Demon is a vague word, which may refer to any number of spirits or types of spirits. It is one of those words that can mean very different things to different people.

The word Demon is a distortion of daimone or daemon, which referred to various specific types of spirits, some of them wild and rambunctious but none of them wicked or evil. Post-Christianity, however, the word became a blanket term to indicate virtually any spirit. Christianity forbade interaction with spirits with the exception of angels and officially approved saints. All other spirits were considered, by definition, harmful, deceptive, and evil. Because all these spirits were now considered evil and because all these spirits were lumped together as “Demons,” the word took on the connotation of “evil spirit.” People were also uncomfortable referring to fallen angels as “angels,” and so they became associated with Demons, too. Demons have a tendency to be spirits of older, banished, or vanquished pantheons.

Demon is sometimes the generic word used to translate the names of distinct classes of spirits in other languages into English:

• Many “Demons” of Japanese folklore are really oni or Yokai.

• Many “Demons” of Jewish folklore are really Djinn.

• Jewish cosmology sometimes refers to dangerous, destructive angels as Demons.

In modern metaphysical circles, Demons tend to be low-level spirits of malicious intent; spirits who tend to be hostile to people or at least enjoy causing trouble. Many spirits associated with disease are classified as Demons.

Just because they’re called “Demons” doesn’t guarantee that they’re negative. Sinhalese spiritsclassified as “Demons” tend to be those exceptionally attached to material things. Western occultists would describe them as being overly attached to “lower planes.” They may be unable to control cravings and desires.

Japanese “Demons” serve many functions.

• They serve and attend deities.

• They guard temples, shrines, and sacred places.

• They are employees of Hell regions, where their function is to torment dead souls as punishment for sins committed.

• They serve people, too, especially someone who wins a wager or contest with them. (They don’t have to be forced; they serve voluntarily in this circumstance. Of course, if you lose …)

On television, as in other forms of horror or supernatural based entertainment, Demon may refer to any malicious, mean-spirited, or otherwise unappealing or harmful spirit. Some television series, however, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, or Supernatural, create intricate mythologies, defining their Demons. Not all Demons on these shows are intrinsically had. On Angel, for instance, the Demon Lome and half-Demon Doyle are heroes.

Many of these so-called Demons are quite benevolent toward virtuous people but will torment wrongdoers, in life as well as after death.

Whether or not they’re called Demons, some spirits genuinely are harmful troublemakers. No need to panic; effective methods of dealing with them have existed for millennia:

Some ambivalent spirits may be coerced, cajoled, or persuaded into becoming allies instead. Some can be encouraged to reserve malicious inclinations for your enemies. Other spirits are just evil, can’t be trusted, and need to be banished. The most effective method of preventing an infestation of malevolent spirits or of eliminating them once they’ve arrived is cultivating relationships with more powerful but benevolent spirits. Demons may not be afraid of moving into your territory, but few will venture where Kwan Yin, Shoki, or Michael Archangel is resident. Posting images of these spirits or other Demon-quellers (see the Appendix) may be sufficient to send Demons packing.

Amulets keep Demons at bay, as do many botanicals including:

• Aloe vera (Aloe vera)

• Coriander, also known as cilantro (Coriandrum sativum)

• Flamboyant (Poinciana regia)

• Rue (Ruta spp.)

• Willow trees (Salix spp.)

• Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium)

If burned as incense, gum ammoniac (Dorema Ammoniacum), harmal, also known as Syrian rue (Peganum harmala), and benzoin, also known as jawi (Styrax benzoin), allegedly repel Demons.

Most low-level Demons can only travel in straight lines. Wandering, wavy, or winding paths keep them from arriving at your door. Demons get lost in labyrinths. The more complex the path, the less likely they are to be able to navigate it. If a straight line is unavoidable, as in a hallway, strategically posted mirrors and amulets may compensate. (This is also true for ghosts.)

Most low-level Demons are low-level for a reason: they’re not particularly quick-witted; they might even be described as really stupid. Word games, anything clever that will puzzlethem, may be sufficient to stop them in their tracks. Jewish tradition advises painting ceilings sky blue. Low-level spirits see the color and think they’re outside or have ascended to celestial realms. Their general inclination is to leave. Most low-level Demons are afflicted with the spiritual equivalent of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Exploiting this quality provides safety:

• Sprinkle poppy or millet seeds on the ground. Seed beads will work, too: anything abundant, tiny, and difficult to pick up may do the trick. The Demons will be compelled to stop and pick up each one.

• Strategically hang a sieve, net, or anything with myriad little holes. The Demons will be compelled to stop and count them.

Signs of true Demonic attack are rarely as dramatic as on television. Here are some possible symptoms or indications, although these may derive from other causes, too:

• Frequent or repeating nightmares

• Seeing dark, mysterious figures at night, especially with peripheral vision. Dark in this context doesn’t refer to complexion or clothing but indicates the opposite or absence of light. Demons sometimes give the appearance of a dark vacuum or black hole.

• An unexpected, foul stench with no apparent physical cause or explanation

• Inexplicable showers of pebbles or rocks on a roof

Demons tend to be most active at night or at high noon. They are bullies and so tend to pick on solitary people, especially those in lonely, solitary places. Bright lights, company, or the illusion of it may serve to ward them off. Loud, lively party music sometimes sends them away.


Daemone; Djinn; Fairy, Green; Ghost; Kwan Yin; Mazzik; Michael; Oni; Raphael; Shoki; Yokai


Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses– Written by Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.

A Demon is a type of spirit that interferes in the affairs of people. The term Demon means “replete with wisdom” and is derived from the Greek term Daimon. The daimones were both good and evil and even included deified heroes. In most cultures, Demons are troublesome rather than helpful; some are evil. In Christianity, all Demons are evil and serve Satan for the purpose of subverting souls. Demons can cause unpleasant hauntings, often involving Infestation, Oppression, and Possession. The study of Demons is called Demonology. Like Angels, Demons are numberless.

Historical Overview

Demons universally are considered the cause of all humankind’s problems: disease, misfortune, poor health, bad luck, ruined relationships, sin, and soul loss. Since ancient times, they have been said to have sex with humans. They can be sent to torment and possess others. They can be put to productive uses as well and can be summoned and controlled by magic. For example, in ancient Egypt, a magician who exorcized a possessing Demon could command the same Demon to perform useful tasks. There are numerous ways to protect against Demons and to banish them from places, people, and animals. Beliefs in Demon-caused troubles are ancient and still prevail in many places around the world. Since the mid20th century, belief in Demons and their interferences has risen in the West.

The lore of the ancient Babylonians, Assyrians, and other Middle Eastern cultures teemed with Demons. The greatest Demonic problem was illness, and Demons had to be cast out of a person for healing. In Mesopotamian lore, Demons took the form of human-animal hybrids that could walk upright on two legs and were controlled by the gods. Humans could repel Demons by magic, such as use of Charms and Amulets (see Incantation Bowl).

Demons in Judaism

Judaic Demonologies evolved with influences from the lore of the Babylonians, Persians, and 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. According to another story, Demons were spawned by Lilith, the spurned first wife of Adam. King Solomon used magic to summon and control Demons, or the Djinn, to work for him in building his Temple of Jerusalem.
Demons can have wings and exist between humans and angels, roughly between the earth and the Moon. They are less powerful than angels. They frequent uninhabited and unclean places, and once they attach themselves to a person or family, bad luck follows. The Jewish “middle world” teems with numberless Demons and angels. Angels of destruction (malache habbala) blurred together with the Demonic. By the second century C.E., the Hebrews had developed complex systems of both entities. As were angels, Demons were seen as having jurisdiction over everything in creation. Rabbinical teachings frowned on Demon magic, but beliefs and practices concerning Demons were tolerated. By the Middle Ages, rabbinic writings had elaborated upon Demons, expanding their classes and duties.

One category of Demon, the LUTIN, does possess both body and soul. The lutin were created by sexual unions between Adam and female Demons after he parted from Eve. Another category of Demons are created every day from the newly dead, who were believed to linger about in close contact with the living. The spirits of the wicked dead became Demons. They are capable of inflicting wounds that only God can heal.

In the development of the Kabbalah, hierarchies of Demons were associated with the 10 sephirot, or centers, of the Tree of Life. According to the Kabbalah, evil powers emanate from the left pillar of the Tree of Life, especially from Geburah, the sephira of the wrath of God. By the 13th century, the idea of 10 evil sephirot had developed to counter the 10 holy sephirot of the Tree. Other Hebrew systems of Demons distinguish those born of night terrors and those who 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. This Demonic lore later became the core of magical handbooks called Grimoires.

The Old Testament mentions evil spirits but does not feature a primary Demonic figure such as the Satan that emerged in Christianity. “Satan” is more a prosecuting attorney interested in testing humans and is a member of the heavenly court. God sends evil spirits to punish people. Judges 9:22–25 tells of Abimelech, who murdered 70 rivals for the rule of Israel:

After Abimelech had governed Israel three years, God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the citizens of Shechem, who acted treacherously against Abimelech. God did this in order that the crime against Jerub-Baal’s seventy sons, the shedding of their blood, might be avenged on their brother Abimelech and on the citizens of Shechem, who had helped him murder his brothers. In opposition to him these citizens of Shechem set men on the hilltops to ambush and rob everyone who passed by, and this was reported to Abimelech.

In 1 Kings 22:19–22, the Lord manipulates human affairs by dispatching a lying spirit, though its nature— good or evil—is ambiguous:
Micaiah continued, “Therefore hear the word of the LORD: I saw the LORD sitting on his throne with all the host of heaven standing around him on his right and on his left (20). And the LORD said, ‘Who will entice Ahab into attacking Ramoth Gilead and going to his death there?’
One suggested this, and another that (21). Finally, a spirit came forward, stood before the LORD and said, “I will entice him.”

“By what means?” the LORD asked.
“I will go out and be a lying spirit in the mouths of all his prophets,” he said.
“You will succeed in enticing him,” said the LORD.
“Go and do it.”

More about Demons is found in the rabbinic teachings called the Gemora. (See mazziqin.)

Demons in Apochryphal and Pseudepigraphal Works

The Apochrypha and pseudepigrapha are non-canonical texts written by unknown or pseudonymous authors. Some of the texts have more to say about angels and Demons than do the canonical works in the Bible. The Apochrypha (hidden) consists of 15 books or portions of books written between about 200 B.C.E. and 200 C.E. Demons have minor roles in apochryphal works; the distinguishing exception is the book of Tobit, in which the young man Tobias learns how to exorcize Demons from the archangel Raphael, disguised as a man (see Asmodeus).

most pseudepigraphal works were written between 200 b.c.e. and 200 c.e., though some were written much later. more information about Demons is given in pseudepigraphal works such as jubilees and Enoch. according to jubilees, evil originated with bad angels, not with Adam and Eve.

Jubilees says that angels were created by God on the first day. The text does not say specifically when Demons were created, but it is implied that they, too, were made on the first day, “along with all of the spirits of his [God’s] creatures which are in heaven and on earth” (2:2). Angels are described only by their classes and duties. One class are the Watchers, good angels who were assigned the task of watching over humanity. The Watchers coveted human women and descended to Earth, to create the vampiric, cannibalistic monsters called Nephilim. Thus, the Demonic and evil powers were created by corrupted angels.

God sends the flood to cleanse the planet, but not all of the Nephilim are destroyed. When the polluted Demons start to bother Noah and his sons, Noah appeals to God, who agrees to send angels to bind them all into the place of judgment. Mastema, the prince of evil and the only Demonic power named in Jubilees, steps forward to ask God to allow one-tenth of the Demons to remain on Earth under his jurisdiction. The angels then teach Noah herbal lore for restraining the remaining Demons. The three books of Enoch also tell the story of the Watchers and Nephilim, in more detail. Again, evil comes into being through the fall of the angels. On the Day of Judgment, however, all the Demons and evil angels will be cast into the abyss.

Demons in Christianity

In Christianity, Demons have their origins in the Fallen Angels who followed Lucifer, or “morning star,” when he was cast out of heaven by God (Isaiah 14:12). In the New Testament, Jesus healed by casting out Demons, in keeping with prevailing traditions. By the end of the New Testament period, Demons were synonymous with fallen angels, all under the direction of Satan. As Christianity spread, pagan gods, goddesses, and nature spirits were incorporated into the ranks of Demons.

The hermits, ascetics, and men who became the early saints of Christianity were constantly beset by evil, including Demonic attacks (see ANTHONY). In the early centuries, Christian theologians known as the apostolic fathers grappled with questions about evil. Justin Martyr saw Demons as the illicit children of fallen angels and human women. Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp, and Barnabas stressed the Devil rather than his Demons. Irenaeus was convinced of the reality of Demons and the Devil and advocated Exorcism as a way to combat them.

Tertullian wrote in more detail about Demons, defining them as fallen angels who lusted after women. Demons are quite dangerous, he said, possessing supreme intelligence and knowledge, as well as supernormal abilities such as instant travel.

Origen agreed with Tertullian, except on the reason for the fall of angels: They fell from the sin of pride rather than lust. Demons were not created evil, he said, but became evil by exercising their free will. They are not pure spirits but have bodies different from human ones. They attack humans in two principal ways: through obsession, with evil thoughts, and through possession, including of animals. Magic is done with the aid of Demons, Origen said. He also advocated exorcism, which must be performed according to precise rituals in order to be effective. Under certain circumstances, humans can become Demons—a view that later theologians criticized. From about the third to eighth centuries, theologians built on these early ideas. Jerome and Augustine wrote of shape-shifting Demons, including half-human, halfmonstrous forms. Augustine in particular never doubted the reality of Demons and their evil influences. For medieval theologians, Demons were the tempters of humanity, a system that ultimately worked in favour of humans by proving who was worthy of going to heaven. The Devil and his hordes had no direct access to people except through their free will choices. Thomas Aquinas said that Satan controls people chiefly through possession, and if Demons had no success with a person during life, they made their final assault on the soul at the moment of death.

During the witch trials of the Inquisition, the importance of Demons increased. Demons were believed to play a key role, causing possessions, leading people into sin, helping people perpetrate evil deeds, and serving witches as their Familiar spirits in all acts of malevolence. Theologians and witch hunters emphasized the dangers of Demons and those who trafficked with them by making Pacts. The Puritan minister Increase Mather said in Cases of Conscience (1692), “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 deale with spirites and charme seeming to do good, and draw the people into manifold impieties, with all other which haue familiarity with deuils, or use conjurations, ought to bee rooted out, that others might see and feare.”

Characteristics of Demons

Descriptions from antiquity portray Demons as shape shifters who can assume any form, animal or human or hybrid, such as the Mesopotamian Demons. The Platonists and early fathers and theologians of the Christian Church said that Demons condense bodies out of the air or smoke. In Arabian lore, the Djinn are made of smokeless fire. Some of the theologians and witch hunters of the Inquisition said that Demons have no corporeal form and only give the illusion that they are in human or animal form. They create voices out of air that mimic people.

In Judaic lore, Demons are always invisible but can see themselves and each other. They cast no shadows. They eat, drink, propagate, and eventually die, though not exactly as humans do. Their eating and drinking consist of lapping up fire, water, air, and slime. When they die, they dry up and wither away to their primordial state. However, when they have sex, they can assume bodies. They will not copulate in front of any human or another Demon.

In Christian lore, Demons assume forms that are black, such as dogs (see black dogs) and other animals and men dressed in black. Because they are evil, they are imperfect, and so they always have a flaw in their appearance, such as a malformed limb or cloven feet. They can also assume beautiful and seductive forms, especially if they are sexual predators.

According to Remy:
When they first approach a man to speak with him they do not wish him to be terrified by any unusual appearance, and therefore they prefer to assume a human shape and manifest themselves as a man of good standing in order that their words may carry more weight and authority; and for this reason they like to wear a long black cloak, such as is only worn by honored men of substance. It is true that many hold their purpose in this last is to conceal the deformity of their feet, which is an ineradicable token and sign of their essential baseness; and that black is, besides, most appropriate to them, since all their contrivings against men are of a black and deadly nature.

Demons are described as unclean, filthy, and full of abominable stench. They live in dead bodies. If they make their bodies out of air or occupy a living body, they exude a stench. In the body, they swell in the bowels with excrement and waste. They are afraid of cuts, wounds, and blows and can be repelled with threats of them. They are organized in hierarchies and function as in a military organization, according to Grimoires and Inquisition writings. If lower Demons disobey their superiors, they are beaten.

Activities of Demons

Throughout history, the chief activity of Demons has been to cause illness and disease. They are the spirits of uncleanness, and the lack of proper hygiene will enable them to enter a person through contaminated food, dirty hands, and foul environments. Widespread beliefs hold that humans are in constant danger of Demonic attack in some form, and constant vigilance is required through watchfulness, proper habits, and the use of measures of protection. The greatest danger occurs at night when sleeping humans are at their most vulnerable, especially concerning Demons that cause nightmares and make sexual attacks. Birth and death are perilous times, as are the nights on which marriages are consummated. At these times, Demons are better able to wreak havoc. During the Inquisition, Demons were believed to aid witches by giving instruction on how to cast evil spells and how to poison people, crops, and animals with herbs and other substances. They acted as familiars, taking the form of animals such as birds and insects, to carry out the evil of witches. They participated in Sabbats and pacts. Inquisitors believed that Demons influenced women more easily than men, for women, they said, were weaker in will and intellect than men.

Demons send bad weather and pests such as armies of mice and swarms of locusts to destroy crops. In hauntings and possessions, Demons create unpleasant poltergeist phenomena and chaos and attack the living in a progression of increasing intensity. Psychics and mediums perceive them as having grotesque forms. They are often associated with revolting smells. In some cases, Demons shape shift into deceitful, desirable forms with charming personalities. Once they have a person under their control, they revert to their original nature. Lowlevel Demonic entities are associated with problems involving talking board use (see Ouija™).

In possessions, Demons will speak through possessed persons, altering the person’s voice. Demons have a fondness for profanity and verbal abuse. They cause physical phenomena, such as spitting, vomiting, Levitation, unnatural twisting of limbs, supernormal strength, foaming at the mouth, and so on. In rites of exorcism, it is important to know the Demon’s name.

Demons are exorcized, or expelled, by a variety of methods, from ordering the Demon to leave, to magical ritual, to religious ritual.

Sex with Demons

Christianity rejected the idea of sexual intercourse with Demons until the 12th century; by the 14th century, it was accepted in theology. Sex with Demons became a focus of the Inquisition; witches and those under Demonic control were said to copulate wildly with Demons, and even with Satan himself (see Incubus; Succubus). The male incubi molested women and the female succubi molested men. Both kinds of Demons were said to masquerade as humans in order to seduce their prey. The actual sexual act, however, was held to be painful and vile. Women impregnated by Demons were supposed to give birth to monsters. Witch hunters said that Demons enter into marriages with humans. Remy wrote of a 1587 case in which two witnesses, Bertrande Barbier and Sinchen, said they witnessed such a marriage at night in a place where criminals were crucified. Instead of giving the bride a ring, the bridegroom blew his breath into the bride’s anus. A roasted black she-goat was served at the wedding feast. This tale is characteristic of the stories fabricated in witch trials and used by inquisitors to convict and execute accused heretics and witches.

In modern cases, Demons are opportunistic, assaulting humans weakened by vices, sin, or Curses or simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time, such as a location where acts of evil have taken place.

Demons in Magic

Demons are invoked in Magic. Because Demons are unruly, magicians must force them to obey commands for service. Grimoires give the names, duties, Seals, incantations, and rituals 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.


  • Ebon, Martin. The Devil’s Bride, Exorcism: Past and Present. New York: Harper & Row, 1974.
  • Finlay, Anthony. Demons! The Devil, Possession and Exorcism. London: Blandford, 1999.
  • Flint, Valerie I. J. The Rise of Magic in Early Medieval Europe. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1991.
  • Fortea, Fr. Jose Antonio. Interview with an Exorcist: An Insider’s Look at the Devil, Diabolic Possession, and the Path to Deliverance. West Chester, Pa.: Ascension Press, 2006.
  • Goodman, Felicitas. How about Demons? Possession and Exorcism in the Modern World. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988.
  • MacNutt, Francis. Deliverance from Evil Spirits: A Practical Manual. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Chosen Books, 1995.
  • Martin, Malachi. Hostage to the Devil. New York: Harper & Row, 1987.
  • Oesterreich, T. K. Possession: Demonical and Other Among Primitive Races, in Antiquity, the Middle Ages and Modern Times. New Hyde Park, N.Y.: University Books, 1966.
  • The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. Vols. 1 & 2. Edited by James H. Charlesworth. 1983. Reprint, New York: Doubleday, 1985.
  • 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.


The Encyclopedia of Demons and Demonology – Written by Rosemary Ellen Guiley – Copyright © 2009 by Visionary Living, Inc.