The Goat, the Devil, and DOOM

The first time Black Phillip, a perfectly normal-looking goat, appears in Robert Eggers2015 horror film The Witch, the viewer is struck with a sense of unease. This isnt any fault of Phillips. If anything, he should be the most reassuring aspect inthe gloomy story of a 17th century familys exile to the New England wilderness. Within an atmosphere of dread and fear, Phillip all but mugs for the camera in every one of his scenes. He gives his shaggy head a puzzled cock in the middle of a somber barnyard tableau with perfect comedic timing. He rears up to waggle his stumpy front legs in a funny little dance as twin children call his name. Despite everything he does to counter it, though, Black Phillip remains a menacing figure. His horizontal pupils, great curved horns, and matted beard, lingered on by the films camera, form a knot of unconscious concern. Hes a goat, and goats can be disturbing.


id Softwares 2016 iteration of DOOM is full of monsters. The player, assuming the role of the semi-mythological Doom Marine, works to beat back the forces of hell spilling into a sci-fi Martian research base. Zombie-like creatures shamble through the opening momentsfleshy training wheels whose fumbling movements and crumbling bodies ease the player into the games combat systemsbut are soon overwhelmed by a more threatening group of demons.

Goat physiology is spread throughout DOOMs enemy design. Taking its cues from the 1993 original, id blends goatish features directly with human figures (the minotaur-like Baron of Hell and the hulking, massively horned Cyberdemon) or has its characteristic eyes, horns, hooves, and legs incorporated into flying skulls, musclebound Pinkydemons, and floating, spiky Cacodemons. Though more insectile than mammal now, the fire-throwing Imp, first depicted on the 1993 DOOMs cover as a smirking, horned beast-man with tongue lolling out between pointed fangs, retains a goats springy movements and short, muscular legs.

doom imp

Each of the games demons look as discomforting as expected. Their bodies are warped versions of human and animala perversion of nature that recalls the 19th century occult illustrations of Jacques Albin Simon Collin de Plancys Dictionnaire Infernal (1818) and Eliphas Lévis Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie (published in two volumes in 1854 and 1856). The creatures, like the haunting sketches lining the pages of European demonology and black magic books, unsettle the audience by hearkening back to imagery designed to prod at the nerve centers of a Western cultural tradition whose fears revolve, naturally, around its dominant religions.        


Its difficult to pinpoint exactly when the goat became associated with evil, but a likely source is the Torah and Old Testaments Book of Leviticus. In detailing the ritual behavior provided to the Israelites from God, Leviticustext introduces the concept of the scapegoata literal goat, metaphorically burdened with a communitys sins, sent away to die in the desert. The practice (thought to be fairly common in ancient Near Eastern societies) stems specifically from verses in Leviticus in which Aaron is instructed to cast lots over . . . two goats, one lot for the Lord and the other lot for Azazel. And Aaron shall present the goat on which the lot fell for the Lord and use it as a sin offering . . . (Leviticus 16:8-9).

The importance of Azazelin this verse has splintered theological interpretation. Some take the word as a compounded term meaning complete removalwhile others consider it the proper name of a fallen angel (who is again referenced in the apocryphal Book of Enoch as the first teacher of human vanity and weapon-making). In either case, the goat chosen not to be sacrificed, but cast out, is decided by supernatural chance. And, regardless of exact interpretation, the end result is the same: the goat, through no fault of its own, becomes an embodiment of sinfulness.

a literal goat, metaphorically burdened with a community’s sins


DOOM 2016s easiest difficulty level is represented by a small human skull in a military helmet. As the player moves it up to the highest challenge setting, the human skull progressively morphs into a goats. The hardest setting—“Ultra-Nightmare”—is a mutation of the previous levels straightforward goat skull, the nubs of bone near its temple jutting out into larger horns. The implication is that tougher gameplayincreasingly vicious demons, better equipped to rip the player apart in more frequent death scenesequates to the games evil enemies growing in power.   

This is a suggestion DOOM makes again and again throughout its levels. As the story requires the Doom Marine to travel from the corridors and laboratories of the moon base to the bowels of hell itself, the difficulty is raised proportionallya natural coupling of gameplay challenge and narrative progression that echoes the structure of the first DOOM.

Hell is the demons home, and the Marines incursions bring both swarms of fearsome monsters and a change in visual design denoting a departure from the human world. When the player first steps through one of the games hell portals, she finds herself in a landscape of jagged cliffs spiraling down to stone pits ringed with spikes and patrolled by snarling beasts. The sky swirls a nauseous ochre and the logic of human architecture is distorted. The only pathways are nonsensical routes navigated by jumping across floating rocks and running the bone-lined corridors of labyrinths.

The most familiar landmarks are twisted stone gates, which are quite regularly emblazoned with glowering busts of goat skulls, eyes staring down at the player in silent menace. In providing reference points from the natural world, id decorates its version of hell with the skeletons we leave behind in death and, to maintain a sense of pervasive dread, the skulls of goats. Even outside of its demonic enemies, DOOM marks the presence of evil with references to the animal.  

doom hell


As the New Testament built on the Old, Christian thought further entrenched the association of sinfulness with goats. The Gospel According to Matthew foretells the return of Christ on the Day of Judgment, describing all the nations . . . gathered before him(Matthew 25:32) before being separated into two groups. The next verse sees Jesus . . .  put the sheep on His right, and the goats on His left.(25:33)

To the sheepJesus says: “‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’” (25:34) And, to the goats: “‘Leave Me, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels.’” (25:41)

Sheep and goats are metaphorically distinct throughout much of the New Testament and nowhere is that clearer than in Matthews account of Judgment. The loyal sheep stands in for those who will be saved; the goat, on the other hand, is a stand-in for those who will be sentenced to eternal damnation.

As Christianity ascended to prominence in the 4th century CE Roman Empire, the symbolism of the New Testament became more literally tied to the image of the goat. Hellenist figures, like the forest-dwelling fauns and satyrsespecially Pan/Faunuswere goat-like in appearance, and closely associated with Dionysus/Bacchus, the god of wine and fertility who represented unbound, ecstatic thought, drunkenness, and sexual freedom. The influence of these figuresgods linked to an earthy sensuality opposed to the physical denial of Christianitywould go on to inspire associations with goats and sexuality in neopaganist Europe.

The end point of witch covensgroups of women frequently imagined to retreat into the wilderness, worshiping Satan in the guise of a Pan-like goatwould last to the present day. Francisco Goyas witch paintings, particularly the 1797-8 WitchesSabbath, are striking examples (as is 1797-8s WitchesFlight, directly referenced in The Witchs final scene) of the form taken by the devil. Female sexuality, terrifying and necessary to repress in a staunchly patriarchal time and place, ends up mixing with Satanic worship and a renewed spiritual connection with nature in Western popular culture.

represented unbound, ecstatic thought, drunkenness, and sexual freedom

Combined with the following centuries’ rising interest in occultism, these depictions of goats would entrench the animal as an ominous figure. Throughout the approach to modernity, centuries of Christian thought were repurposed in an era defined by a mixture of rationalist, romanticist, and transcendentalist exploration. The scapegoat of Judeo-Christian scripture found itself a focal point for pagan worship as Pan and occult spirituality as the Eliphas Lévi-drawn Sabbatic Goat and Aleister Crowley-worshiped Baphomet. Its current symbolism as a recurring figurehead for the oppositional practices of Satanists shows its enduring power.


The goat is a perfectly nice animal. Its intelligent, friendly, and, as a cornerstone of human agriculture, has provided us with milk and cheese, mohair to make clothes, and help with clearing land and transporting goods. Just the same, the goat has been historically maligned for long enough that its place in Western popular culture is defined not by affection, but a fear cultivated to the point of instinct.  

In The Witch, Black Phillip is, taken on his own terms, adorable and a possible source of comfort in hard times. Viewed by the films 17th century Puritans, though, Phillip absorbs centuries of mythological association to become something much more frightening. In DOOM, the goat similarly embodies our fears, the physical characteristics of an unassuming animal used as cultural shorthand to create demons that the player can shoot and rip into piles of gore without a sense of guilt.

In both cases, goats become something far more than animal. They, like the ancient scapegoat, are burdened with metaphysical traitssin, terror, evilthat humans must find a place for. They become monsters and demons, removed from the natural world to carry the weight of concepts that are often too dark and too difficult for humans to wrestle with on our own.

Header image: San Michele al Pozzo Bianco