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Demonology is the systematic study of demons or beliefs about demons. Insofar as it involves exegesis, demonology is an orthodox branch of theology. It is the branch of theology relating to superhuman beings who are not gods. 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; 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; 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, the West Africans, and others; the Arab djinn, 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. Demonology, though often referred to with negative connotation, was not always seen as evil or devilish as the term would have one believe.
The word demonology is from Greek δαίμων, daimōn, "divinity, divine power, god"; 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. 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. 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.
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, and the fathers of the Christian Church, held that the world was pervaded with spirits, the latter of whom advanced the belief that demons received the worship directed at pagan gods.
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 West 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. 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; 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.
- See also: Classification of demons
Under the heading of demons they are classified only such spirits as are believed to enter into relations with the human race; the term therefore includes:
- angels in the Judeo-Christian tradition that fell from grace,
- human souls regarded as genii or familiars,
- such as receive a cult (e.g., ancestor worship),
- ghosts or other malevolent revenants.
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). 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.
While historical Judaism never "officially" recognized a rigid set of doctrines about demons, many scholars believe that its post-exilic concepts of eschatology, angelology, and demonology were influenced by Zoroastrianism. Some, however, believe that these concepts were received as part of the Kabbalistic tradition passed down from Adam, Noah, and the Hebrew patriarchs.
The Talmud declares that there are 7,405,926 demons, divided in 72 companies. While most people believe that Lucifer and Satan are different names for the same being, not all scholars subscribe to this view.
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.
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, while witchhunters like Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger wrote about how to find and what to do with people they believed were involved with demons. 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 or The Grimoire of Pope Honorius (although these the earliest manuscripts were from well after these individuals had died). These latter texts were usually more detailed, giving names, ranks, and descriptions of demons individually and categorically. Most Christians commonly reject these texts as either diabolical or fictitious.
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. A few Christian authors, such as Jack Chick and John Todd, write with intentions similar to Kramer and Sprenger, proclaiming that demons and their human agents are active in the world. These claims are usually far from mainstream, and often 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 New Testament language of exorcism is an example of the language of the day being employed to describe the healings of what today would be classified as epilepsy, mental illness etc.
In Islam, the devil Iblis or Shaytan was a Jinn (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. In the Qur'an, when God ordered those witnessing the creation of Adam to kneel before him (before Adam), Iblis refused to do so and was therefore damned for refusal to obey God's will.
Traditionally Buddhism affirms the existence of Hells 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.
The followers of Mara were also called mara, the devils, and are frequently cited as a cause of disease or representations of mental obstructions. 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 C.E., according to Michel Strickmann. 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.
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.
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." 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. 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.
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This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (Eleventh ed.). Cambridge University Press.