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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Wiki Wormhole: Let Wikipedia help you wrestle with demons, personal and otherwise

Illustration for article titled Wiki Wormhole: Let Wikipedia help you wrestle with demons, personal and otherwise

With over 4 million articles, Wikipedia is an invaluable resource, whether you're throwing a term paper together at the last minute, or working out which is the one, true faith. But follow enough links, and you get sucked into some seriously strange places. We explore some of Wikipedia's oddities in our 4,314,196-week series, Wiki Wormhole.

This week’s entry: List of Theological Demons

What it’s about: Demons, of all sorts, from across world mythology. Judeo-Christian figures like Beelzebub and Mephistopheles; Dungeons And Dragons favorites like Ghouls and Harpies, and figures from world mythology like the Jinn, Banshee, or Medusa. Unlike many of Wikipedia’s lists, this one gives no little about each entry, just the demon’s origin and a link. Except, for some reason, Ornias—a fallen angel King Solomon forced to build his temple—who gets a full description here, but no link. Thanks to reader The Rapture Of Riddley Walker, who suggested this topic.

Strangest fact: For some reason, former Roman emperor Nero, who famously  fiddled while Rome burned, makes the list. So does Davy Jones (the one with the locker, not the one who sang "Daydream Believer"). Conspicuously absent are Gozer and Zuul, who we were shocked to learn were not actual Sumerian gods, but were invented for Ghostbusters.

Controversy: The Dasa are included in the list, but following the link reveals they’re neither demonic nor supernatural, but simply on the wrong side of history. Dasa is a Sanskrit term for the people living in what’s now northern India, and fell to the Indo-Aryan migration roughly 2,000 years ago. They’re described in the Vedic sacred text the Rigveda as savage and barbaric, but certainly of this earth. It’s doubtful anyone on Earth still identifies strongly enough as a Dasa to be offended, but it still seems unfair of Wikipedia to classify them as demons.

Thing we were happiest to learn: Even demons can change with the times. The nature or abilities of many of these shift throughout the centuries, especially as Christianity absorbs earlier myths. The Gello was an ancient Greek demon who caused infertility, miscarriage, and infant mortality; by the Byzantine era, Gello was a type of possession rather than a particular creature.


Thing we were unhappiest to learn: The one universal thread throughout all cultures seems to be a fear of female sexuality. The Succubus, a seductress that drain men of their health or otherwise bedevil them, probably began as far back as Sumeria, was adopted by the ancient Egyptians, then Jews, then Christians. At one point, Christians took succubi seriously enough that Pope Sylvester II allegedly rose to Peter’s throne with the help of a succubus named Meridiana. Similar legends appear throughout world mythology, including the Mohini (India), Empusa (Greece), Hone-onna (Japan), Vandella (Ethiopia), Leanan sídhe (Ireland), Rusalka (Slavic), Huli jing (in Chinese mythology, a fox spirit that could transform into a beautiful woman, and in modern parlance, a homewrecker).

Also noteworthy: The Jikininki, a spirit feared by Japanese Buddhists, are ghosts sentenced to roam the earth not because they have unfinished business, but because they were greedy and selfish in life. They scavenge at night, both for food and recently dead bodies, and terrify any mortal who sees the. But strangely, they also scavenge for valuables, which they use to bribe the authorities to leave them in peace. 

Best link to elsewhere on Wikipedia: Lists often beget lists on Wikipedia, and this one links to plenty—deities, legendary creatures, and Demonology. But the biggest potential time suck is Mythology, which discusses types of mythology, but also contains further lists to specific cultures’ myths, and myths’ typical components.