What Is A Demon?

demon is a supernatural being, typically associated with evil, prevalent historically in religion, occultism, literature, fiction, mythology, and folklore; as well as in media such as comics, video games, movies, anime, and television series.

In Ancient Near Eastern religions and in the Abrahamic traditions, including ancient and medieval Christian demonology, a demon is considered a harmful spiritual entity which may cause demonic possession, calling for an exorcism. Large portions of the Jewish demonology, a key influence on Christianity and Islam, originated from a later form of Zoroastrianism, and were transferred to Judaism during the Persian era.

In Western occultism and Renaissance magic, which grew out of an amalgamation of Greco-Roman magic, Jewish Aggadah and Christian demonology, a demon is believed to be a spiritual entity that may be conjured and controlled. The supposed existence of demons remains an important concept in many modern religions and occultist traditions. Demons are still feared largely due to their alleged power to possess living creatures. In the contemporary Western occultist tradition (perhaps epitomized by the work of Aleister Crowley), a demon (such as Choronzon, which is Crowley’s interpretation of the so-called ‘Demon of the Abyss’) is a useful metaphor for certain inner psychological processes (inner demons), though some may also regard it as an objectively real phenomenon.

The original Greek word daimon did not carry negative connotations. The Ancient Greek word δαίμων daimōn denotes a spirit or divine power, much like the Latin genius or numen. The Greek conception of a daimōn notably appears in the works of Plato, where it describes the divine inspiration of Socrates. In Christianity morally ambivalent daimons were replaced by demons, forces of evil only striving for corruption. Such demons are not the Greek intermediary spirits, but hostile entities, already known in Irianian beliefs.


Further information: Daemon (classical mythology)AgathodaemonCacodemonDaimonic, and Eudaimonia

The Ancient Greek word δαίμων daemon denotes a spirit or divine power, much like the Latin genius or numen. Daimōn most likely came from the Greek verb daiesthai (to divide, distribute). The Greek conception of a daimōn notably appears in the works of Plato, where it describes the divine inspiration of Socrates. The original Greek word daimon does not carry the negative connotation initially understood by implementation of the Koine δαιμόνιον (daimonion), and later ascribed to any cognate words sharing the root.

The Greek terms do not have any connotations of evil or malevolence. In fact, εὐδαιμονία eudaimonia, (literally good-spiritedness) means happiness. By the early Roman Empire, cult statues were seen, by pagans and their Christian neighbors alike, as inhabited by the numinous presence of the gods: “Like pagans, Christians still sensed and saw the gods and their power, and as something, they had to assume, lay behind it, by an easy traditional shift of opinion they turned these pagan daimones into malevolent ‘demons’, the troupe of Satan….. Far into the Byzantine period Christians eyed their cities’ old pagan statuary as a seat of the demons’ presence. It was no longer beautiful, it was infested.” The term had first acquired its negative connotations in the Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek, which drew on the mythology of ancient Semitic religions. This was then inherited by the Koine text of the New Testament. The Western medieval and neo-medieval conception of a demon derives seamlessly from the ambient popular culture of Late Antiquity. The Hellenistic “daemon” eventually came to include many Semitic and Near Eastern gods as evaluated by Christianity.

The English use of demon as synonym for devils goes back at least as far as about 825. The German word (Dämon) however, is different from devil (Teufel) and demons as evil spirits.

Ancient Egypt

Ram-headed demon. The hands probably outstretch to hold two snakes. From a royal tomb in the Valley of the Kings, Thebes, Egypt. End of the 18th Dynasty, around 1325 BCE

Ram-headed demon. The hands probably outstretch to hold two snakes. From a royal tomb in the Valley of the Kings, Thebes, Egypt. End of the 18th Dynasty, around 1325 BCE

Both deities and demons can act as intermediaries to deliver messages to humans. Thus they share some resemblance to the Greek daimonion. The exact definition of “demon” in Egyptology posed a major problem for modern scholarship, since the borders between a deity and a demon are sometimes blurred and the ancient Egyptian language lacks a term for the modern English “demon”. However, magical writings indicate that ancient Egyptians acknowledged the existence of malevolent demons by highlighting the demon names with red ink. Demons in this culture appeared to be subordinative and related to a specific deity, yet they may have occasionally acted independently of the divine will. The existence of demons can be related to the realm of chaos, beyond the created world. But even this negative connotation cannot be denied in light of the magical texts. The role of demons in relation to the human world remains ambivalent and largely depends on context.

Ancient Egyptian demons can be divided into two classes: “guardians” and “wanderers.” “Guardians” are tied to a specific place; their demonic activity is topographically defined and their function can be benevolent towards those who have the secret knowledge to face them. Demons protecting the underworld may prevent human souls from entering paradise. Only by knowing right charms is the deceased able to enter the Halls of Osiris. Here, the aggressive nature of the guardian demons is motivated by the need to protect their abodes and not by their evil essence. Accordingly, demons guarded sacred places or the gates to the netherworld. During the Ptolemaic and Roman period, the guardians shifted towards the role of Genius loci and they were the focus of local and private cults.

The “wanderers” are associated with possession, mental illness, death and plagues. Many of them serve as executioners for the major deities, such as Ra or Osiris, when ordered to punish humans on earth or in the netherworld. Wanderers can also be agents of chaos, arising from the world beyond creation to bring about misfortune and suffering without any divine instructions, led only by evil motivations. The influences of the wanderers can be warded off and kept at the borders on the human world by the use of magic, but they can never be destroyed. A sub-category of “wanderers” are nightmare demons, which were believed to cause nightmares by entering a human body.


Further information: Ancient Mesopotamian underworld § Demons

Ancient Sumerian cylinder seal impression showing the god Dumuzid being tortured in the underworld by galla demons

Ancient Sumerian cylinder seal impression showing the god Dumuzid being tortured in the Underworld by galla demons

The ancient Mesopotamians believed that the underworld was home to many demons, which are sometimes referred to as “offspring of arali“. These demons could sometimes leave the underworld and terrorize mortals on earth. One class of demons that were believed to reside in the underworld were known as galla; their primary purpose appears to have been to drag unfortunate mortals back to Kur. They are frequently referenced in magical texts, and some texts describe them as being seven in number. Several extant poems describe the galla dragging the god Dumuzid into the underworld. Like other demons, however, galla could also be benevolent and, in a hymn from King Gudea of Lagash (c. 2144 – 2124 BCE), a minor god named Ig-alima is described as “the great galla of Girsu”.

Lamashtu was a demonic goddess with the “head of a lion, the teeth of a donkey, naked breasts, a hairy body, hands stained (with blood?), long fingers and fingernails, and the feet of Anzû.” She was believed to feed on the blood of human infants and was widely blamed as the cause of miscarriages and cot deaths. Although Lamashtu has traditionally been identified as a demoness, the fact that she could cause evil on her own without the permission of other deities strongly indicates that she was seen as a goddess in her own right. Mesopotamian peoples protected against her using amulets and talismans. She was believed to ride in her boat on the river of the underworld and she was associated with donkeys. She was believed to be the daughter of An.

Pazuzu is a demonic god who was well known to the Babylonians and Assyrians throughout the first millennium BCE. He is shown with “a rather canine face with abnormally bulging eyes, a scaly body, a snake-headed penis, the talons of a bird and usually wings.” He was believed to be the son of the god Hanbi. He was usually regarded as evil, but he could also sometimes be a beneficent entity who protected against winds bearing pestilence and he was thought to be able to force Lamashtu back to the underworld. Amulets bearing his image were positioned in dwellings to protect infants from Lamashtu and pregnant women frequently wore amulets with his head on them as protection from her.

Šul-pa-e’s name means “youthful brilliance”, but he was not envisioned as youthful god. According to one tradition, he was the consort of Ninhursag, a tradition which contradicts the usual portrayal of Enki as Ninhursag’s consort. In one Sumerian poem, offerings made to Šhul-pa-e in the underworld and, in later mythology, he was one of the demons of the underworld.

According to the Jewish Encyclopedia, “In Chaldean mythology the seven evil deities were known as shedu, storm-demons, represented in ox-like form.” They were represented as winged bulls, derived from the colossal bulls used as protective jinn of royal palaces.


See also: ShedimDybbuk, and Samael

As referring to the existence or non-existence of demons (shedim or Se’irim) there are converse opinions in Judaism. There are “practically nil” roles assigned to demons in the Hebrew Bible. In Judaism today, beliefs in “demons” or “evil spirits” are either midot hasidut (Hebr. for “customs of the pious”), and therefore not halachah, or notions based on a superstition that are non-essential, non-binding parts of Judaism, and therefore not normative Jewish practice. That is to say, Jews are not obligated to believe in the existence of shedim, as posek rabbi David Bar-Hayim points out.


The Tanakh mentions two classes of demonic spirits, the se’irim and the shedim. The word shedim appears in two places in the Tanakh. The se’irim are mentioned once in Leviticus 17:7, probably a re-calling of Assyrian demons in shape of goats. The shedim in return are not pagan demigods, but the foreign gods themselves. Both entities appear in a scriptural context of animal or child sacrifice to “non-existent” false gods.

From Chaldea, the term shedu traveled to the Israelites. The writers of the Tanach applied the word as a dialogism to Canaanite deities.

There are indications that demons in popular Hebrew mythology were believed to come from the nether world. Various diseases and ailments were ascribed to them, particularly those affecting the brain and those of internal nature. Examples include catalepsy, headache, epilepsy and nightmares. There also existed a demon of blindness, “Shabriri” (lit. “dazzling glare”) who rested on uncovered water at night and blinded those who drank from it.

Demons supposedly entered the body and caused 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, at which the Essenes excelled. Josephus, who spoke of demons as “spirits of the wicked which enter into men that are alive and kill them”, but which could be driven out by a certain root, witnessed such a performance in the presence of the Emperor Vespasian and ascribed its origin to King Solomon. In mythology, there were few defences against Babylonian demons. The mythical mace Sharur had the power to slay demons such as Asag, a legendary gallu or edimmu of hideous strength.

Talmudic tradition and Midrashim

In the Jerusalem Talmud notions of shedim (“demons” or “spirits”) are almost unknown or occur only very rarely, whereas in the Babylon Talmud there are many references to shedim and magical incantations. The existence of shedim in general was not questioned by most of the Babylonian Talmudists. As a consequence of the rise of influence of the Babylonian Talmud over that of the Jerusalem Talmud, late rabbis in general took as fact the existence of shedim, nor did most of the medieval thinkers question their reality. However, rationalists like Maimonides, Saadia Gaon and Abraham ibn Ezra and others explicitly denied their existence, and completely rejected concepts of demons, evil spirits, negative spiritual influences, attaching and possessing spirits. Their point of view eventually became mainstream Jewish understanding.

Although occasionally an angel is called satan in the Babylon Talmud. But satans do not refer to demons as they remain at the service of God: “Stand not in the way of an ox when coming from the pasture, for Satan dances between his horns”.

Aggadic tales from the Persian tradition describe the shedim, the mazziḳim (“harmers”), and the ruḥin (“spirits”). There were also 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”. According to some aggadic stories, demons were under the dominion of a king or chief, usually Asmodai.


See also: Kabbalah and Destroying angel (Bible)

In Kabbalah demons are regarded a necessary part of the divine emanation in the material world and a byproduct of human sin (Qliphoth). However spirits such as the shedim may also be benevolent and were used in kabbalistic ceremonies (as with the golem of Rabbi Yehuda Loevy) and malevolent shedim (Mazikin, from the root meaning “to damage”) were often credited with possession.

Second Temple Judaism

See also: Apotropaic magic

The sources of demonic influence were thought to originate from the Watchers or Nephilim, who are first mentioned in Genesis 6 and are the focus of 1 Enoch Chapters 1–16, and also in Jubilees 10. The Nephilim were seen as the source of the sin and evil on earth because they are referenced in Genesis 6:4 before the story of the Flood. In Genesis 6:5, God sees evil in the hearts of men. Ethiopic Enoch refers to Genesis 6:4–5, and provides further description of the story connecting the Nephilim to the corruption of humans. According to the Book of Enoch, sin originates when angels descend from heaven and fornicate with women, birthing giants. The book of Enoch shows that these fallen angels can lead humans to sin through direct interaction or through providing forbidden knowledge. Most scholars understand the text, that demons originate from the evil spirits of the deceased giants, cursed by God to wander the earth. Dale Martin disagrees with this interpretation, arguing that the ghosts of the Nephilim and fallen angels are distinct. The evil spirits would make the people sacrifce tot he demons, but they were not demons themselves. The spirits are stated in Enoch to “corrupt, fall, be excited, and fall upon the earth, and cause sorrow.”

The Book of Jubilees conveys that sin occurs when Cainan accidentally transcribes astrological knowledge used by the Watchers. This differs from Enoch in that it does not place blame on the angels. However, in Jubilees 10:4 the evil spirits of the Watchers are discussed as evil and still remain on earth to corrupt the humans. God binds only 90 percent of the Watchers and destroys them, leaving 10 percent to be ruled by Mastema. Because the evil in humans is great, only 10 percent would be needed to corrupt and lead humans astray. These spirits of the giants also referred to as “the bastards” in the Apotropaic prayer Songs of the Sage, which lists the names of demons the narrator hopes to expel.

To the Qumran community during the Second Temple period this apotropaic prayer was assigned, stating: “And, I the Sage, declare the grandeur of his radiance in order to frighten and terri[fy] all the spirits of the ravaging angels and the bastard spirits, demons, Liliths, owls” (Dead Sea Scrolls, “Songs of the Sage,” Lines 4–5).


Hindu beliefs include numerous varieties of creatures with materialistic or non material form such as Vetalas, Bhutas and Pishachas. Rakshasas and Asuras are demons


See also: Surapadman and Narakasura

Asura, in the earliest hymns of the Rigveda, originally meant any supernatural spirit, either good or bad. Since the /s/ of the Indic linguistic branch is cognate with the /h/ of the Early Iranian languages, the word Asura, representing a category of celestial beings. Ancient Hinduism tells that Devas (also called suras) and Asuras are half-brothers, sons of the same father Kashyapa; although some of the Devas, such as Varuna, are also called Asuras. Later, during Puranic age, Asura and Rakshasa came to exclusively mean any of a race of anthropomorphic, powerful, possibly evil beings. Daitya (lit. sons of the mother “Diti”), Maya Danava, Rakshasa (lit. from “harm to be guarded against”), and Asura are incorrectly translated into English as “demon”.

In post-Vedic Hindu scriptures, pious, highly enlightened Asuras, such as Prahlada and Vibhishana, are not uncommon. The Asura are not fundamentally against the gods, nor do they tempt humans to fall. Many people metaphorically interpret the Asura as manifestations of the ignoble passions in the human mind and as symbolic devices. There were also cases of power-hungry Asuras challenging various aspects of the gods, but only to be defeated eventually and seek forgiveness.

Evil spirits

Hinduism advocates the reincarnation and transmigration of souls according to one’s karma. Souls (Atman) of the dead are adjudged by the Yama and are accorded various purging punishments before being reborn. Humans that have committed extraordinary wrongs are condemned to roam as lonely, often mischief mongers, spirits for a length of time before being reborn. Many kinds of such spirits (Vetalas, Pishachas, Bhūta) are recognized in the later Hindu texts.

Iranian demons


Main article: Daeva

Evil spirits are the creation of the evil principle Ahriman in Zoroastrian cosmology, commonly referred to as Daeva. The first six archdemons are produced by Ahriman in direct opposition to the holy immortals created by Ahura Mazda the principle of good. This six archdemons (or seven if Ahriman is included) give existence to uncountable malevolent daeva; the Zorastrian demons. They are the embodiment of evil, causing moral imperfection, destroy, kill and torment the wicked souls in the afterlife. Some demons are related to specific vices. Humans in the state of such sin might be possessed by a corresponding demon:

  • Anger (Kheshm)
  • Laziness (Bushyansta)
  • Envy (Areshk)
  • Gossip (Spazga)
  • Grief (Akoman)


See also: Asrestar

In Manichaean mythology demons had a real existence, as they derived from the Kingdom of Darkness, they were not metaphors expressing the absence of good nor are they fallen angels, that means they are not originally good, but entities purely evil. The demons came into the world after the Prince of Darkness assaulted the Realm of Light. The demons ultimately failed their attack and ended up imprisoned in the structures and matter of the contemporary world. Lacking virtues and being in constant conflict with both the divine creatures and themselves, they are inferior to the divine entities and overcome by the divine beings at the end of time. They are not sophisticated or inventive creatures, but only driven by their urges.

Simultaneously, the Manichaean concept of demons remains abstract and is closely linked to ethical aspects of evil that many of them appear as personified evil qualities such as:

  • Greed (desire for wealth)
  • Wrath (desire for destruction)
  • Envy
  • Grief

The Watcher, another group of demonic entities, known from the Enochian writings, appear in the canonical Book of Giants. The Watchers came into existence after the demons were chained up in the sky by Living Spirit. Later, outwitted by Third Messenger, they fall to earth, there they had intercourse with human women and beget the monstrous Nephilim. Thereupon they establish a tyrannical rule on earth, suppressing mankind, until they are defeated by the angels of punishment, setting an end to their rule.

Native North American demons


Main articles: Wendigo and Wechuge

The Algonquian people traditionally believe in a spirit called a wendigo. The spirit is believed to possess people who then become cannibals. In Athabaskan folklore, there is a belief in wechuge, a similar cannibal sprit.


Old Testament

The existence of demons as inherently malicious spirits within Old Testamental texts are absent.Though there are evil spirits sent by YHWH, they can hardly be called demons, since they serve and not oppose the governing deity. First then the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek, the “gods of other nations” were merged into a single category of demons (daimones) with implied negativity.

The Greek Daimons were associated with demi-divine entities, deities, illnesses and fortune-telling. The Jewish translators rendered them all as demons, depicting their power as nullifed comparable to the description of shedim in the Tanakh. Although all these supernatural powers were translated, never were angels, despite sharing a similar function to that of the Greek Daimon. This established a dualism between the angels on God’s side and negatively evaluated demons of pagan origin. Their relationship to the God-head became the main difference between angels and demons, not their degree of benevolence. Both angels and demons might be fierce and terrifying. However, the angels act always at service of the high god of the Israelites, differing from the pagan demons, who represent the powers of foreign deities.

New Testament

Medieval illumination from the Ottheinrich Folio depicting the exorcism of the Gerasene demoniac by Jesus

Medieval illumination from the Ottheinrich Folio depicting the exorcism of the Gerasene demoniac by Jesus

The Septuagint refers to evil spirits as demons (daimon). Through the New Testament, demons appear 55 times, 46 times in reference to demonic possession or exorcisms. As adversaries of Jesus, demons are not morally ambivalent spirits, but evil; cause of misery, suffering and death.  They are not tempters, but cause of pain, suffering and maladies, both physical and mental. Temptation is reserved for the devil only. Unlike spirits in pagan beliefs, demons are not intermediary spirits whom must be sacrificed for appeasment of a deity. Possession also shows no trace of positivity contrary to some pagan depictions of spirit possession. They are explicitly said to be ruled by the devil or Beelzebub. Their origin is unclear, the texts take the existence of demons for granted. Many early Christians, like Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria and Lactantius assumed demons were ghosts of the Nephilim, known from Intertestamental writings. Because of references to Satan as the lord of demons, and evil angels of Satan throughout the New Testament, other scholars identified fallen angels with demons. Demons as entirely evil entities, who have been born evil, does not fit the proposed origin of evil in free-will, taught in later Christian Theology.

Pseudepigrapha and deuterocanonical books

Main articles: Pseudepigrapha and Deuterocanonical books
See also: Book of TobitBook of Enoch, and Book of Jubilees

Demons are included into biblical interpretation. In the story of Passover, the Bible tells the story as “the Lord struck down all the firstborn in Egypt.” In the Book of Jubilees, which is considered canonical only by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, this same event is told slightly differently: “All the powers of [the demon] Mastema had been let loose to slay all the first-born in the land of Egypt. And the powers of the Lord did everything according as the Lord commanded them.”

In the Genesis flood narrative the author explains how God was noticing “how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways.” In Jubilees the sins of man are attributed to “the unclean demons [who] began to lead astray the children of the sons of Noah, and to make to err and destroy them.” In Jubilees Mastema questions the loyalty of Abraham and tells God to “bid him offer him as a burnt offering on the altar, and Thou wilt see if he will do this command.” The discrepancy between the story in Jubilees and the story in Genesis 22 exists with the presence of Mastema. In Genesis, God tests the will of Abraham merely to determine whether he is a true follower, however; in Jubilees Mastema has an agenda behind promoting the sacrifice of Abraham’s son, “an even more demonic act than that of the Satan in Job.” In Jubilees, where Mastema, an angel tasked with the tempting of mortals into sin and iniquity, requests that God give him a tenth of the spirits of the children of the watchers, demons, in order to aid the process. These demons are passed into Mastema’s authority, where once again, an angel is in charge of demonic spirits.

The Testament of Solomon, written sometime in the first three Centuries C.E. , the demon Asmodeus explains what he is the son of an angel and a human mother. Another demon describes himself as having died in the “massacre in the age of giants”. Beelzeboul, the prince of demons, appears as a fallen angel not as a demon, but makes people worship demons as their gods.

Christian demonology

Main articles: Christian demonologyExorcism in ChristianityExorcism in the Catholic Church, and Demonic possession § Christianity

Since Early Christianity, demonology has developed from a simple acceptance of demons to a complex study that has grown from the original ideas taken from Jewish demonology and Christian scriptures. Christian demonology is studied in depth within the Roman Catholic Church, although many other Christian churches affirm and discuss the existence of demons.

Building upon the few references to daimon in the New Testament, especially the poetry of the Book of Revelation, Christian writers of apocrypha from the 2nd century onwards created a more complicated tapestry of beliefs about “demons” that was largely independent of Christian scripture.

While daimons were considered as both potentially benevolent or malevolent, Origen argued against Celsus that daimons are exclusively evil entities, supporting the later idea of (evil) demons. According to Origen’s cosmology, increasing corruption and evil within the soul, the more estranged the soul gets from God. Therefore, Origen opinned that the most evil demons are located underground. Besides the fallen angels known from Christian scriptures, Origen talks about Greek daemons, like nature spirits and giants. These creatures were thought to inhabitat nature or air and nourish from pagan sacrifices roaming the earth. However, there is no functional difference between the spirits of the underworld and of earth, since both have fallen from perfection into the material world. Origen sums them up as fallen angels and thus equal to demons.

Many ascetics, like Origen and Anthony the Great, described demons as psychological powers, tempting to evil, in contrast to benevolent angels advising good. According to Life of Anthony, written in Greek around 360 by Athanasius of Alexandria, most of the time, the demons were expressed as an internal struggle, inclinations and temptations. But after Anthony successfully resisted the demons, they would appear in human form to tempt and threat him even more intense.

Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite described evil as “defiancy” and does not give evil an ontological existence. He explains demons are deficiant creatures, who willingly turn themselves towards the unreal and non-existence. Their dangerous nature results not from power of their nature, but from their tendency to drag others into the “void” and the unreal, away from God.

Michael Psellos proposed the existence of several types of demons, deeply influenced by the material nature of the regions they dwell. They highest and most powerful demons attack the mind of people using their “imaginative action” (phantastikos) to produce illusions in the mind. The lowest demons on the other hand are almost mindless, gross and grunting spirits, which try to possess people instinctively, simply attracted by the warmth and life of humans. These cause diseases, fatal accidents and animalistic behavior in their victims. They are unable to speak, while other lower types of demons might give out false oracles. The demons are divided into:

  • Leliouria: The highest demons who inhabit the ether, beyond the moon
  • Aeria: Demons of the air below the moon
  • Chthonia: Inhabiting the land
  • Hyraia/Enalia: Dwelling in the water
  • Bypochtbonia: They live beneath the earth
  • Misophaes: The lowst type of demon, blind and almost senseless in the lowest hell

Invocation of Saints, holy men and women, especially ascetics, reading the Gospel, holy oil or water is said to drive them out. However, Psellos’ schemes have been too inconsistent to answer questions about the hierarchy of fallen angels. The devil’s position is impossible to assign in this scheme and it does not respond to living perceptions of felt experience and was considered rather impractical to have a lasting effect or impact on Christian demonology.

The contemporary Roman Catholic Church unequivocally teaches that angels and demons are real beings rather than just symbolic devices. The Catholic Church has a cadre of officially sanctioned exorcists which perform many exorcisms each year. The exorcists of the Catholic Church teach that demons attack humans continually but that 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.

At various times in Christian history, attempts have been made to classify demons according to various proposed demonic hierarchies.


Shayāṭīn is the usual term for demons in Islamic belief. In Islam demons try to lead humans astray from God, by tempting them to sin, teaching them sorcery and cause mischief among humans. Occult practises albeit not forbidden per se, may include conjuring demons, which requires acts against God’s laws and are therefore  orbidden, such as illicit blood-sacrifices, abandoning prayer and rejecting fasting. Based on the Islamic view on Solomon, who is widely believed to have been a ruler over genies and demons, Islam has a rich tradition about conjuring demons. Among the demons are the shayatin (devils) and the div (fiends). Both are believed to have worked for Solomon as slaves. While the shayatin usually appear within a Judeo-Christian background, the div frequently feature in beliefs of Persian and Indian origin. But it is to be noted that in Islam both angels and demons are considered to be the creatures of God and so God has ultimate power over all of them.

According to exegisis of the Quran the devils are the offspring of Iblis (Satan). They are said to live until the world ceases to exist, always shadow in humans (and jinn) whispering onto their hearts to lead them astray. Prayers are used to ward off their attacks, dissolving them temporarily. As the counterpart of the angels, they try to go against God’s will and their abode in Hell is pre-destined. They lack free will and are bound to evil. The ifrit and marid are more powerful classes of shayatin. Jinn are different from shayatin in that they have free will and not all of them are wrongdoers.

The Muslim Persians identified the evil spirits of the Quran with div. Some argue the shayatin were created good, but turned evil by Iblis’ act of arrogance, the div were created as vicious creatures and embodiment of evil. When Iblis was still among the angels, he led an army against the spirits on the earth. Among them were the div, who formed two orders; one of which sided with the jinn and were banished with them, condemned to roam the earth. The other, treacherous div joined Iblis in battle, and exiled to Hell with him. The div are often depicted as sorcerers whose misdeeds are not bound to temptation only. They could cause sickness, mental illnesses, or even turn humans to stone by touching. While the shayatin frequently appear to ordinary humans to tempt them into everything disapproved by society, the div usually appear to specific heroes.

Baháʼí Faith

In the Baháʼí Faith, demons are not regarded as independent evil spirits as they are in some faiths. Rather, evil spirits described in various faiths’ traditions, such as Satan, fallen angels, demons and jinn, are metaphors for the base character traits a human being may acquire and manifest when he turns away from God and follows his lower nature. Belief in the existence of ghosts and earthbound spirits is rejected and considered to be the product of superstition.

Ceremonial magic

While some people fear demons, or attempt to exorcise them, others willfully attempt to summon them for knowledge, assistance, or power. The ceremonial magician usually consults a grimoire, which gives the names and abilities of demons as well as detailed instructions for conjuring and controlling them. Grimoires are not limited to demons – some give the names of angels or spirits which can be called, a process called theurgy. The use of ceremonial magic to call demons is also known as goetia, the name taken from a section in the famous grimoire known as the Lesser Key of Solomon.


According to Rosemary Ellen Guiley, “Demons are not courted or worshipped in contemporary Wicca and Paganism. The existence of negative energies is acknowledged.”

Modern interpretations

Psychologist Wilhelm Wundt remarked that “among the activities attributed by myths all over the world to demons, the harmful predominate, so that in popular belief bad demons are clearly older than good ones.” Sigmund Freud developed this idea and claimed that the concept of demons was derived from the important relation of the living to the dead: “The fact that demons are always regarded as the spirits of those who have died recently shows better than anything the influence of mourning on the origin of the belief in demons.”

M. Scott Peck, an American psychiatrist, wrote two books on the subject, People of the Lie: The Hope For Healing Human Evil and Glimpses of the Devil: A Psychiatrist’s Personal Accounts of Possession, Exorcism, and Redemption. Peck describes in some detail several cases involving his patients. In People of the Lie he provides identifying characteristics of an evil person, whom he classified as having a character disorder. In Glimpses of the Devil Peck goes into significant detail describing how he became interested in exorcism in order to debunk the myth of possession by evil spirits – only to be convinced otherwise after encountering two cases which did not fit into any category known to psychology or psychiatry. Peck came to the conclusion that possession was a rare phenomenon related to evil and that possessed people are not actually evil; rather, they are doing battle with the forces of evil.

Although Peck’s earlier work was met with widespread popular acceptance, his work on the topics of evil and possession has generated significant debate and derision. Much was made of his association with (and admiration for) the controversial Malachi Martin, a Roman Catholic priest and a former Jesuit, despite the fact that Peck consistently called Martin a liar and a manipulator. Richard Woods, a Roman Catholic priest and theologian, has claimed that Dr. Peck misdiagnosed patients based upon a lack of knowledge regarding dissociative identity disorder (formerly known as multiple personality disorder) and had apparently transgressed the boundaries of professional ethics by attempting to persuade his patients into accepting Christianity. Father Woods admitted that he has never witnessed a genuine case of demonic possession in all his years.

According to S. N. Chiu, God is shown sending a demon against Saul in 1 Samuel 16 and 18 in order to punish him for the failure to follow God’s instructions, showing God as having the power to use demons for his own purposes, putting the demon under his divine authority. According to the Britannica Concise Encyclopedia, demons, despite being typically associated with evil, are often shown to be under divine control, and not acting of their own devices.

See also


Satanic Culture





Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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