Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

Spiritual beings, usually of an Evil disposition. The Greek daimon and the Latin daemon are morally neutral words, but the English equivalent was tainted by Christian belief, which insisted all Magic was evil and all Witchcraft involved the instruction of demons. Similar beings are to be found in the Folklore and Religions of virtually all societies, but those which are benign are more likely to be referred to in English translation by other names, including Spirits, Fairies and Elementals. Those retaining the "demon" label are often animistically associated with storms, deserts and other inimical aspects of Nature.

The pattern whereby new religions demonized the deities of those they replaced was set by Zoroastrianism, whose evil "devas" were the Gods of an earlier Indo-Iranian tradition. The Zoroastrian demonic hierarchy, headed by Ahriman, was subsequently replicated within the Christian Mythos (see Devils). Although Judaism was purged of its demons, the Old Testament contains several residual references to such probable demons as Lilith, Belial and Azazel, many of whom were recovered and revitalized as icons of evil and servants of Satan by Christianity. Islam similarly recovered a demonic hierarchy headed by Iblis and staffed by various orders of Genies derived from Arabic folklore.

Demons and humans who worship them, or evoke them by means of Black Magic, are staples of Occult Fantasy and Heroic Fantasy, although it is rare for demons to become fully manifest and rarer still for them to figure as protagonists; L Sprague de Camp's The Fallible Fiend (1973) and Miranda Seymour's The Reluctant Devil (1990) are notable exceptions. Also of relevance is Esther Friesner's Demons trilogy. As modern fantasy writers have become more interested in Anthropology, the range of demons employed in fantasies has widened considerably, with Native American mythology generating particular interest in the USA. The demons of Oriental mythology, only occasionally featured in Western fiction, are more prominent in the cinema of Japan and Hong Kong.

A belated attempt to recover the moral neutrality of the Latin spelling was made by Johann Kepler (1571-1630), who insisted that the "daemon" employed in his Visionary Fantasy Somnium (1634) derived from a word meaning "knowledge"; he was anxious to avoid charges of Satanism. [BS]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.