Demons. What are they exactly? Where did they originate from? I spent several years researching and familiarizing myself with the topic so I’d like to give a bit more of an academic discussion in this post. No, I wasn’t a Satanist or anything (although I did possibly tell people in high school that I was to get them to leave me alone…um that didn’t happen). Also, I’d like to include a link to one of my favorite websites on demonology. It doesn’t get into any majorly hardcore stuff, but if you’d like a basic overview then you can go to this website. This post is based entirely on my knowledge of the subject, and I don’t claim to be an expert by any means, but I’ll definitely fact check and try not to include any inaccurate information.
The word demon originated from the Latin word daemonium (via the Greek daemonion), meaning lesser or evil spirit. However, although the word takes its roots in Latin/Greek, demons existed long before the classical era. In the research I have done, the first reference I’ve seen to a demon is probably the ancient Mesopotamian (Assyrian and Akkadian) maskimmu. Back then though, demons weren’t demons the way they’ve been imagined in modern society as these demonic interpretations stem mostly from Christian mythos. This is not to be confused with Biblical mythos as the Jewish representation of demons differs immensely from those portrayed in Christianity.
I would like you to bear with me because I am about to demonstrate the evolution of a demon. Starting from her origins in Ancient Mesopotamia all the way to her most well-known form as a Judeo-Christian demon.
As a reference point to demonstrate this demonic evolution, I would like to start with a demon I happen to be particularly familiar with just because my research centered largely around her. This Mesopotamian demon (I refer to her as ‘her’ because she is usually a singular entity) is named Lamashtu. She was known for murdering and kidnapping children, causing miscarriages, and as the bringer of nightmares. Now I know who hangs around my room at night all the time XD. Lamashtu is not a beautiful woman or a succubus as most of us associate with female demons in modern day. There is nothing sexually appealing about a lion or bird headed woman riding around on an
ass donkey while suckling a dog and a pig at the same time. Although if that’s your thing, I won’t judge. The most interesting thing about Lamashtu is that she is actually the daughter of a god–the sky god Anu.
Ok. Bear with me because things start to get complicated right about now. Lamashtu has a sister. A very beautiful sister named Inanna/Ishtar who is the goddess of love and carnage (think Athena smushed together with Venus) and this sister has a handmaiden named Lilitu. Lilitu is a wind goddess, a minor character in the Sumerian pantheon, but she will soon become so much more. Lamashtu soon is forgotten in the pantheon and Lilitu evolves from a simple bird-headed wind goddess into a harbinger of nightmares. She also kidnaps children and causes miscarriages. Sound familiar? I thought so too.
Now let’s move to Biblical mythology. I know you’ve heard of Lilith and if you haven’t well, let’s just say I’m going to destroy the Bible for you just a little bit. Lilith was…wait for it…Adam’s first wife. Yep, that Adam–the one from the creation myth. To make a long story short, Lilith refused to be in the submissive position while having sex with Adam, went on to ‘have relations’ with the Archangel Samael (the angel of death), and ended up as Satan’s favorite wife. Her children, known as the Lilim are said to kidnap and murder infants (according to Jewish mythos), making the whole evolution come full circle.
So what does this have to do with anime? Well, for starters, I’ve noticed that anime tends to be quite liberal in its interpretation of demons and Hell. You can compare a more traditional representation: Blue Exorcist to something that is clearly pandering: Black Butler. Obviously these show’s aren’t the only two with demons as a presence–far from it–but since I just finished these two up recently I thought I’d throw them together into a single post about demons rather than dedicating separate posts to each of them.
Black Butler. For the sake of space I’ll just link to a synopsis. Oh jeez. So many nasty things I could say about this show, but since I’m talking specifically about demonic representation here, I’ll stick to that. If you’re interested in any of my other scathing commentary you can feel free to email me or ask about it in the comments haha.
Meet Sebastian Michaelis, our demon extraordinaire:
He’s sexy, he’s suave, he’s perfectly composed and unswervingly loyal to his master’s whims. He’s also a terrible demon. To start I’d just like to point out that I did some name research (as I tend to do for things like this) Sebastian- Venerable Michael(is)- Who is like God? Ok.So I was a little bit disappointed by this for starters. Sebastian doesn’t even have a proper demonic name. One could argue that he’s a sub demon, one of little importance who doesn’t show up in any grimoire, but trust me I’ve scoured those things top to bottom and there’s no ‘Sebastian’ in sight. If he is supposed to be this ‘all mighty’ devourer of souls, a solid name like Belphegor or Moloch wouldn’t have been a bad idea. Sebastian was poorly researched in other areas as well–not only in name. What reason would he, a proper demon, have to make a deal with a child in exchange for one soul. The mythos of the world was unclear, but it sounded as if Sebastian could pretty much devour hundreds of arbitrary people in one go. If that was the case then what did he want with Ciel?
I know that it seems like I might be basing my arguments off purely the Judeo-Christian tradition, but demons throughout different pantheons tend to share a core set of values. Demons are manipulative. Sebastian did whatever Ciel told him and while I searched for malice, any suggestions he gave to him were based purely on fujoshi pandering. Not to mention, you’ll be hard pressed to find a demon who will stick around for years just to help a prepubescent kid enact revenge on some angels. Right. Also, demons adhere to a very strict pantheon. They are not free agents as BB seemed to be implying. Demons in the grimoires are actually ranked according to their title (Duke, Prince, Marquis, etc.) and the number of demonic legions they command. At the very least they all answer back to Satan. Sebastian did not seem to fall under any of these restrictions, which was interesting considering there was a very clear chain of command when it came to the shinigami.
No other demons were present in the episode, which is the reason I got the idea that he was a free agent, that and the fact that he was allowed to make the contract with Ciel. The unswerving loyalty part was unconvincing and Sebastian’s motives, which I suppose were intended to make him seem more likable and ‘human’, were out of line with what the classic image of a demon is. Now that isn’t to say that the idea of demon doesn’t change and evolve, I mean have you read any YA paranormal lately? (If you haven’t then I envy you.) However, in this case, it seemed like they were trying to make Sebastian seem like a proper demon, but failed miserably. In YA paranormal at least the writers make it very clear that the demon is some sort of deviant from the majority of the race, but with Sebastian he was an entity unto himself and his abilities/origins were undefined. I mean I guess I shouldn’t judge the show too harshly since he was essentially just there to play a part in the really weird Yaoi dynamic between himself and Ciel.
Ok. Moving on. Let’s talk about Blue Exorcist, a show that I liked much better for many reasons, but also one that I thought much better embodied the idea of ‘demon’ in both Japanese and Judeo-Christian traditions. Here’s a link to a synopsis if you haven’t seen the show. All of the major players were there e.g Satan, Mephistopheles, etc. and I thought the juxtaposition between Judeo-Christian demons and Japanese spirits was well executed. The focus was mainly on western demons, but there were some others thrown in there for added interest.
So let’s talk about Rin, the son of Satan and why I thought he worked as a demon. He was half-demon, half-human which definitely gave the writers some leeway in terms of how to portray him, but I thought they stayed fairly close to traditional interpretation. He could manipulate flame as his primary ability and was erratic and a bit of a bad boy in contrast to his quasi-angelic brother (I won’t spoil the ending for you, but there is definitely something of a reversal). Of course they erred a bit into the cliche with the pointy horns and the tail, but I didn’t think it was overemphasized.
Then there was Satan. This was an interpretation that I actually really enjoyed. Obviously to create Rin and his twin brother, Satan had to impregnate a mortal woman, but what surprised me was that it wasn’t a very cliched Rosemary’s Baby horror movie type scenario. Satan was humanized or rather given empathy and human emotions to a certain extent, at least enough so that he could form a romantic connection with Rin’s mother. It was definitely unexpected, but at the same time refreshing–just goes to show that if done in a clever fashion revision of a standard trope can be effective. I mean of course then Satan kind of goes crazy, not to say that he wasn’t crazy already, but he goes crazier to try and fulfill his love’s dying wish (or what he thought it was).
On a closing note, I’d like to briefly mention a rather insignificant (all things considered) character in the show: Mephisto.
Out of all the characters in both shows, I think he was the best embodiment of a classical Judeo-Christian demon. Mephisto successfully carried out the characteristics that Black Butler tried unsuccessfully to bestow upon Sebastian (the clever deviousness and self-serving immorality). He was a player in the story, but didn’t serve the largest role. Nevertheless, in all senses he was the character that most accurately portrayed what a demon ‘should’ be for all intents and purposes. Mephisto was so successful because his character was depicted in such a way that you never quite knew what side he was on or if he was even on a side at all. I’m inclined to believe that in true demon fashion he was his own self-serving entity that technically would answer back to Satan if the occasion arose.
Anyway, this post went on for way longer than I expected and there are definitely more things that I could say, but I think it’s time to cut it short. If anyone wants to talk demonology you can feel free to let me know in the comments and I’ll be more than happy to give you my contact information.