Pagans and the Prince of Darkness
It has become something of a cliché for pagans to say that they do not believe in or worship the Devil because the Devil is a Christian invention and therefore has nothing to do with pagan spirituality. As far as many pagans are concerned there is no need for further discussion; the Devil does not exist – end of story. However, those individuals who do believe in the Devil remain unconvinced by such a glib dismissal because they consider that the Devil’s greatest skill is in deluding the world into thinking that he does not exist, for this provides him with a supreme advantage and massively increases his power to deceive.
Consequently the issue of Good and Evil, which all religions need seriously to address, is one that modern pagans have little to say about, apart from vague mutterings about Darkness being the polar opposite to Light. As a result, many observers take the view that pagans are rather evasive when pressed to explain their position on the matter. To some extent these critics have a point because one of the greatest dislikes of pagans is to be accused of dogmatism. Consequently, rather than providing clear-cut arguments, pagans often resort instead to the rather dismissive explanation that paganism is less to do with ideas and beliefs and more to do with an experience of Nature and the Goddess, thus confirming the ill-founded view of many that pagans are anti-intellectual relativists and woolly-minded fence-sitters.
The main purpose of this article, however, is not to persuade pagans that the Devil as historically understood indeed exists, but rather to explore how such a figure developed in mythological terms. In dismissing the Devil as merely a Christian invention, many pagans overlook the fact that belief in a powerful spiritual adversary actually predates the monotheistic religions of Judaism and Christianity. The idea that there is a force for evil in the world has, in fact, preoccupied the mind of man since the dawn of time and figured in the beliefs of numerous nations, races and religious ideologies.
Thousands of years ago many cultures believed there was a conflict between Light and Darkness or, if you like, between order and chaos because observation suggested that there are forces within nature struggling between creation and destruction. Consequently a variety of myths emerged that attempted to explain the forces of Nature; forces so powerful and threatening to humans that people began to interpret them as the work of evil spirits.
One of the greatest mysteries of all to humans is why an allegedly all-powerful god allowed so much misery to enter the world. Over the centuries the problem has been discussed by numerous philosophers and theologians and, for many individuals, is one of the main stumbling blocks to religious faith today. In ancient times the idea eventually developed that Evil came from a source independent of Goodness and this is reflected in a Babylonian myth called the Epic of Creation in which Bel-Meridach, the hero-god, is at war with Tiamet the Dragon of Chaos, whose purpose is to destroy the universe and bring about chaos.
Another belief system - and one that influenced Jewish ideas - was Persian Zoroastrianism, which taught that good could not cause evil, therefore evil had to have a separate source. Zoroaster maintained that the world was an emanation of Ahura Mazda who had a twin brother called Ahriman who was responsible for evil and chaos. Eventually, according to Zoroastrianism, Ahura Mazda will triumph over his evil twin and he will be cast into the abyss of Hell forever.
However, the earliest ideas concerning Good and Evil were not, in fact, dualistic at all and although the concept of the Devil in Western culture came from monotheistic Judaism and its offshoot Christianity, the Book of Isaiah states that Good and Evil actually came from God himself. In chapter 45:7 we read: ‘I form the light and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things’. We can see from this that early Jewish thought was not actually dualistic in the strictest sense but was very similar to Hinduism, which speaks of Kali the Destroyer. Now Kali is not an independent source of evil and chaos, but rather the other face of the goddess who creates all things. In this respect the idea of a dark goddess is similar to the position taken by modern paganism. It is ironic, therefore, that the Christian tradition, which gleaned much of its religious ideas from pagans in the first place, has played a major role over the centuries in demonising paganism by identifying it with Devil-worship.
The fact is that the concept of the Devil as an independent force for evil evolved slowly in the Judaic tradition. In the Book of Job Satan (Hebrew for the Devil) is clearly operating under instructions from God: ‘And the Lord said unto Satan, behold, Job is in thine hand; but save his life. So went forth Satan from the presence of the Lord, and smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his feet unto his crown’. We see from this that God was using Satan to test Job’s faith. To put it in modern parlance, Satan was simply doing God’s dirty work. Again, the same idea is expressed in the Book of Samuel where the Lord is responsible for Samuel’s temptation. However, in the Book of Chronicles written a few hundred years later, Satan alone is blamed for David’s temptation. By this time ideas were beginning to change to exclude God totally from anything dark and dastardly. The stage was being set, if you like, for the creation of an independent cause of evil, eventually to be personified as the Prince of Darkness.
However, it is the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden that is the most well known. According to the tale, God placed them both in a paradisiacal environment, but Eve disobeyed God by succumbing to the temptation of the serpent and as a direct consequence brought about the Fall of Man. The disastrous effect that this story subsequently had on the status of women cannot be overestimated.
In later centuries certain Christian Gnostics, who the Established Church finally exterminated in the 13th century, believed that the god who had placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden was a false god, otherwise known as the demiurge. According to these Gnostics the demiurge, who they believed had created the material world, sought to keep Adam and Eve in ignorance. By disobeying this false god by eating of the Tree of Knowledge Adam and Eve acquired the potential to gain gnosis, which leads to an understanding of the true god. So rather than having fallen from grace by eating of the fruit, Adam and Eve, in fact, achieved a momentous leap forward and became like gods.
Satanists take a very similar view and believe that the Devil who appeared to Eve in the form of a serpent and persuaded her to eat the forbidden fruit was instrumental in freeing mankind from a moronic existence. The main difference here, however, between Christian Gnosticism and modern Satanism is in the perceived nature of the world. Gnostics believed this world, having been the product of the demiurge, is evil and therefore the Gnostics aspired to a purely spiritual existence beyond the material plane. Satanists, on the other hand, rejoice in the material plane and wallow in its pleasures; they believe that ultimate fulfilment and happiness can only be achieved in this world because this is where mankind truly belongs.
A name that to orthodox Christianity has long been synonymous with the Devil is Lucifer, which means Light-bringer. The association seems to have its origins in a reference by the prophet Isaiah: ‘How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning’. (Is.14: 12). However, taken within the context of the passage in which it appears the reference is clearly to the King of Babylon who the Israelites accused of elevating himself above their own god. Christian tradition, nonetheless, links this text to a reference in Revelation: ‘and I saw a star fall from heaven unto the earth: and to him was given the key of the bottomless pit’. (Rev.9: 1). In this way a connection was made between Lucifer, otherwise known as the Morning Star, and the Devil. The idea is also reinforced by a reference in the 2nd Book of Corinthians (11: 14) that the Devil can transform himself into an angel of light. In doing so, he potentially can deceive even the most devout followers of Christ. However, another reference – also in Revelation – conveniently overlooked by those who subscribe to the Lucifer/Devil connection is the following: ‘I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you…I am the root and offspring of David, and the bright and morning star’. (Rev.22: 16), which rather confuses matters! Consequently, there are some today who seek to redeem the name of Lucifer and restore him to his rightful status as the bringer of Light.
It is hardly surprising in the midst of such confusion that so much religious paranoia has been generated and continues to be generated in the 21st century. In the wake of the Reformation the Roman Catholic Church was accused of being the Devil’s earthly organisation and the Pope condemned as the Antichrist. However, it was not long before the Reformers were indulging in deeds as dastardly as those they vilified and conducting their own persecutions based on bigotry and puritanical intolerance. Clearly the track record of humans is a dismal one, to say the least. To paraphrase a well-known saying: ‘if the Devil doesn’t exist it would be necessary to invent him’, for even the most optimistic among us must concede that a force for evil seems to run through humanity like blood through an artery.
There are also many today who describe themselves as pagans and who delight in flirting with dark forces. Their justification for doing so seems to be based on the idea that because Darkness is the other side of the same coin as Light, and therefore simply a polar opposite, no harm can come to them. The naivety of these individuals is staggering and blinds them to the dangers of powerful agencies on the astral plane and in other invisible realms. These entities are not necessarily evil in the Christian sense, but they have long been proved to be potentially hostile and threatening to humans unskilled in psychic self-protection. After all, no one with any commonsense would attempt to work with high voltage electricity without much training and awareness of the potential harm it can cause and yet, seemingly oblivious to the danger that accompanies ignorance, some individuals eagerly plunge headlong into occult practises.
So what conclusions can we draw? Is there a singular and powerfully negative spiritual agency at work in the world vying with God for control of the universe? It would seem unlikely. An alternative, and more viable, view claims that there is a fundamental need within humanity towards personification, which implies that the Devil may indeed be an expression of humanity’s own collective consciousness and therefore the sum of all the negative energies and fears that humans generate. Jung believed that the unconscious contains within it interplay between light and darkness and to ignore this interplay generates what he called the shadow. The result is that such activity eventually seeks an outlet and if persistently repressed its energies may overwhelm and finally possess one.
Occult teaching has also long recognised the objective power of thought-forms, or tulpas as they are often called. Although initially a product of individual thought, a tulpa tends to assume a life of its own and eventually can seek to dominate and control the mind from which it originated. Destroying a tulpa that one has created can be a lengthy and hazardous task because a tulpa acquires a strong sense of self-preservation. It also seems to embody and express the darker elements of the human psyche, which often only become manifest in the later stages of the tulpa’s existence. When one considers the enormity of the negativity that humans have generated since their appearance on the face of the planet - and continue to generate in the world today - then one can only gasp at the strength and power of the tulpa humans may have collectively created. Is our tulpa the real Prince of Darkness?
The following books may prove useful.
Gnostic Philosophy From Ancient Persia to Modern Times: Tobias Churton
The Essence of the Gnostics: Bernard Simon
Malleus Maleficarum: trans. Montague Summers
The History of Witchcraft and Demonology: Montague Summers
The Prince of Darkness: Joan O’Grady
Daimonic Reality: Patrick Harpur
The Possessed: Brian McConnell
The Secret History of Lucifer: Lynn Picknet
The Dark Side of the Light Chasers: Debbie Ford
The Old and New Testaments.