Samael: That is your god. A vengeful, jealous, sadistic murderer and hypocrite.
Cotton Mather: And yet you plan a sacrifice every bit as cruel as the ones you charge Him with. Doesn’t that make you the hypocrite?
Samael: No. I at least am honest. I do not ask those I torment to love and worship me. I am satisfied with mere obedience.
Cotton Mather: Bitter is what I would call you. You don’t just plan a mass sacrifice. You wish to inaugurate an age of total war. You cannot compete with man for God’s love, nor with God’s for man, so you would see His most beloved creation destroy itself. You, sir, are the vengeful one. All you want is revenge on God. It might be honest, it might even be just, but it is also petty, and unworthy of one of the architects of creation. [“Wednesday’s Child”, S3E6.]
The Devil is a figure that has captivated the human imagination since figures like him were first conceived of. From the Satan of Christianity and the Iblis of Islam to the Apep of ancient Egypt and the Mara of Buddhism, cultures worldwide have been captivated by the idea that if there is a god, and that God is good, then there must be an anti-God* diametrically opposed to Him/Her/It in every way, for a good god would never allow evil.
Mainstream Judaism contains no traditional conception of the Devil**. There is, however, an angel in the Book of Job referred to as ha-satan (trans.: “the accuser”) who functions as a kind of challenger, or a tester of faith, but who fundamentally is with God. The Book of Job is mentioned in “Wednesday’s Child”, and it is interesting that Cotton’s various trials over the course of the series somewhat mirror Job’s torment by ha-satan.
Christianity, however, took this – along with a few other usages of the word “satan” in the Torah/Old Testament and the tempting serpent in the Garden of Eden – and melded them together into the Devil, an angel who rebelled against God (either to be equal with Him or because he was jealous of Adam and Eve) and became ruler of Hell. He also fell with one third of Heaven, and these fallen angels became his servants. He took the form of the serpent in Eden*** and tempted Adam and Eve, he attempted to gain Jesus in the wilderness, and at the end of the world he will rebel again, only to fall once more. He is variously referred to as Satan (trans.: “enemy” or “adversary”)****, Lucifer (trans.: “morning star”)*****, the Devil, Beelzebub (trans.: “lord of flies”)******, the God of the World, Prince of the Powers of the Air, the Tempter, Father of Lies, the Dragon, the Serpent, Leand Belial (trans.: “worthless”).
The Devil of Salem – or, as he is most often referred to in the show, the Dark Lord (being a dark reflection of God) – seems to fit into this mythology, his character particularly being influenced by the portrayal of Satan in John Milton’s Paradise Lost (more on this in another article). He rebelled against God to be equal with Him*******, he tempted Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and he rules over Hell.
More interestingly, though, is his true name. While the show variously refers to him as Satan, Lucifer, and Legion********, he is most commonly identified – at least in season three – as Samael.
Samael is a name which means “Venom of God” (or sometimes “Blindness of God”). Despite this rather ominous name, he has had both good and bad connotations in various religion. In the lore of the Talmud, Samael is the angel of death, who also carries out other dark works for God. This figure is very similar to the aforementioned ha-satan in the Book of Job. He is often said to tempt mankind to sin – much like the Devil – and has sometimes been referred to as Satan********. He rules over lesser Satans in the Fifth Heaven, and is usually identified as being the emissary of God’s anger. He is frequently mentioned with Lilith, a demonic figure who will be discussed in the future, along with other entities that are either succubi or angels of sacred prostitution depending on who you ask.
All of this is very much like the Devil of Christianity. However, as we have discussed, the Devil may be an unwitting instrument of God. Christianity itself generally identifies Samael as a demon but rarely as the name of the Devil.
The final religion I’d like to touch on is Gnosticism. Salem co-creator Adam Simon is a self-proclaimed “paranoid american gnostic [sic]” (at least, according to his Twitter bio), so it seems appropriate. In Gnosticism Samael is the third name of the Demiurge, usually identified Yaldabaoth (sometimes Yaltabaoth). The Demiurge is not God, mind you, but a creation of God’s that in turn created the world. Gnosticism usually portrays Yaldabaoth’s creation of the universe as a malicious act in an attempt to play God. He now occupies a devil-like role in the grand scheme of the universe. While this does not have much to do with Samael’s character in Salem, I thought it worth mentioning.
Of course, the Salem website sums this up in a paragraph, whilst I took eight (along with two quotations and ten annotations):
The Sentinel refers to the Devil Boy as Samael. But the “real” Samael has a much more complicated backstory. In the Jewish tradition, Samael is an important archangel who is portrayed as both good and evil. On the one hand, he rules over part of heaven, and is the commander of two million angels. On the other hand, he is the angel of death. Some stories say Samael was the serpent in the Garden of Eden, fathered a host of demon children, and is the chief of evil spirits. That sounds more like our Devil Boy. [Read here.]
I need to get outside more.
This is the first in a four-part series on the character of the Dark Lord/the Devil in Salem. The next article will focus on his aspect as the “God of the Witches”, which is distinctly separate from his role as the king of fallen angels.
*anti-God: the Christian notion of witchcraft was born out of a similar philosophy; namely, that if there is a dark reflection of God, there must be a dark reflection of the Church.
**no traditional conception of the Devil: for the purposes of this article, we are excluding apocrypha and deuterocanonical books, which do have various Devil-like figures in them (Satan, Satanael, Samyaza, Sathariel, Mastema, &c.).
***the serpent of Eden: there is a debate about whether the serpent was Satan or not. Some have even suggested the serpent was a seperate entity like Lilith (more on her in another article). However, the general consensus amongst the Christian layman is that it was the Devil, and Salem seems to concur.
****Satan: contrary to popular belief, Satan is more often used as a title than a name, as if it were a job.
****Lucifer: the Latin translation of the Hebrew word heylel, which means “morning star” or “light bringer”. Heylel occurs in the Torah/Old Testament, but it is not used as a name or a title (simply a reference to, well, the morning star). The King James Bible interpreted it as a name, and thus it became the proper name of the Devil, used to describe him before his fall from grace. This idea was popularized by John Milton’s Paradise Lost. The official position of the Church is now that Lucifer is not a name, but a description of the Devil’s elevated state before he fell.
******Beelzebub: some demonologists would later interpret this as a separate demon. John Milton’s Paradise Lost has Beelzebub as the right hand man of Satan/Lucifer. Salem lifts this concept, making Beelzebub “the Sentinel”.
*******to be equal with Him: of course, this is not exactly true. Season three of Salem shows us that the Devil has no intention of keeping his promises of an equal commonwealth to his fallen brothers and worshipers. It seems the Devil’s intention is less to be equal with God and more to depose Him.
*********Legion: this name more commonly refers to a group of demons rather than the Devil.
**********Satan: once again, this more likely refers to a position than a name.