The study of demons or evil spirits; also a branch of magic
that deals with such beings. In religious science it has come to
indicate knowledge regarding supernatural beings that are not
deities. The Greek term daimon originally indicated ‘‘genius’’ or
‘‘spirit,’’ and Socrates claimed to have had intercourse with his
daimon. However, with the advent of Christianity it came to
mean a malevolent spirit entity. Demonology was especially developed
during the Middle Ages.
Ancient demonology is discussed in the entries Egypt, Semites,
Genius, and Devil Worship, and the demonology in preindustrial
societies is examined in the entries on the various
countries and peoples of its origin.
According to Michael Psellus (1018–ca. 1079), author of De
Operatione Daemonum Dialogus, demons are divided into six
main bodies the demons of fire; of the air; of the earth; those
of the waters and rivers, who cause tempests and floods; the
subterranean who prepare earthquakes and excite volcanic
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Demonology
eruptions, and the shadowy ones who are somewhat like ghosts.
(St. Augustine (354–430 C.E.) considered all demons under the
last category.) Psellus’s classification is not unlike the system of
the Middle Ages, which divided all spirits into those belonging
to the four elements fire, air, earth, and water (salamanders,
sylphs, gnomes, and undines, respectively).
Early Concepts of Demonology
The medieval idea of demons, of course, evolved from ancient
Christian and Gnostic belief, especially from the accounts
of demons in the Bible. Among the Jews, the gods of the surrounding
nations were called demons, and those nations were
condemned for making sacrifices to demons instead of to the
one God, Yahweh (Deut. 3217; Ps. 10637). The Christian New
Testament speaks of demons as inferior spirits who operate as
subjects of the devil. Such demons can take possession of a
human being causing various illnesses and physical ailments.
Demons were named as causative factors in disease in a prescientific
Demons have an expansive role in the biblical record. They
can affect the behavior of swine (Matt. 830–32) and speak with
a knowledge beyond that of an ordinary person (Mark
123–24). Biblical authors did understand demons as objectively
present in the world and pictured the apostles as trying to
drive them away. Considering demons as having an objective
existence placed many questions about the nature of their origin,
existence, operation, and habitation on the theological
agenda. By the third century, the angel Lucifer, who fell from
heaven (Isa. 1412), was identified with Satan, and the fallen
angels with demons.
The Gnostics (who competed for members with the early
Christians), imitating Plato’s classification of the orders of spirits,
attempted a similar arrangement with respect to a hierarchy
of angels. The first and highest order was named seraphim; the
second, cherubim; the third was the order of thrones; the
fourth, dominions; the fifth, virtues; the sixth, powers; the seventh,
principalities; the eighth, archangels; and the ninth, and
lowest, angels.
This classification was censured by the Christian church, yet
almost outlived the pneumatologists of the Middle Ages. These
scholars—studying the account in which the angel Lucifer rebelled
against heaven (Isa. 1412), and that in which Michael,
the archangel, warred against him (Rev. 127)—long asked the
momentous question, ‘‘What orders of angels fell on this occasion’’
At length it became the prevailing opinion that Lucifer was
of the order of seraphim. It was also asserted, after laborious
research, that Agares, Belial, and Barbatos, each of whom deposed
angels of great rank, had been of the order of virtues;
that Bileth, Focalor, and Phoenix had been of the order of
thrones; that Goap had been of the order of powers; that Purson
had been of both the order of virtues and the order of
thrones; and that Murmur had belonged to both the order of
thrones and the order of angels. The pedigree of many other
noble devils was likewise determined.
As the centuries progressed, theologians began to inquire,
‘‘How many fallen angels were engaged in the contest’’ This
was a question of vital importance, and it gave rise to the most
strenuous research and to a variety of discordant opinions.
Others asked, ‘‘Where was the battle fought—in the inferior
heaven, in the highest region of the air, in the firmament, or
in Paradise’’ and ‘‘How long did it last’’ These were difficult
questions, but the notion that ultimately prevailed was that the
engagement was concluded in exactly three seconds, and that
while Lucifer, with a number of his followers, fell into hell, the
rest were left in the air to tempt man.
A newer question rose out of these investigations whether
a greater number of angels fell with Lucifer or remained in
heaven with Michael. Noted scribes were inclined to think that
the rebel chief had been beaten by a superior force, and that
consequently devils of darkness were fewer in number than angels
of light.
These discussions, which for centuries interested the whole
of Christendom, exercised the talents of some of the most erudite
persons in Europe. The last objective of demonologists was
to assess Lucifer’s routed forces and reorganize them into a decided
form of subordination or government. Hence, extensive
districts were given to certain chiefs who fought under the general
There was Zimimar, ‘‘the lordly monarch of the north,’’ as
Shakespeare calls him, who had his distinct province of devils;
Gorson, the king of the South; Amaymon, the king of the East;
and Goap, the prince of the West. These sovereigns had many
noble spirits subordinate to them whose various ranks were settled
with all the preciseness of heraldic distinction. There were
devil dukes, devil marquises, devil counts, devil earls, devil
knights, devil presidents, and devil prelates.
As a picture of the infernal kingdom was constructed, it was
determined that the armed host under Lucifer had been composed
of nearly twenty-four hundred legions, of which each
demon of rank commanded a certain number. Beleth for instance,
who has been described as ‘‘a great king and terrible,
riding on a pale horse, before whom go trumpets and all melodious
music,’’ commanded 85 legions; Agares, the first duke
under the power of the East, commanded 31 legions; Leraie,
a great marquis, 30 legions; Morax, a great earl and a president,
36 legions; Furcas, a knight, 20 legions. The forces of the
other devil chieftains were enumerated after the same manner.
The Appearance of Demons
The strange and hideous forms connected with the popular
image of demons were derived from the descriptive writings of
the early demonologists, who maintained that demons possessed
a decidedly corporeal form and were mortal, or that, like
Milton’s spirits, they could assume any sex and take any shape
they chose. In the Middle Ages, when conjuration was regularly
practiced in Europe, devils of rank were supposed to appear
under characteristic forms by which they were as well recognized
as the head of any ancient family would be by his crest
and armorial bearings.
Along with their names and characters were registered the
shapes they were said to adopt. A devil would appear like an
angel seated in a fiery chariot or riding on an infernal dragon
and carrying a viper in his right hand; or he would assume a
lion’s head, a goose’s feet, and a hare’s tail; or put on a raven’s
head and come mounted on a strong wolf.
Among other forms taken by demons were those of a fierce
warrior, or of an old man with a hawk in his hand riding upon
a crocodile. A human figure would arise having the wings of a
griffin or sporting three heads, two of them like those of a toad
and one like a cat’s; or displaying huge teeth and horns and
armed with a sword; or exhibiting a dog’s teeth and a large
raven’s head; or mounted upon a pale horse and exhibiting a
serpent’s tail; or gloriously crowned and riding upon a dromedary;
or presenting the face of a lion; or bestriding a bear while
grasping a viper.
Other forms were those of a goodly knight, or of one who
bore lance, ensigns, and even a scepter, or of a soldier, either
riding on a black horse and surrounded by a flame of fire, or
wearing a duke’s crown and mounted on a crocodile.
Hundreds of such varied shapes were assumed by devils of
rank. In his Sketches of the Philosophy of Apparitions (1824), Dr. S.
Hibbert comments
‘‘It would therefore betray too much of the aristocratical
spirit to omit noticing the forms which the lower orders of such
beings displayed. In an ancient Latin poem, describing the lamentable
vision of a devoted hermit, and supposed to have
been written by St. Bernard in the year 1238, those spirits, who
had no more important business upon earth than to carry away
condemned souls, were described as blacker than pitch; as having
teeth like lions, nails on their fingers like those of a wildDemonology
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
boar, on their fore-head horns, through the extremities of
which poison was emitted, having wide ears flowing with corruption,
and discharging serpents from their nostrils. The devout
writer of these verses has even accompanied them from
drawings, in which the addition of the cloven feet is not omitted.
But this appendage, as Sir Thomas Brown has proved, is
a mistake, which has arisen from the devil frequently appearing
to the Jews in the shape of a rough and hairy goat, this animal
being the emblem of sin-offering.’’
The form of the demons described by St. Bernard
(1090–1153) differs little from that which was no less carefully
portrayed by English writer Reginald Scot 450 years later, and,
perhaps, by the demonologists of modern times. ‘‘In our childhood,’’
says Scot, ‘‘our mother’s maids have so terrified us with
an ouglie divell having horns on his head, fier in his mouth,
and a tail on his breech, eies like a bason, fangs like a dog,
clawes like a beare, . . . and a voice like a roaring lion.’’
The Powers of Demons
Although the leading tenets of the occult science of demonology
may be traced to the Jews and early Christians, they matured
through communication with the Moors of Spain, who
were the chief philosophers of the early Middle Ages. There
was much intercultural exchange between the moors and the
natives of France and Italy. Toledo, Seville, and Salamanca became
the great schools of magic. At Salamanca discourses on
the black art were, in keeping with the solemnity of the subject,
delivered within the walls of a vast and gloomy cavern.
The instructors taught that all knowledge and power might
be obtained from the fallen angels. They were skilled in the abstract
sciences, in the knowledge of precious stones, in alchemy,
in the various languages of mankind and of the lower animals,
in belles lettres, in moral philosophy, pneumatology,
divinity, magic, history, and prophecy, it was told. The demons
could control the winds, the waters, and the influence of the
stars; they could raise earthquakes; induce diseases or cure
them; accomplish vast mechanical tasks; and release souls from
purgatory. It was said that they could influence the passions of
the mind, procure the reconciliation of friends or foes, engender
mutual discord, induce mania and melancholy, or direct
the force and objects of sexual affection.
Hierarchy of Demons
According to Johan Weyer, the prominent sixteenthcentury
Protestant demonologist, demons were divided into a
great many classes, into regular kingdoms and principalities,
and into mobility and commoners. According to Weyer, Satan
was by no means the great sovereign of this monarchy; this
honor was held by Beelzebub. Satan was alluded to by Weyer
as a dethroned monarch and chief of the opposition; Moloch
was called chief of the army; Pluto, prince of fire; and Leonard,
grand master of the sphere. The masters of these infernal
courts were Adramelech, grand chancellor; Astaroth, grand
treasurer; Nergal, chief of the secret police; Baal, chief of the
satanic army.
Weyer maintained that each state in Europe also had its infernal
ambassadors. Belphegor is assigned to France, Mammon
to England, Belial to Turkey, Rimmon to Russia, Thamuz to
Spain, Hutjin to Italy, and Martinet to Switzerland.
According to Weyer’s calculations the infernal regions contained
an army of 7,405,926 devils and demons, organized into
1,111 divisions of 6,666 each.
One of the strangest authorities on demonology was surely
Alexis Vincent Charles Berbiguier, known as ‘‘the Scourge of
the Demons,’’ author of the three-volume encyclopedic work
Les Farfadets, ou tous les démons ne sont pas de l’autre monde (1821).
In this great study, he describes the infernal court ‘‘This court
has representatives on earth. These mandatories are innumerable.
I give nomenclature and degree of power of each Moreau,
magician and sorcerer of Paris, represents Beelzebub;
Pinel, a doctor of Saltpétrière, represents Satan; Bouge, represents
Pluto; Nicholas, a doctor of Avigum, represents Moloch.’’
But Berbiguier was not just a theorist, since he claimed to have
caught thousands of demons, impaling them on pins like a butterfly
hunter and sealing them in bottles.
Modern Demonology
Belief in demons possibly reached its lowest ebb in the nineteenth
century, though occultists such as William Barrett proposed
their own demonic hierarchies. By the beginning of the
twentieth century, demonology was unfashionable, even in occult
circles, but during the occult boom of the 1960s and 1970s,
the theme of demonic possession was revived in conservative
Christian circles and given widespread coverage in books and
movies like The Exorcist, by William P. Blatty. The idea of demons
became a divisive force in the church, with some churchmen
reviving rituals of exorcism and others remaining adamant
in their unwillingness to endorse ancient concepts of
demonology. At any rate, the sensationalist aspect of possession
by demons is in keeping with the apocalyptic character of modern
life, and demons have once again become part of theological
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