A name derived from the Greek diabolos, meaning ‘‘slanderer.’’
The name is used for the supreme spirit of evil, the enemy
of God and man, also known as Satan (or ‘‘adversary’’) in Mat.
48–11 and Rev. 129.
The idea of Satan was most fully developed in postapostolic
Christianity, but as the personification of evil, Satan has many
precursors and analogous representations in other religions.
Possibly the clearest precursor was Set (or Seth), the antagonist
of the Egyptian god of light, Horus. Set was the deity of the desert;
Horus, of the life-giving Nile. Set’s color was red, and redhaired
and ruddy-complected people were on occasion sacrificed
because they were identified with him.
Devereux, George Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
In early polygamous religious systems, the gods were pictured
in quite human terms, possessing both admirable and detestable
attributes at the same time. Very few of them were seen
as evil like the devils in Christianity or Islam. In Egypt and
Babylon, figures like Apepi and Tiawath, although clearly in
the line of evolution toward a satanic personality, were by no
means rulers of the infernal regions. Again, the Hades of the
Greeks is merely a ruler of the ghosts of the dead, not an enemy
of Olympus or of mankind.
It is strange that in Mexico, Mictlantecutli, lord of hell, is a
much more directly satanic figure than any European or Asiatic
ruler of the realms of the dead. But in some mythologies, there
are frequent allusions to monsters that may quite easily have
colored the modern concept of Satan. Such is the Hindu serpent
Ahi, the Hebrew Leviathan, and the principle of Chaos.
Teutonic mythology has the menacing Loki, originally a god of
fire, but afterward the personification of evil.
The concept of Satan, too, appears to have some deeply
rooted connection with ancient serpent worship, which seems
to have penetrated most Oriental countries. Thus we find the
Tempter in the Old Testament (Gen. 3) in the guise of a serpent.
The serpent or dragon is generally regarded as the personification
of night, who swallows the sun and envelops the
world in darkness.
It is generally thought that the Hebrew concept of Satan
really developed in the postexilic period, though Satan is a
major character in the Book of Job, one of the earliest Hebrew
writings, and exhibits traces of Babylonian or Assyrian influence.
It is unlikely that before the captivity any specific doctrine
respecting evil spirits was held by the Hebrews. Writing on this
subject, F. T. Hall in his book The Pedigree of the Devil (1883)
‘‘The term ‘Satan’ and ‘Satans’ which occur in the Old Testament,
are certainly not applicable to the modern conception of
Satan as a spirit of evil; although it is not difficult to detect in
the Old Hebrew mind a fruitful soil, in which the idea, afterwards
evolved, would readily take root. The original idea of a
‘Satan’ is that of an ‘adversary,’ or agent of ‘opposition.’ The
angel which is said to have withstood Balaam is in the same
breath spoken of as ‘The angel of the Lord,’ and a ‘Satan.’
When the Philistines under Achish their king were about to
commence hostilities against the Israelites under Saul and
David and his men were about to march with the Philistines; the
latter objected, lest, in the day of battle, David should become
a ‘Satan’ to them, by deserting to the enemy. When David, in
later life, was returning to Jerusalem, after Absalom’s rebellion
and death; and his lately disaffected subjects were, in turn,
making their submission; amongst them came the truculent
Shimei; Abishai, David’s nephew, one of the fierce sons of
Zeruiah, advised that Shimei should be put to death this grated
upon David’s feelings, at a time when he was filled with exuberant
joy at his own restoration; and he rebuked Abishai as a
‘Satan.’ Again Satan is said to have provoked David to number
Israel, and at the same time, that ‘the Lord moved David to
number Israel;‘ a course strenuously opposed by Joab, another
of the sons of Zeruiah. Solomon in his message to Hiram, king
of Tyre, congratulated himself on having no ‘Satans’ and that
this peaceful immunity from discord enabled him to build the
Temple, which had been forbidden to his warlike father, David.
This immunity was not, however, lasting; for Hadad, the Edomite,
and Regon, of Zobah, became ‘Satans’ to Solomon, after his
profuse luxury had opened the way for corruption and disaffection.
In all these cases, the idea is simply identical with the plain
meaning of the word a Satan is an opponent, an adversary. In
the elaborate curse embodied in the 109th Psalm, the writer
speaks of his enemies as his ‘Satans’ and prays that the object
of his anathema may have ‘Satan’ standing at his right hand.
The Psalmist himself, in the sequel, fairly assumes the office of
his enemy’s ‘Satan,’ by enumerating his crimes and failings,
and exposing them in their worst light. In the 71st Psalm, enemies
(v. 10) are identified with ‘Satans’ or adversaries (v. 13).
‘‘The only other places in the Old Testament where the
word occurs, are in the Book of Job, and the prophecy of Zechariah.
In the Book of Job, Satan appears with a distinct personality,
and is associated with the sons of God, and in attendance
with them before the throne of Jehovah. He is the cynical critic
of Job’s actions, and in that character he accuses him of insincerity
and instability; and receives permission from Jehovah to
test the justice of this accusation, by afflicting Job in everything
he holds dear. We have here the spy, the informer, the public
prosecutor, the executioner; all embodied in Satan, the adversary
these attributes are not amiable ones, but the writer does
not suggest the absolute antagonism between Jehovah and
Satan, which is a fundamental dogma of modern Christianity.’’
In later Judaism the concept of Satan is strongly colored by
Persian dualism, and it has been supposed that Asmodeus of
the Book of Tobit is the same as Aeshara Daewa of the ancient
Persians. Both ‘‘Satan’’ and ‘‘Satans’’ are mentioned in the Book
of Enoch; in Ecclesiasticus, Satan is identified with the serpent
of Genesis; and in the Book of the Secrets of Enoch his revolt
against God and expulsion from heaven are described. In the
Jewish Targinn, Samael, highest of the angels, merges with
Satan into a single personality.
Satan in the Christian New Testament clearly builds on
these later Jewish forms. In Matthew he is alluded to as the
‘‘Prince of Demons,’’ and in Ephesians he is spoken of as ruling
over a world of evil beings who dwell in the lower heavens. Thus
he is prince of the powers of the air. In Revelation the war in
heaven between God and Satan is described, and Satan’s imprisonment
is foreshadowed after the overthrow of the Beast
and the kings of the earth; he will be chained in the bottomless
pit for 1,000 years (Rev. 20). After another period of freedom
he will be cast into the lake of brimstone forever.
The orthodox doctrine of Satan developed over a number
of centuries. Satan as an independent topic of theological inquiry
was not prominent. Christ was seen as gaining the victory
over Satan and his kingdom, and only in the early Middle Ages
did theologians turn their attention to a consideration of
Satan’s continuing influence in the world. Over the centuries
a complete picture of Satan and his cohorts would grow, and
with his emergence would come a new appreciation of the
devil’s continued active opposition to the church.
A major step in the definition of Satan occurred in the late
fifteenth century with the new definition of witchcraft—
previously understood as a surviving remnant of paganism—as
Satanism, (i.e., devil worship). During the three centuries of
the great witch-hunts, the devil was assigned a new and significant
role as the supernatural cause of evil in the mundane
world. That belief was not disturbed by the Reformation of the
sixteenth century, and the Protestants shared Roman Catholic
ideas about the devil and his demonic assistants. These beliefs
were assailed in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century critiques
of the anti-witchcraft crusades and in the post-Enlightenment
theologies of the nineteenth century. Supernatural explanations
of evil gave way to more natural interpretations.
Modern Belief in Satan
Of course, belief in the existence and power of Satan never
disappeared, and in the 1960s various forces converged to produce
a revival of belief in the devil. In the 1960s conservative
Protestantism, which had been pushed out of the power centers
of the major denominations in the 1930s, experienced a resurgence.
At the same time, Western culture was undergoing a
quantum leap in religious pluralism. New religions appeared
in significant numbers, among them a new nature-oriented religion
that took the name witchcraft.
In 1966 Anton LaVey announced the formation of the
Church of Satan. Though he preached a very sanitized and secularized
form of Satanism, and he never had more than a few
thousand followers, the very existence of public Satanists provided
a prominent symbol used by conservative Christians to
argue for the existence of supernatural evil.
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Devil
The 1970s became a decade of popular attention to issues
of supernatural evil and the work of the devil. Several movies,
including Rosemary’s Baby (1968), The Exorcist (1973), and The
Omen (1976) helped define an era in which public discourse on
Satan and Satanism reached a new peak, and numerous books
on Satan, demonic possession, exorcism, and devil worship
were published. The fashionable interest in Satan faded, only
to breed a pop-culture interest in demonic creatures such as
vampires, werewolves, witches, poltergeists, and gremlins. Interest
in supernatural forces and beings lasted throughout the
remainder of the twentieth century, but during the 1990s angels
and positive light forces were vogue in western culture.
The devil continues to hold the modern imagination, however,
and belief in the existence of Satan continues in the general
public. In reality, exorcism is still practiced in both conservative
Roman Catholic circles and Pentecostal Protestant churches.
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