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The origins of Satan and related figures are complex. The word satan itself simply means "adversary" in Hebrew; in his earlier manifestations as Lucifer, the "Light-Bearer," who rebelled against God and was cast out of heaven (cf. Isaiah 14: 12–15), he is not unlike the Greek figure Prometheus, albeit negatively valued. However, as the Zoroastrian theology of evil incarnate came to permeate post-exile Judaism, the Rebel evolved into a full-fledged evil adversary, in effect a malevolent twin of Yahweh who presided over the corrupt world of the senses.

Several centuries later, this evolution was greatly facilitated by the emergence of Gnosticism (from Greek gnosis, "knowledge"), a heretical movement that emerged in Alexandria and elsewhere in the early years of the common era. Gnosticism held that the mortal realm was created by a fool called the Demiurge, a corrupt if not totally malevolent pseudo-deity the Gnostics identified with the God of the Old Testament. This rejection of God linked Manichaeism to Gnosticism, but for the Gnostics the "real" world, that is, the world of the senses, was evil, and their goal in life was to escape it and return to the Pleroma, or "Fullness," a light-filled spiritual realm that was the antithesis of corrupt mortality. These ideas, although roundly condemned by the early church fathers, from Athanasius to Augustine, lingered on and reappeared in the twelfth century in southern France in the Cathay heresy, which was brutally suppressed during the infamous Albigensian Crusade (1208). It was out of this heretical crucible, which also came to include the "pagan" witchcraft beliefs that incited such intense persecutions between the mid-thirteenth century and the end of the seventeenth century, that Satanism as we know it today emerged. Indeed, the idea that a divine adversary who governs the sensate world is the "true" god still persists in cults such as the late Anton Szandor LaVey's (1930–1997) Church of Satan, founded in San Francisco in 1966, and the Temple of Set, founded in 1975 by Michael Acquino (b. 1946). The idea that people are susceptible to possession by demons persists in the Roman Catholic ritual of exorcism, so graphically depicted in the film The Exorcist (1973).

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Cyanohydrins to Departments of philosophy:Demonology - Osiris And Seth, Ahura Mazda And Angra Mainyu, Satanism, Non-western Demonology, She-devils And Female Demons