Views of Satan and His Role


Particularly interesting in William Patrick Patterson’s Eating the I is his interpretation of Satan.

The Fourth Way, which George Gurdjieff had brought to the West, was the program Patterson entered, and one of Gurdjieff’s peculiatrities was not emphasizing evil, as many religions teachers do. He said that humans were almost all asleep, and thus were not responsible for the whatever wrongs they committed. He also said that evil was a relative concept: for someone with a real aim, such as waking up from the hypnotic “sleep” which is our usual condition, evil would be anything that prevented him from waking up, while good would be anything that helped him. A much different definition than usual.

Patterson talks about studying the New Testament and becoming fascinated with the idea of Satan. He traced Satan back into the Old Testament, beginning with Genesis, and continuing through Job and the rest. Satan is often treated as a personality, but also as generic. A satan is one who obstructs, persecutes, or perhaps tests. Elaine Pagels think this term came first, and the personification after. Patterson thinks the opposite.

But he points out that the presence of Satan in the New Testament, testing Jesus, makes the story about good and evil, not just about people being asleep. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” is a pretty clear reference to sleep, and Gurdjieff also pointed out that Jesus frequently talked about sleep during his ministry, but people seem seldom to notice this.

The myth of  Lucifer is that he was  already conscious (and considered by some to be Jesus’s older brother) when God ordered him to worship Man,  but refused to do so out of pride and lack of faith, and “fell”, because the vibrations composing him became lower, and he could no longer retain his highest level of consciousness. He remained fallen until he tempted Eve, when he became an obstructor and persecutor, and consciously evil. At least that’s the Christian version.

Gurdjieff, in one of his own books, told of a time when his reflection on the role of Satan gave him a reminding factor that enabled him to stay awake in his sense, free of the hypnotic power affecting most of us.

He thought of how Satan had been God’s favorite son (older than Jesus, according to old tradition), and how he had been punished for the sin of pride. But pride, Gurdjieff reflected, is common to young and immature beings, so his punishment seemed excessive.

Then he thought of what God’s motive for punishing Satan might have been: to send away from himself the being he loved most, so that he would miss him always. It’s an unusual thought that God, though immeasurably greater, should so resemble Man as to need a reminding factor to help him fight sleep.

Another story Gurdjieff told sheds light on the situation. There was once a magician with many sheep, but these sheep would run away, fall into gullies, or get eaten by wolves. Rather than hire shepherds or build fences, he decided to hypnotize his sheep. He told them that he loved them, that nothing bad would happen to them, at least not soon, and that they were not sheep. Some he said were lions, some men, others magicians. He never had problems with his sheep thereafter. This, Gurdjieff said, is very similar to the human condition. We sleep when we think we’re awake, but it’s an uneasy sleep, as we notice inconsistencies in ourselves and others.

This is much the same as the Indian concept of Maya, and Jesus’s temptation is paralleled by the Buddha’s experience when he decides to sit in meditation until he perceives reality. Demons tempt him, but he realizes their temptations are illusory, and refuses to give them attention .

The story of Adam and Eve is similar: God tells them not to eat of the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, knowing that, being young and immature, they will. Patterson meets an enlightened man later in his story, who says that the above was necessary: the drama couldn’t begin until what people call the Fall happened. No one can choose better things without having some experience of worse things.

So if we want to evolve back into the direction towards God, we need to separate the coarse (representing Satan) from the fine (representing God) within ourselves. When done properly, Gurdjieff says, this is what the alchemists spoke of, and has effects on a physical level that we’re usually unaware of. Beginning this process is beginning the process of making a soul, which Gurdjieff says we are not born with, but have the potential to create.

There is energy that comes to us from outside, from God, along what Gurdjieff calls the Ray of Creation, which begins as fully conscious, but becomes increasingly mechanical as it descends to us. This is analagous to the energy we receive from the sun. If correctly trained, we can use this energy to help us create our souls. This Gurdjieff calls involutionary energy.

Evolving energy, which begins as only partly conscious, but has the possibility of ascending and becoming increasingly purified, can be said to oppose involutionary energy, but only (as far as I can see) because it’s going in the opposite direction, trying to reach God instead of directly coming from Him. This is the spiritual path to which many are called, but few are able to travel very far.

Jesus encounters Satan when he’s just beginning his ministry. He’s conscious, but hasn’t entirely completed his development. Satan tempts him to show off his powers: to make bread out of stone, or to jump from the top of the temple. Jesus doesn’t answer in his own words, because that might expose him to the sin of pride, possibly returning him to sleep. He answers that doing these things would not be God’s will. Then Satan gives his final temptation: Jesus can have the whole beautiful world if he will worship Satan.

This puts things in an interesting perspective. Can Satan give Jesus the whole world, or is he lying? Patterson quotes P.D.  Ouspensky (one of Gurdjieff’s students): ” The history of Man is the history of crime.” That’s the primary component of the history we learn, that money and power are the major motivators of almost all the makers of history. Satan COULD give Jesus the world, but Jesus again refuses, and completes his mission.

Nikos Kazantzakis, in The Last Temptation of Christ, has a parallel interpretation: his last temptation is for Jesus to live the much easier life of an ordinary man. And his Jesus rejoices on the cross when he realizes that he had not succumbed to temptation.

This is underlined by Patterson’s teacher, Lord John Pentland (another student of Gurdjieff’s), who says that temptation isn’t about doing or not doing this or that, but about living below the level of which we are capable. Satan fell through defiance, making it impossible for him to live on the high vibratory level he’d attained before. According to Gurdjieff (and modern science agrees), all matter is composed of vibrations (energy, as should be familiar to us from what little we understand of Einstein’s E=MC2). Surely this is a very common human failing. We make mistakes, or take the easy way out, live at an increasingly low level, and eventually have to take the consequences for what we have and have not done.

We may think of Satan as a personality, as a force, or as an archetype. The archetype lives within us, tempting us to do less than we should, or things we ought not to do. If Satan exists as a personality, we are unlikely to meet him at our usual level of consciousness. If we lay claim to a higher consciousness, that will be tested, and so it was with Jesus. Being able to say yes or no consciously, instead of identifying and behaving mechanically, will be the test of whether what we think is consciousness really is.

Patterson also points out that Sufis have regarded Satan (whom they call Iblis) as God’s greatest lover and protector. In a sense, that is why he tested Jesus. Since Jesus passed that test, his consciousness crystallized, which prevented him from ever losing it.

The idea of a fallen world is a very Gnostic one. Patterson tells of a particular Sufi, Sheik Adi ibn Musafir, who  founded the religious group called the Yezidis, who believe Satan created the world, and worship him as the principle of energy, believing him to have regenerated himself, and to have been given control over this world. According to J.G. Bennett, another of Gurdjieff’s students, Yezidis are (or were some 60 years ago) called “devil-worshippers”, but were also thought to be very moral.

Those beliefs are different from those of the Cathars, a Gnostic group that became known in southern France, northern Italy, and elsewhere in the 12th century. They seem to have been directly connected to the Bogomils who had become known in Bulgaria in the 10th century. Both groups became strong, and eventually alarmed the Christian churches in their respective areas. The Roman Catholic Church organized a crusade against them in the first half of the 13th century, and eventually either destroyed them or drove them deep underground. The Orthodox church’s response wasn’t quite as drastic, but eventually the Bogomils were also destroyed (presumably), or at least disappeared.

Both believed the world had been created by Satan, whom they identified with the God of the Old Testament. They believed Jesus had come from the higher God, whom they believed had no power in this world, although he had created human souls. Human souls they saw as being trapped in the material world, and longing to escape to God’s spiritual world. They believed matter was inherently evil, and that souls could get attached to it, especially through sexuality, so their method for getting free of this world was to be chaste, and not to eat animals (fish were allowed, as they weren’t considered to reproduce sexually), and to be nonviolent. But only the upper caste of this group, the Perfecti, were held to that standard. The Credente were the ordinary people, who would live much as ordinary people do, until near the end of their lives. Then they would receive the Consolamentum  ritual conducted by one of the Perfecti, and then would no longer eat meat, and might even fast until they died.

This may not sound too appealing to us, but it offered a much better life for ordinary people than the Catholic Church did. By this time the Church had become obviously corrupt, and was notorious for the wealth and greed of its  priests.The Perfecti offered a stark comparison, and also treated women much better than the Church did. Women could become Perfecti as readily as could men, and ordinary people could get training in crafts (weaving in particular) that would allow them to live in towns and make some money. This, and the belief that THIS world was Hell seems to have been enormously liberating. Catharism became popular quickly, and was a direct challenge to the Catholic Church, which took it as such, and set out to exterminate the Cathars, which they were pretty successful in doing. The Cathars claimed THEY were the true Christians, and not the Catholics. Catholicism couldn’t tolerate that. Besides the military crusade, they organized what would become the Inquisition, and instill fear in virtually all of Europe.

Heretics, if they were found, would be tortured and burned at the stake. Authorities would press them to reveal the names of their associates and fellow believers. Many Cathars refused to tell, endured the torture, and went willingly into the flames, but not all were so strong. Besides the punishment of heretics, the Inquisition laid a burden of responsibility on ordinary people to tell of any they might suspect to be heretics, and on authorities to continually investigate anyone who might have the remotest connection to the Cathars. This was the model imitated 700 years later by the Nazis and Communists, a model which seems to be at least moderately tempting to most governments. In the 13th century and later these tactics created an atmosphere of paranoia which intimidated most, but also led to eventual rebellion.

The Protestant Reformation must have been at least partially influenced by the way in which Catholics had treated the Cathars, and possibly also persecutions of Jews and so-called “witches”, though Protestants also took part in the latter.

Rejection of the supernatural by science, and the consequent controversy between science and at least some forms of religion can probably be better understood from this perspective too.

It’s difficult to reconcile the behavior of the Catholic church to the teachings of the New Testament, though there are some things even there which were taken as precedents, as when the Gospel of John talks about how “the Jews” treated Jesus. The latter is ironic, since the writer of the Gospel was probably Jewish himself. But Hancock and Bauval say that Catholic behavior makes perfect sense from the perspective of the Cathars, who said the church was the representative of Satan in this world.

It seems that most historians think that the Bogomils and Cathars were just phenomena of their time and place, but neither Catholics nor Cathars thought that. Cathars considered themselves heirs of the Gnostics of early Christianity who had been suppressed, and that’s what Catholics thought of them too. Other groups are known of who were similar, and pretty much bridged the gap between the 4th century AD, when Catholicism became the state religion of Rome, and the 10th century, when we first hear of the Bogomils.

Graham Hancock and Robert Bauval in The Master Game speculate that history could have turned out much differently if Gnostic Christianity, which hated the material world, had succeeded in defeating the Roman Catholic Church. Their view is that both capitalism and communism, the main competing systems in the last century, were both materialistic, differing only in how material wealth ought to be divided in abstract, though not as much in practice.

Hatred of the material world can also be a weakness, though. The natural world, though arguably lower on the scale than pure spirituality, can be seen as a sort of machine that fits together beautifully, every part necessary to all the rest of the universe. That was Gurdjieff’s view of unity in diversity and diversity in unity, with everything connected and constantly transforming. The natural world is not evil, and we interfere with its function to our detriment. Hancock and Bauval contrast the attitude of Hermeticism, which they see as the survival of ancient Egyptian religion, and which was another of the underground spiritual currents of the late Middle Ages, Renaissance, and beyond, to that of Gnosticism. Gnostics believed the material world to be intrinsically evil, and human souls to be trapped in it, longing for a way out. Hermeticism taught, instead, that humans have both a lower and a potentially higher nature, because they are a sort of intermediary. Ideally, their spiritual selves will guide them, while their lower selves do the custodial work necessary to the natural world. This is much closer to Gurdjieff’s view.

Literalists see Satan as a personality trying to subvert if not destroy God’s creation. Others see Satan, even as a personality, serving an authentic purpose. George Gurdjieff saw evil as being a relative concept. Relative first to one’s aim, if one had one; and, from the widest perspective, as the negative pole necessary to every phenomenon. To him, good and evil were not absolutes, but part of the mosaic of reality. Neither, to him, was as important as the individual struggle to wake up, which could evoke the third, Reconciling force. That force might, if experienced, lead to a more healthy acceptance of reality, and reconciliation within ourselves of what we both praise and condemn. Acceptance and resolution of our own contradictions could lead to reconciliation with our neighbors, which in the widest sense is all of life. Violence in the pursuit of any agenda won’t serve us in that aim.



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