Throughout the history of the world, there have been stories told about supernatural beings that can help or harm humans. The harmful entities are often referred to as demons, and are associated with darkness and destructive forces. Their abilities range from human possession and mischief making, to being powerful destroyers. Religions also affect our perception, as they grow and change, and the gods from a previous religion may be viewed as a demon in one that is currently dominant.
Many cultures have different perspectives on what demons are, and the way in which they can affect our lives. Magical practices often include the summoning of spirits, which may adjust their intention based on the person who had summoned them. Demons, or other ‘evil’ entities are often required to participate in curses and hexes. Other times demons are thought to be the servants of the devil, who is considered the highest form of evil in many religions. Some examples of these beliefs include:
Ancient Egypt – One of the most feared entities in Ancient Egyptian culture was the god/demon Nehebkau. This spirit could take on two opposite identities, sometimes appearing as a source of strength for the other gods, or as a monstrous serpent with arms and legs that threatened the souls of the dead.
Persia – The mythology of the Persians describes a never-ending war between good and evil, represented by the powerful twin gods Ahura Mazda and Ahriman, respectively. The demons controlled by Ahriman were called daevas, and represented death, destruction and other negative forces.
Judaism & Christianity – Both these more modern religions have stories about demons. In Judaism, the devil is known as Satan and is supported by the female demon Lilith. She was the first wife of Adam, and had been cast out of the garden after refusing to obey her husband.
Christians adopted Satan as the devil and believes that he controls Hell, where the souls of sinners reside for Eternity. Here he has a host of demons that help him inflict the eternal punishments that each soul has been given.
Islam – Similar to Judaism and Christianity, the Islamic culture has a devil known as Iblis, who commands an army of horrific demons, called shaitans. They tempt humans to commit sins and belong to the class of supernatural beings known as djinni, which includes both good and bad forces.
Hinduism – Hindus believe in multiple gods and, by extension, many demons. These include: the Asuras, which constantly battle with the gods; the Rakshasas, that serve the demon king Ravana and can range from extremely beautiful to hideously deformed in appearance; and Hayagriva, a powerful demon constantly raging war against the gods by threatening to overthrow the entire cosmos.
Buddhism – On his way to achieving a state of enlightenment the Buddha faced many obstacles. One of these was overcoming the temptations of the demon Mara, meaning The Evil One, who would deceive people with illusions of their greatest desires to prevent them from completing the enlightenment journey.