Halloween Monsters: Demons & Devils

For several years, I’ve been on a fact-finding mission focused on the history of traditional Halloween “monsters” including their origins and evolution in folklore, literature, and pop culture.

Today, let’s take a look at DEMONS & DEVILS.

You’ve seen the pitch forks and the devil horns in costumes and depictions of demons in popular culture and mythology. Dressing up as a devil or demon for Halloween is one of the more common costumes.

But where did this Halloween monster originate from?

By today’s generally accepted definition, a demon is a supernatural being, typically associated with evil. Demons tend to be associated with hell and sometimes with possessions and exorcisms.

There does not appear to be a specific origin for demons. Possibly, because humanity has always seemed to believe in evil in some form.

However, not all cultures had/have demons or the equivalent. Some ancient cultures had legends of specific monsters (like the wendigo in Algonquian lore), or tales of supernatural beings, some of which were tricksters or had malevolent personalities or powers. But the idea of a general group of evil spirits doesn’t necessarily exist in every culture. In addition, the concept of an underworld, or where the dead went, sometimes is the home of demons, but often is only about the punishment or reward for humans.

For those cultures that do have evil “spirits” of some sort, there are several kinds. In many religions and cultures demons exist as the counterpoint to gods. Sort of the yin to the gods yang. In others, demons are evil spirits sent to keep humans from whatever version of heaven might exist for that culture. In addition, the concept of evil spirts or demons shows up in multiple cultures that deal with the “occult” or “magical” elements. Many “witches” were killed due to a belief of a tie between witchcraft and the devil. Then, of course, there are those religions or cultures which directly worship, celebrate, or pray to/conjure demons or demonic entities.

As far as I can tell, the modern depiction of demons and the devil comes from Judeo-Christian origins. Most Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, & Islam) acknowledge and deal with demons in some form. In ancient Mesopotamia, the underworld was populated with demons who could periodically come to the mortal realm to terrorize humans. Of course, in modern Christianity we have the belief that Jesus cast out demons. In addition, depending on the denomination, specific demons have been named or classified, much like angels.

It makes sense that this would be one of the costumes in the traditional line up for Halloween. The wearing of costumes at Halloween may come from the belief that supernatural beings, or the souls of the dead, roamed the earth on that night, and traditional costumes represent the dead (ghosts and ghouls) as well as frightening supernatural or folkloric beings (which has changed over time). The earliest known reference to the practice of costumes dates to the 1500s in Scotland, but probably predates that in practice. 

Most of today’s iconography (at least for Halloween) related to demons comes from medieval Europe primarily, which is no huge surprise, as that’s where the holiday generally originates as well.

Roman Catholic images of Satan often depict him as a horned, muscular, bat-winged man. This may come from earlier “pagan” beliefs. In many ancient religious traditions, horns were associated with the crescent moon and thus with fertility, night, darkness, death, and the underworld. Most ancient cultures seem to depict demons with some kind of animalistic quality. However, many trace the current image of Satan to Dante who portrayed the Devil as a grotesque, winged creature with three faces—each chewing on a devious sinner—whose wings blew freezing cold winds throughout Hell’s domain.

So will you be donning some devil horns for Halloween this year? Maybe a red tail? Wings? Or will you go with something else?

Looking for some hot demon-related romances? Check these out…

Interested in the history and evolution of other traditional Halloween “monsters” in folklore, literature, and pop culture? Check out my other posts…



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