The Origins of Satan

Satan first appears in the Book of Numbers as an angel supporting the work of the gods or spirits of the shaman (or diviner), Balaam. We can trace him right through the mythology of the Hebrews until he ends up as the Hammer Horror character he is today — for which we can blame the usual suspects: Hollywood, the Roman Catholic Church and the advertising industry.

So who was this Satan angel and why did he appear to Balaam?

The story is set at a time when the Israelites had just come out of their 40 year wander around the Wilderness, and they had already conquered two kings. The king of Moab knew he was next on the list, and possibly because he didn’t want to face the Israelites in battle, came up with a cunning plan. He sent messengers to Balaam with all sorts of inducements for him to put a curse on the Children of Israel.

Balaam’s spirits (gods) were having none of this, and refused. So the king of Moab sent even further bribes, entreaties and outright blackmail Balaam’s way and so, in the end, our shaman was tempted to agree, and he did what no shaman should ever do. He set off on his ass to perform the curse without the permission of his spirit guides.

However, no sooner had Balaam got going down the road but “the satan” angel spirit stood in his path, barring the way. Balaam couldn’t see the satan, but his ass, obviously with much greater sensitivity and perception, could. So because the ass was rivetted by this terrifying shining apparition up ahead, he refused to budge. (And by the way, this story also comes from a time when angels were not the twee little fairy-like white-winged creatures which we hang on Christmas trees today. They were huge and often very fierce looking, as was the satan angel).

Balaam and the angel by Gustav Jaeger

In today’s Old Testament, it is written that it is God’s advice that Balaam was ignoring. But it is well understood that during the course of the many and varied rewritings and re-presenting of these stories to suit differing political purposes, especially the move from polytheism to monotheism, the terms ‘the gods’ was transcribed to ‘God’, thus causing no amount of confusion down the millennia.

It’s also interesting to note ~ knowing as we do that many of these originally orally transmitted stories began as astronomical metaphors and allegories ~ the similarity of the words ‘satan’ and ‘Saturn’. As anyone interested in astrology will already know, if you get Saturn in your horoscope then you can expect to be obstructed at just about every turn as you try to pursue your life plans, just as the satan spirit obstructed Balaam.

“Saturn’s action is principally binding, chastening, chronic, cold, crystallising, denuding, hardening, depleting, hindering, limiting, magnetic, obstructing, retarding and suppressing,” says traditional astrologer Peter Stockinger.

He continues:

“Also known as Kronos, or Cronos, Saturn is known as the malefic and “The Greater Infortune”. However, Saturn in himself is not evil, but is chastening, corrective and untiring in his efforts to arouse humanity to better and right living, and by bringing sorrow, suffering, sickness, trials and tribulations upon people that they may learn by their experience and reap what they sow.”

Perhaps, for this reason, Saturn is also known as “The Reaper”, “The Tester”, “The Chastener” and “The Initiator”, as poor old Job experienced.

The story of Job

In the old Torah story of Job, it is ‘the satan’ who is causing no end of trouble for Job in his life. In fact, the story of Job reads just like a shaman initiation story. The spirits do sometimes cause what appears to the poor trainee shaman to be havoc in their life. It certainly has the net effect of obstructing any course towards a ‘normal life’, before he surrenders to his vocation. This has been recorded by Mircea Eliade in his book Shamanism:Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, a compilation of anthropologists’ interviews with shamans worldwide at the end of the 19th century.

Over the course of thousands of years, we can chart this gradual deterioration of the character of the satan angel, who was just doing its job. In this 19th century painting by William Blake, we can see the beginnings of Count Dracula’s bat-winged cape.

Satan smiting Job with boils

And it didn’t take long for the collective subconscious to produce this, albeit through the artist Edward Gorey.

But we don’t need to believe in astrology or shamanism or even the spirits to appreciate this disservice that has been done to Satan; we just need to be aware of the metaphors that pervaded mythological thought across the civilised world during the late Neolithic period. These metaphors were transmitted through the collective subconscious in the form of symbols and archetypes. The subconscious mind is an enormous driver of our thoughts, words and deeds.

Even today, our subconscious mind is driven by symbols and archetypes from a belief system which our conscious mind no longer has any knowledge of, although that doesn’t prevent advertisers using them successfully in convincing us to buy a pile of stuff we don’t need.

However, it’s interesting to study the history of these archetypes in mythology, because then we eventually realise what a bunch of old pap we’re being sold — whether by religion, politics, marketing or the media — and can just politely hand it straight back to them.


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20 comments

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  8. Annie Dieu-Le-Veut

    This might be helpful:

    Etymological Meaning of Devil
    By John Fiske, “Myths and Myth-Makers – Old Tales and Superstitions Interpreted By Comparative Mythology”

    http://thebiggestsecret.online.fr/ancient_history/etymological_devil.htm

    The most striking illustration of this process is to be found in the word devil itself: To a reader unfamiliar with the endless tricks which language delights in playing, it may seem shocking to be told that the Gypsies use the word devil as the name of God.[96]

    This, however, is not because these people have made the archfiend an object of worship, but because the Gypsy language, descending directly from the Sanskrit, has retained in its primitive exalted sense a word which the English language has received only in its debased and perverted sense. The Teutonic words devil, teufel, diuval, djofull, djevful, may all be traced back to the Zend dev,[97] a name in which is implicitly contained the record of the oldest monotheistic revolution known to history. The influence of the so-called Zoroastrian reform upon the long-subsequent development of Christianity will receive further notice in the course of this paper; for the present it is enough to know that it furnished for all Christendom the name by which it designates the author of evil.

    To the Parsee follower of Zarathustra the name of the Devil has very nearly the same signification as to the Christian; yet, as Grimm has shown, it is nothing else than a corruption of deva, the Sanskrit name for God. When Zarathustra overthrew the primeval Aryan nature-worship in Bactria, this name met the same evil fate which in early Christian times overtook the word demon, and from a symbol of reverence became henceforth a symbol of detestation.[98] But throughout the rest of the Aryan world it achieved a nobler career, producing the Greek theos, the Lithuanian diewas, the Latin deus, and hence the modern French Dieu, all meaning God.

    If we trace back this remarkable word to its primitive source in that once lost but now partially recovered mother-tongue from which all our Aryan languages are descended, we find a root div or dyu, meaning “to shine.” From the first-mentioned form comes deva, with its numerous progeny of good and evil appellatives; from the latter is derived the name of Dyaus, with its brethren, Zeus and Jupiter. In Sanskrit dyu, as a noun, means “sky” and “day”; and there are many passages in the Rig-Veda where the character of the god Dyaus, as the personification of the sky or the brightness of the ethereal heavens, is unmistakably apparent.

    This key unlocks for us one of the secrets of Greek mythology. So long as there was for Zeus no better etymology than that which assigned it to the root zen, “to live,”[99] there was little hope of understanding the nature of Zeus. But when we learn that Zeus is identical with Dyaus, the bright sky, we are enabled to understand Horace’s expression, “sub Jove frigido,” and the prayer of the Athenians, “Rain, rain, dear Zeus, on the land of the Athenians, and on the fields.”[100]

    Such expressions as these were retained by the Greeks and Romans long after they had forgotten that their supreme deity was once the sky. Yet even the Brahman, from whose mind the physical significance of the god’s name never wholly disappeared, could speak of him as Father Dyaus, the great Pitri, or ancestor of gods and men; and in this reverential name Dyaus pitar may be seen the exact equivalent of the Roman’s Jupiter, or Jove the Father. The same root can be followed into Old German, where Zio is the god of day; and into Anglo-Saxon, where Tiwsdaeg, or the day of Zeus, is the ancestral form of Tuesday.

    [96] See Pott, Die Zigeuner, II. 311; Kuhn, Beitrage, I. 147. Yet in the worship of dewel by the Gypsies is to be found the element of diabolism invariably present in barbaric worship. “Dewel, the great god in heaven (dewa, deus), is rather feared than loved by these weather-beaten outcasts, for he harms them on their wanderings with his thunder and lightning, his snow and rain, and his stars interfere with their dark doings. Therefore they curse him foully when misfortune falls on them; and when a child dies, they say that Dewel has eaten it.” Tylor, Primitive Culture, Vol. II. p. 248.

    Sources:
    [97] See Grimm, Deutsche Mythologie, 939.

    [98] The Buddhistic as well as the Zarathustrian reformation degraded the Vedic gods into demons. “In Buddhism we find these ancient devas, Indra and the rest, carried about at shows, as servants of Buddha, as goblins, or fabulous heroes.” Max Muller, Chips, I. 25. This is like the Christian change of Odin into an ogre, and of Thor into the Devil.

    [99] Zeus–Dia–Zhna–di on ………… Plato Kratylos, p. 396, A., with Stallbaum’s note. See also Proklos, Comm. ad Timaeum, II. p. 226, Schneider; and compare Pseudo-Aristotle, De Mundo, p. 401, a, 15, who adopts the etymology. See also Diogenes Laertius, VII. 147.

    [100] Marcus Aurelius, v. 7; Hom. Iliad, xii. 25, cf. Petronius Arbiter, Sat. xliv.

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  9. Annie Dieu-Le-Veut

    Ioannis, you’re really going to have to stop making comments as if you’re pronouncing the final word on the subject. This whole topic is open to so much debate that I doubt you’d get two linguists to agree on it. I wouldn’t mind but you don’t even name your sources.

    If you think an evil entity god such as the devil is purely a Judaeo-Christian concept, you’ve obviously not studied Zoroastrianism and come across the evil Angra Mainyu or Hinduism with its Vritra (Rig-veda) and Ravana (Ramayana).

    Added to that, the ancient Egyptians had Set, the ancient Norse had Loki and the Buddhists had Mara.

    In addition, we have:

    Ahpuch – Mayan devil
    Ahriman – Mazdean devil
    Beherit – Syriac name for Satan
    Bilé – Celtic god of Hell
    Chemosh – National god of Moabites, later a devil
    Dagon – Philistine avenging devil of the sea
    Damballa – Voodoo serpent of God
    Enma-O – Japanese ruler of Hell
    Fenris – Son of Loki, depicted as a wolf (Norse)
    Mania – Etruscan goddess of Hell
    Mantus – Etruscan god of Hell
    Melek Taus – Yezidi devil
    Mictian – Aztec god of death
    Midgard serpent – Jörmungandr, son of Loki, depicted as a serpent
    Milcom – Ammonite devil
    Moloch – Phoenician and Canaanite devil
    Nihasa – American Indian devil
    Nija – Polish god of the underworld
    O-Yama – Japanese name for lord of death
    Pwcca – one of the myriad of fairy (faerie) folk
    Rimmon – Syrian devil worshipped at Damascus
    Samnu – Central Asian devil
    Sedit – American Indian devil
    Shaitan – Arabic name for Satan
    Supay – Inca god of the underworld
    T’an-mo – Chinese counterpart to the devil, covetousness, desire
    Tchort – Russian name for Satan, “black god
    Tunrida – Scandinavian female devil
    Yaotzin – Aztec god of Hell
    Yen-lo-Wang – Chinese ruler of Hell

    The Online Etymological Dictionary only traces ‘devil’ as far back as ‘diavolos’ of the Greeks, but the Greeks came from a young offspring nation of the older Vedic tribes, and both their languages were developed from the same source, known as Indo-European.

    Now you may be right in the Indo-European Indian ‘devas’ not being related to the Indo-European Greek’diavolos’ …. but how on earth would you know, when nobody else does?

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  10. ArchaeoNewsNet

    Sorry guys… the Gk word diavolos from which we get devil is definitely not related to Skt devas…. no matter how you stretch it!!! The whole concept of the “devil” aka “satan” in judaio-christian tradition is strictly jewish and subsequent christian propaganda/xenophobia!!!

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  11. ken sachs

    I didn’t intend to argue theology.

    My point was that the same word can have close, but still significantly different, meaning depending on capitalization.
    It was a grammar technique used by the translators of the King James Version.
    And it has been copied ever since.
    Not only in the Bible but in other English writing as well.

    Because of this widespread, but under appreciated use, it is a technique we should be aware of when we read.
    It can give us insight into what the author, or translators, were trying to get across.

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  12. ken sachs

    Following up on your noticing the use of capitols in the naming of sprits…

    From a strictly Biblical point of view I think there is a difference between the “Satan” of the book of Job and the “satan” of the book of numbers.

    You give the meaning of the name as “obstructer.” My sources use the word “resister.”
    Close enough.

    In Job the word is pretty clearly a name, maybe a title. But it is certain that the one referred to is THE Resister. The head honcho of the resistance to the rule of God.
    (It is interesting to note that this Satan was the leader of the demons. These demons are identified as the “rebellious sons of God.” So God had family problems. A good number of seriously rebellious sons.)

    In the case of Balaam the satan, or resister, is not of such importance. And, in fact, is given a responsibility in support of Gods will. He is trying to keep Balaam from giving a curse against the invading Israelites. He eventually lets Balaam continue on his journey. The divinely desired effect is accomplished by “changing” the words of Balaam’s curse into words of blessing.
    So, in this case the lower case resister of Numbers was probably just a journeyman angle given a one time job of keeping something from happening.

    A case of the same word given different meaning by the use of capitalization by the Bible translators.

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    • Annie Dieu-Le-Veut

      But they were both acting as a result of the will of God, Ken. Neither was acting independently.

      As you know, I’m not a monotheist. But for the moment, I’ll suspend that judgement and go along with you.

      The point that often gets missed is that duality is a GOOD THING. The ‘good’ and ‘bad’ is a never ending dance of yin and yang, flowing into each other and out again. This yin and yang is all under the will of God and in the same universe, which He created. It answers the question of the child: “But if God is good, why does he allow so many bad things to happen.”

      We need to move on from that childlike view. It’s all His Will ….well, Her’s actually! 🙂

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  13. ArchaeoNewsNet

    Sorry I meant Lycian >> Sandis, Sandios, Sandos [= deity] < Hitt. sant- ='furious'

    Note also that Santa = Hindu Mother goddess

    In Hebrew the word satan = 'rival'

    As for the word God:

    IE: *dyew-. *deiw-o-; Skt: deva-; Hitt: siu-, siun(i)-, siwann(i)- etc; Luw: Tiyaz = 'sun-sun-god'; Gk: theos, diwos, zeus; Lat: deus = = God; Avestan & Persian = 'demon, monster, idol';

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  14. Annie Dieu-Le-Veut

    Thanks Ioannis. That’s very interesting that you’ve traced Satan back as far as the Hittites. Do you have a name for this Hittite god/angel/spirit?

    What you have then gone on to describe, though, is the story of Lucifer … which is a whole other ballgame, and one I’ll be doing a post on soon. I agree with a lot of what you’ve said about Lucifer, but there is a bit more to it.

    It’s interesting, though, how the two stories (of Satan and Lucifer) have become intertwined over the centuries.

    The point about the Maya derivation and also the derivation of the word ‘devil’ is that there is a much older Indo-European Sanskrit root than the Greek or Latin meaning, which is ‘deva’.

    The ‘devas’ were the spirits of the Rig-veda, which contain the oldest sacred texts in the form of songs of praise to the devas, or spirits (aka gods also). Latin and Greek both derive their languages from the base Indo-European language, and thus derived diavalos from there. Also, linguists tell us that v and b tend to be interchangeable as languages move and spread across continents, so we can also find diablos there. Those who worshipped the spirits or devas were accused of being pagans (by Christians) so that’s probably how the ‘accused’ meaning came about. But it’s root is much older and found in India.

    The Hittites also, I believe, spoke an Indo-European language, so maybe we can trace Satan back to the Vedas?

    I don’t think anyone mentioned spacemen building the pyramids, though….

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  15. ArchaeoNewsNet

    Sorry guys I have to disagree. The name Satan in all probability comes from the Hittite sun-god of the same name who was identified with the Greek God Apollo.

    It is also interesting to note that in Christianity ‘Lucifer’ actually means Apollo.

    Apollo was in fact called ‘Eosphoros’ or ‘bringer of the dawn (ie., light)’ which is where the Latin name Lucifer comes from. The Latin name actually has the same etymology as another epithet of Apollo… that is, Lykaios or ‘the shining one’.

    Lykaios is where we get our words ‘light’ and ‘luxury’.

    Why should the christians deride Apollo?

    Because they hated everything “Hellenic” … (ie., pagan) … of which Apollo was essentially the patron God.

    Greek music, poetry, tragedy and ultimately philosophy were all dedicated to Apollo

    This is why they (ie., the christians) burned all the libraries of the ancient world!!!

    The christian hatred of everything Hellenic in fact culminated with the great persecutions of so-called pagans in the 5th century AD when they massacred all non-christians and destroyed all their places of worship!

    Incidentally, the word diavolos… or ‘devil’ … from which we get such words as diabolic … was an early christian word which literally means ‘accuser’ in Greek… it was evidently used to designate any Roman who ‘accused’ people of being christian (ie., anti-Roman) during the emperor Diocletian’s persecution of them.

    As for Mayans in ancient Egypt… or spacemen building the pyramids … give us a break!!!

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  16. Annie Dieu-Le-Veut

    Thanks Tony. I tend to agree with Gerald Massey in his Ancient Egypt: The Light of the World, although I know he’s not every Egyptologists’ cup of tea, where he compares the Jesus/Devil myth to Horus/Sut or Set.

    “The gospel story of the devil taking Jesus, or the Christ, up into an exceeding high mountain from which all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them could be seen, and of the contention on the summit, is originally a legend of the astronomical mythos which, in common with so many others, has been converted into ‘history.’ As legend it can be explained by means of the Egyptian wisdom. [p.832] As ‘history’ it is, of course, miraculous, if nothing else. Satan and Jesus are the representatives of Sut and Horus, the contending twins of darkness and light, of drought and fertility, who strove for supremacy in the various phenomena of external nature, and in several celestial localities belonging to the mythology. In the Ritual[431] the struggle is described as taking place upon the mount, that is, ‘the mountain in the midst of the earth,’ or the mountain of Amenta, which ‘reaches up to the sky,’ and which in the solar mythos stood at the point of equinox where the conflict was continued and the twins were reconciled year after year. The equinox was figured at the summit of the mount on the ecliptic, and the scene of strife was finally configurated as a fixture in the constellation of the Gemini, the sign of the twin-brothers who for ever fought and wrestled ‘up and down the garden,’ first one, then the other being uppermost during the two halves of the year, or of night and day. The mountain of the equinox ‘in the midst of the earth’ joined the portion of Sut to the portion of Horus at this the point midway between the south and north. It was on the mountain of the equinox and only there the twins were reconciled for the time being by the star-god Shu[432] or by the earth-god Seb in the text from Memphis. Sut the Satanic is described as seizing the good Horus in the desert of Amenta and carrying him to the top of the mount here called Mount Hetep, the place of peace, where the two contending powers are reconciled by Shu, according to the treaty made by Seb. Thus, episode after episode, the gospel history can and will be traced to the original documents as matter of the Egyptian mysteries and astronomical mythology.”

    From here: http://www.masseiana.org/aebk12.htm#831

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  17. Tony Holmes

    It has been mooted by various Egyptologists that the origin of the word Satan comes from Set, (sometimes written Seth) the evil god and brother of Osiris. Set murdered his brother and cut his body into several pieces and scattered them all over the ancient land. It took Isis, Osiris’s sister to gather up the pieces and reassemble them (but that’s another story). Set was banished to the underworld, or at least beyond the southern horizon into Nubia, modern day Somalia.

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  18. Tim Lohrentz

    Hi Ishtar
    I notice that at least some of this story comes from the Maya, who began visiting the Jews in about 1800 BC (and other people too before and after). The main clue is Balaam, which means ‘jaguar’ in Chorti Maya. Three of the four Mayan founders had jaguar totems. The 40-year wilderness story, which just preceded the Moab and Balaam story, has a parallel in the Popol Vuh, the Maya history book, with many similarities.
    We probably can blame Satan on the Maya too. ‘Sat’ means lost, disappeared, or hidden in Chorti and ‘aihn’ means alligator, large lizard, or giant lizard spirit. So Sataihn would be disappearing giant lizard spirit. In the Balaam and Moab story Satan is hidden. And in Revelations Satan is called a dragon. My guess is that Sataihn originally was a constellation that disappeared for part of the year or night.
    Tim

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