Evolution of the Devil
Early demons and evil spirits
The Devil, like God, has changed and evolved over the centuries within different religious traditions and belief systems. Malignant supernatural forces were used in early cultures to explain disease, psychological disorders and bad luck. They were one type of supernatural influence on human affairs, others being benign or positive. Many spirits could have a good or bad effect in people's lives, and sacrifices, spells or prayers could be used to control them.
Precursors to the Devil
Zoroastrianism, which gave many ideas to Judaism, identifies Angra Mainyu as the principal evil and destructive deity in the universe. He acts as a counterweight to Ahura Mazda, the creator and source of all good.
In Manichaeism, which grew directly from Zoroastrianism, this dualistic vision continues as darkness and evil are associated with the material world and light and goodness with the spiritual. As in Zoroastrianism, Angra Mainyu is the supreme ruler of the darkness.
Judaism does not recognize a specific character known as the "Devil," but rather identifies a number of beings, some human and some supernatural, called by the title "satan." These "satans" act as obstacles, challengers or adversaries to human worship and commitment to God. In this way, the Jewish conception of a malevolent force restraining people's journey to God bears a striking resemblance to the Buddhist idea of "Mara."
When the Buddha was meditating and trying to gain enlightenment, he was tempted by Mara, a demon who is the embodiment of ignorance and the death of spiritual life. In defying Mara's seduction, the Buddha was able to achieve enlightenment. In many Buddhist traditions Mara is an ever-present force tempting humans away from the path of enlightenment and truth.
Like Satan, Mara is often present in the hearts and minds of people. However, lacking a more developed consciousness or personality, Mara is more closely related to the Jewish "satan" than the Christian Satan.
Satan is the leader of the angels who rebelled against God, and constitutes the principal enemy of the human race, always ready to tempt people away from God. Satan, in the form of the serpent, tempted Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden with the forbidden fruit that God had warned them not to eat. As Adam and Eve disobeyed God's command, all humans became cursed with original sin. Satan was a crucial factor in the fall of humankind away from God's grace, and continues to play a malevolent role in human affairs.
The Devil unsuccessfully tempted Jesus, has the power to possess human beings, and is able to grant special powers to witches and sorcerers, according to different passages of the Bible and various Christian traditions. Catholicism holds that demons can be combatted through prayer and exorcism.
In the Middle Ages, the Devil was closely tied to pagan and other non-Christian beliefs. Muhammad and Islam were considered evil and Satanic influences drawing mankind away from the truth of Jesus.
Similar to the Christian Satan, the prideful Muslim Iblis was cast away from God for disobeying him. The Devil's crime was not bowing to Adam, the first man, at God's command. Seeing himself as superior to the man, Iblis has become not the enemy of God, but of humankind, as he blames humankind for his punishment. He therefore seeks to entice human beings away from loyalty to God, in the hopes of getting them to suffer in hell as he will suffer on the Day of Judgment.
The Modern Devil
Recently the Devil has shed his negative reputation in some quarters and gained a positive role worthy of worship. Satanism emphasizes the rebellious, liberating, pleasure-seeking and antiestablishment character of the Devil. Some refer to Satan merely as a metaphorical figure, while others actively worship him.
Today, when not busy during church sermons or demonic possessions, the Devil is employed by Halloween costumes and sporting events.
The Devil has evolved from a vague negative influence affecting luck and health, to a disembodied obstacle lying between humanity and God, to a supernatural entity with a personality and goals for people.
Only time will tell where he goes next.