Diablo III concept art. Credit: Blizzard Ente
May 22, 2012 --
"Evil is back." This simple slogan heralded the return of Blizzard Entertainment's new long-anticipated chapter in the Diablo video game series. Diablo III, released last week, returns players to Sanctuary to battle the forces of the Burning Hells. Descending ever further into the game, players have to hack, slash and blast their way through beasts, ghouls, ghosts, skeletons and, of course, demons. Long before Blizzard unleashed digital demons, however, these creatures existed for centuries in the religious and mythological traditions and were even believed to roam the real world. Diablo, also known as the Lord of Terror in the eponymous series, might be the most infamous villain in the world of Sanctuary. But here on Earth, these demons are the ones that humankind long feared. And after all, if you want to be a real demon-slayer, you'll need to know what to look for.
BLOG: When Exorcists Kill
Perhaps the most famous demon in the western religious traditions is Lucifer, who has been alternatively referred to at different times as Satan or the Antichrist. However, there are also also demons who have been interchangeably referred to by these titles. According to Christian lore, Lucifer was once an angel who had fallen to hell after being cast out of heaven for challenging God. For this reason, Lucifer, even if he hasn't been identified directly as Satan, has long been associated with the sin of vanity.
Beelzebub, whose name has so many different spellings that he surely must be evil, is yet another contender for the prince of darkness in the Christian tradition. Before he was cast as a demon in the Christian faith, Beelzebub was a god to the Philistines. His name literally translates to the "Lord of the Flies," which sounds considerably more terrifying when you consider how much of an impact insects had in terms of spreading disease in the ancient world. Beelzebub is also the demon most often associated with the idea of possession, the opposite role he served as the Philistine god as being a kind of fly chaser.
Like Lucifer and Beelzebub, the demon Mammon is one of the seven princes of Hell. Mammon is frequently associated with greed, and may have been a pagan god of wealth in a prior incarnation. In fact, the word Mammon itself means riches in Aramaic. Mammon's first true appearance as a fallen angel was in John Milton's epic poem "Paradise Lost," in which he is portrayed with his eyes always scouring the ground for valuables. Despite his avarice, Mammon also appears to express a sense of contentment with his station, stating his belief that it's "better to reign in hell than serve in heaven."
Pazuzu is a demon that has been terrifying people for over 4,000 years. Originally appearing in Assyrian mythology, this demon was also one of the spirits responsible for possessing the protagonist 1971 horror novel "The Exorcist," which was later made into a movie of the same name. Often depicted with a combination of human and animal features, Pazuzu is a demon commonly associated with famine and drought. Despite how fearsome this demon might be, Pazuzu was actually often invoked to ward off his evil wife, the next entry on this list.
Lamashtu was not only the wife of Pazuzu, but also his fiercest rival. This female demon would prey on pregnant women as well as their infant children after they gave birth. According to myth, Lamashtu was responsible for causing pregnant women to miscarry, killing young children, drinking men's blood and bringing disease. For these reasons and more, she was considered the most fearsome of all demons in ancient Mesopotamian religions.
An incubus is a class a demon that attacks women in their sleep. The attack isn't so much violent as it is sexual in nature. Incubi can impregnate a women, and therefore produce more demons as a result. Repeated encounters with an incubus can result an sickness or even death.
A succubus is the female demonic counterpart to an incubus, preying on sleeping men instead of women. Unlike the incubus, however, which is always nightmarish in appearance, a succubus may appear as beautiful or monstrous. A succubus will also cause her victim to have nightmares and deprive him of his virility, but no offspring will result from their encounter.
Derived from Jewish legend, Asmodeus, a name possibly rooted in the Hebrew term "to destroy," is the king of demons, and appears in both the Book of Tobit and the Testament of Solomon. After becoming obsessed with Sarah, a relative of Tobit, Asmodeus killed seven husbands out of jealousy. God only allowed the slaughter because the men didn't marry her for the right reasons. It wasn't until Tobias, a pious young man, took her hand that the demon was expelled. Asmodeus is one of the seven princes of Hell, and is frequently associated with lust because of his legend.
NEWS: God's Wife Edited Out of the Bible -- Almost
No demon on this list would ever be called a looker, but Asag, a devil stemming from Sumerian theology who is also known as Asakku in Babylonian folklore, was known for being ugly even among demonic standards. In fact, he was so hideous that he supposedly boils rivers of fish alive just with his presence. Just don't tell him that. Asag might not have been able to attract a living mate, so instead he coupled with the mountains themselves. Out of that union came an army of stone that he is able to command in battle.
If you've ever wondered why envy is something referred to as the "green-eyed monster," the answer lies with this demon. Leviathan, a sea monster of Hebrew origin, was originally made by God on the fifth day of creation alongside a mate, known as Taninim, which resembled a large snake. God killed its mate, since the world would fall into ruin should the two ever have offspring. Leviathan is not only the symbol of envy, but represents the punishment of those guilty of the sin who haven't repented, since they will be consumed by this monster upon entry to hell.
Belphegor is a demon who has evolved somewhat since he got his start as a god who was worshiped and associated with excessive promiscuity and orgies. Later, he served under Lucifer on a kind of reconnaissance mission to discover whether marriage on Earth could actually result in happiness. Lucifer had believed that the nature of human beings was to be inherently quarrelsome and harmony was impossible. Although he was later most commonly associated with sloth, Belphegor function as a demon was to tempt men into coming up with inventions with which they would amass great wealth and turn on one another. Given his varied history, Belphegor has been portrayed at different times as a beautiful woman and a hideous almost man-goat hybrid.
PHOTOS: Video Game Fails
The president of Indonesia, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, recently stated what most Indonesians probably assumed: he believes in the existence of magic and witchcraft.
According to a news story at ReligionNews.com, “In a recently published memoir, he describes a ‘horror movie’ style encounter with black magic at his residence: ‘Suddenly, my wife screamed,’ writes Yudhoyono in the 900-page book, “Selalu Ada Pilihan” (“There is Always a Choice”). ‘There was this thick dark cloud hovering beneath the ceiling, trying to enter my bedroom. I then asked everybody to pray to seek Allah’s help. I closed the door to my room but left others wide open. The revolving clouds eventually headed out of my house.’”
Indonesia is a largely Islamic country, and many Muslims — like many fundamentalist Christians — consider witchcraft an occult practices and therefore evil. A 2012 Pew Forum Research poll found that “Among the Southeast Asian countries surveyed, Indonesian Muslims are the most convinced that witchcraft is real (69 percent).”
Mysticism among world leaders is not unheard of; Nancy Reagan famously consulted an astrologer, who allegedly had some influence in the Reagan White House. But this revelation raises interesting issues. Like anyone else, the president of Indonesia has a right to his personal religious beliefs, but how might this affect how he rules the country?
Yudhoyono’s personal concerns over witchcraft are reflected in amendments his government made to the Indonesian Criminal Code last year, which included imprisonment of up to five years for using black magic to cause “someone’s illness, death, mental or physical suffering.”
Yudhoyono also promoted a bill stating “that a person who declares himself to have magic powers may face a maximum of five years in prison or pay a maximum of Rp 300 million (US $30,969) in fines. The same applies to those who inform, encourage or offer such magic services to others. ”
Yudhoyono is not alone in his attempts to outlaw the use of magic in his country; last year Mohammed Buqais, a government official in the Middle Eastern country of Bahrain, criticized his government for not doing more to educate its citizens — and particularly its young people — about the dangers of black magic and witchcraft.
In an interview published by The Gulf Daily News, Buqais stated “I studied in school for 12 years and worked as a teacher for 15 years, but never came across any subject that addresses sorcery or witchcraft…This means the government is failing to raise awareness.”
Concerns about witchcraft, both genuine and politically manufactured, have also appeared in American politics as well. In late 2010 a controversy erupted over comments made by Republican Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell on the television show “Politically Incorrect”: “I dabbled into witchcraft. I never joined a coven. One of my first dates with a witch was on a satanic altar, and I didn’t know it.”
Although O’Donnell quickly distanced herself from the comments, they concerned many of her conservative supporters.
Witchcraft has been blamed for many social and personal ills around the world, including countless homicides. In 1999, more than 200 suspected witches were killed in rural Indonesia, and hundreds more were taken into police custody to be protected from angry mobs. Whether the Indonesian president’s affirmation of his belief in magic helps or hurts the situation remains to be seen.