When you think of “The Devil” what picture comes to mind? Probably a massively- muscled fellow, with horns, redskin, a pointed tail, and of course carrying a pitchfork!
But, before you lay out those items to look “devilishly” handsome this Halloween, have you ever stopped to wonder where these popular images of Satan and things related to Satanic Worship came from? I’m glad you asked. Here is our complete guide to the origins of satanic imagery.
First of all, you need to understand there really are few, if any, actual descriptions of Satan or “Lucifer” in the Bible. The winged, horned devil we are all so familiar with evolved through the art, literature, and culture that was evolving around early Christianity.
As Christianity started its slow march to becoming the world’s most powerful and popular religion, in the earliest days of its adoption, it was facing fierce opposition from existing pagan religions and pagan Gods. In order to contrast itself from those other religions that are considered to be “demonic” and lies, the early Christian leaders took the symbols of its chief embodiment of evil – Satan – from these pagan religions.
Perhaps the Devil’s best-known attributes are his horns. But, there is NO mention whatsoever in the Old or New Testament of Satan being depicted with horns. As stated above, the mission of the early Christian Church was to wipe out paganism. Thus, they took the idea of a “horned devil” from depictions of Egyptian Gods such as Bes and Isis, who were usually shown wearing a horned headdress. Such pagan deities morphed into the horned images of Satan and his demons we know today.
Again, this is another aspect of the “War on Paganism.” The implement held by “Old Scratch,” started life as a Trident, like the one carried by Greek and Roman Gods such as Zeus, Neptune, and Poseidon. Sometime in the artwork of the Middle Ages, the Trident was transformed into the more common farm implement, no one is really sure why. Some speculate that the three-pronged trident was coming to stand for the Holy Trinity – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost in other Christian imagery, so a more mundane implement had to be given to Satan.
The Goat Feet
If you are noticing a pattern here, you are right! Satan’s goat-like feet were taken from Greek and Roman myths of Pan, Imps and Satyrs .. all half-goat, half-man beings known to be mischievous liars and seducers.
The Bat-like Wings
Unlike the other symbols mentioned thus far, the bat wings are not a satanic symbol that came directly from paganism. Rather, this is a convention that started around the middle-ages, when angels and particularly the warriors of God – the Archangels – were depicted with huge, beautiful white wings. Since Lucifer was a fallen angel, it only made sense that he too would have wings, but to contrast them as much as possible with angelic wings, dark, leathery bat-like wings were chosen.
Other Satanic Symbols
Besides how he is normally depicted, the are other signs and symbols normally associated with Satanism or the Devil. How did these things come about?
The Number of the Beast 666
There are many folks so obsessed with the “evilness” of the number “666” that they will buy something extra at the grocery store they do not need, if it rings up, just to change it before they finish checking out! But where did this notion come from? Why and how is “666” related to the Devil? Like most things having to do with the Devil and the War between God and Satan in modern Christianity, “666” or the “Number of the Beast,” comes from the Book of Revelations, which tells of the impending Apocalypse, or “End Times.” It was “discovered” by Saint Irenaeus, Bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul, who decided that the beast from Revelations 13 was, in fact, the Antichrist, and the numerical values associated with the letters of his name added up to 666.
The Inverted Pentagram
Pentagrams, also known as pentacles, or pentangles, were not always associated with anything evil. In fact, the simple 5 pointed star was once used as part of Christian symbolism to represent the five wounds of Christ (two hands, two feet, and the crown of thorns), but over the course of a few generations, the cross became the more prevalent and accepted symbol. Then during the Enlightenment, Christian-influenced academics found Pythagoras’s use of the pentagram as a representation of the five elements, which he assigned to the points on the star – earth, water, air, and fire on the four lower points; with spirit resting on the topmost point. Again, an acceptable Christian concept, with nothing inherently evil. However, it was in the 19th century, when French Satanist Eliphas Levi, introduced the “inverted” pentagram, as an “intellectual subversion” of Christianity because of its reversal of the natural order, placing matter over the spirit world. And the inverted pentagram from then on was associated with the Devil, evil, and the Antichrist.
Selling Your Soul for Fun and Profit
An attribute often associated with Satan, particularly in the art, literature, and movies of modern times, is that he is always on the lookout for souls, and is willing to bargain or gamble for them. But where did this concept of selling one’s soul to the devil for earthly wealth and power come from? The closest account to anything like that in the Bible is when Satan bets God that he could make Job curse his name – that’s really all Biblical scholars have to go off of. There is no mention of him ever having a fiddle contest, or chess match with anyone in order to grant them their wildest dreams or anything – so where did this part of the Devil’s iconography come from?
This most likely entered pop culture with Faust, a magician, philosopher, and alchemist of German legend, that was based on an actual person named Johann Georg Faust (c. 1480–1540). As the legend goes, Faust owed his remarkable success in life, and seemingly magical abilities, to a deal he struck with the Devil. There have been many versions of the story over the centuries, but the most famous one and the one that solidified Faust as the first man to literally sell his soul for fame and fortune was written by Christopher Marlowe, in his play, The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus –whose date of publication is debated, but it was probably around 1587.