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An Alternative View of Demons, Ghosts, Etc. for Christian Fiction

The Standard View and Its Problems

This section explains why we don't know as much about Satan and demons as we think, thus opening the field for speculation. If you aren't interested in that, page down to the "Common Assumptions" section below.

One of the main problems is that people these days are sure of things that either can’t be proved or can be disproved. This is particularly true of demonology. I maintain that virtually nothing can be known for sure about Satan’s origins, and demons are even more mysterious. Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 refer to human kings (Assyrian and Tyrian, respectively), so they offer little help.


Isaiah 14

The bulk of Isa 14 is a taunt song against the king of Babylon (in Isaiah’s time, the king of Assyria). Given the setting of the song, it seems reasonable to relate it either to the time after the final destruction of historic Babylon, which would put it after Alexander’s conquests, for example, or after the destruction of eschatological Babylon (Rev 18, 19:1–4), in which case the setting is at the beginning of the Millennium (for premills) and the King of Babylon is the Antichrist (a view held by some early Christians).


For what it’s worth, the king of Babylon in Isaiah 14 clearly isn’t Satan; he is a mere man. Consider the overall context surrounding vv. 12–14:


ISA 14:9–11 The grave below is all astir to meet you at your coming; it rouses the spirits of the departed to greet you—all those who were leaders in the world; it makes them rise from their thrones—all those who were kings over the nations. They will all respond, they will say to you, “You also have become weak, as we are; you have become like us.”

All your pomp has been brought down to the grave, along with the noise of your harps; maggots are spread out beneath you and worms cover you.


ISA 14:15–20a But you are brought down to the grave, to the depths of the pit. Those who see you stare at you, they ponder your fate: “Is this the man who shook the earth and made kingdoms tremble, the man who made the world a desert, who overthrew its cities and would not let his captives go home?”

All the kings of the nations lie in state, each in his own tomb. But you are cast out of your tomb like a rejected branch; you are covered with the slain, with those pierced by the sword, those who descend to the stones of the pit. Like a corpse trampled underfoot, you will not join them in burial, for you have destroyed your land and killed your people.


Trivia: Though Lucifer is now a common name for Satan, there is no evidence for such a connection until early in the Christian era. So where does Lucifer come from?


When the KJV truly disagrees with modern versions, it’s usually because it follows the Greek Septuagint (an ancient translation of the Old Testament) or the Latin Vulgate (a translation of the whole Bible). These sources are troublesome for some King James fans because they are typically associated with Catholicism. Now, let’s look at the Vulgate:


Isaiah 14:12 Quomodo cecidisti de caelo, Lucifer, qui mane oriebaris? Corruisti in terram, qui vulnerabas gentes?

How have you fallen from heaven, Lucifer (light-bearer), who rose in the morning? Did you fall upon the earth, (you) who wounded the nations?

[These may be read as exclamations, as in the English versions, but my Vulgate (and Catholic translations therefrom) punctuates them as questions.]


Lucifer was probably chosen because the Septuagint has heōsphóros, literally “morning-bearer.” Latin lux, lucis refers to daylight (as opposed to lumen, luminis firelight), so lucifer = “daylight (morning)-bearer”—fairly close.


The whole point of verses 12–14 (or 15) was a reference to a Canaanite myth. Baal gets a bit too big for his britches, and Mot, the god of death, yanks him down to the netherworld. While he’s cooling his heels down there, El looks for a replacement to sit on Baal’s throne on Mt. Zaphon/Sapan (zaphon means “north”) and Athtar is chosen. He is the planet Venus, the son of Shachar (= Dawn) and heir of Hêlēl (= Day Star, the word translated “Lucifer” in KJV). The substitution doesn’t work:


Thereupon Athtar the terrible
Went up into the recesses of Zaphon;
He sat on the seat of mightiest Baal.
His feet did not reach the footstool;
His head did not reach its top.
And Athtar the terrible spoke:
“I cannot be king in the recesses of Zaphon.”
Athtar the terrible came down;
He came down from the seat of mightiest Baal…


So the King of Babylon is likened to Athtar: he too will try to sit in a throne too big for him and be brought down to earth, though he is Hêlēl, son of Shachar.

(I am indebted to Jack Finegan’s Myth and Mystery: An Introduction to the Pagan Religions of the Biblical World for this analysis.)


Ezekiel 28

It’s helpful to read the whole chapter here. It opens with a judgment on the Tyrian king’s pride—the king of Tyre calls himself a god in verse 2. So when we get the lament (which, as a poetic form, means we’re about to encounter a lot of figurative language), there’s no reason to infer a change of topic: greed and materialism are his besetting sins (v. 16), though neither is ever ascribed to Satan. The reference to Eden is not unparalleled for Ezekiel (see 31: 8, 9, 16, 18), and calling someone an “anointed guardian cherub” who has called himself a god is certainly no stretch. So I see no reason to think this is Satan.


Revelation 12

The problem here is that the whole interlude is poetical, and there are places where historical events (the birth of Christ, for example) are very loosely treated. As with the incarnation, we would have to know Satan’s story already to interpret it properly here.


2 Peter 2:4, Jude 6

Both of these verses state that at least some rebel angels have been locked up. Then where do the ones come from that Jesus and the apostles ran into? Why were some imprisoned while others remain at large?


Common Assumptions I Use in Changelings and Other Stories

(Note: I stress that what follows is for fiction. It may actually be true, but I’m not advocating any new doctrines here.)


  • Man was created to run the earth. Yet Adam, however clever he was, could not have done all this himself.

  • There is some kind of divine hierarchy. God is said to have a court similar to those of earthly kings (see 1 Kings 21: 19–20, Job 1: 6 [etc.]). There are princes over countries and peoples (Dan 10: 13, 20–21) and even (in a sense) over waters (Rev 16: 6, though the context isn’t clear).

  • As noted above, some rebel angels are locked up, while others are still loose.


During the Middle Ages, there was an idea that skeptics tend to dismiss as Catholic syncretism, though it has a long and honorable pedigree and was the basis for writings by Tolkien, Lewis, and Fénélon, among others. The idea is what I would call extended monotheism: though there is just one God, there are lesser spirits arranged in a hierarchy beneath him, and to mortals these lesser beings would appear as gods over the area they governed. So if there is an angel over the seas, he will be a sea god like Poseidon to pagans, and if there is an angel in charge of Mars or Venus, guess how he will be viewed.

To fit this into the preceding observations, what if Adam was supposed to command a hierarchy of angelic beings who actually carried out the work? He could command animals and plants, and even inanimate nature would obey his will. The result is a lot like magic (and magic could be viewed as a corruption of it). In my story Angeltongue, I posit something like this: some people have retained the language of Adam, which must be used to command the demi-angels, and use it for more-or-less magic. Another wrinkle found in the projected story The Opposite of Magic and possibly in Angeltongue as well is that people who are in constant contact with a type of minor angel may begin to take on its form, so that someone who hangs around with dinky minor nature angels (=fairies) may become short, fat, thin, etc. (=elf, dwarf, etc.), especially if it’s done over generations.

Demons, ghosts, etc.

Anyway—the big point is that these minor angels (in the “Changelings” series called daimones) can still fall. In “Changelings” proper, they are still being created. One of the functions Adam had was to imprint the image of God on creation: this is why we still see animals that, from human companionship, come to seem more and more human. We weren’t supposed to make them human, just develop the mark of God within them. In the same way, through contact with us, the daimones were supposed to mature into full angels.

Some, however, turn away from God and become rogues, interested in attaining and preserving their autonomy, but not fully in rebellion. A rogue daimôn can be salvaged, and it will often try to do something for God in its own way. It is from this that various religious stories derive: a demon won’t seek to glorify God, but a rogue will produce a miracle that technically points to God, though it also gives the rogue a spotlight. The reason is that daimones are naturally dependent on man: obedient ones need human supervision; rogues need human approval. Without it, a daimôn will eventually dissipate.

If a rogue persists, eventually it will turn inward and become a demon. In a demon, the dependence on human interaction is twisted into a desire for control over humans by possession or oppression. They want not just approval but fear and worship. Again, without human validation of some kind, they will eventually dissipate.

Sometimes a lesser demon or a special type of rogue will become bonded to a person (or more rarely a place): this eventually results in a haunting. A rogue may resist becoming a full-fledged demon by immersing itself in some human identity, but the result is destructive in a different way. The rogue or demon loses its own identity, and when the person dies, it continues to echo the only existence and identity it knows, powerless to break free. This is what most ghosts are. It will eventually dissipate.

If there is violence (or fear or suffering of some kind, all of which signify power to a demon), a lesser demon may likewise become locked to the situation that gave it its power. It will relive that situation to regain the power, and may try to reproduce it to gain validation from frightened humans. These demons are poltergeists, among other things.

The difference between a greater or lesser daimôn is mostly how advanced it is in its progress toward becoming a complete angel (which final step involves being summoned before the Throne of God). If it never got beyond hanging icicles, for example, it will be a rudimentary intelligence, for rebellion always diminishes a daimôn’s power and identity. It probably will not go beyond pranks and reflexive attempts to provoke fear. The overwhelming majority of demons are in this category.

A daimôn that was close to being summoned (or worse yet, an actual angel, though that seldom happens) will be far more powerful and intelligent. Such beings are capable of planned actions, and they can grow in cunning over time: they can learn. They also tend to live quite a while, because they know how to maintain their existence and can plan and execute schemes to that end.

Incubi and succubi add the wrinkle of impregnating women. The theory was that in female (succubus) form, a demon could obtain sperm, then as a male (incubus) impregnate a woman. Such an offspring would likely be tainted, but I doubt there would be outright possession. I’d steer clear of this one on general principles.


More corporeal oddities: lycanthropes and the undead

Shape-changers such as werewolves are simply possessed people given a special power to deform the image of God in some specific way.

The undead are a special case, like a combination of possession and the ghost phenomenon mentioned earlier. If a possessed person dies (or more rarely if the corpse of an unsaved person is handy), the possessing demon may animate the body. This gives it a substitute host to prolong its existence, though the natural decay of the body will eventually eliminate even such shelter as a corpse may afford. A particularly strong entity could probably make use of a mere skeleton.

If an undead creature frightens a human, it can gain some strength, but taking a life will likely replenish it considerably, not to mention providing a new host. Some vampires by this reasoning wouldn’t necessarily be dead, though if they do die, animation is still possible.

One of the quirks of vampirism is that it involves drinking blood, which is always under a curse. Leviticus 17: 12–14 mentions this, and it’s echoed for Christians in Acts 15: 20, 29. The point is that the blood of a creature (human or not) represents its life, so drinking its blood means appropriating its life, which is how vampires work. It’s also a parody of the Atonement, because just as we live eternally by spiritually partaking of Christ’s blood and life, so the vampire prolongs its existence by partaking of a creature’s life. This will always involve a curse for a living host, though the curse and demonic activity can be resisted and outright rejected by turning to God. If the host is dead, being cursed is probably nothing new to the demon anyway.

Dhampirs, or half-vampires, would be produced effectively by a vampirizing spirit playing succubus/incubus. The offspring would probably be under a kind of curse, and unless freed by divine intervention, would likely drift into thinking he was controlling an entity that was actually controlling him. (Much as “white” witches claim to be using magic for good when they are actually being manipulated by demons.) A dhampir that got saved would have to forswear the “abilities” he had, much as someone with a heritage of magic must do. However, it is possible for someone to function like a dhampir in fighting vampires based on a divine gift/calling. This is roughly what Martin does in “Sheep Among Wolves.” The effect is sharply different, as it is spiritual warfare conducted by the power of God.

Side note: the usual explanation for why vampires don’t have a reflection is that mirrors reflect souls, which a vampire lacks. But inanimate objects, by definition, lack them too. I would suggest that the vampire doesn’t actually animate a corpse; it uses the body as a home, but when wandering around, it merely projects an image, a kind of spiritual illusion. Mirrors and similar items only reflect physical objects, so such an illusion would not be reflected. If the vampire is dispatched while away from the corpse, the bond between spirit and body is strong enough to effectively materialize the corpse where the spirit was manifesting. This would also allow major shape-changes (mist, bat, etc.), which would be difficult to do with a physical body.

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