Demonology is the study of demons or beliefs about demons,[1] especially the methods used to summon and control them. Demons, when regarded as spirits, may belong to either of the classes of spirits recognized by primitive animism.[2] That is to say they may be human, or nonhuman, 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 Islamic 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.[3][4][5]

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.[3] All are potentially of the malignant type, to be propitiated by an appeal to knowledge of the supernatural.[7] Traditional Korean belief posits 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.[3]

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,[8] and the fathers of the Christian Church, held that the world was pervaded with spirits,[3] the latter of whom advanced the belief that demons received the worship directed at pagan gods.[9]

Many religions and cultures believe, or once believed, that what is now known as soothsaying, was, or is, 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 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.[3][10]

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;[11] 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 indiscriminate and malignant,[3] being viewed as invisible guardians of mankind.[12]


Demons are generally classified as spirits which are believed to enter into relations with the human race. As such the term includes:

  1. angels in the Christian tradition that fell from grace,[5]
  2. malevolent genii or familiars,[13]
  3. such as receive a cult (e.g., ancestor worship),[5]
  4. ghosts or other malevolent revenants.[14]

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,[3] such as offspring (though often deformed).[15] 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.[16] 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).


Traditionally, Buddhism affirms the existence of hells[17] 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.[18][19]

The followers of Mara were also called mara, the devils, and are frequently cited as a cause of disease or representations of mental obstructions.[19] 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 A.D., according to Michel Strickmann.[19] 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.[19]

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 centuries 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.[19]

Also, the Śūraṅgama Sūtra, a major Mahayana Buddhist text, describes fifty demonic states: the so-called fifty skandha maras, which are "negative" mirror-like reflections of or deviations from correct samādhi (meditative absorption) states. In this context demons are considered by Buddhists to be beings possessing some supernatural powers, who, in the past, might have practiced Dharma, the Buddha's teaching, but due to practicing it incorrectly failed to develop true wisdom and true compassion, which are inseparable attributes of an enlightened being such as a Buddha or a Bodhisattva. In his autobiography, The Blazing Splendor, Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, a prominent Tibetan Buddhist master of the 20th century describes encounters with such beings. Therefore, depending on the context, in Buddhism demons may refer to both disturbed mind states and actual beings.


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 writings of early Christian philosophers and hermits, tradition, and legends incorporated from other beliefs.

Some scholars suggest the origins of early Greek Old Testament demonology can be traced to two distinctive and often competing mythologies of evil – Adamic and Enochic, one of which was tied to the fall of man caused by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and the other to the fall of angels in the antediluvian period.[20] Thus, the Adamic story traces the source of evil to Satan's transgression and the fall of man, a trend reflected in the Books of Adam and Eve which explains the reason for Satan's demotion by his refusal to obey God's command to venerate newly created Adam.

In contrast, the early Enochic tradition bases its understanding of the origin of demons on the story of the fallen Watchers led by Azazel. Scholars believe these two enigmatic figures - Azazel and Satan exercised formative influence on early Jewish demonology. While in the beginning of their conceptual journeys Azazel and Satan are posited as representatives of two distinctive and often rival trends tied to the distinctive etiologies of corruption, in later Jewish and Christian demonological lore both antagonists are able to enter each other's respective stories in new conceptual capacities. In these later traditions Satanael is often depicted as the leader of the fallen angels while his conceptual rival Azazel is portrayed as a seducer of Adam and Eve.[21] While historical Judaism never recognized any set of doctrines about demons,[22] scholars believe its post-exilic concepts of eschatology, angelology, and demonology were influenced by Zoroastrianism.[23][24] Some, however, believe these concepts were received as part of the Kabbalistic tradition.[25] While many people believe today Lucifer and Satan are different names for the same being, not all scholars subscribe to this view.[26]

A number of authors throughout Christian history have written about demons for a variety of purposes. Theologians like Thomas Aquinas wrote concerning the behaviors of which Christians should be aware,[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 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) 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.[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]


Vedic Scriptures include a range of spirits (Vetalas, Rakshasas, 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 seek 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 worlds.


Islam has no doctrinal hierarchy of demonology. Even though some Muslim scholars tried to classify jinn and demons, there is no established classification and terms for jinn may overlap or be used interchangeably. Naming the jinn also depends on cultural influences. Julius Wellhausen states, that Islamic demonology is also zoology.[35] Many demonic or demon-like entities are not purely spiritual, but also physical in nature and related to animals. One prominent classification is made by Jahiz:[36]

  • Angel: a jinni, which is pure and good[37]
  • Amir: a jinni, who lives among humans
  • Shaitan: a malicious and rebellious jinn
  • Marid: a stronger type of jinn, trying to steal information from heaven
  • Ifrit: the most powerful type ofjinn

The German orientalist Almut Wieland-Karimi classified the Jinn in the ten most common categories mentioned in folklore literature:[38]

  • Jinn or Jann: ordinary jinn, a class apart from other jinn types, but also used as a collective to refer to invisible beings in general
  • Shaitan: Malevolent jinni, who causes illness and madness
  • Ifrit: delimitation to ordinary jinn remains unclear. Can be either a powerful cunning Jinn or strong Shaitan. Ifrits are generally bad.
  • Marid: a haughty and powerful Shaitan or very malevolent Ifrit.
  • Bu'Bu: a jinn that frightens children.
  • Si'lah: a female demon who seduces men.
  • Amir: spirits dwelling in houses.
  • Ghul: generally evil, lives in the desert.
  • Qarînah: name for a specific demon strangling children.
  • Hatif: a mysterious phenomenon, which can only be heard but never seen.

The Ghul and the Si'lah often challenge orientalists to tell them apart, because both are shapeshifters also appearing as females to seduce men. A Ghul in Arabic meaning, term for any shapeshifting spirit, including the Si'lah.[39] Furthermore, Marid and Ifrit may be hard to distinguish, since they are often used interchangeably, for example in "One Thousand and One Nights ". However both entities have properties apart from the other. The Ifrit is also related to the ghosts of the dead, seeking revenge, unlike the Marid. On the other hand, the Marid is related to those assistants of truthsayers, striving to heaven to access informations from the angels, while the Ifrit does not.

Additionally the Peri and the Daeva are kinds of Jinn in Persian lore. While the Daeva are akin to the Shayateen, subordinates of Satan, the Peris are good Jinn fighting the Daeva. However the Peri may endanger people, if they become angered.[40]:185

Ahmad al-Buni relates four Ifrits to archdemons, diametric opposites to the four archangels of Islam. They have their own Shayātīn (plural of "Shaytan") under command, and are subordinate to Iblis, who is thought to be the leader of Shayātīn.[41]


Judaism does not have a demonology or any set of doctrines about demons.[22] Use of the name "Lucifer" stems from Isaiah 14:3–20, a passage which does speak of the defeat of a particular Babylonian King, to whom it gives a title which refers to what in English is called the Day Star or Morning Star (in Latin, lucifer, meaning "light-bearer", from the words lucem ferre).[26]

There is more than one instance in Jewish medieval myth and lore where demons are said to have come to be, as seen by the Grigori angels, of Lilith leaving Adam, of demons such as vampires, unrest spirits in Jewish folklore such as the dybbuk.[42][43]


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.[44]

See also


  1. "Demonology" at Unabridged, (v 1.1) Random House, Inc.. Retrieved January 29, 2007.
  2.  Driscoll, John T. (1907). "Animism" . In Herbermann, Charles (ed.). Catholic Encyclopedia. 1. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  3.  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Thomas, Northcote W. (1911). "Demonology". In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica. 8 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 5–8.
  4. "Demon" Archived 2007-10-16 at the Wayback Machine from Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia, © 2006 World Almanac Education Group, retrieved from
  5. 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
  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. Cumont, Franz (1911), The Oriental Religions in Roman Paganism, Chapter VI: Persia, p. 267 at
  9. Augustine, The City of God Archived 2006-10-04 at the Wayback Machine, Book 8, Chapters 24-25, at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library
  10. 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
  11. Frazer, Sir James George (1922), The Golden Bough: A Study of Magic and Religion Archived 2007-03-03 at the Wayback Machine, Chapter 46, "The Corn-Mother in Many Lands," at The University of Adelaide Library Archived September 3, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
  12. Greem, Eda (c. 1909), Borneo: The Land of River and Palm at the Project Canterbury website
  13. Demon, entry in the Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2001 Douglas Harper, hosted at
  14. Ghost, entry in The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, Copyright © 2000, Houghton Mifflin Company, hosted at
  15. 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
  16. 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.
  17. Boeree, Dr. C. George (2000), Chapter: "Buddhist Cosmology", An Introduction to Buddhism, Shippensburg University
  18. "Demon" and "Mara" in the Glossary of Buddhist Terms at
  19. Strickmann, Michel. Chinese Magical Medicine,(2002) Stanford: Stanford University Press. ISBN 0-8047-3449-6
  20. A. Orlov, Dark Mirrors: Azazel and Satanael in Early Jewish Demonology (Albany, SUNY, 2011) 6.
  21. A. Orlov, Dark Mirrors: Azazel and Satanael in Early Jewish Demonology (Albany, SUNY, 2011) 7.
  22. 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
  23. Zoroastrianism, NET Bible Study Dictionary
  24. Jahanian, Daryoush, M.D., "The Zoroastrian-Biblical Connections," at
  25. 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
  26. Davidson, Gustav (1967), A Dictionary of Angels, Including The Fallen Angels, Free Press, p. 176, Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 66-19757, ISBN 9780029070505
  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. "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. Tobias Nünlist Dämonenglaube im Islam Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co KG, 2015 ISBN 978-3-110-33168-4 page 114 (German)
  36. Tobias Nünlist Dämonenglaube im Islam Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co KG, 2015 ISBN 978-3-110-33168-4 page 63 (German)
  37. Fahd, T. and Rippin, A., “S̲h̲ayṭān”, in: Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition, Edited by: P. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C.E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel, W.P. Heinrichs. Consulted online on 06 October 2019 <> First published online: 2012 First print edition: ISBN 9789004161214, 1960-2007
  38. Tobias Nünlist Dämonenglaube im Islam Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co KG, 2015 ISBN 978-3-110-33168-4 page 67 (German)
  39. Amira El-Zein, Islam, Arabs, and Intelligent World of the Jinn Syracuse University Press 2009 ISBN 9780815650706 page 140
  40. Robert Lebling Legends of the Fire Spirits: Jinn and Genies from Arabia to Zanzibar I.B.Tauris 2010 ISBN 978-0-857-73063-3
  41. Robert Lebling Robert Lebling I.B.Tauris 2010 ISBN 978-0-857-73063-3 page 86-87
  42. Demonology at
  43. Josephus, Flavius, Wars of The Jews, Book VII, Chapter VI.
  44. "Who are the Zoroastrians," at


  • Bamberger, Bernard, Jacob (2006). Fallen Angels: Soldiers of Satan's Realm. Jewish Publication Society of America. ISBN 0-8276-0797-0.
  • Langton, Edward (2014). Essentials of Demonology (1st 1949 ed.). Wipf & Stock. ISBN 978-1498205061.
  • Rémy, Nicholas (1974). Demonolatry. University Books.
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