Demons: As They Are

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By H.B. Gardner

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Image from Hereditary, 2018. Actress: Toni Collette.

Mea Culpa. We have been so busy as of late with the second semester of teaching at a Catholic school here in Japan that we’ve decided to make one article for Nov. and Dec. to cover our promise of delivering a monthly piece. Hope it is worthy.

We recently were able to view the film Hereditary as it just recently opened in theaters here in Japan where we dwell. We were uncertain what to expect concerning the story as we prefer to go into a movie without knowing too much about it; but we had heard great praise for this film from a few long-time friends who are well acquainted with horror. We were very pleased with the film overall, and even more-so since it contains a satisfactory taste of the demonic. It was the most emotionally harrowing horror film we’ve seen in the past decade and perhaps it deserves some closer attention to discover all the Devil In the Details – which we may find some time to do in a future article. But for now, let us consider – in the widest possible sense – the case and state of the demon.

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Hereditary, 2018.

Demons, or otherwise harmful spirits, or spirits with a doubtful status in regards to their relations and connections with humankind, have held a prominent position in human spiritual and religious experience ever since the most ancient times and from all quarters of the globe. Evil spirits, by whatever name or category – such as we usually refer to as demons, have been regarded as bringers of disease, calamity, misfortune, temptation, pain, damnation, sorrow and all manner of adversarial forces opposing frail human existence. Beyond these many miseries unleashed from Pandora’s box, demons are also believed to have the ability to take possession of people, animals and even objects. But demons are also said to have tremendous powers and have the ablity to grant wishes, bestow boons and make deals …usually in exchange for some very precious commodity or offering.

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Onibaba, 1964

In various cultures throughout the ages a demonology has developed in which all manner of evil spirits have been categorized, codified and ranked according to various hellish hierarchies. Our word “demon” derives from what the Romans called a “Dæmon,” the Latin word for the Ancient Greek daimōn δαίμων: “god”, “godlike”, “power,” or “guiding spirit.” Another example would be the Arabic “djinn” from which we get “genie” and has an etymological relationship with our word “genius.” These we’re not considered evil entities. The pre-Christian concept of these ambiguous spirits was more akin to numinous inspirational forces of various kinds.

Some old Medieval books of magic known as grimoires spill over with lists of these diabolical entities. As just one group of beings existing in this universe shared by all manner of living creatures – both seen and unseen – demons dwell alongside other incarnate and discarnate spirits including humans, animals, ghosts, angels, sprites, elemental spirits and etc. Demons may be seen as beneficial or harmful depending entirely on where one is standing. In the Hellraiser series of horror films based on the work of Clive Barker, the demons are referred to as Cenobites which by definition indicates members of a religious order. Pinhead, the lead cenobite himself, refers to his kind as “Demons to some, angels to others.”

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“Demons to some, angels to others.” Cenobites from Hellbound: Hellraiser II, 1989.

“Demons to some, angels to others.”

And this is something we can truly use to help us relate to demons – if we allow ourselves to open our minds to such an experience. No person is all good just as no person is all bad – no matter how constant and deliberate the demonization may be at times that is directed at politicians, homosexuals, the Russians, Republicans, bosses, teachers, neighbors, retail clerks, screaming SJWs, internet trolls, etc… & ad nauseam. In this world everyone has a job to do, or a duty to perform – whatever their role may be – helpful or adversarial. Everyone and everything from the homeless dog to the jobless alcoholic, from the broom pusher to the busy mother, from the doctor or to the wealthy corporate executive, each is playing their own role in the comic tragedy: Humanity’. Sometimes you play the victim, other times you may be the rescuer, …or maybe you are usually the oppressor; the roles are often switched in the sick triangle of codependency that is material existence to which we are all chained. But we digress…

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The Devil, Key XV in the Tarot, usually depicts two demons chained to their master.

Demons! If these demonic beings are seen as a part of the totality of creation, the work of a Creator, or resulting therefrom, then they surely have a role to play in the grand opera that is human spiritual existence: that is to say, in our daily lives. In Hinduism and Buddhism demons or Asuras are simply one state of existence, along with gods, humans, animals, celestial spirits, hungry ghosts and the denizens of hell. All beings are viewed as bound within The Wheel of Life (bhavachakra) and are chained to it by karma (action) and the fruits of those actions.

Asuras are not exactly demons in the Western Abrahamic sense however; they are more like nature spirits, demigods or Titans; sometimes beneficial, sometimes harmful, to humankind. Indeed, Buddhism just as often categorizes gods (devas) and demons (asuras) together, with gods being placed above the demons as a higher order of the same divine existence. Both are powerful beings  but have different orientations and inclinations, the Devas (gods) representing the powers of Light and the Asuras (demons) representing the powers of Darkness. The distinct realms or dimensions of all these various beings are generally distinct from each other but they certainly overlap and intertwine so that the demonic, the divine, the celestial, the hellish, the ghostly, the animal  and the faerie are all mixed together with our own plane of human existence. By one’s actions it is believed that one may attain to any of these forms of existence in the course of transmigration of the soul, otherwise known as reincarnation. Depending on your actions you may very well be on your way to becoming a god, or a demon, or an animal, or a denizen of Hell, or another human form, or an angel, etc… in your next incarnation.

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Tibetan style Bhavachakra ‘Wheel of Existence’ depicting the six realms of embodied existence between the spokes of the wheel

Theodicy: the problem with evil

(click the text above for a wikipedia article on Theodicy). In Christianity, as in the other Abrahamic traditions, demons (or djinn in Islam, or qlippoth in Jewish and Qabbalistic mysticism) are viewed as an imperfect and evil result of God’s creation. This extreme dualism between good and evil is a bit problematic, philosophically speaking, when considering the cause of evil as it, at the very least, calls God’s perfect omniscience and omnipotence into question. Even if the Fall of Man from the Garden of Eden is counted as being a good reason for mankind being plagued by death, sin and demonic influence as reason to support the concept of “the fortunate fall” in order to make way for a Savior, then does this not call into question an omniscient and omnipotent God’s good will in putting an insurmountable temptation before His glorious but flawed and naive creations: Man and Woman? According to Christian mythology, when the Serpent Satan (or was it Lilith? Or perhaps those are just two sides of one coin) offered the forbidden fruit, neither Eve nor Adam could refuse it, despite dwelling in Paradise and being so close to God. What hope is there then for us here in our present situation?

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Michelangelo’s Temptation of Adam & Eve (Lilith as half woman, half serpent). Notice the positioning of Adam and Eve and consider the meaning of “forbidden fruit” and “The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.”

Oh yes, the solution offered by Christianity is the long dead, desperately anticipated, but oh-so-tardy Nazarene, the King of the Jews; He is presented as the only way towards salvation. According to believers, one needs must only to put complete trust and faith in Him. He sees you when you’re sleeping, He knows when you’re awake, He knows if you’ve been bad or good so you better be good and trust in him only if you want to earn your xmas reward of avoiding Hell, getting your wings, and spending an eternity traipsing along streets of gold strumming your harp among the clouds.

But these demons! Surely if they do indeed exist (and who are we to argue that they do not? What with all the headline news evidence at hand!?) they and all other so-called “mythical” creatures must have their own lives to live: masters to serve, families to care for and raise, duties (dharma) to perform, roles to play… just as all sentient beings have. They must also have a purpose or reason for existing in the scheme of the Wheel of Life; but are likely just as often loathe to contemplate it, as are many humans these days who follow the trend of sneering at religious or spiritual ideas, making the asinine claim that “nothing means anything;” – as brainless a statement as has ever been said on Earth. Our estimable opinion is that this universe is positively swarming with all manner of beings, entities and energies – both seen and unseen.

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Satyr’s Family, by Louis Priou, circa 1876. Satyrs (considered demonic to the Abrahamic religions) generally lack the means to adequately clothe their families.

“…this universe is positively swarming with all manner of beings, entities and energies – both seen and unseen.”

There are rituals and ceremonies for evoking and appeasing demons – from both East and West. From the East there is a stronger compassionate tendency to appease these demonic and chthonic spirits and the unquiet dead and releasing them from their karmic miseries by offering them a path towards the Light- and a better future incarnation – through prayers, offerings and days of remembrance. This is likewise done in the hopes of helping the dearly departed to secure comfortable positions in the afterlife and a fortunate rebirth (nobody wants grandma’s spirit ending up as a hungry ghost unable to find peace). We have something similar in the West with the second of November as All Souls Day and Day of the Dead (Di­a de Los Muertos), when  the departed Christian dead are remembered. The burial of the dead and accompanying funeral rites are also all towards this end of ensuring that the dead will indeed rest in peace. Special attention must be given even to certain directions of the compass that are considered demonic. For example, the West or Southwest wind are noted as a direction of misfortune and illness according to Chinese and Japanese geomancy (Fu hsui or Fung shui) which is opposite the Northeast gate which is also considered a demon gate here in Japan.

“Hell is empty, and all the devils are here”.

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In ancient Mesopotamian religion, Pazuzu (Akkadian: 𒀭𒅆𒊒𒍪𒍪 Dpà.zu.zu; also called Fazuzu or Pazuza) was the king of the demons of the wind. He also represented the southwestern wind, the bearer of storms and drought. Made popular by The Exorcist.

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The Exorcist was Pazuzu’s worldwide debut.

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But there are also sorcerers, magicians, necromancers, witches, aghoris, fakirs and the like, who practice various kinds of magic and / or mysticism in their desire to summon and harness the power of  demons, djinn, and other restless malevolent (or ambivalent) spirits towards their own ends and interests. These are humans such as would dare to rend the veil separating our world from those others, thereby allowing traffic between. Such practices are often categorized  under the Black Arts and are frequently linked with ritual practices usually considered impure or hazardous by the more Apollonian and Abrahamic minded.

Demon summoning you ask? But what need is there for elaborate ceremonies involving months of preparation along with rare and expensive paraphernalia? As Shakespeare wrote in The Tempest: “Hell is empty, and all the devils are here”. Summoning a demon is just one click away these days! Wanting to conjure a Demon of Vengeance? Look no farther than the internet! All the tools you need to evoke misery upon an adversary are there simply by posting and spreading rumors or embarrassing photos of the intended victim! Demons of Corporate Greed leer over your shoulder as your finger hovers over that “order with one click” button. Looking for a Demon of Lust? There’s an app for that! No magical diagrams or complicated incantations in Latin and Greek necessary!

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An Aghori in Varanasi, India enjoys licking a skull. Aghoris spend most of their time getting high and playing around corpses in cremation grounds in order to get closer to the Godhead …or Godhood.

But let us consider that this grand drama being enacted here on the earthly stage in our daily lives – peopled as it is with myriad characters – may include demons in it in the form of humans we know and interact with on a day-to-day basis! Certainly it may be said that some people act as  angels just as others bedevil us. It can be quite an experience getting to know these characters: laughing with little angels at school, socializing with demons online or at the shopping mall, getting the unsophisticated attentions of a horny satyr at the company xmas party, dealing with the denizens of Hell at the DMV… all as part of the daily grind. Perhaps one day you may even find a demon staring back at you from your own bathroom mirror! But one must be honest and admit: No matter where you’re sitting at in the bewildering opera house of Life – whether it’s a comedy, tragedy or a horror (or usually all of the above mixed together) – it’s still a pretty good show!

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Night of the Demons, 1988.

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