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From the frontispiece of Paul Carus's The History of the Devil and the Idea of Evil (1900)
Satan is the adversary of the god of Abraham [AG]. Thus, Satan is evil personified. Many followers of the Bible consider Satan to be a real being, a spirit created by AG. Satan and the other spirits who followed him rebelled against AG. They were allegedly cast out from Heaven by their creator. Theologians might speculate as to why the almighty did not annihilate the "fallen angels," as he is said to have done to his other creations when they failed to be righteous (save Noah and his family, of course). Satan was allowed to set up his own kingdom in Hell and to send out devils to prowl the earth for converts. The demonic world seems to have been allowed to exist for one purpose only: to tempt humans to turn away from AG. Why AG would allow Satan to do this is explained in the Book of Job, where Satan is described as an angel who works in cahoots with AG. When Job asks why AG let Satan torment him the answer is blunt and final: Hath thou an arm like the Lord? The story of Job is interpreted in many different ways by theologians but my interpretation is that nobody knows why AG lets Satan live and torment us. AG is AG and can do whatever he wants. Ours is not to question why, ours is but to do and die.
Satan, being a spirit, is neither male nor female. However, like his creator, Satan is usually referred to as a masculine being. Many believe that Satan, or the Devil as he is often called, can "possess" human beings. Possession is bodily invasion by the devil. The Catholic Church still performs exorcisms on those considered to be possessed. Jesus is said to have cast out demons, i.e., performed exorcisms, and the Church considers itself to have been given this same power by Jesus. Throughout the centuries, many pious religious people have erroneously considered those with certain mental or physical illnesses to be possessed by Satan.
More frequent than outright possession, however, has been the accusation of being in consort with the devil. Satan is believed to have many powers, among them the power to manifest himself in human or animal form. The consorting has been recorded as often being purely physical and mostly sexual. For most of the history of Christianity there are reports of Satan having sex with humans, either as an incubus (male devil) or succubus (female devil). Witches and sorcerers were thought by many to be the offspring of such unions. They are considered especially pernicious because they inherit some of the devil's powers.
According to Carl Sagan, accounts of diabolical intercourse are common cultural phenomena:
Parallels to incubi include Arabian djinn [jinn], Greek satyrs, Hindu bhuts, Samoan hotua poro, Celtic dusii... (Sagan 1995, 124).
However, as a child being instructed in the ways of Satan by Dominican sisters, stories of nuns being raped by incubi in a priest's clothing were assuredly not told. The Devil was there to tempt us to sin, pure and simple. He was not there to have sex with us or engage in reproductive experimentation or breed a race of witches and magi. To be sure, his main temptations would be sexual. There was no doubt that He spent a lot of time using girls to tempt boys into impure thoughts and deeds. He would invade our minds continuously during adolescence, planting desires for sexual experiences too evil to be mentioned much less performed. I suppose, to be fair, the girls should have been taught to be wary of boys trying to get them to yield to sexual temptation and that we would use every trick in the devil's arsenal to get them to go "all the way." But the girls were taught that they were the temptresses and were therefore the ones who needed to keep from harming the boys with their female charms. We were taught to pray constantly, implore the intercession of the saints and the holy mother of AG, that they might give us protection against the snares of Satan. It must have occurred to many observers that the fear of Satan seems very much like fear of our own sexuality.
For all the instruction we were given on the Evil One, I don't remember ever being taught about Pope Innocent VIII and his persecution of witches and heretics. The Pope proclaimed in a Bull that "evil angels," i.e., devils, were having sex with many human men and women. He was not the first to have made this claim. Others before him, such as Thomas Aquinas, had explored this territory in great detail. Thomas reminds us that since the devil is not human, he can't produce human seed. So, he must transform himself into a woman, seduce a man, keep the seed, transform into a male, seduce a woman and transfer the seed. Something of the devil is captured by the seed along the way, so the offspring are not normal. Apparently it took Satan a long time to figure out that if he wanted to control the world, the best way to do it would be to breed with humans. Invading our bodies would be more efficient and effective than trying to invade our minds. But the Pope and many other pious men had a plan to exterminate the diabolical offspring: they would torture and burn them all! They would fight fire with fire! The Devil would not outdo them. In fact, the sadistic and monstrous behavior of the holy and pious inquisitors is almost enough to make a skeptic believe in Satan. The inquisitors were nothing short of diabolical.
One of the more interesting aspects of Satanology is the recurring theme of humans making a pact with the devil. The Faust legend is the best-known of these: in exchange for one's soul, Satan will bestow one with wealth or power for a specified time. In most versions of the story, Faust tricks the devil and avoids payment. In the original, the devil mutilates and kills Faust at the end of the contract. His brains are splattered on the walls of his room, his eyes and teeth lie on the floor and his corpse rests outside on a dunghill (Smith, 269).
Today, there are still those who believe Satan is a real being, but we hear few stories of incubi and succubi any more. The closest thing we have to such stories are alien abduction accounts and star children. Fortunately, for today's alien abduction victims with similar tales of sexual experimentation--the devil being replaced with aliens from outer space--there is no equivalent to the medieval Church to persecute, torture, or exterminate them.
It is interesting, though, that most of these murderers and torturers feel some need to at least appear as if they are doing good while they commit their horrors. What drives the terrorist or ethnic cleanser today to their abominations, or the witch hunters to their destruction of families, seems to be the same forces that drove the pious enforcers of the Inquisitions. Their behavior is almost enough to make a skeptic think that maybe Satan does exist--in the souls of these good people fighting for their noble causes.
From a philosophical perspective, the universal belief in evil demons is based on the need for an explanation of the enormous quantity of moral and physical evil pervading human existence for our entire history. I suppose, too, that devils in some way serve to excuse our own evil actions and mitigate our sense of responsibility for the harm we do. Psychologically, demons may well be a projection of ourselves, the worst part of our nature or the most feared part of our own nature. From a literary perspective, demons must exist. If they didn't, we'd have to invent them. They seem essential to so much of our storytelling--more essential, perhaps, than their goodly counterparts.
the waning of Satan's power
As the power of the Christian Church has waned, so too has the power of Satan. It is no accident that Satan reached the peak of his career at the same time the Church did, during the thirteenth century. During the Middle Ages, the Devil was said to have built Hadrian's wall between Scotland and England, moved huge stones to construct megalithic stone circles and dolmens, built bridges such as that at Saint-Cloud and the Pont de Valentre at Cahors, for the price of the soul of the first one who crossed the bridge, etc. Satan could perform magic, but it must be remembered that the Christian religion is basically a religion of magic, of sacraments which protect one from Satan and which change bread and wine into Christ, of miracles which contravene the natural order for good or ill, of resurrection from the dead and of the promise of eternal life. Satan represents the obverse of that order: black magic, pacts with the devil, wonders done contravening the natural order, the promise of eternal youth and wondrous powers. The Satanic Order was the creation of the Church, necessary to establish its own power over the world. Heretics, witches and sorcerers were a threat to the world dominion of the Church. They had to be eradicated. As the enemies of the Church grew more numerous and more powerful, so did the reign of terror grow and so did the power of the Church get established more and more firmly.
As the power of Christianity waned as the dominant social and political force in western culture, so too did the power of Satan. By the eighteenth century, in Europe at least, witch and heretic burnings had all but ceased. Today, most of us in the Christian world would consider it primitive and barbaric to suggest that anyone be hounded or killed for communing with Satan. Even those who are allegedly doing evil in the name of Satan are usually pursued for the evil they do, not for their alleged association with the devil. It is likely that most police officers, if they had to deal with crimes committed by Satan worshippers, would view the criminals as deluded rather than as really communing with otherworldly beings.
If the rise of modern science had anything to do with the fall of the Christian Church from its position of supreme influence in western culture, then modern science can take partial credit for the exorcism of Satan from western consciousness. Of course, the Devil is not dead yet but he gets his power from AG, and as AG's power wanes so does Satan's. Someday, perhaps, both AG and Satan will become impotent strangers to the human imagination. But don't count on it. Many theists today believe that the evils of today's world, and they are many as we all know, are due to the rise of Satan and the decrease of religious influence. If they had their way, we would all be praying more and working against the snares of the devil. I, however, think we have more to fear from these pious people than we do from the Devil or his admirers. Some might even go so far as to identify these pious advocates of constitutional amendments for prayer in schools as devils in disguise. I don't think so, though when you have AG's children murdering people at abortion clinics, there really doesn't seem to be much need for Satan. In fact, if Satan and his crew returned to earth they'd find that all the good jobs for devils have been taken by the pious of the Earth.
Finally, there are the modern day Satanists who find solace and power in occult magick, but especially in anything anti-Christian. They draw their inspiration from the great works of imagination in art, literature, and policy created primarily by pious Christians in their zealous wars against their enemies, but also created by pre-Christian cults such as the Egyptian cult of Set or by non-Christian occultists such as Aleister Crowley and Anton LaVey. Today's Satanists have been blamed by pious Christians for ritual murders of children, mutilation and sacrificial killings of animals, writing backwards messages on musical recordings instructing people to kill, sending subliminal or secret messages through diabolical symbols on pizza boxes or soap wrappers, causing the general decay of morals and civilization as we know it, etc. The Satanists deny it. The evidence is not very strong that the Satanists are either as evil or as powerful as their enemies say they are. There is strong evidence for the strength and wickedness of the pious. Witness their witch-hunts in recent years against child care workers and parents and relatives of children. The evidence is strong that the pious have frequently and unjustly accused many of satanic ritual abuse of children. And they have been aided in the witch-hunt by devoted therapists and pious police and prosecutors.
books and articles
Satanic Ritual Abuse (SRA) The Ontario Center for Religious Tolerance Page on the new witch hunt for satanic abusers of children
"The Hard Facts About Satanic Ritual Abuse," by Bob and Gretchen Passaintino
The Temple of Set Satanists who believe in Satan as "a metaphysical being;" they accept both Visa and Master Card, but not American Express.
The Church of Satan Satanists who don't believe in Satan as a real being; founded in 1966 by Anton LaVey in San Francisco.
New Church blames Devil-inspired children over sex abuse The abusers see themselves as the victims and everything that has happened, up to and including the Murphy report, is part of the attack that these Devil-inspired, tempter children have been responsible for in their attempts to destroy the church.
New Pat Robertson's Satanic Sermon Against Haiti Pat Robertson says last Tuesday’s devastating 7.0 earthquake, in Haiti, was the result of a “curse” because Haitians “made a pact to the Devil,” to free themselves from their former French slave-masters centuries ago.