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Devils, Demons, and Gender Norms

Devils, Demons, and Gender Norms December 24, 2017

“When it comes to changing the language, I think they make some good points because we do think in language. And so the quality of our thoughts and ideas can only be as good as the quality of our language. So maybe some of this patriarchal shit ought to go away, I think “ – George Carlin on Feminism

I lead today’s column with that quote because I want to talk about an interesting exchange I had on a recent car trip in which we stumbled on a linguistic anomaly that I think, in some small way, has helped to shape the Satanic aesthetic and subculture through history into what we see today.

Mind you, the following is pure speculation and my background as a social scientist is dubious at best.

Let’s Talk About Language

Words are interesting things because the subtle nuances between them definitely have an effect on how we think about the world around us. Consider, for example, the self-identified Atheist vs. the ‘none’. One word says ‘I don’t believe in deities’ the other says ‘I don’t have a religion’ but doesn’t say anything about whether or not that person believes in any deities.

In modern political terms this kind of conscious consideration of the words we chose and how they inform how we think about the world is best exemplified in discussions about feminism and transgenderism. The push for non-gendered words has feminist roots with the movement to change titles like mailman to mailperson, and has continued this march towards inclusivity by the burgeoning adoption of the singular ‘they’. In many ways these  changes in language are a rebellion against arbitrary norms (which is very much in keeping with modern Satanic ideology). The questions are, where do those established norms come from in the first place? And why is something like Satanism primed to be so accepting of this kind of social change?

Gods are Gendered, Demons are Not

It’s telling that when the bronze-age agrarians that composed the core books of the Abrahamic faiths invented god they made that god intrinsically male. But we can go back further than that to the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, and Sumerians. Because these polytheist religions also included strictly gendered gods and goddessesThe Abrahamic tradition is just following suit from the likes of Zeus, Odin, Romulus and Remus, and Ra when propagating that. Largely, whatever religious persuasion you affiliate with you’re probably in one in which a male god is the top dog. We can make an exception for Wicca perhaps, with it’s triple-goddess and matriarchal bent, but it is still no less binary with regard to gendering.

This doesn’t apply to words like devil or demon though. There are no devilettes, or demonas (with the exception of that one character from Disney’s Gargoyles cartoon). That’s interesting. For all the lambasting Satanists and the Satan adjacent receive for being sex-positive it’s unique in that the language of it’s mythology is largely gender ambivalent. The devil, after all, has been portrayed by the likes of Al Pacino, Elisabeth Hurley, Viggo Mortensen, and Jennifer Love Hewitt. That’s range. Also just think about the Baphomet. It’s was originally designed as half-male, half-female specifically to demonstrate “the equilibrium” between these two poles of the gender spectrum. Satanic tradition has a lot going for it when it comes to gender equality.

Baphomet, from Eliphas Levi's "Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie", 1854
Baphomet, from Eliphas Levi’s “Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie”, 1854

Words Effect Thought, and Vice Versa

This whole topic came up in a discussion I had last week because a friend brought up the idea of trying to ungender the word ‘god’ by using it to refer to deities of any gender. He makes an interesting point. If a woman is the head of a large corporation we don’t go around calling her a CEOess, why wouldn’t we extend that same courtesy to characters in mythology like Athena or Eris? On it’s face this seems like a trivial point of semantics, but how we use words does shape how we think. There might well be something to the idea that since Satanists’ metaphorical deity is more gender ambivalent that they are more unrestrained in their thinking about gender roles and sexuality.

What do you think, dear reader? Leave your thoughts in the comments.


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