Friday, December 15, 2006


We've been woefully lax on giving equal time to the devil on this blog, so the following is our feeble attempt to make up for lost time:

"[T]he Satan of the Bible is a very different figure from the cloven-footed, sulphur-snorting Beelzebub that emerged in later centuries. It is fascinating to discover, for example, that Satan was not associated with Hell until hundreds of years after the death of Christ."

"[T]here is no devil in Genesis (the identification of the serpent with Satan came much later).... The Hebrew word “satan” simply means “adversary”.... Satan appears in the Old Testament, in Numbers, Job and Zechariah, where he is identified as one of the “sons of God” responsible for testing the devotion of mankind....

"In the New Testament ... Satan retains his job as a shady functionary of God, testing Jesus during his forty-day sojourn in the wilderness.... The Devil shows Christ the entirety of the world, which he claims to control and which he offers to hand over in exchange for homage. Who gave the world’s kingdoms to the Devil? “There is only one possible answer: God”.... Satan is not ... the scintillating overlord of evil that dominates popular imagination today."
From a review of the new book Satan: A Biography, by scholar and former Jesuit Henry Ansgar Kelly
Thnx to jeroenbeel for the foto


Paul said...

I cannot help feeling that demons and the devil are the product of a fevered monastic life that fears innocent pleasures. It has to be a kind of insanity that speaks of "war against the temptations of the flesh" or follows a jealous god who "tests our devotion" rather than rejoices in our being. Anyway your little red devil is cute :)

Paxton said...

Aren't there also references in Isaiah and/or Ezekiel, where it talks about him standing in God's throne room covered in gemstones, then being cast down? (If I find the verses I'll let you know).

Athana said...

Paul, my view is that Jehovah and the other War Gods are products of ancient peoples who, when their lands turned to desert, starved and went crazy. Their fear and crazy behavior coalesced into a permanent culture, which they passed down to us (aren't we lucky).

Your "fevered monastic life" would be an offshoot of this starvation culture.

Athana said...

Paul and Paxton, see the Aug. 25 and Mar. 1 through 8 posts here, if you're interested in more on Starvation Culture.

Paul said...

Athana, Yes I read your posts on Starvation Culture and have read before that climate change brought about big changes. These things are hard to prove. Again, this is hard to prove but my own best guess is that agriculture and technology have a lot to do with it. Agriculture resulted in people fencing and owning land. The Cain and Abel story reads like an argument not between brothers but between those who wanted to own and fence land and those wh didn't. Once you own land you have to protect it - if the tribe grows you have to capture more land. The technology of bronze and later iron allowed for the production of effective weapons and the means of slavery. If you can own land then you can own women, children, slaves. The war gods speak of subduing the land, capturing land, raping and killing the women and children and enslaving the population (aren't we lucky). Indeed the Bible is full of this stuff and people call it holy !?

Strange that the war god religions with their many lists of sins never see the production of weapons and shackles and the building of prisons as sins.

The key thing is that the loss of goddess culture was a disaster for us all.

Incidently I found my way here from Geraldine's Goddess Pages through my links with the Goddess Temple.

Athana said...

Paul, the problem with saying agriculture did it, is that our goddess ancestors invented agriculture around 8000 BC or so, and stayed loving and peaceful for the next 4000 years. Then – boom! The war gods enter the picture. Where did they come from? That’s the million-dollar question.

I agree with you that prehistoric changes are hard to prove. But there's one guy -- James DeMeo -- who's done a fairly good job of showing how climate change was probably what turned our goddess into a war god. Here's part of a review of his book Saharasia:

"In a nutshell, DeMeo says that before around 4000 BCE, humans were democratic, egalitarian, sex-positive, pleasure-oriented, non-violent Goddess-worshiping "matrists. Over the next 10-20 generations, however, certain matrist groups morphed into "patrists": violent, sexually-repressive, misogynistic, sadistic, male-dominated high-god worshipers with painful and traumatic child rearing techniques.

"What caused the morphing? More on that below. First, though, a word on DeMeo's research. This is not any old "armchair science" book. DeMeo backs up his theories - ten years in the making -- with some of the most solid and extensive interdisciplinary data I've ever seen. To present this data for our perusal took over 400 pages, in a large-scale format, of scores of maps, charts, diagrams, figures, tables, drawings, photographs, footnotes and appendices as well as ample data-driven text.

"The majority of DeMeo's data are sterling. For example, working with class-A anthropological data (from the Human Relations Area Files, etc.) and meshing those with class-A geological data (from the Budyko-Lettau Dryness Ratio), DeMeo shows that (1) around 4000 BCE a broad ribbon of land across Africa, the Middle East and Asia began dying; 2) People living in this land became the most patriarchal on the planet; and, 3) the further one wanders from this ribbon of land, the less patriarchal people are. DeMeo calls this land "Saharasia." It's an area that covers hundreds of thousands of square miles on our planet.

"DeMeo offers a fascinating analysis of how the hideous change from matrist to patrist occurred. He bases his arguments on current studies of starving peoples. The behavioral changes in starving groups are enormous and appalling. Starving people become consumed with eating and lose interest in all other pleasures, including sex. The old and young are abandoned to die. Brothers steal food from sisters, and in some cases parents eat their own children. For children who survive, bad diet leads to laundry lists of psychological and physical abnormalities down the road. The culture breaks down. Life bumps into chaos.

"Although this starvation syndrome began in Saharasia ca 4000 BCE, it continued for generation after generation. Most of the crazed groups caught in the desertification process died out. In the few that survived (and why they survived is explained below), mentally-ill behaviors became institutionalized. Mental illness became their way of life; the loss of interest in pleasure; the glorification of the strong; the strong stealing from the weak - all these and more would have become fossilized into a new and actively promoted way of life - a set of behaviors "learned, shared, patterned and transmitted from generation to generation," as my anthropology texts used to define culture. It is at this point, when mental-illness becomes codified, that one witnesses the birth of the patriarchy."

Paul said...

Thanks for the mini review of Saharasia. It sounds like a must read Athana. Just had a look on Amazon UK. It is only available secondhand here in Brighid's Isles at 56 UK pounds compared with $39 (20 UK pounds) on Amazon US :((((. Looks like it is going to be an import :(

I think in my hurry to put down my thoughts I didn't quite state my thoughts very well. Agriculture is clearly a good thing but is it just coincidence that the war gods really came into their own with the forging of bronze and iron and did the "need" to defend owned land lend an excuse to the war lords?

One thing from the very title 'Sahara Asia' that strikes me, biblical monetheistic religions are truly pessimistic products of desert environments. How on earth they got a hold in Brighid's green, abundant, refreshing Isles I do not know. They are so foreign ! But then the Pax Romana was no more and maybe people saw Christianity as the New Rome.

Anne Johnson said...

The title should read: Satan: An Unauthorized Biography.

The author never consulted with me, and the work is filled with unattributed quotes.

Do you know where I can get that costume?

Mr. Applegate

Athana said...

Mr. Applegate! I feel unutterably honored. I don't believe you've ever knocked at my door before. The costume's on sale in Macy's basement, but hurry on over -- they're selling like hotcakes. People everywhere these days seem to want the Mr. Applegate look.

Athana said...


Around 8,000 BC -- Plant and animal domestication in Middle East

8,000 to 4,000 BC: Farming. No war.

Around 4,000 BC -- First war gods, and first war

Steve Taylor has a good section in his book on theories of the origins of war. About your theory he says, “There is almost no evidence of warfare in these areas [Middle East, Central Asia and Europe] until the fifth millennium BCE, more than 3,000 years after the advent of agriculture.” P. 161 in *The Fall: The Evidence for a Golden Age, 6,000 Years of Insanity, and the Dawning of a New Era,* 2005.

I just read somewhere recently that the oldest example of iron being worked by human beings was found in a Goddess-era culture in Egypt (pre- pharaohonic, of course, and pre-War Gods). The iron was in the form of something totally non-obnoxious – beads or something. I suspect that the concept ‘weapon’ didn’t’ even exist until the war gods invented it. Before that there were only tools, including tools for hunting animals for food.

Pignut said...

Paul, you said that Cain and Abel is about a conflict between people who wanted to own and enclose the land and those who didn't. More precisely, it's about settled farmers and nomadic pastoralists.

Nomads do want to own or at least control land, and they are often in a state of almost continual warfare with other tribes for this reason (the old testament provides plenty of examples of this). They also hunt to the point of extinction any carnivorous animals that might eat their animals, and any herbivores that might compete for grass. Large herds of animals are not particularly good for trees either. I've farmed alongside nomads, and they are a pain in the ass, especially if you are trying to plant trees.

Settled arable farmers, especially those without animals, tend to ruin the soil. If they are exporting food to cities with sewage systems, you end up with the the kind of scenario Shelley described in "Ozymandias"

Both nomads and arable farmers dislike hunter gatherers. The story of Jacob and Esau should come before Cain and Abel. I guess it comes from a different tradition (perhaps one of the biggest lies in the old testament, is that it is the story of just one race of people).

The solution, in my view, lies in cooperation between Cain and Abel: mixed farming and most importantly of all FENCES. When an organic goat farmer I know heard about Oxfam's "give a goat scheme" she said "I hope they give barbed wire as well!" Dividing up land into paddocks ensures that some areas can be cut for hay, animals don't get parasites as much if they can be moved to clean grass periodically, the grass is healthier because it doesn't get over-grazed or under-grazed and the soil fertility can be built up in a field by putting animals there at night. Land can be fenced and still collectively owned.

In addition, areas need to be left semi-wild for hunting and gatherering, and some true wilderness. To achieve all this, some urbanites would have to move along the scale that runs from urban consumer > arable farmer > nomad > hunter gatherer, as the urbanites are (indirectly) the worst environmental offenders of all.

Totally agree that Christianity is out of place in Brighid's land (and in Europe generally). It has incorporated a lot of pagan festivals, and rarely seems to have thrived without them, as the puritans found to their cost. Islam in the Balkans is likewise pretty liberal and sees to have a few pagan elements.

I have a theory that the periodic nomadic invasions of Europe, Huns, Mongols etc., horrible and destructive as they were, may have been a kind of Gaian response to the rise of unsustainable civilisations: Rome for instance had a huge urban population with sewage systems. Feeding these cities must have severely exhausted the soil. Vast amounts of grain were transported from distant corners of the empire to Rome.

After a few centuries of this, the soil would have been desperately needing to get grassed over and rested. An invasion of nomads is one way to achieve this. Drought and overgrazing in central asia, probably had a lot to do with it too. Gaia isn't always "nice".

Most nomadic tribes are warlike, and many are patriarchal (although this feels like a stereotype to me, women in some nomadic tribes were relatively liberated). Nomads have tended to be rather politically naive, and not very good at the nasty business of government - social hierarchies, feudalism, taxation, law, bureaucracy etc. Nomad empires rarely seemed to last long.

I know of at least one link between nomads and monasticism: The Ascetic Bogomil cult which took hold in the Balkans in the middle ages probably evolved from Bulgar shamanism.

Another factor besides starvation may be sexually transmitted diseases. It's not my theory (not sure where it originates) but an epidemic in the past of syphilis or some other STD would explain a lot about the desert religions - attitudes to sex, marriage etc. (a lot of the old testament sounds like public health measures to me). Saudi Arabia has one of the lowest rates of HIV infection in the world (a minority of scientists think this may be a genetic immunity, either way it strongly suggests that people in the middle east have survived outbreaks of STD's in the past).

Note how, religious fundamentalism (i.e. patriarchy) is on the rise at the same time as AIDS. This is particularly noticeable in Africa where Christianity and Islam are rapidly becoming the dominant religions.

In other words, a lot of religion has been obsolete since the invention of the condom!

I will have to read Saharasia. I agree that a sudden ecological collapse would have pretty violent consequences, but there is some evidence that living in harsh barren environments makes people (and animals) more cooperative, and that aggressive competition happens when resources are abundant. A place in Africa that was studying chimps stopped feeding the chimps bananas when they discovered that the chimps became more violent as a result. Australia is a very barren unproductive place, and the aborigine tribes were rarely warlike, many tribes cooperating, especially when food was scarce. North America has extremely high soil fertility, and an aggressive capitalist society thrives. The only places in north America where communists have been elected have been the places with the poorest soil. Woody Guthrie and the dustbowl spring to mind. Aussie guy came up with this theory. Can anyone remember his name?

I have always noticed that people in poor areas are more willing to share and work together than people in wealthy places - poverty doesn't cause crime, wealth does!

The absence of weapons in the Neolithic society was very obvious from reading Marija Gimbutas - although she never mentioned it explicitly. I see a link between the Thunder god and iron. The blacksmiths hammer makes noise and sparks, just as Mjolnir was said to make thunder and lightning. Zeus/Jupiter's two legitimate sons, Hephaestus/Vulcan and Ares/Mars are both connected with iron. The thunderbolt could be either lightning, (often attracted to iron ore in the ground) or a meteorite (often made of iron), and as for Mecca....

Please feel free to disagree with me, I don't mind :-)

sopka said...

For a being who should have no power if you believe in the righteousness of jesus (Father nick quoted) They spend alot time and energy worrying about him and inventing new conspiracies. the clergy is better than x-files for conspiracy theories any old day. Did you hear about the rich worshipping lucifer and an owl. It has mutated, instead they worship Satan and the God Janus now..