Lucifer (UK: /ˈluːsɪfər/ LOO-si-fər; US: /-sə-/; ‘light-bringer’, corresponding to the Greek name Ἑωσφόρος, ‘dawn-bringer’, for the same planet) is a Latin name for the planet Venus in its morning appearances and is often used for mythological and religious figures associated with the planet.
Due to the unique movements and discontinuous appearances of Venus in the sky, mythology surrounding these figures often involved a fall from the heavens to earth or the underworld. Interpretations of a similar term in the Hebrew Bible, translated in the King James Version as “Lucifer”, led to a Christian tradition of applying the name Lucifer, and its associated stories of a fall from heaven, to Satan. Most modern scholarship regards these interpretations as questionable and translates the term in the relevant Bible passage (Isaiah 14:12) as “morning star” or “shining one” rather than as a proper name “Lucifer”.
As a name for the Devil, the more common meaning in English, “Lucifer” is the rendering of the Hebrew word הֵילֵל (transliteration: hêylêl; pronunciation: hay-lale) in Isaiah (Isaiah 14:12) given in the King James Version of the Bible. The translators of this version took the word from the Latin Vulgate, which translated הֵילֵל by the Latin word lucifer (uncapitalized), meaning “the morning star, the planet Venus”, or, as an adjective, “light-bringing”.
As a name for the planet in its morning aspect, “Lucifer” (Light-Bringer) is a proper name and is capitalized in English. In Greco-Roman civilization, it was often personified and considered a god and in some versions considered a son of Aurora (the Dawn). A similar name used by the Roman poet Catullus for the planet in its evening aspect is “Noctifer” (Night-Bringer).
Fall from heaven
The motif of a heavenly being striving for the highest seat of heaven only to be cast down to the underworld has its origins in the motions of the planet Venus, known as the morning star.
The Sumerian goddess Inanna (Babylonian Ishtar) is associated with the planet Venus, and Inanna’s actions in several of her myths, including Inanna and Shukaletuda and Inanna’s Descent into the Underworld appear to parallel the motion of Venus as it progresses through its synodic cycle.
A similar theme is present in the Babylonian myth of Etana. The Jewish Encyclopedia comments:
“The brilliancy of the morning star, which eclipses all other stars, but is not seen during the night, may easily have given rise to a myth such as was told of Ethana and Zu: he was led by his pride to strive for the highest seat among the star-gods on the northern mountain of the gods … but was hurled down by the supreme ruler of the Babylonian Olympus.”
The fall from heaven motif also has a parallel in Canaanite mythology. In ancient Canaanite religion, the morning star is personified as the god Attar, who attempted to occupy the throne of Ba’al and, finding he was unable to do so, descended and ruled the underworld. The original myth may have been about a lesser god Helel trying to dethrone the Canaanite high god El who lived on a mountain to the north. Hermann Gunkel’s reconstruction of the myth told of a mighty warrior called Hêlal, whose ambition was to ascend higher than all the other stellar divinities, but who had to descend to the depths; it thus portrayed as a battle the process by which the bright morning star fails to reach the highest point in the sky before being faded out by the rising sun. However, the Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible argues that no evidence has been found of any Canaanite myth or imagery of a god being forcibly thrown from heaven, as in the Book of Isaiah. It argues that the closest parallels with Isaiah’s description of the king of Babylon as a fallen morning star cast down from heaven are to be found not in Canaanite myths but in traditional ideas of the Jewish people, echoed in the Biblical account of the fall of Adam and Eve, cast out of God’s presence for wishing to be as God, and the picture in Psalm 82 of the “gods” and “sons of the Most High” destined to die and fall. This Jewish tradition has echoes also in Jewish pseudepigrapha such as 2 Enoch and the Life of Adam and Eve. The Life of Adam and Eve, in turn, shaped the idea of Iblis in the Quran.
The Greek myth of Phaethon, a personification of the planet Jupiter, follows a similar pattern.
In classical mythology
In classical mythology, Lucifer (“light-bringer” in Latin) was the name of the planet Venus, though it was often personified as a male figure bearing a torch. The Greek name for this planet was variously Phosphoros (also meaning “light-bringer”) or Heosphoros (meaning “dawn-bringer”). Lucifer was said to be “the fabled son of Aurora and Cephalus, and father of Ceyx”. He was often presented in poetry as heralding the dawn.
The Latin word corresponding to Greek “Phosphoros” is “Lucifer”. It is used in its astronomical sense both in prose and poetry. Poets sometimes personify the star, placing it in a mythological context.
Lucifer’s mother Aurora is cognate to the Vedic goddess Ushas, Lithuanian goddess Aušrinė, and Greek Eos, all three of whom are also goddesses of the dawn. All four are considered derivatives of the Proto-Indo-European stem *h₂ewsṓs (later *Ausṓs), “dawn”, a stem that also gave rise to Proto-Germanic *Austrō, Old Germanic *Ōstara and Old English Ēostre / Ēastre. This agreement leads to the reconstruction of a Proto-Indo-European dawn goddess.
The second-century Roman mythographer Pseudo-Hyginus said of the planet:
“The fourth star is that of Venus, Luciferus by name. Some say it is Juno’s. In many tales it is recorded that it is called Hesperus, too. It seems to be the largest of all stars. Some have said it represents the son of Aurora and Cephalus, who surpassed many in beauty, so that he even vied with Venus, and, as Eratosthenes says, for this reason it is called the star of Venus. It is visible both at dawn and sunset, and so properly has been called both Luciferus and Hesperus.”
Ovid, in his first-century epic Metamorphoses, describes Lucifer as ordering the heavens:
“Aurora, watchful in the reddening dawn, threw wide her crimson doors and rose-filled halls; the Stellae took flight, in marshaled order set by Lucifer who left his station last.”
The Latin poet Ovid, speaking of Phosphorus and Hesperus (the Evening Star, the evening appearance of the planet Venus) as identical, makes him the father of Daedalion. Ovid also makes him the father of Ceyx, while the Latin grammarian Servius makes him the father of the Hesperides or of Hesperis.
In the classical Roman period, Lucifer was not typically regarded as a deity and had few, if any, myths, though the planet was associated with various deities and often poetically personified. Cicero pointed out that “You say that Sol the Sun and Luna the Moon are deities, and the Greeks identify the former with Apollo and the latter with Diana. But if Luna (the Moon) is a goddess, then Lucifer (the Morning-Star) also and the rest of the Wandering Stars (Stellae Errantes) will have to be counted gods; and if so, then the Fixed Stars (Stellae Inerrantes) as well.”
In the Book of Isaiah, chapter 14, the king of Babylon is condemned in a prophetic vision by the prophet Isaiah and is called הֵילֵל בֶּן-שָׁחַר (Helel ben Shachar, Hebrew for “shining one, son of the morning”). who is addressed as הילל בן שחר (Hêlêl ben Šāḥar), The title “Helel ben Shahar” refers to the planet Venus as the morning star, and that is how the Hebrew word is usually interpreted. The Hebrew word transliterated as Hêlêl or Heylel (pron. as Hay-LALE), occurs only once in the Hebrew Bible. The Septuagint renders הֵילֵל in Greek as Ἑωσφόρος (heōsphoros), “bringer of dawn”, the Ancient Greek name for the morning star. Similarly the Vulgate renders הֵילֵל in Latin as Lucifer, the name in that language for the morning star. According to the King James Bible-based Strong’s Concordance, the original Hebrew word means “shining one, light-bearer”, and the English translation given in the King James text is the Latin name for the planet Venus, “Lucifer”, as it was already in the Wycliffe Bible.
However, the translation of הֵילֵל as “Lucifer” has been abandoned in modern English translations of Isaiah 14:12. Present-day translations render הֵילֵל as “morning star” (New International Version, New Century Version, New American Standard Bible, Good News Translation, Holman Christian Standard Bible, Contemporary English Version, Common English Bible, Complete Jewish Bible), “daystar” (New Jerusalem Bible, The Message), “Day Star” (New Revised Standard Version, English Standard Version), “shining one” (New Life Version, New World Translation, JPS Tanakh), or “shining star” (New Living Translation).
In a modern translation from the original Hebrew, the passage in which the phrase “Lucifer” or “morning star” occurs begins with the statement: “On the day the Lord gives you relief from your suffering and turmoil and from the harsh labour forced on you, you will take up this taunt against the king of Babylon: How the oppressor has come to an end! How his fury has ended!” After describing the death of the king, the taunt continues:
How you have fallen from heaven, morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations! You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to the heavens; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of Mount Zaphon. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’ But you are brought down to the realm of the dead, to the depths of the pit. Those who see you stare at you, they ponder your fate: ‘Is this the man who shook the earth and made kingdoms tremble, the man who made the world a wilderness, who overthrew its cities and would not let his captives go home?’
J. Carl Laney has pointed out that in the final verses here quoted, the king of Babylon is described not as a god or an angel but as a man, and that man may have been not Nebuchadnezzar II, but rather his son, Belshazzar. Nebuchadnezzar was gripped by a spiritual fervor to build a temple to the moon god Sin, and his son ruled as regent. The Abrahamic scriptural texts could be interpreted as a weak usurping of true kingly power, and a taunt at the failed regency of Belshazzar.
For the unnamed “king of Babylon” a wide range of identifications have been proposed. They include a Babylonian ruler of the prophet Isaiah’s own time the later Nebuchadnezzar II, under whom the Babylonian captivity of the Jews began, or Nabonidus, and the Assyrian kings Tiglath-Pileser, Sargon II and Sennacherib. Verse 20 says that this king of Babylon will not be “joined with them [all the kings of the nations] in burial, because thou hast destroyed thy land, thou hast slain thy people; the seed of evildoers shall not be named for ever”, but rather be cast out of the grave, while “All the kings of the nations, all of them, sleep in glory, everyone in his own house”. Herbert Wolf held that the “king of Babylon” was not a specific ruler but a generic representation of the whole line of rulers.
Isaiah 14:12 became a source for the popular conception of the fallen angel motif seen later in 1 Enoch 86–90 and 2 Enoch 29:3–4. Rabbinical Judaism has rejected any belief in rebel or fallen angels. In the 11th century, the Pirkei De-Rabbi Eliezer illustrates the origin of the “fallen angel myth” by giving two accounts, one relates to the angel in the Garden of Eden who seduces Eve, and the other relates to the angels, the benei elohim who cohabit with the daughters of man (Genesis 6:1–4). An association of Isaiah 14:12–18 with a personification of evil, called the devil developed outside of mainstream Rabbinic Judaism in pseudepigrapha and Christian writings, particularly with the apocalypses.
As Satan or the devil
Some Christian writers have applied the name “Lucifer” as used in the Book of Isaiah, and the motif of a heavenly being cast down to the earth, to Satan. Sigve K Tonstad argues that the New Testament War in Heaven theme of Revelation 12 (Revelation 12:7–9), in which the dragon “who is called the devil and Satan … was thrown down to the earth”, was derived from the passage about the Babylonian king in Isaiah 14. Origen (184/185 – 253/254) interpreted such Old Testament passages as being about manifestations of the devil; but writing in Greek, not Latin, he did not identify the devil with the name “Lucifer”. Origen was not the first to interpret the Isaiah 14 passage as referring to the devil: he was preceded by at least Tertullian (c. 160 – c. 225), who in his Adversus Marcionem (book 5, chapters 11 and 27) twice presents as spoken by the devil the words of Isaiah 14:14: “I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High”. Though Tertullian was a speaker of the language in which the word “lucifer” was created, “Lucifer” is not among the numerous names and phrases he used to describe the devil. Even at the time of the Latin writer Augustine of Hippo (354–430), a contemporary of the composition of the Vulgate, “Lucifer” had not yet become a common name for the devil.
Some time later, the metaphor of the morning star that Isaiah 14:12 applied to a king of Babylon gave rise to the general use of the Latin word for “morning star”, capitalized, as the original name of the devil before his fall from grace, linking Isaiah 14:12 with Luke 10 (Luke 10:18) (“I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven”) and interpreting the passage in Isaiah as an allegory of Satan’s fall from heaven.
As a result, “Lucifer has become a byword for Satan or the devil in the church and in popular literature”, as in Dante Alighieri’s Inferno, Joost van den Vondel’s Lucifer, and John Milton’s Paradise Lost. However, unlike the English word, the Latin word was not used exclusively in this way and was applied to others also, including Jesus: the Latin (Vulgate) text of Revelation 22:16 (where English translations refer to Jesus as “the bright morning star”) has stella matutina, not lucifer, but the term lucifer is applied to Jesus in the Easter Exultet and in a hymn by Hilary of Poitiers that contains the phrase: “Tu verus mundi lucifer” (You are the true light bringer of the world).
Adherents of the King James Only movement and others who hold that Isaiah 14:12 does indeed refer to the devil have decried the modern translations. An opposing view attributes to Origen the first identification of the “Lucifer” of Isaiah 14:12 with the devil and to Tertullian and Augustine of Hippo the spread of the story of Lucifer as fallen through pride, envy of God and jealousy of humans.
However, the understanding of the morning star in Isaiah 14:12 as a metaphor referring to a king of Babylon continued also to exist among Christians. Theodoret of Cyrus (c. 393 – c. 457) wrote that Isaiah calls the king “morning star”, not as being the star, but as having had the illusion of being it. The same understanding is shown in Christian translations of the passage, which in English generally use “morning star” rather than treating the word as a proper name, “Lucifer”. So too in other languages, such as French, German, Portuguese, and Spanish. Even the Vulgate text in Latin is printed with lower-case lucifer (morning star), not upper-case Lucifer (proper name).
John Calvin said: “The exposition of this passage, which some have given, as if it referred to Satan, has arisen from ignorance: for the context plainly shows these statements must be understood in reference to the king of the Babylonians.” Martin Luther also considered it a gross error to refer this verse to the devil.
In the Bogomil and Cathar text Gospel of the secret supper, Lucifer is a glorified angel and the older brother of Jesus, but fell from heaven to establish his own kingdom and became the Demiurge. Therefore, he created the material world and trapped souls from heaven inside matter. Jesus descended to earth to free the captured souls. In contrast to mainstream Christianity, the cross was denounced as a symbol of Lucifer and his instrument in an attempt to kill Jesus.
Lucifer is regarded within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the premortal name of the devil. Mormon theology teaches that in a heavenly council, Lucifer rebelled against the plan of God the Father and was subsequently cast out. The Church’s scripture reads:
“And this we saw also, and bear record, that an angel of God who was in authority in the presence of God, who rebelled against the Only Begotten Son whom the Father loved and who was in the bosom of the Father, was thrust down from the presence of God and the Son, and was called Perdition, for the heavens wept over him—he was Lucifer, a son of the morning. And we beheld, and lo, he is fallen! is fallen, even a son of the morning! And while we were yet in the Spirit, the Lord commanded us that we should write the vision; for we beheld Satan, that old serpent, even the devil, who rebelled against God, and sought to take the kingdom of our God and his Christ—Wherefore, he maketh war with the saints of God, and encompasseth them roundabout.”
After becoming Satan by his fall, Lucifer “goeth up and down, to and fro in the earth, seeking to destroy the souls of men”. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints consider Isaiah 14:12 to be referring to both the king of the Babylonians and the devil.
Uses unrelated to the notion of a fallen angel
See also: Biblical apocrypha, New Testament apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, and Second Temple Judaism
Other instances of lucifer in the Old Testament pseudepigrapha are related to the “star” Venus, in the Sibylline Oracles battle of the constellations (line 517) “Lucifer fought mounted on the back of Leo”, or the entirely rewritten Christian version of the Greek Apocalypse of Ezra 4:32 which has a reference to Lucifer as Antichrist.
Isaiah 14:12 is not the only place where the Vulgate uses the word lucifer. It uses the same word four more times, in contexts where it clearly has no reference to a fallen angel: 2 Peter 1:19 (meaning “morning star”), Job 11:17 (“the light of the morning”), Job 38:32 (“the signs of the zodiac”) and Psalms 110:3 (“the dawn”). Lucifer is not the only expression that the Vulgate uses to speak of the morning star: three times it uses stella matutina: Sirach 50:6 (referring to the actual morning star), and Revelation 2:28 (of uncertain reference) and 22:16 (referring to Jesus).
Indications that in Christian tradition the Latin word lucifer, unlike the English word, did not necessarily call a fallen angel to mind exist also outside the text of the Vulgate. Two bishops bore that name: Saint Lucifer of Cagliari, and Lucifer of Siena.
In Latin, the word is applied to John the Baptist and is used as a title of Jesus himself in several early Christian hymns. The morning hymn Lucis largitor splendide of Hilary contains the line: “Tu verus mundi lucifer” (you are the true light bringer of the world). Some interpreted the mention of the morning star (lucifer) in Ambrose’s hymn Aeterne rerum conditor as referring allegorically to Jesus and the mention of the cock, the herald of the day (praeco) in the same hymn as referring to John the Baptist. Likewise, in the medieval hymn Christe qui lux es et dies, some manuscripts have the line “Lucifer lucem proferens”.
The Latin word lucifer is also used of Jesus in the Easter Proclamation prayer to God regarding the paschal candle: Flammas eius lucifer matutinus inveniat: ille, inquam, lucifer, qui nescit occasum. Christus Filius tuus, qui, regressus ab inferis, humano generi serenus illuxit, et vivit et regnat in saecula saeculorum (“May this flame be found still burning by the Morning Star: the one Morning Star who never sets, Christ your Son, who, coming back from death’s domain, has shed his peaceful light on humanity, and lives and reigns for ever and ever”). In the works of Latin grammarians, Lucifer, like Daniel, was discussed as an example of a personal name.
Rudolf Steiner’s writings, which formed the basis for Anthroposophy, characterised Lucifer as a spiritual opposite to Ahriman, with Christ between the two forces, mediating a balanced path for humanity. Lucifer represents an intellectual, imaginative, delusional, otherworldly force which might be associated with visions, subjectivity, psychosis and fantasy. He associated Lucifer with the religious/philosophical cultures of Egypt, Rome and Greece. Steiner believed that Lucifer, as a supersensible Being, had incarnated in China about 3000 years before the birth of Christ.
Luciferianism is a belief structure that venerates the fundamental traits that are attributed to Lucifer. The custom, inspired by the teachings of Gnosticism, usually reveres Lucifer not as the devil, but as a savior, a guardian or instructing spirit or even the true god as opposed to Jehovah.
In Anton LaVey’s The Satanic Bible, Lucifer is one of the four crown princes of hell, particularly that of the East, the ‘lord of the air’, and is called the bringer of light, the morning star, intellectualism, and enlightenment. The title ‘lord of the air’ is based upon Ephesians 2:2, which uses the phrase ‘prince of the power of the air’ to refer to the pagan god Zeus, but that phrase later became conflated with Satan.
Author Michael W. Ford has written on Lucifer as a “mask” of the adversary, a motivator and illuminating force of the mind and subconscious.
Léo Taxil (1854–1907) claimed that Freemasonry is associated with worshipping Lucifer. In what is known as the Taxil hoax, he alleged that leading Freemason Albert Pike had addressed “The 23 Supreme Confederated Councils of the world” (an invention of Taxil), instructing them that Lucifer was God, and was in opposition to the evil god Adonai. Taxil promoted a book by Diana Vaughan (actually written by himself, as he later confessed publicly) that purported to reveal a highly secret ruling body called the Palladium, which controlled the organization and had a satanic agenda. As described by Freemasonry Disclosed in 1897:
With frightening cynicism, the miserable person we shall not name here [Taxil] declared before an assembly especially convened for him that for twelve years he had prepared and carried out to the end the most sacrilegious of hoaxes. We have always been careful to publish special articles concerning Palladism and Diana Vaughan. We are now giving in this issue a complete list of these articles, which can now be considered as not having existed.
Supporters of Freemasonry assert that, when Albert Pike and other Masonic scholars spoke about the “Luciferian path,” or the “energies of Lucifer,” they were referring to the Morning Star, the light bearer, the search for light; the very antithesis of dark. Pike says in Morals and Dogma, “Lucifer, the Son of the Morning! Is it he who bears the Light, and with its splendors intolerable blinds feeble, sensual, or selfish Souls? Doubt it not!” Much has been made of this quote.
Taxil’s work and Pike’s address continue to be quoted by anti-masonic groups.
In Devil-Worship in France, Arthur Edward Waite compared Taxil’s work to today’s tabloid journalism, replete with logical and factual inconsistencies.
In neo pagan witchcraft
In a collection of folklore and magical practices supposedly collected in Italy by Charles Godfrey Leland and published in his Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches, the figure of Lucifer is featured prominently as both the brother and consort of the goddess Diana, and father of Aradia, at the center of an alleged Italian witch-cult. In Leland’s mythology, Diana pursued her brother Lucifer across the sky as a cat pursues a mouse. According to Leland, after dividing herself into light and darkness:
“…Diana saw that the light was so beautiful, the light which was her other half, her brother Lucifer, she yearned for it with exceeding great desire. Wishing to receive the light again into her darkness, to swallow it up in rapture, in delight, she trembled with desire. This desire was the Dawn. But Lucifer, the light, fled from her, and would not yield to her wishes; he was the light which files into the most distant parts of heaven, the mouse which flies before the cat.”
Here, the motions of Diana and Lucifer once again mirror the celestial motions of the moon and Venus, respectively. Though Leland’s Lucifer is based on the classical personification of the planet Venus, he also incorporates elements from Christian tradition, as in the following passage:
“Diana greatly loved her brother Lucifer, the god of the Sun and of the Moon, the god of Light (Splendor), who was so proud of his beauty, and who for his pride was driven from Paradise.”
In the several modern Wiccan traditions based in part on Leland’s work, the figure of Lucifer is usually either omitted or replaced as Diana’s consort with either the Etruscan god Tagni, or Dianus (Janus, following the work of folklorist James Frazer in The Golden Bough).