I was twelve winters old when I discovered his name. Samael. It slips off the tongue like gall, bitter and sharp like the crushed herbs and tinctures he has dominion over as the angel of poison. I pulled it from the air and my imagination, only to learn it was a true word God had christened His son with.
Such a varied meaning it has: shamam for desolation, the Left Hand of God, the “drug” and “gall” and “bitter beverage” he slips onto the lips of the dead to free souls from the body. He is the Samech Mem angel whose name rabbis are forbidden from speaking. The sound is the samiel wind, the hottest phenomenon on the planet, literal death to those trapped in the raging heat sandstorm. Or perhaps it is the hiss of the Leviathan or wind through a field of poppies.
Once, he was a Sabean god- Shemal, lord of the djinn and the North, his people star-worshippers whose flaming arrows honored him. The children of his people tend poppies now, culturing the red flowers and making drugs from their bounty. His irises bloom that color when enraged, crimson like the spilled blood of his tribe, ruby like the pomegranate.
Other scholars say his origins lie with the Sumerian lord of the underworld, Nergal, whose leonine aspect inspired the concept of Samael, the lion-headed Gnostic Demiurge. Nergal was the god of battle, like Samael’s Martian aspect as the angel of war. Like the lion god, Samael is a calculating martial lord, the patron angel of Rome and accuser of Israel. He is lethal, even when it comes to games: playing chess against the Angel of Death is setting yourself up for a world of pain.
His very nature is other, an opposer, pagan and wild, the Horned God of witches to some, the tempter and lord of sin to others. He is called the accuser, seducer, and destroyer, an agent of calculated chaos and a wily trickster in folklore. Black and red are his colors, ebony animals considered cursed worldwide due to their association with him. He is the blistering heat of the desert from which he originates and the freezing ice of Dante’s Hell.
Samael is contradictory: an archangel and regent of the fifth heaven, yet the prince of Hell, both fallen and whole. Some say he was not cast from Heaven but voluntarily descended to Hell to watch over the souls therein. Others say he led a third of the angels from Heaven with honeyed words of rebellion. The truth is lost in the sands of time, and his cryptic words will leave you guessing at the truth of the matter.
Some say he is cursed, that when he brought death into the world by feeding Eve the Forbidden Fruit, he became the termination of life. He was stripped of his holiness and corrupted, cast into the wilds with a rot that ate at his flesh, stripping him to the bone of the Grim Reaper we are so familiar with. Others say he was cursed to become a beast, to slither on his belly all his days and eat dust.
“Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life.”
I have seen Samael as both: the classic skeleton dressed in the black robes and cowl of a monk, scythe in hand, and a serpent prince of treacherous beauty who from the waist down has a snake’s tail like some reverse Medusa. However, the form he favors most often is that of an angel, coal black curls like asps and blue eyes like the heart of a flame, with great wings that trail behind him like a cape. His flesh is cold and pale, lips constantly curled in a smirk. Much amuses him.
He is the shadow cast by Lucifer’s light- to me, they are twin sides of the same coin, two-headed like Janus. Lucifer is golden skin and radiant blond hair, white-winged and sapphire eyed, the lion face to Samael’s serpent. Lucifer is the cool ice of Hell, calculating yet warm, noble and angelic.
Samael is Lucifer unbound, twisted by darkness and hardened by the Fall. He is Lucifer’s madness at having slaughtered his brethren and the sacrifice Lucifer made, tainted by travails. He is the lord of the shadow side and father of monsters. Once Lucifer tasted the Fruit, a part of him became Samael. Their dichotomy is painful to watch. Lucifer scorns the part of himself that is Samael, has wept at the monster he thinks he has become. Samael longs for the light Lucifer carries but bears bitter feelings to his twin soul. Sometimes Lucifer denies he is Samael, completely disassociating from that part of himself.
They are both bereft of their Creator, and each deals with this loneliness in different ways. Samael lashes out and destroys; Lucifer internalizes and mourns in private. Samael’s anger is the hot volcanic activity he presides over, Lucifer’s is a calculated, cold fury that is biting and even more brutal than Samael’s fits of rage. Being the victim of either is a harrowing experience indeed.
Despite their differences, both cherish the truth above all else. They are relentless in their pursuit of it, and will strip you down of all else until you have embraced it. Lucifer shines his light on you and illuminates your flaws; Samael casts his shadow and leads you through a labyrinth of smoke and mirrors to discover the truth. They are guardians of the threshold, a concept in esoterica that guards the higher world of knowledge. The Left Hand Path they lead one on is the reflection of the stairway to Heaven, rocky-cragged and lit with inner flame. You are taught to be your own light, to carry the lantern of your passion and let it guide you as they watch from afar, safeguarding you but not interfering.
They are fearsome friends to have, but one must always know they have their own motives. They may very well test your mettle and wield you into a tool to accomplish their own goals. Though acting in your best interest, they are also pursuing their own.
“Everyone is a pawn, even the gods. It is simply a question of what king you choose to serve.” – Samael
I have walked stillborn streets with them and climbed the desolate hills of damned Eden. Other gods have come and gone, but Lucifer and Samael have always stood by my side. I used to wonder if I was damned due to my association with them.
Sometimes, I still fear hellfire awaits me. But all I know is that I would rather be in the pits of Hell with them than bereft of my anamchara, my soul friend. I watch the dawn each day, trying to hear the song of the Mourning Star as it stands belfry to the day.