The Prince of Darkness

Christianity calls him Satan. Ancient Egypt called him Set. Who or what is the Prince of Darkness?

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Back in 1996, Gwen Saylor1 was seeking to better understand the differences between Satanism and the rest of modern Paganism. Part of this discussion compared the modern Pagan view of Satanism against the Christian view. She suggested the following as an initial definition2:

A Satanist seeks to control and modify life to suit himself; his deity is the entity considered the opposite of the Catholic "God." A Satanist is a pagan3 and a ceremonial magician who feels free to do whatever is pleasurable with no threat hanging over him.

Instead, I offered "...this deity is an entity which Christianity has declared evil, and which Christianity considers the opposite of the Catholic 'God.'" That requires some explanation to be clear.

Let's first remove ourselves from specific modern or historical religions by not giving him the name of any specific religion, but rather let's call this deity4 the Prince of Darkness.

The Prince of Darkness is a spirit of rebellion (Question Authority and never sell yourself into slavery; become, be, and stay free). He's a spirit of independence, intelligence, will, pride, indulgence, enjoyment, and similar qualities.

The Prince of Darkness has been represented by a large variety of gods and spirits throughout mankind's history. Set, Odhinn, Loki, Mercury, Prometheus, Coyote, and Quetzalcoatl share characteristics of the Prince of Darkness, as do quite a few others. If there is one Prince of Darkness rather than a family of related beings (not yet conclusively determined), then how well any of these compares to the Prince of Darkness is subject to speculation and debate.

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For instance, one aspect of the Prince of Darkness held by many Setians is that the Prince of Darkness is self-created. Though that seems to imply that he didn't always exist, it's very possible that his views/experiences of time are different from ours, and that in our space/time continuum he has always existed. Many other religions do not include this attribute of self-creation as part of their definition of the Prince of Darkness.

Christianity's Satan lives in the underworld called Hell. I wouldn't call the Prince of Darkness an "underworld" deity,4 since I personally generally "place" the Prince of Darkness into the night sky, among the stars, rather than under the ground. Others view the Prince of Darkness as a spirit of nature and/or "of this world", roaming its surface rather than being above or below the surface.5

The Prince of Darkness is often associated with the left hand path6, usually viewing the Left Hand Path as that path of extreme individuality and independence from everything (more extreme as you veer more to the left).

To the extent that the Prince of Darkness wants people to do things, those things are to explore the pleasures of life, to intensify our indulgence in life, without sacrificing our independence but instead increasing our independence from each other and from society. We should strengthen our self-knowledge and power, our confidence and pride (intelligently and based on reality, not falsely swelling our pride based solely on imagination), and accomplish what we choose.

Among these is the pursuit and accumulation of knowledge. The Pope was right to castigate Galileo -- his accomplishments were the work of the Prince of Darkness, and Galileo (and similar scientific greats) are honored by modern Satanists.

Among the many areas of knowledge which the Prince of Darkness leads us to is the occult study of magic. Those who work with the Prince of Darkness are often magicians, those who are studying and (trying to) work the arts of occult magic. Most Satanists are magicians, but not all. Most of those who are magicians are ceremonial magicians, but not all. Among those that are ceremonial magicians, not only the magicians who believe in the Prince of Darkness as a being, but also most of those who see him as symbol, form, or metaphor will invoke the Prince of Darkness as if he were a being during magical ritual.

Gwen asked a very important question about this activity, the ritual invocation of the Prince of Darkness:

When you invoke him, how do you know it's him? I'm not being sarcastic at all with any of this, so don't ever be thinking that. To explain, I think maybe it'd be best if I tell you what I believe as a pantheist magician. I believe the Universe is God (not the Xtian "God" in any way), who is not "out there" waiting for us to pray to it, but contains all the energies anyone could ever hope for, including all the spirits. As one of these spirits, I am a god (note that I hang in there with what I was taught in English classes and don't care much if I'm PC on gender). I don't worship the gods of any pantheons, since I believe they are of human construction, but I do recognize that some entities may choose to play god for anyone who wants them to. Therefore, I am careful *not* to invoke anybody. On occasion I use circles and ritual to raise and hold and discharge intent. I have permanently protected my space.

It's a fair question. If there is a powerful Prince of Darkness that I invoke and who answers my invocations, he's powerful enough to fool me in a wide variety of ways. If there's one like that, there could be several. So how do I know who/what I'm dealing with?

I don't. Based upon the teachings within my tradition (Setianism), based upon my experiences with him, and based upon discussions with and feedback from others whom I respect in this area, I make the best determination I can.

Occult/spiritual evidence that I've gathered indicates a consistency which supports the theory that I deal with one major being. The attitudes of that being are consistent with the Prince of Darkness as I know and understand him. I use this information and perspective as a working theory at least until something better comes along.

The Prince of Darkness does not demand or even request worship -- each individual needs to focus primarily on that individual, not on the deity. Respect or reverence as toward a parent or older brother might be in order, but debasing respect is antithetical to following this deity's lead.7

Why are these various approaches to and perspectives of the Prince of Darkness called Satanism by modern society? Because (again), "...this deity is an entity which Christianity has declared evil, and which Christianity considers the opposite of the Catholic 'God.'"

The Prince of Darkness' program and/or inspiration goes counter to most of Christianity's belief in sin, and definitely counter to Christianity's belief that the deity is more important than the self. The actions taken and beliefs held by those who follow the Prince of Darkness are therefore seen as being evil by most of Christianity. These include: freedom of choice, personal power, individual responsibility rather than god-given morality, knowledge of the universe (including that which disagrees with the bible) is good, etc.

One of the reflections of the Prince of Darkness therefore, one of the newer ones, is also Christianity's Satan. IMO this is a particularly twisted and inaccurate reflection, as from a highly warped mirror or lens, but that happens to be the way it is.

We live in a Christian society, as evidenced by the extensive influence Christianity plays in the media, and by the oppression Christians employ against others. Christianity sees almost all aspects of the Prince of Darkness and this path as being Satanism. Living in this society, I'll therefore not struggle too mightily against the term, answering only, "If you call me a Satanist, then let me tell you want Satanism really is, since what I do is..."


1. Balanone has enjoyed several online discussions re: the Prince of Darkness. This article recaps his thoughts about the PoD. Special thanks go to Gwen Saylor for her in-depth discussion with me on this topic in 1996.
2.Her definition expanded and changed much during the discussion, but since those changes dealt mostly with "what is a Satanist" rather than "what is the Prince of Darkness," they're unimportant to this discussion here.
3.This is a good place to point out that while many Satanists are modern Pagans by many definitions of Paganism and accept that classification, many other Satanists do not accept it, do not accept the label, and do not qualify by many of those definitions. These will tend to see the Prince of Darkness in his various forms as symbols or ideas or metaphor rather than spirit or being.

I'm one of those who prefers to see definitions of Pagan which describe what they /are/ and what they /do/ as opposed to what they aren't, what they don't do, and what groups they don't belong to. Based on the definitions I like best for Pagan and NeoPagan, I'm not one (I don't believe in the divinity of multiple gods/godesses), though I am a member of modern pagan society (use the same shops, attend the same events, participate intelligently on pagan newsgroups and echoes, do similar things, etc).

4.Let's be careful with that word "deity" -- not everyone who works with the Prince of Darkness sees him/her/it as a deity. Some Satanists view the Prince of Darkness as a symbol or other idealistic form or Form (per Plato's theory of Forms) rather than a deity or being. Of those who do see him as a being, few of them would use the term "deity" -- the Prince of Darkness is one who manipulates and changes things, but he is not a Creator God, and often not seen as a god at all, but just a spirit/being with more power than we have.

It's important however, to avoid being overly anthropomorphic about this. When I say I "place" the deity into the night sky, it's not that I believe he "lives" there. When I think of or communicate with the Prince of Darkness I generally "see" him as non-directional -- not tied to any specific or general 3-D location. Instead, when I reach out to the Prince of Darkness, I generally project my attention, feeling, etc. into the night sky. I feel that's more of an emotional projection of mine (the night sky is beautiful, empowering) and has little or nothing to do with the Prince at all.

6.There are so many different definitions and views concerning the left hand path that we probably need to be very clear hear what we're talking about. Gwen once said,
I think of the lefthand path in a different way than you do. To me there are magicians focused on power and they take it and use it without the balance of knowledge. They really are much less powerful than mages who know power is limitless for those who know it, which they can't know because they've been so busy seeking power they forgot to learn anything. Knowledge is power.

So far, so good.

A balanced mage works the left and the right, the taking in and putting forth of redirected energy, the female and the male aspects of magick. Those who lean toward the lefthand path are just a tad powermad IMHO.

A difficulty some people have (or at least a difference from my perspective) is that they look at right and/or left hand paths as a source or conduit of power. I look at the right/left hand paths more as a general philosophy of life. The power itself, the knowledge, the magic, etc., are all tools, and can be used by anyone with the intelligence and will to seek, find, and use them. The philosophy directs the person's personal progress (ie: what are their goals).

IMO, power for power's sake is a goal not of the right nor left hand paths, but instead a childish goal of too many people without a higher philosophy.

The Left Hand Path is that set of paths which seek complete independence and extreme personal individuality, recognizing no absolute power or spirit or set of values to be adopted or joined with. The Right Hand Path is that set of paths which see some absolute divinity or goal (God, Gaea, All, Nirvana, Nature, or whatever) which justifies or encourages the identification of that whatever's values and the adoption of those values.

IMO, between these two is not a path of balance, but rather a path of uncertainty -- those who can't make up their mind between the two options. That middle path is a good and valid one to pursue up to a point, but eventually, at some point in the successful Initiate's progress, a choice between Left and Right needs to be made, or further progress is stymied.


This last expression tempted Gwen to suggest: "This deity does not consider himself, nor is he considered by his followers, to be more important than his followers," which I disagreed with. This is a good description of his followers' views, but not necessarily the views of the Prince of Darkness himself. IMO, it's very likely that the PoD considers himself supremely important, more important than his followers, just as I consider myself supremely important, more important than even the PoD. Each of us works from our own perspective of what is and isn't important.

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