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Show Notes: Episode 85

October 26, 2021

Episode 85










Well, we won't have to turn over any rocks but we did do a lot of digging on this one. More supernatural hysteria that Christianity has taken and exploded into something that is not only used to keep the fear factor high, but has also permeated pop culture, literature and more with its stereotypes and misconceptions.


I'm Spider...


And this time around we're talking about demons and how they've been presented throughout history. Like occultism, lore about demons is as old as human history. And throughout the years the application of demonology has become more and more inflated and ridiculous. Fortunately, there are plenty of people out there who also see the humor in the subject and some authors have even used the concept of demons to further very atheistic ideas. But before we get into any of that...





So let's start off answering the question: what is a demon? Here's the very basic and very obvious answer: A demon is a supernatural being, typically associated with evil, prevalent historically in religion, occultism, literature, fiction, mythology, and folklore; as well as in media such as comics, video games, movies, anime, and television series.




The concept of demons seems to be largely confined to western monotheistic religions but the concept goes back further. Even the earliest human civilizations included demonologies as part of their culture's mythologies.


Now, don't let the “ology” part fool you – even people who identify as demonologists don't consider themselves scientists or purport to be studying anything scientific. But since “ology” can also mean “the study of” in non-scientific contexts, it's a legit descriptor. And, yes, the concept of demons, like occultism, is as old as our species, so evidenced in their appearance in Mesopotamian mythology.


Are demons Occultic?


In a word, yes. They are supernatural so they pass that litmus test. Practitioners believe they can be conjured and summoned for various purposes using various forms of magick and divination just like any other force or entity. They also are said to operate on a plane of existence that is hidden from the mortal world, requiring mediumship to bring them into our realm.


How deliciously Lord of the Rings!


Are demons “fallen angels?”


It's assumed but not expressly stated [ad lib – Christians like to assume things and then present them as fact]

Is. 14:12 and Lk. 10:18 describe the same thing. Isaiah “prophesies” and Jesus parrots. Neither describe Lucifer/Satan having an entourage. That happens later...

Rev. 12:9 (NIV) - “The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.”

Rev. 12 – Satan's minions still referred to as angels

Mat. 8 – Jesus confronts the legion of demons. Here, they're called demons


So are the two the same? Who knows.... (assumption and speculation, mischief and chaos vs. warrior discipline, etc...)


I do not think that biblical demons and Satan's angels are the same thing. Reading between the lines of what's in the book I would personally conclude... (and this is in no way scholarly or necessarily correct – all fiction is open to interpretation by the reader and that's what this is – speculation on a work of fiction by a podcaster). I would personally conclude that the “demons” we see in the New Testament were flat out not smart enough, cunning enough, or well-mannered enough for Satan. Not remotely capable of helping wage war. Even the orcs in Lord of the Rings had enough self-control to follow orders. The demons in the NT are so batshit insane and out of control they dive into pigs and throw themselves off cliffs. These two types of entities don't strike me as being similar.


So, with that, let's scrub that conversation and look directly at the creatures themselves, as they are presented in various works of fiction, beginning with the Bible.


In the NT, encounters with “demons” are all about the same. What they really are are manifestations of mental illness, most predominantly. But since we're told these people are possessed by demons it's the story we're going to run with. Matthew 8 and Mark 5 tell the same story (the one about “Legion”). There are veiled references to Jesus performing exorcisms with no real details other than that he cast out demons and told his followers they could do the same. There is an interaction in Mt. 9 between Jesus and a demon-possessed man. In Mt. 17 Jesus casts a demon out of a younger boy, and from there it's just more, “and, yeah, he went here and did this and that and cast out demons...” I wonder how long it took for the “demons” to come back when Jesus left...


This religion is so fake it doesn't even have real demons just these nebulous entities that Jesus kept giving the “go on, git!” treatment. Honestly, there wasn't much to be afraid of when it came to demons... until the Catholic church stepped in and solved that little problem...


Demonologies of Major Religions


The Sumerians liked its demons in their mythology. Their underworld was rife with them. Some of them were even capable of leaving the underworld to terrorize the living. How nice. Demons in the Sumerian tradition had specific purposes, some malevolent and some benevolent, but there were no “devil worshippers” in Sumer since demons aren't seen as creatures to be worshipped. Demons in Sumer “know no food, know no drink, eat no flour offering and drink no libation.”


Judaism has no demons, no Satan, and no definitive doctrine regarding an afterlife. Boring, but more practical than most religions out there. BUT... things must have been extra boring for the average Jew in the middle ages because some Jewish folklore does include demons, mostly with attributes borrowed from other traditions. There are also three references to demons in the OT, all of which tend to lean more toward an interpretation of lesser gods and objects of idolatry. These are in Lv. 17, Dt. 22, Ps. 106, and Ecc. 10.


To put this next part in perspective, Wikipedia gives each of the previous traditions a paragraph each. It literally gives the next nearly 2000 words synopsizing demonology in Christian traditions. Christians are obsessed with this subject and it goes way beyond what's on this one page, but just to give a thumbnail sketch...


Christianity equates the snake in the garden with either Satan or a very savvy demon even though any rabbi will tell you it was a snake. Some think the serpent was more humanoid (possibly with arms and legs) and was given its current form as punishment for fucking up Yahweh's plan to keep Adam and Eve children forever. This is commonly referred to as Adamic demonology.


There are also those who derive doctrine revolving around demons to the apocryphal book of Enoch (Enochian demonology). I'm going to try to condense the word salad in this entry into something concise so here's hoping this makes sense...


The early Enochic tradition bases its understanding of the origin of demons on the story of the fallen Watchers led by Azazel. Some [self-described] scholars [mostly commentators with their own agendas] believe two enigmatic figures—Azazel and Satan—exercised formative influence on early Judaeo-Christian demonology. They are both framed as antagonists whose only real differences lie in how they carry out evil, chaos, and corruption. In later traditions, Satan [or Satanael] is often depicted as leader of the fallen angels while his conceptual rival Azazel is portrayed as a seducer of Adam and Eve. So one likes war, unrest, and destruction while the other just likes to fuck with things on a more situationally-jarring level than one that's more kill 'em all in nature. Satan is the sociopath. Azazel is the social engineer. The whole thing is far more Zoroastrian than Christian or Jewish because, again, no demons in traditional Judaism. It took about a millennium for them to show up in the fanfics.


And just for the sake of honorable mention, let's look at demonology in a couple more religions quickly. In Islam, there are no creatures that fit the description of demons but there are the djinn (genies) which are said to have specific attributes, some of which are downright malevolent and meet the description of demons. There's a whole hierarchy of them and I've linked to the wiki page if anyone wants to look more closely at this. There is also a whole very bizarre link between the djinn in Islam and various animals that I'm still trying to wrap my brain around and failing miserably. I had a HUGE “who came up with this shit and what were they tripping on when they did?” moment with this. So hit the link to the wikipedia page on Demonology and scroll to section “Demonology in Islam” if you want to see what broke Spider's brain this time. There are either five or twelve classifications of the djinn depending on who you ask.


I was stunned to learn that Buddhism has its own demonology. Buddhism gives us a very lovable demon named Mara. He is a lot like Lot in the Old Testament and elements of his story are similar to that of Lot but in this version, Mara is, in fact, a demon and has his own cult following here on earth. Demon-worshipping Buddhists... who knew? And if you think that's strange, the Taoists ALSO have their own demonology built on Chinese Buddhism.


Also, the Śūraṅgama Sūtra, a major 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. Depending on the context, in Buddhism demons may refer to both disturbed mind states and actual beings.


Finally, let's look at Hindu demonology just for a minute. No you didn't mishear me. Tap that 15 second repeat button and I'll say it again. Yes, there is demonology in Hinduism but I do think that some of this is a bit of a stretch...


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.


Christian authors throughout history have written about demons for various purposes.


Thomas Aquinas – Summa Theologica question 114 is actually a five-parter and every sub-question is more ridiculous than the one before:


  • Are men assailed by the demons?

  • Is proper to the devil to tempt?

  • Are all the sins of men to be set down to the assaults or temptations of the demons?

  • Can they work real miracles for the purpose of leading men astray?

  • Are the demons who are overcome by men, hindered from making further assaults?


Heinrich Kramer – author of the Malleus Maleficarum. He wrote about how to find and what to do with people believed to be involved with demons. HINT: Forgiveness was NOT on the menu


The Lesser Key of solomon is an anonymous grimoire purported to be written by King Solomon. This document is divided into 5 books, one of which is the Ars Goetia. The word Goetia deals with the evocation or summoning of demons. The goetia lists the names and ranks of the demons, and also lists the 72 demonic sigils.


The Goetic demons are divided into several ranks: Kings, Dukes, Princes, Marquises, Earls, Knights, and Presidents. I will describe some of these demons below:


Purson (also Curson, Pursan) is a Great King of Hell, being served and obeyed by twenty-two legions of demons.He knows of hidden things, can find treasures, and tells past present, and future. Taking a human or aerial body he answers truly of all secret and divine things of Earth and the creation of the world. He also brings good familiars. Purson is depicted as a man with the face of a lion, carrying a ferocious viper in his hand, and riding a bear. Before him, there can be heard many trumpets sounding.


Stolas[5] (also known as Stolos, Stoppas and Solas) is "a Great Prince of Hell, commands twenty-six legions of demons. He teaches astronomy and is knowledgeable about herbs, plants, and precious stones. He is often depicted as a raven or a crowned owl with long legs." He's probably my favorite Goetic demon, mostly because the illustration looks like a very bewildered owl that isn't sure why he's here or what's going on.


Raum (also Raim, Raym, Räum) is a Great Earl of Hell, ruling thirty legions of demons. He is depicted as a crow which adopts human form at the request of the conjurer. Raum steals treasures out of kings' houses, carrying them where he wishes, and destroys cities and dignities of men (he is said to have great dispraise for dignities). Raum can also tell things past, present and future, reconcile friends and foes, and invoke love.


Now fast forward a whole lot of years and you get even more outrageous “literature” on demons from evangelical idiots like Bob Larson, Frank Peretti, and Jack Chick who all made careers out of their own interpretations and hysterical rantings about demons and their influence on humanity. It's not going away anytime soon and there will always be an audience for it. The problem is that people who watch movies about demons understand the concept of fiction while the average Jack Chick disciple believes it all implicitly and litters the world with tracts “warning” people about demons and the calamity they cause.


Demons in Classic Literature


Demons are very popular in literature of all sorts as well as other creative properties. I'll mention a few of the more well-known stories here.


Of course Dante's Inferno has all sorts of demons, who actually seem to run the day to day of Hell, since the Devil himself is chained up at the bottom of the 9 rings of Hell. Since we've covered the Inferno a couple of episodes ago, I'll move on.




The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Dr. Faustus is an elizabethan play by christopher marlowe, based on the Faust legends from Germany. This was written between 1589 and 1592. “The powerful effect of early productions of the play is indicated by the legends that quickly accrued around them—that actual devils once appeared on the stage during a performance, "to the great amazement of both the actors and spectators", a sight that was said to have driven some spectators mad.”


The play covers the life of Doctor Faust, a very intelligent and learned man who is also very arrogant. He states that he has mastered every subject he has studied, and so now he's going to learn...necromancy. As one does. He ends up making a bargain with the demon Mephistopheles who brings him a bargain from Lucifer: 24 years of using magic, with mephistopheles as his servant, after which he will belong to the devil, body and soul. Faust makes the bargain. I won't spoil the end for you, but you can probably guess. This is where the phrase “Faustian bargain” comes from.


Demons in Catholic Folklore




Catholic folklore


In general, there are only a few demons, often called devils in Christianity, mentioned in the New Testament:


Satan, the archenemy of the Christ; Lucifer, the fallen Light Bearer; and the originally Canaanite Beelzebub, the Lord of Flies (or, perhaps, Beelzebul, the Lord of Dung), mentioned by Jesus, are all devils...  As a singular demonic force or personification of evil, the devil’s chief activity was to tempt humans to act in such a way that they would not achieve their supraterrestrial destiny. Because demons were believed to inhabit waterless wastelands, where hungry and tired persons often had visual and auditory hallucinations, early Christian monks went into the deserts to be the vanguard of God’s army in joining battle with the tempting devils. They often recorded that the devil came to them in visions as a seductive woman, tempting them to violate their vows to keep themselves sexually pure, both physically and mentally.




I looked for specific stories about folklore, but I didn't find as much as I expected. One story that is interesting is that time that Saint Peter of Verona exorcised a demon-possessed stature of the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child. This took place around the mid-1200's. While there is not much information about this, there was a frescoe done of this event. The so-called demon possessed statues both have horns and are looking with really angry faces at Saint Peter. Seems like it wasn't a good meeting.


I wish I could have been a fly on the wall during that particular event. Sounds like a wild time.


A comprehensive list of demons in a number of world religions: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_theological_demons


Most of the stories of demons in catholicism come from records of demon possessions and exorcisms.



One of these stories that I found was called “Michael Ludwig and the Demon” in which a young man obsessed with gambling makes a deal with a gambling buddy (who turned out to be a demon) to pay off debts and thereafter showed all the classic signs of demon possession: “The next morning, and every day thereafter, the tempter returned to Michael. He persuaded him to stop the religious devotions he had practiced each day, and began to teach him terrible secrets and depraved new pleasures.

This continued for six years and more as Michael continued his decline into a dark and sinful life.


It was at this point, dreading the approach of the seventh year, that his father called him home. Expecting a young man of refined sensibilities developed at court, he found instead a lost soul leading a rough and vicious life. With only months remaining on his contract with the demon, Michael began to descend into madness, urged on to greater depravities by his demon. He poisoned his parents and set fire to their castle, but God made them immune to the poison and doused the fire.”


After also trying to kill himself, his brother, who was in the religious orders, tied up his brother tightly and brought him to the Jesuits at Molsheim. After praying to St. Ignatius, and wrestling with the demons (sort of like a exorcism pre-game show), they finally started the exorcism. Here's a quote from the article:


“They offered a votive mass of St. Ignatius, where Ludwig professed his faith, renounced the devil, and then received the Eucharist. At that moment, he cried out in horror that two he-goats stood on their hind legs on either side of him, each holding one of the oaths he had written between their forepaws. The priests began the rite of exorcism and invoked the name of Ignatius, and at once the goats fled, and one of the papers fluttered to the ground from his now-open wound, which then closed leaving barely a mark.


That left one of the compacts yet to be recovered, so the priests continued their rites of exorcism. As they once again invoked the name of St. Ignatius, a huge and horribly deformed stork appeared to all and dropped the second paper from its beak, then vanished. The papers were sought on the floor but could not be found. Only later were they discovered on the altar, next to a renunciation of the devil written by Michael Ludwig.”


“Thus delivered from his horrible compact with the evil spirit, and from the suffering and agony consequent thereupon, freed from the dreadful temptations which hurried him to crime, and reconciled to God and the Church, the young Ludwig ever after led a holy and Christian life, never forgetting the obligations he was under to the Saint through whose intercession he had obtained his deliverance.” 


And going forward, the concept of demons – with names, personalities, and specific agendas, started making their way into literature that wasn't specifically “holy” in the eyes of its readers...


Demons in Contemporary Fiction


In most western traditions, there are very fuzzy lines drawn between entities like ghosts, goblins, ghouls, demons, and all types of evil spirits. In the movies, all of the above are at one time or another referred to as “demonic forces.” And the term demon is used in some very creative ways in certain books like the “His Dark Materials” series by Philip Pullman. In these stories, the word “daemon” is used to describe souls. In Pullman's universe, people's souls manifest as physical entities, specifically animals. It's an interesting distinction.


I like this description from theconversation.com...


In “His Dark Materials,” Pullman created a world in which each human being is born with a daemon: their externalized individual consciousness that takes the shape of an animal. Through the conceit of a daemon Pullman illustrates what’s it like to have a soul and how our souls change as we grow.


Daemons are material beings: crystallizations of consciousness particles that are attracted to and make themselves most fully apparent in humans. Daemons can change shape in children but settle in one permanent shape at puberty. They always take the form of a real-world animal species and of the opposite gender to their human. They seem to be separate beings but are an integral part of one’s self.


So, basically, Pullman uses the term daemon as a manifestation of human “conceit.” This falls on the heels of a number of depictions of demons in other sources but it presents them as being a present and inseparable part of a person's existence. The daemon may not be the kind of malevolent, scary thing that demons have been depicted to be in other sources, but not all demons are insane, chaos-causing minions. It's also noteworthy for anyone who isn't familiar with the story that Pullman is very, VERY anti-religion. His Dark Materials deals with concepts that center on the possibility of literally killing God. It makes sense that he would depict people's “personal demons” as ever-present and not always acting on a person's best interests.


Azrael in Dogma – “A former muse, he fell from grace by refusing to take part in battle during the War in Heaven. As a result, he was banished to Hell along with Lucifer and his followers. Azrael is primarily responsible for the events that take place in the film; he is the one who informed the banished angels Bartleby and Loki about a loophole in Catholic dogma that the pair could exploit in order to return to Heaven, though he neglected to tell them that doing so would result in the unmaking of all of creation. The motivation behind this plot is simply that Azrael can no longer stand enduring existence in Hell and would rather erase all of existence than go back to that.” (monster.fandom.com)


This is A LOT different than the Catholic version of the story...


Before the creation of man, Azrael proved to be the only angel brave enough to go down to Earth and face the hordes of Iblīs, the devil, in order to bring God the materials needed to make man. For this service he was made the angel of death and given a register of all mankind.” (Brittanica.com)


There's that angel/demon dichotomy that plagues interpretations of some things in the Bible...


I would be remiss not mentioning Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. A story that revolves around an angel and a demon who basically stand between the human race and armageddon...




My favorite fictional Demon is the demon Crowley from Good Omens. Crowley and his angelic counterpart, Azeraphale, have lived on Earth since it's creation.

Crowley, as a demon, did not precisely fall from heaven so much as he....vaguely sauntered downwards because he hung out too much with the wrong people.




Crowley greatly enjoys living on Earth, and his favorite band is Queen. He drives a 1926 Bentley causing his fellow demons to call him a 'flash bastard'. His london flat contains a lot of gorgeous, lush plants who are also terrified of crowley's threats to drop them off the balcony if they don't grow well.


When it comes to temptations, he's not working on people to merely commit deeds of lust or greed. He works for long-term evil. “Crowley also aided in the design of the M25 so it would be in the shape of the demonic sigil odegra, causing a circle of low level evil to be produced around London by the motorists, and making it incredibly frustrating to drive on. Odegra means “Hail the Great Beast, Devourer of Worlds” in the language of the Black Priesthood of Ancient Mu. The design earned him a commendation.” He also ties up the phone lines. He's really not all that demonic.


Demons and Evangelicals


Now, all of this history is wonderful and it gives us a better perspective on how various cultures approached the subject of demons, but on this show we still deal specifically with evangelical Christianity, so with that in mind, I want to aim the crosshairs at evangelicalism for a few minutes and just comment a bit on how they manage – and, let's be real here – weaponize the concept of demons.


Exorcists like Bob Larson

Mental health

Christian Counseling

Demons and self-improvement (you have a demon of obesity, laziness, distraction, etc)

Demons of lust, etc. (they're the forces behind all sin – the devil makes you do it – or at least one of his underlings)

Fallen angels and demons are the same thing

Demon possession is basically blamed for everything


So what can we say about all this? The bottom line is quite simple. Everywhere they show up, demons are, at best, nothing more than literary devices at best, scare tactics at worst. Even the oldest religions and mythologies have employed the use of these enigmatic, often vaguely defined entities to either blame the individual for his or her shortcomings, illnesses, or perceived sins or to simply scare people into compliance.


“A Christian can't be demon possessed...” so... you better become a Christian. I have news for you: they don't bother atheists either so don't cower before a god who doesn't exist and would hate you enough to sic demons on you to get you to obey him if he did. Instead of being fearful of things like demons, do a little more of what you did tonight and educate yourself more about them and about other things your religion has taught you to be afraid of. Because once you get it out of your head that these things are real and are out to get you, the silliness of it all can be very entertaining. I don't know about anyone else but I learned a lot researching this episode and had fun with it. People's imaginations do some weird shit.


I've really enjoyed the last few weeks and the opportunity we've had to take a closer look at a few subjects that, over time, have become plagued by Christian doctrine, lore, or blatant and purposeful misrepresentation.


Understanding is key to being able to see these things for what they are and I'm proud of you for coming back every week to become educated about the things your religion lies to you about. When you look at the subject of demons, prepare to be entertained, not threatened or intimidated. The stories we're told about them are so outlandish I can't see any clear avenue to taking any of it seriously but I also don't blame you or judge you for having lingering doubts and fears. These things run deep and they're crammed into our psyches in a way that ensures they maintain their foundations for a long time.


If you have been traumatized by the concept of demons, told you have demons, or are just so conditioned to be afraid of them to the point where those fears won't leave you alone, talk to a licensed secular therapist about it. Read some scholarly articles on the mythologies we've mentioned and others. Do your best to understand the subject of demons from historical and mythological perspectives absent of spiritual commentary. The more you know, the more you understand. The more you understand, the less afraid you'll be. And the less afraid you become of all the things your religion wants you to believe are out to get you, the closer you'll move toward getting and staying unbound.