Thanks to Laura for editing. The featured image is Stolas from an old printing of The Infernal Dictionary by Jacques Collin de Plancy.
This essay is part of a longer series on Jailbreaking Catholicism. Here is a list of previous essays. Essentially, each essay looks at some spirits in Folk Catholicism and the Grimoire traditions and asks, “How would a leftish animist polytheist relate to these beings?”
I am not yet entirely sure how, but I know it can be done. You can form an internally consistent and complete cosmology of relating to these various spirits that is animistic, polytheist, and leftish politically. You do not have to look at this large body of lore and practice from a dogmatic lens. You can look at it with similar tools as we use to look at Pre-Christian practices.
This essay is about demons. My current belief is that demons are animistic spirits of the Earth. They are a subset of angels, but we relate to them differently because we live on the same planet. We are not limited to the traditional method of binding them and forcing them to do as we wish. We can negotiate with them from a place of mutual respect.
Let’s begin by looking at the traditional view of demons.
Demons are angels who live on earth or in Hell. That’s not a bold claim; that’s traditional Catholic theology. Angels by Fr Pascal P Parente says this pretty explicitly in his book on angels, specifically Chapter III “The Sons of God and the Sons of Perdition”. You can also look at Paradise Lost by John Milton. Though it is not an official source, it has obviously affected how we talk about demons.
In these sources, we also see Christianity’s dichotomy of heaven and earth. Heaven is good. Earth is neutral or bad. Earth is a distraction and a barrier to reaching Heaven. I don’t think a relationship with demons has to accept the “Earth bad. Heaven good.” dichotomy. This way of thinking has obvious negative consequences that we can see in man-made climate change. If Earth is just a temporary distraction full of evil, why bother keeping a good relationship with our various biomes? Why bother creating a future for generations to come?
In both of the sources, demons come to earth because of an event called The Fall. Some of the celestial angels sinned against God and he threw them to Earth or to Hell. I am not sure we have to think of this as being the case. If every planet and star has angels, why would earth be exempt?
The grimoire tradition, being partially Catholic, also has a cosmology of a “Kingdom of Heaven” where the sky powers are above the earth powers. This permits practitioners to subjugate demons against their will using techniques such as sacred names of God and calls to angelic/celestial hierarchy. To bring anti-hierarchical relationship to these spirits, we must seek alternatives to this practice of binding and threatening spirits.
You can hear about this antagonism in this interview with Dr. Stephen Skinner, where he talks about metaphorically handcuffing spirits. You can hear it in this interview with Dr. Alan Cummins, where he talks about the antagonism between spirits and practitioners.
You also see this happen in a number of grimoires. For a general overview of the grimoire traditions, please start with Grimoires by Owen Davies. I have linked Amazon, but please order from your local bookstore if you are able. If you are unfamiliar with the historical periods of Europe and the Mediterranean, I recommend Crash Course European History, This Yale Professor, and Overly Sarcastic Productions’ Ancient Mediterranean History. Truly, nothing is so relaxing as a cup of herbal tea and a 10 hour history lesson. ❤
In the Lesser Key of Solomon, we see antagonism in this conjuration. The book of Abramelin gives the direction, “Also you shall menace them, in case they are unwilling to obey,” on this page. There is antagonistic language in the conjuration of the Heptameron also. This copy of the Sworn Book of Honorius sets up the antagonistic relationship in the prologue.
So we have established demons as angels who live on earth and in hell. We have looked at the antagonistic and even violent relationships Catholics and Protestants have had with demons. Now, I want to look at Demonolatry, a newer practice that seeks to approach these beings with respect.
I have not read it, but The Complete Book of Demonolatry by S. Connelly is currently the central text for Demonolatry. I don’t share wide aspects of her cosmology, but what matters is that multiple people have reported success with her method. You can find her on Youtube. Lee W Johnson occasionally talks about demons from this standpoint as well.
One place where I differ from Connelly’s work is leaving behind the idea that demons are the deities or spirits of other faiths. I feel, given how demons are treated in Christianity, this is disrepectful. It is born of a need to mark Christians as people who have the one truth. As people who can make use of Pagan revival methods, it is also not needed.
We can look to Saints for a good example of what happens when a pre-Christian deity is inherited by a Christian spirit. For those who haven’t read my essay on Saints, to be inherited means that some aspects of the spirit pass onto another spirit. Inheritance can be violetn or peaceful, sudden or gradual. The spirits are linked but not identical. Lore, practices, feast days, and symbols are inherited. Relationships shift, but have continuity.
Demons do not have these honors. They are given distorted versions of their pre-Christian forms and all we have of them is a loose descriptions and a name. While we have lore concerning a singular King of Hell, we don’t have much lore for the lesser demons.
For this reason, I feel it is not respectful to call upon demons that are thin covers for previous deities. If I want to talk to Amun-Ra, I will request their council in the method of Kemetic revival instead of summoning the demon Amon. In some cases, such as Ukobach and Stolas, they seem to be spirits of their own accord within the tradition who arrived organically. Those spirits are the ones I would refer to as demons.
I also think this practice of labeling entities from other practices as demons doesn’t form a healthy and internally consistent cosmology. It sets up the cosmology to always have this antagonistic relationship with other practices. Even if we as Luciferians and Pagans see these beings with respect, it’s plain that demonic labels on older deities aren’t real inheritances but copied names. It’s a strawman relationship.
So where can we find a deeper sense of resonance?
Core to an understanding of demons is also an understanding of Hell. This is where things get hairy. What is Hell, really? If we stand back, stop listening to preachers, popes, and Church Doctors, what is the essential nature of Hell?
To answer this, I have to talk about the nature of death. I found these sources helpful: the Bespoken Bones podcast, Dr. Foor’s book on Ancestral Lineage Repair, and a book on Ancestor work by Mallorie Vaudoise. (I need to pause and note that Dr Foor has been stripped of his leadership position within his community for being abusive and doubling down when called in. The book itself, to my knowledge, has received no criticism in its basic structure. If anything, Foor was called out for not following his own advice. For this reason, I am going to reference it.)
From these sources, I noticed the following overlapping patterns regarding veneration of the dead and ancestors. Our relationship to the dead passes through roughly 3 phases. First, we grieve their passing. That doesn’t always mean being sad they are dead, but rather a real coming-to-terms of the living with the life that has ended. Then we use ritual to ask the ancestral guides and well ancestors to help this person get in right relationship with their lineages. Then they are well and we sometimes ask them for advice or help.
It is then easy to map these three phases of relationship onto the three parts of the Catholic afterlife: Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven. What appears, if I am permitted to make this leap, is a very routine afterlife cosmology. Hell is not a place, but a phase of our relationship to the dead. In Hell, we grieve them. Those not grieved properly can get stuck in this phase, but no one has to be stuck there forever. Purgatory is temporary. Heaven is available for all.
What appears then is a Church racket we are all familiar with and should be critical of. The idea that you can buy someone’s way out of purgatory was a money making racket for the Catholic church to finance wars. The idea that someone can be unwell in the afterlife or be denied proper burial rites for not following rules decided by a political hierarchy of corrupt men is laughably tragic. We also see this idea of a “judged” afterlife in two other cultures that have priests as a socio-political power group: Ancient Kemet and Hinduism. The pattern, to me, is clear. Punitive afterlives in which you have no hope of reconciliation serve political structures.
If Hell is simply a phase dead people go through where the living grieve them, what does that say about demons? My takeaway has been that demons initiate us into death. They carry us through grief. The fires of Hell do not torment us for eternity. Like grief, these fires burn away what we should not carry with us anymore: regret, attachment, and mundane consciousness.
Now for the extra hairy bit. The symbolic death as initiation. To get an idea of what I mean, we can look at the myth of the descent of Inanna within witchcraft traditions such as Reclaiming, The Book of Abramelin, and Chapter 14 of Women Who Run with the Wolves. In these texts and practices, the practitioner goes through a ritual in which they metaphorically die in order to contact the spirits while remaining physically alive. Ash, shrouds, mourning clothes: these are found in multiple instances of ritual dying.
If demons initiate us into death, and ritual death is a form of initiation, demons may also be initiators. It also gives us a clear picture of what the risks are when we contact demons. No spirit contact is without risk, no contact with living humans is without risk. However, knowing the nature of the being allows us to take measured risks using ritual practices. To contact an initiator and a midwife of grieving is to preare to surrender that which no longer serves, to go through feelings which may be intense and overwhelming, to risk becoming someone new without knowing if that new someone can function in the roles you currently play.
I feel we have one more perspective on where to find demons to reach out to. The 7 deadly sins were said to each have a demon chiefly responsible for them in a work called Lanterne of Light . There are rumors of something similar happening in a work called Treatise on Confessions by Evildoers and Witches, but I was unable to verify this claim. As I said in my angel essay, many angels are named for virtues, why would demons be any different?
Those critical of the more imperial branches of Christianity such as Traditional Catholicism and the Evangelical Right have pointed out that our values do not align with theirs. I, for one, consider Lust a virtue if, like any other virtue, it is in balance with the reality I live in. I am not making a blanket statement for all vices. Envy, for example, is a vice I see no use in. Comparison is the thief of joy, and in my experience envy/FOMO spring from insecurity. Nonetheless, we get to decide what our values are, what the values of Earth are, by meeting them out in the world and forming relationships with them.
Therefore, it may be possible to think of demons as the values of earthly life. Devalued by the church, ingrained deeply into our lived experience for better or for worse: they sing as much as the celestial choir but with a tune more familiar to our ears.
What virtue is more connected to earthly life and the knowledge of death than Wisdom? Wisdom, Sophia, Sapienta: no matter what name you call this angel by, I am firmly convinced they are an angel of the earth, a demon hidden by imperial theologies, a friend to every mystis who has dared to suggest we all take equal part in divinity.
Demons will always be a little scary. Associations with the freshly dead are intense for living humans. Vices are more complicated than virtues. Demonic history doesn’t leave us a lot to go on when starting to get to know these beings. That said, we can reach out. We can talk to these beings not as if we can trust every last one of them implicitly, but as if they deserve that same respect and calm with which we would approach any stranger. Not evey stranger is a potential friend, but every friend begins as a stranger.
In closing, I reject the idea that demons are simply deities of non-Christian religions. I reject the idea that they can never be allies to humanity. I reject the idea that we must subjugate them in order to be safe. I view them as animistic spirits of earth, guides through grief, initiators into symbolic and physical death. I have set out my argument for why we should relate to them from a place of mutual respect, as well as showing that some practitioners have already built this sort of relationship with them. This essay is more personal and less in line with the lore, but I am also not alone in building out this bridge. The keystone has been placed, and now we simply refine the structure.