Name That Devil

satan

What the devil should we call the Evil One?

If God is a personification of the term Good, then Devil may derive from Evil – a word stemming from the Latin diabolus, which in Middle English became devel.

With over 40 names, the Devil has far more titles in The Bible than anyone else except Jesus – the most common being Lucifer, Satan, the Prince of Darkness, and the Anti-Christ.  Revelation mentions The Beast, though Matthew refers to the ruler of the Lake of Fire as Beelzebub.

The Evil One is also called the Deceiver, Dragon, Enemy, Father of all Lies, and Leviathan.  Portrayed as the Serpent of Old, the Tempter, and the Wicked One, the Devil appeared as the snake who seduced Eve in the Garden of Eden.

Traditionally, the Devil is a fallen angel who lures human beings into sin.  He is often seen as the opposite force to God, stealing souls away from Heaven for the darker realms of Hell.

In many cultures Satan remains a symbol of evil – a metaphor for sin and excessive pleasure.  He is the trickster, folk villain, enemy, anti-hero, tyrant, and source of unhappiness and misfortune.

So what the devil should we call the Evil One?  Anything except Master!

Faust and The Devil

Faust

The Faust legend is a morality tale warning ambitious young men to reject the devil and all earthly temptations of power and desires of the flesh.

In German classic literature a jaded scholar called Doctor Faust makes a pact with the devil Mephistopheles, signed and sealed with his own blood.  He agrees to exchange his soul for worldly pleasure, riches, and knowledge – but when the terms of the agreement expire he is doomed to spend the rest of eternity in hell.

Who is Faust based on?  The most likely prototype seems to be Dr. Johann Georg Faust (c. 1480-1540), a famous German alchemist and magician.

Why does Faust make this pact?  He is a dissatisfied academic who yearns for something more.

How long is his rule on earth?  Faust is granted 24 years – one for each hour of the day.

What does the magician do with his new powers? First, he seduces a beautiful maiden called Gretchen.  Yet although he destroys her earthly life she is granted a place in Heaven because of her innocence.  Then he plays pranks on people, settles old scores, and meddles in the politics of his day.  At one point he demands to see the most beautiful woman ever, and is granted a visit from Helen of Troy.  And finally – having sated his lusts and tamed the natural world – he has a moment of utter contentment before the devil appears and rips his body to pieces.

In choosing instant gratification and pleasure, Doctor Faust rejects Christianity and turns away from God.  He is a personification of Matthew’s warning: “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” (16:26-27)

Would you be likewise tempted?

Morgan le Fay: The Fairy Witch

Morgan

Another of Merlin the Magician’s students was King Arthur’s half-sister, Morgan le Fay.  At various times she challenged the Lady of the Lake for the title, The Queen of Avalon, and early writers had trouble deciding whether she was a fairy or a sorceress.  The name “le Fay” suggested she came from fairy heritage, while others associated her name with “Morgen,” meaning “sea-born.”  In all accounts though, she had supernatural powers.

Scholars now believe that Morgan derived from the Celtic Welsh goddess, Modron.  The first tales made her the eldest of nine sisters – or one of nine virgin priestesses – who lived on the Isle of Apples (Avalon).  She was an enchantress and healer, capable of flying and changing shape.  After King Arthur got wounded at the Battle of Camlann, he was taken to Avalon to be healed.

Throughout the ages Morgan has retained her healing powers.  But in patriarchal times she became more sinister and dangerous.  Like the Lady of the Lake, she was turned into a witch figure – lustful, sly, and unpredictable – finally becoming the arch-enemy of Arthur and his queen.

Later versions of Morgan made her more human.  She was born to Arthur’s mother (Igraine) and her first husband (Gorlois), and was therefore the king’s half-sister.  Morgan spent time as Guinevere’s lady-in-waiting, got unhappily married to King Urien, bore a son called Ywain, and had an unrequited passion for Sir Lancelot.  When she learnt of Lancelot’s love for the queen she caused all sorts of mischief to expose their affair, often being thwarted by her counterpart, the Lady of the Lake.  At some point she became Merlin’s apprentice, but instead of using her powers for good she commanded the forces of evil.  Her obsession with Lancelot – and hatred for Arthur and Guinevere – intensified to such a point she was exiled from Camelot.  Morgan lived in the forest and carefully perfected her craft, until the locals started calling her The Goddess.  Then she ended Arthur’s reign.  She gave Excalibur to her lover, and threw its protective scabbard into the lake, leaving King Arthur completely unprotected in battle so that he became mortally wounded.  She was ultimately the bringer of chaos and death.

But having been called a fairy, healer, enchantress, seductress, and witch, modern pagans are now reclaiming Morgan as a symbol of feminine power.  She is seen by some as the third face of the Triple Goddess (the Crone or Warrior Woman), which reunites her with Celtic Modron – the Mother.

Of all the many aspects of her mythology, Morgan le Fay is indeed a shape-shifter!

 

Sources:

Norako, Leila K. “Morgan le Fay.”  http://d.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/theme/morgan

Wikipedia, “Morgan le Fay.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morgan_le_Fay

(Picture: Frederick Sandys)

Vivien: The Lady of the Lake

Vivien and Merlin

“For Merlin, overtalked and overworn,

Had yielded, told her all the charm, and slept”

(Alfred Lord Tennyson)

Most Arthurian legends feature Merlin’s love-interest, Vivien.  She usually appears as The Lady of the Lake and ruler of Avalon, but sometimes she is described by other names such as Nimue – Niviane – the daughter of a vavasor named Dionas – a princess of Northumberland – or the Queen of Sicily.  And like the great magician himself, her character has undergone several important changes throughout history.

In the majority of early versions Vivien meets Merlin by a spring in the Forest of Broceliande, Brittany.  They fall in love, share a relationship, and exchange supernatural knowledge.  The Lady of the Lake is associated with water, the essential essence of life, and she quenches the lonely old man’s thirst for companionship.  She also gives King Arthur the magic sword Excalibur, and raises Lancelot in Avalon after the death of his father.  Then she takes Merlin away from Camelot and he is never seen again.

In Thirteenth Century Pre-Vulgate French mythology, Vivien is a fairy.  She appears as Merlin’s adoring student and he falls in love with her youth, intelligence, and beauty.  When Vivien uses one of her mentor’s spells to create a magical tower that locks them both away from the rest of the world, she does so to preserve their happiness together.  She acts out of genuine love without any deception or malice.

But when the Catholic Church adopted King Arthur as a champion of Christianity, Vivien was transformed into an evil sorceress and witch.  She is thereafter portrayed as another Eve-like temptress who seduces a good man and brings about his downfall.  In these tales she uses her feminine wiles to uncover Merlin’s most powerful spell and ultimately uses it against him.  Then she locks him in an enchanted tree – or prison made of air –  or tomb covered with a stone that no one can move – rendering him invisible from the outside world until he falls asleep forever.

In the post-feminist era, however, this fascinating character has evolved yet again and  Vivien emerges as the New Woman.  No longer is she portrayed as a dependent fairy or malicious witch.  Instead she has become a strong force in society – a free thinker –  someone in charge of her own destiny.  She lives with Merlin as a lover and equal.   She could survive perfectly well without him, but chooses not to.

The modern Lady of the Lake tale now suggests that mutual love is the greatest magic of all and the strongest power on earth.

Do you agree?

Sources:

Brunel, Pierre.  Companion to Literary Myths, Heroes and Archetypes. London and New York: Routledge, 1996.

Collier’s Encyclopedia (15).  Macmillan, 1974.

Wikipedia, “Lady of the Lake”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lady_of_the_Lake

(Picture: Julia Margaret Cameron)

A Biblical Puzzle: The Witch of Endor

Endor Benjamin West

The Witch of Endor (1 Samuel: 28) is one of the great puzzles of the Old Testament.  She was the medium who summoned the dead prophet Samuel’s spirit at the request of King Saul, and then comforted the king when he received the terrible news of his impending defeat and death.  Yet the one true Wise Women in the scriptures was not originally portrayed as being evil, manipulative, or sinister.

Ironically, Saul had previously driven all the magicians and cunning folk out of Israel.  But when God stopped appearing in his dreams – and the Philistine army was at his door – the desperate king went in search of a medium to help him contact Samuel’s ghost for advice.  During the 11th Century this witch (named Abner) was thought to have been the mother of Saul’s cousin – and therefore his aunt – but this seems unlikely as he commanded a servant to “seek me a woman that hath a familiar spirit,” and only then heard about the medium at Endor.  They met and conversed as strangers, the king being in disguise, and she was naturally reluctant to help until he promised her “no punishment” for doing what was legally forbidden.  The witch finally conjured up the dead prophet’s spirit who predicted the end of Saul and his reign. This quickly came to pass.  The Philistines were victorious and Saul, wounded in battle, ended up taking his own life.

This episode is the Bible’s only suggestion that the spirits of the dead can be summoned by magic.  The Witch of Endor, sometimes described as a ventriloquist because other voices spoke through her, appeared to see the dead yet could not hear what they told the person who had summoned them.  She was a genuine medium – not a trickster – described as a kindly character who comforted Saul after the terrible prophecy was revealed.  She even fed him a lavish meal before he left her home.

Then at some time during the Middle Ages this wise woman was turned into a wicked witch.  No longer did she present the ghost of Samuel on demand, but instead conjured up a demon to give the illusion of the dead prophet.  Martin Luther called the apparition the “Devil’s ghost” and Calvin dismissed it as “but a spectre.”  The story then changed from being a worried king’s frantic search for supernatural help, into a morality tale about witchcraft and death.

But the puzzle remains: Was Samuel’s appearance an act of God working through a spiritualist to grant Saul’s request?  Or is this tale an example of Satan’s cunning in bringing about a good king’s defeat and suicide?  What do you think?

Sources:

Wikipedia – “Witch of Endor.”  Accessed on 5/11/2015

Holy Bible, 1 Samuel: 28.

Lilith and Eve: Part Two

(c) Manchester City Galleries; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

John Roddam Spencer Stanhope

In the Christian version of Genesis, Adam (meaning literally “man”) is the perfect model of strength and beauty.  He donates a rib to create a submissive partner, the naïve Eve. They dwell in the Garden of Eden with two special trees – the Tree of Knowledge (which gives the wisdom to uncover good and evil) and the Tree of Life (which grants immortality).  Eve is tempted by the devil (in the guise of the serpent) to eat from the forbidden Tree of Knowledge and is then expelled from paradise alongside her mate, cutting off the Tree of Life and making them both mortal.

Eve, the first woman deceived by a sweet-talking male, becomes the original mother of mankind.  In the beginning she is a daughter of nature – a creature half-way between animal and man – beautiful, sensual, emotional, but also fickle, stupid, and weak.  This archetypal woman soon becomes the victim, the first person seduced by Satan and therefore the first witch.  Indeed, in early iconography, Eve is even physically linked with the serpent through her long twisting hair.

Eve sins in multiple ways – by disobeying God and rejecting divine authority, going her own way, and seeking the wisdom of the male Gods – implying that all the evil, death, and suffering in the world comes from disobeying your master.  Naïve woman is blamed for the Fall, a typical psychological projection onto a convenient scapegoat.

At some point Lilith became entwined with Eve in the minds of the early Christian commentators.  Instead of a masculine Satan being culpable for Eve’s ruin, Lilith is associated with the snake in Genesis 3 – a female demon who tempts Eve into rebellion.  Even John Milton alludes to the “snake witch” in Paradise Lost.  Thereafter, the gullible Eve is portrayed as a calculating, evil, seductress, and the source of man’s carnal desire.

And because the first woman committed the primal sin, all females were forever to be held accountable.  For centuries they were considered subservient, lustful, untrustworthy, base, unintelligent, and sly.  Small wonder that so many of the witches executed in the Burning Times were female!

Sources:

Brunel, Pierre.  Companion to Literary Myths, Heroes, and Archetypes.  London and New York: Routledge, 1996.

Merriam-Webster’s Encyclopedia of World Religions.  Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster, 1999.

Witcombe, Christopher:  “Eve and the Identity of Women” (7) http://witcombe.sbc.edu/eve-women/7evelilith.html