The Eternal Demons

by Norman A. Rubin

(From earliest times and in every civilization humans have had demons that frightened them that chilled their blood or brought misfortune upon them. Today scholars delve into their secrets and learn their ways. The demons of the past are also pictured as science fiction on the screen, written on pages of periodicals and typed to Net literary sites to the fascination of the believers.)

Demons from the nether world are all about us. There is no escaping them. They come up for the depths of the collective imagination, perhaps the race memory. Fiends of the dark, they are pictured flying on tattered wings or prancing on cloven hooves. Their sulfurous smell infects the air and their voices are the baying of hellhounds. Their evil faces are contorted. Their gaping, sharp fanged mouths drool spittle.

According to the dictionary, creatures of the Underworld are demons, shadow spirits or the Devil himself and his emissaries. They are the abductors of souls and carriers of pestilence, and their wake causes misery, death and destruction. These are creatures that haunt the whispering forests or can be heard in the roar of fast flowing rivers. They fly through tempests and raging winds, and today, their images are flashed on our television and cinema screens.

Demons and shadow spirits in ancient times were considered messengers of the Lord of the Underworld and marched before him. For the peoples of the Middle East, they often lived in deserts and near cemeteries. Many were the unquiet ghosts of those who had died with violence or had been left unburied. In Canaanite myth the father of the gods, EL, was frightened almost to death by a demon, "having two horns and tail;" this was the being that in the Judeo-Christian tradition evolved into the devil or Satan.

Sickness was thought to be caused by demonic possession and some demons actually bore the name of the disease they were thought to induce. The Canaanite demon that brought on headaches was 'Kephalargia,' while 'Abrasax' brought fever. The sick of Canaan wore
amulets, with priestly incantations: i.e. "Arasax Yah Yah El El El," exorcise fever and sickness.

A horrible shadow spirit of Mesopotamia was 'Lamashtu' the hag who killed children in the womb or the newborn. Like many other demon, she figured in other cultures. The Phoenicians depicted her as a winged sphinx, labeled the 'Flying One' Lil (ith). An amulet from Phoenicia
had incantation against her baneful influence on childbirth, "O Flying One... Stranglers of Lambs! The house I enter you shall not enter." This she-demon is mentioned once in the Bible and in later Jewish folklore as 'Lilith'. The name was said to mean 'screech owl', which reflected and association with birds of ill omen. According to the Talmud, the two parts, basic code of Jewish civil and canon law, 'Lilith' was Adam's first wife, but they parted and she swore revenge on the newborn.

The Bible regards foreign gods as 'Shedim', translated as 'demons' or 'devils' in most translations. They live in barren wastelands or desolate ruins, inflicting sickness on Humanity. Psalm 91 speaks of "the pestilence that stalks in darkness or the plague raging at noonday." Devils trouble and deceive the minds of humans. In Mark's Gospel we are told of a man who "is possessed by a spirit, which makes him speechless..." The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke illustrate vividly the persistence of the popular belief in demons and devils and their ability to take over personality.

Many methods were employed in exorcising the possessed. Amulets with incantations were worn by the afflicted "to save him from the evil eye, from evil spirits and from all evil tormentors..." The Essenes of
Qumran in Israel pored over ancient books in search of magic formulae to protect a man from a misfortune. One has been found in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Even surgery was employed. Skulls found in Israel show signs of a rudimentary trepanning. This consisted in cutting a disc in the skull, which its practitioners believed let out any evil spirits tormenting the victim. The patient was rendered unconscious through the use of hashish or opium. Surprisingly, it has been estimated that there was a post-operative survival rate of 77 percent among patients.

In Greek mythology demons were fearsome products of the national imagination. Most feared were the Erinyes or 'Furies.' A loathsome trio of females, they were horrifying in appearance and they stank. With snakes in their hair, brandishing torches and cracking metal–studded whips, they were fulfillers of the curses that had been called by the angry, grieving kin of the murdered. Born of blood,
roused from the Nether World by their shedding, they are satisfied only by the misery of their quarry.

There were other she-demon monsters in Greek legend. The three Gorgons, daughters of the ancient sea god also had their hair covered with snakes, while their mouths were armed with great tusks. The gaze of one of the Medusa was such that all who met it turned to stone.
In the end her head was lopped off by Perseus, son of Zeus, But only when he employed a mirror, so as not to have met her eyes. Even then, when he displayed her decapitated head to his enemies they were turned
into stone.

The ancient Greeks also had to contend with Harpyai or 'Harpies,' the 'Snatchers,' winged women, depicted in art and literature as equipped with long, hooked claws for the purpose of snatching their quarry. Their specialty was swooping upon human beings to carry them off
none knew where. Then there were the 'Sirens,' who so enchanted passing sailors with their song that they leapt overboard to join them only to perish in the fury of the sea. Another marine monster was 'Scylla,' six headed and with a bark of a hellhound, who snatched sailors from
ships and crushed their bones.

The citizens of Rome had an equally wide range of demons. Most feared of all was the 'Chimaera', compounded of lion, goat and serpent.

In Israel, during the Talmudic period, from 200 AD to 1200 AD, those who entered deep woods at night were considered insane. They were placing themselves at the mercy of Agrath, daughter of the king of demons, Asmodeus, who roamed the night together with his hosts. Anyone who drank water drawn from a river or pond at night put himself or herself in the powers of the she-demon Shabiri, "Beware of Shabiri,
Biri, Iri, Ri," ran the prophylactic incantation.

There were many evil spirits and demons in Talmudic literature and they continued to be dreaded in medieval Jewish folklore. Demons and evil spirits were thought to countless. "Their numbers outweigh the number of humans on earth. If one could see them none could stand the sight," says the Talmud. One is Kuda, who attacks women in childbirth. Shibetta menaced those who touched food with unwashed hands. The Ketev
was most dangerous during the months of July and august. Ruah Palga caused headaches. Ruah Tazazit attacked animals and caused rabies. And there were many more...

During the early Christian period a demon could be ensnared by writing its name in conic form, now mainly known through the 'ABRACADABRA'
formula, which is most probably of Gnostic origin. The Evil spirit, when thus trapped, will lift to gain release.

In ancient Arabia, when the wind rustled the leaves in trees or palms, the people fancied they heard the voice of the Jinn who, among other places, inhabited the forests or oases. Jinns flew in the gale, swam
in the churning seas. Formed of fire, they assumed different shapes, sometimes as giants of ominous hideousness. Nevertheless, they could be controlled by anyone possessed a magic lamp who, like Aladdin in
the Arabian Nights, rubbed it, "I am master of the earth and air and wave, but slave of the lamp and the bearer's slave. What will you have master, what will you have?"

Evil or at least unfriendly Egyptian demons of a similar type could be found inhabiting trees or wooden posts and were likely to waylay the spirits of the dead on their perilous and difficult journey to the After World.

The seas were teemed with their own special demons. Greek sailors feared 'Charybidis', a monster in the shape of a whirlpool, which sucked in ships sailing in its vicinity near the Sicilian coast. Much later Norwegian sailors had to contend with the 'Kraken,' estimated at one and half miles in circumference. This monster churned the waters of the oceans, sucking everything into its vortex.

Evil spirits are still with us. While the churches tend to be ignored when they inveigh against the devil and his brood, others have supplanted them. In the West, through the 'Cold War' there was the fear of the Communist demon. In the Communist countries the demon was Capitalism. There is the fear today of Islamic Fundamentalists, and in Islam, the fear of 'Infidels.' The peoples of Middle East are mindful of the atrocities of the crusades, and to them the demons are the Christians.

Even those of our own sophisticated and skeptical age can find themselves susceptible to the evils of demons. Finding oneself alone in a forest on a dark, stormy night or in the dark of night in a deserted house can inspire terror in the hardiest of us. Every sound conjures visions.

Perhaps we need our devils. According to psychologists, they represent 'the negative mother-image, and thus express resistance to incest, or the fear of it.

So throw a pinch of salt over your left shoulder and most certainly avoid going under a ladder. Then cross fingers, touch wood, watch for a black or white cat – depending what culture you come from - as either may be the familiar method of avoiding a creature or its curse
of the misery of bad luck from the Nether World. Possibly then you will be safe.

But don't be sure!

1) Catalogue – Mysteries of the Seas – National Maritime Museum, Haifa Israel
2) The Golden Bough – Sir James George Fraser
3) Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology
4) The Greek Myths – Robert Graves
5) Peake's Commentary on the Bible

SIDEBAR – A Snare for Demons
If you are being troubled with demons, according to the second century Gnostic physician, SAMONICUS. You should write on an amulet the name of the demon who is troubling you and add as below:
You then wear this round you neck. The theory is that the demon diminishes with his name.