In folklore, mythology, and religion, a demon is a supernatural being that is generally described as a malevolent spirit, but is also depicted as a force that may be conjured and insecurely controlled. The "good" demon is largely a literary device.
The Greek conception of a daemon, δαίμων, appears in the works of Plato and many other ancient authors, without the evil connotations apparent in the Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Bible and in the Greek originals of the New Testament. The medieval and neo-medieval conception of a "demon" in Western civilization (see the Medieval grimoire, the Ars Goetia) derives from the ambient popular culture of Late (Roman) Antiquity. The Hellenistic "Demon" eventually came to include many Semitic and Near Eastern gods as seen by Christianity.
Greco-Roman concepts of daemons that passed into Christian culture are discussed in the entry Daemon.
In some cultures demons are still feared in popular superstition, largely due to their power to 'possess' humans, and they are an important concept in many modern religions and occultist traditions. In the contemporary Western mystical tradition epitomized by the work of Aleister Crowley, a demon, such as the "Demon of the Abyss", Choronzon, is a useful metaphor for certain inner psychological processes, one which is nonetheless, in a sense, 'real' in that many experience it as a separate being.
Demons in the Hebrew Bible
Demons in the Tanakh are not the same as "demons" as commonly understood today by Christians. The demons mentioned in the Hebrew Bible are of two classes, the se'irim and the shedim. The se'irim ("hairy beings"), to which some Israelites sacrificed in the open fields, are satyr-like demons, described as dancing in the wilderness (Isaiah xiii. 21, xxxiv. 14), and are identical with the jinn of the Arabian woods and deserts. (But compare the completely European woodwose.) Possibly to the same class belongs Azazel, the goat-like demon of the wilderness (Leviticus xvi. 10ff) , probably the chief of the se'irim, and Lilith (Isaiah xxxiv. 14). Possibly "the roes and hinds of the field", by which Shulamit conjures the daughters of Jerusalem to bring her back to her lover (Canticles ii. 7, iii. 5), are faunlike spirits similar to the se'irim, though of a harmless nature.
The "stones of the field" (Job v. 23), with which the righteous are said to be in league, seem to be field-demons of the same nature. The wilderness as the home of demons was regarded as the place whence such diseases as leprosy issued, and in cases of leprosy one of the birds set apart to be offered as an expiatory sacrifice was released, that it might carry the disease back to the desert (Leviticus xiv. 7, 52)
Possibly the evil spirit that troubled Saul (I Samuel xvi. 14 et seq.) was originally a demon, turned into an evil spirit coming from God in the amended Masoretic text. None of these demons, however, has actually a place in the system of Biblical theology; it is God alone who sends pestilence and death. The shedim are "not gods" (Deuteronomy xxxii. 17); there is no supernatural power beyond God (Deuteronomy iv. 35.)
It is possible, however, that, as at a later stage in the development of Judaism the idols were regarded as demons, so the Canaanite deities were, either in disparagement, or as powers seducing men to idolatry, called shedim by the sacred writers (Deuteronomy xxxii. 17; Ps. cv. 37); all the more so as the latter ascribed a certain reality to the idols (Eodus. xii. 12; Isaiah xix. 1, xxiv. 21.)
Influences from Chaldean mythology
In Chaldean mythology the seven evil deities were known as "shedim", storm-demons, represented in bull form; and because these colossal bulls representing evil demons were, by a peculiar law of contrast, used also as protective genii of royal palaces and the like, the name "shed" assumed also the meaning of a propitious genius in Babylonian magic literature (see Delitzsch, Assyrisches Handwörterbuch. pp. 60, 253, 261, 646; Jensen, Assyr.-Babyl. Mythen und Epen, 1900, p. 453; Sayce, l.c. pp. 441, 450, 463; Lenormant, l.c. pp. 48-51).
It was from Chaldea that the name "shedim" = evil demons came to the Israelites, and so the sacred writers intentionally applied the word in a dyslogistic sense to the Canaanite deities 'in the two passages quoted. But they also spoke of "the destroyer" (Exodus xii. 23) as a demon whose malignant effect upon the houses of the Israelites was to be warded off by the blood of the paschal sacrifice sprinkled upon the lintel and the door-post (a corresponding pagan talisman is mentioned in Isaiah lvii. 8). In II Samuel xxiv; 16 and II Chronicles xxi. 15 the pestilence-dealing demon is called = "the destroying angel" (compare "the angel of the Lord" in II Kings xix. 35; Isaiah xxxvii. 36), because, although they are demons, these "evil messengers" (Psalms lxxviii. 49; A. V. "evil angels") do only the bidding of God; they are the agents of His divine wrath.
There are indications that popular Hebrew mythology ascribed to the demons a certain independence, a malevolent character of their own, because they are believed to come forth, not from the heavenly abode of God, but from the nether world (compare Isaiah xxxviii. 11 with Job xiv. 13; Psalms xvi. 10, xlix. 16, cxxxix. 8).
In Jewish rabbinic literature
Rabbinical demonology has three classes of, demons, though they are scarcely separable one from another. There were the shedim, the mazziḳim ("harmers"), and the ruḥin ("evil spirits"). Besides these there were lilin ("night spirits"), ṭelane ("shade", or "evening spirits"), ṭiharire ("midday spirits"), and ẓafrire ("morning spirits"), as well as the "demons that bring famine" and "such as cause storm and earthquake" (Targ. Yer. to Deuteronomy xxxii. 24 and Numbers vi. 24; Targ. to Cant. iii. 8, iv. 6; Eccl. ii. 5; Ps. xci. 5, 6.)
In the main, Hebrew demons were workers of harm. To them were ascribed the various diseases, particularly such as affect the brain and the inner parts. Hence there was a fear of "Shabriri" (lit. "dazzling glare"), the demon of blindness, who rests on uncovered water at night and strikes those with blindness who drink of it (Pesachim 112a; Avodah Zarah 12b); also mentioned were the spirit of catalepsy and the spirit of headache, the demon of epilepsy, and the spirit of nightmare,
These demons were supposed to enter the body and cause the disease while overwhelming or "seizing" the victim. To cure such diseases it was necessary to draw out the evil demons by certain incantations and talismanic performances, in which the Essenes excelled. Josephus, who speaks of demons as "spirits of the wicked which enter into men that are alive and kill them", but which can be driven out by a certain root (Bellum Judaeorum vii. 6, § 3), witnessed such a performance in the presence of the emperor Vespasian ("Ant." viii. 2, § 5), and ascribed its origin to King Solomon.
The King and Queen of Demons
In some rabbinic sources, the demons were believed to be under the dominion of a king or chief, either Asmodai (Targ. to Eccl. i. 13; Pes. 110a; Yer. Shek. 49b) or, in the older Haggadah, Samael ("the angel of death"), who kills by his deadly poison, and is called "head of the devils". Occasionally a demon is called "satan": "Stand not in the way of an ox when coming from the pasture, for Satan dances between his horns" (Pes. 112b; compare B. Ḳ. 21a).
The queen of demons is Lilith, pictured with wings and long flowing hair, and called the "mother of Ahriman" (B. B. 73b; 'Er. 100b; Nid. 24b). "When Adam, doing penance for his sin, separated from Eve for 130 years, he, by impure desire, caused the earth to be filled with demons, or shedim, lilin, and evil spirits" (Gen. R. xx.; 'Er. 18b.)
Though the belief in demons was greatly encouraged and enlarged in Babylonia under the influence of Parsee notions, demonology never became an essential feature of Jewish theology. The reality of demons was never questioned by the Talmudists and late rabbis; most accepted their existence as a fact. Nor did most of the medieval thinkers question their reality. Only rationalists like Maimonides and Abraham ibn Ezra, clearly denied their existence. Their point of view eventually became the mainstream Jewish understanding.
In the New Testament and Christianity
"Demon" has a number of meanings, all related to the idea of a spirit that inhabited a place, or that accompanied a person. Whether such a daemon was benevolent or malevolent, the Greek word meant something different from the later medieval notions of 'demon', and scholars debate the time in which first century usage by Jews and Christians in its original Greek sense became transformed to the later medieval sense.
There is a description in the Book of Revelation 12:7-17 of a battle between God's army and Satan's followers, and their subsequent expulsion from Heaven to earth to persecute humans -- although this event is related as foretold and taking place in the future. In Luke 10:18 it is mentioned that a power granted by Jesus to control demons made Satan "fall like lightning from heaven."
Saint Augustine's reading of Plotinus, in City of God (ch.11) is ambiguous as to whether daemons had become 'demonized' by the early 5th century:
- "He (Plotinus) also states that the blessed are called in Greek eudaimones, because they are good souls, that is to say, good demons, confirming his opinion that the souls of men are demons."—City of God, ch. 11.—Of the Opinion of the Platonists, that the Souls of Men Become Demons When Disembodied.
If Augustine meant 'demons' in the later, medieval sense, the passage would savor of rhetorical casuistry that is not characteristic of him.
In any case, the Catholic Church unequivocally teaches that angels and demons are real personal beings, not just symbolic devices of literature and myth: see Fr. John Corapi’s article. The Catholic Church has a cadre of exorcists which perform many exorcisms each year, even now in 2005. The exorcists of the Catholic Church teach that demons attack humans continually and that Christ came to deliver us from Satan's evil rule by power in this fashion. According to the Catholic Church, demonically afflicted persons can be effectively healed and protected either by the formal rite of exorcism, authorized to be performed only by bishops and those they designate, or by prayers of deliverance which any Christian can offer for themselves or others.
In contemporary religion, the skeptical observer can judge how closely a belief in demons parallels the degree of authoritarianism of the sect in question. On the other hand, logicians and believers have deftly observed that where God truly is, one may legitimately expect to find both truth and authority as well as his enemies, the fallen angels.
In Christian myth and legend
Building upon the few references to daemons in the New Testement, especially the visionary poetry of the Apocalypse of John, Christian writers of apocrypha from the 2nd century onwards created a more complicated tapestry of beliefs about "demons" that was independent of Christian scripture.
According to Christian mythology, when God created angels, he offered them the same choice he was to offer humanity: follow, or be cast apart from him. Some angels chose not to follow God, instead choosing the path of evil. One of these angels desired to be as powerful as God, and seduced a host of his companions to follow him against their ruler, to become himself the new sovereign. This rebellious angel was named Satan (lit. "adversary").
War in Heaven
According to popular tradition, the fall of Satan is portrayed in Ezekiel 28:12-19 and Isaiah 14:12-14— although both passages explicitly refer to earthly kings, not to Satan or any demonic entity. Christian mythology builds upon later Jewish traditions that Satan and his host declared war with God, but that God's army, commanded by the archangel Michael, defeated the rebels. Their defeat was never in question, since God is by nature omnipotent, but Michael was given the honor of victory in the natural order; thus the rise of Christian veneration of the archangel Michael, beginning at Monte Gargano in 493, reflects the full incorporation of demons into Christianity. God then cast his enemies from Heaven to the abyss of the earth, into a newly created prison called Hell (allusions to such a pit are made in the Book of Revelation, as pits of sulphur and fire) where all his enemies should be sentenced to an eternal existence of pain and misery. This pain is not all physical; for their crimes, these angels, now called demons, would be deprived of the sight of God (2 Thessalonians 1:9), this being the worst possible punishment.
An indefinite time later, when God created the earth and humans, Satan and the other demons were allowed to tempt humans or induce them to sin by other means. The first time Satan did this was in the earthly paradise or Garden of Eden to tempt Eve, who subsequently drew her husband Adam into her crime. Upon their failure, as part of the punishment, the permission granted to Satan and his demons to tempt the first humans away from their Creator will now last until the end of this world for all people.
At various times in Christian history, attempts have been made to classify these beings according to various proposed demonic hierarchies.
According to most Christian demonology demons will be eternally punished and never reconciled with God. Other theories postulate a Universal reconciliation, in which Satan, the fallen angels, and the souls of the dead that were condemned to Hell are reconciled with God. This doctrine is today often associated with the Unification Church. Origen, Jerome and Gregory of Nyssa also mentioned this possibility before it was generally accepted that the fallen state is eternal.
In contemporary Christianity, demons are generally considered to be angels who fell from grace by rebelling against God. However, this view, championed by Origen, Augustine and John Chrysostom, arose during the 6th century. Prior to that time, the primary sin of fallen angels was considered to be that of mating with mortal women, giving rise to a race of half-human giants known as the Nephilim.
There are still others who say that the sin of the angels was pride and disobedience. It seems quite certain that these were the sins that caused Satan's downfall (Ezek. 28). If this be the true view then we are to understand the words, "estate" or "principality" in Deuteronomy 32:8 and Jude 6 ("And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day.") as indicating that instead of being satisfied with the dignity once for all assigned to them under the Son of God, they aspired higher.
In pre-Islamic Arab culture
Pre-Islamic mythology does not discriminate between gods and demons. The jinn are considered as divinities of inferior rank, having many human attributes: they eat, drink, and procreate their kind, sometimes in conjunction with human beings; in which latter case the offspring shares the natures of both parents. The jinn smell and lick things, and have a liking for remnants of food. In eating they use the left hand. Usually they haunt waste and deserted places, especially the thickets where wild beasts gather. Cemeteries and dirty places are also favorite abodes. In appearing to man demons assume sometimes the forms of beasts and sometimes those of men; but they always have some animal characteristic, such as a paw in place of a hand (Darimi, "Kitab al-Sunnah", ii. 213). Eccentric movements of the dust-whirlwind ("zawabi'") are taken to be the visible signs of a battle between two clans of jinn.
Under the influence of Jewish and Christian demonology in post-Islamic times, the only animals directly identified with the jinn are snakes and other obnoxious creeping things. When Muhammad was on his way to Tabuk, it is said that a swarm of jinn, assuming the form of serpents, approached him and stood still for a long while.
Generally jinn are peaceable and well disposed toward men. Many a pre-Islamic poet was believed to have been inspired by good jinn; and Muhammad himself was accused by his adversaries of having been inspired by jinn ("majnun"). But there are also evil jinn, who contrive to injure men. Among these are specially conspicuous the three female demons named "Ghul" (corresponding to the Talmudical), "Si'lat", and "'Aluḳ" or "'Aulaḳ", and the four male demons "Afrit", "Azbab", "Aziab", and "Ezb". Ghul is especially harmful to new-born children, and in order to keep her away their heads are rubbed with the gum of an acacia.
Islam recognized the existence of all the pagan demons, good and evil, protesting only against their being considered gods. Islam divides the evil demons into five species: "jann ", "jinn", "shaidans", "afrits", and "marids ".
Muhammad frequently refers in the Koran to the shaidans, of whom Iblis is the chief. Iblis, probably a corruption of the name "Diabolos" = Satan, is said to have been deprived of authority over the animal and spirit kingdoms, and sentenced to death, when he refused, at the creation of Adam, to prostrate himself before him (Koran, vii. 13). The shaidans are the children of Iblis, and are to die when their father dies; whereas the others, though they may live many centuries, must die before him. A popular belief says that Iblis and other evil demons are to survive mankind, though they will die before the general resurrection; the last to die being Azrael, the angel of death.
Tradition attributes to Muhammad the statement that every man has an angel and a demon appointed to attend him. The former guides him toward goodness, while the latter leads him to evil ("Mishkat", i. ch. 3). The shaidans, being the enemies of Allah, strive to disturb worshipers. Muhammad, it is said, prefaced his prayers with "O God! In Thee I am seeking for a refuge from the attacks of the shaidan and his witchcraft".
Among the evil jinn are distinguished the five sons of Iblis. It was in order to keep them away that the faithful were commanded the cleansings and fumigations which are unbearable to the shaidans, who delight in dirt and filth. The pronouncing of the "takbir" formula ("Allah akbar" =Allah is very great) is also a means of driving them away. Muhammad, it is said, pronounced it in his travels whenever the appearance of the region changed, lest it might be enchanted. In later times amulets were invented to which were ascribed the virtue of protecting their bearers from the attacks of demons.
The cat plays a part in Islamic demonology. A demon assuming the form of a cat is said to have presented himself to Muhammad while he was praying (Darimi, l.c. ii. 449). Some demons assumed the form of cats (Mas'udi, "Muruj al-Dhahab", iii. 321). As to the good jinn, there are some among them who profess Islamism, and Muhammad held that many of them had listened to his sermons (Koran, sura lxxii.).The iblis IS not the enemy of allah but a spirit that does pray but hates mankind
In Hindu mythology, there are three kinds of beings, the devas (gods), the manushyas (human beings) and the asuras (demons). The asuras live in Paataal or Nark (Hell), one of the three Lokas or worlds. The Paataal lok exists below Prithvi Lok (Earth) where humans live. The asuras are ugly creatures. Many asuras are known to have challenged the gods and tried to gain world supremacy. Ironically, many of these attempts are successful due to boons granted by gods happy at the asuras having meditated in their name.
Demons in other cultures and religions
Demons are found in many religions, and many cultures have developed a rich mythology of demons. The study of demons is called demonology, while the worship of demons is known as demonolatry.
In Buddhism the word demon can refer to sentient being in either Hell realm or Asura realm depending on the tradition.
In art and literature
Many classic books and plays feature demons, such as the Divine Comedy, Paradise Lost and Faust.
Anton Rubinstein's lushly chromatic opera The Demon (1875), based on the poem "The Demon" by Lermontov, was delayed in its production because the censor attached to the Mariinsky Theatre felt that the libretto was sacrilegious .
In C. S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters a senior demon in Hell's hierarchy writes a series of letters to his subordinate trainee, Wormwood, offering advice in the techniques of temptation of humans. Though fictional, it offers a plausible contemporary Christian viewpoint of the relationship of humans and demons.
Demons have permeated the culture of children's cartoons and anime; they are used in comic books as powerful adversaries in the horror, fantasy and superhero stories. There are a handful of demons who fight for good for their own reasons like DC Comics' The Demon and Marvel Comics' Ghost Rider. By contrast, Hellboy is a demon raised by humans and has vowed to protect them, owing no allegiance to Hell.
Demons also make appearances in Japanese anime such as the anime Inuyasha, where the title character is half demon (youkai) and half human. In this series, as well as other popular anime, the demons cover the entire range of good and evil, often with the same character having both good and evil traits. In the anime "Naruto" the title character has a very powerful and decidedly evil demon sealed inside him. However the character himself isn't in any way evil by nature, even when the demons powers leak through the seal. In this story if the main character would die the demon would die with him.
In Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, dæmons are the physical incarnation of a person's soul. Although they bear almost no resemblance to 'Christian' demons, the word is pronounced the same.
The works of J.R.R. Tolkien feature demon-like beings called Balrogs, terrible spirits of flame with humanoid bodies and (depending on who you ask) wings, one of which is encountered in the Lord of the Rings as well as his writings about the First Age of Middle-earth.
Cenobites are demons which feature in the works of Clive Barker, such as the novel The Hellbound Heart on which the film Hellraiser is based.
In recent times, Fr. Gabriele Amorth, chief exorcist at the Vatican, has published two books on his experiences with Satan and demons entitled An Exorcist Tells His Story, and An Exorcist: More Stories published by Ignatius Press. Dr. Ed Murphy has written a comprehensive tome on the subject entitled The Handbook for Spiritual Warfare.
Scientists occasionally invent hypothetical entities with special abilities as part of a thought experiment. These "demons" have abilities that are nearly limitless, but they are still subject to the physical laws being theorized about. See Maxwell's demon, Laplace's demon.
It has been asserted that demons communicate with humans through the Ouija game. This is a minority viewpoint on the subject. By far the most common explanation is that the Ouija board's users move the game's triangle with their hands (consciously or unconsciously) and only appear to be communicating with spirits.
The earliest connection of the word with games is that the British call a form of solitaire "Demon", from at least the nineteenth century. The selection of this word comes from the observance of a player by others. Formerly, adults nearly always bet on card games. As the player is turned from interaction with others and is forced to move cards around without feeling, the player is metaphorically considered possessed by a demon.
Many fantasy-themed role-playing, computer and video games feature demons as enemies, though a few (like Diablo, Dungeons & Dragons, Megami Tensei, Devil May Cry, or Devil May Cry 3: Dante's Awakening) allow player characters to summon or control demons, or, in Devil May Cry's and some of the latter Megami Tensei games' case, the main character is infact a demon or part demon. Other games, like Demon: the Fallen or In Nomine feature demons even more prominently, allowing for demonic player characters. Such games are often said to draw children into the occult, although this as well is a minority viewpoint. See demons in Dungeons & Dragons for further information on this topic.
Some recent Japanese video games feature demons stylized as a race of beings who are not necessarily irredeemably evil. Disgaea, in particular, is remarkable for having a young demon king as its main character. This trend is also visible in manga such as Sand Land.