Druid Thoughts: Is There Really a Devil?

Pagans are frequently asked if we worship the Devil, and it’s not unusual for more hostile and fundamentalist followers of monotheism to assume that’s what we are about. There is that whole business with the Goat Footed God, after all. A lot of Pagans will tell you that the Devil has nothing to do with Paganism. Some will tell you that the Christians appropriated nature gods like Pan and Herne to make their hate figure – mostly to put the old Pagans out of business. For most Pagans, the Devil is part of a Christian pantheon, and doesn’t have much to do with us.

Lynx Chasing Rabbit

Nature worshipers know that good and evil are relative concepts. Good for the hound is evil for the hare. Good for the growing fox cubs is evil for the diminished duck family they feed on. Actions have consequences for well or woe, and a lot of what we get is informed by what we think it means in the first place.

Then, as that great natural philosopher Eddie Izzard observed, how can nature be evil? There’s a lovely sketch of his imagining the actions of an evil giraffe. The whole idea of evil is nonsense once we step away from humans.

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Creatures do what they must to survive and thrive. They fight and kill, they hunt to eat, but even when the nastiest predator is chewing the leg off the cutest prey creature, we aren’t tempted to call that evil.

Evil is a human condition. It’s not about survival selfishness or short term stupidity (I’m not a fan of those, but the rest of nature does this stuff too). Evil is, to my mind, what we’re doing when we deliberately cause pain and suffering to others, for our own amusement. Evil is taking joy in acts of cruelty. It is making other living, feeling things suffer just to please you. Dog fights and testing cosmetics on animals would be on my list. Rape. Abusing others for financial gain. Human trafficking. Child abuse. Things that serve no needful purpose, just gratify the perpetrator, or whoever pays the perpetrator. There’s plenty of it out there.

In the Christian tradition, the Devil is there to provide temptation. Most stories I’ve run into seem to be more about self-indulgence, sex, wealth, breaking ‘God’s Laws’ and the like. War, burning heretics, using slave labour – these have often been part of the accepted face of civilization and not laid at the Devil’s door at all. There are Pagan Gods who go around doing things that are hardly exemplary, especially Greek Gods raping their victims. There are however no Pagan deities I know of who personify evil, or, for that matter, good. Pagan deities may be chaotic, destructive, and challenging, but we recognise that as just part of how the world works. It’s not evil, any more than a wolf eating a cute bunny rabbit is evil. It’s just not a lot of fun for the rabbit.

I don’t personally believe in the Devil as a deity-like figure. He’s not part of my pantheon. I think he’s a way of putting outside of us all the things we don’t want to admit are part of being human. We kill and torture, rape and abuse. We are cruel for our own amusement, and far too many of us get our jollies by using and reducing others. It might be more useful to ascribe all those horrors to aspects of the human condition and tackle it within ourselves, rather than imagining we were tempted, or that doing evil was suggested to us, or that we are in any way less than totally responsible for the wrongs we perpetrate. Once we admit that the monsters are on the inside, that evil wears human faces, then we stand a better chance of dealing with it and not becoming a manifestation of it ourselves.

The Devil is us.


This post is part of the Patheos-wide series What Do I Really Believe?

Druid Thoughts is published on occasional Wednesdays on Agora. Follow it via RSS or e-mail!

About Nimue Brown

Druid blogger, author of Druidry and Meditation, Druidry and the Ancestors and Spirituality without structure (Moon Books) Intelligent Designing for Amateurs (Top Hat Books) and Hopeless Maine (Archaia). Book reviewer for the Druid Network and Pagan Dawn. Volunteer for OBOD. Green, folky, Steampunk wench with a coffee habit. www.druidlife.wordpress.com and www.hopelessmaine.com @Nimue_B and can be hunted down on facebook.

  • Mother Wolf

    Very well-said. I think you’ve really made a confusing subject much clearer. And the concept of a devil came from Manecheism (sp) which was a very popular Pagan religion during the early Christian years. Their teaching of an evil power in opposition to a good power was adopted by Christianity. Judaism had nothing like it. Satan (pronounced sa-TAHN) worked for God, not in opposition to him. As many Pagans have said, Christianity has Pagan roots.

    • Agni Ashwin

      Everything has Pagan roots.

      • Mother Wolf

        Amen amen, Heh heh.

  • bzelbub

    I tend to believe in an elemental force called the “angel of death” who helps others cause the death of friends and family and occasionally complete strangers. Never in a completely direct way but usually as a by product of elemental “help”.

    • Rylin Mariel

      I find myself feeling that that concept has as much potential for abuse by people who would use it as an excuse – “The Angel of Death helped me do it” – as does the Devil…

  • D Lowrey

    Good article. Too bad too many of the fundamentalist “christians” I know still like believing Satan is their “fall guy” for what they do bad that goes against what Jesus told them not to do. For some reason…they can’t stand taking the blame for their own bad behavior and have to blame someone else…even Satan or the devil.

  • Victor

    (((Evil is taking joy in acts of cruelty. It is making other living, feeling things suffer just to please you.)))

    Very good subject and leave “IT” to you man, “I” mean human pup pets, “I” mean human animals to think that The Devil lives backward and like you tried to say in so many words, there ain’t no evil but only human beings who live backward. “I” mean, we gods know that they are only invisible angels who have been cast out of heaven and feel good having their WAY with U<S (usual sinners) humans now and…..

    End YA say sinner vic?

    Go Figure! :)

    Peace

  • Victor

    Hey you forgot the rest Satan (lol)
    U<S (usual sinners) humans now and…..

    End YA say sinner vic?

    Go Figure! :)

    Peace

  • Victor

    <S (usual sinners) humans now and…..

    End YA say sinner vic?

    Go Figure! :)

    Peace

  • http://www.lesbiansinmysoup.com/ Katy

    Great post.

    I’ve always sort of assumed that, as you point out up top, the devil was a Christian twisting of the old gods, which is not unknown (and actually fairly common) in religious lore.

    I always think of what Joseph Campbell wrote about the snake, which was an old god (representing the cyclical aspect of nature, rebirth, etc.) that got a really bad rap in Genesis.

    The first thing people seem to have their new gods do is overthrow the old gods.

    You can anthropomorphize bad mental states. And we have bad mental states…

  • Rylin Mariel

    However, I feel compelled to note that cats play with their prey for long periods, often, before eating them, and sometimes do so before killing for fun when they’re not hungry, and not eat the prey at all.

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