What is Demonology?

Mary McMahon

Demonology is the study of demons or the examination of beliefs about demons. Demons are common to the cultural and religious beliefs of many regions of the world, making demonology a very rich field of study. Demonologists can approach this field from a number of perspectives, taking advantage of a number of religious and scholarly texts published on the subject of demons and historical beliefs about demons. Since demons themselves are often difficult to pin down for scholarly examination, demonology is primarily focused on reading texts and stories about demons, recording information from people who claim to have interacted with them, and examining the cultural context of demon lore.

Demonology is primarily focused on reading texts and stories about demons.
Demonology is primarily focused on reading texts and stories about demons.

While many people in the West associate demons specifically with malevolence, demons are really just defined as supernatural beings who do not enjoy the status of a deity, and may be benign or benevolent in addition to evil. The term “demon” is also used to encompass a wide variety of beings and spirits, depending on the tradition. In some cultures, only certain supernatural entities are known as demons, while others may use the term generically.

Historically, many people believed that demons existed, and they attributed many unexplained phenomena to demons. Things believed to be the work of demons were later explained by science in many cases, eroding the belief in demons as people gained a greater understanding of the world around them. Some cultures had a history of demon worship, with people believing that it was possible to invoke, summon, and control demons. Demons are also a core part of many religious traditions, from the demons in Christianity who are said to tempt the righteous away from God to the demon guardians in Buddhism who are believed to protect people.

Most people approach demonology because they are interested in beliefs about demons and the history of demon lore. They may study demons within the framework of a specific culture, collecting stories about demons, consulting religious texts to read about doctrine associated with demons, and looking at the history of demons. These researchers do not necessarily believe in demons, but are interested in the cultural impact which demons have on societies all over the world. Understanding beliefs about demons can sometimes be an important aspect of understanding a culture in which beliefs about demons persist.

Historically, when the belief in demons was widespread, demonology was focused on cataloging demons, describing their effects, and examining witchcraft and other occult activities which were believed to be involved with demons. Official religious doctrine in some regions of the world continues to support the existence of demons, and church officials and theologists may study demons from a doctrinal standpoint, cataloging described demons and exploring their role in religious faith.

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