Is the Devil a Pagan Icon?

I have read that some claim the typical “devil” image of a horned cenitaur was an attempt by the early church to literally “demonize” what was originally a very holy figure to pagan would be converts. Is this the case, or do we have an earlier , perhaps biblical source for this image?


Cecil touches on (but doesn’t completely answer) your question in this column: Why is Satan often shown as having goatlike features?

Unless you consider the Knights Templar to be an ancient pagan religion, no. And nobody knows for certain whether the Templars actually worshipped the goaty-looking Baphomet icon that most resembles what we now associate with Satan.

The early Christian church co-opted its share of pagan iconography but I think it’s safe to say that the devil wasn’t one of them. And I don’t think the pagans worshipped Pan either.

“The Devil” as he is known in Christian iconography today is an admixture of a large variety of influences. As has been discussed in GD and elsewhere, The Accuser, a sort of Special Prosecutor/Independent Investigator/Instigator angel in God’s court, turned into a rebellious anti-God-let, probably under the influence of the Mazdaist Ahriman figure. To him were attributed a lot of pagan-god characteristics, with two in particular, the Greek Pan and the Celtic Cernunnos, contributing the quasi-goatlike characteristics that are elements of the image.

But to equate him to any one other mythical figure is probably oversimplistic; he’s most likely a composite of a wide variety of characteristics harvested from multiple sources.

Just had a thread on this a week ago:

Who the devil do you think worshipped Pan if not the pagans?

Centaurs were part man and part horse, and being derived from Graeco-Roman myth probably wouldn’t have held much relevance, much less attraction for pagans, if {as I suspect} by “pagan” you mean Northern European pre-Christians.

Greco-Roman mythology was a pagan religion… Why are people confused on that point?

Why would you assume Northern European pre-Christians when someone says pagan? You’d be missing out on the vast majority of the pagans. (Historically, anyway, who knows how the beliefs of the Neopagans break down, not that they are solidly based upon actual pre-Christian beliefs anyway.)

Technically, pagani were people of the pagus, the wildlands of the Mediterranean littoral. That is why (originally rustic) worshippers of the Greco-Roman pantheon(s) were termed pagans in teh first place.

The corresponding term for a rural-based folk religion in the North, where the pagus was replaced by heaths, was heathen. To the extent that there is any valid distinction between the two terms, it lies in whether they originally referenced worshippers of Artemis, Pan, Aphrodite, etc., on the pagus, or worshippers of Tyr, Freyr, Nerthus, etc., on the heath.

Ask 10 neopagans any question, and you’ll get 11 answers.

Most of us, though, group pretty much any pantheistic, polytheistic, nature or magick based religion under the heading of “Pagan.” Wiccans and Astaru, of course, generic tree-huggin’ Goddess worshipers, Norse trad, Celtic trad, Druids, Egyptian re-creationists, Greco-Roman groupies…It often is broadened to include African and Carribean religions such as Ifa, Santeria, and Voudun. No one really wants to claim the Kabalists, Cabalists, Quabballahists, Thelemites and Ceremonial Magicians, but they often get lumped in with us as well. (Since they overwhelmingly work with the Judeo-Christian concepts of God of 500 years ago, I don’t find the pagan designation all that accurate myself.)

Pagan is a sticky term, however, and lot’s of folks find it insulting, for some reason - especially the Thelemites and Ceremonials. (Probably 'cause it makes ya sound like a whacko. We have the same lunatic fringe any religions do, but we’re really not all crazy folks. Sometimes.) I personally prefer “neopagan” to differentiate current stuff from historical paganism, but that’s not universal.

Of course, you’ll always run into the “hereditary witches” who practice what looks an awful lot like Garderian Wicca, but claim it’s been passed down in an unbroken line of 14 grandmothers with herb gardens, so they’re “REAL” pagans. Uh-huh. Whatever you say. These people are just as delusional as Biblical literalists.
None of these groups believe in the Devil as portrayed by the OP, BTW. Most of them tell each other persecution stories of how their God was “warped by Christian invaders” into a devil figure, or conversely “adopted” by Christian invaders as a saint or facet of God (the Celtic trad does this a lot.) I take such stories as mythos and not as historical fact.

Polycarp, thanks for the “pagan” vs. “heathen” entymologic (is that a word?) distinction. I know the different usage, but not the why. Thanks!

WhyNot, are those first 3 you mentioned actually 3 different religions/sects or are you just being smart?

Like if you called someone a Cabalist and they considered themselves a Kabalist, would you get smacked?

Depends on the person. Very roughly speaking, a Cabalist will tend to a more Christian concept of God, a Kabalist a more Jewish and a Quabballist a more pantheistic or new-agey notion. But mostly I was being smart, because they’re always arguing among themselves about the “right” way to spell it. C, K, Q, Qu, number of b’s and l’s…If you argue the details long enough, there’s no need to actually do any work! :smiley:

Why? Is it bugging you?