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Home > Catholic Encyclopedia > D > Devil Worship

Devil Worship

The meaning of this compound term is sufficiently obvious, for all must be familiar with the significance of its two component parts. But the thing denoted by the name is by no means so easy to understand. For there is such a strange startling incompatibility between the notion of devil and that of an object of worship, that the combination in this case may well present a grave difficulty. And the more we are able to understand about the character and history of the Devil and about the true nature of worship, the more difficult is it to believe that men can have been led, even in the utmost extremity of folly and wickedness, to worship the Devil. Yet, incredible as it may seem, it is unfortunately true that some worship of this kind has prevailed at many times and among widely different races of mankind. The following considerations may help in some degree to lighten the difficulty presented by this singular phenomenon.

In the first place it may be well to recall the analogy between the worship given to a divine being and the tribute paid to a king. Both alike are sensible proofs of service and subjection. In the case of kings, besides the willing service paid to a just and legitimate sovereign, there may be tribute paid to some alien oppressors or blackmail grudgingly given to some pirate Chief or marauder in order to deprecate the evils that may be feared at his hands. And so in the case of religious worship, we may find that in the rude polytheism of barbarous races, where the gods were not only many in number but various in character, besides the willing worship given to good and beneficent beings in the service of love and gratitude, there is a sort of liturgical blackmail offered to the evil and malignant gods or demons in order to placate them and avert their anger. In like manner, when we pass from Polytheism to the philosophic Dualism--where the worlds of light and darkness, good and evil, sharply defined, are constantly warring against each other over against the good men, who offer worship to the good god, Ahura Mazda, there are the wicked Daeva-worshippers who sacrifice to the Demons and to Ahriman their chief, the principle of evil.

Another source of this strange worship may be found in the fact that in the early days each nation had its own natural gods; hence racial rivalry and hatred sometimes led one nation to regard the protecting divinities of its enemies as evil demons. In this way many who merely worshipped gods whom they themselves regarded as good beings would be called devil worshippers by men of other nations. Such may be the case with the Daeva-worshippers in the Avesta. In the same way the Greeks and Romans may have worshipped their divinities, fondly believing them to be good. But the Christian Scriptures declare that all the gods of the Gentiles are demons.

This declaration, it may be added, was not the utterance of a rival race but the teaching of Holy Scripture. For as the Fathers and theologians explain the matter, the fallen angels besides tempting and assailing men in other ways have, by working on their fears or exciting their cupidity, brought them to give worship to themselves under the guise of idols. If not in all cases, it would seem that much of the heathen idolatrous worship, especially in its worst and most degraded forms, was offered to the devils. This may explain some of the manifestations in the old pagan oracles. And something of the same kind occurs in the demonic manifestations among the modern demonolaters in India. Nor has this been confined to heathen nations, for in connection with magical practices and occultism some forms of devil worship appear in the heresy history of medieval Europe. Görres, in his great work on Christian Mysticism, gives some curious and repulsive details of their obscene ceremonial. Of late years there seems to have been a recrudescence of this evil superstition in certain countries of Europe. While there is some authentic evidence as to the existence of these evil practices, the truth is overlaid with a mass of legend, many charges of this kind are false or grossly exaggerated, and a number of innocent persons have been cruelly put to death on charges of witchcraft or devil worship. It is well also to remember St. Augustine's words: "Non uno modo sacrificatur traditoribus angelis"; and possibly calumny and cruelty may be more dangerous forms of devil worship than all the dark rites of African medicine men or medieval magicians.

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APA citation. Kent, W. (1908). Devil Worship. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04767a.htm

MLA citation. Kent, William. "Devil Worship." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04767a.htm>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Rick McCarty.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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