of bringing misfortune, tempting people to sin and arguing the sins of Man or Israel to his master, which brings him into conflict with Michael.

At a later period in Jewish history, specifically during the Babylonian Exile, the role of the Satan begins to change because of the influence of Persian teachings, namely those of Zoroastrianism. Zoroastrianism stressed the dualistic monotheistic view more akin to modern Christianity and Islam – that of a single Supreme God who is the embodiment of goodness, light, truth and justice, juxtaposed against his opposite; the embodiment of evil, darkness, falsehood and wickedness, a concept encapsulated as The Lie. During the time of the Babylonian Exile, the Jews came into contact with Persian beliefs, and after that period Judaism became more in line with Persian teachings. And so the concept of Satan became more and more aligned with the idea of an evil opposite to God (YHWH). Samael became attached to this idea in Talmudic and apocryphal sources to the point that Samael is viewed as the architect of evil, sin and the fall of Man, as well as having mated with Eve and even either planting or playing the role of the serpent in the Garden of Eden thus being responsible for their fall from Paradise.

At this point it’s worth noting that the link between any Satan and the serpent of the Garden of Eden is questionable at best. The connection between the serpent of Genesis and Satan seems to stem from a verse from the Book of Revelation which reads:

And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth,” – Revelation 12:9

However, Genesis makes no reference to Satan in relation to the serpent in the myth of the Garden of Eden. The myth originates in Jewish tradition, which does not recognize a singular literal or personal Satan. Not to mention, the serpent of Genesis used to have limbs, but had his limbs removed by YHWH through a curse as punishment for tempting Adam and Eve, and is consigned to live as a snake, whereas the Beast of Revelation doesn’t appear to resemble a proper snake in both appearance and behavior. In all likelihood, the serpent of Genesis was just a serpent, unaffiliated with YHWH or any Satan, who perhaps happened to be particularly clever. Returning to Revelation, the dragon is previously described as “having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads“. You may recognize this sort of creature as the mount of the Whore of Babylon, whose appearance indicates a symbolic reference to Ancient Rome, the adversary (or perhaps, the “Satan”?) of the early Christian movement, or more specifically John – the man who wrote Revelation. It is an expression of an empire or civilization believed to be rife with sin, wickedness and blasphemy and which persecuted the believers of God/YHWH. It may also be an expression a more ancient mythological motif of conflict between a warrior figure and a dragon or serpent, such as the Old Testament battle between YHWH and Leviathan.

There is another angel in Jewish lore who is associated with the concept of Satan and is identified with the Satan of the Book of Job: Mastema. Mastema is an angel who is believed to carry out punishments on the orders of YHWH, as well as a commander of evil spirits who harass humans. He is often retconned in the pseudepigraphical Book of Jubilees as an evil force who either motivates YHWH to do strange evil things or as a someone who does some of those things instead of YHWH. For instance, he is considered to be the one who persuaded YHWH to challenge Abraham to kill his son Isaac, and the one who persuaded the followers of Moses to commit idolatry. There is also a strange instance in the Bible where YHWH tries to kill Moses, but the story gets rewritten so that Mastema becomes responsible for the attempted murder. He is also written to be the one who aids the sorcerers of the Pharaoh to oppose Moses, and is seen as the angel responsible for the death of the firstborn sons of Egypt as part of the Ten Plagues sent by YHWH. Like Samael, Mastema was not necessarily an enemy of YHWH, rather a servant of his whose role is to tempt the souls of men, obstruct and hinder them, and argue their sins. YHWH even allows him to keep a portion of demons under his service before the great flood. Indeed, in much the same way as Samael may have become synonymous with the Christian Satan, it is this sinister function that has led him to be treated not as an angel in service of YHWH but rather a devil who opposes him, to that point that Mastema is often treated as synonymous with Belial.

Returning to Zoroastrianism, Ahriman is an important influence on the character of the Christian Satan. He was, from the outset, evil incarnate. Also known as Angra Mainyu, Ahriman is the embodiment of evil and “the Lie” and opposite of Ahura Mazda (though the Gathas position him as the opponent of another being, Spenta Mainyu; an aspect of Ahura Mazda) and is believed to be the creator of all manner of nasty creatures that seek to bring harm to humans. Much like the Christian Satan, Ahriman is the deceiver according to Zoroastrian tradition, and he is the chief and/or creator of a group of demonic beings who are referred to as daevas (which was originally the Hindu term “deva”, referring to a class of deities that resided in the heavens). The entire universe is presented as being divided between Ahriman and Ahura Mazda, with both sides fighting for the souls of Man at large.

Within mainstream Christian tradition, the names Samael and Mastema seem to have lost relevance, and the chief opponent of YHWH comes to be identified simply as Satan. If anything, the Christian Satan seems to be identified with Beelzebub, who in Jewish lore was the lord of the flies who represented a rival deity to YHWH. The Book of Revelation also identifies him with the beast with seven heads, who we have discussed earlier in this post. However The Ascension of Isaiah, a mostly Christian apocryphal text, identifies Samael (or Sammael) as Satan, though the same text also identifies Satan with Belial (Beliar), the angel of lawlessness, who is also considered the ruler of this world. The being is recounted as having possessed King Manasseh in order to bring about Isaiah’s martyrdom. The Christian role of Satan no longer resembles the Jewish conception of The Satan as a prosecutor and accuser on behalf of YHWH, but the opponent of YHWH and the ruler of Hell, whose temptations lead the souls of humans to Hell and their doom and damnation, who will according the Bible eventually be judged by the resurrected Jesus and imprisoned in the very Hell he is supposed to rule over. In fact, the role of the ruler of the underworld, and his iconic appearance from the medieval period going forward, has noticeably more in common with pre-Christian pagan beliefs about the deities of the underworld – such as Hades, Nergal or Yama – than the original Jewish tradition. He certainly took on many characteristics associated with the pre-Christian pantheon: horns associated with Ba’al, the trident associated with Poseidon, goat features including hooves associated with Pan (not to mention his famously lustful attributes) and his dominion of the underworld a trait of Hades (which funny enough became an alternate name for Hell). He is also identified with the Beast of Revelation, or the Great Red Dragon chasing after the Woman Clothed in Sun. That he is identified with a draconic beast the way he is in revelation suggests, to me at least, that Satan has transformed from merely an angel in God’s service to an apocalyptic force of chaos set against God, and that this is his ultimate role in things.

In Christianity, Satan and Lucifer are typically seen as synonymous, typically based on certain Biblical verses. But, as will be explored much further in Part 2, there is nothing in these verses that actually connects Satan with Lucifer. The Book of Isaiah is typically used to show how Satan was once the morning star before he fell, when in fact the morning star seems to be referring to a king of Babylon. The Book of Ezekiel is similarly cited to show how Satan was the greatest of the angels before his fall, when in fact it is a king of Tyre being compared to an unnamed angel. Indeed, the explanations for how he turned from simply the Adversary of Job to the Beast seem strange to me.

In Gnostic Christian tradition, Samael appears as a name of the Demiurge – the malevolent or incompetent deity who creates the material universe as a prison for the souls that presently inhabit the body of Man. Since the Demiugre is treated as basically Satan, being the opposite of the true and perfect God described by the Gnostics, this is essentially stating that Samael and Satan are identical. In a similar tradition, adherents of the Bogomil sect believe that Satan created matter while God created the soul of Man. The Bogomils identify Satan as Satanael, an angel who also appears in the apocryphal Second Book of Enoch as the name of the leader of the Grigori (or the Watchers), a group of angels who fell from heaven after becoming infatuated and attracted to human women and sought to teach humans various forms of knowledge that were previously kept by the angels (in the first Book of Enoch, the leader of the Grigori is named Samyaza; the two are sometimes seen as synonymous).

The apocryphal lore surrounding the Grigori, and the identification of their leader as Satanael (whose name you may note means “Adversary of God”), may have influenced the Judeo-Christian character Satan as we know him, by positioning him as a rebellious angel who fell to the Earth and spread forbidden knowledge. I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if this is partly how the serpent became seen as related to Satan – after all, the serpent performed a similar function by tempting Adam and Eve towards the forbidden knowledge of good and evil. And perhaps this is how Satan came to be seen as the Beast? The Enochian Satanael was later rewritten by an occultist named Faustus Scorpius, founder of a group known as the Order of the Left Hand Path, to show Satanael as the one or first angel in heaven to realize the concept of self-consciounsess and hence rebelled against the Demiurge and his heavenly host. He was defeated by Michael and his angels, but still set out to spread self-consciousness and freedom to Man.

In Islam, Satan is known as Iblis. Iblis was a djinn – a being made of fire, as opposed to the angels who were made out of light – who was banished from the heavenly realm for refusing Allah’s command to bow to the first human he created. Like the Christian Satan, Iblis is seen as leading souls away from Allah through temptation and actively opposes Allah’s will . Although it is generally agreed that Iblis is a Djinn, some Islamic scholars think that Iblis was originally an angel, much like Samael.

Perhaps the most famous interpretation of Satan is the one found in John Milton’s epic Paradise Lost. In this work, Satan was once an angel in Heaven who served God, but rebelled along with a third of the heavenly host, only to be defeated and be cast down into Hell, where he decides to establish his own kingdom, uttering the famous phrase “Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven”. I can assume that this draws from the attempted connection by Christians between Satan and the Lucifer figures of the Bible, but it is through this depiction that the traditional conception of Satan emerges, rather than the actual scripture of Christianity or Judaism. Here we see a more romantic interpretation of Satan, and arguably a heroic Satan – the first instance wherein we see Satan as the rebellious figure, standing up to God, and arguing the case for his unjust character. Indeed, I suspect this is the source of the Satanic Temple interpretation of Satan as the eternal rebel standing up to tyrannical authority. The irony being, of course, that before John Milton Satan doesn’t seem to be shown as much of an enemy of God until the Book of Revelation, the verses typically shown before hand to refer to Satan’s fall having nothing to do with Satan. And before all of that, it was a Satan that was working with tyrannical authority, that of YHWH.

Because of the prevalence of Milton’s Satan in the popular imagination, Satan has been compared to a Greek mythological figure known as Prometheus. In fact, the author of the drama Prometheus Unbound wrote a preface explaining his personal judgement that Satan is the only character resembling Prometheus. Prometheus is a being related to the Titans (that is, he is a son of one of them), the personification of foresight and knowledge. He was the creator of mankind who stole the fire from Mount Olympus and gave it to mankind, for which he was chained to a rock by Zeus. The fire of Olympus came to be a symbol of Man’s enlightenment, reason and knowledge, which was withheld by Zeus. Before stealing the fire of Olympus, Prometheus was considered an ally of the Olympian gods, thus the act of stealing it for mankind’s benefit was an act of betrayal of the gods. In a way, there are some characteristics he thus shares with Satan. Other than, however, there is no direct connection. Many connect the two through the serpent myth, asserting that Prometheus was like Satan who brought the forbidden fruit to Adam and Eve. But, as has been established, the serpent of Eden is not actually Satan.

Another influential interpretation is the story of Mephistopheles, the demon who appeared to Faust in his eponymous legend. In the legend, Faust summons Mephistopheles, who offers him his service for a period of time, at the end of which Mephistopheles claims his soul for eternity, leading it to Hell. This tale echoes into the modern world as the archetypal “deal with the devil”. Mephistopheles is explicitly a representation of the Devil, of Satan perhaps, and it seems to play on a characteristic that Jewish apocrpyha associated with Samael – that of taking away the souls of humans.

The archetype Satan found within Satanism is based on both the Miltonian conception of Satan, the Judeo-Christian notion of Satan as The Adversary and the opponent of the values associated with YHWH and the background laid by several magickal traditions in their description of Satan. Eliphas Levi describes Satan as “the goat of the Sabbath”, associated with profanation and darkness. Stanislas de Guatia views Satan as “the foul goat threatening Heaven”. The same inverted pentagram we know today from the Church of Satan actually comes from the works of Maurice Bessy. Indeed, whenever an inverted pentagram appears in historical magickal works, it is typically meant as a symbol of the inversion all that is good, which would be symbolized by the upward-pointing pentagram. Satan is also aligned with materialism in many spiritualist traditions, and indeed his symbol is taken as meaning matter prevailing over spirit. Curiously, Stanislas de Guatia’s Satan pentagram features the name Samael. It would seem to denote Samael as the negative opponent of Adam. Anton LaVey took the Satan of Judaism, Christianity and Western magickal tradition and made him a positive figure, the advocate of Man as he ought to be as defined by the philosophy of Satanism.

Finally, Satan is frequently compared with the Egyptian deity Set. Both Satan and Set are considered to be evil beings, but it is claimed that they are connected by the name Set-hen, a title purportedly attached to Set. I have been unable to find a lot of evidence for the “Set-hen” theory, with few resources available outside of Satanic circles and even then not much is elaborated. The claim seems to amount to the idea that “Set-hen” sounds like the modern Satan, therefore it’s a match. However, there are many characteristics that Set shares with the modern Satan. Much like the Jewish conception of Satan, Set was not always seen as an evil being. He was originally a deity of storms, the desert, and war. Similar to Apep, he was seen as a personification of chaos and destruction, but unlike Apep, Set was seen as very much a part of the natural order of things, his chaotic influence a necessary component of balance and harmony in the cosmos. Later on he came to be associated with foreigners. He was also considered a troublesome deity, perhaps most infamous for murdering his brother Osiris after he was seduced by the goddess Nephthys, who was supposed to be his wife, which led him to conflict with the sky deity Horus. However he was also the protector of the sun deity Ra, and at one point also considered to be one of the principle deities of the cosmos, alongside Amun, Ra and Ptah. After the Hyksos invaded Egypt and brought with them their religion, Set rose to prominence through his identification with the Semitic deity Ba’al (with whom he shares many characteristics). After they were driven out, Set’s association with the Hyksos and foreigners in general led him to be seen as an evil being who invited the conquest of Egypt by foreigners. Eventually he become almost synonymous with Apep, and lost his role as a protective deity. In Greece, Set was equated to Typhon – a monster personifying chaos and volcanic forces who lead the Titans against Zeus when they kill Dionysus.

Today, the character of Satan is alive and well and still continues to be invoked as a bogeyman, particularly in conspiracy theories wherein he is somehow one of the main benefactors. For instance, he believed to be the deity worshiped by the Freemasons, the “Illuminati” and the New World Order. Some even believe him to be the true God of the Muslims and Jews, which of course is historically and religiously illiterate. A similar point can be made about the Islamic world, where the Great Satan is a term used by Islamist regimes and Islamic terrorists to refer to demonize the United States of America. However, in the modern world, his character is also still influenced by John Milton’s characterization of him, and today the Miltonian Satan is also used as a political tool by some of those who wish for the expulsion of religion from the public sphere. Satan is often conflated with an idol named Baphomet – originally the name of the idol the Knights Templar were accused of worshiping -, a symbol that in occult traditions generally refers to the unity and harmony of opposites in the universe and not strictly to the Devil; although Baphomet has proven influential in shaping the image of Satan. And of course, Satan is a celebrated icon in the subculture of heavy metal music, where many songs, albums or musical careers are dedicated to him to this day. Not that the vast majority of heavy metal fans and musicians are Satanists or Satan worshipers per se. For metalheads, it’s just that he happens to make for awesome music.

 

Conclusion

In summation, Satan, as a concept, begins in Judaism wherein it refers to an adversary in general or to a specific angel who carries out punishment in the name of YHWH, before gradually evolving into the archetype of evil, chaos and sedition against God, to being equated with the bringer of knowledge and freedom and thus being seen as the opponent of dictatorial rule, and today the concept of Satan is influenced by both religious and literary tradition. In a way, the concept of Satan remains something of a historical scapegoat, with many people citing the Devil as the inspiration for many a malicious act on the part of themselves or of their enemies. Indeed, even among Christians different sects have been seen as in league with Satan for their heresy against the Church. And as I said earlier, if you go down the rabbit hole of conspiracy theory land it’s not too long before you find a Satan or two used as a scapegoat for many complex problems in the world. But the concept of Satan has also taken on many other meanings. Indeed, as Adversary, he can perhaps be seen as a force of passion – that is, the passion that has the potential to either lead to evil things, or drive life as we know it towards greatness and progress. In the end, the idea Satan eventually becoming the opponent of the Absolute, rather than just an accuser of Man, makes some sense when you consider the development of Jewish and later Christian tradition. At one point the Jews considered evil to be a part of God’s machinations. But, at some point the Jews suffered what would have been a great indignity, if not outright injustice, towards their faith. It is difficult to conceive that God would destroy his own temple to punish the Jews in some way. It was perhaps naturally to think that it was the work of something that was set against God. Samael then would’ve made for a terrific scapegoat, given he was the angel whose role was often an unpleasant one. Satan was once a title, and then became something of a scapegoat in the Christian tradition, but perhaps it can be said that Satan eventually took on a life of his own.

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