The Devil is in the Details
Posted on June 20, 2013
That being a post running in tandem with an idea of Divine Evil, which I’m mulling over actually exploring in greater detail.
I honestly was contemplating not writing this, because this is a Pagan blog, not a blog about Christianity. Unless it intersects with Paganism or my own experiences.
This is in response to some of the Pagan writings, which were in turn in response to the Patheos questions about belief, faith, and other topics. Because a lot of them are posed from a Christian context, it is only understandable that one of the topics will swing towards talk about the Christian Devil.
Christian Devil. That’s an amusing thought, how we define this entity by its mythological and theological context. I mean, we don’t appellate Zeus as Hellenic Zeus. Or Norse Odin. By in large, we know who we’re talking about. But the Devil? He is undeniably Christian, and we have to make a point to say that.
Pagans like to divorce themselves from the nature of ultimate evil, especially the dualistic Christian version of the Good-Evil dichotomy. I’ve said before that I have no real use for it, especially in regards to interpretations over Norse-Germanic deities, and while I don’t believe that ALL the gods are benevolent, I believe that the vast majority of them really do have some stake and positive interest in what happens to us. Other Pagans like to completely dispense with the idea, believing in the ultimate goodness of the gods and denying even the darker aspects that aren’t inherently evil. As an example of this, the whole savage deity controversy from March.
I’ll echo John Beckett. I’ve been amused how quickly Pagans turn into quasi-Christo-Atheists when confronted by the Christian mythology. Sure. Yahweh/Jehovah is one deity among many countless others. Most of us that aren’t severely in our Christian-denial phase admit that. But the other guy? The Adversary? Not a chance. He can’t exist. Or at the very least, he’s the product of centuries of bad propaganda, like so many of our deities were.
I’ve seen arguments for non-existence, revisionism, unabashed worship, and everything in between.
I want to share a story. This is an old one for those few friends who I knew from Livejournal days. But since I have a ton of new readers (more than LJ anyway), I’ll reiterate the story here. This is an account of an unplanned, uncontrollable journeying. This is entirely ethnogen free. The only two drugs I have ever had are caffeine and alcohol. And that is the truth.
It was 2007. I was in my undergrad college, and I had laid down for the night. While I was asleep, I had a dream where I knew I was asleep. I also knew I was me, except I was in the back of some man’s head. Right at the very back, trapped in this prison of someone else’s mind. If you focus on that spot you might feel a pressure, or an added awareness of that part of your brain. I do, probably because of this event. That’s where I was. I railed against it, oh, I railed. If you could imagine yourself bouncing around in a dark room, against walls that were pliable and elastic and pushed you back into place. That’s sort of how it felt.
Well, this man was heading down a flight of stone steps in a monstrous cavern, the rough-hewn stone walls studded with torches that burned hot. In his arms was draped a woman, a dead woman, in long, white gowns, her head lolling at his chest. And I reiterate, I’m trapped in his head, unable to wake up, unable to pull myself out of this place.
And we descend for what feels like eternity. Down a featureless winding staircase, through caverns so enormous even the bright light of the torches couldn’t illuminate the entirety of it. All the while carrying this woman. I had the sense that she was important to him, bolstered by the fact that he was crying as he descended.
Thinking back on it, I get the sense of remorse for an action.
The stairway opened up into a cavern. I still don’t know if it was always that large, or we just got past a precipice and suddenly we are suffused with an immense amount of light. It is a sickly red and orange illumination, flickering from somewhere in the distance. No real source. And it was very warm.
Below us there was a mass of…bodies milling around. Figures indistinct and shadowy, endless and beyond count or measure. I cannot remember if there was any sound or not, or whether everything was going on in an eerie silence. And the man is simply standing there, watching, waiting.
Out from the mass, he stepped. And yeah, I know, it sounds absolutely ridiculous typing it – or talking about it. I’m sitting there, trying to get out from the back of this guy’s head, trying to get out, and all of a sudden someone who I knew to be the Christian Adversary stepped out. By whichever name you want to call him, Devil, the Satan, Lucifer, he was there. The mass had somehow moved to be…even further back, so we were effectively alone, just the four of us.
Then he looked at me. In this man’s head.
And he said, “I know you.”
I was freed and fled and quickly found myself in my bed. It was really early in the morning. I would stay up for the rest of the night, go to school the next day with about two hours of sleep, and have the memories of it forever.
In regards to Christian theology and myth, I take a fairly Miltonian view of the figure. I also have background in goetic philosophy and magic. But I have no illusions that he is some kind of misunderstood being. He exists, and I have dealt with him. He has agency, and works for his own ends. In all honesty, the character portrayed in the Lucifer spinoff series from Gaiman’s Sandman is one of the best representations of the deity that I can think of, in terms of characterization and perception. And even he is too…compassionate…compared to the feeling I have experienced in my brief moment of interaction. The one from Supernatural is too childish.
Divinity is awesome, frightening, and powerful, and I think a lot of people have a problem grappling with their feelings of mortality and smallness when it comes to the concept of the gods. It may be a part of the reason why so many people seem so keen on shucking off the agency of the gods and treating them as archetypes. Whenever I truly mull over the deities, I know I myself know that I am not a pinnacle of nature as we may be in the natural world. They are awesome and frightening and inspiring, and so much more than just human figures with immense powers.
But I have never felt nearly as infinitesimally small. I get the sense that we’re protozoa to his scientist, and Hell is his personal Petri dish.
I am a Pagan, and I have long rejected the notion of the Christian supremacy and doctrine. I do not believe that we are all destined for Hell because of that rejection. While I’m not sure where we’re going after we die (Eric Scott’s article on the Wild Hunt got me thinking about this), I know that we’re not all destined for that fiery place. There is no Christo- before my Pagan, and I’m too stubborn to go slinking back to a religion I feel uncomfortable with just because I’m “afraid” of what might be. If I believe in Yahweh and some aspects of the Judaeo-Christian mythos, it is simply because I am a polytheist and I am unable to argue it away due to prejudice or bias, as so many former Christians do. I believe it is one cosmology among many, with not one of them being better or more right than the other.
I can’t disbelieve in the character of the Devil for the same reasons. He might not be a “God” in the same sense, but who knows. Divinity is not something I can define. But I’ll approach him as one.
Do I believe that he acts nearly as often as Christians like to portray? No. I think he’s a convenient use, and a convenient scapegoat. Do I believe he acts? Yes. Does he make it his job to tempt all of the human species into damnation? No. The sense I get is that we’re not so important to him. Equal parts vermin and idle play thing, not much more. If he is the shepherd of Hell then it’s because someone bigger told him to be. Or maybe he does it for his own ends.
My spiritualism and Paganism is free of obsession with Satan and, yes, the only time I really get confronted with the idea of the Devil is when I deal with someone who has big problems about my religion, or in perceptions of an overly terrified theistic mentality. I think that is, indeed, how most Pagans will experience the concept of the Devil. And it is those interactions that we most be most interested in discussing, dealing with, and providing advise towards. People do irrational things when they are afraid, and the idea of the Devil frightens a lot of people, and that does affect us.
But that doesn’t mean he isn’t real.
Thanks for reading.