Like Angels, Demons are always something I have struggled with – believing in, comprehending what they actually are. I have never once not believed in God and Heaven; even though I cannot say what they are I just know they exist. I do not try to put physical attributes to them, they just are. Thinking about this topic yesterday I realised that is my problem with angels and demons – I am trying to think of them with physical attributes. Angels have large wings and halos. Demons are horrific creatures from your worst nightmares. But take away those characteristics and what are you left with? Simply, angels are good, demons are bad. We talk of someone as being angelic and it is clear that we mean they are good, perfect even. We talk of something as being demonic or acting like the devil and that is just as clear.
Oxford Dictionaries define ‘demon’ as ‘an evil spirit or devil, especially one thought to possess a person or act as a tormentor in hell’.
The word comes from both Greek and Latin and interestingly it can mean genius or deity in Greek, or evil spirit in Latin. It is in popular use throughout different religions, mythology, folklore and the occult and is generally considered an unclean spirit that can possess another person. This spirit could be of a fallen angel, a deceased person or something entirely unknown. In Occultism, a demon can be conjured and controlled. However, as the Greek roots show, demon (daimon) has not always had negative connotations – Plato uses the word to describe the divine inspiration of Socrates, for example. More recently, the word ‘daemon’ was used by Philip Pullman in ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy to describe the animal that represented a person’s soul. It may be that demons are mostly feared because of the association with possession.
Like Angels, Demons are also said to be under the control of God. In Judaism they are often referred to as satan, in the Bible the word ‘shaytan’ also means demon. However, in Islam there is the belief of jinn who are considered to have freewill. The chief jinn is Iblis (Satan) who was condemned to Hell by Allah for refusing to bow down to Adam. These beliefs suggest the interlink, or perhaps confusion, between demons and the devil.
Christianity and Islam in particular recognise the devil as the personification of evil and in each religion he is a fallen, or disgraced, angel who rules over Hell with his demons (like God rules Heaven with his angels). God and the Devil are often portrayed as fighting over the souls of humans. Outside of these two religions, the Devil still exists in some form, often as a trickster or tempter. Similarly, creatures like goblins and imps are sometimes described as demons. However, Baha’i Faith emphasises that the devil does not exist and humans have freewill, and that ‘devil’ is actually a metaphor for the insistent or lower self. We use the metaphor ‘devil on my shoulder’ to refer to that little voice in our head that is trying to convince us to do the wrong thing. In this instance, our conscience would be God.
Despite the differences world over, one thing is clear. Good and evil cannot exist without the other and there is a constant battle between them.