Note:  Do not rely on this information. It is very old.


Demonology, the science or doctrine of spirits. The term is also used to express commerce with spirits (generally in a bad sense), and has been employed as a title for various works on the subject, notably for that written by James VI. of Scotland towards the close of the 16th century. The word demon has suffered degradation in meaning. In Greek daimon was a generic and not a specific term, and meant "a deity, a spirit." The Greeks had separate terms (agathodaimon, kakodaimon) to denote a benevolent or good and a malevolent or evil spirit. Under Animism (q.v.) the origin among races of low culture of the belief in souls, as generally accepted by anthropologists, is treated of. When this belief became current, all nature was imagined as peopled with invisible but powerful beings, who caused all natural phenomena; and as these phenomena were beneficial or the reverse the beings supposed to preside over them were conceived as benevolent or malignant, and, therefore, to be honoured or appeased. And, as among men, some were greater and more powerful and others wiser and better than their fellows, a similar state of things was conceived as existing among spiritual beings. There is a curious passage in Porphyry bearing on this point: - "Demons are naught but the souls of men departed which either through pity of their friends yet living help and assist them, or else persecute their enemies whom they hated." Here we have the idea of two opposite classes of spiritual beings evolved from the notion of the continuity of human life. Apuleius, prior in date, goes farther than Porphyry, for he says: - "Those mortals are called gods, who, having lived prudently and justly, are honoured with temples and rites, as is Osiris in Egypt." This will help us to understand the gross actions attributed to the deities of many mythologies, who were, in truth, only exaggerated men and women.

In very early times the belief arose that disease was the work of evil spirits, and such words as catalepsy, epilepsy, and nympholepsy show that the same idea was prevalent among the ancient Greeks. It still lingers in its grossest form among many savage races. In the New Testament we have accounts of demoniacs, or persons possessed by demons; and in the Roman Church a form for casting out devils is retained in the Rituale, and the Order of Exorcist still exists as one of the Minor Orders received by every Roman cleric, though the office of exorcising is rarely performed except by priests, with the express sanction of the bishop.

The Demon of Socrates is generally spoken of as a kind of guardian angel. This seems to be an error. Socrates nowhere speaks of a being, but of a supernatural something, which restrained him in certain cases from acting, though it never prompted him to act (Lewes: Hist. Philos. i. 174). Nevertheless, there is little doubt that from the good demons of the Greeks and the good genii of the Romans the early Christians took their idea of guardian angels; while the evil demons and evil genii were unceremoniously classed with the minor devils, and to these the name demons is confined in theology.

What may be called legitimate communion between mortals and spiritual beings is religion; illegitimate intercourse gave rise to magic and witchcraft (q.v.). With all those demonology is concerned.

From what has been advanced concerning the evolution of the idea of spirits and gods, it will not be surprising to find that the notion of sexual commerce between mortal and spiritual beings is found in all religions. At one time it was the fashion to allegorise the amours of the classic deities. Until the rise of Neo-Platonism the ancient philosophers did not do so; and if one considers that those deities were merely sublimated men and women of like passions with ourselves it will not be difficult to see how such stories arose. We may cite the cases of Venus, who became the mother of the "pious AEneas" by Anchises, and who protected him against the unrelenting hate of Juno; and Dido, who when abandoned by the same AEneas, slew herself, that her angry ghost might avenge the wrong he had done her. The myth of Lilith, Adam's first wife, who bore him

Shapes that coiled in the woods and waters,
Glittering sons and radiant daughters;

and who, when Eve was created, borrowed the form of the Serpent to betray him, is found in the Talmud, and is generally known to English readers through Rossetti's ballad Eden Bower. This myth is closely connected with that of the classic lamia, a spirit which assumed the form of a beautiful woman, sometimes with a serpent's head, in order to win the love of men, and then destroy thorn.

Hence came the notion of incubi and succubi (male and female demons that consorted with mortals in their sleep, and thus became fathers and mothers). Readers of Scott will remember that Brian the Hermit, in the Lady of the Lake, was the son of an incubus; and in Glenfinlas the poet makes use of similar supernatural machinery, though his "Ladies of the Glen" seem to have been connected with lamias rather than with succubi, who are rarely, if over, credited with destroying their consorts.

Besides these, it was believed that there were demons animated with special hatred of the human race, whom they regarded as their peculiar prey. Such a notion may well have arisen from that of the old nature-deities, who were supposed to preside over all natural phenomena, and to dwell in the air, the sea, the streams, the woods. Each faith has its own demonology, to which reference will be made in its proper place.

Some demons are imagined as assuming the forms or actually inhabiting the bodies of some of the lower animals. Thus the serpent in Genesis is popularly supposed to have been the Devil; Milton also makes him assume the form of a toad, "squat ... close at the ear of Eve." In the seventeenth century, cats, flies, and lice were said to be the forms in which the familiar spirits of witches and wizards appeared to those whom they served. The superstition about the cat still lingers in remote country districts in England; examples of the other cases mentioned will be found in the Alchemist and Hudibras, and on (his part- of the subject De Gubernatis' Zoological Mythology is an excellent authority.

As Animism led man to the notion of a Supreme Deity, so it also contributed to the notion of the Chief Demon - the Devil or Satan of Christian theology. The "devils" of the Old Testament are the false gods of the surrounding heathen nations, and the Satan of Job (i. 6, ii. 1-7) appears among the sons of God, who in other passages are represented as the messengers of Jehovah. He is also said to have provoked David to number the people of Israel (1 Chron. xxi. 1), and to have resisted Joshua, the high priest - seen in a vision by Zechariah (iii. 1). The mention of him in the Psalms (cix. 6) is of doubtful meaning, as the word is glossed in the margin "an adversary," and is probably not a proper name. These are the only instances in which the word occurs in the Hebrew Scriptures. In the New Testament the Devil is represented as the chief of the fallen angels, and as "the implacable enemy and tempter of the human race, especially believers, whom he desires to devour." The idea of an immortal embodiment of evil, only less powerful than the Supreme, oppressed the minds of some men with a natural terror, and a way out of the difficulty was early found in a kind of Universalism (q.v.).

The popular conception of the Devil is a very mixed one. His general form is derived from the satyrs of Greek mythology; his tail is probably due to the description of the dragon in the Revelation (xii. 3); his black colour may be symbolical of evil, but may be suggestive of his abode, and the trident-like weapon with which he is generally armed may be a reminiscence of some classic deity - for the early Christian degraded these into devils. He was undoubtedly an object of terror, but this feeling was not unmixed with a tinge of contempt at his want of foresight and caution, for mediaeval folklore abounds with tales in which he appears as being outwitted by the most transparent devices. An instance is readily accessible in Longfellow's Golden Legend, where the Devil consents to allow the bridge built by Abbot Giraldus at Lucerne to stand on condition that the first living thing that crossed should belong to him. The Abbot, when the bridge was completed, threw a loaf of bread across, after which a hungry dog greedily sprang, and so the Devil was outwitted.

Demons, with their Chief, might be summoned by charms and invocations, and made to obey the commands of those who raised them. Compacts might be made with them in which man's future happiness was to be bartered for material advantages in this life. The legend of Faust is based on this belief, and the subject will be better dealt with under that heading.