Guide to Classical Demonology

Classical Demonology in Urban Fantasy

15 February 2012

There are several examples of how demons have been employed in contemporary and urban fantasy. Though not as popular as vampires, zombies and various species of lycanthropes, demons are still quite useful as powerful hitme . . . hitbeings, and may play a larger role at times, too.

In Jim Butcher’s popular Dresden Files (and yes, I am a fan), there is only the occasional use of demons. When they do appear, however, the system Mr. Butcher uses appears to be a modification of the Solomonic tradition. There is an important emphasis on the magic circle and the use of true names, though the latter is an important features of the series and does not relate only to demonic beings. The use of a magic circle seems to be very important. Crossing the circle, breaking its physical barrier, is enough to ruin the protection it provides, thus releasing the demon. The demon is generally unhappy at having been summoned in the first place and, well, they’re way bigger than most humans, even full-blown wizards. Goriness typically ensues.

Kelley Armstrong’s Women of the Otherworld series (and again, yes, a fan), employs demons differently. First, they are more active in the world. Some of the series main characters are half-demons, expressing some sort of power depending on the kind of demon their father is and how powerful he is. Ms. Armstrong also divides demon-kind in two groups, one evil and one . . . not actively evil: cacodemons and eudemons. As with the Solomonic system, there is also a hierarchy of demons, given the titles of human nobility. These titles, rarely used, are related to their overall power of the demon, which is transferred to a certain extent to their human-demon hybrid children. Perhaps most interesting, though, is that Ms. Armstrong has used, in at least few occasions, the name Aratron, one of the “Olympic Planetary Spirits” from the Arbatel of Magic. Though not considered a demon per se, that doesn’t really matter, as Ms. Armstrong presents Aratron as one of the most powerful of eudemons, which fits the Olympic spirits fairly well.

Finally, though it predates either Dresden Files or the Women of the Otherworld, is James Blish’s The Devil’s Day. This story is about a munitions mogul who is looking for the next big thing. He finds it in the form of demonic evocation. After hiring Theron Ware to summon a demon to assassinate a rival, Blish’s main character contracts Ware to summon every major demon in hell and let them loose for a day to see what happens. The result, of course, is Armageddon, with the win going to Satan, who now has to be God, whether he wants to or not.

Mr. Blish’s uses of Solomonic demonology is quite literal, and he derives his rituals and demonic descriptions from several medieval grimoires. His approach to the nature of the Goetic spirits and their hierarchy is taken verbatim from the grimoire tradition, resplendent in its Christian overtones. In this Mr. Blish’s demonology is far more conservative than than either Ms. Armstrong’s or Mr. Butchers, neither of whom, or instance, have a particularly religious overtone to their demonology. Where Mr. Blish’s demons are fallen angels, those of Mr. Butcher and Ms. Armstrong’s are simply very powerful, frequently, but not always, very evil, other-dimensional beings. We call them “demon” more out of reflex than accuracy.

Demonic evocation is a nearly untapped area in the genre today. These three examples demonstrate the variety of ways in which demons can be employed in contemporary and urban fantasy. With a deeper knowledge of classical demonology, the writer can create a realistic presentation of demons and evocation that can fit into almost any contemporary fantasy worldview.

The Gnostic Demiurge and Archons

15 February 2012

Though not technically part of classical demonology, with the growing popularity of modern Gnosticism, and the Gnostic bad guys as a largely untapped area for fictional villains, it is a useful area with which to be familiar.

What we might call classical Gnosticism is a form of early Christianity that did not become part of mainstream Christianity as we know it today in the West (i.e. descendants of the Roman Church). It flourished in the first and second centuries, had sects join Islam in the form of the Manicheans (who still exist today, though they are greatly persecuted in the Middle East) and lasted into the middle ages by way of the Cathars. Much as there are different sects or denominations of Christianity today, there were different sects among the classical Gnostics as well (and modern Gnostics, for that matter). Besides the Manicheans, the most well known sects were the Sethians and the Valentinians.

In Gnostic cosmogony the physical cosmos is created by a being sometimes called the Demiurge, and more regularly known as Yaldabaoth or Yaltabaoth, who is variously also called Saklas (Fool) and Samael (the Blind God, also a Jewish form of Satan). According to the Sethian Apocryphon of John Yaldabaoth was created by the aeon Sophia, a divine hypostasis or anthropomorphised element of divine reality. Sophia (Wisdom), did this without permission and without her masculine opposite, Barbelo (sometimes Christos, Christ, sometimes Sabaoth, in other forms of Gnosticism), and so instead of emanating like she had planned, she brought forth the malformed, insane and/or evil Yaldbaoth. Because of his origin, Yaldbaoth is filled with divine power and thought he was God. Being God, Yaldbaoth set about creating his own set of angels, the archons or governors. Together, Yaldabaoth and his archons would create humanity and enslave us into worshiping them as false gods.

Some of the the Gnostic texts give a very detailed account of the various archons. For instance, the Apocryphon of John tells us:

[Yaldabaoth] became strong and created for himself other aeons with a flame of luminous fire which (still) exists now. And he joined with his madness which is in him and begot authorities for himself. The name of the first one is Athoth, whom the generations call […]. The second one is Harmas, who [is the eye] of envy. The third one is Kalila-Oumbri. The fourth one is Yabel. The fifth one is Adonaiou, who is called Sabaoth. The sixth one is Cain, whom the generation of men call the sun. The seventh is Abel. the eighth is Abrisene. The ninth is Yobel. The tenth is Armoupieel. The eleventh is Malcheir-Adonein. The twelfth is Belias, who is over the depth of Hades.

This is only a single list of archons within the Apocryphon, and The Hypostasis of the Archons and On the Origin of the World (all found in the Nag Hammadi Codex), give a similar story and different archonic names, though Yaldabaoth remains more or less the same, only varying in his degrees of evil and insanity.

That there are twelve authorities listed above is no coincidence. Yaldabaoth creates an archon for everything, the seven planets, the twelve zodiacal signs, the 365 days of the week and every part of the human body. The point here is that everything in the physical world is governed by these false gods. Unlike the Solomonic system, there does not seem to be a way to control the archons, though some have suggested magical gems with the image of Yaldabaoth or Abraxas on it might have been used in such a way (see here for an example from the blog of Gnostic priest, Jordan Stratford: Gnostic Gems. Unfortunately, the link on the blog is no longer working). The only way to transcend the control of the archons and their master is to transcend the phsycial world and return to the pleroma or fullness of God.

The next installment will be the last. In that I’ll discuss how some of this has been used in contemporary fantasy, looking briefly as Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, Kelley Armstrong’s Women of the Otherworld and the book that began my interest in the genre, Jame Blish’s The Devil’s Day.

Solomonic Demonology

14 February 2012

There is a class of ceremonial magic generally referred to as Solomonic magic. This is, of course, named for the famous King Solomon, son of David. The idea that Solomon was a magician is fairly old, as the second century Testament of Solomon, a sort of prototype for later Solomonic grimoires, attests. Though Solomonic magic is primarily Christian in origin, it is dependent upon both Jewish lore and Arabic magical practices.

The most famous of the Solomonic grimoires is perhaps the Lemegeton Clavicula Solomonis, the Lesser Key of Solomon. Mostly dating from the 14th century, the first book of the Lesser Key, called the Goetia, was made popular once again in the 19th century through the “translation” of S.L. MacGregor Mathers, one of the founders of the Order of the Golden Dawn. Though the second book of the Lesser Key, the Theurgia Goetia, is concerned with spirits which are both good and evil in nature, we will focus on the more well known Goetia, which deals with demons proper.

It is important to know that there is quite a debatable concerning whether or not the Goetia and Theurgia Goetia are about demons, i.e. fallen angels, or some other kind of spirit. Some of the demonic names found in the Goetia are clearly derived from the names of pagan deities. Astaroth, the 29th spirit, is an excellent example of this. The name “Astaroth,” who described as a mighty and strong duke, is understood to come from the Canannite goddess Ashtoreth, the consort of Ba’al, one of the Jewish God’s chief cultural rivals. However, not only are all 42 of the Goetic spirits considered diabolical, they are, generally, considered fallen angels, some of whom, we are told, hope to regain their place in heaven.

Each demon is given a rank: Marquis, Duke, Prelate, Knight, President and Count or Earl. In some Solomonic-derived systems, such as from the Grimoirium Verum, all of the demons are ruled over by one of three greater demons: Lucifer, Beelzebuth and Astaroth, though this is not part of the Lesser Key. Regardless, each demon listed is itself a greater spirit, ruling over a multitude of legions, a legion consisting of 6666 lesser demons. Further, each greater demon is associated with a certain power or ability. The aforementioned Astaroth, whose seal was featured on the “Malleus Maleficarum” episode of the WB’s Supernatural, can “make men wounderfull knowing in all Liberall siences.” The 40th spirit, the Earl Raum, is said to ‘steale Treasures out of kings houses, and to carry it where he is commanded, & to destroy Citties, and ye dignities of men; & to tell all Things past, & wt is, & wt will be; & to cause Love between friends & foes.”

The Goetia is not, however, simply a book about demons. It is a grimoire about how to summon, or evoke, the demons and bend them to servitude. The magic of the Lesser Key relies upon a number of physical implements, including magical seals, a large circle filled with divine names, a magical triangle, and a lamen, a sort of magical pendant, with the demon’s seal or signature on it. To these some include the vestments, magical sword and blasting rod found in the Greater Key of Solomon, which deals not with demonic evocation, but astrological talismans and other, similar, forms of magic.

The actual process of evocation is somewhat drawn out and makes use of lengthy prayers, conjurations and exhortations. Importantly, this is not a kind of demonolatry or diabolical worship. The magician does not even conjure the spirit through his or her own power, but through the holy power of God, who is called upon through various names, some Jewish, some akin to the voce mysteicae of Neoplatonic theurgy.

When next we meet, I’ll discuss, briefly, the Gnostic archons, before moving onto some examples of how classical demons have been incorporated into some well known, and maybe some not so well known, contemporary fantasy.

Demons in Early Christianity

27 February 2011

First: a lot of demonology found in the grimoire tradition comes out of Christianity. I’ll do grimoire-related demons later on, so let’s just pretend they don’t exist for now, okay?

There appear to be two kinds of demons in Christianity (ymmv; not all forms of Christianity do this). The first is the unclean spirit and the second the fallen angel.

There are about 20 mentions of “unclean spirits” (pneumata akatharta) in the New Testament, such as the one’s Jesus casts out into swine that then kill themselves. There are also the “air spirits” (aero tou pneumato) of Ephesians 2:2 Presumably those spirits are demons of some sort, but of what variety it’s hard to say; the term “daimon,” the source of the English word “demon,” isn’t used, nor are these described as fallen angels. The movement, Christianity, of the morally neutral term daimon into something evil has already been discussed in the etymology part of the Guide. It is perhaps noteworthy that daimon only shows up only about five times in the New Testament, as opposed to the 20 or so times pneumata akatharta appears.

It is interesting that there is no direct connection, Biblically speaking, between these spirits and fallen angels, fallen angels that show up in . . . a bunch of different places, actually. For instance there is 2 Peter 2:4 “For if God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of deepest darkness to be kept until the judgment” and Jude 6: “And the angels who did not keep their own position, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains in deepest darkness for the judgment of the great day.”

The Apocalypse of St. John (aka Revelation) is another source for fallen angels. Importantly, the idea of the “War in heaven” comes from here, though it was likely heavily influenced by the apocryphal 3 Enoch, which describe a similar war between the sons of light and the sons of darkness. This will also be connected to the vision of a star falling from heaven, to be discussed a little bit later. The war is first discussed in Revelation 12:7-9, where the angle Michael boots Dragon, identified with Satan, from heaven, along with Satan’s angels.

An earlier portion of Revelation, 9:1, will eventually be connected with the figure of Satan. Rev 9:1 describes a star fallen from heaven to the earth (just as Satan is cast to the earth by Michael in Rev 12) and who has the keys to the abyss (i.e. hell). Due to what is, in my opinion, a misreading of Isaiah 14:12, this fallen star will be given the name Lucifer, to be connected with Satan.

Lucifer is a somewhat difficult but important subject, especially as he is connected to Satan. It seems clear that the part of the Hebrew Bible (Isaiah 14:12) where Christianity gets Lucifer from isn’t talking about an angel, fallen or otherwise. Rather the text is talking about the king of Babylon, who is given the title Day or Morning Star and is described as eventually falling from heaven (yeah, it’s a metaphor). But eventually this will get translated into Greek and from the Greek, Latin, where in some readings the title is turned into a proper name, something that is retained in the King James Bible today.

Finally, at least a few demons are described. Abaddon, for instance. Originally, Abaddon meant “place of destruction” and was associated with Sheol (an afterlife realm) in Jewish writings. In Revelation Abaddon becomes a king of hell and may even be associated with (or as) the Anti-Christ. Revelation also mentions “demonic spirits” that go out and perform miracles. Again, just what demons are is questionable. Another is the Dragon, identified with Satan, with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns and who probably represents the Roman Empire.

Demons in Judaism

19 October 2010

Specifically, we’ll look at demons in what has become mainstream Judaism. That means the funky, Zoroastrianism-influenced Enoch material will have to wait. It’s somewhat relevant, but much of it was subsumed into early Christianity and rejected by Rabbinic Judaism, so we’ll get to the general gist of it when we look at early Christian demonology.

There is a generic word for “demon” in Hebrew: shed (pl. shedim). The term covers a lot of ground. The Hebrew Bible, and later Talmud and then kabbalistic texts such as the Zohar also uses different terms to refer to specific kinds of demons. Generally speaking, Jewish demons included satyr-like creatures, evil spirits, the children of Lilith and the like. Eventually we’ll see beings more like what will become normative in Medieval and Renaissance occultism, though the differences, even if subtle, are significant. We wont see fallen angle-type demons outside of the Enoch material.

For simplicity, we’ll divide our demons into the following categories:

1. Nasty nature spirits
2. The Children of Lilith
3. “Demons”

The nasty nature spirits are typically described a satyrs, varying in power and prestige. Perhaps the most famous of these, which will eventually become as close to a fallen angel as we find in Judaism, is Azazel. During the Temple Period an “Azazel sacrifice” used to be made. Originally this referred to a mountainous region where a scape goat-like sacrifice offering was made. The region was eventually connected to a local demon, or possible pagan deity. We’ll then see in various texts the idea that the sacrifice was made to appease the demon.

A lot of us are at least vaguely familiar with Lilith, or with the popular stories that one will find about her in the internet; most of which lack a basic foundation in research . . . but that’s another post. Lilith is not in the Bible. She appears in Talmud and various commentaries on the Bible and eventually in Jewish mystical material. The short version is that Lilith was Adam’s first wife. Nastiness ensued (depending on which web site you read, you’ll get a different version of this) and Lilith leaves Eden. Out in the real world she goes demonic, cohabits with bodiless spirits and produces her own demonic offspring. They’re known for suffocating babies in their sleep. Historically, it seems likely that Lilith was originally not an individual demon but a class of spirits, appearing in ancient Akkadian mythology.

The generic demon is an interesting category. On the one hand we find beings like Samael, who is the accuser, tempter, angel of death, the Evil Inclination and a host of other nasties. However Samael cannot act without permission from God, so there is no notion of rebellion here. Ashmedai (aka Asmodeus) was the king of demons, and a child of Lilith, but apparently not of the really nasty variety. It’s said that Ashmedai studies Torah and keeps the commandments. This is part of what makes this kind of demon so difficult. Many Jewish demons are not necessarily evil, just unpleasant. A whole class of them are actually human souls that weren’t given bodies before the beginning of the seventh day of creation. They became jealous of their embodied cousins (i.e. us) and so started being mean to us. That being said, they are also frequently described as being good Jews, going to synagogue and being in charge of punishing people who violate commandments or abuse prayer books. Eventually, though influenced by Greek and Christian thought, we’ll see the idea that each demon has an angelic counterpart that can make the demon obey a magician. Similar ideas are found in Medieval and Renaissance occultism and may have been influenced by Neoplatonism (as much of Medieval and Renaissance occultism have been as well).

An Urban Fantasy Writer’s Guide to Classical Demonology

5 August 2010

Ah, demons.

You know you love ‘em.

But what exactly is a demon? Where do they come from and what do they want? Considering that both my main characters, Ezekiel and Marcus, deal with demons on an all too regular basis, this is a in which subject I have some interest. So, in order to elucidate on the wacky world of demonology, and to give me a chance to get my PhD on, I’m going to use this space to to write about exactly that; demons.

I’m imagining several parts here. The first will likely tackle the tricky question of “just what is a demon, anyway?” I’ll look primarily at the more or less mainstream Abrahamic traditions but also a bit of Neoplatonism and Gnosticism, as I include some of that in my books. I’ll also take a look at what other authors have done, to get a good overview of the subject.

Second I’ll take a look at the Solomonic magical tradition, which has its roots in Jewish scripture and Arabic magical lore. Magic ascribed to King Solomon will flourish in the Middle Ages and Renaissance as well.

Third will be a look at the world of daemons, which may or may not be demons, depending on who exactly is doing the writing.

Finally a brief look at the Gnostic Archons, who aren’t exactly demons, but may as well be.

Will there be more? We won’t know until I start writing, will we?

peace
-Jeffrey (Demonologist extraordinaire)

What are Demons, Anyway? Etymology.

5 August 2010

So, you want demons in your story. Of course you do, who wouldn’t? Demons are bad ass. But demons aren’t just really big monsters. Yes, I know you’re the author so demons are whatever you damn well want them to be, but you do have an audience, and the word demon means something in particular to them. So, to get your demons seeming like demons, let’s try to figure them out.

Unfortunately, though “demon” might mean something in particular to reader X, to reader Y it might mean something else. The word is used a lot, to mean a wide variety of semi-related things. To look at this we’ll set the way back machine to ancient Greece and look at from where the English word “demon” comes. The word in question here is daimon.

In ancient Greek a daimon was a non-physical being, typically beneath the gods but above humans in the hierarchy of creation. A daimon can be either good or evil, specific or generic. For instance the Neoplatonists, in the 3rd century CE, talked about an individual’s guiding daimon. According to this you have your very own daimon (several, actually), who is trying to lead you towards the gods and the development of the soul to possibly god-like proportions. There are also daimons of fire that will try to trick and kill you. Different kinds of daimons, but all still daimons.

With the spread of Christianity, where daimons, such as the unclean sprits in the Gospels (though the term pneuma akatharton is also used, in Mark this becomes exchangeable with daimonion), daimons more or less become bad things for most people. This will be combined with the war in heaven from Revelations and the popular idea of demon as fallen angel is formed. Sure the contemporary Neoplatonists were still going on with a more traditional use of the term, but times change. The English word “demon” comes from the Latinized form of daimon, daemon. And so the evil demon is born. At least in English.

But this only tells us where the word comes from. Unfortunately it doesn’t tell us how it’s being used now. For instance when I think demon I rarely think “fallen angel.” Part of the difficulty is that English is not a particularly good language for dealing with such things. So while we have our demons, Judaism has lots of different demons, each with their own category, all of which we commonly translates as “demon.” That’s convenient, but not very helpful.

The language lesson is over, next we’ll look at demons in Judaism and then Christianity.