This article is copyright © 2006 Geifodd ap Pwyll.
One of the first manifestations of Satan, the Christian Devil, in Judaic thought was Azazel, a Horned God of the Hebrews who was associated with darkness and the desert wilderness. It was believed by the Second Temple Era Jews that Azazel was the one who had taught human beings the various arts of civilization, including weaponry, cosmetics, the sciences, the liberal arts and “witchcraft.” It was Azazel, also known as Samael ("Venomous God"), who tempted Adam and Eve with the Fruit of Knowledge in the form of a serpent. He was also the one who inspired the people of Babel to make the technological feat of building their Tower. It was by teaching these various forbidden arts and by inspiring humanity to “reach for the stars” and take control of their environments that Azazel had fallen out of favor with the Abrahamic deity, and it was for teaching human beings these “sinful” activities that Azazel was chained to a rock in the desert wilderness, much like Prometheus was chained to a mountain in Greek mythology. In fact, Azazel is very much like a combination of Prometheus and the Arcadian Pan: a dark and wild Horned God who is also paradoxically a bringer of light and civilization.
Azazel was primarily associated with the goat, representing worldly wisdom and stubborness. His association with this particular animal comes from the Jewish Ritual of Atonement in which lots were cast for two goats, one who was to be sacrificed to Yahweh as a “sin offering,” and the other who was to be driven into the wilderness, alone, as an offering for Azazel. The purpose of sending the goat out into the wild rather than killing it was to banish or drive away the “sins” of the tribe. Azazel, having taught man the forbidden arts of philosophy, science, civilization and magic, was blamed for “tempting men away” from their meek subordination to the tyrannical Yahweh, thereby introducing “sin” into the human world. It is from the Ritual of Atonement that we get our modern day term “scapegoat,” and it is also from this that the Devil really gets His horns and hooves, not from the Greek Pan as so many neopagans like to believe.
Azazel is also associated with the serpent and the peacock. As Samael, the venomous one, it was believed by the Jews that Azazel had taken the form of the serpent that tempted Adam and Eve. The story of the serpent and the fruit is symbolic of Azazel’s encouragement of the human ability to think independantly about morality and religion, rather than be blindly submissive to whatever one is taught to believe from birth. In a more primitive context, the serpent also represents sexuality (because it was after the serpent tempted Adam and Eve with the fruit that they had become aware of their nakedness) and regeneration (because the serpent sheds its old skin to reveal a new one). The significance of the peacock, with which Azazel is associated in the Arabic culture, is that the peacock is a beautiful and prideful bird, representing Azazel’s own sense of beauty and pride before the Abrahamic deity.
The colors that are most immediately representative of Azazel’s spirit are black (representing the night and darkness) and red (representing blood, carnality and the desert). Azazel was also known to the Jews by a variety of names: as Samael, He is a god of destructive and revolutionary power; as Belial, He is a god of the earth and of carnal, animal life; and as Satan, He is the Supreme Adversary of Yahweh (who is a self-proclaimed “jealous” desert god that desires to become the only god worshiped upon the earth). As Yahweh's arch-nemesis, Azazel is a spirit who inspires and encourages the human followers of Yahweh (as well as people who are not his followers, but who live in societies that are influenced by the Abrahamic religions and their respective cultures) to question and challenge the rules and dictations of this god and his dogmas. In a more general context, Azazel inspires and encourages the questioning of all dogmas and fixed ideologies for the sake of furthering the intellectual power of humans. It would seem that, whereas Yahweh demands all human attention and worship, Azazel is not so much interested in being glorified by humanity as He is in simply prodding human beings to think for themselves. After all, only one person in the entire Bible was ever invited to worship the Devil, and that was Jesus Christ himself.
Originally, the word “satan,” which means “adversary” or “opposer” in Hebrew, was not a proper name but only a descriptive noun which was used to describe anything that was adversarial in nature, including Yahweh himself at times. It was specifically used to refer to a type of angel called Ha-satan that, although malicious and malevolent to human beings, was completely obedient to the will of the Abrahamic god, and that committed malicious acts upon human beings at Yahweh’s command. The difference between Ha-satan and Azazel-Satan is that Ha-satan is a being that works malice against humankind, but completely in accordance with the will of the Old Testament god. Azazel-Satan, on the other hand, is the instigator of all rebellion and obstruction against Jehovah, and who is typically depicted in mythology as befriending humanity (e.g., when He tempts Adam and Eve with the Fruit of Knowledge, when He teaches humans the various "forbidden" arts of civilization in Enoch, and even when He tempts Jesus with all the kingdoms of the world in exchange for worship in the New Testament).
The word "satan" was later attached to Azazel and spelled with a capital “S” shortly before the time of Yeshua ben Yosef (i.e., “Jesus Christ”), signifying some of the Jews’ belief that He had become the Supreme Adversary of Yahweh. This belief would not survive among the mainstream sects of Judaism, but it would continue to propagate within the new Christian religion. Azazel has been most popularly and generally known as “Satan” ever since. The word “Devil” also means “adversary” or “opposer,” as it comes from the Greek “diabolos,” which is equivalent to the Hebrew “satan.”
In medieval times, Azazel was also given the name Lucifer. Meaning “Light-bearer” in Latin, the word Lucifer was originally used by the Romans as a name for the Morning Star, which was actually the planet Venus. It was wrongfully associated with Him due to a misinterpretation of a certain passage in the biblical book of Isaiah which refers to a character named Heylel ben Shahar, or “Daystar, son of Morning.” In Isaiah, Heylel is quoted as saying, “I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will make myself like the Most High.” Thinking that Heylel ben Shahar was really the Devil, the Christian Church translated his name to “Lucifer” when the Bible was translated to Latin, and Lucifer has since become a popular name for Azazel in Western culture. But it has since been proven that the story of Heylel ben Shahar does not actually concern Azazel, but instead refers to a certain Babylonian king who thought himself to be divine. Therefore, the name Lucifer became associated with Azazel due to a misinterpretation of Isaiah, but it can still be considered an appropriate name for the Devil due to the fact that the word means “Light-Bearer” and Azazel Himself acts as a “Bringer of Light” in Hebrew mythology, teaching humankind the various arts of civilization.
In Islam, "Azazel" is still a name that is popularly used for the Devil. Other Islamic names for the Devil include Iblis (which means "Doubt" in Arabic) and Shaitan (the Arabic equivalent to "Satan," meaning "adversary"). Among the Yezidi Kurds, Azazel is worshiped and revered as Melek Ta'us (variously translated as either "Peacock King" or "Angel King," due to the fact that the word "ta'us" means both "peacock" and "angel" in Kurdish). The Yezidis also recognize Azazel as being the all-powerful Lord of this World.
Azazel has also become generally known in Western society as the Prince of Darkness. This term was originally intended by Christians to signify their belief in Him as the commander of all evil forces, but it can also be used to refer to Him as a noble being whose power and presence belong to the dark side of Nature.