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Devil (religion concept)

Devil (religion concept)

The devil is often the personification of evil as conceived in various cultures and traditions, often given the objectification of a hostile or destructive force.


The devil is the title given to the concept of a supernatural being believed to be a powerful, evil entity and tempter of humankind. The title devil is attributed to the Greek diabolos for "slanderer" or "accuser," and while it is sometimes used for lesser or minor demonic spirits, the word generally refers to an evil force from various religions through the world. For example, in Christian theology, the devil is considered to be in competition or opposition with God for the possession of the souls of human, with the devil seeking to lure people from God. While the Hebrew bible does not assign this level of personification to the devil. In Islam, theology has references to Iblis or al-Shaytan and Aduw Allah (enemy of God) where, in the Qur'an, Iblis appears in the story of creation when he refuses God's order to bow before Adam, leading to Iblis being cursed and punished by God.

A depiction of Dante's Devil.

Outside of the Abrahamic religions and cultures, there are similar teachings of an evil being who roams the Earth and wreaks havoc against the forces of good. For example, in Buddhism, Maara is a demon that tempted Buddha from the path of enlightenment, with the Buddha resisting the temptation and defeating Maara. Many of the common pop culture depictions of the devil are derived from Dante Alighieri's The Divine Comedy and later by John Milton's Paradise Lost, with the devil's portrayal as a grotesque, winged creature, sometimes with three faces, and chewing on sinners and glorification over the punishments of sinners in Hell.


Despite how well-known the devil, or Satan, is in Western traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, the figure of the devil is a relatively late entry into the traditions. Many scholars believe the figure of the devil is an embodiment of evil and an antagonist to God; this evolved from the Persian Achaemenid Empire (beginning around c. 550 BCE) and was adopted by Jews living under Persian rule. From the Persian tradition, this figure (in Hebrew ha-Satan, whose name is "the opposer" or "the adversary") is introduced and eventually described as an Opposer of God.

The popular depictions of the devil are often a nod to the Roman god Pan, although that varies with different features, such as dragon-like wings, long tails, a trident-like weapon, and tempting sinners toward the fires of hell. Many of these elements bear resemblance to pagan gods, with some suggesting this was an attempt by Christians, specifically, to demonize alternative religions. Especially as Satan, or the devil, in the New Testament is described as a tall, slender figure, with tattered red robes, jewels that shine like fire, and long wings.

Medieval doom art, which popularized depictions of the devil as an evil force tempting people into sin.

In Mexico, a much more directly devilish or satanic figure, Mictlantecutli, the lord of hell, existed in their theology, which was much closer to depictions of the devil than any similar figure in any European or Asiatic ruler of the realms of the dead from pagan religions. Generally, the concept of Satan, or the devil, seems to have developed out of connection with ancient serpent worship, with the Hebrew concept seeing Satan as an adversary or opposition of God, rather than a spirit of evil. It is not until the New Testament of Christianity in which the concept of the Devil, or Satan, is introduced as an evil being, and in the book of Revelations where the war of God and Satan is spoken of. The other ideas and definitions of the Devil further emerged through the culture of the Middle Ages.

Emergence of evil

The figure of Satan is largely a product of the Abrahamic tradition. The earliest example of the figure came in the Book of Job, where Satan is a partner or subordinate of God, who puts the righteous to the test on behalf of God. It is not, in the belief of some scholars, until the influence of the dualistic thinking of Zoroastrian religion, during the Babylonian Exile from 586-538 BCE, in Persia, that the figure of the devil took on features of a countergod in late Judaism. Evidence of such has been found in the Qumrān sects and their beliefs, preserved in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The Dead Sea Scrolls, which offer a different belief in Devil.

By the time the figure of Satan, reaches the early church fathers of the early Christian church, the idea of the devil as an antagonist to Christ led to the interpretation and the incarnation of Satan as the tempter of the faithful and the antagonist of God, or the antichrist. In the Middle Ages, a further feature was added, with the devil as an ape of God, who attempts to imitate God through spurious, malicious creations that oppose the divine creations. And here the figure of Satan, or the devil, takes on the characteristics of evil.

Alternative theories

There have been rare schools of thought, often seen heretical by orthodox scholars and orthodox thought, that saw the Old Testament God, with the frequent displays of anger, strict enforcement of rules, and what some have argued is petty vengeance, was the devil, while figures such as Jesus represented a "demiurge" or sorts that sought to free humanity from a cycle of sin created by a malicious or uncaring higher power. This thought has further become popular with some Theistic Satanists, who see Lucifer, or the devil, as a champion of free will who fought against a tyrannical god. The view of the Old Testament God as Satan persists, often with those embittered towards the Church.

Image of Satan, the devil, before God.

UCLA professor Henry Ansgar Kelly suggests there is no evidence in the Bible for the characteristics and deeds commonly attributed to the devil. Instead, he puts forth a case for the devil, arguing the Bible offers a kinder, gentler version of the antagonist. Kelly goes further to suggest that the bible shows the devil as less of the embodiment of evil, and rather something closer to an overzealous prosecutor. Rather than the proud and angry figure that turns away from God, the Bible paints the devil as a figure whose basic intention is to uncover wrongdoing and treachery, through overzealous and unscrupulous the means.

Concept of evil

Central to the question of the devil is the concept of evil. Although, as explored above, the devil is not in the earliest documents in which the figure is developed as the embodiment of evil, but rather a figure who practices evil or is in opposition of good as personified by God. In this opposition, the figure of the devil came to be synonymous with and the personification of evil. For example, a person would be dubbed "the devil" if they exhibited cruelty or other "evil" behavior. This is especially as evil, in a Christian sense especially, tends to be behavior that goes against God.

The concept of evil has since been become increasingly a topic of interest, especially as laymen, social scientists, journalists, and politicians try to grapple with ascriptions of "evil" and as they try to respond to various atrocities and horrors. Further, humans also continue to try to capture the moral significance of actions, but often the terms "wrong" or "bad" do not do an action justice and require a concept of evil.

An individual depicted as selling their soul to the devil.

This creates at least two concepts of evil: a broad concept and a narrow concept. The broad concept describes any bad state of affairs, wrongful action, or character flaw. The suffering of a toothache could be considered evil in the broad sense. This includes two further categories: natural evil and moral evil. Natural evil can described as a bad state of affairs that do not result from the intentions and negligence of moral agents. While moral evils are a direct results of the intent or negligence of moral agents. In contrast to the broad concept of evil, the narrow concept picks out the most morally despicable sorts of actions, characters, or events. Since the narrow concept involves moral condemnation, it can only be ascribed to moral agents and their actions.

The problem this creates is that if the world is created by an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good God, then this questions where evil comes from. If the creator or God has these attributes, as described, then there should be no evil in the world. But evil remains in the world, which would suggest that there is therefore no reason to believe in the existence of an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good creator. However, the figure of the devil, especially as an opponent to God, and as an embodiment of Evil, offers a possible way to explain away this contradiction.

The devil in Judaism

Despite the rather prominent role played by the devil in Christianity and Christian thought, Jewish sources do not dwell on the devil or the satanic. That said, the concept exists in numerous Judaic texts, with the figure of Satan appearing in the Bible, discussed by Rabbis in the Talmud, and explored in the Jewish mysticism. The term "Satan" in Hebrew is usually translated as "opponent" or "adversary" and is often understood to represent the sinful impulse. Or, more generally, is understood as the force that prevents humans from submitting to the divine will.

In the Bible

As well, especially based on the Book of Job, Satan is seen as a heavenly prosecutor or accuser, with God encouraging the devil to test his servants. In the Bible, there are multiple references to Satan, while the word only appears twice in the Torah, and both times in the story of Balaam, the seer who asked the Moabite king Balak to curse the Jews. In this passage, when Balaam goes with Balak's emissaries, God places an angel in his path "l'satan lo" as an adversary for him. The term appears in other instances, but not referring to the specific figure of Satan.

Only twice in the Hebrew Bible does Satan appear as a specific figure, as HaSatan, or The Satan. One is a brief reference in the Book of Zecharia, in which the high priest is described as standing before a divine angle while Satan stands to accuse him. The other is in the above noted Book of Job, in which God permits Satan to take away Job's wealth, kill his family, and afflict him physically, none of which induces Job to sin. But of note, the actions of Satan in this passage are done only with God's permission.

In the Talmud

Satan appears in the Talmud as well, during a lengthy passage in the tractate Sanhedrin, which accords Satan a central role in the story of the binding of Isaac. According to Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, it was Satan that caused the Jewish people to despair of Moses returning from Mount Sinai by giving them an image of the prophet Moses on his deathbed. A further passage in the tractate Megillah further points to Satan dancing at the party of the Persian King Ahasuerus, which is what leads to the killing of Queen Vashti.

In tractate Bava Batra, Reish Lakish says that Satan, the yetzer hara and the Angel of Death are all one. Maimonides, the medieval Jewish philosopher, endorses this position, with the word Satan, in Maimonides writing, deriving from the Hebrew root for "turn away." Like the evil inclination, further to this thinking, Satan's function in this way is expressed as an attempt to divert humans from the path of truth and righteousness. Maimonides did not, based on his writing, seem to believe that Satan existed, but rather saw Satan as the symbol of the inclination to sin. The entire Book of Job, he wrote, is fictional and intended to offer truths about divine providence, and the conversation between God and Satan is intended as a parable.

Mystical tradition

In the Jewish mystical traditions of Kabbalah and Hasidism, Satan, or the devil, has a bigger role, with the Kabbalistic texts offering descriptions of Satan and of the entire realm of evil populated by demons and spirits that exists in parallel to the realm of the holy. Further, in the Kabbalistic texts, Satan is known as Sama'el, or the Great Demon, and the demonic realm is generally referred to as Sitra Achra, or "the other side," while the consort of Sama'el is Lilith, a mythic figure of Jewish tradition commonly known as the rebellious first wife of Adam.

These sources further portray the demonic as a separate and oppositional realm in conflict with God. The Kabbalah even goes to offer an explanation for the origin of the demonic realm, which is supposed to have emerged with the attribute of God associated with femininity and judgment is dissociated from the attribute of God associated with grace and masculinity, and become unconstrained, which, in this reading, results from an excess of judgment.

These ideas found further expression in Jewish folk beliefs and the works of Hasidic masters. Rabbi Raakov Yosef of Poloniye, a chief disciple of Hasidism's founder, Baal Shem Tov, would write that God would eventually slaughter the angel of death during the messianistic age, a belief echoed in the Christian view of the final showdown between God and Satan at the End of Days. Further, Hasidic folk tales are replete with descriptions of demonic forces, such as the story in which Baal Shev Tov defends a group of children from a werewolf. In some communities, Hasidic Jews continue to seek protection from demonic forces, and some maintain amulets, customs, or rituals aimed at offering protection from evil spirits. Many of these date back to biblical times, including formulas to free the possessed of an evil spirit.

The devil in Christianity

As explored above, the figure of the devil, in Satan, emerges in the Old Testament, through the Book of Job and Book of Zechariah, and the influence of the dualism of contemporary Persian religion, which may have influenced a belief in the devil as an antagonist of God. By the first century CE, the belief in dark forces battling with the divine forces of God is being developed, as it is shown in parts in the New Testament, and in the extra-Biblical writings of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

In Christianity, the devil is equivalent with Satan and commonly identified with the figure of Lucifer. Satan often comes from the Hebrew ha-Satan, with the Greek equivalent for ha-Satan often being translated as "diabolos" or being transliterated into the Greek "satanas". Another popular name for the devil in the Christian tradition is Maśṭēmāh, which means "hatred" and Belial, a popular name in Old Testament and extra-Biblical writings.

Old Testament and Persian influence

The emergence of the figure of the devil can be considered a socio-theological strategy, as the personification of evil and an opponent of God, as explored above, offers a clear reason for the existence of evil in a world created by an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good God. But it can also be explained through historical dynamics, with the noted emergence of Persian imperial domination of Judaic cultures impacting that development.

Angra Mainyu, a precursor of the devil from Persian mythology.

This is explained in part with the dualistic beliefs of the Persian empire and the supposed Persian persecution of the Jews in the empire, with the Persian empire destroying different temples important to Jewish culture of the time. However, the development of the belief of the personified power of evil have been suggested to have developed out of two important events from the second century BCE. The first such event was the development of a celestial enemy of God influenced by the experience of the Jews under Babylonian and Persian rule, with the exposure to Zoroastrianism and its influence on cosmic dualism that helps create the good versus evil dichotomy of early Judaism.

In this dichotomy though, similar to that found in Persian literature, the devil is never given equal status to God, as YHWH alone is God with no equivalent. The Christian tradition replaces the Hebrew Bible notion of a sovereign God responsible for all things, including good and evil, with a celestial conflict between God and Satan as leaders of distinct warring camps. And in this way, the devil in part evolves from those attributes assigned to God that appeared questionable to both Jews and Christians in the period known as the Second Temple period.

The second part of this proposed development is the concept of Satan, or the devil, as the personification of evil emerging from the rise of Israel's brutal oppressors. Israel's battles against foreign enemies, especially the Seleucid king Antiochus IV, would eventually become represented in the conflict between God and his angels, and Satan and his minions. Therefore, the clash between Israel's theology of election and the reality of its foreign oppression aided in the development of Satan as a figure.

But for a purely textual reading, the Old Testament refers to Satan, or the devil, as an ordinary human adversary and as a supernatural entity, with the Hebrew Satan coming from a verb meaning primarily "to obstruct, oppose" and does not do the dastardly deeds later associated with the figure. The work of the devil in these texts is not as a personification of evil or an antagonist of God, but rather the figure of the devil is a servant of God and is used to test the sincerity of God's servants, especially in the Book of Job, in which Satan destroys Job's family, health, servants, and flocks to test Job's faith.


In the Old Testament, the term "belial" is associated with the broader meaning of worthlessness, and denotes those who work against God or God's will. In Deuteronomy, those who tempt people into worshiping other than YHWH are related to belial. In 1 Samual 2:12, the sons of Eli are called belial for not recognizing YHWH and violating specific rituals, while in Psalm 18:4 and Psalm 41:8, belial appears on the context of death and disease. Through the Old Testament, belial and Satan make it difficult for humanity to live in harmony with God's will.

However, while Satan in the Old Testament remains an agent of God, used to test humanity's virtue and lead them astray, belial is depicted as opposing God, representing both chaos and death, and standing outside of the cosmos of God. This means Satan, at this point, is depicted as punishing what belial stands for, and belial is not an as much an independent entity as an abstraction of the opposition of God. It is not until later that the figure of Satan and the concept of belial begin to merge.

Extra-biblical texts

Although not part of the final Bible, there remain extra-biblical texts that helped to shape the early Christian worldview and the interpretation of the Biblical texts. Until as late as the third Century CE, Christians would continue to refer to the stories to explain the origin of evil in the world. The Book of Enoch and the Book of Jubilees are still accepted as canonical by the Ethiopian Church.

The Dead Sea Scrolls

The Dead Sea Scrolls contain the Book of Enoch and the Book of Jubilees, both of which are considered forbidden texts according to some authorities. Through these writings, attributed to the Jewish sect of Essenes who settled at Qumran around 150 BCE, sees the first literature with the personification of evil. This literature equated Satan with evil, but also with any group not in agreement with the views of the community, including other Jews. These texts offered an alternative version of God, in which he created two spirits in humans: the way of the light and the way of darkness. Through these texts, demons are under control of the devil, and he sends them to possess those in darkness to commit evil. These texts associated Satan with Belial, and a hierarchy of Satan's court emerges, with Beelzebub considered one of the seven princes of hell, often considered to have derived from an ancient Canaanite god known for ridding humans of flies.

Book of Enoch
Excerpt of a surviving part of the Book of Enoch.

The Book of Enoch, estimated to date from around 300 to 300 BCE, tells of a group of angels called the Watchers, who fall in love with human women and descend to earth to have intercourse with them. These relations result in giant offspring, and the fallen angels, as they come to be called, further teach humans the secrets of warcraft, blacksmithing, and sorcery. There is no specific devilish leader in the book, but eminent among these fallen angels are Shemyaza and Azazel. Only Azazel is rebuked by the prophet Enoch, with God sending the archangel Raphael to chain Azazel in the desert as punishment.

However, in the book, Satan appears as a leader of class of angels. Rather than the fallen angels, Satan and his class of angels are tormentors of both sinful men and sinful angels, with the fallen angels described as "having followed the way of Satan," suggesting according to some that Satan led them to their sinful ways. But in the book, similar to the Book of Job, Satan, and his angels, remain in the service of God.

Book of Jubilees

In the Book of Jubilees, the Bene Elohim ("sons of God") in Genesis 6 are identified with the offspring of fallen angels. This adheres to the Watcher myth from the Book of Enoch. However, throughout the Book of Jubilees, a wicked angel called Mastema is prominent. Mastema asks God, in the text, to spare a tenth of the demons and assign them to his domain so he could prove humanity to be sinful and unworthy. This is the first figure to unite the concepts of Satan and Belial. Further, the figure of Mastema becomes associated with the questionable actions associated with God, such as environmental disasters or the tempting of Abraham, which begins to develop a satanic or devilish character distant from the will of God, while still implying that Mastema is a creature of God contravening God's will, who is expected to be extinguished in the end times.

New Testament
The Temptation of Jesus from the New Testament.

In the New Testament, the features of an anti-godly power become more prominent in the figures of the devil, Satan, Belial, and Beelzebub, all of whom are seen as the enemy of God. This casts the devil as the accuser, the evil one, the tempter, the old snake, the great dragon, and the figure who seeks to hinder the establishment of God's dominion through the life suffering of Jesus Christ. To do so, Satan offers to give Christ the riches of the world, if Christ acknowledges the devil as the supreme lord. And in so doing, becomes the antagonist of the Messiah, Christ, who is sent by God to destroy the works of Satan.

This view of the devil, as the ruler of the world and the antagonist of God, is expressed in the letters of Paul and the gospels, where the view is expressed by one of Paul's disciples:

Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against the flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Paul often refers to the demons as the agents of Satan, for example explaining that he could not visit his community, while in prison, because Satan hindered him, from 1 Thessalonians 2:17-18. And Paul's inner struggles are expressed in what can be understood as a form of possession, which Paul saw as God's ability to control Satan to test him. This led to the familiar phrase, the believers now live in Christ, which referred to the protection offered by Christ against the influence of Satan.

Under the influence of other traditions - which influenced mainstream Christianity in many ways—specifically Gnosticism and Manichaeism—saw the dualistic aspects of both demonize the realm of the sexual. Here, the special temptation sphere of the devil becomes sexual activity, with the role of diabolic enticement devolving upon the figure of the woman. These dualistic tendences, and the sexual temptation role of women, have remained an undercurrent in the Christian church and help shape the understanding of sin and redemption.


In medieval Christian theology emerges the figure of the archangel Lucifer. Per this theology, Lucifer rebels against God and has been condemned to the lake of fire. Here is the figure of the devil as the fallen angel, thought to have inspired heretics, infidels, and all of those who oppose God and the Church. This figure of the devil, especially after the temptation of Christ, becomes an active part of the lives of saints, tormenting and testing their strength with sin. As Baphomet, he was supposed to have seduced the Knights Templar to worship him. While, as Beelzebub, he was supposed to have caused the evil of witches. And as the Antichrist, he is said to have deceived the majority of humankind and caused them to receive his mark on their foreheads. This figure is the one spoken of in the book of Revelations and the Second Coming of Christ.

Book of Revelation
Raphael's painting of St. Michael Vanquishing Satan from 1518.

The Book of Revelation, written by John of Patmos around 90 to 100 CE involves an apocalyptic vision of when God would intervene in human affairs and punish Rome for its persecution against Christians. He included the claim that Satan was chained in the pits of hell, relying on his agents for his work, with the principal agent referred to as "the beast" and "the deceiver". This book is where much of the Medieval popularity of Lucifer comes from, as one of John's visions he references Isaiah 14, a polemic against the King of Babylon, who titled himself "day-star". Isaiah castigates the king for his hubris and for thinking he is divine, going on to comment how he had fallen from heaven and referring to the king as morning star. The translation of the Hebrew scriptures in the 4th Century CE would translate the passage, specifically of morning star, as Lucifer.

Evolving belief in Satan

This book was a part of early Christian writers, for whom Satan played a large part, especially in the discussion of the nature of evil, the meaning of salvation, and the purpose and efficacy of atoning for Christ. However, under the 18th-century revolt against belief in the supernatural, liberal Christian theology tended to treat biblical language about Satan as a mythological attempt to express the reality and extent of evil in the universe, existing outside and apart from humanity, but influencing the human sphere.

This was, in part, in response to the 15th Century CE step in the definition of evil and Satan, with a new definition of witchcraft, which understood the practice as a remnant of paganism, which had been translated into Satanism at this point, or devil worship. During the three centuries of witch hunts, the devil was assigned a new and significant role as the supernatural cause of evil in the mundane world. This belief was not changed in the reformation, and the Protestants tended to share Roman Catholic beliefs about the devil.

Movie poster for The Omen.

It would not be until the Enlightenment critiques of the anti-witchcraft crusades, the the post-Enlightenment theologies when supernatural explanations, and the figure of the devil, would begin to give way to more natural interpretations. The 1930s and 1960s saw revivals in the belief in the devil as a supernatural force and embodiment of evil. Part of this was a cultural revival of the belief of the Christian devil, especially in movies such as Rosemary's Baby (1968), The Exorcist (1973), and The Omen (1976) which played a part in the evolving discourse and interest in Satan and Satanism.

The devil in Islam

In the third Abrahamic religion, the concept of the devil is more refined. Known as Iblis, or Eblis, the devil in Islam is the leader of the devils, and, according to the Qur'an, was thrown out of heaven. The story of Iblis in the Qur'an follows that at the creation of humanity, God ordered all the angels to bow in obedience before Adam, but Iblis refused. Iblis claimed he was a nobler being, the being who was created of fire, while humans were created by clay. God threw Iblis out of heaven for this, with his punishment postponed until Judgment Day. One of the first evil acts Iblis was supposed to have done was to tempt Eve to eat of the tree in Eden.

Painting of the figure of Iblis based on depictions from the Qur'an.

However, there are two versions or viewpoints of Iblis in Islamic tradition. The first view is that expressed above, of Iblis cast down for his failure to bow down to humanity. The second view has Iblis cast down from heaven, after being a high-ranking angel named Azazil, and appointed by God to obliterate the original disobedient inhabitants of earth. In this first version, Iblis objected to God's decision to create a successor, and he was sent to Earth as punishment, where he was then known as shayṭān, or the devil.

The figure of Iblis, however, has been one of speculation amongst Muslim scholars, who have tried to explain the ambiguous identification of Iblis in the Qur'an where the figure appears as either an angel, or a jinnī, which is a contradiction in Islam theology, where angels are created of light and incapable of sin, while jinnī are created of fire and can sin. This creates numerous and conflicting views, with one that Iblis was simply a jinnī who misappropriated themself among the angels in heaven. Another view is that he was an angel sent to Earth to do battle with rebellious jinnī. And the third common view is that Iblis was one terrestrial jinnī captured by the angels during said attack and brought to heaven.

Devil worship

The worship of the devil, often referred to as Satanism, refers to any countercultural practice or movement centered on the figure of Satan or the devil from the Christian and Judaic perspectives. This is Satan as the figure and embodiment of evil. Early devil worship, which does not necessarily have a set date, documents going as far back as the 17th century, with the claim of devil worship being levelled at various competing beliefs, such as pagan beliefs. This included a traditional belief in the "black mass" intended as a corruption of the Christian Eucharist, and considerations of ritual magic and evocations of Satan.

Historically, satanic cults are frequently overestimated and difficult to trace, in large part because Roman Catholic churchmen readily attributing Satanism to any heretics, such as witches, Gnostics, Cathari, and Bogomils. This has led to others believing that the over-persecution of so-called Satanists was as much in the imagination of the persecutor as in the tradition of the persecuted. This line of thought is especially true during the Inquisitions which spread through Europe after its establishment in the 12th century.

Of note, many of the modern practices of witchcraft and Neo-Paganism are not Satanism, and should not be confused with Satanism, since these groups do not worship Judeo-Christian deities. While Satanism, by definition, can only exist in symbiosis with the Judeo-Christian traditions and the devil as the source of evil. This is especially as Satanism inverts the shared worldview of the Judeo-Christian tradition.


As a great power of evil, the devil has often been depicted in religious and secular literature and art, and the act of worshipping the devil has been significant for individuals dissatisfied with existing religious institutions. The fear of the devil, and the fear of devil worshippers, was at least partially responsible for the hysteria around witchcraft in Europe and New England during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. One of the most famous of these witch hunts came in the Salem Witch Trials in Salem, Massachusetts, where Puritan's living in New England, petrified of the devil, accused at least 200 people of witchcraft, or "devil's magic," between 1692 and 1693, with at least twenty executions.

Woodcut depicting the common belief that "witches" communed with the devil for their magic.

This persecution of those who are considered "devil worshippers" coincides with research into the beliefs on the reality of the supernatural evil. Conducted in 2020, a study into the belief of supernatural evil, when controlling for other aspects of religiosity, turned into a strong predictor of an individual's attitudes about issues involving sexuality, such as abortion, homosexuality, premarital sex, extramarital sex, and pornography use. Further, the effects of religious service attendance on attitudes toward sexuality are contingent on the beliefs about religious evil. This study further observed that the higher an individual's belief in religious evil, such as the devil, the more strongly that individual morally condemned non-traditional sexualities.

Church of Satan
Ashley S. Palmer, a reverend in the Church of Satan.

In the modern context, there has been the Church of Satan, or Satanists, in America. This "religion" was founded in the 1970s, and although it surrounds itself with demonic and devilish iconography, and evokes images of people dressed in black and engaged in bizarre and violent rituals, the modern Church of Satan has more to do with atheism, libertarian ides of freedom and indulgence, and a certain Machiavellian pragmatism, rather than obscure rituals to summon the devil.

The belief in the existence and Satan has never disappeared, with many denominations through the 1930s and again in the 1960s experiencing resurgences in the belief of the devil. In 1966, Anton LaVey announced the formation of the Church of Satan. He was believed to have preached a sanitized and secularized form of Satanism, and the church was believed to have reached thousands of followers. However, the Church of Satan has been used by conservative Christians to argue that its very existence is proof for the existence of supernatural evil.


Further Resources


"Satan Made Me Do It!" The Development of a Satan Figure as Social-Theological Diagnostic Strategy from the late Persian Imperial Era to Early Christianity


A Satanist on why everything you think you know about his religion is wrong


November 6, 2020

Do Jews Believe in Satan? | My Jewish Learning



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