"A Concise Demonology"


by Judd H. Burton, MA, ABD

     Ralph Waldo Emerson called it “the shadow of theology.”  It concerns one of the most controversial subjects in the whole of human history.  Demonology is one of those esoteric sorts of disciplines that usually gets marginalized by academia, and sometimes, even the church.  However, it is a necessary field—one which society needs with desperation it is often hardly aware of.  If we need it so, why are we, as a society, not more familiar with it?  What is it?  We can easily enough pick out the very recognizable word “demon,” and we can recall from school that the suffix “-ology” means roughly “the study of.”   So there we have it—the study of demons.

            Demonology is the study of demons, but that definition only satisfies the scholarly side of demonology.  There is a very strong ministerial and spiritual side to the field.  With regard to religion, demonology is an obvious analogy of theology.  Where theology is concerned with doctrines that deal with God, demonology consists of Biblical doctrine about demons.  And there we have it.

     The profession of demonology undeniably is a calling.  Those who answer the call follow the example of Jesus Christ himself.  His work on earth consisted of preaching and healing, but the casting out of demons from stricken persons was also an integral part of his ministry.  If the Son of God performed such acts as part of his care for the infirmed and afflicted, surely it was and is a worthwhile pursuit for those who are called to it.

       So, in short, we can say that demonology is the study of the doctrine regarding demons and the ministry to those afflicted by them.  In order, however, to understand the practice of demonology and the demonologist, we must further define and expound the contributing fields and various functions of demonology.

The Scholarly Study of Demonology

       A good portion of the demonologist’s time is naturally spent in study.  In addition to prayer and ministry, research is often the constant companion of a demonologist.  A cursory glance at the literature of the field will be enough to convince a person of its multidisciplinary nature—demonology is an amalgamation.  Generally, the humanities are more functional than the more empirical sciences, with the possible exceptions of psychology and sociology.  There are a number of specific established disciplines which constitute the method and theory of demonology.

       Theology is the obvious foundation of demonology.  As we are concerned with the study of demons in relation to God, theology provides a template to create the field.  As with theology, the Bible is the main source for reference, but there are also documents authored by prominent thinkers and ministers of the church that may provide insight into the world of demons as well.

       As mentioned, the humanities also form a portion of the corpus of demonology.  History, most notably, is a tremendous weapon in the arsenal of the demonologist.  From history, he or she may discern the precedents for certain demonic behavior, or examine the anecdotes and memoirs of demonologists before them.  Likewise, knowledge of classical and ancient languages, such as Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, may be of help in examining Biblical and ancient accounts in their original form.  More recent languages, such as French and German, may be helpful in reading medieval and early modern documents on the subject of demons.

            The social sciences provide a vast array of aide in demonology.  Cultural anthropology is especially important, given its comparative and world-wide scope.  It is the study of human culture.  The societies of the world all have their own mythologies and beliefs concerning demons, evil spirits, and spirit possession.  Knowledge of such beliefs can hardly fail to be useful, particularly in dealing with different cultures (which is always a possibility in America).  To a lesser degree psychology and sociology provide further help to the demonologist.  Psychology gives perspective in differentiating between the diseases of the mind and the demonic, which can often be a very blurred line.  Sociology, which is the study of social structures, can illuminate the social context in which demonic activity is occurring.  Collectively, the social sciences have a very sound methodology for interviewing that is also helpful to the demonologist.

       Armed with these disciplines and their insights, the demonologist can conduct the necessary preliminary fieldwork and background research in the stacks of dusty old tomes.  Demonology’s scholastic facet is a very flexible and pliable tool, allowing for the usage of different disciplinary techniques, as the demonologist sees fit to use them.

Characteristics of the Demon           

     Now that we have determined exactly what demonology is, procession to the ghastly creature who is the subject of the field—the demon—can occur.  A demon, first and foremost, is a fallen angel.  It is one of the angelic host who threw his support in with Satan, in his attempt to execute a coup in Heaven.  For their treachery and betrayal, God cast them out of heaven.  By some estimates, the number of demons that Satan took with him  was roughly a third of the angelic population.

       The Bible makes mention of demons frequently, particularly in the New Testament.  There are a variety of words that authors used in the Bible to denote a demon or evil spirit.  A closer examination of these words yields further insight into the nature of the demon.  The Old Testament mentions demons in a number of passages, but has far less mention of them than the New Testament.  Nevertheless, the authors of the Old Testament books give us some interesting examples of demonic activity.  The first is, of course, in the Garden of Eden, with the Devil himself taking the form of the beguiling serpent and deceiving Adam and Eve.  In Genesis 6:4, the author presents an example of cohabitation between demons and human females.  Amongst the most common of Hebrew words used for demon is “ob,” which may be translated as “a familiar spirit.” (Lev. 19:31; Deut. 18:10-11).  They were most often the aides of wizards, necromancers, and witches (1 Sam. 28:7) in the Old Testament.  As such, fraternizing with them was strictly forbidden.  

It is in the pages of the New Testament that we find the most information about the nature of demons.  This fact should not come as a surprise as Jesus spent a good deal of his ministry delivering persons from demons.   The Koine Greek words utilized in the books of the New Testament vividly illustrate the characteristics and, even the different species, of demons.  One of the most common words for demon is daimonion (daimonion), which is variously translated as “devil,” “demon,” or “unclean spirit.”  It occurs 60 times in the Gospels, Acts, and Revelation.  Another related word is daimon (daimon), a term translated in the same manner as daimmonion (daimonion).  The third word that allows us to further understand the demon is diabolos (diaboloV).  This noun occurs three times in the New Testament.  It means “slanderer” and authors use it only in its singular form.  Satan, whom we will discuss shortly, generally carried this title, since his job was (and is) to deceive and slander.  Although this refers to Satan, it also illustrates the function of those who follow him.

       The goal of demons is to corrupt as much of humanity as possible, to lead it astray from the salvation of Christ.  They retain many of their original angelic powers, now using them for evil.  The Bible speaks of demons afflicting people with disease, controlling their minds and bodies, blinding them, and many, many other horrific behaviors.  Although they are neither omniscient or omnipotent, they wield millennia of accumulated knowledge and immense power beyond human abilities.  All demons are subject to their leader, the most notorious of demons—Satan himself. 

A Biographical Sketch of the Arch-Demon

            If we are to understand demons more fully, it behooves us to more closely examine the leader of the demons—Satan.  Satan is the prime adversary of God and chief of demons, sometimes referred to as Lucifer.  He led an angelic revolt against God that resulted in their expulsion from heaven.  He is a deceiver, indeed, the chief deceiver.   Though we are introduced to Satan as the serpent in the Garden of Eden, the author of the book of Job first calls him by the name Satan and gives him his first profile.  In Job 1:6   Satan, we discover, is a rover, moving all over his kingdom—the world. In the New Testament, Peter echoes this nature in 1 Peter 5:8 stating that "Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour."  The author of Job also relates that Satan only has the power that God allows him to have, which allows him to torture Job with disease and calamity, only to see God redeem Job, rebuild his wealth, and restore his happiness. 

       The Hebrew word “satan” means “adversary” or “accuser.”  These connotations are reflective of two roles.  First, he is the adversary of God and humanity, and second, he is constantly accusing and trying humans.  Consequently, the name also appears in the demonology of other Semitic cultures.  For instance, he is “Shaitan” in Arabic and “satana” in Aramaic.

            In the New Testament, Satan resumed his role as the lord of demons.  The Gospels attest to Jesus’ own confrontations with Satan, as in the temptation in the wilderness related in Matthew chapter 4.  The authors of the New Testament frequently referred to Satan and his scheming.  Our grammatical introduction to the Devil has already been discussed—he appears in the form of “diabolos” (diaboloV), which as we noted means “slanderer.”  In the course of this ongoing discourse on the Devil, authors, disciples, and apostles bestowed a number of titles reflecting his nature.  Those appellations include Abaddon (Rev. 9:11[Hebrew-“destroyer]), accuser (Ps. 109:6), Apollyon (Rev. 9:11[Greek-“destroyer][Apolluon]), Beelzebul (Matt. 10:25; Mark 3:22[Hebrew-“lord of the flies”]), Belial (2 Cor. 6:15[Hebrew-“worthless”]), deceiver of the world (Rev. 12:9), devil (Matt 4:1-5; John 6:70; Eph. 4:27; 6:11), dragon (Rev. 12:9), enemy (Matt. 13:28, 39), evil one (Matt. 13:19, 38; Eph. 6:16), father of lies (John 8:44), god of this world (2 Cor. 4:4), liar (John 8:44), murderer (John 8:44), prince of the power of the air (Eph. 2:2), ruler of the demons (Matt. 9:34; Mark 3:22), ruler of this world (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11), and serpent of old (Rev. 12:9).

       The book of Revelation reinforces the notion that Satan’s tenure of tempter and malefactor is temporary.  John recounts to us in Revelation 20:7-10 that for his atrocities, Satan and his followers will be cast into the “lake of burning sulphur” (hell).  Contrary to popular belief, Satan is not currently in hell—as stated, his kingdom, his dwelling, is in the world.  Yet, until God renders absolute judgment on Satan and his demons, they remain actively dedicated to inflicting a myriad of horrors on humanity.

The Affliction

            Hollywood and popular culture have unfortunately tainted most people’s conception of the nature of demonic oppression.  Possession is the first word that comes to mind, that one very emotive word that, as we shall see, is not altogether accurate.  There is a developed terminology in the field of demonology regarding demonic affliction, the major designations being possession, influence, obsession, and oppression.  The phenomenon of demonic affliction is as old as humankind and ancient records of civilizations such as the Hebrews, Greeks, and Romans (to name but a few).  It also seems to be a perennial feature in human cultures.  However, a closer examination of the description of demonic influences in the New Testament clarifies the exact nature of demonic oppression of humans.

            The word that occurs most frequently in the New Testament describing demonic influence is the Greek verb “daimonizo” (daimonizw).  The best English translation is “I demonize,” but it always occurs in the passive form, which translates as “to be demonized,” or “to be subject to demonic influence.”  No one translation of the Bible renders this verb with absolute clarity, hence there has been a good deal of debate and hence, vagueness concerning the usage of the term.  The KJV regularly translates the verb as “to be possessed of (or with) a devil (devils),” which is a somewhat more liberal rendering.  The fact that “daimonizo” occurs in the passive form implies very clearly that the human in question is being acted upon by an outside agent—the demon.  Furthermore, there is no suggestion of ownership attached to this word.  “Demonization” is thus, far more accurate than “possessed.”  We may infer, from recorded instances of demonic influence, experiences, and testimonies in ancient and historical documents, that there are different levels of influence and control, and hence, various levels of severity.  So, while there may be indwelling, there is certainly no connotation of permanent ownership.

       There are a number of areas of change that a person may exhibit if he or she is demonized.  Demons generally can affect both personality and physical nature.  A person’s demeanor may change, or he might speak in a language that he has never before studied.  There are also cases of increased physical strength.  Diseases that do not respond to medical or psychiatric treatment may also be evidence of demonization.  Aversions to Christian imagery such as the cross, the Bible, and relics are also quite common, and are, perhaps the best indicators that someone is demonized.  As a rule of thumb, any drastic and unexpected change in a person’s behavior, personality, or physical condition is at least cause for suspicion.

            How then, does an individual become demonized?  Any number of actions and behaviors can trigger demonic influence.  Basically, any action purposefully taken against God and His precepts opens a person up to demonic influence.  A willing pact with the devil, practice of the black arts, and indulgence in the occult have all historically invited demonization.  The key is invitation—and such “hamartia” (amartia), ”sin,” sin that openly defies God, is an invitation.  

Developing and Working a Case

       Now that we have information on the motives and malevolence of the demons and their leader, we may more readily recognize the signs of a person afflicted by a demon (or demons).  Once such a case is brought to the attention of the demonologist, it is imperative to act.

       A consultation with the afflicted is naturally, the first step.  Religious, medical, family, and psychological histories are compiled using a series of interviews with the afflicted.  This process is necessary so as to provide more clues about the nature of the demonization and the possible causes.  Once accomplished, the demonologist’s task is then threefold:  prayer, research, and deliverance.  In this section we shall examine the first two.

       In any case, the primary concern of the demonologist is the spiritual safety and redemption of a demonized person.  Prayer on a number of fronts, following the example of Jesus, is therefore necessary.  Prayer for the individual’s safety and health must come first, and then prayer against the demon(s).  It is also necessary for the demonologist to pray for himself, the family of the individual, and others who may be involved in or assisting in the case.

       It is in the research that the truly multidisciplinary nature of demonology becomes evident.  The hours of study and review of pertinent sources on demons, and most importantly, the Bible, is part of the work to be done away from the person in question.  This exercise in detective work may also lend insight to the person’s affliction.  For instance, if it is a cultural specific affliction, such as zombification, it would naturally help if the demonologist knew something of Haitian or Southern Voodoo.  If a person has been cursed by a bruja, knowledge of brujeria would be extremely helpful.

       Prayer and study are crucial to a successful deliverance.  But, they are only tasks in a larger mission.  The most important task that remains is removing the demonic influence. 


       Exorcism, like possession, is a very potent word eliciting a number of emotions from people.  Exorcism is the procedure for casting out or driving out of demons.  In the modern parlance, there are a number of words that are synonymous to exorcism.  Deliverance, healing, and adjuration all carry the same connotation.  Once again, grammar is our trusted friend in deducing the true nature of the process of ridding an individual of demonization.

            The one word that is used most frequently to describe exorcism in the New Testament is “ekballo” (ekballw), which means “I drive out.”  The KJV usually renders the word as “cast out.”  “Expel” and “adjure” also appear to be adequate translations.  All renderings are valid, as they all describe the action of ridding someone of demonic influence.

            A second word of interest to us is “exocizo” (exorkizw).  This verb means “to adjure” and generally refers to an oath.  The word only occurs three times in the entire Bible—two times in the Old Testament, and once in the New Testament.  However, in the instances it appears, in the books of Genesis, 1 Kings, and Matthew, it never refers to expelling demons.  Its significance is only important etymologically, since it is the root for “exorcism.”

       There are many types of exorcism existing in the church.  In fact all denominations of Christianity seem to have their own variation of exorcism.  However, the deviation is often miniscule and trivial, as each process accomplishes the end when performed correctly.  Exorcism involves intense prayer over the demonized individual, and commands in the name of Christ for the demon to release control of that person.  An exorcism may take only a short time, or it may take hours—even several sessions at times.  Each case of demonization is unique.  Persons called to minister deliverance may perform such rites.  Sometimes they are ordained ministers or priests, but many, in fact, are laymen.  They each work toward the object and end of any case—freeing a person from of demonic affliction.

A Brief History of Demonology

       As I said before, the phenomenon of demonization is as old as humanity, and demons themselves, as old as the creation of angels.  While we cannot chart the primeval history of these creatures, we can more closely examine the traditions of relationships between demons and humans as attested to in historical records.  The history of demonology could be said to begin with those records.

       The Akkadian (2350-2150 BC) and Assyrian (1550-612 BC) mythological pantheons are largely known.  However, there seems to have been a more secretive religion that involved lesser gods and spirits—and demons.  Scholars classified these beings with great complexity, similar to the hosts of angels and demons in Judeo-Christian tradition, and clearly illustrated just how evil some of them could be.  Some of the words that referred to demons were “kullulu” (accursed, evil), “limuttu” (baneful), “udukku,” and also “ekimmu” and “maskimu.”  “Sedu,” is yet another word of interest, denoting a sacred bull-man god, as it is probably the root of the Hebrew word for demon, “shedh” (always occurring in the plural “shedhim”).

            The Persians (c. 1000-330 BC) also had a very developed pantheon of demons.  In the religion of ancient Persia, Zoroastrianism, the Avestas (scriptures) attest that there is a constant battle between the forces of good and evil:  the good Ahura Mazda and the evil Ahriman.  Ahriman had a host of demons who aided him.  The Avestan (the language of their liturgy) word for devil or spirit was “daeva,” which is similar to the Persian word for the same thing, “dev.”  It is curious that the word “devil” bears a striking resemblance to both, and though there is debate as to whether all had a common origin, it begs the question.

            Surprisingly, Jewish scripture is devoid of a complex demonology.  Though demons play a crucial role in the struggle between good and evil.  The fallen angels, according to Jewish tradition, taught mankind all manner of artisanship, but also the more insidious tutelage involving such things as magic and witchcraft.  Examples of demonic appearances include Satan as the tempter of Job, Satan who incites David to commit murder, Saul is afflicted by an evil spirit, and the Levitical laws attest to demonic activity.  The scapegoat of ancient Hebrew atonement was sent into the wilderness, allegedly to a demon named Azazael.  Interestingly, Jewish tradition reflects this belief that demons dwelled in wastelands (Is. 34:14).  The word for demon in this passage, is variously translated as “hairy ones,” and refers to the horned goat-like deities, such as Pan, which are common to woodland mythologies.  Lamia” is another word in this passage, referring to the first night spirit of this kind, Lilith, who was the first wife of Adam.  Many English translations of this passage are very sterile, and reveal little as to the nature of the demons to which it refers.

       Later developments in Jewish demonology reflect outside cultural influences.  For instance, Asmodeus is a demon that appears in Jewish writings such as the Book of Tobias.  It is possible that Asmodeus is the same demon as Aeshmo Daeva of the Avestan scriptures.  Some changes and developments may be attributed to the Babylonian Captivity (586-538 BC), but Jewish demonology nonetheless, became distinct.  Demons were believed to give people diseases.  One of the interesting aspects of Jewish demonology is the astounding number of demons present in the world.  According to Jewish writings and legend, they fill the air and wastes, and at any given time, a person could have thousands of them at his side. 

       Early Christian demonology is very reflective, not surprisingly, of Jewish demonology.  The casting out of demons conducted by Jesus and His disciples provided vivid illustration to people that these ancient enemies were real.  At any rate, early Christian writers and thinkers, such as Origen and Tertullian, were still unclear about the origins of these creatures.  The centuries that followed saw a number of scholars set to describing their origins.

The passage of Genesis 6 is also relevant to the subject of Christian demonology.  Here we have an instance where the “sons of God” (angels, fallen in this case) mated with the “daughters of men,” which produced a race of semi-demons.  These creatures were known as the Nephilim, which translates as “the fallen ones.”  They were great in stature and bent on corrupting mankind.  The Nephilim perished in the flood, but their souls continued to roam the earth as another race of demons, separate, but not unrelated to the original fallen angels.

In Catholicism and the popular religion and superstitions of the Middle Ages (AD 500-1350), demonology made further developments.  The church began to give more and more attention to the subjects of black magic and witchcraft.  The writings of the period, such as Malleus Malificarum (“Hammer of the Witches”-a witch-hunting manual), reflect the priority given to dealing with person were in league with demons.  During the Renaissance (AD 1350-1600), both Catholics and Protestants continued to contemplate and deal with these matters.  In some instances, this preoccupation generated hysteria powerful enough to cause prosecutors and Inquisitors to torture and kill innocent members of society whom they had been accused of witchcraft. 

By the Enlightenment of the 18th century, which also saw the industrialization of the West, humanity began to treat the existence of demons with more scrutiny.  For many, science and philosophy were the new religions, and reason their god.  Materialism seemed to be choking out any belief in the existence of a spiritual world, much less demons.  Thinkers of the day relegated demonization to the realm of mental sickness and delusion.  However, the resurgence of interest in the occult during the 19th century saw the belief in demons rekindled somewhat.  By the 20th century, demonology reemerged as a ministry.  Such names as the late Dr. Father Malachi Martin, Dr. Kurt Koch, and the controversial (and much debated) Bob Larson have all made demonology a ministry.  However, the individuals who have contributed to Christian demonology the most in recent times are the late Reverend Montague Summers, Reverend Sean Manchester, and Ed and Lorraine Warren.


       In the opening of this essay, I spoke of the desperate nature of society’s need to know about demons.  I trust that for many of you, I have provided the precedents for your at least entertaining the notion of demons, and for others, reaffirmed long-held beliefs.  Demons are a reality, and they mean humankind nothing but malice and suffering.  Take a look at the front page of the news, watch the nightly news, or conduct a search on the internet for any fathomable (in some cases, unfathomable) sort of suffering.  You’ll find the breadcrumbs with which to follow the demonic trail.  Their wake is waste and their behavior is ruinous to all who cohort with them.  But there is hope and deliverance, through prayer, struggle, and faith in Jesus Christ.  Satan and his demons are the ultimate enticers and tempters, but we may take heart in the words of Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians:  “No temptation has seized you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it” (1 Cor. 10:13).



The Bible.  New American Standard (trans.).  Zondervan:  Grand Rapids,  2000.


Burton, Judd.  “Nephilim,”  Encyclopedia Mythica. 

    2 June 2006.


The Greek New Testament.  Deutsche-Bibelgesellschaft:  Stuttgart, Germany,



Kent, W. H.  “Demonology,” The Catholic Encyclopedia.

    1 June 2006.


Prince, Derek.  They Shall Expel Demons:  What You Need to Know About Demons—Your Invisible Enemies.  Chosen Books:  Grand Rapids,



The Tanakh.  Jewish Publication Society:  Philadelphia, 2000.


Unger, Merrill F.  Biblical Demonology:  A Study of Spiritual Forces at Work Today.

            Kregel:  Gran Rapids, 1994.


(c) 2006, Judd Burton


(c) Institute of Biblical Anthropology, 2009-2019, all rights reserved, a branch of Burton Beyond