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In the power of demons

Isn't it nice to have someone to hate? Dragons and demons have been doing the job of archetypal evil for over 5000 years.


[Imaginary] Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is absolutely right in calling the United States and President George W. Bush "the great Satan." At least in terms of idea and language history, for as religious scientist Asbjørn Dyrendal shows in his book on demons, devils and other nasty creatures, "satan" originally means "adversary".

In the Bible, a Satan exposes Job to trials in the book of Job, while one of God's angels is described as Satan when he closes the road for Balaam's ass. IN

Demons show Dyrendal how the Jewish notions of the prince of the mighty evil – Lucifer, Satan, Belial, the Devil – emerged as a result of political strife and social and theological changes, before it was cultivated and further developed by early Christianity, influenced by apocalyptic Judaism and Hellenistic surroundings.

Devilish propaganda

In early religions there were both evil and good gods, but after a few detours to Mesopotomia and Persia, Dyrendal concentrates on Judaism and Christianity – with a good and almighty God and a personified and less powerful devil. He shows how important it has been for humanity to have – as Raga Rockers sings – someone to hate, someone to blame all their misfortunes on.

Demonstration developed in line with the surrounding society, and the stronger Christianity was in Europe, the stronger the Devil. Already in the year 200, Church Father Tertullian believed that horse racing, bathing and serving places were devilish, female makeup was a demonic distortion of truth and that theaters were Satan's congregations.

In the early Middle Ages, the Devil was portrayed as ugly and stupid among most people, but from the 1400th century, hell became a stronger tool in political and religious propaganda. Norms and demands that were previously reserved for the clergy were now confronted with ordinary believers – and the devil's faith led to increased contempt for women, faith in authority and sexual shame. In the 1600th century, the fear of Satan began to wane, and he was more frequently used as a tool in literature and as a symbol in political rhetoric. Poets like John Milton and William Blake gave the Devil a human face, while romantics like Lord Byron and Shelley portrayed him as a liberation hero – the angel who rebelled against an authoritarian God.

A popular Satan

This symbolic satanic figure is still with us today. Millions still believe

The devil, they use him as a political symbol or frolic to create stories that require cross-acting through evil actors.

Dyrendal shows how Satan has permeated popular culture since the 1700th century, delving into literature, films such as The Exorcist and The Omen and the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. However, he overcomes the hard rock's almost 40-year-old Satan's fascination with harelab, and stumbles upon to overlook Satan in Neil Gaiman's main work Sandman in favor of Antichrist in the novel The Good Omens.

Most Western demons

The main problem with Demons is that it digs its teeth into the devils of Christianity, thus forgetting the rich demon fauna of Islam, Hinduism and Japanese and Chinese folklore. Especially when Japanese and Chinese demons are not necessarily as evil as in the West.

This, on the other hand, is the great strength of zoologist Torfinn Ørmens book Drager, where he puts his finger on the cultural differences between evil dragons in the West and their sympathetic relatives in the East. Unfortunately, Ørmen fails to draw equally strong links between historical superstition and everyday life. After a promising introduction, Drager collapses in an exhausting rendition of stories and fairy tales, which becomes especially evident as Ørmen moves into popular culture.

Where Dyrendal manages to draw lines from Milton to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the arm follows in Tolkien's footsteps and plunges straight into the fantasy literature to never break the surface again.

These books tell us a lot about how and why fantasy beings still play an important role, but only

Ørmen manages to explain why we should care: «By using the struggle between good and evil as a framework, the most politically unpleasant aspects of the myth of the demons are also continued – that one can find pure evil, that it is located outside us, and that it can be annihilated by crushing its representatives, "he states – something both George W. Bush and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad can sign.

Reviewed by Øyvind Holen

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