Demons and the Devil have long been fodder for horror films, novels, and short stories and it isn’t hard to see why. The threat of inhuman spirits whose entire existence is predicated on bringing down the human race, possession, and the destruction of the soul–our most vital essence–is enough to make many shudder.
As someone who has spent a lifetime studying the esoteric and the occult, I’ve read many a treatise on the names of “real” demons, and I can usually pick them out very quickly when turn up in film. I place the word in quotation marks because belief systems vary and like many things, the accepted names of real demons are subject to debate on almost every level from etymology to history.
Regardless of your belief or not, some of these names have existed for thousands of years, and their terrible visages and terrifying mythologies have sparked the imagination of numerous screenwriters in the last century.
In some traditions, even the passing mention of a particular demon’s name is enough to invoke them, and I always wonder if, when choosing to include a demonic name in their script, they consider that possibility, especially when many will use the name but completely change and mold the demon to fit their own needs rather than staying true to its origin and myths.
Either way, the genre has had some remarkable films based on these entities. They spark the imagination and their history and lore taps in the part of our minds that responds to archetype and mythology.
In no particular order, take a look at this malefic list.
Everyone is talking about Marianne right now. The French series debuted on Netflix recently and is seriously one of the most terrifying things we’ve seen in a long time. It has a way of digging into your subconscious to make you squirm in your seat in the comfort of your own home.
Part of the story deals with the demon Beleth, and as soon as I heard the name, little bells started going off in my mind. It was time to crack open the books and do a little reading.
As it turns out, Beleth, generally spelled Bileth and whose sigil appeared throughout the series, is quite the powerful demon with a long and storied history. He is a king of Hell with 85 legions of demons at his command, much as he was described in Marianne.
Mentioned in the Pseudomonarchia Daemonum aka False Monarchy of Demons in 1577 as an appendix to Johann Weyer’s De praestigiis daemonum (On the Tricks of Demons), Beleth was said to have first been conjured by Cham, son of Noah, after the great flood and who is said to have been the first necromancer.
According to the lore, Cham wrote a book of mathematics with Beleth’s help. This is interesting in and of itself because what Beleth is most known for is granting the conjurer the love of any number of men and women they desire until the conjurer is sated.
He is said to appear with a terrible visage when first conjured and the conjurer must force him to take on his true form through certain threats and the use of various symbols.
His use in Marianne was a little puzzling to me. Though he has sometimes been drawn with the head of a cat, I could find no actual reference to him being called The King of Cats. Nevertheless, it was an interesting use of this storied demon and it certainly added a sinister layer to the series.
Paimon, also known as King Paimon, played heavily into the plot of Ari Aster’s Hereditary, but he is also one of the demons and Kings of Hell mentioned in numerous ancient demonic tomes including the Pseudomonarchia Daemonum, The Lesser Key of Solomon, Plancy’s Dictionnaire Infernal, and The Book of Abramelin to name just a few.
Paimon or King Paimon as he is commonly known is often described as being most obedient to Lucifer, though his rank among demons changes depending upon which text you read Paimon supposedly ruled as many as 200 legions of demons.
These distinctions, of course, derive from Judeo-Christian theology and teaching about the classifications of angels and the Fall of Lucifer after the great battle in Heaven.
Regardless, Paimon generally appears as a young man, sometimes clothed though often naked, with the face of a woman and riding a single-humped camel. Texts warn that when Paimon appears, he should be accompanied by two lesser kings of hell know an Bebal and Abalam. If that second name sounds familiar to you, it’s because that name nwas used for the demon in The Last Exorcism.
If they are not in his company, conjurers and summoners are warned they must make a sacrifice in order to get them to appear.
The demon is said to contain all the knowledge of the earth and its elements as well as the sciences. He can grant this knowledge to the conjurer as well as offering knowledge of all events, past and future, that have ever or will ever occur. If a great decision was to be made, consulting Paimon could be very helpful, if one was willing to pay the price.
In Hereditary, that price was a human male body, but in all my study, I’ve never come across that particular desire. They did however, make good use of Paimon’s symbols throughout.
#3 Valak–The Conjuring Universe
In The Conjuring 2, we are introduced early on to the evil nun whose name is Valak, but beyond the name, very little of what we see in the film has anything to do with the lore surrounding this particular demon who again appears in numerous classic tomes dealing with the subject.
For starters, nothing in any description of the demon describes them as appearing as a nun or even female for that matter.
Instead, Valak, or Valac as his name is more often spelled, is described as an angelically winged beautiful boy riding a two-headed dragon who was said to have the ability to find hidden treasures. He is also able to give his summoner the ability to locate, summon, and control serpents.
In The Lesser Key Valak is described as a President of Hell, a lower ranking entity who still possessed some power and commanded between 20 and 25 legions of demons.
Despite his seeming lower standing, Valak has been used in multiple films and video games, some of which even attempt to get his mythology correct. Most recently, you could find him in season one of the Freeform series Shadowhunters based on the novels by Cassandra Clare in which they summon him to retrieve a character’s memories.
#4 Abaddon–Hell House LLC franchise
Abaddon the Destroyer is an entity with an intense and storied history.
First mentioned as a place rather than a sentient entity, Abaddon was the “place of destruction” in the Masoretic text of the Hebrew scripture. In some Rabbinical literature, Abaddon is further mentioned as a place where the damned lie in fire and snow.
Later on, Christian scripture in the Book of Revelation anthropomorphized Abaddon, calling him the Angel that guards the Abyss rather than the Abyss itself. He is noted as a King of a plague of locusts that resembled horses with human faces, lions’ teeth, wings, iron breastplates, and scorpion’s stingers. If that’s not nightmare fuel, I don’t know what is.
It was in this form that the Gnostics wrote of Abaddon as the Angel who will usher souls to judgement in the final days of humanity.
Taking all of this into account and tracking back to that original usage, the filmmakers behind Hell House LLC actually named their soul-trapping hotel well.
Azazel…where to begin?
This fallen angel was present all over ancient lore in various guises. One of the earliest references came in the Book of Enoch when he was referred to as a Watcher. These were angels sent down to observe humanity. However, they began to lust after human women, and under the guidance of their leader Samyaza began to instruct humans in “forbidden or illicit” knowledge and began sexual relationships with human woman.
The women with whom they had intercourse became pregnant with hybrid babies, giants who came to be known as the Nephilim and were their own curse on humanity.
It was said that it was Azazel who imparted to humans how to create knives, swords, and shields. Oddly enough, it was also said he gave humans the knowledge of how to create cosmetics and ornaments for the human body.
In fact, it was said that Azazel corrupted humanity so greatly that he was bound by the angel Raphael to await the day of judgement in total darkness.
Mention of the name would later come from Rabbinical Judaism traditions in which during the appointed time during Yom Kippur, a priest would take two goats, one as a direct sacrifice to Yahweh and another for Azazel. The priest would lay his hands upon the goat that was given for Azazel and transfer all of the sins of the people onto its head, at which time it was lead away up a steep mountain and after observing various rituals along the way was pushed over a precipice to carry away those sins that were laid upon his head.
So what did this ancient being have to do with the movie Fallen? Honestly very little beyond the corruption of a man’s soul. The transference from person to person by touch, from what I could find in my research seems purely Hollywood. Nevertheless, this particular entity is fascinating and anyone with and interest in such matter should spend time reading the various histories of Azazel.
Am I the only one who remembers the movie Hideaway based on the Dean Koontz novel?
Jeff Goldblum, Jeremy Sisto, Christine Lahti, and Alicia Silverstone starred in a film about a man named Hatch who is resuscitated after being dead for two hours, but he doesn’t come back alone. A mysterious, mad killer named Vassago has come with him and their link becomes deadly very quickly.
Listed as the third Goetic demon, Vassago was described as a good-natured–meaning easy to work with–prince of Hell who ruled 26 legions of demons and was often summoned by magicians who wanted knowledge of the past and future, especially for crystal gazers. He was also said to have the power to find lost things and to incite the lust of women.
What is it with demons inciting the lust of women? Could it be that some randy magicians wanted an excuse for their bad behavior?
Either way, Vassago was, for all intents and purposes, one of the more genial demons one could call up, but he was still a demon and as such, the corruption of more than one man or woman was laid at his feet.
As for Hideaway, the killer had a thing for beautiful young women and was very good at finding what he wanted so Koontz actually did a very good job of naming his character.
#7 Pazuzu–The Exorcist
You didn’t think I was going to forget Pazuzu did you?
In ancient Mesopotamia, Pazuzu was the king of the demons of the wind, and was said to bring both plagues of locusts during the rainy season as well as famine during dry seasons. He had the body of a man, two sets of wings, the head of a lion or dog, talons of an eagle, and a scorpion’s tail.
Pazuzu wasn’t all bad, though. While he was generally considered evil, it was Pazuzu that pregnant women and women who had recently given childbirth would call upon to protect them and their child from the evil Lamashtu, who was said to take young children and feast upon them.
Pazuzu is most recognizable to modern audiences as the demon who possessed young Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair) in the film The Exorcist, something which would actually fall quite outside his normal realm so he was actually an odd choice for the film and book.
After the film was plagued with one setback after another, many came to believe that some dark spirit was haunting the set. Buildings burned down; two actors died shortly after filming was complete. Max von Sydow and Linda Blair both lost family members while shooting the film, and both Blair and Ellen Burstyn, who played her mother, suffered serious injuries while filming.
Could it be that Pazuzu was present and unhappy with the way his image was being used? Perhaps not, but it’s enough to make one sit back and consider.