For those who have wondered what are demons, the answer isn’t necessarily a simple one.
There are many kinds of spirit entities, from extremely powerful territorial spirits to the wicked spirits that Jesus described who roam the earth looking for a person to attack or a place to dwell in. The Hebrew Bible does refer to the “gods” that the pagan nations surrounding Ancient Israel worshipped as “demons,” meaning they were intelligent and powerful spirit entities.
As we’ve done with the word “spirit” and “ghosts”, we’ll first look at the history of the word “demon,” keeping in mind that words are symbols we use to convey ideas.
Demon is derived from the Latin word, which was used to mean “spirit, evil spirit, divinity, genius, tutelary deity.” It reflected something of divine nature and was used by Christian writers for “evil spirit.”
In ancient Greek mythology, it meant a “supernatural being of a nature intermediate between that of gods and men; an inferior divinity, spirit, genius (including the sounds of ghosts or deceased persons, esp. Deified heroes). Often written as deamon…”
In 1680, daemon meant “Angels, or the Souls of men, any Spirits out of Terrestrial bodies, the Souls of Saints and the Spirits of Angels.” In Homer, a Greek historian in 1846 wrote, “there is scarily any distinction between gods and daemons.”
Demon began to mean “an evil spirit”, especially “applied to idols or gods of the heathen, and to the ‘evil’ or ‘unclean spirits’ by which demoniacs were possessed or actuated” and also “hairy ones (satyrs or he-goats)” in early Latin and English translations of the Bible.
In 1398, it was understood to mean “an evil spirit; a malignant being of superhuman nature; a devil.” This is the common usage today.
In 1614, it “applied to a person (animal or agency personified), of malignant, cruel, terrible or destructive nature, or of hideous appearance.
In 1876, it “applied to a being of superhuman or ‘diabolical’ energy, skin, etc, also to an action, etc.
Therefore, for our purposes, the word “demons” should be understood to refer to to the wicked spirits which are now earth-bound and roam the earth, as opposed to the higher territorial spirits mentioned above.
Thus the word “demon” would normally NOT be applied to territorial spirits, but to the wicked spirits Jesus referred to.
Therefore, the word “demons” should be understood to refer to to the wicked spirits which are now earth-bound and roam the earth.
They are intelligent, have agendas, see humans as means to further their agenda, and are never to be trusted.
Seers can see demons.
Seers who see demons report them looking like
- Dark shadowy figures, often appearing to be male
- Little monsters with claws and eyes
- Smoky entities that you can see through, but from which you can detect details
- Blue men with blue suits
- Figures shrouded in dark robes
- Blobby entities with tentacles
- Bulls and other snarly animals
- Animal-human hybrids, like fawns or minotaurs
- Little grey humanoids, with big heads and eyes (i.e., alien “greys”)
In short, they appear in varying shapes and sizes. Some have assignments to do harm towards someone or to follow someone around and watch them. Some appear as little vicious animals. Others as little children. Some can appear to be angels.
Demons are not all-powerful. They are not all-knowing, but some do seem to know a lot. Demonic entities probably form a network, a hierarchy, which forms a kind of “kingdom of darkness” Some of these demons are assigned to watch us. The Bible calls some angelic entities “the Watchers.” Some are good; some are bad. The bad ones are probably demons.
Their power and assignments can be broken in the Name of Jesus, who died on the Cross. Their power and assignments can be encouraged and empowered as well. Some behavior by humans can invite demonic oppression and attacks, somehow giving ‘permission’ for demons to afflict them.
I’m often puzzled when I talk with seers, psychics, mediums or others who listen to demons and just believe what the demons say. On what grounds would someone base their trust in a demon?
Where did demons come from?
Ultimately, I don’t really know, but I know where they’re destined. When dealing with demons (if you are a Christian filled with the power of the Holy Spirit), send them to the place Jesus has prepared for them.
But I’ll present a several theories about the origins of demons. The rest of this article is excerpted from the forthcoming, Kingdom Warfare at Home: Spiritual Cleansing of Life and Land.
1. The Spirits of Wicked Men
Many believe that demons are actually the earth-bound spirits of wicked men. This belief goes back to early Christian writers such at Tertullian and Jewish writers like Josephus, who wrote “demons are the spirits of the wicked people who enter and kill the living.” 1
As mentioned in the chapter on ghosts, this position holds that the spirits of humans (ghosts) leave their body to travel to “the other side” to live in bliss or (for Gnostics) becoming “one with the universe.” But some don’t make the journey and they get stuck along the way or get lost traveling to the other side, and are stuck roaming the earth, maybe haunting houses, reliving certain experiences, and so on. Most depictions of ghosts and demons in popular culture present a version of this belief.
Some ghosts are summoned by psychics with “messages” to their living relatives or they stick around trying to interact with the living, like in the classic Patrick Swayze film, Ghost. Some are angry they are dead. Some “don’t know they’re dead”, according to M. Night Shamalagn’s The Sixth Sense. Some are evil, and these evil ghosts are demons, according to this view. Much of the West’s conception of ghosts and other spirits was shaped by the ghost of Marley in Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol,
“It is required of every man,” the Ghost returned, “that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellowmen, and travel far and wide; and if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death. It is doomed to wander through the world —oh, woe is me!—and witness what it cannot share, but might have shared on earth, and turned to happiness.”
While it is very likely that some spirits that haunt a house are in fact ghosts, as explained above, ghosts are a separate category of spirit from demons. Ghosts are the disembodied spirits of humans, and we should not get our theology or ideas about ghosts or demons from Charles Dickens, M. Night Shamalagn or any other member of the culture industry. Demons are the disembodied spirits of something, just not humans.
A subset of the first view, poltergeists are thought to be really angry ghosts that move objects around or cause loud noises and other “demonic” behaviors. In Stephen Spielberg’s classic film Poltergeist, several ghosts had been tricked by “the beast” to not go to “the other side”, and all sorts of terrifying activity around the house ensued. It wasn’t entirely clear if the activity was from the ghosts or “the beast”, and the film’s expert on these matters, a psychic with big glasses and a small voice, never bothered explaining what “the beast” was supposed to be.
Poltergeists are fascinating enough phenomenon that it’s worth mentioning that much research has determined the cause of poltergeist sounds and activity, such as objects moving in a house: telekinetic powers of someone in the home or business. 2 An angry child, for instance, was observed unconsciously causing objects in a house to move with his mind. Deliverance from this phenomena did not require an exorcism or spiritual house cleansing, but a physical or mental healing, something that Jesus can provide as well. In this situation, you can cooperate with Jesus to release the Kingdom of God in the life of the troubled person causing the telekinetic activity.
3. Aliens from Another World
Many researchers into the UFO phenomena believe that intelligent life is visiting Planet earth from other worlds and perpetuating demonic behavior on hapless human victims. To the unscientific mind, these UFOlogists argue, alien beings would be mistaken for demons. But they have a scientific explanation for it: interstellar travel and advanced intelligences researching humans by torturing them.
Certainly people who interact with “aliens” report they act like demons when they afflict, abduct, and torture people, while preaching a weird message of a coming messiah. However, it’s more likely that demons are acting like aliens, rather than aliens acting like demons. Although intelligent life may exist on other worlds, I find it unlikely they would be visiting earth merely to “demonize” some humans. It’s more likely demonic activity originates from beings from another dimension, not another planet: the spirit dimension.
4. Fallen Angels
The phrase “Fallen Angels” never actually occurs in scripture, but the idea that demons are simply Satan’s fallen angels is very popular among many Christians and goes back to the early Christian writer Origen, who taught that the Devil seduced many angels to fall with him. This view is not actually presented coherently in scripture but was invented by late ancient Christian writers in the second and third centuries. Because this view is so widespread, I took time in the chapter on the Prince of Darkness refuting it. Satan’s fallen angels no doubt serve as principalities and administrators of the Domain of Darkness, but normally would not be considered demons. Yes, powerful principalities act like demons and command demons, but dealing with them in spiritual warfare is different than dealing with normal demons…
While the Bible does refer to heavenly entities who descended to earth to engage in reproductive activity with women, these beings were locked up. Any principality you are dealing with are not these creatures, although in some literature, these fallen angels are conflated with demons.
At any rate, while it’s clear that some angels have rebelled against their creator and are no longer in heaven and some have influence on earth, these entities are not demons in how I use the term here, nor in how the New Testament thought of the term.
5. God Created Demons
Did God create demons to afflict people? Well, let’s do the math. God is good. Demons are bad. Therefore, no. God didn’t create demons to afflict people. The Old Testament writers sometimes explained that God “sent” a wicked spirit to afflict Saul or to lie to Ahab’s prophets. 3 You can best understand the why behind this when you study the operating covenant between God and Israel, which we’ll touch upon in the chapter on Hearing God. It’s time to change your mindset about God and his Kingdom. The best filter to understand God is to look at Jesus. How did Jesus react to demons? He cast them out. He never afflicted people with them. Even when people who were loyal to other gods came up to him, he defeated their demonic affliction, indicating his authority over other principalities. Don’t get your view of God merely from the Old Testament. Get it from Jesus.
6. Holdover from Creation
Ancient theologians in the pre-Christian Middle East thought that the demons may have been vestiges left over after the gods created the universe. Like your appendix or spleen, they served no good purpose anymore and so they afflict people. While providing an interesting cultural backdrop to the region and thinking of the times, these theologians are mistaken, just like modern biologists are mistaken regarding vestigial organs. Everything was designed well with good intentions. Similarly, demons are not the vestigial leftovers of the tamed chaos monster from Creation.
7. The Spirits of the Giants
The most coherent idea regarding the origin of demons is found in the Bible, in the intertestamental literature, and in the writings of the rabbis and early Church fathers: demons are the souls of the offspring of humans and angels who had sexual relations. 4 According to this view, a group of angels called the Watchers descended from heaven and mated with human women, producing an offspring that resulted in a race of giants, whose wickedness compelled them to conquer and corrupt the world. The giants turned against regular men and “devoured mankind.” 5 They began sinning against various creatures and devoured “one another’s flesh and drink the blood.” 6 To destroy them, God caused the Flood.
According to one ancient prophetic text widely read and accepted in Jesus’ day the spirits of the giants,
“who are produced from the spirits and flesh, shall be called evil spirits upon the earth, and on the earth shall be their dwelling. Evil spirits have proceeded from their bodies because they are born from men, and from the holy Watchers is their beginning and primal origin; they shall be evil spirits on earth and evil spirits shall they be called….
The spirits of the giants afflict, oppress, destroy, attack, do battle, and work destruction on the earth, and cause trouble: they take no food but nevertheless hunger and thirst, and cause offenses. And these spirits shall rise up against the children of men and against the women, because they have proceeded from them. From the days of the slaughter and destruction and death of the giants, from the sounds of whose flesh the spirits, having gone forth, shall destroy without incurring judgement, thus shall they destroy until the day of the consummation, the great judgement in which the age shall be consummated, over the Watchers and the godless, ye shall be wholly consummated.” 7
Most of the giants were destroyed in the flood to preserve a remnant of uncorrupted flesh. The spirits of the drowned giants were neither divine nor human and thus were trapped in the regions of the air to haunt as demons, seeking bodies or places to inhabit. The giants were punished for simply being the result of something diabolical, a forbidden union, or for their own wicked deeds. This passage from the Book of Enoch, a text widely read by Jews of Jesus’ day and quoted by at least two New Testament authors, gives us an indication that these pre-flood giants where drinking human blood and consuming human flesh, and provided the ancient origin to vampire and zombie legends. 8
God judged the giants with destruction through a flood, and he judged the the immortals that sinned too, locking them in chains of “gloomy darkness.” 9 How they actually mated with the humans isn’t clear: whether they literally took on physical bodies and had sex or if they just manipulated the genetics; either way the result was bad. So bad that millennia later, when Paul admonished women in worship to be sexually modest, his concern was them inadvertently seducing angels into wanting to have sex with them! 10
While the angels were punished and the the giants destroyed in the Flood, it’s unclear how giants later reappeared and occupied Canaan with the plans to destroy God’s people when they arrived. Their presence prompted God’s merciless order for Israel to wipe them out utterly. 11 God wanted his territory cleared out of all demonic influence, so the land would be set apart, ready for the Kingdom of God.
And if you don’t see the connection to your mission to clear your home of demonic presences, then re-read this section. Demons, then, are the spirits of these giants, the offspring of rebellious and wicked Watchers descended from heaven and their human wives. They are aligned with the Domain of Darkness. Unlike human spirits, they cannot pass through the cosmic veil to the other side: instead they are doomed to roam the earth, until ordered to hell by God’s Kingdom enforcers.
“Cast the Suckers Out”
When teaching on deliverance ministry, John Wimber once famously said, “Cast the suckers out!” According to Wimber, “Jesus never met a demon that He liked, and He met them frequently. Demon expulsion is a direct attack my Jesus on Satan, a primary goal of Jesus’ mission.” 12 Jesus cast out demons with a word of command, literally with a word that means, “Go away!” 13
When challenged by whose authority and power he cast out demons, Jesus characterized the struggle as a conflict between the Kingdom of God and the dominion of Satan. He declared he was binding Satan’s power and plundering those who belonged to him, setting them free to enter the Kingdom of God. Jesus said, “No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house.” 14
Jesus warred against demons, and he released his disciples to war against demons. Again from Wimber,
We advance the kingdom of God in the same way: by overthrowing every contrary spirit in the name of our King. Too many Christians do not know how to deal with demons. They are afraid of evil spirits. They do not understand the scriptural basis for our authority and power over them. We can and ought to treat evil spirits ruthlessly – binding, rebuking and casting them out whenever we encounter them.” 15
In other words, cast the suckers out!
A thought on mental hallucinations.
No doubt, some people see things that are not related to the spiritual world, but rather to psychological trauma, chemical imbalances or drug abuse.
Yet, the spirit world is real and it interacts with our world in real ways.
- Quoted in G.J. Riley, “Demons”, Dictionary of Demons and Deities, 2nd Edition (DDD), 238. ↩
- William G. Roll, “Poltergeists, Electromagnetism and Consciousness”, Journal of Scientific Exploration, Vol 17, No. 1, pp 75-86, 2003. ↩
- 1 Sam 18, 1 Kings 22 ↩
- G.J. Riley, “Demons”, DDD, 235-240. The argument can be made from scripture, but it’s too complicated to get into here. See Heiser, Unseen Realm. ↩
- Enoch 7:4. All references to Enoch are from The Book of Enoch, translated by R.H. Charles (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1917), reprinted in The Researchers Library of Ancient Texts Volume 1: The Apocrypha, Includes the Books of Enoch, Jasher and Jubilees (Crane, MO: Defender, 2011). To understand why the content from The Book of Enoch was floating around the heads of Jewish and Christian thinkers in the centuries before and after Christ, review W. S. Vorter, “1 Enoch and the Jewish Literary Setting of the New Testament: A Study in Text Types” Neotestamentica 17 (1983): 1-14 and Chad Pierce, Spirits and the Proclamation of Christ: 1 Peter 3:18-22 in its Tradition-Historical and Literary Context (Durham theses, Durham University, 2009). ↩
- Enoch 7:5 ↩
- Enoch 15:8 -16:2. While most scholars today or in Jesus’ time don’t consider Enoch to be Holy Writ, scholars recognize that it was widely read and the first part, from which all the quotes herein are drawn from, also called The Book of the Watchers, was considered reliable enough that New Testament authors quoted from it. ↩
- Judd Burton, Interview with the Giant: Ethnohistorical Notes on the Nephilim (Burton Beyond Press, PDF version, 2009), 24-33. ↩
- 2 Pet. 2:4, Jude 1:6, quoting Enoch. ↩
- See 1 Cor. 11:10 and Troy W. Martin, “Paul’s Argument From Nature For the Veil in 1 Corinthians 11:13-15: A Testicle Instead of a Head Covering”, Journal of Biblical Literature Vol 123, No. 1 (2004) 75-84; and Jason David BeDuhn, ““Because of the Angels”: Unveiling Paul’s Anthropology in 1 Corinthians 11, Journal of Biblical Literature Vol 118, No. 2 (Summer 1999), 295-320. ↩
- Heiser, Unseen Realm. ↩
- John Wimber and Kevin Springer, Power Evangelism (Ventura, CA: Regal, 1986), 161. ↩
- G.J. Riley, “Demons”, DDD, 239, referring to Matt. 8:32. ↩
- Mark 3:27 ↩
- Wimber, Power Evangelism, 162-163. ↩