If asked to describe Satan you’d probably get a couple of different versions. Some might describe him as a towering beast with red skin and animal horns, sporting a heavy metal beard and posing with a chalice of blood for an 80’s record cover. Others might describe a man in a business suit with a pointed goatee and tiny horns. Others might say he looked like a beautiful, twisted man with destroyed wings. However while many of these are drawn from pop culture, the truth is that there IS no description of the devil, Lucifer, Satan and all of the other names that have been assigned to Christianity’s ultimate bad guy.
That’s right, if you look through the Bible you will find a great deal about Satan’s rap sheet and all of the dirty deeds he’s done, but nothing about what he looks like. We pick up a few personality quirks that include arrogance, blasphemy and rebelliousness but that’s really all. The only hard physical description we get which is actually contested is in chapter one when we cue the serpent, who is the first to challenge god’s wisdom and who tempts Eve and through her Adam into eating the forbidden fruit.
So if that’s true, then why are there so many costumes of Satan with a pointy beard, red skin and horns? Well culture is a funny thing in that ideas in culture are changed over time, and the image of Satan that we all think we know in American Christianity is actually something that was created and cemented during the first period of neo-paganism in the nineteenth century according to an article at Cracked. The goat legs, horns and even the goatee can probably be put down to the great god Pan who many authors and artists were crediting with inspiration. Additionally Satan’s pitchfork is in fact supposed to be a trident (pitchforks have two tines, not three), which was associated with the Greek god Poseidon. Most of the traits that are assigned to Satan’s appearance actually come from pagan deities, which were viewed as the enemy by earlier Christians and they were turned into demons once Christianity took over the formerly non-Christian regions of Europe.
Of course it isn’t just Satan’s appearance that has been altered through the efforts of time and culture. For instance the title anti-Christ is often assigned to Satan. In fact being the anti-Christ is a lot like being anti-war or anti-anything-else. An anti-Christ is simply someone who doesn’t bow down to or worship Jesus… so a pretty big portion of the world should share this title with the so-called Prince of Darkness. Additionally the idea that Satan grants wishes or makes bargains was made popular by “Faust”. Faust, which began life as a piece of fiction and was turned into a play by Marlowe, deals with the sorcerer Faust who bargains with the demon Mephistopheles; his soul for knowledge and power. It’s an old German legend, but it set in stone the notion that the devil will make you a bargain and the story is likely responsible for the song “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” in a roundabout fashion.
So just when you think you know something about the Bible, it turns out that it’s something else entirely. This is why before you just accept something it’s best to check the source material and make sure that somewhere it actually says, “And lo the Devil created heavy metal, and he saw that it was good.”
“5 Things You Won’t Believe Aren’t in the Bible,” by Bjorn Karhunen and Jacop della Quercia at Cracked
“What Does the Beast Look Like?” by Anonymous at Mark Beast