Finding the Satan of The Satan Pit

The Beast from The Satan Pit

Following the Doctor through time is easy enough. However, I confess it is currently beyond even my technology to follow him off-world. Still, travelers of time and space talk, people write things down and pass stories along, and so tales of distant galaxies more than occasionally find their way back to earth. You find them in the quaintest places, scribbled into the margins of books or crumpled in the back of archive shelves.

The Doctor seemingly thinks that he’s found Satan, or at least the creature upon which the myths are based. The record even has a charming little drawing of the fellow, a monstrous horned, red skinned beast.

And therein lies the problem. It’s very convenient that this monster just happens to look like the common depiction of Satan in the Doctor’s absolutely favorite time period (late 20th and early 21st century).

Giotto’s The Last Judgment

Giotto’s The Last Judgment (1303-1305)

The truth is the Bible gives no description of Satan, so believers have been left to their own devices. Many illustrations of Satan are blue, not red, for example. The red Satan reflects the concept of hell being fiery and Satan being its master, although there’s only a couple passages that speak of punishment by flames: the enemies of God are thrown in fiery lakes and burning furnaces.

The blue Satan, on the other hand, lives in a realm of freezing cold. Cultures across the globe (and across the universe, I would imagine), associate goodness with light and warmth, two things necessary for our survival. God is good. Thus, he is light. It’s a very commonly used symbol. It then stands to reason that things grow darker and colder as they get farther and farther from God, and nothing is as distant from God as Satan and hell.

Some images also depict Satan in chains. He does not rule hell; he’s trapped in it. Hell is the place of torment for all the damned, Satan included. Dante described his predicament in The Divine Comedy as being at the very bottom of a deep, dark pit, buried to his waist in cold slush.

14th century Bolognese painting of Satan

14th century Bolognese painting

In that regard, the Doctor’s account is rather striking: an ancient being trapped deep beneath the earth on a planet hovering just on the edge of a black hole: literally the darkest place in the universe.

Another common feature of Satan is the existence of two faces, one where it belongs and the other in place of genitals. He commonly eats the souls of the damned with one mouth and expels them out the other. The concept is, of course, disgusting. No one wants to think of faces and genitals as being interchangeable. But it’s also robbing Satan of gender. Through most of history, Christian cultures have had very distinct concepts of the natures of men and women, with the expectation that everyone fell cleanly into one of those two categories. Satan doesn’t. Satan is unnatural.

As an aside, theologically, angels have no gender either. This is because they are too divine in nature to have physical bodies, and only physical creatures need gender (in order to reproduce). But angels are traditionally depicted as male. Satan also generally appears to have masculine features, but the face at the genitals makes it clear he is not, in fact, male.

There’s a danger with universal theories: very few things are actually universal. Things are constantly in motion. Change is one of few constants in history.

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