A demon is a lesser spirit that intervenes in the physical world. Demons usually are associated with evil, but in pre-Christian and non-Christian cultures, demons were, and are, not necessarily good or evil. There are good and bad demons, and demons capable of both kinds of behavior. The study of demons is called demonology.
The term demon means “replete with wisdom”; good demons once were called eudemons, and evil demons were called cacodemons. Demon is derived from the Greek term daimon, or “divine power,” “fate” or “god.”
In Greek mythology, daimon included deified heroes. Daimones were intermediary spirits between man and the gods. A good daimon acted as a guardian spirit, and it was considered lucky to have one for guidance and protection.
A guardian daimon whispered advice and ideas in one’s ear. Evil daimones could lead one astray. Socrates claimed he had a daimon his entire life. The daimon’s voice warned him of danger and bad decisions but never directed him what to do. Socrates said his guardian spirit was more trustworthy than omens from the flights and entrails of birds, two highly respected forms of divination at the time.
Demons are controlled by magicians and sorcerers. Solomon commanded demons called djinn to work for him. Demons have been exorcised as the causes of dis- ease, misfortune and POSSESSION. In ancient Egypt, it was believed that a magician who exorcised a demon responsible for a possession would be just as likely to use the same demon to other ends. To the present day in many tribal societies, demons are blamed for a wide range of misfortunes and illnesses.
Jewish systems of demonology have long and complex histories and distinguish between classes of demons. Ac- cording to the Kabbalah, evil powers emanate from the left pillar of the Tree of Life, especially from Geburah, the sephira (sphere) of the wrath of God. By the 13th century, the idea had developed of ten evil sephiroth to counter the ten holy sephiroth of the Tree.
Another system of demons distinguishes those born of night terrors, and yet another system describes the demons that fill the sky between the earth and the moon. There are demons who, with angels, are in charge of the night hours and interpretations of diseases, and those who have seals that may be used to summon them.
In the development of Christian demonology, demons were associated only with evil; they are agents of the Devil. Good Christian spirits belong to the ranks of angels of the Lord. Demons are fallen angels who followed Lucifer when he was cast out of heaven by God. Their sole purpose is to tempt humankind into immoral acts and come between humans and God.
As Christianity spread, the ranks of demons swelled to include the gods and spirits of the ancient Middle Eastern and Jewish traditions, and all pagan deities and nature spirits.
As agents of the Devil, demons especially became associated with witches during the witch hunts and Inquisition.
Increase Mather, writing in Cases of Conscience (1693), said,
“The Scriptures assert that there are Devils and Witches and that they are the common enemy of Mankind.” George Giffard, an Oxford preacher of about the same period, said that witches should be put to death not because they kill others but because they deal with devils: “These cunning men and women which dealt with spirites and charme seeming to do good, and draw the people into manifold impieties, with all other which haue [have] familiarity with deuils [devils], or use conjurations, ought to bee rooted out, that others might see and feare.”
Sex between Humans and Demons
Demons have sexual appetites for intercourse with humans. In The Zohar (“Book of Splendor”), the principal work of the Kabbalah, any pollution of semen results in the birth of demons, including intercourse with the night-terror demons such as lilith. Demons in the shape of human males (incubi) prey on women, while demons in female shapes (succubi) prey on men. In Christianity, the possibility of intercourse with demons was denied prior to the 12th century. But as the Inquisition gained force, intercourse with demons was a focus of interest by the 14th century. In particular, witches and other heretics — enemies of the Church — were said not only to have sex with demons but also to copulate wildly and frequently with them, especially at SABBATS, and to worship them in their rites. In many cases, the distinction between the Devil himself and demons was blurry.
Inquisitors wrote a great deal on demonic sex. Sex with demons was portrayed as unpleasant and painful. Sometimes demons appeared to persons in the forms of their spouses or lovers. After copulation, they would reveal their true identities and blackmail the victims into continuing the sexual liaison.
Incubi, male demons, were especially attracted to women with beautiful hair, young virgins, chaste wid- ows and all “devout” females. Nuns were among the most vulnerable and could be molested in the confessional as well as in bed. While the majority of women were forced into sex by the incubi, it was believed that some of them submitted willingly and even enjoyed the act. Incubi had huge phalluses, sometimes made of horn or covered with scales, and they ejaculated icy semen. When they appeared as demons and not as human impostors, they were described as ugly, hairy and foul-smelling.
Incubi were believed to have the ability to impregnate women. They did not possess their own semen but collected it from men in nocturnal emissions, masturbation or in coitus while masquerading as succubi. The demons preserved the semen and used it later on one of their victims. The children that resulted were considered the child of the man who unwittingly provided the semen; some horror stories held that the children came out half human and half beast.
In a small number of cases, claims of molestation by incubi were dismissed as the products of female melancholia or vivid imaginations. False pregnancies that arose from this state were chalked up to flatulence.
The wild copulation between witches and demons was lamented in the Malleus Maleficarum (1486), which noted that “in times long past the Incubus devils used to infest women against their wills [but] modern witches .. . willingly embrace this most foul and miserable ser- vitude.” Some incubi served as familiars to witches, who sent them to torment specific individuals.
Since sex with incubi was expected of witches, many accused witches were tortured until they confessed to this crime (see torture). In 1485 the Inquisitor of Como sent 41 such women to their deaths at the stake. Their “confessions” were corroborated, incredibly, by eye-wit- ness accounts, as well as by hearsay evidence “and the testimony of credible witnesses.”
Incubi were believed to be always visible to witches but only occasionally visible to others — even the victims. Reports exist of people observed in the throes of passion with invisible partners. Husbands, however, could see incubi as they copulated with their wives who thought they were other men.
Succubi could appear in the flesh as beautiful, voluptuous women (perhaps an indication of male fantasies). They usually visited men in their sleep — especially men who slept alone — and their sexual activities caused erotic dreams and nocturnal emissions.
Succubi were not as prevalent as incubi. Because of the inherent evil of women, in the view of Christianity, women were morally weak and therefore more licentious than men. If a man were assaulted by a succubus, it was most likely not his fault.
The sex act itself with a succubus was often described as penetrating a cavern of ice. There are accounts of men being forced to perform cunnilingus on succubi, whose vaginas dripped urine, dung and other vile juices and smells.
Succubi appeared often in the records of witchcraft trials. Men accused of witchcraft sometimes were tortured until they confessed having sex with demons, among other diabolical crimes. In 1468 in Bologna, Italy, a man was executed for allegedly running a brothel of succubi.
The church prescribed five ways to get rid of incubi and succubi:
1) by making a Sacramental Confession;
2) by making the sign of the cross;
3) by reciting the Ave Maria;
4) by moving to another house or town; and
5) by ex- communication of the demon by holy men.
Sometimes the Lord’s Prayer worked, as did a sprinkling of holy water.
It should be noted that cases of sexual molestation by demons did not die with the witch hunts; they continue to be reported to the present time, often in connection with poltergeist activities and POSSESSION. For example, The Haunted by Robert Curran (1988) tells of a family of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, who said they were tormented by a hideous demon for several years. The demon manifested in various forms, including a hag with scraggly, long white hair, scaly skin and vampirelike fangs, which sexually molested the husband. (See nightmare).
Demons in Contemporary Witchcraft
Demons are not courted or worshiped in contemporary Wicca and Paganism. The existence of negative energies is acknowledged.
Demons in Ceremonial Magic
Demons are powerful intelligences that may be summoned and controlled in rituals along with god-forms, elementals, angels, planetary and Zodiacal spirits and thought-forms. The GRIMOIRES give detailed instructions for conjuring and controlling demons. Demons are dangerous; hence the magician must be careful.
The Hierarchies and Functions of Demons
Demons have been catalogued, ranked and classified since at least 100-400, the period in which the Testament of Solomon appeared, describing Solomon’s magic ring for commanding the djinn and listing the names and functions of various Hebrew, Greek, Assyrian, Babylonian, Egyptian and perhaps Persian demons. Christian demonologists of the 16th and 17th centuries catalogued de- mons into hierarchies of hell and ascribed to them attributes and duties, including ambassadorships to various nations. Johann Weyer, who devised the most complex hierarchy, estimated that there were 7,405,926 demons serving under 72 princes. The grimoires of ceremonial magic also give their own hierarchies. Some of the major demons important to witchcraft cases are:
The demon of lechery, jealousy, anger and re- venge. His chief objectives are to prevent intercourse be- tween husband and wife, wreck new marriages and force husbands to commit adultery. He is also one of the chief demons involved in possession. Throughout history, he has been regarded as one of the most evil of Satan’s infernal demons. He is usually portrayed as having three heads, those of an ogre, a ram and a bull, all sexually licentious creatures; having the feet of a cock, another sexually aggressive creature; and having wings. He rides on a dragon and breathes fire.
Asmodeus has his roots in ancient Persia. He is identified with the demon Aeshma, one of the seven archangels of Persian mythology. The Hebrews absorbed him into their mythology, where he attained the highest status and most power of all demons in Hebrew legends. According Asmodeus, demon of lust and anger to the Hebrews, he is the son of Naamah and Shamdon. He was part of the seraphim, the highest order of angels, but fell from grace. In other Hebrew legends, he is either associated with or is the husband of Lilith, the demon queen of lust. Sometimes he is said to be the offspring of Lilith and Adam.
Asmodeus migrated into Christian lore, becoming one of the Devil’s leading agents of provocation. Witches were said to worship him, and magicians and sorcerers attempted to conjure him to strike out at enemies. Grimoires admonish anyone seeking an audience with Asmodeus to summon him bareheaded out of respect. Weyer said Asmodeus also ruled the gambling houses. He was one of the infernal agents blamed for the obscene sexual possession of the Louviers nuns in 17th-century France.
Astaroth (also Ashtaroth).
A male demon who evolved from the ancient Phoenician mother goddess of fertility, Astarte or Ashtoreth. In his male incarnation, he has little to do with man’s sexual nature. He is a teacher of the sciences and a keeper of the secrets of the past, present and future and is invoked in necromantic rituals of divination. He appears as an angel in human form, by some accounts ugly and by other accounts beautiful. He does, however, possess a powerful stench. Weyer said Astaroth was a grand duke of hell and commanded 40 legions of demons. Astaroth is listed as one of the three supreme evil demons, with Beelzebub and Lucifer, in the Grimoire Verum and Grand Gri- moire, which date from about the 18th century.
The demon is said to instigate cases of demonic possession, most notably that of the Loudun nuns in France in the 16th century. The nuns accused a priest, Father Urbain Grandier, of causing their possession. At Grandier’s trial, a handwritten “confession” of his was produced detailing his pact with the Devil, witnessed and signed by Astaroth and several other demons.
Many small deities of ancient Syria and Persia carried this name, which means “the lord” (from the Hebrew bd’al), but the greatest Baal was an agricultural and fertility deity of Canaan. The son of El, the High God of Canaan, Baal was the lord of life and ruled the death-rebirth cycle. He engaged in a battle with Mot (“death”) and was slain and sent to the underworld. The crops withered, until Baal’s sister, Anath, the maiden goddess of love, found his body and gave it a proper burial. The Canaanites worshiped Baal by sacrificing children by burning. As a demon in Christianity, Baal was triple-headed, with a cat’s head and a toad’s head on either side of his human head. He imparted visibility and wisdom.
Known as “Lord of the Flies,” Beelzebub was the prince of demons in Hebrew belief at the time of Je- sus. The Pharisees accused Christ of exorcising demons in Beelzebub’s name. In medieval times, Beelzebub was regarded as a demon of great power. A sorcerer conjured him at his own risk of death by apoplexy or strangulation; once conjured, the demon was difficult to banish. When he manifested, it was as a gigantic, ugly fly.
Beelzebub was said to reign over witches’ SABBATS. Witches denied Christ in his name and chanted it as they danced. There are many stories of his copulating with witches in wild orgies; to do this, he apparently appeared in other than fly form.
Beelzebub was among the demons blamed for the pos- session cases of the nuns of Loudun and Aix-en-Provence in 17th-century France, forcing the nuns into lewd behavior (see Aix-en-Provence Possessions).
One of Satan’s most important and evil demons, who is deceptively beautiful in appearance and soft in voice, but full of treachery, recklessness and lies. He is dedicated to creating wickedness and guilt in mankind, especially in the form of sexual perversions, fornication and lust.
Belial’s name probably comes from the Hebrew phrase beli ya’al, which means “without worth.” The ancient He- brews believed Belial was the next angel created after Lucifer and was evil from the start, being one of the first to revolt against God. After his fall from heaven, he became the personification of evil.
Weyer said Belial commanded 80 legions of demons (at 6,666 demons per legion) and served as infernal ambassador to Turkey. Magicians of that time believed that sacrifices and offerings were necessary to invoke him. Belial was reputed to break his promises to magicians, but those who managed to gain his true favor were handsomely rewarded.
Belial’s name is sometimes used as a synonym for Satan or the Antichrist. In the Old Testament, the phrase “sons of Belial” refers to worthlessness and recklessness. Belial also is known as Beliar.
In Latin, his name means “light-bringer,” and he originally was associated with Venus, the morning star. His rebellion against God caused him and his followers to be cast from heaven. The fallen angels lost their beauty and power and became “fiendes black.” The name “Lucifer” was sometimes applied to Christ, as the light-bearer, but by the Middle Ages, both “Lucifer” and “Satan” were used as names for the Devil. Lucifer could apply to the Devil in either his pre-fall or post-fall state. In the hierarchies of demons, Lucifer is emperor of hell and ranks above Satan, one of his lieutenants (ranks and distinctions not made in theology). When conjured, he appears as a beautiful child. Lucifer was said to rule Europeans and Asiatics.
- Cavendish, Richard. The Black Arts. New York: Putnam, 1967.
- Lea, Henry Charles. Materials Toward a History of Witchcraft. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1939.
- Russell, Jeffrey Burton. Witchcraft in the Middle Ages. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1972.
- Summers, Montague, ed. The Malleus Maleficarum of Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger. New York: Dover Publications, 1971. First published, 1928.
demon A lesser spirit that can be invoked in MAGIC. Demons usually are regarded as malevolent or evil, in contrast to ANGELS, who are regarded as benevolent. Like angels, demons are numberless. Demons are unruly; magicians must force them to obey commands for service. grimoires give the names, duties, seal s, incantations, and r it ual s for summoning and controlling demons. They are especially useful in divination, finding lost treasure and the casting of spells. When evoked, demons are made to take form in a magic triangle, a secured boundary from which they cannot threaten the magician, who is protected by a magic circle. Western concepts of demons evolved from various sources. The Greek DAIMONES are both good and evil according to their inherent nature, and include a broad range of beings from spirits to spirits of the dead to gods. The Christian church condemned as evil all pagan spirits whose purpose is to ruin souls so that they are condemned to hell. Judaic demonologies evolved with influences from the lore of the Babylonians, the Persians, and the Egyptians. In Talmudic tradition, demons are ever-present enemies posing constant dangers to humanity. They were created by God on the first Sabbath eve at twilight. Dusk fell before God finished them, and thus they have no bodies. They have wings and exist between humans and angels—roughly between the Earth and the moon—and are less powerful than angels. They frequent uninhabited and unclean places, and once they attach themselves to a person or family, bad luck follows. By the Middle Ages, rabbinic writings had elaborated upon demons, expanding their classes and duties. In Christianity, demons are unrelentingly evil and are the minions of Satan, the devil. They live in hell but can prowl the world actively looking for souls to subvert. By the end of the New Testament period, demons were synonymous with fallen angels, the one-third of the heavenly host cast out of heaven along with Lucifer (later identified as Satan) who all descended into hell. As Christianity spread, the ranks of demons swelled to include the gods and demons of the ancient Middle Eastern and Jewish traditions, all pagan deities, and nat ure spirit s. During the Inquisition, demons especially became associated with witches, who also were regarded as agents of the devil. Much was written about the specific ways demons tormented humans, especially by sexual assault. Male demons (incubi) and female demons (succubi) were believed to visit people in their beds at night to copulate with them. Monstrous births were explained away as the products of human–demon intercourse. Witches—as well as alchemists and other adept s—were said to have demons as familiars. See also choronzon.
FURTHER READING : FLINT, VALERIE I. J. The Rise of Magic in Early Medieval Europe. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1991. Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft. Rev. ed. New York: Facts On File, 1989. Russell, Jeffrey Burton. A History of Witchcraft. London: Thames and Hudson, 1980. Thomas, Keith. Religion and the Decline of Magic. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1971. Trachtenberg, Joshua. Jewish Magic and Superstition: A Study in Folk Religion. New York: Berhman’s Jewish Book House, 1939.
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