Who and what is Satan? The vast majority of the lore we have about Satan comes not from His worshipers, or from others who celebrate Satan, but from His enemies. Hence, in my opinion, the key to understanding today’s mythology about Satan is to ask these questions: (1) Who and what are Satan’s avowed enemies (SAE’s)? (2) What are SAE’s threatened by?
I believe in Satan as a deity. But I do not believe in the literal truth of any myth about any deity. I believe that the true essence of any deity is probably beyond human comprehension, but that there are real spiritual forces/entities that may manifest to us via our myths.. So, what kind of deity would manifest via the Satan myth?
To some people, the key to understanding a myth is to trace its most ancient roots, as far back as they are known. I think this effort is worthwhile as a way to gain perspective, but is not the ultimate key to a myth’s meaning in today’s world. I believe that the relationship between humans and the spirit world can change over time. Hence, toward any effort to understand the spiritual forces at work in today’s world, today’s myths are more relevant than ancient myths.
So, who and what is Satan? As I said, in my opinion, the key to understanding the Satan myth is to ask these questions: Who and what are Satan’s avowed enemies (SAE’s)? And what are SAE’s threatened by?
Satan’s avowed enemies (SAE’s) are a subset of believers in the Abrahamic religions. By “Satan’s avowed enemies,” I mean only those Abrahamics who actively promote belief in a Devil, seen as the source of all evil.
Christians and Muslims can be divided into three categories regarding belief in a Devil: (1) those who believe in and promote belief in a Devil, (2) those who believe in a Devil, but for whom that belief is not important, and (3) those who do not believe in a Devil. SAE’s are people in the first category only. A person cannot be an avowed enemy of someone or something whose existence one does not believe in or care about.
So, who and what are SAE’s, and what are they threatened by?
Overwhelmingly, SAE’s tend to be the more traditionalist, fundamentalist, and/or fanatical Christians and Muslims, followers of a self-described (in the case of Christianity) “narrow way.” They feel threatened by all other religions — even other branches of their own religion. They feel threatened by atheists. Many of them feel threatened by modern science, especially the theory of evolution. They feel threatened by the social freedoms of the modern world, such women’s rights, gay rights, and the growing freedoms of all manner of gender nonconformists. Many of them are prone to paranoia about many other aspects of modern culture too, e.g. rock music, role-playing games, and the Harry Potter books.
In short, they are threatened by just about everything outside their own narrow little box. Traditionally, the Devil is lumped with both “the world” and “the flesh” — in other words, just about everything, both outside themselves and within themselves, that doesn’t conform to their dogma.
So, what kind of deity would manifest via the Satan myth? A deity who “tempts” people to question the SAE’s concepts of “Evil.” More generally, a deity who invites people to step outside their own little boxes and to face down their own fears (whether SAE-induced or otherwise). A deity who invites us to explore all things hidden and forbidden, including both our own true selves and the world outside whatever enclave we were brought up in.