Satanic Stew: The Devil You Think You Know.
Every now and then, I feel compelled to explain my love for art, music, and philosophy that can easily be deemed Satanic by folks who really don’t understand the term. Now, I am not a Satanist, per se, but I do in many ways identify with aspects of various “Left-Hand Path” philosophies. I am also not opposed to the concept of Satan as a deity either, unless, of course, it’s the typically uneducated idea of Satan as “Lord of Evil” or something similarly profane. I guess that’s the rub, really. People cannot divorce themselves from the blatantly biased, Christian-dualist conception of “God versus the Evil One”. This is particularly amusing when one notes that such dualism appears considerably more Zoroastrian than Hebraic, but I digress.
Historically speaking, the Serpent, Satan, Lucifer, and the Devil were once four separate concepts that eventually became amalgamated into a singular mega-scapegoat (pun intended) of all the world’s wrongs. I feel an examination is in order. Lets start with the Serpent, shall we?
The Serpent is someone we meet in the Old Testament very briefly. His name is Nechesh. His greatest crime? Telling the truth. Whereas God lies to Adam and Eve, telling them that the fruit of the special tree in the garden will kill them immediately, the serpent exposes his fib to them.
2 And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden:
3 But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.
4 And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die.
5 For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.
6 And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.”
-Genesis 2, King James Version
Nechesh doesn’t even say “Hey, you guys should totally eat that fruit ’cause God’s a big liar.” He merely tells them the… ahem… God’s honest truth: “Ya’ll won’t die, ya’ll ‘ll just learn right from wrong. God was just pullin’ ya leg.” Behold: instant vilification as the “deceiver”. Wait, wasn’t God technically the deceiver in this case? It is not surprising that in the formative stages of Christianity, the above revelation of serpent as “nice guy” helped to spawn various sects of Gnostics.
Now, the term Gnostic (from the Greek gnosis, or wisdom) is a blanket term for a wide variety of post-Platonic religious philosophies. Though some were pagan in scope, many Gnostics deemed themselves pious and devout Christians before anything even remotely resembling a coherent Christian doctrine emerged (officially established after the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE). However, many of these Gnostics believed that the God of the Old Testament was actually a big, mean, pseudo-god called the Demiurge, who created a prison world (Earth) for souls to inhabit. This really isn’t that much of a stretch if you consider the millions of people murdered by good ol’ Jehova in the Bible for various reasons. The most egregious of these? Not worshiping him.
“And that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams, shall be put to death; because he hath spoken to turn you away from the LORD your God…” (Deuteronomy 13:5)
“And Israel joined himself unto Baalpeor: and the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel. And the LORD said unto Moses, ‘Take all the heads of the people and hang them up before the LORD against the sun, that the fierce anger of the LORD may be turned away from Israel.'” (Numbers 25:3-4)
“Either three years’ famine; or three months to be destroyed before thy foes, while that the sword of thine enemies overtaketh thee; or else three days the sword of the LORD, even the pestilence, in the land, and the angel of the LORD destroying throughout all the coasts of Israel…” (I Chronicles 21:12)
“So the LORD sent pestilence upon Israel: and there fell of Israel seventy thousand men.” (I Chronicles 21:14)
“Thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him: But thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people.” (Deuteronomy 13:8-9)
Remembering the Garden of Eden account, serpents were thus deemed sacred keepers of wisdom by these Gnostic groups, and the Serpent was a herald of the one “true” God in heaven. As an added bonus, by Hebrew Gematria (that is, a semi-mystical system of numbers), the words “Nechesh” and “Messiah” equal the same number (358), thus giving the Gnostics more fuel for their “down with the Demiurge” proselytizing. This is why, they reasoned, Christ turned away from the laws of Israel in the New Testament – mocking the Sabbath, saving an adulteress from being put to death, etc. Christ, to them, was the Serpent in the Garden – the wise herald of the true Father in Heaven who wished that we, his children, would break free from the shackles of the earthen Demiurge.
Jesus’ message certainly contained aspects of this radical “libertarian” doctrine, and his actions throughout the gospels markedly reveal this. I feel the words of the artist/poet/mystic William Blake, himself a neo-gnostic of sorts, best encapsulate this:
“Once I saw a Devil in a flame of fire, who arose before an Angel that sat on a cloud, and the Devil utter’d these words:
‘The worship of God is: Honouring his gifts in other men, each according to his genius, and loving the greatest men best: those who envy or calumniate great men hate God; for there is no other God.’
The Angel hearing this became almost blue but mastering himself he grew yellow, & at last white, pink, & smiling, and then replied:
‘Thou Idolater, is not God One? & is not he visible in Jesus Christ? and has not Jesus Christ given his sanction to the law of ten commandments, and are not all other men fools, sinners, & nothings?’
The Devil answer’d: ‘bray a fool in a mortar with wheat, yet shall not his folly be beaten out of him; if Jesus Christ is the greatest man, you ought to love him in the greatest degree; now hear how he has given his sanction to the law of ten commandments: did he not mock at the sabbath, and so mock the sabbaths God? murder those who were murder’d because of him? turn away the law from the woman taken in adultery? steal the labor of others to support him? bear false witness when he omitted making a defence before Pilate? covet when he pray’d for his disciples, and when he bid them shake off the dust of their feet against such as refused to lodge them? I tell you, no virtue can exist without breaking these ten commandments. Jesus was all virtue, and acted from impulse, not from rules.’”
-William Blake, “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”
Unfortunately, almost all of the old Gnostic sects were murdered in religious crusades of one kind or another before the end of the Middle Ages. I know, big surprise.
Satan is encountered in the Old Testament as well, this time in the Book of Job. Not as an embodiment of evil, mind you, but as someone who was just hanging out with the “sons of God” (Hebrew and King James, the New International version translates this verse as “angels”). God then says how proud he is of Job, because he’s such a nice happy dude who prays to him regularly and thanks him for all of his good gifts. Satan retorts that Job’s a god-loving man because god has been good to him. If God were mean, Job would not be so kind. Well, God decides that he has to prove ol’ Scratch wrong, and gives him cart blanche to destroy everything that Job holds dear.
2:4 And Satan answered the Lord, and said, Skin for skin, yea, all that a man hath will he give for his life.
2:5 But put forth thine hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse thee to thy face.
2:6 And the Lord said unto Satan, Behold, he is in thine hand; but save his life.
Hang on a cotton-picking minute. You’re telling me that God, that big, warm, sky-faerie of love and forgiveness (that is, if you worship him and only him) is totally cool with destroying a faithful man’s entire family, servants, livestock, and general happiness just to prove a bet? You bet your ass he is.
It should be mentioned that Hebrew monotheism is not nearly as old as most people think. For a very long time, the ancient Hebrews were henotheists, that is, they worshiped their one God (with a big G), but admitted the existence of other gods. Hence, “thou shalt have no other gods before me”. It’s possible that the aforementioned “sons of God” was a reference to the other deities that surrounded the ancient Canaanites, their status as God’s “sons” denoting their inferior spot on the cosmic totem pole.
Hey, wasn’t there someone else called a “son of God”? Hmmm…
Satan appears again later on in the New Testament where he propositions Jesus in the desert. He kills or harms no one.
How about Lucifer? Where does he enter the mix? Why, not until Isaiah, actually, and all due to a mistranslation. You see, Isaiah 14 is where we meet a king of Babylon called “the shining one” in Hebrew. Most scholars associate him with a Babylonian king (such as Nebuchadnezzar). However, someone decided, in the Latin translation of the Old Testament, to replace “shining one” with the name Lucifer – the old Latin name for the Morning Star, in actuality the planet Venus. (Jesus was, interestingly, also called the Morning Star in certain circles.) Well, our shiny buddy got a little too big for his britches and decided to build his tower too high in God’s estimation, so Big G humbled him.
13 For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north:
14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.
15 Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.
16 They that see thee shall narrowly look upon thee, and consider thee, saying, Is this the man that made the earth to tremble, that did shake kingdoms;
17 That made the world as a wilderness, and destroyed the cities thereof; that opened not the house of his prisoners?
18 All the kings of the nations, even all of them, lie in glory, every one in his own house.
19 But thou art cast out of thy grave like an abominable branch, and as the raiment of those that are slain, thrust through with a sword, that go down to the stones of the pit; as a carcase trodden under feet.
This story was subsequently combined with some previous religious texts (consigned to the Jewish pseudepigrapha – that is, falsely attributed works) where Satan was seen as an angel who defied God and was cast out of heaven for it. By the time of “Church Fathers” Lactantius and Origen, the name “Satan” and “Lucifer” had become generally interchangeable. As an added bonus, they started mingling our buddy Nechesh in there as well. Thus Satan, the Serpent, and Lucifer became one.
However, as Christianity continued to push its program of heavenly hegemony, it realized that there were many other gods out there to compete with, and many of them such as Apis, Pan, Cernunnos, and Hathor to name a few, had horns. These horned deities had been revered and worshiped for centuries, if not millennia, (paintings thousands of years old in the cave of the Trois Freres in France depict a horned god of sorts), by legions of our ancestors before the monotheistic monolith gained military power and began their series of somewhat ubiquitous “convert or die” campaigns.
As part of their military advances, however, there was a simultaneous propaganda program added to undermine the deities of old. Thus, through a slew of artistic representations, the horns that once denoted divine power or fruitful bounty instead came to represent the head honcho of evil and his demonic minions – Serpent/Satan/Lucifer and now, horned Devil – the depraved goat-man of nightmares.
By the time of the Renaissance, horns ended up being additionally associated with the cuckhold – the unwitting and impotent husband whose wife was anything but faithful. Oh, how the greats had fallen thanks in part to the centuries-long Christian smear campaign.
Thus, behold the recipe for Satanic Stew. Throw these originally disparate ideas into a pot of fear and religious fanaticism, boil them zealously on high for a few centuries, add a few pinches of hysteria and anti-intellectualism, and voila! – a tasty treat guaranteed to last for generations to come.