Friday, January 9, 2009

Satan - Part I

From the frontispiece of Paul Carus's The History of the Devil and the Idea of Evil (1900).

Satan is the adversary of God. Thus, Satan is evil personified. Many followers of the Bible consider Satan to be a real being, a spirit created by God. Satan and the other spirits who followed him rebelled against God. They were allegedly cast out from Heaven by their Creator. Theologians might speculate as to why the Almighty did not annihilate the "fallen angels," as He is said to have done to his other creations when they failed to be righteous (save Noah and his family, of course).

Satan was allowed to set up his own kingdom in Hell and to send out devils to prowl the earth for converts. The demonic world seems to have been allowed to exist for one purpose only: to tempt humans to turn away from God. Why God would allow Satan to do this is explained in the Book of Job, where Satan is described as an angel who works in cahoots with God. When Job asks why God let Satan torment him the answer is blunt and final: Hath thou an arm like the Lord? The story of Job is interpreted in many different ways by theologians but my interpretation is that nobody knows why God lets Satan live and torment us. God is God and can do whatever He wants. Ours is not to question why, ours is but to do and die.


Satan, being a spirit, is neither male nor female. However, like his Creator, Satan is usually referred to as a masculine being. Many believe that Satan, or the Devil as he is often called, can "possess" human beings. Possession is bodily invasion by the devil. The Catholic Church still performs exorcisms on those considered to be possessed. Jesus is said to have cast out demons, i.e., performed exorcisms, and the Church considers itself to have been given this same power by Jesus. Throughout the centuries, many pious religious people have erroneously considered those with certain mental or physical illnesses to be possessed by Satan.

More frequent than outright possession, however, has been the accusation of being in consort with the devil. Satan is believed to have many powers, among them the power to manifest himself in human or animal form. The consorting has been recorded as often being purely physical and mostly sexual. For most of the history of Christianity there are reports of Satan having sex with humans, either as an incubus (male devil) or succubus (female devil). Witches and sorcerers were thought by many to be the offspring of such unions. They are considered especially pernicious because they inherit some of the devil's powers.

According to Carl Sagan, accounts of diabolical intercourse are common cultural phenomena:

Parallels to incubi include Arabian djinn [jinn], Greek satyrs, Hindu bhuts, Samoan hotua poro, Celtic dusii... (Sagan 1995, 124).

However, as a child being instructed in the ways of Satan by Dominican sisters, stories of nuns being raped by incubi in a priest's clothing were assuredly not told. The Devil was there to tempt us to sin, pure and simple. He was not there to have sex with us or engage in reproductive experimentation or breed a race of witches and magi. To be sure, his main temptations would be sexual. There was no doubt that He spent a lot of time using girls to tempt boys into impure thoughts and deeds. He would invade our minds continuously during adolescence, planting desires for sexual experiences too evil to be mentioned much less performed. I suppose, to be fair, the girls should have been taught to be wary of boys trying to get them to yield to sexual temptation and that we would use every trick in the devil's arsenal to get them to go "all the way." But the girls were taught that they were the temptresses and were therefore the ones who needed to keep from harming the boys with their female charms. We were taught to pray constantly, implore the intercession of the saints and the Holy Mother of God, that they might give us protection against the snares of Satan. It must have occurred to many observers that the fear of Satan seems very much like fear of our own sexuality.

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