An Introduction to Demons
By Simon Jester

    We live in a demon-obsessed time in which it is considered cool to be evil. Our culture glorifies self-indulgence, crime, and violence, and our media idols display their addictions and psychiatric pathologies in calculated attempts to capitalize on the public's infatuation with anything dysfunctional. Popular taste prefers depictions of betrayal and homicidal revenge over any other form of entertainment, and the stage of our contemporary imagination overflows with murderous vigilantes, serial killers, sadists, incestuous molesters, prostitutes, pimps, drug addicts, their dealers, and other assorted social abortions. We like to think that our desire to fill our minds with such sordid dramas and debased characters means that we are modernized street-smart realists, unafraid to gaze upon the disfigured features of contemporary American society. What we fail to understand is that there is nothing very modern about any of our dark imaginings. There have always been atavistic forces seething up to cause destruction and chaos in every human society, and the demons that vex us remain the same phantoms that terrorized and titillated our ancestors. We've simply given them face-lifts that make them look like all the other strangers on the bus. By overpopulating our collective fantasies with their malignant presence and encouraging our entertainment industries to keep creating thought forms for them to inhabit, we manage to evoke these demons every day with a facility that would make medieval sorcerers envious.
     Anyone who embarks upon a course of magical study must eventually contend with demons. And the first thing that you must learn is this: you will not run into demons on the streets, lurking in dark alleys, waiting to ambush you in the shadows like muggers and rapists. They do not fly through our skies on the wings of gargoyles or skulk about in flaming sulfur pits as in the nightmarish paintings of Hieronymus Bosch. Out there, in the world, you will only encounter those who are demon driven. Regardless of what sort of independent metaphysical reality demons might actually possess, encounters between them and mortal humans can only occur within the private labyrinth of the mind. That is the portal through which they gain access to our reality, and that is the arena in which they must be confronted and controlled. Without the willing and often unintentional collusion of human minds, demons would be utterly powerless to wreck havoc here in the material world.     
    There is a Qabalistic tradition that equates evil with disharmony, imbalance, and excess. Different legends explain the origins of such evil. In the teachings of Isaac Luria, God's original plan was to create the universe by pouring His Light into the ten vessels of the created Sephiroth. However, a cosmic catastrophe occurred: the vessels were not strong enough to contain such a powerful influx of illumination and shattered into pieces that fell downward into the darkness of materiality. These fragments, or Qlippoth as they are called by students of the Qabalah, contained sparks of the Divine Light, but, since they were no longer whole, the Light within them formed distorted, imbalanced relationships. Thus, the created Tree of Life (i.e. the universe as it actually is, or as it is reflected in the microcosm of the human mind) is but the twisted shadow of the perfect Tree of Life conceived in the Mind of God.
     In a significant variant of this myth, Geburah—the Sephira of Strict Judgment, symbolized by the war-loving planet Mars—was the sphere that initiated the shattering of the vessels by trying to contain more than its share of the Divine Light. Geburah exceeded its rightful limit, absorbed more energy than it was designed to hold, destabilized, and became the first Sephira to shatter, thereby setting off the chain reaction that damaged all the other Sephiroth below the Great Abyss. Because of this, there is an excess of fiery, aggressive Geburah energy in the Microcosm ruling over the stunted and imbalanced energies of the other broken vessels. This excess aggressive energy nourishes the tangled roots of the Infernal Tree and from its branches the bitter fruits of the Qlipothic anti-Sephiroth hang suspended. These unharmonious spheres are the abode of demons who group themselves into grotesque hierarchies and hideous legions that mirror and mock the divine order of the Angels.
     This Qabalistic myth describes the origins of evil and helps explain why ritual magic is a risky business. It reveals that when we call upon the higher powers, they communicate with us through many contaminating layers of Qlippothic interference, and the purity of their message often suffers in translation. The vessel of the human mind is all too frequently unable to handle this awesome influx and sort it all out properly. The aspiring magician is then powerfully drawn toward some kind of excess and becomes impaled on the thorns of the Infernal Tree.
     Demons are the agents of such excess. They manifest within our minds in the form of urges, impulses, ideas, and rationalizations that motivate and encourage excessive and unbalanced actions. Popular imagination depicts them with the features of monsters and locates them in desolate forests, barren wastes, forlorn graveyards and other forsaken haunts. But they really dwell within our own familiar minds, and they always seem so convincing, so persuasive, so indisputably justified and right…Most of us have actually managed to live quite comfortably with them for years, unaware of the damage they cause.
      Back in the 1930's, Israel Regardie wrote a ground-breaking book entitled The Middle Pillar (currently available through Llewellyn Publications) which examined the relationship between magic and psychology. In this work, Regardie applied the psychological theories of Carl Jung and other "depth" psychologists to ritual magic, and showed how Jungian concepts such as the collective unconscious and the archetypes could help explain what ritual magicians do during magical operations. Today, the most predominant form of therapy employed by clinicians is CBT—Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and, as in the case of Jungian analytical psychology, this newer method may also be extended into the field of ritual magic. It helps to provide the basic beginnings of a remarkably lucid approach to understanding demons.
     CBT therapists help patients identify irrational thoughts that influence their emotions and behaviors in undesirable ways. In most people, such thoughts remain unanalyzed and are simply taken for granted. In a depressingly short amount of time, they become habitual and automatic, and a person becomes programmed to respond and act in ways that are negatively conditioned by such thinking. CBT proponents generate lists of commonly held irrational thoughts that correlate remarkably well with the long lists of demons supplied by the grimoires. Such lists define cognitive habits such as "All-or-Nothing" thinking, catastrophizing (thinking that every little setback is a life-threatening disaster), and personalizing (thinking that everything said and done by others is about oneself) as primary targets for therapeutic elimination, and use various techniques to help their clients exorcize these demons.
     CBT is very trendy in psychology today, and a lot of its advocates make it seem facile and shallow. As a therapeutic method, CBT has merely begun to scratch the surface of the irrational mindset of contemporary society, and honoring this method by calling it the New Demonology may initially appear to trivialize demons and demonic obsession. That is certainly not my intent. There is a world of difference between irrationally thinking, "I can't survive if my friends leave me," and the more alarming "I must kill, dismember, and eat my friends before they have a chance to leave me." The demons that inhabited Jeffrey Dahmer's mind had grown in number and strength to a truly frightening degree, and the evil spell they cast over him would have taken much more than six 30-minute sessions and a triple-column chart to break. CBT has merely just begun to explore the territory where demonic powers intersect most harmfully with human lives (the intersubjective Yesodic level) but I believe that CBT could develop in depth over the coming years and eventually become capable of tackling the Really Big Demons that dominate our society (i.e., our assumptions about self-entitlement, justifiable violence, capitalism, etc.)    
     There are so many demons at work in the collective Yesod of our contemporary world! They truly are legion. Our society has created an alarming multitude of thought forms, both abstract and imagistic, with which these demon hordes may persuade us to follow them into the Kingdoms of Misrule. That is why ritual magicians must watch their thoughts, feelings, and imaginings very closely when they touch the Yesodic level where magical operations are conducted, for this is where the demons first begin to circle like hungry birds of prey. Anytime you invoke Angels, demons also inevitably show up, like gatecrashers. As Dion Fortune said, you cannot handle positive energies without also having to deal with negative energies. This is the reason why magical operations begin with banishing rituals. Such rituals enable the magician to clearly define the precise nature of the demons likely to be encountered during the working, and help to construct a shield that provides magical insulation from their negative influence.
     Most books on magic recommend the use of the Lesser Ritual of the Banishing (Earth) Pentagram before proceeding to invoke the Higher Forces. As a general beginning exercise, this is usually adequate. The first Path on the Tree of Life that neophytes should take (the Path of Tov) is simultaneously ruled by the planet Saturn and the element Earth, and so using the Earth Banishing Pentagram at this initial phase of astral exploration makes sense. But once the student of the Arts has progressed to the point where the other ritual invocations are desirable, the employment of a full array of banishing rituals appropriate for all the elemental, planetary, and zodiacal forces encountered on the Paths becomes necessary. A previous blog entry discussed the use of pentagram rituals to banish negative elemental energies when invoking Sephirothic Forces. The next entry will begin a discussion of how to use hexagram rituals designed for the planetary and zodiacal Paths, and will supply the names and describe the natures of the demons that tradition warns us about when venturing thereon.