To celebrate the October 13th release of my forthcoming debut novel, King of Shards, I will be featuring one new blog entry a day about a different Judaic myth for 36 days. Today’s entry is on The Business of Demons.

Day 28: The Business of Demons

One of the Se’irim, or hairy demons

One of the Se’irim, or hairy demons

Demons were created on the sixth day, after the creation of man. However, before they were completely formed, the Sabbath came, and so they remained unfinished.

When Cain killed Abel, Adam and Eve had marital strife and separated for 130 years. During this time, Adam emitted male demons, and Eve female ones.

In the time of Enos, son of Seth, demons began having power over man because at this time the image of man in God was impaired.

Noah took demons into the ark with all the other animals.

A demon helped Noah plant his vineyard, and the demon warned Noah not to interfere with his work, or he would injure him.

Demons are known as the “hairy ones.”

At the entrance of the Garden of Eden, the two swords that hang there were placed by demons.

The Pharaoh’s sorcerers who performed magic to imitate Moses’s miracles had the aid of demons. But these magicians were not able to imitate anything beyond the third plague, as demons cannot conjure anything smaller than a barleycorn.

King Solomon had much power over demons in his life, but he was led astray by women. Later in his life, he gained power over demons again, but he now feared them greatly, and slept with sixty men around his bed to protect him.

Moses composed the 91st Psalm as protection against demons when he ascended Mount Sinai. 

Upon every yard of earth wait thousands of demons ready to harm a person. But because their sight is dimmed, they do not see us well, and cannot injure us by their harmful stares. But when a person sins, God’s light in him is diminished and demons can now see us more clearly and inflict harm via their stares. Thus is a person more prone to harm when he or she sins.

The Priestly Blessing where we say “and keep thee” is there to secure us from harm by demons.

When God punished humanity for building the Tower of Babel, he split them into three groups: one group became demons, one had their languages confused, and the rest were cast about the earth.

The Myth’s Origins

The various myths, theories, and stories of demons above are attributed to the 1907 book Tales and Maxims of the Midrash, written by Rabbi Samuel Rapaport. Each of the entries above in Rabbi Rapaport’s book quotes its source from the Talmud, and most of the entries above come from interpretations of the tractates Genesis Rabba and Leviticus Rabba.

Some Thoughts on the Myth

When I discovered this treasure of demon lore in Rabbi Rapaport’s book, I was very happy. The text finds evidence of demons throughout the Tanakh, or holy books, in every passage and twist of phrase. Demons show up as rabbis are walking to the study house and ask for help because they are being attacked by other demons. Demons help plant vineyards (with Noah) and build temples (with Solomon). Demons were only half-built by God (poor creatures) and so are inchoate. Both Moses and Solomon feared demons and tried to protect themselves against them. We even recite blessings to protect ourselves from their evil stare, because demons lurk by the thousands all around us! We are surrounded by predators, and our only protection is to lead a life free of sin and holiness, thus are we safe from their harm.

While I love the demon lore from the perspective of a writer of fantasy fiction, I find that this is a remarkably paranoid way to view the world. All around you lurk predators! Gird yourself with prayer and righteousness! And woe to person who sins, for demons assail him at every turn! A person who is brought up in this kind of world-view will learn to fear the world-at-large, new experiences, anything that might be counter to his or her previous system of custom and laws. It leads, in the long term, to insularity and shunning of outsiders. So in that regard, if you want to control a people, convince them that there are thousands of evil beings waiting nearby for you to act counter to what the religion teaches and that great harm will come to you if you do. 

Still, the stories of demons are cool and I find them interesting to explore how they developed over time from obscure passages and esoteric interpretations of biblical texts.


Tomorrow’s Myth: Dune, Frank Herbert, and The Shortening of the Way