Countless people are utterly terrified by them. They exist in every tradition, having come down from oral to written folklore and mythology. They are a major part of various cultures and religions around the globe from the infancy of human civilization. Demons, and other scary creatures, are as ancient as humans (according to numerous skeptics, humans invented them just as they invented God), and they have always been synonymous with evil, death, divine punishment, terror, and the supernatural, which is why people are so afraid of them. But why are demons so terrifying and scary for so many people? Where do they come from? And most importantly—what are their intentions and why do they exist? Put another way, what is the purpose behind their existence?
The word demon derives from the ancient Greek daimon (a spirit or divine power), and does not carry the negative connotation the modern word has given the term in its appropriation of it. With the passage of time, demons gradually became seen as evil spirits, fallen angels, or spirits of unknown type that can possess a human soul. The list of the 25 Scariest Creatures in Myth and Religion that follows will help you understand why so many people fear these demonic beings.
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Xing Tian is a god with bad intentions in Chinese mythology who fights the Supreme Divinity, not giving up even after losing his head. Losing the fight for supremacy, he was beheaded and his head buried in Changyang Mountain. Nevertheless, headless, with a shield in one hand and an ax in the other, he continues the fight, using his nipples for eyes and his belly button for a mouth. He may not be outright scary, but Xing Tian is definitely a weird creature.
A vetala is a ghostlike being in Hindu myth. They are defined as spirits that inhabit cadavers and charnel grounds. These corpses may be used as vehicles for movement as they no longer decay while inhabited. However, a vetala can also leave the body at will.
In demonology, Ronove is a marquis and great earl of hell that commands twenty legions of demons. He is a vaguely depicted monster holding a staff. He is also described as a taker of old souls, often coming to Earth to harvest souls of decrepit humans and animals near death.
These demonic spirits come from Hindu myth, but we also find them in other religions such as Buddhism. They are known as man-eaters because it is believed that they eat their victims alive. According to Hindu tradition, they were so filled with blood lust when they were created that they ate Brahma, the creator god, alive.
Also known as the “hungry ghost,” a preta is a spirit found in some Indian religions that wanders around suffering from extreme hunger and thirst that can’t be satisfied. According to these religions, people who used to be corrupt, jealous, and greedy in a previous life return as a preta in this lifetime.
In ancient Roman religion, lemures were evil spirits of the restless or malignant dead, and were known for their horrifying and disturbing appearance. It was also believed they were related to the Greek monster Lamia, from which their name derives.
According to ancient Japanese religion, a jorogumo is a blood-thirsty monster, but in most tales it is described as a huge spider that takes the form of a very attractive woman who seduces her male victims, traps them in her web, and then devours them with pleasure. I know a jorogumo might sound like some of your exes you guys, but let’s not be haters here.
Hundun is a faceless evil being in Chinese mythology and the source of disaster and chaos in Chinese cosmogony, comparable with the World Egg. The strangest thing about this demon, however, is how ancient it really is; according to Chinese tradition, it existed before heaven and earth separated or, in other words, as a scientist would claim, before the Big Bang.
Eligos is a great duke of hell that rules sixty legions of demons. He discovers hidden things and knows the future of wars. He is depicted as a godly knight carrying a lance, an ensign (flag or standard), and a serpent that looks like a cross between a snake and a lizard.
Djinni are supernatural creatures in early Arabian and later Islamic mythology and theology. The Qur’an says that the djinni are made of a smokeless and “scorching fire,” but are also physical in nature, able to interact with people and objects and be acted upon. Something like the Smoke Monster in Lost but without smoke, right? Terrifying.
Barbatos is an earl and duke of hell that rules thirty legions of demons and has four kings as his companions to command them. He is believed to lead men to treasures that have been hidden by the magic of magicians, but of course he asks for a very high price in return for finding these—their souls.
Interested in learning about more creatures? Check out 25 Mythical Creatures That Never Existed But People Believed In Anyway.
Baraqiel is the ninth watcher of the twenty leaders of the two hundred fallen angels that are mentioned in the book of Enoch. The name means “lightning of God,” which is fitting since it is believed that Baraqiel taught men astrology during his glory days before his fall.
Azi Dahaka is a storm demon from Iranian mythology and religion. He is said to steal cattle and to attack humans. It is a snakelike monster with three heads and six eyes that also personifies the Babylonian oppression of Iran.
Agares is said to command thirty-one evil legions. He appears riding a crocodile and carrying a sparrow hawk. He is said to make deserters return and can cause enemies to flee. He can exalt people, teach all languages, and make the earth spirits dance. We are not quite sure, though, who would want to have a language tutor that looks like this.
In the book of Revelation, an angel called Abaddon, who looks just like Satan, is described as the king of an army of locusts. He holds a trident, has intimidating wings, a tail like a snake, and an evil face with fierce eyes. His name in ancient Greek means “destroyer.”
According to ancient Sumerian religion, Asag is a grotesque demon, so frightening-looking that his mere presence could make fish boil to death in the rivers. It is also believed that when in battle he was accompanied by his children, an army of rock demons born of his union with the mountains.
In Jewish mythology, a dybbuk is an evil spirit that possesses a person until his death. This malicious creature leaves its host body only after it has accomplished its vile aim. It became widely known in the twentieth century in S. Ansky’s play The Dybbuk.
In a myth of the Near East and Europe, Abyzou is a female demon. She was blamed for miscarriages and infant deaths, and she is said to be motivated (against humans) by envy because she was infertile.
The ghoul, one of the most notable creatures in ancient Arabian religion, is mentioned for the first time in One Thousand and One Nights. It is described there as an undead monster that can also take the form of an immaterial spirit and usually goes into graveyards to eat the flesh of the recently departed.
In case you thought only men commit rape, you’re sadly mistaken. A succubus is a demon that in medieval legend was believed to invade men’s and boys’ dreams in the form of an attractive female in order to seduce them or rape them if they resisted her charm and beauty.
Pishachas are some of the most terrifying flesh-eating demons in Hindu myth. They have been described as having a dark complexion with bulging veins and protruding red eyes and always being hungry for human flesh.
Buer is a spirit that appears in sixteenth-century demonological literature, where he is described as a great president of hell with fifty legions of demons under his command. Buer has been described by various sources as having the head of a lion and four goat legs so he can walk in every direction.
According to the book of Enoch (an apocryphal book in Jewish religious tradition), Azazel was one of the chief Grigori, a group of fallen angels that married female humans. After Satan, Azazel enjoys the distinction of being the most mysterious supernatural being in sacred literature. Unlike other Hebrew proper names, the name’s origin is obscure.
In Western demonology, Belphegor is a demon, and one of the seven princes of hell, who goes after the greedy in order to help them discover things. He seduces them by suggesting ingenious inventions that will make them rich, but in the end they lose their souls to this grotesque-looking creature.
According to ancient biblical texts, the word nephilim means “giants.” They were known as great warriors born of the mating of the “sons of God,” who were divine creatures, with the “daughters of Adam,” who were mortals. God condemned the sons of God for their rebellion, for mating with humans, and that’s why their offspring “the nephilim” are referred to as fallen angels.
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