What better thing to do in the middle of the night than deciding to translate something? And, what do you know, another one of the SMT4F topics was waiting there just for me (and probably two or three more people). This time we’re talking about demons and how they actually came to have the image shown in the Old and New Testament, as well as some unexpected parallels with other religions. Oh, and Adramelech is there too.

Previous topic: Inanna and myths of the Orient.

The demons that came to Japan

  • The well-known image of demons, with horns, pointy tails and spears, entered Japan together with Christianity (the so-called ‘imps’); until then Japan had had legends about youkai which bore a different physical appearance;
  • Names like ‘demon’ (デーモン), ‘devil’ (デビル) for ‘Satan’ were translated using the Buddhist term ‘akuma’ (悪魔, evil spirit); the being that tried to disrupt Buddha’s meditation (evil spirit 魔 ma that performs wrongdoings 悪行 akugyou) can be seen as similar to the temptation Christ felt (Mara for Buddha, Satan for Christ);*
  • Both the oni in Japanese folklore and demons in Christianity are depicted with horns and even though there are also good oni, they are still known as beings that bring problems to people;
  • Language-wise, there are expressions like ‘like a demon’ (悪魔), with a negative meaning, but also ‘like an ogre (鬼)’ which doesn’t mean just scary, but also cool or impressive;


The ones who created demons

  • The word ‘demon’ has its origins in the ancient Greek term ‘daimon’ which initially did not have a negative meaning, but once the Old Testament was translated into Greek, started being applied to evil beings;
  • The word ‘demon’ (悪魔 akuma) does not actually show up in the Old Testament, but the ones called ‘daimons’ were translated as ‘evil spirits’(悪霊 akuryou), as found in the Japanese translation of the Bible, denoting the pagan gods;*
  • These pagan gods, with Baal (mentioned in topic 13) as their leader, were mostly from the region of Canaan, God’s Promised Land for the Hebrews; the pagan gods were thus meant to be destroyed;
  • During the Hebrews’ flight from Egypt there is a scene where Moses climbs the Sinai Mountain in order to receive the Ten Commandments from God; tired of waiting for him, the people below melt their gold decorations and forge the statue of a calf;
  • in Middle Eastern mythology, the calf is a symbol of good harvest and it is considered to have been related to Baal; it is also easy to think it was a god Moses and his people had been praying to;
  • Informed about what is happening by an angry God, Moses descends and smashes the calf to pieces, since according to the Second Commandment idolatry was now forbidden;
  • Adramelech can also be said to have been a fellow of Baal;
  • In the northern part of the west bank of the river Jordan (current Palestina) lies the land known in the Old Testament as ‘Samaria’, populated in the past by inhabitants of Assyria;
  • The second part of the Book of Kings tells how children were cast into the fire and sacrificed to the gods of Sepharvaim: Adramelech and Anamelech;
  • There is no further information in the Old Testament, but Collin de Plancy’s Dictionnaire Infernal mentions him having wings like those of a peacock;
  • In Hebrew ‘melech’ means ‘king’ and there were also instances of the denomination ‘Baal Adramelech’;
  • Moses led the reform of the old belief of polytheism into monotheism, something that can be noticed from the frequent appearance of other gods in the Old Testament; the term of ‘evil spirits’ is rarely used, but it is mentioned several times that worshipping other gods besides The One God is forbidden and we can infer that the pagan gods were not yet treated as demons;
  • The term ‘demons’ shows up in the New Testament;
  • It is believed that the term ‘demon’ makes its appearance in the early times of Christianity, after the death of Christ, among the popular (back then) current of mysticism (topic 4);
  • It is also believed it is a reference to Angra Mainyu, the enemy of the main god of ZoroastrianismAhura Mazda, but it was mainly an answer to the question of why would the one and absolute God allow a world with rampant wickedness;


The Development of the Concept of Demons

  • Baal and the others started being regarded as demons from the beginning of Christianity, but it is the New Testament where the term ‘demon’ doubles as ‘opponent of God’ or ‘tempter’;
  • The opponents of God include the pagan gods, but once Christianity’s sphere of influence increased, the threat they represented dimmed;
  • Having the support of Rome, Christianity spread all over Europe (topic 2) and absorbed Celtic or German gods (topic 7), while old European beliefs, like the tradition of fairies (topic 12) faded;
  • A new menace to focus on instead of the pagan gods were the heretical factions inside Judaism, Islam and Christianity, called ‘demons’ many times in the Middle Ages;
  • The Old Testament, the scriptures of Judaism, Islam and Christianity states ‘Thou shalt not kill’, but as conflict intensifies, the need to kill one’s opponent arises and the latter is thus regarded as a demon, without breaking the commandment;
  • Demons have been considered tempters since the time of Jesus Christ, but the usage changed in the Middle Ages as well;
  • This was a time of decay for Christianity (parishioners were exhorted of taxes, simony took place, sins were made up for with money, etc);
  • One of the Ten Commandments was ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery’ -> during the Middle Ages Christianity was extremely hostile to the idea of sexual desire, but the believers were human too, so they lost to temptation and the clergy, who wasn’t allowed to get married, had half-public lovers;
  • Obviously, they blamed nightmare demons like Incubus and Succubus;


  • In the Middle Ages the notion of demons also penetrated society and became quite popular thanks to literature, where they were featured quite often;
  • The definite and extremely influential image comes from Goethe’s 19th century play, Faust, where the magician doctor Faust signs a contract with the demon Mephistopheles and tragedy befalls him.

Yay, language!

*  デーモン and  デビル are quite literally the katakana transcriptions of the English terms; the author used them to differentiate between the English words and the Japanese translation, the latter being used more often in this article;

*  悪魔 akuma;  悪 aku means ‘evil’,  魔 ma means ‘spirit’ or ‘influence’, both with a negative meaning; you can encounter it in expressions like 魔が差した (ma ga sashita), ‘succumbed to temptation’, ‘gave in to an urge’, ‘was possessed by an evil spirit’;

*  悪霊 akuryou; while  悪 aku still means ‘evil’,  霊 ryou simply means ‘soul’ or ‘spirit’, no other connotation attached; so basically akuryou is ‘evil spirit, but akuma is ‘evil evil spirit’;

* since I know you like hearing old info, the demons in Megaten are called  悪魔 (akuma) when they are free and 仲魔 (nakama) when they are tamed; this term is a pun on the word 仲間 (nakama), which means ‘comrade’, ‘mate’, ‘partner’.

As a thank you for taking the time to read this, please have this Oni-chan.



About dijeh

I translate things, mainly almost everything that has to do with gods screwing with humans' lives and getting their asses kicked in return.
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