When looking at the portrayal of demons in paradise lost, I came to my attention that this is very different from the ways they are portrayed in other pieces of media, and even in the Bible itself. Following this line of thought, I decided to use several of the theses from Monster Culture, primarily Theses I, II, V, and VI. Using each of these theses on monsters, I will give a variety of examples of representations of demons throughout cultural history, both religious and in pop culture. Along with this, the paper will take a look at demons in other societies, other than Judeo Christian demons share similarities with their international kin.
The first example of demons in this paper will be the Biblical/Paradise lost form. This would tie into Theses VI. The fear of the monster is really a kind of desire. The argument here is that, while the demons in paradise lost and the Bible are obviously evil, they have a power and beauty according to human standards. For example, the Bible calls Lucifer, an angel of light. In Ezekiel 28:17 it says, “Your heart was proud because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor. I cast you to the ground; I exposed you before kings, to feast their eyes on you.” (King James Bible, Ezekiel 28:17) Along with this, Paradise Lost describes him in ways that make him sound heroic, powerful, and charismatic, all things that are desirable in just about every society. Therefore, it is obvious that, while he is the incarnation of evil in the Judeo-Christian world, he is also a standard of beauty, power, and charisma. Therefore, the fear of the Biblical demon/Satan, is actually a form of desire, we want to be like him, even if only in looks and power, and that is a terrifying thought. (Cohen, 52-54). Further readings on the topic could be found in Milton’s work Paradise Lost or Bunyan’s Pilgrims Progress.
The next monster culture theses to look at is Theses I. Monsters body is cultural body. The selected portrayal of demons for this could be the men in red suits devil. This presentation of them holds onto the cultural view of tricksters, lawyers, and fears of deals with hidden meanings. This is really tied to our own fear of being deceived in a deal we cannot escape from. Back in those days, both medieval all the way up till now, society has been plagued by nefarious businessmen who will give you anything “for your soul”. This also ties into the concepts of the Devil drawing humanity away from the saving grace of Jesus Christ. However, in old stories, instead of simply leading them away, he signs bargains with them for earthly delights, with the idea that one day he will return to collect. An old colonial story involving the Devil stealing a soul was a man who would place his sock under his chimney, and the devil would pour gold down into it every night. However, the man got greedy, and cut a hole in the sock. The devil poured for a while, before realizing he had been tricked, and pursued the man, finally after running for his life, the man was caught, and the devil dragged his soul to hell with him. I cannot fully recall where this story came from or what it was called, but it has always stuck in my memory (Cohen, 44).
The next theses to look at is number II. This one deals with the idea that the monster always escapes. This ties into the fact that real horror usually has monsters that are always coming back. From Vorhees to Myers, you can’t keep a good monster down. With this idea in mind, the idea of demons always coming back is tied into this. For example, a modern portrayal of demons is Annabelle. The doll from the real case studies done by the Warrens. Just recently, the doll went missing, which is rather worrying after the movies and stories we have heard of it. I am not implying that there is any evidence of truth to the claims of a possessed doll, but it still ties into our collective fears. However, the escaping doll is not the only example of demonic returns. For example, in the film the Exorcist, the movie ends with him sending the demon back to hell, however, he does not forever bind the demon. There is always a chance for demons and devils to find a new mortal form and walk the earth again, spreading their evil as they go. This ties into the idea of the monster always escapes and lives to fight another day, a truly worrying concept for people who might not want their bodies to be snatched up and used like a fleshy Gundam. (Cohen, 44-45).
The last example for the Theses is V. This thesis deals with the idea that monsters are close to the possible. Following this line of thought, the most common idea for realistic demons would be those from the doom series, as well as possible ideas of H.P. Lovecraft, although his great old ones are never implied to be of demonic origin. This portrayal of demon’s ties into the idea of an invader from beyond. One of them comes from another dimension, while the other comes from deep below as well as above. Either way, the concept of demons as interdimensional invaders and conquerors is something that is currently a major presentation of them, especially within the sci-fi/fantasy genre.
Obviously, these things do not actually tie into something that could exist. There are no Hell knights charging out of a portal to hell, or Cthulhu’s waking from the depths of the sea with a desire to devour the whole of humanity. However, these things tie into a collective idea of something fearful. It could be a fear of outsiders, or it could be a fear that we are not alone in space, and that those things will treat us as we treat other humans. The fear of enslavement and destruction is within every society in history. For some, it was an actual threat, others created monsters to fill in the roll, with Jotun, Djinn, and demons that were planning the end of humanity. Another thing that makes these things seem possible is how quickly science has advanced. In less than a century we now have access to the entirety of human knowledge, yet we realize how little we know. We do not know the majority of our ocean’s contents, nor what lies in the vast inky blackness of the cosmos. This unknown in a world of known is something that makes monsters, demons, plausible. (Cohen, 49-52).
Now looking at demons in other countries, the two most interesting ones I can think of would be the demons of Japan and Africa. In Japan demons are called Oni, and they are less of an end of the world malevolence as Judeo-Christian Demons. Instead, many Japanese Oni are pranksters, with a major example being the Kiyohime. This would tie into Theses I and V. The reason for this is because in a cultural sense, unrequited love will turn anyone into a monster, and in a possible sense, it is quite possible for someone who is hateful to turn into a venomous person when they are not given the love they believe they deserve, leading them into being unpleasant, or even murderous people. There is also a spider woman called the Jorogumo who tricks men into sleeping with her before she devours them in her true form, which could be another example of cultural fears in Japanese society (List of Legendary Creatures from Japan, n/a).
A great example of an African demon would be the Kishi, a demon with a human and animal face. The human face will trick its victims, which it will then consume with its Hyena face. This would tie into the same theses as before, with the idea of a smooth talking man who will abuse and impregnate the woman he loves, kill her, and then the child will grow up to be just like him. This is something a lot of women worry about, with the idea of abuse always being on the horizon form men who might seem like a great guy, but is actually an abusive monster underneath all that charm (Occult World, n/a).
In conclusion, the portrayal of demons has changed throughout history, from monstrous hyenas, beautiful angels, supernatural lawyers, and even jealous snakes. In general, a few things always come back in the examples. They are usually actually an example of some serious cultural issue that is on the populations mind, such as abuse, invasion, sexual violence, or damnation. All of these issues are important. The appearance of demons is also tied into our collective conscience. Demons are also desirable, with many people dressing as them for Halloween, comic cons, and other such venues. Power and sensuality is desirable, and certain examples of demons definitely have this. However, despite how they change in looks, they are always a force of darkness to be reckoned with.
“Kishi.” Occult World, occult-world.com/kishi/.
Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome, Monster Culture (Seven Theses), n/a, 1996
The Bible, King James Edition, Richard Bancroft, n/a, 1535
List of Legendary Creatures from Japan, Wikipedia, n/a, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_legendary_creatures_from_Japan
When I wrote this paper, it was originally done in Microsoft word, however, it seems like it would be easier to simply put it in as a post rather than a document. The reason I chose this was because of the current reading of paradise lost, and it seemed appropriate. Here is the original document if interested. However, I made some changes to sources and added some other things. So consider the doc a rough draft.