The Devil is the title given to the supernatural being, who, in mainstream Christianity, Islam, and some other religions, is believed to be a powerful, evil entity and the tempter of humankind. The Devil is commonly associated with heretics, infidels, and other unbelievers.
The name "Devil" derives from the Greek word diabolos, which means "slanderer" or "accuser". 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 Sheol. The Devil commands a force of lesser evil spirits, commonly known as demons. The Hebrew Bible (or Old Testament) does not assign this level of personification to the devil; there, the Adversary (Ha-satan) is a servant of God whose job it is to test humankind.
This entity is commonly referred to by a variety of names, including Abbadon, Angra Mainyu, Satan, Asmodai, Beelzebub, Lucifer, Belial, and Iblis. 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.
The Devil in different religions
there is no concept of a devil like in mainstream Christianity or Islam. In Hebrew
, the biblical word ha-satan
(שָׂטָן) means "the adversary or the obstacle
, or even "the prosecutor
" (recognizing that God is viewed as the ultimate Judge
In the book of Job (Iyov), ha-satan is the title, not the proper name, of an angel submitted to God; he is the divine court's chief prosecutor. In Judaism ha-satan does not make evil, rather points out to God the evil inclinations and actions of humankind. In essence ha-satan has no power unless humans do evil things. After God points out Job's piety, ha-satan asks for permission to test the faith of Job. The righteous man is afflicted with loss of family, property, and later, health, but he still stays faithful to God. At the conclusion of this book God appears as a whirlwind, explaining to all that divine justice is inscrutable. In the epilogue Job's possessions are restored and he has a second family to "replace" the one that died.
In the Torah, ha-satan is mentioned several times. The main time is during the incident of the golden calf. As the source of people's evil inclination, or yetser harah, he is responsible for the Israelites building the golden calf while Moses was on Mount Sinai receiving the Torah from God. In the book of 1 Chronicles 21:1, ha-satan incites David to an unlawful census.
In fact, the Book of Isaiah, Job, Ecclesiastes, and Deuteronomy all have passages in which God is credited for exercising sovereign control over both good and evil.
In mainstream Christianity the Devil is also known as Satan and sometimes as Lucifer, although most scholars recognize the reference in Isaiah 14:12 to Lucifer, or the Morning Star, to be a reference to the Babylonian king (see, for example, the entries in Nave's Topical Bible, the Holman Bible Dictionary and the Adam Clarke Commentary). Some consider the Devil to be an angel who 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. In the Bible, the devil is identified with the serpent in the Garden of Eden, the dragon in the Book of Revelation (e.g. Rev. 12:9), and the tempter of the Gospels (e.g. Mat. 4:1).
In Islam the Devil is referred to as Iblis
, 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.
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 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.'
In the Bahá'í Faith
there is no existence of a malevolent superhuman entity such as the devil. Human beings
are seen to have free will
, and thus are seen to be able to either turn towards God and develop spiritual qualities, or instead be immersed in their own desires and thus commit wrongs; if people are immersed in their own desires, the Bahá'í writings sometimes use a metaphorical usage of satanic to describe their actions. The writings of Bahá'í Faith also state that the devil is also a metaphor for the "insistent self" or "lower self" which is a self-serving inclination within each individual. This tendency is often referred to in the Bahá'í writings as "the Evil One". Bahá'u'lláh
, the founder of the Bahá'í Faith wrote:
"Watch over yourselves, for the Evil One is lying in wait, ready to entrap you. Gird yourselves against his wicked devices, and, led by the light of the name of the All-Seeing God, make your escape from the darkness that surroundeth you.
`Abdu'l-Bahá, Bahá'u'lláh's son wrote:
"This lower nature in man is symbolized as Satan - the evil ego within us, not an evil personality outside.
Shoghi Effendi, the head of the religion from 1921–1957 wrote:
"Regarding your question relative to the condition of those people who are described in the Gospel as being possessed of devils; this should be interpreted figuratively; devil or Satan is symbolic of evil and dark forces yielding to temptation.
Christian tradition has frequently identified pagan
religions and witchcraft
with the influence of Satan. In the Middle Ages
, the Church accused alleged witches of consorting and conspiring with Satan. Several modern conservative Christian writers, such as Jack Chick
and James 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
Participants in the New Age
movement have widely varied views about Satan, the Devil, and so forth. In some forms of Esoteric Christianity
Satan 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 as Anton LaVey's Church Of Satan which sees Satan as a representation of the primal and natural state of mankind.
Similar concepts in other religions
In contrast to Christianity, Islam, and Zoroastrianism, Hinduism
does not recognize any central evil force or entity such as the Devil opposing God. Hinduism does recognize that different beings (e.g., asuras
) and entities can perform evil acts, under the temporary dominance of the guna
, and cause wordly 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 Ekam with 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 of the reasons why followers of Ayya Vazhi, like most Hindus, believe that the current yuga, Kali Yuga is so degraded.
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 beautiful
women 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.
The Devil in world folklore
In the Western Christian tradition, the Devil has entered popular folklore
, particularly in his role as a trickster
figure. As such, he is found as a character in a wide number of traditional folktales and legends
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
Other names for 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.
These are all titles that almost always refer to the Devil himself.
- 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, Diavolus (Greek): "downward flowing"
- 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; often believed to be Satan's name before he fell (the Planet Venus)
Other deities identified with The Devil
Mainstream Christianity and Islam often recognized the existence of other pagan deities, but considered them demons of hell. Some particularly major deities were considered analogues to The Devil himself in a different form. Deities considered as the Devil include:
- Angat, a Madagascan devil
- Arawn, a Welsh god of the underworld
- Baal, a Cannanite god
- Chernobog, a Slavic name for the Devil, "black god"
- Dagon, a Philistine sea god
- Daba, Serbian embodiment of evil
- Horned God, a syncretic term of male nature gods, later converted to the devil
- Malek Taus
- Mammon, an Aramaic God of prosperity and profit
- The Origin of Satan, by Elaine Pagels (Vintage Books, New York 1995) explores the development, the "demonization" of the character of Satan against the background of the bitter struggle between the early Church and the Synagogue to be the legitimate heir of ancient Hebrew religious tradition. She discusses how Satan becomes a figure that reflects our own hatreds and prejudices, and the struggle between our loving selves and our fearful, combative selves.
- The Old Enemy: Satan & the Combat Myth, by Neil Forsyth (Princeton, New Jersey, 1987) seeks to show how Satan emerged from ancient mythological traditions and is best understood not as a principle of evil, but as a narrative character in the context of "the Combat Myth". Forsyth tells the Devil's story from the Epic of Gilgamesh through to the writings of St. Augustine.
- The Devil: Perceptions of Evil from Antiquity to Primitive Christianity, by Jeffrey Burton Russell (Meridian, New York 1977) is "a history of the personification of evil" which, to make things clear, he calls "the Devil". Accessible and engaging, full of photographs illustrating the text, this is the first of a four volume series on the history of the concept of the Devil. The following volumes are, Satan: The Early Christian Tradition, Lucifer: The Devil in the Middle Ages, and Mephistopheles: The Devil in the Modern World.
- The Devil in Legend and Literature, by Maximilian Rudwin (Open Court, La Salle, Illinois, 1931, 1959) is a compendium of "the secular and sacred adventures of Satan." Engaging, wide-ranging and good-humored (and out-of-print for thirty years), this "classic" was re-printed in 1989.