A Writer’s Guide to Demons
This work-in-progress resource is being built for presentations at local conventions. It’s not comprehensive (there are 1,100+ named demons within the Greek/Semetic/European traditions alone), and there are many excellent resources out there that are more thorough and more scholarly. Instead, this guide is intended to help build a writer’s-level understanding of the hosts of hell, including their history, some questions to build your fiction, and a “best of” list of demons, with an eye to the most entertaining, best-known, fandom-relevant, and sometimes hottest demonic entities.
This is not intended to be a resource for occultists or magic(k)al practitioners, though we will reference some useful ones. This is for entertainment and research purposes, we don’t endorse contacting, summoning, or sleeping with the entities listed herein.
We’ll focus primarily on the “story” of demonkind running from Mesopotamia through ancient Christianity and the European medieval and Renaissance periods, with nods to other traditions.
A history, and what they are?
Many of the demons named in popular culture (Astaroth, Pazuzu, Ba’al, and others) have their origins in humanity’s oldest written works, so we’ll start with Mesopotamia (Assyria, Babylon, and the Fertile Crescent, 4000 BCE-500 BCE). Egypt (2700 BCE-500 BCE) informs this story, as do classical Greece and Rome. The modern conception of Christian Hell and its inhabitants were built during the Old Testament/early Jewish period and the first few centuries of Christianity (700 BCE-300 AD), with input from Zoroastrianism and Persian mythology. Medieval Europe added color, texture, and personality to hell and its inhabitants (300-1350), and the Grimoire tradition developed during the Renaissance (1350-1700), a period which also was informed by the witch hunt craze and the Protestant Reformation. The relationships between humans and demons have also evolved over the millennia, and not always in an “as we move toward the modern era we discard primitive ideas” pattern: belief in and fear of demonkind increases in times of religious strife, and the idea of a modern, enlightened, and demon-free age is not an accurate one.
Your personal hell
You might be using demons as a simple list of antagonists in a monster-of-the-week scenario…which is completely valid! They’re good for that! But if you want to add a deeper backstory, this collection of sliders, switches, questions, and check boxes may be useful. We’ll also look at some particularly relevant genres.
With well over a thousand demons in the European tradition, it’s not possible for this to be a complete resource, and there many more thorough ones. But over time this will be filled out with the most entertaining and best-known entities.