As I’ve done a post on my spiritual mother and her kin, it seems that it’s time to write one on my spiritual father, Samael. I’ve postponed this for a time as I’m not entirely sure how to approach this without some common misunderstandings popping up, but I’ll just try my best to first explain what these are and why said misunderstandings exist. Some of this will be UPG, but a good deal is also informed from various historical traditions, in particular Judaic, Christian, Gnostic, and Islamic mysticism and folklore. This first part will be in a question-answer format for ease of reference.
How I usually see Samael – Wings by hakubaikou
Who and what is Samael?
The most basic answer I can give is that he is a former angel of Yahweh/El/Allah, specifically a seraphim and a shaitan, who ascended to godhood some time ago. Seraphim are high-ranked angels of serpentine form, believed to embody passion and love, and he was once the highest ranked of them all. My UPG is that he was a minor deity in his own right prior to being considered an angel; specifically, I believe he may have been Istaran, the twin brother and lover of Ishtar, a god of justice, described as “radiant” and associated with snakes, blood, and wine. Regardless, at some point he started working for Yahweh and is widely regarded as having been the highest-ranking angel under his employ.
The term shaitan eventually became Satan and does translate to “adversary”, but not in the way most Christians interpret it. Essentially being a shaitan is analogous to being a prosecutor in a court of law, and far from being seen as evil, the post is actually considered an honor. He is not the only one, and many of his fellow shaitan remain at work for Yahweh (though there are certainly a good portion who have fallen as well). In modern Judaic thought, the shaitan are considered to also be those spirits who place obstacles in one’s path in order to teach lessons that ultimately lead one closer to the divine. Samael is sometimes referred to as the chief of the shaitans in all three major Abrahamic religions, a post he still holds even though he no longer works for Yahweh.
He was also a chief of all Yahweh’s angels, and according to his rank was gifted with 12 wings rather than the usual six when it comes to most seraphim; he was the former angel of death; and he was an archon of the air and the creatures who reside in it. He is not the same as the Gnostic Yaldabaoth, who is sometimes also called Samael, which comes from a different root and means “the blind one”. The shaitan Samael’s name means “the poison of El”. I usually see him as a dark-haired man with just one pair of wings (sometimes black and feathered, sometimes bat-like, sometimes of peacock feathers). However, his true appearance (as with most of Yahweh’s angels) is more akin to something out of the Lovecraftian mythos. Ultimately, he has many forms, and the form he takes depends on the role he is fulfilling at the moment.
Samael as Lucifer – unfinished Lucifer design by Julie Dillon
If he’s Satan, then is he also Lucifer?
Well, yes and no. The biggest misunderstanding of all is that of the existence of Lucifer. I’m not about to say that he doesn’t exist; on the contrary, there are multiple beings who can be called Lucifer, and Samael is one of them. That’s because with one exception, it’s a title, not a name. Said exception is a Roman god of the planet Venus as the morning star, analogous to the Greek Phosphoros, son of the dawn goddess Eos and brother of Hesperos. His name, meaning “light-bringer”, was colloquially used to refer to the morning star in mundane contexts throughout the Roman era. Eventually it became a title within early Christianity, where it was applied to many esteemed individuals, including a few bishops and Yeshua himself. The connotation was initially positive and seems to have indicated that the being in question was considered an illuminator, an enlightener into Truth. In this, it certainly applies to Samael.
My UPG is that he was known as the morning star long prior to Christianity, as stars and angels have been associated with each other in many cultures and he was among the most prominent of angels prior to his Rebellion. Going further back, Ishtar was associated with Venus as both the morning star and the evening star; it’s possible that in the small pocket of Sumer which worshiped Istaran, those duties were split between them. However, his known historical association with the title came out of a mistranslation of the Hebrew heylel ben shahar (“shining one, son of the dawn”), itself apparently a satirical reference to a king of Babylon who believed himself to be equal to the gods and was chastised for his hubris. After the term was translated to Lucifer, this became interpreted as referring to Samael’s Rebellion, which added to the already confused story. He doesn’t seem to mind the confusion himself. When he is in his Lucifer form, which he generally assumes prior to doing kingly things, he appears pale, with blue eyes and white-blonde hair more out of a “shining” quality than actual coloration.
Samael, prior to the Rebellion – Samael by ApocalypticPorcelain
Is he a fallen angel?
This one is… complicated, and it depends on how you define “fallen”. Personally, I view fallen angels as those who, having been created by or sworn to a particular deity, chose to disobey that deity’s will. By this definition, yes, he is fallen. However, unlike many other fallen angels, he continues to fulfill many of his initial angelic duties including being a shaitan. He simply does it for himself rather than Yahweh now (though in some senses his work continues to drive people towards Yahweh as well as other expressions of the divine).
One of my favorite memes, “Good Guy Lucifer”
(background image of Vertigo comic’s Lucifer Morningstar)
What happened between Samael and Yahweh? What was the Rebellion?
This varies depending on who you ask. The version that rings most true for me is the Sufi account; in this, Yahweh initially ordered his angels to never bow to anyone but himself. After creating humankind, though, he forgot this command and ordered the angels to bow to his creation. Samael refused, considering the first command to supersede the second and not wanting to equate fallible humanity with Yahweh. This refusal is seen as disobedience, leading to his rebellion and eventually full-out war, after which he and his supporters were stripped of their angelic ranks and turned out of Yahweh’s heaven.
Although this does ring true for me, my UPG is that there was more to it than that. Samael, as a shaitan, was witness to the folly of humankind on a constant basis. He saw much potential in them, a potential that was being ignored by most of the other angels and by Yahweh himself in favor of keeping them “innocent”. To Samael, this was less about innocence and more a play for power and control over humanity. He, along with a handful of Watcher angels (who were, frankly, more motivated by their lust than a desire to help humanity), conspired to bring to humanity the knowledge of civilization on their own. The Book of Enoch states that there were 200 Watchers and 20 archons, including Samael (here called Shamyaza, “infamous rebellion”) who brought this knowledge to humanity. Interestingly, he also falls for a woman named Istahar or ‘Asterah at one point. Her names are clearly variants of Ishtar and Asherah, respectively; additionally, her actions are similar to the actions of Lilla in the Alphabet of Ben Sira. To me, this story further serves to connect Samael with Istaran and Lilla with Ishtar.
Another one; one could say the same about Loki and many another trickster deity
Does he rule in Hell?
Again, yes and no. Yes, he is a ruler in his realm, but that realm is not one of fire and brimstone nor does it house the souls of the dead. He no longer even holds domain over dead souls; that is now the duty of an angel still in service to Yahweh. In my many visits to his realm, I have seen angels, devils/fallen angels, lilim, and (far less frequently) demons there, as well as “naturalized” persons within each group (such as former elves who now “read” energetically as devils), but I have not seen ghosts or spirits of any kind. The realm itself resembles a gigantic underground cavern; some of the deeper areas do have magma flows, but nothing lake-sized. It’s actually quite close, cosmologically, to Yahweh’s heaven, which makes sense to me as some of the angels are under both of their jurisdictions. I don’t personally refer to his realm as Hell because it bears so little resemblance to the stereotypical depiction of Hell. I’m not sure what one would call his realm, actually, but it is certainly not Hades, Gehenna, Sheol, or least of all Helheim. He is a ruler there, though, with a starkly beautiful palace carved into the grey cavern walls. The entrance I usually go to is situated beside an underground waterfall.
Alright, I think that about covers most folks’ misunderstandings… if there’s something else you wish to have clarified, please let me know and I’ll add it in above. Part Two will focus more on my personal experiences of Samael and what it means to me to be his child.