The Divine and Demonic Absurdity of Names

The divine and demonic absurdity of names.

This was a topic raised elsewhere, but I want to highlight it here while also avoiding getting into anything which could be construed as personal with people I respect.

Astaroth and Astarte are completely different beings.

It is historically correct that the name Astaroth (a male, aggressive demon) was probably derived from Astarte (a female, seductive goddess.) This was also obviously done to defame Astarte and eliminate competition. That does not mean that under the mask of a nasty, aggressive soul-eating monster there is a friendly sex goddess waiting to be your nekkid playmate on the astral plane.

Perhaps your experiences diverge from mine, but with respect I think you’re being conned. Demons are dishonest bastards. They invented lying. After a few trillion years of practice, they’re quite good at it too.

I think it’s entirely likely that an ancient nameless parasitic entity took the opportunity of the name variance to absorb offerings given to Astarte to set itself up as the demon Astaroth. Sometimes you try to order Dominos over the phone and get one digit off by one and end up talking to a strange guy in a Utah call center. People also sometimes acquire calls from the prior owner’s pals when they get a new phone number.

A name is sometimes just a name, just like your phone number is usually an arbitrary number. My old phone number used to spell out (201) TED-BUNG. I am not Ted. I am not Ted Bung. Nor do I know anyone named this. This is arbitrary information.

Now, this whole Astorath = Astarte thing begins to fall apart pretty rapidly under inspection. And that’s what I want to talk about.

Firstly, it wasn’t just ancient gods being turned into demons as a means of Christian defamation of pagan religions. Many ancient gods were turned into saints and angels. Hermes was an angelos ton theon, a messenger of the gods. Ficino and the Renaissance Neoplatonists thought all of the benevolent pagan gods were probably archangels who had been misunderstood, but they didn’t come up with that idea themselves. Brigid became Saint Brigit; you know that drill. This shatters the notion that there was a concerted effort to demonize all pagan gods. Pagan gods of noble virtues who made sense as angels were cast as angels or the holy dead, and the gods who demanded human sacrifice and orgiastic behavior were the ones who were thought to have led mankind astray and thus were demons.

However, it wasn’t just the Christians doing this. The pagan polytheists attempted to redefine foreign gods as beings in their own local pantheons. And some of this was just bonkers.

The Romans identified Venus with the Greek Aphrodite, but virtually anyone who has studied the Classics knows that there were huge differences between the two goddesses. There were also numerous local versions of both goddesses with pretty variable attributes. We all know by now that Zeus had many epithets but these were often understood to be distinctive beings. Venus was also associated with the goddess Ishtar and she with Inanna, but while the latter two were thought to be the planetary Venus the Romans only transferred the name Venus to signify the planet but didn’t believe the planet was the actual goddess. A name for Venus was Lucifer, and yes some early Christians thought the connection wasn’t accidental either.

It gets crazier.

Osiris was identified with Dionysius. Both were identified with Jesus by Hellenistic pagans. That may have been wishful thinking. It should be obvious that a castrated god of vegetation, a feral god of drunken underworld antics, and a magic Rabbi who got executed have precious little in common. Yet many believed they did.

This one isn’t discussed a lot; the pretty boy god Adonis and the Hebrew Adonai are the same guy if you go back far enough. But the Jewish version doesn’t even have an appearance at all, doesn’t get killed by a giant pig (though that might explain why I’m not supposed to eat bacon), and isn’t in a polyamorous relationship with Aphrodite and Persephone– though He’d probably win points with me if He did. Can we switch back? Never mind.

Here’s another one. The Egyptian god Aten– the semi-monotheistic Sun god that Akhenaten was so into– was identified in the ancient world as Athena, wisdom goddess and patroness of Athens. And Aten was probably Jehovah, or the inspiration for Him. So Jehovah is Athena. So, owls.

I may be hurting you. I’m sorry. Not enough lube?

Alexander’s parentage opens the door to another wacky conflation. He claimed to be the son of Amun, the Egyptian Sun god. One of them, anyway. (They had a lot of Sun gods, didn’t they?) In Greece that became Zeus instead, though in the form of a snake banging his mom. Because Zeus was the original furry. He deserves credit for that. And then Amun later became a demon Amon. Who is also evoked in Amen, in prayers.

Do you need a hug? I won’t turn into anything weird, I promise.

My point is actually very simple. Don’t trust these identifications. Don’t trust these appropriations. They were all done for political reasons and the names we use to call up a spirit, god, demon or whatever depend enormously on context. None of that shit is unique like DNA.

Because if you’re going to be stupid about this, it means every time you say “Amen” you’re giving a shout-out to a demon.

That is absurd. Use your brain.

The spiritual universe is almost certainly full of beings of immense power. It behoves you to figure out who you are actually talking to, but also whether they’re your awesome super pal, a nut, a sneaky brain-eater, or just a cosmic heroin pusher. The books of history, mythology and theology will only get you so far.

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