A Ten Minute Guide to: Satan (2009)


I wrote this because of Reaper, and my interview with Ray Wise. This piece appeared in Death Ray #21, the very last.

Old Nick, Scratch, Lucifer, Satan, Beelzebub, he has many names and, it would appear, many faces. The Devil has been with us for all time, either as the supernatural tempter of man and architect of all evil, or as a metaphor for our tortured psyches. Evil’s out there, whatever.

As a core figure in all three Abrahamic religions, the Devil’s been popping in and out of folklore for a few thousand years. And though a lot of us might not go to church any more, the horn’ed beast is top favourite – in tales of terror (and humour) to our very day.

10 Critical Questions

1 Satan, eh? You godless chumps.

Give it a rest, you talk like the Devil’s real. Look back through history and you’ll see that Old Nick has changed time and time again to fit into the belief systems of the era. Ha-Satan started out as a kind of court official in Jewish mythology, for example, while names such as Beelzebub and whatnot were grafted on from various deities from pagan pantheons. Even the serpent in the garden of Eden was not identified with the Devil until Christianity took hold. A fine case of retconning if ever there was one.

2 You’ll be telling us Lucifer’s bogus next.

That’s possibly a misinterpretation. It may refer to a Babylonian king. In any case, the belief that Lucifer was an archangel kicked out of heaven with his angelic buddies for not giving the big guy ’nuff respek (as anyone who reads DC’s Vertigo line knows) is a relatively late idea, only coming to prominence through Latin translations of the Bible in the early first millennium AD. Face it, the Bible’s all over the place.

3 Come on, the idea of a goat-legged Devil is right there from the start!

That image of the devil is, I’m afraid, positively modern, and is drawn from pre-Christian nature deities like Pan and Cernnunos, who were depicted with the legs of animals and horns.

4 Alright then, what about in Islam?

In Islam, Satan (who is called Iblis by the Muslims) is thrown out of heaven for refusing to bow down to Adam. Iblis regarded Adam as inferior to himself, man being made from clay, Iblis from smokeless fire. In some traditions he’s abit more sympathetic refusing to bow to Adam because he will not bow to anyone but God.

5 Iblis? Isn’t he in Battlestar Galactica?

Yep. Count Iblis turns up in the original BSG two-parter, “War of the Gods” played by Patrick McNee, who also provided the opening narration and the voice of Imperious Leader. Iblis is rescued from a crashed starship and tries to install himself as leader of the fleet by performing miracles. But it’s all a hoax, Iblis is actually a cast-down member of an angelic alien race.

6 Wow. Satan in SF. Any more offerings?

Well, there’s C.S. Lewis’ Christian dialectic SF Space Trilogy, written by Lewis as an antidote to what he saw as the “dehumanising” effects of Science fiction. There, “The Bent One” is Lewis’ Satan, the spirit of planet Earth. He’s cut Earth off from his angelic-alien siblings, and inflicted plenty of evil on it. Satan also appears in Quantum Leap, which started out as SF, but then got all religious; Space 1999; and even Doctor Who in “The Satan Pit”.

7 He’s big in comics too, right?

Both Marvel and DC have multiple demons who have claimed to be Satan. DC’s Vertigo has two main contenders for the title – Lucifer (cast out of Heaven, blah blah) and The First of the Fallen (who was there before him) as well as a complicated civil war in Hell that ran through much of The Sandman. Marvel’s goat boys include Mephiston and Azazel, among others, while in the independent Spawn, God and the Devil are twin brothers who squandered their creative powers in pointless spats with each other. He crops up in plenty of Manga too, whose oriental takes on our Western mythology are as interesting as they are mental.

8 What’s the most influential Devil story then?

Well, the Devil crops up in stories dating back centuries – he’s been as much a source of fun as fear for a long time. But we’d cite John Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667) as important to us now. His depiction of Lucifer is that which has influenced the “flawed hero” portrayals of the Devil that we see in the likes of The Sandman, and that’s a modern take. Such a thorough job on rehabilitating the Great Dragon did Milton do, that William Blake, illustrator and fellow poet, said of Milton “he was… of the Devil’s party without knowing it”.

9 Flawed hero, eh?

Yeah, the way we see it, modern Devils can be broken down into the following three categories: Humorous Opponent (dangerous but witty, like Mr. Nick in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, say), Flawed Hero (dangerous but misguided, like DC’s Lucifer) and Evil Force (in The Omen, The Exorcist and so forth).

10 Is he really all that bad?

Have you ever danced with the Devil in the pale moonlight? No? Would you want to? If the answer’s ‘yes’, you’re either a goth or an idiot (or both!) This is Satan we’re talking about here dude! He’s still after your immortal soul…

Hell In a handcart

Hell is the Devil’s domain. The Bible Refers to it as a place of “raging fire” where sinners are “tormented day and night forever”, though softer, modern Christianity postulates simply as a place without the love of God. Dante divided it into nine circles: top five for self-indulgent sinners, next two for violent sinners, bottom two for those who have committed malicious sins. At its heart lies a lake of ice – Dante’s Hell is very cold. C.S. Lewis depicted it as a bus ride in The Great Divorce, the film of Todd MacFarlane’s Spawn had it as a fiery pit realised in an excess of early CGI, including a pot-bellied Devil with a massive underbite. Other portrayals of Hell are more understated. Jacob’s Ladder shows it as a version of our world, where the concerns of life are torn away from us before we enter heaven, while in Angel Heart, it was a long lift ride down. Whatever, it’s probably not a very nice place.

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