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Like angels, several religions and cultures have a concept of demons and demonology although, even within a specific religion, there are differing beliefs about just what demons are, and these beliefs change from time to time.

The original Greek word, daimon, does not carry the same negative connotations but, instead, may refer to happiness.

Within the Abrahamic and Ancient Near Eastern religions, a demon is considered to be an unclean spirit. The ancient Egyptians believed that every region of the body had a demon associated with it. Persian religions viewed demons as being responsible for all that is filthy and evil in the world. Depending on the tradition, demons are thought to be fallen angels, subservient to Satan, or as the spirits of deceased human beings, generally those who were evil in life.

In the Jewish Scriptures, there are few references to demons, and a belief in demons is not required in Judaism.

The existence of demons was more widely accepted in traditional Judaism than it is today. Apocalyptic literature claims that demons are fallen angels, while rabbinic literature offers a wider variety of explanations, including the idea that demons are a product of the interaction of sunlight with smoke and vapor, which clings to the body and causes illness.

An early view as to the origins of demons was that Lilith, the first woman, transforming herself into a demon through the Tetragrammaton, takes the nocturnal emissions of men she seduces to produce more demons.

In some Christian traditions, demons are capable of possessing human beings, calling for an exorcism. The New Testament is replete with stories of Christ and His disciples driving demons from people who had been possessed.

For Christians, the word appears sixty-three times in the New Testament. The sources of demonic influence in Christianity are often attributed to the Watchers or Nephilim, the latter of which are viewed as the source of sin. The Watchers were angels sent to earth to watch over humankind. According to tradition, they lusted over ham women and many of them defected. The Nephilim are believed to be the offspring of the union of the Watchers with human women, and are also known as Giants who pillage the earth and endanger humanity in defiance of God. Satan and his demons are the fallen angels.

Within Christianity, there are diverse beliefs and doctrines regarding the existence and nature of demons. According to a recent Barna survey, approximately two out of three American Christians believe in the existence of evil forces, such as demons or evil spirits, but there are sharp disagreements as to the nature of these forces.

In Islam, demons on earth are known as djinn, which also includes other supernatural beings. Demons, or evil spirits, are mentioned in the Quran and have always been a recurring theme in Islamic theology and literature. Generally, the belief is that many demons are djinn who have gone bad.

Nevertheless, the reality of demons has long been a matter of dispute within the Muslim community. Some blame evil djinn (demons) for a wide range of problems, while others argue that such references are metaphorical.

Hindu beliefs contain a variety of spirits that might be classified as demons. While Hinduism does not have an equivalent to Satan, the belief in demons is widespread, influencing various rituals and practices.

In Hinduism, the asuras are the demons who oppose the devas, who are the gods. There are various classes of asuras, including the nagas, who are serpent demons. The rakshasas are hideous beings who haunt cemeteries and attack saintly people, while the pishachas haunt places where violent deaths have occurred. Ahi is the demon of drought, and Kamsa is an archdemon.

Buddhists tend to view demons as forces that prevent people from achieving nirvana. These forces are tempters, and they include Mara (an arch-tempter) and his daughters, Rati (desire), Raga (pleasure), and Tanha (restlessness).

By some occult beliefs, demons are spiritual entities that may be conjured or controlled, largely by magicians and sorcerers.

Since demonological phenomena are found in various religions and cultures, from antiquity to modern times, a belief in demons or their equivalent cannot be attributed to any one religion.

Topics related to demons and demonology are the focus of this portion of our guide.



Feature Article

The Origins and Presence of Demons


It is common today for people, even professing Christians, to deny the reality of demons. Common beliefs are that demons are imaginary, or that they are nothing more than a personification of the evil that is in all of us. Others consider the existence of demons to be superstition, or treat the whole matter as a joke.

Those were not the opinions of the early Christian Church, however. During the first four centuries of Christianity, theologians wrote extensively about demons. In fact, the casting out of demons was commonly recorded in the New Testament literature, acts performed by Christ, the apostles, and other believers. However, there did not appear to be a consensus as to the nature or origins of demons, either in the Old or New Testaments.

The Hebrew of the Old Testament, unlike the Greek of the New, did not have a clear or comprehensive term for demonic figures. While the presence of demonic figures were an aspect of the religious beliefs of the Israelites, and the existence of malevolent supernatural beings is never questioned, the Israelite notion of the sovereignty of Yahweh discouraged the development of religious thought in this area, although Old Testament angelology is highly developed. It seems that in the Old Testament, demonic figures are not evil by nature, but in their effect on mankind. In the Old Testament, both good and evil were believed to have originated from Yahweh, and evil spirits were said to be sent by God.

Interestingly, in both the Old and New Testaments, demons are closely associated with arid and unsettled areas. In Leviticus, on the Day of Atonement, one of the sacrificial goats is said to have been sent out to the wilderness to Azazel, who is thought to be a demon of the desert. The "night hag" of Isaiah 34:14 inhabited ruins and deserted places. Other references thought to have been to demonic figures, in Leviticus, 2 Chronicles, Isaiah, and Jeremiah, are closely associated with wilderness areas. Ancient Israelites had no widespread fear of demons, and were inclined to worship them on occasion. This association of demons with arid regions is continued in the New Testament, beginning with the temptation of Jesus by Satan, which is said to have taken place in the wilderness. In that account, the Gospel of Mark makes reference to "wild beasts" being present there as well, which is a common description of demons.

The Old Testament writings assumed that all things on earth and in heaven were created by God, a position that was made clearer in the pseudoepigraphical text, Jubilees 2:2, which holds that on the first day of creation God made "all the spirits which serve before him" in addition to the heavens above and the earth and the waters beneath. Israelite beliefs relating to the origins of demons changed over time, however. Two traditions developed in Judaism to account for the presence of malevolent supernatural beings.

The more common belief was focused on the Genesis 6:1-4 account, which was interpreted as being a tale of angelic beings who mated with human women (Jubilees 4:15-22, 1 Enoch 69:4, 106:13-17, 2 Baruch 56:12, and others). Although these fallen angels are said to have been imprisoned by God until the day of judgement, their offspring became "the giants" of Genesis 1:4, who were believed to be the demons and evil spirits who thereafter oppressed mankind. In 1 Enoch 15:11, they are said to "afflict, oppress, destroy, attack, do battle, and work destruction on the earth, and cause trouble."

Another tradition identifies the fallen angels themselves with the demons and evil spirits, and their fall is most often said to have occurred before creation. Philo of Alexandria, a Jewish philosopher who represented Alexandrian Jews before the Roman Emperor Caligula, in his writings identified the angels of Genesis 6:1-4 with demons.

Both of these traditions have, at various times, found their way into Christian theology. Whether demons are thought of as fallen angels or as the offspring of fallen angels, most of the evils experienced by mankind, including temptation itself, are attributed to the demons and their leader, variously referred to as Satan or as Lucifer.

As seen in New Testament writings, as well as in the non-canonical literature produced during this period, Jesus and the early Christians regarded demons as being very real, and as being powerful adversaries of mankind. Whereas, in the Old Testament, demons were sometimes considered to be benevolent, during New Testament times they were always regarded as evil, a point that is made clear through frequent references to "evil spirits," "unclean spirits," and "deceitful spirits," as being interchangeable with words used to define demons. In the New Testament, we find that the primary role of demons is to possess human beings, and to effect malevolent influences on them.

In most cases, the Gospels carefully differentiate between demon possession and sickness. In Luke 13:32, Jesus describes his ministry as casting out demons and healing the sick. Mark also differentiates between the healing ministry of Jesus and his performance of exorcisms, but there are events in the Gospels where demon possession is said to have caused infirmities in the possessed. Luke 13:10-17 speaks of the healing of a woman who had a "spirit of infirmity," which caused a curvature in her spine, which itself is said to have been the result of a binding by Satan. In this case, and others, demon possession seems to have caused illness, but it does not appear that either Jesus or his followers equated illness with demon possession.

While Jesus exorcised demons simply be commanding them to leave, his apostles and followers invoked the name of Jesus in their own acts of exorcism. The invocation of the name of Jesus became such an effective tool in exorcisms that Jewish exorcists, who were not even Christians, began using it (Mark 9:38, Luke 9:49) and, in the 3rd century, Origen wrote that exorcists succeeded only when they invoked the name of Jesus Christ.

During the late New Testament period, and particularly during the 2nd century, the main obstacle to the salvation of man was thought to be the demonic powers controlled by Satan. At that time, elaborate formulas began to be developed for exorcisms. Apart from the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, the New Testament has little to say about demons and their role, however. The term that is generally translated as "demon" is found sixty-three times in the New Testament, but only nine times outside of the Gospels and Acts; four of these are in 1 Corinthians 10:20-22, where demons are said to be malevolent supernatural beings to whom men sacrifice and give worship. In Romans 8, the Apostle Paul speaks of demons as being the principalities and powers that are hostile to God, but who are unable to frustrate his purposes.

Throughout most of Christian history, even during the times when people were being burned at the stake as witches, and when Satan was believed to be everywhere and behind every evil thing, the Bible teachings about demons were rarely investigated. In the 19th century, the concept of demons was rejected as superstition or quickly passed over in theological discussions. In secular society, this is understandable, as God himself is often dismissed as superstition, but Christians who dismiss the presence of demons among us should perhaps consider one undeniable fact, which is that Jesus believed in them.

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