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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
To best understand the migrations of demons across the eastern world, it is important that we pause for a necessary digression... The concept for the transfer of religions.
There are 3 primary methods of Transfer:
1. Neighbor to neighbor
In following the story of demons as they move east from Babylon to Hindu India and into Tibet, ideas, concepts and names become blended. For a religion to survive in its purist form there is an inevitable conflict between change and preservation. For a culture bombarded by divergent religions to survive, they must try to preserve their cultural identity by the enforcement of cultural traditions to isolate themselves from their neighbors. This is accomplished in several ways:
Conversion of completing religions gods to lesser gods/demons
Branding any completing religions gods as Evil.
Prohibiting breeding outside the tribe as well as self-imposed tribal isolation.
Maintaining tribal languages
Maintaining secret rites for the initiated
The country we now call India is really a patch work of hundreds of religions and micro-cultures. Preserving their local gods and demons under the banner of the Hindu religion, in India individual gods and demons are often treated as generic religion and therefore viewed as non-competitive. When faced with the rise of Buddhism in the area two responses emerged:
Combine and strengthen
resist and fight.
Generally speaking over the thousands of years of cohabitation, the religions have formed a symbiosis in the region. Even in an environment where prior to Islam there were no overt threats, there are a number of ways that the Hindu religions have resisted the subversion from other religions. The Hindu culture provides a concrete example of these prohibitions to maintain isolationism. The Makarat (ma-KAY-rat) are the 5 forbidden things to the Hindu:
Hand gestures with the left hand or touching things with the feet.
Ironically, the same basic list of forbidden items has also migrated into the Mahayana (mah-Ayana) Buddhist tradition.
Because of the vast scope and depth of the Hindi religion, any attempt to comprehensively review the demons that are named would prove impossible. To that extent, a few of the more notable demonic concepts and most prominent demons will be briefly mentioned. One fundament concept in the Hindi religions in the idea of Nirakara (nir-A-KAY-ra) which is the Sanskrit word for "formless, incorporeal". Fundamentally this is the idea that the "godhead" is beyond the realm of physical existence. As it applies to demons, it is the assertion that some kinds of demons are without bodies or physical form. The Nirakara can influence that which has form (sakara) and can be forced out but cannot be destroyed.
In contrast to the demons with Nirakara, most demons in the Hindi religions have physical form. And can be killed…
This precedent is established in the story of Mahishasura.
According to the Hindu religions, the buffalo Demon Mahishasura was granted the gift from the god Brahma that no male could kill him. Using his new power, Mahisha led an army against the gods and defeated them. Upset at their defeat, the gods' anger created the goddess Durga. Using all the different gods weapons Durga was sent to kill Mahisha. After a long battle, Durga eventually cut off the head of Mahisha and as a result Durga became the gods' protector.
Rakshasa demons are blood-drinking cannibals with the power to fly, vanish, and change shape as well as size. These fierce giants are described as black with two fangs protruding from their mouths and sharp claws. According to legend, the Rakhasas demons were created from the breath of Brahma when he was asleep. These demons were so filled with blood lust that they started eating Brahma himself. Brahma shouted "Rakshama" (which was Sanskrit for "Protect Me!") and to save Brahma, Vishnu expelled all Rakshasas to Earth.
In the Ramayana, one of the major enemies of Rama is the king of the Rakshasa with 10 heads, Ravana. In the text Ravana steals Rama’s wife Sita and the hero is force fight Ravana to the death to free his wife.
In the Mahabharata, it is the hero Bhima that fights the Rakshasa. Living in the jungle and dining on travelers, these demons make the mistake of letting one of their females scout the traveling party of Bhima. The demoness falls in love with Bhima and warns him of the Rakshasa. The demons attack but the forwarned humans are prepared and defeat them.
As an illustration of how demonic concepts have been transferred across religions, Rakshasa eventually are found in the Theravada Buddhist literature where they harass and threaten Buddha. Eventually they debate Buddha and decide to follow him. Even in Japan, the Rakshasa demons turn up in the form of the Rasetsu.
Like the Rakshasa , the Pishachas, are flesh eating demons with dark skin and glowing red eyes. These demons can shift form at will, turn invisible and even possess victims. Believed to feed off of life energy, the Pishachas are credited with causing illness and even insanity. Like western demons, it is believed that these demons can be cast out using certain mantras and religious tools. Just like the Rakshasa, the Pishachas can also be found in other religious traditions as transplants. The most prominent of the transplanted Pishachas is in the form of the Tibetan Pisat.
To understand the Tibetan demons and the rituals surrounding them, it is important to acknowledge the religious aspects of Tibet. Contrary to the popular image of Tibet as an entirely Buddhist country, it is key to understand that it is also a country with an entrenched shamanistic tradition. Just like Christianity locally was modified as it encountered alternate religions in the Americas, as Buddhism entered into Tibet, it became infused with the local religions. The resulting Tibetan Buddhism is now filled with rituals that are both Buddhists and shamanistic in nature. Old gods are now the demons and devils that haunt the population.
There are two Tibetan terms that need to be mentioned:
Bdud is the Tibetan word for demons
Gto means to "expel."
Like some sects of Indian Buddhism, Tibetan Budhhism has a strong belief in ghosts and demons. According to the legends, there is a ghost world that parallels the human world. After death, the ghost is freed from the body. After a period of uncertainty, it may choose to enter the ghost world or remain in the intermediate Bardo state.
The Bardo realm is the doorway between worlds. From Bardo, you may enter into reincarnation, the ghost world or achieve Nirvana. If the ghost does not enter one of these 3 states, they will eventual simply end. While in the state of Bardo, mean or selfish ghosts are left in a perpetual state of "pain or hunger." These "ser na" (which means yellow nose) are in a constant state of wanting to consume but they can no longer eat and therefore cannot satisfy their hunger. This perpetual hunger drives the Ser Na to try to possess the living to feed.
In addition to ghost threatening people, according to the writings of Lama Chog Lingpa, there are 3 other key supernatural forces plaguing mankind:
The Klu are serpent deities that that whisper false accusation into people's minds to destroy the harmony of the world.
The btsan are the warrior spirits that seek to revenge their heroic deaths.
The bdud are the demons that that cause personal and historic decay.
The Tibetans believe that there are 4 ways to stop a ghost or end a possession:
Use of a phurba
Spirit traps to protect the home
Gouduojie festival rituals
The is the ancient ritual dagger that is used to destroy spirits. It can be used to stab the spirit directly which then either absorbs the spirits energy and destroys it or forces the spirit to be reincarnated.
A spirit trap is a kind of yarn spindle mounted to the outside of a house or to a tree. The spindled is wound with a variety of colored interwoven yarns designed to catch the attention of spirits nearby. The spirit becomes fascinated with the colors and then trapped within the spindle. The spindle is then burned to destroy the spirits inside.
Gouduojie is the Tibetan Ghost Exorcism festival held on 29 December. Tibetans traditionally clear their houses on this day and then carry torches and recite the words of exorcism.
For Tibetans, the direct exorcism begins with the suspicion of demonic affliction called the rnam-rtog. The spells and chants are traditionally composed of two parts:
The enticement... "Come swim in the lake... "
And the destructive part... "May you be carried away in the landslide... "
The exorcists, usually a Paju shaman, leads the two part invocations to help reinforce social rules. Obey and prosper. Defy and be destroyed.
Once divination confirms the target to be possessed, the removal of the demon is started with the construction of an effigy on the victim. Blood or red wine is poured over the effigy as a red offering and substitute. There is a chant from the exorcist... "Take the meat and go... "
After the demon is believed to be within the effigy, the surrogate is carried outside the village where it is then shot with arrows. The arrowed effigy is then thrown over a cliff where the chant promises a landslide to take the demon away.
The Gyasumdo Tibetans believe that a demon arrives in their villages on the back of a traveler. This class of demon, called a Grul-dzul, the hunts within the village for the weakest member and attacks. Villagers try to prevent this from happening by placing a sign of a leaf rake sticking out of basket with girl's pants on their doors prohibiting travelers from entering and, therefore, keeping the Grul-dzul out.
As a second phase of the Tibetan exorcism rite, the Paju performs a ritual to banish the Sri demons that may be waiting to attack. The Sri demons are the escaped inhabitants of the Gurung underworld of Khro-nasa. For this ritual, small dough animal effigies are placed in a tray. A thin layer of white ash is placed on the tray and the covered by black ash. At the head of the tray, a dog's skull is placed to hold the trapped demons. All fires are put out as the chants are recited. With the room is re-lit, the ashes are examined to see if there are demon’s footprints in the ash. The processed is repeated over and over in hopes of capturing the demon. If the demon tracks are found, then the skull of the dog is taken to be ritualistically destroyed. As part of the destruction ritual. A phurba is used to cut a small hole in the ground. The paju then says: "Through the crack you see nine levels. Below that is an ocean in which there is a nine-headed serpent demon (klu gi bdud) who is a prisoner of his evil deeds... He has a crocodile's body and a dark ugly face with his mouth emitting poisonous vapors." The priest then lowers the trapped demon in to the hole. The chant then says that the demon will be pressed down by the mouth of the servant demon and trapped.
The philosophy of not actually hurting the demon directly is key to the Tibetan idea on non-violence and their cultural detachment from the actual act of killing for food. Yet this is not always actually the case.
A spirit trap
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|Christian Demon texts|
|Roman Rite 1614|
|Roman Rite 1998|