Category Archives: History of Satan

Podcast 8.24: Satanic Imagery and Conspiracies in Modern Culture

This final episode in the series looks at some ways in which Satan still finds a place within modern culture.  After discussing the importance of the film Nosferatu (1922), I discuss Satanic imagery within the country blues (1930s) and rock and roll.  Then I conclude with a discussion of two Satanic conspiracies of the 1980s, the Satanic ritual abuse scare and the notion of backmasking in rock and roll.

Podcast 8.24: Satanic Imagery and Conspiracies in Modern Culture (mp3; archive.org page with various downloading options here).

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Podcast 8.23: Goethe’s Ironic Mephistopheles (ca. 1800)

This episode looks at the modern, ironic portrayal of Mephistopheles in Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faust (ca. 1800), which suggests some future directions for a relatively harmless and even powerless Satan in the modern period.

Podcast 8.23: Goethe’s Ironic Mephistopheles (ca. 1800) (mp3; archive.org page with various downloading options here).

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Podcast 8.22: Milton’s Traditional Satan in Paradise Lost (1600s)

This episode looks at the way in which John Milton (in Paradise Lost) pulled together many different elements into an early modern epic of a traditional Satan with some notable twists.

Podcast 8.22: Milton’s Traditional Satan in Paradise Lost (1600s) (mp3; archive.org page with various downloading options here).

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Podcast 8.21: The Devil and Internal Struggles of the Reformation Period (1500s)

In this episode, I explore how Devilish images and stories were used to combat enemies during the Reformation period (1500s), finishing with a discussion of Menno Simons’ piece on identifying the Antichrist.

Podcast 8.21: The Devil and Internal Struggles of the Reformation Period (1500s) (mp3; archive.org page with various downloading options here).

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Podcast 8.20: Witchcraft Accusations and Pacts with the Devil (1400-1600)

This episode looks at the place of Satan or the Devil in witchcraft accusations of the period 1400-1600, building on Robin Briggs’ theory expounded in Witches and Neighbors: The Social and Cultural Context of European Witchcraft (London: Penguin Books, 1998).

Podcast 8.20: Witchcraft Accusations and Pacts with the Devil (1400-1600) (mp3; archive.org page with various downloading options here).

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Podcast 8.19: Satan and Demons in Everyday Life in the Middle Ages

This episode considers some Medieval perspectives on Satan and demons, considering stories of everyday interactions between humans and demons and looking at the role of Satan within one particular movement, the Cathars.

Podcast 8.19: Satan and Demons in Everyday Life in the Middle Ages (mp3; archive.org page with various downloading options here).

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Podcast 8.18: Satan’s Home, part 5 – Medieval Depictions and Dante’s Inferno

This episode discusses some medieval images of Satan and Hell with a special focus on Dante’s Inferno.

Podcast 8.18: Satan’s Home, part 5 – Medieval Depictions and Dante’s Inferno (mp3; archive.org page with various downloading options here).

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Podcast 8.17: Satan’s Home, part 4 – Tortures in Hell and Christ’s Descent

This episode looks at images of torture in hell that are first seen in the Apocalypse of Peter before going on to the notion of Christ’s descent into hell to rescue prisoners in other writings, including the so-called Gospel of Nicodemus.

Podcast 8.17: Satan’s Home, part 4 – Tortures in Hell and Christ’s Descent (mp3; archive.org page with various downloading options here).

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Podcast 8.16: Satan’s Home, part 3 – Developments among Early Jesus Followers

This episode looks at how certain followers of Jesus, including the authors of Revelation and the gospels, expressed their notions of Hell and the afterlife.

Podcast 8.16: Satan’s Home, part 3 – Developments among Early Jesus Followers (mp3; archive.org page with various downloading options here).

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Podcast 8.15: Satan’s Home, part 2 – The Birth of Judean Hell in 1 Enoch

This episode situates the emergence of Hell and notions of an afterlife within Judean apocalypticism in light of the earliest reference to the punishment of fallen angels in 1 Enoch (ca. 225 BCE).

Podcast 8.15: Satan’s Home, part 2 – The Birth of Judean Hell in 1 Enoch (mp3; archive.org page with various downloading options here).

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Podcast 8.14: Satan’s Home, Part 1 – Cultural Origins Of Hell

This episode looks at cultural predecessors of Hell and the afterlife in the Ancient Near East, Israel and Persia, setting the stage for discussion of Judean and Christian developments in the following episodes.

Podcast 8.14: Satan’s Home, Part 1 – Cultural Origins Of Hell (mp3; archive.org page with various downloading options here).

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Podcast 8.13: Satan as Father of Lies and Heresy in the Church Fathers

This episode looks at how the rhetoric of Satan and demons played a role in internal debates and the construction of “heresies” in the era of the so-called Church Fathers (2nd-4th centuries).

Podcast 8.13:  Satan as Father of Lies and Heresy in the Church Fathers (2nd-4th centuries CE) (mp3; archive.org page with various downloading options here).

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Podcast 8.12: Satan’s Demons and the Greco-Roman Gods in the Church Fathers

In the first of two episodes dealing with the Church Fathers, here I look at how Justin Martyr and Origen contribute to the story of Satan and his demons in countering external opponents.

Podcast 8.12: Satan’s Demons and the Greco-Roman Gods in the Church Fathers (2nd-3rd centuries CE) (mp3; archive.org page with various downloading options here).

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Podcast 8.11: The Jealous Creator and the Serpent of Wisdom in Gnosticism (2nd century CE)

Here I examine “On the Origin of the World” (one of the writings found at Nag Hammadi), which attributes to the creator God (Yaldabaoth) of the Hebrew Bible many of the negative attributes and motivations found in developing stories about Satan.  The result is a Satanic creator god and a wise serpent in the garden who brings knowledge (gnosis) and salvation.

Podcast 8.11: The Jealous Creator and the Serpent of Wisdom in Gnosticism (2nd century CE) (mp3; archive.org page with various downloading options here).

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Podcast 8.10: Jealous Satan, the Image of God, and the Serpent in the Life of Adam and Eve

Here I discuss the expanded story of Adam and Eve that emerged around the turn of the common era as a way of explaining the motivations of Satan (primarily jealousy) in connection with both the creation of humans in the image of God and the serpent in the garden.

Podcast 8.10: Jealous Satan, the Image of God, and the Serpent in the Life of Adam and Eve (mp3; archive.org page with various downloading options here).

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Podcast 8.9: A Satanic Empire in John’s Apocalypse (ca. 80-100 CE)

Here I discuss Satan in John’s Apocalypse (Revelation), pointing out how this author pulls together many strands of the story of Satan and does so to demonize an external power: the Roman empire.

Podcast 8.9: A Satanic Empire in John’s Apocalypse (ca. 80-100 CE) (mp3; archive.org page with various downloading options here).

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Podcast 8.8: Internal Functions of the Rhetoric of Satan in Paul and John (ca. 50-110 CE)

Here I introduce Paul’s apocalyptic worldview and go on to discuss the way in which some early Christian authors or leaders (e.g. Paul and the elder John) used the language or rhetoric of Satan or evil personified figures (e.g. Antichrist) to label and combat internal opponents within the Christian communities.

Podcast 8.8: Internal Functions of the Rhetoric of Satan in Paul and John (ca. 50-110 CE) (mp3; archive.org page with various downloading options here).

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Podcast 8.7: The Devil and Beelzebub in Early Biographies of Jesus (70-100 CE)

Here I discuss how the authors of the synoptic gospels portray Jesus in conflict with demons and with the Devil.

Podcast 8.7: The Devil and Beelzebub in Early Biographies of Jesus (70-100 CE) (mp3; archive.org page with various downloading options here).

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Podcast 8.6: Mastema in Jubilees and Beliar in the Dead Sea Scrolls (ca. 100 BCE)

Here I continue to trace the development of evil personified figures in Judean literature around the turn of the first century BCE, focussing on Mastema (Enmity personified) and Beliar or Belial (Worthless One).  I also discuss the Prince of Darkness in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Podcast 8.6: Mastema in Jubilees and Beliar in the Dead Sea Scrolls (ca. 100 BCE) (mp3; archive.org page with various downloading options here).

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Podcast 8.5: Fallen Angels in 1 Enoch (ca. 225 BCE)

Here I discuss 1 Enoch’s expanded story of the fallen angels headed by Azazel and Semyaz (based on an interpretation of Genesis 6), which came to play a crucial role in the emerging story of Satan.

Podcast 8.5: Fallen Angels in 1 Enoch (ca. 225 BCE) (mp3; archive.org page with various downloading options here).

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Podcast 8.4: Other Predecessors of Satan from the Hebrew Bible

Here I explore other building blocks of Satan’s story from Israelite culture by looking at arrogant foreign kings and angels or messengers of God in the Hebrew Bible.

Podcast 8.4: Other Predecessors of Satan from the Hebrew Bible (mp3; archive.org page with various downloading options here).

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Podcast 8.3: Predecessors of Satan from Persia (Zoroastrianism)

Here I discuss the battle between Ahura Mazda and Angra Mainyu in Persian Zoroastrianism in relation to the role of Satan within Judean apocalypticism.

Podcast 8.3: Predecessors of Satan from Persia (mp3; archive.org page with various downloading options here).

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Podcast 8.2: Predecessors of Satan from Canaan and Israel

This episode continues to consider the centrality of the “combat myth” for the subsequent origins of Satan, considering Ugaritic (Canaanite) and Israelite examples of a god slaying a chaos monster, such as Leviathan.

Podcast 8.2: Predecessors of Satan from Canaan and Israel (mp3; archive.org page with various downloading options here).

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Podcast 8.1: A Cultural History of Satan – Predecessors from Mesopotamia

This series of the podcast investigates the origins, history and functions of personified evil from ancient Judean (Jewish) and Christian culture to modern, Western culture.  We begin with what you might call the pre-history of Satan by exploring the building blocks of what ultimately became the story of Satan within Judean and Christian circles.  The first among the predecessors of Satan are monsters (who are also gods) found within Mesopotamian mythology in the second and first millenia BCE.  The so-called “combat myth” is a fundamental building block of Satan’s story.

Podcast 8.1: A Cultural History of Satan – Predecessors from Mesopotamia (mp3; archive.org page with various downloading options here).

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Satanic conspiracies of the 1970s and 1980s (Satan 12)

There was a general decline of Satan in the wake of the eighteenth century Enlightenment and modernism (a decline in him being perceived as a real and imminent danger, that is). Nonetheless, he still remained alive and well within certain types of Christianity, particularly within the more conservative forms which do account for a large percentage of modern Christianity. Certainly not all of these conservative Christians subscribed to conspiratorial theories regarding Satan’s dastardly plans to undermine God’s activity. Yet there were — from the 1970s-1990s — a number of somewhat widespread notions of Satan’s evil machinations that are best described as conspiracy theories, two of which I will touch on here.

On the one hand were the very frightening claims of “Satanic ritual abuse“. There was a variety of contextual factors that fed the development of this particular conspiracy theory including the following:

1) There were general fears within some Christian circles regarding the many New Religious Movements (NRMs) — “cults” from this perspective — which were perceived as deceiving and brainwashing their potential members into joining. One of the results was a somewhat organized anti-cult movement, including groups such as the International Cultic Studies Association (a newer organization that follows in the footsteps of earlier groups), that produced substantial amounts of literature. The Church of Satan, or the unintentional worship of Satan via other “cults” generally, could naturally be subsumed within this framework.

2) Added to this was the actual existence and public visibility of an actual Church of Satan (founded by Magus Anton Szandor LaVey in about 1966 but especially visible in the 1970s) , which claimed to be the continuation of the worldwide worship of Satan that had been going on since ancient times.

3) Within certain circles of Christian social workers or therapists who held the view that there was a Satanic conspiracy, certain methods developed (namely suggestive interrogation) which resulted in a high number of cases where children and adults reported or confessed to involvement in Satanic rituals, often as victims. In some cases, the results of such approaches regarding stories of Satanic abuse were published in popularizing books, including Lawrence Pazder’s Michelle Remembers of 1980.

In essence, this conspiracy theory entailed a worldwide, secretive network of Satan worshippers who were systematically exploiting both children and adults to engage in wild and demonic rituals. One of the handbooks for therapists, as cited by the historian David Frankfurter, explains that Satanic abuse usually involves:

“group cult ceremonies in which children engage in sexual acts with adults and other children; the sacrifice and mutilation of animals; threats related to magical or supernatural powers; ingestion of drugs, ‘magic potions,’ blood, and human excrement; and distortion of traditional belief systems” (Susan J. Kelley as cited by Frankfurter, “Ritual as Accusation and Atrocity: Satanic Ritual Abuse, Gnostic Libertinism, and Primal Murders,” History of Religions 40 [2001], p. 356).

Another such handbook for those who believed in the conspiracy states:

“Such abuse may include the actual or simulated killing or mutilation of an animal, the actual or simulated killing or mutilation of a person, forced ingestion of real or simulated human body fluids, excrement or flesh, [and] forced sexual activity” (Noblitt and Perskin as cited by Frankfurter, p. 357).

The fact that this was indeed a conspiracy theory arising out of certain peoples’ worldviews and not reality is now widely recognized. What is particularly interesting is the manner in which stereotypes of the dangerous “other” which have a very long history — including the trio of human sacrifice, cannibalism, and sexual perversion — play a key role in this incident as well. Back in Roman times, for instance, the early Christians were accused by outsiders of engaging in precisely these three activities, as were other marginalized or foreign groups in antiquity (on which see my earlier posts here and here). Similar dynamics of marginalization and demonization were also at work in the late medieval and early modern witch hunts.

A second main conspiracy theory, which is somewhat less frightening or disturbing, involves the accusations against certain rock n’ roll bands regarding their allegiances with the Prince of Darkness (Satan not Ozzy), via backmasking, or backward messaging. The idea was that if you play a record backwards (remember records?) you could potentially hear an alternate message that, it was believed, was placed there intentionally by the artists in order to serve their lord and master, Satan. Among the first to fall prey to this accusation was Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven”, which, when played backwards, it was imagined, revealed the following message:

BACKWARDS:
Here’s to my sweet Satan,
The one whose little path would make me sad, whose power is fake/Satan.
He’ll give those with him 666.
There was a little toolshed where he made us suffer, sad Satan.

FORWARDS:
If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow, don’t be alarmed now,
It’s just a spring clean for the May queen.
Yes, there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run
There’s still time to change the road you’re on.
(Page / Plant, “Stairway to Heaven,” Led Zeppelin IV, ©1971 SuperHype Music Inc.. Lyrics online here)

Many other bands were likewise accused of broadcasting the messages of Satan to the impressionable ears of our youth. The fact is that, if you want to find it, a word that sounds like “Satan” would appear in just about any music played backwards. But soon the idea of putting hidden, backward messages on albums was consciously taken on, particularly in the case of heavy metal bands of the 1980s, who seemed to think that Satan, with his number 666, was “cool”.

UPDATE (March 24): Now see the comments section and “Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion” blog, where there was an earlier post on the Satanic abuse scare focussing primarily on the issue of therapists or psychologists who created the scare, to some degree, particularly in connection with popularizing books on the topic (sadly, there is a Canadian connection). He also includes the cover of a book on Satan (and, yes, it is now available in a new edition with flashy cover to boot) from good ol’ Hal Lindsey of Late Great Planet Earth fame (a fundamentalist, apocalyptic, best-selling book showing the end was near in the 1970s):

Satan is Alive (old)Satan is Alive (new)

Is there another Satanic scare on the horizon?

Horace Jeffery Hodges and Milton’s Paradise Lost (Satan 10)

I had planned to wait until we got into the early modern period to refer to Horace Jeffery Hodges’ blog, the Gypsy Scholar, but several of his recent hellish posts have made it impossible to wait. At his site you will find a number of interesting articles regarding John Milton’s Paradise Lost, including one article that focusses on Satan specifically: Economy of Damnation: Satan’s Fall in Paradise Lost. Another more specialized article also considers Satan within the context of other matters: “Free-Will Theodicy, Middle-Knowledge Theology, Ramist Linguistics, and Satanic Psychology in Paradise Lost“.

He has also just now put up an entertaining post, with medieval illustration, on some “hits from hell”: Das Wetter ist hell!. In the hope of decreasing visitors to his site, previously he had posted a poem of his own entitled “Ozark Spring Storm” which features Mephisto (alias Satan). Other of his posts relating to Satan can be accessed here.

Think of the ironic, hellish punishment of sending more visitors, albeit few from here.

The horrifying Nosferatu, personified plague and death (Satan 9)

Last night we watched the original 1922 version of Nosferatu, a movie by German film-maker F.W. Murnau (very loosely based on Bram Stoker’s novel, Dracula — other online information here). In the film, Nosferatu (the vampire figure) is presented as personified plague and death, as well as the seed of Belial (the seed of Satan). His arrival in Bremen in 1838 signals the onslaught of a terrible plague that leaves behind the mysterious double mark on the neck. One has to remember that, when this first dracula film was made, such things were not widely known (at least in visualized form) and the horror is sometimes lost because we are now so familiar with dracula from his many incarnations. This film’s presentation of evil came to have an important influence on horror-films and on the subsequent portrayal of evil in film generally.

Despite the difficulty in getting oneself away from 21st century special-effects expectations and into the silent-era mode, there were certain points when I experienced a feeling of fascination or terror, which points to the effectiveness of the movie-maker in portraying evil in a frightening, though intriguing, manner that spans across time. Well known is Murnau’s use of shadow. The shadow of the vampire itself possesses the evil powers which can grab hold of you and control your feelings, as when the shadow of Nosferatu’s hand firmly clutches Nina’s heart. (This is the source of the title for the recent “behind-the-scenes” movie remake, The Shadow of the Vampire [2000], with John Malkovich and Willem Dafoe).

Two other scenes in the original Nosferatu are especially worth mentioning for how they affected me. I found particularly terrifying the slow and magical rising of Nosferatu from the hull of the ship as he comes to Bremen. Even more evoking of dread is the scene where the star-struck lover Nina, presumably in a dream state, longingly goes to the window to gaze out into the distance, namely to gaze out towards her other lover, Nosferatu the vampire. (This growing love of sorts was reflected earlier in the ambiguity of Nina’s cross-stitch of “Ich liebe dich”, “I love you”, which was seemingly directed to her lover Harker but really, we learn to our dismay, at the horrible Nosferatu who has a strange hold over Nina). Nina’s longing gaze is juxtaposed with Nosferatu’s longing reach for the “beautifully-necked” Nina, as he gazes out of his own window at a distance (not in Nina’s actual eye-sight). Nosferatu’s powers are very much at work from afar, but apparently more so as he comes closer. This horrifying love affair ironically ends in Nosferatu’s destruction. For the destruction of a vampire, we read earlier on in the Book of Vampires (shown on screen), requires that a woman of pure heart, namely Nina, offer herself to the vampire in a night of pleasure. Nosferatu-style pleasure, that is. “The blood!”

Photos (above) from Wikipedia, now in the public domain.