The Origin of Demons

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I’m sticking to the Abrahamic religions for this one.

Christianity’s explanation for demon is that demons are in fact fallen angels. They, led by Lucifer, rebelled against God and were cast down. Lucifer’s supporters numbered a third of the total corps of angels. Lucifer, now known as Satan, or the Devil, opposes God’s plans and his ex-angels (now presumably demons, although the Bible still refers to them as ‘the Devil’s angels’) help him. This story has made it into contemporary fiction several times that I know of. My favourite is Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens, where one of the main characters is Crowley (spelling changed from Crawly), ‘an angel who did not fall so much as saunter vaguely downwards’. Crowley and Aziraphale (an angel) are opposite numbers on earth whose officially opposing goals but surprisingly similar outlook have not prevented them from, over the centuries, developing a close friendship. The book chronicles their joint attempts to thwart the coming Apocalypse, since, actually, they quite like it here on earth…

Thinking about this from a theological point of view, this does actually make sense. Being of the same origin, and having worked for the same company early in their careers (before Crowley bailed to join the competitor) it makes sense that the two of them should get on well. Angels (and demons) have personalities and have been known to skive off when they should have been working (Jude 6), so it works from a Biblical point of view. Crawley and Aziraphale have been on earth for millennia, so it’s hardly surprising that they should get fond of the place and so be more concerned with keeping their lives going the way they’re happy than with obeying the dictates of Head Office.

The whole story of the Fall is dealt with by Wendy Alec in her Chronicle of the Brothers, which I tried to read, honestly I did. And the cover art is amazing. But the story… well, there are times when a novelisation is the most enjoyable way to absorb a story, and there are other times when the novelisation is so appalling that you’d rather hit the theology texts. I don’t often give up half-way through a book, but this one made me feel the same way Dorothy Parker felt about Benito Mussolini’s book: “This is not a book to be cast aside lightly. It should be hurled with great force.” How could anyone screw up such an exciting plot so badly?

Another genesis of demons that appears in the Abrahamic religions is the story of Lilith. Where Lilith actually came from is a bit of a mystery, and I suspect that the seductive Lilith whom we all know and love is actually the product of a patchwork of mythology with a healthy dose of desire to tell a good story, and everybody knows that sex sells. Lilith possibly originated as a wind-demon (or possibly not; the translation is debatable) but in the event, several hundred years later, she became Adam’s first wife.

The story goes that Adam and Eve were created at the same time – this taps into the dual creation stories in Genesis. In Genesis 1:27, we get So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. It goes on to say (1:28): The God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air; and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” In verse 31, we get Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. So the evening and the morning were the sixth day. So clearly, we already have one man and one woman, and we’re still on Day 6.

Then we move on to Genesis Chapter 2. God plants the garden in Eden, and puts the man in the garden. In verse 18, God opines that it is not good that the man should be alone and decides to make a helper comparable to him.

So what has happened to the woman who is mentioned in Chapter 1? She has entirely disappeared; instead, in verses 21-22 makes a woman from Adam’s rib and introduces her to Adam.

For the actual details of what happens to the woman from Genesis 1 (who is not actually named in the Bible) we are indebted to Jewish mystical tradition.

The story goes, therefore, that the woman in Genesis 1 was Lilith; having been made at the same time as Adam, she objected – strenuously – to submitting to him, arguing that having been made at the same time, she was his equal. In what is presumably the first divorce in history, Lilith leaves him and Adam is alone by the time he gets to Genesis 2, when he complains that he is lonely and persuades God to provide him with another (presumably more compliant, although as events turn out, possibly not compliant enough) wife.

From here, there are competing stories about what Lilith does – after all, what does a relatively strong-minded woman do after having binned the only man in creation for being a male chauvinist pig?

One story has Adam separating from Eve for a period after their expulsion from Eden (because naturally the fact that he ate the apple [or fig, or whatever] was all her fault and nothing to do with him at all), and during that interval he goes back to Lilith and has children with her, which become the first demons. Then, of course, Adam slinks back to Even (has Lilith kicked him out again?) and Eve produces Cain and Abel, and we know how that goes.

Another story has Lilith hooking up with Asmodeus. Asmodeus is allegedly a Prince of Hell (much better catch than Adam) and, furthermore, is the demon of lust (even better…). Not only are their children demons, but Lilith seems to become a demoness herself, and her further career involves killing newborn babies, etc.

The Adam-and-Lilith-give-birth-to-demons (or at least, give birth to a different breed of human) has also been utilised in fantasy: in Tanya Huff’s Keeper series, the keepers and cousins (her magical race) are descended from Adam and Lilith rather than Adam and Eve.

Lilith-as-demon appears in Richelle Mead’s Succubus series – she is in charge of the corps of succubi, of which Georgina Kincaid, the main character, is one.

So there we go; what do you reckon? I know I love the way myths intertwine, and how things are never as simple as you think they are. To my shame, out of all the times I’ve read Genesis, I’d never clicked that there were two different creation stories until it was pointed out to me.

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