|06-05-2021, 05:20 AM||#1 (permalink)|
Born to be mild
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: 404 Not Found
Talk of the Devil: A History of the Prince of Darkness
“May you be in Heaven half an hour before the Devil knows you’re dead” - Irish proverb
One thing that has been common to probably every religion and pantheon of gods is that there has always been a “bad guy”, someone who upsets the plans of the “good” gods and goes against them, hassles humanity, causes catastrophes both large and small, and basically makes life harder both for his (or her) fellow gods and for those who worship them. This being has usually been called everything from an evil god to a demon, and of course the Devil, though this seems to have been confined to the Christian mythology. Whether called the Devil or not, or by any of his many names, this being, this god, this dark angel is almost always responsible for - or said to be responsible for - all the bad stuff in the world, and is synonymous with the word evil. In many ways, he can be seen as a scapegoat, someone for both gods and humans to blame when things go wrong, don’t go to plan or upset them. Just about every phrase in any language connected with the Devil, to give him a catchall recognisable label, is negative, and refers to doing or saying the wrong thing, coming up against obstacles or being thwarted.
Because gods were seen to be generally omnipotent, and above human affairs, they weren’t expected to play by the same rules mortals did. They didn’t have to care about their worshippers, could keep them safe or destroy them on a whim, treat them like playthings and trifle with their affections just for the hell of it. But among their own kind, they were expected to maintain certain standards. Because gods were created by humans, our ancestors imbued them with human feelings and emotions, human values and ethics, and human relationships. In essence, they were us, only, you know, all-powerful. But most pantheons of gods followed the basic model of the human family unit: there was a father, a mother, sons and daughters, even in-laws and cousins. Everyone was connected, because this is how humanity survived and quite honestly, we couldn’t see any other possible scenario.
Some of the gods were solitary, yes, but most of these tended to turn out to be the evil ones, the ones who would be linked with that religion or belief’s idea of the Devil; the very idea of being isolated from their fellow gods, of not joining in, of being a loner, made them distrusted and often disliked by their brother gods and sister goddesses, just as we tend to look at someone who is different or stand-offish in this world. We don’t easily tolerate any threat to our societal structure, so why then should our gods?
And as a human who stays away from the crowd can tend to be seen as - even if they are not actually so - brooding, sullen, cold and aloof - so too did the gods see those who did not fit into their family unit. Sometimes these gods were pushed further away, as nobody liked them and had no reason to want to be near them, sometimes they removed themselves, scornful of the pursuits of the others and interested in darker, more dangerous things. To some degree, taking gods as, for the moment, autonomous beings and not the extension of human minds and desires, these “dark gods” created their own mythology, based around their difference from - or indeed, indifference to the other gods, and “became” evil, either intentionally or as a consequence of how they were seen and treated by others.
The earliest mention any of us who are Christians, even nominally so, hear of the Devil in our lives is in the tale from the Bible, where in the Book of Genesis he appears as a snake in the Garden of Eden, tempts Eve and gets she and Adam kicked out of Paradise by a wrathful God. Job done, thinks Satan. But of course the Bible only goes back about two thousand years or so, and civilisations such as the Egyptians, Babylonians and Greek and Roman predate it by many more. It’s not at all surprising that the Satan, Lucifer or Devil written of in the Bible appears in similar or often quite different form in the lore of other religions; Christianity was never an original religion, and almost all of its pantheon is taken from other beliefs, suitably changed to suit the new teachings of Christ.
So what is the truth about the Devil? Where did he come from? How did he develop, down the centuries, sliding into our literature, our art, our music and later our television and movie screens, to become as much a part of our world, our consciousness as God Himself? When did he become a force for rebellion rather than just evil, and when did people begin worshipping him? How has he fared, and how has he changed through successive transformations from one mythology to another, and what is the truth of his genesis?
In this latest journal my intention is to dig into the origins of the creature we came to know as the Devil, to rummage around in mythologies that were ancient before Christ was even born, to try to build a picture of the overarching figure seen now as the epitome of evil, of darkness, of rebellion and of resistance. I’ll be seeing how the Devil - mostly this will be the Christian idea I expect, as most literature and art was dominated by the Church for the first half of the millennium at least, though I’m sure other religions have used him in their literature and music and art too - has done on the printed page, the oiled canvas and the silver screen, big and small. I’ll be looking at how his presence has influenced musicians, from those who use him or references to him in their lyrics, to those who actually believe in him and one or two who are believed to have actually sold their soul to him, and I’m not talking about Black Sabbath here.
While the Devil may not be real (no I’m definitely not crossing my fingers behind my back, you must be thinking of someone else) there are a lot of people in this world who believe he is, and the worship of the Prince of Darkness, what gets termed colloquially as Satanism or Satanic worship, may be as prevalent now as back in the dark ages, when innocent women were burned for believing to have communed with him. Wicca is white magic, but there’s also a whole lot of black magic out there too, and no, I’m not talking about the chocolates.
On the other side of things, the Devil has also been ferociously lampooned in all forms of media, whether the idea is to deprive him of his power by mocking him or just to jump on the bandwagon and make a buck. He’s been used as everything from a corporate logo to a team mascot, and from the name of geological features to rock songs. But superstition still holds strong in many parts of the world, and where there’s superstition there’s usually the Devil. There are even reported instances (how reliable or not I don’t know) of people undergoing near-death experiences where they found themselves in a place that was, well, not Heaven.
Of course, I don’t expect to uncover any truth about the existence or non-existence of the Devil, black magic or even Hell. Those questions, to paraphrase something I read by Dickens this morning, are better left to theologians and men far more learned than I, which would not be hard. No, all I intend to do here is to trace the colourful and interesting history of the Devil and assess his impact on our society, right up to the present day.
So step into the circle with me if you dare, take off the crucifix from around your neck and don’t bother saying your prayers. They won’t help you where we’re going.
Perhaps there’ll be Hell to pay, but come on, let’s do it!
Let’s summon the Devil.
Trollheart: Signature-free since April 2018
|06-06-2021, 05:00 PM||#2 (permalink)|
Born to be mild
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: 404 Not Found
Chapter I: Born to Darkness - The genesis of the Devil
Note: For those who believe that all I do for these journals is cannibalise and transcribe pages from Wikipedia, let me set you straight by saying yes, yes I do, but that’s not all. I always try to use as many sources as I can to back the research I do on Wiki, and I never copy anything verbatim, except in a few isolated cases where I use quotes, and they’re always attributed.
For this journal I’m referring to the following works:
The Birth of Satan: Tracing the Devil’s Biblical Roots by T.J. Wray and Gregory Mobley (Palgrave MacMillan, 2005)
The Prince of Darkness: The Devil in History, Religion and the Human Psyche by Joan O’Grady (Element Books, 1989)
The History of the Devil and the Idea of Evil by Paul Carus (Open Court Paperback, 1991 - written approx 890)
The History of the Devil by Anonymous (1727)
It’s from the first book that I approach the question, which I’ll be dealing with in considerably more depth a little later, why do we need the Devil? Wray and Mobley posit the answer by looking back even further than the Bible, or any written record, to the dark unknown that lurked outside the cave homes of our ancestors, by the wild cries in the night that presaged danger, and even the voice of the wind or the crack of the thunder which would have unnerved and spooked our forefathers, as, to be fair, it can still do to each of us when the circumstances are right. The question morphs slightly, from “why do we need the Devil?” into “why do we want or need to be afraid?”
Taken in its simplest form, the answer should be, we don’t, but that’s not the case. How many horror movies have you watched, scared but unable to resist? How many times have you crossed the road against traffic, broken a red light or walked down a deserted alley in the darkness? Or to put it on an even simpler and more mundane level, how many rollercoasters have you ridden, how many motorcycles, how many mountains have you climbed and how many times have you sought out danger, excitement, adventure? This triplet, perhaps its own (un)holy trinity in ways, is inextricably linked with fear. You can’t really be excited without a certain amount or type of fear attendant, even if it’s only the fear that this may end too soon. Danger goes hand-in-hand with fear of course and adventure? Well, that’s kind of nothing without a healthy dose of fear, is it?
So not only do we need fear, we seek it out. It might be a little condescending to say boys look for fear more than girls do, and in this I mean young kids, but it is true. While the girls are playing shop or skipping or dolls tea party, the boys are scuffling, kicking, punching each other and taking forbidden paths into forests and the ruins of old houses and to the lips of quarries, and any other place they’re told not to go. Dangerous people - the woman rumoured to be a witch, who captures children and eats them, the strange, bespectacled man who keeps stuffed carcases of animals in his house, the guy rumoured to be a gang boss - attract us, and stories of houses said to be haunted, graveyards, marshes and moors all have an irresistible pull on our imagination at that age, and though we fear them, we fear perhaps more the disdain of our companions if we avoid them, the accusation of being a coward.
So humanity as a whole likes to be scared, and to scare, and that in itself is no terrible harm. Fright gets the adrenaline going, can spur you to get the hell out of a dangerous situation, can warn you when danger is near. It can also be a powerful adversary; have you ever crossed the road and suddenly found a car bearing down on you? What do you do? You should keep going, run, but inevitably you stop, frozen in your tracks. Frozen by fear, which has fused your muscles and stiffened your limbs, and dulled your brain so that the urgent signals to MOVE can’t get through, and you stand rooted to the spot.
But fear can be used too, of course, as a weapon. It doesn’t take a genius to see that World War II would never have happened without the addition of fear in the equation; indeed, most wars are driven by fear, whether real fear that your homeland is under threat, or projected fear used by the ones who want to wage war, want to send you to war; the fear that may or may not be manufactured, a total lie, or may have a grain of truth supporting it, but which will give you the impetus to accede to the wishes of the warmongers, and go to, or support, a war which in all probability you know little or nothing about.
Which makes fear a tool for control, perhaps the ultimate tool, and when you want to ensure that people stay on the straight and narrow, to quote Iron Maiden, fear is the key. The key to control. The key to power. The key to obedience. The key, almost, to the very human heart itself. Frighten people enough and they will do what you want. Keep them in a constant state of fear, threaten them incessantly, roar it from the pulpits, write about it, warn about it, create verbal vistas of horror to show people how terrible the consequences of disobedience can be, and you have yourself all but a slave populace. Ally that to religion, to faith, to dogma, and you have the beginnings of the need for the Devil.
As a child, you were warned about everything that was bad or dangerous, but simply being told was not enough: there had to be some reason why you should not do or say this thing, something undesirable that would definitely happen to you. Some, most in fact, was and is harmless, mostly superstition or completely made up. Make a face, and your mother would tell you if the wind changed you’d remain that way forever. Be good and Santa Claus would bring you toys. And some are practical and rooted very much in reality: don’t stick your head out the window when travelling on a train, as another one coming the opposite way could knock it off. Don’t touch the fire, even if it looks pretty, as it will burn you. Don’t talk to strangers, they’re just waiting to take you away. And as we get older, don’t stay out all night, don’t go with strange boys, don’t smoke, and so on.
One of the oldest and most effective (when we’re very young) warnings is the bogeyman. Do this (or don’t do this) or that and he’ll get you. The bogeyman is an amorphous, ill-defined creature of the night, emerging from places unknown to capture bad boys and girls and drag them to, well, places unknown. Stupid really, and hardly well thought-out, but when we’re very young it works. We really do believe in the bogeyman. The innate and ingrained mistrust of strangers allows us to see every stranger, no matter how harmless, as the bogeyman or one of his many deputies. To calm a crying child on the bus, a mother only has to point to any man - driver, conductor, other passenger, that guy with the hood and the scythe who’s already gone past his stop - and say “here’s the man!” for the child to decide to shut up. A dark dread of “the man” is enough to instil fear and often immediate compliance, lest these shadowy figures we have been warned about, threatened with, make good on their evil promise.
So the Church needed its own bogeyman, because people don’t just behave because you tell them or ask them to. The eternal question “What if I don’t?” must be answered with a dark and forbidding alternative, to make compliance infinitely preferable to disobedience. The bogeyman is quickly supplanted by the Devil in our young lives. Naive as we are as children, we soon outgrow the notion that there is a faceless figure slouching around the world, hiding in closets in bedrooms and under beds and up chimneys and on roofs, waiting to spirit us away. We lose our fear of him primarily because, somewhat like Santa, at a certain point not only does our own developing intelligence inform us such a being could not exist, but our parents admit to the scam: it’s all been made up. There is no such thing as the bogeyman.
But the Devil? Well now, that is another kettle of herring entirely. If the family is a devout Abrahamic one, they either believe in the Devil or if not, know enough to realise that he is a very good substitute for, even progression from and successor to the now-discredited bogeyman. And the thing about him is, he exists! Well, he must, mustn’t he? The priest says so, the Pope says so, your parents say so, your school teachers (probably) say so. It’s a little hard to discount or discredit a figure so many adults seem to believe in, not so easy to relegate the Devil to the position of fantasy and fairy tale. Depending on how strong faith, belief or naivete in the family is in religion, you might end up believing the Devil is real, walking this world, all around you, just waiting, like that discredited bogeyman figure, for you to slip up and commit sin so that he can drag you screaming down to Hell.
Just as a way of illustrating how powerful the image of the Devil can be, here I present, verbatim and taken from their book The Birth of Satan: Tracing the Devil’s Biblical Roots, the childhood experiences of both the authors. While of course each of these can be put down to an overactive imagination, too much indoctrination both in school and church, and the somewhat naive view of youth that there are in fact monsters living under the bed, they do serve to show how effective the mere idea of a dark demon waiting just out of sight to catch those who sin can be on young minds, and how those “experiences” can be carried through to adult life, often altering the person’s worldview entirely.
I had actually seen the Devil a few times. Once, just moments after teasing my little sister until she cried, I saw his shadow pass from behind the laundry room door in our basement into the family room. I remember bolting up the stairs and slamming the cellar door, terrified and breathless. “What on earth is wrong with you?” my mother asked. “I saw a spider,” I lied, adding yet another bead to the necklace of naughtiness I had been fashioning for myself for years.
On more than one occasion I had seen Satan scurrying through the thin trees beyond our back fence. I was convinced he was spying on me as I sloppily raked leaves or deposited the trash in the rubbish bin, leaving the lid off out of pure laziness. Indeed, there were days when I was too terrified to venture into my own backyard for fear that the Devil and his minions were lying in wait for me, eager to include yet another bad little girl to their fold. But perhaps my scariest “Satan sighting” of all happened at one of the most unlikely places of all—church.
One Friday afternoon during Lent, as I exited St. Frances de Chantel Holy Roman Catholic Church after my weekly confession, I was sure I saw him lurking just outside the heavy glass doors of our church. Father Anthony had prodded me to search my tenyear-old conscience for graver sins than swearing and punching my sisters. “Honest, Father,” I had stonewalled, “I haven’t done anything else that I can think of.” I neglected to tell him, of course, that I often skipped Mass, regularly ate meat on Fridays (even during Lent), frequently took the Lord’s name in vain, and, oh yes, lied to priests. As I rushed down the church steps that afternoon, skipping out halfway through my ponderous penance, I was certain the Devil was hot on my heels. Hunched in the back of my parents’ old Plymouth station wagon, I fended off terrifying images of Satan’s bony red fingers clutching my ankles and dragging me into his fiery pit. At the ripe old age of ten I was convinced that, as in Dante’s famous inscription, I should abandon all hope. “I’m going to hell,” I thought miserably.
Satan also appeared in my dreams occasionally—his face red, his teeth pointy and yellowed, sneering and breathing long streams of gray smoke through hideously engorged nostrils. He had a twisted horn on either side of his head and a scruffy-looking black goatee. Most frightening of all, he carried a pitchfork, his personal instrument of terror, used to spear bad children like shrimp on a cocktail fork. Petrified for weeks after one of these Satan sightings, I learned to never, ever sleep with my back to the bedroom door for fear that the Devil might catch me unawares.
Mobley also has his story:
In my nightmare, the most vivid dream of my life, I was watching television with my feet dangling over the edge of the living room couch. The Devil grabbed my feet and began pulling me into the chasm between the department store sofa and the bare wood floor. I could not get any purchase on the slick vinyl and was descending, kicking and screaming, into hell. I could see my savior, my paternal grandmother, in the adjacent kitchen, but even she, the adult in my world most powerful in love, seemed blind and dumb to my plight. I must have been about seven or eight. For the rest of my childhood, I crouched on top of that couch, legs bent at the knees, a clenched-up ball of vigilance against the Adversary, who as a roaring lion prowled about suburban domestic crawl spaces, seeking whom he may devour.
From the very first recorded stories written or even told by humans, the idea has been that there are two great opposing forces controlling, or vying for control of, man’s destiny, his heart and his soul. One is generally considered to be Good, Light, Order - it goes under many names - the other Evil, Darkness, Chaos and so on. Because our ancestors were so convinced that higher beings had charge of their lives, most likely because we were unwilling or unable to take responsibility for our own failings, and refused to accept the basic lack of fairness in the world we saw around us, and there was so much we were not equipped to make sense of or understand, both these forces had to have, if you will, generals; beings that marshalled the forces of either Good or Evil and directed and regulated our lives in the direction that suited them.
This didn’t mean that “Good” gods always did “good” things. They could be as capricious and as unfeeling and heartless as the blackest demon. But the belief was that if you kept the gods on-side, as it were - performed your sacrifices, said your prayers, attended church/temple, led a good life and didn’t anger them - then you would probably be all right. To our forefathers, the only people the gods punished were people who deserved it, who had displeased them in some way. But overall, the gods were good as long as you didn’t piss them off. As for the embodiment of evil, well, now that was a totally different matter.
You see, the gods were generally, as has been outlined above, gods of order, gods of fruitful women and plentiful harvests (or is that the other way around?) and wanted to be good to us. They were seen as our parents, high in the sky, looking down on us - hopefully in approval - and watching over us, guiding our steps and keeping us on the right path. Of course, we were their children and so when he stepped out of line we had to be punished, but our ancestors accepted this and knew it was necessary. The dark one, though, wasn’t at all interested in that. He, in fact (almost always personified as a male, which is no surprise as few of the pantheons, as I mentioned in my Of Gods and Men journal, had many goddesses who actually did anything or had much power, with a few exceptions) wanted us to be bad. He was the natural enemy of the gods, the wreaker of chaos on order, the reaver, the destroyer, the angry and petulant one who would destroy us just for the fun. We needed to keep well away from him.
But he was a god, of sorts, too, and we were mere mortals, so we needed protection from him. That protection came, of course, from the gods, and we sacrificed and prayed and led good lives and honoured and revered them in the hope they would keep us safe from evil. It’s even in one of our own Christian prayers, an actual plea to keep us safe from dark forces. That doesn’t come for free though, and like the gangsters walking into shops and clubs and “accidentally” knocking something over or setting something on fire, that shield would only be deployed in return for payment, in the case of the Christian God, blind and unswerving faith and obedience. In earlier times, it might be a blood, even a human sacrifice, the building of a statue or temple, the naming of a child, the undertaking of a pilgrimage or a hundred other concessions to the celestial Mafia.
The major problem here was that the Devil, like the gods, were pure inventions pulled out of man’s own head, and in reality there was no way to protect yourself from the Devil, because he was inside you. When it gets right down to it, the Devil is nothing more than the physical manifestation of the fears, doubts, passions and indeed the violence and evil inside us all, and nobody can protect you from yourself. That old excuse - the Devil made me do it - it don’t wash, son. It don’t wash. It’s just humanity again abrogating responsibility for the things it has done with which it can’t reconcile itself.
But none of that really concerns us. For the purposes of this journal, and entertainment, we’re going to assume the Devil is real. Not real real, but an actual presence, a being, a god. If we accept the existence of other gods, then it’s not too hard to envisage a dark one working against them, and when we look around and see the state of the world now - a state that has progressively worsened over time but which was, in truth, never that great (no “golden age” for humanity, no matter what people thought at the time, has ever existed, and probably never will) - it’s not hard to believe that the evil we see is controlled, orchestrated and driven by forces beyond our ken.
It’s not. It’s just us. But again, away with such details.
So to return to our original premise, if there were two great forces (for the sake of simplicity -and it is simplistic but never mind - let’s refer to them from now on as Good and Evil) fighting over our souls, then there had to be two great powers driving them. And on the side of evil, its commander, president, general, dictator, call it what you will, was the Devil.
Another reason why the Devil, or his agency, evil, came into being as it were has to do with the belief that god(s) is/are good, and that everything he/they make should by default be good too, but we found and continue to find this is not the case. How many times have you heard someone say (or said yourself) “How can God allow this to happen?” Answer: he doesn’t. He is being thwarted by the Devil, who is out to destroy and warp and corrupt his creation. Much easier to come to that conclusion than accept that we flawed human beings are not worthy (if a god exists who created us) of the wonderful things we have been given, and that we destroy everything we touch. It’s not our fault. Oh no. It’s him. The Devil. He’s the one. He’s evil, he is.
Trollheart: Signature-free since April 2018
|06-08-2021, 08:25 PM||#3 (permalink)|
Born to be mild
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: 404 Not Found
Snaking into our consciousness: Scales of evil and the origins of the Devil
Before Christianity there was Judaism, and the Jewish religion is where the Christian concept of the Devil, at least for western civilisation, comes, but that was based on writings by one of the most ancient peoples known to us, the Babylonians. They existed almost two thousand years before the birth of Christ, and even they were a fledgling compared to their forebears, the Sumerians, who flourished around about 3,500 BC. But while the Sumerians had their gods of course, and dark ones too - one who ruled the underworld, as in most mythologies - they don’t seem to have had an actual evil one, a concept, if you will, of what we came to know as the Devil. The area of Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq and Syria) provided the backdrop for both civilisations, and the Babylonians gave us the legend of Tiamat, the huge female dragon who fought against Ba’al at the creation of the world. Interestingly, if we take this as being the first real example of the Devil, then originally Satan was female.
Tiamat was taken by the Jewish scholars and transformed into Leviathan, whom we read of in the Bible: 'In that day the Lord with his sore and great and strong sword shall punish Leviathan, the piercing serpent, even Leviathan, the crooked serpent; and he shall slay the Dragon that is in the sea' (Isaiah 27:1) A point to note here is, as discussed by me in other journals, the original dragon seems to have been a serpent, leading inevitably to the slithery one’s gatecrashing the first ever Garden Party, which ended with all guests being booted out.
But from the writings of the Babylonians as transcribed and adapted by the Hebrew rabbis, already Tiamat/Leviathan is a symbol of evil. Also a creature of great power. Well, it would have to be, wouldn’t it? An evil bug or stick insect or whelk wouldn’t exactly pose any threat to humanity. But God makes no bones about it in the Book of Job, found in the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible, when he says "Behold, the hope of him is in vain; shall not one be cast down even at the sight of him?" (Job 41: 1- 44)
By the time we get to Jewish writings, like the Book of Enoch, the serpent has become a dragon, possibly to differentiate it from the serpent in the Garden of Eden, and has been joined by Behemoth, a land monster, both of which are fated to be killed and “served up to the righteous” at Judgement Day. Here’s what God has to say about his other chaos creation, again in the Book of Job: Behold, Behemoth, which I made as I made you; he eats grass like an ox.
Behold, his strength in his loins, and his power in the muscles of his belly.
He makes his tail stiff like a cedar; the sinews of his thighs are knit together.
His bones are tubes of bronze, his limbs like bars of iron.
He is the first of the works of God; let him who made him bring near his sword!
For the mountains yield food for him where all the wild beasts play.
Under the lotus plants he lies, in the shelter of the reeds and in the marsh.
For his shade the lotus trees cover him; the willows of the brook surround him.
Behold, if the river is turbulent he is not frightened; he is confident though Jordan rushes against his mouth.
Can one take him by his eyes, or pierce his nose with a snare?
(Job, 40: 15-24)
But of course, when you’re dealing with something as ancient, intricate and complex as the origins of the Devil - one might say, the very origins of evil itself - that’s only half the story. For the other half, we have to look east, to the ancient kingdom of Persia, modern day Iran, and its greatest religious leader, who founded a whole system of belief based on the concepts of good and evil in a way nobody else had considered up to then.
Zoroaster (anywhere from 1700 BC to 550 BC)
As you can work out from the above, nobody has any real idea when he lived, or indeed exactly where, though it’s believed he resided on the Iranian Plateau. What is agreed is that he was a prophet, and like most of them, a rebel who challenged established belief in his native land and went against the accepted order, having had an epiphany when he met the god Vohu Manah, a “shining Being” he encountered near a river. Vohu Manah taught him about Ahura Mazda, the creator god of the Persians, and his opposite number, Angra Mainyu, explaining to him the concept of good and bad, or good and evil, or light and dark, or whatever you’re having yourself. He defined them as Asha (order) and Druj (deception). You may be surprised to find (I certainly was) that many of the principle precepts of what is now Christianity, Judaism and Islam - the Abrahamic Religions, as they are known - began with Zoroaster: concepts of good and evil, as I’ve already mentioned, but also Heaven and Hell as places, the resurrection of the body, Judgement Day and the promise of eternal life after death all came from the religion he would establish, which would become the accepted religion of Persia, and would be known as Zoroastrianism.
In a scenario we now recognise as very familiar, Angra Mainyu (possibly, though I can’t confirm, where the word anger comes from?) fights the creator god Ahura Mazda, is cast down out of Heaven with his attendant daevas (demons, but surely one origin of the word devil?) into Hell, where he rules and tries to upset the plans of his enemy. From his base in Hell, Angra Mainyu - also known as Ahriman, one of the many names that would be attributed to the Devil - can go forth into the world of men and seek to corrupt them, and the idea is born of an eternal and endless battle for the soul of humanity played out by these two opposing forces of good and evil. Being seen as good, Ahura Mazda or Ormazd as he is sometimes known is the essence of purity and truth, while Angra Mainyu or Ahriman is the personification of untruth, filth and death, possibly giving rise to our epithet for our Devil, Satan, the Father of Lies. This whole concept of two separate forces though goes against ancient belief.
The Egyptians and other civilisations believed that everything came from the supreme creator god, and so both good and evil were part of him and were gifts from him. Though there are conflicts among the Egyptian gods, none are seen primarily or solely as evil. Even Set, who attacked and killed Osiris, was seen as a powerful creator god, though later, as other influences joined the mythos he was indeed reimagined as an evil, dark, hostile being, the very personification of darkness and evil. As Egyptian pharaohs very often took Jewish slaves, many of whom may have been involved in building structures such as the Sphinx and the Pyramids, the influence of their legends may have leaked into the teachings of later Hebrew texts, and helped to create this evil being who would be known as Satan.
Hinduism, though its pantheon includes gods of darkness and destruction - notably Kali and Shiva - does not hold one particular god or goddess as being evil, as each god is a mirror image of the other, with good and evil to be seen in both. Kail, the destroyer, is the obverse of the mother god who nourishes all things. The Jews seem, from what I can see, to have been the first major race to have postulated, created or decided to follow the principle of there being only one god, a supreme being who did not have other gods under his control; no wife, no sister, no brother. Yahweh says 'I form the Light and create darkness. I make peace and create evil. I, the Lord, do all these things.' (Isaiah, 45:7) however later doubts began to grow. How could Yahweh be God, the great and good, and yet be associated with evil? Surely there was a way to separate the evil from the good?
Jews came under the influence of the Persians during the Babylonian Exile around 600 BC, when King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon forced them into slavery as punishment for the refusal of the King of Judah, Jehoiakim, to pay tribute. First he took nobles captive as well as the slain king’s son Jeconiah, who had succeeded him, back to Babylon, but when Judah again rose against him, this time under the new king’s uncle Zedekiah, Nebuchadnezzar returned and this time burned the city, captured Zedekiah and his sons, had the boys executed in front of their father, who was then blinded and taken prisoner along with “many others” in about 587 BC. The Babylonian Chronicles relates the story:
In the seventh year, in the month of Kislev, the king of Akkad mustered his troops, marched to the Hatti-land, and encamped against the City of Judah and on the ninth day of the month of Adar he seized the city and captured the king. He appointed there a king of his own choice and taking heavy tribute brought it back to Babylon.
It was probably around this period that the ideas of Zoroastrianism discussed above made their way into Jewish belief as a handy way to, as it were, account for God’s having created evil. Now it was not he who brought evil, but his Adversary, his Enemy, whom Hebrew texts would soon name as Satan, the Accuser or Adversary. Now God had an antagonist against whom he struggled on behalf of man, and the whole Fall of Satan story was copied-and-pasted into the early Jewish texts, amended, of course, as they saw fit. In terms of the Abrahamic religions at any rate, Satan had been born. The Devil had arrived.
So Satan became the enemy, both of God and man, the one who tempted, the one who tried to corrupt, the one who was against all God’s works and wished to destroy them, including what was seen as his greatest creation, man. Believers no longer had to struggle to understand the worrying duality of God, in whom originally good and evil had resided equally. Now, the evil had been surgically, or theologically excised from the bright flesh of God, and he was pure and good, the evil being essentially formed into a mass and fashioned into what we know now as the Devil. While Kabbalah, a school of thought in Jewish mysticism, held to the notion that God was good and evil, and from his right hand proceeded all that was good while from his left came death and destruction, and that his left hand separated itself and became evil, the accepted origin of evil codified itself in the story of the Great Fall, which romanticised the idea of Satan and gave much fodder to writers such as Milton, Virgil and Dante.
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|06-11-2021, 04:00 AM||#4 (permalink)|
Born to be mild
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It may be surprising, given how long ago Zoaraster created his religion and related the original tale of War in Heaven to his followers, that it was only(!) written down in Jewish belief from about 200 BC. The Book of Enoch, one of the Jewish Apocryphal books, tells us of the disobedience of the angel Lucifer, whose followers, like him, descended to Earth and lay with mortal women, and who, when berated by God for such actions, rebelled against him, culminating in the great War of Heaven. I personally have never read, nor had nor have any urge to read the Bible, but I am somewhat surprised to find that (according to O’Grady in The Prince of Darkness) the story of the Fall is not there. It’s in the Jewish Apocryphal Books, as I said above, but not considered religious orthodoxy and so not in the Bible. I have, however, read Paradise Lost, and so I know the gist of the story, though I expect Milton took a few liberties and exercised artistic licence with his version.
The story though of the rebellion, though it ended in defeat for Satan and his allies, does show how the Devil immediately became a figure for revolt and resistance, the archetypal teenager shouting at his constricting parent “I hate this place!” and being summarily kicked out. Yes, that’s very simplistic, but you can see how kids chafing under what they would see as their parents’ unfair restrictions on them would identify with the original rebel and seek to emulate him, and conversely, why any God-fearing parent at that time would warn their rebelling child that they were imperilling their soul by going against the commandment given by God, thou shalt honour thy father and thy mother. So the Devil becomes both a rallying-call and role model for rebellious, restless youth and a shadowy, dangerous influence over their children for parents, the very thing that if they’re not careful will corrupt their sons and daughters and condemn them to Hell. Indeed.
In the Book of the Secrets of Enoch, God makes no bones about how rebels are to be dealt with, when he says of Satan (who is here named Satanel) 'One of these in the ranks of Archangels ... entertained the impossible idea ... that he should be equal in rank i~ my power. And I hurled him from the heights.' So much for a merciful God then. In another of the Apocryphal Books, The Book of the Twelve Patriarchs, the Fallen Angel is called Belial. He offers mankind a choice, choose your side: 'Do you choose light or darkness, the Law of the Lord or the works of Belial?' In yet another one, the Book of the Jubilees, he is called Sammael, but eventually from the name Satanel Hebrew theologians decide on the name Satan, which means the Adversary, and though he holds and answers to many other names, it is to this one we will return most when we think, write or speak of him.
The Fall of Satan, or Lucifer, is of course mirrored in the Fall of Man, when the dark one tempts them in the Garden of Eden, and persuades Eve to taste of the forbidden Tree of Knowledge. God, possibly thinking “does nobody listen to a word I say? Not this again! What is it with kids?” or possibly not, loses it in fine Old Testament fury and exiles the first man and the first woman from Paradise. Satan, in the form of the serpent, exults: his plan has begun to work. Evil has come into the world, and he will be able to capitalise on and expand its influence through his workings. As God has given man free will, he cannot command his creation not to listen to Satan; that is his choice, and many will opt to do so, as the blandishments whispered in their ears will be better received and promise finer things than the slavish obedience to and worship of God can possibly provide.
Another thing that had come into the world, as we all know from being taught it in school and at mass, was death. While in Eden, Adam and Eve were, it seems, basically immortal, as was everything around them - animals, trees, grass, and so on. Only when they were exiled from the Garden was death allowed to have sway over them, as a power of Satan, and as he had been responsible for their hasty exit through the gates of Eden, it was within his gift to shorten and threaten the lives of men and beasts with the power of death. Man had given up his right to immortality along with his innocence by disobeying God, and if he died now, well, he just had better not come crying to Heaven. Assuming that was where he was bound.
The story of Christ’s being tempted in the desert by Satan is taken, at least in part, from the story of the Buddha, who, sitting under the Bo tree, waiting to attain enlightenment, is approached by the evil spirit Mara, also known as Varsavati (“he who fulfils desire”), who attempts to persuade him to give up the search and embrace the pleasures of the world. As in the later Bible, the Buddha tells Mara to get bent, and achieves Nirvana. But from these texts, written about the sixth century BC, we see Satan (Mara) portrayed as a tempter, a persuader, one who will try to sway the course of holy men and turn them to the path of sin. In the fourth or fifth century BC collection of Buddhist ethical verse, the Dhammapada, Mara is described as 'He who is looking for pleasure only, his senses uncontrolled . . . Mara will certainly overthrow, as the wind throws down a feeble tree.'
This idea that man must always struggle to overcome his base desires, turn his back on the pleasures of the flesh, of the pursuit of wealth or glory, is central to both Buddhist teachings and those of the Christian and Jewish faith. All imply humility, subservience and abstinence as the way to go if you want to attain enlightenment or be welcomed into the Kingdom of Heaven. So it’s easy to see why Satan is so successful in tempting mortals from this path of righteousness: few people like to deny themselves the pleasures of this world and all it can offer, and Satan winks and says hey, you don’t have to. This naturally makes him a more attractive prospect than God, who demands you toe the line and be a good boy or girl, or else. If there’s a carrot and stick thing going on here, it’s probably not too far from the truth to say that God holds the stick while his Adversary waves the carrot in our direction.
As Zoroastrian teachings influenced the captive Jews, so did Buddhism make its impact on Zoroaster, who imported and included the idea of Mara the Tempter into his religion, thus giving the Jews, and later the Christians, a Devil who was both an Enemy of God and a tempter of man. Now, men and women who sinned could be, not excused but their behaviour explained by saying they had literally been tempted by the Devil. To a large degree, though there were terrible punishments for breaking commandments, people weren’t so much held responsible for these acts as was Satan, leading of course later to the idea of demonic possession, where the Devil physically manifested his presence through the control of mortals who either did his will or spouted obscenities and showed how God’s wonderful creation, man, could be twisted and warped into purposes for which it had not been made.
Not much point in being the Tempter, though, if you don’t have anything to tempt with, and the Devil has everything. All the material comforts of the world, all the women, or men, or both, all the riches, all the power, all the glory. Whatever you want, if it can be gained in life the Devil can get it for you. Of course, he won’t do that for free, therefore this would lead, much later, to the idea in literature of the bargain or deal with the devil, wherein one’s heart’s desire could be had for the low, low price of one’s soul. The Devil’s interest in human souls, Hell and damnation, are all part of his desire to thwart and oppose God, and we’ll look at those in greater detail later. Right now what it would be prudent to remember is that epithet I spoke of earlier, remember? Satan is the Father of Lies; nothing he says can be trusted or taken on face value, so if you make a pact with him, the chances are, like the djinn of the later Arabian Nights and other tales, you will find yourself cheated some way. One thing the Devil does not do is play fair, and the dice are always loaded in his favour.
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