Clearly these are rationalisations designed to give some degree of justification to programmes which had already been decided upon. This does not make them unimportant; the Church was always careful to maintain as consistent a philosophical structure as it could, but its methods of so doing were influenced by unconscious forces. In this instance, the relevant question to ask is, why does the devil figure so insistently in the story?
In the early days of Christianity, the devil had played a very minor role. Devils and demons there were in plenty; we have already noted how the various pagan deities, and the local genii and nymphs from an earlier animistic period had been comprehensively labelled devils. There were demons, too, derived (etymologically, at all events) from the Greek daimons which influenced individuals for good or ill. And Augustine speaks of “Silvanos et Faunos quos vulgo Incubos vocant”. But Satan himself had been a remote and abstract figure. True, when Gregory I decided deliberately to incorporate heathen material into the Christian myth, he had constructed a master devil, taking his horns and hoofs from Pan and German forest sprites, his red beard and his smell from Thor, his limp from Vulcan and Wotan, his black colour from Saturn and Loki, his power over the weather from Zeus and Wotan, and so on. (139) But he remained somewhat aloof, “a pure spirit, dangerous and tempting but not the direct enemy of man”. (96)
But early in the fourteenth century the picture suddenly changes, and the devil appears as a quite definite figure, with fully described anatomy, habits and intentions. (The startlingly detailed descriptions of his penis are probably to be explained partly by the fact that Inquisitors generally pressed witches for details, and perhaps because the leader of the coven had an artificial phallus.) Moreover, his teaching is not just error, it is something active. He is the enemy of man, exclusively occupied in trying to mislead him; and the enemy of God, exclusively occupied in misleading men into denying or perverting Christian morals and Christian practices. Furthermore, the various lesser demons now appear as members of a hierarchy, all organized to carry out his commands in a pattern very similar to that of the Catholic Church. The names of his various lieutenants were known (they were taken from prominent diabolic figures in other religions) and the exact number of his employees was calculated: 7,405,926. (96)