Demon is a vague word, which may refer to any number of spirits or types of spirits. It is one of those words that can mean very different things to different people.

The word demon is a distortion of daimone or daemon, which referred to various specific types of spirits, some of them wild and rambunctious but none of them wicked or evil. Post-Christianity, however, the word became a blanket term to indicate virtually any spirit. Christianity forbade interaction with spirits with the exception of angels and officially approved saints. All other spirits were considered, by definition, harmful, deceptive, and evil. Because all these spirits were now considered evil and because all these spirits were lumped together as “demons,” the word took on the connotation of “evil spirit.” People were also uncomfortable referring to fallen angels as “angels,” and so they became associated with demons, too. Demons have a tendency to be spirits of older, banished, or vanquished pantheons.

Demon is sometimes the generic word used to translate the names of distinct classes of spirits in other languages into English:

* Many “demons” of Japanese folklore are really oni or Yokai.

* Many “demons” of Jewish folklore are really Djinn.

* Jewish cosmology sometimes refers to dangerous, destructive angels as demons.

In modern metaphysical circles, demons tend to be low-level spirits of malicious intent; spirits who tend to be hostile to people or at least enjoy causing trouble. Many spirits associated with disease are classified as demons.

Just because they’re called “demons” doesn’t guarantee that they’re negative. Sinhalese spiritsclassified as “demons” tend to be those exceptionally attached to material things. Western occultists would describe them as being overly attached to “lower planes.” They may be unable to control cravings and desires.

Japanese “demons” serve many functions.

* They serve and attend deities.

* They guard temples, shrines, and sacred places.

* They are employees of Hell regions, where their function is to torment dead souls as punishment for sins committed.

* They serve people, too, especially someone who wins a wager or contest with them. (They don’t have to be forced; they serve voluntarily in this circumstance. Of course, if you lose …)

On television, as in other forms of horror or supernatural based entertainment, demon may refer to any malicious, mean-spirited, or otherwise unappealing or harmful spirit. Some television series, however, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, or Supernatural, create intricate mythologies, defining their demons. Not all demons on these shows are intrinsically had. On Angel, for instance, the demon Lome and half-demon Doyle are heroes.

Many of these so-called demons are quite benevolent toward virtuous people but will torment wrongdoers, in life as well as after death.

Whether or not they’re called demons, some spirits genuinely are harmful troublemakers. No need to panic; effective methods of dealing with them have existed for millennia:

Some ambivalent spirits may be coerced, cajoled, or persuaded into becoming allies instead. Some can be encouraged to reserve malicious inclinations for your enemies. Other spirits are just evil, can’t be trusted, and need to be banished. The most effective method of preventing an infestation of malevolent spirits or of eliminating them once they’ve arrived is cultivating relationships with more powerful but benevolent spirits. Demons may not be afraid of moving into your territory, but few will venture where Kwan Yin, Shoki, or Michael Archangel is resident. Posting images of these spirits or other demon-quellers (see the Appendix) may be sufficient to send demons packing.

Amulets keep demons at bay, as do many botanicals including:

* Aloe vera (Aloe vera)

* Coriander, also known as cilantro (Coriandrum sativum)

* Flamboyant (Poinciana regia)

* Rue (Ruta spp.)

* Willow trees (Salix spp.)

* Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium)

If burned as incense, gum ammoniac (Dorema Ammoniacum), harmal, also known as Syrian rue (Peganum harmala), and benzoin, also known as jawi (Styrax benzoin), allegedly repel demons.

Most low-level demons can only travel in straight lines. Wandering, wavy, or winding paths keep them from arriving at your door. Demons get lost in labyrinths. The more complex the path, the less likely they are to be able to navigate it. If a straight line is unavoidable, as in a hallway, strategically posted mirrors and amulets may compensate. (This is also true for ghosts.)

Most low-level demons are low-level for a reason: they’re not particularly quick-witted; they might even be described as really stupid. Word games, anything clever that will puzzlethem, may be sufficient to stop them in their tracks. Jewish tradition advises painting ceilings sky blue. Low-level spirits see the color and think they’re outside or have ascended to celestial realms. Their general inclination is to leave. Most low-level demons are afflicted with the spiritual equivalent of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Exploiting this quality provides safety:

* Sprinkle poppy or millet seeds on the ground. Seed beads will work, too: anything abundant, tiny, and difficult to pick up may do the trick. The demons will be compelled to stop and pick up each one.

* Strategically hang a sieve, net, or anything with myriad little holes. The demons will be compelled to stop and count them.

Signs of true demonic attack are rarely as dramatic as on television. Here are some possible symptoms or indications, although these may derive from other causes, too:

* Frequent or repeating nightmares

* Seeing dark, mysterious figures at night, especially with peripheral vision. Dark in this context doesn’t refer to complexion or clothing but indicates the opposite or absence of light. Demons sometimes give the appearance of a dark vacuum or black hole.

* An unexpected, foul stench with no apparent physical cause or explanation

* Inexplicable showers of pebbles or rocks on a roof

Demons tend to be most active at night or at high noon. They are bullies and so tend to pick on solitary people, especially those in lonely, solitary places. Bright lights, company, or the illusion of it may serve to ward them off. Loud, lively party music sometimes sends them away.

See also: Daemone; Djinn; Fairy, Green; Ghost; Kwan Yin; Mazzik; Michael; Oni; Raphael; Shoki; Yokai