Other - Miscellaneous
Etymological Meaning of Devil
The most striking illustration of this process is to be found in the
word devil itself: To a reader unfamiliar with the endless tricks which
language delights in playing, it may seem shocking to be told that the
Gypsies use the word devil as the name of God.
This, however, is not
because these people have made the archfiend an object of worship, but
because the Gypsy language, descending directly from the Sanskrit, has
retained in its primitive exalted sense a word which the English
language has received only in its debased and perverted sense. The
Teutonic words devil, teufel, diuval, djofull, djevful, may all be
traced back to the Zend dev, a name in which is implicitly contained
the record of the oldest monotheistic revolution known to history. The
influence of the so-called Zoroastrian reform upon the long-subsequent
development of Christianity will receive further notice in the course of
this paper; for the present it is enough to know that it furnished for
all Christendom the name by which it designates the author of evil.
the Parsee follower of Zarathustra the name of the Devil has very nearly
the same signification as to the Christian; yet, as Grimm has shown, it
is nothing else than a corruption of deva, the Sanskrit name for God.
When Zarathustra overthrew the primeval Aryan nature-worship in Bactria,
this name met the same evil fate which in early Christian times overtook
the word demon, and from a symbol of reverence became henceforth a
symbol of detestation. But throughout the rest of the Aryan world it
achieved a nobler career, producing the Greek theos, the Lithuanian
diewas, the Latin deus, and hence the modern French Dieu, all meaning
If we trace back this remarkable word to its primitive source in that
once lost but now partially recovered mother-tongue from which all our
Aryan languages are descended, we find a root div or dyu, meaning "to
shine." From the first-mentioned form comes deva, with its numerous
progeny of good and evil appellatives; from the latter is derived the
name of Dyaus, with its brethren, Zeus and Jupiter. In Sanskrit dyu, as
a noun, means "sky" and "day"; and there are many passages in the
Rig-Veda where the character of the god Dyaus, as the personification of
the sky or the brightness of the ethereal heavens, is unmistakably
This key unlocks for us one of the secrets of Greek mythology.
So long as there was for Zeus no better etymology than that which
assigned it to the root zen, "to live," there was little hope of
understanding the nature of Zeus. But when we learn that Zeus is
identical with Dyaus, the bright sky, we are enabled to understand
Horace's expression, "sub Jove frigido," and the prayer of the
Athenians, "Rain, rain, dear Zeus, on the land of the Athenians, and on
Such expressions as these were retained by the Greeks
and Romans long after they had forgotten that their supreme deity was
once the sky. Yet even the Brahman, from whose mind the physical
significance of the god's name never wholly disappeared, could speak of
him as Father Dyaus, the great Pitri, or ancestor of gods and men; and
in this reverential name Dyaus pitar may be seen the exact equivalent of
the Roman's Jupiter, or Jove the Father. The same root can be followed
into Old German, where Zio is the god of day; and into Anglo-Saxon,
where Tiwsdaeg, or the day of Zeus, is the ancestral form of Tuesday.
 See Pott, Die Zigeuner, II. 311; Kuhn, Beitrage, I. 147. Yet in the
worship of dewel by the Gypsies is to be found the element of diabolism
invariably present in barbaric worship. "Dewel, the great god in heaven
(dewa, deus), is rather feared than loved by these weather-beaten
outcasts, for he harms them on their wanderings with his thunder and
lightning, his snow and rain, and his stars interfere with their dark
doings. Therefore they curse him foully when misfortune falls on them;
and when a child dies, they say that Dewel has eaten it." Tylor,
Primitive Culture, Vol. II. p. 248.
 See Grimm, Deutsche Mythologie, 939.
 The Buddhistic as well as the Zarathustrian reformation degraded
the Vedic gods into demons. "In Buddhism we find these ancient devas,
Indra and the rest, carried about at shows, as servants of Buddha, as
goblins, or fabulous heroes." Max Muller, Chips, I. 25. This is like
the Christian change of Odin into an ogre, and of Thor into the Devil.
 Zeus--Dia--Zhna--di on ............ Plato Kratylos, p. 396, A.,
with Stallbaum's note. See also Proklos, Comm. ad Timaeum, II. p. 226,
Schneider; and compare Pseudo-Aristotle, De Mundo, p. 401, a, 15, who
adopts the etymology. See also Diogenes Laertius, VII. 147.
 Marcus Aurelius, v. 7; Hom. Iliad, xii. 25, cf. Petronius Arbiter,
Myths and Myth-Makers
Old Tales and Superstitions Interpreted
By Comparative Mythology
by John Fiske
Archive date: 07-31-01
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