See R. H. Robbins, The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology (1959); H. A. Relly, The Devil, Demonology, and Witchcraft (1968); F. Gettings, Dictionary of Demons (1988).
In religion, folklore, and mythology a demon (or daemon, dæmon, daimon from Greek: δαίμων [ðaïmon]) is a supernatural being that is generally described as a malevolent spirit. In Christian terms demons are generally understood as fallen angels, formerly of God. A demon is frequently depicted as a force that may be conjured and insecurely controlled. The "good" demon in recent use is largely a literary device (e.g., Maxwell's demon), though references to good demons can be found in Hesiod and Shakespeare. In common language, to "demonize" a person means to characterize or portray them as evil, or as the source of evil.
The supposed existence of demons is an important concept in many modern religions and occultist traditions. In some present-day cultures, demons are still feared in popular superstition, 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, the "Demon of the Abyss", is a useful metaphor for certain inner psychological processes, though some may also regard it as an objectively real phenomenon.
Some scholars believe that large portions of the demonology (see Asmodai) of Judaism, a key influence on Christianity and Islam, originated in Zoroastrianism, and were transferred to Judaism during the Persian era.
In modern Greek, the word daimon(δαίμων) has the same meaning as the modern English demon. But in Ancient Greek, δαίμων meant "spirit" or "higher self", much like the Latin genius. This should not, however, be confused with the word genie, which is a false friend or false cognate of genius.
Those in the Hebrew Bible are of two classes, the se'irim and the shedim. The se'irim ("hairy beings"), to which some Israelites offered sacrifices in the open fields, are satyr-like creatures, described as dancing in the wilderness (Isaiah 13:21, 34:14), and which are identical with the jinn, such as Dantalion, the 71st spirit of Solomon. (But compare the completely European woodwose.) Possibly to the same class belongs Azazel, the goat-like demons of the wilderness (Leviticus 16:10ff), probably the chief of the se'irim, and Lilith (Isaiah 34:14 - where the KJV Bible translates the Hebrew word 'lilith' as "screech owl"). Possibly "the roes and hinds of the field", by which Shulamit conjures the daughters of Jerusalem to bring her back to her lover (Canticles 2:7, 3:5), are faunlike spirits similar to the se'irim, though of a harmless nature.
Some benevolent shedim were used in kabbalistic ceremonies (as with the golem of Rabbi Yehuda Loevy), and malevolent shedim (mazikin, from the root meaning to damage) are often responsible in instances of possession. Instances of idol worship were often the result of a shed inhabiting an otherwise worthless statue; the shed would pretend to be a God with the power to send pestilence, although such events were not actually under his control.
It was from Chaldea that the name "shedu" came to the Israelites, and so the writers of the Tanach applied the word as a dylogism 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).
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; 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 (hence "seizure"). 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, witnessed such a performance in the presence of the Emperor Vespasian, and ascribed its origin to King Solomon.
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 "chief 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).
According to some texts, 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.)
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.
Rabbinical demonology has three classes of, demons, though they are scarcely separable one from another. There were the shedim, the ("harmers"), and the ("spirits"). Besides these there were lilin ("night spirits"), ("shade", or "evening spirits"), ("midday spirits"), and ("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 Gospel of Mark, Jesus casts out many demons, or evil spirits, from those who are afflicted with various ailments. Jesus is far superior to the power of demons over the beings that they inhabit, and he is able to free these victims by commanding and casting out the demons, by binding them, and forbidding them to return. Jesus also apparently lends this power to some of his disciples, who rejoice at their new found ability to cast out all demons.
By way of contrast, in the book of Acts a group of Judaistic exorcists known as the sons of Sceva try to cast out a very powerful spirit without believing in or knowing Jesus, but fail with disastrous consequences. However Jesus himself never fails to vanquish a demon, no matter how powerful (see the account of the demon-possessed man at Gerasim), and even defeats Satan in the wilderness (see Gospel of Matthew).
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 being 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."
The contemporary Roman Catholic Church unequivocally teaches that angels and demons are real personal beings, not 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.
The word "Lucifer" was inspired by the Latin Vulgate, a translation that the authors of the KJV adhered to in several occasions to elucidate Christian traditions (see KJV, "The Project"). Lucifer is a Latin word meaning "light-bearer" (from lux, lucis, "light", and ferre, "to bear, bring"), a Roman astrological term for the "Morning Star", the planet Venus. The word Lucifer was the direct translation of the Septuagint Greek heosphoros, ("dawn-bearer"); (cf. Greek phosphoros, "light-bearer") and the Hebrew Helel, ("Bright one"). The word does not specifically refer to Satan. To the contrary, in context, Isaiah 14:12-14 actually refers to one of the popular honorific titles of a Babylonian king (see Isaiah 14:4 for context); however, later interpretations of the text, and the influence of embellishments in works such as Dante's The Divine Comedy and Milton's Paradise Lost, led to the common idea in Christian mythology and folklore that Lucifer was a poetic appellation of Satan (see Lucifer for more information).
Ezekiel 28:12-19, in context, refers to the King of Tyrus (see Ezekiel 28:2 for context). The passage, however, is popularly attributed as a reference to, or allegory of, Satan, and even by some commentators, an allegory of the fall of Adam.
The Christian teachings of [source missing] built upon later Jewish traditions that the Adversary and the Adversary's 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 honour 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.
According to tradition, God then cast God's enemies from Heaven to the abyss, into a newly created prison called Hell, where all God's 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, this being the worst possible punishment.
An indefinite time later (some biblical scholars believe that the angels fell sometime after the creation of living things), when God created the earth and life, the Adversary and the other demons were allowed to tempt humans or induce them to sin by other means. The first time the Adversary did this was as a serpent in the earthly paradise called the "Garden of Eden" to tempt Eve, who became deceived by Satan's evil trickery. Eve then gave Adam some of the forbidden fruit and both of their eyes were opened to the knowledge of good and evil.
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.
In contemporary Christianity, demons are generally considered to be angels who fell from grace by rebelling against God. Some contest that this view, championed by Origen, Augustine and John Chrysostom, arose during the 6th century. Another theory that may have preceded or co-existed with the hypothesis of fallen angels was that demons were ostracized from Heaven for the primary sin of mating with mortal women, giving rise to a race of half-human giants known as the Nephilim. That theory is accepted by some contemporary Christian sects.
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.
Generally, jinn are peaceable and well disposed toward men. Many a pre-Islamic poet was believed to have been inspired by good jinn, but there are also evil jinn, who contrive to injure men.
In Islam the evil jinns are referred to as the shayātīn, or devils, and Iblis (Satan) is their chief. Iblis was the first Jinn who disobeyed Allah. According to Islam, the jinn are made from the light of flame of fire (ناَر [nɛ:r] deviation of نور [nu:r] "light") (and mankind is made of clay).
Adam was the first man, and man was the greatest creation of Allah. Iblis could not stand this, and refused to acknowledge a creature made of "dirt" (man). Allah condemned Iblis to be punished after death eternally in the hellfire. Allah had created hell.
Iblis asked Allah if he may live to the last day and have the ability to mislead mankind and jinns, Allah said that Iblis may only mislead those whom have forsaken Allah. Allah then turned Iblis's countenance into horridness and condemned him to only have powers of trickery.
The word "genie" comes from the Arabic jinn. This is not surprising considering the story of `Alā' ad-Dīn, (anglicized as Aladdin), passed through Arabian merchants en route to Europe.
M. Scott Peck, an American psychiatrist, wrote two books on the subject. .
Peck describes in some detail several cases involving his patients. In People of the Lie: The Hope For Healing Human Evil he gives some identifying characteristics for evil persons whom he classifies as having a character disorder. In Glimpses of the Devil, A Psychiatrist's Personal Accounts of Possession, Exorcism, and Redemption 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. Possessed people are not actually evil; they are doing battle with the forces of evil. His observations on these cases are listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (IV) of the American Psychiatric Association.
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 manipulator. Other criticisms leveled against Peck include misdiagnoses based upon a lack of knowledge regarding dissociative identity disorder (formerly known as multiple personality disorder), and a claim that he had transgressed the boundaries of professional ethics by attempting to persuade his patients into accepting Christianity.
Anton Rubinstein's lushly chromatic opera The Demon (1875), based on the poem "The Demon" by Michail 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, Screwtape, 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.
The earliest known connection of the word with games is that the British have called 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. "Demon" is called Canfield in the United States.
It has been asserted by some religious groups, demonologists, and paranormal investigators that demons can communicate with humans through the use of a Ouija board and that demonic oppression and possession can result from its use. Skeptics assert that the Ouija board's users move the game's planchette with their hands (consciously or unconsciously) and only appear to be communicating with spirits and that any resulting possession is purely psychosomatic. The original idea for the use of spirit boards was to contact spirits of dead humans and not evil spirits or demons.
Demons sometimes figure in horror films, such as the Dana Andrews vehicle, Night of the Demon, a.k.a. Curse of the Demon. A host of demons figure prominently in the "Night on Bald Mountain" segment of Fantasia.
Tenacious D claim, in the song Tribute, to have been forced to play the best song in the world to save their souls from a shiny demon. This performance is shown in the 2006 movie The Pick of Destiny.