The Devil

Many years ago I was asked if I had ever been the devil. I had to deny any such condition. I did not recognise a conscious source of evil, nor indeed do I, and had written a long paper in an examination on the nature of evil for the Theology Department of my old college. It was marked down since, although I included the required texts we had been asked to study, Islamic theologians from the Middle Ages, I had the audacity to expound the arguments that Proclus had put forward many centuries earlier, on the nature of evil as something in a state of change when it was neither one thing nor the next. This was not what was required for the answer. Who was I to advance individual thinking on such a fundamental topic? Had the examiner enquired further of himself he might have found an answer. But that was not his task.

However I have long explored the nature of this concept, herewith I include some of my findings. The Devil is called the Great Deceiver in Christian tradition, the Tempter, and identified as that figure which attempted to tempt Jesus while he was in the wilderness. It is called Satan in the phrase ‘get thee behind me Satan’. Many people give it a face which closely resembles that of Pan, the All Father and God of the wild places. But it is not to concern myself with the study of Baphomet that I wish to write here, but the derivation of that word used so widely and with such ignorance today.

The word ‘Satan’ comes from the Persian word ‘Shaitan’. How it entered into Christian tradition I do not know. Rather I was more concerned with the meaning of the word Shaitan and found that it is a direct cognate with the German word ‘Schatten’, or Shadow in English.

It amused me that for 2000 years people had been talking about overcoming the shadow, just as they were in the 1980s when there began a great movement to confront one’s shadow self, and that it was not possible to be whole without having confronted one’s shadow.

However it was only recently that I realised that the word relates directly to Caitanya, a Sanskrit word often translated as Consciousness. The realisation I had was that this word is better translated as ‘mind’, with a small ‘m’. That it was that aspect of the Conscious Self which seeds doubt in our every thought. This was the Deceiver, this was the Great Contender. This was indeed the Shadow in modern psychological thinking. No great mystery, no leader of demonic forces, but merely the aspect of mental working that seeks to put one down, defeat and doubt every move or prompt to action.

So I am sorry if I misunderstood the question when it was posed to me, all those years ago, I should have taken heed of my master’s comment that he had played all the great roles on stage as a dancer, even Mephistopheles. However, perhaps I am a better man for my failure to comprehend.

Author: Keith Armstrong

Dance teacher, writer, film-maker, educationalist, enthusiast.

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