Fallen Angel. King of Demons. Lord of Hell. Satan. The Devil. How the mighty has fallen. Lucifer is many things to many people. From a symbol of rebellion to the idea of evil incarnate, few figures of mythology have such an immediate reaction in people as Lucifer. But is our idea of Lucifer accurate? To many religious groups Lucifer is the Devil, the monster in the night, the one who leads humankind astray. But historically, and biblically, is there a basis for this belief?
In The Social History of Satan, the “Intimate Enemy”: A Preliminary Sketch the author writes
“[In the] history of religion. Where did this figure originate, and what is its
role? Satan is scarcely present in traditional Judaism to this day and is not
present at all in classical Jewish sources.” (Pagels, 1991)
Similar can be said of the Christian Bible. For an antagonist so commonly campaigned against by Christian groups he is barely mentioned in their holy text.
Christian myth tells us Lucifer was an Archangel who wanted to be recognised as superior to humans. “This assumption is often based the book of Isaiah in the Bible which says, “How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!”” (History.com). In this narrative Lucifer generally wishes to be equal to God, or at least higher than humanity. God (Yahweh) then casts Lucifer to Earth or Hell as punishment.
“Lucifer became jealous that the Lord God did not require that the
creation worship him, for he had been with God in the very creation
of his offspring. And so he would not bow before the light of the
offspring of the Most High”
(Prophet, 2010, p 32)
In this instance “offspring” refers to humankind. In Judaic ideology Lucifer as Satan is an agent of God, and his role is significantly different from Islamic and Christian ideas of Lucifer.
Islamic myth tells us Lucifer, there named Iblis, was an Archangel who, when ordered to be supplicant to humanity, and either refused to idolise any power that was not Allah (God) or insisted he was better than mankind. In my research I have more frequently come across the first version of the myth, in which Iblis is devout in his belief that Allah, not mankind, should be worshipped. In this action he defies the will of God and is cast from heaven.
But Lucifer, as an entity or symbol, is much older than these religions. If we look at the role Lucifer plays in mythology his presence can be equated to many celestial figures. As the light bringer he can be equated to Apollo of Greco-Roman mythology, Utu of Babylonian/Sumerian mythology, Attar in Canaanite (Ugarit) mythology, Shamash of Mesopotamian mythology, or Dazbog of Slavic mythology. These are all male deities of the Sun and quite a few of them are considered to rule over the Underworld, or the dark places, when the day is done. Here we can see a distinct parallel to Lucifer the archangel who “falls” to the Underworld where he becomes King over the dead or damned. In monotheistic religion there can be only one god and so stories that replace, or fill the place of, the stories of polytheism become stories of angels and demons, or lesser spirits. Some academics even believe that a number of Christian saints evolved out of the worship of old deities. The most famous example I can think of is St Brigid is supposed to be synonymous with the Gaelic Goddess Brigid. Branfionn NicGrioghair claims “She was transformed by the Church of St. Brigid into St. Brigid about 453 C.E.” (NicGrioghair, mythicireland.com)
In Strega (an Italian Witchcraft Tradition) Lucifer is a God. According to LuciaStar on the Umbraferra website “Lucifer derives from lux (light) and ferre (to bear), which would make Lucifer literally translate to Light-Bearer” (check out the blog here). LuciaStar also claims that Lucifer is considered to be a minor Roman diety and that “Strega’s see Lucifer as a brave rebel whom opposed the tyrannical Yahweh.” This idea of Lucifer being a God is echoed in Aradia: The Gospel of the Witches. In Leland’s text Lucifer is the father of Aradia by Diana, his sister. In Leland’s view Lucifer is the God figure and Diana is the Goddess. Leland’s views were that Aradia taught women witchcraft to fight the oppressive forces in their lives, namely “feudal overlords and the Catholic Church”. In this instance it is clear Leland’s Aradia is playing a similar role to the conventional idea of Lucifer and his fallen angels; she is a rebel who, like the Watchers of Enoch, teaches humans secret and occult knowledge. Here we can see the two distinct aetiologies of Fallen Angels (the Angels who fell with Lucifer, and the Angels who fell through lust of women and sharing secret knowledge. (Prophet, 2010)) conflagrated into one, providing the figure of Aradia a parallel place within the literature of tempting agents and educators. Light is often an allegory or symbol for knowledge (hence the English term “enlightenment” is synonymous for learning) so in this instance Aradia is fulfilling the traditional role of a Fallen Angel.
So how did Lucifer become seen as The Adversary, the Devil? There is evidence and academic speculation that in Christianity’s bid to become the dominant world religion a didactic schism needed to be created. A polarisation between good and evil. Enter Lucifer. The Lucifer of Christian and Islamic mythology became synonymous with evil, despite there being no mention of his role as such in the Christian Bible, not even to say he rules over Hell. History.com suggests the concept of Lucifer ruling Hell originated in Dante’s The Divine Comedy. Indeed Satan (a figure commonly interpreted as Lucifer) generally translates as Accuser, and his role in Judeo-Christian mythology is to point the finger of blame at sinners and potentially punish them. “Satan was still a title that designated a specific function” (Pagels) and over time the title became a pronoun. Pagel even goes as far as to describe Satan as “a kind of divine prosecuting attorney”. This idea, or interpretation, is echoed in “Satan” in the Hebrew Bible by P. Day.
Rabbi Danzinger writes, “According to Torah, no spiritual force opposes G‑d. This includes Satan, who is a spiritual entity that faithfully carries out its divinely assigned task of trying to seduce people to stumble.” (Rabbi Eliezer Danzinger). In the Torah Satan/Lucifer acts as a punisher. Further Rabbi Kravtiz postures that, “Satan has no free will of his own and is given permission by God to torment Job to test his loyalty to Him. Thus, we see that Satan is a force, an angel, used by God to test mankind.” (Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz).
Lucifer as Satan, the embodiment of evil and ruler of Hell, seems to be a modern Christian man-made invention, that has morphed over time to suit the needs of the church, grown from the Jewish figure of Satan and the parallel mythologies of a fallen god or goddess descending to rule the land of the dead. ). P. L. Day writes in “Satan” in the Hebrew Bible “[The Book of] job is more advanced because, since God’s growing omnipotence rendered the post of Accuser redundant, the Satan’s role expanded beyond those boundaries and the character became more [seen as] more malicious.” (Day, 1986, p29). It is likely that around the time Lucifer’s character changed in the writings of Job so too did his image to the Christian masses.
In Faith or Fear Schroeder writes
“belief in divine punishment provided an extra buffer against selfish
missteps. Importantly, according to Johnson and Bering’s analysis,
god-fearing beliefs provided a better social strategy… Fear of divine
punishment, on the other hand, might prevent such individuals from
misbehaving in the first place” (Shroeder, 2015).
Fear of Lucifer, Demons, and Hell; makes believers malleable to church doctrine and thus is a useful tool that has been exploited over time. We have seen again and again in human history horrific things done under this exploitation (Salem Witch Trials, Spanish Inquisition, and much more).
My research appears to indicate that Lucifer of myth is much like the Lucifer of the Lucifer TV show. He has a dirty job that no one really wants to do, and people fear or hate him for it. In 1886 Nietzsche wrote, “That which an age considers evil is usually an unseasonable echo of what was formally considered good”, and the journey from Lucifer as the Lightbringer to the Adversary can easily be quantified as such. It does not take much to see how as humankind moved from polytheistic religion to monotheistic faith figures or symbols of ideology that were once seen as “good” became seen as “bad”, for if there are no other deities than “God” then all others who lay claim to having the power of gods must therefore be the antithesis of God; God’s creation twisted into his nemesis. If there is good there “must” be evil, and if God is good then the rebelling Lucifer “must” be evil in the minds of humankind. There is no basis for belief of Lucifer as evil incarnate in any of the texts I have studied. This belief must therefore arise from fear for there is no textual basis for the church to have expounded upon. Like Lilith, Lucifer is a character much maligned by the Christian church for what can only be described as free-thinking, and a stubborn refusal to submit to a “higher” authority. Is it perhaps this intolerance to the idea of being controlled that causes these figures to be symbols of rebellion?
Sources and Further Reading:
Day, P. L. (1986.). “Satan’ In the Hebrew Bible (Divine Council, Job (Book Of))(Doctoral Dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (Order No. 8704474)
Leland, C. (1899). Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches.
Neitszche, F. W. (1886) Beyond Good and Evil.
Pagels, E. (1991). “The Social History of Satan, the “Intimate Enemy”: A Preliminary Sketch”. In The Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 84, No. 2, pp. 105-128. Published by: Cambridge University Press
Prophet, C. (2010). Fallen Angels Among Us. USA: Summit University Press
Schroeder, S. (2015) Faith or Fear. https://www.psychologicalscience.org/observer/faith-or-fear