The movie “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” got me thinking about the many different origin stories of my favorite superhero: Satan.
The 2018 animated film functions as an origin story for Miles Morales, the successor to Peter Parker in the role of Spider-Man. The central plot revolves around a supercollider built by scientist Olivia Octavius for the evil super-villain The Kingpin. The device generates vortex in space-time that creates an intersection between parallel universes, which of course is very unstable and dangerous and could destroy everything. Peter Parker tries to stop the villain’s evil scheme during a test-run of the machine, and ends up being killed… but during the course of the battle he interacts with the space-time vortex in a way that has the side-effect of pulling (pushing? throwing? folding?) five other Spider-Man Equivalents from five parallel universes into this universe. They team up with Miles Morales, a boy from our universe who was recently bitten by a radioactive spider thus making him destined to be Parker’s successor, to shut down the Kingpin’s machine whilst getting themselves back into their own universes in the process.
The movie is brilliant and funny and a technical masterpiece of animation. I highly recommend it. The use of the parallel universe trope also allows it to be self-consciously tongue-in-cheek about its role within the greater graphic novel literary genre. More specifically: there are a lot of “origin story” jokes.
The movie starts with Peter Parker’s origin story, narrated in voice-over, which begins: “My name is Peter Parker. I was bitten by a radioactive spider, And for ten years, I’ve been the one and only Spider-Man.” Over the course of the movie, they go through a quick summary narration of the origin story of every one of the Spider-people from the parallel universes. Of course, they all start with the template: “My name is _____. I was bitten by a radioactive ______, and for ___ years, I’ve been the one and only Spider-_____.”
It is fun and playful (pay close attention to all of the gags in the origin stories of the cartoon pig and anime versions of Spider-Man); but it also allows the storytelling to highlight what features of Peter Parker’s origin story are considered critical to the Spider-Man mythos (i.e. what elements are present across the origin stories from all of the universes) and what are incidental.
Moreover, true to the cultural moment we are living through in 2019, the origin story of Miles Morales is probably the most gritty, conflicted and heart-wrenching of them all. Spider-Man Noir, the Depression-Era Spider-Man who wears a trench coat and a fedora (drawn in black-and-white, of course), even breaks the fourth wall during the movie to comment on this: “Woah, this is a pretty hardcore origin story.”
The Amazing Satan
Have you ever noticed that Judeo-Christian mythological tradition has multiple, contradictory “origin stories” for Lucifer, the Fallen Angel? I’m not even considering, for the moment, all of the variant demonized gods in other religions that seem closely related to (and either inspiration for, or inspired by) the Abrahamic Satanael. I’m just talking about the many “origin stories” for The Devil that appear in Judaic, Proto-Christian, and early Christian texts over the centuries.
Now that I’ve watched “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse“, I’m afraid I can’t help it: I totally now think of these different mythologies as the origin stories for parallel-universe versions of the same superhero.
“My name is Lucifer, and since the second day of creation, I have been the one and only Satan.”
The second book of Enoch (also called The Slavonic Book of Enoch, thought to date back to somewhere in the first century C.E.) has a section (starting with Chapter 24) where God sits both Enoch and archangel Gabriel down to tell them the really detailed story of creation. Much of it follows the traditional “first seven days” paradigm you see in the first chapter of Genesis, but it really gets into the nitty-gritty.
The really fun bit comes in the description of Day 2. Chapter 28 ends with “Thus I made fast the firmament. This day I called me the first-created.” Chapter 30 begins with “On the third day I commanded the earth to make grow great and fruitful trees…” So we know that Chapter 29 is all about Day 2 of creation.
Here is Chapter 29:
And for all the heavenly troops I imaged the image and essence of fire, and my eye looked at the very hard, firm rock, and from the gleam of my eye the lightning received its wonderful nature, (which) is both fire in water and water in fire, and one does not put out the other, nor does the one dry up the other, therefore the lightning is brighter than the sun, softer than water and firmer than hard rock.
And from the rock I cut off a great fire, and from the fire I created the orders of the incorporeal ten troops of angels, and their weapons are fiery and their raiment a burning flame, and I commanded that each one should stand in his order.
And one from out the order of angels, having turned away with the order that was under him, conceived an impossible thought, to place his throne higher than the clouds above the earth, that he might become equal in rank to my power.
And I threw him out from the height with his angels, and he was flying in the air continuously above the bottomless.
This is the standard story of Lucifer we all have heard about: He was an angel, he wanted equal rights (“equal in rank to my power”), and for that terrible sin he was cast out into the bottomless pit of hell.
All of this happened on Day 2 of creation.
“My name is Diabolus, and since the sixth day of creation, I have been the one and only Satan.”
There is another mythological text that dates back to around the same time period, called The Life of Adam and Eve, which describes in detail stuff that happened to Adam and Eve after they were expelled from the Garden of Eden. In one part, the Devil shows up again to tempt Eve, and tricks her again into sinning. And Adam is all “What’s your problem, man? Why are you like this?”
And the Devil (chapters 12-16) explains this way:
And the devil sighed and said, “O Adam, all my enmity and envy and sorrow concern you, since because of you I am expelled and deprived of my glory which I had in the heavens in the midst of angels, and because of you I was cast out onto the earth.” Adam answered, “What have I done to you, and what is my blame with you? Since you are neither harmed nor hurt by us, why do you pursue us?”
The devil replied, “Adam, what are you telling me? It is because of you that I have been thrown out of here. When you were created, I was cast out from the presence of God and was sent out from the fellowship of the angels. When God blew into you the breath of life and your countenance and likeness were made in the image of God, Michael brought you and made (us) worship you in the sight of God, and the LORD God said, “Behold Adam! I have made you in our image and likeness.”
And Michael went out and called all the angels, saying, “Worship the image of the LORD God, as the LORD God has instructed.” And Michael himself worshiped first, and called me and said, “Worship the image of God, Yahweh.” And I answered, “I do not worship Adam.” And when Michael kept forcing me to worship, I said to him, “Why do you compel me? I will not worship one inferior and subsequent to me. I am prior to him in creation; before he was made, I was already made. He ought to worship me.”
When they heard this, other angels who were under me refused to worship him.
And Michael asserted, “Worship the image of God. But if now you will not worship, the LORD God will be wrathful with you.” And I said, “If he be wrathful with me, I will set my throne above the stars of heaven and will be like the Most High.”
And the LORD God was angry with me and sent me with my angels out from our glory; and because of you, we were expelled into this world from our dwellings and have been cast onto the earth. And immediately we were made to grieve, since we had been deprived of so great glory. And we were pained to see you in such bliss of delights. So with deceit I assailed your wife and made you to be expelled through her from the joys of your bliss, as I have been expelled from my glory.
This is another standard story that we often hear, and a variant of it also appears as the story of Iblis in Islamic mythology. In this origin story, Satan is cast to earth rather than being cast into a bottomless pit, and the motivation for him being thrown out of heaven was that he refused to bow down to Adam.
Now, we know from this and other texts that Adam was created on the Sixth day.
So in this origin story, The Fall must have happened on Day 6 of creation.
“My name is Beliar, I was made from fire, and since some point after Eden was created, I’ve been the one and only Satan.”
In a Christian text from around the fifth century C.E. called “Questions of Bartholomew”, the apostles asked Jesus about Beliar (Satan), and so naturally Jesus calls him up from hell for a little Q&A.
He tells the story of his expulsion from Heaven this way:
I was going to and fro in the world, and God said unto Michael: Bring me a clod from the four corners of the earth, and water out of the four rivers of paradise. And when Michael brought them God formed Adam in the regions of the east, and shaped the clod which was shapeless, and stretched sinews and veins upon it and established it with Joints; and he worshipped him, himself for his own sake first, because he was the image of God, therefore he worshipped him.
And when I came from the ends of the earth Michael said: Worship thou the image of God, which he hath made according to his likeness. But I said: I am fire of fire, I was the first angel formed, and shall worship clay and matter?
And Michael saith to me: Worship, lest God be wroth with thee. But I said to him: God will not be wroth with me; but I will set my throne over against his throne, and I will be as he is. Then was God wroth with me and cast me down, having commanded the windows of heaven to be opened.
And when I was cast down, he asked also the six hundred that were under me, if they would worship: but they said: Like as we have seen the first angel do, neither will we worship him that is less than ourselves. Then were the six hundred also cast down by him with me.
And when we were cast down upon the earth we were senseless for forty years, and when the sun shone forth seven times brighter than fire, suddenly I awaked; and I looked about and saw the six hundred that were under me senseless.
And I awaked my son Salpsan and took him to counsel how I might deceive the man on whose account I was cast out of the heavens.
And thus did I contrive it. I took fig leaves in my hands and wiped the sweat from my bosom and below mine arms and cast it down beside the streams of waters, in the springs of the waters whence the four rivers flow out, and Eve drank of it and desire came upon her: for if she had not drunk of that water I should not have been able to deceive her.
Similar to the previous origin story, Satan’s origin story in this parallel universe has him being cast out of heaven for not worshiping Adam. This one has some new details, however. In this one, Satan is said to have been the very first of the angels, made from fire!
But when God created Adam, Satan was not in heaven …. he was just kind of chilling out on earth (“going to and fro in the world”), and had to take time to literally travel back “from the ends of the earth” before archangel Michael could command him to worship Adam. I bet he wishes he’d just stayed on vacation.
Another interesting tid-bit here is that Satan has a son, named Salpsan, who helped him figure out the best way to get vengeance on humanity.
So the real question is, in the parallel universe with the Satan who has this origin story… does Salpsan have a spin-off comic of his own?