What is evil? The answer can be found in Dante’s Inferno: in Hell’s lowest circle we find—along with Satan, entombed in ice—Judas. So evil can be seen as in essence to betray: loyalty is the highest good and betrayal the lowest bad, the ultimate evil. For a highly social species, such as man, this makes perfect sense; we all rely, in one way or another, on other people—at this very moment my existence in an advanced industrial society relies on my trust that other people fulfil certain roles more or less as they are meant to do.
We venerate loyalty, possibly because it is quite rare; and our very metacommunication—accents, intonation, and word arrangement—often serves to secure trust through in-jokes and confidences that allow a person to infer our intimate state and so trust us because we have allowed them indirect contact with our mind’s inner world. The converse to this can be found in those people who spoof the symbols and verbal ticks that indicate trustworthiness in order to take advantage of us.
Basically, if people are disloyal and you cannot trust them then everyone in the tribe dies; the weak link—the Judas—is the person who is ready to betray, perhaps for money or perhaps from resentment. Hence women, not bred by evolution for reliable cooperation, often personify evil in religion because they are fundamentally untrustworthy—Eve cannot be trusted with the apple; and Muslim law requires several female witnesses to equal one male, since a woman’s testimony is inherently less trustworthy than a man’s testimony.
Disloyalty is facilitated by lies; indeed, even if no actual lie is told then the disloyal act itself turns the positive affirmations previously made as to loyalty—whether explicit or implicit—into lies by default. So liars—Satan is the father of lies—also belong in Hell’s lowest circle. This partly explains why dogs are highly valued as man’s best friend, whereas cats are seen as evil and feminine—the cat is not a loyal creature, she is a natural betrayer and so belongs in Hell’s lowest circle; she is a friend to the witches, after all.
As it happens, “trust” derives from the Old Norse for “help”, “consolation”, “make strong and safe”, “agreement”, “alliance”, and “reliability”—in Old English it became associated with property ownership. Notice that this masculine notion is tied in with ideas associated with God, trust is consolation and help in times of need. Ultimately, the word derives from the Proto-Indo-European “-deru” which means to be strong and steadfast with particular reference to wood and trees. In esoteric terms, wood was typically seen as holy, whereas metal was profane—Cain was the metallurgist and the man who built cities, whereas Abel was the shepherd with his wooden crook. Contrary to Conan the Barbarian, the only thing man can trust is not his steel sword; rather, man can only trust his wooden staff. The idea that wood is close to godliness ties in with visions of the Tree of Life and also the “world tree”, the Yggdrasil, in Norse mythology—in temporal terms, the oak personifies regal rulership and trustworthy authority.
Finally, it so happens that “-deru” is also the root for “Dante”, so the poet who portrayed a journey to Hell’s centre was himself named for that which is considered to be the most trustworthy. Dante is the staff or the tree that you can depend on when you make the journey to Hell and emerge on the other side in Heaven. Indeed, this is older than Dante’s Christianity: the word “Druid” derives from the same source, “Dru” in Sanskrit is the same as “Drud” in Welsh—and in Welsh, Albanian, and Greek the root converges on “oak”; so there is a suggestion that we should trust the trees and their wisdom—just as Charles II trusted an oak to hide him when the Roundheads hunted him. So where can man place his trust? In the forest oaks.