“Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven.”   In Paradise Lost, Milton gives Lucifer great lines.  But after all, he is the most beautiful and brilliant of all the angels—in Hebrew his name means “to shine” or “to bear light;” in Latin it means “morning star.”

One January in college, I elected to read Paradise Lost (yes, as an elective course).  As snow and cold blanketed the campus, a thick, wintery depression descended on me.  I discovered I couldn’t read the epic in any analytical literary way, just picture some of it, feel the consequence of it, the possibility of doom.  Lucifer was like the glamorous college roommate off drinking wine in sunny Italy, challenging my puritanical belief in the power of hard work and good intentions, seemingly revealing that being gorgeous and having a fabulous life had more to do with a sense of personal entitlement than with any boring old objective truth—who could say what that was anyway?

Lucifer was bursting with pride and vanity, just like my rich roommate.  But he was also heroic, struggling to overcome his doubts and weaknesses to wage revolution against what he presents as the tyranny of God.  Milton draws us to him, making evil seem attractive (at least at first).  Lucifer s just so damned bold and confident, more dazzling than the coolest person you ever met, completely unafraid of being damned eternally.

Milton’s great epic poem has two narrative arcs (and thank you to Wiki for the help): the journey of Lucifer and the comparatively plodding progress of Adam and Eve.  It begins after Lucifer and other rebel angels have been defeated and banished to Hell (Milton also uses the term for Hell used in the Greek myths, Tartarus).  Employing dazzling rhetorical skill to rally his troops, Lucifer  personally volunteers to poison the newly-created Earth and God’s new creation, Mankind.  He braves great dangers alone, arduously traversing the Chaos outside Hell to enter God’s new material World, and later the Garden of Eden—his journey has been compared to Odysseus or Aeneas.

At several points in the poem, a great Angelic War over Heaven is recounted from different perspectives. The battles between the faithful angels and Lucifer’s forces take place over three days. The final battle involves the Son of God single-handedly defeating the entire legion of angelic rebels and banishing them from Heaven. Following the purging of Heaven, God creates the World, culminating in his creation of Adam and Eve.  The rest, as they say, is history. God gave Adam and Eve total freedom, but one explicit command: do not eat from the Tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  They will meet Lucifer again in the Garden of Good and Evil, this time as Satan.

Here is my chance to clear up a common misconception: Lucifer and Satan are not actually the same.  Lucifer is a fallen angel—he has a form.  He falls to hell because he is completely unwilling to be subjugated by God and his Son, claiming that angels are “self-begot, self-raised.” Lucifer is dazzling, charismatic, able to rally other angels, arguing that God rules as a tyrant and that all the angels ought to rule as gods.  Lucifer is pure ego, but not the opposite of God, rather a split off, fallen piece of Him.

Satan is a spirit of evil that has lived in the world for thousands of years.  He promises that one day he will make himself visible.  He will be the Beast but proclaim himself God.  He is the opposing resistance to God, the murderer and “father of lies” from the beginning.  Lucifer was perfect until he succumbed…to Satan.

There are certain truths that take a long, long time to unfold—the length of a book, decades of life.  Lucifer was cool, gorgeous, like a rock star or your rich and decadent college roommate. How can the seemingly humble Son of God—or even the admittedly human Buddha compete with such glamour and charisma?  Buddha grew old and sick, according to the legend he was poisoned, in what sense did overcome death and suffering—the tyranny of creation?

This is how: Lucifer degenerates, becomes incoherent, confused, finally slithering off.  The spirit that is Satan has always been portrayed as a serpent, a snake, a dragon—and in the end Lucifer is completely identified with Satan.

This is the fate of addicts.  They don’t age well.  Rock stars usually don’t age well.  Entitled people don’t usually age well.  Lucifer was addicted to his own raging ego, his own pride. He wanted to be the center of his own self-begot world, to rule rather than serve as part of a greater Whole.  He waged war, volunteered to poison the Earth, proved willing to do anything to keep the domain of the self safe, to shore up his bottomless feeling of lack.  The rest, as they say, is history.   The spirit of evil took over.  Lucifer became Satan.  He wasn’t pretty and brilliant anymore.

Years later, working in the first of several Dickensian jobs in publishing, my literary agent boss gave me a ticket to a special show at the New York Public Library.  Among the first editions on display was a tiny threadbare copy of Paradise Lost.  Blind and about 60 years old when it was published, Milton made a whopped twelve British pounds on it in his life time (maybe twenty-four, I forget), but very little money.  He hoped for a few but fit readers.  I was not among them.


9 thoughts on “Lucifer

  1. I’m rather enamored with Rudolf Steiner’s conception of Lucifer and Ahriman as necessary evils, who serve a useful purpose, but must needs be controlled and kept from overstepping their bounds lest they cause chaos among men. One can easily see that this is what happens-too much in any direction and we’re out of balance and out of control-easy prey for the dastardly duo.

    1. Hi Eric, I like the definition of “sin” as missing the mark–ordinary evil happens as we miss the mark, the point of balance. Lucifer degenerated like an addict, falling out of heavenly balance, succumbing to pride, delusion. Just an addict moves from using pills, bottle, pipe, to being used, owned, driven by them, Lucifer moves from drawing on Satan to becoming Satan.

      The question I’ve long carried is about Satan. Is there an extraordinary evil, a spirit of pure evil, not just human or even ecological imbalance? I think there is. What do you think, respected readers?

      1. Both Swedenborg and Ibn Arabi indicated that there is a force of evil; Arabi argued that it was an inverted extrusion of the good, which was necessary in order to give the universe a yardstick for the measurement of good. I haven’t consumed more than a bit of Swedenborg’s entire output (like Arabi’s, it was prodigious) but I suspect he would have agreed.

        Sri Anirvan suggests (Inner Yoga) that all forces end up serving a greater good, at times on scales impossible for mortal beings to sense. In this sense, even evil cannot escape the consequences of creation; all things must serve God’s Will, even when they appear to oppose it. The concept of the Dharma—which encompasses a comprehensive Truth that transcends the question of evil—appears to be a sophisticated way of saying the same thing.

        I think there is such a thing as real evil, which must be opposed: we cannot, as spiritually inclined beings, use abstract philosophical concepts to excuse abuse and violence against others; instead, we have to step up to the plate and manifest a radiant force committed to the good, insofar as we are able to understand it. Whether or not the evil leads to some greater good at some later age or on some higher level is not for us to determine; we must act within the confines and dictates of who we are, where we are, and what is happening.

      2. Thank you, Lee. I agree. We must step up to the plate (and radiate, l love the way that sounds)–even if things trend towards a greater good. And this is a great question–and art–how can we take a stand without contributing to future violence, without making unintended karmic waves? But we have to try, to isolate is also against life.

  2. G. I. Gurdjieff says in “Life is Real Only Then When I Am” that God cast Lucifer out of Heaven in order to have a ‘reminding factor’ which would be constantly working against Him and thus constantly stimulating His awareness. This implies that there is some incompleteness in the World which even God must strive to respond to, for which He needs an outside free input, not controlled by Him. This seems also related to Gurdjieff’s explanation of the Law of Three, where there is always needed a ‘Holy Denying’ force as well as the ‘Holy Affirming’ and ‘Holy Reconciling’ in order for a real transformation (a new creation or growth not just a rearrangement of existing elements) to occur.

  3. I grew up with a clergy father who read the Bible more figuratively than literally, he loved the poetry of it all. As I small child I once asked him about heaven and hell, I may have been concerned for doing something wrong or just curious. I am still curious even now.

    With great love he look at me and smiled and in his mid-20th century vocabulary tried to explain it as a metaphor, simply, in these words.

    Heaven is where God is, and Hell is where He is not. In a way, it was a moment of enlightenment, an epiphany even, simply because I knew then an there that he was talking about the heart and mind, and not about a physical place. I knew it was up to me, more than it was up to God, but that God would always be there waiting, as a divine mystery to discover.

    I can see evil at work within the world, clearly. I can also see love and great compassion at work within the world too, the gift of the Holy Spirit actively at work within the world. The Spirit of God’s love, or God as Love moving throughout creation. So, if I were to name that which saves us, as in salvation, I would name it love.

    Still, at the sometime I can hold onto to these word of both the Buddha and Jesus too, as words of salvation and great grace and compassion, of wisdom too, mixing my metaphors.

    The Buddha –
    “We are what we think.
    All that we are arises with our thoughts.
    With our thoughts we make the world.
    Speak or act with a pure mind
    And happiness will follow you
    As your shadow, unbreakable.”

    Jesus –
    Luke 17: 20-21: And when the Pharisees had demanded of Him when the Kingdom of God should come, He answered them and said, “The Kingdom of God cometh not with outward show. Neither shall they say, `Lo, it is here!’ or `Lo, it is there!’ For behold, the Kingdom of God is within you.”

    John 14:26-27 and Romans 8:26-27, tell us: “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” … “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”

    When I sit in meditation, I think of both the peace of the Buddha and the peace of Christ. There is an indwelling of them both taking place within me, dwelling within me, at work within. God in action, God as a Verb working from the inside out. I feel this in the celebration of the Eucharist as well, that real presence of Christ touching me at the hidden levels of the soul-self. There is also an acceptance at work here too, a personal acceptance, a knowing, that God loves me and that I am on a path that leads to a deeper understanding of this mystery. We all are, we travel this path together, we dwell within one another.

    You may call it Inter-Being (Thich Nhat Hanh) – dependent arising, Pratītyasamutpāda in Sanskrit, or Perichoresis (peri-kor-es-is) in Christian thought; they are both fingers pointing at the moon.


    1. excuse the misspelled words and bad grammar – it is 5am here and i am not quite awake or have fat fingers – and i am typing in the dark as well – literally, i forgot to turning on the light – and the print on this screen is very small …. LOL

    2. I like the turn of the phrase “heaven is where God is, hell is where He is not”. That in-dwelling makes our heaven or hell, allows us, or empowers us in making our moral choices to do good or not. The phrases from Buddha and Jesus are apt as well, that who we are and how we act grow out of the essence of our inner being. It truly is what lights our path.

      Still, there are times when even with the best of intentions, our actions “miss the mark” and hurt results, both to self and others. Maybe this is all part of our human condition, we need to dust ourselves off and get back up to the plate, a little stronger and a little wiser.

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