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SATAN AND HIS COURT
"........ Hail horrours, hail Infernal world, and thou profoundest Hell Receive thy new Possessor; One who brings A mind not to be chang'd by Place or Time. The mind is its own place, and in it self Can make a Heav'n of Hell, a Hell of Heav'n. What matter where, if I be still the same, And what should I be, all but less than he Whom thunder hath made greater? Here at least We shall be free; th' Almighty hath not built Here for his envy, will not drive us hence: Here we may reign secure, and in my choyce To reign is worth ambition though in Hell: Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heav'n."
John Milton, Paradise Lost (Book I)
In Heaven, his name was Lucifer ("light bearer"), and he was God's most beautiful angel. But even with such an enviable position, Lucifer wasn't content. He took inordinate pride in his own angelic nature — he was pleased with his supernatural gifts, his immortality, his closeness to God. And eventually, his pride became so great that he chafed at having a master at all, even God. He wanted to control his own destiny, and so he rebelled. He threw up his banner, recruited an army of equally discontented angels, and waged war for supremacy.
To lead His own troops into battle, God appointed the archangel Michael his field commander:
"And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world; he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him ... Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath ..."
(Revelation 12: 7–9, 12)
Having fallen from Heaven, Lucifer was no more — now he had a new name, Satan (the Hebrew word for "adversary"), and his new dominion was Hell. The angels who had fallen with him (as determined by the Fourth Lateran Council in A.D. 1215) were his demons. Accursed by God, doomed to eternal torment themselves, Satan and company found a new vocation in the temptation and corruption of man. With nothing better to occupy their time, they resolved to take out their "great wrath" on mortals too foolish or sinful to resist their lures.
As the world's sad history will attest, there was never any shortage of such mortals.
There is another story, one that is hinted at in the first book of the Bible, to account for Lucifer's legions. According to this story, which is more fully recounted in 1 Enoch (a Hebrew book that did not find its way into the Old Testament), there was once an order of angels known as the Watchers. As their name might suggest, the Watchers kept a close eye on the affairs of men — too close an eye, as it turns out.
It seems that staying up all night (the Watchers never slept) and studying the newly minted females of the human race gave them some bad ideas. "And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, that the Sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose." (Genesis 6: 1 – 2.) The Watchers not only came down to earth and mated — they also instructed their wives in all sorts of forbidden and arcane arts. They taught them botany, astrology, and astronomy. They showed them how to make magic and weapons, and, surprisingly, how to use cosmetics. God was not pleased.
And His displeasure increased when the offspring of these angels were born. These young ones turned out not to be angels, but monsters — great giants who killed and ate any unlucky humans whom they caught. And if there weren't any humans around, they satisfied their huge appetites by killing and devouring one another. Clearly, this was not what God had had in mind for the Earth, and once again he enlisted Michael to help him with straightening things out. God wiped out the giants, while Michael rounded up the fallen angels and imprisoned them in the valleys of the Earth where they would stay until the time came for them to be hurled into the everlasting fire. According to this account, stitched together from Genesis and Enoch, it is these underground angels — these Watchers who would watch no more — who comprised Lucifer's rebel army.
SON OF THE MORNING
For yet another view of Lucifer's fall, one that takes what might safely be described as a gloating tone, here's Isaiah 14:12–17:
"How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the Most High. Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit. They that see thee shall narrowly look upon thee, and consider thee, saying, Is this the man that made the earth to tremble, that did shake kingdoms; that made the world as a wilderness, and destroyed the cities thereof ...?"
But how, you may ask, did Lucifer come to be referred to as "son of the morning"? In part, it was because his name, Lucifer, was the name the Romans had given to the morning star, the last star each day to be obscured by the rising sun. And partly it was because in at least one ancient myth, of Hebrew origins, this same morning star had tried to outblaze the sun itself, but had, of course, been vanquished in the end. The close analogy to Lucifer, the bright angel who had in his pride thought to displace God Himself and been brought down because of it, isn't hard to see.
"MY NAME IS LEGION"
In Mark 5:2 through 5:9, we are told that when Jesus disembarked in the land of the Gadarenes, He encountered a man possessed by demons, "a man with an unclean spirit, who had his dwelling among the tombs ... and always, night and day, he was in the mountains, and in the tombs, crying, and cutting himself with stones." When the man accosted Jesus, Jesus spoke to the demon who possessed him and said, "Come out of the man, thou unclean spirit. And he asked him, What is thy name? And he answered, saying, My name is Legion: for we are many."
So how many demons are there? What are their proper names? And what specific powers do they possess? Even Jesus couldn't get a very clear answer — and priests, theologians, and demonologists have been debating the same questions ever since.
When St. Macarius of Alexandria begged the Lord to let him see the hosts of evil, the Lord obliged — and Macarius claims they were "as numerous as bees." Still not very specific. In 1459 Alphonsus de Spina took a more mathematical approach. He estimated that roughly one-third of the original angels had rebelled and become, as a result, demons: that number, he declared, came to 133,306,608. But other experts begged to differ. One claimed that there were 66 princes in Hell, ruling over 6,660,000 demons; another, Johan Weyer, the sixteenth-century German physician, argued that there were, all told, 7,405,926 demons, governed by 72 princes of Hell. Weyer arrived at this figure using an ancient formula: he took the Great Pythagorean number, 1234321 (a mystical number thought to embody certain arcane principles of the universe), and multiplied it by 6.
His method seems as good as any.
What was uniformly uncontested was that the demons were a huge and powerful force, with armies and parliaments, aristocrats and commoners. When Hell's battalions marched in parade formation, they were said to shake the very earth — demons riding on griffins and camels, rattling their weapons and howling with rage, bent on destruction, revenge, and bloodshed. In one conversation, attested to by three monks, a demon general pointedly observed, "The strength of our army is such that if all the Alps, their rocks and glaciers were divided among us, none would have more than a pound's weight."
HOW OLD ARE DEMONS?
The life span of demons is another topic that has come up for much discussion over the centuries.
Hesiod, the ancient Greek poet, based his own calculation on the average life span of the phoenix, a mythical bird of great beauty reputed to build its own funeral pyre and then rise from the ashes reborn. The phoenix, Hesiod asserted, lived ten times as long as a man, and demons lived ten times as long as the phoenix. Thus, he arrived at 6,800 years for the average demonic life.
In later years, Plutarch, the celebrated Greek writer and biographer, issued something of a corrective: observing that demons are, like their mortal counterparts, vulnerable to illness and disease, he amended the figure to 9,720 years.
Others simply assumed that, like angels, the demons were immortal and would be around until the end of time.
So far, the answer has remained elusive.
THE HIERARCHY OF HELL
How were all these demons organized? Who lorded it over whom? Who gave the orders, and who obeyed them?
On this, too, there has been much discussion — and little unanimity — over the centuries. One thing alone was seldom debated: Satan, also known as the Emperor of the Grand Grimoire, the Prince of Light, and the Angel of Darkness, was the man in charge. He was God's great adversary, the Serpent, the Snake, the Spirit of Universal Hate. In him, evil was incarnate and unalloyed.
But under him there ranged a large and terrible crew of demons and creatures, bent on mayhem and wanton destruction. Keeping such a horde in line was too much of a task for even Satan to handle alone, so just as the Lord had his seraphim, his cherubim, his archangels, Satan, too, appointed his own unholy aristocracy to help him rule over his kingdom. These demons, in an inversion of the nine-fold order of the angels, were sometimes divided into nine infernal orders of their own. But first among them, it is generally agreed, was one of Satan's oldest friends from his days in Heaven, a powerful angel named ...
Beelzebub. When Satan first rebelled, he recruited several very powerful seraphim, Beelzebub among them, to fight at his side. Once he took up his new residence in Hell, Beelzebub learned to tempt men with pride. When summoned by witches or sorcerers, he appeared in the form of a fly, because "Lord of the Flies" was his nom de guerre, as it were. He'd acquired it by visiting a plague of flies upon the harvest of Canaan, or, perhaps, simply because flies were once believed to be generated in the flesh of decaying corpses. Either way, the name stuck.
Another great angel that plummeted from Heaven in Lucifer's company was Leviathan, characterized in Isaiah 27:1 as "that crooked serpent ... the dragon that is in the sea." By some accounts, Leviathan is credited — or blamed, to be more precise — with being the serpent who seduced Eve in the Garden of Eden. In Hell he might be considered Secretary of the Navy, as Satan put him in charge of all the maritime regions.
Asmodeus was one of the busiest demons. He was not only the overseer of all the gambling houses in the court of Hell, but the general spreader of dissipation. On top of that, Asmodeus was the demon of lust, personally responsible for stirring up matrimonial trouble. Maybe it was because he came from the original dysfunctional family. According to Jewish legend, his mother was a mortal woman, Naamah, and his father was one of the fallen angels. (Or, possibly, Adam before Eve came along.) Characterized in The Testament of Solomon, the great manual of magic, as "furious and shouting," Asmodeus routinely did everything he could to keep husbands and wives from having intercourse, while encouraging them at every turn to indulge their pent-up drives in adulterous and sinful affairs. When he condescended to appear before a mortal, he did so riding a dragon, armed with a spear; he had three heads — one a bull's, one a ram's, and one a man's — as all three of these were considered lecherous creatures by nature. His feet, on the same theory, were those of a cock.
Astaroth also rode around on a dragon, but he had only one head — usually depicted as quite ugly — and carried a viper in his left hand. Grand Duke of the western regions of Hell, he was also Treasurer of the whole place. The original couch potato, he encouraged men to sloth and idleness. In his spare time, he served as a kind of guidance counselor for other fallen angels.
Behemoth, as his name suggests, was a huge demon, usually depicted as an elephant with a big round belly, waddling on two feet. He presided over the gluttonous feasts in Hell. As this probably kept him up most of the night anyway, he was made the infernal watchman. He also enjoyed a certain renown for his singing.
Belial was one of Satan's most venerable demons. In fact, before the New Testament firmly established Satan as the leader of the forces of evil, Belial had filled the position. In one of the Dead Sea Scrolls, The War of the Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness, Belial is the uncontested ruler of the dark side: "But for corruption thou hast made Belial, an angel of hostility. All his dominion is in darkness, and his purpose is to bring about wickedness and guilt." Eventually, he moved down in the world, though he still retained his unofficial title as the demon of lies. It was as such that Milton immortalized him in Paradise Lost (Book II):
"A fairer person lost not Heaven; he seemed
For dignity composed and high exploit:
But all was false and hollow; though his tongue
Dropped manna, and could make the worse appear
The better reason, to perplex and dash
Maturest counsels: for his thoughts were low;
To vice industrious, but to noble deeds
Timorous and slothful."
When the notorious mass murderer Gilles de Rais attempted to raise some demons (using the severed body parts of a child he had killed), it was Beelzebub and Belial he was after.
THE GEOGRAPHY OF HELL
Even demons had to have a home, and Hell was the one that God had chosen for them, "fraught with fire unquenchable," as Milton put it, "the house of woe and pain."
Still, Satan and his crew did what they could with the place, exploring its vast wastelands, enduring its torments, even erecting some towering monuments of their own there. The infernal regions have always been a challenge — tough to live in, tougher still to get out of. And, since those who go to Hell seldom if ever return, it's been an especially difficult place to map out. To get some idea of how the place is laid out, we have had to rely upon the accounts of saints and seers, poets and prophets. And over the centuries, the picture and the terrain have often changed.
In the New Testament, Matthew gives a taste of the place, while describing how Jesus on Judgment Day will go about separating the good from the wicked:
"And before him shall be gathered all nations; and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: and he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world ... Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels ..."
(Matthew 25:32–34, 41)
The fire stuck. Over the centuries, Hell has become an increasingly variegated landscape — with swamps and bogs, iceflows and forests, deserts and lakes — but in every conception, somewhere, a fire has been burning. In The City of God, written in the fifth century A.D., St. Augustine went on at great length about the quality of the flames in Hell:
"Hell, which is also called a lake of fire and brimstone, will be material fire, and will torment the bodies of the damned, whether men or devils — the solid bodies of the one, and the aerial bodies of the others. Or, if only men have bodies as well as souls, still the evil spirits, even without bodies, will be so connected to the fires as to receive pain without bestowing life. One fire certainly shall be the lot of both."
Excerpted from Fallen Angels by Robert Masello. Copyright © 1994 Robert Masello. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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