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“The face of evil is no one’s face, it is always a false image that is imposed or projected on the opponent.”

Roy Baumeister

In broad terms a devil means a personification or archetype of evil, in other words a way to allocate blame and/or externalize what is not good or healthy. Evil is a comparison. the devil is the accuser.


The words devil, Satan, demon and Lucifer have emerged from many contradictory sources and interpretations:

  • The old English word ‘deofol‘ means “a devil, a subordinate evil spirit afflicting humans;”
  • From 1200CE devil also meant “false god,  heathen god
  • Sense of “diabolical person, person resembling a devil or demon in character” was in use from late 1300s. Playful use for “clever rogue” is from  about 1600.
  • As an expletive and in expletive phrases developed from 1200.
  • In Christianity, evil is personified as the Devil or Satan, a fallen angel who is the primary opponent of a single God who represents Love. What is the Christian concept of a fallen angel? It is a non-biblical human concept of a messenger (angel) that brings news that contradicts our personal beliefs about god being good.
  • In the religions of Zoroastrism, Manichaeism, and Albanenses the Devil is the principle of Evil coequal, with and independent from God/Love as the principle of Good. This pre-Christian thinking influenced the way devil is perceived.
  • The Gnostic beliefs (early Christians) held that
    • There is an unknowable God, who gave rise to many lesser spirit beings (daemons – see below) called Aeons.
    • One evil, lower spirit being is the creator who made the universe.
  • This Gnostic interpretation and the reactions to it, along with significant recent media/movie constructs of a “god who is bad” have created an urban myth that fuels a large part of how the word devil is used today.

So the word devil can represent widely different beliefs: from a general synonym of ‘evil’, to an evil or bad God, or a powerful but limited fallen angel.

Demons and Satan

Daemon (now demon) is the Latin word for the Ancient Greek daimon (δαίμων: “god”, “godlike”, “power”, “fate”), which originally referred to a lesser deity or guiding spirit. This was not a devil. (See also Lucifer, below)

William Smith’s Bible dictionary shows the Christian Bible talks of demons and devils, which are different to ‘the satan’ meaning ‘the adversary, or accuser’ as in a court of law.  Those who have experienced their own inner voice of criticism can also identify this inner critic as the accuser.

William Smith’s Bible dictionary accepts the lack of clear identification: ‘We can only conjecture, therefore, that Satan is a fallen angel.“


The name ‘Lucifer’ only appears once in the Bible, in Isaiah 14:12.
The theme of Lucifer as a fallen angel ‘actually owes more to the influence of Milton’s Paradise Lost than to any direct biblical references’. The identification of Lucifer with the Devil is thought to be a interpretation made by St Jerome in the fourth century CE, Which is still with us.

Lucifer, far from being a proper name, is simply Latin for ‘light-bearer’ or ‘light-bringer’ (the Hebrew original means ‘the bright one’), a term sometimes applied to the morning Star, the planet Venus.  The Evangelical New Bible Dictionary states, ‘the true claimant to this (Lucifer) title is shown in Revelation 22:16 to be Jesus Christ in His ascended glory’, and not a Devil at all.

(Also in Victorian times matches were known as ‘Lucifers’, without any demonic inferences being drawn.)


Most people involved in evil behavior don’t see that behavior as evil. In a conflict, each side sees itself as good and justified and the enemy as evil.

  • “The face of evil is no one’s face,” writes Roy Baumeister in his book Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty. “It is always a false image that is imposed or projected on the opponent.”
  • Philosopher Hannah Arendt said, “The most horrifying things about the Nazis was not that they were so deviant but that they were terrifyingly normal.”
  • Pure evil, argues Baumeister, is just a myth.

Effectively, the modern concept of Devil is religious folklore enhanced with centuries of stories of fear. E.g. The concept of the Devil with horns, a tail and cloven hooves is entirely medieval in origin, rather than biblical. The medieval mind was intensely superstitious, and the medieval imagination fertile.

In using the word devil, we need to be careful in distinguishing between religious myth and the inner accuser or of psychology.

See also: Evil

Lucifer, Satan
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