What does the word “demon” mean? For those of us brought up in a Christian household, going to church and such, the word probably conjures up visions of a fork-tailed, fork-tongued, red menace know as Satan, or Beelzebub, or some other creature from our collective unconscious. Or perhaps it drags up images we’ve all seen in horror movies.
But what does the word “mean?”
A demon can mean many things to many different cultures. The Jinn from Mesopotomian/Arab folklore means an evil spirit that is bound to earth and is very pissed about it. The Jinn trick humans, play with people like a cat toying with a roach, and then squash them like the mortal refuse they are. But are they demons?
The original Greek etymology of the word daemon didn’t have a connotation of evil ascribed to it. That was co-opted, because any spirit not from heaven had to be evil. Dante’s Divine Comedy further muddied the waters by presenting a view of hell that contained all sorts of miscreant and troublesome spirits that existed to torment people in the firey place.
Today’s demon might be considered an amalgamation of different folk-lore that somehow managed to find itself in Christian tradition. There are books on angels and those who fell during the war in heaven, tomes with “demonic” symbols that may or may not relate to anything. They may have been as real to the people who scribed them as the church they believed in, or perhaps even then they were just imaginative devices and as false as Cthulu.
Regardless, the visions of Azrael, Beelzebub, Baal, and etc still remain in the greater collective unconscious of literate western society. Whether you realize it or not, you probably recognize these names all too well. Perhaps from Black Adder. Perhaps from the game Diablo, or from any one of a thousand good or terrible horror movies out there.
Are they gods? Are they spirits? Are they creatures? What, in fact, is a demon?
This is where things break down completely. “Unclean spirit” is one phrase used to describe demons, but that means they have no form. In Christian mythology, demons have to possess a vessel in order to enter reality. Once in a vessel, however, they can cause all sorts of havoc. Exorcist, anyone?
But in other cultures’ mythos, demons might be creatures that walk the land. Think of them as the proverbial boogeyman, only they live in caves, beneath cities, or as bedouins in the desert rather than in your closet or under your bed.
Is Garaaga a demon? Are its children demons? What about Reggie in Closet Treats? Does it matter?
In shows like the X-Files, Garaaga rest its soul (seasons 1-4, please) and Millenium, audiences were both terrified and entertained by the idea that genetic mutants, long lost creatures of myth, and etc actually existed in our technological, sterile world. The rise of paranormal/supernatural fantasy (and all the romantic trappings that have followed) grew out of this love for all things strange and unlike the reality we wake up to every day.
Vampires, werewolves, even zombies, could be considered demons by some definitions of the word. Yet we don’t think of them that way. At least not in this modern age of Twilight, Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, True Blood, and shelves full of books portraying some harmless, pale-skinned, buff, dreamy looking guy wearing goth clothes with a strapping maiden on his arm.
Before we entered this age of “taming the beast” by turning our nightmares into romantic, tragic figures, they haunted generations of folks. The original idea of a vampire was used as a cautionary tale for women. The werewolf was used as a metaphor for explaining how evil some people could be, driven to violence beyond their control. Zombies? Fuck, I don’t know about them. That shit still makes no sense to me. Incubi? Succubi? Again, metaphors for the evils of sex and intimacy that could steal your life.
So what are our demons now? Well, they’re political parties we don’t agree with. They’re terrorist leaders like the late Osama Bin Laden (Garaaga destroy his soul). They’re the evil boss you have at your company, the co-worker who chews ice until the sound drives you spare. They’re the podcasters who threaten to kill you unless you– Shit, wait, that’s me.
When you go to pick up your next horror, fantasy, or paranormal whatchamacallit fantasy book or movie, think about this– what do these creatures represent and how are they presented? From a sociological standpoint, I find it damned fascinating to see what our darkest fairy tales have become. They have been transformed from their spine-chilling, malevolent, soul-less forms into television shows, books, and movies where they are the good guys trying to maintain the world’s balance.
Garaaga’s Children presented me with a vehicle to play with this dichotomy, and I love it. Filling a world with anti-heroes and even anti-villians (depending on which perspective the story is being told from) is fantastic fun. It’s also its own sociological experiment. But my dark creatures, my demons if you will, have not lost their “nature, red in tooth and claw.” With any luck, I won’t wuss out on that. Even my “good” guys are going to have some pretty shitty days where they do some pretty shitty things. Will they feel bad about it? Probably not for long…
I miss the days when vampires were blood-sucking, soulless, feline-like predators. I miss the days when werewolves were tortured by day and filled with malevolence on their moon-filled rampages. I miss the days when zombies… No, I don’t miss zombies. Forget that. Basically, I miss the terrors of my childhood. Spooks and evil spirits are really all I have left in this age of paranormal romance. So I’m going to bring back MY demons. I’m going to do my best to show you what frightens the shit out of me. Lost gods. Lost creatures. Lost souls. The undercurrent that always threatens to leap out of its hiding place and snap off your neck.
Now…I guess I better get back to writing them…