Friday, June 1, 2012

Vendredi: Chthonian Histories

Though in modern terms we tend to lump every demon known in the Christian Hell into one and call him/her/it “The Devil”, this is a fairly recent religious phenomena.  Our ancestors in Europe, the Middle East and parts of Africa and Asia loved nothing more than cataloguing the minutest detail of any given subgroup of obscure demons to the enth degree.  It was a particular passion for Christian scholars, who seem to have believed that by quantifying evil, they could somehow control it.

Given these obsessions, it should come as no surprise that Satan – both in name and being – was actually not one but several separate embodiments of evil.  “Our name is Legion, for We are Many,” after all. 

This was certainly the case in Johann Weyer’s 16th century work Pseudographica Demoniaca.  Weyer lists a total of eight Satans all together and the listed characteristics are certainly worth taking a closer look at.  For the purposes of this post, we will only discuss seven of Weyer’s individual Satans.  The eighth, and to my mind most complex, is Lucifer~Satan and that guy absolutely needs his own space to fully breath anxiety, jealousy, rage and brimstone.

And so, in alphabetical order, seven of the eight Satans of demonologist Johann Weyer:

Abaddon~Satan:  Our first Satan may be a corruption or extension of the Hebrew angel of Gehenna.  He resides in the very lowest layer of Hell and can be associated with demons such as Apollyon who was a Christian demonization of the Greek Apollo.

Azazel~Satan:  Azazel, as a separate “dark angel,” is mentioned in the Book of Enoch which the Christians rejected when putting together their Bible.  Enoch implies that he may have been one of, or perhaps even the leader of, those creepy angels known as The Watchers.  It is Azazel who most closely resembles the rebel angel of Hebrew lore who refused to give homage to God’s creation in the form of Adam.  “Why,” Azazel asked.  “Should a Son of Light bow before a Son of Dust?”  In this, he may also be the Christian mirror of the Islamic Iblis.

Beelzebub~Satan:  The story of Beelzebub’s fall from Lord of the House in ancient Babylon to Lord of the Flies in Christian mythos is a prototype for demonization.  To the ancients, Beelzebub was essentially the Angel of Death who conducted the souls of the dead to their final home.  Since flies were believed to carry human souls, Beelzebub was a indeed the shepherd of flies.  This was turned in on itself in the Christian version and Beelzebub became the ruler of the filth, decay and pestilence associated with insects.

Beliel~Satan:  Beliel may be an afterthought as his story tends to mirror those of other Satans.  In the (again, rejected) Gospel of Bartholomew, Beliel states: “I was called Satanel, that is messenger of God, but I rejected God’s image and my name was called Satanas: he who keeps Hell.”  Beliel also claims to have been the first angel made by God.  Most demonologists name that angel Lucifer.

Mastema~Satan:  Some scholars say that Mastema’s name has its root in the Hebrew word for adverse.  Mastema is said to be the dark angel who attacked Moses in the desert and the snake who tempted Eve in the Garden.  Weyer makes him the accusing angel who will whisk the unjust to Hell and tell Heaven why.

Sammael~Satan:  Sammael is called “chief of the Satans” by Enoch, who writes of witnessing the powerful angel Uriel in argument with these demons.  The most forceful advocate among them, he says, was Sammael.  Weyer seems to agree, calling Sammael the Angel of Death.  Sammael is also known as the Great Serpent, so he too has a claim to being the snake in Eden.  This is the Satan who, flying over the homes of humans in the night, will make our dogs howl.

Satanel:  Aside from Lucifer, Satanel seems on the face of it to have the best claim to the title of capitol D “Devil”.  Unlike Lucifer, his name has the same ending as most of the truly famous angels: Michael, Gabriel, Raphael and so on.  This suffix has an ancient lineage that passes from the Sumerian el meaning shining, through Babylonian ellu, radiant one into Celtic as elf or aelf, also radiant or shining one.  His name would indicate that Satanel has a good hold on the first seat in the angel band.  Unfortunately, he hasn’t the compelling story that Lucifer – or even Sammael – has and simply slapping an el onto your name doesn’t make you royalty.  Even in Weyer, our last Satan comes off more as a reflection of all the others than as a form of the Evil One.

So there are the eight minus one.  Another day we will meet Lucifer and ask to see his credentials.  Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with another bit of my Gran’s wisdom: Don’t raise more devils than you can lay down.  Vendredi heureux ~

Header: St. Michael and the Dragon by Albrecht Durer via Wikipedia


Timmy! said...

Hail Satan if you please, Pauline!

Just kidding...


Pauline said...

Always good to hear a James Hetfield quote around here...