The Origin of Satan Explored

Story and Photos by Natalie Miranda

The name drips off the lips of those who are damned to speak it. Like blood, its influence runs  through the veins of different faiths.

According to a 2017 Gallup Poll, 61 percent of Americans say they’re believers of the devil.

In the Christian faith, the origin story of what is known to be the devil is an angel cast down from heaven, often referred to as an opposer of God.

Seventh-Day Adventist Church Pastor Paulo Oliveira said Christianity and Judaism share the same creation story.

Oliveira describes how the devil is first introduced in the Old Testament.

“He is depicted as a perfect being created by God, and that’s the name Lucifer, which is full of light,  Oliveira said. “And it’s funny because we think of perception of perfection as the absence of any capability or ability to do anything wrong.”

The story is the same, but the interpretation of scripture  in Judaism is different.

Reformed Rabbi Barry Lutz said the devil doesn’t exist in Judaism.

In the Torah, portraying the devil or devil-like figures represents the inclination to sin, rather than a singular being.

“In Judaism, there isn’t this notion of opposing forces, there isn’t that dualism in the way that it exists in Christianity, which is of course related to this idea of heaven and hell, that if you do good, you go to heaven, if you do bad, you go to hell,” Lutz said.

The sins of the world are in the hands of a figure or notion that has many aliases, but its face is an aspect that is usually associated with a universally recognizable image of a red-skinned and horned creature.

The imagery of the devil may have originated from Greek mythology. The figure Pan seems to be in part, the inspiration.

Pan is the Greek god of the wild, shepherds and flock. He is a half goat, half-human figure of that with goat’s feet and a horned head.

Following approximately 300 C.E. Pan became demonized by the western world. Images of Pan were largely associated with the devil after the Council of Nicea issued the Nicene Creed and the Roman Catholic Church was established in 325 C.E.

Adjunct Instructor of Anthropology Gregory Simon is a cultural anthropologist.  Simon researched in West Sumatra and explored ideas about what makes people good or bad and why people do things that are not good.

Simon said in Islamic tradition, in the Koran, there’s this idea of evilness and that basically corresponds to the Satan or the devil.

“There is actually a little lack of clarity and some debates in Islam about the origin of Iblis. Iblis in some versions is an angel,” Simon said.

Simon added that the people in West Sumatra often describe evil as an external force.

“People tell me stories: ‘I feel this desire to steal,’ ‘I wanted to steal’ or ‘I did steal my friend’s thing,” Simon said. “I did that and I’m responsible for it, but it’s not really me because it’s coming from this force, this devil.”

Simon said the notion of the devil is more abstract in human existence.

“It’s only through living in the world where you come into contact with all of these kind of corrupting forces as you try to make way for your world,” Simon said. “There’s all these things that sort of take that original purity and try to push it in bad directions. And those things kind of worm their way into you, but they’re never really the heart of you.”

Core Education Committee member from the California Zoroastrian Center Artemis Javanshir said the concept of a devil is not embodied in a singular being.

“In Zoroastrian religion, we believe that good and evil exists in us,” Javanshir said. “So if we decide to use our good mind and try to be progressive and do good things, then we are exercising Spenta Mainyu, which means progressive mentality.”

Although the devil is often associated with terror, the imagery can be viewed as humorous when realized in the world of entertainment.

American cinema sometimes sees the devil as an icon for the clever and a role model for the mischievous, living in the minds of modern imagination.

Assistant Professor of Cinema Ken Windrum said the portrayal of the devil in media, particularly in cinema, is often comedic.

“It’s easy to make into a joke,” Windrum said. “The devil is a costume, lots of people throw the word devil around, football teams have the name devil, the devil is cute – ‘You little devil.’ It’s a sexy costume on Halloween.”

Windrum questioned why the portrayal of the devil is the way it is.

“Why is the devil so hard to represent?” Windrum asked. “Why is the devil this funny? Is it because a lot of people don’t believe in the devil or is it because those that do believe, think it’s too scary?”


Check out what the Pierce College Community thinks about the Devil by’s Jonathan Ian Zillott here