Sunday, January 2, 2011

Restoring the Bearer of Light: A Hard Polytheist’s take on Lucifer, ha-Satan.

Disclaimer: For the record, I am not affiliated in any way with the Church of Satan nor do I personally endeavor to work with Satan. In fact, Satanists would have as much to object to about this blog post as anyone else-probably more. *
                I am a pagan and a “hard” polytheist. By “hard” polytheist, I mean I believe that the Gods are distinct, individual divine beings, rather than merely archetypal facets of a single, great godhead.   My understanding of ha-Satan Lucifer’s fall from the “grace” of Yahweh is very different than a monotheist’s—Abrahamic or otherwise— view of the same.  I have substantially different ideas about this, and feel strongly that these ideas about Lucifer and Satan in the context of “the Fall” need to be re-thought.
                There has been heretofore a distinction made between Lucifer and Satan that needs to be addressed before I go any further. The name, Satan, is derived from a Hebrew verb that means to “obstruct or oppose.”  The term used to address Satan was actually “ha-Satan.” The word “ha” is a definite article that means “the.” Thus, the earlier translations of the Bible, it isn’t “Satan,” which is a name, but “the Satan” which is a title (Numbers 22:22, 1 Samuel 29:4, Psalms 109:6; Buttrick 1952).The Satan is one who opposes the will of Yahweh, and as such any being that does so can technically be called a Satan. Other epithets associated with ha-Satan are “the deceiver,” “the accuser,” and “the adversary.”
                According to Abrahamic monotheist tradition dating from the fourth century, Satan was named Lucifer before his fall from Heaven. He has been understood as an angel—some claim an Archangel—serving Yahweh. Historically, Lucifer was a celestial being in his own right and is older than the Abrahamic Yahweh. In Roman mythology, he is identified as the god of both the “the Morning Star,” and the “Evening Star,” the torch-bearing God who brings the dawn. His Greek name was Phosphorous, or Eosphorus.  Mythologists generally agree that the Abrahamic tradition appropriated gods from other pantheons and either demonized them or re-envisioned them as angels or archangels. This process applies to Lucifer, who was reinvented as one of Yahweh’s angels. A problematic and egotistical angel who wanted his glory and power recognized as greater than Yahweh’s. For this he was cast out of heaven.
                In my mind, it makes sense to equate ha-Satan and Lucifer. As an adversary and opposing force rebelling against the will of Yahweh, Lucifer was “the Satan” of the rebellion. He was not the only Satan around, but he ended up being the biggest and the baddest of the lot. Ladies and gentlemen, I hereby introduce you to Lucifer, the Satan.
                It is fair to say that the Satan suffers from bad press. It’s also fair to say he’s done much to deserve it. At best self-serving and opportunistic, and at worst the absolute advocate of pure evil, Satan is a many-splintered being. Yet, one of those splinters is the vestige of Lucifer and his divine nature as bearer of light. That splinter lies at the root of my argument here. I am by no means the first to call for reclaiming the divinity of Lucifer, but I am the first to present the idea in terms of hard polytheism.
                I see Yahweh as simply one of many Gods. In my opinion, he is a power-hungry emperor who has convinced huge swaths of humanity he is perfect, omniscient, infallible and omnipotent at all times and under all circumstances. He takes credit for creating the earth, the heavens, the angels, the universe...He claims that all things happen according to his plan and it isn’t ours to wonder why, because we are incapable of comprehending him. He says that all other gods are false and people shalt have no other gods before him. For thousands of years before Yahweh sprang up, there were other Gods. Nobody is sure how they came into existence but there are a plethora of creation stories attempting to explain it. Not one of these myths ascribes absolute universal consciousness to a creator deity, but they do try to account for how we came into being and how the Gods came to be with us. The old Gods may have been driven underground but they are still with us. The only authority humanity has that Yahweh is the one true God and creator of all the universe is his own claim to that effect. Just because he alleges all of that to be true doesn’t mean it is, and it certainly doesn’t mean we should believe him.
                More than anything, Yahweh is ambitious. This is why he has been able to displace most other Gods from their rightful positions. He didn’t create these other divine beings, he usurped their power. I believe that this came about in two big ways. The first is conversion- characterizing other Gods as false or as demons and literally driving people from those Gods and into his service, upon pain of death. The second is collusion. Some Gods, for reasons of power-craving or self-protection, chose to join forces with Yahweh but accept a lesser position as one of his servants rather than be cast out of their roles of authority altogether. I believe that Lucifer, bringer of the dawn, falls into the latter category. If we see Lucifer as a God who for whatever reason accepted a lower status rather than be demonized, his rebellion takes on a different tone. He is not just some upstart egotist. He is a God who wanted his power back.  
                Which brings us to the nature of Lucifer’s sin. Neopaganism has a very hard time understanding or accepting the notion of sin, mostly because the main thing we fled when abandoning Abrahamic monotheism was the overzealous interpretation of sin. The idea of eternal punishment for enjoying the sensual side of life, and perpetual torment for our all-too-human failings makes us nauseous. Still, I personally accept the idea of sin in a very limited fashion. In my opinion, a sin is anything that alienates us from the Divine, be it the Divinity of the Gods or the Divinity that dwells within each person. It isn’t necessarily evil, but it is often sad and at times deeply disturbing. Sin isn’t something that will earn us damnation, but it can make our lives and the lives of our loved ones damned miserable if we indulge it too often. Sin ≠ Evil. **Lucifer’s sin was exactly what I here describe. In agreeing to be subservient to Yahweh, he denied his inherent Divinity. In serving Yahweh, he sinned against himself.  He accepted a status of being less than he really was. All the events that followed are a direct result of his sinning against himself.
                As Lucifer’s original sin was against himself, how should we view his rebellion? Lucifer’s rebellion was an act of redemption. He threw off subservience and reclaimed his power. According to Abrahamic monotheist belief, Lucifer incited fully one third of heaven to join his rebellion. A substantial number of divine beings were as furious at their treatment as Lucifer was. It is likely that they ended up in the service of Yahweh in much the same way that Lucifer had, and were just as miserable with the result. They had sinned against their own Divinity and paid the price.
                There are here raised other questions about what exactly happened after Lucifer was cast out of Yahweh’s presence. Abrahamic monotheist sources concur that Yahweh stripped Lucifer of his beauty and cast him into the abyss. The abyss gained the name Hell only after Christian encounters with the Norse goddess of death, Hel. She did not submit… and was subsequently demonized. Sources generally agree that the Satan’s realm is the solid Earth, the material world, and he holds sway over it. Which means Lucifer wasn’t cast into Hell so much as he was permanently grounded onto Earth. There is a big difference here between eternal agony and simply being tied to place. I am of the opinion that Yahweh has the power to oust and usurp power, but he doesn’t have the power to outright banish other Gods permanently into a nightmare realm of his own creation. Further, given the ubiquity of sacred ground designated and set aside by all societies past and present, the idea of a God being place-based is not unusual. Yahweh may have kicked Lucifer out of his clubhouse, but that still left Lucifer with exactly the same realm as Gods have always rightfully had: the land. Lucifer lost far more than he gained by casting his lot with Yahweh. But when he left, he ended up with exactly what he had always had.
                Having surveyed the followers of Lucifer, the Satan and the actions they undertake in his name, I am willing to concede that he took on a horrific appearance and monstrous quality after being cast out of Yahweh’s presence. But I don’t believe that Yahweh made him into an abominable horned beast, because I don’t think Yahweh actually has the power to strip deities of their inherent qualities at will. Rather, it is Lucifer’s own rage, pain and guilt at what happened and what he lost that have deformed him so.  He is the demon he is because he chooses rage over wholeness.  He rages against all of Yahweh’s “creation ,” taking every opportunity to hurt him. His entire being is focused on hateful, pointless destruction through acts both small and large. If Lucifer ever decided to push through that miasma, he might remember who he really is. He could once again become the light-bearing God he was before choosing subjugation. The deformity of spirit would melt away and the God will reclaim his place.
                There is a very important lesson to be found in this reading of Lucifer, the Satan: Personal power. Every human being is possessed of a Divine spark from which personal empowerment springs. At times, we voluntarily subjugate our personal divinity to a force that is stronger than we are: a person, a thing, an idea, an organization, a worldview. Perhaps we do so out of fear, or ambition, maybe greed, or possibly even self-loathing. The result is the same: we give up our power, and when we discover that we want it back, there’s Hell to pay. We can redeem ourselves through rebellion, but that rebellion costs us. It costs us every single thing we gained through our self-debasement and then some. Afterwards, the anger, pain, frustration, sorrow, shame and loneliness come flooding in, bringing waves of regret.  If we allow ourselves to get bogged down in the agony of the aftermath, as Lucifer did, we can expect to become as twisted as Lucifer is. We will focus all of our life force on destructiveness and cruelty. But if we push past all of that, we can heal. We can reclaim our true Divine nature. We can be whole. The choice, as always, is ours.

ed. Buttrick, George Arthur; ‘’The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, An illustrated Encyclopedia’’
*I respect the Church of Satan’s view of Him as the embodiment man’s nature as a carnal animal, and their belief that cultivating man’s baser nature is the key to personal fulfillment and material success. As a result, their approach to life is Machiavellian and Darwinian. I am thoroughly unconvinced that these are the keys to a strong society, because both are predicated upon an individual pursuing a craving for power and self-indulgence at the expense of everyone else. “Everyone else” will eventually rebel, often violently, leaving society no better off than before. I also take issue with their view of man’s aspirations toward enlightenment as making him a weak and stupid hypocrite. I think these aspects are what inspire man to transform his quest of power, dominion, and self-indulgence into a search for a personal empowerment and enlightenment that leads him to compassion for all mankind, and that this is what is needed to make society function well.  As the following article will attest, I primarily take issue with the Church of Satan’s definition of Satan and his proper role in the course of human development.
**I do believe that evil is always sinful, because it is at core extreme, hateful, and depraved denial of the Divinity that dwells within others as well as ourselves.