The Devil (Greek: διάβολος or diábolos = ‘slanderer’ or ‘accuser’ ) is believed in many religions andcultures to be a powerful, supernatural entity that is the personification of evil and the enemy of God and humankind. The nature of the role varies greatly. It ranges from being an effective opposite force to the creator god at one extreme, where both are locked in an eons long holy war for human souls on what may seem even terms (to the point of dualistic ditheism/bitheism), to being just a comical figure of fun or even an abstract aspect of the individual human condition at the other.
Whilst mainstream Judaism contains no overt concept of a devil, Christianity and Islam have variously regarded the Devil as a rebellious fallen angel or demon that tempts humans to sin, if not commit evildeeds himself. In these religions – particularly during periods of division or external threat – the Devil has assumed more of a dualistic status commonly associated with heretics, infidels, and other unbelievers. As such, the Devil is seen as an allegory that represents a crisis of faith, individualism, free will,wisdom and enlightenment.
The Temptation of Christ Ary Scheffer, 1854
In mainstream Christianity, God and the Devil are usually portrayed as fighting over the souls of humans, with the Devil seeking to lure people away from God and into Hell. The Devil commands a force of evil spirits, commonly known as demons The Hebrew Bible (or Old Testament) describes the Adversary (Ha-satan) as an angel who instigates tests upon humankind. Many other religions have a trickster or tempter figure that is similar to the Devil. Modern conceptions of the Devil include the concept that it symbolizes humans’ own lower nature or sinfulness.
People put the concept of the Devil to use in social and political conflicts, claiming that their opponents are influenced by the Devil or even willingly supporting the Devil. The Devil has also been used to explain why others hold beliefs that are considered to be false and ungodly.
Devils – a fresco detail from the Rila Monastery
Devil is a synonym for Satan / Ha-Satan, which descends from the Middle English devel, from Old English dēofol, that in turn represents an early Germanic borrowing of Latin diabolus (also the source of “diabolical”). This in turn was borrowed from Ancient Greek diábolos (διάβολος), “slanderer”, from diaballein “to slander”: dia- “across, through” + ballein “to hurl”. In the New Testament, “Satan” occurs more than 30 times in passages alongside diábolos (Ancient Greek for “the devil”), referring to the same person or thing as Satan.
Accounts in the Abrahamitic Religions
Depiction of the Devil as seen in the Codex Gigas.
In mainstream Judaism there is no concept of a devil like in mainstream Christianity or Islam. Texts make no direct link between the serpentthat tempts Eve in the Garden of Eden from Genesis and references to a Satan in the first book of Chronicles and in Job In Hebrew, the biblical word ha-satan (השָׂטָן) means “the adversary” or the obstacle, or even “the prosecutor” (recognizing that God is viewed as the ultimateJudge). As much as the Devil exists in any form of Judaism, his role is as an adversary and an accuser which is assigned rather than assumed.
The Apocrypha are religious writings which are not generally accepted as scripture by Judaism and many modern-day Protestant sects ofChristianity. In the Book of Wisdom, the devil is represented as the one who brought death into the world.
The Baphomet, adopted symbol of some Left-Hand Path systems, including Theistic Satanism.
The 2nd Book of Enoch, also called the Slavonic Book of Enoch, contains references to a Watcher Grigori called Satanael It is apseudepigraphic text of an uncertain date and unknown authorship. The text describes Satanael as being the prince of the Grigori who was cast out of heaven and an evil spirit who knew the difference between what was “righteous” and “sinful A similar story is found in the book of 1 Enoch; however, in that book, the leader of the Grigori is called Semjâzâ.
In the apocryphal literature, Satan rules over a host of angels. Mastema, who induced God to test Abraham through the sacrifice of Isaac, is identical with Satan in both name and nature.
For the Chasidic Jews of the eighteenth century, Ha-satan was Baal Davar. The Book of Enoch contains references to Satariel, thought also to be Sataniel and Satan’el (etymology dating back to Babylonian origins). The similar spellings mirror that of his angelic brethren Michael,Raphael, Uriel and Gabriel, previous to his expulsion from Heaven.
In mainstream Christianity the Devil is known as Satan and sometimes as Lucifer, although it has been noted that the reference in Isaiah 14:12 to Lucifer, or the Son of the Morning, is a reference to the Babylonian king. Some modern Christians consider the Devil to be an angel who, along with one-third of the angelic host (the demons) rebelled against God and has consequently been condemned to the Lake of Fire. He is described as hating all humanity, or more accurately creation, opposing God, spreading lies and wreaking havoc on the souls of mankind. Other Christians consider the devil in the Bible to refer figuratively to human sin and temptation and to any human system in opposition to God.
Saint Wolfgang and the Devil, by Michael Pacher.
Satan is often identified as the serpent who convinced Eve to eat the forbidden fruit; thus, Satan has often been depicted as a serpent. Though this identification is not present in the Adam and Evenarrative, this interpretation goes back at least as far as the time of the writing of the book of Revelation, which specifically identifies Satan as being the serpent (Rev. 20:2).
In the Bible, the devil is identified with “The dragon” and “the old serpent” in the Book of Revelation12:9, 20:2 have also been identified with Satan, as have “the prince of this world” in the Book of John 12:31, 14:30; “the prince of the power of the air” also called Meririm, and “the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience” in the Book of Ephesians 2:2; and “the god of this world” in2 Corinthians 4:4. He is also identified as the dragon in the Book of Revelation (e.g ), and the tempter of the Gospels
Beelzebub is originally the name of a Philistine god (more specifically a certain type of Baal, fromBa‘al Zebûb, lit. “Lord of Flies”) but is also used in the New Testament as a synonym for Satan. A corrupted version, “Belzeboub,” appears in The Divine Comedy.
In other, non-mainstream, Christian beliefs (e.g. the beliefs of the Christadelphians) the word “satan” in the Bible is not regarded as referring to a supernatural, personal being but to any ‘adversary’ and figuratively refers to human sin and temptation.
In Islam the Devil is referred to as Iblis (Arabic: Shaitan, a word referring to evil devil-like beings). According to the Qur’an, God created Iblis out of “smokeless fire” (along with all of the other jinn) and created man out of clay. The primary characteristic of the Devil, besides hubris, is that he has no power other than the power to cast evil suggestions into the heart of men and women.
According to Muslim theology, Iblis was expelled from the grace of God when he disobeyed God by choosing not to pay homage to Adam, the father of all mankind. He claimed to be superior to Adam, on the grounds that man was created of earth unlike himself. As for the angels, they prostrated before Adam to show their homage and obedience to God. However, Iblis, adamant in his view that man is inferior, and unlike angels was given the ability to choose, made a choice of not obeying God. This caused him to be expelled by God, a fact that Iblis blamed on humanity. Initially, the Devil was successful in deceiving Adam, but once his intentions became clear, Adam and Eve repented to God and were freed from their misdeeds and forgiven. God gave them a strong warning about Iblis and the fires of Hell and asked them and their children (humankind) to stay away from the deceptions of their senses caused by the Devil.
Satan, who in Milton’s Paradise Lost is also called Lucifer, on his way to bring about the downfall of Adam. Gustave Doré’s illustration for Paradise Lost, Book III, lines 739–742 by John Milton.
According to the verses of the Qur’an, the Devil’s mission until the Qiyamah or Resurrection Day (yaum-ul-qiyama) is to deceive Adam’s children (mankind). After that, he will be put into the fires of Hell along with those whom he has deceived. The Devil is also referred to as one of the jinns, as they are all created from the smokeless fire. The Qur’an does not depict Iblis as the enemy of God, as God is supreme over all his creations and Iblis is just one of his creations. Iblis’s single enemy is humanity. He intends to discourage humans from obeying God. Thus, humankind is warned to struggle (jihad) against the mischiefs of the Satan and temptations he puts them in. The ones who succeed in this are rewarded with Paradise (jannath ul firdaus), attainable only by righteous conduct.
In the Bahá’í Faith, a malevolent, superhuman entity such as a devil or satan is not believed to exist. These terms do, however, appear in the Bahá’í writings, where they are used as metaphors for the base nature of man. Human beings are seen to have free will, and are thus able to turn towards God and develop spiritual qualities or turn away from God and become immersed in their self-centered desires. Individuals who follow the temptations of the self and do not develop spiritual virtues are often described in the Bahá’í writings with the word satanic. The Bahá’í writings also state that the devil is a metaphor for the “insistent self” or “lower self” which is a self-serving inclination within each individual. Those who follow their lower nature are also described as followers of “the Evil One”.
Depiction of the Devil interviewing Mayor Hall
An alternate name for the main deity in the tentatively Indo-European pantheon of the Yazidi, Malek Taus, is Shaitan. Rather than Satanic, however, Yazidism is better understood as a remnant of a pre-Islamic Middle Eastern religion, and/or a ghulat Sufi movement founded by Shaykh Adi. The connection with Satan, originally made by Muslim outsiders, attracted the interest of 19th-century European travelers and esoteric writers.
Related Pre-Abrahamitic and Post-Abrahamitic Beliefs
Christian tradition has frequently identified pagan religions and witchcraft with the influence of Satan. In the Early Modern Period, the Church accused alleged witches of consorting and conspiring with Satan. Several modern conservative Christian writers, such as Jack Chick andJames Dobson, have depicted today’s neopagan and witchcraft religions as explicitly Satanic.
Few neopagan reconstructionist traditions recognize Satan or the Devil outright. However, many neopagan groups worship some sort of Horned God, for example as a consort of the Great Goddess in Wicca. These gods usually reflect mythological figures such as Cernunnos or Pan, and any similarity they may have to the Christian Devil seems to date back only to the 19th century, when a Christian reaction to Pan’s growing importance in literature and art resulted in his image being translated to that of the Devil.
New Age movement
llustration by Martin van Maële, of a Witches’ Sabbath, in the 1911 edition of La Sorciere, by Jules Michelet.
Participants in the New Age movement have widely varied views about Satan, the Devil, and so forth. In some forms of Esoteric ChristianitySatan remains as a being of evil, or at least a metaphor for sin and materialism, but the most widespread tendency is to deny his existence altogether. Lucifer, on the other hand, in the original Roman sense of “light-bringer”, occasionally appears in the literature of certain groups as a metaphorical figure quite distinct from Satan, and without any implications of evil. For example, Theosophy founder Madame Blavatsky named her journal Lucifer since she intended it to be a “bringer of light”. Many New Age schools of thought follow a nondualistic philosophy that does not recognize a primal force for evil.
Even when a dualistic model is followed, this is more often akin to the Chinese system of yin and yang, in which good and evil are explicitly not a complementary duality. Schools of thought that do stress a spiritual war between good and evil or light and darkness include the philosophy of Rudolf Steiner, Agni Yoga, and the Church Universal and Triumphant.
Some religions worship the Devil. This can be in a polytheistic sense where “God”, Satan, and others are all deities with Satan as the preferred patron; or it can be from a more monotheistic viewpoint, where God is regarded as a true god, but is nevertheless defied.
Some variants deny the existence of God and the Devil altogether, but still call themselves Satanists, such asAnton LaVey’s Church Of Satan which sees Satan as a representation of the primal and natural state of mankind
Much “Satanic” lore does not originate from actual Satanists, but from Christians. Best-known would be themedieval folklore and theology surrounding demons and witches. A more recent example is the Satanic ritual abuse scare of the 1980s – beginning with the memoir Michelle Remembers – which depicts Satanism as a vast (and unsubstantiated) conspiracy of elites with a predilection for child abuse and human sacrifice. This genre regularly describes Satan as actually appearing in person in order to receive worship.
Similar concepts in other religions
Mephistopheles flying over Wittenberg, in a lithograph by Eugène Delacroix.
In the Gathas, the oldest texts of the Zoroastrian Avesta, believed to have been composed by Zoroaster himself, the poet does not mention a manifest adversary. Ahura Mazda’s Creation is “truth”, asha. The “lie” (druj) is manifest only as decay or chaos, not an entity.
Later, in Zurvanism (Zurvanite Zoroastrianism), Ahura Mazda and the principle of evil, Angra Mainyu, are the “twin” offspring of Zurvan, ‘Time’. No trace of Zurvanism exists after the 10th century.
Today, the Parsis of India largely accept the 19th century interpretation that Angra Mainyu is the ‘Destructive Emanation’ of Ahura Mazda. Instead of struggling against Mazda himself, Angra Mainyu battles Spenta Mainyu, Mazda’s ‘Creative Emanation.’
Satan as depicted in the Ninth Circle of Hell in Dante Alighieri’s Inferno, illustrated by Gustave Doré.
In contrast to Christianity and Islam, Hinduism does not recognize any central evil force or entity such as the Devil opposing God and man. Hinduism does recognize that different beings (e.g., asuras) and entities can perform evil acts, under the temporary dominance of the guna oftamas, and cause worldly sufferings. The Rajasic and Tamasic Gunas of Maya are considered especially close to the Abrahamic concept, the hellish parts of the Ultimate Delusion called “Prakriti”. An embodiment of this is the concept of Advaita (non-dualism) where there is no good or evil but simply different levels of realization.
On the other hand in Hinduism, which provides plenty of room for counterpoint, there is also the notion of dvaita (dualism) where there is interplay between good and evil tendencies. A prominent asura is Rahu whose characteristics are similar to those of the Devil. However, Hindus, and Vaishnavites in particular, believe that an avatar of Vishnu incarnates to defeat evil when evil reaches its greatest strength. The concept of Guna and Karma also explain evil to a degree, rather than the influence of a devil.
To be more specific, Hindu philosophy defines that the only existing thing (Truth) is the Almighty God. So, all the asuric tendencies are inferior and mostly exist as illusions in the mind. Asuras are also different people in whom bad motivations and intentions (tamas) have temporarily outweighed the good ones (Sattva). Different beings like siddha, gandharva, yaksha etc. are considered beings unlike mankind, and in some ways superior to men.
In Ayyavazhi, officially an offshoot of Hinduism prominent in Tamil Nadu (a southern state in India with Dravidian heritage), followers, unlike most other branches of Hinduism, believes in a Satan-like figure, Kroni. Kroni, according to Ayyavazhi is the primordial manifestation of evil and manifests in various forms of evil, i.e., Ravana, Duryodhana, etc., in different ages or yugas. In response to such manifestation of evil, believers, in Ayya-Vazhi religion believe that God, as Vishnu manifests in His Avatars such as Rama and Krishna to defeat evil. Eventually, the Ekamwith the spirit (the spirit taken by Narayana only for incarnating in the world) of Narayana incarnates in the world as Ayya Vaikundar to destroy the final manifestaion of Kroni, Kaliyan.
Kroni, the spirit of Kali Yuga is said to be omnipresent in this age and that is one reason followers of Ayya Vazhi, like most Hindus, believe that the current yuga, Kali Yuga is so degraded.
A man dressed as the devil at New York City’s West Indian Day Parade.
A devil-like figure in Buddhism is Mara. He is a tempter, who also tempted Gautama Buddha by trying to seduce him with the vision of beautifulwomen who, in various legends, are often said to be Mara’s daughters. Mara personifies unskillfulness, the “death” of the spiritual life. He tries to distract humans from practicing the spiritual life by making the mundane alluring or the negative seem positive. Another interpretation of Mara is that he is the desires that are present in ones own mind preventing the person from seeing the truth. So in a sense Mara is not an independent being but a part of one’s own being that has to be defeated. In daily life of the Buddha the role of devil has been given to Devadatta.
In the Ausarian drama we find that Ausar (Greek: Osiris) is chopped into 13 pieces by Set. Auset (Isis) collects all of his pieces save his phallus. Horus, son of Ausar and Auset sets out to avenge the death and dismemberment of his father by confronting Set. Horus is victorious over Set and Ausar, being brought back from the dead becomes lord of the underworld. It is this drama that gives us the cosmic conflict between good and evil, evil being embodied by Set. This is not to say that Set was always seen as an evil character in Ancient Egyptian theology. There are many times in Ancient Egyptian history where conflicts between different “houses” lead to the depreciation of one god relative to another.
As in most polytheistic faiths, the characters involved differentiate themselves from the Western tradition of a devil in that all the gods are closely related. In this case, numerous historic texts suggest that Set is the Uncle or Brother of Horus and in the “defeat” of Set, we see another separation from the norm in the devouring/assimilation of Set into Horus with the result of Horus having depictions of both the falcon head and the (unknown animal) head of Set. This (like Buddhism) represents a dissolution of dichotomy.
In the Western Christian tradition, the Devil has entered popular folklore, particularly in his role as a tricksterfigure. As such, he is found as a character in a wide number of traditional folktales and legends from Ireland,Newfoundland, Italy and the United Kingdom, where he often attempts to trick or outwit other characters. In some of these tales, the Devil is portrayed as more of a folk villain than as the personification of evil. The Devil also features prominently in a number of hagiographical tales, or tales of the saints such as the popular tale of St. Dunstan, many of which may fall outside the authorized religious canon. The Devil is also a recurring feature in tales explaining the etymology of geographical names, lending his name to natural formations such as The Devil’s Chimney.
David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, claims to have only one piece of correspondence with the Devil in the nation’s vast and varied collections. A letter sent from Baltimore at the end of the American Civil War toConfederate leader Jefferson Davis bemoans the rebellion against the United States and is signed by “the Devil”.
In some religions and traditions, these titles are separate demons; others identify these names as guises of The Devil. Even when thought of as individual demons, some are often thought of being under the Devil’s direct control. This identifies only those thought of as the Devil; List of demons has a more general listing.
Azazel, Asael (Hebrew): King of Devils
Baphomet, a demon supposedly worshiped by the Knights Templar
Beelzebub, ba’al zevuv בעל זבוב (Hebrew): Master of the flies orLord of the Flies (Matthew 10:25)
Belial, Beliar, Bheliar (Hebrew): without master, despicableness of the earth, Lord of Pride (2 Corinthians 6:15)
Mastema, a devil in the Book of Jubilees
Sammael, Samiel, Sammael (Hebrew): “Poison of God”
These are titles that almost always refer to the Devil.
666 or 616, the Number of the Beast
Angra Mainyu, Ahriman: “malign spirit”, “unholy spirit”
Antichrist, the coming of the Devil to the mortal world in Christianity
Der Leibhaftige (German): “He Himself”
Diabolus, Diabolos (Greek: Διάβολος): “cutting through”
Iblis, the devil in Islam
Lord of the underworld / Lord of Hell / Lord of this World
Lucifer / The Morning Star (Greek and Roman): bringer of light, illuminator; the planet Venus, often portrayed as Satan’s name before he fell
Mephistopheles, he who avoids the light (φῶς)
Old Scratch, The Stranger, Old Nick: a colloquialism for the devil, as indicated by the name of the character in the story The Devil and Tom Walker
Prince of Darkness / Air
Satan / The Adversary, Accuser, Prosecutor
(The ancient/old/crooked/coiling) Serpent
Shaitan, an Arabic name for Satan
Voland (medieval France)
Mephistopheles by Mark Antokolski, 1884.
God as the Devil
Several religious authors throughout history have advanced the notion that the god of the Abrahamic Bible and its sequels is consistent in character with the Devil. They make the case that the Biblical God is a divine force that wreaks suffering, death, and destruction and that tempts or commands humanity into committing mayhem and genocide.
These writings refer to the Biblical God variously as “a demiurgus”, “an evil angel”, “the devil god”, “the Prince of Darkness”, “the source of all evil”, “a demon”, “a cruel, wrathful, warlike tyrant”, “Satan”, “the devil”, and “the first beast of the book of Revelation”.
Many of the authors criticize only Jehovah, the God of the Abrahamic scriptures (Tanakh), in contrast with the “true god” of the New Testament. However, other authors apply their condemnation to the entire godhead of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
The authors assert their claims by reference to a number of passages in Biblical scripture describing actions of God that they say are evil or Devil-like. Many of the authors have been severely chastised for their writings, and their followers killed.