Under the Pale Moonlight

Posted by

Most religions and cultures have developed a mythic figure to personify evil in some way or another. Myths help us, as a Society, figure out who we are. You can see that in the films that are most popular today. An example of this can be seen in Star Wars, a story about absolute dualism- the forces of Fascism vs the forces of Freedom. The audience routing for the latter as due to the events of WW2 people were repulsed at the thought of such an empire.

But before movies and science, people didn’t really have much to figure out how the world worked. So they created Myths in order to make sense of things. Think of all the words derived from such beliefs. The term Lunacy was coined due to the belief that a full moon drove people mad. The days of the week are named after the Roman Gods and the term Echo was coined after a Nymph in Greek Mythology cursed to repeat others words after distracting Hera while her Husband was off on a bender.

But there are few myths so notorious, or toxic, as that of the Devil. The embodiment of evil. He’s a character that pops up a few times in the Old and New Testament alongside the Quran. Though it’s worth pointing out that the Torah and Jews in general don’t believe in such a figure.

Judaism is what they refer to as a Monistic Religion, in that God is absolute in embracing both good and evil. Therefore a Devil figure cannot arise. However due to the influence of Zoroastrianism (Pre-base for Christianity, similar to the Lord of Light from Game of Thrones) the introduction of Mitigated dualism came about.

Now Mitigated Dualism refers to the belief that evil is a secondary principle. In this role, the Devil is thought as a creature, originated in a heavenly realm, that only contains good, but somehow fell apart from this place, thus giving existence to evil. God remains as the source of evil but is now twinned into the principle of good and evil, the former as the High God, the latter as God’s adversary. The split of the Devil apart from the good God is sometimes expressed by War in heaven.

That’s why in some stories in the Torah and Old Testament there is an appearance of a character known as Ha Satan, an angel or some other employee of God sent to test the Jews. He makes very few appearances in the story and is incredibly over rated- he’s the Boba Fett of Biblical History.

Now the main thing to understand about the Old Testament is that it’s incredibly poorly written. It’s a culmination of different yet similar stories, myths from the early Jewish tribes. There’s a ton of contradictions such as how Aaron (Moses’ brother) died and where he was buried alongside how David and King Saul met, not even to mention the fact that there are two different versions of the death of King Saul- within the two different pages.

If the bible was written today, you’d be hard pressed to find a publisher to sell it.

Demon Milton's Paradise 1885

It’s essentially a collection of myths from a group of tribes that were somewhat friendly with each other, they would pass off information to each other and follow the same laws. Hence why a good chunk of the bible talks about the logistics of farming and settling disputes between farmers. You can tell how Patriarchal the society was by the fact that there were more rules about not putting bulls into holes than dealing with actual rape of women.

Myths such as these are either created on the spot or are influenced by other myths from the region. The character of Satan bears resemblance to the Egyptian Gods Apep, the embodiment of chaos and Set, who was the God of deserts, storms, violence and foreigners. He was often depicted as a trickster and although he was initially seen in a popular light, overtime his approval grew worse as Egypt began battling rival Empires such as the Assyrian and Persian empires.

Set being the God of Foreigners was seen in a bad light since these were foreign armies, he was essentially a tool to help the people dehumanise the enemy. Which is similar to how the term Lucifer was brought about. Since it was initially used in the book of Isiah to describe King Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon, who at the time was occupying Israel.

Isiah essentially refers to him as Lucifer, the morning star, who believes that he can take the mantle of God by colonising the chosen people and occupying the promised land. It was a metaphor used to insult and dehumanise a foreign leader, in this case a coloniser.

Lucifer3

Eventually Judaism would shake off the influence of Zoroastrianism and return once more to a state of Monism. However a new sect of Judaism would break off to become Christianity, which believes in Absolute dualism;  assert that good and evil are two strictly distinct principles.

Evil exists wholly independent from (the good) God. Accordingly, a principle can not embraces opposites, thus the Devil can not have been originated as a heavenly being (an angel or something of the like) or a creature of God. Therefore, both deities are both ontologically limited to their own essence: The good God can just want, create and do good; while the evil Devil can just want, create and do evil.

Islam is similar to Christianity in that they are also classified as a Dualistic, some sects would be more absolute than others. Some doctrines and followers don’t follow the words literally and I can’t stress how important it is to acknowledge that. Both religions possess their own Devil figure, in Islam it appears that they have two descriptors for him.

There is Ibim, which is the proper name of the Devil representing the characteristics of evil. He’s presented as a tester. Shaitan refers unilaterally to forces of evil, including the Devil Iblis, then he causes mischief. Shaitan is also linked to humans psychological nature, appearing in dreams, causing anger or interrupting the mental preparation for prayer. The term Shaitan also refers to beings, who follow the evil suggestions of Iblis. Furthermore, the principle of “Shaitan” is in many ways a symbol of spiritual impurity, representing humans own deficits, in contrast to a “true Muslim“, who is free from anger, lust and other devilish desires.

I’m not an expert on Islam so take what I say with a grain of salt. If any Muslims are reading this I would appreciate some feedback in the comments down below.

3e306814-ab89-4ca1-bf2e-6a4d769804fb

So to understand the Devil is to understand that it not only represents pure evil, but what the society at large refers to as pure evil. That’s why the Devil is often depicted engaging in gross acts of manipulation, lying, debauchery- so on and so forth. But it can also be used as a scapegoat, such as how Jihadists refer to the West as the Great Satan. Or allow bigotry to thrive in the form of Homophobia.

Now I don’t particularly give a shit about what you believe in so long as it doesn’t hurt others. But I can’t help but object to the idea of the Devil. Particularly  as a literal figure and not just a metaphor cast by mankind’s intellectual infancy to define our more crude vices.

The problem with the devil is that it confirms moral absolutes, good and evil- black and white. In the real there isn’t so much black and white, but rather a lot of grey. An individual who cannot see grey is an individual that cannot be trusted to create opinions on the basis of nuance. When you see compromising with your opponent as a compromise with Evil, then only trouble can ensue.

Now what we know of the Devil doesn’t really come from the bible, but rather from other works of fiction such as Paradise Lost and Dante’s Inferno; which prescribes him as the King of Hell. The traditional origin of the Devil states that he was once an Angel known as Lucifer, the most beautiful and wisest of Angels. But upon the creation of mankind, Lucifer refused to submit to God- stating that he felt he was superior to mankind. In disobedience he was banished.

Other tales revolve around him leading a revolt against God trying to take over the thrown, which inevitably failed and led to his banishment. Alongside the banishment of his legion of Angels, which would later become Demons.

Lucifer despised Humans so he devoted his time to manipulating them into turning away from God, even selling their souls to him so that they can seek short term gain but eternal suffering. This version of the Devil doesn’t correlate with the earlier versions, who was seen as more of God’s employee sent to test the loyalty of his people. As Human understanding developed, so did our understanding of our own vices- so the Devil grew uglier, animalistic- a shrewd of what we feared to be.

He was depicted as cunning, charming, manipulative- he could play people like a fiddle. Which leads us to an interesting story about Giuseppe Tartini and the Devil’s Trill Sonata.

Le_Songe_de_Tartini_par_Louis-Léopold_Boilly_1824

Giuseppe Tartini was born April 8, 1692 in Pirano, Istria in the Venetian Republic (now Piran, Slovenia) he’s what many refer to as the Godfather of Modern Violin playing. He developed well over two hundred sonatas and concertos each. His most famous of which is the Tartini Violin Sonata, often played in G Minor. It’s called the Devil’s Trill, you can listen to it here.

The story behind it begins with an interview that Tartini gave to the French astronomer Jerome Lalande a few years before his death, in the same year that he retired from St. Anthony’s. Lalande published the story in his Voyage d’un Français en Italie (1769);

“One night I dreamed I had made a pact with the devil for my soul. Everything went as I desired: my new servant anticipated my every wish. I had the idea of giving him my violin to see if he might play me some pretty tunes, but imagine my astonishment when I heard a sonata so unusual and so beautiful, performed with such mastery and intelligence, on a level I had never before conceived was possible. I was so overcome that I stopped breathing and woke up gasping. Immediately I seized my violin, hoping to recall some shred of what I had just heard; but in vain. The piece I then composed is without a doubt my best, and I still call it ‘The Devil’s Sonata,’ but it falls so far short of the one that stunned me that I would have smashed my violin and given up music forever if I could but have possessed it.”

If that story sounds familiar to you, it may be due to the fact that you listened to the Tenacious D song “Tribute” in which Jack Black describes a run in with the devil in which the band played the best song in the world, which pleased the devil and saved them from harm. But for some reason or another the band could not remember the song, so instead they wrote a tribute to the greatest song in the world.

It’s uncertain if Jack Black was influenced by the tale of the Devil’s Trill, or if it was just a matter of coincidence and parallel thinking.

The date of the sonata is uncertain; Lalande wrote that the dream occurred in 1713, but music historians have found it difficult to place the sonata earlier than about 1745 on stylistic grounds. What we do know is that it was not published until almost thirty years after Tartini’s death, in 1798.  The manuscript was said to have come from Pierre Baillot, who had studied violin in Rome for a number of years, returning to Paris in 1791. The annotation about the Devil at the foot of the bed was apparently not written in Tartini’s code, at least not in the published edition.

Tartini himself was a remarkably private person, particularly about his dreams. If word got out that he had a dream about the devil, in which he made a pact with him- then his reputation would be in tatters. He kept this story to himself, as a burning secret. He relieved it upon Lalande since he’s a man of Science and therefore would have reacted to the dream objectively, not to condemn the man on sight.

Many people believe that he sold his soul so that he could play this melody, the catch being he believed his own work to be nowhere close to the original.

It’s unlikely that the Devil exists let alone that you’re capable of selling your soul to him. While there are rumors of many artists and other notable people selling their souls for such talent it’s important to recognise that they are just that; rumors.

It appears that some have claimed to have danced with the devil in the pale moonlight and lived, whether or not they be true- we’ll never know for sure. For all we know, the Devil may have two left feet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s