Graveyard Shift

Where Exactly Did The Elements Of Satanic Imagery Come From? 

Jacob Shelton
Updated October 3, 2017 58.5k views 15 items

You may not realize it, but the Devil hasn’t always been such an important character in Biblical mythology. When the Bible was first written, there wasn’t even a Devil to speak of, but (like any popular character) as soon as he was introduced, his fans wanted more. The Devil was initially introduced as a minor foil to God. There isn’t even much of a description of Satan's appearance in the good-book, but artists were able to answer the question, “What does Satan look like?” by pulling from their imaginations and other mythologies. If you’ve ever seen pictures of the Devil and wondered why is the Devil red, or just what the Devil looks like, hopefully this collection of historic information about how Satanic imagery has changed over the years will shed some light to the subject.

Why does the Devil have a pitchfork? Does he have a lot of hay to work with in Hell? Does he just think it looks cool? And why does the Devil have horns? Are they actual horns or are they part of a headband that keeps his hair back? And what does 666 even mean? If you’ve spent any time looking at photos of demons, then you’ve likely asked yourself many of these same questions. And because of the changing nature of art and beliefs, the Devil has taken on many forms. Beyond the Devil himself, there’s also some prominent Satanic imagery that needs explanation, like the inverted cross and pentagrams. So, go ahead and light a black candle, play your records backwards, and get ready to learn about sweet, sweet Satan.

Is 666 Actually The Number Of The Beast?
Is 666 Actually The Numb... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list Where Exactly Did The Elements Of Satanic Imagery Come From?
Photo:  William Blake/Wikimedia/Public Domain

The number 666 is so synonymous with Satan that there are even people who will go so far as to add more items to their purchase at a coffee shop just to make their total come out to $6.66. What did this number do to become so maligned? The three-digit number originally comes from Saint Irenaeus, Bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul, who decided that the beast from Revelation 13 was in fact the Antichrist, and the numerical values associated with the letters of his name added up to 666

Although that may not be a reference to the devil, many scholars believe 666 was a way to speak out against Emperor Nero, as his name added up to 666 when written in Aramaic. It's also possible Nero may have already been dead by the time the Book of Revelation was written, but one interpretation is that Irenaeus was using Nero as a way to compare rulers who were using Nero-esqe tactics like taxation, confiscation of property, and economic marginalization. 

Who Gave The Devil His Horns?
Who Gave The Devil His H... is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list Where Exactly Did The Elements Of Satanic Imagery Come From?
Photo: internetarchivebookimages/Flickr

Satan's most well-known attribute is his horns, but if you've cracked open a Bible recently you'll know the scripture makes zero reference to the Devil having horns. In fact, it doesn't really describe him at all. So, where are the horns from? In the first era of Christianity, the Church was still trying to wipe out paganism, so one of the main sources of propaganda was to take a pagan deity and turn him into something sinister. That's how Egyptian gods like Bes and Isis - a feminine deity who is often shown wearing the headdress of Hathor - became variations of a horned Devil.

Who Decided On Satan's Red Skin Tone?
Who Decided On Satan's R... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list Where Exactly Did The Elements Of Satanic Imagery Come From?
Photo:  Paul Mathey/WIkimedia/Public Domain

If you're picturing the Devil in your head right now, you're probably thinking of a bright-red creature similar to Tim Curry in Legend. Or maybe you're just thinking of Tim Curry in Legend. But how did people decide on red? Initially the Devil was depicted as blue, because, in the 6th centur,y blue was way more evil than red. But as tastes and generalizations about what was and wasn't evil began to change, so did depictions of the Devil who changed from a blue-robed figure to a straight-up red-skinned horned demon.

How About That Pitchfork?
How About That Pitchfork... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list Where Exactly Did The Elements Of Satanic Imagery Come From?
Photo:  Artist Unknown/Wikimedia/Public Domain

So, here's the thing about the pitchfork - it's actually a trident. Satan's pitchfork began as a pagan symbol for Poseidon, until the three prongs of the trident were appropriated by Christianity to represent the trinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In medieval times, the trident was turned into a symbol for the Devil and changed into a pitchfork. There's no explanation for why the change was made - tridents are way cooler than pitchforks - although it likely had something to do with artists depicting Satan as a pitchfork-carrying demon living in an agrarian society, rather than one living a life by the sea.