Demonology is the systematic study of demons or beliefs about demons.[1] It is the branch of theology relating to superhuman beings who are not gods.[2] It deals both with benevolent beings that have no circle of worshippers or so limited a circle as to be below the rank of gods, and with malevolent beings of all kinds. The original sense of "demon", from the time of Homer onward, was a benevolent being,[3] but in English the name now holds connotations of malevolence.

Demons, when regarded as spirits, may belong to either of the classes of spirits recognized by primitive animism;[4] that is to say, they may be human, or non-human, separable souls, or discarnate spirits which have never inhabited a body. A sharp distinction is often drawn between these two classes, notably by the Melanesians, several African groups, and others; the Arab jinn, for example, are not reducible to modified human souls; at the same time these classes are frequently conceived as producing identical results, e.g. diseases.[2][3]

The word demonology is from Greek δαίμων, daimōn, "divinity, divine power, god";[5] and -λογία, -logia.


Prevalence of demons

According to some societies, all the affairs of life are supposed to be under the control of spirits, each ruling a certain "element" or even object, and themselves in subjection to a greater spirit.[6] For example, the Inuit are said to believe in spirits of the sea, earth and sky, the winds, the clouds and everything in nature. Every cove of the seashore, every point, every island and prominent rock has its guardian spirit. All are potentially of the malignant type, to be propitiated by an appeal to knowledge of the supernatural.[7] Traditional Korean belief posits that countless demons inhabit the natural world; they fill household objects and are present in all locations. By the thousands they accompany travelers, seeking them out from their places in the elements.[8]

In ancient Babylon, demonology had an influence on even the most mundane elements of life, from petty annoyances to the emotions of love and hatred. The numerous demonic spirits were given charge over various parts of the human body, one for the head, one for the neck, and so on.

Greek philosophers such as Porphyry, who claimed influence from Platonism,[9] and the fathers of the Christian Church, held that the world was pervaded with spirits,[8] the latter of whom advanced the belief that demons received the worship directed at pagan gods.[10]

Many religions and cultures believe, or once believed, that what is now known as sleep paralysis, was a form of physical contact with demons.

Character of the spiritual world

The ascription of malevolence to the world of spirits is by no means universal. In Central Africa, the Mpongwe believe in local spirits, just as do the Inuit; but they are regarded as inoffensive in the main. Passers-by must make some trifling offering as they near the spirits' place of abode; but it is only occasionally that mischievous acts, such as the throwing down of a tree on a passer-by, are, in the view of the natives, perpetuated by the class of spirits known as Ombuiri.[11] So too, many of the spirits especially concerned with the operations of nature are conceived as neutral or even benevolent; the European peasant fears the corn-spirit only when he irritates him by trenching on his domain and taking his property by cutting the corn;[12] similarly, there is no reason why the more insignificant personages of the pantheon should be conceived as malevolent, and we find that the Petara of the Dyaks are far from indiscriminating and malignant, being viewed as invisible guardians of mankind.[13]


Under the heading of demons are classified only such spirits as are believed to enter into relations with the human race; the term therefore includes:

  1. angels in the Judeo-Christian tradition that fell from grace,[3]
  2. human souls regarded as genii or familiars,[14]
  3. such as receive a cult (e.g., ancestor worship),[3]
  4. ghosts or other malevolent revenants.[15]

Excluded are souls conceived as inhabiting another world. Yet just as gods are not necessarily spiritual, demons may also be regarded as corporeal; vampires for example are sometimes described as human heads with appended entrails, which issue from the tomb to attack the living during the night watches. The so-called Spectre Huntsman of the Malay Peninsula is said to be a man who scours the firmament with his dogs, vainly seeking for what he could not find on Earth -a buck mouse-deer pregnant with male offspring; but he seems to be a living man; there is no statement that he ever died, nor yet that he is a spirit. The incubi and Succubi of the Middle Ages are sometimes regarded as spiritual beings; but they were held to give proof of their bodily existence, such as offspring (though often deformed).[16] Belief in demons goes back many millennia. The Zoroastrian faith teaches that there are 3,333 Demons, some with specific dark responsibilities such as war, starvation, sickness, etc.

Ancient Near East

In Babylonian mythology, the seven evil deities were known as shedu, or "storm-demons". They were represented in winged bull form, derived from the colossal bulls used as protective genii of royal palaces, the name "shed" assumed also the meaning of a propitious genius in Babylonian magic literature.[17] It was from Chaldea that the name "shedu" came to the Israelites, and so the writers of the Tanach applied the word Shedim to certain Canaanite deities. They also spoke of "the destroyer" (Exodus xii. 23) as a Lord who will "strike down the Egyptians." In II Samuel xxiv; 16 and II Chronicles xxi. 15 the pestilence-dealing angel, that is spirit, called "the destroying angel" (compare "the angel of the Lord" in II Kings xix. 35; Isaiah xxxvii. 36).


While historical Judaism never "officially" recognized a rigid set of doctrines about demons,[18] many scholars believe that its post-exilic concepts of eschatology, angelology, and demonology were influenced by Zoroastrianism.[19][20] Some, however, believe that these concepts were received as part of the Kabbalistic tradition[21] passed down from Adam, Noah, and the Hebrew patriarchs.[22] See Sefer Yetzirah.

The Talmud declares that there are 7,405,926 demons, divided in 72 companies.[23] While many people believe today that Lucifer and Satan are different names for the same being, not all scholars subscribe to this view.[24] Use of the name "Lucifer" for the devil stems from a particular interpretation of Isaiah 14:3–20, a passage that does not speak of any fallen angel but of the defeat of a particular Babylonian King, to whom it gives a title that refers to what in English is called the Day Star or Morning Star (in Latin, lucifer, meaning "light-bearer", from the words lucem ferre). In 2 Peter 1:19 and elsewhere, the same Latin word lucifer is used to refer to the Morning Star, with no relation to the devil. It is only in post-New Testament times that the Latin word Lucifer was used as a name for the devil, both in religious writing and in fiction, especially when referring to him prior to his fall from Heaven.

There is more than one instance where demons are said to have come to be, as seen by the sins of the Watchers and the Grigori, of Lilith leaving Adam, of demons such as vampires, impure spirits in Jewish folklore such as the dybbuk, and of wicked humans that have become demons as well.[25][26]


Christian demonology is the study of demons from a Christian point of view. It is primarily based on the Bible (Old Testament and New Testament), the exegesis of these scriptures, the scriptures of early Christian philosophers and hermits, tradition, and legends incorporated from other beliefs.

A number of authors throughout Christian history have written about demons for a variety of purposes. Theologians like Thomas Aquinas wrote concerning the behaviors Christians should be aware of,[27] while witchhunters like Heinrich Kramer wrote about how to find and what to do with people they believed were involved with demons.[28] Some texts are written with instructions on how to summon demons in the name of God and often were claimed to have been written by individuals respected within the Church, such as the Lesser Key of Solomon[29] or The Grimoire of Pope Honorius (although these the earliest manuscripts were from well after these individuals had died).[30] These latter texts were usually more detailed, giving names, ranks, and descriptions of demons individually and categorically.[31] Most Christians commonly reject these texts as either diabolical or fictitious.[31]

In modern times, some demonological texts have been written by Christians, usually in a similar vein of Thomas Aquinas, explaining their effects in the world and how faith may lessen or eliminate damage by them.[32] A few Christian authors, such as Jack Chick and John Todd, write with intentions similar to Kramer, proclaiming that demons and their human agents are active in the world.[33] These claims can stray from mainstream ideology, and may include such beliefs as that Christian rock is a means through which demons influence people.

Not all Christians believe that demons exist in the literal sense. There is the view that the language of exorcism in the New Testament is an example of what was once employed to describe the healings of what would be classified in modern days as epilepsy, mental illness etc.[34]


In Islam, the devil Iblis or Shaytan was a Jinn[35] (humans are created from Earth, Angels from light, and jinn from 'smokeless fire'). The jinn, though, are not necessarily evil; they could be good-doers or sinners just like humans. Since the jinn and humans are the only kinds of creation who have the will to choose, the followers of Iblis could be jinn or human. The angels, on the other hand, are sinless and only obey the will of God.[36] In the Qur'an, when God Ordered those witnessing the creation of Adam to prostrate before him (Adam), Iblis refused to do so and was therefore damned for refusal to obey God's Will.[37]


Traditionally, Buddhism affirms the existence of hells[38] peopled by demons who torment sinners and tempt mortals to sin, or who seek to thwart their enlightenment, with a demon named Mara as chief tempter, "prince of darkness," or "Evil One" in Sanskrit sources.[39][40]

The followers of Mara were also called mara, the devils, and are frequently cited as a cause of disease or representations of mental obstructions.[40] The mara became fully assimilated into the Chinese worldview, and were called mo.

The idea of the imminent decline and collapse of the Buddhist religion amid a "great cacophony of demonic influences" was already a significant component of Buddhism when it reached China in the first century CE, according to Michel Strickmann.[40] Demonic forces had attained enormous power in the world. For some writers of the time this state of affairs had been ordained to serve the higher purpose of effecting a "preliminary cleansing" that would purge and purify humanity in preparation for an ultimate, messianic renewal.[40]

Medieval Chinese Buddhist demonology was heavily influenced by Indian Buddhism. Indian demonology is also fully and systematically described in written sources, though during Buddhism's millennium of direct influence in China, "Chinese demonology was whipped into respectable shape," with a number of Indian demons finding permanent niches even in Taoist ritual texts.[40]


Hindu mythology include a range of spirits (Vetalas, Yakshas, Bhutas and Pishachas) that might be classified as demons. These spirits are souls of beings that have committed certain specific sins. As a purging punishment, they are condemned to roam without a physical form for a length of time, until a rebirth. Beings that died with unfulfilled desires or anger are also said to "linger" until such issues are resolved. Hindu text Atharvaveda gives an account of nature and habitats of such spirits including how to persuade/control them. There are occult traditions in Hinduism that seeks to control such spirits to do their bidding. Hindu text Garuda Purana details other kinds of punishments and judgments given out in Hell; this also given an account of how the spirit travels to nether world.


Practitioners of ceremonial magic sometimes attempt to constrain and command demons to do their bidding, using methods such as the Goetia and The Book of Abramelin. The demons are often those mentioned in Christian demonology. These practitioners do not necessarily worship demons, but seek to deploy them to obtain their goals. Other followers of the occult do worship demons, and some refer to their religion as "demonolatry."[41] Demonolators consider methods such as the Goetia very disrespectful towards the demons, and possibly dangerous for the operator. They instead use forms of prayer, magic, and ritual which petition the demons, asking for their aid rather than commanding them.

Demonolators are not identical to practitioners of Theistic Satanism. They worship other demons (such as Belial and Leviathan) either alongside, or instead of Satan. Some demonolators say that their form of demonolatry is a tradition, often familial, that is not related to the modern religious and philosophical movements collectively referred to as Satanism.[42] Not all of the occultists who worship demons use the word "demonolator" to describe themselves, nor do all belong to the specific group mentioned above.


In the Zoroastrian tradition, Ahura Mazda, as the force of good Spenta Mainyu, will eventually be victorious in a cosmic battle with an evil force known as Angra Mainyu or Ahriman.[43]

See also


  1. ^ "Demonology" at Unabridged, (v 1.1) Random House, Inc.. Retrieved January 29, 2007.
  2. ^ a b "Demon" from Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia, © 2006 World Almanac Education Group, retrieved from
  3. ^ a b c d van der Toorn, Becking, van der Horst (1999), Dictionary of Deities and Demons in The Bible, Second Extensively Revised Edition, Entry: Demon, pp. 235-240, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, ISBN 0-8028-2491-9
  4. ^ Animism at The Catholic Encyclopedia
  5. ^ Autenrieth, A Homeric Lexicon
  6. ^ Ludwig, Theodore M., The Sacred Paths: Understanding the Religions of the World, Second Edition, pp. 48-51, © 1989 Prentice-Hall, Inc., ISBN 0-02-372175-8
  7. ^ Rink, Henry (1875), "Chapter IV: Religion" of Tales and Traditions of the Eskimo, London, 1875, at
  8. ^ a b Demonology at the Online Encyclopedia, Originally appearing in Volume V08, Page 10 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica
  9. ^ Cumont, Franz (1911), The Oriental Religions in Roman Paganism, Chapter VI: Persia, p. 267 at
  10. ^ Augustine, The City of God, Book 8, Chapter 24, at the Christian Classics Etherial Library
  11. ^ Hamill Nassau, Robert (Rev.) M.D., S.T.D., (1904), Fetichism in West Africa, Chapter V: Spiritual Beings in Africa - Their Classes and Functions, Charles Scribners Son
  12. ^ Frazer, Sir James George (1922), The Golden Bough: A Study of Magic and Religion, Chapter 46, "The Corn-Mother in Many Lands," at The University of Adelaide Library
  13. ^ Greem, Eda (c. 1909), Borneo: The Land of River and Palm at the Project Canterbury website
  14. ^ Demon, entry in the Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2001 Douglas Harper, hosted at
  15. ^ Ghost, entry in The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, Copyright © 2000, Houghton Mifflin Company, hosted at
  16. ^ Masello, Robert, Fallen Angels and Spirits of The Dark, pp. 64-68, © 2004, The Berkley Publishing Group, 200 Madison Ave. New York, NY 10016, ISBN 0-399-51889-4
  17. ^ See Delitzsch, Assyrisches Handwörterbuch. pp. 60, 253, 261, 646; Jensen, Assyr.-Babyl. Mythen und Epen, 1900, p. 453; Archibald Sayce, l.c. pp. 441, 450, 463; Lenormant, l.c. pp. 48-51.
  18. ^ Mack, Carol K., Mack, Dinah (1998), A Field Guide to Demons, Fairies, Fallen Angels and Other Subversive Spirits, p. XXXIII, New York: Henry Holt and Co., ISBN 0-8050-6270-X
  19. ^ Zoroastrianism at
  20. ^ Jahanian, Daryoush, M.D., "The Zoroastrian-Biblical Connections," at
  21. ^ Franck, Adolphe (1843), translated by Sossnitz, I. (1926), The Kabbalah, or, The Religious Philosophy of the Hebrews, Part Two, Chapter IV, "Continuation of The Analysis of The Zohar: The Kabbalists' View of The World," p. 184 at
  22. ^ Mathers, S.L. McGregor (Translation from Latin - 1912), Kabbala Denudata: The Kabbala Unveiled, Introduction, at
  23. ^ "The Afterlife: Ancient Christian Beliefs". Retrieved 2010-05-13. 
  24. ^ Davidson, Gustav (1967), A Dictionary of Angels, Including The Fallen Angels, p. 176, Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 66-19757
  25. ^ Demonology at
  26. ^ Josephus, Flavius, Wars of The Jews, Book VII, Chapter VI, Par. 3, at Early Jewish Writings
  27. ^ Thomas Acquinas's Summa Theologica, Question 114, hosted on New Advent
  28. ^ Malleus Maleficarum, hosted on the Internet Sacred Text Archive
  29. ^ Lesser Key of Solomon, The Conjuration To Call Forth Any of the Aforesaid Spirits, hosted on Internet Sacred Text Archive
  30. ^ Arthur Edward Waite, Book of Ceremonial Magic, page 64 and page 106
  31. ^ a b "Waite, page 64". Retrieved 2010-05-13. 
  32. ^ Jessie Penn-Lewis, War on the Saints on Google Books, introductory chapter
  33. ^ "The Broken Cross - by Jack T. Chick". Retrieved 2009-10-08. 
  34. ^ "The Devil, Satan And Demons". Retrieved 2010-05-13. 
  35. ^ Qur'an 18:50 And when We said to the angels, Bow yourselves to Adam'; so they bowed themselves, save Iblis; he was one of the jinn, and committed ungodliness against his Lord's command
  36. ^ "Who is Satan?" at
  37. ^ The Qur'an (Yusuf Ali, tr.): Sūra 38: Sād: Section 5 (65-88) at
  38. ^ Boeree, Dr. C. George (2000), Chapter: "Buddhist Cosmology", An Introduction to Buddhism, Shippensburg University
  39. ^ "Demon" and "Mara" in the Glossary of Buddhist Terms at
  40. ^ a b c d e Strickmann, Michel. Chinese Magical Medicine,(2002) Stanford: Stanford University Press. ISBN 0-8047-3449-6
  41. ^ "OFS Demonolatry". OFS Demonolatry. Retrieved 2010-05-13. 
  42. ^ "OFS Demonolatry". OFS Demonolatry. Retrieved 2010-05-13. 
  43. ^ "Who are the Zoroastrians," at


  • Rémy, Nicholas (1974). Demonolatry. University Books. 

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 

External links

  • Religious Demonology: Demonology from a Roman Catholic perspective, written by a member of the International Association of Exorcists.
  • Demonology by James I: plain text version of King James' important work on Demonology.

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  • Demonology — • The science or doctrine concerning demons Catholic Encyclopedia. Kevin Knight. 2006. Demonology     Demonology     † …   Catholic encyclopedia

  • Demonology — De mon*ol o*gy (?; 277), n. [Demon + logy: cf. F. d[ e]monologie.] A treatise on demons; a supposititious science which treats of demons and their manifestations. Sir W. Scott. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • demonology — 1590s; see DEMON (Cf. demon) + OLOGY (Cf. ology) …   Etymology dictionary

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  • demonology — noun /ˌdiːməˈnɒləʤi,ˌdiːməˈnɑːləʤi/ The study of demons, especially the incantations required to summon and control them. But it wasnt all that strange, because any wizard bright enough to survive for five minutes was also bright enough to… …   Wiktionary

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