I was recently re-watching the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode Masks, (because I'm not a nerd even a little bit), and an interesting thought struck me: the culture portrayed in that episode seems to have had a pantheon centered around an incredibly cruel, if not outright evil, torturer-Queen deity named Masaka. The other gods from her pantheon seem to either be hiding from her, fearing her, or trying to counter her influence. This is not unlike the episode Devil's Due, in which another society seems to hold the negative deity, a devil-figure named Ardra, above all others.

It made me wonder, have any historical cultures revered a negative or evil deity as their primary or most-powerful figure? Obviously plenty of primary deities (such as Zeus or Odin or even the Old Testament Yahweh) have been shown to be cruel, callous, or capricious at times, but these gods are also heavily tied to ideas like justice, courage, or mercy. They are, ultimately, positive forces in the universe and toward humanity.

Have any societies held a strictly evil or malevolent deity above all others?

EDIT: In response to several commenters, I thought I'd clarify: I'm talking about gods whose own worshippers considered the god a force of evil, not those who are interpreted as such by outsiders, and certainly not a discussion of whether religion itself is positive. I'm saying that Zeus, Odin, and the Judeochristian God are all viewed by their followers as "good." Were any pantheon-topping gods seen by their own worshippers as primarily malevolent, rather than benevolent?

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    That depends on interpretation. What has been often portrayed by colonial masters as evil has in the reassessment of history been shown otherwise. The distinguishing lines are blurry and the debates incredibly unending. – Rajib Nov 22 '14 at 1:54
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    Whether the judaeochristian god is "positive forces in the universe" is a matter of opinion and shifting morality standards – user5001 Nov 22 '14 at 3:26
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    Surely some culture guessed the evil gods were more powerful than the good gods. – Razie Mah Nov 22 '14 at 5:45
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    From a certain point of view, all of the world's major organized religions are evil in that they turn humanity against itself. – CGCampbell Nov 23 '14 at 5:14
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    Take to theology. There is no aspect of time here. – Samuel Russell Nov 24 '14 at 22:22

This is kind of tough to answer, as few people look upon themselves as "evil", and there are adherents to pretty much every religion that will happily tell you everyone else is worshiping devils.

That being said, the best candidate I can think of is the Thuggee (Thugs). Yes, we got the word from a historical people. This was a society in India that believed they were descended from Kali (Hindu goddess of death), and made their living by murdering travelers and caravans. Its debatable how religious they actually were though. There are millions of modern-day Kali worshipers who would quite strenuously object to any insinuation that Kali is an "evil" goddess.

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    the thuggee idea has been re-assessed and post-colonial history says this was a construction by the British to enable them to criminalize resistance. In other words, its debatable. In any case even if they were "evil", the idea of Kali herself being evil has long been rejected- as you pointed out. – Rajib Nov 22 '14 at 9:03
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    @Rajib - That's the revisionist position. It is not universally accepted, the chief problem with it being the extensive documentation of the group that would have to be explained away. A better critique is that the relation to Kali was probably at best a foundation myth for the group. Most of the captured Thugs turned out to be Muslim, not Hindu. This was probably more in the nature of a biker gang calling themselves the "Hell's Angels". – T.E.D. Nov 25 '14 at 19:46
  • yes as I said, it's debatable, like all post-colonial thought. So yes- agreed. – Rajib Nov 26 '14 at 4:09

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