The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005
The Horned One and The Devil
According to Jewish tradition, at the very beginning of time, some angels visiting Earth fell in love with the Daughters of Man (human women) causing them to betray their angelic vows. These angels taught women all kinds of secrets and various magical arts including metalworking. The Creator banished them from the heavenly host or, in some cases, inflicted severe punishment. Many of these rebel angels evolved into dangerous, volatile spirits, associated with witchcraft and the occult and are sometimes described as “demons.” Many became allied with Lilith. These ex-angels include Azazel, Samael, and someone described as the beautiful “Son of the Morning Star.”
This notion of Fallen Angels entered Christian mythology and continued to evolve. In the Jewish story, the angels come to Earth and transgress once they’re here: they rebel against rules; they yield to temptation.
In the Christian story, the angels are cast out of Heaven as punishment. Various reasons are given including their refusal to pay homage to Man. The most common reason however is that the Chief of the Rebel Angels believed himself equal or superior to God and thus challenged him, intending to take over the throne of Heaven.
The rebellion failed and this angel with his celestial army of followers was thrown out of Heaven. The devil is generally understood to be the chief of the fallen angels. Demons are children of fallen angels and human mothers, which relates back to the original story. Also related is the implication that women are more closely allied (or susceptible) to the devil’s wiles and temptations than men. (See BOOKS: Witch-hunters’ Manuals: Heinrich Kramer.) The name usually given this chief fallen angel is Lucifer.
“Lucifer” means “Light bringer” and it is an ancient epithet attached to many Italian divinities including Juno and Fauna, daughter and close ally of the horned spirit Faunus. It initially indicated glory, not evil. Lucifer is a beautiful devil; he is not a horned spirit. In the earliest Christian depictions of Lucifer, he is indistinguishable from other angels, except that he is consistently portrayed as falling. (Some translate Lucifer as an amalgamation of light, luci and iron, fer, interesting in light of the devil’s associations with blacksmiths.)
The first animal to be associated by Christianity with Satan was the snake. The Book of Revelation, last book of the Christian Bible, first identifies Satan with the serpent in the Garden of Eden. Snakes and dragons (then understood as great snakes) were strongly identified with Pagan traditions, especially those associated with female divinity and power. Snakes were sacred in many traditions, and particularly associated with women’s primal power and mysteries. Tales of devout Christian knights who slay dragons are metaphors for the destruction of Pagan spiritual traditions.
Devas, Ha-Satan, and Lucifer are pre-Christian concepts that eventually merged within Christianity. By the fourth century, when Christianity achieved political power, the concept of the devil as enemy of God and man was firmly entrenched into Christian belief. But it was a new vision of the devil that emerged, very different from the others. This devil physically resembled the male horned spirits, especially those spirits identified with goats.
Pagan worship and devotion to this male horned god was prevalent and deeply rooted throughout Europe and elsewhere; he was a major impediment to Christianity and perhaps to authority in general. It is no accident that these spirits so frequently take the form of goats: the horned god resembles a wild goat—he is rambunctious, anarchic, fun-loving, defiant, and uncontrollable. Some perceived the qualities associated with the horned gods as favorable; Christianity emphatically did not.
The horned gods celebrate the physical glories of Earth. They are voraciously hungry spirits who constantly crave sex, food, intoxicating substances, and comfort—in short, Earth’s physical pleasures. Horned gods dance, sing, and make merry. They create musical instruments, teach people to play, invent wine, sponsor shamans, and proudly display their ever-erect phalluses.
When the horned god manifests as a man (as he sometimes does) he appears as an archetypal Wild Man, resistant to rules, civilization, and all authority.
The horned spirits are mediating spirits: they negotiate the balance between people, animals, and plants. They are not dualist: they do not necessarily put the needs of people first. Their gift is fertility and abundance: they do not promise salvation or eternal life of the soul. (Some Pagan mystery traditions did, notably Demeter’s Eleusinian Mysteries.) Instead they promise offspring, if you want them.
The Horned God is the Lord of Wild Nature, the powers of Earth. His domain eventually became the domain of the Christian devil.
The horned gods were particularly abhorrent to the early Christians; they perceived them as harmful, seductive devils. By the witch-hunt era, the image of Satan as a goat had superceded all others. Previously, if Satan was envisioned as having any form at all, it was that of an angel. The New Testament has no specific physical description of Satan.
To undermine widespread devotion to the horned spirits, Christianity labeled their worship as evil. Eventually the horned male god would become the prototype for the devil’s physical manifestation. Many modern people will automatically identify an image of a horned spirit as the devil, whether it is a pre-Christian depiction of Pan or an early twentieth-century Krampus postcard.
From a dualist perspective, all spiritual entities must be on the side of good or the side of evil. By Christian definition, non-Christian spirits were perceived as subversive and evil. The official inclination was to banish and forbid all these spirits, eradicating them. However, many of these spirits had been worshipped for ages. Many were very beloved. Many of those who accepted Christianity were reluctant to completely abandon these spirits. In order to maintain these traditions in a safe (spiritually and legally) manner, many ancient Pagan spirits were identified as saints.
The Christian devil is not restricted to the form of a goat or a horned, hoofed man. During witch-hunt era Europe, the devil was considered a master shapeshifter. His favorite manifestations, however, were usually black: black cats, dogs, goats, and men. If the devil is such a master shape-shifter, how can he be identified? Russian folk tradition suggests that loud laughter is a telltale sign of the devil, disguised demons, and witches.
The process of what is called “identification” or “syncretism” involves transferring the attributes of a now forbidden spirit to another acceptable one. In essence the forbidden spirit masquerades as the safe one. Because by necessity this practice demands secrecy, after a few generations it can become difficult to recall the original spirit. Frequently attributes of both spirits merge; they become as one. This process often occurred with the tacit cooperation of the Church as a way of bringing disbelievers and the ambivalent into the fold.
Some Pagan deities were identified by Christians as saints—Brigid, Walpurga
Some Pagan deities were identified by Christians as fairies—Ainé, Maeve
Some Pagan deities were identified by Christians as witches—Baba Yaga, Hulda
Some Pagan deities were identified by Christians as devils—the irrepressible, disobedient, wild Horned God became identified as the Christian devil
During the reign of Pope Gregory the Great (from September 3, 590 until March 12, 604), the devil assumed the form of a hunchbacked bearded goat-skinned man with cloven hooves, horns, and a stick. Gregory described Satan as a black man possessing goat’s horns and hooves, an evil stench, and the power to control weather.
The devil’s stick links him to the phallic sticks and staffs carried by horned spirits like Pan, Hermes, Dionysus, and Krampus. The horned spirit’s stick is an emblem of phallic power: when he touches women with it, they conceive. When he bangs on a door with it, the household is filled with prosperity.
According to the Christian version, however, the devil’s stick is used to punish and torture people and also as a crutch because he is lame. The rationale for his limp is that when cast out of heaven, he fell and permanently injured his foot. (Although of course the angel cast out of heaven originally looked nothing like a horned spirit.) This vision of a limping devil, however, links him to various lame gods and holy people lamed during initiations, including Hephaestus, Dionysus, Oedipus, Achilles, and Hermes with his one sandal and shepherd’s crook. It also links him to the traditional shaman’s dance.
Sometimes instead of an ordinary stick or staff, the devil carries a pitchfork. One theory suggests that the image of the pitchfork-wielding horned devil is based on Shiva, the pre-Aryan deity from India. Shiva dances in the fire carrying a trident that resembles a pitchfork and leads a wild retinue of demons and witches. He may have been the original model for the Zoroastrian concept of the devil, eventually absorbed by Manicheism and Christianity. (See also Pashupati, Shiva; DIVINE WITCH: Shiva.)
Horned spirits like Hermes and Cernunnos often carry huge sacks from which they distribute largesse. The Christian devil also carries a large sack but in his case it is in which to carry away damned souls. That sack survives in modern Krampus and Santa Claus imagery.
Sometimes instead of being carried, the sack was envisioned as internalized, part of the Horned God/Wild Man’s body: the hunchback’s hump was perceived as this internal bag of treasure, hence the powerful association of hunchbacks with luck. Hunchbacks are also closely identified with Lucky Chimney Sweeps who also absorbed many of the characteristics of the horned spirits, as well as with cobblers, once closely associated with shamanism. See DICTIONARY: Bagatella.
The devil was no longer perceived as merely the head of a formerly angelic host; instead he led a fifth column of human devotees, identified by the Inquisition as witches. Eventually, for the Inquisition, worshipping the devil was what constituted witchcraft. For reasons discussed in WITCHCRAZE! it eventually became impossible to prove one wasn’t a devil-worshipper once one was accused.
There are two different issues:
People were accused of worshipping the devil
People worshipped deities that Christians perceived as the devil
People worshipped horned spirits and other Pagan deities and many still do. However in these spiritual traditions, there is no devil. Horned spirits are not the devil.
It is crucial to distinguish between what witches really believe versus what outsiders intrinsically opposed to witchcraft say that witches believe.
Other people did worship the Christian conception of Satan; this worship arose within Christianity as a reaction against Christianity. In its purest form “Satanism” simply reverses or opposes anything Christian. In order to genuinely worship the devil, one must subscribe to the Christian vision of the devil, as it is the only tradition in which he exists.
Christians have a unique relationship with the devil because Satan’s primary role was envisioned as opposing Christianity. Satan was the relentless, tireless enemy of Christ and Christians. Satan consistently plots to undermine, ruin and seduce Christians. Satan and his host have nothing to do but oppose Christianity. In this dualist vision, Satan became the official opponent of Christ.
The devil’s power was perceived as manifest in any form of resistance to Christianity. It was not necessarily to actively worship Satan to be a “Satanist”: simply not accepting Christianity indicated alliance with Satan. Eventually a vast host of human beings found themselves associated with Satan including witches, Pagans (defined as anyone who wasn’t Christian, Jewish or Muslim), Jews, Romany, and those Christians whose vision of Christianity did not correspond to official Church doctrine.
Martin Luther described not believing in the devil as “un-Christian” because without the devil to tempt people into damnation, there is no need for a Christ to save them.
Witch-hunters accused witches of attending sabbats presided over by Satan usually in the form of a huge male goat or a Pan-like figure combining human and goat anatomy. In whatever shape the devil appears, what, according to witch-hunters, exactly does he do at these sabbats?
He presides over proceedings like a king, leading orgies and distributing gifts (food, cash, magical tools)
He distributes malevolent materials and directs their use
He distributes flying ointments so that his guests may return
He rewards and punishes attendees as he deems fit
He trades favors for immortal souls; people make compacts with the devil by signing his Black Book
The first written reference to this Satanic pact emerged in the sixth-century Tale of Theophilus. By the tenth century, this story was very popular, widely distributed, and well known. First told in Greek, then translated into Latin and finally written in verse in the tenth century, The Tale of Theophilus recounts the story of a Greek priest, Theophilus, an ambitious cleric who believed he should be bishop. Instead he’s dismissed from his office. Angry, Theophilus hires a sorcerer who arranges a meeting for him with Satan.
The devil offers Theophilus a written compact whose terms are that Theophilus must renounce Christ and pledge himself to Satan instead. If he does so, he’ll be restored to his former post. Theophilus signs and indeed gets his position back. However, contemplating eternal damnation, he begins to have regrets and appreciates the magnitude of his sin. Finally the Virgin Mary personally intercedes, the contract is torn up, and Theophilus is saved.