Continuing on the subject of Samael, a good friend sent me a link to Anya Klein’s (she wrote the visceral book Lilith – Queen of the Desert) excellent The Fruit of Pain blog post on this subject of Samael – God of the Left Hand. I am going to just paste her entire post (minus her pictures) in italics below, and this writing is her property. I have emailed her asking permission which i hope she gives, but if she does not this post will be deleted.
Samael: God of the Left Hand
I am an anarchist
Say what you will
I am the Kill
The only thing that keeps you really truly safe from me
– “The Kill,” The Dresden Dolls
I met Samael last May through Lilith, and I approach Him primarily as Her consort. He and I do not have a romantic or sexual relationship, nor do I have that with Lilith. Being nudged to meet/honor the various partners of my Big Three has become standard for me (Gunnlod, Frigga, Sigyn, Angrboda, etc), which is fitting since my own relationships with Them—both work and personal—tend to stress partnership in some form.
Unlike the other partners, Samael has more quickly established Himself as a regular presence and teacher. In the past nine months, Samael and I have gotten to know each other through my own rituals, spirit work I’ve done for my community, and good old fashioned research. Below I’ve compiled some of what I’ve learned. I have a sense this is the tip of the iceberg, but it’s a start. Collecting these scraps has at least given me a fuller picture of His nature, as well as the ways in which He’s been encountered over centuries.
Like Lilith, Samael has been called many things: god, demon, devil, angel, fallen angel. His multifaceted identity stems from the fact that (like Lilith) He has a tangle of narratives rather than a single story. He makes appearances in the lore of various cultural and religious communities from ancient Mesopotamia, including the Assyrians and the Hebrews. Over time and across space, He has been adopted to play certain roles in the Talmud, Kabbalah, Christianity, Satanism, Ritual Magic, and modern Angelology. He is both holy and unholy.
Despite the discrepancies and contradictions of these visions, I think each adds something valuable to the conversation, even if some conflict with my own experiences or beliefs.
[Citation note: I will try to give as much documentation as possible as I go through this list. Since a lot of websites don’t give sources for information, I’ve tried to confirm anything I’ve listed below by finding another page that cites a reputable-looking print source, but this isn’t always possible. This is one of the challenges of working with a figure that doesn’t have one body of lore. I’ve saved all of my own UPG (unverified personal gnosis) for the last section, which describes the faces of Samael I’ve encountered. If you’d like further citation on anything I mention here, please feel free to email me for additional information.]
Assyrian Lore: God of the Left Hand
According to the Online Jewish Encyclopedia, it is possible that Samael’s name (and thus perhaps His identity) stems from the Syrian god Shemal. Shemal’s name means “left,” referencing the “left hand path” or “god of the left hand.” Langkjer’s The Origin of Our Belief in God, a study that examines the relationship between the religions of the Fertile Crescent, has this to say about Shemal, as worshipped by a community in Hannan, then part of Assyria:
In the Antique world the left hand was connected with the serving of demons and chthonic powers (Plut. Quaest. Rom. ch. 26) and Shemal is by the Sabaeans the Lord of the “genii and demons” just like Shemael [sic] in rabbinical literature and Zohar. He seems to be the highest god for the Sabaeans because his name could also be translated “North” (as right also means “South”), and the Sabaeans pray with their faces turned north….On the 1st of Ajar some rituals have to be carried out to the honour of Shemal: there is smelling at roses, eating and drinking. On the 27th of Chaziran (chazîr = “wild pig”) secret rituals to the honour of Shemal with the epithet “He who lets his arrows fly”, cf Resheph´s epithet “with the arrow”: the priest shoots 12 burning arrows into the air, a ceremony repeated 15 times, and each time the priest will run around on all fours like a dog and pick up the arrows and take them back….the ceremony should be interpreted as magic designed to hold back the arrows of sickness.
Like Lilith, Samael rules over chthonic (low or earthy) powers. He also seems to serve as a god of sensual enjoyment and one who can ward against harm. Yet this source also mentions a darker side to His rites: the cannibalism of infants in His honor. Since the original source for that information is a pamphlet written by a Christian Syrian, it’s possible this was included as a titillating horror story. Langkjer also speculates that it memorializes the people’s consumption of Tammuz, the life-giving grain god who sacrifices Himself for the people (much like Frey or John Barleycorn). It is striking, however, that the Hebrews later accuse Lilith of eating infants and placed warding amulets against Her around the necks of their children. In both cases, Lilith and Shemal stood in an adversarial relationship—or as a balance—to the procreative, life-giving aspects of the society.
Considering Lilith’s roots in southern Mesopotamia (Sumer/Babylon), it’s also interesting that Her Assyrian-based consort bares a name that can be translated as “North.” In their union, They would thus unite and encompass the known ancient world, North and South.
The Talmud: the Venom of God
According to sources cited in the Jewish Encyclopedia, Samael serves as “an important figure both in Talmudic and in post-Talmudic literature, where he appears as accuser, seducer, and destroyer.” In Hebrew, Samael’s name is etymologized as , which means “the venom of God.” Remembering Lilith’s tie to serpents, this is another interesting link between Them. He is said to slay men with a single drop of poison, which has earned Him the title “Angel of Death.” According to Talmudic sources, Samael looks and moves like an angel. He “flies through the air like a bird” and has twelve wings rather than the standard six, marking his higher status among the celestial beings.
There seems to be some uncertainty as to whether Samael acts on Yahweh’s behalf in this role or as an evil freelancer. This would seem to explain how He can appear as both “Prince of the demons” and “chief of Satans” as well as “the great prince in heaven.” It’s also possible these various titles refer to different points on His Talmudic timeline: pre- and post-fall from Yahweh’s graces. Even before we get to the Christian sources, we see a tendency to collapse the figures of Samael and Satan. The encyclopedia entry states, “in so far as he is identified with the serpent (“J. Q. R.” vi. 12), with carnal desire (Yeẓer ha-Ra’), and with the angel of death, all legends associated with Satan refer equally to him.” Is the Judeo-Christian Satan/Samael a demonization of the Assyrian Shemal? A way to fold a well-known deity into a new, monotheistic narrative?
This source also notes something I saw listed several times: that Samael serves as the “celestial patron” of Rome. Some websites speculated that this stemmed from Samael’s affinities with the Roman god Mars (warlike, strong, bloody), while others viewed this patronage as a result of hostile views of Rome as the incarnation of evil and corruption. More on this in the “Pop Culture” section.
Kabbalah: the Demonic Force
In Kabbalistic writings, Lilith is sometimes split into Lilith the Younger and Lilith the Elder. According to sources cited in Raphael Patai’s The Hebrew Goddess, Younger Lilith acts as the wife of Ashmodai/Asmodeus, whom Judeo-Christian mystics have identified as the King of Demons or King of the Nine Hells. Lilith the Elder, alternately, is cast as the wife of Samael.
Many texts, however, suggest that Lilith and Samael are siblings, or even a single being that splits in two. Patai includes a Zoharic myth in which Lilith and Samael come to life as a hermaphroditic entity:
…out of the dregs of wine, there emerged an intertwined shoot which comprises both male and female. They are red like the rose, and they spread out into several sides and paths. The male is called Samael, and his female [Lilith] is always contained in him….The female of Samael is called Serpent, Woman of Harlotry, End of All Flesh, End of Days.
Lilith and Samael are two creatures in one flesh, siblings who are lovers, the Beginning and the End. This passage seems to explain why those who work with Lilith and Samael are often nudged to bathe in or ingest the dregs of wine left to decay on Their altars. Those dregs hold the mystery of Their birth and transformation. In anointing our bodies with it, we enter into those mysteries.
According to several 17th-century Kabbalic texts, Yahweh castrated Samael to prevent Him from procreating with Lilith and overrunning the world with demons. In other versions, Lilith is the one made barren (see Patai for both stories). In either case, this is said to cause both Lilith and Samael to seek human partners to procreate and to satiate their desires. According to some sources, the pair begins these couplings with the earliest humans in Judeo-Christian lore: Adam and Eve. As the first succubus, Lilith “rides” Adam in his sleep to produce spirits and demons, while Samael seduces Eve and impregnates her with Cain. Notably, various Talmudic stories have cast both Lilith and Samael in the role of tempting serpent that leads Eve to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. Once again, the pair challenges the established order, representing the shadow and the taboo.
Magicians (Golden Dawn to Necronomicon)
NOTE: My knowledge of the Tree of Life in Kabbalah is limited, and I didn’t have the time to fully research this section. I know enough to understand that some of the info in this section is highly controversial. Frankly, I don’t feel comfortable writing on something that I think needs more research on my part. Instead, I’ll point you to 2 sources for your own further reading. These links should NOT be taken as an endorsement of any of the content on these pages.
Golden Dawn magicians (including Mathers and Crowley) wrote of the Qliphotic Tree as the dark twin of the Kabbalic Tree of Life (otherwise known as the “Tree of Death”). The qlipoths or “shells” are described as illusions that prevent one from learning the lessons of each sephiroth. On the Tree of Death, Samael appears in the eighth position as “the desolation of God” or “the left hand,” echoing the meaning of “Shemal”. [I know, I get negative research points for linking to wikipedia, but it was the most barebones online source for this info I could find quickly.]
Some modern magicians have begun to work with the Qliphotic Tree of Death rather than the Kabbalic Tree of Life. They claim that Kabbalah has roots in Babylonian and Chaldean sources, and that the Jewish mystics lifted the system, then “demonized” figures and concepts that wouldn’t fit in their system of belief. (Again, I haven’t done enough research to confirm or repudiate this claim.)
In a Qliphotic system utilized by one magical group, Lilith stands at 1.0°, initiating pathwalkers through the gate to the unknown. Samael appears at 3.0° to teach “the philosophy of the left hand path,” “the wisdom of insanity,” and “the dark side of the Chakras.” (Interestingly enough, Odin also appears on this Initiatory Tree, so it doesn’t seem that Babylonian authenticity actually limited its creators.)
While the goal of working through the standard “Tree of Life” is to achieve oneness with divinity, the goal of the “Tree of Death” is achieving personal divinity or deification. (Reaching a state of godhood yourself) Please note that I 100% do NOT endorse this path! However, if you’re curious about this system, you can read this longish essay by a “Gate-Walker” of the Simon Necronomicon. I have no idea if any of what he says about Kabbalah actually checks out, but he seems to have done some kind of research, and this isn’t the only place on the internet I’ve seen this rationale.
Christianity/Satanism: the Adversary
As in Talmudic literature, Samael becomes Satan in both Christian and Satanic lore. “Samael” is often stated to be the His true or angelic name, while “Satan” is a role/job title that means simply “adversary.” Likewise, “Lucifer” is seen as an epithet: a descriptive name or phrase listing one of His qualities (here, “light-bearer”). In this reading, Lucifer and Satan might be considered “faces” of Samael, nicknames, or slurs, depending on the intent of the speaker. If you’re interested in a Satanic perspective on Samael, this shrine provides a start, although unfortunately it seems to have been neglected or abandoned.
I was actually a little disappointed that Satanist texts I came across gave Samael such short shift. He is almost always classified as a by-name for Satan. I don’t know if I’m ready to say that anyone who works with Satan is actually working with Samael (or one of His faces), but it seems quite possible. Considering the eye-rolling I used to do about Satanism, it’s actually rather ironic that, if the Satanists are right, I’m working with Him. Gods are funny that way.
Angel folk: Giver of Strength
Because Angel research requires the patience of a saint, I haven’t fully explored this avenue yet either. I did stumble across a few white light, “Meeting the Angels” sources that advised people—in some cases children—to pray to Samael for strength. Considering that most Christians equate Him with Satan, this boggles the mind a bit.
I also came across this site, which gives a table of correspondences for Samael. I have no idea where they got this information, but it’s interesting that it exists.
The most fascinating aspect of this listing for me is that it claims Samael and Azazel are the same figure. Azazel is also known as the Angel of Death, as well as the Leader of the Nephilim. Depending on which translation you follow, Nephilim could mean either “the Fallen” or the “giants” that sprung from the mating of angels and human women, as described in Genesis 6:4. Thus, the two figures seem to have similar roles and titles at least. One final tidbit: the etymology of Azazel means a remote, rocky place from which the sacrificial goat would be thrown. In other words, “scapegoat.” Like “adversary”, this very well could describe another of Samael’s roles. I don’t know enough at this point to make a solid claim, but it’s worth considering.
Pop culture: Rome’s Vengeance
Ezio Auditore da Firenze, from Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood
Certain pop culture objects sometimes seem to tap into some truth or aspect of a deity. For example, I saw echoes of Odin’s Wanderer face in Jeff Bridges’s depiction of Rooster Cogburn in True Grit. I see Samael most strikingly evoked in a recent video game series: Assassin’s Creed by Ubisoft.
Set mainly in 1500s Rome, Assassin’s Creed follows Ezio Auditore da Firenze. In the second game of the series, Ezio seeks to uncover the plot that led to the hanging of his father and brothers. He trains to become an assassin, learning tricks of the trade from society’s outsiders: prostitutes, thieves, and strange visionaries (DaVinci!). Ezio’s quest for truth, freedom, and vengeance pits him against political and religious authorities, all of which are depicted as irredeemably corrupt. The only justice available to him is that which he can enact with his own hands. In his training as an assassin, however, he becomes a master craftsman, not merely a brute killer. There is an art and a skill to his work as He moves through Rome, bringing death to tyrants. Perhaps He’s Rome’s patron after all.
A trailer for the third game, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, can be seen here. At this point in the series, Ezio has become not only a master assassin but a leader of his own adversarial league (perhaps the Roman version of the Nephilim, if you will). Note the angel wing design on the armor Ezio wears on his left shoulder.
This section is not meant to be seen as a culmination of the previous sections; it’s not the unveiling of the “real” Samael. This is what He’s shown to me, before I knew much of anything about Him. It matches what’s above in some ways, and in some ways not.
I’ve encountered Samael through meditation, visions, readings, and possessory work. My body has been His vehicle, allowing Him to take part in a ritual in which Lilith was also being horsed. It was an eye-opening experience, and one from which I still bear physical scars. Notably, the scars lie on my right forearm, which is where I first marked myself for Him. A fellow Lilith’s person sketched His name in Enochian for me (in pen ink), just before I met Him for the first time last May:
As the pop culture section suggests, I get Samael chiefly in His role as the Assassin. Both Lilith and Samael come to me as Bringers of Justice, but They enact this Justice in different ways. Lilith acts as a Judge, determining right and wrong. Samael acts as a Debt Collector, taking what is owed and is being wrongfully withheld. Both are bound by rules, and neither one punishes indiscriminately or harms the innocent. The word that comes to mind when I see them in this role is “Righteous.” Not “self-righteous,” but a genuine sense of enforcing what is Right. Their system of Right/Wrong does not always line up with the dominant paradigm’s system, but there is a Justice there that even deities from other pantheons seem to respect.
While Samael and Lilith may be exiles, They are not anti-humanity. They can be wise teachers, and They often gather outcasts to Themselves. This does not mean, however, that They cannot be brutal in their lessons. When necessary, Lilith is the raging fire that burns your personal village to the ground. Her presence is obvious and unmistakable. She demands that you wake up and pay attention. When necessary, Samael is poison. He works internally, slowly, and methodically. He is the unassuming figure waiting for you in the alley, weapons concealed.
I have also seen Samael in the role of Festival King, much like early descriptions of Shemal. He enjoys sitting in a throne-like chair and watching a good party unfold, particularly if Lilith is in attendance and His cup always remains full. They enjoy holding court in twin thrones. Running out of alcohol irritates Him, and His appetite is endless. This seems to apply not only for wine, but for any energy. There’s an insatiability to His hunger for life—to taste and consume. There’s a bloodlust. He cannot, however, feed freely. As much as He desires it, His partaking in human things leaves Him empty. It calls to mind the Skeleton guarding the clock in The Last Unicorn. He loves drink, but it literally goes right through him. Why? The answer caught me off guard.
Samael is bound.
His arms are bound in black strips that look strikingly like the Jewish practice of Tefillin. He wears a black leather chest piece with straps and buckles. There is an overall feeling of constriction with overtones of frustration.
I don’t know who bound Him or why. The wearing of tefillin, according to the source in the previous link, causes a cosmic alignment: “Heaven connects to earth, spiritual to physical, Creator to creation. Everything starts getting into harmony with its essence and inner purpose.” Does His binding represent the binding together of spirit and flesh?
Words between Lilith and Samael during that ritual, however, suggest another reason: He is bound because He would unleash destruction, destroying even Lilith Herself. As Death, as Bloodlust, as Vengeance, as Hunger, Samael must be contained. He is simply too insatiable and would throw off the balance between Death and Life, Justice and Violence, Order and Dissent. Interestingly, Lilith does have the power to free Him, but She refuses to do so.
One final piece of information gleaned through that ritual, something that was the most surprising of all:
Samael has lost his magnificent wings. Only bloody stumps remain.
I do not know if they were ripped from Him, and if so, by whom. I know that He misses them, and that touching His wet, bloody shoulder brought Lilith to tears. It is the reason why, when adding Him to Her altar, I chose a statue of an angel at a local botanica—and broke off the wings. They lie at His feet, bloody. Perhaps He appears in some faces with His wings, but not to me.
If you wish to begin working with Samael, I highly recommend you begin a relationship with Lilith as well. She brings balance and protection, and if She’s well-honored and approached with humility and respect, She can also keep you grounded as you work with Them. Samael is a magnificent force, but He can also be seductive—the ultimate tempter. He will take advantage in ways Lilith will not, particularly if you make offers of yourself to Him without an understanding of the consequences. Making deals with Him is not recommended—He tends to omit mentioning what things will cost you. And He is perfectly willing to watch you ignorantly skip down His path towards something you can’t handle. Allow Lilith to introduce you. Go slow with Him.
Lilith and Samael enjoy sharing an altar. Both of Them seem to like the colors black, red, and silver, as well as serpents, blades, stones, and mirrors. Here is a recent photo of my altar to both of Them. The cistern in the middle is just a dark vase I fill with wine or port for Them. They love big containers of rotting wine. If you work with Them, you will come to know that smell well (and even fall in love with it).
Personal Altar for Lilith and Samael
Light candles and pour wine for Them.
Dance for Them.
Support righteous rebellion.
Speak for the outcasts.
Tackle your fears.
Face your demons.
Embrace transformation into your own potential.
All of these things are sacred offerings and please Them.