While the Christian version of Satan doesn’t show up in every world religion, some version of a singular figure - often a disgraced or fallen deity - does emerge in modern and ancient texts worldwide. This devil-like being might preside over the underworld, perform the final judgement on a person’s soul, or tempt people to stray from the path of goodness and light.
However, even our modern conception of Satan from the Christian Bible - a red devil in horns, whispering evil seductions into the ear of an innocent - is a far cry from his scriptural depiction. The word “devil” is derived from the Greek diabolos meaning “slanderer,” or “accuser,” and in the Bible’s Old Testament, the name Satan is only mentioned three times in the 45 books.
While non-Christian devils such as Hades from Greek mythology are not meant to be directly compared to The Bible’s Satan (or at least our modern conception of him), they are often representatives of a fallen angel, deity or creator who has tried to usurp an all-powerful God figure, and in doing s, has been banished to some lesser world or fate.
The Buddhist “Lord of the Senses” Māra tempted Buddha on many occasions. When Siddhartha Gautama waited for Enlightenment beneath the Bo tree, Mara tried several times to distract and challenge Gautama, which would stop him from achieving Enlightenment.
Māra told Gautama lies about his family, challenged him with armies of minions, and even sent his daughters representing thirst, desire, and delight to distract and tempt Gautama to no avail.
Guatama achieved supreme Enlightenment, and despite Māra’s continued attempts to prevent him from preaching, Buddha preached the law.
Still practiced in small numbers today, the Zoroastrian religion can actually be credited with originating the monotheistic concept of Satan. The religion focuses on the teetering fight between Ahriman (who rules over dark and evil forces) and God, or Ahura Mazda (a force from the heavens representing fire, sunlight and life).
Zoroastrianism was predominantly practiced in Persia around 600 BCE. Ahriman allegedly created demons to aid him in his desire to spread evil, appealing to the base desires of humanity including greed, envy and lust for power.
Zoroastrianism sees the battle between good and evil, or Ahriman and Ahura Mazda, as a constant struggle throughout time, one in which good will eventually prevail. Differing from other monotheistic religions like Christianity, Judaism and Islam, Zoroastrians believe these powers are balanced, meaning Ahura Mazda is not all powerful. Even so, Ahura Mazda created humans, and Ahura Mazda is good, so using the concept of free will humanity will ultimately choose to be good as well.
Until the Spanish conquest in the 1500s, the Mayan civilization thrived in Mesoamerica, starting around 300 BCE. The heroes and gods from Mayan mythology often had multiple names and identifying features - often varying by region - but there was an idea of order and structure in the universe that underpinned their beliefs with an eye toward maintaining harmony and balance.
Cizin - also known as Yom Cimil, Ah Puch, or Kisen- was one of the various gods of death. He is often depicted as a skeleton wearing a collar made of human eyeballs hanging from his neck. He’s also seen dancing and smoking a cigarette and is known for his terrible smell, earning him the nickname “The Stinking One.”
Unlike other Mayan gods of death, Cizin was not known for regeneration or rebirth, but rather for keeping the souls of those who had committed evil down in the underworld where they were tormented.
After the Spanish conquest, conquistador’s closely associated Cizin with the Christian devil.
One of the oldest monotheistic religions in the world, Yazidi is a pre-Islamic religion that draws from Christianity and Judaism as well as Zoroastrianism. However, unlike Muslims and Christians, Yazidis reject duality, including the ideas of Hell, the devil, and even sin. They believe that all things that befall an individual, good and bad, are caused by divine beings.
This rejection of duality has made the Yazidi targets of religious persecution for centuries under the Ottoman Empire, and more recently in 2007 during the US occupation in Iraq where more than 700 Yazidi were killed in four coordinated attacks carried out by insurgent groups.
Some Muslims see the Yazidis’s reverence for an angel who defied God as akin to worshiping the devil.