Church of Azazel > Beliefs & principles > Reinterpretations
Who and what is Satan?
Various Satanist reinterpretations
by Diane Vera
Copyright © 2004, 2006 by the Church of Azazel. All rights reserved.
Satanists, as a general rule, do not accept Christian theology. After all, we aren't Christian. Therefore, nearly all theistic Satanists reinterpret the Christian concept of Satan somehow. Different kinds of theistic Satanists have different interpretations and different ways of arriving at their interpretations.
Below are some of the more common reinterpretations and some of the reasons why we reject most of them. (For the Church of Azazel's approach, see Our core beliefs and their here-and-now basis and the Theology of the Church of Azazel.)
- Equating Satan with one or more ancient pagan gods
- Satan as "the All" or as a cosmic force or principle
- Gods as advanced extraterrestrial humanoids?
- Assorted dualisms
- Equating Satan with one or more ancient pagan gods
Many theistic Satanists believe that "Satan" ia actually a Christian caricature of some god who was worshiped under other names by ancient peoples. Satan has been identified with a variety of ancient gods, including Pan, Set, Shiva, and, most recently, Enki.
Such a belief can be very comforting. If you believe that Satan is historically the same entity as one or more specific ancient gods - especially a god who was beloved and worshiped in ancient times, rather than just feared or reviled - then you can believe that your Satanism is the modern revival of a venerable ancient religion, perhaps even "the oldest relgion" -- which feels a lot safer than, say, regarding your Satanism as the daring adventure of a bunch of Christian-era people sailing into uncharted spiritual waters with an entity reputed (though perhaps wrongly) to be the embodiment of "Evil."
But how do you decide which ancient god(s) to identify Satan with? Most Satanists who make such identifications have never bothered to read very many, if any, scholarly books about ancient religions. And, even with the best scholarship, there is plenty of reason to be wary of equating gods in different pantheons.
Similarities between two gods in different pantheons do not imply that the two gods are identical, just as similarities between two people do not imply that the two people are really just one person or that they are identical. For example, there could very easily be two different women in two different cities who both are tall, have blue eyes and blond hair, and have jobs as librarians.
There are also a lot of differences between the gods of different pantheons. For example, Zeus and Thor are both thunder gods, but are otherwise very different in their perceived personalities and roles.
Even more importantly, it is all too easy to misunderstand another culture. Even within our own culture, it's easy to misunderstand a subculture that one is not a part of. Think of the ways that Christians misunderstand the Pagan and Satanist subcultures, for example. Or the ways that many heterosexuals misunderstand the gay subculture. All the more so, it's all too easy for a European or American anthropologist visiting another culture to misunderstand one or more aspects of that culture. See, for example, the many American Indian critiques of how their tribal cultures have been misunderstood by white anthropologists.
And it's even harder to understand, truly, an ancient culture whose people aren't even alive anymore to explain things to us. Archeological evidence and the surviving written records do tell us quite a bit, but I'm sure there's a lot of nuance that even the best archeologists and historians have no means of grasping. Thus, even with the best scholarship, some seeming similarities between the gods of different cultures might not be real.
Furthermore, given the Church of Azazel's belief that the gods concerned with human affairs are limited in power (see Post-Copernican natural theology), it also seems reasonable to believe that most such gods are not universal but relate only to specific people or groups of people. Even within our own culture, different people are drawn to different religions and different gods.
It is sometimes appropriate to equate deities across pantheons. For example, if it can be shown, from reputable scholarly sources, that the traditional worshipers of both of two ancient pantheons held a longstanding belief that god A in pantheon 1 equals god B in pantheon 2, then it may be reasonable to conclude that god A and god B are the same. It is not reasonable, in most cases, for modern Westerners to equate gods whom their ancient worshipers did not equate. At the very least, it's not reasonable to assert that such an equation is a historical fact.
Some Satanists look for Satan in ancient pantheons on the grounds that Satan must have been around before the worshipers of Yahweh started pointing to Him as their enemy. But that, in itself, is not a reason to equate Satan with any widely-worshiped ancient pagan god.
The Church of Azazel does not see Satan as the sort of entity who needs or wants vast hordes of human worshipers. (Christians will even say that Satan's greatest lie is that He doesn't exist.) Therefore, we see no reason to assume that Satan would have been widely known among humans before the worshipers of Yahweh singled Him out as their enemy. Hence there is no reason to assume that he must have been known under other names in various ancient pagan pantheons. Of course He might have been known under other names in various ancient cultures, but there's no reason to assume that He definitely was, especially as a popularly worshiped god.
Another reason why some Satanists look to ancient pantheons is that doing so helps them break out of the Christian paradigm and thereby helps them get over Christian-derived fears, e.g. the fear of hell. For that very reason, we highly recommend that all new Satanists explore a variety of different non-Abrahamic religions and theologies. However, one can do this without equating Satan Himself with the gods of those other religions.
Some Satanists feel that the traditional Christian figure of Satan, without identifying Him with some pre-Christian god, would be inherently too "negative." We disagree. A fairly positive view of Satan can be easily arrived at from just the Christian Bible (primarily the New Testament) plus the Book of Enoch plus the rather bloody history of Christianity, as seen from a modern Western point of view, even without looking at any pagan sources. (See Our core beliefs and their here-and-now basis and the Theology of the Church of Azazel. See also Satan and "evil" in Christianity (and Satanism) on Diane Vera's Theistic Satanism page.)
Due to the very limited amount of information that even the most erudite scholars have about ancient cultures, the Church of Azazel does not officially identify Satan/Azazel with any pre-Abrahamic god. However, individual members who feel drawn to make such an identification are free to do so, provided that they do at least one of the following:
- Make a reasonable attempt to back it up plausibly from relevant scholarly sources.
- Use the names of one or more ancient deities to refer to the Prince of Darkness without asserting that the ancient deities themselves are necessarily the same entity as the Prince of Darkness. Since the Church of Azazel paradigm acknowledges that there is not a one-to-one correspondence between entities and names, it is legitimate to refer to any deity by any name that feels appropriate to the individual worshiper. Thus, for example, one can use "Set" as a name for Satan without asserting necessarily that the Hebrew/Christian Satan was derived from the ancient Egyptian Set. (See Why some folks call the Devil "Set" by Geifodd, and, for more details, "Set" and the Prince of Darkness.)
What we don't appreciate are those who not only identify Satan with some pre-Abrahamic god but who also (1) claim that identification to be a historical fact (especially if one does so on the basis of very little if any scholarly historical evidence), and then, on that basis (2) claim that Satanism itself is "the oldest religion in the world."
Also, whereas in private personal rituals an individual Church of Azazel member is free to use whatever names one wishes, in Church of Azazel group rituals we will generally confine ourselves to using, as names of the Prince of Darkness, only those names which historically have been used primarily as names of Satan/Azazel, rather than names of other deities whose identification with Satan/Azazel is historically more questionable. This means that our group rituals will use primarily Abrahamic names to refer to Satan/Azazel, which we don't see as a problem because it isn't really possible for people to escape their own culture completely anyhow.
Although the Church of Azazel does not equate Satan with any specific ancient God and especially not with any widely-worshiped ancient god, we do believe that Satan favors revival of the worship of various ancient gods, both as a slap in the face of the Christian god and because He enjoys creating variety. Therefore, perhaps Satan is more than happy to farm out some of His own worshipers to these other gods, by allowing them to believe that Satan Himself is one or more of these other gods. For example, a form of Satanism which believes that Satan equals Enki is likely to give birth to new forms of Paganism which worship Enki as Enki, dropping the association with Satan.
Some theistic Satanists, such as the late Herbert Sloane, believe in a Satanic variant of ancient Ophite Gnosticism which venerated the serpent of the Garden of Eden myth. The Ophites regarded Yahweh as the Demiurge, an evil god who created the universe for the purpose of trapping human souls in matter. They regarded the serpent as the bringer of wisdom and spiritual enlightenment.
Many other theistic Satanists, including the Church of Azazel, agree with some but not all these Gnostic ideas. We regard Satan/Lucifer as a deity who favors the advancement of human knowledge, and we regard the Christian god as an entity who is at best ambivalent about human knowledge.
However, the Church of Azazel does not believe that the Christian god is the true Creator of the universe. Nor do we believe that the universe was created for any human-centered purpose, whether for our benefit or to our detriment. (See Post-Copernican natural theology.)
- Satan as "the All" or as a cosmic force or principle
Pantheism is the belief that the universe itself ("the All") is God. Pantheists tend to regard all the gods whom people worship as facets of the One.
A pantheistic Satanist is one who regards Satan as an especially fitting god-form to represent "the All," or who reveres Satan as a "Dark Force" which permeates the All.
Why is Satan an especially fitting god-form to represent the All? In the New Testament, Satan is referred to as "God of this world," and "Prince of this world," which can be taken as meaning that Satan is the one true God and that Christians are in denial, in flight from the realities of this world and even from their very own flesh.
Satan can be seen as "the Adversary" in the sense that reality is the adversary of dogma and defies our attempts to conceptualize it. Under one possible pantheistic interpretation, Satan simply represents the realities of this world.
Under other pantheistic interpretations, Satan is a cosmic force or principle of some kind, such as "the principle of division in the universe."
In traditional pantheisms, e.g. Hinduism and Taoism, there is no such thing as a cosmic "principle of Evil" or a cosmic "principle of Good." Instead, these traditions believe in various other pairs of opposite cosmic principles (e.g. Yin and Yang) in which the opposites are thought to complement and balance each other -- not war with each other. Likewise, the more philosophically sophisticated pantheistic Satanists reject the notions of "cosmic Good" and "cosmic Evil" as nothing but human value judgments writ large. Instead, they typically equate Satan with some other kind of cosmic force or principle, such as a "principle of division," a "principle of individuation," a "principle of change," or "being and becoming."
As long as Satan is not equated with something so human-centric as an alleged cosmic "principle of Evil" (or a "principle of Good," for that matter), pantheistic Satanism does tend to be compatible with Post-Copernican natural theology -- more so than most other modern Western pantheisms. For example, pantheistic Satanism tends to regard the universe as essentially amoral and not human-centered -- in contrast to, say, Wiccans, who believe that the cosmos has a built-in, automatic mechanism of human-centered justice (the "Three-fold Law").
However, many Satanists have experienced Satan in a personal or quasi-personal sort of way. And it is unlikely that "the All" (or any alleged cosmic principle) has any interest in interacting with humans in a personal way. (See Post-Copernican natural theology.)
Hence the Church of Azazel regards Satan as a distinct entity, not simply as "the All" or as a cosmic force or principle. But some of our members may also believe in an underlying pantheism, with "the All" conceived in a Satan-like way.
- Gods as advanced extraterrestrial humanoids?
Beginning in 2002 C.E., there has been an explosion in popularity of the "Joy of Satan" belief system which holds that Satan and all other gods are really advanced extraterrestrial humanoids who live on a distant planet, occasionally visit Earth in the flesh, and at other times stay in touch with us via telepathy.
This belief is based on the writings of such authors as Erich Von Daniken and Zecharia Sitchin, which have long been discredited by more reputable scholars. (For some information on why mainstream scholars reject it, see Why don't you believe that the gods are ET's? in Frequently Asked Questions about the Church of Azazel.) Furthermore, everyone I know who knows anything about ancient languages has told me that Sitchin mistranslated a lot of ancient texts.
The Church of Azazel does not believe in the idea of gods as ET's. Traditionally, Satan is thought to be a spirit who lives right here on Earth and and primarily in an underworld beneath the surface of the Earth. This "underworld" can be interpreted either literally (as the inside of the Earth) or symbolically (e.g. as the deeper levels of our own minds), but in either case is incompatible with the ET hypothesis. Satan exists within us and within the world, not as a critter from outside.
On the plus side, however unlikely the idea of gods as ET's may be, at least several of its adherents have reported great success in using Sitchin's ideas as tools to get Christians to question their beliefs. To that end, Sitchin's writings may well be much more effective than historical arguments by more reputable scholars.
I'm aware of at least one teenage Joy of Satan member who successfully deconverted his entire family from Christianity -- including some pretty hardcore fundies. And, even before I heard this story about a year ago, I had a strong hunch that the Joy of Satan belief system, true or not, would eventually prove to be a very powerful weapon against Christianity.
One possible reason why Sitchin's writings are so powerful is because Sitchin -- unlike most mainstream historians -- treats the Bible as a literally true historical record. This makes Sitchin's books a good tool to challenge the beliefs of people who trust the Bible more than they trust historians, scientists, and other scholars.
What Sitchin's writings show is that, even if you take the Bible as a literally true historical record, you can still arrive at conclusions radically different from traditional Christian theology. And this is a valid philosophical argument against Biblical inerrantist Christianity regardless of whether Sitchin's conclusions are themselves true.
The extra-terrestrial hypothesis has the virtue of being consistent both with Post-Copernican natural theology (insofar as the gods are seen as non-cosmic) and with many people's perception of Satan as a personal or quasi-personal entity. It is also polytheistic. Thus, I regard the extra-terrestrial hypothesis as containing some metaphorical truths, though probably not literally true.
- Assorted dualisms
The Christian idea of an all-"Good" God vs. an all-"Evil" Devil is derived (via some short-lived sects of Judaism such as the Essenes) from Zoroastrianism, the religion of ancient Persia. Zoroastrians believed that the universe was ruled by two rival gods, Ahura Mazda, God of Light, and Ahriman, God of Darkness. Zoroastrians believed that these two gods would war with each other until the end of time.
Quite a few theistic Satanists believe in some variant of the idea that the universe is ruled by two rival gods (or groups of gods) in perpetual war with each other over something having to do with us humans.
Some theistic Satanists believe in the exact reverse of the Christian/Zoroastrian idea. They believe in a cosmic dualism, but with Satan/Lucifer as the good guy.
Others don't necessarily see Satan as the good guy. Some see their own side as "evil" in some sense, and others see the dualism in terms of something other than "good" vs. "evil."
The Church of Azazel does not believe in a cosmic duotheism of any kind. (See A brief critique of Christian-based duotheism.) We don't regard the Christian god as a true cosmic God. We likewise regard Satan as the "God of this world" -- possibly local to the Earth.
The human mind has a natural tendency to find patterns in everything. Our ability to find patterns is an absolutely crucial aspect of human intelligence. However, our minds have a tendency to overdo it, and to see patterns that aren't really there or don't really mean anything.
In particular, our minds have a tendency to overdo the simplest kind of pattern -- duality. An example is the tendency of many poeple to put everything they disapprove of into one box, e.g. some hardcore Christians calling all non-Christians "Satanists." Plenty of real dualities do exist, but plenty of other dualities are oversimplifications of reality. So, it's wise to be wary toward all forms of dualism.
For the Church of Azazel's own understanding of Satan, see Theology of the Church of Azazel.