Satan as the Underdog Hero

When reading the Bible, I always saw Satan as sort of the underdog hero of the story. You have to read very closely of course – the devil is in the details.

Let’s start at the very beginning. In the Genesis story, God creates Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Among the many plants in the garden, God places the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

God then tells Adam and Eve not to eat of these two special trees.

Now here’s the rub: we’ve established that Adam and Eve have no knowledge of good and evil at this point. Right? I mean that’s the whole point of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil – to give them knowledge that they do not yet possess. This is also explained by them not being ashamed of being naked until after they eat from the tree.

Thus, if Adam and Eve have no knowledge of good and evil, then how can they be expected to know that it is right (or good) to follow God’s request and wrong (or evil) to disobey? They don’t have that knowledge yet!

“Knowledge forbidden?
Suspicious, reasonless. Why should their Lord
Envy them that? Can it be a sin to know?
Can it be death?”

– Lucifer in John Milton’s Paradise Lost[1]

Similarities Between Satan and Prometheus

In other words, Satan here can be seen as the giver of Knowledge[2]. Compare this to the Greek story of Promethius, who stole fire from the gods and gave it to us mortals. The theme of both stories is that a powerful being stole something from the gods (knowledge or fire) to help humanity to advance.

Appropriately, the Latin  word “Lucifer” translates to “Morning Star” (a possible nod to Venus). But when used as an adjective, “Lucifer” can be used to mean “light-bringer”, which is essentially what both beings did: Lucifer, by bringing humanity to the light, and Prometheus, by literally bringing humanity a light source.

Another possible correlation (though it may be a stretch) is that Prometheus was punished by Zeus by being bound to a rock and having an eagle (Zeus’s symbol) swoop down and munch on  Prometheus’ liver – which would promptly grow back – each day for eternity.

Interestingly enough, Satan was punished by God by being forced to slither on his belly like a snake(Genesis 3:14), which is a known prey to eagles.

A perhaps more obvious correlation between the stories is how humanity was punished for their new gifts.

Initially, Adam is punished by being forced to work the land for his food and Eve was punished with painful childbirth. But as a further implication, Adam and Eve are believed by many to be responsible for original sin. Similarly, Zeus punished humanity for Promethius’ gift by having Hephaistos create Pandora, the first woman, who is known for unleashing evil unto the world.

Death By Satan

It’s also important to note that the only people Satan is said to have killed were Job’s family and servants – and only after being told to do so by God. Meanwhile, God is responsible for countless of billions of deaths all throughout the Bible.

For that matter, Satan even tried to feed Jesus when he saw that he was starving. I mean, okay Jesus was only fasting, but why is the Bible so quick to shit all over Satan? I swear, the man can’t do anything right by y’all!

At any rate, I simply cannot see Satan as a violent monster as I feel many make him out to be. At worst, he might be a bit of a trickster entity, like Enki or Loki. Appropriately, Prometheus was also considered a big trickster. Some folks just can’t take a little joke here and there apparently.

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Notes:

[1] Obviously Paradise Lost is not Biblical cannon. But it is some of the most beautiful poetry out there. Also, considering that Milton was a friar, I think it’s safe to say he was well informed with his tales. At the very least I think we could consider it a supreme work of fan fiction, if not a revered part of the Extended Universe.

[2] While the serpent in Genesis is not immediately related to Satan, it is in Revelation 12:9 and 20:2. Though obviously the significant distance (both space and time-wise) between the supporting passages puts some doubt that the serpent of the Creation Story was ever intended to be known as Satan, the correlation is nevertheless widely-held all throughout Christian literature.

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Of Satanism and Paganism

Okay, let me start this off by saying that no, Pagans do not worship the devil. They don’t even believe in a devil. So with that knowledge, you’re probably asking “what do Satanists and Pagans have in common then?” I’m so glad you asked!

Various verses in the Bible equate the worship of Pagan gods with the worship of Satan (Deuteronomy 32:16-17; Psalms 106:35-38; and 1 Corinthians 10:20 for instance). It’s kind of a rude thing to do – to claim that anyone believing differently must be worshiping evil.

But now the question we must ask is: Is Satan really evil?

It probably sounds like a ridiculous question – even a blasphemous one – to most people. Just calm down though. Take a breath and hear me out here.

Pan

pan-whistling-at-a-blackbird-1863
Pan whistling at a blackbird, 1863 – Arnold Böcklin

Consider for a moment where the popular depictions of Satan come from. If you’ll notice, Satan generally is portrayed with goat hind legs and horns. Does this sound familiar to you? It should! Because it’s a complete rip-off of Pan, the Greek god of nature and music. And it turns out Footloose was right: music does indeed lead to dancing! Because Pan hung out with the nymphs who were known for their dances.

In other words, Pan embodied everything the Christians despised: nature, music, and dancing. Additionally, despite being a minor god, Pan was very popular among the Greeks, making him a broad scapegoat.

Ba’al Zebub

Ba’al Zebub literally translates to “Lord of the Flies”. Weird name for a god, right? Ba’al Zebub was a Canaanite god (present day Palestine), referred to in the Bible as the god of Ekron (2 Kings 1:16).

The meaning of his name is thought to refer to his ability to control flies: either by driving them out, or by leading them into places, or perhaps a combination of the two. Note that it was plenty common to refer to gods by the pests that the people wanted the god to relieve them of. For instance, Apollo was sometimes referred to as Apollo Smintheus (“Apollo of mice”) when he was called upon to drive mice out of a city.

Another consideration is that Ba’al Zebub (“Lord of the Flies”) may have been modified from Ba’al Zebul (“Lord of the High House” or “Lord of the Heavens”), in order to vilify him. Alternatively Ba’al Zebul could have been called Ba’al Zebub when called upon to get rid of flies (or possibly to get rid of diseases that flies were commonly associated with). Either way, this Ba’al was a proper god and in no way a demon.

Ishtar

Ishtar (pronounce it “Easter” and I will dive through this screen and end you) was the Babylonian goddess of sex and fertility, associated with the planet Venus (and a precursor to the Greek Aphrodite and Roman Venus).

Being associated with the planet Venus, Ishtar was commonly referred to as “Evening Star” and “Morning Star” (since Venus appears as a bright star just before sunrise, and again right after sunset). As Evening Star, she brought sex and love, and as Morning Star, she brought war.

You’ll notice that Lucifer is also referred to commonly throughout the Bible as “Morning Star” (some translations use “Day Star”). Jesus is also sometimes referred to as “Morning Star” (2 Pet. 1:19). This has led to some confusion. A common explanation is that “Morning Star” in the Bible denoted a title rather than an identity. After all, Lucifer was initially an angel and considered to be the “light bringer” (from the Greek Phosphoros).

So it’s quite possible that the title “Morning Star” was simply transferred from Lucifer to Jesus after Lucifer fell (alternatively, maybe they’re the same person – I’ll write on that later). Note, however, that Lucifer was the only being I recall being referred to as the Morning Star in the Hebrew Bible and I don’t know of any instance in the Hebrew Bible where the prophesied Messiah was referred to as “Morning Star” (please correct me if I simply missed something). So it’s pretty clear that Lucifer was a blatant representation of Ishtar and that the whole Jesus equals Morning Star thing was some obscure afterthought.

Ishtar was also a common symbol of temple prostitution, which you can imagine the Christians were not too fond of. Christians were so not fond of this, in fact, that she is referred to repeatedly as the “Whore of Babylon” in Revelation (Namely, Revelation 17:1-18). The “Whore” in these passages is associated heavily with the Beast.

Conclusion

There are numerous more possible examples of the demonizing of Pagan gods by the Church. In fact, the terms “pagan” and “satanic” easily refer to the same things: “pagan” was initially a pejorative term for any religion that wasn’t Abrahamic.

People didn’t actually begin self identifying as pagan until the 19th Century Neo-Pagans as a countermovement to industrialization. Meanwhile, Wicca didn’t come about until Gerald Gardner in the 1940s.

In other words, the demonizing of “pagan” beliefs was essentially a vast smear campaign against everyone different from the Abrahamic systems (to be fair, most religions demonized other religions; Christians were just the most efficient).

The term “satanism” was used identically. People didn’t begin self identifying as Satanist until 1966 with Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan. Prior to that, “satanists” were just anyone that the Church didn’t like – to include even fellow Christian groups like the Knights Templar, who were accused of worshiping some guy named Baphomet (they didn’t). LaVey later decided to use the term as a means of embracing outsider status and revering what “satanic” gods like Pan represented (namely, self indulgence).

So pagans and satanists in the pejorative sense were used to refer to the same people. Meanwhile, modern self-identified Pagans and Satanists refer to different beliefs that draw off similar “pagan” literature to find archetypes for different principles (except that Neo-Pagans and Wiccans tend to be more spiritual while Satanists can sometimes be seen as adversarial for the sake of being adversarial).