One thing that really winds me up is a statement that you often hear from Neo-Pagan wishful thinkers: ‘The Christian demons are just the gods of pagan religions.’ I don’t like to speak in absolutes, but very, very often the demons of Christianity were the demons of whatever religion dominated before Christianity. There were times when Christians said other people’s gods were demons (lots of rather hot words were exchanged during the persecutions and counter-persecutions of the Roman Empire, but those were difficult times). Generally though, Christianity preferred to spread by adopting and adapting. That’s why we have Irish Gaelic deities as Saints, and Halloween on October 31st.
To set the record straight, I have decided to write the first in a series of accurate demon biographies, starting with Asmodeus.
The Evil Christian Interpretation
In Question Four of Book One of crazy misogynist Heinrich Kramer’s Malleus Maleficarum he takes about a second to deal with Asmodeus:
‘But the very devil of Fornication, and the chief of that abomination, is called Asmodeus, which means the Creature of Judgement: for because of this kind of sin a terrible judgement was executed upon Sodom and the four other cities.’
Well, Kramer was a horrible nutcase, so I imagine that must be utter rubbish. Isn’t it?
Let’s look at the evidence…
In The Bible
In Tobit 3:7-15 we hear the story of Sarah, the daughter of Raguel. The demon Asmodeus has killed seven of her husbands out of jealousy. We aren’t sure whether Asmodeus is a demon of lust or just a demon who is in love specifically with Sarah, but he certainly doesn’t have a healthy relationship with women.
After having married seven men, Sarah (according to some translations) has not been able to consummate with any of them, because Asmodeus kills them so quickly. As the book of Tobit comes to her, we hear her maid blames her for the deaths:
‘You are the one who kills your husbands! See, you have already been married to seven husbands and have not borne the name of (had sex with) a single one of them.’
So distraught is Sarah that she decides to go upstairs and hang herself, when her cousin Tobias, son of Tobit, comes into the picture. After a successful business trip, Tobias’ Angel mentor Raphael teaches him a preparation using the heart and liver of a fish that allows him to cure illness.
Tobias, having heard of the demon, expresses his doubt: ‘Brother Azariah, I have heard that she already has been married to seven husbands and that they died in the bridal chamber. On the night when they went in to her, they would die. I have heard people saying that it was a demon that killed them. It does not harm her, but it kills anyone who desires to approach her. So now, since I am the only son my father has, I am afraid that I may die and bring my father’s and mother’s life down to their grave, grieving for me—and they have no other son to bury them.’
Deciding that a bit of incest is better than being plagued by a demonic stalker for the rest of her life (and probably being crushed by the guilt of her seven dead husbands), Sarah agrees to marry Tobias, who again uses his mixture of fish liver and heart, the smell of which drives off the demon.
Asmodeus is also in the book of Solomon, where in verses 21-25 he is summoned before King Solomon, bound tightly and flogged with a whip made of Ox hide. After this bit of light S&M, he retells his raison d’etre of destroying married couples and shrivelling brides into biter old spinsters.
He also makes a very interesting admission in verse 25: ‘[the fish] It is the Glanos by name, and is found in the rivers of Assyria; wherefore it is that I roam about in those parts.’
Before the Bible
It’s most likely that Asmodeus is from the Persian spirit Aeshma Daeva, a demonic entity from Persian religion remembered by Jews coming from the region now known as Iran. Lest we think this is the bitter remembering of an oppressed race, Asmodeus/Aeshma Daeva’s place in what we know of Persian religion is far from good. His name itself means, ‘the demon Wrath’. He is depicted as attacking the seven holy creations of Ahura Mazda, thereby destroying everything that is good about the world – all truth, all love, and some surprisingly sophisticated concepts like ‘sense of purpose’ and ‘wholeness’.