The word ‘demon’ conjures images of evil entities out to tempt or torment. However, originally, the term referred to something very different. For the word, ‘demon’ comes from the ancient Greek for spirit ‘daimon’ (daemon in Latin).‘These Classical ‘demons’ were not evil per se. Instead, they were gifted with divine powers to help and harm and acted as intermediaries between the gods and humankind. Some were minor gods, others dead heroes. To the Romans, they were also guardian spirits of individual people or places. “Daimons” could be good or evil, dependent on their character or circumstance.
However, in the second century AD, the meaning of the word “daimon” changed. For a Greek translation of the original Hebrew Bible, the Septuagint Bible, for the Jews of Alexandria used the term daemon in specific reference to evil spirits. And so, the concept of the demon as an agent solely of evil was born. Whether wholly spiritual or in a physical form, the sole purpose of these diabolical entities was to corrupt or torment humanity.
This concept of malign forces at work in the world is a universal one. For across all time periods and cultures, the idea of evil spirits has been used to explain the unexplainable, be that disease, disaster or just plain ill luck. The word demon became a cross-cultural term for the entities behind such events. It also became a way of relabeling the gods of defunct religions. By downgrading fallen deities to the demonic rank and file, they were discredited and made less attractive objects of worship. In fact, the demons of any given time or place tell us a great deal about the preoccupations of those cultures. Here are just sixteen of those demons from history.
1. The Djinn, a being between an angel and human, whose purpose was to tempt humans with their trickster ways.
The Jinn or Djinn of Arabic and Islamic mythology closely match the original, Classical daimon or daemon. Neither good nor evil, the Djinn were supernatural spirits, born of smokeless fire long before the creation of humanity. The Djinn were spiritual beings; formless shapeshifters with magical powers, who are ranked somewhere between humans and angels. They were not immortal, and humans could kill them. However, a long lifespan compensated them for these disadvantages.
In Persian mythology, the Djinn had their own land, Jinnistan, whose capital was The City of jewels. However, the djinn also haunted the human world, with favorite places of residence being the desert as well as rivers, wells, and even marketplaces. In this sense, they are very much like Roman Geni Loci-spirits of place, and it was customary to ask the local djinns permission before drawing water or even traveling into alien territory.
If they appeared before humans, the djinn could appear as animals, monsters or people. Whatever form they took, people could quickly identify them by their flaming eyes which were also vertical rather than horizontal. This unusual attribute gave the djinn a sinister appearance that married well with some of their more suspect traits. For although the Djinn could be helpers, they were also known to be malicious tricksters. In the worst scenarios, they would raise storms and cause disease, insanity, and death. Islam teaches that every human has an evil djinn whose sole purpose is to tempt its’ human opposite number into evil. This reputation for malevolence is compounded by the fact the chief Djinn, Iblis is also known as Azazel-the Islamic Devil.
The Djinn are not the only demons with an ambiguous reputation.