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Disclaimer: This work has been completed as an educational tool for students of history, religious and paranormal studies. The author wishes to discourage any use of this work in conjunction with paranormal field investigations of demons.
Presented by Kyle T. Cobb, Jr. to the audience of Dragon-Con 2013
Nos tibi credere.
A Literary History
When it comes to the field of demonology there are two paths to enlightenment: Understanding the demons place in history and face to face encounters.
Today we will look at a small slice of history to help understand how mankind has interacted with demons in our short recorded history.
For over 1500 years, the Catholic Church has maintained an office charged with detecting and eliminating demons. Since 1968 the Catholic Church has officially investigated over 3000 cases of alleged demonic influence (though former chief Vatican exorcist Father Gabriele Amorth claims to have done over 30,000 exorcisms). During these 4 decades of investigation there have been only a handful of cases where true demonic influence has been “proven.” Depending on the source, the number is as few as 4.
4 out of 3000.
How does this balance with the vast number of popular occult books that litter the shelves of local book stores?
One of the first issues a researcher will find in reading books on demonology is the tendency of many religious types to start out with a firm definition of what a demon is but then to digress into assigning mental and physical illness to demonic influences.
I cannot tell you how many books I really enjoyed only to get to the point in the book where the author jumps the shark and blames everything from multiple personality disorder to chewing gum on demonic powers.
So, before we look at the history of demons, it is important to set certain guidelines, or definitions. This will allow us to converse based on equalities and not assumptions.
We will begin this definition by establishing that which it is not. While these criteria are arbitrary, they are necessary.
There are 5 generally accepted characteristics that must be met for a demon to be present:
A few wild assumptions
While these dates may be off by thousands of years, the point remains the same, we as humans only have record of a tiny fraction of our interactions with the universe around us.
So, now we have a baseline to begin the story of demons.
We start at the very end of the story of mankind and the beginning of history.
One of the most complete of the early stories is the epic of Gilgamesh. And this is where the first concrete references to demons reside. In the ancient Sumerian texts, there are three basic classes of demons:
The most prevalent in the Gilgamesh saga is the Utukku which is the spirit ghost of Gilgamesh’s companion Eabani. Gilgamesh asks the god Nergal to return Eabani to him and the god complies. The term Utukku eventual changes in Sumerian and Babylonian text to be a kind of demon that haunts barren places and harms man.
Often associated with the breaking of a taboo, the Utukku is described as prowling like a dog and faster than a falling star. The female, called a Lamashtu, has a hairy body, a lion's head, donkey teeth and donkey ears. She also has long fingernails and the feet of a bird.
One reference in a spell describes the creatures:
“A door cannot exclude them,
A bolt cannot turn them back;
They slither through the door like a snake,
They blow in by the hinge like the wind,
They bear off the wife from a man’s embrace,
They snatch the son from a man’s knee.”
-Extract from a Mesopotamian incantation
When Anu wants to avenge his daughter Ishtar on Gilgamesh and Eabani, he creates a celestial bull named Alu to attack them. Like the Utukku, this term evolved. Alu seems to be derived from the Sumerian term Gallu which means “tempest.” Ironically as these terms blend Gallu also refers to a bull spirit that hunts at night.
The lilu are the Babylonian prototypes types for the incubus/succubus legends. The Lilu, like their modern counter parts, are represented as having sex with humans to steal life-force or to become impregnated. Like the alien abduction phenomena, the real origin of these demons make be related to sleep paralysis rather than supernatural. Thanks to bad translations and bad history, the Lilu have been retroactively branded as the origin of the Jewish Lilith mythology. Contemporary translations firmly assert that that the Lilith linkage is incorrect.
With the name derived from the Babylonian name meaning “to be violent”, the Shedim are the winged bulls used to guard temples in Babylon and Assyria. They are referenced to in both curses as well as spells of protection.
In Hebrew they are called Sedu and are referenced in Deuteronomy 32:17 as well as in Psalms.
For a moment, it is important that we pause for a necessary digression… The concept for the transfer of religions.
There are 3 primary methods of Transfer:
As we talk about Babylonian, Egyptian, Jewish, Greek, Roman cultures and the evolution into the modern western mythology of demons, all three transfer methods play a role.
Now moving forward let us look briefly at the case of the Jewish people.
If we put the Jewish culture into 2000 BC context they are small tribe that recently adopted monotheism. Historically, there are linguistic elements to suggest a polytheistic origin but for our purposes today they are the only monotheist in their region at that time.
So as a small tribe, surrounded by divergent religions, they preserve their cultural identity by the enforcement of cultural traditions to isolate themselves from their neighbors. This is accomplished in several ways:
So having made a minor digression, I return to mentioning that the Babylonian demon Shedim would find its way into both Jewish text and Jewish culture. In fact, many of the foundations of understanding of demons in the western world can be traced directly back to Babylonian texts.
Father Gabriele Amorth, former head of the Catholic Office of Exorcism and author of An Exorcist Tells His Story.
Earliest known writing is from a Harappan settlement in Pakistan and dates to 4,100 BC.
An image of Gilgamesh presently located in the Louvre.
|Ouija and Zozo|
|Christian Demon texts|
|Roman Rite 1614|
|Roman Rite 1998|