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The temptation of St. Antonius (illustration from the 15th century by Martin Schongauer )

As a demon ( plural demons , from ancient Greek δαίμων daímōn ) in various mythologies, religions and mystical doctrines, initially a “ spirit ” or a power of fate ( δαιμόνιον daimónion ) is understood as a “warning or admonishing voice (of conscience )” and “doom”. Under Christian influence the meaning then changed to a stooge of the " devil ", and thus today, contrary to the neutral to rather positive sense of the original word for the intended spiritual phenomena or spiritual beings, a being often referred to as a demon that frightens people according to general belief , threatens or harms them, i.e. appears as an evil spirit .

Demons differ from spirits in that spirits do not need a specific relationship to a body, while demons exert an influence on the instincts and actions of humans, cause happiness and unhappiness and are related to nature. In this sense, angels and satans can also be called demons, but are defined by their relationship to the deity and are thus differentiated from the conventional demons. The systematic recording of demons is called demonology in the Christian tradition .

In archaeological parlance, demon means an animal-headed hybrid being ( chimera ) with at least human-shaped legs. In contrast to this are " monsters ", as hybrid creatures with animal bodies and animal heads of a fantastic kind are called (e.g. griffins or dragons ) or animal bodies with human heads such as sphinx (female head and lioness body), manticore (male head with lion body and scorpion tail) and centaurs (Upper body and horse body).


The word comes from the Greek word δαίμων daímōn . In Greek mythology, the name Daimon originally stood for the spirit of the departed or, conversely, the departed spirit of the deceased (Greek σκιά skiá " shadow "), the disembodied figures of the departed . It seems to have had a positive meaning in the foreground as long as the saga was of importance in which the souls of the people of the golden age were called δαίμονες daimones , which represented "a middle level between gods and men, a second class of lower gods" . The rarely used word Schemen (compare also “shadowy”) for ghosts , ghosts and spooky figures exists in German with a very similar meaning . It is based on these and other Word formations (as seem, shimmering, sheer and mold) after the origin Dictionary of Great Duden the Indo-European root word * skai- in the meaning of "(blunt) shine, shine, reflection".

The dictionary of origin of the Great Dudens gives the meaning of demon as "evil spirit, a middle being between God and man" and traces it back to the Greek δαίεσθαι daíesthai "(to) divide, divide, divide" and "be divided" back. Therefore, the basic meaning of demon is derived from the statement “distributors and distributors (of fate)”. Interesting are the further relationships of δαίμων daímōn  - on the one hand to the Greek word for people δῆμος dēmos  - as in democracy  -, on the other hand and even further to "time" (also English time ; Tide [(n) hub] / tides , English tide ; see also line , goal , newspaper ) in the sense of “section, divided”: All of this is linguistically or etymologically derived from the Indo-European root word * da [i] - for “divide, tear, cut up”, after which also German " Devil " and Latin diabolus are based.

The word δαίμων daímōn, in turn, is related to the Greek word δαιμόνιον daimónion in the meaning of fate or conscience, which accompanies people invisibly at all times. There is an assessment that it was only in the course of the Middle Ages that the term demon was associated with unpleasant ideas and thus received a negative shift. Pandaemonium describes the totality of all demons or their whereabouts, which is a place of horror in the figurative sense.

History of belief in demons

Ethnic religions

Demons occur in almost all ethnic religions (also referred to as polydemonism in specialist literature ). Here they stand for the belief in a multitude of unpredictable, capricious and uncanny powers in the sense of personified forces of nature or diseases. In connection with the beliefs of the so-called " primitive peoples ", the terms "demons" and "spirits" are often used synonymously. So it is also about protective totem - or house spirits , allied animal spirits or harmless nature spirits . In the case of demons, the aspect of the concrete form is in the foreground over the spiritual . The negative connotation is primarily a consequence of the Christian mission, which equated the demons with the devil. Before the influence of Christianity, there were various incorporeal, self-confident beings with sometimes superhuman powers and abilities who populated all of nature. They were either considered immaterial, but mostly tied to objects or living beings and were subordinate to the gods in the religious hierarchy. Apart from the spirits of deceased people , spirits and demons are described as unrelated to people, but with human characteristics. The diversity of mythological ideas often makes it difficult to clearly separate demons and spirits from the animated nature of natural phenomena ( animism ).

Egyptian mythology

Demon with a ram's head. Your hands are likely outstretched to hold a snake. From the royal tomb from the day of the king in Thebes Egypt. End of the 18th dynasty around 1325 BC Christ.

The Egyptian mythology postulated a vast number demons on Earth, in the air, in the underworld and in the water. In Sumerian and later also in Babylonian mythology , in addition to the heavenly spirits in star service , those whose residence and effectiveness was tied to certain areas were venerated, and even lower down the darkened spirits who lived on and in the earth and in its atmosphere, like the fire, light, field spirits etc. Demons can appear as messengers of a deity but also independently of them. Often demons were used as guardians of the underworld or of graves. During the Ptolemaic period , demons were increasingly seen as protective gods in private and local cults.

Greek mythology

The Greek mythology went first for all natural phenomena of demons (supernatural beings), for example. B. rustling leaves in the wind, cicada chirping, etc., later only in unexplained operations or processes, z. B. fermentation of milk or alcohol, evaporation, putrefaction, weathering, aging, etc. In the ancient Orient demons were considered part of the world order in that they were assigned the origin of disease and death . The Greek epist Hesiod (about 700 BC) describes in his main work Theogony the belief in whole multitudes and different classes of demons as intermediate beings between gods and humans. They hover around people as invisible guardians of right and wrong and also donate wealth. In addition, they work in the earthly sphere as nature and elemental spirits, either as benefactors or as corrupters. Demonology also plays a larger role in Neoplatonic philosophy (from around 300 AD), which embraced the entire polytheism of the Greeks in the form of belief in demons, who are the sub-gods of nature and all life relationships, and as "world-creating mean beings" between should mediate the needy people and the deity into their system.

The philosophers have developed this belief with many individual relationships to the natural and human soul life (also with transfer to the mysterious spirit world of the deceased). It emerged especially in two directions:

  • On the one hand, the demons were intended as serving forces and accompanying environment of the individual cult gods (in which application they often take on more individual shapes and names).
  • On the other hand, according to the demonology of the time, the demons were spirit beings associated with individual people (or peoples), who accompany them on all their life paths from birth. The influence of these demons expressed itself once for protection and salvation, but also to harm people. Therefore, two demons were later assumed for each individual: one good and one bad. But the general belief was also that good or evil would come from the demon of every individual, that the demon of the one was powerful or benevolent, that of the other weak or ill-willed.
In this belief Socrates speaks of his daimonion as a good spirit, which accompanied him from the first years of his life and always kept him from wrong. Based on this idea, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe describes the demon as the character of the individual in the poem The Fifth May .

Roman mythology

Belief in demons developed somewhat differently in Roman mythology , in which Greek ideas as well as oriental ideas (through mediation via Etruscan mythology ) were taken up and further developed. Here the demons appear as so-called geniuses . These ideas were then taken over from the early Christian belief in demons.

Indian mythology

In Indian mythology the demons ( asuras ) have a permanent place. In Hinduism they are the opponents of the gods ( devas ). According to ancient Indian beliefs, demons were once gods. When the Asuras were created, they were given the truth and the lie as gifts, but later they discarded the truth and were demonized. There are different groups of demons, the Daityas , the Danavas or the Rakshasas , who are often seen as animals, e.g. B. vultures, dogs or tigers, or as particularly ugly people.

Old Iranian-Persian and Zoroastrian demonology

Iranian demonology, which includes the Persian doctrine of demons, makes a certain demon responsible for every misfortune, illness, vice or evil. Here demons are called Daevas , Divs or Druj (derived from Avestisch druj or drug according to Old Persian drauga- 'lie', 'deceit'; Pahlavi : druz ). They deceive people by declaring evil to be good. Ahriman directs this army of demons and is comparable to the devil of biblical-Christian demonology. In popular belief , the evil fairies ( Paris or Pairikas ) and especially the Yatus are feared, who can transform themselves through magic in order to deceive and deceive people.

The doctrine of demons was systematized in the Persian mythology , in which the Ahura Mazda besides the seven Amshaspands many good geniuses and the Ahriman besides the seven Daevas countless evil spirits are subordinated.

The Zoroastrianism has a highly differentiated demons believe u. a. in the form of the demoness Drug (lie), the corpse witch Nasu or the angry figure Aesma Daeva Asmodeus . Its contact with the Zoroastrian-Iranian doctrines of demons had a significant influence on Jewish demonology. While Plato still understood demons as mediators between gods and humans, the purely negative assessment of demons increased with ancient Judaism and Christianity .


Schedim is the Hebrew term for demons. He is better understood as demigods 'or as morally indifferent spirits '. The term is a loan word from Akkadian ( schedu ) and describes a friendly, good, protective power (spirit) there. It appears only twice in the Tanakh (always in the plural), each time for false gods, idols , “non-gods” in the context of forbidden child and animal sacrifices . From Ps 106,37  EU it emerges that human sacrifices were made to them in the pagan, non-Jewish cult . In the second song of Moses ( Deut. 32  EU ), Moses blesses his people Israel and gives them a vision of the future. He is then commanded to climb Mount Nebo and prepare for his death. In Dtn 32.17  EU , Moses laments Avoda sara ( Hebrew עבודה זרה foreign service ), that is, idolatry, among the children of Israel. The song leads the complaint that the covenant loyalty of the people of Israel to God had faded in contact with the pagan peoples of Canaan and that pagan cult worships spirits who lack the necessary power and who are therefore unworthy of idolatry by Israel. While demons play a subordinate role in the Tanakh, they play a comparatively important role in the Babylonian Talmud . The demons do not have an exclusively negative connotation. Unlike in Christian demonology, they are not associated with any devil figure . The demons share many traits with people, such as mortality, and can even have erotic relationships with them . Even if there are pious and believers among the demons who admonish people to keep the commandments, in most cases they are considered to be morally inferior to people . In addition to the Schedim, also appear still Azazel , the Nephilim , Lilith and Se'irim on the Jewish belief in demons.

As dibbuk, "erring souls " who cannot find rest can go to the living after death. These are Jewish mysticism and Aggada , Jewish tales, legends that Maimonides avoided in this context, as well as the talk of heaven, hell and the infinite physical resurrection. He emphasizes the impossibility of the human mind to go beyond itself and say the unspeakable, and the abstract survival of the personality.

Two demons torment a repentant sinner - San Pietro fuori le mura (Spoleto)

Christian demonology

At first, at the beginning of Christianity , the old pagan gods lived on as demons for some people for a long time. In the early history of Christianity, in Gnosticism , Marcionism , Manichaeism and other heretical movements, dualistic ideas were held that saw man in the bondage of an evil, lesser God, the creator of matter, and it was believed that salvation would only come through the intervention of a gracious To God. All suffering, disorder and evil were personified as the devil or antichrist , the representatives of which were often seen as the Jews, from which a powerful demonology was created in medieval Christianity .

The foundations of Christian demonology were developed by Augustine , who, influenced by dualistic Manichaeism , founded the doctrine of the two kingdoms, namely the civitas Dei (kingdom of God) and the civitas Diaboli (kingdom of demons). According to the teaching of Augustine, the demons are fallen angels . He did not doubt their reality and their effective intervention in the course of things, but only to the extent that God permitted it. However, very early on there were individual bishops and synodal resolutions who denied any reality content to the divinatory acts carried out with the help of demons. In the year 820 the Archbishop of Lyon Agobard (around 769-840) published his Liber contra insulsam vulgi opinionem de grandine et tonitruis , where he rejected the belief in the possibilities of the weathermaker ( tempestarii or immissores tempestatum ) as illusory. The Council of Tours (813) taught that magical arts and incantations could not help sick people or animals. Rather, they are deceptions of the demons. This text was then incorporated into the Decretum Gratiani , although Augustine was incorrectly named as the author. The decretists commenting on the Decretum Gratiani partly assumed that with the help of demons it was possible to produce impotence, impotentia ex maleficio . Gratian assumed that the demons were mainly active in divination. In this context, he took over a long text on the subject from Augustine's book De divinatione daemonum .

This text by Augustine in the Decretum Gratiani also deals with the nature of demons. They have a subtle, airy body that enables them to have a sharper sensory perception than that of humans. Because of their permanent existence, they would also have a far greater life experience. On the basis of these two properties, they could predict the future. To this end, like a doctor, they interpreted natural signs (later the farmer's weather forecast was also used), especially layers of air unknown to humans, which they interpreted with a view to the future. They could also perceive and use signs of the inner state of mind that are not recognizable for humans. They could also absorb diseases into their airy bodies and infect people with this sickly air. With imaginary appearances you would also have access to people's world of thought. The decretists essentially followed these ideas. In the commenting anonymous Summa Tractaturus Magister Gratianus de iure canonico it is added that the demons after their fall into sin - unlike the angels with their subtle bodies - would also have absorbed one of the lower elements, so that, unlike angels, they also suffer could. The French gloss apparatus Ecce vicit leo and Animal est substantia represent that demons can only take on a body if God allows them to. As disembodied beings, they too could suffer, albeit differently than physical beings.

In their comments, they dealt in particular with the competition of the prediction of demons with the omniscience of God on the one hand and the free will of man on the other. After that, the demons are dependent on interpretations of their observations. But the ability to read people's minds directly has been turned down. This is reserved for God alone.

The faith community of the Christadelphians rejects both the idea of ​​a supernatural Satan and the belief in the existence of demons as evil beings and spirits as unbiblical and instead teaches that the term "demons" in the Bible means physical, but often also spiritual and spiritual Diseases .

Demons in Islam and in Islamic culture

The Islam and the Islamic culture has a variety of demonic beings that allegedly affect human life. Commonly the various demons are summarized under the term jinn . The jinn also represent a separate category of demons, which in turn must be distinguished from the Qur'anic jinn, which are a kind of mediocre creatures that live parallel to humans. The demonic jinn can harm people and terrify them and in this respect they are similar to the devilish Satans , who in turn represent a class of demons of their own. In Eastern Europe , which is influenced by Islam, up to Turkey, a demonic being can be identified under the name In , which largely coincides with the jinn in terms of its properties and is usually mentioned together with them. The Samum is another demon who is a personification of the hot desert wind. The Ifrit is a powerful demon of the underworld and is also identified with vengeful spirits of the dead. In addition to a multitude of dangerous demons, there are also benevolent demons, such as the pari (fairies), and well-meaning djinnen who can support magicians in rituals and exorcisms and protect them from evil demons. The idea that some jinn profess God goes back to the Koran itself. According to the story known in sura 72 as the jinn sermon, Muhammad read the jinn the Koran, whereupon some converted to Islam. According to the Koranic view, Solomon also had benevolent Djinns to help and his role as a demon tamer remained for a long time in the Islamic popular religion . The negative connotation of the Christian idea of ​​demons does not do justice to the Islamic one, in which demons are morally ambivalent beings. In the case of exclusively malicious demons, Islam explicitly speaks of satans.

Chinese demonology

The ancient Chinese demonology of Daoism knows two main groups of demons, which in their essence correspond to the two cosmic forces Yin (the feminine, evil, dark and earth) and Yang (the masculine, good, light and the sky). "Shen" (good demons) were originally referred to as spirits categorized as heavenly. The kuei (evil demons) mainly comprised the souls of the dead who, such as those who were drowned, had not received an official burial or were not offered ancestral offerings to those close to them.

Different demons

  • Akephalos , a headless demon
  • Asmodaeus , a demon from Jewish mythology
  • Aynaet , a female demon from the mythology of Ethiopia
  • Asazel , a desert demon
  • Baal , the first and supreme king of hell
  • Belial , a demonic figure from the Bible
  • Beelzebub , an entity of the devil
  • Incubus , a nightmarish nocturnal demon
  • Lilith , a goddess of Sumerian mythology
  • Medusa , a gorgon
  • Sphinx , a demon of destruction and calamity
  • Vanth , an Etruscan demon
  • Legion , an apparition of many demons

See also


  • Otto Böcher , Gunther Wanke, Günter Stemberger, Georges Tavard:  Demons. I. Religious history. II. Old Testament. III. Judaism. IV. New Testament. V. Church history . In: Theologische Realenzyklopädie (TRE). Volume 8, de Gruyter, Berlin / New York 1981, ISBN 3-11-008563-1 , pp. 270-300. (Overview)
  • Hans Bonnet : Demon. In: Lexicon of Egyptian Religious History. Hamburg 2000, ISBN 3-937872-08-6 , pp. 146-148.
  • Felicitas Goodman : Ecstasy, obsession, demons - the mysterious side of religion. Gütersloher Verlagshaus Gerd Mohn, Gütersloh 1991, ISBN 3-579-00282-1 .
  • Patrick Hersperger: Church, Magic and “Superstition”. Superstitio in canons of the 12th and 13th centuries (= research on church legal history and canon law. 31). Böhlau Verlag, Cologne 2010, ISBN 978-3-412-20397-9 .
  • Armin Lange, Hermann Lichtenberger , KF Diethard Römheld: The Demons - Demons: The demonology of Israelite-Jewish and early Christian literature in the context of their environment . Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen 2003, ISBN 3-16-147955-6 .
  • Astrid Lembke: Demonic Alliances: Jewish Marriage Tales of the European Premodern. Fool Francke Attempto Verlag, 2013, ISBN 978-3-7720-5498-3 .
  • Rita Lucarelli: Demons Benevolent and Malevolent. In: Ucla Encyclopedia of Egyptology. Volume 1, No. 1, 2010. (Demons, Good and Evil Encyclopedia of Egyptology)

Web links

Wiktionary: Demon  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : Demons  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Paul Arno Eichler: The jinn, devils and angels in the Koran . 1928
  2. ^ After Wilhelm Gemoll : Greek-German school and hand dictionary. 7th edition. Freyta, Munich 1959, p. 181.
  3. Karl R. Wernhart: Ethnic Religions - Universal Elements of the Religious. Topos, Kevelaer 2004, ISBN 3-7867-8545-7 , pp. 84-86.
  4. ^ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe : The fifth of May in the Gutenberg-DE project
  5. ^ Peter Lamborn Wilson , Karl Schlamminger: Weaver of Tales. Persian Picture Rugs / Persian tapestries. Linked myths. Callwey, Munich 1980, ISBN 3-7667-0532-6 , pp. 30-45 ( The Devils / The Demons ).
  6. ^ DN MacKenzie. A Concise Pahlavi Dictionary . Routledge Curzon, 2005, ISBN 0-19-713559-5 .
  7. P. Oktor Skjærvø: Old Persian Glossary . Harvard University.
  8. Marc Roberts Team: Lexicon of Satanism and the witchcraft. VF Collector Verlag, Graz 2004, ISBN 3-85365-205-0 , pp. 66–67.
  9. Jalil Doostkhah. Avesta . Translation of the text. Morvarid, Tehran, 1996, ISBN 964-6026-17-6 .
  10. ^ A b E. W. West: Pahlavi Texts. 5 volumes. Routledge Curzon, Richmond 2004, ISBN 0-7007-1544-4 .
  11. See also Peter Lamborn Wilson , Karl Schlamminger: Weaver of Tales. Persian Picture Rugs / Persian tapestries. Linked myths. Callwey, Munich 1980, ISBN 3-7667-0532-6 , pp. 30-45 ( The Devils / The Demons ).
  12. ^ Mary Boyce : Zoroastrianism: A Shadowy But Powerful Presence in the Judaeo-Christian World . London 1987, ISBN 0-85217-051-3 .
  13. a b W. Gunther Plaut (Ed.): Dewarim = Devarim = Deuteronomy. 2nd edition, 1st edition of the special edition. Gütersloher Verlagshaus, Gütersloh 2008, ISBN 978-3-579-05496-4 , p. 328 .
  14. David L. Lieber, Jules Harlow (ed.): Etz Hayim: Torah and commentary . 1st edition. Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia 2001, ISBN 0-8276-0712-1 , pp. 1188 .
  15. Henrike Frey-Anthes: Asasel
  16. ^ A b Pnina Navè Levinson: Introduction to rabbinical theology . 3rd, exp. Edition. Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 1993, ISBN 3-534-08558-2 , pp. 78-80 .
  17. Cf. Gershom Scholem: The Jewish mysticism in its main currents . 6th edition. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1996, ISBN 3-518-27930-0 .
  18. Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke: In the Shadow of the Black Sun. Marix Verlag, Wiesbaden 2002, ISBN 3-86539-185-0 , p. 566.
  19. Marc Roberts: The new lexicon of esotericism. Schwarzkopf & Schwarzkopf Verlag, Berlin 2005, ISBN 3-89602-537-6 , p. 237.
  20. Christoph Daxelmüller: Demons, demonology. B. Latin Middle Ages. In: Lexicon of the Middle Ages. Vol. 3, Artemis Verlag, 1986, Sp. 477-478, 477.
  21. Monica Blöcker: Weather Magic. To a belief complex of the early Middle Ages. In: Gudrun Gersmann (Ed.): Francia. Research on Western European History. Vol. 9, 1981, pp. 117-131, 123 ff.
  22. Hersperger p. 192 with job references.
  23. Hersperger p. 261 f.
  24. Hersperger p. 270.
  25. Hersperger p. 271 f.
  26. So the decretist Johannes Teutonicus Zemeke in his Glossa ordinaria , quoted in Hersperger p. 266, and Sicardus von Cremona in his Summa decretorum , quoted in Hersperger p. 267 f.
  27. Paul Arno Eichler: The jinn, devils and angels in the Koran. 1928, p. 8.
  28. ^ DB MacDonald, H. Massé, PN Boratav, KA Nizami, P. Voorhoeve: Ḏj̲inn. In: P. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, CE Bosworth, E. van Donzel, WP Heinrichs (eds.): Encyclopaedia of Islam. 2nd Edition. ISBN 978-90-04-16121-4 . doi: 10.1163 / 1573-3912_islam_COM_0191 . (English)
  29. ^ William H. Worrell: The Demon of Noonday and Some Related Ideas. In: Journal of the American Oriental Society. vol. 38, 1918, pp. 160-166. JSTOR,
  30. Tobias Nünlist: Belief in demons in Islam. Walter de Gruyter, 2015, ISBN 978-3-11-033168-4 , p. 60.
  31. Amira El-Zein: Islam, Arabs, and Intelligent World of the Jinn. Syracuse University Press, 2009, ISBN 978-0-8156-5070-6 , p. 19.
  32. Marc Roberts Team: Lexicon of Satanism and the witchcraft. VF Collector Verlag, Graz 2004, ISBN 3-85365-205-0 , pp. 69-70.