This blog has examined and analyzed many Deities of the Underworld, but we have always shied away from the principle dark deity of the three Abrahamic faiths, namely the Devil (aka Lucifer, Iblis, Shaitan, The Antagonist, The Prince of Lies, etc.). However if there were ever a day to cast an inquisitive eye on the Lord of Hell, it is surely Halloween, that strange day when paganism and Christianity mix and the veil between this world and the next is thin.
Actually, one of the reasons I have avoided writing about this dark deity is because even though the devil might be a familiar figure in the popular imagination, he is only a sketchy presence in actual scripture. In the Masoretic Text, the holy book of Judaism (which roughly equates with the Old Testament), the Devil never appears by name–although the books do contain a cunning serpent (in Genesis), a fallen star, and an adversary. The New Testament Gospels feature a more familiar devil–who tempts Jesus, promotes evil, and lays waste to the world–but the books never describe this anti-savior except as a tempter, a dragon, a dark prince, or an ancient snake. In the Quran, Allah created the evil jinn Iblis out of smokeless fire to cast evil suggestions into the heart of men. Hmm, this is theologically interesting–but where does the fallen angel with the red skin, the horns, the barbed tail, the dapper van dyke beard, and the goat’s hooves come from?
The apocryphal scriptures, those strange half-holy books which were omitted from the Bible, provide more of the story. The Book of Enoch gives us the story of the rebellion and the fall of Heave’s brightest and most beautiful angel. This is the source of Milton’s Satan, however the text does little to describe the appearance of Lucifer.
Gothic paintings from the middle age shows us demons and dark winged beings (you can find old posts about such hellspawn here and here). Sometimes the devil appears as a winged monstrosity or a sort of dark bat-like angel, but he does not appear in the guise which is so popularly known now–the red man with the horns, the trident, and the hooves.
In fact the familiar portrayal of the red devil is comparatively recent—perhaps even modern–but the imagery used is based on the ancient Greco-Roman deity of Pan. Pan, the horned half-goat shepherd was a god of nature, fertility, and goat-herding in the classical world. Because of his licentiousness, bestial appearance, and paganism he was a longstanding target of the Christian church. In the nineteenth and twentieth century Pan became a focus of neopagan art and letters. Christian reaction to Pan’s resurgence resulted in his image being translated to that of Satan. The red color seems to have been thrown in for good measure.
It’s clear the devil is a complicated figure whose attributes, appearance, and meaning have changed greatly depending on the time and the place. We’ll get back to him–the underworld god of the world’s great monotheistic faiths–but right now it’s time to leave theorizing about devils, demons, and spirits behind and to go out and join them.